Tag Archives: minor 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.

Hadlock Field, Portland, MAINE

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portlandmeexterior

Number of states: 42
To go: 8
Number of games: 1
First game: August 7, 2022 (Erie SeaWolves 6, Portland Sea Dogs 4)

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

Getting to my 42nd state in which I had seen a minor league game was certainly a special part of my 2022. But–I have to admit–it was rather dwarfed by what happened a few hours earlier along US highway 302, where it enters Fryeburg, Maine across the New Hampshire border…

I entered my 50th state. Seriously, I did. Here’s the proof! And here’s me holding up a number: that’s irrefutable!

portlandmesign

I had been excited about that eventuality for pretty much every moment of my recallable life, and it happened. The original plan was for me to do this in 2020, which would have been preferable in some ways: I liked the poetry and symmetry of entering my 50th state during my 50th year. But I did get there as soon as possible, and I give myself credit for that.

I do have to say that the drive in from Vermont was one of the nicest drives of my entire life. I drove, and guy-who-stood-for-me-at-my-wedding Rob sat in the passenger seat giving a delightful play-by-play of the drive. He had spent from the ages of

8-ish to about 15 living in north central Vermont. In fact–in a fact that is entirely peak Rob, the Robbiest of Rob–he pointed out that he got his first job, at age 14, at the tourist center in Wells River, Vermont, where he directed tourists who had just entered from New Hampshire where to find all the best covered bridges, pancakes-with-syrup, and whatever else tourists wanted. Rob, who could not yet legally drive, knew where all of those were. The geography nerd child eventually became a cartographer as an adult.

The tour-guide nature of the trip was even more gorgeous than the Vermont and New Hampshire mountains, which is saying something. There was the ballpark where he threw a no-hitter. There was the road where so-and-so lived. There was the

shop where he had to go to buy some special treat. I’ve known Rob for well over half of my life, and getting to see the map pinpoints of his childhood was a rare, special treat.

Maine was nice, but man, it was hampered by 90-plus degree heat on this particular day, and alas, we had a Sunday matinee. So Hadlock Field, through no fault of its own, doesn’t score as high as it might for someone else. But we still had a delightful time on this day.

For starters, I did like the way the ballpark fit into Portland’s ubiquitous red brick. Rob probably knew why there was red brick

all over Portland, but I have since forgotten–you can Google it. But having that brick start on the outside sidewalk and crawl up the side of the ballpark is a beautiful touch. It works in with the green beams to create a nice touch.

On the inside, I found it a little less beautiful. We had one huge bowl–many, many rows deep. The “monster seats” were in right field rather than in left. I could live with that, but if you’re going to do a Monster like in Greenville, it seems like you’d want it to be green, in left field, or both. In any event, I was excited to get over there to take some photos…and I was stopped. 

Turns out that you have to have a ticket for that section to get in there, even way before game time. “Or,” he said, “you need a press pass.”

This is hardly an insurmountable obstacle. When you’ve got Matt on your side, you have a person who can convince someone of anything. He insisted that the very website you are looking at makes me worthy of a press pass. 

So the result is the Return of the Baseball Lifestyle Blogger. I told the guy at the business office about paulsballparks.com, and my quest, and his response was immediate and simple: “Cool! Let me see what I can do.”

This is what he did:

portlandmepresspass

I called that my press pass. Looking at it, it might just be a free ticket to the upper deck in left field. Once there, I could see the appeal. The perch there is a great place to watch a game, plus you are right alongside the bullpen, where I watched the Sea Dogs’ Brett Kennedy warm up, and where I enjoyed some lovely views. So the following photos show you what my press pass got you.


portlandmeplayers

The game itself was stuck in the heat and I have only a few memories of it, other than sweaty friends trying to endure it. One, regrettably, is the worst foul ball incident I have ever seen. It doesn’t feel like it was the Sea Dogs’ fault: the netting behind home plate was tall. It’s just that the grandstand was way taller. And one screaming foul back cleared the netting and wound

up in the row or two below the press box, where it hit a toddler right in the face. Lots of blood. The sound of that kid’s scream and the determination of the mom as she ran him down the many steps of the aisle, and (I assume) straight across the street to the hospital–that’s not a thing I can unsee. I know that some of my fellow ballpark travelers are mad about the extension of foul-territory netting that took place across the majors and minors a few years ago. They’d argue–correctly–that such an extension didn’t prevent this from happening. Even so, I’d have to say that having this happen to fewer toddlers would be much preferable than to more. I don’t even see the netting anymore. Let’s prevent as many of these as we plausibly can.

I had a nice little exchange with Erie catcher Jon Rosoff. He caught my eye because he looked a little short for a catcher–or portlandmerosoffeven for a ballplayer. He’s listed as 5’8″; take that for whatever it’s worth. Anyhow, as I checked him in the program, I noticed that he was from Army. That’s kind of a cool background, I think–unusual for a pro ballplayer. So when he gunned down a would-be base-stealer (I think it was Christian Koss in the 7th), I went ahead and shouted: “Nice throw, West Point!”

And he acknowledged it. A little point up with his gloved hand in my direction.

I don’t know whether he thought I was a fellow cadet (had he looked at my toothpick arms, he’d have pretty quickly figured out I’m not), but it looks like he heard me and appreciated it. And given how much enjoyment I get out of watching these guys play, any chance I get at returning a little of that is a thing I like.

By the way, the hot dog I had was just terrible. Kept in a steamy bag, and “condiments” were merely plastic packs. It’s the official hot dog of “we’re not even trying.”

portlandmehotdog

Rob, Matt and I parted ways before the end of the game: they were off to the airport in Boston, while I was going to stay the night in Portland and have one more lobster before my Portland to Portland full day of travel the following day. We eschewed any man hugs (not good while sweaty) and told each other we’d see each other for the 2023 trip, which will take us across the Midwest to the Negro League Baseball Museum. It’s going to be our eighth trip. I hope we’re just getting warmed up. 

portlandmefriends

BALLPARK SCORE

REGIONAL FEEL:  7/10. Gorgeous on the exterior with the red brick. Not enough New England touches on the interior for me: it’s in danger of “this could be anywhere.”

