Category Archives: minor league

Ballparks of the affiliated Minor Leagues.

Hadlock Field, Portland, MAINE

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Number of states: 42
To go: 8
Number of games: 1
First game: August 7, 2022 (Erie SeaWolves 6, Portland Sea Dogs 4)

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

Getting to my 42nd state in which I had seen a minor league game was certainly a special part of my 2022. But–I have to admit–it was rather dwarfed by what happened a few hours earlier along US highway 302, where it enters Fryeburg, Maine across the New Hampshire border…

I entered my 50th state. Seriously, I did. Here’s the proof! And here’s me holding up a number: that’s irrefutable!

portlandmesign

I had been excited about that eventuality for pretty much every moment of my recallable life, and it happened. The original plan was for me to do this in 2020, which would have been preferable in some ways: I liked the poetry and symmetry of entering my 50th state during my 50th year. But I did get there as soon as possible, and I give myself credit for that.

I do have to say that the drive in from Vermont was one of the nicest drives of my entire life. I drove, and guy-who-stood-for-me-at-my-wedding Rob sat in the passenger seat giving a delightful play-by-play of the drive. He had spent from the ages of

8-ish to about 15 living in north central Vermont. In fact–in a fact that is entirely peak Rob, the Robbiest of Rob–he pointed out that he got his first job, at age 14, at the tourist center in Wells River, Vermont, where he directed tourists who had just entered from New Hampshire where to find all the best covered bridges, pancakes-with-syrup, and whatever else tourists wanted. Rob, who could not yet legally drive, knew where all of those were. The geography nerd child eventually became a cartographer as an adult.

The tour-guide nature of the trip was even more gorgeous than the Vermont and New Hampshire mountains, which is saying something. There was the ballpark where he threw a no-hitter. There was the road where so-and-so lived. There was the

shop where he had to go to buy some special treat. I’ve known Rob for well over half of my life, and getting to see the map pinpoints of his childhood was a rare, special treat.

Maine was nice, but man, it was hampered by 90-plus degree heat on this particular day, and alas, we had a Sunday matinee. So Hadlock Field, through no fault of its own, doesn’t score as high as it might for someone else. But we still had a delightful time on this day.

For starters, I did like the way the ballpark fit into Portland’s ubiquitous red brick. Rob probably knew why there was red brick

all over Portland, but I have since forgotten–you can Google it. But having that brick start on the outside sidewalk and crawl up the side of the ballpark is a beautiful touch. It works in with the green beams to create a nice touch.

On the inside, I found it a little less beautiful. We had one huge bowl–many, many rows deep. The “monster seats” were in right field rather than in left. I could live with that, but if you’re going to do a Monster like in Greenville, it seems like you’d want it to be green, in left field, or both. In any event, I was excited to get over there to take some photos…and I was stopped. 

Turns out that you have to have a ticket for that section to get in there, even way before game time. “Or,” he said, “you need a press pass.”

This is hardly an insurmountable obstacle. When you’ve got Matt on your side, you have a person who can convince someone of anything. He insisted that the very website you are looking at makes me worthy of a press pass. 

So the result is the Return of the Baseball Lifestyle Blogger. I told the guy at the business office about paulsballparks.com, and my quest, and his response was immediate and simple: “Cool! Let me see what I can do.”

This is what he did:

portlandmepresspass

I called that my press pass. Looking at it, it might just be a free ticket to the upper deck in left field. Once there, I could see the appeal. The perch there is a great place to watch a game, plus you are right alongside the bullpen, where I watched the Sea Dogs’ Brett Kennedy warm up, and where I enjoyed some lovely views. So the following photos show you what my press pass got you.


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The game itself was stuck in the heat and I have only a few memories of it, other than sweaty friends trying to endure it. One, regrettably, is the worst foul ball incident I have ever seen. It doesn’t feel like it was the Sea Dogs’ fault: the netting behind home plate was tall. It’s just that the grandstand was way taller. And one screaming foul back cleared the netting and wound

up in the row or two below the press box, where it hit a toddler right in the face. Lots of blood. The sound of that kid’s scream and the determination of the mom as she ran him down the many steps of the aisle, and (I assume) straight across the street to the hospital–that’s not a thing I can unsee. I know that some of my fellow ballpark travelers are mad about the extension of foul-territory netting that took place across the majors and minors a few years ago. They’d argue–correctly–that such an extension didn’t prevent this from happening. Even so, I’d have to say that having this happen to fewer toddlers would be much preferable than to more. I don’t even see the netting anymore. Let’s prevent as many of these as we plausibly can.

I had a nice little exchange with Erie catcher Jon Rosoff. He caught my eye because he looked a little short for a catcher–or portlandmerosoffeven for a ballplayer. He’s listed as 5’8″; take that for whatever it’s worth. Anyhow, as I checked him in the program, I noticed that he was from Army. That’s kind of a cool background, I think–unusual for a pro ballplayer. So when he gunned down a would-be base-stealer (I think it was Christian Koss in the 7th), I went ahead and shouted: “Nice throw, West Point!”

And he acknowledged it. A little point up with his gloved hand in my direction.

