Tag Archives: ballparks no longer in use

C.O. Brown Stadium, Battle Creek, Michigan

C.O. Brown Stadium, Battle Creek, MICHIGAN

Number of states: 7
States to go:  43
Number of games:  1
First and last game:  July 20, 2004 (Battle Creek Yankees 3, West Michigan Whitecaps 2, 10 innings)

C.O. Brown Stadium is no longer in use for the affiliated minors as of the 2007 season.

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

Singing buddy Kristin and I found our way to Cereal City after experiencing the annoying shortcomings of South Bend and the always fantastic Wrigley Field.  Since I had no experience with Battle Creek other than driving through it on I-94 a few times (sometimes it smells like Corn Flakes, other times like Froot Loops), I had no real expectations for the evening.  What I got was quite a memorable ballgame, an extremely quirky ballpark, and a sense that I was a part of the dugout for the West Michigan Whitecaps.

The park’s location is fairly typical for single-A:  it’s a part of a recreational complex, just the largest of about a half dozen fields on the site.  The cool part about this is that, at least on the night I went, there were other

games to be seen on site.  If Kristin and I had arrived earlier, we could have sat in on either of two other baseball games taking place (it may have been American Legion or AAU ball).  It was here that I secured my only foul ball of the whole trip, but alas, it was not at the Yankees/Whitecaps game…it was one launched into the parking lot from one of the other games.  I retrieved it and dutifully tossed it back.

I can’t for the life of me figure out how C.O. Brown Stadium came to be shaped exactly as it is.  The largest block of seating is behind home plate, but there’s an almost-as-big block which hooks around the left-field foul pole.  My best guess (indeed, my only guess) is that the older-looking seating area by the foul pole was, at one time, the only block of seats in the ballpark, and that home plate used to be over there.  My theory then has the larger block built later on, and home plate moving but all the seating remaining.  A friendly usher was unable to help me solve this conundrum, and I still can’t figure out why the ballpark looks that way.  Quirky?  Yes.  Charming?  That’s in the eye of the beholder.

Another quirky feature of the ballpark adds loads to its charm, however.  Just past each dugout is a box of seats that juts out four or five rows

beyond the dugout and towards the field.  Kristin and I had seats on the inside edge of that section, second row.  That means that, by looking over our right shoulders, we were able to look directly into the visitors’ dugout.  Any sense of privacy those players hoped to have was shot!  I looked as players lifted barbells, chatted, high-fived, and watched the game.  It made it very easy to root for West Michigan on that day.

Besides, just out of principle, I can’t root for any team nicknamed the “Yankees.”  I’m annoyed that the team has this name.  Battle Creek’s name was just changed in 2003, from the locally appropriate (and interesting) “Battle Cats.”  Does George Steinbrenner think that everyone really wants to be like him?  Worse yet, after the Yankee victory, the loudspeakers played “New York, New York.”  Gimme a break!  We’re not in New York, even if it’s what the players are striving for.  You know the line “If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere?”  Well, the players have to make it in Battle Creek first.  Lay off that song, or at least relegate it to pregame somewhere.

As I meandered through the ballpark before the game, I saw a scoresheet on a table behind home plate on 

the main walkway.  Would the Yankees really put their official scorer out there with the people?  I was astonished.  Later, I found out that this was not at all true–but instead was part of what I think is a fantastic promotion that balances my desire for promotions at the low-minor level without the concern that those promotions will interfere with the baseball.  Spectators were given Bingo cards upon entry to the stadium with various possible outcomes on them, such as “Matt Carson walks” or “Nick Walsh doubles.”  This means that fans must keep track of the game to fill out their bingo cards.  The scorebook behind home plate was not the official scorekeeper, but was the Yankees’ worker keeping score–the guy the winner takes the bingo card to as soon as he/she has a bingo.  I had never seen this before, and was quite impressed with the idea.

At the end of pregame warmups, Whitecap Juan Francia got on my good side by

delivering a baseball to a youngster next to me.  What a stud–I hope he rises through the organization.  He went 1-for-4 with a walk and a stolen base, as well as some flashy defensive play.  But I’ll always remember him first for being a nice guy.

It was church night in Battle Creek, so I had to be on my best behavior.  According to the Yankees, 361 of the 1,574 in attendance were a part of ten or twenty church groups that were in attendance.  A chorister from one of the churches sang the National Anthem and bungled it badly–he started in a key so breathtakingly high that I turned to fellow singer Kristin and whispered “I’ll hate to hear ‘the rockets’ red glare.'”  Sure enough, when he got there, he had to drop down an octave.  Later, he sort of made up a melody for “land of the free” to dodge that high note as well.  Singers–if you are to sing the National Anthem a cappella, I implore you to do the following:  for a couple of minutes before you begin, sing “Oh say can you see” and “And the rockets’ red glare” back to back repeatedly.  “Say” and “red glare” are the lowest and highest notes you’ll have to sing, unless you choose to go up the fourth on “land of the free” later on.  This will prepare you for the anthem and avoid the situation this man found himself in.  It always worked for me.

I don’t know if this was planned, but after the sixth inning, they gave the anthem singer another shot at the mike, this time to sing “How Great Thou Art.”  I guess this was to celebrate church night.  This led to a bizarre situation on the field and in both dugouts.  How does one respond

to the singing of a religious hymn during a game?  I admit, when the guy started singing, I stood and removed my cap…but as soon as I realized he was singing “How Great Thou Art” rather than “God Bless America” or another patriotic song, it occurred to me that it might not be appropriate to have my hat over my heart and standing at attention to the flag.  This is not the national anthem.  I passionately love my God and my country, but I passionately love them separately.  Mixing them by observing the flag while singing a religious hymn felt wrong to me.  However, I’d want to be respectful by standing in silence, just as I would stand in silence for a sacred song for any religion.  So I was at a bit of a loss for what to do, and figured it would be worse for the players.  Do the players look at the flag, stand reverently, or just go about their business?  A quick look over my shoulder, however, revealed that West Michigan manager Matt Walbeck (who, until and including the previous season, had been a major league player) had his hat over his heart, and had beckoned his team to join him on the top of the dugout steps, which they did:

Seconds later, however, I think Walbeck realized that this wasn’t “America the Beautiful,” because by the time the singer got to “My savior God to thee,” Walbeck had run out of the dugout to his third-base coaching position, where he prepared for the inning.  The Whitecaps’ players, at least a couple of whom must be Jewish or Muslim or agnostic or atheist, all of whom had until seconds earlier had been standing in reverent silence, had headed to the bat racks and benches, perhaps wondering what the heck had happened.  And Wilton Reynolds, the designated hitter, had clearly realized the bizarreness of the situation, because he actually was doubled over in laughter.  I made eye contact with him–I thought the whole thing was funny too.  (Looking at the picture above, it looks like Vince Blue, #31, also senses something is awry.)

On the whole, this was a nice way to spend a muggy Michigan night–surrounded by nice people enjoying a ballgame at an old park.  This also turned out to be one of the best minor league ballgames I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching.  I’ll tell you about that under “Baseball stuff” below.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel:  6.5/10
Reasonable, with big Midwestern trees beyond the outfield wall and massive Midwestern clouds, but nothing really to denote Michigan or Battle Creek.  I couldn’t even smell the Froot Loops until I was on my way out of town.

Charm:  4.5/5
Sure.  Quirkiness and fans so close to the action that kids talked to the bullpen catcher as he warmed up pitchers.

Spectacle: 5/5
Excellent here.  Understated and persistent–frequent between-innings action and the Bingo game tied right in with the baseball.

Team mascot/name:  2/5


The name change to Yankees was tragic, as the old “Battle Cats” paraphernalia on sale for half price was one of the saddest things I’ve seen. I hope Steinbrenner helped defray the costs.  The mascot himself is Doodle–apparently a youngster or a very short individual.  I like the name Doodle (get it?) a lot.

Aesthetics:  3/5
Sweet on the outside, but not too attractive on the inside (see below).

Pavilion area:  2.5/5
There was an area where kids were playing pickle, but it was far too small.  Mostly, it was just prison-like cement.



Scoreability: 3/5
Numbers and names readily available in the pavilion, but by the seventh inning, the names they had on the scoreboard didn’t at all match the actual people at bat.  It’s like the scoreboard people gave up.  Good for a while, though.

Fans:  3.5/5
The church people were very nice in the conservative Midwestern way (and I mean that affectionately–not at all sarcastically or disparagingly).  A few drunken louts nearby hurt the score.

Intangibles:  4.5/5
A great game where I felt like I was chatting with the players.  Fun night.

