Jim Mashek column: One magic night at Bowling Green Ballpark


The cynic might say, you had to be there.

Well, I was there. And it was awesome.

The Bowling Green Hot Rods, the only professional sports franchise in this South Central Kentucky city, are in a celebratory mood after Tuesday night’s steely 6-3 victory over the Greensboro Grasshoppers in Game Five of the High-A East League Championship Series, which went the full five games before the Hot Rods smoked their tires on the way to the second league championship in team history.

The Hot Rods organization rolled out the red carpet for a memorable Game 5 at Bowling Green Ballpark, an impressive structure that opened in 2009. The team’s front office embraces the Hot Rods as affordable family entertainment, and that was even the case when the Hot Rods played for the High-A East League championship on Tuesday night.

Five bucks got you in the ballpark.

Usually, where I like to sit at the yard, that would run you $60, and most of the time, that was for “Bring Your Dog To The Yard” night, which are held on Tuesday nights during the regular season, but Hot Rods rep Amber Mingus said, no, $25 was all they needed.

It was first-come, first-served, but I guess I didn’t know that when I rolled up on the team’s box office at lunchtime on Tuesday, hoping to get five tickets behind home plate for the title tilt between the Hot Rods and those dastardly Grasshoppers from North Carolina.

But it was festival seating. Show up and stake your spot.

So we did. My sweet friend Sharon Sharp from Owensboro, Kentucky, and I met David and Melanie Carwell of Bowling Green in front of the tidy, well-kept stadium on Eighth Avenue in downtown Bowling Green. Got there just in time for the National Anthem and first pitch.

And we settled in behind home plate, about 15 rows back.

Before long, we were joined by my Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity brother Steve Robertson, aka “Roscoe,” the wily cat who played center field for the WKU baseball team when I joined the Hilltoppers’ football squad as a walk-on offensive lineman in 1974. Five or 10 minutes later, personable Bowling Green attorney Steve Thornton, who also was an SAE during my college days, joined us, and we settled in for a fun night at the ballpark.

A lot of fun.

We purchased our 16-ounce cans of cold Coors Light and hot dogs, on an unseasonably warm night in late September, and watched the Hot Rods build a 6-2 lead in the bottom of the second inning. From there, Hot Rods manager Jeff Smith pushed all the right buttons, using four pitchers overall in keeping the Grasshoppers at arm’s length throughout. Even then, the Greensboro squad would rally for a single run in the top of the ninth inning.

The fertilizer was flyin’ as the game unfolded, with lots of good-natured jabs and smack talk in the direction of the visitors from North Carolina. I ran into new WBKO sportscaster Brett Alper on the concourse, in addition to Joseph Barkoff, the cool cat who shoots high school football on Friday nights for the Daily News. Said hello to two or three Hot Rods employees as the home team held on to its lead over the course of the game.

Usually, to be honest, we’d leave in the fifth or sixth inning on “Take Your Dog To The Yard” night, on account of the fact that I could bring Piper, my sweet, energetic Jack Russell terrier mix that I adopted from the Bowling Green/Warren County Humane Society shelter in the spring.

Piper stayed home this time. League rules. And we stayed behind home plate. For all nine innings. No way we were leaving this one early.

After the top of the sixth, I announced to anybody who would listen (and I admit it wasn’t too many folks) that the Hot Rods were nine outs away from the championship. Same for the seventh, six outs. And the eighth, well, you get the picture. Got a chance to take a selfie with “Roscoe,” the Hot Rods’ mascot, and a friendly server at the concession stand who loaded up my soft pretzel with extra salt that only could be quenched by a frosty beverage on a warm September night.

The Hot Rods are an affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays, who are closing in on 100 wins in the best division in baseball, the American League East. Falling into line, the Hot Rods posted an 82-36 record in regular-season play, and they completed the task at hand with the methodical victory over the Grasshoppers on Tuesday night.

(I’m not sure who was the most obnoxious, me or my buddy Roscoe or the Roscoe who posed for pictures on the concourse and rushed the field when the game came to an end. Well, it’s my column, so I’m claiming victory. Sorry, guys.)

My brother Tom worked in minor league baseball in Clearwater, Florida for six years before joining the Philadelphia Phillies, the parent club, in the early ’90s, so I knew what minor league baseball was all about. Family fun. Aspiring big leaguers. Lots of promotions. Reasonably priced food and drink. Maybe a few groupies.

Lots of great memories.

Sure am glad we made it Tuesday night.

It was a blast.

Congrats, Hot Rods. Great run. Good job.