Harper-Less Hagerstown Suns Open with a Flourish
A very respectable crowd of 2,078 turned out on a very chilly Opening Night, to watch the Bryce Harper-less Hagerstown Suns play the West Virginia Power in Sally League action on Thursday. Still, the contrast between this year and last year when 6,017 came to watch Harper’s minor league debut was stark to the point of tangible. No reporters or camera crews from Washington or ESPN were on hand, and the fans who lined up at the gates were all inside the park within three minutes. There was no buzz in the crowd unless you want to count the one hovering over the Suns’ Beer Garden where an estimated 1,039 patrons were paying scant attention to the game on the first Thirsty Thursday of the season. If any topic of conversation dominated the stands it was of the Suns’ possible (indications are very possible) relocation 50 miles down I-81 to Winchester, Virginia.
Big Tony, the Suns vendor at large found that beer was not such a hot seller on such a cool night at least in the stands where it was going for the regular price. Switching over to peanuts by the third inning, he was doing his best to put some pep into the coat-wearing crowd. With a remarkable ability to loudly whistle the “charge!” call, Tony exorted fans time and again to cheer on the Suns.
Nevertheless, if the fans weren’t rocking 82-year-old Municipal Stadium, they were clearly happy to be there because they are analytical, fanatical, radical baseball fans; they are pure baseball fans and they love the minor leagues. These are the fans for whom Opening Day is Christmas and who would attend the inaugural contest whether the new kid was named “Bryce Harper” or “Johnny Notalent.” Some exchanged “Happy Opening Day!” greetings and proudly wore their First Game finery.
There were Suns, tee-shirts and hats of course, but the Baltimore Orioles, Washington Nationals, Washington Senators, Boston Red Sox, Detroit Tigers, Mets, Marlins, Yankees, Cardinals, Angels, and White Sox were also represented. One young man even arrived in a replica Houston Colt .45 jersey. Several could be seen before the game copying the starting line-ups into their scorebooks from the giant chalk board which is hung next to the concession stand behind home plate.
They shivered their way through a 2 hour and 59 minute see-saw of a slugfest with Hagerstown taking a 6-1 lead after two innings only to have the Power go ahead 9-6. The Suns tied it up with three in their half of the sixth–two of those runs coming on first round draft pick Brian Goodwin’s home run–then plated two in the bottom of the eighth to win 11-9. The Suns sent everyone home happy, although some Thirsty Thursday patrons may not have realized that they were happy until Friday morning once they read the score, and assuming furthermore, that they remembered that they were at the game in the first place.
The pure baseball fans of Hagerstown and Martinsburg, WV and Greencastle, PA and the rest of the Tri-State area didn’t miss Bryce Harper one bit. Though not missed, Bryce Harper is certainly not forgotten. A rack of tee-shirts bearing his name and the #34 on the back in Suns’ orange and black hangs in the souvenir store and one may be had for “only” $20.00. Oh, and if you want to own a genuine Bryce Harper Garden Gnome be one of the first 1,000 people to enter the park on August 4th. The gates open at 6:00, but I’d get there early if you really want one.
God love the fans who love the minor leagues.