Sunday, May 26, 2013

Pomona

On Testing the Boundaries of Reality

Provident Bank Park
Provident Bank Park, 2013

Sunday, May 26, 2013
Quebec Les Capitales vs. Rockland Boulders
Provident Bank Park
Can Am (Independent)
Pomona, NY
2:00 PM


Outside the Game:
I loaded up on the slightly more posh breakfast buffet at the Holiday Inn in Binghamton before I set out for the day. Since it was an early afternoon game, and I had a good two and half hours to go, I needed to set out relatively early.

I was in the car and listening to a staticy "Talking Baseball" that got more and more clear as my drive went on. Outside of some minor construction congestion, my drive was mercifully without incident, and I managed to pull into the parking lot about twenty minutes before the opening of the gates, which was just enough time to take pictures of the outside of the stadium and get my ticket.

After the game, it was under an hour to get back home. As I had time and no agenda for the evening, I decided to just trust my TomTom when it took me down the Palisades Parkway to see how it would take me home, and even though it decided to use 1 & 9, by some miracle, there wasn't a backup and I got back to my garage at around 6 PM.


The Stadium & Fans:

Home to center, Provident Bank Park
Home plate to center field, Provident Bank Park

Say what you want about Provident Bank Park, but it is easily the most ambitious indie league park I've ever seen. Most independent league parks seem to aspire to A or AA-level stadiums, but the Boulders clearly decided that their new digs were going to be AAA-level.

To start with, the seating and the walls went all around the field, and didn't just go from left field to right field like most low minors parks. The stadium had a rear facade by the back parking lot and open fencing surrounding most of the park. There were several gates on the shoulders of the building, though the main entrances were by home plate, and next to the team store and the luxury box entrance.

The main entrances led to the main promenade that led down to the seating bowl. The main seating area was fairly standard for a minor league park, with one area of seating extending from left field to right field, with luxury boxes overhead from first to third. But the promenade went all around the stadium, and there were special seating areas in the outfield. The Corona Short Porch was a bar with seating located at field level in right. On the promenade level in right field was the Boulder Berg kids area. Extending from right center to left center (though broken up by the batter's eye) were honest-to-god bleachers. The Coors Light Bridge Bar was out at field-level in left field, and on the promenade level was another building branded to a local radio station.

The Rockbird runs the show on the field along with the promotions team. There's the regular minor/indie fare, with a special focus on races, of which there were numerous examples throughout the afternoon. It was also "Bark at the Park" that day, so there were a lot of four-legged fans in attendance. The Rockbird ever had his own charge, and despite raising some Disney-esque questions of what is a pet and what is not, the pooch on the field was clearly over-excited by the amount of balls in his immediate area that he was not allowed to play with, and often made attempts to madly dash away from the over-taxed mascot.

Mascot
The Rockbird doing The Bird: Birdception

The fans were mostly a family affair, and decently into the game. Well, with one notable exception.


At the Game with Oogie:

Grub
Chicken fingers basket

It is so very rare to have nearly everything in your life succinctly critiqued by an encounter with one individual.

When I got to the park, a good twenty minutes before the gates opened, there was already someone waiting in line to get in. He was in his late teens or early twenties by the look of it, in a personalized jersey, with unkempt long hair, and a bag of stuff. By the time I took all my photos and got on line, I was two or three people back from him, and I didn't think much of it at the time.

As per normal, I got the best seats behind the home dugout that were available. It put me four for five rows back of the dugout in the middle of the row, really close to home plate, because Provident Bank Park had the smallest foul ball fences I think I've ever seen on a ballpark. I was clearly in season ticket country, and the guy with the custom jersey was right behind the dugout in the next section over.

He brought out the cowbell pretty early. It was beat-up number that he hit with a similarly beat-up Boulders mini-bat, at every opportunity. Forgetting that there wasn't that much to cheer about early in the game, for the most part, all he was doing was hitting that cowbell and then texting or something on his phone. It was getting old pretty quick, especially for the sparse crowd sitting around him, and when one spoke up about saving the cowbell for when it was warranted, he said that he wouldn't stop cheering how he wanted to and how could you possibly tell someone to stop cheering at a sporting event? And then he furiously texted some more. You could hear the eyes rolling in the entire section.

