First Game

Reid Detmers was the starting pitcher for the first home game in Rocket City Trash Pandas history at Toyota Field in Madison, Ala., on Tuesday night, May 11, 2021. The team’s identity pays tribute to the history of NASA in nearby Huntsville.

MADISON, Ala. — It was Flag Day 1990.

I don’t remember it being June 14, per se, but context clues fill in the haze of long-ago memories, especially those you get from childhood, of the first time my grandparents took me and my sister to a minor league baseball game.

It had to be Flag Day because we got a tiny American flag at the gate, compliments of Power 93, later a country station known as The Possum.

From there the fun began at Joe Davis Stadium in Huntsville: ice cream served in tiny helmets, baseball cards from a staff member and getting an autograph from the pitcher charting his cohorts from the stands — Joe Slusarski, who actually pitched in more major league games than I realized before looking him up just now.

(If you remembered him throwing six innings in relief for the 2001 Atlanta Braves, you are a Skip and Pete all-star.)

It was either the Orlando Sun Rays or Jacksonville Expos in the other dugout — again, time makes it fuzzy — but I do remember Ozzie Canseco wasn’t scared to take on what seemed like the entire bunch in a fight down near first base.

Since then, I’ve been hooked on minor league baseball — the quirky names, the weird promotions, the interesting game itself, played at an accessible distance to fans. It’s great entertainment and if you see me, a 40-year-old man, around town in a hat with some team’s strange identity on it, mind your business.

The Huntsville Stars bailed for Biloxi after the 2014 season, a victim of absentee ownership and a city that wasn’t willing to do much to accommodate it. But just a few years later, Mobile’s pain in losing the BayBears became north Alabama’s gain with a new team to fill the gap.

This time, instead of a quickly built stadium at an old airport, the diamond would be a gleaming centerpiece of a mixed-use development in suburban Madison. And instead of the generic Stars name, this group launched (no pun intended) (maybe slightly intended) a name-the-team contest that touched down (sorry) with Rocket City Trash Pandas.

Merchandise has flown off the shelves, shipped across the world. And the 2020 break due to the pandemic only heightened the excitement for the return of baseball to north Alabama.

Given the chance to go, there was no way I’d miss the opening night.

And it was — fine. Lines for parking and concessions were long, but in the grand scheme of things, it was no big deal.

Is it the worst thing in the world if you miss some of the action? Not many folks keep score at a game anymore, to the detriment of our nation.

The world won’t remember the game anyway, and the anger over the lines will ease. It’s about the junk food, getting an autograph and make memories, like Katie and I did with our late grandparents decades ago.

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