Saturday, August 18, 2012

Norwich

On the Fickleness of Rain

Dodd Stadium
Dodd Stadium, 2012

Saturday, August 18, 2012
Aberdeen Ironbirds (Baltimore Orioles) vs.
Connecticut Tigers (Detroit Tigers)
Dodd Stadium
New York-Penn League (Short Season A)
Norwich, CT
7:05 PM


Outside the Game:
This day did not start under auspicious circumstances. Before I left home, the forecast for Saturday was a bunch of rain in the morning, and then it was going to clear up for the rest of the day. In an inverse of the previous week, the weather report kept getting worse as time progressed. By Friday night, it was rain until mid-day the next day, and by the time I woke up Saturday, it was rain until mid-day, then no rain, and then more rain later in the evening. It did not look good to get this game in, and it was the last time the Tigers were going to be home before Labor Day, when I was going to be out of town to see the new Miami park. The Sunday game was not scheduled to start until 4 PM, making it very problematic for getting in a game (especially with questionable weather) and then getting home at a decent hour for work the next day.

 I had a fine breakfast at my hotel, packed up, and decided to head to Mystic Seaport anyway to see what I could see.

Almost immediately upon getting my tires on the road of 95, I hit a ridiculous traffic jam that completely validated my decision to avoid 95 like the plague on the way out. What should have been an hour ride was taking over an hour and fifteen before I bailed and used the TomTom's "roadblock" feature to take me off 95 for the rest of the way to Mystic.

It seems that everyone where I live had visited Mystic Seaport as a kid, and when polling around for something to occupy my Saturday morning in eastern Connecticut, it came up multiple times that I simply had to visit it since I missed the experience earlier in life. Not having anything better to do, I acquiesced.

Mystic Seaport
Seaside-y

It was raining hard for all the trip down, and it didn't look to be stopping much when I arrived. I don't mind rain all that much at places such as these. It thins out the crowds. Seeing the way things seemed to be playing out, I broke out my rain gear from my game bag and rain slickered up.

I went to the entrance, payed my way in, and headed off into the rain. The place was nearly deserted, so I had my run of the area to myself, which is always appreciated. I poked my way through most of the exhibits at my own pace, and only the indoors ones had any other people around. In addition to walking my way around on the various ships they had at dock, my favorite part of the museum was the row of craftsmen shops they had. Each place (blacksmith, printer, instrument maker, cooper, etc) was staffed by a person who actually worked at the profession and was there to give talks and demonstrations to the visitors. Since it was so sparsely populated with guests, I ended up having long and excellent conversations with all the craftsmen about their work. It was really engaging. Especially of note was the printer, who had a hand-printed "rules of baseball" framed on the wall that was available for purchase at some of the stores on the premises.

Engine
And that was it operating properly

I spent a quite enjoyable afternoon walking around the place. There was an antique marine motor exhibition going on at one end of the seaport, and talking to some of the people there, they said that the radar showed that the rain was eventually going to let up soon, and, more importantly to me, that the storm had been just hugging the coast and had already passed up north. This gave me some hope that I may still yet get the game at Norwich in, and, as was foretold, the rain shortly started to let up and stop.

Almost immediately, more people appeared out of nowhere, and the seaport started to fill up. I stopped at a restaurant in the park to get some late lunch (again), and then I hit the museum store to get my poster and a bunch of other things I don't really need, before heading back to the car to go up to see if a baseball game was being played that evening.

Things looked up nearly immediately as I left Mystic, the sun was out and pounding down, giving credence to the reports from the folks in Mystic on the weather. The drive up went quickly, but it turns out that Dodd Stadium was located in the back of a winding commercial park. At the very start, I was heartened by the "Game Today" sign I saw at the entrance to the facility, but I got less and less enthusiastic every couple of minutes of curving driving that led to yet another sign to the park. After about ten minutes of this process, I eventually made it to the stadium, cracked a bad joke about getting there to the traffic attendant, and then went about my business taking pictures until the park opened.

After the game, the temperature had dropped, and all the cars in the lot were covered in dew. It took me a while to find my car, as it was hidden behind a large van that parked next to me after I left. With the sparse crowd, it was pretty easy to get out of the stadium. Remembering my lessons on 95, I managed to trick my TomTom into going the northern route home by picking waypoints along the path to feed to it until the way I wanted to go back to the Tappen Zee was the most direct route. I encountered no traffic on the way back, although night driving on the Saw Mill was a little nerve-wracking. I managed to pull into Hoboken a little before 1 AM, the same time I arrived from New Britain two weeks earlier.


The Stadium & Fans:

Home to center, Dodd Stadium
Home plate to center field, Dodd Stadium

Dodd Stadium, besides its insane location at the very back of a commercial park that does not seem to have an end, was a nice enough A stadium. Outside, the facade extends between the outfield. A small walkway goes most of the way around the place, dead-ending in the back by left-center. All of the wood outfield wall is exposed, and over on the left field side is a narrow chain-linked path out to a gate in left.

There is an entrance in left field to the Manshantucket Piquot BBQ area, but the main entrance is behind home plate. The old Navigators mascot, Tater the Gator, stands outside in statue form, between the main ticket office and the team store. Directly inside the gate is the main fan services area, where the autograph signings and bat giveaway for the evening were set up.

The stadium has the standard alignment of a two-tiered row of seats from outfield to outfield around home plate. A second level of luxury boxes runs from third to first. Out in left field is an extensive picnic and barbeque area, along with a small kids' play area and a picnic berm. The bushes out on the top of the berm are spray-painted "Tigers 1" in a show of home-team support. In right field is a specialty burger concession, a "Hole in the Wall" bar, and a gazebo with deck chairs and a small garden on top of another picnic berm. Regular concession line the walkway around the seating areas, and the team store is located by home plate.

I've heard that the franchise gets good attendance overall, but on this rain-soaked day with dire predictions of nothing but more rain for the rest of the night, the crowd was sparse, and mostly located in the luxury boxes and on the Tigers' first-base side of the field. Those in attendance were pretty into the game.

