Category Archives: state

Ballparks categorized by state. (And yes, I know that DC, Puerto Rico, and Canada are not states. Please spare me the indignation.)

Sioux Falls Stadium, Sioux Falls, South Dakota

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Sioux Falls Stadium, Sioux Falls, SOUTH DAKOTA

State number:  37
States to go:  13

Number of games:  1
First game:  July 8, 2016 (Sioux Falls Canaries 18, Winnipeg Goldeyes 9)

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

There are many, many ways to get a low score on this website.

I’ve been places where there is no local feel. I’ve been places where the crowd was disinterested. I’ve been places that were out of control with their promotions.

But Sioux Falls was strange in the way it seemed to get so many things wrong. I was not impressed, I’m afraid.

I will admit that I am not predisposed to enjoy independent-league ball. I have trouble keeping track of the narrative and can’t quite get behind the bigger stories involved. I’m sure that if I knew the ballplayers, I would have a better sense of this, but since the majority of the players are out of affiliated ball and (save for a few) won’t be getting back in, the narrative isn’t exciting to me. I respect the ballplayers for making money doing what they love, yes. And they’re better at baseball than I am at most things. But I can’t follow the story, and I like stories.

The canaries weren’t doing any favors here, either. Their program had literally nothing on their opponent!

No names, no backstory, no standings to be found…I couldn’t figure out who was on the other team without doing some on-line searches on the smart phone. I found this really problematic. It sends a message to me, and not a good one: that the baseball isn’t the most important thing going on.

And on this night, the Sioux Falls Canaries and the Winnipeg Goldeyes were not

playing very good baseball. Nobody could seem to pitch, field, or stop anyone from scoring. The game got tedious in a pretty big hurry, and if a baseball-head like me is saying that, it’s a pretty severe problem.

Then, things were awfully expensive. I have never been to a ballpark that charged for a bouncy-house run before. My children are still of the age where they might want to ricochet off of pneumatic plastic for a while before first pitch, and I have had them do so in multiple ballparks. Never paid a cent. Now, my kids were 1200 miles away, but if they had been there, the idea that I’d have to shell out ten bucks for them to burn off pre-game energy…I found that especially problematic.

And then came a hilarious blooper.

My buddies went out to get a beer. They’re beer snobs—they have been known to call American commercial beer

as “making love in a canoe” (a synonym for “fucking close to water”). So when I saw one of them come back with a very light-yellow beer in a clear plastic cup, I knew something was amiss. They like their beer darker. I wondered aloud what was up.

Turns out that they each went to a spot and were looking up at the list of beers, when the person behind the bar said “You know, Miller Lite and Coors Light are free.”

“Free?”

“Because of your wristbands.”

My friends were not wearing wristbands. But they gave them free beer.

I cannot even believe that this happened. Apparently, they wandered into a group setting without being stopped, and then managed to get a free beer. But when the whole ballpark feels a bit disinterested,

hey, why not? I learned that free making-love-in-a-canoe beer is more valuable to my friends than paying for the good stuff. I’m not sure when or how that knowledge will aid me in the future, but I’ve got that knowledge now and will keep it.

The game became so draggy and so crooked-number-y that I didn’t fight very hard when the suggestion was made that we abandon it in the 8th inning and head back for some Quickword competition. And, again, if I’m the one bolting a baseball game, it’s a pretty serious problem.

So I hope that Sioux Falls has turned it around. Seem like some nice people there in South Dakota, and athey deserve a better experience—a less apathetic experience—than I got on that night. 

BALLPARK SCORE:

REGIONAL FEEL:  3/10.  I do not remember anything here.  The view is of a suburb that could be in any of the 50 states. 

CHARM:  2.5/5.  There is nothing charming about cash grabs.

SPECTACLE:  2.5/5.  Don’t remember much here.

TEAM MASCOT/NAME:  2/5.  Canaries?  Really?  Maybe there’s a local reason I don’t know. Here is Cagey, the chief canary.

AESTHETICS 2.5/5.  Not much of a view, and the concourses were really unattractive.

PAVILION AREA: 1/5.  One of the most unattractive I have ever seen, and they wanted money.

SCOREABILITY:  0/5.  No visiting team rosters, no interest in what happened on the field. Scoreboard regularly wrong. The baseball was tertiary to the experience, and the experience wasn’t even much.

FANS 3.5/5:  Fine.

INTANGIBLES 0/5.  The baseball was horrible (errors, walks, nobody getting anybody out) and the experience was both expensive and disinterested.  Not a very good night, I’m afraid (although I still like baseball).

