Saturday, May 28, 2016

Charleston

On Leaving Without Issues

Airport
Terminal C, again
Thursday, May 27, 2016
Morgantown, WV


Outside the Game: 
A four day weekend beckoned, and I was off to visit my friend in West Virginia. I nailed down everything I could at work, and then set off for the airport.

Beside some monorail delays, everything went smoothly. I upgraded to priority boarding and flew through security, got dinner, and waited for the plane to board. We had only the smallest of delays, and the plane landed a little early.

Rental
I couldn't understand him. He had a heavy Accent.

I got my rental car with next to no fuss, and had an uneventful drive down to my friend’s house in Morgantown, arriving a little before midnight. After some small talk, I went to bed. It was really as boring as all that.


The Accommodations: 
Waiting for my late arrival was an inflatable mattress in the computer room, as my friend’s kid had taken up the old guest room. And slept I did.


On Vacation

Friday, May 28, 2016
Morgantown, WV


Outside the Game:
This was just a day of random geekery and time with my friend's family. Nothing all that interesting to people who are not us.


The Accommodations: 
I spent another night in the computer room on the inflatable mattress.



On Disappointing Capitol

Appalachian Power Park
Appalachian Power Park, 2016
Saturday, May 28, 2016
Columbia Fireflies (New York Metropolitans) vs.
West Virginia Power (Pittsburgh Pirates)
Appalachian Power Park
South Atlantic League (A)
Charleston, WV
7:05 PM


Outside the Game: 
So West Virginia doesn't have the greatest of reputations, and, to be fair, most of that is earned. The vast majority of the population is poor and deeply fundamentalist Christian, the state is nearly exclusively rural, and its main claim to fame and source of money is a coal industry that is rapidly and thankfully going the way of Dodo. It is the front line of the "War on Coal," and the entire state is fiercely rightist, against its own best interests in most cases.

My friend lives in the most "liberal" (if the word can accurately be applied to the state at all) enclave of the state, home to its state university, and wedged in the northwest corner of the state just an hour or so south of Pittsburgh.

This is all relevant because I needed to check off the only other professional teams in the state, which was in the state capitol in the south of the state. It was a good two-and-a-half hour drive, and we were considering bunking up and driving back the next morning. We had breakfast and lunch with the family, and then we set off south for the game and whatever else happened.

We had to drive through the very heart of the state, and things got scary for this city boy. For instance, we regularly saw cars (well, trucks) running with no license plates. For those of you who don't know, that is the calling card of the “sovereign citizens” movement. And for those who don't know about them, they are people who believe essentially that the navy took over the legitimate US government and by declaring so, they aren't subject to US law. Now, this is a gross condensation of their beliefs, but, sadly, it is not an inaccurate one.

So, two things stand out with guys driving on state highways without plates. Firstly, there are a lot of sovereign-citizen types in this area. Secondly, there are not a lot of cops around. Because, as you might imagine, driving around with no plates is super illegal--naval flag or no--and no one is pulling these guys over. We are very much not in "Howdy, stranger" South as much as "You ain't from around here, are ya, boy" South.

I kept it 10 and 6 and mostly in the right lane for the drive down, which, thankfully, ended without incident. We went to the park to pick up tickets to find out that the parking lot for the ballpark was also the parking lot for the mini mall across the street. And we had to pay off some homeless guys to "keep an eye" on our car. So that was fun.

We picked up the tickets, I took my pictures, and we decided to make a run to the nearest CVS for a drink while we waited for the gates to open. Well, the CVS looked deceptively close, but was really a long walk away, so we really needed those beverages when we got there.

Charleston wasn't that impressive. It had a vibe of a mid-sized 70s city that hadn't been updated or repaired since then. "Depressing" was a fair assessment, and, I know it is cruel, but the folks walking around looked like they should save up to buy another chromosome. Yes, yes, it makes me an ass, but whatever.

We eventually went back and waited for the gates to open. We piled in and watched the game. It ended early enough that we decided to drive all the way back instead of staying over at a hotel. We got back after midnight and got some sleep.


