Please allow a slight detour as I explain why.
Longtime readers of the blog have probably figured out that my health has not been the greatest over the past few years. In late 2016 I was diagnosed with kidney disease right as my Cubs were charging into the World Series. I had to go to a center and receive a dialysis treatment 3 days a week. That adds up.
Then, this spring, my doctors decided that I was able to continue my dialysis at home. The good part was not having to travel to the center several times a week. The bad part was that this type of dialysis took about 8 hours and sapped my energy. I could barely find it in me to eat, let alone go out to a game, surrounded by people in an environment that I have always considered to be high energy for myself.Recently I was approved for a dialysis machine, that allows me to do the entire treatment overnight as I sleep. It is much less intense and I mostly feel good afterwards when I wake up. This allows me a return to a relatively normal schedule, which means that one of the first things I wanted to do was get out to the ballpark!
My lovely wife, Lauren, and I picked a day off of work for her and began planning a game. Initially we were going to return to Lancaster to see the Jethawks, but shortly before gamely I started hearing some interesting rumors. It seemed that the injured, Mike Trout was getting ready to start his rehab and would begin working out with the 66ers.There were no guarantees that he would play right away but I’m a gambling man and bought 2 tickets for the first date that the Angels said would be his earliest return. I figured he would at least be working out with the team so we could watch him hit in batting practice and who knows? Maybe he’d be up for signing autographs.
Mike is a great signer at home in Anaheim, literally minutes away from my home, but luck has never been with me when he is signing and I’ve always missed out. A smaller ballpark, like San Manuel Stadium, home of the 66ers seemed to provide a much better opportunity.
So Lauren and I packed up baseballs, camera gear and a pretty sweet mix CD by me and headed up to San Bernardino. Along the way we stopped in to the Inland Empire’s favorite fast food, Baker’s Drive-Thru, and grabbed a couple of burgers for lunch.
I was afraid that the detour to Baker’s might throw off our timing to reach the ballpark, but we got there approximately 45 minutes before they were set to open the gates, which was an hour prior to first pitch.
It seems others had heard about the return of Mr. Trout (who the Angels had confirmed WOULD be playing that night.) There was a sea of #27 Angels jersey in the line, which appeared to be at least 100 people deep. By the time the gates opened, that number had at least tripled.After getting my bag checked I hobbled down to the third base side of the park and joined a mass of humanity with the same dreams of getting an autograph from Mr. Trout as I did. Having been in guest control in a former life I truly felt bad for the usher who was trying to keep the aisles clear for people who actually had tickets in the general vicinity. He was very kind and never lost his cool, so props to Darrell of the 66ers!
We stood. And we waited. Not only had Mike not come out by approximately 20 minutes to game time, but suddenly there was the announcement that strikes fear into the heart of all stadium autograph seekers.
“At this time we ask that you please return to your assigned seats.”
Honestly, I would have, but I was literally stuck in a mob of people with no way out. Darrell was not pleased that no one was leaving. I’m sorry Darrell!By this time Mike had come out and after signing autographs for the Little League team that was being honored on the field, headed down the left field line to warm up.
With the announcement having been made and the fact that it was mere minutes from the first pitch I figured I would have to chalk this up to a ‘close but no cigar’ encounter, but I was still trapped next to the dugout in a hot, sweaty mass of humanity.And then it happened. Mike came down to our little section and began signing. He mostly hit up the kids, but I’m not ashamed to say that I was able to hand over my baseball and get it back signed. I didn’t push, I didn’t cheat and I didn’t screw over any kids. I was pretty pleased with my quarry. Anything else that happened this night would be mere icing on the cake.
I found Lauren who had cooled down with a shave ice while I was Trout fishing and we got a lemonade to cool me down and found a nice shaded picnic area in which to relax. We rested and I rushed down to try to get some photographs of Mike’s first at-bat.In addition to being Mike Trout Day (unofficial) it was a celebration of SPAM’s 80th birthday (official). I love SPAM. Lauren likes SPAM. It seemed natural that we would enjoy some of the SPAM-centric snacks available. I was getting hungry again, so Lauren went exploring and reported back with the specialty SPAM menu. I felt that the “Grilled Cheesy Bacon Melt,” described as “Thick slabs of griddled Texas Toast loaded with bacon, cheese, more bacon and even more cheese!” with an addition of diced SPAM would hit the spot and the SPAM musubi would also be a nice treat. This is the point where the wheels fall off of our lovely adventure.
It seemed to me that Lauren had been gone a while, like 3 innings at least, and I was beginning to worry when my fast dying cell phone buzzed at me and I got a text saying “Still waiting.” She made it back to me shortly thereafter, and was obviously not happy.
