THE GOLDEN ERA OF BASEBALL SUPPOSEDLY OCCURRED FIFTY OR sixty years ago. Don’t try telling that to fans in Texas, where the minor league version of the sport is enjoying unprecedented popularity. Forget the Houston Astros and the Texas Rangers; meet the San Antonio Missions, the El Paso Diablos, the Midland RockHounds, and the brand-new Round Rock Express, of the Class AA Texas League; the Laredo Tecos, of the Class AAA Mexican League; and the Amarillo Dillas, the Rio Grande Valley WhiteWings, and the just-sired San Angelo Colts, of the Texas-Louisiana League — eight teams that are turning America’s pastime into a full-tilt party. You want dizzy bat races that pit kid against kid? You want raucous music? You want Jerry “the Beaver” Mathers signing autographs out by the right field pole? You want a total tab of about $25 for a family of four? And you want a reasonable approximation of good hitting, pitching, and fielding? You got it — and for good measure, every seat is close enough to the action that you can razz the opposition without raising your voice.
• What’s behind our love of the game? Blame history: The Texas League, Founded in 1888, is older than major league ball’s American League and more storied than most farm systems. “There are fanciful references in nineteenth-century literature to cowboys shooting fly balls out of the sky,” says league president Tom Kayser, who takes great pride in the term “Texas leaguer,” which describes a fly ball to the shallow part of the outfield that falls in for a hit. Or blame Jim Paul, who in the mid-seventies revived the El Paso franchise — and got Texas jazzed about the minor league phenomenon — by painting the grandstands a screaming shade of yellow, blaring sound effects over the P.A. system, and staging creative promotions like 25-cent hot dog night.
• Whatever the reason, the action