Sunday, July 5, 2015

Richmond

On Finishing Up Strong, if Damp


The Diamond, 2015

Sunday, July 5, 2015
Akron RubberDucks (Cleveland Indians) vs.
Richmond Flying Squirrels (San Francisco Giants)
The Diamond
Eastern League (AA)
Richmond, VA
6:05 PM


Outside the Game: 
Having done the drive the night before, all I had was local driving around Richmond to do for the short remainder of the trip. I had a lazy morning at the hotel, sleeping in before rolling out to catch the end of the extended weekend breakfast buffet, before sullenly retreating to my room for a nap to make sure the sleep all got properly set in my head.

I eventually got the energy to shower up and head out to the stadium to buy my ticket and take my photos of the outside of the park. As early afternoon rolled around, I finally got the gumption to get out and start exploring Richmond. I parked in a lot in the historic center of down town, and my first stop was the "Confederate White House," converted into the Museum of the Confederacy. I was pinching my nose and hoping for the best on the way in, but it was a frankly even-handed review of the events of the way and kept mostly to the straight history of the location. There didn't seem to be a trace of any lost-causim or trash of that ilk. I exited through the gift shop and spent the remainder of the afternoon walking around the historic downtown, visiting the George Washington and Civil Rights monuments, as well as the Old Virginia Executive Mansion.

Confederate White House
Confederate White House

It was eventually time to get over to the game, so I drove to the stadium and parked up and got in line. On the way out, I damply got into my car and went back to the hotel to shower up, do some final packing, check in for my flight, and collapse at the end of another long trip.


The Stadium & Fans: 

Home to center, The Diamond
Home plate to center field, The Diamond

Despite a generic name, The Diamond is one of the few minor-league parks that either isn’t in one of the modern, cookie-cutter designs or a historic park built up around its quirks. From the outside, the giant concrete structure looks more like a college football stadium than ballpark. Free-standing pillbox ticket booths are by the main entrance at home plate, which is split between regular and season ticket entrances. The outside of the park is extensively decorated, with floral arrangements, pennants, a giant inflatable mascot, posters of all the other mascots, a miniature golf course behind right field (surely a first for me), and small signs for “Squirrels Fun Facts” that circle the park.

All the entrances go up a stairway onto the main concrete promenade that goes around the park from left field to right field behind the plate. The single row of seats extends down in blocks from the main walkway the length of the grandstand, roughly from just beyond first base to just beyond third base. At the top of the lower seating bowl are the luxury boxes and the press box. An entire upper deck is on top, accessed by large, sloping ramps from the lower level. It has a narrow walkway around the outside of the grandstand with ramps leading in, and a small walkway at the base of the stands, with the seats rising up from there. A large cantilevered roof runs out over the upper deck, above a row of banner advertisements. Left field ends in a patio deck with picnic tables, and the right field walkway just ends right before the bullpens, looking out over the mini golf course outside.

A large, pole-fixed netting system keeps the fans protected from foul balls. Looking out, a two-tier outfield wall is covered in local ads except for the batters’ eye in center. A large digital scoreboard sits in left-center in front of the backdrop of treetops and sky that frames the field. The park has a lot of little spaces and tributes crammed in every corner. There is an outfield wall banner for Jackie Robinson’s retired number, signed posters from the starting lineups of every team of every year along the walls, a POW-MIA seat, player posters on the ramps, the inevitable “Road to the Show” plaques, VCU Baseball Championship banners, mascot banners, a small fast pitch tucked in a corner in addition to the larger kids area on the lower level, and a Wall of Fame.

Mascot
Nutzy

On paper, the Flying Squirrels have no less than five mascots: Parker the Rally Pig, Zinger the nut, Nutzy the Flying Squirrel, Captain ARRR VA the pirate, and Victor the Viking. Only Nutzy and the Captain made big appearances for this game (with Zinger showing up for one race event), with Nutzy sporting garish July 4th clothes, but the Captain maintained his traditional pirate clothes. The park gets immediate points for having an organ player, a much-missed dying tradition in baseball. And they even had a lot of unusual contests and giveaways, including a hula-hoop race, a tug of war, giant glove boxing, and a guy riding a giant flamingo to give away hot dogs (a’la the Crazy Hot Dog Vendor in Reading).

Mascot
The sacrifice is pleasing.

The crowd on the day after July 4th was quite extensive, even if dampened by the intermittent rain. They were into the game beyond the other entertainments, even if a lot of them were just concerned whether the rain was going to cancel the post-game fireworks (which it did).


At the Game with Oogie: 

Scoring
Damp scoring

While waiting in the crowded line to get in, I was just in front of an older couple who were season ticket holders, and the husband even came equipped with a flag-themed Nutsy giveaway from a previous July 4th. And here was the danger of capital "t" capital "s," The South. The couple were giving me the rundown about the fight between the city council and the team owners, as the city fathers promised the team a new stadium and then didn't deliver, and the last team left, and now they are playing the same game of chicken with the Flying Squirrels, and the sad baseball fans were bemoaning what they expected to be the similar outcome. And we're fine until there. However, the husband kept going and saying that all the city council wanted to do was to give money to "the blacks" and buy their votes; they would never do anything for "white folks," like getting the new stadium built.

And while that was pretty breath-taking, I guess I was sort of happy that the word didn't start with an "n," which was progress of a type. After that, I politely nodded and smiled, and then lost them as soon as the gates opened. You think we've progressed, and then you find out that maybe we haven't.

