While my friends and family back east were sleeping, the Giants beat the Dodgers 3-2 in Los Angeles. More than 42,000 people were at Dodger Stadium.
Giants-Dodgers is one of the game’s great rivalries, regardless of the standings. I had the good fortune to attend one of their games a few years ago in San Francisco.
A wee bit north, 922 miles to be exact, the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes lost 12-7 to the Spokane Indians. Last season, they averaged 1,897 fans per game, at the bottom of the Northwest League. Their 2,473 average so far this year is an improvement.
But that’s where we were, because baseball is baseball.
The last baseball game I had gone to was the Cubs and Reds last September in Chicago.
Opportunities haven’t been great so far this season, with the last remains of winter finally leaving the Northeast in mid-May.
Unlike last year, the New Hampshire Fisher Cats were on the road on my birthday. They’re about an hour away. The Lowell Spinners are closer, but like the Northwest League, the New York-Penn League is short-season A ball, so they’re also just getting started.
Portland is apparently a pretty good candidate for a Major League Baseball team down the road, with financial backing and ballpark plans already in place. But with the Portland Beavers AAA team no more, if I wanted to see baseball on our trip to Oregon, we’d be seeing some of the newest members of the Giants organization about 35 miles south of where we were staying.
Volcanoes Stadium is off Interstate 5, and getting there requires driving through the Keizer Station shopping center, one of those outdoor malls that sprung up after traditional malls started to go downhill.
Traffic goes by on the highway beyond right field, and trains sometimes pass through, as well. On a clear night, you can see the mountains in the distance.
The dimensions are fairly standard — 325 down the lines, 405 to center — and everything feels tucked-in and cozy.
I’m fussy, anyway, and like my ballpark food traditional, so I got what turned out to be an order of French fries with some chicken tenders thrown in, and my wife Suzi got a hot dog. She was pleased to get an RC Cola.
“I haven’t seen that since college,” she said.
For $20 each, we got tickets four rows behind the Spokane dugout, close enough to hear the chatter, even though most of it didn’t seem to be in English.
Watching the players interact also reminded me that since the season just started, wherever the players were last, they’re still just getting to know each other.
And they’re also still settling in. Early in the game, the PA announcer put out a call for host families. If anyone is interested, check with Gary.
It was 1-0 three pitches into the game, and that was still the score when Salem-Keizer catcher Ricardo Genoves stepped in as the fourth batter in the bottom of the first.
Even though he’s only 20, he’s already in his fourth season as a pro, having played in the Dominican and Arizona leagues before spending last year with the Volcanoes.
For years, being a catcher in the Giants system has been pretty helpless, at least if he had dreams of being a starter, since Buster Posey has had the position on lockdown for the last decade.
But Posey is now 32, and it’s hard to imagine he’ll be the same player in the three or four years it would likely take for someone like Genoves to advance through the minors.
There’s one problem, though, and his name is Joey Bart.
Joey Bart … as in the second pick in last year’s draft, the $7 million signing bonus, the status as the top prospect in the San Francisco organization and No. 19 overall … who was with the Volcanoes last year, meaning he’s on the same track, but a year ahead.
However, maybe Bart won’t work out. Maybe the Giants will decide he’s too good of a hitter to catch. Maybe some other team will notice the Giants have catchers in their system other than Bart.
And if worse comes to worst, Bart is going to need a backup, and as their patron saint, Charlie O’Brien, can tell you, a good backup catcher can play forever.
At the moment, however, the priority was this first-inning at-bat, which ended with a grounder up the middle into a shifted infield, resulting in an inning-ending force at second.
The nice thing about being in a small ballpark is that when we decided to walk around in the fourth inning, we could still watch the game.
As Spokane was scoring seven runs to make it a 9-0 game, I noticed several callbacks to games gone by.
The request for host families, along with the grassy hill down the third base line took me back to the Cape League. Even though here it was mostly a place for children to play, back in Orleans, it was where people would put their chairs and blankets in the morning and come back for the game that night.
Spending a couple minutes hanging out beyond the left field fence reminded me of the time in Pawtucket when my friend Rob really wanted to check things out in that part of McCoy Stadium, so we went out there for a little while.
Watching kids in the top rows of the metal grandstands on the first base side made me think of Heritage Park in Colonie, New York, where I went to games growing up. I was a little older, and the crowds were usually larger, but that was where we sat most of the time. The banging on the bleachers even sounded familiar.
Crater the mascot may or may not have been the mysterious Roofman, who appeared on the roof in the middle innings to fire T-shirts into the crowd — all I’ll say is that we never saw the two of them together at the same time — but it made me think of the time we went to a Brockton Rox game on a night where rain made the staff members, dressed as superheroes for a promotion, put on the tarp in full costume.
Years ago, Suzi and I went to an Arizona State baseball game, and even though it had been hot during the day — it’s Arizona, after all — by the time the sun went down, it got so cold there was a run on sweatshirts and hoodies in the team shop. Suzi got the last one; I froze.
After a beautiful day in Oregon, I grabbed a long-sleeve shirt and jeans for the game, and even though the sun didn’t set until after 9, I was glad I changed out of the T-shirt and shorts I had been wearing during the day.
A small crowd is a reminder that even a gathering of 40,000 isn’t a single mass, but rather groups of two, threes, fours and families, each doing their own thing and there for their own reasons.
There was the guy two seats down from us keeping score in a small notebook, and the one who told his friends “That’s three in four days” with a smile after Franklin Labour homered.
Kids were running around and playing all over the place, and by the time the late innings rolled around, Suzi and I were wondering how we came 3,000 miles from Boston only to hear “I’m Shipping up to Boston” at the ballpark and if they’d also play “Sweet Caroline.”
Suzi decided she wanted to figure out how to make Glen Campbell’s “Rhinestone Cowboy” a thing at the ballpark.
Genoves threw out an attempted base-stealer and then flew out in the third inning, drove in a run on a ground ball in the fifth, hit a two-run homer in the seventh and struck out to end the game.
There was no eclipse, but there was a full moon over the highway to take us home, or at least back to our hotel.
For the moment, my appetite for baseball had been satisfied, but I’ll be wanting more soon enough.