Category Archives: high level single a

Ballparks I saw high level single-A baseball in.

Classic Park, Eastlake, OHIO

 

lakecountyinprogressClassic Park, Eastlake, OHIO

Number of states: still 38
To go: 12
Number of games: 1
First game: August 5, 2021 (Lake County Captains 5, Lansing Lugnuts 1)

 

After the plane trip from hell (took nearly two days, one cancelled flight and one delayed by six hours, two missed baseball

games (replaced by one in the city we weren’t supposed to be in), Steven and I were back on track for his 12-year-old trip. We spent a full day at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, where my kid’s love of classic bands sprung forth. And then we zipped out east through not-too-bad traffic to get to Cleveland’s eastern suburbs–the 440, as they call it, to settle into a night of high-A baseball.

Not surprisingly, we were in the middle of nondescript suburbs, but the setting of this park sort of took the worst parts of suburbia rather than the best. I sort of like ballpark-in-regular-neighborhood: I grooved on this in Batavia and Idaho Falls, for instance. But somehow, Classic Park (named for an auto dealership) manages to take all of the negatives of suburbia. The views…are as blah as anywhere in baseball. One whose eyes wander past the outfield walls during the game will be rewarded with not lakes or skylines, but with the backs of strip malls. The backs. With the loading docks and alleys and…nothing. Nothing worth looking at. Even from the outside, the ballpark blends into a nearby business. Steven and I did like the adjacent field for adaptive baseball: kind of cool. But as far as setting…this one didn’t do much for me.

First impressions are important, and for whatever reason, we kept running into parents being less-than-good with their kids.

In the parking lot, there was a dad who was shouting to a nine-year-old-or-so, “I don’t want to hear this from you!” I want to be gentle with a parent having a bad day: Lord knows I’m not perfect. But I could see my kid recoil a little bit, as I did. And I could see the nine-year-old NOT reacting to his parent: apparently this happens all the time. Steven did tell me that I have never been more than 80% as mad as that guy. So that’s a thing. Unfortunately, this continued into the park. One of the Little League teams and their coaches were perched in the suite above us. Again, I get that kids can move around a bit. But the coach shouting “Sit down and cheer!” felt…um…like a guy who’s never around school-aged boys. They move. And if you’re blessed enough to be in a suite where they won’t get in anyone’s way, you deal with it.

Speaking of kids getting in anyone’s way, about a half dozen of them parked in the aisle, between our front-row seats and home plate. I could still see if I leaned way forward. I didn’t think it was worth telling all of the parents to get their kids out of there–again, trying to practice grace–but it did bug me. 

The folks working for the Captains were all sweet and kind and small-town family vibing. Promotions were okay–with one notable exception. Every time a Lugnuts batter struck out, we were treated to a sound. This is not uncommon in the minor league world, but this is the only time I had to hear a flushing toilet. They played a flushing toilet. The Captains had a fantastic couple of pitchers who kept missing bats, so I kept hearing a toilet flushing, followed by a blurb advertising a local plumber. I didn’t want to keep hearing this. To be fair, with a 12-year-old, we managed to have it get funnier every time. Someone was having really bad intestinal trouble to keep having to flush like that. So, in the promotions department, this one didn’t do much for me.

At baseball games, we tend to feed ourselves before the game and then enjoy a fifth-inning treat. Steven wanted to recommend the two scoops of Buckeye ice cream, which were fantastic. (The saleswoman, he reports, didn’t know what Buckeye ice cream was–so score one for Steven taking the risk.) And Steven’s jalapeno burger made his eyes water with spiciness–he was a big fan of that. Ah…I remember the days when I could do that kind of thing, too. Enjoy it while you can, kid.

The announced attendance was 1,832, but I think the actual bodies in the park were about a third of that. It was quiet, save a few angry parents and coaches and the handful of kids in front of me. But there were also wonderful people. One gave Steven an extra baseball he had before taking off in the sixth inning. (He was a good dude, though, asking me for how I’d score a few plays.) And then the Lugnuts’ center fielder, Lester Madden, Jr., tossed Steven a ball as he ran off the field. So a good night. And Steven won a major award! Jose Tena of the Captains hit a home run, and Steven’s name was drawn from the (very few) entries in a contest. He got a pretty dope backpack with some nice pens, golf colored pencils (who knew this was a thing?), and a mouse pad. So we left the ballpark with a fair amount of swag.

In the end, this ballpark won’t score well. But it hardly matters when you have nice people around you and you’re back on schedule for your 12-year-old trip. 

BALLPARK SCORE:lakecountysign

Regional feel: 5/10

I liked the 440 T-shirts and the local advertising and food (“Lake effect ice cream”…love that name). And the lighthouse in center field was pretty cool for a town on Lake Erie. But overall, this didn’t feel like I was in a specific place.

Charm: 2.5/5

The backs of a strip mall are not charming. Only kind people bumped up this score.

Spectacle: 2/5 

When a big chunk of your spectacle involves a flushing toilet sound, you’re in trouble.

Team mascot/name: 5/5 

The mascot, Skipper, was fabulous. We joked around a ton as he honked his weird wrist-horn. It was a joy just to kibitz with him. And the name is just about perfect for a team by a lake–the center field lighthouse is especially nice.

lakecountylighthouse

Aesthetics: 2/5

Bad on the inside and on the outside…it just wasn’t an attractive place.

Pavilion area 3/5

On the one hand, I could walk around the entire park and could see the game the whole time. On the other hand, we had the saddest play area I have ever seen in a ballpark. Deflated bouncy houses that were never inflated. (“Luckily there were no kids in there when they deflated it,” Steven points out.)

Scoreability 4/5

The Captains were quite good here, catching everybody’s names and scoring decisions (except for missing one pitcher).

Fans 2/5

Very few of them, and a couple of yelly coaches and dads. One nice parent, but so many kids in front of me.

Intangibles: 4/5

Some parts of this night were a drag, but I’ll remember the one-one-one time with my eldest kid, as well as his getting two baseballs and winning a promotion.

TOTAL: 29.5/50

BASEBALL STUFF I SAW HERE:

Captains’ pitchers were the stars, with four of them (first-round pick Tanner Burns, Jared Janczak, Nick Gallagher, and Kevin Kelly combining on a two-hitter. They combine for 13 strikeouts, which creates 13 toilet-flushing sounds over the PA.

Jordan Diaz homers for the Lugnuts. Jose Tena drives in three for the Captains, including a home run which gives my kid some swag.

Written August 2021.

Maimonides Park, Brooklyn, New York

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Maimonides Park, Brooklyn, NEW YORK

Number of states: still 38
To go: 12
Number of games: 1
First game: June 23, 2021 (Brooklyn Cyclones 3, Jersey Shore BlueClaws 2, 10 innings)

I can’t separate my feelings about Maimonides Park from the way I spent the entire day, and as a result, the home of the Brooklyn Cyclones will likely score higher than it might have on any other day. This was a fabulous day at the ballpark,

and the ballpark itself did well to take advantage of my fantastic mood.

