My Longest Travel Day Ever – September 19

What’s the earliest you’ve ever set your alarm clock?

For me, it was 12:30 a.m. on September 19. After I’d slept for about four hours, the beeping of my alarm signaled the start of a long day of travel that would take me from Ontario to Detroit and, ultimately, Dallas/Fort Worth.

When I booked my flight to Texas earlier several weeks earlier, I decided that it made sense to fly out of Toronto, despite the fact that I live between four and 4.5 hours away. Using Toronto for my departure meant that I could get a shorter flight to Dallas, although I’d be stopping for a quick layover in Detroit. Since I wanted to get to Dallas early enough to check into my hotel in the suburb of Arlington and get ready for the night’s Texas Rangers game at Globe Life Park, it meant leaving Toronto’s Pearson International Airport in the morning.

My flight was scheduled for 10:16 a.m., so I figured it would make sense to drive to Toronto the night before, grab a hotel near the airport and then catch an early-morning shuttle over to my terminal. Of course, being a cheapskate frugal, I bristled at the idea of paying for a hotel room that I’d sleep in for just a few hours — hence my decision to sleep in my own bed, get up at 12:30 a.m. and drive through the night to Toronto. I pulled out of my driveway less than half an hour after waking up and, thanks to a shortage of traffic along the route, parked my car at Pearson about 5: 30 a.m. — much earlier than necessary, granted, but I couldn’t risk cutting it too close because of a flat tire or other unforeseen event along the way.

Despite being a relatively unseasoned air traveler, I found my terminal — thanks to obsessive map checking ahead of time — and was soon standing in the security checkpoint line with several dozen other bleary-eyed travelers. When I reached the customs counter, I was blown away at how quickly the process went compared to driving through customs. The conversation literally was:

CBP agent: Destination?

Me: Dallas, then Houston.

CBP agent: Business or pleasure?

Me: Pleasure. I’m going to some baseball games.

CBP agent: Have a good trip.

On the many times I’ve passed through border checkpoints on my baseball road trips, I’ve been asked questions about which teams I’m seeing, which hotels I’m visiting, why I go to so many baseball games, whether I’m meeting anyone, whether I’m playing in any of the games (!), what food I’m carrying and a bunch more. Does anyone else find that airport customs is easier than road customs?

I normally blog about my baseball trip plans in advance, but for this trip I wanted the details to be a surprise. I’d shared that I’d be traveling but hadn’t told anyone, so I was obviously pretty pumped to finally get through security, find a seat and send out this tweet:


With a couple hours to kill before boarding my Delta flight, I wandered around Terminal 3, occasionally stopping to watch the planes and take photos of the early-morning scene on the tarmac:


Eventually, it was time to board the small jet that would take me to the Motor City and, soon enough, we were in the air and I was peering out my window at Toronto as it passed below:


The flight to Detroit was scheduled for just over an hour and it was awful. Despite the clear skies in this photo …


… the trip was rife with enough turbulence that I had to really concentrate to avoid getting sick. What made me feel more nauseous, though, was seeing the Detroit arrival time of 11:25 a.m. come and go with us still in the air and yet to begin our descent. I knew that my 48-minute layover in Detroit wasn’t a lot of time to get to my next departure gate even if we were right on time, but arriving late was a major concern.

The flight attendant soon announced that because of poor weather, we’d taken something of a detour in the air and it had lengthened our flight. By the time we touched down in Detroit, it was 11 minutes before my flight to Dallas was scheduled to depart. I checked my departure gate and compared it with the arrival gate I was standing in, and had to actually chuckle. The two gates were comically almost as far away as they could be, as you’ll see below. The bottom red star is where we arrived and the top red star is where I had to get to:


Determined to give it my best effort, I set out with my backpack on my shoulders and my rolling carry-on bag dragging behind me to run through the airport like a cliched scene out of the movies. The distance between the two gates was more than a mile, and with several sets of stairs and crowds to navigate, I didn’t reach my departure gate until the plane to Dallas was set to leave.

But wait — the departure had been bumped back 10 minutes! I stood and peered through the terminal window to see my plane sitting there, just taunting me. Unfortunately, I also caught sight of a huge sign pointing out that the plane doors would be shut, by law, 20 minutes before the scheduled time of departure. I pleaded my case — somewhat loudly, one might argue — to the airline rep but rules are rules, and soon I was standing alone at the gate, feeling slightly embarrassed at how sweaty I was from my run as I watched my plane to Texas begin to taxi away.

I knew that because my missed flight wasn’t my doing, Delta would just put me on the next available flight, so I made my way to the customer service desk, told my sob story and waited for the agent to print my next boarding pass. He quickly got me booked on the next flight to Dallas, but my eyes bugged out of my head when I saw that it was scheduled to depart 7.5 hours later.

I’ll let that sink in for a minute.

Yep, 7.5 hours.

That’s 450 minutes, for those keeping score.

This meant that when the Texas Rangers would be taking the field that evening, I’d still be sitting in Detroit. No game for me on this night, so I was sure glad I’d scheduled my trip to see the Rangers the next day.

The Delta agent apologized and handed me a voucher for free lunch at the airport, which was a nice consolation prize. I figured there wasn’t anything I could do but make the most of my long layover, so I wiped some more sweat off myself and began the prospect of hunting for lunch.

Fortunately, I was hugely impressed with Detroit Metropolitan Airport. It was loaded with enticing lunch options, and I found a LongHorn Steakhouse; if I wasn’t going to be eating dinner in Texas tonight, at least I’d have some red meat and look at a pair of bull horns mounted on the wall. I went with half-pound burger loaded with bacon and blue cheese and a side of Caesar salad. No photo, unfortunately; I think I was still in a state of shock over my predicament.

I won’t give you a minute-by-minute account of the next seven hours spent at the airport. I will say, however, that I did walk just about every foot of the terminal and could probably draw you a map of everything with no effort. If the airport was closer to downtown, I’d have been tempted to hail a taxi and take a trip to Comerica Park, just to take some photos.

The coolest thing I saw at the airport was the famous Light Tunnel, which connects separate sections of the terminal. It feels like you’re entering a different dimension — the tunnel walls and roof light up in a variety of colors in time with music that’s pumped through the area. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen before and is difficult to explain. Sensing that I’d have trouble putting the sight into words, I used my GoPro to film a trip through the tunnel and back. Check it out — and crank up the volume to get the full effect:

While the Light Tunnel was great, and this fountain was also cool …


… I mostly saw scenes like this:


In between walks, I’d find a semi-quiet place to sit and listen to my iPod next to a charging station. I’d sit for a while, and then grab my suitcase and roll through the terminal from end to end for what usually felt like the 79th time. This was the pattern I repeated until, during one pass through the terminal, I noticed a set of escalators that I’d somehow missed before. Figuring I was embarking on some uncharted territory, I excitedly began the ride down but had a moment of panic when I saw the escalators ended straight in front of a pair of sliding glass doors — doors that opened into the non-secured part of the airport. When I reached the end, I quickly turned around to gauge the pedestrian traffic behind me, thinking I’d make a sprint back up my escalator. Clearly, a security guard was watching me was reading my mind, and said, “It’s against the law to try to go back up. Try it and you’ll be arrested and fined.”

Dejected, I exited through the glass doors, explained my predicament at a customer service desk and was pointed in the direction of the security checkpoint. That’s right, I’d have to go through the entire security check process again!

Fortunately, the process went smoothly — and I even had the good fortune of having my hands swabbed for explosives — and 30 or 40 minutes later I was back in the secured part of the terminal pacing around as I had before.

About the same time as first pitch in the Rangers game, I was finally seated on my flight to Dallas and took my last photo of the day — a shot of the Detroit tarmac as the sun was setting:


The flight from Detroit to Dallas was much smoother and the view coming into Dallas at night was spectacular. I didn’t shoot any photos, as they’d hardly do the view justice, but I could see several landmarks I recognized, including the Bank of America Plaza, which is famous for its green outline at night.

It was between 10 and 11 p.m. when we touched down in Dallas — the times were starting to be a blur at this point — and the airport was absolutely dead except for our flight and a janitor buffing the floor. It seemed like an “empty airport” movie cliche. In any case, I found a taxi quickly and arrived in my Arlington hotel sometime between 11 p.m. and midnight. By the time I went to bed, I’d been up for more than 24 hours and, staggeringly, also up for about 44 of the last 48 hours. That’s a stretch that’s tough to beat, right?

No time to fuss over being tired, though. In less than 12 hours, I’d be touring around Globe Life Park with a media pass provided by the Rangers.

Pittsburgh Pirates – August 30

Spending two days in the same city is always a blast, so after a great first day in Pittsburgh, I was excited to rise early on August 30 and get my second day underway. The Pirates were once again hosting the Rockies at PNC Park, but unlike a day before, the game was an afternoon game. This is the best possible scenario for baseball road trippers — you get to experience the park both at night and during the afternoon on subsequent days.

I took a look out my hotel window as soon as I got up and saw that the weather looked perfect over downtown Pittsburgh, which was a good way to start my day:


So, I packed up quickly and headed out in search of adventure. As usual, I wanted to get into the ballpark as soon as the gates opened, but being up early meant that I had a good chance to explore some of the sights around the ballpark, including Point State Park, which is the spot where the Allegheny, Ohio and Monongahela rivers meet. It’s also the place with the giant fountain that you often see on TV broadcasts when you’re watching the Pirates. For a quiet Sunday morning, there was lots to check out at this tourist-friendly park, and I’ll be sharing some photos and anecdotes in an upcoming off-season blog post.

For now, though, I’ll share this shot of PNC Park taken from the Three Rivers Heritage Trail, which I walked along to Point State Park:


And here’s a shot of me on the trail with the ballpark in the background:


I spent a couple hours playing tourist before retracing my steps, crossing the Roberto Clemente Bridge and getting in line to enter PNC Park. As soon as I got inside, I went straight down to field level on the Rockies side where I planned to get an autograph or two. As I waited, I watched pitcher Yohan Flande do some jogging back and forth. I positioned myself directly in front of him and shot a bunch of photos, including this one:


It was sort of a funny moment — I shot photos for several minutes, and he silently ran toward me, then away from me, and then back toward me. He never acknowledged me with a nod or anything — not that you’d expect him to — but did sort of quizzically look at me a few times. I wonder if he was questioning why the heck I was standing there shooting photo after photo.

