Dodgertown ‘BFE’ to The Big Unit!

Quakes Field (Rancho Cucamonga, CA) – 7/14/2011

I don’t think I’ve written much about the Minor League parks I’ve been to.  I’ve certainly been to more than a few, and I know I’ve logged some, but it’s easy for those parks closer to home to get skipped, whether in Vancouver BC, Everett, Tacoma, Portland or Salem, and metropolises like Pasco or Yakima.

I was in Rancho Cucamonga after a few days of meetings in Ontario.  The way the schedule worked out, I would be able to hit Rancho on my way to Phoenix.  (See, I said I’d get there this year!)  The meeting was brutally dull; it’s hard to pay attention when the light at the end of the tunnel is a few ballgames.

I starved myself at the meeting.  My heart was set on In-N-Out.  They took us all back to the airport, and while the rest of the team was checking in for flights, I was racing to my rental car.  I couldn’t get out of there soon enough!  I passed Anaheim’s “Big A” on my way out to Rancho.  The meetings were right when the All Star Game was hitting, so I was out of luck for Angels or Dodgers this week.  I checked into my hotel then grabbed In-N-Out on my way to the ballpark.

Rancho Cucamonga is pretty much like most of that area of California:  Sunny, nice, and IMG_2721scattered with rows of palm trees.  The park itself is very ‘California-style’ architecture, which is hard to explain other than if you’ve been there, you know what I mean.  The ballpark was surrounded by intramural fields, all clean and well groomed.

The park wasn’t anything out of the ordinary.  I met a Realtor named Paul and his son, Logan.  They were outside the park during BP trying for balls that cleared the fence, and were both doing pretty well, so well that Paul gave me two of the balls when he heard I had two kids.  (Sorry girls, I kept them.  But I bought you other souvenirs!)  Paul and Logan had been in Phoenix for the All Star game two days earlier, so we talked about that during the first few innings of the game.  Angelo Songco hit 2 HR during the game (both no doubters).  The team had boosters that passed the hat after a HR, which was the first time I’d seen that.  I added another $2 when Songco hit his 2nd.  It’s a cinch these guys don’t make much in Single A.

The Quakes are a Dodgers affiliate.  The Dodgers have done a great job cross-branding with their farm clubs.  After closing Dodgertown in Florida to move Spring Training to Arizona, they team spread it to their farm clubs instead.  Here I was in “Dodgertown – Rancho Cucamonga” far west of “Dodgertown – BFE”.  It’s a clever way to maintain the illusion of tradition after stripping Spring Training away from its historic home.

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Chase Field – 7/15/2011

The drive from Rancho Cucamonga go Phoenix was in a word:  Forever.  The drive was everything a drive to Pullman would be, but without satellite radio and a cord for my iPod, I was relegated to hours of church, Christian rock, and Spanish radio.  My favorite part of the drive was definitely stopping at the rest stop and seeing the warning signs to leave pets on a leash due to poisonous insects and snakes!  Very cool.  I went for a brief walk and looked at the number of holes in the ground wondering what lived inside.  I stayed away from the bushes though.

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I took a load off for a few minutes after I finally made it to Phoenix, before taking the brief walk to the park.  It was a little over 100, but I wasn’t uncomfortable.  Ted and Amy both wondered what I was thinking going to Phoenix in July, but it really wasn’t that bad.  (It sure beat the hell out of the anti-Summer we’ve had in Seattle this year!)

Before the game, I was a man on a mission.  First stop:  Alice Cooper’stown.  (Clever play on the name.)  I’m a big fan of Alice Cooper, so hitting Cooper’stown was a given, but I was also determined to face the Big Unit, 22 inches of dog, covered with chili and cheese.  Digestion Delight!  I don’t want to say that I almost chickened out, but I did sit there wondering if 22 inches of hot dog, covered in chili and cheese, really sounded all that good at the moment.  I thought about a BBQ platter, until deciding that I came here for a reason!  And that reason would be a measure of my character and intestinal fortitude…

For some reason, the thought of the Big Unit had me a little nervous.  Literally.  I was IMG_2746 - Copynervous about a hot dog.  When it gets there, it’s imposing to look at.  I took a picture that would make Amy proud (and left the few table around me laughing hard,) then went to work.  The first few inches made me wonder… was it too much?  But then I hit my stride.  The chili was really good.  Did I finish it?  Nope.  I couldn’t quite do it.  Well, let’s clarify that a little.  In the past I would have powered through it.  I could have finished it, I just didn’t want to finish it.  I decided that a hot dog (with chili and cheese) tastes great for the first 18 inches or so, but the last 4 inches were going to be bad news.  (I ran out of chili.)  Still, I did pretty well since most tables were splitting it.  I came, I saw, I ate… most of it.

(* Unfortunately, Alice Cooper’stown closed in 2017, as more traffic shifted North.  You will be missed!)

