Category Archives: double a

Ballparks I saw AA ballgames in.

FirstEnergy Stadium, Reading, Pennsylvania

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FirstEnergy Field, Reading, PENNSYLVANIA

Number of states: still 38
States to go: 12

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Indeed, we did.

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

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

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

Underneath the home plate bleachers, we had the entire history of Reading baseball. Again, the town gives itself a nickname, “Baseballtown,” that I was unsure about…but not for long. Beause the celebration of baseball played on that site for nearly 70 years was as good as it could get. Photos of every Reading team over that time are there: check out the mid-to-late ’70s to see the Phillies building up to the first major league title. On top of the local history, they celebrated local baseball, noting the high

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

So I was smitten…and then it got better.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BALLPARK SCORE:

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

Charm: 5/5.  All over the place.

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

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

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

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

Fans: 4/5.  Quite nice

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

Overall: 43.5/50

BASEBALL STUFF I SAW HERE:  

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

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

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

Written July 2019.

Regions Field, Birmingham, Alabama

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Regions Field, Birmingham, ALABAMA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BALLPARK SCORE:

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

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

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

TEAM MASCOT/NAME:  4/5. 

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

 

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

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

 

SCOREABILITY:  4/5. 

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

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

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

TOTAL:  33/50

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

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

Allen Webster nails down the save.

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Written June 2019.

 

Canal Park, Akron, Ohio

Canal Park, Akron, OHIO

Number of states: still 37
States to go: 13

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then…well…

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

Should we leave?

“No. They’ll start the game.”

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

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

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

We do. Still no rain.

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

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

Back to Rob.

“Do we stay?”

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

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

So this one is official. And it was fun.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional Feel 7.5/10

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

Charm 4/5

Lovely red brick everywhere: I was impressed.

Spectacle 3/5

Mother Nature provided most of it.

Team mascot/name 3.5/5

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

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

Pavilion area 2.5/5

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

Scoreability 3.5/5

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

Fans 3/5

No memory of them.

Intangibles 4/5

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

TOTAL: 35/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN THERE:

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

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

Written January 2019.

UPMC Park, Erie, Pennsylvania

UMPC Park, Erie, PENNSYLVANIA

State number: still 37
States to go: 13

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

Dickey-Stephens Park, Little Rock, Arkansas

Dickey-Stephens Park, Little Rock, ARKANSAS

Number of states: 27
States to go: 23

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BALLPARK SCORE:

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

Charm:  4/5
Pretty nice here.

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

Team mascot/name:  1.5/5

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

Aesthetics:  5/5
A gorgeous place.

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

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

Fans:  3/5

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

TOTAL:  32.5/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

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

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

(Written April 2008.)

Hammons Field, Springfield, Missouri

Hammons Field, Springfield, MISSOURI

Number of states: 26
States to go: 24

Number of games:  1
First game:  April 3, 2008 (Frisco RoughRiders 6, Springfield Cardinals 5)

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

I’d never been to the Ozarks before when I arrived for the 2008 Spring Break Trip. 

Michelle and I spent the night in Branson–no shows, since we got in too late, but long enough to get the sense that we brought the average age of the town down by about a decade.  We tooled around mountains and caves for a few days before doing Opening Day 2008 at Hammons Field.  Results were decidedly mixed.

First of all, as you can probably tell, the place is physically quite lovely.  It’s faced in the wrong direction–downtown is behind home

plate–but there’s nice flat prairie beyond the outfield and a Budweiser sign, which means that Hammons Field does well on the regional feel test.  They rolled out the red carpet to start out the year, putting each player in a red pickup truck and driving them around the parking lot of a grand beginning.  The ballpark is new, and Springfield only recently regained affiliated ball, so it’s pretty clear that they’re proud of their ballclub.

But in the end, there were too many problems to be ignored.  Most jarringly, where were all the fans?  Forecasts were grim–I’m surprised that they got the game in, actually–but the rain did hold off, and it was Opening Night, for goodness sake.  Second, when it did rain (for about two minutes in the third inning), a good chunk of people took off, and many others put up umbrellas.  It’s rude to put up umbrellas (there are people behind you, dammit), and

you can wait through the first few raindrops, can’t you?  Michelle and I did what they all should have done–waited a second, then found a dry seat in the back row, where we stayed through the rest of the (dry) night.

