Category Archives: no longer in use

Ballparks that are no longer in use for the majors or the affiliated minors. (This excepts those that were independent league parks at the time I saw them.)

Midway Stadium, St. Paul, Minnesota

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Midway Stadium, St. Paul, MINNESOTA

Number of games: 1
Number of states: 33
First and last game: August 16, 2014 (New Jersey Jackals 6, St. Paul Saints 1)

(Click any photo to see a full-sized version.)

(Midway Stadium was demolished in 2015.)

The St. Paul Saints hosted my first real-live Independent League game. The rules of my quest compel me to attend an affiliated minor league game in a state if one is available, and I only attend an Independent League game as a last resort. My August 2014 trip to Minnesota (to visit friends and to cross Target Field off of my list) was the first time an Independent League gamestpaulinprogress popped up, since my 2013 trip to Wyoming was taken care of with a college wood-bat league.

The quality of play was certainly better than I experienced in Wyoming, and for pretty good reason: most of the players in the American Association (and the Can Am League, which provided the opposing New Jersey Jackals) were a little older and more experienced than college kids. As best as I could tell, either all or the overwhelming majority of the players I saw that night were until recently playing at various levels of the affiliated minors. In fact, I recognized New Jersey Jackal Joe Dunigan from his time with the Everett AquaSox, and he clearly was inspired by my presence and homered. But, ultimately, the Saints recognize that the quality of baseball is not going to draw the fans to their ballpark when the Twins are playing major league ball across the river, and as a result, this is a night about the spectacle more than about the show. They were in danger of stpaulsidewalkoverdoing it (like Lake Elsinore, San Jose, and Missoula before them), but managed to stay just this side of the line.

The edifice itself is a mixed bag. It is surrounded by railroad tracks in what my Minnesota friends described as a no-man’s-land between Minneapolis and St. Paul. As such, there is literally no neighborhood atmosphere to be had, which explains why 2014 was the last year the team would play in Midway Stadium. The passing trains provide some pretty cool visuals and atmosphere during the game, and I like the romantic possibility that a player could hit a home run that rolls all the way to Chicago or somewhere. But that’s not enough for the surroundings to do well on the is-there-any-question-where-you-are test. Besides the trains on either side of the ballpark, the only landmark stpaulmuralone can see beyond the outfield wall is the tower that the St. Paul Fire Department uses to test its firefighters. And while it would be awesome if the tower were on fire during a game, even that doesn’t help me determine I’m in Minnesota.

The ballpark makes up for that deficit in other ways. The approach to the ballpark features what appears to be kid-art on the sidewalk, showing baseball and Minnesota-themed images. Some beautiful murals celebrate various chapters in Minnesota baseball history, including what appeared to be some Negro League remembrances, Twins greatest hits, and Minneapolis Millers ballplayers.

Also, the Saints have a massive tailgating presence—more than any other minor league ballpark I’ve been to. I was surprised (not alarmed, but surprised) at the number, variety, and innovation of the drinking games on display. In addition to garden-variety beer pong, I saw one game that featured lawn darts. Ten full beer cans are placed on the ground in a bowling-pin arrangement on either end of a narrow playing field, and players toss the lawn dart at the cans. If the dart punctures a can, the opponent of the player who threw the dart has to drink the beer down to the hole (I was anticipating shotgunning the beer, but then, I’m not an expert on drinking games. I do know that a huge number of Saints fans that night walked through the turnstiles having consumed stpaulbeerpong(if the game was played to its natural end) as many as 10 beers. But maybe not, since once I was inside, the crowd didn’t seem any more or less drunk than any other baseball crowd I’ve experienced. Maybe the heaviest drinkers just stayed out in the parking lot (perhaps because they couldn’t find the admission gate).

On the inside, American Association standings are prominently displayed, and baseball-themed contests draw crowds. I bought a Killebrew Cream Soda (quite delicious….he also makes root beer) and checked out an atmosphere that reminded me of a state fair. Booths selling fair-like foods (perhaps Northern Midwesterners need to store up all that fat to burn off over the winter?) and small-time atmosphere (which I mean as a compliment) make for the kind of experience one might otherwise enjoy.

As the pregame material started, we were treated to not one, but two primary PA guys, who operated in a bit of a Morning Zoo kind of way. My college buddies, with whom I was enjoying this baseball weekend, understand my distaste for too much loudness at a baseball game. I think they were preparing forstpaulrobandmatt me to have an aneurysm, but I didn’t. I explained that, while I don’t care for the noise, I could live with it at this level of ball. There’s a reason the Saints draw 5,000-plus a night, and it isn’t the scintillating baseball. To be sure, when the PA microphone gave out for a few seconds in pregame, all three of us cheered in response: a little quiet would certainly help this ballpark out a bit. But my rule calling for an inverse relationship between the level of the baseball and the number of promotions states that I can’t fault the team much. They managed to respect the baseball—as loud and pimped-to-the-gills as the between-innings experience was, once the first pitch was thrown in an inning, things were pretty much silent (with occasional exceptions—most notably complimenting an opponent’s thorough beard and earning a big smile from said bearded opponent) until the final out was recorded.

That said, I did have a couple of misgivings about a couple of the things I saw. First was the only promotion that raised my eyebrows because of its racial content. I believe the title was “Sing Karaoke stpaulkaraokeWith A Real Japanese Guy.” Call me PC (you won’t be the first), but I found the promotion questionable.  It was exactly what the title suggests: a Japanese man stood up in the crowd with a microphone and sang along with Karaoke-style lyrics on the scoreboard. The night I was there, the song was “Last Train to Clarksville,” which the man sang with Saints-themed lyrics centered around the team’s last year playing in the trainyard. That was it. It was strange at best. I wonder if I would have felt differently if the event were titled “Sing Karaoke With Yoshi” or “Karaoke break” which the Japanese man led every night. And I don’t want to fall into the trap where the White guy gets to decide what’s offensive or not to another racial group: a Google search doesn’t currently reveal any pushback from Minnesota Japanese or Asian advocacy groups. But I can say it made me feel just a little queasy.

But the rest of the promotions, while perhaps done to overkill, had some charm to them. The crew dragged the field in drag, which I thought was stpauldragqueencute. (My wife Michelle suggests the joke/pun might be more effective and entertaining, especially in a progressive gay-friendly town like St. Paul, ifstpaulsinners they found some actual drag queens to help out the grounds crew rather than just putting the regular grounds crew in identical white dresses. It would certainly be more fun to watch.) The sign on the front of the visiting team dugout which stated “Sinners” was cute. Early on, I thought I would be annoyed at the way the PA guys shouted “Train!” every time a train passed by the left field wall (which was quite often—it started to feel like a toddler vocabulary test), but it turned into a reasonably cool game, including shouting “Double Train!” when two trains were on the tracks past left field. I do have to hand it to them: the PA guys were funny, and while they drew the attention to themselves, they only did it between innings, which I can live with.

