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Fans miss out when players don’t take batting practice

Fred Andrews was a second baseman who played 16 major league games over two seasons with the Philadelphia Phillies in the mid-1970s. Remember him? Probably not.

His was a forgettable career, but I will remember Fred Andrews for as long as I have a memory, because Fred Andrews took time during batting practice one afternoon to sign a baseball that had somehow jumped from the field into my hands. Maybe it stopped rolling before I picked it up. I don’t remember.

I remember Fred Andrews.

And I remember Vida Blue, who once tossed a lopsided batting practice baseball to me on another afternoon at Shea Stadium.

And Felix Millan, who used to move up and down the right field stands before games signing for anyone who asked. It was impossible to go to a New York Mets game and not get Millan’s autograph. He was Plan B on those nights when Plan A (Tom Seaver) didn’t sign. At least you went home with something.

That’s the beauty of batting practice, the interaction between player and fan. And that’s what is lost on days like Sunday when neither the Tampa Bay Rays nor the Minnesota Twins hit on the field before the game.

Is there a sadder sight than an empty field before a big league game?

Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon is quick to cancel batting practice if it means more rest for the Rays. I’m not saying Maddon will be a trend-setter here, but teams stopped taking infield and outfield practice a while ago because they realized it wasn’t necessary. Remember the ancient art of pepper? Banned at most ballparks.

Will batting practice meet the same end as the bullpen cart?

Say it ain’t so, Joe.

The stadium is alive during batting practice.

The players move in a ballet handed down through the generations, from Ruth to Ott to Musial to Mays to Brett to Ripken to Jeter to Longoria. The hitters bunt twice then swing away. Coaches hit grounders to infielders and pop-ups to outfielders. Baseballs fly and skip everywhere, yet everything moves according to script.

Music plays. Sometimes the music is played on a real organ.

Up north, day turns to night as the hot sun gives away to a pleasant evening.

Down here we enjoy the sounds of rain hammering the Trop’s roof.

Remember the first time Sammy Sosa came to the Trop as a member of the Baltimore Orioles? The left field stands were filled during BP as fans tried to catch the missiles he launched from home plate. It’s the same way when David Ortiz, Alex Rodriguez, Jim Thome and the rest of the big boppers come to town.

Pitchers kill their boredom by tossing balls into the stands.

Players sign autographs, while kids run from one end of the park to the other once they spot the player who took time to sign.

“I got him,” they yell as they run to meet up with whoever took them to the game.

I met Fred Andrews on Sept. 4, 1976. It was an afternoon game. The Mets won 7-4.

That’s what is says in fading blue ink on a Spalding baseball above the spot autograph by one of my favorite players of all time: Fred Andrews.

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