I don’t know whether he thought I was a fellow cadet (had he looked at my toothpick arms, he’d have pretty quickly figured out I’m not), but it looks like he heard me and appreciated it. And given how much enjoyment I get out of watching these guys play, any chance I get at returning a little of that is a thing I like.

By the way, the hot dog I had was just terrible. Kept in a steamy bag, and “condiments” were merely plastic packs. It’s the official hot dog of “we’re not even trying.”

portlandmehotdog

Rob, Matt and I parted ways before the end of the game: they were off to the airport in Boston, while I was going to stay the night in Portland and have one more lobster before my Portland to Portland full day of travel the following day. We eschewed any man hugs (not good while sweaty) and told each other we’d see each other for the 2023 trip, which will take us across the Midwest to the Negro League Baseball Museum. It’s going to be our eighth trip. I hope we’re just getting warmed up. 

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BALLPARK SCORE

REGIONAL FEEL:  7/10. Gorgeous on the exterior with the red brick. Not enough New England touches on the interior for me: it’s in danger of “this could be anywhere.”

CHARM 3.5/5

SPECTACLE 1.5/5
Not sure if this is because I was hot or what, but the on-field stuff didn’t do much for me.

TEAM MASCOT/NAME 1.5/5
portlandmemascot

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Here are a couple of shots of Slugger. Slugger is pretty much a top-scoring-Family-Feud-answer of mascot names. If there’s a story of what a sea dog is and why it’s appropriate for Maine, I’d like to know it.

AESTHETICS 3.5/5
Again, lovely on the outside, less so on the inside. Plus a cool sculpture:
portlandmesculpture

PAVILION AREA 2/5 
You can’t walk around the whole ballpark. In fact, you can’t even walk around part of the ballpark unless you’re savvy enough to get a press pass.

SCOREABILITY 4.5/5
Nicely done.

FANS 3/5

INTANGIBLES 1.5/5 
Too much running against it tonight, with a hot day and a hurt kid.

TOTAL 29.5/50

BASEBALL STUFF I SAW HERE:

A Quincy Nieporte homer followed by a Dillon Dingler RBI double give the SeaWolves the lead they would never relinquish in the 7th.

Stephen Scott and Izzy Wilson homer for the Sea Dogs.

Jon Rosoff with a hit and a couple of runners gunned down for Erie.

Delta Dental Park, Manchester, NEW HAMPSHIRE

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Number of states: 40
To go: 10
Number of games: 1
First game: August 5, 2022 (New Hampshire Fisher Cats 6, Richmond Flying Squirrels 1)

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

One benefit to New England is how small all of the states are. Rob, Matt, and I spent our first couple of nights on the 2022

College Buddy Baseball Tour in the same hotel, just zipping out to Brockton, Worcester, and New Hampshire. So much easier than it would be in the West (which is to say impossible). There’s a ton of baseball, affiliated and otherwise, that is accessible and which still allows one to sleep in one’s own bed. I’ve got to give a thumbs up for that.

I crossed the 40-state mark for minor leagues in New Hampshire on a hot August night in 2022, sitting in the front row right by third base. Double-A baseball–my favorite level–played out in front of us. The three of us got out our scorebooks.

This often leads to us getting some attention, and it did tonight, as the guy next to us asked us the magic question…

“Are you guys scouts?”

Man, as often as I am asked that, I still find it surprising every time. I was probably wearing my Julio Rogriguez sherzy and a Reading Phillies cap (my go-to cap for the college buddy tour). Matt and Rob were unquestionably equally nerdy in Twins and Phillies garb, respectively. How is it possible that someone would assume that is our work outfit? I am not too expert in scouting, but when I think of a scout, I think of someone sitting behind home plate with a radar gun wearing a short-sleeved polo adorned with a team logo. How in the name of God could someone think we were scouting out by third base? Do scouts buy mini-bats?

Still, this kind of thing does often lead to a conversation. The guys started talking to us about the ballpark and the history, which I appreciated.

It fairly quickly developed into a remember-this-guy? he’s from New Hampshire list of ballplayers from 20 years earlier. I enjoy the Remember Some Guys factor of the day, but have to admit that I grew tired of this conversation. It wasn’t just “yeah! he’s a good dude, that [insert name of serviceable major leaguer from New Hampshire]!” It developed into how this guy had gotten hits off of or struck out every major leaguer his age that he had ever faced. That’s a cool story to tell…once. But it did NOT take long before I found myself sucked into this guy’s personal history.

That’s not the kind of history I want to experience at the ballpark. Delta Dental ballpark did a good job of

giving me the rest of that information: their history of baseball in the state–especially affiliated ball–was commendable. I could read those Blue Jays of the past for a long time and enjoy it.

I also found the ballpark to be physically and architecturally interesting. It is just about impossible to notice there is a ballpark there, for starters: it is tucked behind and into a hotel. The Hilton Garden Inn shields the entrance to the ballpark, making it hard to find: within the ballpark, we can see patio seating for the hotel lounge: a strong home run to left could land in one of their drinks. 

Before the game, I walked along the path that squeezes between the third-base side of the ballpark and the Merrimack River.