TOTAL:  34.5/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

What a game!  Mr. Walbeck has a little work to do in the managerial department, I’m afraid.  The game’s star was Whitecap starter Virgil Vasquez, who cruised through eight innings of four-hit shutout ball.  I was surprised to see him come back out for the ninth inning.  Don’t they have pitch counts at A-level ball?  Walbeck had a reliever, Eulogio de la Cruz, warmed up, and Vasquez had thrown quite a few pitches.  Still, he struck out Matt Carson to start the inning, and things looked good for West Michigan.  When third baseman Kody Kirkland kicked Erold Andrus’ liner, there was one on and one out, and I was thinking that one more baserunner and would bring out Walbeck with the hook.  Bryce Kartler singled.  Vasquez stayed on.  A popout brought it to two on and two outs…then a laboring Vasquez walked John Urick. SURELY, I thought, this has to be it for Vasquez…he’s had a fine game, now de la Cruz can nail it down, right?  Nope.  Walbeck stuck with Vasquez.  It turned out to be a bad move, as Tommy Rojas singled to tie the game with two unearned runs.  Only then, too late, did Walbeck relieve Vasquez.



De la Cruz got out of the inning, but Battle Creek won in the tenth on Andrus’ RBI single.  An angry Kody Kirkland, whose error made all of this possible, violently kicked a plastic cooler in the dugout on his way back to the clubhouse after the game.

Also, Garth McKinney homered for the Whitecaps.  Party on, Garth.  (I bet he’s never

heard that one before!  Man, it just occurs to me that Garth would have been around 10 at the height of Wayne’s World…what a bummer of a time to be 10 and named Garth.)

(Written August 2004.)

Civic Stadium, Eugene, Oregon

Civic Stadium, Eugene, OREGON

Number of states: 5
States to go: 45
Number of games: 2
First game:  July 3, 2004 (Eugene Emeralds 5, Salem-Keizer Volcanoes 4)
Last game:  August 11, 2007 (Spokane Indians 5, Eugene Emeralds 3)

Civic Stadium is no longer used for affiliated minor league baseball as of the 2010 season.

(Click any image to view a larger version.)

As I approached Civic Stadium for the first time, I absolutely fell in love with the place.  Beautiful.  Charming.  Venerable.  Looking much the same as it did when it opened back in nineteen-twenty-whatever (just guessing on the date, but it has that Fenway and Tiger Stadium boxed-up,

team-logo-painted-on-the-outside-wood, held-up-by-beams feel about it.)  As I walked in with 10,000 others for fireworks night, I was convinced that I was in  for something special and that I’d feel about this beautiful old place the same way I did about Fenway Park, which is to say, totally entranced.  Over the course of the next few hours, however, I fell out of love with Civic Stadium.  There was just too much troublesome about it.  The experience was akin to seeing that my blind date looked like Sue Bird or Julie Delpy or Claire Danes, then finding little things wrong…okay, she’s got an annoying, nervous laugh…okay, she’s a whacked-out crystal-worshipping new ager…okay, she’s had three drinks to my one…until I finally, the many flaws become overwhelming and I can’t let the original charm win out.

I can already feel traditionalists breathing down my neck on this one, since there are so few places like Civic Stadium left in the world.  But my night at Civic Stadium was, if nothing else, an explication of reasons why 

stadiums no longer are designed like Civic Stadium and an argument that maybe the changes since are progress rather than regression.

Make no mistake.  I loved the look of the place!  It had all the charm of bygone days.  I felt connected to every fan who’d ever gone into the place.  The beams, the real grass, the bizarre asymmetry of it (the seating bowl reaches almost all the way down the right field line, but doesn’t even make it as far as third base along the left field line).  It’s accidental charm, and I love it.

The Eugene fans were fantastic.  This was a sellout for fireworks night.  Michelle The Girlfriend and 

I arrived an hour early (after a wonderful day meandering down the gorgeous Oregon coast) to poke around the place and to find good general admission seats.  Whoops!  We needed to arrive a lot earlier than that to get good seats.  We did okay–only about 3/4 of the way up to the top, only about 3/4 of the way to the end of the right-field stands–but I was highly impressed with how early the fans showed up to claim their stake.  Maybe it’s different on a non-holiday Tuesday night in August, but even so, for so many to arrive that early speaks well for the Emeralds and their fans.

Here’s where the problems begin, though.  Although the stadium technically can hold 10,000, it certainly can’t do so comfortably.  While I’m sure that the season-ticket holders were enjoying 

their seats with backs and arms on them, we in general admission were horribly uncomfortable.  Whenever anyone wanted to leave (and I’m trying not to harbor enmity towards the butthead who left and returned to my row FIVE TIMES during the game), the entire row would either have their feet stepped on or their backs jostled.  There just wasn’t enough room to sit.  Even while at rest, I had to position my knees and feet just so to avoid contact with the fine young family in front of me.  Net result:  as the game progressed, we all became more and more uncomfortable.

Strangely, the Emeralds did little to keep its large crowd–who clearly were rearing to have a very good time–active.  Music choices were baffling.  “Deep in the Heart of Texas”?  What the hell?  Why not just throw in “Chicago,” 

“New York, New York,” and “God Save the Queen” while you’re at it?  Why not throw in “Streets of Philadelphia,” just to be both geographically inaccurate and breathtakingly depressing?  No wait…they DID play “My City in Ruins”!  Strange, strange choices.

STILL, I was eager to enjoy this beautiful old ballpark, but I actually became a little concerned for my safety at some points.  A hard foul ball was smacked back into one of the beams on the first-base side and shattered a light bulb there.  Surely, at some point in the last 80 years, someone must have at least realized the necessity of putting a cage around that.  But later, things got even more bizarre.  In the eighth inning, the entire bank of lights went out on the first-base side.

Salem-Keizer catcher Charlie Babineaux was ready to

take his first pitch from Eugene pitcher Jake Upwood when the lights went out.  Babineaux called time,  which was granted, but the home plate umpire seemed to want to continue play in the twilight combined with outfield lighting.  But when the Salem-Keizer manager stepped in, play was delayed while they fixed the lights.  Okay, I understand that maybe this could have happened anywhere.  But I doubt it.  The lights over the left field pavilion looked only slightly less old than the stadium itself, and they’re the only ones that went out.  Plus–and am I the only one who could possibly have been thinking this?–if it’d been a blown fuse or a small explosion that caused those lights to go out, those wooden bleachers would have taken about a minute and a half to become a hellish inferno, and when this sucker was built, emergency exits and sprinkler systems were not exactly high in architects’ minds.  So while I’m sitting and thinking about the tragedy at England’s Bradford City football grounds, the Emeralds’ staff could be doing some things to make sure we’re all having a good time, like playing some music or having the mascot run around and do the good stuff mascots do.  Two problems:

1.  The music people.  At a time the audience needed something to do–“Minnie the Moocher,” “YMCA,” hell, even the damn 

Macarena–the sound guys played Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on First,” the radio call of Bobby Thomson’s “Shot Heard Round the World,” and “Dueling Banjos.”  Audience participation possibilities?  None.  So we sat in our uncomfortable seats for 29 minutes doing nothing.

2.  The mascot.  There isn’t one.  Come on.  Is this even possible in the low minors?  I must admit, I didn’t notice its absence until about the fifth inning, but I felt a little bit cheated, like if I’d showed up to an NL game and found they decided to use the designated hitter.  It’s just not the rules!  Low minor league teams simply MUST have a mascot…and during the big delay, this was a notable absence, since all we had to look at were the two umpires sitting around waiting for the lights–lights that were probably only slightly younger than Thomas Edison’s original–to kick back on.

In the end, as much as I wanted to love this place, I just couldn’t overlook these problems.  I felt uncomfortable.  I even felt a little unsafe.  And I totally felt like I was missing part of the minor league baseball experience.  Even the fireworks show didn’t redeem it…it only lasted about 7 minutes (although they had 15 minutes worth of fireworks…they just fired them all off in 7 minutes, thus eliminating any sense of buildup or climax to the show).

Michelle and I have agreed that, if we win the lottery for more than, say, $100 million, we will purchase the Eugene Emeralds and clean this stadium up a bit…maintaining its old charm without sacrificing the many, many comforts that Civic Stadium sacrifices.  Yes, I am a traditionalist, but not militantly so, and Civic Stadium goes beyond my limits.

UPDATE:  I received a nice email from a University of Oregon student who works concessions for the Emeralds, encouraging me to give the team another chance–saying that, among other things, the team “dreads” the July 3rd/4th games.  And I also got the sense that many of the problems I had with the ballpark were a result of a crowded night.  So Michelle and I headed back down to Eugene for a random Saturday night game in 2007.  The team impressed me with their low-key calmness that ngiht, and I found it was worth every penny not to sit in general admission.  I will adjust my score a little bit accordingly (although that first visit was so frustrating that it weighs a little bit heavier).

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel:  8.5/10
Quite lovely here, with local promotions, a view of the Cascades, and many fine folks who clearly were from Oregon and Eugene.  No question where I was.

Charm:  3/5
Yes, Civic Stadium has charm due to its age.  But I don’t find cramped, backless seats, people colliding with my back or stepping on my toes every time they leave, endless concession lines, my toes up some poor person in the next row’s butt, a lengthy power outage, and the very real fear that we could burn alive to be very charming. (But on the second visit, it was quite lovely.  Just don’t go there on a night where it’s packed unless you have a reserved seat.)

Spectacle: 1/5
Could have used a bit more for low-A ball.

Team mascot/name:  1.5/5
The name is fine…the mascot nonexistent.

