Friday, July 11, 2014

Savannah: Historic Grayson Stadium has character like crazy

Character usually is a good thing but not always ... a park where general admission seats are the best ones gives me pause. 
We loved the Sand Gnats' stadium setting in a large city park (we got in some walking before the game) and loved the idea of it being at one of the nation's oldest functioning ballparks (they fight with Asheville among others for the distinction). But our seating experience was less than great, for a while.
Our box seats were close behind home plate even though the map had showed them closer to first base (our preferred angle). My mom's seat was not fastened securely into the concrete. We moved to the general admission area near Landshark Landing and had a great time from then on.
The netting spans just about all of the seating areas so this is a difficult place to catch a foul ball. But the angles are so odd management has to put up all of this netting or they would lose a fan every night.
The daytime high was 97 or so, but enormous ceiling fans in the covered areas keep spectators from rioting. We also were told we could ask for bug spray from fan services, but it never came to that. There is a reason the team is named the Sand Gnats ...
Food item in the Wretched Excess category: the S'mores Panini. There was Nutella involved, plus chocolate syrup on top. I can't even ...

Sand Gnats Carolinas Connections

Outfielder Champ Stuart, Brevard College

Charleston let the dogs out

Since Charleston is the RiverDogs, this is the only South Atlantic League entrant allowed to use "Who Let the Dogs Out?" as long as it is judicious about it, which is is. We heard it once for a scoring play during an early inning, and again during a thrilling bottom-of-the-ninth sequence resulting in a win. Gosuke Katoh singled and advanced on a bunt by Michael O'Neill, then he slid around a tag at home after a line drive by Mark Payton. Payton was in the game only as a replacement for Tyler Wade, who was ejected after being called out on an attempted steal in during the eighth inning. O'Neill had his own big moment to open the game with a home run.

Temperatures were in the high 80s or low 90s for a recent start of a night game, but the breeze off the Ashley River keeps things bearable at Joe P. Riley Stadium (“The Joe”). The seagulls add a fun obstacle - though none were hit with batted balls, the possiblity kept us all on high alert.

This is the first of seven parks I've visited in the league with a keyhole - a graded dirt area between the plate area and the mound. One of these showed up recently in the World Series, and we confirmed there were only two in the major leagues at the time.

RiverDogs Carolinas Connections

Pitcher Rookie Davis, Sneads Ferry, N.C.
Pitcher Eric Ruth, Winthrop

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Any excuse to visit Asheville is a good one

Next up on our tour of the South Atlantic League: the Asheville Tourists.



Highlights from McCormick Field

Arrive early and wander around the Grove Park Inn, back up Charlotte Street on the other side of I-240. There is an amazing waterfall sequence, and you get free parking for the first three hours.

If you are still early, walk up -- seriously, straight up, altitudewise -- Buchanan Street beside the front entrance, go left on White Fawn Drive to a trail head to Beaucatcher Greenway. The path is cool and pleasant, though there are some mosquito critters. After you climb over a fallen tree, there is a trail back down to the left that leads to the employee parking lot for the stadium. Go up to the parking lot entrance to get back to the stadium front.

Go on Doggies at the Diamond night. I bet we saw 30 dogs, of all sizes and colors. The coolest was a huge white dog -- unknown breed -- with sunglasses pushed back on his forehead. Certain he weighed 180 lbs., we almost asked to ride him out to the parking lot. There was also a Newfoundland who accepted all the attention gracefully. Many of the dogs gathered to argue and play in the general admission area -- concrete benches where folks make their own nests with blankets and lawn chairs.

No Carolinas Connections - but several players on this team stood out as not fitting the Sally League mold of 19-year-olds who are 6-foot-2, 170 lbs. The Tourists have some older, bigger players. It was nice not to worry about their nutrition like I have some others. I felt sorry for the lefties, though -- they have a 36-foot fence in right, though it's only 297 feet from the plate. Still, not many dingers are going over that baby.

Lots of local beers available, plus there are the deep-fried Oreos and deep-fried Moon pies.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Drowned by the deluge

Observations from Rome, Ga.

The spicy alfredo sauce at the Bella Rosa Grill in the parking lot is worth the drive 40 miles north of Atlanta and 25 miles west.

The Braves' unique food offering: fried bologna sandwich at Bubba's BBQ Barn.

They charge $3 for programs, unlike most parks.

It was really all about this storm that rolled in twenty minutes before first pitch and drowned all of northwest Georgia (photo courtesy of Dalya Adams).

Rome Carolinas Connections

Pitcher Tyler Brosius - Waynesville, N.C. (Tuscola High)
Pitcher Colby Holmes - Conway (S.C.) High and South Carolina
Pitcher Matt Marksberry - Campbell

Augusta: Go to see the GreenJackets, stay for the pecan pie

Observations from Augusta, Ga.

