Tag Archive | "Independent Leagues"

Atlantic League: Sugar Land Skeeters Constellation Field


I had the chance to check out the Sugar Land Skeeters’ Constellation Field in Sugar Land, Texas last night to see the Skeeters play the Long Island Ducks. Both teams are members of the top independent league, the Atlantic League.

The Atlantic League has been around since 1998 and employs the top talent on the independent circuit. With eight teams spread out around the country, Sugar Land is the one team not in the east, and the only one nowhere near the rest of the league. However, they are the defending league champions defeating none other than Long Island in last years championship series. It was their first title in the league since joining in 2012. Long Island has won 3 league titles.

Sugar Land is a suburb of Houston, so there is potential for huge crowds. But on the night I was able to get down for a game only 3,498 showed up. The stadium holds 7,500 and it felt pretty empty, but it is a really nice stadium. So here is my short review of the stadium and my seats. Forgive the not so great photos. I did not take my camera in and just used my phone.

Sugar Land Skeeters Constellation Field

I chose to sit in the club level which is called the Insperity Club. The tickets, which I purchased for $55, included an all-you-can eat buffet for the first 2 hours after the gates open.

What’s on the buffet?

From what I understand the menu changes from game to game, but on this night it included some decent food. The buffet included baked ham, pulled pork quesadillas, hot dogs, sausages, nachos, a salad bar, and some sort of pasta. I wasn’t interested in eating pasta so I did not get a close look. There was also a station with popcorn and peanuts plus two soda machines.

I tried a few of the different items on the menu. The pork quesadillas were very good. They had sour cream and guacamole too if you like that sort of thing. I opted for just a little bit of barbecue sauce which was really good. I also tried the hot dogs which were big a very good. However, I do have one recommendation. Do not get the hot dogs when you first arrive. I got one right away and it did not have time to fully cook and was cold. Later on I went back and got one during the game, and it was great.

An hour after the game starts, or two hours after the gates open, the buffet shuts down. But that does not mean it just ends. Around the top of the 5th inning they pull out the ice cream cart, Blue Bell. There were about 4 different flavors to choose from. To top it off you could choose a number of topics, but I just went with good old cookies and cream. It was a nice touch. They also had baked cookies and what looked like peach cobbler, but I opted for just the ice cream.

The Insperity Club is very nice too. It is air conditioned so if it is too hot outside, or too humid given where the stadium is, you can watch the game inside. There are some comfortable seats, including a few couches as well. Tables are abundant and several of them line the windows where you could sit and watch the game. Here is the view before the game where I had dinner.

 

Insperity Club Sugar Land Skeeters

There were two televisions in the club. One was showing the Astros game and the other the Skeeters game. There was also a pool table and a shuffle board table.

There is also a bar. The bar seemed fully stocked and had a good selection of draft beer. I did not look too closely at all it had to offer, but I did grab a beer at the start of the game. There were about 6 or so draft options including a few from Karbach Brewery in nearby Houston. This was a nice touch and I was glad to see they had some craft beer options and not just your normal Bud Light. The cost wasn’t too bad but still a bit high. A Karbach draft was $7.50.

The seats in the Insperity Club were nice. They were wider than normal, cushioned, and had a nice rail in front for drinks and food. The club sits above the press box right behind home plate and has the best views in the house. Is it worth the money? It might be. It would definitely be worth it if the weather was horrendously hot and humid. I was lucky that the night I was there it was very nice out.

Overall the stadium is very nice. There is a pool in left field, a playground with rides in center field, and a Pavilion in right. You can also bring a blanket and sit out on the berm in right field. There is a lot to offer families at the park, and there is so much for kids to do.

I enjoyed my trip to Constellation Field in Sugar Land. The level of play was good and included several former Major Leaguers including Lew Ford, Rafael Perez, David Aardsma, and Scott Maine. Not to mention that the manager for the Skeeters was Gary Gaetti. The stadium made the game though. It has a lot to offer and a regular seat is a great value. I’d highly recommend the trip if you are in the area.

You can get tickets by visiting SugarLandSkeeters.com or check out the team on Twitter @SL_Skeeters.

Sugar Land Skeeters Constellation Field

 

Be sure to check out my other travels.

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Doing Research and Loving It So Far


I haven’t had much time to write lately because I have started my master’s degree in history and have spent most of my time with that.

However, I have spent most of this semester doing research for my research proposal which deals with baseball’s influence on the troops during World War II. In doing the research I have come across a lot of interesting stories and tidbits which I am going to start writing about.

I have really enjoyed this research so far, and I am only in the very beginnings of it, because it has had so much to do with baseball. And it really got me thinking about where I grew up and the old professional team that was there.

I grew up in Temple, Texas where the Big State League played ball for seven seasons back in the 40’s and 50’s. Prior to that there were teams back after the turn of the century up through the 1920’s. None of the teams were established and stayed for very long as one would fold after a few years and then a new one would come along in a different minor league soon after. None of the teams were ever associated with a Major League franchise, but a few future and former Major Leaguers would make their way through Temple.

