Blaze improvement scores with fans

Hayden Delaney chattered excitedly to anyone who would listen and even those who didn’t.

“I caught a foul ball and I ran and I scraped my knee, see? And then it came into my glove and I …,” the young boy continues.

Nearby, the family of the boy chuckles and acts interested even after the 10th time. Hayden had already re-enacted the entire scene for everyone in the seats around him at the June 18 Bakersfield Blaze game. And there were plenty more people to tell than usual.

The paid attendance of the game was 1,769, about 500 more people than the average paid attendance of last season. However, many more fans watched the game with complimentary tickets.

Sam Lynn Ball Park is under new management this year, and the new owners are trying to make the Blaze games more fan oriented, according to Susan Wells, assistant general manager of the park.

“This town loves new things,” Wells said.

By the end of the night, all the people left in the stands were the true Blaze fans.

After a long game of 13 innings, the Blaze won with the last hit by Gabby Martinez.

“It was a special night because I helped win for the team,” said Martinez who is Puerto Rican and spoke through a translator. He has been with the Blaze organization for three years.

The game was close with the Blaze and Lancaster being tied 2-2 from the bottom of the fifth until Martinez’s deep hit to left field to end the game in the bottom of the 13th. The Blaze won 3-2.

Outfielder Joey Gomes noticed the much larger attendance.

“You could just feel the energy,” Gomes said. “We were going to win that game.”

Martinez said that everyone was exhausted after the long game and wanted to go see the fireworks.

The big attendance was partly due to the after game fireworks show, which will become a weekly event at the ballpark. But some kids in the stands who showed up to see the fireworks may have been disappointed when they had to leave before the game ended. Because of the four extra innings the game ended close to midnight.

The re-opening game event also introduced a more complete concession stand menu and fresh coats of paint. New seats also were ordered but were not shipped in time to be installed for the event.

“You can tell there are a lot more people, because you can’t hear the clappers. There’s actual clapping,” Mandie Yarbrough who said she attends most of the games because her husband is pitcher Joey Yarbrough.

Mayor Harvey Hall threw the first pitch at the game, which he attended with his family. Hall owns season tickets and gives $50 to any Blaze players who hit local home runs.

The mayor has been going to baseball games in the stadium since 1948. He has served as a batboy, scoreboard operator and PA announcer for the various minor league teams that have been in the ballpark.

“We want to have a minor league baseball team, and they can’t exist without the fan support,” Hall said.

The mayor also addressed talk of a new stadium replacing the poorly built and situated present facility.

“You can’t have a new stadium until you have a team on the field and you have fan support,” he said.