Of course, they were only a small part of the full-court press of entertainersstpaultrains designed to ensure that (if we spin it positively) no one was ever bored, or (if we spin it negatively) nobody ever had a quiet moment. I found the mascot, Mudonna (a pig, although I never got the story as to why it was a pig) early. But in addition to her and the wacky PA duo, there were legions of others who existed solely to pump up the crowd. I also saw a bizarre 1970s purple-suit guy, a guy dressed as a train engineer, and a guy they simply called “Nerd.” The last was my favorite. Not only was he really good at getting the crowd going, he made me feel like I was valued. Sure, it was a mascot, but here’s a guy who’s ONE OF ME!

On this night, the promotional giveaway was a vinyl LP—a good old-fashioned record album!—of Saints-inspired music recorded by Twin Cities bands. It was an interesting choice for 2014 to say the least. I don’t know what year stores stopped selling records or turntables, but it must have been in the mid- to late-1980s. I know I bought my first CDs in 1986. So the Saints gave away 5,000 record albums that most of the recipients had no way of ever hearing. But they made it a point to change that fact for at least a few of them: at least three fans involved in on-field stpaulalbumpromotions headed home with…wait for it…a turntable. These were old-school things, too: 1970s wood-paneled sides with a clear plastic box covering to lay down after the needle hits the groove, only to remove it after the last interrupted note of “Her Majesty” on Side 2.  It looked as if the Saints asked every staff stpaulsignmember to check their attics to see if there was an old, forgotten turntable to be given away, and then passed them on. It was some combination of sweet and bizarre.

Ultimately, then, the atmosphere was a winning one, and set just the tone for my friends and I to sit, score the ballgame, and make silly jokes. It appeared they took the baseball seriously without taking themselves seriously, and I give them credit for at least trying to walk that line, even if they occasionally faltered.

I will be interested to see if the atmosphere (the tailgating, the silliness, the endless promotions) will follow the team to their brand-new gleaming downtown ballpark in 2015 or if the new site will lead them to take themselves too seriously. But for now, the Saints put on a fine show that I can recommend.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel: 6/10
I appreciated the murals outside the stadium, but beyond that, there wasn’t too much in all that activity that screamed “Minnesota” to me.

Charm: 3.5/5
This easily could have been lower if they hadn’t left the baseball alone, but they did, so all the wackiness did have charm about it.

Spectacle: 4/5

Team mascot/name: 2.5/5

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On the left, “The Nerd,” my favorite of the mascots.  On the right, Mudonna.  Did they steal that name from the Toledo Mud Hens or did the Mud Hens steal it from them?

The team name is fine. The multiple mascots are okay, although not really tied to the team. I don’t like “Japanese Guy” as mascot. And finally, all the pig business (including a real pig delivering balls to the umpires) could work for me if there were a more readily-available explanation of why the pig is so closely associated with a team called the “Saints.”

Aesthetics: 3/5
I liked the trains quite a bit, but not too much else was going on.

Pavilion area: 3.5/5
They have set up a “Baseball Scouts Hall Of Fame,” but the plaques are positioned in a place where they are nearly impossible to read. The pavilions down each foul line are festooned with booths selling all sorts of unhealthy food, and that lends itself a really nice county-fair vibe.

Scoreability: 5/5
The scoreboard operator was excellent—simply excellent—especially for the low minors. I never had an issue with knowing how a play was scored.

Fans: 4/5
Everyone seemed there to party, and while I generally like more focus on baseball, I can forgive that focus wandering in this kind of atmosphere and with indy-league ball.

Intangibles 3/5:
There were parts I really liked and parts I really could do without, but it was a fine night with friends on the whole (although these friends and I would have a fine night anywhere).

TOTAL 34.5/50

Baseball Stuff I’ve Seen There:

I had no idea this had happened on the night, but according to the Saints’ writeup of the game, Dwight Childs was traded from the Saints to the Jackals during that day, and played for the Jackals that night.  That’s weird.

Joe Dunigan broke open a close game with an 8th-inning home run.

The Saints managed only 3 hits, mostly due to fine pitching (8 innings) by the Jackals’ Isaac Pavlik.

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)

(Spring Mobile Ballpark is now known as Smith’s Ballpark.)
(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.)

Greer Stadium, Nashville, Tennessee

Greer Stadium, Nashville, TENNESSEE

Number of states:  still 18
States to go:  32

Number of games:  1
First game:   July 29, 2006 (Salt Lake Bees 7, Nashville Sounds 4)

(Greer Stadium was no longer used for baseball as of 2015.  It was demolished in 2019.)
(Click on any picture to see a larger version.)

The best experience I have ever had in a ballpark was my rehearsal dinner–July 29, 2005.  Exactly a year later, I had another marvelous moment.

It sort of happened in San Diego, and it turned into a negative experience.  I had a shot at it in Batavia, and

I blew it.  But in Nashville?  On July 29?  Destiny.

I caught my first foul ball.

Bottom of the first inning.  Jonathon Rouwenhorst pitching. Vinny Rottino batting.  Rottino couldn’t catch up to Rouwenhorst’s pitches.  He

kept sending foul balls down the right field line, where I sat.  I got the glove ready.  Then, it happened.

I’m not very good at judging fly balls, so I’m glad Rob was there.  Not long after the ball left Rottino’s bat, he shouted:  “I think that’s you, Paul!”  The ball started by heading away from the plate, and then started arcing more parallel to the foul line, right along where I was.  I stuck out my glove and intercepted the path.  Bingo!  I caught a real-live foul ball.  On the fly.  In the glove.

My section, and three sections surrounding me, cheered loudly and lustily.  I greedily took it all in by raising both hands.  “Thank you!  Thank you!” I shouted.  No kids came up to me asking for it, and that’s good, because after

waiting a quarter of a century and some 200 games to catch one of these, I wouldn’t have given it up.  I attempted to re-enact the catch, but the resulting picture is poor…the glove was actually in front of me for a backhand stab.  I generally was giddy for the rest of the game.  Rest assured that I’ll try to get out every July 29 from now on!

Needless to say, Vinny Rottino is now my favorite player in the majors.  The Brewers called him up about a month after I caught his ball, and I’m hoping he’ll stay up in 2007.  (2009 Update:  He didn’t stick, and was traded to the Dodgers in July of 2009.) Minor leaguers, remember:  hitting a ball that I catch ALWAYS positively impacts your career.

It’s a good thing that I caught that foul ball, because the ballpark was a snoozer beyond that.  Were it not for the huge guitar scoreboard and the name Sounds, this place would have had absolutely no indication of which of the 50 states we were in.  The view beyond the outfield fence was a non-descript neighborhood to end all non-descript neighborhoods.  There was nothing thrilling to look at.  Add to that a too-crowded concourse, and it’s abundantly clear why the Sounds have decided

to move to a new ballpark by the river.

I did appreciate one thing about the concourse:  the way that the concession stands were named for past Sounds.  I always enjoy the nods to past players who have passed through, and Dibble’s Den, Bye-Bye Deli, and Magglio’s Pizza are a fun way to do that.

Sometimes, when a team goes to a place that is, as fellow Network of Ballpark Collectors member Tim calls it, “a new cookie cutter,” I can’t help but feel something has been lost. Sometimes I feel like there’s something to the old-school places, but not Greer Stadium, I’m afraid. I don’t have any vivid memory of the place.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel:  5/10
Beyond the guitar and the name, very little.