Since I am moving back to Texas very soon, I have decided to do research on the old teams that played in Temple and the leagues they played in. I’m actually very excited about it all because I had always heard stories that there were teams, yet nobody I knew growing up really knew anything about these teams.

So in the future here look for more and more posts about the history of the game.

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Book Review: Slouching Toward Fargo


On the cover it claims it is “A Two-Year Saga of Sinners and St. Paul Saints at the Bottom of the Bush Leagues with Bill Murray, Darryl Strawberry, Dakota Sadie and Me”. The book is Slouching Toward Fargo by Neal Karlen, and I enjoyed every bit of the book except the “Me” part.

The book is about the St. Paul Saints of the Northern League mostly during the 1996 and 1997 seasons. The team, and league, were still in its infancy and full of interesting people on and off the field.

How the book started it seems was that writer Neal Karlen was sent by Rolling Stone to do a piece on Bill Murray who was part owner in the club. He was there to do a hatchet job on Murray and as fate would have it on Darryl Strawberry as well.

Over the course of the first year Karlen has some interesting run ins with Murray, Strawberry, as well as others. These stories are entertaining, but I got a little tired of hearing how Karlen was there to do the hatchet job.

The characters of St. Paul were amazing. You have the great Bill Murray who in my book is one of the funniest men of all time. You have Darryl Strawberry who is there trying to make his way back to the Major Leagues by showing that he is now a good guy. Then you have Mike Veeck the president and co-owner of the Saints who had been blackballed from Major League Baseball for things that happened years ago. Not to mention there is an outfielder with no legs, a pig that delivered baseballs, a blind announcer, the first woman player and a nun who gives massages at games.

It’s a cast of characters that would make any story interesting, and Karlen does a good job of writing about this. But what I didn’t like is how Karlen kept inserting himself in the story. As a reader I want to read about the Saints, not how the writer was burned out and didn’t love baseball anymore.

With that being said, the book is still very good. The people of this town and team make this book. Everywhere you turn there seems to be someone just as interesting as the last. You get a taste of what life is like in the lowest of the low minor leagues where people are working and playing for the love of the game.

Mike Veeck’s “Fun is Good” motto really shows through in the writing and you can imagine the fun that people had at the games. And even though the book was written about a time that is now more than 15 years ago, it’s still a great read.

The ballplayers, former MLB guys and career minor leaguers alike, are interesting, funny, and you even finding yourself rooting for some of them even though all this happened nearly two decades ago. There are just a lot of likable people that you will be looking up on Google and Baseball Reference to see how they performed after the time of the book.

So get past the part of the writer inserting himself a little too much into the story, in my opinion, and give this a read because it’s definitely worth it. It’s been out for some time so you should be able to find a cheap used paperback copy somewhere.

I give this book a rating of 3.5 gloves.

vintage-baseball-glove_HALF

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Movie Review: Touching Home: Baseball in the Bushes


Noun 1. bush league – a league of teams that do not belong to a major league (especially baseball)

Touching Home, Baseball in the Bushesis a short documentary about life in the minors and the 2004 Chillicothe Paints.

Located in Chillicothe, Ohio (population 25,000), the Paints are one of the founding members of the Frontier League (the team is now apart of a top collegiate summer league). The area in Ohio has a long history of baseball, and this documentary brings that out which was very interesting. Using old photos and newspaper articles, they show baseball stories going back to the beginning of baseball in Chillicothe in 1884.

The makers of the movie did a great job blending the rich history of Chillicothe into the modern day team. The chronicled some of the older players whose numbers had been retired for various reasons over their 14 year history. Talking to some lifetime fans in the area who had seen it all was a very nice touch. You got stories from someone who was there and new most of the players instead of just someone who had heard stories.

What I really liked about this movie was how they took you behind the scenes of the club and talked to you about some of the financials dealing with an independent minor league team. For instance, each team in the Frontier League had to carry 11 rookies, and each rookie was to be paid $600 a month. That is not a lot of money to live off of which is why the team has to rely on host families to provide the players with meals and a roof over their heads.

Chillicothe was the smallest market in the league, and was the only remaining original member. They were able to do this because of things like the league salary cap. MLB could learn a thing or two from this. Veterans were paid up to $1200 a month. This was for someone who had a few years of affiliated ball under their belts which wasn’t the case for most of these players.

Leagues like the Frontier League are always bringing in new players. A slump in a league like this could cost you your job and perhaps a chance to make back to or into affiliated ball. So players play hard because they know they are always close to being cut which makes this level of play, while not the highest in professional ball, some of the more interesting. There are no bonus babies who let their ego go to their head. Those players wouldn’t cut it at this level. They would be cut before they knew what hit them. Hustle is key, and to me that always makes for good baseball no matter what the talent level.

There were 3 players that they talked to. You got a good feel for their stories and lives in the minors which was nice, but I would have loved to have seen a little bit more actual baseball action. Most of that was done in the background of the stories they were telling. I understand this can be a difficult balancing act, and I am not one easily pleased when it comes to a baseball documentary. But with all that said, I really enjoyed this movie.

