02 FTCCTrojansI love sports. I specifically love baseball. After coaching 13 years, visiting The National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, and graduating from umpiring school in Austin, Texas, the game of baseball, with all its characters, history and traditions, is about as genuinely American as you can get. The excitement, anticipation, and sights and sounds of attending the season’s opening game never really leaves you. 

Now, for the first time this season, as I climbed the stairs to the top row of stadium bleachers and set my eyes on the bright green freshly cut grass embracing the newly raked infield soil of the baseball diamond, the joy and memories of experiencing America’s favorite pastime nostalgically rushed over me. That, my friends, was the feeling I had this weekend watching Joe Riddle III threw out the first pitch of Fayetteville Technical Community College’s second season opener in its new home at J.P. Riddle Stadium, Trojan Field. The stadium was built in the mid-80s through the generosity and benevolence of longtime Fayetteville resident, successful businessman and famed developer, the late J.P. Riddle Sr. and the Riddle family.

After three generations of baseball clubs — the Fayetteville Generals, the Cape Fear Crocs and the Fayetteville SwampDogs — the stadium was gifted to FTCC by Cumberland County commissioners as a sports and event complex to further the education, development and lifelong learning preparedness of FTCC students. There is little doubt the county commissioners’ decision was based on the assurance that the Riddle legacy and this valuable county recreational asset would both be maintained and utilized to the maximum benefit and enjoyment of the community. This decision was brilliant.

FTCC’s president, Dr. Larry Keen, and his competent and dedicated staff have displayed great vision and leadership. FTCC has an impeccable track record of academic success along with a reputation for unparalleled attention to detail and an exceptional commitment to excellence with every program the college engages in or develops. Again, FTCC has delivered. Trojan Field is beautiful, clean and well-manicured and will definitely be a proud showplace when it hosts thousands of out-of-town visitors during the season.

FTCC’s master plan includes opening up Trojan Field to outside commercial events as well as for use of local events like festivals, fundraisers and concerts. Congratulations to FTCC, and good luck to the Trojans. We look forward to supporting the team and spending time at Trojan Field.

Since we are talking baseball, I wanted to share my thoughts on the Astros’ sign-stealing/cheating scandal. Notice the media have dropped the adjective “alleged” when reporting on this unfortunate situation. Here’s what is bugging me. Little League opening day is right around the corner in April. At the Kiwanis Honeycutt Recreation Center, over 400 children will take to the baseball field. How many teams will be donning Astros uniforms? It’s a tough subject and situation to explain to a child, and, unfortunately, it is not going away any time soon — if ever. The Major League Baseball Houston Astros are cheaters, and baseball fans have long memories. Without a doubt, the Astros will have to deal with the realities that resulted from their bad behavior and tarnished reputations. Baseball fans can be unforgiving, and they have already been demonstrating their displeasure at spring training with a barrage of boos and jeers every time the Astros take the field or step up to the plate. And, rightfully so.

The MLB already had to issue stern warnings and penalties for pitchers who intentionally try to hit Astros batters. A serious situation? You bet. It is rumored that opposing teams are already strategizing to send their most expendable hurlers to the mound knowing that once the deed is done, they will be expelled from the game. Crazy, huh? Not only has the scandal tarnished the game, but many innocent lives have been destroyed —  not to mention the young aspiring careers that have vanished.

On the surface, there seems to be very little the Astros can do about it. Many have called for the MLB to revoke their 2017 World Series title. I agree with that. However, I doubt it will happen. Even if it did, it would not solve the dilemma. They are still cheaters and that won’t get them back into the good graces of the fans or baseball community, but I do have an idea that could be a possible solution and may start the healing process to get that crippled Astros ball club back into the good graces of the nation.

The Astros should publicly admit their wrongdoing and apologize to the baseball community. Then, they should voluntarily give up the 2017 World Series title and trophy. If they man up now, admit the wrongdoing and acknowledge how such a sinister act hurt the game of baseball by sacrificing the title, I have little doubt that over time, the fans and the baseball community would see the honor, sacrifice and dignity of such an action. Lesson learned. And, we all can be pretty confident it won’t ever happen again. I fear that unless this sincere action is taken, the Houston Astros’ reputation and brand have been damaged beyond repair.

Think about it. Anyone can make a mistake and ask forgiveness, but once you’re branded an unrelenting cheater, it’s a hard moniker to lose and it will make the Astros vulnerable to years of boos and jeers. The only way out is for them to do the right thing — now — or live with the consequences.

 We are thankful that all FTCC sports programs put an emphasis on character development. Let’s play ball!

Thanks for reading Up & Coming Weekly.

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