Brian’s At the Ballpark Archives


At the Ballpark – Victory Field, Indianapolis, IN
July 24, 2007, 6:27 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

At The Ballpark: Victory Field, Indianapolis, IN


Indianapolis has a pretty decent little sports footprint. The reigning champions of the National Football League take residence in downtown Indianapolis’ RCA Dome. The NBA and WNBA’s Pacers and Fever, respectively, are housed just a few blocks away in Conseco Fieldhouse. The offices of the NCAA are also located in Indy.

 

Tucked between all of this sports bustle is one of the more critically-acclaimed facilities in all of the minors. Victory Field is barely a decade old, but has still carved out a pretty nice reputation as a great place to see a game. The stadium was recommended to me by several people whose word I hold in high esteem. Could this place really be as great as everyone seems to think it is? Let’s find out.


Concessions: A-

The concessions in Victory Field are good, and the selection plentiful. However, what you pay and what you get don’t really compare. I had a slice of pizza that was really tasty, but for $3.75, the portion was not big enough. Also, sodas in souvenir cups are $3.50 (Victory Field also has Diet Mountain Dew, which is a plus), which is okay, I suppose. The park also has ice cream (I strongly recommend the sundaes), grill items, a burger bar and Mexican fare, among other things. Be prepared to be able to get just about anything you’ll want, but you’ll also pay quite a bit for it.

 
Between-innings entertainment: C-

 

Were this a review of the pre-game entertainment, I would give this park an A. The video board ran highlight montages, accompanied by a pretty darn good musical soundtrack, then featured a brief magazine-style show on the Indians. These were nice touches…and then the game started. The in-game entertainment featured several performances by frisbee catching dogs, the always-lame Kiss Cam and the even more lame Flex Cam (this was so stupid I took a picture of the video board) and much less of the great musical soundtrack I heard before the game.

Sight lines: A

The “there is not a bad seat in the house” statement is way, way overplayed, but the game action is visible from literally every seat – fixed or not – in Victory Field. There is a concourse that completely circles the ballpark, and depending on your seat, you get views of the rather impressive downtown Indianapolis area or of the RCA Dome. The view is amazing, and is easily the best scenery I’ve ever seen beyond an outfield fence. Also, despite the fact that the concourses are really wide and the concession stands are facing the field, the club offers closed-circuit TV feeds of the game action at the stands, which is a really nice touch.

 

There is only one complaint to be made regarding the sights in the park. If you happen to have a seat on the first base line for a night game, be prepared to squint for the first five innings or so. The sun sets at a level where it is right in the eyes of anyone down the first base line. This is not something that can be easily corrected, but be prepared.

Promotions: NA

No promotions took place on this night. The game the following day was part of the Souvenir Sunday series at Victory Field.

Parking: F

I know before it is even said that not much can be done to correct this issue due to the layout of Indianapolis’ downtown, but it is a true pain to try to park around this stadium. There are several surface lots around the park, but if there is an event in town (as there was on this trip), forget it. I had to fight downtown traffic, only to circle back around downtown after just about every space downtown was occupied. The parking near the stadium is sparse, so finding a space can chew up most of the 90-minute period between the opening of the gates and first pitch. I would recommend parking behind the convenience store at the corner of West and Kentucky, as you can walk out of the right field gate and take the short jaunt up the street to your car, or staying in one of the hotels near the park (Courtyard, Holiday Inn Express, etc.) that offer reasonable parking rates.

Quality of baseball: A+
Considering the game was a battle of the Pirates and Rays’ AAA clubs, this is a pretty surprising grade, but this game was wonderful. My last ballpark visits yielded 62 hits and 40 runs combined in 2 games, but this game ended in a 2-1 Durham victory in extra innings. The game was won on a Ben Zobrist home run in the 10th. There were a number of really impressive players, including Indy outfielders Adam Boeve and Yurendell DeCaster, first baseman Brad Eldred (who homered for Indy’s lone run) and pitchers Bryan Bullington and Josh Sharpless and Durham outfielder Jason Pridie, catcher Shawn Riggans and pitchers Mike Prochaska (who was just called up before the game), Chad Orvella and Juan Salas. Sharpless pitched three innings for Indy, taking the tough-luck loss when the only hit he allowed in those innings was Ben Zobrist’s game-winning homer. I was disappointed that a lot of the fans streamed for the exits after the bottom of the ninth, but at least they missed Zobrist’s blast.

