This was written before Thursday night’s announcement that Pahrump Valley High School was suspending spring sports and Friday’s NIAA decision to suspend athletics statewide.
Those who fret for a living spend a lot of time worrying about the decline of baseball as the national pastime. TV ratings aren’t great, and it seems that if your local team isn’t in the pennant race interest in that town drops to almost nothing. Networks don’t fear putting up shows against the World Series any more, and it is often remarked that the best athletes in this country don’t pick baseball.
It’s baseball season, and some of us couldn’t be happier. If that makes me old, fine. It ain’t the only thing that does.
In fact, I’m so happy to have baseball back that I will be making the trip south this weekend to see three of Pahrump Valley’s games in the Route 66 Baseball Classic. This event, co-hosted by River Valley (Arizona) High School and Needles (California) High School, is somewhat infamous in Trojan baseball history, but last year they went 4-1 down there.
Even better, nobody got suspended. (Senior Chase McDaniel joked about that particular road trip on signing day, and I’m still kicking myself for not glancing over to see whether or not Trojans coach Brian Hayes laughed.)
Maybe the start of baseball season doesn’t have the same mental impact in the desert as it does in other areas. Having grown up in a cold climate and lived in an even colder one before moving to Las Vegas, I can tell you that knowing the pros are in Florida and Arizona was a cheerful thought on a miserable February day.
When all the world was ice and snow — or, more likely by late February, slush — seeing preseason baseball games reminded you spring was just around the corner. And wondering who might crack the rotation or which rookies might be on the big club were major concerns, long before the days you needed to know who was going to be the Reds’ fifth starter before your fantasy draft.
Oh, I did that, too. I was the commissioner of an old-fashioned (how funny that sounds in this context) Rotisserie-style league from 1989 to 2014. Maybe I outgrew it. Finally. Or maybe I just didn’t have the energy or desire to check on that Reds fifth starter’s Double-A numbers from last year. I mean, seriously. I have a life. Or at least I pretend to when making conversation.
In my line of “work,” baseball season represents the return to the outdoors. After three months of being cooped up in gyms, we’re back outside, and it’s not hot yet. And baseball is much more relaxing to cover than basketball or wrestling. Wrestling is really intense, and so much happens so fast in basketball that it’s hard to keep up if you’re scrawling play-by-play into a notebook.
Yes, I do that. And it’s so much easier to do at a baseball game.
Everything about baseball is more relaxing than the rest of the year. The ball doesn’t move up and down the field as it does in soccer or football, which means I’m not walking up and down the field after it. Nothing good can come of that.
Thomas Boswell once wrote a book entitled “Why Time Begins on Opening Day.” Actually, it wasn’t so much a book as a collection of essays published in 1984, but the title pretty much explains it all. Spring, from the symbolism of the Easter egg to the sprouting plants all over the place, is a time of renewal, and the return of baseball season fits right into that.
I love talking all sports with all coaches and athletes, but there’s something special about talking baseball with baseball people. Whether it’s different ways of approaching a game situation — how do you bunt in that spot? — or just talking about how Phil Rizzuto shouldn’t be in the Hall of Fame but it was worth it to hear that wonderful speech, the sport is a gold mine for conversational tidbits.
And I won’t even mention analytics, a word I am sick and tired of hearing even as I welcome the discussions about them. It’s kind of like hearing Bernie Sanders say “billionaires” all the time. I mean, I get it, but enough is enough. Besides, all those intricate numbers might work great for a 162-game season but mean nothing in a short series. The sample size is too small, and how people haven’t figured that out yet is amazing to me.
But those guys don’t start playing for another couple of weeks, assuming there are any games. But the high school kids, at least at Pahrump Valley, started Thursday. I won’t see those, but by the time I get to Needles High School for this afternoon’s games against Holtville and The Meadows, I already will have seen all of two games and part of a third involving Nye County’s 1A schools.
For the record, the Nye teams are 0-3 in those games and have lost by a combined 43-3. And I went to Laughlin for one of them. You have to love baseball to do that. You sure as hell don’t do it for the money. And when those kids figure out a few things and win a couple of games, I hope I’m there to see it and write about it.
People like me better when I write happy stories, but I’ve told you that before.
So today, when the umpire says play ball in Needles, I’ll be there, ready to keep score, probably standing off to the side to avoid hearing too many silly comments from the bleachers. (No offense, but after three games I’m already tired of that.)
Of course, I checked the weather forecast down there, and there was a 70-percent chance of showers Thursday night and a 50-percent chance for today, along with a flash flood warning, just for kicks.
But who cares? Baseball is back.