Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Minor League Baseball-The Turtle and the Snake

"Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball, the rules and realities of the game and do it by watching first some high-school or small-town teams."
                                                                                       ---Jacques Barzun

A good road trip needs an excuse to happen.  In the case of our recent jaunt it was simply that my brother and I had not had a recent opportunity to take in an enjoyable baseball game.  And since the Major League experience has become expensive and otherwise unsatisfactory to us we decided to head out and catch a couple of Minor League games. 

We only had time for two, one each in the home fields of the Beloit Snappers and of the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers.  If you are interested in such details they are each a single A affiliate of a big league club.  The Snaps are a subsidiary of the Minnesota Twins.  The Rattlers, of the Milwaukee Brewers.

For a few insights you might enjoy, here are my observations on "the realities of the game" and on the "heart and mind of America".


Meet Snappy D. Turtle, Mascot of the Beloit Snappers:
Snappy struck me as an ideal mascot.  He (actually lots of the people in the suits are shes) worked the crowd, clowned around, did a little dancing.  Interactions with fans were frequent and seemed to be enjoyed by both parties.  (admittedly with these mascot suits you have to rely on body language to tell these things).  Oh, and Snappy looks great on is my new favorite baseball cap:
The Timber Rattlers on the other hand have "Fang".  I would think it a difficult task to pull off a convincing snake impersonation when you are of the bipedal persuasion, and the look is just not quite right:

Sorry for the low res pics, but Fang pretty much just hung out in the Rattlers dugout.  I suppose he (and I really think this is a former player for some reason) is just following orders, but I never got the sense that Fang was that interested in the fans.

Once again I am going to give the edge to Beloit.  The brats were hot and tasty.  The concessions staff were jovial.  They serve beverages from Horny Goat, a small craft brewery.  When I ordered a couple of "blonde lagers" the burly order taker got a big grin on his face, and yelled over his shoulder "I need a couple of horny blondes!".  There was really nothing wrong with the chow and suds at the Timber Rattlers park.  It was just kind of boring, and served by kids whose enthusiasm is understandably directed elsewhere.

Boy, what a difference.  We arrived at both parks about 20 minutes before game time.  My brother and I are serious fans you see, not the sort who would ever, EVER turn up after the National Anthem.  At Beloit we parked in a one quarter full lot and could not at first tell where the ball park was.  Eventually we followed a solitary guy who seemed to be moving with a purpose.  We passed a single group happily tail gating and arrived here:
Contrast this with the Timber Rattlers.  We had managed our time a little better and so walked from our lodgings.  As we approached the ball park there were lines of cars waiting to park.  There were lots of people in line to get into the stadium.  They even had a rock band getting people fired up as they entered the park!

I have to say, this is marketing genius.  You could easily find garage bands willing to make some noise for free food and a little exposure. 

The Snappers park is a homey place.  It was comfortable and we had plenty of room around us.  This is actually a plus for us, as we can carry on a running commentary, predict the next pitch or running play and so forth without bugging anyone.  The attendance was announced at about 1,000, but there seemed to actually be around 500 fans in attendance.  Lots of empty seats on a fine Friday night.

And here the Rattlers park!  My goodness, it is bigger, newer, pretty much full.....they have a Jumbotron scoreboard, a real announcer, even fireworks after the game!  The announced crowd was 5,000, which seemed about accurate.
So what would Jacques Barzun have to say about all this?  Well, I suppose we could ask him, he is apparently still alive at the age of 104.  But lets allow the old gent some peace and quiet.

At first glance it looks as if the Rattlers are a resounding success, and the Snappers a dowdy backwater.  "Someone needs to spend some money on the Beloit team", was my brother's comment.

But first impressions can fool you.  The real purpose of a single A ball club is to develop talent for the Big Club.  If the relative success of the Twins and the Brewers over the last decade is any measure, Beloit is doing the better job.  And isn't nurturing a budding young baseball talent much like a family doing the same for a talented child?  And in a head to head comparison, we acknowledge the achievements of a wealthy family in turning out an exceptional young person....but we celebrate and applaud when a family of modest means does so.

The Beloit stadium is in a municipal park.  It is nestled in between tennis courts, a softball complex, an ice arena.  All are well maintained. The entire unit is cohesive and makes sense.  It hearkens back a little to Roman city development where theater, amphitheater and other public spaces would be grouped together.  Beloit was dowdy, true, but the sum of the parts was pleasing.

The Timber Rattlers stadium is in Appleton, a nice comfortable town.  I hear it is prosperous.  The crowd was larger, more enthusiastic. They were having fun, which is a very fine thing.  But as we walked home post game-likely being the sole pedestrian fans that night-we noticed things.  Brand spanking new construction abandoned.  Businesses that had sprung up in recent boom times and then failed.  Particularly interesting was a massive Italian restaurant.  It probably could have seated the entire crowd at Beloit.  It was out of business.  The axe must have fallen quite recently, there were still new looking banners that told a tale of their last days.  Ten Dollars for Wine all Day, and LADIES NIGHT EVERY THURSDAY.  The place looked to have gone bust so recently that we wondered if a few happy, wine soused Ladies were still snoozing under tables in the distant reaches of the place.

So, the heart and mind of America.  Take your pick I guess.  Exuberant expansion and energy, with the promise of greatness and the realization that sometimes the dice roll badly...or a quieter, sustainable world that looks a bit dowdy and tired?
Addendum 11 October, 2012.  After their season ended the Beloit Snappers were dropped by their "parent" club the Minnesota Twins.  The Twins were coming off a second horrific season and heads were rolling up and down the ranks of the organization.  It is difficult to see just how Snappy D. Turtle had much to do with the matter, but there you go.  For the 2013 season the Snappers will be an Oakland Athletics affiliate.  Their green and gold uniforms will be a nice color fit for Snappy.

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