Only a game (and isn’t that nice?): The charm of minor league baseball

The charm of minor league baseball

3 minute read
Susan Sarandon, Kevin Costner in 'Bull Durham': A respite from the Majors.
Susan Sarandon, Kevin Costner in 'Bull Durham': A respite from the Majors.
It's been years since I attended a minor league baseball game— so many that I have no distinct memory of the occasion. The other day my neighbor invited me to join him at Raley Field in West Sacramento for a Pacific Coast League game between the Sacramento River Cats and the Colorado Springs Sky Sox.

I wasn't very enthusiastic about the prospect. And in truth, the game wasn't much to watch. The Cats scored two runs in the first inning, and the Sky Sox five in the sixth. Otherwise, it was pretty much a pitcher's duel. But I'd forgotten how enjoyable a ball game can be when the owners, players and fans haven't staked their lives and fortunes on the outcome.

We parked in the lot for the Crocker Art Museum (no charge after 6 p.m.) and hoofed it across the Sacramento River to the stadium. The fans were all colors, sizes and shapes. We noticed plenty of families and partial families, single mothers with their small children, seniors in good numbers. The tone was festive; the people were mostly smiley.

Inside the stadium, booths promoted issues and events, from signing up designated drivers to cultural gatherings. At the French fries stand we got into an animated discussion with two of the servers, women students at a local college, about our favorite movies on the American Movie Classics channel. (Films with Joan Crawford and Bette Davis were their top picks.)

The singer scheduled to perform the National Anthem called in sick (for the second consecutive night).

After the ground crew smoothed out the infield during the seventh-inning stretch, four crew members performed an athletic dance routine, to wild cheers from the crowd.

"Dinger," the River Cats' mascot— kind of a cross between a very large mouse and a bear— led cheers while standing on the visitors' dugout. Meanwhile, from the stadium roof, another Dinger ran around the stadium roof, throwing soft baseballs to the delight of the crowd below.

I didn't realize they were soft until I caught one. What to do with it? A mom with a teen daughter and a younger son sat to my left. I asked the daughter whether her brother might like it. All three said, "Yes." I handed it over.

What made the evening so different from my experiences with big-time sports? One thing was the markedly different attitude toward winning, suggested by the crowd's loud applause for good plays by both teams. Another was a cooperative atmosphere, illustrated by the player who, while signing autographs during warm-ups, responded to a little girl's request by fetching another player for his autograph. And at what Major League ballpark could you conduct a knowledgeable discussion of your favorite old movies with a fast-food vendor?♦

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