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Hammons Field, Springfield, Missouri

Hammons Field, Springfield, MISSOURI

Number of states: 26
States to go: 24

Number of games:  1
First game:  April 3, 2008 (Frisco RoughRiders 6, Springfield Cardinals 5)

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

I’d never been to the Ozarks before when I arrived for the 2008 Spring Break Trip. 

Michelle and I spent the night in Branson–no shows, since we got in too late, but long enough to get the sense that we brought the average age of the town down by about a decade.  We tooled around mountains and caves for a few days before doing Opening Day 2008 at Hammons Field.  Results were decidedly mixed.

First of all, as you can probably tell, the place is physically quite lovely.  It’s faced in the wrong direction–downtown is behind home

plate–but there’s nice flat prairie beyond the outfield and a Budweiser sign, which means that Hammons Field does well on the regional feel test.  They rolled out the red carpet to start out the year, putting each player in a red pickup truck and driving them around the parking lot of a grand beginning.  The ballpark is new, and Springfield only recently regained affiliated ball, so it’s pretty clear that they’re proud of their ballclub.

But in the end, there were too many problems to be ignored.  Most jarringly, where were all the fans?  Forecasts were grim–I’m surprised that they got the game in, actually–but the rain did hold off, and it was Opening Night, for goodness sake.  Second, when it did rain (for about two minutes in the third inning), a good chunk of people took off, and many others put up umbrellas.  It’s rude to put up umbrellas (there are people behind you, dammit), and

you can wait through the first few raindrops, can’t you?  Michelle and I did what they all should have done–waited a second, then found a dry seat in the back row, where we stayed through the rest of the (dry) night.

Second, we were pretty well astonished by the prices for double-A ball.  (Indeed, these prices might explain why so few people had shown up.)  Tickets were nearly twice as expensive as comparable ones cost us the following night in Little Rock, and

when the woman told me that a 22-ounce bottle of Sprite would cost me four bucks (I declined), I got the sense that the Cardinals thought that “big-time” meant nothing more than “really, really expensive.”  Heck, if memory serves, at Safeco Field I can get an entire vat of soda for about five bucks.  Why bleed your ticketholders dry, particularly during a recession?

Third, the place just didn’t celebrate baseball enough.  In the obligatory place-where-kids-can-run-around-and-burn-off-steam section, there was a basketball hoop and a pop-a-shot.  Nothing baseball related!  To be fair, when I think of basketball, I do think of Springfield.  The bad news is, I think of Springfield, Massachusetts.  I’m not sure why Hammons Field doesn’t have any baseball-related fun for the kids, but they don’t and it felt weird.

Finally, there was the strangeness of Team Louie.  A group of four nubile young women wore windbreakers that said “Team Louie” on the back.  I figured they’d be Louie the Mascot’s handlers, running around

with him and helping kids get to see him.  That didn’t happen, and so I was baffled as to the women’s purpose other than to be hot and young.  A quick internet search reveals that “a brief choreographed dance” is part of the tryout for team Louie.  So, alas, the women were glorified cheerleaders.  I don’t want my baseball teams to have cheerleaders.  They take away from the baseball.

There are certainly a few positives to the place.  The Cardinals have obviously succeeded in capturing the fans of this part of the state from the Royals–at least judging by the immense majority of spectators wearing red on this night.  There is a good, long walk that one can take almost all the way around the stadium–way out beyond the scoreboard and onto a grassy hill invisible

from the field where I encountered a good number of junior-high kids goosing each other.  The Cardinals were conscientious about scoring decisions on the scoreboard.  And the gorgeous clouds in a gigantic sky might be the number one memory I carry with me from this ballpark, as well as watching the fireworks they set off (clearly to celebrate Michelle’s birthday).

So, on the whole, it was a night at the ballpark, and it’s almost impossible for that night to be a bad one.  But when all was said and done, this gorgeous place left me wanting a little more.  Springfield is a little bit out of the way, so I don’t see myself returning any time soon, but I do hope they make Hammons Field into a baseball experience more worthy of the physical beauty of the ballpark.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel:  7/10
Budweiser, prairie, and Cardinal red.  The ballpark does fine here, although I’d like to see more about southwestern Missouri and less about St. Louis.

