Category Archives: oakland as affiliates

Ballparks currently used by minor league affiliates of the Oakland A’s.

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.)