A more affordable version of America’s pastime

Summertime fun with the West Michigan Whitecaps and Minor League Baseball

While visiting Cathlin’s family near Grand Rapids over the summer, her brother mentioned his plans to watch baseball that evening. A few hours later, we joined to watch the local Class A minor league team, the West Michigan Whitecaps. No, their caps aren’t white, as Cathlin laughed at what seemed obvious to somebody who grew up near one of the Great Lakes: the reference is to the color of the crest of small waves rippling across Lake Michigan and the Grand River.

The ticket cost rivaled what my dad and I paid to see the Red Sox at Fenway Park in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s—lawn seating for $8, reserved seats beginning at $12.50. We parked barely a one-minute walk from the entrance, yet the stadium was nearly full. That night was $1 hot dog and $1 beer night (yes, you read that correctly). Teenagers were there on dates. Babies literally raced on the field as jumbotron entertainment. We enjoyed a perfect, clear-skied summer evening chatting away and watching the game.

Behind home plate at Fifth Third Ballpark in Comstock Park, Michigan

Being there reminded me of when the Lowell Spinners, a Class A Short Season feeder for the Red Sox, opened near my home in 1996. My neighbor played “The Star-Spangled Banner” on his harmonica in front of a crowd. Likewise, we sometimes drove down to Pawtucket, Rhode Island, to see the Red Sox Triple A team, also known as the Paw Sox, play at McCoy Stadium, where the players and coaches annually hosted a day camp to instruct local kids. These were tiny takes on Fenway Park: not the same, but the players were good and professional, yet still accessible and inspiring to a teenager in little league.

While sitting there in Western Michigan reading the program, I wondered how widespread the leagues are. The more I looked into the regional options for watching minor league ball, the more I realized that almost every U.S. state, except Alaska, Hawai’i, and, sadly, now Rhode Island, has at least one team. Michigan has three more: the Lansing Lugnuts, the Great Lakes Loons (in Midland), and the Traverse City Beach Bums. Many states have even more.

Whether or not you’re a baseball fan, the experience harkens back to the spirit of the sport beyond the money and commerce and bombast of the entertainment spectacle and high costs of going to Major League games today. Who knows, you might see a star in the making or you might be an extra voice in the crowd cheering on players who work their bodies and hearts daily in pursuit of a dream of making it onward.

If you’re in the U.S. next summer, take a look around to see if there’s a local minor league stadium where you can go have a good night out and root, root, root for the home team.

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