With the conclusion of the 2015 Minor League Baseball season, so comes the end of the franchise of the Savannah Sand Gnats of the South Atlantic League. The Sand Gnats played in one of my favorite ballparks, Historic Grayson Stadium. Having been built in 1927, you can really feel the history and ghosts of baseball past as you enter the gate. Unfortunately, the owners believed that the age of the ballpark and it’s 4,000 capacity was no longer conductive to a Single-A baseball team. When the city of Savannah made the decision not to build a new stadium, the owners made the decision to move the team to Columbia, South Carolina to become the Fireflies. Here are some nice ballpark photos HERE at one of my favorite websites.
I’m disappointed that the Sand Gnats are leaving, because they are one of the reasons that I love Minor League Baseball. It was ten years ago, the summer of 2005 that revived my love of baseball. I was down training in southern Georgia, and we were able to make it to a few Gnats games, as well as the Jacksonville Suns in northern Florida. I really did fall in love with the stadium for the reasons I stated above. Not only did great players take the field at Grayson in their Minor League days, but the fans there love to tell stories of the Major League teams stopping in for some games on their way north after spring training. I was lucky enough to take in another couple of games back in June of 2009 (about a month before I started this blog) when I was down that way for some more work-related training in Charleston, SC and Savannah. The photos posted are from those games against the River Dogs with a disposable camera, which can explain the very low quality of them. I was also down south there this April, but unfortunately the Gnats were out of town the entire time I was there. I really hope they can get another pro team in Savannah, because it’s definitely one of the more beautiful places I’ve ever visited, and I plan on going there again when I get a chance. Well, so long Sand Gnats, I will miss you when I go back there, for your historic ballpark, awesome logo, and cool mascot (Gnate the Gnat)
The off-season is a time to reflect in the season past, and at the same time look to the future. With sports in general, fans have always conversed on the ‘what if?’ factor, and I’ve been contemplating an idea for months now, ever since last season’s baseball trip. First, let me state that my two favorite Minor League’s are the Midwest League and the South Atlantic League. The MWL has three teams here in Michigan, and is where my hometown team, the West Michigan Whitecaps, reside. We also attend some Great Lakes Loons games over in Midland, and that is a great venue, also. In fact, I’ve been to every stadium in the MWL except two, the Lake County Captains and the Bowling Green Hot Rods. We’ll get back to those teams momentarily, as they’re important. As for the SALly league, through work training down in Charleston and southern Georgia, I’ve was able to attend a few games of the Savannah Sand Gnats and the Charleston Riverdogs. During my baseball trip to North and South Carolina last year, I was able to visit another five SAL towns. Through my experience, these leagues have a lot in common. Between the two, we can see some of the best logos, nicknames, and mascots in all of sports. Both have teams in some great towns, with stadiums ranging from state-of-the-art, to simple and classic. Some of the best baseball fans we’ve had the luxury of interacting with attend games of these great leagues. Oh, the MWL and the SALly league have one more thing in common: they are the only two Single-A league. Now, I know there is short season and advanced ‘A’ league, but these two are just plain ol’ Single-A. The only two. These two league also have a link, so let us back up to two teams mentioned earlier, the Lake County Captains and the Bowling Green Hot Rods. The Captains organization played in the South Atlantic League from 1991-2009, hosting their All-Star Game in 2006. The franchise started out in Columbus, Georgia, as the Columbus Indians (1991) and RedStixx. The franchise moved up to Eastlake, Ohio in 2003 and became the Captains. Lake County joined the Midwest League in 2010 with the Bowling Green Hot Rods. The Hot Rods were previously the Columbus Catfish up until 2009, and the two northern most teams jumped to the MWL to alleviate travel expenses.
