Category Archives: league

FirstEnergy Stadium, Reading, Pennsylvania

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FirstEnergy Field, Reading, PENNSYLVANIA

Number of states: still 38
States to go: 12

First game: June 28, 2019 (Reading Fightin’ Phils 5, Portland Sea Dogs 4)

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

The nerdiest thing I do in my life–and this has quite a bit of competition for the honor–is my spreadsheet.

That page that has all of the records and stats for games I have attended? That doesn’t build itself. That comes from me

inputting everything that happens in my presence into a spreadsheet. And it gives me a ton of joy. On the minor league spreadsheet, I have a box for “MLB All Star,” which I look at every year over the all-star break. Any player I have seen that makes an all-star team gets a check-mark. (Kirby Yates becomes the 19th pitcher to get the check mark in 2019: Ketel Marte, Austin Meadows, and Daniel Vogelbach bring us to 48 on the batting side.)  On the major league side, I put a check mark by any player who makes the Hall of Fame. 

What I do not yet have is a player I have seen as a minor league who has made the Hall of Fame.  (Joey Votto and Buster Posey are probably my best shots right now.)

Why do I bring this up? Because if my spreadsheet had a ballpark, that ballpark would be FirstEnergy Stadium in Reading. It was a delight. Or, as Matt put it, “I think we hit the jackpot tonight, Paul.”

Indeed, we did.

The ballpark is old: it doesn’t match the current ideal of gleaming place by the river. Indeed, the seats and such are a throwback compared to the perfectly-oriented green seats I am accustomed to elsewhere. It isn’t in much of a neighborhood: wedged between an arterial street and a factory (appropriate for central Pennsylvania). It is built out of the gorgeous red brick that most of Reading seems to be built out of: surely there’s a reason for all that brick, but I am too lazy to

look it up. When I saw signs touting “America’s Classic Ballpark,” I was a little skeptical. But man oh man did this place ever live up to that standard.

For starters, the pre-game party in the pavilion was absolutely fantastic. Music, local food booths to supplement the traditional ballpark fare, carnival games…it felt like a party and I was into the party. The Friday night crowd–6,004–was pretty festive, but not in that we-are-having-fun-because-we-should-be way. It was more in line with gearing up for the real show: the baseball game.

Underneath the home plate bleachers, we had the entire history of Reading baseball. Again, the town gives itself a nickname, “Baseballtown,” that I was unsure about. And again, the celebration of baseball played on that site for nearly 70 years was as good as it could get. Photos of every Reading team over that time are there: check out the mid-to-late ’70s to see the Phillies building up to the first major league title. On top of the local history, they celebrated local baseball, noting the high

school baseball champions from the area. Also–the girls’ softball champions. That was a nice touch that I was delighted to see.

So I was smitten…and then it got better.

Past the museum as I walked up the third base side, there was a line of people waiting for autographs. That’s because the players had to walk through the concourse to get between the locker room and the field. There, right outside the room, was Cody Asche, he of 390 major league games,

chatting with an elderly couple that one might think he knew. There was a similar run of autograph possibilities for the home team as well. It’s a touch that brings players and fans closer together–I think emotionally. 

Then there’s a trip up the ramp, where the Fightin’ Phils celebrate the building of the 2008 World Series champion Phillies through Reading. And after that, there is my absolute favorite spot–the most spreadsheetiest of thespreadsheety aspects of this park.

The Hall of Fame bar and grill. There, one can have a beer and some food underneath the faces of every baseball Hall of Famer who has ever played at the ballpark in Reading. I couldn’t get over how cool it was. Just as I had the checkmark on my

spreadsheet, they have the checkmark on their ballpark. They acknowledge the visiting players (and beyond: even Pat Gillick is there…made the hall as a GM, but played a game at Reading as a visitor). I just couldn’t get over how cool that was.

Promotions were fine and integrated. It was Latino baseball night, and they did the pregame weather forecast and player introductions in Spanish. We learned that the Spanish word for “thunderstorms” is “tormentas,” which is too cool for words (Matt nearly broke with joy at this discovery). Beyond the occasional on-field wackiness, there wasn’t anything disruptive.

And that was reflected in the culture at the ballpark. A night after sitting with a ton of people not watching baseball in Allentown, but instead making pig noises, I was surrounded by baseball here. Case in point: The Fightin’ Phils have a pool in right field. I’m not a huge fan of the pools in Arizona or Tampa Bay: it feels like conspicuous luxury and antithetical to watching a game. Gorgeous people sit there and not-watch-baseball.

But in Reading, it was entirely different. The pool was mostly filled with kids, which

is not the image I have of the other couple of baseball pools I can think of. The certain result of that, I would have thought, would be an aquatic version of Lord of the Flies. But a simple geographic choice shifted the whole culture. The pool is set up almost flush with the top of the right field wall. As a result, kids swim across the narrow pool, perch on the side, and peek over the edge. At a baseball game.

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Kids, in a pool, were choosing to watch baseball rather than play Marco Polo or splash the crap out of each other.

If we set up a world where it is assumed that people will watch baseball, people will watch baseball. Which is what we do at baseball games.

So I was even more smitten…and then it got even better.

After my first-ever game with the minor-league rule of start-with-the-runner-on-second in the extra innings, after a loud walk-off win, it was time for Launch-A-Ball.

Rob pointed out to me that most of the hula hoops into which we could throw our balls were not prizes we could use: lots of gift certificates from spots we couldn’t go. If we were going to play, we were going to go big: closest to the pin.

Whoever got their ball closest to the pitching rubber would win a hundred bucks.  Why not?

Ball #1: I threw it a line drive over the net.  The friction from the grass slowed it down, and that meant it came up short.

“Huh,” I thought. “I might want to get a little more arc on it: have it bounce instead of roll.  That will get it closer to the rubber.”

I chucked it over the net.  It bounced to the mound, rolled up it…and I was closest to the pin.

I. Was. Closest. To. The. Pin.  And I won a hundred bucks.

Most of that money went to Fightin’ Phils hats for Matt and me, and I am delighted to returned that money (which I would have spent anyway) to the team. Because after already having fallen so hard for this ballpark, to have them hand me a Benjamin Franklin as I walked out of the ballpark?  That ain’t too shabby.  

I am a hundredaire. And I want to go back.  Heck, I want to do season tickets from two thousand miles away.

Reading, you are Baseballtown. You totally got this right. Thanks for a fabulous night, and keep up the fabulous work.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional Feel: 9.5/10.  Just amazing. Loved the focus on so much history. Only a view would have brought this up to perfection.

Charm: 5/5.  All over the place.

Spectacle: 5/5.  Again, as good as anyone can ask.

Team mascot/name: 2.5/5.  By changing from “Phillies” to “Fightin’ Phils,” the team managed to get the worst of both worlds: both too cutesy and too dull.  Many mascots: all fine, but maybe too many to present a cool feeling. Here I am with Screwball.