It wasn't just the cowbell itself, but that he was clearly trying to mess with the opposing players with it. He would hit it right when the opposing pitcher was releasing the ball, or when an opposing batter was ready to swing. I figured that this was going to end pretty soon, as the opposing manager probably had something to say on the issue, but I wasn't paying particular attention to him, and he disappeared at some point.

As soon as he left, all of the regulars in the season tickets section starting talking about him. Apparently, not only is he always like that, but he is often tossed from the seating area for using untoward language around kids. The exasperated tones told you all you needed to know about this guy.

He inevitably re-appeared, and was immediately visited by an usher who wanted to see his ticket. He made a big stink about having to go to his actual seat, while texting away on his phone. To my great luck, his "real" seat was right next to me.

And he immediately started up with the cowbell again. Which he was ringing in his left hand, right by my ear. I felt I was magnanimous in letting him do it twice before I spoke up. I asked him, rather politely, if he wouldn't mind hitting the cowbell somewhere else besides my ear. He immediately started in on his right to cheer, and I told him, perhaps a little less politely, that he can bang the damn bell, but somewhere else besides my ear. Perhaps it was my demeanor, and perhaps it was because he was already in the crosshairs of the ushers, but he, with extreme passive aggression, went up and to the right with his cowbell from now on, and I let the matter rest. He even more passive aggressively scooted two empty seats down eventually, muttering about what he has to do just to cheer on his team, and how unfair the world was clearly being to him, who was clearly within his rights.

While that could have been more than enough for the little man, it wasn't the end. Eventually one or two boys a few years shy of teenagedom apparently recognized him from his custom jersey. This keeper of the rulebook on cheering for baseball was not only a professional cheerer, but also the purveyor of a fan site (Twitter, Facebook, whatever the kids do these days) for the Rockland Boulders. All that texting on his phone was actually live-tweeting about the game. After being asked by the gushing boys if he would follow their Twitters, we learned that he also has rules about his important Twitter, in that he won't follow people he doesn't know, even if they follow him first.

The whole discussion was blowing my mind, as he sat there, bragging to pre-teens. He bragged about how he never cut his hair because he didn't have to anymore. He bragged about going to every Boulders game with season tickets his mom bought him, even though he lived fifteen minutes away. He bragged about getting to every game over an hour before the gates opened. He bragged about going to community college. I could perhaps bear it all in silence until he said this, largely verbatim, to the best of my memory: "I'm nineteen years old; I'm an adult." And then I could not quite completely smoother a laugh that I'm not sure he didn't hear.

So there was this nineteen year-old know-it-all, jealously guarding the little fiefdom that no one else wanted that he carved out in the world, petulantly going on about his "rights" and what he "could" and "couldn't" do according to his bizarre little code of laws, carefully guarding this misplaced image as a "rebel," being universally reviled by anyone that had to spend any time around him, and only being admired by those significantly younger than him -- but the fact remains that I was right there with him for most of it. Who, really, am I to judge? With today's technology and beginning my baseball obsession several years earlier, I might as well have ended up a worse version of him.

In other news, the Boulders had this thing where they put up pictures of "celebrity look-alikes" of fans on the scoreboard. Earlier in the game, it was someone who "looked" like John Goodman. They put me up there with Steven Speilberg, presumably because we were both wearing baseball caps and had beards and large noses. Because you know who no one has ever told me I look like? Steven Speilberg.


The Game:

First pitch, Capitales vs. Boulders
First pitch, Capitales vs. Boulders

Each game on this weekend trip was getting more and more ridiculous, to the point of not being able to expect anything weirder just by the limits of reality. And again I was proved wrong.

