“I want my yoga pants to smell like I sweat money.” – Woman in commercial for washing powder.
Greg Howard, my best mate’s father, is a baseball umpire in Australia and for the last few months has been traveling around the U.S. with the goal of seeing a game at every Major League ground in his “Year of Living Basebally.” His daughter and friend of mine, Ursula Howard, had joined him for about a week and half and Tuesday was her last night in town before flying back to Melbourne, Australia on Wednesday. Greg and his wife, Gaynor, were off to Newark, New Jersey, a decision they probably now regret, for a game the next day before heading to Philadelphia, so they thought they would catch some Minor League action before they left and, as I mentioned in my last post, had asked Anna and myself to join them.
I know that, like most sports, in baseball the Minor Leagues act as a feeding system to the Major League, but I had no idea how convoluted the Minor League hierarchy was. I just figured there was Double A and Triple A, sort of like batteries and bra sizes. Boy, I was wrong, as apparently it goes thusly:
- Major League (MLB)
- Class A – Advanced (High A)
- Class A (Low A)
- Class A – Short Season
We were going to see a local derby between the Brooklyn Cyclones and the Staten Island Yankees in a Class A – Short Season match. Yup, you read that correctly, second-last level on that list, but what does that actually mean? I’d be screwed without Wikipedia:
Class A-Short Season, despite sharing the “Class A” designation, is, in fact, a separate classification from Class A. Short Season A teams are slightly more limited than Class A teams with respect to player age and years of experience in professional baseball. As the name implies, these leagues play a shortened season (roughly 75 games), starting in mid-June and ending in early September, with only a few off-days during the season.
There are two short-season leagues, the New York–Penn League and Northwest League. They contain the highest level short-season affiliates for 22 MLB organizations. The affiliates of the remaining eight MLB clubs have their highest level short-season affiliate in either the Appalachian or Pioneer Leagues, which are officially classified as “Rookie” level leagues.
The late start of the season is designed to allow college players to complete their college seasons in the spring, then be drafted, signed, and immediately placed in a competitive league (The MLB First Year Player Draft begins on the first Monday in June). Players in Short Season leagues are a mixture of newly signed draftees and second-year pros who were not ready to move on, or for whom there was not space at a higher level to move up. Second-year pros tend to be assigned to Extended Spring Training in Florida or Arizona during April and May before reporting to their short-season leagues. For many players, Short Season A is the first time they have ever used wooden baseball bats, as aluminum bats are most common in the amateur game. Players are permitted to use certain approved composite bats at this classification to help them make the transition from aluminum to wood bats. This is also often the first time they have played every day for a prolonged basis, as amateur competitions typically regulate the number of games played in a week.
The Brooklyn Cyclones are an affiliate of the New York Mets, while the Staten Island Yankees are an affiliate of the New York Yankees and this game would be played at MCA Park, the Cyclones’ home ground on the Coney Island boardwalk. I really only knew about Coney Island from movies like The Warriors and wasn’t sure if all the rides and roller-coasters were still there, so I was keen to find out and, sure enough, they are. In fact, the Brooklyn team is named after one of the roller-coasters, ‘The Cyclone’. I can’t fit on roller-coasters and would probably get sick if I could, plus everything here looks like a death-trap, but I think Anna and myself might have to make another trip out here one night to check out the boardwalk, it looks pretty cool.
Our night started by making the one-hour train journey to Coney Island and meeting the Howards out the front of the stadium for a few beers. Once we entered we figured that, since it was mine and Anna’s first baseball game, we should get hotdogs, chilli-dogs to be exact. And a baseball helmet full of possibly the best nachos I’ve ever eaten. Dinner was sorted, Greg had paid for the tickets so I bought the food and beer for everyone, but there was one hitch; One can only buy a maximum of two beers at a time, so I had to get Anna over to buy the other two. We both got asked for ID, paid, then took everything back to our seats. I mentioned how I keep getting asked for ID and Greg said it happens to him, too. This is a man who is pushing 60 with more salt than pepper in the hair and faded, old-school Navy tattoos. As others have told me, it is just a precaution and they are covering their asses, but I don’t think anyone in their right mind would look at Greg and think he’s only 20. Twenty-five, maybe, but not twenty.
Apparently, the Minor League teams do little promotions all the time; the following night was going to be Nickelodeon night and the Staten Island Yankees had this Game of Thrones night (right) last Saturday. This particular game that we attended was NYPD Appreciation Night, however, we didn’t get the free donuts I was hoping for or a guest appearance by Detective Sipowicz. They did, however, have a lot of police officers at the game and a special salute to them during the national anthem, so I was a little worried as to what might be going on outside.
We had a great night, despite not really knowing the intricacies of baseball, however, we did get to experience:
- An umpire copping a pitch to the knee due to a rather ordinary catcher
- A batter lose his grip, sending the bat into the stands and hitting some kid in the head
- Some great gimmicks between innings, such as the “Dizzy Bat Race”, where two contestants put a bat each vertically on the ground, place their head on the end, run in circles and then try to sprint to a finish line
- Possibly the most annoying heckler I have ever heard. Maybe hecklers start in the Minor Leagues when they just can’t cut it in the pros, too.
At the bottom of the ninth inning the match was tied, meaning that there was no way of judging how long it would continue and Anna had to work early the next morning so we had to get going. To this day I still don’t know what the score was, but I’d like to thank Greg and Ursula for asking us along, it was such a fun night!