I’ve now been in three different ballparks in the past week. After missing AirHogs games because of a business trip, it occurred to me that the Metroplex is not the only place in the universe with minor league baseball.
So, last week, while I was in Nashville, I did a quick Google Maps search for “minor league” nearby the hotel, and found the Nashville Sounds. In a bizarre coincidence, they were playing the Round Rock Express, so there was actually a Texas team for me to cheer on. When I realized I was probably the only Texan in the crowd, I cheered quietly. They lost.
I got home in time to see the AirHogs sweep El Paso this weekend.
Now, I’m in Cleveland on yet another business trip. The AirHogs are in Shreveport, so I’m not missing any games, but I might as well find a game if there is one around. There are a number of minor league teams, but AA is having its All-Star game, so teams aren’t playing.
Then, I found the Lake Erie Crushers who play in the Frontier League and their stadium was about a half-hour from the hotel, so I bought a ticket online and headed out after work. They were playing the Windy City Thunderbolts, so since I had no obvious loyalties, I cheered for the home team. It’s safer.
The ticket was $14 online with a dollar service charge. Here’s the view from the seat:
I decided I might as well keep score since I was alone, so there were fewer distractions than usual. (If you have an Android, look at 6-4-3 for keeping score.)
Since I was keeping score, I had to get the lineups. While I was copying down player names and numbers, I saw an interesting fact on the wall – Windy City is leading the division. Guess who is in last? Maybe I was cheering for the wrong team after all.
The game started and I realized the Frontier League uses a two-man crew for umpiring. While this is one less person to blow a call, it’s a lot less coverage in the field.
Windy City scored two in the first to jump out to an early lead. Uh oh. Lake Erie added one in the bottom of the first to keep it close.
Three up, three down for Windy City in the second. Perhaps there was a chance. Lake Erie scored four in the bottom of the second and chased Windy City’s starter. Yes, there is a chance, indeed.
After that, the pitchers settled down. Windy City added two runs in the fourth to draw within one.
Now, the magic.
It’s difficult to get the soul of a team from reading lineups a half-hour before the game. So, you have to go by the sound of the crowd. Lake Erie was still leading 5-4 going into the ninth inning, and there was one last pitching change.
The PA said “Ruben Flores” and the crowd roared. It was the minor-league crowd equivalent of Mariano being introduced. Since the final Windy City pitcher had used only nine pitches to close out the eighth, I thought “This guy must be good.”
Three outs from victory.
First batter. Two strikes. Then, a foul. Then, a third strike that got past the catcher, so a man on first. Hmm.
Second batter. One ball. Pop-up – 1-3 for the out, but a man is now on second. Don’t you usually try to throw out the lead runner? No panicking. Yet.
Third batter. Strike. Lined to short, 6-3 for the second out. Tying run is now 90 feet from home. Again, lead runner, no? Ruh-roh.
Fourth batter. Thinking this would have been a good time for “three up, three down”, but so it goes.
The fourth batter is the one player I actually recognize – Chase Porch, who played for Pensacola last year. He’s 0-3 on the night, so he may be due. One good hit, and we’re going to extra innings. One really good hit and we lose.
Suddenly, I’m very involved emotionally.
Foul. Strike one.
Foul. Strike two.
The magic of baseball is that a great defensive play can win a ball game just as easily as a great offensive play. Sometimes, you get a great hit to win a game. Sometimes, you need defense. With two out and a man on third, you need perfect defense.
Third pitch. High foul pop-up behind the plate. I was sitting almost directly behind home plate, and I lost the ball, but I saw the catcher running towards the backstop, almost directly at me.
He fell into the backstop (which was mesh, so flexible), almost falling into the first row of seats. He came out of the mesh. The ball was in his glove.
That is the first time a ball game ended because of something that happened literally three seats from me. I couldn’t get a photo because I couldn’t react that quickly. (So much for “baseball is slow.”)
Lake Erie wins, 5-4.
I’m a Crushers fan now. I’m especially a Kyle Shaffer fan, because that was one hell of a catch.
Here’s the box score, for posterity.