Archive for the ‘Ballparks’ Category

Bus Leagues Road Trip: The 2009 College World Series, Part 1

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I’ll be honest here: I find it rather a daunting task to attempt to describe my whirlwind two-day visit to Omaha. Fortunately, I remembered that a picture is worth 1,000 words, so I’ll be letting my camera do the talking for part of this recap.
I have always wanted to go to Omaha for the Series, and stupidly did not do so when I lived a couple of hours away in NE Kansas. Fortunately, fate allowed me another chance, as my recent freelance association with ESPN.com’s Sports Travel page gave me an in.
I had already planned to travel to New York for Blogs With Balls 1.0, so I just added in a connecting flight to Kansas City, where I met up with my dad. He was hauling his travel trailer, so we’d have a cheap and portable place to stay while we were in Omaha.
We rolled in before the 1pm game. Since I had press credentials, my dad had no way to enter Rosenblatt with me. Being a marvelous and supportive father, he was quite happy to let me work while he explored the other sights in Omaha, of which there are many. His decision was invaluable, as I needed time to interview fans and officials and never made it to the nearby zoo. My dad did, and he gave me all the pertinent details. He also had the tough job of having to eat at the awesome diners around the stadium. Poor guy.
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I was pretty eager to get inside, as the 1:00 game between UNC and Arizona State was already underway. Rosenblatt, despite being built in 1947, has an excellent seating diagram. The diamond was completely visible from every vantage point I explored.
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I did some pre-interviews by phone before I arrived, and one of the event’s organizers highly recommended the bleacher experience for first-time visitors. It was packed in the outfield, with fans spilling out into the walkways. The vibe of happy rivalry was really enjoyable.
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I call the second photo here “Mona Lisa of Tempe”, because I clicked the shutter just as she began to smile. Gives her more of an air of mystery, no?

Coming Up: Rosenblatt, part 2

Let the Road Trip Begin – Part 1

meatbeach

OK, so it’s not really a road trip. I’ll be flying a lot, and I believe there are plans to go on a ferry as well. But the fact remains that I’m going on the road, which always means one of you might see me out and about in your town.

First of all, I’m flying up to Philadelphia to meet up with my basketball season partner, Marco. I’m going to laze around the museum and look at the Rocky statue on Friday. On Saturday, Marco and I will journey a bit farther northward to take part in Blogs with Balls, so if any of you bloggers are  planning to be there, look for the big guy with a black-and-white beard. I’m sure I’ll have a nametag of some sort, and it will say Eric Angevine.

The next day, I fly out of Philly to Kansas City, meet up with my dad, and drive a couple of hours northward to Omaha to catch a couple of days of the College World Series. I was already excited to see Rosenblatt Stadium and do a little reporting and picture taking, but then it turns out that my hometown Virginia Cavaliers will be there as well. Bonus. I’ll be there writing a story abou the demise of Rosenblatt for ESPN.com, so again, if you see me, you can surreptitiously check my nametag to make sure it’s me before you accost a stranger.

Since my story for ESPN’s travel section will only use a fraction of the information I gather on my field trip, Bus Leagues readers can look forward to full interviews and photos when I get back.

Also, I call this part 1, because later this month, OMDQ and I will be meeting in a city on the Atlantic seaboard to watch some baseball together. But that’s his road trip, and he’s going many other places during it, so I’ll let him tell you about it when he’s ready.

Hope to see some of you in Philly, NY, or Omaha!

MiLB is Renting Dodgertown

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Odds are, you’ve heard of Dodgertown. Maybe you’ve even been there. It’s the famous Florida spring training facility of the Los Angeles Dodgers; or, at least, it was. After 61 years of training in Dodgertown, The west-coast based franchise decided that traveling to Glendale, Arizona suited them much better than a cross-country voyage every year. They’ll keep the rights to the trademarked name when they move.

So what becomes of the original Dodgertown? Well, MiLB, which is headquartered in Florida, has stepped in to sign a five-year-lease to manage the facility. They’re currently negotiating with the Dodgers to retain the name in some fashion, possibly “Historic Dodgertown”. They’re going to continue multi-use applications for the facility, allowing the county to stage events there and generally trying to keep the facility up and running. The ultimate goal is to attract another spring training resident.

