Category Archives: demolished

Ballparks that have since been on the business end of either the wrecking ball or demolitions explosives.

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.

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.)

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.)

Lawrence-Dumont Stadium, Wichita, Kansas

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Lawrence-Dumont Stadium, Wichita, KANSAS

Number of states: 3
States to go:  47
Number of games: 1
First and last game: April 10, 2004 (Arkansas Travelers 10, Wichita Wranglers 0)

Lawrence-Dumont Stadium was no longer used for the affiliated minors as of the 2008 season. It was destroyed in December of 2018.

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

Spring Break 2004.  I set out for my spring break, leaving chilly, rainy Seattle for warmer climes–Wichita, Tulsa, Arlington, and Houston.  Why did I have to pick a week when Seattle had beautiful, record-setting temperatures and a mass of Northern air settled over Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas?  The first Saturday night of the baseball season in Wichita was colder than the proverbial witch’s tit (and, I am sure, colder than a literal witch’s tit…not that I have any experience.  With witches.)  Thank goodness for the $23 K-Mart jacket I secured earlier that day.  In any event, Lawrence-Dumont Stadium was an excellent Texas League ballpark that nobody in Wichita seems to have found.

For starters, Lawrence-Dumont Stadium has a rich sense of baseball history.  Its pavilion makes a special point to commemorate Wichita baseball history, most notably the National Baseball Congress

tournaments held there through the years…basically the semipro baseball championship.  There are plaques all the way around the ballpark talking about folks from Whitey Herzog to Mark McGwire.  A fun walk!  I must admit, I enjoyed that a good deal, but I felt it was sort of cheating.  I mean, it’s just a tournament they host…not really related to Wichita minor league history.  But when I learned that Mr. Dumont was responsible for the tournament, I relaxed my concerns a bit.  After all, it was he and Mr. Lawrence, the mayor of Wichita, who decided to build the stadium.  Hence, that pesky hyphen in “Lawrence-Dumont Stadium”:  it’s named after two guys, not one.

But the walk around the stadium also teaches us about Wichita’s minor league past.  Included in this was a list of all of the teams that have played minor league ball in Wichita. On that list, I was delighted to find the infamous Wichita Jobbers. 

Now maybe I’ve watched a few too many episodes of Beavis and Butthead, but I couldn’t stop snickering about that.  Somewhere, after squandering a series of late-inning leads, an article must have been written under the headline “Jobbers Blow Another.”  So I’m walking around enjoying a juvenile snicker (and thinking that, as bad a nickname as “Jobbers” is, it’s actually better than “Jabbers” or the feminine “Witches”) when I come upon a plaque commemorating the 1910 Jobbers, considered one of the best minor league ballclubs in history.  And what picture did they put next to it?  God as my witness, they put it next to popular former Wichita Aero and major league stalwart Pete LaCock.

Perhaps most impressive was the story–I hope it’s true–that Joe Carter hit a home run during an NBC tournament that hit the Metropolitan Baptist Church on one bounce.  The church is nearly 900 feet away.  This picture probably doesn’t do it justice, but still, check out this view of the church from home plate.  The church is the red brick building with the white steeple beyond the left field wall.


On the whole, this was an excellent night of baseball. The staff with the Wranglers have done a fine job of putting together solid entertainment.  They ran wacky ads starring their young staff (a send-up of The Apprentice, for instance).  There were frequent promotions, but not so frequent as to take away from the baseball.  The ballpark has a fine location on the Arkansas river–there’s a view of downtown right past the outfield fence.  And Double-A baseball is great entertainment in and of itself.  Still, only 155,547 showed up to watch the Wranglers in Wichita in 2003…barely 2,000 per game, only about a quarter of the league leaders and behind even Midland, which is a far smaller city than Wichita.  I can’t for the life of me figure out why.  It’s not because they have a less-than-good ballpark…Lawrence-Dumont is a great place.  It’s not because it’s a poorly-run night of baseball…it was excellent.  It’s not because it’s inconveniently located…it’s right in the heart of town.  There’s no excuse, Wichita.  Get out to your wonderful ballpark.  You’ll have at least as good a time as I did.

Okay, now that I’ve said that, let me cut the Wichita folk some slack…the weather certainly was the lion’s share of the reason that attendance was so abysmally

low the night I was there (announced as 528, but that was a laughably high number…I put attendance at 130.  That’s right, I actually counted…I figure that the people who were in the bathroom are counterbalanced by ushers I mistakenly included in my count.)  It’s funny who you see among the most die-hard fans who would show up on a 40-something degree night in April with horrendous winds.  I noticed a good number of women sitting alone and wondered why.  Of course!  Wives and girlfriends.  And there were a good number of scouts with radar guns.  Also, several close relatives.  Notable among the latter were the friendly brother- and sister-in-law of a backup catcher I chatted with throughout the game…I had a long conversation with their four-year-old son.  It’s awesome how four-year-olds start conversations.  His starter?  “I have the same name as my grandpa.  His name is James…and my name is James!”  And later:  “I live out in the country.”  Cool kid!  He’d get along with my nephew, but as his mother said, “1500 miles is an awfully tough play date.”  I like the Midwest.  Friendly people.  Women with ponytails and minimal makeup.  People who assume you’re a good guy and talk to you.

