A Minor League Baseball Odyssey
I have an outdoors friend, R. Scott Jones, and one of his trademarks is "travel quests". I met Scott through social media (and he's discussed in my LA Dodger Spring Training post). He's the "king of quests" and I decided to follow his lead and come up with my own. (He's at justgetoutmore.com). I certainly wanted to make it something I'd love to do - especially since having a quest means a damn completion. After too many years of bureaucratic BS I'm not into necessarily having another "task" to complete - not even for myself- let alone an ungrateful group of local politicians. In other words, this HAD to be something I would love doing. No more gutting it out...
Once I set my mind to it I didn't take long to figure it out. Perhaps, you may recall I like our national pastime? I have another social media and SABR (Society for American Baseball Research) friend, Tom Thrash who is also a travel quest (and National Park) guy who has traveled to all the Big league parks and many minor league ones. Tom and Scott got me thinking...the California League is a High A league in California - how fun would it be to venture to each of the team's stadiums and watch a game? I decided to find out. A quick bit of background on the league - it consists of 8 teams in 8 locales and representing 8 major league clubs:
I started visiting the clubs on April 16 and finished on August 7. I saw some sights in California that I'd never have seen and some stellar baseball. After a lifetime of living, working and recreating in California, I was able to see and experience things that I simply wouldn't have without the inspiration from Scott and Tom - so, thanks guys. Talk about a slice of Americana...
If I had it to do all over again (and who says I won't?) I would change my seats. Since I ordered most of my seats online pre-season I decided to sit directly behind home plate in the first row which was a mistake. For years I've known that the best baseball seats for watching a game are as close to the press box as possible. There's a reason they put the radio and TV announcers there - it offers the best view of the action. In my overly enthusiastic approach I bought the tickets closest to the home plate action which, in retrospect, was an error...although I did get to hear some salty baseball language but you'll notice most of my photos are marred by the dumb screen and occasionally I thought pop ups were deep fly balls.
I also chose not to bring my Nikon to the games and only used my iPhone for photography. Carrying a camera around minor league parks would be a pain and a worry - I just wanted to relax and have fun - and that I did. In addition, the iPhone has a minor league app that allows you to follow the game and get info for each player, during the game, real time, - which is quite enjoyable. Each ballplayer has their own story and I find their birthplace, draft status, professional path, and experience, and of course, stats, so very interesting. It adds human interest the game.
I started my quest on April 16 in Lake Elsinore to watch the Storm play the 66ers. Only about a 1000 other people joined me to watch a very entertaining but frigid game. It was only 59F at the start with about a 20 mph wind blowing. I was glad I'd bundled up. Inland Empire scored a run in the top of the 9th to win 6-5. I did manage to get my first and only foul ball of my life. The place was so lonely that it hit a seat behind me and rolled right to me with no one else even trying to chase it. No kids were around so I kept it. It now proudly adorns my home office.
Lake Elsinore Storm
Each of the minor league teams has a mascot. As silly and juvenile and kitschy as they are- I enjoyed all of them. The Nuts were my favorite but more about that later. Here are the Lake Elsinore mascots - they are "Storm" and "Jackpot".
I had a ticket for a week later in San Bernardino but it was raining and very cold - again -so I decided I'd go later and geared up for a road trip to the Central Valley. On April 24, I drove to Visalia to see the Rawhide take on Lancaster. The JetHawks kicked the home team's butt 9-3. The most notable feature of this game was the "cow bell" that fans bring to the game and clang whenever the home team does something of note. After the game I certainly did not have a "fever for more cowbell". Also, at this game some local district attorney people were behind me loudly and drunkenly voicing their support for the imbecile in the white house, discussing current cases inappropriately, and laughing about people they'd recently thrown in jail. It was, without question, the worst fan experience I had on the trip. Also, several young Latino fans came down and sat next to me and were immediately asked to show their tickets - I wasn't though - gee, I wonder why. I asked the usher, "Hey, aren't you going to ask me where my ticket is?". He, of course, didn't get it.
