Category Archives: level

Coolray Field, Lawrenceville, Georgia

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Coolray Field, Lawrenceville, GEORGIA

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In summation:  fun day.  Dull ballpark.

BALLPARK SCORE:

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

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

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

TEAM MASCOT/NAME: 3.5/5

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

AESTHETICS: 2.5/5

Meh.

PAVILION AREA 3.5/5

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

SCOREABILITY: 4.5/5

No issues here, although no real challenges, either.

FANS 2/5

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

INTANGIBLES:  3.5/5

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

TOTAL: 29/50

BASEBALL STUFF I SAW HERE:

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

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

 

Written June 2019.

Regions Field, Birmingham, Alabama

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Regions Field, Birmingham, ALABAMA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BALLPARK SCORE:

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

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

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

TEAM MASCOT/NAME:  4/5. 

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

 

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

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

 

SCOREABILITY:  4/5. 

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

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

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

TOTAL:  33/50

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

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

Allen Webster nails down the save.

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Written June 2019.

 

Fluor Field, Greenville, South Carolina

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Fluor Field, Greenville, SOUTH CAROLINA

Number of states: still 37
States to go: 13

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional Feel: 7.5/10. 

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

Charm 4/5

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

Spectacle: 4.5/5

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

Team mascot/name: 3.5/5

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

Aesthetics: 4/5

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

Pavilion area: 4/5

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

Scoreability: 4/5

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

Fans: 4/5

Nice people around us.

Intangibles: 3/5

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

OVERALL 38.5/50

BASEBALL STUFF I SAW HERE:

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

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

Written May 2019.

 

Canal Park, Akron, Ohio

Canal Park, Akron, OHIO

Number of states: still 37
States to go: 13

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then…well…

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

Should we leave?

“No. They’ll start the game.”

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

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

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

We do. Still no rain.

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

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

Back to Rob.

“Do we stay?”

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

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

So this one is official. And it was fun.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional Feel 7.5/10

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

Charm 4/5

Lovely red brick everywhere: I was impressed.

Spectacle 3/5

Mother Nature provided most of it.

Team mascot/name 3.5/5

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

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

Pavilion area 2.5/5

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

Scoreability 3.5/5

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

Fans 3/5

No memory of them.

Intangibles 4/5

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

TOTAL: 35/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN THERE:

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

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

Written January 2019.

UPMC Park, Erie, Pennsylvania

UMPC Park, Erie, PENNSYLVANIA

State number: still 37
States to go: 13

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

Sloan Park, Mesa, Arizona

Sloan Park, Mesa, ARIZONA
Number of states: still 34
Number to go: 16
First game: October 16, 2015 (Surprise Saguaros 20, Mesa Solar Sox 6)

Sloan Park was the most single-team-focused of the three ballparks I visited on my 2015 Arizona Fall League trip. And I knew that Cubs’ spring training was a big deal…but man, I was surprised by just how big. Sloan Park is located adjacent to an absolutely massive hotel that appears to have been constructed with Cubs’ spring training visitors in mind. It appeared to have about ten million rooms, and I would imagine that it’s packed every March, but perhaps a little lonely the rest of the year. It sure didn’t seem to be packed with Arizona Fall League visitors like my friends and I, but then, only a handful were even in the ballpark.

That ballpark was entirely Cubs-centric, and I have to say that I find that to be an annoyance. Given that my number-one goal in a ballpark is local flavor, it feels strange when the local flavor is that from a couple thousand miles away. That said, the ballpark does well in accomplishing the goal of making Cub fan travelers feel as though they are at Wrigley rather than in Arizona. I appreciated the huge mock-up of the Wrigley sign at Addison and Clark. I also liked the supplemental scoreboard at the edge of the concourse: not necessary like at the real Wrigley, but a cool diversion. That said, that would feel effective for Spring Training, I suppose, but for the rest of the year, whether t

he Arizona Fall, Winter, or Summer leagues, it 

feels a bit too far-away focused.

The game itself was a pretty crazy one. Balls flew out of the yard like crazy, and the game featured more hits than any minor league game I had ever experienced.  Crazy and crooked numbers were covering the scoreboard, and the game kept going on…when…

I got a text from my friend Brian. The game a few miles away in Glendale was stopped and cancelled because of a dust storm, and the dust storm seemed to be headed our way.

Oh, dear.

