Forget all those major league ballparks with their first class amenities and high priced tickets. If you want to see baseball the way it was meant to be played, you have to look in a different place.
We have been fortunate to have attended several collegiate league baseball games in a town just north of Pittsburgh. The Butler BlueSox team is a new member of the Prospect Collegiate League, made up of college players playing on teams being sponsored by small towns from Indiana to Illinois to Missouri, Ohio and Butler and Slippery Rock (PA).
Since I grew up in Butler, it’s really like going home again for me. Historic Pullman Park stadium, rebuilt with state money, is where my father once watched Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig play an exhibition game against the minor league Butler Yankees of the 1930s. It’s also the site where my brother played pony league baseball. I still have a clear memory of sitting in the stands watching him play, while working on a Sugar Daddy bar, something I wouldn’t even attempt today.
The crack of the ball off a wooden bat, players hustling for a full nine innings and easy-going between inning games for kids -- it’s all there. The players either live at home or with host families, all for a chance to keep their baseball skills honed during summer breaks from college. The league wraps up in early August when the players head back to their schools to play some more, hoping eventually to get a break into the big leagues.
But for now, they are content to play in front of the hometown crowd, who enjoy this relaxing way to spend cool summer nights. Even in these economic times, tickets, between $4 and $6, are inexpensive enough that you can bring the whole family to the game, grandpa and grandma too.
The best part of the games, though, is how the young children in the stands enjoy themselves. Toting their baseball gloves and wearing hats from their little league teams, these kids see these games as the Big Time. My favorite memory (so far) has been when a bunch of kids rushed over to the home dugout after a game to get the BlueSox players to sign autographs. It’s was hard to decide who seemed more thrilled -- the players for being asked or the kids who got a treasure to take home. Maybe someday those autographs will end up being worth a lot of money, but that’s not the point. It’s all about the moment and getting someone you admire to pay attention to you -- so you can tell your friends later. And considering some of the recent history of Major League Baseball, who’s to say those kids have it wrong about what really is Big Time baseball.
At BlueSox games, it’s easy to see why baseball, at one time, was indisputably America’s national pastime. It’s too bad that a lot of that has been taken from the game. Baseball is such a big business in our country these days, it’s often difficult to remember what just watching the game itself was like. If you get the opportunity to see a team like the Butler BlueSox play, I hope you will take it.
By Teresa K. Flatley