Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Summer Held Its Breath Too Long

Sometimes timing is everything and other times, everything comes down to timing. Tonight at nine minutes past seven (Daylight Savings Time), the summer solstice marks the start of summer 2012.

If everything goes right, four minutes earlier, at Senator Thomas Dodd Stadium here in The Rose of New England, the boys of summer, the Connecticut Tigers, the Class A short season franchise of the Detroit Tigers, have their home opener against the Lowell Spinners, the Boston Red Sox affiliate (I call them the 'Sinners' but they're probably not crazy about that nickname so that'll be our secret, okay?).

As a kid and mostly indifferent student, I rejoiced at the end of each school year but never felt it was really summer until all we did all day long was play pick-up sandlot baseball games that went on for hundreds of innings with no one keeping score and the composition of the teams changing throughout the day as players departed to do chores or have a family meal and then return hours later, with the flow of the game unchanged (if not the score).

I doubt there was a kid among us who didn't think being a professional baseball player would be the coolest job in the world. Half a lifetime later, I know none of us ever became one, but that doesn't mean the spark and the desire have disappeared.

Single A baseball is a road map for fans and players alike. It's a chance to watch youngsters, literally and chronologically, most of whom were drafted out of college a few months or even weeks earlier, start to chase their dreams of being a big leaguer. I don't know about you but I've never run onto the grass at Dodd Stadium as the crowd cheers, but I bet it's a pretty heady feeling and a heckuva way to earn your living.

Dodd Stadium has been a Dream Machine for over a decade and a half. Last week's perfect game by Matt Cain of the San Francisco Giants was historic for that franchise but it shouldn't have been a complete surprise to those of us who watched him pitch when he was a farmhand on the Norwich Navigators, back in the day, when they were a Double-A franchise of the Giants playing at Dodd.

Actually, the rosters of many major league baseball teams are dotted with players who have called Norwich home, be it as Navigators, Defenders or Tigers, and biased as I am about Dodd Stadium, it's a great place to enjoy a game. Already this season, we've seen Eastern Connecticut Conference high school baseball championships and some great NCAA college ball, but for thirty-eight home games (rain, rain stay away!), the field is all set for the Connecticut Tigers.

There will be fireworks after tonight's game and, I hope, enough fireworks from Tiger bats to get the job done as I always find the pyrotechnics much more enjoyable when we win. And that's the terrific thing about having a minor league team in our backyard. I can continue to root for my New York Yankees, to the dismay and chagrin of my neighbor who's a die-hard Red Sox fan but we can sit together and root, root, root for the home team, the Connecticut Tigers, because minor league baseball is about player development and is also a great value in family entertainment.

But you have to go to prove that for yourself. There are probably excellent seats still available for tonight's game at Dodd because we all know people who'll drive to Fenway or Yankee Stadium, pay a king's ransom just to park and take out a second mortgage to afford hot dogs, cold drinks and foam fingers but who won't go to Dodd because 'it's so far away', or who have one of the hundred other excuses masquerading as reasons to stay home and whine about how's 'there's never anything to do in Norwich'.

Keep ignoring one of the best nights out, and bargain priced at that, for you and yours and soon enough you'll be absolutely right-we won't have any more homegrown professional baseball to complain about. Bet we won't feel better about being right then, either.
-bill kenny         

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