July 2007

Minor League tour: Part VIII

Jonathan and Izzy Salant filed this report from their eighth stop ontheir nine-day tour of upstate New York Minor League ballparks, Alliance Bank Stadium in Syracuse .

In the Marx Brothers’ movie Animal Crackers, Groucho
is going to hire Chico and his band to perform. He asks, “What do you
fellas get an hour?” Chico says they get $10 an hour. Groucho then
asks, “What do you get for not playing?” Chico’s response: $12 an
hour.”

After last night’s game, I feel like asking the Syracuse Chiefs how much they would pay us for not coming to their games.

Since Izzy and I began our baseball trip on July 23, the Chiefs have
gone 4-5. When we’re not in the crowd, they’ve gone 4-1. We saw them
lose a doubleheader to the Bisons in Buffalo, a single game to the Red
Wings in Rochester, and last night a single game to the Bisons again at
Syracuse’s Alliance Bank Stadium. The score was 7-2, though the game
was not decided until Buffalo scored four runs in the top of the ninth.
Buffalo scored one run in the first, while Syracuse came back with two
in the bottom of the frame, the last one on a solo home run by Chad
Mottola. Not only did he give the Chiefs the lead, but one of the fans
won a $50 gift certificate to a local furniture store because she
picked Mottola to hit a home run in the game. Buffalo tied the game in
the third and went ahead to stay in the seventh on a two-out single to
left by Ryan Mulhern with Asdrubal Cabrera, who had doubled, running on
the pitch and scoring.

Alliancebank
As I said in an earlier post, for some inexplicable reason, Alliance
Bank Stadium was not built downtown but rather away from the center of
Syracuse, ensuring it would not anchor any economic development. The
park, though, is beautiful, despite the presence of artificial turf
rather than grass, just like the parent Toronto Blue Jays. When players
bat, the scoreboard lists what they did during their previous plate
appearances, which I’m used to seeing at major league games but not in
the minors.

We arrived a half-hour before the game to find long lines at the box
office, the only game we’ve seen on this trip with a large walk-up
crowd, though still manged to snare tickets five rows behind the
visiting dugout. It was Syracuse Firefighters Night, according to the
words emblazoned on the baseballs handed out to all the kids in
attendance. Izzy later used that ball to get a signature from Denny
McLain, the majors’ last 30-game winner, who was signing autographs at
the park. McLain, who also threw out the first ball, played for the
Chiefs before reaching the Detroit Tigers and winning two American
League Cy Young Awards, 1968 (when he went 31-6 and the Tigers were the
world champions) and 1969.

Izzy got a stuffed Scootch mascot, and got autographs from both Scootch
and the new mascot, Pops, who is a train engineer with a baseball head,
glasses and a big grey mustache out of the Old West.

Chiefs used to refer to Native Americans, but when the team moved into
its new stadium in 1997, it decided to show some respect — the
Onondagas, who gave their name to the county in which Syracuse is
located, has a reservation to the south — and changed its name to the
SkyChiefs. It reminded me of Texaco, which used to brand its gasoline
Fire Chief and Sky Chief. This year, the team returned to the Chiefs,
though with a train motif and no reference to Native Americans. Pops is
one addition to the new theme. Another are concession stands bearing
names like Grand Central and Polar Express. And there was a steady
stream of freight trains rumbling along the tracks behind the left
field fence.

The loudest cheers went for a player on the opposing team, Jonathan Van
Every (great first name). He was the Taco Bell designated strikeout
victim, so if he whiffed, everyone on the park would get a free taco.
Sure enough, with two strikes, the crowd erupted in a cheer of, "Ta-co,
ta-co.” Van Every took a called third strike and the place erupted.

Finally, a lesson for Izzy and all the other kids who play baseball:
When you hit the ball, run everything out. In the bottom of the fifth,
Chiefs’ designated hitter Sal Fasano hit a ground ball to third base.
Thinking it was foul, he remained at home plate. The ump, though,
called it fair, and Matt Ginter had all the time in the world to toss
the ball across the diamond to Mulhern for the out.

Our trip winds up tonight in Auburn, where we visit renovated Falcon
Park. When I first joined the now-defunct Syracuse Herald-Journal in
1984, one of my earliest stories was about a state legislator, Michael
Nozzolio, who bought all the tickets for a game, handed them out to his
constituents, and then threw out the first ball. It was at the game
that I met the late Leo Pinckney, whose name adorns the New York-Penn
League division that Auburn plays in. Pinckney led the successful fight
to get Auburn into the NY-Penn league, was the team’s president, and
served as the league’s president.