There was the usual between-inning tomfoolery you expect in low A ball. There were skills contests, and races, and give-aways to the crowd. The Tigers had an odd mascot situation. There was the obvious CT the Tiger, but the old Norwich Navigator mascot (before the team changed affiliations), Tater the Gater, was so popular that he was apparently also brought back this season. In addition to these two, a giant chicken rounds out the extensive mascot parade.

Mascot
Edgy

The mascots are joined by a rather sizable events staff that also dress up and throw out things throughout the course of the game, in addition to leading certain audience participation events throughout the evening.

Perhaps trying to evoke some of the mystique of Wrigley Field, the radio announcer for the team leans out of his broadcast booth and leads the fans in "Take Me Out To the Ballgame." Another Caray he is not.


At the Game with Oogie:

Hot dog
Jumbo Dog

As surprised as I was that the game was actually going to be played, I was still there prior to the gates opening up. There was some manner of pre-game prayer meeting going on near first base, but the regular folk would not be let in until an hour before game time.

In doing my regular walk-around the stadium, I came across one of the Tiger players walking back opposite to me from the back of the stadium. I didn't think much of it at the time, but it turns out that it dead ends behind the stadium, and the only way back is the way I came, so I started to wonder exactly what he was doing back there. A mystery it shall remain.

It was a free mini-bat giveaway at the stadium, so I suppose I was a little cautious of things, but nothing came of it. I had again sprung for seats behind the home dugout, but given the light turnout, I don't know if the ticket seller misunderstood me about wanting to sit right behind the dugout, or if there were a lot of season ticket holders who didn't come out because of the weather. I ended up with great seats in the second tier behind the dugout, but there were tons of free seats in the areas in front of me.

There was a small family directly behind me for the game who seemed to be season ticket holders, but there was no one else in my immediate area. The first-base side was the most filled area of the park, with the exception of the "luxury" boxes. It was mostly families, and given the weather, the light turn-out was pretty much expected.


The Game:

First pitch, Ironbirds vs. Tigers
First pitch, Ironbirds vs. Tigers

Towards the end of the single-A short season, most of the players who have any real promise find themselves elsewhere, so it can be a crap shoot on what you get. Tonight's game was low offense.

The visiting Ironbirds went down in order in the first with two strikeouts, and the Tigers did only slightly better, scratching out a single. There was some activity in the second, however. The Ironbirds led off with a questionable single to second. A ground-out moved the runner over to second, and a straight steal got him to third. A strike out got us to two outs, but another questionable single back to the pitcher brought the run home before a ground-out ended the inning. Not to be outdone, the Tigers had a one-out walk followed by a single and another walk to load the bases. A wild pitch brought in a run, and a throwing error by the catcher let another run score and moved the man on first to third with only one out. The pitcher calmed down and got a strikeout and a liner to second to end the inning 2-1 Tigers.

The Ironbirds went meekly in order in the third, and the Tigers got only a single, erased on a double-play. The Birds went in order again in the fourth, but the Tigers got going. A lead-off walk scored on a triple, then two straight strikeouts looked like the Ironbirds may get out of it. The next batter, however, walked, and a new pitcher was brought in. The runner at first attempted a steal of second and drew the throw and a rundown, allowing the runner at third to score before he got tagged out, leaving it 3-1 Tigers at the end of four, with only one RBI to show for any of those runs.

The anemic Ironbirds went yet again in order in the fifth, and the Tigers only had one epicly plunked batsman (the ball bounced off the helmet and almost made it to first base) to show for their half. The sixth played out the same way, with the Tigers going in order as well. The Birds continued to get mowed down in order in the seventh, and the Tigers only managed one two-out hit.

The Ironbirds finally got on base in the eighth with a two-out walk and a single, and a passed ball got them to second and third, only to be stranded by a weak ground-out to the pitcher. The Tigers went in order in their half on three quick ground outs. For their last licks in the ninth, the Ironbirds got their lead-off man on with an E3 on the first baseman, but he was quickly erased on a double-play ball. The next batter struck out, and the Tigers secured their 4-1 victory.


The Scorecard:

Ironbirds vs. Tigers, 08-18-12. Tigers win, 4-1.Ironbirds vs. Tigers, 08-18-12. Tigers win, 4-1.
Ironbirds vs. Tigers, 08/18/12. Tigers win, 4-1.

The scorecard was part of a free newsprint program. The cheap paper and inlaid logo made scoring with pencils difficult, but with experience, I was able to pull it off. The scoring boxes were also unnecessarily small, with wide tracts of land wasted on the pitching lines and the scorekeeping instructions.

There were a number of calls I disagreed with the official scorer on. In the top of the second, there were two infield "hits" that just had to be errors. It had real implications as well, as if those hits were rightly called errors, the Tigers had a no-hitter going through 7.6 innings (though with a myriad of pitchers), until a legit single in the bottom of the eighth.

A 3-6-3 double-play went down in the top of the third (always a welcome occurrence), and there was a weird one in the top of the eighth when the first baseman broke the webbing in his mitt on a throw over from the pitcher. This entailed a rather lengthy period where the first baseman tried to fix his glove and then had to rummage in the dugout for a replacement that was not readily available. As mentioned, the four runs for the Tigers had only produced one RBI, and only two of the runs were earned. Defense can be a killer, folks.


The Accommodations:
Late, but Hoboken


2012 New England Weekend

Friday, August 17, 2012

Pawtucket

On the Beauty of the Unexpected

McCoy Stadium
McCoy Stadium, 2012

Friday, August 17, 2012
Scranton-Wilkes Barre Yankees (New York Yankees) vs.
Pawtucket Red Sox (Boston Red Sox)
International League (AAA)
McCoy Stadium
Pawtucket, RI
7:05 PM


Outside the Game:
I decided to take my "Summer Friday" at work to try and knock off the last two teams left on my Connecticut/Rhode Island list: Pawtucket and Norwich. Since they were both over three hours from home (on a theoretical traffic-less trip on 95), I decided to do a sleep-over for them, bunking up after the first night, and then seeing how long the second game went before deciding on whether to drive home after the second night or get another hotel.

After getting another pep talk about how bad 95 was on the weekends from a colleague at work, I decided to take the "long" way around. Although the "northern route" up and over was another half-hour longer, there was at least a half-hour of traffic waiting for me on 95 (if TomTom and Google Maps were to be believed [and they were]), and I'd rather be driving for that time than sitting and stewing.

