Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Melvin Grants Me Three Wishes

The 2015 Season Preview

Image by DoloresMinette used through Creative Commons license.

Two weeks from today, Melvin and I will begin the first of three trips planned for the 2015 season. Each itinerary responds to a comment I made. I have written before about Melvin's generosity and here is yet another example.

Our last three trips were beset by rain: the July 2013 sojourn to Kentucky, Ohio and Indiana and then through the South and Mid-Atlantic last year. I said to Melvin, sincerely in despair, "I don't think I can do this anymore." "Next year," he promised me, "we will go someplace where it won't rain."

Secondly, I remarked that I didn't want to leave the Montana ball clubs for last, after we had seen every other team. I also pointed out this may well be the final season for professional ball at Historic Grayson Stadium, in Savannah.

Three preferences expressed, three wishes granted. We are heading to sunny Southern California in April, Savannah and North Carolina in July, and Montana, Spokane and the Tri-City Dust Devils in August.

Chris, who joined us for a game-and-a-half in Maryland last year—did I mention rain?—will accompany us for part of the SoCal trip. David Bragdon will make most of the July games, and Watson will come to Montana.

Southern California

I don't remember if it was in April, while we were cooped up in our Savannah motel room as it monsooned outside. I recall us watching the Royals shut-out the Twins on Melvin's laptop since we couldn't even find a baseball game on television, eating pie from the Carolina Cider Company.

Or maybe it was in Aberdeen in July, where we were rained-out for the second night in a row. Perhaps it was in the motel there—the manager's office was so secure I wondered if we were safe as guests—that I told Melvin, it just isn't fun anymore.

Waiting for a sign in Aberdeen.

Melvin promised we would go some place sunny in 2015 and so we shall, at least for the early trip of the season. Home teams first, if the geography isn't familiar.

TU / April 7: Los Angeles Dodgers / San Diego Padres, 7:10
W / April 8: Toros de Tijuana / Sultanes de Monterray, 7:05
TH / April 9: San Diego Padres / San Francisco Giants, 3:40
F / April 10: Lake Elsinore Storm / Modesto Nuts, 7:00
SA / April 11: Inland Empire 66ers / Stockton Ports, 7:05
SU / April 12: Anaheim Angels / Kansas City Royals, 12:35
M / April 13: Lancaster JetHawks / Stockton Ports, 6:30

My former colleague Chris, who relocated to San Francisco in January, will join us for the first three games. He was in the stands with us when we watched an hour and 39 minutes of baseball before enduring a 2:22 rain delay in Baltimore.

The Orioles' grounds crew rushed to cover the field. The
team then waited as long as possible to call the game.

I should have written that blog post while I was still furious with the Orioles.

Savannah and North Carolina

As I mentioned, it didn't just rain when Melvin and I were in Savannah last year, there was a deluge. There was no chance the game was going to be played and that left the Sand Gnats a geographic orphan. But, as a strange little Huntsville boy once asked, "Whatcha gonna do?"

What could we do, but see how events developed. Maybe, we thought, we could return to Savannah when, no, if—the matter is still in court—if the Augusta GreenJackets get a new stadium. Then, Hardball Capital got the approval of Major and Minor League Baseball to move a team to a stadium to be constructed in Columbia, South Carolina.

Image: Populus.

Hardball also owns the Savannah Sand Gnats. League rules prohibit talk about moving the team to Columbia but company CEO Jason Freier pointed out the obvious last month. “Any team that comes here will have to come from somewhere else,” he said. "There are 120 minor league teams [from Low-A to Triple-A]. No more, no less.”

Jeff Wilkinson, writing for The State, had some unpromising truths to add:
"The Sand Gnats team, a Mets affiliate, now plays in historic Grayson Stadium, which dates to 1926.... It is the oldest stadium in the South Atlantic League and has none of the amenities of a modern stadium. The Sand Gnats last year had the second-lowest attendance in the 14-team league...."
[Update: May 21, 2015. "Savannah Sand Gnats to Columbia for 2016"]

So, despite the fact that Charlotte is 250 miles away, we're off to Savannah. I am all of a sudden reminded of our 2002 trip to the (third to) last year of the Montreal Expos.

SU / July 19: Winston-Salem Dash / Lynchburg Hillcats, 5:00
M / July 20: Savannah Sand Gnats / Asheville Tourists, 7:05
TU / July 21: Charlotte Knights / Durham Bulls, 7:05
W / July 22: Burlington Royals / Bristol Pirates, 11:00
then, Greensboro Grasshoppers / Kannapolis Intimidators, 7:00

Melvin is going to fly, I may drive, and Bragdon is traveling by rail. He will "collect some mileage," as railfans say, riding the former Atlantic Coast Line from Selma, North Carolina, to Savannah, then leaving from Greensboro for Raleigh. These are two of only five segments of Amtrak mileage that Bragdon hasn't ridden.

Image from the David Ramsey Map Collection
used through Creative Commons license.

Melvin and I never claimed exclusive rights to obsessive completism.

Montana, Spokane and Tri-City

It's a story I have told before, but I will tell it again. When I first met Rex Doane at a Blue Rocks game, he was left speechless by my question, "What teams have you seen?" Coco, his wife, explained that Rex had been traveling to see baseball for a quarter-century. She had been to over 200 stadiums herself, as of four years ago. Turning the question around, I asked Rex where he had not been. A: Montana.

[I emailed Rex to learn if he still had not been to Montana but did not hear back from him.]

Coco and Rex at the 2013 Futures Game, at Citi Field.

And therein is the genesis of my remark that I did not want to see every other team in affiliated baseball and then drag myself to Big Sky Country like it was some sort of obligation. While an aspiring dental floss tycoon might want to move to Montana, we will spend less than a week there.

SU / August 9: Grand Junction Rockies / Missoula Osprey, 4:05
M / August 10: Billings Mustangs / Idaho Falls Chukars, 7:05
TU / August 11: Helena Brewers / Ogden Raptors, 7:05
W / August 12: Tri-City Dust Devils / Boise Hawks, tbd
TH / August 13: Spokane Indians / Salem-Keizer Volcanoes, 6:30
F / August 14: Missoula Osprey / Grand Junction Rockies, 6:35
SA / August 15: Great Falls Voyagers / Orem Owlz, tbd
SU / August 16: drive to and leave from Bozeman

I haven't mentioned any of our non-baseball destinations but it seems warranted in this case. Our August itinerary is built around one of the few tour dates of the Hanford Site, a plutonium production facility built as part of the Manhattan Project and home to two-thirds of the nation's high-level radioactive waste.

Image by TobinFricke used through Creative Commons license.

I am so excited. I hope we get souvenir radioactivity exposure badges.

Mets and Cubs and More

No doubt, Melvin will walk over to Wrigley, although probably not until spring arrives, which this year looks like it will be some time in June. And I usually see the Mets once or twice, as well as their affilicate, the Brooklyn Cyclones.

Both franchises are ascendant. Buster Olney ranked the Mets' pitching rotation fifth best this year (before Zack Wheeler got hurt). The Cubs have the best farm system in baseball, according to MLB and Baseball Prospectus.

I may swing through Cincinnati, Fort Worth and South Bend, trying to see teams that Melvin has already visited independently. However, I make this vague plan annually so history says I probably won't.

I would also like to drive up to Binghamton to do some research, see the B-Mets and the Elmira Pioneers, or maybe Dunn Field is the real attraction. These two stops are a lot less driving than the Ohio/Indiana button-hook, so this might actually get done.

Two weeks from today? It cannot come soon enough.

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