The Boyfriend of the Week

September 14, 2005

Sorry, guys -- we have to take a short hiatus from the "Grave Dodgers" series so that I can get a write-up that is long, long overdue up on the site this week instead. Oh, and by the way, I should've mentioned last week that a hilarious reader of mine gave me that title for the series -- I'm not clever enough to think up cool names like that. Case in point: MY original title had been the "Whatever-The-Opposite-Of-Robbing-The-Cradle-Is Series" and that's just nowhere NEAR as catchy as "Grave Dodgers." She rules. Hey, hilarious reader of mine! You rule!

Anyway, much as I hate to break up a series, primarily because sometimes when I do that, I never get back on track later and the rest of the planned write-ups end up on the bottom of the Boyfriend heap (alas Ron Livingston, of the Band of Brothers series, we hardly knew ye), I just can't delay on this one any longer. As I'm sure a very VERY few of you know, the Short-A (minor league) baseball season just ended, and, the horror! I still haven't featured my favorite team mascot!

Remember when I mentioned a few weeks ago that I was going to be featuring a purple dinosaur this summer? Well, while several of you wrote in to make some guesses as to who that would be, you were all about as wrong, wrong, wrong as the people who thought Richard Grieco was a fair substitute for Johnny Depp on "21 Jump Street." Because, no, it is NOT Barney. And no, it is NOT Dino from "The Flintstones." And no, it is NOT Karl Rove, although I will say that was by far my favorite of all the guesses, and I was especially amused by the fact more than one person wrote in to suggest it. Do I not have the coolest, most hilarious readers of all time? I so do.

But anyway, unless you live in the Pacific Northwest and pay attention to obscure local baseball teams, you wouldn't have had a chance in Heck of guessing this one correctly. Because my favorite purple dinosaur team mascot is the above pictured dorky-lookin' critter, Crater. Otherwise known as the lovable, adorable, ridiculous, silly, extremely talented but somewhat accident-prone mascot for the greatest Short-A baseball team in history (in my opinion, anyway), the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes.

"The who's-it-what's-this?" you ask? Let me explain.

As I think I've probably mentioned more than once on this site, my Dad is a United States Marine (retired now), and as a result, when I was growing up we did a lot of moving around. Not as much as some other military families did, but enough so that I often have trouble remembering where all those various places were, a problem that nearly cost me my American citizenship once. Oh, that's a good story. I'll tell it. You see, a couple of years ago, my husband and I had taken a trip to Victoria, British Columbia, and as it was only the second time I'd ever gone to Canada, I didn't know all the ropes yet. Which is why I showed up at the border with only my driver's license as identification. I had no problems getting INTO Canada with just my license (oh, you Canadians -- so inviting! And I love how you write everything in French on your cereal boxes!), but when it came time to return home, the U.S. border guys were threatening not to let me back into the country because I had with me neither my birth certificate nor my passport! Yee-gads!! After some finagling, as well as the threat of hysterics and tears, the border guy, who looked old enough to be my own offspring (by which I mean, not old at all), finally said he'd let me through if I could name every place I'd ever lived.

It was at this point my husband groaned deeply and muttered, "That's it. We're Canadians." I scowled in his direction and replied, "Oh ye of little faith!" Then I rolled my eyes up to the sky and began to count on my fingers. And what came out of my mouth next went a little bit like this:

"Okay, let's see. First there was Beaufort, South Carolina. Then after that, uh, uh, uh, Yuma, Arizona? Or was that before Beaufort and only when my brother was alive? Wait, yes, I think that's it. Scratch Yuma. Beaufort, and then Quantico, Virginia I think. Or wait, Beeville, Texas might have come before Quantico. Crap, do I have to name them all in order or can I just go from east to west? I can? Okay. So. Yuma, Arizona was definitely in there -- but not until I was in grade school. It was a great place to grow up, actually. Have you ever been there? Oh shoot, wait, Yuma's in the west and I said I'd start with the east. Since I'm already in Arizona, do you mind if I just go west to east instead?"

Now let me tell guys you a little secret -- and let's all just pray the terrorists aren't reading this because if they are, poof! goes our nation's security. But the thing is, if you really begin to irritate the border guards by jabbering on and on like that for half an hour, they're fairly likely to start rolling their eyes, shaking their heads, and waving you on through, just to get you out of their hair. Seriously. Because I didn't get much further in my life's history than about the 4th grade before the guy began to frantically wave us on through -- "Oh, GO! Just GO already!"

For you French-speaking Canadians, by the way, that translates into: Get out of zis place, you stupeed Americain!