And I like Lawrence-Dumont Stadium, which more Kansans should get out to see, especially on a night where they can’t see their breath.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel:  9.5/10
The celebration of Kansas baseball in the museum-like pavilion is fantastic.  Add to that a location on the Arkansas river, a view of downtown Wichita, and a few friendly Kansans, and there’s not a doubt as to where you are.

Charm:  2.5/5
There’s a contagious love of baseball here.  But ICK!!!  The astroturf infield with the grass outfield?  WHY????  Back when Wichita fed the Astros, it made sense.  But now they feed Kansas City, who has a grass infield.  It’s just an eyesore now.  Lose it.

Spectacle: 3.5/5
Didn’t get in the way…but I didn’t see much of the mascots.

Team mascot/name:  5/5


Didn’t see much of Wilbur–the best I can do for a picture is the distorted shot at left. I think the cold night kept him in.  I did take a shot with the Garbage Goblin, however, on the right.  Please note that a gust of wind has gone up my K-mart jacket…that’s not my belly under there, it’s mostly cold Wichita air.  I never saw Wilbur and the Garbage Goblin together, which strongly leads me to suspect they’re the same guy. “Wranglers” is a completely appropriate name for Wichita, and the horse totally appropriate as a mascot…although, upon reflection, aren’t horses the natural adversaries of wranglers?

Aesthetics:  4.5/5
Quite nice, with a view of downtown and the river.

Pavilion area:  5/5
A wonderful walk through Wichita baseball history that starts at home plate and goes all the way back to center field.  Lots of good stories.  The best part of the ballpark.

Scoreability:  4/5
No major issues here, but no major plusses.

Fans:  1/5
Nice people, but far too few of them.

Intangibles:  4/5
In spite of the weather, the sparse crowd, and the incredibly lousy game, I got a great feeling from this place

TOTAL:  41/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

A god-awful game in hellish cold.  Arkansas pounds out 19 singles and a double.  The worst part was that 5 of the runs were in the 9th inning, just as all of us were ready to head home.  If I’d had a date with me who wanted to take off, I would have probably demurred…and that is saying something.

3 RBIs for Traveler Jason Aspito.

Tim Bittner pitched 6 innings of 4-hit ball for the win, with Cam Esslinger and Dan Mozingo closing out the 4-hit shutout.

The Arkansas Travelers’ road uniforms read “Little Rock.”  Their jackets read “Angels.”  The Arkansas Travelers are neither Arkansas nor Travelers.  Discuss.

Shea Stadium

 

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Carl Semencic, from http://www.li.net/~semencic/beetles.htm. Used by permission.

Shea Stadium, Queens, NY

Number of games:  1
First and last game:  July 24, 1999 (Mets 2, Cubs 1)

Shea Stadium was destroyed in 2009.

I finished off the 1999 Erotic Love And Baseball Stadium Tour of Boston and New York by taking the #7 train to Flushing Meadow; this, the summer before John Rocker made an ass out of himself and made the #7 the most talked-about subway route in the world.  For the record, on the way to and from Shea Stadium I saw none of Rocker’s “queers with AIDS” or “welfare mothers with six kids.” (At least not to my knowledge.  I did not take the time to interview my fellow passengers:  “Has your HIV become symptomatic?” “How many people do you have to support on your welfare check?”)   I also saw no “kids with purple hair”: at least not that I could see underneath their Mets caps.  I did hear a few different languages spoken, however, as Rocker found so offensive.  So John batted .250 in his assessment of the #7 train, which doesn’t exactly going to get him into the Subway Description Hall of Fame.  It did, however, make him look like a complete idiot.

In fact, I had a little bit of a bumpy experience aboard the #7 the middle of Queens.  There was construction on my track, so they made everybody get out of the train and switch over to another train.  I had to improvise in Queens!  But the woman from the Transit Authority was very kind and helpful (in that unemotional New York way) in saying that yes, the train that was going to Main Street/Flushing was also going to Shea Stadium.  I even heard her start saying “this way to Shea Stadium” over her bullhorn after I left her.  That was my good deed for the folks going to the game–getting the Transit woman to say “Shea Stadium” for them.

If you’re going to attend a baseball game in New York, especially at Shea, be certain to dramatically overeat prior to your arrival at the ballpark.  “I’ll just pick up lunch at the ballpark” is a bad idea.  The concession stands are overpriced even by New York standards, and the food is quite typical.  There are cheap delis and pizzerias near wherever you’re staying.  There are corner markets that can sell you food that I bet you can easily sneak in.  Do that–don’t eat at the park.  At Shea, it won’t be long before loan offices open next to the concession stands so that you can talk to someone about whether you can afford a slice of pizza and a Coke.

