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Fans gear up for Suns season

March 19, 2006|By CANDICE BOSELY

HAGERSTOWN

With spring just around the corner, many people who have little or no interest in watching cars make hundreds of left turns on racetracks might find their minds drifting to America's pastime: Baseball.

Locally, it is at this time of the year when the greedy sun teases us with warmth, while the Hagerstown Suns tease us with anticipation.

Gary and Teri DeWeerd and friend Gary Gysberts, all of Hagerstown, pass the winter watching men's basketball games at Hagerstown Community College. Their passion kicks in sometime in April when the Suns start their season.

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Recently, the three gathered at the DeWeerds' dining room table to discuss baseball and their love for the Suns.

They also discussed what makes for a perfect day at the ballpark.

"A win," Gysberts said quickly.

"Warm, but not too hot," Teri DeWeerd said. "Lots of fans."

"Lots of hits. Cold beer," her husband added. "A win's always good. That makes everything else better."

Warm weather. Green grass and hazy skies. Hot dogs and beer. Chants and cheers. The weather outside now might be miserable, but it's easy to fantasize about a pure game played with wooden bats and leather mitts and between straight white chalk lines.

For the love of the players

Gary DeWeerd, an Air Force retiree who works for Franklin County Career Link in Pennsylvania, missed three games last season after his father-in-law died. Before that, he had not missed a Suns home game since 1990 or 1991, he said.

"We always stand right by the dugout. We've been doing that for years," Gary DeWeerd said of his and his wife's choice position in Municipal Stadium. "You can hear the guys talking. It's the best seat in the house if you like standing."

He and his wife also travel to Port St. Lucie in Florida to watch the team in spring training and to hand out welcome kits to potential players on the team.

All three are officers with the Suns Fan Club, which hosts picnics for fan club members and the team's players after four Sunday games, has Saturday night meals for the team and loans household items such as televisions, linens and kitchen items to team members staying in area apartments.

Money is raised by selling autographed bats at home games on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.

Dinners for the players after Saturday home games might feature Mexican food, subs or roasted chicken.

"We were doing fried chicken, but the Mets' nutritionist said no more fried chicken," Gary DeWeerd, president of the fan club, said with a laugh. The Suns are a Class A South Atlantic League affiliate of the New York Mets.

Ask any of the three fans what they love about the Suns, and they all agree it's the players.

"I like to see these guys come in April," Gary DeWeerd said. "Many of them move up halfway (through the season) if they're good."

All three easily can rattle off the names of dozens of Suns players who advanced through the minor league ranks and ended up playing in the majors.

Some former players have called the DeWeerds to offer free tickets to see them play in Baltimore.

Although Teri DeWeerd enjoys the game and getting to know the players, baseball offers another advantage.

"Mostly, I go for the social aspect, to see people and visit," she said.

The game is not so fast-paced that one's attention must be focused on the field at all times, Gysberts agreed.

Gysberts, who is first vice president of the fan club and a middle school teacher in Carroll County, Md., was born and raised in this area.

Gysberts moved away and would go to games when he visited, but after moving back, he bought season tickets. The DeWeerds also are season ticket holders.

Gysberts said he always has loved the game of baseball, which he played. He also has umpired boys baseball and girls softball games.

Once, when the crew of umpires set to call a Suns game were involved in a car accident, Gysberts was called upon to umpire a game.

He ended up serving as an umpire for two games; the irony that he was, at the time, president of the team's fan club isn't lost on him.

The DeWeerds assured a visitor that he called a fair game.

Teri DeWeerd credits the Suns with being the reason she and her husband did not move out of Hagerstown after he retired.

Rumors that the team might leave town have circulated, while talk of a new stadium has been ongoing for years.

"We're glad they're still in town," Teri DeWeerd said of the team.

"I wish more people would appreciate what we have," Gysberts said.

Players are friendly and will give autographs without complaint. Plus, he said, the Suns are one of about only 150 minor league teams in the country. Five states - Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Alaska and Hawaii - do not have minor league teams, according to the Minor League Baseball Web site.

"I think it's something to be doggone proud of," Gysberts said.

Promoting the team

Kurt Landes, general manager of the Suns, said he has high hopes for the upcoming season.

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