Aesthetics: 4/5.  Great, in spite of aging bleachers and wood.

Pavilion area: 5/5.  I’d give it a six if I felt I could.

Fans: 4/5.  Quite nice

Intangibles: 5/5.  Dude, I won a hundred bucks.

Overall: 43.5/50

BASEBALL STUFF I SAW HERE:  

My first extra-inning minor league game since the new (dumb) rule about putting a guy on second to start an extra inning came into effect.  

The Fightin’ Phils took the early lead on a three-run shot by Grenny Cumona, but the SeaDogs scrapped back to tie it at 3, as pitcher Denyi Reyes settled down nicely.  

The SeaDogs scored one on a sacrifice and a fielder’s choice to start the 10th, but Alec Bohm singled home two runs to win it for the home team in the bottom half.

Written July 2019.

Coca-Cola Park, Allentown, Pennsylvania

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Coca-Cola Park, Allentown, PENNSYLVANIA
Number of states: still 38

States to go: still 12

First game: June 27, 2019 (Rochester Red Wings 8, Lehigh Valley IronPigs 7)

 

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

I don’t get to games late very often, but on this day it couldn’t be helped. After a killer walk-off crazy game at Citizens Bank Park, Rob and I had to grab Matt at the airport and then head north through some horrible traffic to get to this one. We did well to arrive at the end of the first inning. Because of the uncertainty of it all, we didn’t have tickets, so we got to buy on the way in. 

“Any preference?” the worker asked.

“Whatever you think is best,” I replied.

We were placed down the right-field line, which is fine, but wound up staring straight into the sun to see the batter. Even with shades and a ballcap, we wound up also having to use our hands to block the sun. It was even a safety issue: once the ball left the bat, I had no idea where it was. The sun is obviously not the IronPigs’ fault, but I do wish that the guy selling us the tickets had told us about it. 

The ballpark itself had some promise. It sits atop a pretty cool hill, and I liked the promotion of the park to that level, like it was some European castle. I didn’t notice any real views, however, from the seats or on my wanderings, so it didn’t seem to

have any real advantages to it.

Kudos to the IronPigs for packing them in on a Thursday night. Not many empty seats (which may explain our location, of course). But there was a weird cultural thing going on that was especially clear in comparison to the Phillies game from earlier that day.

In Philadelphia, there was minimal interference with the game. Sure, they had their wackiness (jet-ski races on the scoreboard, trivia, 50/50 raffle, that sort of thing), but it was on the scoreboard as an option rather than blasted over the speaker, creating an expectation that everyone would watch. It was easy to watch the game and not feel like it was a

promotions transference device.

Not so much at Lehigh Valley.  There was wackiness all over. And while I might have put up with that at the rookie level, at triple-A, less is more.

Case in point: the team name. I don’t have much trouble with “Iron Pigs” as a name: it seems that “pig iron” is an important factor in the creation of iron that Allentown is best known for. Thumbs-up. But oh man, they focused on the absolutely wrong part of the team name. Everything in the park was about the “pigs” rather than about the “iron.” There was bacon in the team logo, pigs and bacon all around the ballpark, a pig mascot with no hint of iron around her (that I noticed, anyway).  And the sounds. Oh, the sounds.  Between pitches, even, I’d hear pig grunts and snorts. A “sooeee” call. Outside of Fayetteville, Arkansas, I felt like this was disruptive. I could handle it once as a joke. But repeatedly?  Over and over again, that pig grunt kept going, and, in my eyes anyway, it was disruptive and annoying.

And fireworks.  No problem with fireworks, but the IronPigs had a “more is more” attitude about them. They set them off after every run the home team scores. This led to a delightful moment when Red Wings reliever Jake Reed balked in a run. The crowd had no idea what had happened, which is fine, I guess: balks are confusing. But then, as everyone was turning to each other and saying “What’s going on? Why is everyone standing around? Is that guy going home?” there’s a big BOOM!  Balk fireworks. First time for everything, I guess.

It was some kind of soccer-related promotion night–appropriate in the heat of the 2019 Women’s World Cup (and the day before a huge US/France quarterfinal). This meant that they continually played clips from the sorta-funny

Will Ferrell movie Kicking and Screaming on the big screen, and that they also had soccer-themed promotional contests on the field. It seemed pretty clear that the person they had running one contest wasn’t that familiar with soccer, however. Kids were trying to head soccer balls into trash cans for a prize. But instead of “Try to head the balls into the cans,” she said “Try to head-butt the balls into the cans.” Head-butt?  Really?  Did she want the kids to go all Zinedine Zidane on each other? (A worthy promotion, perhaps…)

The problem here was that the entire crowd seemed to follow along. No real interest in the game here. Kids were screwing around,

everyone was chatting, and I didn’t get a sense that baseball was important there. That seemed to be popular, but again, the net result wasn’t something I was a huge fan of.

Rob and I, punchy from the red-eye and in our second game of the day, managed to get by (I had gyros) while Matt watched the AAA affiliate of his Twins have a strong evening.

A good day at the ballpark on the whole, but my overall instinct is that the IronPigs got too cutesy. Sandwiching this around the baseball-first atmosphere of their affiliated siblings, the Phillies and the Reading Fightin’ Phils, showed how off this was compared to a pair that were right on. I hope the culture changes a little, but given the attendance, I doubt it will. Different strokes for different folks, but as this is my website, they get a lower score than the other strokes do.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional Feel: 3.5/10.  Not much to be said about Allentown or Steel Country here. They got it exactly wrong: too much pigs, not enough iron.

Charm: 3/5.  Some nice bits all around, and a lovely sunset.

Team mascot/name 3/5:  Would have worked better if they’d focused on iron rather than pigs. Extra credit for naming the mascot FeFe. Love nerdy puns.

Aesthetics 5/5:  Lovely location on top of a hill. Quite lovely.

Pavilion 4/5: Nice here, although a little cutesy in places.

Scoreability 4.5/5:  Great stuff here. Only one minor slip-up.

Fans 2/5:  This was the group that would have done anything the PA said. Especially compared to what I saw in Philadelphia the previous day, this was an annoyance.

Intangibles 3/5:  The sunset overrode a lot of negatives.
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Total: 27.5/50

BASEBALL STUFF I SAW HERE:  Rochester builds a big lead, in part based on Zander Wiel’s big bat (three hits and a home run). But the IronPigs fought back, mostly with a Phil Gosselin three-run shot, to tie. But Rochester plates two in the ninth on an error and a wild pitch, then holds on for the win.

Coolray Field, Lawrenceville, Georgia

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Coolray Field, Lawrenceville, GEORGIA

Number of states: still 38
States to go: 12
First game: August 19, 2018 (Buffalo Bisons 4, Gwinnett Stripers 2)

 

Click on any image to see a full-size version.