Here are some provisions of the deal:

Similar to the Dodgers agreement, the MiLB lease provides the county with 10 days a year to use the facility, in addition to the Harvest Festival, an annual fundraising event for St. Helen Catholic School.

The lease charges MiLB a token rent of $1 a year and allows it to keep the proceeds from ticket and concession sales. But that’s no giveaway, County Commissioner Peter O’Bryan said.

“They get all the revenue, but they also get all the expenses,” he said.

Also:

• MiLB will have restricted access to a $2 million capital reserve account for improvements to the facility.

• MiLB will include Vero Beach and the county in its advertising of sporting events and receive at least $50,000 annually from tourist tax revenue for this.

• Field lights will be added to two existing playing fields this year and two additional playing fields in 2010. Vero Beach will provide up to $126,000 in tourist tax or local optional sales tax money toward the project

[TCPalm.com]

Sounds like a pretty sensible arrangement for everyone involved. As often as we see historic structures torn down, this should be a perfect interim arrangement until Dodgertown can find its ultimate future use, either as a history theme park, a home for a new team, or both.

Never Been to Rosenblatt? Act Quickly.

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I have a friend from my college days in Kansas named Dave. He and I have been friends for about 20 years, and the basis of our relationship has gone through many phases. In college, enormous gin and tonics served in 32-oz. Big Gulp cups were the start of our bond. Later, food ruled the day, as we experimented with various “food highs” brought on by the overconsumption of ribs, pizza, hot dogs, or whatever we could find lying around. More recently, we share stories about our kids and our more moderate habits are on display.

Throughout that entire time, there has been one enduring constant – baseball. One of our big dreams is to take a buddy trip to the College World Series in Omaha. We never did it while we lived in the midwest and it would have been easy, so now we will have to work a little harder, as Dave would have to come from Denver, and I would have to travel from Virginia.

rosenblatt_statueBut the dream is still there, and the timetable is a bit accelerated now. Seems the Omaha Royals are building a new downtown stadium (who isn’t?) and the mayor of Omaha isn’t willing to keep venerable Rosenblatt stadium around just for the Series. Which makes sense – keeping something that big around for an event that happens one month out of the year is not economically sensible. But many, many people will miss the friendly confines of Rosenblatt.

So if, like Dave and I, you’ve always dreamed of taking in the CWS in its original glory, make your travel plans right now. I’m sure the new place will be nice, but Rosenblatt was built in 1948 and has a ton of history behind it. This is one of those things you don’t want to regret having never done.

Quad Cities River Bandits Star in “Sugar”

sugarI love a good formulaic feel-good baseball movie as much as the next guy. Especially when the premise is inventive, like it was in “Field of Dreams”. But when you get to the more Disney-esque types of films, I tend to lose interest – I feel like I’ve seen it before, as the plucky loser makes good.

Sounds like the latest baseball film, “Sugar”, is a more realistic look at how baseball winnows its talent pool. It’s the story of a Dominican pitcher who plays well enough to make it out of the Republic and onto a minor-league roster. In the Disney version, Miguel “Sugar” Santos would suffer a mid-career setback, turn things around, fall in love, and win his major league debut.

But this movie isn’t about beating the odds. It’s about real life. From the reviews I’ve read, Sugar finds out he’s good, but not great. So he tops out in the minors, and has to figure out what to do with his life after baseball dead-ends. It might sound depressing, but this film is made by the production team that created the fantastic film “Half Nelson“, which gave us a drug-addicted teacher and a disadvantaged student who make small but important differences in one another’s lives. If this story is treated with the same even-handed approach, it should be gripping.

The part that interested me from a Bus Leagues perspective was my attempt to find out what minor-league ballparks might have been used in the filming. I know from the movie’s press kit that it was shot in the Dominican, Arizona, Iowa, and the Bronx. The only info I could find was about the Iowa location:

Once the action in the film moves to the U.S., the filmmakers wanted to be just as accurate in their depiction of life among minor league players. To find the home for the Single-A team that marks the apex of Miguel’s career, they spent days driving around Iowa. They eventually decided on Davenport, a small city on the banks of the Mississippi.

