Never miss a ballgame

As Tim Kurkjian famously said, “Never miss the opportunity to go to a baseball game.  You might see something you’ve never seen before.”

This week I’m in Asheville, NC.  I’m very busy with my Securing Java Web Applications class while other issues keep coming up, but the bottom line is that the Asheville Tourists (the class A affiliate of the Colorado Rockies) are nearby and are in town.  I was debating whether to go or not when I spoke to my wife on the phone.  As usual, she encouraged me to go.  She’s claims I’m always in a better mood after I’ve attended a ball game, so who can blame her?

Even better, minor league baseball team names in North Carolina are great.  I really liked the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs when I was in Allentown a couple weeks ago, but NC has great names in abundance.  You’ve got the Greensboro Grasshoppers, the Winston-Salem Warthogs, the Kannapolis Intimidators, the Carolina Mudcats, and even tonight’s opponent, the Hickory Crawdads.  That doesn’t even mention the classic Durham Bulls.  But honestly, how can you not go to a game between the Tourists (who have had that name since 1914!) and the Crawdads?  It’s just not possible.

So I did my usual practice, which is to show up at the box office about a half hour before game time, told them I needed only one ticket and asked for the best available seat in the house.  In Asheville, that turned out to be a special “Home Deck Suite” right behind the on-deck circle (probability of a foul ball: zero), which cost a fortune ($45, an insane amount for a minor league game) but included all you can eat on the menu, delivered for seven innings by a helpful staff person.

That’s right — all you can eat.  The guy kept coming back asking if I wanted more, and I kept doing massive rationalizations justifying horrible overeating in order to consume enough to make the ticket worthwhile.  Let’s say that I think I managed to do so (er, hot dogs, popcorn, cheese nachos, a giant pretzel, and an endless supply of sodas, but I showed some restraint — no crackerjacks, though I was tempted), which I’m already regretting and surely will regret more tomorrow.  I even got lucky and sat next to a charming couple who were in town on business and had tons of minor league baseball stories to tell.  The guy next to me also reminded me that the manager of the Tourists is good old Joe Mikulik, the immortal star of this classic YouTube video featuring a managerial meltdown that is topped only by this one by Phil Wellman, and I saw Earl Weaver in his prime.

As for the game, the Crawdads won 7 – 1, but I definitely saw some things I’d never seen before:

  • Hickory’s Bobby Spain went 4 for 5 with a home run, but he was outdone by his teammate Andrew Walker, who went 4 for 5 with two home runs.  They even went back-to-back in the top of the 2nd inning.  Is it too obscure a reference to think their slogan should be Walker and Spain and Pray for Rain?
  • Hickory’s Harrison Bishop and Tom Boleska combined to strike out six batters in a row from the bottom of the sixth to the bottom of the eighth.  I was surprised when they took out Bishop after striking out four in a row, but then Boleska came in and struck out two more before the next guy grounded out weakly to second.
  • The two teams combined for a total of seven (!) errors (Hickory made 4 and still won), which is more than I’ve seen in some Little League games.
  • The catcher’s name on the Crawdads is Lars Davis.  Yes, he’s the catcher.  Don’t they therefore, by law, HAVE to call him Crash?
  • The guy who sang the National Anthem was an excellent operatic singer.  Every anthem singer in Connecticut thinks they have to sing with a country twang or like they have vocal diarrhea (see Aguilera, Christina, or lament the sad, pathetic American Idolization of singing), but here I am in North Carolina and I get a trained voice with a fine instrument.  Go figure.

The weather was great, the crowd was small (2872) but enthusiastic.  Asheville is the champion of the first half of the season of the Northern Division of the South Atlantic league (an odd but interesting achievement), so on the way out they were giving away general admission tickets to any future game.

That means I have a free ticket to the game tomorrow, even if it’s not for a very good seat and I still have work to do.  Still, you should never miss going to a ballgame…

Minor league baseball rocks

I’ve been traveling a lot lately.  Fortunately, this is baseball season, so sometimes I get a chance to visit a park I’ve never been to before.

Last week I was in Allentown, PA.  Actually, that’s not quite true — I was actually in Schnecksville, PA, a small suburb of Allentown.  It turns out that this year Allentown has a new baseball team.  The Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs are playing their inaugural season as the AAA affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies.

(Two years ago, as part of an extended weekend road trip, my son Xander and I did the Phillies circuit.  We got tickets to see the Phillies at Citizens Bank park (a huge improvement over the old Veteran’s Stadium, but, then again, almost anything would be), then we saw the Reading Phillies (their AA affiliate), and finally swung around to see the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons, who at the time were the Phillies AAA team.  Now that Scranton is the AAA team for the Yankees, we won’t be going back any time soon (I’d link to their web site, but hey, if you’re a Yankee fan, go find it yourself).  As a final aside, we were hoping to do a similar circuit for the Red Sox (Red Sox at Fenway, Portland Sea Dogs, Lowell Spinners), but couldn’t get tickets to any of them.  That’s right — the Single A Lowell Spinners were sold out, too.  Baseball is king in New England.)

I was teaching a private class last week, and the client was a major sponsor of the Iron Pigs.  That meant I was able to join a group of people in a good balcony section of Coca-Cola Park (an awful name, but there it is).  The whole pig theme was obvious, from the kids hanging out on the freshly mowed lawn in left-center, which was called Pigs on a Blanket, to the Pig Pen in right-center field.  Their program was even called Pork Illustrated.

We had a lot of fun, even though the Iron Pigs lost 5-4.  Still, the park was charming, we had excellent weather, and the people were friendly.  (Mostly — I did have an extended baseball discussion with a long suffering Cleveland Indians fan who hates all things Boston, which is probably understandable under the circumstances. ;))

This week I’m in Austin, TX.  Last night I drove out to Round Rock and got to see the Round Rock Express, the AA affiliate of the Houston Astros.  Yesterday the temperature peaked at 102, but there was a warm breeze and it cooled off a bit as the sun went down.  The stadium wasn’t terribly full, but the people who were there were quite enthusiastic.  The Express even won 3-0 and hit two home runs.  Other than taking forever to find my rental car in the parking lot (a sign of traveling too much is that you forget what your rental car looks like), I had a great time.

I’ve now added baseball caps from the Iron Pigs and the Express to my collection.  I used to get T-shirts everywhere for my son Xander, but he told me he doesn’t want them any more.  Now that he’s 16, all he wears are T-shirts with various rock bands on them.  So be it.  Be sure, though, to check out his band’s excellent studio recording of their song “Don’t Tell Me” at their MySpace page.

Next week I’ll be in Asheville, NC, and it looks like the Asheville Tourists (the class A affiliate of the Colorado Rockies) will be in town.  Maybe I’ll be able to buy another hat. 🙂

%d bloggers like this: