Tag Archives: colorado rockies affiliates’ ballparks

Security Service Field, Colorado Springs, Colorado

Security Service Field, Colorado Springs, COLORADO

Number of states: 28
States to go: 22

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I shrugged.

“Watching the Olympics in our hotel room.”

Pregnancy, altitude, and doubleheaders don’t mix.

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

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

BALLPARK SCORE:

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

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

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

Team mascot/name:  4.5/5

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

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

Pavilion area:  3.5/5

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

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

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

TOTAL:  31/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

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

(Written August 2008.)

John Thurman Field, Modesto, California

modestoinprogress

John Thurman Field, Modesto, CALIFORNIA

Number of states: still 13
States to go: 37

First game:  July 2, 2006 (Modesto Nuts 6, San Jose Giants 3)

After the horrendously loud and promotion-saturated experience at San Jose’s Municipal Stadium the night before, I welcomed this retreat into a quieter ballpark in a smaller city.  While John Thurman Field wasn’t exactly perfect, it was good for a number of reasons.

The ballpark itself is in a bit of a non-descript area, between a golf course and a somewhat-seedy residential area.  Before the game, it’s possible to enjoy some California Almonds while reclining under an umbrella and modestogolferwatching people tee off.  It’s also possible to walk right up to Modesto players as they make their way from the clubhouse to the dugout.  On the day we visited, anyone who wanted to could play catch in the outfield was welcome to head out there and do so.  Of course, this late afternoon and many others in Modesto were insufferably hot, so where I normally would have been disappointed to have forgotten our gloves, on this particular day I was fine not to be out there running around.

The concourse is also nondescript–a few concessionaires tucked back by the golf courses.  The promotions were reasonable–there could have been one or two more at the single-A level, but for the most part, they were fine.  Sure, the hot-dog eating contest that followed the game was disgusting, but it didn’t interfere with the game, so I can sit back and enjoy the disgusting modestoexteriorspectacle.

By the way, if you’re thinking of going to the ballpark, believe me, you want to sit on the first-base side in the shade, and not on the third-base side in the sun.  But you will have to get up if you want food. At the start of the game, I experienced one of my favorite ballpark perks:  an usher who offered to get me food while I stayed in my seat watching the game.  Too bad I never saw her again.

Among John Thurman Field’s biggest problems are a horrible PA system:  it’s actually easier to hear the PA in the pavilion than it is to hear it in the seats.  Not that there was much to hear:  the PA guy actually took the time to wish his wife a happy second anniversary.  I don’t like that stuff when it comes from the crowd; why would I like it from the staff?

Additionally, I was a better scorekeeper and scoreboard modestofromlfoperator than Modesto had.  There was a tough scoring call–fielder’s choice where everybody reaches, or error?–in the sixth inning.  As I waited to figure out what the scorer would decide, an affable usher saw me scoring (I didn’t notice anyone else scoring the game here, continuing the trend of nobody scoring games in California…is it banned by the state Constitution?).  He jokingly said:  “Just give Modesto a double.”  I laughed, but pointed out that there was a fairly large error on the scoreboard:  San Jose had two hits, but the scoreboard only had one up there.  It’s not like one of them was tough to miss…both were doubles down the line, one in the second inning and one in the sixth.  The usher immediately walkie-talkied the booth and pointed out the error.  modestoretirednumbersHe received an angry, harried response, something along the lines of “I have 5 people at once talking to me!  Stop bugging me!”  Nothing happened for another inning, when the usher called back a second time.  I actually managed to change the scoreboard!  I’m totally confident it never would have been fixed were it not for me.

I got to see a pitcher, Ching-Lung Lo, give a great performance for the second year in a row.  Lo had pitched a gem and lost when I visited Asheville in 2005.  His promotion to Modesto was not off to a great start, but he sure had a great game when I arrived for this visit:  3 hits in 7 innings–2 runs, one unearned.  Mr. Lo, I’m happy to watch you at the AAA level in Colorado Springs in a year or two.  (But, if it’s all the same to you, I’d rather not modestosignreturn to Drillers Stadium in Tulsa, so get through AA as quickly as you can.)

