It's been close to 50-years since my last visit to a Minor League baseball game.
It was the Atlanta Crackers back in the 1950s.
I remember going
with my dad to the old Ponce de Leon Ball Park on Memorial Drive across from Sears to watch what would one day be known as
one of the best ever in the Minors.
that time I've stayed a fan of the game giving my heart to only three teams: the Pittsburgh Pirates because I played for the
Pirates in Little League; the Braves because I was a fan of Hank Aaron and Milo Hamilton; and the Houston Astros because now
I'm old enough to respect the talent and character of men such as Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell and Lance Berkman.
Recently, my wife and I took in a game at Dell Diamond in Round Rock, Texas, home
of the Astro's Triple-A farm team, the Round Rock Express. Talents such as Houston pitcher Roy Oswalt, and outfielders Hunter
Pence and Luke Scott have passed through that franchise on their way to the "bigs" in Houston.
The ball park was first class, a far cry from what I remember the Ponce de Leon
park looking like near the end of its run. Turf to rival any major league field was surrounded by several thousand seats of
green. Foul ball dinged brushed aluminum panels lined the walls of the upper deck, and there was seating for hundreds on the
grassy outfield berms and in the glass-fronted box seats for fans with connections.
We paid a mind boggling $12.00 a ticket for two great seats behind the dugouts along the first base
line. It was a perfect night for baseball in central Texas, and as the sun set one could feel the excitement; the excitement
of small town baseball being played by young guys hoping to make their dreams come true.
Former Astros Jason Lane, Umberto Quintero and Matt Albers were in the line-up joined by a dugout full
of fresh faces awaiting their chance to someday take the field at Minute Maid Park in Houston.
Sitting among hundreds of retirees, school kids, families and longhorns from the University of Texas,
we had expected to have fun, but never to have become a part of Minor League baseball history.
The game was close as the Nashville Sound's pitcher Manny Parra pitched his game. Strike outs, ground
outs, fly outs continued to mount, inning after inning until the last history-making pitch.
The local newspaper reported it like this: "ROUND ROCK - He's been good all season, but on Monday
Manny Parra was perfect. The 24-year-old from Sacramento retired all 27 batters he faced in Nashville's 3-0 victory over Round
Rock, completing the eighth perfect game in Pacific Coast League history in just his second Triple-A start."
In the bottom of the ninth Parra clearly had the Round Rock fans in his corner.
With each pitch they cheered, with each out the anticipation grew . . . imagine, a perfect game. One out . . . it couldn't
have been scripted any better. Two outs . . . everyone was on their feet shouting encouragement to an opposing pitcher. Then
came the pitch to clinch the game. A pop-up to second base and it was done.
Parra leaped from the mound into a bear hug from his catcher as the rest of the Nashville Sound piled-on, bouncing
in unison like some giant uniformed ball of caps and cleats. The cheers and applause of the appreciative Texans continued
to grow as the celebration on the field went on.
At some point
Parra realized that the fans of the Round Rock Express were not leaving, but were in fact giving him the sort of thunderous
ovation normally reserved for a hometown hero. It was then that the true quality of a professional shown through. Manny Parra
stepped out from among his teammates and raised his cap to the crowd in sincere appreciation.
There was jubilation between the bases and in the stands as the young pitcher shared his accomplishment
with everyone at Dell Diamond that night, as as we walked to the car the last image that I saw on the giant screen in center
field was Parra signing autographs for young wannabes with big league dreams of their own.
Congraulations Manny Parra. Never lose your enthusiasm for the game and appreciation of those who wish