Category Archives: midwest league

Ballparks of the Midwest League.

Fox Cities Stadium, Appleton, Wisconsin

Time Warner Cable Field at Fox Cities Stadium, Appleton, WISCONSIN

Number of states: 30
States to go:  20

Number of games: 1 (but was there for a cancelled game in 2006)
First game:  August 1, 2009 (Wisconsin Timber Rattlers 11, Quad City River Bandits 3)

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

SPRING BREAK…WISCONSIN STYLE!!!

Make no mistake…we were ready.  We were set to dress in multiple layers.  We were going to sit in our front-row seat and hang there in the cold with my Baby Mariners.

Just as we were set

to climb into our long underwear at the hotel, I thought to call the team to see if they’d wimped out of the game.  They had…the game had been postponed.

What?  Come on!  What’s a little sub-zero windchill between friends?  Play ball!

We asked the question:  “Hey, we’re in from Seattle for the ballgame, and we’re not coming back.”  (This usually confuses people.)  Can we get a refund?  The answer:  No.  But they can trade it in for merchandise if we get to their store before it closes in 15 minutes.

Needless to say, we booked down to the store.  When we got there, the cashier was amazed…he said there was no way we could exchange the tickets for merchandise.  He hunted down the guy who told us we could, and I guess pummeled

him into submission, because he showed up, tails between his legs, and said “Well, we can get you a free cap from last night’s game.”  Well, it’s something.

While he spent 15 minutes looking for a cap (how could he have misplaced them so quickly?), we checked out the park.  I approached the beautiful “Wall of Fame” prepared for a look at Appleton baseball history and big moments.  Instead, in the central three panels of the display, all I saw was loads of hats, balls, and bats…honoring rich sponsors.  Ick.  (There was a little bit of baseball-related display, but only on the periphery of the display.)  But then, what can one expect from a place so

pimped out that its name is officially Time Warner Cable Field at Fox Cities Stadium?  Double ick.  I can’t judge the place since I didn’t see a game there, but I’m concerned it would have felt like San Jose:  baseball not as baseball, but as a promotions transference device.

Idea:  “Girls Gone Wild:  Appleton.”  We hang out outside Appleton-area bars and look for drunken hot college-aged women.  They sign releases and, while we film them, open up their overcoats to show us the parkas

underneath.

15 minutes later, the guy found us…we had ducked out of the stinging cold and into the office.  He never found the hats…so he brought us baseballs.  Better than nothing, I suppose.  We donated our tickets to whatever charity they team up with–way, way better than our comically sad experience with Huntsville–and headed back to our warm hotel.

UPDATE 2009–We returned two and a half years later when a family gathering had us in Northern Michigan.  I am pleased to report that our concerns aboutan over-promotionalized ballpark were mostly unfounded.  We joined a packed house

on a Saturday night in what felt to me like a scaled-down major-league ballpark.  And, incredibly, I mean that as a compliment.

In general, I don’t care for it when ballparks try to act big when, in reality, everybody knows they’re small.  But Fox Cities Stadium has figured out that they can take the best factors of big ballparks and still have the intimacy and charm of a small ballpark.

Case in point:  television screens.  I know that small minor league squads don’t have their games televised.  But the Timber Rattlers

did very well to film the game and have it running live while waiting in line at the concession stands.  This is rarely seen at the minor league level, so it’s appreciated.  Additionally, the Timber Rattlers have a beautiful scoreboard, and they know how to use it.  Unlike too many ballparks who input stats before the game and leave it alone, the Rattlers update the stats with every at-bat, putting up the results of previous at-bats in the later innings.  I’m honestly not sure I’ve ever seen that at any level other than the major leagues.  And as far as a bar one can drink in while watching the game?  Fox Cities Stadium has one–a small-but-nice one.  I seldom, if ever, leave my seat during a game, but on a cold night like the one in 2006, I’d certainly be tempted.

There’s not a whole lot going for the ballpark as far as panorama goes.  Past left field, there are loads of trees; past center field, a pedestrian overpass; past right field, a small highway.  The natural surroundings don’t do much in the “is there any question where you are” test, but on the interior, there’s a fair amount of Wisconsin to be found.  Most impressively to me was the unquestionably Wisconsin accent of the promotions guy.  I kept wanting him to do more promotions

so I could here those bizarre short A’s.  And with plenty of beer and cheese curds around, there was no question as to where I was.

