Monday, June 24, 2019

Lancaster Barnstormers 3 at Long Island Ducks 4 (Atlantic League) - June 22, 2019


Having seen a game every minor league ballpark, I am branching out into other leagues to see new venues. There are three primary types of baseball below the minors: independent, college, and collegiate wood bat. Of these, independent ball is the most similar to the minors, with full seasons that start in April and run through September, and ballparks that usually meet AA standards at a minimum. There are five true leagues operating in various locations around the country, and several smaller circuits that play within a limited geographical footprint or have a travelling team. Extended roadtrips are not something I am willing to invest in for this level of ball, at least right now, but I do look for games when possible. Both the Atlantic League (2) and Can-Am League (3) have teams in the Greater NYC area; I visited the Atlantic League's Somerset Patriots last season during the playoffs and enjoyed the experience quite a bit. The visitors that night were the Long Island Ducks, the other local team in the league. The Ducks play out of Bethpage Ballpark in Central Islip. With several other attractions in the area, the family spent a weekend touring and I added the 300th unique ballpark to my tally.



Bethpage Ballpark is located just north of Heckscher State Parkway, and is next to two hotels. As parking is free, there is no need to stay at either of these, though it is quite convenient if you do. There is nothing else within walking distance however, with a shopping mall a mile away. The closest train station is Central Islip, which is about 2 miles north.



Out front, you will see sun-beaten photos of the team's four championships, the most recent coming in 2013.



Tickets start at $13, which gets you a seat down the lines. Better seats are only a buck or two more. They draw very well here, with attendance for this game announced at 6,527, more than the 6,002 capacity, so if you want a good seat, pay for it at the box office.



Inside, I found the ballpark to be quite similar to AA ballparks built at the turn of the century (this one first saw action in 2000). There is a large open concourse above the seating bowl, behind which you will find concessions. Prices here are not cheap, rivalling major league fare in other cities. Montauk draft, which is highly recommended, was $9, more than I pay at my local bar.



Kelly green seats are in every section, with suites on a second floor above the concourse, while a walkway separates the two levels of box seats.



Our seats were just in front of the kids' zone down the right field line. It was quite loud and busy, and the sun was shining into our faces, so we moved over to left field and spread out at a picnic table.



Below is the view from the picnic area as the sun was setting.



The scoreboard is above left field and features a linescore beneath a basic video board.



Overall, Bethpage Ballpark is a simple venue that might escape the attention of most baseball fans in NYC. It is not easily accessible, with weekend traffic from the city averaging about 30 MPH along the Grand Central Parkway or Long Island Expressway. If you can tolerate that, it is worth a visit to see the Quackers.

The Game 

Several big names were in both lineups, with former Jay Ezequiel Carrera leading off for Long Island, while Michael Martinez (leaving first below), the last out of the 2016 World Series, suited up for Lancaster.



The Barnstormers scored a pair in the first and added another in the second off Ducks starter Jake Fisher, but the Ducks quickly got those back with two in the second and another in the third on a Hector Sanchez double. Carrera then gave them the lead with an RBI single in the fourth, chasing Kelvin Vazquez. After that, there were only zeroes on the scoreboard as Fisher settled down and the Barnstormer bullpen kept the Ducks off the pond. Josh Lueke, who played a couple of seasons with the Yakult Swallows, struck out the side in the 9th for the save as the Ducks won 4-3.



Notes

The league is being by MLB used as a testbed for new rules that should speed up the game, although I did not notice a particularly fast pace, with the PPM coming in at 1.55.

On the Sunday, we drove back into the city, stopping at the Cradle of Aviation near Nassau Coliseum, and the Nassau County Museum of Art. Both places are highly recommended: the first for its detailed history of aviation, with particular emphasis on Long Island's place therein; the second for its expansive lawn that was empty except for us and gave the little one plenty of room to roam around. Long Island is a great place to tour, if only the traffic getting out there wasn't so painful.

Next Up 

Off to Japan where I hope to see a few games, including a half-price beer night at Jingu Stadium, home of those Yakult Swallows. I won't be posting updates until I am back, but follow along on Twitter to see what I am up to.