I sandwiched the Cyclones between visits to the Mets and Yankees on a three-day trip to New York in 2021. At that moment, the city–and the country–was just starting to wake up from the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, as I write this during that summer, I realize we may have some fits and started before we are totally done, depending on vaccinations and variants.

Still, setting aside that future, June 2021 felt incredibly special. People were starting to go maskless and seating pods in stadiums were going away. I felt like I could put my vaccinated body wherever I wanted outdoors and feel safe. And that was the point of the entire trip. 

Because 2020 was a horrible summer. I don’t want to lessen the tragedies and traumas of those who lost loved ones or jobs in that trash heap of a year. Nothing lessens that. But I remember sitting in my house for that entire summer, watching baseball in empty stadiums on my TV screen instead of doing my planned New England jaunt with my baseball buddies (stay tuned for 2022). It was psychologically taxing for me.

This wasn’t just because of the baseball. While one might think I am an extrovert, given my love of being on stage, I’m

actually a pretty interesting balance between extroversion and introversion. I learned that what I most valued and missed was just being around strangers without having to talk to them. I like being at a ballpark surrounded by all of that energy. Sometimes I like to chat with the people around me: indeed, it has provided for some great memories meeting people. But I also like just being on my own in a crowd. 2020 didn’t allow that.

This is why I chose New York City for my first ballpark trip as COVID restrictions lifted. I can’t think of a better spot in the world to be by myself around a slew of strangers. That’s kind of what New York does. And it’s what I did that day, June 23rd. I walked 13 miles. Got a bagel. Fifth Avenue to 34th Street to the High Line. World Trade Center Memorial across the Brooklyn Bridge. I kept seeing faces: unmasked faces. I was outside. I was vaccinated. I was safe. Faces of all colors. Gorgeous faces. Plain faces. Smiling faces. Business-deal-concentration faces. Tourists like me. Locals. This is obviously an everyday occurrence in New York, but I was beside myself with joy after a 2020 with almost no new faces in it–and the few I saw were half-covered.

The last of those faces were on the Coney Island Boardwalk as I approached the ballpark. And there’s something about an amusement-park boardwalk that encapsulates the whole minor league baseball experience. It’s all about the fun. I loved being around those people.

So when I got to the ballpark, I was predisposed to like the place, and I did.

They have a sense of Brooklyn baseball history. They’ve set up a statue of Pee Wee Reese with his arm around Jackie Robinson, creating a memorial to that critical moment when Reese showed that he sided with his teammate and not

with racist jerks in the stands in Cincinnati. While I worry a bit about centering white people in Robinson’s story, I still find this moment poignant. As a white guy myself, I cannot place myself in Robinson’s shoes or pretend to understand what he went through. But I can place myself in Pee Wee Reese’s shoes (or in Andrew Goodman’s, or Michael Schwerner’s, or Isaac Hopper’s…), so I periodically like seeing those stories presented in a subtle way as subplots to the main story. A memorial to that moment is a nice complement to the retirement of Robinson’s number. The history goes beyond baseball, of course, as every Brooklyn police officer or firefighter who died as a result of September 11th attacks is memorialized with an individual plaque with their likeness on the side of the building, as are police and firefighters from the other boroughs (listed by borough separately). 

Inside, pillars with former Cyclones who have since become Mets, such as Syndergaard and Conforto, look out at the

field. Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs are available, which helps the ballpark pass the is-there-any-question-where-you-are test. Amusement park rides pop up past the batter’s eye every now and again, and I suppose that if you angled yourself just right, you could see the Atlantic Ocean.

The game itself turned out to be every bit as fun as I wanted it to be. When I saw the opposing pitchers had really high ERAs, I was ready for a slugfest, but instead, the game stayed scoreless until the 6th and zipped to extra innings tied at 1. We put the stupid zombie runner on base at that point (I was delighted to hear people yelling that the rule was stupid). When the home team won, it put a pretty nice cap on the evening.

This just felt like a package of fun where the baseball still got to take center stage. The only time I felt like the promotions interfered with the night was for the “villain of the game,” their term for the guy on the other team who needed to strike out for some section to win something (I don’t remember the details). Poor Herbert Iser was the villain of the game, and wound up wearing a golden sombrero: he couldn’t touch any kind of pitch the Cyclones threw at him. So he had taken care of his three strikeouts by the seventh-inning stretch, but STILL got to hear the horror-movie music to villainize him has he struck out again to end the top of the ninth. But beyond that, I found the Cyclones to be respectful of the game.

I would have thought about heading back for a second game the next night had the trip on the subway not been so long (as it turns out, Long Island is a fairly Tall Island as well). On the whole, this was very well done.

brooklynmoon

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional Feel: 8/10

Plenty of Brooklyn around: Jackie and Pee Wee, 9/11 heroes, the ocean, the boardwalk, New York accents, Mets history…the ballpark does well here.

Charm: 3.5/5

This score was hurt by the turf field.

Spectacle: 4/5

The whole day felt like a spectacle: the amusement park, unlike at Altoona (the only other place I can think with a visible roller coaster), seems to bleed into the attitude and mood of the entire night. They were, on the whole, respectful of the game while still up for some non-game fun.

Mascot/Name:  3.5/5

brooklynmascot

Sandy the Seagull didn’t do much for me. The team name, though, was delightful: I like naming the team directly after the roller coaster.

Aesthetics: 3.5/5

Charming place, yes, but not terribly good-looking.

Pavilion area 3/5

We can’t walk around the entire park on the inside, or watch the game from the outfield. But one can see the game easily from the walk from foul pole to foul pole.

Scoreability: 4.5/5

Solid work here. I was never lost save one wild pitch/passed ball question.

Fans: 5/5

How can I argue against my longtime ballpark friend David? People, on the whole, were very friendly.

Intangibles 4.5/5

So much to like about this night: it was the end of a fantastic day. Only the long subway ride detracts here.

TOTAL: 39.5/50

Baseball stuff I saw here:

Brooklyn comes back to win in the bottom of the tenth. After scoring the zombie runner without a hit (HPB, walk, walk), catcher Jose Mena lobs a single in front of the right fielder for the winning RBI.

Strong pitching by Jersey Shore’s Ethan Lindow and Brooklyn’s Alec Kisena take us deep into the game without a run.

The Hangar, Lancaster, California

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Number of states: still 38
States to go: 12

Number of games: 1

First game: July 11, 2019 (Lancaster JetHawks 11, Stockton Ports 10)

 

First, let’s give credit to a guy who saved my family’s bacon on this day, and let’s give some shame to a guy who showed an astonishing lack of empathy.

Family spent the morning of this game poking around Sequoia National Park (recommended), and then shot down I-5 on our way to Lancaster for the game. We stopped at the Shell station in Gorman, California to top off the tank. Put in our five gallons and then got prepared for the last half hour of drive to Lancaster.

Wife turns key. Nothing.

Wife turns key again. Nothing.

