Monday, July 27, 2015

Day 10.1: Bowie BaySox: Hitting-and-Running, Missing All the Hits

Note: not a minor-league ballpark.

On the last day of our scrappy journey we awoke in the scrappiest of cities: Philadelphia. In order to get a head start on another busy double-header, we encamped at the 'Oliday Inn overlooking Citizens Bank Park, as made famous by It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Sadly, despite an exhaustive search (read: none at all), we were unable to find the secret tunnels leading to the park, and had to settle for driving to Maryland for our first game of the day, in beautiful Booey — I mean, Bowie. It really is pronounced Booey, though.

Don't send us no more letters, no.

We pulled off the highway towards what was purported to be the alternate parking lot, but may as well have been Desolation Row. Almost entirely empty, the weed-strewn gravel lot had an ineffable air of melancholy which — anyway, it was pretty damn desolate.

However, unlike some alternate parking lots we can think of, this one was free and still fairly convenient to the park, by way of a charming wooden footbridge. We purchased our tickets and made our way inside, taking note that Bowie still uses the old-school stub-tearing style of ticket — classy! We scrappy journeyman like to appreciate the little things (David Eckstein, for instance).

Speaking of old-timey class, the centerpiece of Prince George's Stadium was this lovely carousel with a variety of animals, including a rooster. You can make up your own joke about riding the cock, but we are above such crass suggestiveness here. I'll wait... Anyway, it was still a very nice carousel, and it really stood out from the typical kidz zone bouncy castle fare.

Though not as striking as some other parks we saw on this trip, the park sits in a slight depression, with grassy slopes along partially enclosing the park down the baselines. At least for this days game, it didn't look like these were used for seating, but they give the park a pleasantly natural feel.

Unfortunately we had to leave early to make sure we were on time for our second game, so we only saw about five innings, but they were action-packed. The first-base umpire failed to get out of the way of a sharp grounder down the line, and the first baseman corralled it off the ricochet, turning a likely double into a ground out for the home team. About an inning later he would manage to dodge a a very similar hit, but for the visitors, which did not improve his popularity. Meanwhile, Erie's manager got into a shouting match with the home plate umpire over a time out call.

Less humorously, Erie's starter took a hard comebacker in the shoulder and had to leave after two innings. Fortunately he wasn't seriously hurt, but it was a frightening moment. On another play we saw the lead runner in a hit-and-run almost hit by the batted ball. We can only assume the ball was haunted by the vengeful spirits of Baysox past.

In one final oddball play, Bowie shortstop Ozzie Martinez hit a grounder down the third-base line and into left field that managed to roll under a gate and out of play, making this the only ground-rule double grounder I've ever seen. These are the joys of minor league park design.

Little did we know that once we left, the offenses would really get going. The teams combined for 18 runs on 35 hits. When the dust settled, Erie came away with a 10-8 victory.

More Highlights & Lowlights

  • Park dimensions: a reasonable healthy 405' to center, but only 309' to the corners. Symmetrical. Only one of those 35 hits was a homer, though, so those short corners weren't responsible for the offense.
  • Free programs (entitled "Baysox Baywatch"), with info for all the series on the current homestand. Seems like a smart way to keep printing costs under control.
  • Bowie had the only female PA announcer we heard this trip, proving that yes, women are capable of talking into a microphone. Kudos to her for breaking into a very male-dominated niche.
  • The home team hitters got walk-up music, which we like, but the third baseman chose some horrible song about dating cheerleaders. Taste like that won't get you to AAA, kid. Everyone knows hitting is 90% song selection, and that song? Well, it's not a hit (admittedly, neither is that pun).

  • The Northeast's obsession with dental hygiene continued, as one of the promotions featured Bristle, a strange, cape-wearing, fly-like mascot who maybe has something to do with teeth? Your guess is as good as mine.
  • We spotted a "Quiet Night" on Bowie's promotion schedule. Good to see that concept flourishing


Price of Beer: $8.50 for 24 oz. of the cheap stuff, and a whopping $11 for the same amount for the good stuff. 4.33 points. Craft options included Devil's Backbone Vienna Lager, local to Virginia, which turned out to be quite tasty.

Most Caloric Concession: It's a burger! No, it's a hot dog! Wait, it's both! Despite stopping at Arby's on the way to the game, Zach insisted on tackling this culinary hybrid, which very nearly defeated him. 5/10.
Tailgating: Not really, although given that we parked on the surface of the moon, that's to be expected. The bridge was nice, though. 1/10.
Crowd: A little light for a weekend game, perhaps, but decently engaged. 6/10.
Free Seats: Well... no. 0 points.
Funniest Name: This is lacrosse country, and Bowie's Quincy Latimore is rocking the WASPiest name this side of George Prescott Bush. Honorable mentions to Erie pitchers Confesor Lara and Joe Mantiply. Be fruitful and mantiply. 8/10.
Promotions: Alas, our hasty exit prevented us from fully judging the promotions. It was purportedly both Back to the Future night and National Ice Cream Day. Tragically we did not get free ice cream, and there was still no DeLorean. Admittedly, they could have done something awesome later on and we would have missed it. A tentative 5/10.

Restrooms: A full complement of urinals, but also this stall partition carrying an advertisement for restroom stall partitions? 0 points.

Bonus Points: +1 for free parking on the moon, +1 for footbridge, +1 for ticket stubs, +3 for carousel, +1 for natural amphitheater park shape, +1 for umpire interference, +1 for manager/umpire argument, +2 for grounder-rule double, +1 for more comebacker near-misses, 0 for the one that actually did hit someone and looked pretty painful, +1 for the offensive explosion we missed, +1 for PA woman, +1 for walk-up music, -1 for terrible walk-up music, +1 for Bristle the dental hygiene abomination, +1 for nothing, +1 for beer price differential, +1 for good local beers, +1 for self-advertising restroom partitions.

