Time Out: July 23, 2008

Make room on your summer schedule to check out some minor league baseball. A trip to the park to catch the Oneonta Tigers, the Binghamton Mets or even the Hudson Valley Renegades (they play at Dutchess Stadium in Wappinger’s Falls) or the Tri-City Valley Cats (located in Troy) are all within reasonable driving distances. Yankee fans would enjoy a day trip to Scranton to watch the Bombers Triple-A affiliate, the Scranton /Wilkes-Barre Yanks. The serious baseball fan, or the casual fan simply looking for a night of fun and entertainment, can use the Catskills as a launching pad to find a minor league baseball game at any level.
As a hopeless Mets fan, I prefer a trip to NYSEG Stadium to catch the Binghamton Mets. Friday night marked my fifth trip to a B-Met game this season. The previous night 7,119 fans, the biggest crowd in B-Met history, packed NYSEG to catch a glimpse of Orlando Hernandez, ‘El Duque,’ a fabled former major leaguer attempting to make a comeback with the Mets. Friday night the Mets treated a smaller crowd to a 14-inning, 5-4, four and one-half hour marathon of baseball for the more serious fan.
Here are a few reasons why I think a trip to a minor league game is a summer must. I’ll use an excursion to a B-Met game as a reference point.
Easy access: I hate driving in the city. Getting to NYSEG Stadium is a snap. A trip down the corridor on Route 17, an easy exit on 4S, a short jaunt through one traffic light, the next right-hand turn, then straight ahead to NYSEG. It’s my kind of driving.
Parking: Three dollars earns a parking spot in a lot immediately adjacent to the stadium. There’s no battling traffic, long walks to the park and the worry that your car might be vandalized while you’re at the game.
Reasonable costs: For a once a year visit to a ball game, it is nice to be up-close-and-personal at the park. That’s the case at a B-Met game. A $9 box seat places you almost on the playing field. I’ve sat directly behind the dugouts and in the first row of seats behind home plate this summer. You can save a dollar by getting a ticket in the grandstand behind the boxes. Senior citizens and kids under 14 can save $2 on seats in both locations.
Cheap food: NYSEG Stadium is the only sports venue in the land where you can still buy a ballpark hot dog for a buck. Now that’s reasonable.
Friendly atmosphere: The atmosphere is light and friendly at a minor league park. Minor league teams cater to families and family fun. Between innings at every park, fans are coaxed from the crowd to compete in absolutely goofy promotions. At NYSEG, at the midpoint of the game, all the kids in the stadium gather outside the left field fence. Then, between innings, a gate opens, and the kids race from the left field fence across the outfield and exit through a gate in the right field fence.
Minor league antics: NYSEG Stadium has added a huge Diamond Vision Scoreboard that zeroes in on fans as they promote dancing, singing, flexing muscles and all kinds of nonsense. The kids love it. And, there are promotions of one sort or another almost every night. My favorite is a fireworks night. Fireworks follow every Friday night home game on the B-Met schedule. It’s a 10- minute aerial show with a continuous, multiple light display the entire time.
Good baseball: The energy and hustle of the young minor leaguers is contagious. The minor league park is a classroom for aspiring future major leaguers. It’s fun to watch these young athletes perform. The level of play is solid. For example, Friday night I watched Jonathan Niese, the Mets most promising pitching prospect, in a starting role. Niese has impeccable pitching mechanics, a fastball that fell between 87 and 92 mph the entire night, yet he still needs some work locating his fastball. Eddie Kuntz, the B-Met closer throws a mean fastball that registered has high as 97 mph on the big scoreboard. My favorite B-Met right now is Dan Murphy, a first-year infielder. A solid contact hitter, Murphy has pop in his bat. He slammed a walk-off homerun in the bottom of the 14th inning Friday night to close the curtain on a long night of baseball.
Note of caution: After reading about all the plusses, let me share one note of caution. It’s possible to catch a lousy day of baseball at a minor league game. Simply evaluating baseball performance, one of my trips this summer was a bust. Like games on the big stage, sometimes the athletes under perform. Listen to talk radio on a New York radio station and you get the idea that a lot of Yankee and Met fans think their teams stink up Yankee and Shea stadiums now and then.
Yet, for the most part, a trip to a minor league game is a safe bet. Even if the level of play fails to live up to its billing on a particular evening, the friendly, stress-free, family-fun atmosphere will provide enough entertainment to make your outing fun.