Anyway, I wasn't sad to see the home team lose. On the plus side, they did have a cool bathroom.
The Visalia Rawhide mascot is a Holstein cow named "Tipper".
The next night I was in Modesto to see the Nuts. I love this team and their stadium was lovely and the ushers and crowd were fun and friendly. I had a terrific time. Unfortunately the Nuts lost to the 66ers 3-2 in a well played game. I did buy a hat - had to - and the mascots were the best the league has to offer in my opinion. Here are Wally the Walnut, Al the Almond and Shelly the Pistachio. Hilarious...
Here is the ticket booth at John Thurman Stadium. I'll be back soon and remember, "GO NUTS"!
Rancho Cucamonga Quakes
My next visit was to see the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes, the Dodgers High A team. This stadium is the closest to my home - a scant 40 miles away (Lake Elsinore is 45). I went to the game on April 29 and it was a terrific little stadium. That night storm clouds rolled by the San Bernardino mountains behind the stadium and I met Rylan Bannon an excellent third base prospect for the Dodgers who, turns out, was the 2018 league MVP. He and I had a fun conversation and I teased him about Justin Turner getting old and he said, "Yep! I'm coming for him!". He's become a real favorite - unfortunately the Dodgers traded him in the Manny Machado "rental trade". My friend Tom (see above) asked me what my favorite parks were and I'll rank them at the end - just know - this is a great little park. The Quakes lost a close one, 7-6 to Lancaster.
The mascot for Rancho Cucamonga is Tremor.
June was time for hanging out with my great daughter but, in July, Lupe and I headed up to Stockton and San Jose and went to AT&T Park in San Francisco for the first time.
It was HOT on July 9 for the Stockton vs San Jose game but it was an excellent game as the Giants scored 2 runs in the top of the 8th to win 5-4. Our hotel was literally next door to Banner Island Ballpark which made the experience even more fun. I really enjoyed the little riverfront park although I didn't take many photos.
The Port's mascot is Splash and this is a stock photo - the guy never made it down to the field and who can blame him? It was 97 degrees - I can't imagine how hot he must have been.
San Jose Giants
On July 13 we went to San Jose and it was packed and expensive. Tickets at each of the California League venues are $10 - a great deal but they were $25 at San Jose. The game was a blowout - San Jose beat Visalia 10-2. I enjoyed the park and its atmosphere. The photo on the bottom right were golf like bathroom "rules" for the men - cracked me up.
The San Jose mascot is Gigante.
On July 31 I finally made it out to San Bernardino to see the Inland Empire 66ers. It was my most enjoyable evening despite the heat. In fact, it turns out, the stadium with its mission style motif and mountain backdrop was my favorite. I also got to go to my favorite restaurant of life - Rosa Maria's. On the downside, the city of San Bernardino has truly fallen on hard times. It was sad to see what used to be lovely neighborhoods now with many, many homes abandoned and vacant. Tough years lately...here's hoping there's a brighter future for San Bernardino. The 66ers beat Lancaster 7-3.
Latino alter-egos were developed, this year, for many, many teams and the 66ers are the "Cucuys" (boogeymen). I had to have a hat. I wear it proudly.
Inland Empire 66ers
The mascots are "Slick" and "Bernie". Bernie cracked me up.
My final trip, to Lancaster in brutal heat, was on August 7. Turns out it was the most exciting game of the year - with the scored tied 3-3 after 9 innings the 66ers scored 2 runs in the top of the tenth but the JetHawks came back and scored THREE to win 6-5. Game time temperature? 101F. Whew... Still, it was a grand way to finish my quest. Rene Rivera of the Angels played on a rehab stint. I also found a terrific Mexican restaurant with the best dang tortillas I may have EVER had -"Que Paisa" in Littlerock, CA.
