Fun fact: Although just 20 years of age, San Antonio’s Wolff Stadium is the oldest ballpark in the eight-team Texas League.
Funner Fact: For the first eight seasons of its existence, Wolff Stadium was the newest ballpark in the Texas League. Its descent from “newest” to “oldest” occurred over a span of just nine seasons; Midland (2002), Arkansas (2007) and Tulsa (2010) built new ballparks for previously existing teams, while Frisco (2003), Corpus Christi (2005), Springfield (2005), and Northwest Arkansas (2008) began play in new facilities after re-locating from elsewhere.
The Texas League, where change is the only constant!
I arrived at Wolff Stadium after a long drive from Midland, during which I got caught in rush hour traffic. I arrived at the ballpark around 6 p.m. (much later than originally intended), changed clothes in the parking lot, and then snapped this shot of the ballpark’s exterior.
Welcome to the Wolff, man:
Wolff Stadium is located across the street (more or less) from Lackland Air Force base. This base serves as the sole location for Air Force basic training, meaning that impossibly fresh-faced recruits are a common sight at Missions games. The sounds of planes flying overhead has also led some (or at least one) to dub it “The Shea Stadium of Minor League Baseball.” (At Shea Stadium, planes flying in and out of LaGuardia airport lent the ballpark a certain acoustical ambiance.)
I was joined on this evening by one Jon Fischer, a San Francisco-based artist who recently completed a piece in which I am depicted blogging sans shirt.
Jon and I went to high school together (Wissahickon Class of ’97, for those keeping score at home). He was last seen on this blog at a Modesto Nuts game, eating meat-stuffed pretzels. Here he is upon entering Wolff Stadium, brandishing a brobdingnagian team-logo mug that was the evening’s giveaway item. (I now allow myself one use of the word “brobdingnagian” per season. Look forward to seeing the word again in 2015.)
Some stadium views, captured upon arrival. Though it was a Friday, the Missions drew a lackluster crowd due to the fact that the Spurs had a Game 7 playoff game that evening. When you’re a Double-A baseball team, it’s kind of hard to compete with a championship-caliber NBA team in the same market. But what can you do?
The National Anthem was adorable. For maximum enjoyment, listen to this at least 145 times in a row. I did!
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) May 3, 2014
I taped that anthem snippet in the press box, a domain occupied by shadowy figures.
And while in the press box, I got my first glimpse of iconic Missions mascot Ballapeno. For more on Ballapeno and his arch-rival, Puffy Taco, read my MiLB.com article on the subject. I COMMAND YOU.
I also got my first glimpse of Alex Vispoli, broadcaster for the visiting Frisco RoughRiders. If broadcasters were ranked as MLB prospects in the same manner that players are, Vispoli would be high on the list. (Actually, wouldn’t that be a cool thing to do? But what methodology would be used? It’s a hard thing to quantify.)
My interaction with Vispoli was brief, for the game was ready to begin.
Following standard protocol, I did not settle in to watch the game. I commenced to wandering.
And in the course of that wandering, I soon ran into my designated eater for the evening (you know, the individual who eats the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits).
That’s Darren Smith, who drove in from Austin for the occasion. “I just wanted to see a new ballpark and shoot the [shoot] about baseball,” he told me. Smith currently works for an Austin-area summer camp that specializes in outdoor education, but in a previous life he worked for the MLB Urban Youth Academy in Compton as well as the Bradenton Marauders during their nascent years of existence.
After talking with the team, it was decided that Darren would sample the “Nacho Dog.” It’s nacho dog, it’s Darren’s.
Have at it, Darren.
Darren was less than enthused with the Missions’ culinary concoction.
“The chili’s not great, the cheese is okay, but the bread is the worst,” he said. “It’s rock hard and cold. [Ballpark sponsor] Mrs. Baird’s is a Texas brand and you’d think they’d use that. The only thing that makes this a nacho dog is the chips, otherwise it’s a chili-cheese dog.”
We then stopped by Tony T’s Ballpark Treats, a third-party vendor, and got their signature Ribbon Fries.
Darren was a fan of these, lauding their look, crispness, and overall flavor.
I loved these (gluten-free!) creations as well. Tony T’s is a winner.
Fischer took the above photo, and he took this one as well. It is perhaps the most succinct summation of my professional career that one can find.
Finally, we stopped by another third-party vendor: Augie’s Barbed Wire Smokehouse.
Darren, an expert when it comes to the Austin-area BBQ scene, opted for the brisket sandwich. He said that “In Texas, you know a place has good BBQ if they have a good brisket.”
Oh, and a Frito Pie was involved somehow.
Have at it, guys.
In case you prefer your images of 30-something white men eating to be of the moving variety:
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) May 3, 2014
“I’m pretty sure that the bread here is Mrs. Baird’s,” said Darren. “By Texas brisket standards, this is at the level of a Dickey’s [a BBQ restaurant chain]. It’s pretty commercial, there’s no burnt stuff or smoke lines.”
And with that we bid adieu to Darren Smith, a tough but fair designated eater. I then re-commenced wandering.
Some two decades into its existence, Wolff Stadium is in need of a little TLC. This metal fence could use a touch-up, for example.
And this isolated area, located behind the berm, was just a dump.
But for the most part, Wolff Stadium gets the job done. It is neither old nor young, just plugging along and maintaining its status as a San Antonio summertime entertainment staple.
Of course, the aforementioned Ballapeno and Henry the Puffy Taco are a big part of the ballpark experience. Here, a gaggle of children chase Ballapeno across the field.
