Tuesday, April 27, 2010

High Desert Mavericks 2 at Lancaster Jethawks 6 - April 26, 2010


Minor league baseball is my favourite road trip sport. There are 160 teams in affiliated ball and with games nearly every day, it's easy to plan a trip in almost any area of the country. Tickets are cheap, you can sit where you want, and you often to get to places that you'd never stop in otherwise. So it was with some chagrin that I realized that last year I only saw one full minor league game, in Colorado Springs. I did see a few innings in Manchester but rain forced an early finish, and then the Connecticut date was postponed due to a wet field. So it had been over a year since I had enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere that marks these affairs. Fortunately that travesty ended yesterday as I drove up to Lancaster to watch a California League game between the Jethawks and the High Desert Mavericks.

The Drive

The city of Lancaster is in the Antelope Valley, about 70 miles north of Los Angeles. Google Maps suggested a circuitous route from my hotel near Pasadena that would take I-210 west all the way west to I-5 before reversing onto the State Route 14, which is the main thoroughfare in the valley. It was about 75 miles, but I noticed a shorter route through Angeles National Forest that would likely be more scenic.

I planned to take that route on the way there but as I headed west on I-210, there was a sign saying that the Angeles Crest Highway was closed. Crap. I had studied the alternate route so I wasn't too worried, but I knew that I'd hit rush hour traffic and sure enough, where the I-210, I-5, and 14 all meet there was a huge jam. It was amazing just how many cars were making their way north on I-5, but once I got on the 14, it cleared up and it was smooth the rest of the way.

The highway is known as the Antelope Valley Freeway as it winds northeast through the Forest before turning north, passing through Palmdale and Lancaster. It then becomes the Aerospace Highway as it runs past Edwards Air Force Base continuing north to Mojave and beyond. It's a reasonably scenic drive for a freeway but can be quite crowded during rush hours.

Clear Channel Stadium

Built in 1996 and originally known as Lancaster Municipal Stadium, the ballpark is located next to the Avenue I exit off Highway 14. The stadium is nicknamed The Hangar and is notable for a NASA F/A 18-Hornet out front in honour of the base nearby.


Parking is $5 but comes with a $2 discount off a concession purchase of $5 or more, which is a nice touch.


The stadium is built in the desert motif with sand-colored walls and brown and green trim. When you enter, you are offered a free program which has some useful info on the up-and-coming Jethawk prospects. There are a number of small displays inside, including the starting lineups, standings, and a list of players who have made the majors. There's also several Jethawks Hall of Fame plaques honouring former players and managers. Check out the standings below - Lancaster is in last place but I guess they don't want to acknowledge it as the team name is missing.


I bought a first-row seat over the home dugout for $9 but was disappointed to see that they had put up a small netting to protect the lower seats. This ruined the view as you can see in the photo below.


I'll write more about in a later section, but I ended up moving around the stadium anyway, so it wasn't much of a problem. If you want to avoid the netting, get a cheap reserved seat. The picture below shows the view from section 119 down third base, looking into the visitor's dugout. These seats also slant in a bit so you don't have to turn your head to watch the pitcher.


The field is huge with the fence 350 feet down the lines and 410 at center. I guess the ball must carry here in the dry air. The scoreboard is manually operated, but there's also a video board which shows stats and promos, with space shuttles on either side (Edwards is where the shuttle often lands). You can see it in the photo below beyond the left-field fence.


There were a lot of food choices here, including a Mexican stand behind first base. I opted for a spicy chicken sandwich which was not spicy, although I am reasonably confident that it was chicken.

I really enjoyed this ballpark despite the netting. The promos were not bothersome, it wasn't that loud, and the fans were cheerful. Staff was also helpful; when I ordered a pop, it took about 5 minutes to get a soda as the machine wasn't working; they had me taste one cup that was too watery before they got it fixed and also offered me free popcorn while I waited. It seems like the management here puts some thought into make this a family-friendly experience and I hope to return.

The Game


Lancaster's starter was Dallas Keuchel (pronounced Kikel, shown above), who appeared in the 2009 College World Series with Arkansas and was Houston's 7th-round pick in the subsequent draft. He was opposed by Andrew Carraway, Seattle's 12th-round pick in the same draft who had yet to lose in 9 minor league decisions.

