Category Archives: minor league

Ballparks of the affiliated Minor Leagues.

Melaleuca Field, Idaho Falls, Idaho

Melaleuca Field, Idaho Falls, IDAHO

State number:  still 31
States to go:  19

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel:  5/10

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

Charm: 2.5 /5

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

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

Team Mascot/Name:  3.5/5

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

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

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

Scoreability: 3/5

Missed a couple of pitching changes.

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

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

TOTAL: 28.5/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

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

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

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

(Written July 2010.)

Lindquist Field, Ogden, Utah

Lindquist Field, Ogden, UTAH

State number:  still 31
States to go:  19

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

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

If possible, the views

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Three!”

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

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

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

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

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

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel:  10/10

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

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

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

Team Mascot/Name:  3.5/5

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

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

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

Scoreability:  1/5

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

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

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

TOTAL: 39/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

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

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

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

(Written July 2010.)

Spring Mobile Ballpark, Salt Lake City, Utah

Spring Mobile Ballpark, Salt Lake City, UTAH

Number of states: 31
States to go:  19

Number of games:  1
First game:  July 4, 2010 (Tacoma Rainiers 10, Salt Lake Bees 4)

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

2010 brought about perhaps the most ambitious 4th of July Minor League Baseball Road Trip in Hamann family history.  The first couple of years brought us the nearest

ballparks–Spokane, Tacoma, Salem-Keizer.  One year we flew to northern California.  But a friend’s wedding in Montana on July 12 led us to make 2010 a huge drive–all the way to Utah.  Add a toddler to the mix and the desire not to drive more than 4-5 hours in a day, and you’ve got yourself quite a trip.  It could have backfired horribly, but it actually went very well.  Three days from Portland, we found ourselves staying in downtown Salt Lake City, just a few blocks from the gorgeous Spring Mobile Ballpark.

The ballpark’s location is as excellent as you’d want any ballpark to be.  Since Salt Lake City has the fortune of being west of the mountains, unlike its unfortunate PCL cousin in Colorado Springs, there are gorgeous Rocky Mountain panoramas

visible from every seat in the ballpark.  The setting sun reflects off the mountains, making for an excellent distraction during the game.  And its quick, accessible location from downtown SLC is also quite welcome–I was able to walk there from my hotel in about 40 minutes, but there’s a ballpark stop on SLC’s light rail system, so that walk wasn’t really necessary.  While circumnavigating the stadium, as I like to do, wasn’t possible (maybe because of fireworks setup), there was still a good atmosphere set up for the July 4 game, with people lining up outside early.

My family was among those lining up early, since for the first time in my ballpark travels, I had secured general admission seats for a game.  We didn’t know we would be doing this trip until all other seats for the big fireworks game had sold out, so we grabbed our baseball picnic blanket, a

couple layers of clothing, sun goop, and a few toys for the boy, and prepared to set up for the game.

I knew that there would be a pretty big rush for the best spots in general admission, so we got to the ballpark early.  Michelle put Steven on our monkey leash, which was admired by our line-mates.  In fact, as she let him burn off steam on his leash, one octogenarian woman approached Michelle and complimented her on the choice to use the leash. She used to get a lot of lip from strangers back in the day, she said, so she was happy to see someone using it.  (This was an especially refreshing compliment after a batty old bag said something shitty to us about the leash the previous day at the Boise Zoo.)  Anyway, all was right with the world:  we were at the front of the line, and I knew where I wanted to sit on the

outfield berm.

But then something went wrong.  About ten minutes before the gates opened, an usher came by to zap everyone’s tickets.  Ours were invalid.  Huh?  I think they sent us multiple copies of the tickets and I printed out the wrong one.  I was a little annoyed when she told us to go to the main ticket office to get everything straightened out, since we’d lose our choice spot in line that I planned ahead for.  My wife–usually the one who gets upset at customer service–told me to chill out, that I could come back tomorrow if we got a lousy seat.  So I said goodbye to my wonderful line spot and went to the ticket booth, who worked out the problem.  We then got back to the back of the line.

Here’s where I became a big fan of the fine people of Utah.

While I was in the back of the line cursing my luck just a minute or two before the gates opened, incredibly, a woman came back to us from the front of the line and told us that nobody would mind if we went back to our previous spot. 

“You earned it…you were here early,” she said.  Highly grateful, we went back there and offered to buy anybody who wanted it something to drink.  Everyone declined.

Thanks, Utah.  I deeply appreciate your generous spirit…and actively seeking us out to bring us to the spot I wanted.

We immediately zipped to exactly the spot I wanted…about halfway up the berm, about thirty feet off the foul pole.  I figured that people would eventually edge in front of us, and they did…but from their spot, they had to peer through the fence.  Had we been up higher, we would have had to deal with many, many people walking around, in, and out in front of us.  Here, we almost never did.  People mostly honored (though not always, as the photo shows) the edict to stay back from the wall, so the view wasn’t actually all that bad. 

But the atmosphere, not surprisingly, wasn’t too baseball-based out on the picnic blankets.  And, while I’d be bugged by that in the stands, I was totally fine with that out on the grass.  It was a carnival-family atmosphere there that was kind of nice, and while that might sometimes bother me, enough people watched the Bees get slaughtered that one could follow the game without appearing strange.  It felt right to watch the ballgame surrounded by families hanging out together–I got the warm fuzzies.

