New Hampshire Fisher Cats – April 16

After waking up to a wet, dreary day on April 15, I hoped the view out my hotel window would look different on April 16.

It did:

northeast-delta-dental-stadium-snow-field-1

Different. Just not better.

Yes, my friends, that’s snow covering the field of Northeast Delta Dental Stadium. Snow. In April. Hmm.

The New Hampshire Fisher Cats had a 10:35 a.m. game scheduled, which I’d planned to catch and then hit the road for the eight-hour drive home. I was still slated to join Tom Gauthier on the team’s radio broadcast in the fifth inning but, like a day earlier, the fifth inning was looking hypothetical at best.

The team had yet to make an official announcement about the likelihood of the day’s game, so I spent the first part of my day getting packed for the trip home and taking a few more photos. I wrote extensively about the outstanding hotel I was visiting, the Hilton Garden Inn Manchester Downtown, in my previous two entries, so I won’t rehash all the details here. I will, however, tell you the hotel has a home plate-shaped hot tub — on this morning, though, it looked a tad chilly:

northeast-delta-dental-stadium-hot-tub-snow

In fact, everything out my window did. Here’s the view directly below my room:

northeast-delta-dental-stadium-snow-below-window

That’s the batter’s eye on the left side, the hotel’s outdoor eatery, The Patio, on the right side and I think you get the rest of the picture. It was a snowy day.

Soon enough, the Fisher Cats announced on Twitter that the start of their game would be delayed. No surprised there, but now I faced the decision of whether to wait to see if the game would ever begin or to pull the plug on my trip and start the drive home.

I anxiously kept an eye on the field in the hopes that the snow would melt quickly. By about 8:30 a.m., you can see things were looking slightly better:

northeast-delta-dental-stadium-snow-field-2

Apparently, I wasn’ t the only person interested in the condition of the field. About 8:50 a.m., a member of the Fisher Cats came out, stood on the bullpen mound for several seconds and then headed toward the dugout:

northeast-delta-dental-stadium-player-snow-field

A little while later, I watched the visiting New Britain Rock Cats’ bus leave the ballpark, obviously after dropping off the team. That was a good sign; if the bus was still hanging around, it’d be an indicator that the powers that be weren’t expecting the game to be played.

At 10:20 a.m., the scene out my window looked a lot more optimistic, but it also seemed clear the game wasn’t going to begin any time soon:

northeast-delta-dental-stadium-snow-melting

I made the decision to check out of my hotel, load my car and take a walk through the ballpark and see if any staff member could provide an estimated start time. As I waited for the elevator to ride down to the lobby, I took a bunch of photos to make up this panorama:

hilton-garden-inn-manchester-downtown-panorama-city-view

It’s the scene out the hotel’s front-side windows and provides a great view of downtown Manchester, don’t you think?

After scraping the layer of ice off my car, I took this last shot of the hotel …

hilton-garden-inn-manchester-downtown-from-parking-lot

… and then walked into a very icy Northeast Delta Dental Stadium. The sun was taking care of the field rather nicely, so the grounds crew was working to make the concourse and seats safe for fans. There was plenty of ice to be melted and snow to be shoveled, as you can see here:

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I took a quick walk through the concourse — check out the icy footprints — and decided there’d be no way the game would be played any time soon:

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I had one last priority before getting in the car: I wanted to visit the ballpark’s team shop to use the gift card that was part of the gift basket I received upon checking in two days earlier. I bought a pair of Fisher Cats athletic pants and as I was ready to leave, ran into Tom and told him I’d decided to go home. As we talked briefly about the weather, Fisher Cats and Bowling Green Hot Rods owner Art Solomon stopped to talk to Tom. I was the third wheel, but it was neat to meet someone who’s had a big impact on Minor League Baseball.

After saying bye to Tom, I hopped in the car and drove a few blocks to Gill Stadium, which was built in 1913 and hosted the Fisher Cats in 2004 before their current park was built. I couldn’t get into Gill Stadium, but I took this cool-looking panorama from across the street:

gill-stadium-manchester-new-hampshire-panorama

And then, it was time to close the book on a great first trip of the season, although I would’ve enjoyed better cooperation from the weather. Still, an exciting ballgame Monday night and two nights in an awesome hotel was a memorable start to my baseball season and I can’t wait to hit the road again. I’ll leave you with one final photo that I took on the drive home — it’s a sight you don’t typically see during baseball season:

new-hampshire-mountains-snow

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 or MLB Shop, 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!

New Hampshire Fisher Cats – April 15

I knew the first day of my trip, April 14, would be a tough one to beat. Why? Rather than try to summarize it here in a sentence or two, here are all the details in blog form.

All caught up? Good. On to day two.

Like the baseball nerd I am, I woke up the morning of April 15 and ran to the window of my hotel room to see the view:

northeast-delta-dental-stadium-gray-day

Yep, Northeast Delta Dental Stadium was still there.

The tarp wasn’t new — I’d watched it go on the night before — but the dreary-looking day was. After enjoying temperatures close to 75 degrees on Monday, it was now in the 40s with rain in the forecast.

Fortunately, I had all day to work on my blog and enjoy my hotel. As I said yesterday, the Hilton Garden Inn Manchester Downtown is outstanding. It ranks very high on my all-time favorite hotels list (what, you don’t have one?) and it’s the perfect choice for baseball fans. In my previous post, I talked about the hotel’s proximity in relation to the Fisher Cats ballpark, so I won’t be a broken record. Instead, I’ll tell you that the hotel is within walking distance of a ton of places to eat, and if you’d rather stay close, its on-site restaurants (Pavilion and The Patio) are outstanding.

In fact, everything I’ve experienced about this hotel has been awesome. You saw some photos in my last blog post, but here are some others that show just how great my suite was. Here’s the living room area (with ESPN on TV, of course):

hilton-garden-inn-manchester-downtown-suite-living-room

And the entrance/kitchen area:

hilton-garden-inn-manchester-downtown-suite-kitchen-area

Some more facts about the Hilton Garden Inn Manchester Downtown: It has free parking, free Internet and an indoor swimming pool and athletic center. Its downtown location is perfect for not only the baseball game, but also for those interested in checking out the city’s other attractions or taking a jog along the banks of the Merrimack River. Each hotel staff member I encountered was hugely friendly and, while I don’t know when I’ll get back to Manchester, I definitely know that I’ll make this hotel my choice again.

