Category Archives: former major league affiliation

Ballparks categorized by teams whose affiliates formerly used the ballpark.

PK Park, Eugene, Oregon

PK Park, Eugene, OREGON

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

Number of games:  2
First game:  July 4, 2012 (Eugene Emeralds 9, Everett AquaSox 1)
Most recent game: July 26, 2014 (Eugene Emeralds 5, Tri-City Dust Devils 2)

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

I can’t believe that 2012 was the 10th time that Michelle and I hit the road to do a July 4th Minor League Road Trip.  It’s getting a little harder to find a team within striking distance (since I eschew going to the same stadium twice…at least for now…), but since the Emeralds moved from Civic Stadium to their new digs in 2010, a

trip to PK Park was an easy decision in 2012.  We packed up two kids and headed down I-5 for some baseball and fireworks.

I had such mixed feelings about Civic Stadium, and those mixed feelings re-emerged about the new ballpark.  I really enjoyed the rustic feel of the old place, but didn’t enjoy the cramped feel or the sense that I could burn to death at any moment.  A new ballpark was absolutely essential, and yet I was worried that a new ballpark would be so similar to other places that I would no longer feel like I was in a special place.  Additionally, I had some concerns about the Emeralds sharing a facility with the Oregon Ducks.  PK Park was built primarily on the emotion of envy.  When Oregon State won a couple of College

World Series, the Ducks, who had played baseball as a club sport for years, suddenly wondered “why not us?” and built a state-of-the-art facility to attract talent to try to duplicate the Beavers’ success.  (As of 2012, that success looked like it was on the edge of coming: the ’12 Ducks were within one win of making it to Omaha.)  In fact, according to the Ducks’ athletic department web site, PK Park is named for former duck AD Pat Kilkenny.  This fact surprised Michelle and me, who would have bet a C-note on the PK standing for Phil Knight.  He’s built everything else related to Duck athletics…why not this?

In any event, I was concerned that PK Park would have the same shortcomings for Northwest League ball as some spring training ballparks (such as this one) have for

Florida State League ball.  In other words, I don’t like the minor league team to look like they’re just there at the whim of the REAL home team.  But the Emeralds (and, I think, the Ducks) did well to nearly scrub the place clean of any Duck identification.  There were some that could not be avoided:  the looming presence of Autzen Stadium next door, for instance, or the green-and-gold decor, or the Pac 12 decals on the walls behind home plate.  But this felt like the Emeralds’ home rather than a sublet.  The Emeralds’ Hall of Fame was quite well-done: huge banners honoring great Emeralds of the past.  It didn’t matter whether the players went on to greatness with other teams (Ryan Freese, Mike Sweeney) or if they were just MVP for a Northwest League season, never to be really heard from again.  Everyone got a huge banner, and I liked that.  I am pretty sure that those banners are replaced by Duck banners during the NCAA season, which is fine.

Perhaps most telling were two busts of ballplayers I spied…BEHIND a table where an Emeralds worker played the spin-the-wheel-and-get-a-prize game.  I asked her if I could go back there to see the sculptures, and I did…where I found two Ducks.  Net result: they were actively trying to prevent spectators

from seeing Duck history.

Not that the crowd cared much.  This July 4 crowd was there to party.  One of the biggest cheers of the night was when it was announced that the beer sales would be extended through the ninth inning (I would imagine because they figured everyone could sober up during the fireworks show).  And I had this bizarre exchange with a random fan when I was walking 3-year-old Steven around to look at the Emeralds Hall of Fame banners (the kid LOVES that shit).   We had just looked up at the banner commemorating Cory Luebke’s stellar 2007 season for the Emeralds when a fan with a beer talked to me.

FAN:  Is that the beer batter?
ME:  Huh?
FAN:  That guy up there.  Is that the beer batter?
ME:  No.  Not the beer batter.  A guy in the Emeralds Hall of Fame.

The more I think about that exchange, the stranger it is.  He had to overlook the “Emeralds Hall of Fame” label on the banner, the fact that the guy was wearing an Emeralds jersey, the “2007” label, and the fact that the dude was PITCHING in

the photo.  But even if you overlook all of that, his assumption that they’d make a 10-foot long banner for the Beer Batter (the dude on the opposition who reduces beer prices to $3 for 15 minutes if the Emeralds manage to strike him out) is comical, because they’d have to make a giant banner for every single game.  Seems like a breathtaking waste of resources.  I think that this fan is a little like my students who draw nothing but marijuana leaves on every piece of paper they see.  He just had beer on his mind so much that everything he sees became beer.

But I still feel that this was a good crowd.  I can forgive some non-baseball attention on July 4th Fireworks Night.  And I also was surrounded by some pretty awesome people playing with both of my children.  16-month-old Aaron looked over my shoulder and flirted with the entire row behind me at some point, doing high fives and “ET Phone Home” index finger touches with anyone who wanted to all night long, as well as playing “I’ll drop something, say ‘uh-oh!’ and smile at you until

you pick it up” until I put the kibosh on that.

The approximately 6- and 7-year-0ld kids on my left to a liking to Steven and played with him all night long.  They were blown away that Steven could read the scoreboard.  Listening to their conversations were hilarious.  The kids would read a baseball card to Steven, and Steven would tell them what team he played for, and even correct their pronunciation.  Then, one kid said that he had been to Safeco Field for a game: a pretty good feat, actually, since Eugene is about 5 or 6 hours down the road from Seattle.  I was ready for Steven to talk about the games he’d seen at Safeco, but instead, he said “I…have…been………to Idaho.”

I couldn’t stop laughing.  Where the hell did that come from?  Michelle suggested that Steven said

this because he’s been to so many ballgames that they’re not as special to him as Idaho.

The kids were impressed enough with Steven that they offered me a straight-up trade of him for their little sister.  “She’s four and she can’t even read yet!”  I declined.

In the category of “strangest conversation

with an on-deck batter,” I nominate my son and the Emeralds’ Ronnie Richardson.  This game was in the midst of a huge beard obsession for my son.  When his two obsessions–baseball and facial hair–meet, things get pretty intense.  He’d look at on-deck batters and we’d say “Steven, what do you want to say to him?” and he’d cheer (not loud enough to be heard four feet away) “Go, River!” or “Get a hit, Jason!”  But for Richardson, Steven said he wanted to say “I like your beard!”  So, when Ronnie turned to face us–just on the other side of the netting–I said to him the following:   “Mr. Richardson, my son says he likes your beard.  And he’d know…he LOVES beards.”  Ronnie was kind enough to reply with what I believe to be the only possible reply:  a bewildered smile.  I hopethat both he and his beard go far.

As for the Emeralds’ atmosphere, it was fine. 

