The LuLac Edition #1744, September 7th, 2011
PHOTO INDEX: "WRITE ON WEDNESDAY" LOGO.
WRITE ON WEDNESDAY
Labor Day 2011 saw the final game played at PNC Field for a while. The Stadium will undergo renovations in 2012 and is expected to be ready by 2013. Donnie Collins of Times Shamrock wrote a wonderful piece on the old ballpark. As I read what he wrote, I was relieved to see I was not the only one that referred to the baseball field as Lackawanna County Stadium. Here’s his piece.
With all apologies to the ushers standing at the bottom of the ramp, I waited until they weren't looking and darted up to the upper deck. The concrete was slick, I knew. Nobody was going to be sitting in those beaten-up orange seats anyway, I figured. But on the day I knew I'd be writing the place's epithet, there was something I needed to see.
That concession stand on the right-field side.
It's closed up now, of course. Since there weren't any upper deck tickets sold for the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre's 2011 finale against Buffalo, there was no reason to sell hot dogs or pop popcorn. But I don't see that steel cover as much as I do that night back in 1992.
I can smell the hot dogs cooking. I can still, in a very tangible way, feel the anger I felt as I stood in a line that wasn't moving while a playoff game was going on out on the field.
Game 3 of the '92 International League semifinals. The Red Barons against Pawtucket. A Red Sox slugger named Phil Plantier hit a line drive to deep center that seemed destined to send those scrappy Red Barons spiraling to defeat. But a Red Barons center fielder named Cary Williams, on the dead run, leaped into the wall, somehow caught the ball, crashed into wood and broke his wrist for the cause.
The roar of the crowd. I'll never forget that. I've been to several hundred games at this place, but it's the loudest I had ever heard Lackawanna County Stadium, to that point or since.
All the while, I was slathering that hot dog I purchased in spicy mustard.
It was the best play I never saw.
But man, did I see most of them in this place.
There's been so much talk about what Lackawanna County Stadium isn't. It isn't the sparkling Coca-Cola Park in Allentown. It hasn't been state of the art in, well, ever. It isn't a place fans flock to like they used to, or treasure as they once did, or, to be perfectly blunt, look at with much pride.
On days like this though, excuse me if I focus on what this place is - to me.
First of all, it's Lackawanna County Stadium. I know that, technically, it's PNC Field, and has been for a while. But this place will always be Lackawanna County Stadium to me.
That's what it was on that night back in 1989, when my grandfather picked me up from the bus stop after school and brought me to my first game here. I sat about 10 rows back down the left field line, in the box seats. The Red Barons taking on the Oklahoma City 89ers.
Juan Gonzalez ripped a foul ball over my head.
As I walk around, it occurs to me that I have a memory in every corner of this place. Over there, in the second row of the upper deck, just behind home plate, I watched Floyd Rayford hit a walk-off grand slam in the bottom of the ninth inning during a 1989 game against Tidewater. I was 12. The middle-aged man sitting behind me spilled his beverage on me in disbelief.
A few sections over, I saw Tyler Greene pitch a no-hitter on July 5 in 1993.
He gave up a run, though, and I'll never forget the woman down the aisle asking why so many people were standing and clapping.
Down there, near the first-base dugout, I watched the game with my good friend Randy Shemanski one night a few years back. I made a bet with the former Red Barons manager Marc Bombard that I could steal his signs. So, we brought a big pair of binoculars and had them fixed on old Bomby before every pitch. Every once in a while, through those lenses, I'd catch him staring back toward us, shaking his head in defiance.
Back there, behind the clubhouse door, I remember today all those times Bomby and I would work to darn near game time, trying to finish the crossword puzzle in every daily newspaper on which he could get his hands.
That was the same room where, after the Red Barons won the International League North Division championship in 2002, Jerry Martin snuck up from behind and doused me in champagne as I was interviewing Chase Utley. And, as I turned around to see who was soaking me in alcohol, Utley was busy shaking a bottle to get me with when I turned around.
Even in the restaurant, there are memories.
After last season, my wife and I went to dinner at the stadium restaurant. We were about the only people in there, and out of no where, someone began setting off the greatest fireworks display you could imagine behind the
scoreboard. I never found out the official reason those fireworks were going off. And I don't want to know it, either. As far as I was concerned, they were just for us.
For years after Lackawanna County Stadium was built, though, I'd look out the window of my parents' car as we'd drive past Montage Mountain on Interstate 81, and gawk.
We have this?
Driving toward it Monday, as it stood nine innings away from never again hosting a baseball game as we know it, Lackawanna County Stadium was showing its age. Water had stained the concrete. Age had cracked the walkways. Time had sapped the novelty. And, as always seems to happen around here, bitterness had long since led to a frustrated fan base that just didn't seem to want any part of it anymore.
It's sad, really. This place meant more to us during the glory years than we gave it credit for these last few tough ones. The stream of traffic heading up and down Montage Mountain most nights certainly wouldn't be there if the stadium didn't pave the way for development. There are malls and office buildings and golf courses and movie theaters that weren't there before.
Don't get me wrong: I think a major renovation of the stadium is necessary to keep professional baseball in Scranton for years and years to come. There has been so much talk about the fact that the New York Yankees can just pick up and leave once the player development agreement expires. But the best safeguard against that would be to have a brand new, state-of-the-art facility in your backyard, one that other organizations would be dying to get into.
It's in the name of progress that Lackawanna County Stadium can't go on any longer.
But it's in the name of the memories that seeing it go is still difficult to deal with.
Donnie Collins reports and writes opinion pieces on Sports for Shamrock Newspapers. He is also heard on WEJL/WBAX ESPN Sports Radio.