Keuchel was sharp, giving up 3 singles through 5 innings, but Carraway wasn't so fortunate. After a scoreless first, he gave up two runs in the second, highlighted by a double from Brandon Barnes. Two singles and a stolen base led to another Jethawk run in the third. The fourth inning seemed to typify Carraway's outing. After two quick outs, he gave up a seeing-eye single to Josh Flores and promptly balked him over. Jay Austin then followed with a blooper that fell in to score Flores. After Austin stole second, Brandon Wikoff then blooped another one that scored Austin to make it 5-0. Wikoff was picked off to end the inning and Carraway's evening.

High Desert's Scott Savastano with the scoop

In the 6th, Keuchel gave up an RBI-triple to Nate Tenbrink (fouling one off below), who scored on a ground out, but that was his only damage in 7 strong innings. David Berner tossed two perfect innings for the save as Lancaster won 6-2.


The game time was 2:11, which was amazing considering the first four innings took 1:20. Once Carraway was taken out, the Maverick relievers worked quickly and Keuchel and Berner were efficient as well.

Keuchel gets my new, coveted "Player to Watch" award. Whenever I go to a minor league game, I'll name one player who caught my eye. I'll try to follow him and let you know if he's in the majors a few years hence. Of course, one game is not enough to accurately know how a player will fare as time passes, but it will be fun to watch.

Anyway, Keuchel was efficient, giving up just 6 hits and no walks, requiring just 89 pitches in his 7 frames. It was his first win of the season. Carraway suffered his first minor-league loss.


The game ended at 9:15. Once I had finished filling out my scorecard, I snapped a picture of the scoreboard - but they had already removed the run totals! They work quick in Lancaster. One other note: the game started at 7:04, but the official boxscore said the game time was 2:13. I was timing it myself using a stopwatch and it was definitely 2:10:55 (excuse the precision). I wonder how they can add two minutes out of nowhere, but I suspect nobody else is paying attention.

Notes

It was Feed your Face Monday, where you could get a reserved seat for $10 that came with unlimited hot dogs, hamburgers, popcorn and other food. You could also buy the unlimited food package for $8 with another ticket, but I resisted the temptation.

Another food promotion was the In N Out Double Double batter. One Jethawk was designated with this title and if he doubled during the game, all fans in a lucky section would win an In N Out Double Double burger. If you read this blog, you know this is the best possible prize in the world but the batter in this game, David Flores, could not deliver. Instead, he homered in his final at-bat, shown below.


Not that it mattered, I wasn't in the lucky section anyway.

There were a couple of other promotions that caught my eye. One was pretty lame, it was a spelling bee where the contestant, about 10 years old, had to spell "home run". Even the kid was "Like man, you are so insulting my intelligence" as he recited the letters. Pretty funny.

The other was allowing kids under 12 to run across the field during an inning break. You can see the mascot Ka-boom in the shot below. Looks like fun.


By my reckoning (admittedly I miss a pitch or two on occasion), both teams had identical pitch counts: 34 balls, 79 strikes, and 113 total pitches. The minor league box scores don't show pitch counts, so I'll never know if this was actually true or not but I found it a neat coincidence.

Another statistical oddity. Not only were there no walks, there were no hit batsmen, sacrifice bunts, sacrifice flies, or catcher's interference. So every plate appearance resulted in an at-bat; this is quite unusual especially in the minors where walks are commonplace.

Protection or Enjoyment?

One of my pet peeves about Japanese ballparks is that protective netting or fencing stretches all the way down the lines, making clear view seats difficult to find. I understand the need for fencing directly behind home plate, but there shouldn't be anything down the lines. Fans who want to sit close should accept the risk that comes with sitting there. I've always tried to sit close and have never been in danger, although I usually pay attention. But last season in Mahoning Valley, a young child was struck and seriously injured by a foul ball. I fear that this unfortunate incident will lead to more teams adding netting above the dugout, which I find distracting. I like a clear view of the action and would expect other fans to agree. The question is where personal responsibility enters into the debate. I think if you want to sit close and be protected, sit behind the plate. If you want to sit down the lines, pay attention or sit farther away. But please, no more netting!

Next Up

I'm hoping to get to see the Lakers and Thunder tonight. Tickets in the upper deck are reasonably priced on the secondary market, so I should be able to get one outside the arena before game time. Check back here for a recap tomorrow.

Best,

Sean

1 comment:

  1. Netting comment. I couldn't agree more.

    Who knows? If people paid more attention, too, they wouldn't walk or stand in the way when the bases are loaded, 2 outs, 3-2 count (which is what happened to me on Sun's game). That's a pet peeve of mine.

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