So, now that the link between the two has been established the fun can begin. We can ask ourselves ‘what if the teams from these leagues played each other?’, and if so, ‘in what capacity?’. Due to the aforementioned travel expenses, any interleague play between the two is illogical, so we’ll just scrap that right away. It could be possible to have a Single-A All-Star Game, pitting the MWL against the SAL, but I don’t care for that, either. It may work at the Triple-A level, but I don’t like it for this one. What I would purpose is to have a simple championship series between the two leagues. For the Triple-A National Championship, they have a pre-determined neutral site to hold the event, and the winners of the International and Pacific Coast League play a one game winner-take-all. This could work at the Single-A level, also, and would ensure the fans of every team to have the opportunity to witness the championship game, and be exposed to the other Single-A league. Another route would be to have a three game series, with game one and games two and/or three at each of the participating teams’ stadiums. Last season, the Quad Cities River Bandits won the Midwest, while the Sand Gnats reigned supreme in the SAL. What an amazing series this would make, and not for just the prospects involved. I’ve had the pleasure of visiting both Modern Woodman Park with its breath taking sight lines in right field, and Historic Grayson Stadium, where you can feel the ghosts of baseball past when you enter the gates. What if the Loons would wind up playing the Greensboro Grasshoppers at some point? It would be awesome to cover the games from both ends with my buddies from Hoppers Fan, with both teams having phenomenal venues and fantastic community support. On a personal note, what if my transfer down south is granted next year, and the ‘Caps end up opposing the Greenville Drive. Where would my loyalties lie between my birth city and my adopted home? Although the possibilities my be endless, the one fact that stands out is this would be a win-win situations for all baseball fans involved, as well as the teams from both historic leagues. It would also be fun to see a game like this featured on MiLB.tv or the MLB Network. This is still nothing but a pipe dream, but it’s fun to imagine who the first team might be to win the ‘Minoring In Baseball Cup’…
Photo property of Minoring In Baseball
Over on MiLB.com, the Mascot Mania is in full force, with ever fuzzy animal, alien, or funny looking man-thing represeting a Minor League franchise fighting for mascot supremecy. The kids and I have encountered and have been entertained by some great ones on our travels, and here are some of our favorites. Keep in mind, the list will only consist of the mascots we’ve actually had the pleasure of meeting or seeing. This list was also a lot harder to put together than you’d think, trying to narrow so many fun entertainers down to just nine. Ok, then, let’s see where they stand:
9) Rowdie–Indianapolis Indians: We’re not sure yet what exactly Rowdie is, but he sure is fun. He does a good job of getting around the stadium and getting pics with the kids.
8) Mr. Shucks-Cedar Rapids Kernels: Well, this guy just looks really cool. He does a nice job of getting the crowd riled up in Cedar Rapids.
7) Reedy Rip’ It-Greenville Drive: Reedy is a bit of a Wally ‘rip’ off, but that’s ok with me. The Drive is a BoSox affiliate, and they get lots of ideas from them. Reedy did a great job of interacting with the fans.
6) Paws-Pawtucket Red Sox: Ok, another BoSox affiliate. Paws is all over the place, and is marketed very well.
4) Gnate the Gnat-Savannah Sand Gnats: Gnate is really cool, and is always interacting with the fans and kids. Made my trip a little more fun.
3) Loe E. Loon-Great Lakes Loons: Ok, the Loons are one of our regular teams now, so we really know first hand how hard Lou E. works. Along with Rall E. Camel, he does a super job at Dow diamond.
2) Slugger-Portland Sea Dogs: I really loved being at the Sea Dogs game, and Slugger made it even more fun. He’s just a cool mascot, in my opinion. And I guess that’s what counts on this blog…
1) Crash the River Rascal-West Michigan Whitecaps: Ok, was there ever much doubt? Yes, it’s a homer call, but Crash is really awesome. He makes the kids laugh and gets around the stadium well to interact with the fans. He and his buddy Franky the Swimming Pig are the best.
Ok, so there’s my take on the Mascot Mania. Be sure to go and vote for your favorites HERE. Good luck to all the masconts in my Prime 9. What’s yours?
Photos property of Minoring In Baseball
League: South Atlantic League
Home Field: Flour Field
Location: Greenville, South Carolina
Summary: The first team we are scheduled to visit on this years’ baseball trip is the Drive, as they host the Augusta Green Jackets. This will be my first time seeing this team, though I am familiar with the South Atlantic League. I’ve seen the Savannah Sand Gnats in Georgia, and the Charleston River Dogs in South Carolina back in 2009. I’m very excited to visit Flour Field, as it looks like a beautiful ballpark. It’s located right downtown, and the ‘Shoeless’ Joe Jackson museum is right next door, which we plan on visiting also. The Drive franchise started out in Shelby, NC, as the Shelby Reds. The team has also been the Columbia Reds, Columbia Mets, and the Columbia/Greenville Bombers. The Drive name comes from the fact that the U.S. BMW Manufacturing plant and Michelin plant are in the area. Apparently the locals really wanted the team name to have something to do with Joe Jackson, but they went with the Drive instead. The mascot is a big frog named Reedy Rip’it, who looks a little like Wally the Green Monster in Boston. I can see myself getting a majority of Brian’s souvenirs here, though. The Drive’s secondary logo even looks a tad Boston Red Soxish. Flour Field also has a version of the Green Monster wall, also. Again, I’m really excited to catch a game here, as I am our other destinations. More to come!
