I have mentioned before that my Dad would take us to see minor league baseball games as a relatively inexpensive form of family fun. Due to the fact that I moved a lot as a kid, I saw a few minor league teams with my Dad. I got to see games with the Charlotte Orioles, Savannah Braves, and Columbus Astros (that’s Columbus, Georgia). My Dad and I were even planning to attend an exhibition game between the Charlotte Orioles and the Baltimore Orioles in 1980. Sadly, our plans were dashed when the Major League Baseball folks went on strike. Shortly afterward, we moved from Charlotte to Savannah. We saw a few more games together before I graduated from high school.
Life went on for my Dad and me. Over the years that followed, I would join the Navy (and get out). I got married (twice). I also moved 1000 miles away from my home state of Georgia (also twice). I have welcomed four children into my life between 1988 and 1993. I have also bade several loved ones farewell (including my mother in 2006). Like many others in the world, I have tried to create memories with my wife and kids. I have also, like many others, tried to relive the great memories I had as a kid with my own kids.
Dad and I never went to another ball game together after I graduated high school. Stranger still, I spent more than 20 years living in the same city and never took myself or my family to a minor league game. This is in spite of the fact that I went to see the Atlanta Braves twice in 2007 with some extended family. This was just downright shameful. The Rochester Red Wings have some very distinguished alumni: Boog Powell, Cal Ripken (Junior AND Senior), Jim Palmer, and Mike Boddicker. One Red Wings Hall of Famer, Bobby Bonner, went from the Rochester Red Wings to the Baltimore Orioles to Zambia, Africa where he now serves as a missionary.
I looked at my wife one day and said “We should go to a Red Wings game”. Next thing you know, my wife and two younger kids are joining me at Frontier Field. It was a nice cool summer evening. We bought programs. My wife bought pompoms (of all things). I couldn’t believe they would actually sell pompom at a baseball game. I wasn’t about to complain. I had been looking forward to this night for a while. We bought the obligatory soft ice cream in a helmet cup for the kids. We also bought drinks and the even more obligatory peanuts. The peanuts had been under a heat lamp. As I felt the heat from the bag, I felt that I was, at that very point, officially AT the game.
We had great seats 10 rows up from the field, between home plate and first base. I sat between my wife, Renee, and our daughter Brianna. Our son, Caleb, sat on the other side of Renee. The first inning had just started between the Rochester Red Wings and the Gwinnett Braves. Several innings passed and the Red Wings played to an enthusiastic crowd. At one point between innings, some Red Wings t-shirts were thrown into the crowd. I caught one and gave it to Caleb (it was too small to fit my “larger” frame). At another point between innings, The Red Wings Mascots (Spikes and Mittsy) threw foam balls into the crowd. I had my sights set on catching one to give to Brianna. I barely missed it and a gentleman behind me caught it. He graciously gave it to me to give to my daughter. Chivalry is not dead in Frontier Field.
Then there were the vendors. For the most part, the vendors were quite typical. They roved the stadium offering beer, peanuts, popcorn, and cotton candy. One vendor, however, was not so typical. He wore a Conehead cap on his head. If you had any doubt about his name, it was on his name tag and the back of his shirt: Conehead. I saw several patrons order beer to which Conehead enthusiastically served. “You got the Conehead guarantee. You won’t get a warm beer from me or you get your drink FOR FREE!”. He then politely thanked his customer and went his way. One girl sitting near us seemed either fascinated or frightened by Conehead. Any time he walked near this little girl, her eyes followed him until he was out of eyeshot.
The Red Wings had some fine batters going up to the plate. We enjoyed cheering on center fielder Jason Pridie, catcher Drew Butera, and left fielder Dustin Martin. Most of all, Brianna and I especially enjoyed watching shortstop Trevor Plouffe. We would say his name and giggle whenever he went up to bat (“PLOOF” hee hee). The Red Wings had earned a lead in the score briefly. Not much later, the Gwinnett Braves got ahead of them. Still, there was hope that the Red Wings could regain their lead.
Then, at the top of the seventh inning, it happened. Gwinnett Brave right fielder Reid Gorecki hit a fly ball. As the ball reached the apex of its arc, the crowd let out an audible “OHHHHHHHH!” Exactly as our collective interjection predicted, the ball landed over the fence. Gorecki had hit his second home run of the night. This created an 8-6 lead from which the Red Wings did not recover. The game ended. Brianna acquired an autograph from Dustin Martin, Spikes, Mittsy, and Trevor Plouffe. Caleb also got his t-short autographed by Mr. Plouffe (“PLOOF” hee hee).
The night was capped off by a phenomenal fireworks display. A beautiful mosaic of colors lit up the sky as our ears were treated to classic top 40 tunes. After it was over we made our way to the minivan. Everyone told me they had a great time. Brianna kissed my cheek and told me it was worth skipping out on a senior night function. I had done it. I had taken one of my magic memories with my Dad and shared it with my family.
In closing, I want to thank my wife and kids for sharing this great night with me. I can’t wait to do it again. Thanks to Spikes, Mittsy, Dustin Martin, and Trevor Plouffe for the autographs. Lastly, thanks to the Rochester Red Wings and the Gwinnett Braves for a great game. I look forward to seeing some of you in the majors someday. Y’all might be minor league players but there was nothing minor about that night.