I splurged for our game at Coolray Field, getting the box seats immediately behind home plate that included free food before the game. Turned out to be a really good idea, too, since it was, I believe, about a bazillion degrees with ten thousand percent

humidity that afternoon. (81 degrees and overcast, the box score says).  Hot dogs and chips and water: it was a fine pre-game meal that meant we could stay in air conditioning until the game began.

Of course, I did my traditional circumnavigation of the ballpark before all that, and found a highly unusual setting for a ballpark. Right past the right field line: an apartment building. Had I been so inclined, I could have tossed popcorn into the pool. Pretty good view of the park from the upper floors, too: if ever I move to the northeastern suburbs and exurbs

of Atlanta, perhaps I will select one of those apartments in which to live. 

The apartments lay out a critical issue with the ballpark, however, and it is the same issue that I had with SunTrust Park: the antiseptic nature of the location. This ballpark is both everywhere and nowhere. To get there, we drove past strip malls and

housing developments that could have been any neighborhood outside of any city. And we drove for a long, long time: highways and arterial roads that kept finding more neighborhoods and more strip malls. Finally: the ballpark.

The ballpark didn’t have much going on in the way of local color that I noticed anyway: I appreciated the Braves pictures down in the air conditioned room that we paid top dollar for, but beyond that, this was a pretty low fail in the “do you have any idea where you are” test. And not only did we have no idea where we are, but people didn’t seem to know where the

ballpark was, either. Only 1,667 came out to watch Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. visit on a Sunday afternoon. Yeah, it was hot, and yeah, it’s a church afternoon. But I suspect that even the biggest fans in Atlanta (minus these 1,667) just didn’t want to drive all the way out there, especially with a simultaneous Braves game in a different antiseptic suburb.

Fun afternoon for us, though. I do enjoy being in the front row. Although I didn’t factor in that Bisons’ players would be

blocking out view from time to time, I still loved the proximity to the play, and the ability to hear conversations between players (the silence of the many empty seats aided with that). Matt even struck up a conversation with a Bisons’ player: I think it was Dwight Smith, Jr.. Matt asked him if Buffalo was cold. Smith’s answer: not so bad in the summer. Hell, I didn’t need a AAA ballplayer to tell me that.

But I still am impressed with how regularly Matt can strike up conversations with strangers. I recall his discussion with

one of the workers in the air-conditioned palace. She mentioned how she was a teachers’ aid, and that this was her second job, and that she still was struggling to make ends meet because of health care costs. How Matt manages to elicit that so easily, and then make her feel his concern, and all within a literal minute: well, I’d like to bottle it up.

My conversations were not nearly as important or, I have to admit, even as verbal. But my conversation was with Vlad.  He headed into the on-deck circle in the first inning, and this transpired:

ME: [makes eye contact]
VLAD: [does not back down from eye contact]
ME: [lifts chin quickly, the international sign for “what’s up”]
VLAD: [also lifts chin quickly]

That’s right: I was acknowledged by one Vladimir Guerrero, Junior. He was batting .345 with an OPS over 1.000 when this happened, and I believe his average went up thereafter (although not in this game). I hope he remembers me. In fact, I am confident

he does. When he gives his Hall of Fame acceptance speech about a quarter of a century from now, do not be surprised when he mentions this moment.

Shout out to the young woman from Saskatchewan, whose name I have forgotten, who was seated next to us and put up with our foolishness. She was a long way from home, but sets aside a trip to ballparks every year so she can take photographs. I hope that she had some really good ones from this hot, hot day.

In summation:  fun day.  Dull ballpark.

BALLPARK SCORE:

REGIONAL FEEL:  3/10.  I guess I can give some points for hot and humid, but there truly wasn’t much going on here that said “Georgia” outside of a few photos in the air conditioned room.

CHARM: 2/5.  Felt like a hotel lobby: clean, clear, locationless.

SPECTACLE: 4.5/5.  Nice here. Not much except for families throwing the ball around on the field prior to the game. Good and quiet: appropriate for triple-A ball.

TEAM MASCOT/NAME: 3.5/5

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Love the name Stripers (it’s a fish). Very appropriate, and I bought a hat: which I don’t often do on these trips. The mascot, Chopper, I am less sure about. Turns out he’s a groundhog, but I had to check his Twitter feed to learn that. There, I no longer feel the connection. Feels right if the team moves to Punxatawney, though.

AESTHETICS: 2.5/5

Meh.

PAVILION AREA 3.5/5

I remember that walk around the park, and how long it was: often a ways back from the park. Not much going on in the way of history or exhibits that I remember, though.

SCOREABILITY: 4.5/5

No issues here, although no real challenges, either.

FANS 2/5

Points for my Canadian friend, but where was everyone else?

INTANGIBLES:  3.5/5

Thanks, Vlad!  Quality play brought this up a bit, but miserable heat brought it down.

TOTAL: 29/50

BASEBALL STUFF I SAW HERE:

Decent pitchers’ duel between Kyle Wright and Mike Hauschild brings us to the 8th. There, the Bisons’ Jonathan Davis homers to untie the score. Reese McGuire then scored Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. on a single to tack on a run. 

Two hits and an RBI for Sean Kazmar, whom I had last seen 8 years earlier as a Portland Beaver.

 

Written June 2019.

Regions Field, Birmingham, Alabama

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Regions Field, Birmingham, ALABAMA

State number: 38
States to go: 12
First game:  August 18, 2018 (Tennessee Smokies 2, Birmingham Barons 1)

Click on any image to see a full-size version.

As I have said before, Double-A baseball is my favorite league to watch besides the majors. These are the players that the

team takes seriously for the future. They tend to be younger than triple-A players, who are mostly just spare parts for the major leaguers.  You still might see a mistake or two, but on the whole, this is where things start to get exciting in the narrative of a ballplayer making his way to the top.

And on a night like this, with a pair of friends and a pitchers’ duel, well, things are delightful.

The ballpark itself is in a sort-of no-man’s-land as far as location: it’s not exactly a downtown ballpark, but just a little away from it. It allows for some pretty decent views of downtown from the right-field foul pole, but the view is nondescript

overall. The architecture is unlike that of most ballparks I have known. From the outside, it’d be hard to tell if the building was a ballpark or a convention center of some sort: it’s just a big box with the word “Birmingham” on it. So I feel like this should score a little low on the “is there any question where you are” test. 

But then again…I’m afraid I missed the Southern Negro League Museum, just a block away. I don’t regret missing that, since

we spent our day in Montgomery, which was astonishing. (If you are within a day’s drive of Montgomery, ever, go to the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, known in shorthand as the “lynching memorial.” It was one of the most searing and impactful experiences of my life.)  But I do wish I’d known it was there. Learning about the Birmingham Black Barons before watching the Birmingham Barons would have been a good doubleheader.

On the inside, the place felt a little bit worn. There was a little bit of trash around, and more closed concession stands than I felt like the (decent) crowd merited. I did chat with a few college-aged folks about their experience working

there, and they seemed nice enough, but I felt like there were some holes in this evening.

