Category Archives: level

Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, Scottsdale, ARIZONA

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Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, Scottsdale, ARIZONA
Number of states:  still 34
Number to go:  still 16
First game:  October 15, 2015 (Surprise Saguaros 3, Mesa Solar Sox 0)

Matt, Rob and I got into Salt River Fields for the second half of a day-night, two-stadium doubleheader, and we got there as a result of the good offices of Brian Moore.  Brian is, quite simply, the most hard-core baseball park guy I have ever known.  I met him originally at a game in Everett sometime around 2003, when he was running out of US ballparks to attend.

 Let me say that again: he was running out of US ballparks to attend.  At the risk of telling Brian’s stories for him, he got hooked up with the international baseball community as a scorer, and has switched his ballpark travels to focus on the international: he has now attended baseball games in more countries than I have set foot in. Why he doesn’t have a ballpark telling his stories of global baseball travels is beyond me, and I am jealous of his travels.

Anyhoo, Brian, a San Diegan, got us hooked up with tickets to this game, and I got to talk to him and his dad for a while. He, like me, is attracted to the low-frills quality of the league which I had discovered earlier that day in Scottsdale.  So we got to settle in for a gorgeous desert night of baseball.

Unlike the aforementioned Scottsdale, Talking Stick is a recently created palace for Spring Training and pretty shiny and glitzy. The Rockies and Diamondbacks share the facility, and it’s easy to see the appeal: tons of up-to-date facilities

surround the ballpark, and one can look over at them as one circumnavigates the field.  The lovely grass berms in the outfield are broken up by a few locally-appropriate bits of cactus. I was most impressed by the honoring of Arizona Fall League graduates who had played there and elsewhere: it’s exciting to take a look at the as-yet-anonymous-to-me ballplayers on the field and wonder who might be the next Michael Young or Darin Erstad.  Again, cross-apply my entire love letter to the Arizona Fall League I gave in my Scottsdale review.  It was all about the baseball, no more, no less.  And I really was into that.

So this ballpark might actually score a tad lower on the score than Scottsdale, just because the newness and glitziness (to my mind anyway) comes at the expense of charm.  And, because of the primary purpose of this place (Spring Training games), it’s also a little big to my tastes.  I’ve never been to a Spring Training game, and while I might enjoy it, it’s not that appealing to me.  Too many dudes to keep track of, too many fans, too

much money (or so I am reading).  So, while impossible, I might prefer the ballpark house only half of the people in it.

For whatever it is worth, we did return for something they called the Bowman Hitting Challenge, won by an affable Miami Marlin project named Austin Dean. For what it’s worth, the number one appeal of the league–which is that they don’t really have any interest in fan experience, they just want to play ball–became a weakness for a made-for-fan event like the Hitting Challenge.  I missed out on some autograph opportunities because of some disorganization, lack of time, and generalized lack of interest.  The contest itself had some low-tech appeal (a batter could get points for smacking a guy running around the outfield with an advertising sign, for instance), but when it rained, we decided it wasn’t worth waiting out the delay and headed for pizza and drinks instead.

In any event, this place was modern, beautiful, and antiseptic.  And that didn’t matter much to me because it was the Arizona Fall League.

Scottsdale Stadium, Scottsdale, Arizona

Scottsdale Stadium, Scottsdale, ARIZONA

Number of games: 1
Number of states: 34
States to go:  16
First game: August 16, 2014 (Scottsdale Scorpions 9, Glendale Desert Dogs 2)

I flew down to Phoenix for a second-annual of what I hope will be a long-term event–a baseball gathering with college buddies Matt and Rob.  We had a house to stay in by ourselves (yay, friends of Rob) and a long weekend to play word games and BS together.  But it started a tad late.

See, my flight arrived just a tad before the first pitch of an afternoon game at Scottsdale Stadium.  Which meant we had to zip down there quickly.  Which meant I missed the first few innings.  Which meant I was in a bit of a hurry and forgot to take my camera into the ballpark.

“That’s okay,” I thought.  “I’ll just use my cell phone.”

And I did.  Took photos all over the park.

I have no idea what happened to them, other than the one above.

But it doesn’t matter. I will create such a magnificent image with my wondrous poetic flair that you won’t notice the lack of photos.

The ballpark was pretty old-school.  The Internet tells me it was built in 1992 and renovated in 2006, but it seems many Arizona Spring Training sites have been created in the years since.  And I liked the old-schoolness of it.  I was worried I’d find too much of what I dislike about the Florida State League in there: too much emphasis on the parent club Giants and not enough on Arizona local flavor. I didn’t get that feeling much at all.  The ballpark celebrated many who have gone through there, Giants and otherwise, and had some excellent points on the wall.  The faux sandstone feel on the exterior fit right in with the local world, and while the place seated a ton, it still felt just about right for what I was up to.

What I was up to that afternoon was falling in love with the Arizona Fall League.  I experienced what flat-out has to be the purest, best baseball experience I’ve ever been around.  It was splendid.

First of all, it’s critical to point out that the teams do absolutely nothing to engage fan interest. The souvenir cups aren’t for the Arizona Fall League, but for the spring training team. There is one tiny gift shop with hats and shirts and little else.  The distinct impression I got is that they had pretty much zero interest in fan appeal.

Paradoxically, that made me love this league (and therefore this ballpark) as a fan.  I was so into this entire experience.  There were only about 500 fans there, and it was festival seating: only general admission tickets, so sit where you want. (We picked behind a dugout.)  Not a promotion to be found, not between innings or (God forbid) between pitches. MLB is using this league as a way to develop their most promising prospects, and not as a cash cow.  So, while I am certainly not against a few silly promotions, their absence was an incredibly refreshing experience.

It felt like they were putting on a game for me and me alone, and I appreciated that quite a bit.  I could hear the outfielders calling for the ball, hear the chatter from the dugouts: it was everything I wanted.  And I liked that the ballplayers were wearing their parent clubs’ uniforms. It made it easier to follow the narrative of a guy’s career, easier to look up how they are doing. And, ultimately, easier to remember the best players when they made the majors the next season (as many of them did).

