Washington Wild Things – September 2

If you’ve been reading my blog for a number of years, you’ll know the name Jeremy Nowak. But if you’re a new reader, here are a pair of links that tell the amazing story:

Part I
Part II

I’ve seen Jeremy play live in 2011, 2012 and 2013, and was excited to see him in action again in 2014 — in my final game of the season. After visiting Rochester, Pittsburgh and Jamestown earlier on this trip, I got up the morning of September 2 in Jamestown, NY and drove about 200 miles to Washington, PA. This city, located slightly southwest of Pittsburgh, is home to the Washington Wild Things, who play in the independent Frontier League.

You might remember that in 2013, I saw Jeremy play (and met his parents) at a road game in New Jersey, when Jeremy was a member of the Trois-Rivières Aigles of the independent Can-Am League. Well, after one season in that league, Jeremy signed with the Evansville Otters of the Frontier League in April 2014. I wasn’t able to make it all the way to Evansville, IN, to see him play in 2014 — which is a shame, because the Otters play in the amazingly historic Bosse Field. Haven’t heard of it? It’s the third-oldest pro ballpark still in use in the U.S., behind only Fenway Park and Wrigley Field. Not bad company, right? Since a trip to Evansville wasn’t in the cards, I was pumped that Jeremy and the Otters would be heading east to play in Washington for their final series of the regular season.

I got to Washington around noon, killed some time at the nearby Tanger Outlets and made my way to Consol Energy Park. For the second day in a row, I was getting to see a doubleheader, which was doubly awesome because Jeremy’s parents, Kevin and Maria, would also be in attendance.

Game one was set to being at 6 p.m., and I got to the park at 4 p.m. so I could check out the surroundings before the gates opened. The Wild Things were great to me, giving me a media pass, so I was able to get inside early. First, though, my mission was to scour the vast parking lot beyond the outfield fence and see if I could find a Frontier League baseball. As you might know, I enjoy collecting balls from every league I visit, and since this was my first Frontier League game, I wanted to add a ball to my collection.

I was looking at an empty lot once I climbed out of my car, but the grass behind the fence promised to yield a ball or two. At least, that’s what I was hoping:

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I couldn’t see any balls in the grass as I got closer …

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… but within a few minutes of searching, I found this practice ball and this official Frontier League ball:

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Success!

Although batting practice was still on, and I’d have likely had no trouble adding another few balls to my collection, I set out for the park’s ticket office, grabbed my media pass and snapped this shot of the gate:

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As you can see, Consol Energy Park isn’t only the home of the Wild Things. It’s also shared by the Pennsylvania Rebellion, a National Pro Fastpitch team.

The inside of the park was picturesque, especially for an indy-league facility. Nice paved concourses, lots of plants and some great open areas:

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I didn’t take long to stop and smell the flowers — I moved quickly through the concourse until I found a spot along the first-base side where I could watch BP.

Now, Jeremy’s family and I have a running joke that I’m a stalker. (Well, I think that they’re joking.) I mean, just because I see the guy every year and have a baseball card collection dedicated to him doesn’t make me a stalker, does it? If it does, I label myself a friendly stalker. In any case, when I got to field level, peered through my camera and zoomed in, I saw that Jeremy was currently in the cage. I snapped this photo …

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… and several more, and thought, “Damn, if he looks up and sees me here, he’s really gonna think I’m a stalker.”

Fortunately, that didn’t happen. What did happen, however, was I stalked moved into the stands closer to home plate to take photos like this one during his next stint in the cage:

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I’m not sure if you noticed in these two pictures, but the playing field at Consol Energy Park is artificial turf. I believe this is the first time I’ve seen this type of turf below the MLB level. If you look carefully, you’ll see that even the baselines are turf. Even the mound is made of turf.

When Jeremy grabbed his glove and trotted to the outfield to begin shagging flies, I took the opportunity to explore the park. Out in the main concourse, I ran into an usher who had just grabbed an errant BP ball in the stands. The gates were still closed, so I was the only fan in the place, and he came up to me to chat. He was tossing the ball back and forth in his hands, and I figured he’d soon go back toward the field and toss the ball back or perhaps even give it to me. Nope on both accounts. As we stood on the concourse in front of this gate …

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… he said, “Watch this,” assumed a bowling stance and attempted to “bowl” the baseball through the fence. It clanged off the iron on his first attempt, so he scrambled to grab it … and proceeded to toss it over the fence into the brush beyond the road. Don’t ask me why, but it seemed a little odd to just waste the ball.

After that bizarre spectacle, I climbed up to the top of the seating bowl behind home plate and took a series of photos to build this panorama. I think you’ll agree that Consol Energy Park is beautiful, and the hilly backdrop beyond the outfield fence is picturesque:

consol-energy-park-panorama-home-plate

Next, I headed back toward the main gate to check out the starting lineups for game one. When I’d entered the park, the white board hasn’t yet been filled out, and it was still empty when I saw it again. After a few minutes of impatient toe tapping, a Wild Things staffer emerged and methodically added the names. I was glad to see Jeremy’s name added to the fifth spot on the visitors’ side, and saw that he’d be DHing for the first game:

washington-wild-things-lineup-board

About this time, the gates opened and I met up with Maria and Kevin — although I’m sorry to say we didn’t get a picture of the three of us together. A complete mind-blip on my behalf, and I regret it. I hope I’ll run into them next year, and we’ll take two photos for good measure! It was great to catch up with them; despite having met them just once, we get along really well and watching a doubleheader without barely a pause in good conversation is a testament to that. We all headed over to the visitors’ dugout to wait for Jeremy. Before he emerged from the clubhouse in the left field corner, I snapped this photo of some of the Otters’ bats — the fourth bat from the left is a Sam Bat, which is a Canadian company. I was lucky enough to get a personal tour of the Sam Bat factory from the company’s president back in 2012, so I’ve always got my eyes open for this Canuck lumber on my trips:

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Before long, Jeremy came into view and he immediately came up into the stands to say hello and get this picture with me:

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I didn’t want to detain him, but he spent several minutes talking baseball, which was awesome. Soon enough, he had to go get warmed up, so the Nowaks and I grabbed a trio of seats in the front row behind the dugout and waited for first pitch. The next million photos I took are — you guessed it — action shots of Jeremy. To avoid the stalker label, I’ll share just a few here:

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I normally only sit still for a couple innings at a time during my ballpark visits, but this day was different. Other than when I’d move to the other side of the diamond to photograph Jeremy batting left, Maria, Kevin and I stayed in our seats for every inning of the doubleheader and had an absolute blast. After the second game, we waited outside the clubhouse and talked to Jeremy for a few minutes before the Nowaks went to their hotel and I went to mine. Jeremy signed a contract extension with the Otters a few weeks ago, and I’m already looking forward to seeing him in action again this season. I’ll be posting details as soon as I get that trip planned.

I Won a Contest!

Who loves entering contests? Well, I know I sure do.

So, last month, when the Hilton Garden Inn Detroit Downtown held a Twitter contest, I was all in. All you had to do was submit a photo that you’d taken of the hotel, and the winner would have his or her photo used as the hotel’s new Twitter header shot. Pretty easy, right?

If you remember reading about my visit to the Motor City last June, you might recall that I stayed in this hotel and loved it. Don’t remember? Here are two posts to jog your memory:

Day One

Day Two

In any case, the hotel was awesome — a great downtown location within walking distance to Comerica Park, huge guest rooms, super-friendly staff and a whole lot of other perks. If you’re headed to Detroit to see the Tigers, I absolutely recommend staying at this hotel. (And while you’re at it, give the hotel a follow on Twitter.) Anyway, since I took a bunch of photos inside and outside the hotel last June, I figured I’d submit a couple and keep my fingers crossed.

I sent in this shot of my room:

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And this one of the front of the hotel:

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And, whaddya know? The hotel tweeted at me earlier today to say I’d been chosen as the winner:

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I was pretty excited, as you might have guessed, and even more thrilled when I checked the hotel’s Twitter page and saw my photo as the top banner image. Check it out!

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Additionally, I just checked out the hotel’s Facebook page and saw that my two photos are being used as the profile picture and the header picture. Here’s a screen capture:

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Hmm — all this Detroit talk makes me think I should visit again this season!

Jamestown Jammers – September 1

The Jamestown Jammers joined the New York-Penn League in 1994, but their two-decade tenure would come to an end on September 1, 2014, the day of my visit to Jamestown. Now, it’s not that the team didn’t like the look of me and decided to skip town. Rather, declining attendance numbers over the last several years have consistently sparked rumors that the Jammers would be relocating, perhaps in time for the start of the 2015 NYPL season.

Despite the persistent rumors, no relocation had been announced when I finalized plans for my August/September road trip early in August. But just four days before I hit the road, the team announced that the 2014 campaign would be its last in Jamestown. A quick look at the schedule meant I’d be seeing the final game in Jammers history, and the day was extra special because a doubleheader was scheduled.

Normally, when I visit a ballpark, my mission is to document everything for my website, The Ballpark Guide. But that approach would be moot; after September 1, no baseball road trippers would be visiting Jamestown’s Russell Diethrick Park, at least not for the foreseeable future. All this equated to a chance to simply enough the games and witness a bit of history in a park with plenty of it; Diethrick Park opened in the 1940 season and hosted NYPL ball in every season since.

