Opening Day and the Baseball Fan
by Coach Gary Overton

Just a few weeks ago the opening of beautiful new Clark-LeClair Stadium and the ECU baseball season in itself created a thrilling excitement and enthusiasm throughout eastern North Carolina on the baseball scene. Each year similar excitement occurs in big league parks from major league baseball fans in the form of Opening Day.

From the first day pitchers and catchers reported in mid-February, spring training this year has been dominated by the issue of drugs in the game and more specifically STEROIDS. But as teams have now broken camp and make their way to various “Openers” across major league baseball, the focus finally shifts to a much more appealing phrase of PLAY BALL.

Opening Day is usually a time for players to get comfortable and settle in for a long season but not so for the fan. It’s that time of year again for baseball fans across the country who waited out the winter for an annual fix. Off-season concerns over steroids will start to fade over a sea of box scores in the coming days as fans will follow their favorite teams with interest not unlike any other season of years gone by. Being a fan is a choice, an escape from everyday life and avid spectators look forward to the beginning of a new season, after all this is “next year”. Baseball fans love to love their teams just as they love to hate their friend’s team. National League fans complain about the DH and its negative effect on the game just as American League fans detest the lack of offense and batting prowess of NL pitchers. This year it’s one thing and next year it will be something else but every year the primary topic of conversation is still Baseball and the participating teams.

The Atlanta Braves open defense of their 14th consecutive NL East championship and the Yankee-Red Sox rivalry intensifies as it does each and every year. In San Francisco Barry Bonds is taking time off from his pursuit of Hank Aaron’s home run record (purists of the game may always consider Aaron, Ruth, Maris, Mays and Mantle the best) and Alex Sanchez wasted little time in being the first  player to be suspended for failing the new drug testing policy. Former ECU star Chad Tracy will be in the starting lineup for Arizona thereby drawing local interest for the Diamondbacks and Baltimore may have its’ best team in years but also plays in a division dominated by New York and Boston. Will the Cubs ever win another World Series, but wasn’t that same question asked of the Red Sox just a year ago. The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim bear a new name while Cincinnati and the other team from L.A. (Dodgers) remain about as traditional as an organization can be. Small market teams (Kansas City, Pittsburgh etc.) continue to struggle on the field as George Steinbrenner and Time Warner’s pockets are just too deep to let the “little guys” make any noise.  

In Washington D.C. where congressional hearings were held just two weeks ago about drug issues in baseball, the national pastime returns to the nation’s capital for the first time in 34 years as the new Washington Nationals. Neither of the Senators two previous stints (1901-60, 1961-71) were all that successful but fans are embracing this team like they were last year's World Champions. Washington did win the 1924 World Series, but it also finished with a losing record 10 of its final 11 seasons (only in 1969, under manager Ted Williams, was the team above .500).

Regardless of one’s favorite team, major league baseball begins with high hopes for the ardent fan, newly discovered problems for players, and a cry from the public for credibility to be restored. But remember, after all is said and done, it’s the true baseball fan who’s a winner when the call is made to PLAY BALL.

Coach Gary Overton