Columns & Blogs

Opening Day 2008 brings new hopes for Dust Devils

I always wanted to be a pro baseball player, but I get to do the next best thing — being a pro baseball writer.

And what’s great about the Northwest League is every dream is fresh and everybody has hope — some more than others — that they will someday be wearing their parent team’s major league colors.

I get to see potential stars coming through, and you never know who they will be.

Since the Dust Devils started here in 2001, the Tri-Cities has seen its share of big-leaguers make their way through. Just off the top of my head I remember Khalil Greene playing for Eugene before becoming the starting shortstop of the San Diego Padres.

Pitcher Dontrelle Willis came through with the Boise Hawks before hitting it big with the Florida Marlins. Of course, he’s struggling a bit now with the Tigers and back with their Class A affiliate, but that’s another story.

And lets not forget Richland’s own Travis Buck, who hit a home run to dead center field in his first professional game while playing for Vancouver right here at Gesa Stadium back in 2005. That was before he rocketed up the ladder to the Oakland Athletics. He’s still got a lot of good baseball in front of him.

But that’s the point. They all do.

Sometimes, it’s the ones you don’t expect who end up surprising you. Like Chris Frey, a slick-fielding centerfielder who struggled with the bat before learning how to drag bunt in 2005. He’s now with Triple-A Colorado Springs and probably about to get his first taste of the majors before too long.

Bruce Billings was a 30th-round draft choice last season before leading the NWL in strikeouts.

I love meeting the new players and getting a glimpse of that potential and feeling the excitement they have about playing pro ball. It’s good for everybody, because that enthusiasm can rub off on you if you’re close to it.

Minor league baseball is terrific because you can do just that — get right down there next to the action. Enough to see the players’ faces and hear the infield chatter. You get so close you can almost hear what pitching coach Doug Linton was saying to that umpire after getting thrown out last year.

Well, maybe that’s not the best example. But you get the idea. It’s accessible in a way the major leagues never can be to fans.

It’s kind of like the difference between shopping at a big-name supermarket chain and a mom-and-pop grocery store. The atmosphere is just different. The attitudes are better.

And I don’t mean to sound political here — I shop in the big stores just like I love going to major league parks. But where else would they let you run 100 yards from left to right field IN THE MIDDLE OF THE GAME??

I’m talking, of course, about the Dusties Dash, one of my favorite promotions of all time. It’s mostly for the kids, but the adults can do it, too. You see them all legging it out — girls and boys, big and small, fast and slow, losing shoes along the way. Just a beautiful sight.

And I’ve never heard of a major league park getting away with dollar-beer night. Not in this day and age, anyway.

This entry went in a little different direction than I thought, but I guess I’m just happy the season has started again.

And you will be, too, if you make it out to Gesa Stadium this year. There’s sure to be a player or two who might catch your eye. By the way, watch outfielder Charlie Blackmon, the Rockies’ second-round draft pick out of Georgia Tech. He has been making excellent contact in batting practice so far.

Can’t wait to see what he’ll do this year.

Or how far he might go.