commentary (2006-14)

‘Why Life [Really] Begins on Opening Day’

More than a Baseball Book’s Title

by Barry Henderson

Baseball season is upon us. You know the old Tom Boswell saw that trumpets, “Life begins…” It’s true. It’s really spring now, with all of its attendant elements of renewal. Heavy coats are back in the closet. Short sleeves and shorts are out on the rack.

It’s starting to smell like hot dogs and popcorn outside as I write this, regretful that I’m indoors. The pop of the glove and the crack of the bat can be heard everywhere if you hold your head just right. The big leagues began playing for keeps this week, and the minors are almost ready.

When the Smokies, fresh from an exhibition game with the UT Vols, take the field against the Montgomery Biscuits tonight, April 6, it’s official. Double-A ball is in business for the summer.

Sevierville’s lovely Smokies Stadium becomes a destination Tuesday, Aug. 11, when the West Tennessee Diamond Jaxx come for a five-game visit—a visit to us.

The Smokies are still ours, despite moving east along I-40 six summers ago because Sevier County got its act together and built the $19 million stadium there. It’s a nice drive, 20 minutes or so from downtown Knoxville, where the revered Bill Meyer Stadium used to be home to the team.

What a fine tradition the club built here, and it carries over, across the county line, where license plates in the $3 parking lot show plenty of Knox, plus a bunch of Sullivan, Hawkins, Hamblen, Union and even Blount and Loudon stickers. It’s truly East Tennessee’s team now.

Its new manager this season, Bill Plummer, managed in the majors after a playing career at Cincy. The affiliation is with the Arizona Diamondbacks, as it was last year. Its lineup is rife with talent. AA ball is great baseball, and you’re liable to be watching stars of the future. Past Smokies include Fred McGriff, Jeff Kent, Carlos Delgado, and pitchers David Wells, Roy Halladay and Chris Carpenter, among the more recent movers-on to the bigs.

Tony LaRussa and Earl Weaver managed the Smokies in their AA time, en route to the Hall of Fame. It’s a fable of a story, spread back across the years, and the quality of the baseball experience, enhanced by the new stadium, was good enough to attract 1.5 million fans last season.

Seeing the Smokies play at home is a great family experience, but you don’t have to be a family to enjoy it. Company outings to the park are special, and a solo trip out there makes for an exciting evening, even without the Friday night fireworks or the special promo events.

Go see ’em. Roar with one of those 6,000-plus crowds. It’s worthwhile in a million wondrous summertime ways. And almost nowhere else do you have the chance to wear a cap above your grin bearing the stirring logo, “TS,” before God and everybody. Hope they never change the name to East Tennessee Smokies. It’d ruin the message effect in the logo.