After Flande left, I gathered with some other fans to watch the soon-to-be-retired A.J. Burnett chatting with three members of the Rockies and teammate Jeff Locke:


It was cool to see Locke in person in the major leagues; I previously saw him pitch with the Double-A Altoona Curve way back in June of 2011 while visiting the Harrisburg Senators. You can see a photo of him from that day here.

Soon enough, Colorado reliever Christian Friedrich approached where I was standing and began signing autographs. He was a first-round pick in 2008, taken three spots ahead of 2015 MLB all-star Gerrit Cole. I normally don’t like getting autographs on tickets, but I didn’t have anything else handy, so I handed him my ticket from yesterday’s game and got it signed:


After I’d received the autographed and tucked it safely away in my backpack, I shot this panorama from field level:


If you look carefully, you can actually see Friedrich signing on the far left.

Before leaving the area in search of something to eat that would technically play the role of my breakfast, I took a shot of the out-of-town scoreboard:


While the scoreboard itself is cool, take a look at the area directly above where it says “National League” and “American League.” This is the viewing area that I mentioned in my previous post and also referenced when I wrote about visiting PNC Park last season. It’s a great spot to enjoy the game and while the first row is reserved for wheelchairs, you can often enjoy an inning or two standing against the concrete wall. If you plan on visiting PNC Park, make it a priority to watch some of the game from this spot if you can.

My quest for some food led me to the Quaker Steak & Lube concession stand near Section 110. I often eat at the QS&L stand at Rogers Centre in Toronto and had some delicious onion rings at the PNC Park location during my visit last August.

Amusingly enough, those onion rings served as my breakfast during that 2014 Sunday matinee game. Now, almost exactly a year to the day later, I was standing in line to buy chicken wings that was serve as breakfast. Apparently, my eating habits have not improved.

As for the wings, they weren’t Quaker Steak & Lube’s best effort. In fact, I’d say they were the worst QS&L wings I’ve eaten at a ballpark. Dry, not flavorable and only slightly above room temperature are three drawbacks to chicken wings in my book. Nevertheless, here they are:


As you might’ve noticed from the background of the chicken wings picture, I’d eaten in the upper deck on the first base side. Once I finished eating, I realized that I could see my hotel, the Hampton Inn & Suites Pittsburgh-Downtown, from where I sat — which makes sense, I suppose, given that I could see PNC Park from my hotel room! Here’s a shot that shows the hotel and a bunch of Pittsburgh’s iconic bridges:


As first pitch approached, I went off in search of some more food, given that the chicken wings didn’t really satisfy. My quest took me down to the Riverwalk area and, in particular, the Rita’s Italian Ice concession stand. I’m a big fan of this sort of icy frozen treat, and I ordered the black cherry flavor:


I’m pleased to report it was delicious and included several actual black cherry chunks; I’m slightly embarrassed to report that this sugar-laden snack was technically part of my breakfast.

Part of my priority for this visit was to watch the game from various vantage points that I hadn’t visited a day earlier. As I walked toward a cool area you’ll see in just a minute, I stopped to take this shot of the Roberto Clemente statue and the area around it:


The statue is directly outside the gates, as you can see, but I think this photo does a good job of showing just how close the Clemente Bridge is to the park’s gates. As you can see, the bridge and the gates are just a few steps apart.

(Also, there appears to be a real-life pirate at the bottom of the photo.)

After taking this shot, I cut through the air conditioned Hall of Fame Club, which is located behind the left field seats. This area is impressive — it’s an upscale eatery with a view of the field and an extensive bar and menu, but it’s also open to anyone with a ticket. Whereas some upscale spots in MLB parks aren’t accessible, this one is definitely fun for everyone to check out. Directly outside the Hall of Fame Club sits a standing-room area, which is where I stood to watch the game’s opening innings with this view:


You don’t get the downtown Pittsburgh skyline from this spot, but I think you’ll agree that the view is outstanding.

I next watched some of the game from this spot on the third base side of home plate:


The overhang limits your full view of the city’s skyline, but it’s easy enough to see if you simply duck a little. After a couple more innings in this spot, I watched a little from the Riverwalk and then set off for another few laps around beautiful PNC Park to take in the sights. Many of the shots I took during my walk were similar to those I showed in my last blog post, so I won’t duplicate them here.

When the game wrapped up, I made the short walk back to the Hampton Inn & Suites Pittsburgh-Downtown:


As you might have read in my previous post, this hotel is awesome for baseball fans visiting Pittsburgh. Its close proximity to PNC Park means you can comfortably walk to and from the game and won’t have to fuss over parking. There are a number of key tourist attractions, including those that I visited before the game, within an easy walk from the hotel.

The rooms are awesomely spacious, too — here’s a shot of just part of my suite:


I’m not sure when I’ll be back in Pittsburgh, but I do know that when it comes time to book my hotel room, I won’t hesitate to contact the Hampton Inn for a third time.

Next up, I’ll have a bunch of posts about my outstanding trip to Texas!

Pittsburgh Pirates – August 29

After spending August 28 with the independent Washington Wild Things, it was time to take a step up to the big leagues with a trip to Pittsburgh for a pair of Pirates games. I had the chance to visit the Steel City last season and loved PNC Park, so it was a no brainer to return again this year. I stayed in the same hotel as last year, too, and you can read more about that awesome experience later in this post.

Since Washington is on the outskirts of Pittsburgh, I got to the city well before my 3 p.m. hotel check-in time and the 7 p.m. Pirates game, so I spent a few hours at the Senator John Heinz History Center, a Smithsonian-affiliated museum that also features the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum and is located directly across the street from my hotel. I took a ton of pictures during my visit and will be sharing them in an off-season post.

When I got into my hotel room, I took the following photo that shows the great view out one of my room’s windows:


The tall stadium lights you see close to the center of the image are, you guessed it, PNC Park. If you think the view looks familiar, you’re right! My hotel room view was virtually identical last season. In fact, I might have been staying in the exact same room.

After relaxing for a bit, I packed up my camera stuff and began the short walk over to PNC Park. The route between the hotel and the ballpark takes you right along the edge of the Allegheny River on a picturesque pathway that looks like this:


Part of the path was flooded during my visit in 2014, so it was nice to be able to walk the length of the route this time. Once I’d walked for a few minutes, I could clearly see the PNC Park sign, framed below the Roberto Clemente Bridge, which is closed to vehicles and used by pedestrians on Pirates game days:


As I did last year, I crossed the bridge by walking right down the center line …


… but this year, I noticed a cool detail on the images painted on the bike lanes — the cyclist is wearing a Pirates cap, Clemente’s #21 jersey and old-school stirrups:


I got to the park about an hour before the gates opened and the crowd, as expected, was bananas. It was Bill Mazeroski statue giveaway day, which meant that fans were lining up very early to ensure they got their hands on the keepsake. I wasn’t too worried about getting in line right away. I knew that I’d be among the first 10,000 fans to enter PNC Park, which meant I’d get a statue whether I was at the start of the line or toward the end of it.

So, once I picked up my ticket …


… I walked around to the home plate entrance to take this panorama that shows the Honus Wagner statue and the ballpark behind it:


As you can see, the crowds in this area were pretty minor. That’s because the park’s Riverwalk entrance, which is located adjacent to the Roberto Clemente Bridge, opens 30 minutes before all the other gates in the park. After shooting these photos, I walked toward the river, where there’s a Mazeroski statue that many fans gather around:


After shooting this photo and taking a brief look at the river, I lined up at the right field gate and was only about a dozen people from the head of the line:


Within a few minutes, the line was growing and I noticed the guy directly behind me was randomly munching on a chicken wing. I figured he’d maybe carried it from a nearby sports bar, but I was downright confused when he finished it and mysteriously produced another one. Since he was right behind me, I couldn’t blatantly turn around to eye up where the wings were coming from, but he certainly wasn’t holding a take-out container. My guess was that he had them stashed in a grocery bag he was carrying, and they kept coming out one or another over the next 15 minutes or so. A short while later, the eating stopped and his wife arrived … with a giant container of chicken wings in her hands. I wasn’t invited to their feast, for the record.

When the gates opened a short while later, I took this quick shot of my boxed statue …


… before making a beeline for the seats in right-center so I could watch a few minutes of batting practice with this perfect view:


Next, I visited the Chevrolet kiosk where I filled out a questionnaire in order to receive this bag, which I’ll probably give away over the off-season in some sort of contest:


It took a while to get the bag, given the crazy crowds at PNC Park. With the Pirates doing so well, it seemed like half the city of Pittsburgh was in attendance. While the Riverwalk wasn’t hugely crowed, this is what the main concourse looked like:



I s-l-o-w-l-y made my way through the crowd until I made it over to the rotunda in left field, where I climbed to the top and shot this panorama:


By this time, the pre-game festivities were starting and they were special. The Pirates were honoring their 1960 World Series team, which meant that Mazeroski and several of his teammates were in attendance. Although I was far from home plate, I could comfortably see the baseball legends gathered on the field …


… and due to my location on the rotunda, I also had a great view of the video board, which loomed next to me on my left. After first pitch, I watched a little bit of the game from the rapidly filling rotunda before heading back to the Riverwalk in search of something to eat. First, I snapped this panorama of the downtown Pittsburgh skyline:


If you’re not familiar with PNC Park, perhaps its biggest appeal is the magnificent view of the city it provides. Whenever you walk on the side of the park closest to the river, you’ll always see fans standing and shooting photos of the view. It’s definitely an awesome feature.

I wanted to find something to eat along the Riverwalk area, simply because it wasn’t as crowded and I figured I might be able to find a bench to sit down while I ate. My choice was a plate of Riverwalk fries, which is a serving of fries topped with cheese sauce, bacon bits, chives and sour cream:


Although I’m not a fan of the fake stadium cheese, the meal was tasty. The fries were actually really good, which sort of surprised me. The toppings were substantial and, overall, the meal was definitely filling. If you’re a fry lover, I definitely recommend checking this out during your next visit to PNC Park.

