Monday, February 16, 2009

The Real Baseball Season Starts This Week

By Allen Bacon, Editor, The Daily Bosco

In times past, the beginning of February used to be a very happy time for me. This was the time that my baseball season really started. By this time the Cal State Fullerton Titans, the four time national champions, my hometown team, and my alma mater, with their ballpark within "hearing and throwing distance" from my home would have already started the baseball season against our longtime rivals the Stanford Cardinal and the TCU Horned Frogs.

But not anymore. The powers that be at the NCAA have decided that the teams in Southern California and Florida have a distinct advantage by being able to start the season at the end of January over schools whose baseball fields are covered in four foot of snow at this time of the year. Last season the NCAA decided to move the start date for the College baseball season to the end of February. Actually our first game is this coming Friday.

I can't help it if your school is not smart enough to locate itself in a sunny climate. I can't help it if your school won't build or play in a stadium with a retractrable roof and astroturf. I can't help it if your students and coaches are unwilling to get on a bus and do a Western swing to start the season. You have interrupted the joy of starting the College Baseball Season for me!

To top things off, we were going to have our traditional Alumni Game or the traditional current team kicking the old Titan ballplayer's least it's a baseball game. But there was a steady downpour last weekend and for the second year in a row that game couldn't be played.

I'm not the only one here in Fullerton who gets anxious for the season to start. On February 1, Super Bowl Sunday, it was the first official day of college baseball practice. There were 200 people in the stands at Goodwin midnight...for the first practice...then they all stayed for a intrasquad scrimmage that started around 2 in the morning!

So in the meantime, I have to get my baseball fix by watching the Venezuelan Baseball Playoffs on ESPN Deportes or my DVD of the Japanese Pro Yakyu 2008 allstar game...or even my DVD of the Angels 2002 World Series victory over the Giants. I love the Spanish announcers on ESPN Deportes. One guy described a strike out this way...Buenas Dias, Buenas Tardes, y Buenas Noches Yes, baseball announcing cliches are universal.

Of course, baseball is a birthright here in Fullerton. Hall of famers Walter Johnson, Arky Vaughan, and Gary Carter all played on Fullerton fields before heading to the Big Show along with Del Crandall, Keith Ginter, Jeff Robinson, Steve Trachsel, Steve Busby, Tim Wallach, Aaron Rowan, Phil Nevin and many other major league greats. Last week, my neighbor was up early taking his son to tryouts for Pony League baseball...a scene that is repeated every year at this time for decades with hundreds of dads and sons.

My son Felix and I were no exception. Nobody knew it except me, but Felix could have been in the Hall of Fame if he hadn't been called away by the movie business. Felix has the only distinction, I think, of getting a base hit in his last at bat in all levels of baseball that he played. He got a basehit in his last at bat for West Fullerton Little League. He got a basehit in his last at bat for Fullerton Pony in the Western Regional playoffs. And he got a basehit in his last at bat for Fullerton High School.

Felix was a slap hitter, like Ichiro Suzuki, except nobody knew about Ichiro at the time (this was when he was playing Pro Yakyu in Japan before coming to Seattle) He wasn't flashy. He never hit an over the fence homerun in his entire baseball career. But he had a phenomenal on base percentage and batting average. Because I kept score for the teams he played on, I had to bring this to the attention of the coaches who always had a tendency to bat him low in the order because of his lack of flash and power. And he also hustled like Darrin Erstad. In fact, even to this day people will remind me how he used to run full bore out to his position when he took the field and run back just as fast back to the dug out after the inning was completed.

My favorite baseball moment with Felix, and there were lots of them, and the instant that I realized he would not be long for this game was on one Saturday afternoon. Felix was playing for the Angels in a game against the Yankees in the West Little League Major division. There was a great pitchers dual going on between the two pitchers, our guy RJ Hively (who now pitches for Cal State Fullerton) and another guy for the Yankees, Geoff Henderson who would go on to have a great High School career and remain a good friend of Felix. The game went into extra innings. In the top of the eighth RJ was walked by Geoff. Felix was the next batter. RJ stole second base. Felix battled Geoff to a 3-2 count. Geoff didn't throw a bad pitch but his slider was within Felix's reach on the outside corner and as Felix would often do, he lunged and slapped the ball over the Yankee second baseman's head in front of the center fielder, scoring RJ and winning the game. His team mates mugged
Felix for being the hero and the parents were going wild in the stands.

I'll never forget what happened next. Felix went to his bag in the dugout, quietly put away his gear, and said, "Let's go dad." As we were walking back to the car...the baseball hero and the proud dad, side by side, he turns to me and says, "I have this idea for a movie..." I knew he wasn't going to be a ballplayer for long.

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