Nozzolio is still in the legislature, and once a year still buys out the ballpark. We will occupy two of those seats tonight.


Izzy’s report:
Last night’s game was really fun. I got an autograph
from Denny McLain, got free candy and met both mascots and got them to
sign my glove. Now I have almost every mascot in upstate New York
signing my glove. This was my first time seeing artificial turf. It
looks kind of funny.

Minor League tour: Part VII

New York State Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno of Troy is one of the most powerful men in state government, and his clout was on display yesterday during our visit to see the Tri-City Valley Cats take on the Staten Island Yankees. Members of the New York legislature obtain what are called ”member items” — critics call it ”pork” — in the state budget every year. As majority leader, Bruno’s piece of the budget pie is much larger than those of his colleagues.

Joebruno
One of Bruno’s slices went to build a stadium on the campus of Hudson Valley Community College in Troy. The park bears his name, Joseph L Bruno Stadium, known as "the Joe” for short. It landed a short season A team for the Albany area, the Tri-City Valley Cats (Albany, Schenectady, Troy), a Houston Astros affiliate. It’s the most well-endowed class A park in upstate New York. There are several concession stands, a well-stocked souvenir store (yes, Izzy got the mascot, a cat named Southpaw), and a fun zone for kids, including several moon bounces. The scoreboard features a large video screen. A sign in right field gives the pitch speed. A large inflatable Uncle Sam stands beyond the left field fence — the original Uncle Sam was a meatpacker from Troy — and in addition to Southpaw, there is a guy decked out as Uncle Sam in red, white and blue and known as Sammy Baseball. The game also featured what had to be the worst mascot in baseball history, someone wearing a reindeer head, a banana peel body, grey slacks and sneakers. I still don’t get it.

We arrived at the park an hour before game time, landed seats five rows behind the ValleyCats’ dugout, and had a catch on the field. It was photo day, and when we were shooed off the outfield grass so the team could begin stretching, several players had gathered near the dugout to sign autographs and pose for pictures. Izzy got several autographs to his ball that also bore the signatures of some the Ironbirds and Tigers from Friday’s game.

As we walked to our seats, we passed the fan appreciation booth and noticed they were accepting volunteers for the various between-innings competitions. We had always wondered how kids were selected for such events in all our years going to Frederick and Bowie, and at least in this case learned that you could simply ask to participate. Izzy signed up for the garbage race, in which he and another kid would see who could dump a lot of paper into a giant garbage can, and then wheel it from home plate to the coaches’ box. More on this later.

The last time I saw a baseball game in the Albany area, it was in the mid 1980s when the home team was the Class AA Albany-Colonie Yankees (now the Connecticut Defenders) of the Eastern League, and they played at Heritage Park near the Albany Airport. Those Yankees wore hand-me -down uniforms with the classic interlocking NY. Now, the Staten Island Yankees wore uniforms where "Staten Island’ was printed in the tail of the "s” in "Yankees,” an indication of how the minor leagues have realized there is money to be made in selling authentic team shirts, hats and other clothing with the team logo.

Once the game began, the ValleyCats jumped off to a 5-1 lead, only to give it all back. In the last of the seventh, a two-out single by Charlie Gamble gave Troy a 6-5 lead. In the last of the eighth, after Yankees shortstop Luis Nunez booted a potential double-play ball, Alberto Cruz put the game out of reach with a three-run home run.  Actually, I shouldn’t say any game was out of reach after seeing Bowie score 10 runs in the top of the ninth inning the night before against the Binghamton Mets, but there would be no comeback yesterday. Final score: Tri-City 10, Staten Island 5. Except for the Binghamton debacle, the home team has won every game on this trip.

In the last of the eighth inning, Izzy went onto the field for the garbage race. He quickly stuffed the can and had a lead on the other kid, running with the can behind him, when he tripped and the can landed on his leg. I initially thought he would lose the race because he fell, but he hit the ground after crossing into the coaches’ box, making him the winner. It was like sliding into home plate. Izzy lay on the ground for a few minutes while the stadium staff lifted can off his leg and comforted him. Like a player who had been momentarily injured, Izzy then got up and walked off the field. The prize was a team-autographed baseball.

