Feature: Wednesday, June 25, 2003
The Minors are The Major

Small-time sports are big business — particularly in Cowtown.

By Dan McGraw

Two men sit on the right field line at LaGrave Field on a June night when the Fort Worth Cats are warming up. Surer than a lazy pop fly, the conversation arcs back to being 12-year-old boys in the summertime. For boys anyway, the summer of your 12th year is possibly the coolest time of your life. You’re not really a kid anymore, but adulthood is off in the distance. You’ve discovered girls, and you think you know everything, riding your bike around the neighborhood with the pack, being a smart-ass and proud of it.

For Carl Bell and me both, being 12 meant playing baseball. We talk of being shooed out of the house every morning by our mothers, running down to the schoolyard ball diamond every day. Playing Little League games in the afternoon. Oiling up your mitt, chatter and more chatter — “he can’t hit, he can’t hit” — digging in at home plate with your Chuck Taylor Converses, the stinging in your hands when you fouled one off the end of the bat.

For me, being 12 happened in 1971, and I spent many of those days and nights at Cleveland Indians games, trying to sneak out of the bleachers and into the prime seats behind the dugout. Sudden Sam McDowell would be on the mound, Ray Fosse catching. Some knucklehead named Gomer Hodge, a backup first baseman, opened the year with four pinch hits and proclaimed that he was hitting “four thousand.” The Tribe stunk that year — 60 wins, 102 losses — but we cared little. Baseball was what we did.

For Carl Bell, 58, the summer was 1955, and the place was LaGrave Field on Fort Worth’s North Side. He points across the field to the first base line — the line and the base are exactly where they were a half-century ago. The difference is that this stadium is three years new, and Bell is now a Dallas insurance magnate and owner of the team he watched as a boy. “We always sat over there; that was our place,” he says wistfully. He tells me about 1955 in Fort Worth, of how Maury Wills broke the color barrier in Fort Worth baseball, and how Bell’s favorite teacher at B.H. Carroll Elementary School, Mr. Lackey, used baseball and Maury Wills to explain why segregation was wrong. Bell’s parents were Baptist missionaries in Brazil during the early 1950s, and Bell remembers moving from a racially diverse country to a segregated southern town.

“Mr. Lackey had taught us that the ways of the past were morally and ethically wrong,” Bell tells me. “And that summer, Maury Wills was my favorite player. I just wanted to be like him so much.”

As we talk, the Cats players are being introduced. As each player runs out to his position, he is accompanied by a 12-year-old Little Leaguer from Weatherford. It’s part of a popular Cats program in which kids from a particular team run out with the players and stand in the field with them during the national anthem. Up to 15 kids get a ball, a t-shirt, a ticket to the game, and a chance to mingle with professional ballplayers — all for $100, or about seven bucks a kid.

The kids and the Cats stand on the field as the anthem is played, hats over their hearts. It is a truly great scene, the Fort Worth skyline shimmering in the background, the smell of hot dogs, 4,000 fans standing and singing, and the kids from Weatherford beaming. These 12-year-old ball players could care less that the professional ball players standing beside them will more than likely never make it beyond this low-minor independent baseball league. Hey, they’re standing on the field, man. How cool is that?

I tell Carl Bell what a great thing it is to allow the kids on the field. “I remember in 1955 how I would have given anything to go out on the field and stand next to Maury Wills,” Bell says. “When I bought this team, one of the first things I wanted to do was find a way to let kids out on the field with the players. It’s one of the best things we do here.”

Jack Pritchard, coach of the Weatherford team and father of one of the kids on the field, later tells me why his boys are at LaGrave Field with the Cats and not at The Ballpark in Arlington watching the Texas Rangers. “We like the family atmosphere and the ability of the kids to get close to the players” at LaGrave, Pritchard says. “But cost is a factor. The major leagues have pretty much priced people like us out. We used to go to a lot of Rangers games. But we can’t afford to any more.”

There is a quiet revolution going on among sports fans in this country. For many years, the major sports leagues — Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League, The National Basketball Association, and the National Football League — have assumed that they could just throw open their gates and the fans would run in like sheep. But rising ticket prices in a poor economy, a feeling that fans are taken for granted, millionaire players perceived as arrogant, and owners demanding taxpayer-subsidized stadiums under the threat of moving their teams — all have contributed to a sour taste in many fans’ mouths that no high-priced hot dog will cover up.