The stadium itself is in the middle of the pack of stadiums, I’d say…charming, but not really special.  The fans weren’t so choked with anger as their counterparts in the Bronx.  I sat next to a family who were enjoying the game and even permitting their kids to root for Sammy Sosa when he was at bat, provided they rooted for the Mets the rest of the time.  It was kids’ day, so I got to watch the Mets play wiffle ball with their kids.  Its amazing how early you can tell a kid is going to be an athlete, as so many of these kids clearly take after their fathers.

All in all, it was a nice afternoon at a good-looking and, thanks to the #7, easily-accessible ballpark.  There’s nothing wrong with this ballpark.  Nothing special about it either, except for everything that’s already special about an afternoon watching baseball–and in the end, that’s enough.

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

Sammy Sosa homers.  I saw him take the little hop.

Edgardo Alfonzo and Robin Ventura homer.  All the runs come on solo homers.

Steve Trachsel pitches very well, but takes the loss to drop to 3-14.  Ouch.

[Old] Yankee Stadium

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Photo courtesy of NYCTourist.com. Used by permission.

[Old] Yankee Stadium, Bronx, NY

Number of games:  1
First and last game:  July 22, 1999 (Yankees 5, Devil Rays 4)

Old Yankee Stadium was knocked down in 2009 and 2010.

Dad–relax!  Yes, I took the subway, but I was with a friend, and I went to a day game.  I was never in any kind of physical danger.  Well, maybe once, but we’ll get to that later.

The stadium itself isn’t at all beautiful or special in architecture, but I think people’s love of Yankee Stadium (including mine) comes not from what is there but from what has happened there.  To me, there’s exactly one thing that ties me to Mantle and Maris and Guidry and, somehow, even to Ruth…Bob Sheppard.  The man has this wonderful and timeless voice, and I don’t understand why more people who share his job don’t emulate him.  Those long, long pauses between each word can make everything sound so beautiful, majestic, important, historic, even if you know he’s just saying the name of some Tampa Bay Devil Ray you’ve never heard of before and will never hear of again, a guy about to strike out in the second inning of a completely routine game on a chilly, rainy July afternoon, a game between a first-place team and a last-place team.  “The center fielder……….number fifty…….Terrell……….Lowery.”   And all I can think is…my GOD…it’s Terrell Lowery!  How critically important a moment this is!  Bob Sheppard makes this happen.  Not only does he talk slowly by pausing between each word, he pronounces the name just slowly enough so that he–and everyone listening–can absolutely savor every syllable, every phoneme.  This is a man who loves words and loves names to the point where Sports Illustrated once published his all-time favorite and least favorite baseball names to pronounce.  (The best:  Salome Barojas.  He loves the Hispanic names.  The worst:  Mickey Klutts.)

Other PA announcers don’t have the same style, and would probably be fired if they did.  I think this is a terrible shame.  Think of the difference between the way “The shortstop…number three…Alex Rodriguez” is pronounced if Alex is on the home team or on the visiting team.  I find this difference to be ridiculous and borderline offensive.  Is it the PA announcer’s job to tell me when to cheer?  I can tolerate organ playing, music, even a little of the infernal rhythmic clapping…but are fans such morons that the PA announcer has to tell us, through vocal inflection, which are the good guys and which are the bad?  I’m certainly not.  (Incidentally, I feel the same way about scoreboards which say “Noise Now” or “On Your Feet” or other instructional tips for fans.  I will make noise when I am moved to make noise…not because The Man is telling me to.)

Bob Sheppard can’t do what he does for too much longer–he has been doing it day in and day out for close to 50 years–and I’ll miss him when he’s gone, because it will mean the cheerleader PA announcer will have won out over his wonderful voice and classy technique, same for home and visitor.

Yankee fans, frankly, scare the hell out of me.  This game is in 1999, mind you, so the Yankees are in first place and in a stretch of World Series victories.  They never trail Tampa Bay in the game I watch, although it’s a close game.  And they are absolutely ruthless to their home team.  Andy Pettitte gets it for giving up a couple of runs and a homer, Bernie Williams gets it for a groundout with a runner in scoring position (even though Bernie had homered earlier), others get it for other small sins…the negative energy in the place was amazing.