My wife and I met a nice woman–a mother of two from Southern California who was conned  by her 11-year-old son into stopping in Modesto on the way home from a holiday weekend in the mountains.  She could not believe that my wife and I were in Modesto only to see a baseball game, even though her husband does similar tours of ballparks.  My main concern for her was that she was turning around to talk to us.  Since we were in the second row behind a dugout, I had images of her or her daughter getting their heads exploded by a foul ball.  Hadn’t she read the sign which stated that that could happen?  When I offered to have her join us in the third row so that she could see any threatening line drives heading her way, her response was “No, I’m fine.”  Thank goodness she was right.

All in all, a fine, quiet evening in an ordinary–blessedly ordinary–ballpark.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel:  6.5/10
Tough to score this since I have no real image of what Modesto’s region should feel like.  They do well with all the nuts they sell in concessions and in the team name, but they fall short in the view from the seating bowl.  Also, the neighborhood and golf course could be anywhere in the USA.

Charm:  3/5
Not bad, but not great.

Spectacle: 4/5
Could be one or two more at the single-A level, but not too shabby.  I liked the multiple mascots getting around–and that they didn’t interfere with baseball.

Team mascot/name:  5/5

modestomascots

modestorobot

Wally the Walnut is on the left, Peanut the Elephant (I believe a leftover from the old Modesto A’s) is on the right.  Not pictured:  Al the Almond.  Modesto Nuts is an ideal name, and the multiple mascots are quite nice.

Aesthetics:  2.5/5
Nothing too special here.

Pavilion area:  3.5/5

Scoreability:  1/5
If I have to tell your scorekeeper and scoreboard operator that there’s been a double down the line, well, that’s a serious problem.  (But thanks to the usher for fixing it.)

Fans:  2.5/5
I sat with a nice woman and her daughter, but other than that, the game was sparsely attended and what fans there were stayed very quiet.

Intangibles:  4/5
On the whole, I liked it here, mostly because it was so cozy and calm.

TOTAL:  32/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

Ching-Lung Lo pitches 7 innings of 3-hit ball to pick up the win, striking out 10 and walking none.  Here he is signing an autograph for a fan in the dugout before the game:

modestochinglo

Chris Frey has a pair of RBI.

(Written July 2006.)

McCormick Field, Asheville, North Carolina

McCormick Field, Asheville, NORTH CAROLINA

Number of states:  11
States to go:  39

Number of games:  2
First game:  April 15, 2005 (Kannapolis Intimidators 1, Asheville Tourists 0)
Most recent game:  July 21, 2006 (Columbus Catfish 11, Asheville Tourists 10)

(Click any image to see a larger version.)

I have to say that one of my favorite aspects of the quest to attend a minor league ballpark in every state is the sheer fact that I get to go to cities I’ve never been before, and likely would never have made it to were it not for my quest.  I had next-to-no knowledge of Asheville before I finished my 2005 Spring Break baseball trip there.  A buddy of mine went to high school there, but beyond that, Asheville was a spot on the map and nothing else.  What a pleasure it was to find this

place…a granola college town (like Eugene or Boulder, two spots I’m more familiar with) dropped in among beautiful foothills.

How granola was it, you ask?  Well, I started my evening at the Raven Grill downtown.  There, I was greeted by Jill, a sweetheart waitress in standard granola-issue bandana and piercings.  She gave me a big smile, sat me by the window, and handed me a menu.  I took a look and…uh-oh…I had landed in a vegan restaurant.  I thought I was in big trouble.  I’m allergic to soy, and vegan food, at least to my knowledge, is exclusively

made of soy.  But I didn’t want to find another place to eat, and I was curious.  Plus, they had The Ultimate Nachos on the menu.  Vegan nachos?  What’s the cheese? Probably soy. I asked Jill.  “It’s not soy-based.  It’s our Raven Cheese.  It’s made from cashews.”  Cashew cheese? Whoa!  Could go either way.  So I went ahead and had myself some vegan nachos.  They arrived, and I looked at the faux-cheese, and I dipped in…

They were delicious!  I want to go back to Asheville just for the vegan nachos!  I even thought of returning after the game for the live music…but when I heard that the headliner was somethingorother-the-fiddler, I decided to take a pass. Not a big fan of the fiddle music. But if you’re in Asheville, this is a fine place to go.  Treat yourself to the vegan nachos, try to catch some music, and say hi to Jill.