Second, we were pretty well astonished by the prices for double-A ball.  (Indeed, these prices might explain why so few people had shown up.)  Tickets were nearly twice as expensive as comparable ones cost us the following night in Little Rock, and

when the woman told me that a 22-ounce bottle of Sprite would cost me four bucks (I declined), I got the sense that the Cardinals thought that “big-time” meant nothing more than “really, really expensive.”  Heck, if memory serves, at Safeco Field I can get an entire vat of soda for about five bucks.  Why bleed your ticketholders dry, particularly during a recession?

Third, the place just didn’t celebrate baseball enough.  In the obligatory place-where-kids-can-run-around-and-burn-off-steam section, there was a basketball hoop and a pop-a-shot.  Nothing baseball related!  To be fair, when I think of basketball, I do think of Springfield.  The bad news is, I think of Springfield, Massachusetts.  I’m not sure why Hammons Field doesn’t have any baseball-related fun for the kids, but they don’t and it felt weird.

Finally, there was the strangeness of Team Louie.  A group of four nubile young women wore windbreakers that said “Team Louie” on the back.  I figured they’d be Louie the Mascot’s handlers, running around

with him and helping kids get to see him.  That didn’t happen, and so I was baffled as to the women’s purpose other than to be hot and young.  A quick internet search reveals that “a brief choreographed dance” is part of the tryout for team Louie.  So, alas, the women were glorified cheerleaders.  I don’t want my baseball teams to have cheerleaders.  They take away from the baseball.

There are certainly a few positives to the place.  The Cardinals have obviously succeeded in capturing the fans of this part of the state from the Royals–at least judging by the immense majority of spectators wearing red on this night.  There is a good, long walk that one can take almost all the way around the stadium–way out beyond the scoreboard and onto a grassy hill invisible

from the field where I encountered a good number of junior-high kids goosing each other.  The Cardinals were conscientious about scoring decisions on the scoreboard.  And the gorgeous clouds in a gigantic sky might be the number one memory I carry with me from this ballpark, as well as watching the fireworks they set off (clearly to celebrate Michelle’s birthday).

So, on the whole, it was a night at the ballpark, and it’s almost impossible for that night to be a bad one.  But when all was said and done, this gorgeous place left me wanting a little more.  Springfield is a little bit out of the way, so I don’t see myself returning any time soon, but I do hope they make Hammons Field into a baseball experience more worthy of the physical beauty of the ballpark.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel:  7/10
Budweiser, prairie, and Cardinal red.  The ballpark does fine here, although I’d like to see more about southwestern Missouri and less about St. Louis.

Charm:  2/5
Too corporate and expensive to be truly charming.

Spectacle:  3/5
OK for double-A level–nothing interfered–but what’s up with Team Louie?

Team mascot/name:  3.5/5


Louie on top, and Fetch, Louie’s pet dog, on the bottom.  I’m fine with Louie, but Fetch is a pretty transparent promotion aimed at the pre-potty-trained crowd.

Aesthetics:  3.5/5
Not bad, but the view is a little dull.

Pavilion area:  4/5
Would have been a five were it not for the basketball.

Scoreability:  4.5/5
I appreciate how carefully they put up decisions.

Fans:  2.5/5
Not enough of them.

Intangibles:  2.5/5
I’m totally ambivalent about this place, which, while pretty, left me feeling kind of flat.

TOTAL:  32.5/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

Matt Harrison–who the Rangers got in the offseason Mark Teixeira trade–pitches very well, striking out six in 5 2/3 innings of 4-hit, 1-run ball for Frisco.

Chris Davis has three hits for Frisco. Diminutive Shane Robinson collects three for Springfield.

(Written April 2008.)

