Saturday, July 2, 2016

Zebulon

On Finally Reaching One's Limits

Five County Stadium
Five County Stadium, 2016

Saturday, July 2, 2016
Lynchburg Hillcats (Cleveland Indians) vs.
Carolina Mudcats (Atlanta Braves)
Five County Stadium
Carolina League (A+)
Zebulon, NC
7:05 PM


Outside the Game:
I slept in on my South Carolina sojourn, and that would turn out to be a good plan. I eventually got myself moving, and stopped at a FedEx to ship most of my ill-gotten baseball gains back home before heading to the Shoeless Joe Jackson Museum.

Shoeless Joe Jackson Museum
The study in the house

That was a fun little stop. It was literally the man's house that had been moved across the street from the baseball stadium. There was a lot of memorabilia inside, and surprisingly to me at least, quite a crowd. The volunteers, to a person, were very friendly and knowledgeable, and, of course, had a certain opinion about whether Jackson should be in the Baseball Hall of Fame or not. It was an enjoyable little visit that even touched on vintage baseball.

I did have a long drive ahead of me, but nothing else to do before the seven o'clock game. Sadly, the drive was longer than the four or so hours expected thanks to a big accident. I had to detour through the tech triangle where one of my main work clients is located, so it felt a little like walking past my own grave on vacation. But I did make it to the park to take pre-game photos and pick up my ticket before heading to the hotel.

On my way to check in, my glasses broke again, and I had no superglue to fix them. After dumping all my stuff in my room, I got directions to the closest CVS and bought some of said glue, headed back to the hotel to repair the glasses, and take a nap before heading out. That was my second-smartest move of the night.

Fog
Departing

Getting back to the stadium was quick and easy. I just had no idea how long it was going to be before I left again. And when I did, after 1 AM, I was in less of a good mood. I drove back to the hotel sullenly, got into my room, and passed out aggressively.


The Stadium & Fans: 


Home to center, Five County Stadium
Home plate to center field, Five County Stadium

Say what you will about Five County Stadium, but the one thing you can't call it is "cookie cutter." Located in the middle of nowhere and next to a water treatment plant, on the outside, the park looks like a 70's concrete multi-use stadium, or an odd corporate building.

The two main entrances are at the edges of the seating bowls, flanked by ticket booths, as well as the home plate entrance. There is a narrow walkway that runs the inside of the seating bowl from outfield to outfield behind home plate, but not around the park, mirrored by a larger promenade outside the seats running the same distance. The outer walkway is directly underneath the concrete upper-deck seats that ladder up from the edge. So the lower level of seats from first to third base sit under the upper deck, while two semi-detached banks of seated bleachers sit in the short outfields.

At the top of the first-base upper deck is the "Cattails Restaurant," and out in left field is the "Catfish Landing" bar. Party pavilions, luxury boxes, and the press box cover the remaining territory at the top of the upper deck. Don't plan on a direct view of the game if you’re in the main seating area, as the stands are right on top of the field and are veiled in netting from upper deck to lower. The main video board sits out in left-center field to keep you in touch with the game, with a smaller scoreboard in right-center.

With the exception of the bar in left, all the concessions and team stores are in the outer promenade, so you can't keep up with the game while shopping for food or sundries.

Given the unique situation of the game, it is hard to really judge the fans, except that it was pretty impressive that so many hung around after the rain delay until the second stoppage of play. Muddy the Mudcat and the other between-inning entertainment only had an abbreviated display for this game given the conditions, but it was standard minor-league variety stuff. The grounds crew (as well as all the office staff shanghaied into helping out) were the real MVPs of this game.


At the Game with Oogie:

Scoring
Scoring, interrupted

Before this whole drama would become apparent, I ran into a nice, chatty usher who chatted me up when she saw me wandering around and taking pictures. Her husband was in the army, and she worked this job to keep herself busy. She loved baseball, and loved the team, and loved the food, and spent a good amount of time giving me suggestions on said food. At her recommendation, I would get a two hot dogs and soda combo, as well as some mini-tacos.

Because of the odd arrangement of the park, I had to get seats in the upper deck. I was in the first row behind third base, and even given the oddness, they were quite nice seats. I, of course, would spend most of the game not in that seat. During the extensive rain delay, I was walking around the park for wont of anything better to do. I got to know all the ushers, because no one had anything to do but talk. After several hours, you get a little stir crazy. I eventually went full poncho and headed out into the rain, because, what exactly else did I have to do?

