A little gem has gone undiscovered by most fans of local sports this spring: high school girls softball.
While I'll always have a passion for baseball played by the boys of summer - whether they're well into adulthood or not - the girls version of high school ball has really caught my eye this spring.
That's because they invariably put on a good show.
Either Marquette, Negaunee or both were involved in my first three ventures out this spring. What I've seen is a much faster-paced game than what the boys play.
There's a wide variety of plays, ranging from numerous sacrifice bunts with the "wheel" defense putting the entire infield in motion, to balls hit to deep, straightaway center field and emptying a full set of bases.
And these plays happen at a lot faster pace than in baseball.
How often do you watch a hardball pitcher take the ball, shake off his catcher's sign once or twice, then step off the mound when the batter asks for timeout to readjust his batting glove, his helmet, and his, ahem, athletic supporter?
Don't get me wrong, I love baseball, but I can't fault those who don't appreciate the game's pace.
In the softball games I've seen this spring, the pitcher rares back and slings the ball to a much closer target. If it's not hit, the catcher quickly gets it back to her and another pitch is ready. Right away.
The sacrifice bunt is often a lost art form at this level of baseball. Not in softball, especially with Marquette coach Paul Seibert.
"I really hate striking out," he told me after MSHS split with Rapid River earlier this week. "It just becomes a wasted at-bat."
He told me he took a quick look at his stats before that day's games and saw the Redettes had pulled off 26 sac bunts already in 18 games, while their opponents had only done it three times.
In the Marquette-Negaunee doubleheader I covered on April 25, my scorebook shows seven sac bunts for the Redettes. And that doesn't count the unsuccessful ones, or ones that went for hits.
OK, I realize the bunt isn't what made Major League Baseball so popular with generations of fans. But it's a different kind of play from just watching fielders chase the ball around the diamond, though there's plenty of that in softball, too.
Just ask Gwinn and Norway.
On Thursday, I ventured south from The Mining Journal office to a hidden field I never knew about in Gwinn. You have to cut the Model Towners a bit of slack, since this is the first official year for the program as they seek their first win.
But what can you say about a doubleheader that featured 85 runs, 55 hits and one game that was competitive and the other that came down to the final inning before the outcome was decided?
I'm glad it wasn't a cold day. The action lulled a few times when the pitchers couldn't find the plate, but that's what it took to turn an 18-0 laugher suddenly into an 18-13 game when Gwinn put a baker's dozen worth of runs across in one time at-bat.
And in the second game, Gwinn was tied or led at the end of three of the first six innings, including 18-16 going into the seventh, only to fall short in the last inning.
Even when there's a lull, the girls are good at starting their own rallies in the dugout.
Boys, of course, are too cool to chant in unison, but the girls aren't afraid to. The Model Towners, while they aren't unique in this regard, might have the best variety of sing-song, rhythmic cheers during at-bats.
When a batter lets a bad pitch go, you might hear "Way to watch it, way-to-way-to-way-to watch it!" or "G-double-O-D-E-Y-E - good eye!"
And my favorite on a foul ball: "You got a piece of it, but we want all of it!"
All of this and I have yet to see an admission charged at community fields in Marquette, Negaunee and Gwinn.
You can't beat that value, even with a bunt down the third-base line.
Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 246. His email address is email@example.com.