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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A minor league gal in a Major League town

Baseball's back, baby! Play ball!

I was raised on baseball. It's a sport I can actually follow. Everyone takes his turn, and everyone has a specific job responsibility on the field. I can make sense out of it.

I was raised on New York Yankees baseball, actually. My dad spent many hours of his youth and young adulthood in Yankee Stadium, where he saw many of the legends play with his own eyes, and at 80 years young and more than 40 years after moving out of "the city," they're still his home team.

Later generations of our family have defected, though. My sister's seven years living in San Francisco made her a Giants fan, which is one of the few points of contention she and her husband have. He's an L.A. native who backs his own home team, but his true devotion - and that of their elder son - is to hockey, by way of his Canadian parents. As for my son - an avid reader of the sports pages since he was eight years old, fantasy-baseball player and sports blogger - he bought an official "Yankee Hater" baseball cap a few years ago, and in ultimate betrayal of his roots, he doesn't despise the Boston Red Sox. But he has remained loyal to the team he still swears would have won "everything" in 1994 (when he was ten years old) if not for "the strike-shortened season" - they were the Montreal Expos then, and they have been the Washington Nationals for the last few years. I suspect that they were a factor is his decision to move to D.C. after he graduated from university two years ago. Eventually, as a Nats fan, he may come to understand the concept of "long-suffering" the way Chicago Cubs fans do.

I have a soft spot for the Cubs myself, even though I've never visited Chicago (not yet, anyway - wait until this July, though!). My own rejection of my Yankees upbringing has taken the form of becoming a general National League watcher, where my interest in particular teams has shifted over the years, and I'm now supporting my own home town team, which is the team my husband grew up with - Go Dodgers!

That support doesn't extend to a compelling desire to go and see them play in person, though - watching their games on TV is fine with me. Major-league games belong on TV. If I'm going to see a game in person, take me out to the minor-league park and not the big-city stadium.

I was raised on Major League baseball, but most of the games I've attended in my life have been in the minors. During my first few years living in Memphis, the city was home to a AA franchise, and in 1998, the Memphis Redbirds began playing in AutoZone Park as the AAA affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals. My son has a July birthday which usually falls somewhere around the All-Star break, and even if we couldn't do it on the day itself, his preferred place to celebrate while he was growing up was always the ballpark, and we were always glad to take him.

For my money - which I can spend much more slowly in the minors, by the way - the baseball experience in a minor-league ballpark can't be beat. For one thing, they really are ballparks, not stadiums; the largest don't usually hold more than 10,000 spectators, and the smallest Single-A parks may only have bleacher seating. That size makes it so much easier to see what happens on the field - there's no JumboTron, and it's not needed or missed. Because the fans are literally closer to the game, they can follow the action more closely and get more involved. Players can interact more with the fans - and yes, go ahead and get those autographs. You never know where someone's career might take him. There's more interaction between innings, too, with mascots, and silly games and contests. (You may find those in big-league stadiums too, but they just don't have the same feel. It's not their natural turf, no pun intended.)

My most memorable baseball moment occurred in the minors. My family had the opportunity to see Michael Jordan come to town with the Class AA Birmingham Barons during his brief fling with baseball in between his basketball retirements. He wasn't much of a hitter, but if he got on base, he could definitely run. It's probably just as well that he went back to basketball, though.

We live within range of three major-league teams here in SoCal - the Dodgers, the Angels, and the San Diego Padres - but there's really no opportunity to go down to the minors. I miss it. One of the things I've come to accept about myself is that I'm really not the big-city person I always thought I was, and really wanted to be; I haven't spent enough of my life living in big cities, and at this point there are certain aspects of city life that I just am not comfortable with (most of which concern driving: parallel parking, valets, unexpected one-way streets, and public transportation). It surprises me a little to realize that big-city baseball might be one of those things...but I'm beginning to feel like it is.

I was raised on baseball. I can't imagine it not being part of my life. But when you take me out to the ball game, do you mind if we go to the minor-league park?

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8 comments:

  1. Baseball is fun to watch, although I admit I'm not big on watching it on TV. I love going to games though--major league or minor league. My husband grew up in a town with a minor league team and his family had season tickets for a number of years. My father-in-law was big into sports, refereeing and being an umpire for the local high school and college teams in his area.

    My dad was never into baseball but my grandfather was and that's how I was bitten by the bug. We had that Giants/Dodger rivalry down pat. I've always been a Giants and A's fan and only recently am willing to cheer for the Dodgers and Angels--on the condition they aren't playing the Giants or A's.

