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.

Advertisements
Standard
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.

Standard
Eats, Minor Leagues, Oddity, Outfield Ads

Eastlake, Ohio

Classic Park in Eastlake, Ohio is quite large for a single A team, and after attending a game there, it is obvious that the Lake County Captains, who play in that park, enjoy more support from their parent team, the nearby Cleveland Indians, than most other single A teams. It has a seating capacity of nearly 7,300 and a natural grass field. Very nice.
Given the name of the team, it is not surprising that the park bears a nautical theme. The suites are dubbed the “Officers Club” and the toilets are on the Poop Deck. I could go on, but you get the idea.
To add to the ambience (this was “Heros Weekend”), the team wore jerseys covered in pictures of folks from the area who have served or are serving in the military. From even a short distance, they looked like camouflage outfits.

Then, to top it off, they had two “parades” before the game started. The first was graduates of a special reading program – there were three little kids. But the real attraction was about 60 motorcycles, many bearing hefty operators wearing leather vests, who rode around the warning track, parked in front of the dugouts and behind home plate, and. milled around until leaving just before the game started. Not sure how bikers and soldiers (and readers!) end up in the same show, but there you go.

On this very pleasant evening, the Captains hosted the Bowling Green Hot Rods, but it wasn’t much of a contest. The Captains’ hitting and defense were both superior, leading to a lopsided victory.
There was a good variety of food on offer at quite reasonable prices. A regular hot dog was $3.50 and my bratwurst (with onions and peppers) was just $6. Plus, they not only had the usual condiments, but some specialty mustards and, believe it or not, my favorite – Frank’s hot sauce.
In the fourth inning, a sharply hit foul ball found a not sufficiently alert fan and she was carried out on a stretcher after about a 20 minute game delay. A reminder of the dangers of the game.
Finally, I am back in the minors and thus have increased the chances of some strange outfield ads. This one struck me, given the not-too-distant history of the game, as wildly inappropriate. What sort of drugs? Approved by MLB? Really?

Standard
Eats, M's, Major Leagues, Oddity

Spring Training – Mariners

Surprise.  Again.

Yes, same stadium, two days in a row.  Surprise Stadium is shared by the Rangers and the Royals, and this time the Royals were the home team against the Mariners.  And, yes, I am still a Mariners fan.  So we go from the sublime (the Cubs and Indians, fresh off their epic World Series battle) to the ridiculous (the M’s may have the longest current streak of not making the playoffs).  I can’t help myself.

I’ll start by saying that I was delighted when the M’s got Jarrod Dyson from the Royals.  The fellow I sat next to (a KC loyalist) did not share my happiness but agreed that M’s fans would be pleased.  He had a very good day against his former team.

At the outset, it looked like the varsity against the scrubs.  The Royals started many of their vets, including Jason Vargas (a former Mariner), Lorenzo Cain and Mike Moustakas and their compensation for giving up Wade Davis to the Cubs, Jorge Soler.  Seattle, on the other hand, was missing 14 players who were competing for various countries in the World Baseball Classic, so their team was largely no-names and a couple of recently acquired guys who are supposed to make them great again (wait, were they ever great?).  Soler, by the way, didn’t look so good for the Royals.

But lo and behold, the scrubs not only won, they dominated and looked very good.  The Mariners played the best baseball we saw this week, with a couple of stellar defensive plays and very good pitching by Chase De Jong.  De Jong, so the rumor mill has it, may make the starting rotation even though he’s never made the big leagues.  He’s just 23 years old, but showed a lot of poise and definitely kept the Royals off balance during his four innings of work.

The M’s may also have the player with the most unpronounceable name Marc Rzepczynski (zep chin ski), a veteran who has bounced from team to team for several years.

Now for the mystery – the arm sleeve.  It is all the style these days for athletes in many sports to wear an arm sleeve on their dominant arm.  It supposedly helps in recovery from injury, prevents swelling, keeps the muscles warm, etc., etc.  But riddle me this – with the temperature hovering at 95, who needs to keep their arm warm?  I don’t get it.  And one sporting the accessory, Seattle’s Dan Vogelbach (acquired from the Cubs last year), isn’t yet making waves in spring training.

