The Dagger doesn’t have regular sports coverage, but we know some of you want it. And since all baseball games are basically the same, we randomly chose one game to attend.
The choice: an epic Thursday battle between the Aberdeen IronBirds and the Hudson Valley Renegades. The two low-rung minor-league teams played nine innings and one was eventually declared the winner. Here’s everything else that happened.
It’s possible that minor league baseball is humanity’s best sports creation. If you’re looking for an enjoyable, affordable night out with the family, you’ll find it at the local ballpark.
On the other hand, if you’re in your 20s and looking for a beer, it’s like going to a bar where they happen to be playing baseball! Just like a popular downtown club except, instead of Lady Gaga and 19-year-old girls in hot pants playing the field, there’s Lynyrd Skynyrd and 19-year-old dudes in hot pants playing the field.
I hadn’t been to Ripken Stadium in more than five years, but not much had changed. There are now TWO zany mascots, “Ripcord” and “Ferrous,” instead of just one, and Ripken Stadium was now bedecked with banners recalling great IronBirds of yesteryear such as Garrett Olson, Jason Berken, and Jim Hoey. But it still felt like the ballpark I remembered.
Really, though, the IronBirds had me from jump street: my ticket actually said “Come to Play!” at the bottom! Beer, baseball, and the chance that I might get in the game if they need a lefty reliever with a 62 mph fastball? Sweet!
We sat in the group section with members of the North Pocono team of Cal Ripken Baseball (a division of Babe Ruth Baseball, which is kind of like the WaWa to Little League Baseball’s Sheetz). One lucky North Pocono youngster threw out the first pitch, a nice breaking ball right over the plate. He was immediately signed to a minor-league deal, but blew out his arm after four seasons and is now an outfielder with the Blue Jays.
Even better, a special musical guest was in attendance: The Bucket Boys. The Bucket Boys got their start in Chicago playing, among other places, outside Wrigley Field before they were traded along with Felix Pie and sent to the Orioles minor league system.
The crowd was treated to four performances by the Boys between various innings, and another outside the ballpark after the game. Let me summarize by saying it’s exactly what you think it is: guys banging on Home Depot buckets with rhythm you and I don’t have.
Other acts this season included “Dave the Horn Guy” and “Mad Chad the Chainsaw Juggler.” With the state of the Orioles’ pitching this year, you’d think the organization was already juggling enough chainsaws.
Our national anthem was ably performed by the Zion’s Men Fellowship, who turned in a rousing rendition. Less rousing was the traditional “O’s!” shouted out at the song’s final line. The lusty cries of “O’s!” from my youth were gone, replaced with a dirge-like “o’s” more appropriate for a last place big-league team being lowered into the AL East ground.
Overcoming that depressing note, I settled in for what I expected to be a laconic, easygoing game when the second Hudson Valley player came to bat and blew my mind.
Now batting for the Renegades….the third baseman…Burt…Reynolds.
Believe me when I say, half the stadium did a double take and stared out to the scoreboard to see if the Bandit himself was really coming to bat. Could White Lightning have turned in his 12-gauge for a third baseman’s glove?
However, this raised a more interesting question. Burt Reynolds that’s batting .227 was born in 1988, well into the career of Burt Reynolds that introduced Dirk Diggler to Rollergirl. So why did his parents chose that of all names for him? What would you name your kid if your last name was “Walken” or “Trebek” or “L. Jackson”? To be fair, the player is from the Dominican Republic—is it possible they’ve never heard of any actor by that name there, and “Burt Reynolds” is in fact a name of great respect and standing in his community?
Truthfully, it was the kids events that held my attention through a game where one ball left the infield in first two and a half innings. (It was dropped in the outfield by the IronBirds.) There were the t-shirts sling-shotted to kids in the stands by the “flight crew,” team interns with nicknames on their shirts like “Danimal.” There was a race around the infield by the North Pocono crew, won by the one kid who looked like he’d hit puberty (The commissioner’s office is investigating). And there was the WaWa Squad, kids who competed to throw bean bags into a cardboard cut out of a man’s mouth. And I’ll pass on the Michael Jackson joke.
We’re 850 words in so it’s probably worth mentioning the score now: the IronBirds actually came back in the 8th inning to win it, 5-4. There’s still more than a month of games left, and at least two big acts left on the schedule: Mad Chad the Chainsaw Juggler, and the ZOOperstars. Be sure to say hello to Cow Ripken Jr. if you see him.