Please note that this chronological blog narrative is about to go slightly askew, momentarily skipping past a memorable Thursday in Lake County in favor of a more straight ahead post documenting Opening Day in Mahoning Valley.
Yes — Opening Day. The New-York Penn and Northwest Leagues kicked off their 76-game seasons on Friday, bringing Class A Short Season baseball to the masses. The Scrappers are in the former circuit, despite not residing in either New York or Pennsylvania (as any follower of the Pacific Coast League can tell you, geographical designations can be quite liberal in the world of Minor League Baseball).
I arrived at Eastwood Field before the gates opened, and took in the calm before the storm.
It’s an idyllic setting, but don’t be fooled. The ballpark (built in 1999) is located behind a mall, and clustered among a seemingly endless array of big box retailers and chain restaurants. The drive to the stadium from my hotel wasn’t on any actual roads — I just took a right at the Home Depot, drove past a shopping center and movie theater and — voila! Baseball.
Here’s the view from behind the ballpark.
Soon after arriving, I did a series of interviews for a story on MiLB.com. As part of my ongoing quest to assure you that I am not “just” a blogger, I implore you to read it HERE.
One of the individuals I interviewed was Tony Mansolino, making his debut as hitting coach of the Scrappers after retiring as a player last season.
It was good to see Tony again — in 2008, I did a story on his children’s book “Dreams Will Come, Dreams Will Go.” It has gone on to sell 1000 copies independently and he is hoping for a wider release.
But this was Opening Day; the dream of baseball had come true once again in the Mahoning Valley. If you can come up with a worse segue than that, then I’d like to hear it!
The gates were opened, and the fans came streaming in.
Scrappy, the only chain-wearing mascot in Minor League Baseball.
Scrappy is prominently represented in the team’s logos. I was familiar with this design:
But the team wore this one, which kind of bites.
Take your pick at the “Pet Store”:
Scenes from the stadium, as the first pitch drew nearer and nearer.
Pitcher Kyle Vetter and outfielder Aaron Siliga were amiably signing autographs in the kid’s “Fun Zone.” I was surprised that Siliga was out there, given that he was in the starting line-up and the game was going to begin in less than 30 minutes. You’ve got to love Minor League, for that and 3.2 million other reasons.
Ceremonial first pitch…
And, finally, BASEBALL!
Baseball’s all well and good (the best, even), but I had a thick cache of Dawg Dollars burning a hole in my pocket.
I strongly considered getting an item that could be liberally doused with “Scrappy’s favorite sauce”:
Or perhaps that could be chased with canned tequila:
But instead I opted for the timeless combo of Warsaw Wings, Nachos Supreme, and Pepsi.
Warsaw wings are simply deep-fried pierogies drenched in hot sauce. Delicious, but not for the faint of heart. A closer look:
Dessert was courtesy of Handel’s, a very well-regarded (and delectable) Ohio-based ice cream purveyor. I opted for “Scrappy’s Favorite” — caramel flavored ice cream with chocolate covered bone-shaped pretzels (not to be confused with “Scrappy’s favorite sauce).
As the sun set, the ballpark took on a new character. One more nuanced and refined. Genteel, even.
The Scrappers ended up losing to the fearsome Jamestown Jammers, but that didn’t stop the festivities from continuing. Launch-A-Ball included human targets both living (an intern standing on the mound with a garbage can and catcher’s mask) and inanimate (a cardboard Grady Sizemore).
And this? It gave way to fireworks.
And once the pyrotechnics were complete, it was finally time to call it a night.
An endless expanse of asphalt awaited us all.
The final wave of Minor League home openers are taking place throughout the country today and tomorrow, with many of them qualifying as bona-fide galas.
The Reading Phillies certainly had a lot going on. The club rang in a new era yesterday, as fans finally got a chance to check out the many improvements made to 60-year-old FirstEnergy Stadium as part of a $10 million renovation project. Churgers were chomped, the mascot band rocked, and the first 3500 entrants received a “Ryan Howard Garden Gnome” figurine. But one fan got to take home a 550-pound life-size version. Behold:
And behold some more:
Meanwhile, the Omaha Storm Chasers play their first game ever at Werner Park
Update: In a disappointing but perhaps fitting bit of irony, the Storm Chasers had to postpone their home opener due to inclement weather.
The first 2500 fans receive welcome mats emblazoned with the stadium logo, and one of the guests of honor is none other than part-owner Warren Buffet. The Opening Day festivities started early this morning, with the Weather Channel broadcasting live from the stadium between 6 and 9 a.m. Say what you will about the new team name, but suffice to say that no national broadcasts would be taking place at the home opener of a Minor League team named the Royals (save for Will and Kate-obsessed British tabloid television, but they’ll broadcast from just about anywhere).
Another Pacific Coast League opener of especial significance is going down in Tucson, as the Padres play their first game at Kino Stadium after re-locating from Portland. The evening will begin on an emotional note, as the team is staging a stirring tribute to local heroes:
With Opening Night falling just three months after the tragic events of January 8th, the Tucson Padres will honor many people associated with the shooting. The following five people will throw ceremonial first pitches:
Colonel Bill Badger: Retired Army Colonel who helped tackle the shooter on January 8th
Daniel Hernandez: The intern who helped save the life of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords
Patricia Maisch: Tucson resident who helped contain the shooter after he was tackled
Roger Salzgeber: Tucson resident who helped tackle the shooter on January 8th
Joe Zamudio: Tucson resident who jumped on the shooter to contain him
In a similarly community-minded move, the San Jose Giants have dedicated the month of April to critically-injured fan Bryan Stow. Stow, who was attacked at the Los Angeles Dodgers home opener and suffered serious injuries, has been a familiar presence at San Jose’s Municipal Stadium.
Reports the team:
The San Jose Giants will collect donations throughout the month of April to benefit the fund established to support Bryan and his family with a special tribute planned for Opening Day, April 14th at Municipal Stadium.
“Bryan has contributed so much to the safe operation of Municipal Stadium. He has been the first person to respond to any injuries in our ballpark and has provided outstanding medical assistance to all of our fans.” said Jim Weyermann, President and CEO of the San Jose Giants. “He is a member of our family and needs our help and prayers. We intend to be there for him in the same way he has been there for our fans, hand in hand, working together to make sure that he and his family don’t have to go through this alone.”
One of the beautiful things about attending a Minor League Baseball game is that there is equal room for wacky and the somber. But when it comes to blogging about it all, I often struggle to find an appropriate tone when dealing with such disparate subject matter in the same post.
That said, I’d like to close the blogging week by bringing your attention to one of my favorite press releases of the year. In Tuesday’s post I wrote about the Lancaster JetHawks’ “Sweet Po-Tater Tots”, and the very next day this appeared.
Benjamin Hill, a national reporter/blogger for MILB.com, the official website of Minor League Baseball, recently included the JetHawks Sweet Po-tater Tots in a blog entry on premier new food items throughout Minor League Baseball.
That’s me all right — a national reporter/blogger who will now spend the weekend showing skeptical club doormen a crumpled print-out of the JetHawks press release.
“Of course I’m on the list. Don’t you know who I am?”