The on-field stuff was appropriate for single-A ball…stuff between  innings that’s pretty fun and funny.  The ballpark itself was a little antiseptic and reminiscent of every other new small ballpark out there, and it’s a little hard to tell that you’re in Oregon outside of all of the Duck-related color and sights out there.  This makes the ballpark a little difficult to score on the “is there any question where in the United States you are” contest.  On the one hand, there’s nothing in the land that says “Western Oregon” like there was at Civic Stadium.  But Autzen Stadium and the green-and-gold attached to the Ducks’ soccer facility beyond right field does indicate Eugene, which is difficult to extricate from its university as any university town is.  But then, as I said before, I don’t want to feel like I’m at an NCAA event.  I want to feel like I’m at a Northwest League game.  Confusing!

But still fun.  My family and I had a great time hanging out into the night.  It was worth the 1:30 AM arrival home.  We’d never been out with both kids sleeping in the back seat as we drove late into the night before.  I liked that feeling.

We will almost certainly be back.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional Feel:  6.5/10.

The antiseptic corporate feel of the place didn’t say “Oregon” to me, but there’s no doubt the place is in Eugene due to the U or O everywhere.  However, as I say above, that’s a mixed blessing, one which the ballpark dodges with some success with its focus on Emeralds’ history.

Charm:  3/5

Turf is not charming, but “Fowl Territory” is nice.

Spectacle:  4/5

Pretty good overall.  This is the second time Michelle and I have been underwhelmed by an Emeralds’ fireworks show, however.  It might be time for them to seek out a new vendor.

Team Mascot/Name:  4/5

Not sure what Sluggo (right) is.  The giant tree on the left is pretty nice for liberal Oregon and inflates the score, Stanford Tree be damned.

Aesthetics:  4/5

Lovely new ballpark.  Again, however:  Turf.

Pavilion area:  3.5 /5

Works fine–a few things to look at.  Still, I’d like to be able to walk around the ballpark, and there were many, many stairs–way more than I’d like–to get anywhere distant.

Scoreability:  5/5

PK Park did an excellent job here.  I managed to score the game very nicely even while wrangling two boys, and that’s in good part due to the efforts of the crew there.

Fans:  4.5/5

A tad rowdy, but most were very good to my children and having a good time.

Intangibles:  4.5/5

Had a good night there–one my kids will remember for a while.  Us too–both kids fell asleep during fireworks while my wife and I held hands.  Can’t argue with that.

TOTAL:  39/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

Justin Hancock,the starting pitcher for Eugene, was the player I was most impressed with tonight. He threw 5 innings of 1-hit ball, striking out 7.

Jeremy Baltz carries the biggest stick of the night, driving in three runs, two with a double.

Ronnie Richardson and his nice beard score on a big hit in the eighth:  Richardson doubles, then scores on a throwing error by the AquaSox’s Chris Taylor on the relay throw.

Written July 2012.

 

Kindrick Field, Helena, Montana

Kindrick Field, Helena, MONTANA

State number:  still 31
States to go:  19

Number of games:  1
First game:  July 8, 2010 (Great Falls Voyagers 15, Helena Brewers 2)

(Kindrick Field is no longer used for affiliated baseball as of the 2019 season.)
(Click on any photo so see a larger version.)

Kindrick Field underwhelmed me.  Seriously–in one of the most gorgeous states around, and in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains, there’s not an attractive feel to the place.  The neighborhood, which is sort of semi-industrial-semi-residential is not anything that impresses. 

And even though the field is unusually oriented such that the sun sets behind right field, perhaps bugging the batter, there’s not much of a mountain view.  The ballpark’s appearance from the outside is–let’s face it–a bit ugly.  So there wasn’t much going for the place on the way in.  Once I got on the inside, however, there was a little bit of charm, and the people of Montana made this into one of the most memorable nights I’ve ever had in a ballpark in spite of a laughable loss by the home team.

Like many old-time ballparks (Eugene’s old Civic Stadium comes to mind), there is a battle going on inside of Kindrick Field between the comfort of modern ballparks and the charm of old.  The orange seats and the green wooden edifice give a bit of an old-timey feel on the inside, and we welcomed the significant legroom the second row offered, since we could simply put Steven on a leash and let him run up and down the row.  However, it’s a good thing that we didn’t have general

admission seats.  They’re simply wooden benches, and they stretch all the way from railing to railing.  Rather than putting in a convenient (and safe) staircase, the Brewers just painted a few stretches of the benches white, thus declaring that area to be the aisle.  If I were at all elderly or even just suffering from a bum knee that day, I’d have a lot of trouble clambering over the benches to get to my seat.

On the whole, the place simply lacked amenities.  I’m not talking about big-time Diamondvision or skyboxes or any of that business.  I’m talking about the following conversation I had with

an usher on a nearly-90-degree-day:

ME:  Excuse me, can you tell me where a drinking fountain is?
USHER:  I don’t think we have any.
ME:  Huh?
USHER:  I don’t think we have any drinking fountains.

Call me crazy, but I don’t think it’s asking too much to have a drinking fountain available for fans. 

The place was built in 1939, and drinking fountains certainly were invented before that…you mean to say that nobody has thought to install a fountain in this place in 71 years?

In any event, I did spend some time walking the water-fountain-less pavilion.  I liked the photos of every former Helena player currently playing in the majors:  I’ve seen such lists in other places, but seldom photos of everyone with their current team listed.  However, while I

appreciated the nod to history, in some ways it felt like they were barely even trying.  Their historical exhibit consisted of a printed-out version of the Helena Brewers Wikipedia article.  Seriously?  That’s the best you can do?  And their commemoration of the only Hall of Famer ever to put on a Helena uniform–Ryne Sandberg–actually misspelled his name.  Both of these left me with the impression that somebody could have done much better if they’d put in just a little time and effort.

There’s atmosphere in the pavilion area, but not a lot of room.  An usher stopped me from walking behind the left-field

general admission stands to get closer to the Helena bullpen.  A place this small usually allows one to get closer to the players than Kindrick Field does.  So I headed down the right-field line, where I was greeted by a private party area, an usher who wanted me to have a wristband to enter, and my own hubris.

My goal was to get past the usher, through the beer-drinking members of whatever company had booked the party deck, and down by the Great Falls bullpen to see if I could grab an autograph of a player or two I had watched play in Missoula the previous year.  I asked a question that usually nets me access:

  “Can I just head back there to take a picture or two?”  The usher wasn’t sure. He told me to ask his boss, who was approaching.  I did.  The boss appeared uncertain.  “Well, we really don’t like doing that…”  And then, he asked me a question that surprised me.  “Are you the guy who’s been to all the ballparks?”

Wow!  Recognized for the second year in a row!  Erik the Peanut Guy in the Tri-Cities had started a trend!  I wondered how he knew I was coming…maybe someone who reads this site had seen my name in will call or something?

