Saturday, April 30, 2011

Losing in Las Vegas - 51s drop a pair

Las Vegas is not a typical sports roadtrip destination, unless you believe gambling, drinking, and eating to be sports. But there are over 2 million people who live here and they need some distractions of their own. In the summer, the PCL's Las Vegas 51s provide the entertainment out at Cashman Field. Three years ago, the 51s became the affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays which made Las Vegas a compulsory roadtrip objective. So when my brother told me he had a conference here, I checked the schedule and found the 51s would be home at the same time, sowing the seeds for what would become a 3-week west coast trip.

Cashman Field

Located on Las Vegas Blvd. about eight miles north of the Strip, Cashman Field (sometimes referred to as Cashman Stadium, above) is an older venue that still has something to offer fans. The stadium is part of the larger Cashman Center, an entertainment facility that includes a theatre and convention center. There are several lots surrounding the center that offer parking at $4; I used the one off Washington Blvd. as it seemed less popular and easier to exit and return to the highway.

The stadium is a sand and rust coloured structure befitting its desert location. It is connected to the convention center on the third base side so you can't walk around the whole building. There is a single entrance that leads to ramps that go up to the main concourse (above).

Ticket options include dugout seats which are 3 rows of blue seats behind the screen at field level ($20, above), field seats which are the first 6 rows between the bases ($14, yellow in the photo below), plaza seats which are the remaining 20 rows behind the screen ($13, red) and reserved seats, which are benches that stretch down the lines ($10). The plaza seats are mostly covered and are a good option during day games, when the sun can be particularly strong.

You can see a small walkway between the first six rows and the rest of the seating area, so avoid row G unless you want your view continuously disrupted by people walking back and forth. The seating area is not steep, so your view may be blocked if someone sits directly in front of you, but with attendance at 50% of capacity, it's not hard to find a good seat.

There are also a few options outside the seating bowl. First is the club level restaurant which offers a full meal, including soup and salad, for just $9.50. Given that a hot dog is $5.50, the restaurant is a bargain and the food is pretty good too. Tickets are required for tables by the window but there are counters above that are open to the public and provide a reasonable view of the field. I recommend visiting before the game if you are hungry.

If you want to sit away from the crowd, try the Skyy Bar above third base, which provides a complete view of the field and the mountains beyond and offers more than just beer if you are looking for libations.

There are also berms near each foul pole. They were closed before the game, but I noticed children playing in the right field berm later, so they seem to be accessible, but they are too far away to be useful for actually watching the game.

Down the left field line is the Bank of America Patio, which takes up a large amount of foul territory but provides on-field seating and all-you-can-eat ballpark food for groups.

There is only one concourse above the seating bowl but it provides a clear view of the field so you don't miss any of the action while buying food. I didn't try any of the typical fare here as the club restaurant was the best option.

The field is quite interesting as the left and right field walls are perpendicular to the line for most of the way, only turning to meet at center field, which lies 433 feet away from home plate.

The scoreboard is above left field and is quite basic with a linescore and a TV screen that seems to be as old as the stadium itself, as well as the speed gun underneath.

Overall, I really like Cashman Field. The club level restaurant is great after weeks of boring ballpark blech, and there are few distractions from the game. The views beyond the fence are nice and the ushers are friendly and let you move around. Given how noisy Las Vegas can be, you should definitely make a trip over to Cashman to enjoy some relative quiet and AAA baseball as well.

Game 1 - Sacramento River Cats 13 at Las Vegas 51s 9 (13 innings)

I saw two games while I was here, both with the Sacramento River Cats as visitors. I saw these two teams play twice in Sacramento earlier in the trip. Since then, Las Vegas has struggled and came in on an 7-game losing streak.

For the first match, the wind was blowing straight out resulting in plenty of homers, with nine hit on the night. Unfortunately, six of them were by Sacramento sluggers.

After 51s starter Scott Richmond (above, warming up) gave up 4 runs in the first two innings courtesy of a Jai Miller 3-run homer a solo shot to Anthony Recker, Las Vegas replied with 4 of their own, including a 3-run shot from Dewayne Wise that tied the game and chased Sacramento starter Bobby Cramer after just 12 batters.

