I’d never been as far north in Michigan as Midland, which is in the Great Lakes area. That would change today. I checked out of my hotel in Lansing in the middle of the morning, and began the drive to Midland, home of the Great Lakes Loons and Dow Diamond. Like the Lugnuts, the Loons play in the Midwest League. They’re the A affiliate of the Los Angeles Dodgers and they were playing the South Bend Silver Hawks today.
The drive up to Midland was picturesque — lots of small towns and forests, similar in many ways to Canada. Midland itself is a pristine town. The major industry in town is Dow Chemical, and you can quickly tell the Dow family has a lot to do with the town’s image. Many different places — libraries, community areas, gardens, etc. — are named after the Dow family.
Speaking of Dow, I got to Dow Diamond about three hours before game time. There was a kids’ baseball clinic taking place on the field, so there was lots of activity around the ballpark. I opted to go to a nearby grocery store and buy some food for a picnic, and ate on the grass in front of the stadium, just to the left of the batter’s eye:
After lunch, I bought my ticket …
… and began to walk around the stadium’s exterior. Dow Diamond has several solar panels to harness the sun’s energy, which I thought was neat. I believe it’s the first ballpark I’ve seen that does such a thing, and since they were installed, the panels have generated roughly 127,000 kilowatt hours:
The place in which I ate lunch was actually the rear of the stadium. I think. When I walked around to the other side, there was another gate, but this was only for season ticket holders. There was also a huge team store, but it was closed until the gates opened:
At 1 p.m., the gates opened and I rushed in to see a picturesque ballpark. One of my favorite features is the two fire pits in the outfield concourse:
Before walking around too much, I watched Loons starter Gustavo Gomez warming up. This was his first start of the season, and I imagine he was hoping to improve his 12.00 ERA. (He didn’t.)
Yesterday, I saw the Lansing Lugnuts impressive kids’ play area. Dow Diamond’s was different, but equally impressive. It was play structure-style instead of inflatable slides and such, but it would soon be full and the kids looked to be having a great time:
In the above photo, you can see Dow’s chemical plant in the distance.
The park also features free Wi-Fi, so I tuned into a few minutes of the Blue Jays game while I was waiting for the Loons game to start:
Can you say, baseball nerd?
The Loons soon came onto the field and began signing. This picture makes it look like the players are part of a synchronized signing team:
Wherever you looked, there were ties to the LA Dodgers, despite being so far away from California. Here’s a banner on a light pole and a party deck named after Tommy LaSorda, who was on hand when Dow Diamond opened:
In the first inning, I was standing on the concourse behind first base, watching the action. I noticed a historical plaque, so I turned to look at it …
… and learned that Dow Chemical’s headquarters stood adjacent to the ballpar …
A heard a bang right behind me, and half turned to watch a foul ball fly past me and over the fence. An usher told me it was extremely close to hitting me, but I wasn’t worried about that — I was worried about getting the ball. A maintenance guy picked up the ball, which had landed in a service area below. And, after three tries to throw it up to me, he finally got it far enough:
It might be hard to tell, but it’s got a major scuff on the right side, which is where it skipped off the cement. And, this was my first game ball of 2011! (I had previously gotten a BP ball in Toronto and a bullpen ball in Lansing.) Anyway, back to the plaque that almost cost me an injury. When Dow’s headquarters was demolished, the bricks were saved, ground into dust and used to build Dow Diamond’s warning track. A neat historical tie to the community.
Because of my pre-game picnic, I didn’t get a meal at this ballpark. I did, however, get a freshly squeezed lemonade in a Loons cup:
Is it just me, or does the loon look flirtatious or smug? Maybe a little of both.
