Tagged: Minor League Baseball

Summer begins in Charleston, South Carolina

stadium300.jpgThis title doesn’t quite have the same ring as poet James Wright’s “Autumn Begins in Martins Ferry, Ohio,” but it’ll just have to do …

Two weekends ago I took in a Charleston RiverDogs game. Unlike the rainy, dreary Northeast circa mid-June 2009, it actually felt like summer in South Carolina. It was hot as Hades, humid as … somewhere really humid and generally just thick in all kinds of Summerness.

The home of the RiverDogs, Joseph P. Riley Jr. Park (which I just Googled because I didn’t know the name of it for the life of me — more on that later), was just about what you’d expect for the home of a Class A affiliate in the deep South. Which is not to imply it wasn’t a nice experience, but it was certainly an experience.

I went to the game with Ski, whom I was visiting, and couple other BFFs. Ski drove; we slugged back Miller Lites from transparent, neon-tinted keg cups from the back seat. Suffice it to say I was buzzing before we stepped into the park. Before we even found our seats, we stopped off for hot dogs, nachos and whatever other good-only-when-you’re-drunk ballpark food we could find.

We sat on the third-base side, that of the visiting Sand Gnats of Savannah, Ga., a Mets affiliate. Naturally, not only were we the drunken, obnoxious Yankees (and by that I mean Yankees in the Mason-Dixon sense, not the pinstripes sense), we were also rooting for the away team. Our fellow spectators cared not, however, as this game had the feeling of one taken in by awkward-first-date couples and single mothers with several children — that is to say they couldn’t care less about what was taking place in front of them on the field. The latter demographic I can attest to, as I was informed by a 10-year-old boy sitting in front of me that he was a fan of only “the RiverDogs and Cowboys.” His daddy, his mother explained, was a Cowboys fan. Indeed, I noted, baseball is relegated to a mere footnote in football country. She agreed.

For some time we sat and watched the game, getting up only to use the restroom and restock tallboys of Bud Light; we were perhaps who Wright described as “the Polacks nursing long beers in Tiltonsville” in the aforementioned poem. It was a hot and humid evening, so much so that my barely-too-big Persol sunglasses slid down the sweaty bridge of my nose when I lurched forward to have a bite of hot dog or retrieve my sweating beer from under my seat. The condensation dribbled in long trails down the side of the aluminum can before running off and settling on my navy shorts. The guys pointed out it looked like I had an accident, but settling into comfortable numbness, I didn’t care.

On one of our trips back from the concessions stand we stopped a stadium employee to take a picture with Harvles’ camera. She was a young gal named Francesca, probably there to satisfy a college requirement for a sport management class or some such. She was happy to help, snapping a shot with the late-evening sun setting behind us.

In the sixth inning or so, Slukes and I stepped into the concourse for another beer, fresh air and to use the restroom. The Sand Gnats had put up a crooked number a couple innings earlier, and frankly, as I told the guys, these players were just too damn young to watch critically unless we were professional scouts. Indeed, these kids looked like babies.

What transpired in the restroom I’m nearly too embarrassed to share, and thankfully it had nothing to do with me. As I stood at a urinal, I noticed a police offer stroll into the restroom and knock rather forcibly on a stall door. He shouted, “What are you doing in there? Finish up and get out.”

Shortly thereafter, a gangly, redheaded tween emerged.

The buzz quickly spread through the restroom: Apparently, a janitor had somehow been alerted that the boy was … addressing his carnal urges in the stall and told the officer. The cop told the young man to wash his hands and escorted him out of the restroom. Stunned by what had happened, Slukes and I finished our business and made our way to the communal hand-washing sink, where I informed a late-arriving man what had happened.

Disbelieving, the man summed it up in his unique brand of Southern eloquence: “Nuh uh!?”

“Yuh huh,” I said. “Yuh huh.”