I was trying to get started at 10 AM , eventually was physically behind the wheel and driving a little before 11, and decided to chance a city crossing. I went through the tunnel, and then straight up the West Side, taking 9 up and out of the city before hooking up with 684. And from there, it was mostly straight east for the rest of the trip. Beside some minor congestion at some work sites or near cities, it was smooth sailing all the way there.

In fact, it was such smooth sailing that I forgot to stop for lunch. So when I eventually pulled into Pawtucket a little before 3 PM, I was seriously hungry. Some construction was going on in town that took me the long way to the hotel, but I eventually got there, checked in, and dumped my stuff in my room. I made a quick walk to a local fast food place to get some late lunch, and then went back to the room for a nap before leaving for the game.

It was only a mile to the stadium from the hotel, but I drove it anyway, since I didn't want to be walking around in the dark at night in an unfamiliar town, and I didn't know how tired I'd be. It only took a minute to get there, and I was one of the first in the free parking lots outside the stadium.

After the game, it was mostly the same in reverse, although the TomTom took me on 95 for no reason. I got back to the hotel before 11 PM, and spent the rest of the evening getting ready for tomorrow and working on the scorecard.


The Stadium & Fans:

Home to center, McCoy Stadium
Home plate to center field, McCoy Stadium

The home of the AAA affiliate of the Red Sox, McCoy Stadium is an old place that has been renovated a bunch of times, and it is absolutely great. It is probably on the small side for AAA parks, but it is an old bandstand park, with one large seating area under a classic overhang that runs from base-to-base behind home plate. An old-style broadcast booth lies parked up behind home plate, with honest-to-goodness restricted view seats located behind them.

All around the outside walls of the park was a "Walk of Fame," with big posters of all the major-leaguers of note who came through the "PawSox," with special note of the world series winners. There were also no less than three barbeque areas arrayed about the outfield seating for people with special tickets. You could walk all around the stadium, and there was a high-school track located next door. A family across the parking lot from the stadium decorated the back of their house to be a scoreboard, and they have lawn chairs and the like for, I guess, listening to the game, since they are staring right at a wall of the stadium.

The main entrance to the stadium was out in right field, with access to the team store on the ground floor before spiraling up in a staircase. It was located next to the main ticket window, the team store, and a number of baseball-themed statues out in a little park. A martial arts school was doing demonstrations next to the park for most of the time before the game, and would latter do a pre-game demonstration on the field.

The main seating area of the stadium is divided into a lower area by the field, a middle area, and an upper area. As mentioned, the upper area has some restricted-view seats, especially by the old press box. Due to a particular layout quirk of the stadium, the dugouts are actually inset into the stadium, under the lowest row of seats (probably due to one of the previous expansions). So instead of hanging on the top of the dugout to ask for autographs, kids "fish" for autographs, by tying books and whatnot on strings with pens and lowering them down in front of the dugout. Players will then sign throughout the game, and the seekers can drag up their catch at the end of the game to see what they got. The "luxury" boxes in the stadium are also all field-level, as opposed to above the action at most places.

Extra innings
The longest memorial in minor-league history

There is a main walkway that extends around the stadium between the middle and lower seats. All the concessions are arrayed throughout this area, as well as tributes to great moments in Pawsox history. A particularly large display is dedicated to the 33-inning game at McCoy field, the longest game in organized baseball history. There is also a small icy stand by the main entrance staircase dubbed "Paw's Pavilion." A small kids area sits in right. There is a walkway above the upper level that leads down to the upper-area seats. These are reachable by spiral ramps located sporadically around the circumference of the seating area. They are decorated with painted baseball cards of notable Pawsox alumni.

Mascot
Tee-hee

The outfield seating is its own entity. In left, by the Pawsox bullpen, is the "berm" seating, with an open-seating picnic berm. In center to right are two BBQ areas around the bleachers proper. The "Red" BBQ tent sits out in right, with a large tented area for barbecue, and a small bleacher area out front for people who actually want to watch the game. (Someone managed to fall off of it at the game I was at, so there was a lot of paramedic activity in the area.)

There was less of the regular minor-league tomfoolery between innings. The main feature seemed to be "Pawsox Idol" where singers came on between innings to sing for the approval of the crowd. There were a few contests and a t-shirt toss, and the standard seventh-inning fair. The mascots (Paw and Sox) made their way through the crowd for most of the game, and were only on one or two on-field activities.

There was a large crowd for the game that night (especially, perhaps, because it had connotations for the league playoffs against the hated Yankees), and everyone was into the game. As with the case in New England, there were a lot of scorers in attendance that evening as well. What was surprising was the sizable contingent of Yankee fans in the house. Although they are everywhere, seeing them all in the park this deep in New England was a thing to behold. In the later innings, they even took up the "Let's Go Yankees" chant, and in some cases, drowned out the Pawsox fans. But the local crowd stayed in it, even to the bitterest of bitter end, though a lot of people made for the exits before the top of the ninth.


At the Game with Oogie:

Scoring
Old-school scoring

On a fluke, I decided to take a look at what seats were available online when I was making my hotel reservation the night before leaving. There were precious few seats still available for the game, so it is lucky I did. I was able to get a seat in the middle section behind the home dugout since I was only a single, but all the non-handicap seats in the lowest section were already booked.

I was in an area right behind third base and to the left of the protective netting, so all in all, it wasn't a bad seat by any stretch of the imagination. It was in was sandwiched around several rows of some kind of social club for older gentlemen who were making a yearly trip to see the team. They were all on a chartered bus, so they were gassing up pretty heavily, but they weren't out of control by any means, just there to have a good time. Everyone was talking with each other, and, as the game progressed, yelling at the team and the umpire crew.

There was a group of two guys to my left who appreciated the two-pencil scoring style I was using. We had a brief talk about that, and then I became the go-to guy when anyone had any questions about what had happened earlier in the game.

The group perked up considerably when an in-game announcement about the major league match-up between the Sox and Yankees was given, with the Red Sox jumping into the lead. But the lack of updates and the particular kick when they were down would happen when the announcers confirmed the major-league Yankees had come back to win that game as well.


