Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Yanks among men

The winding and endless drive up Montage Mountain Road was just building suspense. In actuality, my expectations were not high. It was minor league baseball after all. And yet, upon arrival, I realized this was going to be something worth seeing. Tucked under a cliff wall in a valley in Moosic, Pennsylvania sits PNC Field, the home of the Triple A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees.

The game was going to be an afterthought, a sideshow to the experience and fun that can be provided at baseball which isn't played for paychecks and television. The venue was the opening act. For anyone who thought minor league stadiums couldn't be elegant or pretty, that myth is debunked. The stadium isn't big, supplying a "good" seat no matter where you are. This includes the grille and bar area resting atop the right field bullpen or the restaurant down the first base line with picturesque windows spanning its length, looking out onto the field.

There are no seats in the outfield because none are needed. Instead, the outfield wall is backed by cliffs of rock rolling down from a hill high above. This would be the backdrop for the fireworks display put on after the game had ended, the closing act to the entire production.

Of course the game itself cannot be completely overlooked. A great seat just a few rows behind the home dugout, for a price that would barely buy a bleacher seat in the Majors. That was where we were placed to watch the players that make up Triple A baseball, the veterans who were never quite good enough, the prospects who are not good enough just yet and the players who love the game who still think they might have another chance at the big show.

One of the top five prospects in the world, Jesus Montero, was supposed to be the prime attraction. He ended with one hit, a drive through the middle. Nothing would be made from this one game. Long and lanky prospect Andrew Brackman was also on my radar. Having a terrible time of things in the season so far, he closed out the ballgame surrendering no runs yet adding to his already inflated walk total. The final man on my notes to keep an eye on was one of the Yankees' opponents that night, hitting prospect Lonnie Chisenhall. However, he got the night off nursing some injuries, awaiting his call to the Majors that may come within the next few weeks.

The game's stars ended up being some former Major League players who found themselves back in Triple A. Former Oakland A's pitcher Greg Smith was the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre starter this night and although he could barely touch 80 on the radar gun, he was confounding players all night long. He left the game allowing just a single hit and no runs.

The hitting star was not the big bopping Jorge Vazquez nor was it former Yankee favorite and current Columbus Clipper Shelley Duncan. Instead, one-time Major League fourth outfielder Greg Golson got the big double, the winning run as it were, since the Clippers were not able to scratch anything through all evening.

In the end, the experience was tremendous, one that cannot be topped by seeing the "real thing" in a Major League park because the actions cannot be duplicated. In no park would little children be allowed to announce the next batters up to the plate. They would not allow a man to propose to his girlfriend on the field during a mid-inning game. Heck, we couldn't even come inside with our boxes of candy that we got from the car parked just outside, free of charge.

It is not the best players playing the game at its highest level but it certainly is a lot of fun. The night wasn't about building television ratings. It was about the fans, the children, the scene, the stadium, the fireworks win or lose and watching those athletes, some playing in the hopes of reaching that next level and others knowing they never will.

(Image courtesy of sportslogos.net)

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