Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Day 6. Inland Empire 66ers: Embrace the Void.

It turns out California is long, and we decided it would be smart to drive most of it in a 28-hour period.   From Eureka to San Bernardino (San Ber'Dino to its friends). So there's not much to report pre-game today. We drove, and it was boring...

...then we drove some more, and it was marginally less boring...

...then we stopped for a burger at In-n-Out. Then we slid into San Bernardino with about 45 minutes before the game.

So why do this? Because we had to throw out the first pitch in Arcata on the 6th, but we built our entire trip - beginning and ending in San Francisco - around being outside L.A. right in the middle for the Inland Empire 66ers' unique Nothing Night promotion. From the website: "Welcome to Nothing Night where all fans who enter the game will witness a ballgame in its purest form without all the glitz and glamor of modern day stadiums. Admission and parking is FREE for the night so bring out the family to enjoy a simple night at the ballpark."

So in keeping with the night's minimalist theme, onward to the game.


1. We've got to start with Nothing Night. Parking was free. The game was free. You could sit wherever you wanted (except for season ticket holders' seats, which were appropriately saved). You could bring in outside food and drinks (though your Scrappy Journeymen didn't get the memo, but what the hell we wanted to try the park's food anyway).

2. Some of the things missing - well, I wouldn't say we missed them, let's go with absent - from Nothing Night: the PA announcer, walk-up songs or other sounds/sound effects, and everything from the videoboard except balls/strikes/outs, the score, and the time. Ticket sellers and takers, most concessioners, the dance team (they had a dance team!), promotion staff, and mascot all had the night off. League scores and pitcher stats - normally displayed - were nowhere to be found.

They went with a minimalist style for their videoboard. Except for the neon rainbows near the top that we hope to Cobb start flashing wildly if there's a home run on not-Nothing Night.

The lack of concessioners meant you had to go one stand for food and another for beer. A minor inconvenience, and one we were more than willing to bear in the name of Nothing Night.

3. The silence meant you could really heckle the players, coaches, and umps, and they could hear you. Several of the crowd took advantage of this. We'll be surprised if the teams let the 66ers pull this one again. On the other side, we could hear every bat slam and swear uttered by players who screwed up.

The silence also made it easy to start up chants, the best of which was the simple but pleasing "We Want Beer!" during the beer batter's appearances.

4. Speaking of the beer batter, his presence had to be announced Greek messenger-style, with a staffer running down the aisles making people aware the promotion was on. No PA!

5. This was our first stadium of the trip with 2 decks. Very professional. The stadium's exterior was also cool, designed in a western ranch/hacienda style. Appropriate since it used to be known as The Ranch before the Indians attacked and took its name (now San Manuel stadium, named after a local tribe/casino). Oh, and the view of the mountains in the background was like a hot version of the beautiful Salem, VA view.

Let's see, that's 1...2...yeah, 2 decks. His story checks out.

We half-expected cattle grazing in the outfield.

6. The "Golden Sombrero" Mexican restaurant. For the uninitiated, the golden sombrero is striking out 4 times in a game.

7. A dropped third strike where the runner actually got to 1st. Awesome.

8. People behind us complaining about the humidity of 20%. To hell with these desert people. No, not those desert people. What do you take us for?

9. Despite it being Nothing Night, we still received a very impressive and detailed packet with a recap of last night's game, today's lineup, and team and league stats. Normally $1, it was free for Nothing Night. What's more, the program included a scorecard and Angels farm system update, as well as a lot of history on the performance's and previous stops of their current roster.

10. The ad right in front on page 2 of the program for the local child services asking for mentors that cut off in the middle of a sentence. Actually, a word. And that word was "encouraging."

11. The 66ers had some other very solid promotions, including the upcoming Pujols Garden Gnome Gnight. I wanna move to St. Louis, buy a house, plant a garden, and stick a whole row of them out front. Other notables included many fireworks nights (impressive for an MiLB team), Zombie Night, and - causing us particular regret since we're leaving - Bacon Appreciation Night later this summer.

12. Big park: 410' to dead center.

13. From the same family complaining about the humidity, in relation to Zach's mentioning the availability of a mango smoothie here: "I don't do mango, that's a strange food."