Fans have not lost their interest in sports, but many have decided that supporting their local major league teams is no longer financially feasible. Even fans with the money are balking. Listen to Tarrant County Court of Law Judge Vince Sprinkle, 53, at a recent Fort Worth Cats game: “We’ve gotten away from what sports should be about. I used to go to Rangers games all the time, but after a while I felt like I was just handing over my money and no one over there cared about me. They raise their prices and talk about going on strike. Then they act like they are doing me a favor by letting me see their games. I’d rather give my money to an organization like the Fort Worth Cats, who care about me as a fan. And I’d rather watch these young kids playing baseball because they love doing it.”

Each of the major sports leagues has seen an erosion of its fan base in recent years. The NFL has been affected the least, but even its tv ratings have declined consistently during the past decade. The Dallas Mavericks’ success notwithstanding, the NBA has seen a slight decline in attendance in recent years and just scored the lowest tv ratings ever for an NBA finals round. The NHL is facing a players’ strike next year, and about half of the league’s franchises are having financial troubles.

The numbers are striking. The NBA finals’ ratings were down 38 percent this year compared to last year. The Stanley Cup ratings were down by 24 percent. The World Series, down 24 percent. All of these are all-time lows, coming off all-time lows last year. Only the Super Bowl has kept its numbers up.

There are two schools of thought on the declining ratings and attendance at major pro sports. The party line of the leagues and the networks is that the number of options for tv viewers has expanded with cable and satellite services and that all network tv ratings are down. The economy has hurt attendance the same as it has any other business.

But there is another element at work, particularly in baseball. The theory goes like this: The fewer chances fans have to see a game in person, the less interest they will have in the sport over time. This is particularly relevant to kids. “They start their World Series games after the kids go to bed, they raise their ticket prices so families can no longer attend, and then they expect the kids to wake up one day and be big baseball fans,” said Mark Rosentraub, a professor of urban studies at Cleveland State University and author of the book Major League Losers.

Minor league teams are seeing this trend and moving into the breach. In the old days, minor league teams would be located in outposts like Tulsa or Albuquerque, cities too small for the majors, but big enough to support a smaller-time team. But in recent years the real growth in minor league sports — particularly baseball — has come from clubs moving into the major league team’s territory and poaching fans who are dissatisfied with the high costs and perceived arrogance of the big club. Many cities around the country are looking at teams like the Fort Worth Cats, with their cozy parks and good fan interest, and wondering if the smaller, low-cost model isn’t the way to bring professional sports into their communities.

The Cats will draw about 200,000 fans this year. It doesn’t sound like much, but the team will make a decent profit. Compare that to what Major League Baseball is going through right now. In 2001, league attendance averaged 30,060 per game. Last year, it was down to 27,858. This year, through about 40 percent of the season, the average has dropped further, down to 26,463 fans per game. That should mean that, by the end of the 2003 season, MLB will have lost about 14 million butts in the seats, over just a two-year period.

What do the lost fans cost in dollars? With an average ticket price of $18.69, it looks like Major League Baseball has missed out on about $262 million in just two years — and that’s only in ticket revenues. Team Marketing Report, a sport business trade magazine, estimates that a family of four will spend $148.66 (for parking, concessions, and souvenirs) at each game — a $520 million loss over just two seasons.

For the Texas Rangers, the figures are just as striking. The team averaged 34,950 fans per game in 2001, 29,404 in 2002, and 27,384 so far this year. That means the Rangers have lost out on almost $17 million in ticket sales ($15.98 average ticket price) in the past two years. Using the overall family-of-four spending figure of $130.42, the tab for shrinking attendance rises to about $34.6 million.

The question for the Rangers is whether teams like the Fort Worth Cats and the AA minor league Frisco Rough Riders (partly owned by the Rangers organization) are cutting into the big club’s attendance. The Cats and the Rough Riders will draw about 500,000 between them this summer, roughly the same number of fans the Rangers are expected to lose.

“It’s probably too early to tell if the minor leagues are having an effect on our attendance,” said Rangers spokesman John Blake. “There are a lot of factors — the weather, the economy, the performance of our team — to explain our attendance decline. In many ways, the interest in the minors may help us down the line by creating more interest in baseball in general.”

