From Joshua trees to palm trees, Geoff and I made our way back down the 15 to the base of the San Bernadino Mountains, scanning the AM dial for the Lakers game against the Spurs. Saturday night and a comet somewhere on the horizon, we listened as the Spurs played "hack-a-Shaq" to no avail. We made it to Rancho Cucamonga and our hotel room in time to catch the final few minutes of the game, and then highlights of Marcus Giles being plowed over by Andrew Jones, landing him on the disabled list with a broken collarbone.
It was nice to be back in civilization, nice to have choices for our breakfast/lunch. After watching a show about the nation's best BBQ that morning, we needed food and fast. Denny's being packed, we headed to a Chinese buffet. Great choice. $10 for all-I-could-eat variety that included sushi, and I didn't even dent the Mongolian BBQ. Then to the park where we discovered that we had the start time wrong. Instead of 1:10, the game was a scheduled 2:10 first pitch. So we watched a co-ed softball game, figuring out the rules: the required male:female ratio, the fact that a male got two bases on a walk and that everyone started with a two ball, one strike count. After a few innings, they opened the gates to the Epicenter, and we made our way to our front row seats.
The Epicenter (Home of the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes)
Capacity: 6,615 seats
Team affiliation: Anaheim Angels
Date of visit: May 16, 2004
1. Seat Comfort: Once again, Geoff and I walked-up to the ticket window and bought front row seats behind home plate, this despite the fact that signs at the window told of entire sold-out sections. These seats gave us a great, field-level view of the action and a view inside both dugouts. As for comfort, no complaints: a cup holder in front of us, plenty of room for the road-weary legs, and a screen to protect us from foul balls and mascots. Also, for the second visit in a row, we had our own server to bring us our concession items of choice.Score: 8 (out of 10)
2. Quality of hot dogs: Though I didn't need it, I had to stay true to the rankings, so I ordered a Hebrew National hot dog. To my surprise, this hot dog was huge at a rather affordable $2.75. Not only great in size, it also had a nice, not overdone flavor. Score: 7
3. Other concession stand fare: Not much beyond your standard concession items on my VIP menu. Prices were very reasonable, so the lack of originality or variety can be forgiven. Score: 6
4. Signature concession item: I didn't see anything that I would call "signature" at the concession stands, though they do offer a frozen rootbeer float, something I've never seen, or don't recall seeing, elsewhere. Score: 4
5. Smoking: They don't make you leave the park to smoke: a positive. They do force you to a corner of the concourse where the only thing you can see is the back of the bleachers: a negative. Balancing it out is the fact that you can see the softball park through the wrought iron railing. I looked to see if the game we'd watched before the main event was still going and noticed that all of the players had gathered around a fallen woman in right field. Before I'd finished my smoke, a cart pulled up to tend to the injured player. Score: 6
6. Bathrooms: As public bathrooms at baseball stadiums go, this was pretty average. They do have the infrared flushers at the urinals, always a nice feature. I did get a good laugh at a father having to defend his honor as his little boy--probably three or four years old--tried to get a look at his father's unit. The dad kept pushing him away and shaking his head as if to say, "I don't claim him." The little boy even seemed fascinated by the flushing. Strange kid. Score: 6
7. Scoreboard: The Epicenter has two nice scoreboards. The left field scoreboard gives all of the game totals. In right field, a video monitor, the first we've seen in the California League. Both were easy to see despite the bright sun. Score: 10
8. Quality of public address system: Finally, a PA announcer that didn't annoy. He kept his advertisements to a minimum and because the speakers were in the outfield we didn't need earplugs. But while he was tame compared to other Cal League announcers, his on-field counterpart was about as annoying as they come. He roamed the field with the weirdest "I'm a DJ by night" gait I've ever seen. His hands in front of him as if waiting to scratch at a turntable, he zealously narrated the between-inning entertainment. He even showed off his baby while drawing for a prize. Still, he cared and that has to count for something. Score: 7
9. Fun stuff to do besides the game: Geoff calls them "Throw your arm out" stands. He spotted it right away, tucked under the third base bleachers. The kids love to see how fast they can throw a baseball and because this was little league day at the Epicenter, the radar gun got a workout. Next to the pitching area, they had some sort of baseball roulette where a kid could plop down some of his allowance and win a prize if his number came up on the wheel. Guess what? No grassy knoll to roll down. Score: 7
10. Exterior architecture: The Epicenter looks nothing like a Class A ballpark from the outside. It looks more like a museum or a newly built city hall. Palm trees line the entryway and a verdant landscape surrounds the exterior of the park. Combine all of this with the fact that the Epicenter is actually the center of a larger sports complex. Softball parks seem to be everywhere. Surrounding all of the parks are picnic tables, perfect for enjoying a pre-game meal or, in our case, whiling away the fact that we didn't check the start time of that day's game. Score: 9
11. Interior architecture: Jack Benny greets fans at the entrance to the Epicenter. It's a bronze version of him, but still nice to see the old guy. I guess he put Rancho Cucamonga on the map, so it's fitting that such a nice stadium, really a centerpiece of this growing community, should have the legend as their official greeter. Once inside, the park isn't all it could be. Built before the concept of open concourses, the Epicenter's version is a sunken tunnel that runs below the upper level of the bleachers. Not very wide and not very open, this passageway was rather difficult to navigate because of long lines of little leaguers waiting for shaved ice. The seating area, however, almost makes up for this. A beautiful place with a great view of the San Bernadino Mountains and the palm trees lining the outfield fence. Score: 8
12. Access: The stadium is easy to reach from the freeway. In fact, you can see the light standards from the 15. Parking will cost you a few bucks, but it's very close to the stadium, always a plus on a warm day after a trip to a Chinese buffet. Score: 8
13. Ushers: I saw a few ushers helping other people find their seats, but once again, I didn't have a chance to interact with them. As I've stated before, the best usher is one you never see if you don't need to see him (or her). We did have a friendly server who made sure that I didn't have to receive nine ones for change. Score: 7
14. Knowledge of local fans: I witnessed the strangest dichotomy ever during this game. To my left, a couple of serious fans discussed the team with an unsurpassed knowledge. In fact, I saw them put over $160 into the hat that was passed around each time a Quake hit a home run. Meanwhile, a few seats behind us, a couple of guys seemed to be at a loss when it came to baseball. Actually overheard: "What does K stand for?" Even better: "What is GIDP?" Geoff and I did get a good laugh out of this. Score: 7
15. Wild-card: So many wild-cards to choose from at the Epicenter, but I have to give it to something that actually has little to do with the stadium itself. In fact, the wild-card goes to Tremor, the Quake mascot. No, not because he was any more entertaining than the other Cal League mascots, but I give it to him because he has a story. It seems that a few years ago, Tremor decided to get hammered before a game. Not content just to be a drunken mascot, he mounted a golf cart and proceeded to take it out to the parking lot where he shocked and frightened a few fans with his drunken antics. I don't think anyone was injured, but Tremor was de-costumed. I guess with time and rehab he's been able to return to the field. Score: 8
Total Score for the Epicenter: 106 (out of 150): 71%
The game: Another win for the home team. We expected to see some pitching, especially with one of Cal Leagues top young pitching prospects going for Inland Empire, but it wasn't to be. Three home runs for the Quakes and some poor defense by both teams. Good game though and it wasn't settled until the late innings.
Up Next: Stockton (6/5)
Previous: See index.