TOTAL 17/50

BASEBALL STUFF I SAW HERE:

Pretty much everything one doesn’t want to see. Nobody could get anyone out. Twelve walks, a catchers’ interference, several errors, a hit batsman, passed balls…ick.

JC Linares hit two home runs for the Canaries, a grand slam and a two-run homer.

Newman Outdoor Field, Fargo, North Dakota

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Newman Outdoor Field, Fargo, NORTH DAKOTA
Number of states: 35
Number to go: 15
First game: July 7, 2016 (St. Paul Saints 3, Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks 1)

Newman Outdoor Field tucked back into the campus of North Dakota State University, and was a fine place to watch a ballgame. It did really well in the do-you-know-where-you-are test. Some of this was simply a matter of being surrounded by

the university, one of the bigger facets of living in Fargo.  My pre-game circumnavigation of the ballpark brought me quite a few NDSU buildings, labeled as such, which was nice. It was a neighborhood ballpark, and the campus was the neighborhood.

Some North Dakota touches were found embedded in the design. For starters, can you do better than an “ND Corn” foul pole? That’s a pretty nice ad, appropriately maize-colored, and naturally integrated into the ballpark. Then there’s the way they named the press box after a local sportscaster, Steve Miller, who had passed away not long before.  I just like stuff that says “Hey, we’re about [local site],” and I got that from North Dakota on the whole.

We had even visited the Roger Maris museum earlier in the day. It was as understated as the guy was. Tucked into a mall (so many Carson Wentz jerseys for sale, even though the NDSU alumnus hadn’t yet started his rookie year),

there are a few items of Maris memorabilia and an opportunity to watch a short movie on him while sitting in old Yankee Stadium seats. I felt like it was appropriate that a guy who didn’t much care for the spotlight was memorialized in such a tiny, out-of-the-way, unobtrusive way. Worth taking the trip.Our North Dakota day was accentuated by a massive thunderstorm that delayed the start of the ballgame by a couple of hours. We didn’t get going until after 9PM, and didn’t get finished until after midnight. But hey—that only accentuates the vacation!  Plus, photos of double rainbows past the foul pole are rare: good to take advantage of those opportunities.

We sat behind the Redhawks’ dugout, and I was impressed with the team’s maturity. The rain delay meant that the fans were a couple hours’ drunker than they might have been otherwise, and there was one who was continually

annoying people in the dugout. At first, players engaged him (he was a relatively friendly drunk, thankfully, unlike whoever threw the tennis ball at South Bend or the icky people who chanted “Ichiro” at a Korean-born player in the Tri-Cities). But it would not stop. It was relentless.  I just wanted the dude to go home, but he just kept talking, and he got a little more agitated as the night went on. In the end, I was bothered enough by it that I headed down to the dugout after the game to say I was impressed by the players’ restraint. They thanked me: said the guy wasn’t that big a deal. But I’ve been to a ton of baseball games, and I felt like it was.

The following morning, as we left town on our way south to the other Dakota, news of police shootings in Dallas dampened our mood. As I called my Congresswoman and we discussed how awful this, as well as recent shootings of unarmed Black men by police, was so tragic,  we noticed the unmistakable massive tent of a

batting cage a couple of blocks off the freeway. There was something very wholesome about seeing that site at that moment. We turned the car around, of course, and took some cuts. There is something satisfying about giving a baseball or softball a big thwack when the world seems to be going sideways. I can’t play a lick, but it sure seems like baseball is a good way for me to feel good in a rough world. I’ll stay to it.

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So nicely done, Fargo. Way to stay local, way to put on a nice, reserved show.

BALLPARK SCORE

REGIONAL FEEL:  8/10. 
Some nice North Dakota touches.

CHARM 3.5/5: 
Not bad here overall.  Liked the corn on the foul poles.

SPECTACLE: 
2.5/5.  Don’t remember too much.

TEAM MASCOT/NAME: 
2.5/5. Don’t remember a mascot. Name is fine.

AESTHETICS 4.5/5. 
Can’t beat a double rainbow.

PAVILION AREA 3/5: 
Couldn’t walk around the ballpark, but could watch the game while getting food.

SCOREABILITY 4/5

FANS 2/5. 
Had to deduct for the drunk dudes being jerks to the Redhawks.  REALLY overdoing it.

INTANGIBLES 4/5. 
The rain delay actually added to the experience. I loved being able just to say “ah, the hell with it. I’m on vacation: let’s stay up past midnight.”