The Capitales got a single erased on a double-play in the top of the first, while the Boulders went in order. The Capitales went in order in the second, while the Boulders at least got a leadoff walk who stole two bases before being stranded on third. The Capitales had a bit of a rally in the third, with a leadoff walk (erased on the subsequent fielder's choice) and then another walk and a double-steal, to make it second and third with one out. But two strikeouts ended the inning with no one across. The Boulders went in order in the bottom of the third, as did everyone after until the top of the sixth.

Then the Capitales got a one-out double followed by a single that made it first and third with one out. But again, two outs followed with none coming across. The Boulders again went in order, as did the Capitales, facing a new Boulders pitcher. The Boulders got a two-out walk in the bottom of the seventh, but he was caught stealing to end the inning.

In the top of the eighth, the Capitales mounted a serious threat, with a leadoff single sacrificed to second, and then a walk made it first and second with one out. Pitchers were changed, an out was had, but another walk loaded the bases. But a clutch strikeout ended the game and kept it scoreless.

Things went pear-shaped in the bottom of the eighth, when the Capitales pulled their pitcher, who was still working on a no-hitter. That no-hitter lasted two more batters, as a solo home run to left ended the no-hitter and the scoreless tie. The next batter singled to center, and the next singled to right, making it first and third with one out. A passed ball scored a run and moved the runner on first to second. A productive fly out to right moved the runner on second over to third. A single brought him home, and a double brought him home. Not yet content, another single (the third straight hit) scored the runner from second, making it 5-0 Boulders, before a flyout by the ninth batter in the inning mercifully ended the onslaught.

At this point, we awaited the Boulder's closer to finish up the ninth, and the home crowd could go home happy.

Not so.

The closer for the Boulders was victimized by a first baseman who couldn't handle a throw, allowing a lead-off runner on first. A passed ball moved him to second, but it hardly mattered, as the batter then homered to right, to make it 5-2. No one was too worried at this point.

The next batter walked, and the batter after him got plunked. People started to get worried.

A groundout to the first baseman calmed everyone down a little, but the next batter went yard to right and tied it up 5-5. A pop to first and a grounder to third by the ninth man in the inning eventually ended it, but the deja vu was strong, and the home crowd was stunned.

Onto the bottom of the ninth, and unsurprisingly, a new pitcher for the Capitales.

He plunked the first batter.

He plunked the second batter.

The third batter, simply trying to bunt the ball, was nearly hit twice before he got a bunt down in front of the plate.

The catcher threw that bunt into left field trying to get the lead runner.

And the game ended on an E2.

Two walk-off wins on errors in two days.

Baseball. Am I right?


The Scorecard:

Les Capitales vs. Boulders, 05-26-13. Boulders win, 6-5.
Les Capitales vs. Boulders, 05/26/13. Boulders win, 6-5.

The scorecard was on nice cardstock paper in the center of the free program, but, as Derek Zoolander might say, it was a scorecard for ants. All of the boxes seemed to be shrunk down versions made to fit the smaller form factor, which made it difficult to scrunch in the scoring.

Taking a pitcher out when he has a no-hitter was inexplicable enough. Having the replacement pitcher face nine batters and give up five runs was more so. Having the new home pitcher then follow and do exactly the same thing buggers statistics. Having the new pitcher bean the first two runners and nearly hit the third breaks math. And the walk-off error on the catcher just needs a new universe to properly do it justice.


The Accommodations:
I drove back to Hoboken after the game, so I was back at home that night, wondering why I thought it a good idea to do this the weekend before I was leaving for a two-week vacation.


2013 Memorial Day

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Binghamton

On the Lesser Mets

NYSEG Stadium
NYSEG Stadium, 2013

Saturday, May 25, 2013
Portland Sea Dogs (Red Socks) vs.
Binghamton Mets (New York Metropolitans)
NYSEG Stadium
Eastern League (AA)
Binghamton, NY
7:00 PM


Outside the Game:
I woke up, warm and dry, the next morning and went down to the lobby to take advantage of the hotel's modest and free breakfast buffet. I took a good year or two off my life with some extensive eggs and sausage shoveling, although I'm sure the oatmeal I also ate balanced the difference.

