On Opening Night, the Brevard County Manatees opened their gates—literally. They offered a fan-free night, charging no fee for a general admission ticket, and the official count of the crowd soared to 4777. What a populist way to build enthusiasm for a team at the start of the season!
The pre-game ceremonies featured a parachute specialist flying the American flag as he descended into centerfield and a color guard of Vietnam veterans presenting the flag on the pitcher’s mound. Then while the teams stood on the baselines and the flags flapped in the strong wind, I sang the anthem. As I walked past the dugout, Josh Prince, the Manatees shortstop and leadoff hitter, expressed appreciation, patting me twice on the back. And pitching coach Fred Dabney smiled big and teased me: “Best anthem all year.” For now, of course: it's the only one!
Prince played a stellar game, collecting one of the Manatees' hits, stealing a base, and fielding flawlessly. In the second inning he turned in a web-gem ranging to the second base side of the bag on the outfield grass to stab the two-hopper. Then pirouetting in Jeteresque style, he made a leaping throw to first to nip the runner. Despite his hustle, the Manatees lost to the Daytona Cubs 3-2, who were led by their outfielders. Left fielder Michael Burgess hit a tape-measure home run to start the Cubs' scoring, and Jae-Hoon Ha and Nelson Perez cut down runners with their laser throws from center and right.
|The right field foul pole.|
From the Manatees’ ballpark it is not possible to see the coastline, which lies about a dozen miles away. Yet its name--Space Coast Stadium--is appropriate since it refers to the prominent space industry in the area. The ballpark is within blastoff-range of Cape Canaveral, and several of its features pay tribute to space exploration. A sculpture of the space shuttle stands at the main entry, and the field itself prominently displays foul-pole banners that honor the crews of the Challenger and Columbia shuttles.
One of the personal benefits of my project is that I'll be able to share games with friends. Accompanying me to this one was Greg Sapp, a colleague from Stetson University and an enthusiastic fan of the minor leagues. (He took the photographs of the pre-game ceremonies.) A few years ago, Greg had been a season ticket holder for the Braves' Single-A team in Macon, Georgia, and now he follows the Daytona Cubs. Throughout the game, he provided background on several of the returning players from last year as we enjoyed the playful promotions presented by the Manatees staff between innings, like the kids' run from the centerfield fence to the dugout.
|Pre-teens rush from centerfield fence to the dugouts.|
While the evening had begun with my singing about "the rockets' red glare," it ended on a similar note--with a post-game fireworks display, which Greg and I observed in the rear-view mirros as we headed out the parking lot and back toward DeLand.