Aesthetics:  5/5
Say what you will, but the place is gorgeous.

Pavilion area:  4/5
Fine.  A bit cramped, but overall not bad.

Scoreability:  4/5
Lineups were available.  Some close decisions were not made clear, however.

Fans:  5/5
Arrived early and maintained excellent enthusiasm under difficult circumstances.

Intangibles:  3/5
Pluses:  Good game, fireworks, a polite letter from a ballpark worker that did all but apologize for the lamentable first night.  Minuses:  Power outage, aching back, and fireworks show that packed 15 minutes worth of gunpowder into 7 minutes.  I didn’t leave satisfied on any count…until three years later.

TOTAL:  35/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

Eugene’s Colt Morton (who wears #45…get it?) appears to be a stud-in-the-making.  He homered twice, which made it 4 homers in 5 days for him.

Salem-Keizer’s Chase Smith gets his first professional loss without surrendering a hit:  a leadoff walk, a sacrifice bunt, a deep flyout, and a wild pitch score Craig Johnson with the winning run.

Mitch Moreland homers to put the 2007 game in the bag for Spokane.

Drillers Stadium, Tulsa, Oklahoma

Drillers Stadium, Tulsa, OKLAHOMA

Number of states: 3
States to go: 47
Number of games: 1
First game: April 11, 2004 (Tulsa Drillers 1, Frisco RoughRiders 0)

I attended the ballgame in Tulsa on Easter Sunday.  I challenge anyone to find another person who visited Tulsa that holiday who was not drawn there by family or business.  The best part about the trip to (and from) Tulsa was avoiding the interstates.  Just like I had done

with my father nearly twelve years earlier on our trip to Arlington Stadium, I stayed entirely off interstates–on state and county roads, my preferred mode of travel.  And wow, was it fun.  Driving through the little towns along the way in southern Kansas and northern Oklahoma…with every tiny town the host to one (or more) big churches, and every church packed to the gills with cars.  I must admit, that morning was a little I-love-the-USA moment for me.  Because of my recent ancestry, I have a soft spot in my heart for the Midwest, and looking at all of these packed churches even made my then-lapsed religious self feel like we are a country filled with a lot of decent, kind people.  Sure, if I’d taken the time to step into, say, the First Baptist Church in whatever tiny town and listen to the sermon, I may well have been blown out of my I-love-the-USA reverie by whatever makes-me-embarrassed-to-be-Christian garbage was emanating from the pulpit, but on this morning, I gave everyone the benefit of the doubt.  I drove through the crops on a cool sunny Easter with Jesus Christ Superstar cranked up on my rented car’s CD player.  And I felt good.

I only wish the charm of my journey to Drillers Stadium was matched by the charm of Drillers Stadium.  The stadium fails on a few counts, but mainly this one:  it is absolutely impossible to tell what city you’re in while seated in the stadium.  Seriously.  Check out the photo here. 

Were it not for the Tulsa World advertisement, would you have any idea what city you were in?  What state?  What region?  There is literally no hint to that in the photo.  We had a Walgreens past left field, a Lowe’s past right, and a city utilities department behind a foul line.  There’s no skyline in view (although within city limits, the ballpark is several miles from downtown, in a suburban-feeling location near the state fairgrounds and an old horse track…cars park on the infield of the track).  There are no natural landmarks to see from the park (the nearly dried-up Arkansas river runs on the other side of town), and not even any local promotion that leaps out at me as “Only in Oklahoma” or even “Only in the Southwest.”  Look, I know we’re losing regional differences in this country, almost to the point where only weather, flora, fauna, and natural landscapes differentiate us.  I bet that, with literally every ballpark on this journey, I’ll be able to sip a Starbucks before the game and head to either a TGIFridays, Outback, Chili’s, or Applebee’s afterwards.  This bothers me, and the ballpark needs to combat that.  It’s not that I’m incapable of grading suburban parks highly, even with our nation’s similarities between suburban locations–Everett, for instance, is in a humdrum suburban location, but redeems itself by providing a huge grassy pavilion and a view of the mountains.  Tulsa does nothing, and as a result, is charmless.

Even the mascot, which I felt was promising at first, fell flat when measured for local color.  The blue-colored bull (with whom I asked an usher to photograph me…only to find when I got home that he didn’t properly take

the picture…what’s with my luck in choosing only complete incompetents to take my picture at ballparks?) is named Hornsby.  What an awesome name for a mascot.  I asked the mascot if it was after Rogers Hornsby.  He gave me a thumbs-up.  (He could only communicate with charades.)  I then asked the mascot if Rogers Hornsby was from Tulsa.  The mascot shrugged.  I really wanted Rogers Hornsby to be from Tulsa, or at least Oklahoman.  Didn’t turn out to be true…he just turned out to have played in the Texas League for a while.  Close to a great mascot idea, but no cigar.  There’s just a tiny little hint at Drillers’ history in the ballpark, and it’s misplaced…it’s on the inside of the seating bowl, right under the press box behind home plate.  There are nice paintings of past great Drillers, mostly Texas Ranger products of the ’80s and ’90s like Sammy Sosa and Juan Gonzalez.  Surely Tulsa has a richer history than that.  Another near miss.

My ballpark experience was certainly not helped by an astonishing screw-up by Drillers ticket staff.  Not long after my arrival, a good-natured guy seated a few seats to my left asks me a strange question.  “Did they sell you that seat?”  The answer was yes…row two behind third base, right on the aisle.  “Really?  Man.  I bought that seat as a season ticket, and they’ve been selling it to people.”  Geez, I said, do you want me to move?  (Hardly a problem, due to the very low attendance on a chilly Easter Sunday afternoon.)  He said it wasn’t necessary.  Apparently the fine folks at the Drillers had taken his money for season tickets…and then went ahead and sold his seats to anyone who wanted them on Ticketmaster.  Worse, when he called to complain, their solution was this:  that, in the event there was another patron with his seat, he was to tell them to report to the ticket office for reseating.  Amazing.

It was here, in the fifth ballpark of the minor-league quest, that I became conflicted about the “Promotions” portion of my score. 

Tulsa did few, if any, between innings.  But it occurred to me that, at least with quality Double-A ball in front of me, I didn’t miss them.  Short-season A ball?  Okay, distract me a little between innings (but never during the game).  So I will take care to remember that only distracting promotions are to be penalized from now on.

So, in the end, the nice people of Oklahoma were the best part of this ballpark.  Although I can’t say I had a rip-roaring conversation with any of them, one did let me stay in his season-ticket seat without sending me to the ticket office as he’d inexplicably been asked to do.  Good thing, too…being in the second row of a quiet, nearly-empty ballpark like this enabled me to hear Tulsa manager Tom Runnells argue a safe call at third base.  (He was actually quite polite in his disagreement…no foul language or personal attacks.)   Another let me take a photo of her with rabbit ears on her head.  And this high-school-aged couple were terribly cute and clearly quite affectionate for each other without any groping or tonsil hockey…it was very sweet to watch.  So it was certainly a nice Easter at the ballpark, but I’m afraid the ballpark left an awful lot to be desired.

I know there’s a lot of Tulsa/Oklahoma City rivalry, but if ever I’m back in Oklahoma, I’ll look forward to visiting the ballpark in Oklahoma City’s Bricktown.  It certainly looks to be superior to Drillers Stadium.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel:  2/10
Quite simply none.  The Walgreens in left is hardly Fenway’s Citgo sign.  The Lowe’s Hardware in right could be any Lowe’s.  Flat Oklahoma offers no real views from the seating bowl.  Drop me in the ballpark and cover up any text that says “Tulsa,” and I would have no Godly idea where I was.  Only the few photos of ex-Drillers save this score.

Charm:  1/5
Simply none.  Between the utilities plant and the former horse track…nothing to show any personality.  I’m writing this two weeks after my visit, and I barely remember anything about it.

Spectacle: 3.5/5
Nicely and quietly integrated promotions…both quiet and effective.  Strangest promotion…the Kansas City Royals, neither the parent club of the Drillers nor at all close to Tulsa, advertised heavily, including giving away tickets to home Royals games.

Team mascot/name:  4.5/5
As I said, I have minor quibbles with the name “Hornsby,” but the name “Drillers” may be one of the best nicknames in the minors.  Perfectly locally appropriate, unique, and sort of intimidating. The usher screwed up my picture of Hornsby, so instead, I will reproduce this photo of this innocent, completely non-stereotypical mascot from a local Mexican restaurant.


Aesthetics:  1/5
Neither the ballpark nor its surroundings do anything for me.

Pavilion area:  3/5
Not bad.  Good lineups, but not a lot of character.

Scoreability:  5/5
Excellent job by the scoreboard guy communicating a tricky passed ball/wild pitch ruling on a botched intentional walk.

Fans:  3.5/5
Nice people, but not enough of them.

Intangibles:  3/5
Maybe I was just tired from the drive, but there just was nothing that seemed to impress me on this day.  The game was pretty good, though, which helps.