The Stadium & Fans: 
Home to center, Appalachian Power Park
Home plate to center field, Appalachian Power Park

Appalachian Power Park, if nothing else, really drove home the "Power" message, in case you missed it. It is built into an old warehouse area, and it has incorporated those buildings into the stadium, a'la Baltimore and other such places. Condos loom over left field wall, and the warehouse building in right holds offices. City streets surround the park, and you can hang out beyond the outfield wall to shag home run balls. There is a homeless guy who stays there during batting practice getting all the balls that go out and will give you one for a small donation to his beer fund.

The outside entrance of the Warehouse building holds the corporate offices for the team, meeting rooms, the WV Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame, and Paterno's at the Park, a restaurant that you used to be able to also access from right field, but there now seems to be have been a rift between the restaurant and the team, so while patrons of the restaurant can still watch the game, there is no ready entry from the park to the restaurant during games.

The main entrance to the park is by home plate, but for some reason they saw fit to make most of the area the designated smoking area, so there is only one gate in the wall of gates that is used for entry to the park. The right field "Power Alley" is the most used entrance, by the main ticket booths, and there is also a largely disused entrance out in center.

As with most parks of this level, all the entrances dump out onto a promenade that circles the park above the seating bowl. At the top of the seats behind home plate are a bunker of luxury boxes and the press box, while more party decks and luxury boxes form the second level of the buildings on the right side of the infield, built into the Warehouse building. Regular seating runs from first to third base, while the outfield areas get bleachers, and a lone bleacher sits out in right field and two rows of seats run in front of the play area in left-center, just below the main scoreboard.

On the back of the bunkers are the Road to the Show and the Wall of Fame, along with the previous team names and affiliations. A party deck anchors right field, while an elevated picnic area sits in left. The promenade along the third base line holds columned arcades, which for this evening held a pre-game concert of some pop-country band I had never heard of and hope never to hear of again. The small team store (The Power Outlet) sits in right field, almost as an afterthought.

There is an interesting view to the outfield. It is capped with a clear-cut cemetery on the wooded hill in left-center that is quite a thing to look at. One nice thing they had was a special picnic table section on the promenade right above home plate (and probably not coincidentally right by the Tiki Bar) for the Rowdy Alley, a group of dedicated home fans. They were in attendance that night, and at least one of them was wearing a beer can hat, because of course he was.

Mascot
The running of the Chucks

It was Redneck Night, which was a redundancy if I'd ever heard one. The grounds crew was decked out in jean-short overalls, checkered shirts, and hunter's caps. Mascot Chuck held some redneck themed events, but, unfortunately, the goddamn Zooperstars were there, which meant sitting through the machinations of those inflatable suit morons that I had seen at too many minor league parks at this point.

A majority of the crowd seemed to be there for the pre-game concert, and the crowd was mostly the minor-league standard families. But, they get extra points for the Rowdy Alley, who root, root, rooted for the home team and hazed the visiting Fireflies at every opportunity (and there were plenty this evening).


At the Game with Oogie: 
Grub
"Pulled pork" and souvenir soda

As is probably obvious at this point, I was at the game with my friend. We had seats on the first base line, just past the extension of the safety netting, so we both could get photos of the game. While I was writing up the lineups, one of the older ushers saw me and asked if I was scoring the game. He seemed to approve of me doing so.

Grub
A so-called brat

The food at the park was pretty awful. The main concession stands were selling (unarguably cheap) school cafeteria food on Styrofoam plates. The "beef brisket" sandwich was slightly better than a sloppy joe. A grilled cart by home plate was marginally better, but the portions were tiny. Given the size of some of the people in this place, I wonder how some of them didn't starve to death during the game.


The Game: 
First pitch, Fireflies vs. Power
First pitch, Fireflies vs. Power

On hesitates to use "brutal beating" too often, lest it lose its meeting, but this SALly-league matchup between the farm clubs of the Pirates and the Metroplitans was the brutalist of beatings, as only a ten-run differential can truly impart.

