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April 16, 2013

Punk Hits

Road Games

by Ian Miller

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I have two amazing jobs, one of which is writing here, but neither of those pays my mortgage. For that I have a day job that is so arcane and boring that it does not even warrant description.

My other side job that doesn’t pay the mortgage: I play bass in Kowloon Walled City, a San Francisco-based band that’s been around since 2007. We’ve put out a few records and played a few shows. The pay is terrible, but the fringe benefits are great: Playing music not only keeps me from going insane, but it also gives me an opportunity to travel and see things I wouldn’t ordinarily get to see.

Case in point: last night I got back from a short (eight-night) East Coast tour during which I managed to make it to parts of four different professional baseball games. Lots of things had to align to make this possible: baseball season had to be underway (it was), there had to be games scheduled in the towns we were playing (shockingly, this was the case in seven of the eight cities we visited), and I had to work out the logistics of attending each game. This is tougher than it might seem. When you’re on tour, your time is not your own: you have to figure in drive times, soundchecks, door times, set times, and the indulgence of your bandmates. Through a convergence of good luck and #want, I managed to make it to four games in four different cities. What follows is a recounting of last week’s baseball-related activities.

Game 1: Saturday, April 6. New York Mets defeat Miami Marlins 7-3.

Ticket cost: $5 (scalper). Innings seen: 2-7.

This was the day of the first night of the mini-tour, and it ended up being the best day and night of the entire trip. We’d gotten in the day before and were crashing with friends in Park Slope. I’d already made my pilgrimage to my favorite pizza place, and we had nothing to do until load-in at 7 p.m., so I convinced Scott (KWC singer/guitarist) to head out to Flushing to take in a day game with me.

I grew up going to games at Shea and actually remember it as charming in a depressing, cognitively dissonant way. Maybe that’s just how one feels about the ballpark one grew up going to. But Citi Field is a dramatic improvement no matter how you look at it. It’s not my favorite style of park, but I do like the wide-open concourses and the sightlines are great. And there are far, far fewer planes flying overhead at Citi than there were at Shea.

As soon as we got off the train, the scalpers were up in our grill. The cheapest tickets I’d seen on Craigslist and StubHub were tennish dollars and the game was already underway. We were offered field level for $20, and I countered with “I’ve got $5 for any ticket that will get me in the door.” The secondary ticket market speculator immediately produced two bleacher tickets and I handed over $10.

It was a brisk day—46 degrees at game time, according to the box score—but perfect in the sunshine that our scalped right-center field bleacher seats afforded us. We were just to the first-base side of the home run apple and had a perfect view of Giancarlo Stanton. We weren’t treated to a great game—it was the Marlins and Mets, after all—but we did get to see a rare runner’s interference call when Juan Pierre collided with catcher John Buck after Pierre had scored. That was interesting.

But as is often the case, the real show was in the bleachers. Three rows in front of us was a guy in a Darryl Strawberry jersey whose response to everything—literally everything—was “get the f*ck outta heayuh!” Something happens on the field? “Get the f*ck outta heayuh!” His buddy says something to him? “Get the f*ck outta heayuh!” He didn’t always annunciate the “Get the” part, so it usually sounded more like “F*ck outta heayuh!”

Then a guy two rows in front of us gets on Darryl Strawberry guy’s case for his use of profanity, citing the presence of kids in the vicinity. There are no kids in the vicinity, and it’s fairly clear this guy just wants to beef. Instigator guy walks over to Darryl and things get heated, and Darryl asks the profanity issue-taker what he’s gonna do about it. But instigator guy just stands there, jawing. Darryl Strawberry proudly tells the assembled throngs that he’s been kicked out of every stadium he’s ever been to, and that if he gets thrown out today he’ll just be back tomorrow, and no one can stop him. And right on cue, stadium security shows up to escort him and his party from Citi Field. Five or 10 minutes later they come back for the instigator and bounce him too.

It was coming up on 4 p.m. and we were looking at a long train ride back to Park Slope and a potentially even longer drive to the venue in Greenpoint, so we watched one more Stanton AB and then got the f*ck outta theayuh.

Show highlights: The show at St. Vitus that night was probably my favorite of the entire tour: saw some great friends, played okay, and got my face melted by our tour-mates Zozobra for the first time. If you’re so inclined, you can watch the entire show here, although I don’t know why you’d want to do that.

Game 2: Monday, April 8. Durham Bulls defeat Gwinnett Braves 2-1.

Ticket cost: $6.99. Innings seen: 1-6.

I was especially excited for this one. KWC was playing at the Casbah near the Duke campus, which is less than a mile away from Durham Bulls Athletic Park. As soon as we loaded into the club and set up the merch booth, I took off solo for DBAP. The park was designed by HOK/Populous, the firm responsible for Camden Yards, Coors Field, and other big-league stadia. And it’s gorgeous. Seven bucks got me in the door (general admission) and I took up my position in the right field bleachers where I could watch uber-prospect Wil Myers.

My god, Myers is dreamy. Tall, lean, athletic, with the goodest of good faces. Every inch a ballplayer. But he wasn’t nearly the only prospect on display: Durham also has Hak-Ju Lee and Jake Odirizzi, who just happened to be starting that night. The Braves brought some prospect heat too, in the forms of Joey Terdoslavich and Tyler Pastornicky.