The ballpark itself was kinda cool, and its old-school-ness made the Arizona Fall League vivid to me.  This was as good as it gets, and I appreciated the ballpark staying out of the way.

 

 

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel: 7/10

Good, local celebrations on the concourse, desert vistas, and faux-sandstone.

Charm: 3/5
Basic and old-school, like an old friend.  Not charming, but warm.

Spectacle: 4/5
Almost none, but that’s kind of the whole schtick.  Hence the high score.

Team mascot/name: 3.5/5
No mascot, which is great (see “Spectacle” above).  I am of mixed feelings on “Saguaros” as a name.  Locally appropriate, kinda majestic, but not really intimidating.  I’ll go above average.

Aesthetics: 3/5
Fine.  Sorta basic.

Pavilion area: 3/5
I’d like to be able to see the field from the pavilion, so there’s that.  But I did like the local museum-y feel out there.

Scoreability: 3.5/5
Did fine here.

Fans: 3/5
Okay.  Fans were marvelously hard-core here, and I like that.  There were few of them.  How do I score that?  If I lived in Phoenix, I’d go to every damn one of these games.  But then again, the low attendance was one of the things I most liked about this experience.  So if I complain about the low attendance, a bunch of people will start showing up, which might ruin the whole experience.  Okay.  I’ll go three out of five and call it good.

Intangibles 5/5:
Great to be with my friends, and I will never forget the revelation that Arizona Fall League ball was.  I simply must return.  Stupid teaching job!

TOTAL 35/50

Baseball Stuff I’ve Seen There:

Scottsdale blows open a tight pitchers’ duel with a 7-run sixth inning, featuring home runs by Mitch Garver (Twins) and Christian Arroyo (Giants).

Tigers’ prospect Montreal Robinson gets the win with 2 2/3 innings of perfect relief.

Written July 2016.

 

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.

Dehler Park, Billings, Montana

Dehler Park, Billings, MONTANA

Number of states: still 32
States to go:  still 18Number of Games:  1
First game:  July 4, 2013 (Billings Mustangs 6, Missoula Osprey 2)

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

On a hot 4th of July–the 10th anniversary of the first of my minor league travels–I

arrived at Billings with family in tow.  There, I found an absolute jewel of a ballpark nestled against the Rocky Mountains.

Dehler Park passes the main test I have for all ballparks: the is-there-any-question-where-you-are test.  The instant one walks through the home-plate gate, one is faced by what Wikipedia tells me is the “Rimrocks,” a 500-800 foot cliff that skirts Billings’ north and east sides.  It’s a flat-out gorgeous view that occupies my mind during slow points in the baseball.

On top of that, Billings does incredibly well with its baseball history.  The Mustangs’ 40-year affiliation with the Reds certainly helps.  Dehler Park seemed to focus a bit more on recent Mustangs

 than more distant ones (I saw huge tributes to Jay Bruce and Joey Votto prominently displayed), but not exclusively: the program celebrated more distant history.  Dave McNally’s statue greets fans as they enter the stadium, and the plaque lists his accomplishments as a Billings Little Leaguer more prominently than his Major League exploits.  I like that.  There is also significant love for Ed Bayne, a legendary local American Legion coach from the middle of the 20th century.  I love that these two locals are treated as practically equals, and that my 4-year-old could literally shake hands with the Bayne photo (Bayne also gets a good deal of love in the Billings American Legion Hall of Fame inside the stadium).

Lineups were prominently displayed, which came in handy for Steven as he wrote down the lineups before the game (this always gets looks).  More importantly, Billings has what I most like at any level of ballpark: the ability to circumnavigate the park without ever surrendering the view of the field.  Some locally appropriate fare was available (but no thank you to Rocky Mountain oysters, okay?), and those mountains…oh, yes,

those mountains.  I liked how the ballpark kept standings for the Pioneer League on a flagpole in center field, much like at Wrigley Field or (horizontally) at Safeco Field.  Keeping an eye on your own league and taking pride/focus in the minors, rather than just the majors, scores points for me.  And the concourse was popular on this particular afternoon.  Some of this was that people were gathering back by the concession stands’ edifices to get a little shade.  My wife remarked, however, that people past the left-field wall were awfully good-looking to be gathered in one place: that the Mustangs seemed to have created a pretty cool place for beautiful people to gather for a holiday.

I think this might be related to my very small quibble with the park: it was run a little too slickly for my

 tastes, at least in the very-low minors.  There were no on-field promotions that I recall, and everything in the design was out of central casting for the gleaming-new-minor-league-ballpark-of-the-early-21st-century that has popped up everywhere.  I’d like for them to let their hair down a little—a little—and allow  themselves to celebrate a little wackiness every now and then.  I wondered a little bit whether Billings’ status as the largest city in Montana required them to show a little more reserve than their competitors in Helena, Great Falls, and Missoula.  And make no mistake: anything (including an anesthetic-free root canal) is preferable to the abomination of volume and horror that was Missoula.  But I feel like the Mustangs were reserved to the precipice of stuffiness.  I would like to see them embrace just a little more of a low-minors “what the hell” attitude.

But this is a quibble.  If I could make all 38 games here every year, I certainly would.  As it is, I will have it on the short list of ballparks to return to if ever I’m zipping across I-90.  You should have it there as well.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional Feel:  9.5/10

Total home run here.  The Mustangs celebrate Montana baseball history unabashedly and enthusicastically.  They look back on the history of their team with passion.  And man oh man, but that view of the Rimrocks is fabulous.

Charm: 4/5

Gorgeous, but a little too slick for a perfect score.

Spectacle 2.5/5

I remember no promotions.  In a way, I like that, but in a way, I miss it.

Team mascot/name  2.5/5

Couldn’t find Homer in the crowd, but here he is anthropomorphized into a bouncy-house.  I don’t mind the Mustangs name, but Homer would be the #1 Mascot name on Family Feud, so I can’t go too high here.  That and, again, I didn’t see him.

Aesthetics: 5/5

Gorgeous inside and out.

Pavilion area: 4.5/5

Plenty to walk to, and around, and all without losing sight of the field.