Anyway, surprised and flattered, I answered in the affirmative, and he let me head back there to take some photos. 

Much to my surprise, the Great Falls Voyagers’ clubhouse was back among the partying businesspeople, and so ballplayers were sitting on picnic tables adjacent to revelers.  Not just passing through, not exactly hanging out, either, but sitting there.  It was a little weird.

When I heard the first-pitch announcement, I became newly aware of my own arrogance.  The guy throwing out the first pitch had been to 125 minor league ballparks, over twice my total.  So it wasn’t me that the guy was asking about.  Funny.

The best memory by far of the evening will involve the wonderful family sitting next to me.  I had Michelle and Steven on my right, and a dad with three daughters on my left.  One of the girls was in about third grade, one in about sixth or seventh, and the third maybe a sophomore in high school.  The girl on my immediate left–the middle one in age–started making eye contact with Steven.  She’d look away and then zip her gaze back to him.  He started

laughing.  My son, when he really gets going, has a hall-of-fame worthy laugh…a loud, massive baby guffaw that makes the whole world crack up with him.  Since he was taking as much of a shine to this girl as she was to him, the laughs started to increase in both volume and joy level.  The game, which was 12-1 in favor of the visitors at this point, wasn’t much of a game, so people weren’t distracted by events in the field.  We were the best thing going on at Kindrick Field.  People in the rows around us started looking to see what was making Steven laugh so much.  Then, they started laughing too, since Steven’s laugh was so contagious.  Before we knew it, Steven and this sweet girl had more or less the entire section laughing like crazy.  Since we were in the second row behind home plate, I think this might have been a bit of a confusing development to the players, who were likely wondering what this laughing was all about.

I was so struck by how wonderful this was that I asked the dad if I could take a picture of his family.  He introduced himself as Lenny and said that he and his girls were on their way back from a camping trip.  He also said that the girls had a brother almost exactly Steven’s age, so their skill with him was due to practice.

At any rate, we put Steven on the

leash and let him wander over to where the girls were, and the girls, especially the younger ones, played with Steven the entire rest of the night.  Steven would point at the letters on one girl’s sweatshirt, and the sisters would identify them.  There was peek-a-boo.  There were funny faces.  There was so much laughter that Steven’s goodbye wave later that night was just a little more wistful than usual…or maybe that was my imagination.  I gave Lenny the web address for this site, and I hope he finds it and emails me.  Lenny–I’ve got a few good pictures of your kids playing with my kid I’d like to send you.  Fire off a comment or an email for me.

Missing out on all of this joyous raucousness was the motorcyclist we had met the previous night in Idaho Falls.  Just like he said, he was at the ballpark that night, in the row ahead of us and about five seats down, just past the family.  In spite of this immediately-behind-home-plate seat,

he only remained there for a few innings.  We suspect there were too many kids nearby, so Grumpy decided to go somewhere else.  His loss.

So, while I’m afraid the ballpark doesn’t have too much going for it, I will remember my night in Helena with nothing but affection.  Often, a ballpark is about the people in it more than anything else, and it’s good to have reminders of that from time to time.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel:  6/10
There are a couple of mountains visible, and a nice effort to honor past Helena players, but the nondescript location hurts the score here.

Charm: 3/5
At times, this was lovely.

Spectacle:  2.5/5
Could do a bit more for Rookie ball, and it was hard to hear what was happening because of a pretty bad PA system.

Team Mascot/Name:  2/5

“Kitty!” and “Roar!” my son said when he met these mascots (once they were at a safe distance).  He liked them more than I do.  Surely Helena can find a new name than that of its parent club–it’s the only team in the Pioneer League that does so.  The mascot will follow.  But bonus points for naming these guys Lewis the Lion and Clark the Cougar.

Aesthetics: 2.5/5
Ugly on the outside, beautiful on the inside.  View is decent–not as nice as I’d expect in a place as gorgeous as Montana.

Pavilion: 2/5
A little claustrophobic, and not much going on.  Seriously–no water fountains?

Scoreability: 3.5/5
Did a pretty good job here.  Didn’t always know which player the error was on, though, but always knew hit or error in a timely fashion.  Bad PA hurt with pitching changes and pinch hitters.

Fans:  5/5
Quite easily the highlight of the night.  Many, many fabulous people at the ballpark engaged in making my son laugh…over and over again.  We’re talking about nearly ten strangers ogling my boy.  How cool is that?

Intangibles: 4/5
The people of Helena got me over my negative first impression of the park and made this a fantastic night.

TOTAL: 30.5/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

Some ugly, ugly stuff.  Great Falls led 10-1 after a 4-run third and a 6-run fourth.  Let’s tally up just those two innings:  Ten runs, nine hits, four wild pitches, three errors, and a hit batsman.

Rafael Vera leads the Great Falls attack with three hits.

A day Brewers’ pitcher Thomas Keeling would rather forget.  He came to mop up the ninth, and proceeded to walk the first four batters he faced.  He got two guys out, but then gave up a hit and a fifth walk.  Connor Lind, normally a position player, had to come in to finish off the game by getting Kyle Davis to pop out to second.

(Written July 2010.)

Security Service Field, Colorado Springs, Colorado

Security Service Field, Colorado Springs, COLORADO

Number of states: 28
States to go: 22

Number of games: 1
First game:  August 11, 2008, first game of DH (Colorado Springs Sky Sox 6, Portland Beavers 5, 8 innings–scheduled for 7)

(Security Service Field is now known as UCHealth Park. It switched from Pacific Coast League baseball to Pioneer League baseball in 2019.)
(Click on any image to see a larger version.)

My first minor league ballgames were in Colorado, at Mile High Stadium, 

But, according to the rules, my quest to get to a minor league game in each of the 50 states didn’t officially begin until 2003, so this necessitated a trip to Colorado Springs in August of 2008.  I was taking my bride to my 20-year high school reunion in the Denver suburbs, and it was very easy to take the jaunt down I-25 to see our local team, the Portland Beavers (who my wife rooted for vociferously) take on the Sky Sox.

There, we found a great ballpark in a highly unfortunate location.

It’s not the ballpark’s fault that it faces east (as is the convention for ballparks everywhere) and

therefore does not afford a view of the Rockies.  Indeed, it’s not really the ballpark’s fault that it’s located quite a ways east of the city and of the mountains, and therefore doesn’t really have any natural Colorado feel to it at all (eastern Colorado is not what one thinks of when one thinks of Colorado).  But the view beyond the outfield fence of endless tract housing is depressing to say the least.  When I’m pinned between strip malls and condominiums, I don’t have any feel for where I am.  The rule for ballparks is the same as the rule for real estate, and Security Service Field strikes out on three pitches when it comes to location, location, location.