Izzy’s lower leg was a little scraped, but not enough to prevent him from winding up the night with the rest of the kids in the ballpark and running the bases once the game ended.

Tonight, we go to Syracuse, which must be the only city in recent years to reject building a ballpark to renovate a deteriorating downtown, choosing instead to stick it in an out-of-the-way place where it cannot spur any economic development. I worked for the Syracuse newspapers during the debate on building a new ballpark, and still do not understand how the anti-downtown faction won that fight. Then our trip winds up in Auburn on Tuesday night.

Izzy’s report: Last night’s game was well, let’s say, terrifiic. I got thundersticks at the beginning when I walked in. One of my favorite parts was the catch on the field. Then I got autographs. My second favorite part was getting the mascot. I was with a friend named Sam in the fun zone and it was terrific. Then I got selected for the garbage race and won after I tripped and fell in the coach’s box. I won a ball autographed by the entire team. The last part was running the bases.

Minor League tour: Part VI

Jonathan and Izzy Salant filed this report from their sixth stop ontheir nine-day tour of upstate New York Minor League ballparks, NYSEG Stadium in Binghamton.

Ever since  Prince George’s Stadium opened in Bowie, Maryland, we have been frequent visitors to the Bowie Baysox home games. We go to several games a year, and even have a ticket package that admits us to a night with a free barbecue, on-field batting practice and a catch on the field. There are wonderful diversions for the kids, including a carousel and moon bounce, and the staff goes out of its way to find new ways to attract families.

Until the Washington Nationals camer into being, Bowie was also the site of my annual Mets fix; we have never missed a Baysox-Binghamton Mets series. Now, we see both the B-Mets and the major league Mets when they come to town; last year, it was even over the same weekend, so we saw Binghamton-Bowie on Friday and New York-Washington on Saturday. In recent years, we were introduced to players like David Wright, Lastings Milledge, and Henry Owens, who I am still sorry the Mets traded.

The only time we don’t root for the Baysox is when they play the B-Mets.

Yesterday, for the first time, we could root for the B-Mets against the Baysox surrounded by other Mets fans. This would be our first look at first baseman Mike Carp, who was so impressive during spring training. We saw outfielder Jamar Hill go 4-for-4 with a home run. I credit the schedule-makers who put both the Aberdeen Ironbirds and the Baysox as close as possible to Cooperstown on the weekend that Cal Ripken Jr. of the parent Baltimore Orioles was inducted into the Hall of Fame. (Izzy met Cal earlier this year, posed for a picture with him, and got an autograph, when the hall of famer
– as of today — spoke at the National Press Club.)

Izzy got both mascots — Buddy the Bee and Ballwinkle — to sign his glove, and got a stuffed Buddy for his collection.  One of the Baysox threw Izzy a ball and we spent one inning on the B-Mets’ version of a moon bounce, a giant inflatable Ballwinkle.

Nyseg
And we got to watch a game in beautiful NYSEG Stadium (corporate sponsor: New York State Electric and Gas, the local utility) with a year-old video scoreboard that provided terrific graphics, frequent replays and pitch speed. We had arrived late to find all of the parking lots filled, but few people in the stands. It looked like there were more cars than people; the reported attendance was under 3,000 fans but it looked a lot emptier, which is a shame because you’d think they could pack a beautiful stadium on a warm, sunny evening with a fireworks display after the game.

There was a comedian at the game, Myron Noodleman, who appears to be the successor to Max Patkin, the late crown prince of baseball. I mention Myron because he did one of the funniest bits I have ever seen at a ballgame. He led the grounds crew’s dragging of the infield to the Bee Gees’ song, "Stayin’ Alive.” At a couple of points, Myron and the crew dropped their equipment and engaged in disco poses. Then they picked up their rakes and continued around the infield dirt.

Anyway, we entered the ninth inning with the Mets up, 7-1. They left the bases loaded in the last of the eighth, but it seemed unimportant at the time. The home team had won the first five games we had seen.

The good news for all of those empty seats is they missed a monumental collapse. The first five Baysox batters reached base. Then closer Carlos Muniz came in to pitch. Luis Jimenez hit his first pitch for a double, Brandon Sing followed with another double, and the game was tied. Ryan Hubele, trying to sacrifice, bunted the ball toward third base. Vince Harrison fielded it, threw it past Carp at first, and Sing scored the go-ahead run. By the time the inning was over, shortstop Ryan Coultas contributed another error, Muniz threw a wild pitch, 16 Baysox came to the plate and 10 scored. Baysox reliever Jim Miller struck out the side in the last of the ninth. Final score: Bowie 11, Binghamton 7.