I got myself ready for what might happen next. Starter out. A tow. A crapload of money. We miss a game or two or three. We miss the Grand Canyon. The kids are disappointed. The trip is ruined.

I headed inside the Shell station.

Does he have any contacts for any mechanics?

No. Do you have Triple A?

No.  You don’t know even one mechanic in town?

I don’t know any. Are you on pump 3 or pump 7?

That’s us at pump 7. [Points at car, which has wife and kids inside]. Do you have a phone book?

No. I can’t help you.

It is 97 degrees outside and our car won’t start.

I consider going to the McDonalds across the street, but first try my phone. It has just a sliver of coverage, so I am able to Google “Mechanic Gorman California.” I call the guy. He says he will be there in 5 minutes.

He is there in 2.  Turns out we just need a jump.  He gives it to us.  Then he asks us to follow him to his shop.

Incredibly, the shop is just on the other side of the McDonalds. 

I could have thrown a rock from our car and hit this mechanic, and the guy at Shell claimed not to know any mechanics in town.

Our friend (tactfully, avoiding names) said that he had used to work for the guy at Shell, but that he didn’t feel he was treated well, so he started his own shop and drove the Shell’s mechanic shop out of business, and that the man I saw wouldn’t refer anyone to him. He asked for $45. I gave him $50 and demanded

he not give me change.

Kudos to Alex Saenz at ATG Automotive next to the McDonalds off the interstate in Gorman. If you live near there and have a car, go there! He is a good guy whose goal is to help people.

And if you are the guy at Shell and are reading this, you might mull over how you became a person who rather strand a family with two children in a remote location on a 97 degree day rather than say “There’s a shop over there. You can easily walk there.”  Think about whether that’s who you want to be.

Anyhoo. Thanks to Alex, we got to the Hangar (great name!) in plenty of time for the game. And when I got there, I found a nice little ballpark with plenty of quirks.

First, I noticed a stiff, stiff wind headed out to right field: it was pretty much always easy to view

each of the 50 stars on the flag above the field. “Gonna be a ton of homers tonight,” I thought.  I later asked an usher about those winds: whether they were common. “Not all the time,” he said. “Just 90 percent of the time.”

The name JetHawks is fantastic, and refers to the aviation associated with the area. They have made planes for years, including the NASA plane displayed outside the home plate entrance. (Indeed, only as I drove off through the desert outside the ballpark on my way out did I connect Edwards Air Force Base with Space Shuttle landings.)  And they consistently ride the theme through the park, from the mascot to the hangar-like area to eat: it was charming.

It was a bit of a quiet night attendance-wise, with lots of empty seats that became more numerous over the course of a nearly-four hour game. Visiting Stockton took an early big lead: up 8-1. “Remember that no lead is safe in this ballpark,” said the

radio guy, whose voice echoed through the bathroom. I thought that was optimistic.

My own kids continued to have a great time through the blowout innings, each in their own ways.

Aaron talked to kids he had met in the play area like they were decades-long buddies. He told them about our trip, about the ballparks and national parks we had seen, about where we were headed, about school, about his favorite YouTubers…just

over and over again. This is very much not my personality, and it’s cool to see some recessive genes come through in the kid.

Steven, meanwhile, decided it was time to do some ballhawking. He headed up to the concourse and stood there waiting for foul balls. But, because he is a lover of scoring and math, he’d run down to our seat in front of the dugout between every single batter to write down the result in his scorebook. He’d then run back up to try to catch a foul ball. Nothing came close to him, although he tried to chase down most

balls that fell within 100 yards of him.  Still, he got in at least 20,000 steps in those last few innings running up and down the aisle.

And then…

Steven was leaving his seat after marking down a batter in his scorebook in the 8th inning when I noticed a player in the Ports’ dugout ahead of us. He had a ball. He was looking around for a kid to throw it to.

My kid was there.  And he was oblivious.

“Steven!” my wife and I shouted. “Look!  He wants to throw you a ball!”

Steven looked, and the player threw him the ball.  I thanked the player. We waved. The game continued.

I was curious who the player was: I like thanking guys in Instagram or Twitter when they’re nice to my kids (might be the only worthwhile thing about Twitter). So I got out the phone and checked player photos…

and whattaya know, the player who threw the ball was a major leaguer on rehab. Sean Manaea. When Steven found he had been thrown a ball by a major leaguer, he beamed. That’s what it’s all about.

Apropos of nothing: the bathrooms were beautiful.  Check it out.

In the parenting department: A ton of angry drunks at the ballpark on this Thursday night (discounted beer, you know). They were shouting at the umpire for any reason and no reason. My younger kid has a strong sense of justice, and shouted back from his seat.

“What do you mean? He was safe! Totally safe!”  (He was, by the way.) Teachable moment: Michelle and I told Aaron that he wouldn’t be convincing the angry drunks of much on this night, and it was best to let it go. He did: give credit to him.

Incidentally, that bit about no lead being safe?  Turns out it was true. Lancaster came back to win 11-10. Three home runs and a walk-off sacrifice fly. One of the more interesting ballgames I will see. That’s why they call it the launching pad.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel: 6.5/10. Loved all they did with the airplanes, but this came up short in other areas. Hard to say where we were from the seating bowl (just a highway heading past right field, which also meant traffic noise infiltrated the game). 

Charm: 2.5/5.  This felt like many other ballparks: not much to make it stand out.

Spectacle: 3/5.  Well done: didn’t overdo it.

Team mascot/name: 4.5/5.  Really great once I understood the local background. Here’s my younger kid with KaBoom.

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Aesthetics: 3/5.  Pretty, but in the same way other parks are pretty. The highway didn’t help.

Pavilion: 2/5. Not much going on: lots of grass, and it’s impossible to walk around the park.

Scoreability: 2/5.  Didn’t do much. Missed some key WP/PB decisions. I had to guess.

Fans: 2/5. Some delightful young fans who played with my younger kid, but the overall environment was drunk and surly (it was Thursday night, of course).

Intangibles: 4/5.  A lot going for it here. Saved by a fabulous mechanic to get to the game, and then saw a massive comeback. Plus a major-leaguer threw my kid a ball.

TOTAL 29/50

BASEBALL STUFF I SAW HERE:

Austin Bernard hits a two-run home run in addition to a walk-off sacrifice fly. Ramon Marcelino also has 4 RBI including a 3-run homer.

Ryan Grdley goes 3-for-4 with two doubles for the Ports.

Written July 2019.

Recreation Park, Visalia, California

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Recreation Park, Visalia, CALIFORNIA

States visited: still 38
States to go: 12

First visit: July 10, 2019 (Visalia Rawhide 5, Inland Empire 66ers 1)

Everything I knew about the Central Valley in California was pretty much what I read in Grapes of Wrath. So our drive in from

Sequoia National Park that hot afternoon was filled, for me anyway, with images of overloaded jalopies. And it was hot: upper 90s. The town itself didn’t mark me except for those two things.