Grub
Regular hot dog and souvenir soda

I went around and did my photography, and whatever you say about The Diamond, it definitely isn’t a cookie-cutter stadium. With all my walking around, I started off with a hot dog and a souvenir soda, but eventually threw a pulled pork hot dog on top of that, because pulled pork hot dog.

Grub
Pulled pork hot dog: Recommended by 5 of 5 cardiologists

My seat was in the third row just at the end of the home plate dugout. The stadium at least started pretty packed, and there were families all around me who were probably season ticket holders. They were all mostly watching their kids or keeping out of the rain, depending on when it was.

The one moment of glory I had in the game was that I won the program autograph contest. This was less hard than usual because they mistakenly left the sticky tab they put in the program to show the player where to sign, so I had grabbed that free program to find out why it was like that. And I found the answer pretty easily. So that was perhaps my easiest contest win ever.


The Game: 

First pitch, RubberDucks vs. Flying Squirrels
First pitch, RubberDucks vs. Flying Squirrels

The Akron RubberDucks and Richmond Flying Squirrels were both in the Western Division of the Eastern League and clawing for a playoff spot until late in the season. This turned out to be a pitcher's duel in a damp afternoon that was ultimately decided on a stolen base.

Akron only had a walk to show for the top of the first, but the Flying Squirrels came out swinging, with a leadoff homer to right. Little did we know that would be the last scoring for this half of the game. Both sides went in order in the second, and the RubberDucks got a batter as far as third in the top of the third with a couple of walks, a steal, and an error, but no further, while Richmond went in order in their half.

In the top of the fourth, Akron scattered and stranded a pair of singles, while the Flying Squirrels did the same, plus a walk, in the bottom of the frame. The RubberDucks got two walks in the top of the fifth, but just into the second half of the game, Richmond managed to score again with a leadoff walk that stole second and was driven in by a one-out single to extend the tenuous lead to 2-0. Akron went in order in the top of the sixth, while the Flying Squirrels somehow came up with bupkis after starting their half with a walk and a double.

The RubberDucks got a walk and a lot of ground outs in the top of the seventh, while Richmond went in order. Akron finally got on the board in the eighth with a two-out homer to left and was threatening more with a back-to-back single and a walk before a reliever got a strikeout to end the inning. The Flying Squirrels just had a single in the bottom half of the eighth. But it concluded quickly, as Akron went in order in the top of the ninth to settle the 2-1 Richmond victory.


The Scorecard: 

RubberDucks vs. Flying Squirrels, 07-05-15. Flying Squirrels win, 2-1.
RubberDucks vs. Flying Squirrels, 07/05/15. Flying Squirrels win, 2-1.

The scorecard was part of the free mini-tabloid full-color magazine program. The scorecard was the centerfold of the program, taking up about 3/4th of the space, with ads taking up the remainder at the bottom. There was decent enough space for player lines and replacements on empty scoring boxes, with the pitching lines underneath, but the glossy magazine paper made it nearly impossible to write with pencil, and it was especially unsuited for the rainy weather that day, and there was a color background behind the scoring boxes, which made it more difficult to write and erase legibly.

The damp game didn't have particular scoring plays of note, and thankfully went along at a clippy pace.


The Accommodations: 
I was at the Best Western at the airport again. Not a lot to report there.



On the Pleasantness of a Boring Day

Airport
Richmond Airport

Monday, July 6, 2015
Jersey City, NJ


Outside the Game: 
This was a pleasantly uneventful day all around. I woke up on time in the morning, grabbed breakfast, showered, and finished packing. I checked out of the hotel, drove the short distance to the airport, turned in the rental car, and went through security at the terminal. I grabbed a snack and went to my gate, where my flight boarded on time, and took off on time.

After two hours--most of which I napped through--we landed at Newark, and I took a cab back to my apartment, where I did my laundry and got my stuff in order for the rest of the afternoon.

After having nightmares the weather and delays and all the rest, it was nice to have a strictly boring morning and end up right back at my apartment.


The Accommodations: 

2015 Virginia

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Lynchburg

On a Failure of Atmosphere

Zoo
An accurate representation of my mood this day


Friday, July 3, 2015
Lynchburg, VA


Outside the Game: 
After all my poring over my schedule the night before, and given that the Hillcats weren't going to be back in town until the next day, my only real hopes for a game was in Bluefield on the Virginia/West Virginia border that evening. But while the weather was doing okay in Norfolk, it was raining up a storm pretty much everywhere west of there. I decided not to worry too much about it until later.

I got up early and grabbed breakfast a lot more clear-headed than I had on most of the trip. I went back up to the room to shower and pack, and then I decided to go with my morning plans as expected and then see where the day took me.

And those plans took me to the Virginia Zoological Park in Norfolk. In somewhat of an irony, it was painfully sunny and hot as I walked around the zoo in the late morning and early afternoon. It was a medium-sized place, and it had a lot of good exhibits to catch pictures, as well as featuring my absolute favorites, orangutans. Other points of interest included a human cage (which talked about how dangerous we are--there were no people in the cage, it was just a photo op), paintings done by the resident elephants, and a warning sign on the tapir cage that cautioned people to stay 7-10 feet back from the fence to avoid being in the pee/poop range of the animals.

Zoo
I'll... allow it.

