, , , , ,

The Phoenix area is famously the site of much of baseball’s Spring Training.  Many teams, both Major and Minor, get the off-season kinks out in the Arizona sun, including the New York Yankees, the Cubs and White Sox of Chicago, the Cincinnati Reds, Cleveland Indians, Colorado Rockies… the list goes on and on, and if you’re interested in that list you can see it here.  The excitement is over for this year; the teams have left to take up the ardors of regular season play.

But wait!  It turns out professional baseball players aren’t the only ones who take advantage of this climate to get in some Spring training.  High school and college teams from all over the Northern part of the country come to the Gene Autry Park in Mesa to take part in a series of warm-up games, some of which count in their regular season of play.  There are two baseball fields in the park as well as other fields and amenities including a building with rest rooms and a concession stand.  Can’t have a baseball game without a hot dog close by.

The Captain stumbled on a college game one day when he went to the Park to while away a little time.  He saw Middlebury College playing Oberlin.  We were so excited!  Our friends Kate,  John, Charles and Angus live in Middlebury – it made them seem so close.  The Captain spoke to some of the fans, hoping to find a friend in common with our friends, but of course the stands were filled mostly with parents and girlfriends of the Middlebury players.

And that makes sense.  It turns out it is the parents who foot the bill for this spring break odyssey.  They hold fund-raisers during the year, but I have to imagine that mostly they just pay.  It would take a lot of bake sales to underwrite an eastern baseball team’s stay in the southwest.

I met the Captain a couple of days later to watch some ball.  That morning  featured two high school teams from Colorado.  It also, evidently, featured a most interesting pitcher, Chris by name.

He was so interesting that he was being followed around by a bunch of scouts.  No, not college scouts, as we initially thought; major league scouts.  Huh?  Don’t young baseball players go through the college system before turning pro, or is that just football?  I’m not enough of a sports-meister to know.

Here they all are, timing Chris’s pitches.  What makes him so interesting, evidently, is the fact that he can throw a ball at about 91 miles per hour.  The professional pitchers are in the 94-97 mph range, according to one of the scouts I spoke to.

A couple of days later I returned alone because the team from my beloved Williams College was scheduled to play.  Sure enough, there they were in all their understated glory.  (I grew up in Williamstown and later attended the College as part of the first experiment in co-education – that was an experience.)  It felt really great to be able to holler, “Go Ephs!” again – words that haven’t passed my lips in years (Williams teams are always ‘The Ephs’ after the founder of the college, Ephraim Williams). I was not the only fan present.

Williams College enjoys a fine reputation as a center of undergraduate learning; it is, perhaps, less lauded for its baseball teams.  How amusing it was to hear such sideline chatter as, “Jason, you have a really discerning eye!”  An unsuccessful batter returning to the bench looked more like someone worrying over a perplexing physics problem than a pissed-off athlete.  And perhaps he was.  Even though the scouts weren’t there to see the left-handed pitcher Steve, below, Williams was still enjoying a good week; they had already won 11 of their 13 games.

Pitching has always looked extremely uncomfortable to me – doesn’t it look like his arm is glued on backwards?

The future of Major League Baseball might be more Chris and less Steve, but the games in Mesa were all good fun. It’s such a pleasure to watch a good baseball game on a hot dusty day in a small park with just a few other fans.