Eats, History, Major Leagues, Rants

Nats v. Phillies

One of my partners said he was going to be in Washington D. C. and had the audacity to suggest that I join him for a game at Nationals Park.  What could I say?  I’m a complete pushover, so of course I was there.

The park is relatively new and looks larger than it is, with a seating capacity of just over 41,000.  If you count the boxes, it has five levels, which I think is unique in the big leagues.  It also has some history because of the long string of presidents who have attended big league games in Washington.  It also has a tapered screen, which I haven’t seen anywhere else, and they used a temporary screen along the foul line fences during BP, which was removed for the game.  That’s a new one, too.

On this night, folks were invited to bring their dogs (as in canines) to the game.  The rationale for this utterly escapes me, but it isn’t the first time I’ve seen it.  What was new, however, was a couple of squares of real grass on the concourse to provide the pups a natural place to do their business.  Think of the career opportunities – Washington Nationals pooper scooper intern!

As usual, we arrived early to check out the place and sat in centerfield to watch the Phillies take BP.  What we saw was remarkable and depressing.  An old guy (mid-60’s at least) was there with his glove along with some (unrelated) kids.  When one came our way, the old guy headed for it and used his glove to block a kid from getting to it.  When the kid’s dad confronted him, he was completely unapologetic for his behavior, yelling at the dad that he had the same rights as the kids.  I guess baseball has its dark side too.

The Nats jumped to an early lead, but soon fell behind on a couple of homers.  The Phils Tommy Joseph hit an extremely high pop up that looked to go foul down the left field line.  But it didn’t.  It also just managed to go over the left field fence.  If the total distance traveled in the air could be measured, I’m sure it would have been one of the longest dingers ever hit.  I certainly have never seen one that high actually leave the park.

The food was fairly standard, with the exception of one counter that sold only grilled cheese sandwiches, appropriately named “Throwin’ Cheese.”

And of course the in-game diversions.  Here we had the presidents race, oddly enough won by our founder, and the city’s namesake, George.

A good time was had by all and, in the end, the Nats rallied to take the game 4-3.

Minor Leagues, Oddity

Bend Elks vs. Gresham GreyWolves

Who knew that there was more than one college wooden bat league in Oregon? Certainly not me.

So the family, gathered at Central Oregon’s incredibly beautiful Black Butte Ranch to celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary, ventured out to Bend to watch the Bend Elks take on the Gresham GreyWolves at Bend’s Vince Genna Stadium.



The first impression had little to do with baseball. While negotiating a complicated (not sure why) ticket transaction, some of us had an animated conversation with one of the staff about the moths that were everywhere, including a makeshift moth graveyard along the fence by the ticket office. These were not your regular house moths, but more like a miniature C-130 cargo plane with movable wings.




Next we got to our seats to find that they were already held by season ticket holders. They suggested we move down a couple since it was unlikely others would show up, and we did. Then more folks showed up who had been sold the same seats. A novel revenue generating program, it seems. The real owners were gracious and we managed to accommodate everyone without litigation.

Those folks were very nice, seemed well acquainted with the team and were particularly attached to the several Elks players from Oregon State, one of whom was Pat Casey’s son. Turns out the guy was one of Jacoby Ellsbury’s (now of the NY Yankees) high school coaches at Madras.

Shortly after the game got started, focus returned to the moths. The stands were completely screened from the field and many moths had taken up temporary residence on the screen, some so long that they died there. The first foul ball into the screen sent many of the moths to other landing spots, the dead ones mainly to rest on fans. An amusing sight.





Later, we were treated to a public address announcement congratulating us on our anniversary which had been surreptitiously arranged by our son.


Later still, Bend’s mascot, Vinnie the Elk was tossing T-shirts into the crowd and one landed right in our daughter’s lap with no acquisitive effort on her part. Not only a nice shirt (bearing the Elks logo, of course) but it fits as well!


The only real baseball note centers on Bend’s catcher. Granted, his pitcher was throwing in the dirt occasionally, but this guy had a talent for lunging, scuffling and just generally rassling the ball like none other I’ve seen. The baseball was not top quality, but it was entertaining. Perhaps the moths were circling the flame.


Wilsall, Montana

Never heard of it?  Neither had I till the lack of any baseball between Sioux Falls and Portland caused me to look for alternative diversions.  Lo and behold, Wilsall is the site of an annual rodeo, which just happened to coincide with my arrival in Livingston (gateway to Yellowstone – from the north).  So of course I had to attend.

The rodeo grounds covered more area than the rest of the town, but the setting was spectacular, with the snow-covered mountains in the background and the green hills leading down to the Yellowstone River.

