Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Inland Empire 66ers 5 at San Jose Giants 3 - April 18, 2011

San Jose is a big city with a very good NHL team, a very good Arena Football team, and a decent MLS team. It is really a major league city, but they have a lesser-known minor league resident: the San Jose Giants, who are the two-time defending champions of the high-A California League. Despite having visited San Jose and the Bay Area on numerous occasions, I had never had a chance to see the Giants, who always seemed to be on the road. So I was very excited to discover that they had a homestand on this trip and made plans to see them host the Inland Empire 66ers in the second of a 4-game series.

Municipal Stadium

Located south of downtown San Jose at the corner of Alma Avenue and Senter Road, Municipal Stadium is one of the oldest minor league parks in the nation, having been opened in 1942. It was built as part of the Works Progress Administration at a cost of $80,000 (yeah, eighty thousand). The structure is reinforced concrete which means that it has stood the test of time very well. There have been renovations in the seating area but generally the park remains unchanged from its inaugural season.

Parking is $10 in a lot off Alma, although I did notice limited street parking that was filled up well before game time. The stadium is next to the San Jose Sharks practice facility but they don't want you parking there either.

Tickets range from $16 for box seats (blue seats in the picture above) to $10 for general admission benches ($7 for seniors and youth). The first 6 or 7 rows are box seats between the bases, with the upper rows the general admission benches. There are also separate bench sections down the lines that you can see on the left of the picture below.

Section D, right behind home plate, has upper reserved seats in place of benches for $13. The park is so compact that there are no bad seats. If you want a view without the screen blocking you, sit in the benches down the lines.

I recommend getting there early because there is so much to see and do here. In particular, there is Turkey Mike's BBQ, a huge eating area down past third base that offers a complete and tasty BBQ menu and plenty of picnic tables. It opens 90 minutes before game time and is well worth a visit.

Once you are done with dinner, you can wander around and look at all the fascinating hand-painted signs. I'm only posting pictures of a couple of them here, but some of these were amazing. The Giants 20th anniversary team sign was especially mesmerizing, a lot of history here that has been well-preserved and uniquely presented.

Roadtripper's map

Other minor leagues

There are also plenty of games for kids, trophy displays (below), and contests. Buy a $2 scorecard for a lucky number and a baseball bingo card. The Giants also have the usual beer batter (when a selected opponent strikes out, beers are half-price for 15 minutes) and In-n-Out Double Double batter (when a selected Giant doubles, free burger coupons for all) promotions. Great fun.

The bullpens are interesting - the visitors pen is behind the left field fence while the Giants relievers warm up just behind the first base bleachers where fans can watch.

Beyond the fences are several flagpoles that contain the most recent 6 league championships along with Old Glory. This team has been very successful and they are proud to let you know.

The mascot is Gigante, a rather unattractive gorilla who was quite entertaining. But he had to take a break during the drizzle and just sat back to enjoy the game.

To me, Municipal Stadium is what minor league ball should be about. History, simplicity, and fun. The staff here keeps fans entertained without distracting from the game. If you are in San Jose, try to see a game here; it's one of the best minor league experiences you can have.

The Game

The Giants are obviously the affiliate of San Francisco, while the 66ers, who play in San Bernardino, are in their first year as the Angels' high-A club.

The Giants sent Michael Main (24th overall pick by Texas in 2007) to the mound to face Ariel Pena (above). Both pitchers were strong early and the first five innings were scoreless.

In the top of the 6th, Jean Segura (the Angels #3 prospect) singled with one out. Matt Long (30th round, 2009) followed with a single and after a passed ball moved the runners to 2nd and 3rd, Dillon Baird (11th round, 2009, shown swinging below) singled them home.

That was all for Main, who was replaced by Mitch Lively (16th, 2007). In the bottom of the 6th, Ryan Cavan (16th, 2009, below signing for kids before the game) crushed a 3-run homer to give the Giants the lead.

But Lively couldn't hold the slim lead, giving up an RBI triple to Segura in the 8th that tied the game. Long followed with a chopper over the head of first baseman Luke Anders (32nd, 2009, shown singling below) to score Segura and give the 66ers the 4-3 lead.

Inland Empire added an insurance run in the 9th and David Carpenter (9th, 2009) pitched the final frame for the save, getting Gary Brown (#3 prospect in the Giants organization, drafted 24th overall in 2010) to pop out to end the game with runners on first and second.

Both starters had similar lines (5.1 IP, 1 walk, 5K, 21 batters faced) and neither figured in the decision but I was impressed with both. Raw talent to be sure but worth watching over the next couple of years.

This was a fun game, despite a continuous drizzle from the 3rd inning on. There was some great defense and the outcome was in doubt until the end. Combining the great dinner, fantastic ballpark, and interesting game, this was a very enjoyable and memorable evening and what makes sports road tripping so rewarding.


I've now seen every city in the California League, but not every current ballpark. I visited Stockton in 2001 but at that time their home park was Billy Hebert Stadium which has since been replaced by Banner Island Ballpark. I'm going there tomorrow though, and will finally have completed all parks in a single minor league.

Bryan Stow, the Giants fan who was assaulted after a Dodgers game back on opening day, used to work as a paramedic at San Jose Giants games. The team has dedicated the month of April to him and there were people collecting donations to help with medical expenses. Sadly, there's been no change in his condition, nor have the perpetrators been caught. But the story has become national news and ESPN featured an interview with his family, so we can hope that such attacks are a thing of the past.

I was sitting in front of some scouts who were having some trouble getting readings from one of their radar guns. So one would tell the other the speed of each pitch. That was great for me, it was my own personal speed gun. However, the rain chased them away in the third inning. Pena hit 94 at one point though.

Municipal Stadium is also home to the San Jose State Spartans baseball team (there's a game there this Friday afternoon that I've added to the schedule).

I mentioned the lucky number program. I actually won a free admission to Gilroy Gardens, a horticultural theme park. It's not something I'll have time to do this trip though; I could have used the free haircut instead.

Finally a big thank you to Juliana Paoli of the Giants for her invaluable assistance. You guys run a top-notch operation!

Next Up

I'm going to Santa Clara tonight to watch the Broncos host the Stanford Cardinal in an NCAA baseball midweek game. Then a couple of days in Stockton and Modesto before returning to San Jose for the weekend of SaberCats, Earthquakes, and Sharks. Should be a fun few days, check back for posts on all this and more!



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