SABR 48, Us 1

Until this year, SABR was a faceless number-crunching organization. During baseball games, I’d hear “SABR-metrics” mentioned and obscure stats would display on my TV.

Only because the stars align in 2018 do I learn more. Much more.

Back Camera

SABR 48, the national convention, is scheduled for Pittsburgh in late June. My good friend, Mitch, invites Chris and me to stay at his place–less than 15 minutes from the downtown venue. (The three of us and others enjoyed UBT 10: five professional baseball games in five days in four different states. That’s why we call our annual events “Ultimate Baseball Trips.”)

As winter turns to spring, we research SABR 48. The full package is affordable, yet includes the D-Backs/Pirates game on Friday. Mitch and Chris schedule a few vacation days. I’m already off during the summer. Each of us become SABR members and sign up to attend it all.

Along with all of the SABR events, we plan to sprinkle in some craft brews and possibly another ballpark. Let the games begin!

Proportionately Perfect

Just as we can be any size, shape or gender to enjoy playing baseball, baseball trips don’t need to be epic to be fun. If you like epic, please see my series of posts in “UBT 2013”. That was two baseball lunatics scouring the country across 2,500 miles to see ten professional baseball games in ten different cities in nine days. Fulfilling? Yes, but treks like that take mucho planning and effort to be successful. We did it, of course, just as we had several UBTs before.

This, on the other hand, is a different kind of baseball trip: four season ticket holders, four games in one city over three days. To borrow Mitch’s phrase to describe this trip, let’s call it “Ultimate Baseball Trip … Lite”.

Binghamton, NY, is a leisurely three-hour drive north on I-81. It’s even more leisurely when you aren’t the driver. Due to the generosity of my friends and our proximity to I-81 North, I received door-to-door service.

We begin Tuesday, August 2nd, at 11 AM. Ruth picks up Barb and Sam at Barb’s house in Susquehanna Township. They swing by to add me and we’re on our way.

Along the way, I learned that you can pack a lot of laughs into a three-hour ride. We break up the trip with a late lunch at a familiar Perkins near Wilkes-Barre. Before we know it, we’re parking on Court Street in front of M & D-R Nuts.

 

 

Head East – All I-70 All the Time

Saturday, June 8 – UBT Day Eight

You know what they say about Ohio. It’s high in the middle and wide on both ends.

I have family in the Dayton area so I’m familiar with just how wide. Plus, a couple of our UBTs have covered nearly every professional team in Ohio. (I’ve only missed the Mahoning Valley Scrappers and possibly a new team that’s sprung up since our Ohio tours.)

Although none of this week’s driving has dragged, I brought along a laptop in order to share something with Mitch. Of course it’s baseball-related.

I’d been fanatical about baseball since Little League. Even considering our brief season, pickup games, whiffle ball, The Sporting News and the Game of the Week, I craved more. So I finally responded to the APBA ad (in The Sporting News) to receive a free Johnny Bench card. What better way to spend some birthday cash?

I still have that set and every season since. I’m still active in a fun face-to-face Master Game league called OOTL with about a dozen other local baseball enthusiasts.

I also embraced technology and play in some leagues using their computer version, BBW or Baseball for Windows. That brings me to my point.

The BBW version features Ernie Harwell doing radio play-by-play of your games! What better complement to a UBT stretch of driving than to play a few league games through Mitch’s truck radio?

I boot my laptop and arrange my starting lineup. Soon we hear Ernie paint the diamond picture with the Riegle Speakers hosting. Ohio’s girth never seemed so narrow!

Before we know it, we cross into West Virginia for a familiar grocery store stop. (If you’re unfamiliar with Pennsylvania’s laws regarding beer sales, think Dark Ages.)

Over the PA border lies Washington County. When traveling I-70, you can literally glance directly into the ball yard home of the Washington Wild Things.

Our hotel also hugs the Interstate as we’re perhaps 150 yards from the home plate entrance. This is where UBT 2013 will conclude.

Due to Washington’s proximity to Pittsburgh, two friends in Mitch’s face-to-face All Star Baseball winter league join us on the hotel patio for pre-game pizza and beverages. Chris was with us for UBT 2010 featuring both Chicago MLB teams and Milwaukee with bookend games in South Bend and Gary, Indiana. That had been our most aggressive trip prior to this marathon. We’re glad he and Jeff can share in our final night of UBT 2013.

