Sunday, July 6, 2014

This (Non) Sporting Life: There's a Large Fuzzy Grasshopper Dancing on the Dugout

It's been awhile since I've posted an installment of This (Non) Sporting Life, the blog post about sports by a guy who does not know much about sports.  So I thought I would dust off this feature by talking about the minor league baseball game I attended with my family last night. 

Our local baseball team is the Greensboro Grasshoppers. Why "Grasshoppers"? There are grasshoppers around here but there's nothing unique about them as it relates to this region. Mostly, it's just alliterative. Before they were the Grasshoppers, they were the Greensboro Bats and trust me, we have way fewer bats around here than we do grasshoppers.  (Oddly enough, I did encounter a bat flitting about the parking garage where I parked my car after leaving a Grasshoppers game a few years ago. Weird.) 

The Grasshoppers play in this really nice 
ballpark that was built about 10 years ago in downtown Greensboro and has been one of those "sports will revitalize downtown" stories that did NOT turn into a boondoggle. Not only is the team itself a successful commercial enterprise but it has inspired development in the center of the city. Some of that took a hit when the big recession hit in 2008 but in the last year or so, there has been an upswing in revitalization and new construction in the downtown area.  

The park itself has the small town charm suited to minor league baseball but the facility itself looks really good and has several amenities including a playground, several dining options and skyboxes. 

The Grasshoppers are a farm team for the Florida Marlins which has been a very effective association for the two teams. The Grasshoppers are not frequently in contention for high rankings and post season play but that has stopped the team from drawing high levels of attendance each season.  

Part of the appeal of minor league baseball is not so much the game itself but all the stuff that goes on between innings. Led by a guy named "Spaz", a jester hat atop his head, inning bridging stuff includes human hamburgers, sumo wrestling, mascot races and more. One year, one of the sponsors was a pest control company so there was a guy dressed as a giant cockroach. The deal was for a fan to chase the cockroach and beat with with a large bat. My daughter got selected for this honor once and...I should mention she really, really, really hates cockroaches. This poor bastard did NOT stand a chance.  

A stand out at the games is the team mascot, Guilford the Grasshopper. The mascot is named for the county Greensboro is in. Guilford is large, green and fuzzy and has more in common with Big Bird than an actual grasshopper. But kids love Guilford who can frequently be found dancing on top of a dugout.  

Another feature at these games are the baseball dogs, trained canines named after Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Yogi Berra. These dogs will fetch loose bats and balls and entertain the crowd by running the bases and pursuing long balls between innings. One thing they have not been completely trained to do is not take a dump on the field. I think there are attempts to train them not to do that but I guess the excitement gets the better of these dogs, I guess. 

My wife, daughter and I like to go on either Friday or Saturday when the ball park puts on a post game fireworks show. It runs maybe a little more than 10 minutes but they pack a lot of really awesome fireworks in those minutes. (Meanwhile, the actual city of Greensboro's 4th of July fireworks show lasts 30 minutes but I would bet its the same amount of fireworks that the Grasshoppers put into their 10 minute show.)  

I understand the Greensboro Grasshoppers have been playing very well and are 2nd in their division. So naturally on the night my family comes to see a game, the Hoppers go down with a score of 5 to 1. Sorry, guys, if we had anything to do with that. 

And that 1 run came in the 9th inning. Man, you would've thought we had won the game. Yeah, the home team may have lost but we didn't get shut out so in your collective faces, the West Virginia Power.  

In the end, the experience of attending a Greensboro Grasshoppers game is not so much if the team wins or loses (although it is better when they win) but about the indescribable pleasure of spending time with other people, watching the game, 
occasionally keeping track of it, laughing at the antics of Spaz, Guilford and the dogs. Meanwhile, the sun paints the western sky red and gold, the dark blue night advances from the east, a cool breeze wafts across the grass. Over the bubbling of voices comes the sharp crack of a bat, a ball arcs through the evening sky and we hold our breaths for either a moan of disappointment or a shout of triumph. 

For a moment the ball spins through the cooling summer air. 

For a moment, anything can happen. 

I'm So Glad My Suffering Amuses You

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