TRAVELBLOGUE: Toledo, Midland

Amazing, I headed out to see two games in two days…and I ended up getting three! Much better than last trip for me, where I got one frozen game and one cancelled game. The best news is that on Day 2 here in Midland, home of the brand-spanking new Great Lakes Loons, it was sunny and relatively warm. In other words, it was actual, bona fide baseball weather.

But let’s start in Toledo. We weren’t there long enough to sample the local fare, but I was just happyFifththirdtoledo_1

to check out Fifth Third Field. We’ve written about the downtown Toledo stadium in the past, but it really is one of the gems of the International League (or any league). It’s not just the stadium, but how it’s supported by the community. To be fair, this was a morning game, a "School Day" — with local elementary schools filling the seats, so it wasn’t quite the same feel. I’d love to be there for an Opening Day or playoff game. But it was still a nice place to watch a ballgame. We got some good work done, too — with a feature on the a.m. game phenomenon in the Minors (playing at 10:30 a.m. is not easy for these guys) featuring Buffalo outfielder Ben Francisco. We also did a nice interview with Indians top pitching prospect Adam Miller. 

From there, it was the fairly lengthy drive to Midland, Michigan. Let me start with some information about the locale. Midland’s got about 40,000 people in it. The largest employer is Dow (thus the name of the park — Dow Diamond) and you can’t really separate Dow from Midland in many ways. Our first night here, we went to a local spot called Shirlene’s Cuisine. It kind of felt like we were in someone’s grandmother’s kitchen and it was fairly clear that most of the clientele were in that age bracket as well. There was a "wall of fame" with photos of "celebrities" when you first came in. The one legitimate celeb pic was of Ernie Harwell, who should’ve been on his own wall, in my opinion. The rest were b-listers, at best — Peabo Bryson, Melissa Manchester, you get the idea. That being said, the food was good in a down-home way, there was a ton of it, and the homemade pie (I had pecan) was quite tasty.

Perhaps the best thing about the restaurant is the take-out menu, which has a nice little history of Midland. Allow me to provide you with an excerpt.

…Midland became a thriving lumber camp in 1850 and reached its peak in 1880. During the spring, rivers became the chief means of transporting the logs that came from the many umber camps. It has been recorded that there was a lumber camp every four miles along the rivers…The American Fur Company established a trading post at the confluence of the Chippewa and Tittabawassee Rivers, and with this in mind Midland’s founding fathers considered the post site a wise place to construct a town…

I love that history stuff. Anyway, the next day we drove to downtown Midland. Yes, there is a downtown. It’s got a definite Anywhere small town U.S.A. feel to it, but there are some interesting things happening in terms of development. One is a Fifties-style diner called Daddy O’s (check here for a blog review of the place), where we ate lunch. Good burgers, fries, onion rings and outstanding malts. The owner got in at the perfect time, right before the Loons craze began. He’s the first in what’s going to be a lot of growth in the downtown area. There are huge renovations taking place in the Ashman Court Hotel right near the park, with plans for some upscale restaurants. And there’s plenty of room to add more businesses as the Loons take off (sorry, couldn’t resist that one).

Now, on to the park, Dow Diamond. Amazingly, it was built in one year. To say it’s beautiful doesn’t do it justice. I got to hand it to HOK, they know their stuff. There’s some cool stuff without trying too hard, like a fire pit in the lawn seating area for cold evenings, the main concourse can be enclosed when the weather gets bad and top-of-the-line facilities for the players (the Loons all seemed to appreciate how good they have it by playing home games here). Just a great place to watch a ballgame, though it doesn’t smell like baseball yet. It’s kind of like a new car smell, which is great in a new car…not so great in a ballpark. But they’ve only played a few games there, so that will change very soon.

Unfortunately, the Loons (am I the only one who keeps thinking about the movie, On Golden Pond?) haven’t been able to win a game yet in their beautiful new park. But they did finally hit their first home run in franchise history, courtesy of Eduardo Perez. And we got to see Dodgers 2006 first-round pick Clayton Kershaw pitch. Kid knows how to throw a little bit. It was a busy day for us there, as we toured the ballpark, talked to Preston Mattingly and Scott Van Slyke and also got to interview Kershaw after his start. On top of all that, the best part of the visit, was spending a few minutes with Cubs Hall of Famer — and Peoria Chiefs manager — Ryne Sandberg. Keep on checking out Around the Minors on The Bottom Line every day at 3:40 p.m. ET on BaseballChannel.TV

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