Category Archives: minor league

Ballparks of the affiliated Minor Leagues.

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

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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.

Coolray Field, Lawrenceville, Georgia

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Coolray Field, Lawrenceville, GEORGIA

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In summation:  fun day.  Dull ballpark.

BALLPARK SCORE:

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

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

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

TEAM MASCOT/NAME: 3.5/5

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

AESTHETICS: 2.5/5

Meh.

PAVILION AREA 3.5/5

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

SCOREABILITY: 4.5/5

No issues here, although no real challenges, either.

FANS 2/5

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

INTANGIBLES:  3.5/5

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

TOTAL: 29/50

BASEBALL STUFF I SAW HERE:

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

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

 

Written June 2019.

Fluor Field, Greenville, South Carolina

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Fluor Field, Greenville, SOUTH CAROLINA

Number of states: still 37
States to go: 13

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional Feel: 7.5/10. 

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

Charm 4/5

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

Spectacle: 4.5/5

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

Team mascot/name: 3.5/5

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

Aesthetics: 4/5

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

Pavilion area: 4/5

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

Scoreability: 4/5

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

Fans: 4/5

Nice people around us.

Intangibles: 3/5

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

OVERALL 38.5/50

BASEBALL STUFF I SAW HERE:

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

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

Written May 2019.

 

UPMC Park, Erie, Pennsylvania

UMPC Park, Erie, PENNSYLVANIA

State number: still 37
States to go: 13

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

Sloan Park, Mesa, Arizona

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

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

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

he Arizona Fall, Winter, or Summer leagues, it 

feels a bit too far-away focused.

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

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

Oh, dear.

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

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

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

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

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

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel: 6.5/10

0

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

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

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

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

Aesthetics: 3.5/5
Fine.

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

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

Fans: 3/5
Not too many people there.

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

TOTAL 38.5/50

Baseball Stuff I’ve Seen There:

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

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

26 runs on 36 hits and 13 walks.

Written April 2018.

 

Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, Scottsdale, ARIZONA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel: 6/10

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

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

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

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

Aesthetics: 4/5
Lovely.

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

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

Fans: 4/5
Thanks, Brian.

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

TOTAL 36.5/50

Baseball Stuff I’ve Seen There:

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

Written July 2016.

Scottsdale Stadium, Scottsdale, Arizona

Scottsdale Stadium, Scottsdale, ARIZONA

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

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

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

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

And I did.  Took photos all over the park.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel: 7/10

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

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

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

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

Aesthetics: 3/5
Fine.  Sorta basic.

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

Scoreability: 3.5/5
Did fine here.

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

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

TOTAL 35/50

Baseball Stuff I’ve Seen There:

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

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

Written July 2016.

 

Centene Stadium, Great Falls, Montana

Centene Stadium, Great Falls, MONTANA

Number of states: still 32
States to go:  18

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ballpark score:

Regional feel:  5/10

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

Charm: 2/5

The ballpark has aged without gaining charm.

Spectacle: 3/5

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

Team mascot/name: 2/5

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

Aesthetics:  2/5

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

Pavilion area: 1.5/5

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

Scoreability: 4/5

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

Fans: 4/5

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

Intangibles:  2/5

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

TOTAL 25.5/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN THERE:

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

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

Written July 2013.