The middle frames were quiet with Jemile Weeks' solo shot the only damage sustained by Las Vegas. Weeks doubled and scored on an Eric Sogard two-bagger to start the 7th, but Las Vegas added four runs in their half, highlighted by a 3-run dinger from Eric Thames to take an 8-6 lead.

Las Vegas reliever Winston Abreu loaded the bases with nobody out in the 8th but Rommie Lewis and ex-River Cat Daniel Farquhar (above) retired the next three batters to preserve the 2-run cushion. Farquhar remained in the game in the 9th, but he gave up a leadoff triple to Miller, who scored on a single by Matt Carson to cut the lead to one. After two walks loaded the bases, Sean Henn came in. With two out, Henn walked Weeks to tie the game and send us to extra innings.

Both teams scored a run in the 11th, with the 51s coming on a Scott Podsednik (below) double. Podsednik is working his way back from an injury and this was only his third game for Las Vegas.

After a scoreless 12th, Chad Cordero came on in the 13th and promptly gave up three taters, all of which were well hit. Weeks hit one of them which left him just a single shy of the cycle. Las Vegas couldn't respond and the game finally ended with the River Cats winning 13-9. The affair took 4:34, with just a smattering of the 4,094 remaining for the whole thing. It was dollar beer night, and the I'd say half the crowd left when the dollar beers stopped after the 7th inning. Many of those who remained were inebriated so the heckling was pretty entertaining, but the pitching certainly wasn't.

Game 2 - Sacramento 2, Las Vegas 1

I convinced my brother and his wife to join me for this one, as it was UNLV Rebel Replica Jersey night. The wind was again a factor, but this time it was blowing right to left, causing havoc with pop ups and fly balls all night.

Brad Mills took the mound for Las Vegas and pitched six scoreless innings with nine strikeouts. He left with a 1-0 lead thanks to a wind-assisted run scored in the second. Chris Woodward, who had just been sent down, sent a fly ball that got caught up in the wind and fell in between three fielders. Woodward was running all the way and ended up with a double. Adam Loewen (below) then singled him home.

That was all that River Cat starter Graham Godfrey would give up, going six innings yielding just two other hits. In the 7th, Abreu relieved for Las Vegas and promptly gave up a single to Recker. Adrian Cardenas followed with a fly ball that should have been caught but the wind played tricks again and the ball fell in for a double. Josh Donaldson hit a sacrifice fly to tie the game and Adam Heether walked on a wild pitch that somehow bounded over the protective netting behind the plate, moving Cardenas to third. Josh Horton grounded out to score Cardenas and give the visitors a 2-1 lead.

There would be no hometown heroics this night as Sacramento reliever Joe Bateman pitched two perfect innings and Vinnie Chulk tossed a 1-2-3 ninth for the save.

Steve Tolleson from the dugout seats

All-in-all, a rather depressing pair of games for Blue Jays fans but certainly an example of just how different baseball can be; a 22-run homerfest followed by a pitching duel.


The hold might be the stupidest statistic in baseball. In the first game, Farquhar came in with his team up two. He left with the bases loaded and then Henn came in and allowed two inherited runners to score. Farquhar gets credit for a hold while Henn gets a blown save. So the hold depends not on what you do, but what someone after you does. Dumb.



Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Inland Empire 66ers 5 at High Desert Mavericks 6 - April 26, 2011

Adelanto, CA might be the least known minor league city in the nation. For one, it has a population under 30,000, and secondly, their team is called the High Desert Mavericks, since the town is located in the Mojave Desert. To be fair, there are a number of larger communities nearby which provide a solid fan base. The area is also just off I-15, the main highway between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, so it is an ideal sports roadtrip destination. I had been here once before but was late arriving and didn't have a chance to relax and enjoy it. So I decided to end the California portion of this trip by stopping in to see the Mavericks hosting the Inland Empire 66ers in a battle of the two Cal League teams that are not named for the city in which they play.

Stater Bros. Stadium

Located just off US 395, Stater Bros. Stadium is a basic ballpark with few amenities. It was opened in 1991 and originally known as Mavericks Stadium before Stater Bros., a local supermarket, bought the naming rights prior to the 2007 season.

