Sunday, August 13, 2017

Burlington (NC)

On the Last Licks
Burlington Athletic Stadium
Burlington Athletic Stadium, 2017
Sunday, August 13, 2017
Danville Braves (Atlanta Braves) vs.
Burlington Royals (Kansas City Royals)
Burlington Athletic Stadium
Appalachian League (Rookie +)
Burlington, NC
6:00 PM

Outside the Game:
In a week of lazy mornings, this lazy morning took the cake. I woke up and had breakfast, then went back to sleep until 11:45 on a noon checkout. I quickly booked a hotel for the night, showered, finished packing, and checked out by my noon deadline.

It was just under four hours from Bristol to Burlington, NC. The drive seemed to go on forever, but it kept moving with only one minor backup just across the border. I stopped for lunch at a Wendy's somewhere on 40 in North Carolina and got to the park early.

I parked up and bought a ticket, and then did my walk-around of the stadium. A pair of visiting Braves fans were just ahead of me and managed to scoop up all the balls that I was just a little late to get. All's fair, etc. etc.

In just my brief walk around the stadium, it was obvious this was going to be a brutally hot and humid day. I retreated back to my car and turned on the AC for a little sit down/nap until it was closer to gates for the 6 PM game.

Braced for the heat, I headed out with a healthy crowd waiting for the gates to open. It was "Princess Night," with all people dressed as princesses getting in for a free general admission ticket, so there were plenty of pretty, pretty princesses waiting to get it, and the crowd swiftly entered when the gates opened up.

After the game, I was straight to the car and the blessed air conditioning for the hour ride out to my hotel for the night. As I pulled into the Microtel, my tank was just about out of gas, a perfect condition to return the pre-paid gas car.

I checked in, showered all the humid off me while blasting the room's AC, and then packed and prepped for the flight the next day. I then watched Game of Thrones and went to sleep.

The Stadium & Fans:
Home to center, Burlington Athletic Stadium
Home plate to center field, Burlington Athletic Stadium

Burlington Athletic Stadium has escaped corporate naming so far, which is a point in its favor. The stadium is also in the middle of nowhere, so there is space around it without being wedged in somewhere.  The parking lot was even a short distance away from the field, which was certainly a rarity with moist of the Appalachian League parks.

The park had clearance all the way around, so you can walk completely around it. The woods in the back are a nice breathing space, and a picnic area in that woods is protected from home runs by a large wall to prevent picnickers from getting picked off by homers. The admin offices are even in a separate building from the main complex, which was rare at this level, as well.

There was one main entrance to the park behind home plate, guarded, as per Appalachian League mandate (apparently), by the single ticket booth. A large concrete promenade extends around the outside of the seating area, from outfield to outfield, with entrances to the seating area from ramps at home plates and at first and third base. As with most Appalachian League parks, all the facilities are built into the back of the seating area, for the most part. The concessions are constructed in the back of home plate, and there were several stand-alone beer concessions, in addition to a separate team store behind third base, along with the "Grill 1986." The field house behind third abase lso has the bathrooms, and for "Princess Day" a number of stands were set up on the plaza to help decorate the princess further with face painting and temporary hair dying.

Seating was split into three areas. The main grandstand behind home plate had several rows of flip-down seats and them more rows up of bleachers, all under cover, with the old-time wooden press box on the top. Separated from the grandstand at each base was a run of bleachers going from beyond the dugouts into just past the bases. Right field ended with a picnic area, and a sizable children's play area behind it. Left field ended in another covered picnic party area. The digital scoreboard was in right-center above a single-height outfield wall covered in ads, except for the batters’ eye in center in front of the tree line running the length of the outfield.

"Future Stars" posters were just under the stadium sing at the main entrance, the broadcast booth was named for Stephen Gates, the field house was named for Richard Robinson, and several former players had their jerseys painting onto the field house wall, including Big Sexy, Bartolo Colon.

Bingo brings joy to everyone. Except Ned.

Weird-looking monster-ish mascot Bingo was on hand before and during the game to help with the usual between-innings shenanigans and contests. For a late Sunday-afternoon game in the summer, there was a decent crowd, and an appreciable number of pretty-pretty princesses. It didn't quite work out for the home team, but they seemed in good spirits.

