It's a familiar sight this time of year: a bright neon glow illuminating the sliding window while fidgety youngsters in dirty pants and colorful jerseys wait in line. It is a slice of Americana known as the local ice cream stand.
This is how hundreds of ball games throughout the region end, night in and night out. Ice cream just seems to go hand-in-hand with baseball, every bit as much as hot dogs and apple pie.
In fact, establishments like The Meadows Original Frozen Custard and Ritchey's Dairy Ice Cream Parlor report that baseball and softball teams are a "significant" part of their spring and summer business.
"It's so nice, and it's really cute, seeing these little guys in their uniforms running around," said Joe Meadows, a partner in the 63-year old family enterprise. "They're not worried about what team they were on, Pirates or Yankees, it doesn't matter, it's just fun."
While some coaches may reward their teams for winning scores using ice cream as incentive, others enjoy the post-game treats as a way to watch their players bond off the field. Like the cherry on top of a hot fudge sundae, ice cream seems to make a victory on the baseball diamond even sweeter. At the same time, the smooth, creamy frozen treat can magically help to erase errors and strikeouts, soothing the disappointment of defeat like an enchanted salve.
In Martinsburg, sales room supervisor Tracey Will says as many as half a dozen teams play each night within a couple of miles of Ritchey's Dairy, and make frequent visits to the ice cream parlor for cones or sundaes on the way home. The Meadows reports that the frozen custard stand averages 15 teams per day at the original Duncansville location. There are dozens of similar businesses throughout central Pennsylvania.
For many families, the post-game visit to the ice cream stand is a tradition passed down from generation to generation.
"Our dairy has been around for 73 years," Ritchey's Dairy GM Andrew Ritchey said. "There is no doubt that parents who came here as children are bringing their own sons and daughters for ice cream. We try to give back to the community by sponsoring baseball and softball teams."
Ritchey and Meadows both add that soccer and basketball teams also visit their establishments; still, there something special that links the game of baseball (or softball) to ice cream (or frozen custard.)
Maybe it's the time of year. As the weather warms up, ice cream is a cool and welcome treat. Or maybe it's the subtle team-building exercise. Who doesn't enjoy themselves while eating ice cream? Or maybe it's nothing more than the celebration of two timeless, simple pleasures: the national pastime and a universal indulgence.
"I think it's one of the few things you can do today with the whole family," Meadows said. "From babies to grandparents, on a night with beautiful weather, it's just an all-American thing to do."
Kellie Goodman Shaffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her column appears on Tuesdays.