While being away from live baseball for the 2012 season, I’ve had to look a little harder for things to write about. Fortunately, within my first week in Afghanistan I met Air Force Tech Sergeant Marc Leistico and oddly enough our conversation drifted towards minor league baseball. A few days later, TSgt Leistico was nice enough to sit down with me and answer a few questions for Bus Leagues Baseball.com.
Bus Leagues Baseball: So what is your name and rank?
Marc Leistico: My name is Tech Sergeant Marc Leistico and I am with the United States Air Force.
BLB: Now we’ve been working together for a bit, and a week ago you told me that you were a fan of Minor League Baseball. I was wondering if you could tell me what team.
ML: I am a fan of the Sacramento River Cats, they are a minor team of the Oakland A’s.
BLB: Awesome. How long have you been going to their games?
ML: Oh, since about 2001.
BLB: In your experience with the River Cats, what’s the allure of Minor League Baseball?
ML: Well, when it comes to sports, I follow teams, not individuals. I’m terrible with individual stats. I don’t care about stats or personas. But the team itself is what I really like the most. And the thing with minor league baseball is these personas are taken out because when they are really really good, they go up to the majors. So you have a chance to focus on the team and enjoy the team. Mostly you wrap yourself around the mascot more than any individual player.
BLB: That is very true. It’s more about the front of the jersey than the back, which is almost in line with the Air Force and the military – that there are no individuals.
ML: Exactly. It is a very unified point of view.
BLB: Can you tell us your views on the experience of going to a minor league game, especially as compared to a major league game? Have you been to many major league games as well?
ML: I’ve been to several major league games. Minor league baseball games are much more family friendly. So it is not just the game you are watching, you are also watching the in-between innings, the goofy little games, that sometimes do or do not make sense, and it doesn’t really matter because the whole point of the game is to get the crowd involved. You know, regardless of what’s going on the wave seems to be more prominent at minor league games than at major league games.
BLB: I’ve never been out to Sacramento. How many people usually attend? Is it a couple of hundred? A couple of thousand?
ML: The stadium is packed and the grass is packed. Sacramento is huge for the River Cats.
BLB: Now being in the Air Force, do you get to go very many games?
ML: Well, every time I am on vacation in the area, my parents always spring for one or two tickets. When I was stationed in Travis Air Force Base, it was quite often.
BLB: Being in Afghanistan now, of course you won’t be able to go to many games, but will you still follow the team?
ML: Probably not. I get home from work and I want to go to bed.
BLB: So has the River Cats experience changed since you started going in 2001?
ML: It hasn’t. It is the consistency that makes it nice. When I go to a baseball game I know what I am getting myself into. And one thing that I really like about minor league baseball games is that you don’t get a whole lot of Budweiser or Coca-Cola, you get more local breweries or local diners. It is a very local flavor. I imagine this counts for every minor league baseball team, if you want to catch the taste of a local area in one small setting, go to a minor league baseball game or minor league sports, in general.
BLB: Could you tell us about the first game you went to and give us a few of your most memorable experiences at the ballpark?
ML: I can’t really remember the first game I went to, I just remember that it was 2001. It was when I was first stationed at Travis Air Force Base, not far from Sacramento. It was nice.
BLB: Was it just something to do?
ML: Yeah. My parents have now gone from one or two games a year to a game almost every week or every other week. My parents are now huge River Cats fans. They always get my son River Cats paraphernalia such as bats and balls and jerseys. He is all decked out in River Cats gear.
The memory that stands out the most for me now is Roof Man. If someone hits a foul out behind the stands, Roof Man comes out all superhero like and he is dressed in a cape and he throws balls back down to the audience. It gets everyone involved. The River Cats have such a creative way of getting the crowd involved.
BLB: Now had your parents gone to many games before you went to games?
ML: Yes, because they had the time.
BLB: Have you taken your son to any games?
ML: Yes. Every time we go back. It’s amazing because he was like a year and a half old and, you know, a year and a half old kids don’t have much attention span, but he was sitting there on my lap just enthralled. Just enthralled with the game. And he is telling the pitcher “And … throw! And … throw! And … throw!”. He barely spoke anything but “and …. Throw!”. He was more than happy to do that. So he is already a huge River Cats fan.
It’s a family thing there. It’s a community thing.
BLB: Do you go with your parents and turn it into a family outing?
ML: Yeah, it’s the whole family. Some friends, it’s a bigger event. Everyone has a great time.
I’ve also noticed that when you go to a Major League game, you don’t really talk to the people next to you or the people behind you. But at a Minor League game, they are much more concerned with taking care of you. Like there was a nice couple behind us once and they caught one of the balls from Roof Man and gave the ball to my son. So it’s very, very community.
BLB: So are you going to miss going to the ballpark while you are here in Afghanistan?
ML: Yeah. When I get back I’ll be in Germany. My wife and I both agreed that we are going to take the sites in and we are going to see Europe. So no River Cats games for three years. Maybe we can find a minor league team or something like that in Germany.
We’d like to thank TSgt Leistico for his time and wish him the best during his Afghanistan deployment and throughout his time in the military.
(Photo from baseballpilgrimages.com)