Results tagged ‘ California League ’
The final team on my “Hill in the Desert” road trip itinerary was the Lake Elsinore Storm, that irreverent crew of Cal League contrarians and trendsetters. My day started not at the ballpark, however, but “Annie’s” — a popular local breakfast and lunch spot. I had been invited there by George and Ryan Bethell, loyal members of the Storm booster club and readers of this blog ever since the latter was featured in a post on fish tossing.
Upon being introduced as a first-time Annie’s patron, I was greeted with a handshake from waitress Wendy. “Ladies and gentlemen, we have a newbie!”, she yelled, and the entire restaurant broke out in applause. Then a lobster hat was placed atop my head. Standard operating procedure.
That gentleman in the background is Storm manager Carlos Lezcano. George and Ryan introduced him to me, a gesture that helped to facilitate my clubhouse interview attempts later that afternoon.
I then booked into the Storm’s team hotel, a refreshing change of pace from the generic string of interchangeable lodging houses I’d become accustomed to.
This place doesn’t have the greatest reputation among Cal League players and personnel (pitcher Dirk Hayhurst issued some strong condemnations in his “Bullpen Gospels” memoir), but it has been recently renovated and I found it to be completely acceptable (the excellent internet connection sure helped). But I wasn’t on the road to write about hotels (or to gamble) — I was there for baseball!
The Diamond sure is a great place to watch some.
Like all of the ballparks I visited on this trip, there was plenty of room to move on the inside and out.
Once inside, there is the feeling of being watched.
Those eyes are everywhere!
Even between elevator buttons
And lording over the restroom
The bathroom features induction lighting and waterless urinals, two of many eco-friendly elements to be found around the ballpark. The Storm have been leaders in this area, and are the originators of the “Going Green” promotional nights that have since become common around Minor League Baseball.
Green is one of many clothing colors available in the team store. The Storm have one of the best-selling logos in all of Minor League Baseball (read about it in my MiLB.com piece), and offer a dizzying number of eye-centric clothing choices.
Out of the store and into the open air, some shots from around the ballpark while waiting for the gates to open.
Concessions, where are concessions? Where do you need to be, if you want to eat? (sung to the tune of “Obsession” by Animotion).
Oh, here they are!
The Storm have a fully-operational restaurant on the premises — the Diamond Club. It was closed on on the day I was there due to the team’s “All-You-Can- Eat” Fat Tuesday promotion, but it’s a pretty swanky joint.
I was particularly interested in trying “The Homewrecker,” best explained via t-shirt.
Here’s concessions general manager Arjun Suresh pulling it out of the oven.
Team president Dave Oster, Suresh, and executive chef Steve Bearse marvel at their creation.
The four of us went to the vacant owner’s suite to give it a try. It was delicious! And since it can be easily shared, it’s a bit more justifiable than other recent over-sized items unveiled throughout the Minors.
But my homewrecking companions soon departed (to, you know, do their jobs). After an inning of solitary luxury in the owner’s suite, I went downstairs to watch a couple of innings with the Bethells. They sit just to the left of the screen behind home plate, providing fantastic views.
I had a tough time getting a good shot of it, but the Storm did indeed retire Wild Thing’s #99 as part of their recent “Sheen-Co De Mayo” promotion.
While with the Bethells, I witnessed two top-notch elements of the Storm game entertainment experience. First up was a skit featuring Thunder the mascot. He took the field in order to play fetch with the batboy, who decided to have a laugh at Thunder’s expense by faking a throw. This enraged Thunder, who stole the batboy’s shoe and ran into the dugout. The action then switched to the videoboard, where Thunder was seen abusing the shoe in a number of ways (slamming it in a locker, cooking it in a pot, attempting to flush it down the toilet, etc). Finally, the shoe was thrown out onto the playing field with the humbled batboy limping to get it.
I detailed all of the above because it was an excellent example of a team going above and beyond with their game operations. Even on a cold Tuesday night in a front of a sparse crowd, an effort was made to do something thoughtful, fun, and original. The little things go a long way.