At the Game with Oogie:
Pizza, burger, and a Gatorade

After all the rain and discomfort from bleacher seats, I treated myself to a reserved seat under cover and with a fold-down seat behind home plate.

Of note was when I was walking around, I saw a woman with an Eephus League scorebook with her. I asked where she got it, and she said it was her husband’s, but he couldn't make the game tonight, so she was keeping score. I thought that was pretty neat.

I did all my pictures in the slogging humidity, and then grabbed a cafeteria-style pizza and pulled pork sandwich along with a Gatorade from the one concession stand. I grabbed a couple more bottles of water to help me survive the rest of the game.

There was a decent crowd, but there was only one family with two kids in my area, off to the left. The kids spent most of the time running down the mascot and otherwise occupying themselves, while the mom and dad watched the game.

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

The home Burlington Royals and the visiting Danville Braves finally gave me a pitchers' duel in the Appalachian League, with a brisk 2-0 win taken by the visiting team.

That said, the scoring did start as early as possible, with a leadoff home run to left in the top of the first to give the Braves a 1-0 lead. Burlington just had a walk to show for the bottom of the first. Danville continued in the top of the second with a leadoff double to right, which combined with a single and a ground-out to stake them to a 2-0 margin, and who knew that would be it for the day? The Royals got their leadoff man on in the bottom of the second, and he got as far as third before being stranded. The Braves just had a two-out double in the top of the third, and Burlington just had a runner reach on an error in the bottom of the frame.

Both sides went in order in the fourth, and Danville had two baserunners erased on steal attempts in the top of the fifth. The Royals just had a single in the bottom of the fifth. The Braves stranded two singles in the top of the sixth, and Burlington went in order in the bottom of the inning, while both went in order in the seventh, and eighth.

Trying to finish with some luster, the Braves had a one-out double reach third on a wild pitch before getting stranded, and in their last licks, Burlington had a two-out single make it to first and third with another single. With the tying run on third, and the winning run at bat, the game ended without heroics and a ground-out to short, to seal the Braves’ 2-0 victory.

The Scorecard: 
Braves vs. Royals, 08-13-17. Braves win, 2-0.Braves vs. Royals, 08-13-17. Braves win, 2-0.
Braves vs. Royals, 08/13/17. Braves win, 2-0.

 The scorecard was part of a free, full-color newsprint booklet program as the centerfold spread. It was actually pretty involved, with each scoring frame having a Scoremaster-type layout, with pre-printed diamond, ball and strike boxes, initial on-base box, and out-number box. Each player line had a place for subs, as well as batting average, position, and inning entering the game. The full pitching lines were unnecessarily crammed into the bottom right of each score box, especially since there was an area for the officials on the bottom left of the scorecard with more lines than there have ever been for umpires in any ballgame, ever. Each inning tally had a full slate of stats, including not just runs, hits, and errors, but also earned runs, left on base, and double plays. Thankfully, the scorecard took up the entire spread, and it was printed on white, so there was enough space to record all this information.

That said, there wasn't a lot scoring plays of note except for a pickoff 1-5 in the top of the second and a 2U with the bases empty in the bottom of the fourth, resulting from a pop hit foul at the plate, called fair by the umpire, and the runner got tagged out by the catcher. Statistically, there were 17 strikeouts in the game, so you can tell why it went briskly.

The Accommodations: 

 I ended up at the Microtel right by the Raleigh-Durham airport again. It was another tiny but clean room, with a small bathroom right off the entrance to the right, and a small bedroom with a twin bed and end table on one side of the room, and a small built-in desk, dresser, and TV on top of the dresser on the other side, with a small built-in window couch and drawers over the AC unit.

It was cheap and quiet, and I spent about ten hours total there, so it did its job.

On Naps
Raleigh-Durham again
Monday, August 14, 2017
Jersey City, NJ

Outside the Game:
So after everything, I slept really poorly my last night. I got up, finished packing, showered, and checked out. I smugly returned my running-on-fumes rental car with my pre-paid gas. I got into the airport and through security in a timely manner and grabbed some breakfast.

