Sunday, September 4, 2016

Augusta (GA)

On Barking in the Park

Lake Olmstead Stadium
Lake Olmstead Stadium, 2016
Sunday, September 4, 2016
Rome Braves (Atlanta Braves) vs.
Augusta GreenJackets (San Francisco Giants)
Lake Olmstead Stadium
South Atlantic League (A)
Augusta, GA
5:05 PM

Outside the Game:
This morning, I got fancy room service in my fancy room and had a nearly mandatory soak in the Jacuzzi tub while watching some TV on my bathroom TV. Afterwards, I would find out that it was not a well-maintained Jacuzzi tub, as after draining it, I discovered a deep brown ring at the water level of the tub. I still had all fingers and toes, so I decided to call it a day and packed up and left.

As there was a nearby zoo and the game for that night wasn't until later in the afternoon, there was a zoo visit. The Riverbanks Zoo & Garden was a nice medium-sized zoo, but thanks to my lazy habits that morning, I got there just in time for all the animals to be napping, especially the cats, big and small.

Tortoises keep having sex in front of me

I did run into more tortoise sex, which was now in danger of being a thing for me, and I did have a moment of pathos with the gorilla, whose enclosure was constantly swarmed with people at the glass, while the gorilla himself clearly just wanted to take a nap and not have his wall constantly pounded on by excited children. Right there with you, big guy.

It was only an hour drive down to Augusta as the crow flies, although it was on 20. However, my luck held out and there was no major incidents. I went straight to the park, which, as the name suggests, was right by Lake Olmstead. However, there were a number of parks by the lake, and the magic talky box wasn't quite as helpful as it might otherwise have been. I had a ton of time to spare, so it wasn't an issue when I eventually rolled up to the park to buy my ticket and get my pictures.

I strolled up to the gate with my Brooklyn Cyclones hat, as always, on my head, and I was immediately called out by the guy in the ticket booth as a Mets fan. Deep in Braves territory, I wasn't quite sure where this was headed, but it turns out he was also a Mets fan and was down in the area for school. We had a discussion on the team and the farm system and had our laughs about the ex-mental hospital at Columbia, and I was on my way with a ticket.

I walked around and took my pictures and discovered an abandoned Little League field behind the park. I'm not sure how long it was abandoned, but the dugouts and field were overgrown, and the collapsing low brick wall in center field had ads that seemed of at least a 60s vintage. It was a nice atmospheric find if nothing else.

Little League Field
Beautiful desolation

After completing my walkaround, I had an hour or so to kill on a holiday weekend in Augusta, and not knowing what else to do, I decided to drive to what passed for downtown. I didn't make it out of the parking lot at the stadium when some guy pulled out as I passed and nearly clipped me. After pulling over, it was clear that this guy was living out of his car and was running this scam on people in the parks. I was just happy that my rental car wasn't damaged, and I threw him a couple bucks and went downtown, driving quite defensively.

A few blocks in, I saw signs for the Mr. James Brown statue, and I followed those signs. True to their word, a becaped statue sat in the median divider towards the center of downtown. There was a plaque nearby, and when I got there, there were two families already at the statue, because either "God Father of Soul," or there really isn't that much to do in Augusta not during the Masters.

I had eventually killed a sufficient amount of time, so I headed back to the park (looking out for my homeless friend), parked, and went into the game.

After the game, it was a little under two hours to the hotel. I could only get a really early flight back to New Jersey the next day, so it was going to be a bed rental at best, so I had gotten a room again at the Country Inn & Suites I stayed at the first night. It was a little before eight when I headed out, so I figured I could be asleep before 11 and at least get six hours of sleep and be functioning the next day.

Except not, because 20. After nine at night on a holiday Sunday, traffic stopped as dead as my luck with this misbegotten road. This was also a problem because I was seriously low on gas, as I had just enough gas to get me to the hotel and the airport and drop it off dry. Unless, of course, there was a traffic backup on Sunday night for no reason. The cause was eventually determined to be an accident, and I was able to just pull off the next exit and get gas on fumes. The rest of the drive to the hotel was fine, it was just an hour and a half later than I wanted.

The Stadium & Fans:
Home to center, Lake Olmstead Stadium
Home plate to center field, Lake Olmstead Stadium

Another day, another SALly League team with a plaque of John Henry Moss. Lake Olmstead Stadium was a nice low-minors park that was clearly old and renovated. The outfield wall was still all wood, and the scoreboard in right just has balls and strikes.