Oh–about that possible near-death experience…it had been a drizzly afternoon, and my high-school buddy and I were a little chilly and were occasionally getting specked by individual drops of water.  Is the rain starting up again?  Are we under a wet stadium light?  After a few innings, I finally catch it…there’s a ten-or-eleven year old kid up there, about eight rows above us, spraying random people with a water gun.  I know how to handle this…I’ve taught sixth grade, so I know what to do with boys who misbehave.  I give him my stern teacher glare and say “Knock it off!”  Game over, I’m sure.  But just as soon as the words are out of my mouth, the instant it’s too late to take them back, I notice that his dad is next to him, egging him on.  What the hell’s the deal with that?  A dad encouraging his son to spray strangers at a ballgame?  Amazing.  Good old New York.  So as soon as I give the kid a glare, I’m worried that the dad is going to come after me, and there’s gonna be a huge fight, and I’ve never been in a fight, and this dad probably is in one every weekend, and the New Yorkers will side with him, and I’ll be in some hospital in the Bronx, and I won’t make it to my Saturday game at Shea…Well, it didn’t happen.  The kid stopped his water gun, at least with me.  Score one for the teacher glare.

So, to review–the historic nature of the grass that Gehrig and Ruth and the rest of them ran on is palpable and impressive, and is aided by Bob Sheppard’s voice…I hope he is not replaced with a cheerleader.  The teams are usually so good that they’re worth the trip.  In short, like New York itself, Yankee Stadium is a wonderful place to visit, and I look forward to visiting again (maybe for a night game…eeek!) but it scares me a little with its negative karma, and I’m glad it’s not my home stadium.

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

Bernie Williams and Fred McGriff homer.

Bryan Rekar, who I saw make his first major league start (a win) in Colorado in 1995, gets the loss.

Wade Boggs pinch-hits in what I believe to be his last appearance in Yankee Stadium.  He grounds to second.

(Written August 2001.  Revised July 2009.)

Kingdome

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From King County website, www.metrokc.gov/stadium.

Kingdome, Seattle, WA

Number of games: 28
First game:  March 31, 1996 (Mariners 3, White Sox 2, 12 innings)
Last game:  May 30, 1999 (Devil Rays 15, Mariners 7)

The Kingdome was imploded in March of 2000.

The place was a dump, and in spite of the fact I went to so many games there, and that one might think this might breed some affection, I will never miss it.  The day they blew the damn thing up, I remember they interviewed some guy in his 30s wearing a Seahawks jersey.  He was close to tears, and they asked him for his opinions about the loss of the Kingdome, and he said it just made him sad, thinking of “watching Jim Zorn take snaps there, watching Dave Kreig take snaps there, watching Griffey, Buhner, Randy…”  Wow.  This is a man who did not cry at his own wedding (although I’d lay money that he’s never had and never will have said wedding).  I tend to be a weepy-sensitive-poet sort, and I tend to be an our-place-in-history lover of sports, but I refuse to mix the two.  I mean, every time I went into that place on a gorgeous summer night in the Pacific Northwest, no matter who I was with or how excited I was to see the game, going indoors made me think, just for a split second:  “I’m wasting my life.”  I don’t think that when I enter an outdoor stadium.  Additionally, even as indoor stadiums go, this was disgusting…grey everywhere.  In short, the ballpark itself is not worth another word here.

My first game there remains the only Opening Night I’ve ever attended.  It was two weeks after I’d moved to Seattle.  I had just moved into a scary rooming-house–didn’t yet have any kind of temp work, didn’t yet have a chance to make friends beyond my brother’s friends.  Not the best life situation, but I was still optimistic against all odds, though, which is a perfect state of mind for opening night. It was quite an opener, too:  a sold-out Kingdome the first game after the amazing ’95 playoffs.

A good balance of family and friends were always on hand to go to the Kingdome with me…I went on my own just twice, once to see David Wells get shelled but still win (final score:  16-10…ugh), and once near the end of the Kingdome’s existence, when I sat right behind Griffey in center field, to watch my last game there, where Jose Canseco and just about everybody else homered off of just about every Mariner reliever.  Went with my parents whenever they were in town…Mom’s not a huge fan, but likes “to be with my boys.”  Went with my brother and his friends. Did several games every year with David, an exceedingly kind and bookish actor/director and New Yorker who liked to watch the Yankees (but is not a Yankee fan).  Celebrated my 29th birthday with about a dozen friends watching Griffey hit a game-winning grand-slam so dramatic and perfect that friend Darcy thought it looked suspicious–she thought the whole game might have been rigged.

DeAnn was a terrible blind date I went to a game with…I hated her name (which wasn’t really DeAnn), hated her lack of intelligence, hated her not-so-hot morals, and still went out with her for as long as I could because I was new in town.   Michelle was a major winner who thought it cute when I talked about the infield fly rule.  I’ve heard she got married to the guy she dated right after me.  I’ve also heard she then got very, very sick…I certainly hope that’s not true, and that she’s out there somewhere and doing well.

***October 2004:  I wrote the above, about Michelle, in July of 2001, literally a few days before I got a letter from her reestablishing contact after 4 years apart.  She was not married and not dead. In fact, we resumed contact, became friends, started dating again…and I will marry her in July of 2005.  Yippee!  I am proud to report that she is still a “major winner” and a total babe.

Maria let me take her to a game during her week visiting me in spite of her lack of love of sports.  It still comes up every now and then, and I still explain to her that a love of sports and a love of stories are the same thing.  “I understand that,” she says–skeptically, I think.

