The Charm of Minor League Baseball

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The charm of minor league baseball isn't limited to the small stadium, with seating just a few feet from the action. It's not limited to the dedicated fans, or the local advertisers, or the cute games and contests between innings. It's not even limited to the carnival-like combination of food stands and bounce houses. It's about the feeling itself, of our national game being played not for the money, or for national television, but because the players enjoy it.

The San Jose Giants were evenly matched on Monday night against the Bakersfield Blaze, another team in the Class-A Advanced California league. The game featured many impressive plays, if not the show-stoppers that characterize a major-league contest. Still, it's easy to see where these players are headed, and big-league contracts are likely in their future. But the San Jose Giants experience wasn't just about the players and their skills.

It started with the pre-game introductions. Each player ran out with a couple kids, and they stood together for the national anthem. Later, as the kids left the field, two little girls declared "play ball!" Between at-bats, the PA announcer played an artful variety of music, everything from 50s and country to contemporary hip-hop and R&B. He seemed to sense the crowd's energy, and choose the right music to get them going.

The crowd was another memorable part of the experience. Although somewhat sparse, likely due to the on-and-off rain that afternoon, the fans were clearly committed to their team. Several high school kids had come with their dates (it looked like a Springsteen song), and they shouted to their friends across the stands. Local little league teams were there as well, and they were clearly thrilled to see professionals playing their game.

The Giants filled the space between innings with games and contests, frequently for children. Two pairs of kids played "dance for your dinner," and another tried to score a hockey goal. An older gentleman tried to hit a golf ball into a bucket, and sunflower seeds were thrown into the seating section that cheered the loudest.

But the crowd had the most fun with the "beer batter," a player whom the Giants designate each game on the opposing team. Each time the "beer batter" is struck out, beer is reduced to half-price for 15 minutes. (My favorite part was the Beer Barrel Polka, played every time a strike was called.) The crowd went wild for the entire at-bat, with enthusiasm that you don't find at major-league ballparks. This wasn't just a baseball game, but an experience of grand proportions.

Sure, the players someday expect to move up to the major leagues, and they're on professional contracts. They have tremendous skill, and they compete passionately, but that's not the point. The point is that the game felt different in San Jose. I left with a taste of classy old-fashioned baseball, and I'll be back soon for more.

EBAC thanks the San Jose Giants for access to this game.

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