 

“The city and the team really embraced us,” says Patricof. “We used the uniforms and the stadium of the real team.”

[Sugar Press Kit]

That team is the Quad Cities River Bandits (Cardinals). If you look at the movie’s poster, you see the distinctive bridge over the Mississippi that looms near the stadium. The River Bandits have a big movie premiere party going on this weekend, with the movie’s star throwing out the first pitch and signing autographs. The River Bandits’ stadium also has a marvelous name: Modern Woodmen Park. Not a bad name if your team brings big bats to the game every night. Or if you’re filming a baseball-themed porno. Which, come to think of it, you could totally also name “Sugar”.

Anyway, I’ll be looking forward to catching “Sugar” when it comes to my town. And I’ll have a special eye out for the baseball haven of Davenport, Iowa (they grow corn in the outfield!) during the minor-league scenes.

[Quad Cities River Bandits] [Sugar Film Site]

Diamondbacks Getting Naughty

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I thought about making this entry the second in my “I’m an observant fellow” series, since I seem to occasionally miss important developments. However, this time, I think it was an issue of timing rather than oversight.

Allow me to explain.

Every season, I update the list of affiliates for each MLB team on our MiLB Teams page. Generally, I head over to each team’s page, where they have a list of affiliates. Seems I did that a bit too early this season, as I completely missed two developments in the Diamondbacks’ farm system.

First of all, and perhaps least forgivable, the Dbacks have moved their Triple-A affiliate from Tucson, where they were called the Sidewinders, to Reno, where they are the Aces and have a brand-new stadium. Seems like something I should have known already, but it’s a big system. Fair cup, bygones. What matters is that I tried.

When I was checking out the revamped Dbacks website, I also noticed that their High-A team had changed. While the Oaks remained in Visalia, CA, they changed their name to the Visalia Rawhide.

So, we have gambling and S&M taking their rightful places in the Bus Leagues. About time, I say. I can’t wait to see what the concourse entertainment options are at these parks. Will they be 18-and-over only?

I hope the Rawhide find a way to have the national anthem (and the Rawhide TV theme) sung by a Blue Brothers cover band. That would be fantastic.

Richmond Moves to Replace Braves

defenders_20081018093305_320_2401As a resident of central Virginia, I have spent a fair amount of time covering the drama surrounding the former Richmond Braves. When the parent club decided to move their triple-A affiliate from Virginia’s capital city to the suburbs of Atlanta itself, Richmond residents were stunned.

The R-Braves, as they were known locally, had been in the area since 1966, so many couldn’t believe their beloved franchise was gone.

Local investors took a deep breath and plunged into the search for a replacement, however. And it’s starting to look like they’ve zeroed in on the next team to call Richmond home.

From the website of Norwich’s WTNH:

According to a Richmond newspaper, the plans call for the Richmond group to buy the Defenders for about $15 million and move the team to Virginia at the end of the 2009 season.

The deal must be approved by the Eastern League and by officials at Minor League Baseball and Major League Baseball.

[WTNH-TV]

Virginia hasn’t had a double-A team since I moved here ten years ago, so I’m kind of happy to hear this. It’s kind of like hitting for the cycle, affiliation-wise. The Defenders are tied into the Giants, so that should be an interesting change. Whether the club’s nickname changes or not doesn’t really matter to me, but I do hope they get a new stadium. The Diamond, where the R-Braves used to play, is a concrete eyesore, in my humble opinion. Then again, we don’t want to be wasting big bucks in these economic times do we?

Here’s hoping the sale goes through. It’ll be great to have a new Bus Leagues option near home.

“Pawtucket, You Win”

“I’ve been to probably 14 or 15 professional ballparks,” my friend Chris said nearly two weeks ago as we were driving home from a trip to Pawtucket, Rhode Island’s McCoy Stadium, home of the Pawtucket Red Sox, “and the crowd at this place was, by far, the strangest group of people I have ever seen.  Pawtucket, you win.”

