With Historic Grayson Stadium literally in my backyard (I can see their fireworks from my back steps) a Savannah Sand Gnats baseball game last Saturday night promised a few hours of kicked-back visiting, some snacks, a little party music, and an iced diet soda or two.
Kind of like dropping by a neighbor's front porch on a summer evening, but with 2,694 other people joining in.
Watching baseball is the stated motive for every Sand Gnats game. This year, until June 20, the Sand Gnats were something to watch, taking the South Atlantic League Southern Division championship for the first half of the 2010 season.
But the goal of the Sand Gnats is to train baseball players for better teams, so after their division championship, eight team members were promoted. Going into Saturday's game, a mostly new swarm of Sand Gnats was 10 - 12 for the second half-season, and the record of our opponent, the Greenville Drive, was 14 - 8.
The deck was stacked against the home team, but win or lose, the Sand Gnats organization made sure we were entertained.
"Something for everyone" must be the motto of the Sand Gnats marketing team. How else to explain the scheduling of a Cub Scout/Boy Scout father-son night followed by a campout on the field, on the same night as a Live Wire Music Hall-sponsored pre-game rock band, a celebration of St. Patrick's Day in July (including green draft beer and "Gnatty St. Patty" T-shirts), and post-game fireworks sponsored by KIX96 radio?
An elementary-school girl opened the game with the national anthem, straining in places but hitting every note. Before or between each inning, something happened on the sidelines, or on the office-building-sized video screen at center field.
We cheered contests, sang birthday songs, and watched the PeanutButterJellyTime video while the teams switched sides.
Both teams had some great moves, including double plays, a stolen base and decent pitching, but my vote for best athlete goes to Gnate the Gnat, the Sand Gnats' mascot. He raced a four year old around the bases during an early inning break. He walked the stands constantly, high-fiving and hugging kids.
Mid-game, ground crew members interrupted their task smoothing the infield clay and joined Gnate at second base to perform a two minute choreographed routine to "Stayin' Alive," with John Travolta style hip thrusts, footwork and boogie hand rolls.
After the game, Gnate and an expanded grounds crew (they call themselves The Gnaturals) eased through The Village People's "YMCA."
During the eighth inning stretch, Gnate led the crowd in singing "Sweet Caroline," a clever trick for a bug who doesn't talk.
Our group chose to watch the game from a spot near the top of the stands, behind home plate and within range of a monster sized ceiling fan churning out a steady breeze.
For three hours there was plenty of conversation in our group, but somehow, the real world didn't follow us into the stadium. There was no discussion of Tuesday's primary election, no talk of the President, the Tea Party, the economy, the cap on the oil spill.
The closest brush with reality a was a video montage of deployed soldiers from the Third Infantry Division singing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" during the seventh inning stretch.
Despite a Sand Gnats error in the first inning that cost us a run while I was still in line to buy peanuts, the home team kept hope alive with a hit here, a run there.
By mid-game the Gnats had two runs against Greenville's four. In the bottom of the ninth inning, we got a man to first on the first pitch, but two minutes later the game was over, Greenville winning 4-2.
We stayed for the fireworks, five minutes' worth, yet just the right amount. We oohed and aahed at the finale, then walked across Daffin Park, under a half moon, past lines of cars leaving the parking lot.
At Washington Avenue the last of our Grayson Stadium porch party broke up and it was back to the neighborhood, back into the real world.
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