After grabbing lunch at the cafeteria and exiting through the gift shop, I was on my way. I was heading northwest, because if I was going on to Bluefield, I would need to go that way anyway. When I got to the outskirts of Lynchburg, I pulled into some fast food place and considered my options. The radar had a huge splotch of green covering the area I was heading to that stretched for miles and miles. I eventually just called the park, and they said that they were already calling the game in the mid-afternoon because even in the unlikely event that the rain stopped, the field would never be drained in time for the game. It was going to get made up as a double-headed the next day, which didn't really help me much.

With another missed day due to rainouts under my belt, I decided to find a fancy hotel in town to stay in for the night. "The Kirkly Hotel and Conference Center" seemed to fit the bill, and it was at a reasonable last-minute price. I booked the room and then drove there in under fifteen minutes. My reservation had just showed up on their system when I was trying to check in. The place was extremely fancy, far moreso than I was dressed for, but they were upscale enough to not say anything. They bombarded me with the services they could provide during my stay, and I had to sheepishly tell them that I was there for the evening, which again was met with quite good graces.

I managed to get all my stuff out of the car just before skies opened up with rain, as seems appropriate. I dragged all my stuff to my room and took a shower. I entertained the thought of room service, but since I had the entire evening to kill, I got dressed up in my remaining nicest clothes and went down for the restaurant for dinner, having a lovely steak and scotch, with pie and tea for desert. I then retreated back to my room and spent the rest of the evening soaking in the tub before turning in to my incredible fluffy bed.


The Accommodations: 


Kirkly Hotel and Conference Center
Kirkly Hotel and Conference Center

As mentioned, I was at the Kirkly Hotel and Conference Center for this rare evening off, thanks to the failure of all things meteorological. The room I splurged for was indeed quite nice. The bedroom had a giant king-sized bed with leather headboard, a leather easy chair with its own reading desk, a small glass desk with leather chair, and a giant wooden dresser with the flat-screen TV on top.

The reasonable bathroom had a wall-length vanity, toilet, and extra deep tub that got a lot of use. I didn't like losing a second day of the trip to bad weather, but I couldn't really argue with where I was spending the time off.



On a Death-Grip of Parking

City Stadium
City Stadium, 2015

Saturday, July 4, 2015
Salem Red Sox (Boston Red Sox) vs.
Lynchburg Hill Cats (Cleveland Indians)
City Stadium, Calvin Falwell Field
Carolina League (A+)
Lynchburg, VA
2:50 PM


Outside the Game: 
I didn't have far to go this particular day. I got up a little late and went down to get breakfast at the restaurant, which wasn't included in my room rate, but whatever. Sometimes you just need to get an omelet.

I got my stuff together, partook a shower, packed up, and checked out, and went out to find a way to kill a day in Lynchbrg. The city quite literally sits in the shadow of the Falwell empire, with "Liberty University" being in the town, and a giant floral arrangement with its name of the side of the mountain glooms over the festivities much in the way an evil wizard's tower might. I tried not to hold it against anyone, but it was hard with that staring down at me all day.

My first stop was Monument Terrace, which, as you might guess, is a terrace filled with monuments, in this case to the various war memorials, ending with the Civil War memorial right in front of the Richmond Museum, which was my second stop. The museum was actually quite interesting, even if it did include a lot about the Falwells, but it made up for it by also having a lot about the baseball history of the city. After the museum, I drove over to Point of Honor, a mansion museum that was originally designed and owned by a compatriot of Thomas Jefferson. It was a nice detour that killed most of the remaining time before the gates were due to open, as I was hitting the road right after the game to get back to Richmond.

Monument Hill
Monument Hill

I got to the stadium, and unsurprisingly was one of the first people in the parking lot. So it didn't give me undue concern, mostly because I had completely forgotten it was the Fourth of July, even though I had literally been in museums most of the day. I went and got at the short line to get in and saw my game.

The way out was more fraught with peril. The capacity crowd for the game with the Fourth of July fireworks had resulted in me being tightly parked in, even though I was right by the exit. I had left as soon as the last out was recorded to get out ahead of the crowd so I could make my two-hour drive in peace, but I was threatened with having to wait for the fireworks to end and everyone to get out of the way before I could get out, which might easily add another hour to my trip.

I walked around and evaluated the situation, and I thought I could make it out, barely. I basically backed up as few inches, got out of the car, made adjustments, backed up a few more inches, etc. At the very end, it looked like I wouldn't make it all the way because of side view mirrors that were going to collide with the car next to me. But then I discovered that both my own and the other person's mirror folded back. Not thinking the person would mind too much, I folded back both mirrors and completed my miraculous escape. I headed off to the road, dodging crowds of people who lined the streets outside the park to watch the fireworks.

Finally free of the park and the people, I gunned it until I was on the highway heading east, and then completed the drive to the hotel in peace, only interrupted by a local fireworks display or two lighting up the skies along my way. I got to the hotel, checked in, and headed to my room to collapse, knowing that the major driving for this trip was finally at an end.


The Stadium & Fans: 


Home to center, City Stadium
Home plate to center field, City Stadium

Ignoring the televangelist overtones, Calvin Falwell Field is a nice little park. (It is named for a relation of the evangelist family, who was president of the local baseball group for many years.) The brick façade of the park has lovely and intricate brickwork patterns that belie a certain attention to detail that you can’t help but warm to. Entrances to the park are up a long ramp at the main entrance by home plate up a long row of stairs, and in right field up another row of stairs. A “Hall of Fame” lobby is the entrance for the luxury boxes, and in addition to the regular ticket booths and admin offices, there are a number of dedication plaques, as well as a small memorial garden with three tributes on small plinths, and a giant street sign celebrating the team’s four league championships. As with many parks in the area, there is a football field next door, and outside of a small VIP parking lot, the rest of the parking is on the hill of park, which proved a problem for me later.