As soon as I got to the gate, my delay was announced. Not being in the mood for it, I plopped down at the gate and took a nap until it was time to board. I trudged on the plane and immediately fell asleep again. I woke up in time for snacks, and then woke up again in time to land. I grabbed a cab, went back to my apartment, did laundry and napped some more, dreading my return to work and wondering if I was getting too old for all this running around.

The Accommodations: 
Sweet home, Jersey City

2017 The Carolinas II & Tennessee

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Johnson City

On Dollywood or Bust
Virtual Dolly
Virtual Dolly--we have the technology
Friday, August 11, 2017
Pigeon Forge, TN

Outside the Game:
So, I had a bit of a conundrum. Even though it was a Friday, none of the teams that had been rained out previously were playing at home, and none of the other teams that I wasn't planning to hit this trip were home, so I was left with a free day.

For some reason, Dollywood sprang to mind. It was only about two hours from Bristol, and I had a bug in my ear about it for a while. Dolly Parton in a saint in Tennessee, and although a bit of kitsch character, she fully embraced it. And she was a decent enough person. She made a theme park right in the poor area where she grew up, bringing tons of jobs to the area, as well as doing things like having a charity that sent a free book per month to any child that signed up. That, and being this close to something as "Dollywood" and not going when I had a free day seemed like a wasted opportunity.

So after a long sleep, I got up and had breakfast, showered up, and headed off. It was a crisp just-under-two-hour drive straight down 81 to where it turns into 40, and I was at Dollywood fairly soon after it opened. In fact, the only real traffic I hit was when you had to turn off 40 to state road 66 to get to the park.

I got to the garish entrance and was quickly whisked over to a picket-fence-lined parking lot, and a short tram ride later, I was at the entrance to the park. I opted to grab an amusement park-only ticket, and not a double-ticket to the water park next door, which would turn out to be prudent, and not just because I didn't have a bathing suit with me.

Craftman's Valley
They saw me coming a mile away

You walk into Dollywood and are immediately faced with the Palace Theater with the Dollywood sign out front, where nearly everyone stops to grab a picture. I took a walk to "Craftsman’s Valley," where Smoky Mountain craftsmen have all sorts of stores. I got about a quarter of the way in before I saw the handmade bat store, called "The Batter's Box." I ordered up a custom bat, and found out they had a service where you could just get everything you bought in the park hand-delivered to the gift shop at the exit so you didn't have to carry it all around, and as I walked out to see the bald eagle rescue area across the way, I was completely bought into the experience.

All You Can Eat
You'd be surprised how much I can eat

There are a number of all-you-can-eat buffet restaurants in Dollywood, which is to be expected I guess, and I passed "Miss Lillian's Smokehouse," which was an all-you-eat place with nothing but smoked meats. And I went in and had lunch. And I just kept eating until I could just about move. And I also got a souvenir cup that you could refill for cheap around the park. And eventually, I waddled out to the park. I stopped at another craftsman place where you can blow your own glass ornament. And I did that, too. And it also was sent to the front for me to pick up. I even dipped my own candles and bought a bunch of old-timey stuff like liniment at a "general store." And it was all shipped to the front entrance for me.

Ferris Wheel
What kind of wheel is this? Bueller? Bueller?

I walked out to the fairground area of the park, and road on Ferris wheels and played skeet ball and other fairground games. I put all my stuff in lockers and started to go on some of the roller coasters. It was a Friday afternoon in August, yet the crowds weren't bad at all, so I was able to go on a lot of rides quite quickly with no wait. As I was going up to another roller coaster, all the rides suddenly shut down. A guy out front said a thunderstorm was coming through, and they had to shut down as a precaution until the storm was however many miles away from the park. Fair enough.

I went on a few inside rides, and then as the rain started to fall, I went inside to the Dolly Parton museum at the park, to be greeted by a Dolly hologram before seeing the story of her life. There was even a section on the Imagination Library and places to sign up your kids for the free books.

A little rain

The steam train was still running, so I ran over to get a ride on that when I came out of the Dolly museum, and we went on a damp ride on steam train, which at least served to keep the smoke and ashes from the rain tamped down, as they had a safety message on the train about what to do if you got an ember in your eye during the ride that I was glad I didn't need to put to use.