However, the ballpark itself was quite lovely if one didn’t look beyond the outfield fences.  It has many touches I enjoy.  Visiting ballplayers walk past the kids’ area to get onto

the field, thus allowing for autographs.  The kids on the grassy hill are sedate and watching the game, probably because the Sky Sox, while not immune to promotional shtick, put baseball first.  And the retired numbers from past Colorado Springs teams are an especially nice touch–they bring us back to a local level that tract housing can’t.  So does the US Olympic flag flying under the state flag.

Security Service Field is a pretty small ballpark for AAA, which I like.  Rarely does a fan get a chance to be so close to AAA talent–and a ballpark of this lesser scale (it felt like a class-A or AA ballpark) is a pleasant surprise in the high minors.

Sox the Fox, the Sky Sox’s mascot, was simply wonderful…as energetic as any mascot I’ve ever seen.  He started the day by doing a

backflip off of a golf cart and didn’t stop moving the entire afternoon.  He actually did a couple of things that made me laugh–rare for a mascot.  I say this even though he gave me some grief for wearing a Mariners hat.  I was in the front row behind the dugout (prime mascot territory) and he removed my hat and pretended to urinate in it.  A little blue humor never hurt anyone.  But it was his athleticism that most impressed me.  He’s as good as I’ve seen.

This particular day featured a doubleheader for the Sky Sox…my pregnant wife’s second doubleheader in four days.  (The first wasn’t a scheduled doubleheader…it

was created by a rainout the night before.)  Thunderstorms gradually rolled all around us, with ominous, distant thunder leading me to wonder whether we’d be able to get one game in, let alone two (which were both slated for 7 innings).  Sprinkles occasionally would hit near us in what was as close to a muggy day as anyone can get in Colorado’s dry climate.

At some point during the fifth inning, my bride turned to me and asked the following:

“You know what would be better than watching a baseball game under the clouds?”

I shrugged.

“Watching the Olympics in our hotel room.”

Pregnancy, altitude, and doubleheaders don’t mix.

But still, my bride was a fantastic trooper.  The game went into extra innings (meaning the 8th), and in the top of the 8th, the skies opened up.  The thunder wasn’t too close, and the umpires were eager to get at least one ballgame in, so the game continued in the downpour.  Everyone in the ballpark headed up to the sheltered area behind home plate…and almost nobody left, either because they didn’t want to miss the end of the game or because they didn’t want to run through the rain.  Colorado storms usually don’t last too long, and this one passed quickly, but still, most of the crowd headed home, including Michelle and I.

Still, I give the crowd and the Sky Sox credit for a good experience and a nice ballpark.  It’s just a shame that experience and ballpark couldn’t be next to mountains instead of next to suburban blight.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel: 4.5/10
The Sky Sox do well to get the score this high, actually.  I’d have no idea where in the U.S. I was based on what I can see from the ballpark, but Colorado-themed concession items and retired Sky Sox numbers prevent this score from going far lower.

Charm:  2.5/5
Again, when I walked into the place, I thought this score might be a zero, but the Sky Sox put on a very nice show.

Spectacle: 3.5/5
A bit too much for AAA ball, but oh, that mascot was something else.

Team mascot/name:  4.5/5

“Sky Sox” is a fine name for a Colorado team, and Sox the Fox also a fine name…and the guy in the outfit earned this score with all his running and jumping.

Aesthetics:  1.5/5
Ballpark is OK…the view really, really dull.

Pavilion area:  3.5/5

Scoreability:  4.5/5
The Sky Sox did a fine job.  I especially featured the large, prominently-displayed lineups on the concourse.

Fans:  4/5
I can’t blame them for going home after the first game…to be fair, we did too.  (But also to be fair, they weren’t pregnant.)

Intangibles:  2.5/5
Lots of good here, but I’m afraid what I’ll remember is the tract housing.

TOTAL:  31/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

An incredibly dramatic ending.  Cedric Bowers uncorks a wild pitch in the downpour in the top of the (extra) 8th inning, scoring the Beavers’ Peter Ciofrone.  But the Beavers’ Edwin Moreno couldn’t seal the deal, as Sky Sox catcher Adam Melhuse crunches a 2-out walk-off home run to give Colorado Springs the victory.

(Written August 2008.)

Dickey-Stephens Park, Little Rock, Arkansas

Dickey-Stephens Park, Little Rock, ARKANSAS

Number of states: 27
States to go: 23

Number of games: 2
First game:  April 4, 2008 (Midland RockHounds 3, Arkansas Travelers 2, 10 innings)
Most recent game: April 5, 2008 (Midland RockHounds 2, Arkansas Travelers 1)

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

It was the best of parks, it was the worst of parks.  Michelle and I were both tremendous fans of Dickey-Stephens Park

pretty quickly.  Its location on the river and views of downtown (quite lovely…trust me, sit on the third-base side!) and even of the state capitol building (if you stand on the walkway in left-center field, crane your neck just so, and look out past the right-field foul pole), make for a lovely aesthetic experience.  And the Travelers Baseball Museum on site is precisely my favorite kind of thing to see.  Celebrations of Arkansas-area players and–be still my heart!–umpires abound.  Did you know that Bill Valentine umpired the 1965 All-Star Game?  Did you know that two recent Travelers who have pitched no-hitters–Jose Jimenez and Bud Smith–each went on to pitch a no-hitter as a rookie?  And that Bud Smith did it in spite of an incredibly unfortunate anagram for his name?  I love locally-oriented baseball museums.  I wish they hadn’t charged me a buck to get in there, especially since it’s less a museum and more a walk-in closet filled with memorabilia, but I still really enjoyed it.  The ballpark did very nicely in exuding Arkansas to me, and since my wife and I were fans of Little Rock as a city (recommended:

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a burger and shake at the Purple Cow), we liked that feeling.

In addition to the museum, there were a couple of other nice touches to the place.  The ballpark hasn’t (yet) pimped out its name to the highest bidder; indeed, it’s named after two sets of brothers who were instrumental in Arkansas baseball’s past.  (The “Dickeys” are baseball playing brother Skeeter and Hall-of-Famer Bill.)  As one approaches the ballpark, lampposts are festooned with shots of the Dickeys and the Stephenses from back in the day.  That’s wonderful.  Isn’t is sad that it’s now considered quaint and retro to have a stadium named after an owner?  But keep it.  The name might be verbose, but I like it. Additionally, the ballpark features a nice perk for its high-paying customers and groups who have the barbeque porch down the right-field line.  As people

eat there before the ballgame, they are positioned in a spot that the players walk through between the clubhouse and the field.  As such, all of the players and coaches on both teams have to walk through the barbeque area both before and after the game.  I can see where it would be a pain for players to have to walk through fans twice a day (as they do at High Desert), especially at the double-A level where legitimate rising stars might fight through decent-sized crowds.  So while I don’t usually like segregation by economic status at ballparks, I’m okay with groups having to pay for a shot at an autograph.  And I especially like the way that the players stood for what seemed to be a very long time signing.  (In the nearby photo, that’s Midland’s Tommy Everidge and an unidentified Traveler.)