The elevated entrances all lead out to a promenade that runs along the top of the seating bowl from outfield corner to outfield corner behind home plate. The promenade holds all the stores and concessions, with most facing out so fans can grab food without missing action on the field. A large second tier covers most of the seating area, holding the press box and luxury boxes, literally overshadowing the main seats. Actual seats run about from first to third base, with the lower area having box seats and the upper level having metal bleachers in the areas outside of home plate. From the bases to the outfield on the right field side is a large picnic hill, which starts with a party deck area. Left field just comes to a stop before the separate clubhouse and offices in the left field corner with a small kids area.

A double-tier outfield wall runs across the outfield, covered in ads (and scripture quotes) for the entire length, except for the green batter’s eye in dead center. A digital scoreboard sits above left-center, and a small video board is in right-center in front of the backdrop of a few trees and endless sky. A retired number peeks out over right-center, joining a championship banner and a road to the show display as the only plaques and memorials in the park.

Mascot
Southpaw

Southpaw the cat is the mascot de jour. He showed up at the start of the game to hang out with the fans and help run the regular gamut of minor-league games, races, and contests. There were a few novel ones, including a tire race sponsored by a local tire store, and a football toss sponsored by the local minor-league football team.

For the July Fourth game with the only local fireworks, the game was pretty packed to the gills. While they were cheering for the on-field game, it was pretty obvious that a lot of people were annoyed by the length of the game, thanks to the drubbing that the home team were giving out and just wanted to get to the boom boom already, so points deducted for form.


At the Game with Oogie:

Scoring
Patriotic scoring

I got in right when the stadium opened, as I had nothing else to do this evening except see the game and had no hotel to go back to. I grabbed by program, did my photos, and hit the store. I tried to stay out of the punishing sun as much as possible, and I started off grabbing some chicken fingers and hiding in a covered patio seat for a bit. I'd later grab a corndog, because corndog.

Grub
Because corndog

My seat was between home and first base in the first row of the seats, which gave me a nice place to lay out all my stuff on the top of the dugout. What was less nice is that the sun was right at me until it eventually set for good in the middle innings of the game.

The park was packed for July Fourth, and the seats around me were all filled with season ticket holding families. Outside of some small talk, they were mostly all there for the fireworks, which were being delayed--as far as they were concerned--with the shellacking the home team was giving to the visitors.


The Game: 


First pitch, Red Sox vs. Hillcats
First pitch, Red Sox vs. Hillcats

This Carolina League contest between the league-leading Lynchburg Hillcats and the bottom-dwelling Salem Red Sox went exactly as you'd expect it to, with a brutal drubbing of the later by the former that was literally over with the first batter.

The Red Sox went in order in the first inning, but that wasn't the case for Lynchburg. The leadoff batter singled and stole second, and two hits later scored, as did the runner behind him, thanks to a costly error by the center fielder on the single up the middle. Another deep single scored the runner from second before a double-play killed the rally with the home team up, 3-0. Salem got back-to-back, one-out singles in the second, but they stayed on the basepaths, and then it was the Hillcats turn to go in order. In the third, a double-play helped the Red Sox go in order even with a leadoff single, while Lynchburg started with their own, more successful leadoff single. An error on the pitcher on a pickoff throw, a groundout, and a single brought the runner home, but nothing else came across, leaving them with a 4-0 lead.

Salem had a walk to show for the top of the fourth, while the Hillcats went in order. A double-play ensured the Red Sox went in order in the top of the fifth again even with a leadoff single, while Lynchurg went on a two-out rally in the bottom of the fifth, plating three runs thanks to a walk, two doubles, and a single, making it a more relaxed 7-0 lead. Salem went in order in the top of the sixth, while the Hillcats chased another pitcher in the bottom of the frame in the process of batting around. Three singles and two doubles brought in four more to stretch the lead to a more embarrassing 11-0.

Even more incredibly, the Red Sox went in order in the top of the seventh with a leadoff walk and a fielder's choice, followed by a double-play. Lynchburg kept on scoring when an error by the shortstop got the leadoff batter on, and two more singles and a sacrifice fly brought in two more runs, for a ridiculous 13-0 lead. Salem went in order in the eighth, while the Hillcats got two more runs on a single, triple, and double, to range the lead out to two touchdowns and a two-point conversion of 15-0. Perhaps just wanting to go home, the Red Sox went in order in the top of the ninth, finally securing the home team victory and letting the July 4th fireworks show finally start.


The Scorecard: 


Red Sox vs. Hillcats, 07-04-15. Hillcats win, 15-0.Red Sox vs. Hillcats, 07-04-15. Hillcats win, 15-0.
Red Sox vs. Hillcats, 07/04/15. Hillcats win, 15-0.

It is so rare these days that you find a really nice scorecard that it is worth taking the time out to admire it.

The scorecard cost $1, separate from the free full-color mini-tabloid program. It was a single fold on good cardstock, with scoring instructions on the cover, and ad on the back, and the scorecard taking the entire centerfold. It was an absolute delight. A diamond for defensive alignments was on the top of each side of the card. Under it on the left was an umpires’ box, and on the right was general game information. The left side then had line score and game totals (runs, earned runs, hits, errors, LOB, and DP) next to the pitching lines, while the right side had the stadium logo.