Wringing our hands of sink water, we witnessed the unthinkable embarrassment of being reprimanded in a men’s bathroom for inappropriate behavior slowly morph into public mortification. The cop had taken it upon himself to inform not the boy’s father or mother but his grandmother, with whom the boy had attended the game, of his transgressions. I overheard little from the conversation except for the cop saying, “The second time I see it, it starts to become a pattern …” but suffice it to say the boy’s porcelain cheeks were as red as his hair and a certain part of the Devil’s anatomy, to paraphrase the black female cop from Pineapple Express.

Beer sales were cut off at about the seventh inning, and Slukes and I were dejected by this development. We stood in the concourse, chewing the fat, until a bored local approached us. He asked whether we had a light, and we informed him neither of us smoke. Travis, as he later told us his name, pegged us as Yankees right away but was cordial about it. We shared regional stereotypes (like his unfounded belief that New Yorkers actually do that weird Italian blowoff signal in which they flick outward with the back of their hands on their chins) and chuckled about it. Travis wore a University of South Carolina visor, so I asked whether he went there or was merely a fan. He did not attend USC or any college, for that matter, but he attended their football games.

“How long does it take you to get to Columbia?” I asked.

“About four beers.”

We all lost it, of course. This man measured time and distance in beer.

“Maybe only two when I go with my uncle, who’s a little more straight-laced than me.”

Travis went on to explain that we ought to go to Folly Beach during our visit to Charleston and described the multitude of beautiful women in the city in ways I can’t possibly describe here for fear of offending even those with the most liberal sense of common decency.

Floored by our encounter with Travis, we returned to our seats for the game’s final innings. Upon last pitch we shuffled down the concourses, stopping for a last restroom break. There we bumped into none other than Travis for a final awkward rendezvous. During this chance run-in, he was kind enough to bestow on us the distinction of being his “favorite Yankees.” Travis said he knew Brian to be a Yankee right away by his dark hair and pale skin, and proceeded to awkwardly hold his arm against Brian’s leg while he was still using a urinal to show the contrast in their skin tones. If you’re thinking the horrific scene from Along Came Polly with Alec Baldwin and Ben Stiller, you’re not far off.

On our way out of the stadium, I spotted Francesca milling about, saying farewell to the spectators. I asked her to snap a shot of Brian and me on my iPhone, a request she was kind enough to indulge.

Photo credit: Francesca/Charleston RiverDogs (on my iPhone). If you’re wondering about the curious position and background lighting, you’re not alone: “You should have taken this picture so that the camera was facing a huge
spotlight, blinding the image of you and Brian . . . oh wait, you did.” — Bob, via Facebook.

Matt Wieters’ rapid ascent leaves five-hour drive even less satisfying

DSC00530.JPGLast year was a tough one for me at times. Having broken up with the former mrs. of a few years, I was out of sorts for a while — check that, I was hurting. During one particularly rough patch in June, I needed to do something — anything — to keep my mind off her, off my pain.

Deluded by my misguided, romanticized notion of solitude in heartbreak, I thought it might be a good idea to take in a game by myself. But I needed baseball with a new twist. I wasn’t ready to go back to Shea Stadium, where we’d gone to so many games together. In fact, the last game I ever went to at Shea was April 11, 2008 — Dog Day — a half-baked attempt at a reconciliation by bringing her to a game.

My need for something new led me to a Class A Potomac Nationals game in Woodbridge, Va., where the lil’ Nats would be playing host to the Frederick Keys, the Baltimore Orioles’ Class A affiliate. The Keys’ star catcher in the first half of 2008 was none other than Matt Wieters, the fifth overall selection of the 2007 First-Year Player Draft.

My quest to see Wieters was not unlike that of a hipster bound and determined to see an indie band du jour when their self-produced material has only been released on their Myspace page — you know, before they actually get a record deal. But most of all, it was something to do. It was an attempt — however circuitous in rationale — to reclaim something I’d previously enjoyed with the former mrs. as something of my own again.