Oh yes, did I mention the monster dog?  A foot of hot dog delight!

Standard
Eats, Major Leagues, Oddity, Travel

Milwaukee 

Friend John Nebel and I got an early start from Detroit and drove across Michigan in a thundering downpour.  I knew it rained hard in the Midwest but I didn’t know it could last, with such intensity, for so long.  It finally stopped near the Indiana border and we were able to stop and start through the Chicago traffic without a drop of precipitation.

We stopped in the early afternoon at Miller Park (finally a stadium named after beer instead of a bank or insurance company!), which is a few miles west of downtown Milwaukee, to buy our tickets for the game.  Folks were already lining up to get into the parking lot, which hadn’t opened yet.  Puzzling.  We later learned why when, after getting settled at our motel, we returned to find the lot heavily occupied by the faithful deeply engrossed in the joys of tailgating.  That was a first on this trip.  That sense of commitment was reinforced when the national anthem was sung by a Lutheran church choir.  And the Midwestern ambience was further enhanced when, during the seventh inning stretch, everyone sang (after “Take Me Out to the Ball Game”) “Roll Out the Barrel.”  Even though this is Wisconsin and not Minnesota, I had visions of Lake Wobegon.

Miller Park is an enigma.  It was built in 2001, around the same time as so many of the modern era parks, but is the only one with a fan shaped retractable roof.  That structure and the walls that support it convey a sense of enclosure, even when the roof is open.  The stadium seems small but will hold more than 40,000.  Baseball, being rooted in failure (a good hitter – .300 average – fails 70% of the time), depends on hope, and the vista of the outfield with the geography beyond are symbols of that striving.  This slightly claustrophobic field diminishes the optimism inherent in the game.  I didn’t love it.

The game itself frankly wasn’t very interesting.  I had not heard of a single Brewer in the starting lineup (Lucroy was held out pending a possible trade, Braun recovering from a minor injury).  This was the second time in a week I’d seen the Pirates, but they didn’t have the offense I saw in Pittsburgh.  Perhaps it was because Andrew McCutchen has lost his locks, a fact I had completely missed in the prior game (who is the Delilah to this Samson?).  Or more likely just a night typified by the Pirates rookie pitcher getting his first hit to right only to be thrown out at first for failing to hustle down the line.  Brewers won 5-3.

And of course, ballpark food.  I have been dreaming of the wonderful bratwurst awaiting me in Wisconsin.  This was the appointed day when I would reach baseball culinary nirvana.  It didn’t happen.  The brat was serviceable but uninspired.  It didn’t hold a candle to the one I had at Target Field in (here we go again) Minnesota last year.  No sautéed onions or peppers.  Just a ballpark meal that will not engender fond memories.  The Leinenkugel Summer Shandy was a nice counterpoint  though – a light German Weiss with a refreshing hint of lemon.  The only unusual item on offer was a donut and custard sandwich – I’m not that courageous.

Now a word about groundskeepers.  Every ballpark has them, of course, and we see them watering and grooming the infield, laying down the lines and occasionally doing a dance during the in-game spiff-up (I have yet to see that on this trip).  But before the game, during the team’s road trips, in the off season, they are busy as well, insuring that the grass is healthy, that the infield is level, that conditions will be ideal for every game so that the skill of the players won’t be thwarted by the bad bounce off a stray rock or a slip in a wet spot in the outfield.  Milwaukee’s crew moved at a trot – faster than any other so far.  Here are pictures of groundskeepers in several stadiums doing their their pre- and mid-game duties.


By the way, while it is tradition to display the names and numbers of a team’s greats from yesteryear on the stadium walls, who knew that recently retired baseball “commissioner-for-life” Bud Selig was a Milwaukee Brewer or that he had a number (let alone a uniform)???

Standard
Eats, M's, Major Leagues, Oddity, Travel

Pittsburgh

I left the picturesque green of central New York to drive south and west for the beginning of the return trip.  We talk about Oregon being green, and the western third is, but rural upstate New York, in the summer at least, offers strong competition in that regard with its intense, almost jungle-like vegetation.  Its small towns add a touch of quaintness that makes a visit memorable.

