Niagara Gazette — Maybe this column is a day late to celebrate Independence Day, but then again that doesn’t stop the knuckleheads down your street from blowing off more firecrackers on July 5, right? With that in mind, here are some holiday thoughts...
• I used to think I was most excited about baseball during Major League Baseball’s opening week in April. A new season upon us, every team in the league equal and, although naively in some cases, fans hoping that perhaps this will finally be their team’s year.
At least, that’s what I used to think. Over the past couple of weeks, covering both Buffalo Bisons and Niagara Power games reminded me how special this time of year is to be a baseball fan. More than just the fireworks, but also some great moments and milestones.
Dave Righetti throwing an Independence Day no-hitter on July 4, 1983. And, on the subject of the Yankees, late owner George Steinbrenner being born on the holiday. So, too, was the team’s broadcaster John Sterling.
The Yankees don’t monopolize July 4 baseball highlights. Nolan Ryan got his 3,000th career strikeout on Independence Day in 1980. The Mets and Braves went 19 innings in 1985, delaying the fireworks until 4 a.m. (the Mets won, 16-13). The Reds’ Tom Browning just missed a second perfect game on the date in 1989. Brewers pitcher Shaun Marcum hit a grand slam on the holiday just two years ago.
There’s also the simple, pastoral spirit of being in a ballpark at this time of year. As much as opening day brings excitement, when was the last time you got to attend a season opener in shorts and shades?
At the risk of seeming a little hokey, there’s this temporary return to innocence I get at a grassroots level ball game at this time of year. For all the ESPN highlights, big-money stars and increasingly made-for-tabloid tales that come from the bigs, the local clubs offer some of that downhome flavor that has been long lost in “the show.”
I have a theory that what’s behind the popularity of baseball films such as “Bull Durham” and “League of Their Own” is the nostalgic, romantic down-to-earth flavor of baseball in those films. It’s still available at your local ballparks. If you want ball as grassroots as can be, I’ve witnessed it from the press box at Power games. If you want something that’s got a little more of the bright lights and big-time but more reasonable for your wallet, there’s the Bisons.
Either way, it’s an enjoyable time of year to take in the national pastime.
• If you’re looking for other sports options for which you can afford to take out the whole family, FC Buffalo soccer has also impressed me considerably. At just five dollars per person, you can bring a family of four. Parking is adjacent to All-High Stadium in Buffalo and at no cost. The fans are also always loud and enthusiastic but also well-behaved. I have to give them a lot of credit — unlike most other major American sporting events, soccer fans never need a scoreboard or public address announcer to tell them to “make some noise.”
• The organizers at the recent inaugural Women’s Porter Cup must be grinning at the recent success of Casie Cathrea, the WPC’s first-ever winner. Cathrea, in late June, was the low amateur at the U.S. Women’s Open. The 17-year-old has committed to Oklahoma State University and is one of the rising stars in golf whose connection to the Porter Cup gives tournament planners exactly what they need — instant marketability. Having Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson pass through Niagara Falls Country Club helped market the Porter Cup on the men’s side. You might say Christmas may have come a little early for the planners of the women’s tourney.Follow Niagara Gazette sports editor Michael Mroziak on Twitter @ MrozGazette.