The Fireflies didn't start out too badly, with a leadoff single in the top of the first. A blown pickoff throw by the first baseman got him to second, and a ground-out to second base got him to third. But there he was stranded. The Power started with the same leadoff hit trick, but he then stole second base, got to third on a ground-out to short, and was driven in by a single to right to make it 1-0, Power.

Columbia got a leadoff bunt single in the second to keep the pattern going, stole second, made it to third on a ground out to short, and then got stranded. The Power decided to up the ante and got a leadoff double who made it to third on a deep fly to center, and then scored on a deep sacrifice to left, making it 2-0 Power after two. The visitors had a two-out walk make it to third on a single before being stranded again. The Power kept up with the leadoff hits (a single this time) that moved over to second on a steal and third on a passed ball. A two-out walk made it first and third, and another wild pitch moved the trailing runner to second. A single brought them both home to make it 4-0 Power at the end of three.

The Fireflies finally decided to score in the fourth. A one-out shortstop error got a man to first, who made it to second on a ground out to the first baseman. A triple then brought him home before a strikeout ended the threat with the score 4-1, Power. Not to be outdone, the Power started the bottom of the inning with a triple, brought in a ground-out to second. A one-out walk promptly stole second and made it to third on a ground-out to the pitcher. A two-out single brought him home, ending the fourth at 6-1, Power.

Perhaps out of gas, the Fireflies went in order in the fifth. West Virginia would not be so accommodating to the new pitcher for the Fireflies. The half-inning started with a homer to dead center. With one out, a hit batsman went to first. Two walks loaded the bases, and a single brought in one run. A squib grounder to first brought in another run, but gave hope to the end of the inning. This was quashed by another walk--and, subsequently, another pitcher. A single brought in two more runs, and a following single added one more. A strikeout mercifully ended the six-run beating, leaving it 12-1, Power.

The sixth went quickly, with the Fireflies going in order and the Power mustering only a single. A leadoff walk in the top of the seventh was followed by a one-out double to make it a close 12-2. Exhausted from running the bases, the Power went in order in the seventh. The last two innings were a grim march to conclusion, with both teams getting a single each in the eighth and nothing else, ending the fiasco officially at 12-2 for the home team.


The Scorecard: 
Fireflies vs. Power, 05-28-16. Power wins, 12-2.
Fireflies vs. Power, 05/28/16. Power wins, 12-2.

The scorecard was part of the half-tabloid, full-color, free program. It was on magazine paper, but it wasn't overly glossy, so use with pencils was possible. What inhibited things more was the tiny, tiny scoring squares. Even though there was no advertising on the scorecard, and little space was taken up with the header, it was still cramped and very hard to fit progress around the bases in. Also, for no good reason in the compiled batting stats, they had hits before runs, which made me have to double-check myself a number of times when proving out.

The story of this game was obviously the brutal drubbing the Fireflies received. Their reliever in the bat-around fifth ended with the impressive pitching line of .6 IP, 6 ER, 2 H, 3 BB, and 1 K. That's just not easy to do. Otherwise, the scoring was pretty routine. The Fireflies K-Man complied in the third. The "Wings Inning" (rewarding the crowd with free wings if the home team scored) was the eighth, one of three innings where the Power didn't score.


The Accommodations: 
Although we flirted with the idea of grabbing a hotel room, the game ended early enough that we just drove back, and I spent another evening on the inflatable mattress in the computer room.



On Another Day

Sunday, May 29, 2016
Morgantown, WV


Outside the Game: 
The days started off a little slow after the late night, but it was another day of random geekery interrupted by meals. Not a lot to report.


The Accommodations: 
Another night in the computer room on the inflatable mattress.



On Being Homeward Bound

Airport
Bridge Bot
Monday, May 30, 2016
Jersey City, NJ


Outside the Game: 
My four-day weekend over, it was time to head home. Thankfully, I had managed to book a mid-afternoon flight that did not necessitate early rising. I got up, packed up, and had breakfast, and then took the drive up to the airport.

