Oddchester: ‘Play ball!’ for the 26th memorable season
One week from today, the Rochester Honkers will open their 26th season of baseball — and their first with their new ownership group — at Mayo Field.
It’s a new era, sure. New start times (a family-friendly 6:35 p.m. for night games). New ticket packages (like the $20 All You Can Eat Seats). A new slogan (“Fear The Flock”).
And we’re looking forward to being part of all of that (though I’m not sure I will ever again in my life say the phrase “Fear The Flock”).
We have, during the past 20 years, attended maybe 200 Honkers games. We’ve let the kids get Slider to sign their foreheads with a Sharpie. Sung along to “Beer Run” (“b double e double r, u, n!”), cheered as trains thundered by the stadium, thrown out our arms playing speed pitch, given in to the kids begging to stay until the last out in an 11-run loss.
Sure, I’ve forced my kids to learn the infield fly rule and appreciate the beauty of a stand-up triple or, god willing, a perfect suicide squeeze. But the games are really about spending time outside, together, on summer nights.
Here’s a look back at some of my most memorable Honker moments. None of which have anything, really, to do with baseball.
In 2000, I rode the bus and sat in the dugout during a three-game road trip with the team. And, at age 31, seriously considered dedicating the rest of my life to trying to make a living playing professional baseball.
In 2003, I followed two visibly nervous rookie umpires through their first Northwoods League game in front of 4,100 fans on the opening night of La Crosse’s Copeland Park. As soon as those umps stepped out of the locker room to make their way to the field, someone yelled, “You forgot your glasses, blue!” They were getting heckled before they had even made their first call of their career.
In 2004, on a Saturday night in front of 1,200 fans at Mayo Field, I was the special guest mascot, Babe the Blue Ox. I wore a giant blue ox costume and Babe Ruth jersey. Even though no one could see my face, I was more nervous than when I proposed to my wife.
In 2005, I got to throw out the ceremonial first pitch (and bounced a wild 58-foot fastball into the catcher’s groin area).
In 2009, I spent an entire week tracking the landing spot of every single foul ball. (Pro tip: When you drive into the Mayo Field parking lot, and see those four open spots right next to the entrance, just keep driving. There’s a reason no one parks there.)
And, on a Saturday night in 2014, the rain fell hard during a two-hour delay. Our kids probably had more fun than at a normal game. They played in the rain and watched the Honkers and the opposing team — the Alexandria Beetles — put on a show with on-field skits and a jousting contest (with guys in catchers’ gear riding on their teammates’ shoulders). One of the Beetles’ came out of the dugout with his legs through his shirtsleeves and his arms through his pant legs and his hands in his shoes and walked around the field on his hands.
During a short break in the rain, a young woman, escorting a man with apparent mental and physical disabilities, slowly helped him up the ramp and then the bleacher steps. After step one, the rain returned. They were maybe 10 steps from the overhang, but it was going to take a while. Neither had a raincoat or an umbrella.
Then, as the rest of us sat watching, a kid — maybe a teenager — walked down from under the grandstand. He opened a small umbrella — just big enough for two — and held it over their heads. A teen kid, standing in the pouring rain in some concert T-shirt, held his umbrella over two strangers as they slowly made their way up the grandstand steps.
And then, some minutes later, the baseball game started again.