There is a single roof over the concourse that stretches between the bases. The roof is supported by several posts, some of which have the opening day lineups from the past. You can also see the alumni report to the right, which mentions a one-time Maverick who has advanced up the ladder.

There are just two seating options: the red lower box seats (first 11 rows) for $7.50 or the blue upper box seats for $6. With parking being free and concessions reasonably priced, this might be the most affordable experience in the league.

The Hardball Cafe is a party patio for groups along the left field line, but it was not being used during this game (below). There are also private VIP skyboxes, which are small brick enclosures above each section with plastic chairs for up to 12 fans.


The visiting bullpen is right in front of the Hardball Cafe (below) while the home pen is more standard, being in foul ground down the right field line. The scoreboard has just the linescore and a small dot matrix section that shows the batter's name and stats.

The park is known as being a hitter's paradise as the high elevation and extreme wind lead to a lot of easy homers. Baseball America referred to it as a pinball machine, and there were 24 hits last night, a number of which would likely have been outs in another park. It also gets very cold once the sun sets, so make sure to bring a sweater or three. I'd say the temperature went from 70 to 50 between the first and sixth innings.

The mascot is Wooly Bully, named after that crazy tune from 1965 by Sam the Sham and the Pharoahs.

Overall, Stater Bros. Stadium is a fun place to see the game. The staff enjoy themselves as do the fans. The Mavericks drew over 200,000 in their first season but have fallen off lately and lie 9th in the 10-team circuit, averaging about 1,500 in the 3,000-seat stadium. There has been talk about moving the team to a newer facility, so if you haven't been here, try to stop by in the near future. For me, I really enjoy seeing minor league ball in places like this and highly recommend that you add High Desert to your list of stadiums to see.

The Game

While I watch a game, I try to look for something interesting that I haven't seen before. Baseball has so much variety and limitless possibilities that almost every game shows me something new. Well, this battle was one of those that had nothing worth mentioning. Pitching was mediocre, with only one 3 up-3 down inning, but this was to be expected given the hitter-friendly park. I suppose the biggest item was that both teams wore bright red jerseys. That's Nick Franklin (27th overall pick in 2009, two spots behind Mike Trout and Seattle's #3 prospect) being held on by Kole Calhoun (8th, 2010). Update: both made the majors with Calhoun still active as of 2022.

The game went back and forth without any big innings. High Desert scored a run in the 1st but the 66ers replied with 2 in the 3rd. Both teams scored singletons in the 4th before Casey Haerther (5th, 2009) smacked a solo shot in the top of the 5th to make it 4-2 Inland Empire.

Matt Long (30th, 2009) singles for Inland Empire

In the bottom half, Mario Martinez hit a 2-run homer to tie the game. High Desert retook the lead when Franklin doubled home a run in the 6th, and they added an insurance run in the 8th to make it 6-4.

High Desert's Denny Almonte (2nd, 2007) is 4th in the league in OPS

This is where I finally got to see something different. Jose Jimenez, a Venezuelan who has been in Seattle's system for 8 years, came on to close the game. After a walk to Long, he induced Haerther into a double play. It was very cold and I wanted to get out of there but Calhoun followed with a homer to bring the 66ers within one. Then Jon Townsend singled to complete a 4-4 game for him and bring up catcher Jose Jimenez (47th, 2009). So it was Jose Jimenez on the mound facing Jose Jimenez at the plate. A cool coincidence and fortunately the batter flew out to right to end the game and give the home team a hard-fought victory, 6-5.

Angels' #3 prospect Jean Segura (who has had a long and successful MLB career)


The In-N-Out Double Double batter was Franklin, and he doubled in the 6th inning. Amazingly, the section I was sitting in was the winner! I was in section 106 and there were maybe 3 other people around me, but once they announced the winning section, everyone in the adjacent sections moved over to get a freebie.

As a roadtripper, I believe in watching live sports before any televised event, except a championship decider. Last night was a tough call, with the Canucks playing game 7 against Chicago. I figured if the hockey game went to OT and the ball game was fast enough, I'd get a chance to see the overtime winner, but of course, the ballplayers conspired against me. They dragged things out, taking 3:11 to finish the game, so I just missed Burrows' series winner when I finally returned to the hotel. Fortunately, I saw the two other game 7s tonight in Las Vegas, where I had a day off to visit with my brother who is in town for a conference. I'm going to visit the Las Vegas 51s tomorrow and Friday, so check back on the weekend for what happened in Vegas.