After breakfast, I returned to my room to hear the sound of rain smacking off the windows — not exactly a promising omen for the evening’s 5:35 p.m. game:

northeast-delta-dental-stadium-rainy-window-hotel

I settled down at the desk and started working on my blog, which is what I did for most of the day. And, yes, I made frequent visits to both my windows to look down at the ballpark. Sometime after lunch, I noticed action on the field in the form of two New Hampshire players playing catch in the pouring rain:

northeast-delta-dental-stadium-players-catch-from-hotel

Throughout the afternoon, I watched on Twitter as a ton of major league and minor league ballgames in the Midwest and on the east coast were canceled due to rain and cold weather, but the Fisher Cats still hadn’t made an announcement about that evening’s game. Part of me hoped this meant they planned to play, but a bigger part of me knew this idea was largely unrealistic. Either way, the team announced late in the afternoon that the game was still on, so I packed up my camera gear and walked into the park about 4:15 p.m. At that time, there was no sign of the Fisher Cats, and a single Rock Cats player was stretching by himself in the light rain:

northeast-delta-dental-stadium-rain

I was still almost certain there’d be no game this evening, but there’s no better place to be than a ballpark — even when the weather’s bad. I climbed up to the park’s suite level and took this shot looking back toward the main gate:

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While I was in this spot, I took a series of panoramas that show the rainy scene:

northeast-delta-dental-stadium-rainout-panorama

If you’d seen my Facebook page or follow me on Twitter, you’ll know I was supposed to be interviewed on the Fisher Cats radio broadcast during the game. I escaped the rain for a bit to meet the team’s broadcaster, Tom Gauthier, in the press box. This was the scene as I waited to cross paths with him:

northeast-delta-dental-stadium-press-box

The radio booths are on the left side, facing the field, and you can see various notable newspaper front pages and pictures of Eastern League alumni decorating the walls. The black trays on the right side contain each team’s roster, game notes and the starting lineup — great reading material that I always grab when I’m in any press box. I eventually met Tom and he invited me to join him for the fifth inning — or, the “theoretical fifth inning” as we called it. We also decided that if the game was indeed rained out, I’d join Tom during the fifth inning of the following day’s matinee game.

Once I’d talked to Tom for a few minutes, I went back down to the wet concourse and watched some New Britain players play hacky sack. Not something you see at the ballpark every day:

new-britain-rock-cats-players-hacky-sack

It was now about 20 minutes before first the supposed first pitch, the park was still almost empty …

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… and so was the home dugout:

northeast-delta-dental-stadium-rain-delay-dugout

Shortly before 5:30 p.m., a small group of Fisher Cats (including catcher Yusuf Carter, the key figure in yesterday’s blog post) came out to get warmed up. Just as I made my way down to field level to watch the proceedings, one player came out and said something to the group — obviously, telling them the game was canceled. It didn’t take long for them to quickly retreat to the dugout and eventually the clubhouse. Designated hitter Brad Glenn (#44) and Carter seemed just slightly happy that they didn’t have to play in the rain:

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Within a minute or two, the field was empty but a moment later, a pair of Fisher Cats came out to play catch in the drizzle:

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I watched them for a few minutes …

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… before deciding to get out the rain and make the short walk back to my hotel. I was back in my room by 6 p.m., so I had the whole evening open. I filled it by grabbing dinner at Outback, which is less than 10 minutes from the hotel, and then crashing in front of ESPN until bed — while keeping my fingers crossed that the weather wouldn’t affect Wednesday’s morning game.

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 or MLB Shop, 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!

New Hampshire Fisher Cats – April 14

Yesterday was one heck of a day. It began for me at 4:30 a.m. and ended with my involvement in some photos I took being shared with nearly half a million people.

Here’s how it happened:

The drive from my house to Northeast Delta Dental Stadium, home of the Eastern League’s New Hampshire Fisher Cats, takes almost exactly eight hours. And while it seems a little nuts to get up so early and leave my house shortly after 5 a.m. for a 6:35 p.m. game, I couldn’t wait to get to my destination for my first live baseball game of the season.

I’ve seen the Fisher Cats at home twice in the past, and both times I’ve stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn Manchester Downtown. That’s where I’m staying again, and I can’t imagine visiting Northeast Delta Dental Stadium without staying at this hotel. Its major perk is its field-facing rooms, and as soon as I checked in and opened my door, I dropped my luggage and dashed straight to my window to take this photo:

hilton-garden-inn-manchester-view

Heaven!

This is absolutely the hotel for you during your visit to Manchester. You can’t beat its location, of course, but staying here saves you having to pay to park at the game and you’ll be back in your room before many fans are even on the highway. I’ll have plenty more details about the hotel in the blog posts about the rest of my visit, but here are a couple photos in the meantime. I was lucky enough to get a suite, which has a huge living area and a separate bedroom, each with windows facing the field. Here’s the bedroom:

hilton-garden-inn-manchester-bedroom-view

And before I get ahead of myself — like I did with my rush to look out my window — I have to share a big surprise. Look at this gift basket I was given upon arriving:

hilton-garden-inn-manchester-gift-basket

It’s got several types of snacks, two Fisher Cats foam fingers, free breakfast vouchers, a greeting card and even a $25 gift card to the Fisher Cats team shop. Now, the latter was a special gift because the hotel knew about my ballpark travels, but if you quote the “baseball package” upon booking a room in this hotel, you’ll get something similar upon check-in — as well as a field-facing room, free breakfast vouchers and more.

