The final team on my “Hill in the Desert” road trip itinerary was the Lake Elsinore Storm, that irreverent crew of Cal League contrarians and trendsetters. My day started not at the ballpark, however, but “Annie’s” — a popular local breakfast and lunch spot. I had been invited there by George and Ryan Bethell, loyal members of the Storm booster club and readers of this blog ever since the latter was featured in a post on fish tossing.
Upon being introduced as a first-time Annie’s patron, I was greeted with a handshake from waitress Wendy. “Ladies and gentlemen, we have a newbie!”, she yelled, and the entire restaurant broke out in applause. Then a lobster hat was placed atop my head. Standard operating procedure.
That gentleman in the background is Storm manager Carlos Lezcano. George and Ryan introduced him to me, a gesture that helped to facilitate my clubhouse interview attempts later that afternoon.
I then booked into the Storm’s team hotel, a refreshing change of pace from the generic string of interchangeable lodging houses I’d become accustomed to.
This place doesn’t have the greatest reputation among Cal League players and personnel (pitcher Dirk Hayhurst issued some strong condemnations in his “Bullpen Gospels” memoir), but it has been recently renovated and I found it to be completely acceptable (the excellent internet connection sure helped). But I wasn’t on the road to write about hotels (or to gamble) — I was there for baseball!
The Diamond sure is a great place to watch some.
Like all of the ballparks I visited on this trip, there was plenty of room to move on the inside and out.
Once inside, there is the feeling of being watched.
Those eyes are everywhere!
Even between elevator buttons
And lording over the restroom
The bathroom features induction lighting and waterless urinals, two of many eco-friendly elements to be found around the ballpark. The Storm have been leaders in this area, and are the originators of the “Going Green” promotional nights that have since become common around Minor League Baseball.
Green is one of many clothing colors available in the team store. The Storm have one of the best-selling logos in all of Minor League Baseball (read about it in my MiLB.com piece), and offer a dizzying number of eye-centric clothing choices.
Out of the store and into the open air, some shots from around the ballpark while waiting for the gates to open.
Concessions, where are concessions? Where do you need to be, if you want to eat? (sung to the tune of “Obsession” by Animotion).
Oh, here they are!
The Storm have a fully-operational restaurant on the premises — the Diamond Club. It was closed on on the day I was there due to the team’s “All-You-Can- Eat” Fat Tuesday promotion, but it’s a pretty swanky joint.
I was particularly interested in trying “The Homewrecker,” best explained via t-shirt.
Here’s concessions general manager Arjun Suresh pulling it out of the oven.
Team president Dave Oster, Suresh, and executive chef Steve Bearse marvel at their creation.
The four of us went to the vacant owner’s suite to give it a try. It was delicious! And since it can be easily shared, it’s a bit more justifiable than other recent over-sized items unveiled throughout the Minors.
But my homewrecking companions soon departed (to, you know, do their jobs). After an inning of solitary luxury in the owner’s suite, I went downstairs to watch a couple of innings with the Bethells. They sit just to the left of the screen behind home plate, providing fantastic views.
I had a tough time getting a good shot of it, but the Storm did indeed retire Wild Thing’s #99 as part of their recent “Sheen-Co De Mayo” promotion.
While with the Bethells, I witnessed two top-notch elements of the Storm game entertainment experience. First up was a skit featuring Thunder the mascot. He took the field in order to play fetch with the batboy, who decided to have a laugh at Thunder’s expense by faking a throw. This enraged Thunder, who stole the batboy’s shoe and ran into the dugout. The action then switched to the videoboard, where Thunder was seen abusing the shoe in a number of ways (slamming it in a locker, cooking it in a pot, attempting to flush it down the toilet, etc). Finally, the shoe was thrown out onto the playing field with the humbled batboy limping to get it.
I detailed all of the above because it was an excellent example of a team going above and beyond with their game operations. Even on a cold Tuesday night in a front of a sparse crowd, an effort was made to do something thoughtful, fun, and original. The little things go a long way.
My pictures of Thunder came out very poorly. Thankfully, George Bethell sent over this one. It is of Thunder and his Mom Thunderella:
Also courtesy of Bethell, here’s the Grounds Crew Gorilla.
On Tuesday, the Gorilla was upstaged in a dance contest by a younger, more nimble female gorilla (once again, my pictures were horrible). This enraged him, so he darted into the visiting dugout and then up the hilly berm area. At the top of the hill, he picked up a portion of the fence separating the berm from the concourse and threw it with all his might. The aftermath:
At this point I was thoroughly frozen (note to anyone visiting southern California in May: bring a jacket!), so I decided to visit announcer Sean McCall in his well-appointed play-by-play palace.
Most announcers don’t like to be bothered during games (and I can’t say I blame them), but McCall is uber-hospitable. “Soda, water, beer?” he’ll ask, gesturing to his fully-stocked refrigerator. “Make yourself at home.”
Two unexpected guests in the booth were the mother and aunt of pitcher Hayden Beard, watching him play in person for the first time since a disastrous outing in 2006.
Beard breezed through the eighth inning, to the relief of his extremely nervous family members. Afterwards, mom Vicki spoke with me about how she works as an official scorer in Australia. This is not uncommon, as women make up the majority of scorers in her country. “Men do the on-field stuff, women keep score,” she told me.
McCall is the dean of Cal League broadcasters, and extremely entertaining to listen to. He combines a polished and professional technique with deadpan, absurdist humor — the Harry Nilsson of Minor League broadcasters, perhaps. Sample banter, after a bit in which he shared notable sports moments that had occurred on May 17: “This day in history brought to you by me, reminding you to say please and thank you (pause) Thank you.”
The title of this post is also a McCall quote, uttered upon the conclusion of the ballgame (a 12-1 win over the no-longer voodoo-enhanced Inland Empire 66ers). It was indeed two hours and 43 minutes of bliss.
As for me, my time out west was approximately 190 hours of sleep deprivation and anxiety. But no complaints! It was an honor and a privilege and I thank everyone involved for their hospitality. I’m already plotting the next one.
But, for now, I am ecstatic to be back within NYC’s comforting embrace. And since my return, one of my cats has made a new friend.
Please get in touch, at any time and for any reason. Any reason at all.