By the time I’d finished eating, the sun was starting to set. That’s one thing about ballgames in late August — you don’t have a lot of time to take photos with the daylight. I spent an inning or two watching the action, and then returned to the Riverwalk to hang out. I was amused to notice that even though I couldn’t see the game from where I was standing, it was a blast to just hang out on the Riverwalk and watch the boats, skyline and anything else that caught my eye, while also following the game on the nearby TV screens — and I certainly wasn’t the only person taking this approach. Still, as a baseball fan, I could only stay away from the on-field action for so long, and soon found myself standing in the viewing area above the scoreboard in right field. The front part of this section is reserved for fans in wheelchairs, but others tend to grab a standing spot against the wall and can enjoy a great view of the action. Here was my view:


Once I’d enjoyed this area for a bit, want to guess where I went? If you picked the Riverwalk, you win! I often find that it’s a challenge to take decent nighttime photographs, so I wanted to use the perfect view to fiddle with my camera’s settings and find something that would work. I’ll spare you all the super-dark and washed-out images that I went through until I was able to get shots like this one:


By the way, the Riverwalk area I keep talking about? Well, it looked like this during my visit:


Despite the appeal of this cool area, I climbed up to the upper deck where I had a great view of the game. I sort of snuck toward the edge of the seating area to take a series of photos but was quickly spotted by an usher. I prepared to be told to scram, but instead I was pleasantly surprised with how he addressed me: “Spend all the time you want,” he said. “In fact, why don’t you stand in my spot?” He pointed to the little alcove on the end of the section that he’d previously been occupying and I thanked him profusely. Since I run into crabby ushers more than I’d like, I was thrilled with how friendly this guy was. I explained that I’d come a long way to visit PNC Park and that I appreciated him letting me shoot from this angle. “Don’t mention it,” he said. “This is your park.”

This outstanding vantage point allowed me to shoot a bunch of photos, including my beloved Riverwalk from above:


A panorama of the park from way up high:


And the crowded rotunda, where I’d stood earlier:


I spent the remainder of the game basically repeating the pattern I’d enjoyed since the start of my visit — some time on the rotunda, some time on the Riverwalk and some time spent simply wandering around and enjoying the sights.

When the game wrapped up, I was excited to get back to my hotel, the Hampton Inn & Suites Pittsburgh-Downtown. As I said earlier, I stayed at this hotel when I visited Pittsburgh last season, and it was so perfect that I was definitely excited to visit again. Since I stayed for two nights this time, I’ll be sharing some details about the hotel in this post and my next post, but let’s start with the location. The hotel is one mile from PNC Park, which is a perfect walking distance before and after the game — and I can assure you that I was comfortably back in my hotel room before many fans were on the road heading home. The hotel also doesn’t charge for parking, which is extremely rare among downtown hotels and a huge perk if you’re looking for ideal accommodations close to PNC Park.

Here’s a shot of the hotel taken earlier in the day while it was still bright out:


And here’s a shot of my room, which had a sofa and an ottoman, desk, king-sized bed and a bunch of other great features:


Need more reasons to pick this hotel for your next baseball trip? It’s one of the top Pittsburgh hotels on TripAdvisor, has a great fitness center and indoor pool (which I enjoyed the following day of my visit), free Wi-Fi, complimentary breakfast and more. One of the other intangibles is the great view. I could see PNC Park out my window and also had a perfect vantage point of the city’s downtown skyline. I used my GoPro the following night to shoot this time-lapse video of night falling over the city:

My day in Pittsburgh seemed to go very quickly, but the good news is that I’d get to enjoy another day seeing the Pirates in action, exploring the city on foot and hanging out in my hotel. I’ll have that blog post up soon!

Washington Wild Things – August 28

Before I share the details about a fun return visit to Consol Energy Park, I’m excited to announce that this post is my 200th post since starting this blog back in 2010.


I did some calculations and learned that I’ve written more than 220,000 words (that’s equivalent to about five novels, for the record) over the course of those 200 blog posts.

Double yowsers.

In that span, this blog has gone from getting a couple dozen hits per day to currently ranking third among all the fan blogs in MLBlogs, so I want to take a moment to say how much I appreciate everyone who’s stopped by to read. Thank you.

Here’s the deal with visiting Washington, PA to see the Wild Things host the Evansville Otters: When I got invited to see a Cleveland Indians game from the #TribeLive section, I booked my visit for the last week of August partially so I could see my buddy Jeremy Nowak in action again this year, as he and his Otters teammates were scheduled to be in Washington on August 28. (I actually saw Jeremy in Washington a year before, which you can read about here, if you’re interested.)

A week or so before the trip, Jeremy joined the Joliet Slammers, which meant he wouldn’t be in Washington while I was there. Although there were a few other parks I could’ve visited instead, I decided to stick with my original plan and catch some indy-league ball before moving on to Pittsburgh for a pair of games on the weekend. I left Cleveland late in the morning, got to Washington in the early afternoon and, after a bit of time relaxing in my hotel, it was soon time to pack up and head over to Consol Energy Park. I arrived about 30 minutes before the gates opened, grabbed my ticket and began my quest to get a batting practice ball behind the outfield fence. I could hear that batting practice was taking place and, as I headed toward the grass behind the fence, I noticed two members of the Otters warming up in the cage:


After a couple minutes of searching in the grass, I found this:


As you can see, the stitching is a combination of red and blue, which is the first ball with this stitch configuration in my collection. I’m not sure if the Frontier League used these balls for every game in 2015 or only special occasions, as is often the case with specially stitched balls. In any case, it was interesting to note that the league now uses Rawlings balls; it had used Wilson balls a year earlier during my visit.

I walked from foul pole to foul pole and only found this one ball, which makes sense because a member of the Otters was also out there with a bucket collecting home runs. BP wrapped up around this time and when I made it to left field, I saw that the gate was open, so I stood on the edge of the warning track for a moment and took this photo of the almost-empty field:


Continuing my walk, I arrived at the front of the park and took the shots to build this panorama:


Then, it was time to photograph my ticket …


… and enter the park:


Since nothing was happening on the field at the moment, I took the opportunity to check out the team shop, which had a bunch of Wild Things apparel and apparel for the Washington Rebellion, a pro fastpitch team that shares the park with the Wild Things. The coolest thing I saw in the team shop? Wild Things-branded chocolate!


There wasn’t much going on in the park’s seating bowl, as you can see here:


And the picnic deck and grass berm down the first base line were still quiet, too:


I didn’t have to wait long, fortunately, for some signs of life. Standing on the berm in the above photo, I watched as members of the Otters gradually made their way from the clubhouse toward the dugout. I have to admit that I was sad that Jeremy wasn’t among them. In fact, I caught myself a few times keeping a close eye on the clubhouse doors hoping to see him emerge!

After I’d seen most of the Otters walk past, I went over to roughly the same spot on the other side of the field to watch the Wild Things, including catcher Maxx Garrett, walk past to before getting warmed up:


When first pitch approached, I returned to the Evansville side of the field and sat roughly where I’d sat with Jeremy’s parents the year before — directly above the Otters dugout. In a case of deja vu, I recognized a couple parents of an Otters player that I’d briefly met a year earlier.

From this vantage spot, I had a great view of the action. Here’s Evansville infielder Rolando Gomez warming up:


And here’s Washington starter Ernesto Zaragoza showcasing a unique delivery:


Evansville’s Josh Allen crushed a three-run home run in the first inning and I saw the exact spot it passed over the fence from my seat. Although it was a long run, I decided to quickly head outside the ballpark and see if I could retrieve the ball so I could give it to him afterward. I exited the park at the home plate gate, quickly made my way around the perimeter and a moment later I was standing directly under the video board, as you can see here:


The funny thing was, there was no ball. I looked and looked and couldn’t see anything. Then, I noticed a Wild Things staffer walking away from the same area, so I assume she’d been dispatched to get the ball and had beaten me to it by a few seconds. Slightly discouraged, I was about to turn and retrace my steps back to the gate, when something caught my eye:


Could it be?

Well, I’m not sure. It was maybe 25 feet away from where I expected it to be, but I suppose it’s possible that it could have caromed off something after clearing the fence. While this ball is definitely in better shape than the BP one I’d grabbed earlier, it’s a little more worn than I expect a game ball would be. Then again, game balls in the minors and independent leagues get used longer than balls at the MLB level, so it’s possible this ball was indeed the home run ball. Although part of me wonders if this one is too banged-up to have been the home run ball, batting practice was over when I’d previously been in the area and I can’t imagine I would’ve missed this ball if it had been there all along.

All this means that I couldn’t be sure if it was the home run ball — I’m leaning toward suspecting that it isn’t — so I didn’t want to pull a dirty trick and give it back to Allen under false pretenses. I can’t imagine how I’ll ever definitively figure out the answer, so I guess this one goes into my collection as a mystery.

By the time I made it back to my seat, the Otters had kept up their hot offense and the scoreboard looked like this:


As for my view, it was perfect:


I spent the next couple innings in this spot before going over to the cross-aisle on the first base side to watch the action and snap this photo with the moon in the background:


This was my busy-body pattern for the duration of the game, which Evansville won 11-2: An inning here and an inning there, all while having a good time — although it wasn’t nearly as memorable as my previous visit, watching Jeremy and sitting with his folks.

A little later, I took the shots to build this panorama …


… and then with the arrival of the night and its challenges to decent photographs, I put my camera away, grabbed an open seat and spent the rest of the evening just enjoying the action.

The next day, I’d be back on the road and headed to Pittsburgh for a pair of games at beautiful PNC Park.

Cleveland Indians – August 26

I always like to book a two-day visit when I’m checking out MLB ballparks, so after getting the awesome chance to take in the Cleveland Indians #TribeLive experience on August 25, I made plans to stay in Cleveland and enjoy the game 24 hours later. That meant I had the day to myself in my outstanding hotel, which you’ll hear about more later in this post. The day flew past quickly and before long, it was time to load up the car and make the short drive north to Progressive Field.

It was a gray day that had rained on and off, so I was pretty sure that batting practice would be canceled. Despite this suspicion, I still got to the ballpark about an hour before the gates opened, which equated to three hours before first pitch. I parked at my usual parking garage a couple blocks away from Progressive Field and once I made it out of the garage and onto the sidewalk, here’s what I was looking at:


I never get tired of seeing this sight!