CHARM 3.5/5

SPECTACLE 1.5/5
Not sure if this is because I was hot or what, but the on-field stuff didn’t do much for me.

TEAM MASCOT/NAME 1.5/5
portlandmemascot

portlandmemascot2

Here are a couple of shots of Slugger. Slugger is pretty much a top-scoring-Family-Feud-answer of mascot names. If there’s a story of what a sea dog is and why it’s appropriate for Maine, I’d like to know it.

AESTHETICS 3.5/5
Again, lovely on the outside, less so on the inside. Plus a cool sculpture:
portlandmesculpture

PAVILION AREA 2/5 
You can’t walk around the whole ballpark. In fact, you can’t even walk around part of the ballpark unless you’re savvy enough to get a press pass.

SCOREABILITY 4.5/5
Nicely done.

FANS 3/5

INTANGIBLES 1.5/5 
Too much running against it tonight, with a hot day and a hurt kid.

TOTAL 29.5/50

BASEBALL STUFF I SAW HERE:

A Quincy Nieporte homer followed by a Dillon Dingler RBI double give the SeaWolves the lead they would never relinquish in the 7th.

Stephen Scott and Izzy Wilson homer for the Sea Dogs.

Jon Rosoff with a hit and a couple of runners gunned down for Erie.

Delta Dental Park, Manchester, NEW HAMPSHIRE

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1_newhampshireexterior

Number of states: 40
To go: 10
Number of games: 1
First game: August 5, 2022 (New Hampshire Fisher Cats 6, Richmond Flying Squirrels 1)

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

One benefit to New England is how small all of the states are. Rob, Matt, and I spent our first couple of nights on the 2022

College Buddy Baseball Tour in the same hotel, just zipping out to Brockton, Worcester, and New Hampshire. So much easier than it would be in the West (which is to say impossible). There’s a ton of baseball, affiliated and otherwise, that is accessible and which still allows one to sleep in one’s own bed. I’ve got to give a thumbs up for that.

I crossed the 40-state mark for minor leagues in New Hampshire on a hot August night in 2022, sitting in the front row right by third base. Double-A baseball–my favorite level–played out in front of us. The three of us got out our scorebooks.

This often leads to us getting some attention, and it did tonight, as the guy next to us asked us the magic question…

“Are you guys scouts?”

Man, as often as I am asked that, I still find it surprising every time. I was probably wearing my Julio Rogriguez sherzy and a Reading Phillies cap (my go-to cap for the college buddy tour). Matt and Rob were unquestionably equally nerdy in Twins and Phillies garb, respectively. How is it possible that someone would assume that is our work outfit? I am not too expert in scouting, but when I think of a scout, I think of someone sitting behind home plate with a radar gun wearing a short-sleeved polo adorned with a team logo. How in the name of God could someone think we were scouting out by third base? Do scouts buy mini-bats?

Still, this kind of thing does often lead to a conversation. The guys started talking to us about the ballpark and the history, which I appreciated.

It fairly quickly developed into a remember-this-guy? he’s from New Hampshire list of ballplayers from 20 years earlier. I enjoy the Remember Some Guys factor of the day, but have to admit that I grew tired of this conversation. It wasn’t just “yeah! he’s a good dude, that [insert name of serviceable major leaguer from New Hampshire]!” It developed into how this guy had gotten hits off of or struck out every major leaguer his age that he had ever faced. That’s a cool story to tell…once. But it did NOT take long before I found myself sucked into this guy’s personal history.

That’s not the kind of history I want to experience at the ballpark. Delta Dental ballpark did a good job of

giving me the rest of that information: their history of baseball in the state–especially affiliated ball–was commendable. I could read those Blue Jays of the past for a long time and enjoy it.

I also found the ballpark to be physically and architecturally interesting. It is just about impossible to notice there is a ballpark there, for starters: it is tucked behind and into a hotel. The Hilton Garden Inn shields the entrance to the ballpark, making it hard to find: within the ballpark, we can see patio seating for the hotel lounge: a strong home run to left could land in one of their drinks. 

Before the game, I walked along the path that squeezes between the third-base side of the ballpark and the Merrimack River.

The trees were dense enough that, while it provided a welcome shade on a hot evening, they prevented any really good views of the river. Traffic on I-283 across the river was audible: had I walked a while longer, it appears my path would have taken me across both the river and the interestate, but I wanted to double back to the ballpark to see if it had a view. It looks like there was this view from the second deck:
newhampshireview

Yeah–I’ve seen better, but I appreciate the effort.

The game itself was a bit of a snooze. Matt and Rob, in about the sixth inning, went off to find an IPA. I know Matt prefers a seat a little ways back, where I prefer to be close enough to make a play if called upon. but when Matt said he was going off, I

said “Hey, if you find a better seat, text me and I will join you.”

Matt, gracious guy that he is, said “Oh, it’s no big deal. We’ll be back.”

Matt missed my message. I made eye contact.
newhampshirefromhp
“No, Matt. If you find a new seat, you should text me so I can join you.”

Matt looked at me, and looked at guy-who-had-dominated-every-1990s-major-leaguer-in-New-Hampshire next to me.

“Oh. We’ll be sure to text you.”

That’s how I got to spend at least the last couple of innings with my buddies…in some quiet.