With the MiLB season over, it’s time to look forward to next year. I can do this with some good ol’ American plagerism-ripping of MLB Network’ Prime 9 show for a littlle countdown of my own. Narrowing the list to just nine parks wasn’t as easy as I thought, but here we go.
9) Fox Cities Stadium-Appleton, WI: Wisconsin Timber Rattlers/Class A Midwest League. Picking number nine was the hardest of all. Fox Cities Stadium barely beat out the ballparks in Dayton, Cedar Rapids, and Charleston, respectively. The stadim itself isn’t huge, with a capaicity of only 5500, but it’s a nice place to watch a game. The fans gave this ballpark the egde, with it’s spacious parking lot perfect for tailgating. And Wisconsin fans love to tailgate. The beer and the brats are always perfect for a game, before and after. The affiliation with the Milwaukee Brewers has really helped the atmosphere here, and the attendance. The park itself is basic, with no real site lines, but not a bad seat to watch baseball. The park is very easy to find, but with only one entrance and exit, there might be a wait.
8) Pilot Field-Buffalo, NY: Buffalo Bisons/Triple A International League. Now called Coca-Cola Field, Buffalo is a major league city with a nice minor league park. At a capacity of almost 21,000 it’s a good sized ballpark to watch a game. There are still no bad seats in the house, though, and the sightlines of the city are pretty awesome. We always got there by train, so I’m not too sure about the parking situation. The concessions are good and there is a resteraunt in the right field area. The Bisons draw a good crowd, which is probably even better now that they’re affiliated with the Mets. I was able to watch the Bisons play here in 1993 along with some of the World University Games matchups. If I can ever find my pictures I took back then, I’ll scan them and get one put up. Until then you can check it out here. This is probably as close as you can come to a major league feel for the minor league price.
7) Fifth-Third Field-Toledo, OH: Toledo Mud Hens/Triple A International League. Opening in 2002, this ballpark is great all round. It’s carved into the downtown, and even has and area of seating in right field called the ‘Roost’ which is attached to a neigboring building. These have been dubbed the best seats in Minor League Baseball. The sightlines of the downtown area arn’t quite as good as Buffalo, but are more than enough of an eyefull. The seating is great, and the prices are very reasonalbe. We paid $8 and sat behind the dugout. You can’t really beat that. Parking is tough because it’s right downtown, so get to the park early, and even eat at Tony Paco’s accross the street, who you’ve might have seen Klinger on MASH talk about. Of all the the stadiums, this is one I’d love to visit more often. Throw in the fact that the Hens are the Tigers affiliate, and it’s a winner in my book.
6) Baseball Grounds-Jacksonville, FL: Jacksonville Suns/Double A Southern League. The Baseball Grounds was like my second home in the summer of 2005 when I was training in southern Georgia for over four months.Being at the ballpark was about the only thing that could take my mind off the fact that I was missing my wife and kids hundreds of miles north in Michigan. Add to the fact that it’s a great ballpark and the Suns won the Southern League in 2005, and this could easily be moved up on the list. The park holds about 11,000 and is nestled next to the Jaguars Alltel football stadium and Jacksonville’s indoor arena. It’s located right on the river and has great seating. Solid promotions and cold beer make this one of my favorites also. This is another parks I wish I could find my pictures of, but here are some good pics of it.
5) Louisville Slugger Field-Louisville, KY: Louisville Bats/Triple A International League. The front of the stadium is unique, as it’s built into an old train depot, which they also built two resteraunts into. The seats are great on right on the field where fans like them to be. It sports a large concourse and a huge party area in the outfield for all of the drinking crowd. The kids park is really put together nicely, too, with a carosel and all. Not much for sightlines, other than the bridge over the Ohio River. With the Louisville Slugger Museum/Factory down the street, this is a baseball experience every fan should take part in.