The trees were dense enough that, while it provided a welcome shade on a hot evening, they prevented any really good views of the river. Traffic on I-283 across the river was audible: had I walked a while longer, it appears my path would have taken me across both the river and the interestate, but I wanted to double back to the ballpark to see if it had a view. It looks like there was this view from the second deck:
newhampshireview

Yeah–I’ve seen better, but I appreciate the effort.

The game itself was a bit of a snooze. Matt and Rob, in about the sixth inning, went off to find an IPA. I know Matt prefers a seat a little ways back, where I prefer to be close enough to make a play if called upon. but when Matt said he was going off, I

said “Hey, if you find a better seat, text me and I will join you.”

Matt, gracious guy that he is, said “Oh, it’s no big deal. We’ll be back.”

Matt missed my message. I made eye contact.
newhampshirefromhp
“No, Matt. If you find a new seat, you should text me so I can join you.”

Matt looked at me, and looked at guy-who-had-dominated-every-1990s-major-leaguer-in-New-Hampshire next to me.

“Oh. We’ll be sure to text you.”

That’s how I got to spend at least the last couple of innings with my buddies…in some quiet.

In the end, I think that Delta Dental Park was a tweener. Too old to be gleaming and modern, but not old enough to be charming. It had some quirks, and it had a sense of history, but I can barely remember it as I write this nine months later, and that’s not a good sign.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional Feel: 7/10

The historical stuff on the pavilion was appreciated. Look! It’s Gustavo Chacin!

newhampshirehistory

Charm 2.5/5. It’s a tweener.

Spectacle 3/5

Mascot/Name 4/5
I didn’t get a shot of Fungo the Fisher Cat, but a fisher cat (a weasel-like mammal native to the area) is a fantastic name for this team.

Aesthetics 2.5/5
We have a view of a hotel and a sort-of-view of the river-ish if you get way up high. Not quite right. But I do like the hidden nature of it: like a surprise ballpark. I wonder how much nicer this photo would have been without that giant Hilton Garden Inn:
newhampshirecloud

Pavilion Area 3.5/5

Scoreability 2.5/5. I missed a couple of decisions.

Fans 2.5/5. Nice enough people, but I’ve never had to manufacture a reason to flee someone before.

Intangibles 2.5/5.  Not a great game, and it was kinda hot.

OVERALL 30/50
newhampshire3b
BASEBALL STUFF I SAW HERE:

Fisher Cats’ pitching, led by Ricky Tiedemann and Gabriel Ponce, shut down the Flying Squirrels’ bats for the day.

Cameron Eden, whom I had seen four times prior as a Vancouver Canadian, knocks in three and homers. 

Ryan Gold and Sebastian Espino, also guys I had seen as Canadians, also homer. I have now seen Espino homer in two leagues, thousands of miles apart. Maybe he needs to pay me to start showing up.

Written May 2023.

 

Polar Park, Worcester, MASSACHUSETTS

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worcesterexterior

Number of states: 39
To go: 11
Number of games: 1
First game: August 4, 2022 (Worcester Red Sox 12, Durham Bulls 0)

After a night at the kinda-icky Brockton Sox park (not commemorated here–see the rules for why), the pandemic-postponed New England swing for the College Buddy Baseball Annual Tour happened just two years late. And it started with a pretty cool

and unprecedented night in Worcester.

Had the tour happened in 2020 like it was supposed to, we would have made it to Pawtucket instead, and I would have crossed off Rhode Island. But by the time we could make the trip happen, there was no more Pawtucket: instead, there was this place, which was exactly what you’d expect out of a 21st-century ballpark. Corporate. Antiseptic. Nice, but not special. Yes, it has all of the amenities, but it felt the same as pretty much any other spot. Also–it was pretty spendy for a minor league park. 

In any event, I did appreciate the Red Sox history on display in Woostah. The sign that points to Fenway and all of its affiliates feels more regional here somehow, and not just because so many of the Sox’s affiliates are rightly in New England. This is a place to see the future Sawx and talk about the current Sawx, and we got a chance to do that.

And I did so with my buddy Chuck! Chuck is one of the few purely on-line friends I have ever known, and this was our chance to meet in person. I met him through refereeing: he’s a former Division I basketball official who paid some visits to my old officiating blog. That led to Facebook friendship, which led to me wanting to meet him in person when I was near his central Mass home! There were no badly missed calls that night. Had there been, Chuck and I would have had the umpires’ backs.

WOOSTAH! Chuck was as good a guy in person as he was on-line, and we did some ref-nerding out that day.

My seat was right by the passageway to the Durham dugout, so I was treated to a set of autograph seekers. They were the kind I don’t like that much: guys with massive sheets of cards of who they think the next stars would be, leaning over the railing to get some signatures. What bothered me about this was there was a kid there. Now, let’s be clear. I do get signatures sometimes: always of my scorebook, and always of a game that I have seen that person in from the past. What I find is that this frequently leads to a moment of joy for the player that I get to sign. Most recently, this has meant I figure out who a

player is that I have seen play in the past who is now a coach. I get him to sign a thirty-year-old scorebook. For the now-coach, that’s a huge trip down memory lane. Last year, former relief pitcher Doug Henry, now pitching coach for the Tri-City Dust Devils, spent time reading the entire box score of a game he saved as a Brewer in 1993. Truthfully, I like the feeling that I’m sharing a thing with a guy rather than taking a thing from him.

