Thursday, June 30, 2011

9 Reasons to Follow College Baseball: The Ballpark

This is part 3 of our weekly series on 9 reasons to follow College Baseball.

The Ballpark: Home Sweet Home

Taylor Stadium is not the biggest stadium in the Big 12. It doesn't have as many first class amenities as some of those other places. The parking could be better, and the walk from the Reactor Field parking up the Summit to the ballpark can be brutal. The weather in March and April can be miserable at times. The student interns up in the booth sometimes make questionable choices about the music they play. And I wish the powers that be would tighten up or replace the black backstop netting that looks like an over-the-hill hooker's sagging fishnet stockings.

But I love Taylor Stadium.

I've not yet been to the new Busch Stadium in St. Louis. The last time I went to the old Busch, I had pretty good (free) seats just a few rows up, down the left field line. Albert Pujols was playing left field (I told you it's been awhile), and I even got to see him hit a home run.

And I spent most of the game wishing I was back at Simmons Field.
  • The best seat in the house (that I can afford) at a place like Busch Stadium is not as good as the worst seat at Taylor Stadium. When I sit in my reserved seat in Section E, Row, Seat 1, I know that when I yell at the umpire to turn over the plate and read the directions, he hears me.

  • There are games on wet and frigid days in March when there are only about 200 people in the stands. While watching a game in such conditions can be miserable (and I discovered this season that my body can't deal with those conditions like I used to), there is a plus side to those days. People get up and walk around, standing on the walkway, huddling together while watching the game. You get to know your fellow insane fans. You make long-lasting friends during those games. And even on those rare sunny Saturdays in May when 2,000+ fair-weather fans are in attendance, you still find yourself gravitating toward those friends you found during the 32-degree double-header six weeks before.

  • At any major college ballpark you'll find yourself sitting near people you'd never get close to at a major league stadium. On any given day at Taylor Stadium I've found myself sitting with or talking to A.D. Mike Alden and other members of the Mizzou administration, movers and shakers of the Columbia Community, athletes from other MU sports (both obscure and well-known), MU Baseball alumni, former major leaguers (Andy Van Slyke, Bob Gibson, Jack Clark, etc.), major league scouts (some of whom are also former major leaguers, like Alan Benes and Mitch Webster), local and national media "celebs" (Chris Gervino, John Anderson, Bernie Miklasz), current Tiger ballplayers charting pitches in the stands, and Mizzou Baseball "old-timers" like Coach Gene McArtor and Frank Graham, both of whom are a treat to talk to and a source of countless baseball stories.

  • You can let your kids have the run of the place at Taylor Stadium. With a few negotiated boundary rules, your kids can run around and make new friends, chase foul balls and home runs, and even watch the game off and on. When my son was younger, he knew Taylor Stadium as well as he knew his own back yard. And he learned to love the "feel" of being at the ballpark better than he would have if I forced him to sit with me and watch the game.

  • The college atmosphere lends itself to college sports traditions, like tailgating and group heckling. The Simmons Savages continue both of those traditions. I'd love to see more active student involvement in the games, developing more of the type of college game day traditions like we see surrounding MU Football and Basketball.

  • There's a whole different atmosphere when you leave the Taylor Stadium grandstands and spend some time watching the game from the ground-level open space and green-roofed pavilion down the left field line. This is where you'll always find some ballplayers' dads enjoying the relative quiet, talking baseball and other things while they watch their sons plays. You'll also find a certain "super fan" hanging out down there, usually in a more tranquil mood. He's got some stories to tell as well.

  • If you really want to feel a part of Mizzou Baseball, show up early and stay late. The people who are at the stadium an hour and a half before game time are either related to someone on the team or true die-hard baseball fans - or both. Some of the best conversations I've had, and some of the best baseball friendships I've made, happened during batting practice.

  • And then try hanging around for a while after the game is over. Head down toward the third base line and you'll see the families and friends and girlfriends of the players standing around in little groups talking to their favorite ballplayers. And you'll see kids looking for autographs. Even if you just stand on the edge of the crowd and watch, you'll see a side of those tough ballplayers that you won't see anywhere else. The catcher who stood his ground and got bowled over an hour ago is hugging his mom and basking in the light from his proud father's eyes. The pitcher who looked so disgusted when he got pulled from the game during a tough inning is now signing autographs for little kids, a small smile on his face as he realizes he used to be one of those little kids.
Take me out to the ballgame;

Take me out with the crowd;

Buy me some peanuts and cracker jack;

I don't care if I never get back;

I'll still root, root, root for the Tigers,

If they don't win it's a shame,

But it's one, two, three strikes you're out

At the old ballgame.

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