Editor’s Note: Mark Cryan, former MiLB general manager and Ballpark Digest contributing editor, embarked on an epic ballpark tour this summer, and he filed regular dispatches from the road. Today’s stops: Yakima and Boise.
Our journey to Boise was one of our more memorable trips. We finished watching the game in Tacoma and decided we should get a few hours of driving done before turning in for the night. We checked our trusty Wal-Mart atlas and saw that Yakima was on our way, and it had two Wal-Marts. And, I knew that Yakima used to have a Northwest League team, so there would be a ballpark to check out in the morning. It’s perfect!
Welcome to Yakima
Well, maybe not perfect, but certainly memorable. When we left the bright lights of Tacoma and headed out into western Washington state, it turned really deserted really quickly. We should have been clued in by the fact there were NO Wal-Mart’s between Tacoma and Yakima, a drive of over 2½ hours. If there’s no Wal-Mart, it means there are no people in the area.
So after miles and miles of nothing, we were in Yakima, and there was Wally World, right off the interstate. We pulled in, and before I had even shut off the motor, the Wal-Mart security guard was pulling his car up next to the van. “Store’s about to close, but if you are planning to park overnight, you get one night, and you need to park over in that corner of the parking lot.” He pointed to the end of the parking lot closest to the highway.
Most of the Wal-Mart parking lots we have staying in resembled an RV lot. As we drove slowly to the indicated end of the lot, we saw just a couple camping trailers, and a few cars with sheets or sunshields in the windows. Then, we saw a battered Ford Windstar minivan with trash piled up to the bottom of windows, and an old charcoal grill strapped to roof. A second look revealed a woman sleeping on the grass at the edge of the parking lot, her lower body swaddled in a sleeping bag but her arms flung wide like a crime scene silhouette. There was also a man sleeping next to the van, with his head on the curb, using the concrete like a pillow. We decided to try to the other Wal-Mart in town, something we had felt compelled to do only one other time.
Welcome to Yakima, Take Two
The other Wal-Mart was probably a good fifteen-minute drive away; I hadn’t realized Yakima was that big. It was a shiny new Wal-Mart surrounded by some new housing developments and some empty fields. There was only one other camper in the lot, but we figured we were in good shape, and settled in to sleep.
When we woke up and took our morning walk into the store, I noticed that the gas flap on the van was open. I had filled the tank right after we left the first Yakima Wal-Mart, so I figured I had left it open by accident. Then, as I got close, I saw the tear drop-shaped wet spot on the asphalt right under my gas cap. Either the van belched a little gas after I parked, or someone siphoned gas out of our tank during the night.
The gas gauge still read “FULL” so we likely lost less than a gallon, and if someone needs the gas that bad, I don’t begrudge them. But, it was a strange feeling to think that someone may have been sneaking around the van, just a few feet from where we slept inside. It was probably the most uncomfortable thing we had experienced to that point in the trip. Needless to say, we found ourselves a decent hotel the next night.
Sports has been described as the front porch to a university, according to some of the standard arguments in favor of big-time collegiate athletics. There might not be a place where that is more true that Boise, Idaho. Honestly, aside from the head-scratching decision to host a college bowl game in Boise, and more importantly, the Smurf Turf and the Boise State upset of Oklahoma in a major bowl game, how many of us would have any idea where or what Boise is if it weren’t for athletics?
So, yes, of course, we had to see the blue turf. Ironically, we had arrived on a weekend when the turf was being excavated out from under a green natural grass field that had been put down to host a soccer game featuring a well-known team from the Basque region of Spain. Boise has a big Basque population, and this game was planned as part of a major festival. But, it was half-uncovered by the time we visited, and it’s an unusual sight, even more so in person.
The folks at Boise State are very accommodating; they know everyone wants to “See the Blue,” so there are signs with that message directing people to a nice Boise State sports museum that opens out onto a small seating section where you can “See the Blue.” Mission accomplished. Now, it’s time for some Hawks baseball!
The poor ballpark in Boise is much-maligned by many; all I knew about it heading in was that it was so disliked by the Cubs, the former parent team, that they moved their club elsewhere after much complaining. What we found in Boise was an unremarkable ballpark, but one that clearly had been well cared for, with lots of color, fresh paint, and improvement.
Judging by the hats we saw (and the NY Times map of “Baseball Nation”), this is Mariners country. But, the Rockies are the next closest team, and with a Colorado affiliation, maybe they can make Idaho into Rockies country. There was lots of purple in the ballpark, including a nice new deck area down the third-base line. There are flags flying over each section of the grandstand, and huge signage welcoming your “Hawkstown,” and identifying the stadium.Even the maintenance area in this park is immaculate.
The park itself, admittedly, is nothing spectacular. Located on the far end of the local fairgrounds, with a few fast -food places and the like across the road, the grandstand is comprised of three tall, prefab concrete sections of seating, one behind home plate and symmetrical flanking sections on the first and third sides respectively. It’s very basic; the sections are actually not even connected, but there are lots of restrooms and concessions spaces underneath, and tons of free parking in the gravel lots in front of the ballpark. The field lights are held up by wooden poles, which you don’t see very often anymore. I didn’t see areas like team offices and clubhouses, but there are certainly some elements missing; there’s no roof, no 360-degree concourse, no luxury suites or club areas, but it’s a decent, serviceable facility.
Kids’ Eye View by Ty Cryan
There is a spacious kids’ play area down the first side that includes some things for the little kids, and a big slab of concrete painted up as a baseball field where a lively game of wiffleball was being played. There was lots of room to move around and some great open spaces where you could bounce a tennis ball off the wall, and it’s a great park for foul balls. The best spot to snag a ball is in the asphalt concourse area beyond the deck down the third-base line. I hung out down there, and got my first ball before the end of the first inning.
The visiting bullpens are also right against a low chain link fence on the first base side, next to the wiffleball “field” and it was easy to talk with the players.
The Times, They Are A-Changin’
There is talk about a new ballpark, and the Boise area is be prosperous and growing. The new ownership, which has experience in bringing new ballpark projects to fruition in other parts of the country, perhaps can get a new facility completed here. The current facility is adequate as a temporary solution, but the industry keeps moving forward, and even at the Short Season A level, a team needs to have an attractive location and the revenue sources such as suites and club areas to maximize revenue and to best contribute to the economy and quality of life in the region. In the meantime, the team’s staff seems to be doing everything in-ballpark that the current facility can handle. So, come to Boise, “See the Blue,” and check out Memorial Stadium if you can. One way or another, I doubt it will be hosting pro baseball for many more years.