The ballpark is just down the hill from downtown–the lights are visible from Biltmore street, the main downtown drag.  McCormick Field is quite literally carved out of the side of a hill, which I found quite striking.  The concourse along the

third base side looks straight out at the carved-away hill, which I found lovely.  The top of the hill features Veterans Memorial Stadium, the home of soccer and women’s pro football.  I didn’t make the trip up, but I bet that the bleachers up there afford an excellent bird’s-eye view of McCormick Field.  The views are therefore enough to lead the ballpark to pass the is-there-any-question-where-you-are test.

The Tourists, additionally, know how to put on a show.  I firmly believe that they manage to walk the balance-beam and provide an excellent night out for both casual fans and purists.  For the casual fan, there’s plenty of action on the first-base side of the park as far as promotions and places for kids to jump around and play.  The gift shop features more hats than any minor league gift shop I’ve ever seen–hats for the entire South Atlantic League, the entire Rockies’ system, a few other minor league clubs, and a good chunk of the majors.  There are frequent wacky promotions on the field, and many opportunities for the fine residents of Asheville to win (unless I’m in town…but more on that later).  If you’re a purist, however, Asheville has you covered too.  Lineups are prominently displayed in the pavilion.  Additionally, each section (at least where I was sitting) has an usher who will go get you food or drink and bring it to your seat.  There’s no need to take your eyes off the field at any time.

Me?  Well, I’m a purist, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t enjoy some of the same things the casual fan does.  And tonight…man, did I ever.  It started before the game.  They were selling tennis balls for the toss-the-tennis-balls-into-the-hula-hoops-on-the-field competition.  I

bought four balls to toss after the game.  Then I entered the trivia contest.  The question:  Which former Tourist hit the game-winning home run for the Rockies against the Padres on opening day 2005?  It was multiple choice.  Two of the choices, Jason Jennings and Todd Helton, I eliminated immediately:  I’d remember if it was a pitcher, and I’d remember if it was Helton. That left me to randomly choose between Clint Barmes and Garrett Atkins, neither of whom I’d quite heard of yet.  I picked Barmes–he sounded vaguely familiar–and sat down for the game.  I only wish that they had asked for our address as part of the contest…that way, I would have heard “Our winner in the trivia competition tonight is Paul Hamann from…[pause]…Redmond, Washington?”  But that’s okay.  They said my name. I WON!

I waited several innings for a suitable break (tough to do when you’re at a game alone and are scoring it) and ran out for my prize.  They were closing down the prize shack by then–so they sent me to the gift shop.  They didn’t have it either.  They promised me that I could come back after the game.  I didn’t tell them this, but I didn’t need a prize.  In the trivia competition, it’s all about the glory of competition.

So I waited through to the end of the game.  It was a barnburner–a real pitchers’ duel.  Quite tense.  Afterwards, I headed to the side of the field to play the tennis ball throw game.  Now, I assumed that the rules were the

same as they are at my home minor league park in Everett, and that getting the ball into a more-distant hula hoop would merit a larger prize.  I knew I didn’t have the arm to win a year’s worth of free gas (the hoop in center field), so I didn’t even try–in part because the gas was from a local gas station.  Quite inconvenient for me.  So I aimed for the second-closest hoop…and on my last try…what do you know!  I won again! They announced my name again! I showed I was superior in both mind and body!  I was a real celebrity!

Now it was time to claim my multiple prizes.  I headed out to the gift shop and gave them my name.  They knew it.  “Oh yeah!  You’re the guy who won twice!”  And what did I win?  For the trivia contest…a twelve-pack of Sierra Mist.  For the hula-hoop competition…in my view, much more difficult to win…well, I won my choice of prizes from a box of cheap crap.  (I selected a computer mouse in the shape and color of Jeff Gordon’s car.)