Grub
Dogs and a souvenir soda

The row I was seated in had two older couples next to me, and they were both there for when the fireworks and game began. They left the park, as did most of the healthy crowd remaining (as there were several after-game activities planned like a ball toss and run the bases) when the fog call came in at midnight. When I left after 1 AM, there were, perhaps, 200 people total left in the park, including all the players and staff.


The Game:

First pitch, Hillcats vs. Mudcats
First pitch, Hillcats vs. Mudcasts

Where to even begin.

So, before first pitch, the tarp came out on the field, just in time to cover the torrential rainstorm that the grounds crew said was going to "touch" the area.

It "touched" the area for the next several hours with blinding rain the kind I had only seen in Taiwan previously. Apparently, the storm had been expected as a glancing blow, but it had hit head on. At the edges of the outfield, the water was at least ankle deep in most places. There was no way that this game was going to get played.

Except that the league and the ownership wanted to get the game in, apparently really, really badly. As the whole drama unfolded, and I was one of the few that stuck around, I was eavesdropping on the action on the field. The physical arrangement of the park let me overhear all the conversations between the managers, umpires, and grounds crew, as well as the gossipy ushers who were happy to talk with me because they had nothing better to do.

No one below management wanted anything to do with this game, but the powers that be clearly did. The managers were yelling at the umpires and the grounds crew that there was no way they'd let their guys go out there, but when the rain stopped after two hours or so, the grounds crew, ticket takers, and anyone else they could drag out from the offices were on that field trying to dredge out a half a foot of water.

Rain
A small downpour

Scheduling and more impending bad weather had someone spooked, so for over an hour, they manually drained that field. The umpires and managers would inspect the field and reject its safety every fifteen minutes or so, but ownership kept at it, and after several hours, it was good enough to play on, or the opposition gave up, or some combination of the two.

Which leads to another special event: They decided to do the fireworks before the game, because the game would end too late to have them afterward. So, the fireworks went up before the game as the grounds crew did even more work on the field.

And the game eventually started at around 10:05 PM.

And they nearly did it. The players were damp and tired, and the game went on at a bit of a clip, but it was getting played. The battle of the cats finally started off, and the visiting Hillcats jumped out to an early lead in the first, with a back-to-back doubles, a sacrifice fly, and a single bringing in two runs. The Mudcats threatened in the bottom of the inning with second and third with two outs, but they could not score. The Hillcats only a had a walk in the second, but the Mudcats answered with a leadoff homer in the bottom of the frame to make it 2-1. The third was scattered hits and strikeouts for both teams, but the Hillcats started the top of the fourth with a leadoff home run of their own, before striking out in order, to make it 3-1.

The rest of the game was a smattering of walks, a double, a triple, and a lot of strikeouts. This got more pronounced going into the sixth as a billowing fog started to roll into the field. It got hard to see in the sixth inning, and by the bottom of the seventh, after a leadoff walk, the umps called it, because you couldn't see the field from the stands and someone was going to get hurt, badly. And so, the game was suspended because of fog just after midnight.

Fog
Can't score what you can't see

And still they didn't call the game. Ownership was content to wait out mother nature. Another hour passed, and then the managers pulled their teams from the field for a second time. It was after 1 AM at this point. But the game was suspended, and not called.

Up until this point, I had never left a game before it was officially called. I couldn't even imagine a scenario when I'd do so. I had finally found that locus, as I said screw this, packed up, and left the crowd of 200 or so people to go back to the hotel.

As it would turn out, this game did, in fact, end with the second suspension of play, but I didn't know that at the time. I had become a quitter. My moral high ground was forever lost. But I did get to sleep before 2 AM.


The Scorecard:

Hillcats vs. Mudcats, 07-02-16. Hillcats win suspended game, 3-1.
Hillcats vs. Mudcats, 07/02/16. Hillcats win suspended game, 3-1.

The scorecard was a photocopied paper separate from the free tabloid program. It was unnecessarily cramped by the team logo taking up nearly a quarter of the top of the card, leaving tiny boxes for the actual scoring.

I doubt I will ever have these notes again, separately, or on the same scorecard:

"3 HR rain delay + fireworks; Start 10:05"
"12:10 Teams pulled from field for fog"

And that is probably for the best. This is the game that broke me.

There were 21 total strikeouts in a game called in the 7th. Not surprising given the weather conditions, but that still has to be some sort of record.


The Accommodations:

Comfort Suites Pavilion Raleigh
Comfort Suites Pavilion Raleigh

For what little time I spent there, I was at the Comfort Suites Pavilion Raleigh. It was halfway between Zebulon and downtown Raleigh, and seemed a good concession, although the extra drive back to the hotel was not welcome at 1 AM.