Best,

Sean

Monday, June 17, 2019

State College Spikes 6 at Auburn Doubledays 5 (susp. 2, New York-Penn League) - June 16, 2019


When the Toronto Raptors defeated Milwaukee to advance to the NBA Finals, I thought about trying to get tickets to one of the games in Toronto. When the schedule was released, Game 7 on Sunday night was the only one I could attend. Tickets were released in phases on the first day of sale, with different presale codes being emailed to season ticket holders or newsletter subscribers for each phase. Some fans were selling these codes, which by no means guaranteed a ticket, for ridiculous amounts of money (I saw one guy asking for $300!), but one kind soul actually posted his code on Twitter. Armed with that code, I constantly refreshed Ticketmaster for about 30 minutes, and amazingly, my persistence was rewarded with a pair in the standing room area at the top of the seating bowl for the totally unreasonable price of $900 CAD each. To compare, I saw all 3 games of the 1994 Stanley Cup Final in Vancouver for $50 each, and paid $150 for standing room for Miami's title game in 2012 (to be fair, it was only Game 5).

I realized that Game 7 was unlikely, and with no other games in Toronto that day, I did not make any travel arrangements. When the Raptors went up 3-1, it looked like I had nothing to worry about. Three days later, the Warriors Game 5 win forced me to consider flights. With options limited on Monday morning, I found a mileage flight returning from Buffalo that would get me to work on time and decided to book that. I did not book anything else, thinking that the Raptors had a good chance to close out the series back in Oakland, which they did (I'm still in shock quite frankly). So I had a decision to make: let the mileage flight go, or find something else to do in the area. Flights to Buffalo had become prohibitively expensive at the last minute, but a bit of poking around revealed that flights to Rochester were actually quite cheap. Imagine that.

Looking at sports in that area, the Rochester Red Wings were home at 1:05, but the earliest available flight would arrive at 2:30, well after first pitch. Fortunately, the nearby Auburn Doubledays would have their home opener at 4:00 and as I hadn't been to Falcon Park since 2004,1 decided that was reason enough to go. Before committing, I checked the weather forecast, and it looked reasonable for Sunday, so I booked the outbound ticket, rental car, and hotel.

Rochester's game on Saturday night was suspended due to rain in the 3rd inning, with the remainder to be played Sunday before the regularly scheduled game, which became 7 innings. That got me thinking that I could make it for the second game and save on a bit of driving, but they moved the start time an hour earlier. I had to hope for a very long first game in order to make the second, but that didn't happen, as the second game was getting underway as my flight arrived at the gate.



I should have checked the weather at this point, but instead rushed to my rental car and headed out to the thruway to make the short drive to Auburn. As I drove, it began to drizzle, though it was still light enough to not be a concern. But as Auburn got closer, the rain got stronger, and I began to worry. As I entered town, I stopped briefly to check the team's social media, and they said that the game would start on time, so I continued to the ballpark. When I arrived, the rain was steady, but there was still a lineup for tickets. I picked up one under cover, and headed inside just as things were getting underway.



I learned from another fan that the surface had been switched to artificial turf for this season. He was most definitely not happy with that change, and watching some of the balls being played in the wet weather, neither were the players. Interestingly, the turf is coloured like it has been mown, as you can see below. Otherwise, the park is typical for this level, with a few rows of box seats below the walkway and several rows of benches above, with GA areas down both lines. There were several food concessions, with one offering a freshly-made grilled cheese sandwich for $2. That turned out to be the highlight of the day.



The first inning took well over 30 minutes, as the State College (St. Louis) starter Nathaniel Heredia could not get settled, balking home a runner from second, giving up a homer to Phil Caulfield (32nd round, 2017), and walking the bases loaded before being mercifully relieved with two out. His replacement, Junior Gonzalez, gave up what should have been an inning-ending ground ball, but the throw to first went astray and all 3 runners scored to make it 5-0 for Auburn (Washington). I couldn't believe they continued to play as the rain was definitely impacting the action. In the top of the second, Auburn committed three consecutive errors, leading to 6 Spikes runs. Then the skies really opened up and the umpires, finally realizing how stupid they were to be playing in this mess (no comment on the stupidity of this writer for traveling to the game), called for the tarp. The linescore at the time: State College: 6-3-1, Auburn 5-2-4. That's 11 runs on 5 hits with 5 errors, all for 8 total outs.