Touring the Mojave Boneyard

Midway between Bakersfield and Adelanto lies the Mojave Air and Space Port, known for being the home of several experimental flying machines. But being in the desert, it also is used for aircraft storage as well as having a small boneyard where commercial airliners are scrapped or parted out.

At the main entrance off Bus. Hwy 58

Tours are available at 2:00 if the fueler (the person who conducts the tour is also the aircraft fueler) is available. You can't guarantee a tour in advance, and need a two-person minimum (six-person maximum), but I showed up an hour early and was fortunate that a family of four from Slovenia had already signed up.

The tour costs $5 and is conducted in a typical 6-seater passenger van. It lasts about 45 minutes with little commentary from the driver. There are glimpses of the experimental aircraft in hangars, but the cool part is driving around looking at old airplanes being taken apart. There are fuselages with one side removed, 747s resting on stacks of giant pallets, cockpits and tail sections scattered about, and old liveries that haven't been seen in a commercial airport in decades. Unfortunately, photos are not allowed, so you'll have to see for yourself, but it is really amazing if you enjoy airplanes.

The most fascinating discovery for me was a line of seven 767s that used to belong to Air Canada (above - pictures are allowed outside the airport). One of these was C-GAUN, also known as the Gimli Glider. In 1983, human error led to the underfueling of the plane and it ran out of fuel halfway to its destination. Despite having limited control, the pilots were able to land at Gimli Airport in one of the most impressive commercial aviation accomplishments. The plane was relatively undamaged and remained in service until 2008, when it was retired and flown to Mojave to be parted out. It's still there and is the one at the far right in the picture.

Given that it takes only two hours between Bakersfield and Adelanto, where the High Desert Mavericks play, Mojave is a perfect place to stop for a break if you happen to be seeing both those teams back-to-back.



This rocket is in front of the main office and restaurant

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Visalia Rawhide 9 at Bakersfield Blaze 3 - April 25, 2010

I've seen all the California League Parks, but in one case, there was a stadium I hadn't seen in ten years. That would be Sam Lynn Ballpark, home of the Bakersfield Blaze. They were starting a four-game set against Visalia so I decided to stop in to see what has changed over the past decade.

Sam Lynn Ballpark

Sam Lynn Ballpark was built in 1941 and is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year. It's located in north Bakersfield in a non-descript area of town, off Chester Avenue. Parking is plentiful and (gasp!) free.

The first thing that you notice when you enter the ballpark is the sun setting directly behind center field. It is not often that home plate faces west, and there is a huge batter's eye to mitigate the problem. Even then, games have to start at around sunset, once the batter's box is in the shade. This early in the season, a start time of 7:15 is OK, but in the summer, start times move to as late as 8:00.

The other thing that you might notice is the how shallow center field is. At only 354 feet, it is the shortest in pro baseball. But balls have a tendency to die there unless they are absolutely creamed, so it plays deeper than you might expect.

There is no actual ballpark structure here, just several separate seating sections. Tickets are cheap, with three seating areas to choose from: the $9 green box seats behind the plate, the blue reserved seats down first base at $8 (you can see them above), and the general admission grandstand along third base for $7 (or $1 on Dollar Monday, which was when I visited). There are also a couple of party areas for groups, and a beer patio from where the below photo was taken.

Unfortunately the Blaze are not drawing well these days, averaging around 800 fans a game, so you can sit wherever you want. I ended up in the front row of the green box seats because it had a unique perspective. The ground here is about two feet below field level, so you are looking up at the on-deck batter. It also gives a good angle for seeing the movement on breaking pitches. Definitely worth trying, if just for a change.

Concessions were limited but the hot dogs were pretty good, especially since they were also a dollar due to it being Dollar Monday and all. Game notes and rosters also sell for $1 (every day though) and are worth buying.

The Blaze did have the starting lineups posted, but they used a different marker for some of the batters. I guess they lost the green marker after the previous game.

