Mascots, Hotdogs and Baseball. My love affair with the minor leaguesPosted: September 4, 2014
My partner keeps telling people that I was born to be an American; I like eating bacon covered pancakes at 3am, I unthinkingly talk loudly in public, and the grid system of city planning just seems sensible too me. one of my favorite aspects of American life is baseball, something unique in the world; a sport Americans have modified and made better (sorry Football, you’ll never be half the game Rugby is). I think I love Baseball because, like a guitar, it is very easy to play competently, but still needing a lot of skill to play very well, the fact that you never need to run further than 90 feet (60 feet in softball) means you don’t have to be athletic, something which lends itself to being played casually in a way sports requiring body armor or being fast doesn’t. its for these reasons and more I think it’s safe to say I am kind of in love with Baseball. I haven’t just fallen in love with playing baseball, I love watching it and just like an annoying hipster at a party, I want to go on record as stating that small time venues are much more fun.
I say that with the the unfortunately named Citizen’s Bank Park as my only Major League stadium experience; I can’t comment on the the apparent glory of Fenway Park or any other MLB stadium, but the supposed august aura of stadiums and teams isn’t really why I go to baseball games and if that’s something you feel you need from a baseball game then this post probably isn’t for you.
To explain what I find so compelling about minor league baseball (possibly America as a whole) I need to talk about James Buchanan. So, arguably, the worst president in U.S. history is also the only commander in chief from Pennsylvania, specifically Lancaster, where the former President’s house is maintained. The unkind way to describe the James Buchanan house is as a perfect example of a polished turd. The entire experience is geared to focus on his extensive diplomatic career and home life, whilst casting his four years in office between 1857 and 1861 (in which the divisions over slavery became immeasurably worse with little or no government action leading to the civil war) as sort of on purpose, so that things got so bad that Abraham Lincoln could win in 1860 and free the slaves. I bring up the 15th President’s fan club because it seems to be held together by the shear amount of optimism it must take to stand around in a hoop skirt praising someone so universally regarded as a failure all day. Not that Minor league Baseball suffers anything like disdain and apathy that history has given Buchanan, they’re both excellent examples of a culture whose driving force is to not, under any circumstances, consider throwing in the towel.
So the highest level of minor league Baseball is a weird paradox for players, though it technically has the best players outside Major league, the majority of players are there either because they used to be a Major Leauger who got worse/injured/both or players who are not quite good enough for an MLB team but good enough to get paid to play ball during the summer. This means that the quality of ball playing isn’t going to match up to larger teams with deeper pockets, the players are either mediocre, washed up or unrefined, this means in the fight for ever decreasing ticket sales the management pull out all the stops to make everything else about visiting a minor league baseball stadium the most fun you can have during the summer whilst your shirt is still on.
Mascots, and general messing about in between innings, are probably a good place to start, and in that scene my favorite team to visit is the Reading Fightin’ Phills; which has not one but three mascots and a mascot house band, just encase we didn’t cover all bases of possible uses of felt. These mascots are not just under employed actors, the Phill’s Logo is an ostrich so last year the team bought some Motherfucking ostriches to hang outside the stadium and great guests which lends the red-brick stadium the look of an arena of curiosities. This is not to knock the folks who do dress up as weird cartooned versions of whatever the team is named after, it mus be super hard to run around at the height of summer dressed as lighting if it was personified by a bird, or a shark or a cow or a ripoff of Mr Met, and yet continue to good naturally amuse children whilst they’re parents are watching the game, It’s just it’s hard to compete with some actual ostriches just hanging out at a ball game.
The messing around between innings aspect of minor league baseball might actually be the one part of capitalism I find endearing; People dressed as Ice tea bottles race around bases so you can make tiny bets on who wins, this is a variant on people dressed as vegetables or presidents (when the vegetables are racing an evil gumdrop tries to foil their race). As well as this, families are selected to fire yogurt through a target as a team to win a years supply, The Camden Riversharks held a Hogie tug-of-war between kids sponsored by Wawa. The clunky shoehorning of advertising into the thing that management does to keep people from walking out of the stadium whilst nothing is going on is so terribly blended into what is happening you kind of feel empathy to the poor bastards who have to regurgitate that every strike out is “brought to you buy Susquehanna bank!” . An aspect of a Trenton Thunder Game that made me wonder if this field of advertising is only open to companies who share a name with a certain kind of baseball play, and if someone works out which is more expensive based on how often they happen, Is there someone sponsoring grand slams I wonder?
I can’t talk about Minor league baseball without talking about concession stands. so as I mentioned a few paragraphs ago Minor league stadiums spend a lot of time trying to amuse and entertain you into sticking around even if it’s not for the baseball, no were is this clearer than the food and booze available, something in which Minor leagues outclass major leagues by a mile. in contrast too the $7 bud lite pints for sale at major league games, Minor leagues really really want you to spend money and are well aware how easy it is to leave – for one thing there are almost never security guards at the gates, unlike the airport-esq scrutiny at major stadiums, so whilst you’re not really supposed to, it’s not difficult to bring beer in, this means the prices are usually much closer to what you would actually pay in a bar, with the Fightin Phills going so far as to sell quarts of beer for $8, were as the River sharks will sell you a beer and a hot dog for a dollar apiece most Tuesdays, there are even buffets you can buy into for the price of two tickets.
I think the reason I love the minor leagues so much is that they are a lot more welcoming than their larger counterparts. I know that they’re just as corporate and in some ways actually more commercialized than the Red Sox or the Yankees but, the fact that these teams have small stadiums that means tickets are never more than $15 and that ticket will probably buy you a seat within high fiving/heckling distance of the players makes me feel a lot more like I’ve entered a community than just walking into a multi-million dollar stadium. I know that’s all bullshit but it’s a nice image to have of America for a few hours. So if you’re not American and want to experience some straight up Americana, I recommend finding a minor league game in the middle of nowhere, they’re cheep, friendly and much more like what you imagine an American summer is like…. plus for real though; $8 for a quart!