As I only had an hour to get to Binghamton, and a game that wasn't until 7 PM, I had some time to be lazy. A good chunk of the morning was spent half-awake in my suite watching TV and dozing on and off back to sleep. Eventually, I got my act together and got showered, packed, and on the road.

The drive up to Binghamton was a straight shot that thankfully took me out of Pennsylvania and into New York, where the road quality and drivers suddenly and almost magically improved. The one hour chip shot was over in a blink, and the weather on the drive up seemed to be improving, with sunny skies gracing the heavens instead of the dismal grey of the day before.

I arrived around noon with an afternoon to kill before the game, so I went over to the Binghamton Zoo in Ross Park. I had found out about when researching Binghamton for things to do. It was a small, regional zoo, so I wasn't expecting much, but it did have the distinction of being the fifth oldest zoo in the country. Upon parking and exiting the car, I discovered that even though the sky was clear, it was still in the low 50s with a driving wind.

The zoo has an antique carousel at the entrance, and a mile path that winds through the park to see their modest collection of animals. Animals that, to a being, seemed to hate me, or at best, be unimpressed with my presence. I have never felt such a hostile reaction from zoo animals, so I am forced to wonder if I personally was to blame for their seeming hostility. Then again, I could just be projecting. Nevertheless, I managed to pass some time soaking in negative vibes from the animal "friends," and then took a ramble into the park itself. I discovered what I though to be a long-abandoned amphitheater building built into a river run, but I was later to find that it had just flooded out two years ago. It was truly amazing how quickly nature can just reclaim something. There was a sizeable tree already growing in the middle of the seating area. A further walk into the park revealed some tumbled-down huts and cabins along the path, to the point that most everything in the park seemed to have been from a better time.

Binghamton Zoo
This goat did not like me.

After my ramble, I drove into downtown Binghamton to find my hotel. There are only four in all of the city, and the one I wanted to stay in (an independent hotel made from the old city hall) was booked up for the weekend, so I stayed in the Holiday Inn downtown. After being graciously checked in a little early, I parked my car and dropped off all my stuff in my room and decided to walk over to the stadium early to get some outside pictures.

This took me through the heart of Binghamton's downtown, and what a depressing heart it was. I was accosted by several panhandlers, and outside of getting some pretty good ghost sign pictures, the abandoned downtown buildings were nothing but downbeat. An arts community was slowly reclaiming parts into small galleries, but it wasn't making much of a dent.

The stadium itself was on a street of perennially "for sale" properties, and right next to the main rail line that used to be the lifeblood of the city. There was a single, discarded sock on the stairs to the parking lot that pretty much summed up the experience. After taking my pictures and buying a ticket for the game, I walked back to the hotel and took a nap before driving back to the stadium later for the game.

It was less than a minute by car there and back, and I parked in the hotel lot and went up to my room to crash early for the evening, as I'd have to make a somewhat early start of it the next day.


The Stadium & Fans:

Home to center, NYSEG Stadium
Home plate to center field, NYSEG Stadium

The parent Mets club is located in a scrap metal and spare auto parts emporium in Queens. Their rookie league squad is located in a place once quipped "Port St. Lonely." Their AA affiliate keeps alive this tradition of crappy locations by being right next to the rail line in a severely depressed area on the eastern edge of downtown Binghamton. I have to wonder if there is a corporate policy on this matter. Even the Cyclones started in a crappy neighborhood on Coney Island that has only been saved by the gentrification around it.

Once inside, NYSEG stadium is a fairly standard, older minor-league park design. There is one main path in the seating bowl that runs from left field to right field via home plate. A small number of sky boxes line the broadcast booth behind home plate. Instead of having the concessions in the seating bowl, a second, outer walkway rings the stadium from left to right under the seats that hosts most of the concession, restrooms, and offices. This means you can't see the game when you go for food or a bathroom break, and the outer walkway is claustrophobically narrow in some places, especially by the front gate.

They did put the outer ring to good use, with a truly extensive "Binghamton's Baseball Shrine" to celebrate all the baseball greats from the area, not to mention some nice memorials to their long-time clubhouse and equipment managers down the hallway a little further.