There were some nice spots. I liked the train car that was a part of the decor: as I recall, it was a spot where there was a party of some sort. The railroad is a critical part of the history of the South, and also of the integration of baseball: I’ve heard stories of African-American porters serving ballteams with the earliest Black players on them with particular joy and attention. So that was a cool step.

I wonder if anyone else was a little weirded out by the fact that the largest picture of a past Baron was…Michael Jordan.  I can’t remember any of the others, in fact.  We’ve got Willie Mays, Satchel Paige, Rollie Fingers, Burleigh Grimes, Reggie Jackson, and Frank Thomas who were either Barons or Black Barons, and Jordan is towering over all of them. Jordan’s

year in minor league baseball is a fascinating story (loved the ESPN documentary on it, Jordan Rides the Bus), but it’s a bit of a curiosity, and I’m not sure it merited such a disproportionate bit of real estate, given the Hall of Famers who could have been there.

That said, it’s the game I will remember from this night. There’s nothing like a rapid pitchers’ duel–this one clocked in at just over two hours–where any baserunner could be the most important baserunner. Don’t get me wrong: I like baseball, and don’t have an issue with a long game. But when I’m hanging with friends, there’s also room for a short one, crisply played, with a beginning, middle, and an end in the books in time for us to get in a ton of word games at the hotel.

So a park that didn’t grab me, but a fine night nonetheless.

BALLPARK SCORE:

REGIONAL FEEL:  6/10.  Mixed. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt for the adjacent museum.

CHARM:  2/5.  Felt strangely both not-old but run-down.

SPECTACLE: 4/5.  I remember a quiet night. Yes, there were some dancing and singing workers who I enjoyed talking to, but it was quiet–which I like for double-A ball.

TEAM MASCOT/NAME:  4/5. 

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Can’t argue with a name that has endured for a century. Babe Ruff (pictured with me here) is a fine pun, but not locally appropriate as a name. A Google search tells me that Babe did play in Birmingham on some exhibitions, but I don’t know that I’d say that’s enough of a connection.  Maybe Willie Bays would have been better?

 

AESTHETICS: 2/5.  Didn’t find this place attractive from the outside. Didn’t do much for me on the inside, either.

PAVILION AREA:  3/5.  Some highlights here, including the nice view of downtown.

 

SCOREABILITY:  4/5. 

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Easy game to score. Didn’t notice any issues as I went.

FANS 3.5/5.  Some nice people and fine workers.

INTANGIBLES 3.5/5.  In scoring this, I realize that the quality of the game itself always trumps the quality of the ballpark, so Birmingham lucked into a couple of points here they may have missed otherwise.

TOTAL:  33/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:  Birmingham’s Kodi Madeiros lasts eight innigns, giving up only five hits and a run through 8 innings. Duncan Robinson and three relievers combine for a three-hitter, however, striking out nine. Tennessee pushes across an unearned run in the ninth on a two-base error and what runed out to be the game-winning single by catcher P.J. Higgins.

Birmingham’s Luis Basabe is the only player with a multi-hit game, going two-for-two. He also reached on a walk and was hit by a pitch, stole a base, and scored the Barons’ only run.

Allen Webster nails down the save.

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Written June 2019.

 

Fluor Field, Greenville, South Carolina

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Fluor Field, Greenville, SOUTH CAROLINA

Number of states: still 37
States to go: 13

First game: August 16, 2018 (Greenville Drive 4, Greensboro Grasshoppers 2)

Click on any photo to see a full-sized version.

First, my I file a complaint?  Thank you. Here is my complaint.

The otherwise-fine folks at the Greenville Drive would not allow me to bring in a camera case. And I was lugging along a fairly pricey camera.  Grrr.   So we headed back to the hotel and left the case, compelling me to hang the camera around my neck all night long. We sat in our seats, right behind the dugout, and I placed the camera in front of me. I was told not to put the camera on the dugout. I get why not: they have mascots and cheerleaders running down the dugout the whole night long. But

sheesh: this meant my only choice while seated was to put the camera on the ground, on a grate.  Thankfully, it was dry, but a spilled beer anywhere behind me would have endangered the camera. Dumb rules. When I asked why I wasn’t allowed a camera case, the usher said “That’s the way they’re doing it anywhere.” Really?  I told her I’d been to many, many minor league ballparks all around the country and none barred camera cases.  

Complaint over.  Because, outside of this complaint, the night was lovely.

Fluor Field bathes in baseball. Right across the street, Shoeless Joe Jackson’s boyhood home beckons: only open briefly during the week, or I’d have walked inside. As it is, I just liked that it a foul ball with a few bounces from home plate. 

. Inside the park, the Drive (nice baseball name, too!) celebrate baseball history…mostly baseball history. Typically, this annoys me in minor league ballparks, and the Drive laid on the Red Sox stuff awfully heavy: the gift shop felt more like Fenway Park than Fluor Field.  

But…then again…Fenway is my favorite park. And the Drive pull off their goal nicely.

First, and most obviously, we have what I’ll call the Minor-league Monster.  It’s well done. It, like in Boston, is 310 feet down the line.  It, like Boston, has seating upon it.  Unlike Boston, however, they would let me up onto it to take some photos (I’ve never tried that at Fenway, to be fair, since my only visit predates the Monster seats, but still, I suspect greenvillemonsterI’d need the right ticket to get up there). And if a little cloying imitation is what I require in order to get the look from up there, well, I can accept that.

The Drive were celebrating Carolina Panther night while I was there, with mascots and cheerleaders from the Panthers hanging out on the concourse and cheering during the game. Free T-shirts! I liked the locality of it all, even if the locality was football related (giant Panthers drum!). And the locality was awfully nice on its own. I knew absolutely nothing about Greenville coming in, but found it to be a delightful town with a lovely downtown and a pretty cool sports bar to catch some afternoon games before ours. 

Just something Southern about the evening: the syrupy air, the warmth, the cheerleaders, the voices around me. It was easy to slip into a fine night of baseball with an old friend and chill out. I got over my annoyance. Good job, team.

 

 

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional Feel: 7.5/10. 

A pretty high score considering how much the deep South imitated New England. But the local feel found ways to slip in, like a flood through sidewalk cracks. I was even cool with the Panther-themed duds.

Charm 4/5

Fenway gets a 5/5, so this place gets a one less than that because it’s an imitation.

Spectacle: 4.5/5

I don’t have any specific memories of promotions, etc. beyond the Panthers, but liked the feel of the whole night.

Team mascot/name: 3.5/5

Apparently this guy is named Reedy Rip’it the Frog.  He’s fine. The team name, Drive, is simple and beautiful.

Aesthetics: 4/5

See “Regional Feel” above.  It’s lovely, but it’s stolen (with permission) lovely.

Pavilion area: 4/5

Lots of room to roam, especially by the foul poles.  Couldn’t walk around (the monster in the way), but the monster itself is cool.

