Photos can be found in a slide show on the main site here and ultimately on the Raised by Baseball sub-site here.
When Gina asked me how I had heard about the Danbury Westerners my reply was simple: social media. I am fairly certain that once I began following the New Britain Bees and Bridgeport Bluefish on Twitter that it was recommended I follow the Danbury Westerners or someone had retweeted them and thus I thought, "What's this now?" and discovered there was baseball in Danbury after their season was over last year. The Danbury Westerners play in the New England Collegiate Baseball League (or NECBL) and it is essentially thirteen teams in the New England area (obviously) with college level players who are playing through the summer while school is out.
Everyone except for the MLB likes the boast about how their players move up to the MLB. I don't get it because I just like to see a good baseball game and I think sometimes that gets lost in the shuffle of "making stars" and "signing multi-million dollar deals" but it does still please me to some end to know where players go after we see them. My dad will tell me a story about how he and my uncle went to Norwich when they were the Little Yankees and they saw a really good player who never was to be seen or heard from after that. So, yes, I can appreciate the followup of baseball.
Thus, I will state that even though there is a page dedicated to alumni in the yearbook and you can do your own Google Research, the fact is that the second time we saw the New Britain Bees this season they had just signed Kevin Rivers who proved to be quite the bat in that game. Well, Kevin Rivers came from the Westerners and so it doesn't take that large of a connection to put this all together. Also, since I'm typing about the Bees right now, special shout out to Josh Zeid on getting picked up by the Mets. And really, it's as simple as that (Though it requires a lot of hard work) But someone can go from the Westerners straight to a MLB contract (and get put in their "farm system") or they could go to some place like the Atlantic League and then get signed by the Mets or another team.
We left fairly early for this Saturday game because it had been quite a while since I had been to Danbury and Gina had never been to the Danbury Mall before. When we were in the mall at the food court we saw some players in uniform from the Sanford Mainers and that was kind of funny. They weren't selling tickets or anything, but it might not be a terrible idea for some Westerners to cruise the mall in full uniform, telling people (especially kids) to come out to the game tonight. Just a thought.
Rogers Park is in the middle of what I like to call the "park district", but I'm sure Danbury has a better name for it. Before Rogers Park there is another baseball field where it looked as if a little league team was playing. Across the street from Rogers Park was yet another baseball field where a youth girls softball team was playing. And beyond Rogers Park was soccer. But still, a lot of chances to get your car hit by a foul ball or home run so we parked a few blocks down just to be safe. Many people were walking around outside on this Saturday night, so you could tell it was a safe enough neighborhood.
Tickets to the Danbury Westerners are only $5 each though there are discounts for different reasons and kids under 12 (Quentin) are free. I've never quite understood why anything outside of MLB made kids pay for tickets because if you're paying $8-$12 for a ticket and have to pay for your kid as well you're less likely to go than if they're free. But you know that kid will likely spend more on merchandise and food than the ticket price anyway, so get the adults to pay and bring in the little money-makers for free. I think that's a good plan. Plus, it all has to do with my theory that kids don't have the attention span for baseball anymore, which is a whole other story, but yes, there were actually a lot of kids at this game and that was refreshing to see as well.
I told Gina- and I stand by this- that I liked the ticket stubs from the Westerners because they felt like something old fashioned where as some places either a) don't give us ticket stubs or b) they look like concert tickets. Baseball ticket stubs are a lost art, but the Westerners seem to have it down pretty well. Also, they did raffles during innings and so if you had a certain ticket number you could win tickets to see Beat Happening and Soul Asylum, which was well worth the cost of admission (Though we didn't win)
Once we got in and found the bathrooms (it was a "sit where you want" deal) we found a merchandise table as well. I'm never sure what a baseball game is going to be like ever since we went to Yale and they had no merchandise for sale, even though they sell a lot of different merchandise at the football games. To me, it just makes sense to at least sell baseball hats, but who knows what the reasons are for Yale doing what they do. The Westerners had a table set up with t-shirts, hats and a few other things. They had a seat cushion which I wanted to buy because I feel like I'd use it just about every weekend in baseball season and then for Yale football games, but alas, it was not for tonight.
One of the biggest things which I like to do when it comes to baseball games is collect baseballs. The Atlantic League, for example, has their own baseball as does The Ivy League (Yale), MLB, MiLB, etc. etc. So I kind of assumed that the NECBL would have their own baseballs and as such was wondering how I could get one without, you know, catching a foul ball or making Quentin ask a player. On the list of items for sale was something called "autograph combo" and when I asked what it was I found it was a baseball and a pen. The baseball itself is the official NECBL ball and the pen has the Westerners logo on it, so for only $5 I knew this was going to be something we'd buy. When I opened it up and showed Quentin, asking him if he wanted to get autographs, he was so excited he went running up to the fence with the players.