I had a nice enough suite. The large bathroom opened right off the entrance to the room, and the rest of the suite was a two-part railroad, with a living room of couch and kitchenette separated by a half wall to the bedroom, with the king-sized bed, desk, dresser and TV.

Outside of the nap before the game, I spent more dollar per minute in this hotel room than any other this trip, and perhaps for all of my trips.

Stupid rain. Stupid fog.



On Making It Up on the Flip Side

Dinosaur
Raaaaaar

Sunday, July 3, 2016
Cary, NC


Outside the Game:
I was not exactly a happy camper when I woke up later that day. By the time I could be driven awake, I was a half hour from check out and hadn't nearly had enough sleep as far as I was concerned. I ran myself through a shower quickly, and while packing, I did two things.

Firstly, I determined the final status of the previous night's game. Play had concluded when play was stopped for the second time due to fog. They weren't going to continue the game, but call it official and end it at the second stoppage of play. So, I wouldn't have to stay in town to see the final innings or see another game to make up the stadium.

Secondly, I looked for a hotel near the airport that was really, really nice. And I found a five-star place in Cary that was over 50% for a one-night stay, so I quickly jumped on that deal and got the address. And then it was largely a rush downstairs to check out on time and get out on the road.

My plan for the day if I didn't have a game was to go the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh. It was free and had some great reviews, and I likes me a good museum. When I drove into town and parked, the museum wasn't set to open for another hour (it being a Sunday), so I walked around until I found an open restaurant, Tasty 8's, a burger joint. I had my breakfast/lunch and walked back to the museum just in time for the doors to open.

I have to say how impressed I was with the place. Except for some graffiti on some evolution exhibits and a little too much corporate sponsorships (but what do you want for a free museum), I had no real complaints about the place. It was huge, well laid out, and had a great diversity of old-school and interactive exhibits. I seem to recall going hog wild in the gift shop as well. I most remember an exhibit by a local meteorologist that had you guess the path a hurricane was going to take. I suppose the first thing is that there are so many hurricanes that this needs to be a point of common reference for everyone down here, and this was explained by a little turn of geography that I hadn't ever noticed before: North Carolina just straight-out leans into the ocean and pretty much catches every big storm that comes up the coast. So, I learned something. Check mark for Sunday. It was all-in-all the kind of experience that helps forget the tortuous failures of the night before.

And it was just going to get better. After I had the fill of the museum, I headed out to my hotel, The Mayton Inn. I knew it would be fancy, but not this fancy. And I immediately learned why it had so steep a discount, as there was a massive street construction project on the road of the stately hotel, and I would find out later from the staff that it had been going on for nearly a year.

I checked in, had my car valeted away, and was shown up to my room by the staff. The room was as big as my apartment, and I mean my current three-bedroom and not my old one-bedroom. The rooms all came with complimentary iPads for ordering guest services and use while in the room.

I had just enough of roughing it, so I embraced it totally. I did a load of laundry to get some clean clothes (as the humidity had taken a greater and faster toll on my wardrobe than expected), and then I just walked around the town for a while before heading back to the room for a well-earned nap. I ordered up some room service on my iPad for dinner, soaked in the giant tub for a long while, and then retired the super-king bed to watch Game of Thrones on the giant-assed TV.

Improvements all around, I say.
 

The Accommodations:

Mayton Inn
Mayton Inn

I've already talked about the Mayton Inn, and there's so much more to say. It is a giant old mansion building that is spilt up into giant hotel rooms. I had to go up a grand staircase to the second floor to get into my room, which had its own entryway. The entrance was flanked on one side with a giant closet with the softest robes you could imagine. Another hallway spread off, with more closet space leading to the main bathroom, with dual sinks, and jadeite counters, and an Olympic-sized tub. The other hallway lead to the bedroom, with kitchen furnishings on one wall, the bed on the connecting wall, chairs and a chine cabinet adjoining, and then a giant dresser with giant TV, and the desk area with the complimentary iPad station.

Room service
Room service

Seriously, though: A guy can get used to this.



On A Mixed Bag

Airport
See, it looks like a Wright Brothers wing

Monday, July 4, 2016
Newark, NJ


Outside the Game:
This day started much better than the previous one. I woke up lazily in my giant luxury bed, walked the half mile to the bathroom to take care of certain things, and threw on a bathrobe as my free breakfast room service was delivered. Things have been worse.

After breakfast, I had another soak in the giant tub, because why not, and then ruefully packed up. I got a late check out, which I abused, both for more time to stay lazing around in the room as well as the fact that I had a mid-afternoon flight, a short drive, and literally nothing to do except try and avoid the humidity.

