Karl Lindholm: Beautiful weather, no bells and whistles
It’s my favorite baseball experience:
That is, watching the Middlebury College team play another worthy small college team on a beautiful warm sunlit day in the month of March.
Obviously, we’re not talking about baseball in New England. As we all know, there are two good reasons not to live in this part of the country — one is November and the other is March, two nasty bleak long cold months.
It’s important to get away in March, if at all possible, to more congenial climes, if only for a brief interlude.
That’s why most years I try to get to Middlebury baseball games during the team’s spring trip south or southwest — this year in Florida, and for many years, Tucson and Phoenix.
Once my kids were old enough not to need my impeccable paternal influence and support on a daily basis, I lit out during Spring Break for wherever the Panthers were playing baseball.
Why not: the weather is beautiful, the setting is ideal, and the baseball is good. And it’s all baseball: no bells and whistles. I’ll explain the bells and whistles in a minute.
A spring trip during Spring Break for many years now has been a crucial part of the schedule for any northern college that wants to have a baseball program of any appeal and quality.
From March 25-30, just two weeks ago, Middlebury played 10 games in Florida and won seven, under third year coach Mike Leonard. This is a good team, 13-6 right now, with a big three game series with NESCAC rival Williams College this weekend.
MIDDLEBURY COLLEGE BASEBALL coach Mike Leonard talks to his players between games in a doubleheader against Hamilton in Winter Haven, Fla. The Panthers were 7-3 on their recent spring trip and are now 13-6 heading into a big three-game series at Williams College this weekend.
Photo courtesy of Karl Lindholm
During these baseball forays, I communicate with the home front in Vermont and get reports of March’s unpredictable weather — 10 inches of snow on the day Midd lost a tight, well-played game against Wisconsin-Whitewater, 4-3.
Darn, I always forget to bring sun block.
I root for more than the uniform with “Middlebury” stitched across the front. In retirement, I still teach a baseball class for credit on occasion during Winter Term, and nine of the players on this year’s team were my students. That provides a satisfying and immediate personal interest.
This year, the team played their games in the Orlando area. A number were at Chain O’ Lakes Park in Winter Haven. Red Sox fans, old-timers like me, will remember that Winter Haven was the Spring Training home of the Red Sox from 1966 to 1992.
In 1985, my good Middlebury friend Jon and I took the baseball cure and spent a week staying at the Best Western in Winter Haven and watched baseball morning, afternoon, and night.
We would be at the complex by 10 a.m., taking in batting practice and games on the lower fields, often in the presence of Ted Williams and his friend, teammate, and sidekick, Johnny Pesky.
Afternoons and evenings, we attended major league games, in the stadium at Chain O’ Lakes, or at other Spring Training sites nearby.
So watching Middlebury split a doubleheader with Hamilton College at the Chain O’ Lakes Stadium (which has become worse for wear over the years, as have Jon and I), was a lovely nostalgic exercise.
TED WILLIAMS AND Johnny Pesky observe the action in a Red Sox minor league game on a lower field in the Chain O’Lakes complex in Winter Haven, Fla., in March 1985. The Middlebury College baseball team played a number of their spring trip games this year at Chain O’ Lakes.
Photo courtesy of Karl Lindholm
Now the bells and whistles:
I get to a game in a different city each summer as “field work” at the Negro league conference I attend. I have come to find it difficult to watch a game at a major league park.
The distractions are constant. State of the art sound systems and giant TV screens in center field blare incessant nonsense at an ear-piercing level. Conversation, the essence of the fan experience, is nearly impossible as some unseen force is exhorting us in shimmering neon to make “NOISE.”
The game, the baseball itself, is incidental.
(Fenway is the happy exception to this excess, but there are other reasons that make Red Sox games a challenge, not the least the expense of tickets, the highest in the majors).
At the Middlebury games on their spring trip, there are no bells and whistles, just baseball. The only sounds you hear are baseball sounds.
We had a spring trip one of the years I played on the Middlebury team, a long time ago. Our southern swing was to Connecticut! Actually Connecticut, New York, and Massachusetts.
The first game, at West Point, was the first college game I ever played. I went in to pitch when things were already out of hand: Army was rolling over us.
In my debut, I surrendered the longest home run in the history of baseball.
I got the side out 1-2-3 in my first inning, then got the first two outs in the next. I managed to get two quick strikes on the next batter, the clean-up hitter, and then threw him a curve that spun lazily to the plate about waist high.
The Cadet’s eyes got big, he took a mighty cut, and hit the ball nearly out of sight.
It soared over the left field fence, still going up, landed in the distance taking a high bounce off the road which ran behind the fence and splashed into the Hudson River beyond.
Three days later the ball came ashore on a beach in Marseille. A French bather picked it up, exclaiming, “Mon dieu. Quest-ce que c’est?”
I figure it traveled about 3,000 miles.
I made that last part up, but the rest of it is true.
That’s a story my friends and family have heard before, many times. But it’s a good story, often embellished but mostly true. My wife says that good stories are meant to be retold, perhaps many times.
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