Charm:  2/5
Again, not much other than the scoreboard.

Spectacle:  3/5

Team mascot/name:  3/5

Here’s Ozzie.  He’s a carbon copy of the Denver Nuggets’ Rocky.  He does nothing for me.  The name Sounds, however, is excellent.

Aesthetics:  1.5/5
This is an unattractive place with no real view.

Pavilion area:  1.5/5


Dull and crowded, but I like the names of the establishments.

Scoreability:  3/5

Fans:  5/5

Intangibles:  5/5
Catching a foul ball trumps everything.  Simply everything.

TOTAL:  29/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

Salt Lake spots the Sounds a 4-0 lead, then comes back to win.  Mike Eylward’s sixth inning 2-run double erases the last of that lead.

Matt Wilhite of Bowling Green, Kentucky, got the win in front of many friends and family.

Vinny Rottino goes 0-for-4, including a double-play.

(Written September 2006.)

Joe Davis Stadium, Huntsville, Alabama

Joe Davis Stadium, Huntsville, ALABAMA

Number of states:  still 32 (cancellation)
States to go:  18

Number of games: 0
July 28, 2006 (game cancelled–unplayable fields)

(Joe Davis stadium is no longer used for baseball as of the 2016 season.)
(Click on any image to see a larger version.)

It had rained all morning the day we headed to Alabama, but cleared up significantly in the afternoon.  I went back and forth all day on whether there would be a baseball game played that night.  Even as I walked up to the stadium, I thought that maybe there was a shot at a game.  The lawns surrounding the stadium were dry to the touch.  But the game was cancelled–unplayable fields.  Which led my wife and I to speculate:  how could the field

be unplayable when the lawn outside was nearly dry?

Our conclusion:  in spite of the forecast, somebody must have forgotten to cover the infield before the rain began.  Not impressive.

The Stars were running a promotion that day where fans could get in free with a donation to a local food bank.  Workers for the food bank were outside taking canned food and exchanging it for tickets to future games.  These nice people said I could probably find someone to talk to at the ticket office.

I wanted to ask for two things, both of which were longshots.  First of all, I wanted to see if I could get a refund for our tickets.  In the past, efforts to do this had been a mixed bag, but I was deeply appreciative last year when the folks in San Diego offered refunds for their freak rainout for anyone from out-of-state.  I understand that baseball teams have to make a buck, but this seems a reasonable policy to me.  Secondly, I wanted to see if, after all of that effort to get there, somebody might let me into the ballpark to

take a few pictures.

There was nobody from the Stars anywhere to be found.  (They should take a customer service lesson from the food bank people, who were all over the place.)  That’s strike two–they forgot to cover their field, and now they’re nowhere to be found.

The next morning, while on the road to Nashville, I called the Stars and talked to a staffer.  While she stated that they couldn’t offer a rebate, even to an out-of-stater, I was disappointed but not surprised.  She offered me an exchange for merchandise at their store, but I had already left the state.  Oh well.

What followed was breathtaking.

ME:  “Do you work with any charities that my wife and I can donate our tickets to?”

HER:  “No.”

ME:  “You don’t work with any charities?”

HER:  “Not that I’m aware of.”

ME:  “Not Big Brothers/Big Sisters?  Not the Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs?  Nobody?”

HER:  “Hold on…let me check.”  Long pause while she checks with co-workers.  She then returns.  “Sir?  We don’t work with any charities.”

Net result:  we decided to send the tickets to a Huntsville charity on our own.  And, as beautiful as I found the Huntsville area (gorgeous country there in northern Alabama), you can bet that I won’t go back for a Stars game.  When I return to officially cross Alabama off the list, I will do so in Birmingham, Montgomery, or Mobile.

(Written August 2006.)

Cooper Stadium, Columbus, Ohio

 

Cooper Stadium, Columbus, OHIO

Number of states:  17
States to go:  33

First and last game:  July 25, 2006 (Columbus Clippers 9, Durham Bulls 1)

 
(Cooper Stadium is no longer in use for baseball as of the 2009 season.)
(Click on any image to view a larger version.)
 

To be sure, there were quite a number of issues with Cooper Stadium.  Its age shows, and not gracefully.  I dislike the ancient PA system, the charmless pavilion, and the less-than-understated Carmina Burana playing

as the team takes the field.  However, this July evening turned into a marvelously fun evening with loads of friends–an evening I was pleased to have.

Rob, Yolonda, Michelle and I made it to Cooper Stadium after a day at South Point, Ohio (near the tri-point of Ohio, Kentucky, and West Virginia).  Buddies Joe and Alison gathered loads of friends and led us to the tenth row behind the third-base dugout.  As happens so many times when I get together with buddies for a ballgame, there were many bizarre and memorable events to pass along.

For starters, the whole bunch of us nearly died in the second inning.  The Clippers’ Jeff Karstens pitched to the Bulls’ Elijah Dukes.  He must have fooled him very badly on a pitch, because as Dukes missed for strike two, he released his bat and it went flying behind him.

And right towards us.

Right the hell towards us.

Even if I had wanted the bat and been foolish enough to reach up for the bat, it likely would have just hit my forearms.  So I joined all of my friends in ducking down very low.  I did not want to get hit by a flying bat. 

As buddy Joe (wearing the Orioles hat in the photo) put it, “I’d prefer to go the rest of my life without the little voice in my head saying ‘you’re not ducking deep enough’ ever again.”

As we dusted ourselves off and made sure all of our appendages remained, and as we confirmed that the people a couple of rows behind us were also unhurt, we missed Dukes grounding out to third.  We also missed Dukes being ejected by the home plate umpire.  This ejection led the Devil Rays to finally get so fed up with Dukes (in part because he had earlier said that “the major leaguers shower in Perrier while we get sewer water”) that they suspended him for the rest of the season.  I appreciate the D-Rays’ priorities.  Only AFTER he threw a bat at me did they toss him.  Indeed, perhaps

the D-Rays knew that I was a sports official–in the year when Delmon Young chucked a bat at the home plate umpire, I would merely be the latest official a Durham Bull threw a bat at in 2006.

When I wasn’t in danger of dying, there were a few things I liked about Cooper Stadium.  They did a fine job respecting the Clippers’ history, which, as of 2006, meant New York

Yankees’ history.  I love ballparks that have lineups from past years on display, and Cooper Stadium had artists’ renditions of lineups from every year from the Clippers’ history as a Yankees’ affiliate.  The mixture of all-time greats with who-the-heck-is-thats is one of my favorite parts of being at a ballpark, and Cooper Stadium does it well.  As of the end of the 2006 season, the Yankees ended their relationship with the Clippers.  I do hope that they keep the old Yankees’ pictures up; when I’m at a minor league ballpark, I want to see the local minor league team’s history, not the history of the major league team.  Wichita, Tulsa, and High Desert all celebrate past minor leaguers from who played at that park even after affiliate shifts.  We’ll see if the Clippers have that same sense of history, or if their new parent club orders the relics of recent Yankee history taken down.

