Wednesday, April 6, 2011

We're born again, there's new grass on the field

I grew up and have grown old as a fan of the New York Yankees. Some of that was an accident of geography, living in Central New Jersey when your baseball choices were the Phillies of Philadelphia or the Bronx Bombers, but a lot of it was deliberate because when you wanted to see stars you went to Yankee Stadium.

A week into this year's season (that will stretch into November) and all any of us who follow major league baseball can agree upon is the odds of going 162 and zero are close to zip.
Despite being a (rabid) fan of Yankees Pinstripes, I confess to a growing fondness for another kind of stripes, those of the Connecticut Tigers, the Single-A New York-Penn League affiliate of the Detroit Tigers, who call Norwich's Dodd Stadium, home.

Our Connecticut Tigers are about ten weeks away from their home opener against the defending champions of the NY-Penn League, the Tri-City Valley Cats (a farm club of the Houston Astros). The first pitch is at 7:05 Monday night, June 20th. And you can believe it's a coincidence of the calendar that the first day of summer is the next day, if you'd like and I promise to not suggest one of us is confusing cause and effect.

Yeah, I know the weather's been brisk around here with barely a hint of Spring so the idea of baseball in June sounds far away, but the Tigers' home opener will be here before we know it. I was up at Dodd Stadium a couple of weeks ago with a few hundred other hearty souls on a sunny but chilly afternoon when Sacred Heart University's Pioneers beat the UConn Huskies.

The field, despite the awful winter, was in good shape and it was a lot of fun every half inning or so to move around and try out different seats and check out the sight lines all over the facility. I'm a bit prejudiced, but I don't think there's a bad seat in the house.

Dodd Stadium is a decade and half old but has held its age well. There's something about watching enthusiastic beginners who are just starting their journey to the Major Leagues. The young men on the playing surface are keenly aware the odds are stacked against their getting to the big leagues, but they put in the hours in the batting cages, on the infield ground ball drills, perfecting a sacrifice bunt and understanding who the cut-off man is with runners on first and second with less than two out. Because you never know if you're gonna be that guy.

Watching baseball on television isn't anywhere near the same experience as being in the stands and the atmosphere at a minor league game is far more fun than you'll feel at Fenway or Camden Yards. Don't get me wrong, the players leg out infield grounders just as hard at Dodd Stadium, but I suspect there aren't as many chicken dance contests at Citi Field.

Baseball is still America's game and the mental math and the game of manager's strategy within the game on the field is what turns casual followers into fanatics and brings all of us of all ages to the stands game after game year after year.

As for the players themselves, their energy, engagement and enthusiasm sometimes more than make-up for a lack of on-field skills, but only sometimes. That's why baseball has a farm system where you learn as you go and as you grow. And maybe someday, with enough hard work combined with natural abilities (and some luck), you're on the parent club's opening day roster and memories of Dodd Stadium start to dim, but not for those of us who cheer you on against the Staten Island Yankees, Lowell Spinners or the Jamestown Jammers among others.

This summer head for Dodd Stadium to check out the hometown team, the Connecticut Tigers. Their seventy-four game season may not be that long but the memories can last a lifetime.
-bill kenny

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