I had nothing to wear. We were meeting at Cashman Center at exactly 7:05 p.m., and time was giving me the finger. Ignoring my dog’s pitying stares, I ended up in jeans, Converse flats and my favorite baseball cap through a series of desperate grunts and yanks—first date ritual.
“Hope the 51s like ponytails,” I said. My dog literally covered his face.
In case we didn’t mesh, I brought buffer friends. I’d been to minor league games in my old hometown of Boise, but every purring commentator and off-key anthem is different. Even with an alien mascot and booze-laced smoothies, would the 51s live up to my ex? Judging by my ticket stub, I was in for some strong jaws. But I had competition. People (read: hot chicks in cutoffs) swarmed the airy stadium, hoisting hot dogs and thunder sticks as they claimed their surprisingly comfortable plastic seats.
The night was perfect, breezy with clouds washed in sunset. School kids wheezed adorably through “The Star-Spangled Banner” (one singing the same note the entire time), and the battle between the 51s and the Tucson Padres (boo!) was on.
In the first few innings, the 51s treated me to pop flies, a pickle between first and second and a couple line drives at the enemy pitcher. It was time for a drink. As a rule, baseball beer is overpriced and underwhelming, but the home of the 51s has a Bottoms Up dispenser. It can pour up to 44 pints per minute. Judging by the bemused expression of the operator, “Blu,” as patron after patron stared, it’s more amazing than it sounds.
In his seventh season working at Cashman, Blu said the appeal is simple. “Watching baseball, slinging alcohol and having a great time. That’s not a job; that’s an adventure.”
My adventure included Bud Light, Cracker Jack and a hot dog fit for a family of four. I figured grated cheese and ketchup would keep it classy. And the prize in my dessert was a pencil topper complete with a graphite fun fact. Not wanting to seem too eager, I turned away from the game for a minute to visit the gift shop, where a girl can find everything from a FanCanHand koozie ($20) to a fake 51s tattoo sleeve ($8). Then the crowd roared.
Infielder Craig Stansberry was going for it. He slid hard and barely missed making a double play. There were groan-worthy lows and thrilling highs throughout the game and one indelible moment at the top of the sixth. A good hit by Tucson flew high and fast in the outfield’s dead zone. There was no way, and we all knew it. But right fielder DeWayne Wise wasn’t interested in the realities of physics. The stands went wild before he hit the grass.
His catch, coupled with pitcher Rommie Lewis’ 100 mph-busting fastball, cemented my decision to give the 51s my number. They lost by three runs, but they won my heart (and the $10 I spent on my new favorite cap).