No other aspects of the ballpark blew me away.  I was a little taken aback by the fact that a cemetery is visible beyond the outfield fence.  When my mind and eyes wander during a Clippers’ game, they wander to headstones. A particularly massive home run at Cooper Stadium would not impress the fans so much as remind them of their mortality.  The pavilion is typically dank and dull.  They try to make it up with a miniature golf course.  I’m not a big fan of such unnecessary distractions from the baseball–any fan who’d prefer golf to

baseball isn’t a fan at all–and on top of that, the mini-golf course is so poorly and hastily assembled that it’s actually worse than it could be.

This is also my second visit to a Yankees’ affiliate, and the second time that the team played “New York, New York” after a victory.  I hated that just as much here as I did in Battle Creek.  We’re not in New York, and these aren’t the Yankees.  Let’s keep that music special for Yankee Stadium.

Occasionally, it’s a close race to actually be a charming old ballpark–the old, covered seating with beams obstructing views is a blast from the past–but I’m afraid that there are just too many negatives.  Nevertheless, I’ll probably be back. With so many friends so close by, I’ll certainly be back to see if they do any upgrades–and if those upgrades will maintain the current sense of history.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel:  7/10
The ballpark’s strong sense of Clippers’ history earns points here.

Charm:  2/5
Not much.  Old in and of itself does not mean charming, and Cooper Stadium demonstrates this.

Spectacle:  3.5/5
Not bad for the triple-A level, although the promotions they had were occasionally annoying.

Team mascot/name:  3/5

Joe, me, and Krash the First Mate.  Not pictured:  Lou Seal.  Nothing offensive or impressive about any mascot-related matters.

Aesthetics:  2.5/5
Sort of old and dusty–and the view is of a cemetery, which is creepy.

Pavilion area:  1.5/5

Scoreability:  3/5

Fans:  5/5
Great friends.  I look forward to going to the new place with them.

Intangibles:  2.5/5
I had a fun night, but in the end, this place didn’t leave me with a positive impression.

TOTAL:  29.5/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

The Clippers rough up the Bulls’ Doug Waechter for four first-inning runs.

Columbus’s nine runs include five unearned runs off of four Bull errors, including a pair by B.J. Upton.

B.J. Upton and Bronson Sardinha homer.

Jeff Karstens pitches 7 innings of 1-run ball.

(Written August 2006.)

Knights Stadium, Fort Mill, South Carolina

Knights Stadium, Fort Mill, SOUTH CAROLINA

Number of states:  14
States to go:  36

Number of games:  1
First and last game:  July 22, 2006 (Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons 4, Charlotte Knights 3, 12 innings; game suspended at 3-3 after 10 innings and finished on July 23 without me)

(Knights Stadium was no longer used for baseball as of 2014, and was demolished in 2015.)
(Click on any image to see a lager version.)

After a day hiking to Ellicott Rock (the place where Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina meet), we got to Knights Stadium a little late…the gorgeous roads through

the western Carolinas take a little longer to drive across than we had anticipated.  This led to an unprecedented event in my ballpark history:  unexpected free parking.  We were in a long, long line to get into the parking lot, worrying about whether we’d make the first pitch.  We got out a wallet to pay for parking, but when we got to the edge of the parking lot, they simply waved us in.  They passed up on hundreds and perhaps thousands of dollars to make sure that the lion’s share of the huge Fireworks Night crowd could get in on time.  I appreciate that.

We approached the stadium as they sang the National Anthem.  It was a hot night with a foreboding storm approaching.  Outside the ballpark–very active on this fireworks night–I encountered what had to be a lost, disoriented, and terribly hot Santa Claus.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen him wearing shorts before, with the possible exception of the claymation Santa reclining and relaxing in Peter Cottontail. Michelle and I made it to our seats just as the first batter, Michael Bourn, was retired.

I’m afraid the ballpark had very little special about it.  While I liked the grassy areas down the foul lines, on the whole, Charlotte felt too big to be charming,

but too small to be expansively impressive.  It was a bizarre tweener with an identity crisis.  Where many AAA ballparks try to be like small major-league ballparks–which is its own problem sometimes–Charlotte seemed to go a different direction and instead tried to be a large minor-league ballpark, at least physically.  The two decks looked like something I’d see at a small park, only bigger.  On the other hand, the ballpark took some of my least-favorite aspects of big-time parks and incorporated them.

Let me take one example of this and make it as clear as I possibly can, hoping that ballparks everywhere heed me:  There is absolutely no reason, ever, anywhere, for any ballpark to have a carousel.  I’m fine with kids running around and jumping, and I can even live with the climbing wall.  But a carousel?  Ridiculous.  The idea of taking kids to a ballgame is to get them to like baseball, not to avoid it.  From now on, if I see a carousel in a ballpark, the ballpark will be penalized.  Severely.

Scoring was difficult at Knights Stadium as well.  They couldn’t keep track of who was at bat very well, and were completely absent on a key wild pitch/passed ball decision.  I find that these are the toughest

plays to score from the stands, but the most frequently ignored by scoreboard people, which is too bad.  Beyond that, however, the Knights did a decent job putting on a show.  Nothing special–not old-school reserved, not new-school fun–just serviceable.

What I’ll remember most from this night is wondering if we’d get a game in on time.  A big storm was building up to our north and west, and we could see lightning off on the horizon past left field.  Was the storm passing us to the north, or was it eventually going to nail us?  The game chugged along, and in spite of the light show, it was rain free.  But when Charlotte tied the game in the bottom of the eighth, and extra innings became imminent, well, it became unlikely we’d get to see the game end.  The umpires held out through some impressive rain in the bottom of the 10th as the Knights got two on with one out…but a double-play ended the inning,

and the tarp came out immediately.  We didn’t kid ourselves by trying to wait…the big storm was going to end baseball that night.

Much to my surprise, the Knights went ahead and had the fireworks show anyway while everyone ran desperately through the downpour to their cars.  I wish I were a more talented photographer, because we were treated to a display of fireworks going off above lightning strikes…very impressive indeed.  Also impressive was how well my wife drove through the thunderstorm to the hotel.

The Knights are building a new downtown ballpark to replace Knights Stadium, and this is a case where one is warranted.  The location will be better, and the personality-free Knights Stadium will likely not be missed by any fans.  But I’m thankful I got there…it enabled me to cross South Carolina off my list with only a very short jaunt across the border.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel:  5/10
Were it not for the thunderstorm, this score would be even lower–but truthfully, there was no way of telling where we were.

Charm:  3/5
Not much, but not totally impaired here either.

Spectacle:  3/5
A fair number of promotions–perhaps too many for AAA.  But the fireworks in front of the lightning stay in my mind as a heck of a spectacle.

Team mascot/name:  2/5

Homer.  Dumb name.  And what’s up with a dragon representing the Knights?  Don’t knights slay dragons?

Aesthetics:  3.5/5
Some trees.  Again, the score is aided by the fireworks-with-lightning.

Pavilion area:  2/5
Nothing doing.  It’s mostly cement, and where it isn’t cement, they’ve put in a carousel.  Ick.

Scoreability:  2/5

Fans:  4/5
I liked the huge crowd, their enthusiasm, and the way they stuck around, even though many of them ran for cover at the first tiny sprinkle. Come on, Knights fans…in Seattle, we picnic in sprinkles.

