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Boys of summer

08/21/07 7:55AM By Deborah Luskin

(HOST) This summer, commentator Deborah Luskin discovered that good baseball isn't just played in the big leagues.

(LUSKIN)  When our friends from Scotland asked us to explain baseball, we said it would be easier to just take them to a game. Naively, we went on-line mid-season only to discover the Red Sox had been sold out since April. This was three years ago. Since then, my husband and I did get to Fenway, but our seats were so far up in the stands, I spent most of the game watching the giant screen for replays. And everyone around us was swilling the suds; I might as well have gone to the local bar to see the game on TV and saved some serious bucks. Then, we heard about the Swampbats, in Keene.
The next time our Scottish friends crossed the pond, we crossed the river, to New Hampshire. Four dollars apiece got us into the park to see the Swampbats take on the Pittsfield Dukes. From our seats behind the home team dugout, we had a clear view of the infield and saw lots of action, like five runs scored off two hits and an error in the top of the second.
It was a great way to educate our friends. We explained walks when the visiting pitcher loaded the bases with three consecutive walks, then walked home two runs. Next up was a stolen base, so we explained that. As if following a curriculum on the ABCs of baseball, another runner was picked off at the bag. We saw a few good hits, including a triple and a couple of homers, but it was the defense that was striking with a handful of strikeouts, two batters hit by pitches and a pair of double plays. We even saw and had to explain a balk. That's a lot of action for a single game.
Like the Vermont Mountaineers who play in Montpelier, The Keene Swampbats are part of the New England College Baseball League's Northern Division, which includes teams from Holyoke, Lowell, and Concord. The Southern Division also includes teams from Connecticut and Rhode Island.
While the league is in New England, the players come from all over the country, with a large representation from the south. As the league name implies, all the players attend college.
At the seventh-inning stretch, just after a rousing chorus of "Take me out to the ballgame," we met a woman who was hosting one of the Swampbats for the summer. She described the experience as a win-win situation: In return for room, board and a family season pass, a right-handed pitcher from Vanderbilt University routiney tired out the woman's three young boys with endless wiffle ball in the back yard between games.
Despite their second inning errors, the Swampbats won the game, 11-6, and finished the season in third place, right behind the Mountaineers. Three of the Swampbats were named to the League's All-Star Team.
The 2007 season has now ended; it's time for the players to return to school. But these boys of summer will return be back next year, and I'm looking forward to seeing the Keene Swampbats take on the Vermont Mountaineers.

Deborah Luskin teaches writing and literature to non-traditional students in hospitals, libraries and prisons throughout Vermont.
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