Category Archives: rookie level

Ballparks used for Rookie League baseball.

Centene Stadium, Great Falls, Montana

Centene Stadium, Great Falls, MONTANA

Number of states: still 32
States to go:  18

Number of games: 1
First game:  July 5, 2013 (Great Falls Voyagers 7, Helena Brewers 1)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ballpark score:

Regional feel:  5/10

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

Charm: 2/5

The ballpark has aged without gaining charm.

Spectacle: 3/5

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

Team mascot/name: 2/5

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

Aesthetics:  2/5

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

Pavilion area: 1.5/5

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

Scoreability: 4/5

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

Fans: 4/5

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

Intangibles:  2/5

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

TOTAL 25.5/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN THERE:

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

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

Written July 2013.

Dehler Park, Billings, Montana

Dehler Park, Billings, MONTANA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional Feel:  9.5/10

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

Charm: 4/5

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

Spectacle 2.5/5

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

Team mascot/name  2.5/5

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

Aesthetics: 5/5

Gorgeous inside and out.

Pavilion area: 4.5/5

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

Scoreability:  3.5/5

Minor glitches.

Fans: 3.5/5

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

Intangibles: 4.5/5

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

TOTAL:  39.5/50

BASEBALL STUFF I SAW HERE:

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

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

Written July 2013.

Kindrick Field, Helena, Montana

Kindrick Field, Helena, MONTANA

State number:  still 31
States to go:  19

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At any rate, we put Steven on the

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

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

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

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

BALLPARK SCORE:

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

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

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

Team Mascot/Name:  2/5

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

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

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

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

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

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

TOTAL: 30.5/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

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

Rafael Vera leads the Great Falls attack with three hits.

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

(Written July 2010.)

Melaleuca Field, Idaho Falls, Idaho

Melaleuca Field, Idaho Falls, IDAHO

State number:  still 31
States to go:  19

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel:  5/10

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

Charm: 2.5 /5

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

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

Team Mascot/Name:  3.5/5

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

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

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

Scoreability: 3/5

Missed a couple of pitching changes.

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

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

TOTAL: 28.5/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

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

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

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

(Written July 2010.)

Lindquist Field, Ogden, Utah

Lindquist Field, Ogden, UTAH

State number:  still 31
States to go:  19

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

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

If possible, the views

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Three!”

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

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

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

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

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

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel:  10/10

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

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

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

Team Mascot/Name:  3.5/5

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

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

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

Scoreability:  1/5

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

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

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

TOTAL: 39/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

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

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

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

(Written July 2010.)

Ogren Park at Allegiance Field, Missoula, Montana

Ogren Park at Allegiance Field, Missoula, MONTANA

Number of states: 29
States to go:  21

First game:  July 2, 2009 (Missoula Osprey 14, Great Falls Voyagers 9)

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

Looks great–sounds awful.

For our seventh-annual 4th of July Minor League Baseball Road Trip (and our first with spawn), Michelle and I headed out to Montana for my first Pioneer League game.  We were quite impressed with Missoula as a city–a nice university town surrounded by

gorgeous mountains.

Ogren Park at Allegiance Field is located almost perfectly within that gorgeous town–just off of downtown and in the shadow of the Rockies.  You can’t do better than that for location.  There’s a view of a little bit of downtown, but not much; mostly, the ballpark feels sunken into the ground.  This hardly matters, however, since the mountains are so beautiful.  Watching the last of the sun reflect off of the mountains between pitches is as good as it gets.  If you ever go to the ballpark, please sit on the third-base side.  Not only is it the shady side, but you can’t go wrong with that view.

The ballpark is pimped out a little more than I’d like.  For starters, I think the name is backwards…shouldn’t the field be at the park rather than vice versa?   Local car dealer Kathy Ogren bought the naming rights to the park (although apparently not the field)…but then named it after herself rather than after her business, Bitterroot Motors.  I suppose that name choice is better than Bitterroot Motors Park would have been (although not nearly as graceful, beautiful, and locally appropriate as Bitterroot Park).  And once inside, there are a few too many corporate reminders for my tastes.  I worry a little about a

ballpark viewed as a promotions transferrence device.  But to sit underneath those mountains, I can live with some of that.  (Who looks at advertisements when there’s baseball and a fantastic foothill view?)  Although one cannot see the mountain marked with the letter “M” (for the University of Montana), one could see the mountain marked with what was a mysterious “L”.  An usher informed me that said “L” is for Loyola High School.

