Tag Archives: arizona diamondbacks affiliates’ ballparks

Hillsboro Hops Ballpark/Ron Tonkin Field, Hillsboro, Oregon

Hillsboro Hops Ballpark/Ron Tonkin Field, Hillsboro, OREGON

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Number of states: still 31
States to go:  still 19

Number of games: 18
First game: June 17, 2013 (Hillsboro Hops 12, Eugene Emeralds 0)
Most recent game:  September 4, 2015 (Hillsboro Hops 2, Eugene Emeralds 0)

I went three years without baseball anywhere close to where I live.  Three.  Long.  Years.  When the AAA Portland Beavers bolted town in order to allow the charming, perfectly-serviceable PGE Park to be made into a soccer-only facility and

rechristened Jeld-Wen Field, the closest professional baseball to my Vancouver, Washington home was the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes, who play in lamentable, ugly surroundings and are an hour drive without traffic (which isn’t often).  But I knew the Portland market would not stay empty—it was the largest market in the US without professional baseball, and someone had to figure out a way to make a stadium to make some money out of that vacuum.

For a short while, it looked like that would be Vancouver, as the Yakima Bears Northwest League team looked for an upgrade from Yakima County Stadium.  A good plan for a gorgeous stadium within walking distance of my house came into being.  The Bears would pay a good chunk of the

money, but wanted taxpayers to foot some of the bill—and (in what I liked most) the county would own the stadium, with the minor league team leasing the ballpark for their 38 days a year.  I walked the site of the potential ballpark with my wife, and we anticipated being regulars there.  Alas, the never-tax-me-for-any-reason-whatever crowd won the day.  Hillsboro, Oregon, a suburb west of Portland, pounced, and as a result they became my “home” minor league team, about a half hour drive away (in good traffic).

The result is Hillsboro Hops Stadium, and I like most of what they’ve done with the place.  The ballpark is the center of a high school sports complex, right next door to the football

 stadium.  The designers did a fabulous job of integrating the colors and designs of the football stadium right into the baseball stadium.  The bleachers for the football stadium actually form a canopy above the pavilion down the left field line: a welcome feature in the event Oregon gets a little rain.  The concession stands for the football stadium double as concession stands for the baseball stadium.  It was a smart little maneuver, and it leads to a nice, integrated experience.  The field is surrounded by active softball fields–if a spectator goes up to the concourse and cranes a neck in nearly any direction, he or she can watch a coed slow-pitch game in progress.  Then, to get back to the car (quite a hike, by the way), one walks past several softball games into the night.  I like that.

Alas, there are negatives with any positives, and the artificial turf on the field are the negative.  Since the ballpark will be used by high

 schools during the 327 days a year the Hops are not around, they wanted a resilient surface, and the ground-up tires therefore made a lot of sense.  While I’d have made the same decision myself, what is gained in utility is lost in attractiveness.  With the exception of the  pitcher’s mound and the area around home plate, the infield “dirt” is simply the same rubber turf as the outfield, only painted reddish-tan.  It’s a bit off-putting, and I wish there were another way.

Opening night was a nice, cathartic experience for me.  I was pleased to see that the Hops understood the importance of the night to those of us who would care to show up for it.  They had several nice touches:  a display honoring the Portland Beavers, for instance (including lineup cards for their final game: a rare case where I saw a display for a game that I was actually present for).  Local kid baseball players had dug up home plate at

 PGE Park after the final game, and they returned with the same home plate at Hillsboro, actually running it around the bases to put it into the ground and be used in Hops Stadium.  The team hired Rich Burk, the very able radio announcer for the Beavers, for the same job with the Hops, and he donned a tux to do all the pregame duties.

Once the game got going, it appeared that the Hops could have used a little more rehearsal.  The scoreboard had a few problems:  for starters, they could have figured out how to do better than the

 generic “Hops” and “Guest” on the scoreboard.  Also, at least twice as the Hops crushed the Emeralds 12-0, the scoreboard operator put up an incorrect number of runs in a half inning.  The only way he/she could fix it was to reset the entire linescore and put in all the numbers yet again, even running through the outs.  It was rather funny to watch.  Also, the PA system was far too loud.  (To be fair, many of these were fixed by the time I attended the team’s third home game two nights later.)

But I still am glad this is my home park because there’s a lot right with it.  The game can be seen from nearly anywhere on the concourse.  The history of Portland baseball is very much on display and

valued.  There is an honoring of veterans from all branches of the service at every game (who cares if they called it “a Hillsboro Stadium tradition” at the very first game…if it hasn’t happened yet, it’s not a tradition, right?).  And, as if to reward all of us for our patience in waiting for a baseball team to return, the inaugural game featured a full double-rainbow past the left field foul pole and a fantastic sunset past first base.