A standout Kingdome baseball date was Kerry.  For one thing, Kerry flew all the way from Boston to go to a pair of games with me.  She counted down to her visit in criminally cute emails:  “In only five weeks you’ll be teaching me how to score.”  “Score” puns aside, that ain’t too shabby…what more could a baseball nerd want than to teach a brilliant woman how to mark a scorecard?  At one of our games, Kerry began a fixation on then-rookie Mike Sweeney, simply because she liked the sound of the name “Kerry Sweeney.”  When she pointed her binoculars at his butt, she liked him even more.  So what happens?  Sweeney clearly feels the love, and hits his first major-league home run.  Kerry’s passion for Sweeney has not waned, and in the five years since, under her good karmic graces, he’s become an all-star.  (Mike, if you read this, drop me an email…you clearly owe Kerry at least an autographed baseball.)  We laughed a lot, leaning in, very close to each other, joking quietly, especially at the expense of the stupid children next to us who kept repeating everything I yelled, causing me to shout stupider and stupider things to see exactly what I could get them to say.  These were wonderful dates.  Three years later, I would return the favor of her visit, and she would take me to two games at her home stadium, Fenway Park.

On the whole–some good baseball, a fair share of bad baseball, lots and lots of memories, all good.  I live 10 miles from the Kingdome, and I could feel the earth shake when they blew it up.  Had a lot of fun there.  Glad the place is gone.

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN THERE:

Favorite player:  Randy Johnson.  I was a fan since his Montreal days, as I liked the idea of a gangly guy throwing the ball at great velocity and with unpredictable results.  I first got to see him in the opening night game, 1996.  He was long gone when the new rookie Alex Rodriguez, hitting ninth, drove in the winning run in the bottom of the 12th with his only hit in a 1-for-6 night. About a year and a half later, I saw my favorite game of Randy’s, where he gutted out a 5-4 win over Kansas City when he didn’t seem to have his stuff–still, everyone chanted his name, begging Lou Piniella not to take him out.  He struck out 16 that night.

I’ll be talking about seeing Hall-of-Famers like Johnson and Rodriguez  and Ken Griffey Jr. years down the line, I guess, saying I saw them play.  I saw Griffey hit 3 homers and score 5 runs, driving in 6, on a 4-for-4 night against the Yankees.  On the other hand, I twice saw him fail to take a step towards either left or right field on plays where his neighboring outfielder either misjudged a fly or missed making a tough catch against the wall.  Only when the ball hit the carpet did Griffey consider running to back up his teammate.  Inexcusable, just standing there like that. I’ve had people tell me that a major-league outfielder can’t be expected to run to back up every fly ball of the whole year.  My response:  yes he can.

All of these pale in comparison to The Greatest Play In Baseball History, which took place at the Kingdome in my presence on April 8, 1997.  I was way down the left-field line with my partner-in-crime Rob (with whom I have enjoyed 3 games in two stadiums, plus one spring training) when the Mariners’ bullpen was getting shelled again.  This time it was Josias Manzanillo.  Now, Josias was sprinting in from the bullpen full-speed before any of us had ever heard of John Rocker.  So he comes sprinting in and works himself into trouble:  men on second and third, one out. Manny Ramirez is up.  Ramirez absolutely crushes a scary screaming line drive up the middle, 100+ miles an hour right off of Manzanillo.  Manzanillo falls down with the impact, gets up, and throws the ball home to force Jim Thome out at the plate…then goes back down.  Quite an impact…It was only the next day that we learned that Mr. Manzanillo was not wearing a cup.  I don’t want to make light of his injury, which was serious–it ultimately cost him a testicle.  Look it up in Baseball Weekly from early that season:  “Mariner reliever Josias Manzanillo (testicles) is on the DL…”  Still, considering how hard a shot he took, and the fact that he wasn’t wearing a cup, it is indeed amazing that he got up and made the play! But wait, there’s more…once it became clear to the Mariners’ infield that Josias wasn’t mortally wounded (the seriousness of the injury wasn’t known for some time), his teammates started teasing him…”Hey, let’s see you sprint off the field now!”  The best part of the play:  he did.

(Written August 2001.  Revised July 2009.)

Mile High Stadium

photodraw240

From “Ballparks of Baseball” website.  Used by permission.

Mile High Stadium, Denver, CO

Number of minor league games:  A dozen or so (no stats or results survive–just a few memories)
First minor league game:  Probably late summer 1978 (Denver Bears 8, Wichita Aeroes 5)
Last minor league game:  Probably August 1991 (Denver Zephyrs vs. Iowa Cubs)

Number of Major League Games:  4
First Major League Game:  June 5, 1994 (Pirates 4, Rockies 3)
Last Major League Game:  June 28, 1994 (Padres 11, Rockies 3, 11 innings, 2nd game of doubleheader)

Mile High Stadium was demolished in 1999.

