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Enjoy Springtime, Enjoy Amateur Ball

Most of the region’s baseball fans missed a heckuva game Saturday.

The contest had it all - clutch pitching; a two-out, two-strike pinch single that drove in the winning run in the visitor’s last at-bats; three mammoth shots to the outfield; and brilliant defensive play.

No, this is not about Ken Griffey Jr., Barry Bonds or Frank Thomas. Those spoilsports and the rest of the ingrates who’ve ruined major-league baseball haven’t (dis)graced a ballpark all spring.

Rather, that action took place on a chilly but sunny Saturday in Spokane as Coeur d’Alene High School squeezed out a 6-5 nonleague victory over host Ferris High. For the past month, similar play has occurred on baseball and softball diamonds throughout the Inland Northwest - between downpours and puddles.

Major-league fans who need a fix in this spring of pro baseball’s discontent should stop and smell the fresh-cut grass at a nearby ballpark. They may discover that ball played at the high school and college level is pure, cheap, fun to watch and worthier of their support.

Amateur ball doesn’t offer $4 cups of beer and overpriced hotdogs (human and otherwise), but it does have advantages over the professional sport.

First, the players generally are motivated to perform well by a love for the game and loyalty to their communities. Fans don’t have to worry that their favorite players will be lured away by bazilliondollar free-agent contracts.

Graduation may break up the team. But filthy lucre? Never.

Second, professional baseball hasn’t offered a game for both sexes since “A League of Their Own” folded decades ago. But amateur ball is played by both sexes. Female softball players may not scratch or chew. But they play a fast-paced brand of ball that beats waiting 20 seconds or more between pitches.

Finally, at the high-school level, many of the players representing a town or school district are the kids next-door. The community has watched them grow up from awkward T-ballers into strong, graceful teens and young adults. Rooting for them is like cheering for family.

A recent Associated Press poll indicates the pro baseball players strike will have long-lasting repercussions for major-league baseball. Twenty-eight percent of the respondents say they expect their interest in baseball to remain diminished even when the strike ends.

Management and players deserve the fans’ animosity. But that doesn’t mean the true fan is without recourse.

High school, college and even recreational baseball preserves the game in the pure form that good ol’ Abner Doubleday envisioned when he created the double play.

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = D.F. Oliveria/For the editorial board

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