Tag Archives: california ballparks

Banner Island Ballpark, Stockton, California

Banner Island Ballpark, Stockton, CALIFORNIA

State number:  still 31
States to go:  19

Number of games:  1
First game:  July 3, 2011 (Stockton Ports 5, San Jose Giants 3)

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

Children have slowed down my ballpark quest just a tad, for financial and practical reasons–at least for a small amount of time.  The elder is such a massive baseball fan that he’s currently on target to put me to shame in that department, and the younger…well, it’s too early to judge.  As a result, I only added one new ballpark in 2011:  Banner Island Ballpark in Stockton.  Could have been more if the PCL and California League schedule-makers had been kinder

during our trip down to Lake Tahoe, but alas, it wasn’t meant to be.  Still, we got this one in.  When we told 2 1/2 year-old Steven we would be watching the San Jose Giants play the Stockton Ports, he was excited to see Tim Lincecum.  This meant some explanation of how the San Jose Giants are not the same as the San Francisco Giants.  Too early to discuss major vs. minor leagues, promotion, demotion, release…but he does know that the San Jose Giants are different from their parent club.  Not too bad for 28 months.

In any event, it was 98 degrees on this July 3rd Fireworks Night, and I held the elder’s hand while my wife wore the younger on her chest.  Blessedly, our seats in the third row behind home plate were in the shade

all night long (avoid the third base side at the ballpark, y’all, unless you want to feel like a fried egg).  Unfortunately, there were people in front of us, and Steven could see little.  I wound up holding the little dude in my lap for a while as my wife scored the game.  When we switched, and I walked the elder around the ballpark, some at-bats went unscored…but that’s what happens with kids.  A worthwhile sacrifice.

On those wanderings, I found a pretty nice stadium–just a little bit corporate, but serviceable and pleasant.  It sits on the river, although there’s not much of a hint of it unless one walks beyond right field to check out the view.  There, fans mostly watched the game, which was especially impressive on Fireworks Night.  I deeply appreciated the pavilion, which enabled me, both with my leashed child and without him, to walk all the way around the park and enjoy the experience as best as I could from many vantage points.

In addition to the usual spectacle that comes with a 4th of July minor league game, there was a special occasion this evening, but not one I discovered until it was too late, and my scorebook was sullied.  Allow me to explain.

I have a little game I started to play with my old scorebooks a couple of years ago.  Namely, I try to get ballplayers to autograph the best past game they’ve played in my presence.  This means that I make it a point to check out the rosters before ballgames and bring appropriate past scoresheets for them to sign.  I try not to be a jerk about it…I never try to elbow my way past kids, for instance…but I have gotten some signatures in both my major

league and minor league books.

So, before we departed, I jotted down players I’d seen play for both the San Jose Giants and Stockton Ports.  I’d seen 6 Giants and 2 Ports play, almost all in Northwest League games over the past several years.  I  wrote down their names and uniform numbers. And there, signing quite a few autographs down the left field line, was a lone San Jose Giant.  #17.  I checked my scorebook.  I’d seen #17, Jose Flores, play on 7/4/2008 for Salem-Keizer.  So I got out the appropriate scorebook and got in line.  I allowed two ten-year-olds to borrow my pen.  I then said to #17:

“Hi.  Could I get you to sign this game you played for Salem-Keizer a few years ago?”

I pointed at the spot beneath the #3 hitter, for that game, Jose Flores.  The guy said “Wow!” and signed it.

He signed it “#9 Brandon Belt.”

Huh?

OK.  Turned out that Belt was on a rehab assignment for the SF Giants in San Jose and wasn’t listed on the web site when I checked.  (This explained the incredible popularity of his autographs.)  So I don’t blame the website.

I partly blame the Ports, whose program contained really out of date

information. I’d like game notes and would even pay for them if they had complete and accurate rosters.

I partially blame the Giants.  Why not give Belt a number someone else doesn’t have?  #17 wasn’t even his number for San Francisco.  Was he just borrowing jerseys of similarly-sized players who are not playing that day?

And I give some of the blame to Mr. Belt himself.  Yes, I know he’s busy and that he’s doing an unabashedly nice thing by signing so many autographs, and for that I am grateful, as are the many kids around me.  But since I

said “I saw you play in Salem-Keizer” and pointed at Flores’ name to signthere, couldn’t he have picked up on that?  Most other players I’ve gotten to sign have (although, to be fair, I haven’t made a similar mistake in any other circumstances).

In any event, I have Brandon Belt’s autograph under Jose Flores’ name, and a rather long-winded (andlow-payoff) story to explain it.

If I recall correctly (as I write this some 9 months later), there was some sort of cool bar-like area in left field.  I wanted to take a photo

from within the bar, but wasn’t sure whether it was a 21-and-only area or not.  But nobody was checking, so I walked in there with my toddler-on-a-leash, took a picture, and left.  Please do not prosecute me for contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

And, for the record, I have never been a fan (not even remotely) of the red-white-and-blue special jerseys.  Gaudy.  Icky.  Baseball is, in itself, patriotic enough.  If one must go the patriotic route, go for the camouflage.  Can’t go wrong there…that’s a good look.

Anyway, Stockton does especially well in the central is-there-any-question-where-you-are test. There were many nice touches.  First, the prevalence of “Casey at the Bat” was lovely.  Stockton, as Wikipedia will tell you, claims that the poem was based on the Stockton

Ports, since Ernest Thayer wrote the poem while he was covering the Ports for the San Francisco Examiner.  The truth of that claim aside (to be honest, I don’t care whether it’s true–it’s the emotional connection to baseball and poetry is what gets me), it was cool to see Casey in several points through the ballpark, including the entire poem written by children around a mosaic, and the name of the concession stand.  In addition to Casey, there were ample retired jersey numbers and a plaque describing the historical significance of the site.  I thoroughly enjoyed that.

It wasn’t just old Ports that were celebrated: recent Ports were as well, as noted by a gigantic banner celebrating former Port Dallas Braden’s then-recent perfect game. I especially liked that he was depicted in a Ports’ uniform and not as an Oakland Athletic.  And if that’s not enough, well, you can’t go wrong with fried asparagus.

Seven bucks?  Worth every penny.  But then, I love both fried things and asparagus.

In any event, the minor league 4th of July road trip tradition continues, and shall continue with children who likely will curse us for it one day “Da-aaaad, why can’t we stay home and watch fireworks like regular people do???” And I continue to enjoy it, as it takes me to nice places and people like we found here.  Again–we’ll have to stay within driving distance for a while, but we’ve done nine of these now, and I just can’t picture the

holiday without it.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel:  8/10
What the ballpark lacks in regional feel via view (the arena next door doesn’t tell me where I am) it makes up for in local baseball history (all things Dallas Braden), in the poetry, and in the asparagus stand, plus the visible-if-you-walk-to-it river.

Charm: 3.5/5
A little too slick, a little too sponsor-heavy.

Spectacle:  3.5/5
Not too bad for low minors, but  man, do I ever dislike those stars-and-stripes uniforms.

Team Mascot/Name: 2/5

Splash and me.  As this picture is taken, I’m attempting to solve the obvious question:  what the hell is this thing?  So I asked Splash:   “Are you the product of a romantic liaison between Elmo and the Phillie Phanatic?”  Splash nodded.  I said I wouldn’t tell, but I’m getting it out here.  Clearly, Elmo is all grown up and on the prowl.  Anyway, not a huge fan of this indeterminate, derivative dude or his name.