In the end, I think that Delta Dental Park was a tweener. Too old to be gleaming and modern, but not old enough to be charming. It had some quirks, and it had a sense of history, but I can barely remember it as I write this nine months later, and that’s not a good sign.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional Feel: 7/10

The historical stuff on the pavilion was appreciated. Look! It’s Gustavo Chacin!

newhampshirehistory

Charm 2.5/5. It’s a tweener.

Spectacle 3/5

Mascot/Name 4/5
I didn’t get a shot of Fungo the Fisher Cat, but a fisher cat (a weasel-like mammal native to the area) is a fantastic name for this team.

Aesthetics 2.5/5
We have a view of a hotel and a sort-of-view of the river-ish if you get way up high. Not quite right. But I do like the hidden nature of it: like a surprise ballpark. I wonder how much nicer this photo would have been without that giant Hilton Garden Inn:
newhampshirecloud

Pavilion Area 3.5/5

Scoreability 2.5/5. I missed a couple of decisions.

Fans 2.5/5. Nice enough people, but I’ve never had to manufacture a reason to flee someone before.

Intangibles 2.5/5.  Not a great game, and it was kinda hot.

OVERALL 30/50
newhampshire3b
BASEBALL STUFF I SAW HERE:

Fisher Cats’ pitching, led by Ricky Tiedemann and Gabriel Ponce, shut down the Flying Squirrels’ bats for the day.

Cameron Eden, whom I had seen four times prior as a Vancouver Canadian, knocks in three and homers. 

Ryan Gold and Sebastian Espino, also guys I had seen as Canadians, also homer. I have now seen Espino homer in two leagues, thousands of miles apart. Maybe he needs to pay me to start showing up.

Written May 2023.

 

FNB Park, Harrisburg, PENNSYLVANIA

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FNB Field, Harrisburg, PENNSYLVANIA

Number of states: still 38
To go: 12
Number of games: 1
First game: August 7, 2021 (Erie SeaWolves 7, Harrisburg Senators 0)

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

I read about Harrisburg’s City Island, the location in the middle of the Susquehanna River where FNB Field sits, well before

this trip. And I learned about the mini-golf on the island not long before departing on our long drive from Cleveland that morning (with Steven on his 12-year-old trip). What I did NOT realize was that the game was at 6:10 rather than 7:10. So when we got to the island, we were left with a choice: mini-golf or get in line for a Ryan Zimmermann bobblehead? We went with mini-golf. Steven would like for me to report (inaccurately) that he beat me by 27,000 strokes.

That island is what set the tone for the day at the ballpark, and it was quite delightful. There’s a carnival atmosphere (trains,

golf, lovely view of the Harrisburg skyline across the river) that feels right for a night at a minor league ballgame. It is hard not to be sucked into having a good time on that island.

The feeling continues when we are on the inside of the ballpark. Like its league-mate Reading up the road, home of what is (as of this writing) my favorite ballpark in the minor leagues, Harrisburg understands the local baseball history angle. While

they weren’t quite as thorough as Reading, they don’t fall short by much. Throughout the ballpark, it’s easy to see commemorations of past Harrisburg players who have gone on to hit it big. The biggest honor, a bobblehead, was being bestowed to Zimmermann that night, and it was cool to see an area on the concourse with life-size versions of past bobbleheads, including Stephen Strasburg (on whom I zoom in here to show detail):

Meanwhile, the game was presented wonderfully. The sound person was on point. I followed along with the walkup music for Erie’s catcher, number 9, Brady Policelli. His first at bat was announced by the opening to the Beatles’ “Revolution #9.”

“Number nine…number nine…” I happen to know that my wife used this exact clip to introduce opponents wearing #9 when she worked for the Tri-City Dust Devils. Next time up: verse two of the theme from The Brady Bunch. Yep: he’s a man named Brady. And his next at bat: “The Dream Police” by Cheap Trick. This person hit the trifecta! I like playing games like that with the music for the opposition: the “why did we pick this song” game. It’s a kick.

The people around us were cool too. Steven ran up to get a snack or chase down the mascot or some such when a foul ball hit the press box, bounced off the arm of a chair on the section next to mine, then rolled, almost to a stop, next to me, where

Steven’s seat would have been. I didn’t have to move: I just bent down to pick the ball up. A woman across the way walked over and said “That’s great–you’ve got one for your kid!” I was glad she noticed: she had no reason to notice Steven was wandering away.

The overall setup of this ballpark was nice: walk-aroundable concourse, tons of people attending (that might have been the bobblehead night), and everyone having a great time even during a 7-0 loss. Double-A ball doesn’t hurt, either. I am wondering if this atmosphere is throughout the Eastern League (oh, excuse me, I mean “Double A Northeast”). If so, I may have to hit every park. Between Altoona, Reading, and Harrisburg, they sure seem to have this whole minor league spectacle-while-respecting-baseball thing figured out.

So, well done, Harrisburg.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel: 8.5/10 Great on the outside, okay on the inside.

Charm: 4/5 Cool stuff throughout, and a carnival atmosphere. 

Spectacle: 5/5 Packed to the gills with stuff that never interfered with the game. Audio person was really bringing the A game tonight. 

Team mascot/name: 3.5/5 Grrrounder. Team name was nice, but Steven reports that he didn’t know how to give a high five.

Aesthetics: 1.5/5. The only major complaint I have about this place is that it’s kinda unattractive when viewed from the outside, and kinda antiseptic-looking on the inside.

Pavilion area 5/5. Lots of activity and the ability to see the game from almost anywhere. 

Scoreability 1.5/5 A pretty severe error with incorrect lineups on the video screen and/or the checking–not corrected until the third inning. It messed up my book a bit. 

Fans 5/5. A fan told Steven he dropped his wallet. That’s really nice. 

Intangibles: 4.5/5. Great stuff here throughout–love the atmosphere and the nice day. 

TOTAL: 38.5/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

Two home runs by Josh Lester lead the SeaWolves’ attack. Riley Greene and Kerry Carpenter also go deep for Erie.