The Indians were giving away T-shirts for this game, but the crummy weather meant that the lineups were non-existent at the time of my arrival. This gave me time to once again walk around the park, but to also take the opportunity to enjoy a lap around the nearby Quicken Loans Arena:


Though not an NBA fan, it’s always interesting to see sports facilities, so I stuck my head in the team shop and enjoyed a reprieve from the humidity outside as I browsed through the myriad LeBron-related items. After spending maybe 15 minutes in the shop, I went back to Progressive Field, bought a ticket for the night’s game …


… and had a brainwave. Instead of standing at the gate for the next half hour or so waiting for it to open, I decided to enter the relatively quiet team shop through the street entrance and browse through everything. As you might’ve read in my last post, I always visit the memorabilia part of the shop, but this time I had a longer opportunity to take some photos to share with you. Here’s the knob of a Michael Bourn game-used bat:


Some bottled Progressive Field dirt, which I thought was really neat:


And the barrel of a Carlos Santana game-used bat:


After spending time in the team shop, I walked past the Indians player/staff parking lot to check out the cars. As you can see here, there wasn’t anything absolutely out of the ordinary, at least as far as I could tell:


At 5 p.m., the gates opened and I grabbed my free T-shirt and headed over to the visiting team’s bullpen, where longtime MLB starter Matt Garza was playing catch and then talking with pitching coach Rick Kranitz and bullpen catcher Marcus Hanel:


The new layout of the bullpens means that was the visiting team’s pitcher throws, you’re just a few feet away from him, which offers a great vantage point. I took another bunch of photos to form this panorama, which is similar to this one from yesterday’s post, only you’ll now see gray skies, a damp field and the tarp:


Before I left the area, I took a quick shot of myself with Heritage Park and the Progressive Field video board as a backdrop …


… and then took a short walk over to the new concession stands in the right field area. As you might’ve read in my previous post, there’s an extensive list of food choices available in this new area from a wide range of vendors. A day earlier, I’d eaten the “sounds-appealing-but-wasn’t-as-good-as-I’d-hoped” Parmageddon, a grilled cheese sandwich packed with a pierogie. On this day, I was hoping to find something a little more appetizing and this was the selection of choices awaiting my decision:


I browsed the concession stands and nothing immediately jumped out, so I decided to take a little climb and shoot this photo that shows The Corner and the surrounding area from above:


(The #TribeLive area, where I’d spent the previous day’s game, is the standing-room area adjacent to the right field foul pole.)

After enjoying the sights for a few minutes, I went back down to the main concourse and watched a few minutes of the Indians pregame show, on which Columbus Blue Jackets winger Brandon Saad was being interviewed and would later throw out the first pitch:


I watched the interview for a few minutes from just a few feet away and it was neat to be able to hear Saad tell his story about growing up in Ohio and playing sports. Once I’d enjoyed a bit of the conversation, it was time to complete my quest to find something delicious to eat. As I perused the available options you saw a few photos ago, one of the vendors cheerfully called out to me, “Hey, Mr. Photographer!”

I looked over and saw that he was standing at one of the gourmet hot dog concession stands that I’d seen earlier, so I walked over and said hello. “I’ll make you up some special,” he promised, so I figured I’d play along. I asked him which of the hot dogs was the best and he directed me toward “The Thomenator,” named for slugger Jim Thome. It was a foot-long dog with three pierogies, onions and sauerkraut. It sounded a little too similar to my sandwich yesterday, plus I can’t stand foot-long dogs. It’s a weird thing; I can happily eat four or five normal hot dogs in one sitting, but put a foot-long dog in front of me and I have no interest. Anyway, I asked about his second-best recommendation and he suggested one with a name that escapes me but that sounded interesting:

  • Pretzel bun
  • Bacon
  • Banana peppers
  • Some sort of hot sauce

In any case, I ordered this one and totally bought into the seller’s enthusiasm about a strawberry milkshake and bought one of those, too. Here’s what the meal looked like:


The hot dog’s ingredients were good — lots of bacon and some nice heat from the peppers without being ridiculously hot. The pretzel bun, however, was a letdown. Every time I have one of these buns I vow I won’t make the same mistake again. Anyone with me here? They’re so dense and hard that they just taste like a stale bun. Let me know what you think in the comments. Do you agree? Disagree? As for the strawberry milkshake, it was the worst thing I’ve had to drink at a ballpark. It tasted of neither strawberry nor milk, but I suppose “Sweet Goo” is probably a poor name to market. I’m sad to say that it went the way of the dodo bird after just a couple saccharine sips.

It takes more than an unpleasant milkshake to deter my day, so when I finished dinner, I headed to the Family Deck section above right field, which I hadn’t explored a day earlier. In fact, I don’t recall ever being up in this section, for some reason — and it was awesome! The view was perfect …


… and the entire section had a small, intimate feel that was appealing. There were a ton of attractions and games for kids and the overhang provided some dry seats, which was nice. I hung out and rested my legs for a little while and then went over to the bleachers where I shot this picture that shows the Family Deck where I’d previously been:


The Family Deck is the section directly above the concourse and, as you can see from the photo, there’s lots of open space behind the seats. As I sat on the top row of the bleachers and took in all the wonderful sights, I started thinking about the game’s starting lineups. A day earlier in the #TribeLive section, we were joking how we didn’t know that many names on the Brewers for whatever reason. With that thought in my mind, I noticed this name on the ribbon board …


… and briefly thought, “Nelson Bosoto. That’s a weird last name and I’ve never heard of that guy. And it’s weird how they’ve used a different font for his last name.”

Umm. Oops.

I quickly realized, of course, that the pitcher is Jimmy Nelson and that the “Bosoto” is actually his empty pitch tracker — zero balls, zero strikes and zero total pitches. But, hey, if you can’t laugh at yourself, who are you going to laugh at, right?

Soon after taking this photo, I knew that Nelson would be heading to the bullpen to get warmed up, so I went that way, too. My plan was to grab a close vantage spot along the railing, just as I had done earlier when Garza was throwing, and shoot some photos. The plan worked and I was able to get a dozen or so photos like this one:


As first pitch approached, I decided to go back to the Family Deck area that I’d enjoyed a little earlier. As you can see in this panorama, it was a dreary night but the view from up here was fantastic:


After a couple innings, I wanted to make a last visit to the team shop. One of the perks of the #TribeLive experience is that each visitor gets a $4 coupon to use virtually anywhere in Progressive Field, from the concession stands to the team shop. I had two coupons because each #TribeLive guest gets one, and since I didn’t need to eat more, I wanted to find something inexpensive to buy at the shop. I settled on an Oyo figure of Michael Bourn because, hey, I guess I’m eight years old at heart:


I spent the rest of the game sitting in the Family Deck and it was a perfect way to end my two Progressive Field visits.

My stay in Cleveland wasn’t done just yet, though. Once again, I was staying at the Hyatt Place Cleveland/Independence and it continued to be perfect. Here’s what the hotel looked like after I made the short drive back from Progressive Field:


Every time I visit a Hyatt Place, I’m struck by the size of the rooms. I lived in tiny dorms and apartments when I was in university that were a fraction of the space offered by this hotel. In yesterday’s post, you saw photos of the living room and bedroom area. Here’s the desk and kitchen space:


And an enormous open area beside the bathroom, which is basically the view you have while lying on he bed:


Another super-cool feature? The TV swivels so that you can watch it comfortable from the couch or the bed.

I’ve often said that while the opportunity to enjoy different ballparks on my baseball road trips is awesome, I’m also a big fan of having some downtime to relax in a nice hotel, and the Hyatt Place Cleveland/Independence definitely delivered on that front. Whether it was chilling on the couch and watching some Little League World Series games, burning off some ballpark food calories in the indoor pool or grabbing a salad from the nearby Panera, a steak dinner at the nearby Outback or some snacks at the supermarket just a few minutes away, (I did all of these, for the record!) my stay at this hotel was perfect.

But don’t just take my word for it — earlier this year, the Hyatt Place Cleveland/Independence was awarded its fifth TripAdvisor certificate of excellence, earning a spot in the TripAdvisor hall of fame. Whether you’re visiting Cleveland to take in a ballgame or have other plans in the city, you’ll be pleased if you make this hotel your home base.

Next up, some independent league action in Washington, PA!

Cleveland Indians – August 25

Attending the Indians Social Suite at Progressive Field back in 2013 ranks as one of my most memorable experiences since I started The Ballpark Guide in 2010. Don’t remember my account of that adventure? Here’s the link if you want to read it and get caught up.

The Social Suite was so great that I made a point of applying for it again last year. I was accepted, but wasn’t able to put a trip together and had to cancel my invitation, unfortunately. Fast forward to last off-season and I’d read that the Indians were discontinuing the Social Suite and introducing something called #TribeLive. Like the suite, you had to apply for #TribeLive and if you were picked, you’d get to visit Progressive Field for free and hang out in a special area during the game with other selected fans. To make a long story short, I applied, got invited and three hours before the first pitch on August 25, I was looking at this view after parking my car:


Progressive Field was the first MLB park outside of Toronto that I visited when I began traveling to games in 2010 and this trip would mark my sixth and seventh times visiting. It’s one of the nicest parks you’ll find and certainly one of my favorite places to watch baseball.

In addition to my excitement about #TribeLive, I was also curious to check out the recent changes to the ballpark. The Indians reportedly spent more than $25 million this past off-season to drastically change the appearance of Progressive Field, specifically the area in the right field corner and the old Gate C, which is the gate I always used to enter the park. I could see from my first view of the park (in the above picture) that things were indeed looking different, so I was eager to look around.

As I approached, I saw that the main attractions in the area were the three statues of Indians legends Larry Doby, Bob Feller and Jim Thome. The Feller statue has been a longtime focal point in this area, but the other statues are new since my last visit. A sports reporter from the local Fox affiliate was filming a report in front of the Doby statue …


… so I headed over to the Thome statue. It’s got a neat connection for me. Back in 2012, my brother and I visited Progressive Field on Jim Thome Night. The Tribe was honoring the slugger for recently hitting his 600th home run and part of the celebrations included unveiling plans for the statue. If you read my post about that game, you’ll see some early images of how the statue would look, so it was awesome to see the actual statue in person:


The new area around the gate was cool — in addition to the statues, there were a ton of plaques recognizing key Indians players and moments in history. The team does a great job honoring the past (Heritage Park is a testament to that) but it was nice to get a bit of a history lesson before even entering the gates. Here’s what the new spot looks like in panoramic form:


As always, I’d arrived at the park early enough to enjoy a nice walk around its perimeter before the gates opened. I set off counter-clockwise and headed down this street:


See the building at the end of the alley with the yellow “Q” sign? That’s Quicken Loans Arena, home of the Cleveland Cavaliers:


When I got to the front of the park, I decided to cross Carnegie Avenue and stand on a traffic island to take a bunch of pictures to build this panorama:


I continued my walk around Progressive Field until I made it back to the right field gate, where I lined up at about 4:40 p.m. and began the 20-minute wait until the park opened. I was nearly at the head of the line and when I looked straight forward, these scourges mocked me:


I first experienced metal detectors at an MLB park last year when I visited Comerica Park in Detroit. The Tigers were trialing metal detectors a season before they became mandatory at all parks. I get that they’re “needed,” but they definitely make it slower to enter the park. Your bag gets checked, which was always the norm, but then you have to put anything bulky or metal into a tray like at the airport before you pass through the detector. There’s always someone in front of you who didn’t hear the instructions and sets the machine off, which stops your line dead in its tracks. I figured out the quickest way to get through, though — take everything you have in your pockets or on your person and load it all into your backpack. This way, instead of putting your backpack, camera, keys, cellphone, wallet, etc. in the tray separately and then trying to fish them out while the next person’s stuff slides onto your possessions, you can just grab your backpack and unload it a few steps away at your leisure.

