Sometimes, even in California, the weather has to be a predictor of ballpark visits. Because of a name that screams "heat," Geoff and I knew that the best course of action would be a night game in the High Desert. The route of the second leg of our tour would closely follow the first. Instead of the long drive through back roads, we had a slight detour off the 15. Before long, we would see the light standards of a fairly modern minor league park rising along with numerous Joshua trees from the barren floor of this desolate landscape. Honestly, we didn't know if this was a cruel mirage or some coffee induced delirium. We were searching for Adelanto, for buildings or houses or something to indicate a town of any sort. In the distance, we could see hints of an airport, but other than a truck stop and a tiny diner--The Burger Barn--this was middle of nowhere Californiadesert.
Instead of trying to figure out why this place had a ballpark of any kind, much less one for a professional baseball team, we headed to the park. After all, this was Junior Spivey t-shirt night and the Lake Elsinore Storm was in town to do battle with those mighty High Desert Mavericks.
Friendly Maverick Stadium (Home of the High Desert Mavericks)
Capacity: 3,808 seats plus lawn seating
Team affiliation: Milwaukee Brewers
Date of visit: May 15, 2004
1. Seat Comfort: Geoff and I walked up to the ticket window and purchased front row, directly behind home plate, $8, and with the ticket got the rather cheaply made Junior Spivey tee. Because we were on the very front row, we had a ton of leg room. One negative about the seats was the lack of a cup holder. But for the first time, we had access to an actual server who could bring us anything we wanted from the menu that she handed us as we took our seats. Score: 6 (out of 10)
2. Quality of hot dogs: Our server brought me a couple of the Maverick dogs and a coke, taking away $7.50 of my travel fund. Not a bad price, but really, the hot dogs were nothing to get the wave started over. Just the standard, slightly overcooked wiener in a crumpled bun. Enough to refill my Thai buffet lunch. Geoff, who had suffered through a dinner at the Burger Barn, refused to test a hot dog. Score: 5
3. Other concession stand fare: Keep in mind that the night before, I'd watched Super Size Me, so my appetite wasn't quite compatible with the menu items at the stadium. Pretty much your standard concessions: peanuts, popcorn, cotton candy, etc. Score: 5
4. Signature concession item: I didn't see anything, but this signature item could have been in the Hardball Cafe, which quite frankly looked to be out of business. Score: 2
5. Smoking: Finally, a stadium you don't have to exit to get your nicotine fix. I started out the exit to enjoy my smoke but was told by an usher that the smoking areas were at the end of each concourse. And these are open concourses, so I could puff away and watch the game. Score: 9
6. Bathrooms: Friendly Maverick Stadium has some rather unfriendly bathrooms. Dark, dirty, smelly...really everything you would expect from a public bathroom. Score: 2
7. Scoreboard: Nothing much to this scoreboard: minimal at best animations and player stats. Sufficient enough to keep up with the game, but in a stadium with few other outlets of entertainment, you'd think they would have a more fan-friendly scoreboard. Score: 4
8. Quality of public address system: The Maverick PA announcer, like his cohort in Lancaster, spent the pre-game spewing advertisement after advertisement. But in this case, the speakers were not directly overhead, so he didn't come across as annoying. In fact, after a few ads, I was easily able to block him out and concentrate on the menu. The music selections were the usual modern stadium "hits." Nothing unique to set Friendly Mav apart from its Cal League counterparts. In addition, I don't recall a single player introduction song, which is almost a bonus, if you know what I mean. Score: 5
9. Fun stuff to do besides the game: They had the ubiquitous grassy knoll for the kids to slide down. They had one of those inflatable moon walk things for the kids to hop around in. That pretty much sums it up. I guess the mascot, Wooly Bully, counts as entertainment, but he didn't seem to do much more than shake hands. Score: 5
10. Exterior architecture: When you contrast the stadium with everything surrounding it, Friendly Mav is literally a diamond in the rough. The outside of the park has the feel of an older park despite being built in the early 90s. Sandstone bricks and green paint over the steel girders helped give the park its retro look. Other than the architecture, though, nothing else about the stadium really stood out: no statues, not much greenery (but then again, it is in the desert), no Stagg chili truck dispensing free samples. Score: 6
11. Interior architecture: I like open concourses and the Friendly Mav has wide, open concourses that surround the seating areas. One could easily walk to the concession stands (or the smoking area) and not miss a pitch. I'm still trying to figure out one aspect of the park: the skyboxes. Basically, these were bricked in seats with a door that separated them from the rest of us regular ticket holders. Granted, they were boxes, but in some ways they looked more like solitary confinement cells than luxury suites at a stadium. Score: 6
12. Access: You can't miss the stadium. Only 15 miles from the 15 on 395, there's nothing hiding this place. It's in the middle of the desert. Free parking is a bonus. Score: 8
13. Ushers: Other than the guy who pointed me in the direction of the smoking area and the server who brought me the hot dogs, I didn't happen upon a single usher. I saw a few older folks wearing shirts that labeled them as "Section Leaders" but none of them even blinked an eye when Geoff and I walked to the very front row and took our seats. Score: 6
14: Knowledge of local fans: What can you say about an elderly lady who used her walker to get to her seat beside me and who seemed in to every pitch. She knew the situation and when to scream for a grounder so her Mavericks could turn a double play. Add to that the fact that she and her husband stayed for the entire game and you have a diehard. We also met a cameraman for the local cable company who filmed a few things to feed to the local segment of Headline News. He talked a bit about the history of the club, the fact that Bruce Bochy once managed there. He also chatted it up with the usual cadre of pitchers charting the game in the seats behind us, asking them if they needed a soda or something to eat. Friendly folks at the Friendly Mav. Score: 9
15. Wild-card: Continuing a theme that seems to be prevalant in this part of California, we were treated to a flyover by an enormous cargo jet. I don't think it was part of any ceremony, but seeing the plane take off from the airport and slowly climb and bank over the field was a nice treat. The noise was deafening, but if you closed your eyes, you could easily imagine being at Shea, minus the belligerent Mets fans. Score: 5
Total Score for Friendly Maverick Stadium: 84 (out of 150): 56%
The game: Geoff and I finally witnessed a win by a home team, though in this case our rooting interest was for the visiting Lake Elsinore Storm. The game was a back and forth affair marked by sloppy defense, a fact that eventually cost the Storm the game. In the bottom of the eighth with a runner on first and two outs, a pitch got away from the catcher who proceeded to make a throw toward second. For the second time on our tour, a Storm pitcher becomes the victim of his catcher's throw, getting hit in the back. The ball trickled into right field, in no man's land, and the runner eventually scored from first. That run was enough for the Mavericks.
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