I spent some time at my window watching the Fisher Cats play catch and perform various on-field drills, before deciding to grab my camera and take a short walk around the entire ballpark/hotel complex — something I hadn’t fully done on my two previous visits. My first stop was the park’s ticket office, where I picked up my media credentials for the three-game series. Special thanks to Tom Gauthier and the Fisher Cats for taking care of me. Next, I took this photo of the ticket office and the hotel:

northeast-delta-dental-stadium-ticket-office

The wind had picked up like crazy, but the weather was otherwise warm and such a nice change from the cold back home, so I started down this path that runs between the ballpark and the Merrimack River:

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When I reached the end of the path, I had the option of turning to continue my way around the rear of the ballpark or take a footbridge across the river. Here’s what I decided:

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Despite occasionally wondering if the wind would blow me over the railing, I had a great view up river and down river, and snapped a bunch of photos to make this panorama looking back toward the ballpark:

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The lack of leaves on the trees actually improved the visibility, as you can see here:

northeast-delta-dental-stadium-hilton-garden-inn-from-bridge

See the huge blue and white roof above the Northeast Delta Dental Stadium sign? That’s the Verizon Wireless Arena, home of the American Hockey League’s Manchester Monarchs.

After taking a ton of photos, I partially retraced my steps and continued my walk to the rear of the ballpark. Here’s the road leading down to the field, directly behind the Fisher Cats bullpen:

northeast-delta-dental-stadium-back

The walk took about 45 minutes, and I was soon back in my room watching the proceedings below. It’s such an enormous treat to have this vantage point. Most minor league parks don’t open their gates until batting practice is over, but a field-facing room provides an outstanding view of what you wouldn’t normally get to enjoy. But your room isn’t the only spot from which you can see the field. The Hilton Garden Inn has an outdoor eatery called The Patio, which is located directly between the hotel and the outfield fence. Grab a spot here during BP (or even during the game, if you don’t want to buy a ticket) and you’ll truly have a rare experience. I could see batting practice was about to begin, so I hustled downstairs and out to The Patio. Batting practice didn’t happen during either of my previous visits, so I was pumped to have to chance to watch it — and hopefully snag a ball or two. This is the view from the hotel hallway looking out toward The Patio …

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… and here’s what I was looking at upon getting a spot at the fence:

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I was curious to see how many BP home runs would land on The Patio or even hit the hotel. Both are located in left-center, and while a player would need a good blast to reach either, I certainly expected to see some action. Sure enough, a few balls came my way. Some smacked off the hotel’s brick so hard that they bounced right back on the field, while others found a gap and bounced toward the parking lot. There was a neat camaraderie between the players standing in the outfield and the few fans watching BP. Whenever a ball looked like it would be a home run, the players would turn and yell “Heads up!” to make sure no one was caught unaware.

This happened a handful of times on balls that weren’t that close to me, but the next home run, smacked by Yusuf Carter, sailed directly over my head and hit the hotel with a tremendous crash. The sound indicated that it must have rattled off a window, but when I turned to look for the ball, this was what I saw about 10 feet behind me:

northeast-delta-dental-stadium-hilton-garden-inn-broken-window-1

WOW!

The people on The Patio were shocked, and members of the Fisher Cats who’d heard the glass exploding were hopping up and down trying to see the damage over the outfield fence. Soon enough, a hotel employee came to photograph the window:

northeast-delta-dental-stadium-hilton-garden-inn-broken-window-photographing

And then more curious onlookers arrived. I talked about what had happened with the hotel’s executive chef and a maintenance staff member, and asked how often this happens. “Never,” they said, surprisingly. They said one home run ball had once landed in the bar area and broken some glass, but as far as they knew, the hotel hadn’t ever had any broken windows. They were more surprised that upset, so I took this shot as we all stood there:

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The home team’s BP wrapped up at this point, and I grabbed one more photo before weighing my options:

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Although I was having a blast outside, I thought that given the rarity of this moment, I wanted to be the first person to tweet it out. I ran back to my hotel room, transferred my photos to my laptop and sent a couple tweets about the incident with some photos of the broken window. Several people retweeted the images, and I soon headed back down to watch the visiting New Britain Rock Cats take batting practice. Fast-forward to midway through the game, and I started getting notifications like crazy on Twitter. Turns out the MLB Fan Cave had picked up on the story, tweeted out my photos (with credit to me, happily) …

mlb-fan-cave-tweet

… and even written a short blurb about the incident, featuring my tweets, which you can find at this link. The Fan Cave shared this story with its 422,000 followers, and my pictures were then retweeted a couple hundred more times to even more people. So exciting!

Anyway, back to the Rock Cats batting practice: After no home runs in the first few minutes, I decided to see if I could find some leftover balls hit by the Fisher Cats. Remember the balls I mentioned that had rolled toward the parking lot? It didn’t take long for me to find them:

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Now, with a handful of balls to add to my collection, I decided to head inside the ballpark. I took this quick shot of my media pass …

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… and a few seconds later, I was standing on the concourse looking back toward the hotel and the scene of all the excitement:

northeast-delta-dental-stadium-hilton-garden-inn-manchester

Given my previous visits to Northeast Delta Dental Stadium, I didn’t have much exploring to do, but I still wanted to take my customary first lap of the park to see what was new since I was last here in 2011. Here’s the scene in panoramic form from the first base side:

northeast-delta-dental-stadium-rf-panorama

Did you see the Samuel Adams Bar & Grill two images ago? That was my next stop. I hadn’t previously visited this eatery, which boasts an 85-foot bar, a bunch of TV screens and an extensive menu, but it was great. Its walls were loaded with not only images of New Hampshire baseball stars like Chris Carpenter, but also autographed photos and other neat baseball stuff:

northeast-delta-dental-stadium-samuel-adams-bar-grill

There was still some time before first pitch, so I poked around the park, taking photos here and there. Remember those foam fingers in my gift basket? I’d carefully placed them on my window ledge before heading down to the game, and they were visible from the park’s seats:

hilton-garden-inn-manchester-foam-fingers

Soon enough, players began to appear and I was excited to see New Hampshire’s starter Deck McGuire. He’s a 2011 first-round draft pick of the Toronto Blue Jays and I headed to the bullpen area down the first base line to watch him warm up. Here he is during long toss:

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And here’s Carter, the source of all the earlier excitement:

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Carter has a neat story. He’s the nephew of 1993 World Series hero Joe Carter and although he appeared at several levels of the minors between 2005 and 2011, he played independent ball in 2012 and 2013. And he’s obviously got some pop.

