Panthers camp provides welcome break from baseball

Aug. 08, 2013 @ 05:38 AM

As Hunter Bryant’s three-run homer cleared the left field wall at McNair Field Monday night giving the Forest City Owls a walk-off win to end the season, I was in a festive mood. Not only had the Owls just pulled out a dramatic victory in front of a sellout crowd, but Bryant’s blast also signaled the end of baseball season.

Now I love America’s pastime as much as the next guy, but I’ve been out at the ball park since mid-February when TJCA battled WCAA to open the high school season. I need a change of scenery.

As a result, less than seven hours after the final pitch of 2013, Forest City Owl’s statistician AJ Fuller and I headed to Spartanburg for Carolina Panthers training camp.

It was good to hear the pop of pads and the shrill blats of whistles instead of the crack of a bat or the thump of a fastball hitting the catcher’s mitt. It was a sure sign that football season is not far away.

I must admit however, that the Panthers did little to inspire confidence for the upcoming season. I know one practice is a small sample size, but there were dropped passes, overthrows and running backs slipping when they made their cuts.

That’s not to say that there weren’t some bright spots. Rookie quarterback Colby Cameron from Louisiana Tech was very impressive. He connected with a pair of beautiful deep passes to Armanti Edwards in the corner of the end zone. He was also sharp on his short passes and got rid of the ball quickly in the face of a blitz. This seems to be a foreign concept for Derek Anderson and Jimmy Clausen.

Admittedly, all this came against the third string defense and it does not always translate to live game action. I had similar good feelings after watching Chris Weinke at training camp in 2001. Every Panthers’ fan knows how that season turned out.

I would be remiss without mentioning Steve Smith. The veteran receiver is as feisty as ever and still has the ability to abuse defensive backs both verbally and physically.

When there was a minor scuffle toward the end of practice, Smith raced from the opposite sideline and started to pull players away. But his goal was not to break up the fight, though. He wanted to get in the middle of it.  Suffice it to say “Smitty” is still “Smitty.”    

Of course, no trip to training camp would be complete without a trip to the souvenir stand. While most fans are satisfied with a t-shirt, I go for the media guide. I love all the facts, figures, and other obscure stats about my favorite team. Plus I get to add it to my ever growing collection that includes guides dating back to 1997.

AJ and I then finished our day at the Beacon. If you have never been, I suggest ordering the “Double chili cheese burger a-plenty”. True, it amounts to your yearly quota of calories and the burger is big enough to challenge a 300 pound lineman. But if you can finish it, it gives you a great sense of accomplishment (and heartburn). Just be prepared enter a food-induced coma for the next six hours.

All in all, Tuesday’s trip to training camp was the perfect antidote for a long baseball season. It was just what I need to get ready for football and put baseball out of my mind, until next February that is.