Intangibles:  2/5
The ballpark, on the whole, did nothing for me.

TOTAL:  26.5/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

Scranton/Wilkes-Barre took a 3-0 lead on a Josh Kroeger triple, but could not hold onto the lead.  They win in the 12th on a Brennan King home run…but by then, I’m most of the way to Bristol.

Ruben Rivera homers for Charlotte.

(Written August 2006.)

C.O. Brown Stadium, Battle Creek, Michigan

C.O. Brown Stadium, Battle Creek, MICHIGAN

Number of states: 7
States to go:  43
Number of games:  1
First and last game:  July 20, 2004 (Battle Creek Yankees 3, West Michigan Whitecaps 2, 10 innings)

C.O. Brown Stadium is no longer in use for the affiliated minors as of the 2007 season.

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

Singing buddy Kristin and I found our way to Cereal City after experiencing the annoying shortcomings of South Bend and the always fantastic Wrigley Field.  Since I had no experience with Battle Creek other than driving through it on I-94 a few times (sometimes it smells like Corn Flakes, other times like Froot Loops), I had no real expectations for the evening.  What I got was quite a memorable ballgame, an extremely quirky ballpark, and a sense that I was a part of the dugout for the West Michigan Whitecaps.

The park’s location is fairly typical for single-A:  it’s a part of a recreational complex, just the largest of about a half dozen fields on the site.  The cool part about this is that, at least on the night I went, there were other

games to be seen on site.  If Kristin and I had arrived earlier, we could have sat in on either of two other baseball games taking place (it may have been American Legion or AAU ball).  It was here that I secured my only foul ball of the whole trip, but alas, it was not at the Yankees/Whitecaps game…it was one launched into the parking lot from one of the other games.  I retrieved it and dutifully tossed it back.

I can’t for the life of me figure out how C.O. Brown Stadium came to be shaped exactly as it is.  The largest block of seating is behind home plate, but there’s an almost-as-big block which hooks around the left-field foul pole.  My best guess (indeed, my only guess) is that the older-looking seating area by the foul pole was, at one time, the only block of seats in the ballpark, and that home plate used to be over there.  My theory then has the larger block built later on, and home plate moving but all the seating remaining.  A friendly usher was unable to help me solve this conundrum, and I still can’t figure out why the ballpark looks that way.  Quirky?  Yes.  Charming?  That’s in the eye of the beholder.

Another quirky feature of the ballpark adds loads to its charm, however.  Just past each dugout is a box of seats that juts out four or five rows

beyond the dugout and towards the field.  Kristin and I had seats on the inside edge of that section, second row.  That means that, by looking over our right shoulders, we were able to look directly into the visitors’ dugout.  Any sense of privacy those players hoped to have was shot!  I looked as players lifted barbells, chatted, high-fived, and watched the game.  It made it very easy to root for West Michigan on that day.

Besides, just out of principle, I can’t root for any team nicknamed the “Yankees.”  I’m annoyed that the team has this name.  Battle Creek’s name was just changed in 2003, from the locally appropriate (and interesting) “Battle Cats.”  Does George Steinbrenner think that everyone really wants to be like him?  Worse yet, after the Yankee victory, the loudspeakers played “New York, New York.”  Gimme a break!  We’re not in New York, even if it’s what the players are striving for.  You know the line “If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere?”  Well, the players have to make it in Battle Creek first.  Lay off that song, or at least relegate it to pregame somewhere.

As I meandered through the ballpark before the game, I saw a scoresheet on a table behind home plate on 

the main walkway.  Would the Yankees really put their official scorer out there with the people?  I was astonished.  Later, I found out that this was not at all true–but instead was part of what I think is a fantastic promotion that balances my desire for promotions at the low-minor level without the concern that those promotions will interfere with the baseball.  Spectators were given Bingo cards upon entry to the stadium with various possible outcomes on them, such as “Matt Carson walks” or “Nick Walsh doubles.”  This means that fans must keep track of the game to fill out their bingo cards.  The scorebook behind home plate was not the official scorekeeper, but was the Yankees’ worker keeping score–the guy the winner takes the bingo card to as soon as he/she has a bingo.  I had never seen this before, and was quite impressed with the idea.

At the end of pregame warmups, Whitecap Juan Francia got on my good side by

delivering a baseball to a youngster next to me.  What a stud–I hope he rises through the organization.  He went 1-for-4 with a walk and a stolen base, as well as some flashy defensive play.  But I’ll always remember him first for being a nice guy.

It was church night in Battle Creek, so I had to be on my best behavior.  According to the Yankees, 361 of the 1,574 in attendance were a part of ten or twenty church groups that were in attendance.  A chorister from one of the churches sang the National Anthem and bungled it badly–he started in a key so breathtakingly high that I turned to fellow singer Kristin and whispered “I’ll hate to hear ‘the rockets’ red glare.'”  Sure enough, when he got there, he had to drop down an octave.  Later, he sort of made up a melody for “land of the free” to dodge that high note as well.  Singers–if you are to sing the National Anthem a cappella, I implore you to do the following:  for a couple of minutes before you begin, sing “Oh say can you see” and “And the rockets’ red glare” back to back repeatedly.  “Say” and “red glare” are the lowest and highest notes you’ll have to sing, unless you choose to go up the fourth on “land of the free” later on.  This will prepare you for the anthem and avoid the situation this man found himself in.  It always worked for me.

I don’t know if this was planned, but after the sixth inning, they gave the anthem singer another shot at the mike, this time to sing “How Great Thou Art.”  I guess this was to celebrate church night.  This led to a bizarre situation on the field and in both dugouts.  How does one respond

to the singing of a religious hymn during a game?  I admit, when the guy started singing, I stood and removed my cap…but as soon as I realized he was singing “How Great Thou Art” rather than “God Bless America” or another patriotic song, it occurred to me that it might not be appropriate to have my hat over my heart and standing at attention to the flag.  This is not the national anthem.  I passionately love my God and my country, but I passionately love them separately.  Mixing them by observing the flag while singing a religious hymn felt wrong to me.  However, I’d want to be respectful by standing in silence, just as I would stand in silence for a sacred song for any religion.  So I was at a bit of a loss for what to do, and figured it would be worse for the players.  Do the players look at the flag, stand reverently, or just go about their business?  A quick look over my shoulder, however, revealed that West Michigan manager Matt Walbeck (who, until and including the previous season, had been a major league player) had his hat over his heart, and had beckoned his team to join him on the top of the dugout steps, which they did:

Seconds later, however, I think Walbeck realized that this wasn’t “America the Beautiful,” because by the time the singer got to “My savior God to thee,” Walbeck had run out of the dugout to his third-base coaching position, where he prepared for the inning.  The Whitecaps’ players, at least a couple of whom must be Jewish or Muslim or agnostic or atheist, all of whom had until seconds earlier had been standing in reverent silence, had headed to the bat racks and benches, perhaps wondering what the heck had happened.  And Wilton Reynolds, the designated hitter, had clearly realized the bizarreness of the situation, because he actually was doubled over in laughter.  I made eye contact with him–I thought the whole thing was funny too.  (Looking at the picture above, it looks like Vince Blue, #31, also senses something is awry.)