My pictures of Thunder came out very poorly. Thankfully, George Bethell sent over this one. It is of Thunder and his Mom Thunderella:
Also courtesy of Bethell, here’s the Grounds Crew Gorilla.
On Tuesday, the Gorilla was upstaged in a dance contest by a younger, more nimble female gorilla (once again, my pictures were horrible). This enraged him, so he darted into the visiting dugout and then up the hilly berm area. At the top of the hill, he picked up a portion of the fence separating the berm from the concourse and threw it with all his might. The aftermath:
At this point I was thoroughly frozen (note to anyone visiting southern California in May: bring a jacket!), so I decided to visit announcer Sean McCall in his well-appointed play-by-play palace.
Most announcers don’t like to be bothered during games (and I can’t say I blame them), but McCall is uber-hospitable. “Soda, water, beer?” he’ll ask, gesturing to his fully-stocked refrigerator. “Make yourself at home.”
Two unexpected guests in the booth were the mother and aunt of pitcher Hayden Beard, watching him play in person for the first time since a disastrous outing in 2006.
Beard breezed through the eighth inning, to the relief of his extremely nervous family members. Afterwards, mom Vicki spoke with me about how she works as an official scorer in Australia. This is not uncommon, as women make up the majority of scorers in her country. “Men do the on-field stuff, women keep score,” she told me.
McCall is the dean of Cal League broadcasters, and extremely entertaining to listen to. He combines a polished and professional technique with deadpan, absurdist humor — the Harry Nilsson of Minor League broadcasters, perhaps. Sample banter, after a bit in which he shared notable sports moments that had occurred on May 17: “This day in history brought to you by me, reminding you to say please and thank you (pause) Thank you.”
The title of this post is also a McCall quote, uttered upon the conclusion of the ballgame (a 12-1 win over the no-longer voodoo-enhanced Inland Empire 66ers). It was indeed two hours and 43 minutes of bliss.
As for me, my time out west was approximately 190 hours of sleep deprivation and anxiety. But no complaints! It was an honor and a privilege and I thank everyone involved for their hospitality. I’m already plotting the next one.
But, for now, I am ecstatic to be back within NYC’s comforting embrace. And since my return, one of my cats has made a new friend.
Please get in touch, at any time and for any reason. Any reason at all.
The one-hour drive from Lancaster (home of the JetHawks) to Adelanto, CA is an appealing one. The Pearl Blossom Highway is surrounded by vast desert expanse, and towns like Little Rock feature vibrantly-hued emporiums of Americana such as Charlie Brown’s Farms as well as shack-sized stores selling both cell phone accessories and beef jerky.
I would have liked to take pictures of all these things, but I was in a rush. My personal itinerary featured a day game after a night game, and I had to make it to Stater Bros Stadium for Sunday’s Class A Advanced matinee between the hometown High Desert Mavericks and visiting Rancho Cucamonga Quakes.
The above sign, located on the right field outfield wall, epitomizes the Stater Bros experience — charming, but past its prime. In some ways being past its prime is part of the charm, such as this trailer parked outside the stadium.
But in other ways, the stadium is screaming for a face lift and some TLC. For example, just to the right of the main entrance sits an abandoned box office:
And immediately to the right of this is a bulletin board displaying flyers for a pair of concerts that took place in 2002 (!), helping to solidify the impression that this is the land that time forgot. The stadium, a city-owned facility that cost $6.5 million to build, has housed the Mavs since their inaugural 1991 season (the team relocated from Riverside,CA). Attendance was excellent in the early going, with the Mavs regularly leading the league en route to shattering the million fan milestone in 1996.
But attendance took a significant hit with the closing of a nearby Air Force Base, and further commercial development around the area never materialized. Original owners Brett Baseball sold the team to Main Street Baseball this past offseason, and the Mavericks long-term future is very much in question.
But I”ll save this kind of info for an upcoming MiLB.com piece. While Stater Bros. Stadium may be lacking in bells and whistles (literal and otherwise), it still offers a considerably charming small-town Minor League Baseball experience.