The Game:

First pitch, Yankees vs. Red Sox
First pitch, Yankees vs. Red Sox

When you out-hit someone 14 to 8, you'd probably expect to win. For this game, you'd be wrong, as Pawtucket got nearly double the hits of the Yankees, but had nearly triple the men left on base. But let's not get ahead of ourselves.

Pawtucket was the visiting team for this night's contest even while in their home park because of renovations at the Scranton Yankees facility that had them on the road for the entire season. The Pawsox were up first, and got it first and third with two outs with a couple of long singles, but killed their own rally when they tried to send the guy from third home on a wild pitch. He got gunned down by a mile to kill the half inning. This would set the stage for the entire game: questionable choices and men left on base. In the bottom of the first, the Yankees blasted a one-out homer to right that may have landed in Boston, ending the first up, 1-0.

The Pawsox got a single and walk before two straight fly outs, and what would have been the last batter in the inning struck out, but a dropped third strike led to a bases-loaded situation. But a weak ground out to the pitcher quickly snuffed the threat and left even more men on base. The Yankees had a single (erased on a double-play) to show for their half of the inning. In the top of the third, the Pawsox finally broke through. A lead-off single was followed by a double, leaving it second third with no outs. After a strikeout, a single brought in a run to tie it, but on the next play, they decided to test the left fielder's arm on a fly out, and the runner (not sliding for whatever reason) was gunned down by a mile in the second half of the inning-ending double play. The Yankees got a two-out walk and a double to quickly regain the lead, 2-1, at the end of three.

In the top of the fourth, the Pawsox again mounted a rally. Three singles in a row brought home the tying run and left the bases loaded, but a grounder to third for a put-out at home and a double play ball that followed left it tied. As if to show the Pawsox how not to leave men on base, the Yankees got their first two batters on with a walk and a hit batsman, followed with two quick outs, and then had the next batter hit a towering homer to left to clear the bases, with the inning ending with the Yankees up, 5-2.

Things settled down then for a while, with the Pawsox just getting a walk and the Yankees going in order in the fifth, and the Pawsox going in order and the Yankees just getting a walk in the sixth. The Pawsox went in order in the seventh, but the Yankees got a lead-off homer to make it 6-2 at the end of seven. The Pawsox scattered two singles in the top of the eighth to no effect, while the Yankees had a lead-off single, and then a foul out to third, and then the entire frickin' world ended.

The Yankees center fielder hit a ball out to the corner in left. It was called a foul initially, but after some yelling from the Yankee dugout and a huddle by the umpires, it was called a two-run home run. And that was about all the Pawtucket manager could take, as he came out and quickly got himself ejected, and the pitching coach soon followed, needing to be restrained by other players and coaches while still no doubt earning some fines as he bumped up a storm on the umps. The pitcher got out of the inning with the score 8-2 Yankees. But on the way back to the dugout, he had words with the home plate umpire, got ejected, and had to be tackled several times by teammates to prevent further altercation that may have ended in bloodshed.

Perhaps energized by the actions of the umpires, the Pawsox got a lead-off walk and then a homer in the top of the ninth (that lead the right fielder to go spout over teakettle over the outfield fence trying to corral it), and with two outs, they launched another homer to left, before a weak ground out to first made the final score a more respectable 8-5.

This win helped put some distance between the Yankees and the second-place Pawsox in their division race, and, coupled with the big team Sox's loss to the Yankees, the crowd did not leave happy in any way from this game.


The Scorecard:


Yankees vs. Red Sox, 08-17-12. Yankees win, 8-5.Yankees vs. Red Sox, 08-17-12. Yankees win, 8-5.
Yankees vs. Red Sox, 08/17/12. Yankees win, 8-5.

This was one of the most pleasant surprises of a day of pleasant surprises. Say what you want about New England, but they are a people that take their baseball scoring seriously, apparently even in the minors.

Scorecards were for sale at a kiosk outside the stadium, right next to a printed standee that had the lineups for the evening. The scorecard cost $1, and was its own booklet on heavy-weight paper, with the scorecard proper as the centerfold of the booklet. It was a very appealing size, with no ads on the scorecard pages to scrunch up the scoring space, either. The paper was a delight to write on, and was clearly made to be used with pencils. It handled erasing and re-writing quite well, and had copious space to record everything. It used a standard pre-printed diamond boxes, but unlike my last foray with such things, it was easy enough to write over the diamonds legibly, even with pencils.

The first weirdness to deal with was that the Sox were the visiting team in their own park this evening, as Scranton was playing all their games on the road. I made some notations to deal with that. There were some minorly odd or uncommon plays of note, like the 4-1 put out in the bottom of the first (when the first baseman got pulled so far off the bag to make an attempt on the ball that the pitcher covering first eventually got the throw from the second baseman who made the play), and the L-6-3 DP in the bottom of the second (which just doesn't happen all that often).

But the true oddness happened in the bottom of the eighth with the home run call. What looked (or at least hoped) to be just a foul ball was overturned after the ump huddle. I've never had one of those before, so I made a note of it on the play, along with the initial ejections of the manager and the pitching coach. I had to add a further notation at the end of the inning when the pitcher got the hook, as well. Certainly a record for ejections I've seen, and perhaps home runs as well, with a total of six for the game.

I also took issue with an official scorer's decision to call a grounder to third a hit instead of an error. I'm not sure if they hold people to lesser standards in AAA, but that was a routine grounder. I put an asterisk on the scorecard and left it at that, but sometimes I wonder about the people they have scoring games for real.


The Accommodations:

Comfort Inn
Comfort Inn

I was only able to find one hotel actually in Pawtucket itself, as opposed to the many in surrounding Providence area. I made my reservation for the Comfort Inn on the night before I left, and after my rather relaxing drive up, I pulled in during the mid-afternoon.

It was about as nice a mid-scale hotel as I expected. The room had its own desk and lounge chair, and parking was free. It was directly attached to a restaurant and right down the street from some fast food establishments that I partook of throughout the day. For some reason, I found the knowledge of a free breakfast the next day very exciting.

