Sunday, April 28, 2013
On All the Baseball in Delaware
Sunday, April 28, 2013
Winston-Salem Dash (Chicago White Sox) vs. Wilmington Blue Rocks (Kansas City Royals)
Judy Johnson Field at Daniel S. Frawley Stadium
Carolina League (A)
Outside the Game: Realizing that my main baseball trip to Taiwan was barely a month away, I decided to work in some domestic product. Thankfully, the great state of Delaware only has one professional team for me to conquer: The Wilmington Blue Rocks, an Advanced A-ball affiliate of the Kansas City Royals (for no good reason I can see).
Wilmington was strangely convenient for me, further south than Philadelphia, but located right off 95. I had originally planned to go to the Saturday evening game that weekend, but I was reminded that it was my father's birthday, so I was compelled to go to the Sunday afternoon game instead. I awoke bright and early on Sunday and headed out just as "Talking Baseball" was hitting the airwaves at 9 AM, and I managed to get where I was going just as it was ending two hours later.
I pulled into the ample parking lot, bought my ticket, and started to do my photography bit. With plenty of time before the game, I walked around. Like many post-industrial cities, Wilmington had revitalized its formerly factory-laden riverfront with arts and commercial entities, all centered around the park. It wasn't Broadway, but it was a pleasant enough place to spend some time, and probably offered families and patrons a lot of choices after the game. And it would be easy enough to park once (for free) and make a day of a game and one of the several museums, theaters, or eateries in the area.
After the game, I was able to quickly get back out on the main road (no thanks to some dodgy directions from my TomTom) and head back up 95. I wasn't so lucky on this leg of the trip, as construction congestion tacked on a good extra half hour or so to my ride back. I still got back to Hoboken at a reasonable enough time to catch the regular Sunday night nerd programming.
The Stadium & Fans: It would seem that the people who brought "Judy Johnson Field at Daniel S. Frawley Stadium" into being really liked naming things, as it is dually named for the local Negro League great and the former mayor who got baseball back in Wilmington. Not content with those lauds, there is an additional (odd) statue of Johnson outside the front entrance, as well as numerous plaques and a small stand of monuments by the ticket office.
The park itself is nestled in the Wilmington Riverside redevelopment. Attached to the stadium itself is the Delaware Sports Museum and Hall of Fame, but it wasn't open for my Sunday visit. Two stairways on either side of the entrance provide entry to the park, which has an encircling upper walkway that descends to the seating area below.
As with many low-minors parks, there is one split row of seating, extending around from left field to right field, with some modest luxury boxes in a second level behind home plate and extending to the dugouts. A special general admission bleacher section elevates above the regular seating ring in left field, offering the cheapest seats in the house.
The left field walkway ends in the kids area and the Top of the Rocks Picnic Pavilion (where a local jam band was holding court before the game), and the right field walkway terminates in the Blue Moose Grille and Bullpen Picnic Pavilion. Standard concessions are available around the main walkway, and the team store is nestled in the walkway above home plate blocked from field view by the press box.
The team proudly displays their pennants and championships along the luxury boxes, and in a nice tip of the hat, banners all along the walkway in the infield honor the players by year that have made it to the majors from the Blue Rocks. (Being a Kansas City farm club, advancement is no doubt swifter than with other franchises.)
The stadium is serviced by two scoreboards, the main one in left and an auxiliary one in right, that also features the team's retired numbers and a memorial to their long-time broadcaster. The second scoreboard could have been useful, but it was mostly used to play in-game video and ads the entire game.
As with any minor league club, there was plenty of between-inning entertainment to be had. The MC was dressed in some odd manner of super hero, and the mascot was a moose, Rocky Bluewinkle. I stand here before you not yet knowing if that name is awful or brilliant. The between-inning festivities were all the greatest hits of such entertainments: mascot races, dizzy bat races, musical chairs, ball tosses, and the like. A new one to me was a late-inning contest where a compact Kia was driven around the infield with its roof open, and fans had to throw their pre-purchased ball in the roof to win a prize. How there were no fatalities still eludes me, as an underpaid promotions intern speedily whipped around the infield while being purposefully pelted with projectiles.
The crowd was mostly families, as to be expected. They were quite catered to, as they had a pre-game "catch in the outfield" period, as well as running the bases after the game. The listless play didn't leave a lot to cheer about, but the fans were mostly into the game as to be expected. There were no more than a smattering of opposing fans in attendance, and the stadium itself was probably half filled when everything was said and done.
At the Game with Oogie: I got a single seat in the second row behind the home dugout, for the outrageous game-day price of $11. (The extra dollar was added for not buying ahead of time.) One of the stadium workers reassuringly called these the "concussion seats" and cautioned everyone to pay attention, especially when right-handed batters were up. Most ignored the warning until a late swing shot a ball into the crowd a short distance away, and the staff guy tossed us all an "I-told-you-so" look.
As expected, I was utterly surrounded by families all around. Most with younger children sat down for the start of the game and then disappeared to get food or to take the easily distracted kids for food or to see mascots. One hillarious older couple behind me were judging how buzzed their various drinks were getting them throughout the course of the day.
When the home team scores, the unfortunately named "Stalker" the Celery comes out, and the crowd went absolutely nuts. God as my witness, I have no idea what the appeal was.