Total: 47 points on our entirely arbitrary and travel-abbreviated scale. Bowie does a lot right — distinctive park design, some creative concessions, good beer, and at least on paper some clever promotional ideas. Promotion execution seemed a bit lacking, but it's hard to judge from half a game. I'd certainly give them a shot if you find yourself in the DC or Baltimore area. 7/10.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Day 9. Lakewood Blueclaws. Workers that should be Fired and Fires that didn't Work.

Happy 4th of July!  To celebrate, we drove around New Jersey, the most American of the states, and listened to music written entirely by people not from America.  We took a trip to Atlantic City and despite the nauseating traffic and parking situation (we wound up parking at a hospital) we actually came out on top as a group.

To round out our big America day, we took in a game in Lakewood Township, NJ.  (New Jersey has a lot of townships.)  And the Blueclaws gave us an experience that… well, none of us will forget it for a long time.  Then we left JC in an abandoned movie theater parking lot at 11:25 at night and drove to Philadelphia.  We’re not even joking about that.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Day 8: Trenton Thunder: America, Ameri-cam, and Ameri-OH MY GOD IT'S A BATDOG!

After a long doubleheader and over 3 hours on NYC's subways yesterday, we decided to take it easy today ahead of a short drive to our next stop. We woke up around 11 then headed over to the Lower East Side so our newest cup-of-coffee, our acquaintance Jick, could browse Strand bookstore's 18 miles of books.

Meanwhile, Ben and Zach set off, on Pat's recommendation, in search of a nearby Asian joint called Saigon Market. We weren't expecting what we found - a cavernous, dimly lit sit-down restaurant - but its reasonably-priced lunch special and heapin' helpings were a pleasant surprise. Try the bun xao lunch special if you're there; it tastes kind of like charcoal-grilled or smoked pad thai. Really tasty.

After that we pretty much just headed for Trenton. So let's jump right in to the game!

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Day 7, Brooklyn Cyclones, Back to the Future Night Déjà Vu

We awoke on Thursday with two goals: watch some baseball, and stay out of the car for an entire day. To accomplish this, we would need to spend 5 hours on public transit across three boroughs, but such is the way of life in the big city. This also meant we could drink the whole day. After a shot of Malört I brought Zach and Ben over to Skytown, a local bar and restaurant, for a proper Brooklyn-style boozy brunch. Perhaps not surprisingly, we were the only patrons at 11am on a weekday morning. Fortunately they cut us some slack and started happy hour early, so we finished our omelets with a beer-and-shot combo. Then it was off to Queens, via Manhattan, for our MLB interlude at Citi Field, to see my beloved Cubs.

Citi, aside from the product on the field, remains a pretty decent place to see a game, with plenty of food options and several pleasant spots to watch the game if you don't like your seats. This time our upper-deck seats had a tolerable sight line and a pleasant breeze, so we mostly stayed there. Jonathan Herrera and Miguel Montero socked a homer each, Jake Arrieta pitched eight strong innings, and the Cubs cruised to a solid 6-1 victory to finish off a sweep of the Mets. That settled, we made our way to beautiful Coney Island for the day's main event.

After discovering just how many stops there really are on the F train (lots!) we emerged into the bustle and lights of the boardwalk, where it turned out that none of us are any good at carnival games. In particular, we suck at getting a whiffle ball to land gently in a goblet. We contemplated a roller coaster, but at $10 per ride, we settled for a stroll along the beach and back to the park, with a quick stop for another happy hour special at a bar next door.

The competitors in today's game were... wait a minute... the Hudson Valley Renegades and the Brooklyn Cyclones! Hudson Valley liked us so much they followed us to Brooklyn, as the teams played the second game of a strange home-and-home-and-home series. This isn't the NBA finals, guys. Also following us to Brooklyn: artificial turf! MCU Park's turf looked very similar to what we'd seen in Hudson Valley the day before, but with a heavier layer of rubber chips. Whatever they do to it, it seemed a little less lively, and this time the two teams played a relatively clean defensive game with only one error between them.

Check out these zany concourse lights.

Getting up off the turf, Brooklyn's park is visually pretty interesting, with a retro-futuristic vibe, multi-colored concourse lights, and a sweeping view of the rides and attractions at Coney Island. You can see the Thunderbolt coaster immediately out to center in the photo above. The park is slightly asymmetrical and square-ish, with a fairly deep 412' to center, but only 315' to left and 325' to right.

Zach's chili cheese fries.

Concessions were another strong point. You can get a chili dog at most ballparks, but where else can you get a Nathan's chili dog? I was personally thrilled to find Brooklyn's own Arancini Bros. running a stand. If you've never had arancini, they're an Italian innovation consisting of a deep-fried ball of rice stuffed with any number of delicious (often meaty) fillings, and they're delicious. They also used to have a shop in my neighborhood, which unfortunately closed. So naturally I ordered half a dozen.

Alas, one of our other frequent companions on the trip also returned, namely precipitation. It began to rain during the middle innings, gently at first. Unfortunately there was no cover anywhere except for the concourse, which quickly grew crowded with folks taking shelter. Realizing that this was no way to watch the game, we declared our promotional giveaway jerseys "basically ponchos" and determined to ride out the rain in style. Then it got stronger. Trailing 1-0 with delay threatening, the Cyclones mounted a comeback in the bottom of the seventh, scoring two runs to pull ahead. Shortly thereafter we did, indeed, go into delay.