At least the fireworks were good. In fact, it was the best show at a minor league ballpark I have ever seen. There were some Star Wars characters at the park, raising money for charity by offering a chance to pose for a photo with them, so the fireworks were set to the music from Star Wars, the movie version as well as the disco version by Meco.

Today we’re heading to Troy and the Tri-City Valley Cats. The last time I saw a ball game in the Albany area, it was at Heritage Park for the AA Albany-Colonie Yankees. Now, it’s a short-season A team. Then we’re off to Syracuse and Auburn, where our trip will end Tuesday.

As for the B-Mets, we’ll see them again next month when they visit Bowie. It’s family campout night; after fireworks, Izzy, I, a couple of his friends and their fathers will all pitch tents in the outfield and spend the night.

Izzy’s report: Last night’s game was the best ever, until the last inning. I got a ball, I got a stuffed Buddy the Bee, and I got to be on the scoreboard with my friend Elan during Muscle Cam, where you show your muscles. The Mets were doing so well and then Bowie scored 10 runs in an inning and won. I wasn’t that upset because I really like Bowie also, because that’s close to where I live. That’s my report.

Minor League tour: Part V

Jonathan and Izzy Salant filed this report from their fifth stop ontheir nine-day tour of upstate New York Minor League ballparks, Damaschke Field in Oneonta.

What if they held a ballgame and nobody came? That was almost the
situation in Oneonta last night when rain before and during the game
between the Tigers and the Aberdeen Ironbirds held down the crowd to
just a handful of fans. Even the mascot was absent, and was not even
available in a stuffed version, to Izzy’s dismay.

The players and fans stood for the national anthem facing an empty
flagpole; the weather prevented the raising of the American flag. A
group of Ironbirds fans brought the Baltimore tradition of singing
“O’s” at the beginning of the last stanza, `Oh, say does that Star
Spangled Banner yet wave …”

The rain, which was on and off all day, canceled the event that was the
raison d’etre for the trip: The kids’ baseball clinic at Doubleday
Field in Cooperstown. Instead, the kids could ask questions of the
assembled ballplayers, including Steve Garvey and Jim “Mudcat” Grant,
but even that session was curtailed when wind pushed a driving rain
into even the covered stands. At least the Oneonta game wasn’t rained
out as well.

The game featured a 59-minute rain delay and some slippin’ and slidin’.
For example, Chris Carlson in the fourth inning hit a catchable line
drive to left field, only to wind up on second base with a double when
Joseph Nowicki, who had earlier made a terrific, over the shoulder,
running catch, tripped going after the ball. Not only did Carlson later
score, but he got two free sub sandwiches from local merchants for his
double.

During the rain delay, some of the players walked over to the
concession stand for a drink. Izzy snagged an autograph from the
manager of the Ironbirds, former major league catcher Andy Etchebarren.
He was a member of the Orioles in that magical year (for Mets fans like
Izzy and me) of 1969.

After the game resumed, Oneonta scored six runs in the last of the
ninth inning to prevail, 10-9. That means in all of our five games so
far, the home team is undefeated and, except for the initial Buffalo
doubleheader, has prevailed in close games.

Damaschke_1
At Damaschke Field, two rows of field level box seats, off-limits to
all but the season ticket holders who bought them, puts the rest of the
stands and the fans that occupy them further from the field and the
dugouts than other stadiums. For a coach or player to give a ball to a
fan in the stands would require a decent throw rather than a soft toss,
and no balls were tossed to anyone. Nor was there an opportunity to
even sit near the dugout in the hope that a player would reward a young
fan.

There were no reserved seats — only general admission — and no beer, the first dry ballpark I have ever encountered.

As we pass the halfway point on our trip, one thing has struck me: The
lack of diversions for kids. Perhaps I’m spoiled by the ballparks in A
Frederick and AA Bowie, which feature merry-go-rounds, moon bounces,
and other activities.

If the rain holds off — and the forecast is for scattered showers and
thunderstorms the rest of the weekend — we’re going to see the
Binghamton Mets tonight and the Tri-City Valley Cats in Troy tomorrow
afternoon. Tonight is fireworks night, and for the first and only time
on this trip, I bought tickets in advance so we could get really good
seats. Everywhere else, we’ve just walked up to the ballpark shortly
before game time. Tomorrow, if we get to Troy early enough, we can have
a catch on the field before the game, and then kids can run the bases
afterwards.


