Sunday, July 17, 2016

Elizabethton Twins 1 at Princeton Rays 5 (Appalachian League) - July 16, 2016


After an unscheduled night off, I was happy to return to a ballpark. The Princeton Rays, who were the scheduled visitor in last night's canceled game in Bluefield, returned home to face the Elizabethton Twins in Appalachian League action.

The Rays play out of Hunnicutt Field, a small no-nonsense venue with few amenities, which means baseball is the prime attraction. Opened in 1988, it was renovated in 1999 but still seems like an old-time ballyard. Parking is free as at all Appy League ballparks, but note that the lot is right behind the fence. Although home runs are rare, you'll want to park your car as far away as possible.



The ticket booth has is located next to the only entrance in the right field corner. Box seats are $7, which allow you to sit in any seat with a chair back, which are those behind the plate and halfway down the lines. However, the section directly behind the plate is reserved for scouts and the like, while many other seats have names on them as they are reserved for season ticket holders, so you can't sit there either. The box seats are also a bit cramped, with railings and fencing making it slightly difficult to move around.



Even then, there is plenty of choice, but if you want more flexibility, the GA benches are $6 and are not behind the protective netting, thus offering a better view of the action (below). There are no ushers checking the box seats because frankly the GA section is probably the better bet. Capacity is 1,700 but average attendance is just under 400 so far this season, so there is no problem finding a spot to stretch out. Tickets come off a roll and don't have the date or opponent on them.



Note that all seats are above the field, with the dugouts underneath. There are some picnic benches at field level, but they didn't seem a great place to watch the game as you would be isolated from the fans. The concourse is behind the seating bowl and has nothing worth noting.



Just inside the entrance are lineups and stats on a whiteboard, and programs are on sale for $3, while a couple of players sign autographs for 30 minutes after gates open.



Concessions here are limited to one stand that has the cheapest prices I've seen in a long time. The fried bologna sandwich is my hearty recommendation; you can get it with any toppings that you could use on a hamburger. Note that all hot food is cooked to order, something rarely seen these days, and there is a TV there so you can watch the game while you wait. You might notice that beer is not listed on the menu; this is because the ballpark is on school property so alcohol is not permitted.



There is a mascot, Roscoe the Rooster (who seems to own the grill), who makes his way around the seating bowl and actually talks to fans. Some young kids called him a chicken, and he responded "Who you calling a chicken?" and challenged them to back up their words. Most fans are regular attendees and it is fun to hear them talk to Roscoe as they all know his real identity.



There are a few retired numbers, including John Stearns who managed here in 1994, leading the team to the championship as a Reds affiliate. The Rays became the parent club in 1997 and Don Zimmer and Wade Boggs are honoured on the fence, though neither played here. The very basic scoreboard shows just the count, batter's number, and linescore, while the pitch speed display is located to the left of the box seats.



Overall, this is a throwback to the way minor league baseball used to be. Affordable, simple, and with no distractions. It reminds me of the ballgames I used to see at Nat Bailey Stadium in Vancouver back in the early 90s, when fans came to watch baseball instead of doing everything but. A Princeton Rays game is well worth a trip to southern West Virginia for any ball fan.



The Game

Edrick Agosto (20th round in 2015) started for Princeton and hit Brandon Lopez (10th, 2016) on the elbow with the first pitch of the game. The next pitch was about a mile outside and Agosto eventually walked Travis Blankenhorn (3rd, 2015 and already Minnesota's #16 prospect). I thought we were in for another typical low-level minor league walkfest, but Agosto found his groove, getting Alex Kiriloff (the 15th-overall pick this year) to ground out and retiring the next two batters to escape unscathed. Lopez did not escape unscathed however, coming out of the game. Meanwhile, Agosto gave up just a couple of hits in his five frames, while Elizabethton starter Ryan Mason (13th, 2016) matched him during his four innings.

The game was still scoreless after the stretch as Oscar Rojas led off with a liner off Twins reliever Alex Schick (6th, 2016) who was starting his third inning of relief. The ball bounced to third baseman Trey Cabbage (4th, 2015, #19 prospect) who threw wildly, allowing Rojas to make it all the way to third. Schick remained in the game, but hit a man and then gave up a double to Rafelin Lorenzo that scored both baserunners. Blake Butera (35th, 2015) doubled home Lorenzo to make it 3-0. The Rays added 2 more in the eighth, while the Twins broke the shutout when Roberto Gonzalez (15th, 2014) tripled home Mitchell Kranson (9th, 2016) but that was all they could manage as Princeton won 5-1. Once again, the scoreboard was turned off before I could grab a picture.

This was a very good game for this level. The Twins have many more high round draft picks than the Rays, but it is Princeton who has the better record at 13-8, while the Elizabethton is a league worst 8-14. At this age, it is all about potential.

Notes

There was a retro t-shirt giveaway, always appreciated on these road trips. Think this one is pretty cool too.



Next Up

I'm heading to Bristol today for another Appy League game, check back tomorrow to see what happened.

Best,

Sean

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