It was a perfect day on Sunday. The sky was a cornflower blue with a few wispy clouds scattered about in random patterns. The temperature was a balmy 79 degrees, and we had excellent seats in a part of the stadium with a shady overhang. First base was directly in front of us, so we could quickly scan the field from home plate to the right-field corner.
Best of all, our beloved Toronto Blue Jays were playing the loathed New York Yankees. Yes, it was a beautiful day for a baseball game in Dunedin, Florida!
Now, don’t get me wrong New River Valley baseball aficionados, I am a die-hard Pulaski Yankee fan from June through August, but I have never liked the major league, best-team-money-can-buy Yankees. I was a Cincinnati Reds fan from birth, and I experienced the Big Red Machine era (No, my novice baseball friends, this is not related to the Red Scare; it was about a magical baseball outfit with players like Pete Rose, Tony Perez, Joe Morgan and Johnny Bench, just to name a few.).
Later, we came to embrace the Toronto Blue Jays, having spent time near their Triple-A farm club and also Dunedin, the spring training center for the Jays.
But this column is about Pulaski….Well, mostly.
It is only three short months before the start of the season for the Pulaski Yankees. Young players from across the country (really, many countries) will gather to compete in the Single-A Rookie Appalachian League. Their goal will be to play their way to Tampa for spring training someday. They will then begin their baseball year in February and loosen up in the warm Florida sunshine, playing the game they love in intimate parks like Dunedin, Clearwater, Lakeland, and so many others. People who love baseball will come out to see them play, just like in Pulaski.
When I was a kid, we shoveled off driveways to play basketball all winter, shooting baskets with wet gloves and in winter hats. In the fall, we played football. But in the spring, summer and early fall, we played baseball.
We sprinted to our bedrooms after school, changed into play clothes as fast as possible, and ran up the street where we’d play baseball until supper time, and, a lot of the time, after supper until dark. We set up baseball fields in old lots and even used a manual push mower to make basepaths. We played baseball games, Home Run Derby, pitcher/catcher, Rundown (Pickle) and Catch all the time.
We collected baseball cards, watched Curt Gowdy and Tony Kubek on Saturdays, listened to World Series games on transistor radios in school when we could get away with it, and we all had our favorite teams. In our hometown, we even had a Single-A team about 300 yards from our neighborhood and spent many nights at those games.
We knew the best players on each team and memorized their stats. We played baseball in Little League, Babe Ruth and high school, and somewhere in the back of our minds, we thought we might one day play in Yankee Stadium, Riverfront Stadium or some other monument to the game we loved.
Baseball was a significant part of our lives. It still is. It always will be.
Now, we get to spend relaxing summer evenings in Pulaski watching young people pursue their dream of playing on a major league team. We exult in their triumphs, and we agonize with their errors.
We see some who have that something special that could get them to the next level, and then the next, and who knows, they might someday be playing in a spring game in Tampa or Dunedin fighting for a position in “The Show.”
Sunday we watched the veterans shaking off the rust playing side-by-side with rookies with temporary numbers like 97 or 95 who are getting their shot. The Blue Jays won that contest, 5-2.
By the way, several former Pulaski Yankees got to play Sunday with the New York Yankees: Wilkerman Garcia played shortstop, Gosuke Katoh played second base, Oswaldo Cabrera played third, Kyle Higashioka was the catcher, and David Sosebee pitched an inning, striking out the side. They may make the Yankees or end up back at Triple-A next month. They might show the manager and coaches something that will stick in their minds and, who knows, they could get the call to come up from Scranton/Wilkes Barre to New York one magical day this summer.
And those Pulaski Yankees playing in a few months may get promoted to Charleston, Tampa, or Trenton.
Yes, it was a fantastic day for baseball, and we can’t wait for those perfect nights to come in Pulaski, where people who love baseball get to see players who love playing baseball.
We really can’t wait.
Steve Frey is a writer and CEO of Ascendant Educational Services based in Radford.