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?

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Eats, Minor Leagues, Outfield Ads, Travel

Colorado Springs

I am clearly insane.

When it became clear that an early game in Omaha was not going to happen, I ran out of steam and stopped in Fort Dodge, Iowa for the night.  After getting settled there, the insanity descended and I somehow concluded that it would make sense to go to Colorado the next day, since Omaha was not far enough along to make for an easy following day’s drive and there wasn’t any baseball between there and Colorado.  Besides, that would give me the day in the Denver area to goof off, get ready for the Rockies game and mentally prepare for the long two-day drive home.

Good plan, right?  What I failed to consider was the distance between Fort Dodge and Colorado Springs, which I discovered – the hard way – is about 720 miles.  And that’s taking several diagonal “short cuts” (one of which was closed for construction  – I either didn’t see or ignored signs, but it was interesting to be the only non-construction vehicle on new pavement for several miles) that shaved some miles off the more common right angle roads in Iowa, Nebraska and Kansas.  The early part of that drive was through a frightening thunderstorm with rain, the likes of which I have never seen.

But, thanks to gaining an hour going from Central to Mountain time, I made it, just in time for the first pitch at Security Service Stadium, on the eastern edge of Colorado Springs.  This stadium is interesting because it is located high above the city (though not with any view of the mountains) at 6531 feet, making it the highest baseball stadium in the country.  Unlike any others on this trip, it is named after a local credit union, a long-time sponsor.  And it isn’t very big.  The seats don’t go much beyond the bases and the outfield wall (based on the sound of several hits bouncing off it) are insubstantial plywood. Unlike other minor league parks, the screen didn’t even reach the dugouts, covering only a small area right behind home plate.  Oh yes, and the crowd was small, not more than 300-400.

The Colorado Sky Sox (Milwaukee Brewers affiliate) took on the visiting Oklahoma City Dodgers (I’ll let you guess the affiliation) in this Pacific Coast League (AAA) matchup.  The thin air and less than stellar pitching made for lots of long fly balls, including several home runs.  The Sox won 9-4 after falling behind early, slowly chipping away until a big rally in the 8th, but, despite all that offense and several pitching changes, the game took just over 2 1/2 hours.  Apparently because both teams are National League affiliates, there was no DH.

The picture below shows several items of note: 1) the sparse crowd; 2) seats ending just past third base; 3) grassy slope in place of left field bleachers; 4) 20 second pitcher clock.  Once again, as in Albuqurque, there was no obvious enforcement of the pitcher clock, but the game did move quickly.

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At long last, another outfield ad.  This one was so good (when you think about it) that I had to take a picture.  Would you want to bat against a pitcher who needed an eye doctor?

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And then there’s food.  Or not.  Very limited menu (I chose nachos and got out-of-the-bag chips slathered with liquid velveeta and some other allegedly “Mexican” pre-processed condiments) and of course, Coors beer.  Not exciting, except for the fact that I paid big league prices.

And another thing.  John Nebel pointed out that I failed to mention the most distinctive offering in Detroit.  Apparently, the thought of it with the certain ensuing midnight heartburn so traumatized me that I completely blocked it from my mind – fried baloney sandwich!

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Eats, Major Leagues, Outfield Ads

Cincinnati 

Tom headed home to Oregon and the kids went home to New York, where I will rejoin them for the Hall of Fame induction ceremony. So I took a solo drive southeast from Chicago, through the green fields of Indiana (did I mention corn?) to the Queen City, Cincinnati, to watch the Reds take on the Diamondbacks at the Great American Ball Park.

That wouldn’t be such a bad name if you could avoid knowing that the name was purchased by the insurance company located right behind it. GABP replaced what was once Riverfront Stadium, and it is located right on the banks of the Ohio River. If the game isn’t engaging, you can watch boat traffic on the river.

I couldn’t face more nitrite-laced pork products, so I opted, sadly, for a pre-packaged chicken Caesar salad, which did the trick, albeit without baseball tradition or the prospect of midnight heartburn. There was chili available – first time I’ve seen that. The prices were generally a little higher than in Chicago and lower than KC. They also had custom hand-dipped ice cream bars with a choice of coatings. Classy.
It was cooler than the past few evenings and no rain even threatened. Both teams began as though they were suffering from heat stroke, however, with both pitchers giving up home runs and walks. The storied Reds, one of if not the oldest franchise in the Majors, settled down to win it 6-2.
Although it was not technically on an outfield wall (an electronic border sign), so far the best in the Majors: “Eat. Spit. Be Happy.” An ad for David Sunflower seeds.
Oh yes, the mysterious circles near the base paths at White Sox field – according to Dave Moore, they are a holdover from tobacco chewing days. Players could spit in the circle with impunity, but not elsewhere. I don’t know if he’s right, but it’s such a good answer, I’m going with it.

