My wife Sheena’s Happy Place has three strong contenders – the beach, a concert venue and a ball game.
She has remarked many times in our 20 years of marriage how much she loves these three experiences. The latter is a big reason why I married her. I realized at a young age that I’d want my wife to be a sports fan. Clearly, the lucky lady probably wouldn’t be as much of a fanatic as me, but she’d definitely better be able to appreciate the finer points and be engaged at a game and not on the phone or painting her nails.
Sheena checked all the boxes and still does. And not only that, but she really gained bonus points during the pandemic when she broke in our nine-year-old Luke’s first base mitt for him by playing daily games of catch.
But my favorite thing about her sports fandom is how she loves going to games. We’ve seen all the major sports and venues around the country. I will never forget her smile on a beautiful, sunny Sunday in November 2020 in Nashville. We had made our way to Nissan Stadium, home of the NFL’s Tennessee Titans, to see the home team take on my Kansas City Chiefs. I share my Chiefs fandom with older son J.D. (12). Sheena and Luke are devout Cowboys fans, which these days is tough. Luke decided to don his brother’s Jamaal Charles Chiefs jersey and root for the visitors. Sheena, ever the instigator, ordered a Titans T-shirt and rooted against us.
The weather had turned cold, and it was quite chilly in Memphis the day before as we had visited the Memphis Zoo and took in a Memphis Grizzlies game (I told you we love live sporting events).
But on this day, the sun was out and the temperature had risen into the low 60s. By game time, Sheena was sitting in our club seats, basking in the sun with a cold beverage in hand. It was a delightful day even though the Chiefs lost. (It was the final loss of the season as they made a Super Bowl title run).
Little did we know, that would be the last time we’d be together at a game for a long time. Thanks to the pandemic, two of Sheena’s favorite places were off limits.
However, after a year of lock down, sports venues are opening again as COVID-19 case numbers are dropping and vaccination rates are increasing. With that in mind, we decided to incorporate an Arkansas baseball game into our spring break plans late last month. We had already booked a cabin for two nights at Devil’s Den State Park. In February, I suggested we go to the Arkansas/Memphis game as a capper to the trip.
With tickets at a premium due to limited capacity, I was lucky enough to secure four tickets behind home plate. Over the years, I have been to many games at Baum-Walker. As we pulled into the parking lot and hour before first pitch across from the stadium, the scene looked very similar to normal times with many cars in the lot and throngs red-clad Hogs fans moving across the cross walk with sheriff deputies dutifully directing traffic.
Of course, the glaring difference is everyone was wearing masks – a requirement to enter. As we entered the stadium and took our seats, I got a little emotional. The boys made a beeline to the dugout and JD actually got Hogs coach Dave Van Horn, who was watching Memphis take infield, say ‘hi’ to him.
Their smiles of awe and wonderment being that close to the action were awesome. Sheena stayed glued to her seat taking everything in and, as is her style, was totally bundled up to where you could barely see her face with the mask and hood. We are alike in many ways, but I’m never cold and she always is. I was comfortable in a hoodie and windbreaker.
The game went as you would expect. The No. 1 Hogs jumped out to a 4-1 lead and really blew things open in the bottom of the eighth inning scoring nine runs.
Cayden Wallace, Brayden Webb and Jacob Nesbitt all hit home runs.
It was what a mid-week nonconference game should be – an easy win that is entertaining for the fans. But, for many, including our family, it was a celebration of normalcy. I almost forgot what it was like to hear the roar of the crowd. We heard it often this night with all of the Hogs fireworks. I was so happy to be surrounded by sports fans, I almost didn’t mind hearing the loudmouths behind us berating the umpires – with a13-run lead no less. However, even that was refreshing.
I’d also be remiss if I didn’t give a tip of my ball cap to the Baum-Walker game day staff. I know the SEC prides as much on its game day atmosphere as its spectacular play on the diamond, but I can’t imagine there is a better place to watch a college baseball game than Arkansas. Heck, there may not be many stadiums, period, better to watch a game at any level.
From the music played before the game and between innings, the PA announcer, the fans and beer hats when the bases are loaded, it just makes for a perfect baseball atmosphere. I know Reynolds Razorback Stadium will be rocking this fall with an improved team under Sam Pittman and that Eric Musselman’s team will blow the roof off Bud Walton Arena during some big games following this deep NCAA Tournament run, but really if I was going to pick one venue to see games in exclusively, I’d pick Baum-Walker. I really love baseball and watching good baseball at a great place can’t be beat. Dave Van Horn has ensured that his teams are always going to be good, so it all makes for a delicious recipe for Hogs fans.
The pandemic isn’t over but with vaccines aplenty we are in the late innings of this battle. There are indicators popping up every day signaling the end is near. For us, the most exciting of all is baseball with a few thousand of our closest friends.