On the Road: Idiosyncrasies Amidst a Somnabulant Sunday in Salem
I’ve been at this “gig” for quite a while now, and therefore have at least a rudimentary idea of what sort of ballpark atmosphere is to be expected at most Minor League locales. It’s my job to know such things.
But there are still some teams out there that, for whatever reason, I’ve had very little contact with through the years. The Salem-Keizer Volcanoes, your Class A Short-Season affiliate of the San Francisco Giants, are one of them. So when I pulled into the parking lot at Volcanoes stadium, I had very little idea what to expect. Who were these “Volcanoes,” and what were they about?
From the outside, my first reference point was that of fellow short-season entity the Mahoning Valley Scrappers. For, like the Scrappers, the Volcanoes’ stadium is located within a vast expanse of consumer-catering big box entities. Asphalt, asphalt everywhere.
But on the inside, it was not Mahoning Valley that came to mind. My interior reference point was High Desert’s Mavericks Stadium; for, like High Desert, Volcanoes Stadium is sun-bleached and a bit older-seeming that its actual age (the facility opened in 1997). There is an open concourse (I estimate that it is about 315 degrees, allowing access to all but center field) and both regular and bleacher seating abounds.
And while the view from the front is dominated by asphalt, behind the stadium lies a desolate farmland frontier.
During my attempts to document this beyond-the-outfield environment, I was approached by a pair of “broadcast assistants” from the visiting Vancouver Canadians. That’s Jeremy on the left and K.P. on the right.
It was the first road trip of the season for both of them (a “reward,” more or less, for a job well done), and to celebrate this momentous occurrence they taped an interview with me in which I hyped my impending visit to Vancouver. I’m not sure if this interview ever materialized online, but if it did it was no doubt enjoyed by a couple of people. Several, even.
After my brief brush with recognition, I commenced my pre-game wanderings. While not quite reaching High Desert “Sky Box” levels of utilitarianism, Volcanoes Stadium offers a decidedly no-frills atmosphere. But who needs frills, anyway?
This is the kid’s area, one of very few I’ve ever seen to be inflatable-free:
Down the left field line one finds the Lava Lodge, from which emanated the intricate Parisian prog-rock stylings of Magma (not really).
The dugouts, meanwhile, are veritable craters.
My pre-game wandering also yielded sights such as the “baseball garden” and “the world’s largest Volcanoes jersey.”
My wandering then reached heroic proportions, as I fearlessly ascended the stairs to the stadium’s second level.
Many of the suites were decorated according to the whims of the season ticket holders who had paid to occupy them.
Meanwhile, down below, the hometown team met with local Rotarians in a pre-game receiving line.
They then retreated to the right field line to engage in pepper games.
I made my way behind home plate for the singing of the National Anthem…
And then, finally, it was time to, as the umpires say, “Play Ball!”
Vancouver Canadians announcer Rob Fai was there to narrate all of the action, live and direct from this sepulchral concrete chamber.
I soon came across this affable intern, who was wheeling what has to be Minor League Baseball’s most idiosyncratic souvenir cart.
All of the souvenirs were $5, and I was informed that this year’s number one seller is the Mohawk Wig (complete with flashing LED light display). But, being nine years old in spirit, I was particularly enamored with this.
Despite the rampant availability of the above item, not once during the ballgame did I hear the sweet sounds of simulated flatulence. To the children in attendance on this beautiful Sunday evening: I am disappointed in you.
But anyway. My encounter with the idiosyncratic souvenir cart directly segued into an encounter with a most idiosyncratic mascot. Meet Crater.
I didn’t have much time to interact with this red-eyed baseball-headed mythical beast, due to other social obligations. An individual named Jared Ravich had arrived at the ballpark, with his wife Aquilla and two young children. Jared is a Senior Technical Producer for MLB Advanced Media, and, more specifically, he’s MiLB.com’s man behind the scenes. (Jared knows coding like the back of his hand, which he sees a lot of since his job requires him to be in front of a keyboard.)
When I caught up with Jared, he and his son Cal were inspecting a foul ball that had been tossed to them by relief pitcher Matthew “@Texecutioner” Graham.
But this thorough examination of Northwest League president Bob Richmond’s signature was interrupted by the appearance of three charismatic young vendors. As they made their way toward our spot in the right field berm, I heard the gentleman on the left make the following sales pitch to fans seated in the bleachers nearby: “Cotton Candy! It doubles as a pillow and is good for your soul.”
Amused by their antics, Jared called them over for a bag of Cracker Jacks. In exchange for this purchase, they offered to perform an a capella rendition of either “My Girl,” “Lean on Me,” or “a rap that we wrote.” As we had just heard the rap performance from the bleachers, we went with “My Girl.”
These guys were great, and, really, I should have gotten video (it was a bad day for my FlipCam, as well as reportorial initiative in general. I was off of my game).
So if you read this, teenaged vendor triumvirate: send me a video of your various routines and I would be more than happy to post on the blog. But, anyway, more than a bag of Cracker Jacks was going to be needed for our nine innings of sustenance. The Volcanoes concession options were surprisingly varied, all things considered.
But the area that seemed to be the most popular was the “Dog House,” featuring the so-called “Killer Kielbasa.”
Such an item is now off-limits to me, because of celiac disease, but Jared had volunteered to be the evening’s “designated eater.” Here he is, about to take a gluten-filled bullet on my behalf. And with grace and dignity to spare:
Jared’s take on the Killer Kielbasa: “Oh, man, this is so messy and juicy. The relish is a necessary component, as it works as a lubricant and counteracts the saltiness. I’d give it a B to B+, but it’s the saltiest kielbasa in the world and too greasy for an A.”
I meanwhile, had some B to B+ garlic fries — heavy on the garlic!
Our seats offered a prime view of the home bullpen, where some rookies were getting ready to warm up.
The bullpen idiosyncrasies didn’t end there — this is a team that goes out of its way to protect its players from wayward foul balls.
As the sun set, the Ravich clan exited the ball park in order to start the long process of putting the young ones to bed. I, meanwhile, meandered slowly back toward the home plate area.
And it was from that vantage point that the game ended. The Volcanoes, suffering from a severe case of erupt-ile dysfunction, fell quietly by a score of 3-0.
I then observed local superhero “Blanket Man,” as he silently oversaw a post-game Run the Bases.
And, with that, it’s time to put a lid on this post.
Then how about this?
Signing off from a sleepy Sunday evening in Salem-Keizer, with a song in my heart and sunshine on my shoulder.
I remain MLBAM’s most idiosyncratic blogger.