Love For The Game by Matthew Hurley

There’s nothing quite like being a baseball fan.  The sights, the sounds and the smell of the ballpark can hook a young kid instantly.  And rooting for the home team becomes a family tradition.

For those of us who have had our nervous systems tested by the Boston Red Sox, the 2004 title winning season was a transcendent moment.  It was one of those rare instances where everyone seemed in happy agreement – the Sox were champions.

One of the most stirring images from that triumphant year was the pennants, balloons, T-shirts, caps and other Red Sox paraphernalia that adorned the grave sites of so many long suffering fans who didn’t get to see closer Keith Foulke toss the ball to first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz for the final out against the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series.

It was the most thrilling sports experience I’ve ever lost sleep over and I partied hard in Las Vegas the following week.  Oddly enough, I raised my glass among many Cardinal fans that seemed OK with it all.  There was no Boston backlash back then.

But that amazing year also changed things radically in the organization and most of what was so wonderful about that team and its merry rogue band – the devil may care attitude, the long hair, the camaraderie and indomitable will to win – somehow, someway gave ground to corporate greed.  Suddenly people who didn’t even care about baseball were wearing Red Sox apparel and making treks to Yawkey Way.  Restaurants and neighboring bars and clubs loved the cash flow, but real Sox fans felt infiltrated.  That’s what happens when a team in a major sports city wins the crown.  Money became the operative word because now Boston had yet another winner and this relatively new front office could manipulate and market a brand to a mass audience.

Although they would win again in 2007, that season seemed more mechanical and business like rather than the unmitigated joy of 2004.  The team began to mirror ownership.  Now tickets were being gobbled up in blocks by corporate sponsors, further alienating diehard fans.

Add more seats to beloved Fenway Park and then jack up ticket, concession and souvenir prices and many fans who love the experience of being in the park began staying home and watching on television.  Toss in parking fees if you have to drive into town and you’ve got one hefty price tag on your hand.  With all the money involved, going to a Sox game was the equivalent, at least monetarily, of going to the Metropolitan Opera House in New York.

Of course the Fenway brass always maintains that it has the fan’s best interest at heart – as long as their pockets are deep.

The Yankee organization treated their longtime fans even worse – raising prices almost beyond belief after the opening of their new stadium in 2009.  Seats in the first eight rows go for at least five hundred dollars and they even have the league’s most expensive ticket at $2,600.  Most of these seats often remain empty, which makes for rather awkward television viewing.  The organization also charged extra fees for current season ticket holders before the new stadium was complete and the stadium that was constructed at a cost of $1.5 billion, still has obstructed view seating!  Many of those seats, not ironically, belonged to many of those aging season ticket holders who said, the hell with it.

The Red Sox got their comeuppance during a disastrous 2012 season that saw plenty of empty seats all season long.  I can’t remember another Red Sox team in all its storied history being so loathed by their fans as that sorry bunch.  Of course owner John Henry and company maintained that every game was a sellout, but that was all damage control.

Fortunately the team assembled for 2013 is an easy one to root for, almost devoid of ego and winning games as a team rather than hoping for one player to carry the rest on his shoulders.

Still, taking a family of four, or more, to Fenway remains a financial headache.  So what’s the solution for a baseball junkie who needs the ballpark experience?

There’s always alternatives, from cheering on young kids in little league to major league hopefuls in Class-A to Triple-A ball.  And of course if you really love baseball you can go to intimate minor league parks all over the country with your kids and have the same experience, perhaps even better, than you will at one of the mega-filled major league stadiums where the advent of drunken hooliganism has become commonplace.

Around here one of the best places to go for a great day at the park is McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, home of the 2012 Governor’s Cup champion Pawtucket Red Sox.

The PawSox, as they are affectionately known, are part of the International League and are the minor league affiliate to the Boston Red Sox.  The team is also renowned for having played in the longest professional baseball game in history.  They played for 33 innings against the Rochester Red Wings in April of 1981 at McCoy Stadium.  The roster of players for that historic night included future Red Sox second baseman Marty Barrett and future hall of famers Wade Boggs and Cal Ripken Jr.

The Stadium, which holds 10,031 people, doesn’t have a bad seat in the house and with ticket prices ranging from five to twelve dollars the value is astonishing.  Toss in free parking, family game day activities and drinks and snacks at nearly half the price you’d pay at Fenway and you’ve got a perfect day for any baseball fan.

There are also unique events and activities for the kids, such as running the bases, bringing your dog to the park (Bark in the Park!), birthday parties, video arcades, the opportunity to declare, “Play Ball!” at the start of the game and fireworks on warm summer evenings.

The community has also helped provide a moving tribute to active service men and women in the local surrounding areas.  During the singing of God Bless America photographs of these hometown heroes are shown on the video scoreboard.  It’s always a quiet, solemn moment that builds as the song reaches its conclusion, before being drowned out in thunderous applause.

Those sights, those sounds and smells that fill Fenway Park are all there at McCoy Stadium. The park doesn’t have the Green Monster and the team will never quite inspire the same passion as its major league counterpart, but it is still baseball played at a high level and if you have a passion for baseball it’s all about the game.

For more information on McCoy Stadium and tickets for the remainder of the 2013 Pawtucket Red Sox season please visit the official site provided by the link below.

http://www.milb.com/index.jsp?sid=t533

Contributed to the Masters Touch blog by Matthew Hurley.

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