The 2016 baseball season has arrived in full fury across the land, and I for one could not be more excited. I enjoy covering the other sports and the privilege of seeing some of the best high school competition in the state of North Carolina, not to mention some incredibly talented coaches and players. But I love baseball and count the months until it begins anew.
For me, there’s nothing like fresh green grass upon which the game is played (no turf for me, thank you). The words “Pitchers and Catchers Report” is like Christmas morning to me, in which the umpire’s bellow of “Play Ball”, the pop of a ball to a leather glove, and the crack of the bat are my carols.
In most sports, you have a pretty good idea of what teams will be in the hunt for a title run. Not so, in baseball. The beginning of the season gives hope to all who play the game. From Little Leagues to the big leagues, all who play feel in their hearts and minds “this is our year”.
That chant was certainly felt here in Hickory much of the 2015 season as the Crawdads captured the South Atlantic League championship. For me, it was a personal joy to follow the team up close on a daily basis and to see that work rewarded with a league title. It was a cool experience to see the ups-and-downs of the entire season and to have the story evolve the way it did. To be able to interview many of the players and report their experiences – from unbridled, sometimes arrogant confidence to the worry of it all coming to an end at any moment – it was a dream come true for someone that has been a fan from the age of six.
Now, we turn the page and look to 2016. For fans of the major leagues teams, they have a decent idea of who will don the big league uniforms on opening day and hopes on how they will perform.
For us in low-A, it’s wait and see.We don’t know what we will have here in Hickory until the Crawdads take the field. For the most part, these kids have had very little time to work together as a unit, if at all. It’s an oddly mysterious feeling each year to see how April plays out and to get a sense of what the summer will become.
There are certainly questions as to who will come to L. P. Frans Stadium. Will Luis Ortiz return for a third season on the hill in Hickory, or will the Texas Rangers let him have a go at pinball baseball at High Desert? Will Pedro Payano be able to build on a strong final month of the season on the hill?
Will we see wunderkinds Yeson Yrizarri and TiQuan Forbes on the Hickory infield? Does Josh Morgan come back here as a catcher? In light of his 80-game suspension from last season, does Travis Demeritte warrant a third season at second at L.P. Frans, or do the Rangers push him up the ladder with an edict that it’s time for the former first-rounder to put it together?
How many bases will Eric Jenkins steal in a Hickory uniform? Who are the other players from the 2015 team to come back? Suddenly pushed into a new role with the promotion of Spike Owen- formerly announced as the Crawdads manager – to the third base coaches box in Arlington, how will Steve Mintz fare as a stateside manager for the first time?
As the season begins four weeks from the typing of these words, I can’t wait to see the picture take shape as the events begin to be painted on the canvas that is 2016.