When we woke up in Buffalo on the morning of August 7 last summer, it was the start of another exciting day. Day one of our August 2010 baseball roadtrip was down, but there were still a bunch of glorious days ahead. The plan was to have a quick breakfast in Buffalo, then make the three hour drive to Cleveland. Given this was a Saturday, the Indians played an evening game, but the plan was to get to Cleveland before noon, then have lunch and explore the city a bit.
another Twins uniform shot (that’s Denard Span), a panorama from the top of the 100 Level, a look away from the stadium at downtown C-town and a sneak peek at the players’ parking lot.
I’ve been working with Windows Movie Maker to develop slideshows of the ballparks I visited last summer. Unfortunately, I didn’t shoot any video at any of the stadiums. From now on, I’ll be shooting HD video of each stadium and editing my footage into a video guide to share on my website, TheBallparkGuide.com, as well as this blog and YouTube.
I was pretty darned excited on the morning of August 6, 2010. Why? This day was to be the first day of a six-day MLB and MiLB roadtrip and my wife would be accompanying me. What a good sport she is! The plan was to hit Buffalo that night for the AAA Bisons game, then catch two Indians games in Cleveland, a New York-Penn League game in Niles, Ohio (the Mahoning Valley Scrappers) and a pair of games in Toronto on the way home. Pretty awesome.
I’d seen Buffalo’s Coca-Cola Field once before, but I’d never been inside for a game. I’ve also read a lot about this stadium being pretty nice, and soon found out that I wouldn’t be disappointed. Some random facts about Coca-Cola Field that I didn’t initially know:
- It was opened in 1988 with the hope that a MLB team would relocate to Buffalo.
- With a capacity of 18,025, it’s the biggest stadium in the Minors.
- It’s had five different names in its life. The funniest was 1994′s Downtown Ballpark.
- As of the 2011 season, it’ll have the largest LED scoreboard in MiLB.
Anyway, back to my visit. Coca-Cola Field is located in downtown Buffalo. On a game night, as you get close to the field, you’ll see a ton of fans out and about in the area. There are lots of parking options downtown, and many are overpriced. Deals, however, can be had if you’re patient. We managed to park in a guarded, covered lot for $5.
Here was the view as soon as we stepped out of our lot:
I should preface this day’s breakdown by mentioning the hotel I stayed in the night before. After the Auburn Doubledays game at Falcon Park, I stayed at the Genessee Grande hotel in Syracuse. I booked this hotel on Hotwire, and after losing with my previous night’s Hotwire booking, I definitely won with this one. After Hotwire revealed my hotel as the Genessee Grande, I looked it up and read somewhere that it’s apparently where visiting teams stay when they’re in Syracuse to play against the Orange. When I got there, I have to say I was pretty impressed. This hotel is beautiful and I made out well by scoring it for roughly $100 on Hotwire.
But back to the morning of July 18. I chilled in my room for a few hours in the morning because the Syracuse Chiefs weren’t playing until 2 p.m. I like to get to the ballpark early, as I’ve mentioned, so I checked out around 11:30 a.m. and headed over to Alliance Bank Stadium.
The morning after I watched the Rochester Red Wings at Frontier Field, I woke up at my Rochester Extended Stay America hotel, showered carefully to avoid touching anything and headed out. Auburn is less than two hours’ drive from Rochester, and with an evening game in Auburn, I had most of a day to kill.
I began the day by destroying an Italian sausage skillet at Denny’s. It’s one of those moves that seems brilliant at the time, but one you regret pretty soon after.
I’ve been to more baseball games that I can remember, dating back to 1988. I’ve been to Toronto Blue Jays games at old Exhibition Stadium and SkyDome/Rogers Centre. I’ve been to dozens and dozens of AAA Ottawa Lynx games in Ottawa, Ontario. I’ve even been to a couple World Baseball Classic games in Toronto.
That said, I was pretty stoked the morning of July 16, 2010 as I loaded the car for my first baseball roadtrip of the summer. Why? Because this would be the first baseball stadium I would visit for my new website, TheBallparkGuide.com.
The plan was to be away from home for two nights, hitting three Minor League Baseball stadiums on my three-city journey in New York State. Rochester, the farthest destination, would be my first stop.
I headed out late morning and the plan was to cross into the United States at the Ogdensburg crossing. That plan was all well and good until I got to the 1,000 Island Parkway, which had slowed to a turtle’s pace. It was a bad sign when a bunch of bikers beside me had turned off their motorcycles and were inching them forward by foot.