Scoreability:  3.5/5

Minor glitches.

Fans: 3.5/5

Granted, it was July 4th, but even with that, I thought there was a tad too much casualness for my tastes

Intangibles: 4.5/5

A great, if rather hot, afternoon.  I will be back.

TOTAL:  39.5/50

BASEBALL STUFF I SAW HERE:

Ty Washington’s second-inning triple gave the Mustangs the lead they wouldn’t give up.

Jose Guzman pitched 5 1/3 shutout innings, followed by 1 2/3 of perfection by Scott Brattvet (including two strikeouts and a double-play).

Written July 2013.

Hillsboro Hops Ballpark/Ron Tonkin Field, Hillsboro, Oregon

Hillsboro Hops Ballpark/Ron Tonkin Field, Hillsboro, OREGON

Click on any image to see a larger version.

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

Number of games: 18
First game: June 17, 2013 (Hillsboro Hops 12, Eugene Emeralds 0)
Most recent game:  September 4, 2015 (Hillsboro Hops 2, Eugene Emeralds 0)

I went three years without baseball anywhere close to where I live.  Three.  Long.  Years.  When the AAA Portland Beavers bolted town in order to allow the charming, perfectly-serviceable PGE Park to be made into a soccer-only facility and

rechristened Jeld-Wen Field, the closest professional baseball to my Vancouver, Washington home was the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes, who play in lamentable, ugly surroundings and are an hour drive without traffic (which isn’t often).  But I knew the Portland market would not stay empty—it was the largest market in the US without professional baseball, and someone had to figure out a way to make a stadium to make some money out of that vacuum.

For a short while, it looked like that would be Vancouver, as the Yakima Bears Northwest League team looked for an upgrade from Yakima County Stadium.  A good plan for a gorgeous stadium within walking distance of my house came into being.  The Bears would pay a good chunk of the

money, but wanted taxpayers to foot some of the bill—and (in what I liked most) the county would own the stadium, with the minor league team leasing the ballpark for their 38 days a year.  I walked the site of the potential ballpark with my wife, and we anticipated being regulars there.  Alas, the never-tax-me-for-any-reason-whatever crowd won the day.  Hillsboro, Oregon, a suburb west of Portland, pounced, and as a result they became my “home” minor league team, about a half hour drive away (in good traffic).

The result is Hillsboro Hops Stadium, and I like most of what they’ve done with the place.  The ballpark is the center of a high school sports complex, right next door to the football

 stadium.  The designers did a fabulous job of integrating the colors and designs of the football stadium right into the baseball stadium.  The bleachers for the football stadium actually form a canopy above the pavilion down the left field line: a welcome feature in the event Oregon gets a little rain.  The concession stands for the football stadium double as concession stands for the baseball stadium.  It was a smart little maneuver, and it leads to a nice, integrated experience.  The field is surrounded by active softball fields–if a spectator goes up to the concourse and cranes a neck in nearly any direction, he or she can watch a coed slow-pitch game in progress.  Then, to get back to the car (quite a hike, by the way), one walks past several softball games into the night.  I like that.

Alas, there are negatives with any positives, and the artificial turf on the field are the negative.  Since the ballpark will be used by high

 schools during the 327 days a year the Hops are not around, they wanted a resilient surface, and the ground-up tires therefore made a lot of sense.  While I’d have made the same decision myself, what is gained in utility is lost in attractiveness.  With the exception of the  pitcher’s mound and the area around home plate, the infield “dirt” is simply the same rubber turf as the outfield, only painted reddish-tan.  It’s a bit off-putting, and I wish there were another way.

Opening night was a nice, cathartic experience for me.  I was pleased to see that the Hops understood the importance of the night to those of us who would care to show up for it.  They had several nice touches:  a display honoring the Portland Beavers, for instance (including lineup cards for their final game: a rare case where I saw a display for a game that I was actually present for).  Local kid baseball players had dug up home plate at

 PGE Park after the final game, and they returned with the same home plate at Hillsboro, actually running it around the bases to put it into the ground and be used in Hops Stadium.  The team hired Rich Burk, the very able radio announcer for the Beavers, for the same job with the Hops, and he donned a tux to do all the pregame duties.

Once the game got going, it appeared that the Hops could have used a little more rehearsal.  The scoreboard had a few problems:  for starters, they could have figured out how to do better than the

 generic “Hops” and “Guest” on the scoreboard.  Also, at least twice as the Hops crushed the Emeralds 12-0, the scoreboard operator put up an incorrect number of runs in a half inning.  The only way he/she could fix it was to reset the entire linescore and put in all the numbers yet again, even running through the outs.  It was rather funny to watch.  Also, the PA system was far too loud.  (To be fair, many of these were fixed by the time I attended the team’s third home game two nights later.)

But I still am glad this is my home park because there’s a lot right with it.  The game can be seen from nearly anywhere on the concourse.  The history of Portland baseball is very much on display and

valued.  There is an honoring of veterans from all branches of the service at every game (who cares if they called it “a Hillsboro Stadium tradition” at the very first game…if it hasn’t happened yet, it’s not a tradition, right?).  And, as if to reward all of us for our patience in waiting for a baseball team to return, the inaugural game featured a full double-rainbow past the left field foul pole and a fantastic sunset past first base.

It’s possible my perspectives on my home ballpark will change over the course of the chunk of games I’ll attend per year for the forseeable future, but my first impression is that the team mostly got it right.  They’re local, unashamed of being in the low level minors, and unashamed of being small.  That’s enough for me to overlook the negatives of the ballpark and look forward to quite a few games here over the years.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional Feel:  7/10

The celebration of Oregon baseball makes a big impact here–looking back at the Beavers and tying it all together with past teams.  Plus lucking into a rainbow on opening night spoke to me.

Charm: 2.5/10

I like the nestling next to the high school stadium, being surrounded by local softball leagues, and there’s plenty to like here architecturally.  But oh, oh, oh…that turf.

