Moeller: Sunday Baseball Fun with the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp

Photo by Nancy Beecher/SportsDay

By Jeff Moeller

It was my first Jumbo Shrimp game , and I was already impressed.

Roughly an hour before the scheduled Sunday night game, an array of Star Wars characters strolled in front of the Jumbo Shrimp dugout and made their way to the outfield. R2D2 kept his slow pace and made his way to the outfield and back, as he captivated the assembling crowdin the process.

What really stirred me was a large contingent of children who entered the field from an outfield gate and began a pitch and catch with their friends or their fathers.

In covering minor league baseball for the better part of 25 years, this was a first for me. And it was refreshing to step back and see “Sunday Family Fun Day.” 

Appreciate the moments. We often forget it is a game, and it also has bonded families together  with the town or city.

Step back from the wins and losses and take a different look. 

I’ve seen running the bases for children after both minor and major league games. Over the years, I’ve spent a lot of nights in Pennsylvania minor league parks for the Lehigh Valley IronPis, Reading Fightin’ Phils, and Scranton/ Wilkes-Barre Railriders. 

All three teams always would have a full slate of effective promotions and activities, yet none of them have a “Kids Zone.”

Catcher Ryan Lavarnway had a chat with a local youth team behind home plate before the group jumped on him in a friendly scrum.

All of these actions aren’t any ground-breaking events for minor league baseball, which prides itself on keeping the fan more interested than a major league park with a series of gimmicks.

However, it is a reminder that pure baseball on a professional level can still be found. Jacksonville is a good example of it.

MLB, the NFL, and the NBA have been tainted with the shadow of gambling hanging over them. You hear the ads on the radio and see the betting segments built into the pregame shows. Based on its rising success and interest, it isn’t going away anytime soon.

Both baseball and football also have worked a segment of a reality show into their broadcasts, having former baseball players interviewing current players, having players miked up in the field, or former players sharing football war stories. If you watched the MLB All-Star game or ever seen the Manning brothers during an ESPN telecast, you know what I mean.

Yet, baseball on any level is still ingrained as a piece of Americana. You can still feel like a kid when you take your seat.

Appreciate it, Jacksonville fans.

Jacksonville began play Sunday night in second place in the International League East with a 49-43 record, just a game behind first-place deadlocked Durham and Lehigh Valley. If they can solve their home record problems – a 20-24 mark - they can be a player in the postseason.

But putting the numbers aside, baseball in Jacksonville is alive and well.

As a long-time friend and sportswriter used to tell me, “it’s a simple game.”

In Jacksonville, it is still simple and pure. Watch it while you can. 

(Jeff Moeller is a columnist and senior writer for SportsDay)

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