On the Road: Hope Springs Eternal in the Mahoning Valley
Please note that this chronological blog narrative is about to go slightly askew, momentarily skipping past a memorable Thursday in Lake County in favor of a more straight ahead post documenting Opening Day in Mahoning Valley.
Yes — Opening Day. The New-York Penn and Northwest Leagues kicked off their 76-game seasons on Friday, bringing Class A Short Season baseball to the masses. The Scrappers are in the former circuit, despite not residing in either New York or Pennsylvania (as any follower of the Pacific Coast League can tell you, geographical designations can be quite liberal in the world of Minor League Baseball).
I arrived at Eastwood Field before the gates opened, and took in the calm before the storm.
It’s an idyllic setting, but don’t be fooled. The ballpark (built in 1999) is located behind a mall, and clustered among a seemingly endless array of big box retailers and chain restaurants. The drive to the stadium from my hotel wasn’t on any actual roads — I just took a right at the Home Depot, drove past a shopping center and movie theater and — voila! Baseball.
Here’s the view from behind the ballpark.
Soon after arriving, I did a series of interviews for a story on MiLB.com. As part of my ongoing quest to assure you that I am not “just” a blogger, I implore you to read it HERE.
One of the individuals I interviewed was Tony Mansolino, making his debut as hitting coach of the Scrappers after retiring as a player last season.
It was good to see Tony again — in 2008, I did a story on his children’s book “Dreams Will Come, Dreams Will Go.” It has gone on to sell 1000 copies independently and he is hoping for a wider release.
But this was Opening Day; the dream of baseball had come true once again in the Mahoning Valley. If you can come up with a worse segue than that, then I’d like to hear it!
The gates were opened, and the fans came streaming in.
Scrappy, the only chain-wearing mascot in Minor League Baseball.
Scrappy is prominently represented in the team’s logos. I was familiar with this design:
But the team wore this one, which kind of bites.
Take your pick at the “Pet Store”:
Scenes from the stadium, as the first pitch drew nearer and nearer.
Pitcher Kyle Vetter and outfielder Aaron Siliga were amiably signing autographs in the kid’s “Fun Zone.” I was surprised that Siliga was out there, given that he was in the starting line-up and the game was going to begin in less than 30 minutes. You’ve got to love Minor League, for that and 3.2 million other reasons.
Ceremonial first pitch…
And, finally, BASEBALL!
Baseball’s all well and good (the best, even), but I had a thick cache of Dawg Dollars burning a hole in my pocket.
I strongly considered getting an item that could be liberally doused with “Scrappy’s favorite sauce”:
Or perhaps that could be chased with canned tequila:
But instead I opted for the timeless combo of Warsaw Wings, Nachos Supreme, and Pepsi.
Warsaw wings are simply deep-fried pierogies drenched in hot sauce. Delicious, but not for the faint of heart. A closer look:
Dessert was courtesy of Handel’s, a very well-regarded (and delectable) Ohio-based ice cream purveyor. I opted for “Scrappy’s Favorite” — caramel flavored ice cream with chocolate covered bone-shaped pretzels (not to be confused with “Scrappy’s favorite sauce).
As the sun set, the ballpark took on a new character. One more nuanced and refined. Genteel, even.
The Scrappers ended up losing to the fearsome Jamestown Jammers, but that didn’t stop the festivities from continuing. Launch-A-Ball included human targets both living (an intern standing on the mound with a garbage can and catcher’s mask) and inanimate (a cardboard Grady Sizemore).
And this? It gave way to fireworks.
And once the pyrotechnics were complete, it was finally time to call it a night.
An endless expanse of asphalt awaited us all.