Once inside Clint Lightner Stadium, the surroundings are not that much different from a Garden City High School baseball game during the spring.
The outfield fence is wrapped with a wind screen that says, “Garden City Buffalo Baseball.” There’s a sizeable crowd in the stands and baseball’s staple, sunflower seeds, are being sold in the concession stand.
The differences include the cans of beer being sold during a warm summer’s evening, the crack of wood bats instead of the thump of aluminum, and, of course, the light blue jerseys that represent the home team.
Clint Lightner has been the host for the Pecos League’s Garden City Wind’s inaugural season since the middle of May, and the first professional team in Garden City history appears to be catching on, at least according to those in attendence on Thursday, the team’s weekly dollar beer night.
“Each time we have come, there’s more and more people,” said Emily Burns, who was attending with her husband, Shane, and their 2-year-old son, Jaeger.
The family from Garden City has attended “four or five” games this season, and have enjoyed it each time. Emily Burns said that they make a point to attend minor or major league baseball games during any traveling they may do.
Jaeger, whose focus during Thursday’s game was split between the action and his toy tractors on the ground in front of him, attended his first game when he was just three days old, Emily Burns said.
“We just love baseball,” she said.
On Thursday, as the Wind hosted and defeated the Las Vegas, N.M., Train Robbers, 3-2, that was a common theme for those in attendance.
There were a couple instances of exhilaration for the nearly 200 fans, who’ve witnessed only a handful of victories this season. The first was right fielder Chris Cruz’s game-tying home run in the seventh inning, and the next was when the Train Robbers’ RJ Rayborn was tossed out of the game for calling balls and strikes.
Another came when Edger Munoz seemingly stole an RBI double — if not a possible game-tying home run — with a brilliant leaping catch at the center field fence in the eighth. The final came when the Wind finished off only their 10th win of the season, as they improved to 10-32.
Twelve-year-old Reid Hopkins was most impressed, though, by how hard the pitchers threw for each team.
“A little bit faster than what you’re used to, huh,” Reid’s father, Joseph said, laughing, referencing Reid’s playing on a recreation team in Garden City.
The Hopkins’, complete with mother, Kristi, 10-year-old Breckyn and 9-year-old Cole, were taking in their first Wind game of the season.
“We just wanted something to do with the family, and we love baseball,” Kristi Hopkins said.
They found different sources of entertainment, even at the game.
The night was filled with hot dogs and sodas for the family, which were affordably priced at $3.50 and $2.50 each; Cole ran the bases in between the fourth and fifth inning; and Cole and Breckyn tag-teamed to collect a bag full of foul balls by the end of the night.
While they were attending their first game, Jackie Gigot was watching at least her 26th.
Gigot, the Wind’s host family coordinator, has been to at least parts of every home game this season, she said, as the host of both shortstop Shea Bell and pitcher Ryan Blinderman.
“It’s been fun. We’ve been to every home game, at least parts of it with our kids’ ball games,” Gigot said. “We made it part of our summer lives.”
The biggest change might have been in the meal schedule. Now, Gigot said, the family makes dinner every night after the end of each ball game, which could mean 11 p.m. or later.
Bell, a former Garden City Community College baseball player, has integrated himself into the family, too, taking Gigot’s children, Wyatt, 12, and Lauren, 9, to the batting cages and playing catch with them.
“It’s going to be hard for them (Wyatt and Lauren), and all of us when they leave,” Gigot said of the Wind players, whose season concludes at the end of July. “They’ve just become part of the family.”