PIAA baseball and softball playoffs come to their dramatic conclusion this week with the state finals.
Blair County Ballpark will be buzzing with a quadruple-header of baseball championships on Friday; the softball finals will be held at Shippensburg University's Robb Field.
Unfortunately, the spring sports are sometimes short-changed when it comes to fan following, and it's not even the fans' fault.
Logistically, it is not easy to get to the state playoff games, which often take place in the middle of the day during the work week. Some contests can be an hour or more away from the teams' home fields.
Then there's the school schedule. Could there be more going on for students this time of year? Seniors, especially, have a jam-packed calendar with graduation, awards programs, prom, class trips, final exams, college orientations, etc. It's a wonder there's time for sports at all.
When the championship games finally take place, many schools are already out for the summer, so winning teams many not have the same send-off pep rallies or welcome home celebrations that might take place when school is in session.
That is exactly why all of the district champions and the teams still alive in the baseball and softball playoffs deserve a special tip of the cap. It takes a heightened level of commitment to do battle on the PIAA diamond for players, their parents and their fans.
Some stars are forced to make the tough choice between a senior social activity and a post-season game: do you take a trip to the beach with friends, or hit the playoff diamond with your teammates?
Imagine the challenge for coaches, keeping players focused through so many distractions. It takes an extra degree of sacrifice for all involved to stick it out for spring sports, and that deserves some extra recognition.
These baseball and softball teams start their pre-season practices fielding grounders on gymnasium floors rather than infield dirt. They shag flies looking into fluorescent ceiling lights instead of the sun. They hit balls into nets instead of into the outfield. When they finally get outdoors, they endure early-season snow flurries and persistent rainouts that are all-too-common thanks to our central Pennsylvania weather.
College-bound players will be used to the situation; teams in the NCAA Baseball and Softball World Series are left behind on campus after most of their friends and classmates have gone home for the semester.
Still, spring playoff time is payoff time for all of the hard work and headaches, from indoor practices to rain delays to schedule conflicts; all are forgotten when teams take the field to play for district and state titles.
So let's not forget these players, coaches, parents and fans, many of whom have been playing and traveling together since little league. Their legions may be smaller than sports played in more convenient or less busy times of the year, but they are a most-dedicated bunch, deserving of a standing ovation.
Goodman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her column appears on Tuesdays.