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Frawley Stadium, Wilmington, Delaware

Frawley Stadium, Wilmington, DELAWARE

Number of states: 25
States to go:  25

First game:  August 18, 2007 (Wilmington Blue Rocks 10, Lynchburg Hillcats 9)

Note to travelers:  You can absolutely get a good deal staying in Wilmington on any weekend!  I got a very, very posh hotel for cheap on Priceline for my one night in Wilmington. 

And once there, I learned why.  Wilmington is a credit-card financial capital that is completely vacated for the entire weekend.  I’m not kidding:  the hotel restaurant even closes down because it’s not financially sensible to run it.  Cabs are nearly impossible to come by (and the ones I found had drivers who were fast asleep and didn’t wake up easily…not the kind of guy I want driving me someplace).  And when I headed down to the riverwalk, figuring that would be where the action was, I found no action:  I walked the riverwalk on an absolutely gorgeous Saturday afternoon almost completely alone.  Don’t get me wrong; the city was just fine, but it was a little creepy–in an I Am Legend or This Quiet Earth kind of way–to walk around on the weekend.

Not far

off that riverwalk is Judy Johnson Field at Frawley Stadium.  I like my ballparks with a healthy side of local baseball history.  Pictures of long-ago local teams, notes about the best players to pass through the place–that’s entirely my cup of tea.  Throw in a museum, and you’ve got a friend in me.  I have never seen a better museum at a minor league park than the Delaware Sports Museum and Hall of Fame, which is on the grounds of Frawley Stadium in Wilmington.

I got the sense that there’s not much traffic through the museum, but I actually appreciated that, since one of the curators gave me a highly personalized tour through the park.  He asked me where I was from, and when I told him Washington state, he immediately escorted

me to the parts of the museum where Delaware’s greats intersected with the Pacific Northwest.  He found out I was a basketball official, so he showed me a couple of big-time college referees from Delaware.  Of course, I was able to find people I’d kind of liked from the past, where I said “Wow!  I liked this person!”  Like Steve Watson, a Denver Bronco receiver I remember well from my Colorado youth.  Or Val Whiting, who played for the Seattle Reign, my loved-and-lost ABL women’s hoops team.  It was a celebration of big fish who swam in the small pond of Delaware, and I got wonderfully personalized attention throughout.  Minor league ballparks should think small and celebrate local, and this one did–it even had a plaque to commemorate Bill McGowan, a local boy who made it big as an umpire.  It was a great place to go–the kind of place I could spend hour after hour at.  I’d like to give a special thanks to my guide.  Sorry I’ve forgotten your name.

Needless to say, this put me in a tremendous mood even before the ballgame began.  And I

lucked into the best possible night for history dorks, because I happened upon Wilmington on the day they celebrated another favorite Delaware son: Judy Johnson.  Johnson was a star Negro leaguer, and the Blue Rocks celebrate him by naming the field at Frawley Stadium Judy Johnson Field.  Judy Johnson day turned out to be a full-on celebration of Negro League history.  It ranged from the kitschy (there was a Judy Johnson bobblehead giveaway) to the more serious (a pre-game ceremony that featured Josh Gibson’s grandson).  The whole thing simply felt right, and kudos to Blue Rocks’ management for finding the right tone for the evening.

All of this is enough for me, but the Blue Rocks have

a good ballpark on top of everything else.  It’s a little big for high single-A ball, but I can forgive that since they mostly fill it.  It’s a little metallic, and the only real view is of I-95, but since I don’t have much of a preconception of Delaware, I can let that go too.  I had fine seats just a few rows back from the field, just a shade to the first-base side of home plate.  And I made a new friend along the way.

Russ joined me for this game.  He’s the third person I’ve met as a result of my association with the Network of Ballpark Collectors, which is basically a loose confederation of nerds like me.  He drove the couple of hours in to meet me, and we sat back and talked about ballparks pretty much the whole night.  Russ also saved my bacon on this evening; I had left my camera back at the hotel, and while I took the above pictures with a disposable camera from the Blue Rocks’ gift shop, he took a few good ones he kindly is letting me use:

Josh Gibson’s Grandson. Photo by Russ Silverstine. Used by permission.
Russ Silverstine. Used by permission.

It’s only appropriate, that, at the end of a fun, topsy-turvy game, it came down to a bottom-of-the-ninth single to win it for Wilmington.  The batter who delivered the hit:  Josh Johnson, an African-American kid–one of a dwindling few in baseball of late.  That little echo of history brought an end to a night where history, for me anyway, was celebrated throughout the ballpark and the museum.

Judy Johnson Field at Frawley Stadium was a great place for a sports and history junkie like me.  I’d love to head back next time I’m headed up the East Coast.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel:  8.5/10
I have never been in a stadium that celebrates local history as much as Frawley Stadium.  The only reason I penalize at all on the score here is because the view isn’t much.

Charm:  4/5
I felt well-treated at every turn, but architecturally, there’s a bit too much metal.

Spectacle:  5/5
A reverent look at baseball history.  Loved it.

Team mascot/name:  3/5


Yeah, kids, I don’t know what it is either.  I guess it’s a blue rock, or some sort of a blue dot, or whatever.  Never caught his name.  Is “Blue Rocks” an echo of the University of Delaware Blue Hens mascot?  In any event, I give some credit for creativity.

Aesthetics:  2.5/5
Not much of a view and too much metal.