Aesthetics: 4/5
A lovely ballpark overall.  It’s a shade corporate, and I’d like to see the river and the game at the same time, but there’s a lot more good than bad aesthetically.

Pavilion: 4.5/5
Quite nice.  Circumnavigation is easy, and one is treated to river views in the process.  Plenty of baseball-themed stuff to do, and one can almost (almost) follow the game from all vantage points (this is the reason for the half-point deduction.

Scoreability: 4.5/5
Don’t recall a problem here.  They were more attentive than I could be with two kiddoes on my hands.  Minor deduction because the glare on the scoreboard made it difficult to read.

Fans:  4/5
Several nice people complimenting my children near the seats.  Bad:  One hoodlum pre-teen flipping  me sarcasm as I wandered around the park taking pictures  “Please, no flash photography.”  Punk cost his ballpark an ENTIRE POINT!  I’m sure this will cause him to re-think his ways.  (Here he is, before he started giving me punk attitude…my knowledge that he was a snot has ruined what would otherwise be one of my favorite photos.)

Intangibles: 3.5/5
A little too corporate for my tastes, but not a bad night on the whole

TOTAL: 37.5/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

A Dusty Coleman triple and a Mitch LeVier home run give the Ports the lead in the second inning, but Dusty Coleman drives home the game-winner on a 6th-inning single.

Dan Straily pitches well enough for the win.  Zack Wheeler strikes out 8 in 6 innings  in the loss.

Michael Choice also homers for the Ports.

(Written July 2011.  Modified April 2012.)

Raley Field, Sacramento, California

Raley Field, Sacramento, CALIFORNIA

Number of states:  still 13
States to go:  37

Number of games:  1
First game:  July 3, 2006 (Salt Lake Bees 2, Sacrameto RiverCats 0)

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

I’ve never heard anybody talk about Sacramento as a destination before.  Indeed, I’ve never heard anybody talk about Sacramento at all before, unless listing state capitals.  For those reasons, I was not expecting to be impressed by Sacramento.  I was, and I especially was impressed by its ballpark.

For starters, the location is ideal.  They’ve placed the ballpark on the river, just across from downtown, much like in Wichita.  From every seat in the ballpark,

and even from much of the concourse, there’s a fantastic view of the bridge that would lead you right to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s desk, if you were so inclined as to pay him a visit.  Sacramento’s downtown rises up behind and around the bridge, so the ballpark passes the important “is there any question where you are” test by virtue of sheer location.  Approaching and leaving the ballpark is a major part of the experience here.  I highly recommend parking downtown and strolling along Sacramento’s river walk on the way to the ballpark.  River walks are beautiful no matter where they are, and Sacramento’s is near loads of fun shops and night spots.  Then, cross the bridge on the south side (the stadium side)…otherwise, you’ll be forced to do a fairly lengthy detour back under the bridge (there wasn’t a convenient way to cross the street near the stadium).  I’d recommend against getting to the ballpark too early, since there’s minimal shade to wait in by the southeast entrance.  I’m always a fan of the experience of a ballgame starting on approach (Boston does this well in the walk from the T station, and Seattle isn’t too shabby either, at least in the approach to the ballpark from the north).  The experience of approaching Raley Field is as wonderful as that of any minor league ballpark I’ve experienced to date, and that’s important.  The ambience of a sold-out crowd approaching a ballpark is unmatched, and the RiverCats’ Independence Day Fireworks celebration had the crowd in a festive mood.

I especially appreciated this ambience on this trip, as my wife and I finished off our 4th annual Fourth Of July Baseball Road Trip, and our first as a married couple.

My wife and I have pretty much decided that the annual Fourth of July Baseball Road Trip will be a continued tradition, including after we have children.  How will the kids respond to this tradition?  I can just picture them complaining about it, saying “How come we can’t stay home and barbecue like normal people?”  But I bet we can make this into a wonderful tradition.  I’ve spent 4ths of July enjoying packed houses all along the West Coast.  I’ve watched people from four states ooh and aah at fireworks displays.  When the trip is timed right (as it was this year), I’ve seen multiple fireworks shows in multiple ballparks,

with almost every night a packed house.  I often feel like a stealth American, sticking an American flag into my hat and watching yet another small town or small city celebrate the USA.  I’ve grown to love the tradition.  And since families need traditions, even if my kids whine about this one through their teenage years, I think that they will look back fondly at these when they happen.  Of course, they’ll all be recorded on this site.  But I digress.

Inside the ballpark, Raley Field has several touches that help to expand the festive feel of the approach to the ballpark.  First, general admission tickets will get a seat on the grass beyond right field, and that space was totally packed on this day (although the spots in the shade went first).  There doesn’t appear to be a bad seat at Raley Field; the grandstand consists of just one level of seats beneath some skyboxes, including a batch down the right-field line that appears to include a Tiki-themed restaurant.

The pavilion area is quite lovely since it provides a mostly-unobstructed view of the field of play and even of the Sacramento skyline. 

I like the ability to get my concessions without missing any play.  And while I’m hardly a ballpark foodie, Sacramento’s concessions were notably good:  the nachos I bought from the Mexican place had guacamole, black olives, and sour cream–not just the usual orange goo in a plastic-corner-cubby.  My wife was stoked at a chance to buy a root beer float, but alas, they ran out.  Still, the idea that it is possible to do this at a ballpark wins my raves.   Also, the pavilion area had several nice, baseball-related touches.  There are two fairly cool three-dimensional bits of art depicting fans leaning out of the walls to get a better look at the game.  Also, the lineups are presented on sandwich-cutouts shaped like umpires, which I appreciated.  So rarely are there positive depictions of umpires in the world–these provide a nice change.

With quality AAA baseball in such a gorgeous setting, the RiverCats don’t need to do much in the way of distracting promotions, and for the most part, they don’t, which I liked.  On this Independence Day celebration, they did some strange stuff on the scoreboard, asking trivia questions and providing random facts about our nation and its presidents.  It was fun to play along during breaks in the action.

Beyond that, the baseball was central.

I was a little bit troubled by the self-declared “Team Mom” seated in the front row of our section.  The idea of the RiverCats needing a team mom is a little bit creepy.  I can understand the purpose of both declared

and undeclared team moms at the rookie and short-season A levels.  There, you’ve got kids who are fresh out of college, fresh out of high school, or even (in the case of some Latin American ballplayers) younger and on their own for the first time.  The need for host families in a small town and someone to help these young men with what might be their first forays into rent and laundry are welcome.  My wife’s experience working for a short-season A team backs this theory up.  But the youngest kid on the team was nearly 24, the median age of the RiverCats players was 26, and a significant minority of them were in their 30s.  None of them were fresh out of college (nobody starts their career at Triple-A), all had lived at least one year (and usually far more) on their own, and I’d wager that at least a third–and just as likely more–were married.  Put the orange slices away, lady–these players don’t need or want a team mom!  My wife got the sense that the players, as they passed this woman hooting at them, were merely giving polite “whatever, she’s harmless” nods.

What was stranger was the way the “Team Mom” decided to use her self-declared position to advance a political aim.  Sounds bizarre, but check it out:  She held up a sign that read “RiverCats and fans want our troops home safe.”  Of course, that’s true of all Americans–we all want the troops back safe–but when she held up this sign in July of 2006, there was significant debate over exactly when and whether our troops should pull out of Iraq, and the sign could easily have been interpreted as calling for troop withdrawal.  Even though I’m a pacifist liberal, I found this sign creepy.  Not because she was expressing her opinion at the ballgame–that is her First Amendment right–but because she drew in players and fans, some of whom might disagree with troop withdrawal.  To review, she invented a position for herself with the team, and then abused that self-declared position.  Yuck.

