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Sunday, July 26, 2015

So You Want the Bull Durham Experience

If you're like many people, the closest you've come to a minor league ballpark is watching Bull Durham a couple times. Shame on you. And when you finally do get to a field it turns out that most of them are modern, well lit, and not at all the dim, dingy stadiums in the film. And while the modern minor league experience is probably one of the best entertainment bangs for your buck out there, you feel that slight tingle of nostalgia for the old beat up fields that you never got to see.

Well, has the Appalachian League got a deal for you!

The Appalachian League is a rookie league. Tickets range from $5 to $7 depending on whether you want general admission in the bleachers or the nicer seats with backs which are usually behind home plate. Generally, the fields are so small it's hard to find a bad seat. Also, there is almost always some sort of special going on for ticket or concession prices. Price discounts for bringing receipts from certain stores, being a veteran, or bringing cans of food are common. There is also the ubiquitous $1 hotdog, $1 cola night (sometimes $2). And if you complain because the $1 hotdog is not awesome, I invite you to go to a AAA game and pay $5 for the same dog. Or go to a Detroit Tigers game and pay $11 for a hotdog and cola and never actually get either (yes it happened to me). If you are really looking for a deal, track the special giveaways at the gate. I got t-shirt and $20 hat from the Princeton Rays just for buying a ticket.

The fans are surprisingly dedicated to their teams. A couple weekends back I went to a Pulaski Yankees game on Friday and a Princeton Rays game the next night. The P.Yankees and P.Rays are neck and neck for the lead in their division  and when scores of the other team were announced everybody cheered or booed. These were not casual fans; they knew the standings and wanted their teams to be on top.

On the other hand, it wouldnt be the kind of experience that hearkens back to Bull Durham if there weren't some flaws. Some flaw will impact your experience at each field. The Pulaski Yankees don't have a box office (they used folding card tables) and clearly did not understand what "will call" meant when I walked up to get the tickets I had pre-ordered to pick up at will call. The Greeneville Astros stadium is in the middle of a college campus and thus difficult to find unless you know where to look.  Some of the seating at the Bristol Pirates stadium is basically on top of a couple big concrete blocks (you sit on the concrete). The Johnson City Cardinals have chain link fencing in front of the seats on the 1st and 3rd base sides which is annoying to look through. Almost all the parks show their age, although they are generally kept up well, and feel like what you would expect from a municipal park that's been around for a few decades. The one problem that is almost universal is parking. Unlike any other level of minor league baseball, parking is free. However, it is also limited. Show up early and you park 100 feet from the front gate. Show up later and you might be parking over a mile away down some country highway. However, none of these problems rise much above the level of quirky nuisance and in general the small limitations and flaws add to the nostalgic atmosphere. And you're an idiot if you expect a perfect experience for $5 instead of just a really good experience.

If you live near an Appy League, you should go. Heck, if you live close enough you should buy a season ticket (or two). A season ticket for the Kingsport Mets this year was $70. That's less than I paid for a single ticket in either Cincinnati or Detroit. For that money you get to watch a bunch of young kids playing really hard day after day and you will see some of the great young talent which each team starts out in the rookies. Go treat yourself to some fun days at the park.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

And So It Begins . . .

The purpose of this blog is to put forth my meandering thoughts on the minor league baseball matters which catch my eye.