A good chunk of the crowd (perhaps half) called it quits at this point, but we scrappy journeymen laugh in the face of mild weather-related discomfort. Also we were promised fireworks, and we really like fireworks. Fortunately the delay came to and end after a bit less than half an hour, and the teams finished out the game without much in the way of hitting. Final score: 2-1 Brooklyn. Cue fireworks.

More Highlights and Lowlights

  • Great moments in ballpark advertising: "Send in the Clowns" on the left, and on the right, a hotel that wants you to know that they accept bitcoins. So, if you were planning to engage in any illegal activity there that you don't want traced, they are 100% down with that, hypothetically.
  • Cheerleaders?! I mean... cheerleaders! In keeping with the atmosphere of spectacle and activity the Cyclones have their own dance/cheer squad, the Beach Bums, who performed a few routines between innings.
  • On our way in we got free button-down jerseys, in a somewhat throw-back-y design in 100% polyester. They held up decently well, considering, though they were not as effective ponchos as we might have hoped. Zach and Ben were, as loyal Atlantans, appalled to find a large Pepsi logo on the back, but so it goes.
  • Programs were also free and fairly substantial, which we always appreciate.
  • One of the in-stands vendors showed some creativity, shouting, "Help me pay my bills!"

  • There was this thing. The long-unused Coney Island Parachute Jump, a relic of the 1939 World's Fair, sits just a few dozen yards from the park. It constantly changed patterns, among them some seasonally appropriate red-white-and-blues.
  • One downside of the carnival atmosphere was that the music playing over the concourse PAs did not stop for the on-field promotions, which made it hard to keep track of what was actually going on.
  • While the players and coaches duly dispatched foul balls into the stands, we also spotted one of the first-base coaches throwing packs of gum into the crowd. So, hey, free gum.
  • I have a note that just says "maple bacon concoction."
  • The winning hit was a fly ball to right center field with the bases loaded. As the first-base runner waited to see if it would be caught, the batter caught up with him, and was called out for passing the runner. We'd never seen this rule actually put to use before. Sort of but not quite a TOOTBLAN, since he wasn't thrown out.
  • The game-ending out was a hard line-out, nicely snagged by Cyclones 1B Zach Mathieu, who had come in two innings earlier as a pinch hitter. Way to be a complete player, Zach. Also, kudos for using the correct spelling of "Zach." For that, we won't look too carefully at what you've done with "Matthew."
Because America, that's why!


Price of Beer: $7, I think. Possibly due to our spending the rest of the day drinking beforehand, we have no notes on this. Go for anything by Coney Island Brewing. 3 points.
Most Caloric Concession: Whatever it is, I'll bet you can put chili and cheese on it. 5/10.
Tailgating: Not exactly tailgating, but between the boardwalk and having a bar immediately next to the stadium entrance, you could find worse ways to kill time before a game. 5/10.
Crowd: Pretty full stadium, fairly engaged, chanting during appropriate moments, and reasonably willing to wait out a little rain. 8/10.
Free Seats: Eh, whaddayagonnado? 0 points.
Funniest Name: Seeing as we had the exact same rosters as the day before, honorable mentions go to Cade Gotta and ethpethially Tucker Tharp for still having great names. For variety's sake, today's winner is the hilariously-named Cyclones catcher Manuel Hilario. Still worth 7/10.
Promotions: It was Back to the Future Night, which was expressed mainly in the form of jumbotron clips and some moderately challenging BttF trivia rounds between innings.  Also there were fireworks. We love fireworks, and getting free stuff, and we especially love Back to the Future, one of the greatest science fiction movies of the 1980s. I am, however, holding out hope that the next BttF night I see will involve a Delorean on the field, preferably traveling at 88 mph. Even so, 8/10.
Restrooms: Not many restrooms, but a full quota of urinals. 0 points.

Bonus Points: +2 for accessible by public transit, +2 for roller coaster backdrop, +2 for concourse lights and general park styling, +1 for less-terrible turf, +1 for wacky home-and-home scheduling, +2 for authentic Brooklyn cuisines, +1 for sending in the clowns with bitcoins, +2 for cheerleaders, +1 for vendors with character, +2 for garishly bright historic landmark parachute tower, -1 for excessive PA music, +1 for coach throwing gum, +1 for maple bacon something something, +1 for no rain delay until the home team scores, +2 for passing the runner quasi-TOOTBLAN, +1 for pinch-hitter making a sweet play, -1 for the vicissitudes of weather.

Total: 56 points on our completely arbitrary scale, which is in no way rigged, just like that carnival game that all of us were terrible at. In any case, this is a distinctive park that really fits into its setting and embraces the Coney Island atmosphere. The holiday weekend crowd was lively and the promotions were generous. We even saw a pretty good, close baseball game. Now, granted, I was drunk for a lot of it, but I'll call it an 8/10.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Day 6.2: Hudson Valley Renegades. A trip through New Jersey by way of St. Louis

After the New Jersey Jackals, we ate at Moe’s Southwest Grill by the grace of the coupons we’d received from Rockland hitting a home run.  Then we sat at a Starbucks for a couple of hours.  Chances are that most things you’ve read on the blog up to this point were written at the Starbucks in The Shops at Nanuet.
Updated and caffeinated, we doubled back up north a little bit to see the Hudson Valley Renegades in Fishkill, NY.  We hope that name is Dutch.  What we got is one of the most creative promotions we’ve seen this trip and a few examples of what we love most about Minor League Baseball.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Day 6.1: New Jersey Jackals: They're Not Just the Residents, They're Also a Baseball Team

As any of you who have tried this know, getting a car into and out of New York City is a pain in the ass on par with two root canals while being chased by a bear. So while we were only about 30 miles from Pat's place after last night's Rockland Boulders game in Pomona/Ramapo (an ongoing debate), NY, we elected to a get a hotel west of the Hudson ahead of more NYC-area games today.

