On Saturday, March 5, the First Ladies of Baseball kicked off spring, and the baseball season with a trip to watch George Mason’s team take on Niagara. We arrived 10 minutes later than the start time, but the game was already off to a quick start, with Niagara leading 1-0 at the top of the third. Things turned around fast, and we were privileged to watch as Blaise Fernandez got his first college home run! This milestone was later relayed to a late-arriving father by his small son, who yelled at the top of his lungs, “DADDY! Number 9 hit a HOME RUN!!!”
There was lots of good baseball to be seen – some solid bunting (which is always a pleasure to see well done), solid line drives directly over 2nd base. The game is amazingly close to what you might see in the minor leagues – the players are talented, and only lack a certain slickness that you see in major league players. The game being played is good, but the atmosphere around the game is what makes it special.
What is that atmosphere? Well – to start, the soundscape is different. There is no “crack of the bat” – instead, there’s a solid ping from the aluminum bats the players use. There are parents around: filming, taking pictures, keeping track of their sons and generally worrying in the way that parents do during athletic events. There are scattered friends and other university athletes, for whom the game was either convenient or just something to do for free on a Saturday. The teams are comprised of a mixture of young men and boys – some of whom are less than 5 years removed from their little league days, and still show that eagerness and support for their teammates.
Watching the pitchers was interesting – from the close vantage point behind home plate, you can really see different pitching styles begin to emerge. Mason’s starting pitcher (#20, Ryan Pfaeffle) was a little slower and more deliberate in his delivery. Niagara’s starting pitcher (#2, Kody Kaspar) had a quicker release and seemed more anxious to be rid of the ball. Both patience and impatience are virtues in this game where the players are still trying to figure out what it REALLY means to be a man playing a game.
We had a great time. $5 apiece got us in, though if we were cheaper, there was a hill beyond the outfield that provided great views, and was a lovely spot to eat our concession-truck lunches (italian sausage, chips and a sprite for Maggie for $7; soft pretzel and a soda for Ashley for $5). We enjoyed our lunches on this hill as the game ended, and then got to watch as players, coaches and umpires alike all walked past us to buy snacks from the truck, or use the facilities in the field house up the hill. You can’t get that close in any level of professional baseball, and it made all these participants in the game that had just finished like us. There is not much of a pedestal in college baseball.
A few final thoughts: the game ended in an 11-6 win for the Patriots. The Niagara Purple Eagles (and oh, how the announcer made sure to repeat that team name) were all wearing matching purple stirrup socks – a cool retro look that we both enjoyed. And as a bit of trivia for all the Nats fans who are trying to figure out how this game relates to what they’ll be seeing either in Spring Training or at Nationals Park in a few weeks – Bryce Harper is younger than all these guys. Something to think about.
(the rest of the album from this game can be seen here)