Sunday, June 15, 2014

Auburn

On Flipping the Script
Sunday, June 15, 2014
Batavia Muckdogs (Washington Nationals) vs. Auburn Doubledays (Miami Marlins)
Leo Pinckney Field at Falcon Park
NY-PENN League (A-)
Auburn, NY
2:05 PM

Outside the Game: This was the day of long driving. Not only did I need to drive out to Auburn (just an hour or so away), I had to reverse the process after the game to head down to Jamestown (three hours or so), thanks to the unnaturally early start time of 11:05 AM on Monday, thanks to "School Day" event with the Jammers.

I got up relatively early to go down and grab some breakfast at the hotel before heading back up to pack. I was checked out and on the road by 10 AM, and after a quick drive, I was in Auburn before noon.

I went directly to the park to pick up my ticket and take some outside pictures. That done, I decided to head into town to see what of the local culture was available. The two big local attractions are the Harriet Tubman House (which was closed this Sunday) and the Steward House. I parked in a lot near the later and took a walk through downtown.

This was as stereotypical a "small town Main Street" as I'd ever run across. There were ghost signs, dilapidated buildings, and just enough businesses holding on to mark it as a city on the edge. An arts community had also taken deep root, with installations all through downtown and several theaters around town. There was also a large war memorial on the main drag, dedicated to soldiers from all of America's wars (up to the Iraq War, with the end date left blank, with a perhaps unintended poignancy). There was also an old-school diner poised somewhat precariously over the river that ran through the middle of town.

A little before gates, I headed back to the stadium, parked as far back in the lot as I thought would spare me any foul ball trouble, and headed into the game.

The game going longer than expected, I headed straight out to the car right after the last out to get started on the drive down to Jamestown. A good half-hour of said drive was going on the back roads from Auburn out to the Thruway.

Once out on the Thruway, it was just a matter of not driving off the road for several hours. I was tracking to get in at about 8:30 PM, so I just had to keep my car on the road. As I was phasing out of radio range for the Rochester stations and into the range of Buffalo's, I managed to scan immediately from one fading classic rock station to another.

Soon after, I had an unusual driving occurrence. I had an instance of synchronized rocking out by two unassociated people in separate cars. AC/DC's Dirty Deeds has a very specific cadence, and trying to keep myself interested in the road, I was going with it. As I was passing another car on 90, he very clearly was bouncing at the same rhythm, and I think we both noticed at the same time. So I threw him the horns, and he threw me the horns, and I sped off into the growing night.

Outside of having to get off of 90 just to get back onto 90 in Buffalo, the rest of the drive wasn't of note. I eventually made it to my hotel in Jamestown just as the gas light went on in my car. Conveniently, there was a gas station right next to my hotel. Less conveniently, there didn't seem to be any way to get to my hotel. After driving around several times, I found a road that led to a road that led to a path that got me to the hotel.

I checked in and went up to my room to drop my stuff off, and then ran across the street to get some McDonald's for dinner before the Game of Thrones finale came on. Basking afterwards in the complete removal of any of Tyrion's motivations from the book, I went back down to get some gas, as it would be an early morning the next day, and anything that I could get done to speed things up that night would no doubt be beneficial. In leaving, I finally found the disguised main entrance to the hotel with the addition of the night street lights on the street. I drove next door, found my gas tank and the means to open said gas tank, and then filled up. Feeling peckish, I went inside to get a drink and a snack. Next to the counter was a bin of fresh jerky, and how can you not have some fresh jerky?

I went back to the hotel and went up to get to bed at a decent hour to prepare for the impossibly early game the next day.

The Stadium & Fans: Leo Pinckney Field at Falcon Park is an oddity in that since the early 80s, the park and the minor-league franchise has been owned by the City of Auburn. The structure is very similar to its neighbor in Batavia down the road, with a covered grandstand capped by a small press box, and a row of seats running down to either outfield. A wide walkway separates the box seats below from the bleachers above in all sections, except the grandstand behind home plate that is all backed seating. An additional exterior walkway runs from left field to right field behind the bleachers.

The main entrance plaza is just behind first base, and houses mascot's Abner's "house," as well as the scorecard stand and the merchandise trailer. Several regular concessions dot the buildings in the plaza, but there are other smaller food stalls, including a beer stand under the bleachers on third, a BBQ tent on the first base side, and a small food cart behind home plate so you can get food without missing the game.

In left field, there is a clubhouse and bullpen, as well as a covered picnic group area. In right field, there is also a clubhouse and bullpen, and a children's play area and the Buffalo Wild Wings Party Deck. The stadium has a number of memorials, but especially of note were memorial plaques to certain (one would assume) die-hard fans that were located in the grandstand behind home plate.

Abner (a mascotized version of Abner Doubleday, mythical founder of baseball) is involved in most of the on-field antics, which were decidedly fewer than normal for minor leagues. There was only a race or contest every other inning or so. The fare was mostly minor-league standards, but there was one original cup-stacking contest that I hadn't seen before, no doubt a relic of the cup-stacking craze that peaked a few years ago.

The Sunday afternoon crowd was nearly all families, though there were some baseball fans there, as well as relatives of the players. Not surprisingly, a large contingent of Batavia rooters came down the road to populate the first-base visiting seats. Both fans were responsive, but the home team didn't get much to cheer for.

At the Game With Oogie: This was almost a repeat of the previous night's contest just a little further down the road. I got in as the gates opened and did my usual business. In right field, there was a smokehouse bar-b-que concession, and I got myself a pulled pork plate that was apparently exactly what I needed.