But that’s a minor gripe.  It doesn’t detract from the ballpark, which was a fantastic experience not only before and during the game, but also afterwards.  After the fireworks, we joined massive throngs of foot traffic back across the bridge into Sacramento, and walked over a boat parade in progress on the Sacramento River.  Boats were festooned with flags and stuffed with revelers, but more impressively, were completely covered in patriotic lighting.  Light bulb-covered boats stretched along the river until it bent out of sight.  It was a fantastic way to end the holiday celebration.

On the whole Raley Field is a tremendous ballpark–absolutely as good as its lofty reputation.  It’ s enough to justify making Sacramento a part of a California vacation, and in the process, you just might be pleasantly surprised at what you find along the river.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel:  9/10
It’s right next to the Sacramento River and has constant, gorgeous views of downtown Sacramento.  Can’t complain there.

Charm:  4.5/5
Lots of nice touches throughout.  Loved it here.

Spectacle:  4/5
A few, always in their place.  Baseball was central, but wacky stuff was there to be had.

Team mascot/name:  3.5/5


Dinger and caretaker.  The name “Dinger” has been done, but I like “RiverCats,” and Dinger clearly is one.

Aesthetics:  5/5
It’s a good-looking place with great views.

Pavilion area:  4/5
Nice here–excellent food, nice feel, nice art, virtually always in view of the field.

Scoreability:  4/5

Fans:  4.5/5
A packed house of nice Californians.  I got a good vibe.

Intangibles:  5/5
A gorgeous night, a great game, a fantastic view, and great food.  This is a gem.

TOTAL:  43.5/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

It was all about Salt Lake pitching, as five hurlers (Nathan Bland, Matt White, Matt Hensley, Marcus Gwyn, and Greg Jones) combined on a two-hitter.

Howie Kendrick drove in both runs with an 8th-inning double.

(Written July 2006.)

John Thurman Field, Modesto, California

modestoinprogress

John Thurman Field, Modesto, CALIFORNIA

Number of states: still 13
States to go: 37

First game:  July 2, 2006 (Modesto Nuts 6, San Jose Giants 3)

After the horrendously loud and promotion-saturated experience at San Jose’s Municipal Stadium the night before, I welcomed this retreat into a quieter ballpark in a smaller city.  While John Thurman Field wasn’t exactly perfect, it was good for a number of reasons.

The ballpark itself is in a bit of a non-descript area, between a golf course and a somewhat-seedy residential area.  Before the game, it’s possible to enjoy some California Almonds while reclining under an umbrella and modestogolferwatching people tee off.  It’s also possible to walk right up to Modesto players as they make their way from the clubhouse to the dugout.  On the day we visited, anyone who wanted to could play catch in the outfield was welcome to head out there and do so.  Of course, this late afternoon and many others in Modesto were insufferably hot, so where I normally would have been disappointed to have forgotten our gloves, on this particular day I was fine not to be out there running around.

The concourse is also nondescript–a few concessionaires tucked back by the golf courses.  The promotions were reasonable–there could have been one or two more at the single-A level, but for the most part, they were fine.  Sure, the hot-dog eating contest that followed the game was disgusting, but it didn’t interfere with the game, so I can sit back and enjoy the disgusting modestoexteriorspectacle.

By the way, if you’re thinking of going to the ballpark, believe me, you want to sit on the first-base side in the shade, and not on the third-base side in the sun.  But you will have to get up if you want food. At the start of the game, I experienced one of my favorite ballpark perks:  an usher who offered to get me food while I stayed in my seat watching the game.  Too bad I never saw her again.

Among John Thurman Field’s biggest problems are a horrible PA system:  it’s actually easier to hear the PA in the pavilion than it is to hear it in the seats.  Not that there was much to hear:  the PA guy actually took the time to wish his wife a happy second anniversary.  I don’t like that stuff when it comes from the crowd; why would I like it from the staff?

Additionally, I was a better scorekeeper and scoreboard modestofromlfoperator than Modesto had.  There was a tough scoring call–fielder’s choice where everybody reaches, or error?–in the sixth inning.  As I waited to figure out what the scorer would decide, an affable usher saw me scoring (I didn’t notice anyone else scoring the game here, continuing the trend of nobody scoring games in California…is it banned by the state Constitution?).  He jokingly said:  “Just give Modesto a double.”  I laughed, but pointed out that there was a fairly large error on the scoreboard:  San Jose had two hits, but the scoreboard only had one up there.  It’s not like one of them was tough to miss…both were doubles down the line, one in the second inning and one in the sixth.  The usher immediately walkie-talkied the booth and pointed out the error.  modestoretirednumbersHe received an angry, harried response, something along the lines of “I have 5 people at once talking to me!  Stop bugging me!”  Nothing happened for another inning, when the usher called back a second time.  I actually managed to change the scoreboard!  I’m totally confident it never would have been fixed were it not for me.

I got to see a pitcher, Ching-Lung Lo, give a great performance for the second year in a row.  Lo had pitched a gem and lost when I visited Asheville in 2005.  His promotion to Modesto was not off to a great start, but he sure had a great game when I arrived for this visit:  3 hits in 7 innings–2 runs, one unearned.  Mr. Lo, I’m happy to watch you at the AAA level in Colorado Springs in a year or two.  (But, if it’s all the same to you, I’d rather not modestosignreturn to Drillers Stadium in Tulsa, so get through AA as quickly as you can.)

My wife and I met a nice woman–a mother of two from Southern California who was conned  by her 11-year-old son into stopping in Modesto on the way home from a holiday weekend in the mountains.  She could not believe that my wife and I were in Modesto only to see a baseball game, even though her husband does similar tours of ballparks.  My main concern for her was that she was turning around to talk to us.  Since we were in the second row behind a dugout, I had images of her or her daughter getting their heads exploded by a foul ball.  Hadn’t she read the sign which stated that that could happen?  When I offered to have her join us in the third row so that she could see any threatening line drives heading her way, her response was “No, I’m fine.”  Thank goodness she was right.

All in all, a fine, quiet evening in an ordinary–blessedly ordinary–ballpark.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel:  6.5/10
Tough to score this since I have no real image of what Modesto’s region should feel like.  They do well with all the nuts they sell in concessions and in the team name, but they fall short in the view from the seating bowl.  Also, the neighborhood and golf course could be anywhere in the USA.

Charm:  3/5
Not bad, but not great.

Spectacle: 4/5
Could be one or two more at the single-A level, but not too shabby.  I liked the multiple mascots getting around–and that they didn’t interfere with baseball.

Team mascot/name:  5/5

modestomascots

modestorobot

Wally the Walnut is on the left, Peanut the Elephant (I believe a leftover from the old Modesto A’s) is on the right.  Not pictured:  Al the Almond.  Modesto Nuts is an ideal name, and the multiple mascots are quite nice.

Aesthetics:  2.5/5
Nothing too special here.

Pavilion area:  3.5/5

Scoreability:  1/5
If I have to tell your scorekeeper and scoreboard operator that there’s been a double down the line, well, that’s a serious problem.  (But thanks to the usher for fixing it.)

