Everyone probably knows or has heard of baseball fans taking off on a cross-country journey to see all of the Major League Baseball stadiums. Although I dream of doing this, I probably will need the lottery to make it come true. Instead, Geoff and I started thinking local. Over a year ago, we had the idea to take a few weekends and see a game in every California League park. Because both of us have pretty busy work schedules and because the Cal League extends from San Jose in the north to Lake Elsinore in the south, we knew that planning and timing would be essential in accomplishing our goal. We also had to include such factors as weather (best to visit desert stadiums early) and Geoff's Padres ticket plan. With all of this in mind, we made a commitment to do this in 2004. This past weekend, it started.
In order to quantify what we've seen, I've decided to use ESPN Page 2's 2003 stadium tour rankings as a template. I'll try to be as consistent as possible, but I've tweaked it to take into consideration a few things that the ESPN guys overlooked. Giving a score will be difficult, but I'll try my best.
The Diamond--Lake Elsinore Storm
Capacity: 6,066 seats; 8,000 capacity (lawn)
Team affiliation: San Diego Padres
Date of visit: April 10, 2004
Lake Elsinore is best described as one of those places that if you blink while traveling the 15 between San Diego and Riverside you might miss. But if you do miss it, you've missed a true jewel. The city itself is rather modest, only 40,000 or so residents, but it boasts one of the most impressive minor league stadiums anywhere. Thanks to Geoff and his Storm season tickets, I've made numerous trips to this park and I've always come away impressed. This time was no different.
1. Seat Comfort: We were able to get seats three rows directly behind home plate. Geoff did call ahead, but it became evident once we were there that these seats would have been available for the taking. The seats themselves are comfortable with plenty of elbow and shoulder room and a cup holder. [One interesting note for those wishing to attend minor league games: often, pitchers from the night before and the next game sit in the stands behind home plate and chart the game. This is a great place to not only chat with players (and sometimes scouts) but one can also see the radar gun that they use to clock the pitches.] For the kids, a grassy knoll in right field provides plenty of hill-rolling and grass-stained entertainment. Score: 9 (out of 10)
2. Quality of hot dogs: Small but inexpensive. Nothing special, really. Condiment lines were a bit long and people seemed impatient. Score: 6
3. Other concession stand fare: Great selection of other items, including Quiznos for those looking to avoid the dogs. Portable stands throughout the concourse offer an assortment of beverages, including margaritas. Score: 8 (Points deducted because of the fact that they only have one coffee (and hot chocolate) line for the entire stadium. On a cold night, this makes for a very long wait.)
4. Signature concession item: The Diamond Club offers a more diverse menu. One could actually dine in this area. Choices include chicken sandwiches, shrimp cocktails, BBQ Ribs, and tons more. Score: 9
5. Smoking: One smoking area is located outside of the main entrance. Don't forget to have your hand stamped for the return. Once outside, there's no way to follow the game, so you might want to budget the number of times you need a cig. Score: 5
6. Bathrooms: Large, spacious, and clean. No wait at all. Score: 9
7. Scoreboard: The Diamond is in the process of adding a video matrix board in right center field. Until then, the actual scoreboard is located at the base of the right field wall. It's a manual scoreboard that is easy on the eye. A matrix board in left field gives batter information, including season average and number of homeruns. Score: 8 (the video board should increase this a couple of points)
8. Quality of public address system: The music was pretty predictable with all of the typical baseball tunes playing at regular intervals. No signature song or originality. The announcer did an adequate job, but throwing it to a guy on the field dressed as a cow udder for the between inning entertainment is a bit distracting. Only one update of the Padres game and no other scores given make for low marks. Score: 6
9. Fun stuff to do besides the game: Kids have the hill; parents have a picnic area. In between innings, the Diamond entertainment crew leads randomly chosen fans in the standard minor league contests. Two mascots work the games. Thunder is a bit of Phillie Phanatic rip-off. He's the main stands roamer, though for the life of me I don't remember seeing him the other night. Jackpot is a pink rabbit. He lives in the right field scoreboard. When the Storm scores, he runs out onto the field and does a dance. Seems a bit odd, but this is family entertainment. Score: 7
10. Exterior architecture: The Diamond sits in the middle of an open space. Topiaries and sculptures compete with grass and trees in the entry plaza. And the view from the seats is extremely nice. Where Petco has its skyline, the Diamond has a view of some distant mountains. In the early part of the season, it's nice to watch the mountains become purple shadows as the sun sets. Very nice scenery both inside and outside of the park. Score: 10
11. Interior architecture: This stadium is a pleasant mix of the old and the new. The brick work, the green paint on the press box, and the seat backs give the feel of an old stadium, while the Diamond Club's design and glass work have a more modern feel. The concourse is wide and provides patrons waiting in the too-long line for coffee a view of the field. Score: 8
12. Access: The stadium is very easy to find; one can see it from the 15 and signs point the way from the freeway exit. I do remember in past visits having some trouble getting to the season ticket parking area, but that was probably more my fault than the directions given. Parking for non-season ticket fans is four dollars and the lot is a fairly steep climb away from the stadium. Score: 8
13. Ushers: Other than the ticket takers and smoke exit stamper, I didn't see an usher. Then again, I didn't look. Sometimes the best usher is the one that you never see. Score: 7
14: Knowledge of local fans: We were pretty isolated from the fan base, so I don't really have much to go by. I did speak to a few people while waiting in line and they seemed to want to talk more about the Padres than the Storm. This is probably typical of early season minor leagues, so I'll cut them some slack here. In the past, I've found Storm fans to be a knowledgeable bunch. The team doesn't have a rich history yet, but some pretty good players have stepped on the Diamond's field. Score: 7
15. Wild-card: How do you top a pig that brings the umpire baseballs between innings? Yep, a live, honest-to-goodness pig with a pouch strolls out from his cage by the Storm dugout to provide the ump with a fresh set of balls (read that as you wish). The pig may change but the tradition remains the same. I love the pig. Score: 10
Total Score for The Diamond: 117 (out of 150); 78%
The game: Lake Elsinore lost 16-4 to Inland Empire. The most memorable moment from this game was when the pitcher was hit by a throw from the catcher. The attempt to catch the runner stealing second nailed the pitcher in the ribs. He seemed more stunned than injured, but the Storm catcher has a cannon for an arm, so I'm sure the pitcher is now nursing a pretty nice bruise.
Also see: Geoff's post about the trip. He has pictures and much more game and player analysis. I plan to develop my film soon, so stay tuned for a possible photo album of the trip.
Up next: Lancaster