Among interruptions the pandemic forced over the past year-plus was a muffling or outright silencing of life’s sounds we’d been accustomed to hearing.
For much of the time, remote and hybrid schooling models lessened the chatter of students in hallways between classes. The buzz of social conversation and the clank and clatter of kitchen sounds in restaurants and bars grew more muted and at times nonexistent. Missing was the energy that swelling crowd excitement could add to high school and college sporting events. Even street noise sometimes seemed curtailed, though that may have been a welcome change.
As the vaccination rate climbs and social distancing and other restrictions are eased, the sounds of before have begun to return, along with a growing hope that, even if the pandemic is not yet behind us, a semblance of normal activity can resume as summer approaches. And adding to that hope, tomorrow evening brings a chance to savor hearing once again one of the sounds most sorely missed in the region — the crack of a wooden bat thwacking a cowhide ball at a Keene SwampBats game.
Yes, the Bats are back in town, at last taking the field after the pandemic shut down its 2020 season, and finally getting a chance to defend their 2019 New England Collegiate Baseball League championship, the team’s fifth. The club’s opener has, throughout its past 22 seasons, marked the true start of summer in these parts — despite what any academic, Georgian or other calendar might indicate — and a night at the team’s ballyard at Keene High’s Alumni Field has always offered delights, charms and even sounds that are a special part of life in the Monadnock Region.
For many, taking in a game has meant more than cheering on the college ballplayers who during the summer become part of the community as they test out wooden-bat baseball while chasing their baseball dreams, often into the pro ranks and in some cases to the major leagues. Indeed, a night with the Bats has become one of the family-friendliest outings to be had, featuring warm evenings, greasy french fries and other, sometimes more healthful, snack bar offerings, a chance to catch up with old friends and children racing after foul balls and home runs. And there are amusing in-game contests and promotions and post-game entertainment to be had during the two-month regular season — all while sitting under the lights of Alumni Field and savoring the picturesque view over the diamond to the rustic red barn in right field and the hills beyond.
But even more this year, there are the sounds: The cheers and groans of the fans, the varied snippets of players’ walk-up music; the thump of a home run smacking the side of that barn; the announcing of winning ticket numbers and prizes of between-inning raffles; the sizzle of the snack-shack grill; the singing of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” during the seventh-inning stretch. And, of course, that distinctive crack of the bat.
The SwampBats’ season begins tonight on the road, but its home opener against the Upper Valley Nighthawks is scheduled for Friday at 6:30 p.m. They’re also at home on Saturday evening, against the Sanford Mainers, and again on 19 subsequent dates before the playoffs begin in August. Enjoy the sounds, again.