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That'll get you two 12-ounce beers and an all-beef hot dog on Two-fer Tuesday, which it is. The homey concourse is sparse before the first of two evening games, which means the concession lines haven't yet fully resolved into legit lines. The Crushers average nearly 2,400 in nightly attendance (on par with years past), but at 4:30 p.m. the breeze is the only force to be reckoned with up here.
"Ill Be Watching You" is pumping over the speakers, and this feels appropriate, but the groggy-eyed Crushers down on the field appear anything but surveilled. They're trundling in and out of the dugout, trying to make up their minds about warming up.
"We got in at 7 this morning," reports bleary infielder Andrew Davis a few minutes later as he thumbs a knife open and closed — where'd he get a knife? — near the dugout's steps. "We were driving all night."
The organization seems especially fond of these late-night return treks. Last week, when a Friday night game against the Florence Freedom was bumped to Thursday because of a conflicting Styx concert, the team played a double-header and then boarded their bus back to Cleveland for a five-hour ride through the night.
That's the baseline rate for a room with two double beds at the Quality Inn in Florence, Kentucky, where the Crushers stay on their Freedom trips. Skipping a night at the hotel is money saved for Edelson and the front office.
For which the front office can't exactly be blamed. They're trying to run an efficient business, after all. And look, it's not like the schedule's weekly mutations or the late-night bus trips are having any adverse effects on the Crushers' play. They're about as hot as teams get right now, coming off a sweep of the bloodless Joliet Slammers (run differentials of +1, +6 and +10) and a scorching 10-1 record during the month of August.
(Update: On Aug. 18, the Crushers won their 11th straight — a franchise record — moving to 50-31 on the season, and a torrid 24-6 since the All-Star break. The Crushers have played 95 or 96 games in each of their previous four seasons and have been a 50-win club every campaign. Certainly looks like the winning mentality isn't going anywhere. They're on pace to break the 57-win record they set in 2009.)
Fifteen minutes from now, they'll resume a game they started earlier in the month against the Washington Wild Things — Washington, Pa., not the Capital — and if the Crushers win the first of their doubleheader, they will have technically completed two sweeps in less than 24 hours.
Even with such extravagant success, Frontier League ball is still more community chatter than front-page regional news. The team gets regular coverage from the Morning Journal and the Chronicle-Telegram, but other than that, the only media credential disbursed regularly is to an intern with Baseball Insider.
That's the monthly haul, before taxes, that first-year players like Seth Granger take home for these labors of love. Granger's from south-central Louisiana — not in a bayou, per se, but you get the idea — so it's pronounced gron-ZHAY.
At least that's what Crushers' usher Don Schiffbauer swears. He's bouncing to easy-listening standards in his New Balance 609s and shouts into the dugout Parlez-vous francais? — in the oblong, playful way of someone who knows maybe three total phrases in French — at least twice before a distant Crusher has the wherewithal to say, "No, thanks."
Granger's carrying a bucket of balls after a boilerplate stretch and sprint. He's got a smile on his face, even after what was surely an unfulfilling afternoon nap. It's reassuring (journalistically) to see that he looks just as excited to play baseball as he was to talk about it last week, on a rare Crushers' off day.
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