One other thing of note: The previous occupant of my room used the notepad, and at a quick glance, I noticed the word "password" embossed on the top sheet. Using my Encyclopedia Brown skills, I went over the pad with the side of a pencil, and I had the full login credentials for the back end of a company site -- left in a hotel room. Lucky I'm a decent person, but when people talk about "physical and human resources security" being the weak point of any system, they are not kidding.



2012 New England Weekend

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Bridgeport

On The Beauty of the Tapan Zee Bridge

The Ballpark at Harbor Yard
The Ballpark at Harbor Yard, 2012

Sunday, August 12, 2012
Camden River Sharks vs. Bridgeport Bluefish
The Ballpark at Harbor Yard
Atlantic League (Independent)
Bridgeport, CT
2:05 PM


Outside the Game:
This weekend was one of dire weather predictions. There was a large storm that was supposedly going to blow through the area this weekend on Friday and Saturday. It was a gloomy prognostication for storms as bad as the freak event that tore through the area in July. And this was proving problematic for me to go see a ballgame.

The Bridgeport team was home this weekend, and they were the only one of the three teams to check off my list for this year (covering all of Connecticut and Rhode Island). Given the forecasts, the Saturday night game was looking to be rained out at best, so I shifted my weekend around and did all my Sunday activities on Saturday, with the plan of going to the Sunday afternoon game.

Well, of course, the storm did not show up Friday night as scheduled. There was a touch of rain, but all the reports for apocalyptic weather were moved into Saturday, erasing any last hopes of the storm hitting early and being able to make the Saturday game. I went about my various tasks and chores as the rain got pushed further and further out in the day, and at game time, the sun was still shining high and bright. The new supposed deadline of 8 PM came and went, and it became clear I could have just gone to the Saturday game. Outside of some rain overnight, nothing came of the "dangerous" storm.

And so Sunday came around. I had hoped to be able to listen to "Talking Baseball" on the radio during the drive up, but it was only an abbreviated 45 minutes this Sunday to make room for the men's Olympic basketball finals, which were being covered live on the radio for some reason. So that, instead of the dulcet tones of Ed Randall, were the soundtrack for my drive up.

It being Sunday morning, I decided to risk a city crossing again, taking the Lincoln Tunnel to the West Side highway, up to 95. Heading away from Jersey, 95 was mostly smooth sailing (but with the Cross-Bronx, you never know minute-to-minute), but I did see 95 West-bound backed up at least eight miles from the George Washington Bridge.

The drive up to Bridgeport was mostly fine. Outside of Darien, in a work zone, there was an accident that had traffic stopped nearly dead for three miles. I decided to chance the "roadblock" feature on my TomTom, which took me on county roads and residential streets around the blockage (and coincidentally, fairly close to a friend's suburban home), and got me back on 95 past the accident and on my way. I pulled into Bridgeport about an hour and half before the game and parked in one of the rather expensive ($7) lots.

After buying my ticket and taking my photos outside, I still had some time to kill before the gates opened, so I walked a little into town, following the signs for the P.T. Barnum Museum. I found that it had been damaged in a storm two years ago and still wasn't re-opened. Mildly disappointed, I headed back to the stadium to await its opening.

After the game, there was little traffic heading out, and the stadium's close proximity to 95 had me back on the road home in no time. I stopped off at a service area to get some gas, and then I was off again. Remembering the trip out, I jumped on 287 to the Tapen Zee to avoid crossing on the GWB, taking the Palisades down Jersey on the way back. Giving the TomTom another chance (after nixing its suggestion to go back into Manhattan to take the West Side Highway down,) it took my a new and interesting route down to 495 to back into Hoboken that proved acceptable. I was back in the house and making dinner by a quarter after seven, quite pleased with myself.

Ah, the Tapen Zee: Not only are you cheaper and generally more traffic-free than other river-crossing options, you are also a more scenic ride. And so, of course, it is apparently going to be torn down and rebuilt with something more expensive and less pretty. So it goes.


The Stadium & Fans:

Home to center, Ballpark at Harbor Yard
Home plate to center field, Ballpark at Harbor Yard

The Ballpark at Harbor Yard was pretty typical of an indie league park, at about the A-AA level. The ballpark was located on the riverfront as part of a complex that someone clearly built in the 90s or so to "revitalize" the waterfront. In addition to the ballpark, next door was a small arena that seemed to host minor-league hockey and basketball teams, as well as some B-list concerts.

The park itself was nice, with a statue of local baseball notable James Henry O'Roarke out in front. The front of the stadium had a series of stairs up to entrances, while around the corner, what seemed to be the main entrance under the "Harbor Yard" sign sat facing the arena. The ballpark was situated with its back to the Metro-North train tracks, and a small passage goes around the place, with storage and the like out back.

All the entrances were up a flight of stairs, with the exception of home plate entrance to the luxury boxes, which presumably had an elevator. All the entrances led out to the main promenade that circled the stadium, with stairs leading down to the seating bowl. The luxury boxes were the only things above that, hovering over the area behind home plate.

One row of seats went from the start of the outfields around home plate. A second row of seats extended above them, in the shade of the luxury boxes for most of the area directly around home plate. In right field was a Kids' Cove play zone, and in left field was the expected picnic area. The main promenade looked out onto the field and was lined with concession stands, so that you could grab food while you watched the game. Out behind third base was the largish team store. Two retired numbers graced the left field wall.

The crowd was a little sparse. This could have been because of the dire forecasts one way or the other or a general lack of support for the bottom-dwelling team. Sunday was "Family Day," so before the game, all of the players lined up outside the dugout to sign autographs from all comers, and after the game (once the inevitable ball-toss game was done), kids were allowed to run the bases.

The mascot was named "BB" and didn't make a lot of appearances on-field. This may be how they do it there, or it may have been concerns about heat stroke. Most of the between-inning events were standard faire: ball tosses, bat races (performed by two Chinese tourists who needed extra instructions this time), and the like. In the later innings, a child had to catch rubber chickens flung by an elastic slingshot with a giant fishing net. I think it speaks to the fact that I've gone to too many of these games that it didn't even make me bat an eye.