TOTAL:  26.5/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

A pitchers’ duel between Tulsa (the Rockies’ affiliate…the Rockies basically only draft pitchers because they figure no decent free agent will willingly pitch for them) and Frisco (the Rangers affiliate, who had drafted a lot of pitching lately due to a complete lack of it with the big club).  Justin Hampsen and Kameron Loe, the starters, put a lot of zeroes on the board.

RoughRiders reliever Frank Francisco (that’s Spanish for Frank Frank) gives up the only run of the game in one of the most bizarre fashions I’ve ever seen.  Bottom of the eighth.  He walks the Drillers’ Tony Miller, who steals second.  He strikes out Jayson Nix, then intentionally walks Shawn Garnett.  But catcher Josh McKinley lets the ball get by him on the first pitch of the intentional walk.  Passed ball.  First screwed up intentional walk I’ve ever seen at any level, in person or on TV.  So, they finish the walk.  First and third, one out…and Francisco balks in what turns out to be the winning run.  Weird.  Minor league baseball…catch it!

Lawrence-Dumont Stadium, Wichita, Kansas’ ballp

wichitaexterior

Lawrence-Dumont Stadium, Wichita, KANSAS

Number of states: 3
States to go:  47
Number of games: 1
First and last game: April 10, 2004 (Arkansas Travelers 10, Wichita Wranglers 0)

Lawrence-Dumont Stadium is no longer used for the affiliated minors as of the 2008 season.

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

Spring Break 2004.  I set out for my spring break, leaving chilly, rainy Seattle for warmer climes–Wichita, Tulsa, Arlington, and Houston.  Why did I have to pick a week when Seattle had beautiful, record-setting temperatures and a mass of Northern air settled over Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas?  The first Saturday night of the baseball season in Wichita was colder than the proverbial witch’s tit (and, I am sure, colder than a literal witch’s tit…not that I have any experience.  With witches.)  Thank goodness for the $23 K-Mart jacket I secured earlier that day.  In any event, Lawrence-Dumont Stadium was an excellent Texas League ballpark that nobody in Wichita seems to have found.

For starters, Lawrence-Dumont Stadium has a rich sense of baseball history.  Its pavilion makes a special point to commemorate Wichita baseball history, most notably the National Baseball Congress

tournaments held there through the years…basically the semipro baseball championship.  There are plaques all the way around the ballpark talking about folks from Whitey Herzog to Mark McGwire.  A fun walk!  I must admit, I enjoyed that a good deal, but I felt it was sort of cheating.  I mean, it’s just a tournament they host…not really related to Wichita minor league history.  But when I learned that Mr. Dumont was responsible for the tournament, I relaxed my concerns a bit.  After all, it was he and Mr. Lawrence, the mayor of Wichita, who decided to build the stadium.  Hence, that pesky hyphen in “Lawrence-Dumont Stadium”:  it’s named after two guys, not one.

But the walk around the stadium also teaches us about Wichita’s minor league past.  Included in this was a list of all of the teams that have played minor league ball in Wichita. On that list, I was delighted to find the infamous Wichita Jobbers. 

Now maybe I’ve watched a few too many episodes of Beavis and Butthead, but I couldn’t stop snickering about that.  Somewhere, after squandering a series of late-inning leads, an article must have been written under the headline “Jobbers Blow Another.”  So I’m walking around enjoying a juvenile snicker (and thinking that, as bad a nickname as “Jobbers” is, it’s actually better than “Jabbers” or the feminine “Witches”) when I come upon a plaque commemorating the 1910 Jobbers, considered one of the best minor league ballclubs in history.  And what picture did they put next to it?  God as my witness, they put it next to popular former Wichita Aero and major league stalwart Pete LaCock.

Perhaps most impressive was the story–I hope it’s true–that Joe Carter hit a home run during an NBC tournament that hit the Metropolitan Baptist Church on one bounce.  The church is nearly 900 feet away.  This picture probably doesn’t do it justice, but still, check out this view of the church from home plate.  The church is the red brick building with the white steeple beyond the left field wall.


On the whole, this was an excellent night of baseball. The staff with the Wranglers have done a fine job of putting together solid entertainment.  They ran wacky ads starring their young staff (a send-up of The Apprentice, for instance).  There were frequent promotions, but not so frequent as to take away from the baseball.  The ballpark has a fine location on the Arkansas river–there’s a view of downtown right past the outfield fence.  And Double-A baseball is great entertainment in and of itself.  Still, only 155,547 showed up to watch the Wranglers in Wichita in 2003…barely 2,000 per game, only about a quarter of the league leaders and behind even Midland, which is a far smaller city than Wichita.  I can’t for the life of me figure out why.  It’s not because they have a less-than-good ballpark…Lawrence-Dumont is a great place.  It’s not because it’s a poorly-run night of baseball…it was excellent.  It’s not because it’s inconveniently located…it’s right in the heart of town.  There’s no excuse, Wichita.  Get out to your wonderful ballpark.  You’ll have at least as good a time as I did.

Okay, now that I’ve said that, let me cut the Wichita folk some slack…the weather certainly was the lion’s share of the reason that attendance was so abysmally

low the night I was there (announced as 528, but that was a laughably high number…I put attendance at 130.  That’s right, I actually counted…I figure that the people who were in the bathroom are counterbalanced by ushers I mistakenly included in my count.)  It’s funny who you see among the most die-hard fans who would show up on a 40-something degree night in April with horrendous winds.  I noticed a good number of women sitting alone and wondered why.  Of course!  Wives and girlfriends.  And there were a good number of scouts with radar guns.  Also, several close relatives.  Notable among the latter were the friendly brother- and sister-in-law of a backup catcher I chatted with throughout the game…I had a long conversation with their four-year-old son.  It’s awesome how four-year-olds start conversations.  His starter?  “I have the same name as my grandpa.  His name is James…and my name is James!”  And later:  “I live out in the country.”  Cool kid!  He’d get along with my nephew, but as his mother said, “1500 miles is an awfully tough play date.”  I like the Midwest.  Friendly people.  Women with ponytails and minimal makeup.  People who assume you’re a good guy and talk to you.

And I like Lawrence-Dumont Stadium, which more Kansans should get out to see, especially on a night where they can’t see their breath.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel:  9.5/10
The celebration of Kansas baseball in the museum-like pavilion is fantastic.  Add to that a location on the Arkansas river, a view of downtown Wichita, and a few friendly Kansans, and there’s not a doubt as to where you are.

Charm:  2.5/5
There’s a contagious love of baseball here.  But ICK!!!  The astroturf infield with the grass outfield?  WHY????  Back when Wichita fed the Astros, it made sense.  But now they feed Kansas City, who has a grass infield.  It’s just an eyesore now.  Lose it.

Spectacle: 3.5/5
Didn’t get in the way…but I didn’t see much of the mascots.

Team mascot/name:  5/5


Didn’t see much of Wilbur–the best I can do for a picture is the distorted shot at left. I think the cold night kept him in.  I did take a shot with the Garbage Goblin, however, on the right.  Please note that a gust of wind has gone up my K-mart jacket…that’s not my belly under there, it’s mostly cold Wichita air.  I never saw Wilbur and the Garbage Goblin together, which strongly leads me to suspect they’re the same guy. “Wranglers” is a completely appropriate name for Wichita, and the horse totally appropriate as a mascot…although, upon reflection, aren’t horses the natural adversaries of wranglers?

Aesthetics:  4.5/5
Quite nice, with a view of downtown and the river.

Pavilion area:  5/5
A wonderful walk through Wichita baseball history that starts at home plate and goes all the way back to center field.  Lots of good stories.  The best part of the ballpark.

Scoreability:  4/5
No major issues here, but no major plusses.

Fans:  1/5
Nice people, but far too few of them.

Intangibles:  4/5
In spite of the weather, the sparse crowd, and the incredibly lousy game, I got a great feeling from this place

TOTAL:  41/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

A god-awful game in hellish cold.  Arkansas pounds out 19 singles and a double.  The worst part was that 5 of the runs were in the 9th inning, just as all of us were ready to head home.  If I’d had a date with me who wanted to take off, I would have probably demurred…and that is saying something.

3 RBIs for Traveler Jason Aspito.

Tim Bittner pitched 6 innings of 4-hit ball for the win, with Cam Esslinger and Dan Mozingo closing out the 4-hit shutout.

The Arkansas Travelers’ road uniforms read “Little Rock.”  Their jackets read “Angels.”  The Arkansas Travelers are neither Arkansas nor Travelers.  Discuss.

RFK Stadium

Robert F. Kennedy Stadium, Washington DC

First game:  August 16, 2006 (Nationals 9, Braves 6)
Last game:  August 17, 2006 (Braves 5, Nationals 0)

RFK Stadium is no longer in use for baseball as of the 2008 season.
(Click on any image to see a larger version.)

I never got to Montreal (although I did make it to San Juan).  When the Expos finally headed to DC, I admit I was grateful…for while my chances

of going to Quebec had fallen off severely, I had some excuses to visit my kid sister and other buddies of mine who congregate in DC.  If it were another city, I’d have considered waiting a few years until the big new ballpark was finally built, but any excuse for an American history lover and patriot like me to head to our nation’s capital and hang out with people I love…hey, I’ll take that.

