Archive for Tuesday, June 3, 2003

Wranglers offer cheap fun, little help for Kansas City

June 3, 2003

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Had it been three years since I had attended a Wichita Wranglers baseball game in Lawrence-Dumont Stadium? Indeed it had. It seems like the slots on your dance card decrease as your age increases.

Anyway, my first Wichita minor-league baseball experience occurred in 1987, when the Beaumont Golden Gators gave up the ghost in the Texas League and moved to Wichita.

At first, I thought the Beaumont folks had goofed. A Texas League team in Kansas? Did they think they were moving to Wichita Falls? But it was true. Wichita, the largest city in Kansas, became the Double-A farm team of the San Diego Padres.

They called them the Pilots then, and they were good. They had the Alomar brothers -- Roberto and Sandy -- and a bunch of other talented players, but they toiled in a dump. Lawrence-Dumont Stadium was dark, dingy and dilapidated.

Over the years, though, the city has made the Depression Era baseball stadium more fan-friendly with improved lighting, cleaner facilities, kiddie play area, picnic area, etc. Since last I had been there, you can now walk all the way around the outfield fence and even peer through outfield screens for a different perspective.

For instance, I was standing behind the screen in the left-center field area and watched as El Paso left fielder Jesus Cota leaped unsuccessfully to snatch a home run by Wichita's Tydus Meadows. I've seen a lot of baseball games over the years, but that was a whole new experience for me. It was like I was in the outfield, too.

I was hoping Cota or Wranglers' left fielder Marco Cunningham would run into the gap while I was there so I could holler such niceties as: "Don't trip," "See you in the big leagues," and, of course, "Have a nice day." But, alas, neither was required to ramble into no-man's land.

While behind the fence, you also can look up for a closer view of the stadium's unusual mechanical scoreboard that features a caricature of Mother Goose. Every time the opposing team fails to score, the human operator moves the goose to that inning and, instead of a zero, drops a goose egg into the slot.

If Mother Goose stays put most of the night, you know the Wranglers have had a bad game. Ah, but on this night Mother Goose was as busy as a goofy gander, dropping eight eggs as the Wranglers drilled the Diablos, 10-1.

If you've ever been to a minor-league baseball game, you know management is always staging frivolities between innings. The Dizzy Bat Race, a minor-league staple for years, has finally gone the way of the hula hoop, and they no longer drop the big foam dice from the press box on behalf of the Kansas Lottery. In their place are mostly cheesy giveaways, like tossing Home Depot discs and coseys into the stands.

This was Armed Forces Night and all current and past servicemen were admitted free. I figured my six years in the U.S. Army Reserves wouldn't qualify, so I paid the freight. I mean, six bucks for a chairback reserved seat is dirt cheap.

Even the concession prices aren't too steep at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium. I had a Frosty Malt that cost only $2. It was frosty and tasted malty, and obviously wasn't concocted by Ben & Jerry, but what the heck. Slurping a Frosty Malt with a flat wooden spoon is one of my guilty pleasures at a baseball game.

Nearly 4,500 fans -- a large crowd for the Wranglers -- were on hand lured mostly, I'm sure, by the post-game fireworks show. Minor-league entrepreneurs have learned nothing draws fans more than fireworks, and the show was indeed spectacular. And so, as the cordite smoke drifted across the Arkansas River, we made our way out of the darkened stadium.

I wish I could tell you the Wranglers' roster is loaded with major-league prospects. Center fielder David DeJesus looks good, but 23 is a little old to be a prospect in Double-A. Second baseman Alejandro Machado is only 21 and looks good in the field, but doesn't appear to be much of a hitter.

Most of the rest of the Wranglers are in the 25-27 age range, meaning their chances of reaching Kansas City are not good. Pitcher Wes Wilkerson, for example, had little trouble with the Diablos, but he's 26 -- older than current Royals' starters Jeremy Affeldt, Miguel Asencio, Chris and Runelvys Hernandez.

Dreams die hard, though, and many of them will die in Wichita. In the meantime, those KC suspects are providing plenty of cheap entertainment for baseball and Frosty Malt fans.

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