Thursday, July 7, 2016

Day 9: Junction City Brigade, Junction City, KS. Informative Bathroom Trips, Light Coors Heavy, and New Scrappiest Scrappers to Ever Scrap.

After a restful 3 days in the Denver area, we left early for the first of two days of brutal drives to get back east to Atlanta in 3 days. Our original target was the Topeka Train Robbers of the Pecos League, but we realized the day before that that entire League had changed its schedule since we planned our route, leaving us with no game in Topeka. We tested out a dozen different routes and alternative stops, but every one was either an unacceptably long drive or the team was out of town (thank you, all of Oklahoma). Then Ben had the bright idea to Google “baseball” “Topeka” and we discovered the summer collegiate Topeka Golden Giants were playing a game against the Junction City Brigade but an hour west of Topeka. While summer collegiate baseball isn’t normally our top choice (more of a schedule fill-in as necessary), we decided this was our best option. We were not disappointed. More on that in a moment.

Our day was mostly driving, but we did decide to stop for breakfast at the IHOP/Truck Stop in Limon, Colorado. We had to wait forever for our food, but we got a “policemen” 50% discount as an apology, so that was cool. The most notable piece may have been Zach’s trip to the bathroom, which was not only relieving, but also informative and educational.

My God, we had no idea! Also, Zach would like to note that this is one of those rare acceptable photos to take with your pants down and share unsolicited.

After that we drove to Kansas. Then we drove in Kansas. Then we drove in Kansas some more. Seriously, this drive was boring. Worse than West Texas. Miles after miles of flat prairie and the occasional farm. And one sign for the Horse Motel Bed and Breakfast which read “Pretty Good Horses for Sale.” We respect truth in advertising.

When we couldn’t take it anymore we stopped in Salina to play a quick round of minigolf at Jumpin Joe’s Family Fun Center, which we were not convinced was a.) open or b.) not going to result in our abduction and live flaying. But we decided to risk it anyway and Zach emerged victorious once again when a furious comeback by Pat was short-circuited by a confusing and impossible to miss (?) 18th hole that seemed to require you to shoot the ball about 10 feet into a large shack which then dumped the ball into a pit of standing water.

This is more or less my plan for the Zombocalypse.

Jumpin' Joes was not exactly, ah, jumpin'.

Then we drove in Kansas some more before reaching Junction City just a couple minutes after first pitch.


1.       We got the last parking spot in the lot for the municipal stadium, which even though it was a Friday was a shock to us. Great turnout!

2.      Junction City does seem to love their baseball. Rathert Stadium was built in the ‘30s as part of the New Deal and it previously played host to college summer baseball from 2005 to 2010. In 2013 a group feeling the void of the departed Junction City Generals formed a new team, and the Brigade was born.

Here's the park they built. The panorama function of Pat's camera...sort of works?

3.       Despite the completely full lot, the stadium was still about 2/3 empty. We have no idea what they’d do if they ever had a sell out.

4.       Of course, part of that excess capacity was due to a large open “Beer Garden” whose picnic tables seemed to house more fans than the actual box stands. We respect the choices of the residents of Junction City.

Keep your vegetables and raised beds, I'll take the Beer Garden.

5.      Of course, part of that large number was due to the $3 cans of domestics and Leinenkugels the beer garden sells every day.

6.      Of course, thinking we could get a better deal on non-light than light beers, Pat and Zach each ordered a Coors Heavy. After his second and not feeling a buzz, Pat’s trained eye noticed that this Coors Heavy appeared to be 3.2% alcohol by weight (3.9% ABV), which in some states is in a different regulatory category than other beer. Damned federalism and liquor laws. As a result, at this park Coors Heavy was, for some bizarre reason, actually less alcoholic than Coors Light (it was its normal 4.2%, and also 16 ounces versus the 12 ounce cans of Coors Heavy). …No wonder we were literally the only idiots in the park drinking Coors Heavy. Once again, we respect the choices of the residents of Junction City.

