Category Archives: short season single a

Ballparks used for short-season single-A baseball.

Hillsboro Hops Ballpark/Ron Tonkin Field, Hillsboro, Oregon

Hillsboro Hops Ballpark/Ron Tonkin Field, Hillsboro, OREGON

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional Feel:  7/10

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

Charm: 2.5/10

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

Spectacle:  4.5/5

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

Team Mascot/Name:  4/5

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

Aesthetics:  3.5/5

Would be 5 without the turf, but hey.

Pavilion area:  4/5

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

Scoreability:  1/5

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

Fans:  5/5

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

Intangibles:  4/5

Pleased for this to be my home ballpark.

TOTAL:  35.5/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

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

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

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

Written July 2013. Updated April 2016.

PK Park, Eugene, Oregon

PK Park, Eugene, OREGON

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

from seeing Duck history.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the category of “strangest conversation

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

As for the Emeralds’ atmosphere, it was fine. 

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

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

We will almost certainly be back.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional Feel:  6.5/10.

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

Charm:  3/5

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

Spectacle:  4/5

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

Team Mascot/Name:  4/5

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

Aesthetics:  4/5

Lovely new ballpark.  Again, however:  Turf.

Pavilion area:  3.5 /5

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

Scoreability:  5/5

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

Fans:  4.5/5

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

Intangibles:  4.5/5

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

TOTAL:  39/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

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

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

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

Written July 2012.

Ripken Stadium, Aberdeen, Maryland

Ripken Stadium, Aberdeen, MARYLAND

Number of states: 24
States to go:  26

First game:  August 17, 2007 (Staten Island Yankees 9, Aberdeen IronBirds 0)

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The House That Cal Built sits just off of I-95 about halfway between

Baltimore and Philadelphia, and just off an Amtrak line that includes Trenton and Wilmington–and therefore was an easy addition to the 2007 Car-Free Eco-Friendly Baseball Park Tour.  Of course, I ruined any eco-friendliness by inviting my kid sister up from DC for the game; but then, she was on her way north to kick some peoples’ asses in a paintball tournament anyway, so I don’t think I added any carcinogens to the atmosphere on this day.  And it’s nice that my kid sister could join me.  Indeed, she might be in danger of eclipsing the record for Most Ballparks I’ve Seen A Game With (Non-Wife Division):  I’ve seen games in DC, Atlanta, Seattle, and Denver (twice) with her, plus Aberdeen.  And I think we might have a record for Most People Who Have Turned Around To Look At Us Confused While We Sang At Ballgames.  In Atlanta, it was Les Mis with modified lyrics.  Here, it was the game of Just Because They’ve Stopped Playing The ’80s Song Doesn’t Mean We Should Stop Singing It.  Yeah–it’s no coincidence that our childhood home had a “no singing at the table” rule.  Did yours?  You probably didn’t need it.  Anyhow, thanks for coming up, Kath.

The ballpark is quite an attractive one.  Ripken spent his money well to create a good-looking edifice with nice bells and whistles.  The ballpark does well on the Is There Any Question Where You Are test for several reasons.  First, Ripken is omnipresent–and totally deified–in this place.  The gift shop is almost comical in its Ripkenitude.  All that was missing was the Cal Ripken Jr. Sponge and Cal Ripken Jr. Facial Blotter.  I’m just thankful Ripken hasn’t sponsored any erectile dysfunction medication.  It was especially intense during this visit because the IronBirds were playing at home during the Cal

Ripken World Series (Ripken lends his name to a league for 12-year-olds), so the man himself was in the building, and I got to see him in person for the first time since his last game at Safeco Field six years earlier.  The Hall of Famer gave his papal wave and shook hands with most of the front row, while the fans, whose beloved Orioles had not been in the same time zone as good in at least a dozen years, cheered him lustily.  It’s fun to be close to a Hall of Famer.  I only wish I could have been down in the front row.  Ripken pictures on the wall, highlights from Ripken’s career all over the joint, the name Ripken Stadium, the IronBirds name and mascot…it’s absolutely clear where we are, and who we’re paying tribute to.

Beyond Cal, the ballpark does say “Maryland” in all kinds of ways. For instance, there’s the crab shack.  I love crab, and Maryland is associated with crab about as closely as any state is with any food.  So to have the crab shack down the right field line, and watch people sucking down crab meat and leaving behind entrails…well, you can’t do much better than that.

And Ripken’s money has paid for what must be the most advanced facilities in the New York/Penn league.  The scoreboard, for instance, was every bit as cool as any I’ve seen in the minors, and I especially like the way they used the long, skinny outfield wall boards.  They showed nothing

but the player’s eyes!  I thought that was an interesting, artistic touch.  I couldn’t help but wonder if there was some unique characteristic in the eyes that tells whether or not a person will become an athlete.  And being on the inside of a gorgeous red brick edifice makes a lot of difference to me.  There didn’t seem to be a bad seat, and the IronBirds’ fans, like Orioles fans, seemed to know their baseball and enjoy their night out (although many bailed out early in the lopsided loss).

That’s the good news.  Now, the bad.

The noise.  The infernal, constant, incessant, loud, ridiculous noise.

I know I sound like your crotchety elderly neighbor now.  You know…the one who would ream you out if you hit a ball into his yard, whose vocabulary didn’t consist of anything more than “damn kids!”, who would call the cops when you were having a movie night with your friends.  Trust me:  that

is NOT me.  I’m not one of those who believes that a ballpark should be quiet like a church.  But there comes a point where the noise actually detracts from the game rather than adds to it, and Ripken Stadium goes way, way beyond that line.

One of my favorite things about baseball is the ability to have conversations during the game.  The natural breaks and ebbs and flows of a game mean that I

can catch up with my kid sister without having to feel like I’m neglecting the game.  But when one is sitting beneath a speaker–a speaker which, by the way, is cranked way up past eleven–and one actually has to shout to speak to the person next to them, that’s a problem.  It’s a problem compounded when the IronBirds decide that they need to play something literally between every damn pitch.  Why, IronBirds?  WHY?  It is completely unacceptable to butt in on my experience like this.

When I headed to the bathroom, I figured I’d get some sort of reprieve from this.  Perhaps the fine folks of the IronBirds would treat me to the radio play-by-play (in my opinion, the only acceptable thing to play in the bathroom of a ballgame).  Nope.  For reasons that are absolutely 100% beyond me, the IronBirds piped their PA music into the bathroom. I can’t see what’s going on out on the field, so these sounds are completely without context.  And beyond that, they’re hilarious while I’m peeing or pooping.  Seriously–I had to laugh out loud.  “Dah-dah-da-dot, da-daaaaah!..CHARGE!”  Or the rhythmic

clapping.  I might take advantage of this kind of encouragement when the time comes to potty-train my child, but as an adult who has been successfully housebroken for over thirty years, I found it annoying…insulting even.

“They really order you around here,” a stranger said to me on the concourse, perhaps reading my mind.  He got it exactly right.  I don’t like being ordered around anywhere, least of all at a ballpark.  Hey, Ripken stadium staff:  Back off.  Back WAY off.  Let your stadium do the work for itself.

So, in the end, as much as I felt like Ripken Stadium had going for it, and as much as I enjoyed the modern-retro-Oriole Park feel that it had, I’m afraid I come across with a more negative than positive feel for the place.  With all of the positive reviews of the park out there, I came out disappointed.  I can see why the reviews are positive…the ballpark is gorgeous in all sorts of ways.  But if I went to the Louvre, I wouldn’t want a tour guide shouting in my ear all the moments that I’m supposed to be impressed.  Turn down the volume, guys, and let us watch the game in a little more peace.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel:  8.5/10
Very good here.  Between the crab and the idolatrous Ripken-worship, there’s no question where I am.

Charm:  2.5/5
Remember the movie The Man with Two Brains?  Where Steve Martin meets a gorgeous-looking woman only to find out she has a voice like Fran Drescher’s larynx had been scrubbed raw by a cheese grater?   That’s what Ripken Stadium is like.  Visually gorgeous, but auditorily anything but.

Spectacle:  2/5
Overdone–even for short-season A ball.

Team mascot/name:  4.5/5
Ferrous (on right) and friend.  That’s a heck of a great mascot name for this team.  Any mascot name that requires high school chemistry to understand is a winner in my book.  Also, the team name is 100% appropriate.

Aesthetics:  3/5
Sorta pretty.  Not much of a view.

Pavilion area:  4/5

Scoreability:  1.5/5

Fans:  4.5/5
A sellout crowd that included my sister.  Minor deduction for so many leaving early.

Intangibles:  1.5/5
I felt assaulted, but still give the park credit for what it does well.

TOTAL:  32/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

Yankee pitcher Jason Stephens is the star, completely shutting down IronBird bats.  He pitches six innings of two-hit ball.

Matt Morris homers for Staten Island.

(Written January 2008.)

