There is something very patriotic about seeing baseball on the 4th of July. And even if you are not a big baseball fan, a visit to minor league park is worth the trip. I am lucky to have a team less than fifteen minutes from my home. My wife and I have made it a point to attend the July 4 game at Joseph Bruno Stadium in Troy, NY as our celebration of independence. For less than $11, you can sit four rows behind the on-deck circle and get to see talented ballplayers hoping to make the big leagues someday. Will it be Daz Cameron, son of former major leaguer Mike Cameron? How about Steven Wrenn, who's father, Steve, played minor league ball in the late 1960s? For many of the players, fresh out of college, this league is their first professional gig; they are getting paid to play baseball. The reality, however, is that very few will make it to the majors, let alone move up another rung in the minor league system. In the fifteen seasons of the Tri City Valleycats, 44 players have made it to the majors, players such as Dallas Keuchel, the 2015 American League Cy Young Award winner and Ben Zobrist, who last year played for the World Champion Royals and this season is with the first place Cubs.
I always keep score at these games, then store the program in the basement. In a few years, I'll pull out the scorecard to see if any of the names made it. Sadly, there are many disappointing scorecards. The "Joe", the area nickname for the ballpark, hosted the 2008 New York Penn League All Star game, which I attended. The only names I recognized from my scorecard that night were the d'Arneau brothers, Travis, who plays for the Mets, and Chase, who is with the Braves.
But on this night - July 4th, 2016, none of that matters; the Valleycats are playing the State College Spikes, an affiliate of the St Louis Cardinals. And it's a perfect night for baseball and post game fireworks. Not too many firework venues offer a comfortable chair, hot dogs for $2.50 and a cup holder for adult libations.
In tonight's game, runs were scored early, with the Spikes leading most of the night. Of course, in a minor league park, the game serves as filler for what happens in between innings, when various promotions are rolled out on the field. There is Southpaw, the Valleycats' mascot, racing a 10 year old boy around the bases. Southpaw always seems to lose by a step or two. Then there is a game of musical chairs, with an obnoxious chicken (well, someone in a chicken suit), who cheats and always wins, becoming the park villain in the process and a great reminder to go get some tenders or a "spiedie" at the concession stand. And finally, there is the Condiment Race and poor Relish, who never wins. Tonight, he has a healthy lead on Ketchup and Mustard when a giant ketchup bottle jumps out of the stands and tackles Relish, allowing Ketchup to win. Relish has been America's most under-appreciated condiment for many years. Hokey? You bet, but it's good, clean family fun; 21st century vaudeville. Meanwhile, back to the game, the Spikes take a two run lead to the bottom of 9th. With two outs and a runner on for the Valleycats, Taylor Jones, a product of Gonzaga University, cracked a mighty blast to center that had the fans on their feet. But the ball died in the night air, falling just short of a game tying home run, and the home team lost 9-7.
But that's still OK, because now we have fireworks. Synched to a mix of pop, country and patriotic music, the 20 minute display is the perfect way to conclude our nation's 240th birthday. Maybe for the 241th, Relish will reign.