One of the things I love most about Minor League Baseball — stop me if you’ve heard this one before — is how much the atmosphere can vary from location to location. No matter the league or level of play, you never quite know what you’re going to get.
I spent Wednesday evening within the vast crustacean-crushing expanse of Aberdeen’s Cal Ripken Stadium, but Thursday was a far different story — a jump up in the level of play, but a step back in time in terms of the stadium environment.
Welcome to Municipal Stadium, the 80-year-old home of the Hagerstown Suns.
I was immediately reminded of Kinston’s Grainger Stadium — covered grandstand seating, bleachers down the right and left field lines, and a concourse located directly between the ticket booth and the stadium itself.
And see that grandiloquent spiral staircase up there? That is how one gains access to the rooftop press box.
From this vantage point, I was able to get a prime view of the pre-game dance team performance…
as well as the ballpark’s rustic surroundings.
Just don’t look down, as vertigo is the result.
The pressbox itself is decorated with a beautiful baseball-emblazoned carpet…
as well as holes in the ceiling made by actual baseballs.
It’s a pleasant albeit dilapidated environment, one certainly not built to accommodate the hordes of media who descended upon Hagerstown earlier this season to cover the likes of super-teen Bryce Harper and 20-something extraordinaire Stephen Strasburg. For more on that check out my piece on MiLB.com.
Before the game I did my usual array of Flipcam interviews, conducting these riveting conversations just outside of the home clubhouse.
And while it’s not visible in the shot, that red circle amidst the retired numbers reads “Adenhart” in honor of Hagerstown native Nick Adenhart. The team recently held “Nick Adenhart Night” at the stadium, featuring a memorabilia auction to benefit the charitable foundation established in his memory.
It was September 1, and even baseball players thoughts were turning to football.
While visiting Aberdeen caused me wax rhapsodic about endless expanses, the Hagerstown experience is all about the intimacy.
The dugouts here are indeed unique, the closest to home plate that I have ever seen. On the home side (first base), fans can plop down their concessions on the roof and watch from there (an area generally occupied by host families and booster club members). On the third base side there is the row of dugout seating seen above.
While the videoboard was on the fritz, the manually-operated scoreboard worked just fine.
And further along the wall is the visitor’s bullpen, looking for all the world like a piece of outfield signage.
It really is close quarters all around. The following picture shows the aftermath of a between-inning promotion, with the contestants sidestepping fans and their concessions as they leave the top of the dugout.
This has led the Suns’ front office to get creative with some of their promotions — in one memorable instance, rubber chickens were thrown off of the roof to contestants down on the field.
My camera’s number one adversary is movement of any kind, but I nonetheless did my best to document this most unique between-inning endeavor.
While back up on the roof I took in the view from the so-called “best seat in the house,” a wooden bench just to the right of the press box entrance.
It wasn’t quite as relaxing as I would have liked. As I was trying to prop my feet up in a pose of exaggerated comfort, a foul ball was hit in my direction and slammed off the press box facade with a disconcerting smack. Suns broadcaster Bryan Holland, a veteran of such ball-istic missiles, seemed to be unfazed.
So back down to the concourse I went, the land of vague PSAs and emotionally absent vending machines.
There were discounted hot dogs to be had at the main concession stand…
but duty compelled me to visit Hartle’s Fry Tent.
It was wing night (six for $3), so I opted for an order of those — with a side of beet eggs!
The wings weren’t very good. But beet eggs — hardboiled, peeled and pickled — were a definitely worthwhile $2 purchase. And, like a committed proponent of a classless egalitarian society, they are red all the way through.
The light meal left me feeling like I had to visit the leftfield light pole, which was knocked down during a harrowing July thunderstorm (only one game had to be canceled, remarkably enough).
Here’s the new light pole location, with the old clearly visible.
Meanwhile, Thirsty Thursday was in full swing. It was definitely a bit of a rougher crowd down there — bald heads and tattoos amidst a thick crowd of cigarette smoke.
While hanging out amidst the Thirsty Thursday crew, I happened to overhear the most obscene conversation I’ve ever been privy to at a Minor League ballpark. Details are confidential.
Not confidential is the ballgame’s final score — 10-1 in favor of the visiting Lakewood BlueClaws. Here’s the winning team engaging in ritualistic post-game celebrations, a fitting final image from an evening largely devoted to taking things in from an elevated vantage point.