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Baseball Beyond the Bigs

Sunday, 19 June 2016 10:22
Not a bad seat in the house at Gesa Stadium Not a bad seat in the house at Gesa Stadium

By Dan Clarke

Of course, most of the baseball buzz in Washington relates to the Mariners, the state’s only major league team. But there’s baseball beyond Seattle and visiting minor league parks can be rewarding.

The game’s still nine innings long and the bases are 90 feet apart. Home teams tend to play in white uniforms, the visitors in road grays. Proper wooden bats make a satisfying crack when they meet their target, not a ping. It’s baseball and the minor league version has much to recommend it.

Among its virtues is that it’s affordable. Taking in a game can be a frequent family activity, rather than a special, once-a-season excursion. Admission prices are low—similar to what you’d pay for movie, if not less.

Friday night we attended the Tri City Dust Devils home opener.  They are a San Diego Padres affiliate and compete in the short season Class A Northwest League. Spokane and Everett are other Washington entrants, along with teams based in Oregon, Idaho and one in Vancouver, British Columbia. On game day Pasco’s Gesa Stadium is nearly sold out. With the more comfortable box seats no longer available, we are able to get general admission seats. These are $8 each, a dollar less for seniors. In a park whose capacity is 3700 fans, you can’t really be too far away from the action and our spot between home plate and the visitors’ dugout gives us a great view.

Pre-game activity includes no ceremonial fighter jet fly over, nor a Grammy-winning artist to do the National Anthem.  But there is a four-man color guard from a local veterans’ organization and a large contingent of young musicians from the Columbians Drum and Bugle Corps.

After presentation of the colors, two representatives from local businesses move to the mound to share the tradition of tossing out the first ball. A woman is first and fires what looks like a strike to me. The man who follows her delivers another strike, one that makes an audible pop in the catcher’s mitt. It speaks well of the athleticism of the local community.

Starters and non-starters of both teams are introduced and take their places along the first and third base foul lines. The field announcer gives us brief backgrounds on the participants. There are a few holdovers from last year, but most are new to the home crowd. Several have come up from the Dominican Republic. There's one from Nicaragua and another from Venezuela. Most of the others seem to have just concluded college careers.Dusty at Opening Night PicmonkeyDusty and young fans

There’s some good stuff and some not so good. The starter for the Everett AquaSox is delivering fastballs at 92 and 93 miles per hour according to the scoreboard readout. Our pitcher is also getting into the low-to-mid nineties. Control becomes an issue for the Everett hurler, who loads the bases in the bottom of the third inning and proceeds to walk in a run. Then he walks the next batter. And for good measure walks a third hitter before the AquaSox manager asks him for the ball and lets him take his own walk to the visitors’ clubhouse. The Dust Devils have scored three runs without hitting the ball.  Amazing.

Things tighten up before the locals ultimately prevail 5-4. On the evening we see just about everything but a home run. There’s some good hitting, though, and some sparkling defensive plays. At least two of these are made by the Dust Devils shortstop, until recently a University of Washington stalwart.

Promotions are frequent at this park. Tonight is “Family Feast Night” with hot dogs, sodas, bags of potato chips and ice cream sandwiches all going for a dollar each. Twenty-ounce pours of domestic beer are priced at the regular $6.50, more than you’d pay in any local tavern, but a better deal than you’d get in any major league environment. One hitter from the opposing team is designated as the beer batter and any time he strikes out the concession stands will sell 12-ounce beers at $2 for the next 10 minutes. Number 10 of the AquaSox turns out to be an obliging fellow and his two K’s contribute to our enjoyment of this game.

The crowd includes baseball fans of all ages—lots of old folks, but many families, too. Tonight there is a fireworks show which starts immediately after the last out.  Sometime in the middle innings it is announced that players will be available near the seats down the right field line to sign autographs after the game. Dusty, the locals’ mascot, works the crowd dressed in his Dust Devils uniform and captivates the youngsters, if not all of those who went to games before there were such characters involved. One lad about ten-years old brings a new baseball on which hopes to get Dusty’s autograph. Dusty obliges, of course, and the young fan’s eyes are as big as if Ken Griffey Jr. had just signed for him.

Editor’s note: The Northwest League plays into early September. For more information visit http://www.milb.com/index.jsp?sid=l126

Last modified on Saturday, 25 June 2016 11:30

 

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