After recently moving back to Southern California, I made it a goal to check out the closest Minor League teams. Lo and behold, there were two teams that were not only close to me, but each other: the Single-A Inland Empire 66ers and Rancho Cucamonga Quakes. And better yet, there
After recently moving back to Southern California, I made it a goal to check out the closest Minor League teams. Lo and behold, there were two teams that were not only close to me, but each other: the Single-A Inland Empire 66ers and Rancho Cucamonga Quakes. And better yet, there was a date in which they both played home games at different times. Instantly I thought, wouldn't it be cool to go to a game at both parks in the same day? On Wednesday, I did just that -- exploring San Manuel Stadium and LoanMart Field as Inland Empire hosted Visalia and Rancho Cucamonga welcomed Lake Elsinore -- as well as discovering the 19-mile expanse between the two parks.
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Here are my takeaways from a unique day of baseball!
It could be anyone’s first game
One of the first people I met that day was a 9-year-old boy attending his first baseball game. His mom -- who said they normally live in China -- explained a ball vs. a strike and answered his questions about why the batter was jogging to first base after not swinging the bat. He seemed enraptured with what was unfolding on the field. This reminded me of how Derek Jeter used to say he always wanted to give each game his all because you never know who was seeing him for the first time. So much of baseball is wonderful on a daily basis, but for one kid or even one adult, it could be their first hot dog, their first time seeing a batter in the on-deck circle, their first interaction with a mascot. Any game could become a core memory for someone.
It's like day and night
It’s difficult to fully compare the two games because the schedule made them inherently different. Like many Minor League weekday matinees, first game was camp day. School buses brought loads of kids in matching T-shirts. There were no hecklers, just “You can do it” chants, and, of course, a Spongebob Squarepants sing-along and fans doing the “Cha Cha Slide.” For the adults, there was an energy of playing hooky. In the nightcap, dogs took over half the stadium for Bark in the Park. There were families, but also date nights with micheladas and margaritas. There was a vocal heckler and boos for the opposing team. And also, the “Cha Cha Slide.” Two versions of what summer at the ballpark can mean.
Built different. But also the same.
When I first walked through the LoanMart Field gates, it felt completely different than San Manuel Stadium. Fans enter what looks like a large building and remain inside in the concourse until walking up the steps to the seating bowl. At Inland Empire, the structure just leads to an open-air concourse. The hallway to get to the press box and suites are outside for the 66ers, but inside for the Quakes. However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized just how similar the parks were, concourse roof aside. To get to seating, you walk out onto a middle level with seats both above and below. They also both have arches and palm trees framing the entrance and no outfield seating between the foul poles, though the 66ers have a small berm in left. San Manuel Stadium was built in 1987 and LoanMart Field followed six years later, and perhaps the two are perfect representations of a certain style of Minor League park that just gets small adjustments every few years.
Variety in fan apparel
At a Major League game, it’s not uncommon to see the cap of a Minor League affiliate, but for the most part, fans are supporting one of the two teams playing that day. In the Minors, you get more of a mix, especially depending on the region. Because the 66ers and Quakes are near the Angels and Dodgers respectively, it makes sense one is a fan of both the affiliate and the parent club. What I found interesting is that the Lake Elsinore game had a large percentage of 66ers hats, with a variety of types, both variations on the primary design and Copa de la Diversión caps. At Rancho Cucamonga, I saw more Dodgers and classic Quakes caps. There are many clubs that find benefits to having the same color scheme as their parent club like Rancho does, and one is that fans can use their apparel basically interchangeably.
Take Me Out to The Ballgame
I have swayed to and sang “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” more times that I can count. I have shouted my favorite team at my dad, who was shouting his team back following the line, “root, root, root for the...” But it wasn’t until hearing it twice in one day that I stopped and thought about how cool it is. Yes, you might hear “Seven Nation Army” or “HandsClap” at most sporting events these days, but there aren’t many sports that no matter the level or region, you will hear the same song at the same time besides the national anthem. (One caveat being that is played earlier during seven-inning games.)
It’s about the journey and the destination
The distance between San Manuel Stadium and LoanMart Field is only 19 miles. And the coolest part of this drive is being able to follow Route 66. Although my maps app kept wanting me to bypass it for the freeways (which I think is a plot point in the movie “Cars”), I chose the historic street. Now known as Foothill Boulevard, the road is still lined with mechanics and motels, but also has some modern grocery stores and fast food chains, with pockets of Spanish signage. After leaving the 66ers game, I stopped by the nearby Mitla Café, a favorite of activist Cesar Chavez. Then I swung by the original McDonald’s location, which is now a free museum full of memorabilia and Happy Meal toys. As I got closer to the Quakes’ home, I drove past the Auto Club Speedway, a massive structure that hosts NASCAR events. I’ve called Southern California home for parts of 23 years, but I have never been to any of these places before. While baseball was the focus of the day, it was cool to explore the other parts that make San Bernardino County special.
You can do this across the country
While San Manuel and LoanMart are the closest Minor League stadiums to each other outside of the Tampa Bay area, fans across the country can create their own doubleheaders. I did two teams in the same league, but you can expand to different leagues, levels. Pretend you’re a Blue Jays prospect and go international with Buffalo and Toronto. Experience two of the 10 North Carolina ballparks. You could even try it with two sports (Royals and Chiefs in Kansas City would save on parking and gas!) A world of possibilities awaits!
Kelsie Heneghan is a writer for MiLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @Kelsie_Heneghan.