On the Road: Around, Down, Up, Over and Out in Fresno
Part One of this Fresno saga featured slow elevators, neglected stanzas, mascot wardrobes and deceased appliances. It was a masterwork, in other words, and like all masterworks it is bound to be neglected until long after I, its creator, have shuffled off of this mortal coil and back into the flux. I accepted this fate long ago and am at peace with it, having learned to still the superfluous concerns of the raging ego within the infinite beauty of the eternal present.
And speaking of infinite beauty, on the evening in which I was in town Chukchansi Park and its immediate surroundings were positively radiant.
I took these pictures from a perhaps not-so radiant area of the ballpark, as Grizzlies media relations coordinator Chris Kutz and I were wandering in and around Chuckchansi’s obscure backroads.
Gotta love it!
The Grizzlies are the most prominent occupants of Chukchansi Park, but they’re not the only ones. The Fresno Fuego soccer team plays in the facility as well, and when they do they play upon an uncoiled iteration of this massive turf lollipop.
Beyond the tarp lies glorious piles of detritus, and beyond the detritus lurks an orange-shirted team employee tasked with operating the manual right field scoreboard.
But this team employee is not alone among the debris. He’s got these guys to keep him company.
Perhaps the cats know what this vehicle is used for, because none of the humans I talked to had any idea.
And finally, there is this.
I don’t know what “C.B.T.” stands for, but I do know that visiting clubhouse manager Joe Castillo smokes ribs in this thing at the end of a homestand and then serves said ribs as the centerpiece of a post-game meal. My guess is that Mr. Castillo receives better-than-average tips for his efforts, and between him and the legendary tacos often prepared by head groundskeeper David Jacinto it is apparent that the Grizzlies are among the best post-game food providers in the PCL.
While I was loathe to leave the ramshackle charm of the Grizzlies’ storage area, Chris and I soon proceeded to the outfield area proper. Again, let it be said that it was a beautiful night in downtown Fresno.
In the outfield one can find the “Grizzlies Garden,” created and cultivated by the 2013 graduating class of downtown Fresno’s Acel Charter School (located the proverbial “hop, skip, and a jump” away from the stadium).
The school year was over and the garden’s best days were behind it, but the students had grown the likes of apples, corn, strawberries, lettuce, tomatoes, oxford commas, and chard. This project was under the umbrella of the Grizzlies “Farm Grown” program.
“We’re trying our best to tie in [the Central Valley's] agriculture industry and community with the Grizzlies,” said Chris. “We’re all farm grown. The players are farm grown through the Giants system and we in Fresno are farm grown because so much of our food is grown here locally.”
Chris went on to explain that the high school garden was the beginning of a much larger project, as the Grizzlies are seeking to “tie in the farming community with our urban environment.” To this end, they’ll soon be turning this expanse of outfield area dirt into a garden featuring demonstration plots of prominent local crops.
Also tied in with the “Farm Grown” initiative is this very cool recurring promo advertised on the concourse.
Chukchansi Park was built in 2002, just before what Chris called “the berm rage,” and as such there isn’t a lot of berm seating.
But there is a small berm area that surrounds the pool, the centerpiece of a private outfield group area available for rental on a per-game basis. At this moment in time the life guard had no lives to guard, thus calling into question the essential premise behind her reason for being.
(And, for the record, the last Grizzlies player to have achieved a so-called “Splash Hit” was Cole Gillespie this past June.)
And when the focus finally moves from the food to the field, let it be known that the view is spectacular (not-so spectacular: the sound of the stadium PA blaring from directly above).
When Chukchansi Park was built, one of the guiding principles behind it was that people would come in and out of the park via downtown Fresno. Hence, this prominent outfield entrance that connects the park with Fulton Mall’s pedestrian walkway.
Unfortunately, it hasn’t quite worked out the way that its planners intended. The pedestrian walkway is well maintained and public art can be found throughout, but most of the storefronts are empty. Even though there was a game going on at the time, there was no signs of additional life outside the stadium.
