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Dickey-Stephens Park, Little Rock, Arkansas

Dickey-Stephens Park, Little Rock, ARKANSAS

Number of states: 27
States to go: 23

Number of games: 2
First game:  April 4, 2008 (Midland RockHounds 3, Arkansas Travelers 2, 10 innings)
Most recent game: April 5, 2008 (Midland RockHounds 2, Arkansas Travelers 1)

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

It was the best of parks, it was the worst of parks.  Michelle and I were both tremendous fans of Dickey-Stephens Park

pretty quickly.  Its location on the river and views of downtown (quite lovely…trust me, sit on the third-base side!) and even of the state capitol building (if you stand on the walkway in left-center field, crane your neck just so, and look out past the right-field foul pole), make for a lovely aesthetic experience.  And the Travelers Baseball Museum on site is precisely my favorite kind of thing to see.  Celebrations of Arkansas-area players and–be still my heart!–umpires abound.  Did you know that Bill Valentine umpired the 1965 All-Star Game?  Did you know that two recent Travelers who have pitched no-hitters–Jose Jimenez and Bud Smith–each went on to pitch a no-hitter as a rookie?  And that Bud Smith did it in spite of an incredibly unfortunate anagram for his name?  I love locally-oriented baseball museums.  I wish they hadn’t charged me a buck to get in there, especially since it’s less a museum and more a walk-in closet filled with memorabilia, but I still really enjoyed it.  The ballpark did very nicely in exuding Arkansas to me, and since my wife and I were fans of Little Rock as a city (recommended:

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a burger and shake at the Purple Cow), we liked that feeling.

In addition to the museum, there were a couple of other nice touches to the place.  The ballpark hasn’t (yet) pimped out its name to the highest bidder; indeed, it’s named after two sets of brothers who were instrumental in Arkansas baseball’s past.  (The “Dickeys” are baseball playing brother Skeeter and Hall-of-Famer Bill.)  As one approaches the ballpark, lampposts are festooned with shots of the Dickeys and the Stephenses from back in the day.  That’s wonderful.  Isn’t is sad that it’s now considered quaint and retro to have a stadium named after an owner?  But keep it.  The name might be verbose, but I like it. Additionally, the ballpark features a nice perk for its high-paying customers and groups who have the barbeque porch down the right-field line.  As people

eat there before the ballgame, they are positioned in a spot that the players walk through between the clubhouse and the field.  As such, all of the players and coaches on both teams have to walk through the barbeque area both before and after the game.  I can see where it would be a pain for players to have to walk through fans twice a day (as they do at High Desert), especially at the double-A level where legitimate rising stars might fight through decent-sized crowds.  So while I don’t usually like segregation by economic status at ballparks, I’m okay with groups having to pay for a shot at an autograph.  And I especially like the way that the players stood for what seemed to be a very long time signing.  (In the nearby photo, that’s Midland’s Tommy Everidge and an unidentified Traveler.)

But once the game got started, I’m afraid Dickey-Stephens Park had too many flaws in the way it presented the game to be ignored.  I’m always a fan of getting loads of information in my programs, etc.  At Dickey-Stephens Park, I learned that it’s far better to have no information than to have inaccurate information.  The scoreboard, the PA announcer (who had an awesome voice, by the way), and the uniform numbers never seemed to agree on who was at the plate.  Of course, if there were a pinch-hitter or other change, the PA guy took his sweet time letting us know, if he did at all.  There were ballplayers on the field who were not in the program, which, while acceptable on opening night, is not at all OK on the second and third nights in the program inserts, since they are printed out that day.  Net result:

in our efforts to score the games, Michelle and I came up very, very wanting in terms of good information.  They tried to keep track of players’ stats on the scoreboard, but there were times I simply didn’t know what they were talking about.  Plus, they sure did look like they were dropping an F-bomb at me, perhaps because I was looking at the scoreboard for accurate information:   Now, seriously, did they really have to use such language towards us?

Promotions were at times distracting.  I’m not a huge fan of the guy walking around the stadium filming people going batty for the scoreboard video screen…and I’m especially not a fan of his when he stands in front of me for several pitches, blocking my view.  I’m not anti-promotion–hey, I had the lucky program and won an Outback Bloomin’ Onion!–but I am anti-distraction, so this dude needed to sit down.

In any event, this was a beautiful ballpark in a nice city, but there was enough negative–poor presentation, icky brown grass, and a cameraman blocking my view–that it won’t get a very high score.  Still, in spite of that, it’s well worth a visit.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel:  9/10
Fantastic.  The museum, coupled with the river and the downtown skyline, make for an unquestionably Arkansan experience.