Here’s a shot I took of my Garmin Nuvi 255W GPS after a 30 minutes on the parkway. It was stop and go for 70 minutes, and I should’ve taken another shot of my GPS screen. Anyway, after 30 minutes, you’ll see my overall average was a frustrating 1 km/h. Awesome.
After I paid to use the bridge (ugh), I passed successfully into the United States without much of a hangup at the border. I passed through Ogdensburg, Watertown and Syracuse and had to make a quick stop at the Waterloo Premium Outlets, just west of the ‘Cuse. The Under Armour store at the outlet has some ridiculous deals.
When I was there, I spotted this car in the parking lot:
A little while later, I arrived in Rochester and made it to Frontier Field‘s neighborhood. As an aside, I’ve got to say how awesome it is to finally have a GPS. After years of thinking it was ridiculous to have someone tell you where to turn (and years of frustratingly getting lost in new cities) I decided to get a system prior to this first roadtrip. It was awesome. I know this should come as no surprise, but it led me directly to the stadium. And when one of the approaching roads was completely torn up due to construction, my trusty GPS gave me an alternate route.
Parking at Frontier Field is a bit iffy. There’s a gigantic lot adjacent to the stadium, but it’s a trick. Most of the lot is for Kodak employees, as there’s a huge Kodak office almost across the street from Frontier Field. After driving into the lot, then doing the embarrassing reverse back into the street after the gate wouldn’t open because I didn’t have a pass, I drove around the block a time or two until I found the entrance to the stadium lot.
I loaded up my backpack with some ballpark essentials — camera, ball glove, balls to get signed, printed rosters of each team and some bottles of water — and headed to the will call ticket window. Because this was my first roadtrip for my website, I was a bit giddy ahead of time and bought a ticket online. This proved unnecessary, as it’s pretty easy to buy walk-up tickets to Minor League games. Anyway, I picked up my ticket and quickly headed to the side street along the stadium where I took this picture:
I love walking around stadiums and documenting my walk with photos. I snapped this photo, showing Frontier Field from a unique angle. It’s hard to tell it’s even a ballpark from this photo. It looks like it could be a factory or a train station, I think:
I kept walking and took this picture of the great Bob Gibson on a lightpost outside the stadium. I didn’t even know Gibson played in Rochester, so learning a bit more about the Red Wings history was cool to see:
My trip was looking up already. I walked to the back of the stadium, peeked through a gate and took these photos:
You have to love stadiums at which you can watch the on-field happenings before the gates are open. I hate how you’re not allowed in Minor League Baseball stadiums during batting practice, but it’s neat to be able to watch a few minutes of it, at least. I kept on walking and took this shot of the Kodak building, which stands pretty tall in Rochester’s downtown core:
A moment later, I was roughly behind Frontier Field‘s centerfield, and took these photos of the stadium’s rear sign and gate: I then hurried back to the stadium’s main gate. It was largely empty when I first arrived, but it was now starting to get crowded. I got in line about 25 people back and couldn’t resist buying a program for $1. $1! This program was packed, too. Lots of cool stuff to read about the team while I waited. When the gates finally opened an hour before game time, I ran in and took a bunch of photos.
Here’s a pretty neat looking bird in the main concourse. (He’s a red wing, I suppose.)
And here’s a horse made out of baseball gloves:
The horse was pretty neat, though all the gloves were covered in people’s names. I’m not sure if this was done prior to it being built or by vandals after it was put on display.
I checked out the Rochester team shop and bought a team logo ball for $6. I planned to get it signed by as many players as possible, before and after the game. I headed to the left field corner where there’s a grass hill/picnic area. I love being one of the first people in a nearly empty ballpark. Here’s a look back at the home plate area, showing just how empty Frontier Field still was at this time:
And here’s a pretty pristine-looking outfield. You’ve got to admit that Frontier Field is beautiful. It’s only a AAA ballpark, but its quality is Big League.
As I made my way around the stadium, the stands were still pretty empty. This early, people were congregating in the ballpark’s concourse and getting food. Here are a few looks at some almost empty stands:
A little under an hour before first pitch, the Red Wings have one player sign autographs in the concourse. I headed that way and found it was outfielder Brian Dinkelman. Dinkekman went to McKendree College, where he still holds 25 of the school’s all-time baseball records. I got his signature on my team ball.
