Took my oldest daughter to a minor league baseball game last night. At least, I think that’s the sport they were playing – we didn’t pay much attention. That is, we stared at the field and were vaguely aware that things were happening, but it was by no means our primary concern.
No, we were more into the food and the beverages (a Summer Shandy has never tasted so good), the bouncy bird adjacent to left field (think bouncy house in the shape of a pheasant), basic conversation and sending text messages. Frankly, we spent more time comparing sweat puddles than studying the two teams.
On a related note, the crowd was … underwhelming at best. It’s safe to assume that the heat – temps were in the upper 90s near game time – kept some fans from coming out to the park. And how weak is that? Aside from infants and the elderly, Upper Midwesterners should embrace every moment of warmth considering how many below-zero days we survive.
Plus, and this is the point of the post if there must be one, isn’t the opportunity to experience summer the real reason so many folks in so many cities attend so many minor-league baseball games each year? Sure, there are purists out there, people who learn the names and the stats of teams like the Sioux Falls Fighting Pheasants. (Quick aside: They used to be called the Sioux Falls Canaries, and once held a promotion in which fans would receive free tickets for life if they got a tattoo of the team logo. Ouch.) I salute these folks, it’s just that I’m in no danger of becoming one.
That doesn’t stop me from perpetually trying to renovate the ballpark experience. What if they added more interesting eats to go along with the serviceable beer menu, the relatively fast, relatively gourmet stuff served up by food trucks? In fact, what if they just hired one of the suddenly numerous food trucks to dish up grub every so often? What if they ran more interesting (read: dangerous?) promotions like their league mates the St. Paul Saints? What if the team was better or maybe MLB affiliated instead of independent?
To be clear, I’m not actually suggesting any of that should or could happen – I’m merely spit balling, throwing out some of the stuff that pops into my head when I’m not really watching baseball. I imagine the story is the same in small-time parks across the country. Some organizations are too gimmicky and some aren’t gimmicky enough, the latter perhaps relying on the idea that summer will bring them back to the old ballpark.
They’re not wrong.
As the game moved into the late innings, my 8-year-old got antsy (or hopped up on sugar) and wanted to explore the unspectacular park. We checked out the home bullpen, where she struck up a conversation about how hard it must be to clean the players’ white pants and observed a pile of change on the ground. Then we wandered to the grass berm near third base, a place where kids can play catch between innings but are required to take cover behind a chain link fence when the ball is in play. A couple of foul balls came in our general direction and each time my daughter popped up and gave chase, happy to be a part of a hungry pack.
We took a nice picture of the two of us and emailed it home to mom. I tried to explain the concept of the strike zone. A right-handed batter from the visiting team lost the grip on his lumber during a swing through and sent it hurling into the stands. It hit a chair and broke in two – the second broken bat of the contest. My daughter had no memory of the first.
She fell asleep in the backseat during the drive home.