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Dan Weber’s Just Sayin’: Sport that’s changed most around here in the last 3 decades is in the spring

When you were gone for nearly three decades — to Philadelphia, New Jersey, Chicago and Southern California — as was the case for me, one of the things you check out on returning is how and where your old stomping ground has changed.

Which isn’t always all that easy when your old stomping ground is Northern Kentucky where what stays the same more often than not outpaces what changes.

But there is one place in the spring that has, and a quick jaunt around Kenton County Monday made that a reality for the old high school baseball coach in me.

Meinken Field Memorial plaques

This is no longer a place where Riverfront Stadium is/was the lone artificial turf field anywhere. And no longer do high school baseball coaches, players and fans have to wonder if their scheduled games will be played.

They will.

Not like the way it was at Covington Catholic when one season we got in 35 games, the next just 21. Or you’d drive however many hours it took to get to Morehead for a Saturday doubleheader and as you hit the city limits, the rain also hit and the NO GAME TODAY sign went up. And you turned around and drove back.

Not much need for that sign in a world where almost everybody has access to an artificial turf field where you almost can’t be rained out unless a typhoon occurs during the scheduled game time.

Meinken Field with CovCath at bat, Holy Cross in the field

Like on Monday, when a bright, brisk morning turned greyer and darker and colder and windier as the day moved on. But was there a chance that Cooper at Ludlow at 4:45 p.m. or Lloyd Memorial at Beechwood (5 p.m.) or CovCath at Holy Cross (6 p.m.) would not be played?

Not if you checked out the fans, especially at the two later games. They bundled up with blankets and came on down for some baseball. No hesitation.

A couple of things here. Game times have been moved later to accommodate fans who can now catch them after work since it’s nearly certain they will be played.

And as much as you have to like the big guys in the big school-small school matchups, you don’t always know for sure since more games means more pitchers required and you might get one of those games when one team has an ace ready to go but the other team is pitching an infielder.

This certainty reminds me of the nearly two decades most recently in Southern California when you never even asked if any of the teams I covered from USC football to the Angels, Dodgers and Padres were going to practice or play.

They were. Maybe one USC practice in all that time and not a single baseball game was called for rain. Although fires on occasion made it a bit iffy some years.

Beechwood players and Coach Kevin Gray greet former coach Bob Myerhoff

If an event was scheduled, it was on. And now here I am back home and almost the same is true for spring baseball.

And that’s the biggest change I can see in what was, during my coaching and playing days, something of a facilities-poor sport in a facilities-poor Northern Kentucky that had already lost the likes of Covington Ball Park, Golden Rod Field, Watkins and Bullock Field and most of Goebel Park to I-75.

Take this Monday for example. The wind was blowing off the Ohio River just past the right-field fence but 75-year-old Lemker Field – re-christened last spring by adding the “at St. Elizabeth Ballpark” thanks to the partnership of the Ludlow community, St. Elizabeth Healthcare and the Cincinnati Reds — was ready to go.

The artificial turf, new dugouts, bullpens, grandstand, fences and a scoreboard are a tribute to all those folks and the eight sponsors on the outfield wall coming together to make it happen.

The place looks great and before the leaves are back on the trees, you can check out all the barge traffic on the river as it goes by. No worry for the Cooper folks making the hike down from Union. The game is on and it’s “Play Ball,” in this place where St. E’s CEO Garren Colvin grew up and learned the value of high school baseball.

Then it’s out Bromley-Crescent Springs Road to Fort Mitchell and this beehive of a busy place where somehow they’ve figured out how to fit in a stadium/track complex, a baseball/softball complex, a football/weight training building and the “Tiger Barn” indoor fieldhouse between Kroger’s on the Dixie Highway and the stately houses along Beechwood Road.

Beechwood’s Tiger Barn

And where hundreds of athletes in at least four sports, maybe more, are taking advantage of all the artificial turf investments and more that the Fort Mitchell community has made here.

It’s a far cry from when the grade school me tried to talk my family out of moving from Ludlow, where we had outgrown the second and third floors above my dad’s doctor’s office, to Fort Mitchell because, as I pleaded, “they don’t even have a baseball field there.”

Well, they do now. And everything else to go with it.

Really nice moment before the game as Beechwood saluted former coach Bob Myerhoff, now the head coach at Lloyd, for the work he did at Beechwood in the early 2000’s building a state power in baseball, winning All “A” and regional titles and a record 37 games one season.

Then it was off to Covington and Meinken Field, a place where as a college kid I had the honor to play softball against some of the top players in the world as that special generation of once-in-a-lifetime World’s Champion athletes from Northern Kentucky finished their careers.

Lemker Field at St. Elizabeth Ballpark

Don’t ask about baseball there. Meinken was the place our 18-2 CovCath team, best in the region all season, lost in the district to Holy Cross on a sacrifice bunt that hit a rock and bounced into the outfield for a game-winning RBI.

But now it’s a showplace. No rocks in the infield. Re-done in 2015 in honor of the All-Star Game in Cincinnati and with the participation of the Reds, the Covington community and St. Elizabeth Healthcare. Just one field now, not three, but a place where you know the game will be played.

As they were on this day. No upsets although results seem almost irrelevant so early in the season. CovCath won 12-2, Beechwood 12-0 and Cooper prevailed 14-0. All the games finished up in less than the regulation seven innings but the key here is they all were played.

As they will be for the rest of the spring, good weather or the not-so-good, which by the way is one thing that has not changed since getting back from California, the not-so-good.

But baseball, and the chance for hundreds of young men to play the game, has.

Good job, Northern Kentucky.

Dan Weber is a sports reporter and columnist for the NKyTribune.

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One Comment

  1. Jim Simpson says:

    Brought back memories of knothole day at crosley field.

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