Thursday, April 21, 2011

Visalia Rawhide 1 at Stockton Ports 2 - April 20, 2011


The city of Stockton is about 70 miles east of Oakland, a perfect distance to complete a day-night doubleheader with games in each city. After watching Boston defeat the A's in the afternoon, I drove east on I-580, which becomes I-205 before turning north to join I-5, my favourite highway, arriving at my hotel about 90 minutes before game time. After a quick stop to drop my stuff off, I drove down to the ballyard, eager to complete the California League ballpark checklist.

Banner Island Ballpark

Officially known as Stockton Ballpark until the naming rights are sold (hmmm, SportsRoadTrips.com Stadium anyone?), the locals refer to it as Banner Island Ballpark after the area in which it is located. It was opened in 2005 to replace old Billy Hebert Field.

Splash greets you at the entrance

The stadium is on Fremont Street as part of a Marina complex that also includes Stockton Arena (to the right in the below photo), home of the ECHL's Stockton Thunder. Sadly, the Thunder have been eliminated from the playoffs, meaning I'll have to return to visit them.


Parking is $5 in a lot just west of the stadium but there is plenty of free street parking nearby. Behind the ballpark is McLeod Lake and the Stockton Marina, to the east is the downtown core, while there is not much to the west.


Tickets are $12 for box seats between the bases and $9 for those down the lines. There's also a $7 option for the home run hill beyond the right field fence. I ended up being given a ticket and was able to sit wherever I pleased, so I suggest buying the $7 ticket and moving around. One interesting option that wasn't available at the box office are the Scout Seats, which are the top rows of the three sections behind home plate. They come with a small armside table where you can rest your speed gun. A cool idea.


There is also a club section named after cable provider Comcast which comprises 3 sections above first base. I like the way this section is separated from the rest of the park, there's a walkway in front of it and the best seats next to the field are still available to the plebes like me.


The ballpark is quite beautiful and you can walk around the entire thing. The concourse is mostly open, with the covered area just around the entrances.



There are a number of attractions such as the Stockton Police Officers' Batting Cages, which are available if you need to get in some swings during the game.


As you move around, you will pass over a small bridge under which there is a walkway that connects the Ports' clubhouse to the field. The players walk down this on their way to warmup; below is Stockton starter Ryan Doolittle with his mind on the game.



The outfield has three flagpoles with Stockton's pennant winning years (2008 was their most recent championship as you can see above). Here is where you will also find the Back Porch and Ports Terrace BBQ, which includes Kinders Meats as a dining option. I didn't partake here, but did visit their Stockton location the following day. I highly recommend their Ball Tip Sandwich, it is both topical and tasty.



Next to the BBQ are the bullpens (above) and the scoreboard (below). It's tough to see in the picture, but the scoreboard does have a small digital screen along with the line score.



The view from the outfield

There are a number of jerseys on the press box which honour recent Ports who have gone on to succeed with the A's.


Perhaps the most interesting aspect is the Monster Wall in left field, which juts in dramatically, making the distance down the line just 300 feet. This is a difficult area for an inexperienced left fielder as the ball takes some crazy bounces off here. On two occasions, what would be simple fly outs elsewhere went for doubles off the wall.


Finally, there are plenty of food options besides Kinders. Two that are unique are the Frito's Chili Pie (a lettuce bed with Fritos, chili, cheese, tomatoes, and onions) and an asparagus stand (Stockton is known as the Asparagus Capital of the World). I did not try either of these tempting treats, instead choosing a chicken burger, which was good enough in its own right.


Overall, Banner Island Ballpark is a great new stadium. They haven't gone overboard with attractions nor overpriced their product. Friendly staff and a unique configuration made this a fun place to visit. If you have yet to visit Stockton, I suggest you try to include it next time you are in California.

The Game


The Visalia Rawhide, Arizona's Advanced-A affiliate, were in town to take on the Ports, who have Oakland as their parent club. Visalia are stacked with four of the Dbacks' top 10 prospects, all of whom were first-round picks in 2009. Three of them were in the starting lineup (Matt Davidson, #3 prospect, 35th overall; Chris Owings, #4/41st, and Bobby Borchering, #7/16th, shown singling above).


They would face Ryan Doolittle (26th round, 2008, above), the reigning Cal League's pitcher of the week, coming in with a 0.00 ERA in 10 innings. Eric Smith (2nd, 2009, #24 prospect for Arizona) was on the hill for Visalia.

Stockton scored first when Rashun Dixon (10th, 2008, #28 prospect for Oakland) and Jonathan Johnston (42nd, 2007) singled to lead off the third. After Smith botched a sacrifice attempt that left the bases loaded, Michael Gilmartin (27th, 2009) singled to score two runs.

Doolittle was cruising, yielding only a hit batsman through 3, but Adam Eaton (19th, 2010, #30 prospect, below) ended the no-hitter and the shutout with a massive solo shot to right.


Both starters lasted just 5 innings, and then it was the bullpens that took over. Jose Guzman pitched two frames for Stockton, loading the bases in the 7th but escaping when Eaton grounded to third. Connor Hoehn finished things off with two innings of his own as the Ports held on for a 2-1 win.

A good game with solid pitching for both teams. There were only 3 walks in the game and 20 strikeouts, so command was not an issue as it often is at this level. Smith was the hard-luck loser while Doolittle continued his early-season domination.


Notes

There were several promotions that were a bit too tough for the contestants. In one case, a young girl was supposed to recite the lyrics of a song, which turned out to be Yakkety-Yak by The Coasters. That song is older than I am, so it's highly unlikely a 10-year old will even know the chorus never mind the second verse. To her credit, she said "I don't know!" and got the prize anyway.

They had Baseball Bingo here too. Within the first 8 batters I had 4 in a row on my card. I just needed centerfielder Conner Crumbliss (30th, 2009) to fly out and I'd be getting a $100 certificate for a local grocery store, which would cover the beer expenses for the rest of the trip. Of course, Crumbliss sacrificed, grounded out, and singled and my dreams of free beer were dashed.

The In-N-Out Double Double batter doubled in his first at-bat, but only one section wins a free Double Double burger. I was not in that section. This pretty much ruined my day.

Next Up

I'm in Modesto now and will be checking out the Nuts and Quakes tonight. Check back tomorrow for a post on that game.

Best,

Sean

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