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.

As we drove to the park, we passed several intern-looking people standing at various side streets holding signs indicating that there was no baseball parking down that particular lane.  We began to worry about attendance when we had to pass what appeared to be the main entrance, coast down a hill, and park on the side of a major thoroughfare.  We did squeeze in with three seats together, but the place was PACKED, particularly for a Monday night and early start.

And this was when half the people were in line for hot dogs and cookies, too.

Yes, like many other games in the area, this one also was making up for the rain by having a double header.  The ballpark was overrun with college students and families, all eager to take advantage of 25 Cent Hot Dogs and Free Cookies Night.  After a lap to get our surroundings, we took our seats in the entirely covered bleachers.

Highlights and Lowlights

1. As mentioned before, it was $0.25 hot dogs. There were a few venues that had signs stating that they didn’t have them, so those places had no customers. The lines for cheap hot dogs were long, but quick, as transactions went quick and they had a gazillion hot dogs ready to go. Signs read “Hot Dogs: Limit 6 per transaction.”

2. The other major promotion was free cookies. After the first game, there was a huge line up to a cookie truck where they passed out free boxes of cookies. Not being greedy, we only go the one box for the three of us.

3. Other food wasn’t particularly notable, though they had some nachos that looked potentially tasty, and Zach got some fries to complement the influx of hot dog into our systems.

4. The Lake Monsters have some interesting history, and they’re proud of it. Centennial Field appears fairly modern, with remarkably jumbo Tron for a Short Season Single A club, but the first seat on each row is a remnant from the earlier days of the stadium, now over 100 years old. Rumor has it that it may be the oldest ballpark in the country in use by a professional team.

5. In another historical note, Vermont played host to the Expos affiliate in the 90s and early 2000s. There are still fans with Vermont Expos jerseys and it’s only an hour and a half up to Montreal. Fun Fact: after the Expos moved to Washington to become the Nationals, Vermont did not have time to register a name change for the upcoming season. So they played as the Vermont Expos one more year in 2005, becoming the last professional team to play under that name.

6. The Vermont team is proud of its alumni, too. Not only is there a simple list of players that have made the big leagues; there are then-and-now pictures, Vermont statistics, and current Major League statistics. We like that fans can follow their favorite players from a league that sees a huge amount of turnover each year. It gave it a vibe similar to what we felt at the Humboldt Crabs last year.
It's not exactly getting your name bronzed, but it shows love and you might get your own clipboard.

7. A running tally of league leaders and standings on a whiteboard. It makes you wonder what they nickname the intern who gets stuck with that job.

8. There was a huge cornhole (or baggo) board with pillows to throw. If you got 18 points and were an adult, you could enter into a drawing for a prize. There was no throw limit, though, so since Zach was the only person in line, he simply threw pillows at a giant balloon for 15 minutes until he reached the requirement to enter. And he still didn’t win.

9. This guy is Champ, the Lake Monster. He was an enthusiastic fellow, building up the crowd during a late game rally, speeding around on his four-wheeler, and being a good representation of the soul of the Lake Monster experience. He looks familiar, though, like I’ve seen his footprint somewhere….
And we have fecal samples too.  Evidence!!!!

10. Not that the crowd needed much help, because they were into these games. Even as we sat in the chill at the end of the second game, the fans who were left still cheered hard on every play. When everyone was there for the hotdogs, it was a madhouse, with even the most routine groundout drawing a rise from the seats.

11. Both games were hotly contested, with Vermont mounting a late, though ultimately fruitless, rally in the bottom of the 7th (last inning) of game 1. They won game 2 by a 1-0 score, though we have to admit that neither team seemed that interested in playing a game by the time the second game got going. Fresh pitchers facing exhausted hitters led to some pretty lackluster at bats on both sides, and nobody ever spoke up against an umpire if he called a close play an out.

12. The visiting team was the Lowell Spinners, affiliated with the Boston Red Sox. The Lake Monsters are part of the Oakland A’s organization. Naturally we rooted for Vermont, and so did the crowd. But this is still New England, so the entire crowd was still ardent Red Sox fans, to the extent that future promotions included Ted Williams bobblehead and visits from the likes of Bernie Carbo and Orlando Cabrera. We’re not sure we’ve seen this much regionally mandated values dissonance at a park before.