When the gates opened at 5 p.m., I headed in and went straight down to the right field seats to check out the view:


As you can see, batting practice was on, but I didn’t stick around for long. I watched a couple minutes of the action and then was excited to walk through all the new changes to the park. One of the notable differences is that the bullpens are now together and stacked. Previously, the Indians’ pen was in center and the visitors’ was in right; now, they’re side by side (Cleveland’s is the one closest to the field) and they’re directly behind a cool new section of a select number of seats:


Here’s a panoramic view from behind the bullpens to put things in perspective a little:



My next stop was Heritage Park, which has always been one of my favorite destinations at Progressive Field. If you’re a baseball history buff, this is a place you need to visit. It’s still the same — pillars and plaques on the upper level …


… and more plaques and the top 100 players in Indians history on the bottom level:


I didn’t spend too long in Heritage Park as I’ve read all the plaques during previous visits. Instead, I ascended to the main concourse and soon noticed this set of intriguing stairs:


At first, I wasn’t sure what to expect as I descended, but I soon remembered that I’d read about this new feature, which might just be the best of all the recent changes. Since the visitors’ bullpen is no longer in this area, the Indians have opened it up to fans! Fans are free to check out this area before the game and after first pitch, you’ve got to line up at the top to receive a wristband that gives you access to the section for one full inning. Twenty-three fans can enjoy this zone per inning, and then they have to return to the concourse for the next group of 23 to come down. The best part is that you can go straight to the end of the line and get another wristband to enjoy this area for a later inning. Check out the seating:


And here’s the view of an Indians player about to toss a BP ball to the fans overhead:


This new section is not only a good spot to get a ball during BP, but also gives you a field-level view of the action, which is something you won’t find at every park. Here’s another cool feature — the old bullpen phone box is still mounted on the wall:


Of course, I had to be nosy and open it up to see if the phone was still there. Alas, it was not:


I took a quick shot of myself sitting on the bench …


… and then it was time to continue my exploring. I next visited The Corner, a new two-level bar with ample seating, tons of TV and even some radiant heaters, which were welcome on this semi-chilly night:


There’s also some cool memorabilia on display at the bar, including Corey Kluber’s 2014 Cy Young Award. After walking through The Corner, I found the #TribeLive section, but it was still empty:


There was no one milling around, either, so I figured the other guests were either not at the park yet or, like me, were simply off exploring elsewhere. At this point, I was weighing my options about where to go next when my camera made the decision for me — I looked down to see that my battery was almost dead. I charge my battery before each park visit but when I’d grabbed my camera out of my bag upon arriving at Progressive Field, I noticed that I’d left it turned on, which had obviously drained the battery. I couldn’t help but be partially amused; I’d given my wife trouble for leaving the camera on and letting the battery run down less than a week earlier, and now here was doing the same thing.

The amusement turned to a bit of panic, though — I had a lot of photos that I wanted to take and the battery would be dead any second. I always travel with my battery charger, so I grabbed it and began the hunt to find a wall outlet somewhere in Progressive Field. It wasn’t long before I tracked one down, but it was either dead or turned off. Hmmm. Time for Plan B. I noticed an usher who was standing right beside an outlet. I decided I’d just ask him if I could use the outlet for a little bit and figured there’d be no issue.

I approached him and asked, “How’s it going?” to get his attention. He responded with, “What?” This response wasn’t “what” as in, “what did you say?” but rather, “what do you want?”

I was caught off guard by his rudeness: “Uh, I see there’s a wall outlet there and I wonder if I could just charge my camera battery for a few minutes. I’ve traveled a long way for this game and my battery is about to die.”

His follow-up response as he pointed at the standard wall outlet: “That’s not an outlet.”

Other than wanting to visit the Indians team shop and buy him a custom jersey that read “World’s Worst Usher,” I didn’t have an idea of what to do. And then, I remembered that the attendant in the Field View Bullpen section was quite friendly. I went back down the stairs, spotted an outlet in a storage room off to the side of the seating area and explained my predicament. “Sure,” he said. “No problem — and if you want to keep walking around and come back later, I’ll watch the charger for you.” I didn’t want to let it out my sight so I hung out in the area and told him that I’d give him a shout-out in my blog. Thanks for helping me, Brandon!

It was inconvenient to have to spend the next 40 minutes waiting for my battery to charge, but the view couldn’t have been better. I watched more BP from the area and when my battery was full, thanked Brandon for his help and returned to the concourse. By this time, the gates allowing access to the rest of the park had opened so I went to the team shop and straight to the memorabilia section, which is my favorite area:


As you can see, there were game-used bats and helmets, signed balls, photos and all sorts of cool stuff. I didn’t buy anything, but did spend about 15 minutes thoroughly examining everything.

Next, I went back to The Corner, climbed up the stairs to the second level and immediately noticed this fire pit:


Comerica Park has recently added a fire pit and the first park I ever saw this feature was Dow Diamond, home of the Midwest League’s Great Lakes Loons. What a great idea for parks where it’s chilly in April and September, eh? The area around the fire pit has couches and standing-room spots and treats fans to an awesome view:


By now, it was about 6:15 p.m. and I was ready to eat. The new right field area has a ton of great-looking eateries, many of which offered an appetizing lineup of products. I’m always in favor of trying something different, so I lined up at Melt, a concession stand that sells various types of grilled cheese sandwiches. My choice was the Parmageddon, which you know is going to be ridiculous (in a good way) just from its name. It’s an enormous grilled cheddar cheese sandwich loaded with vodka sauerkraut, sauteed onions and a potato and onion pierogi! Here’s this beast in all its glory:


It was solid (in every definition of the word) but didn’t absolutely blow me away. The sauerkraut was very good but, overall, the sandwich could’ve used an additional ingredient to provide a textural change, like bacon or ham or something. It all sort of blended together.

A sandwich of this nature calls for a little exercise, so as soon as I’d wiped the last crumbs from my face I set out to tour around the other parts of Progressive Field. Besides, the #TribeLive area was still surprisingly empty. My first stop was the bleachers in left field, which is a spot I rarely visit at this ballpark. There’s no reason why; I just don’t often make the climb up there. The bleachers have a fun atmosphere, although they were still largely quiet at this point. Here’s the view from this area:


My next mission was to head to the upper deck to shoot some photos. On the way to the top, I had this cool view of part of the city. The “Welcome to Cleveland” sign is new since my last visit:


I made it to the upper deck in time for the anthem and then took a number of photos to build this panorama:


The #TribeLive area still looked empty, although I couldn’t be 100 percent sure because of the distance between the area and me. I switched to my zoom lens to survey the scene and here’s how the area looked shortly before first pitch:



As an aside, do you see the bullpen view area in the bottom left of the image? And see the staff member standing directly above the yellow University of Toledo crest? That’s Brandon, the guy who helped me with my dead battery issue.

Since first pitch was approaching, I descended back to the main concourse level and made my way to the #TribeLive spot. From a distance, I could see that it was now occupied and, as I got closer, I was shocked at who I saw. Jacob Rosen, who was one of the Social Suite guests when I sat in that area two years ago, was standing right in front of me! He and I chatted a lot during the Social Suite experience, follow each other on Twitter and have occasionally exchanged tweets over the last two years. I think I was staring at him with my mouth wide open, and he noticed me and said, “Ballpark guide?” It was a funny moment and good to catch up with him in person. Want to give him a follow on Twitter? Just click here. His Twitter account is full of interesting and varied sports stuff.

Jacob told me that I had to go elsewhere in the park to pick up my nifty-looking #TribeLive credential, so I ran to grab it, returned to the section and shot this photo:


The view from this section was great. As you might have seen in other photos, we were right behind the right field foul pole, as you can see at the edge of this panorama:


I watched the first inning or two from this spot and then met with a pair of other #TribeLive guests, Mark Firkins and his son Travis. They live near Rochester but are huge Indians fans and make a number of trips to Progressive Field each year. (It actually turns out that they were staying in a hotel about two minutes from my hotel, too.) I spent the duration of the game talking baseball with the Firkins. It’s always fun to meet other baseball travelers and Mark and Travis have been to several MLB and MiLB parks over the years so it was interesting to compare notes. We essentially never stopped talking right until the end of the game, and I definitely hope to run into them again on my trips.

Summed up, my #TribeLive experience was this: Talk a bit to Jacob, watch some baseball, talk to Mark and Travis, watch some more baseball, take some photos — and repeat. Overall, the #TribeLive didn’t have as much to offer in terms of its setting as the Social Suite. It was basically a standing-room area at the front of a larger standing-room area that any can can use. But, it was still a fun experience with some fellow passionate baseball fans, and I’d love the chance to do it again in the future.

Since I spent the rest of the game in this designated area and didn’t wander around the park, I only took a few more photos. Here’s a shot of one of Mark’s tweets on the huge video board:


I wasn’t able to get on Twitter during the game because you now have to be an Xfinity customer to use the Progressive Field connection. I get that business is business, but after having dedicated Wi-Fi in the Social Suite, I couldn’t help but think the Xfinity idea wasn’t very fan friendly.

Wi-Fi aside, here are two photos that I found funny. The Progressive Field upper deck features giant tributes to the team’s all-time greats (more on that in my next post) and one of the players I could see across from where I stood was Tris Speaker. Speaker, of course, is a hall of famer and one of the best hitters in the history of the game. He’s also a little controversial because he was apparently a member of the KKK. Anyway, I couldn’t help but think that his display looked a little sinister:


The other amusing thing I noticed was over to my right on the Progressive Field video board. This board is arguably the best I’ve ever seen and provides great situational stats and tidbits that really provide value to the fan. Normally, these messages shine a favorable light on the Indians, but poor Yan Gomes got the short end of the stick on this one highlighting his 5-for-33 streak (that’s a .152 average) over the last nine games:


Finally, here’s one last panoramic shot from where I stood for the entire game:


When I left the ballpark, I made the short drive to my hotel for the next three days, the Hyatt Place Cleveland/Independence, where I’ve previously stayed twice in the past. It’s one of my favorite hotels to visit on my trips and, for fans visiting Cleveland, makes a lot of sense. The hotel is a little more than 10 minutes from Progressive Field and its location offers the many amenities of hotels in the suburbs, like being close to the highway and close to an impressive list of shopping and dining options.

