The "Historic" Sam Lynn Ballpark has been a mainstay of minor league baseball for roughly 70 years now, longer than many of the other ballparks mentioned on this very website. While some of the older MLB stadiums, including the homes of the Dodgers and Angels, make their home in cities near the coast, Sam Lynn is located in central California and has been providing entertainment for Bakersfield fans since 1941.
I had not previously heard the name Sam Lynn mentioned in baseball lore, so I checked on the team's website and found that he was the owner of a local Coca-Cola bottling plant and used his success as a means to fund youth leagues and grow the popularity of baseball in the San Joaquin Valley.
Before ever setting foot in the "Historic" Sam Lynn Ballpark, I was rather intrigued by some of the lore surrounding the stadium. It is probably best known for its orientation and being one of only two stadiums in baseball (the other in Pittsfield, MA) that has experienced "sun delays." Fortunately, many of the games have been scheduled at a later start time and a sun delay hasn't occurred since 1996. Any inquiring mind would ask "why was a ballpark built to face the setting sun?" The explanation that I received was that in the 1940s, games were played during the day without a huge plate of extra innings, so the setting sun was never a concern. One of the previous Bakersfield owners had a sizable screen constructed beyond the outfield wall to compensate for the sun, but the sun persisted and forced the franchise to schedule the team's games for later start times.
Also notable could be the origins of the team nickname. Bakersfield is notable for beautiful, warm weather year-round, but "Blaze" may be more of a description of the playing field in Sam Lynn Ballpark back in 1982. A game against the nearby Visalia ballclub went late into the evening, and as they had been scheduled to do every evening at 11:40, the automatic sprinklers began their cycles. Some of the team employees stepped on the sprinkler heads to keep the water off of the playing surface, and sizable puddles were consequently formed. After 20 minutes of water, the shutoff valve was located and the teams were accepting suggestions for how to complete the game. Visalia manager Phil Roof suggested that gasoline be used to burn off the water. The idea somehow worked, and despite the scorched field, the game was completed.
Despite its historic status, the community has been clamoring for a new Bakersfield ballpark dating back to the 1980's. One of the solutions is to have the Blaze team up with the California State University Bakersfield in efforts for a new stadium. When the CSUB Roadrunners basketball team moved to Division I basketball, they teamed with the ECHL team known as the Bakersfield Condors in sharing Rabobank Arena. Another California League team known as the Inland Empire 66ers, has a similar situation and teamed with Cal State San Bernardino in sharing a stadium. For now however, the 3,500 seat venue with one of the shortest fences (354 center field) will remain the home of the Blaze.
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I cannot say that anything particularly stood out at the concession stand, but luckily it was a "one-stop-shop" in that all items were located under the grandstand. The signature items appeared to be the Blaze dog ($3), 1/4 lb hot dog ($4.25), chili cheese dog ($5.25), pizza slice ($3.25), bratwurst ($4.50), and burger ($5.50).
Some of the sides included chips ($1.75), sunflower seeds ($2.25), churro ($2.75), pretzel braid ($3.25), cracker jacks ($3.75), popcorn ($3.50 or bottomless for $5.50), frito boat ($4.25), and nachos ($4.25 or "super" with chili, salsa, sour cream, and onions for $7.75).
Desserts include candy ($2), ice cream sandwich ($2), sour patch kids ($3), snowcone ($2.75), Swedish fish ($3), Nabisco big bags ($3.50), novelty ice cream bar ($3.75), ice cream ($4), root beer float ($4.50), and the brownie Sunday ($5.25).
The beverage menu included water ($3), lemonade ($3.50), soda (24 oz for $3.50 or 32 oz for $4.50), Gatorade ($3.75), Icee ($4.25), or a "hot" beverage for $2.50. Alcohol includes domestic beer ($5 and $7), premium beer ($6 or $8), and Mike's Hard Lemonade ($6). Some of the beer options include Pacifico, Coors, Miller, Blue Moon, and Sierra Nevada.
The atmosphere will hit your ears as soon as you walk through the gate. Over the years, fans have become accustomed to a local man known as "Froggy" selling programs as they enter. His voice is similar to the character from the Little Rascals and while some may shy away from such a trait, "Froggy" seems to embrace it with plush frogs set up with him at the program stand. Mid-way through the game, he ceases his duty of selling programs and takes a seat in the stands and supports the team.
The stadium is otherwise rather laid-back. Unfortunately the opposing team held a significant lead through most of the game, so the Blaze fans were unable to really get any momentum. The PA system didn't overload the fans with music, so the stadium was rather quiet at times.
The mascot, a Dragon known as "Heater", would make his rounds and interact with children, but didn't seem to be overly engaging the fans.
I do enjoy visiting Bakersfield from time to time as there are a lot of interesting spots and it is extremely easy to get around.
Seemingly, the only option in the immediate area is the Sizzler, but if you haven't been there by now, you probably don't get out much.
