For the second time in a fortnight, I saw the Corpus Christi Hooks play the Midland RockHounds. Although the outcome of the games was the same with Midland winning each by two runs, the ballparks and my experiences were distinctly different.
The game in Midland marked my final one alone before returning to California from my season-opening sojourn in Florida and nearby southern cities. The distance of Midland from other Texas teams had posed scheduling challenges during the planning phase of my project. Finally, I realized that I could most easily include the RockHounds in my itinerary by adding an overnight stop at the Midland-Odessa airport on my American Airlines route. As my plane was buffetted by gusts during its final approach into the airport, I could see the vast range scorched by the wildfires of previous weeks and dotted regularly with oil crickets. Despite the city’s name, it certainly seemed more like it was at the edge of Texas or of anywhere else than in the middle.
Although the zephyrs across the plains seemed to push me away from the stadium, the parking lot cheerily greeted me with the likeness of Rocky, the RockHounds popular mascot. The sign also featured a mythic statistic identifying the ballpark's 40-year attendance total as its population:
Like many of the minor league ballparks, a sculpture also welcomes fans to the main entry to the Citibank Ballpark.
But unlike the artistic creations at other stadiums, the piece in Midland is natural--and legendary. According to its imbedded plaque, “Legend has it that this rock, excavated from below the playing field, guarantees fun and good times to all who touch it!” So I did.
|7 year old Justin surveys home plate within home plate.|
The Midland ballpark crouches inconspicuously at the edge of the city as though it is trying to duck below the path of blowing tumbleweed. Its low profile results from the fact that the field level of the ballpark is excavated. Fans enter the concourse at parking lot level and descend to their seats, unless they are among the few who rise to the VIP suites in the sky boxes. Even the hillocks beyond the outfield fences slope downward from the surrounding plain.
The canyon-floor position of the field allows prairie winds to howl above the rim of the ballpark, preventing high hoppers from gusting obliquely past a wary shortstop but not preventing havoc with high fly balls, which routinely die in the alleys while gales blow in on most nights. For this game in Midland, however, the steady winds were clocked at 30 m.p.h. and reversed toward left.
In the game at Midland, both teams scored in unusual ways, starting in the first inning with the RockHounds’ leadoff hitter Jermaine Mitchell striking out, reaching first on a passed ball, taking second on an errant pick-off throw, stealing third, and crossing the plate on a feeble grounder to the first baseman. Innings later when he hit a homerun, fans held up dollar bills to give to the ushers for a homerun bonus. I had not seen the hat passed since an independent minor league game the previous summer.
|Fans contribute dollar bills to Mitchell for his homerun.|
While the ballpark and game were enjoyable, what made my experience most pleasant was the gesture of appreciation by Hounds’ hitting coach Tim Garland and a conversation with Dan Jamierson, a Red Cross volunteer who praised the pace of my rendition. Two nights earlier, Dan said, someone had mangled the anthem by “dragging it out for what seemed like half an hour.”
His comment called to mind one of my favorite newspaper cartoons, “In the Bleachers.” Coincidentally, earlier that morning, it had featured such an event, showing a singer standing near home plate with a word balloon providing the P.A. announcer’s remark: “Now rise while another celebrity butchers the national anthem.”
Dan also requested that I lead the crowd in singing “God Bless America” during the seventh inning stretch. We checked with the RockHounds’ staff and worked out that possibility: For the first time, I performed two patriotic hits for a game.
In contrast to the solitary character of the ballpark and my experience in Midland, the evening in Corpus Christi ended the first week on the road with Bonnie and Arby, and the game enjoyed the largest crowd that I had seen, lured by the chance to enjoy post-game fireworks.
|The site, orientation, and architecture of the Corpus Christi ballpark are impressive.|
|Children run the field between innings.|
|Scoreboard surrounded by cotton gin replicas and left-field fence with ad for Bay Area Fellowship.|
|Hounds' coach after gesturing thumbs up.|
And like the night in Midland, I heard two hits in Corpus Christi, even if they were ones of anthem recognition from visiting RockHounds.