27 Outs Baseball Network

Stuck Between Baseball Seasons

For us fans of the NY-Penn League and other short-season leagues, there is a very long off season to endure. Perhaps there’s some relief in noting that we’re now within 100 days of opening day. Sure, other leagues will be underway considerably sooner, but, if you’re waiting to actually attend a home game of your local short-season team, there’s still a fair amount of time to go before baseball gets here. So, for those of us who want to take in some Minor League ball in April or May, travel will be required.

To that end, I find myself staring at the large U.S. wall map above my desk more often than I care to admit, splitting time dreaming of where the new season will lead me and reflectively retracing the routes of some of my most recent MiLB travels.

In 2014, I had made a beeline up the Heartland, driving from Oklahoma to Iowa. This past year, my big trip was effectively a counter-clockwise loop starting and ending in Memphis. The route let me take in four games in southern ballparks with very fond memories that reinforce my belief that Minor League ballgames make for great outings of casual and ardent fans alike.

Right off the bat, the best game action I saw was an extra-inning affair in Little Rock, as the Springfield Cardinals took down the Travelers via a home run with two outs in the top of the 11th. It was the only run in this pitching gem.

Perhaps my favorite ballpark moment of the trip, however, occurred at a Mississippi Braves game in Pearl, MS. It had rained for the second half of my drive from central Arkansas, and rain delayed the start of the game about an hour as I recall. It also happened to be Barrett Kleinknecht bobblehead giveaway night. There I was in the soggy stadium, with the boxed bobblehead, wondering if I could somehow keep it dry and in good condition. I took it out for one picture with the tarp-covered field as a backdrop and put it away.

After getting my wish that the ballgame would be played, I was very happy to give this to a very deserving fan.

After getting my wish that the ballgame would be played, I was very happy to give this to a very deserving fan.

Then, a gentleman with crutches and leg braces and his wife sat down near me with two bobbleheads in a clear plastic bag. I offered them mine, explaining that I was in the midst of a long road trip, and that I didn’t expect the keepsake to make it. He gratefully accepted it and proceeded to tell me how happy I made him. They were trying to figure out how they were going to give two bobbleheads to their three grandchildren when I made their decision easier. The disabled Persian Gulf War vet and I ended up talking for the length of the delay, with me mostly just listening to his stories of his service in the war and challenges since. I was so glad to find a better purpose for that bobblehead.

Another highlight of that trip occurred on my return to Memphis, where I spent the game with a friend and her kids, one of whom just happened to…win an ice cream eating contest! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again—there is much to see and enjoy at a Minor League game, and it extends beyond the playing field.

Julien wins the ice cream contest as Rockey Redbird looks on in AutoZone Park

Rockey Redbird supervised this ice cream eating contest in AutoZone Park in Memphis last June.

When that trip concluded, almost all of the remaining action I saw was in the NY-Penn League. My stats for 2015 were ballgames watched in 11 ballparks in 10 states, with six new ballparks and two new leagues. Will I match that this year? We’ll see. I just know I’ll plan a handful of road games, and look for other game-attending opportunities as they arise.

I was so serious when writing back in July that a ballgame can be the perfect way to fill out an itinerary. We live in a big country, with so much to see and do. The problem, though, is that things are rather spread out and take some effort to reach. When driving in segments and stopping to see different things during the day, Minor League Baseball at ballparks dotted all over the map make a nice, inexpensive way to wind down in the evening.

So, yeah, I’ve looked long and hard at that wall map and have plotted out this coming season’s ballparks trips. I have a rather solid plan for the route of the grander of my 2016 sojourns, one that will again mix some National Park travel with evening ballgames, plus I have my wish list of somewhat more accessible ballparks. As in 2014, my driving route will be more linear, which seemed a little less wearying and allowed covering more ground than the slightly more economical loop path I took last year.

Follow along as I and my 27 Outs Baseball colleagues take in ballgames all over the country. Better yet, plan to take in some game action yourself. Think about a day trip to an active ballpark this spring to help pass the time until the gates start opening throughout the NY-Penn League. I’m planning a few myself before the gates open at the Dutch in the Hudson Valley this June.

Until then, any time I drive on I-84 and pass that ballpark and its barren parking lot surrounded by leafless trees, I can’t help but think about the craft beer kiosk, the taco stand and the strolls along the concourse to see what other fine food fare is on the menu that evening. I would be remiss to leave out the relaxing atmosphere that the Renegades perfectly execute for Minor League Baseball. The need to sit in a seat with a hot dog in one hand and a beer in the other as well as the urge to hear the crack of a bat will only swell from here.

A short excursion to a game in a full-season league is definitely needed, as our NY-Penn League action is still three months away.




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