Back in 2007, my friend Eric and I started a blog called Bus Leagues Baseball. For five years we chronicled various aspects of minor league baseball: players, promotions, mascots, teams, oddities – anything that caught our attention, really.
Eric and I live several hundred miles apart, but we would get together from time to time to catch a ballgame or two, meetups that I eventually began referring to as “Bus League Summits.” (I have a vague recollection of mentioning a Bus League Summit to Someone Important. They were intrigued by the concept until I was like, “Um, yeah…it’s pretty much just two dudes watching baseball.”) There was the Hall of Fame in 2008, an Orioles game in 2009 (where he was famously harangued by an usher to return to his seat because, “This isn’t general admission – we’re close to a sellout!”, and a Phillies game in 2010. I think that was the last of the Bus League Summits before we shut the site down following the 2012 season.
The last…until now. (Cue dramatic music. No, not that one, the other one. Right. Thanks.)
Eric came up north for a visit last weekend, and after attending a Red Sox-Twins game with my wife and son on Thursday (nothing exciting happened there, unless you count Blake Swihart’s first major league home run and the extremely drunk person behind us in the eighth inning who began profanely telling his friend that he planned on killing someone who said he had poured beer on his head; THIS…IS…BOSTON!), we got down to business on Friday, heading up to Manchester to see the New Hampshire Fisher Cats take on the Richmond Flying Squirrels in a tilt that he ultimately labeled, “The Most ‘Bus Leagues’ Game EVAR!”
One of my professors in college told me that bullet points are lazy writing and should be avoided. Apologies, Professor Frankfurter, but a) it’s late, and b) bullet points and numbered lists are also Bus Leagues Things. So away we go.
1) Food: We were in the ballpark for roughly four minutes before hitting up the concession stands. Eric got a sausage and a beer; I went with a sausage, fries, and iced tea. After enjoying a great sausage at the Sox game I expected to be disappointed by a minor league offering that was somehow almost the same price; it was a pleasant surprise, then, when the Fisher Cats’ version delivered.
2) Prospects: When I emailed my friend and Bus Leagues fanatic Craig Forde to tell him we’d be at this game, he said he wouldn’t be able to make it due to a prior commitment but noted that we would probably get to see Tyler Beede’s first Double-A start. I didn’t know who Beede was and honestly didn’t bother to look him up (that statement would have given 2011 Brian a stroke), though it was obvious that he was somebody since Craig deemed him worthy of mention.
Turns out he was the Giants’ first round pick in last year’s draft. A righthanded pitcher originally from Auburn, Massachusetts, he was originally drafted by the Blue Jays in the first round in 2011 but didn’t sign and ended up attending Vanderbilt, where he won a College World Series championship in 2014. So he’s pretty good, and he just turned 22 on May 23.
Against the Fisher Cats, he was obviously nervous, surrendering hits to two of the first three batters he faced and walking another to load the bases with only one out. A double play ball got him out of the jam, though, and the Fisher Cats did not touch him again. And by “did not touch him,” I mean, “he retired eight in a row before putting a man on with a throwing error, then got seven more outs before walking a batter.” He was, as they say, as advertised (even if I didn’t pay attention to said advertising). In the end, it was seven innings of two-hit, three-walk, four strikeout baseball.
Sadly, Beede’s success meant nothing good for one of my favorite players, New Hampshire’s Ronald Torreyes. My friend Chris laughs at me for how much I love Torreyes, a non-prospect I’ve picked up and released several times in our thirty team fantasy baseball league, and he’s probably right: the Venezuelan infielder is hitting .162 this season (including .098 for the Fisher Cats) and has played for four organizations (Cincinnati, Chicago Cubs, Houston, and Toronto) in six minor league seasons.
So why do I love him so much? Because he’s listed at 5’10”, 150 pounds (but I seem to remember reading at one point that he isn’t even close to that big) and he’s played at the upper levels of every organization he’s been in since he was 20 years old. Maybe he’s a weird sort of organizational filler, a guy who can be plugged in to hit .260 and do little harm. I don’t know. I don’t care. I just like the guy.
Alas, Tyler Beede did not agree with him, to the tune of an 0-3 day at the plate, which means I don’t like Tyler Beede. Sorry, Tyler.
On the bright side, K.C. Hobson hit a home run for the Fisher Cats, which is always fun to see, and a Flying Squirrel named Rando Moreno (I couldn’t figure out how to explain my delight at the fact that his name was Rando M.) went 5-for-5.
3) Seats: At Fenway the day before, Eric and I were crammed in side-by-side (at first; the rest of the row remained empty so we were able to spread out once that became clear), which was awkward considering we hadn’t seen each other in like five years. Northeast Delta Dental Stadium (Nedd’s to its friends…okay, only Craig and I call it that) presented no such problems. When ordering tickets, I correctly assumed that location wasn’t a huge concern; with that in mind, I avoided the sun drenched bleachers in right (you’re literally staring into the sun for a couple innings) and went with the General Admission seats (take that, Biff!) in left field.
When we walked in and determined that it was, actually, first come first serve as far as where we wanted to sit, Eric looked over at me. “I assume up close is good for you?” he said. In actuality, I don’t mind sitting further back and overseeing the action from afar, but when in Rome. He led the way down the steps, to the very front row, and parked himself squarely behind the Richmond bullpen.
For several innings, the banter amongst the pitchers provided us a pleasant alternative to the game, which was quickly out of hand in favor of the visitors. The first inning largely featured commentary on Beede and his struggles. Later, family members and friends stopped by to say hello and steal a few minutes of conversation. A nearby fan inquired about a Frozen backpack on the bench and was told that it belonged to the last bullpen pitcher to surrender a homerun. Someone questioned if “Bum” (I’m assuming Madison Bumgarner) had skipped Double-A; I resisted the urge to lean forward and let them know that I had watched him pitch on that very field several years before, when several of them were likely still in high school.
Midway through the game, a good-natured argument broke out: what year was the movie “Super Troopers” released? Guesses were submitted, but no one knew for certain. Finally, one of the pitchers caught my eye.
“Hey, do you know when Super Troopers came out?”
“Actually, I was intrigued by your conversation, so I looked it up,” I said. “Don’t any of you guys have cell phones?” Eric wondered out loud.
“And…?” the pitcher said to me while another told Eric that the fines for bringing a cell phone to the bullpen is very, very large.
“2001,” I said. Cheers erupted from the pitcher who had guessed correctly, groans from those who had missed.
“This is the most Bus Leagues game ever!” Eric exclaimed.
“I wonder when Barbie Girl came out,” murmured one of the other pitchers, who I had already pegged as the sarcastic cut-up of the group. I wasn’t falling for it, though; a line must be drawn somewhere.
Around the top of the seventh, another pitcher, Stephen Johnson, asked when the weather could be expected to improve, a question that began a half-inning conversation about crowds in Richmond, losing streaks, Eric’s job, and other mindless banter. For him, I’m sure it was little more than a way to pass the time in a blowout game with a couple guys who had been sitting next to him, mostly quiet, for a couple hours. For us, it was just a cool moment in general, one that ended when Johnson realized the entire team was standing at attention and “God Bless America” was starting.
As the game drew to a close, Johnson shouldered the Frozen backpack (the current holder was already in the game, so as the youngest member of the bullpen, Johnson was tasked with bringing it back to the dugout) and wished us well. Eric and I exited the ballpark at the final pitch. The decision not to wait for fireworks, and the cool weather (it had dipped into the sixties, but felt a good ten degrees cooler), saved us plenty of time getting out of the parking lot; minutes later, we were on our way home.