And so when we got to Recreation Ballpark in Visalia, well, it was in the context of a town that still wasn’t doing much to create an impression. And then the ballpark was in a neighborhood that was not too noticeable.  I usually like ballparks that are sort of embedded into a neighborhood, were one cannot really notice there’s a ballpark around save for the lights.

But there’s no two ways about it: from the exterior, Recreation Ballpark is the most aesthetically unattractive ballpark in the affiliated minors. It is literally a crescent-shaped batch of cement poured onto the ground. It looks a little like there

was some huge spill of some sort that they had to make into a thing, and they chose ballpark. I couldn’t walk around the entire park, either on the interior or the exterior, but this is the only place I’ve ever been with so much visible concrete as a key component of its architecture.

On the inside, the ballpark is just fine looking. When I am sitting in the seats so I don’t have to face the cement, I see the beauty of any ballpark, including a barn forming a part of the outfield wall in right-center. That was cool. No view of any sort, but that’s Central California’s problem, not that of the ballpark.

And I can’t complain about the people. The people at Visalia were simply wonderful. The staff greeted us with a “welcome to the

ballpark!” that was the perfect combination of enthusiastic and genuine. This happened multiple times, with pretty much every worker I encountered. I had a delightful conversation with the guy who sold me my mini-bat. Multiple workers and fans noted my Hillsboro Hops gear I wore that day, since Visalia and Hillsboro share a Hops affiliation (I would see several players that day whom I had seen as Hops in earlier years). One fan even asked my wife if one of the players was our son. Two conclusion from that: 1. knowledgeable fans about the minor league system, and 2. man, we’re getting old.  That same woman got Steven a ball and offered to have the players she was hosting sign it for them after the game. What a nice woman! And my younger son Aaron had a fabulous time conversing with the kids behind him. I swear Aaron makes it his personal mission to meet and befriend someone at every new ballpark.

But, alas, simple infrastructure interfered. The seats we got were incredibly skinny.  I’m still a relatively skinny dude (well, when I set my mind to it), and it was tough to position myself in these seats. Also, there was something about our front-row place that I noticed:  that the row seemed to angle in to the wall to the point where, at the aisle, six-foot-three me couldn’t sit right.  We tried that for a couple of innings, then moved.  

The ballpark was also the only spot I’ve ever been that

included lockers on the concourse. There they were–high-school-gym style lockers, embedded directly into notches in the cement foundation.  What in the world?  I asked a worker who they were for, and he said they were for season ticket holder. I suppose that I could use one for the teams I am a season-ticket holder for: keep an extra sweatshirt and a backup pencil there; maybe a few granola bars. But the weirdness of it trumped the convenience as I saw it.

The Rawhide did seem pretty desperate to get butts in the seats.  Our game was a Guaranteed Win Night: if the Rawhide won, you’d get a free ticket to the game two weeks later. But, in a bit of marketing genius, a local insurance agent had a promotion insuring against that. If the Rawhide lost, then the insurance agent would give

you a free ticket to the game two weeks later.  So you had a guaranteed two-for-the-price-of-one deal at the park.  I also spotted another free-ticket offer: on Thursdays, Party City offers free admission to a Rawhide game if you come dressed in costume for the theme of that night. So, Visalia residents, if these promotions hold, you could buy a ticket to the first Wednesday game of the year and get free admission for every Wednesday for the rest of the year.  And then, if you are willing to dress a little silly, you could get in for free for all the Thursdays as well.  Seems to be a financially good move!

The ballpark does nice with this history. First, they tried to make the most of that damn cement by painting California League history onto it, kind of like

a kid with a broken arm asks friends to sign his cast. It’s nice, but it’s still an injury. I really liked the plaques along the inside, which celebrated Visalia baseball both great and small, with Kirby Puckett (whose number is retired by the Rawhide) sitting alongside a woman who hosted a ton of families and fought hard to keep affiliated ball in Visalia.

So I hope that the excellent people in Visalia don’t take this score too personally. You were fantastic. But a cramped, difficult seat, a desperate vibe, and a seating bowl that Steven said would be a motorcyclist’s dream (to ride up and down) win the day.  I will happily go back to see you all, but I would hope that we could meet in a new place.  This is old, but not the charming kind of old. You deserve better.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel:  5.5/10

Barn was nice, and I like the plaques, but that’s about it.

Charm: 2/5

The people were all quite charming, but the park was simply unattractive and run-down.

Spectacle:  3/5

Did this well: could have done a little more at this level, and doing so would have foregrounded the fine people.

Mascot/name:  4/5

Here is Tipper with me. A great mascot and a very appropriate name.

Aesthetics 1/5

Would have been a zero were it not for the barn.

Pavilion 2/5

Not a lot going on. But there are lockers.

Scoreability 1.5/5

Good on quick scoring decisions, but frequently had the wrong batter listed on the scoreboard.

Fans 5/5

Some wonderful, welcoming, fine people.

Intangibles 2.5/5

Had a great time on the whole, but I was physically uncomfortable. This ballpark is the wrong kind of old.

OVERALL:  26.5/50

BASEBALL STUFF I SAW HERE:

Rawhide pitching, led by Josh Green (two hits, eleven strikeouts, no walks in 6 innings) completely owned the 66ers. 17 strikeouts overall.

Luis Basabe goes 3-for-3.

Written July 2019.

Banner Island Ballpark, Stockton, California

Banner Island Ballpark, Stockton, CALIFORNIA

State number:  still 31
States to go:  19

Number of games:  2
First game:  July 3, 2011 (Stockton Ports 5, San Jose Giants 3)
Most recent game: July 6, 2019 (Modesto Nuts 9, Stockton Ports 1)

(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.

On the return trip in 2019, got to see Mariner stud prospect Cal Raleigh homer twice for the Nuts; the second may still be airborne. Ports’ outfielder Mickey McDonald is called on to pitch the ninth, and he sets down the Nuts in order. Perhaps they should have called on him earlier in the 9-1 rout.

(Written July 2011.  Modified April 2012.)

Frawley Stadium, Wilmington, Delaware

Frawley Stadium, Wilmington, DELAWARE

Number of states: 25
States to go:  25

First game:  August 18, 2007 (Wilmington Blue Rocks 10, Lynchburg Hillcats 9)

Note to travelers:  You can absolutely get a good deal staying in Wilmington on any weekend!  I got a very, very posh hotel for cheap on Priceline for my one night in Wilmington. 

And once there, I learned why.  Wilmington is a credit-card financial capital that is completely vacated for the entire weekend.  I’m not kidding:  the hotel restaurant even closes down because it’s not financially sensible to run it.  Cabs are nearly impossible to come by (and the ones I found had drivers who were fast asleep and didn’t wake up easily…not the kind of guy I want driving me someplace).  And when I headed down to the riverwalk, figuring that would be where the action was, I found no action:  I walked the riverwalk on an absolutely gorgeous Saturday afternoon almost completely alone.  Don’t get me wrong; the city was just fine, but it was a little creepy–in an I Am Legend or This Quiet Earth kind of way–to walk around on the weekend.