But once the game got started, I’m afraid Dickey-Stephens Park had too many flaws in the way it presented the game to be ignored.  I’m always a fan of getting loads of information in my programs, etc.  At Dickey-Stephens Park, I learned that it’s far better to have no information than to have inaccurate information.  The scoreboard, the PA announcer (who had an awesome voice, by the way), and the uniform numbers never seemed to agree on who was at the plate.  Of course, if there were a pinch-hitter or other change, the PA guy took his sweet time letting us know, if he did at all.  There were ballplayers on the field who were not in the program, which, while acceptable on opening night, is not at all OK on the second and third nights in the program inserts, since they are printed out that day.  Net result:

in our efforts to score the games, Michelle and I came up very, very wanting in terms of good information.  They tried to keep track of players’ stats on the scoreboard, but there were times I simply didn’t know what they were talking about.  Plus, they sure did look like they were dropping an F-bomb at me, perhaps because I was looking at the scoreboard for accurate information:   Now, seriously, did they really have to use such language towards us?

Promotions were at times distracting.  I’m not a huge fan of the guy walking around the stadium filming people going batty for the scoreboard video screen…and I’m especially not a fan of his when he stands in front of me for several pitches, blocking my view.  I’m not anti-promotion–hey, I had the lucky program and won an Outback Bloomin’ Onion!–but I am anti-distraction, so this dude needed to sit down.

In any event, this was a beautiful ballpark in a nice city, but there was enough negative–poor presentation, icky brown grass, and a cameraman blocking my view–that it won’t get a very high score.  Still, in spite of that, it’s well worth a visit.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel:  9/10
Fantastic.  The museum, coupled with the river and the downtown skyline, make for an unquestionably Arkansan experience.

Charm:  4/5
Pretty nice here.

Spectacle:  3/5
I like winning contests, but I don’t like sitting behind a standing camera guy for several pitches.

Team mascot/name:  1.5/5

Here I am with that something-or-other…a horse?  a moose?  a whatever?  His name is simply an abomination to all that is holy…Shelly.  Please note the Shell Oil logo under his left elbow.  That’s right:  the Travelers have pimped out the name of their mascot to big oil.  Ick.  This makes me want to buy a hybrid even more.

Aesthetics:  5/5
A gorgeous place.

Pavilion area:  4.5/5
Very nice.  360-degree walk leads to even better views of the river, etc.

Scoreability:  0/5
The scoreboard and PA actually led to more confusion than clarity.  If I can score a game easier without the ballpark’s “help” than with it, that’s a pretty severe repudiation of a ballpark’s ability to do what a ballpark ought to be doing.

Fans:  3/5

Intangibles:  2.5/5
What can I say?  There were parts I loved and parts I really, really didn’t love.

TOTAL:  32.5/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

Myron Leslie hits a game-winning solo shot in the 10th for Midland.

Huge pitching in the second game.  Andrew Bailey pitchers 6 innings of 2-hit ball for the win for Midland.

(Written April 2008.)

Alliant Energy Field, Clinton, Iowa

Alliant Energy Field, Clinton, IOWA

Number of states: 22
States to go:  28

Number of games: 1
First game:  April 5, 2007 (Clinton LumberKings 8, Swing of the Quad Cities 4)

(The ballpark has been renamed NelsonCorp Field, perhaps after Springfield Bully Nelson Muntz.)
(Click on any image to see a larger version.)

Michelle and I did a Midwest swing to start the 2007 season–the fourth year in a row I’d done some

Spring Break minor-league travel…and the first year that I’ve done said travel in northern, rather than Southern, climes.  Just my luck:  my year would coincide with a massive Arctic batch of air covering the entire Midwest.  It cancelled one game on the trip–the game in Appleton, Wisconsin.  But they got opening night in in Clinton, and my wife and I bundled up to see.

Were it not for minor league baseball, I would not have ever heard of

Clinton, a county-seat sized town on the Mississippi.  Alliant Energy Field does reasonably well in the is-there-any-question-where-you-are test, since it’s close enough to the river that I could see a steamboat past the outfield fence.  It also features a decent view of the county courthouse (which sits kitty-corner from the ballpark, across home plate) and some factory belching out a massive amount of smoke.

I want to cut the good people of Clinton a little bit of slack, since it was such a cold night.  But it was opening night, and I therefore was quite disappointed in the turnout…almost nobody made the trip out.  When one considers that the opposing team was the Swing of the Quad Cities, just about a half hour down the road, there should have been

considerably more people.

Of course, the folks at Alliant Energy Field weren’t doing too much to draw the people in.  Outside of the mascot, Louie the LumberKing running about, there was very little excitement in the ballpark–and on a night like this with baseball as poor as we were watching (nine errors…these were not only less-talented ballplayers, they were rusty less-talented ballplayers), a little something more to get us cooking would have been nice, even if it were merely some ushers talking to us a little bit.

Alliant Energy Field has an interesting history–it’s just that spectators have to look for it.  A plaque

informs us that the then-Riverview Stadium was opened in 1937 as a WPA project.  So why does it feel so antiseptic and charmless now?  Is it the bizarrely-scary note that Community Service Workers (are these charming volunteers or those serving work-release sentences) appear to check in at an office inside the ballpark?  (Do they sell concessions?)  Is it that I’m bothered that a ballpark originally constructed in part to give work to desperate Depression-era workers, is now being pimped out to a sponsor (it appears that metal “Alliant Energy Field” plates have been affixed over places where the old “Riverview Stadium” names had been etched in stone)?  Is it the antiseptic metal bleachers that have been added in the intervening years throughout the ballpark?  I don’t know, but I wasn’t thrilled with it.

The line of the night goes, as usual, to my wife.  She wasn’t a fan of Louie the Lumberking, Clinton’s mascot.  Instead of a Lumberjack, she felt Louie looked like “the Burger King king’s porn star brother.”  Good assessment?  I leave that up to the reader.


Looking back, this might be the second-coldest night on which I’ve ever seen a game. 

(I recall my game in Wichita being a lot worse.)  But my wife and I got through it all right, simply because we were prepared.  I might have been the only person in America who bought long underwear in preparation for my Spring Break.  The only problem I have with the cold night is how to score.  Michelle (who started her own scorebook on this trip…cool!) wore driving gloves.  I didn’t want to spend money on driving gloves…I wasn’t confident they’d keep me warm, and I was scared that my handwriting wouldn’t be up to snuff.  I brought ski gloves, and spent the game looking like a snow bunny version of one-gloved-wonder Michael Jackson.

