GRAND JUNCTION — “Strike two!” the umpire shouted.
The batter grimaced in frustration. It was the top of the seventh inning, the game was nearing its conclusion, and the visiting team’s batter, No. 5, planned to disappoint the home-team fans. He dug his cleats into the dirt, determined not to strike out.
The pitcher began his windup. The crowd went silent in breathless anticipation. The pitch came. The batter swung. A loud thump echoed through the stadium as the ball, untouched by the bat, lodged in the catcher’s glove. Like the mighty Casey, No. 5 struck out.
A thunderous cheer erupted in the stands. Fans stood and rushed toward the concourse. The opposing team’s player No. 5 was the night’s designated “beer batter.” Every time he struck out, 16-ounce cups of Bud Light cost a mere $2 for the 10 minutes after.
My wife and I were at Suplizio Field watching the Grand Junction Rockies take on a similar outfit from Idaho Falls. Most members of this Colorado Rockies’ rookie league farm team are freshly signed players, competing in their first professional baseball games. While the majority are too young legally to enjoy our beer batter benefits, they play surprisingly good baseball with tickets, food and brews costing us less than a first-run movie.
The team has 35 players and five coaches, and to get from the clubhouse to the field, they must walk through the concourse. Kids and adults, including my fan-fanatic wife, wait there to get autographs. The players seem to relish the attention. Most of them were signing yearbooks a few months ago; now, they’re signing autographs.
Odds are that a couple of these first-year ballplayers will eventually make it to the big leagues. In the team’s six years of existence, 14 former Grand Junction players have advanced to the majors. Noted alumni include pitchers Jon Gray, Kyle Freeland, Scott Oberg and Harrison Musgrave, along with infielder Ryan McMahon and outfielders Raimel Tapia and David Dahl.
The team plays 76 games in 81 days, and rather than rent apartments, the players live with host families who are responsible for providing a bedroom, refrigerator and laundry facilities.
“Some of these young kids have never used a washer and dryer before,” team president Joe Kubly said with a chuckle. “These guys actually learn a lot of things here.”
The Grand Junction Rockies are members of the Pioneer League, with teams in Utah, Idaho and Montana. Unlike major leaguers …
Source:: The Denver Post – Lifestyle