Given the state of Fulton Mall, it’s easy to interpret the above statue as a cry of frustration. A feeling of “what should’ve been” pervades, as this seems like a perfect area for the usual array of bars, restaurants, retail establishments and refurbished theaters and concert halls that play such a major role in downtown revitalization projects. I don’t know the factors that have led to Fulton Mall’s current air of desolation, but Chris told me that “parking is a big issue and one of the reasons that this hasn’t worked. The lot for season ticket holders is on the other side of the ballpark, and they have no reason to walk through here.”
As I mentioned in the last post, Chris is a Fresno native and this was his last homestand as a Grizzlies employee before moving on to a job within Kansas State’s sports information department. He loves his hometown and wants to be a part of its long-term success, but also felt that he had no choice but to leave.
“Growing up I always heard about Fresno’s ‘brain drain’ and was told to get out, to leave while you can,” he said. “I guess [succeeding in Fresno is] too tall of a mountain to climb sometimes. A lot of my heart and soul is in this stadium and a lot of my heart and soul is in this downtown. But if you can’t create an environment for someone like me to make a difference then you’re going to face this problem.”
This moment of poignant pondering complete, Chris and I wandered back into the stadium and through the concourse on the third base side. On this particular Monday there was plenty of room to move.
It was also quiet outside of the stadium’s front entrance.
But during busy nights, the above area is anything but empty. Here’s the scene at this year’s “Taco Truck Throwdown,” which attracted more than 14,000 fans. (And, yes, as I mentioned in the last post: this month will not end without me producing some taco-related Fresno Grizzlies content).
There’s also a carousel outside of the stadium.
Beware! Terror monkey resides therein.
But why focus on primate horror on such a beautiful evening? At this particular moment in space and time the ballpark atmosphere was idyllic.
Given the taco-related activities that had taken place earlier in the day (again, I will be writing about this), getting some food during the game itself had become a bit of an afterthought. But the show must go on, and the Grizzlies had recruited three fans to serve as the evening’s “Designated Eaters” (you know, those who consume the ballpark delicacies that my gluten-free diet prohibits).
From left to right, meet Derek Pharis, Joel Medina, and Jace LeVasser. The three all went to high school together in Porterville, CA (located about an hour south from Fresno), and Derek and Joel are now attending Fresno State.
Jace quickly emerged as the star of the show because, well, Jace really liked this giant hot dog.
“It has a lot of flavor and is very delicious, but I did not feel dignified while eating it. I think a piece of me died inside,” said Jace. “I’d probably order it again.”
Derek and Joel were presented with Dinger Dogs, in which the frankfurter is butterflied open and topped with pulled pork onions, peppers and (optional) cole slaw.
Have at it, guys.
Attacking the Dinger Dog Fresno Grizzlies https://t.co/eFJgdj5hqA
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) August 6, 2013
This thing got absolutely rave reviews from Derek and Joel, although this was mostly conveyed via raised eyebrows, incredulous stares, and thumbs-up gestures.
“I thought that food here was just nachos and pizza,” said Joel.
“Me too,” said Derek. “I had no idea that [the Dinger Dog] was here, but I’m definitely glad that I found it.”
I thanked Derek, Joel, and Jace for their service and soon I was on my way. Sun or no sun, the atmosphere remained beautiful.
At this late juncture in the ballgame the player’s headshots had morphed into an advertisement for California’s premier fast food establishment.
And speaking of Animal Style, Chris and I soon found ourselves under attack.
But it would have taken more than an onslaught of silly string to impede our progress. Soon enough we were within the relative safety of the Grizzlies’ front office.
Would you believe that Parker has his own desk? It’s true, and it’s easy to tell which one is his.
One of these things is not like the other. Fresno Grizzlies https://t.co/GGkwM89lYv
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) August 6, 2013
Fun is guaranteed, and brainstorming encouraged.
With the concession stands about to close, it suddenly occurred to be that I had neglected to provide a stadium #cupdate. A certain subset of my readership craves such things, and on this particular trip I did not do a good job when it came to providing regular cupdates. I apologize, but one day it will please us to remember even this.
My last act at Chukchansi was to interview Dan and Milana Shydler, a pair of loyal and enthusiastic Grizzlies fans who bring dozens of homemade signs to each and every game. I wrote an article about them for MiLB.com, which you can and should read HERE.
These sentiments are most apropos: Bye Bye Baby, and good night from Chukchansi Park! Before closing the book on my visit to Fresno, I’ll leave you with these words of wisdom.