Here’s a shot of the outside of the hotel:


As with my previous stays, all the staff members I encountered were exceedingly friendly. The room, too, was outstanding. The Hyatt Place has enormous guest rooms that feature a separate bedroom, living room and office/kitchen area. I’ll have more photos of my room in my next post, but here’s the living room:


And a shot of the living room and bedroom with the small partition between the two:


Other perks if you’re thinking about visiting the Hyatt Place Cleveland/Independence during your next baseball trip? Free parking, free Wi-Fi, one of the best complimentary breakfasts you’ll ever come across and a pool and athletic center. Whether you’re traveling with a few people or are solo and you just want a little more space in your hotel room, this one definitely provides that. It’s the one for me when I visit Cleveland and you won’t regret making that choice, either.

My next post will be detail my follow-up visit to Progressive Field and I’ll have it up soon!

Auburn Doubledays – August 24

Here’s proof of what a baseball nerd I am: I often begin my baseball road trips with a long drive, which means I’m leaving home while it’s still dark outside. The first city on this trip, Auburn, is slightly more than three hours from my home … but I was still up at 5 a.m. and on the road a couple hours later. You can never start your baseball trip too early.

I made a bunch of stops along the way and checked into my hotel in the middle of the afternoon. You can reach much more about the hotel toward the end of the post. I had a quick late lunch and then packed up my camera stuff and was off to Falcon Park.

More baseball nerdism: I’ve already been to Falcon Park twice since 2010 and it’s such a small park that you can reasonably explore every part of it in well under 10 minutes. The average fan might arrive shortly before first pitch, right? Not me — I was there more than two hours before game time and it was so early that the parking lot looked like this:


Falcon Park has one of the best parking setups you’ll find in all of baseball. The lot is free for fans and directly across the street from the ballpark gates. It really couldn’t be any better.

One thing that I enjoy doing when visiting smaller parks is to walk around behind the park and see if I can snag a ball during batting practice. If you follow this blog regularly, you’ll have seen several times that I’ve done this. Although I was hoping to get a ball, I didn’t plan to stand back there for long as I was excited to get inside and watch BP from the seats.

Falcon Park has such an intimate feel that there’s really no spot in which the players are inaccessible, except when they’re behind closed doors. As I cut through the staff parking lot on my way toward the rear of the ballpark, I could hear the sound of a man talking and looked up to see a member of the Auburn coaching staff talking to the entire team in this training building:


I didn’t want to blatantly stand there and take a photo of the team meeting, so I moved over a little to show the building and the open door without invading the team’s privacy, but the entire team was on folding chairs just out of sight from this view. This building has training equipment — you can see some medicine balls on a rack — and also serves as the indoor batting cages for use during inclement weather. It’s located in the left field corner, just behind the fence and adjacent to the Doubledays clubhouse, which is the red brick building.

After listening to the coach’s remarks for a moment, I continued toward the grassy hill behind the outfield fence and a moment later, this was my view:


I scoured the area nearly from foul pole to foul pole and there weren’t any balls to be had. I stood around for about 10 or 15 minutes and while I could hear some balls hitting the fence, absolutely nothing was flying out of the park. I thought briefly about climbing this ladder to not only watch BP, but to also take a cool photograph …


… and then decided that a home run ball in the head would be a poor way to start my trip.

Shrugging off the desire to add more balls to my collection, I followed along the edge of the ballpark until I reached the front where I snapped this photo:


Don’t you just love the look of the front of this ballpark? I think it looks super sharp.

I picked up the media pass that Doubledays broadcaster David Lauterbach had left me (thanks, David!) and walked inside the park. The area just inside Falcon Park’s main gate is a hubbub of activity during the game — a souvenir shop, several promotional tables, the concession stand and, in general a gathering place. At this point, though, it was still quiet:


The visiting Mahoning Valley Scrappers were still hitting and I climbed to the top of the bleachers on the third base side to take this panorama:


After watching BP for a few minutes, both from the bleachers and then from the first-row seats directly above the dugout, I decided to take advantage of the empty park and walk around. One place where I’d never spent too much time during previous visits was the party deck down the first base line, so that’s where I went next. I think you’ll agree that it offers a great view:


I didn’t see any balls in this area, which was fine. My self-imposed rule is that if I find a ball inside a ballpark before the gates open, I throw it back on the field. For fun, I decided to do a little ball hunting and thought that this spot between the party deck and the adjacent standing room and kids’ play area might yield something:


All it yielded, however, was an enormous spider web on my face. I guess this wasn’t a high-traffic area because the web spanned from the wooden deck right across to the metal fence. After a moment of frantically swiping at myself calmly removing the strands of web from my face, I decided to grab a cobweb-less seat adjacent to the field to watch the rest of BP.

One thing that was really interesting was watching Scrappers manager Travis Fryman, himself a 13-year MLB veteran and Gold Glove winner, working with third baseman Nathan Winfrey for several minutes on positioning and glove placement. Although I couldn’t hear everything Fryman was saying, it was neat to witness the lesson. Fryman even took Winfrey’s glove to reinforce a few points …


… before giving it back but continuing the lesson:


When the teaching moment ended, I shifted my attention back to the area around home plate and took a photo of this “you know you’re in the minors” moment — players loading batting practice balls into a Pep Boys shopping cart:


I milled around for the next little while before making my way down the third base line toward the Doubledays clubhouse. The players were starting to filter out and I wanted to capture some shots, like this one of third baseman Kelvin Gutierrez and outfielder Randy Encarnacion:


I noticed that even though it was still about half an hour before first pitch, Encarnacion was already wearing his ankle guard. I made a mental note to make a joke in my blog about him looking really ready go to … and then he went out and hit a home run in his first at-bat and a bases-clearing double in his second at-bat. I guess his strategy worked!

When the home team started playing catch, I snapped a bunch of shots, like this one of first baseman Diomedes Eusebio:


During the anthem, I got my only photo of Mariano Rivera III, who did not pitch in this game. He’s wearing #44 and spent the entire game in the bullpen where I didn’t have a good view of him:


When the game began, I grabbed a seat in the front row behind the home dugout, which is where I sat a lot during my last visit. The park had an amazing atmosphere. For this game, bleacher tickets cost $1, so the bleachers were close to full and very boisterous. From my vantage point, I took this cool shot of third baseman Melvin Rodriguez calling off catcher Jorge Tillero to catch a pop-up in foul territory:


Here’s a shot of 2015 third-rounder Rhett Wiseman just after laying down a bunt that ended up rolling foul:


And a pair of pictures of Encarnacion just after rounding third after his home run …


… and returning to the dugout right in front of me:


From where I sat, I had a great view of not only the field, but also of the players as they’d come and go through the dugout entrance on my right. Here’s Tillero who, despite how it looks, isn’t trying to avoid my shot:


At the start of the fifth inning, I went back down the first base line and took the pictures to build this panorama. Really nice sky, huh?


I decided to take another walk down that gap where I’d previously walked into the cobweb. It led to a great standing-room spot along the fence and, besides, I’d already gotten rid of all the web with my head, right? Well, I walked into the opening again and took another giant web in the face — uhh! To make matters worse, I looked to my right and saw this guy:


I guess he’d been busy rebuilding the damage I caused and I was in no mood to hang out near him. I scanned Falcon Park for my next spot to hang out and decided to go up the bleachers behind home plate to beside the press box. Here, I had this view:


Next, I left the park to capture this nighttime shot:


Later in the game, Mahoning Valley’s Connor Marabell blasted a home run over the fence in left center, so I ran quickly outside to look for the ball. Either it was too dark …


… or someone happened to be walking past and grabbed it, but I didn’t get it. Too bad, too, because it was Marabell’s first career home run as a professional and I would’ve loved to give it back to him.

I spent the game’s last couple innings in the front row behind home plate where I had a great view of not only the action at the plate, but also the Auburn on-deck circle, which was just a few feet in front of me:


In addition to the great atmosphere in the park, the game itself was also exciting. Auburn won 5-2 and the teams combined for 19 hits. Lots of action to enjoy and an absolutely perfect night for baseball.

Once the game wrapped up, I was looking forward to getting back to my hotel and relaxing. As I said, I’d been up at 5 a.m. and on the go ever since. Fortunately, I didn’t have to spend long getting to my hotel, the Hilton Garden Inn Auburn. It’s located just over a mile from the home of the Doubledays, so your drive between the hotel and ballpark only takes a few minutes. The last thing you need after a long day of traveling is to spend 20 or 30 minutes driving to your hotel, right? Here’s a shot of the outside of the hotel — a welcome sight after my long day!


This hotel was perfect — not only for the traveling baseball fan, but for anyone visiting Auburn for any reason. My room was large and clean with free Wi-Fi, a super-comfy bed, microwave, mini fridge and a 37-inch TV, among other things. And the hotel has a ton of other amenities that I checked out, including an athletic center, pool and business center. Here’s a shot of my room:


When I’d checked in earlier in the day, the hotel’s director of sales, Rita Trenti, gave me an extensive tour of the hotel, its connected restaurant BeauVine Chophouse and the hotel conference center. One thing I noticed was how much this hotel gives you a sense of where you are. At some hotels, there’s absolutely nothing to distinguish your location, but this one is filled with photos of the local area, which is neat. We also saw an outdoor courtyard with a fire pit, which is something I don’t think I’ve seen at other Hilton Garden Inns, and walked through the huge lobby where there are complimentary “happy hour” refreshments for guests:


The Hilton Garden Inn is definitely the place I’ll stay the next time I’m in Auburn to see the Doubledays and if you’re in the area, you definitely won’t regret booking this hotel, either. In addition to its close proximity to Falcon Park, it’s within walking distance (or a very short drive) to restaurants, grocery stores and Auburn’s downtown scene. Here’s one last shot of the exterior after I checked out:


Next up, Cleveland’s Progressive Field and the #TribeLive experience!

Next road trip begins … now!

My bags are packed and I’m just about ready to hit the road. But first, I’m excited to share the schedule for my week-long baseball road trip that begins this morning.