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Eats, History, Minor Leagues, Outfield Ads

Normal

We faced a dilemma this morning: stay in St. Louis and hope the rain would stop in time for the make-up 1:15 game, first of a double header or head north and take in a minor league game and some history on the way to Chicago.  After some back and forth, we decided (with pilot Tom consulting the weather radar) to leave, which we did in a downpour.  We later questioned our decision, since that game did go forward and so did the second, and the Cards won them both.  Theoretically, we could have watched both (or at least most of the second), got up early, done the Lincoln tour and still made it to Chicago, but theory and practice don’t always mesh.

So we drove north, through the rain for a good while, and stopped in Springfield, Illinois, the principal adult home of our 16th president, Abraham Lincoln.  It is maintained and operated by the National Park Service and we took a tour.  It is the only home Lincoln ever owned and you can read more about it here.  It was interesting and Lincoln is a source of endless fascination.

Street View

Living Room

From Springfield and history, we returned to the land of baseball, stopping in Normal (could there be a better name?!) Illinois to watch the Normal Cornbelters (right up there with the Wichita Wingnuts for best minor league team name) play the Schaumburg Illinois Boomers.  Both are part of the Frontier League, another of the independent leagues with some interesting rules about recruiting their players, the mix of “veterans” and rookies and so forth.  Turns out their last game was also rained out so we got the treat of a double header.

Walking into the Corn Crib stadium, by far the best stadium name encountered yet, you are greeted by a monster farm implement of some sort and by the charming field name.


Since we hadn’t eaten at the ballpark for a couple of days, we decided we should here, especially since we were told the folks in charge smoked their own meat right at the stadium.  We tried both the pulled pork and brisket and both were terrible.  They may have been smoked at the stadium, but, if so, it was some time last month. I told someone I wasn’t eating barbecue after Missouri and God smote me for my lie.   The macaroni and cheese was heavy and by both appearance and taste, was made with velveeta.

Gut Bomb

On the other hand, the featured “two for one” item of the night was roasted corn on the cob and, as you would expect in the Midwest, it was fabulous.  The DeStihl Weissenheimer (wheat) beer was also very good.

The baseball, not so much.  It wasn’t terrible, and the evening was quite pleasant, but don’t bet on any of these guys starring for the Cubs anytime soon.  The field was also entirely artificial turf, and not very good turf at that.  The stands would hold a few thousand, but there were only about 200 souls in attendance.  Surprisingly, despite its modest scale, the stadium sports several suites at the concourse level.  We heard frequently from the public address announcer that “dogs are welcome on Wednesdays” but none bothered to show up.  Another feature not seen elsewhere, the Cornbelters dancers.  Their performances were extremely brief.

Cornbelters dancers rushing to the field

Although it was not an outfield ad, this advertisement ranks right up there with the best.

The public address announcer was loud and the talk or music nearly constant.  We had field-level front row seats, and here on the prairie, it would have been nice to be able to enjoy the sounds of the game.  Silence seems to be anathema at public events.  It may be the greatest fear of the American people.

It’s about the game, friends.

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Minor Leagues, Oddity, Outfield Ads, Travel

Wichita

Siri lies! It is much further from Albuquerque to Wichita than she says.  That, and the added hour for crossing into the Central Time Zone made for a just slightly tardy arrival at Lawrence Dumont Stadium, where the Wichita Wingnuts (slogan – Go Nuts) play their home games.

The day’s journey highlighted a couple important points.  First, most of us live in cities and don’t think much about how vast this country is, especially the West.  There are great swathes that are simply uninhabited.  To put it in technological terms, I’m confident that the majority of the miles I’ve covered are in areas without cell phone service.

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Second, the last part of the trip re-affirmed the startling topographical fact – Kansas is flat!  And windy!  And though the Midwest is not uninhabited, most of the land is planted in crops, not people.  Oh yes, and the corn is not yet as high as an elephant’s eye.

Speaking of Kansas, there were two interesting quirks.  First, the main drag (US 54) through Liberal, Kansas, a small town on the Oklahoma border, is called Pancake Boulevard.  I was unaware of the connection between liberals (what else could that name refer to?) and the beloved breakfast confection.  Second, as I drove through Greensburg, Kansas, I was confronted with a sign that simply read “I’d Turn Back if I Were You.”  (It advertised no product or service.). Clearly, the author of that warning is not a baseball fan.

And now, to the game.  The Wingnuts played the Sioux Falls Canaries (both intimidating names, right?) on a warm but pleasant evening.  Both are part of the  American Association, an independent league with a long history of being all over the minor league map, from Triple A to non-existent.

The guys playing at this level are older than most minor leaguers on average, because they’ve been scuffling around for a good while.  Some have been to the majors and didn’t last or got injured or traded or simply lost in the shuffle.  They haven’t yet given up the dream, but we won’t see them in the Show again anytime soon.  Their play was at times brilliant but on the whole sloppy and the 10-2 final score in favor of the Wingnuts illustrates the lack of defensive prowess.

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The Nuts are managed by Pete Rose, Jr., whom I ordinarily wouldn’t pick on, but he has recently joined his (in)famous father in criticizing Ichiro as he approaches the 3000 hit mark.  Some have mentioned that, if his hits in Japan were counted, he’d surpass Rose Sr. on the all-time hits list.  Both Roses  said that was ridiculous, and Ichiro diplomatically avoided the fight, but that didn’t make me like either Rose any better.