Scoreability: 4/5

While the choice to put “One Carolina” instead of names on the players’ backs was noble and symbolically nice, it did slow down scoring a bit.  It prevented a perfect score from the WONDERFUL and free game notes and pre-printed scorecard (never seen one of those before) they passed out. Umpire names!

Fans: 4/5

Nice people around us.

Intangibles: 3/5

Bumpy start hurt this one–but there were way more good moments than bad on this night.  Fabulous ballpark.

OVERALL 38.5/50

BASEBALL STUFF I SAW HERE:

Enmanuel de Jesus with strong pitching for the Drive, striking out 10 over 7 innings and picking up the win.

Thomas Jones’ RBI single tied the game in the third for Greensboro. Zach Sterry’s 6th inning homer broke the tie and ended the scoring for the Drive.

Written May 2019.

 

Canal Park, Akron, Ohio

Canal Park, Akron, OHIO

Number of states: still 37
States to go: 13

First game: May 28, 2017 (Bowie Baysox 3, Akron Rubber Ducks 1, 5 innings)

Friends and I extended our college-reunion weekend by a day and headed up to Akron, a city I had driven past but never into, for a 

Sunday matinee ballgame.  After the disappointment of missing a ballgame in Erie a few days earlier, we were amped up for some double-A baseball.

Akron turned out to have a surprisingly lovely downtown, and it appeared that the downtown was created almost entirely by its most famous native, LeBron James. His enormous (then-still-Cavalier) form stares down at you from billboards nearby. Both the ballpark and the sports bar we passed time in were on King James Way.  Not 

basebally, obviously–as best as I can figure, the most famous baseball player born in Akron is Thurman Munson, but I don’t recall seeing an homage to him: perhaps I missed it. Would have been nicer to have the ballpark on Thurman Munson Way. But still, highpoints for local feel: tons of red-bricked factory-style buildings nearby, and Canal Park is beautifully integrated into all those.

So it was a lovely time poking around the ballpark, seeing the many great Indians who made it through Akron celebrated on pillars around the park, and chilling out with some food and some friends.

And then…well…

One of the best reasons to attend a game with Rob (master’s in meteorology) is that it’s very easy to know what the weather is going to bring your way. He is on his phone throughout. “Looks like there’s just a little window after this stretch of rain passes,” he said. “But after that, it will rain all night.”

Should we leave?

“No. They’ll start the game.”

So thus began the big challenge of the night: would they get five innings in?

The game began an hour late. We settled into our seats (after wiping the off).  And we saw some awfully good pitching that motored the game along.  Several times, between innings, what I took to be a groundskeeper for the Rubber Ducks would head out and chat with the home plate umpire, Randy Rosenberg, while showing him a cell phone. That phone likely had the same radar image on it that Rob’s did.

Fortunately for the integrity of the Eastern League standings, the game flew. Solid pitching on both sides after a bumpy first inning that led to three Bowie runs. Three quick outs. Three more quick outs. Another groundskeeper visit to the umpire. More outs. We get to the fifth: Bowie is winning. We have to get through the bottom of the fifth.

We do. Still no rain.

In the top of the sixth, however, after one out, it came down heavily. The timing proved the

 God is interested in the Eastern League standings, and possibly into the Bowie Baysox.  Aderlin Rodriguez managed to hit a single, but then the tarp came right back out.

Back to Rob.

“Do we stay?”

“No. There will be no more baseball tonight.”

So, while a few thousand fans stood under shelters, wondering whether it was worthwhile to remain, Rob, Matt and I sprinted as fast as our aging, 25-year-college-reunion legs would take us, and got to the car.  By the time the game was called, we were already in our hotel room, playing Quickword, which I won yet again. (Note: I claim to win every game.)

So this one is official. And it was fun.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional Feel 7.5/10

Quite lovely. I can’t fault them the LeBron surroundings, but there was quite a bit of Akron baseball history (especially recent Indians) to be found everywhere. And it was quite nice.

Charm 4/5

Lovely red brick everywhere: I was impressed.

Spectacle 3/5

Mother Nature provided most of it.

Team mascot/name 3.5/5

The history of Akron as a center for rubber production means I like the name, but “Rubber ducks” feels too cute by half. So I am kinda torn on this one.  The mascots, however, were really quite fun to watch during the long delay and helped quite a bit.  On top is Webster, mugging for the camera. Beneath him is Rubberta, a fine excuse for a pun.
Aesthetics 4/5

Lovely, except for some construction-related detritus beyond the left field fence.

Pavilion area 2.5/5

Like the history there, but one cannot walk around the field, which bums me out.

Scoreability 3.5/5

Didn’t have much chance to notice this, so I would imagine it was fine.

Fans 3/5

No memory of them.

Intangibles 4/5

One would think that losing four innings of baseball would have a negative impact on this score. But the intensity of the storm and the beauty of it rolling in actually added to the night. And it meant another few board games with my friends.

TOTAL: 35/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN THERE:

Orioles prospect Tanner Scott dominated for the three innings he was out there for Bowie, hitting 100 on the radar gun regularly.

Three runs on three singles and a walk–the first four batters of the game–stand up for Bowie. (There were only four more hits–again, all singles–for the rest of the night.)

Written January 2019.

UPMC Park, Erie, Pennsylvania

UMPC Park, Erie, PENNSYLVANIA

State number: still 37
States to go: 13

First game: none yet (rainout, May 25, 2017)

 

This one never had a chance of going off.  It rained the entire night before as friends and I drove out from the Cleveland airport. It rained as we went in and intimidated people playing pub trivia in Mentor, Ohio, only losing because of the preponderance of Cleveland Cavalier questions (home-field advantage).  It rained that morning as a college buddy and her husband took us around Erie. And by the time we showed up, well before scheduled first pitch, they had already bagged on the game.

My heart went out to the teachers for this one.  Like most day games during the school year, this one featured a crap-ton of field trip people, and they were already crammed into their seats for the start of a game that would never begin.

What on earth would the teachers do with the sudden extra three hours? What would they do with kids who expected to chill outside for a while and suddenly would not?  I’m telling you, this was a devastating blow to the teachers of northwestern Pennsylvania, and I hope they all had alternate plans ready (ALWAYS have alternate plans ready, teachers).

It’s a shame, because UPMC park looked like a winner. Views of the lake from the upper deck, nice integration with the athletic club next door, quality double-A ball…looked awesome. Perhaps one day I shall head back. But while others were at school or at work, this day was spent at a bar with old friends instead.  And you can’t really argue with that.

 

Newman Outdoor Field, Fargo, North Dakota

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Newman Outdoor Field, Fargo, NORTH DAKOTA
Number of states: 35
Number to go: 15
First game: July 7, 2016 (St. Paul Saints 3, Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks 1)

Newman Outdoor Field tucked back into the campus of North Dakota State University, and was a fine place to watch a ballgame. It did really well in the do-you-know-where-you-are test. Some of this was simply a matter of being surrounded by

the university, one of the bigger facets of living in Fargo.  My pre-game circumnavigation of the ballpark brought me quite a few NDSU buildings, labeled as such, which was nice. It was a neighborhood ballpark, and the campus was the neighborhood.