Not far

off that riverwalk is Judy Johnson Field at Frawley Stadium.  I like my ballparks with a healthy side of local baseball history.  Pictures of long-ago local teams, notes about the best players to pass through the place–that’s entirely my cup of tea.  Throw in a museum, and you’ve got a friend in me.  I have never seen a better museum at a minor league park than the Delaware Sports Museum and Hall of Fame, which is on the grounds of Frawley Stadium in Wilmington.

I got the sense that there’s not much traffic through the museum, but I actually appreciated that, since one of the curators gave me a highly personalized tour through the park.  He asked me where I was from, and when I told him Washington state, he immediately escorted

me to the parts of the museum where Delaware’s greats intersected with the Pacific Northwest.  He found out I was a basketball official, so he showed me a couple of big-time college referees from Delaware.  Of course, I was able to find people I’d kind of liked from the past, where I said “Wow!  I liked this person!”  Like Steve Watson, a Denver Bronco receiver I remember well from my Colorado youth.  Or Val Whiting, who played for the Seattle Reign, my loved-and-lost ABL women’s hoops team.  It was a celebration of big fish who swam in the small pond of Delaware, and I got wonderfully personalized attention throughout.  Minor league ballparks should think small and celebrate local, and this one did–it even had a plaque to commemorate Bill McGowan, a local boy who made it big as an umpire.  It was a great place to go–the kind of place I could spend hour after hour at.  I’d like to give a special thanks to my guide.  Sorry I’ve forgotten your name.

Needless to say, this put me in a tremendous mood even before the ballgame began.  And I

lucked into the best possible night for history dorks, because I happened upon Wilmington on the day they celebrated another favorite Delaware son: Judy Johnson.  Johnson was a star Negro leaguer, and the Blue Rocks celebrate him by naming the field at Frawley Stadium Judy Johnson Field.  Judy Johnson day turned out to be a full-on celebration of Negro League history.  It ranged from the kitschy (there was a Judy Johnson bobblehead giveaway) to the more serious (a pre-game ceremony that featured Josh Gibson’s grandson).  The whole thing simply felt right, and kudos to Blue Rocks’ management for finding the right tone for the evening.

All of this is enough for me, but the Blue Rocks have

a good ballpark on top of everything else.  It’s a little big for high single-A ball, but I can forgive that since they mostly fill it.  It’s a little metallic, and the only real view is of I-95, but since I don’t have much of a preconception of Delaware, I can let that go too.  I had fine seats just a few rows back from the field, just a shade to the first-base side of home plate.  And I made a new friend along the way.

Russ joined me for this game.  He’s the third person I’ve met as a result of my association with the Network of Ballpark Collectors, which is basically a loose confederation of nerds like me.  He drove the couple of hours in to meet me, and we sat back and talked about ballparks pretty much the whole night.  Russ also saved my bacon on this evening; I had left my camera back at the hotel, and while I took the above pictures with a disposable camera from the Blue Rocks’ gift shop, he took a few good ones he kindly is letting me use:

Josh Gibson’s Grandson. Photo by Russ Silverstine. Used by permission.
Russ Silverstine. Used by permission.

It’s only appropriate, that, at the end of a fun, topsy-turvy game, it came down to a bottom-of-the-ninth single to win it for Wilmington.  The batter who delivered the hit:  Josh Johnson, an African-American kid–one of a dwindling few in baseball of late.  That little echo of history brought an end to a night where history, for me anyway, was celebrated throughout the ballpark and the museum.

Judy Johnson Field at Frawley Stadium was a great place for a sports and history junkie like me.  I’d love to head back next time I’m headed up the East Coast.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel:  8.5/10
I have never been in a stadium that celebrates local history as much as Frawley Stadium.  The only reason I penalize at all on the score here is because the view isn’t much.

Charm:  4/5
I felt well-treated at every turn, but architecturally, there’s a bit too much metal.

Spectacle:  5/5
A reverent look at baseball history.  Loved it.

Team mascot/name:  3/5


Yeah, kids, I don’t know what it is either.  I guess it’s a blue rock, or some sort of a blue dot, or whatever.  Never caught his name.  Is “Blue Rocks” an echo of the University of Delaware Blue Hens mascot?  In any event, I give some credit for creativity.

Aesthetics:  2.5/5
Not much of a view and too much metal.

Pavilion area:  4.5/5

Scoreability:  4/5

Fans:  5/5

Nice to meet you, Russ.  Maybe we’ll see this picture on the cover of Baseball Nerd Quarterly.

Intangibles:  5/5
I had a fantastic time in the museum, through the Judy Johnson ceremonies, and hanging with Russ.  I was left with a great feeling about the place.

TOTAL:  41.5/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

A back-and-forth, wild affair.  Wilmington blew leads of 4-0 and 8-4 before coming back from a 9-8 deficit in the 9th to win it.

Brian McFall and Jeremy Cleveland each bang out three hits for the Blue Rocks.  Angel Gonzalez and Jamie Romak respond in kind for the Hillcats.

Russ and I grow fond of the Hillcats’ leadoff hitter, Pedro Powell.  He is listed in the program as five-foot-seven, but we think they’re giving him at least two inches.  He was a tiny little quick dude…fun to watch.

(Written April 2008.)

Pfitzner Stadium, Woodbridge, Virginia

Pfitzner Stadium, Woodbridge, VIRGINIA

Number of states: still 21
States to go:  29

First game:  August 19, 2006 (Kinston Indians 6, Potomac Nationals 1)

Way, way, way out into the DC suburbs is a tiny minor-league ballpark.  While the occupants try to get a new ballpark every year, they continue to return to this run-of-the-mill field that’s a part of a high school complex in

Woodbridge, Virginia.  It’s uncertain how much longer they’ll remain, but I got in a game in at Pfitzner Stadium during the summer of 2006.

The ballpark itself is fairly nondescript.  It does not pass the “do we have any idea where we are” test…I saw no evidence we were in Virginia or near Washington DC.  We honestly could have been anywhere.  The ballpark is charmless as well.  There’s too much netting around the infield.  I lost virtually all memory of the place within a few months.  But, and for the first time, the part that troubled me the most was the way that the team’s owner actually interfered with my enjoyment of a game.

I don’t mind some wackiness and promotions as a part of my minor league baseball experience.  But it cannot interfere with the baseball on the field.  Art Silber, the owner of the Nationals, did just that.  Apparently, on Saturday nights, Silber coaches

first base for the team…and he did for the first half of the game or so, before taking a seat behind home plate in his baseball uniform.  This bugged me in the extreme.  What we have here are players and coaches who are trying to work their way up towards the major leagues, and Silber is interfering with that goal for each of them.  I’m not certain what or how much a first-base coach contributes, but the idea that this guy is living out some long-unaccomplishable fantasy at the expense of people who still have a legitimate shot at making the bigs…well, that bugged me.  He might say he’s showing his love of the game; I say it shows he’s not taking the game seriously.  What if a young rich person (like Master P a few years ago, or maybe Marc Cuban) bought a minor league team and decided that, rather than coaching first base, he wanted to play first base? Why is that any less ridiculous?  Mr. Silber, you’re out of line.  You interfered with the baseball.

