Joy in Mudville
Stockton’s leaders may make the toughest decision in the city’s history next Tuesday. Drowning in debt and scrambling for ways to restructure or forgive that debt, the city is expected to decide whether or not to enter Chapter 9 bankruptcy. Chapter 9 is an avenue set aside by the federal government for municipalities, and was most prominently almost twenty years ago when Orange County’s debts soared to an unsustainable level thanks to criminally poor fiscal management. Already, a $35 million building bought to be utilized as the next City Hall has been repossessed.
A downtown bar featured in a LA Times article in March has closed. As I walked around during a weekday morning, I felt as if tumbleweeds were going to blow across the streets. Storefronts were frequently empty. The movie theater complex had little activity. The only places that felt alive were the local Starbucks, and, as I would find out within an hour, the ballpark.
The day game I attended was nearly sold out thanks to a number of elementary and middle school children who were in attendance. They were treated to the Ports’ 15-3 shellacking of the San Jose Giants. The win halted a Stockton 12-game home losing streak. The section I was in got coupons for In-n-Out Double Doubles thanks to a Max Stassi double, and the whole crowd got a free meal at a local Denny’s because of Chad Oberacker’s grand slam. I don’t know when I’ll be in Stockton again to redeem the vouchers. That’s life.
Stockton Ballpark, as it’s officially known, was built by Swinerton and Frank M. Booth, the same company that built Raley Field. It’s very intimate, with 12-16 rows throughout the grandstand. Wedged between the channel and the arena, the left field foul pole is only 300 feet from the plate. There’s no second deck, no suite/press level cantilevered over the single concourse, and only a small club section. This was done to keep costs under control, which is a net positive in the end. There are plenty of concession stands down the first base line, very few down the third base line. A design quirk has an elevated bridge connecting the outfield berm area with the grandstand in the RF corner. To allow for service vehicle clearance, the bridge requires fans to take a flight up steps up and down. The berm wraps around to center, where it meets a Kinder’s BBQ stand. The bullpens and a seated picnic area are in left.
A road winds between the ballpark and the arena, connecting both to the waterfront. The 10,000-seat Stockton Arena is a clean, tidy affair, with decent concourse space and an auditorium-style layout for concerts. The side facing the water is glass, the other sides are concrete, metal, and wood panels, the latter of which are having their protective film fraying. No matter, it’s a decent looking building even if it towers over the ballpark and looks somewhat out of place in downtown Stockton.
As the City continues to fight for its future, there’s a lingering question of whether Stockton’s redevelopment efforts were worth it. California is unique in that it has a few cities that are the size of major league cities elsewhere in the country, yet places like Stockton, Fresno, Riverside, and Long Beach don’t get the kind of attention Cleveland, Buffalo, Milwaukee, or St. Louis does. Stockton saw a gravy train of new residents looking for cheap exurban housing and didn’t see the collapse of the housing market immediately behind it. They paid inordinate salaries and benefits to public employees, which put Stockton in the financial straits it’s in today. No one knows how exactly Stockton will get out of it, and what Stockton will look like when that happens. Chances are that the arena will be there. The ballpark will be there. And Dallas Braden will be there too by all rights. That can’t be all bad.