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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Thursday, July 31, 2014

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Beloit Snappers play pro ball on its most intimate level


All across America, minor league baseball is enjoying a renaissance, in which fans can watch the stars of tomorrow compete for a shot at the bigs. The Brewers' Class A affiliate, the Beloit Snappers, play just an hour from Milwaukee and provide a fun and inexpensive way to watch professional baseball on its most intimate level.

The Snappers take the mound at Beloit's 3,500 seat Pohlman Field, a basic but ruggedly charming stadium minutes from downtown. Parking is free, tickets cost between $4 and $6, and you can sit just about anywhere you'd like. Volunteers roam the stands selling lottery tickets, and Snappy the Turtle (the team mascot) takes time out of his busy schedule to snap pictures with the kids.

Led by manager and third base coach Don Money (of '70s and '80s Brewers fame), the Snappers are a scrappy bunch of rookies learning the ropes of pro ball. The fans are well within foul ball grabbing and heckling distance, and these young ballplayers provide plenty to chuckle about.

The play is far from All-Star caliber, as most of the Snappers are fresh out of high school or college. Since Single A ball is near the bottom rung of the minor leagues, routine plays in the majors are nail-biters down here.

For example, a recent game between the Snappers and the Clinton (Iowa) Lumber Kings saw the two teams combine for eight errors in a 14-inning thriller. The 8-8 tie was finally broken when the Snappers pushed across the winning run on a balk.

The most entertaining error, however, never made the box score: after a strikeout, the catcher fired the ball to third for the customary game of around-the-horn, but he launched it right into left field.

Bunts in A Ball are comical and usually popped straight up. Dropped fly balls are a dime a dozen, and infield squibbers are misplayed more often than not. And if you're a pitcher with a curve ball, you'll look like the second coming of Satchel Paige. These batters are so fooled by off-speed stuff that they nearly fall over swinging the bat.

Still, these kids are giving it their all, and for a paltry $4 (less on some days), there's a good chance you'll see a handful of future major leaguers. Often, Brewers on rehab assignments play a few games in Beloit as well, and there's no more fan-friendly venue for catching a game. Players mingle with the crowd, their girlfriends, wives and kids. And with all the giveaways and promotions, you may even come out ahead: my free t-shirt and frisbee cancelled out the price of a general admission ticket.

Food and drink prices are surprisingly reasonable, too. No $6 beers here in Beloit. Indeed, this "Bull Durham" style of baseball is a refreshing change from retractable roofs and luxury boxes. And at just over an hour away, it's a surprisingly easy drive, too.

The Snappers play in the Midwest League along with Wisconsin's other minor league team, The Timber Rattlers (Seattle's Class A affiliate) in Appleton. For tickets, just show up at the gate or call (608) 362-2272. For directions and more information, visit the Snappers' Web site at www.snappersbaseball.com.

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