As the regular season for the Frontier League is coming to an end… I want to take a look back on how great my summer has been.
Last year, I wrote an article, “This Season, Think Outside Your Home Stadium – Fan Perspective“, that encouraged everyone to stop being a fan of just one team and get to know other teams as the season went along.
While I did do that a little bit last year, I still felt a strong connection to my home team, the Washington Wild Things, which prevented me from taking my own advice.
However, this year… everything was different.
The Wild Things hired a new manager and coaching staff. The roster was almost entirely different, and I just didn’t click with them as I had with teams in the past. They aren’t a bad group, and there are a few players that I’ve very thankful that I have met, but it really hasn’t been the same as previous years.
All this did was open the door to spending the majority of the season as the “Guest” in my home ballpark.
I did exactly what I planned to do last year. I become friends with players, coaches, and fans of the visiting teams. If I didn’t know anyone on a specific team, I went over and introduced myself and my blog. I followed players on social media and got to know who they were as people on and off the field.
It was the best decision of my life.
The season started out like so many others: season ticket holder meet & greet with the Wild Things, an Opening Day full of possibilities, and getting to see old friends in the stands at the ballpark.
However, after a few weeks of sitting in the stands watching a team I felt little connection with, I knew I had to make a change to save my summer.
At first, my journey to the visiting side was slow. I would head over before a game and see some players that I had known previously, but then I would head back over to my seat and cheer for the Wild Things.
Being split between the home and visiting team was more difficult than I could imagine. That is when I went all in with being a fan of the visitors, described only by the word “GUEST” on the Wild Things scoreboard.
The Wild Things even provided me with the perfect icebreaker… cheap food. Everyone knows what a struggle it is for independent league players, especially when it comes to finding and paying for a decent meal. This year, the team began giving out 20% off Denny’s coupons to fans after the game.
As it just so happens, the Denny’s restaurant is right in front of the visitors’ hotel. Plus, what ballplayer wouldn’t want a discount on food?
Here in Washington, the visiting bullpen is easily accessible to fans by the lawn down the third base side of the stadium. During games, I have gone over to visiting bullpens and passed out coupons while explaining who I was and what this website is all about. After games, I went over to the dugout and did the same thing for the position players.
Some teams were more talkative than others, but all were very appreciative. I loved getting to talk to players and get to know guys I wouldn’t normally know about if I was sitting on the first base side and cheering for the Wild Things like every year before this one.
I saw guys who I had known for years when they were on other teams, ones who I had followed on social media but never got a chance to meet, and even some players who I met thanks to having mutual friends. It was a truly FUN experience getting to see everyone and showing them a little support while they were away from home.
In July, I did an article about the Florence Freedom (Celebrating (the Florence) Freedom This 4th of July Weekend), the first team that took me in as their own while they were here. I hooked the guys up with coupons and a new bullpen bag complete with snacks, and I was given a team signed ball and bat in return. Also for the first time all season, I felt like I belonged with a team… That it was okay to cheer for a group of guys at the ballpark.
A few weeks ago, the team managed to surprise me again when a complete team set of autographed cards arrived in my mailbox.
After the All-Star break, the Southern Illinois Miners came to town and allowed me to fully join the Miners family. I have personally known their manager, Mike Pinto, for the last two years and have been friends with a few of his players for just as long if not longer in some cases – including All-Star pitcher Rick Teasley and the team captain Steve Marino.
Mike even gave me a Miners shirt to officially welcome me to the family this season. I think they have me as a fan for life now. “Once a Miner, Always a Miner.” Right, Mike? #AlwaysAMiner
I have never met a group of guys who were so dedicated and focused yet laid back and fun to be around. They are without a doubt one of the most fan friendly teams I’ve seen this year as well. While I was talking to the team after their games in Washington, they all stopped and signed for every kid that asked. It didn’t matter to them that they were the “guest” team and that those kids weren’t “their” fans.
Their bullpen (big surprise I know!) is a group I jelled with from the beginning. A few players – Chris Deboo, Adam Lopez, and Evan Mott – are guys I’ve gotten to know over the last few seasons, but even the other guys treated me as if we’d known each other for years.
Since I’ve been known to make a good bullpen bag a time or two, I decided the rookies needed a Disney Princess lunchbox to carry. I supplied them with the box and a nice tutorial on how to pack a good bullpen bag.
As we headed into the first week of August, it had become apparent that the Miners would be making the playoffs for another season. The team was in a world of their own while running away with the West Division title for the third year in a row.
After the princess lunchbox was delivered, it was suggested that a more “manly” bag might be needed for the playoffs. Power Rangers were thrown out as a suggestion, and I knew I had to make it happen. The Miners started their three game series in Lake Erie on August 2nd. Avon, OH – home of the Lake Erie Crushers – is a little over 6 hours from me round trip. Who would go in a car for six hours just to watch a three hour baseball game? Yep… you guessed it!
We baked cookies and brownies, bought some candy and filled the Power Rangers bag for its three hour journey to join one of my favorite bullpens in baseball. The trip was well worth the drive! We met the guys outside of their clubhouse to deliver the bag, pitcher Chris Deboo left us tickets, and the Lake Erie Crushers bat boy, Tyler, even let us check out the batting cages when we were outside the clubhouse. We got into the stadium and were allowed to sit right behind the bullpen the entire game. Huge shout out to the awesome Lake Erie Crushers ushers and staff for inviting these guests in! The night concluded with a W and a post game photo op on the field.
As the season draws to a close, I’m happy with the fact that I can look back and honestly say that this was one of the best summers of my life. I can’t say enough how amazing all these teams have been. This experience in my baseball journey is one that I will never forget.
Huge THANK YOU to the Washington Wild Things for being a great home base and allowing me to see what I’ve been missing all along, the Southern Illinois Miners and Florence Freedom for welcoming me in with open arms in a way I could never have imagined, and the other visiting teams I connected with: the Joliet Slammers, Normal Cornbelters, Schaumburg Boomers, Gateway Grizzlies, Traverse City Beach Bums and Lake Erie Crushers.
To the individual players I connected with this year, I’m not sure if a simple “thank you” is enough, but it’s all I can say. You did more than help me salvage a disastrous season. You actually made it the best one yet. I am thankful that our paths crossed this year, and I hope to see you all again in some city or stadium in the future. If not, and knowing how this baseball world is… there’s a strong possibility, just know that I will always look back on this season and remember you all very fondly. Best of luck wherever life takes you!