The batting lines were underneath on both sides, with space for three replacements for each batting position and space for starting batting averages (actually provided on the lineup sheets). The inning summary on the bottom split up runs from earned runs, hits, errors, and LOB. The scoring squares were empty, but were all on a tan background. I'm usually opposed to colors in the scoring squares, but it was used artistically, and made everything easier to read, and was printed into the paper and not smudgy.

There were only two dings on it: 1) There were no batting summary columns (but space for 11 innings), and 2) There was about 2 millimeters of space in the position column for each player, making it an unnecessary tight fit. Also, the home team was put on the left side, which was a little odd.

As to the game itself, there were a couple things of note. A single in the bottom of the seventh got a note that it was a pop-up to the second baseman who lost and dropped it untouched. Also worth noting is how many times the Red Sox managed to retire in order even after getting a man on base. Such a move is usually only possible with a double play, which they hit into three times, but the last effort in the top of the seventh was even more remarkable. The inning started with a walk that was retired on a fielder's choice to second. The next batter then hit into a double play to erase all the batters in order. Also of note was the fact that the Hillcats managed to advance runners safely using every method and every type of hit except for a home run, hit batsman, interference, or balk. Singles, doubles, triples, walks, errors, stolen bases, and sacrifices were all on display.


The Accommodations: 


Best Western
Best Western

So I was back at the Best Western Inn at Richmond Airport for the last two nights. After the swapping of hotels every day, even if they were nice hotels, it was still quite welcome to have a stable place to stay for more than one day. My room this time had two twin beds with nightstand against one wall, with a dresser, TV, and desk and chair on the other wall. The bathroom was just off the entrance, with a tub and a small vanity and sink. It was enough to do the job for the next two days, and I would spend some quality time in the tub, just not this night, because it was way too late.



2015 Virginia

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Norfolk


On Redemption

Harbor Park
Harbor Park, 2015

Thursday, July 2, 2015
Durham Bulls (Tampa Bay Rays) vs.
Norfolk Tides (Baltimore Orioles)
Harbor Park
International League (AAA)
Norfolk, VA
7:05 PM
Outside the Game: 
There wasn't much outside the game this day except for driving. A quick check of the weather let me know that either Bluefield or Princeton, WV, were going to be rained out tonight, so my only hope was to cut five hours across the state to try and hit a makeup with Norfolk. Not looking to have two rain-outs in one trip for the first time ever, I buckled down and committed to the drive.

I grabbed my breakfast from the buffet and went back to my room for a relatively lazy morning. I was going over all my options and double- and triple-checking the math before finally getting fully in gear, showering up, packing, checking out, and hitting the road.

It was a little before eleven when I headed out, but there was nothing to do for the day except drive across the state. One minor mercy was that the Thursday afternoon drive didn't encounter any real traffic at all. Beside a quick stop for gas and shoveling some food in my mouth, the only setbacks were a couple of small packets of congestion before reaching Norfolk. I was straight off to the stadium when I got there, grabbing a ticket and heading right in, as I was getting there just as the gates were opening, and I had already taken all my outside shots of the park during my first rainy trip at the start of the trip.

After the game, I made the short drive to my chosen hotel for the evening. It was right downtown, and the only real hitch was figuring out where to park. I stopped right in front of the hotel to check in, but it turned out I had to go all around the block to get to the entrance of the parking lot I inadvertently passed on the way in. But I was able to get parked rather quickly, and I spent most of the remainder of the evening trying to figure out what I was going to do to get the trip back on schedule, so it was a lot of referring to weather reports, which teams were where, and wishing in the most effective ways I could imagine to do so.


The Stadium & Fans: 


Home to center, Harbor Park
Home plate to center field, Harbor Park

Harbor Park has a wonderfully un-corporatized name, and it is a wonderfully old-school look about it. The facade of the circular structure is brick below concrete, and it has more going on outside than the average park. For starters, beyond the expected team offices, team store, and ticket booths, there are two transit hookups to the station: a light rail station as part of the cavernous parking lots that surround the park, and a ferry terminal outside of right field. There are three entrances at home plate, first base, and third base, all with plazas outside of them (not to mention the handicapped, groups, and VIP entrances that the average fan can't use). There is a statue of "Sandy Tide," a mermaid baseball player, right by the home plate entrance, and there are a number of other memorials outside of the park, including a fan brick walk by home plate, a memorial to Dave Rosenfield, the stadium dedication, and a plaque about Baseball in Norfolk. There's also the entrance to the "Hits" restaurant from the outside, as the restaurant operates even when there isn't a game on.

All the entrances dump out onto an upper promenade that runs from outfield to outfield behind home plate. All the concessions and stores face out onto the field, so fans can grab grub without missing the game. A lower walkway runs through the lower seating bowl, separating box seats below from regular seats above. And since this is a AAA park, there are actually two sections of legitimate upper deck in the left and right field corners that have their own walkways at the base of the seating areas. A large second tier separated from the other upper deck seating runs from about dugout to dugout behind home plate and houses the press box along with several floors of luxury boxes. And out in right field, there is the building for the "Hits at the Park" restaurant, whose windows let its patrons see the game while having a sit-down meal. Right field ends in a party deck with a large roof, and left field ends with a party area picnic hill with tables in left-center.

There are a ton of scoreboards in the park, starting with a digital strip auxiliary boards on either side of home plate. A digital scoreboard sits in left-center, above the picnic hill, a pitch speed board is in left closer to center, and a giant digital video board (with more ads than actual video board) in in right-center. A single-tier outfield wall runs below it all, with only a few big ads on it. The batter's eye rises black from center field, and the cranes and bridges of the dockyard form the backdrop for the stadium.

