Category Archives: former arizona diamondbacks affiliates

Ballparks that were used by Arizona Diamondbacks affiliates when I saw them, but are no longer.

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.)

Yakima County Stadium, Yakima, Washington

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Yakima County Stadium, Yakima, WASHINGTON

Number of states:  still 5
States to go:  45
Number of games: 3
First game:  July 8, 2004 (Yakima Bears 7, Salem-Keizer Volcanoes 4)
Most recent game:  July 3, 2009 (Yakima Bears 9, Spokane Indians 4)

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

In the competition for “Longest drive made to meet Paul at a baseball game,” the nominees 

are:  3.  My dad, who took an airport shuttle two hours to get from Columbia, Missouri to a fine game at Busch Stadium.  2.  Rob, who drove about two and a half hours from State College, Pennsylvania to meet me at Three Rivers.  And the #1 longest drive to meet me at a ballpark:  Brian and his wife Annie, who drove two and a half hours from Seattle to meet me in Yakima.  They win the tiebreaker over Rob because–let’s face it–they drove to Yakima and did so for a short season single-A game.  It’s nice to have friends like these.  The Yakimas of the world are nicer when you can share them with friends.

Brian, a fellow teacher, a guy I call “my hero and mentor” (and he thinks it’s tongue-in-cheek), has a daughter who is working on her medical residency in Yakima.  I had forgotten this when I jokingly invited him to join me in Yakima for a ballgame.  I was pleasantly surprised when he agreed, saying he’s always looking for an excuse to visit his daughter Rachael.  Given that we’re both teachers (yay, summers off!),  he did, in fact, meet me in Yakima for Northwest league baseball.  His daughter joined us, and somehow, I wasn’t bothered when she studied during the game for tests she’d be taking shortly.  My answer to the questions about people with difficult medical

challenges was always the same:  “He should be seeing a doctor.”  Strangely, it was never the right answer.  The Yakima crowd made it easy for her study–there were few of them and they were quiet, even on Thunder Stick night.  (By the way, there is precedent in my life for studying at sports venues.  My brother claims he studied in college at the bowling alley…the general cacophony there was easier on him than the complete silence of the library.  Me?  The library all the way.  I had a carrel way down in the dusty bowels of the place.  Perfect.)

The Bears’ people did well to keep things active during the game.  They featured loads of promotions, and wacky ones, such as attempting to throw toilet plungers into a toilet, a cream pie eating contest, and an attempt to catch high-slung T-shirts with butterfly nets.  There were probably other promotions as well, but I couldn’t hear them–the PA system was awful.  On the whole, the atmosphere wasn’t exactly electric…a routine seating bowl which, as

I said, is mostly empty.

The ballpark itself  has some nice quirks.  It’s incredibly short–293 feet–down the lines, and Yakima’s dry, relatively high air must make those foul poles inviting targets.  However, the short porches at the poles become longer in a big hurry, as the outfield wall juts more or less straight out from there…the dimensions go from 293 to 340 in a big hurry.  The views of nearby mountains are charming, and if you’re heading to Yakima, you might note that the first-base side is home to the hot, sunny, uncomfortable seats.  The sun can be such a problem for spectators and fielders that they have put up a big screen past the third-base seats to block it.

On the whole, I’ll remember a fun night with my buddies in the middle of nowhere–one old friend with whom I can talk baseball and shoot the shit, his kind wife, and a woman who’s working on bringing health care

to the Yakima Valley.  What more can you ask than that?

July 2005–I returned to Yakima with my fiancée during the month of our wedding for that year’s July 4th Minor League Baseball trip.  And in the process, I managed to make my baby feel wonderful–nearly crying–and make a silly rookie mistake at the same time.  A local florist had a promotion called Sweetheart of the Game…basically an essay contest.  Write a few sentences about why your date should be the Sweetheart of the Game, and the winning essay’s sweetheart gets flowers delivered to her at her seat.  I wrote that Michelle and I were getting married on the 29th of that month, that we were on our third annual 4th of July Minor League Road Trip, that said road trip was originally Michelle’s idea (this is especially impressive to those who believe I’m dragging along an unwilling partner to all these ballparks), and that I loved her very much.  Well, they picked Michelle as Sweetheart of the Game (of course they did…I’m a poet, dammit), and Michelle was surprised and touched…she confessed later she nearly cried.  So what, you ask, was the rookie mistake?  This was…I wrote the wrong damn date for our wedding.  We were getting married on the 30th, not the 29th.  The 29th was the rehearsal dinner…where Michelle threw out the first pitch at an Everett AquaSox Game and where I sang the National Anthem.  We’d been spending the whole weekend talking baseball and playing catch, so the baseball on my brain led me to write the wrong date down…so Michelle corrected the announcer, saying “Actually, it’s the 30th.”  What a doofus move.  But she pointed out that this was short-season A ball, and so it was fine that I made a rookie mistake.  I’m thankful for that, because I want to spend my whole career in her organization.

yakimasweetheart

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel:  8.5/10
The view of nearby mountains is nice.  The museum area with the exhibit about Yakima-connected “Hub” Kittle is better.


Charm:  2/5
Reasonable here, in a county-fair sort of way (the stadium  is located on fairgrounds), but I can’t look past the foul-ball screen obscuring the view of literally every seat, the way-too-quiet PA (couldn’t hear him from my seat by third base!), and the horribly-maintained infield.

Spectacle: 5/5
Wacky low-minors stuff that never interferes with the game.

Team mascot/name:  2.5/5


Boomer Bear is about what you’d expect–a bit conventional and not locally appropriate.

Aesthetics:  3.5/5
The stands themselves are unattractive, but it’s quite a nice view.

Pavilion area:  4.5/5
Love the exhibit, though both it and the entire pavilion can be a bit larger for my tastes.

Scoreability:  2/5
I had to guess at some tough scoring decisions, and the lineups in the pavilion neglected to tell me first names and uniform numbers.  Plus, a scoreboard malfunction made one strike look like seven strikes.

Fans:  3/5
Gets a little better every time I go, although I’m still remembering how quiet the first game was.

Intangibles:  5/5
I wasn’t a fan after my first visit, but the last two have each brought tremendous memories…my baby crying at being named Sweetheart of the Game, just a few weeks before our wedding…and four years later, in 2009, both my wife and I tearing up as we watched our son totally transfixed over his first-ever fireworks.


TOTAL: 36/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

Two homers for Chris Carter set the table for the Bears’ win in my inaugural visit.

As of July 2004, Chase Smith had two losses in professional baseball, and I’ve been there for both of them:  the first in Eugene a week earlier, than this one.  Chase–send me a few bucks and I’ll not show up anymore.

For July 4th weekend of 2005, Michelle and I saw Yakima’s Angel Rocha give one of the poorest pitching performances imaginable.  He made it two-thirds of an inning…faced ten batters.  Two outs, six walks, and two hits–all of them scored for 8 earned runs, or an ERA for the outing of 108.00.  It didn’t get much better for Yakima thereafter.

Incredibly, in a 17-run, 17-hit onslaught, John Mayberry Jr. managed to go 0-for-6 for Spokane.

In 2009, Yakima comes back with an 8-run 8th-inning–aided by a pair of bases-loaded walks–to defeat Spokane.

(Written July 2004.  Updated July 2009.)