Are you one of those long-suffering baseball fans who swore during the strike that you wouldn't go running back to major league parks when the players finally got around to playing?
Yet you can't keep away from the crack of ball against bat, the pristine green grass outlined by white lines on red dirt and the infield chatter.
Keep your promise--forget the Dodgers, the Angels and the San Diego Padres. There is an alternative.
Just a commuter's ride east of Los Angeles, in the Inland Empire country of Riverside and San Bernardino counties, are five professional baseball teams, all members of the Southern Division of the Class-A California League:
--Lake Elsinore Storm, an Angel affiliate.
--Rancho Cucamonga Quakes (Padres).
--San Bernardino Spirit (Dodgers).
--Adelanto's High Desert Mavericks (Baltimore Orioles).
--Riverside Pilots (Seattle Mariners).
Their players, for the most part, are fresh out of high school or college, between 19 and 23, eager to catch the eye of management and advance to the big leagues.
Three stadiums--High Desert, Rancho Cucamonga and Lake Elsinore--are scaled down versions of the latest in state-of-the-art parks. San Bernardino is building a new park, which will be ready in 1996, and Riverside is about to put one on the planning board.
Among the thrills of watching Class-A baseball is picking out future stars. At Fiscalini Field in San Bernardino, old-timers tell stories about watching a young kid out of high school named Ken Griffey Jr.
And even older old-timers will recall when the diamond on East Highland Avenue was named Perris Park and the Pittsburgh Pirates trained there with players such as Pie Traynor, Paul and Lloyd Waner and Gussie Suhr. One of the coaches was Honus Wagner.
When the Dodgers named their 40-player roster before the season, California League officials noted that 35 had played in their league--either on one of the five Southern Division teams or one of the Northern Division teams in Bakersfield, Modesto, San Jose, Stockton and Visalia.
And it's cheap.
Three bucks will get you into any park, and if you want the ultimate in box seats, it's $6 at Rancho Cucamonga, which also has a Tuesday family special. For $20, you get four reserved seats, four hot dogs and four soft drinks.
If you feel like picnicking, the $20-million Diamond at Lake Elsinore, with its sunken playing field and 6,066 seats, has a grassy knoll along the first base line that will accommodate another 1,800 spectators. There are no seats on the grass, but there is an unobstructed view of the action.
Did the long strike have any effect on California League attendance?
It's hard to tell. Attendance at the two newest parks, the Diamond at Lake Elsinore and the Epicenter at Rancho Cucamonga, increased last year, so further increases may not be attributable to striking major leaguers.
The Quakes, after winning the championship last year, expanded their three-year-old stadium to 6,526 seats this season and averaged 6,338 for their first eight games. They averaged 5,771 last year and already have sold 4,000 season tickets this season, a remarkable figure for Class A.
The Storm averaged 5,104 for its first five games, up slightly from last year.
"We heard a little talk in the stands from disgruntled fans about the strike, but we draw most of our fans from the local area, so I doubt if it will have much effect on our attendance," Storm spokesman Wayne Teats said. "Our surveys show we have a solid core of fans from the area, from Murietta, Hemet and Temecula down to north San Diego County."
High Desert, where the citizens of Adelanto were the first in the area to build a modern minor league park in 1991, will play its home opener Friday against Riverside. The Mavericks averaged 2,500 last year, but advance sales indicate they will increase that figure.
Tom Blattler, a public relations executive who lives in Murietta, attends games in most major league cities during the season but says he'd just as soon be at Rancho Cucamonga or Lake Elsinore.
"The atmosphere is so different, so homey, so oriented to families and kids that it's always a pleasure to see a game in those two stadiums," he said. "I've got season tickets at Lake Elsinore. I like the way they have activities between innings that entertain kids."
The two teams work together in bringing in attractions such as the Chicken. Cooperation is understandable because Hank Stickney owns the Quakes and his son Ken owns the Storm. And the fact that one is right down I-15 from the other gives it the potential for a spirited freeway rivalry.
The two teams will open a three-game series Friday at the Diamond.
The Quakes will return home Tuesday for a three-game set with the Bakersfield Blaze, a former Dodger affiliate and one of the league's two independent teams. Visalia is the other.