On the other side of the coin, I don’t much mind if players take jobs that normally go to others.  Steve Mortimer sang the

national anthem.  He was nervous…probably more nervous than he was playing first base that day.  It made me root for him all the more…we don’t have enough Renaissance men like that in the world.

Probably the best part of my trip was getting to hang out with Tom.  We found ourselves a seat away from some others, and we said wacky stuff to each other throughout the game.  That’s just the way it happens.  He told me a good deal about Virginia politics.  We also had a lot of fun making up personalities for the players.  Singing Mortimer was easy, of

course, but it went further.  J.D. Martin was pitching for the Indians, and since it was his first game for Kinston, we decided just to call him “New Guy.”  We imagined his fellow Indians getting annoyed having to tell him how the copier worked, or carefully telling him which guys are the cool ones and which ones are the dorks to avoid.  A relief pitcher, Cody Bunkelman…well, he was fantastic.  Just awesome.  I caught a particularly resistant strain of Bunkelmania that day.  Tom thought I was insane.  He didn’t see Bunkelmania spreading across the nation.  I certainly do.

Perhaps the most damning aspect of this ballpark is that now, only a few months after going to the ballgame, I’ve forgotten almost everything about the ballpark.  So I will finish this not with words, but with a couple more pictures.


BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel:  4/10
Not much.  Only a local Congressman’s pitch and Uncle Slam save the score at all.

Charm:  2.5/5
Nothing too special.

Spectacle: 2.5/5
Rule #1:  Don’t let your spectacle interfere with the baseball.  The owner coaching…well, that interferes.  But I did like the player singing the anthem.

Team mascot/name:  3/5

Uncle Slam and me.  I like puns, so this name works.  But the team name?  Why not stick with “Cannons”?  So much better.

Aesthetics:  2/5
Some nice trees, but the ballpark itself is quite dull.

Pavilion area:  3/5

Scoreability:  1.5/5

Fans:  5/5
Props to my buddy Tom.

Intangibles:  2/5
It was a fun night, but the owner bugged me.

TOTAL:  25.5/50

Four Indians pitchers–J.D. “New Guy” Martin, Cody Bunkelman, Ryan Knippschild, and Randy Newsom–combine on a 4-hitter, allowing no earned runs.  Martin strikes out 4 in 4 innings, giving up two hits.  Bunkelman pitches two perfect innings in relief, striking out three and picking up his third win of the year.

Rodney Choy Foo, Nathan Panther, and Matt Whitney homer for the Indians.

Steve Mortimer goes 1-for-3 with a double for the Nationals.

(Written December 2006.)

John Thurman Field, Modesto, California

modestoinprogress

John Thurman Field, Modesto, CALIFORNIA

Number of states: still 13
States to go: 37

First game:  July 2, 2006 (Modesto Nuts 6, San Jose Giants 3)

After the horrendously loud and promotion-saturated experience at San Jose’s Municipal Stadium the night before, I welcomed this retreat into a quieter ballpark in a smaller city.  While John Thurman Field wasn’t exactly perfect, it was good for a number of reasons.

The ballpark itself is in a bit of a non-descript area, between a golf course and a somewhat-seedy residential area.  Before the game, it’s possible to enjoy some California Almonds while reclining under an umbrella and modestogolferwatching people tee off.  It’s also possible to walk right up to Modesto players as they make their way from the clubhouse to the dugout.  On the day we visited, anyone who wanted to could play catch in the outfield was welcome to head out there and do so.  Of course, this late afternoon and many others in Modesto were insufferably hot, so where I normally would have been disappointed to have forgotten our gloves, on this particular day I was fine not to be out there running around.

The concourse is also nondescript–a few concessionaires tucked back by the golf courses.  The promotions were reasonable–there could have been one or two more at the single-A level, but for the most part, they were fine.  Sure, the hot-dog eating contest that followed the game was disgusting, but it didn’t interfere with the game, so I can sit back and enjoy the disgusting modestoexteriorspectacle.

By the way, if you’re thinking of going to the ballpark, believe me, you want to sit on the first-base side in the shade, and not on the third-base side in the sun.  But you will have to get up if you want food. At the start of the game, I experienced one of my favorite ballpark perks:  an usher who offered to get me food while I stayed in my seat watching the game.  Too bad I never saw her again.

Among John Thurman Field’s biggest problems are a horrible PA system:  it’s actually easier to hear the PA in the pavilion than it is to hear it in the seats.  Not that there was much to hear:  the PA guy actually took the time to wish his wife a happy second anniversary.  I don’t like that stuff when it comes from the crowd; why would I like it from the staff?

Additionally, I was a better scorekeeper and scoreboard modestofromlfoperator than Modesto had.  There was a tough scoring call–fielder’s choice where everybody reaches, or error?–in the sixth inning.  As I waited to figure out what the scorer would decide, an affable usher saw me scoring (I didn’t notice anyone else scoring the game here, continuing the trend of nobody scoring games in California…is it banned by the state Constitution?).  He jokingly said:  “Just give Modesto a double.”  I laughed, but pointed out that there was a fairly large error on the scoreboard:  San Jose had two hits, but the scoreboard only had one up there.  It’s not like one of them was tough to miss…both were doubles down the line, one in the second inning and one in the sixth.  The usher immediately walkie-talkied the booth and pointed out the error.  modestoretirednumbersHe received an angry, harried response, something along the lines of “I have 5 people at once talking to me!  Stop bugging me!”  Nothing happened for another inning, when the usher called back a second time.  I actually managed to change the scoreboard!  I’m totally confident it never would have been fixed were it not for me.

I got to see a pitcher, Ching-Lung Lo, give a great performance for the second year in a row.  Lo had pitched a gem and lost when I visited Asheville in 2005.  His promotion to Modesto was not off to a great start, but he sure had a great game when I arrived for this visit:  3 hits in 7 innings–2 runs, one unearned.  Mr. Lo, I’m happy to watch you at the AAA level in Colorado Springs in a year or two.  (But, if it’s all the same to you, I’d rather not modestosignreturn to Drillers Stadium in Tulsa, so get through AA as quickly as you can.)

My wife and I met a nice woman–a mother of two from Southern California who was conned  by her 11-year-old son into stopping in Modesto on the way home from a holiday weekend in the mountains.  She could not believe that my wife and I were in Modesto only to see a baseball game, even though her husband does similar tours of ballparks.  My main concern for her was that she was turning around to talk to us.  Since we were in the second row behind a dugout, I had images of her or her daughter getting their heads exploded by a foul ball.  Hadn’t she read the sign which stated that that could happen?  When I offered to have her join us in the third row so that she could see any threatening line drives heading her way, her response was “No, I’m fine.”  Thank goodness she was right.