As I poked around before the game, I found a lot that I liked.  For starters, the place is appropriately quirky.  The right-field line is really short–only 297 feet to the pole, so the team compensates with a particularly high Monster-like wall there. Unlike some

ballparks of recent vintage, this isn’t a forced attempt at character.  There are railroad tracks and a bike/walking path there that compel them to cram right field into very little space.  The idea that a railroad, including a gorgeous railway bridge one can see from the pavilion area by the right field foul pole, would be so prominent in a Montana ballpark helps this place.  I was also impressed that the locals who were biking and walking the path could stop and watch the game from the distance in center field…for free.  Alas, they would be denied the “bats and balls” offering in the concession stand…which, the concession worker told me with just a bit of a blush, are french fries (“bats”) and, as she directly put it, “buffalo balls.”  Um…no thanks.  But I’m glad they’re available.  Adds to the local color.

Speaking of local color, the name “Osprey” is locally appropriate–in spades.  Most impressively, an actual Osprey lives in a nest perched atop a giant wooden pole just past the wall in right-center field.  A telescope sits on the third-base side of the pavilion, trained full-time on the nest. By the telescope stands a wildlife expert who can answer all of your actual small-o osprey questions.  It’s hard to take a picture through a telescope, but I tried…how often does one get a opportunity to take a picture of osprey young in their nest?  The baseball club doesn’t just name itself after these birds, but they make them into what I think is as gorgeous a logo as you’ll ever see on a minor league hat–the outline of a flying bird holding a fish in its talons.

While the place was pimped

out to the gills, it did give me a sense that baseball was valued.  I appreciated the large tributes to former Osprey who had made the major leagues, both with the parent Diamondbacks and with other clubs.  I’ve never seen quite such a large display, and that’s something I always enjoy, particularly at the lowest level of the minors like this.  And on top of that, they had a promotion that I was quite looking forward to because of its baseball-relatedness.  If something highly unusual were to take place in a specific inning (a triple play, for instance, or the team hitting for the cycle, or nine pitches for three strikeouts), a fan would win $10,000.  I figured that, while unlikely, would be fun, so I entered my name. (Alas, my name was not selected.  And I do mean “alas,” for reasons that will become clear later.)

Happy we had made the trip, I bought one of the team’s gorgeous hats and prepared to enjoy a game in gorgeous, unquestionably-Montana surroundings, alternating my night focusing

on my wife, son, baseball, and foothills.

What could possibly go wrong?

Well, as it turned out, quite a bit.

The front office of the Missoula Osprey have a Rolls Royce of a ballpark.  It’s a shame that they believe that the purpose of a

Rolls Royce is to gun the engine, blast the bass, do some donuts and leave as much rubber as possible on the pavement.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that the way the Osprey presented their game left me feeling as disappointed as I’ve ever felt in a ballpark.

It all started in about the 6th inning.  The peanut inning.

The PA announcer didn’t even announce it–or if he did, he announced it so quickly that I didn’t catch it.  (Not quietly, mind you.  Quickly.)

Next thing I know, the PA man was shouting at us.  The ushers were shouting at us.  And the citizens of Missoula, Montana were shouting alongside them like trained seals.

Here’s what it sounded like:

“I SAY PEA!  YOU SAY NUTS!  PEA!” Nuts! “PEA!”  Nuts! “NOW I SAY NUTS AND YOU SAY PEA!  NUTS!” Pea! “NUTS!” Pea! NOW I SAY PEA, YOU SAY NUTS!  PEA!” Nuts!

“NOW JUST THE WOMEN! PEA!” Nuts!

“NOW JUST THE MEN!  PEA!” Nuts!

“NOW JUST THE KIDS!  PEA!” Nuts!

“OK!  NOW THE FIRST-BASE SIDE SAYS PEA, AND THE THIRD-BASE SIDE SAYS NUTS!  GO! ” Pea!  Nuts!

