I was quoted in today’s York Sunday News.
Yesterday I attended the York Revolution Fan Fest, an exhibition game and concert put on annually before the start of the season for the local independent league baseball team. I attended the 2013 Fan Fest, but not last year’s, and since yesterday was forecast to be a lovely and sunny day and I had no pressing plans, I decided Friday afternoon to go. For five dollars, why not?
The afternoon’s concert was performed by an up-and-coming country music singer, Dakota Bradley. Country music isn’t really my thing, and I ran out to the restroom. Before I made my way back to my seat, I stopped to check my phone (which had been making notification sounds for about an hour — turns out it was updating stuff pretty much all day yesterday), and a reporter for the York Sunday News stopped me and asked if I’d mind being interviewed for a piece he was working on.
I was up for that.
The questions ran something like this.
How many Revolution games did you attend last year? One. But the previous year I’d attended nine or ten.
Are you interested in minor league baseball? Oh, yes, I have a mini-plan with the Senators up in Harrisburg.
What brought you out today? It’s a lovely day, and baseball is made for lovely days.
What do you think is the appeal of coming out to a Revs game? Baseball is a game of the generations, it’s something that parents share with their children, and you see grandparents who grew up with Brooks Robinson with their adult aged children and the adult-aged children with their young children.
Do you know who plays for the Revs? I know a couple of names (Mark Mason, the manager; Corey Thurman, the long-tenured pitcher), and beyond that I really don’t. (It occurred to me later that I could have named a few more, like former Orioles farmhand Rommie Lewis.)
And there were a couple more questions. The reporter noted that I was wearing a Nationals baseball cap (which marked me as an outlier as most of the caps I saw on fans were Revolution caps; there were only a handful of MLB caps), and we talked about that a little bit.
The article in today’s paper, for which the interview as a part of, was good. The reporter talked to several people about how they feel about the beginning of the season. On Opening Day, every team has hope. On Opening Day, every team is tied. On Opening Day, you think your team can go all the way.
The Revolution are an unaffiliated minor league team in the Atlantic League. Unlike the organized minor leagues — AAA, AA, the A-levels, Rookie Ball — the players in the Atlantic League aren’t prospects. These are players who didn’t get drafted. Or maybe they’re players who who were nothing more than organizational guys in the affiliated minors. Or maybe they’re players who got a cup of coffee and never got another because of suspect skills or injuries. Or maybe they’re players who played in the majors and had a career there and still feel like they have something to contribute. These are players looking for another chance. What they have in common is a love for baseball and a desire to play the game at a high level. It’s the “last chance league,” former NPR newsman Neal Conan’s description of the Atlantic League in his book Play By Play.
The pre-game concert, as I mentioned, was by Dakota Bradley. I don’t have an opinion, really. I wasn’t familiar with his music coming in, and I can’t say I had a great feel for it coming out. I thought his melodies were fine, his voice was fine (though I think his accent was a sham), but his lyrics I felt were a little trite. It wasn’t my style of music, but it was clearly performed well, and the audience seemed to like it, and that’s what really matters.
The exhibition game that followed was with the Somerset Patriots. The Patriots play in New Jersey somewhere, and I think they were the Atlantic League champions last year or the year before. The Patriots had two familar names on their roster — Chris Marrero and Tyler Herron. Marrero was a former Washington National; he was one of their top prospects, received a call-up to the majors in 2011, and saw his career derailed by injury before he was released. Herron pitched for the Harrisburg Senators during the 2013 season.
Because this was a spring training game, it was played under slightly different rules. To get additional work in for batters, each team had a line-up of ten men (an “Extra Hitter” in addition to the Designated Hitter), and even if the Revs were winning after the top of the ninth the bottom of the ninth would be played.
There’s not really a lot to say about the game. (I took my notebook to take notes on the play-by-play, but then saw no reason to.) It was, ultimately, a spring training game, as much to get work in for the players as it was to get the stadium staff ready for the season. Corey Thurman pitched for three innings and Mason went to his bullpen, much as you’d expect in a spring training game. The Patriots scored first in the second. The Revs plated four runs in the bottom of the fourth (or was it the fifth?) in what was a comedy of errors (Somerset’s pitcher kept getting to two-strike counts and was unable to get an out), Somerset got a run back in the sixth (or was it the seventh?), and in the bottom of the ninth (when a regulation game would have already been over), Eric Patterson hit a home run over the center field wall.
The truth is, I attended three baseball games last week (Sunday’s Harrisburg Senators game, Denard Span’s rehab start in Harrisburg on Tuesday, and this one), and this was the game I was least engaged by. By the fourth inning, I wanted to go home.