Which led me to another realization.  I can barely remember what I did on July 4th before Michelle and I began this tradition eight years ago.  I seem to recall two ways to celebrate.  One was watching while your crazy neighbor set off illegal fireworks while listening for the cops.  The other was

finding a sanctioned show, setting up a blanket, and killing time for several hours while the sun set, sincerely hoping that rain didn’t ruin everything.  As a kid, I found those hours mercilessly boring.  Really, going to a ballpark just gives you a game to fill all those hours in with.  It was a nice feeling.  And, this being Utah, there were a lot of kids around.  Some watched the game, and some didn’t, but all were well behaved, perhaps because those who wanted to whale on each other were segregated off to the other side of the grassy hill, out of range of both the picnic blankets and the ballgame.  So really, what the fourth of July general-admission ticket does is provides something to do for the waiting period before the fireworks.  Sold.

The Bees did a fabulous job of providing stuff to look at between innings without negatively impacting the baseball experience.  There was nothing to interrupt the baseball, which was particularly important at such a high level.  And between-innings distractions were rather rare as well.  It wasn’t until after the game that I realized how masterful the Bees were at handling fan experience.  The fireworks didn’t get started until about 15-20 minutes after the final out.  In most ballparks, they might play a little music, but they mostly just make you wait. 

At Spring Mobile Ballpark, instead, they had several fan-participation promotions during the gap.  This shows such common sense that I can’t believe more teams don’t follow suit.  At the moment that people might get bored, when there’s no baseball to be seen–that’s the best possible moment to do some silly promotions and put them on the scoreboard.  It was a splendid idea and well-executed.

Speaking of promotions, this particular game featured a marriage proposal.  Now, I’m 100% on record as being against a ballpark marriage

proposal.  But this one was a little, um, strange.  There was a competition where two people had to sing the jingle for Whipple Plumbing (which is to the tune of Harry Belafonte’s “Banana Boat Song,” with “Whipple” where “Day-O” would be…I assume it’s ubiquitous in Utah for everyone to know it).  This man sang it (poorly), then a woman sang it and won.  But then it became clear that the man and woman knew each other because then the promotions guy said “Well, there’s one more thing to do…” and then let the man propose to the woman, who said yes.  I certainly wish them well…but I think they’ve set up a future problem.  When people ask them how he proposed, they’ll have to use the words “Plumbing” and “promotion” in their response.  In all honesty, even among ballpark proposals, this one is on the bottom side.  Why must all of our important life moments now be public rather than private?

Beyond this man’s marriage proposal, there were a couple ofsmall irritants I found at the ballpark.  While the stadium’s positioning next to the Rockies cements its local feel, I think they could have done better on the inside of the park to make this a place more

definitively Utahan.  For instance, they had many homages to baseball all-stars up throughout the ballpark.  But there was no connection to Utah.  I’d much prefer “Hall-Of-Famers from Utah” or “All-Stars who played in Salt Lake City.”  As it is, it felt incongruous.  More incongruous were the strange movie posters all around the joint.  I don’t care how much money they get for the posters, they didn’t fit in.  Additionally, they were for month-old movies that surely had already succeeded or failed at the box office on their own merits.  Who would go to get some nachos and decide they needed to see a film?

Still, there was much to love about this place, and its high score is richly deserved.  In fact, I loved it so much that I returned the next day, dropping $24 for a behind-home-plate ticket while my wonderful wife took care of the baby in the hotel.  But there was a major test that night…the baby was majorly cranky, and when I got a text from wife-at-her-wits-end, I left the game in the fourth inning–before it became official.  So I can only give myself credit for going to one game here, but I think I proved that, as much as I loved Spring Mobile Ballpark, I love my wife more.

I hope to return here.  It was simply gorgeous.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel:  7.5/10
I’d like a little more in the concourse to tell me I’m in Utah:  the baffling Hall of Fame baseball photos celebrate baseball history, but not local baseball history.  Nevertheless, you just can’t argue with that mountain view.

Charm:  4/5
Again, the view.  The ballpark itself is not terribly unique, but it’s still lovely.

Spectacle:  4.5/5
The Bees have mastered the art of well-timed promotions that do not detract from baseball.  And the fireworks show is one of the best I’ve ever seen.

Team Mascot/Name:  3.5/5


“Bees” is completely appropriate to Utah.  The mascot himself, Bumble doesn’t do too much for me (dull name), but isn’t too bad, either.

Aesthetics: 4.5/5
Lovely view.  Minor deduction for the ballpark itself being not gorgeous, but with the mountains, who cares?

Pavilion:  4/5
Like the circumnagivability of the place, and the way they segregate those who want to whale on each other from those who want to watch the game.  Would like a bit more local flavor.

Fans:  5/5
Lots of great people.  Wonderful human beings in the ticket line did my family and I a wonderful favor at absolutely no benefit to themselves.  They made their city and state look wonderful.

Intangibles:  5/5
Can’t argue with that first night there…a beautiful night, a fantastic pitching performance, and the best fireworks show I’ve seen at a ballgame (and I’ve seen a few).