7.       Regardless of (or maybe thanks to) the cheap beer, this crowd was into this game! Their cheers made it clear they were following the game action; they called the Junction City players by name; and they heckled the ump over ball and strike calls.

8.       The crowd also gave some raucous applause for the hustle on a not-even-close attempted fat guy double. The only things I love more than fat guy doubles are fat guy triples and fat guy touchdowns.

9.       Special shout-out to the guy in a pro-mullet shirt buying 4 beers of various brands at a time. We’re not sure if he was quadruple-fisting or buying for friends, but this man is exactly what I want in my Kansas baseball fans. God bless you, sir.

10.   Hell, the crowd was even into the on-field contests, shouting instructions to a kid launching water balloons at an outfield sign. “Jonathan” in the frozen T-shirt contest had his own section of screaming groupies!

11.   Speaking of on-field contests, of particular note was a new Cow Milking contest we’d never seen before. I mean, show off your local skills, Junction City. Bonus points for the guy in the crowd MOOOOOOING “to make the contest more realistic.”

Yeah...go...milk that cow. Wooooo?

12.   Oh, and during the hot dog eating contest between two brothers the emcee definitely made a dick joke, noting one brother is in the lead but “His hot dog appears to be a little smaller.” The targeted brother shook his head in vigorous denial.

13.   This was a basic, few-frills municipal stadium at its finest. The home and visiting locker rooms opened right onto the concourse and the only men’s rooms did, too, leading to lots of direct contact between players (and umpires!) and the fans throughout the game.

14.   In a well-thought-out home field advantage (?) the Brigade dugout had benches while the visitors were relegated to plastic chairs. Of course these loose plastic chairs came in handy when the whole dugout had to scatter to avoid interfering with multiple foul balls.

15.   Because of the size and design of the park, you could get very close to the dugouts and players. Just a low fence and a couple of feet of dirt stood between you and the home team. This gave the whole game a nice, intimate hometown feel.

It wasn't hard to get too close to these scrappahs.

16.   This also meant you could hear everything, from the nicknames the players used to strategy discussions to loud, frustrated bat slams. Awesome.

17.   In the same municipal park vein, the scoreboard had spaces to track runs, hits, and errors, but only the runs spaces were used.

18.   This was unfortunate as this game featured a lot of hits and errors we wanted to keep track of. This was some of the poorest defensive baseball we’ve seen at any level, from both sides. It would be mean to call out individual players at this level, but it certainly made the game…interesting.

19.   The first scoreless inning didn’t come until the 6th. When the dust cleared the final score was 16-8 in favor of the home team, but the game somehow only went 2 hours and 40 minutes (that’s 80 minutes shorter than the Rockies game a couple nights ago despite producing an extra run). The pace was phenomenal, possibly because players were just swinging at everything. Even the 9-run 5th inning felt like it flew by.

20.   What’s funnier, the scoreboard pre-emptively put up 0 runs when a half-inning started, rather than waiting until the end or a run had been scored as other teams do. Might’ve been a bit optimistic there.

21.   This game featured not one, but two Marianis (Marianata?), John and Mike. We assume they were brothers. We only noticed because we got confused how often we heard that last name at first.

22.   One of the Brigade, Kasey Clark, had an EDM’d version of Crazy Train as his walkup music. Zach found this acceptable, but Ben says he hasn’t proven himself worthy of even a cover of Chipper’s walk-up music.

23.   Surprise fireworks! They were not listed anywhere on the website, but folks, this show was impressive. We’ve documented before how the Kansas-ish are loves their fireworks, and Junction City epitomized that state’s love of explosives. This college summer league game had a bigger and better display than some AAA teams we’ve been to!

24.   Extra bonus points to the entire goddamn city for lighting off private collections of fireworks all game long. We kept thinking they were testing the post-game fireworks, but it happened so continuously that we eventually figured it was just the city getting a jump on the holiday weekend (this was Friday, July 1st). Indeed, on the way out of town we must’ve seen a dozen different families lighting up fireworks. Good wholesome fun.

