There must be a lot of people retired, retiring and starting to see retirement on the horizon because there is no shortage of folks ready to offer retirement “counseling.” Most of it is financial or healthcare related. I’m going to jump on that bandwagon and offer some advice for a niche retiree audience. The baseball fan.
You do not really have to be retired to appreciate this guide. You could be working as a bartender or a barista while trying to figure out how to parlay your English or history or music degree into a job you can live on and live with. Or maybe you’re an older worker whose job was “eliminated” (until someone could come along to do it at half the salary). Or maybe you’re a freelancer of some type going through a slow season. The two things you need are free time and interest in baseball.
First of all, don’t be an MLB snob. I assume that if you are reading this you are probably not an investment banker on a hot run, so if you want to get to a full summer of games don’t forget the minors. I made the case for minor league baseball in last week’s post (Money Changes Everything) but if you missed it, here’s a quick review. It’s cheaper, you sit closer to the action, there’s not much traffic and it’s usually easy to park. More importantly, the minor league teams don’t have ESPN, Fox and every daily newspaper in the country promoting their game and their league so the only way they can be successful is to focus on the fan experience of the folks that come to the park.
And within the realm of minor league baseball, don’t dismiss the independents. While the lack of major league affiliation may mean that you aren’t going to see the top draft choices as they try to work their way up the ladder, what you will see is players who actually have more experience than most of the lower division affiliated minor leaguers and often play better ball. Two of the best places to catch a ballgame in the New York area are TD Bank Ballpark in Bridgewater, N.J., and Provident Bank Park in Pomona, N.Y., home of the independents Somerset Patriots and Rockland Boulders, respectively. (See Best of the Minors 2014.)
As I noted in a earlier post (Childhood Heroes), there was a time when all of the most important baseball games, the World Series and the all-star game included, were played during the day. Now those games often stretch past midnight on the east coast and are started at the worst possible time (with shadows all over the field) on the West Coast. So first children were eliminated as attendees and then, through the collusion of MLB and the TV networks, the bar was raised to knock out anyone who had to get up in the morning.
You can, however, still go retro and see baseball the way it was meant to the played in the bright sunshine of the middle of the day. Major league teams will schedule a few games at 1 p.m., usually on get-away day. That is the last day of a homestand. The team is going to have to travel to another city for its next game so the daytime start gives them a little extra travel time. The minor league teams start their midweek day games earlier, 10:30 or 11 a.m., making it easier for the school and camp groups who are attending. Not to mention the long bus trips they may have coming up before their next game.
Who goes to these games? A big part of the crowd is school groups in the spring and campers in the summer. They are not always the most attentive audience but they will liven the place up. You have not fully experienced the obligatory between inning YMCA song until you’ve done it in a ballpark full of campers from the Y. The other folks that wander in for the midweek day games are real baseball fans who will be more than happy to talk about the game. Nobody goes to a 10:30 a.m. minor league game on a date. Nor is anyone there to network.
Here’s a few more tips for enjoying baseball in your retirement:
You don’t need to plan this stuff in advance. Midweek daytime baseball doesn’t sell out (except on opening day). Go when you feel like it or when the weather looks good.
Buy the cheapest available ticket. At the minor league games they are happy you’re there and don’t give a shit where you sit. The majors still put an usher at the top of every section to enforce seating rules, but because most modern baseball stadiums are designed with wide open concourses you can alternate between spending a couple innings in your crappy upper deck assigned seat, watching from a café table near the concessions and standing behind the lower level stands.
If you are going to a major league game consider public transportation. While it may not be so convenient for you on weekends or nights because of sparse scheduling, if you are going to a weekday game you are traveling in peak times and you rarely have to wait long for a bus or train or subway.
I usually like to eat lunch at the ballpark but beware of the minor league team that doesn’t make proper accommodations to get food and snacks to the school and camp groups. If, for example, you go to an 11 a.m. Staten Island Yankee game, you can kiss the idea of lunch goodbye because you’ll never get near the concession stands. (Most are better organized than that.)
All of the minor leagues are shut down now and the MLB playoffs are in the final weeks, but some of the schedules are already starting to come out for 2015 so you can use the offseason to plan your summer of retirement baseball. I go to each teams Website and create a composite schedule of all midweek day games. I then go to a map app and figure out the driving time to all of the ballparks within 60 or 90 minutes of my house and add that to the bottom of the schedule.
So when April comes around, I’ll be ready.