But anyway, my point, and I do have one, was that as a kid, I lived all over the map and as a result, I have no real "home town." There are a few places I've lived that I liked better than a few other places I've lived (Beeville, Texas falling squarely into that latter category, no offense to the GIANT INSECTS that call that town home), and sometimes when I'm asked where I'm from, I might name one of those nice places. But for the most part, "home" for me is wherever my parents and their stuff is. And after my Dad retired from the military and became a junior high school science teacher (a job which he says is FAR more challenging than being a Marine, by the way, if only because he can't just throw snotty students into the brig when they misbehave), my parents settled in a lovely little town called Salem, which, for those of you who failed that test in the third grade (ahem), is the capital of the state of Oregon.

As I believe I've also mentioned a number of times in the past, I'm really close to my parents, and as a result, I go down to see them pretty regularly on the train. My two favorite times to travel to Salem, Oregon, are during the winter, when I might get to see some snow, and during the summer, when I get to eat cherry tomatoes right off the vines in the backyard, warm from the sun and juicier than tabloid gossip about Oprah Winfrey, munch on the fresh blueberries off the bushes a few feet from the tomatoes, take a five-minute ferry across the river to buy local strawberries and peaches, AND go to baseball games at the local minor league stadium.

The Salem-Keizer Volcanoes minor league baseball stadium. And yes! We are now officially back on topic.

Now, to be honest, the first time I went to a Volcanoes game, I wasn't all that impressed. After all, I'm a big city gal who is used to Safeco Field in Seattle, not the tiny little Salem stadium with it's metal bleachers and lack of scenic plantings and neon. I mean, heck, there aren't even CUP holders for each seat. How are you supposed to watch a ball game without a cup holder??

Heathens.

But by the fourth inning of that first game, I was totally hooked. For one thing, I quickly discovered that minor league baseball is WAY more exciting than major league baseball, if only because you simply can't take anything for granted at a minor league game. Like, well, you know how when someone hits a perfectly arched fly ball to center in a major league game, you don't even have to pay attention to it? You know what's going to happen -- the center fielder is going to catch that perfect fly, you're going to scribble F-8 down in your scorebook, and then you're going to pick your beer up out of its cup holder, take a sip, and let your mind drift off to other things until the next play starts up. At a minor league game, though, you take your eyes off that ball for one second and you may end up missing the funniest baseball version of the Keystone Kops ever to grace a grassy field. Suddenly every player within a 30 foot radius of where the ball is headed will converge in manic time to exactly the same spot, colliding into each other, knocking each other unconscious, bodies flying all over the place, as the ball arches down, down, down, and finally lands. . . about four feet away from the heap of elbows and knees that used to be the home team's defense.

And then, for extra good times, the next time a ball gets hit to roughly the same place, the fellas will have learned their lesson, and now nobody is going towards it, everybody thinking somebody else is going to call it. Within a matter of moments, the Keystone Kops show has instead turned into a strip from Peanuts, with Lucy standing in the outfield daydreaming as the ball plops down beside her. Boop.

In minor league games you are far more likely to end up with ridiculous scores like 287 to 14. In minor league games you are far more likely to end up going into an insane amount of extra innings, like in that Pawtucket Red Sox game from 1981 that lasted for 33 of them (I'm not even making that one up -- see the Boyfriend-Related Links below for more info). In minor league games you are far more likely to have spectacular, SPECTACULAR errors. Errors that don't even make you mad because they are so beyond inept they just make you tilt your head like a slightly confused puppy and then chuckle. And the greatest part about all this? Very few minor league ball game attendees ever leave the game early. I mean, at Mariners games, there is invariably a huge outflux of attendees right around the start of the 8th inning -- "Gotta get home to Kent!" they say as they hustle their blue-and-teal clad children towards the nearest exit.

Minor league baseball fans, though, know that leaving early is simply not an option. For one thing, leaving early can get you heckled ("Hey, where ya goin'? There's plenty of baseball left!"). And for another, you can't just throw in the towel at the top of the ninth when the score is 10 to 47 against the home team (or, more likely this year, FOR the home team, as the boys came in second in their league this season -- go team!). That kind of score can change in an instant in a game at the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes stadium. I'll say it again -- there is simply no taking for granted of anything in a minor league ball game.

Now, holding all this chaos and dedication together? Providing the glue that unifies the fans and turns the whole event into a huge party for everybody in attendance? A crazy little guy named Crater.

