Number of states: 41
To go: 9
Number of games: 1
First game: August 6, 2022 (Vermont Lake Monsters 6, Brockton Rox 4)
By the time I got to Centennial Field in 2022, Vermont had lost its affiliated baseball in the tragic MLB purge of affiliates overBillings, Ogden, Princeton, Bristol, or so many others. I just love the tie between deep, long ago history, both old (Negro Leagues! Tris Speaker! Some guy I’ve never heard of but is a legend of early Vermont baseball!) recent history (Ken Griffey, Jr.!), as well as the future (who knows who might be a Hall-of-Famer here today?) In an almost unbelievably penny-wise-pound-foolish move, MLB pulled the connection to the majors that affiliation provides ballparks like Centennial Field. Now, the Lake Monsters no longer have affiliated players, which is a shame. But the college-wood-bat ballplayers we saw in August of 2022 provided just as fantastic and historic a time as anywhere. Wood-bat or not, it’s was worth the trip.
The ballpark, for starters, was absolutely aware of its history. The historical marker (historical marker at a ballpark is just about as geeky-wonderful as it gets for me) tells me that the “Centennial” refers to the hundred-year anniversary of the first class of graduates from UVM, which is when they started playing ball on the site. The grandstand
The park sets into a residential neighborhood in Burlington, where parking was nearly impossible to find. I walked through the dusty parking lot to find a historical marker and a fair amount of music. We sat in the front row of the back section, so people were walking in front of us all day–although we were high enough that it wasn’t that big a distraction. Plus–legroom! We sat for a while until a young woman–the mom of 3 in a family outing behind us–asked us about our scorebooks.
I swear, if you want someone to talk to you at the ballpark, bring a scorebook!
We let her know who we were, what we were up to, and she assented. “I was grooving on your serious vibe,” she said.
If we ever make a coat of arms for the College Buddy Baseball Trip, it will contain the phrase “grooving on our serious vibe.” Google Translate tells me that, in latin, this is “grooving nobis gravis vibe,” which, in my mind, must be recited like “Gunter gleebin glauten globen” at the start of the Def Leppard song. She has no idea how solidly she nailed our entire ouevre.
Then, her husband left for treats or kid bathroom aid or some such. She managed to persuade him to take all three kids. And
Rob, who has a fabulous way with kids that age, started talking with the four-year-old about Lake Monsters. The kid knew that the lake monsters were real, and knew a ton about him. Rob threw him a curveball.
ROB: So, do you think that I might be a lake monster?
KID: [like Rob is a complete idiot] No! You’re not a lake monster!
ROB: Why not?
KID: Lake monsters don’t have hair!
Well, as a guy past the midpoint of middle age, I have some concerns with this. I took off my cap and showed the kid my ever-encroaching baldness.
ME: Well, I’m losing my hair. Does that mean I’m turning into a lake monster?
KID: [like I am a complete idiot]. No, silly! It means you’re DYING.
And that, thanks to this fabulous family, was the biggest laugh we had on the trip. See? We can laugh with the serious vibe.
The sun set behind us: the New England air was golden. The packed house rocked. And, as we approached the 9th, the game was tied at three.
I considered my first home run derby to finish a game.
The Futures Collegiate Baseball League had that new rule: if a game is tied after 10, the game will be decided by a home run derby. Now, I am old school. I mourned a little when the affiliated minors essentially eliminated marathon games when they enacted the zombie-runner-on-2nd rule to start extra innings back in 2019. I understand the purpose: when your job is to develop players, trashing arms for a 12-plus inning game is not optimal. (In the majors? Forget about it. I
So it seems to me that a home run derby is as good a way as any to settle things.
Instead, I got a tremendous 9th inning. In the top of the 9th, Liam Foley gave the bad guys the lead with a solo home run. They were up 4-3.
And then, in the bottom of the inning, the Lake Monsters started the inning with a strikeout, a hit batsman, a wild pitch, and an intentional walk.
I’ve been to a ton of baseball games. I’ve made a ton of friends and had a lot of fun. My life will continue exactly the same whether the Brockton Rox or the Vermont Lake Monsters win on a Saturday night at the end of the Futures Collegiate League baseball season. I know that the fun times I spent with my friends next to me and the strangers-turned-friends behind me is way more important than what winds up in my scorebook.
Still, when Brian Schaub absolutely bludgeoned a pitch and sent it deep into the New England night just past the good side of the left field foul pole, I stood up, and I shouted deep into the night. The arc of that ball will stay with me as a wonderful end to a fantastic night in a beautiful, charming ballpark.
Regional Feel: 8.5/10. I’d like a tad more of an “only in Vermont” view–the surroundings are sort of suburban anywhere–but I can’t argue with all that history.
Charm: 4.5/5. It’s a well-loved and well-cared-for antique.
Spectacle: 2.5/5. I could have used a little more, even though the PA was hard to hear where I was.
Team Mascot/Name: 4/5
Here’s Champ the Lake Monster. Note that he, like me, has no hair. He’s a totally appropriate resident of Vermont to have this job.
Aesthetics: 3/5. It’s wonderful, but not terribly attractive, especially from the outside.
Pavilion area: 3.5/5
Scoreability: 4.5/5. I especially appreciate what a good job they did for the college wood-bat league level.
Fans: 5/5. Thanks for joining our serious vibe, fam!
Intangibles: 5/5. We had a walk-off, we had some laughs, and we had a gorgeous day in a beautiful state.
BASEBALL STUFF I SAW HERE:
Brian Schaub! He had all six RBI for the Lake Monster, with a double in addition to his walk-off dinger.
Brockton’s Thomas Shertleff was the best pitcher for the day, going 2 1/3 without giving up a hit.
Written May 2023.