Sunday, July 11, 2004

Trip to Wahconah Park...Part 1:

I left the pool we go to in the summer for Pittsfield, MA. My destination: Wahconah Park, which was hosting a Vintage Baseball game between the newly formed Pittsfield Hillies and the Hartford Senators. My inspiration for making the two hour drive to Pittsfield on the evening before Independence Day was to see the first event of Wahconah Park, Inc., a group headed by Jim Bouton and Chip Elitzer to bring a minor league baseball team to Pittsfield in a refurbished Wahconah Park. The story of their first attempt to do this is detailed in Bouton's book "Foul Ball". As noted previously here in my blog, I'm investing in the company.

I loaded up the Element with a cooler full of bottled water and Diet Coke, cranked up the tunes on my iPod and headed west on the Mass Turnpike. The drive passed uneventfully until I got off the Pike in Lee and was greeted with some unexpected Tanglewood traffic. I made my way slowly though Lee and Lenox until I passed the turnoff for Tanglewood and continued on into Pittsfield.

I had contacted Chip a few days before the game and asked if he needed any volunteers. Chip graciously accepted my offer and I told him that I would get to the ballpark around 5:00, or two hours before game time. I arrived at about 5:20, delayed a bit by the unexpected traffic. When I found the ballpark, I was shocked to discover that the parking lot was already nearly full, over an hour and a half before game time! I drove my car through the lot, parked quite a distance away, and walked toward the ballpark.

Once I entered, I asked at the ticket desk where I could find Chip. Someone pointed me in his direction and I quickly tracked him down. I introduced myself and asked Chip what I could do to help out. He said that they were pretty well covered, but asked if I would like to join him on a tour of the "Taste of the Berkshires" food court and grab some dinner. I said sure, and we started out among the tents set up around the outside of the grandstand.

An aside here; the Taste of the Berkshires food court was one of the centerpieces of Jim and Chip's original plan of Wahconah Park. Basically, local restaurants would be signed up to sell food to ballpark patrons in addition to the typical ballpark fare.

Well, here we were seeing the reality of the idea, and it was brilliant. There were over 40 different vendors selling at the ballpark and the selection was fantastic. Chip and I finally settled on a pulled pork sandwich and a specially brewed Hillies ale from the Barrington Brewery (no Budweiser, Coors or Miller was anywhere to be seen). We then looked for someplace to sit and eat. The picnic tables that had been set up were filled, so Chip said, "Why don't we go in the clubhouse? No one's using it." Of course, at this point I'm thinking, "Eating in the clubhouse, that's why I'm doing this!"

Like everything else, the clubhouse at Wahconah is far from luxurious, but it had tables and served well for dinner. The pulled pork was good and the beer was terrific - I grabbed another one during the game. Chip and I sat there, ate and talked until he got called away. I thanked him for walking me around and then went out to tour the area a little more.

Wahconah Park has been host to organized baseball since 1892, and the current wooden grandstand was built in 1919. The ballpark certainly shows it's age, but it has an undeniable charm to it. The grandstand seats are very close to the field. Fans in the front rows are closer to be batter than the pitcher is. Plastic owls hang from the rafters to scare away pigeons. Most famously, Wahconah Park is one of two ballparks in the United States where the setting sun shines directly into a batters eyes. This causes occasional sun delays, as the game is held up until the sun falls below the trees beyond the outfield fence.

I finished my tour of the food court, and grabbed a cookie, a bottle of water and a Wahconah Park T-shirt. The T-shirt has a Wahconah Park logo on the front, and the back has a sign that hangs on the grandstand at the ballpark saying "NO Spitting Cursing Gambling allowed by ballplayers". I sat in my box seat in the grandstand and waited for the festivities to start.

To be continued...


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