Results tagged ‘ West Coast 2013 ’
“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 Of course, the “Yakima” sign is no longer valid as that franchise has since moved to Hillsboro (the concluding stop on this very road trip).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.
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)
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.
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) August 4, 2013
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.
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.
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).
Christina praised the sausage, saying “I’d get it again,” but the Blaze Burger is what elicited the most attention.
“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).
Napkins were soon acquired, as were a plate of tacos.
And, also, a tri-tip sandwich.
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.
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) August 4, 2013
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).
Heater is a fan of weiners, gluten-free or otherwise.
Heater also enjoys harassing designated eaters (I think it says that in his bio, even).
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.)
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.”
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) August 4, 2013
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.
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) August 4, 2013
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.
Of course, in the midst of all of this, there was a game going on. There always is.
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.
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.
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) August 4, 2013
The game was over, but the evening was not. Girl Scouts, prepare to sleep over!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Sam Lynn currently hosts the Blaze of the Class A Advanced California League, two classifications below the tire shop located directly across the street.
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.
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.
But as for Sam Lynn, there is no directional confusion. To get to Sam Lynn, you walk west.
Before it was dumb-downed for an increasingly unsophisticated American audience, the main entrance to Sam Lynn was known as the “Menage a Trois.”
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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).
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.
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.
Jimmy Moran is now my favorite player in the California League. Not only did he recognize me, but he later tweeted the following.
Got to catch @bensbiz s first pitch tonight at our game!
— Jimmy Moran (@Jimmy_Moran1990) August 4, 2013
I left the playing field expecting a rapturous reception, but instead everyone’s attention was on the mascot. This is Heater:
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.
Meanwhile, the playing field was downright incendiary looking. If you look closely, you can see that there are players on that field stretching.
The fans down the first base line were making like Eleanor Friedberger:
Other fans, meanwhile, escaped the descendant wrath of the fiery orb by stocking up on provisions.
Give us a taco we demand or close down this taco stand!
But for the players, and those watching the players from an intimate vantage point, the waiting was about to come to an end.
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.
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!