The drive from Pittsburgh, where I’d spent the two previous days, took about 2.5 hours, and I arrived in Jamestown well before the gates were set to open for the doubleheader. There wasn’t much going on around the park — only a few fans were gathered outside the gates. My first picture documents the last NYPL games in Jamestown …

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… and my second shows how quiet the park still seemed to be:

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The Jammers were giving me a media pass for the day, which came in the form of a blank ticket, as you can see here:

jamestown-jammers-ticket-media-pass

Before I entered, I took a walk around the park’s perimeter, partly to look for any errant balls and partly just to enjoy the old park from every angle. The ball-searching part of my mission didn’t turn up anything, but the walk through the tree-lined field beyond the outfield fence was nice:

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After a full lap, I entered the park through an open gate for employees and found myself looking at a very empty concourse:

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As you can probably tell, the concourse runs directly behind the seating area. Out in front of the seats, nothing was going on, either:

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There was a little action on the field, though. The grounds crew was preparing Diethrick Park for the final time and, on the first base side, a few members of the visiting Mahoning Valley Scrappers were warming up. You can see all the goings-on by clicking to enlarge this panorama:

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A handful of Scrappers were wrapping up their batting practice at the cages down the third base side, and I watched for a moment from beside the home bullpen bench, which you can see here:

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Next, I decided to take a walk through the still-empty concourse. Despite the excitement of the upcoming games, there was a sense of melancholy in the park. Maybe it was the emptiness or maybe it was just my imagination, but things definitely seemed a little down. My mood, however, perked up quickly when I saw this sign outside the team shop:

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If there’s one thing better than a sale, it’s a mega sale, right?! The shop door was still shut, so I continued walking down the concourse behind the first base stands. As you might’ve guessed, the area was also empty:

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Seen enough empty ballpark shots? How about some action, you ask? Sounds good to me. My next stop was the batting cage back on the third base side, where the Jammers were now hitting:

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I watched the proceedings for a few minutes, and then turned my attention to the field, where members of the home team were beginning to stretch and play catch. Here’s infielder Erik Lunde, an 18th-round pick of the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 2014 Draft:

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Remember my earlier comment about declining attendance being a major reason for the Jammers leaving town? Here’s a picture I took during a pregame speech Check out the fans behind home plate — this is minutes before the first pitch:

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I was excited for the game to get underway so I could take some action shots. Often, I spend so much time walking around the ballpark during my visits that I don’t get to focus on the game too much. With the first pitch just moments away, I settled — rebelliously, I should say — into the “No Standing” area behind the home dugout, which offered a fantastic view of the field. In this next photo, you can look at Jamestown starter Montana DuRapau … or you can just ask yourself what the umpire’s doing in the background:

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From my vantage point, I didn’t just have a great view of the field. I could also see other neat details, such as this barrel of rubbed-up baseballs ready to be used:

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Here’s Mahoning Valley’s Steven Patterson taking a cut during his first at-bat:

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Scrappers starter Cameron Hill — you’ll notice the umpire isn’t up to any monkey business in the background:

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Jamestown outfielder Carl Anderson making contact:

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And Jammers catcher Taylor Gushue fouling one off:

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At the end of the next inning, I captured Gushue walking toward the home dugout:

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I was really digging this spot for photos, but when I looked across the field to see that the area behind the visitors’ dugout was clear, I decided to scamper (that’s right, I scampered) over there for a few innings. From here, as you might expect, I had another great view of the action and took several photos. (For the record, I took 456 photos during my visit to Jamestown, although I’m only uploading a fraction of them.)

Here’s infielder Steven Patterson, who I’d previously shot at the plate:

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And pitcher Cameron Hill, walking toward the dugout after pitching a half-inning:

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Although I was still keen to continue taking action shots, I was starved. The Diethrick Park concession stand was modest, but it had one item that caught my eye. I forget its name — it was something similar to “Firecracker,” “Firestarter” or “Fire in the Hole” — I don’t think it was the latter, though. In any case, it was a burger with pepper jack cheese and lots of bacon, and I ate it in the stands:

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The verdict? Absolutely delicious, although the value wasn’t great at $6. See the size of the burger compared to my hand? I didn’t want to spend another $6 on another small burger, so I silently pledged to overeat when I got to my hotel after the game.

Back on the field, Hill was still on the mound for Mahoning Valley (he ended up pitching 5.0 innings of one-run ball), so I took some more photos of him, including this one:

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The next inning, I took this close-up shot of Scrappers outfield D’vone McClure:

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And, an inning later, shot Jammers shortstop Tyler Filliben attempting to lay down a bunt:

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Want to see a few more action photos? Here’s Mahoning Valley’s first baseman Leo Castillo making contact …

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… and Steven Patterson making yet another appearance in this post. This time, he’s just crossed home plate after hitting a home run:

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It was a blast being so close to home plate to take so many action shots, like this one of Jammers third baseman Chase Simpson:

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Even better, though, was watching Jamestown win on a walk-off in the seventh inning. (Minor league doubleheaders have just seven innings per game. ) With the score tied 2-2, Jammers left fielder Jordan Luplow hit his sixth home run of the season to clinch what ended up being the last win in the franchise’s history. As you might expect, he got mobbed at home plate, and I took several photos of the scene, including these two that I like:

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It was an exciting end to game one, and I was glad the day was only half over. As is the deal during doubleheaders, the teams disappeared and the grounds crew came out to get the field prepped for the second contest. I took the opportunity to visit the team shop mega sale to pick up some great items. I got a pair of Jammers on-field caps for just $5 each — crazy, I know:

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I also picked up a game-used jersey for just $10 that was worn by Miami Marlins starter Tom Koehler in 2008. I’m in the process of connecting with Koehler on Twitter to see if he wants it back. I’ll keep you posted on how that turns out. In the meantime, here’s the jersey:

jamestown-jammers-jersey-front-back

After my mega shopping extravaganza, I returned to field level in time to see the teams getting warmed up for the second game. From my spot behind the Mahoning Valley dugout, I watched a pair of Scrappers playing long-distance catch. In the Google Maps image below, I’ve placed numbers 1 and 2 where the players were. The X is where I was standing. Partway through their game of catch, player 1 threw a bomb that sailed over the outfield fence (crazy, right?) and landed where I’ve placed the ball image.

jamestown-jammers-overhead-map

As the map shows, I was about as far from the ball as humanly possible, but I thought that if I hustled, I might have a chance of getting to it before someone else found it. I walked with a purpose through the concourse until I exited the park, and then ran to where I thought the ball had landed. The result?

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Woo hoo! I was thrilled to add the ball to my collection and happy that my long-distance mission had paid off.

When I got back to the park, I decided to wander through the seats behind home plate to take a few photos from this new angle. Before I did, however, I noticed a curious set of stairs leading to the park’s roof. Hmmm. The stairs weren’t roped off, so I quickly told myself, “Do it for the story,” and began to climb …

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… until I emerged through this trap door on the park’s roof:

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I saw the press box in the center of the roof, and it had ample standing room on either side. While I don’t think this area could possibly be open to fans, I was confident that my media pass gave me the right to be here, so I took this panorama that captures the scene from the bird’s eye view:

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This vantage point was new; although it’s possible to get up high behind home plate at many MLB and MiLB parks, it felt like I was right on top of the field. And, in a sense, I was. It’s always fun to have an unobstructed view for photos, so I started shooting the action. Here’s Jamestown starter Alex McRae, who didn’t have his best outing of the season:

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He gave up nine runs on nine hits in just 2.2 innings of work. Yikes. The Scrappers looked formidable early in the second game, using speed …

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… and hitting …

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… until the scoreboard looked like this:

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(Is it just me, or does it look like the fielder is thinking “WTF?”)

I soon moved over to the other side of the roof, where I shot Scrappers starter Ramon Rodriguez:

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I also took this shot, of my shadow, to show you my cool position on the roof:

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From up here, I had a clear view of everything, including two Scrappers hitters who were hit by pitches from McRae. You can’t see the ball in this shot of centerfielder Greg Allen, but you can see its shadow bouncing off his body:

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Three batters later, McRae drilled catcher Francisco Mejia behind the knee, and I snapped a photo just as the ball was making contact with him:

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Remember how I said it felt as though I was right on top of the field? That sentiment was especially true for the players standing on deck. Need proof? Look at this shot of Leo Castillo:

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Although I was having a blast up top, I decided it’d be fitting to spend the last part of the game back at field level behind the Jamestown dugout. I wasn’t sure if anything cool would happen — I was envisioning the players saluting the fans after the game, perhaps — and I wanted to be in the right spot to watch. I returned to the “No Standing” spot I’d used at the start of the penultimate game and once again had a super-close view of the goings-on. Any post-game events would have to wait, as there was still some baseball to be played. Here’s Jammers first baseman David Andriese on deck:

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And 6-foot-8 reliever Eric Dorsch, who had one inning of work:

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As for my hope of a post-game ceremony? It didn’t happen, and neither did a Jamestown rally. They fell 12-3 in their final game, with the last out coming via an Elvis Escobar ground out. I filmed Escobar’s at-bat to capture the moment, and you can check out that short video here, if you’re interested:

I hung out in the concourse for about 10 minutes after the game. Lots of the Jammers were taking photos with family members and fans and some were giving away their bats and batting gloves. The whole scene was still a little sad, but I’m sure the Jammers players are excited to continue their minor league careers in Morgantown, WV, next season. The team has since announced that it’ll be known as the West Virginia Black Bears and will play at the new Monongalia County Ballpark, which it’ll share with the West Virginia University Mountaineers. (Does that mean a trip to Morgantown will be in the cards for me? I sure think so, and hopefully this coming season!)

In the meantime, I snapped a picture of the sign board outside the ballpark, which had been changed since I last saw it:

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This photo was the last one I took at Russell Diethrick Park. I’d been at the ballpark for more than seven hours in a visit that was outstanding and memorable. Although the day was winding to a close, my trip wasn’t over just yet. I still had one more awesome day to come, but first it was time to head to my hotel for the evening, the Comfort Inn Jamestown. The hotel is just two miles from the ballpark, and it was great — close to several places to eat and less than a minute off the highway. It’s the second-ranked Jamestown hotel on TripAdvisor and features free Internet, free parking and a free hot breakfast. Here’s a look at the hotel from the exterior:

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And here’s my room for the night:

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After grabbing a pizza from a nearby Little Caesars (not as thrilling as the Little Caesars at Comerica Park, I tell you) I crashed for the night and anticipated my final ballgame of 2014. In the morning, I headed back to the Pittsburgh area to visit the city of Washington, PA. You didn’t think I’d miss seeing Jeremy Nowak in action in 2014, did you? That story’s up next!

If you enjoyed reading this blog post, I’d love to tell you how you can support my future baseball road trips. If you shop on Amazon, your purchases can help fund my trips — without costing you an extra cent. Please take a moment to look at this page and thank you in advance for your support!

Pittsburgh Pirates – August 31

When I woke up on the morning of August 31 for my second day in Pittsburgh, there wasn’t much time to waste. The Pirates were hosting the Cincinnati Reds with a 1 p.m. start time, which meant I wanted to get to PNC Park by 10:30 a.m. I packed up my stuff, checked out of my hotel on the edge of the city and drove straight to my next hotel, the Hampton Inn & Suites Pittsburgh-Downtown. It was still too early to check in, but I was lucky enough to park my car for free at the hotel and walk a few blocks over to PNC Park. The hotel stay was outstanding, and I’ll have lots more about it later in this blog post.

