Until this weekend, I’ve never seen a minor league baseball game. It was one of those things I felt bad about as a fan of the sport, but not bad enough to remedy the situation. I compared it to a movie buff that just never got around to watching the Manchurian Candidate or the third Godfather film. Unfortunate, but assuredly not inexcusable. Still, with spring slowly taking on the shape of summer, it was time to get sent down to AAA.
McCoy Stadium, home of the Pawtucket Red Sox, was built in a quirky little town in New England. Pawtucket sits in the northeast corner of Rhode Island, but might as well be in the middle of the country. It’s a town with one big factory, a diner, and an old mill, all easily accessible off I-95, which splits it down the middle. In other words, the Perfect Place for a minor league stadium. I drove down, parked for $2 in a lot a block away, and followed the crowd into the park.
There was one main concourse at McCoy, which stretched from first base line to third base line. While the legends of $1 hot dogs and nearly free sodas at minor league ballparks were grossly exaggerated, the prices at the concession stands were still reasonable. Six bucks for a personal pepperoni pizza, four for fried dough and another four for ice cream in PawSox batting helmet dish. Not a bad investment at all.
Aside from the abundance of decently priced food, the thing that struck me immediately was the sheer volume of children there. Bringing an entire little league team to Fenway or Yankee Stadium would break the bank. But at $6 a ticket, the place was teeming with kids. The impact of a much higher percentage of pre-teens in the stands to the fan experience is dramatic. There’s less average sports knowledge in the stands, so questions bounce around with regularity. Nearly everyone has a glove. Though there isn’t as much emotional investment in the game, there’s just as much cheering per capita, since children like the yell loudly in a consequence-free environment.
The game itself was a relatively quiet affair between the PawSox and the visiting Rochester Red Wings. David Pauley, who has a bit of big league experience, threw a good game and picked up the win. Thought I’m sure that if you asked the fans in attendance, only half could even give you the final score. Such is the nature of minor league ball, really. It reminds you that baseball is just a game, played on a field of green grass by men wearing hats that keep the sun out of their eyes. People tend to lose sight of that in the multi-million dollar stadiums, as they watch their players fight their way through a pennant race. As we drink our ten dollar beers and watch our ten million dollar designated hitters step in against a 0.100 BAA lefty specialist, we can easily forget that there isn’t much difference in execution that what goes on in a little league game. Sure, there were 10,000 people watching in Pawtucket. But there weren’t any contract disputes or managers fielding questions on job security. I found the PawSox experience had more in common than a high school game than a big league one.
So get in your car and take a drive down to a small ballpark in a small town. Order a sausage, settle into your cheap seat with great sightlines, and watch some good old American baseball. Then see how long it takes before you go back for more.