More Than The Game
It is already the first of June and just this past weekend was the first visit to Applebee's Park. Actually, that is not entirely true. Attendance was required at the park to watch the Paul Laurence Dunbar Bulldogs beat the Lafayette Generals earlier in the year, but this was the first visit for a Lexington Legends game.
It is odd having only attended the past two season openers and being a big baseball fan. Other sports, however, have pushed back my ability to make it to the ballpark. The Cincinnati Reds opened a new stadium, the Lexington Horsemen have burst onto the scene, a new coaching staff for University of Kentucky football had their spring game, and, of course, the continuing adventures of the UK basketball team. The Legends are no longer the "new" game in town. The novelty that always accompanies a new sport or stadium has worn off as they head into their third season. This year is a big year for the Legends for a number of different reasons.
The past two years, the fans in Lexington have had front row seats to some exciting, winning baseball. The Legends were South Atlantic League champions their first year and in the hunt down to the wire their second year, but this year is a little different. Names we know, such as Ramon German, Jon Topolski, John Buck, and even manager Jimmy Cannon are not here. The reality of Single A baseball is that guys that are good are not around for long. Felix Escalona and Kirk Saarloos, Legends veterans from the first season, are now Major League players. The manager was let go and now Russ Nixon, former Reds manager, is the biggest name on the roster. As of June 1st, the Legends had an overall record of 24-32, were in 7th place in an 8th place division, and 14.5 games out of first place. They are the Vanderbilt football team to the SAL league's Southeastern Conference. So, you might expect the honeymoon to be over, for people to stop driving to the North side to spend their money, and instead find other interests. Well, in what can only be a tribute to Alan Stein and the people that run the Legends, that is not happening.
The Legends have been able to do with Applebee's Park what the Chicago Cubs have done with Wrigley Field. No, they have not turned it into the most beautiful baseball park in the world, a park so beautiful there is nothing to even compare. Imagine if Britney Spears had a cousin who was twice as good looking; that is the only thing comparable to Wrigley. But, what they have managed to do is to turn Applebee's Park into a destination, an event unto itself, the place to be in Lexington during the summer.
How have they done this? Easy, they have something for everyone, and are always coming up with new ideas. On Saturday night, 6,051 fans braved the weather and witnessed the Legends defeat the Greensboro Bats 2-1, a rare occasion of timely hitting and solid pitching from Lexington. The crowd was entertained by the Skydogs, an acrobatic group of mutts-their word not mine-saved from various shelters and taught the tricks of the trade. That night, the highlight of the evening could have been one dog's sprint out to right center to snare a discus. Simply unbelievable. The dogs were available for autographs after the game, and the hordes of kids lined up were a testament to their popularity.
The good times do not stop with the Skydogs. If you go to a Legends game this season, you are guaranteed to be witness to some sort of "Theme Night." It could be Meijer Monday, Twizzler Tuesday, or even Thirsty Thursday. Did I leave out Fly Away Friday? You could see the Zooperstars, personal favorite being Harry Canary, Birdzerk, or even Myron Noodleman, the uber-geek who is just asking for a swift kick in the crotch. There will be Jimmy Buffet Night, Great Balls of Fire, and even return visits by the Skydogs. This year Lexington also hosts the SAL All-Star game, a two-day celebration starting Monday June 23rd in downtown Lexington and continuing on until Tuesday's game.
On a personal note, the best addition to the park this year has to be the Skyline Chili stand. For those unfamiliar, Skyline Chili is the best thing to come to Lexington from Cincinnati since Erik Daniels. They have opened a store in Georgetown, to which directions were provided from the very kind person working the concession stand, and are operating in Applebee's Park on the first base side. The Legends have more food options than your average Morrisson's Cafeteria.
The Legends have exactly one guy batting over .300, take a bow Justin Humphries, and the next leading batter is Ryan Kochen at .250. Not exactly the Murderer's Row of the 1927 Yankees. The pitching staff is also nothing to write home about, or to write anyone about unless you are simply trying to depress them. They were mathematically eliminated from winning their division sometime after game three of the season. OK, actually they were mathematically eliminated this past weekend. A small survey of the fans sitting around me found that hardly any of them realized how bad the Legends record actually was. They did not care. They were just happy to be at the ballpark. So far this season, the Legends are averaging 5,194 fans, second in the league to Lakewood New Jersey with an average of 5,789. This is down a little from last year, but the arrival of the summer and the end of schools means the attendance will jump. They are projected by the league to average 6,215 for the season and if the weather ever cooperates, it should not be a problem. The Legends are cementing themselves in this town as a tradition. When the weather turns warm, the baseball park is the natural place to go. The city can only hope that the season's second half shows a rebound for the home team. Of course, for a lot of people at the game, the only thing that matters is that the beer is cold, the Coney dogs are hot, and that those Skydogs catch those Frisbees. nemorial Day is the first benchmark of the Major League Baseball season. Although only about 50 games of the 162 game season have been played, at this point you start to have an idea of what teams are going to do. The early season surprises, such as the Kansas City Royals start coming back down to earth, and questions about rosters and pitching staffs start to settle into place. The Cincinnati Reds end this Memorial Day with a record of 25-26 and three games behind the Chicago Cubs in the National League Central. The Reds started out the season terribly, but had a hot month of May to reach the .500 mark, and for a few brief days, to climb over it and move within 1 game of the top spot. However, the same old problems that have existed for this team the past couple of seasons continue to hold them back.
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