It has been destroyed along with so many other multipurpose stadiums, but I’d have to say Mile High Stadium is probably the best multipurpose stadium I’ve ever seen.  It’s because of those awesome movable East Stands, which actually glided on water to move from a cozy football position to a more distant baseball position.  And for a time, after Coors Field opened, there were a few people bemoaning the loss of Mile High, which averaged more in attendance than Coors could seat.  But those third-deck seats in Mile High were really, really up there–quite far away, especially if you were down the lines.  And those seats in center field…my, but they were a million miles away (although I liked that they sold them for a buck).  So Coors is a definite improvement, but I don’t think there was too much wrong with Mile High.  It was wonderfully quirky, in fact…homers to left were insanely easy, but homers to right were very difficult (I think it was something like 370 feet down the right field line, and the wall quite high.)

My very first pro baseball experiences were here.  The first pro game I ever attended would have been in the late summer of my 2nd or 3rd grade year…likely 1977 or 1978.  My T-ball team headed there one night to see the Montreal-affiliated Denver Bears beat the Wichita Aeroes 8-5.  I’m 99% sure that’s the score because I remember the linescore:

Wichita 050 000 000
Denver   111  111   02X

There was a bell to signify how many runs the Bears scored in each inning, so we kept hearing “The toll for the inning…[ding!]…one run.”  All else I remember from that night was missing a home run while in the bathroom, being uncomfortably near a foul ball, and being amazed that I was out at the ungodly hour of 10PM.

I recall snippets from the next 16-17 years of American Association baseball, through Expos, White Sox, Reds, and Brewers affiliations: a ceremony to honor Tim Raines’ record 77 stolen bases in a year (1980), Lloyd McClendon hitting for the cycle, several “let’s impress the major league teams and show that we love baseball by having a bunch of people show up at the park” nights, and singing the national anthem with my high school show choir.  Darryl Hamilton was signing autographs before the game on that anthem night, and I remember how game he was, signing whatever words we asked (I had him write “thanks for the tips!”, fellow HS singer Sheila had him write an elaborate love note along the lines of “you are my life…”) and how gracefully he handled it when Sheila asked him to prom.

Those minor league memories set the table for my major league experiences at Mile High, which were exclusively during the 1994 season.

I enjoyed one of these games with friends Michelle and Robby.  Robby scores the games too, but he uses wacky hieroglyphics only decipherable to him.  Archeologists could unearth my scorebook in ten thousand years, and would have no trouble whatsoever determining exactly what Eric Young did in the eighth inning that June day.  If they unearth Robby’s scorecard…well…they’ll probably think it’s some failed architectural plan.

Mile High was also host to my only-ever scheduled doubleheader.  I figured, hey, how could it get any better than this?  A doubleheader with dad.  That there is some father-son bonding.  But there’s a problem…Rockies pitching.  The doubleheader lasted absolutely forever.  It resulted in one of only two times in my life I’ve been compelled to leave a game early…the damn 11th inning of the damn second game was positively–and unprecedentedly (see below)–endless.  So I took pity on my Dad sometime during the eighteenth pitching change of the eleventh inning and let him take me home.

As much as I like the idea of the doubleheader, and as much as I laud suggestions that scheduled doubleheaders should be made more commonplace (this will never happen, however, as owners need each of the 81 games of revenue), I have a suggestion:  schedule no doubleheaders between teams whose earned run averages, when added together, are higher than 9.  We can’t handle that many walks and hits.

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

In the first game of the June 28 doubleheader, the Rockies come back from an 8-run deficit to win, a Rockies record at the time (over the year and a half they’d existed).

The Padres set a record in the second game for most runs scored in an 11th inning (since 1900), lighting the Rockies up for nine.  It’s the only 11-3 pitchers’ duel I’ll ever see.

(Written July 2001.  Last updated July 2009.)

Astrodome

From astrosconnection.com.

Astrodome, Houston, TX

Number of games:  3
First game:  July 26, 1993 (Reds 6, Astros 1)
Last game:  May 18, 1994 (Astros 4, Giants 2)

The Astrodome is no longer in use as of the end of the 1999 season.

The Astrodome might be the eighth wonder of the world, but it’s the worst of all the baseball stadiums I’ve been to.  I’ll grant that, by the time I saw the Astrodome, it was 30 years old, and the original ooohs and aaahs (look!  they’re playing baseball indoors!  how cool!  and look!  the scoreboard explodes!) were passe’ and even quaint.  And I’ll grant you that, even for baseball, air-conditioning might be better than sitting in a muggy Texas afternoon or night.  But here’s what I remember about the Astrodome–it smelled like mold.  All three times I walked into the place, I thought the same thing.  I never was in a crowd that reached even 20,000, so it always felt terribly cavernous, even more so than other multi-purpose stadiums.