Charm:  4/5
Pretty nice here.

Spectacle:  3/5
I like winning contests, but I don’t like sitting behind a standing camera guy for several pitches.

Team mascot/name:  1.5/5

Here I am with that something-or-other…a horse?  a moose?  a whatever?  His name is simply an abomination to all that is holy…Shelly.  Please note the Shell Oil logo under his left elbow.  That’s right:  the Travelers have pimped out the name of their mascot to big oil.  Ick.  This makes me want to buy a hybrid even more.

Aesthetics:  5/5
A gorgeous place.

Pavilion area:  4.5/5
Very nice.  360-degree walk leads to even better views of the river, etc.

Scoreability:  0/5
The scoreboard and PA actually led to more confusion than clarity.  If I can score a game easier without the ballpark’s “help” than with it, that’s a pretty severe repudiation of a ballpark’s ability to do what a ballpark ought to be doing.

Fans:  3/5

Intangibles:  2.5/5
What can I say?  There were parts I loved and parts I really, really didn’t love.

TOTAL:  32.5/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

Myron Leslie hits a game-winning solo shot in the 10th for Midland.

Huge pitching in the second game.  Andrew Bailey pitchers 6 innings of 2-hit ball for the win for Midland.

(Written April 2008.)

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.)

Lawrence-Dumont Stadium, Wichita, Kansas’ ballp

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Lawrence-Dumont Stadium, Wichita, KANSAS

Number of states: 3
States to go:  47
Number of games: 1
First and last game: April 10, 2004 (Arkansas Travelers 10, Wichita Wranglers 0)

Lawrence-Dumont Stadium is no longer used for the affiliated minors as of the 2008 season.

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

Spring Break 2004.  I set out for my spring break, leaving chilly, rainy Seattle for warmer climes–Wichita, Tulsa, Arlington, and Houston.  Why did I have to pick a week when Seattle had beautiful, record-setting temperatures and a mass of Northern air settled over Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas?  The first Saturday night of the baseball season in Wichita was colder than the proverbial witch’s tit (and, I am sure, colder than a literal witch’s tit…not that I have any experience.  With witches.)  Thank goodness for the $23 K-Mart jacket I secured earlier that day.  In any event, Lawrence-Dumont Stadium was an excellent Texas League ballpark that nobody in Wichita seems to have found.

For starters, Lawrence-Dumont Stadium has a rich sense of baseball history.  Its pavilion makes a special point to commemorate Wichita baseball history, most notably the National Baseball Congress

tournaments held there through the years…basically the semipro baseball championship.  There are plaques all the way around the ballpark talking about folks from Whitey Herzog to Mark McGwire.  A fun walk!  I must admit, I enjoyed that a good deal, but I felt it was sort of cheating.  I mean, it’s just a tournament they host…not really related to Wichita minor league history.  But when I learned that Mr. Dumont was responsible for the tournament, I relaxed my concerns a bit.  After all, it was he and Mr. Lawrence, the mayor of Wichita, who decided to build the stadium.  Hence, that pesky hyphen in “Lawrence-Dumont Stadium”:  it’s named after two guys, not one.

But the walk around the stadium also teaches us about Wichita’s minor league past.  Included in this was a list of all of the teams that have played minor league ball in Wichita. On that list, I was delighted to find the infamous Wichita Jobbers. 

Now maybe I’ve watched a few too many episodes of Beavis and Butthead, but I couldn’t stop snickering about that.  Somewhere, after squandering a series of late-inning leads, an article must have been written under the headline “Jobbers Blow Another.”  So I’m walking around enjoying a juvenile snicker (and thinking that, as bad a nickname as “Jobbers” is, it’s actually better than “Jabbers” or the feminine “Witches”) when I come upon a plaque commemorating the 1910 Jobbers, considered one of the best minor league ballclubs in history.  And what picture did they put next to it?  God as my witness, they put it next to popular former Wichita Aero and major league stalwart Pete LaCock.

Perhaps most impressive was the story–I hope it’s true–that Joe Carter hit a home run during an NBC tournament that hit the Metropolitan Baptist Church on one bounce.  The church is nearly 900 feet away.  This picture probably doesn’t do it justice, but still, check out this view of the church from home plate.  The church is the red brick building with the white steeple beyond the left field wall.