But the way Odirizzi was throwing, it didn’t much matter who Gwinnett skipper Randy Ready sent up: Odirizzi was gonna mow ‘em down. In the 6th, Terdoslavich turned on an Odirizzi pitch that sent Myers to the track in deep right, but Odirizzi would hold the Braves scoreless through 6 2/3 while striking out eight. The Braves’ Omar Poveda matched him every step of the way, however, and the game was still scoreless when I left after six. The only offensive highlight I got to see was Hak-Ju Lee drawing a walk and immediately stealing second. Then it was back to the Casbah for the show.

Show highlights: The Casbah is amazing because they have a FREE JOUST/ROBOTRON MACHINE. If I didn’t have to sell our band’s merch, I would’ve been posted up at that machine all damn night, playing Joust until my fingers blistered. Man, I love that game. And it was free!

Also, Solar Halos opened the show and not only were they cool people and a good band, they have possibly the greatest drummer I’ve ever seen in my life. If you get a chance to see them, do it.

Game 3: Tuesday, April 9. Bowie Bay Sox defeat Richmond Flying Squirrels, 8-7.

Ticket cost: $7. Parking cost: $3. Innings seen: 1-3.

Kowloon Walled City is a notoriously prompt band, and we managed to arrive in Richmond a couple of hours before load-in. Of course I suggested that we conduct a band outing to the Diamond to see the Flying Squirrels’ home opener, and I even offered to pay. Selfless, I tell ya.

The scene at the Diamond was festive; it seemed like most of the city had turned out to support the Squirrels. The ballpark had the feel of a multi-purpose bowl of bygone days, and is overly large for a Double-A team. However, the steeply banked seating offers good sightlines and made you feel like you were right on top of the action.

I was surprised that the majority of the Richmond roster comprised guys I’d followed/covered in San Jose last year: Joe Panik, Andrew Suscac, Ehire Adrianza, Ricky Oropesa, and others. We lasted three innings: we were cold and hungry and needed to load in at Strange Matter, the legendary punk-rock venue near VCU. That means we didn’t see Richmond drop a five-spot on Bowie in the fourth, nor did we see Bowie come storming back to score four in the sixth and three more in the eighth and eventually win 8-7. We did see Joe Panik hit a single, though!

Show highlights: Strange Matter is an amazing venue packed with video games (Mortal Kombat III! Not free, but I’ll take it!) and serving vegan- and omnivore-friendly cuisine. Also, our brothers in Ancient Shores played the second of two shows with us and completely destroyed the joint. Go to Strange Matter. Listen to Ancient Shores. Play Mortal Kombat.

Game 4: Thursday, April 11. Pawtucket Red Sox defeat the Rochester Red Wings 5-4.

Ticket cost: $8. Parking cost: $10. Innings seen: 2-7.

I was nearly as excited about seeing the PawSox as I was the Bulls. After all, McCoy Stadium was the site of the longest game in professional baseball history, which was a contest between these same two teams. (Dan Barry’s excellent Bottom of the 33rd recounts the events of that game; I recommend it highly.)

As soon as we got our stuff inside Machines with Magnets, I commandeered the van and guitarist Jon and I made the pilgrimage to McCoy. Time was tight—we listened to the pregame festivities on the radio on the way over—so I pulled into the first paid-parking situation I saw, which ended up being some guy’s backyard. He seemed to have eight or 10 cars arrayed around his yard—not a bad way to make a few bucks during the season.

Jon and I snagged general admission tickets and made it inside just as the first inning concluded. We took a few minutes to tour the facility; I especially wanted to see the longest-game display. One wall on the main concourse is taken up with the story of that game, including the line score. Very glad I got to see it in person. We snagged some seats behind home plate; the unseasonably cold weather appeared to keep attendance sparse.

The Red Wings and PawSox lineups were the polar opposites of the Bulls and Bay Sox lineups: nearly bereft of prospect-y goodness. Some insurance policies, some warm bodies, and few AAAA guys... and David Ortiz. Big Papi was making a rehab start with Pawtucket, and we got to see him hit two singles and knock in a run. Chris Hernandez, the PawSox starter, was the typical junkballing lefty, with a fastball that topped out in the mid-80s.The offspeed stuff was good, and he induced some pretty silly-looking swings.

Red Wings starter Kyle Gibson appeared to have much better raw stuff, sitting 92-93, but gave up eight hits and five runs in 4 1/3. In the bottom of the fourth, Pawtucket’s J.C. Linares crushed a ball to right-center that would have been a no-doubt home run on a warm day; instead it clanged off the wall for a long double. I still don’t know how Linares can play center with that body; he has to profile as a corner outfielder, doesn’t he? He’s a big dude.

Doors were opening at 9 and Jon and I were both chilled after six innings in the cold, so we headed back to the club, just 27 innings shy of the all-time record.

Show highlights: Two high-school friends of mine, Dave and Dave, made the pilgrimage from Connecticut to Pawtucket to see the show and hang out. Dave even brought me a T-shirt of the thrash band we played in together more than 20 years ago. Now those are some good friends.

I’m really lucky to have a job/hobby (jobby?) that allows me to cruise around and see friends and attend baseball games. When else would I have a chance to see a game in Durham or Pawtucket? Probably not ever, unless I scheduled a trip solely for that purpose. If nothing else, this trip reminded me how great minor-league baseball is, even when there are no stud prospects on the field and the ballpark is decrepit. Sometimes it’s enough to be outside with other people just watching a baseball game.

Ian Miller is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Ian's other articles. You can contact Ian by clicking here

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