Wednesday, June 30, 2010


Just got back from a vacation to Antietam and Strasburg.

Do you know how many people have said, "What the heck is Antietam, and did you really visit with the Washington Nationals' rookie pitching sensation?"

In regard to the first part of the inquiry, I feel ashamed for someone who has to ask that. To the second part, I don't believe that Stephen Strasburg has anything to do with Strasburg, Pa., a striking little burgh in the Pennsylvania Dutch Country dotted with houses out of Hansel and Gretel and a famous railroad museum.

The Antietam part is a serious matter to me. Antietam is the name of the creek that flows through the softly rolling hills of Sharpsburg, Md. On Sept. 17, 1862, the bloodiest battle involving Americans was fought there, a crucial clash in the outcome of the Civil War.

Over 23,000 men were either killed or wounded at Antietam. The tales of how the skirmishes unfolded are testament to their bottomless courage and the utter uselessness of war. Imagine walking stealthily through a cornfield, stalks reaching six feet tall, with your rifle ready, your eyes as big as silver dollars and fixed with the realization that your life could end abruptly at any moment.

When the troops reached the end of the field, enemy soldiers were primed and waiting just a few feet away, kneeling and aiming. Thousands fell in minutes.

The battle raged for most of the day. Confederate General Robert E. Lee used the Hagerstown Road behind his long grey line to move troops rapidly to where they were needed. Union General George B. McClellan tried desperately to cross the three bridges that spanned Antietam Creek so he could outflank Lee's men.

The result was that Lee's Army of Northern Virginia was denied its master strategy of taking the war directly to Pennsylvania and the north. Lee would try again a year later at Gettysburg and fail.

Why should you care? Why do I care? I do not want these men who gave their lives to be forgotten. I can only think of the young athletes that I cover -- the high school seniors and the minor league baseball players -- forced to fight wars instead of being able to engage in more figurative battles that don't generally spill blood.

I visited the graves at Antietam last week and in Gettyburg last year and I connected with those who fought so that I could cover baseball games for a living. I focused on Lincoln's stirring Gettyburg Address and Lee's foiled war strategy. Remembering is the least I can do.

I went to the Pennsylvania Dutch Country for a variety of reasons. I'm captivated by the simplicity of the Amish lifestyle and just as overwhelmed how brilliantly they have mastered the tenets of tourism. The Amish won't drive mechanized vehicles but they will ride in them. But believe me, they'll sell you just about anything you can imagine.

We bought homemade root beer and took a guided tour on one of their little horse-drawn buggies. We frequented the shops in their attractively named villages of Intercourse, Bird-in-Hand and Blue Ball and watched others put out top dollar for quilts, pottery and other bric-a-brac.

The other reason we went to Pennsylvania is so I could bring home some Yuengling. I'm no beer connoisseur but I know what I like, and nothing tastes quite like a cold Yuengling Original Lager on a hot day. I think I said the same thing about Coors when it was only available west of the Mississippi. Maybe I can't resist that lure when something is taboo.

And then there's baseball. Take a vacation from baseball writing and what do I do? Search for a ballgame, and I found one at Lancaster's Clipper Magazine Stadium. The independent Barnstormers of the Atlantic League were hosting the Bridgeport Bluefish. Wily Mo Pena, that slugger Boston traded to Cincy for Bronson Arroyo, hit a homer to win it for Bridgeport.

Now it's back home to the Rock Cats and the same old story -- the grandstands are packed but the Cats have been sent out onto New Britain's cold, cruel diamond without the claws necessary to compete with the Portlands and Trentons.

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