The long view:
The National Anthem provided a cute moment, as the young girl singing it (on the far left) paused at the word “ramparts”, looked up at the team employee standing nearby and said “Uh, I forgot.” After a quick prompt she finished strong, to rousing applause.
My trusty camera, while compact and easy to use, is not the best when it comes to the zoom feature. But one can get so close to the action at Stater Bros that I was able to get shots such as the following. This is the first swing of the ballgame, in which Rancho’s Ramon Jean blasted a ground-rule double to left-center.
Also close to the action are the visiting relief pitchers, who have no escape from kids playing on the first base-line berm.
I was especially impressed with mascot Wooly Bully, a committed performer with excellent improv and physical comedy abilities. The skill of those wearing the suits varies wildly around the Minors, but this one was a winner.
And he’s a fearless bull, too, repeatedly getting the fans to yell “charge!”
At one point later in the game, the following announcement came over the PA: “Your attention, please. Wooly Bully, would you get off the field, please?”
I’m not sure exactly what Wooly was doing that caused this reprimand, but I do know he was preparing for a dash across the diamond with hundreds of kids in hot pursuit.
Up on the concourse, the scene was pretty sedate. I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out the team’s “Sky Boxes”, which seem influenced by 1970s Eastern Bloc architecture (Bull-shevik architecture, perhaps).
The Sky Boxes allow for nice views of the no-frills scoreboard:
I was almost offended by the fact that James Jones didn’t have something by Jim Jones as his walk-up music. “Everybody Jones” would have been an especially apropos choice. Make it happen, James!
But to return to more relevant matters…
Pillars on the concourse showcase each season’s Opening Day line-up (through 2000). Was 1991 really this long ago? If so, then maybe it’s time for me to finally take The Simpsons Sing the Blues out of my Discman.
Main Street Baseball took control of the team at too late a date to implement major changes for 2011, but concessions were switched from in-house to outside vendor PSC. General Manager Eric Jensen (a former Mavericks clubbie) told me that this has resulted in increased quality and profit.
I asked the (not at all friendly) guy working the stand what a “McOwen’s Masterpiece” was, and the answer had something to do with two hot dogs, chili, cheese, cole slaw, and who knows what else. I was still digesting last night’s “Stealth Burger,” at the time, so this was all too much for me to process.
Also available on the concourse: kettle corn and shaved ice with a DIY flavor station.
One of the most charming aspects of the Mavericks experience is that the team “passes the hat” after each home run. A comically oversized cowboy hat, as it were.
Vincent Catricala and Daniel Carroll both homered as part of the Mavs’ 10-4 win. The former earned $50.68 for his efforts, the latter $53. In the world of Minor League Baseball, that’s a nice chunk of change — a couple of steak dinners in place of another dire set of choices at the combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell. (Meanwhile, I’m dealing with the culinary options of Adelanto’s Hawthorne Suites — sunflower seeds and Dr. Pepper is what’s for dinner.)
To sum it all up, High Desert is a situation worth following. It will be interesting to see what changes Main Street Baseball has in store for the team in 2012, as this is the same group that has found success in Quad Cities. But without a significant re-investment in this ballpark, it seems unlikely that there is a long-term professional baseball future in Adelanto (but, again, I’ll save such pontificating for my MiLB.com persona).
Instead, I’ll leave you with one last glimpse from the lap of luxury.
Motivated by wanderlust and an unbeatable rental car deal, I’ll be checking out the new-for-2011 Tucson Padres before moving on to a quartet of California League teams. The itinerary:
May 11-12: Tucson Padres
May 13: Writing/Travel Day (although who knows? Maybe I’ll be able to get to a ballpark by nightfall).
