Thursday, December 28, 2006

The Other Side

Interesting article in the Fort Wayne newspaper yesterday criticizing cities that always seem to give in to owners begging for a new ballpark. Fort Wayne is attempting to get a ballpark constructed that would the "centerpiece of a downtown revitalization project" costing $125 million. First off, does Fort Wayne really need a new ballpark ? Memorial Stadium opened in 1993, and while it may not be as glossy as other new parks built since, the fans don't seem to be staying away - '06 attendance was over 3500 per game. So why the new ballpark ? Simply because their current home doesn't have enough luxury boxes. This isn't the reason you'll hear from the owners, but it has to be their prime motivation. And if they can get a city (Fort Wayne or somewhere else) to build them a park for free, why wouldn't they take it ? I have no sentiment for Memorial Stadium, but it is tiring to see one city after another getting held hostage by teams who threaten to move if their current city doesn't build them a new ballpark. Let the citizens of the city decide, not the local politicians. But rarely do you see a city put a new ballpark up to a vote - because they know it would fail. It's nice to see for once that the local media is not taking the side of the city. Stay tuned as I'm sure there will be a lot more bickering in Fort Wayne over the next year or so.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Top 6 of '06

With the year winding down, I thought I'd look back and list my 6 favorite ballpark visits of 2006. During the year, I saw games in about 40 different ballparks. These are the ones that stood out :

#6) Russell Diethrick Park (Jamestown, NY) - When I first visited this park in 1993, there were still many places like this left. But now with the old parks being replaced by glossy new ones, it is a treat to go to a game at an older ballpark like this. Like Auburn and Batavia in the NYPL, there is still a community feel to the atmosphere. While there are some of the usual promotions, the focus is still mostly on the game. The quirky, unpolished PA announcer just adds to the charm.

#5) Ray Winder Field (Little Rock, AR) - 2006 was the last year for the old girl. Its fate hasn't yet been decided, but hopefully it remain standing like two other classic ballparks in the south, Rickwood Field and Engel Stadium. The laid-back atmosphere of Ray Winder is hard to beat, and I can't imagine that it will be replicated at the new ballpark. Where else can you buy a box seat and sit anywhere you want ?

#4) Lindquist Field (Ogden, UT) - Located in the downtown and with mountains providing the backdrop, a setting for a ballpark doesn't get much better than this. If you're lucky enough to be there for a night game when the sun is setting, the glowing mountains provide a sight you won't soon forget.

#3) Medlar Field (State College, PA) - One of my favorites among ballparks that have opened within the last five years. Wide concourses, spacious seating areas, plentiful and tasty food options, and a great setting combine to make it a winner. Hopefully other cities will look at Medlar Field as an example when building a new ballpark. Probably the most comfortable ballparks I've ever been to.

#2) Rickwood Field (Birmingham, AL) - I finally got to the annual Rickwood Classic in '06. And what a treat it was. Despite a scorching day (approaching 100 degrees), the experience was wonderful. Except for the concession prices, it is like being in a time machine. Hopefully the Barons will continue this tradition for years to come. Every ballpark fan needs to come here once.

#1) Cobb Field (Billings, MT) - In terms of an authentic minor league baseball experience, Cobb Field provides the best there is. You won't find any goofy mascot or silly between inning promotions. Fans are here to watch baseball, drink beer, and eat ballpark food. The cool covered grandstand with its narrow tunnels is a true treasure. Unfortunately, 2007 will be the last year for Cobb Field as it will be torn down to make way for a new ballpark opening in '08. Get there while you still can - you will not be disappointed.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

New Nashville Ballpark

Renderings of the new Nashville Sounds ballpark were unveiled yesterday. It is set to replace Herschel Greer Stadium in 2008, but with the recent delays, it appears unlikely that it will be ready for the start of the '08 season. While I haven't yet seen a game at Herschel Greer, it is easy to see why the Sounds wanted a new ballpark. Its location in the suburbs is "out of sight, out of mind" and it completely lacks any of the amenities that are present at newer ballparks. From the renderings of the new ballpark, it appears that it will have a nice downtown location and will provide great views of the river and skyline. The one odd thing about it is that it appears that all the seating will be on one level, similar to Knight's Castle. Also, I don't see any grassy berms and it doesn't appear that there will be a full wraparound concourse. Perhaps the design hasn't been finalized yet or the drawings aren't accurate. Whatever the case, the new downtown ballpark should be a huge improvement.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

A Couple Random Thoughts

Yes, I know - I haven't made any posts here in a while. But a couple stories came up this week that I had to comment on. I'll try to make my entries a bit more frequent now.

First, why did Scranton-Wilkes Barre even feel the need to change their nickname from the Red Barons ? That name at least had some tradition and relevance. To change it to Yankees (in a time when nobody anymore is using the parent team's name) seems like a pure marketing scheme, and nothing else. Do you think if their new affiliate was the Devil Rays or Nationals that they would have used those names ? It almost seems like they are insulting the fans in the area by saying, "maybe you couldn't find us before when we were the Red Barons, but now that we're the Yankees, you will know about us." I'm sure the new affiliation will generate an attendance growth (at least initially), but wouldn't this have happened even if they had stuck with the Red Baron's name ?

