By Adam Roberts
I’ve finally had a chance to settle in to my new position here at ESPN La Crosse. Now about a month in, I decided to make the new digs look a little more like home. In between local updates, farm reports, travelling to games, and everything in between, I’ve suddenly found myself spending more time at the office than I do in my own residence.
One of the first things I decided to do was throw up some of my pennants I had collected over my youth. And the very first one I pulled out of the cardboard box was from August 20th 1999, my first and only trip to old Milwaukee County Stadium. That day a lowly Bill Pulsipher fell victim to two Barry Bonds home runs as the Giants ran roughshod over my Brewers 10-3.
Other than the score, I don’t remember much from that day. It happened a few weeks before my sixth birthday, and all our memories from that time in our lives are a little foggy to say the least (Hell, as I’m writing this I caught myself for a split second forgetting what I ate this morning, glass of milk and a seven-layer-bar).
I’ll tell you what I do remember though: calling my first high school basketball sectional playoff game.
Everything from Henry Ellenson running the length of the floor to throw down a monstrous two-handed jam, to the electric student sections of both River Falls and Onalaska, the chants, the play on the court, the pep bands, even the smell of the arena vividly sticks out in my still-growing treasure trove of sports memories from my young career.
And the best part, I guarantee you nobody who attended that game felt like they overpaid to get in.
Another place I’ve never heard anybody leave wishing they had not gone? Copeland Park, which after 15 seasons has morphed and evolved from team owner Dan Kapanke selling tickets out of the back of his own truck, to a thriving stadium that rivals single-A minor league parks across the nation. On top of receiving a face-lift to its entranceway and concession area, the park regularly draws over 2,500 fans a night, each one treated to quality baseball, discounted beverages prices in a race that pays homage to the major league team three and a half hours away, and between-innings and postgame entertainment that would make Bill Veeck grin from ear to ear. In an era of 60 dollar field box seats for a June ballgame, you just can’t beat 10 dollars for the same seat at Copeland, with the chance to see the big stars of the future before they ink their big contracts and commercial deals.
In the six years since I have moved to the area, I’ve made a point to expose myself to nearly every local sport the Coulee Region has to offer. And what I’ve seen has confirmed in my mind that local sports eliminate something you find far too often at the professional level: complacency. Everyone on your small-town or high school or D3 college team is just trying to make noise and get noticed, not think about which garage they will be parking their new hot rod into when they get back to the ranch that night.
In summation, I’m certainly not advocating that you never, ever take in a professional sporting event for the rest of your life. The pro level of competition still offers you a chance to see the athletes who have ascended to the pinnacle of excellence in their sports, and that certainly is worth taking in. Just know, the next time you are weighing the pros and cons of saving up for a weekend trip to Lambeau or day-tripping it out to Milwaukee or Minneapolis, remember there are plenty of up-and-coming athletes who would love to leave a positive impression on you.
And best of all, your family, and your wallet, will greatly appreciate it.
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