Most sports fans are familiar with their names. Astros. Rangers. If you’re a newcomer to Texas maybe your favorite team is a Brave or Cardinal.
Though Big League games are filled with big name players that fans of baseball love to watch, honestly it’s the Minor Leagues where the real fun is found simply because of its small town nature, promotional antics and grassroots fan base. It’s baseball the way it used to be.
From the Hooks at Whataburger Field in Corpus Christi and the Air Hogs in Grand Prairie, to the Missions in San Antonio and the soon to play Skeeters in Sugar Land, Minor League baseball is flat out fun.
A few years back my wife and I took in a game at Dell Diamond in Round Rock. At that time the Round Rock Express was home to the Triple-A farm team for the Houston Astros. Talents such as pitcher Roy Oswalt and outfielder Hunter Pence had passed through that franchise on their way to the “Bigs” in Houston.
The ballpark is first class with turf to rival any major league field and thousands of green seats . . . it was a sea of green from the mound to the press box. Foul ball dinged brushed aluminum panels lined the walls of the upper deck, and there was seating for hundreds more on the grassy outfield berm beyond the fence and in the glass-faced box seats for fans with connections.
We had paid the mind-boggling low price of $12.00 a ticket for two great seats behind the home team dugout along the first base line. It was a perfect night for baseball in central Texas, and as the sun set one could feel the excitement; the excitement of small town baseball being played by young guys hoping to make their childhood dream come true.
As we sat there in the stands among hundreds of retirees, school kids, families and UT Longhorns from the University of Texas, we had expected to see a great game, but never imagined that we’d soon become a part of Minor League baseball history.
The game was close as the Nashville Sound’s young pitcher Manny Parra pitched his game. Strike outs, ground outs, and fly outs continued to mount, inning after inning until the last history making pitch.
The local newspaper reported it like this: “ROUND ROCK – He’s been good all season, but on Monday Manny Parra was perfect. The 24-year-old from Sacramento retired all 27 batters he faced in Nashville’s 3-0 victory over Round Rock, completing the eighth perfect game in Pacific Coast League history in just his second Triple-A start.”
In the bottom of the 9th inning Parra clearly had Round Rock fans in his corner. With each pitch they cheered, with each out the anticipation grew . . . imagine a perfect game. One out . . . it couldn’t have be scripted any better. Two outs . . . everyone was on their feet shouting encouragement to an opposing pitcher. Then came the pitch to clinch the game. A pop-up to second base and it was done.
Parra leaped from the mound into a bear hug from his catcher as the rest of the Nashville Sound piled on, bouncing in unison like some giant uniformed mass of caps and cleats. The cheers and applause of the appreciative Texans in the stands continued to grow as the celebration on the field went on.
At some point Parra realized that the fans of the Round Rock Express were not leaving, but were in fact giving him the sort of thunderous ovation normally reserved for a hometown hero. It was then that the true quality of a professional shown through. Manny Parry stepped out from among his teammates and raised his cap to the crowd in sincere appreciation.
There was jubilation between the baselines and in the stands as the young pitcher shared his accomplishment with everyone at Dell Diamond that night. As we walked to the car the last image that I saw on the giant centerfield screen was Parra signing autographs for young wannabes with big league dreams of their own.
Manny Parra went on to the Majors the next season and today pitches for the Milwaukee Brewers. Others who played that night, such as Houston Astros’ catcher Umberto Quintero, also made it to the “Game”. And, for those of us in the stands, we’ll always remember the excitement and the enthusiasm of a 24-year-old ball player who for nine innings in the Minors was Pitcher Perfect.
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