On the whole, this was a nice way to spend a muggy Michigan night–surrounded by nice people enjoying a ballgame at an old park.  This also turned out to be one of the best minor league ballgames I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching.  I’ll tell you about that under “Baseball stuff” below.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel:  6.5/10
Reasonable, with big Midwestern trees beyond the outfield wall and massive Midwestern clouds, but nothing really to denote Michigan or Battle Creek.  I couldn’t even smell the Froot Loops until I was on my way out of town.

Charm:  4.5/5
Sure.  Quirkiness and fans so close to the action that kids talked to the bullpen catcher as he warmed up pitchers.

Spectacle: 5/5
Excellent here.  Understated and persistent–frequent between-innings action and the Bingo game tied right in with the baseball.

Team mascot/name:  2/5


The name change to Yankees was tragic, as the old “Battle Cats” paraphernalia on sale for half price was one of the saddest things I’ve seen. I hope Steinbrenner helped defray the costs.  The mascot himself is Doodle–apparently a youngster or a very short individual.  I like the name Doodle (get it?) a lot.

Aesthetics:  3/5
Sweet on the outside, but not too attractive on the inside (see below).

Pavilion area:  2.5/5
There was an area where kids were playing pickle, but it was far too small.  Mostly, it was just prison-like cement.



Scoreability: 3/5
Numbers and names readily available in the pavilion, but by the seventh inning, the names they had on the scoreboard didn’t at all match the actual people at bat.  It’s like the scoreboard people gave up.  Good for a while, though.

Fans:  3.5/5
The church people were very nice in the conservative Midwestern way (and I mean that affectionately–not at all sarcastically or disparagingly).  A few drunken louts nearby hurt the score.

Intangibles:  4.5/5
A great game where I felt like I was chatting with the players.  Fun night.

TOTAL:  34.5/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

What a game!  Mr. Walbeck has a little work to do in the managerial department, I’m afraid.  The game’s star was Whitecap starter Virgil Vasquez, who cruised through eight innings of four-hit shutout ball.  I was surprised to see him come back out for the ninth inning.  Don’t they have pitch counts at A-level ball?  Walbeck had a reliever, Eulogio de la Cruz, warmed up, and Vasquez had thrown quite a few pitches.  Still, he struck out Matt Carson to start the inning, and things looked good for West Michigan.  When third baseman Kody Kirkland kicked Erold Andrus’ liner, there was one on and one out, and I was thinking that one more baserunner and would bring out Walbeck with the hook.  Bryce Kartler singled.  Vasquez stayed on.  A popout brought it to two on and two outs…then a laboring Vasquez walked John Urick. SURELY, I thought, this has to be it for Vasquez…he’s had a fine game, now de la Cruz can nail it down, right?  Nope.  Walbeck stuck with Vasquez.  It turned out to be a bad move, as Tommy Rojas singled to tie the game with two unearned runs.  Only then, too late, did Walbeck relieve Vasquez.



De la Cruz got out of the inning, but Battle Creek won in the tenth on Andrus’ RBI single.  An angry Kody Kirkland, whose error made all of this possible, violently kicked a plastic cooler in the dugout on his way back to the clubhouse after the game.

Also, Garth McKinney homered for the Whitecaps.  Party on, Garth.  (I bet he’s never

heard that one before!  Man, it just occurs to me that Garth would have been around 10 at the height of Wayne’s World…what a bummer of a time to be 10 and named Garth.)

(Written August 2004.)

PGE Park, Portland, Oregon

PGE Park, Portland, OREGON

Number of states: still 5
States to go: 45
Number of games: 40
First game: July 4, 2004 (Portland Beavers 3, Edmonton Trappers 1)
Last game: September 3, 2010 (Las Vegas 51s 9, Portland Beavers 2)

(PGE Park was converted to an MLS soccer facility after the 2010 season, and is still used for soccer.)

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

Portland was the third stop on what I hope will become an annual event–the Paul and Michelle July 4th weekend trip to minor league ballparks.  It’s possible we won’t be able to afford to go to new stadiums every year, as by the end of this year, I’ll have all of the Washington, Oregon, and British Columbia stadiums crossed off my list.  But who can come up with a better July 4th tradition than baseball…minor league baseball?  It’s American, kids and adults

love it, and you get to see a fireworks show safer than what your crazy Uncle John puts together with marginally-legal explosives he spirits in over the state line.  If you do the weekend right and are willing to drive a little, you can get two fireworks shows (Eugene’s was after their July 3rd game, Portland’s on the 4th).  Plus, the minor league baseball atmosphere is better–bigger, louder, more looking-for-a-good time crowds.  So even if we just dip down to Tacoma or Everett every year, I’m thinking this will become a tradition.  And it’s a good one.

And we could certainly do worse than to visit Portland again.  I was extremely impressed with the setting of the ballpark.  Field level is significantly below street level, so from throughout the stadium, when any fan looks out past left field, it’s easy to see city life go by.  Portland’s light-rail MAX train goes past the fence out there, and better still, people who want to watch the game for free can do so easily by walking up to the fence between the sidewalk and the left-field pavilion.  It’s not that bad a view, actually, as these pictures should show.

The MA

X trains and the Beaver mascot are only a tiny part of what gives this fine ballpark local color.  A good chunk of that local color is supplied by Timber Jim, the de facto human mascot for the Beavers and A-League soccer’s Portland Timbers.  Timber Jim is a bona-fide lumberjack.  If you don’t believe me, just check out how he clambers up the giant log/pole beyond the right-center field wall and watches several innings of the game from there.  Also, check out how he repels down from a beam to dangle in front of fans and lead cheers from midair.  He’s an excellent asset to the team–not really detracting from the game, but very much adding to the experience.

Speaking of detracting from the game, this is the first game since my early youth where I have done the wave during the game.  I know, I know, disappointing.  But I think you’ll understand when I say why.  I attended this game with Michelle the Girlfriend and a whole gaggle of her college buddies (and their spouses and kids).  They don’t know me terribly well yet, so as they did the wave, I was explaining to them that “I don’t do the wave.”  Matt, one of Michelle’s best friends, was trying to talk me into doing the wave.  I, of course, remained adamant.  Michelle knows how passionate I am about the wave.  But she made a tragic mistake.  She cavalierly–and, as she soon

learned, too hastily–said to Matt:  “I’ll give you a hundred dollars if you get him to do the wave.”  Matt didn’t miss a beat before he turned to me:  “Paul, I’ll give you fifty bucks if you do the wave.”  Hey, we all have our price–fifty bucks is significant money to a teacher–and it’s not like doing the wave is a crime.  So when the wave rolled by next time, I stood up, shouted, and did the best wave I’ve ever done.  Alas, Michelle was very disappointed in my lack of morals.  I hope I didn’t cause long-term damage to the relationship.  How much money would YOU take for doing the wave once?  I bet it’s less than fifty bucks.  Fifty bucks which, by the way, both Matt and I are still waiting for.  Michelle–hurry up.  We’re charging interest.