TOTAL 34/50

BASEBALL STUFF I SAW HERE:

Pitchers’ duel is won by Eric Veglahn (3 hits over 7 1/3 IP) over Taylor Stanton (8 hits over 7 IP).
Nate Hanson’s 2-run double is the big knock of the game for St. Paul.

 

Sloan Park, Mesa, Arizona

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

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

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

he Arizona Fall, Winter, or Summer leagues, it 

feels a bit too far-away focused.

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

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

Oh, dear.

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

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

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

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

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

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel: 6.5/10

0

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

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

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

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

Aesthetics: 3.5/5
Fine.

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

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

Fans: 3/5
Not too many people there.

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

TOTAL 38.5/50

Baseball Stuff I’ve Seen There:

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

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

26 runs on 36 hits and 13 walks.

Written April 2018.

 

Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, Scottsdale, ARIZONA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel: 6/10

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

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

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

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

Aesthetics: 4/5
Lovely.

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

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

Fans: 4/5
Thanks, Brian.

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

TOTAL 36.5/50

Baseball Stuff I’ve Seen There:

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

Written July 2016.

Scottsdale Stadium, Scottsdale, Arizona

Scottsdale Stadium, Scottsdale, ARIZONA

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

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

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

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

And I did.  Took photos all over the park.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel: 7/10

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

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

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

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

Aesthetics: 3/5
Fine.  Sorta basic.

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

Scoreability: 3.5/5
Did fine here.

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

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

TOTAL 35/50

Baseball Stuff I’ve Seen There:

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

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

Written July 2016.

 

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 is no longer in use as of the 2015 season.)

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

stpaulnerdstpaulmascot

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.

Target Field, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Target Field
Minneapolis, Minnesota

targetinprogressNumber of games: 3
First Game:  August 15, 2014 (Royals 6, Twins 5)
Most Recent Game: August 18, 2014 (Royals 6, Twins 4)

Click any image to see a full-sized version.

I suspect a tradition was born in August 2014 when I got around to crossing Target Field off of my list. Since my 2006 visit to the current iteration of Busch Stadium, the moment when I had been to all 30 current ballparks, 4 new ballparks had opened: Minnesota, Miami, and two in New York. Of those, Target Field was the easiest to get away to visit, and I had college buddy Matt there to shack up with. My wife was kind enough to take sole targetcloudsparenting duties for four and a half days while I went. Matt’s wife was out of town. And fellow college buddy Rob was also released by his wife to join us. Net result: a mini reunion.  Thanks, awesome wives. In fact, Rob’s wife suggested we make it an annual event. We just might…talks are already underway to attend 2015 Arizona Fall League games. So, yeah, here’s to old friends and awesome wives who understand the value of old friends.

So I got off the plane and was at Target Field not too long thereafter, where along with Rob and Matt, I met the exceedingly pleasant Mike Menner, the founder of Fiesta Del Beisbol. Every year, I hear wonderful things about friends getting together and enjoying targetpuckettbaseball in Minnesota, and every year, I feel like I’m missing out by not going. But meeting Mike at a separate baseball event was an even better deal. He took me around Target Field with a deep knowledge of the ballpark and an approach to what makes a ballpark great very similar to mine.

That approach: love of the local. And Target Field does love of the local as well as literally any ballpark I have ever attended. Sure, there are the statues of Twins greats leading into the ballpark. I’ve seen enough statues at other ballparks that they’re almost a prerequisite. While not as beautiful as the sculptures at Comerica Park (which are amongIMG_0102 the most gorgeous I’ve ever seen), Target Field added a touch to the sculptures that seemed to localize them even more. Rather than proto-Homeric statements about heroism explaining the statues, the captions were (in most cases) simply quotes from the player depicted himself. So that’s what greets us as we enter the stadium.

Next, the Town Ball Tavern. I honestly cannot think of more lovely tribute to local baseball than that place. Rather than focusing on the Twins or on their minor league predecessors, the place focuses on local ball—American Legion-level stuff. And it is beautiful. The photos on the wall of the old, local ballparks. And the memorabilia in there is exactly the kind of thingtargetlevels I’m a sucker for. Old scorebooks and programs from amateur and barely-pro teams from Edina, Eden Prairie, Duluth, Moorhead…stories of guys I’d never heard of and fans who cared about them. And all of this happening as I stood on the basketball floor once used by the Minneapolis Lakers. If there weren’t a game going on, I’d have stared at that memorabilia for hours upon end. The ballpark hooked me there.