Our original plan had been to futz around NYC and then drive to the Hudson Valley Renegades for a night game, but now we needed to figure out what to do with a nearly-full day of our newfound outside-NYC time. We consulted our SJIV Scheduling Matrix and noticed a convenient 1105a start for the New Jersey Jackals in Little Falls (not Little Rock, which threw Zach for about 10 minutes...thanks, Ben) an easy 35-minute drive from our hotel. Much better than yesterday's 6-hour grind. So on to the Jackals we went...

Day 5: Rockland Around the Clockland, Can-Am Can-Do

After a long day of driving to reach Burlington, your journeymen were overjoyed to realize the next day's agenda only required... a slightly longer day of driving, indeed our longest single leg of the trip. The vagaries of scheduling sent us to Pomona, NY, to see the Rockland Boulders. But first, we needed to have breakfast, and then stare into the face of death itself.

All the sources we checked for breakfast recommendations pointed us towards Penny Cluse Cafe, apparently one of Burlington's most popular restaurants. Even arriving early in the day on Tuesday, the place was completely full and we were told there would be a 25-minute wait. Fortunately it ended up being more like 10 minutes. Ben and I quickly settled on one of the day's specials, the maple cornbread French toast. Zach ordered something called the "bucket o' spuds" along with biscuits and gravy. Sadly, there was no actual bucket involved, but a substantial heap of home fries piled with egg, cheese, and other toppings, which looked pretty tasty. The cornbread French toast was hearty and delicious, and being in Vermont, I took the opportunity to apply a generous amount of maple syrup. My side of pork sausage was roughly the size and flavor of a bratwurst. All in all it was an excellent meal.

With our hunger sated, we thirsted for something a bit more... macabre. Just a few miles from our route lay the grave of Timothy Clark Smith, who due to his great fear of being buried alive, commissioned a grave with a window, so that he might be seen and rescued should his death turn out to be misdiagnosed. Perhaps fortunately, condensation has obscured the view of Timothy's now thoroughly decayed face, but it remains a bizarre curiosity.

After our confrontation with death, we pushed south through the very aptly-named Green Mountain National Forest. It was very green, and very mountainous, and I satisfied a minor personal ambition by playing The Magnetic Fields' "Long Vermont Roads" while driving on long Vermont roads. Despite a bit of rain, the drive stayed relatively painless and scenic all the way down the Hudson -- at least until the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge, which we crossed three times before we were able to successfully leave I-84. This cost us about 10 minutes and $1.50 more in tolls than we had intended to pay. Soon, however, we made it to the village of Pomona in the town of Ramapo -- which is not a palindrome but feels like it should be -- to see the Rockland Boulders, the reigning champions of the Canadian American Association.

Provident Bank Park feature some impressive exterior details.

Multiple outfield bleacher sections and a full outfield concourse are very unusual at this level.
As we made our way into the parking lot an hour before the game, we became concerned by the large number of vehicles that seemed to be parked at the stadium. Was this going to be a sell-out? An unusually long line for tickets confirmed that there were still seats available, but confirmed our sense of Rockland's popularity. But as we made our way in and explored the stadium, the anticipated crowd failed to materialize. Official attendance was 1,371, but I would be surprised if half that number actually showed up. While sparse attendance probably shouldn't have been shocking on a random weekday night that had threatened rain all day, the size and quality of the park made the effect somewhat surreal.

Also, they have a train.

And it was a remarkably nice park, particularly for an indy-pro team. From the boulder-themed colonnade at the entrance to the spacious outfield concourse, this was one of the most polished stadium experiences we've seen. The train shown above ran through concourse every couple innings to provide a diversion for kids. Other nice features included an outdoor bar in the left field corner (which was showing the Women's World Cup) and a sort of craft beer cave serving a selection of ballpark-themed brews. None of the beers we tried was exceptional, but it was nice to have a variety of styles available. On another boozy note, the right-field corner featured a large party/picnic area labeled the "Budweiser Short Porch," where the outfield fence had been pushed inward to 312' -- which was indicated by the logo for Goose Island 312 beer. We thoroughly approve of this kind of creatively shameless advertising strategy.

A shot showing the stone bridge to the outfield concourse, as well as the bar beneath it.
The promotion that originally drew us to Rockland was "Opposite Day." We baselessly speculated that perhaps Rockland would be trying to lose, or that the pitchers would stand on home plate and throw towards the mound. Reality failed to meet our wildly unrealistic expectations.
Instead, the Opposite Day festivities included a rotating banner that read "Goodbye to Opposite Day," some confusing banter from the announcer, and tweaks to various on-field promotions. The seventh-inning stretch was moved to the fourth inning, a ball toss had to be done facing backwards, and such. We got a free coke out of the ball toss, so we can't complain too much about that one. We still wish they'd done something more with the concept.

As for the game itself, Zach and Ben were excited to see the Kansas City T-Bones as the visiting squad. Astute observers will note that Kansas City and Rockland are not in the same association, but this was a special interleague series. Indy ball scheduling is quirky. Despite the generally small crowd, we ran into some visiting fans, including a youngster in our section with a T-Bones shirt. The T-Bones jumped out to an early lead, but Rockland mounted a comeback in the seventh, pulling within one run on a homer by 3B Ryan Fisher. Coincidentally, we had relocated to the mostly-empty outfield bleachers around that time. Fisher's no-doubt shot whizzed over our heads and hit a signboard behind us. Zach and I both dashed for it, but I had tracked it better and found it in the top row. This was the first home run or even foul ball I've caught at a baseball game in my life. So I've got that going for me, which is nice. Kansas City poured on the offense in the 8th, however, and eventually won 8-6.


