A fond farewell to the boys of summer

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 15, 2003

What are we to make of the demise of the resurrected Selma Cloverleafs?

News that the Southeastern League of Professional Baseball has assumed operations of the Cloverleafs was not entirely unexpected. The team, which took the field in 2002 after a 40-year absence, had struggled to build the sort of attendance here that would have made continued play economically feasible.

But it was not to be.

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Selma can trace its lineage of professional baseball back to the turn of the century, although the first team to call itself the Cloverleafs did not appear on the scene until 1928. Obviously, times have changed since then.

Baseball is still popular, still viewed by most as the national pastime. But television has changed the game in ways that could not have been imagined when the Babe still shouldered a wooden bat.

Today television even dictates how long the break between innings will be. Many still blame television for the introduction of the designated hitter, considered an anathema to the game’s purists.

But most importantly, perhaps, television has forever changed the mathmatics of the game. Who among us has not secretly wondered why a lifetime .240 hitter is now worth $1 million a year &045;&045; or more &045;&045; while

teachers and policemen continue to be paid $30,000 or less. Sometimes much less.

Have times really changed so much? Or has the national pastime somehow lost touch with the people who sit in the stands?

When the Cloverleafs debuted last year, in fact, it was billed as &uot;baseball the way it was meant to be played, when they still played for the love of the game.&uot; Certainly that was true as far as the Cloverleafs’ players were concerned.

But the young men who took the field for the Cloverleafs didn’t sign on for the money &045;&045; there was little enough of that to go around. Most probably signed on for a shot &045;&045; no matter how long, no matter how unlikely &045;&045; at The Show, which is how players describe the spectacle that is part of playing in the major leagues.

Only someone who has ever nursed that dream can say whether it is worth fighting the incredibly long odds that must be overcome in order to make it a reality.

One thing the former owners of the Cloverleafs will no doubt attest to, however, is that it takes more than dreams to run a baseball team. It takes money.

Selma did not have the economic base to support such a venture in today’s marketplace. And perhaps that is the lesson we should take from the dream that was the Selma Cloverleafs. Perhaps we should review our economic development efforts in other areas in light of what happened to the boys of summer.