I don't know what it is about going to baseball games that always make me feel that I am participating in something much large than myself. That by going out to any game, be it tee-ball or a major league game, you are engaging with history. It's as if baseball is programmed into our DNA. The sight of a baseball stadium makes me smile. The smell of the hot dogs, the taste of a cold beer and watching a little 9-on-9 while shared with friends and family is about as good as it gets. The funny thing is that, as far as sports go, I don't really care for baseball all that much. I almost never watch it on TV and if it weren't for listening to hours of ESPN radio everyday, I wouldn't have a clue as to what was going on in the sport.
While in San Diego, we went to roughly four to six games per year over the ten years were there. The Padres are notoriously awful, but the stadium is the draw. It's right downtown with plenty to do before, during and after the game. If you have kids, I would wager that there is no better major league park in the world and certainly no better weather to enjoy it in. Petco Park is truly a special place. There are no banners there...at least none that anyone cares about. No real superstars have been a part of the team since Tony Gwynn, though I guess closer, Trevor Hoffman, could be added to the short list. And more often than not the fans are for the opposing team. Maybe that's why I enjoyed it so much though. Since I don't care who wins and I have no ties to any baseball team, it's just getting outside and watching live sports.
Now that we have moved to Raleigh, we had to take advantage of the local minor league triple-A team, the Durham Bulls (if you are interested in the history of the team, check this out). And yes, this is the same team made famous by the 1988 Kevin Costner film, Bull Durham. That was, of course, filmed in the old stadium, Durham Athletic Park (DAP), which still stands and acts as the stadium for the North Carolina Central University baseball team.
The Bulls have a beautiful new stadium. Great choices for beer and food including Foothills Brewery which carries a great pilsner and IPA (Torch and Hoppyum, respectively) and Rita's Italian Ice (I truly enjoyed introducing Taz and the Little Man to what was such a childhood staple of mine). There is a playground behind the right field stands. Across the street is the American Tobacco Historic District, which is filled with businesses, restaurants, bars and tons of room for the little ones to run around (helpful tip: a great spot to tire out the kids for a little while before the first pitch so you can watch a little of the game before the kids are ready to go again). Beyond that, the organization goes out of its way to make these games not just family friendly, but family fun too. Between most innings, a kid is picked out and brought down to participate in some sort of game on the field while the crowd cheers them on.
Taz and Little Man hung tight for three and a half innings before dragging me to the playground. I even got to explain some of the aspects of baseball to the Little Man. I don't think he gets much if any at all of the positions, the games rules or its quirks, but he genuinely seemed to enjoy watching the home run we saw and that probably had more to do with watching the giant bull in the outfield blow smoke out of its nose. I can't blame him, it was pretty cool. The Little Man didn't make it a full inning without asking to go to the playground or asking to get some ice cream at least twenty times, but he's three, so I wasn't expecting to talk about ERAs or RBIs. Taz on the other hand was mesmerized by the game play of the first inning and half, though after that he seemed more content yanking on my beard, pointing at random things and trying to wriggle free of my grasp.
During the time we were there, I kept reminding myself to stay in the moment and not get carried away by the usual stuff the boys do to set me off. And for the most part it worked. I really enjoyed our time there. It felt almost ritualistic to be doing it, especially since this was our first time sitting in the stands and not on some grass beyond the outfield with limited views of the games. No, this was as close as we've been, just the boys and I. I have fond memories of most of the games my father took me to as a kid, from spring training sessions to games at the old Yankee and Shea stadiums. While I've never had much of a desire to check out every major league ballpark, for some reason this game got part of me thinking about maybe putting something like that on the bucket list and to do so with my boys. As for this game, I've got the images stored away in my head forever now and I can't wait to get them out to another game.