Immediately, I was faced with a problem.  What the hell was I going to do with a twelve-pack of Sierra Mist?  I was literally 12 hours from flying back home to Seattle.  I wasn’t going to make it a carry-on, and I wasn’t going to pack it and have it explode all over my stuff.  This left me with the following choices:  1.  Drink the 12-pack overnight, and get up every 30 minutes to pee.  2.  Give it away.

I chose option #2…but who was deserving?  I thought of giving it to my usher, who had so wonderfully served me all night, but couldn’t find her.  I knew nobody in town.  But a solution was walking by me right through the concourse.

The Kannapolis Intimidators were on their way to their bus.  They had just finished their hard-fought victory.  Surely they were thirsty!  I caught one of the stragglers and said:  “Hey, I just won this, but I’m not going to take it back to Seattle with me.  Do you think you and the team might like this?”  He said it was a wonderful gesture and that they would love it.  I asked for his name.  He told me he was hitting coach Ryan Long, thanked me, and went on his way.

I admit to being a nerd, but what followed gave me a cheap thrill.  Because McCormick Field is set up on the side of a hill, the concourse

looks out directly into the bus.  Therefore, I was able to watch while my twelve-pack was passed back from row to row and the Intimidators took them out.  I then thought I would try to take a picture of the guy in the last row enjoying his Sierra Mist.  He caught me trying to take his picture–he must have thought I was a complete freak–and started mugging for the camera.  I mimed to him to raise his can of soda.  He did.  I took the picture.  Of course, it was a stupid idea…trying to take a picture at night through a tinted bus window…but if you look closely here, although you cannot see the player, you can see the gift I gave him…the green can of refreshing celebration, his victory Sierra Mist.

Of course, what good is a gift if the person doesn’t know it’s a gift?  I mean, if my loved ones just suddenly got things they wanted at Christmas but didn’t know I gave them, that wouldn’t exactly be the spirit of giving, would it?  So I wanted to let this guy know that I had given him his can of Sierra Mist.  Miming that is extremely difficult.  The conversation went like this:

ME:  [points at player] [mimes drinking motion] [rapidly repeats pointing at player and miming drinking motion] [points elaborately at myself]

PLAYER: [shrugs with palms up]

ME:  [repeats the points-at-player drinking-motion points-at-myself combination, all the while mouthing the words “THE DRINK.  IT’S FROM ME.”]

PLAYER:  [extends fist with thumb and pinkie extended out and shakes it…the sign for “hang loose.”]

So either he got the message or totally didn’t.

But hey!  Kannapolis Intimidators!  If EVER any of you read this, and remembers this night and that delicious can of lemon-lime goodness, remember…it was from me!  And if any of you happen to find your way to a lucrative major-league contract, and want to repay me, I’ll accept anything from an email to a thank you to game tickets.

It was one of those nights where the stories piled one on top of another, and the folks at beautiful McCormick Field are responsible for the lion’s share of those memories.  They understood that a ballgame can be simultaneous experiences–first and foremost about the game, but also about wackiness accompanying the game.  I got wonderful doses of each on this night, and did it all in a gorgeous small city.  If I can help it, I’ll be back to McCormick Field, and if you have a chance, you should go there yourself.  It was one of the best minor league ballparks I’ve ever seen, and I suspect it will remain that way for good.

UPDATE 2006: It’s still marvelous.  I went back with my wife, and the place is still wonderful.  They no longer sell affiliate hats in the gift shop, but the guy who sells programs asked us where we were going.  The game was one of the worst I’ve ever seen (unlike the wonderful 2005 game), but this ballpark remains a hit.

The saddest part of that trip:  it appeared the Raven Grill had closed.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel:  9/10
Beautifully settled into the Great Smokies.  It fits perfectly into the Mountain South.

Charm:  5/5
Loads.  Both within the ballpark and without…this is everything a minor league ballpark should be.

Spectacle: 5/5
Ideal combination of cool promotions–of which I was the king–but deference to the game.  Again, the standard by which all else should be measured.

Team mascot/name:  4/5

Ted E. Tourist and me.  The mascot is better on the hat than in person…I prefer Ted E. dressed as a tourist than as this generic bear.

