Getting to Salisbury, MD from Hagerstown took three hours and provided plenty of picturesque scenery, including a drive over the enormous Bay Bridge at Annapolis. Because I’d spent time blogging on the morning of June 28, I didn’t leave until nearly noon so I arrived about 3 p.m. for the 7 p.m. game.
Though based in Salisbury, the Shorebirds are known as “Delmarva,” which stands for Delaware, Maryland, Virginia. They play in the Single-A South Atlantic League, as did the team I watched a day earlier, the Hagerstown Suns. To read about that game, and my pursuit of getting Bryce Harper’s autograph, click here.
I checked out Delmarva’s Arthur W. Perdue Stadium on Google Maps, and it looked as though there was lots of open space beyond the outfield fence. So, as usual, I decided to go about an hour before the gates opened and see if I could get a ball during batting practice.
Here’s what the area looks like:
And here’s what I found about a minute after getting there:
It was like shooting fish in a barrel. Within a minute or two, I had three balls …
… and kept finding them about as fast as possible. In 10 minutes, I had 10 total, despite not actually witnessing a single one come over the fence. To make a long story short, I finished with an even 12, which is the most I’ve ever got in one game. With the gates about to open, I hurried around to the front of the stadium and took a peek at the players’ lot:
(I could do an entire post on the rims of Minor League Baseball players). Then, photographed the front of the stadium …
… and got my ticket:
There weren’t a ton of fans waiting to get in, so the concourse was very open at 6 p.m.:
The Shorebirds have an impressive alumni list, and their banners are displayed throughout the concourse. Here’s the pre-caveman look Jayson Werth:
This is a look from the third base side …
and here’s one from the right field corner:
I spent a bit of time in the air conditioned team shop, as I was dying from the heat after being in the full sun during BP:
Then, went to watch some players sign autographs around the Shorebirds third base-side dugout:
Arthur W. Perdue has a giant, multi-level picnic deck for groups along the first base line:
There wasn’t any group in this section the entire game, so it remained closed. Often, these groups areas are great places to sit and watch, but are routinely empty or nearly empty. I think it’d be neat if the team opened them to all the fans in the event there isn’t a group. When there’s a group that’s bought space here, by all means, block it off from the rest of the fans. But it wouldn’t hurt anyone to allow the average person to enjoy the game here, too.
Around this time, I met a longtime season ticket holder who was friendly enough to give me some tips about the stadium. We talked about baseball for a while, and I went to visit the Maryland Eastern Shore Baseball Hall of Fame, which is inside the stadium. I didn’t end up staying long, but if you ever take in a Shorebirds game, give yourself plenty of time to check out the museum. It’s amazing. It focuses on ball players from the area, and there’s a ton of historic memorabilia:
Upon the season ticket holder’s advice I went up to the club level, which has a good concession stand and a place to watch the game:
This is my view from up here:
I checked out the first few innings of action, capturing this shot of Mike Flacco. He’s Delmarva’s cleanup hitter and the brother of Baltimore Ravens QB Joe:
I then went back down to the main concourse where I got a chicken tender basket, which was a big mistake. I should’ve tried the “better” food up top, but that’ll be on the list for next visit. The chicken was all right, I suppose, but pretty dry and there was no sauce that I could find:
I spent a little time down the third base line with this view:
In the ninth inning, I decided to duck out to see if there was a chance of finding the home run ball hit by Jeremy Nowak in the second inning. It was highly unlikely, but I thought I’d take five minutes to walk around behind the left field fence and see for myself. Here’s what I saw:
Yep, there it was! I picked it up and had the first-ever home run ball in my collection:
All in all, a very good day: A great drive to this area, which is close to the ocean, 13 balls, and a nice stadium to tour.
When I got back to my hotel, I was regretting not checking to see if the home run was significant for Nowak. So, I took a look at the box score and saw that it was his first career HR at the SAL level. He began the season in the New York-Penn League, where he had two, but was called up to Delmarva and the home run came in just his fourth game. Had I known this while still at the ballpark, I would’ve got in touch with the team and asked if he wanted the ball back. I missed out on an opportunity, but sent the team a message on Twitter afterward, so hopefully, I’ll hear back.
As much as I’m excited to have my first career HR ball, if getting the ball back would mean something to Nowak, I’d be happy to do it.
Harpermania, otherwise known as my visit to see the Hagerstown Suns, began about 2 p.m. on June 27. I’d been in my hotel all morning and was getting a little stir-crazy. So, I decided to go out and grab some lunch, then check out Municipal Stadium, home of the Suns. I didn’t expect to see much going on five hours before first pitch, but I wondered if I’d be able to find a ball beyond the outfield fence.
So far, I’ve managed 12 balls in four games, and wanted that streak to continue. More importantly, however, this would be my first game in the South Atlantic League, and I really wanted a SAL ball to add to my collection of balls from different leagues.
