Wednesday, February 18, 2009

This Weekend is National Opening Day of 'Ping!'

I know we talk a lot of Motorsports and professional stick, racket and ball sports here but this Friday, February 20th marks opening day of what I feel may be one of the most enjoyable sports to attend for a fan and more-so families: NCAA Baseball's Opening Day.

While yes, it is the same sport of baseball that exists in many markets and people's lives; for whatever reason college baseball is not largely covered or seen by most fans/outlets; and that is not necessarily a bad thing. There are no sponsors to thank, no official PR reps to hold back anything from the players, but the players much are hardly amateurs in talent showcasing some of the best skill and effort around and for the majority of the players, simply for the sake of competition; but best of all it is one of the most open environments to sports fans out there.

UNLIKE NCAA Football, no matter your team, no matter the conference, your team has just as much of a shot to win the national championship as any other school with a team.

There are over 30 conferences and 200+ Division I schools represented in baseball and they all get the same fair shake. Chances are if you live in the States, you have a local team you can root for. Win your conference, or pile up a good enough record and you are in the playoffs, there is no poll voting to care about, its all determined by winning your conference record or formulated strength of schedule much like NCAA basketball.

Unlike NCAA basketball though, where your national championship game is never really a surprise and basically a guarantee to come from a big conference top ranked school. (essentially 90% of its champions being a top ranked 'big 6' school).

College baseball is almost the definition of parity with 8 different champions in 11 years and 3 of them coming from outside of the 'Big 6,' and one can hardly consider the PAC-10's OSU Beavers expected. In fact the past FIVE baseball champions weren't even ranked in the top 12 going into the playoffs, with the most recent champion, Fresno State, not even being ranked at all before the playoffs begun; when has that ever happened in basketball? Imagine a 13-16 seed winning it all. The College World Series which hosts the final 8 teams has to date hosted 106 different schools. That means at this point half of the schools in competition have made it to the College World Series, not just the playoffs, half have made it to the final eight and got an invite to the historic Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha.

But that's the beauty of college baseball from a competition standpoint; everyone has a shot from Tigers, Rebels, Trojans, Hurricanes, Gators, and Longhorns, to the Torreros, Owls, Bears, Beavers, Golden Eagles, Ragin' Cajuns, Anteaters, Green Wave, Gauchos and (my personal favorite) the Dirtbags.

If you are a fan of parity and "anything can happen" look no further. Of the 4 major polls in 2009 we are already looking at 3 different #1 teams. In Baseball News alone the top 40 are not only separated by the slimmest of margins but 84 teams received votes!!! That's 84 teams that would not surprise voters to be contenders.

I'm not asking you to be a hardcore fan, I'm just suggesting you head out to a game as I believe college baseball to be the definition of sport in its purest form. There aren't many widespread competitions that rival it, but truly I think attending a game this spring is one you will greatly enjoy and can relax too.

Every college baseball stadium I've ever been to has that same pure youthful non-spoiled atmosphere to it. Players are excited to have fans know their name and will always oblige to talk to fans and young kids. When you attend a college baseball game, you get to you know the city/school/neighborhood as well. These ballparks are built generally in the center of the communities/campuses/neighborhoods where they can fit; most all have some great history and unique things to them, not generic cement coliseums we see in the pros of all sports.

In Spring of 2008 we did a great College Baseball Tour for Putting Pins in a Map that we're going to re-paste here below. I highly recommend getting to any of these parks as well as wherever your local team plays this Spring/Summer and hear the relaxing sound of Ping!

March 11 - LSU's Alex Box Stadium

A stadium with a lot of history (5 National Championships in a 9 year span) though it is in much need of a renovation; instead they are soon to demolish it and turn it into a parking lot for the football stadium & open a brand new Alex Box down the street.

Not many will argue with the move as the stadium itself has nothing specifically special in uniqueness, just history of teams/players who played in it... What makes LSU's atmosphere great are the many true tailgaiting, cheering covered in purple and gold fans... and the bat girls in miniskirts...

March 12 - UNO's Privateer Park

Privateer Park (recently re-named Maestri Field) has a special place in my heart. Its a baseball lovers ballpark, not extravagant, not a dump; its sole purpose over the years has just been to be a good place for baseball of all levels. I grew up with it, as a little kid I went there to see the UNO Privateers play, then the Zephyrs AAA team (they played there for the first years as they built their own stadium across town), I remember when the scoreboard caught fire, I watched my older brother play many games there as well as playing one game there myself (in a fall development baseball league at which I made a diving catch).

The field has been remodeled and re-sodded since hurricane Katrina. If you go to a game there (highly recommended) bring a jacket because the field is literally right on Lake Pontchatrain, and that cold wind off the water will freeze you in the stands...

March 14 - Tulane's New Turchin Stadium

I'd never been to Turchin Stadium until after it was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina flooding and then FEMA turning it into an emergency station and parking lot (see google satellite imagery). My Dad tells me it used to be an ok stadium... well now its a VERY nice one:

They started from scratch demolishing the old remaining pieces and built a new stadium in its place complete with field turf instead of grass (and even the infield's "mud" is turf painted orange!?) My only complaint about it (though it is being worked on) is a complete lack of parking as the stadium would remind you of Fenway being stuck right in the middle of the city...

March 15 - Southern Mississippi's Pete Taylor Park

My personal favorite place to watch a good baseball game, the doubly named: Pete Taylor Park/Hill Denson Field. I've spent many afternoons and nights watching games at "The Pete." The fun college atmosphere but a field that looks like its maintained by an MLB staff.

One great unique thing to 'The Pete' (after the boiled peanuts) is the "Right-Field-Roost." The stadium itself is a good story lower than the ground surrounding it and the land outside right field in particular is level to the outfield fence, so for a price you can get a parking spot on right field and tailgate during the games!


Anonymous said...

Boiled peanuts taste like antique doornobs dipped in cat shit. Just awful.

That said, you're exactly right: there are few better ways to spend a February afternoon than drunkenly lounging in a college park's bleachers. (Provided that park is in the warm confines of Florida, of course.)

Allen Wedge said...

Yeah I've never liked the boiled peanuts myself, but people at that stadium seem to love them. I do like the spicy peanuts they have at LSU, and UNO's concession is exactly what you'd expect in New Orleans with gumbo and jambalaya options usually given.

and hey, there's more than Florida as options, Mississippi, Alabama, Texas, Arizona and most West Coast teams too; but as March comes around I think its a great afternoon for any school as the good weather is usually back by then. I just moved out to D.C. can't wait to discover some of the college parks out here, but will most likely have to wait at least a month for that...