From our general admission seats just three rows off the field at Appleton's Fox Cities Stadium, my 12-year-old son and I can hear every syllable of chatter from the players. Each of the UW-Whitewater players standing at their dugout rail gleefully holds up three fingers as the umpire calls a third consecutive ball. We can hear them discuss the tendencies of the pitcher from Western New England College.
It occurs to me that most of my son's experiences watching live sporting events, professional and collegiate, are from seats far away from the action or in noisy venues. A rare empty Saturday allows us to check out the NCAA Division III college baseball tournament and to experience the action up close.
Refreshingly, the competitive, quick-moving game is played without interruption from stadium promotions. The Warhawks prevail, 8-3 (they would be eliminated Sunday by Chapman University), but Western keeps it interesting with a late charge. My son and I quickly agree to stay and watch top-ranked Marietta College of Ohio beat California's Chapman, a game we spend alternating alliances between the previously unheard-of schools.
The D-III title has been decided in Appleton every year since 2000. Based on the scene there Saturday, the tournament is one of the best-kept secrets in the local sports scene. Despite ideal weather, just over 1,800 fans spread out over the 5,500-capacity stadium.
More people should be here, but better attendance may mean being farther from the action. I'm already looking forward to next year, hopeful for a sunny spring day.