This is the point where I might say “You get the idea…” except that you absolutely have no idea the depths of hellishness this crap sank to.  Between every single pitch of the entire inning, this clown of a PA announcer shouted “PEA-PEA-PEA!!!” or some variety thereof.  Meanwhile, the ushers stood at the front of the rows and raised up their signs like elderly cheerleaders.  I felt like they were demeaned, to be honest.  I do not believe it is their job to lead cheers. I believe it is their job to help spectators.  I also do not believe that the public address announcer’s job is to shout out garbage through the game, but rather to provide information to enhance our enjoyment of the game and to take care of advertisers. Apparently the Osprey disagree.

Plus, when the dude shouts “PEA!!!”  it sounds like he is ordering us to urinate.  (Although I would imagine peeing nuts would be far

more painful than any kidneystone.)  Which led me to wonder…as readily as everybody was going along with this guy, would they have gone along with such an order!  If he’d have shouted out–“HEY!  FIRST BASE SIDE!  EVERYBODY TAKE A CRAP!  DEFECATE, EVERYONE!  SHIT ONTO THE SEATS!”…and had the ushers demonstrate…well, I do believe everybody would have followed orders.

Thankfully, the Osprey did not score in the inning.  I’m worried I’d have heard the PA guy pull a Meg Ryan from When Harry Met Sally while the ushers imitated his every sound.

And then–well, then it got worse.  By which I mean more bizarre.

Remember that promotion where someone could win $10K if something strange happened in the inning?  The 7th inning promotion would award a woman named Martha $10,000 if the Osprey scored exactly 7 runs in the inning.

Well, that was the inning that the Great Falls Voyagers, leading by a score of 8-1, suddenly lost the ability to pitch a baseball.

After a leadoff strikeout, the following transpired:  walk, single, single, error, HPB, walk, walk, walk, double.

With each Great Falls Voyagers screw-up, the music became more frequent, to the point where it was nearly between every pitch.  Any time the music subsided, the PA guy repeatedly ordered the brainwashed crowd around, saying hey, everybody shout, everybody up on your feet, everybody go crazy.  Saying hey, the Osprey need you to help them out.  Saying let’s all put our hands together.

PA guy, I have an honest question for you.  Do you believe that the citizens of Missoula are comically stupid?  Or is it tragically stupid?

I do believe that, particularly in a university town, that people are smart enough to know that a late seven-run rally to tie the score is exciting.  Additionally, the people know that Martha has $10,000 on the line.  That’s also exciting and fun to watch.

So, given that only someone with absolutely no sense would be bored by the developments on the field, why do you feel the need to blast your voice all over the ballpark between nearly every damned pitch???  Especially in an inning that lasted about a million pitches?

In the midst of all of this, my son, who normally sleeps through baseball games–even dramatic, ninth-inning rallies–could stand it no longer.  I took him up to the pavilion (where it was slightly quieter, albeit still too loud).  I watched the brunt of this lamentable inning from there.

Before long, seven runs were in.  The Osprey had tied the score 8-8. Men were on second and third.  There was one out.

“Now remember,” the PA guy said.  “The Osprey have to score EXACTLY 7 runs for Martha to win her $10,000.”

And at that moment, a hilarious thing happened.  The Osprey let their priorities show.

The PA guy shut up.  The music stopped.  After a million sound clips in the inning, and with the lead runs on second and third, the Osprey suddenly stopped audible expressions of support for the home team.  Oh, there may have been the occasional rhythmic-clapping clip.  But the PA guy stopped talking, and the loudest of the music stopped.

To the team, the promotion mattered more than winning the game.

To confirm this, I sidled up to an usher and asked the obvious.  “So, at this point, are we rooting for Great Falls?”

He looked at me and said “Don’t tell anyone, but right now, yes, we are.”  I promised not to tell anyone.  (As this post shows, I lied.)

The Osprey’s next two batters were retired before the 8th run could score, so Martha won her $10,000.  I’m glad she did, but the whole experience would have been far more exciting if they’d simply announced it at the start of the inning and treated the rest of the inning like normal (by which I mean normal for ballparks that value baseball, rather than normal for the loudmouthed pots-and-pans-banging folks for the Osprey).

Even thereafter, the PA guy wouldn’t shut up.  When the Osprey took the lead, he started cracking jokes between pitches.  “Hey fans…are  you enjoying your night at Ogren Park at Allegiance Field now?”  Laughter from the peanut gallery.  One pitch later:  “and you thought I had two heads when I said they could pull it off!”  Meanwhile, of course, there’s a guy in the batter’s box, but that’s apparently of little or no interest to Osprey game management.

