Who Are You and Have We Met Before?

Welcome to the Southercarolina League?

A couple new faces with the Pelicans on the road this weekend.  We start with the opposing team.  The Carolina Mudcats aren’t new, they’ve been around for years…just as a member of the Double-A Southern League.  As a matter of fact, the chairs in the clubhouse still seem to think that’s the case (see right).

The Mudcats joined the Carolina League in a fun game of dominoes this past offseason.  The first push came when the owners of the Independent Pensacola (FL) Pelicans sold their franchise and watched it move to Amarillo, TX.  Those owners then went out and purchased the Mudcats and moved them to a new park in Pensacola, renaming them the Blue Wahoos (and allowing all in Minor League Baseball the great pleasure of yelling Wahoo Wa! — See the University of Virginia).  The owner of the Mudcats then purchased the Kinston Indians franchise and moved them to Carolina.So to recap: Pensacola goes to Amarillo.  Carolina goes to Pensacola (Wahoo Wa!).  Kinston goes to Carolina.  The Mudcats then become the K-Tribe, thusly moving from Double-A to A-Advanced.

Carolina mascot ‘Muddy the Mudcat’ then decides it would be a good idea to dress as the Will Ferrell cheerleading character from SNL.  Muddy the Mudcat is still not better than Wally the Warthog, but he no longer exists.  Wally, like Kinston, was a casualty of change in the Carolina League when Winston-Salem became the Dash.  Sad Day.

Carolina becomes just the third new team to join the CL since 1993 (19 years).  Wilmington joined the league in ’93, replacing the Peninsula (VA) Pilots.  The Pelicans entered the league in 1999, taking the spot of the Danville 9’s/Durham Bulls.  Danville was in as a one year placeholder after Durham left and Myrtle Beach arrived, so we won’t really count them.  The good news for Carolina is that both Myrtle Beach and Wilmington either won, or appeared in, the Mills Cup Finals in each of their first two seasons.

In a fun twist.  The league could see another move in two seasons, with the Braves expected to move to Wilmington, NC form Lynchburg, VA.  The Braves have agreed in principal to buy the Hillcats and begin that process contingent on things like a new stadium in Wilmington.  I look forward to the inaugural Wilmington – Wilmington matchup.  I really hope both teams run a ‘guaranteed win night’ promotion when they play.

You can't tell know, but the scoreboard in left lights up.

Anyways, welcome to Carolina and the Mudcats’ giant Las Vegas-like scoreboard in leftfield.Onto new face number two.  Pelicans manager Jason Wood isn’t on the road with the team this series.  He’s gone home to California for a family affair and will be back next week.  That means hitting coach Julio Garcia has taken over the managing duties and Jayce Tingler has joined the coaching staff.

Tingler is the Texas Rangers Minor League Field Coordinator.  He roves throughout the organization evaluating players and making sure things are as they should be.  He’s a Pelican this weekend.  Tingler is a former Blue Jays and Rangers farmhand.  He played for Pelicans coach Kenny Holmberg’s father in Auburn, NY several years back.  Tingler is also a Missouri product, bringing the Pelicans total to three (Nicholas, Tepesch, Tingler).  Say hi Jayce….Hi!

One final note today…Pelicans outfielder Teodoro Martinez is the son of former Major Leaguer Carlos Martinez.  Carlos is also known as the  guy who hit the ball that hit off Jose Canseco’s head for a homerun in 1993.  That hat is now up for auction and expected to fetch some good money and Canseco would like it back.  Let the bidding begin.

That’s it for now.  Stay tuned next week for ‘Rate that Carolina League Roadtrip’ part II.  We’ll also have the second episode of the Pelicans Brief coming up soon as well.

Rate that Carolina League Roadtrip: Salem, VA

Let me begin by saying the following series is a complete rip-off.  A good friend of mine, Jason Benetti, is the broadcaster for the Syracuse Chiefs.  A few years back he began a blog segment entitled “Rate that International League Hotel.”  It thought it was kind of catchy and wanted to do something similar.  I, however, was a broadcaster in the Florida State League at the time and roadtrips in the FSL are mainly day trips.  Wouldn’t have made for much of a blog.  So, without further ado, here is the first edition of “Rate that Carolina League Roadtrip.”

Throughout the 2012 season we will examine each roadtrip as the Pelicans travel along the Carolina League.  Roadtrips will be graded on several criteria, just like dishes on Iron Chef: Ballpark Atmosphere, Play of Ballpark, Travel to Destination, Hotel, and Food Options.  All response will be anonymous and I will give my own two cents on several topics.  Because I like my job, nothing will really be too critical — just a look at how life is on the road.

