Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Rochester

On 100
Wednesday, June 18, 2014
Pawtucket Red Sox (Boston Red Sox) vs. Rochester Red Wings (Minnesota Twins)
Frontier Field
International League (AAA)
Rochester, NY
7:05 PM

Outside the Game: With the game finally complete in Erie, I had about a 2.5 hour drive to Rochester. Thanks to the identical situation of a rain-delayed game being resumed over there, the gates were effectively opening three hours before game time for me. With the game being resumed from the previous evening, I couldn't keep score even if I wanted to (and, of course, I wanted to). It presented me with a unique opportunity to watch a ballgame with no scoring interest.

But I had to get there first. I headed out of the Erie ballpark at around 2 PM. I dumped myself back into the car and started driving. With one or two minor exceptions, the drive out was uneventful, and completed in about the estimated duration. I got to Rochester at a little after 4 PM, with the gates already open for the resumed game. I parked, picked up my ticket from the Will Call tent, and did my outside photography before going in, guilt-free for the first time at arriving this close to a "first pitch."

The perhaps more critical drive after the game did not go as smoothly. Dragging all my rain gear and game materials, I stripped off the plastic and threw everything unceremoniously into the passenger seat up front in order to just get on the road. There was a bit of conjestion getting out of the stadium area and out to the highway, but once I was back on the Rochester expressway system, I figured I was home free, even given the late hour and hour drive ahead of me.

That was until I ran into construction. The three-lane circuit highway around Rochester was narrowed to two lanes, and then one, and then we weren't moving for a while. I'm sure there was a lot of screaming on my part as every second I was stuck in this traffic at 11 o'clock at night on a damn Wednesday was a minute less sleep I was going to get that night.

After much wailing and gnashing of teeth, I finally cleared the construction and had the good sense not to floor it, as Smokey had several speed traps out that nabbed drivers coming out of the congestion. I waited until I was back to the Thruway to floor it, and despite the issues (and the fact that I seem to have made the first half of the drive with my headlights off), I made it to the hotel only a little after midnight.

The Stadium & Fans: I was making the jump from AA to AAA in Rochester, and, after a week of somewhat complicated park names, it was nice to walk into plain-old Frontier Field. Located in the heart of Rochester, with the Kodak Tower peaking in over left field, the park is serviced by a large parking lot just outside the main gate.

Flanked on all but one side by city streets, the park has two main entrances. The primary entrance is just behind home plate, with a exterior plaza featuring the ticket booth, the corporate offices, and a statue to the patron saint of Rochester baseball, Morrie E. Silver, namesake of the previous ballpark. Another entrance lies just beyond left field, with its own smaller ticket office. Will Call tickets are handled in a small booth near the main entrance.

Once inside, there are entrance plazas by both main entrances. At home plate, you're greeted by the team store, program concessions, and a giant horse statue named "Horsehide," as it is made out of baseball gloves. There is a wide walkway leading straight to behind home plate, which was out of ordinary for most stadium designs looking to cram every last "premium" seat behind the plate. In left field, you enter into a plaza with the kids' play area, a statue to Joe Altobelli, picnic tables that overlook the visitor's bullpen, a grass seating berm, and some speciality concessions.

You get around by exterior and interior walkways. The walkway in the seating bowl rings the stadium from left field to right field and separates the box seats below from the 200 level above. That level is in turn split in half by the cut-out entrance behind home plate. Above the 200 level are luxury boxes, and the press box behind home plate that houses the park's secret weapon: a live organist. The exterior walkway also circles the park from outfield to outfield and hosts nearly all the concessions in the park, and you can lose count. The amount of different food concessions is staggering, especially at a AAA park, and range from healthy choices to a full bar out by left field.

There are several special seating areas. A party room is at the end of the luxury boxes in left field. The 200 level in right is topped by the Hardball Cafe. In deep right field is a group picnic area, and in center is a small party area with its own seats, next to the home bullpen. Three--count them, three--scoreboards keep you up on the action. The actual line score of runs and hits is on a board in left, and two video boards in center and right keep you up-to-date on everything else.

Mascot birds Spike and Mitsy help with the between-inning festivities, which are mostly regular minor-league fare of goofy contests and races. Before the game, there is a pre-game show that is produced on the field, and special guest Bill Lee was the subject for this game.

Even with the threatening weather, the place was packed for the single-admission double-header that finished off the previous night's game before starting on a new seven-inning contest. The visiting PawSox had a sizeable rooting contingent, as well. Even with the intermittant rain, the crowd was fairly die-hard and stayed involved until the bitter end.

Retired numbers are on the outfield wall in right, and championships are on the wall in dead center. There are several hall of fames in the exterior walkway: Section V (presumably the college area), the Louisville Slugger Hall of Fame (for eating a gigantic hot dog sold at the stadium and no relation to the bat company), and the copious Red Wings Hall of Fame. In addition to the statues already mentioned, Cal Ripken Jr. gets his own special plaque (and rock, for some reason) out in the left field plaza.