Once I publish this post, I’ll be loading my car and driving to Auburn, NY, to watch the Auburn Doubledays in action against the Mahoning Valley Scrappers at Falcon Park. I visited this New York-Penn League ballpark on my very first trip for The Ballpark Guide, back in 2010, and I’m excited to return again. It’ll be a great place to start my trip.

On the morning of Tuesday, Aug. 25, I’ll drive to Cleveland where I’ll have to fortune of visiting Progressive Field as a guest of the Indians at the #TribeLive experience. It’s an updated version of the old Indians Social Suite, which I visited back in 2013. This time, I’ll be closer to field level and the entire visit promises to be exciting.

Because one day at an MLB park is never enough, I’m heading back to Progressive Field on Wednesday, Aug. 26. This time, I’ll have a regular ticket and will enjoy walking around the park and checking out all the new scenery from the off-season renovations.

I normally don’t schedule off-days on my baseball trips, but I’m taking off Thursday, Aug. 27, which will help me catch up with some blogging. I’m going to be spending the day in Cleveland, so I expect to get up to some fun touristy thing(s) that I’ll likely blog about. Any suggestions? Leave them below in the comments section. I’m thinking maybe the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, but we’ll see.

Friday, Aug. 28 is possibly up in the air. I’d originally planned to be in Washington, PA, to see my friend Jeremy Nowak play with his Evansville Otters teammates against the Washington Wild Things, just as I did last year around this time. As of last week, however, Jeremy is now a member of the Frontier League’s Joliet Slammers (where he’s hitting .333 with 10 RBIs in six games) so he won’t be in Washington. Unfortunately, that means I won’t get to see Jeremy this season, which will be the first time I’ve not seen him dating back to a streak that began in 2011. Anyway, Washington’s ballpark was beautiful and I really enjoyed my time there last year, so I might go to the game anyway. Or, I might find something else to do. In any case, I’ll be tweeting about my decision and blogging about wherever I end up.

On the morning of Saturday, Aug. 29, I’ll drive to Pittsburgh for the first of two Pirates games at beautiful PNC Park. I visited PNC Park last season but I’m excited to get back there again. I’ll see the Pirates in action both games against the Colorado Rockies. I’m also pumped to get to explore the city a little. I didn’t have much time during my last visit, but this time I’ll have the chance to do some sightseeing. Again, I’m open to any suggestions you want to throw my way.

As usual, I’ll be tweeting along the way and blogging as well.

Off I go!

Ottawa Champions – August 18

Last week, I had the fortune of taking part in a once-in-a-lifetime baseball event.

I got to take my three-year-old nephew, Ben, to his first baseball game, alongside my brother (and Ben’s dad) Phil. Ben is about as much of a baseball fan as someone his age can be, watching the first few innings of Blue Jays games on many nights with my brother and chanting “Go Jays, go!” and “Home run!” when the mood suits him. Phil and I have been excited to think about taking Ben to his first Blue Jays game, but decided to try out something a bit more subdued until he’s a little older.

That plan found us at Raymond Chabot Grant Thornton Park (doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, eh?) in Ottawa, Canada, home of the Ottawa Champions of the Can-Am League. For the record, I’ve seen one Can-Am game in the past, back in 2013 when my friend Jeremy Nowak was playing for the Trois-Rivières Aigles. The Ottawa ballpark is the former home of the Triple-A Ottawa Lynx, who were in existence from 1993 through 2007 before moving to Allentown, PA, to become the Lehigh Valley IronPigs. Phil and I figured the park would be the perfect venue for Ben’s first game — not too overwhelming in terms of size and crowd, but still enough to truly provide the experience of watching professional baseball.

First, of course, we had to remind Ben that we’d be watching, not playing. He told me on the way to the park that he was going to “hit the ball and catch it” and when I asked him if he’d hit it far, he responded with “I can hit it a little bit far.” Thankfully, the little guy dozed in the car on the drive to the park, which would give him the energy for a late night out — even if he wouldn’t end up getting to pinch-hit.

We arrived just after 6:30 p.m. for the 7 p.m. game and our first view of the park was this shot from the parking lot:


OK, not the most enticing picture in history, but I can promise you that the pictures get much cuter as we go.

Ben was still groggy from his nap on the drive, so he got treated to a chauffeur ride across the lot from my brother:


After briefly walking around the concourse, we decided to head out to the seating bowl to give Ben a chance to take in the sights. The Champions had already taken the field by the time we reached the cross-aisle and it was truly a joy to see Ben processing all the new things before him:


(This photo was followed by a question: “Ben, do you have your mouth on that bar?”)

As you’ve probably encountered if you’ve attended a baseball game with a child, we sat for part of the first half of the first inning before Ben said he was hungry and we returned to the concourse for dinner. I’d scouted out the ballpark’s concessions menu online before our visit and I’ve gotta say that I was impressed with the look of things. While Ben scarfed a couple hot dogs (no picture of this — I asked if I could take his picture while he ate and he told me “Nope”) my brother and I set our sights on the ballpark’s poutine menu. Now, I’m not the hugest poutine fan in the world, but if it’s done right, it’s delicious.

While you can order your poutine plain — fries, gravy and cheese curds — there are some extra toppings to kick things up a notch. I got General Tao’s poutine, which was topped with breaded chicken, General Tao’s sauce, diced green onions and black sesame seeds. It was ridiculously good. I think it would crack my all-time ballpark food top-10 list. Absolutely delicious:


My brother had a winner, too. He got the 911 poutine, which had sriracha sauce and two types of hot sausage as toppings. He reported that the heat had him just on the verge of sweating, which is always a good sign. Here’s the serving:


We took our food down to some front-row seats on the first base side (the park is entirely general admission, so we wanted to sit close to the action) and mowed down our dinner with this view:


Once we’d eaten, Phil and I used toothpicks he’d grabbed at a concession stand and it wasn’t long, of course, before Ben convinced us that he needed one, too:


(By the way, if you think it’s odd that a three-year-old kid can successfully use a toothpick, you’d be pleased to know Phil taught Ben to chew and spit sunflower seeds well before his third birthday.)

Anyway, the toothpick adventure ended up being short lived because Ben found that if he held it in his mouth, he could pretend to be a “‘squito” and peck at us.

Now, over the last few weeks, Phil and I had been talking about how cool it would be for Ben to get a baseball at his very first game. Phil asked me if I thought there was a chance, and I told him I guaranteed it would happen. When we arrived at the park and I saw a bigger crowd than I expected, I was sweating about my guarantee — or maybe it was just the fumes coming off the 911 poutine. In any case, I figured that if I wasn’t able to snag a foul ball down the line, we might have a chance of a player giving Ben a warm-up ball.

Cute kid + glove = ball, right? Yes, but by the third inning, he’d yet to snag one. I hatched a plan: Jackals starting pitcher Gabriel Perez, who played between 2009 and 2014 in the Angels and Diamonbacks organizations, was coming out of the dugout each inning to play catch with the right fielder. We got Ben to patiently stand with his glove while Perez played catch and tried to make eye contact before the pitcher returned to the dugout each inning:


It didn’t take long to get his attention. In fact, after the first inning of this strategy, Perez caught the warm-up ball and turned to us — except by this point, Ben was down off the fence and had his back turned. So, Perez turned away and went back to the dugout.

By the midway point of the game, Ben still hadn’t managed to get a ball. Perez was down the line toward the bullpen and Phil caught his eye and pointed toward Ben. Perez gave a subtle hand rotation, as if to say, “Next inning” and we were able to breathe at least a partial sigh of relief.

In the meantime, we shifted our attention back toward the game and I was happy to see the familiar name of Tony Caldwell. A 2011 draft pick of the Marlins, Caldwell hit five home runs in his MiLB career and I managed to get one of them during a 2013 visit to Charleston, West Virginia. I didn’t get a good action shot of Caldwell during the game, but here he is on the video board:


The next half-inning, Phil and I looked for Perez. Sure enough, he emerged from the bullpen with a ball in his hand and began walking straight toward Ben. We told Ben to hold out his glove and be ready, just in case. I could barely contain my excitement and as Perez approached, the moment was absolutely priceless. Perez was awesome — instead of just handing Ben the ball and walking away, he made a point of holding it out to get Ben excited and then even helped Ben hold his glove the right way to secure the ball. I was snapping photos the entire time so I’ll let them speak for now:







Ben was stunned — when he said “thank you,” I think his words registered at 0.1 decibels because he was in awe, but Phil and I were quick to thank Perez multiple times. Ben accidentally dropped the ball onto the warning track, but Perez turned back around the grabbed it for him. This time, the pitcher put the ball in Ben’s throwing hand and made a joking point of closing his fingers around the ball.

What a moment!

Heartfelt thanks to Perez for being so generous and such a good sport. He’s having a great season so far (7-3, 2.56 ERA and 84 strikeouts in 84.1 innings) so I hope he gets a chance in affiliated ball again. We’ll definitely be pulling for him!

Ben assured us that he would “play with the ball every day” and “be careful with it,” so I’m glad to see he’s got a good head on his shoulders!

The next inning, Phil took a picture of Ben and me …


… and, yes, I’m reppin’ the Great Lakes Loons and Auburn Doubledays.

By 9 p.m. or so, Ben began telling us that he was getting tired. We decided to stay another half inning and a moment after this decision, a kid who couldn’t have been older than 10 appeared behind us with a ball for Ben! We thanked the kid profusely and were soundly impressed with his generosity. Kids get pretty excited to get baseballs at games and it obviously takes someone special to give his ball away. You could say that Ben was slightly happy with the two balls:


Figuring we’d end the evening on a high note, we took this group shot with my GoPro …

… and then headed up to the cross-aisle, where I snapped this quick panorama of the ballpark:


Ben was now energized by his new acquisitions and we stopped to take his photo at this display …


… before heading out to the parking lot and saying goodnight to the ballpark:


There was zero sleep for Ben on the ride back home, but plenty of talk about baseball and the playing thereof. It’s funny to think that Ben is probably still young enough that he won’t remember his first baseball experience, but I hope I’ll get the chance to share many more games with him as he grows up.

Thanks for such a special memory, Phil and Ben!

Syracuse Chiefs – June 23

Getting to spend consecutive days watching baseball in any given city is awesome. So, after an exciting first day in Syracuse on June 22, it was great to get up early and enjoy hanging out in my hotel for the day before heading over to NBT Bank Stadium.

