Sometimes I feel like a shill for Parkview Field because in every column about the place, I praise it like Dick Vitale describing Duke's Cameron Indoor Stadium. In other words, “gushing” would be turning it down a notch.
That's unlikely to change, however. So, if you don't believe it's great that TinCaps baseball is back, sorry. And if you don't believe Parkview Field remains terrific and could be even better this summer, sorry.
Also, what's wrong with you?
“Before I came out here last year, people talked about how much the city and the fans love the team,” TinCaps second-year pitcher Joe Ross said. “I heard it, but it didn't hit me until I got out here to see how much they love us. No (player) is really that known yet, but they still come out to support us.”
The TinCaps open their season tonight against the Great Lakes in Midland, Mich., with the Parkview Field opener a week away on April 11.
That gives us a week to let the weather warm up a tad, a week to learn a few new players' names and a week to anticipate the things that make Parkview Field the summer place to be. (Summer sounds good, right?)
With thanks to the parent San Diego Padres and their scouting department, the TinCaps tend to unveil a competitive team to Fort Wayne every summer. Since moving downtown, the TinCaps have been to the Midwest League finals twice in four years, winning it in 2009 and finishing second last season.
They're loaded with pitchers to start this summer, including Max Fried, picked seventh in the first round of the 2012 draft. Low-A Manager of the Year Jose Valentin is back and he's got a former Chicago Cub (and Dodger, among others) as pitching coach in Burt Hooton.
But players aren't the reason a franchise-record 408,044 attended TinCaps home games last season.
Parkview Field's best pitch is its status as the perfect summer place to unwind.
Baseball might be boring to some, but its leisurely pace fits with the idea of slowing down, soaking in warm summer nights and cold summer beverages and forgetting the day-timer schedule.
You also have to give it to the TinCaps for always looking at ways the experience at Parkview Field can improve.
They've opened up a new entrance to the northwest on Ewing Street, they've added ticket booths at the center field entrance and they're building a new “400 Club,” a suite beyond the center field fence that will add seating but doesn't cramp those $5 lawn seats out there in the process.
TinCaps president Mike Nutter calls the 400 Club, which won't be finished and in use until May, an attempt to notch up the “wow factor” at a stadium known for its wow.
I don't know that I'll ever use the 400 Club. When I go as a fan, I tend to grab one of those $8 or $9 seats along third-base line. But I can see its value as another unique gathering spot for groups seeking baseball's relaxing escape.
The 400 Club will add to the change in feel that includes “The Harrison,” the condominium beyond left field. The stadium feels more enclosed with the completion of the addition. But the Fort Wayne skyline, modest though it may be, remains in view beyond center field.
The usual entertainment features remain intact. You'll get your BirdZerk for the kids, your Bad Apple Dancers for your light-hearted between-innings diversion. There will be dollar nights, fireworks and all those standards.
Nobody's perfect, of course, and the new turf at the field has a few extra green stripes in it, the result of a malfunction in installation. Not ideal, of course, but a minor issue that will be resolved eventually.
The TinCaps are giving away $5,000 to one lucky fan on opening night. The number represents the franchise's fifth season downtown. So you could buy a $5 ticket and leave with quite a haul.
Or you could end up with nothing more than a relaxing night at the ballpark, taking some time off the clock for a few hours. Sounds like a hard-to-beat deal either way.