A night at the ballpark

Hey, Dinger, throw me a free hot dog.

Hey, Dinger, throw me a free hot dog.

Hidden in the shadow cast by all the hullabaloo surrounding the possible departure of the Kings are the Sacramento River Cats.

Don’t get me wrong: The prospect of the Kings leaving has me more disappointed about Sacramento sports than I’ve been since Robert Horry in 2002. But still, why does everyone always forget the River Cats?

With nine division titles since coming to Sacramento, along with two Triple-A championships, the Cats are good. Unlike the former Arco Arena, Raley Field still sparkles new, offering fans all of the greatest parts of baseball: giant hot dogs, beer, fireworks.

Triple-A baseball games feel more intimate than NBA games and aren’t as serious as Major League Baseball. And if the Cats accomplished anything during their 2011 opening weekend (apart from a 2-2 record) earlier this month, it was a renewed reminder to Sacramento sports lovers that there is a team in town that is still here—and worth going out to watch.

Though a fair amount of construction in West Sacramento was expected to complicate the flow of baseball fans into Raley Field, the promise of free parking during opening weekend brought me and a few friends out to the park, along with thousands of others. The seats were fairly crowded on Saturday night’s game, and the lawn was packed with families and boozed-up baseball fans alike.

The game itself had its ups and downs; during the first four innings we enjoyed more hot dogs, garlic fries and beer than runs scored. The food was expensive, of course, but surprisingly cheaper than at Arco. There were T-shirt cannons, launched hot dogs and the more-than-occasional foul balls to keep us on our toes. Eventually, the opposing Tacoma Rainiers pulled ahead with runs in the fifth and seventh innings, and things really started getting interesting when Cats slugger Chris Carter knocked in two runs to tie the game at the bottom of the eighth. (I mean interesting both in the sense that the game was finally getting exciting, and also in that the beer started kicking in for our neighboring fans behind the first-base line, who started letting the Rainiers know, rather vocally, whose town they were in.)

Despite a good effort by the Cats, however, a comeback victory didn’t happen; Tacoma came through with two runs in the ninth, to which the Cats couldn’t answer.

The vibe at Raley Field was right; there was the perfect ratio of sports-to-cheesiness (the “Cha Cha Slide” was only played once), and my only complaint was that I froze my ass off as soon as the sun went down. But, as one fan in our section pointed out, it just made her excited to come out for more games when the hot summer weather sets in.

Though the Cats couldn’t dazzle us with a win on Saturday night, the first night of their Saturday night fireworks series did the trick. Boom!