The ballpark suffers from the same problems as other multi-purpose stadiums:  it’s simply not meant for baseball, and it shows.  Like Dolphin Stadium, this is especially football-oriented.  From the many football players honored on the wall of fame to the George Marshall plaque on the outside, it’s clear that the football memories do and always will dominate this place.

Even beyond this, RFK Stadium is simply not a nice place to watch a baseball game.  For starters, there is an expansive batch of first-level seats that are below the second deck.  Scoreboards and fly balls are invisible from here, so a good deal of the game is spent looking at the televisions hanging beneath the second deck…and their screens are so small that one cannot really see the ball-strike count.  Additionally, the PA system is almost unhearable back there.  During a hot sunny day game, I can see the appeal, but at night, I’d rather be under the stars. After about four innings, my kid sister (with whom, by the way, I have now enjoyed ballgames in four different major league ballparks…approaching the record set by my dad, but which will surely be eclipsed by my wife) and I moved up to the upper deck.  Highly recommended.  If you’re going

to go to RFK Stadium, there’s no need to spend a lot of money on the lower deck, particularly if you’re far back.  Save a few bucks and go up high.

Once up there, stretch out (there will be plenty of room) and look around to section 535.  There, find the white seat up surprisingly high. That’s the seat where Frank

Howard hit the longest home run in RFK Stadium history. On the way out, dodge the ushers (who are annoyingly eager to get everyone away after the game) and sit in the seat.  It’s a heck of a long way from home plate.

After a marvelous time with my kid sister, I returned area natives and longtime buddies Tom and Elizabeth.  I like hanging out with locals at the ballpark who might be able to tell me something about the team’s history.  Of course, the Nationals don’t have any history, so it’s a bit more of a challenge here. 

But my DC buddies got to tell me something about the ballpark’s political history.  Tom expressed intense dislike for the racist beliefs espoused by Calvin Griffith and George Marshall.  He talked about the efforts to build a new ballpark and the incredible political firestorm therein.  And all of this before the game began!  Once the game got going, I taught Elizabeth to score.  She caught on quickly, and her handwriting is in my book forever.

Of course, Tom and Elizabeth are two of the very few people who are from the DC area.  As a result, it’s tough to play the “regional feel” game.  However, RFK stadium does well.  The bust of RFK himself joins the monuments to Griffith and Marshall (perhaps serving as a liberal anchor situated between the two).  And rather than a Milwaukee sausage race or

the Pittsburgh pirogi race, Presidents race in RFK stadium.  Who to root for…Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, or Teddy Roosevelt?  Why not a lesser-President race between Hayes, W.H. Harrison, Arthur, and van Buren?  Or a day when all 43 race, including Cleveland twice?  I’d love that.

On the whole, there’s not a whole lot going for RFK Stadium–it’s a charmless relic, more so even than several other multipurpose stadiums of its era.  But the company can’t be beat, and I can’t wait to take in the new ballpark with them.

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

Brian Schneider and Ryan Zimmerman hit home runs to lead a big Nationals assault on John Smoltz.

Oscar Villareal combines with three relievers on a 4-hit shutout for Atlanta.

Ryan Langerhans manages to walk four times in four at bats.  He scores twice.

Hiram Bithorn Stadium

Hiram Bithorn Stadium, San Juan, PR

Number of games: 2
First game:  April 14, 2003 (Expos 5, Mets 3)
Last game:  April 16, 2003 (Braves 3, Expos 2)

Hiram Bithorn Stadium is no longer used for the major leagues as of the 2005 season.

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

All right–I’m officially hard-core.  What started as a way to spend the summer of 1993 had, by 2003, expanded to serious dimensions with my trip to Puerto Rico and Estadion Hiram Bithorn.  Why?  Well, because I wanted some serious street cred among the (larger than you might think) going-to-all-the-baseball-parks crowd.  Yeah, there are people who might have been to more than the 30 major league stadiums that my trip to Hiram Bithorn gave me.  But, because there were only 22 Expos games to be played at Bithorn in 2003, I figured that, even among ballpark travelers, not too many people would be able to say they’d been to Puerto Rico for a Major League game.  I think I crossed some sort of line here.  Quoth one friend:  “I can’t believe you’re flying all the way to Puerto Rico to see a baseball game.”  My response:  “No, no! 

I’m flying to Puerto Rico to see TWO baseball games!” The result, however, was very, very fun–one of my best-ever ballpark experiences.

The ballpark itself wasn’t at all special.  It’s nice that it’s small:  they expanded capacity to 19,000 for the Expos games.  More seats are good seats and there’s more opportunity for fan/player interaction.  But there was enough else wrong or missing that I can’t say Bithorn is a good ballpark.  Their replay scoreboard was so small and distant that it was very difficult to read, which made it in some ways worse than having no replay scoreboard at all.  They  didn’t read lineups before the game.  There were two pretty serious blunders in presentation as well.  First, the PA announcer, at a critical moment of the game, announced “Numero doce, Orlando Cabrera!” when Wilfredo Cordero was at the plate.  Second, and a particularly bizarre error, was a mistimed playing of music.  As soon as Jeff Liefer made contact on a fly-out to center, they began playing the music for the next batter.  So while the ball was in play, while Tsuyoshi Shinjo was in the very process of settling under the ball, we heard the opening drumbeats and

first couple of riffs of Carlos Santana’s “Smooth.”  On top of that, and worst of all–why a carpet?  Why not grass?  So my impressions of the stadium aren’t terribly good.  This is, of course, very much beside the point, as the positives of seeing a ballgame in Puerto Rico far outweigh the minor negatives of a below-average ballpark.

First of all, the fans were tremendous.  They were louder and more enthusiastic than any similarly-sized crowd that I can recall.  To be sure, not all of their cheering was for Los Expos.  They cheered for more or less any Latin player, and especially for any Puerto Rican player, regardless of the team he was playing for.  A critical at-bat by Brave Javy Lopez or Met Roberto Alomar would be greeted with

equal enthusiasm as one by Expo Jose Vidro.  Indeed, so many Puerto Ricans had connections with New York City that there was a sizeable contingent of Met fans present.  They’d start the “Let’s!  Go!  Mets” chant, but would be overpowered by the others, who would make high pitched “ooo” sounds, like children imitating ghosts.  Much to my surprise, there were even a number of Braves fans present for the Montreal/Atlanta game as well, as noted by that infernal tomahawk chop.  Does Ted Turner’s power spread over the Caribbean Sea?  At any rate, they, too, were “ooo”ed at until they couldn’t be heard.

Appropriately enough for my first ballgame outside the fifty states, there was a decidedly international feel to the ballgame.

For starters, there were three national anthems to get through before we could play ball:  Canada, Puerto Rico, and the USA.  The same guy, Angel Rosario, was responsible for singing “O Canada” and “The Star-Spangled Banner.”  He had a very powerful tenor voice, but screwed up the lyrics in each. At first, I thought he just blundered, but the second game, he made the exact same errors that he did the first.  That’s when it occurred to me–it’s got to be difficult to find anyone who knows the words to “O Canada” in Puerto Rico, and probably about as hard to find a “Star-Spangled Banner” singer.  I also got the sense that Angel didn’t speak English…it sounded like he was getting through the anthems phonetically.

Far be it from me to criticize anyone for not speaking English, of course.  I’m a stereotypical monolingual American.  Of all the languages I could have taken in high school and college, I chose Russian, and I regret that now.  Why not Spanish, the language I’m most likely to encounter?  Oh well…I suppose it’s not too late.  But in Puerto Rico, it didn’t matter, as just about every native I encountered had at least a little English.  Often not more than a little–but usually a little.

And that’s part of what made this such a wonderful ballpark experience.  When I remember these games, I’ll remember Juan and Efrain, the gentlemen I sat next to.  I sat next to Juan at the first game–the Mets game.  Juan had impeccable English–the result of his Army experience.  “I learned English at Fort Benning, Georgia,” he told me.  I struck up a conversation by focusing

on the three retired numbers on the wall–21 for Roberto Clemente, 30 for Orlando Cepeda, and 22 for Gomez.  Didn’t know who Gomez was, so I asked him.  Turns out he’s Ruben Gomez.  His lifetime stats aren’t too impressive, but his passion for the game seems to have been:  Juan informed me that Gomez would pitch all summer and winter, summers in the majors, winters in the Puerto Rican league.  And any way you can be mentioned with Cepeda and Clemente is impressive enough to me.  Juan also let me know that Hiram Bithorn Stadium is named for the first Puerto Rican to play in the majors.  (Indeed, there is a sculpture of him in front of the ballpark.)  I did a little more research on him…Bithorn was a pitcher for the Cubs and White Sox.  He debuted during WWII, five years before Jackie Robinson, when teams were very much in need of players.  Still, although there were a handful of Latino players on rosters, the Cubs were not eager to sign their first Latino player.  According to one account I’ve seen, Bithorn, because of his light skin and not-instantly-recognizable-as-Latino name, could pass more easily as white, which helped convince the Cubs to sign him.  In a way, that’s a very sad story.  That’s why I’m glad he led the league with 7 shutouts in 1943.

