On Saturday, the Red Sox equipment van pulled out of Fenway Park on its journey to Florida and spring training 2012. My sons were practicing curveballs in the back yard and the excitement of spring baseball and a new Red Sox season came upon me. It made me remember a particular date night when I took my wife, Adrienne, to her first minor league baseball game.
At the time, we lived in Newburyport with our twin toddlers and I was writing a sports column for the local newspaper. I wanted to write a piece on the Lowell Spinners, the Red Sox minor league affiliate. My wife Adrienne, who would watch a House Hunters rerun over the Super Bowl, was happy to tag along on anything that involved hiring a babysitter and leaving the house. She brought a paperback novel to read, just in case the game was played.
Merely driving into the parking lot and paying $4 as opposed to $35 at Fenway Park was a thrill in itself. I asked the attendant if our car might get blocked in. He was still laughing as we left the game.
Our first stop was the gift shop, which I’m sure rents out as a nice studio apartment in the off-season. In the gift shop there was a basket of baseball bats. I grabbed one only to get a good portion of the wood stuck in my skin. They were selling cracked and broken bats. I complained to the clueless cashier and her thoughtful reaction was to tell me that the broken bats were each signed by a Spinner player and were a great deal at $10. Realizing that if you’re a cashier at a Rookie league park there is no room for demotion, I tightened the tourniquet and quickly paid for my souvenirs.
Our tickets included a barbecue before the game held in the lower level area of the stadium known as the Gator Pit. The vast array of marinated meats cooked in front of us on massive grills was simply the best food I’ve tasted in years. I joked to Adrienne that I wanted steak tips to be included in my last meal on Earth, and she said I was three more away from making that happen. At game time, a Spinners employee announced to the carnivorous crowd that the first pitch was ready to be thrown. Nobody moved a muscle.
Around the second inning, we wobbled over to our seats located right behind home plate. Incredibly, the seats, plus the dinner cost $21.50 apiece, which is almost enough to buy a pretzel at Fenway. LeLacheur Park is as nice a minor league stadium as you could find in the country. It is evident there isn’t a bad seat in the place and the rusty old bridge just beyond right field actually added an old-time charm to the place. The purity of the park sent my mind adrift to those bygone years of baseball, until a purple-haired kid walked by with a “ Cee-Lo Green is God” t-shirt.
When you think minor leagues you think gimmicks, and the Spinners staff gave their best effort. The in-between-inning promotions didn’t lack for flair—though neither the crowd nor the participants were too thrilled by the water balloon toss or the bobbing for rubber fishy. I have to admit the sight of Mr. Bristle running around the bases prompted my first chuckle related to the field of dentistry. Also, the presentation of a free car wash to the dirtiest car in the parking lot placed all the patrons in fear of winning the prize.
The game reminded me of a college ball game or high school all-stars event. Some of the players looked liked they were anxiously awaiting puberty. The Spinners were playing a team from Vermont. Is it more amazing that Vermont has a minor league baseball team or that they have the equal representation of U.S Senators as California?
The game was entertaining and Adrienne and I speculated who might end up in the major leagues and who might end up selling us a car. As I watched the game, I tried to remember some of the players’ names in order to keep tabs on them all the way to Fenway Park. Unfortunately, after my superior eating performance, the only thing I was retaining was water.
It was a joy to see so many kids at the game, all with smiles on their faces. The Spinners filled the evening with family-oriented entertainment, and I wouldn’t have been surprised if they had let a birthday party of eight-years-olds go up and pinch-hit. And I was psyched, because I jumped over two rows of people to catch a free visor.
As we left the park on that beautiful summer night, Adrienne remarked that this was the most fun she has ever had at a game. It was great to enjoy baseball for the love of the sport, with no concern of the score. We got into our car and, with barely a car in sight, whisked effortlessly into the night. I turned on the radio to listen to the aggravating end of the Red Sox game and Adrienne started reading her book. Oh well, back to reality.
This article appears on the Brookline, Jamaica Plain, Newton, Waltham and Watertown sites.