Last night I took in my first minor league baseball game and it provided an enjoyable contrast to a Major League Baseball contest.
In a match-up of vicious team mascots, the Asheville Tourists welcomed the visiting Greensboro Grasshoppers. There were plenty of lead changes to keep the action fresh: Asheville got on the board first, Greensboro put up a six-run 3rd inning to make it 6-1, next Asheville charged back to take a 8-7 lead, and finally in the top of the ninth Greensboro scratched one more run across against the Tourists’ closer before their final man was sent down swinging with the score standing at 11-9 in favor of the home team.
As for the quality of play, there were three or four mammoth home runs and there were multiple pitchers throwing in the mid-90s according to the guns. Baseball really is a game of inches, though, and I suppose putting a 94-mph fastball down the middle of the plate may be why some of those balls traveled to another stratosphere and the pitchers who threw them are still playing in single-A. Two Colorado Rockies’ (Asheville is one of their affiliates) scouts sat across the aisle from me during the second half of the game and made notes after every pitch.
There was plenty of history to soak in at McCormick Field as well. Willie Stargell and Eddie Murray both played for the Tourists, and legend has it the layout of the ballpark is what first inspired Murray to transform himself into a switch-hitter. Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Ty Cobb, and Jackie Robinson have all played as visitors (although some of the games may have been of the barnstorming/exhibition variety) at this ballpark, and in 1972 Cal Ripken, Jr. was a batboy while his father (the elder Cal) was manager of the team. Sparky Anderson also managed the team to a 1968 championship before landing a gig in the bigs. Current major leaguers who cut their teeth as Tourists include Todd Helton and current Texas Ranger Jason Jennings. Even Bull Durham showcases the team as the club Crash Davis joins to finish his career and break the minor-league home run record.
Enough with the glitter. The estimated attendance was 2,596. We got to the box office five minutes before the first pitch and scored sixth row seats behind home plate for $10 each. They didn’t even stop selling beer after the seventh inning like many of the wussy Major League teams do now. The atmosphere was much more like a high school game than anything I’ve ever experienced at big league digs. Well, except for the fact that there was a billboard for the premier local head shop above the seats behind third base. All in all, though, it was a great time and I would go again. As I said, tix were only $10 a piece for the best seats in the house. It is possible to spend $40 a pop, but that comes with the experience of taking BP with the team before the game. Unfortunately, we arrived too late to partake, and besides, I wouldn’t want to embarrass my parents’ new hometown team.
Best of all, I got to see recent South Atlantic League Hall of Fame inductee and current Tourists’ manager Joe Mikulik up close and personal. He even charged out of the dugout to argue a call for us. Alas it didn’t come close to his most famous tirade. Nor could it compete with my favorite minor league managerial explosion of all time. But for $10 it was more than satisfactory.