The rain looked to be slowing down, so I headed back to my original locker to grab my stuff and move it over to a locker nearer to the rides I was going on. As I got there, the sky really opened up to a torrential downpour where you couldn't see two feet in front of you, and the small group of people who had the same idea as I did were trapped with me in the small overhang until the rain gave up. It was so long a downpour that I called my parents out of want of anything better to do, as the WiFi didn't reach to the location we were at.

Eventually, the rain gave up and I retrieved my stuff, and I started walking around. No one had any idea how long it would be before the rides started up again, so I spent my time with a couple inside rides and going through some of the other stores in Craftsman’s Valley to bide the time. I had an unofficial estimate of a half hour on the rides, and just as that time was about to come up, it started raining again. Giving up, I headed back to the entrance, did some shopping the gift shop there, and then went and picked up all the stuff that I had bought in the various other stores throughout the park.

The park, even at this late hour, were letting you get a rain check on your ticket, but as I didn't know if I'd ever be back in the area again, I demurred. I damply got back to my car, and damply rode the two hours back to the hotel.

I grabbed some dinner on the way back and spent the rest of the evening drying out my clothes and gear. There was a hot shower and soak in the tub to cap it off, and I was in bed at a relatively early hour, exhausted from the endeavors of the day.

The Accommodations: 
Not much time spent in the hotel at all today. Mostly, it was after coming home from Dollywood.

On Slipping, Shipping, and Dripping
TVA Credit Union Ballpark
TVA Credit Union Ballpark
Saturday, August 12, 2017
Elizabethton Twins (Minnesota Twins) vs.
Johnson City Cardinals (St. Louis Cardinals)
TVA Credit Union Ballpark
Appalachian League (Rookie+)
Johnson City, TN
7:00 PM

Outside the Game:
I had another extremely lazy morning, getting up just in time to grab the last of the breakfast buffet, and then heading back up to the room for a post-shower nap.

Once motivated to leave, I took a 20-minute ride south-west of Bristol to another commercial cave, Appalachian Caverns. This was a larger commercial cave, and it even had a wild cave tour (where you do actual caving and have to get dressed properly). I wasn't feeling particularly energetic, so I stayed with the commercial tour, which was run by the female owner of the cave, and she brought along their terrier dog, who loved to go running around in the cave.

With me was a family and another couple, and the guy--a veteran by all accounts--was charitably one of the dumbest people I think I had ever met. Now, he wasn't a bad guy by any stretch of the imagination, but his cognition level had me surprised he was an army vet and not eating crayons with the marines. (My dad was a marine; I say it out of love, leathernecks. Please don’t kill me.) I mean, one of his first questions was how long it took someone to dig out this cave, and it went downhill from there. How long did it take them to fill the "pool" (the underground river)? Were there any monsters living in the cave? These were all, honest-to-god, real questions he asked seriously.

Tiny garden

The cave itself was quite extensive and beautiful. There was a lot of wildlife in the cave, including crickets, bats, and cave fish. They had even installed a bridge over the river in one place. The cave saw action as a Confederate hospital during the war. A big room in the cave relatively close to the entrance was used to house wounded, with its high humidity and stable temperature. The location was previously used by the natives for ceremonies.

On the way out, I stopped at the gift shop and stocked up on knickknacks, and then drove back to the hotel. I packed up to leave the next day, grabbed a nap, and then went back to the Burger Hut for lunch. I then grabbed all the stuff I was shipping home and my game bag and headed out for the night.

I stopped in at a FedEx Office location in Johnson City and packed up all my stuff for home, including a  shipping tube for the bat from Dollywood. A little while later, I had a much lighter load, and headed off to the park.

I got to the stadium and bought a ticket and started to do my walk-around the park when it started raining again. By the time I had done my circuit, it was really starting to pour, so I retreated back to my rental car to wait out the torrential downpour. As luck would have it, it slowed down a lot and stopped right as the gates were scheduled to open, so I went right in.

Crowd distraction technique

On the way back, it was an easy out of the parking lot, as most of the crowd was still watching the fireworks. I made the 45-minute drive back to the hotel in about a half hour, and then hit the shower and the tub, finished packing, and then hit the sack.