But next thing you know, and much to my surprise, I learned Juan and I share our favorite player in baseball.  Mine is Edgar Martinez, designated hitter, Seattle Mariners.  His is Edgar Martinez, third baseman, San Juan Senators.  Here I am, 5,000 miles from home, and I’m having a conversation about Edgar’s penchant for hitting doubles that bounce on the foul lines.  That blew me away.  We even got a chance to talk a little politics when two war protestors ran on the field and unfurled a banner that read “No a la guerra” and featured drawings of a gun and an oil well.  I was surprised at how negative the fan reaction was to them–for some reason I would have thought that Puerto Ricans, who don’t get a voting member in Congress, might not be so keen on that Congress sending their sons and daughters into harm’s way.  I was wrong, as Juan let me know.  “Now is not the time to protest.  We’re already at war.” (Indeed, by the time these guys ran onto the field in April of 2003, Baghdad had already fallen.)

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Protestors are removed from the field--one forcibly.

As much fun as I had with Juan, I had even more fun with Senor Efrain Rodriguez, with whom I enjoyed the Braves game two nights later.  And what do you know?  It all started with my scorebook.  I’ve always liked the way that my scorebook gets people to talk to me, but I never, ever expected it to cross international cultural barriers, as it did on this night.  Senor Rodriguez (because he’s 41 years my elder, I’m a little uneasy calling him Efrain) sees me get out my scorebook, and he asks me:  “Do you do this every game?”  His English is slow and labored enough that I can tell it’s an effort to think through each sentence.  But I explain to him that yes, I do, and that I’m trying to make it to all of the baseball stadiums.  We fall into watching the game, and next thing you know, there’s an Atlanta double play.  Furcal to DeRosa to Franco.  I’m jotting it in my book when Efrain leans over.  “Six-four-three.”  Amazing!  The power of the scorebook!  The next play is a grounder to third, so I lean over to Efrain:  “Cinco-tres.”  And we’re talking, as best as we are able, about baseball.  I ask Efrain why he’s rooting for the Braves.  He tells me.  “Andruw Jones.  He is the best…eh…”  He struggles to find a word.  I try to help:  “Athlete?  Athletic?”  Efrain responds:  “Yes, but…eh…Defensive.  He is the best defensive player I’ve ever seen…”

Somewhere in the midst of this sentence it occurs to me:  this very well could be my elderly friend’s first major league game!  All those years of enjoying Puerto Rican ball, cheering for major league islanders from afar, and now, finally, a major league game in person!  I have the whole overly-romanticized picture laid out, but Efrain sets me straight before the end of the sentence:

“…and I saw Willie Mays.”

“At the Polo Grounds?”

“Yes.  Remember, I’m 73!”

And that’s how we spent the evening–trying to have conversations about baseball.  Succeeding.  Saying:  “He walked him because he wants a double play.”  Saying: “No–I think he doesn’t want Sheffield to homer again.”  Even saying: “That was a good throw.”  Typical, momentary baseball stuff.  And it was wonderful.  Two guys, two languages, two countries, and two generations, and all the differences go away with the magic words:  “Six-four-three.”  I tried to get his wife to take our picture, but alas, the result was this extremely unfortunate photo:

Yup, that’s him with his arm around me…the guy whose face is behind his wife’s lens-obstructing fingers!  What a bummer.

Anyway, I’ll never forget the end of the night.  He went to leave after the eighth inning (I must really like this guy, since I can forgive a horrendous action like that…but traffic around San Juan really was God-awful), and shook my hand.  He said “Well, brother, glad to know you.”  I’m not sure I’ve ever felt better at a ballpark than that made me feel.  Brother. What more can you ask?  Is there anywhere else where brotherhood is attained that quickly and easily?  It sounds sappy, kind of Disney-like, but the facts seem to bear it out:  baseball overcame any differences we might have had.  And I think it led me to understand a little bit better why I spend all of this time, effort, and money to go to all of these distant ballparks.  I love the opportunity for moments like this one.  I was surprised, amazed, and affirmed by the way my scorebook and baseball curiosity could strike up an international bond.

I want more of these games.  I want to go global with my ballparks.  I want to buy new scorebooks–one for each nation’s league–and score games, talk baseball, and shake hands with fans the world over.  I want to win the lottery, quit my job, and hit the Venezuelan League, comparing notes with Carlos from Caracas on Andres Galarraga, a player we’ll both love.  After a crisp DP around the horn, I want Takehisa from Tokyo to look at me and say:  “Go-shi-san.”  I want to hear Michael from Melbourne tell me about the early years of Craig Shipley, Graeme Lloyd, and Chris Snelling, all of whom I’ve seen.  Just give me some money and give me some time, and I’ll have stories from all around the world.

Indeed, as I write these words in the mild Puerto Rican night after watching a one-run ballgame with my new baseball brother, I know I won’t ever stop these trips.  I hope I am blessed with health and luck enough to be there for the opening of the first new park of the 2040s.  Maybe by then I won’t be able to go global anymore, but I’ll still be there, still be scoring.  I’ll be telling some kid next to me:  “He’s the best defensive shortstop I’ve ever seen…and I’ve seen Ozzie Smith.”  And you can rest assured I’ll be thinking of kind, welcoming baseball fans like Juan and Senor Efrain Rodriguez when I say it.  Muchos gracias, mis hermanos.

***Update April 2006: I love the internet so much sometimes.  I got a nice email from Efrain Rodriguez’s son, also named Efrain.  He said the following:

“Well, here is the deal.  My name is Efrain Rodriguez and I live in Atlanta.  My dad lives in PR and goes by the same name.  He also attended many games in that series and was 73 at the time.  I can not make the face on the posted photo but I am pretty sure you sat next to my dad.  Weird.

“A couple of weeks ago I flew to PR to watch the World Baseball Classic with him at the Bithorn. Took a photo of him celebrating a PR score with his flag.  He no longer uses glasses and is 3 years older but looks similar as in 2003.  Is this the same person you sat next to?  If so, this is a very small world.”

bithornefrainflag

Photo by Efrain Rodriguez, Jr. Used by permission.

Indeed it is, sir.  And indeed he is.  Thanks for the picture.

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

Javier Vazquez makes his first start in front of his countrymen.  He’s clearly stoked–strikes out the side in the first inning.  But he fades out a bit and doesn’t factor into the decision.

Vladimir Guerrero, Tony Clark, and Gary Sheffield homer.

John Smoltz picks up a save.

(Written April 2003.  Updated April 2006.)

Qualcomm Stadium

photodraw57

From the "Ballparks of Baseball" website. Used by permission.

Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego, CA

Number of games:  2
First game:  July 31, 2000 (Padres 4, Phillies 1)
Last game:  August 1, 2000 (Padres 10, Phillies 9, 10 innings)

Qualcomm Stadium is no longer in use as of the 2004 season.

I never knew why the Padres were called the Padres until I got to San Diego and visited the Mission there (recommended) a few hours before my first game at Qualcomm.  Duh!  The ballpark is in the Mission District!  So it’s not that they believed that priests were somehow intimidating (although I’ve known a few who are), it’s more a local historical nickname, which I think are the best kind.

Qualcomm–this name is an abomination.  It is especially offensive in light of the switch from Jack Murphy Stadium, named from the sportswriter who lobbied so hard to bring pro sports to San Diego…and yes, I know it’s “Qualcomm Stadium at Jack Murphy Field,” but that seems to be a weak and lefthanded tribute to Murphy, which actually makes it worse.

The stadium, however, was a pleasant surprise.  Given that it’s a multipurpose stadium of the era of Busch, Riverfront, Three Rivers and the Vet, I was expecting it to be bland and boring.  While it faces some of the problems of multipurpose stadiums (namely the expanses of empty upper-deck seats), it wasn’t nearly as charmless as all of those.  I like the grass, I like the warm dry air, I like the huge out-of-town scoreboard in right field, and I like the immediacy and doggedness with which they report pitch speed and type of pitch on the left field wall.  I especially like the good-looking laid-back fans who show a lot of skin because it’s so warm in Southern California–it was a fine place to kick off the 2000 Erotic Love And Baseball Stadium West Coast Swing (which was, alas, completely devoid of erotic love).  In short, I guess I like San Diego and its ballpark.

Only one guy talked to me during the games, teasing me about my Mariners hat.  He said, after a highlight video between innings:  “Dude!  [Okay, maybe he didn’t say dude.]  There weren’t any Mariners in those great plays.”  I said “Stan Javier was in there.  He’s the guy who made that juggling catch at the outfield wall.  If you’re going to make fun of me, that’s fine, but you’re going to have to get your facts right.”  His response.  “Okay.  Game on!”  I waited for him to challenge me again, but he obviously knew he was in over his head.  He never spoke to me again.

