Saturday, August 30, 2014

Jackson Generals 1 at Montgomery Biscuits 7 (Southern League) - August 29, 2014


One of the things I'm going to try to do in the next couple of years is visit every minor league ballpark that I have yet to see (there's about 80). So when a ballpark I have yet to visit is in its final season, I'm going to try to catch a game there before it closes That is the case with Huntsville, whose Stars are supposed to move to Biloxi next year. However, the stadium there is not going to be ready by April, so it is not clear where Huntsville will play in 2015. Before this was known though, I decided to use my Labor Day weekend (I'm living in the States now, so going with that spelling) to visit Alabama as Birmingham and Montgomery were also enjoying holiday homestands. Flights to Alabama were not that convenient, but I did find a cheap alternative on Southwest to Atlanta, renting a car there, driving 150 miles into the Central Time Zone and arriving at my Montgomery hotel at noon.

Southwest Airlines

I occasionally write about flying on this blog, so it is not out of place to talk about the experience of flying Southwest, which was much better than the other airlines I have flown recently (namely US Airways, who will not be missed when they merge with American). Southwest has no assigned seats, instead you are given a boarding number based on when you check in. At the gate, you are instructed to line up in order, and you board in that order, sitting wherever you want. Although some morons still bring an overly large suitcase despite Southwest having no checked baggage fees, the overall boarding process was smooth. Onboard, they have free TV on your personal device (you have to download an app first but they email you the instructions the day before your flight). They didn't have ESPN, but the NFL Network and Fox Sports 1 were more than enough to pass the 90-minute flight. These little things make a big difference in the overall customer experience and I will certainly be considering Southwest more often when I fly.

Riverwalk Stadium

Opened in 2004 inside a renovated train station, Riverwalk Stadium is a surprisingly beautiful ballpark. After parking at any of the meters within 5 minutes (they expire at 6 so it's free), walk along Coosa Street, which is part of Montgomery's nightlife area. You might be forgiven for not noticing the park at first, as it looks like an old train station. Because it is an old train station (below). Only the sign proclaiming it as the home of the Biscuits will let you know you have made it to the right place.



Tickets are $9 for lawn seating and $11 for box seats beyond the bases, with the Super Box seats costing $13. The team draws well, so I'd recommend the box seat option instead of trying to find one after getting the cheapest ticket. There is an covered entryway that used to be part of the train station, a nice touch that allows fans to gather before having their tickets scanned.



Food here is fun. Of course, there are biscuits, with 2 fried chicken biscuits a relative bargain at $4.75. I had been dreaming of the Godfather burger since it was featured as the #10 item in MiLB.com's Food Fight. Sadly, it was no longer on offer, so I settled for a more pedestrian bacon cheese burger. As the season is ending on Monday, they had beer on sale, with cans of Bud only $2 and specialty beers for $4. The train theme continues with the Club Car Bar down the right field line, which was empty on this day but apparently attracts a lot of fans during the summer.



There is one oddity in the outfield, namely the right field fence that curves in as part of an advertising campaign. It seems dangerous to me, but didn't come into play during the game.



Trains pass just beyond left field throughout the game, a pleasant distraction. I don't know if a homer has ever hit one, it seems just out of reach.

Overall, this is the sort of place that makes minor league ball so special. The Biscuits don't overdo things like they do at Brooklyn; there are a few promotions (such as the biscuit toss where fresh biscuits are throw into the stands) but here the game is more important. Most fans stayed for the duration, mainly because there were fireworks. I saw many families with young children enjoying their Friday evening on a long weekend without a single obnoxious individual spoiling it. Any other minor league franchise should check out how things are done in Montgomery, it is almost a flawless approach to keeping the game affordable and enjoyable.

The Game

The Jackson Generals (Seattle's AA affiliate) were in town to take on Montgomery, who belong to Tampa Bay. Dylan Floro (13th round, 2012) made his 28th start for the Biscuits while Cam Hobson (11th, 2011, below) took the mound for Jackson. Both hurlers had spent the entire season in AA, with Floro displaying the better stats. Don't be misled by his 10-13 record, his 3.62 ERA, 4.61 K/BB ratio and league-leading 171.2 IP before this game tell me he is on the way up.



Floro shut down the Generals through two innings while his teammates gave him more than enough support. Luke Maile (8th, 2012) singled home two in the first (below) and then the Biscuits batted around in the 2nd, plating five on seven hits and an error, with Maile singling home another. Despite his struggles, Hobson was not removed and went on to throw seven frames.



In the top of the third, Patrick Brady (48th, 2010) reached on catcher's interference. A walk and two singles scored Brady, but the unearned run was all that Floro would yield through his own seven-inning stint. Although he needed some defensive help from right fielder Taylor Motter (17th, 2011) who robbed D.J. Peterson (12th overall, 2013, #4 below) of a home run, right next to the odd right field fence.



With the score 7-1 after 3, I expected a long evening, but Hobson settled down while Floro continued to dominate and that score ended up being the final in a game that lasted just 2:21. There were only three hits in the last five innings. Note Montgomery's #24 above, that's my new favourite player (I'm still keeping the 'u' when not referring to anything official) Willie Argo (22nd, 2012). His .598 OPS doesn't bode well for his aspirations to join the Rays, but with that name, he should be in baseball (or Canadian football or Greek basketball) somewhere.



Player to Watch

Motter not only had the highlight catch but went 2-4 with a double and 2 runs scored. I am sure D.J. Peterson will be on the Mariners soon enough (he has over 100 RBIs this season) but he went 0-4 tonight so the award goes to Motter.

Notes

This was my first game in Alabama and my 100th affiliated minor league ballpark. We sports travellers love to count things. For most, it is games seen, but for me it is venues (now up to 497), countries (20), and now states (44) in which I've seen a game. I'll never see every venue in the world nor every country, but I can see a game in every state, with just 6 to go (Alaska, Mississippi, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, and Wyoming). All but two of those can be done with minor league baseball, but Alaska and North Dakota will require a special trip sometime in 2015.

The Jamestown Jammers are another team that is moving after 2014, but that was announced just a few days ago, shocking the few fans the team had. I had never been there either, so a bit disappointed that I'll never get to see that ballpark, but it just means another new destination in the NY-Penn League next year, Morgantown, where I saw the Mountaineers play basketball four years ago.

Kevin Seitzer's son Cameron (11th, 2011) plays first for Montgomery. He finished 1-4 with a double and is hitting .242 on the season. Guess he and Dad will be having some talks over the winter.



Montgomery is Alabama's capital city. It is one of those tricky capitals as most people think it is  Birmingham, but nope, the capitol building is just a few blocks away from the stadium and a good stopping point before the game.

Next Up

Speaking of Birmingham, I'm going there tomorrow. My friend Meg alerted me to the fact that UAB would be at home Saturday morning, so I decided to see that instead of another game at Montgomery. Then the Birmingham Barons play in the evening so it will be a 2-sports doubleheader. Check back for recaps.


Best,

Sean

No comments:

Post a Comment