The Stadium & Fans:
Home to center, TVA Credit Union Ballpark
Home plate to center field, TVA Credit Union Ballpark

TVA Credit Union Ballpark unfortunately sounds like a higher-level minor league park with the inevitable naming rights, but it was actually at home in the modest Appalachian advanced rookie league. It certainly was a stand-out park from most of the others in this league and looked like a higher-level, purpose-built park as opposed to others in the league. The park was actually on a large footprint, taking over the entirety of a plot of land, and you can completely walk around the outside on a sidewalk next to the iron fencing with brick posts.

There was one ticket booth and one entrance on the first-base side behind home plate. The entrance opened into a wide promenade that extended around the entire outside of the park from outfield to outfield. All of the concessions, stands, and activities were out on that promenade, with entrances into the park on the third- and first-base sides and via a walkway under the press box to behind home plate. The main concession stand was just to the left of the press box ramp, and the team store was just off to the right. The rest of the promenade on the first-base side was covered with tents hosting beer concessions, local groups, and even a band (that could only play sporadically due to the weather). A small children's play area was at the right-field end of the walkway.

The seating bowl was a little unusual. Two rows of box seats (ironically not under cover from the overhang) ran from dugout to dugout. The rest of the seats were bleachers running from base to base. The press box sat at the top of the seats behind home plate, and an overhang covered most of the bleacher seats from about dugout to dugout. There was a party area called "The Perch" in short left field. A small digital scoreboard was part of the double-height outfield wall in left center, with the rest covered with ads for local businesses, with the exception of the batters' eye in dead center and a championship placard in right-center. An affiliate banner hangs in right field, and plaques honoring Lonnie Lowe and Howard Johnson are in the ramp under the press box. Players banners run the length of the brick wall outside of first base.

JC, sorry. Jay Cee

Even with the weather, there was a more than healthy crowd at the stadium that day to cheer on the home team. Mascot Jay Cee the cardinal was around before the game and between innings for a full suite of minor-league mayhem of contests, games, and quizzes.

At the Game with Oogie:
Damp scoring

Most of my time in the park was spent dodging the intermittent rain storms. Given the weather, I sprang for a reserved seat under the covered grandstand by home plate. I was in the first row, so it was a good view, obviously. After a bit of a wait when the sun came out, I grabbed a Gatorade, hot dog, and Bojangles chicken sandwich from the one concession stand, made a trip to the team store booth, and then settled in for the game.

High-school fare

There was a large family of no-doubt season ticket holders beside me to the right and behind me, and there were somehow two rotating families in the seats to my left. I wasn't quite sure how that worked.

The Game:
First pitch, Twins vs. Cardinals
First pitch, Twins vs. Cardinals

No one will ever call this game between the visiting Elizabethton Twins and the Johnson City Cardinals a pitcher’s duel. But even given the score, there was a lot of nothing in this game, with a ton of action crammed into the bottom of the fifth where the Cardinals would blow the game open for good.

Elizabethton jumped out to an early lead in the top of the first with a one-out single, triple, and sacrifice fly, staking them to a 2-0 lead. The Cardinals went in order in the bottom of the first thanks to a double-play after a one-out walk. The Twins would also go in order in the top of the second, but Johnson City tied up the game with a single, hit batsman, single, and a misplay by the center fielder, leaving it 2-2 after 2. Elizabethton went in order again in the top of the third, while the Cardinals got another run a single, two wild pitches, and a ground-out with a purpose, giving them their first 3-2 lead.

The Twins went in order again in the fourth, while Johnson City tacked on another run off a leadoff double, and a single, increasing the lead to 4-2. Elizabethton went in order yet again in the top of the fifth, and the Cardinals absolutely obliterated the opposing pitching staff in the bottom of the frame. The inning started with a walk and a wild pitch, but a home run to left made the wild pitch moot and cleared the bases. The next batter singled, but was caught stealing, giving the first out of the inning. The next two batters walked and singled, and then another wild pitch moved them up a base. Another walk loaded the bases, and a hit batsman forced in a run. A fielder's choice gunned down the runner at home, but left the bases loaded. Two more walks forced in two more runs, and then a double left it second and third with two outs. The next batter mercifully popped out to second, but the batting-around damage had been done, with seven runs in and the Cardinals out to a 11-2 lead. After that inning, the Twins responded with a sole walk in the top of the sixth, and an exhausted-from-the-running Johnson City team only had a single in the bottom of the inning.