Getting a ball in this manner, however, would prove impossible. Beyond the outfield fence at Municipal Stadium stands a giant fence that would be tough to clear. Now, I’m sure Harper can do it in BP, but it wouldn’t be an easy task. Here’s the fence:
So, no balls. I took another brief look around and headed back to my hotel to wait for a couple more hours.
About 5 p.m., I returned to the ballpark and went back behind the fence, where I noticed this:
It was an old, scuffed ball with part of its leather missing. I didn’t bother picking it up, nor did I find any other balls back here.
Here’s another shot of the fence that shows just how high it is:
There’s a road just beyond the fence, which is likely the reason for a fence so tall. I found a gate in right field that was open enough to watch batting practice from afar:
There was a ball laying near the fence post, and while I really wanted one, it was a little risky to walk in and get it. After a few minutes of watching with about 10 other fans, a stadium guy who took his job way too seriously came and closed the gate on us, saying, “Show’s over.” I watched for a few minutes longer through the fence (strictly out of principle), then turned to the coolest attraction in the area:
Want to guess who it belongs to? Yep, it’s Harper’s truck. I saw this truck parked discretely (as if the thing could ever be discrete) behind the grounds crew’s hut. The other players all parked in the lot in front of the stadium, but Harper gets hounded so much that he obviously parks back here.
I should note that once I saw this truck (and confirmed it was Harper’s due to its Nevada plates), I was unsure about posting these photos. I didn’t want to infringe on his privacy and show everyone what he’s driving. I Googled “Bryce Harper truck” and there are news stories, blogs, YouTube clips and all sorts of stuff online, including photos, about his truck. So, it’s not as though I’m breaking new ground here.
All that said, look at this bad boy:
By the way, it’s a 2011 Toyota Tundra completely customized.
Eventually, I returned back to the front of the stadium and took a parking lot panorama …
… then bought my ticket:
There were still about 30 minutes to go before the gates opened, so I lined up and waited. Season ticket holders get in 15 minutes before the rest of the crowd, and you should’ve seen the hubbub it caused. I mean, it’s like this in most stadiums, but people are so bitter. There was a solid 15 minutes’ worth of grumbling, complaining and questioning from the time the gates opened for the season ticket holders. Old lady behind me kept asking rhetorical questions, including, “Why can’t they just let everyone in early?”
I turned around: “It’s a matter of insurance. If you go in before you’re allowed, and hurt yourself, the team might not be insured because fans weren’t supposed to be there.” It’s the same reason you can’t go into the bank five minutes early. Rules are rules.
Anyway, bitter, annoying people aside, the gates did indeed open when they were supposed to, and I went in. Normally, I take a quick tour to get my bearings, but this time, I wanted to get straight to the Suns clubhouse area to try to get Harper to sign something. Not that this idea was original — everyone else went for it, too.
I was in a good position, or so I thought, to get an autograph. Over the next 30 minutes, players from both sides (the Suns were playing the Lakewood Blueclaws, the Phillies’ affiliate) came out and signed some autographs. No Harper. People were getting agitated. Here’s where I was standing:
The players come out of the clubhouses on the right and make their way past you to the dugouts.
As much as people wanted Harper, there was an equal enthusiasm for the Suns’ starter, who was Hagerstown on a rehab start. Who was it? None other than former Yankee Chien-Ming Wang. This was his first appearance in the Washington Nationals organization since joining the franchise, and people were ecstatic. There was a sizable Taiwanese media contingent and a ton of fans who’d flown from Taiwan. I asked a couple how long it took, and they said 24 hours. Being a rehab start, Wang was scheduled to pitch just three innings — talk about dedicated fans!
Soon, Wang came out to stretch …
… and his fan club took photos while being photographed by Taiwanese media:
By about 6:40 p.m., almost all of the players were out on the field, and stretched up:
Wang started to toss under the watchful eye of the media:
And still, no Harper.
Here’s what I hate about autograph collectors: They make life a living hell for guys like Harper. Yes, the kid is a public figure, and yes, he has an obligation to his fans. But you know a huge percentage of the autographs he signs are going on eBay within 24 hours, and he knows it, too. “But he’s a millionaire,” people say, “Why should he care?” Would you want someone profiting off your name without being compensated for it?
The longer Harper didn’t appear, the more angry people became. A minute earlier, they would’ve hand-cleaned his jockstrap for a signature, calling him “Mr. Harper” and “sir” while they did it. Now, it was, “Who does he think he is, staying in the clubhouse?” He’s staying there to keep the heck away from you vultures!
(And before you lump me in with these people, hear me out: I don’t sell autographs and I am polite. I say please and thank you, and if a guy doesn’t sign for me, I don’t start hating him. Sure, I’d love a Harper autograph, but if he doesn’t sign, my world’s not going to end.)
