In spite of the woodchuck from Punxsutawney and no matter how much snow the weatherman predicts in his April forecast, spring is officially here. One of the surest signs that spring has arrived in Upstate New York is the sight of bundled up fans, sitting on blankets, shivering while watching a game of baseball. We’ve waited all winter for this; through the end of football in February, college basketball’s March Madness conclusion and the never-ending hockey season. Finally, it’s baseball season.
Unlike basketball, soccer and most certainly hockey, most any boy or girl can go see a baseball game, understand the rules and say “I’ve played this game, lots of times”. Baseball is truly America’s sport. Our close proximity to the Birthplace of Baseball, Cooperstown, should make this game more special. For most baseball fans a trip to Cooperstown is a once in a lifetime well planned journey, compared to our casual trip to a doctor’s appointment at Bassett Hospital right around the corner from the Hall of Fame. (By the way, don’t tell Cooperstown but, Hamden, NY is where the first documented game of bass-ball was played in the U.S. around 1825.)
No matter the skill level, from Little League, high school or professional, a baseball game can be watched on nearly any day of the week with no need to wait until the weekend. In person viewing is always best. Watching a baseball game at a field has the advantage of shouting a compliment at a player and receiving a head-turning glance with a tip of the cap. Of course a fan’s critique can also be heard by players and umpires when their skills fall short. Unlike hockey, baseball players seldom jump into the bleachers to continue the discussion with the disgruntled spectators.
Even if you aren’t the biggest fan of baseball, by attending a game in person you will certainly be entertained, particularly if you attend a game at the Double A or Triple A level. Those teams, along with their goofy names, always have some sort of gimmick to draw people to the park. For about ten bucks per person, a fan can get a bleacher seat about 75 feet from a baseline, usually closer. This is close enough to feel the crack of a wooden bat hitting the ball; close enough to hear the sound of the ball thumping into a glove, and occasionally hearing a player teasing an opposing batsman. Once in the stands wearing your free hat, everyone’s a fan.
If ten bucks is to too stiff a price to pay, check out a high school varsity game. Fans are even closer to the field, with only a chain link fence separating the players from the onlookers. At the high school level you can expect to see some of the players still in the learning stage while others are developing their strength and speed into big-league potential. Of course, if you’re a parent of a girl or boy, you will certainly spend some time watching T-ball and Little League, standing on the sidelines thankful you are not the coach, while simultaneously wishing you were.
One of the nifty aspects of attending a baseball game, and seldom carried out, is to actually score a game by the rulebook. Spectators of no other sport perform this ritual. I’m proud to say former Sheriff Joe Benenati taught me how to score a game at none other than Doubleday Field, back when the Major League played one game a year in Cooperstown. Learning all the official scoring symbols was fascinating, especially when the Sheriff showed me his often used score character of “WW” – Wasn’t Watching. Every baseball fan should learn to score a game, and keep the score card to memorialize the day forever. I haven’t looked, but I have no doubt there’s a smart phone app for scoring a game.
With baseball season finally here, all of us, especially families, should attend at least one game this season. We are lucky to have a couple of great venues nearby, NYSEG Stadium in Binghamton and NBT Bank Stadium in Syracuse. Take it all in; the Cracker Jack, the 7th inning stretch singing and closeness to the players. Chances are good if you make the effort to attend one game, you’ll attend many more. Make sure the kids bring along their hats and gloves, and moms bring the sunscreen because eventually summer sun must return to Upstate New York.