There is a ton crammed into the main promenade besides concession stands and stores. Dozens of "Tides Facts" and Hall of Fame plaques (most dating from the NY Metropolitans long affiliation with the team) line the promenade, as well as the "10-Year Tides All Stars," and plaques for the Youth Baseball Fund and the dedication to the old stadium. There is a small kids area in an alcove in right, and a collection of baseball statues showing a kid pitching to a batter and a catcher are also on the promenade.

Mascot
He's... something, I guess.

The local mascot is Rip Tide. He is... I want to say "fish," but maybe see monster. He's kind of blue and indistinct. For "Super Hero Night," he also was equipped with a cape, as were the humans on the fun team. A couple of the between-inning events were superhero themed, but most were your standard variety minor-league contests, races, and giveaways, with a couple of unique events throw in like a contest to catch items in oversized skirts. The first pitch was thrown out by a bunch of cosplayers, but for "superhero night," I don't think a stormtrooper or a Ghostbuster really qualified, but no one asked me.

The crowd was no doubt diluted by the pre-game rain-delay, but given that, there were a decent number of butts in the seats for a rainy, Thursday game in the middle of summer.
At the Game with Oogie: 


Scoring
Disreputable scoring

So after finally getting into the stadium at Norfolk on the second attempt, I darted around and tried to get all the interiors shots that I could, which was a challenge with just an hour and a half at a AAA park, but I needn't have worried. At around 6:30 PM, the sky opened up for a two-and-a-half-hour rain delay to the start of the game, so I had all the time in the world to wander around and take pictures, albeit damp, before the game got started.

Grub
Hot dog platter and souvenir soda

I spent some of my time eating a hot dog platter, and in wandering around the only dry, covered parts of the field during the delay, I ran into a lot of the cosplayers who were there for "superhero" night, though I almost did ask one woman dressed up as Thor if she could knock it off with all the rain. But I demurred.

During the delay, I had to sort out where the heck I was going to spend the night. I was holding off on getting a hotel to perhaps get some of the drive in back across the state that evening so I wouldn't have another five-hour drive the next day. But as the rain plowed on, I realized that even under the best-case scenario, I was going to be stuck in Norfolk for the night, either after a late ending to the game, or to try and pick up the Tides the next day when there would inevitably be a double-header that I would be able to get in the rained-out game.

But I had left my tablet in the car, so I called up a friend of mine who went onto Hotels.com and went through the listings for me until we found a historic hotel that was a short drive from the park that seemed like the best idea, so I got the number from him and booked straight after, so at least I had a place to stay for the evening.

The rain delay did eventually end, with the game kicking off just after nine. My ticket was on the box seats right by the field nearly right behind first base, so I had a good, damp look at everything. The crowd was definitely less than it had been when the rain started, and around me, only the family directly to my left, who were clearly season ticket-holders, were there. They kept to themselves, so I just scored the game and was happy enough to just get the game in and make it my hotel sometime before the middle of the night.


The Game:

First pitch, Bulls vs. Tides
First pitch, Bulls vs. Tides

This damp International League contest got started after a two-hour rain delay, and both the Norfolk Tides and the Durham Bulls played like they had somewhere to be after the game, which started late and was only getting later.

The visiting Bulls lead off with a bunt single in the wet grass, had it second and third after a double, and a ground-out got in the first run, staking them to an early 1-0 lead. Norfolk went in order. Reversing things, Durham went in order in the second, while the Tide got on the board with a homer to right center to tie it up, 1-1. The Bulls again went down in straight numbers in the third, while Norfolk stranded a one-out double on the base paths.

Durham had a sole single in the top of the fourth, while the Tide had back-to-back singles to lead off the bottom of the fourth, and a sacrifice fly gave them the first lead of the night, 2-1. Both sides went down quickly in the fifth, and the Bulls did it again in the top of the sixth, while Norfolk head a leadoff homer to left to extend the lead to 3-1.

In the top of the seventh, Durham stranded two singles, while the Tide did the same. There was then a hiccup to the home team victory in the top of the eighth as a two-out single was followed by a homer to left to tie it up at three. Not rising to the challenge, Norfolk went in order in the bottom of the inning. The Bulls tacked on two more runs in the top of the ninth with a single, a walk, and a double to pull out to a late 5-3 lead. And there it would end, as Norfolk again failed the final challenge and went down in order in the ninth to seal the Durham victory.
The Scorecard: 


Bulls vs. Tides, 07-02-15. Bulls win, 5-3.Bulls vs. Tides, 07-02-15. Bulls win, 5-3.
Bulls vs. Tides, 07/02/15. Bulls win, 5-3.

The scorecard was the centerfold of the $1 full-color magazine program on glossy paper. The scorecard was simply a mess. Sixty percent of the spread was taken up by ads on the top and bottom. The glossy paper made it literally impossible to write in red pencil, so I had to score in regular pencil. I compensated by numbering the outs to make them stand out. There were exactly nine lines for players, with the boxes just large enough for replacements. A pre-printed diamond was in the scoring boxes, but it was large enough to score adequately. Pitching lines were underneath the batting lines, but there was space for only three pitchers, which was inadequate. The batting lines did not include summary columns, and the innings also lacking summary rows. Tiny columns were left at the end of the pitching lines for Notes. The home team was on the left side, which was pretty odd, also.