It’s possible my perspectives on my home ballpark will change over the course of the chunk of games I’ll attend per year for the forseeable future, but my first impression is that the team mostly got it right.  They’re local, unashamed of being in the low level minors, and unashamed of being small.  That’s enough for me to overlook the negatives of the ballpark and look forward to quite a few games here over the years.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional Feel:  7/10

The celebration of Oregon baseball makes a big impact here–looking back at the Beavers and tying it all together with past teams.  Plus lucking into a rainbow on opening night spoke to me.

Charm: 2.5/10

I like the nestling next to the high school stadium, being surrounded by local softball leagues, and there’s plenty to like here architecturally.  But oh, oh, oh…that turf.

Spectacle:  4.5/5

Lots going on between innings, but no interference with the game.  Marvelous.  Even if, on the very first day the park opened, they mentioned a “Hillsboro Hops Stadium Tradition.”  I only wish they’d said “We started this tradition at the beginning of this sentence, and have done it ever since.”

Team Mascot/Name:  4/5

Barley the Hop is the mascot.  I like the idea of a kid high-fiving the main component in beer.  The name “Hops” may have been a little bit of a slap in the face to the team’s predecessors in Yakima, where they grow a lot more hops than near Hillsboro, but what the hell.

Aesthetics:  3.5/5

Would be 5 without the turf, but hey.

Pavilion area:  4/5

Quite nice.  Tough to watch the game from the outfield, however. (But possible to watch nearby softball games if you get bored with the Hops.)

Scoreability:  1/5

This may improve eventually, but the first two games I attended were really weak in this area.  The scoreboard operator would make really basic errors (like the number of outs in an inning), and I could see the umpire demonstratively displaying outs to counteract the incorrect scoreboard.  In fact, we in the stands started signalling outs to each other as if we were players on the field.  (“Two down, everybody!  Two down!  Play is at first!”)

Fans:  5/5

All that pent-up baseball love came out nicely.  I was glad to be a part of it.

Intangibles:  4/5

Pleased for this to be my home ballpark.

TOTAL:  35.5/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

The debut game was a blowout for the Hops.  Jordan Parr hit the first home run in ballpark history while young Jose Martinez led four pitchers to a three-hit shutout.

I “see” my first inside-the-park-home-run ever here in July of 2013.  I say “see” because I lost the ball in the sun.  When I heard no response around me, I assumed a foul ball, and was then confused to look up from my nachos and see the runner crossing home plate.  It turns out the the Hops’ left fielder, Yogey Perez-Ramos, also lost the ball in the sun. It landed about 50 feet behind him near the left-field foul pole.  By the time center fielder Brian Billigen got to it, Everett’s Jack Reinheimer was crossing home plate.  Not a lot of excitement in the ballpark: mostly confusion (I had to check the news accounts to figure out exactly how that happened and how I missed it).

Both the 2014 and 2015 Hops won the Northwest League, and I had the pleasure of watching the clincher of the South Division series over Boise in 2014. I liked how businesslike the team was about it–they weren’t done. An already-scheduled trip took me away for the Northwest League Championship series that same week, but it was still a pleasure to watch.

Written July 2013. Updated April 2016.

Ogren Park at Allegiance Field, Missoula, Montana

Ogren Park at Allegiance Field, Missoula, MONTANA

Number of states: 29
States to go:  21

First game:  July 2, 2009 (Missoula Osprey 14, Great Falls Voyagers 9)

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Looks great–sounds awful.

For our seventh-annual 4th of July Minor League Baseball Road Trip (and our first with spawn), Michelle and I headed out to Montana for my first Pioneer League game.  We were quite impressed with Missoula as a city–a nice university town surrounded by

gorgeous mountains.

Ogren Park at Allegiance Field is located almost perfectly within that gorgeous town–just off of downtown and in the shadow of the Rockies.  You can’t do better than that for location.  There’s a view of a little bit of downtown, but not much; mostly, the ballpark feels sunken into the ground.  This hardly matters, however, since the mountains are so beautiful.  Watching the last of the sun reflect off of the mountains between pitches is as good as it gets.  If you ever go to the ballpark, please sit on the third-base side.  Not only is it the shady side, but you can’t go wrong with that view.

The ballpark is pimped out a little more than I’d like.  For starters, I think the name is backwards…shouldn’t the field be at the park rather than vice versa?   Local car dealer Kathy Ogren bought the naming rights to the park (although apparently not the field)…but then named it after herself rather than after her business, Bitterroot Motors.  I suppose that name choice is better than Bitterroot Motors Park would have been (although not nearly as graceful, beautiful, and locally appropriate as Bitterroot Park).  And once inside, there are a few too many corporate reminders for my tastes.  I worry a little about a

ballpark viewed as a promotions transferrence device.  But to sit underneath those mountains, I can live with some of that.  (Who looks at advertisements when there’s baseball and a fantastic foothill view?)  Although one cannot see the mountain marked with the letter “M” (for the University of Montana), one could see the mountain marked with what was a mysterious “L”.  An usher informed me that said “L” is for Loyola High School.