The other three people in the car – Chris’ friend Billy, my brother Tim, and me – laughed and quickly nodded in agreement.  I made a mental note to remember the quote because really, nothing I wrote on my own could possibly convey the weirdness with which we were confronted at McCoy Stadium.

Doesn’t mean I’m not gonna try.

In descending order, here are five things that happened at this game that made me lose a little faith in humanity:

5) We decided soon after our arrival that the centerfield bleachers were the place to be.  Problem was, the bleachers are connected to the areas in which pregame picnics and birthday parties are held, which means that they don’t actually open the gates until immediately before the start of the game.  (One of the ushers told Chris that we could find our seats as soon as we heard the word “brave”, which led to over an hour of Chris randomly shouting, “BRAVE!” and hoping for the best.)

We got some food and got into line about twenty minutes early.  Our timing was good – way more people were behind us than in front. A couple of minutes before the game started, it began to rain (again – we’d had about an hour of moderately heavy rain just as we arrived at the ballpark).  People huddled together under umbrellas and tried to find some sort of cover without leaving the line.  Somewhere in the middle of this, I think, two things happened: the Star Spangled Banner began and they opened the gates to the bleachers.

It didn’t really sink in until we had gone about fifty feet: we were walking to our seats during the National Anthem.  Now, I’m not the most openly patriotic person in the world – I love being American, but I don’t feel the need to be all up in your face with that love – and I can’t really pass judgement because I was a part of it, but this just felt WRONG.  I mean, someone like Toni Smith or Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf refuses to stand at attention for the Anthem because of deep, important, valid personal beliefs, and we as a society crap all over them for it.  We say that they’re wrong for acting that way.  But two hundred people walk over Francis Scott Key’s sweet tunes for no better reason than securing a couple of metal bleacher seats in prime homerun territory?  That’s cool, man.  Don’t worry about it.  No big deal.

4) The National Anthem is a cool, meaningful song that should be respected; God Bless America is a little different.  Not that it doesn’t deserve much love, but it always feels a little out of place, like we’re trying too hard to showcase our patriotism.  I don’t know if that’s the best explanation.  Bottom line, for whatever reason, I’ve never felt it was nearly on the same level as the Anthem.  You can walk around the ballpark, get a hot dog, talk to a friend during God Bless America and it doesn’t feel strange.

Anyway, they played God Bless America in the seventh inning, we all stood up, Billy and Chris took off their hats – business as usual (I would’ve taken off my hat if I’d been wearing one.  Why?  Because I’m a follower).  As I listened, it seemed like this particular version had a little extra flair thrown in – like they stretched out some of the notes to add some pizzazz.  It was like the instrumental of the Ronan Tynan version.  Eventually it came to what we thought was the end, Billy started to put his hat back on…and the song kept going.  Not for long, but the flair had thrown him off, there was more song to be played, and he had jumped the gun.  He let his displeasure be known by loudly saying, “OH COME ON!”   

This, of course, cracked me up.  He wasn’t trying to be disrespectful, not at all, but the combination of a never-ending song and his failure to secure one of the Dustin Pedroia bobbleheads being given away prior to the game (more on that in a minute) had led him to his breaking point.  Billy wasn’t lashing out at God Bless America, he was lashing out at the inequities and inconsistencies of life, and I thought it was hilarious.

3) The Pedroia Situation has to be number three.  When I bought the tickets, I picked August 2 for two reasons: one, it was the closest date that worked for all four of us and two, they were giving away Dustin Pedroia bobbleheads to the first 4,000 fans.  Unfortunately, I have a problem with not reading things closely, so it took awhile before I learned that the giveaway was planned for the first 4,000 KIDS ONLY.

This took a toll on Billy, who apparently is a big Pedroia fan.  Before the night was through, he had gone to every usher in the place, trying his best to talk someone into giving up the bobblehead.  No dice, even after they started giving them out to random adults.  The best moment, however, was soon after we entered the ballpark.  We were out in left field, checking things out, when a group of three kids wandered by.  One of us, I forget who, suggested that Billy offer them a couple of bucks to get him a Pedroia.  So he did.

