Baseball may have its modern ballparks, its architectural wonders, its parks that gleam in the sunshine. Watching baseball in one of the metropolitan marvels is a comfortable, enjoyable experience. But watching baseball in an old ball park is an experience all its own.
I had a chance to visit Evansville in August, and see an Evansville Otters game as they hosted the Windy City Thunderbolts at a night game. Bosse Field, the home of the Otters, is an old historic ballpark, built in 1915, and was in fact one of the ballparks from the movie, A League Of Their Own, the home of the Racine Belles.
The seats have a roof over them, and everyone sits together. Baseball feels different when you’re playing in a 95-year-old ballpark. This is a ballpark that restores the egalitarian spirit of baseball stadiums 100 years ago. There are no cheap seats, no bad seats. You understand why baseball was the most popular sport 70 years ago when you sit in this park, and you think that maybe it could be again.
The Otters hadn’t been doing well, and had dropped a big number of games in the last couple of weeks. But, I’m a true homer, even if my “home team” is over 200 miles from my hometown, so I took my oldest daughter and sat with my friend, Dana, who is a social media consultant for the Otters.
The Otters are part of the Frontier League, an independent baseball league that’s not affiliated with any other major or minor league baseball team. They are made up of professional ball players who didn’t make it to a major or minor league ball club, and the league is the equivalent of the single A standard ball.
The Frontier League exists so that professional baseball players who are not signed by a Major or Minor League organization could have another chance at playing at a higher level. Although the level of Frontier League play can be categorized at the single A standard, players in independent baseball are usually not scouted heavily by Major League teams. The league also caters to players who are not quite talented enough to play at a higher level.
Baseball in an old park has a different sound, an older sound. The ball didn’t crack! off the bat. It had more of a leather slap, and a “thicker” crack of the bat, the ball and bat paying homage to the game as it was played when Bosse Field was new.
But as much as I enjoyed watching the Otters, I actually enjoyed watching Bill Bussing, the owner of the Otters, even more.
Bill joined us for a little while, in our seats on the 3rd base line, between the dugout and the Thunderbolts’ bull pen — we got some awesome tickets, courtesy of the Evansville Convention and Visitors Bureau — and we chatted about baseball for a couple minutes. At least we did until Dana’s five-year-old son walked over and said “Hi, Bill Bussing.” Bill had been enjoying the game with the intensity of a die-hard fan, but brightened even more as he saw his little friend.
Bill pulled the boy onto his lap, and they shared a bag of Swedish Fish, and chatted about Dana’s oldest son, who had just suffered an eye injury. I got the impression that Bill already knew about it, because he cared about the people around him. He cared about his ball park, his ball players, and his fans.
I watched as Bill joked with one of the usherettes about flirting with one of the relief pitchers from the ‘Bolts.
“He’s getting married next month,” Bill told her.
“How do you know that?” I asked.
“He was an intern with our team last year, and he got signed by the Thunderbolts this season.”
Bill knew all of this, in a day and age when corporate types can barely be bothered to keep up with the people in their own department.
Bill’s devotion to his team and his love for baseball — even when his team isn’t doing well, he still claps and cheers with the intensity of a fervent fan watching his favorite team in the playoffs — all show in the way the game is played, watched, and enjoyed by the city of Evansville. (In fact, everyone I told I was “going to the game tonight,” they all said, “The Otters? You’ll have a great time.”
Bill’s faith paid off tonight. The Otters won the game, where they not only tied the game in the 8th, but they scored the winning run in the 9th, after the Thunderbolts purposely loaded the bases with two out and the winning run on third base. The Otters scored the winning run on a base hit, 3-2.
And I got my first professional foul ball, which Dana’s son got and gave to me, since I had never caught one. All in all, it was an awesome time, and I’m looking for a reason to go back.