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Sunday, August 11, 2002

There's a big difference between major league and minor league baseball, both in how well the game is played and in how I watch. Even though the local minor league team, the Sonoma County Crushers, won today, I can't say the result really affected my enjoyment of the game one way or the other.

For the blowhard loudmouth sitting behind me it was a different story. He made sure everyone knew he was a longtime Crushers fan. He knew all the players names and announced them right along with the public address guy, and he knew all the between-inning promotions by heart, too.

I don't know if he knew the home plate umpire personally, but he did shout some quite personal things at him. I think he got on Mom's nerves more than mine. I'm more concerned about the beer guzzlers who shout obscenities from the sixth or seventh inning on, but you get those more in big league ballparks than in a family-friendly place like Rohnert Park Stadium.

Here they have tot races and fly-ball catching contests, just to make sure there's no lapse in entertainment when the action on the field stops. In fact, sometimes I'll sit there and yearn for a little silence, just for a minute or two.

Baseball is supposed to be a bucolic, pastoral game played on grass and dirt. It's not structured by time limits, the way other sports are, but by how many outs the players make, and how many runs they score. It's a game with its own special kind of ebb and flow, and it's good sometimes to let it play out that way, instead of hammering the crowd with a barrage of sound and spectacle every moment of the almost four hours we were there today. But that's just me. I guess.

With no rooting interest in the outcome, I can watch a minor league game like the one today between the Crushers and the Yuma Bullfrogs just for the beauty of the sport itself. The grace of the athletes as they stumble around the bases. Their skill as they flail at balls a foot outside the strike zone. Their sportsmanship as they slam down bat and helmet after making an out. It's a wonderful example for the kids.

Speaking of which, this was Kids' Day at the stadium, and every fan below a certain age (which seemed to be about 40) was given an oversized inflatable plastic bat. If you don't think that made for some off-field spectacle, you don't know kids.

There was a Little League team in the far left field bleachers who spent the whole nine innings racing up and down the steps and pummeling each other. The two kids in front of us kept beating their parents over the head with the plastic bats, but every so often the parents would take the bats away and beat the kids over the head. It's nice to see a family share their interests that way.

side yard

The side yard, looking better without the high weeds.

The Western Baseball League season is nearly over, and this was the last game we'll be attending this year. While over forty thousand people were jamming themselves into Pacific Bell Park in San Francisco this afternoon to watch the Giants beat the Pirates again, just over two thousand of us were enjoying the Crushers' 16-7 win, fifty-odd miles north.

The weather was perfect, and the atmosphere was laid back. No big-money athletes played in the game I saw (although a former National League Most Valuable Player, Kevin Mitchell, is the Crushers' manager). They play for small change and meal money, and they stay with local families during the season. One or two of them have had a bit of big league experience, and a couple of the younger ones might have a shot at the majors, somewhere down the line.

Mostly, it's just a team sporting the local colors (in this case red and purple, like grapes, hence the team nickname) playing the best they can. Sometimes they make great plays, worthy of the three million dollar a year guys who do it every day in front of the big crowds. And sometimes, like today, it resembles a beer softball game more than real baseball. It's a great way to spend an afternoon with family and friends, though.

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