More Highlights and Lowlights

  • Did I mention I got a home run ball? Also, that home run earned everyone in the crowd a free burrito from the Moe's in Nanuet, conveniently close to our hotel. So really, I got a home run ball AND a burrito.
  • Upon entry we were greeted by a pretty young woman selling scorecards, aka the "scorecard seductress," who convinced Ben to part with a hard-earned dollar in exchange for a scorecard and a free pencil -- or a pencil and a free scorecard, as Ben insisted on. He kept score for almost an entire inning.
  • Bingo! Also upon entering the park, we were each given a "Ballpark Bingo" card. Each number corresponded to a particular batter and outcome on the field. For example, a fly out by the catcher might be B8, a single by the center fielder N35, etc. We are big fans of anything that combines gambling with forcing people to pay attention to the game. Sadly, none of us managed to get a bingo.
  • The outfield concourse and several of the bleachers sections offered shelves/tables for food and drink. Classy.
  • Aside from the aforementioned 312' short porch, the park was 413' to center and 323' to right. We don't know how those dimensions were chosen, but we hope the Boulders can find appropriate sponsors for them.
  • The rather large jumbotron was put to good use, with player intro videos for Rockland and updates on the results of previous at-bats for each player. These things are standard at the pro-level, but it's rare to see in the minors. During breaks, they also showed updates on the USWNT game.
  • This went briefly awry when a player shown as having "grounded into double" in an earlier at-bat.
  • The announcer was fairly engaging and mellifluous of voice, and put the appropriate level of enthusiasm into the announcing the names of batters, e.g. "ARRRRRRRROJO!"
  • The foul net here was one of the smallest we've seen. Zach and I disagree on whether this or New Britain was minimalist-est, but crucially it left the luxury suites almost completely unprotected. The rich should have to watch their backs.
  • Because we were back in New York, the hot dog stands were kosher and also sold knishes. And who doesn't like a nice knish for a nosh?
  • Thanks to the low attendance and the fact that our seats were right next to the visitors' dugout, we were treated to various bits of dugout chatter and dialog between the umpires.
  • There was a designated "pancake batter" on the T-Bones, who would earn the crowd free pancakes at IHOP if he struck out. Tragically this did not happen, but the announcer did a great job getting the crowd to chant "Pan-cakes! Pan-cakes!" every time he came up.
  • TOOTBLAN -- somewhat mitigated. With runners on 1st and 3rd, the batter hit a ground ball to the pitcher. The runner on 3rd got caught in a rundown between 3rd and home, but managed to stretch this out and engage the entire infield chasing him long enough for the runner from 1st to advance to 3rd, so the end result was the same as a simple groundout.
  • The stadium's location feels almost secluded, and offers great views north and west towards the Palisades and Bear Mountain.

Price of Beer: $8 for 24oz. There was also a "mug club" where buying a $12 mug got you $4 refills for the rest of the game, but the mug looked to be closer to 16oz. Calculating the number of refills required to break even is left as an exercise for the reader. In any case, 4.67 points.
Most Caloric Concession: Several specialty hot dogs and burgers, but no standouts. We'll give it to the Boulder Dog, a chili and mozzarella number, served with fries. 5/10
Tailgating: Nothing we spotted on a rainy Tuesday. 0/10
Crowd: This was a really small and not incredibly engaged crowd, so we can't award much, but some credit for the visiting fans from KC. 3/10.
Free Seats: We payed full freight. No points here.
Funniest Name: Honorable mentions to Giuseppe Papaccio for extreme Italian-ness and Steve Nyisztor for difficulty of pronunciation. Your winner is Marcus Nidiffer for having a name that can be repunctuated into the sentence, "Marcus 'n' I differ." 7/10.
Promotions: Opposite Day let us down a bit, but it was cute, and the giveaways were plentiful (free Coke, free burrito, almost free pancakes) and not limited to one section. 7/10.
Bathrooms: 8 urinals, 2 points.

Bonus Points: +1 for scorecard seductress, +1 for stadium exterior, +1 for outfield concourse, +2 for bleachers and tables, +1 for outfield bar, +1 for supporting the USWNT, +1 for mug club, +1 for in-stadium public transit, +1 for 312' short porch, +1 for interleague indy matchup, +5 for HOME RUN BALL, +2 for ballpark bingo, +2 for jumbotron / intro videos / previous at-bats, +1 for announcer enthusiasm, +2 for small net, +1 for knishes, +1 for audible chatter, +1 for pancake batter, +1 for complicated TOOTBLAN, +1 for scenic vistas.