It was quite a summer for baseball travel! Man, I enjoyed it. As promised here is my ranking of the stadiums - I used scenic value, amenities, friendliness of stadium personnel and crowd comportment as my criteria:
1. San Manuel Stadium, San Bernardino
2. LoanMart Field, Rancho Cucamonga
3. John Thurman Field, Modesto
4. Banner Island Ballpark, Stockton
5. San Jose Giants Municipal Stadium, San Jose
6. The Hangar, Lancaster
7. The Diamond, Lake Elsinore
8. Rawhide Stadium, Visalia
Like baseball? Check out the fun of minor league ball - it's a kick. Thanks for following along with me. See ya at the ballpark.
That Glorious Grand Canyon
National Parks back in the day - they were something. Old fogeys like me remember them as quiet and iconic and sensational - as I travel 'round the West it has become clear to me that our National Parks are simply being overrun (I know it's a constant refrain of mine - but it bears repeating). There are a few exceptions and this scoop - for my readers only - is that you can find old time National Park bliss at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.
In the evening and morning you can drive the Cape Royal Road and, at times, be completely alone at some of the most magnificent overlooks on planet earth. You can stop and breathe and stare at that canyon for hours. This was my second trip in the last few years and I'm already planning my third.
It is a bit of a drive to get there. It's much easier to get to the South Rim and the North Rim is, indeed, significantly more isolated. It keeps the riff raff out.
I thought, since it's such a long drive that I'd make a stop along the way. I knew it would be hot but surely not "Africa Hot" (see Biloxi Blues). It was 108F when I arrived at Quail Creek Reservoir State Park. I spent the night in 90 degree weather inside the trailer. Oof. It was a pretty place for a man made thing but I decided to "GTHO" the next day and drive to the mountains.
I drove straight to one of my favorite spots in all of the West - Cedar Breaks National Monument where, at 10,000 feet, was a beautiful 65 degrees. Cedar Breaks, I'm convinced, would be a National Park if there weren't already five in Utah - which already frustrates those among us who would mine and develop and ruin these natural areas.
From there I took lesser known roads and drove to the site of the Mountain Meadows Massacre. It is the site of one of the ugliest episodes of the old West - and there were plenty of those. I would encourage you to read up on this one...the story has changed - even during my lifetime and it merits broader awareness. It's a very sad place.
From there I took a leisurely drive up to Pine Valley and down around Snow Canyon in Southern Utah.
I called Lupe before I left in the morning to help me figure out a strategy for dealing with the trailer sitting in the sun while I went to the mountains. We figured closing it up was best. So, I closed the blinds and locked it up. I'm not certain it was the best plan. When I got back it was ONE HUNDRED TWENTY degrees inside! Good Lord, man! I opened it up, sat outside, and when it reached only ONE HUNDRED I tried to sleep. It didn't work very well so I got up early, hitched up my little fiberglass home, and hit the road for the high country of the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.
I arrived in the early afternoon, and I suppose from the altitude and electrolyte loss, was wiped out and simply sat around the campsite. The next morning I went to take a reinvigorating campground shower and waited for my amigo Scott Jones. He and his partner Jen and some friends did stop by for a bit. It was enjoyable but far too short. Yes, that is an Everett Ruess shirt the old guy is wearing. Scott and I are going to attend the USC vs ASU football game this fall at the Coliseum. He's a Sun Devil and I received my doctorate at USC so- FIGHT ON! See you in October!
My pal and fellow train lover, Liz Kylin, was staying at the North Rim Lodge and came by too. She and I drove out to Imperial Point and a few other spots that evening. Turns out it was a nice to time for it.
I did spend a bit of time at the North Rim Lodge. What a cool place. You all know the famous Brighty of the Grand Canyon, right?
Liz and I drove out to a spot Scott had recommended - Marble Viewpoint via a sweet dirt road. We got there in the middle of a hazy day and the photos don't do it justice. Not even close. What a magnificent view.
