I went to a baseball game and no history happened. But I’ll get to that in a minute.
We’ve arrived at the All-Star Break. Last year, I marked the occasion with a pair of posts. I’ll keep it to one this year.
I pointed out that this is the time of year when fans of the under-performing teams begin obsessively watching trade rumors, waiting for the one that will give them hope for next year. What I didn’t mention is that fans of the teams on the edge of making the playoffs are obsessively watching trade rumors, waiting for the one that will give them hope for this year.
So far this year, both groups are still waiting. The only trade with potential major impact was between the As (currently the best record in baseball and the runaway favorite to make the playoffs) and the Cubs (currently the fifth worst record in baseball).* Things should be heating up this week before the frenzy next week leading to the trade deadline.
* Yes, the Cubs are in the first group–under-performing teams–and their fans did get some hope in their acquisition of Addison Russell. However, he’s now their second top prospect at shortstop, a position where they already have a good player. That means if they get a significant boost from Russell, it’s because both of the others flamed out–hardly desirable. More likely, the actual gain will be from a future trade, either of Russell himself, or one of the other two when Russell becomes the full-time shortstop. Either way, there’s a modicum of hope, but it’s a deferred hope, and likely deferred beyond next year.
I also wrote about the joys of the Home Run Derby. It’s not so much the home run hitters, it’s the kids chasing the balls that provide most of the fun and excitement. Last year’s Derby was good in that respect. This year was amusing, but not as good as last year. I think the kids had a touch of World Cup Fever. A lot of flops and slides on the wet-thanks-to-rain grass, but not much “will the ball be caught?” drama.
The Derby isn’t baseball, but it helps get through the lack of meaningful games. The actual All-Star game is tonight. That is baseball. Meaningless, like preseason games, but at least the quality of play is (usually) better than any random preseason game. Tomorrow and Thursday are off days, and the season resumes Friday. So what do we do for baseball Wednesday and Thursday? Well, there are always the minor leagues.
Which brings us back to that baseball game I mentioned in the first paragraph.
The San Jose Giants are, as you could probably have guessed, a minor league team in the San Francisco Giants’ system. They’re a “Class A Advanced” team*, meaning that they’re several steps away from the majors.
* The current classifications are, in descending order of presumed skill and readiness for the majors, Triple-A, Double-A, Class A Advanced, Class A, Class A short season, and Rookie. In the past there were fewer types of “A” teams, and there were “B,” “C”, and “D” leagues. I’ll just note that baseball reflects the society around it, and as such, grade inflation and peer promotion are inescapable.
There is an element of truth in that joke, but it is, as with most of baseball’s long and checkered history, more complicated than that. Maybe I’ll do a post on the Great Minor League Reorganization of ’63 one of these days.
As an A league team, the SJ Giants are not playing in a fancy park like the parent club’s. San Jose Municipal Stadium seats less than 6,000 people, and it looks about half that big. Ignore the small video screen over the right field fence, and it could almost be a small-town stadium from an old movie: small dimensions, painted advertisements on the fences, and an outfield that hasn’t been sculpted to millimetric tolerances.
Since the players are young, the quality of play sometimes leaves a bit to be desired. “Sure” double-play balls aren’t sure at all, flies that look eminently catchable to the eye accustomed to big league play fall untouched, and errant pitches fly past catchers with alarming regularity.
But the teams make up for it in other ways. The small size of the stadium means that even the cheap seats* are closer to the field than 95% of the seats at a major league park.
* And they are cheap. Non-discounted seats for tomorrow’s game start at $11. The major league club changes prices depending on who the opponent is and how far in advance you buy. As of this writing, the cheapest seats for the SF Giants’ first home game after the break are $56.25.
Even in the last row of seats, you’re close enough to really hear the action: the sound of bat hitting ball, ball hitting glove, and–when sufficiently provoked by a bad call–chin hitting ground in disbelief.
And the team takes advantage of the intimate nature of the venue to do things that couldn’t be done at a major league park. In the big leagues, video screens keep attendees occupied between innings by showing “fan cams,” “dot races,” and highlights of other games–sometimes even other sports. The San Jose club is strictly analog in its between-inning distraction. They drive a truck onto the field, and let players throw baseballs at it: any player who breaks a headlight gets $20.00 and a pre-selected fan wins a coupon for auto parts. Four spectators are invited onto the field to play Musical Chairs, with the winner getting movie tickets. A fan throws rolls of toilet paper at the team mascot, who is seated in a Porta-Potty (I never did hear what the fan won).
OK, maybe some of the activities aren’t in the greatest of taste, but they’re still doing better than “Captain Morgan” and a bevy of half-dressed young women throwing T-shirts into the stands while a video urges spectators to drink responsibly. (Yes, this really happened at an As’ game–and, I’ve heard, several other major league parks–a couple of years ago.)
As you move up the ranks from A to AA to AAA, the quality of play improves, and the off-field “product” and ticket prices start to look more like the majors as well. But that just means you can choose your level. There are teams affiliated with one of the MLB clubs in 42 American states (and one in British Columbia: the Vancouver Canadians, a Class A short season affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays). If you need a baseball fix to get you through the next two days, you could do far, far worse than to check out the closest minor league team.
I should note that the game itself, as you might expect, wasn’t a highly-polished performance by either team, but the Giants beat their arch-nemesis*, Stockton, 8-4. The Giants built a 7-0 lead before giving up four runs in the eighth inning: thrills and chills; we wondered if that eighth was ever going to end.
* In Class A, every opposing team is your arch-nemesis, standing between you and the development of the skills you need to move up to the next level.
A good time was had by all. Well, except for Stockton and its supporters, but since they won the other three games that weekend, they can’t complain too much. It was a pleasant evening in the sun with an exciting game. No history was made, but how much history does one need in any given season? Baseball is its own compensation.