Lansing Lugnuts – May 21

After a pair of games in Toronto, I set out early on Saturday morning to drive to Lansing, Michigan. The drive from Toronto to Lansing is roughly five hours, but with the Canadian long weekend just starting, the border was likely to be slow.

I crossed into the U.S. at the Sarnia border. The drive over the bridge took forever, and because of fog, there was absolutely no visibility:

Soon enough, I was into Michigan:

The border was mind-numbingly slow. Customs guards were checking the trunks of many cars, and when I finally got up to the booth, I had to show the guard the snacks in my cooler to prove it didn’t contain weapons of mass destruction. Nevertheless, I passed through without incident, and drove straight to Lansing. I was pretty excited for this game, as the Lugnuts are the A affiliate of the Blue Jays, so it’d be neat to see a bunch of future Jays. Last summer, I watched the Jays’ then-Short Season A affiliate, the Auburn Doubledays. If you’re in the New York State area, I definitely recommend checking out Falcon Park.

The Lugnuts play at Cooley Law School Stadium (perhaps the smartest ballpark name in baseball), which is adjacent to the campus of Michigan State University. The Spartans also share the stadium:

I always show up early, but even 1.5 hours before game time, there were a ton of people milling around. Why? Because it was one of the Lugnuts’ three bobblehead giveaway nights. I bought my ticket …

… and started my walking tour of the outside of the stadium. Because the facility is downtown, it’s surrounded by a sidewalk and you can see the field from many different places outside the fence:

After my tour, I got in line and waited. Though the facility is nice, it’s close to a homeless shelter so there were a number of homeless men sleeping on the benches around the park and going from fan to fan asking for money. I mean, it’s not the end of the world, but if that sort of stuff bothers you, you may find it a bit intimidating in front of the stadium at times.

After the long wait, the gates were opened and I got my bobblehead. Who was it? Check back soon for a quick update on the player who was featured on it. Once I got into the stadium, I took a walk around to check out the scenes. Here’s a panorama I shot soon after entering:

Cooley Law School Stadium has lots of places to watch the game. There are decks, picnic areas, grass berms and many different little spots. It’s pretty neat. I like moving around during the game, and this ballpark definitely is ideal for that. From top to bottom, here is one of the grass berms in the outfield, part of an extensive kids’ play area beyond left field, a picnic area in left-center and the walkway that shows the field, a first fence, a concourse, a second fence, the sidewalk and the road:

At low levels of pro ball, it’s typically easy to get a ton of autographs before the game. Lansing, however, was a bit different. The team has two players sign in the right field corner for about 20 minutes, but other than that, no one came to the fence to sign. I got both guys on a ball. (Their names escape me right now, and the ball’s in my car so I can’t check. I’ll blog about it and upload a photo later.) Here they are signing for some kids:

Pretty soon, the Lugnuts came out to throw. I got an up-close picture of Gustavo Pierre, who I think has the tools to reach the Majors:

While I was hanging out at the fence on the first base side, I spotted a ball just out of my reach:

It was directly below me, and short of jumping on the field, there was no way I could get it. After the starter’s bullpen session, Lansing’s pitching coach packed up the bullpen and because it was starting to rain, I figured I’d let him know about the hidden ball so it wouldn’t get soaked and ruined.

“Coach, there’s one here,” I said. He looked over, then picked it up. “Do you want it?” he asked. Of course! I think he appreciated that I wasn’t just demanding the ball like everyone else does. So, after getting one ball in Toronto, I got an official Midwest League ball. This is the first ball from this league in my collection:

By the time of the first pitch, the umbrellas were starting to come out. The rain fell steadily throughout most of the game, but never came down hard enough to warrant a stoppage. I normally like to sit in several different areas each game, but since every unoccupied seat was soaked, I mostly stood.

Eventually, I got my dinner — a Philly cheesesteak sandwich. The “cheese” was gross and unnecessary, but the steak itself was actually really tasty:

I also checked out the Lugnuts Hall of Fame area. I didn’t know that Carlos Beltran and Carlos Zambrano once played for this team:

The game itself was mental. Lansing scored a pair of runs in the first inning, but Bowling Green exploded with seven in the second. Lansing then responded by scoring runs in every inning but the eighth to win 13-9. The team combined for 36 hits, too, plus nine total walks. I think it’s safe to say these teams’ batters are ahead of the pitchers, development-wise. The Lugnuts have had a couple huge offensive games since then, too.

After the game, I watched the fireworks show and headed back to my hotel. In the morning, I’d head north to Midland, Michigan, to watch the Great Lakes Loons in what’s considered one of the best ballparks in the Minor Leagues.

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