We don’t know why, but it took over 40 minutes to make my sandwich. There was no warning that this was going to be an issue, and most appallingly, there was no apology for the wait afterwards. Not even an obviously false one. In addition, the musubi and bottle of water we ordered was given to her upon paying. The water had 40 minutes to warm up and the musbui had the same amount of time to cool down and slightly congeal. Lauren was not the only one with this problem. There were several others at the stand livid about the treatment and many cancelled their orders and demanded refunds.
I understand that this is a Class-A ballpark. I understand that the SPAM items are a specialty and that the high school kids in the concession stands are probably not overly familiar with them. I do NOT understand where an “I’m sorry for your wait” or even some indication that what was happening was unacceptable was never offered. I’m not saying offer a discount or comp the food or anything like that. However, a bit of human decency is not difficult to muster up and, to me, seems like an automatic response.
This experience cast a very negative light over our whole time at the ballpark and will likely color any future visits; but it doesn’t matter to the concessionaires. They’re just high school kids working for minimum wage and couldn’t care less if their attitudes cost the team, or at least their concession stand, customers. It was just a shame.That being said, the sandwich was delicious. Tons of orange American cheese melted on standard white bread with little jewels of bacon and SPAM sprinkled throughout and decorating the top. I destroyed the thing. Might have considered another if I thought I could get it before the game ended. The musubi was a bit of a disappointment. As stated earlier, it had gotten cold and the rice began to solidify as the SPAM was disintegrating into a cold grease bomb. We were only able to eat a few bites. The warm water was wet and that was all we asked of it, though a cool drink would have been nice.
We decided to leave the picnic area at this point and look around the stadium itself. It was a nice little ballpark that to me was very reminiscent of an MLB Spring Training facility.
As we walked past one particular point of the concourse there was a line of people, probably 40-50 deep. Lauren asked me what was going on, and I was stumped for a minute and then my brain clicked.“They are out here waiting for Mike Trout to leave after the game!” I said. Considering that he was only at that point coming up for his final at-bat and then would have to shower, get ready to go and likely handle some media requests, those folks were in for a long wait. I hope they did well.
The team store was nice. It had a pretty decent selection of things, including a Mike Trout 66ers shirsey, but my wife says I have too many t-shirts already (I do) and nothing else in the store particularly struck my fancy. There were some nice hats, but at the price point, I’m not sure I would have gotten the value out of wearing them, so we left the shop empty-handed. I was also surprised to not see any game-used items for sale. Usually team shops will have a bucket of cracked game-used bats and maybe a few other items, but there were none to be found.It was at about this time that we decided to head out, so we took a few last photos and headed to the car.
Overall, I achieved what I came to do and the ballpark itself was nice and had a very strong community vibe. A lot of the fans seemed to know each other and spent a lot of time visiting with each other and catching up on life. There was a very positive energy that I enjoyed.
Sadly the food incident really did color the entire evening, but we are willing to revisit San Manuel Stadium, perhaps on a normal weeknight when one of the greatest players in the MLB isn’t in town and see what kind of experience we have then.I’m hoping to be able to add some more entries on here soon, so until next time, keep trippin’ baseballs! As always, my full complement of photos can be found here
Addendum as of Friday morning. After I contacted the 66ers with my concern they reached out to me and not only apologized for the behavior of the employees, but gave a reasonable explanation as to why the food took so long (They knew it would be time-consuming so it was scheduled on a Wednesday night,which is traditionally slow…and then Mike Trout happened.) They invited us back to a game to get a full experience and I will look forward to taking them up on that. Thank you, 66ers for your prompt and satisfying customer service.
When last we left, Lauren had proposed some interesting questions as to what we were going to do on our last full day of this year’s baseball odyssey. She was curious as to where the Cubs were playing and I told her they would be in Cincinnati on Monday night. She thought about it for a moment and resignedly told me that she had been considering either renting a car and driving or even taking a flight in, but since it was a night game, the timing would be difficult to get us back and packed to depart early on Tuesday.
I next decided to see if the Brewers were at home, but sadly, they were not, so Miller Park was out of the running for us. Flash back to Christmas a few years ago when Lauren got me a Fort Wayne TinCaps cap. I enjoy collecting interesting minor league hats and we had a friend who grew up in Fort Wayne and it became a bit of a joke to us. I mentioned, jokingly, that we should go catch a TinCaps game. Lauren asked how far it was to drive. It was about 3 hours each way and that sealed it. We were going to Indiana.