The day had a bit of an inauspicious start, though. I took the following photo at 6:30 a.m. and, as you can see, it was rainy and miserable looking:


The forecast was calling for sun and clear skies by game time, though, so I didn’t let the rain dampen my mood. Plus, even with the dreary morning skies, I got to enjoy a great view of the city from the window of my 15th-floor room at the Crowne Plaza Syracuse. By noon, the weather had cleared up …


… and I was looking forward to another perfect day of baseball with temperatures in the upper 70s. The evening’s game was set to begin at 7 p.m. For 7 p.m. games, I usually get to the park between 4:30 and 5 p.m., but I had a couple good reasons to be earlier on this day. Just before midnight the night before, Chiefs assistant GM Jason Horbal had sent me a tweet saying to have someone in the reception area call him when I got to the ballpark so we could catch up. I’d also met sports reporter Lindsay Kramer during my Monday visit, and he wanted to meet up to interview me for a story he was going to write about my visit. Man, I never need any extra incentive to get to the ballpark, but I certainly had it on day #2 and couldn’t wait to get to the park.

My media pass from a day earlier was still valid — thanks, Jay! — so I entered the Chiefs admin area and ran into Jason right away. He had to speak to someone for a moment, so I hung out in this cool area …


… before he reappeared and I followed him to his office. I didn’t take any photos of his office because, hey, that’s his personal space. But I can tell you that it was amazing — practically a Chiefs/baseball memorabilia museum. Signed balls, game-used bats, random baseball stuff everywhere and a cool picture of Bryce Harper wearing his Chiefs uniform above the desk. We talked baseball for probably half an hour and I was at my baseball nerdiest, asking Jason a million questions about behind-the-scenes stuff that goes on with an MiLB franchise. I heard stories about the recent Dwight Gooden and Lenny Dykstra autograph appearance at NBT Bank Stadium, Nick Swisher’s visit during a rehab stint in May and a whole lot more. Jason’s a great guy. Give him a follow on Twitter and if you’re at a Chiefs game, look for him in the concourse and say hello.

After a while, he understandably had to get back to his pregame duties, but first he led me through the Chiefs offices, into a tunnel, through the Charlotte dugout and onto the field! Let me tell you, there’s no cooler experience than being on the field of a professional ballpark. Jason said to feel free to hang out on the field for as much of batting practice as I wanted and then headed away. Once he left, I took this photo to show where I was standing:


And this is what it looked like in panorama form:


As you can see, there was no action just yet. The Chiefs were due to hit very shortly, though, so I found a spot next to the home dugout, which was still empty:


Before the action began, I took this quick shot of myself with my GoPro:

The first sign of action on the field wasn’t the Chiefs hitting — it was three members of the Knights playing hacky sack. I was pretty impressed with their dedication. I believe they played for over an hour:


From left to right, that’s pitcher Zach Phillips with the sack on his head, pitcher Maikel Cleto and, I think, a member of the training/conditioning staff, although I could be incorrect. Incidentally, Phillips was one of the Knights I saw several times in the hotel lobby over the course of my stay.

Soon enough, the Syracuse players emerged from the dugout tunnel, took the field and started to hit. I was standing on the edge of the warning track beside the home dugout for virtually the entire batting practice, so I had an awesome view. Here’s star infielder Emmanuel Burriss, who was called up to the Nationals just three days after this game:


And here’s Tony Gwynn, Jr., who also made an appearance in my previous blog post:


Sometimes, the Knights’ game of hacky sack got a little crazy. At one point, an errant kick sent the sack into the stands and Cleto had to retrieve it:


As some players hit, infielder Josh Johnson did some running drills:


Although I took a bunch of photos, I was trying to remain as stationary as possible for much of BP, as I once again had my new GoPro strapped to my chest. I took some cool footage of the experience that I’ll be uploading onto my YouTube channel very soon. If you subscribe, you’ll be the first to know when it’s live!

It was an absolute blast watching BP from the field. I’d done it once before, when a guy named Jeter was rehabbing in Triple-A, and this time was awesome, too. If you read my blog regularly, you know how much I enjoy the batting practice experience in the minors, so watching it from just a handful of feet away on Jason’s recommendation was outstanding. Thanks again, Jay!

Before I left the field at the conclusion of BP, I snapped one last picture of Darin Mastroianni’s bat and batting gloves sitting on the tarp next to the cage. It’s interesting (to me, anyway) because Mastroianni’s jersey number with the Chiefs is actually 16, so the number 19 on the end of his bat must’ve been from a different season:


After leaving the field, I walked through the stands over to the Charlotte bullpen area, where the players were now playing catch. I was excited to see pitcher Kyle Drabek, who I saw lots of times between 2010 and 2014 in the Blue Jays system:


I also saw Brad Penny playing catch a day after his start. Even cooler, I noticed Penny running the stadium stairs when I first went out to the field. Pretty cool to see a a 37-year-old pitcher who has made nearly $50 million in his career working so hard to get back to the majors.

By this time, Phillips was done his marathon hacky sack game and was playing catch, too:


I watched the action on the field until the players headed for the clubhouse, and then I, too, found a different place to visit. It was time to hit the press box to meet up with Lindsay to discuss my interview. I met him and we decided to speak later in the game, so I took this photo of the empty field just before 6:30 p.m. …


… and then went to a suite-level observation area that allowed me to capture the scene outside NBT Bank Stadium:


Time to eat? I think so!

The Chiefs have a two-for-one Tuesday special every Tuesday home game, in which you can buy select concession items and get a second one for free. I’d been excited to see what the promotion would feature during my visit, and I pumped that it would be the food I was planning to buy anyway — the “Hofmann Ripper.” This deep-fried hot dog included hot sauce, blue cheese sauce and celery pieces. Sounds good, right? Obviously, I ordered two:


They were tasty. I’m not sure that they were the best ballpark hot dogs that I’ve eaten, but they were certainly among the most creatively designed. The combination of the hot sauce and blue cheese sauce was very chicken wing-esque, and the crunch from the celery was good. If you’re at NBT Bank Stadium this summer, I definitely recommend checking them out at the Chicken Fry Fry stand on the first base side.

Once I’d eaten, I took a bunch of photos to make up this big panorama …


… and then went down to field level in time for the first pitch. Like a day earlier, I found a spot in the front row behind the Chiefs dugout, which gave me a great vantage point for some action shots. Here’s Syracuse starter Taylor Hill, who pitched 5.2 innings of three-run ball:


And Charlotte second baseman Micah Johnson in the process of stealing his first of two bases in the game:


(You can see that Burris had a little trouble getting a handle on the ball!)

And here’s a shot of Chiefs catcher Dan Butler on his way back to the dugout after an inning:


I got this cool action shot of Burris just after he made contact with a pitch that ended up landing foul …


… and this one a moment later on his way to the dugout after lining out sharply:


As I’d been mentioning on Twitter in the days leading up to my Syracuse visit, I’d hoped to get a foul ball during either game. Back in 2013 when I visited NBT Bank Stadium for a doubleheader, I got a pair of foul balls. I didn’t make a real attempt to snag a foul during the first day of my visit this time, though, so I wanted to get a souvenir during the second game. For whatever reason, the crowd on this night was sparse, which meant the upper deck was pretty bare — especially down the lines. See this photo for evidence:


I always find that an easy way to end up with a foul ball is to sit in an empty section if there is one. Even if the ball isn’t hit directly to you, you shouldn’t have any trouble getting there before other fans. So, that’s exactly what I did. I took a seat in the above section just behind the News Channel 9 sign and less than half an inning later, I was holding this foul ball off the bat of Charlotte DH Tyler Saladino:


Funny story about this ball: It landed half a section to my right and a few rows above me, but I got there quickly and grabbed it. There was a kid a couple sections to my left who started running in the general direction of the foul, but he wasn’t even close to entering the section by the time I’d grabbed the ball. A handful of fans in that area booed loudly once I picked up the ball, apparently since I hadn’t chosen to ignore the ball so the kid could grab it. Not because of the booing, I decided right then and there that I’d quickly take a photo of the ball and then walk over and hand it to the kid. As I took the above photo, I noticed who I presumed to be the kid’s father waving his arms to encourage people to continue booing. Hmmm. That was enough of an incentive to convince me to keep it myself.

This is the seventh foul ball in my collection. One day, I’ll have to write a post about all of them.

Anyway, with my mission complete, I met up with Lindsay in the press box for my interview. I took this photo as we talked:


When the interview was done, I headed back down to the concourse when I ran into Jason behind home plate. I think it was the bottom of the seventh inning, and I decided to hang out with him and watch the rest of the game from this spot:


That’s former MLB pitcher Jose Valverde on the mound for Syracuse. He pitched the ninth inning and picked up the save as the Chiefs won 4-3. It was hilarious to watch his disregard for the new pitch clock that’s made headlines throughout baseball in 2015. Simply put, he cares zero percent about it. I was actually laughing out loud a few times. I believe the clock begins its 20-second countdown when the pitcher either receives the ball back from the catcher or steps onto the mound dirt between hitters. In any case, there were plenty of times that the entire 20 seconds had wound down long before Valverde had even taken the rubber. He never got a warning for it, either, so it was a funny game within a game to watch.

Although I was sad to be leaving NBT Bank Stadium when the game wrapped up, I was once again looking forward to enjoying the Crowne Plaza Syracuse for the remainder of my visit. The next morning, I took this panorama out my window …


… before taking my camera and going for a walk around the block to take some more shots. Here’s the hotel from the top level of the parking garage:


And the lobby entrance closest to the garage. There’s also valet parking here, too, if you’re interested:


I don’t know when I’ll visit Syracuse next, but I do definitely know that the Crowne Plaza is where I’ll stay. I was thoroughly impressed with every element of this visit, from the location of the hotel to the in-room amenities to the professionalism and friendliness of every staff member I encountered. If you’re a baseball fan visiting the city — or are just visiting the ‘Cuse for any reason, really — I wholeheartedly recommend this hotel.

The next morning, I checked out of the hotel about 10:30 a.m. and planned to do a little shopping before I made the three-hour drive home. First, though, I wanted to make one last baseball-related stop. I’m always interested in seeing baseball facilities of any type on my trips, and when I saw on the map that I was just a few minutes from Le Moyne College, a school that has an NCAA Div. II baseball team, I knew I had to visit. The college campus was beautiful and quiet. I found the athletic facilities easily, parked my car and took a walk around to check out everything. Here’s a look at the baseball field from just inside the gate:


And the field in panorama form:


After taking these photos, I packed up my camera for good and began the short drive home after an outstanding few days.

I’ll be announcing my next travel plans very soon, so please keep an eye on this blog for details. Thanks for reading!


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 667 other followers