Last night I attended my first baseball game in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
When I lived in Chester County twenty years ago, Lancaster didn’t have a baseball team. Harrisburg, Reading, Wilmington — those would have been the closest baseball teams to me, probably in that order. I never attended games at any of them, though I dimly recall thinking about going to Wilmington (then in the Carolina League) to see them play the Lynchburg Hillcats a time or two.
On St. Patrick’s Day, the Lancaster Barnstormers put ticket vouchers on sale for something like $7.77. Despite living twenty-five miles from Lancaster, give or take, I’d never crossed the Susquehanna to take in a game. I’ve seen the Barnstormers in person before — they’re rivals of York’s baseball team, the Revolution — but never in their home park. This year, I decided, that would change. I bought two vouchers, and on the Saturday before Palm Sunday I exchanged the vouchers for two actual tickets at the stadium.
Last night was the first of my two games.
I made a stop on the way, stopping at the Millersville Mennonite Cemetery, which is where my great-great-great-grandparents Jeremiah and Catherine Henry are buried. I know very, very little about them; Jeremiah was of German descent and served a year in the Union Army during the Civil War. I stopped at Big Lots on my way, bought a flag, and left it for him.
I visited this cemetery last summer and barely scratched the surface, so I spent an hour wandering the grounds. Like last summer, I was struck by how packed the grounds were, and the growth of the cemetery could be easily told by the changes in style the further away from the road I went.
One interesting thing I noticed was the number of stones carved with Oriental calligraphy. These stones were also strikingly beautiful, as seen below.
Another Asian stone, front and back, that I found interesting. The carved letter bubbles, front and back, were an interesting style, and I couldn’t decide who the three holy figures on the back of the stone were.
Then there was a very odd marker. What was it supposed to be? A smoker? A propane grill? I had no idea.
I was rained on twice during the hour I was there. Nothing too terrible, just a light drizzle.
It’s not readily apparent in the photos, but the sky went from vast stretches of blue with billowing clouds to heavy gray overcast skies and back in the span of ten minutes. It was a summer afternoon, one where you’re never quite sure what the weather is going to do.
From the cemetery, it took me about twenty minutes to reach the ballpark. It should have taken only half that, but I got lost — the parking lots the Barnstormers’ website says to use aren’t locations Google Maps recognize, nor was it obvious from the street as I went past them that they were what I was looking for.
There was a nice crowd at the gate when I arrived. Many, many people wearing Barnstormers t-shirts or hats. A goodly number wearing Phillies gear. A smattering of Orioles gear. A few Nationals hats. Even some Harrisburg hats.
Myself, I was wearing the Barnstormers hat I’d bought in April.
Clipper Magazine Stadium felt very familiar. I’ve been to Frederick and Bowie, Aberdeen and York, and they’re all very similar in their look and feel, with the only major differences being the number of seats and whether or not the seating bowl has a trench between its upper and lower halves (Frederick, Bowie, Aberdeen: yes; Lancaster, York: no). Otherwise, these stadiums feel very similar, from the look inside and the walls of ads to the open concourse and the carousels (though the location may differ). There’s a reason Clipper Magazine Stadium was named the top Independent Baseball ballpark two years ago — it’s a nice facility, it has more character than York, and it’s on par with Aberdeen (which is, by far, the best of the four stadiums I named as comparison points).
The crowd at Clipper Magazine Stadium is also raucous.
There are many words I would use to describe the crowd at Harrisburg Senators games. “Raucous” is not one of them. (I’ve been to games where the Senators hosted the Reading Fightins’ and the Trenton Thunder, and the Fightins’ and the Thunder fans made more noise and were more raucous than the Senators’ fans.) Even York, I might use the word “passionate” instead of “raucous.” The difference, I think, is that there seemed to me to be a lot more kids. Maybe it was because it was a Saturday night, maybe because there were post-game fireworks. I don’t know. Whatever the reason, there was a lot of energy in the park.
There were also Amish. (Yes, the Amish of Lancaster County like and play baseball. This New Republic article in 2013 is about baseball and the Amish.)
Huge masses of kids took the field with the Barnstormers for the National Anthem.
The Barnstormers’ opponent last night was the West Virginia Power, based in Charleston, West Virginia. (One fellow in a group of twentysomethings behind me said they played at West Virginia University, but that’s the West Virginia Black Bears in Morgantown. It’s an easy mistake to make.) The Power were a Mariners affiliate in the South Atlantic League until baseball realigned the minors and contracted out a number of teams. While it was uncertain for a while where the Power would end up, they reorganized as a team in the independent Atlantic League. And, interestingly, their pitching coach is none other than Paul Menhart, the former pitching coach of the Washington Nationals and part of the 2019 World Series coaching staff.
In independent baseball, you’re bound to come across names that are vaguely familiar, and last night was no different. Jimmy Paredes of the Power I saw when he played with Bowie several years ago. Same with Caleb Gindl of the Barnstormers; he used to be in the Giants’ system and played for the Richmond Flying Squirrels.
And, of course, I got to see Menhart make a mound visit.
The game was not the tightest of affairs, with several lead changes, some bases-loaded jams and runs walked in, and Lancaster sending ten men to the plate in a middle inning.
If I recall correctly, Lancaster’s starting pitcher, Cody Boydstun, was making his first appearance for Lancaster last night. The independent leagues are outside of affiliated baseball, but the goal of most players is to play well enough to get picked up by a major league team, and the Atlantic League has been especially hard hit this season with players getting signed. Boydstun, I assume, would be a recent signing for a depleted roster. He didn’t do badly, but he was pulled mid-batter due to an injury, something leg related, possibly a charlie horse.
There was a lovely sunset over the center field wall.
In the end, Lancaster won, 8-6, though not without some drama.
Down 8-5, West Virginia brought the tying run to the plate in the top of the 9th with two outs.
Well, let’s just watch this, shall we?
He hits the ball into the outfield, drives in a run, sends a runner to third, and trips over the second base bag, falls on the infield dirt, and is tagged out for the final our.
I’m not sure if it fits the technical definition of a TOOTBLAN — Thrown Out on the Basepaths Like a Nincompoop — but it was certainly wild to watch.
I didn’t stay for the fireworks — though I saw them, because I had to walk past where they were being launched from to reach the Beetle to drive home — and didn’t get home until about eleven. The game was long — about three and a half hours — and I was worn out and achey.
It turns out it’s only twenty-five miles from my apartment to Clipper Magazine Stadium — it’s 6 miles to York’s ballpark and 31 miles to Harrisburg’s — which is closer than I thought it was. It just seems longer, maybe on account of having to cross the Susquehanna between Wrightsville and Columbia — the bridge on Route 30 is just over a mile in length — or maybe I’ve just gotten older. In any case, it’s good knowing that Lancaster is closer than I thought it was. What if I need Waffle House? What if I need a Wawa hoagie? I can go to Lancaster! 🙂
I have another Barnstormers game in late August — for that one, I’ll be throwing out a ceremonial first pitch — and I’ll keep Lancaster in mind when I feel the need for some baseball action. I’ve not gone to a game in York yet this season, I’m still undecided about going to Aberdeen for a game this year, and I have to request time off at work so I can go to Lynchburg for a game in September.
All in all, I had a lovely time. Lancaster has a lovely ballpark, raucous fans, and nice presentation overall. The grilled Myo Chicken Sandwich (sold on the third base side) was really good, and I got a package of Twizzlers, to boot.