Eats, M's, Minor Leagues, Oddity, Rants

Hillsboro vs. Spokane

It is a bit ironic that the Spokane Single A team is affiliated with the Texas Rangers.  Why?  Because their moniker is “Indians.”  Do you suppose, in the mythology of the Old West, the Rangers chased the Indians all the way to Spokane?  Maybe so, and maybe the resultant fatigue explains the Rangers last place standing in the AL West.

But on to more relevant matters – like food.  New this year (I think) is a mac & cheese hot dog.  Add a little hot sauce and you’ve got a (baseball) gourmet delight.

Ron Tonkin Field is a nice venue, but for one thing – artificial turf.  Come on, people.  This is professional baseball.  Yes, I know Tampa and Toronto have artificial turf, but this is Oregon – green is everywhere, but green plastic just doesn’t cut it.  The ball bounces too high, sliding is risky at best and, most importantly, uniforms don’t get dirty.

Ugly, ain’t it?

The game was never in doubt.  The Hops scored early and added on with a mammoth solo dinger by Francis Martinez (it cleared the 30 foot screen above the right field fence) and a later three-run shot by Jake McCarthy.

Here’s a shot of Martinez in his defensive position at first base. He’s a big guy, so in one way it wasn’t surprising to see him unleash that blast, but the program lists him as a 2013 Free Agent and I’m guessing that his .182 BA (substantially below his weight) is the reason he’s still playing Single A ball.

All this on the day when former Hop Brad Keller started for the Kansas City Royals against the Mariners.  He performed well, but the M’s won their seventh straight, 1-0.

One other little irrelevance – this picture doesn’t show it very well, but the Hops Canadian catcher (his music when coming to bat was “O Canada”) most times took a one-knee down receiving position. Not like Tony Pena, who stretched one leg out straight and was clear down on the ground sometimes, but quirky nonetheless.

This was a family outing for us and after the game, the little ones got to run around the bases.  We can only hope they didn’t catch anything lethal from that artificial turf.

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Eats, Minor Leagues

Fire Frogs v. Tarpons

Back to the Florida State League (Advanced Single A) for a contest between the hometown Florida Fire Frogs (Atlanta Braves affiliate) and the Tampa Tarpons (NY Yankees affiliate) in Kissimmee at Osceola County Stadium, the former spring training park of the Houston Astros, and the smallest park in the FSL.

The Fire Frogs apparently decided to use Florida as their geographic designation rather than Kissimmee in hopes of attracting a wider following in the greater Orlando area. I think Kissimmee sounds cooler than Florida though.

The frog part came from a local denizen called the coqui, an amphibian that originated in Puerto Rico. There are allegedly many people of Puerto Rican descent in the Orlando area. They (the frogs) are not red, however, or even orange. I’m not sure about the people.

So it seems that the fire part was just made up – helped with the alliteration.

There were rain showers, sometimes heavy through the afternoon and even the occasional dark cloud during the game, but never a need to take cover.

Anyway, the Frogs, with their colorful and unexplained (at least that I heard) jerseys played a fast clean game that lasted just over two hours and won it with their three run rally in the third. It was another shut out, which is a bit surprising at this level.

The bull pens at the field were in foul territory, just beyond first and third. There aren’t many fields like that and when a reliever is warming up, there has to be a lookout with a glove facing the infield to protect him and especially the catcher.

I like this picture of the guys draped on the dugout fence. There’s a lot of waiting in baseball.

The eats were standard, though my smoked sausage was pretty good. Regrettably, there was no sauerkraut to go with it.

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Eats, Minor Leagues

Bradenton v. Dunedin

OK Folks, I located the Holy Grail. More on that in a bit.

Just a short drive up the Gulf Coast from Port Charlotte is Bradenton, home of the Florida State League (Advanced Single A) Bradenton Marauders. They play their home games in the spring training park of the Pittsburgh Pirates, with whom they are affiliated.

That field is called LECOM Park and you’d be hard pressed to figure out where the name came from unless you saw this sign in the outfield.

So what does the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine have to do with minor league baseball in Florida? Turns out that august institution bought the naming rights and it has campuses in Pennsylvania and right here in Bradenton. Still, a connection with baseball? Are they hoping some of the players will enroll during the off season or come to them for treatment of their baseball injuries? Who knows?

