On the Road: Trying Not To Stare at the Sun in Bakersfield
Today marks the beginning of another deluge of road trip content, this time from the west coast, and to begin I’ll let you in on a little Minor League Baseball writing secret:
Instead of referring to a stadium as “past its prime,” “dilapidated,” “outmoded” or “ratchet,” it is a good idea to use the word “venerable.” This adjectival euphemism bestows a grace and dignity upon the facility that these other words lack, while still hipping the in-the-know reader to the fact that it has seen better days and then some.
So, with that said, let it be known that Bakersfield’s 72-year-old Sam Lynn Stadium is the most venerable stadium in all of Minor League Baseball.
Sam Lynn currently hosts the Blaze of the Class A Advanced California League, two classifications below the tire shop located directly across the street.
Upon turning onto the road that leads to the stadium parking lot, one passes a different sort of baseball facility. These are the Bakersfield batting cages, open to those who have not yet been drafted by a Major League organization as well as those who never will be.
Ringing the perimeter of the parking lot, on what is either the north or south side (I left my compass at home) is some sort of armed forces facility. I wish I could tell you what sort, but that would have required reportorial initiative well beyond my pay grade.
But as for Sam Lynn, there is no directional confusion. To get to Sam Lynn, you walk west.
Before it was dumb-downed for an increasingly unsophisticated American audience, the main entrance to Sam Lynn was known as the “Menage a Trois.”
The above sentence may or may not be true, and most likely isn’t. But, at any rate, by the time I arrived at the stadium there were already a considerable amount of people waiting to proceed through the Three-Way.
My status as America’s 1456th most well-known sports blogger allowed me to proceed past the hoi polloi, and soon I came face to face with that which I alluded to earlier. This is, perhaps, Sam Lynn’s single-most defining characteristic: IT WAS BUILT FACING THE SUN.
Sam Lynn is the only ballpark in Minor League Baseball that “enjoys” this distinction, which forces the Blaze to start their games at 7:30 if not later. The denizens of the press box have learned to adapt to this strange reality.
“Strange reality” describes nearly everything about the Blaze and their operation. For far more on the surreal nature of Sam Lynn (or at least what I perceived to be the surreal nature of Sam Lynn), then please check out my MiLB.com piece. (THIS IS AN ORDER.)
In case you didn’t know, the Blaze are a Reds affiliate.
And, also in case you didn’t know, last season Billy Hamilton stole 104 bases with the Blaze while en route to an all-time professional record of 155.
That cushion was being used by Dan Besbris, pre-med student-turned-Blaze broadcaster. Here, he and lawyer-turned-Blaze general manager Elizabeth Martin enjoy a pre-game beverage. That’s just how they roll in Bakersfield.
At the right hand side of the press box resides official scorer Tim Wheeler, who hasn’t missed a game since he began doing the job in 1995. And not only that! Wheeler also reported that he’s “never left the press box to take a leak” during a game either.
The scoreboard, like pretty much everything else about Sam Lynn, is venerable. And, also, it’s haunted.
“The board is possessed,” said Besbris. “In the seventh inning, a seven comes up no matter what we do.”
Mysterious sevens notwithstanding, Wheeler does a yeoman’s job of operating the scoreboard (although, admittedly, I don’t know what a yeoman is or what sort of job he would do). His operating module is a work of art, adorned with press clippings, souvenir detritus and the phone numbers of relevant league personnel (including that of legendary California League historian/statistician Bill Weiss, who passed away in 2011. “I keep it there just because I like to see his name,” Wheeler told me).
The Blaze press box was a fun place to be, featuring more Gallo’s humor than a comedy show catering to low budget oenophiles. But duty, as she so often does, was calling me in her soft yet persistent singsong voice. With the sun just beginning to descend behind the giant wooden sunscreen in center field, I proceeded to the mound and threw out a first pitch.
The good news on that first pitch was that I didn’t bounce it. The bad news was that it was significantly high and would have hit an average-sized right-handed hitter in the jawbone (presuming that said hitter was somehow unable to move out of the way of a 47 mile an hour offering). The first pitch was caught by Blaze reliever Jimmy Moran who, upon meeting me, said “Hey, the guy who writes for Minor League Baseball!”
Also, I’m the guy who didn’t try his shirt on before buying it. Somehow I’m still a “small” at Uniqlo, because I look like a total fool in this medium.
Jimmy Moran is now my favorite player in the California League. Not only did he recognize me, but he later tweeted the following.
Got to catch @bensbiz s first pitch tonight at our game!
— Jimmy Moran (@Jimmy_Moran1990) August 4, 2013
I left the playing field expecting a rapturous reception, but instead everyone’s attention was on the mascot. This is Heater:
And this is a creature that, until being reappropriated by the Blaze, had only been associated with particularly traumatic psycilobin experiences. Its name is Torch.
Meanwhile, the playing field was downright incendiary looking. If you look closely, you can see that there are players on that field stretching.
The fans down the first base line were making like Eleanor Friedberger:
Other fans, meanwhile, escaped the descendant wrath of the fiery orb by stocking up on provisions.
Give us a taco we demand or close down this taco stand!
But for the players, and those watching the players from an intimate vantage point, the waiting was about to come to an end.
The crowd was instructed to rise, with an additional instruction to the gentlemen to please remove their hats, so that we could honor our country by listening to an instrumental version of the National Anthem played over the PA.
And with that, the game was finally, mercifully, underway! And with that this post has finally, mercifully, drawn to a conclusion! Stay tuned for part two, featuring designated eating, dizzy bat small talk, nuclear storage and poolboy anarchism. And, of course, make sure to read my Blaze article on MiLB.com.
Until then, thank you for reading the most venerable blog in all of Minor League Baseball!