Also: the art. Mike took me to a somewhat off-the-beaten-path spot with art representing all 30 current MLB stadiums. The artist got it right with nearly every ballpark. I’m glad someone else noticed the coolness of the toothbrush-style lights at Progressive (nee Jacobs) Field. And I think it’s a bit of a negative that the characteristic the artist selected as the most individual about IMG_0091my home ballpark, Safeco Field, was that stupid roof—the most unappealing part of it, at least as I see it. But again, I found myself slowing down—way down—to enjoy that art. Score another for Target Field.

Two days later, I learned the benefits of having friends who persuade people for a living. Matt and yet-another college buddy, John, kinda got into a competition over who was the most silver-tongued, and I was the beneficiary. The result was almost unconscionably fun.

It all started with my own weaknesses. I wanted to see one relatively-exclusive area that my ticket would not allow me in. So I went up to the usher guarding the place.

ME: “Excuse me. Is it possible for me just to go in there and take some photos?”

USHER: “No. Sorry. This area is for only those with tickets to go there.”

ME:  “Okay. Thanks.”

This is why I cannot have a job as an attorney or (God forbid) a salesman. I just don’t have any desire to extend thattargetbrunansky conversation.

Thankfully, Matt heard what I said and proclaimed me to be comically weak. “You’ve really got to sell yourself,” he said. “I think you’re selling yourself well short.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Well, I think I can get you into the Delta Club.”

The Delta Club was a place that Mike had told us about two nights earlier…a place for the muckety-mucks to spend their money, a place with fabulous memorabilia—exactly what I wanted most. And Matt thought he could get me there? Well, let’s see how it works. We approached the usher. I kept my mouth shut and let Matt get to work.

“Hi! This is my friend Paul. Paul is a nationally-known baseball blogger who travels around the country writing about and photographing baseball parks. He’s here this weekend visiting Target Field. Is there any way you can let us into the Delta Club so he can take some photos?”

“Sure.”

Oh…so targetclubTHAT’S how it’s done!  I think it was in the “nationally-known.” I suppose I was. Just in that group of friends, I could prove that I was known in both Idaho and Minnesota. Plus, I know myself…that’s Washington! And who knows what state you’re in, friendly and kind reader of these words! That’s a fourth state!

Needless to say, the sorts of Twins stuff in there continued to emphasize what Target Field does best: a celebration of Minnesota baseball history. It’s no surprise to see the Hall of Famers in there:IMG_0096 Puckett, Carew, Killebrew. But I always like it a little better when I find Tom Brunansky or Gary Gaetti around there. I squinted at Puckett’s contract. I checked out a K-Tel produce for Carew. I examined Brunansky’s jersey. I photographed everything through glass cases. And my friends trailed me throughout, fellow beneficiaries of Matt’s persuasive phrase-making. It shifts the focus from baseball history to Twins history, and that’s the best I can find. In fact, the Twins history was live and in the flesh on this day: Tony Oliva was enjoying lunch before the game (no, I didn’t take a photo…felt weird and stalkerish to do that, even as a nationally-known baseball blogger).

Great night, right? Well, John couldn’t be shown up.

See, John is a lawyer, and he couldn’t let Matt (who advocates for underdogs for a living–he is one of my life role models) show him up in the persuasive-speaking department. We had targetskylineourselves a genuine, friendly competition going on (and I was the winner).

“Well, Paul, I know that the Twins’ World Series trophies are downstairs in the Champions’ Club. It’s the $500 a ticket place, but I think I can get you in.”

“Really, John?”

“I’ll just tell them that you’re a renowned baseball lifestyle blogger.”

I started laughing. “That doesn’t’ even mean anything!”

“I know it doesn’t. But it sounds good, doesn’t it?”

John went to work. He had to demonstrate Matt wasn’t the only one who could talk ballpark personnel into bending the rules for me. He headed to the Guest Services booth and asked to speak to someone from Media Relations, since he had a baseball lifestyle blogger with him. We waited a few minutes, and up walked Patrick Forsland, the affable and kind director of Guest Services for the Twins. John was ready.IMG_0099

By the way, my favorite part of what follows is the pause.

“Hi. This is my friend Paul Hamann. [Pause. A little longer than you might think.] He’s a baseball lifestyle blogger who writes about ballparks he travels to. Now, I want him to write a really good review of Target Field. You see, the last time he was in Minnesota was 21 years ago, and the Metrodome, as you see here [John produces his smartphone with my MLB ballpark ratings upon it], he has it ranked 41st out of 45. I think that Target Field is more likely to be at the top where it belongs if we could get him down to the Champions’ Club and show him the World Series trophies.”

