InsidethePark.com's Kevin Damask takes an in-depth look at the Midwest League's Wisconsin Timber…
Loss Can't Damper 'Rattlers Opener
Typical Wisconsin weather didn't stop baseball fans from flocking to see the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers open up the 2004 season at Fox Cities Stadium in Appleton, Wis. on Thursday.
In a state known for its rabid football fans, diehard Timber Rattlers enthusiasts were in heaven last night, back at the ballpark after a long offseason. A crowd of 1,662 braved through winter-like temperatures and threatening skies, seeming to enjoy the night despite the Timber Rattlers' 5-1 loss to the Clinton Lumber Kings.
The crowd was pumped up between innings by Fang, the team's mascot. In the first inning, Fang used a slingshot to propel t-shirts into the stands. "Hit Me With Your Best Shot," a song made famous by Pat Benatar, was used as clever background music. He may not be the Philly Fanatic, but Fang sure kept the fans excited, no matter how the game was going.
Everytime a new batter for Wisconsin steps to the plate, R&B and hip-hop music blared through the public address system. When a pitcher for the Timber Rattlers threw a strike, the hysterical laughter of a cartoon character was piped through the speakers overhead. In the middle of the third inning, three people dressed in beer bottle suits raced around the field and crossed a finish line. This may have seemed too similar to the Milwaukee Brewers sausage races, but it was still fun to watch. The best part about it was that no player on either team felt like doing a Randall Simon impression (beating up a mascot).
The Timber Rattlers stadium staff did a great job of making sure every child had a fun time at the game. During the seventh inning stretch, three children, who were about the age of four, sang "Take Me Out To The Ballgame." After the game ended, children under 14 years old were invited to run around the bases. Not all hungry fans needed to go to the concession stand to satisfy their cravings. Between one inning, a truck pulling a trailer came around the field, armed with a man holding a bratwurst gun. The brat gun actually looked like a huge brat and it shot brats up into the stands. In Wisconsin, catching a free brat is like grabbing a foul ball.
The fans at Fox Cities Stadium had little to cheer about, as the Timber Rattlers suffered an opening night loss to Clinton. Right fielder Chris Colton hit a solo home run in the bottom of the second inning, giving Wisconsin a 1-0 lead.
They maintained that lead until the sixth inning, when Clinton scored two runs. The Lumber Kings held onto their slim lead until the top of the ninth. Clinton scored three runs in that inning and was able to shut the door on an attempted rally by the Timber Rattlers in the bottom of the ninth.
Despite giving up five runs off of eight hits, Wisconsin's pitching struck out 15 Clinton batters. Starting pitcher Thomas Oldham pitched four innings, giving up no runs off three hits, while striking out seven and walking three.
Stronger pitching by Clinton overmatched Wisconsin. They used three pitchers, who combined to give up one run off six hits. They added nine strikeouts and three walks. The Lumber Kings also played better defensively, playing error-free baseball, and added a stellar infield play to shut down Wisconsin.
As the game reached the later innings, fans became more vocal. They hung on every pitch and openly contested some close calls by the umpires. Someone in the press box suggested that this rowdiness might have been due to the $1.00 charge for beer, suggesting that the cheap beer was "kicking in." Whatever the case, the fan support for the Timber Rattlers was a heartwarming sight to behold on a cold night like the one yesterday.
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