Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Salem-Keizer Volcanoes 1 at Spokane Indians 2 (Northwest League) - July 18, 2017


The last stop on my extended tour of the minor league ballparks of the northwest was Spokane, home of the Indians. As the saying goes, "save the best for last", and I certainly did that on this trip.



The Indians play out of Avista Stadium, which was opened in 1958 and housed a AAA team for its first 14 seasons. Although the Indians are now a short-season A club, the stadium has not been downsized, making it far more spacious than the smaller and more suitable venues in the Northwest and Pioneer Leagues. It's really not a fair competition, but the Indians do a great job on their gameday presentation as well to ensure the overall experience can't be beat.



The stadium is located next to the fairgrounds, and there is a large parking lot right there. I drove up from Idaho Falls (506 miles in 7 1/2 hours including 3 stops - 80 MPH limits most of the way really helped) and arrived at 5:00, 90 minutes before first pitch. Parking is free, which was a good start to the evening.



I still had 30 minutes to wait until gates opened and wandered around the front of the facility, where there are a number of displays. First are some plaques dedicated to Hall of Famers who played here; George Brett is the most notable because he now owns part of the team. The Dodgers were the longtime affiliate of the Indians, and there are also plaques for Tommy Lasorda, Don Sutton, Duke Snider, and even Hoyt Wilhelm, who briefly pitched here in 1971.



If you are upset about the Indians name being disrespectful, there are several informative kiosks set up that explain how the Spokane Indian tribe has worked in partnership with the team.



The Indians even have a special jersey with the name in Salish (the one above is in the main office); and restrooms are also labeled in that script. There's even an explanation along the concourse.



It was also First Responder Appreciation Night and the Spokane Fire Department had set up a truck outside with its ladder extended. Rides to the top were not offered.



Lower reserved box seats are $20 and are actually boxes. Many younger fans think box seats refer to the fact that the seats are not benches, but in old stadiums, a box was usually a collection of four seats surrounded by a railing, as below.



Upper seats are $13, while reserved bench seats are only $7 and given the space here, those are really what you should buy, though they are well down the line.



With so much room, you can move around fairly easily and I found an upper level seat on the third base side where the netting did not obstruct the view, which is shown below.



The park has a capacity of 6,803 but even with average attendance just over 5,000 (many of whom are no-shows), there is always a place to sit.



The open-air concourse is behind the seating structure, and is where you will find the main concession stand, which is huge. There is a portable BBQ stand that I recommend; their $7 sandwiches are very filling. As for beer, some of the best ballpark suds were here too. If you drink a lot of beer, you know that clean lines to the kegs are critical to the quality of the product. Some ballparks are not as vigilant as they should be, but that is not the case here; the IPA I had was cold, fresh, and better than that available in many bars.



If there is a flaw here, it is that there are few entrances to the seating bowl, but that is remedied by the fact that these entrances are long tunnels rather than the typical breezeways, another unique touch.



All the usual minor league features are here, such as the Road to the Show, which only lists players who have made it since 2003, when the Texas Rangers took over the affiliation.



There are championship pennants on the home dugout, but what really impressed me was the map of the Northwest League on the visiting side, great for planning your next road trip.



You can walk behind the right field fence, which is usually a party area, but I was there early enough so sneak in and take a quick picture.



The party area here is the Coors Light caboose, a replica train car that pays homage to the train tracks that run beyond the right field fence. If you have 79 other friends, you can enjoy the game here for $2,600.



Otto, the first ever Spokanasaurus, is the main mascot, and can be seen in the stands preying on unsuspecting bald guys...



while his partner is Doris (also a Spokanasaurus), dancing below with RecycleMan, a clear sign you are in the Pacific Northwest.



The press box is atop the roof, and even has a scoreboard directly beneath.



The final shadow selfie. They are much easier to take in the northwest, where the sun is higher in the sky for night games.



Overall, Avista Stadium is simply the best ballpark at this level. I enjoyed every aspect of it, from free parking to cheap tickets to freedom to move around to the great concessions to the friendly staff, and even the on-field promotions. All I needed to complete a perfect evening was a good game.



The Game

Salem-Keizer (Giants) was visiting with Stetson Woods (9th, 2014) on the hill, while Spokane countered with Tyler Phillips (16th, 2015, below). I had an 11:30 p.m. flight to get me back to NYC (via Chicago and Cleveland), five hours after first pitch was scheduled, so I was hoping for a quick game and both pitchers were accommodating, throwing strikes and not wasting time. Spokane scored in the third on a Kole Enright (3rd, 2016) single, Kobie Taylor (15th, 2016) double and Nick Kaye (15th, 2015) groundout, but the Volcanoes tied it immediately when Manuel Geraldo singled home Orlando Garcia (15th, 2017), who had doubled.



As the innings went by without another run, I started to think extra innings were inevitable, as you would expect when I had a flight to catch. I had allotted four hours for the game, and as the bottom of the ninth arrived, just over two hours had passed, so I wasn't too concerned. Still, a quick ending would allow me to relax at the airport, and once again the Indians were quite helpful. Peter Lannoo (28th, 2017) was on for SK, and got a quick out, but then hit Yonny Hernandez. Clayton Middleton (22nd, 2016) followed with a single that sent Hernandez to third, with Middleton advancing on the throw. Isaias Quiroz (20th, 2014), who had struck out in his previous 3 at bats, followed with a sharp single down that hugged the line, sending Hernandez home to win the game. It was a thrilling ending to the trip and the best game by far, taking 2:21, helped by no walks, quite a rarity in the minor leagues.



Notes

Chase Lambin, who I briefly met in Japan when he was with the Marines minor league team, is the hitting coach for Spokane. Lambin never did make it to the majors despite decent minor league numbers.

I saw 16 baseball games on the journey, and not a single one was even delayed due to rain. Including the basketball and soccer games, home teams went 11-7 on the trip.



Landing in NYC, I was again blessed with a window seat and was able to take a couple of more shots from the air. That's obviously Lower Manhattan above, with the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges, while below is an overview shot of La Guardia airport, with Rikers Island just above.



Next Up

I still have six minor league ballparks to complete the active list and that trip will take place near the end of August. They are all in the Midwest League (Fort Wayne, Dayton, Lake County, Great Lakes, Lansing, and West Michigan), and I'll visit them in that order after seeing the Jays in Wrigley from Aug 18-20. The blog will be pretty quiet until then, but check back mid-August for the final schedule.

Best,

Sean

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