TOTAL: 43.5/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

The Rainiers’ Michael Pineda, a 21-year-old making only his 3rd Triple-A start, steals the show.  He throws 6 perfect innings before getting knocked around a little in the 7th, but appears to be a stud in the making.

Chris Woodward and Mike Carp provide the lion’s share of the offense.  Woodward gets three hits–two off battered starter Fernando Rodriguez–and Carp hits a mammoth home run over our heads in right field.

(Written July 2010.)

Ogren Park at Allegiance Field, Missoula, Montana

Ogren Park at Allegiance Field, Missoula, MONTANA

Number of states: 29
States to go:  21

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

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

Looks great–sounds awful.

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

gorgeous mountains.

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

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

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

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

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

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

While the place was pimped

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

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

on my wife, son, baseball, and foothills.

What could possibly go wrong?

Well, as it turned out, quite a bit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s what it sounded like:

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

“NOW JUST THE WOMEN! PEA!” Nuts!

“NOW JUST THE MEN!  PEA!” Nuts!

“NOW JUST THE KIDS!  PEA!” Nuts!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BALLPARK SCORE:

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

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

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

Team Mascot/Name:  4/5

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

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

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

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

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

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

TOTAL: 28/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

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

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

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

(Written September 2009.)

Security Service Field, Colorado Springs, Colorado

Security Service Field, Colorado Springs, COLORADO

Number of states: 28
States to go: 22

Number of games: 1
First game:  August 11, 2008, first game of DH (Colorado Springs Sky Sox 6, Portland Beavers 5, 8 innings–scheduled for 7)

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

My first minor league ballgames were in Colorado, at Mile High Stadium, 

But, according to the rules, my quest to get to a minor league game in each of the 50 states didn’t officially begin until 2003, so this necessitated a trip to Colorado Springs in August of 2008.  I was taking my bride to my 20-year high school reunion in the Denver suburbs, and it was very easy to take the jaunt down I-25 to see our local team, the Portland Beavers (who my wife rooted for vociferously) take on the Sky Sox.

There, we found a great ballpark in a highly unfortunate location.

It’s not the ballpark’s fault that it faces east (as is the convention for ballparks everywhere) and

therefore does not afford a view of the Rockies.  Indeed, it’s not really the ballpark’s fault that it’s located quite a ways east of the city and of the mountains, and therefore doesn’t really have any natural Colorado feel to it at all (eastern Colorado is not what one thinks of when one thinks of Colorado).  But the view beyond the outfield fence of endless tract housing is depressing to say the least.  When I’m pinned between strip malls and condominiums, I don’t have any feel for where I am.  The rule for ballparks is the same as the rule for real estate, and Security Service Field strikes out on three pitches when it comes to location, location, location.

However, the ballpark itself was quite lovely if one didn’t look beyond the outfield fences.  It has many touches I enjoy.  Visiting ballplayers walk past the kids’ area to get onto

the field, thus allowing for autographs.  The kids on the grassy hill are sedate and watching the game, probably because the Sky Sox, while not immune to promotional shtick, put baseball first.  And the retired numbers from past Colorado Springs teams are an especially nice touch–they bring us back to a local level that tract housing can’t.  So does the US Olympic flag flying under the state flag.

Security Service Field is a pretty small ballpark for AAA, which I like.  Rarely does a fan get a chance to be so close to AAA talent–and a ballpark of this lesser scale (it felt like a class-A or AA ballpark) is a pleasant surprise in the high minors.

Sox the Fox, the Sky Sox’s mascot, was simply wonderful…as energetic as any mascot I’ve ever seen.  He started the day by doing a

backflip off of a golf cart and didn’t stop moving the entire afternoon.  He actually did a couple of things that made me laugh–rare for a mascot.  I say this even though he gave me some grief for wearing a Mariners hat.  I was in the front row behind the dugout (prime mascot territory) and he removed my hat and pretended to urinate in it.  A little blue humor never hurt anyone.  But it was his athleticism that most impressed me.  He’s as good as I’ve seen.

This particular day featured a doubleheader for the Sky Sox…my pregnant wife’s second doubleheader in four days.  (The first wasn’t a scheduled doubleheader…it

was created by a rainout the night before.)  Thunderstorms gradually rolled all around us, with ominous, distant thunder leading me to wonder whether we’d be able to get one game in, let alone two (which were both slated for 7 innings).  Sprinkles occasionally would hit near us in what was as close to a muggy day as anyone can get in Colorado’s dry climate.

At some point during the fifth inning, my bride turned to me and asked the following:

“You know what would be better than watching a baseball game under the clouds?”

I shrugged.

“Watching the Olympics in our hotel room.”

Pregnancy, altitude, and doubleheaders don’t mix.

But still, my bride was a fantastic trooper.  The game went into extra innings (meaning the 8th), and in the top of the 8th, the skies opened up.  The thunder wasn’t too close, and the umpires were eager to get at least one ballgame in, so the game continued in the downpour.  Everyone in the ballpark headed up to the sheltered area behind home plate…and almost nobody left, either because they didn’t want to miss the end of the game or because they didn’t want to run through the rain.  Colorado storms usually don’t last too long, and this one passed quickly, but still, most of the crowd headed home, including Michelle and I.