By the way, I had never seen a cheese curd, either on a menu or in person, before arriving at the concession stand at Fox Cities Stadium.  I think I confused the worker a little bit–a high-school aged kid–when I asked if I could see the cheese curds to take a picture of them.  I did not purchase them.  Doubling my cholesterol levels was not on the to-do list for this vacation.

I was quite impressed that the Timber Rattlers seemed to have filled up the ballpark on a random

Saturday night.  Sure, there were fireworks, and that might have increased the turnstile count a bit, but I don’t get the sense that these were fireworks fans merely enduring a baseball game to get to the pyrotechnics.  They were there to watch and enjoy some baseball.  The Timber Rattlers helped this atmosphere by letting the game take center stage.  Their promotions were not out of control–they limited them to between-innings shenanigans and announcements, although their goal was to pack as many as possible into those few minutes–but after Missoula, that was a refreshing, comparatively-sedate approach.  On a gorgeous night like this, the fine people of northwest Wisconsin seem to have figured out that they’ve got a good thing going.  Many wandered out to the right-field home run porch, where they squinted into the sun and hoped a home run ball came their way (anyone with a home-run-porch ticket who caught a home run on the fly won beer for a year).  Others settled in and cheered for the home team. It was a fine experience.

Appleton also served as my son’s fourth state in which he has seen a baseball game, after Oregon, Washington, and Montana.  It was close to his 12th or 13th game, and my wife and I had already learned something:  the scoreboard camerapeople find babies, especially cute ones like my son, very quickly and very easily.  Out of the dozen-or-so games the boy had attended at this point, this was the fourth or fifth time he found his way onto the scoreboard.  Alas, my camera couldn’t figure out whether I wanted to focus on the scoreboard or on the foul-ball net, but if you look closely, you can see that these blurry people are my wife and son.

Only one quick complaint:  the game operations folks need to be a little more sensitive to injuries.  After the Timber Rattlers’ Sean McCraw fouled a ball off of his foot and was writhing on the ground, the sound guy almost immediately–far too quickly–played “Mambo #5.”  Later, the River Bandits’ Frederick Panejo stayed down after a diving catch:  and before the trainer could get there, they played another song.  That felt a little disrespectful.  I’m not sure they should stay silent the entire time, but couldn’t they start with some PA announcements before having us boogie down?  I think so.

But on the whole, that’s a minor complaint about what was a fine night overall.  The Timber Rattlers provide a mini-major-league park rather than a minor-league park, and the experience is a fine one overall.  I’m glad we made it back for a warm night rather than a long-underwear experience.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel:  6.5/10
Pretty good.  There’s not much of a view, but there wasn’t any question that we were in Wisconsin.

Charm:  4/5
Sure.  A hair corporate, but still, sure.

Spectacle:  3.5/5
A hair overdone at times, but this is the low minors, so I can live with it.

Team mascot/name:  3/5


Here’s Fang.  I’m not sure whether this is a locally-appropriate name.  I’m ambivalent about it.

Aesthetics:  4/5
It’s a lovely ballpark in a hum-drum location.

Pavilion area:  4.5/5
Quite nice.  Lots to do, yet one is never outside the view of the ballgame.  I especially like the right-field area.

Scoreability:  4.5/5
I appreciate the updated scoreboard graphics.

Fans:  4.5/5
They packed the place and focused on the game.  I can’t ask for too much more.

Intangibles:  3.5/5
A fine night.  They’re docked a little bit for the confusion of our 2006 experience, but they mostly made up for it.

TOTAL:  38/50

BASEBALL STUFF I SAW HERE:

Osvaldo Morales’ first-inning homer gives the River Bandits an early lead, but the Timber Rattlers come back, mostly thanks to lamentable relief pitching by the Quad Cities’ Nick McCully (six batters:  walk, walk, walk, single, single, single.)

Brock Kjeldgaard has three hits and scores three times.

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)

(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)

(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.

C.O. Brown Stadium, Battle Creek, Michigan

C.O. Brown Stadium, Battle Creek, MICHIGAN

Number of states: 7
States to go:  43
Number of games:  1
First and last game:  July 20, 2004 (Battle Creek Yankees 3, West Michigan Whitecaps 2, 10 innings)

C.O. Brown Stadium is no longer in use for the affiliated minors as of the 2007 season.

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

Singing buddy Kristin and I found our way to Cereal City after experiencing the annoying shortcomings of South Bend and the always fantastic Wrigley Field.  Since I had no experience with Battle Creek other than driving through it on I-94 a few times (sometimes it smells like Corn Flakes, other times like Froot Loops), I had no real expectations for the evening.  What I got was quite a memorable ballgame, an extremely quirky ballpark, and a sense that I was a part of the dugout for the West Michigan Whitecaps.

