Real Baseballby tcguestblogger on Apr. 03, 2012, under Sports
By Bryan Bearden
Spring Training, Opening Day, start of Little League, America’s pastime is back! Teams can go undefeated (at least for a while), batters will have averages of 1.000 (at least for a while) and every team can be a contender (you guessed it, at least for a while). A new baseball season is here!
One of my fondest memories is when I took my 5 year-old son to his first big league baseball game at Capitol One Ballpark in Phoenix for an Astros and Diamondbacks game. After weeks of anticipation, we finally entered the ballpark and were struck by the grandeur of this modern cathedral fully adorned for a big league ball game. My son stood there gazing upon the field, hot dog in one hand soda in the other and simply uttered, “Wow.” The dome was closed due to the heat, the field was pristine, and we watched the big leaguers smartly warm-up for the game. The opening pitch was thrown and signaled the beginning of a perfect evening for a father and son.
In that game, we saw home runs, double plays, bad calls by the umpires, funny people cast on the huge big screen – all the things that make visiting a big league park great. We had cotton candy, pizza, peanuts, hot dogs and seconds and thirds on the soda and beer. We totally spoiled ourselves. And of course the best part was that the Astros, my favorite team, won. My son’s first baseball game could not have been any better.
Several weeks later, I received an email at work stating that the following Tuesday was military appreciation night at Hi Corbett Field, home of the Tucson Toros! I was able to get two tickets, so my son and I were off to see another baseball game!
As with most minor league ball clubs, the stadium is a small venue providing an intimate setting in order to get an up-close view. The evening at Hi Corbett Field was not quite the same experience as we had a few weeks earlier in Phoenix. First of all, we were able to curb park just yards from the gate. After quickly passing through the entrance line we found that the venders were plentiful, very friendly but with a more limited variety of fare. However, everything was there that we needed for the perfect baseball culinary experience: peanuts, popcorn, hot dogs, soda and beer.
Another distinct difference was the carnival atmosphere in the stadium. Whether it was the music playing under the stadium seating, or the vendors catcalling to sell Toro trinkets, the smell of open grills or the giant bouncy houses (a favorite of my son) along the left field foul line, there was a distinct county fair feeling to the ballpark.
As we emerged from the vending area, we were met with a slightly different site than in Capitol One Ballpark in Phoenix. As the field came into view my son again uttered, “wow,” but it was not due to the grandeur of a stadium with a dome, as this was an open-air stadium with no outfield seating, but his excitement was for the Army Blackhawk helicopter parked in the middle of center field for the military appreciation night. We were instantly met by Tuffy Toro, the team mascot, who gave my boy a big “nuggy” on the head, a hug and a souvenir plastic baseball. He was in total awe!
The fun continued. After the national anthem ended, the Blackhawk took off from center field albeit not with the precision of a major league event. The takeoff seemed to be uncomfortably delayed, out of sync with PA announcer and it nearly blew over the color guard that for some reason had remained on the field until the helo’s departure. Very humorous. After a few innings of error-full baseball there was a crowd participation fun run between innings that proved to be a folly of trips and spills. Very humorous.
Finally, early in the 4th inning, my son couldn’t take it anymore and wanted to play in the bouncy houses. I of course obliged, bought a beer enroute to left field and watch my son totally enjoy playing with the other kids all while I kept track of seemed to be a record setting error-laden game. Very humorous. This was an absolutely joy of an evening.
Totally exhausted by the 6th inning, we decided to leave – it was, in fact, a school night. We took the short walk to the car, strapped in and took off or home happily discussing the events of the evening. Halfway home, the conversation from the back seat slowed as my son’s eyes started getting a little heavy.
To sum up the evening, I decided to ask him, before he drifted off too far, “So, did you like the game tonight?” He answered yes, and when I asked him why, he simply stated, “Because that was real baseball.”
Curious about his answer, I tried to explain the difference in minor league baseball and the big leagues, that tonight’s game wasn’t like the “real baseball” that we saw up in Phoenix, in the big stadium with the big leaguers. But despite my valiant effort to draw the differences between the two, he said, “No dad, that was real baseball.”
So naturally I asked him why he thought that night’s game was “real baseball” and his answer was one I’ll never forget. He stated, before he drifted off to sleep, “Because it was outside under the lights, dad.”
It was then I realized that no matter how big or small the venue, no matter the salaries of the players or what big names on the rosters, baseball, America’s pastime, brings joy! And certainly that night, in the eye of a 5-year old boy, “real baseball” occurred outside, under the lights in a casual, fun setting. Thank you Toros and thank you baseball.
Bryan Bearden, a former resident of Tucson, is currently a professor at the Marine Corps University at Quantico, VA.