Still, I give the crowd and the Sky Sox credit for a good experience and a nice ballpark.  It’s just a shame that experience and ballpark couldn’t be next to mountains instead of next to suburban blight.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel: 4.5/10
The Sky Sox do well to get the score this high, actually.  I’d have no idea where in the U.S. I was based on what I can see from the ballpark, but Colorado-themed concession items and retired Sky Sox numbers prevent this score from going far lower.

Charm:  2.5/5
Again, when I walked into the place, I thought this score might be a zero, but the Sky Sox put on a very nice show.

Spectacle: 3.5/5
A bit too much for AAA ball, but oh, that mascot was something else.

Team mascot/name:  4.5/5

“Sky Sox” is a fine name for a Colorado team, and Sox the Fox also a fine name…and the guy in the outfit earned this score with all his running and jumping.

Aesthetics:  1.5/5
Ballpark is OK…the view really, really dull.

Pavilion area:  3.5/5

Scoreability:  4.5/5
The Sky Sox did a fine job.  I especially featured the large, prominently-displayed lineups on the concourse.

Fans:  4/5
I can’t blame them for going home after the first game…to be fair, we did too.  (But also to be fair, they weren’t pregnant.)

Intangibles:  2.5/5
Lots of good here, but I’m afraid what I’ll remember is the tract housing.

TOTAL:  31/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

An incredibly dramatic ending.  Cedric Bowers uncorks a wild pitch in the downpour in the top of the (extra) 8th inning, scoring the Beavers’ Peter Ciofrone.  But the Beavers’ Edwin Moreno couldn’t seal the deal, as Sky Sox catcher Adam Melhuse crunches a 2-out walk-off home run to give Colorado Springs the victory.

(Written August 2008.)

Dickey-Stephens Park, Little Rock, Arkansas

Dickey-Stephens Park, Little Rock, ARKANSAS

Number of states: 27
States to go: 23

Number of games: 2
First game:  April 4, 2008 (Midland RockHounds 3, Arkansas Travelers 2, 10 innings)
Most recent game: April 5, 2008 (Midland RockHounds 2, Arkansas Travelers 1)

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

It was the best of parks, it was the worst of parks.  Michelle and I were both tremendous fans of Dickey-Stephens Park

pretty quickly.  Its location on the river and views of downtown (quite lovely…trust me, sit on the third-base side!) and even of the state capitol building (if you stand on the walkway in left-center field, crane your neck just so, and look out past the right-field foul pole), make for a lovely aesthetic experience.  And the Travelers Baseball Museum on site is precisely my favorite kind of thing to see.  Celebrations of Arkansas-area players and–be still my heart!–umpires abound.  Did you know that Bill Valentine umpired the 1965 All-Star Game?  Did you know that two recent Travelers who have pitched no-hitters–Jose Jimenez and Bud Smith–each went on to pitch a no-hitter as a rookie?  And that Bud Smith did it in spite of an incredibly unfortunate anagram for his name?  I love locally-oriented baseball museums.  I wish they hadn’t charged me a buck to get in there, especially since it’s less a museum and more a walk-in closet filled with memorabilia, but I still really enjoyed it.  The ballpark did very nicely in exuding Arkansas to me, and since my wife and I were fans of Little Rock as a city (recommended:

no images were found

a burger and shake at the Purple Cow), we liked that feeling.

In addition to the museum, there were a couple of other nice touches to the place.  The ballpark hasn’t (yet) pimped out its name to the highest bidder; indeed, it’s named after two sets of brothers who were instrumental in Arkansas baseball’s past.  (The “Dickeys” are baseball playing brother Skeeter and Hall-of-Famer Bill.)  As one approaches the ballpark, lampposts are festooned with shots of the Dickeys and the Stephenses from back in the day.  That’s wonderful.  Isn’t is sad that it’s now considered quaint and retro to have a stadium named after an owner?  But keep it.  The name might be verbose, but I like it. Additionally, the ballpark features a nice perk for its high-paying customers and groups who have the barbeque porch down the right-field line.  As people

eat there before the ballgame, they are positioned in a spot that the players walk through between the clubhouse and the field.  As such, all of the players and coaches on both teams have to walk through the barbeque area both before and after the game.  I can see where it would be a pain for players to have to walk through fans twice a day (as they do at High Desert), especially at the double-A level where legitimate rising stars might fight through decent-sized crowds.  So while I don’t usually like segregation by economic status at ballparks, I’m okay with groups having to pay for a shot at an autograph.  And I especially like the way that the players stood for what seemed to be a very long time signing.  (In the nearby photo, that’s Midland’s Tommy Everidge and an unidentified Traveler.)

