Sunday, April 8, 2012

Partaking of a unique football/baseball doubleheader

I extricated myself from the solitary confinement of my home office and the drudgery of book-writing and editing yesterday to get outdoors and take in a unique spring sports doubleheader in downtown Rochester.

And I’m glad I did.

I caught part of the Syracuse University football scrimmage at Sahlen's Stadium, then took in several innings of the Red Wings home baseball opener at nearby Frontier Field.

Being outdoors on a gorgeous day among people proved good for the soul.

Twenty-eight years of covering the Bills has soured me on watching football practices. And I long ago learned that little can be discerned from such repetitive and boring endeavors. So, I can’t draw many conclusions from SU’s first open-to-the-public practice of the spring, other than that the defense appears to be way ahead of the offense and that running backs Prince-Tyson Gulley (love that name) and Jerome Smith might actually provide the Orange with a potent ground game this fall.

I understand that fourth-year Syracuse coach Doug Marrone is under mounting pressure to turn things around after last year’s debacle in which the Orange stumbled to the finish line with five consecutive losses. But not allowing your players to be interviewed by the media is a bit extreme, and not the best way for a floundering program to spark interest among a skeptical/apathetic fan base. I still think the former Syracuse offensive lineman is the right guy to turn things around, but closing practices and denying the media access rarely has been a successful formula.

On the positive side, the players spent nearly a half hour after the practice signing autographs for the several hundred fans in attendance. As the Orange struggles to become relevant again, they need to do more of this. And I hope Marrone continues to bring his team to RahChaCha for these scrimmages because it’s a good way to sell the program to a market that has provided the school with numerous standout players and season ticket-holders through the years. Kudos to dedicated SU alum Mike Vadala from Summit Federal Credit Union for setting up this trip to Rochester. It’s a good idea that can become even bigger with a little more support - and many more wins.

The Red Wings continue to do a stellar job with home openers, as evidenced by another stirring pre-game salute to our military.

I spent a little time in the press box kibitzing with former colleagues before strolling to different locations in Frontier. For as long as I can remember, I’ve enjoyed uprooting myself every couple of innings and watching the game from different seats. Yesterday, I viewed part of the game from the third-base seats next to the grassy knoll along the left-field foul line, then took a walk to the centerfield SRO area to catch an inning there. I immediately noticed how brutal – even with sunglasses on – the sun was in center. And it gave me a greater appreciation of why the Wings centerfielder lost sight of the baseball.

People ask me if the Wings are going to be good this year. Haven’t a clue. Minor-league baseball prospects like football scrimmages are always tough to gauge.

This much I know: If you love baseball or just love the camaraderie at a ballpark, you’ll have 108 more opportunities to experience it at Frontier during this historic summer in which the Wings and Empire State Yankees will call One Morrie Silver Way home.

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