Charm:  2/5
Too corporate and expensive to be truly charming.

Spectacle:  3/5
OK for double-A level–nothing interfered–but what’s up with Team Louie?

Team mascot/name:  3.5/5


Louie on top, and Fetch, Louie’s pet dog, on the bottom.  I’m fine with Louie, but Fetch is a pretty transparent promotion aimed at the pre-potty-trained crowd.

Aesthetics:  3.5/5
Not bad, but the view is a little dull.

Pavilion area:  4/5
Would have been a five were it not for the basketball.

Scoreability:  4.5/5
I appreciate how carefully they put up decisions.

Fans:  2.5/5
Not enough of them.

Intangibles:  2.5/5
I’m totally ambivalent about this place, which, while pretty, left me feeling kind of flat.

TOTAL:  32.5/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

Matt Harrison–who the Rangers got in the offseason Mark Teixeira trade–pitches very well, striking out six in 5 2/3 innings of 4-hit, 1-run ball for Frisco.

Chris Davis has three hits for Frisco. Diminutive Shane Robinson collects three for Springfield.

(Written April 2008.)

[New] Busch Stadium

[New] Busch Stadium, St. Louis, MO

Number of games: 1
First game:  April 3, 2007 (Mets 4, Cardinals 1)

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

It’s done!  It’s over!  At the age of 36, I have officially seen a game at all of the major league baseball stadiums.  A moment for reflection, if you will indulge me…

When I first did a big baseball tour in 1993, I had no idea I’d eventually get to all the ballparks, or even want to.  It

was just a way to spend one summer.  But eventually, as I knocked off a few ballparks a year, the goal of making it to all the ballparks started to look attainable.  By the time I voluntarily flew to Puerto Rico to go to ballgames, I realized this was becoming one of the central frivolous activities of my life.  I was all set to finish off all the ballparks in the summer of 2006, but my St. Louis-born Cardinal-fan wife wouldn’t let me go to Busch without her.  So, with the wife in tow (and as a birthday present, no less…for her!), I crossed the last ballpark off the list.  I will try to get back to some of them if my travels take me to town, and I will go to new ballparks as they open, but not a lot of people can say what I could honestly say for the length of the 2007 baseball season:

I’ve been to all the ballparks.  (Yay me.)

The newest incarnation of Busch Stadium seems to be a bit of an afterthought to the late-nineties stadium boom.  To be honest, I was a little disappointed.  On the one hand, I don’t miss the old Busch…the last of the four awful cookie-cutters going

the way of the dinosaur isn’t worth any tears.  But surely a baseball town as good as St. Louis could make a new ballpark that is worthy of its rich history.  Surely St. Louis deserves a ballpark on the level of Jacobs Field, the Ballpark in Arlington, PNC Park, or Oriole Park.  I’m afraid that hasn’t happened here.

What was strange about the ballpark is that I greatly preferred the exterior to the interior.  Not so much the edifice itself, although I did like it–it incorporated locally-appropriate arches into the facade, and was a darker red than most other ballparks–but a lot of the touches that help with the is-there-any-question-where-you-are test were on the outside when I’d like at least a few of them on the inside.  Cardinals’ Hall of Famers were represented in sculpture near home plate.  The sculptures

were a bit small–I don’t mind a larger-than-life depiction.  But when the representation of Bob Gibson fails to elicit blood-curdling terror, well, the sculptor hasn’t done his/her job.  The Mini-Me version of Gibson just doesn’t intimidate like the guy I imagine in the 1967 World Series.  They’d have done well to hire the sculptor from Cincinnati, Milwaukee, or–my absolute favorite–the guy in Detroit.