Total: 55.67 points on our completely arbitrary scale. While the small crowd was a bit of a bummer, it also gave us great opportunities to get close to the action, check out several seating sections, and get our food and beers with minimal hassle. Rockland has a great stadium and polished atmosphere that still retains the quirky charms of indy-pro ball. We're sure it's a great time when they get more typical attendance, too. If you're in the area, it's definitely worth checking out. 8/10.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Day 4: Vermont Lake Monsters. Cows both Inside and Out, Feet both Big and Covered, Monsters both Candied and Lake

Your journeymen awoke in Portland, ME eager to embark on a day packed with oddities.  We started off by eating breakfast at Tim Horton's, which is apparently a big deal in Canada, and we're almost in Canada.  It's a pretty good donut and breakfast joint and Zach was amused at how he could order a danish as a side to his breakfast bagel.
We're not kidding.  We have actually become Instagram.
We tried to balance out the saltiness of the bagels with some sweetness.  So we stopped at the Len Libby Candy Shop to see our first (and, as of this writing, only) moose.  Made of chocolate.  The stop also netted us some fudge, berries, and a lollipop that had barley as a principal ingredient.
The moose is made of milk chocolate, the lake is made of white chocolate.  Zach and Pat are made of people.
This would not be enough to curb our sweet tooth, however, so we made a brief stop at Chutter's in Littleton, NH a few hours later.  It plays host to the worlds longest candy counter.
Count that candy.
Having finally ensured a future with diabetes, we counteracted our sugar binge with a visit to the Cabot Cheese Factory, sampled some cheese, and took an enlightening tour, which involved us putting bags over our feet.  It is not as photogenic as a candy shop, however, and in the interest of not inadvertently committing corporate espionage, this is the best picture we can offer. The neatest thing we learned is that most of the world eats their cheddar cheese white, just like those fruitcakes use the metric system. America has it right and eats it orange, which began during colonial days when AMERICAN cheesemakers dyed their cheddar with carrot juice to differentiate it from filthy British imported cheddar. Today Cabot uses a flavorless natural plant dye, but anyway, yeah. Now you know about cheddar and the Revolution.
Willie Wonka and the Cheese Factory just doesn't have the right cadence.
Furthermore, before we left Portland, we explored the International Cryptozoology Museum.  For the uninitiated, cryptozoology is the study of hiding or not-yet-found animals.  Not fake animals, they were eager to emphasize, though the admitted that probably 80 percent of cryptid sightings were hoaxes or mistakes.
Unfortunately we forgot to get a picture of the adorable baby Bigfoot they had on display.
Holy Cow!  Those feet ARE big!  I'm a believer now.

They seemed to want to legitimize cryptozoology as a worthwhile field of study through footprint comparison and fecal analysis and prior examples of animals once thought fictional that were later discovered.
A monster in Lake Champlain?  With googly eyes?  I can't imagine that will have any relevance to us today.

But the fact that half of their museum is a "Cryptids in Pop Culture" room and a startling number of displays contained little except for toys makes it very difficult to take seriously.  Still, they are are interested people with a hobby who cater to folks with the same hobby, so we can't really fault them for that.
Someday, these guys will have their own museum.

And after a curvy and treacherous trek through the mountains of New Hampshire and Vermont, dotted with numerous warnings of (or invitations for?) moose, we pulled into Burlington, VT, home of the University of Vermont and, of course the Vermont Lake Monsters.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Day 3: Rain Tries to Ruin Everything But Only Sorta Does, Red Sox to the Rescue, and Arrogant Maineiacs

We began Day 3 by waking up after a few hours' shuteye on Pat's brother's floor and/or futon. We got breakfast; Pat and Ben had something involving toast, while Zach joined his uncle for too many damn strawberry pancakes. After two consecutive nights of arriving at our sleeping destination between midnight and 1am, we were thrilled to have an ETA into our hotel in Portland, ME of around 630pm.

Unfortunately, this is about 6 hours later than we'd initially planned. It turns out the best laid plans of mice and Scrappy Journeymen are subject to the whims of Weathor, who pronounced via an extensive albeit not particularly strong storm system that there would be no joy in Mudville and no game for the Portland Sea Dogs this afternoon. But we already had the hotel room, so we had to end up in Portland regardless, despite being unable to see the adorable Sea Dogs.

Frantically looking for a replacement, the Journeymen considered several options. Based on weather forecasts and complicated cost-benefit calculations ("How hungover are you guys this morning?") we settled on heading back south to Pawtucket, RI for the Pawtucket Red Sox, AAA affiliate of Boston and henceforth referred to by their preferred moniker of "Pawsox." So we headed south for an hour, doubling back later in the afternoon to head north for Portland.

Upon arriving in Maine we were greeted by a sign saying "Welcome to Maine: The Way Life Should Be." Well look who's fuckin' presumptuous, eh Maine? Kiss our Georgia- and Illinois-born asses.

There weren't too many non-baseball adventures today due to the afternoon game, the drive, and the constant, cold, windy rain. Upon arriving in Portland we did head downtown and walked around the cold, rainy wharf for some seafood and local beers. It's charming, but it was 50 degrees and soaking wet in late June. We know this is unseasonable, but still. Only Ben was prepared for this clothing-wise. Zach ate some lobster because he had to make the trip to Maine not a total waste.

All that's left to tell you about is the game. We should have more to report tomorrow as we head out for Burlington, VT and the awesomely-named Vermont Lake Monsters. But for now let's shift focus to today's unlikely hero: the Pawsox.

Day 2: New Britain, Same as the Old Britain.

With one difficult but ultimately rewarding day under out belts, your journeymen set out from Brooklyn with renewed confidence. First, we acquired a hearty breakfast of bagels and grilled cheeses from a charming artisanal coffee shop. Though the baristas chose a soundtrack which most nearly resembled the death throes of a Transformer with intestinal parasites, our meal was delicious. So armed, we set out for New Britain.

Like Snake Plissken, our escape from New York required overcoming several challenges, including a trashbag full of Legos that had exploded on a side street in Brooklyn and strewn itself across the road. Also traffic was appalling, and Zach’s GPS repeatedly tried to give up and go home. Still, we made our way out into the wilds of Connecticut with plenty of time to hit up a few choice selections of roadside Americana.

The best part was we didn't have to pay the toll.

