In the past five years, Jaime and I have taken a liking to Minor League Baseball. Our local team, the Savannah Sandgnats, is the minor league affiliate of the New York Mets in the Single A South Atlantic League.
In the past, the Sandgnats have been a crummy team. Really crummy. They have finished just about every season in which I’ve seen games with a losing record. But, that’s okay. It’s a fun time going to the ballpark, and– win or lose– it doesn’t really matter.
The Gnats play at Historic Grayson Stadium, about 4 miles outside of downtown. It’s a beautiful old ballpark, sometimes billed as the “Wrigley Field of the Minor Leagues.” Over the years, it has hosted many great players, such as Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle and Jackie Robinson. The stadium is in need of lots of love.
That’s why I was a little disappointed in some of the changes that were made to Grayson for this season. The people of Savannah were nice enough to give $5 Million via the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, meant for improvements to the stadium. To me, the improvements were not improvements at all.
The largest and most visible change is the “new scoreboard.” I put that in quotes because it is really not a scoreboard at all. What it is is a billboard for advertisements with a big television on it. There’s a huge Minor League Baseball advertisement, a Coke advertisement, a Budweiser advertisement, and, if I recall correctly, a Sandgnats advertisement. There is a clock/temperature display. The only redeeming quality is that there is a pitch speed indicator.
But notice what I did not mention: something to display the score. That’s right, the new scoreboard doesn’t actually display the score. Instead, it displays advertisements that resemble– ah hell– they are commercials. The play commercials between innings now. During the actual game play, they display static graphics of the batting player’s name, number, and position.
But still, no score. Also missing is a progressive statistic indicator, such as “Joe Blow, CF, #12 – 0 for 3, 2K and Ground Out”. Also missing is a “guess tonight’s attendance” trivia. Hell, there is no team trivia at all. Isn’t that a staple at the ballgame?
The new scoreboard is also terribly bright. I mean really bright. So bright, in fact, that when the main lights went out, the field was still clearly illuminated by the huge advertisement on the big screen. The sign was so bright that looking to the sign and then back to the action on the field was a difficult transition. It is just this massive, glaring beast of an annoyance in center field. The worst part? They left the sign on with a super-bright advertisement while the fireworks show took place. The sign was literally brighter than the fireworks.
So where is the score, you ask? Well let me tell you about the old scoreboard. Here is a photo:
As you can see, it was in rough shape. But, it had something that the new scoreboard will never have– character. It fit with the stadium, and with Savannah. It was manually operated because it’s electronics didn’t work. It was old, and it was a bigger part of Grayson Stadium than I think many people realized.
So, the score. Well, there is a new manually operated “scoreboard.” It is in left center field, painted onto one of the walls. The bottom of the scoreboard sits on the warning track, making it very low, very dark, and very difficult to read. This problem is compounded by the fact that they put what appear to be floodlights in the wall to indicate balls, strikes, and outs. When these floodlights turn on, it makes it even harder to read the score. It is still manually operated, like the old scoreboard. But to my eye, the digits seem smaller than the old scoreboard, and the contrast between the actual “scoreboard” and the digital screen “advertising scoreboard” makes keeping up with the score of the actual game very difficult. And, if you’re in the picnic area and a single person stands up, you’re not seeing the score.
As you can see, I’m quite disappointed. I don’t see how anyone can look at the new scoreboards and think that they are an improvement over what we had.
Among the other changes to the stadium is a new sound system. Unfortunately, it seems that the logic that was followed was “increasing bass makes it sound better.” The speakers used for the mids and highs are the same as in years past. They have the same massive amounts of distortion at any volume of significance, the same rattles, and the same buzzing and crackling when no audio is being pushed through them. I could go on and on and give a bigger critique, but even the best sound system can only do so much with the audio that is provided.
The other main improvement– and the only actual semi-improvement in my eyes– is the expanded seating. Basically, they ripped out every other row of benches in the stands, making sitting in the stands bearable for a six foot tall person like me. Of course, this has some major drawbacks. The problem with removing half the available seating is that the seating area is now twice as crowded. Granted, it was opening night and Thirsty Thursday (1/2 price beer, soda) so the crowd was much bigger than it would be for a normal game. But still, whose idea was it to rip out half the seating? That person should be looking for employment elsewhere, and not by choice.
There is another “improvement” in the works at ol’ Grayson. They’re tearing out the old left field bleachers. They have been condemned and off-limits for years now, so the plan is to remove them. The problem, in my eyes, is that there will continue to be no outfield seating anywhere in the stadium. None. Seating extends from 3rd base, around behind the plate, and all the way down the right field line. Fans at Grayson Stadium have no chance at ever catching a homerun ball, only foul balls. Where is the fun in that?
It stands to reason that if you are going to remove every other row of seating at the stadium, and you’re going to remove and not replace the left field bleachers, you’re setting yourself up for a big lost opportunity when a big name pro comes to Savannah during rehab. Let us catch home run balls! Let the kids catch home run balls!
There are only two other criticisms that I have. First, reluctantly, is the new MC. I’m optimistic that she will improve by leaps and bounds. She talks too fast, so fast that it is difficult to understand what she is saying. And after every unintelligible phrase comes the inevitable “WHHHHHOoooooooooooo!,” so loud that it made me thankful that beverages are served in plastic drinkware at Grayson Stadium.
The last criticism is a carryover from last year. To me, it is an irresponsible action that is repeated for every Thursday home game. See, every Thursday home game is Thirsty Thursday. Beer is half price. Pizza is $1 a slice. The new addition this year is that soda is half price as well. This is a good thing. Last year it was just cheap beer and pizza.
The problem I have with Thirsty Thursday is that at NO time does the PA announcer say anything about drinking responsibly. At NO time does the PA announcer mention anything about designated drivers. Beer is served through the last inning– not the 7th or even the 5th like other professional ballparks. The only semblance of suggested responsibility at Grayson Stadium is the final “Drive Safe.” Hell, the PA announcer doesn’t even announce that soda is half price– just beer and pizza. And the lines for beer– dedicated lines for beer– only serve beer. But if you’re a designated driver, you get to miss two innings standing in line to get a drink that won’t alter your consciousness.
To me, this is ridiculous. I mean, come on– you can’t feed people half price beer and not even suggest that they have a sober friend drive home, or even suggest that they curtail their drinking in order to help prevent drunk driving.
Instead what do they do? They have an official after-game bar that sponsors the stadium. Yeah, that’s right, after you’ve tossed back 7 or 8 cheap beers, grab a to-go cup, jump into your car, and drive downtown to drink some more. What a load of crap, a huge, steaming, stinky load of crap. Pathetic.
Anyway, I really do like the Sandgnats, and I really do like Minor League Baseball. I’ll probably head out to the stadium every couple of weeks for the rest of the season, as I have in seasons past.
I guess I’m just resistant to change when it degrades the ballpark experience. And I suppose that someone– someone who is completely off-base– could argue that I’m totally wrong in terms of responsible drinking.
That is all.