Some North Dakota touches were found embedded in the design. For starters, can you do better than an “ND Corn” foul pole? That’s a pretty nice ad, appropriately maize-colored, and naturally integrated into the ballpark. Then there’s the way they named the press box after a local sportscaster, Steve Miller, who had passed away not long before.  I just like stuff that says “Hey, we’re about [local site],” and I got that from North Dakota on the whole.

We had even visited the Roger Maris museum earlier in the day. It was as understated as the guy was. Tucked into a mall (so many Carson Wentz jerseys for sale, even though the NDSU alumnus hadn’t yet started his rookie year),

there are a few items of Maris memorabilia and an opportunity to watch a short movie on him while sitting in old Yankee Stadium seats. I felt like it was appropriate that a guy who didn’t much care for the spotlight was memorialized in such a tiny, out-of-the-way, unobtrusive way. Worth taking the trip.Our North Dakota day was accentuated by a massive thunderstorm that delayed the start of the ballgame by a couple of hours. We didn’t get going until after 9PM, and didn’t get finished until after midnight. But hey—that only accentuates the vacation!  Plus, photos of double rainbows past the foul pole are rare: good to take advantage of those opportunities.

We sat behind the Redhawks’ dugout, and I was impressed with the team’s maturity. The rain delay meant that the fans were a couple hours’ drunker than they might have been otherwise, and there was one who was continually

annoying people in the dugout. At first, players engaged him (he was a relatively friendly drunk, thankfully, unlike whoever threw the tennis ball at South Bend or the icky people who chanted “Ichiro” at a Korean-born player in the Tri-Cities). But it would not stop. It was relentless.  I just wanted the dude to go home, but he just kept talking, and he got a little more agitated as the night went on. In the end, I was bothered enough by it that I headed down to the dugout after the game to say I was impressed by the players’ restraint. They thanked me: said the guy wasn’t that big a deal. But I’ve been to a ton of baseball games, and I felt like it was.

The following morning, as we left town on our way south to the other Dakota, news of police shootings in Dallas dampened our mood. As I called my Congresswoman and we discussed how awful this, as well as recent shootings of unarmed Black men by police, was so tragic,  we noticed the unmistakable massive tent of a

batting cage a couple of blocks off the freeway. There was something very wholesome about seeing that site at that moment. We turned the car around, of course, and took some cuts. There is something satisfying about giving a baseball or softball a big thwack when the world seems to be going sideways. I can’t play a lick, but it sure seems like baseball is a good way for me to feel good in a rough world. I’ll stay to it.

fargopink

So nicely done, Fargo. Way to stay local, way to put on a nice, reserved show.

BALLPARK SCORE

REGIONAL FEEL:  8/10. 
Some nice North Dakota touches.

CHARM 3.5/5: 
Not bad here overall.  Liked the corn on the foul poles.

SPECTACLE: 
2.5/5.  Don’t remember too much.

TEAM MASCOT/NAME: 
2.5/5. Don’t remember a mascot. Name is fine.

AESTHETICS 4.5/5. 
Can’t beat a double rainbow.

PAVILION AREA 3/5: 
Couldn’t walk around the ballpark, but could watch the game while getting food.

SCOREABILITY 4/5

FANS 2/5. 
Had to deduct for the drunk dudes being jerks to the Redhawks.  REALLY overdoing it.

INTANGIBLES 4/5. 
The rain delay actually added to the experience. I loved being able just to say “ah, the hell with it. I’m on vacation: let’s stay up past midnight.”

TOTAL 34/50

BASEBALL STUFF I SAW HERE:

Pitchers’ duel is won by Eric Veglahn (3 hits over 7 1/3 IP) over Taylor Stanton (8 hits over 7 IP).
Nate Hanson’s 2-run double is the big knock of the game for St. Paul.

 

Midway Stadium, St. Paul, Minnesota

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Midway Stadium, St. Paul, MINNESOTA

Number of games: 1
Number of states: 33
First and last game: August 16, 2014 (New Jersey Jackals 6, St. Paul Saints 1)

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

(Midway Stadium was demolished in 2015.)

The St. Paul Saints hosted my first real-live Independent League game. The rules of my quest compel me to attend an affiliated minor league game in a state if one is available, and I only attend an Independent League game as a last resort. My August 2014 trip to Minnesota (to visit friends and to cross Target Field off of my list) was the first time an Independent League gamestpaulinprogress popped up, since my 2013 trip to Wyoming was taken care of with a college wood-bat league.

The quality of play was certainly better than I experienced in Wyoming, and for pretty good reason: most of the players in the American Association (and the Can Am League, which provided the opposing New Jersey Jackals) were a little older and more experienced than college kids. As best as I could tell, either all or the overwhelming majority of the players I saw that night were until recently playing at various levels of the affiliated minors. In fact, I recognized New Jersey Jackal Joe Dunigan from his time with the Everett AquaSox, and he clearly was inspired by my presence and homered. But, ultimately, the Saints recognize that the quality of baseball is not going to draw the fans to their ballpark when the Twins are playing major league ball across the river, and as a result, this is a night about the spectacle more than about the show. They were in danger of stpaulsidewalkoverdoing it (like Lake Elsinore, San Jose, and Missoula before them), but managed to stay just this side of the line.

The edifice itself is a mixed bag. It is surrounded by railroad tracks in what my Minnesota friends described as a no-man’s-land between Minneapolis and St. Paul. As such, there is literally no neighborhood atmosphere to be had, which explains why 2014 was the last year the team would play in Midway Stadium. The passing trains provide some pretty cool visuals and atmosphere during the game, and I like the romantic possibility that a player could hit a home run that rolls all the way to Chicago or somewhere. But that’s not enough for the surroundings to do well on the is-there-any-question-where-you-are test. Besides the trains on either side of the ballpark, the only landmark stpaulmuralone can see beyond the outfield wall is the tower that the St. Paul Fire Department uses to test its firefighters. And while it would be awesome if the tower were on fire during a game, even that doesn’t help me determine I’m in Minnesota.

The ballpark makes up for that deficit in other ways. The approach to the ballpark features what appears to be kid-art on the sidewalk, showing baseball and Minnesota-themed images. Some beautiful murals celebrate various chapters in Minnesota baseball history, including what appeared to be some Negro League remembrances, Twins greatest hits, and Minneapolis Millers ballplayers.

Also, the Saints have a massive tailgating presence—more than any other minor league ballpark I’ve been to. I was surprised (not alarmed, but surprised) at the number, variety, and innovation of the drinking games on display. In addition to garden-variety beer pong, I saw one game that featured lawn darts. Ten full beer cans are placed on the ground in a bowling-pin arrangement on either end of a narrow playing field, and players toss the lawn dart at the cans. If the dart punctures a can, the opponent of the player who threw the dart has to drink the beer down to the hole (I was anticipating shotgunning the beer, but then, I’m not an expert on drinking games. I do know that a huge number of Saints fans that night walked through the turnstiles having consumed stpaulbeerpong(if the game was played to its natural end) as many as 10 beers. But maybe not, since once I was inside, the crowd didn’t seem any more or less drunk than any other baseball crowd I’ve experienced. Maybe the heaviest drinkers just stayed out in the parking lot (perhaps because they couldn’t find the admission gate).

