Today for the first time in 23 years, Ron McNutt Field is quiet
It is the first Saturday of June and Ron McNutt Field is unusually different.
Usually on this day, the grass is trim and emerald. Usually on this day, the dirt is brick red and the bases are polar-bear white. Usually on this day, Ron McNutt, the coach not the field, waters the grass like it’s a struggling garden and methodically rakes the first-base line like a balding man strokes his last hair.
But, today, the grass is an overgrown chia-pet. There are brown patches where there should be outfielders. Weeds are growing on the warning track. The bases have been removed, as have the signs along the outfield wall. The hose and rake are in storage. A baseball game isn’t going to be played. Not today. Not ever again.
For the first time since 1978, instead of hitting ground balls during pregame, Ron McNutt is hitting the sack. In April, he announced the Carson Capitols, one of the country’s best amateur summer baseball programs, were done. The community wasn’t terribly surprised. After all, they knew after 23 years it would end sometime. Still, the tie between Carson City and a storied baseball tradition was severed.
The first weekend of June, the Caps usually played their first game. Announcer Carl Henry and his soothing voice would introduce future stars, players like Matt Williams and Darrell Rasner. Dustin Pedroia and Dustin Hahn. Nate Yeskie and Dusty Bergman. Players would then trot to the third-base line, listen to the national anthem and pound the other team. That usually happened a lot.
If this was last year, those at tonight’s game would hear Merk Human and Ray Arnett, two ardent Capitol supporters, evaluate the team. They would discuss the players they liked, and the ones they didn’t. They liked them all.
If there was a two-strike count, Ray would harass an unlucky batter from the other team, telling Tim Priess to ‘throw ’em a chair.’ And if Timmy threw enough chairs, Ray would give him one of his own, a wooden rocking chair Ray always gave to his player of the week. Sometimes it was Joe Mercer or Joe Hooft or Joe Jacobitz who got the chair. Other times it was J.P. Howell or Bake Krukow or Brett McMillan, Northern California studs who came to Northern Nevada and became even bigger ones.
The chair was always placed on the west end of the dugout. To have the chair was to have bragging rights galore, at least for 168 hours. A lot of great players never earned the chair. A lot of great players never will.
So much tradition, so much fun. Now, it’s over.
I’ll never find out where Ron’s wife, Terrie, buys those damn hot dogs. Every game I asked her and every game, she never budged. She would still give me one, sometimes two if there was a doubleheader. When I reached into my pocket to pay her, she always refused. I didn’t think she wanted lint anyways.
But I loved those doubleheaders, as did the fans. Talented players making spectacular plays, melting July sunshine, followed by memorable Sierra Nevada sunsets. The sun and the mountains will still be there, of course. But talented baseball players, the ones that aren’t already here, don’t come to Carson City without a reason. No Capitols, no reason.
The Capitols have won their own tournament, the Capitol Classic, seven times in 23 years. They’ve won the USABA World Series twice. They’ve had scores of players play at the collegiate level, a fraction made it to the highest level. What else more could they do? And will Ron miss any of it?
“No. I don’t miss mowing the field and cutting the grass to get ready for a game,” McNutt said.
That’s not a good enough reason, yet it’s a great reason. Either way, it’s time.
When Merk died in December, it was time. He couldn’t have lived without the Capitols, and they couldn’t have lived without him. For 21 years, he never missed a practice or game, looking out over Ron McNutt Field with his simple, blue eyes, marveling at teenage greatness. The kids will still be great, only somewhere else, but definitely not at Ron McNutt Field.