Mercer County Waterfront Ballpark, Trenton, New Jersey

Mercer County Waterfront Ballpark, Trenton NEW JERSEY

Number of states: 23
States to go:  27

Number of games: 1
First game:  August 16, 2007 (Trenton Thunder 8, Portland SeaDogs 4)

(Mercer County Waterfront Ballpark is now known as Arm & Hammer Ballpark.)
(Click on any image to see a larger version.)

It is indeed a challenge, I learned back in August of 2007, to make it from the Philadelphia Airport to the Mercer County Waterfront Ballpark for a game…but it is, indeed, possible.  Because the 2007 baseball trip was the

first in my history that involved no driving (in an effort to be both cheap and green), I dashed from my flight to my SEPTA train in perhaps record time.  Since I had no luggage to check, I made it onto a train that left only ten minutes after my flight arrived.  And since I wanted to be totally sure that I could legally hop onto the train downtown (for a transfer to Trenton), I even asked the man who was working on the ticket machine…could I buy a ticket on board?  Yes, he told me.  Well, nobody asked me for money or a ticket or proof I belonged there or absolutely anything else all the way to Walnut Street, where I detrained, feeling lucky and a little bit dirty.  If anybody from SEPTA happens to read this, I owe you seven bucks or whatever it was.  I wasn’t trying to dodge a fare (as should be noted by the way I duly paid my way from downtown Philly to Trenton).  I asked if I could pay on the train, got on, and then nobody asked me for a cent.  Please do not prosecute me.

The fine folks who work with the Trenton Thunder will work with you if you

happen to be crashing on their park directly from the airport, I learned.  The Thunder were nothing but nice to me.  I phoned ahead to ask them if I could keep my bag somewhere during the ballgame and pick it up afterwards…I had no time to get to my hotel prior to the game, as I simply took a cab from the train station to the ballpark.  I therefore got to meet several of the fine folks from the Thunder, who didn’t seem to mind when I had to unpack a lot of my suitcase to get to my hat, scorecard, and pencils (and thus unwittingly let some of the fine folks of south Jersey see a few pairs of socks and underwear).  Indeed, after the game, they were nice enough to call me a cab, and when that cab never showed up (the dispatcher seemed to have far more important social engagements than to help me), a worker told me that the nice hotel I had treated myself to, the Trenton Courtyard by Marriott, would routinely send a van to the ballpark to pick up a guest.  Sold!  So, even if it weren’t a great ballpark, the Thunder won me over with fine customer service.

The good news for them is that they work at a splendid ballpark.  I was a big fan of Mercer County Waterfront Park almost from the moment of my arrival.  I was a little bit concerned when my cab took me through slum after slum until we were just a few feet from the ballpark, simply because I was worried that the ballpark would have a Comerica Park feel…a baseball theme-park fortress designed to get me to ignore the urban blight around me.  But it didn’t have that feel, I think because of the immediate surroundings.  The ballpark is right on the Delaware, so if George Washington were a lefty pull hitter with power, he could knock one into the river (although likely not over).  It’s possible to walk along a path between the ballpark and the river, and some of the crappier seats in the ballpark offer a view across the river of Morrisville, Pennsylvania.  And with some rowdy fans on hand (the Yankee-affiliated Thunder were facing the Red Sox-affiliated

Portland SeaDogs), there was no question where I was.  The ballpark therefore aces the important Is There Any Question Where You Are test.

Further, Trenton does well in celebrating Trenton baseball history rather than concentrating on Yankee baseball history. 

A look at their retired numbers tells the story–Nomar Garciaparra and Tony Clark share billing with Jackie Robinson.  The idea that a ballplayer best known as a Red Sox gets a nod with a retired number at a Yankee-affiliated ballpark tells me that they have their priorities straight–Trenton first, parent club second.  Additionally, I was struck by a female name, Nicole Sherry, on their list of former Thunders (what is one member of the Thunder called anyway?  A Clap?) who have made the show.  A quick Google search reveals that, after two years in Trenton, Sherry went on to become head groundskeeper for the Orioles.  It’s great that they give her some recognition.

