Fantasizing About Minor League Baseball

It goes without saying that I want the season to start. But I actually enjoy the offseason portion of baseball’s annual cycle. In past years it was a time for getting antsy to again watch for the familiar things that are the standard currency of a baseball season: a great rookie, an aging veteran delivering one final elite season, a milestone statistic on the horizon, or cooking up strategies for fantasy baseball. But as I have grown older and more thoughtful (and have quit fantasy sports) I enjoy reassessing what is left of the game (and of life) that I have not yet fully explored. This year, I hope to place a heavier focus on minor league and college baseball.

Last year I took trip to my alma mater, Cal State Fullerton and then attended games at Lake Elsinore and Inland Empire, Class-A Advanced California League affiliates of the Padres and Angels, respectively. I had been to college and minor league games before, but something had changed for me.

I like how weird minor league fans and towns are, and how easy and cheap it is to sit in the first row behind the plate. Watching elite talents like Austin Hedges in a developmental stage provides an exciting glimpse of the player a prospect might become, and it enables a richer appreciation for the quality of play in the Major Leagues. But the minors are also an experience in their own right. The towns, parks and names are smaller, but the character of each minor league yard is truly unique and usually a little bizarre.

As of today, I have decided to attempt to attend a game at every minor league park in California this year. That means 12 parks spanning nearly 500 miles.

Northern California

San Jose Giants (SF/A+)
Sacramento River Cats (OAK/AAA)
Stockton Ports (OAK/A+)
Modesto Nuts (COL/A+)

Central California

Bakersfield Blaze (CIN/A+)
Visalia Rawhide (AZ/A+)
Fresno Grizzlies (SF/AAA)

Southern California

High Desert Mavericks (SEA/A+) – Adelanto, CA
Inland Empire 66ers (LAA/A+) – San Bernardino, CA
Lake Elsinore Storm (SD/A+)
Lancaster Jethawks (HOU/A+)
Rancho Cucamonga Quakes (LAD/A+)

The reason I mention this here, besides being consumed with it at the moment, is that I hope to create profiles on each park and provide a glimpse into what it’s like to watch a game at each one. I will try to bring the flavor of each city and stadium into the mix to help give those of you who can’t make it to a game an idea of what is out here in California. And for those of you that would like to go to these parks, I will try to make it easier for you to decide where to head first.

Having been to Inland Empire, I can tell you that unlike relatively charming towns, like nearby Riverside, San Bernardino is depressing and ugly, owing mainly I imagine to the imploded housing market. The stadium is featureless except for the vaguely-Spanish-mission style facade, the 66ers have one of the ugliest mascots in the world, and I saw some people who I am almost certain have been exposed to high levels of heretofore unknown radioactive elements. Clear some room on the periodic table, Dr. Scientist.

Entrance - San Manuel Stadium - San Bernardino, CA (photo: http://www.fccfontana.org/)

Entrance – San Manuel Stadium – San Bernardino, CA (photo: http://www.fccfontana.org/)

Lake Elsinore is a different story. Yes it’s a rectangular, manmade lake. But there is a place where you can get a sandwich and killer pasta salad at the top of a mountain with a panoramic view of the valley and lake below. There is a solid, friendly craft brewery in town and the stadium includes a view of a range of hills so rolling it looks like the background of a cartoon.

The Diamond at Lake Elsinore - Lake Elsinore, CA (http://unclebobsballparks64.tripod.com/)

The Diamond at Lake Elsinore – Lake Elsinore, CA (photo: http://unclebobsballparks64.tripod.com/)

And the difference between those two places and experiences is the same as the difference between any two minor league destinations. This tempts me to wager that there is more in the way of surprise and variety among minor league towns than you might experience in your travels to different big league parks.

And I think that points toward something in our culture. I think we tend to look at strange things, little experiences and wonky places and think less of them, in favor of an aesthetically coherent and consistent “normal.” It’s a facet of mall-centrism maybe. I am not necessarily concerned with finding out if it’s better to be the way we are or some other way, at least not for the purposes of this blog. But I am interested in finding out what the other way is like and I want to see Carlos Correa in the process.

[RA ROWE]

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About ra_rowe

A long suffering Padres fan who grew up in San Diego, and moved to Pasadena, Rowe works as a Junior Product Manager and writes poetry in addition to knowing everything about baseball.

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