TPA is (coming) back! Over the next several days and/or weeks, we’ll be running guest posts, by people we like, on whatever subject they feel like writing about. You might see some familiar faces come back, too (I might even write something, some day).
Our first guest is Jen Mac Ramos — @jenmacramos on Twitter — who, among other things, is a big fan of the minor leagues.
I’ve got a bit of a love affair with minor league baseball. I write about it, my summer’s revolved around it, my senior thesis focuses on it. My 2013 MiLB game count currently sits at 25, and that feels too low for me — something that’s probably going to become a problem as the regular season winds down and the playoffs start in three or so weeks.
The thing that I’ve found to be the best part of the minor leagues is the weekday games. During the week, the park is usually empty. Not “empty” as in, “oh, yeah, it looks pretty depleted, but there’s still a lot of people”. No, I mean “empty” as in, “Hey, maybe I can sneak to better seats without getting into trouble.”
High-A is the level I usually go see, conveniently, since I am located right smack dab in the middle of the California League’s North Division, home of such clubs as the Modesto Nuts and the Visalia Rawhide. The average capacity in this division is under 3900; a couple hundred or so people on a weekday seems about right.
I get the weekend crowds. It’s fun. There’s almost always some kind of promotion — fireworks on Friday night, some kind of giveaway on Saturday. It’s just good, small town, affordable fun. And hey, who wouldn’t want to sit behind home plate for about 10 bucks?
The real fun to me, though, comes during the week. There’s something about the atmosphere with smaller crowds that you don’t really get when the park is full. You get to know the park, the team, and the vendors a bit better than most, because there’s not much standing in the way of having a good conversation with random people on the concourse. Excuse the awful pun, but: it’s a whole different ballgame when you go to a half-empty one. Over-exaggerated strike three calls for all!
I’ve tested this theory by going to a game on each day of the week (though not consecutively; I think someone would hold an intervention for me if I ever did that). This is how I’d break down the games:
Those can be a bit bleak because it’s Monday, the beginning of a work week. Not a lot of people are really in that mindset to wind down, so the crowds can be thin. I saw Madison Bumgarner pitch on a Monday during his AAA time, once. I remember it being a pretty sparse crowd and my brother and I wandered around Chukchansi Park between innings. Bumgarner was thrown out of the game for arguing a call at second where the runner was safe; he was restrained by Eugenio Velez from trying to charge the ump. Who said weekday games didn’t bring any excitement?
There’s usually some kind of two-for-Tuesday promotion and people can get in cheap, so it’s a decent sized crowd. Not that big, but sometimes big. I’ve noticed that a lot of Little League teams tend to go to Tuesday games. I don’t know if that’s actually a scheduled thing, but most of the time I go on a Tuesday, I always see a whole team of Little Leaguers.
Halfway through the work week. Probably the same case as a Tuesday. Sometimes, you can see half a weekend crowd gearing up for relaxing. Otherwise, most Wednesday games I’ve been to have been some of the quietest crowds I’ve seen in minor league baseball. Just don’t bring a book or paperwork to do.
Most minor league parks have the Thirsty Thursday promotion, so it’s a dollar for a soda, a dollar for some beers, maybe two bucks for a premium beer. Some leftover college kids taking summer courses will show up or some folks who are ready for the weekend. Prepare for some drunken commentary from a dude sitting behind you.
I’ve found that this is the case weekday by weekday unless it’s in a relatively bigger town (like San Jose, for example) and school’s out, in which case you’ll see families with their children filling the seats. Season ticket holders are there. Lines aren’t that long for food and the parking lots aren’t that much of a pain to get out of.
Note: All of this is out the window if there’s a big name Major Leaguer who is rehabbing. I saw Pablo Sandoval rehabbing with the San Jose Giants in Stockton once. Media frenzy, hoards of fans crowding around the dugout and looking for an autograph or a picture. As always, your mileage may vary.
I’ve visited all 10 California League ballparks this summer. I’ve seen a lot of different crowds. One that stood out to me is a Wednesday game in Adelanto, Calif., home to the High Desert Mavericks. I could’ve sworn that there were only 100 or so people there.
Empty and quiet, I could hear almost every conversation on the field. I could probably count the number of people in a section on my hands. Wooly Bully kept trying to get the sparse crowd to do the wave. Didn’t work.
You could think this is sad. I find it endearing. You could go to a weekday ballgame just to get away from a lot of things, and it’s possibly just quiet enough to clear your headspace from reality. Or you could go to hear all the things that umpires say during a game. The game could end up being a 1-0 pitchers’ duel or a 30-8 arena baseball match. I find it a lot more fun with a desolate-looking crowd because it’s almost like a small gathering amongst friends and/or family. Who wouldn’t want to hang out with something like that for a night?
Point being: you go to a minor league ballgame for the baseball. What you get out of it might not be what you expected, but it sure is one hell of a time.