There was one fan worth note, who looked like an aging hippie of some kind. He spent the game walking around with his hand-made sign asking to be hit a foul ball and other generic team support. He seemed to be enjoying himself, so good for him.


At the Game with Oogie:

Scoring
Not kidding

For this indie league game, I again went big with the $15 seats behind the home dugout. As opposed to the week previous, the sun was coming at me from the back this time, but it didn't make it any less hot. I was mostly seated around season ticket holders, as well as a large group from a martial arts school that was having an outing at the stadium that day.

I was in the row behind the front row, but there was an incident with the next section over in that first row. A father and his son kept putting things on the top of the dugout itself, to the great consternation of the security guard for that section. After the third time getting warned, the father pointed to some girls sitting further down the row who had their feet up on the dugout and not getting harassed. The security guard then had to go over there to get them to stop, and this led to a shouting match between them and the father, and it just escalated, and eventually the father and his son were escorted from their seats. Everything else aside, is this really how you want to act in front of your kid? I mean, really. I was embarrassed for the tyke.

What was most notable about the whole experience was that the sun eventually got to be too much even for me. There was no sun going down halfway through a 2 PM game. Earlier, most of my section-mates had made a bee-line for unoccupied seats further up in the shade. I made it until about the seventh inning before I had to go up and spend the rest of the game watching from the shaded rail before I got sunstroke. There were a hardy few who stayed in the sun-blasted section, but they made frequent trips out of the sun for concessions and the like.


The Game:

First pitch, Riversharks vs. Bluefish
First pitch, Riversharks vs. Bluefish

With indie league ball, you're never quite sure what you're going to get. In looking through the program, I was surprised by the number of players that at least had a cup of coffee in the majors instead of the AA-and-out you usually get, and to their credit, there weren't even any errors in the game. But the first half of the match did plod on slowly, and there was a lack of both hit and pitch in this game that can only be partially attributable to the heat for this afternoon game.

The visiting River Sharks and the Bluefish both scattered a hit in their respective halves of the first with nothing to show. With one out and a 3-2 count on the second batter in the second inning, the Bluefish's pitcher collapsed on the mound. Everyone in my section was busy following a foul ball hit right over our heads, so we didn't quite see the start of it, but in the end, the trainer walked the hobbled pitcher off the mound, and a spot replacement got a good deal of time to warm up. Although he got that batter, he promptly gave up a double, a walk, and a single in quick succession, eventually ending the inning giving up only one run. But in their half of the second, a two-out homer by the Bluefish tied it up, leaving it 1-1 at the end of two.

The newish Bluefish pitcher gave up a lead-off single and then two one-out singles to load the bases in the third. A sacrifice fly brought a run in, but more men got left on base as a liner to left ended the half. The Bluefish got a single and walk and nothing to show for it, making it 2-1 River Sharks after three innings. The River Sharks found an odd way to go 1-2-3 in an inning, with a lead-off single, erased on the next batter's fielder's choice, who was erased on the next batter's fielder's choice, who was in his turn caught stealing. The Bluefish had a more traditional inning, getting just a walk and nothing else.

In the fifth, the River Sharks went in order rather more normally, while the Bluefish were unable to capitalize on a one-out single and walk. Perhaps feeling the heat, the River Sharks went down in order again the sixth, and the Bluefish had their first two go in order as well against a new River Shark pitcher. But they got a two-out single, then a walk, then another single to load the bases. Another short single brought in a run, leaving the bases loaded, and a walk brought in another before the River sharks pulled their ineffective pitcher. A ground out to third ended it, but not before the Bluefish regained the lead, 3-2.

The River Sharks tried their own two-out rally in the seventh with a walk and a single, but a new Bluefish pitcher came in and got a fly to center to end the threat. The Bluefish, for their part, went in order. The River Sharks went in order in the eighth, and the Bluefish had a leadoff single erased on a double-play before striking out to end the half.

With their last licks, the River Sharks went meekly in order, and the bottom-dwelling Bluefish got a rare 2-1 win.


The Scorecard:

Riversharks vs. Bluefish, 08-12-12. Bluefish win, 2-1.Riversharks vs. Bluefish, 08-12-12. Bluefish win, 2-1.
Riversharks vs. Bluefish, 08/12/12. Bluefish win, 2-1.

The scorecard was again part of a $3 program, but here it was actually in the center fold of the program on shiny magazine paper instead of the photocopy of the week before. The magazine paper was a little problematic with erasing and re-writing with pencil, but it was clearly designed with pen scorers in mind.

It was a standard diamond-box design with a good amount of space for writing, though the center diamond was so thick that it was hard to write legibly over it. It had places for a good amount of generic data (date, start/end, scorer, umpires, and weather), and repeated a lot of information on both sheets. It was actually a little difficult to determine if the scorecard section was for the home team or the opponent.

Rather untypically, it had an inning-by-inning line score under the individual performance statistics that didn't make a lot of sense, but it lined up with the cumulative data in a nifty way I had never seen before so that the line score and the team stats meshed pretty nicely.

There were some odd scorings of note. For the first time ever, I had to record a pitcher being removed in the middle of a batter (because of the pitcher's injury). I wrote in the count that the pitcher left on (3-2), and it would have gotten interesting if the batter had gotten on base, but he grounded out to third.

Also of note was a 3-6-1 double play in the third, where the first baseman came so far off the bag to make the relay throw to short that the pitcher backing him up got the back end of the double play. Bonus points for solid fundamentals, but it was all tinged with a bit of sadness as I always love a good 3-6-3 double play.


The Accommodations:
Hoboken


2012 Stand-Alone Trip

Saturday, August 4, 2012

New Britain

On a Lovely Day for Some Baseball

New Britain Stadium
New Britain Stadium, 2012

Saturday, August 4, 2012
Altoona Curve (Pittsburgh Pirates) vs.
New Britain Rock Cats (Minnesota Twins)
New Britain Stadium
Eastern League (AA)
7:05 PM


Outside the Game:
It had been nearly a month to the day that I got home from Korea. Since starting these international trips, July has become a "recovery period," where I process everything from the trips (pictures, blogs, etc) and just get back to normal in living in America again. August, subsequently, has been when I realize how little time is really left in the baseball season and I get out on the road again.