The other thing I’ll remember from this game, besides forever losing Michelle’s trust in my integrity, was teaching a woman in the group to score.  She was given a scorebook for a recent birthday, and it was suggested that I help her through the game.  No problem…it’s very nice to help somebody out, and I love both scoring and teaching.  But my…it wasn’t scoring this woman didn’t understand, it was baseball. Case in point:  after a double play, I started to explain to her where to mark each of the outs.

“Here’s how you mark the double play,” I told her.  She gave me a blank look, so I continued:  “A double play.  That was a double play.”  Still nothing. 

“They got both the runner and batter out.”  Now she’s looking a little panicked behind her cluelessness.  “You know, a double play.  Two outs on one play.”

Finally, both confused and astonished, she responded:  “They can do that????”

It’s not so much my efforts to teach her how to score that interest me…it’s the whole notion of the situation that I’m interested in.  Why would somebody who  didn’t understand baseball happily receive a scorebook as a gift?  To be honest, even though she wasn’t yet a proficient scorer at the end of the day, I admired her a good deal.  I sure wouldn’t try to score cricket or bridge.

At this writing, it looks like the Montreal Expos have next to no chance of moving to Portland.  I admit I wish they would–not so much for the possibility of a new NL team down the road in a new stadium, but because it’d be fun to see major league baseball in this cozy, interesting venue.  No sweat: I’ll have to settle for the quite pleasant alternative of a few minor league trips down I-5 to catch the Beavers at the very enjoyable PGE Park, where I’ll sit with Michelle and not do the wave.  Unless somebody meets my price.

UPDATE JULY 2009: PGE Park has now become my home stadium, since I moved down I-5 to Vancouver, Washington in the summer of 2007.  My knowledge of the park–a couple of years of partial-season packages–has led me to appreciate it a little more (still love those MAX trains heading by) and a little less (there’s no legroom, and a tall guy like me needs it).

The bad news is that it’s all academic, however, since PGE Park will become a soccer-only facility after the 2010 baseball season ends.  As of this writing, there’s very little certainty as to what will become of the Beavers. They may be gone just like Timber Jim (who has hung up the repelling equipment since my original post).

There’s a chance that the Beavers will leave the area altogether, which would be terrible, but right now the number one possibility is that they’ll leave downtown and move to the suburbs. If they go to any suburb other than my own, the number of games I’d attend would drop precipitously.  I will not fight rush hour out to the suburbs to catch a game more than once or twice a year.  Stay tuned on this one.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel:  8.5/10
Outstanding.  The MAX trains going by left field and a guy standing on top of a giant log?  Can’t beat that.  The former means you’re in the city, the latter means the Pacific Northwest.  If this is the minor leagues, it must mean Portland.  (I deducted a half point for the loss of Timber Jim, but the view of the Oregonian building still carries the day.)

Charm:  3/5
PGE Park is old…mostly the good kind of old.  It gets docked for having a carpet, the right-field eyesore view of an extremely unattractive athletic club, zero legroom, and the stands being some distance back from the field.  This weighs down the score in spite of its many positive quirks.

Spectacle: 4/5
A fair amount, but the game came first…about right for AAA.

Team mascot/name:  4.5/5


Lucky Beaver.  The mascot is good–indigenous and intimidating (I’d hate to face a rabid beaver).

Aesthetics:  3.5/5
Wonderful to left field, hideous to right, and mixed within the old stadium.

Pavilion area:  3/5
Nice sense of ballpark history and a good sunny left field porch.  I do wish that more of the pavilion were outdoors, however.

Scoreability:  3/5
The only balls-and-strikes scoreboard is hand-operated.  Mistakes are a touch too frequent.  I like the retro feel, but I like accuracy better.

Fans:  4/5
Attendance is often dismal, but when they show up, it’s a raucous-but-civil group.

Intangibles:  4.5/5
Overall, I like this place for baseball and I’m going to miss it.

TOTAL:  38/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

A pitchers’ duel.  Portland’s Chris Oxspring (who really should have been a mattress salesman…excuse me, I mean an attress salesman) gets the best of it, pitching seven innings of four-hit ball.

Edmonton’s Josh Karp is the hard-luck loser, pitching very well besides a three-run homer to the Beavers’ Jon Knott.

Portland’s Mike Thompson takes a no-hitter into the sixth in a marvelous pitchers’ duel with Tucson’s Shawn Estes (on a rehab assignment).  He loses it on a solo home run by Keoni De Renne, and three runs in the ninth seal it for Tucson.

In 2007, Royce Huffman has a killer Father’s Day afternoon against Salt Lake, going 4-for-4 with a double, a home run, 3 RBIs, and a stolen base.

The 2009 AAA All-Star Game was an enjoyable affair.  Eric Kratz of Indianapolis takes MVP honors in the International League’s win, but I’ll most remember Nashville pitcher R.J. Swindle busting out a few 50-mile-an-hour breaking balls that nobody could hit.

Best pitching performance so far is probably Fresno’s Kevin Pucetas, who set the Beavers down on 2 hits over 7 innings.

(Written July 2004.  Updated August 2006 and July 2009.)

Civic Stadium, Eugene, Oregon

Civic Stadium, Eugene, OREGON

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

Civic Stadium was no longer used for affiliated minor league baseball as of the 2010 season. Fire destroyed the structure in 2015.

(Click any image to view a larger version.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Salem-Keizer catcher Charlie Babineaux was ready to

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BALLPARK SCORE:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TOTAL:  35/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

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

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

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

Drillers Stadium, Tulsa, Oklahoma

Drillers Stadium, Tulsa, OKLAHOMA

Number of states: 3
States to go: 47
Number of games: 1
First game: April 11, 2004 (Tulsa Drillers 1, Frisco RoughRiders 0)


The Drillers left this ballpark in 2010, and it was demolished in 2019.

I attended the ballgame in Tulsa on Easter Sunday.  I challenge anyone to find another person who visited Tulsa that holiday who was not drawn there by family or business.  The best part about the trip to (and from) Tulsa was avoiding the interstates.  Just like I had done

with my father nearly twelve years earlier on our trip to Arlington Stadium, I stayed entirely off interstates–on state and county roads, my preferred mode of travel.  And wow, was it fun.  Driving through the little towns along the way in southern Kansas and northern Oklahoma…with every tiny town the host to one (or more) big churches, and every church packed to the gills with cars.  I must admit, that morning was a little I-love-the-USA moment for me.  Because of my recent ancestry, I have a soft spot in my heart for the Midwest, and looking at all of these packed churches even made my then-lapsed religious self feel like we are a country filled with a lot of decent, kind people.  Sure, if I’d taken the time to step into, say, the First Baptist Church in whatever tiny town and listen to the sermon, I may well have been blown out of my I-love-the-USA reverie by whatever makes-me-embarrassed-to-be-Christian garbage was emanating from the pulpit, but on this morning, I gave everyone the benefit of the doubt.  I drove through the crops on a cool sunny Easter with Jesus Christ Superstar cranked up on my rented car’s CD player.  And I felt good.

I only wish the charm of my journey to Drillers Stadium was matched by the charm of Drillers Stadium.  The stadium fails on a few counts, but mainly this one:  it is absolutely impossible to tell what city you’re in while seated in the stadium.  Seriously.  Check out the photo here. 

