Sunday morning didn’t start out looking like the most glorious of days. It was cloudy and cool from the breeze. Thus, we were late to make any plans. The afternoon rolled around, the sun started to come out from behind the clouds, and around 1:25pm I remembered there was a 2pm ballgame at BB&T ballpark nearby between the Winston-Salem Dash and the Wilmington Blue Rocks. Andrew and I quickly hopped in the car and off we went to find parking and cheap tickets for the game.
Now, I’ve been a fan of baseball what feels like my entire life. However, truth be told, the last several years living in Seattle and having to endure excruciating Mariners games has nearly extinguished this admiration. I just lost interest, and for me it practically turned into what so many MLB-haters refer to as “a boring sport.” I can’t even recall the last time I watched a Yankees or other MLB ballgame on television, something I had previously done with such eagerness. I only went to maybe one or two Mariners games last year after Opening Day, which is pathetic in comparison to my attendance prior years. But the thing is, this year I’m willing to keep at it and go to a game here and there in efforts to rekindle that love.
I am still fairly new to this city I’m currently inhabiting – I’ve only been in Winston-Salem for two months visiting my mom before returning to the UK – so I haven’t quite managed to find all the best hidden free parking spots. I would have laughed at the thought of paying for parking in Seattle to watch a game. Finding a free parking spot near the stadium when driving to a game after work just became part of the routine. But this time, when I failed to find any non-zoned or unlimited-time parking ((seriously, W-S, can’t you find it in your big heart to make Sunday exceptions??)), I handed over $5 to the attendant at one of the stadium parking lots. I will not be entirely defeated! Next time I swear I will find a free spot on the street if it takes me an hour.
Andrew paid the $14 for our 2 lawn tickets to the game and we entered into lovely BB&T ballpark, home to the Dash since 2010. The majority of seats were vacant, and even the lawn area and beer garden were lacking patrons. I sat at a table in the outfield beer garden with my clear plastic cup of Carolina Blonde, puzzled at such a low attendance. It was to be a mostly sunny & 60-something degree Sunday afternoon, so why aren’t more families here? The kids can even run around the bases after the game. Is it always like this on Sundays? Does the stadium see a better turnout other days? Is it too early in the season for fans to flock to the park? Are people too involved in their church communities on Sunday? This is the Bible Belt, after all.
Maybe baseball just isn’t an important thread in people’s lives around here like it is mine. I can no longer enter a ballpark without reminiscing about my 2005 summer internship with the Hudson Valley Renegades, a NY-Penn League minor league team. I had just finished up five years of classes at three different collegiate institutions, the last being SUNY Cortland where I majored in Sport Management. All that was left for my completed degree was an internship for credit. The Gades hired me as their Merchandising Intern, and shortly after the semester commenced, I moved into a tiny studio apartment in Fishkill, NY, anxious to begin what would turn out to be an incredibly memorable summer, spent mostly at the ballpark.
I was 23 years old, and this gig was pretty much a dream come true for me because the last couple years of college, I decided I would use my degree to work in baseball. It would be the first time I lived alone. It would be my first non-retail job, even though it kind of was because much of my days were spent stocking/restocking the team store and game day kiosks. I was a true adult, all on my own, to make my own decisions.
The hours were long, since on game days I would be at the stadium between 8 and 9 in the morning, and wouldn’t return home until after 11pm or even midnight to get some sleep before repeating that exact schedule the remainder of that particular homestand. I tried my best to make a memorable impression on everyone that worked there. I would do practically anything asked of me. One time I was even suckered into dressing up as one of the big fuzzy raccoon mascots for an appearance at a nearby Walmart when the usual person backed out at the last minute. By the way, I’m so glad there’s no photographic evidence of this.
Some of my favorite times that summer were when many of us front office employees would head out to nearby bars after the games for some pitchers of beer and/or shots. That’s when we could let loose and really get to know each other. Ok, I may have also hung out with a few trainers and players at the bars also, but we’ll keep that our little secret. Another one of the interns that year, Angela, and I became fast pals, and even remain friends to this day ((I stayed with her during my recent visit to NYC!)). Some people from that summer I have since lost contact with and wonder where they are now, but most I follow via various social media sites like Facebook.
As the season and my internship came to a close, I ended up not accepting the job offered to me to stay at the Renegades, and would move back home that winter, and then ultimately to Seattle the following summer where the rest is history. It was certainly the lowest paying, most demanding, longest-days, work hard play hard job I’ve ever had, but it was without a doubt the most fun. And trust me, fun is what Minor league baseball is all about. From the silly contests and games that are played between innings, to the mascot dancing on the dugout, daily giveaways and Friday night fireworks after home games. Baseball is the heartbeat of an American summer. The individual tickets to a minor league game are extremely reasonable, ranging from $7 lawn seats to $15 for infield box seats at BB&T. So come on, Winston-Salem! Come out and support your local team whenever you can. Bring the family or a couple of friends, sunglasses or a hat, and a blanket if you’ll be grabbing a lawn seat. The stadium employees are working hard to ensure you have an experience worth returning for, and the players are trying to make their way up to the majors. Summer will be over before we know it, and you’ll be wishing you’d been to a game. I know I am already browsing to schedule to find another game to attend in late May, to see if maybe, just maybe, that old persistent love of mine for this classic sport will return for good.
**In a rush to get to the ballpark, we regrettably forgot the Sony camera, and therefore the photos in the post were taken with Andrew’s Nokia Lumia cell phone.
Have you ever been to a minor league baseball game before? What was most memorable for you?