On the Road: Chasing the Bull and Passing the Hat in High Desert
The one-hour drive from Lancaster (home of the JetHawks) to Adelanto, CA is an appealing one. The Pearl Blossom Highway is surrounded by vast desert expanse, and towns like Little Rock feature vibrantly-hued emporiums of Americana such as Charlie Brown’s Farms as well as shack-sized stores selling both cell phone accessories and beef jerky.
I would have liked to take pictures of all these things, but I was in a rush. My personal itinerary featured a day game after a night game, and I had to make it to Stater Bros Stadium for Sunday’s Class A Advanced matinee between the hometown High Desert Mavericks and visiting Rancho Cucamonga Quakes.
The above sign, located on the right field outfield wall, epitomizes the Stater Bros experience — charming, but past its prime. In some ways being past its prime is part of the charm, such as this trailer parked outside the stadium.
But in other ways, the stadium is screaming for a face lift and some TLC. For example, just to the right of the main entrance sits an abandoned box office:
And immediately to the right of this is a bulletin board displaying flyers for a pair of concerts that took place in 2002 (!), helping to solidify the impression that this is the land that time forgot. The stadium, a city-owned facility that cost $6.5 million to build, has housed the Mavs since their inaugural 1991 season (the team relocated from Riverside,CA). Attendance was excellent in the early going, with the Mavs regularly leading the league en route to shattering the million fan milestone in 1996.
But attendance took a significant hit with the closing of a nearby Air Force Base, and further commercial development around the area never materialized. Original owners Brett Baseball sold the team to Main Street Baseball this past offseason, and the Mavericks long-term future is very much in question.
But I”ll save this kind of info for an upcoming MiLB.com piece. While Stater Bros. Stadium may be lacking in bells and whistles (literal and otherwise), it still offers a considerably charming small-town Minor League Baseball experience.
The long view:
The National Anthem provided a cute moment, as the young girl singing it (on the far left) paused at the word “ramparts”, looked up at the team employee standing nearby and said “Uh, I forgot.” After a quick prompt she finished strong, to rousing applause.
My trusty camera, while compact and easy to use, is not the best when it comes to the zoom feature. But one can get so close to the action at Stater Bros that I was able to get shots such as the following. This is the first swing of the ballgame, in which Rancho’s Ramon Jean blasted a ground-rule double to left-center.
Also close to the action are the visiting relief pitchers, who have no escape from kids playing on the first base-line berm.
I was especially impressed with mascot Wooly Bully, a committed performer with excellent improv and physical comedy abilities. The skill of those wearing the suits varies wildly around the Minors, but this one was a winner.
And he’s a fearless bull, too, repeatedly getting the fans to yell “charge!”
At one point later in the game, the following announcement came over the PA: “Your attention, please. Wooly Bully, would you get off the field, please?”
I’m not sure exactly what Wooly was doing that caused this reprimand, but I do know he was preparing for a dash across the diamond with hundreds of kids in hot pursuit.
Up on the concourse, the scene was pretty sedate. I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out the team’s “Sky Boxes”, which seem influenced by 1970s Eastern Bloc architecture (Bull-shevik architecture, perhaps).
The Sky Boxes allow for nice views of the no-frills scoreboard:
I was almost offended by the fact that James Jones didn’t have something by Jim Jones as his walk-up music. “Everybody Jones” would have been an especially apropos choice. Make it happen, James!
But to return to more relevant matters…
Pillars on the concourse showcase each season’s Opening Day line-up (through 2000). Was 1991 really this long ago? If so, then maybe it’s time for me to finally take The Simpsons Sing the Blues out of my Discman.
Main Street Baseball took control of the team at too late a date to implement major changes for 2011, but concessions were switched from in-house to outside vendor PSC. General Manager Eric Jensen (a former Mavericks clubbie) told me that this has resulted in increased quality and profit.
I asked the (not at all friendly) guy working the stand what a “McOwen’s Masterpiece” was, and the answer had something to do with two hot dogs, chili, cheese, cole slaw, and who knows what else. I was still digesting last night’s “Stealth Burger,” at the time, so this was all too much for me to process.
Also available on the concourse: kettle corn and shaved ice with a DIY flavor station.
One of the most charming aspects of the Mavericks experience is that the team “passes the hat” after each home run. A comically oversized cowboy hat, as it were.
Vincent Catricala and Daniel Carroll both homered as part of the Mavs’ 10-4 win. The former earned $50.68 for his efforts, the latter $53. In the world of Minor League Baseball, that’s a nice chunk of change — a couple of steak dinners in place of another dire set of choices at the combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell. (Meanwhile, I’m dealing with the culinary options of Adelanto’s Hawthorne Suites — sunflower seeds and Dr. Pepper is what’s for dinner.)
To sum it all up, High Desert is a situation worth following. It will be interesting to see what changes Main Street Baseball has in store for the team in 2012, as this is the same group that has found success in Quad Cities. But without a significant re-investment in this ballpark, it seems unlikely that there is a long-term professional baseball future in Adelanto (but, again, I’ll save such pontificating for my MiLB.com persona).
Instead, I’ll leave you with one last glimpse from the lap of luxury.