The park’s location is fairly typical for single-A:  it’s a part of a recreational complex, just the largest of about a half dozen fields on the site.  The cool part about this is that, at least on the night I went, there were other

games to be seen on site.  If Kristin and I had arrived earlier, we could have sat in on either of two other baseball games taking place (it may have been American Legion or AAU ball).  It was here that I secured my only foul ball of the whole trip, but alas, it was not at the Yankees/Whitecaps game…it was one launched into the parking lot from one of the other games.  I retrieved it and dutifully tossed it back.

I can’t for the life of me figure out how C.O. Brown Stadium came to be shaped exactly as it is.  The largest block of seating is behind home plate, but there’s an almost-as-big block which hooks around the left-field foul pole.  My best guess (indeed, my only guess) is that the older-looking seating area by the foul pole was, at one time, the only block of seats in the ballpark, and that home plate used to be over there.  My theory then has the larger block built later on, and home plate moving but all the seating remaining.  A friendly usher was unable to help me solve this conundrum, and I still can’t figure out why the ballpark looks that way.  Quirky?  Yes.  Charming?  That’s in the eye of the beholder.

Another quirky feature of the ballpark adds loads to its charm, however.  Just past each dugout is a box of seats that juts out four or five rows

beyond the dugout and towards the field.  Kristin and I had seats on the inside edge of that section, second row.  That means that, by looking over our right shoulders, we were able to look directly into the visitors’ dugout.  Any sense of privacy those players hoped to have was shot!  I looked as players lifted barbells, chatted, high-fived, and watched the game.  It made it very easy to root for West Michigan on that day.

Besides, just out of principle, I can’t root for any team nicknamed the “Yankees.”  I’m annoyed that the team has this name.  Battle Creek’s name was just changed in 2003, from the locally appropriate (and interesting) “Battle Cats.”  Does George Steinbrenner think that everyone really wants to be like him?  Worse yet, after the Yankee victory, the loudspeakers played “New York, New York.”  Gimme a break!  We’re not in New York, even if it’s what the players are striving for.  You know the line “If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere?”  Well, the players have to make it in Battle Creek first.  Lay off that song, or at least relegate it to pregame somewhere.

As I meandered through the ballpark before the game, I saw a scoresheet on a table behind home plate on 

the main walkway.  Would the Yankees really put their official scorer out there with the people?  I was astonished.  Later, I found out that this was not at all true–but instead was part of what I think is a fantastic promotion that balances my desire for promotions at the low-minor level without the concern that those promotions will interfere with the baseball.  Spectators were given Bingo cards upon entry to the stadium with various possible outcomes on them, such as “Matt Carson walks” or “Nick Walsh doubles.”  This means that fans must keep track of the game to fill out their bingo cards.  The scorebook behind home plate was not the official scorekeeper, but was the Yankees’ worker keeping score–the guy the winner takes the bingo card to as soon as he/she has a bingo.  I had never seen this before, and was quite impressed with the idea.

At the end of pregame warmups, Whitecap Juan Francia got on my good side by

delivering a baseball to a youngster next to me.  What a stud–I hope he rises through the organization.  He went 1-for-4 with a walk and a stolen base, as well as some flashy defensive play.  But I’ll always remember him first for being a nice guy.

It was church night in Battle Creek, so I had to be on my best behavior.  According to the Yankees, 361 of the 1,574 in attendance were a part of ten or twenty church groups that were in attendance.  A chorister from one of the churches sang the National Anthem and bungled it badly–he started in a key so breathtakingly high that I turned to fellow singer Kristin and whispered “I’ll hate to hear ‘the rockets’ red glare.'”  Sure enough, when he got there, he had to drop down an octave.  Later, he sort of made up a melody for “land of the free” to dodge that high note as well.  Singers–if you are to sing the National Anthem a cappella, I implore you to do the following:  for a couple of minutes before you begin, sing “Oh say can you see” and “And the rockets’ red glare” back to back repeatedly.  “Say” and “red glare” are the lowest and highest notes you’ll have to sing, unless you choose to go up the fourth on “land of the free” later on.  This will prepare you for the anthem and avoid the situation this man found himself in.  It always worked for me.

