Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Baseball Season Interuptus

By Allen Bacon, The Daily Bosco

The start of the month of February used to be a very happy time of the year for me. This is the month that my baseball season used to start.

This used to be the month that 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 usually start the baseball season against our longtime rivals the Stanford Cardinal.

But five years ago the powers that be at the NCAA (the same people that refused for so long to have a playoff in Division 1 football) decided that the teams in Southern California and Florida had 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.

So, the NCAA decided to move the start date for the College baseball season until after the middle of February.

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 retractable 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!

So in the meantime, I have to get my baseball fix by watching the Carribean Baseball Playoffs on ESPN3 or my DVD of the Japanese Pro Yakyu 2007 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 my hometown of 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 and daughters.

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 base hit in his last at bat for West Fullerton Little League. He got a base hit in his last at bat for Fullerton Pony in the Western Regional playoffs. And he got a base hit 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 my son, 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 went on to pitch for Mississippi State and is currently in the Minor Leagues) 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 turned to me and said, "I have this idea for a movie..."

I knew he wasn't going to be a ballplayer for long.

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