At this point, there is only anecdotal evidence that a team like the Fort Worth Cats might be affecting Rangers attendance — but the anecdotes are pretty convincing. In interviews with 25 fans at Cats games this month, all 25 told me they used to go to Rangers games and don’t anymore. Typical was Jack Dyess, a boating education coordinator for Texas Parks & Wildlife. “I was an avid Rangers fan,” Dyess said. “I’d go to 10 to15 games a year. But I just feel so much more positive feelings toward the Cats. The owner knows my name. The kids are out there busting their butts. I’ve made so many friends here. There is a real community at the Cats games.

“After you factor in the cost — they hit you up for $12 bucks for parking — the convenience, the strike talk, the perception that the players don’t really care ... well, I’d rather be here.”

And when you look around La Grave field, you see the dispossessed fans that the Rangers have lost. There are plenty of old-timers who went to Cats games when they were kids (the Cats have been around since 1888). But there are also a lot of young families, teen-agers out on dates. Friday night games seem to be very popular with single parents trying to entertain their kids cheaply (with enough left over for a few beers for Dad). The Cats promotional people keep the action moving by letting kids race around the bases between innings, and staging dance contests among couples. Some of it is as hokey as the county fair, but the entertainment value easily tops the $4 to $9 that people have paid for tickets. (According to a survey of minor league baseball teams across the country, the same family of four that spends $148.66 at a major league game shells out just $38.30 in a minor league park.)

The experience at LaGrave Field is kind of what major league baseball used to be. And the fans are the kind of people major league baseball used to want: kids, old-timers, young couples. But somewhere along the way, MLB lost touch with these people.

Fort Worth is one of the few major markets in the country where sports fans have access to major league franchises, minor league teams, major college sports, and everything in between. Tired of the high ticket prices for the Dallas Stars? Check out the Fort Worth Brahmas, who drew an average of just over 4,000 people per game at the Fort Worth Convention Center last season, their best attendance in their eight-year-history. Disgusted with the Dallas Cowboys? Check out TCU Horned Frog football at Amon Carter Stadium. If you think the Mavericks are too pricey, go see the Texas Rim Rockers. Whoops, bad example. The Rim Rockers, of the United States Basketball League, had a disastrous inaugural season, on and off the court, and may be leaving town.

Then we have the Cats, averaging 3,800 fans per game this year, and more than likely finishing the season at more than 4,000 per game. The Cats are part of a larger trend in the minors: In the past decade, minor league baseball attendance increased by more than 30 percent, to more than 38 million people per year — mostly due to increased attendance for existing teams, rather than more teams. And those figures include only the 160 teams in affiliated leagues —A, AA, and AAA — that are farm clubs for the major leagues. In addition, there are 61 teams in seven independent leagues, like the Cats, who play in the independent Central Baseball League (10 teams in Texas, Louisiana, Missouri, and Mississippi).

The minors have flourished because major league baseball has taken its eye off the ball, so to speak. In the early 1990s, MLB went on a building boom, with new stadiums in places like Arlington, Cleveland, Baltimore, and San Francisco. Attendance rose significantly, until the strike of 1994. Fan numbers have never regained that pre-strike level.

From 1992 until last year, MLB continued to raise prices. In 1992, the average ticket price was $9.41; this year it is $18.69. The total cost of that family-of-four night at a major league ballpark rose from $86.72 in 1992 to $148.66 this year, according to Team Marketing Report. The effect of these price increases is that the bottom part of the market — mostly, the vast middle class — has been systematically removed from the stadiums. In the 1990s, cash-happy corporations more than picked up the slack. But in the past three years, the slumping economy has hit corporate America squarely in its skyboxes. The Rangers’ John Blake says the biggest drop in ticket sales at The Ballpark in Arlington has come from season tickets, down about 20 percent since 1999.

The other problem facing MLB is the loss of kids. Little League participation has dropped 25 percent in the last 15 years, according to surveys by the Sporting Goods Manufacturing Association. Kids are more likely to participate in skateboarding or inline skating than baseball, according to surveys. Add the slow pace of baseball in a Playstation world, the increased number of households without fathers, and the high cost to attend games, and you find that something very predictable has happened: Kids, by and large, ain’t playing baseball, ain’t watching it on tv, and ain’t going to games.

So MLB is getting stuck by a three-tined fork: It has lost the middle-class foundation of its market as well as the youth market, and it is now losing the high-end fans as well. But one man’s troubles are another man’s opportunities, and minor league baseball investors have taken notice. In the past few years, minor league teams have moved into the Kansas City, Los Angeles, New York City, Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Chicago markets. Carl Bell saw the trend three years ago and was convinced that a low-cost, family-friendly baseball alternative would work in Fort Worth, a short hop from The Ballpark in Arlington.