Rather than see if the rain would stop, I made a beeline for my car and began the drive back to Buffalo, about 2 hours away, eventually escaping the weather. Auburn did not escape it though, as the game was suspended, finishing the next day with State College winning 11-9. Gonzalez, who faced just two batters, got the win, while the last 6 innings were scoreless.

In the end, I should have gone to Rochester and caught the last 5 innings of that game, with Rochester walking off after scoring 3 runs in the 7th off Justin Nicolino, the Jays second-round pick back in 2010. Oh well, 20/20 hindsight. I was still in Buffalo by 7:00 and enjoyed a nice dinner at a pizza pub while watching the final holes of the U.S. Open, so it wasn't a completely wasted experience; in fact, quite a memorable day.

Next Up

A quick trip to Long Island this weekend for the Ducks, and then I'm off to Japan again for a couple of weeks next month, during which time I will see at least two games. As always, check back for recaps.

Best,

Sean

Monday, June 3, 2019

UCSD Tritons 5 vs Catawba Indians 0 (NCAA Baseball, Division II College World Series) - June 2, 2019


When I first planned this weekend trip to Fayetteville for the Woodpeckers, I had hoped to see two of their games, with the second to take place on Sunday afternoon at 2:00. This would give me plenty of time to drive back to Raleigh, where I had an early Monday flight. However, the visiting Winston-Salem Dash, who played a doubleheader at home on Saturday, were unable to make the earlier start time despite being just two hours away and the game was pushed back to 6 p.m. sometime in the past couple of weeks. As an aside, you should always check game times for any upcoming sports trip as the schedule can change, even at the last minute.

Anyway, with Game 2 of the NBA Finals that night, I decided to skip the Woodpeckers and head back to Raleigh in the morning. I just had to find a game that afternoon, and there were several choices. UNC was hosting a College World Series regional but I had already seen a game there, so I looked elsewhere. The Durham Bulls were home at 5, but again, I wanted a new venue and a game that finished before the basketball started. Further research revealed just such an affair: the Division II College World Series, which was taking place at the USA Baseball National Training Complex in Cary, just a few miles from my airport hotel. I had never seen a game here, and the 3 p.m. start time for the first game was perfect, allowing me a relaxing morning in Fayetteville, a leisurely drive north, and a free evening so I could watch the Raptors.



Cary has been the home of USA Baseball since 2003 and the complex was opened in 2007. There are three training fields and one stadium diamond, known as Coleman Field after a former town manager.



The complex is located in a residential area and has a large parking lot. One of the schools competing in the early game was Catawba, based in Salisbury, NC, about two hours away, so the lot was much fuller than I expected, but there was still plenty of room.



Walking to the stadium, I was first greeted by a large Welcome sign. Even for smaller events like this, the NCAA really does things up right.



On the ground just inside is a map of the country with the 8 competing schools shown. There seems to be more diversity in regions in Division II than Division I, where teams from the south and west dominate the proceedings in Omaha every year.



Most of the features here are only in place for the tournament, and feature the same 8 schools in different ways, such as the distances pole that shows how far away each school is. Pennants line the walkway above the seating bowl, and many fans set up their own seats along here, or on the berm just below.



The field itself is fairly basic, with no advertising, as is usual in NCAA ballparks. Only the names of the 8 schools appear on the fence. All of the fields maintain MLB standards and have identical dimensions at 330 feet down the line and 400 to center. Capacity is 1,784, though they rarely draw that many from what I could tell.



There is a concession stand with very reasonable prices (hot dogs are $2), and no alcohol of course. Many of the items are made-to-order, such as the grilled steak wrap, which was a bargain at $5.



The section directly behind home plate is the only once with box seats; the rest of the seating area is benches. There is a small roof that shaded the top rows of the middle section as the game got underway, so they were quite full, while the lower rows, still in the sun, were mostly empty. As the game progressed, those rows slowly became shaded and fans moved down inning by inning. I spent the last few innings in the second row and was impressed by the pitching I saw.



There is not much else to talk about here. USA Baseball has games here on occasion and if you are in the Raleigh area, you should check their schedule. Otherwise the D-ll CWS, which has been held here since 2009, is your best opportunity to see a game at Coleman Field.

