Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Day 4, Danville Braves (Danville, VA): In Which Our Heroes Encounter an Ace, a King, and Nine Competent Players

We awoke from a significantly better night's rest (courtesy of our first hotel of the trip) to begin our fourth day, and the first one in which we didn't have any significant driving to do. Danville is but an hour from Greensboro, so we had the whole day to putter around. And putter around we did.

We began at the Putt Putt Family Fun Center in Burligton, NC for our first mini golf experience of the trip. For those of you who are unfamiliar, Putt Putt is a series of well-designed challenging miniature golf courses with a distinctive orange and green color scheme my dad and I used to play all the time when I was a kid. Sadly the ones in Atlanta have since fallen by the wayside, but they're apparently alive and well in North Carolina (and Kentucky, where we went last year). There were two in driving distance from the hotel.

This Putt Putt had two courses, and we indulged in both of them for the low low price of $5 (woohoo Monday specials). Strangely, we were the only people there between the ages of 8 and 80. It's almost as if real adults had something better to do at 11 o'clock on a Monday. Weirdos.

That is, everyone except for Rapezo the Clown, who apparently lives in the shack next door.

Anyway, at Putt Putt they have a meta-game beyond the golf. There's this series of lights above the course, and if the light of your color ball is on when you hit a hole-in-one, you get a prize. Ben and I both hit aces for prizes on both courses, though we only claimed the second one. After your first ace, you get a special orange or red-colored Hole-in-One ball and a scratch-and-win coupon (for things like discounted game tokens and golf games). If you ace the 18th with that ball you get another prize (a free round of golf!). While I actually did accomplish this while on the first course (aced 17 and 18), I hadn't actually claimed my prize due to laziness. Oh well. When would I be back through Burlington, anyway? What? Next week, you say? Crud.

I'd be remiss in not stating I whupped Ben on both courses. Also, this is proof of our aces.

Between games we jaunted across the street for something I'd never experienced before: a drive-through convenience store. We got Cokes. They were awesomely cold. I wish I could do all my shopping this way.

I spent 25 years getting out of the car like a sucker.

After Putt Putt we still weren't hungry for lunch, so we decided to drive 5 minutes to check out the Rookie-level Burlington Royals stadium, which we unfortunately won't have time to hit on this trip. But we're glad we did. The stadium looked awesomely old: nice state fair grandstand sort of feel, with a wide open concourse but tight seating area.

Ben said it reminded him of Medlock in Atlanta, where he used to play Little League. I was too fat to play Little League.

Mmmmm, bleachers.

We're really glad we stopped because the stadium crew was kind enough to let us poke around, even heading out onto the field itself briefly. The Royals GM, Ben, even took about 20 minutes out of his day to chat with us about the stadium and franchise.

The stadium itself was actually originally in Danville, VA (our destination that evening), but years ago (the 1970s, I think?) Burlington bought it, broke it down, put it on a train and re-built it there. Danville has since gotten a new stadium.

As for the team, Ben gave us a lot of neat background on the business side of MiLB. Most Minor League teams have what are called Player Development Contracts with their affiliated Major League clubs, which basically means the MiLB teams are independently owned and operated franchises but the Major League teams have total control over baseball moves. In those Contracts is also a clause that says the city is guaranteed a team unless the local owners decide to move it. So if the Pirates wanted out of High-A Lynchburg, say, they'd have to find another team to take their place (the Braves did).

The Rookie-level Appalachian League, though, is different in that their teams are actually owned by the Major League clubs. They can move the teams wherever they want at any time. Fortunately, though, Ben said the Appalachian League is actually a desirable place for teams to have a rookie club because of a.) weather and b.) the teams' geographical proximity (this is the tightest league in the country, cutting travel and lodging costs).So even when the Mariners pulled out of Burlington 6 years go, the Royals were there to step in.

Anyway, major props to Ben for talking us through all that fascinating stuff. However, we have to admit we did feel pretty unaccomplished when we realized he couldn't be meaningfully older than us. He's the GM of an affiliated MiLB team, and we're but humble internationally-recognized Minor League bloggers (seriously, who the hell is reading us in Finland? And why?). Ah well, we've wasted our lives. May as well continue in that vein, then!

That was probably more than you ever wanted to know about MiLB, but that's what this blog is about. Now, to...more MiLB and tonight's game in Danville, VA, the Braves Rookie-level affiliate.


1.) We stopped in Danville because it's a Braves affiliate, and they didn't disappoint. While the Chop wasn't there to to the degree it is at the Ted, when they scored their only two runs of the game the crowd did get into it for a minute. They also had the Braves' into music when running through the lineups. This means we've now seen the whole Braves farm system except AA Mississippi. And screw Mississippi.
2.) Dollar Dog Mondays. This is awesome enough, but you could add chili, slaw, and/or cheese for free. A $1 chili slaw dog? Now you're talkin', Danville!
3.) Our first rain delay of the trip. Took about an hour, but that groundscrew and inerns got the game ready for play. Good job, guys!
4.) Speaking of shoutouts, the lady in the ticket office who put us in the 3rd instead of 1st row to avoid obstructed views from the net support beams. Thanks!
5.) Speaking of the net, Ben and I were divided on whether it''s just because of the smaller size of the seating area or actual safety concerns, but it seems like there's a lot more netting in Rookie ball than elsewhere. It stretches completely over all 3 sections of reserved seats, from the field up to the overhang, preventing any foul balls except in the bleachers out either baseline. A little disappointing, but given the tightness of the park I guess it's valid.
6.) Speaking of foul balls (like the narrative arc of this post?), the parking lot was so close the car was in legitimate danger of getting smashed by a foul ball. I say it just enhanced the experience.
7.) Oh, and when a foul ball did go straight up it came down on the overhang with a satisfying and heart-pounding THUD.
8.) The bologna burger (thick-cut baloney with peppers and onions and mustard on a burger bun). Surprisingly palatable.