It was absolutely pouring, and I figured there’d be no chance the game would be played at all. Still, I figured a soggy day wandering around the park would be more than all right, so I climbed out of my car and ducked into the rainy morning. From the edge of the hotel’s parking lot, I could see the yellow of the Roberto Clemente Bridge and, beyond it, PNC Park:

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Several minutes later, I was standing on the center line of the bridge, as I had a day before:

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I entered the ballpark a short while later and saw, as you might expect, that the infield was covered with the tarp. No surprise there:

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The steady rain made me not too interested in standing in the seating area getting soaked, so I moved indoors to the Rivertowne Brewing Hall of Fame Club, which is found above the bleachers in left-center field. This spot is an enormous indoor bar and eatery that is open to all fans. It was packed during much of my visit to PNC Park the day before, but wasn’t too crowded during this rainy day. Apparently, I was so happy to be out of the rain that I completely neglected to take a photo inside the club area, so you’ll have to take my word that I was there.

I killed some time in this area and then checked out the team shop before walking down to field level to enjoy this scene:

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Sure, the tarp is a buzz kill, but the overall view is one of the best you’ll see in baseball. The cold, dreary day called for something hot to eat, and I’d spied a Quaker Steak & Lube concession stand during my first visit to PNC Park and decided to check it out. I’ve often said that the chicken wings at the Quaker Steak & Lube in Toronto’s Rogers Centre are among my all-time favorite ballpark eats, but I wanted to try something different this time. I’ve often been tempted by the onion rings, so I bought an order with blue cheese dip and dug in:

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The rings were delicious — thick, hot and a good onion to batter ratio. The dip wasn’t very good, so I’d definitely try ranch or another flavor next time. If you like onion rings, though, give these a shot at any QS&L location. They look pretty perfect, don’t they?

Soon enough, the rain disappeared and the Pirates miraculously announced the game was expected to start on time. By now, fans were beginning to take their seats, but the crowd was light enough that I was able to sneak walk casually into the park’s famous seats in right field. This section is small to avoid blocking the city’s skyline, so it’s a coveted ticket for Pirates games. The ushers are vigilant about restricting access during the game, but I was able to hang out in the area for a few minutes to take this panorama, which you can click to enlarge:

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After leaving the area, I walked the length of the Riverwalk and over to the corner in left, where I took the long walk up this spiral ramp:

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Think the climb might’ve been dizzying? It wasn’t, but looking down at the escalators was:

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After spending the next little while just walking around PNC Park’s various levels and taking in the sights, I went back down to the main level and found a spot to stand to watch the game. Like a day earlier, I’d bought a standing room ticket. The dreary day, however, meant I had no problem getting a front-row spot along the railing on the third base side. From here, I had an unobstructed view to the field … unless you think this little fella, resting on a nearby wheelchair, was blocking my view:

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My pictures of the action at home plate are only so-so, but I had a blast watching guys like Billy Hamilton:

cincinnati-reds-billy-hamilton-batting

If you follow my blog closely, you might remember that I saw Hamilton in Triple-A last summer as a member of the Louisville Bats. You can read about that ballpark visit here, if you’re interested.

Once I’d watched a couple innings from this spot, I was on the move again. It’s not that I can’t stand still — it’s that it’s always too tempting to explore a new ballpark, rather than just hang out in the same spot for the entire game. During each lap of the park, I couldn’t resist taking a look down to the river and over the water to the impressive city skyline. At one point, I noticed something on the water that you just don’t see every day:

pnc-park-river-stand-up-boarder

I eventually returned to a spot on the third base side and snapped pictures like this one of Pirates starter Francisco Liriano:

pnc-park-pirates-francisco-liriano

As I watched him work, keeping an eye on the ribbon board behind home plate to watch his pitch speed, I noticed something I’ve never seen at a single one of the 50-plus parks I’ve visited since 2010. Take a look at this next photo and you’ll see not only the pitch speed, but also the ball’s horizontal break and vertical break:

pnc-park-pitching-details-board

Pretty cool, huh? Of course, the baseball nerd in me had fun watching for off-speed pitches and quickly guessing the break before the data appeared in front of me. Has anyone encountered other parks that provide this data? If so, I’d love to hear about it in the comments section below.

I’ve often said in the past how I love the speed element of baseball, so it was definitely a thrill to see Hamilton in person again. The next time he was up, I positioned myself to the third base side of home and watched as he flew up the base line on a routine ground out. His speed was absolutely incredible, and I shot a series of photos that I’ve made into this gif:

dt83p

After beating the Reds 3-2 a day earlier, the Pirates fell by the same score in a game that saw Cincy starter Johnny Cueto, who I captured earlier in the game during this bunt attempt, win his 16th of the season:

cincinnati-reds-johnny-cueto-bunt

As fans filed out of PNC Park toward their cars, I was excited to avoid the post-game traffic jam and, instead, take a short walk to my hotel, the Hampton Inn & Suites Pittsburgh-Downtown. The hotel is just one mile from the ballpark and an easy walk. It’s totally perfect for baseball fans visiting Pittsburgh — or, really, anyone who enjoys staying downtown and being able to walk to various locations. In addition to its close proximity to PNC Park, the hotel is also within walking distance to Heinz Field, the University of Pittsburgh, a downtown convention center and the Senator John Heinz History Center, a museum that is located directly across the street. (Unfortunately, I didn’t get to visit it, but it looked outstanding.) Speaking of the hotel’s location, a huge perk is that guests get free parking. In all my traveling, I can’t recall another true downtown hotel that has this benefit.

The hotel staff knew of my arrival, and kindly gave me a welcome gift bag loaded with snacks upon checking in. That was the first big surprise. The other? Seeing this sign in the elevator — in particular, the part I’ve pointed out with the red arrow — on the way up to my room:

hampton-inn-suites-pittsburgh-downtown-welcome-sign copy

Wowsers! Did I just say “wowsers?” I sure did.

I was lucky to get a corner suite on an upper floor of the hotel; given the room’s location, it really felt as though I had the best room in the hotel. The view was spectacular — from one window, I could see the river, the yellow bridges and even PNC Park in the distance:

hampton-inn-suites-pittsburgh-downtown-pnc-park-view

And from the other, I had a great view of the city’s downtown, which I photographed early in the evening …

hampton-inn-suites-pittsburgh-downtown-city-view-day

… and again at night:

hampton-inn-suites-pittsburgh-downtown-city-view-night

The view wasn’t the only amazing thing about my room. The room itself was perfect — it was a suite, so it was extremely spacious and had a kitchen area, desk, couch, king-sized bed and more. Check out this shot …

hampton-inn-suites-pittsburgh-downtown-city-room-2

… and this one to see what I mean:

hampton-inn-suites-pittsburgh-downtown-city-room-1

The Hampton Inn & Suites Pittsburgh-Downtown is an outstanding choice if you’ve visiting the Steel City. Beyond the perks I’ve already listed, the hotel features free Wi-Fi, free breakfast, a business center, fitness center, indoor pool and more. From these amenities to its ideal location to its free parking to its awesome rooms, you’ll be glad to hang your Pirates hat (or the hat of whatever team you root for) here.

Two more ballpark experiences from my road trip are coming up! Next one: The end of an era in Jamestown, New York.

Pittsburgh Pirates – August 30

Any time I talk to baseball fans about the parks they’ve visited, it doesn’t take long before Pittsburgh’s PNC Park is mentioned as a favorite. I’ve been trying to add PNC Park to the list of the parks I’ve visited for the last few years, but I’ve never managed to sync my travel schedule with the Pirates’ home schedule. This year, however, everything worked out perfectly.

After an awesome day in Rochester, I drove about 4.5 hours to Pittsburgh, getting to the Steel City about three hours before the 4 p.m. game. I parked in a parking tower across the Roberto Clemente Bridge from PNC Park and, as I entered the structure, I could hear a security guard’s radio crackle with the message, “No more cars.” That meant I’d have a heck of a time finding a parking spot; after driving around for way too long, another guard directed me to park in a non-spot on the upper level of the structure. I wasn’t crazy about leaving my car in an area that it might get towed, but I quickly forgot about this problem when I stepped out and had this exciting view:

pnc-park-parking-lot-view

Just about perfect, right?

The view from where I stood was incredible. Here’s what it looks like as a panorama, which you can click to expand:

pnc-park-parking-garage-view-panorama

In addition to the ballpark and Pittsburgh’s iconic series of bridges, you can also see Heinz Field, home of the Steelers, on the left. After a couple minutes of descending the stairs to get to street level, the Clemente Bridge once again had a prominent spot in front of me:

pnc-park-street-view-bridge

This bridge is closed to vehicles on game days, which makes for one of the best approaches to any MLB park you can find. Leave your car, take a stroll over the bridge and enjoy the view, and a few minutes later, you’re standing at the gates of an outstanding ballpark. As I set out across the bridge, I noticed most pedestrians were sticking to the sidewalk. I couldn’t resist walking right down the center line, where I had this view:

pnc-park-clemente-bridge-center-line

I saw a plaque honoring Clemente …

pnc-park-clemente-bridge-sign

… and a few minutes later, I’d picked up my ticket at will call and paused to take this photograph:

pnc-park-ticket

As usual, I set out to take a walk around the perimeter of the park, and it didn’t take long to see a pile of cool things. Musician Gavin DeGraw was set to play a postgame concert, and I could see the band’s gear stored behind PNC Park:

jason-aldean-guitars-basses

The North Shore Trail, which runs between the ballpark and the Allegheny River, is one of the best “neighborhood” features you’ll ever see in all of baseball. It’s absolutely beautiful — full of baseball fans and boaters. (And so many people drinking beer while floating on inner tubes in the water.) In fact, boaters moor their vessels along the trail and tailgate before and after Pirates games. It’s a really fun place to be, and here’s what the scene looks like:

pnc-park-along-river-panorama

No visit to PNC Park is complete without spending some time on the trail. It’s the perfect place to get pumped up for your eventual entry into the ballpark and the game ahead. Although it was about a million degrees and sunny, and I was excited to get to the park itself, I couldn’t resist taking a few laps up and down the trail. The view of the city’s skyline is absolutely spectacular, as you can see here:

pnc-park-city-view-panorama

After quite a bit of walking and a few dozen photos later, I was ready to get inside the ballpark — but it wasn’t open yet. The team shop was, though, and I took advantage of the air conditioning and went inside. MLB team shops are always impressive, and the one at PNC Field was no different. The special touch? Pirates-colored flooring:

