“A ball player’s got to be kept hungry to become a big-leaguer. That’s why no boy from a rich family ever made the big leagues.” — Joe DiMaggio
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A sparse crowd was in attendance today at BB&T Ballpark, a lovely stadium that opens up to a view of downtown Winston-Salem.
My seat was right behind the dugout along the first-base line, and it provided me a good vantage point to watch not only an irate infielder get tossed by the ump in the first inning but also the hard-working stadium fan experience crew prepare each of the mid-inning entertainments that have become such an integral part of the minor league baseball experience. With a subdued, thin crowd, the fan experience crew did not have much to work with today, but it did not dampen their enthusiasm. They gamely led a few crowd members in the YMCA, prepped eager pre-teens on how to participate in the various silly inter-inning activities, and generally seemed to be having a good time, audience disengagement notwithstanding.
It was a good reminder of just how complex the task of running even a Class A minor league game can be. With few fans in attendance, it was easy to spot all of the stadium crew — a sizable team that put me in mind of my days working at Cameron Indoor at Duke for basketball games in the early 1990s, when the number of game workers often was in the dozens.
Part of the effort that goes in to bringing fans to the stadium is the series of thematic promotions that most minor league ballparks schedule throughout the season, often to attract those less interested in baseball than in the more social aspects of a communal game experience. Today was Pup in the Park day, which brought a lot of baseball-loving dogs to the game. I spent the 7th inning in the outfield at the Foothills Brew Pen with Bandit, a black lab mix, and her owners (Nathan and Heather of Winston-Salem). Noted Heather of Bandit’s Pup in the Park experience, “She didn’t really like the [stadium] photographer very much; she barked her head off at her.” Her aversion to professional photographers aside (she very kindly posed for me), she seemed to enjoy not only the time lounging in the sun in the outfield but also the attention from all of the passers-by who easily picked up on her easy-going nature and stopped to give her a scratch on the head.
Brian Boesch, Winston-Salem’s Associate Director of Media Relations and Broadcasting, recommended a few stadium highlights to me, and I made sure to stop by each of them. BB&T Ballpark is a new stadium, but it honors the heritage of the 100+ years of North Carolina baseball that preceded the Dash with a Carolina League Walk of Fame, which stretches from first base to third base in the concourse area, and is what made me think of today’s lead quote from Joe DiMaggio. I made sure to find the plaque honoring “Crash” Davis, who not only played for the Durham Bulls but also suited up for my alma mater, Duke University — a fact I did not know before today.
Brian also recommended a stop by the Foothills Brew Pen, which is what led me to abandon my primo dugout seat for the last 1/3 of the game. It is a terrific spots to watch a game, and, according to Brian, the only such perch in the Carolina League. I also indulged, at Brian’s recommendation, in a Cheesypeño sausage at the start of the game.
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Finally, a tip of the hat to Winston-Salem for coming up with one of the best team names in minor league baseball. For those who do not know, Winston-Salem’s latest incarnation (the city has hosted about ten different minor league teams since 1892) is as the Dash — a sly tribute to the hyphen between Winston and Salem in the city’s name.
Winston-Salem 3, Carolina 1. The game started inauspiciously, with both starting pitchers struggling to record outs. After 35 minutes of close calls, however, the score was still 0-0 at the bottom of the 1st. Carolina pushed a runner across the plate in the 4th, but the Dash tied it up in the 6th and tacked on another run in the 7th to take the lead, though three straight strikeouts ended further damage from a bases-loaded, no-outs threat. One of my favorite things to watch in baseball is the very rare triple, and Winston-Salem obliged today with not one but two. The Dash added an insurance run in the bottom of the 8th to ensure their sweep of Carolina in the 3-game series.
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Today’s beer: Foothills Brewing, People’s Porter. It would be sacrilege to go to Winston-Salem and not have a beer from Foothills. The People’s Porter is probably my favorite offering from this brewery.
Update from last night: Be sure to check out this video of the bottom-filling beer dispenser at the Greensboro game in action, provided by Jordan.