So, on the whole, I can’t tell if it was actually the ballpark or a convergence of events that came together (subpar baseball on a really cold night), but I can’t say I was terribly impressed with Alliant Energy Field.  I do hope to head back to Iowa, however…as the Swing of the Quad Cities’ ballpark in Davenport looked absolutely gorgeous as we drove by.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel:  7/10
Not bad here–hard by the river and within viewing distance of a local landmark.

Charm:  2.5/5
I bet an old ballpark like this could be presented better, but I got very little out of Alliant Energy Field in this department.

Spectacle:  3/5
At this low level of ball, they could have stepped it up just a touch.

Team mascot/name:  3/5


Louie and me.  In the picture, the photographer is shaking from the cold and I am in the process of telling Louie that we think he looks like a porn star.  Is there a huge Iowa lumber industry that I’m unaware of?  I’ll assume yes, and think that the name is good.  But Louie?  I’m unimpressed

Aesthetics:  3/5
Not too special, but I liked being able to see boats go by.

Pavilion area:  3/5
A bit of a nice area wrapped around the left-field foul pole, but otherwise, nothing special.

Scoreability:  3/5

Fans:  1/5
Yes, it was cold, but for opening night, this was simply a sad turnout–both small and surly.

Intangibles:  1/5
Not a banner night.  Just didn’t click with me.

TOTAL:  26.5/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

Mauro Gomez’s first-inning three-run home run gives the LumberKings a lead they never give up.

Grant Gerrard gathers three hits.

John Whittleman walks four times…but I’ll always remember him for dropping a pop to third that–and I don’t say this lightly or often–I likely would have been able to catch.  (Of course, I never would have made the team, but that’s another issue.)  It’s one of two errors for Whittleman, four for Clinton, and nine…nine…in the game.

(Written April 2007.)

O’Brien Field, Peoria, Illinois

O’Brien Field, Peoria, ILLINOIS

Number of states:  20
States to go:  30

Number of games: 1
First game:  July 31, 2006 (Dayton Dragons 3, Peoria Chiefs 1)

(O’Brien Field has since been renamed Dozer Park.)
(Click on any image to view a larger version.)

I’ve got to give a shout out to my Uncle Ed.  At sixty years old, he found it in him to sit through a Chiefs game in triple-digit temperatures.  Triple digits…and I’m not positive the first digit was a one.  (Okay, it was, as the thermometer at right attests.  100 degrees at first pitch.)  He stuck it out all the way to the end.  What a nice man–to get me two rows behind home plate, and not to beg off due to the

horrendous heat.  Alas, as much as I like him, I can’t say the same (in the way of endurance) for my young, robust cousin Luke, who fled after about five innings.  He was studying for his GREs.  I spent part of the day helping him memorize vocabulary words that begin with the letters A through D.  Right there in the midst of the baseball game, Luke suddenly announced that he could not recall the definition of the word “aver,” and fled for home.  No sweat there.  I would like to aver that his eventual endodontic practice will not be impacted by his knowledge, or lack thereof, of that word.

My first visit to O’Brien Field was not my first visit to a Peoria Chiefs game. I went to a game there in 1994, as I stopped to visit my Peoria-based grandmother as I moved to Pittsburgh.  Another cousin, Rick, and I sat in the second row behind the Madison Hatters’ dugout and lightly heckled players (I was younger and stupider then) whose names we thought were stupid.  “YMCA” subsequently played, and the mascot (some ursine creature) noticed that I was singing along to the verses and not merely

to the chorus. He dragged me up for my first (and, to date, only) dance atop a dugout.  Let’s just say I gave the mascot a bit more than he might have bargained for in the dance department.

Twelve years later, I passed through again. Very little remains from my first visit.  Pete Vonachen Stadium has gone the way of the dodo–its former location is now the site of Bradley University’s soccer fields.  While the Vonachen name has been replaced by the corporate O’Brien Field (for Peoria’s O’Brien Motors) there are two nice traces of Vonachen that endure.  First of all, the ballpark is on Pete Vonachen Way.  Second is a lovely sculpture which greets spectators as they approach the seating bowl from the home plate entrance.  In it, Vonachen talks to a young fan, and the sculpture is quite lovely in portraying the emotion of two people of two generations who clearly love baseball.

This trip saw me paying another visit to the Peoria-based grandmother,

although not nearly as happy a visit, as, while she continues to breathe and eat, she no longer has any memory of anyone in the world except for my host, Uncle Ed. I never went to a ballgame with her, I’m afraid. She was always a Cub fan…never a very knowledgeable one, but enough of one to understand the futility of it.

Perhaps because of that day’s visit with my grandmother, I was quite impressed to see that the Chiefs, in addition to the usual Little Leaguers running out to greet the players at their positions, had residents from local retirement homes out there as well. That, quite simply, was sweet, and I bet the elderly folks enjoyed it every bit as much as the kids did, albeit in a different way.  Kudos to both Uncle Ed and the Chiefs for taking care of the elderly in Central

Illinois.

There’s a lot going for O’Brien Field as a place to see a ballgame.  The view opens out to downtown Peoria.  In the “is there any question where you are in the world” department, there’s a massive building for Caterpillar Tractors, one of the cornerstones of the Peoria economy, right beyond the left-field wall.  The seventh-inning stretch singing was led by a video of Harry Caray, thus playing into both the fact that the Chiefs are a Cubs affiliate and, more importantly, that we’re in Illinois.  I’d imagine that actual Peorians are divided between Cubs and Cardinals fans, but Caray announced for both during his career, and fans of any team can’t help but sing along.  The architecture is fairly typical for recent minor-league ballparks, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing, since it means the lovely views and loads of places to picnic.

Quite simply, O’Brien Field is a winner.  Since family gatherings will likely take me back to Central Illinois with some frequency, I’ll likely be back there, and I’m glad about that.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel:  8.5/10
Very good, with downtown, Caterpillar, and Harry Caray.

Charm:  4/5
I’m taken by Pete Vonachen’s smiling statue.

Spectacle: 4.5/5
Very good–lots going on pre-game and between innings.

Team mascot/name:  2/5

Homer–a dalmatian representing the Chiefs…get it?  Why the heck are they the “Chiefs,” anyway, and isn’t Homer a bit like the “Smith” of baseball mascot names?

Aesthetics:  4.5/5
Lovely views and a nice ballpark.

Pavilion area:  3.5/5
Pretty good, but I failed in my effort to circumnavigate the stadium.

Scoreability:  3.5/5

Fans:  5/5
Hey–they’re my relatives.  How do you expect me to score this?

Intangibles:  3/5
A good game, a fun night, and damn, damn, damn hot.

TOTAL:  38.5/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

Wade Miller (at right) makes a rehab start for the Chiefs.  He pitches four shutout innings, and is followed up by Joel Santo, who looks pretty darned strong too for four-plus.