    Hubby and I had season tickets one year to see one of the neighboring minor league teams play and really enjoyed going to those games. We occasionally still go to a game now and then.

    This year my husband and I are doing the major league soccer thing and loving it. We both played when we were young. Now, there's a sport I cannot watch on TV at all--it's so slow! But in person the games go really fast and are quite exciting. Maybe because we can see more of the action and the focus isn't just on who has the ball . . . It doesn't matter much to me that the team we are "following" is in last place. :-)

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  2. Your comment about not being the city girl you always expected/wanted to be struck a chord with me. I've lived in cities most of my adult life (including a year stint in Los Angeles) and I'm just a couple miles shy of downtown Seattle at the moment, but I have a house and a driveway that fits two cars ... hardly the NYC apartment I always expected for myself.

    Los Angeles public transportation sucks. Almost no one takes it, and it goes almost nowhere. I wouldn't judge yourself by that. Valets? Are you not comfortable with someone else driving your car, or the process of handing over/retrieving your car? And parallel parking ... well, drive to a quiet neighborhood (Woodland Hills is great) and practice! http://tinyurl.com/parallelpark

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  3. What fun! I've learned to enjoy baseball in the last ten years. My daughter played softball, and then my son played challenger league baseball for disabled kids. As they learned the game, I learned to enjoy it - and started buying Milwaukee Brewer tickets!

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  4. I'm a Red Sox girl married to a Yankees guy! The kids were split 2-2, but as they get older they're moving to his team (I think just to irk me!)

    LOVE the minor league games! We have plans for a Lowell Spinners game - goofy between innings antics keep everyone entertained!

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  5. I'm a big fan of baseball, and my team is the Cardinals of course (I grew up in St. Louis) which makes us rivals since you have a soft spot for the Cubs!!!????!!!

    I love going to the games...well I loved going in St. Louis. It's such a baseball town. I haven't been out here yet, every year I want to, and just haven't made it.

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  6. Wendy - I know what you mean about that conditional home-team support; when the Dodgers play the Cubs or the Cardinals, I'm rooting for the visitors. And Katie, my stepdaughter, is a Giants fan - to her father's chagrin and her aunt's (my sister) delight.

    I wish we had a minor-league team that played closer to us, even if it makes me sound like ungrateful for the two major-league teams we have here.

    I've seen some professional soccer games, and I agree that they are better in person than on TV. And it's nice to know that someone is supporting the Galaxy :-).

    Marina - The thing that fazes me about valet parking is...tipping, believe it or not. I'm never sure what to do about that. My dad taught me to parallel park in just the sort of neighborhoods you mention; he's a native New Yorker, and couldn't imagine doing that without using actual parked cars.

    I'm not sure I've seen you here before - thanks for your comment, and I hope you'll drop in again!

    Daisy - It's interesting what we experience - and learn to like - though our kids sometimes, isn't it :-)?

    Dawn - Congratulations on making that work :-D! My sister and brother-in-law are similar, with their Giants/Dodgers relationship, but Sox/Yankees is the big time. And neither of my nephews likes the Giants, so I'm sure my sister can relate to your kids going for the "other" team.

    Amy - I e-mailed you about my Cardinals ties; since they're the Redbirds' parent team, I do have some affinity for them too, so we're really not rivals :-).

    St. Louis is a great baseball town. I visited there once, and stayed in a downtown hotel where I could literally see into Busch Stadium. Too bad the Cards weren't playing at home that night!

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  7. My dad is a HUGE Cubs fan. I remember back in '84 (I think) they were in the playoffs and lost the 7th game and he had to leave the house fir awhile. I had never seen someone get that upset about a game they were only watching. I'm not a big sports fan, but I will watch the Bears and golf. But I don't plan my day around it. Well, unless it's the Super Bowl, The Masters, The US Open or The British Open. :)

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  8. Mike - Your dad must not have taken it well when the Cubs got knocked out of the playoffs due to "fan interference" a few years ago. I really want to see a game at Wrigley one day, but I know it won't be during my trip to Chicago in July - no time!

    We'll put a baseball game on TV if there's nothing else on, but we don't plan our days around watching sports either. I think that's one reason I dislike football; we couldn't do anything on Sundays in the fall when I was a kid because my dad was glued to the TV. He and my son have something with your dad - they're overly involved spectators.

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