Fans:  2.5/5
I sat with a nice woman and her daughter, but other than that, the game was sparsely attended and what fans there were stayed very quiet.

Intangibles:  4/5
On the whole, I liked it here, mostly because it was so cozy and calm.

TOTAL:  32/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

Ching-Lung Lo pitches 7 innings of 3-hit ball to pick up the win, striking out 10 and walking none.  Here he is signing an autograph for a fan in the dugout before the game:

modestochinglo

Chris Frey has a pair of RBI.

(Written July 2006.)

Municipal Stadium, San Jose, California

Municipal Stadium, San Jose, CALIFORNIA

Number of states: still 13
States to go: 37

First game:  July 1, 2006 (San Jose Giants 5, Modesto Nuts 1)

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

Ever see a gorgeous Jaguar going 25 in the passing lane?  How about a gorgeous house with a view and a huge garden filled with weeds?  A beautiful young man or woman with a huge, terrible tattoo?  That’s how San Jose’s

Municipal Stadium made me feel.  Ownership of something beautiful does not mean that the owner knows how to use it.  And the folks who own the Giants, Progress Sports Management (an ironic name if I’ve ever seen one), don’t know how to present their beautiful ballpark to the public.  The loud, ridiculous game I endured in 2006 was one of the biggest disappointments in my years of going to ballparks.

In its physical characteristics and attention to history, Municipal Stadium is right up there with Vancouver and Spokane–which is saying something.  I was very impressed with the loads of California League history, the murals of past greats, and the past standings and stats pasted all over the pavilion.  It was wonderful to soak all of that in.  There’s room to play catch next to the murals, areas for kids to enjoy a pre-game jump-around, a marvelous place to get ribs, and live blues music.  Gigante the mascot is to my satisfaction–I like the name.  The whole place has a positive vibe.  I was looking forward to the baseball.  But the owners of the team

apparently don’t care about baseball.

I’m not a straight traditionalist by any stretch of the imagination.  Seriously–particularly at the single-A level, I enjoy some wacky promotions between innings.  But said promotions cannot interfere with the play on the field.  These did.  There really wasn’t any reason to hold a baseball game at all…in San Jose, the baseball game has no value of its own, but only holds value as a sponsorship transference device.

I should have figured that it would be a long night when the person throwing out the first pitch–the local chief of police–arrived via a helicopter that landed on the field.  The helicopter turned out to be the most understated promotion of the night.  (Conveniently, they put live video of the helicopter’s landing on the scoreboard…just in case anyone was unable to find the huge, loud aircraft landing in center field.)  Incredibly, the Giants would make announcements and hold promotions not just

between innings–which I’m okay with–but also between batters and, incredibly, between pitches.

Let us enumerate the worst of their sins:

–I don’t mind the gorgeous scoreboard.  I also don’t mind a promotion marking strikeouts.  But rather than put K’s on the outfield wall, or even keep track of the number of K’s, they simply put a K on the scoreboard, and announced “Another K for Kelly Moore Paints!”  My wife put it well:  rather than a charming, wacky promotion, this was just a dull, corporate promotion.  I want the dull corporate stuff out of my minor league ballpark (and, for that matter, out of my major league ballparks, but that’s a harder battle to face).  There’s no charm, there’s nothing exciting…it’s just a way to make money.  And with Darren Sack’s success pitching the ball, I got so sick of the promotion that I have become an avowed Sherwin Williams man.

–The program cost $7…easily the most expensive program I’ve ever purchased.  It was jam-packed with information about the 2005 San Jose Giants.  In a minor league program, this is terribly unnecessary information.  The lion’s share

of the 2005 Giants had moved on for 2006…on to Connecticut and double-A ball.  I don’t want to know about them…I want to know about the guys on the field in front of me, and what they’d been up to in Salem-Keizer or Augusta.  Why bother with such a huge, expensive program when a smaller, cheaper one would be more effective?  Again, my business-major wife had the answer:  “More pages means more ads.”  Oh.

–I’m fine with the beer batter.  I am NOT fine with playing music between pitches and after strikes!  When the batter is in the batter’s box, don’t play snippets of “Beer Barrel Polka” with each strike.  The crowd is not stupid.  They know there’s a shot at a beer.  They’ll cheer.  Why insult them with music?  You’re not adding to the excitement.  You’re detracting from the baseball.  Remember that?  Baseball?

–The cannon.  They set it off in pre-game, which is fine, I guess.  But it went off once while the ball was in play:  during a groundout to short.  The player closest to the cannon, left fielder Michael Wagner, damn near jumped out of his stirrup socks.  Two things could have happened:  the cannon could have gone off accidentally, which is terrifying and dangerous, or it could have been intentionally set off during play, which

is awful and ridiculous…and, alas, in character for the night.

–The worst of all:  the sunflower seeds.  Some sunflower seed company would give away sunflower seeds to the crowd if the Giants scored in the fifth inning.  The Giants scored in the fifth inning.  Inexplicably, rather than waiting until between innings to deliver the goods, they sent kids out to hurl sunflower seed packets into the crowd immediately, while the next batter was at the plate.  Fans stood up and trampled each other to get to the seeds.  Meanwhile, there was baseball being played, but that was clearly of little or no interest to the Giants and their fans.

–Even the fireworks were lame.  Almost never was there more than one firecracker going off at a time.  Stupidly, they showed the fireworks live on the scoreboard.  Why?

The net result of all of this is that the hairs on the back of my neck were standing up.  I don’t know what this evening was about, but it wasn’t about baseball.  And in a ballpark that gets so much right–where baseball is celebrated on nearly every physical surface–I’m upset that the experience isn’t about baseball.  Municipal Stadium, therefore, scores very high in some areas and very low in others.  I hope to return one day when the team is under new management.  In the meantime, if anybody from the Giants is reading this, I implore you:  QUIET DOWN THE PROMOTIONS.  You’ll still get your sellouts, and you’ll be serving your fans in addition to serving your sponsors.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel: 8.5/10
The pavilion celebrates California baseball, with particular attention to California Leaguers who have gone on to the Hall of Fame.

Charm:  2.5/5
Physically, yes.  But as no advertisement can be charming, neither can the experience of attending a game at Municipal Stadium.

Spectacle: 1.5/5
A couple of good promotions, like one where players tried to bust out the headlights of a car with a baseball, but on the whole, things were ludicrously over-the-top.

Team mascot/name:  2.5/5


Gigante and me.  Is he an ape?  A gorilla?  Hard to tell, but I don’t mind him or his name.  However, the name “Giants” is a bit dull.

Aesthetics:  4/5
Lovely park.  Not much of a view, though.

Pavilion area:  5/5
Absolutely gorgeous.  Loads of activity, plenty of art, and a celebration of baseball.

Scoreability:  2/5
Not great here.  It was hard to tell when a new pitcher arrived, and inexcplicably, while the Giants’ lineup was listed in the pavilion, the opponents’ were not.

Fans:  2.5/5
I give San Jose fans credit for the sellout.  I do NOT give them credit for their baseball acumen, however, as it’s clear they’re eating up the garbage that the team is shelling out.

Intangibles:  0/5
A ballgame experience that, in the end, actually upset me.  So much wasted potential here.

TOTAL:  28.5/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

The Giants’ Darren Sack is the star, giving up two hits and striking out six in six innings of shutout ball.  Thomas King and Ben Cox finish the four-hitter, giving up only an unearned run in the ninth.

