Ah February, how I love and hate you. February means a few different things: winter is probably just now really arriving; baseball season is beginning; and hunting season (for me) is over. A few weeks ago I thought my hunting season was over, then an unexpected opportunity arose thanks to covid. Given the current climate of unknowns, I didn’t rule out another potential season ending hunt. Now, however, that time has come, and I can say with certainty that hunting season is over.
February brings a couple of different emotions. The first is one that I like to call “deerpression”. Every year I claim that I’m done hunting when we start preseason baseball practice, but deep down I hold out hope of making one more trip in the woods. When February arrives, my hope (whether practical or not) goes out the proverbial window. It also doesn’t help matters when you’re driving down the road outside of Hattiesburg and a buck chases a doe across the highway. Needless to say, I’m a little down in the dumps when the month arrives. The next emotion that I experience is excitement. February means baseball and baseball has been my life since I was five. Getting back on the field to compete each year cannot be bested. Having to quarantine and miss the first couple of weeks of practice drove me crazy. When February arrives, there’s no place I’d rather be.
February also usually brings bone-chilling temperatures to South Mississippi. One of the things that I appreciate about hunting over baseball is the ability to wear thick clothes while I’m out in the elements. If you’ve never put on a pair of baseball pants, be assured, they are not warm. Those thin pants will make you question your sanity on a cold February night. As a player, it wasn’t too bad since I was constantly moving around. As a coach, it’s just torture at times. My colleagues pick at me when I show up in the dugout bundled up in the thickest jacket I can find. I have no problem admitting that I’m a wimp when it comes to cold weather if I’m not in the woods. I’ve lived in two places in my life: South Mississippi and Florida. I’m not built for winter.
At the time of this writing, we are two days away from Opening Day of the 2022 college baseball season. Like each of the seasons before, I’m drawn to the smells of the ballpark. When I walk through the gates I’m like a buck chasing a doe in heat. That smell of the grass and the sounds of the park put an extra pep in my step. It’s my time to feel like a kid again. It keeps me young. I often look around at my friends that are around the same age as me and can’t help but notice how old some of them are starting to look. Then, I go home and look in the mirror and feel like not a whole lot has changed (with the exception of adding 20 pounds). This can only be attributed to one thing: baseball.
If you don’t believe that baseball is something similar to “Never-Never Land” from Peter Pan, look no further than my boss. Bobby Halford is approaching *blank* years old and he’s still like a kid. I won’t say his real age, but he’s been the head coach at William Carey University for as long as I’ve been alive. Before that, he was an assistant for ten years, so that should provide an idea for how long he’s been doing it. Top it off with the fact that he’s probably in better shape than I’m in, and you cannot possibly deny that baseball just might be the “fountain of youth” that Ponce de Leon was supposedly searching for.
People sometimes ask about the stress that goes along with coaching a college sport, especially in today’s world of stark crazed sports fanatics. The simple answer is usually, “what stress?” Now, I’m not saying that there aren’t times when I let my blood pressure get elevated in the spirit of competition. That’s self-induced. But, seriously, what stress? This comment might be an indictment against what I do for a living, and I’m sure I’ll get some kind of backlash for it, but here goes…baseball is a game. When I get to feeling like what we are doing is uber-important, I remind myself, it’s a game. Baseball is a form of entertainment. We are in the business of entertaining. There are far more important jobs out there. We ain’t exactly curing cancer. Far too much emphasis and attention is put on college athletics. Remember, it’s a game being played by mostly young men that will go on to do something different with their lives once they’ve exhausted their eligibility. My job is to help see that they become good family men that can be productive citizens. That’s it. In a nutshell, that’s the job. Many will say that winning is the most important part of the job, but in reality, they are wrong. Winning is fun, and it usually keeps you employed, but it’s not the most important part of the job. Anyone that says otherwise has never coached, or won’t be coaching for long.
Look around you and you’ll see the world is falling apart at the seams when it comes to producing productive members of society. I think we could solve it with just a few things: take your kids to church on Sunday morning; get your kids involved in the outdoors; and teach ‘em how to play baseball. If we do those things the trickle down will be great. They’ll be better people, they’ll appreciate nature, and it will keep YOU young.