Paul and Michelle’s Love And Baseball Rehearsal Dinner Extravaganza

Paul and Michelle’s Love And Baseball Rehearsal Dinner Extravaganza

Everett Memorial Stadium, Everett, WASHINGTON
Number of states:  still 11
States to go:  39

July 29, 2005 (Tri-City Dust Devils 9, Everett AquaSox 3)

After proposing to my wife (just after visiting Vancouver’s Nat Bailey Stadium), we had 11 months to set up our wedding weekend.  Now, as I have told you, there was never any question:  the wedding was not going to take place at a ballpark, just as the proposal wasn’t.  But we wanted minor league baseball to be a part of our weekend. Baseball was central to our relationship.

How you ask?  Well, let me quote the minister at our wedding:  “Dear friends, we are gathered here today, in the company of friends and loved ones, ready to celebrate the marriage of Michelle and Paul…because of the infield fly rule.”  Who else can say their marriage is a direct result of the infield fly rule?  I bet none.


everettrehearsalal

Michelle and I wait on the field for our pre-game activities with Al, an AquaSox worker.

Michelle and I dated for a while back in 1997.  During that time, I took her to a Mariners game at the Kingdome.  I taught her the ins and outs of the infield fly rule.  She thought I was nuts.  We broke up (not because of that).  Four years later, Michelle had coincidentally gotten a job with the Tri-City Dust Devils.  She was a moderately big baseball fan, but not quite as intense as those who worked in baseball her whole life.  However, Michelle found that her knowledge of the infield fly rule gave her credibility in the wild world of sports.  She also found she was all alone in Kennewick, Washington, and thinking of me.  She wrote me a letter.

Meanwhile, I was writing these pages for the first time–on the major league side.  In the process, I was thinking of how cool Michelle was.  I was also worried–I had heard through very indirect channels that Michelle had gotten married and

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had become very sick, perhaps even died.  I remarked on that on the Kingdome page!  So when Michelle wrote me, I actually wrote back “Glad to hear you’re alive!”  Weird.  I took my sweet time popping the question…and three and a half years later, we were celebrating at Everett.

All Michelle and I wanted was to get a few seats and a chicken dinner.  But the group sales representative we worked with at the AquaSox must not get a tremendous amount of rehearsal dinners.  She went crazy-nuts and was thrilled to work with us!  Right off the bat, she said:  “Of course, someone from your party would need to throw out a first pitch that night, and we’d want to get your guests in the game for some of our onfield promotions!”

We were thrilled.  But then we were concerned.

If anything was going to break up our marriage before it got started, it would be an argument over which of us got to throw out the first pitch.  So Michelle emailed to ask if we could have two first pitches–one for each of us.  We got the following response:  “I will reserve TWO first pitches as well (unless one of you would rather sing the national anthem J)”  Weird emoticon–I think it means she was being sarcastic.  But singing the National Anthem at a ballgame is one of my lifelong dreams.  I called her from work the second I saw the email and asked if she was serious.  She asked this:  “Can you sing?”  Yes, I can.  Then, this:  “Are you going to go Roseanne or Janet Jackson on me?” I’m too patriotic to do the former and not chesty enough to do the latter.  “Okay.  You’re on.”

Thus it came to pass that Michelle walked the red carpet to deliver the first pitch of the game (well, one of about a half-dozen “first” pitches).  We practiced for months…Michelle wanted to throw from the rubber and didn’t want it to bounce.  When we started practicing in the spring, she could only get the ball about 45

feet.  But the practice paid off.  Michelle threw from the mound, just in front of the rubber.  The ball made it to catcher J.B. Tucker on the fly–and out of the six first pitches, hers was the only one not to bounce.  When she walked up to have her picture taken with Mr. Tucker, Michelle was going to say “This is my last night as a single gal!”  I had even authorized a quick tryst at home plate, but Michelle chickened out and said nothing.  Your loss, J.B. Tucker.

Next up: the National Anthem.  I had worked on it for several days.  The big question:  do I go up the fourth on the word “Free”?  If I start in the right key, I can pull that off.  I had made other decisions beyond any shadow of a doubt:  I would go with a fairly slow tempo (hey, this is my moment, I want it to last).  I would slow down just a hair at the end of every quatrain.  I would smile on “That our flag was still there,” thus giving the line the warmth it deserves.  And then, if it felt right, I’d go up the fourth.  It all worked out, except maybe going up the fourth.  I hit the note all right, but had trouble getting off it (there was a minor glitch at the end of the note–I noticed, but nobody else said they did).

In any event, the best part was the cheering from my friends and family.  My buddy J.J. snapped this picture, which happens to be one of my favorite pictures of all time.  It’s me singing, but more importantly, it’s nearly everyone I love in the world in the top four rows of the first full section from the left.  All of my buddies and family are looking off at the flag–except for my mom and dad, who are looking down at me.

Things went on from there.  Michelle was the “Sweetheart of the Game” for the second time (and at the second stadium) in a month. 

My Uncle Rick won a hundred bucks in a remote-control car race when he totally T-boned his opponent.  My nephew Henry tried to throw plastic fish into a net his dad was holding…but unfortunately, he threw the fishes over his shoulder–north–while his dad was standing east of him.  My new father-in-law had to decide whether to take an AquaSox cap or “what’s in the car” (which, the PA guy said, is a Mark Goodson/Bill Todman production distributed by KingWorld).  He took the car, and was rewarded with a $50 gift certificate.  Our friend Monika guessed the movie trivia question right (“Some Like It Hot”).  Some younger guests got to run around the bases, one of them in a race against Webbly.  And, to top it all off, the night ended with fireworks!

As those fireworks died off, we had all enjoyed the perfect rehearsal dinner.  It was a celebration of baseball, and of Michelle and I, to be sure.  But it turned out to be a huge party and celebration of all of our friends and family as well.  The fireworks were an absolutely perfect way to finish off the evening–it felt like they were for Michelle and me, and a thank you to everyone for heading out.  Our only big worry was that the game would be so fun that it would eclipse the ceremony and reception the next day.  It didn’t.  The game was exactly what we wanted to launch us into our wedding, and our marriage.


BASEBALL STUFF WE SAW THAT NIGHT:

The Dust Devils’ Jason van Kooten and James Sweeney were the batting stars.  van Kooten had a double and a triple, and both van Kooten and Sweeney had two RBI.

Keizer Stadium/Volcanoes Stadium, Keizer, Oregon

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Keizer Stadium, Keizer, OREGON

Number of states: still 8
States to go:  42
Number of games: 8
First game:  September 5, 2004 (Everett AquaSox 15, Salem-Keizer Volcanoes 5)
Most recent game:  August 21, 2011 (Boise Hawks 9, Salem-Keizer  Volcanoes 2)

I sure hope that my in-laws aren’t offended by the score of this ballpark.  I made it down to Salem-Keizer for the last game of the 2004 Northwest League season, on my first visit to Michelle The Fiancee’s parents since Michelle had changed to that title from Michelle The Girlfriend.  They gamely agreed to blitz down to Salem from their home south of Portland to see my final Northwest League stadium.  We hoped it would be a critical game, with Everett needing a win to force a tie salemkeizersignin the Northwest League’s Western Division.  Alas, it didn’t turn out that way–Vancouver clinched the division with a win earlier that day.  Still, this was a good chance to chill with the in-laws-to-be.  While the company was good, the ballpark was charmless and left a lot to be desired.

Location, location, location!  Keizer Stadium ain’t got it.  For starters, Keizer is a small suburb of almost-as-small Salem; it’s about as far north of Salem as you can get and still be connected.  Indeed, it’s far out enough that there’s nothing north of it except cows, at least as far as I can see.  There’s nothing south of it but, you know, boring suburban stuff.  Were it not for Oregon’s mountains in the distance (which were, on this September Sunday at least, almost entirely obscured by smog and haze), I wouldn’t have the remotest clue where in the United States I am while in Keizer Stadium.

This leads me to the main issue I have with Keizer Stadium:  I-5 is only a good cutoff throw from the right-field fence.  This salemkeizertrainmeans that interstate traffic is close enough that I can hear it throughout the game; close enough that I can smell the exhaust.  Just past the interstate is a train track, over which several freight trains traveled during the game.  This could have been enjoyable–to quote Paul Simon, “everybody loves the sound of a train in the distance”–but I couldn’t hear the train over the damn traffic noise. All of this eliminates any hope that Keizer Stadium has for real atmosphere.  It has all the atmosphere of a Denny’s parking lot just off the exit ramp.

I was especially disturbed by the playground down the right field line.  It just doesn’t feel right to have kids playing so close to semis blitzing by on their way to Portland and Seattle.  Maybesalemkeizerplayground it’s just the teacher’s instinct in me, but there was something freaky–and sort of unfun–about the atmosphere on that playground.

Even with the disadvantage of the location, I don’t feel that the Volcanoes’ people did much to make the best of it.  For starters, lineups weren’t posted anywhere on the concourse.  There were some nice places to walk–I like the picnic tables down the left-field line and the grassy area beyond the left-field fence.  But it’s strange–when I asked the ushers where I could find lineups listed, they looked at me like it was the most bizarre request they’d ever received.  Seems to me that someone would have asked before me.