The Chiefs take a 1-0 lead into the ninth inning.  Santo starts to falter, and Bo Lanier comes on for the save.  They get the Dragons down to their final out–and, if I recall, to their final strike–when Craig Tatum comes through with a two-run double.  He then scores on Adam Rosales’ single for the final margin.

Peoria threatens with a leadoff walk in the ninth, but Dayton center fielder B.J. Szymanski’s splendid catch of Alberto Garcia’s liner helps preserve the 3-1 final.

Greer Stadium, Nashville, Tennessee

Greer Stadium, Nashville, TENNESSEE

Number of states:  still 18
States to go:  32

Number of games:  1
First game:   July 29, 2006 (Salt Lake Bees 7, Nashville Sounds 4)

(Greer Stadium was no longer used for baseball as of 2015.  It was demolished in 2019.)
(Click on any picture to see a larger version.)

The best experience I have ever had in a ballpark was my rehearsal dinner–July 29, 2005.  Exactly a year later, I had another marvelous moment.

It sort of happened in San Diego, and it turned into a negative experience.  I had a shot at it in Batavia, and

I blew it.  But in Nashville?  On July 29?  Destiny.

I caught my first foul ball.

Bottom of the first inning.  Jonathon Rouwenhorst pitching. Vinny Rottino batting.  Rottino couldn’t catch up to Rouwenhorst’s pitches.  He

kept sending foul balls down the right field line, where I sat.  I got the glove ready.  Then, it happened.

I’m not very good at judging fly balls, so I’m glad Rob was there.  Not long after the ball left Rottino’s bat, he shouted:  “I think that’s you, Paul!”  The ball started by heading away from the plate, and then started arcing more parallel to the foul line, right along where I was.  I stuck out my glove and intercepted the path.  Bingo!  I caught a real-live foul ball.  On the fly.  In the glove.

My section, and three sections surrounding me, cheered loudly and lustily.  I greedily took it all in by raising both hands.  “Thank you!  Thank you!” I shouted.  No kids came up to me asking for it, and that’s good, because after

waiting a quarter of a century and some 200 games to catch one of these, I wouldn’t have given it up.  I attempted to re-enact the catch, but the resulting picture is poor…the glove was actually in front of me for a backhand stab.  I generally was giddy for the rest of the game.  Rest assured that I’ll try to get out every July 29 from now on!

Needless to say, Vinny Rottino is now my favorite player in the majors.  The Brewers called him up about a month after I caught his ball, and I’m hoping he’ll stay up in 2007.  (2009 Update:  He didn’t stick, and was traded to the Dodgers in July of 2009.) Minor leaguers, remember:  hitting a ball that I catch ALWAYS positively impacts your career.

It’s a good thing that I caught that foul ball, because the ballpark was a snoozer beyond that.  Were it not for the huge guitar scoreboard and the name Sounds, this place would have had absolutely no indication of which of the 50 states we were in.  The view beyond the outfield fence was a non-descript neighborhood to end all non-descript neighborhoods.  There was nothing thrilling to look at.  Add to that a too-crowded concourse, and it’s abundantly clear why the Sounds have decided

to move to a new ballpark by the river.

I did appreciate one thing about the concourse:  the way that the concession stands were named for past Sounds.  I always enjoy the nods to past players who have passed through, and Dibble’s Den, Bye-Bye Deli, and Magglio’s Pizza are a fun way to do that.

Sometimes, when a team goes to a place that is, as fellow Network of Ballpark Collectors member Tim calls it, “a new cookie cutter,” I can’t help but feel something has been lost. Sometimes I feel like there’s something to the old-school places, but not Greer Stadium, I’m afraid. I don’t have any vivid memory of the place.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel:  5/10
Beyond the guitar and the name, very little.

Charm:  2/5
Again, not much other than the scoreboard.

Spectacle:  3/5

Team mascot/name:  3/5

Here’s Ozzie.  He’s a carbon copy of the Denver Nuggets’ Rocky.  He does nothing for me.  The name Sounds, however, is excellent.

Aesthetics:  1.5/5
This is an unattractive place with no real view.

Pavilion area:  1.5/5


Dull and crowded, but I like the names of the establishments.

Scoreability:  3/5

Fans:  5/5

Intangibles:  5/5
Catching a foul ball trumps everything.  Simply everything.

TOTAL:  29/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

Salt Lake spots the Sounds a 4-0 lead, then comes back to win.  Mike Eylward’s sixth inning 2-run double erases the last of that lead.

Matt Wilhite of Bowling Green, Kentucky, got the win in front of many friends and family.

Vinny Rottino goes 0-for-4, including a double-play.

(Written September 2006.)

Joe Davis Stadium, Huntsville, Alabama

Joe Davis Stadium, Huntsville, ALABAMA

Number of states:  still 32 (cancellation)
States to go:  18

Number of games: 0
July 28, 2006 (game cancelled–unplayable fields)

(Joe Davis stadium is no longer used for baseball as of the 2016 season.)
(Click on any image to see a larger version.)

It had rained all morning the day we headed to Alabama, but cleared up significantly in the afternoon.  I went back and forth all day on whether there would be a baseball game played that night.  Even as I walked up to the stadium, I thought that maybe there was a shot at a game.  The lawns surrounding the stadium were dry to the touch.  But the game was cancelled–unplayable fields.  Which led my wife and I to speculate:  how could the field

be unplayable when the lawn outside was nearly dry?

Our conclusion:  in spite of the forecast, somebody must have forgotten to cover the infield before the rain began.  Not impressive.

The Stars were running a promotion that day where fans could get in free with a donation to a local food bank.  Workers for the food bank were outside taking canned food and exchanging it for tickets to future games.  These nice people said I could probably find someone to talk to at the ticket office.

I wanted to ask for two things, both of which were longshots.  First of all, I wanted to see if I could get a refund for our tickets.  In the past, efforts to do this had been a mixed bag, but I was deeply appreciative last year when the folks in San Diego offered refunds for their freak rainout for anyone from out-of-state.  I understand that baseball teams have to make a buck, but this seems a reasonable policy to me.  Secondly, I wanted to see if, after all of that effort to get there, somebody might let me into the ballpark to

take a few pictures.

There was nobody from the Stars anywhere to be found.  (They should take a customer service lesson from the food bank people, who were all over the place.)  That’s strike two–they forgot to cover their field, and now they’re nowhere to be found.

The next morning, while on the road to Nashville, I called the Stars and talked to a staffer.  While she stated that they couldn’t offer a rebate, even to an out-of-stater, I was disappointed but not surprised.  She offered me an exchange for merchandise at their store, but I had already left the state.  Oh well.

What followed was breathtaking.

ME:  “Do you work with any charities that my wife and I can donate our tickets to?”

HER:  “No.”

ME:  “You don’t work with any charities?”

HER:  “Not that I’m aware of.”