Crater is, without a doubt, the most entertaining minor league mascot I've ever seen (not that I've seen a lot of them, but still). He's hilarious-looking, for one thing (once you get past the slightly demonic eyes, that is), and he's also just great at jazzing up the crowd. I love it when he leads the fans in a "lava flow," which is sort of like the wave, except instead of standing up and thrusting your hands into the air when it comes to your section, you stomp your feet over and over in a steady rhythm. I love that sound -- the sound of hundreds of feet rumbling on the metal bleachers back and forth and back and forth through the semi-circle of fans. And I love it even more when he does his crazy gymnastics (amazing considering that outfit he wears) and gets the kids involved with silly games that make them laugh so hard they can barely run.

But the best thing about Crater? He's accessible. He hangs out in the crowd. He'll just wander around during the game and chill with folks. He'll sign an autograph for anybody who wants one (see picture of me with Crater, above -- that's my scorebook he's signing!). He doesn't just ride his stupid little car out onto the field in a circle and then disappear for the rest of the game (Mariner Moose, I speak of you!).

Crater brings forth one of the best feelings you'll experience at a Volcanoes game -- a feeling that you're with family. I can't explain it, but it's like he's a cohesive, equalizing force in some way. He gets the crowd to interact with each other and he makes us laugh. And pretty soon, it just feels like you're hanging out with your huge fam on a gorgeous evening, watching the sun set over the field as the home team gets walloped by some other podunk team from East Nowhere and has a helluva darn good time doing it.

The end of baseball season is always a sad time for me -- made even worse this year by the fact I never got to many games this season because we moved during the summer and just never had time. But I take comfort in the fact it'll all be waiting for me again next spring. The air will warm, the grass will grow, and the sound of a bat cracking against a ball will once again be in my ears. Baseball is a constant. And thank god for that.

Okay, now, since I got a bunch of emails of complaint last week(s) when I said I was thinking about ceasing and desisting the biographical section, I'm going to give you Crater's bio, based on the autobiography that graces the backside of his trading card.

Crater first came to be back in 2000 BC when Mt. Mazama in Southern Oregon erupted and shot him all the way to Mt. Hood. The shock of the eruption was so great that it knocked him unconscious, and he slept for several years. In 958 AD, he awoke just as Mt. Hood began to erupt, hurtling him even further north, where he landed on Mt. St. Helens. Luckily, by this time Crater had deduced that camping out on the sides of volcanoes wasn't the brainiest thing to do, so when he woke up on the bank of another fiery mountain, he got his tuckus out of there.

According to Crater, he spent the next several years wandering around the mountains of the great Northwest, looking for his lost home. One day, while in Southern Oregon, he started to feel like he might be getting close -- but when he hit the spot that he remembered as Mt. Mazama, there was nothing left but a huge lake. Crater Lake, as a matter of fact. In 1997, he heard some talk about a new molten range in Oregon called the "Salem-Keizer Volcanoes." When he went to investigate them, though, he discovered they weren't mountains at all, but instead a minor league baseball team. Like me, Crater sat down to watch his first game, not sure what to expect. And like me, he ended up loving it so much he hasn't left yet.

Sure, it's a corny story. But then again, it IS about a purple dinosaur with a baseball for a head. What were you expecting? Angela's Ashes?

Anyway, if you're ever passing through the Salem-Keizer area in the summertime, be sure to stop in for a ball game or two. You can't miss the stadium -- you'll go right past it on I-5 South. And if you can't stop in, do what the passing truckers always do when a game is afoot -- honk that horn, baby. Honk it early, honk it often. And don't worry about distracting the players into an error -- it just makes us love them boys all the more.

Until next year, Crater, my buddy, my pal.

MacGyver Factor Score: 91.524% Points off for the Crate-Crate because A: his life story could use some serious work (blown around by erupting volcanoes?? Who came up with that?), and B: he's not much of a conversationalist, since he doesn't actually speak. But points back because, man, I just love that game.

The next write-up ought to be posted by a week from this Friday, by the way, as I'll be trying to get it up before I leave for a week of vacation (my first vacation since last November!). So, tune in in about ten days for either the next installment of the Grave Dodgers series, or the first installment of the "New TV Season" series (which, please note, will not include Wentworth "Permasmirk" Miller from "Prison Break," so stop emailing me). It'll depend on whether or not someone cuter or younger distracts me while I'm working on the fogey over the next couple of days. A definite possibility. But we'll see.


Boyfriend-Related Links

The Official Salem-Keizer Volcanoes site
Official Minor League Baseball site
The Paw-Sox site about that longest game I mentioned


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