The outside of the park is nicely manicured, and "GreenJacket Fun Facts" signs dot the perimeter. Behind the outfield, as mentioned, is an abandoned Little League park. Currently and inexplicably, it is currently affiliated with the San Francisco Giants, but for a long time, it was a Red Sox franchise, as evidenced by most of its "to the majors" players being current and former Red Sox, as well as their GreenJacket "Hall of Fame" members. The long-lived team also celebrated its previous names, going back to the late nineteenth century.

The park is centered on one large promenade that runs from outfield to outfield behind home plate. A row of box seats is below the walkway, and bleachers and seats above the walkway are covered by shade awnings. An old-school press box sits at the top of the stands behind home plate, and a party area and kids zone lock down the corners of the outfield where the seats end. The outer loop of the grandstand houses all the modest concessions, as well as the "Pro Shop" team store, which has the expected golf-related merchandise as well. Georgia Peach Ty Cobb is celebrated in left-center field with a .366 distance marker (his lifetime batting average) and his name.

Auggie the bug

Auggie the GreenJacket bug is the team mascot, along with the requisite human fun team. The standard between-inning races and contests are in play, with the addition of a golf pitch contest and a caddy race for local color. There was a modest crowd for a holiday weekend and about what you'd expect for this level of ball.

At the Game with Oogie:
Bleacher scoring

I was parked on the first base side in the first couple rows of the regular seats, hoping (successfully) to stay out of the sun. I was unsurprisingly surrounded by families, and it was "Bark in the Park," the first such event I've ever attended. The family in front of me had a big old doodle of some sort, who was excited by all the balls that were around and all the new people, including myself, with whom to make friends. However, he was terrified by Auggie, and alternated between trying to climb his owner or barking insanely whenever the mascot made his rounds near us.

Chicken fingers and souvenir soda

I wasn't particularly entranced with any of the specialty food options (Auggie-this and Auggie-that), so I settled on some chicken fingers and a souvenir soda.

The Game:
First pitch, Braves vs. GreenJackets
First pitch, Braves vs. GreenJackets

This looked to be a low-scoring pitcher’s duel that was going against the home team, but that fell apart in the last third of the game.

The only early action was the visiting Braves sneaking one across in the second after a leadoff double moved over on a fly to right and then scored on a single, But a double-play ended it as 1-0, Braves in the top of the second. It was mostly quiet otherwise through four, with scattered hits, and the pitchers combining for nine strikeouts.

The Braves went quietly in the top of the fifth, but the GreenJackets tied the score with back-to-back singles and back-to-back wild pitches to bring in a run, before going three-in-a-row after one last walk, leaving it as 1-1 after 5. Rome grabbed the lead right back in the top of the sixth, with a leadoff single and two-out home run to make it 3-1. It lasted a half inning, as back-to-back leadoff walks chased the Braves starter, who got no help from his relief staff, who promptly gave up a double, a ground-out to first that scored the man on third and moved over the man on second, and then another single to score the lead runner, before a grounder to short ended the inning at 4-3, GreenJackets.

Augusta relief was more effective, giving up a single in the middle of striking out the side in the top of the seventh, but the Braves kept leaking in the bottom of the frame, with a leadoff single, a walk, a wild pitch, and then another single to bring the two runners home. A blown pickoff throw to first moved the runner to second, where a one-out triple brought him in as well. A wild pitch on a strikeout (more on that later) brought the runner from third in, and the inning eventually ended 8-3 Augusta.

And there it ended, as both sides went quietly in the 8th and 9th.

The Scorecard: 

Braves vs. GreenJackets, 09-04-16. GreenJackets win, 8-3.
Braves vs. GreenJackets, 09/04/16. GreenJackets win, 8-3.

The scorecard program was a tabloid free give away with glossy paper that made pencil writing more difficult than it needed to be. It was also sloppy, with both sides of the scorecard named "VISITING LINEUP."

The game itself had its bizarre moments, ignoring for a minute the high number of strikeouts and wild pitches. In the top of the first, the Braves' center fielder got a single, then got caught sleeping at first, but beat a 1-5-6 pickoff attempt. This brain trust did not call time and stepped off the bag, to be tagged by the shortstop for a caught stealing.

