Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Opening Day with the Mountaineers

First of all, my sincere apologies to Brian Gallagher, the General Manager of the Mountaineers. I posted this yesterday with some incorrect information, and in reading his comments on the piece, realized the tone was not what I intended it to be. For this, you have my apologies, and the promise I will proofread for more than grammar the next time.

At long last, with rain clouds up above, and teeth chattering, the Vermont Mountaineers of the New England Collegiate Baseball League were able to get their home season underway. As a bit of background, the NECBL has been called by some as being a step behind the Cape Cod League as far as talent goes, with others, including some in Major League Baseball saying the talent level is very much equal. These are kids who are still in college, and are looking for a chance to show off for the big league scouts. One note about the league is they play with wooden bats. In the NECBL, you will not hear the obnoxious ting of aluminum. Wooden bats are used so players can better prepare themselves for the professional ranks. The players are not paid, and are housed by volunteers throughout Central Vermont. Only the coaching staff and the General Manager are paid a small stipend for their season of work. Along with the Central Vermont setting, this team seems to fit into what makes Vermont so unique; its ability to bring people together who just want to play and work hard, but do all of it outdoors.

The fans in Montpelier are something else, and other teams fans should model those of the Mountaineers. The fans know their stuff, know the game, and at one point did something one doesn’t see very often; cheering for the opposing team. After a sixth inning Pittsfield home run, I swear, the cheers for the opposing player was as strong as it would be for a Mountaineer. The fans here have class, which is something one will not see in Major League parks, or for that matter, some minor league parks. Recreation Field is in Montpelier, Vermont, the smallest state capital in the US. With a population of only 9,000, Montpelier's other claim to fame is the fact it is the only state capital that does not have a McDonalds. There are a couple of chain stores in this quiet little city that has close to no crime, but you cannot get a Big Mac in Montpelier which leads to its charm. Vermonters believe in keeping things small, and local. Larger corporations can get their money in other places, Vermont prefers to keep theirs at home so they can support local businesses. The Statehouse sits right in the middle of downtown, and craft stores and other smaller businesses line the streets. Recreation Field is set back off of Elm Street, in a residential area of the city. The parking is limited, so there are always free shuttle busses running from various parts of town.

The park itself is one you would expect to see back in the days of baseball where there wasn't a steroid controversy, and astro turf wasn't even a thought. The park seats about 1,500 or so in one of those old fashioned covered grandstands. On many nights, you can catch fans sitting on lawn chairs down the first and third base side, which gives the kind of homey feeling to the park. Of course, one can still get their fill of hot dogs, chicken dinners, and every piece of merchandise one can eat, or wear for that matter. The park itself is surrounded by the trees that have made Vermont so famous. Being in such a wooded area makes you step back a bit, and really enjoy kicking back with a hot dog and soda(No beer, this is a family friendly environment.) and watching some good baseball.

As this was Opening Day, the usual pre-game festivities with introductions of both rosters, the mascot, and the team sponsors taking place. The mayors of both Barre and Montpelier threw out ceremonial first pitches, along with sponsors and a couple of kids as well. Once the festivities were out of the way, we were ready to play some baseball. The Mountaineers took an 11-4 decision over Pittsfield(MA) on a strong nine strikeout performance by Chris Freidrich. Of course, being college kids, there were five errors, a few wild pitches and passed balls, along with some braindead baserunning by both teams, but that was here nor there. In between innings, the mascot was holding court, and the usual antics with kids running through cones and throwing baseballs for prizes kept the announced crowd of 1,224 well occupied when the game started getting ugly on both the field, and when the temperature dropped again.

I will be doing more of these types of things as the season goes on for both the Mountaineers and the Lake Monsters. I will be working for both over the course of the season, as well as my writing duties for the Vermont Times, and my duties with ESPN Radio.

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