Tag Archives: international league ballparks

121 Financial Ballpark, Jacksonville, FLORIDA

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121 Financial Ballpark
Jacksonville, Florida

Number of states: still 42
States to go: 8

First game: July 1, 2023
Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp 8, Durham Bulls 7

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


TO EVERYONE IN THE MID-ATLANTIC AND THE NORTHERN SOUTH: What exactly is the deal with I-95? For Aaron’s big 12-year-old trip, he declared that he wanted to go from DC to Miami in a week. No sweat. We arrived for a game at Camden

Yards. We farted around DC for a couple of days. We saw some shows. And then…

We had a big drive. Durham, NC to Jacksonville. And we needed to get there on time.

You see, this one was circled on the calendar. July 1. Hawaiian Shirt Night at the ballpark. We wanted those shirts. We needed those shirts.

So, after seeing Six in North Carolina (What a show! Y’all should see it!), we woke up super-early for a long drive to ensure we’d make it.

Two I-95 observations:

#1. I am accustomed to traffic. I am not accustomed to rural traffic. Even in the middle of nowhere in South Carolina, we were slowed and even sometimes stopped. I was blown away by how bad it all was.

#2. Um…what’s the deal with death-wish drivers? Especially in Florida (and especially in Miami, where we headed from here), there were people doing 95 or 100 while slipping between lanes and cars such that you couldn’t slip a slim paperback book between them and the car in front of or behind them. It was the worst driving experience I’ve ever had. Seriously, Florida Men and Florida Women…this isn’t a video game. Don’t be jerks. (Unless you were getting a Hawaiian shirt. That I understand the urgency of.)

Aaron was a delight, and we got to 121 Financial Ballpark (yuck–what a terrible name!) a few minutes before gates opened. Easy peasy, right?

Wrong. It turns out that much of Jacksonville wanted the same shirts we wanted, and there were only 2,000 to give away. We got in line and hoped for the best. As we waited, we saw a few people LEAVING the ballpark with their shirts. That’s right: they didn’t bother staying for the game. They just sat in 95-degree weather in line, grabbed their shirts, and left.

So…no shirts. If anybody has a Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp Hawaiian shirt they are willing to sell me, let’s talk price.

The ballpark was bustling, and in fact was a little more crowded than I like my ballparks. Long lines and lots of jostling. But at the end of one of those lines was some delightful food.

Regular readers of paulsballparks.com (hi, Mom!) know that I don’t write about food here too much. My legendarily sensitive gut prevents me from being too adventurous gastronomically. I did write when Steven got that crazy churro dog in Arizona, but mostly I don’t write about food. But I had a 12-year-old with me, and he wants to talk about the food. So, for the first time ever, I welcome a guest writer to paulsballparks.com. The following is written by Aaron, my younger child, talking about the food in Jacksonville.

*

If you don’t want to hear me blabber about the food of 121 Financial Ballpark just hear this one thing: GET THE FISH AND CHIPS. If you don’t have any allergies go for it. That line is long for a reason.  They were crunchy yet soft, thick and filling but had one downside: the Achilles heel if you will…the fries sucked. I LOVE crunchy fries. These were crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside but they tasted off. Next to the straight God of the fish, the chips would be just a normal guy.

My dad decided to get the nachos but that’s what will bring this park down. The nachos come in a plastic bag with a cup of

queso that they just expect you to put on which is just crazy. So if I were to rate this ballpark’s food on a scale from 1 to 10 I would rate it a 8/10 because the waits before the game and nachos bring it down.

*

There you go: it’s Aaron’s view of the food in Jacksonville.

Here’s what impressed me the most about Jacksonville’s ballpark. I arrived in a bad mood. It was hot, humid, crowded, I’d nearly been struck by about 58 GTA-playing drivers on I-95, and I didn’t even have a Hawaiian shirt to show for it. I was honestly not expecting to have a good time. But the Jumbo Shrimp won me over.

First, they saved me from a bizarre, unusual oversight. In our haste to get to the line, Aaron and I left our scorebooks in the car. I did not want to give up our spot in line and I did not want to walk back through the heat to get the scorebooks. I was worried that I would  have to watch the game without a scorebook in my lap. The horror! But our usher gave me perfect directions, sending me to Tommy at guest services to get a scoresheet with pre-printed lineups and stats for the players. Nice! He even gave me a golf pencil. Thanks, usher, and thanks, Tommy. I was able to score the game.

jacksonvillescorecard

Part of how they did this was the physical layout of the park. The pavilion was wonderful. We were able to circumnavigate the park, and in the process, we saw all sorts of different things, and yet we never had to leave visual contact with the game. Even in center field, where there was a kid play place, there was a gap in the tarp on the chain-link fence for parents to watch the game, as well as a few peepholes to look through in the spots where there was tarp. It was quite the adventure.

