With Memorial Day in the rear-view mirror, and (come to think of it) the Indy 500 as well, we're very nearly ready for summer-right after The Boys get here. The Boys of summer this year are the new kids in Dodd Stadium, the Connecticut Tigers of the New York-Penn League (NYPL), the oldest Single A baseball league in the United States. Don't get fooled by the name, Connecticut Tigers notwithstanding-there's teams from places like Aberdeen, Maryland, Lowell, Massachusetts and Burlington, Vermont. Heck, there's even a couple from New York and Pennsylvania.
We'll cheer the Tigers on against the likes of the Muckdogs and the Crosscutters. I'm already worried about the Staten Island Yankees (I've rooted for Pinstripers my whole life-what do I do when the Baby Yankees come to call?) as they're the defending league champions having topped the Mahoning Valley Scrappers in the championship. And while the teams taking the field in Dodd this season will be new to us, what shouldn't be is the look in the eyes of the young men who'll suit up on both sides of the diamond and chase a dream to make it to "The Show."
Every neighborhood in Norwich has a dad who was a hotshot high school, and maybe even college, baseball player so it's a feeling we all know. Yeah, intellectually we understand the astronomical odds of being the guy who gets tabbed as a Major League prospect but when we think with our gut, we root for him as he works his way up until he grabs a piece of pine in a big league dugout, and then runs out on the field to take his position. It's a dream as old as baseball itself, put me in coach, I'm ready to play today.
Some of us can tick off the names of Navigators and Defenders who made it to the Majors, whether for a career or a cup of coffee (yeah, 'fan' is short for fanatic). A lot of us aren't wide-eyed kids anymore playing baseball for the love of the game and a chance to end up on a trading card, but don't we wish we were. The Tigers' home opener is Saturday, June 26th, against the Vermont Lake Monsters so it's not too early to start hoping for nice weather (maybe a little selfish, but just this once) so we can enjoy the day as well as the new beginning with a new team.
I've listened to too many people in the last decade and a half, the same folks who think nothing of driving for two hours to pay through the nose for parking, seats, hot dogs and sodas at Fenway or Yankee stadiums tell me all the things they dislike about Dodd Stadium. Except, you can't complain about the price of seats or parking or what it costs to grab a dog and a malt beverage (if you're so inclined) or the effort the teams are making on the field. For us, it's an afternoon in the sun or a nice evening under the stars but for the players, this is real-life and it's their lives. They give it all they've got because they have to.
Tater and Cutter are gone, but we're still here. I'm sure there'll be plenty of between-innings silliness to keep us entertained, and between you and me, I'm not all that sure watching adults do the Chicken Dance with their children and often their grandchildren on the roof of a dugout is all that silly in the first place. It's been a rough ride for a lot of us for the last year or so.
Even when the Good Times were rollin' here in the Land of the Round Doorknobs, it wasn't all that rosy in The Rose City so when the Hard Times arrived, for a lot of people it was same shirt, different day. So why not root this summer for people who are working as hard as you are-and dress and play like a team, the Connecticut Tigers? And when somebody asks you 'who are these guys?' you can can tell them, 'that's my home town team.'