Also outside, the Cardinals track critical moments in their history via plaques on the sidewalk.  Many, I knew about…some, I did not.  I’d have liked it to not be interrupted–the plaques are only on the west and east sides of the ballpark, and are interrupted by an empty stretch along the north side.  However, I still walked the whole way, reading every plaque.  I can’t help but be saddened by the number of plaques devoted to Mark McGwire’s 1998 season.  I called my dad to watch the 61st home run together, and it was a special moment.  But ever since his

performance in front of the Congressional committee, I can’t get myself to feel the same magic about that day or that year.  Yeah, I know there’s no proof, but emotions can be messed with that way.  It’s like a memory of a wonderful weekend with an ex-girlfriend…who I later learn was possibly cheating on me.  I just can’t make the memory beautiful anymore, and that’s why those McGwire plaques make me sad now.

On the north side of the ballpark, there are two other snippets of St. Louis baseball history–one beautiful, and one just confusing.

Beautiful was the tribute to Jack Buck.  A large section of wall is dedicated to his memory.  While the photos are nice–particularly the one of him with son Joe–the sound of his voice is easily what carries the day.  Buck’s voice is instantly recognizable to anyone who has ever listened to a baseball game, and the people of New Busch take advantage of that recognition by having tapes of some of his most famous calls on continuous loop there.  In the few minutes I lingered–and his calls make any

baseball fan want to linger–I heard Bob Forsch’s no-hitter and Mark McGwire’s 60th home run.  I can’t think of a better tribute.  I think it’s because I think it’s more common to see pictures of the dead than it is to listen to their voices.  He seems so much more alive this way.  I hope that Herb Carneal gets similar treatment in Minnesota, and that when their day comes–which I hope is a very long time from now–Vin Scully and Bob Sheppard as well.

On the sidewalk, there’s a strange painting of a yellow line with the number 402.  At first, I thought it was an extension of the foul line, with a notation of how long a home run that landed there would be.  Once I poked my head into the ballpark, however, this proved impossible–the yellow line seemed to be sticking out of center field of the new Busch.  That’s when

we made our next guess…it must be the outfield wall of the old Busch.  (That guess has been confirmed by fellow ballpark traveler Frank Albanese.)  Is it center field?  Left?  Is this the spot where I saw Andy Van Slyke break his collarbone, perhaps?  Or where Ozzie Smith’s NLCS home run left the yard?  I have no way of knowing.  There’s no label, no explanation…nada.  Just a line and a number.  I’m all for understated, but the old Busch deserves better.

Once I got inside Busch, I found a ballpark that I’d say is simply functional.  None of the history that I see in moments like the plaques or the Jack Buck tribute makes it inside the ballpark.  The best ballparks can both be functional and celebrate rich histories on the inside (Philadelphia comes to mind as an excellent example).  But there’s very little of that here.

Case in point:  I came upon an out-of-town scoreboard in the pavilion area.  “Look,” my wife said,

“the Mariners are tied up with Oakland!”  Indeed, my Mariners were playing Oakland that day, and the score showed a 3-3 tie.  It seemed strange to have the out-of-town scoreboard hidden behind an ice cream vendor and some girders, but different strokes, right?

But hold the phone…this couldn’t be right.  Didn’t the M’s game start later?  And what’s Felix Hernandez, #59, doing pitching two days in a row?  Is this score from yesterday?  Wait…the Angels aren’t playing the Rangers tonight!  What’s going on?

A few paces later, I saw a Cardinals/Reds scoreboard, and I figured it out.  This had to have been the out of town scoreboard as it appeared at the end of the last game at old Busch.  Again, like the yellow line outside, it was unexplained and

uncherished…it was just sort of thrown up there at a random place.  And again, old Busch deserved better.  Why not recreate what was on the board at a key moment in Cardinal history rather than the last day of the ’05 season?  And why not let passersby know what’s happening?

A little history was going on in front of us on this, the second night of the 2007 season:  the ’06 Cardinals were given their World Series rings.  In a nice touch, they gave their Hall of Famers World Series rings as well as the actual members of the championship team.  St. Louis deifies Stan Musial in the extreme, and even if love of sports stars feels a little idolatrous to me at times, there is something undeniably touching about such the unabashed love pouring down on an elderly man so frail that he needed help to walk out to claim his ring.  The feel-good moment continued when Scott Spiezio received his ring from his dad, Ed.  They are the only

father-son combination to win a World Series with the same club.  Love of the elderly, father-son hugs…what more could you want?  It was almost enough to make me forget Scott’s comically bad 2005 Mariner campaign.  Almost.