All in all, a fine, quiet evening in an ordinary–blessedly ordinary–ballpark.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel:  6.5/10
Tough to score this since I have no real image of what Modesto’s region should feel like.  They do well with all the nuts they sell in concessions and in the team name, but they fall short in the view from the seating bowl.  Also, the neighborhood and golf course could be anywhere in the USA.

Charm:  3/5
Not bad, but not great.

Spectacle: 4/5
Could be one or two more at the single-A level, but not too shabby.  I liked the multiple mascots getting around–and that they didn’t interfere with baseball.

Team mascot/name:  5/5

modestomascots

modestorobot

Wally the Walnut is on the left, Peanut the Elephant (I believe a leftover from the old Modesto A’s) is on the right.  Not pictured:  Al the Almond.  Modesto Nuts is an ideal name, and the multiple mascots are quite nice.

Aesthetics:  2.5/5
Nothing too special here.

Pavilion area:  3.5/5

Scoreability:  1/5
If I have to tell your scorekeeper and scoreboard operator that there’s been a double down the line, well, that’s a serious problem.  (But thanks to the usher for fixing it.)

Fans:  2.5/5
I sat with a nice woman and her daughter, but other than that, the game was sparsely attended and what fans there were stayed very quiet.

Intangibles:  4/5
On the whole, I liked it here, mostly because it was so cozy and calm.

TOTAL:  32/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

Ching-Lung Lo pitches 7 innings of 3-hit ball to pick up the win, striking out 10 and walking none.  Here he is signing an autograph for a fan in the dugout before the game:

modestochinglo

Chris Frey has a pair of RBI.

(Written July 2006.)

Municipal Stadium, San Jose, California

Municipal Stadium, San Jose, CALIFORNIA

Number of states: still 13
States to go: 37

First game:  July 1, 2006 (San Jose Giants 5, Modesto Nuts 1)

(Municipal Stadium has since been renamed Excite Stadium.)
(Click on any image to see a larger version.)

Ever see a gorgeous Jaguar going 25 in the passing lane?  How about a gorgeous house with a view and a huge garden filled with weeds?  A beautiful young man or woman with a huge, terrible tattoo?  That’s how San Jose’s

Municipal Stadium made me feel.  Ownership of something beautiful does not mean that the owner knows how to use it.  And the folks who own the Giants, Progress Sports Management (an ironic name if I’ve ever seen one), don’t know how to present their beautiful ballpark to the public.  The loud, ridiculous game I endured in 2006 was one of the biggest disappointments in my years of going to ballparks.

In its physical characteristics and attention to history, Municipal Stadium is right up there with Vancouver and Spokane–which is saying something.  I was very impressed with the loads of California League history, the murals of past greats, and the past standings and stats pasted all over the pavilion.  It was wonderful to soak all of that in.  There’s room to play catch next to the murals, areas for kids to enjoy a pre-game jump-around, a marvelous place to get ribs, and live blues music.  Gigante the mascot is to my satisfaction–I like the name.  The whole place has a positive vibe.  I was looking forward to the baseball.  But the owners of the team

apparently don’t care about baseball.

I’m not a straight traditionalist by any stretch of the imagination.  Seriously–particularly at the single-A level, I enjoy some wacky promotions between innings.  But said promotions cannot interfere with the play on the field.  These did.  There really wasn’t any reason to hold a baseball game at all…in San Jose, the baseball game has no value of its own, but only holds value as a sponsorship transference device.

I should have figured that it would be a long night when the person throwing out the first pitch–the local chief of police–arrived via a helicopter that landed on the field.  The helicopter turned out to be the most understated promotion of the night.  (Conveniently, they put live video of the helicopter’s landing on the scoreboard…just in case anyone was unable to find the huge, loud aircraft landing in center field.)  Incredibly, the Giants would make announcements and hold promotions not just

between innings–which I’m okay with–but also between batters and, incredibly, between pitches.

Let us enumerate the worst of their sins:

–I don’t mind the gorgeous scoreboard.  I also don’t mind a promotion marking strikeouts.  But rather than put K’s on the outfield wall, or even keep track of the number of K’s, they simply put a K on the scoreboard, and announced “Another K for Kelly Moore Paints!”  My wife put it well:  rather than a charming, wacky promotion, this was just a dull, corporate promotion.  I want the dull corporate stuff out of my minor league ballpark (and, for that matter, out of my major league ballparks, but that’s a harder battle to face).  There’s no charm, there’s nothing exciting…it’s just a way to make money.  And with Darren Sack’s success pitching the ball, I got so sick of the promotion that I have become an avowed Sherwin Williams man.

–The program cost $7…easily the most expensive program I’ve ever purchased.  It was jam-packed with information about the 2005 San Jose Giants.  In a minor league program, this is terribly unnecessary information.  The lion’s share

of the 2005 Giants had moved on for 2006…on to Connecticut and double-A ball.  I don’t want to know about them…I want to know about the guys on the field in front of me, and what they’d been up to in Salem-Keizer or Augusta.  Why bother with such a huge, expensive program when a smaller, cheaper one would be more effective?  Again, my business-major wife had the answer:  “More pages means more ads.”  Oh.

–I’m fine with the beer batter.  I am NOT fine with playing music between pitches and after strikes!  When the batter is in the batter’s box, don’t play snippets of “Beer Barrel Polka” with each strike.  The crowd is not stupid.  They know there’s a shot at a beer.  They’ll cheer.  Why insult them with music?  You’re not adding to the excitement.  You’re detracting from the baseball.  Remember that?  Baseball?

–The cannon.  They set it off in pre-game, which is fine, I guess.  But it went off once while the ball was in play:  during a groundout to short.  The player closest to the cannon, left fielder Michael Wagner, damn near jumped out of his stirrup socks.  Two things could have happened:  the cannon could have gone off accidentally, which is terrifying and dangerous, or it could have been intentionally set off during play, which

is awful and ridiculous…and, alas, in character for the night.

–The worst of all:  the sunflower seeds.  Some sunflower seed company would give away sunflower seeds to the crowd if the Giants scored in the fifth inning.  The Giants scored in the fifth inning.  Inexplicably, rather than waiting until between innings to deliver the goods, they sent kids out to hurl sunflower seed packets into the crowd immediately, while the next batter was at the plate.  Fans stood up and trampled each other to get to the seeds.  Meanwhile, there was baseball being played, but that was clearly of little or no interest to the Giants and their fans.

–Even the fireworks were lame.  Almost never was there more than one firecracker going off at a time.  Stupidly, they showed the fireworks live on the scoreboard.  Why?

The net result of all of this is that the hairs on the back of my neck were standing up.  I don’t know what this evening was about, but it wasn’t about baseball.  And in a ballpark that gets so much right–where baseball is celebrated on nearly every physical surface–I’m upset that the experience isn’t about baseball.  Municipal Stadium, therefore, scores very high in some areas and very low in others.  I hope to return one day when the team is under new management.  In the meantime, if anybody from the Giants is reading this, I implore you:  QUIET DOWN THE PROMOTIONS.  You’ll still get your sellouts, and you’ll be serving your fans in addition to serving your sponsors.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel: 8.5/10
The pavilion celebrates California baseball, with particular attention to California Leaguers who have gone on to the Hall of Fame.

