Thursday, July 12, 2007

An all-star Wednesday and some excellent minor league parks

READING, Penn. – Wednesday was a night full of all-star happenings throughout minor league baseball. The Triple-A game pitting the Pacific Coast League against the International League, as played in Albuquerque, N.M., and televised live on ESPN. The Dugout was glad to see Brandon Moss have a pretty good day. Moss, who tells a pretty good story in The Funniest Thing I've Ever Seen: More than 100 crazy stories from minor league baseball, homered in the International League’s win.

The Eastern League All-Star game, held in Norwich, Conn., turned into an adventure. The fog was so thick during the home run derby that Norwich sent staffers with radios to the outfield wall. They had to tell the public address announcer whether the batted balls cleared the wall.

They actually tried to play the game, and the comedy that ensured found its way onto SportsCenter. Routine fly balls were turning into doubles and triples as fielders struggled to locate the balls. The game was called in the third inning.

The start of the Atlantic League All-Star game was delayed by rain, then shortened by another storm in the eighth inning. The Dugout was in attendance and was completely impressed by Lancaster’s ballpark. Located in the middle of downtown, players who hit the ball over the right field wall during the home run contest actually sent the balls down city streets.

Fans saw the action on two, count them two, video boards that could be operated independently. Many major league parks don’t have two video boards. And Brooks Robinson was at the game. Great guy. Look for a story about him in the coming weeks.

The atmosphere was fantastic. Minor league fans need to make this park a stop on their next trip to the northeast. The Dugout doesn't quite understand that mascot named Flamey, though. And the first building The Dugout saw in Lancaster was called the Sushi Grill. Think about that for a moment. The top photos on this page are from that game.

The Dugout is currently in the fifth inning of the Reading Phillies game against the Harrisburg Senators. Talk about a difference in ballparks. First Energy Stadium may have been built before there was energy. OK, it was 1950. Still, these guys know how to put on a baseball game. Reading proves you don’t need a new ballpark to draw fans. There may be more than 8,000 fans here.

The action is non-stop. Between the pool sitting atop the rightfield wall, the party deck beyond the leftfield wall, the staffer dressed as an ostrich hurling hotdogs into the crowd and the train that shoots shirts into the crowd, fans don’t have time to look away.

If you like new-school minor league baseball played in an old-school park, Reading is the place to be.

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