But even with that, I won’t compete with a kid for an autograph. If kids are there, I won’t be. So this means that I either go to a fiftysomething coach while all the kids are clamoring for the twentysomething players, which feels right, or I am in a place that

has set aside time for autographs, where I can queue up with everyone else.

What I do NOT want to be is like the guys in this photo. I mean, different strokes, and I hope they are happy and all of that, but there’s a kid in this photo who wants to interact with a ballplayer, and I find that the transactional nature of trying to create a card that will sell for a ton of money to be kind of joyless in comparison.

We’d get plenty of joy this night, though. Michael Wacha was on a rehab start for Worcester, and he looked awfully good. Kept the pitch count low and got all the way to 4 2/3 innings. The Sox were crushing 4 home runs off of Bulls pitching, so the game was out of control very quickly. Then A.J. Politi came on to get through the seventh.

No hits.

worcesternohitter

My rule is that I will not discuss a no-hitter in progress. It’s not that I’m superstitious. I know that I do not have any impact on whether a pitcher gives up a hit. It’s more that it’s not worth talking about until we get through 6 innings. I have stuck with that through my lifetime of baseball, and it has served me well. So I was willing to discuss it even when I finally got to my first no-hitter in 2021 (Baltimore’s John Means in Seattle). 

I don’t find combined no-hitters terribly impressive as one-guy no-hitters like I saw Means do, but having one as a part of our college buddy trip: that was pretty awesome. It was also provided a little tension late in a blowout game.

Chase Shugart pulled it off in front of my friends–old and new–with two more innings of hitless ball. Josh Lowe smacked a

ball pretty hard, but the Sox’s Devlin Granberg made a really great catch: a diving catch to his right. It was a real charge to end the game and begin the on-field celebration.

You can’t go wrong with a spark like that, and something about it happening on one of my trips–like, the coincidence of this

happening on my one time at this park–was kind of special. There’s nothing quite like jumping up and down and celebrating a great play to finish off a great experience.

I didn’t get a real sense of Worcester or Massachusetts as a place, truthfully, beyond the Red Soxiness of it all. I wonder if I’d have felt something different in Pawtucket. Still, there was a lot of fun, great friends, and an accomplishment I won’t soon forget.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional Feel 6.5/10

Other than the Red Sox stuff, I didn’t get much of a sense of New England here.

Charm 2.5/5

Too corporate. Corporations are not charming.

Spectacle 4/5

The higher the level, the less I want stuff to interfere with the baseball. This rule is especially important in the midst of a no-hitter, and the WooSox obliged well.

Mascot/Name 3/5

I didn’t get a shot of Woofster, and he didn’t impress much on my memory, but I wrote 3/5, so I guess he was fine, as is the name “Red Sox,” which matches with the history of the team (going from PawSox to WooSox).

Aesthetics 3/5

Again, fine. Not special

Pavilion area 3/5

Scoreability 4.5/5

They did a fine job keeping up with a LOT of hits and runs (for one team, anyway) and I trust they would have been solid if there had been a tough, important scoring decision late in the no-hitter.

Fans 4/5

My buddy Chuck was great, but the guys bugging the Durham team weren’t.

Intangibles 5/5

I mean, it was a no-hitter capped off by a fabulous diving catch. Can’t give that anything other than a 5.

TOTAL: 35.5/50

Baseball stuff I saw here:

Andrew Wacha, A.J. Politi, and Chase Shugart walk 5 batters but give up no hits.

The WooSox tee off on poor starting pitcher Easton McGee, with 4 home runs in 3 innings, leading a 17-hit attack. 4 of those hits and 2 of the homers come from former Mariner (and “wow, he’s still playing, cool!” guy) Abraham Almonte. Pedro Castellanos adds three hits and a home run.

Devlin Granberg ends the night with a catch everyone will remember.

Written May 2023.

 

 

Dell Diamond, Round Rock, TEXAS

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Number of games: 1
Number of states: 39 States to go: 11
First game: June 4, 2022 (Round Rock Express 5, Oklahoma City Dodgers 2)

Click on any image to see a full-sized version.
In between my two games in Arlington, I took a day to drive down to Round Rock for a ballgame. I still needed to cross Texas off of the list, and with Frisco out of town (alas), Round Rock was the closest I could go to get a ballgame in. Rather than zip

down I-35, I took back roads down the way. Well, not farm roads, exactly, but state and US highways instead of the ubiquitous Interstate. Drove through a couple of old downtowns (depressed old downtowns, alas) and saw a fair number of ornate entrances to ranches. Listened to podcasts and to some of my preferred music. Had a sub sandwich and chilled out. It was a great day. Long non-interstate drives have become a hallmark of my ballpark travel, and I was glad to have this one.

Dell Diamond was the destination at the end of all of this, and it turned out to be a fine place to see  a ballgame on a hot June night deep in the heart of Texas. In some ways, it was standard triple-A fare–nice seats, decent concessions, and really good baseball that I could afford to see from right behind the dugout. The Express did a fine job of putting a Texan spin on the experience, and I’m glad I made the trip down.

