by West Coast Craig
LONG BEACH, CA — Straight up reporting today, folks… I camped out on a thin Thermarest Saturday night up in the forest, in a tent with a bunch of 6-year-olds who wanted to stay up all night trading and looking at Pokemon cards.
Do any kids collect baseball cards any more? Iâ€™m the old coot now who thinks things like, ‘In my day Pokemon was called Topps and a DS was called Strat-o-Matic.
Somehow – probably osmosis – these kids just seem to automatically know all about Pokemon and what Charizard evolves into, and how many Hit Points the Legendary Pokemon Mewtew has. So, should Topps and Fleer be jazzing up their cards with Hit Points and such, in an effort to be cool again to people under the age of 45, who wonder (like Millhouse Van Houten surely wouldâ€™ve) why their mint 1973 Carl Yastrzemski-with-the-big-side-burns card isnâ€™t worth the price of the petrified piece of gum that came with it now?
I asked my kid if heâ€™d ever consider putting his Pokemon cards in the spokes of his bike, so theyâ€™d make a funny sound when he rode, and he looked at me aghast and simply asked â€œWhy would I do that?â€ But I digress, perhaps this is something to flesh out for a future post.
Sunday was spent playing ball in near triple digit temperatures in a part of the valley I will forever call Hellâ€™s Taint, followed by a series of beers afterwardsâ€¦so if you see something that reads like this: â€œgheoiuhbvue7skkabfirusytbg bka=e,â€ it means Iâ€™ve nodded off and my face is now pressed against the keyboard.
Once again, in an effort to bring you, the dear reader, closer to the world of the West Coast, your intrepid reporter has bravely gone in search of fresh baseball. Saturday was Old Timerâ€™s Day at Yankee Stadiumâ€¦but on Sunday evening down at Blair Field in Long Beach, I saw a game that included names like Garry Templeton, Jose Lima, and Hideki â€œFat Toadâ€ Irabu. It was Golden Independent League baseball featuring the local nine, called the Armada (which makes the individual players what? Armadans? Spaniards?) and the Tuscon Toros. This is about AA level, featuring players who arenâ€™t kids any longerâ€”mostly around 25, 26â€”who still may get a chance of getting (if they havenâ€™t been there already) to the show, and itâ€™s quality baseball. Itâ€™s still minor league ball, with cheap tickets, relatively cheap eats (beer Iâ€™ll get to in a second), cute girls taking to the field between innings to help little kids bowl aerobic balls at â€œpinsâ€ of foam tackling dummies, and a strange looking mascot whose name â€œArbie I,â€ Iâ€™m rather ashamed to admit, I didnâ€™t quite figure out at first.
This was a tight contest, won by the Toros in the 15th inning, and it took about four hours (or an average Yankee-Red Sox game). There was no (un)traditional 14th inning stretch, surprisingly, but there was a sense of going back in timeâ€¦to 1996, when they played the Macarena over the loudspeakers. Unfortunately, the beer prices at Blair Field are also like going in a time machineâ€¦to the future, when beers will cost $10! Surely, this is the most expensive minor league beer in the country. However, I was fortunate enough to accompany a friend and teammate of mine, whose dad is the manager of the Torosâ€¦which meant that my buddy could sneak away to the clubhouse (well, locker room under the grandstand) after the seventh inning and come back with cold beers, gratis.
While the quality of play was quite good–including a few diving catches in the outfield, and a shortstop ranging deep onto the grass in the hole and throwing a strike that the first baseman went totally splits for, the quality of umpiring was rather abysmal.
There must be a shortage of blue out there, for the guy behind the plate really did seem blind (when Coach Johnson went to the mound in an otherwise inauspicious moment, my friend, knowing his dad well, immediately predicted the next minuteâ€™s event: He chatted with the pitcher and catcher until the ump made his way over, then turned and started giving it to him Earl Weaver style and, right to plan, was quickly ejected. No Bobby V, he couldnâ€™t sneak back into the dugout in a Groucho disguise, but he could come out and watch the rest of the game with us in the stands, which was pretty cool. The Napoleonic Blue, by the way, had to hear it all game about needing â€œa phone book to stand on back thereâ€ because the great thing about minor league ball is that you know they can hear you. Height challenge aside, there was a blind guy in the stands who could probably call a better game than this guy. Seriously. The blind guy is another thing you would only see at a minor league game. He sat in the back row behind home plate, just under the booth where they call the game, so he could not only hear the call, he could actually hear the game. This guy was a good heckler, too. Thereâ€™s no way the guy would get near the same enjoyment at a big league park with all the crowd noise – with a Marlins game being the exception.
Apart from the pricey beer, the Golden League is a good show. Rickey Henderson played in it. So did Jose Canseco. Thereâ€™s ten teams, spanning from Mexico (well, the TJ team â€œpostponedâ€ this year, apparently citing â€œSwine Flu,â€ though I imagine the symptoms of this particular strain have more to do with AK-47s and a drug war) to three Canadian teams, with stops in St. George, Utah, Chico, Ca, and Yuma, AZ in between. The Toros are on their way to Yuma tomorrow. Yuma. The only thing I know about Yuma is that itâ€™s always stuck in my head as the place Jonathan Winters was heading with his truck in Itâ€™s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, and that thereâ€™s apparently a train leaving for there at 3:10.
The Golden League may feel like a last gasp, still-clinging-to-the-dream league, but apparently 90 players from it have been picked up by the majors. Will Irabu (who lost Saturday night) be one? May Lima Time yet come again? If not, these guys are still playing professional ballâ€”piling into vans, eating pizza and crappy burgers in the locker room after games, still getting to boss overworked, sleepless clubhouse boys around, getting told that that extra day they had planned on using in Los Angeles before traveling has been lost because the League didnâ€™t want to shell out the bucks for an extra night in a hotelâ€”and itâ€™s all good.
Summing up the Independent League experience best, however, may have been another only-in-these-stands kind of sight. Sitting under the net of the grandstand behind home plate, just a few rows down from Blind Fan, sat Jose Lima, headphones on, clipboard in hand, tracking the pitches for his next start. And nobody bothered him.
Now if you’ll excuse me…
The Phanatic and philview tomorrow.