On the inside, American Association standings are prominently displayed, and baseball-themed contests draw crowds. I bought a Killebrew Cream Soda (quite delicious….he also makes root beer) and checked out an atmosphere that reminded me of a state fair. Booths selling fair-like foods (perhaps Northern Midwesterners need to store up all that fat to burn off over the winter?) and small-time atmosphere (which I mean as a compliment) make for the kind of experience one might otherwise enjoy.

As the pregame material started, we were treated to not one, but two primary PA guys, who operated in a bit of a Morning Zoo kind of way. My college buddies, with whom I was enjoying this baseball weekend, understand my distaste for too much loudness at a baseball game. I think they were preparing forstpaulrobandmatt me to have an aneurysm, but I didn’t. I explained that, while I don’t care for the noise, I could live with it at this level of ball. There’s a reason the Saints draw 5,000-plus a night, and it isn’t the scintillating baseball. To be sure, when the PA microphone gave out for a few seconds in pregame, all three of us cheered in response: a little quiet would certainly help this ballpark out a bit. But my rule calling for an inverse relationship between the level of the baseball and the number of promotions states that I can’t fault the team much. They managed to respect the baseball—as loud and pimped-to-the-gills as the between-innings experience was, once the first pitch was thrown in an inning, things were pretty much silent (with occasional exceptions—most notably complimenting an opponent’s thorough beard and earning a big smile from said bearded opponent) until the final out was recorded.

That said, I did have a couple of misgivings about a couple of the things I saw. First was the only promotion that raised my eyebrows because of its racial content. I believe the title was “Sing Karaoke stpaulkaraokeWith A Real Japanese Guy.” Call me PC (you won’t be the first), but I found the promotion questionable.  It was exactly what the title suggests: a Japanese man stood up in the crowd with a microphone and sang along with Karaoke-style lyrics on the scoreboard. The night I was there, the song was “Last Train to Clarksville,” which the man sang with Saints-themed lyrics centered around the team’s last year playing in the trainyard. That was it. It was strange at best. I wonder if I would have felt differently if the event were titled “Sing Karaoke With Yoshi” or “Karaoke break” which the Japanese man led every night. And I don’t want to fall into the trap where the White guy gets to decide what’s offensive or not to another racial group: a Google search doesn’t currently reveal any pushback from Minnesota Japanese or Asian advocacy groups. But I can say it made me feel just a little queasy.

But the rest of the promotions, while perhaps done to overkill, had some charm to them. The crew dragged the field in drag, which I thought was stpauldragqueencute. (My wife Michelle suggests the joke/pun might be more effective and entertaining, especially in a progressive gay-friendly town like St. Paul, ifstpaulsinners they found some actual drag queens to help out the grounds crew rather than just putting the regular grounds crew in identical white dresses. It would certainly be more fun to watch.) The sign on the front of the visiting team dugout which stated “Sinners” was cute. Early on, I thought I would be annoyed at the way the PA guys shouted “Train!” every time a train passed by the left field wall (which was quite often—it started to feel like a toddler vocabulary test), but it turned into a reasonably cool game, including shouting “Double Train!” when two trains were on the tracks past left field. I do have to hand it to them: the PA guys were funny, and while they drew the attention to themselves, they only did it between innings, which I can live with.

Of course, they were only a small part of the full-court press of entertainersstpaultrains designed to ensure that (if we spin it positively) no one was ever bored, or (if we spin it negatively) nobody ever had a quiet moment. I found the mascot, Mudonna (a pig, although I never got the story as to why it was a pig) early. But in addition to her and the wacky PA duo, there were legions of others who existed solely to pump up the crowd. I also saw a bizarre 1970s purple-suit guy, a guy dressed as a train engineer, and a guy they simply called “Nerd.” The last was my favorite. Not only was he really good at getting the crowd going, he made me feel like I was valued. Sure, it was a mascot, but here’s a guy who’s ONE OF ME!

On this night, the promotional giveaway was a vinyl LP—a good old-fashioned record album!—of Saints-inspired music recorded by Twin Cities bands. It was an interesting choice for 2014 to say the least. I don’t know what year stores stopped selling records or turntables, but it must have been in the mid- to late-1980s. I know I bought my first CDs in 1986. So the Saints gave away 5,000 record albums that most of the recipients had no way of ever hearing. But they made it a point to change that fact for at least a few of them: at least three fans involved in on-field stpaulalbumpromotions headed home with…wait for it…a turntable. These were old-school things, too: 1970s wood-paneled sides with a clear plastic box covering to lay down after the needle hits the groove, only to remove it after the last interrupted note of “Her Majesty” on Side 2.  It looked as if the Saints asked every staff stpaulsignmember to check their attics to see if there was an old, forgotten turntable to be given away, and then passed them on. It was some combination of sweet and bizarre.

Ultimately, then, the atmosphere was a winning one, and set just the tone for my friends and I to sit, score the ballgame, and make silly jokes. It appeared they took the baseball seriously without taking themselves seriously, and I give them credit for at least trying to walk that line, even if they occasionally faltered.

I will be interested to see if the atmosphere (the tailgating, the silliness, the endless promotions) will follow the team to their brand-new gleaming downtown ballpark in 2015 or if the new site will lead them to take themselves too seriously. But for now, the Saints put on a fine show that I can recommend.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel: 6/10
I appreciated the murals outside the stadium, but beyond that, there wasn’t too much in all that activity that screamed “Minnesota” to me.

Charm: 3.5/5
This easily could have been lower if they hadn’t left the baseball alone, but they did, so all the wackiness did have charm about it.

Spectacle: 4/5

Team mascot/name: 2.5/5

stpaulnerdstpaulmascot

On the left, “The Nerd,” my favorite of the mascots.  On the right, Mudonna.  Did they steal that name from the Toledo Mud Hens or did the Mud Hens steal it from them?

The team name is fine. The multiple mascots are okay, although not really tied to the team. I don’t like “Japanese Guy” as mascot. And finally, all the pig business (including a real pig delivering balls to the umpires) could work for me if there were a more readily-available explanation of why the pig is so closely associated with a team called the “Saints.”

Aesthetics: 3/5
I liked the trains quite a bit, but not too much else was going on.

Pavilion area: 3.5/5
They have set up a “Baseball Scouts Hall Of Fame,” but the plaques are positioned in a place where they are nearly impossible to read. The pavilions down each foul line are festooned with booths selling all sorts of unhealthy food, and that lends itself a really nice county-fair vibe.