There were ways in which the setting of this ballpark didn’t do it any favors. It’s sort of way off in the Austin suburbs, with nothing around it that is specifically Texan. I did appreciate that there’s a little bit of a park by the side of the ballpark, and that one could, if one wanted, take a little bit of a nature hike before going in for nine innings of baseball. So that was a little bit Texan. But I didn’t get a sense of neighborhood or region on the inside.

roundrockpark

For starters, the name the Express is a pretty killer homage to Nolan Ryan. His statue greets fans here. The train in the play area is number 5714–Ryan’s career strikeout total. And, wonderfully, there is a sculpture of a bull named Moo-lan Ryan. You can’t go wrong there. So in Nolan-love, this ballpark wins the day.

 

 

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Once inside, a sad reminder. The Express set out a big card to sign for the community of Uvalde that had just suffered their horrific school shooting a week and a half earlier.

The Express weren’t just giving their hearts, but also their money: the 50/50 raffle proceeds were going to the Uvalde community that entire week.

As I looked for dinner, I found the concessions felt appropriate and local. I had a hot dog with pineapple salsa, but could have had Tex-Mex or Ribs if my legendary GI issues would allow it. And the ballpark allowed a 360-degree circumnavigation and a fair amount of shade on a hot day.

This also was the first game I ever saw with an automated strike zone. It turned out to be…absolutely unnoticeable. Only at the start, when I heard Oklahoma City manager Travis Barbary shout “The robot didn’t like that one!” at an early pitch by Round Rock’s starter Josh Sborz. It simply wasn’t any kind of issue. I have somewhat mixed feelings about this as a sports official: I suspect there are going to be some unintended consequences that we’re not thinking of yet. There are pitches that graze the strike zone–like the high one dipping down at the back of the plate–that we might now want called strikes. But on this night, as home plate umpire Brian Walsh dutifully relayed what the robot told him, it was a non-issue.

By the way, Texas, I-35 at night on my way to my hotel room in Waco was pretty scary stuff. I know that the speed limits (80, then 75) are appropriate for rural Texas. I had no issue with them the next morning in the daylight. But at night…aren’t we supposed to drive a little slower? Not a huge fan of that drive.

But I was a fan of this ballpark in central Texas and will recommend it to anyone.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel: 7.5/10. In some ways, this was just kinda nowhere-suburban. But once on the inside, there was a heck of a lot of Texas to be found in its Nolan Ryan-love and its cuisine.

Charm: 3/5. Not bad, but in some ways sort of typical of high-level minor league ballparks. 

Spectacle: 4.5/5. Did a fine job of having a few things going on, but mostly letting the high-level play take center stage. 

Team mascot/name: 4/5. 
roundrockmascot 

Here’s Spike. Good name for a train-based team. Also the Ryan connection. This was a fine mascot.

Aesthetics: 3/5. 
Nothing terribly outstanding here, but a nice sky as the sun went down.

roundrockdusk

 

Pavilion area 4/5. I could view the game from absolutely anywhere, and I always appreciate that. 

Scoreability 4/5. A little confusing over a wild pitch/passed ball call, but that’s a tough one to get right.

Fans 3.5/5. Didn’t interact much: mostly people kept to themselves save the guy who looked to my scorebook and asked “Are you a scout?” Guy turned out to be a good dude when I told him no, just a fan who likes to score, but I still am confused why scorebook=scout. No scouts score the game.

Intangibles: 2.5/5. I wish something cool had happened to make this a great night, but as it is, it was just kinda hot.

TOTAL: 36/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

Two solo homers (one each from Andy Burns and Drew Avans) are all the offense the Dodgers can muster against five Express pitchers, most notably Kohei Arihara, who gets the win.

Two hits and two RBIs for the Express’s Yohel Pozo.

Written June 2022.

roundrockfromhp

 

FNB Park, Harrisburg, PENNSYLVANIA

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harrisburginprogress

FNB Field, Harrisburg, PENNSYLVANIA

Number of states: still 38
To go: 12
Number of games: 1
First game: August 7, 2021 (Erie SeaWolves 7, Harrisburg Senators 0)

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

I read about Harrisburg’s City Island, the location in the middle of the Susquehanna River where FNB Field sits, well before

this trip. And I learned about the mini-golf on the island not long before departing on our long drive from Cleveland that morning (with Steven on his 12-year-old trip). What I did NOT realize was that the game was at 6:10 rather than 7:10. So when we got to the island, we were left with a choice: mini-golf or get in line for a Ryan Zimmermann bobblehead? We went with mini-golf. Steven would like for me to report (inaccurately) that he beat me by 27,000 strokes.

That island is what set the tone for the day at the ballpark, and it was quite delightful. There’s a carnival atmosphere (trains,

golf, lovely view of the Harrisburg skyline across the river) that feels right for a night at a minor league ballgame. It is hard not to be sucked into having a good time on that island.

The feeling continues when we are on the inside of the ballpark. Like its league-mate Reading up the road, home of what is (as of this writing) my favorite ballpark in the minor leagues, Harrisburg understands the local baseball history angle. While

they weren’t quite as thorough as Reading, they don’t fall short by much. Throughout the ballpark, it’s easy to see commemorations of past Harrisburg players who have gone on to hit it big. The biggest honor, a bobblehead, was being bestowed to Zimmermann that night, and it was cool to see an area on the concourse with life-size versions of past bobbleheads, including Stephen Strasburg (on whom I zoom in here to show detail):

Meanwhile, the game was presented wonderfully. The sound person was on point. I followed along with the walkup music for Erie’s catcher, number 9, Brady Policelli. His first at bat was announced by the opening to the Beatles’ “Revolution #9.”

