The pop of the catcher’s glove after a strike sneaks past the whirling stick of a batter, the ping of an aluminum bat as it sends a ball soaring into the sky, the smell of freshly cut grass before the first pitch and the rally cries from a desperate dugout down to its last out are all moments we know and love — and why this time of year is so great.
While the San Francisco Giants and Oakland Athletics are working out the kinks in spring training, the prep baseball and softball seasons are already under way.
Don’t get me wrong. Spring training is one of the more exciting and optimistic times during a professional baseball season, but true blue baseball in which wins and losses count is happening right now in Nevada County.
The Nevada Union, Bear River and Forest Lake Christian baseball and softball teams are already several games into their nonleague schedule and show it doesn’t take a three-hour drive to the Bay to catch some quality ball.
The Lady Miner softball team is off to a hot start, winning both its nonleague games this season, including an extra-inning walk-off win over Yuba City. This year’s version of the Lady Miners is much improved from the two-win campaign a year ago. The young and talented group includes sophomore Lacey Peternell, junior Shyanne Parrish, sophomore Sarah Lundmark, sophomore Cheyanne Ramos and sophomore Alexandra Scicluna — all of whom have NU fans teeming with high expectations now and in the future.
Bear River’s softball team, coming off a section title in 2012, is now in a rebuilding phase after nine seniors graduated from last season’s team and longtime coach Duane Zauner retired. Bear River does have a budding star in freshman pitcher Narissa Long. If the hard-throwing Long learns to hit her spots, she may be one of the best pitchers to come out of this area.
On the boys side, Bear River is off to a slow start at 0-2, but coach Dahorl Ennis and that veteran group of 19 juniors and seniors will likely right the ship.
The Forest Lake Christian squad has also started slow, and who could blame them after losing star pitcher Robert Bristol and multi-tool center fielder Shane Soria? But I’m confident the Falcons, led by coach Jess Soria, will find their playoff form from a year ago.
NU is off to a 2-1 start this season and has three senior pitchers in Ryan McCarthy, Cody Gardner and Nick Eccarius, who are surrounded by a speedy group of fielders. The Miners are poised to have one of their best seasons in years.
Due to my career choice, I have been lucky enough to catch a few of the early season games, and they provide everything a fan of America’s favorite pasttime could want: strategy, intensity, diving stops, two-out RBI hits and bang-bang plays at the plate.
And with that said, at Nevada Union’s Tuesday game against Whitney, the Wildcat fans outnumbered the Miner fans.
Why is that? There’s very little home-field advantage when the away fans roar louder than the home fans. Unless it’s a cross-town rivalry game or something is on the line, baseball has a tough time drawing a crowd in this area, and that’s a shame.
Whether the home team wins or loses, it’s important to take in local games and show support for the high-schoolers who put in so much time and effort on top of their class work.
You may not know anyone on the team, but if you like baseball or softball, go out and watch a game. More importantly, parents should bring out their Little Leaguers and future Little Leaguers for a game.
The young baseballers of Nevada County need to see the evolution of the sport — what a high school game looks like. Sometimes as a kid, it’s hard to see how the Little League game eventually develops into the pro game. Seeing high-schoolers on a bigger stage allows them to actualize the progression of the game. It inspires patience and allows young people to see the bigger picture.
Plus, when athletes are young, they are most apt to inspiration. Now is the time to take them to the ball park and teach them the intricacies of the game. Bring a score book, teach them strategy, and point out when players are unselfish and show good sportsmanship. Then, the next day, watch as they implement the things they learned into their own skill set.
While we are on the subject of good sportsmanship, we should also discuss appropriate fan behavior for attending a game, especially in the presence of children.
In my short time here at The Union, I have come across a several fans who think the game, whether it is baseball, softball, soccer or basketball, is a forum for them to berate the officials and get into verbal spats with other fans.
The umpires who call these games might get paid, but they are not professionals. Most do it either out of the love of the sport or to supplement their income or both.
For some reason, people in the stands feel they have the right to scream, demean and second guess the umpires — as if the guy in the stands has a better view than the man behind the plate.
And how many other jobs are there out there in which you are constantly taunted and unappreciated while performing your duties? I couldn’t imagine what it would be like if there were a group of people six feet away from me heckling and throwing verbal jabs as I wrote this column.
Fans need to remember the world won’t end because a player was called out on an iffy third strike, and scholarships aren’t lost because of a bad call at second base.
Spring is here, and baseball is all around us, so go catch a game, bring your kids and keep it classy.
To contact Sports Editor Walter Ford, call 530-477-4232 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.