Friday, July 31, 2009

3 Types of Minor League Ballparks

Minor League Baseball Parks fall into 3 categories. The first category is what I would call the “Amusement Park/Shopping Mall” park. The second category is the “There’s a ballpark here?” category. Lastly, the third category is the “downtown” park. The “Amusement Park/Shopping Mall” type of park is my least favorite. The “AP/SM” park is usually located in a suburb area where there is plenty of space to make the park look like an amusement park or shopping mall, hence the name of the category. Generally the fans that attend a game in this type of stadium are not die hard minor league baseball fans, they are coming to enjoy all the concessions, socialize, soak up the atmosphere and in most cases to watch the post-game fireworks. Generally, there tends to be a large number of kids running around on a grassy berm not paying any attention to the game. If you are a hard core baseball fan, attending a park that falls into the category of “AP/SM”, sometimes tends to be a painful experience filled with aggravation. You are trying to actually watch the game, but the fans in front of you are up and down a dozen times getting various concessions. Usually during this process, one of those fans stands for a few minutes talking with another fan, completely oblivious that they are blocking the view of people behind them. The “AP/SM” type fan is rarely paying attention to the game, but when the obnoxious “Everybody clap your hands” sound effect comes over the PA, they will drop everything and begin clapping away as if they have any idea what is going on in the game, or even which teams are playing. They have no problem shelling out $5.75 for their 5 kids to each have a small container of “Dippin’ Dots”. Once the kids finish the ice cream, they are begging to go to the kids play area to jump on some of the inflatables (and of course, not watch the game). At an “AP/SM” there tends to be an explosion of sound effects to which the casual “AP/SM fan” finds entertaining and laughs at most of them. For example, you know you are sitting next to a newbie when a foul ball goes out of the stadium and the sound effect of glass breaking followed by the “Johnny’s Auto Glass….1-800-123-GLASS” advertisement is made, and the fan laughs. Ok, now if you have been to even 2 minor league parks, you have heard this sound effect followed by an auto glass repair shop ad about 25 times. After about the 2nd time, it is no longer funny. Next, we have the “T-Shirt Toss”, where fans at an “AP/SM” park will risk life and limb over catching a t-shirt. Little do they know, that many of the times, the t-shirt does not have the logo of the team that is playing, it might just have a random ad on it, like “Randy’s Self Storage”. Now, is that worth tackling other people for? At this type of park you can usually see the team’s mascot dancing on top of the dugout and throwing souvenirs into the stands while the game is going on. Now once again, the newbie fan finds this entertaining, while someone like myself is having a hard time seeing what is actually going on, on the field. I have often wondered that if the players actually stopped playing and left the field, if the fans at a “AP/SM” would even notice. Most of the fans think they are in the stadium for a big party, not a baseball game. Some parks that fall into the “AP/SM” category are FirstEnergy Ballpark in Lakewood, NJ, Coca-Cola Park in Allentown, PA, and All-Pro Freight Stadium in Avon, OH. If you want to see the perfect example of an “AP/SM” ballpark, visit any of the stadiums run by the GoldKlang Group. They tend to focus on everything BUT the game, and they do so in tasteless ways. The perfect example of one of these parks is Dutchess Stadium in Fishkill, NY which has so many sound effects, promotions, and non-sense, that you have no idea there is a game going on.

Ok, now onto category 2…the “Downtown” park. The “Downtown” park generally has a more relaxed atmosphere compared to the “AP/SM” park and a little more charm. There tends to be more fans who are actually interested in the game. The “Downtown” ballpark has character to it by usually having some distinguishing feature that a fan can remember about the park. Usually this is either due to the surroundings or space limitations. A lot of times ballparks built in downtown areas have a limited amount of space to work with so they have to construct a unique concourse in order to fit on the property. For example, Jerry Uht Park in Erie, PA is the perfect example. Due to space constraints, the 1st base seating bowl has to be two levels, while on the 1st base side there is more room for seating and there is one level. These types of parks generally focus on the most important thing, the game.

The third category, which is my preference, is the “There’s a ballpark here?” category. These parks are located in areas where you would not expect a ballpark to be built. Fans have to make an effort to get to the park since it is not located in a major city. These parks are glorified high school fields. There’s a small-town feel to these parks because the fans are die hard fans, many of whom are season ticket holders or host families of the players. If you go to a game in a park in this category, you are definitely going for baseball and nothing else. There’s probably a pretty good chance that you will see fans actually keeping score at these parks and paying attention to every pitch. Imagine that! There usually isn’t a wide range of concessions, just the basics…..there isn’t a fancy video board, or concourse area……and sometimes you even see players just wandering around the park before the game. They might be talking on their cell phone, they might be grabbing a bite to eat, they might be signing autographs, but they aren’t being guarded by security. These are the places where you can see minor league baseball at its best! Some parks that fall into this category are Damaschke Field in Oneonta, NY, Sam Lynn Ballpark in Bakersfield, CA and Russell Diethrick, Jr. Park in Jamestown, NY.

Obviously, there are parks that fit into all of these categories that have good attendance, so there certainly are people who enjoy all of these atmospheres. I prefer to spend my time at a low-key, relaxed baseball game where everyone in attendance wants to be there to actually watch the game.