Results tagged ‘ California League ’

On the Road: Wieners and Weirdness Abound in Bakersville

I’ve seen and done so much on this west coast road trip, but yet again here I am, in some random hotel room (this time a Days Inn in Klamath Falls) writing about my evening at Bakersfield’s Sam Lynn Stadium. Already I’ve written this MiLB.com piece about the Blaze (“exemplary,” crowed the New York Times), and this blog post (“good,” noted USA Today), and now here I am with this:

BAKERSFIELD BLAZE BLOG POST, PART DEUX (that’s French for Three Times One Minus One)

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When we last left off, the game had just begun. And when a Blaze game begins, you can count on pre-med student turned Class A Advanced broadcaster Dan Besbris to keep you abreast of the action.

As Besbris compassionately elucidated the faults of a hometown player, a voice of an even more striking nature could be heard on the concourse. “Froggy,” the team’s assistant clubhouse manager was selling programs.

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I really should have done a Vine video featuring Froggy, as his nickname is indeed an accurate descriptor of the sound of his voice. At one point in the evening I began to walk toward him to do just this, but he was in a contentious-seeming discussion about clubhouse ice (or lack thereof) and I felt uncomfortable interrupting. I did learn, however, that Froggy is a Game Show Network aficionado, that Bobby Bonds taught him to do the YMCA, and that, most impressively, he got married at Sam Lynn’s home plate last season.

Speaking of plates, it was time to put food on them. The evening’s designated eater was a long-time Ben’s Biz reader by the name of Charles Pannunzio, who came to the ballgame with his wife Christina Hennessey. (The designated eater is, of course, the individual who consumes the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits). Pannunzio had volunteered for the “honor” via email, and he and Hennessey were ready to go.

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Charles and Christina live in Torrance, CA, and during the season a common question in their house is “What games can we see this week?”

“We go to college, Minors, Majors, everything,” said Charles.

“We even went to a game in Tijuana!” added Christina. And, indeed, they did!

But tonight they were in Bakersfield, the Tijuana of the Cal League. Blaze food and beverage director Bruce Gerber was ready for them, bestowing Christina with a Farmer John’s Polish Sausage (with Hollen’s mustard, a California brand I had never seen before) and Charles with the brand-new “Blaze Burger” (A burger topped with a mound of pulled pork and jalapenos).

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Christina praised the sausage, saying “I’d get it again,” but the Blaze Burger is what elicited the most attention.

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“It’s overwhelming in that it’s more of a BBQ sandwich than a burger,” said Charles. “I couldn’t imagine any more condiments being on it.”

“We really need napkins!” added Christina. And indeed, they did! (Meanwhile, instead of helping them, I drank a gluten-free cider).

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Napkins were soon acquired, as were a plate of tacos.

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And, also, a tri-tip sandwich.

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This round of offerings was not as successful. Christina liked the salsa (Phillip’s, a local brand), but said that overall the tacos were “cold and bland.” The tri-tip, meanwhile, was said to “taste like the grill, like they’re trying to cover up a bad flavor.” (I sampled the tri-tip as well, and would agree that it was less than stellar.)

Meanwhile, Gerber was kind enough to bring out a hot dog on a gluten free bun along with a wide array of (mostly meaty) toppings.

Here’s a picture of the hot dog, which includes a video still of me ogling the creation (it tasted good, but the gluten-free bun fell apart almost immediately).

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Heater is a fan of weiners, gluten-free or otherwise.

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Heater also enjoys harassing designated eaters (I think it says that in his bio, even).

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But this segment of the post, like Heater, is dragon on too long. Let us bid adieu to Charles and Christina, who recommend that you order a Blaze Burger the next time you’re at Sam Lynn Stadium. (As you can see they also got ice cream in a helmet, and I was derelict in my duties by not documenting this.)

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In my aforementioned Bakersfield Blaze MiLB.com piece (which Lewis Lapham said “is to the zeitgeist what an expert poacher is to the African rhino”), I talked about the many strange and unique moments that are bound to occur at Sam Lynn on any given night. Many of these moments take place during the between-inning breaks, thanks to the off-kilter humor of Spanish anarchist turned poolboy turned wannabe drawbridge operator turned Blaze assistant general manager Philip Guiry (who had recently returned to the club after serving a suspension for using “performance-enhancing jokes” that had all been lifted from Family Circus comic strips).

All of the above paragraph is true, save for my critical accolades, and it is also true that the Blaze have often fielded a line-up this season consisting of four players named Juan (Perez, Silverio, Duran, Silva). During one inning break, Guiry asked a multiple choice trivia question (“What Blaze player hit a grand slam yesterday?”) and all of the choices were named Juan. The contestant, a Girl Scout, chose the right Juan and Guiry then gave her a box of cookies because “no one ever gives a Girl Scout cookies.”

(For those who were Juan Duran, the correct answer was Juan Duran.)

Later in the evening was the Dizzy Bat Race, a Minor League Baseball staple. The Blaze stand out, however, as Guiry lets the contestants spin (and spin and spin and spin and spin) for an agonizingly long time. In this Vine video, he makes small talk with the mascots — “Panda’s a big golf guy” — before even beginning his countdown.  “We don’t care much about the race,” Guiry told me. “Just the dizzy.”

