Great Lakes Loons – May 22

I’d never been as far north in Michigan as Midland, which is in the Great Lakes area. That would change today. I checked out of my hotel in Lansing in the middle of the morning, and began the drive to Midland, home of the Great Lakes Loons and Dow Diamond. Like the Lugnuts, the Loons play in the Midwest League. They’re the A affiliate of the Los Angeles Dodgers and they were playing the South Bend Silver Hawks today.

The drive up to Midland was picturesque — lots of small towns and forests, similar in many ways to Canada. Midland itself is a pristine town. The major industry in town is Dow Chemical, and you can quickly tell the Dow family has a lot to do with the town’s image. Many different places — libraries, community areas, gardens, etc. — are named after the Dow family.

Speaking of Dow, I got to Dow Diamond about three hours before game time. There was a kids’ baseball clinic taking place on the field, so there was lots of activity around the ballpark. I opted to go to a nearby grocery store and buy some food for a picnic, and ate on the grass in front of the stadium, just to the left of the batter’s eye:

After lunch, I bought my ticket …

… and began to walk around the stadium’s exterior. Dow Diamond has several solar panels to harness the sun’s energy, which I thought was neat. I believe it’s the first ballpark I’ve seen that does such a thing, and since they were installed, the panels have generated roughly 127,000 kilowatt hours:

The place in which I ate lunch was actually the rear of the stadium. I think. When I walked around to the other side, there was another gate, but this was only for season ticket holders. There was also a huge team store, but it was closed until the gates opened:

At 1 p.m., the gates opened and I rushed in to see a picturesque ballpark. One of my favorite features is  the two fire pits in the outfield concourse:

Before walking around too much, I watched Loons starter Gustavo Gomez warming up. This was his first start of the season, and I imagine he was hoping to improve his 12.00 ERA. (He didn’t.)

Yesterday, I saw the Lansing Lugnuts impressive kids’ play area. Dow Diamond’s was different, but equally impressive. It was play structure-style instead of inflatable slides and such, but it would soon be full and the kids looked to be having a great time:

In the above photo, you can see Dow’s chemical plant in the distance.

The park also features free Wi-Fi, so I tuned into a few minutes of the Blue Jays game while I was waiting for the Loons game to start:

Can you say, baseball nerd?

The Loons soon came onto the field and began signing. This picture makes it look like the players are part of a synchronized signing team:

Wherever you looked, there were ties to the LA Dodgers, despite being so far away from California. Here’s a banner on a light pole and a party deck named after Tommy LaSorda, who was on hand when Dow Diamond opened:

In the first inning, I was standing on the concourse behind first base, watching the action. I noticed a historical plaque, so I turned to look at it …

… and learned that Dow Chemical’s headquarters stood adjacent to the ballpar …

THWACK!

A heard a bang right behind me, and half turned to watch a foul ball fly past me and over the fence. An usher told me it was extremely close to hitting me, but I wasn’t worried about that — I was worried about getting the ball. A maintenance guy picked up the ball, which had landed in a service area below. And, after three tries to throw it up to me, he finally got it far enough:

It might be hard to tell, but it’s got a major scuff on the right side, which is where it skipped off the cement. And, this was my first game ball of 2011! (I had previously gotten a BP ball in Toronto and a bullpen ball in Lansing.) Anyway, back to the plaque that almost cost me an injury. When Dow’s headquarters was demolished, the bricks were saved, ground into dust and used to build Dow Diamond’s warning track. A neat historical tie to the community.

Because of my pre-game picnic, I didn’t get a meal at this ballpark. I did, however, get a freshly squeezed lemonade in a Loons cup:

Is it just me, or does the loon look flirtatious or smug? Maybe a little of both.

Pretty soon, this was the sight overhead:

And suddenly, the rain came. After a few minutes of sprinkling, an all-out storm hit the area:

The hail was nearly as large as marbles, and though everyone had gathered in the concourse, people were still soaking wet. Then, as quickly as it came, the rain left again and the sun came out. The field was in a bad way, however:

The PA announcer declared that the grounds crew would fix the field and the game would resume, and I spent a few minutes chatting back and forth on Twitter with someone from the Loons head office. I had a 2.5 hour drive ahead of me, but I stuck around, hoping to see the conclusion of the game. The grounds crew did a great job getting rid of all the standing water, but after 1.5 hours, there was still a lot to be done, and I made the decision to hit the road. This was the first ballgame I’d ever left early, but there was no guarantee the field could even be salvaged, and I had a long drive ahead.

Of course, the game was resumed about 30 minutes later, and Great Lakes lost 10-7. I saw the bulk of the action, though. Gomez struggled heavily in his first start, giving up three hits, four walks and six earned runs in just 2.2 innings. The outing upped his ERA to 15.88 — ouch!

I listened to a bit of the Loons game on the drive out of town, and made it to Grand Rapids around dinner time. Tomorrow I’d see the West Michigan Whitecaps take on the Fort Wayne TinCaps.

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