It’s an obvious statement, but going to a minor league baseball game is so much different than to a big league one. The same game, of course, but played by kids in their late teens and early 20s in smaller ballparks, with unique entertainment.
Living across the Mississippi River from Modern Woodmen Park, home of the Quad Cities River Bandits — conveniently a Cardinals Class A affiliate — I can watch minor league baseball regularly. Some games I am intent on learning, paying close attention to Oscar Taveras and Kolten Wong and Trevor Rosenthal and how they’re doing as the game unfolds. Other times, though, it’s just about the experience.
And that’s one thing different about minor league baseball: the experiences you can have. Because you don’t see cornfields behind the bullpen in the majors. Or kids having John Deere tractor races on the field between innings. Nor dog-riding monkeys. No, all these things are only available at minor league baseball games.
Some nights, when the weather is gorgeous, sitting among the crowd of 5,000 seems too confining. Luckily, there’s an option: the tiki bar beyond right field. I’ve been there twice in recent weeks.
A couple Fridays ago, it was with my friend Keith. With pulled pork nachos in hand (thumbs up, by the way), we made our way through the kids’ area filled with bounce houses and other games out toward the bar. As we walked up the hill, we trailed behind an unusual ballpark visitor. “Oh, we’re following the cow,” Keith said. Yes, the Chick-fil-A cow was at the game. (More on him in a bit.) And a cow at the tiki bar … before we even had a drink.
That’s another benefit of the tiki bar: mixed drinks, in addition to beer. But, since it’s the tiki bar, some drinks are served a little more festively to go along with the island (though more like “Gilligan’s Island”) decor. Like a margarita, which was Keith’s choice. It’s served in a tall, narrow River Bandits cup — or, as we called it, a beaker, complete with extra-long straw. (Gin and tonic is served in a plain plastic cup, by the way.)
Last Saturday, I was at the game with my friend Kelly. Since we arrived when the gates opened on Hayden Fry bobblehead night, we headed out to a virtually empty tiki bar. Chairs are few out there, so we got two and staked our spot. It gave us a good view of the Burlington Bees taking batting practice … wearing shorts with their jerseys. Drinks-wise, Kelly chose the beaker of margarita as well, while I again went with gin and tonic.
Some things we learned to be alert for in the tiki bar: batting practice home runs (as the bartender unfortunately discovered) and drunk 40-something guys who are extremely chatty and like showing off scars from past knee injuries. (He was a Red Sox fan anyway.) I suppose that kind of entertainment isn’t exclusive to a minor league ballpark.
There’s a cornfield beyond the bullpen at Modern Woodmen Park. Despite the fact it is Iowa, the field is there intentionally (the ballpark’s in the city) to provide a “Field of Dreams” introduction when the Bandits players take the field — they run out through the corn.
Most nights, kids run out with them and stand next to the players through the National Anthem. There’s one thing definitely cooler on the major league level. Standing next to Geoff Klein at first base, or Albert Pujols? Hmmmm.
Last Saturday, there were multiple kids with each player instead of just one as usual. In left field, two of the kids chased each around and around Mike O’Neill. New promotion: babysitting night!
Speaking of O’Neill, he’s one of two notable (to me) players because of their at-bat music. Just like in the majors, each River Bandit has his own musical introduction that I typically ignore. Usually they’re hip-hop or Latin songs, so exceptions stand out. O’Neill uses the famous guitar riff from Eric Clapton’s “Layla” — that’s how I first noticed him when he was called up from the Batavia Muckdogs earlier this season. (See, minor league team names are more creative too.) Packy Elkins has “Ants Marching” from Dave Matthews Band.
Speaking of Packy, he is not a top prospect — he was a 37th round draft pick last year and is hitting around .240 — but he’s definitely got plus-level talent when it comes to scrappiness. Check out the profile of him from our local paper. One question not asked, and one I want the answer to: what’s the story with the Packy nickname? His real name is Patrick.
Cows and Bullpen Boys
Back to the Chick-fil-A cow at the game recently — actually, there were two. Keith and I left the tiki bar after a couple innings and saw a cow among the crowd in the left field berm (part of ballpark’s flood protection efforts that doubles as a grassy area for sitting) posing for pictures with kids. As the cow passed over the bridge overlooking the bullpen, one of the Bandits started throwing corn at the cow.