And that’s where my fun night at the ballpark went.  It was destroyed by the larynx of an egomaniac who believes that he is the most important person at the ballpark.  That last comment of his proves it:  it shows that he believes the PA announcer was central in all of the spectator’s minds.  Not the massive comeback, the beautiful setting, the woman who won the big money, or even the abysmal

Rookie League play.  He believed that we all were thinking about him.

And he was right.  We were thinking of him because he was forcing us to.

So, to sum up, my hopes for an evening of baseball in a fine, quirky, locally-flavored ballpark were ruined by a front office and a public address announcer who put baseball dead last on its list of priorities.  The hair on the back of my neck stood up.  I was so worked up and frazzled that I vowed to tear out the PA guy’s larynx if I ever encountered him.  But I’ve calmed down since then.  Now, instead, I will simply avoid Ogren Park at Allegiance Field until the Osprey are run by someone else–someone who values baseball.   To put it simply, they took what might be the most physically beautiful setting for a park I’ve ever seen and managed to make me not enjoy the night.

Please–everyone who runs a team–learn from this.  Less is more.  Baseball is enough.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel:  10/10
The ballpark is quite literally as good as it gets in this regard.  Local landmarks visible on the mountains, respect for past Missoula minor leaguers, and bull testicles for sale.  That’s fantastic.

Charm:  1.5/5
Physically?  Sure.  But beyond that, this ballpark has all the charm of a screaming chainsaw.

Spectacle:  0/5
Hey Osprey:  Shut.  The Hell.  Up.

Team Mascot/Name:  4/5

Ollie Osprey and me.  Unique, locally appropriate, and a logo that’s a gorgeous as any I’ve seen.

Aesthetics: 5/5
The ballpark itself is quite nice–not perfect–but oh, those surroundings.  I just can’t imagine anything much better.

Pavilion:  3.5/5
Nice respect for the past.  Lots of room to walk, and always within view of the game.

Scoreability:  1/5
Did a lot wrong here.  They completely ignored at least one pinch-hitter, and I had to get information after the game from the internet…which the team posted improperly for a while.

Fans:  2/5
I appreciate the number of them, but I think they are complicit in the Osprey’s sins–serving as accomplices.

Intangibles:  1/5
I’ll admit I want to go back–but only once someone else is running the show.

TOTAL: 28/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

These kids need a bit of work, especially Great Falls’ relief pitching.  Missoula, once down 8-1, scores 7 runs in the 7th and 6 more in the 8th to win an endless game.

Nobody had more than two hits, but Missoula was the beneficiary of a dozen walks.  Paul Goldschmidt and Kevin Broxton walked thrice each.

Ramon Castillo homered for the Osprey.  Nick Ciolli homered for the Voyagers.

(Written September 2009.)

Hunnicutt Field, Princeton, West Virginia

Hunnicutt Field, Princeton, WEST VIRGINIA

Number of states:  16
States to go:  34

Number of games:  1
First game:  July 24, 2006 (Greeneville Astros 8, Princeton Devil Rays 6)

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

I’m not positive about this, since I haven’t looked up the populations of all 220 minor-league cities, but I’m fairly sure that Princeton, West Virginia is the smallest town with an affiliated minor league baseball team.  My American

Map atlas lists its population as only 6,000.  I’m impressed that it supports a minor league club.

I didn’t get much of a feel for the town, but it was obvious that it was small enough that the Devil Rays are HUGE there.  The town’s newspaper, the Princeton Times, is only a weekly, and in the copy I bought, Devil Rays news covered most of the 20-ish pages.  The front-page photo, above the fold, celebrated the Devil Rays’ victory of the Mercer Cup, a trophy which goes to the winner of the season series between the P-Rays and the Bluefield Orioles just down the road.  (It’s worth noting that the Orioles, while they represent Bluefield, West Virginia, play just

across the border in Virginia, in what might be the ballpark closest to a state border).

The ballpark itself isn’t in any kind of unique location, and does very little to let me know where I am.  The view outside of the ballpark includes a Wendy’s and a McDonald’s.  There aren’t any mountains or other landmarks that let me know I’m in West Virginia or Appalachia.  So I was prepared to give it a low “is there any question where you are” score, which would have doomed the ballpark to a poor score.  However, the workers for the Devil Rays gave me a whole lot of small-town hospitality, and since I was in the smallest town in the minor leagues, they get a lot of credit for that.