Once McGuire had finished warming up with Carter …

deck-mcguire-yusuf-carter

… I spent the next while photographing Fisher Cats players as I waited for first pitch. When the game was underway, I grabbed a spot on the third base side and took photos like this one, of Fisher Cats slugger Brad Glenn:

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And the Rock Cats hulking first baseman Kennys Vargas, who’s 6’5″ and 275 pounds:

kennys-vargas-new-britain-rock-cats

In the top of the second inning, Rock Cats outfielder Reynaldo Rodriguez crushed a home run to left-center. I was seated pretty far from where I saw the ball leave the field, but still decided to wander over to the area and see if I could track it down. It took me a good couple minutes to reach the spot I expected to see the ball; sure enough, there it was on the asphalt between the Samuel Adams Bar & Grill and the hotel. I zipped down a set of stairs and grabbed it:

northeast-delta-dental-stadium-reynaldo-rodriguez-home-run-ball

My first thought was to see if the home run was notable for Rodriguez, and then see if I could return it to him. I put the question out on Twitter and heard back from several people saying that while it was his first of the season, he’d already hit a bunch at Double-A. In fact, he’s quite a slugger. He hit 21, 16 and 18 home runs, respectively, over the previous three seasons in the minors. I figured this one wouldn’t be special to him, so I decided to keep it for my collection. For the record, this is the third home run ball in my collection.

Next, I hung out behind home plate for half an inning …

northeast-delta-dental-stadium-behind-home-plate-panorama

… and then set off to look for something to eat. In my previous two visits to New Hampshire, I enjoyed seafood for dinner — clam strips during my first visit and clam chowder during my second. This time, however, there was no sign of these items on the menu, which is disappointing. There were a handful of new items, which I’ll likely explore tomorrow. For my first game, though, I decided to keep things simple with a pair of hot dogs:

northeast-delta-dental-stadium-food-hot-dogs

After three innings, I was puzzled to see the Fisher Cats weren’t taking the field to start the fourth. In fact, the umpires and both managers were having a conference at home plate, and they were soon joined by a member of the grounds crew. My initial thought was that because of the crazy wind, bad weather was in the forecast. Perhaps some lightning was in the area? Turns out it was lighting, not lightning, that was the issue. I hadn’t realized it, but the stadium lights in right-center weren’t on, and it was getting dark enough that this was now an issue:

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Soon enough, part of the lights came on, and another set of lights responded by turning off. This was the pattern for 35 minutes, and I was slightly concerned the game would be postponed. I wasn’t the only one — McGuire, who’d given up just one hit (the home run) through his three innings of work, also looked concerned as he stood in the dugout:

northeast-delta-dental-stadium-deck-mcguire-delay

The Fisher Cats bullpen members weren’t too upset. They resumed the game they’d been playing earlier — a sort of baseball-themed curling, in which they’d each toss balls off the bullpen mound and see whose could land closest to the bullpen plate:

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When the action resumed on the field, it was a big relief. Not for Glenn, though, who took a pitch in his thigh during his first post-blackout at-bat:

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I spent the rest of the game walking around the ballpark, taking photos here and there and enjoying the game and even the scenery outside the park. Here’s a look at the dark Merrimack River with the city’s lights behind it, for example:

northeast-delta-dental-stadium-merrimack-river-night

The Fisher Cats won 3-2, thanks to a two-run home run by Ryan Schimpf in the sixth inning. I didn’t get the ball, though I did get this photo of the eventual post-game high-fives:

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Although the game was over, my evening wasn’t. I was excited to get back to my room and answer the ton of Twitter messages that had come in about Carter’s BP home run — and, yes, take more shots out my window.

Here’s the scene at about 10 p.m.:

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Again at 10:30 p.m.:

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And again at 11:20 p.m.:

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And finally, at 12:50 a.m. once all the stadium lights were off:

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As I said, one heck of a day.

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 or MLB Shop, 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!

Just a Few Days Left

I’ve said before that while Opening Day is a big day for me, I really get excited when it’s time for my first road trip of the baseball season. Fortunately, that day is just about here.

About 5 a.m. on Monday, I’ll hop in the car for the drive to Manchester, N.H., home of the New Hampshire Fisher Cats. I’ll be seeing three games at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium — Monday through Wednesday, April 14 through 16. All three games are against the New Britain Rock Cats.

I’ve been to Northeast Delta Dental Stadium twice before — once in 2010, on my very first summer of travels for The Ballpark Guide, and again in 2011. I’m returning not only because I’m anxious to see one of my favorite ballparks, but also because I get the awesome opportunity to be interviewed on the air during the game broadcast on April 15 by Tom Gauthier, the voice of the Fisher Cats. And the fact that I’m a Toronto Blue Jays fan doesn’t hurt either, as the Fisher Cats are the Double-A affiliate of the Jays.

I’ll also be staying at the outstanding Hilton Garden Inn Manchester, which is located just over the left field fence. As in previous visits, I’ll have a field-facing room so I can enjoy the ballpark even when I’m not inside it.

Here’s the panoramic view out my window during my first visit, which you can read all about here:

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And here’s a scene from my second visit during pregame warmups from The Patio, an outdoor eatery at the hotel at which you can eat, watch batting practice and snag home balls:

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(To read the blog post about my second visit, just click here.

Finally, here’s a look at the hotel and its field-facing rooms, taken from the third base seats at the ballpark:

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It’s shaping up to be a great trip and, as always, I’ll be tweeting and blogging along the way. Planning to be at any of these games? Send me a tweet and we’ll meet up and say hello.

If you enjoy reading about my baseball road trip adventures and want to support them, there are a few ways of doing so — you can read about them here at this link. If you shop on Amazon, for example, you can help my road trips without it costing you an extra cent. And you’ll even get a shout out on Twitter or here on my blog, too! Thanks for your support and I’ll talk to you next week from Manchester.

Snowy Comerica Park

I’ve got just 10 sleeps until my first baseball road trip of 2014, which I’ll be blogging about next week. In the meantime, though, I wanted to share one quick ballpark adventure I had over the winter.