One final rant about this: People have elaborate schemes to get him to sign. Many use their kids. I heard one guy telling his five year old how he’d buy the kid the “biggest ice cream ever” if the kid could get Harper to sign. Others drop items at the player’s feet so he’ll pick them up. Others justify their actions, saying, “He asked for this life.” Freaking brutal, people.
I guess, all this to say I feel bad for Harper and those like him. He’s a prodigious talent and has been in an intense spotlight since he was a kid. Wouldn’t you think that in his first year of pro ball, he’d rather be out stretching and playing catch with his teammates? Instead, he’s hiding in the clubhouse until the last possible second. Sad.
At 7 p.m., Harper emerged and the crowd went bananas. Here’s my first look at him:
He walked right by me …
… and signed for a handful of people down the line. I scrambled to get near him, but wasn’t able to get close enough. I did get close enough, however, for a nice picture:
After signing maybe 25-30 autographs, he went into the dugout and the crowd dispersed. I took this opportunity to go check out Municipal Stadium’s team shop.
There were overpriced Harper T-shirts and jerseys. T-shirts cost $27, which seems a little much for a Single-A shirt, and jerseys were $200! (I didn’t see one single person in the crowd wearing a jersey.)
When the game begun, I walked around to a picnic area down the third base line and looked back at the Suns dugout to see Harper:
Here’s a panorama from the area:
So far, I hadn’t done well with my two goals for the game: Get an SAL ball and get Harper’s signature. I decided to see what I could do about goal #1 by taking a quick look around the picnic deck, which had lots of places a ball could be trapped. About five seconds after starting to look, here’s what I saw:
It’s an Official South Atlantic League ball, and the first such ball in my collection:
So far, my collection includes balls from the Major Leagues, Eastern League, Midwest League, International League, New York-Penn League and now the South Atlantic League. I couldn’t be more excited!
I sat in a few different areas throughout the game, and despite Municipal Stadium being one of the oldest ballparks I’ve attended in a while, it was neat. There are some drawbacks, but lots of perks, too. The menu looked impressive, with a wide range of items. I decided to skip a meal, however, as the thought of another consecutive day of ballpark food wasn’t really appealing.
Here’s a panorama I took from behind home plate:
Wang’s Taiwan contingent remained faithful throughout the game …
… and even gathered in the parking lot late in the game in the hopes of meeting him.
After the game wrapped up, I waited with other fans along the first base-side fence, hoping that Harper would sign more autographs. Somehow, he pulled a total disappearing act; none of us saw him walk by, but pretty soon, the field and dugout were completely empty. Obviously, there’s no tunnel connecting the dugout and clubhouse, so he either left way early (and none of us noticed) or he hunkered down in the dugout, out of sight, until everyone left.
Anyway, when it was clear he wasn’t going to walk by, I went out into the parking lot and milled around the entrance to the stadium, where the Taiwanese fans were hoping to see Wang. I waited maybe 10 minutes, and a staff member walked by and told he Wang wouldn’t come out through this door.
I figured I’d just head back to my hotel for the night, but then had a better idea.
Then I had the thought of going back to the rear parking lot to see if Harper would sign. I decided that if there were others there, I’d wait with them. If no one was there, I’d let Harper be. There was just one guy standing around with his daughter, so I waited to see what would happen. Maybe 20 minutes later, or about 40 minutes after the game ended, the rear door opened and a clubhouse attendant stuck his head out. “Sorry, guys, he’s not signing tonight,” he told us. Harper emerged a second later and it was cool to see him so close.
He went straight to his truck and met with a couple buddies for a minute. Then, one of the guys said, “I’ll let you sign for these guys and then they can go on their way,” and Harper nodded.
He signed a pair of autographs for the first guy, then I asked if he would mind signing a ball for me. He nodded again. I didn’t want to look like a professional autograph seeker, so I asked if he’d make the ball out to me. I spelled my name for him and told him I’d come all the way from Canada.
“Cool. Thanks for coming,” he said, and handed my newly signed ball back to me.
He was really polite — quiet, but polite. People rag on him for having a supposed attitude. I read an interview with his dad, who said he taught all his kids to “be like John Wayne on the baseball field,” and that’s what Harper is. Call it what you want; he’s immensely talented and confident in his skills. Don’t forget he’s only 18, too. That’s what people forget when they criticize people younger than them.
Getting his autograph made my day, and is the highlight of my trip thus far. I liked what I read about this kid when I first read that Sports Illustrated cover article two years ago, and now I’m an even bigger fan.
Thank you, Mr. Harper, for taking the time to sign and best of luck in your career. Don’t let the idiots who complain about you get you down.
Oh, and here’s the ball:
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And with that public service announcement done, I’m off to Arthur W. Perdue Stadium to watch the Delmarva Shorebirds!
After a great experience at Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen, it was time to take a step up the Baltimore Orioles organizational food chain with a stop in Bowie, MD. Pronounced “Boowie,” this team is called the Baysox and is the AA affiliate of the Orioles. They play in the Eastern League, and this is the fourth Eastern League ballpark I’ve visited. (I should hit five more later this summer.)
