Baseball is only a part of life

Published 12:00 am Sunday, April 15, 2001

Staff Writer

This is my time of the year.

When most people start doing their spring cleaning and yard work (which I need to do), I start bringing out those items that illustrate my love of baseball.

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But, it wasn’t until I was out at Opening Day early Saturday morning to take team photos for The Messenger, that I truly got into the idea that baseball season was here.

It was during a conversation I overheard that I caught spring fever. What I overheard was encouraging ­ a coach telling his team "We win every game because we play hard."

What an inspiration! Often coaches are criticized for their "win or lose" attitudes. Many professional baseball players care more about the money than the game. But, that coach’s words will likely always be remembered by those young boys.

My brother’s first little league coach was one of those mild-mannered men who wanted the boys to have fun. To him and his assistants, winning wasn’t everything. It was just a bonus.

Unfortunately, all his coaches weren’t like that and he eventually gave up the game.

I love baseball and even have a t-shirt somewhere that says "Baseball is Life ­ The rest is just details."

When in college, I wore a gold baseball around my neck in honor of the guys I covered as sports editor of the school paper. I could also often be caught sporting one of many Jaguar baseball shirts I had in my closet.

With thoughts of baseball on my mind, I was thrilled, Sunday afternoon, to catch one of those guys pitching. Jon Lieber, who pitches for the Chicago Cubs, was a good friend of mine in college and we kept in touch through a mutual friend when he was pitching for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Thinking about Jon and the others (some who made the big leagues), I decided to go back to the stories I wrote those years ago.

In a binder, I came across my first editorial. I wrote it in May 1991 after the University of South Alabama team’s winning season. They’d just finished with a 42-13 regular season record, won the West Division of the Sun Belt Conference and were ranked No. 16 by "Baseball America" magazine.

But, like the sport, the season was not about wins or losses, batting averages and errors, runs and rankings, strikeouts and streaks or other statistics that usually dominate baseball.

That team was made up of, not only some great players, but some great men.

One incident I will never forget was when the first baseman ­ who was a wonderful friend to me (especially when he helped me pass statistics) ­ was obviously upset when one of his foul balls his a young fan who was watching the game from behind the home dugout. Between pitches, he kept glancing back toward the child, showing genuine concern. To me, that was just a reminder that some things are more important than sports.

Each one was a hero at some time during the season. For each strikeout by a Jaguar batter, there was someone else in the lineup with a key hit. Whenever a pitcher didn’t have the right stuff, there was another in the bullpen ready to step in and help. For every fielding error, there were some game saving outs.

Teamwork ­ that’s what the game is all about.

Discipline also was an important thing to the success of that team. The coach may have expressed his displeasure to the umpires on occasion, but the players never questioned a call. They played with intensity and emotion, but it was always controlled.

That 1992 USA season was an inspiration to me, just as the words that coach spoke Saturday morning.

To all those taking the field this season, remember that baseball is a game to be enjoyed by fans and players, alike.

Play ball!


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