Overall grade: A

This stadium is one of the best I’ve ever seen, and with a few changes, could be perfect. The atmosphere in Indianapolis is of major league quality, and I think this city could support a big league club. Sadly, a lot of the ambiance of the park would disappear with filling in the outfield with seats and expanding the second deck. If you can get past some of the minor annoyances with parking, this is one of those parks you really need to endeavor to attend. The scenery is wonderful, the baseball is good and the atmosphere is fantastic.

 

How to get there:

With interstate 70 around Indianapolis being in a state of construction as of this writing, getting to the park is a bit challenging. US 40 (West Washington Street) runs behind the ballpark, and West Street passes by the outfield fence. It would normally be recommended to follow the directions from the club’s official website, but be careful with 70 under construction and many of the exit ramps being closed. It may be more advisable to stick with US 40.

 

You may also want to see:

  • The Indianapolis Zoo. This world-class zoo features a number of exhibits, including dolphin and penguin exhibits. The facility is located near the ballpark, so this may be something you want to include as part of a full day’s activities.

  • Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The Brickyard is one of the stretches of hallowed ground in automotive racing, playing host to both open-wheel and NASCAR contests. Much like Daytona, the racetrack is one of the featured attractions in the city, and if you are at all a racing fan, this is a must-see destination.



At the Ballpark – City Stadium, Lynchburg, VA
July 6, 2007, 7:07 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Lynchburg City StadiumAt The Ballpark: City Stadium, Lynchburg, VA


Part of the beauty of minor league baseball rests in the small towns in which it is played. While you watch games on television from Los Angeles, Chicago and New York, minor league baseball takes place in Kinston, Winston-Salem and Frederick. One of the better-kept secrets of minor league lore rests in the foothills of central Virginia, at the intersection of US highways 29 and 460.

 

The Lynchburg Mets went on a run between 1983 and 1986 that was unrivaled by any professional baseball team – major or minor league – of that era. The championship won by the parent Mets in 1986 clearly found its genesis in men that first walked the grass in City Stadium. These four years were but a small sample of a baseball history in Lynchburg that dates back over a century, with almost 70 of those years featuring baseball at City Stadium. Also, in the interest of disclosure, Lynchburg is my “home” ballpark, having grown up in this fair city and having the chance to play and attend camps on this field, despite my last trip to this park being in 1995. Can you really go home again? Let’s find out.

Concessions: A

One of the promotions on this night (more on this in a bit) was the “feed your face” promotion, which affords the ticket buyer all-you-can-eat pizza, popcorn, peanuts, hot dogs and hamburgers (only two items allowed per visit to the concession stand) until the end of the sixth inning. The concessions aside from those included in the promotion were of ample portion and reasonable price. The standard ballpark fare is available, but there are also separate stands for Dippin Dots, funnel cakes (which, by the way, I’m not a fan of funnel cakes, but this was easily the absolute best funnel cake I have ever tasted) and other items. The hamburgers were average, but everything else should meet both your palate and your wallet with satisfaction. Another item – and this is key – was that despite the expected lines at the concession stands on this night, they kept everything moving, and everyone was super nice. This is a theme I will revisit later.

Between-innings entertainment: C

One of the things I have always loved about baseball in Lynchburg is that the on-field staff always knows their place. A lot of facilities go for the cartoonish approach between innings, and Lynchburg has always gone the other way. Most of what went on was fairly standard stuff (dizzy bat race, t-shirt toss, frisbee toss, throw the ball through the hole in the board, the Hamburger Helper bean bag toss thing, etc.), but it was unobtrusive. I also give credit to Aaron Canada, who is part of the Hillcats’ broadcasting staff on the road and the on-field emcee in Lynchburg, for not being over the top in his presentation. The musical selection before the game was quite good, and I wish more of it had been played between innings.