Keizer Stadium featured one lovely flower arrangement made to look like a baseball.  However, it was putsalemkeizernumber in a place where nobody could really see it except the right fielder..it’s just the other side of the fence from third base.  Those seated down the first-base line wouldn’t have an angle to see that it’s a baseball, and everyone else wouldn’t see it at all.

And while we’re at it, the numbers on the back of the Volcanoes’ jerseys are very nearly unreadable. Does anybody want to hazard a guess as to what this man’s jersey number is? 28, 23, 29?

I did ask Michelle The Fiancee’s Dad what his coming to bat song would be.  He said, not surprisingly, the Marine Corps Hymn.  Not a bad choice.  Mine?  “Superball” by salemkeizerhostfamiliesAimee Mann, though I’m willing to consider other options.

There was a sweet pre-game ceremony where the Volcanoes players walked out to give a gift to and thank their host families.  It reminded me of senior night for high school sports teams, where players walk out and give their moms and dads bouquets.  It can’t be easy to be on your own in a minor-league town far away from home when you’re 18 or 19 years old.

Here’s another question tsalemkeizerfromlfhat came up during the endless game.  As you can probably guess, I never leave games early…and in this game, I was rewarded.  The Volcanoes came roaring back from a 15-4 ninth-inning deficit only to fall short 15-5.  But the fifth run meant a free burger (or something…it was so late at night that we headed home, and I never got it).  To the patient go the rewards.  My bride-to-be and her parents were having a very good time, so I didn’t feel like I was detaining them, but I’d like to announce publicly that I would have left this one early if they’d needed to.

So, in spite of the fact that I didn’t like the ballpark much and don’t plan on returning, a fun time was had just chilling with the fiancee and her parents.  I accomplished what I wanted to–I made it to all 8 Northwest League ballparks.  It had been a fun 2004–13 ballparks in 8 states (14 in 9 if you count the rainout).  Count on at least a couple more of these in 2005.  And in the process, I hope to see a few more scenes like this one, which features the Volcanoes’ John Odom.

salemkeizerodom

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel:  5/10
Very little going for the ballpark here.  There’s a view of Oregon’s mountains beyond right field (mostly obscured by haze), and trains running by past the interstate, but for the most part, this could have been any distant suburb off of any interstate in America.

Charm: 1.5 /5
Very little.  There’s a reason I don’t have a house by the interstate–noise, dirt, and atmosphere–and for the same reasons, I don’t want my ballparks close enough to hear I-5 tractor-trailers.

Spectacle: 3/5
Fine.  Not great for short-season A ball.

Team mascot/name:  3.5/5
salemkeizermascot
Crater and I squint into the sun…see how his pupils are almost nonexistent?  Yeah, it’s a dinosaur…which has been done (Dinger in Colorado), but I’ll tolerate it for a team called the Volcanoes.  One goofy-looking guy,  Crater is.

Aesthetics:  1/5
Not a pretty place, either on the exterior or interior.

Pavilion area: 2/5
Not much going on…a little playground in the shadow of the interstate, a lot of cement with nothing too fun going on, and most importantly, no lineups. That’s inexcusable.

Scoreability:  2.5/5
Although there were no lineups available, the Salem-Keizer folk did a decent job staying updated on the scoreboard, although they did misspell Brian Schweiger’s name (“Scheiger”).

Fans:  4/5
A little quiet, but I was impressed by the crowd for the last game of the year.  I was even more impressed by the July 4 crowd a few years later.

Intangibles: 1/5
It might have been the suburban location, the damn interstate, or a terrible game, but this place did absolutely nothing for me.

TOTAL:  23.5/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

A bloody-awful game, featuring 29 hits and 20 runs.  Everett’s attack featured round-trippers by Oswaldo Navarro (to lead off the game), Mike Wilson, Brandon Green, and Elvis Cruz.  After the latter’s homer, Salem-Keizer’s PA announcer announced “Elvis has left the building.”  I bet Cruz has NEVER heard that one before…although I confess I said it before the PA guy did.

Simon Klink homered for the Volcanoes.

Patrick Rose homers for Tri-City in 2008.

Craig Westcott pitches seven scoreless innings to lead Salem-Keizer to a 7-0 win over Tri-City in Game 3 of the 2009 Northwest League Championship Series.  Evan Crawford goes 3-for-3 with two doubles for the Volcanoes, who wind up finishing off the best-of-5 series the next night.

Nat Bailey Stadium, Vancouver, British Columbia

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Nat Bailey Stadium, Vancouver, British Columbia

Number of states:  still 8 (but one province!)
States to go:  42
Number of games: 1
First game: August 29, 2004 (Everett AquaSox 5, Vancouver Canadians 3)

I had purchased the engagement ring about ten days earlier.  It had been sitting in my sock drawer.  Michelle The Girlfriend and I had been together for about two and a half years, and I was getting tired of her being merely at Girlfriend status.  Indeed, I had considered popping the question to her on our trip earlier that summer to the Oregon Coast–the Second Annual Paul and Michelle Minor League Trip, which included Tacoma, Eugene, and Portland.  But I wasn’t quite ready then.  Indeed, while sitting across the table from her at Mo’s Restaurant in Newport, Oregon, I confessed that I had thought about popping the question to her, but wasn’t quite ready.  Did she cry?  Get bitchy?  Nope.  She just gave a half smile and said something like “Whatever.”  She understood my need to, as she put it, “look at it from 20 different angles and upside-down before making a decision.”  If anything, that assured I’d get that ring–she was breathtakingly patient with me and very understanding of–and even fond of–my quirks. So it didn’t take long.  And on August 29, 2004, the day before school began, the day when we went to Nat Bailey Stadium–this would be the day I asked.

At some point early in our relationship, long before marriage had crossed our minds in any serious way, Michelle had warned me:  if I dared propose at a sporting event, she would walk out of said sporting event and I’d never see her again.  That works for me. 

I’m fairly into my private intimate moments being both private and intimate, and not public like the guy I saw propose to his girlfriend at Dwyer Stadium in Batavia, NY. So I knew the rules.  But when I think of Michelle and our best moments, they usually involve random road trips, baseball, and hanging out.  In fact, in honor of this, I gave Michelle a birthday card that year that said something like:  “We need to go bowling in Canada…[open card]…That way we can always talk about how fun it was that time we went bowling in Canada.”  Michelle repeatedly mentioned that card in the months following her birthday and the need to bowl in Canada.  So that set up our weekend road trip:  wake up early, put the ring in my jeans pocket while Michelle wasn’t looking, find a bowling alley south of Vancouver that would be open at 10AM on a Sunday (Michelle, trip-planner extraordinaire did that), and then zip up to Nat Bailey Stadium to catch a critical matchup between Everett and Vancouver, who were battling for the Western Division title.  After that…well…I had plans.

Michelle beat me at bowling.  That says more about my bowling abilities than about hers.  (Sorry, babe.)

How good a ballpark was Nat Bailey Stadium?  Good enough to make me forget

the stresses of the day.  I even stopped feeling in my pocket for the ring.  At first, before arriving, I thought the ballpark’s location was a bit unfortunate…it’s within Vancouver’s city limits, but very much a suburban spot.  However, I was won over when I got there.  The stadium is wedged between Queen Elizabeth Park, which provides for lovely views past the outfield wall of dog-walkers headed through the trees, and Hillcrest Park, which featured a nice, large, friendly pickup soccer match for the locals and a spiral slide for Michelle.  A lovely place to be.

Nat Bailey Stadium has as nice an atmosphere and as respectful an attitude towards its past as any ballpark I’ve ever been to.  This is best exemplified in its pavilion area.  I’m usually not thrilled with a cementy area under the bleachers, completely devoid of any natural light.  But at Nat Bailey Stadium, the pictures, exhibits, and history on display made the pavilion into a place I could have spent hours.  I had just finished reading Ball Four when I made it to Vancouver, so I wanted to see the 1969 Vancouver Mounties photo.  Sure enough, there it was, featuring many of the people Jim Bouton described in his book.  There were a number of newspaper accounts of key games from Nat Bailey stadium in the past, most notably a piece about an appearance Babe Ruth made there.  (Or was it Mickey Mantle?  I had a lot on my mind that day and could be remembering it wrong.  I do think it was Ruth, though.)  I’m enough of a nerd that I most enjoyed an article featuring Hilly Hathaway, whom I saw get one of his four major league wins.  I just loved meandering around that place, reading the articles covering baseball over the past many years.  It reminded me of Wichita and Spokane, two other places whose pavilion areas were de facto museums of local baseball history.  All minor league parks should have something like it.

Michelle and I parked ourselves in the front row, just short of Vancouver’s dugout.  It turned out we

were seated only a few feet away from Vancouver’s coaches.  This meant I got to hear umpire/coach conversation, and, as a sports official, I thoroughly enjoy this.  Today was better than most.