Much to my delight, Patrick agreed. Next thing you know, we all were on the elevator headed down to the crème-de-la-crème of the Twin Cities elite, snapping photos of the World Series trophies.

targetpatricktargettrophy

I did like the Champions’ Club. It was strikingly similar to Safeco Field’s Diamond Club, where I spent the 2011 Dads Gone Wild with my friend Andrew. I guess I don’t like the concept of having the World Series trophies in a place where only the rich can see them: there must be a better way for all Twins fans to celebrate them regardless of their annual household income. Then again, I don’t think I’ve seen actual World Series trophies in any other ballparks; maybe the Reds had their 1990 trophy in their museum and I missed it? Or is it sitting around in a glass case in the team’s offices where fans can’t see it at all? So maybe it’s actually more accessible rather than less.

But the place had a nice twist: one could watch the team take cuts in the batting cage before the game through a glass cage in the restaurant area. It was quite nice. Anyway, this baseball lifestyle blogger can thank both his silver-tongued friends and Patrick for taking him down to the Club. Yes, it didtargethrbek impact the ranking. (A reminder to ballpark staff everywhere: I absolutely, 100% can be bought.)

So all of these local touches would mean nothing if the ballpark itself weren’t part and parcel with the locality—just putting these local perks inside the lamentable Metrodome would have done absolutely nothing for the ballpark there. But Target Field is fantastic, passing the is-there-any-question-where-you-are test even if I had never left my seat. The integration of the ballpark with downtown is seamless and beautiful; it fits right in with the indoor walkways that maketargetlucy the place famous. Midwestern down-hominess prevails, from an actual 50-50 raffle (haven’t seen one of those outside of a high school event before) and donuts for sale. As I waited through a rain delay at one game and a non-delay half-inning rain shower at another, I was able to enjoy the gorgeous pink sky that only a Midwestern rainstorm at dusk can provide. Not even the terrible baseball played by a bad Twins team (I saw them defeated thrice by the Royals in a year when the Royals seemed to be putting it all together)  could counteract that.

And neither, of course, could going to games with my friends. Rob still leads the non-family division of most ballparks visited with me…Three Rivers, Wrigley, Kingdome, and now Target Field…and probably 10 minor league parks on top of that. And Matt and I sat there chatting about old times, including a spat of comparing notes on the positives and negatives (nothing disrespectful, I assure you) oftargetguardadomack our college-era exes. Matt noticed that one member of the elderly couple seated in front of us, trying not to show they were eavesdropping, wrote on her scorecard: “They’re talking about past relationships!” Ah, the Midwest. Nosy and passive-aggressive, and yet endearing in its own way.

And in the end, the positives and the pervasive Minnesota-ishness of the place carries the day. It’s one of the better ballpark experiences I’ve ever had—baseball-centered and Minnesota-centered, with all of the friendliness of the region as well as the friendliness of my actual friends. While I will be to many more ballparks with Matt and Rob and, I hope, John and new friend Mike, I’m not sure any of them will be as nice as Target Field.

BASEBALL STUFF I SAW HERE:

2014 debutantes and eventual league champions Kansas City were in town for a four game series, of which I saw three.  The Royals, in the midst of their historic and memorable ascension, took all three games I saw.

Josh Willingham, who had just been traded away from the Twins, provided a crucial bases-clearing double in the first game.

Six homers in a lamentable rain-delayed 12-6 Royals win in game two–Willingham had another.

Erik Kratz–whom I had seen win MVP of the 2010 AAA All-Star game–homered twice in the series finale.

A pair of saves for Greg Holland.

Centene Stadium, Great Falls, Montana

Centene Stadium, Great Falls, MONTANA

Number of states: still 32
States to go:  18

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ballpark score:

Regional feel:  5/10

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

Charm: 2/5

The ballpark has aged without gaining charm.

Spectacle: 3/5

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

Team mascot/name: 2/5

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

Aesthetics:  2/5

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

Pavilion area: 1.5/5

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

Scoreability: 4/5

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

Fans: 4/5

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

Intangibles:  2/5

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

TOTAL 25.5/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN THERE:

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

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

Written July 2013.

