Baseball fever: Catch it before it leaves the city

April 29, 2003|by TIM ROWLAND

There's something about early springtime baseball - the emerald fields, the gossamer green of awakening trees behind center field, the budding flowers outside the park, the fresh winds in the bleachers - that make me sit back and say "Crikey I wish I'd brought a heavier coat."

Minor league baseball in Hagerstown is like a freshman phenom's college basketball game. You better see it while you have the chance because you figure pretty soon it's going to be leaving for the pros.

Some people get more uppity with age, but I'm the opposite. Where it used to take a single yard sale to work me up into a white, crab-scalding rage, it now takes two or three in a row.

And so it is with the Suns. If they leave town, they leave town; I'll find something else to do. But meantime, I'm so glad they're back.


I even enjoyed the opening day fireworks. (Yes, enjoyed.) (Yes, me.) It was sort of like a celebration of the coming warmth, the awakening of the earth and the return of ball. I liked it so much, I didn't even mind the woman who, no kidding, would bellow with each rocket's burst: "Take that Saddam!" or "God bless America!"

I'd never thought of fireworks as a spiritual conduit to the Almighty before, but why not?

The afternoon games are my favorite though because the pace - if this is possible for baseball - seems even less-hurried than normal.

And if the pace gets too slow, third-baseline bleacher fans can for a while watch the happenings at the Hagerstown Spring Works, where the guys are always welding interesting things together.

Wednesday afternoon, five-time "Jeopardy" champion Bob Fleenor and I were taking in the game. Those interested in a Flee update will be excited to learn that he is no longer waiting for the question before providing the answer.

In the fifth, Flee gauged the wind blowing out to right, scoped out the left-handed batter and mentioned the possibility of a homer.

I swear, on the very next pitch, the guy launched it over the fence. Flee is a god.

We passed the time thinking up nicknames for Suns players, taking a page out of Chris Berman's shtick on ESPN.

Some were self-evident: Jason "Christopher" Columbus, Matt "Raising" Cain, Troy "Held For" Ransom, Kevin "Machine Gun" Kelly, Merkin "Exxon" Valdez.

I could copy Berman's moniker for Sammy with Carlos "Say It Ain't" Sosa. But then things got a little sketchy. Randy "Muddy" Walter, Jake "Another Brick In The" Wald, Manager Mike "Battering" Ramsey, Dayton "Raging" Buller, Clay "Leona" Hensley, Stephen "There's No Place Like" Holm, Aaron "Around The" Hornostaj.

But by the time Travis Ishikawa stepped to the plate, we had to punt.

If the players change from year to year, at least the fans don't. In what has to be one of the biggest promotional failures that ever was, the Suns in conjunction with The Herald-Mail facilitate a mid-inning spelling bee between two contestants.

They started out with kids trying to spell words such as "souvenir," but that didn't work. So they went with older contestants and simpler words like "municipal," but that didn't work either. So I expect pretty soon they'll have dumbed it down to "outfield" and if that doesn't work, "bat."

The crowd does have one area of expertise, however, and specifically I am referring to the field of alcoholic beverage trivia. Everyone, even the pre-schoolers, knew that the animal on a bottle of Rolling Rock is a horse, and that along with lemonade, Mike's makes a hard cranberry drink.

And finally, if you go to a Suns game for no other reason, go to watch the grounds crew smooth out the infield mid-game as the strains of "YMCA" by the Village People play over the loudspeakers. I don't want to spoil the effect by telling you what happens, I'll just say it is the funniest thing you will see this side of a School Board meeting.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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