Pretty soon, this was the sight overhead:
And suddenly, the rain came. After a few minutes of sprinkling, an all-out storm hit the area:
The hail was nearly as large as marbles, and though everyone had gathered in the concourse, people were still soaking wet. Then, as quickly as it came, the rain left again and the sun came out. The field was in a bad way, however:
The PA announcer declared that the grounds crew would fix the field and the game would resume, and I spent a few minutes chatting back and forth on Twitter with someone from the Loons head office. I had a 2.5 hour drive ahead of me, but I stuck around, hoping to see the conclusion of the game. The grounds crew did a great job getting rid of all the standing water, but after 1.5 hours, there was still a lot to be done, and I made the decision to hit the road. This was the first ballgame I’d ever left early, but there was no guarantee the field could even be salvaged, and I had a long drive ahead.
Of course, the game was resumed about 30 minutes later, and Great Lakes lost 10-7. I saw the bulk of the action, though. Gomez struggled heavily in his first start, giving up three hits, four walks and six earned runs in just 2.2 innings. The outing upped his ERA to 15.88 — ouch!
I listened to a bit of the Loons game on the drive out of town, and made it to Grand Rapids around dinner time. Tomorrow I’d see the West Michigan Whitecaps take on the Fort Wayne TinCaps.
After a pair of games in Toronto, I set out early on Saturday morning to drive to Lansing, Michigan. The drive from Toronto to Lansing is roughly five hours, but with the Canadian long weekend just starting, the border was likely to be slow.
I crossed into the U.S. at the Sarnia border. The drive over the bridge took forever, and because of fog, there was absolutely no visibility:
Soon enough, I was into Michigan:
The border was mind-numbingly slow. Customs guards were checking the trunks of many cars, and when I finally got up to the booth, I had to show the guard the snacks in my cooler to prove it didn’t contain weapons of mass destruction. Nevertheless, I passed through without incident, and drove straight to Lansing. I was pretty excited for this game, as the Lugnuts are the A affiliate of the Blue Jays, so it’d be neat to see a bunch of future Jays. Last summer, I watched the Jays’ then-Short Season A affiliate, the Auburn Doubledays. If you’re in the New York State area, I definitely recommend checking out Falcon Park.
The Lugnuts play at Cooley Law School Stadium (perhaps the smartest ballpark name in baseball), which is adjacent to the campus of Michigan State University. The Spartans also share the stadium:
I always show up early, but even 1.5 hours before game time, there were a ton of people milling around. Why? Because it was one of the Lugnuts’ three bobblehead giveaway nights. I bought my ticket …
… and started my walking tour of the outside of the stadium. Because the facility is downtown, it’s surrounded by a sidewalk and you can see the field from many different places outside the fence:
After my tour, I got in line and waited. Though the facility is nice, it’s close to a homeless shelter so there were a number of homeless men sleeping on the benches around the park and going from fan to fan asking for money. I mean, it’s not the end of the world, but if that sort of stuff bothers you, you may find it a bit intimidating in front of the stadium at times.
After the long wait, the gates were opened and I got my bobblehead. Who was it? Check back soon for a quick update on the player who was featured on it. Once I got into the stadium, I took a walk around to check out the scenes. Here’s a panorama I shot soon after entering:
Cooley Law School Stadium has lots of places to watch the game. There are decks, picnic areas, grass berms and many different little spots. It’s pretty neat. I like moving around during the game, and this ballpark definitely is ideal for that. From top to bottom, here is one of the grass berms in the outfield, part of an extensive kids’ play area beyond left field, a picnic area in left-center and the walkway that shows the field, a first fence, a concourse, a second fence, the sidewalk and the road:
At low levels of pro ball, it’s typically easy to get a ton of autographs before the game. Lansing, however, was a bit different. The team has two players sign in the right field corner for about 20 minutes, but other than that, no one came to the fence to sign. I got both guys on a ball. (Their names escape me right now, and the ball’s in my car so I can’t check. I’ll blog about it and upload a photo later.) Here they are signing for some kids:
Pretty soon, the Lugnuts came out to throw. I got an up-close picture of Gustavo Pierre, who I think has the tools to reach the Majors:
While I was hanging out at the fence on the first base side, I spotted a ball just out of my reach:
It was directly below me, and short of jumping on the field, there was no way I could get it. After the starter’s bullpen session, Lansing’s pitching coach packed up the bullpen and because it was starting to rain, I figured I’d let him know about the hidden ball so it wouldn’t get soaked and ruined.
