by Mike McCann
Mike McCann, age 25, has been a baseball fan as long as he can remember. He has a goal to visit every major and minor league baseball stadium. This regularly-appearing column will follow the progress of "Bunko" and his quest.
I always look forward to Opening Day of the baseball season. It marks the end of winter and the beginning of warmer weather. It means that spring training is finally over and the games actually count again. It also gives me a good excuse to take road trips and see some new places.
I was able to attend the home opener of the Philadelphia Phillies with a few co-workers. This is always a fun event because something interesting always seems to happen. I think that Phillies catcher Mike Lieberthal sums up it up best, "It wouldn't be Philly if guys didn't run out on the field and have fights in the upper deck." I was at the opening game in 1998 where fans threw their promotional giveaway schedule magnets onto the field. But this is the city that is known for booing Santa Claus, so nothing surprises me.
This year, there was a different surprise...rain. The rain was coming down pretty steadily just before the scheduled 1:05 start during the ceremony to retire Jim Bunning's number 14. It also caused the game to be delayed two hours. Luckily, we had seats under the overhang in left-center field, so we stayed dry. It was slightly chilly, but being dry was my main concern.
The game turned out to be pretty good (although I would have been happier if the score was reversed). Phillies starting pitcher Randy Wolf had a little trouble finding the plate. The Phillies did have a few comeback attempts, but the Cubs were able to thwart them all. The final score was Cubs over the Phillies by a score of 3-2. The only good part was that the game ended around 6, and I only had to walk across the street to attend a Philadelphia Phantoms minor league hockey game that began at 7.
A few days later, I was able to do something that I had always wanted to do, but hadn't previously had the opportunity. I was able to attend the first home game of a new franchise. The Lakewood Blue Claws were the new Phillies affiliate in the South Atlantic League. This is the minor league team that played in Fayetteville, NC last year and moved to Lakewood, NJ for the 2001 season.
Once again, the rain played a factor. I left work a little early so I could make it to Lakewood for the 6:35 start. By game time, it was raining pretty hard. But this was a new team in its first home game, so a little rain wasn't going to stop it. And since I had been looking forward to this game for months, it was going to stop me either.
I was only able to get general admission lawn seats. But like most of the 7,512 fans that were in attendance, I stood on the concourse under the overhang. The game itself was an adventure. It seemed like every at-bat was a walk, strikeout or a batter reaching base on an error. In the top of the 5th inning, a Hickory Crawdad batter was hit by a pitch, which had slipped from the pitcher's hand. To avoid having any more players hurt, the game was called with Lakewood leading, 3-2. In the minor leagues, games are suspended when interrupted by rain, and continued at a later date. This is unlike the major leagues where if a game is called before five complete innings, the game is started over like it never happened. I never understood that one. The game was completed the next day as a 3-2 Lakewood victory. Interestingly, Lakewood pitcher Keith Bucktrot pitched a no-hitter in the regularly scheduled game, which was played after the completion of the suspended game.
GPU Energy Park in Lakewood is pretty nice. I definitely recommend seeing it. It is very similar to Raley Field in Sacramento. There are nice lawn areas in left and right field where people can sit on the grass and watch the game. The proximity to Philadelphia, New York City and the Jersey Shore will help them draw many fans to their games. I just wish that they would find a better way to let cars exit the parking lot.
I'm really glad that I was able to attend this game. I will persevere through the cold and rain to see something like this. The team did offer a ticket to another game for fans with Opening Day tickets to thank them for braving the rain and seeing the game. But I am definitely going to hold onto my ticket since there is only one inaugural game.
I really hope that the weather starts improving for me. I don't want to deal with the rain and cold all season. But the important thing is that I can now increase my total to 31 with my visit to Lakewood. And I'm sure I will see many more games this year.
I'll do my best to keep you informed of my travels. Hope you are able to get out to a game yourself soon.
Mike is always looking for people to attend baseball games with him, so if you are interested, please contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Learn more about Bunko's quest to visit every major and minor league stadium: http://minorleaguesource.com/baseball.html
Visit Mike McCann's minor league history Web page: http://minorleaguesource.com/minor.html