Thursday, April 18, 2013

Dickey Stephens Park

The scene: August 2012. The place: Little Rock, Arkansas. The cast: Mandi and Dan, both complete foreigners, but in town to catch some baseball, see the sights, and check out one of our favorite minor-league teams of all time - the Corpus Christi Hooks play the Arkansas Travelers! 

We naturally were rooting for the Hooks
The Arkansas Travelers play at a wonderful brick facility in North Little Rock (a distance that can be walked from downtown Little Rock)  From Wikipedia (and supported by photographic evidence from within the park): "the ballpark is named after four local Arkansas brothers: Baseball Hall of Famer Bill Dickey, former Major League Baseball catcher George Dickey, and businessmen Jackson T. Stephens and W.R. Stephens."  As a Yankees fan, it was interesting to see a Yankees (and Red Sox...) uniform in Arkansas:
HOF Yankee Catcher Bill Dickey on the left
The playing field was spectacularly kept for a late-season minor league franchise and the sight lines from all seats were good and unobstructed by anything in the stadium; however, the left field/ 3rd base sides were severely in the line of sight of the sun for an early evening game. The entire ballpark can be walked around, and includes a vast open outfield with direct look ins to the bullpens and an overhang that goes from about 1st to third base seats that includes the majority of food vendors below and suites above. In the middle of it is a large clock whose luminescence is lost in my photos and was truly a beautiful and classy sight as the night got darker. The overall feel of the park was modern, new and clean, but harkened back to the fields of yesteryear with its classic brick buildings and the clock above the press box and suites.
Mandi on the 3rd Base Side with downtown Little Rock in the background enjoying her ballpark favorite - a hotdog with mustard and ketchup.

The food was your average ball park fare with decent hot dogs and cheap soda late in the game as I recall. Really nothing remarkable but nothing to complain about either. 

As far as Little Rock goes, it should be noted the Travelers play in North Little Rock literally just across the river from Little Rock, which seems to be an area that is on the up and up, recovering from years of neglect.We chose not to drive and I didn't see much public transport there (the ballpark was within sight of the hotel we stayed at) so we decided to walk, which was pleasant and easy enough... until it rained cats and dogs.
Dickey Stephens Park is a short walk from downtown Little Rock

...but don't get caught in the rain.
Little Rock itself is a small, southern city. They've got some good bar-b-que at the Whole Hog Cafe and the Clinton Presidential Library (which, regardless of your political leaning, was a neat time capsule of the 1990s in America) and if you're driving from the north, I expect you'll see some rural parts of Arkansas that I never realized how beautiful they were - they reminded me of the Hudson Valley of New York with rolling hills and small mountains full of foliage. A few shots from the Clinton Presidential Library are below, including a secret service limo and a mock up of the Oval Office. I also threw in a shot from the Old Statehouse in Little Rock, which is now a museum that details much of Arkansas' history. Little Rock is a very enjoyable city with a surprisingly modern feel with a good deal of history as well, much like Dickey Stephens park.

A former Secret Service Limo

President Clinton's Oval Office mock up

Former Arkansas Statehouse, Little Rock, Arkansas

An Announcement

We got engaged last Friday!

However, it didn't occur at a ballpark or anything at all related to baseball. However, a baseball post is coming ASAP!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Finally, we're back and ready to blog, next up, Tropicana Field, "The Trop"

     I know we've been gone for months. Thing is, I moved across the country again. I took some time to see part of the country I've never seen before and got to see some great baseball too - more on that later. With that said, there wasn't much time to blog or find internet access. With that said, my last ball game in Florida was the Seattle Mariners visting the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field, commonly referred to as "The Trop." Overall it was a fun experience that we got to enjoy with my good friends Nick and Meg as well. 
     Onto the review! Tropicana Field was the first baseball stadium either one of us had been to that was completely enclosed with no view to the outside either (at one point we were fully aware of a lightining storm as we could hear plenty of thunder, yet the ballgame went on, which was very neat). For the record, I'm totally opposed to Tampa building a facility that does not include a dome as some people are suggesting. It seems there are lightning storms all the time in Florida summers. Now, with that said, the current Tropicana Field is suitable for baseball, but it does not compare to most modern stadiums that I've been to. Overall the atmosphere feels the same as a late 80s, early 90s mall. 

