February 28, 2020

Closing Day in Hagerstown

September 8, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

“It’s a sad day, a sad day,” said a fan in a Hagerstown Suns camo hat while standing behind the home team dugout some 20 minutes before the final game of the 2011 season. Big Tony, the Suns beer vendor acknowledged that it was. All 656 in attendance seemed to feel that way, although they were simply grateful that the game was even being played. The weather forecast just that morning seemed to leave no hope that the Suns would take the field. Remarkably, however, the front had stalled 30 or 40 miles west of town.

If Opening Day is a time for excitement, then Closing Day is a time for reflection. This is especially true in minor league baseball where fans know that with a few exceptions, they’ll not see these boys again next year. Every minor league season is much more self-contained than it is at the big league level and so those who regard their neighborhood ballparks as a local Stonehenge gather to participate in all the sacred rituals one final time . . .

Yet another fan, bedecked in a Suns’ “10th Man” tee shirt and Suns hat, strikes up a conversation with manager Brian Daubach that ends with a fist bump through the protective netting. Living up to the slogan on his shirt, the fan starts cheering before the game even begins.

Meanwhile, several members of the Suns are outside their clubhouse which is located down the right field line, lobbing a ball onto the roof, waiting for it to roll off, and trying to catch it with a lengthy piece of PVC pipe. Suddenly, a cheer erupts and hugs are dispensed, and one can only assume that the season’s Pipe Catching Champion has been crowned.

The ceremonial first pitch duties are handled by shortstop Jason Martinson’s aunt and Big Tony. Municipal Stadium being a rather intimate setting, Big Tony is the Suns beer vendor and not one of the Suns’ beer vendors. Both bounce their pitches about 8′ from the plate.

As a scoreless first inning is drawing to a close, Woolie B., the Suns’ caterpillar mascot waits by the dugout gate to enter the field. His home white jersey shows a season’s worth of  tugs and hugs from countless little hands. Tossing hats into the crowd, Woolie draws a large cheer.

A disappointed groan arises in the bottom of the second when Lakewood’s left fielder Bill Rice jumps at the wall in left center to snare a fly ball off the bat of Kevin Keyes. Keyes has been playing right field for the Suns since Bryce Harper’s departure and there has been no noticeable drop in production from that slot in the lineup. Although Harper’s .318 average is 55 points higher than Keyes’ .263, the latter stroked 17 homers to Harper’s 14, averaging a homer every 17.9 at-bats compared to Harper’s 18.4 HR/AB ratio. Furthermore, Keyes’ homers have been just as loud and as long as Harper’s, though this day, the big right-handed hitter from the University of Texas comes up just a bit short.

Although Harper has been long gone, his presence is still felt even down to this final day. Just the night before, the souvenir stand sold out of Suns baseball card sets, which of course contained a card of Harper. The stand still had Harper shirts for sale and Paige Tanner, the Suns’ Entertainment Director, provided some interesting numbers not included in the daily stat sheet: The team sold 22 authentic jerseys (priced at $200.00 each), 202 Harper photo shirts, 233 “Harperstown” tee shirts, and 559 replica jersey tee-shirts.

With Harpermania, Stephen Strasburg’s rehabilitation starts, and a myriad number of promotions, it has been an exciting season for the Suns’ staff–and a long one.

“Today, I’m not sorry to see the season end,” laughs Tanner. “Next week, after I catch up on some sleep, I’ll be sorry.”

In the third inning, Big Tony makes his way through the first base stands pulling hats and packs of silly bands from a purple sack and tossing them to appreciative fans. There is no beer to sell this day; the cans on hand are being given away. Indeed, white tape has been placed over various menu items as they disappear from the concession stands. At one, only pizza, hamburgers, popcorn and Gatorade can still be had. Some fans munch on hot dogs placed in hamburger buns.

In the fourth, the Suns score five times, Keyes contributing a sacrifice fly. It also begins to sprinkle, but as fast as the umbrellas bloom, they close up again. Up and down they go through the 6th. Meanwhile, fans are reminded that a “Labor Day Sale” is taking place in the Suns’ souvenir stand.

During the 7th inning stretch, Big Tony leads the third base bleachers in “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” and on his way out he hands a girl a bag of Cracker Jack. She disappears down onto the concourse, but a minute later comes whirling back with three friends. They all have bags of Cracker Jack.

The Suns add three runs in the 6th and one more in the bottom of the 7th and lead Lakewood 9-1. The Suns 10th Man who began cheering before the game began can still be heard even over on the 3rd base side, but he is becoming hoarse. Just before the 8th inning gets underway, a masked, caped, streaker hops over the chain link fence down the right field foul line and dashes across the outfield. No one chases him as there are no police at the game; the umpires look stunned and the Suns players are laughing hysterically. That, and the fact that he disappears into the Suns’ clubhouse suggest that a bet was made at some point during the season when the evenings were longer.

Before the bottom of the 8th, Big Tony again takes the field after being introduced and sings “America the Beautiful.” The Lakewood players remove their caps and spontaneously come to attention wherever they happened to be on the diamond. The crowd does the same in the stands and only Big Tony’s powerful voice permeates the stillness. Paige Tanner and Sara Grasmon, the Community Relations and Marketing Director present the one-man crowd pleaser with a team autographed bat for all he’s done for Hagerstown’s fans.

Suns pitcher Paul Applebee takes a line drive off his shin in the top of the 9th, putting runners on first and second, but after being inspected by Daubach, pitching coach Chris Michalak, the training staff, and several teammates, Applebee retakes the hill. He induces a grounder to third baseman Justino Cuevas, who steps on third and fires to first for the final out of the game and the season.

It is raining lightly now, but still folks linger. Some players stop and sign autographs along the first base line on their way to the clubhouse. Dave Freitas, the Suns catcher has his picture taken on the field with about a dozen family members.

Finally, the old stadium empties out.

“See you next year,” says one fan to another.

Neither the front that is moving in, nor the fans who are moving out can stall any longer. It begins to rain in earnest.

To view various scenes from Closing Day in Hagerstown, please click here.

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