After getting my autograph, I made my wall back out to the field to find my seat. I was in the 12th row of section 110, which is on the first base side of home plate, next to the Red Wings dugout. After getting my bearings, I gathered around Rochester’s dugout where a number of players were signing autographs. I added a few more signatures to my team ball, then returned to my seat for the anthem and pregame festivities. As you can see from the photo below, I was nice and close to the action:
Did you know that Baseball America named Rochester as Baseball City USA? I didn’t.
By now, the once-empty stands were getting pretty full:
It was a rough first half-inning for Rochester, which gave up one run on four hits. Frontier Field has a pretty basic scoreboard, but it gets the job done:
I snapped this photo during the bottom half of the first inning, showing the action on the field, the fans and the Kodak building looming in the background:
And by the time the first inning was over, I’d had enough of my seat. Crammed up against a couple nerds talking about work and checking their BlackBerrys every two minutes? Ugh. I love moving around during ballgames, so I was on the move again. Between innings, I hit the concession stand where I bought buffalo chicken mac and cheese. That’s right. It’s a big bowl of mac and cheese with chunks of chicken, Frank’s Red Hot Sauce and bleu cheese dressing. It was amazing!
I have to say that Frontier Field might have the best food you’ll find at a Major League or Minor League park. I’ll correct myself if I’m ever proven otherwise, but Rochester serves up some amazing grub. In addition to typical ballpark food, there was a gluten-free vendor, a variety of Italian food and a bunch of other great-looking stuff. The mac and cheese filled me up, but next time I go back to Rochester, I’m going with an empty stomach.
I ate my dinner in the upper deck behind the first base line. When I was done, I snapped this photo of the sun setting on right field, with some of downtown Rochester in the background:
Then, it was down to the right field corner where I took a look at the bullpens. As you can see from the thermometer, it was 77 degrees at 7:44 p.m. — a pretty nice night for ball:
Yes, I was watching the game despite all my walking around. Pat Neshek came on in relief in the game’s late innings. Neshek is the best autograph signer in the game today and a real friend to the baseball card hobby. Here’s a none-too-good photo of Neshek pitching:
By now, I was over on the third base side where I took this zoomed-in look of a concession stand in the right fielder corner — just what every growing child needs: Fried dough:
Off to the right field corner I went to spend an inning on the grass hill:
After sitting on the grass, I settled into a fairly deserted row in the right field corner. I like my legroom, and I despise being crammed into a row with other fans. Plus, if a foul ball headed toward this section, I’d have a good chance of getting it:
By now, the game was getting late and it was getting dark. The window for good photos was pretty much up, so I just enjoyed the remainder of the action. Indianapolis won an offensive battle 10-7. Following the game, the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra put on a show that was timed with fireworks. Not my kind of music, but it was pretty neat to see. Here’s a shot of the RPO, including some members clad in Red Wings jerseys, warming up:
After the game, I ran back to the main concourse outside the stadium and waited near the players’ parking lot. I read some great advice about autograph collecting at Frontier Field on SportsCollectors.net, and quickly found the area was littered with other autograph collectors. I grabbed a bunch more Red Wings on my team ball and ended up with about 10 signatures, give or take.
Afterward, it was back to my car and onto my hotel. I booked my hotel through Hotwire. Ever use that site? Its premise is you get your hotel cheaper than anywhere else, and I’ve typically had pretty good luck with it. You pick how many stars you want, and in what area, and the catch is you don’t know what hotel you’ll get until you book and pay. In this way, it’s a gamble. It’s sweet when you make out better than expected and miserable when you don’t.
On this night, I was headed to Extended Stay America. Huh? This wasn’t a chain I’d heard of, and I’d read it was located in a strip mall. That turned out to be untrue; it was only beside a strip mall. I cautiously checked in and hopped into the elevator. I have a theory about hotels. If the elevator is clean and not shady, the guest rooms are nice. If the elevator is gross, the rooms will be, too. The Extended Stay elevator was neither clean not secure feeling. You know those elevators that feel like they’re about to drop? This was one of them. Anyway, the room proved to be fairly plain and while it wasn’t exactly clean, it was passable for around $60. The downside was its single bed (ugh) and while it had a full kitchen, it wasn’t anything I’d consider putting edibles near.
The end of an excellent first day. On to Auburn’s Falcon Park tomorrow!