Wednesday, July 16, 2008

My Big Trip Report

I have recently returned from my big ballpark trip of the summer. Some comments on each of the parks I saw games in :

Bowen Field (Bluefield, WV) - classic Appy League park. One of the
most serene settings you'll find anywhere in the country. The only
problem is that they sell blowhorns, which kids and adults were
blowing the whole night. Very obnoxious.

Devault Memorial Stadium (Bristol, VA) - perhaps the worst
professional ballpark in the country. But has one of the best
baseball atmospheres - no sound effects, no mascot, no silly between
inning games. Just baseball.

Pioneer Park (Greeneville, TN) - very classy ballpark that seems out
of place in the Appy League. A more typical minor league experience,
but still an enjoyable place to catch a game.

Dickey-Stephens Park (Little Rock, AR) - great setting with lots of
little design quirks. Certainly a worthy replacement for one of my
favorites - Ray Winder Field.

Gabe Nesbitt Field (McKinney, TX) - very basic metal structure, but
does have all fold down seats. Because it's in Texas, the scenery is
boring. One of the smallest crowds I've ever seen at a pro game - it
was announced as 125.

Whataburger Field (Corpus Christi, TX) - follows the new ballpark
template, but has enough unique touches to make it stand out. They
did a good job incorporating the cotton theme. Bridge in the backdrop
is nice, but can't compare to the Ben Franklin Bridge in Camden.

Veterans Field (Laredo, TX) - boring park, over-the-top atmosphere.
Non-stop sound effects and games - could we please watch the game ?
Apparently they don't want you to - maybe because the pitching is so
bad in the UBL.

Harlingen Field (Harlingen, TX) - a slightly more interesting park
than Laredo, but almost the identical atmosphere. I couldn't wait to
get out there with the bombardment of sound effects. And no scorecard to be found ...

Robinson Stadium (Texas City, TX) - wooden grandstand with all bench seating. Nice atmosphere as everyone there seemed to be into the game. There was no games or sound effects to distract the crowd.

Zephyr Field (New Orleans, LA) - typical AAA ballpark, which seems way too big when there are only 3,000 fans on hand. Suburban setting
makes for a lousy location.

Pelican Park (Pensacola, FL) - despite being a very basic collegiate
park, the Pelicans have done a nice job dressing this place up. It's
still not the most comfortable of parks to see a game in, but it was
better than I expected.

Regency Furniture Stadium (Waldorf, MD) - yes, there is no sense of
place (though not sure there would be any place in Waldorf). But it's
an intimate and comfortable ballpark. Love the manual scoreboard in
LF. The atmosphere is what you'd expect from a first year team - most of the fans didn't even realize a game was going on.

Photos and full reviews will be posted on my site over the next month
or so. One more trip for me this summer as I'll be spending a week in
California where I hope to see five new ballparks.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

A New Ballpark Weekend

Despite a cool and somewhat damp weekend in the northeast, I was able to get in games at two new ballparks. Here are my quick comments and a couple of photos. Full reviews and more photos will be posted on my site in the next week or so.

Nationals Park (Washington, DC) - obviously a big improvement over RFK Stadium. Despite hearing many complaints about the location, I kinda liked it. Yes, the area is under redevelopment, but when it is completed, the ballpark should fit in nicely with the surrounding community. The ballpark itself is similar to other new ones, though I found it a bit hard to navigate. There are three distinct concourse areas, but the maze of ramps, stairs, and escalators to access them all is not always intuitive. The views of the Capitol and the Anacosta River are good from certain seats, but not others. Overall a pleasant new ballpark, but one which the fans of DC have yet to embrace fully - though a poor Nationals team may be to blame for that.

Coca Cola Park (Allentown, PA) - this new ballpark for the AAA Phillies follows the standard minor league template, but is actually a bit smallish for AAA. The wraparound concourse with plenty of standing room space is a nice touch. Seats are all angled toward the infield, though all do not provide great sightlines. Concessions are well varied and prices very reasonable. As can be expected for a new ballpark, most of the fans didn't seem to care about the game. But with the Iron Pigs off to an horrendous start, who can blame them ? My only minor complaint was with the egress after the game - there was not one police officer in sight to help direct traffic. This made for a messy situation since almost all the fans had to cross the road which leads out of the park. Coca Cola Park is certainly a big improvement over Bicentennial Field, which probably 75% of the fans never knew hosted professional baseball.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Winter in Bridgeport

Took in my first Atlantic League game of the season this past Saturday night in Bridgeport. While the calendar said May 3rd, it felt more like December 3rd with wind chills easily dropping into the 30's. I'm sure coffee and hot chocolate must have been the big sellers. Surprisingly, most fans stayed until the end, probably to catch the all important post-game fireworks. I'm sure this made my top 5 coldest games that I've been to.

The Bluefish are under new management in 2008, but it doesn't appear that much has changed. The most noticeable change is that one of their mascots, LI Sounder, is now a real person who doubles as the on field DJ. While he wasn't particularly entertaining or annoying, he looks like what you would expect a sea captain to look like. One cosmetic change to the ballpark - a new outfield fence has been installed.

