MINOR LEAGUE MEMORIES

A Day at the Park

I want to go to a Royals game on a midweek night, when it's 72 degrees and perfect, and it's just you and 3,000 other fans. You can put your feet up on the chair in front of you and just take it all in ... I love those kinds of nights. You really connect with the stadium.

—  Tom Shatel, Omaha World-Herald

Sunday, June 7, 2009.

At noon, my son Michael & I went to the grocery store and got two cans of corn.

That's what I would put on my Twitter tweets if I had some. And people would be curious. And the Enquirer would take this tidbit and make some horrible story out of it, damaging my reputation as a pillar of my community. So why would I write that we got corn? Because—

By 12:30 we were at Omaha's famous Rosenblatt Stadium. A terrible sense of foreboding filled the air, heavy rain clouds hanging thick and dark over the plains. Once we parked, six-year-old Michael carried the cans of corn while I carried his Giant Foam Finger. He proudly strode right past the people in the ticket lines, bypassing them on his way to the super special secret Omaha Food Bank table where he exchanged his cans of corn for General Admission tickets to the ball game.

As a bonus, since we were amongst the first thousand fans into the park, we each got a super special secret Rosenblatt Scoreboard Photo Phrame.

I showed Michael the names listed on the right-hand side of it, and told him that I had a baseball signed by "2B-F. White", "3B-G. Brett", and "CF-W. Wilson". He was unimpressed. Instead, he was impressed by the olde-fashioned style Poppe Korn karte we passed on the way in. So we got a tub of popcorn and piled cups of special secret Kettle Korn seasoning on it. I now believe Kettle Korn seasoning is really just finely-ground sugar.

Here's a picture of my little boy in 2008, at his very first ball game ever, waving around his very first souvenir:

Sadly, Rosenblatt Stadium was doomed. Even before Michael had ever been there, the diabolical NCAA was already bullying Omaha's Mayor Fahey and his cronies, forcing their conspiratorial machinations to demolish the 60-year-old institution that was one of Omaha's brightest landmarks.

I had countless memories of the place, accumulated over a couple of decades. It were the best of times; it were the worst of times. Everything from shameful embarrassment to uncontrolled, roll-in-the-aisles hilarity— and sometimes both. But overall, it had been a lot of fun. Since "The 'Blatt" was one of my favorite places, I began Michael's indoctrination program, determined to mold my son's brain in such a way that he would associate any future mention of Rosenblatt with pleasurable experiences. I'm hoping he'll grow up with some vague memories of the place, mostly due to my repeated and increasingly tall tales of times when the 'Blatt was king and we were queens. Or something.

Home, home on the range, where the skies are all cloudy and grey...

This is a view I will truly miss, looking east from Section P. It's all so geometric— The horizon line is miles and miles of Iowa's great plains stretching off into the distance. The dome is a desert, and the pyramid is a jungle. Really.

Rosenblatt Stadium was being sold to pay off the debt remaining from its own NCAA-mandated, multi-million dollar renovations. The adjacent Henry Doorly Zoo would take control of the land before the 2011 season, and demolish Rosenblatt once the new TD Ameritrade Stadium was completed in downtown Omaha. Last year I had thought that this year was the last year, but this year I found out next year would be the last year. As they say, there's always next year. But really, there was only next year.

It turns out that after Rosenblatt was finally gone, Michael had a little piece of it to keep forever! I wasn't paying attention when somehow he vandalized the place, and got the number tag un-riveted from his seat. I scowled, "Hey!" at him, and stuck it in my pocket so he wouldn't do something even worse— like... put it back.

The clouds continued to be all looming, dark and threatening, spooky and foreboding, and other adjectives as well. It had thunderstormed the night before, and would again the following night— but for the seven hours we were at the park... well, at one point we felt about twenty little raindrops; but that was it.

We saw the Royals pitcher "strike out the side." We saw Royals batters hit back-to-back home runs in the fourth inning. We saw Royals fielders turn nifty double plays, and lead the game 4-to-nothing. With this excellent level of play, I wondered if the O-Royals would lose the game in the 9th inning as they so often do. But NO— this was the first game of a double-header! So the Royals only had seven innings to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, and pull off a loss... Which they did.