But the best part of the game, as always, were the Cardinal fans.  While I was a little disappointed in the number of them who left early, I can forgive it…it was a bitterly cold school night and a lackluster Cardinal performance.  But there’s something exciting about being in the middle of a sea of red.  Friendly Midwesterners chatted with us about our adventures, congratulated me on completing my set of parks, and talked about the team a little bit.  A relative of my wife even got us tickets for the day…and wouldn’t let us reimburse her!  With its downtown location and packed house, Busch creates the feel I like from Fenway of a carnival atmosphere for the ballgame, where everyone is excited and anticipating a great night while walking through the city.

Even so, I can’t help but think that Busch could have done much better.  It doesn’t quite celebrate the joy and history of such a great baseball town.  It’s just not quite enough.

And I should know.  I’ve been to all of the ballparks now.

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

Orlando Hernandez baffles the Cardinals with 7 innings of five-hit ball.  He also delivers a difference-making 2-RBI double.

Scott Rolen homers.

(Written August 2007.)

Kauffman Stadium

royals1

Image from www.baseballparks.com, all rights reserved. Used by permission.

Kauffman Stadium, Kansas City, MO

Number of games: 1
First game:  May 24, 1997 (Royals 11, Mariners 5)

I seldom hear Kauffman Stadium listed as one of the best or classic stadiums, and I don’t know why.  I think it’s a matter of age:  it’s a tweener.  Since it was built in the early 1970s, it’s not old enough to be old, and not new enough to be new.  I also think that the original decision to use Astroturf may have negatively impacted people’s perception on Kauffman as a “classic.”  Its location away from the coasts also doesn’t help matters.  But in my view Kauffman is one of the best ballparks out there.

Let’s start with the name.  Originally “Royals Stadium,” its name was changed to honor a dying owner of the team.  That’s much nicer than the corporate naming that has since become commonplace.  Funny how naming a place after a multimillionaire owner has actually become quaint.  Then come the views.  Just beyond the outfield walls, you’ve got grassy areas all around–not just as a hitters’ backdrop, but nearly from foul pole to foul pole.  That’s nice to see.  Beyond the park, you’ve got a fairly good look at some brown Midwestern prairies and trees.  One of my main stipulations differentiating between a good ballpark and a great one is that, when sitting in the ballpark, there should be no question about what part of the country you’re in.  Those prairies mark the place as Kansas City and the Midwest.  I admit I have a soft spot in my heart for the Midwest, and those prairies certainly are a bonus in my book.  I hope suburban sprawl doesn’t ruin that view, but I imagine it’s inevitable if the Kansas City area grows much more.

My Mariners were in Kansas City while I was visiting family in Missouri.  That provided a great excuse to do a little father/son ballpark bonding.  By the way–those of you who are out there trying to make it to all the stadiums, as I am–how many stadiums have you been to with your fathers or with your sons?  Dad and I have been to 8 different major league ballparks in 6 cities (plus a rainout at Camden Yards)  That’s a lot of coast-to-coast father/son bonding over my lifetime, and that certainly beats the hell out of a lot of other father/son combinations…especially considering we’ve not been trying to build up to a high number.  We’ve just lived in enough different places and traveled enough together to be in ballparks from Baltimore to Seattle, Detroit to Arlington.  At times like the time I was going through when I paid this visit to Missouri, when my days were cursed with stupid temp work, when I was going from feeling unjustly unappreciated to feeling justly unappreciated, when I was suffering from a general feeling that life was falling into an endless period of transition, it’s nice to know that I’ve got family that will take me in and take care of me, including a Dad who will drive two hours to pick me up at the airport and take me to a ballgame. Yeah, that’s Field of Dreams-level saccharine.  But it’s true, so deal.  Besides, you’re just jealous that you haven’t been to so many ballparks with your Dad.

