Monday, August 01, 2005
The ninth inning
PORTLAND, Ore. -- Boy, it’s hard to know what to make of PGE Park, home of the Portland Beavers (Pacific Coast League, AAA). On the one hand, it is a genuine historic downtown ballpark, dating back to the 1920s.
On the other hand, it was treated to an expensive renovation a few years ago, during which the owners made some odd choices about what to keep old and what to make new. The old stuff includes a manual scoreboard, run by a trio guys roped to the scaffolding for safety and yanking a Willy Wonkaish collection of levers and ropes. You also get the old wooden roof that covers almost every seat and an odd layout that among other things sits the playing field well below ground level. Among others, this benefits anyone who’d rather watch through the fence than buy a ticket, a group that appears to include half the homeless drunks in Portland.
New things include an Astroturf playing surface (Blech!), which cannot really be excused by the stadium doing double duty as a soccer pit. There’s also an ungainly new stack of luxury boxes behind home plate, a design feature that has relegated the ink-stained wretches to more of a press terrace than a real press box.
But all in all, and overlooking the most boring concessions menu I’ve seen at this level (glad I grabbed a fried oyster sandwich on the way to the park,) PGE is a fine place to enjoy a ball game. So why does it have one of the worst attendance records in the PCL? I’d generously estimate that about a fifth of the seats were full Monday, and a good half of them were occupied by Cubs nuts rooting for the visiting Des Moines franchise.
Given the insanely easy access to the stadium by light rail, beautiful weather and the cutest mascot in the minors, I can only think it’s the lack of kiddie fun parks and the like that’s hurting Portland. Pretty much the only thing to do here is watch a ball game, which may be expecting too much of modern attention spans.
And with that, it's time for me to head home and start acting like a grown-up. This trip has been exhilarating, tiring, revealing and just plain fun. I caught 24 games by 22 teams in 16 leagues, and maybe the main lesson I learned is that this is one durned big country we live in. If I did another one, I’d pick one or two regional leagues, fly out and rent a car for a couple of weeks, saving the pointless fatigue of 500-mile driving days.
The other big lesson is that for me, baseball is dessert, not a main course. I got wildly bored and restless in cities where the only point of being there was going to the ballpark. The ideal was a combination of outdoor recreation during the day – biking, kayaking or hiking – and nine innings after dinner. I’m more proud, in fact, of my recreation stats than the baseball ones, particularly that I managed to kayak most of the major rivers in the U.S. My sturdy little inflatable kayak and I ventured out on the Mississippi, Missouri, Columbia and Rio Grande rivers, plus on Great Lake and a couple other mighty big ones.
And so one last piece of advice would be to combine the two if you want to do a baseball trip and concentrate on the Pioneer and Northwest league, which combine some fine baseball parks with some of the nation’s best National Parks.
Lemme know if you give it a try.
Saturday, July 30, 2005
The thing with feathers
BOISE, Idaho -- I was going to say that the most distinctive thing about Memorial Stadium, home of the Boise Hawks (Northwest League, Single A) is the pricing structure for tickets. Seats along the third base line and behind home plate cost $8. Along first base, it’s $2.
The guy at the ticket booth said it’s because first base gets the late sun, which seemed refreshingly honest compared with the pay-for-shade tactics at some stadiums, but kind of dopey. Hello? There’s this new thing called sunscreen? Might wanna check it out.
After taking my $2 seat (Hey, I prefer first base line, and I’m a sucker for a deal.) I discovered another possible reason for the discount – liberal sprinklings of bird poop from the resident osprey perched on the light pole in line with first base.
Yup, the Hawks have resident birds of prey, which club officials have had the good PR sense not to evict. Watching the big birds circle around their nest added quite of bit of visual intrigue to another typically error-ridden Single A game.
Made me wonder why the Hawks haven’t done more to promote the attraction. I imagine a Raptor Education Night, with concession stand selling some kind of stew or pasta dish labeled Regurgitated Fish Guts and souvenir vendors selling rubber mice on sticks to tempt the birds. And why not add a big sticker to the disclaimer on the back of the ticket, further releasing the club from liability for all wildlife-related incidents. (I got beaned with a rather large chunk of nest during Saturday’s strong winds.)