No two words in the English language evoke such a spirit of joy and hope. Opening day in the majors occurred last week, but opening day for Richmond is tomorrow night, as the Flying Squirrels mark their inaugural appearance in the River City. Over the last six months, this team and ownership group seems to have done everything right in laying the groundwork in making this the best baseball experience in the region’s history. Also, it is important to remember that AA baseball is now the proving ground for fine young talent on the way up. Baseball fans are going to love the product on the field, not only from the home team, but throughout the league.
Opening night is sold out, but there are still opportunities to be a part of opening weekend. For those who haven’t been to the ballpark in a while, you will witness many changes. An attempt has been made to spruce up The Diamond and get the fans closer to the field. Lower deck seating has been upgraded and should prove to be a tough ticket as spring turns to summer. New concessions areas have been added, there will be pregame entertainment, upwards to 15 fireworks nights and the scoreboard has been improved.
The most exciting thing the new ownership has done is to dedicate their operation to being kid friendly. It began with the team name, and it extends to just about every aspect of the ballpark experience. I’m most excited about the decision to offer free admission to kids on Sundays.
In 1971, Major League Baseball made the decision to play weekday World Series games at night. This brought in the advertising dollars, which naturally meant that all World Series games would begin in “prime time.” Unfortunately, prime time for advertisers and prime time for school children mean two different things. We have now reared multiple generations of children who have never seen a World Series game. Doesn’t it stand to reason that if children miss out on the World Series, they will ultimately miss out on the joy of our great game altogether?
Across the country, it has been minor league baseball that has led the charge in bringing kids and baseball back together.
Those of us who love baseball, and know it to be the greatest game, have a responsibility to pass on our knowledge, love and passion for baseball. More and more I hear things like “I hate baseball,” or, “It is too slow.” These, of course, are the words of the uninformed. Baseball is magical. The 90-foot diamond and the 60-foot-6-inch pitching rubber are absolute strokes of genius. The distance has proven to be perfect even as the speed and power of the game have advanced. So much is happening between pitches that we don’t necessarily pick up on TV.
Children can quickly pick up sports like basketball, but the nuances of baseball take a lifetime to truly understand. Homeruns are easily understood, but we should educate others on the joy of “small ball” – a walk, stolen base, grounder to second and a sacrifice fly is a sequence of artistic beauty. Why are the fielders positioned in such a manner? What is that nervous twitch the third base coach seems to have? What is the deal with the righty-lefty match-ups? Why are there no left-handed infielders or catchers and conversely why are there so many lefties at first and on the mound? Why is there an infield fly rule? Why does everyone in the stands think it is a balk? The answers to these and so many more questions need to be learned through more than simple observation.
Our game seems to go against the natural flow. A hitter who fails 7 out of 10 times is called great. We take a round ball and bat, and are told to “hit it squarely.” The most talented players are “sent down” to better learn their craft. It is all a mystery unless you understand.
If you love baseball, you have an obligation to take a youngster or an unbeliever to the ballpark this summer.
Long live the American game!