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Thursday, February 10, 2011

Take Me Out to the What What?

When my son comes home for Spring Break, he’s bringing his girlfriend and her parents, so I’ve been looking for fun Florida Spring Break type activities for us to do. Things that don’t involve your run-of-the-mill Spring Break activities, such as going to bars that smell like urine and letting strangers drunk-drive you home.

I thought a nice baseball game would do the trick.

We live a few blocks from Roger Dean Stadium, which is where the Marlins and the Cardinals have spring training.

But the best thing about Roger Dean - and arguably the best thing about baseball - is the Minor League. The Jupiter Hammerheads play teams like the Bradenton Marauders, the Charlotte Stone Crabs, the Brevard County Manatees, the Fort Myers Miracle, and the Clearwater Threshers. Just the team names make me want to binge on over-salted popcorn, play the organ, and learn how to throw a ball not like a girl. Overhand.

I’ve been to some memorable baseball games, especially for someone who is not a baseball fan at all. I watched the Pirates win a World Series game and I watched Mark McGwire try to eke out another home run in his race against Sammy Sosa for the record. At those and other major league baseball games, it struck me that the spectators acted like they were sitting in their living rooms. They kind of shuffle in, not even trying to get there in time for the first pitch. They’re wearing slippers and pajama bottoms and carrying flasks and food from home. Some of them bring magazines to read during the slow periods. The pace of baseball doesn’t lend itself to standing up at all - ever - or even raising your voice unless you’re yelling “Over here! to the beer guy.

So how does Minor League Baseball even begin to get fans excited about showing up to their games? I know from my days of selling concessions at Lexington Legends games (8 games per season plus training on how to spot a fake ID, required as a marching band fundraiser) that they give a lot of tickets away just to fill some seats. There was always a bus or a bunch of handicap vans idling out front when I reported for duty. Blind kids, deaf adults, group home residents, convoys of wheelchairs, there were always groups of people who were only there because that’s where the bus was going.

Then there were the people there for the theme. About every third game there were fireworks, which would bring out the pyromaniacs, Vietnam vets and boys 4-12. Dollar Pizza Night would draw people looking for a cheap dinner. Thirsty Thursdays, where beer was $1 and unofficially “all you can drink,” brought entire fraternities and interns and residents from the hospital just getting off duty.  Hat Night . . . well, Hat Night wasn’t that popular. Everyone already has enough hats. But someone forgot to tell Minor League Baseball.

It’s been a couple of years since I’ve been to a baseball game. This Spring Break, I’m looking forward to the overpriced and oversalted food, some of the best lethargic-people watching ever, and I might even watch some of the game.