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Down the Right Field Line


Sioux City, IA August 21, 2010- Have you ever been addicted to something? Has your body ever had a thirst for something so great you couldn't control it? It doesn't have to be a drug, but it can be. I've always loved baseball. But Saturday night I found out just how much I love this game. My name is Phil Joens... And I am addicted to baseball.

Today started like any other ballhawking day. I arrived at Lewis and Clark Park around 5:30. P.M. The gates opened at 6:00 P.M. I wondered around until 6:30 when players start their pre-game warm-ups. The air was electric! Both Sioux City and Sioux Falls are involved in a complicated playoff race, which I will explain at the end of this column, and both teams needed this game badly.

It was a terrible night for ballhawking! I stood behind the bleachers on the first base side and watched as righty after righty pulled the ball foul down the third base line; and the few lefties hit it to the opposite field. In the top of the 4th I misjudged a homerun to right field! I realized that it just wasn't my night. So in the top of the 5th I let a friend convince me to do the impossible. We were going to leave a 4-3 game and go to a dance at our school!

I'd been agonizing over this decision all day! This was the second to last home game, unless they somehow make the playoffs, and I didn't want to waste it. I'd already skipped about 15 home games, out of 49, for various reasons. I wanted to have fun and dance with friends! But I also wanted to have fun at the Church of baseball during a pennant race! I realized that it was a terrible night for ballhawking and I left with my friend.

I felt sick after that. I regretted it immediately. As soon as we left I couldn't think of anything other than "did I really do that?". When we got to the dance I sat in my car and was determined to go back! I had to! My body yearned for baseball! At this point it had been 40 minutes since we left. I turned my radio on and I heard it was already the Top of the 7th. I realized that it was another 10 minutes back to the stadium and it would be pointless to go. So I went to the dance.

When I entered I was hit by heat and the thick air inside. I was in a teenager's paradise of hot, sweaty, women; flashing lights; and loud music! And yet, even though I was dancing with a beautiful girl all I could think about was how was Derek Schemerhorn, the Explorers second baseman, was doing at the plate! After that song I went and I checked the scores. When my friend Alex saw me he took my phone from me and told me I'd get it back after the dance. He asked me how the Explorers did in the playoffs 5 years ago. He then asked me a series of questions about the Explorers knowing that I would have no answer for them; except I proceeded to answer all 5 of his questions in great detail. I realized that this was extremely nerdy, even for me. So he told me to have fun! Except it isn't that easy for a baseball nerd!

And that is when it hit me like a freight train! I would write this column! But now I wasn't stressing about a baseball team, I was stressing about writing a baseball article! I couldn't wait to get home and get to my computer! This re-affirmed my thought that I was addicted not to a drug, but to a game!

But what about baseball is so great? Why do I love this simple game so much? Why is it that I need baseball as much as a smoker needs his cigarettes? It is a game that is not always action packed. It's a very simple, yet complicated, game that doesn't have a clock. Really, it is probably the most boring of the 4 major U.S. Sports. Yet I, and millions of other die hard fans and columnists, flock to the game. Just the mere mention of baseball conjures up images of the World Series, hot summer afternoons, fathers and sons, great teams from the Golden Age of Baseball, Little League Baseball, pennant races, and many more. Just the mention of any one of the games legends conjures up images of them in their prime, and greatness!

It is a game that lends itself to drama. When I was a kid I was drawn to baseball, as I still am today, by the stories of the past. I was drawn to it by hearing of moments like "the Shot Heard Round the World", Hank Aaron?s 715th Home Run, Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle's chase of the Babe, Bill Mazeroski's Walk-Off HR in game 7 of the 1960 World Series, Game 7 of the 1991 World Series, Joe Carter's Walk Off HR in the 1993 World Series, and Roberto Clemente's 3000th hit. I also heard of the bad moments like the 1919 Black Sox Scandal, Pete Rose's Betting on Baseball, and; later in my childhood; the Steroid Era. I was determined to remember them, and learn from their mistakes. But most of all, I was a witness of Mark McGuire and Sammy Sosa's Home Run Race in 1998. And that hooked me on baseball as a 5 year old.