Sure it would have been nice to hear from more players but they did include the manager, the pitching coach, the general manager, and some long time fans which was a nice touch. Overall I thought they did a really good job with it. It’s short, but I am always going to want more no matter how long or short it is.

I would definitely recommend watching this, especially if you like minor league baseball. You get a little feel for the history of baseball in the area, and you get a good look at what life can be like for a struggling independent league ball player. I would rate it a good 3 gloves*:

*Rating system:
5 gloves: A must see/read and something you will want to own to see/read again and again.
4 gloves: A must see/read but something you may or may not want to own depending on the topic.
3 gloves: Really worth seeing/reading but perhaps something you can rent or borrow
2 gloves: Watch it or read it if you are into the subject matter (i.e. minors, a certain team/player, etc…) but don’t purchase it.
1 glove: Don’t waste your time.

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Movie Review: Bottom of the Ninth


I try to watch any and all documentaries on baseball especially ones about minor league baesball. I found this one on the web some time ago but never pulled the trigger on getting it. Recently I found it on Netflix, so I had to get it to watch.

I have seen some good ones of the years on minor league baseball. I am fascinated by the life the guys in the minors go through on their journey to the majors or obscurity. So when this one came in the mail, I immediately sat down to watch it. I think my expectations were a little too high though, and I was disappointed.

Bottom of the Ninth tells the story of the 2001 season of the New Jersey Somerset Patriots of the Atlantic League. There are a lot of characters on the team managed by the great Sparky Lyle, who is a character himself. There are some former major leaguers on the team like pitcher John Briscoe. Through in some guys who put up amazing stats some years (Billy Hall stole 104 bases in 2000 with 66 in a row without being thrown out) and you have a great cast of characters. But the story was lacking with life in the minors.

The movie talked more about their run for the championship, which in itself was interesting, but I was really looking for more on life in the minors. The best part of the movie was the championship series which really was thrilling, but I wanted to see more about the players lives and how many of them have adjusted to play at the lowest level of professional baseball.

I would not say don’t watch this, but I would not recommend spending $25 to purchase it. Instead, if you have Netflix toss it in your queue and watch it when it comes. But if you are like me and have seen several of the other really good ones, don’t get your hopes up. But if you go into it knowing that it is good for other reasons, you will really enjoy it.

With a lot of other reviews on books and movies coming, I am implementing a rating system. I will rate from 1-5 gloves (I have to keep it baseball related so no stars like everywhere else). Below is my rating system:

5 gloves: A must see/read and something you will want to own to see/read again and again.
4 gloves: A must see/read but something you may or may not want to own depending on the topic.
3 gloves: Really worth seeing/reading but perhaps something you can rent or borrow
2 gloves: Watch it or read it if you are into the subject matter (i.e. minors, a certain team/player, etc…) but don’t purchase it.
1 glove: Don’t waste your time.

For this movie I would give it:

Stay tuned for more reviews in the coming weeks and Happy Holidays!

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Way Back Wednesday – Pensacola Pelicans


Another segment I hope to bring you on a weekly basis is Way Back Wednesday.  This will be a look at old games, players, stadiums visited, long HRs, or anything else I desire really.

Today I want to take a look back at my 32nd Birthday.  My niece and nephew were in town, so the three of us and my Dad went to the local minor league baseball game.

Nicholas and Katrina getting Pelican's Mascot Scoop's autograph

The Pensacola Pelicans play in the independent American Association.  The Pelicans play at Pelican Park, which is also home to the University of West Florida Argonauts.  It’s a nice park on the campus of UWF, and the baseball is definitely worth watching.

Pelican Park

The game the day before got suspended due to rain, so we got there in time to see the end of  game 1.  The Pelicans finished off the Shreveport Sports 8-1 in game 1, and went onto win game 2 4-1 for a three game sweep.

The baseball action was good and exciting, and being there with my niece and nephew was a blast.  Everything under the sun was eaten from hot dogs, to nachos, to cotton candy.  It was a junk food free for all. During the game we won one of the between inning giveaways.  We won because Katrina’s ticket number matched the winning number.  The prize was supposed to be a free car wash from a local business, but they didn’t have that when my Dad went to pick up the prize.  Instead they gave him a $25 gift certificate to a local restaurant which turned out to be even better.

Game Action

Part of the greatness of minor league baseball, especially independent ball, is the access to the players.  After the game the players line up to sign autographs for anyone who wants one and they do it with a smile on their face.  So after the game, we watched as Nicholas and Katrina both lined up to get a few autographs on the football the team gave away prior to the game.

Overall it was a great time.  I enjoyed being with everyone at the game, and let’s face it, I had fun because I was at a baseball game.  I love going to Pelican games.  The atmosphere is always great, and the action on the field is second to none.  So if you are even in town, drop by and check out a game.  You won’t be sorry.

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There are three things in my life which I really love: God, my family, and baseball. The only problem - once baseball season starts, I change the order around a bit. ~Al Gallagher, 1971

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