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Article:Ode to an Evening of Fall Ball

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Some prose dedicated to an evening spent enjoying the return of Arizona Fall League action.

Dance of the Fall League

By Manny Stiles

'Twas the night of Evan Longoria's 23rd birthday
...on a warm gentle autumn evening in Scottsdale
There was the presence of several Tampa Bay Rays hats, even a kid with a mohawk!
There was more Royals, Pirates and Blue Jays apparelled folk than Red Sox clad patrons.
Nary a finer sight - an educated baseball crowd to enjoy the nine innings on tap
The Scottsdale Annies were abundant and as scantily fine as ever
No helicopters would land at Scottsdale Healthcare Trauma Center this luscious eve'
...for baseball was back and in it's fullest glory

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They even painted a fierce looking Scorpion on the grass behind home plate. Did I say fierce? Maybe not... but it did make me hungry for a cartoon lobster! (photo by Manny Stiles)

The Peoria Saguaros were visiting the hometown Scorpions on Opening Night
Arizona Fall League Game One. October Seven, Two Thousand and Eight.

The grass on the outfield berm was closed off for overseeding,
as is tradition in Central Arizona for seemingly two months a year.
Batting practice was a delight to the eye,
pearls in flight across the dusking sky
MLB logos with different names and funny numbers represented on both sides
Teammates gathered in their cliques, mostly groups of the same unis
Nationals gathered with Nationals and Astros with Astros,
Though few of them played together before joining in Arizona

Infield was being taken as Gordon Beckham showed off his cannon arm
And his White Sox jersey, numbered 23 brought reminders of a Scottsdale Scorpion of 1994 also known in for a "Chicago 23"
Gordon appears more like a 3B type of shortstop than a 2B, if you know what I mean
Alas he did not play in the game, subjected to charting pitches and holding clipboards in his AFL debut
Rick Eckstein, a coach with the Nationals and brother of David led the infield drills with fungo in hand
And gave us reason to believe that David is the Goliath of the Eckstein family.


The Sabathia/Moose-sized Kyle Blanks can really play! He's actually a pretty decent hitter and not a bad fielder, either. It's just not pretty to watch (photo by Manny Stiles)

Speaking of Goliath, there was Padres 1B Kyle Banks at 6'6" and visually about 350lbs
He does not look good in San Diego's away colors; they do him no favors
As if wearing pajamas he is indeed "BIG boned" and looks remarkably like the guy from "Hangin' With Mr. Cooper" but bigger
Kyle showed he is not just a galoot or oaf though he is no contortionist or even soothing to watch move,
Clearly, he is a pretty decent hitter maybe a big, Frank Thomas-type DH without the smooth but with a servicable glove
He might force the Pads to deal him because he isn't forcing Adrian Gonzalez to the pine anytime soon

Chad Huffman struck a mightly blow to the overseeded berm in the 1st inning
It would be the only go-fer ball of the game... except...
For a "foul ball" hit by Chris Pettit that could have been ruled a HR
if MLB had stuck to it's plans to use replay in AFL action...
Alas, we'll never know... but it looked fair to me!

All in all, the action was easy and relaxing and the evening stretched into the tenth hour
The Saguaros extended their lead in the late innings and ran away with a 9-3 victory

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Fall Ball returns with a bang! (photo by Manny Stiles)

Foul balls were bounced off the torsos of the seated,
Foul balls were bounced off the facades and parked cars
Spittle was spat and countless sunflower seeds split and de-meated
Seed casings meticulously handled by tongues only to be deposited on the dugout floor
Umpires were ridden and had their balls busted
"You Suck, Blue" the crowd jeered, only to make me wonder...
If the umpires all wear black now, why do we still call them "Blue"?

Children chased foul balls and emboldenly harassed players vigorously for handouts
"Does anyone got a ball? Seriously?" one child groaned to no avail
Now I know how my elders felt - "these kids nowadays... when we were kids we didn't act like that, tsk, tsk."

All the while, the men in uniform got dirty...
They hit and ran and thought inside the thought cloud of batting helmets...
"Am I making a name for myself this Fall?"
"Are those scouts in the stands going to see my hustle, my efforts, my skill?"
"Am I going to catch the eye of a GM that wants me? Or a Scottsdale Annie that thinks she wants me more?"
The crickets, the chatter, the fans repeating the same lame jokes again and again
The crack of the bat, the smack of leather, the screens dragging the dirt in between innings,
The trees slightly changing to their autumn hues, the array of uniforms,
Knowing that over 1,600 players have made it to the bigs after Fall Ball,
Knowing that today's stars of the game took the same steps these players are taking now...
The image of getting punched out by the home umpire and knowing that in a few months, the same batter could be striking out in front of 30,000+ more people than this... perhaps even in front of the same umpire
...the next step to the show is these very fields in Fall.

The sights and sounds that make Arizona Fall League so special; attend one game and you get them ALL.
Play BALL!!!

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