The Baseball, Hot Dogs & Apple Pie Weekend (Part I)
It’s Fourth of July Weekend. I’m an American. The way I see it, it is my patriotic duty to: (a) ooh and aah at fireworks displays; (b) eat at least one hot dog and one piece of apple pie; and (c) watch baseball. But so many options to choose from…Minor League ball? American League? National League? So I did what you’ve come to expect of a true Sports Fan: all of the above.
And so it was that on a Friday evening taken directly from a “Visit California” promo spot, The Bird and I set out for The Epicenter.
No seriously – that’s the name of the stadium. But admit it, that sounded dramatic, didn’t it?
The Epicenter is home to the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes, but it isn’t exactly like you would envision a Single-A minor league baseball field might be. First of all, it’s tucked into a relatively new “town center” complex of restaurants, stores and parks, built in the boom years before the real estate collapse hit this part of California, known as the Inland Empire, particularly hard.
And second, it’s gorgeous.
There’s none of the hardscrabble, somewhat gloomy feel that often marks professional baseball parks at this level. This stadium is the…well, epicenter of a 52-acre sports and entertainment complex that promotes itself as much a film location and concert facility as a sports venue. And it’s easy to see why, with its perfectly manicured landscaping, spotless grounds, and an impressive backdrop of the mountains of the San Bernardino National Forest.
Unbeknownst to me when I purchased tickets in advance, this game between the Quakes and the Lake Elsinore Storm was to take place on U.S. Bank Quakes Hat Night, so before we were even at our seats I was a fan. Now the proud owner of a sharp-looking black hat displaying the trembling “Q” logo of the Quakes, I was all in for the home team. After all, this was a farm team of the Angels, making these players potential future Halos. This was clearly evidenced by multiple banners on the concourse featuring the pictures of players that had made the climb from this humble California League team to The Show in Anaheim.
But wait – it gets better. When we got to our seats I was thrilled to discover…actual leg room! And elbow room!! And padded seats – with cup holders that sat at more or less an upright angle!!!
Thinking that we were spoiled because we were in the “VIP” seats (thanks to extremely fan-friendly pricing), I looked around to see what the Average Joe seats looked like. What I found was that, other than the truly cheap bleacher seats down the foul lines, everybody had the same creature comforts that I was enjoying. And when The Bird returned from the concession stand with pulled pork sandwiches and craft-brewed beers, I pledged my life-long allegiance to the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes. Unfortunately, that was the last independent thought that I was allowed to process.
The low prices, the comfortable seats and the striking environs of The Epicenter clearly spoke for themselves. It is a pleasure to simply sit in the stands here. Which is why I would like to say to the management of the Quakes baseball team…enough already.
ENOUGH! Enough with the music blasting in between almost every pitch. Enough with the wacky sound effects constantly emanating from the P.A. system. Enough with the endless stream of forced “aren’t these kids cute” type contests; the shticks of the not one, but two big green mascots; the overly enthusiastic P.A. announcer and on-field emcee; the dance squad of cheerleaders in the stands…enough with the “entertainment”!! Chipmunks have a longer attention span than you presume baseball fans to have.
At first it was charming. Clever, even – especially the twin mascots Tremor and After-Shock, who wear the numbers 4.8 and 2.4, respectively. We smiled at the Baseball Buddies – the pint-sized tee-ball players who accompanied the Quakes to their positions on the field to start the game. We were impressed by the acapella duet performance of the national anthem. We even enjoyed the “reverse tug of war”, the first on-field promotional competition of the evening featuring kids who had been randomly selected from the crowd.
But what we really came for was baseball. The kind of pure baseball that is played by young guys that are just starting out on their quest to make it to the major leagues. I had made it a point of buying the best seats available, so that we’d be close enough to the field to hear the players call out to each other. But what we heard mostly was each other saying “What? What did you say?”
I ask you: with a competitive team playing in a beautiful ballpark in a setting lierally made for Hollywood – do they really need the tidal wave of added “value”? Consider this…
In a previous vocational lifetime, I spent a summer on the road in Richmond, VA on a consulting assignment. The Atlanta Braves Triple-A team was at the time located in Richmond, and my colleagues and I took advantage of every opportunity we got to attend an evening home game. The allure? The opportunity to completely relax, stare at a baseball field, drink a beer, and revel in the hum of summer. That’s it. There was no supplemental entertainment that I can remember. I went to more than a dozen Richmond Braves games that summer and loved each one.
Then again, that franchise is now defunct, and in its place is a Double-A team named (and I am not making this up) the Richmond Flying Squirrels – whose web site currently advertises an upcoming promotion featuring something called the Molly Maid Drag Queens dancing to a song selected by the vote of “you, the fans”.
OK, I guess that shows how much I know about promoting minor league baseball. Have I shown you my new hat?