Lupo's Dougout (more below) anchors the right field side of the field, and a picnic area (with all-you-can-eat seats) locked down the left field side of the stadium.

The B-Mets have two mascots: The inevitable Buddy the Bee, and Ballwinkle the Moose. The sheer number of moose mascots I've seen recently in the minor leagues makes me seriously wonder if it isn't the cheapest mascot outfit available, or if there is some other not-so-obvious benefit to that costume that would explain its prevalence.

Mascots
Ballwinkle, Buddy, and Fan

The between-inning entertainment ranged from the common (t-shirt giveaways, contests, etc) to the well-done (two fans got to be with the mascots to greet the B-Mets players taking the field) to the inexplicable (a guy riding a fake horse throwing hot dogs to the fans). A number of technical glitches marred several of the events that evening.

Given the cold temperatures, threatening weather, and holiday weekend, the small turnout was probably to be expected. Some quick research shows they generally get a better crowd. If anything, the thinning of the casual fan's ranks made the hardcore baseball guys' presence even more felt, especially as the cold evening drew on. The crowd did get into it during the rally that finally decided the outcome of the game.


At the Game with Oogie:

Grub
Nectar of gods: Pork spiede and salt potatoes

So I was writing this one up for Stadium Journeys as well, so I had to be a lot more detailed in my observations that per normal, and the moment I got in the stadium, I was charging around and trying to get all my review stuff done. This was stopped as soon as I got Lupo's Dugout in right field and got hold of a pork spiede and some salt potatoes. After that, it was a good ten minutes of sitting down at a picnic table and enjoying the meal that Providence provided. It is apparently in contention as some of the best ballpark food in the minors, and I can certainly see why. At $5.75, it was truly a revelation in meat sandwich value.

I also spent way too much money in the team store. As it was a Mets affiliate, I got a hat, and several books, and assorted nick nacks, not to mention a couple of "Mets" chocolate bars they had on sale. Because I'm a sucker, that's why.

I got the best tickets behind the home dugout available, and I ended up in the second row behind the dugout. The thin crowd that evening was picked apart by the prize crew, and I think I may have been some one of the only people who didn't participate in some on-field contest or the like.

While my seat was good, it was also facing west, so when the sun eventually faded behind the horizon, everyone was a little happier, until they realized this would make the temperature go down even lower. A handy scoreboard in left field told the temperature, and it started 54 at first pitch, and it went down to 51 before the game ended.


The Game:

First pitch, Sea Dogs vs. Mets
First pitch, Sea Dogs vs. Mets

Stop me if you've heard this one: A fantastic young Mets pitcher throws a gem, but gets betrayed by lack of run support and poor fielding. Or how about: a Met named Dykstra comes up in the last inning of tense, extra-inning game. Both happened again.

B-Mets starter Verrett blew through the Sea Dogs in order for the first two innings. The B-Mets didn't do much better in the first, with only a walk to show for their effort, but a one-out single and walk in the second led to a double steal, putting it second and third with one out. But ultimately the B-Mets stranded runners there with two more quick outs to end the inning.

Verrett got two more outs in the top of the third before a single broke up his effort. The runner promptly stole second, and the next batter hit one deep to third. It was far enough back to be ruled a hit, but the third baseman made an inadvisable throw anyhow, and missed first by a mile, letting the lead runner score and putting the other one on second. Another single brought the runner home, before a pop to first ended it 2-0 Sea Dogs. The B-Mets tried for some of their own magic after a leadoff walk, but the runner was promptly picked at second trying to steal. A two-out single was followed by another walk, but a sharp ground-out to short ended the threat.

Verrett went back out to work and set down the Sea Dogs in order for the next four innings. Sadly, for the same four innings, the B-Mets managed only a walk in the bottom of the seventh. The B-Mets saw fit to bring in a new pitcher in the eighth, despite Verrett's obvious dominance, and the new guy scattered a single and a walk in the top of the eighth. Now that Verrett couldn't win the game, the B-Mets found their offense, and a leadoff walk was followed by a blast to right, tying the score at 2-2. The Sea Dogs went in order in the ninth, and the B-Mets managed only a walk, so this game was going to extras.