Vancouver’s pitching coach, I was pleased to see, was Craig Lefferts, whom I remember totally owning my ’84 Tigers in the World Series.  He looks like he’s still in awfully good shape, and as good a pitcher as he was and as long as he stuck around, I think that the pitchers in the Oakland system are fortunate to have him.  He seemed to be a good-natured guy, holding conversations with the fans behind the dugout in an easygoing manner that led me to believe that he had talked to these folks every game.  I even got to hear him politely–but firmly–yell at the home plate umpire about a pitch he felt caught the corner.  The conversation

went something like this:

CRAIG LEFFERTS:  Where was that, blue?!!
HOME PLATE UMPIRE (removing his mask):  I don’t want to hear it!
CL:  My catcher didn’t even move his glove!
HPU:  I’m right here, and you’re way over there!  You can’t see it!
CL:  I know my catcher wouldn’t set up off the plate!

As I see it, the umpire here was being a little bit of a hothead…Lefferts’ questions/complaints aren’t exactly rude, and hardly merited the removal of a mask and the subsequent hollering.  Lefferts hadn’t said anything all day prior to that.  But then, it had been a long season…maybe there had been previous encounters I don’t know about.

A little more interesting to me was the batting coach, Todd Steverson.  In looking at his career, he seems to mirror Billy Beane–the first-round pick with loads of promise who never quite makes it.  Perhaps that explains Todd’s behavior on this day–maybe he has a bit of a chip

on his shoulder, because in the fourth inning, he got tossed.  The play was a double-play call against the Canadians.  Steverson felt that the pitcher, who was finishing off a 3-6-1 double play, was pulled off the bag by the throw.  From my angle, he was thrown off the bag, but landed on it again before the batter, Landon Powell, got there.  Good call, Blue.  But Steverson had a fascinating way of arguing.  Did he say:  “No!  He was pulled off the bag!”  Nope.  Did he say:  “Oh, you blew that one!”  Nope.  Steverson immediately started shouting–and repeating three times!–the following complaint:  “You suck, Blue!  You suck!  You suck!”  What the hell is that?  That’s terribly juvenile behavior…Steverson is living down to the stereotype of ballplayers with that kind of garbage.  And what’s more, it’s not even clever!  It’s fourth-grade level.  If you’re going to bitch and moan, at least be creative about it.  Or, to put it in a way that Mr. Steverson might more easily understand:  You suck, Steverson.  A very rare combination of immature, whiny, and lame!  Anyway, back to the game.  The second base umpire rightly tossed Steverson, who then ran out onto the field to get his last complaints in before leaving.  The only problem with the base umpire, as I see it, is that he was smiling when he ejected Steverson.  To me, that betrays a little weakness…he’d have done better to have stayed poker-faced.

I cannot locate the names of either umpire for that game, but here’s my prediction:  out of these four main characters (Lefferts, Steverson, and the two umpires), only Lefferts will make it to the majors as a coach or umpire.

More about the ballpark:  It is unabashedly minor league in so many ways…encountering ballplayers making phone calls in the pavilion (probably expensive to make an international cell phone call), loads of promotions, a between-innings archery exhibition…it was nicely put together.  A good day of entertainment.  I insist that Canadians are more polite than Americans, and that this leads to a sweet atmosphere at the ballpark–and it means that even a large city like Vancouver can have a

small-towny feel to it.  I even felt like the font of the concession stand lettering had a retro feel to it, making me feel like I was in a ballpark in the early ’50s.  Does that make any sense?  I especially enjoyed the foresty views of Queen Elizabeth Park.  They seem to have everything I like in a ballpark.  On my visit, there were flyers being past around that said something like “Save Nat Bailey Stadium.”  I hope they succeed.  This is an old place, but clearly a loved and lovable place, and one of the better minor league ballparks I’ve ever seen.  I’d like to see it stay.

Michelle and I head home.  This is the Sunday night before school starts and I have to abandon Michelle for nine more months while I tackle student essays.  I tell her I’d like to go out to eat.  I try to very calmly say “where would you like to go?”  She says I get to decide.  I tell her I’d like to go to the Five Spot restaurant, which is where we had our first date.  I stop at a rest area and sneak off to make a phone call without her knowing.  I ask the guy at the restaurant to set aside the table where we met on our first date.  He does.  I think I’m being all suave, but Michelle insists she knew what I was up to.  She thinks I suggest the Five Spot a bit too eagerly.  She even thinks (she later tells me) she sees me checking my pocket for something…I know it wasn’t the ring, it was a cell phone, but Michelle thinks it’s the ring.  I spend the three hour drive home thinking about the best times I’ve had with this woman–many of them at ballparks, many of them documented here.  It seems appropriate that I should ask Michelle to marry me after a ballgame.  I’m happy and excited–not really scared-nervous, but psyched-nervous.  We get to the restaurant.  The table is ours.  I order my dinner.  I ask for an entire pitcher of water (Michelle later says this was a CERTAIN giveaway of my plans.)  I tell her that this is where it all started between us, and that this is where I’d like to start something else.  I produce the ring and set it on the table.

At that moment, an unfortunate waitress happens to set Michelle’s Diet Coke next to her.  I say “Will you marry me?”  The waitress literally runs away.

Michelle The Girlfriend became Michelle The Fiancée at that moment.

Man, but I love baseball.  And I love this exceedingly cool woman who accompanies me to games even more.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel:  8.5/10
For one thing, the ballpark is in the middle of The Queen’s Park–so I know I’m in Canada.  The suburban location isn’t perfect, but once inside, there’s not a question I’m in Canada…just enough maple leaves and Canadian promotions to push this score high.

Charm:  5/5
Very much so.  There’s something sort of your-father’s-baseball-park charming about the whole place.

Spectacle: 3.5/5
A bit calm, which I usually like, but my short-season-A ball can be a little more frenetic between innings.

Team mascot/name: 2.5/5
The name is fine, if a little generic.  No mascot.

Aesthetics:  4.5/5
Absolutely lovely throughout.

Pavilion area: 5/5
Absolutely fantastic.  Ex-Canadians’ pictures on the wall, old newspaper clippings, and old team photos intermingle with old-timey concession stands…I could have spent the whole down in the tunnel.  You know I like a pavilion if it’s not open-air and I give it a perfect score.

Scoreability:  4/5
No problems here.

Fans:  3.5/5
They seemed to be nice people, and close friends with Craig Lefferts, who talked to them throughout the game.  Not too many of them, though.

Intangibles:  5/5
A beautiful ballpark with a sense of charm and history.  Plus, I’ll always associate it with getting engaged later that night.

TOTAL:  41.5/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

Everett’s Brandon Green had the key hit, a two-run game-untying single in the eighth inning off pitcher Adiel Sanchez’s leg and into right field.

The Canadians couldn’t solve Aaron Trolia’s pitching…he shut down Vancouver for 6 1/3.

Mark Lowe came on to get the save.

Dwyer Stadium, Batavia, New York

Dwyer Stadium, Batavia, NEW YORK

Number of states: 8
States to go: 42
Number of games: 1
First game:  July 26, 2004 (Batavia Muckdogs 6, Mahoning Valley Scrappers 2)

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

As I crossed back into the United States from Canada (and Skydome) to make New York the 8th state crossed off in the Minor League quest, the US was on a major terror watch due to the Democratic National Convention beginning in Boston.  I figured it would be a tough time getting across the border.  Here’s what transpired:

CUSTOMS GUY:  Where are you coming from?
ME:  Toronto.
CUSTOMS GUY:  What were you doing there?
ME:  Watching two baseball games.
CUSTOMS GUY:  Where are you heading?
ME:  Batavia.  One more game, tomorrow night.
CUSTOMS GUY:  Where are you from?
ME:  Seattle.
CUSTOMS GUY:  How do you afford this?  Tickets, hotels, rental car?
ME:  Well, it adds up, but I save up.

Isn’t it nice to know that, even at a moment when our country is in unique danger, that this customs guy cares enough about me to ask about my finances?  I mean, not that I expect politeness or sensitivity from my government workers–I know better–but come on, isn’t this a little irrelevant and intrusive?  Oh well–at least I wasn’t frisked.

Maybe the man’s status as a government worker isn’t to blame for this

exchange.  Maybe it’s something as simple as his status as a resident of an Eastern state, where politeness isn’t valued that much.  This gentleman served as a nice introduction to the brusque East from the polite Midwest and polite Canada.  I’m glad I met him…it was essential preparation for the treatment my new friends would give me in Batavia the next night.