Izzy’s report:
Once again, last night’s game was awesome. I didn’t
really like the part when we had a 59-minute rain delay but my favorite
part was when I got an autograph in the middle of the game. I didn’t
catch any foul balls, though. I still can’t believe the Oneonta Tigers
won 10-9 and scored six runs in the last inning. That’s the end of my
report.

Minor League tour: Part IV

Jonathan and Izzy Salant filed this report from their fourth stop ontheir nine-day tour of upstate New York Minor League ballparks, Frontier Field in Rochester.

We’re beginning to think that we’re to the Syracuse Chiefs what that
black cat was to Leo Durocher’s Cubs at Shea Stadium in September 1969.
I was at the Mets-Cubs game that night, when a black cat appeared at
the stadium and crossed in front of the Cubs’ dugout. The Mets won that
game and moved into first place later that week.

We saw the Chiefs again Thursday, and once again they lost. That’s a
doubleheader on Monday against the  Buffalo Bisons and an afternoon
game Thursday against the Rochester Red Wings. And we’ll see the Chiefs
again Monday in Syracuse. I feel  badly, since I spent 10 years working
for the Syracuse Newspapers.

The way our schedule is going, all three International League games
we see will feature Syracuse. Meanwhile, we’re seeing six different
teams in our first three NY-Penn League games.

FrontierfieldNow for the game at hand. If it isn’t already, Rochester’s Frontier
Field should be for the minor leagues what Baltimore’s Camden Yards is
to the majors: The prototype for stadium construction. It’s one of the
best ballparks I’ve ever been in, right in downtown, with freight
trains rolling past the right field fence, great seats, terrific
signage, wonderful food and a super atmosphere. It’s the only stadium
I’ve ever visited where you can get barbecue at one stand and crepes at
another.

We arrived at the ballpark about 15 minutes before game time and
bought first-row seats just two sections down from the Chiefs’ dugout.
We later watched the final inning from behind the Red Wings’ dugout.
Both locations offered terrific views of the field.

The game itself was over in less than 2 1/2 hours. I’d like to say it
was well-played but it was not; the outfielders on both teams misjudged
several balls and only a very generous official scorer kept the error
total to one. The Red Wings scored two runs in the first inning, and
there the score stayed until Russ Adams tied the game in the top of the
ninth with a one-out, two-run home run. In the last of the ninth, Tommy
Watkins hustled an outfield single into a double, and then Glenn
Williams singled him home. Final score, Rochester 3, Syracuse 2.

Both Rochester mascots, Spikes and Mittsy, come in stuffed versions,
so Izzy added two new mascots to his collection. Too bad neither
Jamestown nor Batavia had stuffed mascots for sale.

We’re in Cooperstown the next two days, with side visits to Oneonta
Friday night and Binghamton Saturday night. On Sunday, we’re in Troy
and the Tri-City Valley Cats. Kids can have a catch on the field before
the game and run the bases afterwards, so we’ll get there early and
leave late.

Izzy’s report: The game was surprising. Rochester was winning, 2-0,
but in the ninth inning, Syracuse hit the tying home run. Then when
Rochester was up, first the guy got a double and a single and they won.
I was surprised that there were so many fans, and a lot of other minor
league games we went to on this trip barely had anyone in the stands. I
got another foul ball because we moved over to the Rochester side. I
can’t wait until the next game.

Minor League tour: Part III

Jonathan and Izzy Salant filed this report from their third stop on their nine-day tour of upstate New York Minor League ballparks, Dwyer Stadium in Batavia.

As a Mets fan, I find that the most frustrating thing about the team is that the players continually fail to deliver in the clutch. Yesterday, I learned that this failure extends into the lowest level of the minors.

The Brooklyn Cyclones, the Mets’ short-season A team, had second and third with none out and then the bases loaded with one out in the top of the seventh inning against the Batavia Muckdogs and failed to score in a 3-3 game. In the bottom of the inning, Oliver Marmol got a two-out single to break the tie and then scored on a double by Justin Roberson. In the top of the ninth, Josh Dew struck out the side on nine pitches. Final score, Batavia 5, Brooklyn 3.