The Sea Dogs only got a walk in their half of the tenth, and then science just left the damn building. In the bottom of the tenth, the B-Mets got a new pitcher and promptly drew a lead-off walk. The next batter successfully bunted him over to second, and the batter after him was put on intentionally, leaving it first and second with one out.

Then Dykstra (no relation) came up to the plate for the B-Mets. He hit a chopper to the first baseman, who made an apocalyptically bad throw to the pitcher covering first, and the runner from second scored on a walk-off two-base E3.

The Mets, everybody. Even when they win, you're still sort of ashamed.


The Scorecard:

Sea Dogs vs. Mets, 05-25-13. Mets win, 3-2.Sea Dogs vs. Mets, 05-25-13. Mets win, 3-2.
Sea Dogs vs. Mets, 05/25/13. Mets win, 3-2.

Unlike most minor-league parks, the scorecard program was not free, but rather $3. And there was nothing about the cheap tabloid newsprint item that in any way justified the price at all. In fact, the scorecard portion of it got nearly everything wrong, except for giving plenty of space to keep score. The cheap newsprint paper tore easily, making it difficult to score in pencil. For those heathens who score in pen, it was equally hard to use, because instead of having the home and away teams on two-page spread, they saw fit to print the home and away scorecards on differing sides of the same page, making ink leakage between the thin pages a given.

The Sea Dogs were speedsters up and down the lineup, and that may have contributed to the errors that brought in their only runs. They only have three stolen bases for the game, but nearly every ground out was an adventure and close play at first. The B-Mets were no slouches in this department, either, with three steals of their own, including the double steal in the second.

My scorekeeping was even more difficult this cold evening, as I had to play along to "Baseball Bingo" as well. In this game, you cross off on-field events, and if you fill up your entire card, instead of just a single BINGO across, you win prizes. Now, the cards themselves were stacked with some pretty steep impossibilities, to the point that I wondered if anyone actually won this game. My card featured gems such as "20 total hits," and others had "inside the park home run"s to ensure that no one ever made bank.

The events that happened on field were "officially" tallied by some staff members behind home plate, but they didn't know the rules. For example, one of the events I had was "Out recorded in foul territory." A strikeout, for example, is an out recorded in foul territory, because the catcher is not in fair ground. But the scorers didn't mark it as done until there was a fly out in foul ground in the later innings. Another example was "Runner slides in 7th or later." On a pickoff throw to first base, a runner clearly slid to get back to the bag, but it was not recorded officially.

Frankly, I was itching to get the rest of my card complete so I could argue with the contest officials about points such as these where I was incontrovertibly right, but alas, the stinkers that they inserted on the card made sure that particular argument would never come to pass.


The Accommodations:

Holiday Inn
Holiday Inn

I was in the Holiday Inn in downtown Binghamton, and it was clearly going for an upscale clientele. I had a king single room, with a plethora of pillows with which to make fortifications. After having a suite the night before, the lack of another room was a minor letdown, but considering the limited amount of time I spent conscious in the room, it is hardly worth mentioning.

I managed to check in without having any conversations about superheroes.


2013 Memorial Day

Friday, May 24, 2013

Scranton Wilkes-Barre

On New Adventures in Time and Weather

PNC Field
PNC Field, 2013

Friday, May 24, 2013
Durham Bulls (Tampa Bay Rays) vs.
Scranton Wilkes-Barre RailRiders (NY Yankees)
PNC Field
International League (AAA)
Wilkes-Barre, PA
7:05 PM


Outside the Game:
At some point, with ailing hands and less than a week before I was supposed to leave for Taiwan, it seemed like a good idea to go away for the entire Memorial Day weekend to see more ballgames. Weather always threatened to be an issue this time of year, but cold never crossed my mind for late May. And frankly, it should have.

I had off on Friday as well as Monday, but given the threatening weather, I waited to fairly late in the afternoon to make a hotel reservation and head off. I made the call when it looked as though the weather would allow the game to squeak in and my last phone call to the park confirmed they were going to try.

