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Monday, March 14, 2016

43 Parks in a Year: July THE BIG TRIP

This was the month of THE BIG TRIP. I started my planning for the baseball Summer with this trip as the anchor and all the other trips grew from there. The goal was to visit every team in Michigan and I got 'em all. And I picked up a few in Ohio to boot.

In fact the first stop was in Dayton. I'd heard great things about the Dayton Dragons, but driving through Dayton itself didn't give me much hope. I'm sure there are nicer parts of town, but I think I single-handedly managed to tour all the not so great ones. Everywhere I went seemed run down and falling into disrepair. Then I got to the ballpark and saw the dragon-scoreboard from a few blocks away from the stadium (best scoreboard except for maybe Nashville's giant guitar). Then I got inside and the atmosphere was absolutely electric. They had every multimedia gimmick you could imagine going including an outfield wall which projected images of flames etc. throughout the game. Between innings they had the best entertainment, bar none, that I saw at any stadium. Instead of the tired, old games most places roll out, they had groups of kids running out onto the tops of the dugouts dancing to to Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy, dressed in 40's era uniforms. The crowd was into it all and actually watching the game. The seventh inning drain off of fans didn't happen. Heck, when the 9th inning ended and I left there weren't many people leaving with me. All-in-all, the best experience I've had at a stadium. Period. And, this is a single A team. I was dubious when the only ticket I could buy was a ticket in the grass beyond the right field wall, but the place was packed to the gills and once I was there, I actually felt a little lucky to get a ticket at all. While I was watching the game they were announcing that if you wanted a chance to get season tickets for next year you needed to apply now - and I'm pretty sure they were serious. Signs on the outfield indicated that they had sold every game since about the beginning of time. I intend to go back and watch another game this year, so I'm basically stalking the Dragons website hoping I can snag a couple as soon as they go on sale. Best baseball experience all year. If you get a chance, leave your job (vacation), leave your family (for a day or two), and go see a game in Dayton.

Next came the Detroit Tigers.  What to say? Ummm . . . Once I was in the seat it was okay. I honestly mistook this stadium for one of the old 70's era stadiums that was built to be converted for multiple uses. I just figured Detroit was too cash strapped to build a new one. Thankfully, I didn't raise this point with anybody sitting around me (I was later informed that this was one of the "new" stadiums built to replace the old 70's ones). The concourses are a disaster zone. Apparently, they didn't build in enough concession stands so every square inch along the back of the seats (where most nicer stadiums place places to stand, eat, and watch the game) was filled with kiosks selling food. There was a food court away from any place you could see any of the game (where I got ripped off when the kid took my money at the counter and disappeared). It had TV's set up so you could watch - not a single one of which was on.  And I haven't had to stand in that long a line to use the restroom since the last time I went to a game at Riverfront (the Reds' old, 70's era stadium). There were some cool statues out past the outfield wall including Ty Cobb (probably the greatest player of the dead-ball era) sliding in with his spikes up. And the outside of the stadium is cool too, with sculpted Tigers on the walls and giant ones outside the gates.

The Lansing Lugnuts: Cool logo (yes, I know it's a bolt), nice enough stadium (named after a law school). The only problem was that the "front row" seats I had bought didn't actually put me behind the screen where I could watch the game. Nope, they put me behind a pit about 4-5 rows back where I got to spend the game watching bored teenagers shepherding excited younger kids in the pit each inning as they waited to play whatever the between innings game was going to be. It was not conducive to watching the game.

The Great Lake Loons: I don't know where Midland, Michigan is exactly, but I do know that I drove through a lot of farmland and country roads to get there (following my phone's GPS). It was well worth it. The stadium is unique, the people were friendly, and I enjoyed it. The stadium is one of the rare ones where you enter through the outfield. As soon as you do you are faced with a firepit.I think there was another one at the far side of the outfield and there was a big fireplace back in the concourse behind the plate. I asked one of the kids working whether there was some symbolic meaning or if it just gets that cold here.  He grinned at me and said "It just gets that cold here." It took we a while to realize that the strange noise they were playing at important game events was a loon's cry, but once the fog of my ignorance cleared I thought it was unique and pretty cool.  About halfway through the game I went up to get a beer  and stood at a table the rest of the game behind the top row of seats talking to a couple of local guys. It was a good experience. If I'm ever up in Michigan again this is a place I'd go back to.

Traverse City Beach Bums:  Traverse City has the most unique stadium I think I've seen. The back side of the stadium where you enter looks like a giant beach house or apartment. They have beach chairs in the reserved seating areas.

Beyond that, this game had the best ending I saw all year. Down by a run in the 12th, the home team Beach Bums had two outs and a man on first. It looked like the home team was finished. Then, the batter tagged a long line drive. The right fielder got to the fence and leapt as high as he could. The ball went directly over the outstretched glove by a couple inches, giving the Bums a one run victory. It was a heck of a way to end a game.

The West Michigan Whitecaps: Good game; decent stadium. The main thing I remember is being really bugged by the number of fans (the stands were almost full) and not anybody wearing Whitecaps stuff. Instead, they were all wearing Detroit Tigers stuff (they are part of the Detroit organization). Even the souvenir store seemed to be 40% filled with Tiger merchandise. Yeesh, I know the logo's not great, but you'd expect some of the loyal fans to wear it anyway.

The Toledo Mud Hens: Yeah, those Mud Hens. The one's Corporal Klinger used to talk about all the time on MASH. This may be the second most well known minor league club (behind the Durham Bulls) partly because of the TV show and partly because they are one of the oldest franchises around.  I was there for a double header. In the first game they dressed in old-timey uniforms and the scoreboard had an oldish monochrome brown tint. Then they came out with futuristic costumes (apparently the future will be garish and in bad taste). My best memory of the day was going through the souvenir shop trying to figure out which hat I was going to buy. After a lengthy internal debate, I got the one with the modern chicken head logo.

The Columbus Clippers: I'll admit it, I don't get the Clippers' logo. I stood in the souvenir shop (once I found where was hidden back behind the outfield) just staring at the items covered with double masted sails. Eventually, I pulled up a map on my cell phone just to make sure and Columbus is completely land locked. Not a port or ship within at least 100 miles. I'm confused . . .

However, beyond the strange logo, the stadium is pretty sweet. I had a ticket on the third base side out in right field, but I never actually sat in my seat. First, it was a hot day and I would have baked out there. Second, the whole area around my seat seemed to be filled with 8-12 year old boys. Maybe somebody's little league was taking advantage of an afternoon game? Anyway, before the game even started, I found a seat on the right field wall where they have a long bar and high chairs set up on a first come first serve basis. It was a great seat to watch the game and once you got a seat the usher assigned to the area would even hold it for you when you went to get something to eat. I sat chatting with a local guy throughout the game and it was a pleasant afternoon.

And then came the 5 hour drive back and so endeth THE BIG TRIP.

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