I arrived just a few minutes late and the place was packed.  I had to park about three blocks away and from the area I covered, my vehicle was the only one from out of state.  Lots of families and it seemed like everyone knew each other.

But the action is the story.  The calves won the calf-roping contest, with only two out of about ten actually being lassoed.  The most exciting event was the women’s barrel racing, in which the horse and rider must circle three barrels, then race to the finish line, the winner being the one with the lowest time.

I loved watching the cutting horses and their riders who coaxed the bucking broncs, the skittish calves and even the horses whose riders jumped off to rassle a calf to the ground or tie it up after lassoing it.  Those horses and riders were as one, knowing just what to do and where to go.

A piece of America that we don’t see in the city.

Eats, Minor Leagues

Sioux Falls, South Dakota

With a name like the Canaries, you just have to go see them.  Actually, I did see the Canaries in Wichita last year, but of course that was not on their home turf.  The Canaries play at Sioux Falls Stadium, better known as the Bird Cage, and play in the American Independent League, which is not affiliated with major-league baseball.

Unlike the Wichita stadium, the Bird Cage has natural turf.  In this game, the Birds, as they are affectionately called, faced the Gary South Shore Railcats, looking for a sweep of a four game series.  Unfortunately, they were a bit short-sighted, losing 6-5 in 11 innings.

There wasn’t much about the game, the stadium or anything else to set this game apart from others.  Both starting pitchers were lefties, throwing in the mid-80’s.  The Birds all wore long pants, the Railcats all wore high pants, some even with stirrups.

A ways south of Sioux Falls, there was a billboard that read “Eat steaks, wear furs, keep your guns.  The American Way”.  (You can’t make this up!). So naturally, when I got to the ball park, since they weren’t serving steak, I had to break with baseball tradition and have a burger, the only beef product available.  Actually, a cheeseburger.  The burger itself was apparently cooked sometime last week and had been residing on a shelf ever since.  It was topped with a slice of rubber cheese taken directly from the fridge and slapped into a (at least) day-old bun.  It was, quite simply, terrible.  The worst ballpark food I’ve ever had.  The only saving grace was that they had my favorite Leinenkugel Summer Shandy, so there was something pleasant to wash it down with.

This may be my last baseball post of this trip, since there is no professional baseball scheduled anywhere along my route to PDX. I’ll look for some amateur action or a rodeo or something, but don’t hold your breath.

Eats, Minor Leagues, Oddity, Travel

Davenport, Iowa

We took a fairly easy drive (after getting out of St. Louis) north through the cornfields of Illinois, mostly on back roads. It is remarkable in such a populous state how few folks you see in its extreme western part.
Our destination was Davenport, Iowa where the Quad Cities River Bandits were scheduled to play in a Single A Midwestern League game against the Cedar Rapids Kernels. The Bandits are an affiliate of the Astros and the Kernels of the Twins.
When we arrived in town, we went directly to the stadium to buy our tickets and were told that there were none for sale. My jaw dropped and the clerk quickly explained that they had all been purchased by the Modern Woodmen, an insurance company whose headquarters are directly across the Mississippi River from the stadium and after which the stadium is named. The clerk said that the tickets would be given away free an hour before game time.
We were a little late for that and the parking lot was filling up fast. We stood in the ticket line only to be told to go to the gate where we would get them. The two ticket takers insisted they didn’t have tickets, but we had to and that we had to go back to the ticket window, and only after a couple of rounds of fruitless explanation that we were denied tickets there did a young lady step up (she’d been no more than five feet away during the exchange) to offer us tickets. Goofy!
The Modern Woodmen Park enjoys perhaps the most spectacular setting for a ballpark that I’ve ever seen, positioned as it is at the north end of the Centennial Bridge, right on the banks of the Mississippi. We enjoyed watching the pelicans fly up and down the river. It also had the unusual feature of a permanent ferris wheel in left field.

The Quad Cities include Bettendorf and Davenport in Iowa and Rock Island and Moline in Illinois, and there’s a fairly long history of minor league baseball in the area.
Unfortunately, a very typical Midwestern shower arrived just as the game was about to start, so it was delayed by an hour. That, coupled with the need to make tracks tomorrow and the River Bandits 5-0 lead in the fifth caused us to leave after the game was official (five innings).
We did see one player who probably won’t be with the Bandits for long. A Cuban named Yordan Alvarez was big, had an easy swing and had three hits, including a long home run, by the time we left. In style and movement, he reminded me of the young Vladimir Guerrero, but with greater plate discipline and less wasted motion.  Keep an eye out for him.
And finally, the eats. The Bandit Dog, better described as a chili cheese dog with onions, seemed the most promising, but about the only thing it is likely to deliver is late night heartburn.