I don’t know if this was planned, but after the sixth inning, they gave the anthem singer another shot at the mike, this time to sing “How Great Thou Art.”  I guess this was to celebrate church night.  This led to a bizarre situation on the field and in both dugouts.  How does one respond

to the singing of a religious hymn during a game?  I admit, when the guy started singing, I stood and removed my cap…but as soon as I realized he was singing “How Great Thou Art” rather than “God Bless America” or another patriotic song, it occurred to me that it might not be appropriate to have my hat over my heart and standing at attention to the flag.  This is not the national anthem.  I passionately love my God and my country, but I passionately love them separately.  Mixing them by observing the flag while singing a religious hymn felt wrong to me.  However, I’d want to be respectful by standing in silence, just as I would stand in silence for a sacred song for any religion.  So I was at a bit of a loss for what to do, and figured it would be worse for the players.  Do the players look at the flag, stand reverently, or just go about their business?  A quick look over my shoulder, however, revealed that West Michigan manager Matt Walbeck (who, until and including the previous season, had been a major league player) had his hat over his heart, and had beckoned his team to join him on the top of the dugout steps, which they did:

Seconds later, however, I think Walbeck realized that this wasn’t “America the Beautiful,” because by the time the singer got to “My savior God to thee,” Walbeck had run out of the dugout to his third-base coaching position, where he prepared for the inning.  The Whitecaps’ players, at least a couple of whom must be Jewish or Muslim or agnostic or atheist, all of whom had until seconds earlier had been standing in reverent silence, had headed to the bat racks and benches, perhaps wondering what the heck had happened.  And Wilton Reynolds, the designated hitter, had clearly realized the bizarreness of the situation, because he actually was doubled over in laughter.  I made eye contact with him–I thought the whole thing was funny too.  (Looking at the picture above, it looks like Vince Blue, #31, also senses something is awry.)

On the whole, this was a nice way to spend a muggy Michigan night–surrounded by nice people enjoying a ballgame at an old park.  This also turned out to be one of the best minor league ballgames I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching.  I’ll tell you about that under “Baseball stuff” below.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel:  6.5/10
Reasonable, with big Midwestern trees beyond the outfield wall and massive Midwestern clouds, but nothing really to denote Michigan or Battle Creek.  I couldn’t even smell the Froot Loops until I was on my way out of town.

Charm:  4.5/5
Sure.  Quirkiness and fans so close to the action that kids talked to the bullpen catcher as he warmed up pitchers.

Spectacle: 5/5
Excellent here.  Understated and persistent–frequent between-innings action and the Bingo game tied right in with the baseball.

Team mascot/name:  2/5


The name change to Yankees was tragic, as the old “Battle Cats” paraphernalia on sale for half price was one of the saddest things I’ve seen. I hope Steinbrenner helped defray the costs.  The mascot himself is Doodle–apparently a youngster or a very short individual.  I like the name Doodle (get it?) a lot.

Aesthetics:  3/5
Sweet on the outside, but not too attractive on the inside (see below).

Pavilion area:  2.5/5
There was an area where kids were playing pickle, but it was far too small.  Mostly, it was just prison-like cement.



Scoreability: 3/5
Numbers and names readily available in the pavilion, but by the seventh inning, the names they had on the scoreboard didn’t at all match the actual people at bat.  It’s like the scoreboard people gave up.  Good for a while, though.

Fans:  3.5/5
The church people were very nice in the conservative Midwestern way (and I mean that affectionately–not at all sarcastically or disparagingly).  A few drunken louts nearby hurt the score.

Intangibles:  4.5/5
A great game where I felt like I was chatting with the players.  Fun night.

TOTAL:  34.5/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

What a game!  Mr. Walbeck has a little work to do in the managerial department, I’m afraid.  The game’s star was Whitecap starter Virgil Vasquez, who cruised through eight innings of four-hit shutout ball.  I was surprised to see him come back out for the ninth inning.  Don’t they have pitch counts at A-level ball?  Walbeck had a reliever, Eulogio de la Cruz, warmed up, and Vasquez had thrown quite a few pitches.  Still, he struck out Matt Carson to start the inning, and things looked good for West Michigan.  When third baseman Kody Kirkland kicked Erold Andrus’ liner, there was one on and one out, and I was thinking that one more baserunner and would bring out Walbeck with the hook.  Bryce Kartler singled.  Vasquez stayed on.  A popout brought it to two on and two outs…then a laboring Vasquez walked John Urick. SURELY, I thought, this has to be it for Vasquez…he’s had a fine game, now de la Cruz can nail it down, right?  Nope.  Walbeck stuck with Vasquez.  It turned out to be a bad move, as Tommy Rojas singled to tie the game with two unearned runs.  Only then, too late, did Walbeck relieve Vasquez.



