I intend to fully celebrate the connection of baseball and urbanism in 2014. I hope readers can join me for a game or two.
Every spring I struggle with how I feel about baseball versus urbanism. On one hand, baseball takes up a lot of space for a small number of participants, unlike let’s say basketball. And low density isn’t good for urbanism. On the other hand, baseball can be played most days, so doesn’t leave a neighborhood bereft of pedestrians for weeks on end, unlike let’s say football.
For me, it comes down to roots. Baseball evolved on the grassy open spaces of New York City, not far from where the famous Flatiron Building now stands. The first recorded game was played directly across the Hudson River in Hoboken. And I still thrill to the reports of city dwellers congregating in the streets of the early 20th century, awaiting reports on how their team was faring in the World Series. And those facts are enough to make baseball an urban game.
(Cooperstown is a lovely village, but its connection to the origins of baseball is nothing but a fairy tale told by a xenophobic old man who refused to believe that baseball could have evolved from a European game.)
Luckily for us, there are many opportunities to combine the enjoyment of baseball and urban settings here in the North Bay and nearby.
Through the spring, the local high schools provide entertaining options. (I’m often tempted to stop at the high school ballfield in my neighborhood. The sound of bat meeting ball is a persuasive seductress.) Sonoma State and Santa Rosa Junior College also provide opportunities to dawdle away warm spring afternoons, as do youth baseball programs.
But the real stars of the baseball universe are the teams that allow us to lean back and enjoy a ballgame on a summer evening, surrounded by the sound of infield chatter and the aromas of popcorn and grilled hot dogs.
A year ago, I wrote about the San Rafael Pacifics and Vallejo Admirals of the independent Pacific Association. This year, those two teams have been joined by the Sonoma Stompers and Pittsburg Mettle. Rather than flying to Hawaii for some games as the Pacifics and Admirals did in 2013, the four teams will play a summer-long round-robin in the North and East Bays, offering a pair of games on most nights.
(Note: For four years, I was the part-owner of a team in an independent league, so have a particular affection for that level of play. It doesn’t offer the skill one would find on a Major League diamond, but there is something compelling about young men so attached to the game of baseball that they’ll devote another summer or two of their post-college days to chasing the dream, even after they weren’t drafted by a big league club.)
In the same post of a year ago, I mentioned the college summer league clubs in Walnut Creek and Alameda. Although in a different league, the Healdsburg Prune Packers also play college summer baseball.
For 2014, I’m committed to attending home games for all seven of those baseball teams. And I’ll schedule my outings to include time to wander around the downtowns of San Rafael, Vallejo, Sonoma, Pittsburg, Walnut Creek, Alameda, and Healdsburg.
I had hoped to provide dates for all seven ballpark visits in this post. However, some of the ballclub schedules haven’t yet been posted. Within a couple of weeks, I’ll announce the seven dates. I hope that many readers will be able to join me for a game or two.
Readers may note that I haven’t yet mentioned either of the Bay Area Major League ballclubs. I have nothing against Major League Baseball. Most evenings, I have a Major League ballgame playing in the background as I work on a blog post or other task. And I’ve been enjoying outings to Major League ballparks for more than a half century.
But I’ve had even more fun at minor league and amateur games. At this time, including the outings describedabove, I’m scheduled to attend 29 ballgames this summer. And not one is a Major League game. I’ll watch several games in downtown Stockton, within a community struggling through its municipal bankruptcy, and another handful of games in downtown Reno, surrounded by casinos and music venues.
I’ll see games at the new ballpark in downtown El Paso, home of the newly-named Chihuahuas. I’ll see a couple of games in Taos, New Mexico, home of the Blizzard in the independent Pecos League. (Is there a more evocative league name than the Pecos League? It sounds like cowboys will stop by with herds of cattle enroute to market.)
If I end up in O.Co Coliseum or AT&T Park, that’d be fine. I’m sure I’d have a good time. But I expect to have better times in Alamagordo, Albuquerque, and Healdsburg.
Downtowns and minor league baseball is a tough combination to beat. I hope you’ll agree with me before the summer is over.
As always, your questions or comments will be appreciated. Please comment below or email me. And thanks for reading. - Dave Alden (firstname.lastname@example.org)