Dirk Hayhurst's Favorite Parks
Our Non-Prospect Diarist's rankings are a little different
Dirk Hayhurst has seen his share of ballparks.
The veteran minor league reliever, who spent March in Florida trying to break camp with the Blue Jays, has spent six seasons watching ball games (and killing time) in bullpens throughout the minor league landscape.
The vantage point has given Hayhurst a unique players-only perspective on what makes a successful a ballpark. As you'll see from Hayhurst's rankings below, it's quite different from the average fan's view.
1. Memphis (AutoZone Park)
Dirk also loved Memphis's ballpark, but not necessarily for the same reasons as those polled for our survey.
"The bullpen provides the perfect staging point for minor league shenanigans. Elevated about 12 feet up from ground level, it's the ideal location to heave buckets of water on to 16- and 18-year-old interns shooting T-shirts off the back of golf carts. Now, bullpens are usually provided with a bucket full of gum and seeds to munch on during the games. If you empty those buckets and fill them with water, you become a loaded weapon ready to pounce on unsuspecting promotions teams. Sometimes neglected, the Memphis visiting pen also provides an opening at ground level, where you can soak said promotions teams again when they're looking up because of the first night's drenching. To summarize, you're guaranteed at least two good nights of soaking interns."
2. Frisco (Dr Pepper Ballpark)
The bullpens in Frisco are particularly unique, as they are set back from the field and cut into the outfield stands. This not only provides an opportunity to interact with fans, but the grounds crew as well.
"The nice thing about Frisco is it's got easy access to the clubhouse, so you don't have to spend all of your time out in the bullpen, even though you're supposed to (Shhhh, don't tell). The clubhouse has closed circuit TV showing the game live, so you can watch what's going on and get back out there if your pitcher gets in trouble. If he's cruising, visit the grounds crew down the hall. When they're not busy, they have two Xboxes set up and you can catch a round of Slayer or Halo with them. If they have a good pot of money going on the (Halo) game, you can get in on that too—though I don't recommend that. Those guys are good."
3. Dayton (Fifth Third Field)
Dirk agrees that Dayton has the nicest park in the Midwest League. In fact, the expansive Fifth Third Field can be a bit intimidating for a young pitcher—particularly that fire-breathing dragon that erupts with every home run by home club.
"When you meet Dayton, you do so as a lowly A-baller, so it's feels like playing in a big league park . . . From the Dragon on the scoreboard to how the outfield catches fire it's something to see. Then they have those scary Sesame Street-like dragon characters that run around the park. That's got to be the most money ever spent on a minor league mascot. But my favorite is the guy called Roof Man (at least I think it's Roof Man). Some dude with goggles and a Speedo hat on the roof and shelling fans with T-shirts. It's the perfect thing to offset the fact you spent $20,000 on a dragon suit. I guess some people need a pricey suit. Not Roof Man. He just needs a roof.
4. West Tenn (Pringles Park)
This park wasn't on too many lists, but then again, people probably didn't know about the makeshift relief pitcher's shrine just beyond the outfield fence.
"It's a testament to relief-pitcher ingenuity, creativity, and boredom. Over the course of a series, relievers from another visiting squad built a working shrine to baseball behind the right-field fence. Some big stones, some little stones, a moat dug with cleats. It's not exactly Stonehenge, more like lazy landscaping, but it certainly captures the minor league feel. There is a graveyard for home run balls back there, as well as some 'colorful' tales inscribed on choice rocks. Another little known fact is someone has to urinate in the moat each game, so don't bless anyone with the water from the shrine."
5. Lancaster (Clear Channel Stadium)
The ultimate hitter's park became a favorite of Dirk's as long as he wasn't pitching.
"This should not make any pitcher's list. It is my vote for the worst park to pitch in. Not because the stadium is terrible but because the wind blows straight out every single day at speeds up to 50 miles an hour. But the clubhouse is really big and there is a door in the back that opens to the parking lot. Across from said parking lot is a Jack In the Box, begging you to sneak away from the game for a double cheeseburger—not that I've ever done it. If I was to, I'd have a buddy in on it because the door locks behind you. If you change out of your spikes, you can sprint out that door, across the street to Jack in the Box, and back with burgers before anyone knows you're gone. Fast food baby! Plus, Lancaster is the kind of town where no one will think anything of you running around in a baseball uniform. Pull it off, and everyone in the bullpen is one burger happier. Nothing says I hope you feel better about the wind-aided home run you gave up than a double cheeseburger."
Hayhurst can be reached at [email protected]