The game itself was not very interesting from a scoring perspective, and there was only one item of note. In the bottom of the seventh, the Tide center fielder was called out on a grounder to second. He disagreed with the call and was ejected for arguing before his manager could intervene.


The Accommodations: 


Tasewell
The Tasewell

For a last-minute hotel pick for a one-night stay, I pretty much lucked out as much as possible. To start off with, the Tasewell was just a short drive from the park, so it gave me the longest rest period I could expect. The hotel was a renovated old classic, which was amazing to just walk around in to see the architecture of a legitimate old hotel such as this one. I went wandering the halls and the floors for a bit when I got settled just to see the layout of this old place.

The room itself lived up to the hype, featuring actual furniture, and not "hotel furniture," the same style and brand of interchangeable furniture that you see in nearly every hotel chain, even if they aren't owned by the same company. The main room had a king-sided bed with two nightstands on one wall, with a dresser and a desk on the adjoining walls. Opposite the bed was another dresser/TV stand with a CRT TV, next to a 3/4 refrigerator with a microwave on top. The bathroom was in the corner of the room, leading to a structurally imposing room with an old sink and a modern shower stall put inside.
I wasn't doing much than sleeping for a night, but it was one of the few times I was compelled to walk around a hotel to take it all in ever, so that says something for it. I got a great night's sleep in the solid room, and I was sad to leave it the next day.



2015 Virginia

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Pulaski


On Bigtime Smalltime

Calfee Park
Calfee Park, 2015

Wednesday, July 1, 2015
Johnson City Cardinals (St. Louis Cardinals) vs.
Pulaski Yankees (New York Yankees)
Calfee Park
Appalachian League (Rookie +)
Pulaski, VA
7:15 PM


Outside the Game: 
I woke up relatively early on an overcast morning, but still reluctantly dragged my lazy ass down for the breakfast buffet, before trundling back up the stairs for a shower or more bed-lying. There wasn't a whole lot on the docket today, so I wasn't in much of a particular hurry.

But I did eventually finish packing and getting dressed and then headed out to check out and start the two-hour drive up to Pulaski. There was literally no one making the drive from Danville to Pulaski that day except me, and so it passed pretty effortlessly. Getting to the park was a bit of an adventure, because the stadium was in the middle of another park in such a way that my GPS did not enjoy the experience at all. It took a couple of tries before I just drove into the park and hoped for the best, and eventually I did make it to the stadium, where I took my pictures. I drove out to the hotel in neighboring Dublin, because Pulaski didn't even rate much in the way of hotels. The downtown that I drove through on the way was a couple of blocks of mostly closed buildings with the visage of a town that had lost its way a long time ago.

About fifteen minutes later, I was at my hotel and checked in. I dumped all my stuff out into yet another hotel room, and after looking on the Internet for any local attractions worth my attention, I collapsed on the bed for a nap and spent a lazy afternoon catching up on paperwork and organizing and some such, including a long soak in the tub to try and get my body more enthusiastic about the rest of this trip.

When it was time for the game, I drove back to the park and dropped my car off in the "far" lot before buying a ticket and heading into the game. After the game was over, the crowd headed into the damp night, and another quick drive got me back at the hotel and in bed at a reasonable hour for the long drive the next day.


The Stadium & Fans: 

Home to center, Calfee Park
Home plate to center field, Calfee Park

Let’s get this out of the way: only the Yankees organization would have a luxury box in the Appalachian League, a Rookie league so low on the baseball totem pole, it doesn’t even warrant an “A.” The Rookie Leagues are the dubious inheritors of the old “D” level teams of the most abject rookies with no hint of prospect about them. And the Pulaski Yankees have a luxury box in their Appalachian-League field, Motor Mile Field at Calfee Park.

Calfee Park started its life as a WPA ballpark that was constructed as part of the plan to try and build the country out of The Great Depression. The luxury box came much later, after the Yankees took over recently and did the latest in a string of renovations at the park, which included the curiously cross-shaped structure behind home plate.

The park itself is wedged inside a larger municipal park and residential area. Two small parking lots are outside the main entrance, with the closer one dedicated to seniors and the disabled, and a VIP lot is by the VIP-only entrance near first base. From the outside, the main entrance beyond left field is a solid, low, brick-wall portcullis. But the rest of the park is visible from the parking lots and surrounding streets that overlook the park, in most places with just chain-link fences in the way. One particular house across the street from the ballpark and on a hill overlooking the field has a particularly sweeping view from beyond right field, and the owners regularly come out on their porch to watch the games in the evening. Hell, I know I would.

The main entrance dumps out into a small plaza at the end of left field, right by the visiting bullpen. A long, asphalt path runs the length of left field, connecting up with the general admissions bleachers, which run from short left field to home plate, with all but the furthest extent being covered by a large overhang. A series of small staircases leads to the area by home plate, with box seats crowded around home plate, with a higher section of bleachers on the third-base side, more seats in a separate area on the first-base side, and a series of tables above the walkway behind home plate underneath the “T”-shaped luxury box building, holding the press box and the indoor and patio luxury boxes. Beyond them on the first-base side is a deck area by the home dugout with table service. Behind home plate and down the first-base line is a large plaza area where the VIP entrance empties out, as well as holding the team store, concessions, and a small area of picnic tables. The outfield wall runs between one and three tiers, all slathered in local ads, with the exception of the batter’s eye in dead center. The new digital video scoreboard rises in left-center against the backdrop of trees, and some houses in right and right-center.
Although perhaps heresy to many, the Yankees’ minor-league clubs do have mascots, and Calf-E, the hole-y cow (get it?) is the mascot-de-jur. He is involved in some of the activities, but he definitely isn’t as ever-present as other minor-league mascots. In addition to the MC, there are the Calfee Girls cheerleaders, as well as a Motor Mile drumline, giving the whole thing a lot more high-school flair. The small stadium was packed, even with threatening weather, and they were very much into the P-Yanks victory through it all.