It was hilarious, seeing a grown man chatting up three adolescents in the farthest reaches of the stadium.  I expected Chris Hansen to appear at any time.  The kicker, though, the thing that made me lose faith in the children of Rhode Island, was when I asked Billy how much he paid the kid to get the merchandise.  I figured it was at least five, maybe ten.  If the kid was smart, he recognized the desperation and held out for the Hamilton.

No, he gave him two dollars.  A couple of Georges.  That’s it.  I was shocked when I heard that.  Not so much because Billy lowballed him off the bat – that’s just good business – but because the kid didn’t try to drive up the price at all.  Clearly, Rhode Island schools need to add Economics to the curriculum.

2) For the latter part of the game, there was a drunk fan standing at the top of the bleachers.  At some point, he made it his goal to taunt the centerfielder for the opposing Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees.  Only problem was, he didn’t know the name of the centerfielder for the opposing Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees.  So for who knows how many innings, we were subjected to witty remarks directed at “Number 36”.  If you’re gonna heckle, at least buy a program.  Make an effort.  And show me something early, or stop shouting.  If you’re giving a guy a hard time for backing up a play – in other words, making a good baseball play – you’re too stupid and/or drunk to heckle. 

The guy disappeared in the eighth, I think, which was sad because I was very close to starting a “How drunk are you?” chant (I think it would’ve caught on).  When he returned, maybe a half inning later, I nudged Chris, who in turn nudged my brother and suggested he trip him on his way up the stairs.  He didn’t realize right away who it was, or he might actually have done it.

Oh, and for the record: Matt Carson, number 36…sorry about the douchebag in the bleachers on August 2.  I’m sure you get taunted a lot by opposing fans, but I was impressed by how well you handled it.

1) As luck would have it, we found ourselves four seats that were almost completely surrounded by families.  Behind us, six or seven kids from a birthday party were sitting with what appeared to be two adults.  The kids kept accidentally kicking Billy in the back; by the fifth inning, he was about ready to give somebody, anybody, a piece of his mind.  (This was the same group that, amazingly, allowed three kids to leave the area without adult supervision and walk down to the bullpen for autographs.  These kids were maybe ten years old – maybe.  Not a parenting move I would have made.)  They did provide me with a moment of levity, however, when the one Yankees fan in the group started a “Let’s go Yankees!” cheer.  His friends responded with, “Let’s go Red Sox!”  Within about ten seconds, I had no clue who was saying what.  I think if you recorded it and played it backwards, it said “Paul is dead.”

Now, to the front was an older guy with a couple of older ladies, one of whom I’m assuming was his wife.  There were a couple of kids down there who were really well behaved.  Barely heard anything out of them the whole night.  Nothing worth complaining about there.

Our left flank carried the greatest threat to our sanity.  The actual composition was fuzzy, but as near as I could figure we were looking at a mother, two young kids, a grandmother, and a father.  Though everyone in the group had their weird little quirks, it was the father that really caught the eye of all four people in our group.  Three incidents in particular stand out:

–He and the mother were bringing the kids somewhere and made it down onto the walkway at the front of the bleachers.  The father was carrying one of the boys.  All of a sudden, my brother noticed him yelling at the woman, “Take him, take him, I’m dropping him!”  Fortunately, she was there to grab the child so he didn’t have to worry about, I don’t know, putting down the beer he was holding.  I like a man who has his priorities in order.

–As the game wore on and this wonderful fellow continued to down as much beer as possible, we noticed that the threat of nudity became greater and greater.  He was completely dressed at the beginning; by the time they left, his Red Sox jersey was completely unbuttoned, and the young lady with him was informing the children that it was time to go, before Daddy took his pants off. 