Our trip to the heartland wasn’t first on our agenda, though. First we were touring Wrigley Field. The tours are always advertised during Cubs games and, of course, I knew that we would have to do it when we were visiting Wrigley. Our guide was great. Very knowledgable and enthusiastic, he would not have been out of place working at Disneyland. I even learned a few fun stories about the ballpark’s history. I think Lauren and I were starting to bother the “guest wrangler,” who accompanied our tour to ensure that no one got left behind, because we were constantly stopping to take pictures and compose nice shots and adjust our settings. We got to see the broadcast booth, sit in the press box, visit both the home and away clubhouses and sit in the dugout. And then…and then I got to do the thing that I have wanted to do since I was 9 years old and I stood on the field. I stood on the same field as Ryne Sandberg, Ron Santo, Ernie Banks and Greg Maddux. It was so very surreal.
Following the tour, we did a lap around the stadium, in order to get pictures of all of the statues that reside around Wrigley. There are currently only 4, but I hope that there will be many more added in the coming years. The Cubs have a long history of which to be proud (No 1908 jokes!) and players that deserve to be honored.
Once we finished the tour, it was off to Indiana!
I’m sure that many people spend the final days of their vacations in a city as multi-faceted and interesting as Chicago by driving 3 hours into Indiana to watch a Class-A minor league baseball game, right? It’s totally rational.
If this surprises any readers in the slightest, you clearly don’t know Lauren or I. We booked a car as soon as we returned to the hotel to be picked up the following morning and returned on Tuesday at the airport. Now we no longer needed to lug our belongings through Wrigleyville to the El station. Two birds, one stone, you know.
We picked up the car and were on our way. It was nice taking Lake Shore Drive out of the city and seeing many of the landmarks that we had seen on foot days earlier. Right outside the city, we stopped at a WalMart for some snacks and other necessities, and it was here that I got my first bit of anti-Cubs harassment. While neither the TinCaps, nor the Great Lakes Loons were affiliated with the Cubs, I was wearing my heavy Cubs jacket, since it was rainy and cold. As we were walking into the store, a man stopped his car right in front of us to yell “The Cubs suck!” and cackle as he drove off. This was an old man, mind you.
The rest of the drive was fairly non-eventful, though we did amuse ourselves by looking at the fast food restaurants in the Midwest that aren’t available on the West Coast. We are real connisseurs of culture. That being said, I will recreate our drive through Indiana.
We did that for 3 hours.
There was a bit of excitement when we were about an hour or so outside of Fort Wayne. We looked at the car clock and it was only 30 minutes until game time. We were absolutely gutted that we had made such an effort to get there and would still miss part of the game. Gutted until I realized that Indiana didn’t adhere to the status quo that is “daylight savings time,” and we still had plenty of time to reach Parkview Field.
The weather wasn’t looking terrific as we approached the stadium and I was silently praying that we didn’t make this trip to see half an inning of baseball and a rainout. I was reassured by some of the fine Indianans that it would take a flood of Biblical proportions for the game to be rained out, so we purchased our tickets with confidence. $8 got us seats in the front row right next to the TinCaps bullpen, where we saw Padres 2013 3rd round draft pick, Bryan Verbitsky warm up for his first start.
The weather was frigid, and while there was very little in the way of actual rain, the cold kept people away and honestly, there were probably less than 200 fans in attendance. I’m not complaining, it was kind of fun and made me feel like I had the run of the ballpark, which, by the way, was quite nice.
Obviously being a Class-A park, it is going to be intimate, which is something that I really like, and the TinCaps certainly embrace their connection to Johnny Appleseed with apple-themed everything, which made for some wonderful in-game food offerings.
We had the apple crisp and the apple wontons and both were outstanding. Warm and apply and the crisp even came in a mini-TinCaps batting helmet! What more could a guy ask for??
The team store, called The Orchard, even had a fake apple tree standing right in the middle of the store. What a store it was, too. It had significantly more merchandise and better quality than many MLB team stores that I have visited, putting the White Sox store we had seen the day prior to shame. We both ended up getting t-shirts to represent the most eclectic part of our trip.
After our apple snacks and shopping we walked around the whole park and took in all of the little details, including the treetop seating area and the large expansive lawn beyond the outfield fences. What little rain there was had decided to appear at this point and even the most hardy of fans were leaving. Not us, though. We wanted to get our full $8 worth! We even found Johnny TinCap and got our photos with him.
Also during our wanderings we wound up talking to an usher about our trip and how we managed to be so far from both our temporary home in Chicago and our real home in California. He asked us if we would be attending the game on Tuesday, and we had to tell him that we were just in town for one game. He seemed disappointed, but I reassured him that the ballpark and the team were leaving us with a very favorable opinion.
