Sunday, July 5, 2015

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.

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