I calculated just enough gas to show up at the rental car place running on fumes, so I triumphantly turned in my car with the smugness of pre-paid gas wisely used, got through security, and checked in.

Of course, there are nearly never delays going home, and so I got back to Newark and took a cab back to my apartment so very excited for another day of work the next day.


The Accommodations: 
Sweet home, Jersey City



2016 Stand-Alone Trip

Sunday, May 8, 2016

A Death in the Family

On Being a Man Down

Plymouth Sundance
My model of the 1991 Plymouth Sundance in better days.
Sunday, May 8, 2016
Jersey City, NJ


This is not a regular trip report, but a much-needed and fond remembrance for a fallen soldier that made most of these trips possible. On May 8, 2016, a full 25 years after it was manufactured, my 1991 Plymouth Sundance ended its life as an automobile, outliving its brand by fifteen years.

I got my grey '91 Plymouth Sundance hatchback as a partial graduation present from my parents, while I was still in college. Not able to live up to the strains of a commute from central Pennsylvania (where I was at college) and the suburbs of Boston (where my girlfriend who graduated the year before lived), my first car, a hand-me-down, fire-engine red 1981 Ford Granada, gave up the ghost in northern Connecticut on one weekend visit. It was twelve years old at the time, and the mechanic would tell me that it is good thing that the engine overheated and seized when it did, as my engine struts were close to rusting out, and at some point, the engine would have dropped out of my car while I was driving it, which would have been an epic achievement for the rustbucket, which I fondly named "The Sh*tmobile." It couldn't go faster than 65 on a good day, if tried to make a left turn with it in the winter before warming it up for five minutes, it would stall out, and there was a fifty-fifty shot on engaging any of the climate controls whether you would get heat or air conditioning. But it was my first car, and I loved it, and I killed it.

My parents sagely realized that I would need a car once I graduated, so they helped buy the two-year-old used car. Its only other owner was an old lady who smoked, so it had good mileage, but it also had cigarette burns on the driver-side upholstery. It also had no CD player. But it was my car.

And all that car did was run for twenty-five years without any major problems. I eventually beat the hell out of it. An accident bashed in the passenger door and made it hard to open. Countless years of bad parking mucked up the hub caps. Eventually, the air conditioning failed after about a decade and was too expensive to warrant fixing. The radio display gave out after about fifteen years to the point that only my station presets were readily available. The ceiling lining was loose in most places, and the seal on my sunroof was questionable at best. But it just drove, and drove, and drove.

When I started doing the local baseball trips within NJ, it took me to every park. Every state within a day's drive was visited in this car, from Maine, all the way down to Maryland, and all the way out to Ohio. Every stadium had this car in the lot. In fact, the only major incident I had with the car was in my 2014 trip to Ohio, where I blew out my right front tire on route 80, scaring the crap out me, but no one was harmed, except for the giant plastic explosion residue that sat on the wheel well for the rest of its life. The bumper was dislodged and kept in place with duct tape. But it just kept on driving.

Tire blowout
My baby after a tire blowout on Route 80 in 2014
But this year, I drove out to my parents' house for Mother's Day. I stopped for gas down the street from their house to get gas, and my car would not turn over again. After some sullen help from the attendants, they noticed that my coolant was empty. I bought some overpriced stuff there and refilled it, and took my car to the mechanic who kept it running for 25 years.

I eventually was told that the main engine gasket overheated, warped, and blew because a leak had emptied out my coolant. The cost to fix it would be triple the value of the car. And yet, I considered it. As of this year, being twenty-five years old, my car was actually officially a “classic,” and I thought about putting some money into it to gussy it up. But now, that time had passed. I let my mechanic put it out to pasture, and now I am without a car for the first time since college. I've owned only two cars in my life.

So please take a moment to bow your head, and remember this brave soldier who did his duty for far longer than expected. May it find its peace.