Saturday, July 08, 2006

Farm Livin' is the Life for Me

Although last night's win over the Orioles was a welcome change of pace, I think every Tribe fan has a sour stomach heading into the All-Star break. Sure, there were question marks going into 2006, but I don't think anybody expected the season to degenerate into a nightmare of shaky starting pitching, catastrophic relief pitching, and defense and baserunning so consistently awful that it's hard to tell whether the problem is incompetence or indifference.

In short, it's been more than enough to make you downright surly. If, like me, you were surly to start with, well... you're probably a sociopath by now.

Fortunately, I found something that has helped take some of the sting of the Indians' performance away--I've spent some time on the farm. Over the past several weeks, I've attended Akron Aeros, Lake County Captains and Mahoning Valley Scrappers games, and I'll head to Buffalo to watch the Bisons at the end of the month.

Aside from the Indians putting together a 15 game win streak, I think watching a minor league game is absolutely the best treatment for what ails Tribe fans. It has a lot going for it. First of all, you realize that people aren't kidding about some of the talent that's in the Indians' system. For example, even though the Aeros got beat 3-2 last night, I saw Eastern League All-Star Sean Smith give up only one run over six innings, and watched Trevor Crowe run down a sharply hit ball hit over his head in center field. The kid has wheels.

Then there are the ballparks. Canal Park in Akron is just beautiful. Like most minor league parks, there's not a bad seat in the house (although some have complained about not being able to see the left field corner from seats along the third base line). The Aeros' Friday night fireworks also shame any fireworks display I've ever seen at the Jake. Still, as nice as it is, Canal Park gets a run for its money from the home parks of other Tribe affiliates. Buffalo's Dunn Tire Park is one of the largest parks in minor league baseball and lays claim to being the very first of the modern throwback ballparks. Over in Eastlake, the Captains play in as nice a ballpark as you'll find at the Single A level.

The Scrappers, who are the Tribe's short-season A league affiliate in the New York-Penn league, play at Eastwood Field in Niles. I'd tell you all about it, but I haven't been there yet. I actually saw the Scrappers play for the first time in Auburn, NY last Monday. They beat the Auburn Doubledays by a score of 6-1 that day, but the real highlight was Falcon Park, the Doubledays' home field. In addition to being a really neat little (capacity 2,500) park, there are amenities like free parking right across the street and a 16 oz Labatt's draft for $2.50 that let you know right away that you aren't in the majors.

One of the great things about being an Indians fan is that there are three minor league affiliates within 90 minutes of Cleveland, and a fourth only three hours away. If you're having a hard time remembering why you bother with this team right about now, pay them a visit.

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