Spring is fast approaching and just ahead of it is the start of a new baseball season on the plains. The smell of fresh-cut grass floats out and around Plainsman Park welcoming those arriving to the ballpark like old friends. The year is 2013, but if you close your eyes and just listen, the sounds of a ballpark are timeless. In an age where college athletics are broadcast and scrutinized to levels equaling or exceeding their professional counterparts, the game of baseball instills a much needed sense of nostalgia and reminders of a simpler time.
For many, baseball is also the avenue taken to learn life’s toughest lessons and collect their most cherished memories. Although I haven’t attended Auburn baseball games in over a decade, I can honestly say they were experiences that continue to have a positive impact on me to this day.
My grandfather took me to Plainsman Park more times than I can remember. We were always early. He liked to watch both teams warm up, take batting practice, etc. I had, if I remember correctly, a minute or so before he would begin quizzing me. “Why do you think they’re throwing like that?” – “Tell me what that guy is doing.”- “What position do you think he plays?” – “He’s tipping his curveball, can you tell me how?” Most kids would probably ‘zone out’ in a situation such as this, but I loved it. I would answer the ones I could, but I couldn’t just say, “I don’t know.” He would always patiently explain and then move on to a new set of questions much more quickly than I could absorb all of what he’d just said. Then the game would start…
Watching games with my grandfather was, to me, like sitting in a dugout next to Bobby Cox while he managed a game. He was always thinking ahead. There was no situation fathomable that he would not have an answer for. I remember names like Gabe Gross, Tim Hudson, Mark Bellhorn, and David Ross but it’s much easier for me to imagine Colter Bean or Chris Bootcheck being brought into the game to pitch while my grandfather explained why they had to pitch to who they were about to pitch to. I learned a lot about baseball, but it took years for me to realize I was learning more than that.
I, admittedly, don’t follow Auburn baseball as closely as I once did. Players, stats, and results are all things that take a backseat to its larger meaning to me. No matter how much renovation is done, Plainsman Park will always be the same as it was 13+ years ago. The excitement of a night-game inside Jordan-Hare is like none other but nothing will ever replace the lifetime lessons I learned and memories I made across the street.