The Game: This was just about one of the oddest games I've ever seen, from the four caught stealings, to the sloppiest no-hitter attempt this side of Doc Ellis. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
The game looked to be shaping up for a long one, as the first Dash batter of the game worked a 10+ pitch at-bat, and then won the battle with a single to right. The Blue Rocks pitcher seemed shaken by the contest, and promptly walked the next batter. With two on and no out, the third batter laced a gap double to right, scoring the runner on second and pushing the other over to third. First and third with no one out seemed to auger a long first inning, but the Blue Rocks pitcher settled down and got the next three in order to leave it 1-0, Dash.
The picture didn't seem too different for the home team, as the first batter worked a walk. However, the next three struck out, grounded into a fielder's choice and struck out, respectively. Almost improbably, the Blue Rocks set down the Dash in order in the second, while the Blue Rocks got a two-out baserunner on a hit batsman, who was almost immediately erased on the first caught stealing of the day.
In the third, the Dash managed one two-out single literally off the pitcher. He then stole second, but was left stranded when the next batter grounded less violently back to the pitcher to end the half. The Blue Rocks looked to have something when the leadoff batter reached on an error by the third baseman. The next batter hit into a fielder's choice, and was himself erased on the second caught stealing of the day. The next batter reached when a third strike got by the catcher, but he was stranded by a groundout to end the inning.
The Dash fourth was a one-out walk erased on the third caught stealing of the day, before a strikeout ended it. The Blue Rocks went in order in the fourth, and it put a odd fact into stark relief: The Dash pitcher was working on a no-hitter, even though the bases had been littered with base runners up to this point. In fact, the no-hit Blue Rocks actually had one more base runner than the Dash up to this point in the game.
The Dash squandered plenty of opportunities in fifth. Back-to-back one-out singles were followed by a fly out, but another short single loaded the bases and finally chased the Blue Rocks starter. The relief guy got another pop-up to end the half with nothing across. The Blue Rocks went meekly in order again in their part of the fifth.
The sixth started with a point of contention. In the process of beginning a swing, the leadoff hitter for the Dash seemingly fouled a ball off. The Dash manager successfully argued that the ball hit the batter, but the Blue Rocks manager came out and likely counter-argued that since the batter was offering at the pitch, he can't get the base as a hit batsman. As far as I could tell, the Blue Rocks manager was in the right, but he got thrown out for his trouble. An errant pick-off throw allowed the runner to get second, but greedily, he tried for third and become the fourth caught stealing victim of the night before two quick outs ended the inning.
The sixth started more fortuitously for the Blue Rocks, who finally got their first hit, a single to right. He was promptly sacrificed over to second... and stranded by two ground outs. The Dash went in order in the seventh, but the Blue Rocks had a one-out single followed by a walk... and then a double-play to end the inning. A one-out home run to deep center in the top of the eighth seemed to remind everyone that scoring was a possibility, leaving the tally at 2-0 at the end of the half inning. The Blue Rocks managed a two-out walk, steal, and double to finally plate a run, closing the gap to 2-1 at the end of eight.
It all fell apart in the ninth. A new Blue Rocks pitcher did not hold things down, giving up three straight singles to bring in one run. A fielder's choice erased the middle runner but left it first and third with one out, and a sacrifice fly brought in another run before the inning was ended on an interference call (of all things). The Blue Rocks made one last go of it in the bottom of the ninth. A leadoff single was followed by a walk. After a pop-out to third, another single loaded up the bases with one out, but a strikeout and a weak grounder to first ended the nascent rally, and the game, at 4-1 Dash.
The Scorecard: Common to the low minors, the scorecard was part of the free program handed out as you entered the park. Also typically, it was of low-quality magazine paper, and the scoring boxes themselves were wedged into the top quarter of the centerfold spread dominated by ads for a liquor store and a gold-buying establishment.
The glossy paper did not take to pencil writing very well, especially colored pencils, and any erasing took the entire scoring frame with it. There were just enough slots for all the players, and one extra inning allowed for. They did seem to take their stats seriously, as the scoring summary for each inning included runs, hits, and errors (though it was quite cramped in the tiny box), and there were printed lines for umpires, temperature, weather, game time, winning and losing pitchers, who picked up the save, and attendance. They announced all of these over the PA system during the game, except for the attendance, so you conceivably could keep up with it all.
As odd a game as it was to watch, it was also an odd game to score. I don't think I've written CS ("Caught Stealing") so much in one scorecard, ever. There were four instances of the event (and even two for each team), and three of them involved a pick-off by the pitcher catching the runner too far off first, or, even more bizarrely, a runner caught between first and second on a throw from the catcher trying to make it back to first (CS 2-4-3).
The no-hitter looked even more ridiculous on the score card, as the pitcher clearly didn't have a clean frame until the fourth. The idea that a no-hitter extended for two more innings seems implausible.
In this game of insanity, there were also more oddities snuck in, from the strikeout leading to a baserunner in the third, and, after an entire baseball-scoring career without seeing an interference call, I got my second in a row in the top of the ninth, as the last batter of the inning was punched out for impeding the catcher's throw to second to try and nail a stolen base attempt (BI-2).
The Accommodations: Home on the Boken.
View the Flickr picture set for this trip.