A favorite of the Blaze is Jerry's Pizza and Pub, as evidenced by the large sign on the outfield wall. Since 1992, it's been providing some of the best pizza in Bakersfield. The claim to fame here is the white sauce, but customers also come back for the live music and extensive beverage options.
Probably the most notable site in Bakersfield is Buck Owen's Crystal Palace. After 5 PM, you can get dinner as well as check out the sights on the facility. You'll see the Bakersfield Arch, bronze statues of country greats such as Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, and Elvis, and some vivid colors on the exterior of the facility.
While you are in town, you may also want to check out the Fox Theater, Bright House Networks Amphitheatre, Red Mill Park, or the sculpture at the Cancer Survivors plaza.
As far as food goes, my first recommendation would be to go straight to the Padre Hotel. Beyond observing the beauty of this historic hotel, there are food options for everyone. The Belvedere is clearly for the upscale customers while Brimstone offers hardwood floors, billiards, music, televisions and pub food. The Prairie Fire, which is a second floor rooftop bar, has fire pits, cabanas, and a warm breeze for patrons to enjoy. Also on site is a coffee shop known as Farmacy and a lounge called Prospect, offering small plates and great drinks.
Another popular spot is the Wool Growers Restaurant, one of the few places to get Basque food in Bakersfield. Here, you'll start with the bottomless soup, bean, and salsa before getting treated to some of the favorites including the oxtail stew or beef tongue.
KC Steakhouse is another local favorite for the carnivores, offering live jazz and blue music while you enjoy your meal.
If you're looking for some Mexican food, the Mexicali Restaurant offers some of the best around. They offer dishes such as Mexican pizza, tostadas, chicken flautas, but everyone seems to love the margaritas best.
Goose Loonies has become a popular spot as they offer framboise, a very enticing fruit beer for the female patrons. Some of their more popular food dishes include the pitas/hummus, Santa Fe chicken salad, suicide wings, gyros, and falafels.
Lastly, I should mention Mama Roomba as it's a popular Caribbean-style restaurant in downtown. The locals caution to make reservations before arriving as seating is tough to come by. Some of the favorites here include the tri-tip with chimichurri sauce, calamari, sweet potato fries, and tortilla soup.
Most of the fans seemed to congregate on the first base side of the stadium as the third base side consisted of mostly bleachers.
As previously mentioned, there wasn't an outpouring of support for this evening's contest, mostly because of the opposing team's lead. I do give the fans a lot of credit however for sticking out the game through nine innings and showing some support once the home team plated some runs in the final at-bat.
The Blaze is an affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds and I sense that the physical location to the parent club, lack of television exposure for the club, and probably an outright lack of Reds' fans on the west coast might hinder the team's ability to draw a more faithful fan base.
As previously stated, Bakersfield is very manageable to get around for the 11th largest city in the state. The stadium is located adjacent to the Kern River and easily accessible from CA State Routes 99 and 204.
Parking is free and plentiful and while there seems to only be a single restroom, it was clean and I wouldn't anticipate any waits due to the traffic inside of the stadium.
This is one ballpark that fans can get from one foul pole to the other in less than a minute if they really try. The concourse is wide and there isn't a lot of obstructions in getting to each of the seating areas. Bleachers are located down the left field line, the grandstand provides the best seating (but obstructed by a large net, and there are two sets of seating down the right field line. Lastly, there is a tent for large groups off to the side of right field. Due to the size of the crowd, I was able to try a seat in each of the sections and I must say that the section closest to first base was my favorite due to the small tables that allowed me to rest my drink and camera while watching the game.
An interesting item to note is in regards to the access for the players. I've never actually witnessed a park where many of the players sit outside the dugout due to the size. Rather than sitting in the dugout, they sit in plastic chairs a bit closer to the outfield walls.
With parking being free, fans are only obligated to pay the price of a ticket. The seating options include General Admission ($7.00), Blue Reserved ($8.00), and the Grandstand Box ($9.00). There are also some group areas including a tented area down the right field side and party patios (I guess you could call them "suites") that have varying prices.
I did feel that some of the concession prices were a bit much, the free parking and reasonable ticket prices seem to offset them.
I can throw out a point for "Froggy," the ballpark being the only active stadium facing the setting sun, and the short centerfield (354 ft) with 15 foot walls, but aside from that, there were not many notable items within the 70 year old stadium.
On this very website, fans can find reviews of all of the California League teams. Bakersfield is home to the oldest stadium of the group and is quickly falling behind its competitors in terms of amenities. While I did thoroughly enjoy the laid back atmosphere of the Sam Lynn Ballpark, I do hope the community takes action to keep the team in the home of Merle Haggard before stadium woes force the franchise to jump to the Carolina League.
Follow Drew's Travel's Through Southern California on Twitter @Big10Drew.
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2800 Buck Owens Boulevard
Bakersfield, CA 93308
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