Also this week, a land swap deal in Beloit that may have gotten the Snappers a ballpark to replace Pohlman Field fell through. But why do they even need a new ballpark in Beloit ? The Snappers are community owned and nonprofit. Now I do understand that Pohlman Field doesn't meet minor league facility standards, but this has been the case since 1991. What has changed recently that they all of a sudden they need a new park so badly ? Yes, Pohlman Field isn't a great ballpark, but it does have a great small town atmosphere that isn't found at too many parks these days. Here's hoping that even if Beloit can't get a new ballpark built that the Snappers won't be sold and moved.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

First Pitches & Foul Balls

Has the ceremonial first pitch completely lost its meaning at the minor league level ? After seeing 11 "first pitches" thrown at Somerset this past Saturday night, you really have to wonder. According to Wikipedia, the first pitch is "usually thrown by either a celebrity or a locally significant person." Is some random kid throwing out the first pitch on behalf of a corporate sponsor a "significant" person ? Not to take anything away from the kids (because I'm sure it's quite a thrill for them), but what's the point of having so many first pitches other than to get the sponsors' names out there one more time. I suppose this is just another example of corporate America taking over the world of minor league baseball.

Also, not to sound like a curmudgeon, but why does every kid in attendance now feel like it's their right to get a foul ball ? What exactly do kids so with the balls once they get them home ? My guess is that they just end up in their closet, never to be looked at again. When I was a kid (which wasn't that long ago), adults were never obligated to give foul balls to the closest kid. And players would rarely hand a ball to a kid. I'm all for kids getting foul balls, but just wish they had more appreciation for them and didn't assume it was their automatic right to go home with one.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Where am I ?

Having just returned from my big ballpark road trip, I noticed a disturbing new trend among the affiliated minor league teams. As if may teams doing the same promotions and on-field games wasn't bad enough, now we have companies actually sponsoring the same exact on-field game at multiple ballparks. Hamburger Helper, BC Powder, and Advance Auto Parts must be in partnership with MiLB as they all sponsored the same games at several of the South Atlantic League and Southern Leagues games I attended. For Hamburger Helper, it's the "throw the meat in the frying pan" contest. For BC Powder, it's the "throw the ball thru the board" contest. And for Advance Auto Parts, it's the "wipeout inning" contest. This is one of the big problems I have with minor league baseball now - no teams try to differentiate themselves by doing unique contests or promotions. It used to be that each minor league team would try to bring some hometown flavor to the ballpark experience. But with big business taking over in 90% of the markets, going to a ballgame is becoming a more and more generic experience.

On my trip, I saw 15 games in 15 different ballparks. I have started posting some new photos and reviews and will continue to do so over the next month or so.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006 Stadium

Went to my first ballgame of the 2006 season this past Saturday at the newly branded Stadium (not sure why the "dot com" is needed as it sure makes for an odd name). As it was in '05, the area surrounding the ballpark is still a construction zone. But the Hilton Garden Inn that has arisen behind the left field fence at least adds some character to the ballpark (some even may call it "Camdenesque"). Still, it's not a park that impresses me very much. It is serviceable, but there is little which distinguishes it from numerous other ballparks built in the past 10 years. Some have raved about the riverfront location, but to me this is overrated since there isn't one seat in the ballpark that actually has a view of the river. Only a small portion of the 3rd base concourse has a view. It's a shame that the architect couldn't take better advantage of what should have been a scenic location.

Despite being in only year 2 of the ballpark, the atmosphere already feels stale. There is little creativity behind the on field promotions and the soundtrack is in sore need of updating. On the plus side, the Fisher Cats have upgraded their concessions with the addition of some seafood plates as well as meatball sandwiches and chili. At least the variety is now better than most ballparks in the northeast.

As for the games (it was a scheduled doubleheader), they were about as contrasting as could be. The Rock Cats won the first game 14-5, which featured a combined 7 home runs. The second game was a pitcher's duel, with the Fisher Cats winning 1-0 on a walk-off home run by David Smith. With a very short right field, Stadium sure appears to be a hitter's ballpark.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Another One Bites The Dust

With the announcement that the Elmira Pioneers of the Can-Am League would be folding up shop for the 2006 season, it was another sad day for fans of old ballparks and people who live in small towns. Each season more and more minor league teams migrate towards the big cities and metropolitan areas, while small towns like Elmira lose their team with little hope of ever seeing professional baseball again. I understand that the reasons are all financial, but to me this is still a disturbing trend. It seems awfully unfair that small towns, many of which have a deeper connection and greater appreciation of their team, can't enjoy the baseball experience just because they aren't able to pack 3,000-4,000 fans into their ballpark. For many of these towns, pro baseball offers one of the few entertainment options. In the big cities, while the crowds might be big, would they really miss the team if it weren't around ?

So Dunn Field will be without professional baseball for the first time in many years. Sure, the city has promised to try to get a collegiate league team. Big deal. That's simply not the same as having a professional team. But unfortunately, with the current trend in minor league baseball, small towns will only be able to host these type of teams. How long before the collegiate leagues start migrating towards the big cities as well ? Fortunately there are still a couple of minor league (the Appy League and Pioneer League) which seem content on holding on to a piece of the past by not selling out. Hopefully these leagues will never change.