Hi there Spot Fans, and welcome to our second installment of “The Game Day Experience”. While our visit to John Thurman Field, home of the Modesto Nuts, took us to a more antiquated and neighborhood based ballpark, our visit to Banner Island Ballpark (or for all your new parents out there, the BIB), takes us to one of the newer sports venues here in the Central Valley. While John Thurman has its old league charms that make it a unique visit, The BIB is able to use its unique built in features to make it a fan friendly atmosphere that the whole family can enjoy. It was ranked as one of the top 10 minor league ball parks in America in 2006, and for good reason. So with that, the Spot took off on a pleasant Thursday evening with the purveyor of all things in good taste, Ms. #1, for the Stockton Ports Home opener vs. the Visalia Rawhide.
The BIB itself is a truly unique experience among valley stadiums. Located on the waterfront in Stockton’s downtown, name me another place that will let you actually dock your boat, to get to the game? And it definitely is quite the view to be able to look out past the outfield and see boats docked across the channel in the Stockton Marina or one of Stockton’s signature landmarks, the Weber Point Events Center. Once inside the park the park, there are two built in amenities that stand out and make the BIB unique. The first is the Jackson Rancheria Back Porch, nestled in right-center field. Listed by ESPN as one of the top 10 seating areas to watch a game in minor league baseball, instead of the Spot describing the Back Porch for you, He’ll just let ESPN do the work for him (they get paid more than me, so why not!):
"The home park of the Stockton Ports in California offers a right-field fence as odd as fans will find anywhere. But it's odd in a fan-friendly way, as its bowed course creates a bubble off the right-field seating lawn where an elevated porch offers patrons the chance to sit out in the middle of right-field fair territory. And these lucky fans sit in style, reclining beneath a shaded canopy in two rows of wooden rocking chairs at the Jackson Rancheria Back Porch. There are 50 rocking chairs in all."
What ESPN failed to mention was that those lucky patrons of the Back Porch also get an all-you-can eat BBQ that includes tri-tip, hot dogs, sausage and yes, even your favorite adult beverages. Now what’s not to like about that!
The second built-in amenity that makes the BIB a truly unique experience is where the Spot, Ms. #1 enjoyed the game, Home Run Hill. Upon looking from home plate out to right and center fields, you see two sections of nothing but green grass. No benches, no bleachers, no seats with cup holders, just green grass where families can bring their own lawn chairs, or just roll out a blanket, and enjoy a game at their own leisure. It’s definitely an experience to just sit back, relax, watch a father and son, or best friends, or any combination thereof, play catch while taking in a game, or watching the mad dash that ensues whenever a home run is hit into the grass in right or center fields (as the Spot’s luck would have it, there were two home runs hit out to home run hill this particular evening, one to his right, and one to his left…go figure!). It’s a feature that new ball parks, both major and minor league, would be smart to copy if they really want to more fan-centric.
Of course, as with any minor league baseball game, it’s not just the built-in amenities that make it an experience, but the in-game experiences, both planned and un-planned, that make a trip to the ball park worthwhile, and lucky for us, this game had its share. The first of those experiences happened to be of the unexpected variety. As the Spot and Ms. #1 made our way to Home Run Hill, we heard a shout from the bull pen of the Visalia Rawhide. As soon as we turned around one of the three Visalia Rawhide players in the bullpen tossed up a baseball our way. Why did they? No rhyme or reason, they just did. Did we care that those guys might never make “the show”? Nope…only that three guys playing in a game they we were at took the time to help make it one of those “only in the minors” moments . Clearly a class act by a class group of guys…why Ron Burgundy would be proud!
Now with any minor league ball game, you have your proverbial in-game contests. Yes, most minor league teams might just take the standard in-game contests out of your bland in-game contests hand book, but the Ports happen to go above and beyond in this department. The Ports you see have their very own “Director of Fun and Games”, and that title falls upon one Rod Villagomez. He did an excellent job of making those staid in-game contests fun for us fans. Among the Spot’s favorites…the jr. slugger who seemed more intent on joining Visalia in their dug out than playing musical chairs…and the fact that some of the younger staff members of the Ports really…and I mean really, need to brush up on one of the greatest 80’s songs of all time…”Livin’ on a prayer” by Bon Jovi! (Admit it, you’re all singing it to yourselves as you read this).
Now last but not least we have the one in-game attraction that probably trumps all others. The one thing that the Spot and Ms. #1 were looking forward to the most…wait for it…wait for it…not, not a sighting Shane Keough sighting (or anyone else from the “Real Housewives of Orange County”)…Funnel Cakes!!! Now, we’re both of the opinion that not all funnel cakes are created equal, and it’s clear that the funnel cakes at the BIB (located on the walk way between third base and the left field foul pole…FYI) are clearly in a class by themselves. That hot golden crisp dough, the strawberries in glaze, the whipped cream topping…yes, the Spot and Ms. #1 were looking forward to indulging in a BIB funnel cake for quite some time, and we weren’t disappointed! (Sorry Spot fans, that picture is as close as you’re gonna come to seeing a picture of Ms. #1!) Just as we remembered them, we devoured the funnel cake in no time flat. Yes Spot fans, the funnel cake in and of itself were worth the price of admission!
Now not every experience is perfect, and unfortunately for the Ports, what takes away from the experience isn’t even in their control. There is a reason that at times the City of Stockton puts the “fun” in dysfunction, and the creations of the BIB (and Stockton Arena for that matter) are a testament to this. How nice would it be to grab a bit to eat or a drink before or after a ball game? Why we could leave the ball park, cross the street and…oh wait…what’s that I see right across the street from the BIB...let’s see…some parking lots…a boarded up house or two…but nary a sports bar or restaurant. Really Stockton, could we of maybe redeveloped one side of the street while you did the other? But hey, what’s a few redevelopment dollars here or there when you’re busy dropping $2.7 million on a restaurant that’s now for sale? I’m just saying…
All in all Spot fans, our trip to the BIB was quite enjoyable, and there’s a reason the Spot made more than a few trips to the BIB last year, and will continue to do so again this year…
…’till next time…