“Number nine…number nine…” I happen to know that my wife used this exact clip to introduce opponents wearing #9 when she worked for the Tri-City Dust Devils. Next time up: verse two of the theme from The Brady Bunch. Yep: he’s a man named Brady. And his next at bat: “The Dream Police” by Cheap Trick. This person hit the trifecta! I like playing games like that with the music for the opposition: the “why did we pick this song” game. It’s a kick.

The people around us were cool too. Steven ran up to get a snack or chase down the mascot or some such when a foul ball hit the press box, bounced off the arm of a chair on the section next to mine, then rolled, almost to a stop, next to me, where

Steven’s seat would have been. I didn’t have to move: I just bent down to pick the ball up. A woman across the way walked over and said “That’s great–you’ve got one for your kid!” I was glad she noticed: she had no reason to notice Steven was wandering away.

The overall setup of this ballpark was nice: walk-aroundable concourse, tons of people attending (that might have been the bobblehead night), and everyone having a great time even during a 7-0 loss. Double-A ball doesn’t hurt, either. I am wondering if this atmosphere is throughout the Eastern League (oh, excuse me, I mean “Double A Northeast”). If so, I may have to hit every park. Between Altoona, Reading, and Harrisburg, they sure seem to have this whole minor league spectacle-while-respecting-baseball thing figured out.

So, well done, Harrisburg.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel: 8.5/10 Great on the outside, okay on the inside.

Charm: 4/5 Cool stuff throughout, and a carnival atmosphere. 

Spectacle: 5/5 Packed to the gills with stuff that never interfered with the game. Audio person was really bringing the A game tonight. 

Team mascot/name: 3.5/5 Grrrounder. Team name was nice, but Steven reports that he didn’t know how to give a high five.

Aesthetics: 1.5/5. The only major complaint I have about this place is that it’s kinda unattractive when viewed from the outside, and kinda antiseptic-looking on the inside.

Pavilion area 5/5. Lots of activity and the ability to see the game from almost anywhere. 

Scoreability 1.5/5 A pretty severe error with incorrect lineups on the video screen and/or the checking–not corrected until the third inning. It messed up my book a bit. 

Fans 5/5. A fan told Steven he dropped his wallet. That’s really nice. 

Intangibles: 4.5/5. Great stuff here throughout–love the atmosphere and the nice day. 

TOTAL: 38.5/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

Two home runs by Josh Lester lead the SeaWolves’ attack. Riley Greene and Kerry Carpenter also go deep for Erie.

Top prospect Spencer Torkelson walks twice and strikes out thrice.

Beau Briske and Chavez Fernander combine for the shutout.

The only highlight for Harrisburg is Donovan Casey at the bat. He has two hits.

Written August 2021.

Classic Park, Eastlake, OHIO

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lakecountyinprogressClassic Park, Eastlake, OHIO

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BALLPARK SCORE:lakecountysign

Regional feel: 5/10

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

Charm: 2.5/5

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

Spectacle: 2/5 

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

Team mascot/name: 5/5 

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

lakecountylighthouse

Aesthetics: 2/5

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

Pavilion area 3/5

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

Scoreability 4/5

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

Fans 2/5

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

Intangibles: 4/5

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

TOTAL: 29.5/50

BASEBALL STUFF I SAW HERE:

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

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

Written August 2021.

Maimonides Park, Brooklyn, New York

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Maimonides Park, Brooklyn, NEW YORK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

brooklynmoon

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional Feel: 8/10

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

Charm: 3.5/5

This score was hurt by the turf field.

Spectacle: 4/5

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

Mascot/Name:  3.5/5

brooklynmascot

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

Aesthetics: 3.5/5

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

Pavilion area 3/5

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

Scoreability: 4.5/5

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

Fans: 5/5

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

Intangibles 4.5/5

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

TOTAL: 39.5/50

Baseball stuff I saw here:

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

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

The Hangar, Lancaster, California

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Number of states: still 38
States to go: 12

Number of games: 1

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

 

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

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

Wife turns key. Nothing.

Wife turns key again. Nothing.

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

I headed inside the Shell station.

Does he have any contacts for any mechanics?

No. Do you have Triple A?

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

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

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

No. I can’t help you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

he not give me change.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then…

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

My kid was there.  And he was oblivious.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BALLPARK SCORE:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TOTAL 29/50

BASEBALL STUFF I SAW HERE:

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

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

Written July 2019.

Medlar Field at Lubrano Park, State College, Pennsylvania

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“This sure beats the heck out of Yankee Stadium,” the guy behind me said. While I haven’t yet been to the current manifestation of Yankee Stadium, I can say that the State College Spikes have a perfectly fine minor league ballpark. There are certainly better ones–minor league parks that do beat the heck out of Yankee Stadium, including one quite nearby–that I’d like him to see. But still, there is plenty

going for Medlar Field in State College–enough to make this an excellent night out at a New York/Penn League game.