De la Cruz got out of the inning, but Battle Creek won in the tenth on Andrus’ RBI single.  An angry Kody Kirkland, whose error made all of this possible, violently kicked a plastic cooler in the dugout on his way back to the clubhouse after the game.

Also, Garth McKinney homered for the Whitecaps.  Party on, Garth.  (I bet he’s never

heard that one before!  Man, it just occurs to me that Garth would have been around 10 at the height of Wayne’s World…what a bummer of a time to be 10 and named Garth.)

(Written August 2004.)

Stanley Coveleski Stadium, South Bend, Indiana

Stanley Coveleski Regional Stadium, South Bend, INDIANA

Number of states: 6
States to go:  44
Number of games: 1
First game: July 17, 2004 (Wisconsin Timber Rattlers 4, South Bend Silver Hawks 2)

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

Stanley Coveleski Regional Stadium (or, as the locals call it, “the Cove”) is in a decent location as far as the “is there any doubt where you are” test.  It’s hard up against a train station on one side–charming architecture that is visible above the right field stands.  On the other side, there is the spire of what I assume to be a Catholic church in view.  These two items in concert say South Bend to me, but on the inside, there’s little clue that I’m in Indiana.

College singing buddies Rob (of Three Rivers Stadium and Hooters fame), Kristin and I were fortunate to get seats in the front row behind the home dugout.  I looked forward to watching the game, but something transpired which had never

occurred to me…when one is in the front row behind the dugout, one’s view is often obstructed by dancing mascots.  Additionally, kids who wish to see the mascot frequently cascade down to the front row and make annoying child noises.  I wonder why this problem had never occurred to me?  Nevertheless, Swoop, the Silver Hawks’ mascot, is quite easily did the best job out of all mascots I have ever encountered.  He was energetic, wacky, and fun throughout.  For example, he and the alternate mascot (a child dressed in a giant mustachioed head) sat on the dugout and played spin the bottle with a couple of young women in the front row.  Hilarity ensued!  The mascot actually made me laugh a couple of times–a rarity.  Nice going, Swoop.  Now sit down and get out of my way.

Beyond the mascot, there were a whole lot of negatives about the Cove.  For starters, let’s talk about the mini-bat.  I buy a mini-bat at every minor league park I see a game at…they hang by a map of the US in my den.  The quality of mini-bats in South Bend were unacceptably inferior.  At first, I thought the bat was hollow, but I no longer think so–now, I believe it’s just made of a really chintzy light wood.  Oh well–so it’s light, whatever.  I set it on the ground and watched the game.  When I picked up the bat at the end of the game, the paint had worn off of every part of the bat that had made contact with the ground.  How bogus is this?  So I headed off to the souvenir shop to trade it in, and had the following conversation:

ME:  Can I trade this bat in for another?  The paint has worn off the side.
CONCESSION WOMAN:  Oh, they’re all like that.
ME:  I know.  Can I have another?
CW:  No.  You don’t understand.  They’re all like that.
ME:  I know…but this time I won’t do something awful with it like put it down.
CW:  (gives me a very annoyed, angry look, then trades in the bat)

Arrrggh!  I did wrap the bat carefully in a sweater, packed it up…and it’s made it back home without any damage.  The fact that this bat was sold to me for an above average cost (usually I pay $4 or $5 for a bat…this was $5.25) leads me to think that they were all about squeezing off profits.  This led me to realize that my hot dog was cold and my soda felt a bit watered-down…in combination, not a great feeling for the ballpark.

Worse, I didn’t have any idea what was happening due to an inferior program and unacceptably incomplete PA work.  It was exceedingly difficult to score a game at Stanley Coveleski Regional Stadium.  Sure, the lineups were accessible in the pavilion, but what about during the game?  The PA announcer failed to announce three of the four relief pitchers that entered the game–he only announced the pitchers who entered mid-inning.  This means the guy either didn’t notice that the pitcher was new (in spite of the umpire’s clear “new pitcher” signal) or didn’t think that we cared.  We do care, PA guy.  This left me in the position of figuring out the pitchers’ names on my own from the players’ numbers and my program.  Or maybe not–much to my dismay, I found there was no opposing roster in the program, and I couldn’t seem to find a scorecard to buy.  So I had to get the names of two Wisconsin relievers on the Timber Rattlers’ website later that night.