Spectacle:  4.5/5

Lots going on between innings, but no interference with the game.  Marvelous.  Even if, on the very first day the park opened, they mentioned a “Hillsboro Hops Stadium Tradition.”  I only wish they’d said “We started this tradition at the beginning of this sentence, and have done it ever since.”

Team Mascot/Name:  4/5

Barley the Hop is the mascot.  I like the idea of a kid high-fiving the main component in beer.  The name “Hops” may have been a little bit of a slap in the face to the team’s predecessors in Yakima, where they grow a lot more hops than near Hillsboro, but what the hell.

Aesthetics:  3.5/5

Would be 5 without the turf, but hey.

Pavilion area:  4/5

Quite nice.  Tough to watch the game from the outfield, however. (But possible to watch nearby softball games if you get bored with the Hops.)

Scoreability:  1/5

This may improve eventually, but the first two games I attended were really weak in this area.  The scoreboard operator would make really basic errors (like the number of outs in an inning), and I could see the umpire demonstratively displaying outs to counteract the incorrect scoreboard.  In fact, we in the stands started signalling outs to each other as if we were players on the field.  (“Two down, everybody!  Two down!  Play is at first!”)

Fans:  5/5

All that pent-up baseball love came out nicely.  I was glad to be a part of it.

Intangibles:  4/5

Pleased for this to be my home ballpark.

TOTAL:  35.5/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

The debut game was a blowout for the Hops.  Jordan Parr hit the first home run in ballpark history while young Jose Martinez led four pitchers to a three-hit shutout.

I “see” my first inside-the-park-home-run ever here in July of 2013.  I say “see” because I lost the ball in the sun.  When I heard no response around me, I assumed a foul ball, and was then confused to look up from my nachos and see the runner crossing home plate.  It turns out the the Hops’ left fielder, Yogey Perez-Ramos, also lost the ball in the sun. It landed about 50 feet behind him near the left-field foul pole.  By the time center fielder Brian Billigen got to it, Everett’s Jack Reinheimer was crossing home plate.  Not a lot of excitement in the ballpark: mostly confusion (I had to check the news accounts to figure out exactly how that happened and how I missed it).

Both the 2014 and 2015 Hops won the Northwest League, and I had the pleasure of watching the clincher of the South Division series over Boise in 2014. I liked how businesslike the team was about it–they weren’t done. An already-scheduled trip took me away for the Northwest League Championship series that same week, but it was still a pleasure to watch.

Written July 2013. Updated April 2016.

PK Park, Eugene, Oregon

PK Park, Eugene, OREGON

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

Number of games:  1
First game:  July 4, 2012 (Eugene Emeralds 9, Everett AquaSox 1)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

from seeing Duck history.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the category of “strangest conversation

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

As for the Emeralds’ atmosphere, it was fine. 

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

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

We will almost certainly be back.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional Feel:  6.5/10.

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

Charm:  3/5

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

Spectacle:  4/5

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

Team Mascot/Name:  4/5

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

Aesthetics:  4/5

Lovely new ballpark.  Again, however:  Turf.

Pavilion area:  3.5 /5

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

Scoreability:  5/5

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

Fans:  4.5/5

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

Intangibles:  4.5/5

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

TOTAL:  39/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

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

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

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

Written July 2012.

Banner Island Ballpark, Stockton, California

Banner Island Ballpark, Stockton, CALIFORNIA

State number:  still 31
States to go:  19

Number of games:  1
First game:  July 3, 2011 (Stockton Ports 5, San Jose Giants 3)

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

Children have slowed down my ballpark quest just a tad, for financial and practical reasons–at least for a small amount of time.  The elder is such a massive baseball fan that he’s currently on target to put me to shame in that department, and the younger…well, it’s too early to judge.  As a result, I only added one new ballpark in 2011:  Banner Island Ballpark in Stockton.  Could have been more if the PCL and California League schedule-makers had been kinder

during our trip down to Lake Tahoe, but alas, it wasn’t meant to be.  Still, we got this one in.  When we told 2 1/2 year-old Steven we would be watching the San Jose Giants play the Stockton Ports, he was excited to see Tim Lincecum.  This meant some explanation of how the San Jose Giants are not the same as the San Francisco Giants.  Too early to discuss major vs. minor leagues, promotion, demotion, release…but he does know that the San Jose Giants are different from their parent club.  Not too bad for 28 months.

In any event, it was 98 degrees on this July 3rd Fireworks Night, and I held the elder’s hand while my wife wore the younger on her chest.  Blessedly, our seats in the third row behind home plate were in the shade

all night long (avoid the third base side at the ballpark, y’all, unless you want to feel like a fried egg).  Unfortunately, there were people in front of us, and Steven could see little.  I wound up holding the little dude in my lap for a while as my wife scored the game.  When we switched, and I walked the elder around the ballpark, some at-bats went unscored…but that’s what happens with kids.  A worthwhile sacrifice.

On those wanderings, I found a pretty nice stadium–just a little bit corporate, but serviceable and pleasant.  It sits on the river, although there’s not much of a hint of it unless one walks beyond right field to check out the view.  There, fans mostly watched the game, which was especially impressive on Fireworks Night.  I deeply appreciated the pavilion, which enabled me, both with my leashed child and without him, to walk all the way around the park and enjoy the experience as best as I could from many vantage points.

In addition to the usual spectacle that comes with a 4th of July minor league game, there was a special occasion this evening, but not one I discovered until it was too late, and my scorebook was sullied.  Allow me to explain.

I have a little game I started to play with my old scorebooks a couple of years ago.  Namely, I try to get ballplayers to autograph the best past game they’ve played in my presence.  This means that I make it a point to check out the rosters before ballgames and bring appropriate past scoresheets for them to sign.  I try not to be a jerk about it…I never try to elbow my way past kids, for instance…but I have gotten some signatures in both my major

league and minor league books.

So, before we departed, I jotted down players I’d seen play for both the San Jose Giants and Stockton Ports.  I’d seen 6 Giants and 2 Ports play, almost all in Northwest League games over the past several years.  I  wrote down their names and uniform numbers. And there, signing quite a few autographs down the left field line, was a lone San Jose Giant.  #17.  I checked my scorebook.  I’d seen #17, Jose Flores, play on 7/4/2008 for Salem-Keizer.  So I got out the appropriate scorebook and got in line.  I allowed two ten-year-olds to borrow my pen.  I then said to #17:

“Hi.  Could I get you to sign this game you played for Salem-Keizer a few years ago?”