(Written July 2006.)

Stater Bros. Stadium, Adelanto, California

Stater Bros. Stadium, Adelanto, CALIFORNIA

Number of states:  still 13
States to go:  37

First game:  April 8, 2006 (Inland Empire 66ers 9, High Desert Mavericks 0)

(Stater Bros. Stadium has since been renamed Mavericks Stadium.)

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

It ain’t an Iowa cornfield, but Stater Bros. Stadium might as well be.  After a long drive, way past the very last L.A. suburb, well into the desert, way past an exit on I-15 and out of visual contact with anywhere that it looks like someone could live, there’s a ballpark that springs up quite literally out of nowhere.

Obviously, there has to be someone around to go to the ballgames, and in this case, the ballpark lies 10-20 miles from the reasonably-populated towns of

Hesperia and Apple Valley.  The ballpark itself is a few miles down the road from the much-smaller town of Adelanto.  But those who are driving up from the L.A. area will never see those towns.  It’s possible to drive into the desert, watch a California League game, and then drive home without being in a city of any size.  And I love that experience.

In such an atmosphere, the ballpark can’t help but pass the “is there any question where you are” test.  The High Desert Mavericks are clearly in the desert.  The ballpark is surrounded by scrub and sand. 

Between the outfield wall and the backing fence lies a stretch of sand.  The only other building visible is the adjacent Bravo Burgers.  On a clear night (as almost all of them are in the desert), it’s amazingly dark and quiet.  It was fantastic.  There’s nothing to be seen or heard in the world but a baseball game…and that is a great way to spend any day.

When one is surrounded by baseball, it’s good to be surrounded in a place where baseball is valued.  The folks at Stater Bros. Stadium have done a good job celebrating their team.  They have an “alumnus of the night,” who they announce on the radio over the PA, and have a write-up of their recent

exploits in the minors.  The columns around the pavilion are covered with the opening day lineups for every season in High Desert’s recent history.  The 1999 team here has already had 3 starters make the majors…not too shabby for High A ball.  There are ushers who will bring you your food or drink in all sections–not just for the high rollers–so nobody needs to miss a pitch.  When I see things like this, I can’t help but compare Stater Bros. Stadium with The Diamond at Lake Elsinore, the other ballpark I saw on this trip.  Where Lake Elsinore had so much non-baseball related stuff going on the baseball seemed incidental, at High Desert, the baseball was central.  Indeed, it was essential.  Kids actually watched the game at High Desert. Each ballpark had a grassy area by the right field foul pole.  While at Lake Elsinore there were kids whaling on each other, at High Desert, most of the kids actually watched the game, and only a very few rolled around on the grass and pounded on each other.  Parks that value baseball can get people to enjoy it.

The park is a little bit nondescript, but that feels appropriate given the sparse surroundings.  The tan brick matches the desert–all the more reason to focus on the baseball.  People can enjoy a meal at the Hard Ball Cafe, at least until the Hard Rock Cafe’s lawyers get wind of it.  The stadium also features what must be the most austere skyboxes ever constructed:

My good time at the ballpark was enhanced by the fact that the Mavericks were playing a Mariners affiliate, the Inland Empire 66-ers.  I’d seen many of

these players play at Everett, and it was nice to see them up a couple of levels.  It was also nice to see them win so handily.  It was cold, and while 1386 people made it to the game (not bad, considering where we were), not many stuck around.  I moved from seat to seat to keep warm, and I finally settled a little ways behind the Inland Empire dugout.  I guess there’s no clubhouse or locker room under the stadium, because 66er players kept walking up the aisle between the seats and the grass to get to a room upstairs.  I stayed there to take pictures after the game, and to watch one of the guys say hi to what appeared to be a new girlfriend.  I felt like a little bit of a doofus taking pictures of the guys, and few of them came out, but it still was fun to watch them all walk by like that.

After the game, put your car’s radio on scan.  I was able to pick up the last parts of baseball broadcasts originating in Denver and Seattle.  There are benefits to being in the middle of nowhere for baseball fans.

Then, as throughout the night, I felt completely immersed in baseball, and it is to the credit of the people at Stater Bros. Stadium.  I can certainly see a day where they no longer feel it’s financially viable to play ball in the middle of nowhere, but I hope it isn’t soon.  It’s a tremendous place to see a baseball game, simply because there’s nothing else in sight.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel:  9/10
Tremendous here.

Charm:  3.5/5
The ballpark is quite charming to me, although it could show a little more personality.

Spectacle: 3/5
Could do a hair more here, given the level of ball.

Team mascot/name:  3/5


Wooly Bully and me–in this photo, Wooly is the better-looking one.  The name “Mavericks” is fine, appropriate and local. but the name “Wooly Bully” is taken, I’m afraid.

Aesthetics:  4.5/5
Striking.

Pavilion area:  4.5/5
Very nice here…a lot of Mavericks history, and all of it within view of the field.

Scoreability:  3.5/5
Some minor slip-ups.

Fans:  4/5
I give them credit for being baseball-focused, for dealing with the cold well, and for getting all the way out to the ballpark to begin with.

Intangibles:  4.5/5
I couldn’t stop smiling in thrilled disbelief that this place even exists.  It has a real Field of Dreams vibe about it

TOTAL:  39.5/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

Robert Rohrbaugh is the pitching star, striking out 6 in 5 2/3 innings.  Three relievers finish a 7-hit shutout.

Yung-Chi Chen has four hits, including two doubles, along with a stolen base and two runs batted in.

The Diamond, Lake Elsinore, California

The Diamond, Lake Elsinore, CALIFORNIA

Number of states:  13
States to go:  37

Number of games:  1
April 7, 2006 (Lake Elsinore Storm 3, Lancaster JetHawks 1)

Update August 2008:  To see Storm Account Executive David McCrory’s jaw-droppingly unprofessional email response to this ballpark review, scroll down.

(Click any image to see in a larger size.)

It all comes down to a conversation I had at the gift shop.  I went to this game alone, which mean I was carrying my scorebook as I purchased my mini-bat to add to my Wall Of Minor League Mini-Bats.  God as my witness, the saleswoman uttered the following:

“Are you a scout?”

This is sick and wrong on so many levels.  Let me count the ways:  First, why the hell would a scout buy a mini-bat?  Beyond

that, I cannot come up with any reason why a scout would even enter the gift shop.  So why did she ask me if I was a scout?  It had to be the scorebook.  She assumed that a scorebook meant I was a scout.  I believe that she had never noticed a fan carrying a scorebook before.

And why would anyone bother taking a scorebook to The Diamond at Lake Elsinore?  I see no reason why, because baseball is unimportant at this ballpark.  In spite of all of the positive things I’d heard about it, I was not at all impressed with this night at the ballpark.

Yes, I know.  I like promotions at the ballpark, and more promotions at the lower levels than at the higher levels.  But at Lake Elsinore, the promotions actually crossed the line and

interfered with the baseball.  For reasons I cannot fathom, they made April 7 a St. Patrick’s Day promotion.  They changed the baselines and bases to green.  They put either an “O” or a “Mc” in front of everyone’s name on the scoreboard.  This ranged from the confusing (since I missed player introductions and didn’t buy a program for a few innings, there was no reason why Skip Adams couldn’t actually be Skip McAdams) to the ludicrous and borderline-offensive, as in the photo here.  Often, the music and promotional crap distracted the PA announcer, who frequently would fail to announce a batter or a fielding change until after a few pitches had already been thrown.  That is completely unacceptable.  Get your promotions out of the way and do your primary job!