But once the game got started, I’m afraid Dickey-Stephens Park had too many flaws in the way it presented the game to be ignored.  I’m always a fan of getting loads of information in my programs, etc.  At Dickey-Stephens Park, I learned that it’s far better to have no information than to have inaccurate information.  The scoreboard, the PA announcer (who had an awesome voice, by the way), and the uniform numbers never seemed to agree on who was at the plate.  Of course, if there were a pinch-hitter or other change, the PA guy took his sweet time letting us know, if he did at all.  There were ballplayers on the field who were not in the program, which, while acceptable on opening night, is not at all OK on the second and third nights in the program inserts, since they are printed out that day.  Net result:

in our efforts to score the games, Michelle and I came up very, very wanting in terms of good information.  They tried to keep track of players’ stats on the scoreboard, but there were times I simply didn’t know what they were talking about.  Plus, they sure did look like they were dropping an F-bomb at me, perhaps because I was looking at the scoreboard for accurate information:   Now, seriously, did they really have to use such language towards us?

Promotions were at times distracting.  I’m not a huge fan of the guy walking around the stadium filming people going batty for the scoreboard video screen…and I’m especially not a fan of his when he stands in front of me for several pitches, blocking my view.  I’m not anti-promotion–hey, I had the lucky program and won an Outback Bloomin’ Onion!–but I am anti-distraction, so this dude needed to sit down.

In any event, this was a beautiful ballpark in a nice city, but there was enough negative–poor presentation, icky brown grass, and a cameraman blocking my view–that it won’t get a very high score.  Still, in spite of that, it’s well worth a visit.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel:  9/10
Fantastic.  The museum, coupled with the river and the downtown skyline, make for an unquestionably Arkansan experience.

Charm:  4/5
Pretty nice here.

Spectacle:  3/5
I like winning contests, but I don’t like sitting behind a standing camera guy for several pitches.

Team mascot/name:  1.5/5

Here I am with that something-or-other…a horse?  a moose?  a whatever?  His name is simply an abomination to all that is holy…Shelly.  Please note the Shell Oil logo under his left elbow.  That’s right:  the Travelers have pimped out the name of their mascot to big oil.  Ick.  This makes me want to buy a hybrid even more.

Aesthetics:  5/5
A gorgeous place.

Pavilion area:  4.5/5
Very nice.  360-degree walk leads to even better views of the river, etc.

Scoreability:  0/5
The scoreboard and PA actually led to more confusion than clarity.  If I can score a game easier without the ballpark’s “help” than with it, that’s a pretty severe repudiation of a ballpark’s ability to do what a ballpark ought to be doing.

Fans:  3/5

Intangibles:  2.5/5
What can I say?  There were parts I loved and parts I really, really didn’t love.

TOTAL:  32.5/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

Myron Leslie hits a game-winning solo shot in the 10th for Midland.

Huge pitching in the second game.  Andrew Bailey pitchers 6 innings of 2-hit ball for the win for Midland.

(Written April 2008.)

Hammons Field, Springfield, Missouri

Hammons Field, Springfield, MISSOURI

Number of states: 26
States to go: 24

Number of games:  1
First game:  April 3, 2008 (Frisco RoughRiders 6, Springfield Cardinals 5)

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

I’d never been to the Ozarks before when I arrived for the 2008 Spring Break Trip. 

Michelle and I spent the night in Branson–no shows, since we got in too late, but long enough to get the sense that we brought the average age of the town down by about a decade.  We tooled around mountains and caves for a few days before doing Opening Day 2008 at Hammons Field.  Results were decidedly mixed.

First of all, as you can probably tell, the place is physically quite lovely.  It’s faced in the wrong direction–downtown is behind home

plate–but there’s nice flat prairie beyond the outfield and a Budweiser sign, which means that Hammons Field does well on the regional feel test.  They rolled out the red carpet to start out the year, putting each player in a red pickup truck and driving them around the parking lot of a grand beginning.  The ballpark is new, and Springfield only recently regained affiliated ball, so it’s pretty clear that they’re proud of their ballclub.

But in the end, there were too many problems to be ignored.  Most jarringly, where were all the fans?  Forecasts were grim–I’m surprised that they got the game in, actually–but the rain did hold off, and it was Opening Night, for goodness sake.  Second, when it did rain (for about two minutes in the third inning), a good chunk of people took off, and many others put up umbrellas.  It’s rude to put up umbrellas (there are people behind you, dammit), and

you can wait through the first few raindrops, can’t you?  Michelle and I did what they all should have done–waited a second, then found a dry seat in the back row, where we stayed through the rest of the (dry) night.

Second, we were pretty well astonished by the prices for double-A ball.  (Indeed, these prices might explain why so few people had shown up.)  Tickets were nearly twice as expensive as comparable ones cost us the following night in Little Rock, and

when the woman told me that a 22-ounce bottle of Sprite would cost me four bucks (I declined), I got the sense that the Cardinals thought that “big-time” meant nothing more than “really, really expensive.”  Heck, if memory serves, at Safeco Field I can get an entire vat of soda for about five bucks.  Why bleed your ticketholders dry, particularly during a recession?

Third, the place just didn’t celebrate baseball enough.  In the obligatory place-where-kids-can-run-around-and-burn-off-steam section, there was a basketball hoop and a pop-a-shot.  Nothing baseball related!  To be fair, when I think of basketball, I do think of Springfield.  The bad news is, I think of Springfield, Massachusetts.  I’m not sure why Hammons Field doesn’t have any baseball-related fun for the kids, but they don’t and it felt weird.