–On their way out of our section, the ball park, and our lives, the mother tried to give the father a couple of those ice cream-filled batting helmets to hold.  They were empty, of course, save for some sticky ice cream residue.  She was struggling with both kids and the assorted crap that all mothers carry whenever they go out in public with their children; he was holding – surprise – a beer.  His response: “I don’t wanna touch that!”  This happened immediately in front of my brother, who noted on the way home that we were lucky he hadn’t had anything to drink, because if he had, he probably would have said something.  And that, friends, would have been bad.

This guy had one redeeming quality, at least: he showed me that even though I think I’m a bad father sometimes, I really could be doing a lot worse.

Now, I know I’ve made it sound as though this was the worst game and the worst ballpark in the history of the world.  There were some good points, however.  We got to see a six-run Paw Sox rally in the bottom of eighth, turning a 3-1 deficit into a 7-3 victory.  Ben Broussard, waived by the Rangers and picked up by the Yankees, hit a long homerun off the centerfield scoreboard, just above and to the left of us.  The food was terrific – I had never had an italian sausage and peppers with the peppers underneath the sausage; much easier to eat and enjoy that way.  And McCoy Stadium is a nice ballpark, with very good sightlines and a sort of quaint vibe – the luxury boxes, for example, are at field level, which is a nice bit of individuality.

Bottom line: Pawtucket will definitely get another chance, if only because I need to see if this game was the rule or the exception.

Bull Durham Stadium to become Training Field of Dreams

The Durham Bulls haven’t played in Durham Athletic Park for years now. Nobody’s had to hold the flavor of the month’s junk there for some time, but the park still stands. Nobody really wants to tear down the filmic backdrop to the legendary baseball movie “Bull Durham”.

Now comes the news that the City of Durham is renovating the stadium, courtesy of a $6.3 million budget. The new field will host the collegiate baseball battles of North Carolina Central University. Some reports also claim that the facility will be a training ground for future ballpark employees:

When it’s finished, the old park will be a new training ground for minor league baseball. People will come to Durham to learn how to take care of fields and how to “flip” them from festivals to ballgames.

[WRAL]

I’ve attempted to contact the city to find out what they’re doing with the debris from the old stadium. Wouldn’t you love a chance to buy the table Millie was lying on when she and Nuke… never mind.

[MyNC.com]

Photos: Akron Aeros @ Altoona Curve 7/24/2008

What the heck was Extra P. doing in Altoona, PA?

It’s a direct result of this site, actually. The primary goal of my trip to Pennsylvania was to visit my brother, who lives in Pittsburgh. There are much quicker ways to get there than to go through Altoona. But I knew that the Altoona Curve (Pirates) have a cool ballpark, and when I saw that there was a noon game against the Akron Aeros (Indians) on my travel day, I knew I had to make the detour.

The Aeros, as you probably know by now, are breaking in a new guy by the name of Matt LaPorta. Sadly, the big fella went 0-4 and left five men on base. The Curve won, 3-1.


Facade of Blair County Ballpark


The Aeros run in from calesthenics


The roller coaster at the adjacent Lakewood Park provides written support for the team, and an interesting view of the ballpark.


Aeros DH Matt LaPorta has the uneasy feeling that several thousand people are watching him.


LaPorta meets a young fan, as well as an older one.


Curve mascot Steamer eats children. You’d think there’d be more of a public outcry.

Also cool: the Aeros have a player with the last name of Panther. That’s got to be an advantage with the ladies.

I’m going to perform a public service here and let you know how the whole roller-coaster thing works. Blair County Ballpark is part of an entertainment complex, including an ice park and the Lakewood amusement park. When I went to buy my tickets, I could never figure out whether the roller coaster was inside the park or not. It’s not.

The good news is that the roller coaster is an easy walk from the game – the parking garage is right between the two. Entry to the amusement park is free. Once inside, you can buy tickets to ride individual rides – the roller coaster costs $3 per person, so that’s a good deal in my book. There’s also railroad-themed mini golf and a water park, so a visitor could really spend all day in one area. Seems to me it would be fun to go early, ride the coaster while the teams were warming up or even during the first inning, and then head into the ballgame.

Anyway, if you get a great day like we had, and you don’t mind the detour, this is a great place to spend a day.