It is, nonetheless, an absolutely beautiful park, just blocks from downtown Bradenton. It has a seating capacity of 8,500, though there were only about 500 on hand for this game. The field is meticulously groomed, and, in all respects, this was an ideal night for baseball (88 degrees at game time, light breezes, no clouds).

The Marauders took on the Dunedin Blue Jays in what turned out to be a pitchers duel. Both teams played well (though the Jays did have two errors, one of which cost a run), and the pitchers were outstanding. One mistake by the Dunedin pitcher cost them a two-run homer, and that was all the offense either team could muster. One consequence of all this was that it was a very fast game, lasting just 1:53.

For the first time that I can recall at a minor league park, the grounds crew came out to sweep the field and replace the bases midway through the game.

Another phenomenon I haven’t seen at any level is uniformity of uniforms – well, socks, really. All of the Marauders wore knee-high black socks – not stirrups with sanitaries.

Now for the Holy Grail. In keeping with my usual routine, I walked the perimeter of the park before the game. Only one concession stand was open with the usual offerings at reasonable prices. I wasn’t in the mood for a dog or a brat, so I kept walking toward the outfield, where there is a deck from right to center field and bleachers in left. In center, there was another stand with different items for sale, and that’s where I found it.

Yes indeed, GATOR BITES!!! Genuine alligator meat, cooked to order and a generous portion at that. I expected rubber but instead got tender and tasty chunks of truly delicious reptile, complemented with a side of fries. Appropriate for the area and distinctive in the world of baseball. Oh, and did I mention, one dollar draft beer?! Baseball Nirvana.

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Eats, Minor Leagues, Outfield Ads, Travel

Stone Crabs v. Mets

I left Miami and headed west, driving and hiking through the Everglades. That national park is different from any other I’ve seen in that it is not really, in the strict sense of the word, a tourist destination. Yes, tourists do visit, but it lacks the sort of memorable sights that most national parks feature. It is really more of an adventure destination – I doubt you’ll see much until you get further into the swamp by way of a canoe or kayak. I suspect my experience was typical for the casual visitor – egrets everywhere, but nary a gator in sight.

I stopped in Port Charlotte to see a minor league game. This part of Florida has two leagues – the Gulf Coast League (rookies, not playing yet) and the Florida State League – called Advanced A.

The home team Charlotte Stone Crabs are affiliated the Tampa Bay Rays and play their games the Rays’ spring training park, called the Charlotte Sports Park. It is fairly spacious by minor league standards and very well groomed.

On this night, there was a huge crowd of about 100 – OK maybe 200. Average age probably somewhere north of 65 (this is Florida after all!).

Speaking of that, the outfield ads contained more for health care and senior services than usual. Given the small size (including small text) of some of them and their distance from the seats, it’s hard to see that they’re terribly effective. The only one that stood out enough to qualify for the outfield ads category was this one – what the heck is a ‘bath fitter?”

The Crabs started strong against the St. Lucie Mets with three runs in the first and they didn’t let up. This laugher ended at 13-3 for the Crabs. Quite a contrast to the Marlins – Phillies contest. The Crabs feature brothers Nate and Josh Lowe, making it the first time I can remember seeing brothers on the same team.

The Stone Crabs mascot is like most, though there weren’t enough kids in the crowd to afford him the opportunity for the usual mascot shtick. You will see that his only distinctive feature is the claws.

The screens, as in most parks now, extend beyond the dugouts. That creates a problem for yours truly because it’s hard to get good pics through the screen. See the contrasting pics below. Even if I weren’t doing that, the screening makes it harder to follow the flight of the batted ball. What price safety?

It was interesting that what was a 20 second clock last year is now down to 15 seconds. That’s the time allowed the pitcher to deliver the next pitch. Again, I saw no enforcement, but the game did move along fairly quickly.

There was one puzzling enforcement incident. With a runner on first, the umpire suddenly motioned him to third. No explanation was given and I couldn’t figure it out – a double balk, maybe?

The eats were very limited, though the prices were reasonable for a minor league park. No concessionaire was going to retire on this night’s receipts. I did have a dog with cooked chopped onions, which was a new one on me, but also fairly tasteless.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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