BENAC: Looking ahead to spring sports, warmth

It’s becoming clearer and clearer every day that spring just wants to explode on Alpena and wipe away all the dreams and memories of the frozen wasteland of winter. The sun has proven that it does exist (as I was beginning to seriously doubt it) by popping up in clear blue skies again and again. And the slush that was formerly snow is turning into rivers and streams flowing through the streets and down the drain.

Look, I’m going to make it quite clear: I am not a big fan of winter. I don’t really participate in any winter activities. Snow shoeing? Too cold. Ice fishing? Too cold. Snow mobiling? Too cold. Skiing? Too cold…and too uncoordinated.

I think you get the point. Winter never bothered me too much until I spent seven years in Marquette. Living there teaches you the brutal truth about Alpena winters: they aren’t that bad.

However, spring is one of my favorite times of the year as I can watch my mortal enemy, Old Man Winter, disappear. I can start walking around downtown without bundling up constantly. And I have the drive to get to the gym again and lose those depressing winter pounds.

Sure, summer is my lifeblood (I live for the hot days of swimming, camping and relative peace at the office) but spring is the setup for the joys of summer. And soon I’ll be facing my first spring sports season as a sports writer.

That’s right: this is the first time I’ll have experienced the joys of watching baseball, softball, girls tennis and track for reasons other than pure pleasure. I don’t mention girls soccer as I’ve already covered boys soccer and know the deal on that.

Many of these events won’t be too difficult to cover: track will seemingly be all about getting the final results for each of the day’s events and briefly writing about the most important ones. Tennis will be similarly easy as will soccer.

The big ones that will take some time to learn will be baseball and softball. Do you know how many stats there are in baseball? Roughly 53,483,193 (or so)! There are “at-bats” and “hits” and “outs” and “doubles” and “triples” and “home runs” and “outs” and “ins” and “batting average” and “average base running speed” and “pitching rotation torque” and “number of times the coach screams at the umpire.”

Not all of these stats may not be exactly true as a few of them are actually fake. But my point is made.

I’m actually looking forward to it. Although I wasn’t a big sports guy as a kid, I remember getting into baseball. Part of that was due to Hillman’s championship runs in the 90s. Going to huge stadiums and smelling real stadium hot dogs (at real stadium prices of five bucks a pop) got me hooked.

Baseball may not be the most fast paced game. In fact, it’s usually a completely deliberate, slow paced showdown between pitcher and batter. It’s the type of tense situation you don’t see in many other sports.

Perhaps in cricket but I’m still not sure how that works.

The part that is going to be tough for me is balancing out the joy aspect with the work aspect in a way that maximizes both aspects while minimizing the negatives of each.

First of all, I feel like it might be wise to bring a companion. My brother Ray is a big baseball nut. I’ve been meaning to bring him to a game for awhile, but now that baseball is coming up he can keep me company, keep the game light and help me keep track of any stats.

Next, I’ll have to make sure to bring five bucks for a hot dog. I mean come on: going to a baseball game and not eating a hot dog is something like a crime against the International Rules of Baseball. I could potentially be fined.

I could potentially get into the tradition of baseball heckling but that’s a bit dangerous for a sports writer. You all know a baseball heckler. “We need a pitcher, not a belly itcher!” Or rhymes 10 times dirty and unprintable in these fine pages.

Or one of those real hot and heavy hecklers that lets loose with huge screams of disapproval every time the other team does anything good. The type of person who screams at the ref for every call against his team.

“Yer blind! Who paid you off? Call some our way too huh?” as if refereeing wasn’t about making the fairest, most honest call possible in the given situation and more about balancing “calls” on some sort of “fairness” balance.

I don’t want to be too hard on hecklers: I’ve done it too. But as a sports writer, I can’t do that as I have to be completely bias free. Or as bias free as possible.

Being bias free is especially important when I talk to coaches. Coaches are the sports writer’s lifeblood. A bad relationship with a coach can make it difficult to get coverage on a team. A positive relationship can lead to prompt phone calls, easy conversation and greater coverage.

Heckling a team’s pitcher and calling him a belly itcher may be fun, but it won’t exactly endear me to a coach. I’ve seen fist fights at games break out over less.

In spite of my inability to heckle, I am looking forward to some great baseball games this summer. I’ve heard a lot of good things about a lot of teams and I can’t wait to see them show off their skills.

See you on the diamond, sports fans!