Local View: Lockout or not, take yourself out to the ballgame
From the column: "We should keep watching baseball — just other baseball. The Twin Ports has “other” baseball in spades — or maybe diamonds."
Major League Baseball’s lockout has forced fans to consider other entertainment options. In a story in the News Tribune last week, Andy Greder of the Pioneer Press recommended that Twins fans check out the local professional soccer club, Minnesota United, if baseball sits idle.
It’s not a “Loony” idea. I get a kick out of soccer, and even watched some of the Loons’ matches from that reflector oven of concrete and aluminum bleachers known as the “supporters section” a few years ago when they were playing in the University of Minnesota’s football stadium.
But baseball fans can take Greder’s advice in a different direction: Maybe we should keep watching baseball — just other baseball.
The Twin Ports has “other” baseball in spades — or maybe diamonds.
The Duluth Huskies play in vintage Wade Stadium, which may or may not be haunted by the ghost of Norman Rockwell, even despite the artificial turf. All summer, players from Power-Five college programs take their swings with wooden bats, as if to remind baseball purists that fans can get their fix outside of the major leagues. The crack of the bat in an old-school ballpark might be the closest thing to classic Americana in post-pandemic athletics.
Fans who prefer pinging bats can focus on the three local NCAA baseball programs, with softball teams to match. While their seasons may be brief — you try squeezing a home schedule into the Northland’s approximately five weeks of spring — they compensate with intensity, cramming whole three-game series into about 24 hours on weekends. Prices at the ticket window look like prices at the concession stands in major-league parks. You don’t need to refinance your car loan to park, either.
And don’t forget the area’s high schools. Varsity prep ball is one of the most undervalued tickets in almost every sport. That said, be careful: As a former basketball ref, I can tell you that if you show up often enough, someone might ask you to ump — or maybe even be an assistant coach, especially at the lower levels. More seriously, they might ask if you can drive the bus.
If watching anything other than big-money sports sounds loony to you, consider that, by tuning in to the pros, we’ve tuned out the athletes around us. As we watch our screens, a lot of the good stuff of sports — teamwork, competition, and discipline — is in full display nearby, but from half-rusted bleachers and under lights that are not quite as bright, if there are lights at all.
MLB’s dispute gives us an opportunity to ask ourselves whether we’re really fans of baseball or just professional baseball, and maybe whether we’re fans of sports or just professional sports. Will we ditch an old pastime for a new way to pass the time?
Instead of players and owners who squabble over zeros on paychecks, consider watching players who will get zero paychecks, probably ever. Check out a game with pinging bats and no contracts and maybe that kid you know. Instead of watching from home, watch from behind home plate.
Lockout or not, take yourself out to the ballgame.