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…