At the Game with Oogie: As mentioned, this was a weird one for me. The game that I was there to see wasn't starting until 7:05 PM, and probably later, as they had five innings of baseball to finish from the night before. Yes, there was two hours to do it in, but there was going to be a half-hour break between games, so the start time of seven seemed, at best, aspirational.

The pleasant offshoot of this was that the park was essentially going to be opened at least three hours before game time, as far as I was concerned. This greatly influenced my decision to catch the second half of the Erie game earlier that day, and after all was said and done, I ended up getting there slightly after the gates opened for the "first" game of the night.

Above and beyond not caring if I was at the park the moment the gates opened, there would be a game that I couldn't possibly completely score going on, so I would be walking around the park with a game going on, and that never happens. Usually no less than fifteen minutes before the start of the game is AIS time for me (Ass In Seat), and I nearly never leave my seat before the end of the game. So a night of firsts all around.

I picked up my tickets from a nice old lady in a Will Call tent separate from the ticket booth. She asked me if I'd been there before, and we started talking, and she politely refused to act like I was crazy when I told her that this was the 100th park I was visiting. She told me to take a picture of the Kodak Tower, because she didn't know how long it was going to still be there.

So nearly three hours before any game I cared about was going to start, I went into the park and did my normal picture thing. Finishing up, I was interrupted by the National Anthem for the resumed game that was starting at 5 PM.

Red Sox and Expos favorite Bill "Spaceman" Lee was signing authographs before the game, and having all the time in the world, I was able to get in line to get one. The line moved by pretty quickly, until Bill presumably had to take a bathroom break or something, and he disappeared for ten minutes or so. I eventually made it to the front and got my ball signed. This marks only the second baseball autograph I've ever gotten, and the first I've aquired myself.

I only had a pretzel at the game in the morning, and I was fairly starving when I got into the stadium. I got a roast beef sandwich from Red Osier roast beef sandwich to start with, and then an angus burger to finish things off.

As per usual, I had a seat behind the home dugout. These seats were in high demand, and since it was a single-admission double-header, I was able to use my seat for both games, but didn't sit down until the first game was over. I spent what free time I had during the first game to watch it from various vantage points around the park.

I eventually seated myself in a crowded section. There was a family behind me, another sitting around me, and a solo gentleman to my right. When the rain started up, nearly everyone around me left, except the gentleman to my right, whom I apparently offended in some way, as he wandered off to the section next to us after an inning or two of rain.

There was a clutch of ladies in the section to my left who were prepared and stayed the entire, rainy game. Most of them were scorekeepers as well, and they had an animated discussion about a questionable error call, and one of them proclaimed, "Well, it is an error in my book, and that's the only one that matters." Well done, madame.

Also wothy of note is that I finally won a program contest, a minor-league and indie staple. At least once--and sometimes several times--during the game, the PA announcer will tell fans to flip to a certain page in the program, and if a specific ad has a stamp or a player signature, the person has won a price. Now, as of this night, I had been to 100 stadiums, and I had never, ever won one of these. The law of averages says that eventually I'd win one, and that night was tonight. In the top of the second, I checked the page in m program, and I had the stamp. During the break in the inning (but not the rain), I ran up to the guest services desk and retrieved my prize--a book on minor-league baseball. So I have that going for me.

The Game: Watching the end of the game that was suspended the night before, I had some idea of what I was gettting into. While they picked up in the fourth inning at 5 PM, the game didn't end until 7:30 PM, nearly 2.5 hours for five innings. The Pawsox and Red Wings were playing slow, and that would be the name of the game for the (thankfully) seven-inning contest that started up at a little after 8 PM.

That said, there wasn't much too it. A lot of it was pitchers that were glacial with men on base. A lot of it were long at bats that went into double-digit pitches. But with the exception of one or two innings, there's no place where you can clearly see where the time went.

Victors of the suspended contest, the Pawsox didn't coming out roaring into the second game. In the top of the first, a one-out hit batsman made it to third on a follow-up single, but a double-play ended the threat. The Red Wings went in order. The top of the second brought a leadoff walk and some intermittant showers. The walk was the only action in the half, and the Red Wings had just a two-out double to show for the bottom of the inning.

The third inning brought some minor action. Pawtucket had a one-out single who stole second, and then a two-out walk to make it first and second, but a strikeout ended the half. Rochester was a bit more productive. A one-out walk was moved to second by a two-out hit batsman. A single to center brought in the runner from third, moved the man on first to third, and ended up with the batter on second on the throw home. An intentional walk loaded the bases, but a grounder to second ended the inning at 1-0, Rochester. Both sides went in order in the fifth, and the Pawsox did the same in the sixth. The Red Wings only managed a leadoff single in their half of the sixth.

