On the Road: Taking It To the Rooftop in Hagerstown

One of the things I love most about Minor League Baseball — stop me if you’ve heard this one before — is how much the atmosphere can vary from location to location. No matter the league or level of play, you never quite know what you’re going to get.

I spent Wednesday evening within the vast crustacean-crushing expanse of Aberdeen’s Cal Ripken Stadium, but Thursday was a far different story — a jump up in the level of play, but a step back in time in terms of the stadium environment.

Welcome to Municipal Stadium, the 80-year-old home of the Hagerstown Suns.

I was immediately reminded of Kinston’s Grainger Stadium — covered grandstand seating, bleachers down the right and left field lines, and a concourse located directly between the ticket booth and the stadium itself.

And see that grandiloquent spiral staircase up there? That is how one gains access to the rooftop press box.

From this vantage point, I was able to get a prime view of the pre-game dance team performance…

as well as the ballpark’s rustic surroundings.

Just don’t look down, as vertigo is the result.

The pressbox itself is decorated with a beautiful baseball-emblazoned carpet…

as well as holes in the ceiling made by actual baseballs.

It’s a pleasant albeit dilapidated environment, one certainly not built to accommodate the hordes of media who descended upon Hagerstown earlier this season to cover the likes of super-teen Bryce Harper and 20-something extraordinaire Stephen Strasburg. For more on that check out my piece on MiLB.com.

Before the game I did my usual array of Flipcam interviews, conducting these riveting conversations just outside of the home clubhouse.

And while it’s not visible in the shot, that red circle amidst the retired numbers reads “Adenhart” in honor of Hagerstown native Nick Adenhart. The team recently held “Nick Adenhart Night” at the stadium, featuring a memorabilia auction to benefit the charitable foundation established in his memory.

It was September 1, and even baseball players thoughts were turning to football.

While visiting Aberdeen caused me wax rhapsodic about endless expanses, the Hagerstown experience is all about the intimacy.

post-industrial Class A

Thirsty Thursday: the beginning stages

The dugouts here are indeed unique, the closest to home plate that I have ever seen. On the home side (first base), fans can plop down their concessions on the roof and watch from there (an area generally occupied by host families and booster club members). On the third base side there is the row of dugout seating seen above.

While the videoboard was on the fritz, the manually-operated scoreboard worked just fine.

And further along the wall is the visitor’s bullpen, looking for all the world like a piece of outfield signage.

The BlueClaws Bullpen: Providing Relief for Lakewood's South Atlantic League Club Since 2001

It really is close quarters all around. The following picture shows the aftermath of a between-inning promotion, with the contestants sidestepping fans and their concessions as they leave the top of the dugout.

This has led the Suns’ front office to get creative with some of their promotions — in one memorable instance, rubber chickens were thrown off of the roof to contestants down on the field.

Suns' staff members Paige Tanner and Sarah Grasmon, ready to throw some fowl.

My camera’s number one adversary is movement of any kind, but I nonetheless did my best to document this most unique between-inning endeavor.

While back up on the roof I took in the view from the so-called “best seat in the house,” a wooden bench just to the right of the press box entrance.

It wasn’t quite as relaxing as I would have liked. As I was trying to prop my feet up in a pose of exaggerated comfort, a foul ball was hit in my direction and slammed off the press box facade with a disconcerting smack. Suns broadcaster Bryan Holland, a veteran of such ball-istic missiles, seemed to be unfazed.

So back down to the concourse I went, the land of vague PSAs and emotionally absent vending machines.

There were discounted hot dogs to be had at the main concession stand…

but duty compelled me to visit Hartle’s Fry Tent.

Deep-fried everything!

It was wing night (six for $3), so I opted for an order of those — with a side of beet eggs!

The wings weren’t very good. But beet eggs — hardboiled, peeled and pickled — were a definitely worthwhile $2 purchase. And, like a committed proponent of a classless egalitarian society, they are red all the way through.

The light meal left me feeling like I had to visit the leftfield light pole, which was knocked down during a harrowing July thunderstorm (only one game had to be canceled, remarkably enough).

Here’s the new light pole location, with the old clearly visible.

Meanwhile, Thirsty Thursday was in full swing. It was definitely a bit of a rougher crowd down there — bald heads and tattoos amidst a thick crowd of cigarette smoke.

While hanging out amidst the Thirsty Thursday crew, I happened to overhear the most obscene conversation I’ve ever been privy to at a Minor League ballpark. Details are confidential.

Not confidential is the ballgame’s final score — 10-1 in favor of the visiting Lakewood BlueClaws. Here’s the winning team engaging in ritualistic post-game celebrations, a fitting final image from an evening largely devoted to taking things in from an elevated vantage point.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

11 Comments

Hi Ben,
We visited Hagerstown this summer and found it to be a very unique place! Quaint in its age, yet tough in many respects. We sat in the first row next to the dugout and the kids who asked for balls were downright rude yelling at umpires and players alike. I thought they were awful but the guy behind us said they were worse the night before, swearing at everyone! I thought the field was in the worse shape of any minor league place I’d been in! Our day was made though when we moved under the roof and enjoyed the great baseball banter with two older fans. It made our visit!!

Thanks for the comment, Terry. Municipal Stadium is definitely a little rough around the edges, but I really enjoyed it. Not too many places left with that kind of ballpark atmosphere.

Really sorry I didn’t make it up to watch the game with you … a few comments of my own on Hagerstown …

Sorry not to see mention or picture of the Scoreboard Cowboy, one of the awesome characters (and great guys) and something of a Hagerstown Suns legend.

Glad, though, to see the funnel cakes are still there. Way back when in the paleolithic era, 1990, when the team was in the Double-A Eastern League and I was about six or seven months pregnant (to give perspective, said baby is now an adult, college graduate, and living in Los Angeles), I made my first visit to Hagerstown to see the visiting Albany-Colonie Yankees and my friends who had moved up from the 1989 Prince William Cannons. Thanks to my “condition,” I was able to cheat on my perennial diet and had TWO FUNNEL CAKES. Still remember that as a little slice of heaven.

I can’t make it up to the pressbox, though. Those steps give me vertigo. I like watching from the seats behind home plate, or else the little umbrella tables down the left field line where you can have a drink and relax as long as you keep one eye peeled for line drive fouls.

Yeah, not sure how I missed the Scoreboard Cowboy — next time!

And those definitely must have been some good funnel cakes if you remember them some two decades later. These days you can even get a deep-fried Twinkie!

That looks like my kind of place. Except the eggs, that’s gross (the one food I won’t touch, red or otherwise. I love the light pole remnants. In 20 years people will say “remember when the pole fell? Here’s the base!” Things like that are what make the little parks worth visiting.

So is your personal nightmare being trapped in a closet with an egg-eating mascot that doesn’t represent an actual thing?

Thanks for these interesting pictures. I haven’t been there in several years, and it appears — though I can’t be sure from the photos — that the old backless bleachers under the grandstand roof have been replaced by individual seats, in green. Is this true? If so, it would make a trip there much more appealing to me.

Yes, that is the case. Covered grandstand is now all individual seats, with bleachers down the right and left field lines.

Cowboy Lance was done way with a season or two ago. So was the idea of the throwback scoreboard bring run by lucky fans. I ran the scoreboard once and had the honor of spending a game with Cowboy Lance. According the promo people I talked to the last time I was at a game (earlier this season), the new owners hate the song “Cotton Eyed Joe” and since that was what played for Lance every game, they decided to get rid of him.

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