Throwing Rubber Chickens in Lowell

August 15th, 2007 by Harrumpher Leave a reply »

Sub-eating contests, a line of chicken dancers, and speaking of, real rubber chickens heaved to eager fans are certainly not the Beacon Hill dignity hallmarks. But up in Lowell, they work real hard to make affordable fun at Spinners games.

I just did an afternoon and evening with my two youngest boys. A report on the canal tour is another post. I had promised publicly to spend more time in our fourth-largest city, and surely to be there for more than my beloved folk festival days at the end of each July.

A friend from Marblehead had long urged me to bring the guys up. Like me, he went to Red Sox games in the 1960s and beyond. We remember when 1) you could buy tickets, any tickets, and 2) when it wasn’t several days’ salary to take a family. Yeah, well, we’re older and remember when the Sox may have fallen apart in August or September, but a game was a great afternoon or evening. Plus everything from parking to tickets to franks was not some sucker’s game.

I can end that rant and just praise the Sox farm team in Lowell.

Perhaps you can’t appreciate the team without tasting the league. This Sox affiliate in sliced a little thin in being in the short-season, Class-A New York-Penn League. They play from mid-June into early September. They play against (with MLB affiliate teams):

  • Aberdeen Iron Birds (BAL)
  • Auburn Doubledays (TOR)
  • Batavia Muckdogs (PHI)
  • Brooklyn Cyclones (NYM)
  • Hudson Valley Renegades (TB)
  • Jamestown Jammers (FLA)
  • Mahoning Valley Scrappers (CLE)
  • State College Spikes (STL)
  • Oneonta Tigers (DET)
  • Staten Island Yankees (NYY)
  • Tri-City Valley Cats (HOU)
  • Vermont Lake Monsters (WASH)
  • Williamsport Crosscutters (PIT)

Almost everyone is under 23 by the rules. They are up or out, advancing to their parent club or selling cars or real estate.

This means that while some great players have come from the league, the average play level is not MLB. There aren’t enough Ks for big-league fans and there are few monsters knocking one over center field walls (400 feet in the Spinners’ park).

I think those are the only drawbacks, other than not being on a subway line. Consider:

  • You’re almost on the field. The park seats about 4,800. There are no bad spots. Many are only a few rows from the baselines. You are part of the game, not part of the distant herd.
  • You get in for change. Hey, I was a big spender. I bought top-end tickets, for (drum roll) $7.50 each. There’s not misplaced decimal — $22.50 for the three of us. The range starts at standing room at $3.50, which is necessary because many games sell out. You just need to hop onto the Spinners site in early spring and grab tickets.
  • Golden wieners. If you want to pay steak and Cabernet prices for a frank and beer, go to Fenway. The high priced beer at LeLacheur Park (named for a local activist) is $5.25 a pint. Hot dogs were like $2.75. Also, in such a small park, a trip to the john or snack bar was a couple of minutes not a death march.
  • No parking thieves. The $20 and $30 parking slots near the Sox are far from Lowell. There you can come early and park next door, park a quarter to half-mile away at game time for free, or pick a lot a couple of blocks away and pay $5.

So the basics out of the way, how about the game? The most important aspect is that everyone seems to have a great time. That must mean that it is less professional than a bunch of rich guys in tight pants taking themselves seriously.

The players do try. Some are obviously more successful than others. Unlike MLB parks though the action is stop and go, with a lot of breaks between innings for those contents, for Ronald McDonald to autograph the free T-shirts they handed kids, for the gator mascot family to throw rubber chickens to eager fans.

By the bye, I sat behind a family whose dad was one of the sub-contest entrants, the winner in fact. It was mom in front of me, three elementary-aged kids, and dad, who barely squeezed into the wide seats. One of the Spinner staffers came to him in the first inning and he nodded. He told her about the contest and said loudly that he thought the kids would enjoy it. After the third inning, he and a sturdy woman headed to a table on the first-base line. Each had half a large, overly stuffed submarine. They had one minute to eat as much as they could. After the judge declared him the most rapacious, he headed up toward us, strands of meat and lettuce dangling from his lips.

I told his wife that he’d be eating that for a week. She said with disdain, “Yeah, this is really something to be proud of.” It was a Simpson’s moment.

Start to finish, the play was good enough to keep us interested. There was some very good fielding of hard-hit balls. The players were clearly hungry for the majors and tried.

Getting back to JP was easy enough too. We were home in 45 minutes or so, probably less time than if we walked to Ruggles or took two buses to Forest Hills. Surely, it was quicker and cheaper.

The Spinners beat the Hudson Valley Renegades 2 to 1. They beat the overall Red Sox experience by a lot more than that.

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