“We saw, unfortunately, in the attitudes of players and owners of major league baseball, that they have taken the fan for granted, that they thought the fans would always be there.” Bell said. “We also saw a huge outpouring of support from older fans, who wanted the Fort Worth Cats back where they used to play at LaGrave Field. One of the keys to our success is this historical connection. You cannot underestimate that.”

But can a dinky, independent league team playing in a 5,000-seat ballpark — albeit a gem of a little ballpark — make money? The answer may surprise you.

The Central Baseball League imposes a league-wide salary cap of $77,000. That’s not per player; that’s for the entire team. The Cats drew more than 160,000 fans last year, and at an average ticket price of $7, the team pulled in about $1.1 million in ticket sales alone. (Bell won’t confirm specifics, but acknowledged the figure is close to the actual amount.) When you factor in concessions, parking, merchandise, and sponsorships, the best estimate is that Cats are bringing in between $2 and $3 million a year.

Outfielder Pat Hannon, who has played for the Cats in all three seasons since the team’s rebirth, makes about $1,700 a month during the summer season. “To be honest, the pay isn’t that good,” he said. “On the other hand, there are many more guys who want to play some form of professional ball than there are jobs.”

Besides the players, the Cats have other costs. Bell provided $8 million to buy the property and build LaGrave Field, and he has the debt service on that cost. There are also the expenses of team travel, wages for about 10 full-time employees and dozens of part-time workers, property taxes, and promotions. But when you weight the costs versus revenues, it is safe to say the Cats make a profit in the high six figures every year. The Rangers, on the other hand, lost $24.5 million last year, according to Forbes magazine.

Like any businessman, Bell is looking to maximize the earning potential of the Cats. He thinks he could get $2 to $7 million over 10 years for naming rights at LaGrave Field (it might be LaGrave Field at RadioShack Park, for example.) He is also pushing for the City of Fort Worth to take over the ballpark through the Fort Worth Sports Authority. Though the Fort Worth Star-Telegram previously reported that this had already taken place, it never has.

Here’s how the deal would work: Bell would transfer ownership of La Grave Field to the Fort Worth Sports Authority, similar to what the city did with the Texas Motor Speedway. The city would then lease the park back to Bell for a nominal fee, and he would save hundreds of thousands of dollars in property taxes (the property would be tax exempt). The Fort Worth Sports Authority could also issue low-interest bonds to refinance Bell’s stadium construction debt.

What would the city get out of the deal? According to Tom Higgins, the city’s director of economic and community development, Fort Worth could more easily control development around the park if it owned LaGrave Field. This could be crucial if the planned town lake just north of downtown ever gets built. Councilman Jim Lane, whose district includes LaGrave Field, thinks it will be a good deal for the city. “It’s a little early to see any concrete results, but we’re already seeing interest from real estate companies to revitalize some of the old buildings in that part of town,” Lane said. “I think the city would get many advantages (from owning the stadium), and I would like to encourage the city to pursue the deal.

The deal with the sports authority is still months away, and would require approval of council. But Bell isn’t sitting on his hands waiting for things to happen. He plans to add a restaurant and a Texas baseball museum during the next off-season. The Cats may promote music concerts during early fall, or boxing matches. The team has already taken over the annual Fourth of July fireworks celebration from Downtown Fort Worth Inc.

Pondering Bell’s plans, the team’s profitability, the idea of the little Fort Worth Cats becoming an economic development hub, I’m wondering if this concept of a little team in a major city could be exported. After all, the Frisco Rough Riders are leading the Texas League in attendance in their new ballpark, and Hall-of-Famer Nolan Ryan is minting money with his AA Round Rock Express just north of Austin.

I asked Bell what’s next. He smiled slyly and paused for a moment. “Do you think 3,500 people would want to see a good minor league game in downtown Dallas, in a great little ballpark, with inexpensive tickets and a view of the skyline?”

Well, gee, Carl, maybe you’ve got something there.