Top prospect Spencer Torkelson walks twice and strikes out thrice.

Beau Briske and Chavez Fernander combine for the shutout.

The only highlight for Harrisburg is Donovan Casey at the bat. He has two hits.

Written August 2021.

Classic Park, Eastlake, OHIO

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lakecountyinprogressClassic Park, Eastlake, OHIO

Number of states: still 38
To go: 12
Number of games: 1
First game: August 5, 2021 (Lake County Captains 5, Lansing Lugnuts 1)

 

After the plane trip from hell (took nearly two days, one cancelled flight and one delayed by six hours, two missed baseball

games (replaced by one in the city we weren’t supposed to be in), Steven and I were back on track for his 12-year-old trip. We spent a full day at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, where my kid’s love of classic bands sprung forth. And then we zipped out east through not-too-bad traffic to get to Cleveland’s eastern suburbs–the 440, as they call it, to settle into a night of high-A baseball.

Not surprisingly, we were in the middle of nondescript suburbs, but the setting of this park sort of took the worst parts of suburbia rather than the best. I sort of like ballpark-in-regular-neighborhood: I grooved on this in Batavia and Idaho Falls, for instance. But somehow, Classic Park (named for an auto dealership) manages to take all of the negatives of suburbia. The views…are as blah as anywhere in baseball. One whose eyes wander past the outfield walls during the game will be rewarded with not lakes or skylines, but with the backs of strip malls. The backs. With the loading docks and alleys and…nothing. Nothing worth looking at. Even from the outside, the ballpark blends into a nearby business. Steven and I did like the adjacent field for adaptive baseball: kind of cool. But as far as setting…this one didn’t do much for me.

First impressions are important, and for whatever reason, we kept running into parents being less-than-good with their kids.

In the parking lot, there was a dad who was shouting to a nine-year-old-or-so, “I don’t want to hear this from you!” I want to be gentle with a parent having a bad day: Lord knows I’m not perfect. But I could see my kid recoil a little bit, as I did. And I could see the nine-year-old NOT reacting to his parent: apparently this happens all the time. Steven did tell me that I have never been more than 80% as mad as that guy. So that’s a thing. Unfortunately, this continued into the park. One of the Little League teams and their coaches were perched in the suite above us. Again, I get that kids can move around a bit. But the coach shouting “Sit down and cheer!” felt…um…like a guy who’s never around school-aged boys. They move. And if you’re blessed enough to be in a suite where they won’t get in anyone’s way, you deal with it.

Speaking of kids getting in anyone’s way, about a half dozen of them parked in the aisle, between our front-row seats and home plate. I could still see if I leaned way forward. I didn’t think it was worth telling all of the parents to get their kids out of there–again, trying to practice grace–but it did bug me. 

The folks working for the Captains were all sweet and kind and small-town family vibing. Promotions were okay–with one notable exception. Every time a Lugnuts batter struck out, we were treated to a sound. This is not uncommon in the minor league world, but this is the only time I had to hear a flushing toilet. They played a flushing toilet. The Captains had a fantastic couple of pitchers who kept missing bats, so I kept hearing a toilet flushing, followed by a blurb advertising a local plumber. I didn’t want to keep hearing this. To be fair, with a 12-year-old, we managed to have it get funnier every time. Someone was having really bad intestinal trouble to keep having to flush like that. So, in the promotions department, this one didn’t do much for me.

At baseball games, we tend to feed ourselves before the game and then enjoy a fifth-inning treat. Steven wanted to recommend the two scoops of Buckeye ice cream, which were fantastic. (The saleswoman, he reports, didn’t know what Buckeye ice cream was–so score one for Steven taking the risk.) And Steven’s jalapeno burger made his eyes water with spiciness–he was a big fan of that. Ah…I remember the days when I could do that kind of thing, too. Enjoy it while you can, kid.

The announced attendance was 1,832, but I think the actual bodies in the park were about a third of that. It was quiet, save a few angry parents and coaches and the handful of kids in front of me. But there were also wonderful people. One gave Steven an extra baseball he had before taking off in the sixth inning. (He was a good dude, though, asking me for how I’d score a few plays.) And then the Lugnuts’ center fielder, Lester Madden, Jr., tossed Steven a ball as he ran off the field. So a good night. And Steven won a major award! Jose Tena of the Captains hit a home run, and Steven’s name was drawn from the (very few) entries in a contest. He got a pretty dope backpack with some nice pens, golf colored pencils (who knew this was a thing?), and a mouse pad. So we left the ballpark with a fair amount of swag.

In the end, this ballpark won’t score well. But it hardly matters when you have nice people around you and you’re back on schedule for your 12-year-old trip. 

BALLPARK SCORE:lakecountysign

Regional feel: 5/10

I liked the 440 T-shirts and the local advertising and food (“Lake effect ice cream”…love that name). And the lighthouse in center field was pretty cool for a town on Lake Erie. But overall, this didn’t feel like I was in a specific place.

Charm: 2.5/5

The backs of a strip mall are not charming. Only kind people bumped up this score.

Spectacle: 2/5 

When a big chunk of your spectacle involves a flushing toilet sound, you’re in trouble.

Team mascot/name: 5/5 

The mascot, Skipper, was fabulous. We joked around a ton as he honked his weird wrist-horn. It was a joy just to kibitz with him. And the name is just about perfect for a team by a lake–the center field lighthouse is especially nice.

lakecountylighthouse

Aesthetics: 2/5

Bad on the inside and on the outside…it just wasn’t an attractive place.

Pavilion area 3/5

On the one hand, I could walk around the entire park and could see the game the whole time. On the other hand, we had the saddest play area I have ever seen in a ballpark. Deflated bouncy houses that were never inflated. (“Luckily there were no kids in there when they deflated it,” Steven points out.)