As it turns out, Woodbridge is no hop, skip and jump from Long Island. The drive was one I’d done a million times prior since I went to school in North Carolina, but even still, my calculations — with traffic and some inclement weather — were off a bit. Long story short, by the time I arrived at cozy (to put it nicely) G. Richard Pfitzner Stadium, golfball-sized hail was pounding my poor truck into oblivion. Once the lightening started flashing in the distance, I knew the game would be off.

Better still, they had actually already played five innings, enough for it to be considered an official contest. Better still, Wieters didn’t even play in the dang game. So, I drove about five hours to miss a five-inning game in which the player I wanted to see didn’t even play. Clearly, I was batting 1.000, as they say.

After tearing up the Carolina League, Wieters was promoted to Double-A Bowie just a few days after my misadventure, where he was actually closer to my grasp since he’d be playing teams within a shorter driving distance from my home like Trenton, N.J., and Binghamton, N.Y. But, I guess life got in the way (after all, life outside the diamond is a wrench). I never saw Wieters play.

Now, Wieters is on everyone’s radar. He’s going ahead of a handful of proven veterans in fantasy drafts (justifiably so; he has the potential to easily be the best-hitting catcher in baseball in no time). Baseball snobs and jilted lovers alike will have to move on to a new next-big-thing player, perhaps the Rays’ Tim Beckham or the Orioles’ Brian Matusz. Maybe I can go see Wieters the right way in 2008 — at Camden Yards, a stadium I’m long overdue to visit.

Partisan warfare: The only way to draw fans to Class A baseball

barackbobble.jpgThe presidential election is long over — with this particular blogger backing the right candidate, thank you very much — but that doesn’t mean the desperate creative minds in the ranks of Minor League Baseball have abandoned partisanship as a promotional tool.

A staunch supporter of all things MLB.com (not that I have a vested interest, or anything), I was perusing our sister site, MiLB.com, today when I came across this incredible story.

The Brooklyn Cyclones, the Mets’ Class A affiliate in the New York-Penn League, will usher in the 2009 campaign and Barack Obama’s presidency in one fell swoop — renaming themselves the Baracklyn Cyclones for their home opener on June 23.

The first 2,500 fans to pass through Keyspan Park’s pearly gates will receive a one-of-a-kind Baracklyn Cyclones bobblehead doll, fashioned after the handsome grim and kind eyes of The Second Coming Barack Obama himself.

Here are the rest of the juicy details, lifted directly from the story (I’m guessing most of these are a joke?):

  • Alternate red, white and blue jerseys adorned with the team’s new name
  • FREE Barack Obama bobbleheads to the first 2,500 fans in attendance, featuring the President in a Baracklyn Cyclones Jersey
  • The Economic Stimulus Package: From 10am on January 20th —
    Inauguration Day — to midnight on January 23rd, ticket prices for the
    June 23rd game will be “rolled back” to the Cyclones’ inaugural 2001
    season rates: $10 Field Box Seats, $8 Box Seats, $5 Bleacher Seats.
    Beginning January 24th, tickets will be priced at the regular 2009
    rates ($15, $12, $8)
  • Universal Health Care: Free Band-Aids to the first 1,000 fans
  • Naming Rights: Anyone named Barack gets in for free
  • Joe the Plumber special: any plumber named Joe gets two free
    tickets — one for himself, and one to “spread the wealth” with a
  • Bi-Partisan Consolation Prize: anyone named McCain or Palin will get a free Bleacher Seat
  • A clear-cut Exit Strategy: fans will receive American Flags and discount coupons as they leave the ballpark

In all seriousness, I know such outside-the-box promotions have gone mostly the way of the dinosaurs in Major League Baseball, so it’s nice to see something different.

In addition, credit the Cyclones, who will auction off game-worn jerseys and fork the proceeds over to the Jackie Robinson Foundation. Now that is symmetrical.