Time to Shift Gears
By Will Stewart, HokieCentral.com, 3/21/00

Ah, yes, Spring has sprung. The flowers are blooming, the trees are budding Ö and Iím deflating.

That sounds strange, but allow me to explain. For those of us who cover the Hokies, or any universityís athletic programs for that matter, the pressure starts in August, when the football players return and start fall practice, and it doesnít let up till, well, right around now.

First, itís football, the big kahuna, and while thatís going on and hitting its stride, basketball Ė both menís and womenís Ė starts up quietly in early November. Before you know it, bowl season hits, and by then, the basketball teams are into conference play. Thereís no letup, because after the bowl game is over, football recruiting immediately picks up, and as signing day passes, the basketball teams are making their stretch runs and positioning themselves for the conference tournaments.

February rolls over into March, and suddenly, the basketball teams hang up their sneakers, and itís over. From August through March, in the space of seven to eight months, twelve football games and (in the case of this yearís Hokies) sixty-two basketball games come and go. Thatís 74 sporting events to cover, analyze, and categorize, 74 times that I sit in front of the computer and post scores, stats, and (most of the time) some sort of report or analysis thatís meant to shed a little light on what just happened.

And when the basketball seasons are over, let me tell you, it suddenly gets a little hard to figure out what to do. And sometimes, like today, that puts me in a grumpy mood, because I like to keep the web site hopping and give Hokie fans something to read and talk about.

(Of course, I could be in a bad mood because it was cold and rainy all day in the New River Valley, or perhaps it was upset because I watched a stock I had just purchased shed 15% of its value, and my money, in one day. Yowza, I sure know how to pick Ďem. But thatís a story for another time.)

See, Iím the kind of guy who likes to paint in broad strokes, and who wants everything I say to be fraught with meaning and insight, and in some way inspiring, regardless of whether it inspires you to think Iím stupid or a genius. But some days, when you sit down to do an update, you just come up dry.

I can tell a lot of you are feeling the same way, as is normal for this time of year. Traffic on the message boards has slowed down significantly. I can see it now Ė pretty soon, the discussions about out-of-conference scheduling, uniform color, and changing the Virginia Tech mascot and nickname will hit the board, and weíll know that yes, indeed, itís the off-season. To give you a head start and save you some keystrokes, let me tell you that "out-of-conference" is abbreviated OOC. There, that should speed things up somewhat this spring.

But before that happens, spring football practice is about to start up to entertain us, and thatíll carry us through April. And while thatís going on, I heartily encourage you to stop by at least one Tech baseball and/or softball game and experience Virginia Tech sports in a new and different way that maybe you never have before (more on that later).

Well, now that Iíve spent nine paragraphs talking about nothing, here are a couple of topics to bore you as you drink your morning coffee. But hey, one of the topics is football, so maybe you wonít be bored after all.

Spring Football. In the past, spring football has been characterized by an incredible dearth of information coming out of Blacksburg, for various reasons.

Obviously, thereís two places you can get your information from: the "traditional" media, such as television, radio, and newspapers, and the new web media, like HokieCentral. In springs past, I used to work a full time job and couldnít get away to see many practices or scrimmages, so I wasnít able to cover spring football very well at all.

The "traditional" media, on the other hand, was able to cover it. They just simply chose not to. So Hokie fans who wanted to know what was going on were limited to reading press releases issued by the VT Sports Information Department after the weekly scrimmages. Wow, thatíll really satisfy a diehard Hokie fanís appetite.

This spring, however, the coverage will no doubt be different and a little more prevalent, but HokieCentral.com will still be unable to provide it. See, last fall, Virginia Tech closed practices and scrimmages to the general public, after a slew of HokieCentral message board posters and -- gasp Ė HokieCentral staff members themselves started checking out the practices and reporting on them.

I knew all along that it was just a matter of time before practices and scrimmages were closed, because both Hokie football and HokieCentral.com were growing, and it was bound to come to a head. And I understand the reasons why practices were closed. Having a bunch of nomads, or even responsible web reporters, with computer access checking out practices will certainly put a crimp in a coachís style.

Imagine if you were a football coach, and it was time to chew out a player who was loafing or not paying attention, and who, shall we say, needed a little extra motivation to reach his potential and benefit his team and teammates. That motivation might consist of some screaming, cursing, or maybe grabbing a face mask and yanking it close for a little face-to-face counseling at maximum volume.

Coaches have to do that sort of thing from time to time, and wondering how some guy with a HokieCentral message board password is going to represent it on the message board is enough to give any rational coach reason to pause, and we canít have our coaches second-guessing themselves as they try to run the football team. So it was that reason and many more (like safety and distractions) that led the practices to be closed, and as I said, I understand it and even support it.

That leaves you, our loyal readers, in a bind, though. Practices are closed to the public, but they are indeed open to the media, and the problem is, as you all well know, Tech doesnít recognize HokieCentral.com as media. So that leaves you at the mercy of the "traditional" media, and in the past, their coverage of spring practice has been, well, (word drowned out by clearing of throat).

So, in the past, the spring practice coverage of the Hokies hasnít been very good. But that was back before Tech came in #2 in the national championship race, and before Michael Vick threw his first pass in a game, and before the mainstream press decided that a media darling did indeed reside in Blacksburg.

So itíll be interesting to see what kind of coverage the "traditional media," the only ones who have access these days, will provide us with this spring. Stay tuned. Till then, weíll have to content ourselves with the juicy rumors that pop up on the message board about whoís knocking the snot out of whom in practice, and what redshirt freshman is going to be the next star.

What to do in the meantime? Do what Iím going to do: check out a baseball game and/or a softball game. Iíve got to admit, I havenít witnessed a Tech baseball game in person since I had the pleasure of being one of the Fools on the Hill a few times during spring of my senior year in 1987.

That was back in the good old days, the pre-Merryman Center days, back when the baseball field was nestled between Lane Stadium and Cassell Coliseum, and Trey McCoy could bounce a homer off the Jamerson Athletic Center with one flick of his mighty wrist. And oh yeah, you better believe thereís at least one article thatíll come out of my recollections of the days I spent out on the right field hill, watching Tech baseball and jeering the other teamís right fielder. I only went to see baseball games during one spring, but it made me realize what an idiot I had been for not spending more time out there during my career as a Tech student.

See, not every Tech athletic story happens in front of thousands of fans and a dozen or so cameras, and not every Tech athletic story is even about the games or the athletes themselves. Some times the stories are off the beaten path, and sometimes theyíre even about you, the Hokie fans.

So this spring, in addition to providing a little baseball, softball, and spring football coverage, Iíll be sending a few articles your way that will be a little off the beaten (football) path. Not only will I share with you my recollections of the old right-field hill, but if things work out, Iíll also be covering one of the lesser-known sports here at Tech (a hint: did you know that the Tech menís lacrosse team is ranked #6 in the country among collegiate club lacrosse teams?), as well as one of the lesser-known athletes here at Tech.

Itíll be interesting and entertaining reading, so take off your Tech football helmet, eject that tape of the 1996 Tech/Miami football game from your VCR, and try to experience the other side of Tech athletics. You can begin by checking out the baseball and softball schedules here on HokieCentral and planning a day or two at English baseball field or Techís new softball facility.

And keep logging on to HokieCentral all through the spring, and weíll do our best to keep you entertained. Just give me a minute to catch my breath first. That August-through-March stretch is a killer.

Will Stewart is the founder and General Manager of HokieCentral.  He writes the News and Notes section, game previews, and game reports for HC, and he contributes a column when time permits.


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