Even worse was a failure to announce the South Bend reliever who entered to pitch the ninth inning.  After fruitlessly waiting for the PA guy to say his name, I figured I’d check to see who #33 was in the program.  Incredibly, the players were listed alphabetically and without numbers!  What was I supposed to do, guess at his height and weight?

This led to a wonderful moment–an explication of one of the reasons I like Rob so much.  He’s so terribly pleasant and friendly, yet sorta crazy.  As the pitcher is running off the field at the end of that inning, Rob shouts at the pitcher repeatedly:  “What’s your name?  Hey, 33, what’s your name?  What’s your name??”  #33 ignored the lunatic in the front row–I believe wisely.  But Rob wasn’t done.

The first base coach for the Silver Hawks, #17, was headed out for the bottom of the ninth.  Rob called out to him.  “COACH!  Hey, COACH!!!”  #17 turned around.  Rob said “Your pitcher.  #33.  What’s his name?”  The baffled coach asked Rob to repeat himself a couple of times, and Rob did. 

Then, the coach gave us the information we wanted, although it was hard to hear–but by cross-referencing our alphabetical program, we eventually were able to figure out what he was saying:  “Cremidan.  Alex Cremidan.”  Thus it came to be that Alex Cremidan  was given credit for his perfect ninth inning, including a strikeout.  Now, coaching a minor league team is likely a challenging job in and of itself, so to willingly add the PA announcers’ duties to your own is a very selfless action.  As a result, I’m very impressed with this coach, and would like to thank him by name in this public venue…but I can’t, because the Silver Hawks don’t have coaches listed on their website or by number in their program.  Oh well.  Thanks, #17.

One more complaint–the crowd, while mostly kind, did have one moment of ugliness.  After flying to left field in the bottom of the seventh inning, third baseman Augie Murillo (if memory serves, this was the guy) was nearly drilled by a tennis ball thrown from the crowd as he returned to the dugout.  They had sold tennis balls to be thrown into hula hoops on the field for prizes after the game, but someone decided to take a shot at a player instead.  I was watching Augie head back to the dugout when the ball zinged by.  He immediately looked up, and

with a few teammates, had ushers head towards the hooligan who threw it (although, given that Murillo’s head was down, I’m not sure how he could have known).  Much to my surprise, rather than a nearby drunken guy, ushers ejected a woman who was at least 25 yards away.  Quite an arm.  “Was that her?”  I asked Augie.  He nodded.  I love getting into conversations with these guys.

There’s a lot to like about this ballpark–its location, the cool multiple mascots, the grassy berm in the outfield spectators can suntan on, the dramatic Midwestern thunder cells in the distance reflecting a pink sunset.  But I got an overall negative vibe from the place because of poor service from top to bottom, from the people selling the mini-bats all the way to the guy in the PA booth.  When I add it all together, it’ll wind up near the bottom of the list, although with a new set of workers, I could see me returning someday and enjoying it far more.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel: 7 /10
Nice placement between a church and a railyard, but little inside the ballpark that says one is in Northern Indiana or Michiana (the horrible term locals use for the area).

Charm:  3.5/5
On and off.  Liked the cars for car night, liked the outfield berm.

Spectacle: 4.5/5
Plenty good for the low minors.

Team mascot/name:  4/5


Swoop and I are in the left picture here, with the mysterious mustachioed kid-mascot to the right.  Swoop is a fine name, and I like the multiple mascots, although Silver Hawks isn’t, to my knowledge anyway, local. (Update April 2008:  The Silver Hawks, two of their fans have informed me, are named after the Studebaker Silver Hawk that was once manufactured near the stadium.  Nice historical touch there.)

Aesthetics: 3.5 /5
Not too much in the way of beauty here, but a gorgeous thunderstorm in the distance helped.

Pavilion area: 3 /5
Just fine.  A little dark and dreary, but a nice set of plaques commemorating South Bend baseball history, including one to Mr. Coveleski himself and a couple commemorating the stars of South Bend’s AAGPBA entry, the Belles.

Scoreability: 0/5
Horrible.  Useless PA guy and useless program.

Fans:  2.5/5


While most were fine, I can’t overlook the violent lout who threw a ball at a player.

Intangibles:  0/5
On the whole, I just wasn’t impressed–I simply felt like profit was valued over service.  Worse yet, they misspelled “Wisconsin” on the standings board!  (They had an “o” where the second “i” is.)

TOTAL:  28/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

Wisconsin pitcher Nibaldo Acosta was the star of the day, scattering 9 hits over 8 innings, giving up only 1 run.

Wladimir Balentien homered.

(Written August 2004.  Revised July 2009.)