Chapter 5 "The Long Winter"
Rebel Park is the perfect place in which to watch a baseball game, largely because there is nothing in or around the park to distract one from the game. There are no exploding scoreboards that tell fans when to cheer, no organs playing clever or insulting measures of themed music when certain batters come to the plate, no carousels or moon bounces to occupy bored children. The scoreboard that does exist shows the line score, the count, the outs, and the number of the player at bat. Above this information the message board displays the time, the name of the batter along with a non-color photo, and the pitch speed. This is all you really need to know to keep track of the game. Only the clock is superfluous, for the only time that may matter during a game remains unknown until the rhythm of the game itself makes it relevant:
"Time to strike this guy out."
"Time for a hit."
"Time for some nachos."
Rebel Park is not only a perfect place for a baseball fan, it is a perfect place for anyone who wants simply to relax, not mindlessly in front of a television, but reflectively in front of a summer evening. Perhaps, it is the color that promotes such relaxation, for all is green from the infield to the parking lot to the pastures that stretch out to Massanutten Mountain, to the mountain itself. The mountain, in fact, puts on a spectacular light show, if you are an observant spectator. Before the game, as Bruce Alger announces the starting lineups, the mountain is alight and green with the leaves of thousands of trees; the ones along the very top of the ridgeline even stand out singularly against the sky. As the sun begins to set, however, the dales at the mountain's base begin to take on a bluish hue, which gradually works its way to the crest. The color deepens, as does the blue background of the eastern sky. By the middle of the game, you begin to check between innings to see if Massanutten is still visible. Finally, it is not. If you are at Rebel Park at the right time, however, you may be fortunate enough to see the mountain illuminated once more when the full moon rises above the ridge. It's hard to say whether you will first notice the brilliant white tip of the moon or the audible acknowledgement of its rising by the crowd.
In major league parks, the moon is just another light. . . .
The park's dimensions are fairly standard: 322 feet down both the right-field and left‑field lines and 365 feet to dead center. The center-field dimension may seem a bit small, but few balls are hit out to dead center, a testament to the time it takes for college players to adjust to the less lively wooden bats. The deepest part of the park, at 385', is actually right-center, just to the right of the electronic scoreboard/message board.
An 8-foot high plywood fence, covered in advertising, runs from left center to right center. Local sponsors including the Southern Kitchen, Johnny Appleseed Restaurant, Pack's Ice Cream Stand, and Grubbs Chevrolet are featured on the plywood panels, as well as league sponsors Chili's and Shentel Communications.
The panels, like a lineup of old timers along a foul line, are bowed and bent. Like the old timers, however, what the fence lacks in rigidity and strength is made up for in character. To walk along the warning track and touch the peeling paint gives one the sense that, with a minimum of coaxing, it would tell plenty of stories about home runs that have sailed over it and of outfielders who have crashed into it.
The Rebels' bullpen lies beyond the left-field wall, which stands only 4 feet high so that the relief pitchers can view the game. A green rail fence runs from the foul pole by the bullpen all the way to the dugout. Cars are parked in the meadow beyond this bullpen. The dugouts themselves sit at ground level and contain a built-in wooden bench, painted green, of course. The dugouts seem to perpetually contain reminders of the baseball season even in winter: a ragged ball hidden in the corner, a dusty gum wrapper, an empty bottle of Gatorade resting where a summer someone left it; a small plastic monument to the season now past.