It was a beautiful winter's day in Athens Saturday as I sat in Foley Field watching the Georgia Bulldogs play baseball. It was 57 degrees and not a cloud in the sky. I was glad to be outdoors enjoying the national pastime under God's clear blue. For three hours I could forget the economy, free agency, steroids and other things unpleasant. How nice.
The scene was much different than when I last attended a baseball game in this ballpark. It was June 8, 2008, and the situations were polar opposites. On that day the game was as high-stakes as it could get. Georgia was playing NC State with a trip to the College World Series on the line, and it was 100 degrees plus. Now Georgia was playing their second game of the new season against an overmatched team from Youngstown State in Ohio.
This opening weekend series was likely Youngstown's first time on real grass in 2009 and they played like the name of their mascot, the Penguins. Georgia won the three games by scores of 15-2, 14-0 and 12-8. Next weekend will be a different monster for the Bulldogs as they travel to play the perennial powerhouse Arizona Wildcats.
Georgia will be without the star power of last year's team. Superstar shortstop Gordon Beckham and ace closer Josh Fields have moved on to professional baseball. The weight will have to be carried by first baseman Rich Poythress from Greenbrier High School and catcher Bryce Massanari. An assortment of veteran pitchers and freshman outfielders will have to chip in to help the Bulldogs avoid the odd-year doldrums that they have suffered during coach David Perno's tenure. Last year national runners-up, this year, who knows?
I'm very much looking forward to this baseball season. Last year Georgia expected to have a pretty good team and they did not disappoint. It is now time to see if the Bulldogs have reached that elite level where they never rebuild, just reload. From the looks of the new recruits I have high hopes that will be the case. I have even already bought tickets for the regular season ending series in the South Carolina Gamecocks' new stadium in mid May. It will be interesting to see how things stand in three months.
College baseball is an unusual sport. The NCAA severely limits the number of scholarships for baseball. Most players are functioning with half scholarships or less in terms of financial aid. Of course kids from Georgia have the HOPE scholarship, provided they can survive the rigors of playing a major sport and maintain a B average. Many players get drafted but their chances of big money in the majors are limited. College players are still playing for the love of the game.
I think being close to the action in an intimate little setting like Foley Field is my biggest
drawing card. Unlike in Turner Field and other major league parks, the fans are very much a part of the game. You can hear the pop of the mitt and the ping of the bat as if you were holding them. I know the men in blue can hear the catcalls and best of all the players and fans are all in it together. There's nothing like a run scoring double in a big game by ole' state U.
After the trip to Arizona the Bulldogs will host a few small schools before SEC play begins at Alabama on March 13. The Bulldogs open the home portion of the SEC slate versus Mississippi State the following weekend. LSU, Florida, Arkansas and Vanderbilt, all good programs, will also be coming to Athens. Clemson comes to town on March 31 and Georgia Tech shows up on April 14.
Go to georgiadogs.com and check out the schedule. Mark your calendar and make the quick trip to Athens for a game. If you do, I think you will find that I have given you some good advice. The advice is free, but it will cost you $5 to get in the game. Not a bad deal.