Pavilion area:  4.5/5

Scoreability:  4/5

Fans:  5/5

Nice to meet you, Russ.  Maybe we’ll see this picture on the cover of Baseball Nerd Quarterly.

Intangibles:  5/5
I had a fantastic time in the museum, through the Judy Johnson ceremonies, and hanging with Russ.  I was left with a great feeling about the place.

TOTAL:  41.5/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

A back-and-forth, wild affair.  Wilmington blew leads of 4-0 and 8-4 before coming back from a 9-8 deficit in the 9th to win it.

Brian McFall and Jeremy Cleveland each bang out three hits for the Blue Rocks.  Angel Gonzalez and Jamie Romak respond in kind for the Hillcats.

Russ and I grow fond of the Hillcats’ leadoff hitter, Pedro Powell.  He is listed in the program as five-foot-seven, but we think they’re giving him at least two inches.  He was a tiny little quick dude…fun to watch.

(Written April 2008.)

Pfitzner Stadium, Woodbridge, Virginia

Pfitzner Stadium, Woodbridge, VIRGINIA

Number of states: still 21
States to go:  29

First game:  August 19, 2006 (Kinston Indians 6, Potomac Nationals 1)

Way, way, way out into the DC suburbs is a tiny minor-league ballpark.  While the occupants try to get a new ballpark every year, they continue to return to this run-of-the-mill field that’s a part of a high school complex in

Woodbridge, Virginia.  It’s uncertain how much longer they’ll remain, but I got in a game in at Pfitzner Stadium during the summer of 2006.

The ballpark itself is fairly nondescript.  It does not pass the “do we have any idea where we are” test…I saw no evidence we were in Virginia or near Washington DC.  We honestly could have been anywhere.  The ballpark is charmless as well.  There’s too much netting around the infield.  I lost virtually all memory of the place within a few months.  But, and for the first time, the part that troubled me the most was the way that the team’s owner actually interfered with my enjoyment of a game.

I don’t mind some wackiness and promotions as a part of my minor league baseball experience.  But it cannot interfere with the baseball on the field.  Art Silber, the owner of the Nationals, did just that.  Apparently, on Saturday nights, Silber coaches

first base for the team…and he did for the first half of the game or so, before taking a seat behind home plate in his baseball uniform.  This bugged me in the extreme.  What we have here are players and coaches who are trying to work their way up towards the major leagues, and Silber is interfering with that goal for each of them.  I’m not certain what or how much a first-base coach contributes, but the idea that this guy is living out some long-unaccomplishable fantasy at the expense of people who still have a legitimate shot at making the bigs…well, that bugged me.  He might say he’s showing his love of the game; I say it shows he’s not taking the game seriously.  What if a young rich person (like Master P a few years ago, or maybe Marc Cuban) bought a minor league team and decided that, rather than coaching first base, he wanted to play first base? Why is that any less ridiculous?  Mr. Silber, you’re out of line.  You interfered with the baseball.

On the other side of the coin, I don’t much mind if players take jobs that normally go to others.  Steve Mortimer sang the

national anthem.  He was nervous…probably more nervous than he was playing first base that day.  It made me root for him all the more…we don’t have enough Renaissance men like that in the world.

Probably the best part of my trip was getting to hang out with Tom.  We found ourselves a seat away from some others, and we said wacky stuff to each other throughout the game.  That’s just the way it happens.  He told me a good deal about Virginia politics.  We also had a lot of fun making up personalities for the players.  Singing Mortimer was easy, of

course, but it went further.  J.D. Martin was pitching for the Indians, and since it was his first game for Kinston, we decided just to call him “New Guy.”  We imagined his fellow Indians getting annoyed having to tell him how the copier worked, or carefully telling him which guys are the cool ones and which ones are the dorks to avoid.  A relief pitcher, Cody Bunkelman…well, he was fantastic.  Just awesome.  I caught a particularly resistant strain of Bunkelmania that day.  Tom thought I was insane.  He didn’t see Bunkelmania spreading across the nation.  I certainly do.

Perhaps the most damning aspect of this ballpark is that now, only a few months after going to the ballgame, I’ve forgotten almost everything about the ballpark.  So I will finish this not with words, but with a couple more pictures.


BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel:  4/10
Not much.  Only a local Congressman’s pitch and Uncle Slam save the score at all.

Charm:  2.5/5
Nothing too special.

Spectacle: 2.5/5
Rule #1:  Don’t let your spectacle interfere with the baseball.  The owner coaching…well, that interferes.  But I did like the player singing the anthem.

Team mascot/name:  3/5

Uncle Slam and me.  I like puns, so this name works.  But the team name?  Why not stick with “Cannons”?  So much better.

Aesthetics:  2/5
Some nice trees, but the ballpark itself is quite dull.

Pavilion area:  3/5

Scoreability:  1.5/5

Fans:  5/5
Props to my buddy Tom.

Intangibles:  2/5
It was a fun night, but the owner bugged me.

TOTAL:  25.5/50

Four Indians pitchers–J.D. “New Guy” Martin, Cody Bunkelman, Ryan Knippschild, and Randy Newsom–combine on a 4-hitter, allowing no earned runs.  Martin strikes out 4 in 4 innings, giving up two hits.  Bunkelman pitches two perfect innings in relief, striking out three and picking up his third win of the year.

Rodney Choy Foo, Nathan Panther, and Matt Whitney homer for the Indians.

Steve Mortimer goes 1-for-3 with a double for the Nationals.

(Written December 2006.)