With the last home series for Northwestern beginning Thursday, I decided to compile a list of my favorite things about NU baseball games. For anyone considering attending a game, I hope this inspires you. For anyone who can’t get to games, I hope you can live vicariously through this post. To the list!
Foul Ball Returns
At every game, the PA announcer reminds the fans that all foul balls must be returned to a team executive. Any foul ball will be repaid with a Northwestern baseball t-shirt. I imagine this policy is in place to save money on lost balls, but it might as well be in-game entertainment.
Every foul ball that comes flying over the backstop toward the seats incites a mob of enterprising youngsters. These kids, some in packs, others working alone, scour the construction site behind the bleachers looking for the ultimate prize. If a ball heads into the street, it becomes a footrace out the front gate to retrieve it.
The determination and heart that some of these kids show in their pursuit of a ball that will win them a purple t-shirt, reminds me how thankful I should be for the seventeen free athletic t-shirts Northwestern has supplied me with so far.
The parents of the Northwestern baseball team roll deep to every game. Joined by a mutual experience, they gather in a back row so that some can sit and others stand without interruption to the constant banter. Sometimes these parents are informative, talking about specific strategic elements of the game, and sometimes they are hilarious.
My favorite example from the season thus far came in the Nebraska game. With his son standing on first base, a father started complaining about his son’s lack of speed. To illuminate his point, he offered this quote from his son: "I hit triples, I just stop at second so I don’t embarrass the other team." This kind of insight makes it worth spending a few innings by the Wildcat parent posse.
I also suggest spending a few innings sitting beside the press box. At Rocky Miller Park, the visiting broadcast team is set up at a folding table next to the press box. This puts the announcers right next to and right above two sections of seats. While these seats are at the back of the seating bowl, with a capacity of only 600, every seat is field level.
Sitting up here, you can clearly hear the radio call from the visiting team. I love listening to baseball on the radio. Every time I go to a major league game, I wish I had the moxie to bring one of the portable radios with headphones that you see hard-core fans wearing. Fortunately, at Rocky Miller Park, you can listen to a free play-by-play while watching the game. You get real time statistics and analysis, and some good stories and jokes along the way as well. With the continuing renovation, there may not be many chances left to take advantage of this one.
Sounds of the Game
Because Rocky Miller Park only seats 600, even on a busy day you get an intimate view of the action. In my experience, baseball involves more chatter than any other sport. Teams have specific chants, nicknames, and jokes. At Rocky Miller Park, you are treated to a buffet of sounds throughout the game. My favorite sound on the field is the umpires.
Umpiring requires a bit of theatrics. Umpires get to pick how they will stylize their strikeout call. They get to revel in the adulation and disdain of fans after a close play. Rocky Miller Park provides the perfect stage for these performances. A week ago, the whole stadium could hear the home plate umpire sassily declare, "Mhm, yes you did!" as he pointed at the player and indicated a strike after a checked swing. In such an intimate setting, we gain access to the most nuanced aspects of an umpire’s performance.
If any of you have read my other articles, I am sure you won’t be surprised that my last entry involves walk-up music. This is not about the specific songs, though, but about the music-playing infrastructure. The ‘Cats have a tremendous lineup of songs, ranging from Stevie Wonder to Bon Jovi to Sam Smith, that are perfectly cut to play between innings. Walk-up songs are a different story.
Through observation, it appears that the entire song is cued up on the sound system, and once the song begins, it will not stop until the at bat starts. Some players take advantage of this. Grant Peikert always takes just enough practice swings for the first harmonious lines of "Mountain Music," by Alabama, to engulf the crowd. The sweet melody makes every one of his at bats a delight.
I have had tremendous fun attending Northwestern baseball games this spring. If any of you have the inclination, Northwestern plays Maryland for three games starting Thursday. I would love to hear your favorite things about ‘Cats home games. Come enjoy Rocky Miller Park before the renovations bring new pleasures to an afternoon of Northwestern baseball.