Kitty Campagna 3



By far, some of my favorite memories of summer were attending the Billings Mustangs baseball games with my dad. The Mustangs were a minor league farm club for the Kansas City Royals who played at Cobb Field where foul balls at times landed in the city swimming pool near the entrance. Today these same Mustangs are an offshoot of the Cincinnati Reds and they play in essentially the same location in the upgraded and newly named Dehler Park.

 But affiliations and fields are really of no importance; it is the experience that counts.

Those warm summer evenings were paradise for this tomboy sports aficionado. I would expound on the virtues of the squeeze bunt or hitting the cutoff man for hours to my dad. He remained fairly silent but others around me seemed to be fascinated. But for some reason, whenever I would get a great debate going mainly with myself, that would be the time that dad would proffer the cash necessary for me to purchase my crackerjack treat for that game.

Eventually I discerned exactly what my dad was doing. That could be why I almost never leave my seat at a sporting event any more. My husband, Bob, has discovered it is easier for him to escape my barrage of sports intelligence by offering to get me something. He also knows I have an iron bladder and that I do not want to miss something that I might be able to comment on.

But bless him, he still indulges me and attends sporting events with me. In fact, the other night with little regard for his personal welfare, he spontaneously invited me to the Tacoma Rainiers game. Ah, a return to those summer nights.

On what was the actual second day of summer we traveled to Tacoma to spend a lovely evening watching minor league baseball in seats bathed in sunlight. We had splurged for box seats in Row 4 which turned out to be in the words of Bob Uecker, “The front row,” since we were directly behind the autograph pit.

These particular seats were in line with the throw from the pitcher to first base so we had to be especially aware of pick-off moves, and we battled the sun to make out the flight of any foul balls gracing the first base side. Therefore, watching could not be casual; it had to be done with dedication to self-protection.

This attentiveness had additional perks in that one never knows what one might see at a minor league game.

My antennae first alerted me to something interesting prior to the game when I spotted No.29 from the Fresno Grizzlies chatting (near the autograph pit) with some local fans. He had an easy smile and seemed genuinely interested in the conversation and the trophy the fan was showing to him.

With my trusty (and free) program in hand I ascertained that the gentleman in question was Todd Linden. That name rang a bell as I guessed Kitsap roots. I waffled between Central Kitsap High and South Kitsap High until I settled (mistakenly) on South. My googling post-game confirmed my initial Central Kitsap conjecture. I did at least get his current major league team affiliate of San Francisco correct.

Here was a local boy (actually man) eight days short of 33 who was still chasing his baseball dream as the designated hitter. This was not a rehab assignment as his most recent employment had been with the Edmonton Capitols of the North American Baseball League and not the parent club 40-man roster. Yet his smile remained genuine and I found myself silently cheering when he switched to bat from the right-hand side and laced what turned out to be a meaningless single to center in the ninth.

Early in the game I was texting my Montana nephews (Cody and the appropriately named Dustin) that I was watching Dustin Ackley play center field. That meant that I was not watching Franklin Gutierrez even though he was listed in the handy program.

The return text explained why as Cody told me that they were watching the Mariners and Guti (in his first start of 1.6 games before he went back on the DL).

Ackley also was not on a rehab assignment, but his newfound stroke to the tune of a 372 average was re-opening major league doors, especially since his new position of center field became available the following evening. That night he could only manage a walk so I took pictures with my phone and texted his success and proximity to me to the aforementioned nephews.

But these interesting episodes were just sideshows to the main event for the evening. The starting pitcher for Fresno was proving to be unhittable. Mitch Lively – a name that sounds like it came directly from the creators of Crash Davis – sported an uninspiring 7.16 ERA but he was having little difficulty with the Tacoma batters beyond a first inning walk to Brad Miller.

I decided to speak loudly (a well-honed skill of mine) about the ongoing “NO HITTER” and reminded the Rainiers of the stats for the pitcher that they were facing.

It was not until the seventh inning that the aforementioned Brad Miller extended his hitting streak to 18 games and broke up the no-hitter. He then stole second and advanced to third on an errant throw from the catcher. An error by the left fielder allowed him to score and break up the shutout.

Miller tried to single-handedly win the game but his teammates were not on the same page and the relief pitcher allowed two runs in the eighth that were sufficient for a 2-1 Fresno victory.

Other highlights included a father and son (as part of the father’s bachelor party) competing in the bungee pizza-topping race that probably must be seen rather than described.


Also, I almost walked away with a game ball. The Grizzly outfielder, who had caught the last out of an inning, gently lobbed it to a be-gloved young man standing near the autograph pit. I was surprised my competitive drive did not kick in and get me to stand and reach in front for that easy fly.

I joked that even if I had caught the ball, I would have given it to the youth, but I am not overly sure of that.

What I am sure of is that I had a most enjoyable evening and went home happy despite the Rainier loss. This sense of satisfaction, a basic contentment with the game itself has served me well over the years, especially as a fan of the Mariners.

And I got to test this out but a week later as my family attended the Cubs versus the Mariners game on another sun saturated Saturday with bleacher seats compliments of my son-in-law Waylon. This battle of the barely competent squads went two extra innings (testing my stay in the seat – in full sunlight – resolve) with a very unsatisfying (except for Waylon and a ton of Cubs fans) 5-3 Cubs victory.

Here is the fun part; it was very much like attending a minor league game – especially since both Dustin Ackley and Brad Miller were starters in this game. So I tried to just enjoy the moment and accept the unexpected.

With the continuation of sumptuous summer evenings lately it is my wish to experience more baseball bliss. How lucky to have a range from the Mariners, the frequently league leading Rainiers and the young and enthusiastic BlueJackets.

Although one never knows the individual highlights awaiting the viewer, with the correct attitude – fun is a guarantee.