Since I was born and raised in St. Louis, I’m genetically wired to be a baseball fan. I’m probably one of the few people alive who can recall watching the St. Louis Browns play at Sportsman’s Park before they slunk off to Baltimore and became the Baltimore Orioles. I was only about five years old but I remember the experience. My dad was a big Browns fan and he knew some of the players — but we switched our allegiance to the St. Louis Cardinals and would see them at Sportsman’s Park as well. Back in that day, both teams played out of the same stadium so it must have been a scheduling nightmare. The modern Busch Stadium, a gem if ever there was one, was built in the 1960s and then sadly replaced by the new ‘old style’ ballpark that now is Busch Stadium…I got over it. I moved out of St. Louis in the 1970s but was only about two hours from Busch Stadium. My wife was an avid fan, as well, and when we would go to the games she would buy a scorecard and score the games with her coded pencil scribbling but months later she could tell you exactly how the game was played. We could always get the Cardinal games on the radio or on TV when we were not going to the games — we liked the radio best.
After sixty-five years in Missouri I moved to New Mexico, about fifteen miles north of Albuquerque and 1,200 miles from Busch Stadium. There are no Cardinal games here on the TV or on the radio. You are hard pressed to find a baseball game on regular TV — any baseball game. The same with radio, generally. Last fall the people of Albuquerque didn’t know that the World Series was being played. They had no idea what teams were in the playoffs. And they wonder why they can’t get a professional sports team in this town… I can get an occasional Cardinals game on my android tablet over the internet when it is streamed from a radio station in Olney, Illinois. The commercials are mostly for farm equipment.
The aforesaid lament is leading up to something. Albuquerque does have baseball and you can attend games and hear the games on the radio. The home team is the Albuquerque Isotopes, a AAA team affiliated with the Colorado Rockies (formerly with the Dodgers). They have a great stadium — one of the best in minor league baseball — named The Lab (Get it? Isotopes. The Lab. Cute, right?). It is a fun place. Some of the players are very good and some are struggling and there are a few hit batters but never intentionally. The games are affordable and families can go to see the games and the kids bring their baseball gloves. The seats are close to the field so the gloves come in handy for foul balls and occasionally a bat will fly into the stands (Yikes!). Between the innings they have games and contests and a red and green chile will race around the field. It is a laid-back sort of baseball. I was listening to an Isotopes game on the radio and halfway through the game the umpires lost track of the score. There was some uncertainty about a play and they couldn’t decide if a run had scored or not but they continued playing couple more innings until they finally figured it out. This is New Mexico, after all.
I like minor league baseball. When I’m travelling around the country in the summer I try to see one or two games if I’m in a town with a team. There are local teams like the River City Rascals in O’Fallon, just west of St. Louis. Columbia (MO) had the Mavericks for a couple years. Oklahoma City has a fantastic ballpark but I’ve never been there when there was a home game. I saw the Kinston (NC) Indians – who are no more. There was the Chattanooga Lookouts, Norfolk Tides, Beloit Snappers, Portland Sea Dogs, Salt Lake Bees, the Jackson Generals, Ft. Worth Cats, Round Rock Express and the Quad City (Davenport, IA)River Bandits — to name a few. In Davenport the River Bandits enter the playing field through a corn field — “If you build it, they will come, Ray” . Some teams have cheerleader squads. I recall a couple years ago a young girls’ cheer squad ran onto the field to show off the brand new song they just learned. It was Y-M-C-A (released in 1978 by the Village People) and the folks in the stands knew it a little better and everyone did the hand motions and had a great time. It started raining at one game and a friend ran down on the field and helped get the tarp over the infield.
So spring training is going full tilt. The major league teams are already playing exhibition games. The St. Louis Cardinals play the Baltimore Orioles (nee Browns) on March 12. I guess the Chicago Cubs have shown up for spring training by now…I don’t know why. The Isotopes opener is April 9th against the Reno Aces.
Spring is on the way!