It’s that special time of year again. The Super Bowl is over. College basketball is getting closer to March Madness. NASCAR is already doing time trials for Daytona. Baseball is also in a season where it is coming alive. Little kids (and even big adult kids) are getting into the batting cages trying to get back in shape and work on their swings. Coaches are throwing batting practice (BP) during the day and icing down their arms at night.
Baseball is back in gear in the South, Y’all!
I have to admit, I’m pretty ecstatic myself and I’m not even playing. I’ve coached my son through community leagues and travel ball for the past seven years. This year he’s in Middle Grade and, if he makes the team, I get to stand back and watch behind the backstop, complain about the umpires, chewing on sunflower seeds, and eat hot dogs with mustard.
The excitement is not just about the game. Baseball season also means springtime will soon be here and with it (eventually) warmer weather also. In the South, our baseball season lasts a little longer than most places across the United States. Where I’m from in mountains of North Carolina baseball seasons will begin in mid-March and continue through late October. But if you travel a couple of hours south to Florida, Alabama, South Georgia, some areas of South Carolina, baseball seasons can go year round.
That warm weather in the south has ballplayers of all ages banging the red clay out of their cleats as early as February. It’s not very comfortable to practice baseball outside in the cold up north, or even the upper southern states. So when it comes time to get ready teams from all over the country head south.
Since the Philadelphia Phillies started it in 1885, Major League teams have spent their Spring Training season in Florida. Now, most all of the East Coast teams get started in Florida in early February and train until opening day.
The Florida Spring Training is referred to as the Grapefruit League. The Phillies will be in Clearwater, the Orioles in Sarasota, Braves at Lake Buena Vista, Pirates in Bradenton, the Tigers in Lakeland, and that is to name just a few. Spring Training will consist of the training to get in shape and also a schedule of games against other teams in Florida's Grapefruit League.
The South's Pros
Baseball has a rich history in the South. A few Major League teams have their homes in the South, like the Atlanta Braves, the Miami Marlins, Tamp Bay Rays, Houston Astros, and Texas Rangers. The Marlins were established in 1993 and have had two World Series titles, 1997 and 2003, both of these coming from the Wild Card spots. The Rays were established in 1998 and went to the World Series in 2008. They lost to the Philadelphia Phillies 4 games to 1.
In Texas, the Astros were established in 1962 and the Rangers in 1963. The Rangers won the American League pennant in 2010 and 2011 but no World Series Championships. The Astros have won a pennant in both the National and American Leagues and are the current MLB World Series Champions (2017).
The Braves are the much more storied of these three. Established in 1871, the team has only been in Atlanta since 1966. Their home was in Boston until 1953 where they moved to Milwaukee and stayed until they relocated to Atlanta. The Braves have three World Series championships, 1914, 1957, and 1995. But they have won 17 National League Pennants.
College Baseball in the South - Always A Force!
College baseball in the south is always strong. With great D1 teams like the Tarheels, Tigers, and Seminoles. NCAA championship teams with the most wins include LSU and Texas with 6, Miami with 4, and South Carolina with 2. Others with at least one win include Florida, Coastal Carolina, Virginia, Vanderbilt, and Georgia.
Of the top 16 teams in this year’s NCAA D1 preseason rankings, there are 12 schools in the south LSU (16), Louisville (15), Vanderbilt (14), Mississippi State (12), Texas A&M (10), Ole Miss (9), Kentucky (8), TCU (7), North Carolina (6), Florida State (5), Texas Tech (3) and Florida (1).
Minor League Teams Names in the South
I have always enjoyed the names of Minor League teams in the south. Quite often the names reflect the communities they are in. For instance, the Chattanooga Lookouts are named for Lookout Mountain near their city. The Riverdogs of Charleston, SC reflect the urban legend that sailors would see big rats on the banks of the Charleston’s rivers and would call them Riverdogs. The name Biloxi Shuckers celebrates Biloxi's heritage as a center for the oyster and seafood industries.
In Florida, you can find teams with great animal mascots like the Daytona Tortugas (turtles), the Florida Fire Frogs, and Charlotte Stone Crabs. Also great fish mascots like a Thresher, a surface living shark, in Clearwater, Hammerheads in Jupiter, and the Tarpons in Tampa.
Bring On Workouts. Bring On Baseball
If you are a baseball player, hopefully, you have already begun working on this coming season. Practicing turning two, taking some swings in the cages, shagging some balls in the outfield - just trying to get better. Because someone out there is working harder than you to take your spot.
A baseball quote I've heard from a coach,
“The time will come when Summer will ask you what you were doing all Winter.”
There are only two seasons - Winter and Baseball
So as I sit here on a very rainy cold day in the western part of North Carolina, I look out the window, longing for the warm, sunny days of baseball. I can’t wait for family fun at a ballpark, ordering hot dogs at the concession stand, hearing the crack of a bat, and see a player make a great catch in the outfield.