Scoreability 4/5

The Captains were quite good here, catching everybody’s names and scoring decisions (except for missing one pitcher).

Fans 2/5

Very few of them, and a couple of yelly coaches and dads. One nice parent, but so many kids in front of me.

Intangibles: 4/5

Some parts of this night were a drag, but I’ll remember the one-one-one time with my eldest kid, as well as his getting two baseballs and winning a promotion.

TOTAL: 29.5/50

BASEBALL STUFF I SAW HERE:

Captains’ pitchers were the stars, with four of them (first-round pick Tanner Burns, Jared Janczak, Nick Gallagher, and Kevin Kelly combining on a two-hitter. They combine for 13 strikeouts, which creates 13 toilet-flushing sounds over the PA.

Jordan Diaz homers for the Lugnuts. Jose Tena drives in three for the Captains, including a home run which gives my kid some swag.

Written August 2021.

The Hangar, Lancaster, California

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Number of states: still 38
States to go: 12

Number of games: 1

First game: July 11, 2019 (Lancaster JetHawks 11, Stockton Ports 10)

 

First, let’s give credit to a guy who saved my family’s bacon on this day, and let’s give some shame to a guy who showed an astonishing lack of empathy.

Family spent the morning of this game poking around Sequoia National Park (recommended), and then shot down I-5 on our way to Lancaster for the game. We stopped at the Shell station in Gorman, California to top off the tank. Put in our five gallons and then got prepared for the last half hour of drive to Lancaster.

Wife turns key. Nothing.

Wife turns key again. Nothing.

I got myself ready for what might happen next. Starter out. A tow. A crapload of money. We miss a game or two or three. We miss the Grand Canyon. The kids are disappointed. The trip is ruined.

I headed inside the Shell station.

Does he have any contacts for any mechanics?

No. Do you have Triple A?

No.  You don’t know even one mechanic in town?

I don’t know any. Are you on pump 3 or pump 7?

That’s us at pump 7. [Points at car, which has wife and kids inside]. Do you have a phone book?

No. I can’t help you.

It is 97 degrees outside and our car won’t start.

I consider going to the McDonalds across the street, but first try my phone. It has just a sliver of coverage, so I am able to Google “Mechanic Gorman California.” I call the guy. He says he will be there in 5 minutes.

He is there in 2.  Turns out we just need a jump.  He gives it to us.  Then he asks us to follow him to his shop.

Incredibly, the shop is just on the other side of the McDonalds. 

I could have thrown a rock from our car and hit this mechanic, and the guy at Shell claimed not to know any mechanics in town.

Our friend (tactfully, avoiding names) said that he had used to work for the guy at Shell, but that he didn’t feel he was treated well, so he started his own shop and drove the Shell’s mechanic shop out of business, and that the man I saw wouldn’t refer anyone to him. He asked for $45. I gave him $50 and demanded

he not give me change.

Kudos to Alex Saenz at ATG Automotive next to the McDonalds off the interstate in Gorman. If you live near there and have a car, go there! He is a good guy whose goal is to help people.

And if you are the guy at Shell and are reading this, you might mull over how you became a person who rather strand a family with two children in a remote location on a 97 degree day rather than say “There’s a shop over there. You can easily walk there.”  Think about whether that’s who you want to be.

Anyhoo. Thanks to Alex, we got to the Hangar (great name!) in plenty of time for the game. And when I got there, I found a nice little ballpark with plenty of quirks.

First, I noticed a stiff, stiff wind headed out to right field: it was pretty much always easy to view

each of the 50 stars on the flag above the field. “Gonna be a ton of homers tonight,” I thought.  I later asked an usher about those winds: whether they were common. “Not all the time,” he said. “Just 90 percent of the time.”

The name JetHawks is fantastic, and refers to the aviation associated with the area. They have made planes for years, including the NASA plane displayed outside the home plate entrance. (Indeed, only as I drove off through the desert outside the ballpark on my way out did I connect Edwards Air Force Base with Space Shuttle landings.)  And they consistently ride the theme through the park, from the mascot to the hangar-like area to eat: it was charming.

It was a bit of a quiet night attendance-wise, with lots of empty seats that became more numerous over the course of a nearly-four hour game. Visiting Stockton took an early big lead: up 8-1. “Remember that no lead is safe in this ballpark,” said the

radio guy, whose voice echoed through the bathroom. I thought that was optimistic.

My own kids continued to have a great time through the blowout innings, each in their own ways.

Aaron talked to kids he had met in the play area like they were decades-long buddies. He told them about our trip, about the ballparks and national parks we had seen, about where we were headed, about school, about his favorite YouTubers…just

over and over again. This is very much not my personality, and it’s cool to see some recessive genes come through in the kid.

Steven, meanwhile, decided it was time to do some ballhawking. He headed up to the concourse and stood there waiting for foul balls. But, because he is a lover of scoring and math, he’d run down to our seat in front of the dugout between every single batter to write down the result in his scorebook. He’d then run back up to try to catch a foul ball. Nothing came close to him, although he tried to chase down most

balls that fell within 100 yards of him.  Still, he got in at least 20,000 steps in those last few innings running up and down the aisle.

And then…

Steven was leaving his seat after marking down a batter in his scorebook in the 8th inning when I noticed a player in the Ports’ dugout ahead of us. He had a ball. He was looking around for a kid to throw it to.

My kid was there.  And he was oblivious.

“Steven!” my wife and I shouted. “Look!  He wants to throw you a ball!”

Steven looked, and the player threw him the ball.  I thanked the player. We waved. The game continued.

I was curious who the player was: I like thanking guys in Instagram or Twitter when they’re nice to my kids (might be the only worthwhile thing about Twitter). So I got out the phone and checked player photos…

and whattaya know, the player who threw the ball was a major leaguer on rehab. Sean Manaea. When Steven found he had been thrown a ball by a major leaguer, he beamed. That’s what it’s all about.