I got into my car to go at about 1:30, and headed off for what should be a slightly more than two-hour drive to Scranton. The rain that nearly continuously followed me on my drive up seemed to mock the very basis of my decision to go. Thankfully, with some minor exceptions upon entering PA, my trip along I80 was not hampered much at all by the weather. At about my expected arrival time, I pulled into my hotel and checked in. As always seems to happen to me, the conversation with the staff managed to turn to superheroes, though, in my defense, I wasn't even the one who brought it up this time.

They asked if I wanted a room on the top floor or a lower floor, and I chose the top floor, as there would be no one above me. Unless Spiderman showed up, one of the staff offered. This lead to a rather lengthy discussion about the possibilities of such, and the original woman checking me in did everything she could do to keep up her tight smile as we blathered on. In the middle of it, another older woman came in and wondered why were talking about Spiderman's Facebook account. I was eventually checked in and went to my room for a nap before the game.

The stadium was literally right down the street, so the trip there and back took less than a minute, though the return trip was about 10 degrees colder than the already cold trip out.


The Stadium & Fans:

Home to center, PNC Field
Home plate to center field, PNC Field

PNC Field just opened this year, as the Yankees (as they were previously known before this year's name change to the RailRiders) spent last season itinerants, playing "home" games in opposition stadiums all year. It seems worth the effort, as even for a AAA park, PNC Field was pretty impressive.

Seating went all around the park, with a main concourse leading down into the seating bowl. One big row of seats extended from the edge of left field to the edge of right, and a row of Mohegan Sun luxury suites ringed above from first to third. In left field, the Budweiser RailYard bar sat next to some bleachers. In right center, the Honda Homer Zone picnic berm sat next to the kids' area, mostly hidden behind the scoreboards and batter's eye in center. The Kost Picnic Pavilion anchored the left field corner right next to the PA Lottery bullpen. If you ran out of sponsorships to buy, a wall of billboards extended from the main scoreboard to the foul pole in left.

The monster-thing mascot Champ was joined by a new railroad Porcupine character, who I don't think has been named yet because the contest to name him isn't over. Along with the MC, they ran all the on-field shenanigans common to minor-league ball, and they even had a version of the "ball into car" game that I saw in Wilmington, but this was named "Hurl the Pearl," and more sensibly had fans trying to throw their balls into a garbage can in the back of a pickup instead of beaning the driver of the car through a sunroof, as they did in Delaware.

Mascot
Unnamed mascot

Even given the threatening (and actually abusive) weather, there was a good crowd out, though some of that melted away in the later innings as a scheduled Boy Scout sleepover was cancelled and people either grew tired of waiting for the post-game fireworks or figured that they would be cancelled as well. (They did go on, soggy as they must have been.)


At the Game with Oogie:

Grub
Ye olde brat

As per normal for these trips, I grabbed a ticket as close to the home dugout as possible. There were a lot of empty seats around me, as the season ticket holders who no doubt populated this area had the good sense to sit this one out at home.

I myself had the good sense to grab my jacket and my Mets "texting gloves" at the last minute before I left, but I was compelled to also purchase a wool hat from the team store to prevent certain aural appendages from falling off in the cold and wind, and that was even before the rain came.

And come it did. It got so bad that even I in my rain slicker abandoned my seat to continue watching the game from the rather convenient covered main concourse that had a ledge where I could continue my scorecard. Except for the hardcore of the hardcore that were battered down to bear in the stands, the only remaining people in the uncovered seating areas were children who thought that this was just the best time ever.

By the end of the game, it was just me, some parents waiting for some fireworks, and a group of drunk and increasingly belligerent gentlemen. They started to ride the home and visiting players alike, and since it was clear that the players could hear them (there was no way they couldn't at this point), they kept at it until the bitter end.


The Game:

First pitch, Bulls vs. RailRiders
First pitch, Bulls vs. RailRiders

Given what I was to face for the rest of the weekend, this was a rather simple affair. But truly, even for devoted fans such as myself, some games are merely survived.

