Ballpark fever in February

Last week I felt like getting a glimpse of Mark Appel, the Stanford hurler and East Bay product who may eventually be the #1 pick in the June draft. So off I went on Friday to Stanford’s Sunken Diamond, one of the many immaculately kept athletic facilities at The Farm. My baseball cravings have come early, too early to be sated by spring training. College baseball is an excellent, affordable brand of ball, and I have to admit being more curious than usual thanks to my recent reading of The Art of Fielding, rookie novelist Chad Harbach’s work about baseball at a small, fictional Midwestern private university.

An unusual 70 feet from the plate to the backstop at Sunken Diamond. Nevermind that as Stanford P Mark Appel rarely had to make C Eric Smith do more than reach down to rein in a pitch.

What started with Appel toying around with the Texas Longhorns to the tune of 10 K’s turned into a mad dash all over Northern California to see baseball wherever I could find it. (This is what happens when you’re not married, have no kids, and you’re comfortable seeing your friends only twice a week.) Sunken Diamond is a pleasant, serene environment, with more than ample foul territory and trees beyond the outfield that effectively block out civilization. The Friday night game, with a published attendance of 2,624, was typical for Stanford baseball: a very family friendly environment with kids running up and down hills to grab foul balls.

On Saturday I drove up to Sacramento because I felt like being environmentally irresponsible. On the way to Cowtown I stopped in Stockton, where there was nothing happening at Banner Island Ballpark. Not wanting to stay in Stockton any longer than humanly necessary, I jumped back on I-5 and headed north. I stopped at Raley Field, hoping that someone was there or that a gate was open. Thankfully, as I arrived a college team (JC?) entered the gates and was getting ready to take the field. There was a sign advertising National Anthem singers, though I didn’t see any staff on hand to guide any audition process. I quickly went in and took a few snapshots, which I’ve never had a chance to do with Raley Field empty (I’m sure if I called the River Cats’ media relations they would’ve granted it but I tend to operate by the seat of my pants). The field was in fine form, just waiting for its masters to handle grounders and make great catches on it.

Ready to go in West Sacramento

Three (!) years ago I wrote an article about how difficult it would be to expand Raley Field to MLB size. Rain caused major changes in construction methods, including a change from enormous steel columns to poured-in-place concrete columns and light steel trusses supporting the press box and suite/club level. This is what that structure looks like:

All of this would have to be scrapped to make way for multiple decks and/or suite levels.

This is what a properly sized (overengineered) column at Busch Stadium looks like:

Now that's a knife column.

After the brief stop at Raley, I crossed the river and went to the train station, which as far as I know is the closest the public can get to the Railyards site where the planned arena will sit. I’ve written enough about that so I won’t bother with that subject in this post. Once I got my fill of downtown, I headed east to the CSU-Sacramento campus, where the Hornets were getting ready to play a day game against Seattle University. If Sunken Diamond is one of Northern California’s nicest college ballparks, Sac State is one of the most spartan. The grandstand is all aluminum, with mostly bleachers and a smattering of real seats in the first few rows. There is no press box and no actual restrooms. Tickets cost $5, but I could have easily gotten a good view for free from the parking garage in left field. The PA announcer sounded like an older Rick Tittle. Ambience was provided by a busy rail line across the street and a handful of coeds who cheered on every player on the Hornet squad. Regardless, I enjoyed the experience.

View from the 6th floor of the student/faculty garage just beyond the left field fence.

I got my fill of Hornet baseball after about six innings. The UC Davis baseball team was on the road over the weekend, so I skipped The other Farm and headed back to the Bay Area. My last stop was scheduled to be Albert Park in San Rafael, home of the San Rafael Pacifics of the independent North American Baseball League. That leg of the trip was ruined when I got a hankering to visit Russian River Brewing in Santa Rosa, a half-hour and another county away. By the time I got to Albert Park it was completely dark and a few transients were lingering about. That’s just as well, since only yesterday did a Marin County judge allow the Pacifics to start operating in full with ticket sales and improvements to Albert Park. The old fashioned covered grandstand will be expanded from 800 to 900 seats. Tickets will start at $10 for general admission, though you have to think there will be numerous merchant nights to provide free or heavily discounted ducats. There’s even a tryout on March 17, so if you have a few tools and you aren’t dunk by noon, you may want to drop by for a tryout.

The high nets at Schott Stadium are a necessity as the field is only steps from traffic.