14. The team store offered some solid gear, some of the most creative logos and so on we've seen on the trip. So much so that Pat even bought one of their hats for his freakishly large head.

You want me to "smile?"

15. The 6th inning was one of the most entertaining single innings we've seen on any trip: both teams batted around, scoring a combined 11 runs (5 and 6 for the visitors and home). We think this tops the list for biggest single inning we've seen.

16. The bag checkers at the front were very obvious open-carriers but didn't seem to be off-duty police (no uniforms). Heavily armed for stadium security.

17. Without a PA to lead, "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" was complete chaos, with some sections up to 3 lines behind others. But major points to the crowd for, unprompted, recognizing the stretch and the need to sing.

18. The home team's bullpen all taking time out to pet a fan's excited dogs, which were also allowed in the park that night.

19. There is a lot of grass where families and kids hang out/play along the outfield, and at one point a kid or parent accidentally threw a toy down onto the warning track. Zach tried to warn the right fielder but was rebuffed as a supposed heckler (innocent until proven guilty??). Eventually the bullpen deciphered his wild gesticulations and the warning track and right fielder's ankle were saved once more, without so much as a hearty thank you or signed ball or...I dunno, jockstrap.

CRAPPY Metrics:

1. Beer: The beer batter struck out, leading to $2 12oz domestics --> 7.33/10 points. Normally the shit and good beer had a price differential, so bonus points there, too.

2. Most Caloric Concession Item: There were several great contenders here. The Nacho Dog: served on a bed of chips with cheese and jalapenos. The ice cream sundae served on a waffle (vanilla ice cream; chocolate, caramel, and maple syrups [the Greeks called this the chimera]; whipped cream, and strawberries). There was the bacon-wrapped hot dog with onions, bell peppers, and jalapenos (but that stand was tragically closed for Nothing Night...just another sacrifice on the cross of an awesome promotion). We don't want to pick a winner (read: we didn't order any of them...went for the delicious tri-tip sandwich instead), so we'll just give them 5/10 points.

3. Funniest Name: Socrates Brito, hands down. Maybe the funniest of the trip so far. Honorable mention to Yeiper (prono: we damn sure hope it's YEE-purr) Castillo. He won the award in Lynchburg in Season 2. Good to see him still bouncing around High A. 7.5/10 points.

4. Most Famous Celebrity: Socrates. We just needed another excuse to mention him again. 2/10 points.

5. Promotion: Nothing Night. What more do you want? Nothing. Well, maybe a Pujols Garden Gnome. 9/10 points.

6. Men's Room: 10 urinals. BOOOOOOOOOO. 0/10 points.

7. Crowd: The crowd was still engaged by the 5th inning when plays actually started happening. It was a sizeable crowd for a Monday, but then again the game was free. The people behind us were complaining about being bored without all the modern glitz and glamour (and about player's "temper tantrums" from slamming the bat after screwing up), but we don't think they were representative of the bulk of the crowd. Major points for the unprompted Take Me Out to the Ballgame. 7/10 points.

8. California Bingo: Besides the Valley Girls in front...behind...twirling all around us, this was a pretty regular crowd of working joes and families enjoying a free ballgame. And one very loud, slightly hammered guy in a luxury box ceaselessly mocking anyone and anything he could set his eyes on that didn't have a 66ers jersey. 2/10 points.

Bonus Points: +3 for free game, +2 for silence --> heckling (even though both of these were associated with the Nothing Night promotion, we feel they deserve their own bonuses), +1 for multiple decks and deep park, +2 for Greek messenger, +1 for Golden Sombrero, -1 for complaining about 20% humidity, +1 for hilarious program ad error, +2 for creative logos on team gear, +2 for 11-run inning, +2 for the bullpen playing with dogs, +3 for Zach saving right field, +1 for beer differential.

Total: 58.83 points on our completely arbitrary scale. Overall we really enjoyed ourselves at the 66ers, though we have to admit a lot of it was tied up with Nothing Night. Still, the creative concessions, beautiful park, excellent view, and solid crowd make this a valuable minor league experience. 8/10.

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