I had literally zero expectations for Batavia, a town of 80,000-ish about 40 minutes east of Buffalo.  I’d never heard of it and hadn’t been anywhere near it before.  What a pleasant surprise!  It was a disarmingly charming small town–loads of parks and historic markers.  Rather than dining at a chain fast food place, I had a sandwich made at a family-run deli

just a couple of blocks south of the ballpark.  This kind of place doesn’t exist in a good chunk of the country–at least not in cities large enough to support minor-league baseball.  If it weren’t cold and drizzly, I would have spent the entire day wandering around one of Batavia’s several large, tree-packed parks.  As it is, I went down the road to LeRoy to enjoy the Jello Museum.  Yes, I was excited to go–that kind of kitschy pop culture integrated with American history is right up my alley.  I’ll lay off talking about it here and encourage you to check out the website if you’re at all interested.

The ballpark itself is smaller than most I’ve been to, even at the short-A level.  There are three small segments which spread from just-beyond-first to just-beyond-third with significant gaps between the segments.  This means that a spectator can walk from the pavilion straight out to the dugouts.  There’s little in the way of decoration on the pavilion, but I like what there is:  clearly, local schoolkids have made art as a part of a local anti-smoking campaign.  Also, they have a very basic “Wall of Fame” listing every major league player or manager in history that had passed through Batavia on his way to the bigs.  I’ve seen walls of fame before, but

only for superstars; this is the first I’ve seen that claims to be all-inclusive, honoring every major leaguer from Hall of Famers down to cups of coffee.  (Even if they incorrectly changed “Dock Ellis” to “Doc Ellis.”) Additionally, the ballpark has a little table underneath the whiteboard with the starting lineups; this makes it far easier to write lineups in my scorebook than it has been for me anywhere else.  These little things add up.

I must admit that, as much as I liked these touches, the fans are what made Batavia such a nice experience for me.  A month or two before I went to Batavia, Sports Illustrated ran a nice piece on how big minor league baseball is in New York.  The fine folks around me backed this up.  First, I met an elderly couple who were clearly major Muckdogs supporters.  Not only were they able to tell us a good deal about current Muckdogs, but had some sense of their fluctuating roster–who was on their way up to full-season A and who would be promoted to Batavia from the Gulf Coast League.  Very impressive.  The grandmotherly woman was kind enough to give me a NY/Penn League baseball.  Thanks, kind stranger!  The gentleman next to me was on a minor league trip through the Northeast.  He’d made it from his home in Scranton up to Rochester, then to Batavia, eventually to get as far as Akron.  Nice guy, although it appeared his wife would rather be elsewhere.  The gentlemen

behind me were from Connecticut, and one of them was in his 35th year of teaching high school civics, which gave us a lot to talk about.  He, too, was traveling through a number of minor league ballparks in the Northeast.  It was almost enough to get me to forget he was a Yankee fan…but not quite.

All of these folks were nice–and all of them turned on me mercilessly.  Make no mistake…I deserved it.  It happened in the fifth inning.  Carl Galloway was at bat.  I’m sitting in the front row just short of first base.  Mr. Galloway checks his swing and sends a chopper off the tip of his bat down towards me.  The ball takes a wicked ricochet off the base of the wall about six feet short of me, and I throw out my glove to attempt a backhand stab at it.  Before I tell you the result of my attempt, please consider these two facts:

1.  I had less than a second to react after the ball ricocheted off the wall.

2.  As a result of going off the end of the bat and then the base of the wall, the ball had some nasty English on it.

Okay.  The ball hit my glove, and I dropped it.  It didn’t get back into the webbing.  I could feel it hit the meat of my hand beneath my pinkie and spin right out past the flesh beneath my thumb.  It was gone as soon as it was there.

Here’s where things went haywire.  The Batavia crowd booed me relentlessly.  Even my alleged friends

around me really let me have it.  “Why didn’t you put down your scorebook?”  shouted one.  “Put an E10 in that scorebook!  E10!  E10!” shouted the Connecticut teacher.  While I slammed my glove into the railing, hid my face in shame, and slunk to my seat, the first base coach retrieved the ball and handed it to the guy NEXT TO ME!  Whatever…I already had a ball from the nice old lady.

But my so-called friends wouldn’t let me forget it!  I know it was all in fun–Connecticut guy said as much by repeatedly saying “Welcome to the Eastern United States!” in the midst of his heckling.  I have no idea how to respond to this kind of treatment.  It feels like the second-grade boy and girl smacking and pinching each other to show they like each other.  In the Eastern United States, apparently, when you like somebody, you verbally abuse them.  I’ll stay in Seattle, thanks.  But still, I can respect the cultural difference and even play along a little.  And I could have prevented the whole problem by catching the damn ball to begin with.

From the small world department…As I looked at the program before the game, one of the Mahoning Valley Scrappers’ hometowns was the small suburb in which I teach.  He was warming up just a few feet in front of me.  I called him over and asked if he went to my high school.  He had!  My first year there was his senior year, and I didn’t teach him, so we didn’t know each other, but I asked if I could say hi to anybody when I got back home.  He played on a tremendous high school team that wound up having four players drafted off of it…and this kid wasn’t one of them!  Funny thing was that their team didn’t do very well–didn’t make the state playoffs, perhaps because the kids were more focused on the fact that there were scouts in the stands than they were on playing the game.  Nice kid.  Tim Montgomery is his name.  He went 0-for-4, unfortunately, but brought a .270 average into the game.  I’ll keep an eye out.


“Take Me Out to the Ballgame” was not sung in the seventh inning stretch at Batavia.  It was pre-empted by a

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marriage proposal.  The PA guy turned the microphone over to a man, pictured at left, who proposed to his girlfriend right there.  “Say no!  Say no!” the New York guys shouted, particularly the fat guy in the Bills cap who was most ruthless in making fun of me…clearly because fat guy is leading a lonely life, and would never have been able to make the catch that he ridiculed me for missing…yeah, I’m making fun of the guy now that I’m out of the state and he can’t hurt me…so what?  Anyway, the marriage proposal was a success: the woman pictured here agreed to marry the man, in the words of his proposal, “a year from now, right here at the ballpark.”

A couple of thoughts about marriage proposals (and, indeed, marriages) at the ballpark.  Michelle the Girlfriend and I love baseball, and indeed, baseball has been central to our relationship in many ways.  She came up with the idea for the yearly July 4th Minor League Baseball trip, she keeps up on my website, she understands and tolerates this quest of mine, and she’s even competitive in my fantasy league.  Indeed, we probably wouldn’t be together were it not for baseball…we reconciled four years after a breakup in part because Michelle got a job for a minor league team and found she missed me.  But when the time comes for a marriage proposal, if I do it at the ballpark, Michelle has assured me she will never speak to me again.  I share her distaste for the ballpark proposal.  First of all, there’s the public aspect of it.  It seems to me that asking and answering this question should be done privately.  It’s a terribly intimate moment…why make it into a de facto reality TV show?  That feels cheap and yucky to me.  Also, how much pressure is there on the woman?  Just once, I’d like to see a woman actually say no to a public proposal.  It’d serve the guy right for pressuring her.  Michelle and I have agreed that, when the day comes, we’ll have our rehearsal dinner at a minor league game, but that’s wildly different from the actual marriage–it’s a party, not a ceremony.  I don’t want to have a thousand strangers looking on, four dozen kids chewing tobacco, or people publicly adjusting themselves as I become engaged or married.  I certainly don’t want a mascot spraying silly string.  I don’t want the recessional music to be “YMCA.”  I don’t want a scoreboard to send us off on our honeymoon.  I don’t understand why anyone else would.  Nevertheless, I wish the happy couple luck, and hope they enjoy their wedding.

Dwyer Stadium was a very good experience for me–it has a homey, intimate feel, and I enjoyed my trip there.  I’ll be back.  I’ll spend some time preparing some insults for Fat Bills Hat Man and anyone else who comes after me, and I’ll field grounders for a month before the trip.  I’ll show you guys.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel:  8/10
It felt like a small town–and a small Northeastern town at that.

Charm:  4.5/5
Right down to the kids’ drawings.

Spectacle: 3.5/5
Could have had a little more going on for short-season A ball, but not bad.

Team mascot/name:  4.5/5


Meet Maxwell T. Chomper. (Check out the kids mugging for the camera behind us.)  I know that “Muckdogs” is a new name (fans told me that the Columbus minor league team sued to have Batavia drop its former “Clippers” nickname), and that it’s a bit nontraditional, but I absolutely love it.  It’s locally appropriate, unique, intimidating, and fun all in one.  Max could be dressed a little better, I think, but that’s a minor complaint.

Aesthetics:  3.5/5
Lots of trees, and has a small town beauty/charm about it.

Pavilion area:  4.5/5
I love the major league wall and the writing surface by the lineups.

Scoreability:  5/5
No problems at all–they quickly displayed all close scoring decisions.  One of the best ballparks I’ve been to for this.

Fans:  4/5
Okay–so the fans were verbally abusive to umpires, opponents, and worst of all, to me.  Nevertheless, they mean well–I’m willing to see beyond their social shortcomings and obvious anger issues to see how genuinely kind, gregarious, and knowledgeable they were.