Sight lines: B

This has always been somewhat of a bugaboo at City Stadium, and it is due partly to the quirks of the way the field is laid out. For instance, if you are in certain sections of the bleachers on the third base side, it is borderline impossible to track a ball hit into the left field corner. The clubhouses for both teams are down the third base line in foul territory, so this also limits visibility, while preventing the extension of the concourse much further than the third base coaching box. The first base side is a bit better in terms of lines, as there is a picnic section and a berm seating area with a walkway that extends nearly to the right field fence.

 

A lot of the other visibility issues are not known to the everyday fan, as there are things such as nets in front of the luxury boxes that cut down on clarity (these are required, as they are literally right on top of the action, and foul balls are hit that way at light speed), the near inability to see the right fielder from the third base dugout because of the layout of the field, and the angles from inside the press box creating some issues with tracking balls in play. The really disappointing part, however, is that the main entrance to the park is right behind the press box area, which does not allow for the “money shot” where you can see the entire expanse of the ballpark and the surrounding area. The hills and mountain areas near Lynchburg are visible behind the outfield wall, and the ability to see more of this would be optimal, but again, construction limitations prevent this from being possible.

Promotions: A

As mentioned earlier in the piece, the main promotion was “feed your face” night. The idea for this promotion came from the ballpark in Daytona Beach (ironically, I visited their park on a night where they ran the same promotion), and it turns out to be a better value than a souvenir one may just end up placing in a drawer or on a shelf somewhere to collect dust. The lines at the concession stands indicated to me how well this went over with the fans.

Parking: A

Unless you happen to show up at the ballpark on one of the truly high-traffic days (opening night, July 4, etc.), parking at City Stadium is pretty painless. All parking is free (which is a real plus), and there are at least five points of egress from the park. There are a number of big-city parks that could take notes from City Stadium’s methods of entry and exit. I strongly suggest using the gravel lot in the lower portion of the parking area for two reasons: 1) there is less chance of your car becoming accessorized by a foul ball, and 2) exiting the ballpark is considerably easier.

Quality of baseball: C
When writing this, I have to temper my expectations, and to realize this is advanced single-A baseball. That said, both starting pitchers gave up seven earned runs and neither lasted five innings. The teams combined for 20 runs, 29 hits and three errors. I came away impressed with a few players, including Salem outfielder Mitch Einertson and Lynchburg second baseman Shelby Ford and DH/outfielder Brad Corley. Corley appeared to be the best hitter on the field, and was in the midst of a double-digit game hitting streak during this game. In fact, I wondered why Corley was batting in the fifth spot in the lineup, but not having seen this team all year, I assured myself that there was a good rationale behind that decision.

Overall grade: A

If you like your baseball experience to be more baseball and less state fair, Lynchburg is your place. It is a market very much akin to a lot of other small markets in the south, with a loyal fan base, a cozy atmosphere and really great people associated with the team. The Hillcats players were really friendly with the fans, and this did not go unnoticed. The stadium has changed so much since I played there and frequented the facility, and the last vestiges of the park I knew remain in the bleachers down each base line. On one hand, I’ve always hated those bleachers, but they are a fine example of the old mixing with the new.

 

If your travels lead you to Lynchburg, be prepared for a nice night of baseball and some truly wonderful people. Hillcats Director of Broadcasting Jon Schaeffer is a real up-and-comer in his business, and he and his partner Scott Bacon do a tremendous job on the radio call for Hillcats games. Both men are very intelligent and well-spoken, and Jon has been super nice to me for years, starting with a feature I wrote on minor league baseball in 2005. Take a radio with you to the game, and tune in to 105.5 FM to catch their call.

 

How to get there:

The stadium is located at the intersection of Fort Avenue and Wythe Road in Lynchburg, and is accessible from either the James Street or City Stadium exits on the Lynchburg Expressway (US 29). There is ample signage from the highway to guide you to the park. Further, you can reach the park via a number of surface streets in the Lynchburg area.

 

You may also want to see:

  • Virginia’s historic areas. Virginia is a state steeped in history, and there are many must-see areas, such as Appomattox (the site of the end of the Civil War, approximately 25 miles east), the colonial cities of Yorktown, Jamestown and Williamsburg to the east, and Manassas and Fairfax to the north. Lynchburg is also 45 minutes or so east of the Blue Ridge mountain chain, along with the famed Blue Ridge Parkway.

