On the Road: Gunite for Greatness Amid Reptile Dysfunction in Visalia
“Structurally unique, I guess you’d call it.”
That’s how Visalia Rawhide broadcaster Donny Baarns summed up Rawhide Ballpark, his place of employment since 2008. And with Donny, I would agree. This place is structurally unique.
At its core, the ballpark (known as “Recreation Park” for the majority of its existence) is as no-frills as they come. The current grandstand, built in 1963, is little more than a huge mound of dirt repurposed from Route 198 construction efforts poured over with concrete and gunite. I don’t know much about gunite (Baarns told me it was “all the rage in the ’60s, apparently”), but it appears to be a construction method in which concrete is shot out of a hose. Who Pneu?
The grand gunnite structure seen above faces outward toward this idyllic (at least at that moment) intersection.
On the inside, there’s a whole lot more than just an outsized gunnite slab. A series of renovations over the years 2003-2011 has given the ballpark a second life and then some, with a 360 degree cavalcade of new wild west and/or dairy-themed additions.
Here we are in “The Pasture,” a grass seating area wrapping around the right field foul line.
There is a small parking lot behind the terrace, and a quite verdant lot at that, but vehicular occupation of this area will soon cease to be as the Rawhide are partnering with the local Rotary Club and turning it into a “Splash Pad” that will be open to the public on non-game days as well.
This sign shows the distance from Visalia to other Diamondbacks affiliates as well as the distance to the parent club. Of course, the “Yakima” sign is no longer valid as that franchise has since moved to Hillsboro (the concluding stop on this very road trip). Also, I find it interesting that there is a “Visalia 0” sign. I mean, isn’t that implied? That when you are in a certain location then you are zero distance away from it? Right now, I am 0 miles away from writing this blog post although I was I wish I was .25 miles away playing pinball in my local laundromat.
Anyhow, signs, signs, everywhere there’s signs.
That Kirby Puckett quote is in such a prominent position because Kirby is the lone Visalia player to have been enshrined in Cooperstown. He played the entire 1983 season as a member of the Visalia Oaks (his lone full Minor League campaign), and hit .314-9-97 and stole 48 bases over 138 games. A more recent assortment of notable Visalia alumni can be seen in this photo collage located to the right of the bar.
Fans of chronology, gunnite, and the intersection of the two will really and truly love this ballpark. (I’m hoping that this appears as a pull quote in future Rawhide promotional materials)
As will fans of history in general. Baarns (who, given his name, should really be working in Double-A), has worked hard to research and publicize the rich history of Visalia baseball. He gave a speech about just this at the 2011 Baseball Winter Meetings, which soon led to this impeccably written MiLB.com article.
For one final bit of history, we go to the Visalia Hall of Fame located along the concourse on the first base side.
The final plaque features not a player, but a team.
Would you believe that even though the Cal League only has 10 teams, and that, currently, six of those teams make the playoffs every season, 1978 marks the last time that Visalia has won a championship? After some diligent research, the team was able to ascertain that this prolonged title drought (and a long string of bad luck in general) can be attributed to the vengeful ghost of Joe Charboneau’s pet alligator. His name was Chopper.
This curse is totally legit, as I discovered, and for far more please read my MiLB.com piece that is dedicated to this subject and this subject only. Those who are truly serious about appeasing this spiritually unsettled deceased reptile can buy these shirts in the team store.
Meanwhile, this Chopper replica can sometimes be seen lurking about the Pasture.
Rawhide GM Jennifer Pendergraft told me that she always wanted a pet alligator and, thus, wanted to get one for the ballpark.
“But it turns out that they’re highly illegal in California,” she said. “And I didn’t want to have PETA coming after us.”
Those seeking refuge from alligators, or the ghosts of alligators, or whatever it is that’s going on right now, would do well to visit the Fan Dugout. Here, there is no afterlife turmoil to be found.
The Rawhide have what just may be the least amount of foul territory in all of Minor League Baseball, and as such these seats might be closer to the action than anywhere else. (I know that the Asheville Tourists, among other clubs, would beg to differ). At any rate, these dugout seats are available for groups of 20-25 and Baarns noted that they are “great for softball or Little League teams.”
The view, obscured:
Moving back to the concourse, one can visit the Watering Hole in order to satiate any lingering food and beverage needs.
One of those food options is tacos, which, pictorially, look delicious.
From there, our tour moves across the way to the Snakebite Saloon — because nothing says refreshment like dying a slow and agonizingly painful death as poisonous venom courses through your system! (The establishment’s slogan, if my notes are to be believed.)
The prices at the Snakebite Saloon seemed reasonable enough to me, but either way they’ve got you over a barrel.
Take these broken wings and learn to fly because in the nearby Cold Zone they have misters, Mister.
At this juncture of the evening the gates were open and it was nearing game time.
Baarns and I headed up toward his press box abode, but not before one final tour stop. To once again paraphrase my favorite insufferable protest chant: this is what a Class A Advanced Skybox looks like:
The view toward the field:
And the views from behind:
On the cusp of game time, I retreated to the Rawhide commissary and furtively ate some Buffalo Wild Wings (gluten-free!) like a scared chipmunk.
And with that moment of dignity, I’ll conclude Part One of this Visalia blogging saga. Hopefully Part Two will be Gator than the sum of its parts.