This is the only baseball game I’ve ever been to where I’ve openly rooted for the visiting team.  Now I wouldn’t be stupid enough to wear Mariner gear to, say, Yankee Stadium, and I chose to remain silent even during the M’s playoff games I watched at Jacobs Field, but I figured that I’d be safe wearing an M’s cap to Kauffman for a weeknight game in May, and possibly even doing some limited vocal rooting.  Dad and I parked ourselves about 25 rows behind home plate and watched Jamie Moyer gamely fight for several innings before the terrible M’s bullpen blew it.  Yes, I rooted for the Mariners throughout a game that was close and exciting until the bullpen got involved.  But in spite of my enemy status, I was surrounded by some of the nicest people out there.  The guy next to me identified the Royals’ retired #10 that stumped me (Dick Howser).  He asked me some questions about living in Seattle and seemed genuinely interested in my answers.  He asked me questions about Mariner players (i.e. “Does that guy have any speed?”) and reciprocated by answering my questions about Royal players.  It wasn’t like we were engaged in constant conversation, but it’s nice to be in the Midwest where people are kind to you and assume that you will be kind to them in return.

There is a backlash to this kindness, of course…the fans aren’t nearly rowdy enough.  A good portion of the time is spent sitting very quietly, waiting to be impressed so they can clap politely.  It’s a good bet that this was the quietest major league ballpark I’ve ever been in, at least on a per-fan basis.  Only the pivotal grand slam got them shouting at any level of excitement–nothing in the close first 6 innings got them making any noise in joy or in anger.  You’re really nice people, Kansas City–but you can be both nice and raucous.

After the M’s bullpen let me down, after three hours of talking baseball and whatever else popped up with Dad, I drove him home, and, for the first time in my life, felt responsible for him.  He fell asleep in the passenger seat, and I had two hours of Interstate 70 to negotiate on the trip home–which would take us well past midnight.  For some reason, I felt like he looked older and more helpless than I’d ever seen.  Maybe it was just that he was asleep and I had to take care of him.  I turned up the stereo just a tiny bit, popped in a tape I liked, and quietly, intently sang every word to every song, making sure to stay awake, focusing every part of me on getting my sleeping Dad back home safely to Mom.

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

Craig Paquette hits two home runs, including a grand slam that gives the Royals the lead for good, 5-3, in the 6th inning.  Jamie Moyer pitched well until then–he was tired. Chili Davis was lucky to draw a walk on him before Paquette came to the plate, but nobody worth a dime was in that awful Mariner bullpen to replace him to face Paquette.  I nominate the 1997 Mariners as the worst pitching staff ever to win a division.  This in spite of some solid starters–Johnson, Moyer, Fassero.  The bullpen was absolutely cringe-worthy, and I have this game’s scoresheet to prove it.

(Written August 2001.  Updated October 2001.)

[Old] Busch Stadium


[Old] Busch Stadium, St. Louis, MO

Number of Games:  2
First game:  June 14, 1993 (Cardinals 8, Pirates 3)
Last game:  May 30, 1997 (Cardinals 2, Dodgers 1)

Busch Stadium was demolished after the 2005 season.

Busch Stadium is an argument for stadium improvements.  Between my first visit in 1993 and my most recent visit in 1997, they’d made some changes that made Busch less cookie-cutter and more interesting.  In 1993, Busch was more or less an exact copy of Riverfront, Three Rivers, and The Vet, except that Busch had those nice little arches around the rim.  Now, although it doesn’t have the charm of a baseball-only stadium, it feels a lot nicer…real grass, mostly, and the removal of a section of seats to put in retired players’ pennants.  (At least I think that was done since 1993.  And I like the idea of a player having his own pennant.  Feels right.)  And there are an awful lot of pennants up there, which reminds you of the rich baseball history in St. Louis.