While we got our tickets, we also got a magnet schedule as well as a program for the game, but at the merchandise table there was also a 2016 Yearbook for $3 which we picked up because I'm a sucker for things like that. The players are inside but don't have their numbers, so we're going to have to use the official program (which was free) to keep track of who signed the ball ten years from now and *yes* that is important to me as someone who had a New Britain Red Sox baseball signed by I have no idea who (but a lot of them). We also got this cool cowboy hat hand fan which was only $1. It was hot, so Quentin picked it up but once we decided on seats he didn't use it again after that. Oh well. He was playing with the other kids and hugging everybody, so that's fine.
My dad has always said about baseball at the Double A level, since that always seems to be in Connecticut, that if the players were not that good they'd be in Single A but if they were really good they'd get moved up to Triple A, which is true. So Double A is weird because it's this sort of middle ground for being on your way to the majors and when a player gets too good they get moved up. In the NECBL though, with this game, it just felt like these players were playing because they genuinely love the game. Someone in Double A could think "I'm signed by this major league team" and have a bit of an ego or whatever, but with the Westerners it just felt like a different level of competition because these players were all on an even playing field.
I don't want to feel like I'm undermining what the NECBL is about in any way because Kevin Rivers could find himself in the majors sooner than later and that's just one example, but it feels like these are players who enjoy playing in college and don't want to see the summer as the "off season" and so they continue to play for the love of the game. And when you find that pure love of baseball (Sure, some probably have hopes and dreams of being the next Babe Ruth, but who didn't at one time?) then it makes the game quality that much better because it's not so much about the pressure as it is just having fun and doing your best. Again, the NECBL is a very serious league and I'm not trying to make it sound like all fun and games, but in a lot of ways it makes me feel like a lot of what baseball used to be about back when the players would have "real jobs" in the off season.
As I said in the beginning, about how everyone likes to say who goes to the MLB and what not, some people are out there looking for the next Derek Jeter or that next franchise player, if you will. You know, you take a picture with them or get them to sign a baseball in hopes that one day maybe you could say, "Yeah, I saw him play back when and this is really his pre-rookie autograph". I look at how Trevor Story is blowing up on the Rockies but wouldn't sell his autograph card we have because it is special to us. And that's what I feel too much of baseball has become: people looking to make a cash investment and hoping it pays off some day. You get enough players to sign stuff, you follow the stats and all that, who knows, one day you might get lucky. But me? I just want to see a good baseball game. And the Westerners provided that.
Down 6-0, a three run home run was hit which put the Westerners right back in it at 6-3. Even though we were almost out of innings, it still could have been anyone's game because, really, they did it once and if they did it again then the game would be tied. We left when the game went into the 8th though because Quentin was getting pretty tired and a lot of the other kids were already gone. A comeback win would have been great, but we also knew this wasn't going to be our only time seeing the Westerners as they gave us plenty of reasons to return for more baseball.
For one thing, I want to get a Westerners hat and possibly a shirt as well. This was one of the first times I saw a t-shirt design and thought, "I want that shirt!" If you are like me and collect the baseballs of different leagues then, yes, let this serve as a bit of advice to you that you can get an official NECBL ball and Westerners pen for just $5. That was a huge plus to me and I think every team playing baseball should do something similar. Also- like the Brakettes- the Westerners do the 50/50 raffle where you buy tickets and if you win you get half the money while the Westerners get the other half. We didn't do it this time, but next time we're going to participate. The winner got $150 this time and all I could think was "That's a lot of Westerners merch". (Yes, if I won I would go to the merchandise table and ask for one of each)
Within the NECBL, there also exists another Connecticut based team called the Mystic Schooners. We are already planning a day trip to Mystic to see them, but they do have a few games this season with the Danbury Westerners as well. I don't think we'll get to see all thirteen teams in the NECBL this season, but eventually we will, and along with the New Britain Bees, CT Tigers, Bridgeport Blue Fish and Stratford Brakettes, the Danbury Westerners are now in my weekend schedule where we wonder whether or not to go see them play on the 15th of July, for example, or to go see the Blue Fish vs. Skeeters (That will likely be a Westerners game for us) After thirty one New Britain Rock Cats games last season, I said that this season wouldn't be about how many games we went to for a single team but about how many different places we went to see different teams. I'm planning it month by month, but yes, there will be a few more Westerners game in the coming weeks for sure.