As I poked around before the game, I found a lot that I liked.  For starters, the place is appropriately quirky.  The right-field line is really short–only 297 feet to the pole, so the team compensates with a particularly high Monster-like wall there. Unlike some

ballparks of recent vintage, this isn’t a forced attempt at character.  There are railroad tracks and a bike/walking path there that compel them to cram right field into very little space.  The idea that a railroad, including a gorgeous railway bridge one can see from the pavilion area by the right field foul pole, would be so prominent in a Montana ballpark helps this place.  I was also impressed that the locals who were biking and walking the path could stop and watch the game from the distance in center field…for free.  Alas, they would be denied the “bats and balls” offering in the concession stand…which, the concession worker told me with just a bit of a blush, are french fries (“bats”) and, as she directly put it, “buffalo balls.”  Um…no thanks.  But I’m glad they’re available.  Adds to the local color.

Speaking of local color, the name “Osprey” is locally appropriate–in spades.  Most impressively, an actual Osprey lives in a nest perched atop a giant wooden pole just past the wall in right-center field.  A telescope sits on the third-base side of the pavilion, trained full-time on the nest. By the telescope stands a wildlife expert who can answer all of your actual small-o osprey questions.  It’s hard to take a picture through a telescope, but I tried…how often does one get a opportunity to take a picture of osprey young in their nest?  The baseball club doesn’t just name itself after these birds, but they make them into what I think is as gorgeous a logo as you’ll ever see on a minor league hat–the outline of a flying bird holding a fish in its talons.

While the place was pimped

out to the gills, it did give me a sense that baseball was valued.  I appreciated the large tributes to former Osprey who had made the major leagues, both with the parent Diamondbacks and with other clubs.  I’ve never seen quite such a large display, and that’s something I always enjoy, particularly at the lowest level of the minors like this.  And on top of that, they had a promotion that I was quite looking forward to because of its baseball-relatedness.  If something highly unusual were to take place in a specific inning (a triple play, for instance, or the team hitting for the cycle, or nine pitches for three strikeouts), a fan would win $10,000.  I figured that, while unlikely, would be fun, so I entered my name. (Alas, my name was not selected.  And I do mean “alas,” for reasons that will become clear later.)

Happy we had made the trip, I bought one of the team’s gorgeous hats and prepared to enjoy a game in gorgeous, unquestionably-Montana surroundings, alternating my night focusing

on my wife, son, baseball, and foothills.

What could possibly go wrong?

Well, as it turned out, quite a bit.

The front office of the Missoula Osprey have a Rolls Royce of a ballpark.  It’s a shame that they believe that the purpose of a

Rolls Royce is to gun the engine, blast the bass, do some donuts and leave as much rubber as possible on the pavement.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that the way the Osprey presented their game left me feeling as disappointed as I’ve ever felt in a ballpark.

It all started in about the 6th inning.  The peanut inning.

The PA announcer didn’t even announce it–or if he did, he announced it so quickly that I didn’t catch it.  (Not quietly, mind you.  Quickly.)

Next thing I know, the PA man was shouting at us.  The ushers were shouting at us.  And the citizens of Missoula, Montana were shouting alongside them like trained seals.

Here’s what it sounded like:

“I SAY PEA!  YOU SAY NUTS!  PEA!” Nuts! “PEA!”  Nuts! “NOW I SAY NUTS AND YOU SAY PEA!  NUTS!” Pea! “NUTS!” Pea! NOW I SAY PEA, YOU SAY NUTS!  PEA!” Nuts!

“NOW JUST THE WOMEN! PEA!” Nuts!

“NOW JUST THE MEN!  PEA!” Nuts!

“NOW JUST THE KIDS!  PEA!” Nuts!

“OK!  NOW THE FIRST-BASE SIDE SAYS PEA, AND THE THIRD-BASE SIDE SAYS NUTS!  GO! ” Pea!  Nuts!

This is the point where I might say “You get the idea…” except that you absolutely have no idea the depths of hellishness this crap sank to.  Between every single pitch of the entire inning, this clown of a PA announcer shouted “PEA-PEA-PEA!!!” or some variety thereof.  Meanwhile, the ushers stood at the front of the rows and raised up their signs like elderly cheerleaders.  I felt like they were demeaned, to be honest.  I do not believe it is their job to lead cheers. I believe it is their job to help spectators.  I also do not believe that the public address announcer’s job is to shout out garbage through the game, but rather to provide information to enhance our enjoyment of the game and to take care of advertisers. Apparently the Osprey disagree.