Augusta isn't the southernmost team in the South Atlantic League, but it's the only one I've been to so far that serves pecan pie, so it may be the SouthernMost.

The 2013 (inaugural) Hall of Fame is Pablo Sandoval (San Francisco's Kung-Fu Panda) and Tim Wakefield, who played infield for Augusta and was advised he'd never get past Class AA, so he switching to pitching and developed a remarkable knuckleball.

$13 gets you a seat very close to the action, and with no parking fee, it's comparable to the other parks.

Baseball bingo is much harder than the usual sort: you check off boxes for home players achieving such feats as bunts, touching the warning track, and putouts. 

The less said about the fifth inning's grounds crew "Macarena," the better.

GreenJackets Carolinas Connections

Pitcher Jake Smith is from North Augusta, S.C. (his parents come across the river to attend most home games) and he also played at Campbell

Second baseman Will Calloway is from Taylors, S.C., and played at Appalachian State

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Three Dog Night in Greensboro

The Grasshoppers have a magnificent park in downtown Greensboro, with a truly endearing mascot named Guilford. But it was three labrador retrievers who caught nearly all of our attention on Friday night: Miss Babe Ruth, Miss Lou Lou Gehrig, and Master Yogi Berra.

Miss Babe Ruth is in likely her final season as a bat retriever for the Hoppers. She worked several innings at our game, either retrieving bats for the home team or delivering balls to the home plate umpire between innings (safely dry in a bucket). We rooted for Hoppers to get hits just so we could see her do her thing (hitters brought their own bats back to the dugout if they struck out).

Yogi's big moment was between innings when he retrieved a baseball launched into the outfield by one of those T-shirt cannons.

The other animal excitement came on the scoreboard. During rally moments, a video showed a chicken jumping several inches in the air, over and over. We were stumped for a few innings but finally realized it was A Hopper, as is most everything at the park. The usher said it does not have a name, so we proposed Hedda the Hopper.

Friday's game went crazy fast, finishing nine innings in 2:20. Even the extra innings (the game went 12) still had folks out close to 10 p.m. A base-running choice in the bottom of the ninth prevented a chance at a Hoppers win, and instead the game stayed tied until the 4-run boom in the top of the 12th.

This park (in its tenth season) leads the list of those I'll visit again. Maybe next time the family in front of us will stand up for their frequent concessions visits between innings instead of during at-bats …

Hoppers' Carolinas Connections

Outfielder Kentrell Dewitt - Green Sea (S.C.) Floyds High and Southeastern Community College (Whiteville, N.C.)
Pitcher Josh Easley - N.C. State
Pitcher Brad Mincey - East Carolina
Pitcher Sean Townsley - High Point University

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Kannapolis team might not intimidate but park shines

Tuesday's score was Hickory 10, Kannapolis 3, but a game with 13 runs and five errors by the hosts won't get my attention.

What did get my attention was a broken bat from the Intimidators' Jacob Morris that flew into our section during the first inning. The man sitting behind me snagged the barrel and gave it to me, and batting coach Rob Sasser offered the handle from the dugout. So now I have a bat used by a professional baseball player. What's the big deal, right? 

It represents talent, and it makes me want to follow Harris'  career. There is something about Class A ball that makes us root for these underdogs, many of whom will never see the majors but most of whom do love the game enough to travel half the year. They live four and five to an apartment just to be able to pay the rent, and live in places where landlords won't rent month-to-month … and all of that. It's a life we might envy on one level, but we mostly don't envy the low pay and the tedium and the hard work parts of it. 

Highlights from Kannapolis

A Chevy chassis with No. 3 artwork sits at the park's entrance, in memory of Dale Earnhardt, whose purchase of a share of the team in 2000 sparked a name change from the Piedmont Boll Weevils to the Intimidators (chosen by a fan vote).
Three jersey numbers are retired at this park: 50, 3, and 42. Earnhardt was No. 3 and Jackie Robinson No. 42, but I was stumped on No. 50. Turns out it was for John Henry Moss, who was president for 50 years of what is now the South Atlantic League. Every team in the league has retired it.

Mark your calendar: Bark in the Park is June 1. This is a gorgeous park and the dogs will love it.

Bingo drew more boos than cheers. At least no one forgot about the free space.
I met a player's parent. Starting pitcher Tyler Barnette's mom was in my section. We sympathized when he struggled to adjust to the plate umpire's strike zone, as did every pitcher.

Loved hearing Bruce Springsteen's "Born to Run" after a steal.
The Hickory lineup included Joe Jackson, who was batting .412 coming into the game. He's from Greenville, S.C., and The Citadel, and is the great-great-great-nephew of Shoeless Joe Jackson, who died in Greenville in 1951.

Kannapolis Carolinas Connections

Pitcher Tyler Barnett - Hickory High, UNC Charlotte
Pitcher David Putman - Duke
Catcher Jeremy Dowdy - Raleigh Wakefield, Appalachian State