Monday, September 14, 2020

Sioux Falls Canaries 6 at Milwaukee Milkmen 11 (American Association Championship, Game 1)

MLB is not the only baseball circuit to play a 60-game schedule in 2020. The American Association's six teams have just completed their 60-game campaign, with all but two matches being played as the Chicago Dogs and Sioux Falls Canaries had a doubleheader rained out on the last day of the season. Unlike MLB's expanded playoffs, the AA admitted only two clubs to their postseason party, with the Milwaukee Milkmen taking the pennant followed by the Canaries. The matchup became fairly obvious about a week before so I decided to book a flight to Chicago for the weekend in anticipation of the Milkmen hosting game one on Saturday evening. There were no upsets during the final week of play, and so I flew to Chicago, rented a car, and drove the hour north to Franklin, a suburb southwest of Milwaukee.

The Milkmen play out of Franklin Field, which is sponsored by the Franklin Tourism Commission. The ballpark opened last year and was named Routine Field for that season but there were some legal issues that caused that naming agreement to fail and Franklin stepped in to take over. Eventually, there is supposed to be a visitor center here to direct tourists to all the Franklin hotspots.

There are many similarities to Impact Field in Rosemont, with proximity to the airport being one. Unfortunately, a flight to Milwaukee was four times the price of a flight to Chicago, which is why I flew to O'Hare and drove up, parking for free in the spacious lot next to the main entrance. The area around the ballpark is a sports and entertainment complex, and the Umbrella Bar is a good place to pregame if the weather is co-operating. As you can tell from the pictures, it was not on this night. When I arrived in Franklin, it was raining steadily and I was worried the trip would be all for naught, but the weather cleared in time.

The sun even made a brief appearance behind the suites and press box before the game began, but by first pitch it was gloomy again and a misty rain fell steadily for much of the evening, not enough to stop proceedings, but enough to force many fans under the roof.

I had picked up an outfield combo ticket, which includes a hot dog and beer for $14. This is a bargain as the hot dog is what you would expect in Milwaukee, big and tasty, and the beer is a 16-ounce can with choice limited to Coors Light, Miller Lite, and PBR. You are supposed to sit in the outfield with this ticket, but I chose to stand for most of the game, sitting in the infield seats for the last couple of innings. This section is known as the MOSH Seating Bowl and I thought it was in homage to the old mosh pits at concerts, but MOSH is actually Milwaukee Orthopedic Specialty Hospital, another local sponsor.

There are many other seating options, including Golf Bays, which are 6-seater areas along the concourse with comfy seats. At $20 per seat and only a $50 minimum order per bay, these are an ideal option for small groups who want to relax. You can see the bays underneath the roof in the photo below.

As usual, I took a walk around. Obviously, with the pandemic, attendance was limited, but there were still decent food choices as is legally required in Wisconsin, including a $4 mac and cheese that was tempting.

As you can see, the seating bowl has yellow and grey seats, which is quite eye-catching from beyond the outfield fence.

There is a significant bit of foul territory here, and as such, the protective netting does not extend above the dugout, a rarity these days, especially in a new ballpark.

The scoreboard is above the left field fence and is very impressive for this level. For visiting players, the picture is of an old TV character such as Fred Flintstone or Larry David instead of the player himself.

The Milkmen do a fantastic job with their nickname in various ways, starting with the tag line "Milwaukee's Udder Pro Baseball Team". The mascot is Bo Vine (number 2%, below) and the crowd is encouraged to Moo. Several promotions make use of the dairy theme as well, including a race where three fans have to put on an oversized, wrap-around cow costume and race around the infield warning track. Very creative and keeps you paying attention during the inning breaks. The only bothersome bit was having music played between every pitch; it would be nice to hear the sounds of the ballpark once in a while.

Overall, however, I was very impressed with Franklin Field and only wish that the weather had been more welcoming. I first visited independent league ballparks during my six-month trip in 2001 and those were less than compelling and certainly not comparable to the minor league stadiums I was also seeing on that journey. Since then, I have held the independent leagues in low esteem, but after recent visits to Long Island and Somerset and now Chicago and Milwaukee, it is obvious that independent ball has come a long way in the last 20 years. I will certainly be including these ballparks on future trips and look forward to seeing the rest that the American Association has to offer.

The Game

Sioux Falls started Tyler Herron, who was drafted in the supplemental round, 46th overall by St. Louis in 2005 (just behind Jed Lowrie) after leading the nation with a 0.25 ERA as a high schooler. Unfortunately, Herron never made it to the bigs, but he has enjoyed a peripatetic career, plying his trade for 24 different teams in 15 years. That's him warming up in Canary yellow below; his 7 wins tied for the league lead. His mound opponent was David Holmberg, who led the league with a 2.34 ERA while notching 6 victories. Holmberg was drafted in the 2nd round by the White Sox in 2009 and spent parts of four seasons with Arizona, Cincinnati, and the Chisox.

Sadly, what should have been an interesting pitching matchup was over quickly as Herron was not sharp in the first inning, giving up a walk and five hits, the last a 2-run homer to Christian Correa that made it 6-0. Sioux Falls got a couple back when Jabari Henry crushed a moonshot over the scoreboard in the second, while the Milkmen added another in the bottom half as Herron remained in the game. In fact, he settled down, while Holmberg was removed after four frames. When Sioux Falls plated another pair in the top of the sixth to make it 7-4, a comeback seemed possible, but Herron gave up back-to-back jacks to Brett Vertigan and Dylan Tice that ended his night after 108 pitches. Each team added two more runs to make the final 11-6. The scoreboard is below; note the cartoon character for the last batter, Alay Lago.

All in all, a fun evening and one well worth the trip.


I flew out of O'Hare on Sunday morning and had an incredible view of the entire airfield, which was the world's busiest in terms of take-offs and landings in 2019. It always surprises me how many people keep their window shades down instead of getting such wonderful shots.

The Milkmen shutout the Canaries 2-0 in Game 2 (which I could not stay for due to New York's idiotic quarantine law) and the series now moves to Sioux Falls for the week before returning to Milwaukee, if necessary. Update: it was not necessary as the Milkmen took 2 of 3 in South Dakota to win the series in 5. Good thing I didn't stick with my original plan to see Game 6.