Does this not look like a mall? Even the TVs are old
There's lots of cinderblocks along the walls making it feel cheap, only made worse by the paint job that looks like the local high school art class designed to look like Ybor City. Also, unbelievably, once you go up, it is hard to go down. There's one outside turntable type ramp, an elevator you have to convince employees to use, and... that's it until they turn the elevators to go down. That proved to be extremely annoying when we tried to get some hot dogs and sodas as the concessions were not being sold upstairs - which brings us to another point - the fan attendance in Tampa. The concessionaires are not open in the upper levels undeniably because Tampa's fan attendance is notoriously among the worst in the league even in the playoffs. (That's mostly another discussion on how to evaluate where sports teams go, as Tampa is a perfect example of a town whose average income cannot support two major sports teams). However, the fans that were in attendance were into their team and the show on the field which was good to see. At the Time, the Rays were in 3rd place trailing the Yankees and Orioles at a time when many people thought the Rays had a chance to take the AL Wild Card or maybe even the AL East title. In terms of the seats, I had a problem with the fact that there were no cup holders and the teams were not facing home plate; so everyone leans and if you have a bigger person in front of you, well there goes your view of what the batter is doing.
Despite the stadium shows its age in its "new age" design, there are some redeeming qualities about it which I list next: In center field there is an area where you can pet sting rays (or are they devil rays? I've never known.) 

You might be able to make out the tank above the Geico advertisement in right-center field
Part of the history of Tampa Baseball exhibit

Central Entrance
The food selection isn't bad if you can withstand the prices ($10 for a beer? $6 for a hot dog! $9 souvenir cups?!! Some tickets are cheaper!) - the selection even included a quick serve Outback Steakhouse; as always, the Bloomin' Onion was a fan favorite. The 100 level (field level seats) were actually quite close to the field; getting down there in the middle of the game was also fairly easy, once again due to low attendance. Mid-inning humor was actually funny - at one point they had some sort of sexy dance competition by obese men, which, I would not have thought I'd laugh at, but was pretty funny. Props to those guys. The staff, by and large was friendly and helpful. The National Anthem included a sign-language version which I had never seen before and I thought was neat.  Ticket prices on stub hub are pretty reasonable. They also have a fairly interesting history of baseball in Tampa exhibit I wish I got to see more of.
The field level seats are very close to the action, and I've gotta give credit, the Rays' bullpen was full of nice guys willing to sign autographs.    

But, perhaps best of all is Tampa Bay's Summer Concert Series. Instead of the typical seat cushion giveaway, Tampa actually has several dates each summer that give a legit concert (ok, it's probably a little shorter than what you'd normally pay for, but, for including it in the ticket price, that's neat!). We chose to see Gavin Degraw and, what a show! He did a great job, the stadium lighting was set right, all in all-  what time!
      In summary, as far as a date goes, Tropicana Field would be a good spot if both of you like baseball or are willing to withstand one for a person you really want to see in concert fairly cheap (it did seem like plenty of people did do that too). As far as a baseball facility goes, "The Trop" needs some major improvements. Overall, I'll give it a 5/10.
Neat lighting effect
For an extra fee you could get on the field for the concert, overall we deemed it wasn't worth it. We think we were right.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Pensacola Multi Use Stadium - Home of the Pensacola Blue Wahoos

What used to be an eyesore now stands Vince J. Whibbs Sr. Community Maritime Park in Downtown Pensacola
A local friend recently invited Mandi and I to go see the Pensacola Blue Wahoos in their inaugural season as the AA affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds. It was a pleasant afternoon and we were especially lucky because the previous night weather had cancelled the game so we got a chance to watch a double header against the Birmingham Barons (if that team sounds familiar to you, it might be because it's the minor league team Michael Jordan played for during one of his "retirements" from basketball). We also went on our own a second time (but happened to run into Meg again!) for a game against the Jackson Generals.