The team donned weirdly kitschy pink uniforms to honor Scampi, one of their mascots (what a great name!). It had a

SpongeBob vibe about it, and I would rather players–especially ones this close to the majors–not have such weird duds, but somehow, weirdly, it worked.

By the end of the night, when Aaron and I had seen an entertaining game with a player hitting three home runs, my mood had been transformed from cranky to baseball-happy. Not ever ballpark could have pulled that off. Jacksonville did.

It’s well worth the trip, but next time, I’ll not drive.

JACKSONVILLE:

Regional feel: 8/10. Can’t argue with palm trees. And while there are better views than of the Jaguars’ football stadium, it is local. I also liked the past players dotting the concourse.



Charm: 3.5/5. It was a little corporate and antiseptic physically, but the people were awesome.

Spectacle: 4.5/5. Lots of fun and activity that did not intrude on the baseball.

Team mascot/name: 4/5. Here’s a photo of Aaron with Scampi. Her counterpart, Southpaw, is an overdone name. The Jumbo Shrimp moniker, while a tad cutesy, is kinda cool for the area.
jacksonvillemascot


Aesthetics: 2/5. Not attractive from the outside, and I was drawn to seeing the equipment past the center field wall.

Pavilion area: 5/5. Can circumnavigate the park and see it from lots of different vantage points, never losing sight of the game. History is there, as is a killer-good fish and chips.

Scoreability: 3.5/5. Beyond the usual difficulty with wild pitch/passed ball information, they didn’t get a new pitcher’s name up for a batter or two.

Fans: 2.5/5. Good–but they stood in front of us waiting for the mascot.

Intangibles: 4/5. I actually expected this to be much lower because of the horrific traffic on I-95 earlier in the day and the tragedy of not getting our Hawaiian shirts as a result. But in the end, Austin Allen and his buddies made a great day for Aaron and me.

TOTAL: 37/50

BASEBALL STUFF I SAW HERE:

Austin Allen hits three home runs and has 7 of the Jumbo Shrimps’ (how does one grammatically pluralize this?) 8 RBI.

jacksonvilleallen

jacksonvillefromlf

jacksonvilleuniform

jacksonvillerace

Photo credits: All photos by Paul Hamann except:

Photos of scorecard, close-up of pitcher, and innertube race by Aaron Hamann.

Written July 2023.

Polar Park, Worcester, MASSACHUSETTS

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Number of states: 39
To go: 11
Number of games: 1
First game: August 4, 2022 (Worcester Red Sox 12, Durham Bulls 0)

After a night at the kinda-icky Brockton Sox park (not commemorated here–see the rules for why), the pandemic-postponed New England swing for the College Buddy Baseball Annual Tour happened just two years late. And it started with a pretty cool

and unprecedented night in Worcester.

Had the tour happened in 2020 like it was supposed to, we would have made it to Pawtucket instead, and I would have crossed off Rhode Island. But by the time we could make the trip happen, there was no more Pawtucket: instead, there was this place, which was exactly what you’d expect out of a 21st-century ballpark. Corporate. Antiseptic. Nice, but not special. Yes, it has all of the amenities, but it felt the same as pretty much any other spot. Also–it was pretty spendy for a minor league park. 

In any event, I did appreciate the Red Sox history on display in Woostah. The sign that points to Fenway and all of its affiliates feels more regional here somehow, and not just because so many of the Sox’s affiliates are rightly in New England. This is a place to see the future Sawx and talk about the current Sawx, and we got a chance to do that.

And I did so with my buddy Chuck! Chuck is one of the few purely on-line friends I have ever known, and this was our chance to meet in person. I met him through refereeing: he’s a former Division I basketball official who paid some visits to my old officiating blog. That led to Facebook friendship, which led to me wanting to meet him in person when I was near his central Mass home! There were no badly missed calls that night. Had there been, Chuck and I would have had the umpires’ backs.

WOOSTAH! Chuck was as good a guy in person as he was on-line, and we did some ref-nerding out that day.

My seat was right by the passageway to the Durham dugout, so I was treated to a set of autograph seekers. They were the kind I don’t like that much: guys with massive sheets of cards of who they think the next stars would be, leaning over the railing to get some signatures. What bothered me about this was there was a kid there. Now, let’s be clear. I do get signatures sometimes: always of my scorebook, and always of a game that I have seen that person in from the past. What I find is that this frequently leads to a moment of joy for the player that I get to sign. Most recently, this has meant I figure out who a

player is that I have seen play in the past who is now a coach. I get him to sign a thirty-year-old scorebook. For the now-coach, that’s a huge trip down memory lane. Last year, former relief pitcher Doug Henry, now pitching coach for the Tri-City Dust Devils, spent time reading the entire box score of a game he saved as a Brewer in 1993. Truthfully, I like the feeling that I’m sharing a thing with a guy rather than taking a thing from him.