Please note that in the above video, the kid on the far right (who inexplicably identified himself as “Habib”) is using a broom. And I have no idea what song is playing, but let it be known that these days most of the between-innings music played at Sam Lynn is ’90s southern hip-hop (lots of No Limit stuff, and at one point I heard “Tootsie Roll” by the 69 Boyz). But in this particular Vine, you’ll hear “Sexy Back.” This is because mascot Heater decided to show the crowd that he is sexy all over by streaking across the outfield. Also, please note that he is followed, inexplicably, by a square pixelated ghost.

And speaking of wieners, which we kinda sorta were, there was, of course, the Wiener Launch. Watch it HERE, as I cannot embed an MiLB.com video on this MiLB.com blog. Here’s Guiry, post-weiner launch, surrounded by his adoring fans.

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Of course, in the midst of all of this, there was a game going on. There always is.

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Did you know that, at 354 feet, Sam Lynn features the shortest center field fence in all of Minor League Baseball? Or that the giant green sunscreen wall in center field was built in November and thus at the wrong angle to most effectively block the summertime sun? Or that Sam Lynn used to have “sun delays” during the moment in the evening when the sun was shining through the gap between the sunsreen and the outfield wall? (This gap has since been filled in with plywood).

It’s true. All of it true. It’s also true that this ballgame soon came to an end, with the Blaze emerging victorious. Here’s Besbris doing his signature “Who loves ya, wall?” catchphrase after the win.

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Win or lose, the Blaze players and coaches (including superstar manager Ken Griffey Sr) have to proceed through a gauntlet of autograph seekers en route to the clubhouse.

Come Juan, come all

Come Juan, come all

The game was over, but the evening was not. Girl Scouts, prepare to sleep over!

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It was during this portion of the evening that I met Ryan Salisbury, who, during the game, was donning the Heater suit. At one point late in the contest, Ryan was handed an envelope from an anonymous benefactor. The outside read “End of Season Bonus 2013,” and inside was a $10 bill. These are the sort of things that just seem to happen in Bakersfield.

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Ryan is a San Francisco resident (by way of Pensacola and Philly) who currently makes a living as a bike messenger. He doesn’t have a car, so when it comes to commutes he has to improvise.

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See, these are the lengths that people will go when a MiLB blogger is in town (me, I think). Ryan and his dog, F.D. (“it stands for what you want it to stand for”) eventually got a ride from a musician/landscaper who apparently once worked for one Jerry Garcia. As for me I’m grateful to be finishing up this blog post, and also grateful to not be dead. For Sam Lynn, in addition to everything else about it, houses some sort of homemade nuclear reactor in a concourse storage shed.

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Just one more reason to build a new ballpark, I suppose, but for all its faults (and there are many) a lot of people are going to miss Sam Lynn when it is finally gone. I for one, am going to miss writing about it, but soon it shall be time for me to write about Visalia and the many wonders to be found there. To whet your appetite, please read this MiLB.com piece about how the Rawhide are haunted by the ghost of a dead alligator. 

Weirdness abounds.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

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.

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Sam Lynn currently hosts the Blaze of the Class A Advanced California League, two classifications below the tire shop located directly across the street.

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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.

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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.

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But as for Sam Lynn, there is no directional confusion. To get to Sam Lynn, you walk west.

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Before it was dumb-downed for an increasingly unsophisticated American audience, the main entrance to Sam Lynn was known as the “Menage a Trois.”

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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.

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Will Call: located at the base of a tree, apparently

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.

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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.

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“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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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).

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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.

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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.

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 Jimmy Moran is now my favorite player in the California League. Not only did he recognize me, but he later tweeted the following.

I left the playing field expecting a rapturous reception, but instead everyone’s attention was on the mascot. This is Heater:

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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.

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Meanwhile, the playing field was downright incendiary looking. If you look closely, you can see that there are players on that field stretching.

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The fans down the first base line were making like Eleanor Friedberger:

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Other fans, meanwhile, escaped the descendant wrath of the fiery orb by stocking up on provisions.

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Give us a taco we demand or close down this taco stand!

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But for the players, and those watching the players from an intimate vantage point, the waiting was about to come to an end.

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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.

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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!

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

On the Road: “2 Hours and 43 Minutes of Bliss” in Lake Elsinore

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.

An item available through the club's "Storm Thredz" clothing line

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.

Help yourself to a pocket schedule and a toothbrush

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.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

On the Road: Chasing the Bull and Passing the Hat in High Desert

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:

Outfield signage still available!


Picnic Area

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.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Go West, Young(ish) Blogger

The title of today’s post is more than just a belabored play on an already mangled and misattributed quotation. It is also my way of telling you that I’m on the cusp of 2011’s first road trip!

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 14: Lancaster JetHawks

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!  


And the latter: 

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 jpaolino@lowellspinners.com And spread the word!

And, finally, congratulations to Pawtucket Red Sox announcer Dan Hoard — the new radio voice of the NFL’s Cincinnati Bengals.

Enjoy your weekend! For the next two days, it’ll be all we’ve got!

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Head Over Heels And Other Anomalies

caught.jpgAt this moment in space and time I am more or less “caught up” in my blogging duties. This is a good thing, but I can’t shake the nagging suspicion that I’m missing something.

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.

IKE.JPG
 
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.”

On the Irish side of the equation:
 
trentonirsih.jpg 

The mustache side:

mustache.jpg

And the combination thereof:

combo.jpg

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 Minormike.jpg 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.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com
twitter.com/bensbiz