As far as the game was concerned, well, things weren’t pretty. The TinCaps ended up losing 7-3 and sitting as close to the action as we were, we could hear the frustration of the TinCap hitters returning to the bench. Quite a bit of salty language was being thrown around.
The inevitable happened. The TinCaps took the loss and we left Parkview Field, for quite possibly our one and only visit.
The field is quite nice and well taken care of. The staff were all in very good spirits and seemed to value the fan experience, which we appreciated. The food was great and I only regret that I had but one stomach in which to fill with apple-based goodies. The entire experience was wonderful and it speaks highly of the Padres organization in general that both low minor league teams that I have visited within their organization (the Lake Elsinore Storm) have been such positive fan experiences.
The drive back to Chicago seemed much faster and we stopped to have our first White Castle burgers at a gas station/White Castle restaurant somewhere in rural Indiana, where the employees were shocked that we didn’t have them our west. The burgers were everything that we hoped for and more. We got to the hotel at around 1am and proceeded to get ready to depart the following day.
Up next, the recap.
Until next time, keep trippin’ baseballs!
The Padres offered two tours daily during the off-season and my fiancee, Lauren, and I opted for the later tour, to allow for sleeping in and any sort of hijinks on the approximately 30 minute drive from my parent’s house to the ballpark.
Despite some shenanigans involving a questionable “public parking” garage we made it to the ticket window in front of the stadium just in time to buy our two tickets and officially join the tour. Our group consisted of Lauren, me and another young couple who were pleasant enough and, like us, photography nerds, so we didn’t feel too bad “holding up” the tour for pictures.
We began by touring the always exciting stadium bowels, including a look at Padres jail for people who would have a date with the San Diego PD in their immediate future. Then we got to the meat of the tour and entered the visitor’s clubhouse. Evidently the home clubhouse was only available to the public on one day a year during the team’s annual Fanfest, which had occurred a few weeks prior. I guess the reason for this was because the players with longer-term contracts with the club would actually leave their personal things in their lockers and apparently rifling through Chase Headley’s wallet was frowned upon. Party poopers.
The visiting clubhouse was very cool though. Our tour guide made a point of emphasizing how the Padre’s home team facilities were so much nicer than those offered to the visitors, which I’m sure is true, but it was a bit odd to be focusing so much on that particular aspect of the home team dynamic.
It really is quite a moment when you step out of a dark tunnel and are blinded by the sun, only to see a beautiful expanse of grass and base paths in front of you. We weren’t allowed to step on the actual grass itself, but were allowed along the dirt perimeter on our way to the home dugout. It was cool getting to be that close to home plate and see essentially what the batter/catcher/umpire/ball boy get to see.
As the tour was going on, the guide was not only showing us various elements of the ballpark, but was also giving us the history of the Padres as well as baseball in San Diego. She was very knowledgeable, and it’s nice to see the Padres either have an excellent training program or hire people who know their stuff, rather than just giving a disinterested teenager a binder of facts to lead the tour.
One aspect of the dugouts that I thought was kind of fun was the fact that the players essentially never sit on the lower part of the bench, as the many spike marks all over the seats bare witness. We grabbed our last few pictures of ourselves on the field and headed out the tunnel to the luxury seats.
After seeing how the Padres elite experience baseball we were taken to another domain inaccessible to the common fan, the press box. As I have always wanted to be a sportswriter, this was right up my alley. The box itself was fairly boilerplate, though we did learn that as a writer you are given free hotdogs and basic ballpark food, but for a nominal fee you could be eating the same food as the big shots down in the luxury seats. Not too bad of a deal, if you ask me!
The tour was winding down at this time and we took our last few photos and, just like Disneyland, found ourselves exiting through the gift shop, in the form of the Padres team shop where we had started the tour.
Overall, I enjoyed the tour. It was well worth the $11 and approximately two hours that it took. Getting on the field and in the dugouts would have been worth it alone, but add the other out of the way areas that we were able to visit and the history lesson that was intermingled and it was a great way to spend my 31st birthday!
Tours of ballparks are a great way to get up close and personal either with a ballpark you’ve never previously visited or to reacquaint yourself with your home park that you have visited a hundred times before. Sadly, in my research I have yet to find the Angels offering a tour of the Big A, but I plan on taking advantage of the tours on the two brand-new parks that I will be visiting later this season, but more on that in the future.
Have you ever toured a ballpark? Would you recommend it? Why or why not?