Dallas’ history of minor league baseball is as long as Fort Worth’s. The Dallas Hams started play in 1888, and through the 20th century, minor league baseball was played in Big D by the Submarines, Steers, Rebels, and finally the Eagles in 1948. The Eagles played at Burnett Field in Oak Cliff, just south of the Trinity River near downtown. The Cats and Eagles were fierce rivals in the Texas League, but in 1960, with minor league baseball waning, the two teams were combined to form the Dallas-Fort Worth Rangers. In 1972, the Washington Senators moved to Arlington and took the Rangers as their team name.

To understand why an independent league team might work in Dallas, one has to understand how affiliated minor league franchises do business. Affiliated minor league teams —like the Frisco Rough Riders and Round Rock Express — get their players from the big club’s minor league draft and free-agent signings. The major league team also pays the minor league players’ salaries. The owners of these franchises then run the business side of things. “They pick the players for me, and I pick the price of the hot dogs,” explained Hank Stickney, CEO of Mandalay Sports Entertainment, which owns all or part of six minor league teams. That includes a half-interest in the Frisco Rough Riders, along with Tom Hicks’ Southwest Sports Group, which owns the Rangers and the Dallas Stars hockey team.

Affiliated minor league team owners are allowed to have only one franchise in any particular league and must get permission from major league clubs if they want to move into their territory. The affiliated minor leagues are also clustered geographically to curb travel expenses. Thus a Texas team would never be able to join the Pacific Coast League.

The rules make it nearly impossible to put an affiliated team in Dallas, or Houston (another market Bell is considering), for that matter. Hicks would never put a AAA club in Dallas because of the competition with his Rangers, and because he already owns the Frisco team in AA ball. There is also no A-level league in close proximity to Texas, so that stratum of minor league team is out. Nolan Ryan is planning to get around the rules by moving his AA Round Rock franchise to Corpus Christi and replacing it with another AAA team in Round Rock.

But the independent leagues like the Central Baseball League have no such rules. In fact, Carl Bell owns three franchises in the same league — Shreveport; Jackson, Miss.; and Fort Worth. And when Bell joined the league three years ago, he made sure he got the Central League rights to the Dallas market as a condition of his bringing the big-market Cats into the league.

How serious is Bell about exporting this type of baseball to Dallas? On the one hand, he said he hasn’t had any discussion with the City of Dallas and only casual conversations with possible investors. On the other hand, when I asked if Burnett Field could be rebuilt on the site of the old park, he described in great detail the difficulty of piecing together land parcels to get the stadium on the exact location. Let’s put it this way: Bell has given this idea a workout in his head.

“As a guy who has roots in Fort Worth and Dallas, and as a guy who has seen what minor league baseball can do for a community, I think it would be a natural to have an independent league team in or around downtown Dallas,” Bell said. “Frisco is not Dallas. I believe the citizens of Dallas would support an alternative to the high-priced sports they have. It would be great for Dallas, and it would be great for Fort Worth. I imagine it would be a great rivalry.”

Bell envisions a public/private partnership to build a new stadium near Reunion Arena or Fair Park. The actual arrangement could take many forms. The city could build it and lease it to Bell. A corporate sponsor might come through and build the stadium in exchange for naming rights and a lease arrangement. The reborn Dallas Eagles might piggyback off Jerry Jones’ plan for a new Cowboys Stadium in Dallas and make their home in a larger sports complex. Or Bell could sell the territorial rights to Dallas investors and let them run with it.

Ryan Evans, Dallas assistant city manager for economic development, said he had not talked to Cats management about the prospects of a minor league team in downtown Dallas but finds it “a fascinating concept. I think it could work quite well.” The city would need to be clear on what public participation would be asked, he said.

Mike Rhyner, co-host of the popular sports talk radio show “The Hardline” on 1310 The Ticket, finds the talk of minor league baseball in downtown or Oak Cliff extremely interesting. “There are lots of people in Dallas who feel priced out by the Rangers, or may not want to drive to Arlington. Could you get 3,000 or 4,000 people to watch baseball in Dallas?” he mused. “I think that would be reasonable. Dallas has a huge history with minor league ball, and I think it would tap into that.”

Rhyner has been doing the play-by-play for the Frisco team this year, and he sees the popularity of the minors as a direct result of what has been happening in major league baseball. “There is a faction of people who are just pissed off at major league baseball,” he said. “This cannot be underestimated. They are angry at the Rangers for being in last place, and they are angry about all the strike talk last year. Their thoughts last year were, ‘If you’re even thinking of abandoning me, then screw you.’

