Sitting in the Shadow of Osprey, or, An Unplanned Detour into the Heart of Minor League Baseball
I spent this past weekend in beautiful Missoula, Montana. The band was there to play Wantage Total Fest X, which was absolutely incredible. It was the kind of experience that will restore your faith in humanity: Total Fest is a fiercely DIY event. It’s all volunteer-run, and every band, regardless of stature or billing, got paid the same amount.
We played Friday night, so we were able to relax on Saturday, head out to the Blackfoot River to party, and enjoy the amazing array of bands set for Saturday night. The organizers managed not only to book some of the best bands in the country (present company excepted, of course) but also went to great lengths to take care of said bands. This included barbecues on both Friday and Saturday nights for all band members. The local folks put out some amazing spreads, and the warmth and hospitality were genuinely mind-blowing.
The Saturday ‘que was held at a house that was just a few blocks away from Ogren Park Allegiance Field, home of the Missoula Osprey, rookie-league affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks. It was my lucky day, too, as they were scheduled to play the (Los Angeles Dodgers affiliate) Ogden Raptors in a matter of minutes. I ducked out of the party and made it to the yard a few minutes before first pitch.
I didn’t know how long I was going to be able to stay at the game, since the band would be headed back into town for the evening’s Total Fest activities (which included amazing bands such as Helms Alee), so I didn’t buy a ticket. Instead I wandered out beyond the right-center field wall and sat on the berm with some of the local color (i.e., bums). You’d probably have to pay to sit there on “the lawn” in lots of other minor league parks, but not in the Pioneer League. I had a pretty good view of the plate, but the left fielder was obscured by the hitter’s backdrop. I was also almost directly underneath an actual osprey stand; just a few meters behind me was a telephone pole that supported an actual osprey nest. According to the Osprey website, “the real Osprey is located in our outfield and is the only live mascot to live in its natural habitat at a stadium in pro baseball,” and I have no reason to doubt the claim. Minor league baseball is awesome.
I only ended up staying for an inning and a half, but I saw more weird shit over the course of those 9 outs than you might see in a week of big-league games. I can’t do it justice the way, say, Sam Miller could in his awesome Annotated Box Scores, but I’ll try.
Top 1: K, single, error. Runners on 1st and 3rd, 1 out. Hard ground ball to 3B, throws home, runner out by plenty. Two away. Osprey should be out of the inning, but Darrah gives up a single to load the bases.
Next guy up, Pratt Maynard (I know), laces a ball down the LF line. I lose it behind the batter’s eye, but the 1,000-plus Osprey fans in attendance seem to think it was foul. HP ump Clay Park disagrees and rules it a grand slam. 4-0 Raptors. Osprey skipper comes out to argue, both umps convene (this is rookie league, you’ll recall, with 2-man crews), and the home run is upheld. Justin Boudreaux steps in for the Raptors and the first pitch is aimed straight at his ribs. Park ejects Darrah, who, because there is no tunnel to the clubhouse, has to make his way through the crowd to hit the showers. His line: .2 innings, 4R, 0ER (and he will eventually be ruled the losing pitcher. Baseball, like life, is totally unfair.).
Conrad Flynn comes in to replace the ejected Darrah, and gets the #8 hitter to fly out. T1 over. Elapsed time: approximately 25 minutes.
Only a moderate amount of weirdness in the bottom of the first: leadoff walk followed by a double, batter-runner advances to 3B when the ball is booted by the right fielder. It’s rookie league, people. K, then a wild pitch that scores a run. Fly out, K.
Top 2: K, single, single, runners on 1B and 2B. The shortstop either freelances a pickoff play, or the pitcher misses a sign, but on at least two occasions, the SS is at the second-base bag when the pitcher throws home. Rookie league! It’s glorious. RBI single, runners on 1st and 2nd. Pickoff play again, and they’ve got the guy picked off of second. But the shortstop waits too long to deliver the ball to the second baseman and ends up throwing the ball into the runner from about 4 feet away. Safe.
Oh, but wait! They’ve got the guy hung up off of first base! Throw goes to 1B, and then the runner from second breaks for third! Throw goes to 3B, and they botch the rundown again, in almost the very same way as before. Wait too long to get rid of the ball, throw too late, everyone’s safe. At this point you can’t help but laugh, unless you’re the Missoula manager, at which point you’re probably apoplectic and choking on your own tongue.
A walk loads the bases, but Flynn Ks the next guy and induces a 4-3 groundout to escape the inning.
That’s about the time I got the call that the band was ready to roll out to head to the venue. I was wholly satisfied, having paid $0.00 to witness some of the best-worst baseball in recent memory. I bade farewell to my fellow bums (and the actual osprey) and headed back to the BBQ. Then I had my face destroyed by Helms Alee and a half-dozen other awesome bands and made some friends for life. All in all, not a bad way to spend a Saturday evening.