Friday, August 1, 2014

Worth the drive to the Eastern Shore

Observations from Delmarva

This is a great park in one of the league's more remote locations. As the crow flies, it's 165 miles from Richmond (our home base for a trip to see the league's northernmost three teams - thanks, friends!), but Chesapeake Bay prevents that sort of direct path. Our drive was five hours from Richmond by the northern route (slowed by Annapolis rush hour) and more than four hours by the southern route (slowed by overnight bay tunnel construction). It would have been great to pair this visit with Lakewood N.J., but our schedule and the games didn't match up that way.

The fellow behind us sounded exactly like Wilford Brimley.

Shorebirds starter Luis Gonzalez (6-0 in 12 starts) had a nice outing, throwing seven strikeouts in six shutout innings in a 4-0 win Wednesday against Lakewood.

Food highlight: The Swamp Dog, a spicy sausage with shrimp and grits on top.

Shorebirds' Carolinas Connections

Pitcher Hunter Harvey - Catawba Bandys High (son of Bryan Harvey, brother of Kris Harvey)
Pitcher John McLeod - Wake Forest (on disabled list)

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Hagerstown: This place still smells like a ballpark

Observations from Hagerstown

Municipal Stadium was built in 1930, putting it in the same category as Asheville and Savannah in this league for elderly stadiums. This one has a great feel to it -- the concessions were simple and the crowd much more, well, non-urban than I'd expected, but all in a good way. The atmosphere is only improved by the manual scoreboard with three guys we could watch changing the numbers, the absence of a radar report or even clock, and yes, the smell of hunks of meat being grilled near the gate. It all added up to a great experience. The left-field picnic area is just steps away from the visiting team's warm-up area -- I had a nice eye-catching moment with a reserve outfielder before the game, and a couple of kids got easy foul balls during the game.

Former Clemson catcher Spencer Kieboom made a great play at the plate to end a scoring threat in the sixth inning of an 8-4 win on Tuesday
Retired jersey numbers: 42 Jackie Robinson, 24 Willie Mays, 50 John Henry Moss (commissioner of current and previous incarnations of the Sally League for 50 years).

The Suns are pretty proud of Bryce Harper's 72 games during the 2011 season in Hagerstown: .318 average, 14 home runs, 46 RBIs

Suns' Carolinas Connections

Catcher Spencer Kieboom - Clemson
1B Carlos Lopez - Wake Forest
Utility player John Wooten - East Carolina and Goldsboro's Eastern Wayne High. Wooten was called up to the Carolina League's Class A+ Potomac team on July 28.

The Sally League's northernmost stop

Observations from Lakewood, N.J.

A Monday night game sold very well with Gaylord Perry in the house to throw out the first pitch and sign autographs.

Retired jerseys: Ryan Howard (29) and Cole Hamels (19)

The mascot is not any sort of creature with claws, as we'd expected (but which might have scared  kids), but a critter named Buster who is not any particular sort of animal, just like the major league club's Philie Phanatic.

Cool feature: 12-foot beach chairs in the outfield grass seating areas (use at your own risk).

Fans here are no better than Southerners at waiting until the end of an inning (or even an at-bat) to leave for the concession stand.

Highlight: about six service dogs in training, learning how to behave in crowds.

Superlative: The largest scoreboard in the league I've seen so far (three parks to go).

BlueClaws Carolinas Connections


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

Observations from Charleston

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.

Observations 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.

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

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.

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).

Braves Carolinas Connections

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