Here I am, it’s Saturday night, and I decided at the last minute to go watch a Tri-City ValleyCats game at Joe Bruno Stadium. The Cats were hosting the Staten Island Yankees, so I expected a good, solid, tight competition.
And boy did I get it.
The first competition was for a parking spot. Big tip – arriving at the Joe 20 minutes before the first pitch means you’re parking about half a mile away from the stadium. I eventually found a spot in an elevated parking garage, and then walked to the ticket window.
Long line at the ticket window. This is what happens when you decide to watch a ValleyCats game at the last possible minute, I guess. Last-minute tickets were available for a place called “the berm,” which I found out was a grassy knoll in the outfield. Um… if I had known those tickets were available, I would have brought a lawn chair from my car.
“Do you have any tickets here?” I asked, pointing to the reserved sections behind home plate.
“We have one ticket in Section 130,” the clerk replied.
“I’ll take it.”
Section 130 is halfway between home plate and third base, and it allowed a decent line of sight to the diamond. Unfortunately, when I got to my seat … someone was sitting in it.
“Excuse me,” I said, “I believe you’re in my seat?”
The woman looked at me with a glare of disgust. “No I’m not.”
I quoted the row and seat number on the ticket.
“You’re really going to make me move?”
Eventually she did slide down one seat, and I sat down to watch the game.
Here’s the thing about single-A short-season baseball. If you recognize the names of anybody on the roster without having to purchase a scorecard, they’re either high draft picks who just joined the team, or they’re returning players who have no chance to make The Show. Yes, yes, I know that Ben Zobrist and Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa played in Tri-City before they hit the big time, but honestly did you know they would be stars BEFORE they were stars?
First inning. The Staten Island Yankees’ pitcher, a kid naked Jhony Brito, cleared out the ValleyCats on eight pitches for the first inning. Then he was taken out of the game – and replaced with another Staten Island pitcher, a righthander named Alex Bisacca, who froze Tri-City in the second inning.
Okay … not understanding why the Staten Island Yankees are going one pitcher per inning, but maybe this is some new baseball managerial plan…
Next up for the third inning is some kid named Juan DePaula, who I understand was in the Seattle Mariners farm system and was recently acquired by the Yankees in a trade. DePaula pitched right down the middle, limiting the ValleyCats to a couple of walks and an error.
And I’m realizing at this moment … hey, I’m witnessing something special in baseball. Something I’ve often seen in the news, or maybe caught the final few outs in a cut-in from a television broadcast.
I’m watching a no-hitter right before my eyes. In the stadium. In person.
This is kinda cool.
Except that the woman who was grumpy about taking my seat was having a loud, running conversation with her friends in the rows alongside, in front and behind her – about how great the New England Patriots are.
“They’re the greatest football team ever. Tom Brady is a god. And if I was in a room with Rob Gronkowski, I gotta tell you, he wouldn’t have any clothes on after I got a hold of him, let me tell you.”
This is going on for inning after inning.
And then came the kicker.
“They should just give us the Super Bowl trophy every year. No other team is better than the New England Patriots.”
Deep breath, Chuck… concentrate on the baseball game in progress. Hey, why are they taking out that kid DePaula in the 7th inning, there’s a freakin’ no-hitter going on… who’s this kid Justin Kamplain, some lefty who’s been with Staten Island for three years … at this rate, the kid’s only going to get to Yankee Stadium if he buys a ticket…
“The Patriots are so much better than anyone else. Patriots, Patriots, Tom Brady, Patriots.”
“Not as good as the Steelers.”
“Who said that?”
I waved my hand. “Me.”
“Pfft,” the woman snarled. “You’ve got druggies and rapists on your team. Be really proud of that. Rapethlisberger and all that.”
And I’m thinking … you’re sitting here in a baseball stadium describing to your friends – in very graphic detail – with kids around – what you would do with Rob Gronkowski if given the chance?
“Yeah,” I replied. “Be proud of your team. Aaron Hernandez.”
“Oh, we cut him quickly.”
“Talk to the hand, we’ve got five Super Bowl rings and you don’t.”
“You’re right about that. We have SIX Super Bowl rings and are going for a seventh this year.”
“No you won’t. Not with that rapist as your quarterback.”
“Spygate. Tuck rule. A convict on a snow plow.”
“You’re still a Steelers fan. You’re not a real football fan. You probably started rooting for them yesterday.”
Oh really? You’re going there, sister? And racing through my mind, all I could think of what kind of rapier-sharp comeback i could craft about watching the Immaculate Reception and the Steel Curtain at the height of their talent while the New England Patriots were stinking up Schaefer Stadium with Tony Eason and Steve Grogan and a bunch of has-beens and never-would-be’s…
But it’s at this point in time that I do something I should have done a couple of innings ago.
I stood up and walked toward the walkway, making very sure to slowly pass in front of Franny Foxboro on my way to the aisle.
A quick trip up the aisle, and I watched the final two innings from an unobstructed (and thankfully Patriots fan free) section of the concourse. It was there that I saw the Staten Island Yankees finish off their no-hitter – apparently the third one in team history, and more importantly, the first no-hitter I’ve ever witnessed in person. Which in itself is cool.
A no-hitter. Watched as a last-minute decision on a Saturday night.
And aside from some foul-mouthed Patriots fans – it was a good night all around. And plenty to enjoy as I’m hiking the mile and a half back to the parking structure to retrieve my car. 😀