But even with that, I won’t compete with a kid for an autograph. If kids are there, I won’t be. So this means that I either go to a fiftysomething coach while all the kids are clamoring for the twentysomething players, which feels right, or I am in a place that

has set aside time for autographs, where I can queue up with everyone else.

What I do NOT want to be is like the guys in this photo. I mean, different strokes, and I hope they are happy and all of that, but there’s a kid in this photo who wants to interact with a ballplayer, and I find that the transactional nature of trying to create a card that will sell for a ton of money to be kind of joyless in comparison.

We’d get plenty of joy this night, though. Michael Wacha was on a rehab start for Worcester, and he looked awfully good. Kept the pitch count low and got all the way to 4 2/3 innings. The Sox were crushing 4 home runs off of Bulls pitching, so the game was out of control very quickly. Then A.J. Politi came on to get through the seventh.

No hits.

worcesternohitter

My rule is that I will not discuss a no-hitter in progress. It’s not that I’m superstitious. I know that I do not have any impact on whether a pitcher gives up a hit. It’s more that it’s not worth talking about until we get through 6 innings. I have stuck with that through my lifetime of baseball, and it has served me well. So I was willing to discuss it even when I finally got to my first no-hitter in 2021 (Baltimore’s John Means in Seattle). 

I don’t find combined no-hitters terribly impressive as one-guy no-hitters like I saw Means do, but having one as a part of our college buddy trip: that was pretty awesome. It was also provided a little tension late in a blowout game.

Chase Shugart pulled it off in front of my friends–old and new–with two more innings of hitless ball. Josh Lowe smacked a

ball pretty hard, but the Sox’s Devlin Granberg made a really great catch: a diving catch to his right. It was a real charge to end the game and begin the on-field celebration.

You can’t go wrong with a spark like that, and something about it happening on one of my trips–like, the coincidence of this

happening on my one time at this park–was kind of special. There’s nothing quite like jumping up and down and celebrating a great play to finish off a great experience.

I didn’t get a real sense of Worcester or Massachusetts as a place, truthfully, beyond the Red Soxiness of it all. I wonder if I’d have felt something different in Pawtucket. Still, there was a lot of fun, great friends, and an accomplishment I won’t soon forget.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional Feel 6.5/10

Other than the Red Sox stuff, I didn’t get much of a sense of New England here.

Charm 2.5/5

Too corporate. Corporations are not charming.

Spectacle 4/5

The higher the level, the less I want stuff to interfere with the baseball. This rule is especially important in the midst of a no-hitter, and the WooSox obliged well.

Mascot/Name 3/5

I didn’t get a shot of Woofster, and he didn’t impress much on my memory, but I wrote 3/5, so I guess he was fine, as is the name “Red Sox,” which matches with the history of the team (going from PawSox to WooSox).

Aesthetics 3/5

Again, fine. Not special

Pavilion area 3/5

Scoreability 4.5/5

They did a fine job keeping up with a LOT of hits and runs (for one team, anyway) and I trust they would have been solid if there had been a tough, important scoring decision late in the no-hitter.

Fans 4/5

My buddy Chuck was great, but the guys bugging the Durham team weren’t.

Intangibles 5/5

I mean, it was a no-hitter capped off by a fabulous diving catch. Can’t give that anything other than a 5.

TOTAL: 35.5/50

Baseball stuff I saw here:

Andrew Wacha, A.J. Politi, and Chase Shugart walk 5 batters but give up no hits.

The WooSox tee off on poor starting pitcher Easton McGee, with 4 home runs in 3 innings, leading a 17-hit attack. 4 of those hits and 2 of the homers come from former Mariner (and “wow, he’s still playing, cool!” guy) Abraham Almonte. Pedro Castellanos adds three hits and a home run.

Devlin Granberg ends the night with a catch everyone will remember.

Written May 2023.

 

 

Coca-Cola Park, Allentown, Pennsylvania

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Coca-Cola Park, Allentown, PENNSYLVANIA
Number of states: still 38

States to go: still 12

First game: June 27, 2019 (Rochester Red Wings 8, Lehigh Valley IronPigs 7)

 

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

I don’t get to games late very often, but on this day it couldn’t be helped. After a killer walk-off crazy game at Citizens Bank Park, Rob and I had to grab Matt at the airport and then head north through some horrible traffic to get to this one. We did well to arrive at the end of the first inning. Because of the uncertainty of it all, we didn’t have tickets, so we got to buy on the way in. 

“Any preference?” the worker asked.

“Whatever you think is best,” I replied.

We were placed down the right-field line, which is fine, but wound up staring straight into the sun to see the batter. Even with shades and a ballcap, we wound up also having to use our hands to block the sun. It was even a safety issue: once the ball left the bat, I had no idea where it was. The sun is obviously not the IronPigs’ fault, but I do wish that the guy selling us the tickets had told us about it. 