The Bulls started it off by having everyone fly out to center. The RailRiders didn't do much better, only getting a man on due to a dropped throw by the first baseman, but he was erased quickly on a double-play. The Bulls had a one-out walk and single amount to nothing, while the RailRiders scattered two singles to right to no effect.

The scoring got going in the top of the third, with a leadoff infield single to the hole at short, then the runner advanced to second on a ground-out, and he was then brought home with a one-out double. After a fly out to left, another double brought the other runner home before the inning ended on a ground out, leaving the Bulls ahead, 2-0. The RailRiders only managed a single in their half of the inning.

The wheels came off in the fourth as the inevitable rain started to come down in earnest. A leadoff walk was followed by two singles to center, plating one run. The RailRiders pitcher was coming lose, and he hit the next batter to load up the bases, and then he walked the next batter, bringing in another run. Before inevitably getting pulled, he did manage to induce a chip ground-out to the catcher that got in another run. Two quick outs followed with the new pitcher, but not before another run came in on the fielder's choice, making it 6-0 Bulls.

As the rain really started to come down on this cold evening (enough to drive most fans from their seats but not enough to stop play), the game started to drag, even though the innings went by quickly on paper. The RailRiders only got a walk in the bottom of the fourth, and the Bulls went in order in the fifth. The RailRiders got one back in the bottom of the fifth on a leadoff single and a one-out, two-base error by the left fielder. A single and a ground-out to second got another run in, and the next batter walked, but a roller back to the mound ended the inning at 6-2 Bulls.

The Bulls threatened again in the sixth, with back-to-back leadoff walks. One was erased on a caught stealing, but a one-out double moved the runner to third. Two outs in order ended the inning with no further damage. The RailRiders had a single to show for their half. The Bulls broke through again in the seventh, where an error by the second baseman got the leadoff man on. Two quick strikeouts seemed to end the threat, but two consecutive walks chased the current Scranton pitcher, and two runs came home on a two-out single. The RailRiders had a walk in their half of the seventh.

In the eighth, the Bulls tacked another run on with back-to-back singles to start the inning, followed by a sacrifice fly to center. A double-play stopped the scoring at 9-2 Bulls. The RailRiders had a two-out double that went nowhere, as did the Bulls in the top of the ninth.

Not content to go quietly into the cold, rainy night, the RailRiders mounted some manner of minor comeback in the bottom of the ninth that did nothing but agitate the remaining crowd that just wanted some damn fireworks. A leadoff walk was moved over on a one-out single, and then a two-out triple brought them both home before the fireworks mercifully started after a a weak fly out to short ended the game with a slightly more respectable 9-4 Bulls win.


The Scorecard:

Bulls vs. RailRiders, 05-24-13. Bulls win, 9-4.
Bulls vs. RailRiders, 05/24/13. Bulls win, 9-4.

The scorecard was a rather nice free, customized number printed on sturdy cardstock paper. Although it was a little on the cramped side and didn't include much space for replacement players, it was an altogether pleasant experience, and the cardstock was certainly welcome on this cold, rainy night.

There wasn't all that much out of the ordinary, scoring-wise. There were some statistical unlikelihoods (everyone flying out to center to start the game) and some minor oddities (a double-steal in the top of the seventh), but no truly bizarre things as I was to see in the next two days. The Bulls K-Man did, in fact, strike out in the 5th, so there was some discount that was presented to everyone who survived to the end of the game.


The Accommodations:

Comfort Suites
Comfort Suites

I chose to stay in the slightly swankier Comfort Suites for my one night in the Scranton area, and while I knew the hotel was close to the park, I didn't realize that it was literally down the road from it. After returning to my room after the merciful end to the game, I could still easily see the fireworks still going on from my hotel window.

My room was very nice. I had a full kitchen and living room in addition to the expected bedroom and bathroom. I mostly plopped all my luggage on the end table in the living room, got everything ready for the next day, and then went downstairs and played pinball in the game room until I had to leave for the game.


2013 Memorial Day