Thursday, May 23, 2013

Seeking a 'field of dreams' in Colorado

The young men who comprise the Midland College Chaparral baseball team truly are the 'boys of summer' this year. At a time when most students are pursuing ventures off-campus - recreation, work, whatever - the team has remained on campus and at work, getting ready for what lies ahead. It's been two weeks since commencement exercises brought an end to the 2012/2013 academic year at our community college in Western Texas, and it will be another week before we kick-off the summer semester. It's a quiet time around campus ... unless you're a baseball player. They returned to Midland just a few days ago with a regional championship trophy in hand - the first ever for MC Chaparral baseball. And now they're in Grand Junction, Colorado for the JUCO World Series, the National Junior College Athletic Association's national championship tournament.

JUCO World Series-bound Midland College Chaparrals, 2013 NJCAA Region 5 Champions
This will be their first-ever trip to the national tournament. And while they have reached unprecedented levels of success, a difficult path still lies ahead of them, with the best junior college baseball programs in the nation standing between them and a national. But, you know what? I think they could do it ... I really do. They are a fine bunch of young men, good athletes, and we have a first-rate staff of coaches and trainers. They really could do it this year.

 And, no, I don't have the stats, the percentages or the research to back that up. Honestly, I'm not the baseball fan I was forty years ago ... and even then, I was out-of-sync with most of my friends and neighbors. The pro sports franchises that warmed their hears were mostly in Philly, just a two-hour drive south of my home near Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. But my heart was warmed by franchises at the west end of the Keystone State, on the banks of the Monongahela where Willie Stargell, Roberto Clemente, Steve Blass, Manny SanguillĂ©n and the rest of my beloved Pittsburgh Pirates pursued America's pastime.

But even after all these years, and even after I've embraced 'the dark side' and begun following soccer more, I still enjoy a ballgame. Sometimes, I think I've been fortunate to have spent most of the past 35 years in areas where minor league ball is played ... in Albuquerque, NM with the Dukes, and in Midland, TX with the Rockhounds ... the venues are more intimate, the seats are affordable, there's an unusually high percentage of friends and acquaintances in the stands with you, and the players seem to be more concerned with playing than posturing as they work their way up to the majors.

In the time that has passed since the creation of "englische Base-ball" (or whatever), it still remains a favorite pastime ... and for all its appeal in other parts of the world, still a popular American pastime ...

It's like that line from "Field of Dreams" (one of the better speeches ever committed to film), adapted from Kinsella's "Shoeless Joe" (a great book on baseball, its magic and its appeal) ...

"The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it's a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good and that could be again."

... it reminds me of the fun I've had in the stands, which I later shared with my boys. And how the wife and I would whoop-it-up from the sidelines when their rec teams took the field. I hope they'll share it with their kids someday ... if not, Grandpa will be standing by!

In the meantime, I regret that we will not be able to make the drive up to Colorado this weekend, to watch my 'Chaps' play ... a Memorial Day break in the hills and mountains of Colorado, watching aspiring young players take their best shot at the title ... I can think of worse ways to spend a weekend.