As of Thursday morning, here’s the latest baseball news: The Mets just fell out of first place for the first time all season, the Yankees are languishing in last place, and the top priority of team owners throughout the league is keeping the fans happy. No, it’s not another Diet Coke and Citronella candle-induced delusion — it’s the world according to minor-league baseball. Life in the single-A New York-Penn league is just fine.
Last weekend, we took various Konigs and associates to celebrate our son’s 7th birthday at a Hudson Valley Renegades game in Wappingers Falls, N.Y. The ‘Gades are the single-A farm team for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. If you were a cynic, you might say that being the single-A team for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays is to professional baseball what Gary Coleman is to the California gubernatorial race. But, that’s if you were a cynic. We had a wonderful time and great seats. The ticket price: $5.75.
For a few extra bucks a person, we got pizza, we got cake, we got pennants; my son got a cap and an autographed team ball. He had his name announced, he saw it up on the scoreboard, and the stadium crowd sang “Happy Birthday.” The stadium crowd also sang “God Bless America,” the national anthem, and, naturally, “Take Me Out To The Ballgame.” The latter was sung twice: once as a solo by a five-year-old girl plucked from the stands (she got big cheers), then as an ensemble piece by the crowd. There’s a lot of singing in minor-league ball.
Every inning, while the players are taking the field, there are silly contests or stunts involving the fans. Contestants run around the bases in snorkels and swim fins for a chance to watch the game from “the comfy chair,” a cozy recliner with a great view. If the Renegades are losing (as they were this night, despite some pretty decent fielding and a valiant late-inning rally), one fan gets to give a “turnaround talk” to the team. He stands in front of the dugout and has a minute to deliver a pep talk to the players. If the Renegades go on to win, the fan wins $375. In spite of a rousing speech by a grandfatherly gent in Bermuda shorts (“Okay you guys, you only need four runs. If you win this thing, I’ll buy you all beer!”), the ‘Gades lost anyway.
The Renegades, are enjoying a decent season, playing at just over 500 at Duchess County Stadium, about 90 minutes up the Hudson from Manhattan. The stadium holds about 4,500 fans and every home game fills at least 95 percent of those seats. Last year they were 26-48 and they still sold out.
These farm teams offer a perfect slice of America with no hassle and all within a family’s budget. Fries, hot dogs, ice cream, popcorn, cotton candy, and Cracker Jacks are all available within non-wincing price ranges. Parking is $3. Last summer, when we brought along a couple of extra kids plus our three, the parking guy (a grandfatherly gent in Bermuda shorts) peered into the car, saw our large cargo of baseball-loving kids, and waved us into the lot on the house. He just couldn’t bring himself to collect the three bucks.
The players aren’t millionaires, they are kids just breaking in. Every spring, the team website posts a request for local residents to house a player for the season. I hear they make nice boarders.
Big-time fun, good baseball, low prices. Final score: Oneonta Tigers 7, Hudson Valley Renegades 3. One very happy seven-year-old.
— Susan Konig, author of the book Why Animals Sleep So Close to the Road and other lies I tell my children, is an NRO contributor.