Baseball hasn’t changed, but we have

By Kevin Wilson

In late May, I had a chance to use a few days of vacation to get away from the constant variety of sports that I had covered over the previous few months.
Just two days into the vacation, as I sat in the left-field bleachers at Isotope Park in Albuquerque, it was obvious that I hadn’t learned my lesson.
It was May 24, and I was watching the hometown Isotopes take on the Tucson Sidewinders. The game was a matchup of the Triple-A affiliates of two of the last three World Series champions — Tucson is affiliated with the Arizona Diamondbacks, Albuquerque with the Florida Marlins.
As a longtime fan of The Simpsons (the fourth season DVD set is great), I was an Isotopes fan before I ever walked into the park. You see, one episode of The Simpsons featured Homer Simpson discovering that the Springfield Isotopes, the local minor league team, were planning a move to Albuquerque.
(Classic dialogue from that episode, after the Isotopes stayed in Springfield: The mayor of Albuquerque tells his assistant to get the Dallas Cowboys, and the assistant clarifies that the Cowboys are a football team. He replies, “They’ll play what I tell them to play … because I’m the mayor of Albuquerque.”)
Through a hunger strike, Homer was able to preserve the team’s tenure in Springfield. Through a public relations move, the Albuquerque Isotopes came to be when the Calgary Cannons relocated to the Land of Enchantment.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a huge connoisseur of professional baseball, a fact that is probably evident with my usage of the term connoisseur.
Still, I had some baseball history with my friend Robert, who joined me for the game (along with his girlfriend Sara). Robert and I have had countless battles on Nintendo’s Ken Griffey Jr. Baseball, and a cellular phone call from the other usually happens due to an important baseball moment (Barry Bonds’ 73rd homer, Sammy Sosa’s corked bat and the first stolen base of Kenny Rogers’ decade-long career).
Still, Robert and I were heading into what was a distant memory for me. The last time I’d even been to a professional baseball game was in the mid-’90s, when I watched the Helena (Mont.) Brewers, a rookie affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers.
The Helena Brewers were never a great team, which is probably one of the reasons why the Milwaukee Brewers aren’t a great team right now. When the baseball was boring, and it often was, there wasn’t much hope for the rest of the night — the only other things that made the park entertaining were
• “Billy,” a supermarket stocker by day and Brewer cheerleader by night, and
• Pestering Al Marks, the local television sports reporter, for an autograph as giggling friends looked on from their seats (poor Al thought we were genuine fans). If I had used eBay back then, Marks’ autograph, plus the postage to send it, would go for about 30 cents.
Things have changed from those days. Now the starters are introduced on video screens with an Allan Parsons Project song. And if the game’s not entertaining, you can always cruise through the team shop or the amusement park in right field.
“Baseball’s just not enough for people anymore,” Robert said, echoing my sentiments as the music piped in.
Nowadays, baseball viewing is a mix of the old and the new, evidenced by my in-game meal of a hot dog and Dipping Dots, tabbed by some as the ice cream of the future.
However, baseball is still the same. You hit the ball, you catch the ball, and you never let the leadoff hitter get off to a two-ball, no-strike count.
That’s what happened for Tucson’s Andy Green, and he sent the third pitch deep into the New Mexico night. It was the first of five homers for the Sidewinders, and the game was a 13-1 laugher that never seemed to end.
On the bright side, there was plenty of time to check out a great park. Robert spent his free time chatting with his co-worker, Eastern New Mexico University alumnus and current KOB-TV sports reporter Ed McDougall.
This time around, I didn’t ask for an autograph. Baseball’s still a kid’s game, but I guess I’ve grown up a little bit.

Kevin Wilson is managing editor for the Portales News-Tribune. Contact him at 356-4483 or by e-mail at:
Kevin_Wilson@link.freedom.com