Friday, May 6, 2011

Bingo in Florida: Game 10 in Lakeland

Bingo, I returned to Florida after barnstorming my anthem tour to Alabama for a single game with the Biscuits.   
In Lakeland, the Flying Tigers enjoy the longest continuous relationship—45 years—with a Major League team.  The stadium is named for longtime local Parks and Recreation Director Joker Marchant; and while the name of the ballpark has nothing to do with Detroit's decades' history with Lakeland, the art and architecture at the park unmistakably align the team with Detroit.  
Tiger stripes in the tilework at the ticket booth.
Near the home plate entrance to the ballpark, there other unmistakable tributes to the Detroit.  Adjacent streets are named for Hall of Famer Al Kaline and fan favorite Willie Horton, and beside the ticket booths inscribed tiles honor the success of favorite players and the devotion of fans. 

Fans' tribute to Tiger favorites, announcer Ernie Harwell and SS Allan Tramell.

Before the game two players saw me preparing to sing and inquired about the anthem tour since they had heard me at Clearwater a couple of days earlier.  One was reserve catcher Eric Roof.  The name was distinct.  For more than a decade I had tracked the career of Phil Roof, a catcher who had caught more than 800 games for 8 teams during his 15-year Major League career.  So why would I follow a journeyman catcher?  It’s simple.  He was from Paducah, Kentucky where my family has generations of roots. 
So I inquired about whether Eric is related to the Paducah Roofs—either Phil or his brother Gene, an outfielder who drank about 50 cups of coffee for St. Louis and Montreal. Eric said both his uncle and father are from the Paducah area.  But I never learned who was his father, although the catching gene would favor Phil as the likely sire.
Lakeland distinguished itself in other ways too: Start with the osprey nest atop the outfield light standard, an attraction duplicated only at Brevard County. Add the voices that rang throughout the stands. The P.A. announcer was a woman, the only alto I heard in Florida.  When she read the promo about the outfield egg hunt on the day before Easter, she noted that some of the 20,000 eggs would be dropped from a helicopter.  Amazed and befuddled by that incredulous number, she reduced the number to 2000, then checked the data again and reported the number as 20,000. 
Promo poster behind home plate seats for the Easter Egg Hunt.
Since 2053 fans attended the day of the hunt, it’s possible that some quick kids with large baskets gathered as many as a hundred eggs.  The curious question then would be whether they played egg toss during the game or, tossing harder, peg egg. 

For another, Lakeland tolerated the loudest fan whom I heard in Florida.  With a particular rasp and pitch, he kept urging his Tigers to hit the ball, yelling for all to hear, perhaps even loud enough to puzzle youthful players at other ballparks miles away. “You’re not in Little League any more.  Swing the bat!”

On this week-night before school begins its summer recess, the sparse crowd of 448 was dominated by senior citizens.  The in-game activities appealed primarily to them rather than to children, who typically enjoy baserunning against the mascot or water balloon toss.  Lakeland involved all of the fans throughout the early innings by playing a baseball bingo that correlates players by position the results of their at-bats.

Not quite like the older table baseball games of APBA or Strat-o-Matic, the bingo served as a blend of familiar and fantasy games.

With lightning in the distance and miles to drive after the game, I left early, with Lakeland leading shortly after the umpire called the batter out and a fan called out, "Bingo."

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