It’s a Hit!

_L3U7523.jpgLast week a group of us enjoyed a leisurely and delicious supper at the Tower Bistro in the Embassy Suites hotel across the river from Raley Field where we all inhabit section 117. That night it was compare notes from spring training and anticipate the upcoming season. Last night we enjoyed an offensive spectacular as the Sacramento River Cats of West Sacramento nearly overtook the parent Oakland A’s, who by the fifth inning had become the Oakland River A’s.

The name of AAA baseball is really “change”. The forces of evolution are never so clearly seen. Last year’s club has virtually been swept away. Mike Rouse, last year’s short stop will start the season on the roster of the Cleveland Indians. Few players from last season remain. Recent father Charles Thomas will hold down a spot in a good outfield along with Jason Perry. Jeremy Brown at catcher and John Baker appear to be strong but there’s a new name from AA who is still playing with the A’s and where he slips into place will effect one of the others. So the team we saw fielded on Thursday night isn’t representative of the team who will take on the Tacoma Rainers to open the season next Thursday.

Change also is transforming Raley Field. The grassy berm in left field is now a construction area as a BBQ terrace’s steel rises, an echo of the vast high rise project erupting across the river in Sacramento. We’ll have a front row seat for that bit of growth. New food concessions offer grilled sausages. There are salads now, somewhere.

But there are also the timeless, unchangeable qualities. Kids who get to sit in seats that would cost $100 or more in a big league park their eyes big as dinner plates and who dash off for autographs before the game. Ushers who have worked at the ball park since the Cat’s first season, who know and love the game, who are passionate about their involvement with baseball. The night-time skyline of Sacramento rising over the outfield. The silhouettes of crows against the glowing dusky sky as they seek their roosts deep in the urban forest.

And the atmosphere . . . well it’s still a great place to take a family. If you want to make a baseball fan then Raley Field is a great place. We have the perfect weather for evening baseball: hot days that blend into warm nights, cool nights when the delta wind is particularly strong. It’s a little high-rent at times. The $5.25 for a large soda seems more than a little wrong. Parking is expensive by AAA standards. But you can work around that. Those little packets of Crystal Lite that are water bottle sized free you from the tyranny of the concession stand and there are lots of drinking fountains for free refills.

But it’s the people who make the ball park experience. The players who sign their autographs along the baselines before the game are polite and open. Start your collection now. The ushers are friendly, the food service people work hard and are real. The early days are confusing and when there’s a sell-out and people come hungry, well, lines get long. And the fans, many of them, know their baseball. We’re in a town with a rich baseball history. The guys who bounce the big round ball up north of town have all the glory, and the high roller owners, but it’s the River Cats who put on the class act, pay their money into the lock box, and give everyone a chance to come out and see guys working very hard to move up, just like the rest of us.

Last week we sat along side the Sacramento River looking across at Raley Field, enjoying an excellent meal, good company, anticipating the season. And now the season has begun, the single exhibition game over, a few more in Oakland before the River Cats team is complete, then opening at home against the Tacoma Rainers. It’s so right that the powerfully Sacramento is flowing past the ball park: change at work, the structure of baseball, the fluid grace and asperations of the players, the kids growing up, the discipline of hitting, the wrestling of emotion and desire with intellect as an outfielder decides in an instant if he should keep the ball in front of him and make the dive for the catch.

Life is awfully good for a baseball fan in Sacramento. See you at the game!

More images of the River Cats vs the Oakland A’s/a>

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