This spring, my weekends will be spent in Heaven. Nestled next to (what’s left) of Sewell Hall and the shell of Beard-Eaves is a jewel called Plainsman Park. The Camden seats, the mini green monster, the lush green grass, and the clean brick façade all come together to create my perfect weekend. These are the elements of my own personal Shangri-La.
For many Auburn fans, the culmination of football season becomes the signaling of the end. Their fandom goes in to hibernation until next fall. For me, the opposite occurs. When football season wraps up, I begin to wake up. Coming out of a stupor and meticulously gathering information, plotting dates on a calendar, and preparing for another spring of enjoyment.
I find myself driving by Plainsman Park more and more before first pitch. Almost like one would drive by an ex-girlfriend’s house. Remembering all the good times you had together; slowing down to a crawl while you let every memory flood and engulf you. Only in my case, we’re getting back together and our first date is February 17th.
Baseball is such a hard game to explain to people. The nuances get lost. People grow “bored” and use baseball games as opportunities to sunbathe or take naps or do things other than enjoy the most beautiful game in the world. It’s a game that, at its core, is built upon failure. A good hitter will not reach base 2 out of 3 times. A good pitcher will still let runs in. Baseball is (to my limited knowledge) the only sport that keeps track of your mistakes. They are personally assigned to you and you are forced to carry them with you during the season. They even have their own category on the scoreboard so everyone can see that mistakes are just as important as runs and hits.
Maybe that’s why I love baseball so much. It’s almost cliché to say that baseball is a metaphor for life. However, it remains true. We make mistakes in our lives. We have multiple chances to succeed and for the most part, we don’t. We strike out more times than we connect. We give up runs. We make concessions. We rely on others for our successes. Baseball can epitomize that at times because every time we fail, we know we have another chance. We are allowed to try again until our fair share of chances have run their course. Even in the bottom of the 9th and down by 10 runs there will remain a possibility, however slim, that we can succeed and come out on top. That’s why I love baseball. It’s fair. It doesn’t play favorites.
The closest temple where I can express my love for the game remains at the corner of Donahue and Heisman. The oddball on Auburn’s campus. It’s the last bastion of the common fan; all-inclusive and a place where everyone and anyone can watch a game. College students have begun filling up the parking deck; catching a game without a ticket while enjoying libations and the liberation of a sunny Saturday. I sit in my normal spot inside the stadium where I just chuckle and think that, when I was a student, that would be exactly where I would be. I’d be perched in that concrete stack like bats in a cave. Also from my seat, I can look out past the outfield and see kids playing on the grassy hill. Blankets laid out for couples. A grill fired up. A radio turned to Rod and Andy. Sitting in a unique spot. If Plainsman Park is the sun and all of my personal fandom revolves around it then these fans are the corona. Just on the outside. Still halfway in the game and halfway enjoying just another day. Flaring up bright and hot as the game itself gets more intense.
The hill is flanked by two uniquely different but disarmingly similar features of Plainsman Park: the mini-Monster and the “K Korner”. Even the most casual baseball fans recognize the Monster and it’s homage to its big brother in Fenway. Personally, it’s the last line of armor for Auburn’s defense. An opposing player may have just knocked a bottle rocket to left field, surely it’s gone and it will be runs on the board, but the Monster has other ideas. It wants the Left Fielder to have a chance. So, with a mighty DONK he spits the ball back in to play…where some lazy runner is tagged out at 2nd Base.
The “K Korner” sits on the opposite end of the outfield. Another turret of protection. Housing only the truest of Auburn baseball fans. Sometimes loud and rowdy. Often polite and knowledgeable. They serve a greater purpose of providing fan interaction and getting into the minds of opposing right fielders. As the ropes inside Plainsman Park get higher and the nets get longer, “K Korner” will remain untouched. The last element of true fan interaction with the players. When the Spring is really in full swing and the grill is fired up. Right field looks as if it houses a dragon, billowing smoke and daring people to test him. It’s not a dragon. It’s just Brother-Man cooking something amazing and at times he’s nice enough to bring a sampling to Rod and Andy in the broadcast booth.
Baseball for most, and for me, was a love developed when I was a kid. I wasn’t allowed to play football before middle school because of my size (being a “husky” kid, the worry was that I would hurt the smaller kids). However, baseball took me in with open arms. Many parents laugh at the rules that say every child in Dixie Youth (or Little League if you are so inclined) has to be given a chance. They have to play an inning the field or have an at-bat every game. They might scoff at it and say it is unneeded and that it is just used to make the kids feel good. Well, I’m here as proof that it worked. It didn’t turn me into Reggie Jackson but instead turned me in to Peter Gammons. It didn’t make me a better player, but it made me a life-long fan. It introduced me to baseball’s arms and those arms have never let me go. It built my confidence. It gave me my chance. I might have been physically terrible at baseball (admittedly, I was) but I was still given an opportunity to give it a go.
That love molded me in to the fan I am today. While Little League got me hooked, it was my time as an undergrad at Auburn the truly refined my taste for baseball and my particular flavor, college baseball. The mythology nerd in me always equates and epitomizes college baseball as a modern-day Janus: the god of beginning and transitions. Looking in to the past and remembering the great players that played on the very same grass and hoping that one day you will be remembered that same way. I think I have to respect college baseball players even more than most other college athletes. I’ll digress a bit, ALL college athletes deserve respect. All have sacrificed and are using their talents at the top of their abilities. However, and this is my biased opinion obviously, college baseball players give just a little bit more.
If you play football, you can get a scholarship and it will cover near everything at school. Books, room, education, etc. Baseball players are different. They have to scrape by on partial scholarships. Halves and Thirds and their ilk. Some schools are able to work around this. An in-state player could qualify for a HOPE-type scholarship and that would cover the majority of the expenses. However, that doesn’t exist here in Auburn. The players who take the field have had to pause their dreams of playing in the Major Leagues for three years and many times do so at their own expense and I get to reap the benefits. I get to watch them develop and they help me wash away any low points of my week and they become the key element of my weekends in Heaven. For that, I’m forever thankful.
My weekends are booked this Spring. I’ve been granted the chance to watch players compete in the sport I love for the school I’ve devoted my life to. They’ll play a game that unites Fathers and Sons and even Mothers and Daughters. They will play in a castle built like a baseball stadium should be. With odes to great memories in Baltimore, Chicago, Boston but brought together in a uniquely Auburn way. They will be surrounded by fans with the same common love. A love of school and sport.
In 25 Days, I will be back in Heaven. I can’t wait. War Eagle.