There was a small mall between the hotel and the airport, and I ended up killing some time in a Barnes and Noble sucking down a beverage and free WIFI until I could sort of justify driving to the airport and dropping off my car.

And I eventually did so with no issue, and, of course, got through security with no problem, and then had a lot of time before my on-time flight would board. So, I walked around for a while and got lunch, and then gave up and plopped myself down in a massage chair for a half hour.

The good news there is that I got to fairly relaxed state. The bad was that I was apparently so relaxed that I was snoring as all get-out. I even snored so loudly that I woke myself up, which never happens, and in my groggy state, I found a lot of people looking my way. Well, you know what? You pays your fare, you gets your ride. Much more relaxed than before, I waddled over to my gate and boarded the plane home.

The flight back could hardly be worse than the flight down, and as it turned out, there were no delays, and we even landed a little early. Not content to just let me have this small victory, life jumped in and put me in the one cab left in all of Newark that didn't have EZ Pass. We got caught in the fireworks traffic, and we had to wait like plebeians in the toll lanes because this clown did not have a necessary piece of equipment. So, by the time I got home, it was as though I had landed a half hour late instead of twenty minutes early.

But, I was successfully home, for whatever that was worth.


The Accommodations:
Sweet home, Jersey City



Friday, July 1, 2016

Greenville

On "The South"

Fluor Field
Fluor Field, 2016

Friday, July 1, 2017
Asheville Tourists (Colorado Rockies) vs.
Greenville Drive (Boston Red Sox)
Fluor Field
South Atlantic League (A)
Greenville, SC
7:05 PM


Outside the Game:
Having gotten a good night's rest, I was up and out of the Holiday Inn a little after ten, and then headed even deeper into the south towards Greenville, SC, the first new state I'd be adding to my “visited” list in quite some time.

Greenville had a nice mid-sized zoo, so that was the first stop, of course. I spent a couple of enjoyable afternoon hours there before heading out to check into my hotel, which was on the way to the park.

Zoo
I see you; I just don't care.

Or, I think it was. Because Fluor Park was still pretty new, and apparently it was so new that it did not show up on my GPS. Or anything near it. And this was a problem because the narrow and newly upscale downtown was clogged with traffic due to a street fair of some kind, and it was taking forever to get anywhere. I eventually had to get by with navigating from a block or two off the main strip, and after a half hour or so of trying, I made it to the park to pick up my ticket and take my pictures in the humid, humid afternoon.

In walking around, I discovered that Shoeless Joe Jackson's last house had been moved next door to the park as a museum. While it was closed that day, it was open the next, so I put that on my list of things to do on my way out of town. Dripping with sweat and completely done with walking around, I went back to the hotel using the same parallel-street navigation and caught a shower and nap before the game.

Fun fact about Fluor Field: They didn't build a parking lot for it. So, parking for the game is a free-for-all on street parking and residents and businesses renting out their lots. The first place I tried to park made clear they were going to park me in completely as I was the earliest, so I took myself out of that and went down the street to a restaurant that had more direct parking accommodations. I can't imagine how fans deal with it on a regular basis.

Get ready for the boom.

After the game, the street fair was over, so it was easy sailing back to the hotel for a good night's sleep.


The Stadium & Fans:

Home to center, Fluor Field
Home plate to center field, Fluor Field

Fluor Field is a Boston Red Sox minor-league park, and, say what you will about the Scarlet Hose, their minor league facilities are always top-notch. The park itself is right in the middle of revitalized area of downtown near the train tracks, and the addition of the Shoeless Joe Jackson Museum is a welcome touch. (The new team wanted to call themselves the "Joes," but the spoilsports at MLB prevented them from naming themselves after a permanently ineligible player.)

The team store and the ticket booths are a separate building at the entrance plaza, with the main entrance set back from the street a good distance. The main entrance behind home plate dumps out onto the main promenade that runs from outfield to outfield along the park. The seating area descends from the promenade and is topped by a second level with party decks and the luxury and press boxes from first base around to third.

A replica Green Monster manual scoreboard is on the wall in left field, with a video board in center for the more modern touch. Right field ends with the "Paladin Plateau" party area and the 500 Club restaurant (celebrating all the players who hit 500 or more homeruns, especially Red Sox). By the right field entrance is the Heritage Plaza, with history about the Red Sox and Greenville baseball. The structural supports, along the promenade, also carry images of Greenville baseball past. Left field ends with the Power Alley party area, the kid's area, and a picnic berm for standing-room-only seating. All the concessions are on the promenade, so you can grab grub while still watching the game.