At the Game with Oogie: 

Grub
Chicken sandwich, souvenir cup, and "Yankee fries"

On this damp evening, I "splurged" for a seat right behind the dugout that cost me ten American dollars. The tarp remained on the field until right before the game was about to start. The ushers said that there was a rain storm that was bearing down on the region that was forecast to plow right through where we were, but in this case, the meteorological failure rate worked to my advantage, for while the sky looked as though it might explode into rain at any point, it managed to not do so for the duration of the game.

The concessions at Calfee Park were strictly on the high-school cafeteria level, but they were cheap and tasty. I grabbed a chicken sandwich and "Yankee fries," which are apparently just thin-cut steak fries, along with a tiny souvenir soda.

My seat was just on the first-base side of home plate in the third row back. The stands in this area were packed with fans, and even the general admissions bleachers were filled with people. Two guys sitting next to me struck up conversations for most of the game. They were season ticket holders, and they said that someone else who was doing a ballpark tour had been sitting in my seat just a couple weeks ago. So, at least I managed to find my designated seat. They talked about all the renovations that the Yankees did, and how that they really brought a lot of fans out to the park. They said they knew the family that had the house that overlooked the park and were sitting out on the porch watching the game this evening, as they usually did. This seemed a little strange until I realized how small a town this was, and how everybody probably knew everyone else anyway.


The Game: 

First pitch, Cardinals vs. Yankees
First pitch, Cardinals vs. Yankees

This face-off between the Infant Bombers of Pulaski and the visiting JC Cardinals was not a pitchers’' duel by any stretch, and in the end, the Yankees big fifth inning was bigger than the Cardinals big fifth inning, and that was the end of it.

It looked like it might be over early as the Cardinals jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first off two home runs to right-center, but Pulaski came back in the bottom of the inning to turn a single, wild pitch, ground out, and second single into a run to cut the lead in half to 2-1. Johnson City went in order in the second, while the Yankees had a leadoff walk that got stranded on third after a stolen base and a passed ball. The Cardinals had a lone single in the third, while Pulaski had a hit batsman and a single that didn't make it home.

Johnson City went in order in the fourth, but the Yankees tied it up on a leadoff homer to right in the bottom of the frame. The fifth inning was a scoring frame for both teams, as the Cardinals brought in three on the back of a single, double, and homer to momentarily take a 5-2 lead. In the bottom of the fifth, after a flyout to center, Pulaski just kept hitting. Two singles were followed by a dropped fly in center to load the bases, and a double cleared them. A walk made it first and second, and a triple cleared the bases again. A single brought in another run, and another single made it first and second with one out, but a strikeout and a caught stealing ended the threat with the Yankees up, 9-5, after batting around. Johnson City only had a single in the top of the sixth, while the Yankees got two one-baggers and no one across in the bottom of the frame.

The Cardinals went in order in the seventh even after reaching on an error thanks to a caught stealing, and Pulaski matched their feat. Johnson City had just a single in the top of the eighth, while the Yankees loaded the bases with one out but failed to score any more. The Cardinals then went meekly in order in the top of the ninth, making the Yankees' 9-5 victory final.


The Scorecard: 

Cardinals vs. Yankees, 07-01-15. Yankees win, 9-5.Cardinals vs. Yankees, 07-01-15. Yankees win, 9-5.
Cardinals vs. Yankees, 07/01/15. Yankees win, 9-5.

The scorecard was part of the $1 full-color magazine program, located about 3/4ths of the way through the program, not in the traditional centerfold. On glossy magazine paper, it made pencil writing, especially colored pencil writing, very difficult. The scorecard itself was okay, taking up nearly the entire spread outside of a ribbon of team and league promos at the top.

It was a Scoremaster variant, with ball and strike boxes in the upper left of each scoring square, along with a pre-printed diamond. (I even went the distance of scoring fouls as opposed to clean strikes with differing direction slashes that extended out of the boxes.) Each batting line had space for two replacements, with inning totals by batter and by inning, including LOB. The pitching lines were on the bottom, including total batters faced. The stats lines at the top above the batting lines were repeated on both sides, with lines for attendance (1,368--one of the few times attendance was announced in rookie league), wind, game start and end time, weather, and scorer.

There were a couple of weird plays this game. In the bottom of the fateful fifth, the second out came on a CS 2-5 after the runner on second tried to advance on a wild pitch. There was also an F-2b in the top of that inning on a pop-up bunt. In the top of the seventh, after the center fielder dropped the ball, the runner was CS 9-6 after trying to take second on the muffed play.


The Accommodations: 

Sleep Inn & Suites
Sleep Inn & Suites

I stayed the night at the Sleep Inn and Suites in nearby Dublin. My room had a small hallway leading to the bedroom that had the entrance to the sizable bathroom off to the right. The room had two double beds with nightstands and a small easy chair on one wall, and a dresser, refrigerator, and desk on the other.

The room was cozy, especially with all the pillows from both beds stacked onto one, where a pillow fort was properly constructed to encase me for the rest of the night.



2015 Virginia