Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Salem-Keizer Volcanoes 1 at Spokane Indians 2 (Northwest League) - July 18, 2017


The last stop on my extended tour of the minor league ballparks of the northwest was Spokane, home of the Indians. As the saying goes, "save the best for last", and I certainly did that on this trip.



The Indians play out of Avista Stadium, which was opened in 1958 and housed a AAA team for its first 14 seasons. Although the Indians are now a short-season A club, the stadium has not been downsized, making it far more spacious than the smaller and more suitable venues in the Northwest and Pioneer Leagues. It's really not a fair competition, but the Indians do a great job on their gameday presentation as well to ensure the overall experience can't be beat.



The stadium is located next to the fairgrounds, and there is a large parking lot right there. I drove up from Idaho Falls (506 miles in 7 1/2 hours including 3 stops - 80 MPH limits most of the way really helped) and arrived at 5:00, 90 minutes before first pitch. Parking is free, which was a good start to the evening.



I still had 30 minutes to wait until gates opened and wandered around the front of the facility, where there are a number of displays. First are some plaques dedicated to Hall of Famers who played here; George Brett is the most notable because he now owns part of the team. The Dodgers were the longtime affiliate of the Indians, and there are also plaques for Tommy Lasorda, Don Sutton, Duke Snider, and even Hoyt Wilhelm, who briefly pitched here in 1971.



If you are upset about the Indians name being disrespectful, there are several informative kiosks set up that explain how the Spokane Indian tribe has worked in partnership with the team.



The Indians even have a special jersey with the name in Salish (the one above is in the main office); and restrooms are also labeled in that script. There's even an explanation along the concourse.



It was also First Responder Appreciation Night and the Spokane Fire Department had set up a truck outside with its ladder extended. Rides to the top were not offered.



Lower reserved box seats are $20 and are actually boxes. Many younger fans think box seats refer to the fact that the seats are not benches, but in old stadiums, a box was usually a collection of four seats surrounded by a railing, as below.



Upper seats are $13, while reserved bench seats are only $7 and given the space here, those are really what you should buy, though they are well down the line.



With so much room, you can move around fairly easily and I found an upper level seat on the third base side where the netting did not obstruct the view, which is shown below.



The park has a capacity of 6,803 but even with average attendance just over 5,000 (many of whom are no-shows), there is always a place to sit.



The open-air concourse is behind the seating structure, and is where you will find the main concession stand, which is huge. There is a portable BBQ stand that I recommend; their $7 sandwiches are very filling. As for beer, some of the best ballpark suds were here too. If you drink a lot of beer, you know that clean lines to the kegs are critical to the quality of the product. Some ballparks are not as vigilant as they should be, but that is not the case here; the IPA I had was cold, fresh, and better than that available in many bars.



If there is a flaw here, it is that there are few entrances to the seating bowl, but that is remedied by the fact that these entrances are long tunnels rather than the typical breezeways, another unique touch.



All the usual minor league features are here, such as the Road to the Show, which only lists players who have made it since 2003, when the Texas Rangers took over the affiliation.



There are championship pennants on the home dugout, but what really impressed me was the map of the Northwest League on the visiting side, great for planning your next road trip.



You can walk behind the right field fence, which is usually a party area, but I was there early enough so sneak in and take a quick picture.



The party area here is the Coors Light caboose, a replica train car that pays homage to the train tracks that run beyond the right field fence. If you have 79 other friends, you can enjoy the game here for $2,600.



Otto, the first ever Spokanasaurus, is the main mascot, and can be seen in the stands preying on unsuspecting bald guys...



while his partner is Doris (also a Spokanasaurus), dancing below with RecycleMan, a clear sign you are in the Pacific Northwest.



The press box is atop the roof, and even has a scoreboard directly beneath.



The final shadow selfie. They are much easier to take in the northwest, where the sun is higher in the sky for night games.



Overall, Avista Stadium is simply the best ballpark at this level. I enjoyed every aspect of it, from free parking to cheap tickets to freedom to move around to the great concessions to the friendly staff, and even the on-field promotions. All I needed to complete a perfect evening was a good game.