May 15: High Desert Mavericks
May 16: Inland Empire 66ers
May 17: Lake Elsinore Storm
I’m psyched to be making my first California sojourn as a so-called professional, and to once again get behind the wheel of a car after yet another prolonged stint of NYC public transit emasculation. Now comes the part of the post where I earnestly implore YOU to please get in touch with suggestions as to who to talk to, where to visit, what foods to try, etc. I of course have some ideas of what to write about, but as usual much is to be determined. Your feedback is much appreciated.
In particular, let me know if you have any interesting California League stories/memories. It seems like surreal things happen out there on a regular basis.
And driving a car again will no doubt lead to profound sticker shock at the pumps, something I mercifully don’t have to deal with on a daily basis here in NYC. But two teams are doing their part to ease the burden: the State College Spikes and Charlotte Stone Crabs. From the former:
From May 9th through May 20th, the Spikes will provide fans a chance to save at the pump when they take advantage of any one of seven ticket offerings. Highlighting the “Spikes Fuel Perks” ticket promotion, any fan that purchases new season tickets will earn a $100 gas card per seat bought!
Throughout the Stone Crabs season, fans will have the opportunity to purchase two reserved seats to any Stone Crabs game, along with two hot dogs, and two sodas for only $26. In addition to the ticket package, fans will receive a complimentary $5 gas card from RaceTrac convenience stores, while supplies last.
In completely unrelated news, I received the following email yesterday from Lowell Spinners groundskeeper Jeff Paolino:
I am reaching out to you to see if there is any way to find out if there are any other Military members who are currently Active or Reserve other than myself working in Minor League Baseball? Reason being, I would like to get a group initiative together throughout MILB as representatives of both baseball and the Military.
This seems like a worthwhile endeavor, but I was unable to assist. So if you fit the above criteria (or know someone who does) then contact Jeff at firstname.lastname@example.org And spread the word!
Enjoy your weekend! For the next two days, it’ll be all we’ve got!
Because there’s always something, isn’t there?
Before getting weighed down by the contemplation of such abstract notions, I wanted to share some odds, ends, bits, pieces, and nuggets that I have accumulated in recent days. Oh, there’s some ephemera in here too. Can’t forget the ephemera.
Let’s start off with something visually striking.
The above item, designed by the bobble visionaries at Coyote Promotions, is being given away by the Brooklyn Cyclones on August 2. As you may have noticed, it is upside down. Therefore, it is Ike’s legs that bobble while his head remains stationary.
This object is also unique in that it commemorates a player’s Major League feat (Ike’s dazzling trifecta of foul territory catches) while said player is in a Minor League uniform (the Cyclones, whom Ike played for in 2008). The Cyclones are literally re-writing history, then, putting the events of 2010 within a 2008 context. This bit of space-time continuum trickery results in cognitive disconnect, a common ailment in the world of Minor League Baseball promotions.
For instance, the Binghamton Mets are staging a “Big Lebowski” promo next week. But playing the role of Jesus Quintana is none other than Bingo the Bee.
Deal with it:
Meanwhile, in Lake County, the Captains held their annual star-studded “Cleveland Sports History Night.” As this video shows, the team was actually able to find a sponsor for a re-enactment of one of the worst moments in the city’s long and sad sports history.
I was going to expound further about the above video, but my Google image search for “Art Modell” also turned up naked “art models” and I fear that I will soon be fired as a result of this inadvertent breach of internet usage policy.
Let’s quickly proceed to Trenton then, as last night the Thunder staged “Irish Heritage Night” AND a “Mustache Bash.”
The mustache side:
Incidentally, may I please suggest that teams staging a Mustache promotion utilize THIS SONG?
And, please, don’t forget that an epic milestone will be occurring TONIGHT on the West Coast: the 40,000th game in California League history. As for which game will receive the honor, that’s yet to be determined. Five games will be running concurrently this evening, and it all depends on the finishing times.
But it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon. There’s no better proof of that saying than active Minor League home run leader Mike Hessman, who received a call-up yesterday to the New York Mets. The 32-year-old had hit 18 home runs this season to run up his Minor League total to 329; he certainly has nothing left to prove in the International League.
And I, meanwhile, have nothing left to write.