I spent the next few days wandering. The North Rim Drive is an unparalleled gem. The little cabin below was used by cowboys for stock food storage. That pretty flower is the Arizona Mariposa Lily.
The following gallery has a few photos of iconic Grand Canyon sights, to wit; Colorado River, Angel's Window, Wotan Throne and the Vishnu Temple. I did spend one day driving the entire Cape Royal Road. The last photo of this series is a panorama of Wotan's Throne (on the right) and the Vishnu temple (on the left).
Of course it sometimes pays off to get up at the crack of dawn to make photos. One morning I awoke at 4:00 AM to do just that - I drove up to Imperial Point - set up the tripod and waited for the light. It was a stellar morning- warm and breezy and solitary.
As I was post processing the photos I spent hours looking for opportunities to make black and whites. Some of these turned out OK.
Someone asked me once why I share so many photos on my blog posts - I wasn't sure how to take that question. Did it mean that many are bad and don't need to be shared? Maybe - but I answered the way I felt - my blog is a travel blog - not a photo blog per se. Do I want you to see the artistic expression of my photography? Of course - but - most importantly I want you to vicariously come along. Most of the time I'm alone when I travel and, like most travelers, I enjoy sharing the sights and sense of adventure I feel with others of my species.
I am, of course, happy about the quality of some of the photos and feel fulfilled when someone decides to hang one of them on their wall...I think of them whiling away the time looking at those magnificent vistas and feeling that "grand" feeling with me.
So, hey, thanks for coming along! We all know, especially as we get older, that we are only here for a limited number of days. As I reach the final trimester of my life nothing gives me more sheer joy than my family and my trips and my photos. How blessed I am that you are here with me.
Oh, and get out to the North Rim - but SHHHHH! We don't need another Zion or Arches...let's keep the wonder of the place just between ourselves.
This was written prior to the decision, along with Syria and Nicaragua (who thinks the accord isn't enough), to drop out of the Paris accords regarding Climate Change. Multiply my comments by several factors...
The photos above are from Mojave Trails National Monument.
An online friend of mine R. Scott Jones suggested that us "nature and public land lovers" write a blog about the federal government's attack on our public lands. I think it's a wonderful idea.
I started to write a long editorial essay regarding the Trump administration's "review" of our magnificent National Monuments and I wrote 6 pages of angry vitriol. The more I wrote the angrier I became. I made a list of the National Monuments I have visited. I made another list of the lies coming from Washington DC. I got ready to publish it and had second thoughts.
I got depressed and sad as I thought about the world we're leaving for my grandchildren and their children. I started writing again and will try to offer a simpler message. I want to convey, without bitterness, the beauty of the public lands and how much is at stake if we lose them. I'm in love with what's left of the West and our National Monuments, National Parks, Wildlife Reserves, and ALL public land that WE own and that our descendants deserve to enjoy. I want to come from a place of love...not hate.
My opinions on the decimation of the West are found, right here, on this website. If you want a more complete description of exactly what's happening this is an excellent article.
My hunch is that venting my anger is not a productive exercise for those of you who follow this blog. I only hope you will condemn and resist the development of our public lands in general and our National Monuments in particular. Please join us in doing all we can to halt the destruction of our land.
As Edward Abbey said,
"The idea of wilderness needs no defense, it only needs defenders".
Consider me an ardent defender. By any measure it's easy to see that our wild lands are being paved over, mined, drilled and ultimately destroyed. It is one of the great heartbreaks of my life.
My words fail. I am too emotional to be very articulate. Instead, I offer more photos of one of my favorite National Monuments, Organ Pipe Cactus in southern Arizona. Please visit a National Monument if you can. I promise, if you do, you'll want to stop the madness of this "review".
I hope you'll agree that these lands deserve saving. Contact your representatives by mail, email, or phone. Join one of the groups that advocate for the outdoors and our precious public lands. Fight for beauty and nature- it's a battle worth waging.
This will mostly be a journal of my travels. I may include other items that interest me. Feel free to join in.