The games themselves were entertaining enough with no major managerial head-scratching moves and company of course was good (thanks for the company Meg and AJ!). The game against the Generals was an exciting game with a back and forth score that ended up in a 4-2 Wahoos victory.

As far as the stadium and the experience - there's a lot to be said here. I'll preface my reviews by saying the stadium itself is still going through changes and isn't 100% complete. You could see this as one club level seating had a canopy over it while the other one did not and there were no fans in it either (assuming it will become a club level, eventually). The outfield grass seating leave a little bit more to be desired than most other stadiums. The hill is a bit steep and some fans (mostly kids, but some teenagers too) stand next to the fence blocking your view. There should be a sign or something to suggest not to do that for an extended period of time. The first games we went to had no sign on the other side of the stadium so you never could immediately look up to see who was batting, the count, number of outs, score, etc., which proved to be much more frustrating than I ever would have imagined. I suppose enough fans complained as by the time we went to the second game they had at least semi-alleviated the problem by putting up a very rudimentary scoreboard on a structure behind home plate that gave at least the score.
A beautiful view of Pensacola Bay. This is also the view of where the fireworks are launched.

The stadium itself is quite fashionable. Officially named Vince J. Whibbs Sr. Community Maritime Park, it has a modern beach/nautical feel complete with some palm trees (which are less common in northwest Florida than I suspect most Americans think), appropriate for Pensacola. The beautiful views of the the Pensacola Bay, however, are tempered by the fact that there is extremely minimal shading provided by the lack of overhangs or canopies which makes the day games often EXTREMELY hot. The seats (not including the outfield berm/grass seating) are all pretty close to the field as is common with minor league stadiums. The playing field itself is a fairly small field and home runs in both games seemed to be fairly common to left field (sadly, there are no seats there). The entirety of the concourse is open and vast, so it rarely feels crowded and you'll never miss a play by choice. The bathrooms are also very large and spacious with plenty of capacity; they are also clean. Right before the start of the game, a video of a local military member politely teaches then asks fans to observe proper protocol for the National Anthem, which is something I hadn't seen in a while.
One of the better graphics on the jumbo-tron. (I also think the scoreboard itself is quite fashionable with the logo lit up at night)

The stadium is located near downtown Pensacola which is great on one hand - it feels like a perfect fit in Pensacola and took up what was an eyesore previously and gives quick access to some nice bars and restaurants in the downtown area. On the other hand, the stadium's parking is very limited and it seems like most fans choose to park downtown and walk 10 minutes or so to the stadium. At least on the weekends downtown parking is free.    

As far as the experience, the Blue Wahoos, despite previously having minor league franchise experience as the Carolina Mudcats seem to be growing into a modern minor league experience and instead feel like a team managed in the early 90s in one of those old-school-wooden-outfield-fenced-laced-with-ads-and-no-scoreboards-type. (I'm sure there's new management and there's definitely new, locally based ownership, so this is understandable). What I mean by this is the team's music selection featured a lot of 90s "jock jams" type music, that didn't always seem to fit; there were not many (if any) mid-inning fun promotions for fans, the announcer was a bit of a "yeller," the jumbo-tron featured graphic designs that felt very dated and unoriginal; and speaking of the jumbo-tron, anytime someone was speaking on it, whether it was a singer or a kid yelling "play ball" or whatever, in all 3 games there was a significant and noticeable lag as to what the person was saying and what was on the screen which also is more annoying than you probably suspect. Game nights that feature fireworks do have an impressive fireworks show, not even discounting the fact it's a baseball-stadium fireworks show. As far as food selection goes, the Blue Wahoos have some reasonably priced items ($3 hot dogs which are a brand that I can't recall, but delicious nonetheless) and some higher priced items like a "sea dog" that features a fish - fried cod I believe - on a bun. I would not recommend the french fries though; they were those cheap not-so-great kind you got as a kid with your elementary school lunch.