As great as baseball road trips are, I’ve found in the past it’s easy to experience a bit of a letdown three or four days in. There’s lots of driving, lots of ballpark food and late nights. Sometimes, all this can combine to make you feel a little lethargic, and I was determined not to have that happen in Bowie.
I found the stadium easily, parked for free and took a quick shot of the front:
Then, I took my usual walk behind the outfield fence to try to find a ball. Up to this point, I’d gotten at least one ball in each of my three games and 10 total. It’d be nice to keep that streak intact for a few days longer.
On my way back, I could see the action on the field:
I stopped briefly to take a shot of the players’ lot:
Then, quickly found two balls; an Eastern League one and an MLB one:
Further searching yielded nothing, so I returned to the front of the stadium, took this photo and bought my ticket:
The pavilion in front of the ballpark was pretty crowded. Why? Because it was a team signing day; everyone but the starting pitcher was set up at tables throughout the concourse, and you could walk from table to table to get autographs. Pretty cool. Here’s what it looked like:
This is another reason I love Minor League Baseball. If this type of promotion happened in the Bigs, the place would be bonkers. You’d get about two autographs in an hour, and spend the rest of the time crammed in line and being jostled by annoying, middle-aged men trying to get autographs to sell on eBay. Here, you get the chance to talk to the players if you like, line up for about 15 seconds per guy, and move on. It’s perfect.
I got the entire team (except the starting pitcher) on a ball, which I’ll photograph and blog about at a later date. The guys were pretty friendly, especially manager Gary Kendall, who I talked to for a few minutes. I was wearing my Aberdeen IronBirds cap, and he managed the IronBirds over the last few seasons, so we talked about that. The team also has former Big Leaguers Denny Hocking and Einar Diaz as coaches.
After the signing, I went out onto the field, which was open for fans until 45 minutes before first pitch. This is the second field I’ve been on this summer; the first was in Erie, another Eastern League team. Fans were playing catch and it was neat to walk around out there:
Just before the time was up, I went back up to get a shot of the crowded playing surface:
With some time to kill before first pitch, I took in the various sights of the stadium, including a kids’ play area, complete with inflatable games and a merry-go-round:
Today’s opponent was the Binghamton Mets, a team I’ll see on the last day of this current road trip. A few of the guys were signing and others were warming up, so I went to check it out. This is Allan Dykstra (no relation to Lennie):
And this is Jordany Valdespin. I’m pleased with how this photo turned out:
Finally, here’s manager Wally Backman, who played for the Mets in the 1980s:
Today’s weather was hot and sunny, so I wanted to stay in the shade as much as possible. There isn’t a ton of it at Prince George’s Stadium, but I found a covered picnic area down the third base line. It was mostly empty, and I just sat on a table with a good view of the action:
After a while, I took a wander back around the ballpark to watch from behind home plate:
It was after 3 p.m., and I still hadn’t had lunch. Don’t get me wrong — ballpark food is cool. But after eating it daily for a few days, you get to start dreading it. A lot of it’s tasty, but most of it so heavy that it gets a bit gross after a while. That said, I was curious about the cheese-stuffed, Old Bay-covered pretzel. I love Old Bay seasoning, and in prime seafood territory, it was cool they used the seasoning even without seafood. I’m happy to report this was a tasty snack:
The sun started to subside around the fifth inning, so I went down to field level and found a spot down the third base line with this view:
Once there, I just relaxed and watched the game. I’d made good notes for my website earlier, as the gates opened 1.5 hours before first pitch because of the autograph signing. As a result, I had a lot of time to just enjoy some baseball, which is exactly what I did. After the game, kids and parents were allowed to run the bases, though I resisted the temptation.
I took one last look around the stadium, noting a neat feature. The press box area is open, and relatively low to the field. As there’s no window protecting it, the wall in front of the desks has seen some damage from foul balls:
A unique touch!
Right after the game, I made the drive north to Hagerstown, MD. I didn’t have a game planned until the following day, when I’d head to Municipal Stadium to catch teen phenom Bryce Harper!
I couldn’t arrange a late checkout in Harrisburg on the night of June 24, so I made the drive to Aberdeen, MD, and arrived in town about five hours before the Aberdeen IronBirds were set to play the Staten Island Yankees. As I was staying in a Super 8 for the night (ugh) I didn’t want to hang out at my motel all afternoon. Instead, I went to Ripken Stadium to check out the enormous Ripken complex.
The IronBirds are owned by Cal Ripken, Jr., one of my favorite ball players of all time. They play at Ripken Stadium, which is in the midst of a giant slice of baseball heaven.