Plus, when the dude shouts “PEA!!!”  it sounds like he is ordering us to urinate.  (Although I would imagine peeing nuts would be far

more painful than any kidneystone.)  Which led me to wonder…as readily as everybody was going along with this guy, would they have gone along with such an order!  If he’d have shouted out–“HEY!  FIRST BASE SIDE!  EVERYBODY TAKE A CRAP!  DEFECATE, EVERYONE!  SHIT ONTO THE SEATS!”…and had the ushers demonstrate…well, I do believe everybody would have followed orders.

Thankfully, the Osprey did not score in the inning.  I’m worried I’d have heard the PA guy pull a Meg Ryan from When Harry Met Sally while the ushers imitated his every sound.

And then–well, then it got worse.  By which I mean more bizarre.

Remember that promotion where someone could win $10K if something strange happened in the inning?  The 7th inning promotion would award a woman named Martha $10,000 if the Osprey scored exactly 7 runs in the inning.

Well, that was the inning that the Great Falls Voyagers, leading by a score of 8-1, suddenly lost the ability to pitch a baseball.

After a leadoff strikeout, the following transpired:  walk, single, single, error, HPB, walk, walk, walk, double.

With each Great Falls Voyagers screw-up, the music became more frequent, to the point where it was nearly between every pitch.  Any time the music subsided, the PA guy repeatedly ordered the brainwashed crowd around, saying hey, everybody shout, everybody up on your feet, everybody go crazy.  Saying hey, the Osprey need you to help them out.  Saying let’s all put our hands together.

PA guy, I have an honest question for you.  Do you believe that the citizens of Missoula are comically stupid?  Or is it tragically stupid?

I do believe that, particularly in a university town, that people are smart enough to know that a late seven-run rally to tie the score is exciting.  Additionally, the people know that Martha has $10,000 on the line.  That’s also exciting and fun to watch.

So, given that only someone with absolutely no sense would be bored by the developments on the field, why do you feel the need to blast your voice all over the ballpark between nearly every damned pitch???  Especially in an inning that lasted about a million pitches?

In the midst of all of this, my son, who normally sleeps through baseball games–even dramatic, ninth-inning rallies–could stand it no longer.  I took him up to the pavilion (where it was slightly quieter, albeit still too loud).  I watched the brunt of this lamentable inning from there.

Before long, seven runs were in.  The Osprey had tied the score 8-8. Men were on second and third.  There was one out.

“Now remember,” the PA guy said.  “The Osprey have to score EXACTLY 7 runs for Martha to win her $10,000.”

And at that moment, a hilarious thing happened.  The Osprey let their priorities show.

The PA guy shut up.  The music stopped.  After a million sound clips in the inning, and with the lead runs on second and third, the Osprey suddenly stopped audible expressions of support for the home team.  Oh, there may have been the occasional rhythmic-clapping clip.  But the PA guy stopped talking, and the loudest of the music stopped.

To the team, the promotion mattered more than winning the game.

To confirm this, I sidled up to an usher and asked the obvious.  “So, at this point, are we rooting for Great Falls?”

He looked at me and said “Don’t tell anyone, but right now, yes, we are.”  I promised not to tell anyone.  (As this post shows, I lied.)

The Osprey’s next two batters were retired before the 8th run could score, so Martha won her $10,000.  I’m glad she did, but the whole experience would have been far more exciting if they’d simply announced it at the start of the inning and treated the rest of the inning like normal (by which I mean normal for ballparks that value baseball, rather than normal for the loudmouthed pots-and-pans-banging folks for the Osprey).

Even thereafter, the PA guy wouldn’t shut up.  When the Osprey took the lead, he started cracking jokes between pitches.  “Hey fans…are  you enjoying your night at Ogren Park at Allegiance Field now?”  Laughter from the peanut gallery.  One pitch later:  “and you thought I had two heads when I said they could pull it off!”  Meanwhile, of course, there’s a guy in the batter’s box, but that’s apparently of little or no interest to Osprey game management.

And that’s where my fun night at the ballpark went.  It was destroyed by the larynx of an egomaniac who believes that he is the most important person at the ballpark.  That last comment of his proves it:  it shows that he believes the PA announcer was central in all of the spectator’s minds.  Not the massive comeback, the beautiful setting, the woman who won the big money, or even the abysmal

Rookie League play.  He believed that we all were thinking about him.

And he was right.  We were thinking of him because he was forcing us to.