All three visits were during my two years living and teaching sixth graders in the sticks of west central Louisiana, which is another memoir entirely.  Loved the teaching, hated west central Louisiana.  Me and my fellow young visiting-teacher friends would drive the three hours down to see whatever ballgame was on–once, even on a school night.  We were that desperate to escape.

My first trip, however, was solo…heading down from my place during the summer to make the Astrodome the tenth stadium in the original Erotic Love and Baseball Stadium tour…the only stop without a connection to any woman.  Well, a guy needs a break sometimes.  I remember three things from this game–a suddenly-not-hot Darryl Kile getting shelled, but nevertheless getting a standing ovation when he was pulled; a very impressive Chris Sabo home run, and my second encounter in a week with Kevin Wickander.

As I told you back in the Riverfront game, Wickander lost his good buddies Steve Olin and Tim Crews in a boat accident that March at Cleveland’s spring training, and had been traded to Cincinnati in the hope that new surroundings would get him back on track.  And I felt for the guy.  His public struggle with grief was breaking my heart, especially after I saw him throw eight pitches without a strike at Riverfront.  So, for my second consecutive game, I shouted wild support when Wickander entered the game, this time with a 6-1 lead to close it out in the ninth.  “All right, WICK!!!” I shouted, as the few Astros fans who were left wondered why I was hollering in support of the enemy.  If they’d asked, I’d have told them, and we’d have seen what kind of empathy they had.  Anyway, at least Wick got an out in this one, getting Ken Caminiti to fly to center.  Indeed, at least he threw a strike in this one.  But after Caminiti’s fly out, Wickander walked the next two batters and was pulled.  It was awful.  Again, I was stuck watching a guy go through horrendous personal grief in a public venue.  He had an awful year; his ERA was close to 7.  But, giving baseball-reference.com a look, it looks like there may be a happier ending to this story…he wasn’t in the majors in 1994 (minors?  mental health?) but came back to have a strong year (ERA under 2) for Detroit and Milwaukee in 1995.  He struggled a bit more for the Brewers in 1996, and doesn’t appear to have been in the majors since, but by then, I’d hope it was due to mechanics or injuries and not due to the broken heart that was so clearly dogging him when I watched him pitch the summer of 1993.

**April 2003…I have received two separate emails about Kevin Wickander’s life since his retirement from baseball, one from a college and minor-league teammate of Wick’s and another from a distant relative.  I’m afraid his life hasn’t developed as positively as I thought/hoped…it appears he developed a drug problem, has endured a divorce, and is now in prison for drug-related offenses.  I appreciate the people who sent me the update, although in some ways, I wish I didn’t know the sad truth.

My choice to drive to that game alone left me driving the three hours home all alone until 2 in the morning, very tired, picking up distant sports talk stations, even stopping and looking for rural payphones considering a call in.  The topic was low morals among athletes.  I don’t remember what jerk du jour the guy was worked up about, but I wanted to point out that there are good guys even in New York sports, like Jim Abbott and Anthony Young.  But then it occurred to me…I was choosing two guys in the middle of bad seasons, and Young was in the middle of a record-setting losing streak.  I might unintentionally have made the point that you have to be a jerk to win.  When it occurred to me–maybe you do.  Which made me depressed as well as tired on the trip.  Kids–don’t try this drive at home.  If I had to do it again, no matter how broke I was at the end of my tour, I would have stopped for accommodation in Livingston or Woodville.

At another game, I went with two friends, one of whom, blessed with magazine-cover looks, said “Well, I don’t like baseball, but I once dated a Montreal Expo, so this game (against Montreal) will be especially appropriate.”  We watched Mark Portugal warm up just a few feet away from us, and when I stepped away for some food, buddy Dan got Astros’ pitching coach Bob Cluck to autograph my program.  “Hey, this’ll be great, can you sign this for my friend???”  Thanks, Dan and Bob.  And I remember Mark Portugal failing to lay down a sacrifice in the fifth inning, and just as he was running by us down the first-base line, he shouted out the loudest f-word I’ve ever heard.  Mark!  There are kids here!

Was it worth making the six-hour round trip on a school night to sit at this terrible indoor stadium?  Yes.  But I’m glad they finally opened the new place.  It’s not my favorite, but it’s far better than this was.

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

Darryl Kile has a nine-game winning streak snapped.

Mark Portugal, in one of his last starts for the Astros, sets personal career high with his 14th win and 8th in a row.

Mark Portugal, in his first start in Houston against the Astros, loses to Doug Drabek.

(Written August 2001.  Revised July 2005.)

Riverfront Stadium

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Don Turner. Used by permission.

Riverfront Stadium, Cincinnati, OH

Number of Games:  1
First and Last Game:  July 19, 1993 (Cubs 6, Reds 4)

Riverfront Stadium was imploded on December 29, 2002.

First the stadium:  see Busch, Three Rivers, the Vet.  A circle.  Turf.  Boring.  There.  That’s all I have to say about the stadium.