Aesthetics:  5/5


As gorgeous as they come, especially from within the pavilion.  Seriously–carved out of a hillside?  That’s lovely.

Pavilion area:  5/5
Active and fun on the first-base side; lovely on the third-base side.

Scoreability:  3/5


Kannapolis had hit a home run to lead off the second inning, but the scorekeeper didn’t have the run up as late as the end of that inning.  Otherwise, fine.

Fans:  1/5
The only real negative were the guys near me, who heckled every batter in the nearby on-deck circle by name–the entire game long.  It got old in a big hurry.  Surely they could cheer a little bit for their own team.  Surely they could take an inning–or even a batter–off.  Nope.  They had anger issues that only the Kannapolis Intimidators could solve, I guess. Nothing significant happened in my second visit to change this first impression, which was deep and negative.

Intangibles:  5/5
I simply loved this place–and it loved me back.  Seriously…two promotion wins and a chance to give a congratulations gift to the winning team?  How cool is that?

TOTAL:  42/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

High-quality pitchers’ duel.  Ray Liotta (no, not that Ray Liotta) pitched for Kannapolis, and beat Asheville’s Ching Lo.  Both (and a handful of late relievers) were incredible on this night…Liotta struck out nine and gave up four hits in seven innings, Lo gave up three hits and struck out seven in seven innings.  I’ll keep an eye out.

Josh Hansen homered.

I returned for a ballgame with the wife on the massive 2006 tri-point/baseball stadium tour.  The game was the polar opposite of the original.  We couldn’t even make it to the end, due to our need to move on…we left after 2.5 hours, and only in the fifth inning. The last thing we saw was Columbus’ Lucas May hitting a grand slam that tied the score at 8.  Columbus eventually won–but by then, we were relaxing in the mountains near the Elicott Rock Tri-point.  34 hits, 13 walks, and 4 hours and 10 minutes.


Tri-Cities Stadium/Dust Devils Stadium/Gesa Stadium, Pasco, Washington

Tri-Cities Stadium/Dust Devils Stadium/Gesa Stadium, Pasco, WASHINGTON

Number of states: still 5
States to go:  45
Number of games:  4
First game:  July 7, 2004 (Everett AquaSox 16, Tri-City Dust Devils 4)
Most recent game:  June 27, 2013 (Everett AquaSox 3, Tri-City Dust Devils 2, 11 innings)

Stadium was called Tri-Cities Stadium in 2004, Dust Devils Stadium for my second visit, and Gesa Stadium now.

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

What might have been…Michelle the Girlfriend worked for this franchise for a couple of years, overseeing its 2001 move from Portland.  And I was all set to head out there during the summer of 2002 to serve as a general dog’s-body for the organization. 

(Michelle said she was considering using me as official scorer until they found someone who could do it more regularly, then having me pinch-hit wherever I was needed for the rest of the summer.)  But, alas, Michelle left the Dust Devils before the season began and moved to Seattle with me.  Oh well…lose summer employment, but gain Michelle the Girlfriend’s constant presence.

If anyone ever asks you what public relations staff must do for a minor-league team, keep in mind (and this I never knew) that one of the duties is to dress as the mascot for winter appearances.  This makes The Dust Devil (who technically  does not have a name, although I was encouraged by Tri-City staffers to call him “Dusty”) was, when my girlfriend was in the costume, the sexiest mascot in the United States and Canada.  But take a look at that thing…what IS it?  A dust devil, I know, but does it look at all like one?  The nickname of Dust Devils is a fine nickname, and totally appropriate (I walked through

a few on the way to the ballpark, and a good number of them popped up on the field during the game).  But this thing doesn’t look like much of anything, and on top of that, it’s got to be difficult to walk around in that getup.

The ballpark itself is nice.  Not a standout. It’s a part of the local recreational complex, and is therefore surrounded by a billion soccer and  softball fields.  I took my customary walk around the ballpark before play began, and saw people taking softball batting practice on the soccer fields, which, come to think of it, would be a fine place to take a catch before the game.  Also, if you wanted to attend the game for free, please note that on this night, not one but two gates along the left field wall were open.  One led directly onto the field (kinda hard to get in that way) but the other actually led to the seats.  Not that I advocate this kind of thing, but it would have been

very, very easy to walk right in–nobody watching and a gate already open.