At the same time, another Bandit was obviously paying attention to the between-inning music. The Chicken Dance song was playing (hmmm, for Chick-fil-A?) and, though seated, he was moving his hands and flapping his arms and clapping along. The Bandit? Drew Benes, son of Andy and nephew of Alan and a Cardinals 35th round draft pick last year. He would pitch later in this game and have a rough go of it through no fault of his own (three errors in one inning, including one by Packy, will do that) but was obviously enjoying himself before that.
Because not only did Drew dance, he also appointed himself the welcoming committee when Cow No. 1 decided to visit the bullpen. He went over and put his hat on the cow’s head, then sat back down. Moments later, as pictured here, he decided the cap wasn’t enough — it needed a cup on top of it as well. And there really was no more strange sight to see than Drew and a couple other Bandits chatting with the cow … until another cow also made his way down through the bleachers to the bullpen gate.
Two cows sitting in the bullpen, within moments Cow No. 2 also has a cup perched atop its head thanks to Drew, more conversations with the cows … You do not get this kind of inadvertent entertainment at major league parks. Pink backpacks on rookies just don’t compare.
Then it came time for the cows to leave (or should that be moooooove along?) It wouldn’t be baseball without an appropriate farewell greeting — which is exactly why some of the Bandits found themselves fist-bumping the fake-fur hoof of the cows, which you can see to the left.
You can’t beat fun in a minor league bullpen. Last year, during a cool game late in the regular season, the Bandits relievers built a little campfire out of cups and other accumulated trash.
Sometimes, the entertainment is on purpose. Such was the case last Saturday when Team Ghost Riders was at Modern Woodmen Park. Yes, Team Ghost Riders involves three Capuchin monkeys dressed in tiny cowboy clothing that ride dogs and herd goats out on the field.
Yes, I know. Absolutely bizarre. I don’t understand why, or how, and reading the website about them really provides no further enlightenment. There’s a patriotic and religious sort of theme … but it was hard to pay attention to what the head cowboy was saying. Because watching dogs zip around the field with monkeys on their backs is oddly mesmerizing. Really. Especially when they chase four goats into a makeshift pen set up at home plate.
Most of the Burlington Bees were lined up outside the dugout, many with phones out taking pictures, while the post-game “performance” was under way. Not all of the large crowd stayed — a 12-6 Bandits loss does drive people away — but many of those who did also were taking pictures. Drunk Guy from the tiki bar was very confused, which was a bit entertaining on its own.
Oh, yes, the Bandits lost last Saturday. And the Friday cow night too. For whatever reason, the majority of the games I’ve been to this season have been losses — a surprise considering the team has done extremely well both halves of the season. Tonight is the final regular season home game, with the playoffs next week, and it’s been another year of fun times along the Mississippi River at the ballpark.
And that — fun — is what it’s really all about.
Christine Coleman is the senior St. Louis Cardinals reporter for Aaron Miles’ Fastball. Follow her on Twitter, @CColeman802, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Also follow @AMilesFastball for the latest updates.
One thing is for sure — there’s always something to talk about after you’ve been to a minor league game (and it’s almost never the game)! The monkey/dog thing cracks me up.
It was seriously the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen!
How in the world are there no pictures of dog-riding monkeys in the post? I feel like I’ve been shortchanged somehow!
That’s one nice sized beaker of margarita right there! YUMMY! lol
I like that they run out of a corn field! Cheesy but very much how I would picture minor league baseball in Iowa!
Drew Benes! HA! This makes me proud that he is also an Arkansas State Red Wolf! lol!
And yes, dog-riding monkeys? PICTURES!
Daniel and Miranda, I didn’t have my real camera with me and photos from my phone wouldn’t have worked from where we were watching. Plus, I think it would have been difficult to get them anyway — those dogs were really running around! (Perhaps they don’t *like* having monkeys ride them??)
That’s why I included the link. At least there is that visual evidence!
Tonight I might just have to have a beaker of margarita — nice way to cap off the regular season!