Saturday afternoon I drove down to Woodbridge from Pennsylvania to take in a Potomac Nationals game.
It was a spur-of-the-moment decision; I didn't have any idea who they were playing, that's how little I thought about this. Shortly past three o'clock I hit the road. Sometimes, I have the urge to feel the open road, and Saturday was a lovely day for a drive.
I don't think that I had ever been to Woodbridge except in passing on 95. Except for a GPS mishap (which had me turn one stoplight too soon on Prince William Parkway) the drive was pleasant and I arrived at Pfitzner Stadium.
I had no idea what to expect from the Pfitz. I've heard it has a poor reputation as a facility, that it was old and cramped. Yes, it felt old. Yes, it was cramped and crowded; no thought seems to have been given to how people will move through the stadium concourses, especially in the grandstands and around the concession areas. But that was part of its charm. I've been spoiled by newer minor league facilities in Harrisburg (which, though over twenty-five years old, was remodeled and rebuilt within the last decade), York, Aberdeen, Durham, and Zebulon. The Pfitz reminded me of an old school minor league ballpark — all concrete and cinder blocks, hard and unforgiving metal bleachers instead of seats, no luxury boxes. It reminded me, frankly, of the kind of stadiums where I used to see ballgames with my dad when I was younger — Memorial Stadium in Harrisonburg where we caught Turks games, City Stadium in Lynchburg long before they were the Hillcats. Don't call it retro. Call it vintage.
(That said, a renovation would not be amiss. Move the bleachers back four feet to expand walkways. Move the fences that surround the stadium out six feet to improve traffic flow. As for what the facility is like for the players, I couldn't tell you. I had a clear view into the visitors' bullpen from my seat, and it was a tiny, sparse, cramped thing, lacking even a railing.)
I had a ticket for the first base grandstand, section 2, row A. I had the Nationals' bullpen mound right there in front of me. I also had a steady stream of people going to and fro in front of me in the very narrow walkway between the metal bench and the fence that separated the bleachers from the field.
The opponent for Saturday night was the Carolina Mudcats. The last time I saw a team with that name, it was in Zebulon, North Carolina, they were the AA team of the Florida Marlins and part of the Southern League, and they were playing the Mississippi Braves (who included, at that time, Jeff Francoeur). The current Mudcats were formerly the Kinston Indians, High-A affiliate of the Cleveland Indians, of the Carolina League. They moved into Zebulon's Five County Stadium when the AA Mudcats relocated to Florida in 2011.
Why Zebulon? I drove through there many times on busines, and it was basically a McDonald's. Zebulon happened to be as close as the Mudcats' then owner could get the team to Raleigh on a major highway without infringing on the Durham Bulls' territorial rights. He had wanted the team in Raleigh, asked the Bulls' owners if they would approve, and when they said no he took out a compass, drew a circle with a 35-mile radius centered on their field, and put his stadium slightly outside the circle. This would come back to bite the Bulls a few years later when they jumped to AAA. They wanted to build a AAA-quality stadium between Raleigh and Durham, but that was within the Mudcats' 35 mile radius, and they had to settle for a location still within Durham.
It was Star Wars night at the Pfitz. Except for some fans in Star Wars costumes and Star Wars graphics for the Mudcats' players on the stadium jumbotron, you'd have had no idea that it was Star Wars night. No special jerseys, nothing that really screamed Star Wars.
And it didn't dawn on me until the third inning or so that there was between innings entertainment! In Harrisburg it's impossible to miss, because they have a camera crew that puts it up on the screen so everyone can see it. There were games and such happening along the third base side of the field, and I didn't even notice. (As an aside, from a distance, the on-field host was cute.)
Ian Dickson pitched for the P-Nats. He pitched well, never really getting into trouble. The closest he came to trouble was in the third or fourth inning where he had a runner on second; there was a weakly hit ball back to the mound, the runner on second took off, and Dickson, rather than make the sure play at first, went to third with the throw and the tag. He kept the Mudcats off the board.
The crowd, at least where I was, had a lot of love and praise for second baseman Tony Renda.
It was a packed house, at least in the early innings. People started leaving around the fourth inning, when the P-Nats were up 2-0. And people that I thought had left reappeared several innings later; the concession lines were, apparently, that bad. By the sixth inning the bleachers where I sat, which had been packed, were only about half full.
I noticed that most of the crowd wore Washington Nationals gear, shirts, or caps, with only a smattering of P-Nats gear. I chalked that up to the proximity to Washington. While in Harrisburg there are people who wear Nationals' gear, mostly I see Senators apparel at Metro Bank Park.
Though, the team store at the Pfitz may have something to do with that. I think the bedroom in my apartment is bigger than the P-Nats' team store. They didn't have a lot of stuff to offer — a handful of t-shirts, a small number of hats, not much in the way of novelties. I bought a cap, a t-shirt, the 2014 team card set, and a P-Nats OYO figure. (Harrisburg has Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper Senators OYO figures. The P-Nats offered only a generic OYO team figure.) I would've bought a plush Uncle Slam for my niece if they'd had one to sell.
The baseball card set is nice. The cards have a pleasant design on the fronts; the players are in action against a P-Nats backdrop. I was amused to see a number of players in the set that I've seen in Harrisburg this year — Bryan Harper, Cole Leonida, Blake Schwartz, and John Simms. The surprising inclusion in the set is Bryce Harper; apparently his rehab stint in Woodbridge earlier this year was enough to get him into this year's P-Nats set.
The P-Nats won, 2-1. And back to Pennsyltucky I went.
I had a nice time. It was a pleasant evening, there was baseball, and there was a lovely drive. Can't ask for more than that.