Monday, July 3, 2017

Day 6: The West Virginia Black Bears Take On Our Namesake

West Virginia Black Bears vs Mahoning Valley Scrappers

With over half the trip under our collective belts, we packed up and hit the road again.  After a brief stop at the International House of Pancakes, Zach found us a Putt Putt course on the way to West Virginia.  Turns out this Putt Putt has a wacky course in addition to their two standard courses.  With Pat on his short game, he won the day, with Zach also coming out ahead in beers owed (our new road trip currency since Pat won’t share his Kroner).  Ray almost needed a trip to the ER courtesy of the IHOP breakfast and the heat of the day star, but, not wanting to tarnish the name his first year, he scrapped through.

Zach used the weather vane direction to play the wind perfectly on this shot.

Since we had some spare time, Zach talked up The Beehive CafĂ© in Pittsburgh that was pretty much on the way.  Regaling us with stories of antique pinball machines, we braved the Pittsburgh traffic, many bridges, and crazy road designs, only to find the store had downsized since he was last there.  Alas, with no pinball to soothe their weary spirits, the Journeymen found a delicious taqueria to refuel and continued to West Virginia.  This was Ray’s first time being in both Pennsylvania and West Virginia which prompted a retelling of everyone’s state checklists (Zach proved to be the most well-traveled of us at 46!). 

Pat had his Pinball Wizard soundtrack all set too. Thanks a lot Beehive, you made Pat sad.  
Just before the hotel we saw the future of mass transit (of course it was shut down for repair though) in Morgantown, West Virginia.  The Morgantown Personal Rapid Transit system shuttles people around in small pods to their chosen destination along tracks.  Heartbroken we didn’t get to experience it, we made our way to the hotel, which was a very nice Courtyard Marriot. Thank you West Virginia cost of living! The best part, though: we were right across the street from Monongalia County Park (ask Zach and Ben how to pronounce that) and had a great view of the stadium from our rooms. We still left for the dangerous journey across the parking lot to the game, though.

Game Highlights

1.  The first thing to notice about the field: it’s almost completely AstroTurf.  Only the mound is made of clay, with even the diamond being turf. This made for some audibly painful slides into second and third.  Of course the home team seemed prepared, brandishing some serious elbow pads all around. Yet they were constantly eaten up by wicked bounces on ground balls, while the visitors seemed to know just how to play them.

Look how luscious and green that grass is... oh wait.

2.  Keep off the Berms!  It was made abundantly clear we were to stay off the berms.  Of course with how sloped they were, we figured there were a couple instances of people tumbling down them to prompt the signage.  If only they had such signs after the game on the hill next to the hotel, right Ben? But, I mean...why even have berms, guys?

3.  Speaking of safety, the entirety of the seats were covered by nets so no broken eye sockets or lost teeth today.  When will they learn this is ‘Murica?

4.  Debating who to root for seemed pretty straightforward at first.  It’s a home team, they are the bears (and there are a lot of ties to Chicago among us) and they are a Pittsburgh Pirates affiliate which we have no meaningful ill will towards.  But then we saw the visiting team’s name, and knew immediately we would need to root for the Scrappers!

5.  For this being a short A team, the concessions were pretty decent.  A lot of the standard fare, but some notable exceptions like wine slushies and cupcakes.  They had a loaded pepperoni pizza roll that will haunt Ben’s dreams for a while, and it was the first time they started a brisket and waffle plate.  The waffle was cornbread based, made right in front of you, and tasted sweet enough on its own to not need any syrup.  The brisket was standard, but very lacking, much like the concession attendant’s organization.

Who wouldn't want brisket on their waffle?  Too bad for Zach they forgot to give him any.
6.  The seats were plastic toppers bolted on bleachers.  There was more than enough to hold the crowd of 1,911 people that came out for the game.

7.  The beer prices weren’t outrageous but they were more than we hoped for given how cheap things in West Virginia had been up to this point.  For $6.50 you could get domestics and for $7.50 you could get a premium draft poured from the bottom up!  In case you ever wondered how they do it, the cups use magnets.

8.  Zach and Ben managed to bore the mascot Cooper away with their talk of the proper pronunciation of Monongalia County.  Cooper was so troubled after the encounter, he beat a kid in rock paper scissors and proceeded to mock him.  It’s a site to see watching a giant fuzzy bear in a baseball jersey mercilessly mock a child for losing.

Cooper on the prowl for unsuspecting Rock Paper Scissors victims. 

9.  For the first time, we got to watch a female behind the plate calling balls and strikes.  She was a fairly consistent home plate ump and had a solid strike call gesture and strike out pose.  Of course because we believe in equality, we heckled her just as much as we would have any other blue on the field when she made a bad call.

Showing the boys how it's done.
10.  There weren’t many great baseball names at the game, but we did have a Pope and a King.  Additionally, there were two Yo-el’s (Joel & Yoel) who faced off vs each other.  The winner for the day might have to go to Beau Sulser though.

11.  The crowd was pretty engaged, really getting into Take me out to the ballgame and seemed to remain energetic all the way through even though their team was down by a good margin.  We witnessed yet another park using the Rick Flair Woo! The promotions also seemed to stoke some energy with a steak toss competition and a “thrilling” power wheels race in which the kids putted along at exactly the same speed.  Almost as intense was the traditional food race with this iteration being pizza rolls, which we certainly didn't expect at this level!

12.  The game itself was quite interesting.  We saw 2 outs in an inning come from players getting thrown out sliding into 3rd base, a hit by pitch that also hit the catcher, and our first hometown home run this trip (excluding the Pro game).  Zach gets to eat his first family of the trip as well as a Black Bear swung on a 3-0 pitch, but lucky for his family, Zach just finished his brisket and waffle so I’m pretty sure they escaped town uneaten (for now!).

13.  Keeping the park clean seemed to be a priority as ushers began making rounds collecting trash. It was pretty nice not having to trip over/kick empty cups when leaving. However, they refused to take Ray's blog posts.

14.  The Scrappers had a no hitter going two thirds the way through the sixth inning, though it was an assisted no-no at this point because of a questionable error call on an infield hit.  One of the previously mentioned thrown out at 3rd was a 5-3-6 with an RBI to boot.  Ultimately, the Scrappers pulled out a 6 to 3 victory.  Even with all the excitement, it managed to be a fairly concise game coming in at under 2 and half hours.  The extremely short walk from the park coupled with the short-ish game gave us time to finally watch Cool Runnings, which was a great way to end the evening.

Feel the rhythm, feel the rhyme, get on up, it's Scrappy Baseball time!

7.5/10.  The mountainous backdrop and the amphitheater feel from being built into a hill gave the stadium a good scenic feel.  The AstroTurf makes for amusing baserunning and defense, and decent food and drink options with an engaged fan base typically makes for a good ball game experience.  We definitely recommend getting a room at the Courtyard across the street if you’re coming in from out of town.  We’d probably rate them a little higher if they let us on the Berm.

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