Taking Time (Off) To Enjoy The Game

onight I will be doing something that I haven’t done in so long that I can’t remember. I am planning to go to a ball game without a camera or notepad just to relax.

Today starts what will be a week and a half of vacation for me, probably the last vacation time I will get before things begin winding down for the summer. After that, it’s head-long into the fall sports season. (I hear the chorus of kids screaming, “No!” at that last statement.)

My wife and I have a few plans, including a trip to Minneapolis to see the Minnesota Twins play. Even there, though, I’ll have a camera around my neck and be keeping a scorecard.

Today, though, that won’t be the case as I watch the Yankton Tappers take on Lesterville at Riverside Field. Jeremy Hoeck, my more-than-able assistant, will be taking the photos.

The game precedes the annual fireworks display at Riverside Park, and my wife and I plan to go down early to watch the game. She grew up in Lesterville, so she’s hoping to see some old friends.

For me, it’s a chance to partake in one of the great things about summer in the Upper Midwest, amateur baseball.

While I appreciate watching the skill and precision of the Major League game, I love being around baseball at all levels. I like watching young players develop their talents, but I love seeing adults play the game, especially at the amateur level. I’ve seen plenty of young kids who were pushed to play due to overbearing parents, but there is almost none of that in amateurs. They’re out there for the love of the game, the love of competition.

You can see that love of the game in the people that follow amateur baseball as well.

In a smaller town — i.e., anyone in the South Central League outside of Yankton — games tend to be as much a social event as an athletic contest. When you pass through the town’s main street, a sign promoting the game sits right in the middle of the street. Crowds not only pack the small stands near home plate, but they’ll ring the field in lawn chairs or cars or the beds of pick-ups. With every strikeout, home run or big play, car horns go off to salute the accomplishment of the home team. With every foul ball or home run, a wave of kids chases the stray sphere in hopes of getting a quarter (or in some cases, 50 cents) for bringing it back.

In the press box — most of which aren’t big enough to hold actual press, just large enough to hold an announcer and a scorekeeper — the announcer not only calls out the next players, but gives a little commentary on the side. It’s almost always positive, saying that the left fielder made a nice catch or the pitcher painted the outside corner. He or she will also tout the specials at the concessions stand, wish someone a “Happy Birthday” and remind the kids to return the foul balls for their quarter.

And it’s all done without the aid of high-definition exploding scoreboards that stand seven stories high or computer-recorded sound effects and music that drown out any attempts at conversation.

It’s probably the small-town boy in me — even though I haven’t lived in Veblen for nearly 19 years — that appreciates those little things about amateur baseball, things that someone from a major city might see as unsophisticated or corny. But maybe if more of us had an appreciation for some simple things like this, we’d all be a lot happier.

If you get the chance, stop down to Riverside Field for tonight’s 6:30 p.m. baseball game and stay for the fireworks. If you don’t, have a safe and happy Independence Day with your families, and take a moment to remember those who fight to preserve that independence.

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