Back in January, my wife and I made a quick to Detroit to see an Adam Carolla stand-up show at the Motor City Casino. I’ve been to Detroit a couple times in the past, including in May of 2011 for a pair of Tigers games at Comerica Park. You can read my fan guide to Comerica Park by clicking on the park’s name in this sentence, and blog posts about those two trips here and here.

Anyway, I’m a huge Adam Carolla fan and since he doesn’t travel to the east side of the continent very often, I couldn’t resist buying tickets. Where does baseball come in, you ask?

Well, first of all, we stayed at the casino hotel and ate dinner at one of its restaurants. From our seats, we could see both Comerica Park, the current home of the Tigers, and the site of old Tiger Stadium. The spot that Tiger Stadium once occupied is now a vacant lot. You probably wouldn’t even notice it, except the flag in center field still stands. I didn’t take my camera to the restaurant, and the dark, gray evening wasn’t very conducive to photos. There’s a great photo on Wikipedia, however, that show exactly what I’m talking about:

tiger-stadium-current-site

See the tall building on the left of the image? That’s the Motor City Casino, and the restaurant is behind the tall windows on the upper floor.

The morning after the show, we set out for the long drive home, but not before taking a drive around Comerica Park. It was neat to see the winter version of the park. Here’s me in front of the statues of Ty Cobb and Willie Horton, which are beyond the outfield fence:

comerica-park-winter-malcolm-statues

And here I am in front of the famous tiger statue at the Witherell Street gate:

comerica-park-malcolm-tiger-gate

The tigers on the side of the building were wearing snow caps:

comerica-park-snowy-tiger-heads

And we could see the snowy field as we peeked through from the sidewalk:

comerica-park-snowy-field

As we stood on Witherell Street, I snapped a series of photos to build this panorama to show the snowy scene looking away from Comerica Park’s gate:

comerica-park-winter-panorama

The building in the center is the historic Fox Theatre.

I really enjoyed my visits at Comerica Park, even though my second game was rain shortened. If you didn’t see the notice on my website last week, I’m excited to say that I’ll be heading back to Detroit in June as part of a road trip. The rest of the dates and cities aren’t confirmed right now, but I can definitely say I’ll be at Comerica to see the Tigers host the Blue Jays on June 4 and 5.

If you enjoy reading about my baseball adventures and want to support them, there are a few ways of doing so, especially if you shop on Amazon. Please take a look at this link to find out how you can support my trips at no extra cost to you — and receive my thanks on Twitter, too!

Shop Online, Help The Ballpark Guide

Do you shop on Amazon? If so, your shopping can help send me on more baseball road trips to provide you with comprehensive fan guides to the parks you plan to visit, entertaining blog posts and other adventures along the way. And best of all, your support won’t cost you an extra cent.

I’ve recently partnered up with Amazon as a method of generating revenue for my site, and I’m excited to tell you about it.

The premise is simple: Visit The Ballpark Guide’s “Support Us” page, click on the Amazon link for your country and do your shopping. When you pay for your order, Amazon takes a small percentage of that total and sends it my way, which I’ll use for more baseball road trips this summer, including some that require me to fly. The prices you pay by clicking through my link are the same you’d pay if you just typed Amazon’s URL into your browser, so there’s no added expense for you.

Here’s what the Amazon portion of the page looks like; as you can see, it’s pretty straightforward:

amazon-screenshot

Here’s another way you can help:

If you buy your favorite team’s gear on MLB Shop, perhaps in anticipation of your own baseball road trip, your shopping can also help me out. As with Amazon, I’ve joined forces with the MLB Shop and every time you make a purchase, I get a small percentage. And like Amazon, it doesn’t cost you an extra penny. Here’s a screenshot:

mlb-shop-screenshot

I’ve noted it on the page in question, but I want to reiterate how much your support means to me. To show my appreciation, I’ll give you some public recognition on my Twitter account or blog. All you have to do is get in touch with me after you complete your purchase, let me know that you used my site and I’ll do the rest.

Finally, I’d love if you could bookmark my “Support Us” page and start your online shopping there. I’m asking you to bookmark my page, rather than the Amazon/MLB Shop page to which you’re directed after clicking the link, because the site’s cookies eventually expire and Amazon/MLB Shop won’t be able to connect your purchase to me.

Any questions? Give me a shout. As a bonus, I’ll give a Twitter follow to the first person who makes an Amazon or MLB Shop purchase through my site!

As always, thank you for your support. This summer’s going to have some awesome trips and I can’t wait to share them with you.

My First Ballgame

“Would you like to go to a baseball game?”

That question, posed to me the morning of July 2, 1988, is what began my passion for watching live baseball.

I was six years old and a huge Toronto Blue Jays fan, but I hadn’t yet got the chance to see my team play live. On the weekend in question, my family was assembled at the cottage of my maternal grandparents for Canada Day. I imagine we celebrated the holiday with a barbecue, swimming and maybe even fireworks. And I’m sure I convinced one of the grownups to play catch with me. I don’t remember those details, but I do remember my dad, uncle and grandfather asking me early on that Saturday morning if I wanted to see the Jays play.

It took me all of zero seconds to give me response, and we were soon packed into the minivan for the 90-minute trip from the cottage to Exhibition Stadium. I remember thinking it was pretty cool that I was on a guys’ trip — no girls allowed.

I’ve been thinking about that first game a lot lately, and trying to recall specific moments. I remember a handful of notable moments from that day. I’ve been able to fill in the other details with the help of the day’s box score I found on Baseball-Reference.

The Jays were pounded 11-3 by the Oakland A’s. In those days, the A’s 2-3-4 hitters were Dave Henderson, Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire. That year, the trio smashed 98 home runs and drove in 317 runs. Yikes.

I remember lots of home runs during the game, and the box score confirms there were four. Henderson and Terry Steinbach hit home runs for Oakland, while Cecil Fielder and George Bell hit them for Toronto. I remember being ticked off about the A’s home runs and overjoyed with Toronto’s blasts, as any young Jays fan would be.

