Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Potomac Nationals 3 at Myrtle Beach Pelicans 7 (Carolina League) - May 23, 2015

Summer's here, so it's time to make a dent in my remaining minor league parks. There are 160 affiliated teams in 14 leagues, and I've seen 84 of them, meaning there are still 76 to get to. I've also seen every full-season team in the greater New York area, so weekend trips are tough to schedule. It simply isn't worth the price of a return flight to add 2 or 3 parks to the count.

With Memorial Day weekend looming, I needed to figure out a way to get to a few parks without breaking the bank. Fortunately, Hertz had a one-way rental car special - pick up the car in Florida and drop it off in New York (or any other northeastern state) for only $8 a day plus tax. One-way flights to Orlando are quite cheap even at the last minute, and when I checked the minor league baseball schedule, I saw that I could see games in Myrtle Beach, Norfolk, and Richmond on the way home. So I did just that.

I flew to Orlando on Friday night after work, got the car just after 11 pm, and drove to Daytona Beach to stop for the night. The next day I continued on to Myrtle Beach, about 450 miles away. Memorial Day weekend traffic was not that bad and I arrived in plenty of time for the 6 pm start.

TicketReturn.Com Field

Let me start by saying that this is a great ballyard and deserves a much better name.  The official name is TicketReturn.com Field at Pelicans Ballpark, which leaves room for another corporate sponsor for the stadium portion. TRCFAPB is located about a mile from the beach, with the free parking lot easily accessible off Grissom Parkway (named for a former mayor of the city, not former Expo Marquis). From here, you walk to the right field gate, which is where the ticket window (above) is located, with will call slightly further along. You can continue to walk around to the front, but there isn't much there other than a big sign that indicated that I should have showed up on Thursday.

This is what the front of the ballpark looks like, with a large water tower just behind.

The savings on parking are lost when buying tickets, which are a couple of bucks more expensive than you would expect at this level. The cheapest is $9, which leaves you in the bleachers out in left field, which are known as the Thirst Inning Deck. Given that the sun is shining in your face for much of the game, the name seems appropriate, and few fans chose this option. You can see the bleachers behind the left field fence in the shot below, as well as the view from there in the second picture with a clearer look at the water tower.

If you are unable to secure some freebies by standing around waiting for someone to offer extras (I was fortunate to gain entry in this manner), just pony up the $9 and sit where you want. I liked the grandstand bleachers that are covered along each baseline (regularly $11) as the shade is quite handy during the hot South Carolina summers, and the sea breeze makes an evening game quite comfortable, though may want to bring a sweater or a blanket as temperatures can drop rapidly after sunset. Box seats are $13 if you want to sit close without worrying about being kicked out of your seat. Note that on Saturdays, local residents get $3 by showing their ID, so if you know someone in Myrtle Beach, ask them to buy you a ticket.

Food choices are varied, with the Waffle Chicken Bites a bargain at $6. They are chicken nuggets baked in waffle batter that come with a serving of processed maple syrup for dipping (the sugary type, not the real thing). You might expect 5-10 nuggets for that price, but I was served somewhere between 25-30 and spent most of the game snacking on them. Definitely worth trying if you haven't experienced this southern delicacy and have a good health plan.

The Pelicans became the affiliate of the Chicago Cubs and have immediately tried to capitalize on that connection. The Clark & Addison Grille is one example, and you can find a miniature Wrigley Field on the outer concourse behind third base, in what is known as Grissom Plaza.

The park has all the usual minor league features like game day lineups, a free program (InFlight Magazine) and a very detailed "Road to the Show" display. As you can see, they were previously affiliated with Texas.

The only blemish was the postgame drive north, which was interrupted by a Memorial Day weekend traffic block that forced me off the planned route and into some back streets. A very minor inconvenience as Google Maps quickly provided an alternate route, and not nearly enough to stop me from recommending that any ball fan see a game at TicketReturn.Com Field. It is really one of the minor's more enjoyable experiences.

The Game

Paul Blackburn (56th overall, 2012, 25th-ranked Cubs prospect, below) started for Myrtle Beach, facing Tyler Mapes (30th round, 2014) for Potomac, who are obviously Washington's affiliate.

The visitors opened the scoring in the second when Spencer Kieboom (5th, 2012, 19th-ranked Nats prospect) walked and Drew Ward (3rd, 2013, 8th-ranked prospect, below) doubled. Two sacrifice flies later and it was 2-0 Potomac.

Jemier Candelario (Cubs 13th-ranked prospect, below) led off the bottom half of the second with a line shot that just cleared the right field fence to cut the lead in half. Mapes was removed after 3 innings and replaced by Jake Johansen (2nd, 2013, 18th-ranked) who promptly gave up an identical homer to Candelario that tied the game. Those were Candelario's only two homers so far this season.

Johansen seemed rattled and the next five Pelican batters reached base (4 singles and a walk) and with two out, Pin-Chieh Chen (signed out of Taiwan) singled home the last two of those runners to make it 7-2. That was more than enough for Blackburn, who pitched six solid innings to earn the win, with the final being 7-3 after a late homer from Chris Bostick (44th, 2011).

The game took 2:29 with a PPM of 1.87, one of the fastest-paced games I've seen in a long time. When baseball is played like this, with perfect weather and decent food, it cannot be beat as a sporting event. Simply a great evening to start the trip.

Player to Watch

With all the prospect rankings littering the Internet, it is tough to find players that might surprise in the majors. For this feature, I am going to try to highlight a player who is not ranked in the top 30 organizational prospects, in other words, organizational filler. For Myrtle Beach, that would have to be Carlos Penalver (above), a light-hitting Venezuelan shortstop whose defense was spectacular. He made several great plays, with the highlight being a first inning diving stop that started a double play. His bat needs work but if he continues to improve, he could find a utility job in the bigs in the next few years.


StadiumJourney gave the ballpark very high grades when it ranked it a few years back and this is noted outside the gates, but without any credit. To be fair, they do mention StadiumJourney on their ballpark information page.



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