In the seventh, Elizabethton got a little something going, with two singles and a sacrifice fly helping to close the lead to 11-3, but the Cardinals got in right back in the bottom of the seventh with a single, hit batsman, walk, and a groundout, to make it a nine run game again at 12-3. The Twins started the eighth with a leadoff double and a walk. A two-out hit batsman leaded up the bases, and a ground out and a balk brought in two runs to make it 11-5, and Johnson City only had a sole single in the bottom of the inning. In the top of the ninth, the Twins had a leadoff walk, and nothing else, ending the long, drippy game with a 12-5 Johnson City victory.

The Scorecard:
Twins vs. Cardinals, 08-12-17. Cardinals win, 12-5.
Twins vs. Cardinals, 08/12/17. Cardinals win, 12-5.

The free scorecard was part of the free, half-tabloid, full-color program. The problem was getting one. With the rain at the time of gates opening, they didn't have anyone giving them out. After asking around, I eventually had to go back to the ticket booth to have someone dig one out for me. The scorecard was one page of a spread at the back of the program, with the other page providing scoring instructions on one half and an ad on the other. As with most Cardinals scorecards, it was bad. There were lines for players with replacement, as well as pitching lines, and each scoring square had a pre-printed diamond. But everything was so tiny as to make it really hard to be legible, and the glossy paper made it hard to write with pencil. Even the pre-printed categories were almost too tiny to write in. It looked as though it may have been designed for a two-page spread and then shrunk down for one in the worst way possible.

That said, outside of a balk in the top of the eighth and the complete collapse of the Twins pitching staff in the bottom of the fifth, there wasn't anything of note as far as scoring.

The Accommodations:
I was spending my last day in the Comfort Inn. Not much time spent at all.

2017 The Carolinas II & Tennessee

Thursday, August 10, 2017


On the Meaning of "Them"
Hunter Wright Stadium
Hunter Wright Stadium, 2017
Thursday, August 10, 2017
Princeton Rays (Tampa Bay Rays) vs.
Kingsport Mets (New York Metropolitans)
Hunter Wright Stadium
Appalachian League (Rookie +)
Kingsport, TN
6:30 PM

Outside the Game: 
I didn't sleep well the night before, so it was a super-slow and lazy morning. I grabbed breakfast, and I went back for a nap after my shower before finally getting the energy to get on with my day.

My first stop for the day was Bays Mountain Park and Planetarium, a nature preserve/zoo out by the Kingsport stadium I was going to later, but still only about a half hour from Bristol. As it was an overcast day with on and off rain, it was pretty hard to find any of the animals, who mostly had the sense to stay under cover and out of sight in this weather. At the visitor’s center, I signed up for a barge ride later in the afternoon, then headed out to see what animals I could find and then take a walk on one of the nature trails that surrounded the artificial lake created by the damn that ran on one edge of the park. The trail itself goes over the dam on a small railed walkway, and after thinking to myself how I definitely should not do anything with my glasses while on this precipitous path, I nearly dropped my eyeglasses in the lake while fiddling with them due to the power of negative thinking, or some such.

Even overcast, it was a very beautiful area to walk around in, and it was nice to stretch my legs for an extended period out in nature. On my way to the barge ride, I tried to stop into the visitor’s center, but I was directed to go in the back door by the bathrooms only as they were filing some television segment inside. As I only needed the bathroom, that worked out, and it turned out the local news was talking to the planetarium folks about the solar eclipse later in the year and how to prepare for it and watch it safely. This reminded me to find my eclipse glasses when I got home, as I had completely forgotten there was going to be a solar eclipse in the US for the first time in forever.
After not being able to find much wildlife, there was a flock (further research indicates "herd" is the right term) of semi-tame deer that followed me along the walkway from the visitor's center. I got down to the barge ride, and it started to rain, and unsurprisingly, it was just me on the trip. A young college-aged girl was taking the barge out today, and over the course of the ride, it was clear that she really, really liked beavers. She went through all the talk she was supposed to give about the other areas of the park, but she went on and on about beavers, and the lodges, and how she kept up on them, and that she could identify all the individuals by sight, and that she was going to go closer to the one dam because those beavers were more active in the rain. She was pleasantly geeky about her beavers, so it made for a nice ride.