pnc-park-team-shop

I spent some time touring the two-level shop as much for a reprieve from the heat as for browsing the Pirates gear, but I soon headed outside again to spend more time walking around before the gates opened. I know you’re probably curious to see the inside of PNC Park,and we’re almost there. First though, here are a few more photos of the scene outside the gates. Here’s a plaque recognizing the 1903 World Series:

pnc-park-first-world-series-plaque

A look at some of the boats docked along the trail:

pnc-park-boats-moored

And Heinz Field, which was hosting a University of Pittsburgh football game against Delaware:

heinz-field-pittsburgh

When the center field gates opened, I entered the park and expected to begin my sightseeing. What I didn’t realize, however, is that these gates open into a an area called the Riverwalk, and then you have to wait another short period of time for the rest of the park to open. No worries, though — the Riverwalk area is fun to explore and is loaded with concession stands. It’s the area of the park you often see during TV broadcasts — the one with the giant PNC Park sign:

pnc-park-riverwalk-pnc-sign

I wandered the length of the Riverwalk a couple times and, before long, it was time for the gates the to rest of PNC Park to open. When they opened, I found myself in a semi-covered behind the seats in right-center, so I quickly made my way through the crowd and got out to the bleachers where I had this amazing view:

pnc-park-bleachers-view-batting-practice-panorama

I wasn’t interested in getting a ball during BP. I just sat for a few minutes atop the bleachers and enjoyed the view. Soon enough, however, I was on the move again and decided to take my journey skyward. I followed the curved ramp toward the upper deck, pausing along the way to snap this shot that shows the bleachers I’d previously visited, the video board, the bullpens and the river with the city skyline in the background:

pnc-park-bleachers-city-view

Once I made it to the upper deck, I made a beeline for the seats behind home plate so that I could capture one of the most iconic views in baseball. Ready? Ta-da!

pnc-park-home-plate-city-view

I absolutely love a ballpark that offers an impressive view of the city beyond, and I’ve had the fortune of enjoying repeat visits to parks with comparable views over the years, like Cleveland’s Progressive Field and Detroit’s Comerica Park. Take a look at the two preceding links, compare the photos with the above shot of PNC Park, and let me know in the comments section which view is your favorite. Or, if you’ve got another favorite view, I’d love to hear about it.

Before I left the spot behind home plate, I took a series of photos to build this huge panorama …

pnc-park-behind-home-plate-view-panorama

… and then snapped this close-up shot of the team’s World Series banners directly behind me:

pnc-park-world-series-banners

As I stood and enjoyed the view, I realized that I could see the parking garage at which I’d left my car. I switched to my zoom lens, adjusted the focus and, sure enough, there was my car!

pnc-park-parking-lot-car

(See what I meant about the lot being absolutely packed?)

Although I was eager to get back down to the 100 Level concourse to explore the park, it was pretty cool being up here with this vantage point. I slowly made my way over toward the right field corner and snapped this shot that shows a few neat things:

pnc-park-boat-statue-tent

First, we’ve got the statue of Bill Mazeroski on the left side of the image, depicted after hitting his iconic home run during the 1960 World Series; the white tent in the center is covering the musical instruments I noticed earlier; and how about the boat dropping people off? Can you think of a better way to get to a ballgame?

While I was in this spot, I took a shot that illustrates a couple areas in the park I’ve already mentioned:

pnc-park-riverwalk-field

See the structure to the left of the bleachers and video board? That’s the giant ramp I climbed to get to the upper deck. And the concrete area running along the right side of the photo? That’s the Riverwalk, as you might’ve guessed.

Next, I descended to the main concourse to begin checking things out. My first step was Legacy Square, an informative spot that honors the Pittsburgh area’s rich Negro Leagues history with a series of statues and plaques. Here’s one of “Cool Papa” Bell, for example:

pnc-park-cool-papa-bell-statue

I browsed the area for several minutes and decided to return later on to read all the plaques in detail. In the meantime, I was anxious to continue my trek. The next spot I visited was the small seating section inside the right field scoreboard, that you often see on TV. Here’s what the view looks like, and I can certainly attest that this is one of the neatest spots to see a game in all of baseball:

pnc-park-view-inside-scoreboard

It was still a short time before first pitch, but I was ready to get my eat on. My number one food priority for visiting PNC Park was to grab a sandwich from the Primanti Brothers concession. Primanti, of course, is a Pittsburgh specialty with several locations around the city. The premise to these sandwiches, if you haven’t heard of them, if that they’re an all-in-one, if you will. The sandwich is loaded with your meat of choice — I got roast beef — but is also stacked with coleslaw and french fries. Sound excessive? Sure is! Here’s a look at mine:

pnc-park-primanti-brothers-beef-sandwich

And how was it, you might ask? Well, it didn’t exactly blow me away. I can understand the appeal of loading a sandwich with the side ingredients — I’m all for food gimmickry — but the coleslaw only served to make the beef and fries instantly cold. Also, the meat’s flavor wasn’t much to write home about, and the whole thing was pretty doughy.

First pitch was fast approaching by the time I finished my unsatisfying sandwich, so I made my way back down to the main level to find a spot to hang out. I’d bought a standing room only ticket for the game, and while this type of ticket is great on the wallet, it’s always a challenge to find a suitable spot from which to watch the game. I found a ramp in center that had this view …

pnc-park-center-field-view

… and got settled in to enjoy the first few innings. A moment later, however, I noticed a guard nixing the similar plans of other fans to my left, and knew he’d make his way over to me in just a matter of time. I decided to go all National Geographic photojournalist and take this photo, pretending to be immersed in my work with the hope he’d pass by:

pnc-park-flowers

It didn’t fool him, however, and given the horrible threat I was apparently posing by standing in the area, I was encouraged to find somewhere else to be. So, where to go? Well, I found a great spot on the concourse behind home plate where I had this view:

pnc-park-standing-room-home-plate-view

I decided that I’d done enough walking for the day, and with another game at PNC Park less than 24 hours away, I knew I’d have another day to explore the park. So, I spent much of the game standing in this perfect location. This spot gave me an awesome view of two home runs — a first-inning blast by Pittsburgh’s Neil Walker and a fourth-inning shot by Cincy’s Todd Frazier. Walker’s three-run shot was all the offense Pittsburgh got and needed. The Buccos won 3-2 to help them inch closer to the playoffs.

Although I’d had a great day at the ballpark, I was exhausted and couldn’t wait to get to my hotel. I’d booked a pair of Pittsburgh hotels for my two nights in the city, and up first was the Hyatt Place Pittsburgh Airport, located just 11 miles from PNC Park. I’ve stayed at Hyatt Place hotels a few times in MLB cities — Cleveland and Philadelphia come to mind immediately, and they always deliver. Big time. Here’s the front of the hotel:

hyatt-place-pittsburgh-airport-outside

The Hyatt Place Pittsburgh Airport was awesome. I was impressed with how quickly the 11-mile drive passed, and even more impressed with how friendly everyone was at the front desk when I checked in. After dropping off my luggage, I made a short drive to a nearby/enormous retail area to buy some dinner and snacks for the evening. The hotel is smack dab in the middle of a part of Pittsburgh that you can find everything, from restaurants to supermarkets to malls, and so on. Needing something a little healthier than my lunch at the ballpark, I grabbed a gigantic salad at a nearby Panera Bread location, and absolutely crashed when I got back to my room.

I love the room layout at Hyatt Place hotels — every room is suite style — a living room area with a sectional couch, desk area, kitchenette and then a separate bedroom. And I’d be lying if I said I didn’t love the 42-inch TV that swivels so you can watch it in the living room or bedroom:

hyatt-place-pittsburgh-airport-living-room

The king-sized bed was super comfy and I love how it’s separate from the rest of the room:

hyatt-place-pittsburgh-airport-bedroom

I definitely recommend this hotel if you’re visiting Pittsburgh to see the Pirates — or if you’re in the Steel City for any other reason. In addition to the perks I already mentioned, it’s near other attractions such as the Pittsburgh Zoo, the Sandcastle Water Park and, of course, the airport. It has business center, indoor pool and offers complimentary breakfast, as well as free Wi-Fi and free parking.

Up next, another great day at PNC Park and another great hotel!

Rochester Red Wings – August 29

Whenever I meet new people on my baseball road trips and tell them about The Ballpark Guide, the question I’m most often asked is, “What’s your favorite park?” It’s a question that’s almost impossible to answer — how can you compare the history of a 100-year-old park with the amazing, modern amenities of a new one?

The way I answer this common question, albeit in a roundabout way, is to talk about which parks I’d pick if I could theoretically relocate somewhere and buy season tickets. Rochester’s Frontier Field is always on that list. I’ve often said that Frontier Field might offer my favorite all-round ballpark experience, and when I was planning my recent trip, I couldn’t resist kicking things off in Rochester.

All that said, I was pretty excited to hop in the car the morning of August 29 and punch Rochester into my GPS. I checked in to my amazing hotel when I got to town (lots more on that later) and made it to Frontier Field shortly before 4 p.m., a couple hours before first pitch. I closely follow the Rochester Red Wings, given my love of Frontier Field, and they were hosting the Buffalo Bisons during this final series of the International League regular season. Buffalo, of course, is the Triple-A affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays, and I hadn’t seen the Bisons in action since they became affiliated with the Jays. Lots of reasons to get inside and check things out!

First, though, I took the following photo from the parking lot, which shows not only the front gate of Frontier Field and the tip of the Kodak building beyond, but also a decent contingent of eager fans:

frontier-field-parking-lot-view

The reason for the early arrival? Stan Musial bobblehead night. As much as getting a bobblehead of Stan the Man was appealing, it wasn’t in the cards for me, as I didn’t have a ticket. The Red Wings were once again providing me with a media credential, which you can see here:

frontier-field-media-pass-malcolm

(Huge thanks to Tim from the Red Wings for taking care of me again this season.)