“But you also have to look at all the temporary factors that make minor league baseball so popular in this area,” Rhyner continued. “What happens if the economy improves or if the Rangers get better? Minor league baseball is the new phenomenon right now, and I see it in Frisco and the same thing is happening in Fort Worth. It’s the hot thing right now. But these things tend to be cyclic.”

Rhyner does have a point. Minor league baseball has always had a big “churn,” meaning franchises come and go; vagabond teams move when the newness wears off. One factor that always plays into the equation is the quality of the baseball being played.

I am a pretty typical baseball fan. I played catcher in Little League and went to tons of Cleveland Indians games as a kid and an adult and went to a bunch of Rangers games after I moved here in 1990. But for some reason, and I can’t really put a finger on this, I haven’t been to a game in Arlington in three years.

I think my main problem with going to MLB games (besides the obvious cost) is the pain-in-the-butt factor. Driving 20 to 30 minutes, getting in a line of cars to park, walking forever from the parking lot to the stadium, standing in line for tickets, rising through the labyrinthine concourse to our seats. By the time I get done with all this, I just want a beer. And then they tell me that will be $5. If this is supposed to be recreation, I don’t see it.

Baseball has been called America’s national pastime, and those words didn’t just come out of thin air. I am convinced that half of life is finding ways to kill time in a mildly entertaining way. Baseball used to be that way. The game has no clock, and you only need to look up if you hear the crack of the bat. Going to games is as much about socializing and talking as it is about what’s going on down on the field. So if you just want to watch baseball, or just pass time, what do you want to do — fight your way through crowds and traffic in order to drop $75 in Arlington, or drive up to a Cats game and drop $20?

In the past few weeks, I have found at Cats games the things about baseball that I’ve missed elsewhere. The leisurely pace of the game is soothing. I like to be so close to the action that I can hear the umpire’s calls and the players talking to one another. I had forgotten how the third baseman takes a little hop before he throws it back to the pitcher after an out. I ate a hot dog and remembered how they taste so perfect when eaten at a ball game under the lights.

I got to talk to Cats manager Wayne Terwilliger, who turns 78 this week. “Twig” told me about how he hit a home run off Satchel Paige, and I told Twig how my dad sold scorecards at Cleveland Stadium in 1948, the year ol’ Satch came into the bigs from the Negro Leagues. Twig’s been in baseball for 55 years, and he told me his favorite part of the game is talking baseball with fans like me. I felt honored to be sitting next to him.

I talked to Cats left-fielder Pat Hannon, who for nine months of the year teaches at an alternative school in the Eagle Mountain School District. He told me how much of a dream it is for him to be playing professional baseball in the summers. “I used to think I might be able to make the majors, but that dream is probably gone,” Hannon said. “But how can you complain when you’re getting paid to play baseball? I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.” Hannon will probably retire after this season. He’s getting married in December and thinks it might be time to move on with his life, teaching and coaching. The kids in Eagle Mountain, or wherever he ends up, will be that much the richer for getting a teacher who’s lived part of his dream.

I like the old-timers who hang out at Cats games. I sat next to Howard Green, 82, former Tarrant County politico and commissioner of a number of Texas minor leagues in the ’40s and ’50s. Green told me how much he loved the young kids at the park, how he has never seen baseball as being dead with young people, just in a dormant phase. While Green and I were talking, Carroll Beringer sat down. Beringer, 74, pitched for the Cats in the ’50s, and he started spinning yarns about the old days. Another old guy tapped Beringer on the shoulder and said hi. Beringer had no idea who he was. “Probably some guy who hit a home run off of me,” he said with a laugh. “Plenty of those guys out there like that.”

Right then, my 12-year-old daughter and her two friends run by, and I have to peel off a 10-dollar bill so they can get some hot dogs and drinks. They are giggling, mostly about the 12-year-old boys in their Little League uniforms they see at LaGrave Field. As they run off, Beringer gets a big smile on his face. “I remember when I was her age,” he says. “We played baseball and tried to impress the girls.”

Not to get too philosophical (or on a George Will baseball bent) here, but the old pitcher has a broader point. Kids don’t change all that much over time. We as adults change. And in some high-rise office along the way, someone in a suit changed baseball. All I know is that going to a Cats game is more fun these days than going to a Rangers game. I guess going to the Rangers games makes me feel my age. Going to Cats’ games makes me feel like I’m 12 again.

Dan McGraw is a Fort Worth author and freelance journalist.

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