Seriously.  I’m not incapable of having fun.  I love “Bark at the Park” night at Everett Memorial Stadium.  I’m into trivia, silliness, and even bizarre behavior between innings.  I like Bill Veeck.  But once the inning begins, leave the game alone!  Don’t touch the field, and don’t touch the players’ names.  To do so is to send the message that baseball is of secondary or even tertiary importance to the night.  If it were, why bother having a team?  Why not just invite a couple of thousand people over 72 nights a year for themed parties?

The atmosphere of baseball-is-not-important trickles

down to every part of the park.  In addition to gift-shop workers who assume that one must be a scout to carry a scorebook, just consider the grassy hill by the right field foul pole.  Alone, this is a positive.  I imagine people hanging out on blankets, picnicking, enjoying the game, maybe throwing a ball around.  I imagine kids running around, too, burning off some steam.  At Lake Elsinore, what we have instead are kids constantly either rolling down the hill, running up the hill, or whaling on each other.  I have three siblings, so I know violence is a base component of any family, but what I saw on that hill was akin to Lord of the Flies.  I saw exactly one kid in the stands (more on him later), but dozens on the hill.  That’s right…families of Southern California had taken their kids to the ballpark where almost none of them watched baseball.

The park is lovely in architecture…nice tan bricks,

red seats, green roof.  The scoreboard is high quality for single-A ball.  The gift shop, the external concourse, the ad-covered monster wall in right field which includes a hand-operated scoreboard…all were very nice.  The Diamond’s location is far enough outside of L.A.’s endless, boring, monotonous suburbs that it’s lovely–near the actual Lake Elsinore and some mountains.  With other people running the team, I might have enjoyed this park, but I’m afraid I couldn’t see through the entire night of silliness…the Irish crap on the field, the obese guy in spandex throwing out T-shirts, the constant assault and battery on the lawn, the indifference of the scorer and PA announcer…all of it was too much to overlook.

What I’ll remember most from this night is the Storm’s Colt Morton

and a youngster sitting two seats to my left.  I’ve been keeping track of Colt since he had a big night in Eugene two years back.  I thought he might be a stud in the making, and I especially liked the fact that a guy named Colt wore #45.  He’s been promoted to high-A since then.  He’s switched to #41, alas.  But I like him a lot more now than I did before I saw him at The Diamond because of the way he interacted with the little kid nearby.  This was the second game of the year, and Colt stepped out before his first at-bat and gave the kid a really warm greeting.  “Hey!  Where were you last night?  I went 0-for-3!”  The kid absolutely ate it up, and all of us shouted “Go, Colt!” to get the kid to join us.  Colt even let the kid hold his bat’s donut between innings at one point.  It made for a very nice vibe around where I was sitting.

Even with that nice moment, however, I can’t say I was impressed with The Diamond.  I’d be interested to go back someday if the team were under new management who cared a little about baseball…who recognized that you don’t have to be a scout to pay attention.  When that happens, I’ll probably like the place better.

UPDATE AUGUST 2008: I get fairly consistent emails based on what I write on this site.  Sometimes I receive interesting remarks from people in the front office of minor league teams (such as the nice guys from Tennessee or Everett).  Occasionally I’ll get rage-filled notes from people with anger management problems who take things like frivolous ballpark websites too seriously.

But never before had I received a combination: a rage-filled email from a minor league front-office worker with anger management problems.  I present, verbatim, an email I received from David McCrory, a Storm account executive.

Subject: Storm Baseball

Hey Jerkoff,
I am the obese guy in the spandex throwing out t-shirts,
only it isn’t spandex, it’s red tights, part of the
Mr. Incredible costume which the kids and families really
enjoy if you bothered to look around you, and I wasn’t
throwing out t-shirts they were frisbees, so obviously you
have your facts wrong and you should probably spend more
time paying attention to detail. Now I can see why you need
a scorecard in the first place, you have the mental capacity
of a first-grader.
It’s OK though because we have your picture now and
we are going to have a ball this season making you look
like the complete MORON you are. Stay tuned for more.

Mr. McCrory correctly points out that I made a couple of mistakes on this page–from a distance in the night, I could not tell that he was wearing tights rather than spandex, or that he was throwing out frisbees rather than T-shirts.  If that’s a lack of “attention to detail,” well, I’m guilty, although, unlike the Storm, I try to focus on baseball-related details while at the ballpark.

However, let us consider the way that Mr. McCrory and the Storm’s GM and President (all of whom ignored my request for an explanation for McCrory’s behavior) feel it is appropriate to do business.  They either practice or condone the following behaviors:

1.  To address former customers who disagree with them as “Jerkoff.”
2.  To question those customers’ educational attainment (and to do so in a run-on sentence).
3.  To state that those who score the game are doing so because they are mentally challenged.
4.  To insult those customers three times in a 120-word email (“Jerkoff,” “mental capacity of a first-grader,” and “MORON.”)
5.  Perhaps most alarmingly, to insinuate that they have memorized a dissatisfied customer’s physical appearance and to threaten to humiliate that customer should he ever again appear at The Diamond.

Mr. McCrory’s threats don’t matter to me, since I don’t like the overbearing show the Storm puts on and therefore am very unlikely to return until their product indicates that they value baseball as more than a promotions transference device.  But still, I think it’s good that people see that the Storm’s front office apparently finds emails like this to be appropriate and acceptable.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel:  7.5/10
Nice views.

Charm:  2/5
I like the physical ballpark, but anyone who tries this hard cannot possibly be considered charming.

Spectacle: 1/5
While I like a lot of promotions in single-A ball, this was overdone to the point of disgusting.

Team mascot/name:  2/5


Thunder, a Phillie Phanatic ripoff with a boring name, gives me a little love.  This is yet another thing the team got wrong.  The mascot used to be named Hamlet, which is perfect for Lake Elsinore (am I right, fellow English teachers?).  But no, they managed to screw this up by changing the name to Thunder, which mostly makes me think of flatulence.

Aesthetics:  4.5/5
Can’t deny that this is a lovely place.

Pavilion area: 4 /5

Scoreability:  1/5
Seriously, if I can’t trust them to tell me the batter on time, how can I trust them with anything of import?  Also, intentionally putting wrong names up was more confusing than funny.

Fans:  1.5/5
Memo to Storm fans:  There is baseball being played.  You might enjoy watching it.  (The cool kid who was friends with Colt bumps up this score.)

Intangibles:  0/5
As you’ve probably figured out by now, I spent most of the night annoyed at the ballpark’s wasted potential.  And to be called names by a member of the front office…well, that’s just so over the line that it’s comical.

TOTAL:  23.5/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

The Storm’s Chase Headley was the hero, driving in the winning runs with a double in the bottom of the eighth.

A.J. Shappi pitched beautifully for Lancaster, striking out 8 in 6 innings.

PETCO Park

PETCO Park, San Diego, CA

Number of games:  1
First game:  April 5, 2006 (Giants 3, Padres 1)

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

Oh it never rains in Southern California/But it pours/Man, it pours.

The last time the San Diego Padres had been rained out at home was in April of 1998.  Somebody powerful obviously knew, however, that I was returning to

San Diego to check out the new ballpark, because on April 4, 2006, I flew over a thousand miles to check out a ballgame.  So, of course, it was inevitable that I’d head to the ballpark for the first rainout in PETCO Park history and the first in San Diego in eight years.  Unbelievable.  And to add insult to injury, I had that damn song in my head for 48 hours.  (Now I bet you will too).

