On the Road: Small Market Under a Big Sky in Clinton

To see all of my posts from this May 2015 visit to the Clinton LumberKings (this is Part One) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my May 2015 trip through the Midwest, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

Day Three of my 2015 road trip through the Midwest had me in Clinton, Iowa, for a Memorial Day doubleheader between the LumberKings and visiting Burlington Bees. It seems to be a matter of debate whether Clinton or Burlington is the smallest market in full-season Minor League Baseball. Regardless, there’s no debate that both teams are distinct anomalies within a league (and industry) increasingly populated by shiny amenity-drenched ballparks located within downtown city centers.

The LumberKings play at Ashford University Field, which opened in 1937 as Riverview Stadium. It has been renovated several times through the decades, most recently in 2006, but retains a timeless, old-fashioned feel.

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When I arrived at the ballpark, loiterers were nowhere to be found. Parking lot signage works! And here’s a rhetorical question for you: How great is a sign that says “Warning: Baseball Games Played Here”?

IMG_1243Clouds don’t obey signage, even if it is issued by a Class A affiliate of the Seattle Mariners. Many of them were loitering above the stadium, accentuating the beauty of the radiant blue sky.

007After executing a successful 180 degree rotation of my body, I took a photo of the surrounding area. This is small-town Minor League Baseball, to be sure.

009I entered the ballpark via the front office, which is identified by a sign that looks like it was made by a moonlighting park ranger.

008Apropos of nothing, but one of the first individuals I was introduced to was a visiting clubhouse manager who bears a more than a passing resemblance to Mario Batali. This celebrity chef doppelganger is named Andy, though I failed to note his last name. It’s not like I’m a professional journalist or anything.

011I also made an acquaintance with a PA booth possum.

012The PA booth is the domain of Brad Seward who, when not at the ballpark, works as director of operations for the Clinton County Area Solid Waste Agency.

014Fans were beginning to filter in at this point, however slowly. Due to a rainout the night before, that day’s start time had been moved up an hour in order to accommodate what would now be a pair of seven-inning games.

016The LumberKings are a community-owned team, and throughout the afternoon I spent a lot of time speaking with members of the board who devote significant time and energy to keeping the franchise healthy and viable amid a rapidly-changing Minor League landscape. These interviews, largely arranged via LumberKings general manager Ted Tornow, will be the focus of an upcoming piece on MiLB.com.

Some snapshots of the ballpark stalwarts who will be featured in the piece.

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038But, again, I’ll save that deeper dive into the LumberKings for an MiLB.com piece. Here on the blog, I’ll simply offer a lackadaisical chronicle of what, again, was a beautiful day for baseball in Clinton, Iowa.

019But before the professionals took the field, an amateur did. That amateur was a weirdo niche baseball writer by the name of: Me!

Another day, another city, another ceremonial first pitch perfect strike.

Thanks to Daniel Foley, a fellow baseball traveler who I crossed path with several times on this trip, for documenting this pitch on social media. (Note, also, mascot Louie the Lumberking poking his head out beyond the fence.) My ceremonial first pitch catcher was second baseman Nelson Ward, who has since been promoted to Class A Advanced Bakersfield. Let this be a message to players across the Minors — catch one of my ceremonial first pitches, and good things will happen to you.

Note, also, that the Midwest League is now using Richard A. Nussbaum-autographed baseballs. This past offseason, Nussbaum took over for longtime MWL president George Spelius. (I visited Spelius in his Beloit, Wisconsin, league office in 2013.)

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Play ball!

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The game(s) had begun, but this post has ended. Stay tuned for part two of this Clinton blog series, which, truth be told, will be very similar to part one. Why mess with a good thing?

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz

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