Some observations about Lawrence Dumont Stadium: its surface is entirely artificial (except for the pitcher’s mound), which makes a slide into second base more closely resemble a melee around the goal in a hockey game; its screen covers only the immediate area behind home – not even the dugout area is included; an ad by Wichita Railway Services for “Freight Car Parts” – who knew there’d be a market for those at the ballpark?

Finally, the bat boy/girl (though I have yet to see a bat girl on this trip).  Sometimes mistakenly referred to as the ball boy (this is the term used in tennis), the bat boy deals with both balls and bats and plays an important function in keeping the game moving.  Think about how much longer games would be if players and umpires had to do all that work of retrieving balls and bats.

 

 

 

 

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Eats, Minor Leagues, Oddity, Outfield Ads

Ogden

It’s not all fun and games, people. I had to violate one of my principles today by coming all the way from Boise to Ogden on the freeway, since there are not really any decent secondary roads for that journey. Unfortunately, I stopped at one to many rest stops because I was making good time and decided to take a minute to work on my blog using my phone. Halfway to the picnic table in the shade, I realized I had just locked my keys in the pick up!  The truckers I asked had no idea what a slim Jim was and the police could help only by referring me to a towing company in a nearby town. A fellow showed up fairly promptly and with about 30 seconds of effort unlocked the door and set me back $100.

With that out of the way, I headed for Lindquist Field to watch the Ogden Raptors play the Missoula Osprey.  It is a remarkably large stadium for a minor league team and perhaps reflects the money the Dodgers (the Raptors parent club) are willing to spend on their upcoming talent.  It is hands down the most spectacularly sited field I’ve seen thus far, with the Wasatch Mountains looming in the background.  The sky was cloudless all day and that continued through a beautiful evening of baseball.

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Following the money theme, it was interesting to watch the scouts working diligently to try to figure out who the next star might be.  Maybe they were paying attention because this game reflected the higher level (over last night’s short season Single A) of the Pioneer League, a Rookie (Advanced) league.  Once again, it wasn’t much of a game (the Raptors won big) but still quite enjoyable.

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Food tips: Farr (Better) Ice Cream – an old company with a dipping store not far from the stadium and worth the walk. At the field, I enjoyed a spicy polish with unlimited kraut and pickles (both spear and slice) and $2 beer.

Outfield wall ads: Bonneville Collections – really??  And the best: Lindquist Mortuaries/Cemeteries in right field, just foul, perhaps where homers go to die?

Finally, the best binkie ever.

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Eats, Minor Leagues, Oddity, Outfield Ads, Travel

Boise

The adventure begins with an early departure from Portland on a sparkling day.  I don’t know what it is about road trips but I’m always anxious to get going.  The sense of freedom, of expectation of something wonderful I’ve never seen before, the anticipation of planned activity (in this case, baseball) is one of the great joys of life.

Had breakfast at Stephanie’s International Cafe in Sandy (I don’t know what makes it international, since the decor is Old West and kitsch – maybe some of the tchotchkes are made in China).  In any event, my traditional breakfast of bacon and eggs was excellent.  I’ve grown wary of ordering eggs sunny side up because they so often get it wrong, but these were just right.  And the bacon (big, thick slices) was also just as ordered.

I was lucky to arrive at Mt. Hood after the morning clouds had cleared and got this view from the southwest.

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In keeping with my preference (which won’t always be honored on this trip) I avoided the freeway and followed U.S. 26 all the way to Idaho, taking me through Madras, Prineville, Mt. Vernon, Mitchell, John Day, Prairie City, Vale and other lovely hamlets.

East of Mitchell, I came across something I’ve seen in less concentrated form in the Middle East and elsewhere, but never in this country and nothing quite like this.  Bonus points for anyone who can come up with an explanation for this beyond a high school prank.

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It was appropriate that the journey begin with a Hawks game in Boise, where my late brother Jack lived.  He was my baseball mentor, and his widow Kay joined me for the Hawks game against the Vancouver Canadians.  Jack and Kay often attended Hawks games, so it was special for me to be able to have Kay there for the first game on this trip.  My other brother Tom flew his plane (which he built!) with his baseball buddy Jerry from Salem to join in the fun.

Food alert

Since it was my first night out, I felt obliged to get a hot dog.  I think it may have been cooked last week and stored in the bun, such that both looked like me – wrinkled!  I should have tried something else.

It wasn’t a great game (Boise lost 9-3, and it wasn’t really that close), but it was a splendid evening and a great way to start the trip.  Watching the Hawks make several boneheaded base running errors, I was reminded of just how much there is to learn about this game – these guys are just getting started, after all.

One interesting note: there was screen all the way around the field well beyond the bases, protecting everyone in the stands from foul balls.  I haven’t seen screen extend that far in any other stadium.

In the running for best outfield wall ad so far “Sit Means Sit” dog training.

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The Boise Hawk

 

 

 

 

 

 

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