All in all, the Blue Wahoos provided a fantastic experience in a brand new stadium. As with any brand new team and stadium, there are kinks to be worked on and fixed and the Wahoos have been quick to address their fan needs, which I hope continues. Their facebook page is very responsive and notes all the changes that they are doing at any given point based on fan feedback. Ideally, they will provide some shading for fans, include some mid-inning promotions, update the music selection and provide some sort of smaller, secondary scoreboard with complete player information for the fans in the outfield, among other changes. The stadium is fits in very nicely to the community and the fans are certainly growing a loyalty to them (though there are some Montgomery Biscuit fans in the area resulting from a Tampa Bay Ray affiliation) and ideally the team will be here for many years to come. I would definitely recommend a visit to see the Blue Wahoos! 

Monday, May 21, 2012

Neat Baseball Park Features

At least according to one writer. I somehow missed the Houston Carillon, or at least didn't take enough notice. Next time, next time.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Steinbrenner Field (Formerly Known as Legends Field) - New York Yankees Spring Training Complex Review

In March, I had the chance to visit Tampa, Florida. While there, I of course did my best to get to a baseball game - and lucky for me the Yankees were hosting the Twins at Steinbrenner Field. While the tickets listed online through Ticketmaster were what I'd consider outrageous for a spring training game ($35+... in my mind, I guess I see Spring Training as going to a Minor League game - it shouldn't cost more than $10 for a bleacher seat - I mean, let's be honest - you don't get to see a lot of the best starters or the highest level of play and you also don't get the best amenities that a MLB stadium would afford you) I was able to get $8 tickets off StubHub (which, please don't see this as a ringing endorsement of StubHub, in many ways, I think it's just legalized scalping and I hate seeing some teams have every game "sold out" because investors have bought tickets on stub hub hoping to make a profit - so in some ways, it made me feel better that someone "lost out" on these tickets by turning a loss on them... anyway, I digress, and I apologize for my rant about Stub Hub). 

Alas, Steinbrenner Field. It was a neat place to be, a very mini Yankee stadium. It's what I'd expect for a Yankee field - references to their long history, depictions of their famous frieze/facade and plenty of training fields surrounding the complex. It was a neat place to see some Spring Training action and the people who were there who were like real Yankees fans up north struck me just like they always do - passionate and knowledgeable about their team. I was pleased as I got to see some greats play, specifically, Mariano Rivera - I didn't want to miss out on him in what was being touted as his possible last season (and given the state of his current injury, it may very well be). I didn't get there early enough to try to get autographs (Tampa, you have a serious public transportation problem), but it was of no matter. The stadium is small and a little cramped - especially around the concourse, the food prices are what you'd expect at a baseball stadium and the sun can beat down on you (it's pretty warm in Tampa in March) if you're sitting in the wrong spot. Getting to the stadium proved difficult and it's not located in an area with anything to do other than watch the game (no sports bar within walking distance, etc.). Long story short, it's fun for an afternoon of baseball, but don't go in expecting Yankee Stadium. Hey, it's Spring Training after all. 

A view of a Concession Stand with reference to the famous frieze

The playing field

Tino Martinez - a Yankee hero of the 90's Dynasty

Mariano Rivera - a Yankee great in perhaps his last Spring Training

One of the practice fields behind the Stadium

George Steinbrenner statue

George Steinbrenner statue

A 9/11 Memorial (Note the Pentagon on the bottom and the WTC towers)

A view of the stadium and practice fields - from the outside, it reminded me a little bit of the old Yankees Stadium after the 1970s renovations: see here

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Astros Put Pistol Back in "Colt .45's" Throwback

Just as the title says... MLB has caved to pressure from fans who opposed the "political correctness" of featuring an inaccurate throwback without the firearm on the jersey. 

I'm a fan. MLB shouldn't hide from it's rich history - it should embrace it.

And I know this is like the 3rd Astros' article we've written in recent times... they just keep making notable news! I swear, it's not any special affinity I have for this team!