Before I entered, I took a series of photos to capture the pavilion in front of Frontier Field in panorama form …

frontier-field-front-gate-panorama

… and the next shot I took was my initial view of the ballpark’s suite level, upon exiting the elevator:

frontier-field-suite-level-hallway

I didn’t spend time exploring the suite level or pressbox; I’ve been lucky to check these areas out extensively in the past, and my priority was to get to field level. After making my way down to the concourse and out to the seating bowl, here’s the first thing I saw:

frontier-field-batting-practice-buffalo

Yep, it was the Bisons getting ready to hit. As you can see from the following panorama, Frontier Field was virtually deserted:

frontier-field-first-base-side-view-panorama

There’s something absolutely amazing about being in a nearly-empty ballpark. Watching BP is one of my favorite baseball experiences, and it doesn’t get any better than wandering around a virtually empty park with the music playing and the cracks of the bat in the background. I decided to take a full lap around the field, starting with a walk down the first base line. As I headed toward the foul pole, I came across a couple baseballs sitting on the grass. As per usual, it would’ve been tempting to grab ’em for my collection, but I didn’t want to use my media pass for any monkey business, so I steered clear:

frontier-field-balls-on-berm

I even left this home run ball, nestled just over the outfield fence, where it sat:

frontier-field-batting-practice-home-run-ball

When I got to the left field corner, I had a great view of the upper levels of the Kodak building:

rochester-kodak-building-upper-levels

Sure, this building isn’t part of Frontier Field per se, but it’s a Rochester landmark and, given its location virtually across the street from the ballpark, makes for an awesome backdrop.

Instead of finishing my complete lap, I decided to stop on the grass berm down the third base line to watch the Bisons, who were shagging BP balls. I saw top prospects Daniel Norris and A.J. Jimenez just a short distance away, and as I surveyed the scene in the outfield through my camera, I heard someone yelling at me in Spanish. Slightly befuddled, I lowered my camera, looked in the direction of the sound and saw a Bisons player looking toward me and saying something I couldn’t understand. Then, he held up his hands and clicked the shutter on an imaginary camera, so I quickly focused on him and snapped this shot:

radhames-liz-buffalo-bisons-peace-sign

“Gracias,” he yelled over to me. Now, I’ve been slowly learning how to speak Spanish, and this would’ve been a perfect opportunity to respond with a “de nada,” but I got cold feet and just waved and gave a thumbs up. When he turned, I took note of his jersey number — 59 — and quickly checked my roster sheet to see who it was, since I didn’t recognize him. The Buffalo roster didn’t have a #59, which left me to guess the player was on the disabled list. Of course, telling a story here on my blog about a mystery player wouldn’t cut it, so I needed to figure out who it was. I waited a moment and aimed my camera back at him. He saw me, motioned to Jimenez, and this was the result:

radhames-liz-aj-jimenez-buffalo-bisons

After I took the picture (and exchanged thumbs up with them) the mystery player made his way over to me and asked if the photos turned out well. Yes, I told him. “Are you putting them online?” he asked. “Yes,” I replied, “but if you’d like, I can send you the full-sized versions by email.” He said that would be great, and I gave him one of my business cards. Then, he asked to see the photos. I lowered my camera over the fence and watched as he checked them out. He thanked me for taking them and, since I didn’t want to let him get away without figuring out who he was, I quickly said, “I’m Malcolm,” and extended my hand toward him. “Radhames,” he replied, shaking my hand. I instantly knew he was Radhames Liz, a former Baseball America top-100 prospect and pitcher for the Balitmore Orioles. He appeared in 28 games for the O’s over three seasons, including a stint in 2008 in which he started 17 games. After spending 2011 through 2013 pitching in Korea, Liz signed with the Blue Jays and started 12 games this season between Double-A and Triple-A, putting together a tidy 2.95 ERA.

Anyway, he’s yet to email me, but I sure hope he does. And if not, he’ll certainly be a guy I’ll keep tabs on and try to meet again.

I took a few posed photos of Liz and Raul Valdes (I think):

radhames-liz-and-teammate

And embraced my new role as his personal photographer by taking some action shots of him shagging balls, including this one …

radhames-liz-buffalo-bisons

… and playing catch, like this one:

radhames-liz-buffalo-playing-catch

Occasionally, Liz seemed to get the sense that I was still shooting him, so he’d look over the give the peace sign or a nod. When BP wrapped up, he gave me a salute as he headed off to the dugout, and then I continued making my way around Frontier Field.

Once the gates opened at 5 p.m. I decided to take another lap around the field and, to my surprise, came across a ball sitting in the grass behind the batter’s eye. It seemed like an odd place, but since other fans were milling around (luckily for me, oblivious to the ball), I grabbed it:

frontier-field-bp-batters-eye-ball

All the walking and, let’s face it, Frontier Field’s awesome concessions menu, had me hungry. I headed for the Red Osier stand on the third base side to get one of my favorite items, an enormous prime rib sandwich. The lineup, though, was extensive:

frontier-field-food-red-osier-lineup

Lineups make me absolutely insane, and as much as I wanted another delicious sandwich, I decided to keep walking. Before long, the “Say Cheese!” stand on the first base side beckoned. The gourmet mac and cheese at this stand is phenomenal, and was what I ate during my very first visit to Frontier Field back in 2010. Perhaps feeling a little nostalgic, I made a quick decision to add a little mac and cheese to my day and ordered the buffalo chicken variety, which consists of mac and cheese, diced chicken, buffalo sauce and blue cheese dressing:

frontier-field-food-mac-and-cheese

Fantastic! (The size of this meal, however, significantly curtailed my plans to grab a prime rib sandwich.)

As I was eating, a family consisting of a pair of grandparents and a young boy sat down in front of me. They asked me to take their picture with their camera, and after doing so, I figured I could do one better. I reached into my backpack to grab the baseball I’d found earlier and handed it to the boy. He was thrilled, although I think his excitement pales in comparison to my wife’s when I told her I wouldn’t be adding another ball to my collection.

Next, I went back down to field level to watch the Bisons get warmed up. It was shortly before game time, and starting pitcher Sean Nolin was getting his stretches in:

sean-nolin-stretching

His battery mate, Jimenez, was also getting ready, and looked a little more in “business mode” than the last time I’d taken his photo:

aj-jimenez-pregame

Since I’d been making the rounds of Frontier Field for a couple hours, I’d done enough to see what I needed for my website. Now, all that was left to do was to settle in and enjoy the ballgame. I began the game on the grass berm in the right field corner, where I had this great view of the action …

frontier-field-right-field-berm

… and this awesome shot of the Kodak building:

frontier-field-kodak-building

(I know I’ve mentioned this building a few times, but it’s such a cool backdrop. Take a visit to Rochester and you’ll know what I mean.)

My next vantage point was behind home plate, which offers a pretty darned good view, too. Here’s Buffalo outfielder Cole Gillespie getting a hit off Rochester’s Sean Gilmartin:

frontier-field-home-plate-view

After a bit of time behind the visitors’ dugout, I took a trip to the Frontier Field team shop, which is always a fun place to browse. A lot of apparel was marked down in price because of the end of the season, but the coolest thing I saw was a barrel of game-used broken bats for sale. I’ve added a number of bats to my collection over the years, and as I browsed the selection, one jumped out at me quickly:

aj-jimenez-game-used-bat

It’s typically tough to find a game-used bat from a top prospect, let alone one from a visiting team. Furthermore, did he break this bat during the day’s batting practice? It seemed so fresh that it couldn’t have been around for long. It looked brand new, except for a few ball marks and a crack along the handle. The display indicated that game-used bats were $25, while bats from MLB players were $50. Jimenez’s bat obviously belonged to the former category, so I was thrilled to find it for such a bargain. I stepped to the counter to buy it, and the clerk told me the the bat was $50, as it belonged to an MLB player. I pointed out that Jimenez has yet to appear in the big leagues, and offered to show her proof online. She was uneasy about giving me the bat for $25, so I didn’t want to press the issue. At the same time, I didn’t want to spend $50 for the bat, so I begrudgingly returned it to its barrel. Oh well.

My next stop was the group picnic area in left field. Although it had earlier been closed for a group function, it was now open to other fans, and I found a spot right behind the Buffalo bullpen, where I hung out for a couple innings. From here, I not only had a great view of the field, but also a close view of guys like former MLB all-star Steve Delabar and Kyle Drabek:

steve-delabar-kyle-drabek-buffalo-bisons

I also had a view of this unidentified flying object hovering above Frontier Field:

frontier-field-ufo

I was pretty amused to watch it — I assume the remote-control helicopter was being piloted by someone in the parking lot — and kept looking around me to see if any other fans had noticed it. It appeared to stay under the proverbial radar and, before long, off it went into the night.

I too went off into the night, but only temporarily. I love taking photos of ballparks at night, and my media pass meant that I could head out the parking lot to shoot Frontier Field, and then walk back inside to enjoy the rest of the game. Here’s the view from the team/media parking lot as a panorama and, as always, you can click on my panoramas to make them huge:

frontier-field-parking-lot-view-night-panorama

After taking this shot, I went back inside where I grabbed a spot behind home plate and watched the remainder of the game. It was an exciting one between two above-.500 clubs. The home team slipped past the visitors 3-2. As a Jays fan, it was awesome to see so many prospects that I’ve yet to see in the Bisons colors or that I’ve seen on TV during brief stints with the big-league club.

As great as the day had been so far, it continued to get better when I got to my hotel after the game. As you know, I love scouting out and staying at cool hotels in each city I visit, and I’d had my eye on The Strathallan in Rochester since I started planning this trip. This hotel is an awesome choice not only for baseball fans visiting town, but also for anyone with Rochester on their travel agenda. It’s only two miles from Frontier Field, or about seven or eight minutes, depending on traffic. As far as location, it’s actually on the edge of a residential neighborhood, so it’s extremely quiet. At the same time, you’re just a few blocks from several downtown eateries, so it’s the best of both worlds.

I was blown away by my room; these photos show the room the following morning. Here’s the living room area:

the-strathallan-suite-living-room

And the bedroom:

the-strathallan-suite-bedroom

I was fortunate to get a suite, so the room was extremely spacious. It also had a kitchen area, huge bathroom, two HDTVs and a balcony, which I think is a first for me on my baseball travels. It was cool to get some fresh air both after the game and early the following morning. The view off my balcony was of the back entrance to the hotel, which I’m sure you’ll agree was beautiful:

the-strathallan-view-from-balcony

The Strathallan has great features such as an indoor pool, fitness center and even an onsite massage clinic. I was especially impressed with the awesome fire pits. Here’s a look at the fire pit on the patio:

the-strathallan-patio-fire-put

And, maybe even cooler, one on the roof:

the-strathallan-rochester-roof-deck-fire-pit

The hotel is nine levels tall, and guests have access to the roof. I rode the elevator to the top floor and had fun checking out the roof deck, which you can book for parties or meetings. As I walked around, the pleasant smell of wood smoke was noticeable, but the fire pits weren’t ablaze. It took me a moment to realize I was smelling the wood-burning ovens at Char Streak & Lounge, the hotel’s upscale restaurant. I didn’t get a chance to eat here during my stay, but that didn’t stop me from salivating over its menu! This hotel is one of the nicest I’ve visited, period, and will definitely be the place I hang my hat the next time I’m in Rochester to visit Frontier Field.