The park is unquestionably good-looking and unquestionably Central Pennsylvania.  The beautiful Mount Nittany provides the view beyond center field, and if one looks back past the home plate grandstand, Beaver Stadium stands watch over the scene. Indeed, much like at closer-to-home PK Park in Eugene, the Spikes have a deal with

Penn State that shares the ballpark. So there are PSU logos to be had around, and I don’t have much issue with those. And the Penn State Creamery ice cream was worth the wait: I had a helmet sundae. Couldn’t finish it, however.

The Spikes are named not after a railroad, as I thought, but after a young male deer with single spikes as antlers. The mascot, named Spike, is just fine. His handler was a young woman named Jane Doe,

which I found delightful: and she had a tiny deer tail sticking through her skirt, thus indicating she was at least partially related to Spike himself. It’s nice that they found another deer to walk him around: that’s as it should be.

The Spikes did a few things that I wasn’t a fan of. They did tend to view the team a little too much as a promotions-transferrence-device: pimped out a few things between pitches. I was thankful that the strike-out-for-a-free-Big-Mac

opponent struck out on his first at bat. The PA guy was shouting “BIG” and asking the crowd to respond with “MAC” between every pitch in some fashion. “BIG MAC BIG MAC!”  If that had happened every ninth opposing batter, I’d have had some real issues if Onix Vega had not struck out in the first. Thanks, Onix (and State College pitcher Scott Politz, too) for nipping that in the bud. And some of the pitches sounded weird: desperate even. “If you want to hit a home run or just get back on your feet, call [name of some medical group or other].” What does that even mean?  “I want to hit a home run, but I’ll settle for merely standing, really.”  Weird. 

And perhaps the worst moment of the night was during the first pitches.

The Spikes were concurrently running First Responders night with ’90s night.  This led to the following really unfortunate juxtapositioning.

They had a first pitch by the parents of a police officer who had been murdered during his last shift before he left the force. He had plans to get a degree and move on to a second career. The PA announcer was perfect: giving the story its own tragic due. The

parents threw out the pitches, and there was polite, respectful applause.

Then the worst transition ever.

“It’s also ’90s night here at the ballpark, and for our next first pitch…you all remember The Shermanator from the American Pie movie?  Here’s Chris Owen!”

I have no issue with having a respectful First Responders night or a wacky ’90s night. But someone somewhere should have seen that incredibly awkward moment coming. That was a fumble, and it all could have been avoided.

To sum up, they could have turned it down just a tiny bit.

Matt, Rob, and I were joined by Special Guest Ryan at the park that night: Ryan, who is a regular State College Spikes viewer. We sat directly behind the Auburn Doubledays dugout that day, which I always enjoy. Jake Randa, who I took to be a child of Joe Randa since he was born in Kansas City in 1998 (a quick Google search confirms this), was especially chatty and smiley. He’d be the kind of guy I might enjoy playing with.  And there was plenty to celebrate for Auburn too, as they cruised to an easy victory. And we were having bizarre conversations. At one point, somehow, we

discussed torture (I was probably threatening Matt: he has that effect on people). A quite drunk guy not far from us said: “I hear your conversation. Just so you know, I can break all your knees. That’d be torture.” Um…what?

In any event, it was fun. It was lovely. And it was baseball with my friends. Worth a trip. But Spikes: tone down the promotions just a bit, okay?

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel: 8/10. Mount Nittany in the distance, State College Creamery, Penn State everywhere: well worth it.

Charm: 2.5/5.  There were moments it had a chance, but the marketing kept getting in the way.

Team Mascot/Name: 3/5.  The Spikes and Spike did very little for me, but Jane Doe was fantastic. I liked that they made her into a deer.

Aesthetics: 2.5/5.  The ballpark itself isn’t that special aesthetically, but has some nice views.

Pavilion area: 2/5.  We couldn’t walk all the way around, either on the inside or the outside. And the cool stuff, like the past Spikes who made the majors, was distant from the field.

Scoreability: 5/5.  Really great here: whoever was in charge was really on top of it.

Fans: 4.5/5.  This would have been a perfect score because of Ryan, but then drunk guy said he could break all of our knees. 

Intangibles: 5/5. A great, fun night with friends.

TOTAL: 34.5/50

BASEBALL STUFF I SAW HERE:  

Doubledays center fielder Rafael Bautista led the attack with 3 hits and 2 runs.

Carlos Soto tripled and scored for the Spikes.

Written July 2016.

Coca-Cola Park, Allentown, Pennsylvania

WE’RE MOVING!

This page will only be here through 6/29, but I am saving these (and adding new parks as I see them) here, at paulsballparks.substack.com. See you on the other side!

 

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Coca-Cola Park, Allentown, PENNSYLVANIA
Number of states: still 38

States to go: still 12

First game: June 27, 2019 (Rochester Red Wings 8, Lehigh Valley IronPigs 7)

 

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

I don’t get to games late very often, but on this day it couldn’t be helped. After a killer walk-off crazy game at Citizens Bank Park, Rob and I had to grab Matt at the airport and then head north through some horrible traffic to get to this one. We did well to arrive at the end of the first inning. Because of the uncertainty of it all, we didn’t have tickets, so we got to buy on the way in. 

