Cal League Tour 2004: Phase V

Monday marked the 7-year anniversary of Ducksnorts. We kicked things off here back in 1997 with a look at the Hideki Irabu fiasco. The writing is probably a bit more heavy-handed than I’d feel comfortable with these days but overall I think it was a worthy first effort. It got me started at least. And so here we are now, gettin’ old together.

To the topic at hand. No, not missed Padre opportunities. We’ll have all winter for that. Now it’s time to wrap up the Ducksnorts/Syntax of Things Cal League Tour 2004.

San Jose Municipal Stadium

The story so far…


Syntax of Things

Our final jaunt just as easily could have been called "Murphy’s Leg" or "Running on Fumes." We accomplished what several months earlier we’d set out to do. We had survived. We had endured. We had prevailed.

But it wasn’t pretty.

We left San Diego a little after 9 AM Saturday morning. We did so under the following assumptions:

  1. The game in San Jose started at 7 PM.
  2. It would take us 8 hours to get to San Jose via San Luis Obispo—well worth the extra hour to avoid yet another dusty day on I-5.

First rule of a road trip? Bring lots of water, just in case. Second rule? If you have a destination in mind that is time-dependent, make damn sure you get the time right. As it turned out, the game was scheduled for 5 PM. My fault (but of course I blame the dog).

This eliminates our cushion but still gives us enough time to make it to the game in the first couple of innings. Enter assumption #2. Eight hours from San Diego to San Jose up US-101? Try six hours to Santa Barbara. Bumper-to-bumper traffic pretty much from downtown LA through Goleta. Uh-oh. New goal: Make it to the ballpark before the game finishes.

Traffic clears up, and I do mental calculations each time we pass a sign telling us how many miles to San Jose. Each time, it comes out the same: If we average 70-75 mph the rest of the way, we should arrive around 7:15.

We do, and we do. Park the car on the street, head to the ticket office. We can already see the scoreboard.

Sevens wild

Woman at the office tells us we can head on in, no charge. Tie game, we’re hoping maybe for some extra innings. But really we’re just grateful to be out of the car and at a game.

Random Modesto batter

And, as we soon realize, we are also tired and hungry. Thanks to some sloppy defense, Modesto pushes across three runs in the top of the ninth and holds on to win. We have spent 10 hours in a car to watch two innings of baseball. Before we leave, we manage to snap a few pictures of the place.

The Cal League mileage chart tells us just how far it is from one venue to the next. Tomorrow’s stop, Inland Empire, is a mere 397 miles from our current location. How comforting.

Cal League mileage chart

There is also a wall that contains all kinds of obscure facts about the Cal League, including the final standings from the 1898 season. We try to imagine how well teams named the Babies and the Prune Pickers would fare in the 21st century.

1898 Cal League standings

One great thing about the stadium in San Jose is that it’s in the middle of a heavily Asian part of town, which means no trouble finding good eats. We drop ourselves at a random Vietnamese place and feast, accompanied by some Asian music award show on television. Jeff will recall with pride having eaten raw beef salad, and I will vouch for him.

Next it’s 70 minutes east to our old nemesis, I-5. We stay the night at Santa Nella, a town where there are three things to do:

  • get gas
  • eat
  • sleep

We do all these things, and in the morning head south to the final stop on our tour. You may ask yourself what the heck is Inland Empire. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Arrowhead Credit Union Park

Basically, it’s San Bernardino with a heavier theme song. And hot. It’s 104 when we pull into town around 3:30, down to 95ish by the time we leave after the seventh-inning stretch.

View from third base side looking down right field line

Here is where I would give you details of the game if I could remember them. Rancho Cucamonga right-hander Steven Shell featured a nasty breaking ball but hung a couple of ‘em at inopportune times. Despite his gaudy strikeout totals this season, he wasn’t overpowering. But he would throw any of his pitches at any time in the count, which often baffles Class A hitters.

Shell surrendered home runs to Wladimir Balentien and Jesus Guzman. Both of these kids are just 20 years old and look like they can play. We also got our first look at Michael Garciaparra. Like his brother, he’s very aggressive at the plate and he plays with his batting gloves between just about every pitch.

Inland Empire lefty Thomas Oldham toes the slab

Inland Empire southpaw Thomas Oldham was in control pretty much the whole night. By the seventh, he’d turned things over to the ‘pen and we’d had enough of the road. One final stretch of I-15, through Riverside, Elsinore, Temecula, Escondido, and finally back home.

No question the road kicked our behinds. But I like to think we kicked its in the process.

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