The Game

Salem-Keizer (Giants) was visiting with Stetson Woods (9th, 2014) on the hill, while Spokane countered with Tyler Phillips (16th, 2015, below). I had an 11:30 p.m. flight to get me back to NYC (via Chicago and Cleveland), five hours after first pitch was scheduled, so I was hoping for a quick game and both pitchers were accommodating, throwing strikes and not wasting time. Spokane scored in the third on a Kole Enright (3rd, 2016) single, Kobie Taylor (15th, 2016) double and Nick Kaye (15th, 2015) groundout, but the Volcanoes tied it immediately when Manuel Geraldo singled home Orlando Garcia (15th, 2017), who had doubled.



As the innings went by without another run, I started to think extra innings were inevitable, as you would expect when I had a flight to catch. I had allotted four hours for the game, and as the bottom of the ninth arrived, just over two hours had passed, so I wasn't too concerned. Still, a quick ending would allow me to relax at the airport, and once again the Indians were quite helpful. Peter Lannoo (28th, 2017) was on for SK, and got a quick out, but then hit Yonny Hernandez. Clayton Middleton (22nd, 2016) followed with a single that sent Hernandez to third, with Middleton advancing on the throw. Isaias Quiroz (20th, 2014), who had struck out in his previous 3 at bats, followed with a sharp single down that hugged the line, sending Hernandez home to win the game. It was a thrilling ending to the trip and the best game by far, taking 2:21, helped by no walks, quite a rarity in the minor leagues.



Notes

Chase Lambin, who I briefly met in Japan when he was with the Marines minor league team, is the hitting coach for Spokane. Lambin never did make it to the majors despite decent minor league numbers.

I saw 16 baseball games on the journey, and not a single one was even delayed due to rain. Including the basketball and soccer games, home teams went 11-7 on the trip.



Landing in NYC, I was again blessed with a window seat and was able to take a couple of more shots from the air. That's obviously Lower Manhattan above, with the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges, while below is an overview shot of La Guardia airport, with Rikers Island just above.



Next Up

I still have six minor league ballparks to complete the active list and that trip will take place near the end of August. They are all in the Midwest League (Fort Wayne, Dayton, Lake County, Great Lakes, Lansing, and West Michigan), and I'll visit them in that order after seeing the Jays in Wrigley from Aug 18-20. The blog will be pretty quiet until then, but check back mid-August for the final schedule.

Best,

Sean

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Missoula Osprey 7 at Idaho Falls Chukars 5 (Pioneer League) - July 17, 2017


After driving through Central Idaho and stopping at Craters of the Moon National Monument (sample photo below), I arrived in Idaho Falls for the third time on the trip. The other two times I didn't stop even though there was a Chukars contest, as I had other games to attend a few hours away. This time, though, it was time to finally discover what a Chukar was, and complete the Pioneer League in the process.



The Chukars play out of Melaleuca Field, with the naming rights bought by a wellness company owned by local billionaire Frank L. VanderSloot. According to some locals I spoke to, there was controversy over the name, but as VanderSloot and Melaleuca provided $600,000 to help with the construction of the facility back in 2006, the name stands.



The stadium is located in a residential area just a mile or so north of downtown. As I arrived an hour before first pitch, I was surprised to see that the tiny parking lot was nearly full, and fans were parking on the street. I left my car at the first available spot and walked over. To confirm that you are in the right place, a statue of a player swinging stands atop the ticket office.



Prices here for the reserved box seats are $12, while GA is $8. Normally I would suggest the latter, but in this case, the GA sections ended up full and several patrons had to stand. I never did find out why the crowd was so large, although a promotion involving a local credit union might have had something to do with it.



Once inside the main entrance, you will be on a concourse behind the stadium structure.



Here is where you will find your concession stands, which offer an excellent variety and include some healthy options like carrots and celery, or my personal favourite, apples and caramel (sliced Granny Smiths served with melted caramel, as good as it sounds). The signature item is the Chukar Clukar, a chicken breast sandwich topped with bacon, french fries, and cole slaw, a bargain at $9, but one too heavy for me after nearly a month on the road. I chickened out and avoided the Clukar, choosing a simple hot dog and the apples.