I didn’t. I stayed until the end, though I walked around the park in the late innings. That gave me time to think and ask myself, “Why am I not having fun?”
The feeling of disengagement certainly wasn’t because of the crowd; the crowd in York is passionate about the Revs in a way that I’ve never seen before, and despite the small crowd size they were engaged and enthusiastic in ways that I’m not used to seeing in Harrisburg. Nor was it the stadium; Santander Stadium is nice though, despite some quirks like the left field wall (the Arch Nemesis), a bit sterile and lacking in character. (Heck, I sat vastly closer to the field yesterday than I typically do in Harrisburg.)
Was it the gameplay? A little bit, actually. Not because this was an exhibition game that didn’t matter. It was the feeling that all of this didn’t matter. Go back to what I said about this being a “last chance league.” Twenty-five guys, give or take, took the field yesterday. Maybe one of them will get the second chance at organized baseball that so many of them want. Maybe. The odds against them are long, they are pursuing a dream that may already be impossible. Yet, I applaud them for their determination. We should all have the courage to pursue our impossible dreams.
A big reason? Cannonball Charlie. The Revs have a mascot dressed up a Revolutionary War soldier (in honor of the city’s Revolution War heritage as a capital of the United States after Philadelphia was abandoned to the British) who fires off a cannon at the beginning of the game, after every Revs home run, and after every Revs victory. To be frank, the cannon’s boom, even though I know it’s coming, triggers an unsettling panic attack. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that was why I only went to one game last year. I would think about going to a game, but the more I thought about it, the less I would want to, and so I didn’t.
But even Cannonball Charlie isn’t the reason.
I felt unwelcome.
On my walk around the stadium in the late innings, I went to the area behind center field. There’s a kids playground there with a merry-go-round, and I turned to take a look at the action on the field. I heard someone say, “Traitor.”
I realized that it was directed at me, and I turned in the direction of the voice and said, “What?”
It was a Revs employee or volunteer. “Traitor,” he repeated again.
I realized he was talking about my choice of attire. In addition to my Nationals baseball cap, I was wearing a navy blue Harrisburg Senators t-shirt. I shrugged. “I don’t own any Revs gear,” I said, “but I wanted to wear something baseball today.”
This began a conversation that went on for about ten minutes. (And I’m going to be deliberately vague; if someone from the Revolution somehow reads this, I don’t want this person to get in any trouble for giving me a hard time and making me feel unwelcome.) He wanted to know about Harrisburg’s Metro Bank Park (he said he had never been there). “What about the mayflies?” I laughed off City Island’s mayflies, and told him I got one in my eye two years ago (which is true, and it hurt like hell for a week). The conversation was quite civil, though he was taken aback when I talked with great animation about going up to Harrisburg for two games earlier in the week. I did, however, tone down some of my enthusiasm for the Senators and their park. I understood completely why he called me a “traitor”; this was Fan Fest, this was a day to show one’s loyalty to the York Revolution tribe, and not only am I wandering around aimlessly in the midst of the game but I’m not even wearing the right tribal colors. Never mind that the Senators and the Revolution play in different leagues and don’t compete. I might as well have been a Cubs fan at the Cell.
I think we parted on good terms, the Revs employee and I, but this wasn’t the first time where I’d been made to feel unwelcome at a Revs game for wearing the “wrong colors.” (The first time, I was wearing a Nationals polo shirt, because I’d come straight to the game from the office, and that was what I was wearing that day.) The problem is, I’ve looked in the team store over the past two years, and I’ve simply not seen anything I’d really want to wear. That limits one’s ability to dress like a native.
The point, there was a perfect storm that made me feel less than engaged with yesterday’s game. It was a perfect day, and I should have had fun, but I was unsettled by Cannonball Charlie, made to feel unwelcome by an employee of the team, and was less then engaged by a meaningless exhibition game.
My, that was a litany of woe.
Now, I was honest with the York Sunday News reporter when I told him that I was hoping to get to more Revolution games this year. I bought a 13-game plan for the Senators for this year, and I considered buying a 9-game plan for the Revolution on Cyber-Monday. There was a reason why I didn’t; none of the tickets were transferable as they are with my Senators plan. That was what kept me from pulling the trigger. Instead, I plan on buying tickets as I did two years ago; if I have nothing to do that evening and I want to see a baseball game, I’ll buy a ticket at the office, print it off, and go.
Anyway, the York Revolution Fan Fest. It was a beautiful day. There was baseball. Opening Day in York is this week, Thursday I think.
There you have it.