Before game one, I committed an absolute atrocity.  I was lingering in right field, trying my luck in getting a batting practice ball.  The right field pavilion is a good 20-25 feet above the ground, so players cannot hand kids balls (the best technique in getting kids a ball…adults too often muscle kids aside to get thrown balls).  Anyway, I’m there waiting when Randy Wolf arcs a ball our way.  I settle under it, reach up with my 6’3″ body and freakishly long arms, and I’ll be damned, I caught a real-live major league baseball! I felt good about myself for about three-tenths of a second until I looked behind me and saw the 12-year-old I was standing in front of.

Here’s where my mind started to go haywire.  I instantly felt a strong wave of Catholic guilt for stepping in front of him…and this on the day I visited the Mission!…and in my mind, I heard:  “you should give the kid the ball…you were far taller and in front of him.” As I was thinking this, a group of bitchy junior high girls standing in front of me, between me and Randy Wolf, girls who don’t even have gloves, said “He was throwing us the ball!  Give us the ball!  He was throwing us the ball!” Something about the combination of these two factors–the mind saying “give the kid the ball” and the girls saying “give us the ball” led to the worst possible outcome.  I gave the girls the ball.  I should have either kept the ball  (it’s not like I bumped the kid aside or reached over him, I was in front of him all along, and there’s no way Randy had an intended receiver so far away) or else given it to the short kid I inadvertently blocked out.  I did neither.  And the stupid girls didn’t even thank me.  I should have ripped the damn thing back from them.  Won’t make that mistake again.  But yes…I caught a ball.

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

The Phillies and Padres were both bad teams in 2000, but I saw two good games…

I saw Woody Williams battle Bruce Chen in quite a pitchers’ duel…Woody had a 3-hit shutout until Pat Burrell homered with two out in the 8th.

The 10-9 game was amazing.  The Pads took a 9-1 lead through 6 innings…then blew it before winning in the 10th.  I don’t have a Padre record book handy (indeed, or at all), but I wonder if that’s the biggest lead they’ve ever blown…or does it count as a blown lead if you win anyway?

John Mabry homered in his first at-bat for the Padres after being traded from Seattle the night before.

Trevor Hoffman took the mound with a 9-7 lead for the 9th…it really is cool when they play “Hell’s Bells” as he comes in…got two outs, then gave up back-to-back homers to Scott Rolen and Burrell to blow the save.  The crowd couldn’t believe it. Neither could I.

(Written August 2001.  Revised July 2005.)

Shea Stadium

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Carl Semencic, from http://www.li.net/~semencic/beetles.htm. Used by permission.

Shea Stadium, Queens, NY

Number of games:  1
First and last game:  July 24, 1999 (Mets 2, Cubs 1)

Shea Stadium is no longer in use as of the 2009 season.

I finished off the 1999 Erotic Love And Baseball Stadium Tour of Boston and New York by taking the #7 train to Flushing Meadow; this, the summer before John Rocker made an ass out of himself and made the #7 the most talked-about subway route in the world.  For the record, on the way to and from Shea Stadium I saw none of Rocker’s “queers with AIDS” or “welfare mothers with six kids.” (At least not to my knowledge.  I did not take the time to interview my fellow passengers:  “Has your HIV become symptomatic?” “How many people do you have to support on your welfare check?”)   I also saw no “kids with purple hair”: at least not that I could see underneath their Mets caps.  I did hear a few different languages spoken, however, as Rocker found so offensive.  So John batted .250 in his assessment of the #7 train, which doesn’t exactly going to get him into the Subway Description Hall of Fame.  It did, however, make him look like a complete idiot.

In fact, I had a little bit of a bumpy experience aboard the #7 the middle of Queens.  There was construction on my track, so they made everybody get out of the train and switch over to another train.  I had to improvise in Queens!  But the woman from the Transit Authority was very kind and helpful (in that unemotional New York way) in saying that yes, the train that was going to Main Street/Flushing was also going to Shea Stadium.  I even heard her start saying “this way to Shea Stadium” over her bullhorn after I left her.  That was my good deed for the folks going to the game–getting the Transit woman to say “Shea Stadium” for them.

If you’re going to attend a baseball game in New York, especially at Shea, be certain to dramatically overeat prior to your arrival at the ballpark.  “I’ll just pick up lunch at the ballpark” is a bad idea.  The concession stands are overpriced even by New York standards, and the food is quite typical.  There are cheap delis and pizzerias near wherever you’re staying.  There are corner markets that can sell you food that I bet you can easily sneak in.  Do that–don’t eat at the park.  At Shea, it won’t be long before loan offices open next to the concession stands so that you can talk to someone about whether you can afford a slice of pizza and a Coke.

The stadium itself is in the middle of the pack of stadiums, I’d say…charming, but not really special.  The fans weren’t so choked with anger as their counterparts in the Bronx.  I sat next to a family who were enjoying the game and even permitting their kids to root for Sammy Sosa when he was at bat, provided they rooted for the Mets the rest of the time.  It was kids’ day, so I got to watch the Mets play wiffle ball with their kids.  Its amazing how early you can tell a kid is going to be an athlete, as so many of these kids clearly take after their fathers.

All in all, it was a nice afternoon at a good-looking and, thanks to the #7, easily-accessible ballpark.  There’s nothing wrong with this ballpark.  Nothing special about it either, except for everything that’s already special about an afternoon watching baseball–and in the end, that’s enough.

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

Sammy Sosa homers.  I saw him take the little hop.

Edgardo Alfonzo and Robin Ventura homer.  All the runs come on solo homers.

Steve Trachsel pitches very well, but takes the loss to drop to 3-14.  Ouch.

[Old] Yankee Stadium

ys_stadium_ext

Photo courtesy of NYCTourist.com. Used by permission.

[Old] Yankee Stadium, Bronx, NY

Number of games:  1
First and last game:  July 22, 1999 (Yankees 5, Devil Rays 4)

Old Yankee Stadium is no longer in use as of the 2009 season.

Dad–relax!  Yes, I took the subway, but I was with a friend, and I went to a day game.  I was never in any kind of physical danger.  Well, maybe once, but we’ll get to that later.

The stadium itself isn’t at all beautiful or special in architecture, but I think people’s love of Yankee Stadium (including mine) comes not from what is there but from what has happened there.  To me, there’s exactly one thing that ties me to Mantle and Maris and Guidry and, somehow, even to Ruth…Bob Sheppard.  The man has this wonderful and timeless voice, and I don’t understand why more people who share his job don’t emulate him.  Those long, long pauses between each word can make everything sound so beautiful, majestic, important, historic, even if you know he’s just saying the name of some Tampa Bay Devil Ray you’ve never heard of before and will never hear of again, a guy about to strike out in the second inning of a completely routine game on a chilly, rainy July afternoon, a game between a first-place team and a last-place team.  “The center fielder……….number fifty…….Terrell……….Lowery.”   And all I can think is…my GOD…it’s Terrell Lowery!  How critically important a moment this is!  Bob Sheppard makes this happen.  Not only does he talk slowly by pausing between each word, he pronounces the name just slowly enough so that he–and everyone listening–can absolutely savor every syllable, every phoneme.  This is a man who loves words and loves names to the point where Sports Illustrated once published his all-time favorite and least favorite baseball names to pronounce.  (The best:  Salome Barojas.  He loves the Hispanic names.  The worst:  Mickey Klutts.)

Other PA announcers don’t have the same style, and would probably be fired if they did.  I think this is a terrible shame.  Think of the difference between the way “The shortstop…number three…Alex Rodriguez” is pronounced if Alex is on the home team or on the visiting team.  I find this difference to be ridiculous and borderline offensive.  Is it the PA announcer’s job to tell me when to cheer?  I can tolerate organ playing, music, even a little of the infernal rhythmic clapping…but are fans such morons that the PA announcer has to tell us, through vocal inflection, which are the good guys and which are the bad?  I’m certainly not.  (Incidentally, I feel the same way about scoreboards which say “Noise Now” or “On Your Feet” or other instructional tips for fans.  I will make noise when I am moved to make noise…not because The Man is telling me to.)

Bob Sheppard can’t do what he does for too much longer–he has been doing it day in and day out for close to 50 years–and I’ll miss him when he’s gone, because it will mean the cheerleader PA announcer will have won out over his wonderful voice and classy technique, same for home and visitor.

Yankee fans, frankly, scare the hell out of me.  This game is in 1999, mind you, so the Yankees are in first place and in a stretch of World Series victories.  They never trail Tampa Bay in the game I watch, although it’s a close game.  And they are absolutely ruthless to their home team.  Andy Pettitte gets it for giving up a couple of runs and a homer, Bernie Williams gets it for a groundout with a runner in scoring position (even though Bernie had homered earlier), others get it for other small sins…the negative energy in the place was amazing.