“Coach, there’s one here,” I said. He looked over, then picked it up. “Do you want it?” he asked. Of course! I think he appreciated that I wasn’t just demanding the ball like everyone else does. So, after getting one ball in Toronto, I got an official Midwest League ball. This is the first ball from this league in my collection:
By the time of the first pitch, the umbrellas were starting to come out. The rain fell steadily throughout most of the game, but never came down hard enough to warrant a stoppage. I normally like to sit in several different areas each game, but since every unoccupied seat was soaked, I mostly stood.
Eventually, I got my dinner — a Philly cheesesteak sandwich. The “cheese” was gross and unnecessary, but the steak itself was actually really tasty:
I also checked out the Lugnuts Hall of Fame area. I didn’t know that Carlos Beltran and Carlos Zambrano once played for this team:
The game itself was mental. Lansing scored a pair of runs in the first inning, but Bowling Green exploded with seven in the second. Lansing then responded by scoring runs in every inning but the eighth to win 13-9. The team combined for 36 hits, too, plus nine total walks. I think it’s safe to say these teams’ batters are ahead of the pitchers, development-wise. The Lugnuts have had a couple huge offensive games since then, too.
After the game, I watched the fireworks show and headed back to my hotel. In the morning, I’d head north to Midland, Michigan, to watch the Great Lakes Loons in what’s considered one of the best ballparks in the Minor Leagues.
A day after my first game of the season in Toronto, I was set for game #2. This time, the opponent would be the Astros in both teams’ first interleague game of the season.
I bought a ticket in the 100 Level of the outfield:
And lined up first to get in. I was first in line:
When the gates opened 40 minutes later, I once again rushed to look for BP balls, but there were none to be found today. At the conclusion of BP, I took a tour around to look at the Jays team shop:
Then, grabbed the usual Quaker Steak & Lube basket of wings. They’re overpriced at $11 (what isn’t in Toronto?) but they’re delicious. You get 10 wings and seven of my 10 were drumsticks, so there was lots to eat:
Meanwhile, Jo-Jo Reyes was in pursuit of his first win since 2008, and was pitching well:
He left with a lead, but Jon Rauch and Frank Francisco each laid eggs in relief, and the Jays managed to lose against one of the worst teams in baseball. Ugh.
Though the game ended on a low note, there was nothing that could dampen my excitement. In the morning, I would get up and drive to Lansing, MI, to watch the Jays A-ball team, the Lansing Lugnuts.
Check back soon to read about that adventure.
Finally, it was here. Last Thursday was the first day of my first major roadtrip of 2011, and I was pumped.
The plan was to drive to Toronto on Thursday, check in to my downtown hotel and watch the Jays play the Rays that night. I booked the Hyatt Regency on King Street through a discount website for a pretty good deal. Typically, when you use these sites, you get thrown in some random room that has a view of the building beside it. When I checked in, however, I was told I’d like the view. When I got up to my room, this is what I saw:
I caught up on some work for a bit, then headed down to Rogers Centre about two hours before game time. Since I’ve been a bunch of times, I didn’t get too carried away with photos. But, I did take my usual ticket photo:
Of course, by the time I put the camera away, there were three people ahead of me, but no biggie. I had about 30 minutes of listening to some Rays fan in front of me telling two other people who he was the only real Rays fan and everyone else was a bandwagon jumper. He was also wearing a batting glove. I was tempted to tell him he had missed the start of BP.