Finally, there was the strangeness of Team Louie.  A group of four nubile young women wore windbreakers that said “Team Louie” on the back.  I figured they’d be Louie the Mascot’s handlers, running around

with him and helping kids get to see him.  That didn’t happen, and so I was baffled as to the women’s purpose other than to be hot and young.  A quick internet search reveals that “a brief choreographed dance” is part of the tryout for team Louie.  So, alas, the women were glorified cheerleaders.  I don’t want my baseball teams to have cheerleaders.  They take away from the baseball.

There are certainly a few positives to the place.  The Cardinals have obviously succeeded in capturing the fans of this part of the state from the Royals–at least judging by the immense majority of spectators wearing red on this night.  There is a good, long walk that one can take almost all the way around the stadium–way out beyond the scoreboard and onto a grassy hill invisible

from the field where I encountered a good number of junior-high kids goosing each other.  The Cardinals were conscientious about scoring decisions on the scoreboard.  And the gorgeous clouds in a gigantic sky might be the number one memory I carry with me from this ballpark, as well as watching the fireworks they set off (clearly to celebrate Michelle’s birthday).

So, on the whole, it was a night at the ballpark, and it’s almost impossible for that night to be a bad one.  But when all was said and done, this gorgeous place left me wanting a little more.  Springfield is a little bit out of the way, so I don’t see myself returning any time soon, but I do hope they make Hammons Field into a baseball experience more worthy of the physical beauty of the ballpark.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel:  7/10
Budweiser, prairie, and Cardinal red.  The ballpark does fine here, although I’d like to see more about southwestern Missouri and less about St. Louis.

Charm:  2/5
Too corporate and expensive to be truly charming.

Spectacle:  3/5
OK for double-A level–nothing interfered–but what’s up with Team Louie?

Team mascot/name:  3.5/5


Louie on top, and Fetch, Louie’s pet dog, on the bottom.  I’m fine with Louie, but Fetch is a pretty transparent promotion aimed at the pre-potty-trained crowd.

Aesthetics:  3.5/5
Not bad, but the view is a little dull.

Pavilion area:  4/5
Would have been a five were it not for the basketball.

Scoreability:  4.5/5
I appreciate how carefully they put up decisions.

Fans:  2.5/5
Not enough of them.

Intangibles:  2.5/5
I’m totally ambivalent about this place, which, while pretty, left me feeling kind of flat.

TOTAL:  32.5/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

Matt Harrison–who the Rangers got in the offseason Mark Teixeira trade–pitches very well, striking out six in 5 2/3 innings of 4-hit, 1-run ball for Frisco.

Chris Davis has three hits for Frisco. Diminutive Shane Robinson collects three for Springfield.

(Written April 2008.)

Frawley Stadium, Wilmington, Delaware

Frawley Stadium, Wilmington, DELAWARE

Number of states: 25
States to go:  25

First game:  August 18, 2007 (Wilmington Blue Rocks 10, Lynchburg Hillcats 9)

Note to travelers:  You can absolutely get a good deal staying in Wilmington on any weekend!  I got a very, very posh hotel for cheap on Priceline for my one night in Wilmington. 

And once there, I learned why.  Wilmington is a credit-card financial capital that is completely vacated for the entire weekend.  I’m not kidding:  the hotel restaurant even closes down because it’s not financially sensible to run it.  Cabs are nearly impossible to come by (and the ones I found had drivers who were fast asleep and didn’t wake up easily…not the kind of guy I want driving me someplace).  And when I headed down to the riverwalk, figuring that would be where the action was, I found no action:  I walked the riverwalk on an absolutely gorgeous Saturday afternoon almost completely alone.  Don’t get me wrong; the city was just fine, but it was a little creepy–in an I Am Legend or This Quiet Earth kind of way–to walk around on the weekend.

Not far

off that riverwalk is Judy Johnson Field at Frawley Stadium.  I like my ballparks with a healthy side of local baseball history.  Pictures of long-ago local teams, notes about the best players to pass through the place–that’s entirely my cup of tea.  Throw in a museum, and you’ve got a friend in me.  I have never seen a better museum at a minor league park than the Delaware Sports Museum and Hall of Fame, which is on the grounds of Frawley Stadium in Wilmington.

I got the sense that there’s not much traffic through the museum, but I actually appreciated that, since one of the curators gave me a highly personalized tour through the park.  He asked me where I was from, and when I told him Washington state, he immediately escorted

me to the parts of the museum where Delaware’s greats intersected with the Pacific Northwest.  He found out I was a basketball official, so he showed me a couple of big-time college referees from Delaware.  Of course, I was able to find people I’d kind of liked from the past, where I said “Wow!  I liked this person!”  Like Steve Watson, a Denver Bronco receiver I remember well from my Colorado youth.  Or Val Whiting, who played for the Seattle Reign, my loved-and-lost ABL women’s hoops team.  It was a celebration of big fish who swam in the small pond of Delaware, and I got wonderfully personalized attention throughout.  Minor league ballparks should think small and celebrate local, and this one did–it even had a plaque to commemorate Bill McGowan, a local boy who made it big as an umpire.  It was a great place to go–the kind of place I could spend hour after hour at.  I’d like to give a special thanks to my guide.  Sorry I’ve forgotten your name.

