About a month ago, I planned to make the drive to Burlington, VT, to watch the Short-Season A Lake Monsters play a doubleheader at Centennial Field.
In the days leading up to that game, I kept an eye on the weather forecast, which read something like rain-rain-thundershowers-rain-thundershowers-thundershowers-rain.
So, I decided not to risk the long drive … and the doubleheader went off without a hitch.
Fast forward to last week, when I was planning to visit Vermont on August 21. The forecast was eerily similar, but I decided to chance it. Instead of making a solo trip, I went with a good friend I don’t get to see enough. We met bright and early and headed out into the rain, thunder and lightning that was the entire drive to Vermont.
About 30 minutes outside Burlington, the rain let up to a light drizzle, and shortly before we arrived at Centennial Field, the drizzle stopped completely. Perfect!
We got to the park around 11:20 a.m. for the 1 p.m. game, so there were only a handful of cars in the parking lot:
Note that I said it was a 1 p.m. game. But when we got up to the ticket window, there was an ominous message …
… a 6:05 p.m. start? I asked the ticket vendor incredulously, thinking the forecast had bumped the start of the game. Luckily, he said the 6:05 reference was an error. Whew!
With some time to kill before the gates opened, we took a walk toward the left field corner, and made a right turn to get behind the outfield fence to look for balls. Here’s the scene:
But since there was no batting practice because of the rain, there were no balls to be had. I’ve got to think that if BP had been on, the balls would’ve been easy to snag. Nevertheless, we continued the walk with our eyes peeled for balls, and I paused to take my usual ticket shot:
In the background is the Lake Monsters log cabin-themed scoreboard, which is unique looking, despite lacking a little on the information-giving side of things:
After making it to center field, we turned into the area beyond the right field fence where this was the scene:
Back here, there were a few neat things to see. Members of the Vermont side were having a pre-game prayer group:
While the Hudson Valley Renegades took some swings in the cage behind them:
No one paid us any notice, including a staff member who walked by at one point. I scanned the area for balls, and quickly noticed a white blip up against a chain-link fence well beyond the area we were standing in. I went closer and found this:
The markings are mostly rubbed off, but it was an official Northwest League ball. In other words, it was a long way from home. I’m trying to collect a ball from every league I’ve visited, so this was a super-cool find.
So far, I have balls from the:
– Major Leagues
– International League
– Eastern League
– Carolina League
– Midwest League
– South Atlantic League
– New York-Penn League
– Northwest League
With no other balls to find, we walked back toward the left field corner …
… and peeked over the fence to see the Renegades close up:
Actually, it wasn’t the first time we saw the team so close. They were using the adjacent soccer field’s dressing room as their clubhouse, so they walked down the driveway we used to access the field.
There wasn’t much to see when we walked in the other direction from the park’s main gate. A fence blocked off the area, but we were able to look into the concourse:
See the Ford display in the foreground? A minute or so after I took this picture, the employees began packing it up quickly. Hmmm. It appeared they knew something we didn’t, because soon after, the skies opened up again.
Though the scene was grim, it wasn’t all bad; the gate attendants let everyone in early to get a bit of shelter, and even said we could use the handicap area because it was covered. People in Vermont seem pretty friendly.
Over the next hour, the rain fell hard and fell soft, but kept falling continuously. Despite the showers, we wandered around the stadium to note the old, cement general admission section …
… and the wooden seats:
Scenery aside, there wasn’t much else happening here of note:
Eventually, an announcement said the game wouldn’t begin at 1 p.m., but that team officials hoped things would get underway within an hour or so. Around this time, members of the Renegades came out and played catch:
And returned from the batting cage:
Just when things were looking up, more thunder struck, the players retreated and the skies went dark again. Here’s where we took refuge during another downpour:
With the rain still coming down, we moved out into the concourse (staying against the building under the roof’s overhang) and went to the team shop:
I ended up buying a Lake Monsters alternate cap, which has a unique look because of its white front panel:
We also stopped by the team’s silent auction table, where I resisted the urge to bid on an MC Hammer bobblehead:
As the rain let up, we began to hear talk that the game would begin around 1:40 p.m., which wasn’t bad, all things considered. For the next while, we walked around to take in the sights, including a historical plaque:
The Lake Monsters clubhouse, located behind the first base-side bullpen:
And another panoramic view of Centennial Field from atop the stands behind the first base line:
Below is a photo looking down at the home clubhouse. Fans can stand behind the yellow chain and get autographs as the players enter and exit, though there still wasn’t any activity:
So, we took a rather “you shouldn’t be here”-looking path behind the clubhouse …
… to an area called The Cage, which is a bar right behind the batting cage. On our way, we could see piles of cleats in the windows of the clubhouse …
… and the batting cages:
Here’s the bar, such as it is:
In its defense, what it lacks in appearance, it makes up for in location. It’s a neat place to watch the game. In this area, a bunch of Lake Monsters were playing cards and a handful more were playing darts:
FINALLY, the Lake Monsters came out to stretch:
And the bullpen got some life in it. Below is starting pitcher Brent Powers tossing:
The game began around 1:50 p.m., so we made a quick stop at the concession stand and took our seats directly behind home plate, where we had this view:
And equally importantly, here was my view as I devoured a rather good sausage on a bun:
We actually ended up sitting two rows behind Chris Pittaro, the A’s director of pro scouting, who spent a lot of his time firing off emails on his iPhone.
After four innings, we made another stop at the concession stand, bought some Dippin’ Dots and found a relatively dry spot in the bleachers on the first base line.
Is there anything better?
Hudson Valley seemed to be cruising along until Vermont second baseman Michael Fabiaschi blasted a fifth-inning grand slam (his first career pro dinger) to put the Lake Monsters ahead for good. It’s always neat to see a guy’s first home run, and Fabiaschi (#12) was pretty stoked:
Vermont put up a three-spot an inning later to take an 8-3 lead. With the game well in hand, we made our way back to The Cage, which was empty. Before settling in to watch the rest of the game, I made my way behind a chain-link fence into a forest to retrieve a foul ball that’d been hit an inning earlier. It was easy to find and was in near-perfect condition:
We had this view for the last inning or so …
… and watched the Lake Monsters celebrate after their 8-3 win to extend their lead in the Stedler Division:
After the game, we went to the Vermont clubhouse where I got a handful of autographs on a ball. (As usual, I’ll blog about this separately.)
Then, we went around to the picnic area down the third base line to gain access to the field to play some catch. Here’s a shot of the empty ballpark from the field:
After taking this shot, I noticed some pieces of paper affixed to the visitors dugout wall. I asked a grounds crew member if I could go retrieve the official lineup card, and his response was, “Go for it.” Like I said earlier, friendly people in Vermont. Anyway, the lineup was gone; all that remained was stats sheets, which I wasn’t really interested in.
Still, it was a great experience at an interesting, historical-feeling ballpark. We hit the road as soon as our game of catch was done, and drove through rain so hard that we had to pull off the road at one point. I’m just glad the rain held off long enough for nine innings.