Sunday, June 26, 2005

Ross County: Hidden Baseball Gem

Road Trip: Chillicothe Paints vs. Mid-Missouri Mavericks (VA Memorial Stadium – Chillicothe, Ohio)

I made the trip down the Chillicothe on Friday night. I had planned to visit the Court House, but after dealing with rush hour traffic and spending 20 minutes in Circleville; visiting the Hopewell Burial Mounds and V.A. Memorial Stadium will have to do.



Getting to the Stadium: V.A. Memorial Stadium was built in 1954 and stands on the grounds of the Veteran of Foreign Affairs Hospital northwest of Chillicothe along State Route 104. After spending an hour fighting the traffic of Columbus’ sprawl it was rather refreshing to head away from downtown Chillicothe, 104 heads north along the Scioto River past the rather large and very intimidating Chillicothe Correctional facility, past the National Park honoring the Hopewell Indian Mounds, and then turning at the golf course. It was another world from other Ohio stadiums that have taken up residence in the concrete hearts of their cities. I made a pit-stop at the Hopewell Culture National Historical Park and was offered a short, but very informative, chat session with a Park Ranger. I’m sure that he would have been much more detailed, but I’d arrived as they were locking up the doors and he stopped to speak with me on his way home. The park was a neat place to stop but not worth a trip to Chillicothe on its own unless you are a big fan of Indian burial mounds.

The Stadium: As you meander back the entry-road to the stadium, you pass a golf course and it really has that type of setting. You really feel like this stadium is hidden back in this golf course setting, reminded me a lot of a small college stadium that tries to integrate the facility into the greater campus. The first-base side is directly in the sun and Friday’s 90-plus degree day made the bleachers along that side a nice spot for a person wishing to escape the inebriated non-baseball folk that had gathered along the third-base side.

Environment (Food, Ambiance): I arrived at Memorial Stadium about one hour before game time and easily parked, for free, within three rows of the stadium. The Party Pavilion was hopping and the three youth-league teams were already amassed and enjoying the open grounds around the facility. The Paints appeared to have enough staff to handle about anything that could pop up and they were friendly and seemed to be having fun at the ballpark, which made for a more pleasurable experience. It really felt in a lot of ways like a “family” experience where you were being included in their family gathering that just happened to have a baseball game surrounding it. The Paints players were very accessible to fans right up until the first pitch and, despite a less-than stellar game, right after it as well. I discovered the high number of drunks may have had to do with $2 draft beers, which could be dropped to a $1 if the “Budweiser Batter of the Game” proceeded to strike out during the contest. A whiff by Mid-Missouri catcher Matt Oakes in the fifth sent many a fan to the beer truck for a refill of what appeared to be the favorite beverage. After having a cold hot dog, I relived why the beer was the food and beverage of choice for the Paints’ faithful.

The Game: This is Frontier League action so unless you are a fan of the league you will not know the names of any players on the field. The Paints’ dugout contained former major leaguer Glen Wilson as the manager, but the players are guys battling for their professional life. The game was smooth and a well-played for the most part. There were a few times when the game seemed to get away from the players and the Paints’ coaching staff seemed a bit reluctant to go deep into their bullpen much to the dismay of the three fans that were rather vocal near the Chillicothe bullpen.

Steve Soja: I was excited to know find that Mavericks starter Steve Soja, a 6-1 and 210-pound righty, was among the league leaders in earned run average entering the contest. Soja didn’t look impressive, his physical make-up reminded me of Bartolo Colon and he’s got a hitch when he pitches from the set-up that makes it very easy to run against him. But, in Soja’s defense he didn’t allow very many Paints on base all night. He limited the home team to six hits and three walks over eight innings while fanning three. With the win he improved to 3-3 with a 1.91 ERA on the season.



Thomari Story-Harden: Thomari Story-Harden stood-out from his competition from his size. The 6-6 and 250-pound first bagger for the Mavericks crushed a Matt Blanton pitch to left-centerfield in his first at bat, for his sixth round-tripper of the campaign. He finished the day 3-for-3 with two runs, two RBI, a walk, and hit-by-pitch. He raised his average to .372 with his performance.

Dusty Hillman: I’m a sucker for those Adam Eckstein type scrappy players that just find a way to play the game the right way. Hillman looked like that type of player to me. No chance for him to play in the majors standing at 5-9 and tipping the scales at 190-pounds, but the Mavericks second-bagger just has a great approach to the game. He finished the day 2-for-6 with a run and two RBI.


Overall: The Paints’ organization put on a good show with a lot of on-field promotions and excitement to keep all the fans in the game. If I’d had to drive more than 1-1/2 hours to get home, I’m not sure it would have been worth the trip.



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