Saturday, August 10, 2019

Midland

On Owing My Soul to the Company Store

Dow Diamond, 2019
Saturday, August 10, 2019
Bowling Green Hot Rods (Tampa Bay Rays) vs.
Great Lakes Loons (LA Dodgers)
Dow Diamond
Midwest League (A)
Midland, MI
7:05 PM


Outside the Game: 
I had ordered my breakfast for the absolute latest delivery time, so it was a lazy, lazy morning. I woke up for the first time and did some productive work, booking a hotel at the airport for this evening, checking into my flight, and trying to work out what to do with my day. Then it was time for another nap. I took a shower and packed everything up, and then my breakfast showed up, which was eaten with gusto, as I hadn't realized how hungry I was. Then it was time for another nap.

Eventually, it was time to fully get dressed and get going. I checked out, got my car from the valet, and  was on my way. My first stop was to be a BBQ place recommended the day before by the tourist bureau people: Meat - Southern BBQ & Carnivore Cuisine. It certainly sounded up my alley, but I'd already valeted my car the day before, so I decided to grab lunch there on the way out of town.

My problems started with some road construction that was right by the "Old Town" restaurants and required a five-minute or so detour to go one block. We were already charting on my frustration meter pretty hard, and then I saw the parking situation, or more accurately, the lack-of-parking situation. Also, there were the visible lines at the restaurant. I double-parked and quickly went to inquire on wait times, and then I was on my way out to Midland. Disappointing perhaps, but I didn't have the time necessary to invest in that lunch.

It was a nothing drive up to Midland over some interesting roads, but I wasn't impeded too much. My talking box took me the weird way to the stadium, but I was able to park my car and go buy my ticket. Even though it was Star Wars night, I was still able to grab a single ticket by the home dugout (hoping that it was a better experience than the night before), and I took all my outside photos. The stadium is apparently right by the first Dow Chemical factory building, which was only recently decommissioned for another locale in town. There is a small dedication garden to this fact with statues of elements and Dow himself right by the first-base side of the park.

I stopped into the team store and was greeted by an overly friendly upper-Michigan type who was holding down the fort in the two-level team store. I shopped around for a bit and when I checked out, I asked him how to kill the afternoon before the game. He suggested the Dow Gardens, which was right down the street. There wasn't a ton to do in this company town, and I had already narrowed it down to a toss-up with this and the nature preserve just outside of town. So I went with the local suggestion after getting some pointers on how to get to the parking lot for the game later.

One really short drive later, I was parked up and into Dow Gardens, which was connected to a small woodland area which all surrounded the local arts theater. To be fair, it was a nice little curated wilderness area. I stopped first at the cafe to finally get some lunch. It wasn't carnivore BBQ, but it was some crunchy sandwiches that were good enough for the moment. I started in the nature area to the north, which had a big playground for the kids, and then a big skyway around the park, with several different stations, including a big net area, a see-through floor, and rope bridges out treehouse things.

Dow Gardens
Serenity now

Back on terra firma, I walked around on the forest paths for a while and relaxed next to the lake in recliners left out for that purpose. I walked back to take in the gardens, and there was a wedding going on in the wedding area that day, which I suppose made sense. I took in the Dow's old house, and various gardens and river streams before I noticed what time it was.

I headed back to the car quickly, turned on the AC, and took a fortifying nap for the drive after the game. I always worry I won't be able to fall asleep in these situations, but as soon as the car is cooled down by the AC, the seat is reclined, and my hat is over my face, I'm always out like a light until the tablet alarm waked me up.

I woke up and made the short drive back to the game, parking right by the exit to the lot to prep for my trip back. It looked like the gates were already open, so I went up to the outfield gate by the lot and asked about it, and the attendant said that only people with special tickets for the Star Wars pre-event could go in, and I told him I'd just wait. In the next half-hour, I watched as nearly everyone came up to him to ask him the same question I did, and I felt for the guy. But he took it in relatively good spirits. By the time gates were opening for everyone, there was a line halfway around the park, but I was the first one in.

After the game, pretty much everyone was staying for the fireworks, so I had no traffic getting out of the park and out to the weird highway right outside the park that went from a speed limit of 35 to 75 in under two miles. But I was off for Detroit, and it was an easy two hours, although I was getting a little flaky towards the end. It was so cold out that I had to cut the AC, and a combination of the windows being open and the radio blasting kept me alert for the last half-hour.

I arrived at the hotel, and a far too perky attendant checked me in and apologized that I had to get up early, for some reason. A flight crew had just checked in ahead of me, so I was feeling pretty confident about the hotel, because if they put the flight crew there, it has to be at least decent. I went up to me room and did a quick strip down and repack of all my stuff, left my clothes out for the next day, grabbed a shower, and then tried to get as much sleep as humanly possible before waking up later.


