Tuesday, August 17, 2004

A Baseball Story 

Last Saturday, I hopped into my car and drove the three hours from the Bay Area back to my hometown of Fresno. On this particular occasion, I took in a ball game.

Now I'm not a huge fan of baseball by any stretch of the imagination. I'd much rather take in a football game, or basketball and hockey for that matter. I don't follow the major leagues until around September, and if the none of the teams I care about are in the playoffs, I'll skip October baseball altogether.

Having said that, even I can appreciate that baseball is a good sport to watch in person, not to mention the history of the game dwarfs the other major sports in the US. Mom, baseball, summer and apple pie.....

Baseball often gets used as a metaphor for life (probably too much so), whether in Field of Dreams or in an old-timer's recollection of his childhood and the times he grew up in. In the case of Fresno, the story starts out as no different. For decades, Fresno had a Single A team, a speck in the baseball world but well loved. The Li'l Giants, as they were known, were the pride of town.

Like every other city, Fresno grew up and gre older. By the mid Eighties, the old ballpark the Fresno Giants played in was falling apart. Unfortunately, the money wasn't scraped together to fix the place, and the Fresno Giants left for San Jose, of all places. Another team came, stayed a year or two, then left Fresno with out professional baseball.

Naturally, many fans and businessmen wanted to see the games return. The issue quickly became much larger than sports, however. Fresno had grown considerably in the past decades, and most people figured it was time for the city to step up, get a Triple A team, just one level below Major League. Efforts were started to plan a new downtown stadium, seen as a way to revitalize an area that had been largely passed over by the development that raced ahead in the suburban northern end of town.

Then a certain something happened, something that often takes over in certain people, or in this case cities. Getting a ball team and a new stadium make buying a new car look like a joke: lots of money is at stake and the negotiations can be intense. Under this atmosphere, there grew a developing sense of "We can't support this, Fresno isn't ready for a Triple-A team, and nobody in the city should invest or risk capital because it will most likely fail anyway." Many people spoke up and said a new stadium was frivolous, that downtown wasn't worth the energy since most people had taken to avoiding it. As a resident at the time it was very discouraging. It was one thing to knock the stadium because it cost too much. It was quite another to throw their hands in the air, say Fresno doesn't deserve nice things and try to block it. Easier to be the naysayer than the risk taker.

Finally, after more ups and down than a Six Flags theme park, and in the time it took me to go from elementary school to nearly graduating college, Fresno got its new team. Happy days all around, except for one catch....

The stadium still wasn't finalized.

The new Fresno Grizzlies played the first few years of existance in Fresno State's college ballpark, and dressed in trailers. Being the hard-nosed businessmen they are, the owners tried to squeeze every last concession out of the City in its stadium deal. In spite of themselves, both sides finally got the stadium built in 2002, about 15 years after the old Fresno Giants left town. And on Saturday, I finally got to go with my mom and see a game in the stadium most people thought would never get built.

Grizzlies Stadium: looking across the field. Fresno's signature Security Bank building is in the center. Posted by Hello

For all the hoopla and trouble, it's actually a pretty nice stadium. It was designed by the same people who built Camden Yards, Pac Bell Park, and other recent "throwback" looking ballparks. Plus the archetect was smart enough to face the stands away from the blistering Fresno sun.

A view across Center Field, toward the outdoor Fulton Mall. Posted by Hello

Since, I only go back a few days a year now, I don't follow things there as closely. I guess though, I do see Fresno as similiar to family: you don't choose your family or where you come from, you get angry at its behavior, but you still like to check in once in a while and hope things are going well, even after they disapoint you.

Oh, Fresno lost the game to Tuscon: 9 to 6. That's they way it goes sometimes.

Personally, I'm not a fan of any municipal or state government funding any stadium. If they want to fine, but I think it will be a poor return in the end.

That being said, I went to the Dodger game last night, and i think I've done 8 or 9 games this season. It's been great, really.

Baseball is still better than anything else, for one simple reason. there is no clock. But I'm biased, since I love the game.
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