Dwyerstadium
Dwyer Stadium in Batavia looks like a close cousin to the Jamestown Jammers’ home park. It’s a very similar design, with covered seats behind the screen and then a few rows of seats along the first and third base lines. For five of us, seats three rows from the field behind third base cost a total of $30. One of my Washington Nationals season tickets cost $34 for one seat per game.

One difference: in Batavia, the fielders still roll the ball back to the pitcher’s mound after the third out of an inning rather than throw it into the stands for the fans. At the end of the game, Izzy hung out by the Muckdogs’ dugout and one of the last players to leave did toss him a used ball. Izzy then used it to get autographs from the players as they walked in front of the stands en route to their clubhouse.

Today, we’re going to take in an 11 a.m. Rochester Red Wings game before driving to Cooperstown for two days of the Hall of Fame and home games of the Oneonta Tigers and Binghamton Mets.

Izzy’s report: Last night’s game was incredible. My favorite part was the big comeback of the Muckdogs. In the second inning, the Brooklyn Cyclones were winning, 2-0. Then in the fifth inning, the game was tied, 3-3. In the last inning, the Muckdogs were winning, 5-3, and when it was the Cyclones’ turn to bat, the pitcher on the Muckdogs struck out three batters in a row and won the game. I want to be a pitcher too and it was fun to see him work. I also got my third ball last night.

Minor League tour: Part II

Jonathan and Izzy Salant filed this report from their second stop ontheir nine-day tour of upstate New York Minor League ballparks, Russell
E. Diethrick Jr. Park in Jamestown.

For the second night in a row, we got a bonus. On Monday, it was an
unexpected doubleheader in  Buffalo. Last night, it was an extra-inning game in Jamestown. Both the Buffalo Bisons and the Jamestown
Jammers are owned by the Rich family. They also own the Wichita
Wranglers, but we’re not going out to Kansas any time soon.

Tuesday’s game was exciting. The Lowell Spinners went ahead, 2-0, in the
third inning, but Jamestown quickly tied it up in the bottom of the
third on a home run by shortstop Carlos Piste, just getting back into
shape after a stint on the disabled list. Lowell outfielder Rafael
Cabreja hit a three-run jack in the fifth, but again Jamestown came
back, scoring the tying run in the last of the eighth when Bryan
Petersen lined a triple just off the glove of first baseman Deshawn
Brooks and down the right field line. In the bottom of the 10th,
Jamestown had a runner on third with two outs. Then Lowell pitcher
Willy Mota walked the next two batters and hit Ben Lasater with a
pitch to end it.  Final score, 6-5 Jamestown.

Diethrick_park

The Jammers play in a park that doubles as the home field for Jamestown
Community College, and, indeed, the park was more reminiscent of
fields like Shirley Povich Field in our hometown of Bethesda, Md., home
to a summer collegiate baseball league, than other minor league
stadiums I have visited, including Harry Grove Stadium for the Class A
Advanced Frederick Keys. The crowd was sparse on a weekday night, perhaps
getting players on the Florida Marlins’ affiliate prepared for the
empty seats they’ll experience in South Florida if the team doesn’t get
its long-sought new stadium.

With such a small crowd, we figured we’d have no problem getting a
ball, and didn’t have to wait long. The Jammers’ manager and third base
coach, Darin Everson, fielded a foul ball in one of the early innings and flipped it into the stands where Izzy was waiting with his glove.
He made the catch. When the game ended and the players walked past the
fans into the locker room — no tunnel under the stands into a plush
clubhouse here — Izzy used the ball to land autographs from many of
the players and then Manager Everson. Izzy thanked him again for the
ball and then the manager offered to pose for a picture with my son. We
took advantage of his offer.

Izzy also posed for pictures with the Jammers’ mascot, a monkey named
Bubba, and had him sign his mitt right next to the autograph from
Keyote of the Frederick Keys. Alas, the gift shop didn’t sell a stuffed
Bubba mascot so his collection did not increase. Later, Bubba made sure
we knew he disapproved of Izzy’s and my taste in headgear — we  both
wore New York Mets caps — signaling that we should have worn the caps
of another Major League team that plays in the National League’s
Eastern Division, the parent club of the Jammers.

We’re off to Batavia (Cardinals) where I’ll be rooting for the visitors, the
Brooklyn Cyclones, the Mets’ short-season A team, on Wednesday night.
Then it’s an 11 a.m. game at Frontier Field in Rochester on Thursday
before we spend three nights in Cooperstown, with the days at the Hall
of Fame and the nights watching games in Oneonta and Binghamton.