25.   Until we drove over a live one planted in the middle of the street and almost died. Less cool, Kansas. Still, no blood no foul.

26.   Tragically, the nets covered all but a small sliver of the proper box seats. But the beer garden was totally exposed, so that makes up for it.

27.   During the stretch, they had the lyrics to Take Me Out to the Ballgame printed on a sheet for the three girls singing. Ugh, kids these days. Also, even though it was written down, “Root, root, root for the home team” instead of “Bri-gade?” Really? C’mon, it’s RIGHT THERE.

28.   This was, by some margin, the SCRAHPPIEST TEAM OF SCRAPPAHS TO EVAH SCRAHP. There were multiple players who couldn’t have been taller than, like, 5’3” or heavier than about 130-140 lbs. Several also somehow looked to be about 35 years old despite ostensibly being in college. If you wanted a team that would make Boston spasm in ecstasy, this would be it. Well, except that they’d be utterly slaughtered. But I think Boston fans get off on that, too.

Regularly Scheduled Metrics:

Price of Beer: $3/16 oz of Coors “LIGHT” à 6.25/10 points.

Most Caloric Concession Item: There was really nothing unique about the main concession stand, but we were saved by MedinasFoodtruck’s delectable burritos being sold in the beer garden. This was not just better Mexican food than we expected in Junction City, Kansas; this was good stuff for anywhere. And cheap at $8 for a smothered burrito, rice, and beans! Because this was basically all we ate we have to mark it as the most caloric item even though it probably wasn’t all that bad for us. 5/10 points.

Minor League Personalities: The Beer Garden was full of drunks. Definitely a Little League team in the bleachers, tons and tons of families in the box seats. Saw a couple Royals caps and shirts, so we’ll count those as Major League fans. We’ll let the cheering section for Jonathan in the frozen T-shirt contest count as both diehards and groupies. That leaves JC just a local celebrity short of the cycle. 7/10 points.

Willingness to Give Random Bloggers Free Seats: Le sigh. 0/10 points.

Tailgating: None really to speak of, but we were late and maybe everybody was in the beer garden. There were a couple guys throwing balls with their kids. 2/10 points.

Funniest Name: Another bumper crop, appropriate for Kansas. Some of our favorites included Frankie Valle (no, not that one…probably?), Shilo Schaake (prono: Shockey), Dusty Moss (how delightfully Kansan?), and Gunner Halter. However, we’ll give top honors to Butch Rea, whose full name was pronounced “Betray.” Not sure I want him on my team, though. 8/10 points. 

Promotion Quality: The Cow Milking and the fact they allowed a kid to shoot water balloons into the actual playing surface of the outfield earn them some uniqueness points despite the lack of a coherent promotion “night” or anything. Also, freakin’ surprise fireworks, bruh. 7/10 points.

Crowd: Oh, just re-read the highlights. This was a KWality crowd. 8/10 points.

Men’s Room: Naught but 1 urinal at this municipal park à 9/10 points.

Bonus points: +1 for general history and town enthusiasm, +2 for improvements to municipal stadium (i.e. the beer garden), +3 for intimate team and umpire crowd contact, -1 for confusing federalist liquor laws, +1 for Mullet of Four-Beers, +1 for hot dog dick joke, +1 for benches vs. chairs, +2 for visitors scattering for foul balls, +1 for a hell of lot of errors, +2 for a really fast but high scoring game where they swung at everything, -1 for EDM’d “Crazy Train,” +4 for city-wide fireworks but -1 for nearly blowing up our car, -1 for written TMOTTBG lyrics, +2 for scrappiest players to ever scrap.

68.25 points on our totally arbitrary scale. I think this may have replaced the Pawsox as our scrappiest replacement-level stop that played way above its expectations. The strong, engaged crowd; the lovely and cheap beer garden; and the generally intimate and fun atmosphere would make this a great way to while away an evening on the plains any time. If any of us were to be forced by circumstance to live in Junction City, we all agreed we’d be instant season ticket holders. The Brigade are punching way above their weight class. The badass fireworks were just icing on the cake. 8.5/10.

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