The team’s first roadtrip of 2012 was to Salem, VA.  Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Salem is located next to Roanoke and about an hour away from Virginia Tech and Blacksburg, VA.  The Division III National Championships for basketball and football are played there every year, and the rodeo next to the ballpark was the rodeo featured in the movie Borat.  Enough of the background…onto the roadtrip.

BALLPARK:

The view from the top of the Salem stands

Lewis-Gale Field at Salem Memorial Ballpark, formerly known as Lewis-Gale Medical Center Field at Salem Memorial Baseball Stadium, is an expansive park.  It’s probably the largest feeling park in the Carolina League.  The park is almost entirely contained within  the seating bowl, meaning you can see the game from anywhere in the park if you so choose.  While there are some areas underneath the concourse, the ballpark has more of a Roman Coliseum feel.  Theoretically, once in the ballpark you can go to your seat, go to the concessions and walk to the picnic areas, all while still in view of the field.  This is both good and bad.  It’s good in that you can always see the field.  It’s bad in that it makes the park feel huge.  Even when there are 4,000 fans it can feel less than full.

While Lewis-Gale Field might feel enormous, it also has one of the best views in the league. Over the right field fence in particular is a view of the Blue Ridge Mountains that is breathtaking. One concessions worker told me the mountains looked carpeted with trees. It was a pretty cool way to describe it.”It was weird,” one Pelican said.  “I looked in the parking lot and it looked like there were so many more fans.”

“It’s a good atmosphere,” said a Pelican.  “Seems like the get a lot of fans.”

“I enjoyed the scenery,” said a Pelicans pitcher.  “And I really am talking about the mountains.”

Some of the non-natural scenery was entertaining as well.  For starters, being a Red Sox affiliate there has to be a green monster.  In Salem the monster isn’t part of the actual field, but instead is present behind the third base side seats.  Lewis-Gale Field is home to a mini-Fenway.  The park is free and open during Red Sox games for wiffle ball.  It even has its own fully operational manual scoreboard on the monster.

Just for fun I took some hacks at mini-Fenway.  I was twice robbed by the monster.  It was a cool, yet frustrating experience.  Now I know how Wade Boggs must have felt about all those doubles that could have been homers.

Finally, what’s a ballpark without a little fun and games.  Check out the sign they had next to the elevator.  By the way, there are two stair options.  You can take the actual stairs, or you can climb the grandstands to get to the top and the press box.

Try the stairs?

BALLPARK PLAY:

There are a few unique features of Lewis-Gale Field.  For starters the outfield wall is 20 feet high all around.  That didn’t matter to Cafe Martinez and Tomas Telis, but it can take a few homeruns away.  Secondly, the wind blows in fairly strong from centerfield, or at least it did this series.

“The wind is a pain to play with,” said one hitter.

It really didn’t seem to matter too much, though.  The teams scored a combined 28 runs in the first two games of the series.

CLUBHOUSE:

Maybe the biggest visiting clubhouse in the league, there are a lot of comforts of playing at Salem.  The visiting clubhouse might even rival the size of the home one in Myrtle Beach.  Salem’s home clubhouse, by the way, is palatial.  You could house a small village in it.

The little monster at Mini-Fenway

“The space and accessibility to the field are nice,” said one player.  By accessibility he was referencing the ease of getting to the field from the clubhouse, which has a tunnel to the dugout and is located underneath the bleachers.

HOTEL:

We have redacted the name of the hotel from this section.  We’ll do so throughout this part.  It is a common chain, we will say that.

“It was average.  The beds were small,” said one Myrtle Beach player.  On a plus side the HD TVs were new in the rooms.

Another saving grace of the hotel was one particular breakfast selection: chocolate batter for waffles.  From what I could tell, most made marble waffles, but there might have been some that went strictly chocolate.  This is the first time I’ve seen this in all of my hotel breakfast conquests.

“I didn’t get to try them,” said a Pelicans pitcher somewhat sadly.  “I just noticed them after breakfast this morning.”

FOOD:

Food is always important when on the road.  Because you don’t have a car, it’s important to have good food options within walking distance.  In this area, the Salem roadtrip wins big.  While it can be a bit of a walk (20 minutes depending on where you go), there are so many different options from Chinese to Applebee’s, TGI Fridays, Carrabas, Panera and a mall with a food court and several other choices, including a Buffalo Wild Wings.

“The food options there are good.  Probably a nine,” remarked a pitcher.  The one demerit was that it was a little bit of a walk, but the walk was easy and involved crossing no major roads, which sometimes is a required on roadtrips.

OVERALL RATING: The consensus among the players was 7 out of 10.  Not too shabby, and a definite place the team will enjoy a return trip to.