In the bottom of the seventh, there were a share of weird plays. The GreenJackets third batter got a single, then drew a blown quick pick throw down from the catcher that went into right, giving him second on the E2. Later that same inning, a batter struck out swinging, but the catcher dropped the ball and let it get by him. The runner on third scored on the wild pitch, but the batter walked off to the dugout, getting rung up for leaving the baseline. So, the catcher got a put out on that one.

The Braves' K-Man got nabbed in the 7th, giving everyone free Bojangles biscuits.

The Accommodations:
Country Inn & Suites
Country Inn & Suites

I was back in the Country Inn & Suites by the airport in College Park. The cop car was still in the parking lot, in the same unreassuringly reassuring way.

I was in a different room than my previous stay. The bathroom was directly off the entrance to the room, and the king-size bed, dresser, desk, and lounge chair were all in the main room. As soon as I got in, I prepared everything for my early, early departure the next day, and then got to sleep as soon as possible.

On Being Earlier Than Necessary

Atlanta Airport, too early
Monday, September 5, 2016
Atlanta, GA

Outside the Game: 
Okay. 4:45 AM. I'm not sure when that ever sounded like a good idea to wake up, but there we are. With some timely directions from the hotel staff the night before, getting to the airport was a sight more of a reasonable experience than exiting from it. The five-minute drive was actually close to five minutes, or as fast as my addled brain was able to correctly process that early in the morning.

I was able to drop off my car with limited embarrassment and incoherence, and I plunged through security like a half-awake champ. Which left me with the problem that literally nothing at all was open in the airport outside of the administrative services. Which objectively made sense this early on a holiday Monday morning, but it did nothing to alleviate my need for breakfast. After a great deal of wandering and not finding anything open, I managed to go all the way across the airport to the Delta terminal to find an open kiosk and get some food.

With nothing to do, I checked the flight status to find that the flight was full. Since I was writing this trip off anyway, I just decided to upgrade to first class again for the $60 or whatever it was and be done with it. Bunched up with similarly sleep-deprived passengers with no fight in them, we boarded uneventfully, I settled in to my slightly fancier seat, and then I promptly feel asleep until the stewardess had to shake me awake in Newark.

I stumbled out into the early afternoon and considered my options home. While I had been enthusiastic by first few Uber experiences, I had never tried it from the airport, so I just grabbed a cab and was eventually home without further incident.

The Accommodations:
Sweet home, Jersey City

Saturday, September 3, 2016


On Long Stays at Odd Affiliates

Spirit Communications Park
Spirit Communications Park, 2016
Saturday, September 3, 2016
Charleston RiverDogs (New York Yankees) vs.
Columbia Fireflies (New York Metropolitans)
Spirit Communications Park
South Atlantic League (A)
Columbia, SC
7:05 PM

Outside the Game:
After starting in Georgia, I was going to dip my toe into South Carolina for a day. But I had a night game and only a three-hour drive, so it was a slow and very lazy morning. I eventually pressed the good graces and liberal check-out times at the Marriott to their limits before packing up and heading out on the road.

Thanks to the vagaries of geography, I was pretty much heading due east. And I was on a road, it so happens, that was double tolls in the direction I was going, but not the way back, which I would not be taking, so there was that. A bit expensive, perhaps, but the drive was otherwise uneventful.

The Metropolitans and their affiliates have a reputation, and not in a good way. For the most part, from top to bottom, all the Mets teams are in really crappy locations. From the parent club setting the standard (located in the Iron Triangle of chop shop auto parts in Queens) down to their Spring Training home in "Port St. Lonely" (in the only boring and deserted place on the Spring Break coast), Mets affiliates tend to be in less than ideal locations. Their single A affiliate strives to live up to this lowly goal.

Now the park itself is brand-new and quite nice for a low minors facility. It is just located in a... Okay. So, at first glance, it appeared to be an abandoned college campus. But whatever it was, it was abandoned. Campus-like buildings named for people were quietly rotting all around it. Creepy, rusted-out bicycles lay chained to collapsed and rusting bike racks. Subsequent investigation would determine that it was not, in fact, an abandoned college, but an abandoned state mental health asylum.

I'll let that one sink in for a minute.

Looks kind of like this.

The New York Metropolitans were looking for the location of their new flagship affiliate, and after extensive searching they went, "Yes, let's build it on the crumbling remains of the state insane asylum." Our ownership, ladies and gentlemen.

Fun Fact: The building that now houses the team store was once the asylum morgue. Tell your friends!