There is a board describing the history of baseball in Idaho Falls, which is worth a read. It is right next to the sno-cone stand, which is possibly the best of its kind in baseball. A small cup is only $2.50 and the young men staffing the stand were extremely generous in doling out the syrup; I am still on a sugar high three days later.



You'll find the starting lineups and standings along the concourse as well.



The seating bowl is typical - 7 sections of Kelly green seats, and then some GA benches further down the lines. The sections directly behind the plate is C, then L1, L2, and so on along third basee and R1, R2, etc. along first base.



There is also a walkway at the top of the seating bowl and you can stand here, particularly behind home plate, though it does get slightly bothersome with fans walking by all the time.



Three suites are on each side of home plate, and picnic areas down the lines, as it now customary at minor league venues.



The sun sets behind third base, so those GA seats fill up quick. If you end up at first base, you will have the sun in your eyes for a few innings, though netting should protect you from any foul balls lined at your head.



There are some retired numbers (and a retired microphone for Jim Garchow, who passed away in 2009) beneath the press box windows. Don Werner managed here between 1996-2000 as well as 2002 but is better known as the catcher of Tom Seaver's only no-hitter in 1978. Billy Butler played here in 2004.



As well, banners for those in the Idaho Falls Hall of Fame can be seen, including ex-Jay Devon White.



The scoreboard is basic, with just an electronic linescore and no video board.



A chukar is a type of partridge found in the area and Charlie is the friendly feathered mascot here. The moniker was the result of a name-the-team contest in 2004, after the team changed affiliations from the Padres to the Royals, who are still the parent club.



The now obligatory shadow selfie.



Overall, I found Melaleuca Field to be an enjoyable evening, helped by the overflow crowd and excellent concession offerings. Certainly a good way to end the Pioneer League portion of the trip.



The Game

It was a battle of the birds with the Missoula Osprey (Arizona) in town to take on the Chukars. Robert Garcia (15th round in 2017, standing below) started for the home team, while Kai-Wei Lin from Taiwan took the mound for Missoula. Neither pitcher was sharp, nor were they terrible, which is better than usual for this level.



Missoula went up 3-0 quickly helped by a couple of Chukar errors, but Idaho Falls responded with two in the second and another pair in the third to take a 4-3 lead. A 2-run homer from Joey Rose (5th, 2016) allowed the Osprey to once again move in front, but a Robby Rinn (25th, 2016) single in the bottom of the 7th scored Amalani Fukofuka (5th, 2013), who is disliked by broadcasters everywhere.



The tie was broken in the next half inning as Francis Martinez launched a 2-run shot off Damon Olds (33rd, 2017) and the Chukars could not come back from that one, losing 7-5 in a tidy 2:47.



Notes

Over 60% of Idaho Falls residents are Mormons, but the downtown still has a few decent bars. Surprisingly, many allow smoking, but BlackRock is one that doesn't and also has several good beers on tap.

I completed all 8 Pioneer League ballparks on this trip. Quick ranking:

1. Grand Junction - $3.50 beer!
2. Great Falls - excellent collection of history
3. Helena - one more season after this
4. Idaho Falls
5. Ogden - Downtown location and scenic views
6. Billings - needs more shade
7. Orem - NCAA park with no beer
8. Missoula - parking charge plus gates open only 30 minutes before

Home teams went 4-4 in my visits.

Best,

Sean

Monday, July 17, 2017

Tri-City Dust Devils 6 at Boise Hawks 10 (Northwest League) - July 16, 2017


I originally stopped in Boise on July 1, but immediately thereafter began my 10-day touring trip with almost no baseball, so did not write a recap then. When I rejigged the trip to see the Utah Summer League, I realized that I could revisit Memorial Stadium and do a proper write-up. Note that the pictures are from both games, so you'll notice some differences in the weather conditions.



Memorial Stadium was opened in 1989 and has been home to the Hawks ever since. There are three grandstands that are completely separated structures, making getting around the venue quite easy.



Because the sun sets behind third base, the seats along third and behind home are more expensive, while those along first base, with the sun in your face for most of the game, are cheaper.



At the bottom of each grandstand are box seats ($18 for 3B/HP, $14 for 1B), while those above the walkway are reserved ($14 for 3B/HP, $8 for the benches along first). Prices increase $4 for Feed Your Face Monday, which includes unlimited concessions until the 4th inning. You can see how the sun affects those first base seats...



