Tuesday, February 12, 2008
The annual ritual of Snow Birds from the North that converge upon the Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues is already here. Two pages were even dedicated to the local baseball teams in our metro daily this weekend. What other sport has such a loyal following during it's pre-season where fans will travel hundreds...even thousands of miles to watch and critique their teams prospects for the upcoming season? Let me answer that...No Other Sport...Yes, many of us travel to Florida or Arizona to relieve us of the winter doldrums that set in this time of year...but that doesn't diminish the fact that year after year, we yearn to hear the crack of the bat, the dust fly, the sound and smell of leather balls and gloves and converse with a resident expert about the talents of a new rookie or free agent. Baseball is part of our yearly cycle. Whether the groundhog sees his shadow or not, when we hear a sports talk radio host proclaim that pitchers and catchers are reporting, it can only mean that warmer weather is closing in. It gives us hope that new life will spring out of the dead of winter.
On a local level, high schools in warm weather states are in their third week of practice. We live in a warm weather state and we have combed the local colleges, JC's and high schools and have had the pleasure of watching a fair share of pratices and scrimmages. Actually, we couldn't wait. This is our spring training ritual...and much cheaper than a flight and hotel to Arizona. For us, it's about the baseball. We already have the weather...we don't need to escape the cold or snow.
But, for those that are still waiting for the weather to make up its mind, teasing people with Indian summer one day and wind chills of zero the next, if a trip down south isn't practical, then a drive to the local batting cage could provide just the cure. When I was growing up in the cold, upper midwest, there was one batting facility owner that used to promote spring training in January and February by playing Jimmy Buffett, serving up smoothies and placing potted palm trees around his facility. His place was so busy that the wait to get in just 50 swings was hours long. But, we didn't care. We just liked to hang out there to get in the mood for baseball and to get out of the cold...and sit back and dream about having a post game Cheesburger In Paradise. We and the hundreds that were regulars there were true baseball fans and players.
And that brings up another point...The state of the game...the state of the true fan and player...We at Rounding Third are seeing a resurgence in the passion for the sport of baseball....especially at the youth level. While some cynics may cry that the steroids scandal will ruin the sport...our take is that it will strengthen and unify players, parents and organizations...especially at the youth level. We see a movement to bring back the purity of the sport..much like the memories I have of listening to "Come Monday" in a faux tropical setting. That was so innocent...so pure and solidified for me, my love and passion for the game. Even today, I think of that batting cage owner and how fun he made batting practice in the middle of winter..and every year at this time, I'll turn on a little Jimmy Buffett, buy a Jamba Juice and head on out to watch some ball. I did it this past weekend.
We also see more batting facilities, multiple field complexes, travel teams, rec leagues, web sites, books, DVD's and physical and mental training tapes than ever before. Pro Attendance is up, Collegiate attendance is out the roof, and high schools are getting more than just mom dad and the girlfriend out to their games. A few of us live near baseball complexes and there is nothing more soothing than hearing the loud cheers of hundreds of fans rooting for their teams...And each year, the crowds seem to get louder and louder..music to our ears.
As the weeks pass, we will be pre-viewing our picks for the top high school teams in the country. And, as the season progresses, we will feature players, accomplishments, stats and records. Coaches, players and parents, feel free to e-mail us a firstname.lastname@example.org any of your local high school teams accomplishments and how they rate in their metro area. We have a pretty good network of correspondents, but we can always use more info. Play Ball!!!!