Along the way, I found myself in Williamsport, Pa., home of the Little League World Series.  It isn’t going on now, but of course I had to take a picture of the stadium.


Pittsburgh’s stadium, PNC Park, like Cincinnati’s, sits on the banks of the Ohio River.  The view of the river from the park isn’t quite as good, but the River Walk, around the outfield, is lovely.  It looks over the river to downtown, which was illuminated by a sinking sun finally escaping a late afternoon cloud cover.  It will seat about 38,000 and though not full, there was a substantial crowd for this game.


I knew the Pirates would be playing the Mariners, but I hadn’t checked the lineup and thus didn’t realize that King Felix would be pitching for the M’s.  I was chagrined that I hadn’t brought my Felix towel with me and actually contemplated going back to the pickup to get it.  I needn’t have worried.  The anticipated pitching duel between him and Pirates starter Francisco Liriano did not materialize.  Liriano walked the first two batters he faced and through the second inning, had thrown more balls than strikes.  Felix was pitching home run derby, giving up one to Polanco (followed by Marte’s triple) for three runs in the first, and then was humiliated when he gave up another to pitcher Liriano in the second.  The M’s got a run in the second, followed by their own dingers by Gutierrez in the third and Seager in the fourth, when they chased Liriano and gave Felix a 7-4 lead that he and the bullpen held (though not without drama).


I also had the good fortune of a kindly ticket seller who found me a single seat on the 100 level, about 20 rows up from the M’s dugout, halfway between home and first. It really couln’t have been much better, especially for watching Felix.

The food at PNC was mostly standard fare and priced accordingly.  I chose a pierogi and pulled pork combo, mainly because it sounded unlikely, and it was.  The sandwich came with pre-packaged barbecue sauce, but the meat was tender.  The pierogis were doughy and uninspired.  There was also a decent variety of so-called “healthy” choices, more than I’ve seen elsewhere, and barbecue, reasonably priced but nonetheless avoided.  There was even a bargain “small” hot dog at $3.

One final note – one of the Pirates relievers is Arquimedes Caminero.  If he could team with Socrates Brito of the D’Backs and they could find a Plato somewhere, we’d have a philosophical crew the likes of which have never been seen in Major League Baseball.

The weather was cooler than it has been recently, so with the setting, the terrific seat and the M’s victory, it was a very successful start to the road trip home.

Standard
Eats, History, Oddity, Travel

Kansas

 

Only a couple hundred miles from Wichita to Kansas City and the freeway seemed by far the most direct way to get there. Only after I got onto the on ramp did I realize it was a tollroad. Who knew there were tollroads in Kansas?

I soon got off the turnpike to tour the Flint Hills, which my friend Steve Rinkle told me about. It is a beautifully lush area, but calling them hills is a little bit like calling a dollar a fortune.  In the West, such a hill would be lucky to qualify as a speed bump.

image

Nevertheless, the area appears to be very productive and I was startled to see, in Council Grove, the Farmers and Drovers Bank, pictured here.  I thought a drover was someone who drove a wagon, but it is defined as one who drives cattle to market or a cattle dealer.  So in this area, the name probably still makes sense.

image

As proof, I offer pictures of some of the residents of Flint Hills.  You can tell it was a warm day because of the heavy attendance at the local swimming pool.

So far in this state I’ve been struck by how green and agriculturally fertile it is.  Another feature on the flat horizon is the ubiquitous grain elevator, the Midwestern cathedral.

image

The real reason for getting to Kansas City a day early is barbecue.  My host here is a friend (originally and still my son Eli’s friend) who lived with us for a time in Portland, Josh Sturgis.  He sent me first to Q39, where I consumed the pictured feast (tip of the hat to number one daughter-in-law, Miriam, who taught me to take pictures of food). The potato salad was just okay, the ribs were good, but not as tender as some, the pulled pork was outstanding, the sauce – excellent, the cornbread acceptable (but no honey butter) and the beans were probably the best ever.

image

Finally, a bit of history.  I was thinking more about the Wingnuts and their independent league and recalling the days when there were many more teams about, some of them semi-pro and some barnstormers.  Perhaps the most interesting was the House of David, which my friend Kateri Walsh reminded me about.  You can read more here.

 

Standard