Bakersfield is now affiliated with the Cincinnati Reds, but was once a Dodger farm club and they still have a couple of pennants on the wall behind the main seating area. I'd like to see more history here even if it is Dodger-related. Hall of Famer Don Drysdale and other Dodger notables including Pedro Martinez and Mike Piazza all played here. Pointless trivia: Hideo Nomo began his American career in Bakersfield, appearing in a single game in 1995.

The scoreboard is very basic, with just the line score displayed. For some reason, the run totals are shown with a leading zero (i.e. a 3-2 game is 03-02). Beyond the fences are some large juniper trees which are there to cut down on the wind sweeping up and over the wall and blowing sand and dust around. Unfortunately, the trees also keep the flag from moving much, so players are never quite sure which way the wind is blowing.

And that's about it. A very simple setting that is little changed from ten years ago. What has changed though are fan expectations. When I came here in 2001, it was a lively place with about 2,800 fans. I remember tutoring a young boy on scoring the game. Last night there were only 669 fans and you could hear every heckle. I'm not sure why the Bakersfield ball fans have stopped coming out, but I hope they realize that although they might not have the fanciest ballpark, they have a unique and memorable one that should be enjoyed before it too is replaced.

The Game

Visalia started Mike Belfiore, who is considered by some to be a top Arizona prospect after being drafted in the sandwich round in 2009. Curtis Partch (26th, 2007) took the mound for the Blaze, who came into the game hitting .337 to lead the league.

But they didn't have much of a chance to hit against Belfiore, who had a lot of trouble finding the strike zone. He loaded the bases on 3 walks in the first but escaped with no damage after a questionable double play. Visalia opened the scoring in the second. After Bartch walked Kyle Greene (11th, 2008), Bobby Borchering (16th overall, 2009, below) reached on an error. Rossmel Perez then attempted a sacrifice that Bartch fielded and promptly threw into the next county, allowing the two baserunners to score. Perez later came home on a David Nick (4th, 2009) double to make it 3-0, all runs unearned.

In the second, Belfiore walked 4 more batters and gave up a couple of hits that led to 3 Bakersfield runs. But Visalia got those back right away on a Greene 2-run homer followed by a Borchering double, Perez single and sac fly from Jon Mark Owings.

In the bottom of the third, Ryan LaMarre (2nd, 2010, #11 Reds' prospect, above) called time but the umpire rightly chose to ignore him as Belfiore threw a rare strike. On the next pitch, LaMarre grounded to Nick who booted it for an error, but LaMarre injured himself running to first and had to be replaced by one-time Jays' farmhand Welington Ramirez. Belfiore walked the next batter but again used a double play to get out of trouble. He was relieved after 3 innings, walking 8 of the 18 batters he faced but only giving up 3 runs.

Visalia added two more in the fifth on an Owings dinger, and Borchering added a solo shot off Taiwanese pitcher Tzu Kai Chiu (below) in the 7th to complete the scoring.

The Rawhide won 09-03 as you can see.

At first glance, this might appears to be a pretty boring game, but there were some interesting statistical tidbits (well, interesting to me at least). Rawhide hurlers gave up 12 walks but only 2 of them scored. Cincinnati's #6 prospect Yasmani Grandal (12th overall, 2010, below), walked in all five of his plate appearances but was stranded each time. He was visibly frustrated after his last at-bat. Each of the seven pitchers managed to record at least one assist or putout, a rare occurrence.


Ken Griffey is managing Bakersfield, his first stint as skipper.

The Blaze are celebrating the 70th anniversary of the ballpark with the promotion "70 Years, 70 Games, 70 Stars". A former Bakersfield player will be profiled during each of the 70 home games. Yesterday's star was Larry Sherry, 1959 World Series MVP, who played 21 games with the Bakersfield Indians in 1954. This is a cool promotion but doesn't seem to be attracting any additional fans.

Draft Position

In these minor league posts, I note a player's draft position when they are in AA or lower. For first round picks, I'll mention their overall position and year, while those drafted later are noted with the round and year. Players that are drafted more than once are only denoted by their most recent draft. If there is no note, that player is an NDFA (non-drafted free agent) which is the usual for non-US players.

Finally, a big thanks to Dan Besbris, Bakersfield's Director of Broadcasting and Media Relations, for his help and notes about the ballpark.