Dehler Park, Billings, Montana

Dehler Park, Billings, MONTANA

Number of states: still 32
States to go:  still 18Number of Games:  1
First game:  July 4, 2013 (Billings Mustangs 6, Missoula Osprey 2)

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

On a hot 4th of July–the 10th anniversary of the first of my minor league travels–I

arrived at Billings with family in tow.  There, I found an absolute jewel of a ballpark nestled against the Rocky Mountains.

Dehler Park passes the main test I have for all ballparks: the is-there-any-question-where-you-are test.  The instant one walks through the home-plate gate, one is faced by what Wikipedia tells me is the “Rimrocks,” a 500-800 foot cliff that skirts Billings’ north and east sides.  It’s a flat-out gorgeous view that occupies my mind during slow points in the baseball.

On top of that, Billings does incredibly well with its baseball history.  The Mustangs’ 40-year affiliation with the Reds certainly helps.  Dehler Park seemed to focus a bit more on recent Mustangs

 than more distant ones (I saw huge tributes to Jay Bruce and Joey Votto prominently displayed), but not exclusively: the program celebrated more distant history.  Dave McNally’s statue greets fans as they enter the stadium, and the plaque lists his accomplishments as a Billings Little Leaguer more prominently than his Major League exploits.  I like that.  There is also significant love for Ed Bayne, a legendary local American Legion coach from the middle of the 20th century.  I love that these two locals are treated as practically equals, and that my 4-year-old could literally shake hands with the Bayne photo (Bayne also gets a good deal of love in the Billings American Legion Hall of Fame inside the stadium).

Lineups were prominently displayed, which came in handy for Steven as he wrote down the lineups before the game (this always gets looks).  More importantly, Billings has what I most like at any level of ballpark: the ability to circumnavigate the park without ever surrendering the view of the field.  Some locally appropriate fare was available (but no thank you to Rocky Mountain oysters, okay?), and those mountains…oh, yes,

those mountains.  I liked how the ballpark kept standings for the Pioneer League on a flagpole in center field, much like at Wrigley Field or (horizontally) at Safeco Field.  Keeping an eye on your own league and taking pride/focus in the minors, rather than just the majors, scores points for me.  And the concourse was popular on this particular afternoon.  Some of this was that people were gathering back by the concession stands’ edifices to get a little shade.  My wife remarked, however, that people past the left-field wall were awfully good-looking to be gathered in one place: that the Mustangs seemed to have created a pretty cool place for beautiful people to gather for a holiday.

I think this might be related to my very small quibble with the park: it was run a little too slickly for my

 tastes, at least in the very-low minors.  There were no on-field promotions that I recall, and everything in the design was out of central casting for the gleaming-new-minor-league-ballpark-of-the-early-21st-century that has popped up everywhere.  I’d like for them to let their hair down a little—a little—and allow  themselves to celebrate a little wackiness every now and then.  I wondered a little bit whether Billings’ status as the largest city in Montana required them to show a little more reserve than their competitors in Helena, Great Falls, and Missoula.  And make no mistake: anything (including an anesthetic-free root canal) is preferable to the abomination of volume and horror that was Missoula.  But I feel like the Mustangs were reserved to the precipice of stuffiness.  I would like to see them embrace just a little more of a low-minors “what the hell” attitude.

But this is a quibble.  If I could make all 38 games here every year, I certainly would.  As it is, I will have it on the short list of ballparks to return to if ever I’m zipping across I-90.  You should have it there as well.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional Feel:  9.5/10

Total home run here.  The Mustangs celebrate Montana baseball history unabashedly and enthusicastically.  They look back on the history of their team with passion.  And man oh man, but that view of the Rimrocks is fabulous.

Charm: 4/5

Gorgeous, but a little too slick for a perfect score.

Spectacle 2.5/5

I remember no promotions.  In a way, I like that, but in a way, I miss it.

Team mascot/name  2.5/5

Couldn’t find Homer in the crowd, but here he is anthropomorphized into a bouncy-house.  I don’t mind the Mustangs name, but Homer would be the #1 Mascot name on Family Feud, so I can’t go too high here.  That and, again, I didn’t see him.

Aesthetics: 5/5

Gorgeous inside and out.

Pavilion area: 4.5/5

Plenty to walk to, and around, and all without losing sight of the field.

Scoreability:  3.5/5

Minor glitches.

Fans: 3.5/5

Granted, it was July 4th, but even with that, I thought there was a tad too much casualness for my tastes

Intangibles: 4.5/5

A great, if rather hot, afternoon.  I will be back.

