Longtime Independent readers may have noticed a new byline thrown in with the usual suspects these past few weeks. Along with being the lucky winter intern for the voice of Addison County, I am the sophomore right fielder on the Middlebury Panthers baseball team. Mother Nature’s lackadaisical winter has gotten me thinking about baseball early this year and led me to ponder how we can improve on last year’s abysmal attendance.
Middlebury baseball does not have the storied history of some other sports at the college. We have only made the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) playoffs twice in our history and our longest losing streak (12) outpaces our longest winning streak (10).
But last year, things began to change. Fueled by a young core of players — only one senior position player started — we launched an all-out assault on our losing ways and empty bleachers.
The increased role of Assistant Coach Jim Neidlinger, a former big leaguer (Pirates and Dodgers) and Venezuelan Pitcher of the Year (1989-90), helped show us how to carry ourselves like professionals.
We punctuated our weeklong spring training trip to Arizona by pummeling Williams in a three-game sweep, scoring 36 runs and giving up only 11. The rough games were fueled by players and parents that had little respect for each other. The series finale was punctuated by a Williams parent, who probably had a few too many Buds, screaming, “At least my kid doesn’t go to Middlebury.”
We returned from the desert pumped up by our beat-down of the Ephs (purple cows). But the big wins didn’t correlate into big crowds. Looking back, I can count on my right hand the number of non-parent fans that attended our spring games.
Over last winter, the team tried to get our name out into the community by hosting a free baseball clinic in our indoor facilities for local youth teams. The clinic was attended by dozens of local ballplayers decked out in their orange-and-black uniforms. We had an especially fun time putting some of our shorter team members among the kids and watching them disappear. But after the clinic, none of the local players showed up to root for the Panthers in the spring.
It didn’t help that last year was bone-chillingly cold; no one can be blamed for deciding against watching baseball in the snow. But my hopes are that the mild winter this year will translate into a warm spring. On those special April days, when spring seemingly seeps into your senses, there’s nothing like watching a good baseball game.
I’m here to formally reintroduce the Middlebury baseball team. We are no longer the lovable losers of decades past, and after making the NESCAC playoffs for the second time in our history last year, we’re certainly on the right track.
Unlike some Panther teams, we don’t charge fans for anything. In fact, there is always food cooking past the right field foul pole. When the weather cooperates, there is no better scenic place to watch a game than the 360-degree panoramic views of the Green Mountains from Forbes Field. Players have also been known to break out in dance to David Guetta’s “Love is Gone” during the seventh-inning stretch.
There is no wrong way to spend a warm spring day in Middlebury, Vt. But hopefully the combination of a good team product, welcoming parental fans and free food can entice more people to come out and enjoy a game at Forbes Field — it’s just off South Street before Porter Medical Center, a pleasant walk from downtown or there’s free parking right across the street.
Intern Kyle Finck is at email@example.com.