I was in the front row at Riverfront for a good game against the Cubs.  I was down the right field line.  You know that point where the seats jut out, where doubles down the line hit and sometimes ricochet back towards the infield, or suddenly turn left and zip in front of the right fielder, forcing him to change direction, making a double into a triple?  I was right at that point.  First thing I did was called my folks in Colorado and asked them to tape the game on WGN so that there would be hard evidence of (a) my presence at the game and of (b) any foul balls I would be able to grab.  As it turns out, (b) didn’t happen.  I came close (about 5 feet away) on a Rick Wilkins smash foul in the 9th inning.  I forced my poor family to watch the foul ball repeatedly, repeatedly seeing me reach out from my seat to miss the ball by, well, a lot.  But I made the effort, and I was on TV trying.

This will go down in my memory as the Larry Luebbers game.  Larry Luebbers was making his third major league start, and his first start at home in Cinicnnati, where he grew up.  I was sitting with every friend, relative, and neighbor of Larry’s (they all called him “Chip”) from Cincinnati, except for Larry’s dad, who had a different (and, I assume, better) seat.  I habitually root for the home team at every game that doesn’t involve my Mariners, and at this game, it was more intense than usual.  My seat was very near the Reds’ bullpen, and I was just a few feet away from Larry as he paced before warm-ups.  I remember thinking he looked nervous and was trying to cover it with a look of intense concentration…and failing.  Well, still, he had won his first two starts on the road, so I figured he had something going.

I cheered for Chip with his friends and family.  Some of them might have even figured I grew up in the area…I was Chip’s high school buddy or some neighbor they didn’t recognize who’d faced Chip in Little League.  Alas, a Chip Luebbers victory was not to be…I think Chip’s nerves got to him a little bit.  He gave up five runs and walked 6 in less than 5 innings.  One of the Luebbers’ neighbors went away for a couple of innings to find Larry’s dad and congratulate him for his son’s making the majors.  “I told him that no matter what happens from here, Larry’s made it way further than anybody else.”  Very true, but probably very unsatisfying for Larry that night.

Now that I think about it, I may have been the turning point for Larry’s career–for the worse.  He was 2-0 before I sat with his family and friends–and he finished the season 2-5.  He then went back to the minors, and I lost track of him and figured he was finished.  Not so…six years later, in 1999, he was back in the majors with the Cardinals, for whom he went 3-3.  He returned to the Reds as a reliever in 2000, but I could not find him on a major league roster as of July 2001.  Isn’t that admirable?  To get a taste of the majors, then toil for six more years to make it back up again?  Way to go, Larry.  Sorry I couldn’t see you win in front of your buddies.

This game also was my first of two consecutive opportunities to root for Kevin Wickander.  Wickander started 1993 with the Indians, when his good friends, Indians pitchers Steve Olin and Tim Crews, were killed in a boating accident that March in Cleveland’s spring training.  He was devastated, and suddenly couldn’t pitch.  Mike Hargrove and the Indians’ brass thought that Wickander needed a change of scenery…you can’t pitch while everyone and everything you see reminds you of the death of your good friends.  So they traded him to Cincinnati for future considerations…this, entirely a mental-health move on Wickander’s behalf.  Just a little while before seeing him pitch, I had read a touching Sports Illustrated article about the tragedy and the Indians’ (and particularly Wickander’s) recovery from it…and then, that night, there he was, warming up a few feet away from me.  He ran out to the pitchers’ mound, and I shouted as loud as I could…”All right, WICK!  Go get ’em, WICK!”  Here’s a guy who needs something good to happen to him.  The subtext behind his appearance…well, it made it one of those moments that transcends baseball, at least to me.  Ryne Sandberg was on second after a leadoff double, and Wickander was to face the lefties that followed in the Cubs’ lineup.  He threw 8 pitches.  All 8 were balls, and one was a wild pitch. He wouldn’t do much better a week later in the Astrodome.

It was one of the most poignant and tragic things I’ve ever seen.  It was like watching somebody at work trying to do his/her job after a personal tragedy, doing a terrible job, but with nobody having the guts–yet–to say that he/she probably should take some time off.  Except this guy was going through it in front of 31,587 people.  Fortunately, nobody scored that inning, but Wickander didn’t throw a single strike.

Possibly more than any game I’ve ever been to, this one demonstrated that the guys out there are, in fact, human beings, like Chip and Wick–blessed with friends and families and facing their own demons just like the rest of us.

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

The Reds almost pull off a comeback win, cutting an early deficit to 5-4 with nobody out in the 6th and a man on second.  Then Reggie Sanders hits a fly ball to right-center, where Sammy Sosa, playing center, waves off rookie Kevin Roberson.  He guns down Hal Morris trying to tag up to third, and the Reds never recover.

Kevin Roberson hits his second career home run.

Larry Luebbers is tagged with his first major league loss.

(Written August 2001.  Updated July 2005.)