... while the other two grandstands enjoy a bit of shade.



There's also the Diamond Club, which constitutes the first row around the seating bowl and is $35 any day of the week.



On both occasions, I bought the cheapest seat and moved around. There is a party area for groups down the left field line, right in front of the Hawks bullpen, so you can chat with the players during the game.



The view from this area is similar to that in the photo below.



Along the left field line is The Purple Porch (Boise is Colorado's affiliate), and there are standing areas here that are open to the public. When the sun got a bit too much, I moved over here for a couple of innings.



There is a bar here serving a couple of craft choices, so a good spot to relax before the game too. There is even a mini-scoreboard that is manually updated by a friendly gentleman, who was kept quite busy with high-scoring games both times I attended.



The view isn't great, but you can see all the action. The photo below is taken from the far end of the Porch, which is nearly in the left field corner.



This is the view from high atop first base...



... and home plate. The mountains in the distance are somewhat blocked by the trees, but it is still quite scenic.



In terms of features, just inside the main entrance is a standing triangle with the starting lineups on one side, the standings on another, and team promos on the third side. As you can see, the first game I attended was against Spokane.



The official name of the venue is Bill Campbell Field at Memorial Stadium, and there is a cast of Campbell's face on the back of the home plate grandstand. Campbell contributed to the effort to bring professional baseball to Boise and was team president of the Boise Braves from 1958-62.



The Hawks have won six league titles and a pennant for each flies above the right field fence.



The mascot is Humphrey, a rather frightening-looking hawk, who can be found wandering around high-fiving fans.



The Hawks only became affiliated with the Rockies in 2015 after 14 seasons with the Cubs, but they have embraced their new parent club wholeheartedly, with the Purple Porch, wearing purple jerseys, and with this sign below leading from Boise to Denver.



The scoreboard sits behind the left field fence and has a video board above the linescore.



I don't like selfies but shadow selfies are a different story. Here I am again on a baseball field! Third day in a row. Maybe shadow selfies will catch on.



Near the end of the second game, I was marching up the stairs along first base to snap a picture of the sunset. I heard a crack of the bat and turned to see the ball whiz just behind me. It landed in the seats and I was able to pick it up, thus getting my first Northwest League ball. I have balls from 9 of the 14 minor leagues, so more roadtrips might be in the offing. As for the picture, it turned out pretty well.



Overall, I was really happy to get to experience this stadium a second time. I find sometimes, even with smaller venues, that one visit is too short to get the full experience, but obviously I can't see every minor league venue twice. Memorial Stadium caters to its fan base quite well, and should definitely be on your list of ballparks to visit.

The Game

The Tri-City Dust Devils (San Diego) were visiting and sent Emmanuel Ramirez to the hill to face Ryan Luna (28th, 2016). Ramirez was solid through four shutout innings, supported by a 3-run homer from Bryant Aragon. After giving up an unearned run in the 5th, which the Dust Devils matched in the 6th, the wheels fell off for Ramirez as Boise scored 4 on three singles, two doubles, and another error to take a 5-4 lead. Tri-City tied it in the 7th, but a triple by Bret Boswell (8th, 2017) scored a run, and Sean Bouchard (9th, 2017) followed with a 2-run shot. Boswell added his own 2-run dinger in the 8th for insurance as the Hawks prevailed 10-6.



The first 4 innings took an hour, and the rest of the game took just over 2 hours as the bullpens struggled.  

Notes

As this is Idaho, the mascot race features potatoes: Gem, Fry, and Spud are the three contestants. They actually run from first to third and back, a different take than the usual warning track race.



The beer batter promotion here is also a bit different. If the leadoff batter for the visitors gets out in the top of the 3rd, 12-oz. Coors Banquets are $1 each for 15 minutes at two of the beer stands. Fans congregate there before the third inning starts, and when the batter is out, the lineup forms immediately. Should the batter reach, a second chance is given in the top of the 6th.



Next Up

Games in Idaho Falls and Spokane to finish the trip, and then back to reality in New York. Check back for final recaps later this week.

Best,

Sean