ATHLETIC VOICE: Play ball! Don’t let baseball strike out

By EMERY NICOLETTI

It is still winter, and it’s warm outside. Unusual, but that’s what makes wintertime in Tucson great for those who want to enjoy outdoor activities.

It wasn’t that long ago that a large contingent of Tucsonans spent many afternoons and evenings enjoying the nation’s pastime, baseball.

We fretted when we lost major league spring training to the megalopolis up north. We gnashed our teeth when we couldn’t keep our minor league teams in town.

It’s been a few warm springs since that time, and our angst has subsided a bit.

Perhaps we’ve been able to put salve on our wounds by attending Major League Soccer spring training at the Kino Sports Complex.

But what happened to our love affair with baseball?

What happened to the nation’s fascination with the Boys of Summer?

I remember as a child going with my grandfather to a local baseball game, our hometown Salinas Packers against … well … the enemy. For some reason, it was always bat day. Every kid got a free bat upon entry into the stadium.

We cheered for our guys, and booed their guys. The smell of buttered popcorn engulfed the stadium. We ate hot dogs and marveled at the sights and sounds. The air-splitting “crack” of the bat was mesmerizing. There was nothing better.

Those times don’t exist much for families nowadays. We used to know the names of all our starters. Now, we’re lucky to be able to identify that the roster is that of our home team.

We had a great understanding of what it meant to pull for our team, because we had such a connection with our players.

Today’s game is less about team than it is about playing a sport that has turned into big business.  We long for the days when we can return to the nostalgia of the past.

My father-in-law was a professional baseball player with the Detroit Tigers in the 1960s. He was an All-Star, Tiger of the Year and a member of a legendary World Series winning team.

He played his entire career with the Tigers, except for one year before his retirement. He made enough money to comfortably support his wife and children, not the mega millions that players make today.

No amount of money meant more to him than the comradery, the friendships and achieving a collective goal with his teammates.

Those teammates still get together to talk about old times at card signing events, pose for pictures or laugh about how many World Series rings bad boy Denny McClain has passed off as his original.

I can’t return to that particular time or the games shared with my grandfather. The warmth that it emanated has moved to a place I can’t follow.

But we can capture those feelings again. Those feelings are experienced everyday by families and fans of club, high school and college sports.

If you get a chance, go out and see a baseball game.

Cheer for the team because it is “your” team and, in the good spirit of the game, “boo” the other guys.

Bring younger siblings and make it your mission to create life-long memories for them. Bring your grandparents, other family members and friends.

Our own Pima Community College baseball team’s season is well underway. This is the perfect time to recapture those feelings you had when you were a kid and, for others, to create them among friends and family.

Baseball is the all-American sport meant for everyone.

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