Schu Strings: Is baseball back?

In truth, the Boys of Summer tend to get things started a season or two early. And in Arizona, baseball hasn't needed those long summer days to become a hot item. Winter and spring have been just fine.

In all honesty, I haven't been a baseball fan for many years now, but in 2002, in the state of Arizona, I realize on this topic I am a serious minority. Baseball and I parted ways after Major League Strike No. 3. I figured that was enough opportunity for both sides to get their respective acts together. One work stoppage, I can live with that. Two, you're toeing the line. Three, you're metaphorically out, and done as far as any real investment on my part.

In essence, I have blamed the Big Leagues at the expense of the younger players. Many of them had nothing to do with strikes at the Major League level, and certainly performers for the Triple A Sidewinders or UA baseball team had no contact with those days at all. Even so, about the best I can do is say I truly respect their abilities and wish them luck. I will tend to pass my time in other ways.

But there's no question that Baseball Fever has struck in Tucson, and throughout Arizona. Naturally, the Diamondbacks are the root of this renaissance of enthusiasm. Fascinating what a World Series title can do for program interest. However, in a philosophical economic way that would make Ross Perot proud (and really, in the end, isn't our ultimate goal to please Perot), Tucson baseball has benefited from a trickle-down effect. Spring training was a big deal, a really big deal, this year, which has led to higher attendance in the early stages of Tucson Sidewinders games.

Arizona baseball seems to be in the mix to some degree as well. Fans are actually in attendance at Frank Sancet Field from time to time, as opposed to the very recent days where the UA would make up embarrassing attendance figures in an effort to cover up just how bad the patronage actually was. On most Saturdays, they'd draw more people at the TASS-Anime showings at Himmel 150 than UA baseball [Editor's note: Those are Japanese Animation shows].

Since the mid-80s, sports interest has shifted in Tucson. The Old Pueblo is now considered a basketball town by virtue of the success of the Arizona men's basketball team. But in truth, Tucson's deepest sports lineage is tied to baseball. Perhaps a part of that genetic makeup is coming full circle, or full diamond, as the case may be.

We are a long way from the days when Sancet Field was packed on a regular basis. The days when you couldn't get tickets to a UA/ASU baseball game, at Sancet or Packard. The days when baseball ruled the roost. But it's better than it has been, and that's a good sign, especially for new coach Andy Lopez, who is bent on making Wildcat baseball successful again. If he starts winning, the likelihood is fans will follow, based on baseball's new rise in popularity locally.

Just last Friday, I was geekily speaking with Ryan Radtke via our little Instant Messenger programs. Radtke, who teams with Brian Jeffries for Arizona baseball broadcasts on KNST, was preparing for that night's game (which is a good thing, since it lasted 18 innings) while watching a baseball game and listening to another on the Internet.

If this fever thing starts to spread, instead of being a fanatic, perhaps Radtke will be just another baseball fan in Tucson.

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