I pointed at the spot beneath the #3 hitter, for that game, Jose Flores.  The guy said “Wow!” and signed it.

He signed it “#9 Brandon Belt.”

Huh?

OK.  Turned out that Belt was on a rehab assignment for the SF Giants in San Jose and wasn’t listed on the web site when I checked.  (This explained the incredible popularity of his autographs.)  So I don’t blame the website.

I partly blame the Ports, whose program contained really out of date

information. I’d like game notes and would even pay for them if they had complete and accurate rosters.

I partially blame the Giants.  Why not give Belt a number someone else doesn’t have?  #17 wasn’t even his number for San Francisco.  Was he just borrowing jerseys of similarly-sized players who are not playing that day?

And I give some of the blame to Mr. Belt himself.  Yes, I know he’s busy and that he’s doing an unabashedly nice thing by signing so many autographs, and for that I am grateful, as are the many kids around me.  But since I

said “I saw you play in Salem-Keizer” and pointed at Flores’ name to signthere, couldn’t he have picked up on that?  Most other players I’ve gotten to sign have (although, to be fair, I haven’t made a similar mistake in any other circumstances).

In any event, I have Brandon Belt’s autograph under Jose Flores’ name, and a rather long-winded (andlow-payoff) story to explain it.

If I recall correctly (as I write this some 9 months later), there was some sort of cool bar-like area in left field.  I wanted to take a photo

from within the bar, but wasn’t sure whether it was a 21-and-only area or not.  But nobody was checking, so I walked in there with my toddler-on-a-leash, took a picture, and left.  Please do not prosecute me for contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

And, for the record, I have never been a fan (not even remotely) of the red-white-and-blue special jerseys.  Gaudy.  Icky.  Baseball is, in itself, patriotic enough.  If one must go the patriotic route, go for the camouflage.  Can’t go wrong there…that’s a good look.

Anyway, Stockton does especially well in the central is-there-any-question-where-you-are test. There were many nice touches.  First, the prevalence of “Casey at the Bat” was lovely.  Stockton, as Wikipedia will tell you, claims that the poem was based on the Stockton

Ports, since Ernest Thayer wrote the poem while he was covering the Ports for the San Francisco Examiner.  The truth of that claim aside (to be honest, I don’t care whether it’s true–it’s the emotional connection to baseball and poetry is what gets me), it was cool to see Casey in several points through the ballpark, including the entire poem written by children around a mosaic, and the name of the concession stand.  In addition to Casey, there were ample retired jersey numbers and a plaque describing the historical significance of the site.  I thoroughly enjoyed that.

It wasn’t just old Ports that were celebrated: recent Ports were as well, as noted by a gigantic banner celebrating former Port Dallas Braden’s then-recent perfect game. I especially liked that he was depicted in a Ports’ uniform and not as an Oakland Athletic.  And if that’s not enough, well, you can’t go wrong with fried asparagus.

Seven bucks?  Worth every penny.  But then, I love both fried things and asparagus.

In any event, the minor league 4th of July road trip tradition continues, and shall continue with children who likely will curse us for it one day “Da-aaaad, why can’t we stay home and watch fireworks like regular people do???” And I continue to enjoy it, as it takes me to nice places and people like we found here.  Again–we’ll have to stay within driving distance for a while, but we’ve done nine of these now, and I just can’t picture the

holiday without it.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel:  8/10
What the ballpark lacks in regional feel via view (the arena next door doesn’t tell me where I am) it makes up for in local baseball history (all things Dallas Braden), in the poetry, and in the asparagus stand, plus the visible-if-you-walk-to-it river.

Charm: 3.5/5
A little too slick, a little too sponsor-heavy.

Spectacle:  3.5/5
Not too bad for low minors, but  man, do I ever dislike those stars-and-stripes uniforms.

Team Mascot/Name: 2/5

Splash and me.  As this picture is taken, I’m attempting to solve the obvious question:  what the hell is this thing?  So I asked Splash:   “Are you the product of a romantic liaison between Elmo and the Phillie Phanatic?”  Splash nodded.  I said I wouldn’t tell, but I’m getting it out here.  Clearly, Elmo is all grown up and on the prowl.  Anyway, not a huge fan of this indeterminate, derivative dude or his name.

Aesthetics: 4/5
A lovely ballpark overall.  It’s a shade corporate, and I’d like to see the river and the game at the same time, but there’s a lot more good than bad aesthetically.

Pavilion: 4.5/5
Quite nice.  Circumnavigation is easy, and one is treated to river views in the process.  Plenty of baseball-themed stuff to do, and one can almost (almost) follow the game from all vantage points (this is the reason for the half-point deduction.

Scoreability: 4.5/5
Don’t recall a problem here.  They were more attentive than I could be with two kiddoes on my hands.  Minor deduction because the glare on the scoreboard made it difficult to read.

Fans:  4/5
Several nice people complimenting my children near the seats.  Bad:  One hoodlum pre-teen flipping  me sarcasm as I wandered around the park taking pictures  “Please, no flash photography.”  Punk cost his ballpark an ENTIRE POINT!  I’m sure this will cause him to re-think his ways.  (Here he is, before he started giving me punk attitude…my knowledge that he was a snot has ruined what would otherwise be one of my favorite photos.)

Intangibles: 3.5/5
A little too corporate for my tastes, but not a bad night on the whole

TOTAL: 37.5/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

A Dusty Coleman triple and a Mitch LeVier home run give the Ports the lead in the second inning, but Dusty Coleman drives home the game-winner on a 6th-inning single.

Dan Straily pitches well enough for the win.  Zack Wheeler strikes out 8 in 6 innings  in the loss.

Michael Choice also homers for the Ports.

(Written July 2011.  Modified April 2012.)