I got one of my favorite seats on this night…in the very front row, in a seat that juts out from the main stands into foul territory.  I could look back into the Trenton dugout from my position, but more importantly, I got an opportunity to watch the work of the first-base umpire (whose name I can no longer locate) quite closely.  No close plays transpired at first this night, but I enjoyed seeing the difference between his regular “out” call and his sell “out” call.  On the former, he wouldn’t even vocalize at all, but on the latter, he sure would.  On top of that, I got to enjoy all of this while taking advantage of the significant ledge in front of me as a table:

A cheap cheese steak, a FREE scorecard, a gorgeous night on the river, and up-close double-A baseball.  What more can a guy ask for?

Hell of a nice night at Mercer County Waterfront Park.  If you’re in Philly or South Jersey, it’s worth the trip up.  It’s definitely one of the top ballparks I’ve been to on the East Coast.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel:  9/10
On top of everything else the ballpark had going for it–the river, the cheese steak, the retired numbers–they have concession stands shaped like commuter trains.  Nice!

Charm:  4/5
Quite nice.  Might have scored even higher were it not for the nearby urban blight.

Spectacle:  4/5
I know there were some promotions, but I can’t remember them.  That’s a good sign for quality double-A ball.

Team mascot/name:  2.5/5

Boomer with handler.  Nothing special about him or his name–I can’t even tell what he is.  Also, I’m not a fan of the name “Thunder.”

Aesthetics:  4.5/5
Quite a nice place right there on the river.

Pavilion area:  4.5/5
I especially like the places where the river is visible.  And I’m sort of counting the river walkway outside the stadium.  It’s my party and I’ll break my rules if I want.

Scoreability:  5/5

That’s right…FREE SCORECARDS.  And they say to PLEASE take one.  Then, they follow that up with conscientiously-placed scoring decisions, including the too-often-skipped wild pitch/passed ball calls.  One of the best ballparks I’ve ever been to in this regard.

Fans:  3.5/5

Intangibles:  4.5/5
It was a splendid night.  This is a ballpark I want to visit again.

TOTAL:  41.5/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

Gabriel Lopez is the batting star for the Thunder, going 4-for-4 with 3 RBIs.

Andrew Pinckney homered for the SeaDogs.

(Written April 2008.)

Blair County Ballpark, Altoona, PA

Blair County Ballpark, Altoona, PENNSYLVANIA

Number of states: 21
States to go:  29

Number of games: 1
First game:  August 4, 2006 (Altoona Curve 6, New Britain Rock Cats 4)

(Blair County Ballpark has been renamed Peoples Natural Gas Field. Incidentally, this is the same name as the airspace within five feet of me at any given moment.)
(Click on any image to see a larger version.)

A ballgame was welcome after a day of American Tragedy Tourism.  I spent much of the morning at the Shanksville memorial, which is a pilgrimage I believe

every American should take, and then at the Johnstown Flood National Memorial, which was depressing in an entirely different way.  Blair County Ballpark was a refreshing change at the end of the day. I had heard many positive reviews of the ballpark–some call it the best in the United States–and while I prefer a few others to this one, it still was a tremendous place to see a ballgame, and well worth a detour if you’re anywhere nearby.

Blair County Ballpark sits adjacent to Lakemont Park, and a roller coaster sits past right field. This creates a carnival atmosphere to the ballpark. I could see this being a bad thing–after all, I loathe any ballpark with a carousel, and

I don’t like distractions during my baseball (though between innings, they’re fine).  But Blair County Ballpark manages to take its baseball seriously without taking itself seriously, which is fantastic.

First, the bit about not taking itself too seriously. There’s plenty of wackiness going on, and not just from the multiple mascots. The night I attended was a promotion to honor bowling in the Altoona area.  Kids could bowl out on the concourse, and the first pitch was bowled out (a bowling ball painted to look like a baseball).  There were

about 800 first pitches, including one from Mrs. Pennsylvania (I didn’t know they still did that), and loads of promotions between every inning.  Many of the distractions were quite hilarious–they recruited youngsters to walk along the tops of the dugouts between every inning with a card saying the inning number, like the ring card girls in boxing.  It was really very funny.