Apropos of nothing: the bathrooms were beautiful.  Check it out.

In the parenting department: A ton of angry drunks at the ballpark on this Thursday night (discounted beer, you know). They were shouting at the umpire for any reason and no reason. My younger kid has a strong sense of justice, and shouted back from his seat.

“What do you mean? He was safe! Totally safe!”  (He was, by the way.) Teachable moment: Michelle and I told Aaron that he wouldn’t be convincing the angry drunks of much on this night, and it was best to let it go. He did: give credit to him.

Incidentally, that bit about no lead being safe?  Turns out it was true. Lancaster came back to win 11-10. Three home runs and a walk-off sacrifice fly. One of the more interesting ballgames I will see. That’s why they call it the launching pad.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel: 6.5/10. Loved all they did with the airplanes, but this came up short in other areas. Hard to say where we were from the seating bowl (just a highway heading past right field, which also meant traffic noise infiltrated the game). 

Charm: 2.5/5.  This felt like many other ballparks: not much to make it stand out.

Spectacle: 3/5.  Well done: didn’t overdo it.

Team mascot/name: 4.5/5.  Really great once I understood the local background. Here’s my younger kid with KaBoom.

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Aesthetics: 3/5.  Pretty, but in the same way other parks are pretty. The highway didn’t help.

Pavilion: 2/5. Not much going on: lots of grass, and it’s impossible to walk around the park.

Scoreability: 2/5.  Didn’t do much. Missed some key WP/PB decisions. I had to guess.

Fans: 2/5. Some delightful young fans who played with my younger kid, but the overall environment was drunk and surly (it was Thursday night, of course).

Intangibles: 4/5.  A lot going for it here. Saved by a fabulous mechanic to get to the game, and then saw a massive comeback. Plus a major-leaguer threw my kid a ball.

TOTAL 29/50

BASEBALL STUFF I SAW HERE:

Austin Bernard hits a two-run home run in addition to a walk-off sacrifice fly. Ramon Marcelino also has 4 RBI including a 3-run homer.

Ryan Grdley goes 3-for-4 with two doubles for the Ports.

Written July 2019.

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.

Coolray Field, Lawrenceville, Georgia

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Coolray Field, Lawrenceville, GEORGIA

Number of states: still 38
States to go: 12
First game: August 19, 2018 (Buffalo Bisons 4, Gwinnett Stripers 2)

 

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

I splurged for our game at Coolray Field, getting the box seats immediately behind home plate that included free food before the game. Turned out to be a really good idea, too, since it was, I believe, about a bazillion degrees with ten thousand percent

humidity that afternoon. (81 degrees and overcast, the box score says).  Hot dogs and chips and water: it was a fine pre-game meal that meant we could stay in air conditioning until the game began.

Of course, I did my traditional circumnavigation of the ballpark before all that, and found a highly unusual setting for a ballpark. Right past the right field line: an apartment building. Had I been so inclined, I could have tossed popcorn into the pool. Pretty good view of the park from the upper floors, too: if ever I move to the northeastern suburbs and exurbs

of Atlanta, perhaps I will select one of those apartments in which to live. 

The apartments lay out a critical issue with the ballpark, however, and it is the same issue that I had with SunTrust Park: the antiseptic nature of the location. This ballpark is both everywhere and nowhere. To get there, we drove past strip malls and

housing developments that could have been any neighborhood outside of any city. And we drove for a long, long time: highways and arterial roads that kept finding more neighborhoods and more strip malls. Finally: the ballpark.

The ballpark didn’t have much going on in the way of local color that I noticed anyway: I appreciated the Braves pictures down in the air conditioned room that we paid top dollar for, but beyond that, this was a pretty low fail in the “do you have any idea where you are” test. And not only did we have no idea where we are, but people didn’t seem to know where the

ballpark was, either. Only 1,667 came out to watch Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. visit on a Sunday afternoon. Yeah, it was hot, and yeah, it’s a church afternoon. But I suspect that even the biggest fans in Atlanta (minus these 1,667) just didn’t want to drive all the way out there, especially with a simultaneous Braves game in a different antiseptic suburb.

Fun afternoon for us, though. I do enjoy being in the front row. Although I didn’t factor in that Bisons’ players would be

blocking out view from time to time, I still loved the proximity to the play, and the ability to hear conversations between players (the silence of the many empty seats aided with that). Matt even struck up a conversation with a Bisons’ player: I think it was Dwight Smith, Jr.. Matt asked him if Buffalo was cold. Smith’s answer: not so bad in the summer. Hell, I didn’t need a AAA ballplayer to tell me that.

But I still am impressed with how regularly Matt can strike up conversations with strangers. I recall his discussion with

one of the workers in the air-conditioned palace. She mentioned how she was a teachers’ aid, and that this was her second job, and that she still was struggling to make ends meet because of health care costs. How Matt manages to elicit that so easily, and then make her feel his concern, and all within a literal minute: well, I’d like to bottle it up.

My conversations were not nearly as important or, I have to admit, even as verbal. But my conversation was with Vlad.  He headed into the on-deck circle in the first inning, and this transpired:

ME: [makes eye contact]
VLAD: [does not back down from eye contact]
ME: [lifts chin quickly, the international sign for “what’s up”]
VLAD: [also lifts chin quickly]

That’s right: I was acknowledged by one Vladimir Guerrero, Junior. He was batting .345 with an OPS over 1.000 when this happened, and I believe his average went up thereafter (although not in this game). I hope he remembers me. In fact, I am confident

he does. When he gives his Hall of Fame acceptance speech about a quarter of a century from now, do not be surprised when he mentions this moment.

