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The official start of baseball season April 13, 2010

Posted by Christine Coleman in Baseball.
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Shelby Miller, 4-11-10

Even though the Major League Baseball season is in its second week, baseball doesn’t officially start for me until I attend my first baseball game. It takes seeing the green of the grass in person and having that first hot dog and beer to make a season real. Happily, the season began on Sunday when I went to the home opener for the Quad Cities River Bandits.

 

The Bandits play at Modern Woodmen Park on the banks of the Mississippi River, a beautiful ballpark in a picturesque setting. Last week it was named one of the “10 great places for a baseball pilgrimage” in USA Today and was the setting for many of the baseball scenes in last year’s movie “Sugar.” I’ve been going there since I was a kid, having watched the Quad City Angels, Quad City Cubs, the first go-round of the River Bandits (when they were a farm team for the Astros then the Twins), the Swing of the Quad Cities (with the unfortunate baby blue uniforms that both Rick Ankiel and Mark Mulder wore) and now back to the River Bandits again. 

Watching minor league games, especially at this level, is about the future – which of these players is a real prospect, and will they make it to the big leagues? With the Bandits a Cardinals farm team for the last several years, I’ve had the chance to see guys like Colby Rasmus, Jaime Garcia and Nick Stavinoha play here. And hopefully the top draft picks of 2009 who are now here, including Shelby Miller and Robert Stock, are guys I will see in St. Louis in years ahead. 

The future focus of attending Bandits games isn’t just with the players, though. It’s a generational thing. For Sunday’s home opener, I took my niece Lily and nephews Sean and Drew to the game. All three love baseball, and it’s okay for now that Lily and Sean are Cubs fans. Drew has already realized it makes more sense to be a Cardinals fan – great wisdom for an 8-year-old! 

We arrived early for the game. Sean and Drew were interviewed by a local television station outside the ballpark, the reporter asking them what they liked the most about opening day. (Nachos and home runs were the common theme of their answers.) Inside the ballpark, our first stop was the team store so they could check out all the new merchandise and make a purchase. They chose our seats – right next to the River Bandits dugout, since they all wanted to get autographs. The boys brought along baseballs they’d received last season, plus their own markers, but also were hopeful of getting a ball thrown to them since they were in the front row. That plan worked for Lily, as the Bandits third base coach tossed one to her after it went foul. 

The boys both play baseball and Lily plays softball, and all three impressed me with their knowledge of the game. During the top of the first, Sean was telling me what pitches Miller should be throwing at each count. He walked the first batter and gave up a hit in the inning, but ended the inning with a strikeout. In the second, he struck out the side and then also struck out the first batter in the third for five consecutive Ks. He had two more strikeouts, a couple more walks and only one other hit during his four total innings of work. 

The Bandits took a 1-0 lead when Stock and D’Marcus Ingram hit consecutive doubles. Cedar Rapids tied it, although I’m not sure how – at the time, Drew and I were walking around the outfield. It’s obvious the kids are growing up and appreciating the game more: walking around the entire ballpark and visiting the play area used to be the top priorities. While all four of us started walking around, Lily and Sean went back to the seats quickly because they didn’t want to miss the game. Drew and I continued walking and spent several minutes at the right centerfield wall, watching the game from this vantage point until the end of the inning. Minutes later, Bandit Matt Adams hit a homer – directly to where we’d been standing. 

The Bandits hung on for the 2-1 win. Sitting right by the dugout was a nice vantage point. Such a close game, and a walk in the top of the ninth inning, made for a dramatic couple of minutes. With two outs, as the crowd cheered for strike three, the Bandits all lined up along the railing in anticipation of a victory. The excitement with the third out wasn’t just contained to the fans. The players leaped over the railing and onto the field, looking genuinely excited about the victory. And the three kids, and many others, leaped into places along the wall to wait for autographs. 

Several players obliged. It also was “run the bases” day. Before the game ended, I’d asked the kids if they wanted to do it. Lily said no, since she is recovering from a cracked bone in her ankle and has to wear an orthopedic boot right now. The boys wanted to get autographs first. Many kids, though, went out to the field to run. Three Bandits, including Robert Stock, were lined up between third base and home to high-five the kids as they passed by. When the crowd died down, they signed autographs on the field. 

Lily, Sean and Drew all climbed over the wall onto the field. Since parents were too, I did (feeling like a mom carrying bags that contained our sweatshirts, their purchases and the Easter eggs from the pre-game on-field hunt). The three were waiting to get Stock’s autograph. As Lily approached, he said to her, “I don’t think I can sign anything if you’re wearing a Cubs shirt.” She laughed, and of course he signed her baseball. A moment later, when a girl didn’t have a marker, he asked Lily if he could use hers. When she said yes, he said, “I guess you’re OK then, since you share.” He made a couple of new fans right then. 

The boys ran the bases and Lily met them at home plate for a picture. The stadium was mostly cleared out as we walked through to leave. The kids looked over their baseballs, to see how many autographs they’d obtained. Walking through the parking lot, we talked over the game and the best parts (going on the field). It was the perfect ending to the official start of the season.

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Comments»

1. linda suring - April 13, 2010

What a great story.

2. Erika - April 13, 2010

sounds like tons of fun! I love it that the kids can connect with baseball so positively so young… that will set them up with a lifetime love of the game! 🙂

3. Michael - April 13, 2010

I know one girl who will be a fan of Robert Stock, even if he makes it to the bigs and gets a game-winner against the Cubs.


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