It started really coming down during the barge ride, and it was still going as I made my way back to the car. I headed to a Chik-Fil-A for lunch and got the number for the stadium. I called and got constant busy signals, so I gave up and went back to the hotel, grabbing some gas on the way. I lay down for a "short nap" of 1.5 hours -- it seems the walking and the weather really took it out of me.

When I woke up, I called the stadium again and got through, and they assured me that the game was still going on because "they" wanted to get the game in. And that was the first "they" of the night. "They" want to get the game in can be a number of people. "They" can be the managers, because they will miss an off day if they have to make up the game or have an unfortunate commute for a make-up game or another double-header. "They" can also be the ownership, who want to get a game in on a weeknight so as not to have another doubleheader wreck their concession numbers, or for some of the same scheduling reasons. "They" can be the umpires, or the league, and on up the line, and the further up it went, the more likely "they" were to get their way. At any case, "they" are never the stadium workers, who universally hate working soggy games that go on forever, and the players, for exactly the same reasons.

Since "they" said it was on, I drove back out the half hour again to the stadium, parked, did my outside photography and grabbed a ticket. It started raining again as soon as I got inside.
After the damp but glorious game, it was a quick drive back to the hotel, where I just grabbed a hot shower and went straight to bed. Because after bad sleep and a long, damp day, I couldn't even muster the enthusiasm for a soak in the tub. And, of course, the bathroom was full of my ponchos and clothes from the day hanging out to dry.

The Stadium & Fans:
The Metropolitans generally have a problem with stadium location for their affiliates. Locations range from "in the middle of nowhere" (GCL, Spring Training), to "next to an abandoned insane asylum" (Columbia), to "right next to a rail yard" (Binghamton), to "in an auto parts depot" (MLB). Outside of the Cyclones, the stadium locations all suck, and Hunter Wright Stadium falls solidly in the "middle of nowhere" category. But, especially for an Appalachian League park, it was quite nice.

In following the Appalachian League tradition, there is one entrance behind home plate, guarded by the one ticket window. A walkway leads to the field, and splits of in several directions. One goes up the third-base side by the merchandise stand, one goes into a covered area under the press box above that houses the concession stand, and one curves around to drop in from a hill on the first-base side. There is a small stand of plastic fold-down chairs behind home plate (topped with an outside "Owner's Box"), and the rest of the seating, running from home plate to just beyond the bases, are tiered bleachers. None of them have cover, which was a particular issue this rainy night. The only covered area was a picnic area at the top of the hill on the first-base side. The digital scoreboard peaks out over a one-level outfield wall plastered in advertisements, set amongst a bucolic tree line along the entire outfield.

The Don Spivy Press Box towers over the field behind home plate as part of the one sprawling building that constitutes the only building in the park. It contains the clubhouse and umpire areas, covers the concession stand in the tunnel under the press box, and extends down the first-base line with the merchandise stand peeking out from the end closest to first base. There is a picnic area just outside the concession stand tunnel, along with a "Wall of Fame" road to the majors for the team. There was a sign for a kid’s area in the right field corner, but given the weather, they did not bring out any of the inflatable rides next to the batting cages.
Slider the mascot made a damp appearance for the game, and there were a number of minor-league standard games and contests between innings, perhaps to reward the dripping stalwarts that sat it out for the entire game. Also notable and a source of personal pride is that the game did not have an official pre-game prayer, although both teams huddled up on the field for private prayers before the start of the game.

You can't really judge a fanbase fairly on a rainy Thursday night game, but the people who stuck it out were invested in the team, and by their sighs and harrumphs as the K-Mets nearly blew it and surprise at them actually pulling it out, you could tell they were truly fans of the Metropolitans organization.