I’ve been to two New York-Penn League ballparks in the past — Falcon Park in Auburn, NY, and Eastwood Field in Niles, OH. Each has its charms and I especially loved Falcon Park. Ripken Stadium, however, is more like a AA facility. It’s enormous, yet has an intimate vibe, and there are a ton of things to see before the gates open.
If you’re staying in the area, there’s a giant Marriott across the parking lot from the ballpark:
I took my customary walk around the stadium and because it was so early, no one was hitting. I decided, however, to see if I could find any balls beyond the outfield fence from previous batting practices or games. I went back to the area and hit the jackpot! Look what I saw a minute after scouring the grass:
An NYPL ball to add to my collection:
After a few more minutes of looking, I found three more to bring my total to four:
With nothing else in sight, I stopped to take a quick panorama through the open outfield gate (the players were playing Frisbee) …
… then went back to my hotel to find out the Internet didn’t work. (Hence my delay in getting these posts up.)
A couple hours later, I returned to Ripken Stadium and went back behind the fence again. To get there, you can walk through the players’ parking lot. You can always tell it’s the players’ lot when you see rims like these:
By now, the IronBirds were hitting (see how they have to wear helmets for BP at this level?):
I took up a good spot behind the left field fence, where I could also watch the Yankees in their bullpen:
The area back here was full of old equipment, machinery and other stadium stuff. But it was prime ball-catching territory:
I even climbed up on a platform to take a panorama over the fence:
But soon, I found this hill was the place to stand:
Up here, I had a clear view of the goings-on, which was ideal for tracking balls. I didn’t have any luck with the IronBirds hitters, but once Staten Island took the cage, I quickly got three more, including this one marked with “SI” lettering:
BP soon wrapped up, and I was excited at being able to snag seven baseballs. In my three games this trip, I’d managed 10 balls! I made my way back around to the front of the stadium, which looks amazing. It’s done in a lot of brick, giving it a Camden Yards feel:
I bought my ticket …
… then, with time to kill before the gates opened, toured a bunch more of the Ripken complex. The entire area has 10 different diamonds ranging from small, infield practice areas to large, perfectly manicured setups. There were hundreds of kids playing and it was awesome just to take it all in.
There’s a statue of the man himself:
His parents’ garden:
And a bunch of nice stadiums:
With the gates about to open, I ventured back to Ripken Stadium and lined up to go in. Once I got in, I immediately checked out the huge team shop …
… which also featured a bunch of Ripken-autographed memorabilia:
After looking around the store, I went out into the concourse and walked down to the left field corner. This is the view from here:
As you can see, there’s a huge, multi-level deck and plenty of seating. Speaking of decks and seating, the whole stadium had a ton of cool places to sit. This is the multi-level deck in the right field corner:
What was taking place on that deck? Crab!
Yep, you can buy whole crab by the dozen or even by the bushel at Ripken Stadium. Tables are covered in brown paper; you dump out the crab and go to town with wooden hammers and your fingers. There are no superlatives to describe this situation:
Because I bought my ticket the day of the game, I was only able to get a standing room only spot. The box office guy told me to just move down and take an empty seat, which is exactly what I did. I sat behind a railing down the first base line for the first couple innings with this view:
Then, I decided to go back to the team shop and buy an IronBirds cap. There was a clearance rack with $10 hats, and I bought the team’s home one:
By now, the smell of crab and Old Bay seasoning wafting through the air was making me hungry. I didn’t have the nerve to order a dozen crab by myself, but after scouring the seafood menu, decided on a crab cake sandwich:
I’ve had some pretty good ballpark food over the last couple summers. Off the top of my head, the gourmet mac and cheese at Rochester’s Frontier Field, the wings at Rogers Centre and the Philly cheesesteak in Lansing come to mind. But the crab cake sandwich smoked them all. It was the single best thing I’ve eaten at a ballpark. I can’t explain how good it is; if you go to Ripken Stadium, eat one. I limited myself to one because at $9 each, I knew two would only turn into five, and before long, I’d have spent $45 on crab cake sandwiches. It was just that good.
I forced myself to stop thinking about my grumbling stomach and focused on the game. The NYPL is Short-Season A ball, so the season only began a week or so ago. As a result, you get guys with funny batting averages. Look at the variance among these three players:
I spent a good part of the game at my stop behind the railing on the first base side. Later, though, I moved behind the plate to catch the action …
… then over to the third base side:
This game, though clocked at 2:51, seemed to go quickly. (Perhaps that’s because I spent a good three innings thinking about my sandwich.) The IronBirds couldn’t get anything going, and lost 7-1.
Thanks, Aberdeen, for a great time. Tomorrow, I’ll head to Bowie, MD, to watch the Orioles’ AA team, the Baysox, in action against the Binghamton Mets.
Day #2 of my 12-game, 12-day baseball road trip put me in Harrisburg, PA on June 24. Harrisburg’s AA team, the Senators, plays in the Eastern League and is notable as being the starting point for Stephen Strasburg’s pro career last season.