Needless to say, this put me in a tremendous mood even before the ballgame began.  And I

lucked into the best possible night for history dorks, because I happened upon Wilmington on the day they celebrated another favorite Delaware son: Judy Johnson.  Johnson was a star Negro leaguer, and the Blue Rocks celebrate him by naming the field at Frawley Stadium Judy Johnson Field.  Judy Johnson day turned out to be a full-on celebration of Negro League history.  It ranged from the kitschy (there was a Judy Johnson bobblehead giveaway) to the more serious (a pre-game ceremony that featured Josh Gibson’s grandson).  The whole thing simply felt right, and kudos to Blue Rocks’ management for finding the right tone for the evening.

All of this is enough for me, but the Blue Rocks have

a good ballpark on top of everything else.  It’s a little big for high single-A ball, but I can forgive that since they mostly fill it.  It’s a little metallic, and the only real view is of I-95, but since I don’t have much of a preconception of Delaware, I can let that go too.  I had fine seats just a few rows back from the field, just a shade to the first-base side of home plate.  And I made a new friend along the way.

Russ joined me for this game.  He’s the third person I’ve met as a result of my association with the Network of Ballpark Collectors, which is basically a loose confederation of nerds like me.  He drove the couple of hours in to meet me, and we sat back and talked about ballparks pretty much the whole night.  Russ also saved my bacon on this evening; I had left my camera back at the hotel, and while I took the above pictures with a disposable camera from the Blue Rocks’ gift shop, he took a few good ones he kindly is letting me use:

Josh Gibson’s Grandson. Photo by Russ Silverstine. Used by permission.
Russ Silverstine. Used by permission.

It’s only appropriate, that, at the end of a fun, topsy-turvy game, it came down to a bottom-of-the-ninth single to win it for Wilmington.  The batter who delivered the hit:  Josh Johnson, an African-American kid–one of a dwindling few in baseball of late.  That little echo of history brought an end to a night where history, for me anyway, was celebrated throughout the ballpark and the museum.

Judy Johnson Field at Frawley Stadium was a great place for a sports and history junkie like me.  I’d love to head back next time I’m headed up the East Coast.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel:  8.5/10
I have never been in a stadium that celebrates local history as much as Frawley Stadium.  The only reason I penalize at all on the score here is because the view isn’t much.

Charm:  4/5
I felt well-treated at every turn, but architecturally, there’s a bit too much metal.

Spectacle:  5/5
A reverent look at baseball history.  Loved it.

Team mascot/name:  3/5


Yeah, kids, I don’t know what it is either.  I guess it’s a blue rock, or some sort of a blue dot, or whatever.  Never caught his name.  Is “Blue Rocks” an echo of the University of Delaware Blue Hens mascot?  In any event, I give some credit for creativity.

Aesthetics:  2.5/5
Not much of a view and too much metal.

Pavilion area:  4.5/5

Scoreability:  4/5

Fans:  5/5

Nice to meet you, Russ.  Maybe we’ll see this picture on the cover of Baseball Nerd Quarterly.

Intangibles:  5/5
I had a fantastic time in the museum, through the Judy Johnson ceremonies, and hanging with Russ.  I was left with a great feeling about the place.

TOTAL:  41.5/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

A back-and-forth, wild affair.  Wilmington blew leads of 4-0 and 8-4 before coming back from a 9-8 deficit in the 9th to win it.

Brian McFall and Jeremy Cleveland each bang out three hits for the Blue Rocks.  Angel Gonzalez and Jamie Romak respond in kind for the Hillcats.

Russ and I grow fond of the Hillcats’ leadoff hitter, Pedro Powell.  He is listed in the program as five-foot-seven, but we think they’re giving him at least two inches.  He was a tiny little quick dude…fun to watch.

(Written April 2008.)

Ripken Stadium, Aberdeen, Maryland

Ripken Stadium, Aberdeen, MARYLAND

Number of states: 24
States to go:  26

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s the good news.  Now, the bad.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BALLPARK SCORE:

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

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

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

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

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

Pavilion area:  4/5

Scoreability:  1.5/5

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

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

TOTAL:  32/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

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

Matt Morris homers for Staten Island.

(Written January 2008.)

Mercer County Waterfront Ballpark, Trenton, New Jersey

Mercer County Waterfront Ballpark, Trenton NEW JERSEY

Number of states: 23
States to go:  27

Number of games: 1
First game:  August 16, 2007 (Trenton Thunder 8, Portland SeaDogs 4)

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

It is indeed a challenge, I learned back in August of 2007, to make it from the Philadelphia Airport to the Mercer County Waterfront Ballpark for a game…but it is, indeed, possible.  Because the 2007 baseball trip was the

first in my history that involved no driving (in an effort to be both cheap and green), I dashed from my flight to my SEPTA train in perhaps record time.  Since I had no luggage to check, I made it onto a train that left only ten minutes after my flight arrived.  And since I wanted to be totally sure that I could legally hop onto the train downtown (for a transfer to Trenton), I even asked the man who was working on the ticket machine…could I buy a ticket on board?  Yes, he told me.  Well, nobody asked me for money or a ticket or proof I belonged there or absolutely anything else all the way to Walnut Street, where I detrained, feeling lucky and a little bit dirty.  If anybody from SEPTA happens to read this, I owe you seven bucks or whatever it was.  I wasn’t trying to dodge a fare (as should be noted by the way I duly paid my way from downtown Philly to Trenton).  I asked if I could pay on the train, got on, and then nobody asked me for a cent.  Please do not prosecute me.