I also remember Mike Flanagan getting the start for Toronto and laying a total egg. The box score tells me he went 2.1 innings, surrendering 5 hits and 7 earned runs. Truth be told, I actually remember thinking, “I hate Mike Flanagan” while we were driving back to the cottage after the game. The problems of a six-year-old kid, I guess.

Unfortunately, no family photos from that day seem to exist, nor can I find my old ticket stub. I can clearly remember where we were sitting, though. Exhibition Stadium was originally built for football, and the seating arrangement for baseball games could be best described as awkward. Because of the vast football sidelines, the field-level seats when the stadium was configured for baseball felt like they were a mile away, and the seats down the lines were also ridiculously far from the action. We sat in the upper deck way down the first base line; the Internet tells me the seats were benches and the tickets cost $7, but I don’t recall those details.

I don’t remember what we ate, although I’m sure I had a hot dog or some ice cream. I also seem to recall staying in our seats the entire game — a big-time contrast from how I watch baseball now. The souvenir I took home from the game was the team’s 1988 yearbook. It not only brings back memories to flip through it now, but some of the pictures are absolutely hilarious. I carried this magazine around with me for what seemed like a year. In actuality, it probably was, as I didn’t see my second live ballgame until 1989.

Here’s the cover, which shows its age, despite my obsession with keeping things in their original condition:

1988-blue-jays-program-cover

You might notice some light pen marks on the letters “YEAR,” which I vaguely recall making before getting cold feet and stopping short of finishing the whole word.

A lot of the player pages take me right back to 1988. Here’s Fred McGriff, who was hands-down my favorite player of the era:

fred-mcgriff-blue-jays-yearbook-1988

(You can imagine how thrilled I was to meet McGriff last season at Rochester’s Frontier Field during the Pepsi MAX Field of Dreams game.)

Here’s a picture that screams 1980s — Juan Beniquez with a poorly fitting fat, enormous wristbands, super-short sleeves and a gold chain with a home plate-shaped medallion AND a baserunner:

juan-beniquez-1988-blue-jays-yearbook

Remember when Cecil Fielder was skinny? If you watched the Jays in the 1980s, that’s the Fielder you remember:

cecil-fielder-1988-blue-jays-yearbook

It’s hilarious to note that Fielder is listed at 220 pounds here, and the story about him talks about his good hands “for a big man.” If only they’d had a crystal ball in 1988.

Many of the advertisements are downright hilarious — and I imagine even more so if you’re younger than I am. First of all, there are a bunch of cigarette ads throughout the book, which is something you certainly don’t see anymore.

As far as other ads, here’s a full-page ad of a bank bragging that it has “instant teller” machines that are open … wait for it … 24 hours a day!

cibc-1988-ad

There’s also an ad for a state-of-the-art Panasonic VCR. Jealous?

panasonic-1988-ad

And what self-respecting connoisseur of VCRs would find himself without a 1988 Chevrolet Corsica?

chevrolet-1988-ad

Of course, any man about town might mix business and pleasure by taking his “portable computer” to the ballpark:

toshiba-portable-computers-1988-ad

(That last ad might be the best of all.)

That 1988 Jays team went 87-75 but didn’t make the playoffs. It did, however, have one of the best rosters the team has ever fielded. The outfield of George Bell, Lloyd Moseby and Jesse Barfield is unquestionably the team’s best outfield trio of all time, and the infield of Kelly Gruber, Tony Fernandez, Manny Lee and Fred McGriff was also pretty solid. Ernie Whitt and Pat Borders split the catching duties, and the starting rotation was Mike Flanagan, Dave Stieb, Jim Clancy, Jimmy Key and Todd Stottlemyre. The set-up man was Duane Ward and the closer was Tom Henke.

It would be another year before the Jays were bound for the playoffs. That year, the Jays moved from Exhibition Stadium to SkyDome, and I went to a few games and have the programs to prove it. Interested in another post like this? Leave me a comment below and let me know!

A Game-Used Bat and a Jersey Mystery

I’ve traveled to more than 50 stadiums for The Ballpark Guide, and have managed to pick up some pretty cool souvenirs along the way. These include:

- A Jeremy Nowak (Frederick Keys) home run ball;
- A Tony Caldwell (Greensboro Grasshoppers) home run ball;
- A Randy Ruiz game-used bat;
- A New Hampshire Fisher Cats game-used jacket;
- A Ryan Skube (former Padres prospect) game-used bat;
- A Curtis Thigpen clubhouse nameplate — OK, not “game-used,” but you know what I mean.

Well, as promised, I added a couple really neat items to my collection during my travels last year.

Here’s the first one:

o'conner-bat-full

This is a game-used bat that belonged to Justin O’Conner, the Tampa Bay Rays‘ first-round draft pick in 2010. I bought it in May when I visited Bowling Green Ballpark, home of the Bowling Green Hot Rods. (You can read about this visit here.) It’s exciting to have a bat from a first rounder. I actually saw O’Conner play back in 2012 at the Futures at Fenway game at Fenway Park, and managed to get his autograph on a ball. Last year, when I saw his bat in the team shop at Bowling Green Ballpark, I couldn’t resist grabbing it.

As you can see here, it’s got his name written on the knob:

o'conner-bat-knob

Lots of signs of use on the handle:

o'conner-bat-handle

And a ton of wear on the barrel, which shows that he used this bat an awful lot before it broke. Here are some ball marks:

o'conner-bat-wear

And some little chips, which are caused by when you tap the bat’s barrel against your cleats to them off:

o'conner-bat-cleat-marks

O’Conner hit .223 for the Hot Rods in 2013 but showed some solid pop with 14 home runs in 102 games. I’ll be excited to see where he starts the 2014 season and look forward to following his career.

The next item I added to my collection has a little mystery to it. It’s a Lexington Legends game-used batting practice jersey, and here’s a picture of it:

legends-jersey-front

When I visited Whitaker Bank Ballpark, home of the Legends, in May, I was excited to see a TON of game-used jerseys for sale at decent prices. Often, you see Minor League Baseball game-used jerseys for around $100, which seems like a little much. Anyway, the BP jerseys were just $25, which was impossible to resist. I browsed through the available jerseys, worn during the 2012 season, while checking out the team’s 2012 roster on The Baseball Cube. My goal was to find a jersey of a player with promise, and when I came across the #8 jersey, I saw it apparently belonged to first baseman Zach Johnson. While with Lexington in 2012, Johnson hit 15 home runs and added 108 RBIs. I was sold, and grabbed the jersey off the rack.