  • The University of Virginia. The grounds known as Thomas Jefferson’s University are located in Charlottesville, approximately one hour north of Lynchburg on US 29, and feature the combination of historic architecture and a vibrant, modern college atmosphere. Be sure to stop by the College Inn for dining, and visit the famous Corner district. There are also a few areas to note along the drive, such as the historical references to Hurricane Camille and the damage she caused in 1969 as you enter Nelson County, and the inspiration for the 70s television show The Waltons in Schuyler. Charlottesville also contains the historic sites Monticello, Oak Lawn and Michie Tavern.

 

 



At the Ballpark – Durham Bulls Athletic Park, Durham, NC
July 2, 2007, 6:51 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

At The Ballpark: Durham Bulls Athletic Park, Durham, NC


You’ve surely seen the baseball classic Bull Durham. The story of Nuke LaLoosh, Crash Davis and many others chronicles a summer in the imaginary lives of players for the Durham Bulls. A few small inaccuracies aside (for instance, the Fayetteville Generals were not in the Carolina League at the time of the movie), the imaginations of moviegoers were captivated by this film. The ballpark in which the movie was set has now been replaced by a new facility in a rejuvenated portion of downtown Durham. Does reality live up to perception? Let’s find out.

Concessions: B-

There are a number of concession choices at Durham Bulls Athletic Park, and, according to a press release from the club, no trans fats are used. Of course, ballpark foods are not normally the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of one’s health, but this is a nice touch. I had a slice of pizza (Domino’s is the pizza provider of choice in Durham Bulls Athletic Park), and despite being $2.50 a slice, it was a decent size, and quite tasty. I also had the best Diet Pepsi I’ve ever tasted, even if it was $4.25 for a 44 ounce souvenir cup. Be prepared for a decent variety, and a higher-than-usual price.

Between-innings entertainment: C

I was kind of all over the place on the entertainment. The park went from the sublime (the character Patrick from Spongebob Squarepants) to the ridiculous (Bulls mascot Wool E. Bull driving around the field in a go-cart firing cups of Goodberry’s frozen custard into the crowd). Boston Herald writer Steve Buckley was also in attendance, and he performed several roles, including serving as guest PA announcer and counting down the fireworks after the game. Most of the entertainment otherwise was fairly by-the-book (sumo wrestling, mascot race, mascot dancing and the like). The one interesting bit was finding out from the on-field emcee (via the video board) what a mud hen was.
Sight lines: A

Despite the fact that there is no concourse ringing the field (this is due to the 32 foot “Blue Monster” wall in left field – though I heard at the park that they are working on a way to see the field from behind the wall), there are great views of the field from every seat in the park. There is a newly-added Home Run Patio in right field, and every seat is an actual seat, save for the berm area in center field. My actual seat was behind the Bulls’ bullpen area down the right field line, and my view of the action was still quite good. Another interesting wrinkle of the ballpark is the office building behind the right field line. There are porches in the office building that allow occupants to step outside and view the game. There is another office building being built behind the wall in left field that will have the same features.
Promotions: C

The aforementioned Buckley and Patrick appearances took place on this night, and Lucky the Wonder Dog (a dog that does tricks) was in attendance, as well. Lucky, for whatever reason, did not show up again after the beginning of the game. There were also team pictures given out as fans were leaving the park.

The main draw on the evening, however, was a post-game fireworks display. The display lasted quite a while, but was somewhat unspectacular, perhaps due to the ballpark’s surroundings. The buildings ringing the ballpark limited the display, and may prevent the ability to have fireworks in the future.