The Stadium & Fans: 
Home to center, Dow Diamond
Home plate to center field, Dow Diamond

If you get past the corporate monolith name, Dow Diamond is actually a pretty great little park. I mean, we're still talking A-ball, but for the low minors, it is quite nice. There were two entrances to the park, by home plate (and the VIP lots) and at center field (with the general parking lot). There is also a huge bank of Dow solar cells by the outfield entrance that apparently power the giant digital scoreboard in left-center field.

As per usual, the entrances dump out onto a main promenade that runs all the way around the park here. The main seating area runs down from the walkway from about first base to third base, and a second level of luxury boxes, party decks, and the press box runs the same distance over it, housing a digital strip auxiliary scoreboard. Nearly the entire outfield is general admissions picnic hills, with just the scoreboard and the batters' eye in center field breaking up the backdrop of trees and sky.

In the left field corner is The Cove party area and the all-you-can-eat Northern Lights Pavilion. A fire pit is right by the center-field entrance, and "The Road to the Show" runs along an outfield walkway, right by a "Hit It Here" sign in right field, covering the service entrance. The kids' play area anchors the right field corner and leads out to a big picnic plaza running from right to first base. The "Pier 47" group area is right at the top of first base on the promenade. The Midland Country Sports Hall of Fame and the stadium dedication plaques are right by the home plate entrance, and the retired numbers and pennants all hang on the second-tier of the park by home plate.

Mascots
Not recommended by safety regs

Lou E. Loon and Rall E. Camel (no relation) are the mascots in Midland. And because it was Star Wars Day, they were dressed up in Jedi robes, as were all the cosplaying fan crew this evening. And they were joined by local Star Wars groups, so the mascots could fight Darth Vader and Stormtroopers, because, sure. Of course, all of the between-inning entertainment was Star Wars infused, such as having the contestants in the musical chairs game armed with foam light sabers that they used to pummel their fellow contestants silly until the end of the event. The fans crew had some enthusiasm and fed off the fans, so it was better than average, to be honest.

And it was a sell-out, which always helps the atmosphere. And as many of them that were there for Star Wars night and the post-game fireworks, they stayed involved in the game, and their fortunes went along with the team on the field.


At the Game with Oogie: 
Scoring
Upland scoring

As mentioned, I was the first one in my entrance, and I quickly went about taking my inside pictures and writing down all my information, as this was a stadium I was writing up to make the trip tax-deductible. I got everything I needed in two trips around, then grabbed a hot dog and souvenir soda before settling in to my seat.

Grub
Dog and soda, yo.

Star Wars Night is apparently really popular, because they had a sell-out, so my seat in the season-ticket area by the home dugout was packed as everything else. There were two families next to me. Or at least, I think it was two families. There were two adult guys and two kids, so I'm not sure the exact configuration. Kids, as they will be, got up several times during the game, with or without some of the father(s). Towards the late innings, the father closest to me apologized for all the up and down, and I assured him I was used to it. We got to talking, and I explained my trips to him, and he thought it was fascinating that I went to other countries to watch baseball. The kids were even more wide-eyed than him, so I spent the rest of the game answering all their questions on things.

As the game finally came to a close, he assured me it was an "easy" two hours to Detroit from there, as he had grown up in the area but now lived down in Detroit. I wasn't quite sure what that meant, but I was reassured. (I could tell that he was a local, because when he was describing the drive to me, he immediately went to using his hand as a map of Michigan that you find in such people.)


The Game: 
First pitch
First pitch, Hot Rods vs. Loons

The first-place Great Lakes Loons were facing off against the second-place Bowling Green Hot Rods, and you'd think you'd have an inkling which way this game was going to go. But it was Star Wars night, and for some reason, the Loons decided to dress up in uniforms that looks like Darth Vader. Now, guys, I don't want to tell you your business, but you're supposed to be the good guys. The fake movie scroll on the video board told us as much. I'm not saying that this is why the Loons lost this game, but I'm also not saying it isn't the reason the Loons lost this game.

This one started quickly in the first, as the second batter cracked a home run to left to stake the Hot Rods to a 1-0 lead. In their half, Great Lakes had a two-out single followed by a double, but he tried to score all the way from first and was gunned down, so the home team was losing through one. Bowling Green managed to somehow strand a leadoff triple in the second, while the Loons got a man on with an error and a single but also got no one across. The Hot Rods struck again in the top of the third, with a one-out homer to left, and then a hit-by-pitch, error, walk, and ground-out brought in another run, extending their lead to 3-0. Great Lakes had just a single in the bottom of the frame.

