autumn. A nip in the air, the trees are changing, football
is back, but mostly… October baseball.
different than today. Of course you had the young prospects
fighting to make the bigs but there were also some old vets playing
out their string. You don’t see that anymore. The parent club won’t
pay the freight and wants the roster spot for a possible future
“player to be named later”. I saw some good ones coming
up and going down. Vida Blue as a teenager throwing hundred plus
smoke, Buddy Bell and Chris Chambliss on their way to stardom, veteran
Cookie Rojas playing out the part of coach as much as player, and
on and on.
As a young
adult in Nashville, we had The Sounds. The minors were changing
by then but it was still a great way to spend a cheap night out.
Nothing says family night like free tickets from Kroger and a
six pack hidden in the bottom of a diaper bag. Funny how that
one beer I bought lasted the whole game. Great moments can happen
in the minors with superstars doing rehab assignments or trying
a new sport. Michael Jordan came through Nashville as a Birmingham
Barron during his brief baseball career. As the Yankees farm,
some good ones came through Nashville. Don Mattingly, Buck Showalter,
Otis Nixon and Willie McGee all wore a Sounds jersey. I got to
see Reggie Jackson, Bucky Dent, Lou Piniella, Goose Gossage and
Tommy John in an exhibition game. Even George Steinbrenner was
there to harass Yogi Berra as he managed the Yanks.
stadiums are a huge part of the charm of the minors. From
the old concrete and steel classics like Lawrence in Wichita
or Greer in Nashville with their splintery wooden bleachers
(unfortunately, not any more) to typical aluminum and bright
colored plastic seat fields like Homer
Stryker in Kalamazoo (could there BE a better name for a baseball
field?) or beautiful new parks like AutoZone Park in Memphis and
Louisville Slugger Field.
Perhaps the best park in minor league
baseball, Richmond County Bank Ballpark at St. George on Staten
Island, overlooks the Statue of Liberty and New York skyline. What
a fantastic way to spend a summer evening… free ride on the ferry
and a bit of America’s pastime.
any park, one of the beauties of minor league baseball is
the ability to be heard by players and umpires due to the
lack of crowd noise and close proximity to the field. They can
hear your words of encouragement and constructive criticisms. This
was put to good use recently by my daughters, 23 and 21, yelling
“Happy Birthday” to one of the hunky young players. They
were greeted with a smile and a wave. Try that at a big league park.
As a former
volunteer middle and high school baseball coach at a tiny Caribbean
school, I feel fully qualified to shout out valuable coaching
instructions to the players, as well as much needed direction
to the coaches and men in blue (aka umpires). Gems like, “Throw
strikes”, “Wait for your pitch”, “Have you
lost your mind?” or “Yo Blue, the strike zone is like
an imaginary box, try to picture it in your mind next time!”.
You know, really helpful stuff like that. It’s also a good idea
to know the name of the city that has the next lower club in the
system so you can yell that at some unsuspecting player who has
just done something really boneheaded. That really gets their
attention, they love it. This works well in the majors too.
fans can be as much of a show as the action on the field. It’s
Veronica’s favorite part of the game, other than the nachos with
extra peppers. Along with the purists and scouts who just want
to watch a game or see some prospects, you’ll find some true die-hards
for the local club. In our new lives as Gypsynesters, going to
a game is a great way to get in touch with the city, whether you’re
just visiting or it’s your hometown. Each game, the park, the
fans and the feel are a wonderful reflection of the home town.
the goal of every single player in the minors is to make the majors
and play in a World Series, so enjoy the post season, root for
your team, and remember, every one of those guys on the field
was once banging away in the minors with big dreams.