4) Modern Woodman Park-Davenport, IA: Quad Cities River Bandits/Class A Midwest League. USA Today billed this as the best Minor League ballpark in the country. It’s easy to get to and has one of the best views of probably any ballpark in the country with the brige over the Mississippi in right field. The concourse is set up so you can walk all the way around, which I like, and get a good view of the river and riverfront. The baseball atmosphere wasn’t as good as I thought it would be, which is why it didn’t make the top three. This is a must see for any baseball fan.
3) Victory Field-Indianapolis, IN: Indianapolis Indians/Triple A International League. I really enjoyed the games here in Indy. The whole town is sports nuts and the atmosphere is great. The entrance to the stadium is in the outfield, which makes it unique from other parks. There are also some kids games going on in the concourse which makes it very kid friendly. The whole park is set up with the family in mind, and it seems to be working. The sightlines downtown are great, but there was a lot of construction going on at the time that was a little distracting. The seats in the upper deck are some of the best I’ve had and are the perfect spot to watch the game. The wost part is there is a very small parking lot, so you have to find a parking garage downtown. The best part is there is a parking garage right accross from Hooters…
2) Fifth-Third Ballpark-Comstock Park, MI: West Michigan Whitecaps/Class A Midwest League. Yeah, I’m a bit of a homer here, but this is the list of my favorite ballparks. With a seating capacity of 10,000 it makes it pretty large for a Class A stadium, competitive with some Triple A and Double A stadium. It’s run and taken care of like a big stadium, too, with lots of unique concessions. The Fifth-Thid Burger was even featured on Man vs. Food last season. Located just north of Grand Rapids, there is a great atmosphere for baseball. The Whitecaps being a Tigers affiliate helps with that. All the memories of my kids and I here easily puts this ballpark toward the top of the list.
1) Grayson Stadium-Savannah, GA: Savannah Sand Gnats/Class A South Atlantic League. The reason historic Grayson is at the top of my list is quite simple. I just really really like it there. In truth, I have a love affair with the whole city of Savannah. I got a taste of it while down there training in 2005, then last summer I was actually stationed there for a week. Luckily the Gnats were in town, and I couldn’t get enough. The horrible pics I took with a disposable camera can not do this ballpark justice. It’s small and cozy, and as a baseball fan you just feel at home. You can actually feel the history of the sport sputter though you’re vains while watching a game here. It’s like actually taking a step back in time and seeing the game in it’s pure form. The brick exterior is classic baseball, while the weeping trees make it classic south. Nothing really fancty about the park, other than pure baseball. Savannah offers so much to look at, but catching a game here would be worth it.This is defiately a place I’d like to bring my kids down to someday.
So, there you have it. Again, it was very difficult choosing just nine, but truth be told I have never been to a ballpark I didn’t like. Everyone is unique and meeting the great fans everywhere makes every team worth checking out. So that’s my Prime 9. What’s yours?
Photos property of M.I.B.
Gearing up for the 2010 season ahead, it’s fun to remember all of the fun times the kids and I have had the last few years since baseball has been such a big part of our lives. I was looking for some older pics to post, but didn’t have any luck finding much. I do have plenty others to share, though, so here’s to hoping this season’s games will be as fun as the ballgames past.
Photos property of MIB
While being sent away for training down south, all you can really do is make the best of it. I did this by taking in some great Minor League Baseball action in some historic cities with great baseball atmospheres.
Charleston RiverDogs: I was able to make it to two games of the RiverDogs here in Charleston, South Carolina. They are Single A in the South Atlantic League. It’s always nice to be at a ballpark for the first time and ‘The Joe’ as they call it is a nice place to watch a game. It’s pretty big ballpark, but you still got a great view from anywhere. I was shut out at getting a game ball and the Dogs beat and lost to the Lexington Legends.
Savannah Sand Gnats: Luckily the Sand Gnats were also in town while I was down here, this time playing the Charleston RiverDogs (maybe they’re thinking I followed them). I love Grayson Stadium, though, as I was here back in 2005 when I was training in Brunswick then. Always a good time in Savannah, and the Gnats played well losing a close game Tuesday night and winning in extra innings the next. I’d love to bring the family down here at some point.
Sorry the picture quality is so bad, but had to pick up a desposable camera while down there. They’re better than nothing, I guess.
Photos property of MIB