The fourth saw Bowling Green load up the bases with two singles and a hit batsman, but were unable to get anyone across. The Loons for their part stranded a two-out double. The Hot Rods went in order in the fifth, and Great Lakes had a walk and an error and no scoring thanks to a double-play. Bowling Green had a sole walk in the sixth, while the Loons finally got on board with a double and a home run to cut the lead to 3-2. Some might say the Empire had struck back.

The Hot Rods just had a single in the top of the seventh, but Great Lakes still had some gas in the tank. Two singles started the inning, and then two wild pitches brought in a run, but that was all they got across, and the score was tied at three after seven innings. Both sides went in order in the eighth. But in the top of the ninth, a leadoff Bowling Green single was followed by a hit batsman. A sacrifice bunt moved up the runners, and a wild pitch brought in a run to take back the lead 4-3. The Loons went quietly in their last licks, and the Hot Rods had their 4-3 win.


The Scorecard: 
Hot Rods vs. Loons, 08-10-19. Hot Rods win, 4-3.
Hot Rods vs. Loons, 08/10/19. Hot Rods win, 4-3.

The scorecard was a free printout-out that included a game write-up, rosters, and statistics. The scorecard was on one page without any ads, so good start there, pre-printed with the game information. It was a bit too minimalist, however, as it only had a roster slot for the pitcher with no pitching statistics, and no inning or batter totals at all.

There were just enough roster slots for all nine batters, with comfortably large scoring squares with no diamonds or other background printing. There was plenty of space for notes on the white background, but no dedicated area, and the only other entry area was a line score at the bottom right of the card. It was a bit odd.

This game was less weird than the last, but there were still plays of note. In the bottom of the second, a grounder to first was scooped to the pitcher covering, who straight-up dropped it for an E1. An infield single in the top of the fourth was clearly an E6. In the top of the ninth, it looked like the batter watched strike three go by, but it was ruled a ball, and he went on to be the winning run. But erasing that strikeout messed up the card a bit. Also, two runs were scored on wild pitches, which is not normal. There were four total errors for the entire game, too.

The hit man was the Loon's second baseman. He got a double in his first at-bat. The DH for Bowling Green and the catcher for the Loons both caught a sombrero.


The Accommodations:
Clarion
Clarion, Romulus, MI

Since it was mostly a bed rental, I hooked up on the budget-side Clarion Hotel right by the airport. I didn't spend much time in the room, but it did what it needed to. Most of my time was spent in the big king-sized bed with lots of pillows to drown my sorrows. There were end tables and an easy chair on that side of the room, and a desk and dresser with TV on the other side.

The bathroom entered from the bed facing with a small, serviceable bathroom with vanity, toilet, and tub and shower. I really would have loved to use the tub, but it was just a quick shower before bed and then I was gone six hours later.



On It Being Too Early for This Crap

Detroit Metro Airport
Ass-end of the morning
Sunday, August 11, 2019
Jersey City, NJ


Outside the Game:
My alarm woke me up at 6 AM, and adrenaline had me out the door by 6:15 AM. The same overly cheery front desk person was there to check me out, and he directed me to his shuttle driver on how to get to the rental car returns. This guy was straight out of central casting for just-off-the-boat Eye-Tie, and I thought for a minute he was actually mocking me with his, "And-ah then-ah, you go-ah to the secun-dah light-ah..." But he apparently was actually just a recent immigrant to our fine shores. And he knew what he was talking about, because on previous trips to the area, I had screwed up getting to the rental car return, and he had told me the actual trick to avoid screwing it up.

I dropped off my car and took the shuttle to the airport, and was able to actually quickly get through security and left to my own devices, wandering around the abandoned airport in the early morning. The "Margaritaville" restaurant was one of the only places open, and so I had a "island breakfast," which was basically just regular breakfast food with "island" in front of everything, like "island potatoes," which were just hash browns.

But it was breakfast, and I still had time to kill before boarding. They were showing cartoons on all the screens in the airport, but it was awful recent Tom & Jerry cartoons, so I just wandered around looking at stores. I witnessed a sitcom moment as a Chinese tourist managed to knock a bunch of knick-knacks off a souvenir shore shelf with his bag. I skedaddled pretty quickly as I didn't want anything to do with it, but a little while later, there was an announcement for late passengers for a flight that were clearly Chinese names.

My flight boarded quickly, and I was seated next to a dudebro who didn't look like he had slept the night before. It didn't matter as I slept the whole flight back, and we were quickly off the plane, and a short Lyft ride later had me home. Laundry and chores took up the rest of my exciting day, though there was time in there for at least one other nap.


The Accommodations: 
Sweet home, Jersey City



2019 Side Trip: Michigan