After collecting my tickets and doing my pre-game picture sweep, I headed off to find my hotel. Now, perhaps I should have been tipped off by the fact that a luxury Sheraton hotel smack dab in the middle of downtown was available so cheaply, but I wrote it off in my mind to being in South Carolina, because, come on.

I was disabused of this notion as I drove to the hotel and found all of the roads to the hotel blocked off. This, as you'd imagine, is quite a problem in reaching said hotel. After ten minutes or so of driving around, I made an illegal run down a one-way street a block from the hotel, turned on my flashers, and tried to run to the hotel before I got a ticket.

It was then that I ran into the Pride Parade. To be fair, it was pretty damn hard to miss, and the only reason I had managed to do so until this point was because I was so fixated on trying to get to the hotel itself. The building was right on the parade route, and the entire area was swarmed with parade goers. Now, lord knows, I don't have any problem with The Gays, but I was falling into despair about ever getting any sleep that night.

I had a rather enlivened discussion with the hotel staff on the subject, and they managed to talk me down and told me they'd put me in a room facing away from everything in a quiet corner. Temporarily placated, I then remembered I was illegally parked facing the wrong way a block or so away and sought to sort out my parking situation rather quickly. I was provided with some convoluted directions to their parking deck, and grabbing my key, I rushed off to move my car.

Gloriously ticket-free, I tried to follow the directions to the parking lot. Driving around in the parade traffic, I made three passes by the supposed entrance before I noticed the hidden enclave literally in between two stores. I managed to get parked, grabbed all my stuff, walked the half-block back to the hotel, and shared an elevator with three drag queens to my floor.

The parade outside was just a dull roar at that point, and I passed out for a nice nap before heading back out to the game, having no idea of how long it would actually be before I'd be back in the hotel.


After the game, I drove back to a thankfully deserted downtown, and I was able to park and get back up to the room with minimal fuss, blacking out in the air conditioning and comforter while no doubt several thousand violations of the state’s still-extant sodomy laws were being perpetrated all around me.

The Stadium & Fans:
Home to center, Spirit Communications Park
Home plate to center field, Spirit Communications Park

So, we've talked about the crumbling mental health campus around the park already. Presumably, that is all going to be gutted and renovated into the "destination" they are clearly trying to build up around the park. The closest facility buildings have been incorporated into the park, and in right field is a brand-new, shiny business building. At least I assume it is for corporate use. I can't imagine they're trying to sell people condos in the middle of a deserted insane asylum, but what do I know about the real estate market? For the most part, once you are inside the stadium, you don't have to worry about the decaying campus, except in right field, where a cluster of buildings loom eerily over the proceedings.

The park itself is of a fairly standard, modern low-minors design. The ticket booth and team store flank the main entrance at the top of a wide flight of stairs up from the parking lot. (Although, I suppose "lot" is a grandiose term for weed-strewn grass area where you currently park.) The main promenade extends from the entrance all around the exterior of the field, and leads down into the seating bowl. A second tier of luxury boxes, party areas, and the press box extended above the promenade from first base to third base around behind home plate. The gigantor video screen looms in right, and auxiliary scoreboards hang down from the party deck.

Seating is regular stadium chairs in the infield, picnic tables in the outfield corners, and large picnic berms in the outfield. Table seating is available at the top of the seating bowl. A games area is in center, near the history plaques, and the SCU Kids Zone is off in left (featuring an off-putting bouncy castle of mascot Mason, where you enter through his feet on his splayed-out legs and bounce around in a window at just about junk level). Concessions and other stores line the promenade.

Mason, get it?

Firefly mascot Mason (as in jar, to catch fireflies) is in charge of the off-field entertainment. Your regular races and contests are spiced up with water balloon Whiffle ball, bubble-suit fights, and a dancing grounds crew.

There was a decent crowd of nearly all families out to support the still-new Columbia franchise. However, it was also the start of college football season, so the family in front of me were also streaming the football game on their phone, and they and everyone around them seemed far more interested in that game than the one on the field. So, they can't quite be labelled big-time baseball fans, per se.

At the Game with Oogie:
Affiliate scoring

I grabbed seats down the third-base line past the extended netting that had been put up at the park for "safety" reasons. As is the case in the low minors, there were families all around me. In a nod to the Metropolitans affiliate one-level down, they had Nathan's dogs on sale, so I grabbed one of those, along with some tacos. The extra food would be key in surviving the game itself.

