A Minor Deal

On Saturday night I had a chance to volunteer with Ed Randall’s “Fans for the Cure” program at a New Hampshire Fisher Cats home game. The initiative, started by Randall, a NYC sports talk-show radio host, seeks to educate everyone – not just men – on the facts of prostate cancer. It may be embarrassing to talk about or something that doesn’t often come up, but the importance of knowledge and early detection cannot be ignored.

It is the #1 non-skin cancer in United States. Approximately 240,000 men will receive a prognosis of prostate cancer in the calendar year 2014, and that – to give all baseball fans an easy reference point – is enough to fill Yankee Stadium five times.

So not only did I feel good about handing out pamphlets at the game, but it came with an added bonus. We were giving away raffle tickets to win a bat, signed by the whole Fisher Cats team. My father and I became the primary hawkers of the educational literature and began contesting one another, loudly, to see who could give away more. It ended up being fun and rewarding. My father and I would rope people in with what we considered witty (and no doubt others considered obnoxious) banter and then my mother, sister, and girlfriend would help sign up.

The bat, signed by the whole team

The bat, signed by the whole team

Left to Right: Mom, Sam, Dad, Sarah

My thanks goes out to Ed Randall because after the top of the second inning, all the material had been distributed, the crowds dispersed, and we all took our seats to enjoy the game. The cellar-dwelling Eastern League Fisher Cats 5-0 loss to the Eerie Seawolves was softened by the fact that we had great seats provided to us by the foundation, mere rows behind the back stop. (What is a seawolf, by the way?)

So the game was great, a wonderful time had by a family basking in perfect baseball weather. The food was good – part of the family even partook in the healthy option dining – and affordable. Then after the game, as there is so many weekend nights, the Fisher Cats rewarded patient fans by giving them an enormous fireworks show. Really though – enormous. It lasted fifteen consecutive minutes and about two-thirds through my girlfriend leaned over to me and said, very impressed, “Wow. This is Fourth of July material.”

Five tickets, food for all, and parking habitually totals under $90 for Minor League games. What we got out of it was a great, 9-inning baseball game that whistled by in 2:10, a high-caliber fireworks show, and a nice night outside where the family was forced together to talk and laugh.

I’m sorry if this sounds too “wow-what-a-perfect-time-this-sounds-like-an-infomercial” but it’s true. Everyone agreed that, for a group of five, there couldn’t be a better deal with better rewards out there. Seats inches away from the field are $12; they have awesome promotions, entertaining half-inning gimmicks, and (sometimes) rehabbing MLB stars.

I’m an avid baseball fan so heading up to Portland to watch a Boston Red Sox top minor league prospect is something I enjoy doing, but even if you’re not that interested in the players and you’re only there for the game, it’s still great. Even Buzzfeed agrees that there are 29, solid reasons that Minor League Baseball is awesome. (Spoiler: one of their reasons involves a urinal and the NH Fisher Cats logo.)

Minor League games bring you closer to the action. So close, in fact, that you may wind up in the front office. Not literally, of course, but – as my mother pointed out to me during the game – there were certainly a lot of dudes in golf shirts jotting down some serious notes. They clustered like the cool kids table at lunch and during the intervals of the half-inning rest, they’d converse amongst one another, holding up their clipboards in mock frustration or laughing about a radar gun reading.

I was intrigued. Ever since my mother mentioned them, I would keep track of their movements out of the corner of my eye. The Seawolves called in a relief pitcher who threw gas late in the game. The radar gun hit 96 on the center field wall and I saw one scout widen his eyes a bit and jot something down, nodding his head ever so slightly. I suppose that’s about as enthusiastic as they get.

Naturally, I wanted to ask what they were looking for. It’s not uncommon for a guy to hit 96 – one pitcher did earlier in the game – but what were they really looking for. During the seventh inning stretch I maneuvered through an empty row and sat down next to a blond-haired man who looked to be in his mid-20s. I introduced myself and he told me his name was Shaun McNamara, a professional scout for the New York Mets.

What were the Mets doing watching a game between the affiliates of the Toronto Blue Jays and Detroit Tigers? They aren’t in the same league.

I learned that McNamara, a Worcester, MA native, covered Detroit, Minnesota, and Pittsburgh for the New York Mets from the majors on down through the farm system. He’s been at the business for three years and says that it goes from Spring Training to Thanksgiving, which warrants him a seven-week vacation until he’s back at it. McNamara, Brown University alum, was the pitching coach for Trinity College.

Usually a scout has to start off as a coach or player, McNamara explained. He was of the former, a pitching coach at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. And from there they can rise in the system. In the crowd of maybe 20 scouts, McNamara was the junior-most colleague by at least a decade. There were about 10 men who appeared to be life-long baseball men.

When I asked McNamara if he was looking at any particular player or any particular attribute, he said in pitchers, scouts look for arm speed and velocity while in batters they check bat speed and discipline.

So I sat next to McNamara for a few half-innings and spent quality time with my family during the game. Afterwards the fireworks exploded brilliantly above us, but I looked down into the stands and around at my family. What a great way to spend a beautiful night; outside in a ballpark, getting a great value.

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