There was a bit of a problem with my seat, which I had ordered over the phone. I had asked for ticket behind the home dugout, and they had given me one on the visitors' side behind the backstop. I asked the usher if it would be okay to go out and come back, and he assured me it would, so I went to the ticket office, sat in the line for a minute, and told them the issue. The guy at the counter said it was no problem, and exchanged my ticket for one behind the home dugout. So they get points for customer service.

I put myself in the seat a little before game time. I was surrounded mostly by families, and in the row ahead of me was a mother with her sons and several of his friends from their Little League team, all of whom had just been made All-Stars, if I overheard correctly. One of the kids was really into the game, and trying to explain/correct some things to his mom. At a couple of points, I had jumped in to provide some authority on some rules questions or events that happened on the field. It had gotten to a point in the late innings where that kid said something to his mother about the Tampa Bay Yankees, and his mother was correcting him that it was the Rays in Tampa Bay, and he just looked back at me, and I had to tell her as politely as possible that there was in fact a "Tampa Bay Yankees" in the low minors. I've got your back, little baseball dude; I've got your back.

The Game: The convenience of having opponents so close at hand is that it allows series such as this, where the same two teams played in Auburn on Friday, Batavia on Saturday, and then back in Auburn on Sunday. This afternoon contest was the third game they would play in the series, having split the first two contests.

The game seemed to be a parallel of the game the day before, as the Muckdogs jumped out to an early lead in the first with a one-out single followed by home run crushed to deep center. Two outs ended the half 2-0, Muckdogs. The Doubeldays had a less auspicious start. After a leadoff strikeout, the next batter was horrifically plunked in the head and removed from the game for a pinch runner. An error on a pickoff throw got him to second, joined on the bases by a two-out walk, but all runners were stranded to end the first.

The game quieted down from there. The Muckdogs had their own hit batsman in the second and nothing else. Auburn had a one-out single to show for the bottom of the inning. In the top of the third, the Muckdogs had a one-out single that was cut down from center trying to stretch it into a double. The Doubledays went in order in the bottom of the third, as did Batavia in the top of fourth.

However, Auburn seemed to have something in the bottom of fourth. A one-out double made it to third on an error by the left fielder, and a two-out walk chased the pitcher, but a fly out to left ended the threat. The Muckdogs again went in order in the fifth, and while Auburn had a bunch of runners in the bottom of the inning, none of them got past first. A leadoff walk was erased on a fielder's choice, the trailing runner got picked off first, and a two-out walk was also erased trying to steal second to end the inning.

In the top of the sixth, Batavia got a leadoff single bunted over to second, but two strikeouts left him there. The Doubledays had their leadoff batter make it to first on an error by the shortstop, and then to second on a subsequent error by the pitcher, but three outs stranded him at second.

The seventh was when it all came apart for Auburn. The inning started with a strikeout, but the batter made it to first on a passed ball. A one-out single made it first and second, but a passed ball quickly turned it to second and third. A walk loaded the bases, and a sacrifice fly brought the runner from third home. Another passed ball moved the runners up to second and third again, but a double cleared the bases. The next batter singled the runner from second home and then made it to second on the throw home, but a strikeout ended the half at 6-0, Muckdogs. Auburn managed just a single in the bottom of the inning.

Batavia went in order in the eighth, but the Doubledays showed some life. A pinch-hitter started the inning with a single. A one-out double made it second and third. And then a towering homer to center cleared the bases and chased the Batavia pitcher. The new Batavia hurler got the next two to end the inning at 6-3, Muckdogs.

In the ninth, the first Batavia batter reached on an error, but three ground-outs left him no further than second base. The Doubledays ingloriously went in order, cementing the 6-3 Muckdog win.

The Scorecard: The scorecard was a pamphlet-sized purchase at a booth in the main plaza. The problem with it was that while it was a centerfold fold-out with adequate space, it was printed on glossy paper, which was completely antithetical to most pencil writing, and especially red colored pencil, which was pretty much invisible on the page.

Points off to Auburn for not even posting lineups. A staff member said they usually do so by the bathrooms on the first base side, but they hadn't done so since the start of the season. Boo.

There was nothing too exceptional, scoring-wise, from the game. The low A-ball nature of the game really showed through, with the copious errors, passed balls, hit batsmen, and especially the passed ball strikeout that stoked the Muckdogs rally in the eighth. Of note was the fact that Auburn substituted for a player twice (once in the first after a beaning and again in the eighth for a pinch-hitter) that required using an empty replacement line on the scorecard.

The Accommodations: I stayed at the Hampton Inn & Suites this evening, and it was an odd start.

I walked in the front door, and there was no one at the desk. Seeing the office door next to it, I knocked and received no reply. Doing some quick reconnoitering, I could find no employee of the hotel, period.

I went back to the desk and called the main desk on the phone there. I eventually got a staff member who said she was helping a guest and would be back shortly, and, oh, didn't I see the plaque?

Sure enough, there was a plaque on the counter that said all the staff were off helping guests and they would return shortly. Now, in my defense, you don't often find plaques being used for notes. Without looking, I had assumed that it was some award or other, because that is what one finds on plaques, not "back in five minutes" sort of notes.

I eventually got checked in and went up to my room, a large example of its kind that had two queen beds (I think that was the only thing they had available when I made the reservation), a fancy desk, and a fancy bathroom.

With the two queen beds, I had a truly copious amount of pillows. I could literally make another bed out of all the pillows I had on both beds. I eventually made a pillow cocoon that I slept in, completely covered in pillows. I believe this was the heart of all the ambitions I had as a five year-old, and I was now able to fulfill them. So, check mark for Sunday, really.

See the Flickr set for this trip.