What's out: Major-league Baseball. What's in: AAA ball.

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A couple of months ago, as the Yankees were finishing up their final season in the house that Ruth built, my wife, daughter and I decided to see our first (and last) Yankee Stadium game. Given that my daughter is a toddler, we bought tickets for the non-alcoholic section, which is located in the space below the scoreboard. I expected that our cheap seats would be miserable, but we actually had a great view of the field and, as my wife and daughter settled in, I ventured forth in search of provisions.

The food was a little pricey: all tolled, the three Nathan's famous hot dogs, one knish, and two bottles of water that I came back with cost a little bit less than $30. Since we were in the non-drinking section, I didn't have to make the tough choice between a $9.50 Miller Lite and $12.50 Heineken.

After the National Anthem, the game started. And stopped. And started. And stopped. As the evening progressed, I noticed that the pitcher was lucky to get through two batters before play would pause for a few minutes. It didn't take long to figure out what was going on: the game planners were leaving room for commercial breaks.

By the time the fourth inning came around, I found myself resenting the whole set-up. Basically, I paid $40 for tickets, $30 for food, and $10 for backpack storage just so I could be background scenery in a game that was clearly being packaged for the home audience.

Over the years, I have been lucky enough to see quite a few major league baseball games. While these were all fun, my favorite baseball experience was undoubtedly watching the Salem Avalanche play in Southwest Virginia. Although my hometown stadium was far less impressive than the professional parks that I have visited, it was usually crowded with energetic fans, the food was better than the major league's offerings, and the beer was much more affordable (especially on 50¢ beer night).

More importantly, I found that AAA ball felt a lot more like baseball is supposed to feel. The guys on the field weren't steroidally-pumped supermen with million dollar endorsement contracts and multiple houses, and the guys in the stands weren't billionaires blowing a fortune on box seats. Many of the players were local boys, and they often had jobs outside of the game. While some of them undoubtedly went on to Major League stardom, most were probably at the peak of their sports careers. They were like us, and when they struck out, we felt their disappointment.

I don't know where professional baseball is headed, and I don't know how far it can go in its current, television-dominated direction. What I do know is that it has lost a lot of the intimacy and emotional connection that once made it great. I also know that the next game I go to will be in a smaller stadium with a more amateurish team.

And, hopefully, with cheaper beer!

Bruce Watson is a freelance writer, blogger, and all-around cheapskate. When it comes to professional sports, he's all about the food.


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