Image: Coors Field at night
by Chris Foss
We’re halfway through summer, a relative down time for sports fans. “Big Four” fanatics have two choices right now: watch baseball, or to take part in one of America’s growing summer sporting pastimes. In the second part of this column next week, I’ll examine ways in which sports fans are getting up off the couch and actually playing sports this summer. If you’re content to stay inside and beat the heat, however, you do have options.
The trade deadline briefly makes late July baseball—and prognostication through talk radio and ESPN’s Baseball Tonight—worth checking out on air, especially if you’re stressed at work and can’t get away for outdoor activities or vacation until closer to Labor Day. We’re at a point in the competition where the wheat starts getting separated from the chaff (you Yankees fans know this all too well this morning). The buyers emerge from the woodwork, and the sellers fade off into the sunset. There’s plenty of drama and interest for your viewing and listening pleasure.
But fandom is primarily about consuming and enjoying the on-field product. As many of you know, however, actually watching games on TV is boring until playoff time. A day at the ballpark might be a good option. When I lived in Denver, a game in the Rockpile at Coors Field ($5 per seat) was a rite of summer. One year the Willamette University Alumni Association reps for Denver purchased a bloc of tickets for a mid-July series against the Cubs. It was a fun night out for all, with the alumni group providing a good opportunity for mingling and somewhat of a buffer against the Saturday night rowdies in the crowd. At $15 a pop, tickets were relatively cheap, too. For the sports fan on a budget, baseball is probably your best bet, with the other Big Four sports tickets being hugely expensive (and even MLS prices are creeping up).
Plan in advance, though—night and weekend games sell out quickly. Day, week games, even if you can get work off and get to the ballpark, will often be hot and humid affairs, not most peoples’ cup of tea unless you like a tan. The West Coast provides the best experience from a climatic standpoint, particularly in Seattle, San Francisco, San Diego, and Phoenix (closed-roof stadium). They also generally close the roof in Houston and Milwaukee, and the latter has a fun-looking water slide. At any of these sites, you can see a game any time of the day without getting scorched.
You could try the minor leagues if MLB is too far from home or out of your price range. In my hometown of Portland, Oregon, the AAA Beavers were a celebrated treasure of the city for the better part of a century. The club left town when Portland’s stadium was renovated to become MLS-only for the Timbers, but the metro area is served by two single-A clubs within an hour’s drive from downtown, the Hillsboro Hops and Salem-Keizer Volcanoes. Most mid-sized cities fall into this boat baseball-wise: Keith’s Columbus, for example, has a popular AAA club. Fans who pooh-pooh the often shameless promotion these organizations undertake to make ticket sales shouldn’t turn up their nose, however, at the fact that in order to draw crowds, the food is improving at many of these venues; and don’t forget that you’ll often see major-league talent if you’re at an AAA game.
Baseball, however, is just the tip of the iceberg for the summer sports fan. If you’re willing to step outside your comfort zone, there’s a bevy of sports options to view online and on the ever-proliferating cable/satellite network of sports channels. Although about to go on hiatus for the Olympics, the WNBA provides an exciting and intriguing brand, with stars like Candace Parker and Brittany Griner, and two very strong teams this year in the Minnesota Lynx and Los Angeles Sparks. It’s also high season for tennis and golf, although we’re currently in between majors in both sports. Hopefully you caught a little bit of the Tour de France, which, although tainted by major doping scandals in recent decades, remains a thrill to watch, if for no other reason than the scenery, and trying to figure out how all those cyclists are able to race together so closely without crashing.
Soccer, furthermore, is getting ever-closer to nudging out baseball as America’s preferred summer sport. The Rio Olympics will give soccer—particularly the favored women’s squad—another big boost in exposure in the U.S. Fans and networks are increasingly aware of European competition, with ESPN highlighting Euro 2016 coverage this past June and July. A new Premier League season will debut soon. MLS peaks in the fall, but there are games this summer, and with that league and its women’s counterpart continuing to expand, there’s likely a game an hour’s drive or less from you.
Did I mention the Rio Olympics? Despite fears of terrorism, political unrest in Brazil, the Zika virus, and the Russian track and field doping controversy, the Games will go on. Basketball fans will have plenty of options in terms of watching Team USA exhibition games as well as actual competition from now deep into August. Argentina, Spain, France, and Lithuania will also be well worth checking out. Michael Phelps and Missy Franklin are back in the pool, and it looks to be another promising year for USA gymnastics.
So, staunch couch potatoes, fear not—there’s still plenty of sports out there for you in the dog days. The highlight this year won’t be another dull MLB All Star Game or the ESPYs, although the tribute to Craig Sager will present stiff competition in that category. Hang in there and check out some other sports, keeping in mind that NFL training camp is just days away.
 Fourth of July tickets for Portland’s two minor-league teams went for between $7-23.