When I took it to the counter, the staff member said, “Nice — Delino DeShields, Jr.” Huh? I told him I was pretty sure this was Johnson’s jersey, pointing to the data on my iPod.

He replied that he thought DeShields might have worn the #8 on a promotional jersey night when his usual #4 wasn’t available in his size. If that was the case, what number did Johnson wear on that night? Or did Johnson play? As I said, it’s a mystery.

I have to admit I’m intrigued about DeShields, though. While with the Legends in 2012, he stole 83 bases in 111 games. Yep, you read that right. He added 18 more steals in 24 games with High-A Lancaster to finish the year with 101 stolen bases. This total would be enough to be the best in the entire minor leagues virtually any year, if not for a guy named Billy Hamilton. Hamilton, of course, set the all-time record by swiping 155 bases. (I was lucky enough to see him play at Louisville Slugger Field last year, too.)

So, did I have the jersey of Johnson, a slugger who was released last year, or of DeShields, Jr., a first-round draft pick who might be on the fast track to the majors? (He played in High-A last season and stole 51 bases while batting .317 while just 20 years of age.)

Let’s look at some more pictures of the jersey before we wade even deeper into this mystery. Here’s a shot of the #8 in question:

legends-jersey-number

The back of the entire jersey:

legends-jersey-back

And a close-up of the Legends logo, which has a sharp design:

legends-jersey-logo

Now, back to the mystery. I’ve found proof that Johnson wore my jersey in 2012. I didn’t take this picture, but dug it up online:

zach-johnson-lexington-legends

And here’s one that shows the front of the jersey:

zach-johnson-lexington-legends2

The Baseball Cube says DeShields wore #4 in 2012, and I’ve found proof of that with this picture:

delino-deshields-jr-lexington-legends2

And here’s the front of his jersey:

delino-deshields-jr-lexington-legends

As you can tell from these photos, they’re taken during BP, not during a game.

So, based on what The Baseball Cube says, and with the photographic proof I can find online, I’m sure the jersey is Johnson’s. But I’m curious about the suggestion of the team shop employee, and I’m determined to find out the truth. I’m going to contact the Legends, as well as DeShields, Jr., himself, to get to the bottom of this mystery.

And when I have an answer, I’ll share it here!

** UPDATE **

Well, that didn’t take long. Immediately after publishing this blog post, I sent messages on Twitter to DeShields, Jr. and the Legends. DeShields was the first to respond, and he straightened things up:

deshields-tweet

Now, I’m not up on the nicknames of former Legends players, but it looks like “Ziggy” is Zach Johnson, which means my initial understanding about the jersey’s rightful owner was correct. An hour later, the Legends confirmed things:

lexington-tweet

I suppose there’s still a chance DeShields wore the jersey once, but that’s probably difficult to confirm. In any case, the theory about the rightful owner of the BP jersey sure made for a fun mystery while it lasted.

As always, thanks for reading. Please visit The Ballpark Guide for comprehensive fan guides to MLB and MiLB parks and remember, each of your visits help support my road trips!

2014 MLB Prospect Watch

In years past, I’ve waited anxiously for Major League Baseball to release its list of top 100 prospects for the coming year. As a baseball fan, I’m excited to look at the rankings and read up on the various prospects. But as a baseball road tripper, I’m even more pumped to read about the listed players I saw last season on my travels for The Ballpark Guide.

I’ve blogged about this list in the past and have seen some pretty outstanding (and high-ranked) prospects over the years, including Bryce Harper, Jacob Turner, Travis d’Arnaud and Matt Harvey. You can take a look at those blog posts here and here, if you’re interested. It’s fun to look back at the names of current MLB stars and think of them being highly touted prospects just a few short years ago.

So far, Harper is the only top-10 prospect I’ve managed to see in person. I’m always curious to see how many guys in the top 100 I’ve seen. Ready for a look? Here we go!

26. Maikel Franco — Reading Fightin Phils

maikel-franco

I saw Franco, the 26th-ranked prospect and the fourth-ranked third baseman, in action at FirstEnergy Stadium on July 11. He went 0-for-4 in a 5-1 loss to the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, but was batting .392 at the time. He ended up batting .339 in 69 games for Reading.

27. Tyler Glasnow — West Virginia Power

tyler-glasnow

I watched Glasnow pitch on May 28  in a losing effort at Appalachian Power Park, falling 12-3 to the Greensboro Grasshoppers. The loss was Glasnow’s first of the season and one of only three on the year, as he cruised to a 9-3 record with a 2.18 ERA. At the time of my visit, I didn’t know he was a highly touted prospect; what caught my eye as I watched him warm up before the game was his height — he’s 6’7″.

33. Jackie Bradley, Jr. — Pawtucket Red Sox

jackie-bradley-jr

Pawtucket was delayed on their way to Louisville Slugger Field to face the Bats on May 20, but the delay didn’t slow down Bradley, Jr. He picked up two of Pawtucket’s seven hits as the visiting team got pummeled 10-0.

33. Billy Hamilton — Louisville Bats

billy-hamilton

Bradley, Jr., wasn’t the only top prospect I saw in action on May 20. Hamilton, who’s got the best set of wheels in all of baseball, put on an impressive show with two hits, two runs scored and his 24th stolen base of the year in his team’s 10-o win.

38. Adalberto Mondesi — Lexington Legends

raul-mondesi-jr

At the time I saw Mondesi on May 27 at Whitaker Bank Ballpark, he was known as Raul, but MLB now lists him by his middle name, Adalberto. Whatever the case, Mondesi put on the best display of offense I saw all summer, hitting for the cycle in just four at-bats.

