David's office organized a "welcome" event this evening: everyone received tickets to attend the Nashville Sounds game against the Albuquerque Isotopes at the Sounds' Greer Stadium in a sketchy part of downtown Nashville. Despite the fact that the Sounds, the triple A affiliate for the Milwaukee Brewers, are a pretty good team, they play in a stadium that makes the old Memphis Chicks stadium (i.e. the place that had to hold 25 cent beer nights to get people to come) look upscale. The Sounds' stadium itself is like something time forgot: I've seen nicer high school baseball stadiums. But it's appropriately ramshackle and cheerful enough to suit the weirdness that is so integral to a good minor league baseball experience.
Here is why I love minor league baseball games: they're so hilariously bizarre. The game is almost...okay, definitely...secondary to the spectacle. The games, the contests, it's all so random. Even David and I, avowed baseball fans, get distracted by the weirdness, and we don't even mind. How can you mind? It's half the reason to go!
"I feel like we're in Bull Durham," I said to David as we took our (rickety) seats on the third base line. No snorting bull patrolled the outfield wall, but there were terrific advertisements for Hamburger Helper and a service that extolled "let's talk trash!" And man, if I thought that airline seats were close together, clearly I had forgotten what it was like to attend a minor league game. Even when we stood up to let other people pass by, they barely had room to walk. We perched happily on our seats and hoped they wouldn't collapse and looked around.
So what if it was hot and the stadium not exactly pristine and new? Not one self-important person halted us to make sure we had tickets for our section. No one searched my bag when we walked through the gate; no one confiscated my whole-wheat Goldfish, raisins and cups of water for the little prince, even though the signs said that no outside food was allowed. No one accosted me to apply for a credit card and receive a cheap beach towel. No creepy over-eyeshadowed American Idol-wannabes crooned the national anthem as if they were dreaming of morphing into Shania Twain; the singer was a young boy who was there courtesy of the Make-A-Wish-Foundation, and he was off-key and flat the whole time, and it was one of the best and most sincere renditions of the anthem I've heard, and it was wonderful. And they were selling Chick-Fil-A sandwiches in the concession stand!
And it only got better. We had a row of happy, uncynical preteen kids behind us who loudly and enthusiastically cheered for their team--we love team spirit, yes we do!--and they waved and yelled at the mascot, a muscled-up anthropomorphized animal named Ozzy (a dog? a wolf?) who was prone to dropping to one knee and pumping an arm a la Jim Morrison/the Lizard King or swiveling his hips as if he were attempting to channel Elvis but somehow evoking Jose Canseco. William didn't care much about the juiced-up mascot, but he loved these kids. He was constantly standing up on my lap to watch them cheer and clap and sing. We're munching on ballpark food, watching our team drop about a hundred fly balls in the outfield while a gaggle of sixth graders belt out, "Spider PIG, Spider PIG, does whatever a Spider PIG does. Can he swing from a web? No, he can't; he's a PIG. Look out! He is a Spider PIG!!"
When he wasn't trying to leap off my lap to hang out with the cool kids behind us, William ate an entire Chick-Fil-A sandwich all by himself. And then he tried to eat mine. And he made noises of interest at David's hot dog. But while we held firm on the "no hot dogs" front, we gave in when it came to ice cream in a helmet. I mean, if you can't have at least the ice cream in a helmet at a baseball game, what's the point of going?
Weirdly, our ice cream helmets had the St. Louis Cardinals logo printed on them. Did they run out of helmets with the Sounds logo? Or did they never exist? Have the Sounds always sold paraphernalia with the logos of competing teams (or the parent organizations or competing teams), or was this a special occasion? No one knows. Our stadium cups (a dollar each!) had the Sounds logo on them, which makes them perhaps more appropriate souvenirs but less bizarre, which is somehow less fun.
But the best part of minor league baseball is all the weird stuff they plan to appeal to the fans. No superstar players here. I guess the marketing folks worry that baseball, just baseball, isn't enough to hold people's interest, so they hold all these weird events all during the game. We watched two boys--Hal and Cal or whoever--compete against each other in the "who can put on the frozen T-shirt the fastest?" contest. Both boys got to keep their frozen T-shirt when the contest ended. There was the keg rolling contest down the third base line. One keg ended up in the home dugout. I think the event was rigged. However, it is also possible that the kegs were not full. I couldn't tell. There was the dizzy bat contest with the acoustic guitars. There was the grocery-pick-up contest, where several girls huffed and puffed all over the field, picking up cans of something or other and putting them in bags (did someone win? I don't know). Two other sets of teenagers fastened cords to each other and dressed in helmets and pads before dragging each other up and down the right size of the outfield in some bizarre relay.There was probably a point to that one, but I missed it. Or maybe not. In fact, I think it would be that much better if there was absolutely no point at all.
So you've got the pitcher warming up with a few pitches, while ten-year-olds chug by just a few feet away with an armload of Del Monte green beans. Or you've got the infielders tossing the ball around to stay loose while Ozzy the...er, dog? fox? wolf? mascot races a four-year-old around the bases and pretends to collapse and die of heat exhaustion, lying prostrate on the ground, just shy of third base.
You just don't get this stuff in major league games. Okay, yes, in a major league game, you typically get much better baseball. And okay, usually the players are people you've heard of. But there's never a keg-rolling contest. And not once have I ever left a major league baseball game with a loaf of bread. That's right; we left the game at the end of the eighth inning with the stroller, our souvenir cups, our St. Louis Cardinals ice cream helmets, the diaper bag and a loaf of Sara Lee whole wheat bread. How's that for a "thanks for coming"?
It just doesn't get any better than that.