The Dust Devils might consider letting people in for free, actually, since their attendance has been quite low in their four years of existence.  I’m told it can be stiflingly hot even for evening games (please note that the third-base side is the sunny side).  But this July night was unseasonably cool, so the dust-devil winds not only kicked up dirt but made it  a chilly, unpleasant night.  Very few fans were there for the first inning, and after an awful night of baseball (7 errors, 3 by the Tri-Cities in the seventh inning, and a 14-0 Everett lead at one point), there was more or less nobody left but me.  The day started quiet like a bookstore, but ended quiet like a tomb.

The ballpark was huge–335 down the lines.  I’ve not seen a game with so many Texas League doubles and backpedaling middle infielders in my life.  I haven’t looked up the stadium’s history to see if it’s always been that large, but my guess is that they’ll

certainly keep it that way as long as the Dust Devils are a Rockies affiliate.  Coors Field is that large as well, and those young outfielders need to practice patrolling all that real estate.

The Tri-Cities workers did their best to keep everyone involved and active.  Erik the Peanut Guy had a microphone on him, and the PA announcer would kick it down to him for promotions and even a few random announcements.  It was a nice touch.  The affable Erik would do his schtick on the microphone, then resume hawking.  By the way, I absolutely loved the personalized T-shirts that the hawkers wore (the backs had their names and statements like “Cotton Candy Expert”).  Erik even did an interview with the mother of the Dust Devils’ third baseman who was seeing her son play professionally for the first time.  His first question to the mother was bizarre.  “So, is this your first time in the Tri-Cities?”  Gee, Erik, what do you think?  Why would this young woman have ever been to Kennewick, Pasco, Richland, or 

West Richland before?  (That’s right…there are FOUR cities in the “Tri-Cities.”)  The third baseman had two hits, as the mom said to anyone who would listen to her after the terrible loss–“My boy had two hits!” she said–but really needed to work on his arm.  Like clockwork, at least one of his warmup throws every inning would sail into the front row.  I was in the front row.  I’m fortunate I was not hurt.  It took me until later in the game to figure out what was going on…he was trying to throw to his mother!  What a sweet gesture.  UPDATE:  The kid, Matt Macri, eventually made the majors with the Twins.

One of the nicest

moments I’ve ever seen at a ballpark arose out of a scary one.  A foul ball looped over my head and hit the ankle of the adorable kid in this picture.  He screamed and cried while his mother held him.  The ball rolled down past my feet to a fourth- or fifth-grader in the front row.  He then walked up and handed it to the still-crying little guy.  Would I have had that kind of kindness and grace at that age?  I’m not sure.  In my mind, that gracious young fan is the MVP.  I tried hard to get a ball for the rest of the game–maybe one of the third baseman’s errant throws?–so that I could give it to the kind, charitable youngster, repaying his kindness.  But no such luck.

All in all, a decent night of bad baseball in shivery, windy cold.  Yup–to me, that’s not a bad night.

UPDATE 2009: I’ve been back twice since, both for July 4 family baseball jaunts, and have improved my view of the ballpark.  First, some significant changes:  Most importantly, blessedly, and thankfully, the Dust Devils have installed a sun screen behind the first-base stands.  I’ve heard

it called an eyesore, but I don’t care.  No more desert sun and desert heat for the third-base side…the screen blocks it beautifully, and it was worth every dime.

Second, the name has changed.  Gesa, a local credit union, has affixed its name to the ballpark.  Not a fan of corporate naming, but if that money helped build the sun screen, then I’m all for it–and might have to transfer all my money into a Gesa account.

Next, Tri-Cities sprawl threatens the character of the area just a little bit, but the view hasn’t much changed…the view beyond the outfield fence still features several rows of soccer fields.

