Friday, April 23, 2010

Down on the Farm

Kyle Rose is one of the few highlights so far this season for the Rome Braves. He is about to connect with that blur of a ball for a base hit in this pic. I like the old-fashioned way he wears his socks. I'm very conservative about all things baseball.

Each year there are a handful of things I try to do in order to fully validate my life. One of them is to have a couple of hot dogs and a couple of beers at a baseball game.

Got my ticket punched on that one last night when my family had the pleasure of watching the Rome Braves (Atlanta's Class A farm club) get pummeled by the Kannapolis Intimidators (White Sox team) 9 – 3.

In many ways I enjoy minor league ball more than major league ball, especially since the 1994 player’s strike and the beginning of the Steroid Era of baseball. The guys down here play with a lot of hope and sheer joy for the game. They are hungry because they haven’t made it yet. The financial aspect of the game hasn’t ruined everything yet. They all look like “normal” guys, not the bulked up uberplayers that you see on many major league teams. Class A ball comes closer to the purity of the sport because it is still considered a sport at this level, not “entertainment” like games in the Show. If baseball is entertainment then I am just a consumer. But, if it is still a sport then I can be a fan.

I’d rather be a fan.

Anyway, you can’t beat fun at the old ball park and last night was no exception, even if the game was a blow-out after the third inning. This year’s Rome team so far has shown little in the way of hitting and even less pitching. We got to experience the full range of their mediocrity last night. Starting pitcher David Hale has a long way to go if he’s ever going to make it to the majors. Six earned runs in five innings work was not impressive.

A wannabe. This may be the only pitch you will ever see David Hale deliver.

Even less impressive (but more noteworthy due to the extent of the ruin) was the first (and possibly the last) minor league appearance of middle reliever Andrew Wilson. His line of two-thirds of an inning with a strikeout, a walk, a base hit allowed and two earned runs doesn’t fully reflect what we witnessed. I’ve never seen a pitcher hit three batters in one inning (one guy in the head) before manage Randy Ingle grabbed his hook and got the wild guy out of there before he killed someone.

The highlight was getting to see Rome left fielder Kyle Rose play. Rose came into the game hitting .396, the only Rome player batting over .300. He looks very comfortable out there and made some good plays in the field. Almost every year there is some player on the field in Rome that has a decent chance of making to the majors. I have watched Brian McCann and Martin Prado play in Rome in past seasons. Jason Heyward did it in 2008. Right now, Rose looks like the best Rome has got this season.

Rome has a first-class stadium and state-of-the-art scoreboard and facilities. 20 ounce draft beers are $4.25. Every staff member and attendant is highly professional. There is no difference facility-wise and concession-wise between going to a game in Rome and going to a game in Atlanta, except the prices are lower and everything is smaller, more intimate.

There were other moments of note. It is always zany between innings at minor league games with various promotions and silly shenanigans. Bouncing giant beach balls through the crowd with lotto numbers on them. When the music stops you grab the ball and if that number is pulled out of the hat you win…I forget what exactly. Watching selected crowd member perform stupid acts on the big screen. Like guessing where the baseball is amongst three thoroughly shuffled ball caps on the big animated board. Jennifer got her picture taken with Romey, the Braves mascot. My daughter took her boyfriend (gulp!) and they were featured between an inning on the “kiss-cam”. It was just a peck, not a smooch. Good girl.

We had great seats. Four rows back between home plate and the Braves dugout.

All-in-all, even though the game itself was a rather dull experience, the atmosphere was a lot of fun. Even going to a bad ball game is better than no ball game at all. And I enjoyed those hot dogs, so to speak, long after we’d arrived back home.

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