First up, perhaps out of a kind of Stockholm Syndrome induced by the previous day’s tolls, we set out for Stratford to see an antique toll booth preserved in a local park -- via a completely toll-free route. In the aptly-named Boothe Park, toll booths from the Connecticut’s old Merrit Parkway sit in all their rustic, log-cabin-esque glory.

Two reds is better than one, right?

Next! In a similar vein, the town of Meriden has preserved a traffic tower, which seems to have been a kind of manually operated traffic light with a baffling array of non-standardized signals. If the commemorative plaque is to be believed, this tower was so iconic to the town that it served as the town’s de facto mascot, and its image was sent to homesick soldiers during the Second World War. We thought it was just pretty neat, but there’s no accounting for taste.

Seems legit.
Oh yeah, definitely a reputable establishment

Finally, in a similarly nostalgic but more whimsical mood, we ventured to Wild Bill’s Nostalgia Center in Middleton. The eponymous Bill, a sort of hippie Willy Wonka who presides who presides over a petty kingdom of folk art sculptures, abandoned carnival rides, and novelty gifts -- not to mention an extremely well-organized archive of Playboy magazines dating back to the 50s. After gazing upon the assorted wonders within Wild Bill’s shop (a Terminator statue, some sort of terrifying robot dog sculpture, bins full of slap bracelets and super balls, and numerous bobbleheads of Wild Bill himself), your journeymen purchased three CDs of dubious provenance and a box of drop pops. Thence we proceeded to New Britain for Organized Labor Night.

Zach didn't understand why I wouldn't buy this Terminator.

As we arrived in New Britain we were initially pleased to see parking lot attendants directing traffic, then increasingly displeased as they directed us further and further from the stadium, despite the presence of several mostly-empty lots near the park, until we found ourselves in a tertiary lot next to a high school. There may have been some confusion due to a high school track meet occurring next door, but nonetheless we didn’t appreciate paying $5 for the privilege of hiking back to the park in a persistent drizzle.

However, things took a turn for the better when we got to the park. Most likely due to the dreary weather, several people outside the park were trying to get rid of their tickets, and even better, we were given vouchers for free tickets that had been distributed to local unions, which allowed us to pick our seats. Wisely, we prioritized getting seats under cover.

Note both the tiny net and the oddly-angled seating.

Overall, it was a nicely laid-out park, with picnic areas, a bar-and-grill deck, and a spacious indoor concourse. The downside was an unusual arrangement of seats and foul territory -- seats were arranged in parallel rows forming a slightly sharper angle than the 90 degrees made by the foul lines, so that seats at the outfield ends would face more towards the infield, but our seats, in the inner part of the first-base site, actually looked behind home plate into the visitor’s dugout.

Concourse view.

Fortunately, this irritation paled in comparison to our great enthusiasm for New Britain’s terrifyingly small foul net. Apparently following the philosophy that if you’re behind home plate you ought to be paying attention, the net was sized to catch only the most life-threatening foul balls. We saw several pitches fouled back come over or around the net at high speed, including one that came within a few feet of Zach’s head. Make no mistake, we were thrilled. The roof, too, made a satisfyingly thunderous bang whenever a foul ball made it high enough to land there. The aesthetics of terror are an underappreciated element in stadium design.

And then this happened.

The game itself, alas, turned out to be disappointingly brief. The intermittent drizzle that had been following us all day gradually intensified. Both pitchers worked quickly and efficiently, but even so we only got to see three innings before the tarp had to be rolled out, and within another half-hour the game had to be suspended. At the time play was stopped, both teams had no-hitters going, and the pitcher from visiting Richmond had been perfect. This lead to a lengthy discussion of just how flexible the definition of a no-hitter is in the minors, where the regulation game length is also a bit more flexible. In any case, both no-hitters were broken up when the game was resumed, by which time your journeymen were long gone towards points nor’east.

New Britain keeps an extensive list of former players who have made the majors -- mostly with the Twins, more recently with the Rockies.

More Highlights and Lowlights

  • Our thanks once again to the unions of New Britain, without whom we would have paid for a disappointingly short game. The Scrappy Journeymen support organized labor and anything that results in free baseball.
  • Another nice feature of the stadium was a microphone placed behind home plate to pick up game sounds, presumably for a local radio broadcast.
  • Concessions featured some nice local-ish beer options from Long Trail, which is a Vermont brewery, but still not very far away.
  • The Jumbotron was reasonably jumbo, with a decent selection of animations. The operators were put to the test during the rain delay, during which they tracked down all their favorite kitten-and-rapper-related YouTube videos from 2012 and put them to work.
  • What is a Rock Cat? Is it related to a Hill Cat? Do they get along with Sea Dogs? These are just some of the TerrainDescriptor Mammal questions we have yet to find answers for.
  • We counted six first pitches here, making high numbers of first pitches officially a Northeast Thing. In this case each pitcher’s union affiliation was announced as well.
  • Pitchers hitting! Both clubs were NL affiliates, so the DH rule was not in effect. This warmed the gritty cockles of our scrappy little hearts.
  • The game opened with both “America the Beautiful” (sung by a “choir” of two little girls, who did fine, but seriously, two is a choir?) and the anthem. The anthem was “played” on some kind of computerized voice synthesizer, so that was... a thing.
  • Park dimensions: 400’ to center, 330’ to either side. Pretty standard.
  • Our “program” failed to include lineups, rosters, or any kind of team information besides a schedule, but it did include a logo for every local union participating in Organized Labor Night.
  • This was our second “Rocky” in a row on the mascot front (Rocky the Rock Cat), although the visiting Flying Squirrels ignored the obvious reference and failed to give us a Rocky-on-Rocky matchup.
  • Pitch clocks! In accordance with the AA and AAA rule changes this year, pitchers had a 20-second countdown before they had to start their motion. Neither pitcher came especially close to exceeding the time limit.
  •  In one unusual promotion, we saw three people dressed as common household products (Right Guard deodorant, Dial soap, and Loctite glue, if you were curious) play musical chairs.
  • Free local paper on entry, with all the exciting police blotter and high school sports you could ask for, plus the headline “Puppy Peddler Pinched,” regarding the arrest of a local pit bull breeder.
I picked the wrong week to stop sniffing glue.