Sunday was a day of rest and no baseball. With no games scheduled on Monday, I chose to take in a game at Schott Stadium at Santa Clara University on Tuesday afternoon. The park is tightly wedged into a corner  of El Camino Real and Campbell Avenue, surrounded on two sides by university apartment housing and a few industrial buildings. There are a good number of permanent seats, and while there are plenty of bleachers, you can tell that a few corners have been cut there. The bleachers are basically standard aluminum sections that aren’t connected to each other. Even though the park is only seven years old, the bleachers feel rickety. The dugouts are not set much below grade, so the roofs of the dugouts obstruct the views down the line. The PA system is distractingly loud. Other than those niggles, the experience is quite pleasant. Schott Stadium is across the street from the main campus and down the block from the Santa Clara Caltrain station. A small parking lot next to the stadium has a space reserved for namesake and former A’s owner Steve Schott.

The whole trip reminded my of one of my other ballpark trips in the Midwest or East Coast, except that I didn’t have to shell out for hotel rooms. I’ll try to do one of these with the various minor league parks later this year, and perhaps another trip involving more college ballparks.

13 thoughts on “Ballpark fever in February

  1. Wish you were able to get pictures of Albert park. My team played on that field last year and it was one of the worst playing fields in the league. Was wondering what changes they have made to it yet. Was surprised when I first heard they were getting a minor league team at that field. Could you tell if the softball field was still in deep center, in the opposite corner?

  2. You’ll have to visit Dobbins Baseball Complex at UC Davis sometime soon. The last few seasons have seen a number of improvements to that field, but there are still no lights (while the IM fields next door have them). The seats are half bleacher type and half seat back (like you would find at AT&T or the Coliseum). Unfortunately, there are no grass seats but the scoreboard has been improved.

  3. Props for using the verb niggles.

  4. Very cool ML. I’ve been doing the same thing down in San Diego this spring waiting for spring training to start. I’ve already taken games at several venues. UCSD’s Triton Ballpark (capacity 1,200) probably has a lot in common with Sac State’s field and is very spartan (and parts of it are even on wheels so they can be folded up and carted off including two of the 3 grandstands, the bathrooms, and the “snack shack”. It doesn’t have much of a press box so much as a press tent. SDSU’s Tony Gwynn Stadium (capacity 3,000) is a gem of a little ballpark which definitely is up there as nice if not nicer than Sunken Diamond (and much nicer than Schott Stadium) which comes replete with almost all tip up seats, sunken dugouts, a baseball museum and retired number wall, skyboxes, club area, full press box for TV and radio, and a full assortment of concession stands and BBQ. TGS also has a nice view of brown hills and some trees beyond the outfield that remind me a little of the Coliseum back in the day. University of San Diego’s Cunningham Stadium (capacity 1,200) is a more bare bones affair with mostly bleacher seating (with wood floors) and a few rows of tip ups, and a simple snack shack and press box. Its one unique feature however is because it was built into the side of a hill the bleachers are all directly behind home plate and are over 30 rows high. She’s in her final year however and is slated to be demolished to make way for a new 3,000 seat, $14 million dollar ballpark next year.

  5. Russian River Brewery is one of my favorite places on the planet!

  6. @ML, I work for the San Rafael Pacifics and if you ever want to check out the stadium or want a press pass during the season, I’d be happy to accommodate you……

  7. @Jeremy – Thanks, I might have to take you up on that offer when the season begins.

  8. ML: When you get a chance, check out the new yard at St. Mary’s. Very nice.
    Bryce: Yes, UCD has made many improvements at Dobbins, but the lack of shade is a reall killer….one can always roll over to the Grad for a Grad Burger and cold beer though!

  9. ML, question. When you said Schott Stadium felt “rickety” what exactly did you mean? Are the benches already coming lose after just a few years?

  10. @Dan – Seating is fine. Floorboards have a lot of give on them. Felt like I was on a trampoline.

    @hcf – I plan to do a USF/SMC/Cal trip one weekend if I can string it together.

  11. Oh I forgot. Schott’s aluminum based on the upper half isn’t it? That would feel ricketty. Almost as bad as the wood over at the old baseball stadium that the Earthquakes are using for soccer right now, Buck Shaw.

  12. For five years I worked 100 yards from Evans Diamond (Cal baseball stadium), within earshot of loud metal “PINGS”, but never made it to a single game.

  13. I’ll admit before I started going to college games regularly the pings were a bit off putting. I associated them more with softball leagues than anything else. But seeing them in practice these days since they’ve entered the “dead bat” era in college it’s not that bad in practice beyond the weird sound they make. The ball doesn’t really scream off the bats like it used to.

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