When I got to town, I found my hotel and waited to head over to the ballpark. Metro Bank Park is actually on an island called City Island. It’s close to the Pennsylvania State Capitol so it’s an interesting drive.
The game was set for 7 p.m., but when I arrived around 5 p.m., the parking lot was partly full and people were everywhere. Did I miss something? Did the game’s start time get bumped up?
No and no. It turns out that in addition to hosting baseball, City Island has a ton of other things to see and do. Before the ballpark’s gates open, you can check out such attractions as batting cages, a miniature train ride, mini-putt, kayak rentals, arcades and a merry-go-round.
I could hear one of the teams hitting, so I headed beyond the outfield fence and tried to find some balls. There’s a boardwalk that runs around the perimeter of the stadium, and while lots of balls were home runs, they were hitting the boardwalk or a fence and staying in the park. I walked under the bleachers and peeked through at the field …
… (creeping this player out in the process, I think) but there were no balls.
Without having any luck, I went back to the area beyond a small parking lot where I could stand back and watch for balls. Here was my view:
I figured that if a ball came out, I’d be able to see it and track it down quickly. And that’s exactly what happened about five minutes later:
The ball was majorly scuffed, but it was my second ball in two games on this trip, so I was happy.
When BP wrapped up, I went to buy my ticket …
… and as the gates were still 20 minutes from opening, took a walk around the park in the other direction:
See the rails? That’s for the miniature train you can ride.
I paused to appreciate the Senators’ physical location:
And just as I got back to the main gate, it was open and people were streaming in. Tonight was the team’s flatscreen TV giveaway. Yes, you read that correctly. Wild, right? The team does this promotion every Friday night, and one TV is given away every inning. The main concourse was crowded as people filled out ballots and jammed them into boxes. I waded through the crowd and headed down the boardwalk a bit. Here’s a view from the third base side, looking back toward the main gate:
Instantly, I could tell this facility was beautiful and well cared for. There were so many things to take in that it was hard to decide where to go first. I took this quick panorama from the center field area:
And started to note all the great features at Metro Bank Park. Below is the boardwalk, which stretches around the entire stadium except for a paved area behind the right field corner. This particular shot is taken behind the batter’s eye. I bet I made more than 10 complete laps of the stadium from the time the gates opened, and the funny thing is, other people were, too. I’d routinely pass people I’d seen earlier, so it’s obvious this ballpark feature is well used.
Metro Bank Park has a great seating option — a bar around most of the outfield with bar stools. They’re assigned, but if you happen across an open one, it’s a perfect place to sit and watch the action:
I went into the right field corner and because the field-level gate was open, took a panorama from this spot:
If you visit this park, the first thing you need to do is walk its entire perimeter. When you do, you’ll get an appreciation for just how much is in here. Even under the home plate grandstand, you can find a ton of concession stands and other things to see. This random area is for groups and features a stage:
In my travels behind the stadium, I came across Harrisburg’s clubhouse:
Back up top, I marveled at the quality of the image on Metro Bank Park’s scoreboard:
Remember the bar stools I mentioned earlier? Here’s what they look like above left field:
The bar stools are a great place to sit, but one of the neatest seating sections I’ve ever seen is the field-level boxes along the third base line. They’re reserved for groups, and they’re adjacent to the visiting team’s dugout:
The kids’ play zone is under the boardwalk along the third base line, directly behind the field-level boxes:
After checking out that area of the stadium, I wandered back to the right field area (I told you I did a lot of walking) and found a little something that must’ve been hit during BP:
I watched Harrisburg starter Brad Peacock warm up:
Notice that he’s got his eyes shut during delivery? Then, I went to the other bullpen to watch Altoona’s Jeff Locke getting ready:
When the game began, I headed to my seat, which was in the outfield just over the right-center fence. For the first time in a long time, I bought an all-you-can-eat ticket. Here’s the argument for it: The ticket itself cost $16. I could’ve bought a $10 ticket and eaten $10 of food, right? The $16 gets you as many hot dogs, sliders, peanuts, popcorn and ice cream sandwiches as you can eat. (There’s also a nicer all-you-can-eat section for $30, featuring salads, chicken, beef and more.) Anyway, I quickly polished off a couple dogs and took a quick shot of my popcorn and slider (my final food tally will be at the end of this post):
I spent the next couple innings in the Ollie’s Bargain Outlet Cheap Seats section, directly above left field. If any fan in this section catches a home run, she gets a gift certificate to Ollie’s:
Back to the all-you-can-eat area a short while later, I ate a tiny ice cream sandwich:
Size, of course, is irrelevant as you can eat 100 of them if you want.
The home run catch promotion in the Ollie’s section is pretty cool, but it pales in comparison to this guy’s seat:
Every game, a fan gets picked to sit in this beach chair for one inning. If he catches a home run, he wins $10,000! And speaking of giveaways, I still hadn’t won my free TV, but I’m sure it’d come later.