Charm:  2.5/5
Physically, yes.  But as no advertisement can be charming, neither can the experience of attending a game at Municipal Stadium.

Spectacle: 1.5/5
A couple of good promotions, like one where players tried to bust out the headlights of a car with a baseball, but on the whole, things were ludicrously over-the-top.

Team mascot/name:  2.5/5


Gigante and me.  Is he an ape?  A gorilla?  Hard to tell, but I don’t mind him or his name.  However, the name “Giants” is a bit dull.

Aesthetics:  4/5
Lovely park.  Not much of a view, though.

Pavilion area:  5/5
Absolutely gorgeous.  Loads of activity, plenty of art, and a celebration of baseball.

Scoreability:  2/5
Not great here.  It was hard to tell when a new pitcher arrived, and inexcplicably, while the Giants’ lineup was listed in the pavilion, the opponents’ were not.

Fans:  2.5/5
I give San Jose fans credit for the sellout.  I do NOT give them credit for their baseball acumen, however, as it’s clear they’re eating up the garbage that the team is shelling out.

Intangibles:  0/5
A ballgame experience that, in the end, actually upset me.  So much wasted potential here.

TOTAL:  28.5/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

The Giants’ Darren Sack is the star, giving up two hits and striking out six in six innings of shutout ball.  Thomas King and Ben Cox finish the four-hitter, giving up only an unearned run in the ninth.

(Written July 2006.)

Stater Bros. Stadium, Adelanto, California

Stater Bros. Stadium, Adelanto, CALIFORNIA

Number of states:  still 13
States to go:  37

First game:  April 8, 2006 (Inland Empire 66ers 9, High Desert Mavericks 0)

(Stater Bros. Stadium is no longer used for baseball as of the 2017 season.)

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

It ain’t an Iowa cornfield, but Stater Bros. Stadium might as well be.  After a long drive, way past the very last L.A. suburb, well into the desert, way past an exit on I-15 and out of visual contact with anywhere that it looks like someone could live, there’s a ballpark that springs up quite literally out of nowhere.

Obviously, there has to be someone around to go to the ballgames, and in this case, the ballpark lies 10-20 miles from the reasonably-populated towns of

Hesperia and Apple Valley.  The ballpark itself is a few miles down the road from the much-smaller town of Adelanto.  But those who are driving up from the L.A. area will never see those towns.  It’s possible to drive into the desert, watch a California League game, and then drive home without being in a city of any size.  And I love that experience.

In such an atmosphere, the ballpark can’t help but pass the “is there any question where you are” test.  The High Desert Mavericks are clearly in the desert.  The ballpark is surrounded by scrub and sand. 

Between the outfield wall and the backing fence lies a stretch of sand.  The only other building visible is the adjacent Bravo Burgers.  On a clear night (as almost all of them are in the desert), it’s amazingly dark and quiet.  It was fantastic.  There’s nothing to be seen or heard in the world but a baseball game…and that is a great way to spend any day.

When one is surrounded by baseball, it’s good to be surrounded in a place where baseball is valued.  The folks at Stater Bros. Stadium have done a good job celebrating their team.  They have an “alumnus of the night,” who they announce on the radio over the PA, and have a write-up of their recent

exploits in the minors.  The columns around the pavilion are covered with the opening day lineups for every season in High Desert’s recent history.  The 1999 team here has already had 3 starters make the majors…not too shabby for High A ball.  There are ushers who will bring you your food or drink in all sections–not just for the high rollers–so nobody needs to miss a pitch.  When I see things like this, I can’t help but compare Stater Bros. Stadium with The Diamond at Lake Elsinore, the other ballpark I saw on this trip.  Where Lake Elsinore had so much non-baseball related stuff going on the baseball seemed incidental, at High Desert, the baseball was central.  Indeed, it was essential.  Kids actually watched the game at High Desert. Each ballpark had a grassy area by the right field foul pole.  While at Lake Elsinore there were kids whaling on each other, at High Desert, most of the kids actually watched the game, and only a very few rolled around on the grass and pounded on each other.  Parks that value baseball can get people to enjoy it.

The park is a little bit nondescript, but that feels appropriate given the sparse surroundings.  The tan brick matches the desert–all the more reason to focus on the baseball.  People can enjoy a meal at the Hard Ball Cafe, at least until the Hard Rock Cafe’s lawyers get wind of it.  The stadium also features what must be the most austere skyboxes ever constructed:

My good time at the ballpark was enhanced by the fact that the Mavericks were playing a Mariners affiliate, the Inland Empire 66-ers.  I’d seen many of

these players play at Everett, and it was nice to see them up a couple of levels.  It was also nice to see them win so handily.  It was cold, and while 1386 people made it to the game (not bad, considering where we were), not many stuck around.  I moved from seat to seat to keep warm, and I finally settled a little ways behind the Inland Empire dugout.  I guess there’s no clubhouse or locker room under the stadium, because 66er players kept walking up the aisle between the seats and the grass to get to a room upstairs.  I stayed there to take pictures after the game, and to watch one of the guys say hi to what appeared to be a new girlfriend.  I felt like a little bit of a doofus taking pictures of the guys, and few of them came out, but it still was fun to watch them all walk by like that.

After the game, put your car’s radio on scan.  I was able to pick up the last parts of baseball broadcasts originating in Denver and Seattle.  There are benefits to being in the middle of nowhere for baseball fans.

Then, as throughout the night, I felt completely immersed in baseball, and it is to the credit of the people at Stater Bros. Stadium.  I can certainly see a day where they no longer feel it’s financially viable to play ball in the middle of nowhere, but I hope it isn’t soon.  It’s a tremendous place to see a baseball game, simply because there’s nothing else in sight.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel:  9/10
Tremendous here.

Charm:  3.5/5
The ballpark is quite charming to me, although it could show a little more personality.

Spectacle: 3/5
Could do a hair more here, given the level of ball.

Team mascot/name:  3/5


Wooly Bully and me–in this photo, Wooly is the better-looking one.  The name “Mavericks” is fine, appropriate and local. but the name “Wooly Bully” is taken, I’m afraid.

Aesthetics:  4.5/5
Striking.

Pavilion area:  4.5/5
Very nice here…a lot of Mavericks history, and all of it within view of the field.

Scoreability:  3.5/5
Some minor slip-ups.

Fans:  4/5
I give them credit for being baseball-focused, for dealing with the cold well, and for getting all the way out to the ballpark to begin with.

Intangibles:  4.5/5
I couldn’t stop smiling in thrilled disbelief that this place even exists.  It has a real Field of Dreams vibe about it

TOTAL:  39.5/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

Robert Rohrbaugh is the pitching star, striking out 6 in 5 2/3 innings.  Three relievers finish a 7-hit shutout.

Yung-Chi Chen has four hits, including two doubles, along with a stolen base and two runs batted in.