I worry that baseball is boring. I love baseball, but the pace of the game seems archaic, its bursts of action mired in too much downtime. Hell, baseball can even be boring when you’re playing it. I played Legion ball in high school, and during one particularly excruciating inning, I glanced over at our center fielder to see him lackadaisically smoking a cigarette. And why not? We had nothing but time, as our pitcher followed each ball or strike with a stroll around the infield, meticulously adjusting his jock while the opposing batter went on an introspective walkabout. In another game, on my way back to the dugout, I noticed that our first baseman had spent the inning drawing a penis in the dirt along the baseline. That earned a reprimand from the umpire, but no disciplinary action. Maybe the ump was impressed by how he incorporated first base into the tableau.
Against this backdrop and the plodding pace of major league games, I’m not optimistic that my kids will love baseball. Nonetheless, I decided to take them to a pro ballgame to find out if baseball has a chance of recruiting the iPad generation. To stack the odds in my favor, though, I took them to a minor league game—Durham Bulls versus Scranton RailRiders. On Star Wars night.
The beauty of minor league baseball is that nobody involved seems to take it too seriously. The Charleston RiverDogs once tried to schedule Vasectomy Night, which got shot down by the league, but they will go forward this season with Bromance Night and Bobble-Boobs Night. The RiverDogs’ president is Mike Veeck, whose father, Bill, once signed a dwarf to pinch-hit for the Cleveland Browns. Maybe baseball wasn’t always so uptight.
When we arrived at the Bulls stadium, there were storm troopers at the ticket gate. In lieu of player photos, the outfield video screen ran shots of Star Wars characters—now batting, Jar Jar Binks. Between innings, Wool E. Bull, the mascot, had a lightsaber fight with Darth Vader. He lost and was escorted from the premises by the storm troopers. He later returned to speed along the warning track in a go-cart fitted with some kind of crude tinfoil lances to make it resemble a spaceship. As he drove, he hucked baseballs into the stands, launching a ball into every section except the Monster seats.
Yes, the Monster. The Bulls play in a ballpark that looks like a cross between Fenway and Camden Yards, with an early-1900s warehouse aesthetic and a 32-foot wall in left field, complete with a green manual scoreboard. The wall is blue, just to ensure you don’t get disoriented after drinking too many Sam Summers and expect to walk out onto Yawkey Way. And also, probably, for legal reasons. We wouldn’t want Wally the Green Monster to have to head down there and serve cease-and-desist papers to Wool E. Bull—although that scenario would make for a hilarious between-innings sketch, Wally with his lawyer and Wool E. speeding away on his go-cart.
But anyway, the baseball: It was a great game. The Bulls lost, 3-2, but there were some dramatic moments. And the game moved fast. Triple-A teams now use a 20-second pitch clock, eliminating all the farting around between pitches. By the time we dragged the kids out of the right-field playground—where you could both see the game and have a beer—it was the second inning. The whole game only took a little more than two hours. And if you appreciate baseball, the Triple-A talent level is basically indistinguishable from the majors. Just like the majors, you might see a guy hit a 95-mph fastball for a 425-foot home run. The difference is, you don’t know his name, you didn’t pay for parking and the guy’s player photo is Yoda. Nice dinger, that was.
To my mild surprise, the kids—ages 3 and 4—loved watching the game, to the extent that the younger one wouldn’t even get up to go to the bathroom until the game was over. Afterward, he said, “That was fun.” He also said, “I liked watching the golfers.” Well, point is, he sat through the ninth inning, enjoying the action even when there were no Star Wars vignettes afoot. And I enjoyed the fact that there was a beer man roaming the stands hawking $1 PBRs. Minor league ball is a cheap night out.
I’m not saying that you should drop your Red Sox season tickets and spend every Friday night rooting for the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, unless you’re the mom of one of the New Hampshire Fisher Cats. But if you, like me, harbored some snobbery toward the perceived second-rate nature of the minor leagues, I’d recommend you try going to a game. A seat behind the dugout at a PawSox game goes for $13. And, depending on the night, they have fireworks or might let you run the bases.
I think that for $20 they’ll let you play left field. Bring your own smokes.