September 21, 2010

Major League Dreams on a Minor League Field

When our heads hit our pillows last night it was nearly 1:00 a.m. Cheryl and I had traveled nearly 120 miles round trip to see a minor league baseball game even though a perfectly good major league game was taking place just down the road.

You see Cheryl and I have become accustomed to winning and our expectation is to see post season baseball every fall. So off we went to Rancho Cucamonga to see the fifth and final game of the California League Championship between the Quakes and the San Jose Giants.

I don’t know about anyone else, but every time we go to a stadium we go knowing we might see something we’ve never seen before and might not ever see again. The anticipation of what might happen fuels or adventures.

Unfortunately, there weren’t any magical moments last night and the Quakes failed to win the game, but as I sit here on the train headed off to work early Tuesday morning; dead dog tired, I can honestly say I don’t have any regrets and would gladly do it again. So would Cheryl.

Even though we only made it to three Quakes games this year, we came away last night with a sense of disappointment; the kind of disappointment one experiences when they’re totally invested in something that doesn’t work out. We didn’t know a lot of the players names prior to going and even now I can only remember a few; however, the affinity we have for the team is real because they’re part of the Angels family. Most of the players we saw will never set foot in a major league ball park. For many of them, Rancho Cucamonga will be the last stop in their quest for a career in baseball.

I’m sure that for some last night was the biggest game of their lives and even though they should be proud of getting to the championship, the memory of not winning it all will likely stay with them forever.

The Quakes had their chances last night, but as is the case with just about every minor league game I’ve ever seen (not that I’ve been to that many), there’s a reason they call it “minor.” The play on the field is every bit that at times. Even the umpiring is suspect at times.

Last night the umpires had to meet after controversial plays on three occasions to discuss what had happened. In all three cases, they changed the call. Imagine that happening at the major league level. That doesn’t even include the obvious calls they missed and didn’t discuss.

The strike zone was a mystery and you had to wonder if the umpires were actually watching the same game at times. Their poor performance definitely factored against the Quakes, but it wasn’t the sole reason they fell short of a title.

Despite it all, it was baseball; good old fashioned baseball. It’s a shame that only 2,099 people managed to attend a championship game. I don’t understand why more people don’t make the effort to get to Rancho Cucamonga or any minor league park for that matter to take in some baseball.

Yes, you will see more passed balls, wild pitches, errors and routine plays that aren’t so routine than you ever will at the major league level, but you will also see players who are truly headed in the direction of a promising career and play that can be outstanding at times.

The most expensive ticket I could have purchased last night would have been $12, but even our $8 seats were fantastic. When we were there Saturday, we bought tickets that were just two rows from the field and directly across from third base. It was actually too close for us and we ended up moving up to higher seats for better photo opportunities, where there was no screen to protect us or mess with the auto focus on our camera.

The atmosphere is unlike anything you will ever experience. It’s fun, it’s interactive, it’s kid friendly and you are guaranteed to laugh and smile all game long. The mascots (Tremor and After Shock), the cheer leader (Crazy J) and even the music they play during the game make the experience memorable.

And then there’s the players... Cheryl and I know that we saw someone special in Mike Trout. His play stands out and even though it’s a long way from Single A to the major leagues, it appears (at least to us) that he’s on his way.

Last night he had two hits, was walked intentionally, got hit by a pitch, stole a base and scored 2 runs. He wasn’t quite as dynamic as he was Saturday night, but he was fun to watch just the same. He’s the kind of player who would do anything to win a game. Mike Scioscia is going to love having him on his roster one day.

When the Giants recorded the final out and began to celebrate on the field, Trout was stranded at third base. He represented the tying run in the bottom of the 10th inning. He had just been hit by a pitch, stole second base and then advanced to third on the throwing error. He was 90 feet away from tying the game and keeping hope alive.

As the Giants celebrated, Trout watched. We heard a lady in the stands imploring him not to look. I don’t know what she was thinking, but in my mind I’m glad he soaked it all in. I have a feeling the image of the Giants celebrating on his field will be etched in his mind and serve as motivation for him. I want him to remember last night and I hope he has a fire in his belly to not only get to the major leagues, but more importantly to be a champion.

Cheryl and I love baseball, but we love championship baseball even more. We look forward to the day when we can watch Mike Trout in October; in Anaheim on the biggest stage in the world. If and when he has a chance to raise a World Series trophy above his head, Cheryl and I will remember last night and cheer with pride, knowing Mike Trout learned something about winning on a Monday night in 2010. We will know that last night served as motivation for something bigger and even though we don’t know Trout on a personal level, we will have shared the experience with him in our own way. We will also know that the sleep we lost will have been worth it.

See you in Anaheim Mike Trout; see you real soon.

(This post can also be found on True Grich. Please note that won't always be the case, just when it's appropriate)

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