Sunday, November 01, 2009

Baseball place No. 71: Phoenix Municipal Stadium; 71A: Oldsmobile Park


Sometimes you go to a ballgame and something just seems ... off.

I can't exactly put a finger on why we didn't have that great a time during what should have been a nice day at the park.

But first we have to deal with the formalities. Josh Pahigian takes us to Phoenix Municipal Stadium, the spring home for the Oakland Athletics, for place No. 71 in his “101 Baseball Places to See Before You Strike Out.”

Phoenix is one of the rare cities that host both spring training baseball as well as regular season games. And the city is Arizona's state capital, too.

The stadium sounds nice, with red rocks of Papago Park rising above the field.

I’ve never been there, but I have attended a game is a ballpark built in another state capital.

Alternative place No. 71A: Oldsmobile Park

Lansing isn’t far from either of the places in Michigan where we’ve lived, only about an hour away.

But I’ve been to Oldsmobile Park, home of the Lansing Lugnuts, for a game just once since it was built in 1996, and I really can’t say I’m in a rush to get there again.

It’s a nice enough ballpark, made of brick with a retro feel. It replaced an entire block of buildings that were historic but in bad shape, filled mostly by porn shops, according to one report I read.

But something sure seemed unfriendly when we attended a game against the Fort Wayne Wizards in 2005.

We have a tradition of the whole family attending a game as a Father’s Day treat, and we had high hopes checking out a park for the first time.

You have to remember that I always bring my backpack to games, and just about everywhere else. I got the blue Jansport for my freshman year in college, and it’s held up remarkably well since. It’s my essential game companion, holding pens, pencils, a small pencil sharpener -- for keeping score, of course -- packets of sunscreen and whatever else I think I might need for a game.

My youngest was seven at the time, and when we’d go to see the Whitecaps here in Grand Rapids, I’d bring along some Capri Sun juice packets. Sometimes they’d get left in the backpack if she didn’t drink them all.

Well, the Lugnuts are one of those teams that search every backpack, and the guy working the gate poked around mine.

“I’m going to pretend I didn’t see that Capri Sun,” the worker said.

Huh?

“There’s a Capri Sun in the backpack. No outside food or drink allowed.”

Seemed kind of weak. I was bringing a family of four there for Father’s Day, and it’s not like one Capri Sun was going to sustain us for the whole time. Clearly we were going to be buying more food and drink inside park.

And when it was time to grab some lunch, I found out why they didn’t want anyone sneaking in snacks. You expect to pay more at a ballpark, but these prices seemed excessive, especially for the Midwest League.

The team store wasn’t any friendlier on the wallet. The team had tweaked the uniforms that year, keeping the logo but changing the caps from red to black. Not only were the out-dated caps not on sale, but they had a sign reading “retro caps” or “heritage caps” or something along those lines.

And lets talk about the logo. The team is called the Lugnuts. And the logo is … a screw. Did nobody realize this, or didn’t they care?

The mascot is a dragon-like monster with lugnuts – not screws – where his nostrils should be.

On the bright side, we won a bottle of warm Sprite for doing “the Twist” during a between-inning promotion.

In the end, the Lugnuts won, 4-3, and the kids seemed to enjoy running through a fountain on the plaza outside the ballpark.

But something left a bad taste in our mouth, and we’ve never been back.

No one likes to feel gouged. A major league team can get away with it. Fans expect it, especially when they see $10 million players on the field. But minor league teams have to realize they’re selling the experience.

We do appreciate the fan-friendly West Michigan Whitecaps.