I soon made the trek behind home plate to take this panorama:
Metro Bank Park is the first ballpark I’ve seen that has a bar-style seating area for MLB scouts directly behind home plate; you can see that in the above shot.
Midway through the game, I went back to the left field area to check out the team store. It’s huge and very nicely done, and also gives you a nice, air-conditioned reprieve from the sun. There were lots of things to consider, including a selection of game-used bats, jerseys and warm-up jackets. I opted for a Harrisburg cap, as I’ve always liked the logo:
I spent innings seven and eight in the Ollie’s section again. In the seventh, Altoona manager P.J. Forbes went bonkers over a call and got himself ejected. He was pretty wild, too. The following series of photos aren’t great, as I was so far away, but hopefully they give you an idea of what happened:
As darkness fell, the stadium was invaded by mayflies. I have to give the Senators credit, though. Faced with a situation they can’t control, they have fun with it. They rate the night’s invasion with the Mayfly Meter, which is shown on the scoreboard. Tonight’s game ranked 5/10, but you can see that there were lots of the flying critters:
I don’t think I’d want to see what 10/10 looks like.
I spent the ninth inning in one of the field-level boxes, as it was now empty. It gave a perfect view of the field. As for the game, it was exciting but scoreless through nine innings. In the bottom of the 10th, however, pinch hitter Alex Valdez blasted a home run into the Harrisburg bullpen to give the Senators a walk-off win; an exciting end to an awesome experience.
I didn’t stick around for the fireworks display, but could see and hear them as I drove back to my hotel.
As for my food tally, here was the damage:
- 2 hot dogs
- 2 sliders
-2 bags of popcorn
- 1 bag of peanuts
- 1 ice cream sandwich
(I didn’t want to overdo it and feel miserable for the next day, so I kept things under control.)
Oh, and I didn’t win a TV.
Tomorrow, I’m off to Maryland to check out the New York-Penn League’s Aberdeen IronBirds.
Day one of my latest roadtrip began with loading the car and leaving my house before the crack of dawn. I had several hours to drive before reaching Moosic, PA, home of the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees. The Yankees play in the International League and are the AAA team of the … you guessed it, Yankees.
Unfortunately, the team’s website has next to no information about PNC Field, so I didn’t know much before I arrived. All I knew was that it was big, but the rest I’d have to learn for myself.
The drive through Pennsylvania was rain filled and I heard a flash flooding/heavy rainfall warning on the radio about an hour before I arrived in Moosic. I thought there’d be no possible way they’d play the game, but from the time I arrived in the parking lot, I didn’t see one single drop of rain.
Speaking of that parking lot, it’s different. Surprisingly, the Yankees offer free parking, which is nice. The lot is huge and staffed by people who tell you where to park. This is my first look at PNC Field when I stepped out of my car:
And here’s a panorama shot from the parking lot:
Though it was about 1:40 before the game started, and an hour before the gates opened, there were lots of people around. Before buying my ticket, I decided to take a walk around behind the home run fence to see if the players were taking batting practice and if I could snag some balls. When I made it around to the rear of the stadium, I could see players on the field but no BP screens:
The gate to the area immediately behind the fence was open, so I walked down the roadway and saw the turf the grounds crew uses to replace areas of the field:
I also took a few photos, including a panorama, through the opening in the center field wall:
Behind the fence, I found two balls. I left this one right where it sat:
And grabbed this one out of a puddle:
The one I kept may have been from a previous day’s BP, or it may have been hit in a recent game. The fact that it was still pretty white, and had only two scuffs, leads me to believe it’s a game ball. I checked the team’s box scores from the day before when I got back to the hotel, and saw that Yankees third baseman Brandon Laird hit a home run a day before my visit. He’s a righty, so I’m guessing he hit his shot to left, and that’s where I found the ball. Makes you wonder, anyway.
Soaking wet (and heavy) ball in hand, I made my way back up to the main pavilion area at the front of the stadium and bought my ticket. PNC Field has two seating decks, but the upper deck is closed on Monday through Friday. I bought a $14 ticket behind S/W-B’s dugout begrudgingly — too much money for a Minor League Ticket. (Recently, I sat about five rows behind the Detroit Tigers bullpen for the same price.)
PNC Field has a really cool feature to help occupy your time before the gates open. See the windows next to the box office in the photo below?