Which is a lot of the point.  St. Louis has a reputation as a great baseball town.  As I recall, in the heat of the Mark McGwire business in 1998, Sports Illustrated called it the best baseball town in America (which, I assume, means in the world).  And my experience in St. Louis backs that up.  I like the feeling of a crowd getting riled up late in the count in a crucial situation, all the while maintaining that Midwestern politeness I like so much (St. Louis has figured it out–at a baseball game, you can be polite and loud at the same time).  I like the way the ballpark is hard by downtown and that you can see the Gateway Arch rising above the ballpark–it therefore passes the “is there any question what city you’re in” test.  I would be happy to call Busch my home park, and I hope there doesn’t come a day when the Cardinals’ brass decides to abandon Busch Stadium for something more cutting-edge that produces more revenue.  (2005:  Alas, that day has come since I wrote those words four years ago.)

Also, Busch Stadium seems to understand the “less is more” idea of ballgame entertainment.  I don’t remember being ordered to cheer so often as I have been at other ballparks.  And my favorite part of each game was the immediate aftermath…no PA guy saying “thank you for coming,” at least not

immediately, but right away–DiamondVision highlights with Jack Buck’s call.  No “We win!” foolishness on the scoreboard…just the plays you want to get a look at in case you don’t catch SportsCenter.  It’s obviously run by somebody who understands that baseball is the entertainment instead of some excuse to make a theme park.

It was there that I saw Tim Wakefield at the nadir of his career, which came exactly one season after his huge 1992 debut.  He had been moved to the bullpen because he was suddenly losing.  He came on in relief in a blowout loss.  His knuckleball wasn’t finding the plate, so hitters would wait on that 2-0 or 3-0 70-mile-an-hour fastball, and they’d hit it.  Still, even when they’re not doing well, I love watching knuckleballers.  You expect to see this Pedro Martinez-style delivery–WHOOSH!!–and instead you get…whush.  The ball seems to flutter even from a distance.  I also like knuckleballers because, for a non-athlete like me (the fastest I’ve ever thrown a baseball is about 58 miles an hour), the knuckleball would be my only chance to make the major leagues.  I don’t care how much I work out, my genetics will not allow me to hurl a baseball the 88 miles an hour it would take to be even a borderline major leaguer.  But a knuckler–well, it’s a non-athletic move that beats athletes.  I remember Steve Sparks saying in an interview how he would slow down his pitches, then slow them down again, to make a huge guy like Chili Davis look ridiculous.  He said something like:  “Chili gets frustrated because he knows he’s a way better athlete than I am, and he still can’t hit me.”  Which is a fantasy I’ve had since elementary school…the idea that brains could beat brawn on the playing field.  It can’t…brains-with-brawn beats just-brawn.  Except for knuckleballers like Sparks or Wakefield striking out massive weight-room-enhanced power hitters.

So, on the whole, I was sad to see this ballpark fade away after the 2005 season.  It was somewhat charmless, sure, but now that the four worst of the cookie-cutters (Busch, Three Rivers, Riverfront, and Veterans) have all gone the way of the dodo, I do miss the dullness of them somehow.  In many ways, it’s preferable to the theme parks, especially in a baseball town like St. Louis.  I bet I’ll like the new place, but since the multi-purpose cookie-cutters were the rule of my youth, with all their problems, I’ll miss them a little.  Sentimental and foolish?  Sure.  But true.

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

Andy Van Slyke, then a Pirate, broke his collarbone jumping for a catch at the center field wall.  The ball ricocheted off his glove and over the fence for a home run, and Van Slyke was out for most of the rest of the season.

I saw an awesome, awesome game–one of the best I’ve seen–in 1997.  Ramon Martinez and Andy Benes were in a pitchers’ duel, but each delivered the key hit for his team…Benes a drive to the wall for an RBI double, Martinez a lucky roller down the third-base line for a leadoff double…he eventually scored.  It was 1-1 on those plays until the bottom of the ninth, when Gary Gaetti almost hit a homer to win it…caught at the wall.  Then St. Louis loaded the bases, Los Angeles brought on Mark Guthrie to face Delino DeShields, and he walked him on four pitches to end the game.  A little bit of a letdown, but that actually only added to the game’s charm somehow.

(Written August 2001.  Updated December 2005.)