Oh–about that possible near-death experience…it had been a drizzly afternoon, and my high-school buddy and I were a little chilly and were occasionally getting specked by individual drops of water.  Is the rain starting up again?  Are we under a wet stadium light?  After a few innings, I finally catch it…there’s a ten-or-eleven year old kid up there, about eight rows above us, spraying random people with a water gun.  I know how to handle this…I’ve taught sixth grade, so I know what to do with boys who misbehave.  I give him my stern teacher glare and say “Knock it off!”  Game over, I’m sure.  But just as soon as the words are out of my mouth, the instant it’s too late to take them back, I notice that his dad is next to him, egging him on.  What the hell’s the deal with that?  A dad encouraging his son to spray strangers at a ballgame?  Amazing.  Good old New York.  So as soon as I give the kid a glare, I’m worried that the dad is going to come after me, and there’s gonna be a huge fight, and I’ve never been in a fight, and this dad probably is in one every weekend, and the New Yorkers will side with him, and I’ll be in some hospital in the Bronx, and I won’t make it to my Saturday game at Shea…Well, it didn’t happen.  The kid stopped his water gun, at least with me.  Score one for the teacher glare.

So, to review–the historic nature of the grass that Gehrig and Ruth and the rest of them ran on is palpable and impressive, and is aided by Bob Sheppard’s voice…I hope he is not replaced with a cheerleader.  The teams are usually so good that they’re worth the trip.  In short, like New York itself, Yankee Stadium is a wonderful place to visit, and I look forward to visiting again (maybe for a night game…eeek!) but it scares me a little with its negative karma, and I’m glad it’s not my home stadium.

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

Bernie Williams and Fred McGriff homer.

Bryan Rekar, who I saw make his first major league start (a win) in Colorado in 1995, gets the loss.

Wade Boggs pinch-hits in what I believe to be his last appearance in Yankee Stadium.  He grounds to second.

(Written August 2001.  Revised July 2009.)

Kingdome

kingdome291191

From King County website, www.metrokc.gov/stadium.

Kingdome, Seattle, WA

Number of games: 28
First game:  March 31, 1996 (Mariners 3, White Sox 2, 12 innings)
Last game:  May 30, 1999 (Devil Rays 15, Mariners 7)

The Kingdome was imploded in March of 2000.

The place was a dump, and in spite of the fact I went to so many games there, and that one might think this might breed some affection, I will never miss it.  The day they blew the damn thing up, I remember they interviewed some guy in his 30s wearing a Seahawks jersey.  He was close to tears, and they asked him for his opinions about the loss of the Kingdome, and he said it just made him sad, thinking of “watching Jim Zorn take snaps there, watching Dave Kreig take snaps there, watching Griffey, Buhner, Randy…”  Wow.  This is a man who did not cry at his own wedding (although I’d lay money that he’s never had and never will have said wedding).  I tend to be a weepy-sensitive-poet sort, and I tend to be an our-place-in-history lover of sports, but I refuse to mix the two.  I mean, every time I went into that place on a gorgeous summer night in the Pacific Northwest, no matter who I was with or how excited I was to see the game, going indoors made me think, just for a split second:  “I’m wasting my life.”  I don’t think that when I enter an outdoor stadium.  Additionally, even as indoor stadiums go, this was disgusting…grey everywhere.  In short, the ballpark itself is not worth another word here.

My first game there remains the only Opening Night I’ve ever attended.  It was two weeks after I’d moved to Seattle.  I had just moved into a scary rooming-house–didn’t yet have any kind of temp work, didn’t yet have a chance to make friends beyond my brother’s friends.  Not the best life situation, but I was still optimistic against all odds, though, which is a perfect state of mind for opening night. It was quite an opener, too:  a sold-out Kingdome the first game after the amazing ’95 playoffs.

A good balance of family and friends were always on hand to go to the Kingdome with me…I went on my own just twice, once to see David Wells get shelled but still win (final score:  16-10…ugh), and once near the end of the Kingdome’s existence, when I sat right behind Griffey in center field, to watch my last game there, where Jose Canseco and just about everybody else homered off of just about every Mariner reliever.  Went with my parents whenever they were in town…Mom’s not a huge fan, but likes “to be with my boys.”  Went with my brother and his friends. Did several games every year with David, an exceedingly kind and bookish actor/director and New Yorker who liked to watch the Yankees (but is not a Yankee fan).  Celebrated my 29th birthday with about a dozen friends watching Griffey hit a game-winning grand-slam so dramatic and perfect that friend Darcy thought it looked suspicious–she thought the whole game might have been rigged.

DeAnn was a terrible blind date I went to a game with…I hated her name (which wasn’t really DeAnn), hated her lack of intelligence, hated her not-so-hot morals, and still went out with her for as long as I could because I was new in town.   Michelle was a major winner who thought it cute when I talked about the infield fly rule.  I’ve heard she got married to the guy she dated right after me.  I’ve also heard she then got very, very sick…I certainly hope that’s not true, and that she’s out there somewhere and doing well.

***October 2004:  I wrote the above, about Michelle, in July of 2001, literally a few days before I got a letter from her reestablishing contact after 4 years apart.  She was not married and not dead. In fact, we resumed contact, became friends, started dating again…and I will marry her in July of 2005.  Yippee!  I am proud to report that she is still a “major winner” and a total babe.

Maria let me take her to a game during her week visiting me in spite of her lack of love of sports.  It still comes up every now and then, and I still explain to her that a love of sports and a love of stories are the same thing.  “I understand that,” she says–skeptically, I think.

A standout Kingdome baseball date was Kerry.  For one thing, Kerry flew all the way from Boston to go to a pair of games with me.  She counted down to her visit in criminally cute emails:  “In only five weeks you’ll be teaching me how to score.”  “Score” puns aside, that ain’t too shabby…what more could a baseball nerd want than to teach a brilliant woman how to mark a scorecard?  At one of our games, Kerry began a fixation on then-rookie Mike Sweeney, simply because she liked the sound of the name “Kerry Sweeney.”  When she pointed her binoculars at his butt, she liked him even more.  So what happens?  Sweeney clearly feels the love, and hits his first major-league home run.  Kerry’s passion for Sweeney has not waned, and in the five years since, under her good karmic graces, he’s become an all-star.  (Mike, if you read this, drop me an email…you clearly owe Kerry at least an autographed baseball.)  We laughed a lot, leaning in, very close to each other, joking quietly, especially at the expense of the stupid children next to us who kept repeating everything I yelled, causing me to shout stupider and stupider things to see exactly what I could get them to say.  These were wonderful dates.  Three years later, I would return the favor of her visit, and she would take me to two games at her home stadium, Fenway Park.

On the whole–some good baseball, a fair share of bad baseball, lots and lots of memories, all good.  I live 10 miles from the Kingdome, and I could feel the earth shake when they blew it up.  Had a lot of fun there.  Glad the place is gone.

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN THERE:

Favorite player:  Randy Johnson.  I was a fan since his Montreal days, as I liked the idea of a gangly guy throwing the ball at great velocity and with unpredictable results.  I first got to see him in the opening night game, 1996.  He was long gone when the new rookie Alex Rodriguez, hitting ninth, drove in the winning run in the bottom of the 12th with his only hit in a 1-for-6 night. About a year and a half later, I saw my favorite game of Randy’s, where he gutted out a 5-4 win over Kansas City when he didn’t seem to have his stuff–still, everyone chanted his name, begging Lou Piniella not to take him out.  He struck out 16 that night.

I’ll be talking about seeing Hall-of-Famers like Johnson and Rodriguez  and Ken Griffey Jr. years down the line, I guess, saying I saw them play.  I saw Griffey hit 3 homers and score 5 runs, driving in 6, on a 4-for-4 night against the Yankees.  On the other hand, I twice saw him fail to take a step towards either left or right field on plays where his neighboring outfielder either misjudged a fly or missed making a tough catch against the wall.  Only when the ball hit the carpet did Griffey consider running to back up his teammate.  Inexcusable, just standing there like that. I’ve had people tell me that a major-league outfielder can’t be expected to run to back up every fly ball of the whole year.  My response:  yes he can.

All of these pale in comparison to The Greatest Play In Baseball History, which took place at the Kingdome in my presence on April 8, 1997.  I was way down the left-field line with my partner-in-crime Rob (with whom I have enjoyed 3 games in two stadiums, plus one spring training) when the Mariners’ bullpen was getting shelled again.  This time it was Josias Manzanillo.  Now, Josias was sprinting in from the bullpen full-speed before any of us had ever heard of John Rocker.  So he comes sprinting in and works himself into trouble:  men on second and third, one out. Manny Ramirez is up.  Ramirez absolutely crushes a scary screaming line drive up the middle, 100+ miles an hour right off of Manzanillo.  Manzanillo falls down with the impact, gets up, and throws the ball home to force Jim Thome out at the plate…then goes back down.  Quite an impact…It was only the next day that we learned that Mr. Manzanillo was not wearing a cup.  I don’t want to make light of his injury, which was serious–it ultimately cost him a testicle.  Look it up in Baseball Weekly from early that season:  “Mariner reliever Josias Manzanillo (testicles) is on the DL…”  Still, considering how hard a shot he took, and the fact that he wasn’t wearing a cup, it is indeed amazing that he got up and made the play! But wait, there’s more…once it became clear to the Mariners’ infield that Josias wasn’t mortally wounded (the seriousness of the injury wasn’t known for some time), his teammates started teasing him…”Hey, let’s see you sprint off the field now!”  The best part of the play:  he did.

(Written August 2001.  Revised July 2009.)