Intangibles:  4.5/5
I really felt like this was a fun, enjoyable night of baseball–a great way to end my 2004 trip.

TOTAL:  42/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

Kind of a quiet game.

The big blow was Carl Galloway’s three-run home run for Batavia.

Marshall Szabo went 4-for-4 for Mahoning Valley.

Scrappers’ pitcher Tony Sipp looked like a possible star to me, striking out 7 over 2 2/3 innings, but his defense and wildness let him down.  Still, I felt he looked strong–worth keeping an eye out for him.

Andy Baldwin allowed only six hits and one run over six innings for Batavia.

(Written August 2004.  Score revised July 2009.)

Yakima County Stadium, Yakima, Washington

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Yakima County Stadium, Yakima, WASHINGTON

Number of states:  still 5
States to go:  45
Number of games: 3
First game:  July 8, 2004 (Yakima Bears 7, Salem-Keizer Volcanoes 4)
Most recent game:  July 3, 2009 (Yakima Bears 9, Spokane Indians 4)

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

In the competition for “Longest drive made to meet Paul at a baseball game,” the nominees 

are:  3.  My dad, who took an airport shuttle two hours to get from Columbia, Missouri to a fine game at Busch Stadium.  2.  Rob, who drove about two and a half hours from State College, Pennsylvania to meet me at Three Rivers.  And the #1 longest drive to meet me at a ballpark:  Brian and his wife Annie, who drove two and a half hours from Seattle to meet me in Yakima.  They win the tiebreaker over Rob because–let’s face it–they drove to Yakima and did so for a short season single-A game.  It’s nice to have friends like these.  The Yakimas of the world are nicer when you can share them with friends.

Brian, a fellow teacher, a guy I call “my hero and mentor” (and he thinks it’s tongue-in-cheek), has a daughter who is working on her medical residency in Yakima.  I had forgotten this when I jokingly invited him to join me in Yakima for a ballgame.  I was pleasantly surprised when he agreed, saying he’s always looking for an excuse to visit his daughter Rachael.  Given that we’re both teachers (yay, summers off!),  he did, in fact, meet me in Yakima for Northwest league baseball.  His daughter joined us, and somehow, I wasn’t bothered when she studied during the game for tests she’d be taking shortly.  My answer to the questions about people with difficult medical

challenges was always the same:  “He should be seeing a doctor.”  Strangely, it was never the right answer.  The Yakima crowd made it easy for her study–there were few of them and they were quiet, even on Thunder Stick night.  (By the way, there is precedent in my life for studying at sports venues.  My brother claims he studied in college at the bowling alley…the general cacophony there was easier on him than the complete silence of the library.  Me?  The library all the way.  I had a carrel way down in the dusty bowels of the place.  Perfect.)

The Bears’ people did well to keep things active during the game.  They featured loads of promotions, and wacky ones, such as attempting to throw toilet plungers into a toilet, a cream pie eating contest, and an attempt to catch high-slung T-shirts with butterfly nets.  There were probably other promotions as well, but I couldn’t hear them–the PA system was awful.  On the whole, the atmosphere wasn’t exactly electric…a routine seating bowl which, as

I said, is mostly empty.

The ballpark itself  has some nice quirks.  It’s incredibly short–293 feet–down the lines, and Yakima’s dry, relatively high air must make those foul poles inviting targets.  However, the short porches at the poles become longer in a big hurry, as the outfield wall juts more or less straight out from there…the dimensions go from 293 to 340 in a big hurry.  The views of nearby mountains are charming, and if you’re heading to Yakima, you might note that the first-base side is home to the hot, sunny, uncomfortable seats.  The sun can be such a problem for spectators and fielders that they have put up a big screen past the third-base seats to block it.

On the whole, I’ll remember a fun night with my buddies in the middle of nowhere–one old friend with whom I can talk baseball and shoot the shit, his kind wife, and a woman who’s working on bringing health care

to the Yakima Valley.  What more can you ask than that?

July 2005–I returned to Yakima with my fiancée during the month of our wedding for that year’s July 4th Minor League Baseball trip.  And in the process, I managed to make my baby feel wonderful–nearly crying–and make a silly rookie mistake at the same time.  A local florist had a promotion called Sweetheart of the Game…basically an essay contest.  Write a few sentences about why your date should be the Sweetheart of the Game, and the winning essay’s sweetheart gets flowers delivered to her at her seat.  I wrote that Michelle and I were getting married on the 29th of that month, that we were on our third annual 4th of July Minor League Road Trip, that said road trip was originally Michelle’s idea (this is especially impressive to those who believe I’m dragging along an unwilling partner to all these ballparks), and that I loved her very much.  Well, they picked Michelle as Sweetheart of the Game (of course they did…I’m a poet, dammit), and Michelle was surprised and touched…she confessed later she nearly cried.  So what, you ask, was the rookie mistake?  This was…I wrote the wrong damn date for our wedding.  We were getting married on the 30th, not the 29th.  The 29th was the rehearsal dinner…where Michelle threw out the first pitch at an Everett AquaSox Game and where I sang the National Anthem.  We’d been spending the whole weekend talking baseball and playing catch, so the baseball on my brain led me to write the wrong date down…so Michelle corrected the announcer, saying “Actually, it’s the 30th.”  What a doofus move.  But she pointed out that this was short-season A ball, and so it was fine that I made a rookie mistake.  I’m thankful for that, because I want to spend my whole career in her organization.

yakimasweetheart

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel:  8.5/10
The view of nearby mountains is nice.  The museum area with the exhibit about Yakima-connected “Hub” Kittle is better.


Charm:  2/5
Reasonable here, in a county-fair sort of way (the stadium  is located on fairgrounds), but I can’t look past the foul-ball screen obscuring the view of literally every seat, the way-too-quiet PA (couldn’t hear him from my seat by third base!), and the horribly-maintained infield.

Spectacle: 5/5
Wacky low-minors stuff that never interferes with the game.

Team mascot/name:  2.5/5


Boomer Bear is about what you’d expect–a bit conventional and not locally appropriate.

Aesthetics:  3.5/5
The stands themselves are unattractive, but it’s quite a nice view.

Pavilion area:  4.5/5
Love the exhibit, though both it and the entire pavilion can be a bit larger for my tastes.

Scoreability:  2/5
I had to guess at some tough scoring decisions, and the lineups in the pavilion neglected to tell me first names and uniform numbers.  Plus, a scoreboard malfunction made one strike look like seven strikes.

Fans:  3/5
Gets a little better every time I go, although I’m still remembering how quiet the first game was.

Intangibles:  5/5
I wasn’t a fan after my first visit, but the last two have each brought tremendous memories…my baby crying at being named Sweetheart of the Game, just a few weeks before our wedding…and four years later, in 2009, both my wife and I tearing up as we watched our son totally transfixed over his first-ever fireworks.


TOTAL: 36/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

Two homers for Chris Carter set the table for the Bears’ win in my inaugural visit.

As of July 2004, Chase Smith had two losses in professional baseball, and I’ve been there for both of them:  the first in Eugene a week earlier, than this one.  Chase–send me a few bucks and I’ll not show up anymore.

For July 4th weekend of 2005, Michelle and I saw Yakima’s Angel Rocha give one of the poorest pitching performances imaginable.  He made it two-thirds of an inning…faced ten batters.  Two outs, six walks, and two hits–all of them scored for 8 earned runs, or an ERA for the outing of 108.00.  It didn’t get much better for Yakima thereafter.

Incredibly, in a 17-run, 17-hit onslaught, John Mayberry Jr. managed to go 0-for-6 for Spokane.

In 2009, Yakima comes back with an 8-run 8th-inning–aided by a pair of bases-loaded walks–to defeat Spokane.

(Written July 2004.  Updated July 2009.)

Tri-Cities Stadium/Dust Devils Stadium/Gesa Stadium, Pasco, Washington

Tri-Cities Stadium/Dust Devils Stadium/Gesa Stadium, Pasco, WASHINGTON

Number of states: still 5
States to go:  45
Number of games:  4
First game:  July 7, 2004 (Everett AquaSox 16, Tri-City Dust Devils 4)
Most recent game:  June 27, 2013 (Everett AquaSox 3, Tri-City Dust Devils 2, 11 innings)

Stadium was called Tri-Cities Stadium in 2004, Dust Devils Stadium for my second visit, and Gesa Stadium now.

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

What might have been…Michelle the Girlfriend worked for this franchise for a couple of years, overseeing its 2001 move from Portland.  And I was all set to head out there during the summer of 2002 to serve as a general dog’s-body for the organization. 

(Michelle said she was considering using me as official scorer until they found someone who could do it more regularly, then having me pinch-hit wherever I was needed for the rest of the summer.)  But, alas, Michelle left the Dust Devils before the season began and moved to Seattle with me.  Oh well…lose summer employment, but gain Michelle the Girlfriend’s constant presence.

