“Why does everybody stand up and sing ‘Take Me Out to the Ballgame’ when they’re already there?”
–Larry Anderson (MLB pitcher for White Sox and Brewers, keen observer of life)
My most recent trip to an MLB field was May 2014 when I took a party bus to San Francisco to watch the Giants play the Miami Marlins AT&T
Park. Our $32 nosebleeds (only one row behind us) was a dizzying 20-minute ascension, with the game so far away that I lost interest in even trying to identify the dots moving on the field. My $11 Heineken was warm by the time I reached my seat, and I won’t even go into the ordeal of descending to locate a restroom. All said, I spent more time on the
stairs than actually watching what I could see of the game, and I’m still upset that I had a very poor view of home plate—with Posey being the only Giant I actually follow. Sure, the view of the bay was beautiful, but I can get that at a wine bar and not have to fight my way through urine soaked parking lots afterward. That’s when I decided that I’ll take a Friday night at a minor league field instead.
Last August, I had my chance. The field with high ranks from the MiLB league fans is Fifth Third Field in Toledo, Ohio: home of the Mud Hens. Opened for play in 2002, Fifth Third caters to fans who want to see the game up close and personal. In fact, some seats behind the plate are closer to the batter than the pitcher is. And beware the baseline seats where you are often more likely to catch a ball than the basemen. No seriously, it’s pretty probable.
Because Chickabee had had a few close calls during a family outing earlier in the summer, I decided to splurge and spend $30 for two club seats behind home plate. I like the option of ordering drinks from my seat, and the net did give a semblance of security–at first–but as more and more fouls popped up onto the roofs of the suites, we had the added excitement of waiting for balls to roll down and smack us in the back of the head. I admit that it was oddly satisfying when an awkwardly tan executive in a suite seat was almost clocked by a ball that bounced off a suite door (and was then caught by an eager 11-year old walking in the aisle below). And I kept hoping that another ball would gently make its way to the little Tiger fan sitting behind me with a mitt the size of a bagel. He repeatedly let
his family know that he was prepared to protect the section from any foul balls.
From the seats in 210, directly behind home plate, we could still hear the crack of the bat (and at times the thump of the ball in the catcher’s glove). So what if these are minor leaguers. Did I know the line up?
Nope. But former Hens include Billy Beane (think Moneyball),
Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett, and Cy Young winner, Max Scherzer. So who knows? It could just be a short time before I say, “Hey, I saw that guy when he was with the Hens!” Just two weeks before my visit, third baseman Mike Hessmen hit his 433rd career home run against the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs (You simply must love the team names), setting a new minor league baseball record for the most home runs in a career. Hessman is one of only four players in history to hit over 400 home runs
in the minor leagues. He performed well that night with some base clearing hits and a home run, so there’s a chance that he may be called up to majors again soon.
On the night that I visited Fifth Third Field it was also Walleye Hockey night. This basically meant that, while watching for glimpses of baseball mascots –Muddy and Madonna—there was the addition of a large grey-blue fish in a hockey jersey and chances to win tickets to see minor league hockey (another not-so-bad alternative). I did get to see the famed Wally chatting up fans behind the dugout. But, unfortunately, there was a bit of
a scarcity of Muddy/Madonna spottings. As fans report, other than the obligatory trips onto the field for the t-shirt tosses and fan games, of late the mascots seem to hang out in the suites and not among the general riff-raff just a few feet away. I personally feel that the vendors were more entertaining, anyway. Not only were they more visible and have great banter that brings a laugh, the girl with the cotton candy balanced on her head had me mesmerized. And the grounds crew definitely put on a show with a choreographed dance as they raked the baseline.
Another bonus that night was post-game fireworks. After watching a final fan competition (two people running the bases in what looked like giant gerbil balls) and more entertainment by the Dirt Crew, a very respectable display lit up the sky accompanied by good-old classic rock and rousing cheers: A great way to end a sultry evening at the park. And I left with enough money in my pocket to stop in to pick up a Tony Packo’s original hot dog, some sweet-hot pickles, and a couple of t-shirts on the way home.