Even as a 10 year old I wanted to study baseball. I wanted to know the game inside and out. So I did! I soon became a student of the game. (When I was 11 one of my baseball coaches even gave me the nickname "Almanac".) I picked up advice on the game anywhere I could. I watched, as I still do, anything baseball related on TV. I didn't just study the present, but I was determined to know baseball's past. I studied the stadiums, players, teams, and rivalries that made the games of yesteryear the talk of legends.

I also studied baseball's roots. I wanted, and still want to know, where this great game came from. How did a simple game go from the sandlots of late 18th Century America to the big Cathedrals that now house Major League teams? I am still perplexed by how a simple game of 9 players on each side, 10 if the DH is being used, can be so complicated. After all, isn't the main objective of baseball: see ball, hit ball, field ball?

The game has defined my childhood. Like most kids I started playing Tee-Ball when I was 5. I played in Little League from Tee-Ball- Senior League. When I got old enough I happily played Spring League and Fall Ball, most of the time in weather very unfit for baseball. Like most boys I wanted to be an MLB player! I defied those who told me I couldn't do it! But as I grew up reality set in. So I wanted to coach. And when I realized I couldn't coach, I wanted to write about baseball. I've always had a greater knowledge of baseball than the superior players. My coaches noticed, but it didn't help.

I only stopped playing when I was cut from my high school team for the 3rd time as a sophomore. But even that year I served as a coach?s assistant. It was another exciting opportunity for me; and it was the closest I'd get to playing for my high school. It's bittersweet to love baseball this much and realize that you are done playing as a junior in high school. But I've moved on. And for the past two years I've spent most of my summer nights at my minor league ballpark.

But we all know that the game is so much more than that! The fields on which it is played are unlike any other in sports. A baseball field mixes hard dirt with soft grass. The field is bigger than any other in sports. Often called a diamond, most baseball fields are anything but square. Each team's unique field makes every game slightly different from the rest. Baseball is the only sport where the dimensions of the playing field vary depending on where a game is being played.

The sounds of the game are the soundtrack of summer. The crack of the bat, the and the crunch of dirt under your feet, gloves popping, and umpires hollering, put together, sound like poetry. Visually baseball is as good of a sport as any, if not better. There is nothing more beautiful than a baseball diamond on a hot summer day. God I love seeing the grass glistening and the dirt shining. The players come out and dot the field one by one. Though baseball may not be as action filled as say football, it makes up for it with spectacular plays in the field and towering home runs.

I could go on and on and on and on. But I think I have made my point. I guess I'm just happiest when I am at a baseball field. The night was good. I went to the dance and I found a way to forget about the game; even if it was only for an hour. (And if I hadn't gone to the dance I know I wouldn't have written this column.) It turned out the Explorers came back and won 8-4! It was a great night with a great ending! Like I said... My name is Phil Joens and I'm addicted to baseball!

Ok, I said I would explain the current American Association Playoff Race Scenarios. I wouldn't waste your time on discussing Independent Baseball Play off scenarios if this was boring, but trust me on this.

1st. In the American Association the 98 game season is really divided into two 49 game seasons.

2and. The Sioux Falls Fighting Pheasants won the first half and made the playoffs.

3rd. Going into Friday Sioux Falls was leading the Wichita Wingnuts by .5 game in the second half.

4th. If Sioux Falls, the first half winner, were to win the second half as well, it would go down to a Wild Card birth which goes to the team with the second best overall record.

5th. The Sioux City Explorers were trailing the Lincoln Saltdogs by 1 game in the Wild Card Race

Friday-Sunday Sioux City was playing Sioux Falls Sioux City really needed Sioux Falls to win one or two games in the three game series to maintain a lead in the second half and keep Sioux City in the playoff mix. Remember if Sioux Falls doesn't win the second half, there is no wild card spot.

Sioux Falls took 2 out of 3 from Sioux City. Lincoln lost two out of three to St. Paul. And Wichita won two out of three from El Paso. So after the weekend things are still where they were on Friday night.

With 6 games left Sioux Falls is playing three games at Lincoln. Sioux Falls is playing three games at St. Paul. And Sioux City is playing three games at Lincoln over the weekend.

Phil Joens is a contributing columnist to and also maintains a Blog.

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