  1. Price of Beer: $6.50 for swill, $6.75 for craft. 3.5 points.
  2. Most Caloric Concession: Probably goes to either the JoAnn, a footlong dog piled with pulled pork and slaw, or to the Loaded Dog, which was piled high with pretty much everything else -- chili, cheese, pickles, etc. 5 points. 
  3. Crowd: Not especially enthusiastic, but they had decent attendance for the weather, and a good chunk stuck it out through the rain delay until the game was officially suspended. 4/10.
  4. Tailgating: None to speak of, but then it was a pretty lousy day out.
  5. Willingness to Give Random Bloggers Free Seats: 100% free seats, but one point off for the parking situation. 9/10 points.
  6. Funniest Name: New Britain’s Tom Murphy gets honorable mention for his profoundly generic name, but speaking of names any rando could have, Richmond’s Rando Moreno is our winner here. 6/10.
  7. Promotions: Thanks to Ma Nature’s interference, we didn’t see much of the between-innings promotions, but we’ll call it 5/10
  8. Bathrooms: An abundance of urinals, so a non-abundance of points from us. 0 points.
Bonus points: +1 for on-field mic, +1 for local craft beer, +1 for jumbotron, +2 for rappers, kittens, and other animations, +2 for no DH, +1 for weird high-tech anthem, +1 for pitch clocks, +0.5 for local paper headlines, +5 for almost killing Zach / general foul ball death zone, +1 for ⅓ of two no-hitters, +1 for concourse, -1 for janky sightlines.

Final score: 48 points on our rain-shortened totally arbitrary scale. While we can’t be sure what a normal day at New Britain looks like, we managed to have a good time despite the rain and our initial troubles getting to the park. The terrifying minimalist foul net probably justifies a visit by itself, but a pleasant stadium and a solid, working-class crowd should make for a good time -- weather permitting. 6.5/10.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Day 1: Wilmington Blue Rocks: Our Heroes brave the wilderness of Delmarva and eat a fruit.

Zach’s unsanctioned jaunt into Charlotte notwithstanding, your scrappiest of journeymen collided today to explore the frozen north and the minor league baseball within.  As this was our first jaunt of the trip, there was little time for non-baseball diversions, though that didn’t stop Ben from seeing the remnants of a flaming Greyhound bus by accident just north of Richmond.  The day consisted of Ben driving to DC, scooping Zach off a plane and then sat in traffic all the way to meet Pat in Wilmington, DE, home of the Blue Rocks.

And let’s just talk about traffic for a minute.  A list of common courtesies to keep in mind.  Please do not block entrances to parking lots with your freakishly large vehicle.  Kindly refrain from parking in two spaces at once.  And if a sign tells you for 10 miles that the right lane will be closed, please make a concerted effort to vacate the right lane at your earliest convenience and save us all a lot of trouble.  And for the love of Pete, don’t fucking move back into the right lane again.

Also on the docket, what’s the deal with Wilmington?  You have a population of 112,000 and yet the majority of the 3.5 hour drive from DC to Wilmington is spent sitting outside your city limits, just inside Delaware, in what a tollbooth guy said was “just Wilmington traffic”.  How does your traffic add 90 minutes to the expected time?

On the bright side, however, Zach and Ben got to experience the entirety of an Interstate Highway!  Interstate 97 is a 17 miles juggernaut of a, well, intra-state highway that goes from Annapolis to Baltimore.  It’s full of fun filled attractions like… cars on the road.  Also, we got a taste of Minor League Radio as Wilmington was completing their suspended game from the night before.  It’s a strange thing to hear, as you hear the announcers, but none of the game sounds.  Part of it may have been that it’s a suspended game, but we heard no cheers, no bat contact or anything aside from the excitement of the play-by-play guy.   And they had a strange fascination with the homeplate umpire, saying his name at every opportunity.  “…the strike zone of Cody Oakes…” “..and Cody Oakes calls that a strike with a fist bump…” “… he delivers to the hitter and umpire Cody Oakes…”

On to the regularly scheduled game!

Friday, June 26, 2015

Scrappy Journeymen IV. Day 0: A Fancy Prologue.

Hello, loyal readers and the thousands of others we’ve locked in basements with nothing but Mets-Brewers on repeat until you read our blog. Zach, Ben, and Pat are back to bring you another tour of the wonders of Minor League and Inde-Pro baseball in America.

Continuing our Fake America Series after last season’s Tour de California, we’ll be reviewing ballparks in the mid-Atlantic and New England from the D.C. area up to Maine.  Tonight it’s Wilmington, Delaware, for monkey rodeos, fireworks, and hopefully Joe Biden. I mean, c’mon, Diamond Joe, we’re gonna be mega-disappointed if you miss a monkey rodeo and explosives. That’s not your style.

But first, I (Zach) found myself in Charlotte last week on a brief family outing to a nearby theme park. Somewhere in South Carolina I belatedly realized that we had not, in fact, ever been to see the Charlotte Knights. We drove by their ballpark once and commented on its apparent craptacularness (an old concrete monster with 70s-colored seating – it looked spectacular!), but tragically the Knights were out of town.  This time they were in town, so I dragged my family to the park.
Without further ado…