In 1904, the city of Savannah did not have Armstrong State College, Municipal Stadium, or the Oglethorpe Mall, but it did have baseball. And for the last 110 years, the Sand Gnats have called Savannah home. Now, on the eve of the 111th year, the ownership group, Hardball Capital, has made the decision to finally part ways with Savannah and Historic Grayson Stadium, though legally they cannot announce it until next month.
I’m not here to bash the owners. I will admit that Grayson is not up-to-par anymore. I will also admit that parking is a nightmare. The facilities as a whole are not what professional ball-players should be playing in. However, as I paid for my ticket and walked through eroding brick arches on Thursday, May 16th for opening night, I could not stop the tingle running down my spine that came from knowing that I had just entered a piece of baseball’s hallowed ground.
Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron, and Jackie Robinson are just a few of the baseball gods whose cleats have graced this land. As a fan I became awestruck. I stopped and stared at the empty field, freshly lined with white chalk, imaging Ruth’s mighty swing or Robinson’s cunning speed.
When the game starts, its easy to see its a packed house. Maybe we won’t sell out every game anymore, but damnit we Savannians tried hard for this last opening day. The Gnats deserved it, and played like they understood the gravitas of the situation, even if they didn’t. Truth be told they were probably nothing more than bunch of twenty-somethings trying to make a buck playing a kid’s game. But that’s the beauty of baseball anyway right? The emotional situations and scenarios that baseball presents fans with far surpass any soap opera or romantic novel, all the while maintaining the reality of being just a game. If you disagree, you’ve probably never spent much time at the ballpark.
The Gnats jumped on the board in the first inning. One run scored via a Charleston error. Shortly after, Gnats right fielder Stefan Sabol cracked a ball deep over the left field wall amongst the mighty southern pines. The Charleston Riverdogs erased the deficit in the top of the second inning with three runs of their own. Their joy was short lived though because Savannah regained the lead in the bottom inning after a well placed bunt from shortstop Luis Guillorme plated the designated hitter, Vicente Lupo. Charleston would not score again the entire game.
Savannah scored in three more frames to ease the crowd and solidify the win. Third baseman Pedro Perez launched a homer of his own in the fourth inning, another majestic shot to left field. Guillorme continued his precise small ball when he knocked in Lupo again in the sixth inning with a well placed ground ball. Then in the bottom of the 8th, right fielder Wuilmer Becerra sent the third homerun of the game over the left field wall. It would be the last opening day run and homerun in Savannah Sand Gnats history.
Corey Oswalt picked up the win for the Gnats on the mound. He gave up three earned runs in five innings while walking three and striking out five. The bullpen trio of Carlos Valdez, Cameron Griffin, and David Roseboom gave up only two hits and combined for seven strikeouts over the final four innings, holding the riverdogs scoreless.
Fireworks lit up the night sky after the Sand Gnats victory as hundreds of content fans walked back to their cars. During their walk they may or may not have been realizing the small piece of baseball history they had just witnessed. It really doesn’t matter. Baseball is flexible that way. For me, it was a night of reverence. For the five year old boy sitting behind me, it was the night his name flashed on the screen for his birthday. So consider this an ode to you, Savannah Sand Gnats. Thank you for the 111 years of allowing baseball to be the constant. And thank you as well Grayson Stadium, for facilitating not only our Gnats, but consistency, and the magic that is the ballpark. Take me out to the ballgame. I don’t care if I never get back.