13. We’ve stated our approval of the Beach Ball In The Crowd game before. This time it was an inflatable cow that got bounced around and the last person to hold the cow when the music stopped got to keep it.

14. The promotion crew kept giving us good entertainment between innings for as long as they could. Many of the standard competitions and prizes with some new stuff as well. There seemed to be some ongoing elimination game with colors, where one color would be eliminated every couple of innings, with the last remaining getting a prize. We arrived too late to learn of the game, though, and Zach wouldn’t have won anyway.

15. Creative as the promotions may have been, by the time we reached the 6th inning of the second game, they were beat, too. A Price is Right game near the end had the young contestant guess the prices perfectly down to the cent, without even thinking. The microphone girl gave him a half-hearted “Congratulations. You Win” while the P.A. guy said “Nothing suspicious about that competition, no sir.” We suppose “Price is Right” is a better name for a game than “Here are Some Local Grocery Prices for You to See.”

16. Speaking of dumb games, there were some college aged women engaged in an enthusiastic bout of the Penis Game. You know, the one where you alternate saying “penis” more and more loudly until someone hears you? The one you stopped playing when you were twelve? Yeah, that’s the one.

17.  Beautiful sunset.  Probably some mix of the recent weather and the very north-ness of the area.

18. The umpires were treated to water during the game. It was a nice gesture that is probably fairly common, but we just don't notice. In Burlington, however, it gets delivered to them in a small van driven by an intern.
It made one circuit to pass out the water, and an another to collect the bottles. Damn hippie recycling Vermont.

Regularly Scheduled Metrics:

Price of Beer:  4 points

Most Caloric Concession Item: The nachos were tempting, but we probably have to go for the 6 hot dogs allowed in one transaction. It’s not glamorous, but damned if it’s not unhealthy enough for us. 5 points

Minor League Personalities: Everyone was there on dates, Minor and Major League Fans, drunks and families (sometimes together) all were evident. 5 points

Willingness to Give Random Bloggers Free Seats: BOOOOOOOOO! 0 points

Tailgating: Not really, but according to some locals, a lot of people just come for the hot dogs and leave soon after on nights like this. It’s almost like the game itself is a tailgate. 1 point

Funniest Roster Name: Trace Loehr, Skye Bolt, Vicmal de la Cruz, Aneudis Peralta are all candidates, but our first and only true thought for this prize was Tucker Tubbs, of the Lowell Spinners.  7 points

Promotion Quality: Clever games throughout the evening, even if the promotion team lost steam by the 14th inning. The hot dogs and cookies were a huge draw as well. 7 points

Crowd:. Hell yes. We’re a little disappointed it’s not usually so packed, and that many folks were only in it for the hot dogs, but there was still a good crowd well into the second game an everyone was eager to support their Lake Monsters. This is probably the best overall crowd we’ve seen short of Humboldt and St. Paul. 8 points

Men’s Room: 0 points

Bonus Points:  +1 for sunset, +3 for detailed follow-up of old players, +1 for up-to-date league stats, +2 for water van, +1 for "Name Local Grocery Prices", +1 for everyone being there, +1 for all the players wanting to go home, +2 for beach cow game, +2 for cornhole, -1 for Zach losing again, +3 for stadium preservation and innovation together, +2 for Champ being a, well, champ, +1 for 6 hot dogs, +1 for general Expo's swag, +1 for Red Sox dissonance

Summary:  58 points on our arbitrary scale.  It might be worth more, but Ben lost the three pages of notes we took and had to cobble this one together mostly from memory.  It was a long drive, but gave us an awesome experience at the end.  The organization wants it's fans to have a good time and puts on a quality show that complements the baseball nicely.  Maybe just a notch below the very best parks we've seen, but absolutely worthwhile if you ever find yourself in northern Vermont.  8.5/10

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for visiting the International Cryptozoology Museum. We are big fans of minor league baseball too, and have cosponsored events with the Portland Sea Dogs. BTW, being a museum involved with cryptids means it is important to collect and archive - as well as display - all forms of "cultural artifacts," including ones seen merely as "toys." For you see, for example, after the Lake Monster baseball team vanishes into baseball heaven, their souvenirs may disappear into the dumpsters of past games. It is our goal to save such items for this cryptozoology museum. Best wishes, Loren Coleman, Director