This article was written by Kevin Comer, our Bowling Green Hot Rods correspondent.
Spending my entire life in Bowling Green, Kentucky, I had always wished for a local professional baseball team. I grew up as a die-hard Cincinnati Reds fan during the 1970-1979 'Big Red Machine' era. Other than the occasional Saturday showing on NBC's Game of the Week, or ABC's Monday Night Baseball, along with Playoff or World Series coverage from their better seasons, my Reds memories were captured as I listened to Marty Brennaman and Joe Nuxhall describe the action on the Reds on Radio network carried by local station WLBJ.
Many nights I would drift off to sleep as "my Reds" battled the hated rival Dodgers on a West Coast trip, or for most games I could 'follow' the action while playing outdoors, from different parts of our neighborhood. Mr. Holland, a National Guardsman and local Babe Ruth League President living across the street might have the game on as he read the evening paper, or another neighbor, Mr. Logan, might have it on in his garage as he built a set of cabinets. Still yet another neighbor, Mr. Lloyd, was a long time fan, having much to say about the vintage game of his youth. At that time, in my little world, baseball was popular, especially the Reds.
My only real knowledge of Minor League baseball came from reading The Sporting News, which had full standings of all the teams or the nightly mention of how the Reds affiliate clubs were doing on a particular evening. I might have heard that the Reds had brought up Danny Driessen from Indianapolis or something similar.
Later as I got older and the Big Red Machine had been broken up, I got to attend my first Minor League game at Greer Stadium at Nashville, which was the home of the Yankees AAA team, the Nashville Sounds. Buck Showalter was the star for the Sounds at the time, or maybe it was Don Mattingly, but I was more interested in the ball park. It wasn't huge like Riverfront Stadium that I had visited many times, but it had charm and character. There were many promotions to keep you occupied between innings and I realized that this was much different than the Majors. Later, my wife and I attended some games in Louisville at the old Fairgrounds Stadium, where the Redbirds- the Cardinals AAA team played. I loved the old wooden grandstand, and the very short porch in right field (due to being configured most of the time for Louisville Cardinal Football) but hated the Astroturf on the entire surface.
In 2005 there was a push for Professional Baseball in Bowling Green. After the initial excitement, plans fell by the wayside, but some still persisted. Finally there was news that Bowling Green would be getting a team- The Columbus Catfish of the South Atlantic League. Area residents watched as the new Bowling Green Ballpark began to be constructed. A 'Name the Team' contest was held and the winning name- Bowling Green Hot Rods was announced downtown in freezing temperatures, to a much larger than I expected crowd of excited fans. Personally, I was ecstatic that Bowling Green would have Professional Baseball for the first time since they had a team called the Bowling Green Barons decades ago. The only game I ever attended with my Dad was Fan Appreciation Day, early October of 1977 in Cincinnati, so I'm really looking forward to taking my son Adam to as many games as possible.
So, here we are just a few days from the opening of the 2009 Baseball Season, with a nearly finished Ballpark full of lush green grass, with every seat sold for Opening Night, yet most of Bowling Green doesn't know for sure who they will be watching pitch, hit, and run in their beautiful new stadium. The true Baseball fans in South Central Kentucky will tell you that it is the team as a whole that will garner our affection. We will attend games and follow the team, learning to love Class A baseball. Will the casual fans in the area ask the question- "Who are these guys?" So far the folks that I've spoken with have been only slightly curious about the actual players.
Will any of the local boys be playing?
How much do they get paid?
Will the team draw enough fans to afford to stay?
Will any of these players be good enough to play Professional Baseball?
Where will they get players?
Are these players as good as College players?
All good questions if you have no clue about Minor League baseball. Those types of questions will tell you that Bowling Green is not acclimated with the details of Professional Baseball. Yet. As the season unfolds and balls fall into the gaps for triples or sail onto 7th Street as long Home Runs, or as a hitting streak reminds me of Pete Rose's 44-game streak in the summer of '78, there is a good chance that an entire new group of fans will learn that Minor League Baseball can be as exciting as following any of their favorite Major League teams or local Basketball teams. They might even tune in the game on 1340 AM WBGN while they grill in their yard as the team travels to such places as Savannah, Augusta, or Greenville.
Before long, just maybe they won't have to ask "Who are these guys?"