After an exhilarating weekend of college basketball action, the top 16 teams in the nation have been whittled down to the Final Four. Before long, the entire tournament will be but a memory, one more casualty of Father Time.
Fortunately, a new "Sweet 16" will soon spring into action: the teams of the Pacific Coast League. The league covers much more than the Pacific Coast, however, presenting top-level baseball fun in 14 states and three time zones. So forget about brackets and buzzer-beaters -- it's time to get acquainted with the teams of the Pacific Coast League, one division at a time.
American Northern Division
Iowa Cubs: In 2006, Iowa will be celebrating its 25th season as the Cubs. The club will be marking the occasion with nights celebrating the likes of Chicago favorite Bobby Dernier and Iowa single-season home run leader Joe Hicks. Additionally, Principal Park has been expanded by more than 1,000 seats, and will feature a new scoreboard and lighting system.
Memphis RedBirds: Memphis is a fun town, and the RedBirds are a fun team. AutoZone Park features massive "Party Decks" along each baseline, 48 club suites and a Picnic Pavilion -- not to mention nightly performances by the enchanting Memphis RedHots dance team. If that's not enought, world-famous Beale Street with all of its attractions is only a block away from the park.
Nashville Sounds: Proof that there does not need to be a separation of church and (home) plate, seven Purity Faith Nights highlight the Sounds' 2006 schedule. These special promotional nights feature religious music, fireworks and Biblical bobblehead dolls. Attending a Purity Faith Night might be a good way to atone for any sins committed as a result of the Sounds' "Thirsty Thursdays" beer specials.
Omaha Royals:Omaha's 2006 season will be highlighted by a significant milestone: in mid to late May, the Royals will welcome the 10 millionth fan to walk through the gates of beloved Rosenblatt Stadium. That lucky fan, a symbol of Omaha's enduring contribution to Minor League Baseball, will be treated like royalty.
American Southern Division
Albuquerque Isotopes: With a name inspired by an episode of The Simpsons, the Isotopes immediately rank as one of the coolest teams in the Minor Leagues. Visitors to beautiful Isotopes Park are always entertained by Orbit, the team's mascot. The bizarre bear-dog hybrid has recently returned to Earth after spending much of his life living among aliens.
New Orleans Zephyrs: After the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina, the Zephyrs return to action in 2006, determined to keep New Orleans on the Minor League map. One of the team's chief attractions is mascot Boudreaux D. Nutria and his wife, Clotile. The couple reproduces at a rapid rate, as they now have six children: Beauregard, Cherie, Claudette, Jean-Pierre, Noelle and Thibodaux. Perhaps one-time Milwaukee Brewer Billy Jo Robidoux is a long-lost relative.
Oklahoma RedHawks: Beautiful AT&T Bricktown Ballpark is a wiener aficionado's dream. The stadium's concession menu features the Fenway Frank, Cincinnati Coney, Dodger Dog, Milwaukee Braut and the Chicago Red Hot. In 2006, that menu will expand to include an "Oklahoma Dog," which will make its debut on Opening Day.
Round Rock Express: One could be forgiven for visiting Dell Diamond and forgetting to watch the ballgame. The stadium features a swimming pool and spa, party suites, a playground and picnic area, a basketball court and a rock-climbing wall. With all that going on, who needs baseball?
Pacific Northern Division
Colorado Springs Sky Sox: Security Services Field is at a higher elevation than any professional ballpark in the United States. With the Rocky Mountains as a backdrop, the Sky Sox play in a stunningly beautiful area...unless you're pitcher. Playing in such thin air means that balls fly out of the park at a fast and furious rate. In 2005, Mike Esposito's 5.49 ERA led the team.
Portland Beavers: When it comes to promotions, the Beavers are one of the most creative teams in all of Minor League Baseball. Highlights this season include a giveaway for a Padres Mr. Potato Head, a concert by the Blues Brothers and a Rodney McCray Bobblefence Night, celebrating his famous crash through PGE Park's outfield fence in 1991.
Salt Lake Bees: Offering a gorgeous view of the Wasatch Mountains, Franklin Covey Field is an idyllic place to take in a ballgame. Students will have extra motivation to attend games in 2006: the Bees' Student Pass is good for all 72 home games, and costs just $25!
Tacoma Rainiers: Cheney Stadium is a great place to visit. Rhubarb the Reindeer entertains fans at every game, and the promotional schedule is anchored by 13 Fireworks displays. Great Student Appreciation Day (May 13) will feature a visit from Spiderman himself.
Pacific North Division
Fresno Grizzlies: An air of mystery currently surrounds the Grizzlies. After eight years as the team's mascot, Wild Thing proposed to his girlfriend Wilda and subsequently stepped down from his position. A new mascot, handpicked by Wild Thing himself, will be revealed Opening Day.
Las Vegas 51s: Laid-back Cashman Field is a great alternative to the overwhelming glitz and glamour of the Vegas Strip. While taking in a ballgame, make sure to keep an eye out for extraterrestrials. The team is named in honor of nearby Area 51 -- a secret government facility that is alleged to house the remnants of a crashed alien space ship. The truth is out there.
Sacramento River Cats: The River Cats are among the best-drawing teams in all of Minor League Baseball, and Raley Field is a big reason why. New for 2006 is the James Hardie Party Deck, which sits atop the stadium and offers a gorgeous view of downtown Sacramento.
Tucson Sidewinders: Tucson Electric Park is the spring training home of both the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Chicago White Sox. As such, it's part of a larger complex featuring a total of 12 baseball diamonds in all. Once the big leaguers depart, the Sidewinders take center stage. In 2006, fans will be treated to 11 fireworks displays and $1 hot dogs on Sunday.