Izzy’s report:
Last night’s game was awesome. They made great hits. My
favorite one was the home run by  Carlos Piste. At the end, I got an
autographed ball signed by half the players and the manager. I
can’t wait until tomorrow.

Minor League tour: Part I

Jonathan D. Salant and his 9-year-old son Izzy are visiting every Minor League ballpark in upstate New York, sandwiched around a trip to
Cooperstown and a youth baseball clinic during Induction Weekend. He
spent six years in Albany and Syracuse, moving to Washington, D.C., 20
years ago, and is catching up on all the ballparks built or renovated
after he left. Here is their first report:

Our goal of hitting nine ballparks in nine days was almost over before
the first pitch was thrown. No sooner did we complete the first leg of
our journey, from Maryland to Buffalo, than it began to rain. Our
schedule does not provide for any rain dates, so this was not a welcome
sign.

Nevertheless, we took the free light rail over to Dunn Tire Park,
umbrella in hand, in the hope that the weather would let up and we
could get a game in. What we discovered was instead of nine games in
nine days, we were about to see 10 games in nine days. The Syracuse
Chiefs and the Buffalo Bisons were making up an earlier postponement and
were playing a doubleheader, yes, in the rain.

Between the intermittent showers and our giant umbrella, we got to see
most of both seven-inning games without getting wet. It took some
getting used to, having the seventh-inning stretch and singing Take Me
Out to the Ballgame in the fifth inning. Buffalo defeated Syracuse in
the first game, and then batted around and scored seven runs in one
inning in the second game.

 
As with every Triple-A game I
have ever been to, we looked for players we knew, such as Andy Marte,
the key player in the Coco Crisp deal a while back, holding down third
base for the Bisons; and Wayne Lydon of the Chiefs, a former Mets
farmhand, who made a terrific over-the-shoulder catch right in front of
the center field wall, and then threw back to the infield to double up
the Bison runner who had begun on first base and already passed second.
 
Dunntirepark
Dunn Tire Park
is a beautiful place to watch a ballgame from, especially without all
of the advertisements that blanket other Minor League parks. I?m used
to seeing three tiers of ads in the outfield, those on the outfield
fence and two rows above that. Here, there were only a few ads on the
fence and no extra layers. This was the first of the downtown stadiums,
and the designer, HOK Architects, went on to design Camden Yards and
numerous other baseball stadiums.
 
As for the food, the
chicken wing stand was closed, as were many of the concessions on a day
that the crowd was sparse. But they did have beef on weck, another
Buffalo favorite.
 
Izzy collects baseball mascots — he has 19 of them — and his 20th
was a Buster T. Bison that he made himself at the Bisons? version of
Build a Bear Workshop. Buster shared a bed with Izzy that evening.
 
Tonight, we?re off to
Jamestown, and then Batavia on Wednesday, where I get to see the Mets?
short season farm team, the Brooklyn Cyclones. We?ll see the Chiefs
again next Monday at their new stadium.
 
Izzy?s report: I think
that the game had a lot of amazing plays. My favorite play was when one
of the Chiefs hit the ball and Eric Dubose, the pitcher, just stuck out
his glove and caught it. I can?t wait ?til tonight?s game.

Sandia Peak

One more look at the breathtaking view.

TRAVELBLOGUE: Albuquerque

We definitely made a right turn at Albuquerque for the Triple-A All-Star Game. The Isotopes have done a tremendous job hosting the 20th version of the game and Isotopes Park is a beautiful location for the game.

But it’s not just the ballpark that has made this a great host city. The southwest and the desert provides an idyllic backdrop to the festivities. Kevin Czerwinski and I had the opportunity to check out nearby Sandia Peak and the Sandia Peak Tramway the morning of the game. It’s the world’s longest aerial tramway. It’s 2.7 miles long over the top of canyons and forests. Once atop the 10,378 foot Sandia Peak, you can see 11,000 square miles on a clear day (and it was pretty clear when we were up there). That’s nine percent of all of New Mexico, for those of you scoring at home.

We tried to take some photos to give you an idea of the view, but they really don’t do it justice (check out the photo album on the left). If you haven’t been to this part of the country, you should make the effort. Come to Isotopes Park for a great time and be sure to spend some time exploring the nature in the surrounding area. You won’t regret it.

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