I’m zipping at 80 MPH down the I-5 freeway from Sacramento to Stockton on a 2 lane asphalt road littered with tomatoes and dead possum. The smell of cow manure is thick and constant as it tends to be in California’s Central Valley. I am on my way to Banner Island Ballpark, home of the Oakland A’s single A affiliate, The Stockton Ports. I had contacted the Ports a week earlier and their representatives were kind enough to give me a free ticket directly behind home plate complete with media credentials. The mixture of early evening and broad anticipation were beautiful, and the sun was burning into my windshield as I daydreamed about life on a farm while they passed by in bunches like failed dreams and time.
Stockton is a city that has dealt with civic bankruptcy, gang-related crime and drugs; and like many other California cities during tough economic times Banner Island Ballpark is incipient of the city’s attempt at downtown revitalization and a catalyst for civic change. Built in 2005 and seating 5,200 the ballpark is a quaint and intimate gem sitting on the waterfront. I was impressed by the amount of fans waiting patiently for the gates to open an hour before the game, many wearing Athletics gear. The fans were lively and animated, a few old ladies were scoring the game and there was even an older gentleman sporting a handlebar mustache with a plastic megaphone heckling the opposing team. I had forgotten how much I enjoyed minor league baseball and was absolutely enthralled by the passion these fans were showing; I half expected Susan Sarandon to waddle by in a tight dress with a sexy Carolina accent and a copy of Walt Whitman.
The past: Dallas “Perfect Game” Braden is somewhat of a legend in Oakland because of his perfect game on Mother’s Day in 2010, but the Stockton native is an absolute God here. The man with 209 (the Stockton area code) tattooed on his stomach had his number retired by the Ports this year and is a dominate presence around the park. I think it’s a shame that his career was cut short due to a “shredded” rotator cuff as he was a solid pitcher and a gamer who once confronted A-Rod for walking on “his” mound. Today he is a talking head for ESPN and the MLB Network and I enjoy him on that platform as well.
The future: Jacob Nottingham, one of two players acquired in the recent Scott Kazmir deal with Houston looks like an absolute stud at 6’3, 227 and despite his baby face has the look of a future big leaguer. (I have read scouting reports comparing him to Mike Piazza) It’s been said that the 20-year-old needs to work on his catching fundamentals but I saw no obvious weaknesses as he seemed in control of the game and the synchronicity with his pitcher, Matt Stalcup, equaled a one hitter through six innings. Nottingham stepped into the box in the first inning and the P.A. announcer told the crowd that everyone in my section would win a free In N’ Out (a California hamburger chain) double–double burger if he, indeed, hit a double. The next pitch was ripped down the third base line for a stand up double and free dinner for me and everyone else on the way home. Thanks, Jacob. You have a new fan here…and will always be known as “Double Double” from here on out as far as The ‘Fro is concerned.
Final score: Stockton Ports 4 Rancho Cucamonga Quakes 0.