TOTAL:  39.5/50

BASEBALL STUFF I SAW HERE:

Ty Washington’s second-inning triple gave the Mustangs the lead they wouldn’t give up.

Jose Guzman pitched 5 1/3 shutout innings, followed by 1 2/3 of perfection by Scott Brattvet (including two strikeouts and a double-play).

Written July 2013.

Mike Lansing Field, Casper, Wyoming

Mike Lansing Field, Casper, WYOMING

Number of states:  32
States to go:  18

Number of games:  1
First game:  July 3, 2013 (Casper Cutthroats 8, Northern Colorado Toros 0)

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

My 2013 visit to Casper marked the first time I had to invoke the “in the event there is no affiliated baseball in a state” clause in my minor league state quest.  Casper had had a Pioneer League team for

 about a dozen years before they left for the greener pastures of Grand Junction, Colorado in 2012.  My family set up a Wyoming-centered vacation the year following, and we selected the Casper Cutthroats of the Mountain Collegiate Baseball League (a college wood-bat league) as the game we’d attend.  I’d been to one college wood-bat game prior to this (I checked out the Cowlitz County Black Bears, who play ball about 35 minutes north of my house, back in 2012), but that was a lark out of curiosity: this wood-bat  league game sandwiched between 6 affiliated (low-level) games on the same trip was occasion for some soul-searching as to why it’s important that my minor-league ball be affiliated.

First and foremost, I think that I like affiliated ball because it’s easier to follow the story arc.  From Pulaski to Tacoma, I know that every ballplayer has the same goal:  to play for the Mariners.  I can get a good sense of how things are going with the insert of any decent minor league program: give me a guy’s age, stats, draft slot, and most recent team, and I’ll be able to tell you (with some margin of error) where the guy is with relation to his goals and how things are going for him. In independen

t league ball (which I admit I have not yet watched), the story arc is much trickier.  A vast majority of the guys playing there are affiliated-team castoffs that are looking for one more chance to get noticed and hook on somewhere.  Occasionally one makes it back into the fold and even makes the majors again.  However, that’s just too hard to keep track of for me, and the diamonds in the rough are too difficult to anticipate.  While it may be true that independent ball is possibly of a higher quality than lower-level minor league ball, the difference is likely not good enough for me to suss out with the naked eye in a single game.  I’ll take the story arc over the quality of play.

Casper offered me a different brand of ball, however: college wood-bat league.  The quality of ball was not that high, at least as far as I could see.  I don’t want to pretend that the low minors are always scintillating baseball: there are certainly some blown plays.  It felt like there were far more

blown plays, however, in the game in Casper that would have been made in a regular league.  On top of that, I had a problem with the design f the league.  Casper’s win on this July 3rd night gave them a record of 27-1 (the preceding is not a misprint).  And I have an issue with the lack of parity in the majors!  I was left wondering how this was even possible.  Turns out we had some conversations that clarified the way the league works.  If I were the commissioner of a college wood-bat league, I’d gather an appropriate number of players at all positions and then randomly assign them among the teams in my league.  Turns out that’s not the way it works.  Each team goes out and gets players.  In fact, players pay for the opportunity to play in the league, even to the point of paying for their own bats.  Much of this gathering of players is based on who one knows.  As a result, Casper had an advantage over other teams not only in quality of players,  but even in quantity.  Opposing pitchers who are getting shelled aren’t relieved often: if a team has an entire pitching staff of 5 or 6 people (which I was told was a reality for some teams in the league), they stick with the starter even on an off night.  To me, this is grossly unfair and makes for a less-fun product.

That said, the Cutthroats provided a fine night of entertainment.  They had an appropriate number of promotions for low-level

 baseball, but more importantly, they opened up the whole team for autographs after the game.  My 4-year-old got an autograph from an opposing player before the game, but then scored about ten after the game, walking right down the line of kind college kids.

And they were college kids.  Before the game, as I meandered around the ballpark taking photos, the team was engaging in a juvenile contest—a stupid-boy game that anyone with a Y chromosome understands the appeal of.

 They were competing with each other over who could get over the 3.5-ish foot wall without using his hands.  Some tried scissor-kicks, some placing their abdomens on the rail and depositing themselves over.  But all seemed to be having a great time doing it.