So, to sum up, my hopes for an evening of baseball in a fine, quirky, locally-flavored ballpark were ruined by a front office and a public address announcer who put baseball dead last on its list of priorities.  The hair on the back of my neck stood up.  I was so worked up and frazzled that I vowed to tear out the PA guy’s larynx if I ever encountered him.  But I’ve calmed down since then.  Now, instead, I will simply avoid Ogren Park at Allegiance Field until the Osprey are run by someone else–someone who values baseball.   To put it simply, they took what might be the most physically beautiful setting for a park I’ve ever seen and managed to make me not enjoy the night.

Please–everyone who runs a team–learn from this.  Less is more.  Baseball is enough.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel:  10/10
The ballpark is quite literally as good as it gets in this regard.  Local landmarks visible on the mountains, respect for past Missoula minor leaguers, and bull testicles for sale.  That’s fantastic.

Charm:  1.5/5
Physically?  Sure.  But beyond that, this ballpark has all the charm of a screaming chainsaw.

Spectacle:  0/5
Hey Osprey:  Shut.  The Hell.  Up.

Team Mascot/Name:  4/5

Ollie Osprey and me.  Unique, locally appropriate, and a logo that’s a gorgeous as any I’ve seen.

Aesthetics: 5/5
The ballpark itself is quite nice–not perfect–but oh, those surroundings.  I just can’t imagine anything much better.

Pavilion:  3.5/5
Nice respect for the past.  Lots of room to walk, and always within view of the game.

Scoreability:  1/5
Did a lot wrong here.  They completely ignored at least one pinch-hitter, and I had to get information after the game from the internet…which the team posted improperly for a while.

Fans:  2/5
I appreciate the number of them, but I think they are complicit in the Osprey’s sins–serving as accomplices.

Intangibles:  1/5
I’ll admit I want to go back–but only once someone else is running the show.

TOTAL: 28/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

These kids need a bit of work, especially Great Falls’ relief pitching.  Missoula, once down 8-1, scores 7 runs in the 7th and 6 more in the 8th to win an endless game.

Nobody had more than two hits, but Missoula was the beneficiary of a dozen walks.  Paul Goldschmidt and Kevin Broxton walked thrice each.

Ramon Castillo homered for the Osprey.  Nick Ciolli homered for the Voyagers.

(Written September 2009.)

Smokies Park, Kodak, Tennessee

Smokies Park, Kodak, TENNESSEE

Number of states:  18
States to go:  32

Number of games:  1
First game:  July 27, 2006 (Tennessee Smokies 6, Carolina Mudcats 5)

(Click on any image to see a larger version.)

“Hi, Paul,” the friendly email, subject line “Continuing Your Quest,” began.  “I was searching the internet for promotions ideas and I came across your website…I see that you have not been to Tennessee yet.  I am not saying

that you will have a better experience than at any other minor league game, but I can assure you that you will enjoy yourself…I look forward to hearing from you and hope you will consider the Smokies for your Tennessee trip.”

With that email from the Smokies’ Dan Blue, I was hooked.  The idea that a guy in the front office of a minor league club

would take the time to actually invite me to a game…well, that flattered me.  Since Tennessee was on the list for that summer anyway, I told him sure.  He then tried to talk me into a VIP package.  It was a little spendy, but it included killer seats, a free hat, and a chance to throw out the first pitch.  That sounded pretty good, but since there would be four of us traveling, I wanted all four of us to have something for that kind of money; not just one of us throwing out the pitch and one of us getting a hat.  He threw in an autographed baseball and a chance to announce a batter over the PA.  SOLD!  We divided out the tasks:  Rob would throw out the first pitch, Yolonda would get the hat, Michelle would get the ball, and I would get to go to the press box and announce a batter.  It was official:  I was a VIP.  Seriously.  Look–I really was:

With that, the fun began.  Rob had to get his arm in gear for the first pitch.  We snuck past a “no admittance” sign

back by one of the foul poles and got Rob’s arm into shape.  Nobody stopped us…indeed, I’m not sure anybody noticed us.  We all threw a baseball around, and Rob warmed up.

Next, Rob made it to the field.  He was one of about eight “first” pitches.  Included in that group was the Shoney’s bear and a boy celebrating his tenth birthday.  Here’s where we learn Rob is a fairly sick man.  The birthday boy didn’t know why he was on the field–I guess his parents wanted

it to be a surprise.  So Rob told him:  “I think you’re going to sing.  Do you know the words?  ‘Oh say can you see…'”  The kid would have nothing of it.  “I don’t know that!”  Rob said “Well, how about this one?  ‘Take me out to the balllllgaaame…'”  He said he could sing that.  But he threw out a pitch instead.  As did Rob…a strike into the glove of left-handed pitcher Bill White, who signed the ball (which Rob subsequently annotated).


With that, we got going with the game.

