Minor league baseball is a great way to rediscover America --- the real country, not the bizarre pressure-cooker that dominates many people's daily experience. At a couple of recent weekday evening games in Frederick, Maryland, a few thousand fans gather to witness the Keys play. The Frederick Keys are a Class A club, three steps down the food chain from the major league Baltimore Orioles. They're named for local hero Francis Scott Key, author of the US national anthem ("The Star Spangled Banner"); he's buried in the cemetery next door to the ballpark.
Some sights and sounds:
- ... a diehard aficionado keeps a careful record of all the action with a mimeographed form on his clipboard. He complains that nowadays too few people personally log the hits, runs, errors, stolen bases, etc. during play; folks just aren't serious about the game anymore. He's a former schoolteacher, and confesses that he ran off copies of a few thousand blank scoresheets before he retired ... enough, he figures, to last his remaining lifetime even though he attends several games every week. (Yes, they're real mimeograph pages, purplish-blue ink, somewhat fuzzy with age.)
- ... two young people climb the stairs on their way to buy popcorn and drinks. He's crewcut, tan, heavily muscled from work, not from a spa. She's wearing a tee-shirt; tattoos flow down her arm. Elderly couples sit together and enjoy the crowd as much as they enjoy the game. Kids run back and forth on the grassy slope by the outfield or ride the merry-go-round; mothers carry wee babies and hold toddlers' hands; great-with-child mothers-to-be sit and fan themselves with program inserts. Purple fingernail polish, big earrings, and dayglo-streaked hair supplement skimpy shorts. A crucifix dangles over dramatic décolletage.
- ... during breaks between innings a visiting entertainment act cruises around the edge of the field in an old police car. "The Blues Brothers" leap out, grab wireless microphones, sing, cavort, and throw bags of peanuts into the crowd. A row of teen-agers in the stands are dressed in white shirts with skinny black ties; they dance along, hoping to catch the eye of a roving cameraman and see themselves on the big screen TV atop the left field fence.
- ... scouts and coaches sit behind the netting back of home plate and aim radar guns to measure the speed of the pitches. Foul balls spray across the bleachers. One lands in a cup of beer, spilling a little liquid down from the upper level seats onto spectators below, resulting in much laughter and no complaints. Other fouls ricochet off the stands and are snagged as souvenirs or given to nearby kids. An older fan complains that in countless decades he never has caught a ball; the closest he came was one time in 1967 when a friend occupying his seat grabbed a foul while he himself was in the bathroom.
- ... during the 7th inning "stretch" the scoreboard admonishes fans to take out their car keys and jingle them (the home team is the "Keys" --- get it?!). Virtually everyone complies.
The pace of the game is slow, the weather warm, the crowd friendly, and the tickets cheap. Stadium food is pricey, but not when you consider it as part of the entertainment. All the seats are close enough to the field to see faces --- unlike mega-ballparks where the upper decks are at nosebleed altitudes and the diamond is distant enough to turn players into ants. The baseball is good, if unpredictable: one night the Keys are behind 9-0 in the bottom of the ninth inning, with two outs, and rally to score three runs; the next night it's a slugfest of the opposite color and the Frederick boys wins 15-6. Not many errors on either side, just good, solidly hit balls and aggressive play. A lucky few from the team may move up to the AA level or beyond. Meanwhile, they're not making much money but they're having fun. So are the people in their audience.
Sunday, July 01, 2001 at 20:13:18 (EDT) = Datetag20010701
TopicPersonalHistory - TopicProfiles
(correlates: ManyWorlds, GuiltAndShame, PerversityPrinciple, ...)