Kindrick Field, Helena, Montana

Kindrick Field, Helena, MONTANA

State number:  still 31
States to go:  19

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At any rate, we put Steven on the

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

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

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

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

BALLPARK SCORE:

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

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

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

Team Mascot/Name:  2/5

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

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

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

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

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

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

TOTAL: 30.5/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

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

Rafael Vera leads the Great Falls attack with three hits.

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

(Written July 2010.)

Melaleuca Field, Idaho Falls, Idaho

Melaleuca Field, Idaho Falls, IDAHO

State number:  still 31
States to go:  19

Number of games:  2
First game:  July 7, 2010 (Idaho Falls Chukars 6, Casper Ghosts 5–11 innings)
Most Recent Game:  June 30, 2013 (Idaho Falls Chukars 6, Ogden Raptors 5)

After two nights of gorgeous Utah ballparks, Melaleuca Field in Idaho Falls was a bit of a letdown.  With no real views worth mentioning and a non-descript residential

neighborhood surrounding it, there was really nothing that spoke to the fact that we were in Idaho–when sitting in the stands, wecould have been anywhere from Maine to Hawaii.  Nonetheless, the Chukars put on a nice little show, and it’s always fun to be in a small ballpark that affords easy access to players and makes me feel like I’m right in the middle of the game.  That, combined with a good game, made for a memorable and fun night at the ballpark.

There’s not a whole lot going on around the ballpark, which is

several blocks east of the Snake River and nowhere near the center of town.  One can look out and get a view of the playground across the street, or–for the only hope of local color one can get in the ballpark–crane one’s neck to find an LDS temple far off in the distance behind home plate.  The team tries to make up for it by putting in local touches inside the ballpark, including pennants celebrating past Idaho Falls players who have made it big, a list of all Idaho Falls players who went on to the majors, a couple of locally-appropriate retired numbers alongside Jackie Robinson’s, and a little exhibit on Idaho Falls baseball history, as well as a plaque honoring Edwin McDermott, who was instrumental in keeping affiliated baseball in Idaho Falls (and for whom the former ballpark which stood on this site was named).  So, while the ballpark could use a little more pizazz for a place that was only built 4 seasons ago, it does just enough to convince me that they’re trying.

It helped that the sound guy was legitimately funny and clever.  I wouldn’t have thought to play “Ghostbusters” during the introduction to the game against the Casper Ghosts, but the sound guy did.  Additionally, playing Chuck Berry’s “Kansas City” as the Chukars ran out to their position was a nice touch for a Royals affiliate.  I’m not a fan of pretending that we ARE in the parent club’s hometown–as with the Yankees’ affiliates who play “New York, New York” or with Ogden, who introduces itself as “the home of the Los Angeles Dodgers,” but the Chuck Berry song indicates that the players are going to Kansas City, and has an innocence and optimism that I associate with low-level ballplayers chasing the dream.  Plus, I hear that Kansas City has some crazy little

women there, and the players each plan to get them one.

Not quite as subtle or clever was the PA guy.  While his sins were not as strong as those of the guys on my shit list in Detroit and Missoula, he came close.  While I won’t be able to duplicate his tone here, he did the nearly-orgasmic squeak to introduce Chukars players, which, while I’m not a fan of it, I hear often enough to dial out.  But, strangely, when the Ghosts sent a player to bat, the PA guy decided to do the opposite.  He didn’t merely deadpan the names, like most PA guys do.  He decided to take it a step further and tried to sound actively bored.  Yeah, I know that “actively bored” is a bit of an oxymoron, but you need to hear this lame-o do his thing.  Think someone at the DMV going over a missed test question for the 50th time that

day.  Now, think of that DMV worker on barbiturates.  That’s the closest I can come to duplicating this guys “bored” voice.  My question…why?  Are you actually encouraging your audience to be bored?  Or do you think your audience so stupid that they need to be told that these are not the guys we’re rooting for?  He was the fodder for some jokes around us, and not just from me.

The seating was a little bit strange in Melaleuca Field.  It wasn’t just that the entire seating structure appeared to be made of aluminum (not the most aesthetically pleasing arrangement).  It was that seat one and seat two in the same row weren’t  next to each other.  The number of

seats in the row didn’t quite match the amount of space that particular section had before the concourse angled.  So Michelle and I, while we were angled in a little bit towards each other, were about two or three feet apart.  This turned out to be for the better, since it gave us a spot to set down our surprising amount of stuff we brought (between scorebooks, mini-bats, cooler-weather clothing, and baby-related material, we probably led the Pioneer League in the stat of Crap Carried Into The Ballpark).  But if this had been a first date, I’d have been disappointed.  Private conversation was difficult, and hand-holding or snuggling out of the question.  I bought the tickets on-line, and the computer listed us as “together,” but I’d consider a call to the team to confirm if at all possible if you want to be next to your companions.

Companionship was not a problem for the guy in front of us, who my wife

declared “grumpy.”  It became clear that this man wasn’t thrilled with Steven’s presence, even though he was behaving pretty well–he wasn’t making much noise, and his wriggling was entirely on Michelle and rippling over to the general public.  But his body language betrayed a distaste for kids in general.  He eventually struck up a conversation with the guy next to him, and said that he was traveling around the West on his motorcycle, going to baseball games.  He said he’d be at Helena the next night.  I figured, hey, here’s a chance to get friendly with a fellow ballpark traveler!  I said we’d be in Helena tomorrow too!  “See you there, or maybe on I-15 tomorrow!”  He said “I would NEVER take the interstate.”  Yeah, I get that, but please.  What a dork.  He’s the first ballpark traveler I’ve ever encountered who didn’t want to talk about either ballparks or travel.

Steven was a little too squirrely for a little too long on my wife’s lap, so she asked that I take him for a while.  I took him around the concourse,

where many, many people  complimented Steven for being good-looking (yeah, he is).  Then, I walked Steven up to the top of the bleachers, where he could run back and forth without disturbing anyone’s view.  He did that for a while.  He then decided what he really wanted to do was clamber up and down the stairs, which was less acceptable, so I herded him into a trip down the left field line.  There, I found the Casper Ghosts’ bullpen, and I found the relief pitchers for Casper watching the game closely.  I hoisted Steven onto the top of the 3-foot fence, said “Here, Steven!  You can say hi to the Casper Ghosts’ bullpen!” and figured I’d get a smirk or two before the ballplayers started focusing on the game.

