Archive for Wednesday, June 11, 2003

T-Bones steak claim

Minors provide different world

June 11, 2003

Winking contests, beach ball golf and beer mug races.

Such a combination quite possibly could be found in a small town's summer festival.

Nope, all were played right inside the cozy confines of CommunityAmerica Ballpark.

These contests are the norm for minor league baseball, which basically is where the Kansas City T-Bones weigh in on the baseball scale. They are in the Northern League, an independent league that is above semi-pro baseball but isn't at the caliber of say a Double-A farm club in the minors.

Whatever the affiliation, fans flocked, or more accurately, stampeded to the ballpark Friday for the inaugural season's home opener.

Remember the team is the T-Bones and everything in the stadium has a reference to beef.

Sports fans usually populate the area for auto racing events at Kansas Speedway, which is just south of CommunityAmerica Ballpark across State Avenue.

But Friday's attendance for the national pastime put the T-Bones in the driver's seat -- at least for now.

With a seating capacity of roughly 4,500, the stadium can hold more than 7,000 with lawn seating and standing room.

A friend and I had to settle for standing-room tickets, which wasn't necessarily a bad thing -- some of those fouls balls come awfully fast along the first- and third-base lines.

We leaned over the left field wall, peering down at the left fielder and the rest of the field. Left field is a smaller version of Fenway Park's Green Monster. Perhaps it could be known as the Hunter Green Goblin. That certainly would be a monster on a smaller scale.

No, wait, we must think in bovine. The Green Angus, the Green Jersey, or maybe even the Green Mad Cow.

Forgive me for my marketing brainstorming, but people in the front office have been offering up everything cow in selling their product.

The ploy seems to have worked.

An announced crowd of 7,014 was in attendance, although it's hard to fathom about 2,500 more people sitting on the lawn area and standing around the field.

The ballpark itself looked wonderful, including an impressive scoreboard that showed a pregame graphic of an 18-wheeler loaded with bulls roaring along State Avenue. A popular pre-game ritual at many venues, the graphic shows some symbol of the home team destroying an opponent's symbol.

On Friday, the T-Bone truck plowed through roadblocks that just happened to have logos of every other Northern League.

Workers hustled through the spring to complete the stadium and it appears, at least through a spectator's eyes, that the mission was accomplished. As for the area around the ballpark, work remains. Pieces of cardboard invited fans across muddy areas outside the stadium. To get to the ballpark, we had to park along a road to the north and walk a hefty distance across the mud and through a makeshift parking lot. Some parking already is finished near the stadium. Once the remainder is finished, the entire area will be set to go.

The game itself was a pitcher's duel. Sioux City squeaked out a 1-0 lead with a run in the fifth, although my compadre and I thought the scorer made a mistake.

Apparently we were too busy taking in other sights around the stadium.

It was a bit difficult to stay focused on the game. We did see some nice plays, but I'm still wondering how we missed the run.

No matter, the game did finish with a bit of excitement. With two on and two out in the bottom of the ninth, T-Bones left fielder Chad Ehrnsberger belted a towering shot to left. As we took some steps backward in pursuit of a baseball, the ball made its way over the foul pole -- but the home plate umpire called it foul. It appeared to have been just fair, but Ehrnsberger had to return to the batter's box. He then grounded out to second, which ended the game.

Still, it was encouraging to leave the game with a vibrant memory of the game rather than the in-between inning gimmicks.

Even that foul ball provided a bit of humor. With a glove on his hand and a bit of brew in his belly, an older man was ready to catch a homer.

When that ball was hit to left, a man who appeared to be his son joined the ball chase. The ball cleared a tall chain-link fence and went into the parking lot. The son, though, emerged from the mob of fans inside the park and presented his father with "the" baseball.

The father commented that one would think the minor league baseballs wouldn't be as dirty as the one his son had snagged.

The father had his souvenir and we enjoyed a laugh.

It's uncertain whether crowds will stay in the ballpark of 7,000. If the team can continue to sell at about half that, it should be a successful season.

Some people have speculated that an unsuccessful Royals team sitting down the road on interstate will favor the T-Bones.

Summer has just begun and there's a whole lot of baseball still to be played -- in Kansas City, Mo., and Kansas City, Kan.

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