It all started with my Everett AquaSox cap.  There is nothing in common between the AquaSox and the D-Rays save a love of colors in the bluish-green family. 

They do not share geography, a league, an affiliation, or much else.  But the guy who offered me a 50-50 raffle ticket looked at my hat and said “Everett AquaSox?”  Nice!  I love minor league workers who are knowledgeable about the minor leagues…it makes the whole experience into a celebration of minor league ball.

Later that night, I headed out to meet Rob and Yolonda in the large-but-nondescript pavilion area (Rob was late to the game due to a horrendous cut-lip-on-broken-beer-bottle mishap in the pregame).  While out there, I saw the man I took to be one of the higher-ups at the ballpark.  I was right–it was the general manager, Jim Holland.  “Everett AquaSox!” he said to me.  I said I was impressed, and that they were my home team.  A conversation ensued where I told him we were trying

to make it out to a lot of minor league parks.  His response:  “You look like one of those people.”  Indeed, if “those people” are ballpark travelers, I am one.  I just wasn’t aware there was a look about us.  (My guess is “dorky-looking.”)  In exchange for my troubles, he offered me a free shot with the sledge-hammer at the “Hit a Car, Not a Pet” junker car.  I took a swing, and he offered me several more.  I’m basically a non-violent man, but it was nice to get any potential axe-murdering instincts I might have out of my system.  They gave Rob some free shots too.  Here’s one of them:

The fans were quite sweet.  There were loads of middle-aged ladies waving handbells around.  Jim told me they were called the “Rah-Rah Sisterhood.”  I got the sense that a good number of them

were host families or friends of the D-Rays players, and in a town of 6,000, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if players regularly encountered a healthy fraction of townspeople.  I could feel that.

And where else other than a town whose only bookstores are Christian bookstores would the primary mascot be Roscoe the Drug-Free Rooster?  Roscoe wandered around giving hugs to just about everyone in attendance.  He headed up in my direction and hugged me.  I talked to him, saying “How are you?”  Much to my surprise, Roscoe talked back to me.  “I’m fine, how are you doing?”  His accent was slow and

sweet.  I don’t know why, but that made me feel especially good on this night.

The ballpark itself had some interesting quirks.  A walk behind the stands reveals two nice places to stand.  First, down the third base line, a spectator can walk to a vantage point where he/she can peer backwards into the visitors’ dugout (not unlike Battle Creek’s C.O. Brown Stadium) or right at the bullpen.  Underneath the home plate stands there is a wonderful little vista featuring a bench that, as best as I could figure, anybody could occupy–although it appeared spoken for by a couple of regulars.  They honor past P-Rays who have moved on to the big club with pictures on the outfield wall.  And I recommend the fried bologna sandwich, although don’t get caught making the same assumption I did.  I thought

the adjective “fried” applied to the whole sandwich…that they were taking the entire sandwich and dipping in the deep fryer beside the french fries, kind of like Elvis with his peanut butter and banana sandwiches.  That didn’t turn out to be the case. Instead, they had just fried the bologna.  Pretty good stuff…tasted like ring baloney.

By the end of the night, I really had a positive feeling about the ballpark.  I came close to winning a hundred bucks by throwing a tennis ball into a hula hoop (a fairly tough task…the stands are very, very high above the field, and the hula hoop was well out onto the field…but I just came up a few inches short, way closer than anyone else).  Jim, on the field, let us go by saying “We love you!” The cool thing is, after a great night of baseball, I felt like he meant it.  And when we passed him by on the way out and he wished us safe travels…yes, he remembered us…well, I guess it was confirmed.

So, on the whole, the ballpark has just enough charm, quirkiness, and sweetness to win me over in spite of its drawbacks.  If I make it back there, probably to visit Bluefield, I wouldn’t mind seeing Hunnicutt Field again.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel:  6/10
The view from the seating bowl is dull, and could be from any of the 50 states.  But the fried bologna sandwich and small-town hospitality bump up the score a bit.

Charm:  4.5/5
All over the place.

Spectacle:  4/5
Pretty good.  While we missed the “everybody gets in free” promotion by 24 hours, and while the “Christian Baseball Night” may be strange to me were I of another faith, there was plenty going on–a moving mascot, a sledge hammered car, food–that was appropriate for low-level ball, but never got in the way of the game.  And I came close to winning a hundred bucks.