Hot dog, fries, and souvenir soda

As the innings wore on, more and more of the crowd dispersed. There was a large exodus at the end of nine with most of the families with young children. Then around the twelfth, another mass migration out of the park happened, leaving just the die-hards to watch the end of it. Only two of the families around me stayed for the duration, and one of them only because they were watching the football game anyway.

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

This was a cross-town rivals clashes of sorts, as the Metropolitans' single-A affiliate faced off against the Yankees' single-A affiliate. But this cross-town contest almost took longer than it would take to fly to the home clubs and back.

The RiverDogs dominated the first four innings. With two outs in the top of the first, a single, error by the third baseman, and another single got home their first run. In the second, a leadoff double was followed by a walk and a single, scoring the lead runner and placing the other on third. A sac fly brought him home to make it 3-0 for the second inning. A leadoff single and stolen base in the top of the third got caught trying to swipe third, but a leadoff homer in the fourth made the lead 4-0. In the same time period, the Fireflies scattered three hits and a walk. It looked to be over early.

In the top of the fifth, Columbia worked out of trouble with a one-out double-play to negate back-to-back singles to start the frame, and they got on the board in the bottom of the inning with a two-out, two-run homer to close the score to 4-2. After getting Charleston in order in the top half of the sixth, the Fireflies scored again in the bottom of the inning. A one-out double moved to third on a wild pitch, and then scored on a passed ball, but they got nothing else, leaving it 4-3 for the visitors.

Gaining steam, Columbia struck out the side in the top of the seventh, and then tied it up with three straight singles in the bottom of the inning, making it 4-4.

And then it all just stalled. Each side had three baserunners in the next two innings, and we went to extra baseball. In the top of the tenth, Charleston got a two-out double to third on a passed ball, but stranded him. A one-out walk in the bottom half of the inning got erased on a good old 4-6-3-6 double play (but more on that in a bit). The eleventh went quickly, but the RiverDogs squandered a leadoff double in the top of the twelfth, though the Fireflies went in order. The thirteenth also sped by, and Charleston got struck out in order in the top of the fourteenth.

And then the bottom of the fourteenth. The Fireflies got a leadoff single. Simple enough. The next batter got pegged, so it is first and second with no out. And then the walkoff fielder's choice. So, the third batter of the inning grounds to the second baseman for a tailor-made double-play. He flips to the shortstop for the putout at second, and then throws the ball to the wall at first, allowing the runner going to second to score on the error. Five hours of baseball leads to this.

Walk-off error

The post-game fireworks were cancelled for some reason or other.

The Scorecard:
RiverDogs vs. Fireflies, 09-03-16. Fireflies win in 14 innings, 5-4.
RiverDogs vs. Fireflies, 09/03/16. Fireflies win in 14 innings, 5-4.

The scorecard was a pre-printed paper with the lineups, umpires, and coaching staff. It was utilitarian and served its purpose. It actually had eleven innings printed, so I had to draw in the remaining three.

As to the game, where in the hell to start.

Okay, it was 14 innings and five hours. That's a given. But for it all, there was a grand total of only nine pitchers and exactly one substitution (in the tenth).

I have so many explanatory notes for plays in this one. In the top of the fourth, a two-out single hit an umpire that prevented the runner at second from advancing to third, which may have killed a bigger inning for the RiverDogs. In the bottom of the sixth, with one out and runners on first and third (who got there on a wild pitch after a double), a first-pitch passed ball scored the runner from third. The catcher tried to throw the runner out at the plate to the pitcher. The pitcher missed it completely, letting the runner now on second to make it to third on the error. In the bottom of that inning, a batter was walked on a 2-1 count before being brought back to ground out to third. In the top of the ninth, a two-out grounder to the second baseman ended up in the dugout for a two-base E4.

And then there's the bottom of the 10th. There's a one-out walk, and the next batter grounds it to the second baseman. The second baseman flips to short for the putout, but the shortstop overthrows first, making the tail runner dash to second. The first baseman retrieves, and pegs to the shortstop for a tagout, leading to your routing 4-6-3-6 double play. And we already discussed the second toss past first on a double play by the shortstop four innings later that cost the RiverDogs the game.

The K-Man was the Riverdog first baseman, who struck out in the fourth and gave everyone half-off Miller drafts for 15 minutes.