Parking: A

There are a large amount of parking options surrounding the park, including the most unusual one I have seen at a ballpark. There is a section outside the park for Saturn parking. Yes, if you drive a Saturn, you get special parking, and the parking is free, courtesy of a promotion from a local dealer. If you’ve chosen any other auto maker, there is the American Tobacco garage directly across the street from the ballpark, and a number of other garages and lots on the nearby surface streets. I parked in an abandoned condominium building across the street from a car dealer for $3, which is the same as any of the other lot and garage parking. The walk was short, and egress was easy.
Quality of baseball: B
If you like hitting, this was your game. Toledo and Durham combined for 20 runs and 33 hits in this game (won by Toledo 13-7, by the way…a key fourth-down stop kept Durham from scoring the winning touchdown), and several former big leaguers (Ben Zobrist, Chris Shelton, Timo Perez, Mike Hessman and Henry Mateo) had big nights at the plate. If you are a fan of pitching, you should be glad you missed this one. All of Toledo’s runs came in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings (six, two and five, respectively), and Durham missed a couple of chances late to make this an even more compelling game than it already was. Former big league relievers Seth McClung and Scott Dohmann pitched well in relief for Durham.

In other developments, Chad Fairchild was the home plate umpire, and I cringed when I heard his name called before the game. He made an embarrassing strike three call on Brian McCann as a relief umpire (which eventually led to his performing the record-tying 131st ejection of Bobby Cox) while one of the big league crews had a vacation opening, and he was every bit as bad here. He made a pretty terrible strike three call on Bulls second baseman Elliot Johnson, then took off his mask and got confrontational when Johnson dared question him about it. Fairchild’s behavior in these two incidents is an example of everything that is wrong with modern umpiring. Keep your mask on, keep your mouth shut, and do your job. I shouldn’t even know your name, much less get a visceral reaction when I find out you’re working a game.
Overall grade: A

I had really high expectations coming to Durham, knowing what I know about the market, and having seen Bull Durham hundreds upon hundreds of times. The park did not disappoint, on the whole; however, please indulge your humble reporter in making a couple of suggestions.

First of all, I sat in section 122, which is on the very end of the first-base seating bowl. There is only one way into the seats, as one end of the seats is blocked off by a railing. Therefore, if your seats are at the blocked end of the aisle, you have two options. You can either hop over everyone sitting in the aisle, or do what everyone else did, and hop over the top railing, then hop over all the empty seats to get to your seat. The ground crew sits in an area to the side of section 122, but the club would really be better-suited to get rid of that railing and allow another entry into 122.

Second, there are large, wide concourses in the ballpark, which are great…except when it’s time to get out. There is only one point of egress from the ballpark, and this point tends to back up as everyone tries to converge on one set of steps and head out the one exit gate. It’s a shame that such a comfortable ballpark is such a hassle to get out of.

The atmosphere of the park is really great, as the surroundings (the Lucky Strike water tower, the buildings behind the outfield wall, etc.) provide for a somewhat “enclosed” baseball experience. There are not a lot of ancillary distractions outside of the ballpark, which is really nice.

Finally, to whomever is running the video board in the wall and the music/effects – PLEASE, for the love of all that’s holy, stop with the deadly combination of playing music to incite the crowd while telling them on the board how they should respond. People know when to applaud. You don’t have to tell them on the board when to do so. Durham is a beautiful city with a great ballpark and intelligent fans, and I hate to see cartoonish stuff like this going on in a ballpark.

How to get there:

The stadium is located directly off the Durham Freeway (NC 147) on Blackwell St. The Durham Freeway connects with interstates 40 and 85 in the Triangle, and the park is accessible via exits 12B (Mangum/Roxboro Street). The park is visible from the freeway and all of the surface streets in the area. Directions with a graphic map are available from the team’s website, should they be required.

You may also want to see:

  • The triangle of academia. North Carolina State (Raleigh), Duke (Durham) and the University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill) are all within 15 minutes of the ballpark, and they all have esteemed campuses and successful athletic and academic programs.
  • North Carolina Zoo. The zoo is an hour and a half southwest of Raleigh in Asheboro, NC, and features two separate sections (North America and Africa) with many interactive exhibits and rare animals. Be sure to budget a lot of time – and a little bit of money. The zoological park is a wonderful place to take the family, see a number of creatures and get in a lot of walking (seriously, wear comfortable shoes – you’ll need them) at a reasonable price. The park is a bit in the middle of nowhere, but there is plenty of signage to guide you there once you get off US 220 (which is signed to become two future interstates).