My first organized baseball experience was an unmitigated disaster. I was 11, and an aspiring third baseman for Luciano’s of the Austintown Little League – we didn’t have fancy team names; we just slapped the font of whatever funeral home or local eatery ponied up 100 bucks to buy the uniforms on the jersey. My dad, a firm man with little patience for the frivolous concerns of 11 year olds, was the coach.
We were terrible by every measure. In two seasons, we went 5-25. I played one year with my dad’s softball glove, which was so large that on at least one occasion, I lost a ground ball in it. We lost one game 22-1. This was not the Little League World Series Regionals you see today on ESPN. This was the “Bad News Bears” without Kelly Leak to save us.
Whether by masochism or persistence, baseball stuck with me, and not a spring comes around where I don’t have a twinge to go shag fly balls. That’s why it’s nice when we clear our desks of basketball’s bustle, baseball is there waiting for us. VCU Baseball is waiting for you too, out at The Diamond. If my tale of childhood failure and triumph wasn’t enough to compel you to take in a game, here are a few more reasons to go see the Rams this spring.
1-Dollar Hot Dogs. I’m really not sure why I need to explain this, as it should be self-evident, but I will, just in case there are some savages among us. For every weekday game at The Diamond, VCU Baseball will offer hot dogs for one single, glorious American dollar bill. If you’re a sweet-talking lad, you might even be able to procure a dog for four Canadian quarters, but you didn’t hear that here. Hot dogs and baseball go together like Shaka Smart and Havoc. You can have one without the other, but why would you? Also, don’t trouble me with your self-righteous bluster about hot dog ingredients. I don’t know how a carburetor works either, and I’m cool with that.
2-Everybody loves a winner. The Rams have won nine of 12 heading into Wednesday’s game with Longwood. They viciously drubbed VMI 18-0 Tuesday. Just reading that score game me Little League flashbacks, but without the sweet, sugary embrace of postgame candy from the concession stand.
3-JoJo Howie. The senior left-handed hurler has a little bit of Mark “The Bird” Fidrych in him. Sometimes he talks to the baseball, as well as other endearing quirks. It usually listens, too. He was 7-3 last season and threw four complete games. He’s also doing it while dealing with a mild form of muscular dystrophy. JoJo is a bad mofo.
4-Boulevard Baseball. Richmond’s Boulevard corridor is back. You can now make a day of VCU Baseball. You’ve got BBQ at Buzz and Ned’s, Chinese at Fat Dragon, not to mention all the restaurant and craft beer options in Scott’s Addition. Heck, you can even catch a postgame movie at the Bow Tie Cinemas. “Major League” is not currently playing, FYI. Anyone recommending “Summer Catch” can see themselves out.
5-Walker Haymaker. He’s a junior catcher from Orlando, and he’s got a terrific baseball name. I fully expect him to host an outdoors show with Bear Grylls in the future. He’s also batting nearly .300.
6-Zero point zero zero. Senior lefty Matt Lees has made 12 appearances this season out of VCU’s bullpen, spanning 18.1 innings, and has not allowed a run. He also likes bowling and worked on the Richmond Flying Squirrels’ grounds crew. Those are all true statements.
7-MAJOR talent. Fourteen Rams have made it to the Big Leagues, nine since the turn of the century, and dozens of others have been drafted by Major League franchises. Unfortunately, none of them have helped my Cleveland Indians win a World Series. It’s been 67 years, in case you were wondering (**begins sobbing uncontrollably**).
8-You need to get out more anyway. Look, it’s been a long winter, and you’re looking a little pale. A little fresh air will be good for you. You can do that by leading your canine around foam fire hydrants at the dog park or seated behind the plate with a dollar dog and a cold beverage. Your move, player.
9-Pitch perfect. The Rams have been dealing this season. VCU ranks second in the A-10 in ERA (3.04) and leads the league in strikeouts per nine innings (9.38) and fewest walks per nine (2.99). That allows for plenty of this: