Banner Island Ballpark, Stockton, CALIFORNIA
State number: still 31
States to go: 19
Number of games: 1
First game: July 3, 2011 (Stockton Ports 5, San Jose Giants 3)
(Click on any image to see a larger version.)
Children have slowed down my ballpark quest just a tad, for financial and practical reasons–at least for a small amount of time. The elder is such a massive baseball fan that he’s currently on target to put me to shame in that department, and the younger…well, it’s too early to judge. As a result, I only added one new ballpark in 2011: Banner Island Ballpark in Stockton. Could have been more if the PCL and California League schedule-makers had been kinder during our trip down to Lake Tahoe, but alas, it wasn’t meant to be. Still, we got this one in. When we told 2 1/2 year-old Steven we would be watching the San Jose Giants play the Stockton Ports, he was excited to see Tim Lincecum. This meant some explanation of how the San Jose Giants are not the same as the San Francisco Giants. Too early to discuss major vs. minor leagues, promotion, demotion, release…but he does know that the San Jose Giants are different from their parent club. Not too bad for 28 months.
In any event, it was 98 degrees on this July 3rd Fireworks Night, and I held the elder’s hand while my wife wore the younger on her chest. Blessedly, our seats in the third row behind home plate were in the shade all night long (avoid the third base side at the ballpark, y’all, unless you want to feel like a fried egg). Unfortunately, there were people in front of us, and Steven could see little. I wound up holding the little dude in my lap for a while as my wife scored the game. When we switched, and I walked the elder around the ballpark, some at-bats went unscored…but that’s what happens with kids. A worthwhile sacrifice.
On those wanderings, I found a pretty nice stadium–just a little bit corporate, but serviceable and pleasant. It sits on the river, although there’s not much of a hint of it unless one walks beyond right field to check out the view. There, fans mostly watched the game, which was especially impressive on Fireworks Night. I deeply appreciated the pavilion, which enabled me, both with my leashed child and without him, to walk all the way around the park and enjoy the experience as best as I could from many vantage points.
In addition to the usual spectacle that comes with a 4th of July minor league game, there was a special occasion this evening, but not one I discovered until it was too late, and my scorebook was sullied. Allow me to explain.
I have a little game I started to play with my old scorebooks a couple of years ago. Namely, I try to get ballplayers to autograph the best past game they’ve played in my presence. This means that I make it a point to check out the rosters before ballgames and bring appropriate past scoresheets for them to sign. I try not to be a jerk about it…I never try to elbow my way past kids, for instance…but I have gotten some signatures in both my major league and minor league books.
So, before we departed, I jotted down players I’d seen play for both the San Jose Giants and Stockton Ports. I’d seen 6 Giants and 2 Ports play, almost all in Northwest League games over the past several years. I wrote down their names and uniform numbers. And there, signing quite a few autographs down the left field line, was a lone San Jose Giant. #17. I checked my scorebook. I’d seen #17, Jose Flores, play on 7/4/2008 for Salem-Keizer. So I got out the appropriate scorebook and got in line. I allowed two ten-year-olds to borrow my pen. I then said to #17:
“Hi. Could I get you to sign this game you played for Salem-Keizer a few years ago?”
I pointed at the spot beneath the #3 hitter, for that game, Jose Flores. The guy said “Wow!” and signed it.
He signed it “#9 Brandon Belt.”
OK. Turned out that Belt was on a rehab assignment for the SF Giants in San Jose and wasn’t listed on the web site when I checked. (This explained the incredible popularity of his autographs.) So I don’t blame the website.
I partially blame the Giants. Why not give Belt a number someone else doesn’t have? #17 wasn’t even his number for San Francisco. Was he just borrowing jerseys of similarly-sized players who are not playing that day?
And I give some of the blame to Mr. Belt himself. Yes, I know he’s busy and that he’s doing an unabashedly nice thing by signing so many autographs, and for that I am grateful, as are the many kids around me. But since I said “I saw you play in Salem-Keizer” and pointed at Flores’ name to signthere, couldn’t he have picked up on that? Most other players I’ve gotten to sign have (although, to be fair, I haven’t made a similar mistake in any other circumstances).
In any event, I have Brandon Belt’s autograph under Jose Flores’ name, and a rather long-winded (andlow-payoff) story to explain it.