The fine folks who work with the Trenton Thunder will work with you if you

happen to be crashing on their park directly from the airport, I learned.  The Thunder were nothing but nice to me.  I phoned ahead to ask them if I could keep my bag somewhere during the ballgame and pick it up afterwards…I had no time to get to my hotel prior to the game, as I simply took a cab from the train station to the ballpark.  I therefore got to meet several of the fine folks from the Thunder, who didn’t seem to mind when I had to unpack a lot of my suitcase to get to my hat, scorecard, and pencils (and thus unwittingly let some of the fine folks of south Jersey see a few pairs of socks and underwear).  Indeed, after the game, they were nice enough to call me a cab, and when that cab never showed up (the dispatcher seemed to have far more important social engagements than to help me), a worker told me that the nice hotel I had treated myself to, the Trenton Courtyard by Marriott, would routinely send a van to the ballpark to pick up a guest.  Sold!  So, even if it weren’t a great ballpark, the Thunder won me over with fine customer service.

The good news for them is that they work at a splendid ballpark.  I was a big fan of Mercer County Waterfront Park almost from the moment of my arrival.  I was a little bit concerned when my cab took me through slum after slum until we were just a few feet from the ballpark, simply because I was worried that the ballpark would have a Comerica Park feel…a baseball theme-park fortress designed to get me to ignore the urban blight around me.  But it didn’t have that feel, I think because of the immediate surroundings.  The ballpark is right on the Delaware, so if George Washington were a lefty pull hitter with power, he could knock one into the river (although likely not over).  It’s possible to walk along a path between the ballpark and the river, and some of the crappier seats in the ballpark offer a view across the river of Morrisville, Pennsylvania.  And with some rowdy fans on hand (the Yankee-affiliated Thunder were facing the Red Sox-affiliated

Portland SeaDogs), there was no question where I was.  The ballpark therefore aces the important Is There Any Question Where You Are test.

Further, Trenton does well in celebrating Trenton baseball history rather than concentrating on Yankee baseball history. 

A look at their retired numbers tells the story–Nomar Garciaparra and Tony Clark share billing with Jackie Robinson.  The idea that a ballplayer best known as a Red Sox gets a nod with a retired number at a Yankee-affiliated ballpark tells me that they have their priorities straight–Trenton first, parent club second.  Additionally, I was struck by a female name, Nicole Sherry, on their list of former Thunders (what is one member of the Thunder called anyway?  A Clap?) who have made the show.  A quick Google search reveals that, after two years in Trenton, Sherry went on to become head groundskeeper for the Orioles.  It’s great that they give her some recognition.

I got one of my favorite seats on this night…in the very front row, in a seat that juts out from the main stands into foul territory.  I could look back into the Trenton dugout from my position, but more importantly, I got an opportunity to watch the work of the first-base umpire (whose name I can no longer locate) quite closely.  No close plays transpired at first this night, but I enjoyed seeing the difference between his regular “out” call and his sell “out” call.  On the former, he wouldn’t even vocalize at all, but on the latter, he sure would.  On top of that, I got to enjoy all of this while taking advantage of the significant ledge in front of me as a table:

A cheap cheese steak, a FREE scorecard, a gorgeous night on the river, and up-close double-A baseball.  What more can a guy ask for?

Hell of a nice night at Mercer County Waterfront Park.  If you’re in Philly or South Jersey, it’s worth the trip up.  It’s definitely one of the top ballparks I’ve been to on the East Coast.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel:  9/10
On top of everything else the ballpark had going for it–the river, the cheese steak, the retired numbers–they have concession stands shaped like commuter trains.  Nice!

Charm:  4/5
Quite nice.  Might have scored even higher were it not for the nearby urban blight.

Spectacle:  4/5
I know there were some promotions, but I can’t remember them.  That’s a good sign for quality double-A ball.

Team mascot/name:  2.5/5

Boomer with handler.  Nothing special about him or his name–I can’t even tell what he is.  Also, I’m not a fan of the name “Thunder.”

Aesthetics:  4.5/5
Quite a nice place right there on the river.

Pavilion area:  4.5/5
I especially like the places where the river is visible.  And I’m sort of counting the river walkway outside the stadium.  It’s my party and I’ll break my rules if I want.

Scoreability:  5/5

That’s right…FREE SCORECARDS.  And they say to PLEASE take one.  Then, they follow that up with conscientiously-placed scoring decisions, including the too-often-skipped wild pitch/passed ball calls.  One of the best ballparks I’ve ever been to in this regard.

Fans:  3.5/5

Intangibles:  4.5/5
It was a splendid night.  This is a ballpark I want to visit again.

TOTAL:  41.5/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

Gabriel Lopez is the batting star for the Thunder, going 4-for-4 with 3 RBIs.

Andrew Pinckney homered for the SeaDogs.

(Written April 2008.)