Up next: A pair of outstanding days in Pittsburgh!

I’m Packing My Bags Again

It’s been a slow summer of traveling for me, but I’ve had hopes of getting on the road once more for a road trip before the Minor League Baseball season is over. And finally, I’ve got things planned!

I’ll begin my road trip on Friday, when I’ll be in Rochester to watch the Red Wings host the Buffalo Bisons at Frontier Field. I haven’t made it a secret that Frontier Field provides one of my favorite overall ballpark experiences, so I can’t wait to get back. In fact, the Rochester park serves up one of the best things I’ve ever eaten at a ballpark, and I’m sure I’ll cross paths with this sandwich again:

frontier-field-food-red-osier-roast-beef-sandwich

On Saturday morning, I’ll hit the road to Pittsburgh to see Pirates games on Saturday, Aug. 30 and Sunday, Aug. 31. I’ve been trying to get to PNC Park for years, but it’s never worked out because of scheduling issues. I’m excited to see the Bucs host the Cincinnati Reds for two games and get the chance to explore this park, which many people consider one of the best in the majors. The food selection looks outstanding, too, so I’m sure you’ll see some mouthwatering photos in my blog on the weekend.

On Monday morning, I’ll make the short drive from Pittsburgh to Jamestown, N.Y., to watch the hometown Jammers face the Mahoning Valley Scrappers in New York-Penn League action. The Jammers play at Russell Diethrick Park, which is one of the oldest parks in the minors and this game will be the final one of their season, so I’m happy to be able to fit it in.

The next day, on Tuesday, Sept. 2., I’ll head back to the Pittsburgh area to visit Washington, PA. There, the Washington Wild Things will host the Evansville Otters in independent league action. Jeremy Nowak, whose name you’ll recognize if you’re a longtime follower of this blog, is playing for Evansville this season, and I can’t wait to see him in action for the fourth time. It’ll be a doubleheader, so it should be lots of fun. And, as a bonus, his parents plan to attend this game — I met them last summer in New Jersey and had a blast hanging out with them for the game.

As always, I’ll be blogging and tweeting along the way. If you plan to be in any of these cities, give me a shout and we’ll meet up and say hello.

Remember, if you enjoy reading my blog and following along with my travel adventures, you can give me a helping hand without it costing you an extra cent. Please take a moment to check out this page. Thanks for your support!

I’m Doing a Podcast and Need Your Help!

At the end of my most recent blog post, I mentioned that I’d soon have an exciting announcement to share. I figure I might as well let the cat out of the bag right now.

I’m doing a podcast!

This project has been in the works for a long time, put on the shelf and pulled back off the shelf, but it’s about to become a reality. Instead of giving away all the details here, I’d much rather you check out the first episode when it’s available. In the meantime, though, I’m looking for a few good questions from you guys and gals. The podcast will have a Q & A component with questions from readers of this blog, my followers on Twitter or members of my Facebook group.

So, ask away! I’ll pick a question or two, answer them on the first episode and give a shout-out to your Twitter handle, blog URL, etc. Questions can be about anything ballpark related, from tips about any of the parks I’ve visited (here’s the full list) to anything you want to ask about my various baseball travel adventures.

My podcast co-host will be my good friend, Ryan Birtch, who’s joined me on a couple trips over the last few years. In 2011, we went to Centennial Field, home of the Vermont Lake Monsters and in 2012, we went to Frontier Field, home of the Rochester Red Wings. Like me, he’s a big-time baseball guy and we’re going to have a blast sharing this podcast with you.

Send your questions my way by leaving a comment below this blog post, tweeting at me or emailing me directly. Thanks for your support!

Detroit Tigers – June 5

The first day of my trip to Detroit lasted about 21 hours from the time I got up till the time my head hit the pillow, and it was absolutely awesome. Although the rainy weather was a brief concern on June 4, things were looking a lot brighter when I slid back the drapes of my sixth-floor room at the Hilton Garden Inn Detroit Downtown to see this view on the morning of June 5:

hilton-garden-inn-detroit-downtown-bright-day-view

As you can see, not a cloud in the sky ahead of the afternoon game between the Tigers and Blue Jays at Comerica Park. The game was set for 1 p.m., when meant the gates would open at 11 a.m. It was a Max Scherzer Cy Young Award bobblehead giveaway day, too, so I wanted to get to the ballpark well in advance to assure I’d be at the head of the line like the day before.

Until that time, I hung out in my great hotel room, did some writing and watched SportsCenter. As I said in my previous post, this is a great hotel for baseball fans visiting Detroit. Not only is it close to Comerica Park, but it’s within a short walk of a ton of restaurants, entertainment choices (the Greektown Casino is just a few steps away) and more. The hotel also has free Internet, two in-house restaurants, an indoor pool and fitness center and earned a 2014 TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence. I know this is the hotel I’ll choose next time I visit the Motor City, and you’ll be pleased if you make that choice, too.

When it came time to make the two-block walk to Comerica, I first wanted to get a picture of the outside of my hotel. In doing so, I briefly lived the life of a rebel by standing here …

detroit-no-standing-sign

… before taking this shot to show the hotel from the street:

hilton-garden-inn-detroit-downtown

Surprisingly, when I got to Comerica Park about 10 a.m., there were virtually no fans in sight. I mean, there were a few people buying tickets and taking photos and such, but the gates were mostly sparse:

comerica-park-gate-with-small-crowd

I figured there was no point in standing in the non-existent line for an hour, so I took a short walk to a great memorabilia shop just a few steps from the park. The shop in question is next door to Cheli’s Chili Bar, which is roughly at the corner of East Adams and Witherell streets. If you plan to buy Tigers memorabilia, I highly recommend this spot — everything is a good chunk of change cheaper than the team shops at the ballpark.

After browsing for about 15 minutes, I headed back toward the “big tiger statue” gate, pausing briefly to snap this photo of myself:

comerica-park-malcolm-at-gate

See how I’m wearing one of my shirts with my website’s logo? Just a few minutes later, as I stood in line a few people back from the gate, a college student in front of me said, “Excuse me, but are you from The Ballpark Guide?” I told him I was, and he said he discovered the site the night before while searching for Comerica Park autograph tips. He said he browsed the site (and my blog, I think) for a couple hours! I was thrilled to meet someone who’s used the site, as it’s nice hearing firsthand how people benefit from the information I provide, given the countless hours I put into everything.

As we chatted, the lines behind us quickly began to grow, and it wasn’t long before the scene looked like this:

comerica-park-fans-at-gate

When the gates opened, I grabbed my bobblehead and hustled down to field level to check out the scene. I had a sneaking suspicion that despite it being a day game, the teams would be hitting because they’d missed BP yesterday. Turns out, I was right. And, like a day earlier, I was inside the park a few minutes early. Check out the time on the bottom of the video board:

comerica-park-video-board-day-2

(I only mention the time because gate attendants are normally such huge sticklers for waiting until exactly the specified time to let people in.)

The Tigers were still hitting, and while I would’ve been happy to snag a ball, I wasn’t going to fight too hard for one. I went to the right field stands and just enjoyed the spectacular view, while also taking various photos of players when they were close to me. Here’s the aforementioned Scherzer, for example:

comerica-park-max-scherzer-bp

If you followed my blog back in 2011, you might recall that I got his autograph during my visit to Comerica Park.

The Tigers players weren’t the only ones shagging balls during BP. Here are the kids of Joba Chamberlain and Victor Martinez:

comerica-park-chamberlain-martinez-kids

During Detroit’s BP, I watched jays reliever Sergio Santos throw a long-toss and bullpen session, and then watched starter Drew Hutchison do the same. On his way back across the field to Toronto’s dugout, he walked close to me and I got this photo:

toronto-blue-jays-drew-hutchison

While I waited for the Jays to start hitting, I quickly removed my bobblehead from its package and snapped this photo. Usually, I photograph stadium giveaway items at home, but I thought this backdrop would look cool:

comerica-park-max-scherzer-bobblehead

And, yes, if you’re wondering, the bobblehead accurately reflects Scherzer’s heterochromia iridum.

Because I wasn’t bent on getting a BP ball, I decided to skip Toronto’s session and get wandering around the park. My first stop was the Jungle section …

comerica-park-jungle-rooftop

… followed by the New Amsterdam 416 Club. The flames in the foreground weren’t lit yet, but here’s proof to the story that Babe Ruth loved his alcohol:

comerica-park-new-amsterdam-club-416

After a couple visits to the park’s team shops, including a walk through the two-level shop…

comerica-park-two-level-team-shop

… I was forced to make a pivotal decision that would shape the remainder of my ballpark visit. It wasn’t a decision I took lightly; as Spider-Man said, with great power comes great responsibility.

I decided to make the pledge to be the designated driver for the day:

comerica-park-designed-driver-soda

I kid about it, but this is a great program that more teams should do. You sign up and commit to be a DD, and you get a voucher for a free soda, which is awesome, given the price of drinks at the ballpark. Anyone want to chime in to say if their home park does this? I know Cleveland does it, and Toronto does a classic Toronto version — you sign up and get entered in a draw to win a prize. No free drink, though. Sorry ’bout that.

With my voucher in hand, I headed back to the Big Cat Court to look for a hot dog for what amounted to my breakfast. Turns out there’s a perfect breakfast-themed hot dog, although its name would indicate the opposite. The Late Night hot dog is topped with shredded cheese, bacon bits and a fried egg, and was just what the doctor ordered for me … not a real doctor, though. No real doctor would endorse this bad boy:

comerica-park-hot-dog-fried-egg

Like yesterday, I climbed to the upper deck to eat the hot dog. Unlike yesterday, though, this one wasn’t as tough to eat as the Poutine Dog. The Late Night dog was delicious. I’m not the biggest fan off eggs, but this egg was cooked perfectly and the cheese and bacon came in just the right amounts. And the dog was good and snappy. The breakfast of champions, especially when washed down with my free soda.