I made my way to Chase Field for an actual game this time.  I’d been there in 2000 during my trip to Spring Training, but it was good to finally see a game.  The outside of it is huge, and somehow the inside feels almost bigger.  Chase Field feels like playing in a dome.  IMG_2781 - CopyThe roof was closed and the air conditioner, which I shuddered to think how much it cost to run, was keeping everyone cool.  The LF and RF fences are symmetrical for distance and CF squares off with the roof looming overhead.  The wall behind the stands are tall and closed (to keep in the A/C), which adds to the ‘dome’ feel of the park; Safeco has a roof, but you can still see outside.

There was a solid crowd for the game against the Dodgers.  $50 on StubHub net me tickets 12 rows behind home plate.  It was a good thing I had set tickets since most of the lower bowl was full, so there wasn’t much room to seat hop.

The amount of food choices in this place is staggering.  There were more choices than a mall food court.  Fatburger, Panda Express, Coldstone, NY Pizza, Mexican, Mrs. Fields, and that was before the ‘standard’ ballpark owned stands.  I’ve never been to a park with so many choices.  You’ll be happy to know I passed on eating at this game.  I was still full.

The Dodgers won.

After the game I was out to find something local to do.  I walked past Cooper’stown and IMG_2797there was a line out the front since a band was playing.  Perfect!   I watched a band called “The Love Me Nots”.  I guess they’re big in France.  I stayed for a while to get the flavor, then went back to the hotel for some much needed rest.

7/16/2011

I was off to the city for Day 2.  The roof was open at Chase, so I went into Friday’s to catch a look.  The field was so bright.  The way the walls opened up in CF and how the stands loomed back and wide made the field look miniature, it almost looked like a wrestling ring in a stadium for size.  I asked the guy working if the roof had ever been open for an actual game.  He said sure, but couldn’t remember the last time, so I took a few pictures knowing the roof was going to be closed that night.

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I’d read some fantastic reviews about Pizzeria Bianco, so I knew where I was headed for lunch.  Some NY food critic had called Bianco the best pizza in the country, which upset a IMG_2820ton of NY pizza guys until they heard the guy from Bianco was a NY transplant, then everything was forgiven.

The pizza was amazing.  It was one of those meals where I just shook my head while I was eating because it was just so good.  They had the best salami I’ve ever had, thin and salty, and oh-so delicious.  The crust was ultra thin and had a great lightly charred flavor.  God, it was good.

I moved around a bit at my 2nd game at Chase.  I bought a ticket on the corner for $20, then spent time between 1st base and RF, before walking the park and hoping to get a picture with the giant Randy Johnson that ran the bases with other D-Back greats mid-game.  I also met up with another Ballpark Chaser.  Poppy Banks was there for the last of her 30 parks, so I said “Hi”, took a picture, and left.  She had a suite with her friends and family, so I felt awkward hanging out.

By the 8th inning it was time to go to another game that had just started a few miles away.

Arizona League (Oakland A’s Complex)

One of the 2 balls that Paul gave me in Rancho Cucamonga happened to be from the Arizona League.  Sure enough they were in season when I was in Arizona, so I couldn’t pass up the chance to see the lowest level Rookie ball in action.

IMG_2835Driving to the park was cool.  This area of Phoenix is very different than Peoria and Scottsdale, where I’d hit Spring Training back in 2000.  There were dramatic looking rock formations that added to the look as the sun shifted to dusk.  The lights on most of the fields were on and home to local softball teams.  The A’s/Cubs were tucked away in a group of fields named after Billy Martin and Tony LaRussa. 

Arizona League ball is very different than ‘regular’ leagues.  I could count the number of fans on one hand, including me.  The games are free, and there is absolutely no fanfare, no stands, no programs, no walk-up music, and no announcers.  It’s mostly silence, broken by random callouts in Spanish, along with the sounds of scouts and coaches anytime a batter misses a pitch or strikes out.  Each side had a bench, then an overflow of really young American, Dominican, and Puerto Rican kids; a true melting pot of baseball talent, or at least potential.

I sat with a man that was keeping score that I figured was a scout, but found out he wasIMG_2850 actually the official scorer for Minor League Baseball.  Between every half inning he would call some guy in New York to record the box.  He introduced himself, “Jerry Rover, like the dog.”  Every time he’d call in he’d say “It’s the Rover” and recap the inning.  It was interesting talking to him about the game, his son and daughter, retiring from teaching, and kids today, all while keeping score.

“E6!” he’d call out after the error so the kids keeping score for the team knew the official ruling.  I called one or two putouts before he recorded them, so I’d like to think that I helped for even a moment.  He gets $70 a game.  The night games are easy, but he cringed when he told me they’d start day games that next week.

Dusty Robinson, #5 for the A’s, hit a HR.  (* Funny enough, I just checked Baseball Reference, and that was the only HR he hit for Oakland’s Rookie team that year.)  I was asked if I was a scout, which I’ve been asked at games before.  It must be a combination of how I look mixed with the fact that I actually watch the games. 

The Arizona League was a nice way to end the short trip.  I didn’t stay until the end.  Baseball at the lowest levels can be brutal to watch, especially without fan diversions in between innings, but it was still nice to get another pin for the map, ahead of a trip to Milwaukie and Coors Field… or make that Milwaukee and US Cellular Field, since an unexpected, and unwelcome for some, work surprise was waiting for me in Chicago.

 

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