If anyone ever asks you what public relations staff must do for a minor-league team, keep in mind (and this I never knew) that one of the duties is to dress as the mascot for winter appearances.  This makes The Dust Devil (who technically  does not have a name, although I was encouraged by Tri-City staffers to call him “Dusty”) was, when my girlfriend was in the costume, the sexiest mascot in the United States and Canada.  But take a look at that thing…what IS it?  A dust devil, I know, but does it look at all like one?  The nickname of Dust Devils is a fine nickname, and totally appropriate (I walked through

a few on the way to the ballpark, and a good number of them popped up on the field during the game).  But this thing doesn’t look like much of anything, and on top of that, it’s got to be difficult to walk around in that getup.

The ballpark itself is nice.  Not a standout. It’s a part of the local recreational complex, and is therefore surrounded by a billion soccer and  softball fields.  I took my customary walk around the ballpark before play began, and saw people taking softball batting practice on the soccer fields, which, come to think of it, would be a fine place to take a catch before the game.  Also, if you wanted to attend the game for free, please note that on this night, not one but two gates along the left field wall were open.  One led directly onto the field (kinda hard to get in that way) but the other actually led to the seats.  Not that I advocate this kind of thing, but it would have been

very, very easy to walk right in–nobody watching and a gate already open.

The Dust Devils might consider letting people in for free, actually, since their attendance has been quite low in their four years of existence.  I’m told it can be stiflingly hot even for evening games (please note that the third-base side is the sunny side).  But this July night was unseasonably cool, so the dust-devil winds not only kicked up dirt but made it  a chilly, unpleasant night.  Very few fans were there for the first inning, and after an awful night of baseball (7 errors, 3 by the Tri-Cities in the seventh inning, and a 14-0 Everett lead at one point), there was more or less nobody left but me.  The day started quiet like a bookstore, but ended quiet like a tomb.

The ballpark was huge–335 down the lines.  I’ve not seen a game with so many Texas League doubles and backpedaling middle infielders in my life.  I haven’t looked up the stadium’s history to see if it’s always been that large, but my guess is that they’ll

certainly keep it that way as long as the Dust Devils are a Rockies affiliate.  Coors Field is that large as well, and those young outfielders need to practice patrolling all that real estate.

The Tri-Cities workers did their best to keep everyone involved and active.  Erik the Peanut Guy had a microphone on him, and the PA announcer would kick it down to him for promotions and even a few random announcements.  It was a nice touch.  The affable Erik would do his schtick on the microphone, then resume hawking.  By the way, I absolutely loved the personalized T-shirts that the hawkers wore (the backs had their names and statements like “Cotton Candy Expert”).  Erik even did an interview with the mother of the Dust Devils’ third baseman who was seeing her son play professionally for the first time.  His first question to the mother was bizarre.  “So, is this your first time in the Tri-Cities?”  Gee, Erik, what do you think?  Why would this young woman have ever been to Kennewick, Pasco, Richland, or 

West Richland before?  (That’s right…there are FOUR cities in the “Tri-Cities.”)  The third baseman had two hits, as the mom said to anyone who would listen to her after the terrible loss–“My boy had two hits!” she said–but really needed to work on his arm.  Like clockwork, at least one of his warmup throws every inning would sail into the front row.  I was in the front row.  I’m fortunate I was not hurt.  It took me until later in the game to figure out what was going on…he was trying to throw to his mother!  What a sweet gesture.  UPDATE:  The kid, Matt Macri, eventually made the majors with the Twins.

One of the nicest

moments I’ve ever seen at a ballpark arose out of a scary one.  A foul ball looped over my head and hit the ankle of the adorable kid in this picture.  He screamed and cried while his mother held him.  The ball rolled down past my feet to a fourth- or fifth-grader in the front row.  He then walked up and handed it to the still-crying little guy.  Would I have had that kind of kindness and grace at that age?  I’m not sure.  In my mind, that gracious young fan is the MVP.  I tried hard to get a ball for the rest of the game–maybe one of the third baseman’s errant throws?–so that I could give it to the kind, charitable youngster, repaying his kindness.  But no such luck.

All in all, a decent night of bad baseball in shivery, windy cold.  Yup–to me, that’s not a bad night.

UPDATE 2009: I’ve been back twice since, both for July 4 family baseball jaunts, and have improved my view of the ballpark.  First, some significant changes:  Most importantly, blessedly, and thankfully, the Dust Devils have installed a sun screen behind the first-base stands.  I’ve heard

it called an eyesore, but I don’t care.  No more desert sun and desert heat for the third-base side…the screen blocks it beautifully, and it was worth every dime.

Second, the name has changed.  Gesa, a local credit union, has affixed its name to the ballpark.  Not a fan of corporate naming, but if that money helped build the sun screen, then I’m all for it–and might have to transfer all my money into a Gesa account.

Next, Tri-Cities sprawl threatens the character of the area just a little bit, but the view hasn’t much changed…the view beyond the outfield fence still features several rows of soccer fields.

The only negative to the visit were some jerks in the section next to us, who I heard were the Dust Devils grounds crew–let in free for the game.  If that’s the case, they need to tone down the heckling, especially since

they were in my original seat (no big deal, as I just sat in a better one).  Shouting “Ichiro!” at the Boise Hawks’ two Korean players, Hak-Ju Lee and Jae-Hoon Ha, is a rare combination of racially insensitive, geographically stupid, and boorish.  Tone it down, guys.

Finally, and for the first time ever, I was recognized for this website.  I was on my way to the head when Erik the Peanut Guy flagged me down, noticing my Tennessee Smokies hat.  “Is that the Tennessee Smokies?” he asked.  I replied in the affirmative, and Erik asked if I’d been there.  I talked about my effort to get to all the minor league parks, and recommended he visit my website–and I wrote down my name.  He said “Oh, I know you!  I LOVE your website!” and then said “We need to

get you a hat.”  He then had the team store give me my choice of hat.  I picked the $22 TC model to complement my wife’s Dust Devil model.  He took some time out from hawking to hang with us for a while.  He and Michelle remembered each other from his days hawking in high school when Michelle worked for the team.  We spent a pleasant inning hanging out.

I’ve got to say, wearing random other minor league hats to ballparks is a good move.   Wearing an Everett AquaSox hat in Princeton, West Virginia bought me a free sledge-hammering of a car.  And now wearing a Smokies hat…and having this website…got me a $22 hat. Thanks, Erik.  You just brought your score up significantly.  Remember–this is not Congress.  Bribery is acceptable.  Giving me presents can increase your ballpark’s score (although there’s no guarantee).

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel:  7.5/10
Lovely views of soccer fields and mountains.  Actual, literal dust devils on the field help out a lot, although those can hardly be planned.

Charm:  2.5/5
Not much going for the physical edifice here, but Erik and his fellow hawkers help out quite a bit.

Spectacle: 3.5/5
A fair number of them, pulled off with nice energy.

Team mascot/name:  2.5/5


They call him Dusty.  He looks like–nothing.  And they have since put him in a Dust Devils uniform, which actually makes him more perplexing.

Aesthetics:  2.5/5

Pavilion area:  3.5/5
Could be larger.  It includes an “alumni report” featuring the stats of former Dust Devils, wherever they may be.  This is a fantastic idea that I”d like to see reproduced elsewhere.

Scoreability:  1.5/5
Not good here at all.  Many errors on the scoreboard.

Fans:  4/5
As much as I appreciate Erik, crowds here are pretty sparse.  And while I like the kid who gave up his foul ball, I don’t like the grounds crew acting like jerks to the opposition.  Just cheer and watch the game.  Don’t try to be Andrew Dice Clay.  (I upped this score in 2013 after a much better experience sitting next to Erik the Peanut Guy’s parents.)

Intangibles: 5/5
In spite of all of its flaws, this place leaves me with positive memories.  I’ve been there for a decade now, and thanks to Erik the Peanut Guy, I feel welcome there every time.

TOTAL:  33.5/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

My, what a terrible game I saw on my debut visit.  Three hits for the AquaSox’s Omar Falcon led their attack.

Two errors–on back to back plays–by Dust Devil shortstop Pedro Strop (each a throw through the first baseman’s legs), plus another by second baseman Jason van Kooten stretch the top of the seventh into six outs, eight runs, twelve batters, and about fifteen years.  Not that I’m complaining.

In July 2005, I saw what looked to be a stud-pitcher-in-the-making…Shane Lindsey, a free-agent pitcher, struck out 11, walked none, and gave up only 3 hits in 5 innings in a Dust Devils victory.

A crazy close to a game in July 2009.  Tri-Cities scores their winning runs in the eighth inning on a combination of two hit batsmen, a wild pitch, a passed ball, an intentional walk, and a sacrifice fly.  Low-level A baseball.  Catch it.

D.J. Peterson scored on a Huascar Brazoban wild pitch in the 11th inning of a 2013 game to give Everett a victory.

(Written July 2004.  Updated July 2009.)