Mascot
Ready for Reedy

Reedy the Frog was the mascot de jour, leading the regular host of races and contests. And since it was a Friday game, there were, of course, fireworks (set off from on-field given the tight confines of the park to the neighborhood).

There was a very healthy crowd on hand, though it was mostly families there for a night's entertainment and not just baseball. Given how poorly the Drive did this game, it seems unfair to criticize them based on this one sampling.

However...


At the Game with Oogie:

Scoring
South scoring

This has been, I guess, my first real baseball trip exclusively in "The South"--capital "T," capital "S." I mean, the atmosphere, political and otherwise, was about as conservative as I'd expected, but it wasn't as though it was a walking, talking stereotype or anything like that, and the people were friendly enough—at least superficially.

While I was walking around before the game, there was a gentleman who was very fired up about something the president had done. That wasn't the surprising part, really. The thing that stopped me pretty directly in my tracks—quite literally--was the gentleman was referring to the president as "N-word Obama," quite loudly, quite in public, and quite within earshot of a number of black patrons at the game. And no one but me seemed to be noticing.

In another story, this would be where I chastised him and put his ignorance to shame, but frankly, I was just amazed that this was a real thing happening. No one reacted. I don't know if it was because everyone was politely shunning him, or no one wanted to make more a scene, or if this was just acceptable, but I was the only one acting like there was a record needle screeching every time this guy opined on what "N... Obama" was doing.

Thankfully, he wasn't sitting by me, where I had scored some seats at the top of the lower seating bowl along the first base line. It was, per usual, families and the like, trying to survive the humidity that did not diminish when the sun went down. None of them shared any strong opinions on the president or race relations, thankfully.

Grub
BBQ sandwich, hush puppies, and souvenir soda.

I ate a chili dog and a BBQ sandwich with hush puppies, because everything goes better with hush puppies. Except, one imagines, virulent racism.


The Game:

First pitch, Tourists vs. Drive
First pitch, Tourists vs. Drive

On paper, this was a middling conflict between two teams sniffing just north of .500, but it ended up being a one-sided affair that went against the home squad.

It started slowly in the top of the first, with the Tourists squandering back-to-back, one-out singles, and the Drive going in order. Asheville got on the board in the second with a one-out homer to right field, but Greenville only responded with a two-out, ground-rule double of their own left on the bases.

The Toursists started the third with a single, but he got cut down trying to steal second. A walk, a single, and two walks followed to increase the lead to 2-0, but a double play ended the inning. It was mostly quiet until the top of the fifth, when Asheville started the frame with back-to-back singles and then a bunt to move the runners over. A grounder to short brought in another run, making it 3-0. The Drive started their half with back-to-back walks, but then the top of their order struck out in turn to end the threat.

Asheville was back at it in the sixth, with a leadoff single and a bunt to get him over to second. A two-out single brought the lead runner in, and let the man with the newly minted RBI make it to second on the throw. A double then brought him in to make it 5-0, but a throw out on the bases ended it there.

The game sped on until the top of the ninth, where the Tourists had a one-out walk and a single, and then a two-out single to bring in one more run to make it 6-0, while the Drive went in order in the bottom of the inning to make it official.


The Scorecard: 

Tourists vs. Drive, 07/01/16. Tourists win, 6-0.

The scorecard was a letter-sized photocopy separate from the program, with all the lineups already added in and the rosters on a separate sheet. It was incredibly cramped, however, even with no advertising, but it was usable. The card included fielding stats, and for the first time, I experimented with only filling in the columns that did not have null data, instead of writing in zeros for everything that needed it. It was a bit of a time saver/lazy move on my part, but I like the way it went, and it certainly saved some wear and tear on the arms.

Two plays of literal note were a double-play grounder in the top of the fourth that got thrown to the wall with no error (because the double play cannot be assumed), and a caught stealing to end the top of the sixth that was a failed attempt to get a base on a passed ball.

Otherwise, it was mostly an average game, though it took six Tourist pitchers to get the shutout, three-hitter against the Drive, while just three Drive pitchers stayed in to give up 6 runs and 15 hits. There's a message in there, I'm sure.


The Accommodations: 

Baymont Inn & Suites
Baymont Inn & Suites

I was staying at the tony-sounding Baymont Inn & Suites, located in the less-tony sounding Haywood Mall, about fifteen minutes from the ballpark and downtown.

The room was nice, but not exceptional, with a large bathroom off the entrance, and a bedroom with king-sized bed and small pull-out couch on one wall, with a dresser adjacent, and a desk and TV on the wall opposite the bed. Still, it did what it needed to, just nothing special.


2016 The Carolinas