Shout out to the young woman from Saskatchewan, whose name I have forgotten, who was seated next to us and put up with our foolishness. She was a long way from home, but sets aside a trip to ballparks every year so she can take photographs. I hope that she had some really good ones from this hot, hot day.

In summation:  fun day.  Dull ballpark.

BALLPARK SCORE:

REGIONAL FEEL:  3/10.  I guess I can give some points for hot and humid, but there truly wasn’t much going on here that said “Georgia” outside of a few photos in the air conditioned room.

CHARM: 2/5.  Felt like a hotel lobby: clean, clear, locationless.

SPECTACLE: 4.5/5.  Nice here. Not much except for families throwing the ball around on the field prior to the game. Good and quiet: appropriate for triple-A ball.

TEAM MASCOT/NAME: 3.5/5

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Love the name Stripers (it’s a fish). Very appropriate, and I bought a hat: which I don’t often do on these trips. The mascot, Chopper, I am less sure about. Turns out he’s a groundhog, but I had to check his Twitter feed to learn that. There, I no longer feel the connection. Feels right if the team moves to Punxatawney, though.

AESTHETICS: 2.5/5

Meh.

PAVILION AREA 3.5/5

I remember that walk around the park, and how long it was: often a ways back from the park. Not much going on in the way of history or exhibits that I remember, though.

SCOREABILITY: 4.5/5

No issues here, although no real challenges, either.

FANS 2/5

Points for my Canadian friend, but where was everyone else?

INTANGIBLES:  3.5/5

Thanks, Vlad!  Quality play brought this up a bit, but miserable heat brought it down.

TOTAL: 29/50

BASEBALL STUFF I SAW HERE:

Decent pitchers’ duel between Kyle Wright and Mike Hauschild brings us to the 8th. There, the Bisons’ Jonathan Davis homers to untie the score. Reese McGuire then scored Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. on a single to tack on a run. 

Two hits and an RBI for Sean Kazmar, whom I had last seen 8 years earlier as a Portland Beaver.

 

Written June 2019.

Regions Field, Birmingham, Alabama

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Regions Field, Birmingham, ALABAMA

State number: 38
States to go: 12
First game:  August 18, 2018 (Tennessee Smokies 2, Birmingham Barons 1)

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

As I have said before, Double-A baseball is my favorite league to watch besides the majors. These are the players that the

team takes seriously for the future. They tend to be younger than triple-A players, who are mostly just spare parts for the major leaguers.  You still might see a mistake or two, but on the whole, this is where things start to get exciting in the narrative of a ballplayer making his way to the top.

And on a night like this, with a pair of friends and a pitchers’ duel, well, things are delightful.

The ballpark itself is in a sort-of no-man’s-land as far as location: it’s not exactly a downtown ballpark, but just a little away from it. It allows for some pretty decent views of downtown from the right-field foul pole, but the view is nondescript

overall. The architecture is unlike that of most ballparks I have known. From the outside, it’d be hard to tell if the building was a ballpark or a convention center of some sort: it’s just a big box with the word “Birmingham” on it. So I feel like this should score a little low on the “is there any question where you are” test. 

But then again…I’m afraid I missed the Southern Negro League Museum, just a block away. I don’t regret missing that, since

we spent our day in Montgomery, which was astonishing. (If you are within a day’s drive of Montgomery, ever, go to the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, known in shorthand as the “lynching memorial.” It was one of the most searing and impactful experiences of my life.)  But I do wish I’d known it was there. Learning about the Birmingham Black Barons before watching the Birmingham Barons would have been a good doubleheader.

On the inside, the place felt a little bit worn. There was a little bit of trash around, and more closed concession stands than I felt like the (decent) crowd merited. I did chat with a few college-aged folks about their experience working

there, and they seemed nice enough, but I felt like there were some holes in this evening.

There were some nice spots. I liked the train car that was a part of the decor: as I recall, it was a spot where there was a party of some sort. The railroad is a critical part of the history of the South, and also of the integration of baseball: I’ve heard stories of African-American porters serving ballteams with the earliest Black players on them with particular joy and attention. So that was a cool step.

I wonder if anyone else was a little weirded out by the fact that the largest picture of a past Baron was…Michael Jordan.  I can’t remember any of the others, in fact.  We’ve got Willie Mays, Satchel Paige, Rollie Fingers, Burleigh Grimes, Reggie Jackson, and Frank Thomas who were either Barons or Black Barons, and Jordan is towering over all of them. Jordan’s

year in minor league baseball is a fascinating story (loved the ESPN documentary on it, Jordan Rides the Bus), but it’s a bit of a curiosity, and I’m not sure it merited such a disproportionate bit of real estate, given the Hall of Famers who could have been there.

That said, it’s the game I will remember from this night. There’s nothing like a rapid pitchers’ duel–this one clocked in at just over two hours–where any baserunner could be the most important baserunner. Don’t get me wrong: I like baseball, and don’t have an issue with a long game. But when I’m hanging with friends, there’s also room for a short one, crisply played, with a beginning, middle, and an end in the books in time for us to get in a ton of word games at the hotel.

So a park that didn’t grab me, but a fine night nonetheless.

BALLPARK SCORE:

REGIONAL FEEL:  6/10.  Mixed. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt for the adjacent museum.

CHARM:  2/5.  Felt strangely both not-old but run-down.

SPECTACLE: 4/5.  I remember a quiet night. Yes, there were some dancing and singing workers who I enjoyed talking to, but it was quiet–which I like for double-A ball.

TEAM MASCOT/NAME:  4/5. 

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Can’t argue with a name that has endured for a century. Babe Ruff (pictured with me here) is a fine pun, but not locally appropriate as a name. A Google search tells me that Babe did play in Birmingham on some exhibitions, but I don’t know that I’d say that’s enough of a connection.  Maybe Willie Bays would have been better?