At the Game with Oogie:
Damp scoring

I purchase a general admission ticket on the way in, and with the paltry crowd that day, it hardly mattered, as I could eventually sit wherever I so desired. My first stop was to the merchandise stand, where I stocked up of another Metropolitan affiliate's gear. I then grabbed a slice of pizza on a Frisbee and a burger and went out to the covered picnic tables to have a soggy meal.
All through the hour rain delay before the start of the game, I spent the majority of my time in the overhang area by the concessions stand, not coincidentally with most of the on-field staff and what few other patrons stuck around for the game. We all knew each by sight before the game started. Someone rather senior in the team management was bitching about how "they" still wanted to get the game in, so it was most likely the league officials that wanted to get the game in for whatever reason, which meant that one way or another, this game was probably going on.

Once the rain stopped and they got everything ready for the game, I picked out a seat on the bleachers on the home first-base dugout that wasn't marred by netting. There were two die-hard locals in my section a row or so back from where I was, and that was about it in my area. They went on talking to each other for most of the game, and I was left to myself.
When the K-Mets pulled the win out of their hat, they threw little foam victory baseballs into the crowd, such as it was. I got one, because I was one of the only people they really could throw them to. The two guys in back of me got balls as well.

The Game: 
The game, Rays vs. Mets
Sun breaks, finally

Whenever I visit a Metropolitans affiliate, I always expect the worse. This was the case as the Kingsport Mets faced off against the Princeton Rays on a rainy evening in August. So you can imagine my surprise when the K-Mets not only came back from behind late and held on to a win by the skin of their teeth. I was as shocked as the dozen people left in the stands at the end of the soggy game.
After a delayed start, the Rays jumped all over the Mets with a two-out rally in the first. Three singles and a double quickly drove in two runs and put the Rays out to an early 2-0 lead. The Mets went in order. In the second, Princeton went in order (although the last batter singled and was caught stealing). Surprisingly, the Mets came back in the bottom of the second, turning two singles and a double into two runs to tie it up, 2-2. The Rays went in order in the top of the third, while Kingsport kept going with a walk, a double, and a throw-away ball by the second baseman turned into two more runs, staking them to a 4-2 lead.

The Rays came back in the top of the fourth with a leadoff homerun to cut the lead to 4-3, while the Mets went in order. Princeton went in order in the fifth, while Kingsport stranded two singles. The Rays tied it up in the top of the sixth with two singles and a stolen base, while the Mets only had a walk to show for the bottom of the frame.

Princeton had just a walk in the top of the seventh, while Kingsport broke the tie. A leadoff single was followed by a triple and a sacrifice fly to gain a lead again at 6-4. In top of the eighth, the Rays closed it to 6-5 on a walk, double, and double-play ground out. Kingsport just a had a single in the bottom of the eighth. At the top of the ninth, it looked like the Mets would blow it, as is their birthright. They managed to load the bases with back-to-back singles to start the inning, and then they hit the next batter. Amazingly, the pitcher got a clutch strikeout on the next batter, and then a pop-up to the shortstop. After a long at-bat, the last batter grounded to the third baseman, who stepped on the bag for a force out and cemented the rain-delayed 6-5 victory for the K-Mets.

The Scorecard:
Rays vs. Mets, 08-10-17. Mets win, 6-5.Rays vs. Mets, 08-10-17. Mets win, 6-5.
Rays vs. Mets, 08/10/17. Mets win, 6-5.

The scorecard was part of the $1 magazine-size program. The program was printed on semi-gloss paper, which made writing with pencils difficult, but not as bad as other paper of this type. The scorecard was on the centerfold spread, but the scorecard was only about half of the spread. The top of the spread was ads, and the bottom was stadium regulations and scoring instructions. There were plenty of players lines, but nothing for pitchers. I used several of the copious players lines to at least list out the pitchers. The scoring boxes didn't have diamonds and were small, but usable. The background was white, which allowed for marginal notations, a welcome change from most Metropolitan-affiliated scorecards.

There weren't that many scoring plays of note. There was a CS 9-6 in the top of the second as a runner tried unsuccessfully to extend a single into a double, but that was about it. Everything else was run-of-the-mill.

The Accommodations: 
I was at the Comfort Inn again, and there was nothing really to mention, except I had plenty of space to hang up all my wet gear from the day's activities.

2017 The Carolinas II & Tennessee