The sky was, indeed, split in two quadrants: dirty and 

clean. A massive batch of desert sand was high in the air. My efforts to photograph it completely failed, I am afraid: it was 

too dark to capture with any real justice. But it was intense. A few players stood with cloth filtering their mouths. Planes overhead were diverted from Sky Harbor airport and looking to stay in the air long 

enough to wait out the storm. Matt, Rob and I decided to stick it out and see if we could get the game in, but the game (long since decided) wasn’t nearly as exciting as the sky.

So it turned into an interesting evening that showcased some of the most intense experiences Arizona has to offer–and a couple of ballplayers hitting the ball all over the desert.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel: 6.5/10

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The stadium wanted me to think I was in Chicago. The sandstorm refused to play along.

Charm: 3/5
Sure, it was charming, but the charm was aimed in the wrong direction.

Spectacle: 4.5/5
Perfect for the Arizona Fall League (which is to say no spectacle beyond the sandstorm)

Team mascot/name: 4/5
No mascot, which is great (see “Spectacle” above). “Solar Sox” works pretty well as a name.

Aesthetics: 3.5/5
Fine.

Pavilion area: 3.5/5
A little far back from the field: there are spots where it’s tough to see the field.

Scoreability: 3.5/5
I don’t remember any problems.

Fans: 3/5
Not too many people there.

Intangibles 5/5:
Loved the power of the desert!

TOTAL 38.5/50

Baseball Stuff I’ve Seen There:

Jeimer Candelario was the star, with two home runs and three doubles…and he was for the losing team!

Four hits for Ramon Torres and a pair of dingers by Bubba Starling led the way for Surprise.

26 runs on 36 hits and 13 walks.

Written April 2018.

 

Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, Scottsdale, ARIZONA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel: 6/10

A little like the lobby of a chain hotel: nice, but where are we?  It’s a creation rather than embedded within its environment.

Charm: 2.5/5
See above. Too perfect and cutting-edge to be charming.

Spectacle: 4/5
Perfect for the Arizona Fall League (which is to say no spectacle)

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

Aesthetics: 4/5
Lovely.

Pavilion area: 4/5
They got this right: it’s easy to see the field from all parts of the concourse.

Scoreability: 3.5/5
I don’t remember any problems.

Fans: 4/5
Thanks, Brian.

Intangibles 5/5:
I think all Arizona Fall League parks will get the max score here.

TOTAL 36.5/50

Baseball Stuff I’ve Seen There:

Cardinal-to-be Alex Reyes gets a plurality of the outs in a 5-hit shutout.

Written July 2016.

Scottsdale Stadium, Scottsdale, Arizona

Scottsdale Stadium, Scottsdale, ARIZONA

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

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

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

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

And I did.  Took photos all over the park.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel: 7/10

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

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

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

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

Aesthetics: 3/5
Fine.  Sorta basic.

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

Scoreability: 3.5/5
Did fine here.

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

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

TOTAL 35/50

Baseball Stuff I’ve Seen There:

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

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

Written July 2016.

 

Centene Stadium, Great Falls, Montana

Centene Stadium, Great Falls, MONTANA

Number of states: still 32
States to go:  18

Number of games: 2
First game:  July 5, 2013 (Great Falls Voyagers 7, Helena Brewers 1)
Most recent game: July 16, 2022 (Missoula Paddleheads 8, Great Falls Voyagers 2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ballpark score:

Regional feel:  5/10

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

Charm: 2/5

The ballpark has aged without gaining charm.

Spectacle: 3/5

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

Team mascot/name: 2/5

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

Aesthetics:  2/5

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

Pavilion area: 1.5/5

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

Scoreability: 4/5

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

Fans: 4/5

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

Intangibles:  2/5

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

TOTAL 25.5/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN THERE:

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

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

Written July 2013. Revised with comment July 2022.

Dehler Park, Billings, Montana

Dehler Park, Billings, MONTANA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional Feel:  9.5/10

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

Charm: 4/5

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

Spectacle 2.5/5

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

Team mascot/name  2.5/5

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

Aesthetics: 5/5

Gorgeous inside and out.

Pavilion area: 4.5/5

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

Scoreability:  3.5/5

Minor glitches.

Fans: 3.5/5

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

Intangibles: 4.5/5

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

TOTAL:  39.5/50

BASEBALL STUFF I SAW HERE:

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

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

Written July 2013.