The four of us stroll toward the entrance of Consul Energy Park. Our perfect evening of independent Frontier League ball is enhanced by the “Turnpike Classic.” The Lake Erie Crushers represent the Cleveland Browns while the home team assumes the role of the Steelers.

Consul Energy Park Pregame - Washington, PA

The outdoor stadium features artificial turf and dirt. Although bouncers do kick up some sort of cloud.

Bleacher seating is flanked by a picnic area down the left field line and a party deck in far right. The kids really enjoy the mascot as many families attend.

Steeler-themed giveaways highlight between-inning moments. The Crushers live up to their name during those innings, scoring early and often, coasting to a 9-1 victory.

Mitch's Popcorn Snack - Consul Energy Park - Washington, PA

The Wild Things load the sacks in the bottom of the 9th, but come up empty. No one homers, but Russell Moldenhauer strokes an RBI triple in the 4th.

We enjoy post-game beverages and baseball highlights back at the hotel before Chris and Jeff travel back to Pittsburgh. All that remains for Mitch and me is a good night’s rest and a leisurely Sunday drive to Harrisburg.

UBT 2013 gives us a lot to talk (and write) about. Our custom T-shirts, binders, photos and conversations keep these UBT memories alive. Thank you for taking this journey with us.
Brian Williams
From Deep Short

“Everyone Knows It’s Indy”

Friday, June 7 – UBT Day Seven

Getting on the road in St. Louis, we take a slight detour to grab a sandwich at a place recommended to us by a friend of Mitch. As we roll by shortly after 11 AM, there’s a line out the door of the small city establishment. The line continues around the corner!

The sandwiches must be as advertised, but we decide to forego the delay considering we have 240+ miles to travel before tonight’s game. The line of hungry patrons also reminds me of something my Dad’s been saying since I was a youngster: “I stood in enough lines in the army.”

We agree to catch a bite along the way when we stop for fuel. This must have been a day of reflection for me, because this seemingly small decision triggers another thought. Not just today, not just on this week’s massive UBT undertaking, but Mitch and I always seem to agree with plans … even when they don’t always go according to plan.

Having the same passion for baseball, craft/micro-brews and a variety of food plays a part, I’m sure. Plus, both of us consider ourselves fortunate (extremely understanding spouses, enough vacation time, etc.) to take trips like this, so we never sweat the small stuff.

We cross through Illinois. Shortly after we’re in Indiana, it’s time for a fuel stop — both for the truck and for us. We eat on the go, because we still need to get to Indianapolis, check in to our hotel, and experience tonight’s first pitch.

Lucas Oil Stadium from Hotel Parking Lot - Indianapolis

Our hotel is literally in the shadow of a huge domed building. Football fans may understand the use for this place (above). Our focus is on checking in, dropping off our bags, and walking to Victory Field.

Our walk takes us by a huge coal-fired power plant, which contrasts the clean, new look of Lucas Oil Stadium, but looms nearly as large. At the end of the block rests Victory Field.

Victory Field from LF - Indianapolis

The outfield gate at the corner of West and Maryland looks inviting, featuring brick and an iron gate to match its surroundings. The sidewalk is brick as you approach the entrance.

Just inside, an outfield concourse welcomes ticket holders with concessions and games. A spacious grass bank circling the outfield offers relaxing views of the action.

Families already begin to spread blankets in anticipation of Friday night baseball. Behind the banks and walkway is another roomy, tree-shaded area for children to play, safe from the action.

Mitch and I find craft beverages and an engaging usher on the concourse behind the Indians dugout. We also chat with a local businessman who enjoys the proximity of professional football and baseball with his son.

The concourse displays banners depicting players who’ve graced the current and former Victory Field. This modern version opened in 1996 yet rivals newer parks in many ways.

Former Royals farmhand, Mike Montgomery, takes the ball for the Durham Bulls. Another former Royals prospect plays right field. See how close you could be to Wil Myers?

Wil Myers, RF - Victory Field - Indianapolis

Montgomery steals the show, hurling 7+ innings of no-hit ball. Leslie Anderson and Shelley Duncan provide long ball support and a 4-0 lead, but four walks force Montgomery to the side after reaching his pitch count.

The pen and defense immediately unravel as the home team records a 6-spot in the 8th. Tony Sanchez ropes a clutch RBI double in that big inning.