If I recall correctly (as I write this some 9 months later), there was some sort of cool bar-like area in left field. I wanted to take a photo from within the bar, but wasn’t sure whether it was a 21-and-only area or not. But nobody was checking, so I walked in there with my toddler-on-a-leash, took a picture, and left. Please do not prosecute me for contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
And, for the record, I have never been a fan (not even remotely) of the red-white-and-blue special jerseys. Gaudy. Icky. Baseball is, in itself, patriotic enough. If one must go the patriotic route, go for the camouflage. Can’t go wrong there…that’s a good look.
Anyway, Stockton does especially well in the central is-there-any-question-where-you-are test. There were many nice touches. First, the prevalence of “Casey at the Bat” was lovely. Stockton, as Wikipedia will tell you, claims that the poem was based on the Stockton Ports, since Ernest Thayer wrote the poem while he was covering the Ports for the San Francisco Examiner. The truth of that claim aside (to be honest, I don’t care whether it’s true–it’s the emotional connection to baseball and poetry is what gets me), it was cool to see Casey in several points through the ballpark, including the entire poem written by children around a mosaic, and the name of the concession stand. In addition to Casey, there were ample retired jersey numbers and a plaque describing the historical significance of the site. I thoroughly enjoyed that.
It wasn’t just old Ports that were celebrated: recent Ports were as well, as noted by a gigantic banner celebrating former Port Dallas Braden’s then-recent perfect game. I especially liked that he was depicted in a Ports’ uniform and not as an Oakland Athletic. And if that’s not enough, well, you can’t go wrong with fried asparagus.
Seven bucks? Worth every penny. But then, I love both fried things and asparagus.
In any event, the minor league 4th of July road trip tradition continues, and shall continue with children who likely will curse us for it one day “Da-aaaad, why can’t we stay home and watch fireworks like regular people do???” And I continue to enjoy it, as it takes me to nice places and people like we found here. Again–we’ll have to stay within driving distance for a while, but we’ve done nine of these now, and I just can’t picture the holiday without it.
Regional feel: 8/10
What the ballpark lacks in regional feel via view (the arena next door doesn’t tell me where I am) it makes up for in local baseball history (all things Dallas Braden), in the poetry, and in the asparagus stand, plus the visible-if-you-walk-to-it river.
A little too slick, a little too sponsor-heavy.
Not too bad for low minors, but man, do I ever dislike those stars-and-stripes uniforms.
Team Mascot/Name: 2/5
Splash and me. As this picture is taken, I’m attempting to solve the obvious question: what the hell is this thing? So I asked Splash: “Are you the product of a romantic liaison between Elmo and the Phillie Phanatic?” Splash nodded. I said I wouldn’t tell, but I’m getting it out here. Clearly, Elmo is all grown up and on the prowl. Anyway, not a huge fan of this indeterminate, derivative dude or his name.
A lovely ballpark overall. It’s a shade corporate, and I’d like to see the river and the game at the same time, but there’s a lot more good than bad aesthetically.
Quite nice. Circumnavigation is easy, and one is treated to river views in the process. Plenty of baseball-themed stuff to do, and one can almost (almost) follow the game from all vantage points (this is the reason for the half-point deduction.
Don’t recall a problem here. They were more attentive than I could be with two kiddoes on my hands. Minor deduction because the glare on the scoreboard made it difficult to read.
Several nice people complimenting my children near the seats. Bad: One hoodlum pre-teen flipping me sarcasm as I wandered around the park taking pictures “Please, no flash photography.” Punk cost his ballpark an ENTIRE POINT! I’m sure this will cause him to re-think his ways. (Here he is, before he started giving me punk attitude…my knowledge that he was a snot has ruined what would otherwise be one of my favorite photos.)
A little too corporate for my tastes, but not a bad night on the whole
BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:
A Dusty Coleman triple and a Mitch LeVier home run give the Ports the lead in the second inning, but Dusty Coleman drives home the game-winner on a 6th-inning single.
Dan Straily pitches well enough for the win. Zack Wheeler strikes out 8 in 6 innings in the loss.
Michael Choice also homers for the Ports.
(Written July 2011. Modified April 2012.)