Almost completely from the ether, I decided to finish seeing all the pro teams in New Jersey last year. As these things often do, I extended this out to try for all the teams in Connecticut and Rhode Island this August. There are only a grand total of four, although some of them are pushing 3.5-4 hours from my house, making day trips out on the weekend less likely, especially night games.

The way the gods of scheduling had it, the first one I could go see was one of the further out. New Britain, CT, is about 2.5-3 hours as the crow flies from Hoboken, but it seemed doable enough for a day trip out for a night game on a Saturday. I generally am bumming around anyway, and it is not like I have to get up early on Sunday.

After an abortive attempt to go into Connecticut in June (and the short version was after chancing a city crossing, a parade stopped me dead and sent me home), I decided to go the safer "up and over" route via the Palisades Parkway and the Tapen Zee Bridge.

I game myself plenty of time by leaving at 1:30, and off I rode. Outside of hitting a little bit of congestion at the bridge toll and due to an accident on 84 in Connecticut, the ride up was pleasantly uneventful. Even with stopping off for gas and lunch, I got to the stadium about two and half hours before the start of the game. I was able to get parked before they even set up the parking lot (which got me out of paying for parking), and I was the first one at the window to buy a ticket (though three other families showed up right after me). There was plenty of time for pre-game wandering about and the like.

After the game, most of the people in attendance were going back to their cars to get the gear for the Scout sleepover that night. There was no traffic at all getting out, and I was heading back to 84 in the other direction in no time, which was good given that I didn't get out until after 10:30.

Finally the West Coast swing by the Mets was working for me, as I was able to listen to the second half of the Mets-Padres game on the way home. I didn't make any stops, and outside of the TomTom trying to take me back into New York to take the West Side Highway down to the Lincoln Tunnel (because somehow that would be faster than the Palisades, in its mind), I had an uneventful ride home, the Mets won, and I managed to drag myself to bed a little after 1 AM.


The Stadium & Fans:

Home to center, New Britain Stadium
Home plate to center field, New Britain Stadium

The curiously uncorporatized New Britain Stadium lies at a particularly fortuitous crossroads: it is equidistant from Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park, making it a go-to destination for people in the area looking to see some baseball. This was my first game after Korea, and it was a continuation of that experience in a couple of ways. Firstly, the ballpark was located in a larger complex of stadiums. Secondly, it was largely wedged-in as well. Around the outside of the left field, there was a tiny path that let you get all the way around the stadium.

But that's where the similarities ended. This was very much a minor league American park. It was a nifty little design, and for the most part symmetrical. There were two rows of seats that only extended out the beginnings of the outfield. Each seating area ended with a special section (the events picnic area and kid's playground on the left field end, and the Comcast Patio on the right field side). Each area at the top of the park behind the bases had their own special area, as well (the MVP Seats on the third base side and the All-Star Terrace on the first base side). Even the "luxury" boxes behind home plate were symmetrical around the press box, with the Heineken Suites on the first base side and the Advance Copy Suite on the third base side. Two opposing stairwells led up to the seating areas on both sides of the field.

The interior of the stadium was one horseshoe around the stadium. At the main gate was the fan service desk and other booths. Concessions stretched down the first base hallway, and in addition to the concessions on the third base side was also the large team store. Right by the store and behind a bank of condiments were the placards for the "New Britain Sports Hall of Fame."

Beehive Field
Beehive Field

The real gem was next door. "Beehive Field" was a nearly completely wooden park that was the former home of Rock Cats, and their earlier incarnation as a Red Sox minor league franchise. They left for the less green pastures next door in the mid-90s, but the town fathers had the wisdom to leave the old park standing. I can understand how minor league personnel must have hated Beehive Field, with its rudimentary facilities, but it was just everything an old park should be. Sadly, it seemed to be under repair during my visit, as large parts of the structure had warning signs on it, but it was still touted as hosting the New Britain high school team and other organized amateur ball. It makes me happier that old parks like this are still in existence.

Back at the new stadium, they got a pretty big crowd for the game that night. It was Scout Night, and registered scouts were going to do a sleepover in the outfield after the game that night. Though the scouts and families were perhaps a quarter of the crowd, the rest were families and baseball fanatics out to see a game. What was notable was that for a minor-league game, there were a lot less of the between-inning shenanigans than normal, as usually at this level of ball the between-innings periods are chock full of musical chairs, and spin races, and the like. Not to say that there weren't any, but just a lot less than I was expecting. This night was also a tribute to 30 years of pro baseball in New Britain, so there were a number of video presentations on that milestone as well, perhaps replacing some of the games.

Mascot
Surprising

It was another case of a predictably named mascot, however. The New Britain Rock Cats had a rock cat as a mascot. You know what? Just based on that, guess the rock cat's name. Correct, it was Rocky.


At the Game with Oogie:

Lunch
Chicken fingers and water

I arrived plenty early at the park that day, predating the parking guys to the point where I got free parking for my promptness, or at least, that is the theory I'm going with. (I did ask about buying a parking ticket after the ropes went up, and I got a shrug of complete ambivalence from the teen on duty.) As per usual for minor and indie games, I sprung for the "expensive" seats behind the home dugout, to the tune of $15.

With a lot of time to kill, I ended up doing the full circuit of both New Britain Stadium, and their previous home next door, the Beehive. I get the impression that not a lot of people walk around the back of the stadium, as it is just a grass field backed by some woods and the high school, but I was surprised to find someone else out behind center field with his mitt. We both were made extremely sheepish by being found by other human beings, and it seemed clear that we had to talk to each other. I figured he was out there shagging any balls that cleared the stadium during batting practice, and god only knows what he thought of me.

"Doing some fielding practice for BP?"
"Cheap way to get a suntan."

And we both smiled and wished the other person would go away, as I did passing around to the other side of the stadium in my circuit.

After doing my normal walkabout the stadium, I grabbed some chicken fingers and fries and had some dinner at a stand-up table by the left field entrance. My seat was right at the end of the dugout, in front of an indented area where the grounds crew apparently kept all their rakes and such. Either way, it let me stretch out my legs after the long drive up, and it was welcome.

