Monday, August 21, 2006

Renegades Baseball

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Dutchess Stadium
Renegades Baseball
See the slideshow here.

There is something magical about a baseball field. The way the grass, an emerald green, is trimmed low and mowed in those impressive patterns. The way the sky looks over it, infinite and flawless, a precious fresco painted by the hands of a master. Whisps of clouds, just a few, and blue skies arching high between the baselines and beyond the outfield fence. Empty seats waiting under a canopy of the heavens.

There’s a promise in it. Out there. Between the dusty chalk lines and the warning track, there’s a guarantee that soon, very soon, before the first pitch even, something magical is going to happen.

There, an outfielder hopping over the first base line, making his way out to left field. Just three outs and he’ll come home again. Down there, the catcher smoothing the dirt with his glove, waiting for the next warm up pitch. An umpire checks the sky. The announcer tests the microphone, and the crowd.

Kids eye snacks and ready gloves for a chance at that one fly ball, theirs. Moms keep drinks from spilling and monitor the pile of jackets and toys and gloves and baseball cards that seem to have made their way into the stadium with the kids. Dads are now waiters, taking food orders and desperately trying to watch the game between the towering trays of hot dogs and sodas.
And right out there, not twenty yards away, a teenager is becoming a ball player.

It happens in minor league stadiums around the country on steamy weeknights and weekends every summer. Surrounded by outfield fence ads, cheering fans, and sometimes cornfields, young men are learning to become big leaguers.

We took the kids to see the Hudson Valley Renegades (Class A, Devil Rays Farm System, NY-Penn League) last night with some friends. Dutchess Stadium is set between the Hudson River to the west and I-84, a major east-west corridor through NY. Beyond the first base line and the interstate, there’s a magnificent view of Fishkill Ridge, part of the Hudson Highlands Mountain Range.

This evening, the view proved even more beautiful after the brief rain delay, as the sunset reflected on the passing storm clouds. The stadium announcer, Rick Zolzer, spotted a rainbow beyond the left field fence and it was ooohed and aaahed at more than any of the plays on the field that night.

The rain wasn’t a complete wash out, though. For those of us who suffered the dampness and the puddles, we were treated to another pre-game warmup but this time with much more approachable players.

The visiting team, the Aberdeen Ironbirds, warmed-up along the third base line, near where we moved down to after the rains emptied the stadium. The kids were looking at fish in a koi pond near there and when they turned around, there were the players, bigger than they seemed from our bleacher seats, soft tossing and playing pepper. I’d never been so close to the field before, nor had the kids, and I’m not sure who was more excited.

They came over and signed the kids’ hats and tickets and talked with them between tosses. They seemed to have shed their game-faces, perhaps washed away by the early evening rains. Boys once more, goofing around on a ball field.

The tarp was removed and the game resumed, now a night game, played in front of a few hardcore, albeit soggier, fans. There were some grounders, some high fly balls tracked down through a mushy outfield and baseball was played once more.

After two outs in the rain delayed inning, the kids (and some parents) were tired. But we’d experienced all there was to experience at the game and maybe a little more. All for the price of a ticket.


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