All Rochester needed was three outs to close up the seventh and last inning, and boy, they did not get them. They started out strong with a strikeout, but then gave up three straight singles that brought in the tying run. An intentional walk loaded the bases to try and preseve the tie, and a new pitcher was brought in to hold the line. He did not, but to be fair, he had help. A grounder to first was thrown to the backstop at home, letting in two runs and leaving it first and third with one out. Another walk loaded the bases, and a sacrifice fly to center brought the runner from third in. Yet another walk loaded the bases again, but the batter who struck out to start the inning struck out to end it, with the score now 4-1, Pawsox.

The Red Wings did their best in the bottom of the seventh. They started with a single and double, to make it first and third with no outs, but three outs ended the game, and the doubleheader sweep, at 4-1, Pawsox.

The Scorecard: The scorecard was part of a tabloid color newsprint program. On the plus side, it was somewhat spacious, and included fielding stats. But the newprint paper is always tricky with pencils, most of the space on the scorecard was taken up with ads, and they didn't even include any space for pitching lines.

The game itself does not represent the tedium it had on paper. The only inning of note was the top of the seventh, where the comedy of errors led to four runs coming home. Of particular note was the E3 with one out that directly led to two runs. At this point, they could have still stopped the bleeding with a force play at home, but the throw was just a choke that put the game out of reach. The batter striking out to start and end the same inning may also be a first for me.

The Accommodations: I'm sure I made an impression on the staff of the Best Western Inn at Buffalo International Airport when I blew through the doors a little after midnight. I boldly marched straight past their desk by the front doors and needed to be guided back by their helpful suggestions when I found myself irrepairably lost. I may or may not have be trailing part of my rain gear behind me. We eventually established my identity and my purpose in being there.

Having recieved my key and set up a wake-up call for not nearly far enough in the future, I went back out to my car, grabbed all of my random crap and threw it all into the elevator.

My room, of which I had a short-term rental, was quite nice. The bathroom was right by the entrance, and the sink area was outside the toilet and shower. My king-sized bed was on one wall, and a dresser and desk were on the other. On the far wall was a fold-out couch (and one of these days, I need to find out why most king-sized rooms include those).

In the interest of getting to sleep as quickly as possible, I started recharging everything that needed recharging, repacked up my suitcase, and then took a quick shower. I set out everything as perfectly as possible and then collapsed into my bed for an inadequate amount of sleep.


On Weather
Thursday, June 19, 2014
Hoboken, NJ

Outside the Game: And it was off, hopefully, to home again.

I beat the wake-up call again, and managed to finish packing everything up just as the phone rang to scare the crap out me. I went down for a quick breakfast before checking out and loading everything into the car for the incredibly short drive to the airport. The rental car was dropped off, and I was off to the terminal, for my completely on-time flight.

While my boarding pass had been emailed to me, I had no way of printing it ahead of time, so I went to a kiosk in the United area, paid the idiot tax for early boarding, and then zipped through security with over an hour to kill. I walked the length and bredth of the airport, such as it was, and eventually found some rocking chairs strategically located near my gate, and had myself a rock for a while as I used the iPad to browse with the free wifi.

It did not escape my notice that there was some weather in the NY area, and several flights from both New York and Philadelphia had already been cancelled, although the weather in Buffalo could not have been nicer. My plane coming in from Newark was still on time, however, and it could not have been such if it was delayed, so I took heart in that.

Lo and behold, at the appointed time, our plane landed and offloaded. We had a plane and crew and perfect weather in which to take off. But just as a crowd was starting to mill for boarding, the gate person announced that there was air traffic delays in Newark, and we would board in about an hour. So off I went back to the rocking chair for some serious Web browsing, and perhaps an episode or two of Louie.

But an hour later, we did board. It was the flying bus to end all flying buses, with 1/2 seat rows and low ceilings. I was in the very last single seat at the back of the plane. One of the flight attendants had a fold out seat in the middle of the row between myself and the two people in my row. All nice and settled in our seats, the pilots turned on the engines, and then came on the intercom to let us know we were going to be delayed another fifteen minutes, as we didn't get clearance from Newark to take off.

So I took a nap, and awoke as we hurtled into the sky. I was feeling particularly unmotivated and spent the hour listening to music, napping, and playing inane iPad games. The flight was over quickly, and once at the gate, I waiting for my gate-check bag and went out to grab a cab.

Thanks to the Polaski Skyway closing, the drive back home in the rain was slightly longer than usual.

Eventually back home, I dragged my bags up the stairs, and started the complicated unpacking and laundry process. I had a fleeting idea of going to the SI Yankees game that evening, but given the weather--and not coincidentally, my complete exhaustion--I decided against it.

I spent the remainder of the evening getting everything put away and filed and clean while simultaneously packing for my weekend in Connecticut. The evening went much more quickly than you'd expect.

The Accommodations: Hoboken, yet again.

See the Flickr set for this trip.