Part of me was upset.  I’m from Seattle, and we picnic in the little drizzle that was coming down that day.  Sure, it’s cold.  Sure it’s a little wet.  Play ball!  They’re playing it as nearby as Los Angeles…let’s just play ball.  The Padres felt otherwise, and rescheduled the game for July.  I wasn’t going to be in San Diego in July, and when they announced that my ticket could either be redeemed for the July game or exchanged for any other Padres game that year, I figured

I was out thirty bucks.  Not so.  When I went to the very kind ticket people and told them I was from out of town, they told me that if I visited the Padres’ website, I could get a refund.  I was surprised by this…I’m not sure all teams would have such a generous policy.

I felt like Charlie Brown, with a rain cloud hanging over me.  It was a gorgeous April day in Seattle while I sat in the cold and wet on my vacation in San Diego.  There is also precedent for me traveling long distances for rained-out sporting events.  Recently, I missed out on a ballgame at Toledo’s gorgeous Fifth Third Field, and another at Camden Yards, but longer ago (and more tragically), at the end of the year I studied in England, I missed the opening day of Wimbledon. I’ll never forget that day…taking the Tube south of town, queuing up early, scoring tickets to Court One (which was to feature Lendl, Connors, and Cash), only to watch it rain all day.  The next day, I flew back home to America.  Wimbledon’s rainout policy?  I could exchange my ticket for an opening day ticket the next year.  Gosh, thanks, guys.

That’s 23 quid down the drain.

My resentment isn’t as strong in San Diego, because I did get in one of my scheduled two games.  It was an interesting moment in baseball history, as

it was the San Francisco Giants’ second game of the season, and their second game since a book came out with specific accusations regarding Barry Bonds’ steroid use.  The atmosphere was ugly.  A fan had thrown a needle-less syringe onto the field near Bonds on opening day, and the Padres responded by closing the area near left field where fans could congregate.  The booing was intense and merciless, including chants of “Cheater!  Cheater!”  (I’d have enjoyed an extension…a variation on “liar liar pants on fire.”)

PETCO Park itself felt middle-of-the-road to me.  As I see it, it simply isn’t as attractive as other ballparks of its generation.  Inside the ballpark, there are an awful lot of white beams, and even in the two-year-old ballpark, some yucky browns were starting to show through the paint.  The location didn’t really blow me away–it’s sort of near downtown, but sort of not really.  A few sports bars and hotels and stuff were starting to crop up on one side of the stadium, but it’s not exactly an interesting neighborhood.  Not yet, anyway.  There are a few nice views from the upper deck, which helps with the “only in San Diego” feel, but there’s nothing terribly special that sets PETCO apart.

Even when PETCO tries, it falls

just a hair short.  The center-field bleacher area wants to be call to mind a beach–in fact, they call it “The Beach.”  At the base of the bleachers, they’ve set down some light sand where they want people to patrol for home run balls.  But it doesn’t look or feel like a beach…it looks and feels more like a litter box, and spectators there don’t use it like a beach. Instead of chilling out, playing catch, or whatever, they’ll stand with their fingers through a chain-link fence, blocking the $8 bleacher seats behind them.  Why not reverse it?  Put the bleachers up to the fence, and put The Beach” up high behind it, add some picnic tables and sandbox toys, and let people hang out there?  Particularly mammoth home runs that clear the bleachers (unlikely in this pitchers’ paradise) could be said to “make the beach.”  How about it?

PETCO is still a fine ballpark overall, however, in spite of these negatives. 

The integration of the Western Metal Supply Company building into the ballpark is simply brilliant.  It takes Camden Yards’ integration of a warehouse and raises it to a new level…it makes the warehouse part of the ballpark.  (Check out how the corner of the building serves as the foul pole.)  The seats on top of the warehouse and on the balconies are an especially nice stuff.  PETCO also integrates an aspect from many minor-league ballparks I like…the grounds take up far more acreage than just the edifice of the stadium.  It incorporates a lot of space past center field, space which includes a walkway (K Street), a grassy hill, and a Wiffle ball field.  The grassy hill is especially nice, since it’s a casual spot to watch the game on a picnic blanket.  It’s a very large, baseball-themed open space, something I like greatly in ballparks.

On the whole, I do like PETCO Park.  It’s an improvement from old Qualcomm Stadium (which wasn’t bad for a multipurpose ballpark), but nevertheless, I don’t think it’s on the same level as the best of the most recent generation of parks.  There’s too much missing; not enough of a sense of Padres history, baseball history, or a California feel…and I don’t think it was just the rain.

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

Barry Bonds goes 0-for-1.  He is hit by a pitch (off the massive elbow protector), walks, and reaches on an error.

Adrian Gonzalez homers for the Padres.

Matt Morris picks up the win for the Giants.

(Written April 2006.)

Pacific Bell Park

pacuse

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

Pacific Bell Park, San Francisco, CA

Number of games:  2
First game:  August 7, 2000 (Giants 8, Brewers 1)
Most Recent Game:  August 9, 2000 (Giants 9, Brewers 3)

Pacific Bell Park changed its name to SBC Park before the 2004 season, then to AT&T Park before the 2006 season.

They totally got this one right.  I sat in the third deck near the left-field foul pole one game, and in the front row behind home plate (when you buy single seats to meaningless weekday afternoon games months in advance, you can sometimes get lucky) for the other game.  I love the notion of being able to watch the game for free, from a suitably crappy vantage point, just by meandering along the public walkway between the bay and the stadium.  I love that every cheap seat has a view of something beautiful.  I love the quirkiness of the outfield dimensions and the height of the walls.  This is the best of the new parks I’ve visited–made even better by the knowledge that every dime that went into it was private money.  If the garish Coke bottle beyond the left-center field wall is the price for avoiding taxpayer money for ballparks, to me, that’s a reasonable tradeoff.  Even the new SBC name, which I dislike greatly, is fine with me if it keeps the taxpayers out of it.

As much as I enjoyed the night game hanging out with a friend in the upper deck, I must admit the prospect of sitting front-and-center for any game in PacBell’s inaugural season really got me psyched.  I entered through the Diamond Club, which has its own private concession stands (God forbid we share them with the unwashed commonfolk who have to pay the puny $19 to sit in the upper deck).  Not that I would ever use said concession stand:  I had my own menu to wave at an usher, who would run to get my my hot dog and popcorn if I so desired.  In fact, for a few extra bucks, I bet I could get him to raise the food to my lips for me.  Such is the life of the upper-crust like me.  People surrounding me were asking me “So, how do you enjoy your season tickets?”  I said:  “I don’t have season tickets.”  They couldn’t believe I’d gotten this ticket the old-fashioned way:  from TicketMaster.  They told me that similar seats were going for several hundred dollars on eBay, way more than the reasonable $35-ish I’d paid for mine. But the front row of the section behind home plate in PacBell Park has nine seats.  The four on either aisle are season-ticket holders.  As of 2000, the one in the middle was up for grabs to nomadic loners like me.  Try for it next time you’re in San Francisco on your own.