 

AESTHETICS: 2/5.  Didn’t find this place attractive from the outside. Didn’t do much for me on the inside, either.

PAVILION AREA:  3/5.  Some highlights here, including the nice view of downtown.

 

SCOREABILITY:  4/5. 

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Easy game to score. Didn’t notice any issues as I went.

FANS 3.5/5.  Some nice people and fine workers.

INTANGIBLES 3.5/5.  In scoring this, I realize that the quality of the game itself always trumps the quality of the ballpark, so Birmingham lucked into a couple of points here they may have missed otherwise.

TOTAL:  33/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:  Birmingham’s Kodi Madeiros lasts eight innigns, giving up only five hits and a run through 8 innings. Duncan Robinson and three relievers combine for a three-hitter, however, striking out nine. Tennessee pushes across an unearned run in the ninth on a two-base error and what runed out to be the game-winning single by catcher P.J. Higgins.

Birmingham’s Luis Basabe is the only player with a multi-hit game, going two-for-two. He also reached on a walk and was hit by a pitch, stole a base, and scored the Barons’ only run.

Allen Webster nails down the save.

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Written June 2019.

 

Fluor Field, Greenville, South Carolina

WE’RE MOVING!

This page will only be here through 6/29, but I am saving these (and adding new parks as I see them) here, at paulsballparks.substack.com. See you on the other side!

 

greenvilleinprogress

Fluor Field, Greenville, SOUTH CAROLINA

Number of states: still 37
States to go: 13

First game: August 16, 2018 (Greenville Drive 4, Greensboro Grasshoppers 2)

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

First, my I file a complaint?  Thank you. Here is my complaint.

The otherwise-fine folks at the Greenville Drive would not allow me to bring in a camera case. And I was lugging along a fairly pricey camera.  Grrr.   So we headed back to the hotel and left the case, compelling me to hang the camera around my neck all night long. We sat in our seats, right behind the dugout, and I placed the camera in front of me. I was told not to put the camera on the dugout. I get why not: they have mascots and cheerleaders running down the dugout the whole night long. But

sheesh: this meant my only choice while seated was to put the camera on the ground, on a grate.  Thankfully, it was dry, but a spilled beer anywhere behind me would have endangered the camera. Dumb rules. When I asked why I wasn’t allowed a camera case, the usher said “That’s the way they’re doing it anywhere.” Really?  I told her I’d been to many, many minor league ballparks all around the country and none barred camera cases.  

Complaint over.  Because, outside of this complaint, the night was lovely.

Fluor Field bathes in baseball. Right across the street, Shoeless Joe Jackson’s boyhood home beckons: only open briefly during the week, or I’d have walked inside. As it is, I just liked that it a foul ball with a few bounces from home plate. 

. Inside the park, the Drive (nice baseball name, too!) celebrate baseball history…mostly baseball history. Typically, this annoys me in minor league ballparks, and the Drive laid on the Red Sox stuff awfully heavy: the gift shop felt more like Fenway Park than Fluor Field.  

But…then again…Fenway is my favorite park. And the Drive pull off their goal nicely.

First, and most obviously, we have what I’ll call the Minor-league Monster.  It’s well done. It, like in Boston, is 310 feet down the line.  It, like Boston, has seating upon it.  Unlike Boston, however, they would let me up onto it to take some photos (I’ve never tried that at Fenway, to be fair, since my only visit predates the Monster seats, but still, I suspect greenvillemonsterI’d need the right ticket to get up there). And if a little cloying imitation is what I require in order to get the look from up there, well, I can accept that.

The Drive were celebrating Carolina Panther night while I was there, with mascots and cheerleaders from the Panthers hanging out on the concourse and cheering during the game. Free T-shirts! I liked the locality of it all, even if the locality was football related (giant Panthers drum!). And the locality was awfully nice on its own. I knew absolutely nothing about Greenville coming in, but found it to be a delightful town with a lovely downtown and a pretty cool sports bar to catch some afternoon games before ours. 

Just something Southern about the evening: the syrupy air, the warmth, the cheerleaders, the voices around me. It was easy to slip into a fine night of baseball with an old friend and chill out. I got over my annoyance. Good job, team.

 

 

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional Feel: 7.5/10. 

A pretty high score considering how much the deep South imitated New England. But the local feel found ways to slip in, like a flood through sidewalk cracks. I was even cool with the Panther-themed duds.

Charm 4/5

Fenway gets a 5/5, so this place gets a one less than that because it’s an imitation.

Spectacle: 4.5/5

I don’t have any specific memories of promotions, etc. beyond the Panthers, but liked the feel of the whole night.

Team mascot/name: 3.5/5

Apparently this guy is named Reedy Rip’it the Frog.  He’s fine. The team name, Drive, is simple and beautiful.

Aesthetics: 4/5

See “Regional Feel” above.  It’s lovely, but it’s stolen (with permission) lovely.

Pavilion area: 4/5

Lots of room to roam, especially by the foul poles.  Couldn’t walk around (the monster in the way), but the monster itself is cool.

Scoreability: 4/5

While the choice to put “One Carolina” instead of names on the players’ backs was noble and symbolically nice, it did slow down scoring a bit.  It prevented a perfect score from the WONDERFUL and free game notes and pre-printed scorecard (never seen one of those before) they passed out. Umpire names!

Fans: 4/5

Nice people around us.

Intangibles: 3/5

Bumpy start hurt this one–but there were way more good moments than bad on this night.  Fabulous ballpark.

OVERALL 38.5/50

BASEBALL STUFF I SAW HERE:

Enmanuel de Jesus with strong pitching for the Drive, striking out 10 over 7 innings and picking up the win.

Thomas Jones’ RBI single tied the game in the third for Greensboro. Zach Sterry’s 6th inning homer broke the tie and ended the scoring for the Drive.

Written May 2019.