I really wish I had been able to properly capture this moment. Ballapeno, in the act of waving to a young fan, accidentally slapped her in the face instead. The girl, more shocked than hurt, began to cry. In the below photo, Ballapeno is attempting to apologize, but, you know, it’s hard to apologize when you can’t talk.
But don’t worry about it, Ballapeno, as it was clearly unintentional. Get in touch if you need me to provide a statement exonerating you of any wrongdoing.
I was back up in the press box during Henry the Puffy Taco’s nightly humiliation. Not only does he lose every base path race, but the victor then stands upon him and gloats. Once again, my attempt to capture the action was subpar. (Everybody has their off nights, no matter what the job, and I had a blogging off night here in San Antonio).
Humiliated or not, Henry the Puffy Taco still loves to dance.
The game was moving rapidly, leading me to a sort of existential crisis. I’d been out and about and on my feet throughout, but what had I done? Anything? It didn’t feel like much, kind of like those recurring dreams I have where I’m at a ballpark in order to write about it but instead remain stuck in one place. (I really and truly have these dreams on a regular basis.)
But I wasn’t stuck, it was time to move. I had to get to the illuminated truth of this multi-tiered conundrum.
But all I found was that the game was over, and fans were now attempting to throw tennis balls into a chimney. Typical.
This was one case where people actually wanted to come down with the flue, but it was not to be. “Oh my God that was so close. Oh! Oh!”
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) May 3, 2014
Suffice to say that it’s been a momentous couple of days for the United States and the world at large, with the killing of Bin Laden absolutely dominating the conversation. Not surprisingly, Minor League teams across the country found a way to respond to the news. A brief smattering:
— The Bowie Baysox issued the following missive on Facebook: In response to President Obama’s call of unity and solidarity….the first 300 fans that enter the ballpark receive a mini-American Flag.
— In San Antonio, the Missions wore their camo uniforms as part of an impromptu celebration of the military. It turned out to be quite a game, too, with David Robertson hitting for the cycle as the Missions cruised to a 17-6 victory.
— In an email received just as the blog was going to “press,” the Northwest Akransas Naturals announced that Inspired by the bravery of the Navy Seals in Sunday night’s mission in Pakistan, the Northwest Arkansas Naturals would like to recognize and thank all military members – active and retired – with free tickets to any of the next four home games at Arvest Ballpark, starting Tuesday evening.
— The Altoona Curve offered free tickets to all military members, for games on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. Rumors that Steamer was part of the special ops team have not been substantiated.
The team also remarked, facetiously albeit accurately, via Twitter that “In honor of yesterday’s events, July 4th-born Jared Hughes will be tonight’s starting pitcher for the Altoona Curve.” While Hughes only lasted four innings, the Curve rallied for a 10-9 victory over Harrisburg. This put an end to their streak of 19 straight games alternating a win with a loss (!!!)
The aforementioned Harrisburg Senators are more than just the visiting team in this particular narrative. Yesterday the team made its own announcement: In light of the events of the past 48 hours, the Harrisburg Senators want to say thank you to the U.S. Armed Forces for all that they do….Beginning this Friday, May 6th through the end of the 2011 season all active duty and retired military, Air and Army National Guard, and Reservists and their family receive box seats for only $7.50 (normally $9) with their military ID.
One of the few games going on when the news of Bin Laden’s death broke was a tilt in Tucson between the Padres and Colorado Springs — on Military Night, no less. The team made the decision to announce the news over the PA, resulting in a memorable scene.
“We felt [making the announcement] was an important thing to do,” said T-Pads general manager Mike Feder. “We’ve made a major commitment to reach out to the military; we have very large Air Force and intelligence bases located near us, and there’s a huge National Guard presence as well.”
A more localized case of dedicated team and and fan support involves Bryan Stow, the San Francisco Giant fan senselessly beaten into a coma on Opening Day at Dodger Stadium. His plight has prompted an outpouring of giving, with everyone from Tim Lincecum to Charlie Sheen chipping in with donations to help support Stow and his family during this exceedingly difficult time.
But one of the most substantial and heartfelt fundraising efforts occurred within Minor League Baseball. Stow often worked as a paramedic at San Jose’s Municipal Stadium, and the hometown Giants therefore dedicated the entire month of April to him. Throughout the month the team raised $36,181, and the Triple-A Fresno Grizzlies pitched in an additional $7,181 after holding a fundraising night of their own. That’s $43, 362 combined, which was presented to the Stow family prior to Sunday’s ballgame.
Today, as with every Tuesday, brings a new “Promotion Preview” column. Super Nintendo, bubble gum, mustaches, formal wear, “Charlie Bit Me”, Tiger Blood cocktails, and more. Always more.
And yesterday saw the 2011 debut of “Crooked Numbers“, a monthly compendium of statistical oddities and curiosities. Or, as I like to call it, “an obsessive-compulsive labor of love that I spend way too much time on even though it gets no feedback from anyone, thereby making an already sensitive writer even more sensitive.” That title was rejected by the MiLB.com higher-ups, probably for good reason.
To that end, today’s post features my 10 favorite photographs from the recently deceased campaign. All of these pictures appeared on this blog at some point during the season, and are presented in the order in which they originally appeared.
Remember — it is better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all. Let’s all take a look at once was:
Snowpening Day — Freezing precipitation prevented the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers from playing their first scheduled home game, causing the players to release their start-of-the-season aggression upon hapless snowmen (note the Rattlers’ scoreboard message, a nice example of thinking ahead).
Catatonic Cauliflower — Jerry “The King” Lawler visited Reading’s FirstEnergy Stadium, leaving no doubt as to his feelings regarding rampaging vegetables.