Eats, Major Leagues, Travel

St. Louis vs. Milwaukee

Our trip to St. Louis last year ended in frustration as we sat, waiting patiently, watching radar images on the Jumbotron that seemed to portray an impending deluge, yet found no confirmation in the sky over Busch Stadium.  In the end, the radar prevailed and the game was rained out.  So, of course, we had to come back.

To get there, we drove through rural western Tennessee, through a bit of Kentucky and into Illinois at Cairo.  It is ironic that I’ve been to Cairo, Egypt (pronounced “kigh row”) many times but never to Cairo, Illinois (pronounced “kay row”).  I was shocked.  In all my travels around this country, I have never seen a town so depressed.  It is seemingly one bankruptcy short of a ghost town.  At least two thirds of the businesses were boarded up and there was just nothing going on.

Busch Stadium, on the other hand, was bustling.  When we checked into our hotel, we learned that the Cards and Brewers were playing a double header (making up a prior rainout), so there was a lot of activity around the stadium when we bought our tickets.  This year, the skies were clear and the weather warm.

We also made a return visit to Pappy’s Smokehouse, a highly regarded BBQ place west of downtown.  We enjoyed it last year, but tried to go to Bogart’s, only to learn that is open just for lunch four days a week.  Go figure.  In any event, we got one full side of ribs and split it, which was more than enough for the two of us.  The ribs were superb, the sides (slaw and potato salad) adequate though not memorable, but the meal was well worth it (14 very meaty ribs for $25).

The Cards won the first game and we speculated whether the veterans would have played that game or been saved for the night game.  I would have played the old guys in the (marginally) cooler evening game, but Manager Metheny did the opposite.  Several of the younger players wore these fancy socks.

 The Cards took an early lead, the Brewers caught up and then went ahead, the Cards caught them, but lost out in the end.  Despite that, it was a good game and now Busch Stadium is authentically in the book.

Eats, Minor Leagues, Rants

Jackson, Tennessee

This game rounds out the survey of the four major levels of professional baseball, from Single A through the majors, because we (I was joined by brother Tom) saw the Jackson Generals (Arizona Diamondbacks affiliate) hosting the Tennessee Smokies (Cubs affiliate) in a Double AA Southern League game.  That raises a question I’ve been pondering – when written, is it properly Triple AAA or Triple A?  The former seems redundant, but I think that’s the way I’ve always seen it.

The AAA game in Louisville seemed of a piece with major league play.  The Eastlake Single A teams were young and eager and colt-like.  This Double AA game was closer to AAA than to Single A in the bearing of the players and the apparent knowledge of the game.

Anyway, the Generals play in The Ballpark at Jackson, a tidy little field right next to I-40 and a part of a large sports complex.  We arrived at 5 for a 6:05 start (have to check out the food, you know) and we were the first fans there!  The total attendance for the evening was well under 200.

The very first thing we noticed on entering the park was the extremely loud and annoying music.  It did not stop.  It played as the announcer named the upcoming batter.  It played between innings, it played all the time.  I couldn’t hear Tom talk and he was sitting right next to me.  It made me crazy!

Okay, back to the park and baseball.  The second thing unusual about the park is that it has the longest screens I’ve ever seen – they extend to about the halfway mark between third and the outfield wall as you can sorta see in this picture.

The third thing is fans – no, not the folks in the seats but these fans, which were placed throughout the stands, but none were pointed at us.  It was hot and I wish they had been.

The fourth thing is the scoreboard, of which there was only one, and it was on the Jumbotron in right field, facing west, so it could not be read with the sun beating on it.  That meant we had to pay attention (I guess we could have kept score the old fashioned way, but we weren’t prepared for that).

The fifth thing was being carded when I ordered a beer and then having to wear a bracelet (hospital style) for the rest of the evening in case I wanted another beer.  Weird. 

Finally, to the food.  Yes I have a picture, though it isn’t very helpful.  It is a catfish po’ boy, which might have seemed appropriate in Louisiana but a bit out of place in Tennessee.  We also had what was claimed to be authentic Tennessee barbecue pulled pork sandwich. The pulled pork wasn’t bad but it needed more sauce, and the po’ boy was also adequate but probably not memorable.

Actually, that wasn’t really the last thing.  The last and best thing, never seen anywhere else in the professional baseball world – wait for it – . . . HAMMOCKS!!!

Oh, and the game wasn’t half bad either.  The lead went back and forth until the Generals got their lead off man on in the bottom of the ninth, he was balked to second and scored on a walk off double.  So on the whole, a very successful evening.