The Accommodations:
Sheraton Columbia
Sheraton Columbia

Pride Parade issues notwithstanding, the Sheraton Columbia was a classy, old-school hotel, and my room was very nice, if a little small. My bed was huge, with a ridiculous comforter, along with a desk, TV, and dresser. The bathroom was almost larger than the bedroom, and had a Jacuzzi tub, and, for no apparent good reason, a TV to watch while you were in the Jacuzzi tub.

I had exciting plans with that tub and that TV for when I got home from the game, but at that hour, I had to defer them to the next morning.

Friday, September 2, 2016


On Heading South

Terminal C, again
Thursday, September 1, 2016
Atlanta, GA

Outside the Game:
So, I was heading out to the airport straight after work for a long weekend, and after the trials I had with my last trip, I was hoping that the travel gods were at least going to show me some mercy this time out.

I got out of work and to the airport with a minimum of fuss, although one of the more annoying account managers from work was flying out of Newark Airport that night as well. She threatened to find me and be annoying until my flight, so I left work quietly to avoid traveling with her. Once I figured out my gate, I found out where her gate was, located her, and then went to have dinner at a restaurant at the other end of the terminal from both of our flights. The meal was adequate, but uninterrupted.

It was another really cheap upgrade to first class, so I grabbed that, and almost immediately the travel gods struck me down for my impudence by delaying the flight an hour. The good news was that the delay in this case was, in fact, just an hour. The bad news was my fellow patrons.

There was some sort of con going on in Atlanta for Labor Day weekend. And two of the patrons were in the first-class line with me. Now, I love my fellow nerds; I really do. It is just that sometimes they really, really need to dial it the hell down, because they aren't doing the rest of us any favors. This was stereotypical geek couple #4: There was the slightly pudgy guy with Cheetos beard, and his objectively out-of-his-league blonde girlfriend who was clearly just with him because she had real self-esteem issues. He was the first nerd in her sphere to have the bright idea to actually ask her out and make her feel validated, and she said yes because she thought she was unlovable. I’m not being mean; I’ve just seen this dozens of times before.

And they were talking, constantly, loudly, about everything, trying really, really hard to keep up what they estimated (incorrectly) to be witty banter. And he was "coyly" making inappropriate and sexist jokes behind the guise of not knowing why his companion was with him, and she was trying to be the demure sex kitten. And of course they were going to the con as The Joker and Harley Quinn, and of course he was talking about how she really had the body for it, and of course they wouldn't stop loudly talking about it. It was just really, really embarrassing.

For many reasons, I was extremely relieved when we boarded, and they were in the very first row of first class, and I was in the very last, and that was very, very okay with me. My row mate was an overworked businessman who was coming home from China with this being his last connecting flight home, so he was out like a light nearly immediately, and I enjoyed some solitude on the flight down in my first-class decadence.

When we arrived, we got delayed getting to a gate, but still, it was late, but not too late. However, when I got to pick up my rental car, there was a huge line waiting. I would eventually find out that this was because that not only was there a comic book convention in town that weekend, it was also the Atlanta Pride parade. So, I had all that traffic to look forward to.

Rental car
Spark one up, dude.

But I eventually got my Chevy Spark, and I was set to be asleep before 1 AM. My hotel was only ten minutes away, and I was all packed in with my GPS going, and no sweat.

First of all, whoever designed the airport in Atlanta, or, more specifically, the roads in the airport around Atlanta, I want to die a slow and painful, painful death. I followed the GPS directions, and they lead nowhere. I tried again, and it led to gates leading to the tarmac. I tried using the car's GPS system instead of my own GPS, and it actually took me back to the terminal. It was after 1 AM at this point, I was pretty tired, and there seemed to be literally no way out of the airport.

I think I ended up trying two or three more times to follow the GPS before completely cracking. I calmly took an assessment of the situation and came up with a new plan. No, wait, that wasn't it. I pulled out to the side of the road and started screaming at the top of my lungs while assaulting my rental car and shouting as many disparaging statements as I could think of about Atlanta and everyone in it. Yes, that was it.

There was a "screw it" moment, and I kept the hotel address in the GPS, and I found a main highway and got on it. I drove for a good five minutes, ignoring the plaintive pleas of the calm GPS voice that I was going in the wrong direction, and then I started to follow the directions again. This proved to work, and I arrived at the hotel in about fifteen minutes, finally.