What a gorgeous ballpark Smokies Park is.  The outfield is surrounded by hills.  They’re not quite as gorgeous as the nearby Great Smokies, but they provide a lovely backdrop.  In fact, just past the right-field wall, there’s what

might be the best picnic-table-for-baseball-fans in the US.  It was, at least at one time, the KOA Kampground for East Knoxville.  I currently cannot find a KOA listing for East Knoxville, but the picnic table remains.  There’s a good view of the field from all seats and just about all of the concourse.  One can circumnavigate the stadium on a walkway, or sit and chill on a grassy hill beyond the outfield wall.  On a night warmer than Waffle House syrup, it’s nice to see the hills fade into darkness behind quality double-A baseball.

The Smokies did well balancing the wacky promotions with the baseball.  There were some promotions between innings–a three-legged race which caused a pair of siblings to become exceedingly angry with each other, for starters–but for the most part, they let the baseball take center stage.  Dan came by to hang out with us for a couple of innings, chatting about his past experiences in baseball with me and my wife–a veteran of the minor league baseball milieu.  He addressed the unique challenges of promoting the Smokies; since they play so close to the most-visited national park in the USA (in fact, there’s a National Park office in the stadium building), about 25% of their visitors are

tourists.  It certainly held true to my experience–I chatted with a mother from Florida for a good part of the game.

Next came my big moment.  In the fifth inning, I headed up to the box with Dan and awaited my big moment announcing a batter.

This was no consolation prize to Rob’s throwing out of the first pitch.  I wanted to do this.  Big time.  I serve as the PA announcer for the football team at the high school where I work.  The key to it, as I see it, is to avoid cheerleading for the home team, and to keep the voice under control.  In fact, during high school games, when I give credit to the chain crew, spotters, and scoreboard operator, I finish by saying:  “And I

‘m Bob Sheppard.”  So to avoid the sins of some other PA guys I’ve heard, I knew what I would do.  Take it easy.  Take it slow.  Give the number, position, and name.  Savor the syllables.  But at Smokies Park, I actually felt a little bit guilty taking a batter away from George Yardley, the PA announcer.  He may well be the best PA guy I’ve ever heard at a minor league ballpark…a deep, deep voice with just enough of a gorgeous pecan-pie Southern accent to remind me where I was. George: you’re the man.

I didn’t expect to enjoy being in the press box as much as I did.  The guys–mostly good ol’ Tennessee boys–made me feel exceedingly welcome.  They clearly loved doing what they did for a living.  They have the best view of the game of anyone.  The scoreboard operator was even wearing a glove.  They were enjoying a conversation with me about my ballpark travels as Mark Reynolds came to the plate…

and that conversation was soon

interrupted by their whoops.  Reynolds hit a massive home run off of the scoreboard.  It was awesome to be there for what turned out to be the biggest play of the game.  In the midst of the cheering, George grabbed a stuffed bear, squeezed it so that it made a heartbeat sound, and held the bear to the microphone.  That sound reverberated throughout the ballpark.

Unfortunately, I had to follow that up, so it’s possible nobody heard my big moment.  George said:  “And now, to announce the next batter, here is V.I.P. Paul Hamann.”

All I wanted was a batter with a kick-butt name; ideally a Hispanic one (I, like Sheppard, love pronouncing those Latino players’ names).  And I got it.  Complete with pregnant pauses, and without a hint of homerism:

“Now batting…the first baseman…number thirty-one…Augustin…Murillo.”

Sheppardesque?  Yardleyish? Maybe not.  But damn fun.  (For the record, Murillo popped to the catcher.)

Ever wonder how they figure

out how far a home run is hit?  I saw the incredibly scientific process take place right in front of my eyes.  Somebody asked:  “Where did that ball hit?”  They figured out that it hit an advertisement on the base of the scoreboard.  After some argument as to whether it reached there on the fly or on the bounce, the best PA guy in the minor leagues got out a list of distances.  He ran his finger down to the distance to the base of the scoreboard, added a few feet, and queried:  “Does 441 feet sound okay?”  They agreed, and he informed the crowd in his million-dollar voice:  “That last home run by Mark Reynolds traveled 441 feet!”  Not exactly a scientific process, but they did the best they could with the tools they had.

I don’t have anything bad to say about Smokies Park, and that is reflected in its very high score.  Does the score have anything to do with the fact that Dan bumped up his VIP package to include getting me onto the microphone?  Absolutely!  This isn’t Congress.  This isn’t Consumer Reports. Bribery is completely acceptable here.  (Minor league salespeople everywhere:  take note!).

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel:  7/10
Could do a little better here:  perhaps it’s hard to feel local-Tennessee when one is surrounded by so many tourists.  But the surrounding hills help this score.

Charm:  5/5
Lovely architecture and nice surroundings.

Spectacle:  5/5
My VIP experience was filled with baseball-centric spectacle.

