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
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.