Thursday, July 17, 2014

Day 11, Healdsburg Prune Packers: Beef Tongue, Prunes, and Cheeseburgers as a Palette Cleanser

After getting in at 1230 last night and finally retiring around 2a, we decided against the 11am game in Healdsburg...besides, we'd had enough morning ball already with Rancho Cucamonga. Fortunately for us, this was the first game of a double-header with the second starting at 230p. Somewhat more reasonable.

So we pretty much woke up and then walked down a mountain to get a galaxy-famous Mission burrito (so named because, well, they're burritos on Mission Street in the Mission District of San Francisco. Mission.). Taqueria Can-Cun is our go to, but you really can't go wrong most places.

After being filled with burritos and prior to walking back up the mountain, Zach decided it would be a great idea to fill the Journeymen with soda at The Fizzary, an "urban menagerie of soda" that is pretty much the most San Franciscan thing ever except the cashier wasn't wearing Google Glass. Anyway, Zach got a weird Mexican lime soda and paid his penance immediately by having it spray all over him when he tried to pop off the screw top. 

He then paid further penance by being drafted to walk up the mountain and bring the car back down for two other, clearly less Scrappy Journeymen who shall remain nameless. Pat and Ben. Cough.

The night was taken up with a trip to a bar called Zeitgeist per friend-of-the-Journeymen Ashley's recommendation, which featured the Revenge From Mars pinball machine (so a circa 1998 Zeitgeist, we guess?). It also featured a solid palette cleanser of a cheeseburger to end the day; as a sidenote, this is the only bar where I've ever ordered a cheeseburger and gotten it medium rare by default, but whatever it came quick and wasn't poison. But what did the cheeseburger cleanse, you might ask? Well friends, let's get to the game, shall we?

1. The Prune Packers play at a public park: the umpires, players and fans all mill about in the same area, use the same bathrooms, and wait in the same concession line. Delightfully small-town, we love it.

2. Today, players were even eating lunch with families and/or locals between the double header games. Subway seems to be a popular choice on the baseball circuit.

3. Along the same lines, the PA guy just sits in the middle of the crowd. This isn't totally unique, but typically there's at lease some separation: a table next to the grandstands, a roped off area, something. Not how they roll in Healdsburg!

4. In another fine segue, the PA was pretty impressive, with music throughout the game (including walkup music) and even a FIFA World Cup update, important to 1 out of every 3 Journeymen.

5. Speaking of walk-up music, one of the players used Deltron 3030 for his plate appearances. Classy man.

5. The field in this public park was at least tri-use: the outfield overlapped with a high school soccer and football field. Right field came complete with goalpost.
Look closely out in right field. We assume a correctly swatted foul ball is worth 3 points. Not runs, points.

6. Also visible above is the fact that the fence stops past 1st/3rd base, leaving the side of the field open to spectators. Of course all the seats are behind the fence, though, and the grandstand is fully enclosed and shaded (a blessing for day games).

Seems as fine a time as any to drop in a picture of the grandstand. The PA guy is visible in the row behind us at about 10 o'clock, obscured by the raffle girl's head. The radio broadcast is in the back row.

7. Oh yeah, the games were broadcast locally on 89.1 FM.

8. The concessions featured some eclectic selections, including wild board chili  (!!) and a kale Caesar salad with sunflower seeds. 

9. But the stars of the menu were without a doubt the hot dogs. the Ruben Candelabria (named after the league's head ump) featured what you would expect with sauerkraut and thousand island dressing; while the Hippie crunched with organic kale, caesar dressing, and shaved parmesan cheese.

10. But the king of them all? The Prunepacker dog, naturally: wonton strips, ginger, sesame sauce and, obviously, PRUNES! Zach got it on a polish, and he insists it's not as weird as you think it is.
This was definitely Zach's first fruit at a ballpark, and maybe his first fruit of the trip.

11. The umps were both quite old (both were in the top 5 oldest we've seen outside of MLB). The HP ump's 1st strike call was elderly and deliberate, called by kicking back and shooting his arm crisply out a full second after the pitch arrived. Hey, at least he cleaned the plate more often than Andy Reid in Humboldt!

12. The crowd was one of the smallest we've seen - about 40 (interestingly the other smallest crowd we saw was during the first game of a double-header in Augusta, but that game was rescheduled in the middle of a weekday from the previous night). They were enthusiastic, but the ambient noise level was awesomely low, allowing us to hear a chatty Healdsburg dugout encouraging all their players (or in some cases mocking them for eating a zillion meals a day). You could also hear every call from the HP ump.

13. There was an old man behind us with (we think?) his wife in the crowd just quietly keeping score. We would not spending our retired Saturdays that way.

