On the Road: Inching Closer to the End in Yakima

In the grand tradition of serialized adventures everywhere, today’s post picks up exactly where yesterday’s left off: in Yakima, standing at attention behind a patriotic costumed bear.

But Boomer, like boomers everywhere, will soon have his glory days behind him. In 2013 the Bears will move to Hillsboro, WA so NOW is the time to enjoy baseball in Yakima. That is what I was there to do.

So c’mon dudes! Play ball!

As play began, I scurried to document a cornucopia of vantage points.

In retrospect, “cornucopia” was probably overstating it. I documented a “smattering” of vantage points, and then proceeded to the first base side of the ballpark in order to participate in one of the team’s signature between-inning events.

Another night, another meat costume.

This turned out to be a rather elaborate race. In addition to Boomer the bear, the Central Washington University mascot — a Wildcat — was in attendance. Upon the start of the race, Boomer and the Wildcat emerged and blocked Hamburger and Golden Fries from advancing. This allowed me to take a commanding lead, so I turned around and taunted them while running backwards.

But then a couple of other mascots arrived on the scene, and I’m still not really sure who they were or what they were about. As Yakima is known for apple production (among other things), I’m going to assume that they were apples. A red male apple with a pair of garden shears and a yellow female apple with garden shears, to be more precise.

So, anyway, I successfully eluded the red apple and his garden shears. I think he was trying to stop me, but I’m not sure why — do apples just not like hot dogs? Is this a thing?

So, yeah, anyway: I, Ben Hill, age 33, won a hot dog race. Now please excuse me while I hit re-fresh on OKCupid.

After the race, this concatenation of costumed colluders posed for a picture. What a bunch of weirdos:

I left that crew to their own nefarious devices, in order to shed my hot dog costume. Next on the agenda: eating a hot dog! (Such an act, my psychiatrist tells me, is a subconscious manifestation of self-hatred. I told him that it was just because I was hungry.)

That’s a kielbasa, actually, and ordered sans-bun in order to meet my gluten-free specifications. Next to it is an order of garlic fries. A great meal all-around, and the kielbasa — firm, smoky and topped with a sweet and deeply caramelized peppers and onions admixture — certainly appeared superior to the “Killer Kielbasa” that had been on offer in Salem-Keizer the evening before. 

The above items could be obtained at the simply-named “Bar-B-Q” stand.

Simply-named, yes. Also: inaccurate. Bears GM KL Wombacher wryly noted that it was “Yakima BBQ,” meaning “not really BBQ at all” because, essentially, there is no BBQ in Yakima. It was basically burgers and dogs and fries and what-have-you. But it was good, and that’s the important thing.

That simple Wild West aesthetic is evident throughout the concession areas, such as here: the stadium’s one and only beer stand. Let it be known that the beer served here is cold:

“My jeans are bluer than yours.”

Dinner completed, I returned to the seating area to find a robust Yakima sunset in full bloom.

As day gave way to night, I ascended the stairs to the press box and joined Bears announcer John Hadden for an inning on the radio.

And, no, I didn’t mess up the chronology here — the above picture really was taken after the two that preceded it. Guess the sunset hues hadn’t quite yet subsumed the sky beyond center field.

Upon completing my on-air obligations (which I always enjoy, thanks to Hadden for the invite), this riveting episode of Upstairs Downstairs continued. After my descent, I poked my head into what had to be the most barren (or “bear”en, as it were) team store that I’d ever seen.

Everything must go! Seriously!

I passed on the opportunity to pick up any priced-to-move souvenirs, and instead watched an inning from the field level Legends Club. Beer might be out for me, in this celiac disease reality, but a crisp chardonnay is A-OK!

Upon returning to the press box, I tried to find the perfect auditory balance between Hadden and Boise Hawks broadcaster Mike Safford. Northwest League Baseball, in surround sound!

I then did a half-inning on the air with Safford (thanks, Mike!) and upon re-entry to the press box corridor discovered that Hadden had acquired a new broadcast partner.

That young color man was right to be wearing the rally cap. After falling behind by five runs, the Bears tied the game thanks to a three-run double by Loftus in the seventh and a two-run homer by Michael Lang in the eighth. (I had interviewed both of those individuals prior to the game, and I’d like to think that my encouraging presence inspired their eventual offensive heroics).

As we entered the bottom of the ninth, John Belushi’s famous “Nothing’s over until we say it is” speech from Animal House was played on the videoboard.

I disagree with playing that clip in a tie ballgame (it’s more of a rallying cry than an exhortation to get over the hump), but this digression gives me an opportunity to note that the audio selections throughout the game were phenomenal. Those came courtesy of multi-tasking PA announcer Todd Lyons, a DJ on KATS 94.5 (“The Rock Station,” glad to hear that there are at least a few of those left). Lyons had tunes at the ready for all sorts of game events, especially when it came to situations in which the opposing team could be mocked. When Boise Hawks manager Mark Johnson was ejected, his path off the playing field was to the strains of both “Na Na Na” and “Hit the Road, Jack.” But better was the playing of Patsy Cline’s “I Fall to Pieces” during a meeting on the mound (“You want me to act like we’ve never kissed/You want me to forget, pretend we’ve never met”).

In the bottom of the ninth, a double and a walk put runners on first and second with two outs. I was invested in the game, but also experimenting with different lighting and shutter speed settings on my camera.

Loftus, en route to drawing a walk.

The winning run on second:

And then — bam! — one of the more unlikely walk-off victories I’ve ever seen. Bizarrely, what I remember is not at all what is recorded in game log, but what I saw was Steven Rodriguez rocket a ball down the first base line. Hawks first baseman Dan Vogelbach took a stab at it and the ball caromed off of him, allowing Kevin Medrano to score the game’s winning run.

How often does one score from second on a ball that doesn’t leave the infield? And why does the game log say that Rodriguez hit a single to left field? Am I going insane?

Regardless, it was victory for the hometown team and pandemonium ensued.

And that was as good a note as any to end my brief stint in Yakima. Soon enough the euphoria subsided, and only the groundskeeper remained.

I ignored friendly sign-based invitations to light up a cigarette…

and trudged down this winding metal ramp and out of the ballpark.

In the absence of Minor League Baseball, I’ll probably never have a reason to visit Yakima County Ballpark again. But I’m glad that I got the opportunity, with bear-ly anytime to spare.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

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