When the Tucson Padres open their gates at 5:30 tonight - a half-hour earlier than any other game all year - they'll boast twice as many employees than usual, and more than double the number of Sheriff's Department help.
Rather than 30 points of sale around Kino Stadium, the Padres will have 63.
The kids zone on the outfield berm will be open, a Thursday first, and children will be able to run the bases after the game.
The postgame fireworks show will be the team's most expensive of the year, and a rock band will play immediately afterward in an attempt to slow the rush to the parking lot.
"It's the most important day of the year for us," Tucson GM Mike Feder said. "There's no close second."
It's so important that the Pacific Coast League gives every Triple-A team a home game on either July 3 or July 4.
Tonight is Tucson's likely last baseball Fourth, and, as usual, it's about Americana: hot dogs and fireworks, a salute to the military and that sappy Lee Greenwood song.
But it's also the team's most relevant evening, financially and otherwise.
Do you realize that 1 in 20 Tucson Padres tickets purchased all last year were for the July 3 game?
They drew 10,658 fans then, more than 5 percent of their PCL-worst 200,991 season total. And it's not just the Padres; in their final years here, the Sidewinders' Independence Day games drew almost 5 percent of their annual total, too.
The Padres have already sold about 6,000 tickets for tonight's 7:05 p.m. game against the Las Vegas 51s and expect at least another 3,000 in walk-up sales. (Tip: Use Country Club, not Ajo, to get to the parking lot. Trust me.)
There were times Wednesday when the ticket office was running one credit card purchase every minute.
"They're getting great baseball, and it's fireworks right in your face," Feder said. "It just kinda oozes red, white and blue.
"Fourth of July has nothing to do with the team's record. Ever. Exclamation point.
"Fourth of July is celebrating the independence of our country. Waving the flag."
Still, let's wave the flag for the team's record.
The Padres were in first place with a 46-40 mark entering Wednesday night's game at Sacramento. With a bullish bullpen and an upstart skipper, it's enough to make even the most ardent Arizona Wildcats partisan a Pat Murphy fan.
Consider for a moment: On July 3 last year, the Padres were 25 games under .500. Twenty-five!
"I'm not sure a lot of people know how good we are now," Feder said.
More will after tonight.
July 4 won't seem the same once Triple-A leaves Tucson for El Paso, likely after this season.
I'm already annoyed that, next year, fans of the El Paso Buckaroos or Chihuahuas (two actual finalists for the team's new name) will hum along to the patriotic songs while watching postgame fireworks.
Feder claims "there will be other Triple-A teams to come" to Tucson, though not in the next few years, based on the area becoming the nation's largest without a pro baseball team.
I want to believe him, but I'm cynical.
Until that day comes, I'll miss games like tonight's. It's the only date I've ever waited in Triple-A parking lot traffic.
All hail the Fourth - baseball's unofficial, official national holiday.
Here's how important July 3 or 4 has been to Tucson's Triple-A attendance since 2006:
Year Home date Date attendance Season total Percent of total
- 2012 July 3 10,658 200,991 5.3 percent
- 2011 July 4 10,678 242,136 4.4 percent
- 2008 July 3 10,545 245,121 4.3 percent
- 2007 July 4 11,751 270,853 4.3 percent
- 2006 July 4 12,935 271,698 4.8 percent
- 2005 July 3 10,522 287,116 3.7 percent
- 2004 July 4 12,885 285,454 4.5 percent
- What: Las Vegas at Tucson
- When: 7:05 p.m.
- Radio: 1290-AM