14. A remarkably flat outfield: 285' to right and left, and only 340' to dead center.

15. Who brings a notebook to a college summer league ballgame!? Scouts, naturally. Which explains how your Scrappy Journeymen were briefly mistaken for Yankees scouts. Apparently the Yankees (bad), the Mets (worse), and the Mariners (we're...largely indifferent) were there to see Healdsburg's closer, Brandon Poulson. He was supposed to pitch the end of the 1st game but the scouts were late, so we got to see him close out the 2nd game. And a treat it was, to our totally-non-scout eyes: the 6'7" kid threw 98 and struck out two (or three? Zach was too mesmerized to write it down) and was locating his pitches well. Remember you read it here first if he makes it, or scrub it from your memory if he washes out. And if he does make it, pray he doesn't wind up with the fucking Yankees.

16. We heard the owner is pondering changing the name from "Prune Packers" to just "Packers." Setting aside the history of the name in the area (older teams in Healdsburg in the 1920s and 1950s were known as the Prune Packers, and they even got permission of one of the older players to use the name), your Journeymen probably wouldn't have come to a team just named the "Packers." Prune Packers is so unusual, and that's what attracted us! Leverage that.

17. When we arrived between the double header games we originally thought the stands were packed with visiting fans, but then we noticed the cleats...nope, just the visiting team. Eeeeeeatin' lunch. Awesome.

18. There was a stealth strike 3 call that led to a strike-'em-out throw-'em-out double-play when the runner took off from 1st apparently thinking it was ball 4. Some beautiful minor league stuff.

19. The condiment bar at the concession stand included red and green Chili Gods sauce, Sriracha, and an impressive array of various and sundry mustards.

20. Two triples in the same inning! You get a lot more triples in the minors with worse defensive play, but two in an inning is still notable.

CRAPPY Metrics:

1. Beer Prices: NO BEER!? Ouch. I mean it didn't bother us that much for a day game, but that's not a great thing to be known for. We're not sure how tricky the necessary licenses are to get in Healdsburg, but it can't be that bad with wineries practically surrounding the stadium. Serving some form of suds is necessary to bring this team to the next level. 0/10 points.

2. Most Caloric Concession Item: The chili cheese nachos. Bonus points for being juxtaposed with the Kale Caesar Salad with sunflower seeds. 5/10 points.

3. Funniest Name: We gotta go with Boston Romero (50/50 on whether he's a mobster or a Chippendale's dancer). Honorable mention to Cage Cascone, Pepe Santos, and Vijay Patel (for being the only Indian ballplayer we've seen this trip). This was a rich crop. 7/10 points.

4. Most Famous Celebrity: We were mistaken for Yankee scouts, so we'll roll with that. Or maybe the actual scouts from 3 MLB teams. 5/10 points.

5. Promotion: There wasn't anything to speak of, really, except the double-header. This is another area where the team could make some headway with its fan experience to draw bigger crowds. 1/10 points.

6. Men's Room: 1 urinal. 1 lonely, lonely urinal. 9/10 points.

7. Crowd: The crowd was small (as noted above, we counted ~40 people) but quite spirited! Cheering on the players most at bats, standing for extra base hits, and so on. It's hard to get a group that small so engaged, but the Prune Packers don't even have to try...every Healdsburg fan that goes to the game seems fully prepared to participate. Just gotta get more of them. Bonus points for them cheering on a great outfield play by the visitors. 8/10 points.

8. California Bingo: Yet another perfectly normal, relatively-small-town-America crowd. We've been a little disappointed California baseball crowds don't stand up to our stereotypes, but nobody scored many points so it's kind of a wash. 0 points.

Bonus Points: +1 for healthy-horrible concession disparity, +1 for crowd cheering spectacular visitor outfield play, +1 for players lunching in the crowd, +1 for public park mixing of crowd/umps/players/PA and radio crew, +1 for World Cup update, +1 for Deltron 3030, +2 for football goalpost in right field, +1 for local radio, +2 for eclectic hot dogs (YES, including the Prunepacker), +1 for old man keeping score, +1 for notable OF dimensions, +3 for MLB scouts and Brandon Poulson, +1 for two triples in an inning, +1 for extensive condiment bar

Total: 53 points on our completely arbitrary scale. Though they suffered from lack of beer, don't let the score fool you: this was a really fun experience. The crowd, as small as they were, were fabulous, the food was solid, and the entertainment was well-balanced and didn't take away from the game at all. They could use a few unique promotions and some beer to draw bigger crowds, but the club is well on their way to developing a great fan experience. The increase in the team's talent level this year (their fist year with D1/2 players) is a good step, too. Just don't lose the name, hear? 8/10 points.

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