It wasn’t the separation from the lower classes that I most enjoyed about being in the front row.  It was, of course, being close to the game.  Fieldin Culbreth was the home plate umpire that afternoon, and it was fun to hear his calls so clearly.  After the game, it was also nice to see him give the contents of his ball bag to a youngster in the front row.  I enjoyed watching the players in the on-deck circle surveying the pitchers.  And my favorite vantage point for watching home runs remains right behind the catcher.  Something about the distance looks more impressive.  Bill Mueller’s shot to right…well, it’s got to stay way up high to make those couple of rows of seats out there.  From where the ball is hit, it’s easier to sense just what kind of shot is necessary, and how hard it must be to do, than from anywhere else.  I got to see promotions up close, too, as the national anthem singer, ceremonial first pitcher, and everybody else walked out right in front of me.  They let a kid be PA announcer for the first three batters of a half inning, and that kid was close enough to me that I could see the mix of nerves and delight as she said “The pitcher, number 46, Kirk Rueter” into a microphone that blasted her nine-year-old voice over these thousands of people and out into the bay.  “Way to go, Katie!!!”  I shouted…I made it a point to remember her name so I could congratulate her.

Both games were dogs, but the ballpark, like any good ballpark, redeemed them.  It’s not fair to compare a wonderful new park like this to a wonderful old park like Fenway.  But this ballpark is absolutely fantastic.  I’d pay for plane tickets down just to catch a weekend series.  Even if I have to sit with commoners.

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

Not too much.  Livan Hernandez pitches a heck of a game, throwing over 140 pitches, but can’t quite hang on for a shutout or a complete game.

Jeff Kent homers during his MVP year.

(Written August 2001.  Revised 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.)

Oakland County Coliseum/McAfee Coliseum/O.co Coliseum

Oakland/Alameda County Coliseum/McAfee Coliseum, Oakland, CA

Number of Games:  3
First game:  September 16, 1995 (A’s 6, Twins 1)
Most recent game:  July 4, 2011 (Mariners 2, A’s 1)

Oakland County Coliseum was temporarily renamed Network Associates Coliseum.  As of the 2005 season (and for my second visit in 2006), it was called McAfee Coliseum.  In 2011, as of my third visit, the name had changed to the o.co Coliseum.

(Click on any image to see a full-sized version.)

They were in the midst of remodeling Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum when I was there, so my concerns may have been alleviated, but I still have a couple of complaints about the stadium.  First–and this is a problem in quite a few two-sport stadiums–there is so much foul territory that, no matter where you’re sitting, you’re about a mile and a half from the play.  I thought the grade in the lower deck was so gradual that I felt even farther back than the foul territory originally made it seem.  The place was more or less charmless–again, the construction dust may have added to that.  And maybe there was a problem with me watching two teams that were out of the playoff hunt in mid-September.  But I don’t have too much of a positive impression of this stadium.  I wasn’t able to go back there on my 2000 West Coast Swing.  Maybe sometime down the road, when I next visit friends in the Bay Area, I’ll get a chance to return and will

find it more to my liking.

Good old Kristina, longtime friend and sometime crush (I never told her so…until now, of course) lugged me around the Bay Area for an entire wedding weekend, and accompanied me to the ballgame on top of everything else. She was a trooper.  At the ballgame, she scored for me while I bought her a hot dog…but there was something bad in the hot dog, and Kristina got sick.  Damn that Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum!  They made Kristina sick!  Anyhow, she has since married, and she, her husband, and their new baby daughter live in Sacramento.  We remain in sporadic touch…she and her husband even volunteered to host me on my last baseball trip.  So that’s what I remember Oakland for–we were far away from the game, I was hanging out with a good friend, and she got sick from a hot dog.  Not the greatest ballpark experience in history.

I missed Oakland on my West Coast Tour 2000…I was due to stay with Kristina and her husband, but an sudden, severe illness in her family prevented that, and I truncated the trip instead of spending many dollars I didn’t have on a stadium hotel.  Bless her heart, Kristina still offered to let me to stay with her.  “I’ll be at the hospital a lot, but my husband and I really want to see you…”  Next time, Kristina.  The three of us will go to the ballpark together.  I’ll even sneak in our own food.

REVISIT 2006: I made it back to Oakland’s ballpark with my wife and my buddy Rob in 2006.  When I wrote the above, I wrote it in 2001, recalling a 1995 game.  I now can give a better review–the construction was finished and the ballpark is fresh in my mind.  The ballpark has the same problems as most dual-purpose stadiums…massive expanses of unused

seats and large amounts of foul ground.  My recollection that the stands’ slope felt gradual was reinforced on this visit:  even in the front row of the second deck, I felt very, very far away from the action.  The players looked smaller than they do at most other ballparks.  The team made the wise decision to close off the third deck in 2006, which enables them to cover it with decorations, retired numbers, and World Series title commemorations.  This closure makes the concourses a hotbed of activity, since literally all of the spectators are shoe-horned into one concourse, which winds about 270 degrees around the ballpark.

The funny thing is that these old, unfortunate characteristics–the concrete slabs above the concourses, the vacant upper decks, the possibility of a lousy seat–have become the new retro in stadiums.

The good aspects of old ballparks (Tiger Stadium, Wrigley Field, and even Fenway Park) have been imitated in the new wave ballparks (more or less anything built in the 1990s).  There aren’t many of the 1970s multipurpose ballparks still in use:  this one, Shea, Skydome/Rogers Centre (to an extent), and the Metrodome (for a few more years, anyway).  None of these are great ballparks, but none of them are modern carnival/theme parks, either…baseball is central here.  The old crappy and dull has become the new retro, and it’s fun to get to a ballpark like this while we still can, to enjoy a lousy seat, less-frequent horrible promotions, and even the kitschy-retro dot races instead of the whatever-can-be-sponsored-locally races on the ballpark screens at so many other ballparks.  It’s not a great ballpark, but I’m glad I went back, and I’ll do it again if I have the chance.

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

Mark McGwire homered in the 1995 game.

In 2006, I saw one of the most dramatic pitching performances I’ve ever seen.  The Diamondbacks’ Miguel Batista threw 6 2/3 innings of a perfect game.  The game remained scoreless through 6 before Arizona blew it open with 6 runs in the top of the seventh.  This meant there was no doubt as to the outcome of the game, but that there was a lot of drama as to whether Batista could get nine more outs consecutively.  He retired the Jason Kendall to lead off the seventh.  Then, second baseman Orlando Hudson made an absolutely incredible stop on a grounder up the middle to retire Mark Kotsay for the second out.  I whooped with glee.  About 50% of the Oakland fans–they’re hard-core, remember–were cheering, but I got a few major glares from A’s fans.  Would that great play propel Batista the rest of the way?  No.  He walked the next batter on four pitches, and then surrendered a huge home run to Frank Thomas to surrender the no-hitter and the shutout.  Batista finished with a three-hitter, and in the process gave me one of my biggest ballpark thrills…the deepest a player has ever taken a no-hitter in my presence, just beating out Roger Clemens’s one-hit gem in the ALCS at Safeco Field in 2000.

Another big pitching duel highlighted my family’s July 4th visit to the newly-named O.co Coliseum in 2012.  Mariner Michael Pineda got the best of Oakland’s Brandon McCarthy, combining with two relievers on a 3-hitter.  Josh Bard’s 6th-inning homer tied it and Justin Smoak’s 7th-inning double won it.  (Smoak is pictured up in the body of the entry, fouling off a second-inning pitch from McCarthy). The highlight of the day might be this photo of my elder son, which might be the greatest image in recorded history:

(Written August 2001.  Most recently updated March 2012.)