It turned out that the ballplayers were happy to get a distraction.  One Kenneth Roberts (left) said hello to my son and offered his hand for a handshake.  Steven didn’t yet do handshakes, but he would willingly dish out high fives, and he did so once I told Mr. Roberts that fact.  Taylor Reid (right), another pitcher, then asked Steven if he was going to be a baseball player.  Steven’s

vocabulary of a couple score of words wouldn’t answer that sufficiently, so I answered for him:  “Only if he’s a way better athlete than his dad.”  I was surprised and a little bit touched that these guys would be nice to my son like that.  They certainly didn’t have to, and they had other things to do.  So, hooray to the Casper Ghosts’ bullpen, who created a great memory for me (and for Steven, if he develops long-term memory much sooner than is developmentally common).

The game turned into a pretty good extra-inning affair, and all three of us hung in there until the end.  And while the ballpark itself wasn’t anything to write home about, it turned out to be an enjoyable, memorable night.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel:  5/10

Even with the nice Idaho baseball history on the inside, this is a pretty non-descript place.  I can’t tell where I am in the USA during the game.

Charm: 2.5 /5

Some nice moments, but cheerleader PA annoyed me a bit.

Spectacle:  3/5
Could be a little more for Rookie ball, but there was a little, and the sound effects guy was actually funny (without interfering).

Team Mascot/Name:  3.5/5

Charlie the Chukar is a furball.  I had to look up what a Chukar was.  Hardly intimidating, but locally appropriate.

Aesthetics: 1.5/5
All metal, with no real view.

Pavilion: 2/5
Not much in the way of places to watch the game while wandering.

Scoreability: 3/5

Missed a couple of pitching changes.

Fans:  4/5
Mostly nice people, and a surprisingly big crowd.

Intangibles: 4/5
A fun night where my son got a high-five.  Also a good, interesting game.

TOTAL: 28.5/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

Casper jumps out to a 5-0 lead in the fourth, with the big blow a triple by Robert de la Cruz.  But Idaho Falls chips away, and ties the score in the 8th on a bizarre only-in-rookie-league play.  Pitcher Clinton McKinney whirls around to try to pick the Chukars’ Tim Ferguson off of second.  The throw goes into center field, and Ferguson trots to third.  As he slows down at third, however, Ghosts’ center fielder Rafael Ortega goes to throw the ball back to the infield…but it slips out of his hand, and the ball goes shooting into the air towards right field.  Ferguson kicks it into gear and sprints home.  E1 and E8…tie score.

Travis Jones eventually wins the game with an 11th inning walk-off single.  Unfortunately, the very kind Kenneth Roberts gets the loss.  I hope the word doesn’t get around that pitchers who high-five my son from the bullpen wind up getting tagged for the loss that night…100% of the time so far.

In 2013, Dominique Taylor’s walk-off single wins it for the Chukars.

(Written July 2010.)

Lindquist Field, Ogden, Utah

Lindquist Field, Ogden, UTAH

State number:  still 31
States to go:  19

Number of games:  1
First game:  July 6, 2010 (Ogden Raptors 11, Orem Owlz 4)

Ogden is about 40 minutes north of Salt Lake City, so the family didn’t bother changing hotels and instead made a day trip out of it, wearing the boy down a little bit at the Ogden Children’s Museum (a good place) and dining at Great Harvest Bread before heading to the ballpark.

If possible, the views

past the outfield fence at Ogden were even more beautiful than they were at Salt Lake City, which is to say they were absolutely stunning.  It’s a slightly different set of mountains there in Ogden, and unless I’m mistaken, the ballpark is a little closer to the mountains than it was in Salt Lake, which made for a breathtaking vista from literally any seat in the ballpark.  The ballpark did reasonably well in commemorating Ogden baseball history, but even if it hadn’t, it would have aced the “Is There Any Question Where You Are” test.  Seriously.  Consider the view from behind home plate…we have an American flag, a Mormon temple, and gorgeous mountains.  If I were to put you in a controlled coma, whisk you to a seat behind home plate, then revive you and demand you state where you were in the US, that’d be all you needed.  Utah.  There were other nice touches–most notably some killer-looking burritos from a local chain–but I simply cannot imagine a more gorgeous place to enjoy a game.

The smallness of the place was also really fabulous.  One could nearly–but not quite–circumnavigate the stadium on the inside, and could enjoy some nice views while leaning over the left-field fence.  And before the game, I went down the left field line to a picnic area, where I was able to eavesdrop on a conversation between Owlz’ (Owlz’s?) catcher Hampton Tignor and pitcher Pill Joon Jang on exactly what their signs would be, and how they would change if there were a runner on second base.  If I had had a mind to (and been a rabid Raptor fan), I would have been able to jot it all down and run it right to the Raptors’ coaches.  Of course, I don’t take rookie league rivalries so seriously.  (Alas, some fans do.  The only two Pioneer League teams in Utah are sort of natural rivals,

which I don’t understand, since very few players are on either team for more than one year.  But still, one otherwise-sophisticated season-ticket holder showed up in an “Orem Sucks” T-shirt.  Not too clever…and probably a bit too angry.)

But they seem to get the idea of making fans happy.  They delivered balls to every kid they could see in the stands during the pre-game, including a ball for my son.  This was his second Pioneer League ball in two Pioneer League games…I had snagged him one in Missoula a year earlier.

So I was in a good mood.  My first impressions were overwhelmingly positive, but I did my level best not to get carried away.  You see, I’ve been burned before.  I fell in love with the ballpark in Missoula and then was driven away by the loudmouthed PA and the disgustingly

overdone promotions.  This was only my second Pioneer League game…what if the entire league was loud like that?  So I didn’t commit to loving the place immediately.