This game represents the most baseball drama we’ve witnessed since Omaha. The Pirates AAA team hangs on to win, 6-5, sending nearly 14,000 fans home happy. On the other hand, Mitch and I strike out in search of food and beers.

We stroll past a couple of high-class places, one of which spills out onto the sidewalk. On the same block we enter the local Rockbottom. A late dinner, some Red Ales and IPAs, more baseball highlights, and a leisurely walk back to the hotel cap off another perfect UBT evening.
Brian Williams
From Deep Short

Day Four – Game 1

As you walk in to Werner Park, you notice a wide open concourse behind the stands. It curves behind home plate and up both base lines. Nothing unusual about that, except it’s really wide, which is convenient. Plus, there’s nothing overhead, so you see signs everywhere alerting you to beware of foul balls. With no warning, two boys near a concession stand almost got nailed by a foul pop behind the plate.

Plus, waiting in line presents opportunities for conversation. A friendly woman behind us notices our UBT schedule and chats with us. We talk about our trip, about Rosenblatt Stadium, about her granddaughter, (one of the school children who sang an energetic rendition of the Star Spangled Banner).

We take our burgers and fries (and craft draughts) to our bleacher seats beyond the left field fence, where we sit among various school groups. Apparently, part of their ticket package includes hot dogs, because their daycare teachers were handing out loads of warm wrapped dogs from large cardboard boxes.

By the time Xavier Nady homers to give the Storm Chasers an early 1-0 lead, the sun shines brightly, reflecting off the bleachers. Memphis Redbird, Jamie Romak, ties it in the 4th with his own long ball. I’m a little sorry that Oscar Tavares is still hurt, but the level of talent and Major League experience on both teams impress.
Werner Park Action - Omaha, NE
The Family Fun Zone, which seems to accompany all Major and Minor League parks these days, remains active to our right, beyond several picnic tables. There’s also berm seating in both left and right fields past our “Fun Porch” bleachers.

A crisply played, sun-filled Game One of today’s doubleheader allows for a more leisurely drive to Game Two.


Brian Williams
From Deep Short

More Fargo Treasures

As much as we enjoy baseball on UBT, we relish the opportunity to talk with folks along the way. Dawn Morton, a Redhawks usherette for 17 of the team’s 18 years in Fargo-Moorhead, asks us about our trip along the third base concourse.
Dawn Morton with Trippers - Newman Outdoor Field - Fargo, ND

The buttons attached to Dawn’s lanyard represent her name tags over the years. You’ll also find one button with a completely different name. That’s the name you’re to use if you have a complaint!

Ed FItzgerald with Trippers - Newman Outdoor Field - Fargo, ND

Soon after returning from the service, Ed won a golf tournament where he was teamed with members of the local television station. 30-some years later, Ed retired from that station. I concur from personal experience that your handicap can be a tremendous asset when seeking a position in broadcasting.

Ed casually mentions that he met Roger Maris and his family when Roger lived here. He also casually mentions that there’s a Maury Wills Museum under the ballpark. As rookies at Newman Outdoor Field, we would have never known.

Maury Wills Locker - Newman Outdoor Field - Fargo, ND

After the game, we say a fond farewell to Fargo, North Dakota. It’s time to begin the trek south to prepare for our Tuesday day-night doubleheader in two different cities.

The game cities alone span a 3.5 hour drive, but that’s merely the half of it. Literally.


Brian Williams

From Deep Short

Fargo-Moorhead Redhawks

Following a reflective and educational day in Fargo, we’re ready for baseball in another new park featuring another new UBT league: the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball. On the campus of North Dakota State University, we pull into the parking lot across the street from Newman Outdoor Field.

Newman Outdoor Field - Fargo, ND

The clean, brick façade looks professional and inviting. Some tailgating with a taste from Mitch’s growler of North Country Brewing’s Firehouse Red ensue. Then, we cross the street and climb the stairs to the ticket window.

Newman Outdoor Field Action - Fargo, ND

The level of baseball impresses, too. Crisp defense and solid at bats.

Pitchers dominate tonight as the Lincoln Saltdogs dent the plate just once in the Redhawks 3-1 win. Jake Laber (2-1) picks up the win, pitching up to 89 mph into the 7th. Reliever Nathan Kilcrease whiffs four of the five Saltdogs he faces before two more penners salt away the win.

As impressed as we are with the on-field and concession products, Newman Outdoor Field offers more. Much more.


Brian Williams
From Deep Short