“Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball, the rules and realities of the game — and do it by watching first some high school or small-town teams.” -Jacques Barzun
During a recent Royals television broadcast, they showed an assumed father and son who were holding up a sign showing their 12-city baseball tour that they are currently on.
It included stops in Denver, Kansas City, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis, Milwaukee and Seattle.
As fun as this sounds, I think I’d rather take a tour of minor league and independent league cities, or maybe even local high school and college teams.
I’m not after the best product on the field. I’m after an experience. I want to hear what the locals chant as their slugger comes to the plate. I want to see how their mascots interact with fans. I want to hear stories about players from bygone eras. And I want to see the quirky offerings from various stadiums.
I’ve driven by a stadium in Sioux City, Iowa a couple of times. It belongs to an independent team in the American Association. Lewis & Clark Park holds just 3,800 fans and, according to this article, has a Catholic priest as a play-by-play guy. I don’t know if he’s still calling games for the Sioux City Explorers – a team that is affectionately referred to as the X’s, but I’d definitely bring a radio just in case.
As a kid, I used to follow the Omaha Royals. They played in the American Association, but back then it was affiliated ball, rather than an independent league. I pulled up AA’s website recently and saw that there are a number of independent teams in the league within driving distance of my home. I could make a dream trip out of just this league,
Here are the rest of the stop I’d make:
The Sioux Falls Canaries play just a bit farther up the road on I-29 in a stadium that holds 4,500 people.
The team’s PA announcer, Dan Christopherson, is known for being comedic. In fact, during one promotion (an open tryout that would have allowed nine people to play in an exhibition – but only five people showed up, so they all played), Christopherson gave at least one of them such an enthusiastic introduction that it embarrassed the player. I think I’d go to a Canaries game just to hear the PA guy.
The Lincoln Saltdogs play just sixty miles from where I live but I’ve never been to one of their games. They play in Haymarket Park (capacity: 4,500), where the University of Nebraska plays. I’ve been to a Nebraska game there and the place is electric because it’s usually packed. The team is playing well right now, boasting the best record in the league at 43-23.
I read a story recently about a former Saltdogs season ticket holder who has been diagnosed with Myositis and one of his last wishes was to attend one more Saltdogs game. The team partnered with a hospital to make it happen. And not only did they make it happen, but they also put him and his family and friends up in a special skybox suite.
Knowing this makes me want to take in a Saltdogs game.
The Wichita Wingnuts play in historic Lawrence–Dumont Stadium which was built in 1934 and was the previous home of the College World Series (for one year, in the 1949 season). As a journalist who has covered the CWS in Omaha multiple times, I’d love to see its former home, even though it has been renovated. And it looks like it’s due for another renovation. It currently has one of those quirky artificial turf infields and grass outfields. I sort of hope they keep it that way.
The Salina Stockade stand out because they have the worst record, by far, in the AA, going just 10-56 in 2017. But that wouldn’t keep me from visiting Dean Evans Stadium. It has picnic tables located next to the dugouts. And a quaint little press box that resembles ones you see in high school football stadiums. The dugouts sit above ground, which is an odd sight, and there’s a ton of foul territory on both sides of the field. I couldn’t find the capacity online but the grandstand looks tiny. That would make for an intimate atmosphere.
Finally, I’d like to make a visit to CommunityAmerica Park, home of the Kansas City T-Bones. It holds a capacity of 6,250 fans. That seems a bit too big for independent baseball in my opinion. But this mom loved attending a game there so much that she wrote a top 10 post about her experience. They have a promotion which offers a random fan $100,000 of a T-Bones player hits a home run through a bull’s eye on a sign in left field. According to this article, it’s only happened once in 14 seasons.
Maybe I’ll find a way to make this little six-city tour happen one day. How about you? Do you have a dream baseball tour in mind?