The ballpark itself had some promise. It sits atop a pretty cool hill, and I liked the promotion of the park to that level, like it was some European castle. I didn’t notice any real views, however, from the seats or on my wanderings, so it didn’t seem to

have any real advantages to it.

Kudos to the IronPigs for packing them in on a Thursday night. Not many empty seats (which may explain our location, of course). But there was a weird cultural thing going on that was especially clear in comparison to the Phillies game from earlier that day.

In Philadelphia, there was minimal interference with the game. Sure, they had their wackiness (jet-ski races on the scoreboard, trivia, 50/50 raffle, that sort of thing), but it was on the scoreboard as an option rather than blasted over the speaker, creating an expectation that everyone would watch. It was easy to watch the game and not feel like it was a

promotions transference device.

Not so much at Lehigh Valley.  There was wackiness all over. And while I might have put up with that at the rookie level, at triple-A, less is more.

Case in point: the team name. I don’t have much trouble with “Iron Pigs” as a name: it seems that “pig iron” is an important factor in the creation of iron that Allentown is best known for. Thumbs-up. But oh man, they focused on the absolutely wrong part of the team name. Everything in the park was about the “pigs” rather than about the “iron.” There was bacon in the team logo, pigs and bacon all around the ballpark, a pig mascot with no hint of iron around her (that I noticed, anyway).  And the sounds. Oh, the sounds.  Between pitches, even, I’d hear pig grunts and snorts. A “sooeee” call. Outside of Fayetteville, Arkansas, I felt like this was disruptive. I could handle it once as a joke. But repeatedly?  Over and over again, that pig grunt kept going, and, in my eyes anyway, it was disruptive and annoying.

And fireworks.  No problem with fireworks, but the IronPigs had a “more is more” attitude about them. They set them off after every run the home team scores. This led to a delightful moment when Red Wings reliever Jake Reed balked in a run. The crowd had no idea what had happened, which is fine, I guess: balks are confusing. But then, as everyone was turning to each other and saying “What’s going on? Why is everyone standing around? Is that guy going home?” there’s a big BOOM!  Balk fireworks. First time for everything, I guess.

It was some kind of soccer-related promotion night–appropriate in the heat of the 2019 Women’s World Cup (and the day before a huge US/France quarterfinal). This meant that they continually played clips from the sorta-funny

Will Ferrell movie Kicking and Screaming on the big screen, and that they also had soccer-themed promotional contests on the field. It seemed pretty clear that the person they had running one contest wasn’t that familiar with soccer, however. Kids were trying to head soccer balls into trash cans for a prize. But instead of “Try to head the balls into the cans,” she said “Try to head-butt the balls into the cans.” Head-butt?  Really?  Did she want the kids to go all Zinedine Zidane on each other? (A worthy promotion, perhaps…)

The problem here was that the entire crowd seemed to follow along. No real interest in the game here. Kids were screwing around,

everyone was chatting, and I didn’t get a sense that baseball was important there. That seemed to be popular, but again, the net result wasn’t something I was a huge fan of.

Rob and I, punchy from the red-eye and in our second game of the day, managed to get by (I had gyros) while Matt watched the AAA affiliate of his Twins have a strong evening.

A good day at the ballpark on the whole, but my overall instinct is that the IronPigs got too cutesy. Sandwiching this around the baseball-first atmosphere of their affiliated siblings, the Phillies and the Reading Fightin’ Phils, showed how off this was compared to a pair that were right on. I hope the culture changes a little, but given the attendance, I doubt it will. Different strokes for different folks, but as this is my website, they get a lower score than the other strokes do.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional Feel: 3.5/10.  Not much to be said about Allentown or Steel Country here. They got it exactly wrong: too much pigs, not enough iron.

Charm: 3/5.  Some nice bits all around, and a lovely sunset.

Team mascot/name 3/5:  Would have worked better if they’d focused on iron rather than pigs. Extra credit for naming the mascot FeFe. Love nerdy puns.

Aesthetics 5/5:  Lovely location on top of a hill. Quite lovely.

Pavilion 4/5: Nice here, although a little cutesy in places.

Scoreability 4.5/5:  Great stuff here. Only one minor slip-up.

Fans 2/5:  This was the group that would have done anything the PA said. Especially compared to what I saw in Philadelphia the previous day, this was an annoyance.

Intangibles 3/5:  The sunset overrode a lot of negatives.
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Total: 27.5/50

BASEBALL STUFF I SAW HERE:  Rochester builds a big lead, in part based on Zander Wiel’s big bat (three hits and a home run). But the IronPigs fought back, mostly with a Phil Gosselin three-run shot, to tie. But Rochester plates two in the ninth on an error and a wild pitch, then holds on for the win.