Were it not for the Tulsa World advertisement, would you have any idea what city you were in?  What state?  What region?  There is literally no hint to that in the photo.  We had a Walgreens past left field, a Lowe’s past right, and a city utilities department behind a foul line.  There’s no skyline in view (although within city limits, the ballpark is several miles from downtown, in a suburban-feeling location near the state fairgrounds and an old horse track…cars park on the infield of the track).  There are no natural landmarks to see from the park (the nearly dried-up Arkansas river runs on the other side of town), and not even any local promotion that leaps out at me as “Only in Oklahoma” or even “Only in the Southwest.”  Look, I know we’re losing regional differences in this country, almost to the point where only weather, flora, fauna, and natural landscapes differentiate us.  I bet that, with literally every ballpark on this journey, I’ll be able to sip a Starbucks before the game and head to either a TGIFridays, Outback, Chili’s, or Applebee’s afterwards.  This bothers me, and the ballpark needs to combat that.  It’s not that I’m incapable of grading suburban parks highly, even with our nation’s similarities between suburban locations–Everett, for instance, is in a humdrum suburban location, but redeems itself by providing a huge grassy pavilion and a view of the mountains.  Tulsa does nothing, and as a result, is charmless.

Even the mascot, which I felt was promising at first, fell flat when measured for local color.  The blue-colored bull (with whom I asked an usher to photograph me…only to find when I got home that he didn’t properly take

the picture…what’s with my luck in choosing only complete incompetents to take my picture at ballparks?) is named Hornsby.  What an awesome name for a mascot.  I asked the mascot if it was after Rogers Hornsby.  He gave me a thumbs-up.  (He could only communicate with charades.)  I then asked the mascot if Rogers Hornsby was from Tulsa.  The mascot shrugged.  I really wanted Rogers Hornsby to be from Tulsa, or at least Oklahoman.  Didn’t turn out to be true…he just turned out to have played in the Texas League for a while.  Close to a great mascot idea, but no cigar.  There’s just a tiny little hint at Drillers’ history in the ballpark, and it’s misplaced…it’s on the inside of the seating bowl, right under the press box behind home plate.  There are nice paintings of past great Drillers, mostly Texas Ranger products of the ’80s and ’90s like Sammy Sosa and Juan Gonzalez.  Surely Tulsa has a richer history than that.  Another near miss.

My ballpark experience was certainly not helped by an astonishing screw-up by Drillers ticket staff.  Not long after my arrival, a good-natured guy seated a few seats to my left asks me a strange question.  “Did they sell you that seat?”  The answer was yes…row two behind third base, right on the aisle.  “Really?  Man.  I bought that seat as a season ticket, and they’ve been selling it to people.”  Geez, I said, do you want me to move?  (Hardly a problem, due to the very low attendance on a chilly Easter Sunday afternoon.)  He said it wasn’t necessary.  Apparently the fine folks at the Drillers had taken his money for season tickets…and then went ahead and sold his seats to anyone who wanted them on Ticketmaster.  Worse, when he called to complain, their solution was this:  that, in the event there was another patron with his seat, he was to tell them to report to the ticket office for reseating.  Amazing.

It was here, in the fifth ballpark of the minor-league quest, that I became conflicted about the “Promotions” portion of my score. 

Tulsa did few, if any, between innings.  But it occurred to me that, at least with quality Double-A ball in front of me, I didn’t miss them.  Short-season A ball?  Okay, distract me a little between innings (but never during the game).  So I will take care to remember that only distracting promotions are to be penalized from now on.

So, in the end, the nice people of Oklahoma were the best part of this ballpark.  Although I can’t say I had a rip-roaring conversation with any of them, one did let me stay in his season-ticket seat without sending me to the ticket office as he’d inexplicably been asked to do.  Good thing, too…being in the second row of a quiet, nearly-empty ballpark like this enabled me to hear Tulsa manager Tom Runnells argue a safe call at third base.  (He was actually quite polite in his disagreement…no foul language or personal attacks.)   Another let me take a photo of her with rabbit ears on her head.  And this high-school-aged couple were terribly cute and clearly quite affectionate for each other without any groping or tonsil hockey…it was very sweet to watch.  So it was certainly a nice Easter at the ballpark, but I’m afraid the ballpark left an awful lot to be desired.

I know there’s a lot of Tulsa/Oklahoma City rivalry, but if ever I’m back in Oklahoma, I’ll look forward to visiting the ballpark in Oklahoma City’s Bricktown.  It certainly looks to be superior to Drillers Stadium.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel:  2/10
Quite simply none.  The Walgreens in left is hardly Fenway’s Citgo sign.  The Lowe’s Hardware in right could be any Lowe’s.  Flat Oklahoma offers no real views from the seating bowl.  Drop me in the ballpark and cover up any text that says “Tulsa,” and I would have no Godly idea where I was.  Only the few photos of ex-Drillers save this score.

Charm:  1/5
Simply none.  Between the utilities plant and the former horse track…nothing to show any personality.  I’m writing this two weeks after my visit, and I barely remember anything about it.

Spectacle: 3.5/5
Nicely and quietly integrated promotions…both quiet and effective.  Strangest promotion…the Kansas City Royals, neither the parent club of the Drillers nor at all close to Tulsa, advertised heavily, including giving away tickets to home Royals games.

Team mascot/name:  4.5/5
As I said, I have minor quibbles with the name “Hornsby,” but the name “Drillers” may be one of the best nicknames in the minors.  Perfectly locally appropriate, unique, and sort of intimidating. The usher screwed up my picture of Hornsby, so instead, I will reproduce this photo of this innocent, completely non-stereotypical mascot from a local Mexican restaurant.


Aesthetics:  1/5
Neither the ballpark nor its surroundings do anything for me.

Pavilion area:  3/5
Not bad.  Good lineups, but not a lot of character.

Scoreability:  5/5
Excellent job by the scoreboard guy communicating a tricky passed ball/wild pitch ruling on a botched intentional walk.

Fans:  3.5/5
Nice people, but not enough of them.

Intangibles:  3/5
Maybe I was just tired from the drive, but there just was nothing that seemed to impress me on this day.  The game was pretty good, though, which helps.

TOTAL:  26.5/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

A pitchers’ duel between Tulsa (the Rockies’ affiliate…the Rockies basically only draft pitchers because they figure no decent free agent will willingly pitch for them) and Frisco (the Rangers affiliate, who had drafted a lot of pitching lately due to a complete lack of it with the big club).  Justin Hampsen and Kameron Loe, the starters, put a lot of zeroes on the board.

RoughRiders reliever Frank Francisco (that’s Spanish for Frank Frank) gives up the only run of the game in one of the most bizarre fashions I’ve ever seen.  Bottom of the eighth.  He walks the Drillers’ Tony Miller, who steals second.  He strikes out Jayson Nix, then intentionally walks Shawn Garnett.  But catcher Josh McKinley lets the ball get by him on the first pitch of the intentional walk.  Passed ball.  First screwed up intentional walk I’ve ever seen at any level, in person or on TV.  So, they finish the walk.  First and third, one out…and Francisco balks in what turns out to be the winning run.  Weird.  Minor league baseball…catch it!