After devouring my “breakfast,” I moved to the seats behind home plate, but still in the upper deck, to take a series of photos that would become this panorama. As always, you can click it to make it bigger:

comerica-park-upper-deck-behind-home-plate-panorama

My next mission was to head back down to the main concourse to do something strictly for the story. If you know much about Comerica Park, you’ll know the carousel in the Big Cat Court isn’t the only amusement park-style ride. There’s also a baseball-themed Ferris wheel, and that’s where I soon found myself. Rides cost $2, and as I stood in line waiting my turn to board, I had a horrible realization: I absolutely can’t handle amusement park rides.

Now, I know a Ferris wheel is pretty mild, but I’ve incorrectly assumed that certain rides would be safe in the past, only to lose my lunch. In fact, I thought of my best childhood friend, Lennie, on whom I’ve barfed multiple times. If he’s reading this now, I know he’s thinking, “Oh no, here it comes again.” The only issue was that he wasn’t with me to barf on, so I’d have to share my breakfast with a stranger. I started to feel confident in the fact that the wheel seemed mild, but then realized all that was in my stomach was a soda and a hot dog with a fried egg, cheese and bacon. And, even as I watched the wheel turn at about 0.001 MPH, I thought, “This is trouble.”

No turning back now, though, and when a father and two his two young sons joined me in the car, I thought, “You poor, poor people don’t know what you’re in for.”

As we set off, though, I didn’t feel myself turning green. In fact, after one full revolution, I knew things would be thankfully be OK, and I snapped some photos of the world outside. Here we are well above street level …

comerica-park-looking-down-from-ferris-wheel

… and here’s a look across to the other cars on the wheel:

comerica-park-baseball-ferris-wheel-ride

The ride was great, and I definitely recommend checking it out. Don’t be afraid to give it a shot if you don’t have kids. I pulled off the shadiest move possible — a solo guy on a kids’ ride — so there’s nothing for you to worry about.

After mentally kissing the ground once I stopped off the ride, I hustled down to field level in time for the first pitch, where I took this photo of Justin Verlander dealing:

comerica-park-justin-verlander

I spent the remainder of the inning here, getting photos like this one of Jose Reyes advancing to third on a Jose Bautista single:

jose-reyes-toronto-blue-jays

And Adam Lind fouling off a pitch:

adam-lind-toronto-blue-jays

The weather was absolutely perfect — hot, but perfect. I decided to grab one of my favorite ballpark refreshments, a frozen lemonade, and climb to the upper deck to watch a few innings:

comerica-park-food-frozen-lemonade

I spent five innings in this spot, which was as close to the video board as you could get:

comerica-park-video-board-victor-martinez

This spot gave me a great vantage point for the back-to-back home runs hit by Juan Francisco and Brett Lawrie in the sixth inning, and once that inning wrapped up, I went back to the 100 Level cross-aisle for a few more action shots, like this one of Melky Cabrera taking a hack:

melky-cabrera-comerica-park

With just the eighth and ninth innings remaining at this point, I ventured up to the one remaining area I hadn’t been — the upper deck in right field. Here, I had this spectacular view:

comerica-park-upper-deck-right-field-view

Toronto beat Detroit 7-3, completing a three-game sweep of the American League Central leaders. I was sad to finally leave Comerica Park, but looking forward to getting back to my hotel and relaxing before the eight-hour drive home the next day. First, I stopped at the Five Guys Burgers and Fries just a short walk from the Hilton Garden Inn to grab dinner, and then was back in my room for the evening to soon watch the sun set over the city:

hilton-garden-inn-detroit-downtown-city-sunset

Because I showed you the nighttime view from my window in panorama form at the end of my previous blog post, here are a couple different photos. This is the back of the video board at night …

hilton-garden-inn-detroit-downtown-night-comerica-park-video-board

… and here’s the gate I could see from the hotel. I think the concrete tigers are asleep:

hilton-garden-inn-detroit-downtown-night-comerica-park-gate

So, what’s next for me? Well, I don’t have any plans completely solidified. My work schedule has been crazy but I’ll definitely be traveling again this summer. I’m eyeing up a couple small trips in July and a longer one in August, and hope to have details about at least the July outings soon. I’ve also got a big announcement about a project I’m working on very soon, so keep your eyes open for that. As always, if you’ve enjoyed reading about my adventures, please check out this page on my website to read about the simple ways you can support my trips.

Detroit Tigers – June 4

Although it’s my mission to visit as many ballparks across the major leagues and minor leagues as possible as I continue to build my website, The Ballpark Guide, there are times I can’t resist making a return visit to one of my favorite places. I’ve been to 53 different ballparks since 2010, but ever since I saw a pair of games at Detroit’s Comerica Park in 2011, I’ve been itching to get back. You can read about those visits here and here. Fortunately, I had a chance last week to make a whirlwind trip to the Motor City for a pair of Tigers games.

My day began shortly after 4 a.m. and I was on the road just after 5 a.m. for the eight-hour drive to Detroit. To cross into the U.S., I’ve often taken the Ambassador Bridge, which connects Windsor, Ont., with Detroit. It was drizzling and gray for the latter half of my drive on this trip, so I decided to use the Detroit Windsor Tunnel, located just a short distance west of the bridge. After crossing through customs, I entered the tunnel, which gives the illusion that you’re in a different dimension. This picture isn’t Photoshopped or anything, either. This is actually how it looks down there:

driving-through-detroit-windsor-tunnel

When I emerged from the tunnel in downtown Detroit, I had just a few blocks to drive to reach my hotel. I booked two nights at the Hilton Garden Inn Detroit Downtown for a few reasons. I’ve stayed at numerous Hilton Garden Inn locations over my years of traveling for The Ballpark Guide and have consistently had positive experiences. This particular location is one of the top-ranked Detroit hotels on TripAdvisor and its location is ideal. It’s just two blocks from Comerica Park, which you can’t beat. I often love staying downtown when I’m visiting a downtown park. You can’t beat leaving your car at the hotel, walking through the city to check out the sights and then being back in your hotel room after the game when other fans are sitting in traffic.

The Hilton Garden Inn Detroit Downtown has valet parking, so you don’t have to fuss with finding overnight parking in the area. Once I left my car, I checked in at 3 p.m. with the help of one of the friendliest front desk clerks I’d ever met, who presented me with a gift bag as she gave me my room keys. I’m always excited to get up to my room to check out not only the amenities, but also the view, and both delivered big time. Here’s a look at the room:

hilton-garden-inn-detroit-downtown-room

I’ll have some more details on my room in my next blog post, but you can see that it looks perfect — king-sized bed, desk, huge TV and more. And as for the view, that was perfect, too:

hilton-garden-inn-detroit-downtown-first-window-view

The large, tan/gray building in the center of the picture is the Detroit Athletic Club, but you can see Comerica Park to the left and right of the club. To the right, you’ll see some of the upper-deck seats and the rear of the scoreboard (complete with the enormous tiger on top) and to the left of the club, if you look carefully, you can see more tiger statues just beside the red-brick building. (This is how much of a baseball nerd I am — analyzing the baseball-centric view out my window.)

Time to check out the gift bag I received upon check in:

hilton-garden-inn-detroit-downtown-gift-bag

It contained a card welcoming me to the hotel and a variety of tasty snacks that I enjoyed in short order. I still had some time to kill before heading down for the game, so I enjoyed standing at the window and taking in the various sights, many of which I recognized from my visit to Detroit in 2011. Here’s a view, for example, of the legendary Fox Theatre and, to the bottom right of the image, you can see one of Comerica Park’s distinctive gates:

hilton-garden-inn-detroit-downtown-window-view-fox-theatre

At about 4 p.m., I loaded my backpack and set out for the short walk to the ballpark. This is the view from the street right outside the hotel’s entrance:

comerica-park-walk-to-park

Football fans will recognize Ford Field on the right, which is home of the NFL’s Lions. Comerica Park is directly across the street, but just out of sight in this shot. Within just a couple minutes, I was standing on the sidewalk in front of Ford Field with this view of the rear of Comerica Park’s video board:

comerica-park-behind-video-board

Despite the rain, I was pretty pumped to be once again seeing the Tigers in person. This time, however, I had even more reason to celebrate — the Tigers, who are my second-favorite team, were hosting the Blue Jays, who are my favorite team. I’ve seen the Jays several dozen times in Toronto, but this would be the first time I’d see them on the road. I wanted to buy my ticket at the ticket office on the other side of the park, so I began the walk down a deserted East Adams Street:

comerica-park-empty-detroit-street

I was happy to once again see the tiger-themed gate at the corner of East Adams and Witherell streets, but dismayed at the noticeable change since my last visit:

comerica-park-tigers-gate

Yep, metal detectors. These safety features banes of existence will be mandatory at MLB parks in 2015, but the Tigers are among a few teams using them this season. Metal detectors aside, here’s what the glorious-looking gate looks like in panorama form. You can click on all panoramas in this post to make them huge:

comerica-park-tigers-gate-panorama

I bought the cheapest ticket available — $12 for a spot on the Jungle Rooftop Bleachers, which is an amazing section at Comerica — and snapped a quick shot of my ticket:

comerica-park-malcolm-ticket

I still had 30 minutes to kill until the gates opened, which meant plenty of time to take a wander around the ballpark and capture the scene. The first shots I took were to build this panorama, which looks quite different that the one I shot back when I visited Detroit this January, don’t you think?

comerica-park-fox-theatre-panorama

And, of course, there were lots of tiger statue photos, like this one …

comerica-park-tiger-statue

… and this one:

comerica-park-tiger-statues

Hard not to say that Comerica Park has the best-looking gates in baseball, right?

I eventually made a full lap around the park, stopping to snap this photo of the General Motors headquarters, which is several blocks away and dominates the Detroit skyline:

detroit-street-gm-headquarters-building

By this time, the gates were soon to open, and I grabbed the first spot in one of the lines in front of the metal detectors. The pavilion around the gate is made up of countless bricks donated by fans and ex-players. You know the drill. Anyway, the bulk of these bricks are fan messages, but when I looked down between my feet, I saw a name that caught my eye:

comerica-park-whitey-herzog-brick

Baseball hall of famer Whitey Herzog played his last season of baseball as a Tiger before a lengthy managerial career, and it was neat to see the name of someone I instantly knew.

I spent the remaining few minutes before the gates opened talking with a couple members of the park’s security team about the metal detector situation. They said the new system was a pain. One actually joked that he should rent a spot in the parking lot, set up a trailer and have a “check your weapon” business: People leave their weapons with him for $10, and then pick them up again after the game.