I was impressed with the ushers.  I might be putting two and two together incorrectly here, but the ushers were nearly all athletic-looking men in wheelchairs.  The 50/50 raffle that night went to support a wheelchair basketball team that may or may not have been associated with Ogden’s Weber State University.  So I concluded that the Raptors allow groups to be ushers in order to make a few bucks for their organizations.  Nice touch, I guess…give something to the community rather than just create a 10-week job for somebody.

Ogden didn’t wind up scoring as highly as I would like it to mostly because of a strange mix of trying too hard

and not trying hard enough.  They tried too hard in that they played stupid and only marginally-relevant sound effects between too many pitches.  I don’t mind a little spectacle at a low-level game like this, but they went overboard.  There was a spittoon sound effect that Michelle and I couldn’t figure out the purpose of.  Also, they introduced the evening with this completely inaccurate statement:  “Welcome to Lindquist Field, home of the Ogden Raptors and the Los Angeles Dodgers!”  Um…no.  I cannot find a way to interpret this sentence so that it is accurate unless the Dodgers move a weekday series against the Pirates or something to Lindquist Field.  At most, one or two rookie league ballers will ever smell the majors for even a cup of coffee, so this was optimistic at best and misleading at worst.  I wonder if the PA guy misspoke.  Even though there were a couple of funny moments–even a sometimes-too-sensitive referee like me giggled when the umpires were introduced to the Imperial Death March from Star Wars, and as the team was introduced, it was nice to hear the ever-danceable-but-mostly-forgotten “Walk the Dinosaur” by Was (Not Was)–overall, the sound effects got in the way rather than enhanced enjoyment.

In any event, more problems ensued when there were pitching changes and pinch hitters.  While lineups were posted (with the very cute “prey”

designation for the opponents), other than the starters listed in the pavilion, there were literally no uniform numbers given anywhere for the opposition.  We had a list of their players, but not their numbers.  Add to that the fact that the PA guy didn’t announce some pitching and defensive changes at all, and the net result was that I was at a complete loss as to who was playing late in the game.  I picked up that the Orem catcher changed in the ninth inning, for example, but had literally know way of knowing the new guy’s name…just his number.  This is only the second time I’ve been faced with such an egregious disregard for anyone curious as to who the substitutes might be (the first was in South Bend), and I have to say that I don’t like it one bit.  If the game management people had channeled even 25% of the energy they spent on irrelevant sound effects into communicating relevant information about the players–or, at the very least, provided a numerical roster–I’d have been much, much happier with the ballpark.

The evening did provide a wonderful and memorable moment involving my son–the first evidence that he pays attention to what happens on the field of play.  Steven was only 16 months old, this was his ninth ballpark in his fifth state, and his 20th game.  He’d started looking onto the field, but was easily distracted…and who’s to say that he’s really watching out there anyway?

Well, that all changed.  During the top of the ninth inning, the Orem Owlz’ Daniel Eichelberger was taking his

cuts in the on-deck circle.  Steven pointed at him and said the following:

“Three!”

Mr. Eichelberger wears #3 on his back, and at that moment, Steven was learning his numbers and letters pretty hard…and three was one of his favorites.  I can therefore say with confidence that Daniel Eichelberger was my son’s first favorite player.  I can also say that my son was actually paying attention to what went on on the field. He knew the opponents’ numbers better than the Raptors’ game management and PA guy did!

We thought that we’d be getting in well with the home Raptors by bringing Steven’s dinosaur jammies to change into for the

last couple of innings…but then he had to pick an Orem Owl as a favorite player.  But it’s the Raptors’ fault for not playing a player who wore #3.

The game ended quickly–just before dusk–which meant that we didn’t get to see something that Michelle was curious about.  We’re fairly sure that all Mormon places of worship light up their spires with their pointing Angel Moronis at night.  We’re wondering what that would have looked like after sunset.  I guess we’ll have to go back another time and see if we get a longer game to find out.

So, while these nit-picks drag down the score from very high to merely high, I still enjoyed this simply gorgeous ballpark in Ogden.  Anyone in northern Utah during the Rookie League season would do well to stop for a game here.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel:  10/10

I simply can’t imagine it any better than this.  That triumvirate of an American flag, LDS temple, and mountains means only Utah.  That, and some damn fine Mexican food.

Charm:  4/5
Very nice.  Sound guy tried a little too hard, but still, a winner  in this regard.

Spectacle:  3/5
A few too many between-pitches sounds,  many of them not at all relevant.  They can turn it down a notch during the game and limit the silliness to between batters or (preferably) between innings.

Team Mascot/Name:  3.5/5

I’m going to assume that there are a number of fossils found nearby, which means “Raptors” is fine.  Oggie himself doesn’t do much for me, however.

Aesthetics: 5/5
Flat-out gorgeous, and the park stays out of the way and emphasizes its surroundings.

Pavilion:  4.5/5
Can’t quite walk around the place, but one can come close.  Nice tributes to former Ogden players like Frank Robinson.  Up top, one never needs to lose sight of the game while getting food.

Scoreability:  1/5

I appreciate the lineups, but there is literally no way to figure out who was playing for the opposition.  No rosters were given with uniform numbers, and the PA guys were overtly apathetic about Orem lineup changes, both pitching and at the plate.  Needs a lot of work here.

Fans:  4/5
I like the cadre of regulars there.  They did a cool call-and-response thing during the opposing lineups. PA:  “PLAYING THIRD BASE…JAKE SMITH.”  Crowd:  “WHO?”  PA:  “Smith.”  Funny.  During the game, there was a little too much heckling for my tastes–if one is reduced to anger at a Rookie-League-level rivalry, one needs to reconsider one’s priorities.  But still, a cool group of people.

Intangibles:  4/5
A lot of good here–even the problems with game ops didn’t sour my taste of a beautiful ballpark that I one day hope to see again.

TOTAL: 39/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

Five Orem errors–including a lamentable three by Rolando Gomez–are far too much for the Owlz to overcome.

Daniel Eichelberger goes 2-for-4 with a double and an RBI.

Bobby Coyle is the hitting star for the Raptors, picking up 3 RBI, including one on this solo home run.

(Written July 2010.)