Diamond in the Rough

Need a baseball fix? Hop over to Beaumont for Kerfeld's Frogs

And you don't get much lower than the Texas Louisiana League, comprised of eight teams from Mobile to Amarillo, each with a monthly salary cap of $20,000.

That averages out to about $900 per month per player.
According to Malone, about 1,400 ballplayers are released from major-league organizations and their affiliates each spring. Of those, he says, 1,000 should start getting on with the rest of their lives. "That leaves 400 who could still make it," he says, and the place they could make it is with teams such as the Frogs.

But Malone doesn't depend purely on enthusiasm -- either on the field or for the game -- to pull in patrons. "You do a little bit of anything to entertain the fans," he says. "It's family entertainment. My top ticket price is $6. You can't go to the movies for $6."

In addition to using giveaways and gimmicks and a brisk souvenir business spurred by the popular Bullfrogs logo, Malone also has tried to take advantage of the major-league strike to draw fans to the games. "I honor all Astros tickets," he says. "I've had quite a few people come down and give me their $17 Astros ticket for my reserve ticket. It's great stuff. We've had a tremendous amount of phone calls and faxes from Houston from people looking for schedules and information. The 90-mile drive really isn't a whole lot. The interest has been very good."

That interest is heightened by plays such as one that occurs in the bottom of the third inning when Gerald Davis, a 23-year-old who has drifted from team to team in the minor leagues since being drafted out of high school by the New York Yankees organization, beats out a ground ball to short for an infield single. He moves to second on a sacrifice bunt, then scores the first run of the game on a single to center. By scratching out such advances, the Bullfrogs go on to win the final game of this home stand by a score of 3-2.

It's an important victory. It means that the Frogs have a good shot at extending their season into mid- or late September. The Frogs close out their regular season with a three-game home stand against the Tyler Wildcatters from Thursday through Saturday this week. (As an added attraction, during the first game of the series a woman known as the Dynamite Lady will blow herself up inside a coffin.) Then comes post-season play, if the Frogs can continue to hang on to first place.

Staying in the stands through September would be just fine for refinery worker Ben Lewis and his wife, Pam. Each Frogs home game, the couple take their seats behind home plate. The reasons are simple. "It's live and it's here," says Lewis. He explains his dedication while country-and-western music blasts over the tinny public address system and the team takes infield practice. "That's the two special things about it. I just like to be at the ballpark. And they're still playing." He pauses, contemplates and shrugs. "It's baseball."

If you decide to make the trip east to join the Lewises, it is suggested that you wear shorts and a T-shirt and take plenty of insect repellent.

"Either that," Kerfeld advises, "or drink heavy.

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