The crowds around the gate were sparse, despite it being a fan giveaway game. After successfully passing through the metal detectors and being the first fan into the ballpark through these gates, I was handed a Tigers cloth shopping bag:

comerica-park-stadium-giveaway-grocery-bag

(I just informed my wife this bag is too important to use for shopping, and she rolled her eyes and sighed.)

I was thrilled to finally be back inside Comerica Park. As you might have seen if you read my two blog posts from 2011, my second game was postponed due to rain, so I’ve been anxious to return to this park ever since. It was awesome to get to the seating bowl and see the logos of my two favorite teams on the video board:

comerica-park-video-board

And look — it was only 4:57 p.m.! The gates had opened a few minutes early, which never seems to happen.

Since the Blue Jays were starting to filter out of the first base dugout to stretch, I zipped down to field level to take some shots. Here are relievers Todd Redmond and Dustin McGowan kicking off a run together:

comerica-park-redmond-mcgowan-running

And the bullpen staff celebrating after completing a run:

comerica-park-jays-bullpen-warmups

Jays pitching coach Pete Walker, who has one of the better mustaches in the majors today, was just a few feet in front of me:

comerica-park-pete-walker-blue-jays

Once the relievers headed into the dugout, I went that direction, too. Although the dugout was empty, it wasn’t long before Jays TV announcer (and former Jays player and manager) Buck Martinez appeared, and was obviously making a point about the intricacies of pitching to a couple other Toronto reporters:

comerica-park-buck-martinez-dugout

As I hung around the dugout, I had a good, clean view of my theoretical seat for the night in the Jungle section. Check it out:

comerica-park-jungle-rooftop-bleachers

It’s my favorite section at Comerica; close to the action, affordable and a fun, party atmosphere. You can’t beat it, and I definitely recommend buying your ticket here if you’re visiting Detroit for a Tigers game.

Because it was drizzling, batting practice was off. This meant that with about 1:45 till game time, I had a lot of time to spend wandering around and taking in the sights. My first stop was the concourse booth that sells authentic Tigers items, and it was a blast to browse the game-used balls, jerseys and equipment, as well as the myriad signed items:

comerica-park-authentic-autographed-kiosk

One of the staff members was trying to sell me a Victor Martinez signed helmet that was $600.

“Think of it this way,” he suggested, when I offered it was a bit outside my price range. “This time next year, it’ll probably be worth …”

“$400?” I interrupted, making a joke because I knew the direction he was headed before he got there.

“No, $700,” he said, but then admitted, “I have no idea who the player is, anyway.”

After deciding not to part with $600, I began a lap around the park, stopping at the statues in left-center to capture Ty Cobb in his famous spikes-up slide:

comerica-park-ty-cobb-statue

Each park I visit seems to have a different setup for the batter’s eye. At Toronto’s Rogers Centre, it’s a black, slightly tattered screen mounted over some empty seating sections. At Cleveland’s Progressive Field, it’s part of Heritage Park. The batter’s eye at Comerica is made of ivy, but has a walkway directly behind it for fans to pass from left field to right field. It’s sort of a bizarre blind spot:

comerica-park-behind-batters-eye

Here’s a look at the area from the far side, after I’d emerged and was standing in right-center:

comerica-park-outfield-right-side-of-batters-eye

Because I was in the park so early and the crowd was light due to the rain, there was almost no one in the Big Cat Court when I arrived with dinner on my mind. The Big Cat Court is a fun spot; it’s known for the tigers-themed carousel, but the area’s circular design allows for a multitude of concession stands around the perimeter. I resisted the temptation to take a solo ride on the carousel …

comerica-park-tiger-carousel

… and instead headed for the Gourmet Hot Dogs stand. I’d heard about the Tigers introducing some notable hot dogs at the start of the season, and after conferring with a couple fans on Twitter, decided this should be my dinner plan. Take a look at this menu …

comerica-park-food-gourmet-hot-dogs-menu

… and tell me what you’d get. (You can leave a comment at the bottom of this post or hit me up on Twitter.) Against the orders of my future cardiologist, I opted for the Poutine Dog. That’s right — a hot dog topped with french fries, cheese curds and smothered with gravy. As per usual, I took a photo of my food before tackling it. Ready?

comerica-park-food-poutine-hot-dog-1

And, as I’ve done in the past with difficult-to-eat items, took the long climb to the upper deck so I could eat it without making a scene. Once I’d grabbed a spot in the very top row of the stadium, I literally looked at the dog for about two minutes to figure out my eating strategy. I’d neglected to grab a fork, and had no idea how to dig in. But then, it hit me. I opened the end of the cardboard container much like the landing crafts used in the Allied assault on D-Day — history buffs will get the reference:

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Doing so provided newfound access to the mass of gluttony. Soon enough, the only evidence that remained were a few curds on the ground and, I’m sure, some gravy on my face.

Next, partly to burn off a few of the calories I’d just taken in, I descended back to field level to hang out behind home plate. I can’t stress enough how awesome the Comerica Park ushers are. They’re hands down the best I’ve encountered on my travels throughout the major leagues. At some parks, you’re not allowed to get behind home plate before the game. Not a problem here. And when game time approaches, there’s no mass push to get every fan out of the area. Now, this isn’t to say I try to sneak into a seat at field level, but I do enjoy hanging out on the cross-aisle behind the field level seats. And although there are signs saying that standing is prohibited, the ushers don’t employ the Gestapo techniques common at other parks. Rogers Centre, I’m looking your way. It’s an extra reason to visit Comerica Park. The ushers truly make you feel welcome and you get the sense the team appreciates you buying a ticket. Anyway, here’s where I was standing, just to the third base side of home plate:

comerica-park-malcolm-at-field-level

While I stood in this area, the rain let up and the grounds crew removed the tarp. Success! It wasn’t long before the Tigers started to filter into the dugout. Here’s starter Rick Porcello having a last-minute chat with Tigers pitching coach Jeff Jones:

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(Check out the giant jar of gumballs in the background.)

I stayed in the front row behind the Tigers dugout during the anthems, getting the opportunity to snap photos of guys like future hall of famer Omar Vizquel, now a coach with Detroit:

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And manager Brad Ausmus sharing a laugh with Justin Verlander:

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By the time first pitch came around, I headed over to the first base side, standing in the cross aisle behind the Jays dugout. From here, I was able to get a bunch more close-up shots of the players, but I’ll just share this wide-angle one I took of Porcello delivering to Melky Cabrera:

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Cabrera crushed the next pitch into the seats in right field for his ninth home run of the season and celebrated with Jose Bautista right in front of where I was standing:

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Speaking of home runs, I was pumped to get another chance to see Miguel Cabrera in the bottom of the first. He’s probably my favorite current player who doesn’t wear a Blue Jays uniform, so I stayed put to watch his first plate appearance. This was the swing he put on a fastball from R.A. Dickey …

comerica-park-miguel-cabrera-home-run

… and this was the result:

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That’s the Chevrolet fountain in center field going off after the ball landed in the left field stands for Cabrera’s 11th home run of the season. Being so close to home plate when Cabrera made contact, I can unequivocally tell you it sounded different than the average hit. Absolutely incredible power, and a treat to watch.

I moved my position closer to the rear of home plate for the remainder of the inning, enjoying this outstanding view:

comerica-park-home-plate-view-panorama

And then, with the game underway, resumed my travels around Comerica Park. My first mission was to head up to the Jungle Rooftop Bleachers area, not to find my seat, but rather to check out the New Amsterdam 416 Bar, which is new since my last visit. It’s an upscale, bar-style hangout between the Jungle and the right field seats. It’s got a bunch of comfy seating, and even a flaming bar. That’s not what I mean. A bar that flames? That doesn’t sound right, either. Well, just look at the photo and you’ll see some flickers of the flames:

comerica-park-new-amsterdam-club

Next, my travels took me past the Fox Theatre, where I snapped this shot of the sun beginning to set …

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… and up to the upper deck. From here, I was able to spot my hotel, which I hadn’t been able to see yet. See the Grand Valley State University building? Look right above it and you’ll see a red-bricked building with white window frames. That’s the Hilton Garden Inn Detroit Downtown:

comerica-park-hilton-garden-inn-detroit-downtown-view

I watched a few innings from the upper deck, happy to take a seat after being on my feet for the last four-plus hours. The game was entertaining to watch — after the teams traded first-inning home runs from the Cabreras, the score remained close and I cut the tension by hitting a Little Caesars kiosk and buying a slice of pizza that was hands down the best ballpark pizza I’ve eaten. I couldn’t resist Little Caesars, given the connection to the Tigers. Mike Ilitch, the Tigers owner, got the start of his billion-dollar empire by founding Little Caesars.

Now, this next part might make you hungry, so be forewarned: The individual slices are square pieces so you get that delicious cheese-coasted crust on two sides. As an added bonus, you can get pouches of dried red pepper flakes to sprinkle on your slice. I’m contemplating going back to Detroit just for another piece or seven:

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I spent the game’s latter innings in the outfield seats with this spectacular view:

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One of the great features about Comerica Park is its view of the Detroit skyline, which you’ve seen in the previous images. One of my favorite parts of the skyline is the David Broderick Tower, which is characterized by its enormous mural of whales. I could see part of this building from my hotel room and, as I sat in the left field seats, had a great view of it at night over the Comerica Park statues:

comerica-park-city-night-view

The Jays blew the game open in the late innings, scoring three runs in the eighth inning and two in the ninth to claim an 8-2 win. The final out took place at 10:22 p.m. and from my seat below the video board, I had easy access to the final box score:

comerica-park-tigers-jays-final-box-score

The walk back to my hotel was quick and provides another reminder why the Hilton Garden Inn is your best choice if you’re visiting Comerica Park. If you’re a little nervous about walking in the city at night, I can assure you that the walk from the park to the hotel is perfectly safe. Not only are there plenty of cops directing traffic, but you’ll find yourself in a throng of fans for the entire walk.

I was anxious to get back to my room and check out the night scene, and it didn’t disappoint. In the following panorama, you can see not only Comerica Park, but the bright lights of the Fox Theatre and plenty more. What a view!

hilton-garden-inn-detroit-downtown-night-view

I enjoyed the view on and off for the evening and finally got to bed after 1 a.m., or about 21 hours after my day began. A few short hours later, I’d be heading back to Comerica Park for a day game with perfect weather, Verlander on the mound, a return visit to the hot dog concession stand and a whole lot more.

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