Team mascot/name:  3.5/5

Roscoe the Drug-Free Rooster is a bit of a non-sequitur for a marine-based team, but he was a nice guy.  The name “Devil Rays” was appropriate for Appalachian League naming conventions.

Aesthetics:  1.5/5
The one way this park was lacking.  Quirky, but not exactly attractive–and the view is not at all good.

Pavilion area:  3/5
Not terribly picturesque, but I like the sledge-hammer and car.

Scoreability:  3/5
A few minor slip-ups.

Fans:  4/5

Intangibles:  5/5
On the whole, an excellent night.  Any game that ends with the GM saying “We love you!” and my not being creeped out by it is a good night.

TOTAL:  34.5/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

The Astros’ balanced attack includes two RBI each from Brandon Caipen, Ralph Henriquez, and Andrew Darnell.

Andrew Lopez hits three doubles and drives in two in a losing effort.

(Written August 2006.)

DeVault Stadium, Bristol, Virginia

DeVault Stadium, Bristol, VIRGINIA

Number of states:  15
States to go:  35

First game:  July 23, 2006 (Johnson City Cardinals 5, Bristol Sox 2)

Much like Asheville, I was thrilled that my ballpark travels brought me to Bristol. When on earth would I have ever made it to the Virginia/Tennessee border otherwise?  There, I found a gorgeous ballpark in a charming, quirky town.  There was a big show on State Street and loads of activity on both Tennessee’s and Virginia’s sidewalks, but we headed a little ways into Virginia to enjoy my first-ever Rookie League game.

The trip there from Hickory, NC was a good chunk of the fun.  We took the Blue Ridge Parkway a lot of the way.  Who would want to ever

put themselves on an interstate again after that?  We were accompanied much of the way by a Christian motorcycle group, and then meandered up to the gorgeous NC/TN/VA tri-point.  Even with that much activity, we did make it to the ballpark just in time for first pitch.

On the way in, there’s a plaque commemorating the astonishing accomplishment of one Ron Necciai.  The plaque tells us that he pitched what can only be called a mega-perfect game…or so I thought.  A little bit of research revealed to me that he didn’t strike out 27 guys in a row.  In fact, with two out in the third inning, the catcher dropped one of his third strikes, thus enabling him to move on to strikeout victim #27.  One guy managed to make contact, and I’m not certain how many walked…so the accomplishment is a

little misleading.  On top of that, this English teacher is a little troubled by a critical misspelling…Necciai’s hapless opponents were the Welch Miners (of Welch, West Virginia) and not the Welsh Miners (who, for all I know, could be from Aberystwyth).  Still, it served as an excellent welcome to the stadium. It was nice to walk the lengthy trip from parking lot to stadium and be greeted by a sense of local baseball history.

DeVault Stadium is a part of a high-school complex (signs boast that Virginia High School plays there) in the midst of a gorgeous valley.  It does very nicely in the “regional feel” department because, literally everywhere I looked, there was something appropriate to the area.  In addition to the plaque, I could look past the outfield fence.  Past left field?  A valley, lined with trees on either side.  Check.  Past right field? 

A couple of small-towny houses.  Check.  Where am I?  Not far from the mountains in the small-town South.

Bristol manages to be small-town in its presentation as well as its location.  As best as I could tell, it was staffed entirely by local retirees–with few exceptions, I didn’t encounter anybody under 65.  I’ve got nearly 30 years left, but maybe I can talk my wife into retiring there.  Bristol looked beautiful, probably is not terribly expensive, and we could spend the summers of our golden years chilling out at a lovely ballpark. My favorite of the senior citizens was the PA guy. He was so laid-back it was hilarious. As kids got on the field to do the game-opening “find your shoe that we’ve stolen” game, for instance, he didn’t go overboard with the high-pitched, high-volume, the-Hindenburg-is-crashing excitement that so many PA guys are going with. Heck, he barely said anything…something like: “All right. We’re about to do the shoe race…and here it is.” Loved the guy.

Perhaps my favorite aspect of the ballpark is the tree-lined hill behind the foul lines.  It

provides a place for people to sit back and watch the game and for kids to play ball.  It creates a buffer zone between the ballpark and the surrounding neighborhood, which I appreciate.  There are even trees that obscure the ballpark in a few places, which somehow adds to the charm.

