My first summer back in my hometown was a dreary affair — COVID closures, canceled parties and paranoid friends diminished the pleasures of small-town living. But all across the country, the end of the pandemic has brought back one of the joys of living in a non-metropolitan city like mine: minor league baseball.
Sure, it’s great to be able to watch the MLB again on split-screens at the bar — and if you’re really lucky, to pay $12 for a hot dog at a major league stadium — but the joys of the minors are all their own. Where else can you watch your very own neighborhood kids dress up in Styrofoam foodstuff costumes to compete in increasingly complex and obscure contests between each inning? With a merry-go-round, fireworks, the smell of popcorn in the air and the sound of P!nk on the loudspeakers, a minor league game is less a sporting event than a carnival. The beers are six bucks, and every seat is good.
My hometown claims to have been the first capital of the United States, since the Articles of Confederation were ratified here — and whether or not ‘historians’ consider this claim ‘valid’, you can’t deny it’s good branding. Our team, part of the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball, is therefore named the York Revolution. Its logo is a bald eagle with a baseball clutched improbably in its beak.
How appropriate, with this history, to host a home tournament the weekend of July 4, the anniversary of the Revolution for which our team was named. I find the cheerful commercialization of the event heartening; every moment of the game is sponsored by local businesses, from strikeouts to timeouts to the kids racing in their pizza costumes to the Seventh Inning Stretch. When one of our guys hit a home run in the bottom of the 3rd, a literal cannon fired, sponsored by a local convenience store chain. The game itself is sponsored by New Harmony Presbyterian Church and the Hooters out by the highway, blithe (if unknowing) partners in our Revolutionary pride. If you ever find yourself worrying about the tech giants, the monoculture, or the erasure of localism, I encourage you to attend a minor league baseball game, ideally with my mother, who will locate every person she knows and note every family-owned business sponsoring the proceedings — as well as those conspicuously absent! — with all the precision of an iPhone sending a drop-pin.
This Independence Day weekend, the crowd is robust and enthusiastic. We’re playing the Lancaster Barnstormers, our pseudo-Shakespearean rivals, but I have a hard time believing anyone is taking sides here. Even the old-timer shouting ‘Who hired these bozos?’ at the umps after a bad call at second is clearly delighted to participate. The mascot, a giant Muppet called ‘Downtown’, shimmies up and down the bleachers, leading cheers and inspiring awe in the under-5 crowd. In the end we lost the game, but here’s a win: the catcher’s was the only mask I saw all night.
To write this piece, I have repaired to a nearby brewpub where a local boomer with an electric guitar is mounting an ambitious rendition of the entire Led Zeppelin catalog on the patio, to a delighted crowd. Elsewhere in the world, all eyes are on soccer and tennis, but all across America, I imagine minor league stadiums spilling their fans into street like mine, kids with painted faces and balloons, grown-ups meeting for a beer at a sidewalk table, cherishing every corny moment of our Americana festivals all the more for having missed them last year.