The Greensboro Grasshoppers fell to the Delmarva Shorebirds by the score of 8-3 on Friday night, but that hardly dampened the fanfare and fun to be had at First National Bank Field for Fan Appreciation Night, hosted by UNCG.
A night of giveaways and celebration of both Spartan and Greensboro pride, it was the highlight of the weekend for many of the approximately 6600 in attendance, even if the ‘Hoppers were dominated from the first pitch.
After jumping out to a 3-0 lead in the second inning, the Shorebirds extended their lead to 5-0 with a two-run double in the top of the third inning. Greensboro’s Scott Connor responded with an RBI double of his own in the bottom of the third, and a sacrifice fly by Osiris Johnson brought the Grasshoppers within striking distance. 5-2, Delmarva.
In the top of the fifth, Delmarva’s Ryan Ripken—who is MLB legend Cal Ripken Jr’s son, and unmistakably so, as they share the same, instantly recognizable pale blue eyes—opened up the lead with an RBI single.
In the top of the sixth, Delmarva continued to pile it on the Grasshoppers, as the Shorebirds’ Will Robertson crushed a no-doubter solo home run to dead centerfield. The Shorebirds would tack on another run in the top of the sixth to make it 8-2.
Regardless, the game felt closer than the score indicated. The Grasshoppers had a fine chance to get on the board in the bottom of the seventh, loading the bases but coming away with no runs. This is the story of the season for the ‘Hoppers, who have repeatedly failed to capitalize on runners in scoring position all summer.
The Hoppers added one more run in the bottom of the ninth—a solo home run to left field—but it was far too little and far too late. Delmarva walked back to their dugout with a commanding 8-3 victory over the hometown favorites. Now in the midst of a five-game losing streak and sitting dead last in the South Atlantic League Northern Division standings, the Grasshoppers will not make the playoffs.
But Greensboro is a loyal fanbase, and that was on display Friday night. Decently filling up First National Bank Field—a beautiful and clean ballpark in its own right, featuring a magnificent view of Greensboro’s budding skyline, set on that night to the backdrop of an elephantine full moon—there were thousands on hand to cheer on the Grasshoppers, and plenty donning UNCG gear.
The UNCG festivities began long before the game did. Spartan Chariots bussed in students from campus, and UNCG’s cheer squad lined up outside the front gates to hand out free t-shirts. UNCG Baseball Head Coach Link Jarrett, nearly bursting with energy and excitement, was on hand to throw out the first pitch. It was, of course, a perfect strike; the catcher hardly even had to move his mitt.
The school also offered a myriad of giveaways all night, called Nine Innings of Giving, ranging from UNCG t-shirt packages to a meet ’n’ greet with UNCG Men’s Basketball Head Coach Wes Miller—an envious prize for the lucky winner.
Perhaps the highlight of the night came in the seventh inning stretch. Chancellor Gilliam, who was in attendance and revealed to the world that he enjoys blasting Kendrick Lamar in UNCG’s parking decks at the end of the day (a fantastic choice, by the way), led ‘Take Me Out to the Ballgame’ from atop Delmarva’s dugout, alongside the Spartones.
The whole dang stadium joined in. It was one of those moments which you sometimes find at a UNCG sporting event, one of those moments when everyone in attendance comes together for that one singular cause: Cheering on our school.
Except, it was different on Friday. No one was cheering on Francis Alonso three-pointers or Andrew Moritz home runs; they were cheering on a city, united in that moment by a sport as integrally American as the soil beneath our feet. One moment, one school and one city.
As usual for the conclusion of every Friday night game, groundskeepers shot off a grand showing of fireworks. There was no better way to end the night.
The Grasshoppers’ last home game of the season is tomorrow at 7 p.m.