Team mascot/name:  4/5

Three mascots.  The top one is from Shoney’s:  he threw out a first pitch after Rob.  In the middle is a shark from Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies.  At the bottom is Slugger with the annoying promotions guy.  The team name is great, and I like the multiple mascots, who were fun while never interfering with the game.  But I’m not a big fan of the generic name “Slugger” (or of his sister’s name, “Diamond,” not pictured).

Aesthetics:  4.5/5
Quite lovely.

Pavilion area:  4/5

Scoreability:  4/5

Fans:  5/5

Intangibles:  5/5
Just tremendous.  A great VIP night with fellow baseball-lovers.  One of the best nights I’ve ever had at a ballpark.

TOTAL:  43.5/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

Mark Reynolds is the difference-maker, hitting a three-run homer as far as you’ll ever see a ball hit.

Augustin Murillo went 2-for-4 with two runs.

Brett Carroll his a 2-run home run for the Mudcats to make it closer.

Ria Cortesio serves as the first-base umpire, making this the first baseball game with a female umpire I’ve ever attended–at any level.

(Written August 2006.)

Stanley Coveleski Stadium, South Bend, Indiana

Stanley Coveleski Regional Stadium, South Bend, INDIANA

Number of states: 6
States to go:  44
Number of games: 1
First game: July 17, 2004 (Wisconsin Timber Rattlers 4, South Bend Silver Hawks 2)

(Click on any image to see a larger version.)

Stanley Coveleski Regional Stadium (or, as the locals call it, “the Cove”) is in a decent location as far as the “is there any doubt where you are” test.  It’s hard up against a train station on one side–charming architecture that is visible above the right field stands.  On the other side, there is the spire of what I assume to be a Catholic church in view.  These two items in concert say South Bend to me, but on the inside, there’s little clue that I’m in Indiana.

College singing buddies Rob (of Three Rivers Stadium and Hooters fame), Kristin and I were fortunate to get seats in the front row behind the home dugout.  I looked forward to watching the game, but something transpired which had never

occurred to me…when one is in the front row behind the dugout, one’s view is often obstructed by dancing mascots.  Additionally, kids who wish to see the mascot frequently cascade down to the front row and make annoying child noises.  I wonder why this problem had never occurred to me?  Nevertheless, Swoop, the Silver Hawks’ mascot, is quite easily did the best job out of all mascots I have ever encountered.  He was energetic, wacky, and fun throughout.  For example, he and the alternate mascot (a child dressed in a giant mustachioed head) sat on the dugout and played spin the bottle with a couple of young women in the front row.  Hilarity ensued!  The mascot actually made me laugh a couple of times–a rarity.  Nice going, Swoop.  Now sit down and get out of my way.

Beyond the mascot, there were a whole lot of negatives about the Cove.  For starters, let’s talk about the mini-bat.  I buy a mini-bat at every minor league park I see a game at…they hang by a map of the US in my den.  The quality of mini-bats in South Bend were unacceptably inferior.  At first, I thought the bat was hollow, but I no longer think so–now, I believe it’s just made of a really chintzy light wood.  Oh well–so it’s light, whatever.  I set it on the ground and watched the game.  When I picked up the bat at the end of the game, the paint had worn off of every part of the bat that had made contact with the ground.  How bogus is this?  So I headed off to the souvenir shop to trade it in, and had the following conversation:

ME:  Can I trade this bat in for another?  The paint has worn off the side.
CONCESSION WOMAN:  Oh, they’re all like that.
ME:  I know.  Can I have another?
CW:  No.  You don’t understand.  They’re all like that.
ME:  I know…but this time I won’t do something awful with it like put it down.
CW:  (gives me a very annoyed, angry look, then trades in the bat)

Arrrggh!  I did wrap the bat carefully in a sweater, packed it up…and it’s made it back home without any damage.  The fact that this bat was sold to me for an above average cost (usually I pay $4 or $5 for a bat…this was $5.25) leads me to think that they were all about squeezing off profits.  This led me to realize that my hot dog was cold and my soda felt a bit watered-down…in combination, not a great feeling for the ballpark.

Worse, I didn’t have any idea what was happening due to an inferior program and unacceptably incomplete PA work.  It was exceedingly difficult to score a game at Stanley Coveleski Regional Stadium.  Sure, the lineups were accessible in the pavilion, but what about during the game?  The PA announcer failed to announce three of the four relief pitchers that entered the game–he only announced the pitchers who entered mid-inning.  This means the guy either didn’t notice that the pitcher was new (in spite of the umpire’s clear “new pitcher” signal) or didn’t think that we cared.  We do care, PA guy.  This left me in the position of figuring out the pitchers’ names on my own from the players’ numbers and my program.  Or maybe not–much to my dismay, I found there was no opposing roster in the program, and I couldn’t seem to find a scorecard to buy.  So I had to get the names of two Wisconsin relievers on the Timber Rattlers’ website later that night.

