International Writers Magazine: Baseball
Adventures in the Minor Leagues
Brett A Padelford
Our epic minor
league baseball journey this past July eight games, six states,
eight days began with a resounding splash: a revolting, chunky
one as my best friend Josh blew his lunch out (and on) the passenger
door of his Toyota Camry. The trip had begun a mere
five minutes earlier as we pulled out of downtown Santa Barbara
onto Highway 101 heading south toward LA. And now, here we
were: me laughing, Josh retching, and cars honking.
After months of
planning and anticipation, it was an ignominious start for what was
to be a long time in close proximity with another guy. Josh had
come along for a wedding of another friend the night before, which was
the reason wed started the trip up in Santa Barbara instead of
from my apartment in LA. He enjoyed the post-party a little too
much and now we were starting the trip at a gas station with him cleaning
the upholstery and me trying not to sympathy-puke.
Eventually we got on the road and began what was to be a 3,250 mile
trip through the American West experiencing minor league baseball in
its many forms, from wanna-be-big league AAA teams in large cities like
Portland and Las Vegas to the baseball-is-the-only-show-in-town Rookie
League clubs in outposts like Ogden and Great Falls.
That first day, July 1st, we made it to an Inland Empire 66ers
game in the urban wasteland of San Bernardino, California. We
drove overnight to Vegas and hit our second numbered team
the next day in Sin City, the Las Vegas 51s. On the morning
of the third, we drove north on I-15 into Utah for a Class A Ogden Raptors
game set against the epic backdrop of the Rockies. This was followed
by an equally epic 450 mile overnight trek through Idaho into Montana.
The 4th of July saw us in Great Falls, Montana for a sold-out Great
Falls White Sox game (with post-game fireworks). A nighttime trek
through the backroads of Montana and a few encounters with deer got
us to Spokane for an Indians game the next day. On the sixth,
we drove down the Columbia river to Portland, Oregon for a AAA Beavers
game before splitting an over 650 mile journey in half: Southern Oregon
at night and Northern California on the morning of the 7th.
We made our seventh game in seven days in Stockton that night for a
Ports game. Then we discovered that we could hit one last game
in Visalia, California on Sunday afternoon with perhaps 75 total
people in the stands to watch the Oaks before making it home
exhausted and triumphant.
While this accomplishment was at least in our opinion
ridiculously epic, the eight day journey was really just Josh and I
eating badly, sleeping at weird times, and spending way too much time
stinking up the car. In other words: serious bonding. Minor
league baseball is made for it. Anything involving beer, junk
food, and our national pastime all wrapped around a road trip has natural
allure for the North American male.
Life on the road was actually easier than expected and, more unexpectedly,
Josh and I didnt feel the urge to shove each other out the puke
door five days in. We only got lost a couple times, which was
surprising for a guy that cant find his friends apartment
after four years (Josh) and another who can drive toward the sunset
and think hes heading east (also Josh). We did take two
wrong-turns, each of which took us on detours through rural roads. A
six-year-old, dog-eared road atlas and a stack of printouts from Mapquest
did the trick, though, to keep us on track. Wrong turns could
mean getting to our motel at 6:30am instead of 5:00am, with another
full day of driving ahead.
During the trip, we ended up watching approximately 24 hours of baseball.
Id always been a baseball fan but never to the level of
Josh, whos made the pilgrimage to every major league park in the
country. Experiencing it every day of the week and discussing
it endlessly with Josh really helped me appreciate the game more. I
even learned how to fill out a scorecard.
minor league game is especially gratifying because the players,
well, try. All of them are hoping for their ticket out of
baseball purgatory so they run out every infield grounder and dive
for outfield flies. They havent yet been tainted by
the big money and ego-inflating adulation of the majors. Theyre
just trying to make it.
And then theres
the food. I decided early in the trip that getting a hot dog
at the minor league games was a bad idea. No, not because theyre
made of mystery meat but because Id miss out on some great local
fare if I stuck with the tried-and-true. On our trip, we sampled
some ready-for-the-bigs fare deep-fried asparagus in Stockton,
California and awesome garlic, parmesan fries in Ogden, Utah
and some definite bush league food like taco-in-a-bag in
Great Falls, Montana.
This culinary Frankenstein consisted of a bag of Nacho Cheese Doritos
cut across the side with ground beef and processed cheese slopped in.
It tasted awful, got all over my hands, and made my stomach ache.
Trying new things, though, was a necessity on the road. Besides,
as much as one might try, nobody can survive a week-long diet of hot
dogs and beer.
Just like taco-in-a-bag, the experience of minor league baseball sticks
with you. Mostly, its the people. There was the big
fire chief in Las Vegas who gave us free tickets as we walked into the
stadium. He regaled us with a few unfunny stories per inning,
laughed overly loud at his cleverness then looked right at us, expecting
us to join in. We complied. Or the proper old lady in Montana
who thought we were boys from the base and was very polite
when we told her about the trip. Then, when her hometown White
Sox pitcher gave up a couple runs, she whispered a terse shit
to herself. Or the little boy in Ogden who worried to his mother
that if he the caught a foul ball hit by a home team Raptor player,
the hitter would be call out.
Most of the experiences in minor league baseball are impossible to have
in the big leagues. At Yankee Stadium, youll never hear
the stadium announcer announce bingo numbers between batters or address
a man by name in the crowd and tell him to call home, your wife
wants to talk to you. Square dancing lessons are never given
for free outside of Dodger Stadium. And the flag is never brought
into Wrigley Field on the back of a Harley.
So, this summer, you can drop a couple hundred bucks for good seats
at your local major league team, pay 15 or more bucks for parking, drop
50 bucks more for a hat, a program, and a hot dog, and then watch your
favorite juiced-up hero break into his home run walk around the bases.
you could grab a buddy, buy an air freshener, jump in
the car, and head out on the road.
For a week or more you can wake up every morning ready for another day
at the diamond: lined with pristine white chalk, fragrant with fresh
grass and filled with young players who run when they hit it out.
And its all cheap: front row seats for $10 and a free scorecard
when you walk in. Yeah, youll hear YMCA way
too many times and get sick of watching people fall over in the dizzy
bat race, but in the minor leagues the next new, strange, awesome
experience is waiting to happen just dont forget the barf
Padelford May 2008
Brett is a freelance writer living in Los Angeles. He is already planning
his next trip through the minor leagues. his time, he and Josh are not
leaving the day after a wedding.
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