Baseball is Near By Brian G. Schommer Spring training is in “full swing” for Major League Baseball. I saw a Minnesota Twins games being broadcast on television just the other day while visiting a …
Baseball is Near
By Brian G. Schommer
Spring training is in “full swing” for Major League Baseball. I saw a Minnesota Twins games being broadcast on television just the other day while visiting a local restaurant. The blanket of fluffy white snow is all but melted away with a few remnants of larger piles here and there. I must admit one more time, like most years, that I did not get out on the snowmobile as much as I wanted and while I did get a lot more ice fishing in, there was room for more. The time has come to get the sled ready for storage and put away all the ice fishing and hunting gear. The task of picking up the “doggie rockets” left by Sadie also is looming. She is a very smart girl, but we have yet to teach her to pick up after herself; that would be awesome. I did see a few ads on social media for pick-up services… might be worth it? All of this means one thing… baseball fanatics are starting to get excited.
I love baseball… always have and probably always will. I was not a very good baseball player as the physical gifts necessary were not received on my end. Baseball is one of the few sports that you can be of smaller stature and still be a valuable member to your team. I am short and like my love of baseball, always have been and always will be. In my younger days, I was slender and while not “speedy” per se, I was not the slowest either. Distance running gave me fits but ninety feet at a time was not a problem. My biggest problem as a ballplayer was hitting the ball hard and far enough for there to be a reason for me to run to first base. I remember my Uncle Mike and cousins Tom and Greg (Schoen) working with me on bunting in the backyard as it was apparent to all that “crushing the ball” was never going to be my strong suit. The art of bunting is something that I feel is truly lacking in the game today. The combination of decent speed and the ability to bunt was about all I brought to the game. That is, unless you consider my 12 to 6 “curve” ball which was simply lack of velocity. Over time, I realized that my place in baseball was in the stands and “the front office.” Seeing me parked in the bleachers is not a rare thing and, I still sometimes miss bits and pieces of serving on the local amateur baseball board and coaching at the youth level; just not enough to get back into it.
Edwin Donald “Duke” Snider played professional baseball from 1947 to 1964, including a minor league stop with the St. Paul Saints in 1947. His career statistics are worthy of being Googled if you have a few moments but, it is one of his many quotes that resonates with me. “The sport to which I owe so much has undergone profound changes, but it’s still baseball. Kids still imitate their heroes on playgrounds. Fans still ruin expensive suits going after foul balls that cost five dollars. Hitting streaks still make the network news and hot dogs still taste better at the ballpark than at home.” There are not many things that rev me up like seeing a handful of kids playing “hot box” on a weekday afternoon in the summer or hearing the cheers of a youth game at a local park as I drive by. Watching kids at a “townball” game chasing down foul balls for… well, let’s just say it is much more than the .10 cents a ball I used to chase them for is entertaining as heck. Like “back in my day,” that money usually gets spent at the place they received their bounty… the concession stand. Minor and Major League Baseball have their own intricacies that add to the experience of being in the stands. For instance, the Saints are now a AAA affiliate of the Minnesota Twins. A Saints fan will now be able to see players one-step away from the “big leagues” at CHS Stadium in St. Paul while still taking in some of the shenanigans, off-field entertainment and fun minor league ball is known for. As a season ticket holder, I am quite excited about the upcoming season and MAY even have a contest or two where readers can win a PAIR of tickets to a game. No matter what level, from tee-ball to the majors and every stop in between, it’s still baseball.
“Townball” in Minnesota for many is more than a game; it is a way of life. Wisconsin towns on the border of Minnesota have a strong representation of summer townball as well, but statewide, this is one area of sports that the folks in Minnesota hold the bragging rights. The Minnesota Baseball Association (MBA) is the governing body of over 300 teams, playing in over 30 leagues in the State. There are several other “non-affiliated” leagues and teams with less “restrictions” (aka rules and regulations) and, in most cases, the level of time commitment, fan following, and depth of team talent does not compare to most teams in the MBA. For readers of the Hastings Journal, you will undoubtedly be reading a lot about the Hastings Hawks during the upcoming spring and summer. The Hawks are entering their 39th year and have a strong contingency of local athletes. For Cottage Grove Journal readers, the Hawks also have a solid group of Park graduates and the Cottage Grove Coyotes (non-affiliated MBA) are still in operation. Hastings has developed some great rivalries within the league against teams like the Cannon Falls Bears, Red Wing Aces, Hampton Cardinals and of course, the Miesville Mudhens. The Hawks also get their share of games in against our friends across the river, including the Prescott Pirates, Spring Valley Hawks and my favorite, the River Falls Fighting Fish. A road trip to River Falls to visit their ballpark is well worth the drive.
Baseball is not for everybody and some people even find the game… boring (gasp). I like a good pitcher’s duel as much as I like a slugfest. Missing the cutoff, swinging at a pitch a foot outside the strike zone, leaving a pitcher in too long, taking a pitcher out too soon and striking out looking all drive me crazy. The contest between the white lines can be a huge lure to the ballpark for fans of the game, but I think a bigger attraction is what goes on outside those lines, in the dugout and in the stands. The crack of the bat, the roar of the crowd when a great play is made or the echoes of dissatisfied spectators disagreeing with a call are sounds that even with your eyes closed, you can “see” what happened. Watching the banter between teammates in the dugout is sometimes more fun than watching the same dugout jump to life after a hanging curve is driven to the gap in left centerfield for a double. The amount of human interaction at the ballpark is something that I have always appreciated and after last season, with so many seasons being delayed or flat out cancelled, I believe that I will appreciate it even more this year and… again, I do not see that changing either. I will be sitting with my son Brett at the Saints opener in late April and by the middle of May, I will most likely have been at a few High School games in the area, a Hawks game or two and maybe even have checked out a college game. Yes, many things have changed AND it is still baseball. Any opportunity to be part of something that you love and have the chance to interact with others… THAT is something special that should be appreciated! As spring returns, I hope you refresh the activities that you love and remember, it is a bonus if you get the chance to Get Out and Enjoy the Great Outdoors!!!