a minor passion


Baseball: Minor-league teams and ballparks offer a cheap, pleasurable evening for families and fans

A fans' guide to the parks

April 08, 1999|By Stephanie Shapiro | Stephanie Shapiro,Sun Staff

On a sweet spring night alive with baseball dreams, I'd rather see Myron Noodleman moonwalk across the field than Albert Belle swat a homer, any day. I'd rather stretch my legs across the seat in front at Prince George's Stadium than be shoehorned into a Camden Yards box seat. And I'd rather let my mind drift beyond the game than cheer at a digital billboard's command.

You could say I'm minor league. A night at the Bowie Baysox, the Frederick Keys or the Delmarva Shorebirds appeals in a way that an expensive evening at the Yard does not. It probably has as much to do with cultural encoding as anything. I didn't grow up in a small town, play Little League or have a paper route; yet I'm entranced by the trace amounts of primal Americana found today in places like Harry Grove Stadium, where fans jingle their keys and sing "We're the Frederick Keys" during the seventh-inning stretch.

It may be that the minors' mythopoeic charms are just as calculated as the majors', but the price, the intimacy and the buoyant corniness have seduced me into believing that this is baseball as it was intended to be experienced.

For parents, trekking with kids to a minor-league park is a comparative piece of cake. The price of admission is lower, of course, and you don't have to choose between a hot dog and a tuition payment. At all three Maryland Baseball minor-league stadiums, admission is free for kids 6 to 12 who wear their sports team uniforms to the park. And each stadium has a "kids only" concession stand where every item costs $1.

The sheer scale of minor league is more human, too. Rarely is the stadium so crowded that you can't pick your own seat. A parent can easily sit back, watch the game, daydream and let the children rove the stands. You can follow them with your eyes from one end of the stadium to another.

And the players are right there. Even those destined for the big leagues look hungry and hopeful. They aren't above interacting with the between-inning talent, messing with the mascot or signing autographs at the end of the game. And they don't have big price tags pinned to their sleeves, so if they flub a play or strike out, there's no hard feelings.

As a way of competing with restaurants, movies and other affordable amusements, minor-league systems have put a lot of energy into entertainment that ranges from game-show contests to simulated sumo wrestling in pneumatic Michelin-man suits. There is debate as to whether these events overshadow the real product -- baseball -- but I confess that I'm fascinated by this endless stream of low-budget silliness. The flying-disc dog, the hokey theme songs, the mascots (Slugger of the Portland Sea Dogs and Champ, the Lake Champlain monster, of the Vermont Expos are personal favorites): They thwart my cynical radar with stunning ease.

At the moment, a photograph of one of these between-inning vaudevillians occupies a place of honor in our home. With his thickly painted eyebrows, high-water pants and pigeon toes, Myron Noodleman is a cross between Groucho Marx and Jerry Lewis. Being a nerd extraordinaire is his shtick.

Last summer at a Bowie Baysox game, Noodleman picked a signal war with the first-base coach, coaxed the grounds crew into a rousing "YMCA" and pranced through the crowd, pointed to fans and blathered imbecilely: "You da man!" Later, the same fans queued to get Myron's autographed publicity still for $1.

Myron's scheduled to perform next at a Baysox game on April 23. Not sure I'll make it. Not to worry, there are plenty of other events to look forward to this year: a bubble-gum-blowing contest, Youth Soccer Night, Dollar Dog Day, Elvis Night, '70s Disco Lives Again! Night.

I know it doesn't really matter to you, Albert, but my faint baseball heart calls minor league home.

A fans' guide to the parks

Bowie Baysox

Classification: Double-A

When founded: 1993

League: Eastern

Affiliation: Baltimore Orioles

Owners: Peter Kirk, Pete Simmons, Hugh Schindel, John Daskalakis and Frank Perdue

Season: April 9-Sept. 6

First home game: Tomorrow

Mascot: Louie

Stadium: Prince George's Stadium

Location: 4101 N.E. Crain Highway, Bowie

Capacity: 10,000

When built: 1994

Special features: Playground, carousel, picnic area. The Chesapeake Room is available for exclusive gatherings with a crab feast, carving station dinner or ballpark buffet.

Food highlights: Specialty beer stand with local microbrews; Diamond View Restaurant with a carving station, pasta dishes, salad bar and fresh fruit

Price of a hot dog: $2; $1 for kids (all kids' foods are a buck)

Nights not to miss: Giveaways include magnet schedules on April 9-10. Bubble Gum Blowing Contest is April 11; Boehmer Family Jugglers appear May 14; Louie's birthday is June 20, with a mascot game where all the mascots play each other. Fireworks every Thursday and Saturday

Tickets: $4-$15; children 5 and under free; children 6-12 wearing a team jersey of their organized athletic team admitted free

Call: 301-805-6000 or 800-956-4004

Web site: http://www.baysox. com

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.