Transition time

The sports world is always transitioning from one season to the next, with Labor Day Weekend standing out as the most significant of these transitions. Depending on your perspective, baseball people see the tide going out and football folks see the tide coming in. The wife and I found ourselves right in the middle, as we celebrated the end of the Eastern League season and helped kick off the football season at FedEx Field.

The baseball season in Richmond was unlike any other in our history, as the Flying Squirrels introduced the concept of fun at the ballpark. Even as a baseball purist, I found the carnival atmosphere at the Diamond to be most enjoyable. We inhabited section 103 for some 20 ball games this summer, and were entertained by up-and-coming stars, such as Thomas Neal and Darren Ford. Our personal favorite was Brandon Belt, a smooth fielding first baseman with explosive power. As we watched him tear up the Eastern League on his way to AAA, it amazed us that every team passed on him not once, but four times before the Giants drafted him in the fifth round.

But more than baseball, it was the family entertainment package that the Squirrels put together. Nutzy was a big hit with kids from “1 to 92” and the promotions were attention grabbing, to say the least. We paid tribute to the peanut and the hushpuppy. We also experienced Awful Night and Will it Fly Night. On those occasions, we received a melted snow cone and actually experienced a watermelon dropped from a hovering helicopter – it didn’t fly, but it did make quite a mess in center field. The Squirrels recognized kids and hometown heroes in front of more than 460,000 fans. It was the best summer since my arrival in Richmond in 1978, and the Squirrels promise that the best is yet to come.

If you missed the Flying Squirrels in 2010, you owe it to yourself to check them out in 2011. You won’t be disappointed. A heads up for our senior fans (60+) is that the Squirrels offer a “Silver Squirrel” season package for Tuesday nights. This season, Silver Squirrel members received a box seat for 11 games for $60. Members also received a T-shirt and a free concession item each game. The kids club also offered great value for those of you with children or grandchildren.

Virginia Tech and Boise State played before a thunderous crowd of more than 79,000 very loud fans at FedEx on Labor Day night. It was also one of the largest television audiences in college football history. The most thrilling college game I have seen since the advent of the TV time out, the game kept fans on the edge of their seats from the kick-off until the final horn. There is no doubt that these two teams from opposing coasts will be a factor in January. Besides the football, we witnessed some of the ugliest uniforms in the history of sport. Again a matter of perspective, as Matoaca senior Jason Wells said, “They were soooooooo cool!”

We root for Tech, but we are huge fans of any team that has a chance to be a “BCS Buster.” We like the chances of Boise making it through the season undefeated and possibly heading to Glendale to face the likes of an Alabama or Ohio State. After cheering Utah on to victory Friday night against Pitt, we donned neutral colors (red), took our seats on the front row behind the Tech bench (thanks to former Clover Hill coach Marshall Pearman), and rooted for Boise. Without question we were the quietest folks in the stadium, and the youngster from Pulaski Country seated next to us was somewhat confused by our behavior. He was a neat kid. An eighth grader who had ridden up from southwest Virginia on the bus, he was allowed to come to the game only after he’d promised his mom he’d make it to school the next day. I’m betting that he was there.

The game (and the subsequent shocker at the hands of JMU) brought to mind a sad element of football. There are four months to play, and many Tech fans see the season as lost. Frank Beamer is well on his way to being a coaching legend, but on this night the barbs are flying. Among the foolish, his legacy may be that he never wins the big one – this in spite of the incredible Hokie run of bowl invitations that is quickly approaching two decades.

For some of us, the tide goes out. We’ll enjoy the World Series and then wait patiently for spring training. For others of us, the tide rushes in. The excitement of Friday Night Lights, College Football Saturdays and NFL Sundays will consume our weekends through the fall, culminating in the big waves of State Championships, the BCS Bowls and the Super Bowl. To whichever camp you belong, enjoy.

Fore!

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