ME:  “Not Big Brothers/Big Sisters?  Not the Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs?  Nobody?”

HER:  “Hold on…let me check.”  Long pause while she checks with co-workers.  She then returns.  “Sir?  We don’t work with any charities.”

Net result:  we decided to send the tickets to a Huntsville charity on our own.  And, as beautiful as I found the Huntsville area (gorgeous country there in northern Alabama), you can bet that I won’t go back for a Stars game.  When I return to officially cross Alabama off the list, I will do so in Birmingham, Montgomery, or Mobile.

(Written August 2006.)

Smokies Park, Kodak, Tennessee

Smokies Park, Kodak, TENNESSEE

Number of states:  18
States to go:  32

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


With that, we got going with the game.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and that conversation was soon

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

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

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

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

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

Ever wonder how they figure

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

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

BALLPARK SCORE:

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

Charm:  5/5
Lovely architecture and nice surroundings.

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

Team mascot/name:  4/5

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

Aesthetics:  4.5/5
Quite lovely.

Pavilion area:  4/5

Scoreability:  4/5

Fans:  5/5

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

TOTAL:  43.5/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

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

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

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

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

(Written August 2006.)

Cooper Stadium, Columbus, Ohio

 

Cooper Stadium, Columbus, OHIO

Number of states:  17
States to go:  33

First and last game:  July 25, 2006 (Columbus Clippers 9, Durham Bulls 1)

 
(Cooper Stadium is no longer in use for baseball as of the 2009 season.)
(Click on any image to view a larger version.)
 

To be sure, there were quite a number of issues with Cooper Stadium.  Its age shows, and not gracefully.  I dislike the ancient PA system, the charmless pavilion, and the less-than-understated Carmina Burana playing

as the team takes the field.  However, this July evening turned into a marvelously fun evening with loads of friends–an evening I was pleased to have.

Rob, Yolonda, Michelle and I made it to Cooper Stadium after a day at South Point, Ohio (near the tri-point of Ohio, Kentucky, and West Virginia).  Buddies Joe and Alison gathered loads of friends and led us to the tenth row behind the third-base dugout.  As happens so many times when I get together with buddies for a ballgame, there were many bizarre and memorable events to pass along.

For starters, the whole bunch of us nearly died in the second inning.  The Clippers’ Jeff Karstens pitched to the Bulls’ Elijah Dukes.  He must have fooled him very badly on a pitch, because as Dukes missed for strike two, he released his bat and it went flying behind him.

And right towards us.

Right the hell towards us.

Even if I had wanted the bat and been foolish enough to reach up for the bat, it likely would have just hit my forearms.  So I joined all of my friends in ducking down very low.  I did not want to get hit by a flying bat. 

As buddy Joe (wearing the Orioles hat in the photo) put it, “I’d prefer to go the rest of my life without the little voice in my head saying ‘you’re not ducking deep enough’ ever again.”

As we dusted ourselves off and made sure all of our appendages remained, and as we confirmed that the people a couple of rows behind us were also unhurt, we missed Dukes grounding out to third.  We also missed Dukes being ejected by the home plate umpire.  This ejection led the Devil Rays to finally get so fed up with Dukes (in part because he had earlier said that “the major leaguers shower in Perrier while we get sewer water”) that they suspended him for the rest of the season.  I appreciate the D-Rays’ priorities.  Only AFTER he threw a bat at me did they toss him.  Indeed, perhaps

the D-Rays knew that I was a sports official–in the year when Delmon Young chucked a bat at the home plate umpire, I would merely be the latest official a Durham Bull threw a bat at in 2006.

When I wasn’t in danger of dying, there were a few things I liked about Cooper Stadium.  They did a fine job respecting the Clippers’ history, which, as of 2006, meant New York

Yankees’ history.  I love ballparks that have lineups from past years on display, and Cooper Stadium had artists’ renditions of lineups from every year from the Clippers’ history as a Yankees’ affiliate.  The mixture of all-time greats with who-the-heck-is-thats is one of my favorite parts of being at a ballpark, and Cooper Stadium does it well.  As of the end of the 2006 season, the Yankees ended their relationship with the Clippers.  I do hope that they keep the old Yankees’ pictures up; when I’m at a minor league ballpark, I want to see the local minor league team’s history, not the history of the major league team.  Wichita, Tulsa, and High Desert all celebrate past minor leaguers from who played at that park even after affiliate shifts.  We’ll see if the Clippers have that same sense of history, or if their new parent club orders the relics of recent Yankee history taken down.

No other aspects of the ballpark blew me away.  I was a little taken aback by the fact that a cemetery is visible beyond the outfield fence.  When my mind and eyes wander during a Clippers’ game, they wander to headstones. A particularly massive home run at Cooper Stadium would not impress the fans so much as remind them of their mortality.  The pavilion is typically dank and dull.  They try to make it up with a miniature golf course.  I’m not a big fan of such unnecessary distractions from the baseball–any fan who’d prefer golf to

baseball isn’t a fan at all–and on top of that, the mini-golf course is so poorly and hastily assembled that it’s actually worse than it could be.

This is also my second visit to a Yankees’ affiliate, and the second time that the team played “New York, New York” after a victory.  I hated that just as much here as I did in Battle Creek.  We’re not in New York, and these aren’t the Yankees.  Let’s keep that music special for Yankee Stadium.

Occasionally, it’s a close race to actually be a charming old ballpark–the old, covered seating with beams obstructing views is a blast from the past–but I’m afraid that there are just too many negatives.  Nevertheless, I’ll probably be back. With so many friends so close by, I’ll certainly be back to see if they do any upgrades–and if those upgrades will maintain the current sense of history.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel:  7/10
The ballpark’s strong sense of Clippers’ history earns points here.

Charm:  2/5
Not much.  Old in and of itself does not mean charming, and Cooper Stadium demonstrates this.

Spectacle:  3.5/5
Not bad for the triple-A level, although the promotions they had were occasionally annoying.

Team mascot/name:  3/5

Joe, me, and Krash the First Mate.  Not pictured:  Lou Seal.  Nothing offensive or impressive about any mascot-related matters.

Aesthetics:  2.5/5
Sort of old and dusty–and the view is of a cemetery, which is creepy.

Pavilion area:  1.5/5

Scoreability:  3/5

Fans:  5/5
Great friends.  I look forward to going to the new place with them.

Intangibles:  2.5/5
I had a fun night, but in the end, this place didn’t leave me with a positive impression.

TOTAL:  29.5/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

The Clippers rough up the Bulls’ Doug Waechter for four first-inning runs.

Columbus’s nine runs include five unearned runs off of four Bull errors, including a pair by B.J. Upton.

B.J. Upton and Bronson Sardinha homer.

Jeff Karstens pitches 7 innings of 1-run ball.

(Written August 2006.)