The only negative to the visit were some jerks in the section next to us, who I heard were the Dust Devils grounds crew–let in free for the game.  If that’s the case, they need to tone down the heckling, especially since

they were in my original seat (no big deal, as I just sat in a better one).  Shouting “Ichiro!” at the Boise Hawks’ two Korean players, Hak-Ju Lee and Jae-Hoon Ha, is a rare combination of racially insensitive, geographically stupid, and boorish.  Tone it down, guys.

Finally, and for the first time ever, I was recognized for this website.  I was on my way to the head when Erik the Peanut Guy flagged me down, noticing my Tennessee Smokies hat.  “Is that the Tennessee Smokies?” he asked.  I replied in the affirmative, and Erik asked if I’d been there.  I talked about my effort to get to all the minor league parks, and recommended he visit my website–and I wrote down my name.  He said “Oh, I know you!  I LOVE your website!” and then said “We need to

get you a hat.”  He then had the team store give me my choice of hat.  I picked the $22 TC model to complement my wife’s Dust Devil model.  He took some time out from hawking to hang with us for a while.  He and Michelle remembered each other from his days hawking in high school when Michelle worked for the team.  We spent a pleasant inning hanging out.

I’ve got to say, wearing random other minor league hats to ballparks is a good move.   Wearing an Everett AquaSox hat in Princeton, West Virginia bought me a free sledge-hammering of a car.  And now wearing a Smokies hat…and having this website…got me a $22 hat. Thanks, Erik.  You just brought your score up significantly.  Remember–this is not Congress.  Bribery is acceptable.  Giving me presents can increase your ballpark’s score (although there’s no guarantee).

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel:  7.5/10
Lovely views of soccer fields and mountains.  Actual, literal dust devils on the field help out a lot, although those can hardly be planned.

Charm:  2.5/5
Not much going for the physical edifice here, but Erik and his fellow hawkers help out quite a bit.

Spectacle: 3.5/5
A fair number of them, pulled off with nice energy.

Team mascot/name:  2.5/5


They call him Dusty.  He looks like–nothing.  And they have since put him in a Dust Devils uniform, which actually makes him more perplexing.

Aesthetics:  2.5/5

Pavilion area:  3.5/5
Could be larger.  It includes an “alumni report” featuring the stats of former Dust Devils, wherever they may be.  This is a fantastic idea that I”d like to see reproduced elsewhere.

Scoreability:  1.5/5
Not good here at all.  Many errors on the scoreboard.

Fans:  4/5
As much as I appreciate Erik, crowds here are pretty sparse.  And while I like the kid who gave up his foul ball, I don’t like the grounds crew acting like jerks to the opposition.  Just cheer and watch the game.  Don’t try to be Andrew Dice Clay.  (I upped this score in 2013 after a much better experience sitting next to Erik the Peanut Guy’s parents.)

Intangibles: 5/5
In spite of all of its flaws, this place leaves me with positive memories.  I’ve been there for a decade now, and thanks to Erik the Peanut Guy, I feel welcome there every time.

TOTAL:  33.5/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

My, what a terrible game I saw on my debut visit.  Three hits for the AquaSox’s Omar Falcon led their attack.

Two errors–on back to back plays–by Dust Devil shortstop Pedro Strop (each a throw through the first baseman’s legs), plus another by second baseman Jason van Kooten stretch the top of the seventh into six outs, eight runs, twelve batters, and about fifteen years.  Not that I’m complaining.

In July 2005, I saw what looked to be a stud-pitcher-in-the-making…Shane Lindsey, a free-agent pitcher, struck out 11, walked none, and gave up only 3 hits in 5 innings in a Dust Devils victory.

A crazy close to a game in July 2009.  Tri-Cities scores their winning runs in the eighth inning on a combination of two hit batsmen, a wild pitch, a passed ball, an intentional walk, and a sacrifice fly.  Low-level A baseball.  Catch it.

D.J. Peterson scored on a Huascar Brazoban wild pitch in the 11th inning of a 2013 game to give Everett a victory.

(Written July 2004.  Updated July 2009.)

Drillers Stadium, Tulsa, Oklahoma

Drillers Stadium, Tulsa, OKLAHOMA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BALLPARK SCORE:

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

TOTAL:  26.5/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

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

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