Of course, at this point, it was nearly two AM. I rolled into the Country Inn & Suites in College Park to be greeted by a cop car sitting in the parking lot. It did not appear to be going anywhere, so I was debating whether to be re-assured or horrified that there was going to be a police presence in the parking lot of my hotel all night, and what exactly prompted its need?

I was too tired to care all that much at this point. I stumbled in to a very sympathetic counterperson at the hotel, who told me that the airport is always a mess, that she was going to put me in the quietest room she had, and if I slept too late, she would save me a little something from the breakfast buffet. Had things allowed, I would have married that elderly black woman just then, but I merely dragged all the stuff up to my room and passed out. However, her gesture was so welcome that I stayed there again on my way out of time after the weekend.

The Accommodations:
County Inn & Suites
County Inn & Suites

I eventually made it to the Country Inn & Suites. Outside of the necessary police presence, I couldn't muster any complaints about the service-- or the room for that matter. There was a nice king-sized bed and an easy chair, along with a dresser, TV, and desk on the opposite wall.

The "quietest room she had" turned out to be handicap accessible, so I had a bigger than average bathroom, just with all the extra hardware that entailed and everything a little bit lower than expected.

But the air conditioning was already on and the bed worked, so I was lights out by 2:30 in the damn morning.

On a Brutal, Brutal Beating

Coolray Field
Coolray Field, 2016

Friday, September 2, 2016
Durham Bulls (Tampa Bay Rays) vs.
Gwinnett Braves (Atlanta Braves)
Coolray Field
International League (AAA)
Lawrenceville, GA
7:05 PM

Outside the Game:
I did wake up late the next day, but not so late that I missed breakfast. The nice old lady was still behind the counter, so I waved to her sleepily on my way to whatever was on offer. She smiled and waved back. I have every confidence she was going to squirrel away some food for me if I didn't show up. I... I love you, old lady.

It was under an hour to the park for a night game, so I got my money's worth out of my hotel room until the last possible minute. After checking out, I headed up 85 and got the park with little issue. It was dreary and overcast when I got there, so I collected my ticket, took my pictures, and decided to find my next hotel.

A short drive later I was at the Courtyard in the "Mall of Georgia," and I could, in fact, check in early. Since there was literally nothing to do in this area (it was until recently a forest that had been cleared for development), I asked around for lunch places, and I was told there was some chain restaurant or other just up the road in the Mall proper. And so I went and had lunch, and then trundled back to my room and crashed out for a very, very long nap. I had ironically set an alarm on my iPad to wake me up in time for the game, and as it turned out, thank god, because it was the only thing that roused me awake to grab my game bag and drive back to the park.

After the game, I had a quick drive back to the hotel. I was worried I wouldn't be able to get to sleep given the nap I had earlier, but that fear was completely misplaced.

The Stadium & Fans:
Home to center, Coolray Field
Home plate to center field, Coolray Field

For starters, this park is named "Coolray Field," which is ridiculous enough before you realize it is named for an air conditioner concern that saw fit to name itself "Coolray." I can't really decide which is more disturbing.

At any rate, Lawrenceville, GA is carved out of what was a heavily forested area. They have replaced this area with strip malls, "The Mall of Georgia," and Coolray Field. Trying to make this a magnet for development or some such, they have built a condo complex behind the outfield (also, presumably, to prevent the park view of being a barren hillside) called the "Views at Coolray." (Not incidentally, I want to smack everyone involved with this area's development.) The condo's pool complex looks out over right field (leading to a lot of skeevy-looking guys in speedos watching the game), and the complex has its own right field entrance.

The park itself is fine, if a little odd, but it isn't a AAA ballpark. It is nice enough for the mid-level minors, but for something that is supposed to be one step away from the majors, it is a little on the chintzy side and it does not bear comparison with other parks in the International League.

The main entrance is a weird little pavilion under welcome sun shades and semi-transparent pictures of Larry, Bobby Cox, and Hank Aaron. It was a little Orwellian, but when I was waiting to enter in the early evening sun, I would take shade behind the devil himself. The ticket office and the team store flank the main entrance on the pavilion.

Once you get inside, you find yourself on a wide promenade at the top of one row of seats, plus the luxury and press boxes and party decks on an upper level above first to third base. This would be a good AA park, but at the AAA level, it was just... off. The promenade runs all around the park and dumps out onto the picnic berm that covers the outfield areas. All the concessions, stores, and the small kids’ area in left are on the main promenade.