The Game

Catawba, seeded 3rd, wore white, batted last, and had the support of the crowd, was essentially the home team, making 6th-seeded UC San Diego the visitors. Both starting pitchers had excellent records, with USCD's Preston Mott coming it at 8-1, while Catawba's Bryan Ketchie was 9-1. The first couple of innings saw no hits, but three errors were committed, including a dropped fly ball by Catawba's right fielder Lee Poteat that allowed Ryan McNally all way to third. But UCSD could not get him home, and the defense improved after that, taking us to the 5th scoreless.



That's when the Tritons finally got to Ketchie. With one out, McNally launched one down the left field line that just stayed fair. Chris Schasteen followed with a monster shot that made it 2-0 in a hurry. A single and two doubles ended Ketchie's day, and he was replaced by DJ Laxton, who allowed another run to score on a ground ball that hit second base and bounced into the outfield to give the Tritons the 5-0 lead. That was more than enough for Mott, who threw 6 2/3 innings before giving way to Cameron Leonard, who yielded but a walk in his 2 1/3 frames.



This game was a lot better than I expected with excellent pitching and a good pace of 1.77 PPM, much faster than what I am used to in Division I ball. Taking only 2:31, it was a refreshing change from the slogs I have been seeing in the majors lately. There is no doubt that some of these guys can play in the minors, and a couple of UCSD players were drafted this week.

Notes

One of the other entrants was NYIT, coached by former Blue Jay Frank Catalanotto. NYIT was in Division I until 2017, when they dropped down. To qualify for the College World Series in just their second season is quite impressive, though they lost both their games as the eighth seed.

On the way to Montreal last week, I was in the same security line as the Quinnipiac baseball team, who had won their conference tournament and were on their way to Greenville, NC, to participate in the regional hosted by East Carolina. Greenville is just a couple of hours from Fayetteville, and I thought about trying to see them there, but weather played havoc with the schedule and I wasn't able to do it. Quinnipiac stunned ECU in their opener but lost their next two games, including a rematch with the Pirates, who ended up winning the regional despite the early loss.

Catawba lost their next game and UCSD lost their next two, so both were out by Wednesday.

There were 87 Division II ballplayers drafted during the week, including a couple of Triton pitchers.

Next Up 

Nothing planned right now. The Jays are horrible, so I'm thinking of waiting until next year to see them in Detroit, but then again, the Tigers are horrible too. So I'll probably end up going, as Detroit is one of my favourite destinations these days. Until then, the blog will be pretty quiet, but check back for some occasional opinion pieces that will be sure to go viral. Or not.

Best,

Sean

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Wilmington Blue Rocks 1 at Fayetteville Woodpeckers 2 (Carolina League) - June 1, 2019


There are three new minor league ballparks this season but only one is close enough to me so a weekend trip can easily be taken. That would be Segra Stadium in Fayetteville, home of the Woodpeckers, the Carolina League affiliate of the Houston Astros. This franchise moved from California in 2017 and played two seasons in Buies Creek while their new digs were being constructed in downtown Fayetteville. The center of town is Market House (below) and the ballyard is just a couple of blocks north of here.



I flew down to Raleigh and drove the final 90 minutes to Fayetteville, avoiding the 540 toll road that would cost me $15 or more with rental car fees. You can find free parking along Hay Street or just south of the Market House on Person and spend a couple of hours exploring the quaint streets downtown. There are plenty of breweries and eateries in this area, with Huske Hardware House and Lake Gaston being the two I tried, while a local told me that Bright Light Brewing is the best.



The main problem with the new stadium is that the surrounding area is not yet complete, so there is only one entrance, which is a gravel path from Hay Street to the first base gates. Metal detectors are in place (sad for this level of baseball) which means long lineups when the crowd is big, which it was on this day. I had to wait nearly 15 minutes to get in, the longest ever for a minor league game. You can see the lineup below. That wasn't the only annoyance; ticket prices do not include taxes, so a $15 seat costs $16.05.



Beside the main entrance is a large sign that has a deeper meaning when you realize the history of the town. Fayetteville is home to Fort Bragg, where many Vietnam soldiers were housed before and after the war, leading to it being called Fayettenam, which some residents still use today. I'll avoid commenting on how that particular war ended but note that the underlying meaning refers to supporting the troops in general.



Just inside the first base gate is one of the more intriguing and educational displays I have seen. Babe Ruth began playing professionally here in 1914 and was given his nickname for being so young and naive. A nice piece of baseball trivia that is well documented.