My baloney has a first name, it's...B-U-R-G-E-R?

9.) Player access. As you might expect, as you move down the farm system the stadiums put you closer to the players. At the Rookie-level you can be right up against the dugout or the field. We could hear everything the coaches and players said on the field and even had a little player-fan interaction. Though many of them only spoke Spanish. Still, it was cool.

You could get right up on the fence and talk to the players and coaches. All it would cost you is a potentially shattered hand or wrist.

10.) Speaking of player interaction, Ben was walking by the Braves bullpen and one of them complimented his Kenny Powers shirt. Praise from Caesar! Our most exciting recognition of the trip, by far.
11.) The park had a digital scoreboard, which is better than many class A parks. However, they had no Tron, Jumbo or otherwise, whatsoever. So the only way to know who was hitting, or how they were doing, was to actually keep score yourself. The horror, the horror.
12.) Season ticket holders got their names on plaques on their seats. That's a pretty cool way to solidify fan loyalty.
13.) The National Anthem was recorded, not sung, for the first time this trip. We consider that a plus.
14.) The Spirited Hecklers(TM) behind us. These guys were awesome. Highlights included the umpire calling “Time!” and the guys responding in unison “It's 8:45, Blue!”. Also on a well-hit ball by the Mariners to straightaway center: “Aw, hey, that was foul!”
15.) One of the inter-inning promotions featured two kids running the basepaths with live balls being tossed around. We've seen this a few times before, but usually it's older kids or the players actually take a break from infield warmups when they're out there. Not this time. As you know from reading this blog, Ben and I both approve of putting kids in hazardous situations, and this is no exception.
16.) Speaking of heckling (oops, broke the narrative arc), the Braves shortstop Jose Peraza used Crazy Train (Chipper's walk-up music) for his. I shouted several times “Hey! He hasn't earned the right to use that song yet!”. Once was along the 3rd base side where the GM was standing, and I saw him smile when I said it. I hope he takes that issue into the Clubhouse, because Peraza really should know better.
17.) The surprisingly competent infield play after the catastrof*ck that was Greensboro yesterday. Great fielding, spot-on throws. Rookies > A Ball, apparently?

Carefully Recalibrated And Peer-reviewed (CRAP) Metrics:

Beer: Price- and selection-wise, nothing to jump up and down about. $4/pint, only Bud and Coors and Yuengling as far as I saw. 6/10 pts.

Most Caloric Concession Item: Oh yes, the GARGANTUAN chili cheese fries (with real imitation nacho cheese!) Ben and I got, and which I at no cost added black pepper, cole slaw, and ketchup on to. Easily 1,000 calories and 1,000 delicious. 6/10 pts.

These made me feel guilty, and I think OJ was framed.

Crowd: Huge age gap here. Pretty much nothing but kids and a lot of elderly folks. That's not a bad thing, mind you. The park had a very community feel to it, and so did the crowd. People seemed to know each other like regulars at a bar or Bingo night (oh, they also had Bingo going on at the park). It was a neat vibe. 7/10 pts.

Funniest Name: Slim pickens here, and I don't mean anybody wth that name. Chris Kaalekahi, or something along those lines. Hawaiian. 3/10 pts.

Men's Room: A respectable 3-urinal performance for the closest thing to a Little League park we've experienced. 7/10 pts.

Mascots: In our second matchup we've got Blooper the...some kind of Bird vs. Guilford the Grasshopper from Greensboro. We're not huge fans of Blooper in a fight (his line of sight is tricky due to beak design), but since he has a.) shoes and is b.) a bird, we figured he could beat a Grasshopper. But Southpaw the Hillcat still has a commanding lead. 6/10 pts.

Birds eat insects. Q.E.D.

Promotions: Besides dollar dogs, they had some kind of distracted driving awareness night. Dollar dogs with slaw and chili get the points. 5/10 pts.

Random Bonus Points:
+1 for the Chop, +1 for the groundscrew keeping the field dry, +2 for the ride into the Foul Ball Danger Zone, +3 for player/coach access, +4 for bullpen recognition of Kenny F'in Powers, +1 for the season ticket names on seats, +2 for the Spirited Hecklers, and +1 for Schuerholz (Danville GM) smiling at my Chipper comment, +2 for lack of Tron

Total: 57 points.

Overall: A great first Rookie ball experience. It's different from other MiLB levels, and our expectations were accordingly different. You're not going to come out of there feeling the same multi-dimensional, multi-media gameday experience you might get at AAA or even some High-A clubs. But the park and crowd's community feel, Ben and I both agree, more than made up for it. 7.5/10.

If you'll allow me just one moment, there was something downright poetical about watching several old couples in front of us take in the game while enjoying both that and this mighty fine sunset. Fart poop.


  1. So glad you guys are doing this again this year! I realize it's probably way out of your roadtrip trajectory, but Syracuse has a team (The Chiefs--and I've even been to a few of their games!), and if you find yourselves in the area, I've got a couple of couches you're welcome to crash on!

  2. Also, somewhat related: drive-thru convenience stores: we had one just down the street from our house (in IL, the pre-MO years) that was both awesome and annoying. It was called Hit 'N Run, and it was a huge bother because the line of cars in the morning would often block my mom trying to drive us to school.