Opening Night

Bill CoadyBy Bill Coady

If “time begins on opening day,” as Thomas Boswell once wrote, then time has begun here in Wausau once again, but unfortunately it looks like it might be a long summer. But whether the Woodchucks win or lose on the field, going out Athletic Park is always an interesting experience.

Going to see a Woodchucks game is a bit like going back in a time machine. At first it may seem that the hokey, “this inning brought to you by” sponsorship of everything is a recent innovation, but has been around since Alexander Cartwright (not Abner Doubleday — as Casey Stengel said, “you can look it up”) invented baseball. The outfield wall covered in advertising seems more Norman Rockwell and 1950’s than anything else. And then there is the National Anthem. I don’t remember the name of the woman who sang it last night (I will look that up before the end of the day) but I have to admire her voice and gumption. She took a microphone down on the field and sang the Star Spangled Banner acappella. And she did a great job. You want to try that? Not me.

And then the game began. And the time machine dial was set to 1968. At least in my memory. In the major leagues, 1968 was the year of the pitcher. It was the year Carl Yastrzemski won the batting title with a .301 average, the lowest ever. It was the year Bob Gibson posted a 1.12 ERA. After 1968 the powers that be lowered the pitching mound 5 inches. But it is always 1968 at Athletic Park.

I think it is mostly the fact that the college players are coping with wooden bats for maybe the first time. College baseball uses aluminum bats where the sweet spot is huge and even a ball hit off the handle can be a solid line drive. Wooden bats require perfect timing and placement. We forget this because our usual experience is watching major leaguers, and trust me those guys are superhuman. Not very many balls were hit out of the infield by either team last night.

Which leads to 1968 tactics. Here is something you won’t see in a major league game these days. The Chucks were losing in the bottom of the eighth inning 2-0. Two men were on base, thanks to two walks, with a strike out in between. Two on, one out, with the second place hitter at the plate. Perfect spot for a game winning rally. Jim Gantner called for a sacrifice bunt. No major league manager would do that today. But then again you won’t see a lot of major league games where the only balls hit out of the infield are routine fly balls. You also don’t see a lot of major league games where ALL the runs are unearned, and 6 errors are committed by one team.

Yes, six errors by the Chucks, and a couple of wild pitches thrown in for good measure. A 3-0 Opening Day loss. Not an auspicious start for Gantner, but he will get plenty of more chances this summer. And I am sure I will be taking the “way back” machine trip out at Athletic Park many more times this summer. Starting again tonight, first pitch at 6:35. Maybe it will take a few years off of me, rather than adding one on.

See you at the park!


7 responses to “Opening Night

  1. As a season ticket holder, man I gotta say I love the chucks. I just wish I could buy a better cap.

  2. The season tickets were a bit rich for my blood, especially since I was not sure how many games I would actually be able to attend. Miss more than a few games and it seemed that individual tickets were actually cheaper.

    So, I guess I have enough money for a nice cap, I also don’t have one now. In fact, I don’t have any Woodchucks gear at all, but I do have a really nice Cardinals jersey that has a wonderful vibe to it, so I guess I will wear that to the games.

  3. Do they even have nice caps for sale?

  4. If you go to their main office on the lower floor of the aWashington Building they have a nice selection of caps, shirts, etc. Last time I was there they even had a rack with shirts for $5.00 each.

  5. Bill, if you want great seats, my season tickets are 4th row up right behind home plate.. great seats.

    if the game starts and you see some of the seats that say John Fischer empty, feel free.

    And Dino, pick up your tickets, you can get a 20% discount on stuff with the ticket stub (stuff like hats)

  6. The Northwoods League is in the top 5 (in my opinion) for college summer (wooden bat) leagues. Of course there is the Cape Cod League, an Alaskan league and various other ones that are known nationally. Single-A baseball will never return to the city, face it. They will not go to cities that are below 100,000 (metro) in most cases. So enjoy the ‘Chucks, because as rumor has it they are growing out of their neighborhood Wausau park. Lets hope they stay the course and Athletic Park can accommodate them.

  7. Comment to Dino on caps, I did pick one up last night. $20 (marked down to $16 with discount on back of ticket). I didn’t get my first or second choices as they were both large and I looked like Charlie Brown when I put in on…. some other of the smalls fit better.. but still kinda goofy looking. Finally I found one that was okay but fit pretty well. So.. my questions are.

    How big are your people’s heads? I am a size 7, and the only hat that I could buy that fit me was a YOUTH cap with some strechiness in it.

    What ever happened to adjustable caps? Some of my caps have the plastic pokie things, other caps have like a buckle type adjustment. But for $16 to $20, you would think they would make an adjustable baseball cap.

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