There were tons of families around me at the start of the game. As it got later and later into the night, especially with the long game, the families eventually petered away, and kids made their way into free seat upgrades to try and get balls out of the home players on the way back to the dugout. Some later arrivals weren't as lucky, but the kids that were already there shared their bounty with them. It was straight up one of the nicest things I'd have ever witnessed. One of the kid's dads caught me scoring and we talked about it for a while.

Before the family exodus, when the rock cat mascot came out for the first time, the kids of the family in the row behind me took notice. Their approximately six-year old daughter said this, word for word: "My goodness, that is a big kitty. I must hug it." I wasn't quite sure what to do with that. She eventually went over to get his autograph, and presumably a hug. I wish her well.

The stadium seemed to be facing dead north, because the sun was absolutely pounding down on the first base side as it started to set. Usually teams will align their field so that the blinding sun will fall on their opponent's dugout, but for whatever reason, the sun was right in our faces until it mercifully set behind the trees on this sweltering August evening. I've never been happier to see the lights come on before.


The Game:

First pitch, Curve vs. Rock Cats
First pitch, Curve vs. Rock Cats

With AA ball, you never quite know what you are going to get, except that there is going to be a big old dollop of slop worked in somewhere. Maybe there will be all hit, no pitch. Maybe it will be all pitch, no hit, but you can be sure there will be an error or two to get you through it.

The visiting Curve went down in order in the top of the first, but the Rock Cats got their lead-off hitter home after a single with a stolen base (that got my section $8 off an oil change), and error on the first baseman, and a wild pitch, while the rest of team went in order, leaving it a 1-0 Rock Cats lead at the end of one.

The Curve lead off the second with a single, and then a walk made it two on with no outs, which is never good if you're pitching. After a strike out, the Rock Cats gave up another single to load the bases, and then things got bizarre. The next batter up grounded one slowly to short, who went for and got the sure out at first. The runner from third scored, but the runner going from first to second either thought it was a double play, or forgot how many outs their were, because he made for the dugout. The first baseman fired back to the shortstop who tagged him out, for a simple 6-3-6t double play to end the inning. I would not want to be that runner going back to an angry manager after that level of bonehead play. But the Rock Cats went in order, leaving it tied at the end of two.

In the top of the third, the Curve got a lead-off walk thrown out on a steal attempt and nothing else. The Rock Cat's lead-off runner got to first on a shortstop error, moved over after a sacrifice bunt back to the pitch was successful enough for an infield single, and then a ground out to short left it first and third with one out. Another single brought home the run, but a double play ended the third with the Rock Cats up 2-1.

A potent mix of a single, a walk, and an error brought in a run with no outs for the Curve in the fourth. A sacrifice fly brought another in, but they could do no better, taking back the lead at 3-2. The Rock Cats started off their half with back-to-back singles, but could do nothing with it. In the fifth, the Curve scattered a single and a walk to no effect, but the Rock Cats started the sixth with a line drive homer to left to tie it at 3. The bases got loaded with back-to-back singles and another E6 before a sac fly brought in another run. But they got nothing more, regaining a slim 4-3 lead.

The Curve went in order in the sixth (thanks in part to a superman catch by the Rock Cat's center fielder), while the Rock Cats rudely greeted a new Curve pitcher. A lead-off walk was followed by a single, and a wild pitch moved them both over. A one-out single brought them in, but a hit batsman and single got them nothing more before the end of the inning, with the Rock Cats having some breathing room at 6-3.

The seemingly deflated Curve went in order in the seventh, but the Rock Cats turned a hit batsman and three more singles into two more runs, opening it up to 8-3. The Curve only managed a single and walk that went nowhere in the eighth, and the Rock Cats coasted to the ninth with a walk to show for their half of the eighth.

Then things got interesting. A new Rock Cats pitcher promptly gave up a single, a double, and another single to chip off one run of the lead. A sacrifice fly brought in another. After getting a fly out to right, it looked like the pitcher would be able to finish it off, but he got pulled before he had the chance. The new pitcher then gave up two more singles, to make the score an uncomfortable 8-6, with runners on first and third with two out. The go-ahead run came to plate, and struck out looking, giving the pitcher a save, and the Rock Cats the far too close 8-6 victory.


The Scorecard:

Curve vs. Rock Cats, 08-04-12. Rock Cats win, 8-6.Curve vs. Rock Cats, 08-04-12. Rock Cats win, 8-6.
Curve vs. Rock Cats, 08/04/12. Rock Cats win, 8-6.

For the first time since Washington, PA, I had a new score card to explore. The score card was part of the $3 program, and was just a separate double-sided copy of what looked to be an official scorer sheet. The xerox was also a little off, and some of the column headers on the left were cut off because of it. Certainly not the worst scorecard I've gotten at a minor league park, but certainly interesting.

The reason I surmise it was an official scorer sheet is because it had a section up top to prove out your card (which involves adding up at bats, walks, sacrifices, and hit by pitches and comparing it to the total for runs, left on bases, and put outs to see if they add up), as well as a tracking for every pitch outcome or throw to a base, as well as a section for pitch counts. Even after Pittsburgh, this was the most involved scorecard I have ever had to fill out, but even though it was labor-intensive, I had a lot of fun with it. The layout made substitutions very easy to handle, and I have to say how much I like the pitch count tracking system they had in place, which I'd never seen before. If the at-bat goes for more than ten pitches or throws to bases, however, you are going to run into big problems. Also, the score sheet only took into account nine innings, so if your games goes to extra innings, or a team bats around on you, you are also going to have some rather serious difficulties.

Scoring-wise, there were some doosies. I think if I live to be a hundred, I will never have to repeat the DP 6-3-6t double-play from the second inning ever again, and the 5U-5-2 DP in the sixth was also a rare one.

Tracking pitches also lets to ferret out some really weird patterns that you otherwise would have missed. In the forth, for example, the first three batters started with a ball and then put the second pitch into play. The next two after that head nearly identical "BBTBH" lines (ball, ball, taken strike, ball, in play), except that the pitcher walked the second guy. Not mind-changing insights by any stretch, but still fairly interesting.


The Accommodations:
After a long, late drive after a long game, Hoboken.


2012 Stand-Alone Trip