Even worse was a failure to announce the South Bend reliever who entered to pitch the ninth inning.  After fruitlessly waiting for the PA guy to say his name, I figured I’d check to see who #33 was in the program.  Incredibly, the players were listed alphabetically and without numbers!  What was I supposed to do, guess at his height and weight?

This led to a wonderful moment–an explication of one of the reasons I like Rob so much.  He’s so terribly pleasant and friendly, yet sorta crazy.  As the pitcher is running off the field at the end of that inning, Rob shouts at the pitcher repeatedly:  “What’s your name?  Hey, 33, what’s your name?  What’s your name??”  #33 ignored the lunatic in the front row–I believe wisely.  But Rob wasn’t done.

The first base coach for the Silver Hawks, #17, was headed out for the bottom of the ninth.  Rob called out to him.  “COACH!  Hey, COACH!!!”  #17 turned around.  Rob said “Your pitcher.  #33.  What’s his name?”  The baffled coach asked Rob to repeat himself a couple of times, and Rob did. 

Then, the coach gave us the information we wanted, although it was hard to hear–but by cross-referencing our alphabetical program, we eventually were able to figure out what he was saying:  “Cremidan.  Alex Cremidan.”  Thus it came to be that Alex Cremidan  was given credit for his perfect ninth inning, including a strikeout.  Now, coaching a minor league team is likely a challenging job in and of itself, so to willingly add the PA announcers’ duties to your own is a very selfless action.  As a result, I’m very impressed with this coach, and would like to thank him by name in this public venue…but I can’t, because the Silver Hawks don’t have coaches listed on their website or by number in their program.  Oh well.  Thanks, #17.

One more complaint–the crowd, while mostly kind, did have one moment of ugliness.  After flying to left field in the bottom of the seventh inning, third baseman Augie Murillo (if memory serves, this was the guy) was nearly drilled by a tennis ball thrown from the crowd as he returned to the dugout.  They had sold tennis balls to be thrown into hula hoops on the field for prizes after the game, but someone decided to take a shot at a player instead.  I was watching Augie head back to the dugout when the ball zinged by.  He immediately looked up, and

with a few teammates, had ushers head towards the hooligan who threw it (although, given that Murillo’s head was down, I’m not sure how he could have known).  Much to my surprise, rather than a nearby drunken guy, ushers ejected a woman who was at least 25 yards away.  Quite an arm.  “Was that her?”  I asked Augie.  He nodded.  I love getting into conversations with these guys.

There’s a lot to like about this ballpark–its location, the cool multiple mascots, the grassy berm in the outfield spectators can suntan on, the dramatic Midwestern thunder cells in the distance reflecting a pink sunset.  But I got an overall negative vibe from the place because of poor service from top to bottom, from the people selling the mini-bats all the way to the guy in the PA booth.  When I add it all together, it’ll wind up near the bottom of the list, although with a new set of workers, I could see me returning someday and enjoying it far more.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel: 7 /10
Nice placement between a church and a railyard, but little inside the ballpark that says one is in Northern Indiana or Michiana (the horrible term locals use for the area).

Charm:  3.5/5
On and off.  Liked the cars for car night, liked the outfield berm.

Spectacle: 4.5/5
Plenty good for the low minors.

Team mascot/name:  4/5


Swoop and I are in the left picture here, with the mysterious mustachioed kid-mascot to the right.  Swoop is a fine name, and I like the multiple mascots, although Silver Hawks isn’t, to my knowledge anyway, local. (Update April 2008:  The Silver Hawks, two of their fans have informed me, are named after the Studebaker Silver Hawk that was once manufactured near the stadium.  Nice historical touch there.)

Aesthetics: 3.5 /5
Not too much in the way of beauty here, but a gorgeous thunderstorm in the distance helped.

Pavilion area: 3 /5
Just fine.  A little dark and dreary, but a nice set of plaques commemorating South Bend baseball history, including one to Mr. Coveleski himself and a couple commemorating the stars of South Bend’s AAGPBA entry, the Belles.

Scoreability: 0/5
Horrible.  Useless PA guy and useless program.

Fans:  2.5/5


While most were fine, I can’t overlook the violent lout who threw a ball at a player.

Intangibles:  0/5
On the whole, I just wasn’t impressed–I simply felt like profit was valued over service.  Worse yet, they misspelled “Wisconsin” on the standings board!  (They had an “o” where the second “i” is.)

TOTAL:  28/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

Wisconsin pitcher Nibaldo Acosta was the star of the day, scattering 9 hits over 8 innings, giving up only 1 run.

Wladimir Balentien homered.

(Written August 2004.  Revised July 2009.)