Last year I purchased tickets weeks in advance to see the Quakes at Inland Empire. Then Manny Ramirez was suspended for 50 games, came back to to do some "rehab" with the 66ers the weekend my tickets were for, and I sold my two $12 tickets for $45 each. The biggest part of the beauty of minor league baseball is that the fans are true fans of the game of baseball; they aren't front-runners or starf**kers who go to games to see particular players. I knew there were going to be many of those types at the game, so if I could skip that - and make $75 in the process - I was just fine with that.
But this year I have awaited the arrival of baseball season more than any I can remember. There hasn't been much else to keep me entertained in the last few months. UCLA football had another of its par-for-the-course-these-days .500 seasons. UCLA basketball was atrocious, as they have finally stopped practicing offense all together. The Lakers had the best record in the West, but they are still my least favorite Lakers team ever.
Baseball is the transfusion I needed to get those other teams out of my blood. I decided this should be the season I follow the Quakes to other venues. Saturday night Elizabeth and I went up to Lancaster to see the Quakes at the Jethawks.
I drove through Lancaster pretty much every year when I was a kid - on the way to Mammoth with my family. There was never much to see. Over the years the population tripled. The last time we went to Mammoth as a family, the summer after I graduated high school, there was a new minor league baseball park. A minor league team, the Pilots, had moved from Riverside and were now the Lancaster Jethawks.
We headed up to Lancaster in the afternoon to have lunch, play miniature golf, and visit the California Poppy Reserve. In the afternoon, about an hour and half before game time, I suggested we go to the stadium and hang out for a while. I figured there wouldn't be too many people at that hour and we could play catch in the parking lot or something. But when we got to the scene of the crime, there were hundreds of people in line already. I was not expecting this: Lancaster was 1-8, the worst team in the California League. (And, until Rancho Cuc swept the first three games of the series, the Quakes had the second-worst record.) Apparently they were giving away a fleece blanket to the first 1500 fans and, according to the Jethawks' website, it was "one of the most anticipated giveaway nights of the season." Well, then.
We took our place at the back of one of the lines, a couple hundred people deep, under the NASA F/A-18. We waited in line for about 20 minutes but it was a nice warm desert day so we didn't mind. Once inside we walked around for a while, taking pictures of the stadium. We bought a churro. A few weeks ago there was some discussion on the other blog about churros after a post on Olvera Street. That was one of the best churros I have ever had in my life. This one was perhaps the worst. It was hard enough for one of the players to use as a bat.
Since this stadium is north of the San Gabriel Mountains, there isn't much of a view; you're just looking out onto the high desert. That's fine with me, I don't mind concentrating on the game. But it's a far cry from sitting right beneath the mountains in Rancho Cucamonga.
My main complaint with the game, once it started, was the annoying trend of the sound system playing songs and making noises after every pitch. Now, I love the silliness of minor league ball as much as anyone. Whether it's the baby races at the Staten Island Yankees or the "free car wash for the dirtiest car in the parking lot" at the Great Falls Dodgers (my friend Tom and I had driven 500 miles through Montana that day and my car was crusted with dead bugs; I still fail to see how we lost, other than perhaps because I had California plates on my car) I love the informal atmosphere of minor league games. And I am in favor of anything silly between the innings. But once the game is being played, I find the huge ruckus distracting. But then again most people at the ballpark seemed to be enjoying it, so maybe I'm wrong.
The Jethawks got out to a several run lead but the Quakes pitcher settled down and finished the last 4 and 1/3 innings perfectly, and the Quakes were able to come back and win. When we got home we unwrapped the fleece blanket. I gotta admit, it's pretty nice, much more comfortable than I was expecting. With all the giveaways I have picked up at baseball games over the years, there is only one that I truly used for a long time: the beach towel I got at a Padres game I went to with my dad when I was 15, a double-header that turned out to include Tony Gwynn's 2000th hit. But I have a feeling this blanket is going to last a long time as well.
As I have written before, minor league games are the way to go if you love baseball. They are much cheaper (these tickets, which as you can see were very good) were $8 each, the game only lasted a little more than a couple hours, and the fans were really into the game. I don't like Clear Channel as much as the Epicenter, but it is still a great place to catch a game.