I'm off to DC and Allentown this weekend, so stay tuned for updates to my site !

Thursday, March 27, 2008

No Surprise - SCL On Verge of Folding

With the announcement yesterday that the South Coast League's CEO, Jamie Toole, has resigned, it is almost a sure bet now that was has been obvious for months will become fact- the SCL is folding and will not operate in 2008. No official word has come down, but nobody seems too optimistic that the league has a chance to survive for another season.

Certainly the concept of an independent league in the southeast was a good idea on paper, but it never seemed like the management of the league could identify strong markets to go after. Instead they settled for small markets that would never be capable of drawing big crowds. Their inaugural season seemed to go well enough, but after the season many articles were written that surfaced details about debts not being paid to concessionaires, cities, players, and team personnel. This was the first tell-tale sign that the league was in trouble. There was also the announcement that the team would be adding a team in Jackson (MS) at Smith-Wills Stadium for the 2008 season. Shortly after that, they then announced that Charlotte County would be playing as a road team in '08 and that Jackson would not be playing in '08. Then after several GM firings and other personnel changes, the news came yesterday that Toole was stepping down. Clearly he was not able to procure the financial backing needed to continue operating the league.

So another indy league bites the dust. Maybe the Atlantic Coast League, scheduled to start in 2009, will have better luck.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Spring is Here !

I was able to take in my first ballgames of 2008 this weekend with a trip to Florida. While spring training is still enjoyable as the weather is almost always great and the atmosphere is more relaxed, it has certainly changed for the worse over the past 12 years since my first visit. Players are not nearly as accessible or accommodating as they used to be and and even though gates are open 2-2.5 hours ahead of game time, fans are not able to see the home team take batting practice. In most cases, the home team players are only seen a few minutes before the first pitch. With more and more new facilities getting built, access to the players only gets more difficult. This is a shame as being able to see your favorites players up close used to be one of the great aspects of spring training.

Some comments on the ballparks I visited (updated photos and reviews to be posted soon) :

Chain O'Lakes Park (Winter Haven, FL) - a classic spring training venue that is most likely in its last season of hosting Grapefruit League baseball (the Indians are moving to Arizona). The covered grandstand and open air press box are what make this park unique. Unfortunately it really is not suitable for large crowds as the concourse areas are small and concession stands limited. This is certainly one of the more laid back atmospheres in Florida.

City of Palms Park (Fort Myers, FL) - the ballpark is still one of my favorites in Florida, but the atmosphere is not nearly as relaxed as it used to be. Each time I go, the fans are more and more crazy. With the fans being so passionate, it is little wonder that the players are so afraid to show their faces.

Progress Energy Park (St. Petersburg, FL) - another ballpark probably in its last season of hosting spring training baseball as the Rays are moving to a renovated Charlotte County Stadium in 2009. While it is an older ballpark, it doesn't have a lot of charm. There is lots of concrete and too much bleacher seating. Also, the concourse can become very cramped with large crowds. Still, the location right on the water cannot be beat. Fortunately the Rays are floating a proposal to build a new major league ballpark on the site of Progress Energy Field. Sounds like a good idea to me.

McKechnie Field (Bradenton, FL) - while lights have been installed for the 2008 season, not much else has changed since my last visit in 1996. Despite being rebuilt in the early 1990's, this ballpark actually has quite a bit of charm and among the four I visited this weekend, probably the most relaxed atmosphere. Also, a good variety of concessions can be found here. A simple ballpark that provides a link to what spring training baseball used to be like.

Friday, August 03, 2007

NYSL to NYC ???

Apparently the saga of the New York State League is not over. While an official announcement or press release never came from the league, when play stopped after just two weeks, it was assumed that the league had folded. But hold on. Last week, a message was posted on the NYSL website that indicated that they would be back in 2008, this time playing in New York City. No word yet on what facilities they plan to use, but I think Fleming Field (former home of the Yonkers Hoot Owls) is probably available. Call me a skeptic, but I'll be surprised if we actually see this league again.

Monday, July 23, 2007

There Goes Another ...

In my earlier blog posting about new independent leagues, I failed to mention the New York State League, which planned to have all four member teams playing at Munrane Field in Utica, NY. Well the league didn't last long. After just two weeks of play, the league has folded. This league seemed ill conceived from the start. Utica has never been a "hotbed" of professional sports, especially recently when the local economy has really been hurting. And it's not like other leagues have been clamoring to get into Utica recently. I'm really not sure what Jay Acton, who founded the league, was expecting. Even if they were losing money (apparently upwards of $10k per day), he should have had enough capital to get them through the 2 month season. If he didn't, then he never should have started the league.

Acton should have know better. Some 20 years ago (in 1987) he tried a similar experiment on Long Island with the Empire State League. That also failed after just one season. Did he think that was an idea ahead of its time ? Who knows, but this latest failed experiment has only accomplished one thing - to poison the Utica market even further. The citizens there have been through many failed pro franchises in the past, but this may be the last. Jay Acton can blame the people all he wants for not coming out, but ultimately he's responsible for the failure of the league. Shame on him.