On the whole, this was an excellent night of baseball. The staff with the Wranglers have done a fine job of putting together solid entertainment.  They ran wacky ads starring their young staff (a send-up of The Apprentice, for instance).  There were frequent promotions, but not so frequent as to take away from the baseball.  The ballpark has a fine location on the Arkansas river–there’s a view of downtown right past the outfield fence.  And Double-A baseball is great entertainment in and of itself.  Still, only 155,547 showed up to watch the Wranglers in Wichita in 2003…barely 2,000 per game, only about a quarter of the league leaders and behind even Midland, which is a far smaller city than Wichita.  I can’t for the life of me figure out why.  It’s not because they have a less-than-good ballpark…Lawrence-Dumont is a great place.  It’s not because it’s a poorly-run night of baseball…it was excellent.  It’s not because it’s inconveniently located…it’s right in the heart of town.  There’s no excuse, Wichita.  Get out to your wonderful ballpark.  You’ll have at least as good a time as I did.

Okay, now that I’ve said that, let me cut the Wichita folk some slack…the weather certainly was the lion’s share of the reason that attendance was so abysmally

low the night I was there (announced as 528, but that was a laughably high number…I put attendance at 130.  That’s right, I actually counted…I figure that the people who were in the bathroom are counterbalanced by ushers I mistakenly included in my count.)  It’s funny who you see among the most die-hard fans who would show up on a 40-something degree night in April with horrendous winds.  I noticed a good number of women sitting alone and wondered why.  Of course!  Wives and girlfriends.  And there were a good number of scouts with radar guns.  Also, several close relatives.  Notable among the latter were the friendly brother- and sister-in-law of a backup catcher I chatted with throughout the game…I had a long conversation with their four-year-old son.  It’s awesome how four-year-olds start conversations.  His starter?  “I have the same name as my grandpa.  His name is James…and my name is James!”  And later:  “I live out in the country.”  Cool kid!  He’d get along with my nephew, but as his mother said, “1500 miles is an awfully tough play date.”  I like the Midwest.  Friendly people.  Women with ponytails and minimal makeup.  People who assume you’re a good guy and talk to you.

And I like Lawrence-Dumont Stadium, which more Kansans should get out to see, especially on a night where they can’t see their breath.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel:  9.5/10
The celebration of Kansas baseball in the museum-like pavilion is fantastic.  Add to that a location on the Arkansas river, a view of downtown Wichita, and a few friendly Kansans, and there’s not a doubt as to where you are.

Charm:  2.5/5
There’s a contagious love of baseball here.  But ICK!!!  The astroturf infield with the grass outfield?  WHY????  Back when Wichita fed the Astros, it made sense.  But now they feed Kansas City, who has a grass infield.  It’s just an eyesore now.  Lose it.

Spectacle: 3.5/5
Didn’t get in the way…but I didn’t see much of the mascots.

Team mascot/name:  5/5


Didn’t see much of Wilbur–the best I can do for a picture is the distorted shot at left. I think the cold night kept him in.  I did take a shot with the Garbage Goblin, however, on the right.  Please note that a gust of wind has gone up my K-mart jacket…that’s not my belly under there, it’s mostly cold Wichita air.  I never saw Wilbur and the Garbage Goblin together, which strongly leads me to suspect they’re the same guy. “Wranglers” is a completely appropriate name for Wichita, and the horse totally appropriate as a mascot…although, upon reflection, aren’t horses the natural adversaries of wranglers?

Aesthetics:  4.5/5
Quite nice, with a view of downtown and the river.

Pavilion area:  5/5
A wonderful walk through Wichita baseball history that starts at home plate and goes all the way back to center field.  Lots of good stories.  The best part of the ballpark.

Scoreability:  4/5
No major issues here, but no major plusses.

Fans:  1/5
Nice people, but far too few of them.

Intangibles:  4/5
In spite of the weather, the sparse crowd, and the incredibly lousy game, I got a great feeling from this place

TOTAL:  41/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

A god-awful game in hellish cold.  Arkansas pounds out 19 singles and a double.  The worst part was that 5 of the runs were in the 9th inning, just as all of us were ready to head home.  If I’d had a date with me who wanted to take off, I would have probably demurred…and that is saying something.

3 RBIs for Traveler Jason Aspito.

Tim Bittner pitched 6 innings of 4-hit ball for the win, with Cam Esslinger and Dan Mozingo closing out the 4-hit shutout.

The Arkansas Travelers’ road uniforms read “Little Rock.”  Their jackets read “Angels.”  The Arkansas Travelers are neither Arkansas nor Travelers.  Discuss.