53. Jesse Biddle — Reading Fightin Phils

jesse-biddle

Biddle played for Reading for all of 2013 and had the start during my July 11 visit. He placed third in the Eastern League in strikeouts, with 154, and fanned five New Hampshire batters in four innings. He also gave up 11 hits and eight runs and picked up the loss in a 5-1 game.

55. Marcus Stroman — New Hampshire Fisher Cats

marcus-stroman-in-stands

Boy, my July 11 visit to Reading was a pretty good day for prospects. In addition to seeing Franco and Biddle play for the Fightin Phils, I also saw Stroman in the stands. Sure, he didn’t pitch, but I snapped the above picture of him after noticing him a number of times during the game.

74. Josh Bell — West Virginia Power

josh-bell

I saw a pair of Josh Bells play in 2013, but only one of the is a top-1oo prospect. West Virginia’s Bell went 0-for-5 at Appalachian Power Park during my visit on May 28. The other Bell, who played last year for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, is one of the guys I watched take batting practice with Derek Jeter as I stood just a few feet away.

94. Taylor Guerrieri — Bowling Green Hot Rods

taylor-guerrieri

I was lucky to see Guerrieri pitch in the Futures at Fenway game in 2012 when he was a member of the Hudson Valley Renegades, and got to see him against this past May as a member of the Hot Rods. Guerrieri didn’t get a decision in a 6-5 loss to Fort Wayne, but struck out five batters in six innings.

So, that’s it. Nine guys in the top 100. Not exactly a ton, but it was cool to see these future MLBers in action. I should also note that a number of other guys on the list were in uniform during my visit but didn’t play — starting pitchers in between starts and position players with an off-day.

I’ve got a bunch more off-season blog posts coming before Opening Day, including a new top-10 food list, a look at the awesome game-used souvenirs I got in 2013 and plenty more before I shift my sights to 2014 and start sharing some of my plans. Thanks for reading, as always, and for visiting The Ballpark Guide.

Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory Visit

A genuine perk to visiting city after city as I travel around for The Ballpark Guide is getting to see so many new locations. While my visits to most cities consist of arriving, checking into my hotel, blogging, going to the game, blogging some more, sleeping and then departing, I’m occasionally able to do some exploring when my schedule allows it.

If you’re a longtime follower of this blog, you might remember some baseball-themed explorations such as the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame and Museum, the Little League World Series complex and checking out a bunch of NCAA baseball facilities. Non-baseball touristy things I’ve done include war ships, Super Bowl rings and choppers back in 2012.

This May, I visited Louisville to watch the Bats host the Pawtucket Red Sox at Louisville Slugger Field, and was lucky enough to have time to explore the city. As a huge boxing fan, the first stop on my agenda was the Muhammad Ali Center, a six-story museum dedicated to The Greatest. But since you’re probably reading this because you’re a baseball fan, I’ll share details about another exciting stop — the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory, which is just a mile from the ballpark.

If you’ve heard of the museum, you’ve likely seen a picture of the 68,000-pound bat, which definitely catches your eye as you approach:

louisville-slugger-museum-outdoors-front

Like my sensational visit to the Sam Bat factory in 2012, I got the opportunity to take a tour and see how bats are made. Unfortunately, however, Louisville Slugger doesn’t allow photographs in the factory, so you’ll have to settle for this semi-illicit photo that I took looking through the window from outside the building:

louisville-slugger-museum-outside-through-window

The tour was impressive. As the largest bat manufacturer in the world, it was fascinating to hear about how the various levels of bats are made. The Slugger bats you see for sale at Walmart? Let’s just say they aren’t made the same way — or from the same wood — as those custom ordered by today’s MLB stars. On our tour, we watched scores of bats being made for retailers and a smaller number being made to ship to MLB teams. We also heard funny anecdotes about past MLB greats who used the company’s bats. In today’s era of lucrative endorsement deals, you’d probably be amused to hear Ted Williams signed with Louisville Slugger for a set of golf clubs.

While I can’t share images from the factory tour, I do have a bunch of shots from the museum portion of my visit, which was equally impressive. First, though, I stopped in the huge gift shop and bought a T-shirt, a magnet and got an actual bat engraved with my brother’s name for his birthday. Here’s a look at part of the shop:

louisville-slugger-museum-gift-shop

Outside the shop is something you can stare at for a long time — it’s called The Signature Wall, and is made of wooden blocks featuring the name and signature of most of the MLB players who’ve signed contracts with Louisville Slugger. There’s also a Hall of Fame section, which notes that more than 80 percent of HOFers were under contract with the company. Here’s just a small snippet of The Signature Wall …

louisville-slugger-museum-signature-wall

… and a close-up of the HOF section, with some names you’ll likely recognize:

louisville-slugger-museum-hof-signatures

The museum itself had a wealth of displays, mannequins and, of course, bats:

louisville-slugger-museum-inside-main-room

There were life-size displays of notable Louisville Slugger stars, including Ken Griffey, Jr.:

louisville-slugger-museum-griffey-jr-statue

And Derek Jeter, whose face was repeatedly bashed by a kid with a replica bat just before I took this photo:

louisville-slugger-museum-jeter-statue

After spending an hour or so perusing all the displays, I relaxed for a minute in the dugout area:

louisville-slugger-museum-malcolm-dugout

(I don’t think I looked like a deer in the headlights the entire time.)

Before leaving, I checked out the coolest part of the museum — one that gave me the opportunity to actually hold a game-used bat from one of the biggest stars in MLB history. Visitors had to don a pair of batting gloves, but were then able to pick up and swing a bat belonging to one of the following players: Carlton Fisk, Mickey Mantle, Cal Ripken, Jr., David Ortiz, Derek Jeter or Joey Votto. It was an easy choice for me to pick Mantle’s bat:

louisville-slugger-museum-malcolm-mantle-bat

Whose bat would you pick? Let me know in the comments below.

And while you’re commenting, let me know how you’re getting through the baseball off-season. I’m taking advantage of the downtime to add more ballparks to my website. I’ve got about 20 more guides to complete before opening day. I’m also gearing up for some more off-season blog posts, including a few more recaps of my 2013 adventures, a look at some of the awesome game-used souvenirs I got, my third annual top 10 food list and plenty more.

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