Civic Stadium, Eugene, Oregon

Civic Stadium, Eugene, OREGON

Number of states: 5
States to go: 45
Number of games: 2
First game:  July 3, 2004 (Eugene Emeralds 5, Salem-Keizer Volcanoes 4)
Last game:  August 11, 2007 (Spokane Indians 5, Eugene Emeralds 3)

Civic Stadium is no longer used for affiliated minor league baseball as of the 2010 season.

(Click any image to view a larger version.)

As I approached Civic Stadium for the first time, I absolutely fell in love with the place.  Beautiful.  Charming.  Venerable.  Looking much the same as it did when it opened back in nineteen-twenty-whatever (just guessing on the date, but it has that Fenway and Tiger Stadium boxed-up,

team-logo-painted-on-the-outside-wood, held-up-by-beams feel about it.)  As I walked in with 10,000 others for fireworks night, I was convinced that I was in  for something special and that I’d feel about this beautiful old place the same way I did about Fenway Park, which is to say, totally entranced.  Over the course of the next few hours, however, I fell out of love with Civic Stadium.  There was just too much troublesome about it.  The experience was akin to seeing that my blind date looked like Sue Bird or Julie Delpy or Claire Danes, then finding little things wrong…okay, she’s got an annoying, nervous laugh…okay, she’s a whacked-out crystal-worshipping new ager…okay, she’s had three drinks to my one…until I finally, the many flaws become overwhelming and I can’t let the original charm win out.

I can already feel traditionalists breathing down my neck on this one, since there are so few places like Civic Stadium left in the world.  But my night at Civic Stadium was, if nothing else, an explication of reasons why 

stadiums no longer are designed like Civic Stadium and an argument that maybe the changes since are progress rather than regression.

Make no mistake.  I loved the look of the place!  It had all the charm of bygone days.  I felt connected to every fan who’d ever gone into the place.  The beams, the real grass, the bizarre asymmetry of it (the seating bowl reaches almost all the way down the right field line, but doesn’t even make it as far as third base along the left field line).  It’s accidental charm, and I love it.

The Eugene fans were fantastic.  This was a sellout for fireworks night.  Michelle The Girlfriend and 

I arrived an hour early (after a wonderful day meandering down the gorgeous Oregon coast) to poke around the place and to find good general admission seats.  Whoops!  We needed to arrive a lot earlier than that to get good seats.  We did okay–only about 3/4 of the way up to the top, only about 3/4 of the way to the end of the right-field stands–but I was highly impressed with how early the fans showed up to claim their stake.  Maybe it’s different on a non-holiday Tuesday night in August, but even so, for so many to arrive that early speaks well for the Emeralds and their fans.

Here’s where the problems begin, though.  Although the stadium technically can hold 10,000, it certainly can’t do so comfortably.  While I’m sure that the season-ticket holders were enjoying 

their seats with backs and arms on them, we in general admission were horribly uncomfortable.  Whenever anyone wanted to leave (and I’m trying not to harbor enmity towards the butthead who left and returned to my row FIVE TIMES during the game), the entire row would either have their feet stepped on or their backs jostled.  There just wasn’t enough room to sit.  Even while at rest, I had to position my knees and feet just so to avoid contact with the fine young family in front of me.  Net result:  as the game progressed, we all became more and more uncomfortable.

Strangely, the Emeralds did little to keep its large crowd–who clearly were rearing to have a very good time–active.  Music choices were baffling.  “Deep in the Heart of Texas”?  What the hell?  Why not just throw in “Chicago,” 

“New York, New York,” and “God Save the Queen” while you’re at it?  Why not throw in “Streets of Philadelphia,” just to be both geographically inaccurate and breathtakingly depressing?  No wait…they DID play “My City in Ruins”!  Strange, strange choices.

STILL, I was eager to enjoy this beautiful old ballpark, but I actually became a little concerned for my safety at some points.  A hard foul ball was smacked back into one of the beams on the first-base side and shattered a light bulb there.  Surely, at some point in the last 80 years, someone must have at least realized the necessity of putting a cage around that.  But later, things got even more bizarre.  In the eighth inning, the entire bank of lights went out on the first-base side.

Salem-Keizer catcher Charlie Babineaux was ready to

take his first pitch from Eugene pitcher Jake Upwood when the lights went out.  Babineaux called time,  which was granted, but the home plate umpire seemed to want to continue play in the twilight combined with outfield lighting.  But when the Salem-Keizer manager stepped in, play was delayed while they fixed the lights.  Okay, I understand that maybe this could have happened anywhere.  But I doubt it.  The lights over the left field pavilion looked only slightly less old than the stadium itself, and they’re the only ones that went out.  Plus–and am I the only one who could possibly have been thinking this?–if it’d been a blown fuse or a small explosion that caused those lights to go out, those wooden bleachers would have taken about a minute and a half to become a hellish inferno, and when this sucker was built, emergency exits and sprinkler systems were not exactly high in architects’ minds.  So while I’m sitting and thinking about the tragedy at England’s Bradford City football grounds, the Emeralds’ staff could be doing some things to make sure we’re all having a good time, like playing some music or having the mascot run around and do the good stuff mascots do.  Two problems:

1.  The music people.  At a time the audience needed something to do–“Minnie the Moocher,” “YMCA,” hell, even the damn 

Macarena–the sound guys played Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on First,” the radio call of Bobby Thomson’s “Shot Heard Round the World,” and “Dueling Banjos.”  Audience participation possibilities?  None.  So we sat in our uncomfortable seats for 29 minutes doing nothing.

2.  The mascot.  There isn’t one.  Come on.  Is this even possible in the low minors?  I must admit, I didn’t notice its absence until about the fifth inning, but I felt a little bit cheated, like if I’d showed up to an NL game and found they decided to use the designated hitter.  It’s just not the rules!  Low minor league teams simply MUST have a mascot…and during the big delay, this was a notable absence, since all we had to look at were the two umpires sitting around waiting for the lights–lights that were probably only slightly younger than Thomas Edison’s original–to kick back on.

In the end, as much as I wanted to love this place, I just couldn’t overlook these problems.  I felt uncomfortable.  I even felt a little unsafe.  And I totally felt like I was missing part of the minor league baseball experience.  Even the fireworks show didn’t redeem it…it only lasted about 7 minutes (although they had 15 minutes worth of fireworks…they just fired them all off in 7 minutes, thus eliminating any sense of buildup or climax to the show).

Michelle and I have agreed that, if we win the lottery for more than, say, $100 million, we will purchase the Eugene Emeralds and clean this stadium up a bit…maintaining its old charm without sacrificing the many, many comforts that Civic Stadium sacrifices.  Yes, I am a traditionalist, but not militantly so, and Civic Stadium goes beyond my limits.

UPDATE:  I received a nice email from a University of Oregon student who works concessions for the Emeralds, encouraging me to give the team another chance–saying that, among other things, the team “dreads” the July 3rd/4th games.  And I also got the sense that many of the problems I had with the ballpark were a result of a crowded night.  So Michelle and I headed back down to Eugene for a random Saturday night game in 2007.  The team impressed me with their low-key calmness that ngiht, and I found it was worth every penny not to sit in general admission.  I will adjust my score a little bit accordingly (although that first visit was so frustrating that it weighs a little bit heavier).

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel:  8.5/10
Quite lovely here, with local promotions, a view of the Cascades, and many fine folks who clearly were from Oregon and Eugene.  No question where I was.

Charm:  3/5
Yes, Civic Stadium has charm due to its age.  But I don’t find cramped, backless seats, people colliding with my back or stepping on my toes every time they leave, endless concession lines, my toes up some poor person in the next row’s butt, a lengthy power outage, and the very real fear that we could burn alive to be very charming. (But on the second visit, it was quite lovely.  Just don’t go there on a night where it’s packed unless you have a reserved seat.)

Spectacle: 1/5
Could have used a bit more for low-A ball.

Team mascot/name:  1.5/5
The name is fine…the mascot nonexistent.

Aesthetics:  5/5
Say what you will, but the place is gorgeous.

Pavilion area:  4/5
Fine.  A bit cramped, but overall not bad.

Scoreability:  4/5
Lineups were available.  Some close decisions were not made clear, however.

Fans:  5/5
Arrived early and maintained excellent enthusiasm under difficult circumstances.

Intangibles:  3/5
Pluses:  Good game, fireworks, a polite letter from a ballpark worker that did all but apologize for the lamentable first night.  Minuses:  Power outage, aching back, and fireworks show that packed 15 minutes worth of gunpowder into 7 minutes.  I didn’t leave satisfied on any count…until three years later.

TOTAL:  35/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

Eugene’s Colt Morton (who wears #45…get it?) appears to be a stud-in-the-making.  He homered twice, which made it 4 homers in 5 days for him.

Salem-Keizer’s Chase Smith gets his first professional loss without surrendering a hit:  a leadoff walk, a sacrifice bunt, a deep flyout, and a wild pitch score Craig Johnson with the winning run.

Mitch Moreland homers to put the 2007 game in the bag for Spokane.