An up-to-date giant video board is perched in left, and a smaller video board is in the wall in right field, just below the majestic view of condos. Jackie Robinson and Hank Aaron are retired out in right field, and there are some additional dedication plaques outside in the main entrance on pillars next to a pitcher's mound garden.

Chopper. Sure, whatever, I guess.

Chopper the Beaver was the mascot, and he kept schmoozing with the thin crowd for most of the game, while being helped by the human crew to do the standard games and races and whatnot. Considering that this could have been a playoff-clinching game, the nearly non-existent crowd didn't speak well for the local support of the team, and only a small subset of that crowd was left at the end of the long game, mostly, it seemed, to do the post-game toss-a-ball and go home.

At the Game with Oogie:
AAA Scoring

As Coolray Field had not yet extended the "protective" netting, I got tickets right behind third base for the game. The “local” food offerings didn't excite me, so I ended up getting a Braves dog and a souvenir soda for dinner.

Braves dog and souvenir soda

There was a quiet enough family in front of me, but behind me were three of the reddest rednecks you ever did red. This was right in the start of the Kaepernick scandal, and one of them declared loudly that he would kick the ass of anyone who knelt during the anthem. That was just the start of those festivities. I ascertained that two of them were father and son. Whenever there was just two of the three together, they proceeded to viciously badmouth the person who wasn't there. All three combos continued this goodwill tour. The topics of conversation were similarly deplorable. I was tempted to quote some choice comments to the person returning the next time, but I felt it wasn't worth it to unite three mouth breathing rednecks against me on the first night of the trip.

The Game:
First pitch, Bulls vs. Braves
First pitch, Bulls vs. Braves

One hesitates to use the term "brutal bloody murder" without proper context, but this game certainly qualified. Spoilers: It was a 14-0 blowout, with the Braves getting only 2 hits, and only one should have counted. The Braves were trying to clinch their division win in the International League and instead got murdered in front of a home crowd.

Actually, we can skip through the Braves entire game. Outside of back-to-back walks with one out in the bottom of the first, they did nothing. They went in order seven innings out of nine, had two hits (one of them very questionable) and five total baserunners, and two of those got erased on double plays. The best that can be said of them is that they only struck out five times.

The Bulls started scoring in the first, with a one-out walk, a single, and a sacrifice fly. Again, in the second they had two short singles, a walk, and a sacrifice fly. Two hits, a walk, an error, and a sac fly brought in two in the third. The wheels completely came off in the fourth, with a new reliever giving up five runs on two hit batsmen, a homer, a triple (really an E9, but what can you do?), an intentional walk, and a double that took them exactly around the order. Perhaps tired from all the running, they failed to score in the fifth, but had a leadoff homer in the sixth to get them back in the habit. Four more crossed in the seventh with two outs, thanks to a walk, a double, another walk, another double, and two singles, leaving it at 14-0. The Bulls threatened in the eighth and ninth, but they got no one home even though they had runners on third in both frames, but you know, people can only run so much.

The Scorecard:
Bulls vs. Braves, 09/02/16. Bulls win, 14-0.

The scorecard for the Gwinnett Braves was very similar to their major-league counterparts, meaning that it was on good card stock, but for no good reason, incredibly cramped.

It was a no-hitter through six on the Braves, who ended with just two hits. One of them, in the eighth, was clearly an E6 gift to the home team. A similar gift was the Bulls’ triple in the top of the fourth, which should have been an E9, as it was a misplayed fly ball that hit the right fielders glove and then was not backed up, yet it was ruled a hit.

There were a lot of hit batsman on the Bulls side, as the Braves first reliever plunked two (with quite a pitching line of .6 IP, 3 hits, 5 ER, 1 BB, 1 K), and the Braves position player thrown onto this dumpster fire in the 9th also hit a guy (but with a much better pitching line of 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 1 K). This was also the first game I've seen in person where a position player was allowed to pitch.

There was nothing else notable about it, except the embarrassing amount of runs the Braves gave up.

The Accommodations:
Courtyard Marriott
Courtyard Marriott

I stayed this night at the Courtyard Marriott in Buford within the majesty of the "Mall of Georgia." But I had nice enough room with a spacious bathroom right off the entrance, a big old king bed in the bedroom, across from a pullout couch, desk, TV and dresser.

I think I statistically spent the most time in that bed for this entire trip. It lived up to its use and had extra pillows in the closet tossed on for the most pillow fort experience possible.