The ballpark was fine: adequate, not great.  I could see why the Rockies would rather have been in another facility (although I’ll have to wait at least a year before I can

 see Grand Junction for comparison’s sake).  Conversations indicated that the Rockies were dissatisfied with lighting and sod, and I could see issues with both.  It brings up an issue I have with minor league baseball in general:  I can understand why a team would not want to keep their team in a small or antiquated stadium.  In fact, if I were the owner of such a squad, I’d want to move them out of such a place too.  But as a fan, I like the homey feel of places like this, Batavia, or Helena.  It’s just about perfect.  It’s also on the way out.  (Sort of.  The Brewers, since they play in an ancient, antiquated, and unsalvageable Kindrick Field, are rumored to be looking into heading out…to Casper.  We shall see.)

I enjoyed the light Rocky Mountain thunderstorm that blew across before first pitch: it reduced the temperature

from the 90s to the 70s, for one thing.  And the Wyoming touches in the stands were quite nice as well, even if some were all about the Rockies.  April, who sold me my tickets over the phone, remembered me and even let me have a couple of foam fingers for free (the Cutthroats do not sell mini-bats, which I buy for the home team of every ballpark I attend on my minor league quest, so I needed a substitution and sent with a foam finger).  I found it sweet she sold (gave) me the foam fingers (gave me the finger?) while holding her son in her arms.  It just felt right.

And then I met Brian.

Brian marks a milestone for me: the first time I have been recognized—stone cold—for my website.  He came up and said “Hey, you’re from tomsballparks.com!” We corrected the name, but he had it figured out from my Mariners shirt and my Hillsboro Hops hat…that gave him the clues, and my photos of myself did the rest.  This was the closest I will ever come to being a celebrity, so my wife left me alone with Brian for quite a while.  He had served as the Casper Ghosts’ mascot for a number of years and was a regular at Cutthroats games, and gave me some of his perception on what went down that caused the Ghosts to flee to Colorado.  We talked minor league ball for a while, and in the process, he quoted at least a dozen of my minor league pages.

 It was simply incredible: he probably knows this website better than I do.  I had a wonderful time talking to him.  At the end of the night, he said it was “spectacular” to meet me.  I have never been recognized by a stranger before, and I have to admit I rather liked it.  It might be time for me to form a band or something and get some groupies.

All in all, while the ballpark was lacking in a few areas, it was a splendid night for a million more important reasons than the ballpark itself.  It’s a long way from Washington to Wyoming, but Casper and the many great people I encountered there made it worthwhile.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel:  6/10

Not terrible, but not great either.  There’s a hodgepodge of local history to be found, but nothing that screams “Wyoming” in the view (just a couple of hotels and generic office buildings).

Charm:  4/5

Small-town charm in a number of ways.  I loved the family feel, the autographs, the way the wife of the owner runs the gift shop while carrying her son on her hip…quite a lot going on here.

Spectacle: 3/5

I’d have liked a little more on this level, but I still liked the show.

Team mascot/name: 3/5

I didn’t see a mascot, but I can cut the team some slack there due to what were clearly shoestring budgets.  “Cutthroats” was a cool name: threatening, but locally appropriate (it’s a fish).

Aesthetics:  3/5

Some nice high-plains light, but again, not much of a view.  The place is more utilitarian than anything else.  Middle-of-the-road.

Pavilion area:  3.5/5

Huge, expansive areas to walk around, but not a lot there, as shown:

Scoreability:  2/5

Not much help here–was occasionally confusing.  Again, this might just be a product of the level.  That’s the breaks.

Fans:  4.5/5

Sorry, Brian, and sorry, awesome couple we talked to:  couldn’t give it a perfect score because I was harassed by a drunk fan in the bathroom while I was trying to get my 4-year-old son out of a locked stall.  (Thankfully, the drunk’s friend whisked him away, and thankfully again, I was able to clamber on the floor to rescue my firstborn.)  Here’s a picture of the nice couple, parents of Northern Colorado Toro shortstop/pitcher Mike Lewis.  We talked to them at great length about the league and how it works.

Intangibles:  5/5

Dude!  I was RECOGNIZED, people were nice…and then there was a whole night of autographs for my kids.  I left the park feeling wonderful, and you just can’t argue with that.

Total:  34/50

BASEBALL STUFF I SAW HERE:

Cutthroat Jamie McCaffrey (of Corban University in Oregon) will become my litmus test for the quality of this league, as he totally owned the Toros on this day.  He pitched a five-hit shutout, walking none and striking out 16.  Sixteen.  If he flames out in the very low minors, or doesn’t get drafted, that will tell me something.

Third baseman Julian Cronk (three hits) and first baseman Blake Loran (a double and a triple) led a 13-hit attack for the Cutthroats.

Written July 2013.