Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Sports column

February 20, 2013

Luncheon means baseball on the way

BLUEFIELD — For those who are ready for spring and warm weather, there is good news ahead.

Baseball is back.  

True, Wednesday looked like a spring day, with the Ray of sun shining in the Dodger blue sky, but one step into the wind and it was like Wrigley Field, and time to go back inside.

Please, bring on the spring.

Good news: Spring Training has opened in Florida and Arizona. Exhibition games begin today, with the Red Sox split into two clubs — kind of describes the Boston clubhouse in recent seasons — to play a twinbill with college teams from Northeastern and Boston College.

Major league games begin on Friday, with Detroit and Atlanta getting it started.

That can only mean that games that count are on the horizon.   

The first pitch of the regular season is just 39 days away when the Houston Astros — who are destined for the league’s worst record — make their debut in the American League West against the Josh Hamilton-less Texas Rangers.

Bring it on.

In between the exhibition games and the real games will be the World Baseball Classic, which will be held from March 2-19 with 16 counties playing a total of 39 games in search of baseball superiority to determine the world’s best baseball team.

Hmmm…seems like that is what the World Series is supposed to do. It has always struck me as odd that it is the ‘World’ Series, but the world — other than America and Canada — isn’t involved.

It’s also interesting the WBC has caught on in other countries, but Americans barely seem to know that Bud Selig’s ‘baby’ exists. Oh well, it is still means baseball, and that is a good thing.

Winter has always been a very distant fourth in my list of favorite seasons. In fact, it isn’t even on the list. Of course, in Four Seasons Country, you can get all four seasons in one day. I would prefer 70 degrees and sunny every day, and comfortable enough at night to sleep with the windows open and the heat off.

It’s getting closer.

The official start of spring is just 28 days away — although Mother Nature rarely looks at a calendar — and daylight savings time returns in just 18 days.

All that means baseball can’t be too much further behind.

To borrow a comment made often by my non-sports fan girlfriend, but never about baseball unless the season is over, “Thank you Jesus.”

Basketball season is fun and I love the game, but hoops that starts as football ends in November and is still going six nights a week into March can get a little old. Of course, you could say the same thing about baseball, which starts in March for the local media and doesn’t end until August or even September.

That is a lot of baseball, but I am certainly not complaining.

Basketball isn’t near as long as baseball unless it’s the NBA, but now that tournament time has arrived, the high school games start to mean more. We have gotten through district tournaments and now we’re in sectionals and regionals and states will follow soon.

It won’t be long until attention will turn to spring sports, and not just baseball. There is also softball, soccer, tennis, track and don’t forget field.

I am sure our readers have seen enough basketball on the front page of sports to last a while — and it isn’t stopping anytime soon — but you finally got something else on Wednesday.

Baseball.  

The Princeton Rays gave the local media and our readers, listeners and viewers a much-needed break from basketball for a few hours on Tuesday with the always-appreciated media luncheon that the P-Rays hold just about every year.

P-Rays General Manager Jim Holland, who is a former scribe himself, brought in new manager Danny Sheaffer for a visit on Tuesday, and the media was allowed to have a delicious lunch and learn about the man who will be leading the Rays on the diamond this summer.

A good time was had by all, and it also provided a glimpse into the warmth of summer and what is still my favorite sport.

Baseball is special in Mercer County. How many other counties, especially as small as this one, has two minor league baseball teams, and can support both of them, even if the seats are rarely filled to capacity unless it is fireworks night or opening night.

Princeton is beginning its 26th year with professional baseball, while Bluefield has enjoyed (what used to be) “America’s Pastime” for what will be 67 years.

It always amazes me in the summer how so few folks are the games. We don’t exactly live in the mecca of entertainment, unless I am missing something. It is a cheap, affordable and fun way to spend a nine-inning vacation.

There are always plenty of seats available, but the two organizations don’t complain, but just provide the best product they can and welcome in those who do come.

Of course, this area isn’t exactly hopping with enthusiasm for sports, unless it is West Virginia or Virginia Tech football or Bluefield or Graham football. It would be nice to see baseball catch on too.

It did, if only for a few games last season when the Princeton Tigers advanced to Charleston and won the Class AAA state tournament and the Power Park seats were packed with fans dressed in dark blue.

It was Princeton’s first state team championship of any kind since 1981, and the fans were there in large numbers. That was so refreshing to see, since most of their other games were played in front of so few.

Get out and watch a high school game this spring, and later attend a minor league game or two or many more this summer. Just don’t assume that baseball will always be here. It might not be.

Bluefield nearly lost it team a few years ago when the Orioles left, but the Blue Jays flew in to save local baseball.

Is there any reason why the bleachers at Bowen Field — one of the most historic facilities in all of sports — can’t be filled? How about the seats at Hunnicutt Field, which doesn’t have the history of its neighbor in Bluefield, but does have a fan-friendly atmosphere that makes a fun few hours of entertainment whether you want to watch the game or not.

For many, it is just like the teams will always be here, that somebody else will support them. Maybe not.

As a friend once asked me, ‘What did the limestone say to the geologist?’

Don’t take me for granite.

—Brian Woodson is the sports editor for the Daily Telegraph. He can be contacted at bwoodson@bdtonline.com

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