Spike and Michael Casey and Michael

According to the Omaha Royals' website:

  • The Royals' record in games decided in the last at-bat is 2-13.
  • Omaha is 0-7 in extra inning contests.
  • The Royals have lost 14 of their last 17 home games.
  • The .355 home winning percentage is the worst in the PCL.

Simply put, they choked. Often. Annoyingly, Michael didn't get to see the Bad Guys get a Grand Slam Home Run, like last time we went... (when the crowd collectively groaned and Michael wondered what happened, and I said, "Well, see all the Bad Guys all running around the bases?")

Still, the coolest part was when one of the players running in from the field after a third out tossed Michael a baseball. He didn't catch it, but a lady in front of us got it and handed it to Michael, saying, "Well, he threw it to you..." I had to assure Michael that that was totally cool and awesome, and in all the games I've been to in my whole entire life, I've never got a ball from any how. See? It says Pacific Coast League on it! Maybe not a big deal to most people, but to a poor boy from a minor-league town, it's the stuff from which memories and tall tales are made.

After the first game, most of the fans left. Most— meaning more than half? Yep, most of the people left. I guess they had other things to do. Michael and I just wandered around the area. He threw 4 balls in a Batting Cage Of Mannequins, hitting the batter-quin once. I was miserating that each throw cost me 50 cents, when we could just go home and throw a ball for free.

Going back in for the second game, Michael saw a super special secret door and wanted to go in. So we did. Inside was a small foyer with a Gatekeeper guy. Since Michael is a Keymaster, the Gatekeeper pointed us to an elevator. Michael likes elevators. They are magical transport. He wondered what mysterious destination awaited at the other end of this one...

The super special Stadium View Club was all quiet and enclosed. And empty. After a few minutes, Michael wanted to help finish up the buffet. Instead, we went out and down to the concourse and got super special Quarter Pound All Beef Royal Dogs. The guy didn't even get confused when I asked for Quarter Pound All Beef Royal Dogs. See, on the menu boards, they used to say, Quarter Pound All Beef Royal Dogs. Now, they just said Royal Dogs. I want the all beef Royal Dogs, not dogs made from Royals. So I still always asked for Quarter Pound All Beef Royal Dogs. What's so hard about that? And it was probably for the best that I specified, "not too rubbery."

So we got hot Royal Dogs and watched the second game from the 1st-base side. I hadn't sat on the first-base side in over 15 years, but it was a nice bit of variety, mixing it up for my son. And after all, it wasn't like we were taking anybody's reserved seats.

rosenblatt stadium

A panorama, looking North. Click it for a larger version.

I worried that Michael, who starts to get antsy as a 9th inning approaches, would have trouble sitting through 14 innings of baseball. And he was getting bored, with the stadium being empty and quiet while our baseball guys tried to beat the division-leading Nashville Sounds in the second game of the day. The "roar of the crowd?" Not here. Look— this kind of crowd defines the phrase "smattering of applause." The Sound guy, the cheerleaders, and even the CCTV cameramen tried to keep the fans interested. While live Fan Cam shots of various spectators flashed on the scoreboard, every few seconds the PA would yell pre-recorded soundbites: "EV'RYBODY CLAP YO HANDS!" and obediently we'd all clap clap clap clap clap clap clap and then— dead silence except for the smack of a pitch into the catcher's mitt echoing through the place. Crickets chirped. In the distance, somebody would call out something. We could hear the zoo train chuffing along, two blocks away. The PA would suddenly play a trumpet charge, and Michael & I dutifully yelled, "MUSH!"... then, again that long expectant silence, and a "spack" for strike two. Sooooo quiet. So placid. Peaceful... a soft breeze on a summer day... mmmm... zzzzzzzzz

What— sorry! It was a long day.

I told Michael that since it was a double-header, the game was only seven innings. Luckily, the game was tied at the end of seven innings. So, for three innings of extra baseball, Michael declared me a liar. The Royals weren't able to lose this game until the tenth.

Finally, all the mean ol' baseball guys got off the field so that Michael could run around on it.

By then, it was 7:30, and time to go home. The College World Series was taking place the next week, so the Omaha Royals were leaving for "the longest road trip in baseball"— nineteen days of Away games. My mission was simply to try to infuse enough Rosenblatt experience into Michael's brain that he would actually have some vague memories of the place as he grows up; a reference point for my tall tales. I hoped days like this would help do that.

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