“Any preference?” the worker asked.

“Whatever you think is best,” I replied.

We were placed down the right-field line, which is fine, but wound up staring straight into the sun to see the batter. Even with shades and a ballcap, we wound up also having to use our hands to block the sun. It was even a safety issue: once the ball left the bat, I had no idea where it was. The sun is obviously not the IronPigs’ fault, but I do wish that the guy selling us the tickets had told us about it. 

The ballpark itself had some promise. It sits atop a pretty cool hill, and I liked the promotion of the park to that level, like it was some European castle. I didn’t notice any real views, however, from the seats or on my wanderings, so it didn’t seem to

have any real advantages to it.

Kudos to the IronPigs for packing them in on a Thursday night. Not many empty seats (which may explain our location, of course). But there was a weird cultural thing going on that was especially clear in comparison to the Phillies game from earlier that day.

In Philadelphia, there was minimal interference with the game. Sure, they had their wackiness (jet-ski races on the scoreboard, trivia, 50/50 raffle, that sort of thing), but it was on the scoreboard as an option rather than blasted over the speaker, creating an expectation that everyone would watch. It was easy to watch the game and not feel like it was a

promotions transference device.

Not so much at Lehigh Valley.  There was wackiness all over. And while I might have put up with that at the rookie level, at triple-A, less is more.

Case in point: the team name. I don’t have much trouble with “Iron Pigs” as a name: it seems that “pig iron” is an important factor in the creation of iron that Allentown is best known for. Thumbs-up. But oh man, they focused on the absolutely wrong part of the team name. Everything in the park was about the “pigs” rather than about the “iron.” There was bacon in the team logo, pigs and bacon all around the ballpark, a pig mascot with no hint of iron around her (that I noticed, anyway).  And the sounds. Oh, the sounds.  Between pitches, even, I’d hear pig grunts and snorts. A “sooeee” call. Outside of Fayetteville, Arkansas, I felt like this was disruptive. I could handle it once as a joke. But repeatedly?  Over and over again, that pig grunt kept going, and, in my eyes anyway, it was disruptive and annoying.

And fireworks.  No problem with fireworks, but the IronPigs had a “more is more” attitude about them. They set them off after every run the home team scores. This led to a delightful moment when Red Wings reliever Jake Reed balked in a run. The crowd had no idea what had happened, which is fine, I guess: balks are confusing. But then, as everyone was turning to each other and saying “What’s going on? Why is everyone standing around? Is that guy going home?” there’s a big BOOM!  Balk fireworks. First time for everything, I guess.

It was some kind of soccer-related promotion night–appropriate in the heat of the 2019 Women’s World Cup (and the day before a huge US/France quarterfinal). This meant that they continually played clips from the sorta-funny

Will Ferrell movie Kicking and Screaming on the big screen, and that they also had soccer-themed promotional contests on the field. It seemed pretty clear that the person they had running one contest wasn’t that familiar with soccer, however. Kids were trying to head soccer balls into trash cans for a prize. But instead of “Try to head the balls into the cans,” she said “Try to head-butt the balls into the cans.” Head-butt?  Really?  Did she want the kids to go all Zinedine Zidane on each other? (A worthy promotion, perhaps…)

The problem here was that the entire crowd seemed to follow along. No real interest in the game here. Kids were screwing around,

everyone was chatting, and I didn’t get a sense that baseball was important there. That seemed to be popular, but again, the net result wasn’t something I was a huge fan of.

Rob and I, punchy from the red-eye and in our second game of the day, managed to get by (I had gyros) while Matt watched the AAA affiliate of his Twins have a strong evening.

A good day at the ballpark on the whole, but my overall instinct is that the IronPigs got too cutesy. Sandwiching this around the baseball-first atmosphere of their affiliated siblings, the Phillies and the Reading Fightin’ Phils, showed how off this was compared to a pair that were right on. I hope the culture changes a little, but given the attendance, I doubt it will. Different strokes for different folks, but as this is my website, they get a lower score than the other strokes do.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional Feel: 3.5/10.  Not much to be said about Allentown or Steel Country here. They got it exactly wrong: too much pigs, not enough iron.

Charm: 3/5.  Some nice bits all around, and a lovely sunset.

Team mascot/name 3/5:  Would have worked better if they’d focused on iron rather than pigs. Extra credit for naming the mascot FeFe. Love nerdy puns.

Aesthetics 5/5:  Lovely location on top of a hill. Quite lovely.

Pavilion 4/5: Nice here, although a little cutesy in places.

Scoreability 4.5/5:  Great stuff here. Only one minor slip-up.

Fans 2/5:  This was the group that would have done anything the PA said. Especially compared to what I saw in Philadelphia the previous day, this was an annoyance.

Intangibles 3/5:  The sunset overrode a lot of negatives.
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Total: 27.5/50

BASEBALL STUFF I SAW HERE:  Rochester builds a big lead, in part based on Zander Wiel’s big bat (three hits and a home run). But the IronPigs fought back, mostly with a Phil Gosselin three-run shot, to tie. But Rochester plates two in the ninth on an error and a wild pitch, then holds on for the win.