Being early paid off. When they opened the doors at 5:30 p.m., I ran to the left field corner and found a gift:
Awesome! I didn’t get anything else during batting practice. It was one of those odd BPs — not a lot of balls came even near where we were. After BP wrapped up, I took a tour around the concourse to see what was new this season. The BlackBerry Studio is new for 2010, and it was neat to watch hosts Jamie Campbell and former Jay Gregg Zaun getting ready to go live:
See Zaun’s catchers mitt in the above photo? Here’s a close up, which shows his stitched-on name. I never saw him using it on air, but it was cool to see:
Also, it was funny to see him sitting there in a suit, about to go on TV, chewing away. Here’s his tin of Copenhagen:
I watched the Sportsnet guys for a bit, then walked to a section above the field to watch starter Ricky Romero start stretching. If you didn’t know otherwise, you’d swear he was having a quick nap:
He soon moved to the bullpen, where I watched him warm up:
My ticket was for the 500 Level, but I wanted to stick around the 100 Level and watch the game from beyond the railing at the top of the section. During my travels, I snuck in behind the batter’s eye and took a shot through a hole in it:
I should note it was neat to see Eric Thames in his first week of MLB action:
I saw him last fall with the AA New Hampshire Fisher Cats. It was also great to see the Pat Gillick and Roberto Alomar Hall of Fame banners, which I hadn’t seen yet. Both guys are the first Jays to enter the Hall, and they’ll do so later this summer:
Time for some dinner! Though I was tempted to get my usual Quaker Steak & Lube wings, which are amazing, I opted for a big sandwich at Shopsy’s deli. It was called the Bill Cosby Triple Decker, and had both corned beef and pastrami, and came with a pickle and coleslaw for $11:
From the side, this monstrously delicious beast looked like this:
You have to go into a full Quasimodo hunch to eat something like this, but it was worth it.
As for the game, Romero was solid with six Ks in seven innings. There wasn’t much offense for most of the game until catcher J.P. Arencibia broke things open with a two-run shot in the seventh:
I was able to get this clear shot of Arencibia because from the seventh inning on, I was sitting behind the Jays dugout. Previously, I’d been sitting on a chair behind the railing at the top of the 100 Level, and a nice lady approached me, asking if I wanted a better ticket. She had her grandson at the game, and he was tired so they were heading home. She handed me two $60 tickets for the 12th row behind the home dugout. Instead of taking her seats, I just found an open area in that section, but it was awfully nice of her.
Final score: Toronto 3, Tampa Bay 2. (The Jays also had a home run from Juan Rivera.)
After the game, I went down to the dugout and had an usher snap this photo of me:
(Of course, being a Rogers Centre usher, he had to warn me about leaning on the dugout.)
Check back soon for the details of my second game in Toronto, and then my games in Lansing and many more!
A couple days ago, I went to the mailbox and saw a nondescript envelope addressed to me. I got the impression it was some sort of junk mail wanting me to sign up for a credit card, but I opened it anyway.
Instead of junk, it was this:
Awesome! I usually buy tickets at the box office before the game, but since there’s no shipping charge for tickets bought online, I figured I’d give myself a fun day at the mailbox.
This ticket goes well with this one, which arrived a few days earlier:
I bought low-end tickets for both games, and I’ll see how easy it is to move from section to section. I know what the ushers are like in Toronto, but I’ve heard Detroit’s ushers aren’t too bothersome. So, if I need a more expensive ticket, I’ll buy it for my second game in each city.
After debating going to Syracuse yesterday morning for yesterday afternoon’s game against Rochester, and checking the weather forecast over and over again, I decided to chance it. The forecast called for showers on and off throughout the day, but the afternoon was supposed to be a bit better. I hopped in the car and took off.
Do you know the ins and outs of a Major League or Minor League ballpark and want to share your knowledge with the world?
As I write this, I’m still debating going to Syracuse in the morning for the Chiefs game against Rochester at 2 p.m. It’s a big driving commitment, but I’m anxious to get one game under my belt in 2011. Plus, as you may have read here, I’d like to get a bit more information about Alliance Bank Stadium before I write its official guide for my website, TheBallparkGuide.com.