It was here that I further developed a rule for minor-league ballparks.  Many minor league ballparks have grassy hills from which kids can watch the game.  Seeing what happens on the grassy hills is a good indication of how seriously a ballpark takes its baseball.  As best as I can tell, there are three levels.  The l

owest level is a place where kids are pounding the snot out of each other in a Lord of the Flies-style melee for nine innings.  That means that the baseball is incidental, probably both to spectators and management.  The next level up is a place where kids don’t pay attention to the game because they’re playing ball…playing catch, or, in the case of these kids at Bristol, taking grounders off of a wall.  The next level features kids predominantly watching the game, although occasionally burning off steam.  That’s an impressive level and worth striving for.  But at Bristol, I had to invent a new level, because I looked over at one point and found an empty hill.  The kids were all in the seats watching the game with their families.  That’s an extraordinary achievement.  Check out this rule the next time you are at a ballpark with grassy hills.

Further adding to Bristol’s charm: 

the least expensive concessions I have ever encountered at a ballpark, with all proceeds going to Virginia High School.

DeVault Stadium also marked the the first time that I encountered visiting play-by-play guys (or at least I think that’s what they were) at the ballpark.  I guess that the press box doesn’t offer too much space, because sitting in the top corner of the first-base bleachers were two guys wearing the colors of the visiting Johnson City Cardinals.   The play-by-play and color were provided by the same guy, and he didn’t seem to want to talk much.  It looks like the other guy is doing a video recording of the game: maybe he wants to critique his performance.  Perhaps he’s not the official radio guy for the Cardinals–maybe this is just what he does for fun, much like I would turn down the volume and do play-by-play in my basement as a child.  Still, it was bizarre to say the least.

Other things we noticed about the ballpark:  They put a radar gun right out

in the middle of the stands behind home plate.  Although they have a scoreboard display of the speed of the pitch, it’s pretty cool to be able to walk up to the actual gun.

These are the kinds of touches that made this such a marvelous stadium.  It just felt right.

Two bizarre incidents stand out on this night.  Michelle and I spotted a young woman who clearly was interested in hooking up with one (or more) Johnson City Cardinals.  She wound up hanging out in the stands by the couple of Cardinals who were to chart pitches. 

Needless to say, they were not at all interested in their job.  In fact, I actually saw one of them give a sustained caress to her butt.  She didn’t even recoil a little bit.  Hel-LO, kiddoes!  There are people behind that behind!  Get a room!  Looks like somebody doesn’t have enough interest in the craft of pitching to last.

The stud of the night was home plate umpire Tommy Sewell.  In the eighth inning, a foul ball smashed off of the dirt and into his left hand.  I’m 99% sure it broke his pinkie finger…and yet he finished the game, holding his hand awkwardly on his knee behind home plate.  I didn’t see him take so much as an aspirin.  Tommy–way to be, dude.

Also, In the midst of the night, Yolonda, the least baseball-crazy of the four of us taking this intense trip, seemed to have something click.  Even though we were sitting on highly uncomfortable cinderblocks (if I go back, I sit on the lawn instead), she got the point of these travels we were in the midst of.  “I can see the appeal of this,” she said, looking over the diamond at a Virginia sunset.

I’ll try to make it back to Bristol if I ever get a chance.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel: 8.5/10
Very good here.  Geographically gorgeous.

Charm:  5/5
As good as it gets.

Spectacle:  3.5/5
Quietly effective.  I’m sort of torn here, since I like a few promotions at my low-level minors, but here, the quietness added to the charm.

Team mascot/name:  2.5/5
No mascot–it’d have been nice to have one, but then again, I liked the laid-backness of living without one.  The name “Sox” fits in with the Appalachian League naming conventions, sort of.  (Why not “White Sox”?)

Aesthetics:  4.5/5
Architecturally, it ain’t much, but oh those trees and that valley.  Flat-out beautiful.

Pavilion area:  5/5

Scoreability:  1/5
Many, many, many missed decisions.

Fans:  4/5

Intangibles:  5/5
A great little ballpark in a great little town.  I’ll do all I can to get back.

TOTAL:  39/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

Henderson Lugo starts the 5-hit shutout…but only lasts four innings.  Oscar Lara finishes it with three innings of relief and gets the win.

(Written August 2006.)