Like all new minor league ballparks, this one has something for everyone, a result of the owners canvassing the country looking at what worked elsewhere. In right field is a full service bar called Healy's that is actually open during some non-game days, despite not having a structure of its own. It also stays open after the game for a couple of hours with big TV screens should you want to watch something. There is also a deck with foosball, cornhole, and a stage for live music. I'll have to come back sometime to enjoy it fully.



As I wandered back around the concourse from right field, I took several shots from different angles.



There are some chairs in the outfield near Healy's that are looking straight at the setting sun, so keep that in mind if you like to sit in the outfield. Also note that 1970s on the scoreboard; it was 70s night which meant a lot of music that I listened to as a kid.



It also meant the Woodpeckers were wearing special retro jerseys that were based on the old orange and yellow striped Astros jerseys but in Woodpecker colours. That's mascot Bunker modelling the look.



There are lots of unique food options here, but I had eaten at Huske Hardware House beforehand, so did not try anything.



Other than a beer of course. Selection is quite good, with 22 oz. drafts from Foothills going for $9 in a souvenir cup. There are also large beer bats (I was told they are 24 ounces, but they looked bigger) that cost $18-20 but can be refilled for less.



There are standing areas along the concourse with tables on which you can rest your drink or scorecard. If I return, I would choose this option with a GA ticket.



Below you see the upper deck that is mostly suites, but the leftmost section is actually open to everyone. There is a staircase just behind and the section is mostly empty so you can sit here for an inning or two.



This is the view from that section.



Continuing around the open concourse towards left field, you can see one of those standing tables to the right of the photo below.



Looking back along the left field line. you can see the structure that is under construction in the background. This is going to be a retail area with a hotel and parking garage as well.



There is a berm in left field, with bullpens just beside it.



The view from the walkway above the berm.



Closer to center field is a series of rocking chairs which require a ticket to sit in during the game.



The view from center field, with the entire park structure shown.



And the view from directly behind the plate. I usually like clear shots but there were 500 or so Girl Scouts being paraded around and I didn't want to wait. I hope they all got ballpark badges.



Overall, I was very impressed with Segra Stadium, once I got inside. Obviously they need to work on their entrance setup on busy nights, but with so much construction going on, this could take some time. If you are there for a weekend, try to get there a bit earlier to get inside as soon as gates open because you will want to spend time enjoying everything this park has to offer. I hope to return when the area is completely finished and see more of the town as well.

The Game

Wilmington (KC) was finishing up a 4-game series and sent lefty Daniel Lynch (below) to the hill. Lynch was the 34th overall pick last year and is already KC's #2 prospect. His mound opponent was Brett Conine (11th, 2018), who had already been called up from Quad Cities and sported a career ERA of 1.96.



A pitchers duel was expected, but Lynch allowed a run in the first when Colton Shaver (39th, 2017) doubled home Jacob Meyers (13th, 2017). It was Lynch's first run given up in 22.1 innings, but he wouldn't have much chance to improve his stats after that as he was pulled in the second inning with apparent arm discomfort.



Conine meanwhile was sharp, striking out 12 in 6 innings. His replacement was Leovanny Rodriguez, who gave up the tying run in the 8th when MJ Melendez (2nd, 2017, KC's #4 prospect) tripled home Dennicher Carrasco.



The Wilmington bullpen had been stellar on this 70s night, with Robert Garcia (15th, 2017) coming out in the bottom of the 9th having already pitched 2 scoreless frames. He faced Scott Schrieber (9th, 2018), who quickly ended things by launching a 1-2 offering deep over the left field fence. Woodpeckers win!



That's them celebrating above while a Wilmington coach walks back to the locker room. A very good game that featured a few future major leaguers. My player to watch is Conine, who is not a prospect at this point but who should be on the Astros radar by now.

Notes

After the third inning, there was a touching presentation. A young girl named Hailey Keller was celebrating 5 years of being cancer free after being diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia at 18 months. She stood at home plate while Bunker pretended to throw a pitch, with the PA announcer providing the play-by-play. Hailey swung and drove the ball deep to center field, rounding the bases while high-fiving the players and coaches who were standing on the baselines.



Dubbed Home Run for Life, this was one of the best things I have seen in all my travels. Check out the video and try not to cry.

Best,

Sean