Scoreability: 5/5
The scoreboard operator was excellent—simply excellent—especially for the low minors. I never had an issue with knowing how a play was scored.

Fans: 4/5
Everyone seemed there to party, and while I generally like more focus on baseball, I can forgive that focus wandering in this kind of atmosphere and with indy-league ball.

Intangibles 3/5:
There were parts I really liked and parts I really could do without, but it was a fine night with friends on the whole (although these friends and I would have a fine night anywhere).

TOTAL 34.5/50

Baseball Stuff I’ve Seen There:

I had no idea this had happened on the night, but according to the Saints’ writeup of the game, Dwight Childs was traded from the Saints to the Jackals during that day, and played for the Jackals that night.  That’s weird.

Joe Dunigan broke open a close game with an 8th-inning home run.

The Saints managed only 3 hits, mostly due to fine pitching (8 innings) by the Jackals’ Isaac Pavlik.

Centene Stadium, Great Falls, Montana

Centene Stadium, Great Falls, MONTANA

Number of states: still 32
States to go:  18

Number of games: 1
First game:  July 5, 2013 (Great Falls Voyagers 7, Helena Brewers 1)

Click on any image to see a full-size version.

Maybe I was tired as I approached Great Falls:  it was the last in a three-games-in-three-nights-in-three-cities stretch.  While my family (my sons were 4 and 2 at the time) were game and had good attitudes, I think we were looking past this game to the sitting-down-and-doing-nothing-in-Glacier-Park

that followed.  But Centene Stadium left me very little to like about it: it lacked both old-time charm and modern amenities.  It was unattractive and an overall unfortunate place to see a game.

When I saw the ballpark on a map, I was intrigued.  It looked like it abutted the Missouri River, and as I drove to the park and saw how we were at the top of a significant canyon, I thought there was promise for some views.  But alas, the park is constructed in a manner that has literally no views from anywhere.  You’re inside a fortress with four tall walls, and all that’s available is the stadium itself, which, alas, is hardly physically attractive.

There were some sweet moments that will cause my memory of Centene Stadium to be positive overall.  We were greeted by a sweet

girl who I’d bet money was a prominent member of her high school’s drama club.  She sold me my program, and then told us that we got a free song with the program.  That’s a pretty good deal.  But when she offered to sing the Oscar Meyer Weiner song (since it was 50 cent hot dog day), I declined and instead asked her to sing “Bingo,” since my 2-year-old was a big fan of it.  I was a little surprised she needed help remembering the words.  Seriously:  A farmer.  Had a dog.  The name is given in the title.  The spelling isn’t tough.  But she did sing it and my toddler enjoyed it, and I am thankful for that.

Both of my kids were then treated nicely in a trip to the dugout, where catcher Zach Miller and especially shortstop Tyler Shryock signed

my kids’ scorebooks and spent some quality time talking to the kids.  (Shryock had three hits and two RBIs. Happy to bring my kids back as good luck charms, Tyler.)  Fist bumps, asking my kids if they were going to play baseball…and the like.  That made me feel good.

Although Centene Stadium mostly fails the do-you-have-any-idea-where-you-are-in-the-US test (since we can’t see mountains or river or even buildings from the inside of the ballpark), there are a couple of areas where they do well.  I was interested to see how the team handled

its rich history: nearly 20 years as a Dodgers affiliate, with nearly 20 years as a Giants affiliate before that.  The history was there if one was willing to look for it.  There were some old pennants honoring teams going back nearly a century near the entryway, and a brick baseball field made with donations from, if I recall correctly, the Great Falls Dodgers Booster Club.  (Steven enjoyed running around that diamond, occasionally to the cheers of affable locals.)  But beyond that, there was little.  The Voyagers name felt bizarrely out of place.  It would work if there were a Lewis and Clark theme—indeed, would work especially well in the Pioneer League.  But space travel?  What in the heck does space travel have to do with Montana, or vice versa?  The mascot, Orbit, is also therefore out of place.

Game presentation also left much to be desired: the game was viewed primarily as a promotions transference device rather than a baseball game.  It was an interesting contrast to Billings the night before, where I felt they might not have done enough: here, we were worried about the ballpark going to the excesses of Missoula, which remains (alongside San Jose) one of the most unpleasant nights of baseball in my life.  When the Voyagers had baserunners, the “ducks on the pond” were sponsored by AFLAC, and some fans busted out their duck calls.  Pretty weak tie-in, and results in too-frequent annoying sounds.  At another point, there was a request over the PA:  “Grounds crew, can we have the lights please?…[pause]…This request was brought to you by Suchandsuch Electric…”  Really?  Also, rather than just announcing names, the PA guy went overboard, shouting

“All right!” and “Nice hit!” and other vapid statements. The cheerleader PA guy is another of my pet peeves.  Do the Voyagers really believe their fans are so stupid as to need to be told this?

When all was said and done, the promotions seemed to ease up a little as the game went on, so we were still able to get in a nice night of baseball—the game operations didn’t

totally trip over their own feet.  But I would still like to see the whole experience toned down just a notch.  Maybe this will take place if the Voyagers ever leave this ugly spot.

It’s funny: there are old ballparks in the minor leagues that I enjoy for their oldness.  In some ways, I miss Eugene’s old Civic Stadium, and when the Brewers leave Helena (as seems inevitable) for some gleaming new ballpark by a river somewhere, that will be a loss as well as a gain.  But Centene felt like it gave all of the negatives of an old ballpark with none of the positives.  I believe the team and its fans could do far better.

Ballpark score:

Regional feel:  5/10

That’s the General Mills factory next door to the ballpark.  Normally, this would be a strong advantage in the is-there-any-question-where-you-are test. However, when in the ballpark, it is literally impossible to see outside of it: no mountains, no river, no factory…no Montana at all.  The sense of Montana baseball history in the ballpark is nice, and saves this from an even lower score.

Charm: 2/5

The ballpark has aged without gaining charm.

Spectacle: 3/5

Promotions were about right, but too much yelling and cheerleading for my tastes.

Team mascot/name: 2/5

The name does not seem to have anything to do with Montana, and the mascot and name feel forced.

Aesthetics:  2/5

Again, perhaps I’m unfairly comparing to the beautiful Billings ballpark I saw 24 hours earlier, but Centene Stadium offered nothing pretty to look at.

Pavilion area: 1.5/5

Much of the area was underground and charmless: only a little bit was upstairs in the sunshine.

Scoreability: 4/5

Fine job here: my 4-year-old and I were able to keep up.

Fans: 4/5

Very nice people who were smiling at my children at every opportunity.  Thanks, Great Falls.  Minor deduction for cheerleader-ness.

Intangibles:  2/5

I’m afraid that, on the whole, the ballpark did nothing for me.

TOTAL 25.5/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN THERE:

Jacob Morris had the big highlight of the night, with a 6th-inning grand slam that put the game out of reach.

Jose Bautista (no, the other one) pitched well to get the win.

Written July 2013.