On the other hand, however, when it came time for baseball, the ballpark provided a great experience.  Unlike any other lower-level ballpark I’d been to, the ballpark gave in-progress scores of other minor-league games.

A true fan of the Eastern League could keep track of the divisional races on one of the two big video screens.  Speaking of which, I was impressed that a double-A ballpark would have two big scoreboard screens.  Some might feel it’s unnecessary, but I don’t see anything wrong with a small-town park having a gorgeous couple of scoreboards that they use properly.

And who can come up with a better use for a scoreboard than to put me on it?  Altoona’s radio pre-game show interview takes place on the concourse behind home plate, and is broadcast on the scoreboard.  That means that, if I place myself just right, I can see myself on the scoreboard, and if I bring a camera and are especially vain, I can photograph the back of my purple T-shirt as broadcast on the scoreboard, just over the guest’s right shoulder.

Memory of the game:  a foul ball glanced off of a three-year-old girl a few rows behind me.  Sweetly, the entire Curve dugout came out to look and see if the kid was okay.  I believe Steamer came to give her a Diesel Dawg stuffed animal.  People are really nice.

I had the pleasure of hanging out with a great guy for most of the ballgame.  As usual, the conversation began when we both scored the game.

He’s a history professor (emeritus? I don’t remember) at nearby Indiana University of Pennsylvania. We talked a bit about teaching, baseball, and travel. I teach history sometimes (although literature is more my game), and I recognize that a love of history plays into a love of baseball.  I had spent an entire day reflecting on the history of our nation, both distant and recent, and was in a place that respected its history–from the locally-appropriate name to the plaques honoring every former Altoona player to make the majors. Hearing about the area through the eyes of a historian was a nice touch–the icing on the cake. He was kind enough to give me a business card…which I, like a bonehead, have since lost.  Nonetheless, thanks for the conversation, Professor.

On the whole, it’s a unique ballpark experience in a lovely, while often overlooked, part of the country.  It lands very near the top of my list.  The atmosphere was the perfect blend of frivolous and baseball-respecting, and the people were quite fun.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel: 7.5/10
Pretty good, but not quite great.  I like the unique feel of watching a game in the shadow of a roller coaster, but I can’t say I could look around and now where I was.  Still, the team name and a sense of local baseball history is apparent.

Charm:  5/5
Nice.

Spectacle:  5/5
They get this right.

Team mascot/name:  3/5


Steamer and me above, and Steamer’s pet dog Diesel Dawg below.  Steamer has his own email and his own pets.  Weird.  I like the idea of Steamer, but he looks derivative of the Phillie Phanatic, and the dog, while adorable, could be anywhere.

Aesthetics:  4/5
Not bad.

Pavilion area:  5/5
Loads of activity, all within view of the ballgame.

Scoreability:  4/5

Fans:  2.5/5
Surprisingly quiet.

Intangibles:  4/5
On the whole, a fine night, but maybe I had my expectations too high.

TOTAL:  40/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

Brett Roneberg’s first-inning two-run triple gave the Curve the lead they never gave up.

Milver Reyes goes three-for-four.

(Written December 2006.)

Joe Davis Stadium, Huntsville, Alabama

Joe Davis Stadium, Huntsville, ALABAMA

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

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

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

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

be unplayable when the lawn outside was nearly dry?

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

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

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

take a few pictures.

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

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

What followed was breathtaking.

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

HER:  “No.”

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

HER:  “Not that I’m aware of.”

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

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

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

(Written August 2006.)

Smokies Park, Kodak, Tennessee

Smokies Park, Kodak, TENNESSEE

Number of states:  18
States to go:  32

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


With that, we got going with the game.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and that conversation was soon

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

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

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

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

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

Ever wonder how they figure

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

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

BALLPARK SCORE:

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

Charm:  5/5
Lovely architecture and nice surroundings.

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

Team mascot/name:  4/5

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

Aesthetics:  4.5/5
Quite lovely.

Pavilion area:  4/5

Scoreability:  4/5

Fans:  5/5

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

TOTAL:  43.5/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

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

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

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

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

(Written August 2006.)