The glare of the glass makes photographing what’s beyond the windows difficult, but it’s the Yankees indoor batting cages. Several players were hitting, and it was neat to watch for a few minutes:
When the gates opened, I went in and checked out the concourse. The team gives out a free program in the main concourse and it’s pretty good. There are walkways to the left and right, and I was surprised at how dark they were:
After scouting out the hallways, I moved outside to take a panorama of the stadium from the right field corner:
The visiting team’s bullpen is in the right field corner, as is the indoor cage used by the visitors. I could see a Norfolk Tides (the affiliate of the Orioles, if you can’t tell) coach giving some tips to a player:
This is the visitors’ bullpen, which sort of has the appearance of a bar (a bar that only serves chewing tobacco, gum, sunflower seeds and Gatorade, I guess):
Remember the lavish Yankees batting cage? The visiting teams hit in a dingy trailer:
I headed back to the inside concourse, and noted a bunch of neat features. Just inside the front gate, a banner proudly displays the Yankees’ recent IL success:
The day’s starting lineups are on an HD television, rather than written on a whiteboard as they are at many MiLB parks:
If you walk along the concourse down the third base line, you’ll see a gate to your left about halfway down:
This is the entrance to the Yankees batting cage and clubhouse. I took a couple pics of guys who were out in the hallway. I’m not sure who the first guy is, but he’s cleaning his cleats. The second is 6’10″ pitcher Andrew Brackman, who was talking on the phone:
In this area, there’s a collage of images showing inside the Yankees clubhouse. Not bad, right?
Back outside again, I saw an elaborate group deck in the left field corner. The one in the right field corner is open to all fans, but this one is only for registered groups:
As I went to check it out, I noticed three balls sitting on the top of the LF fence (later, I’d notice six on the RF fence):
Though the upper deck was closed, I wanted to get up there and take a few shots of the stadium. I went back into the concourse and stopped briefly at the Yankees team shop:
I wasn’t really planning on getting anything, but the prices were, well, Yankee-esque. $60 for a golf shirt? $75 for a sweatshirt? There was a sale, though … 15% off the $10 shot glasses. It’s interesting to see how things are priced across the Minor Leagues. You’d think there’d be some system of regulated pricing, but there isn’t. Teams charge what they want.
Anyway, I went up to the upper deck and, given that the seats weren’t open, the area was deserted:
(Kind of reminds me of the 500s at Rogers Centre.)
Here’s the panorama I shot from up here:
I climbed back down again and set out to locate my seat. PNC Field’s lower deck isn’t as giant as the size of the stadium would dictate, so it’s got a nice, close-to-the-field feel:
I did, however, notice this sign on the walkway:
The teams soon came out to stretch …
… and I went to take a look at Legends, the sports bar behind the first base line. It’s open two hours before first pitch, and anyone can get in with a game ticket. I didn’t care about the food, but did want to see the memorabilia they have on display:
WOW. Autographed balls from Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia, Johnny Damon, Andy Pettitte, Jason Giambi, Goose Gossage, Graig Nettles and many, many more. There were also several game-used balls significant to the AAA team’s history, and such game-used artifacts as a Shelley Duncan hat and cleats, a Roger Clemens hat, Phil Hughes hat, Melky Cabrera jersey and more.
And this is what Legends itself looks like:
After visiting Legends, I went and found my seat. The pitching duel was between two guys with a decent amount of MLB experience — Greg Smith for the Yankees and Chris Tillman for the Tides. Here’s the latter:
Two innings later, I opted for a pair of hot dogs for lunch. There appeared to be more intriguing options, in the form of a number of Italian dishes, but they were overpriced. The dogs themselves were good-sized, cost $3 and you could load them up:
I moved down the third base line a bit to get an area to myself, and took this panorama:
As you can see, PNC Field is set in a valley. It’s one of the most picturesque settings I’ve seen at a ballpark. Here’s another shot showing the rock cut behind the outfield fence:
I spent the next three or four innings in the front row down the first base side, and JUST missed a foul ball that caromed off the rolled-up tarp.
This area gave me a nice view, though. Here’s Terry Tiffee, in his first game with the Yankees. He signed a contract with them a day earlier, after beginning the season in independent ball:
For the last three innings, I moved to the deck in the right field corner, which wasn’t very crowded by this point. On my way there, I snapped a picture of the Tides bullpen:
Here’s the view from that deck:
It’s an awesome place to sit. Comfy, padded chairs, tables and a railing to rest your feet. It’s also covered, so it gives you a reprieve from the sun:
Up here, I was also privy to a funny exchange between the Yankees ball boy in the corner and the Tides bullpen. When a Tides reliever came into the game late, one of the Norfolk guys told the ball boy to run the reliever’s jacket in, which is what’s always done. The kid said he didn’t want to, and the bullpen got ALL OVER HIM. It was awesome. This kid has the best summer job a kid can have, and he’d rather just sit in the corner than do what he’s supposed to do. The bullpen didn’t let up, either. I bet the kid was glad when the game was over.
And 3:01 after first pitch, the game was indeed over. The Yankees put up 10 runs on 13 hits to win 10-5 in a game with lots of action. Here’s the final scoreboard:
After the game, I drove up the hill behind the stadium to capture it from above:
All in all, a great start to my current road trip. As I write this, I’m in my hotel in Scranton and will make the short drive to Harrisburg, PA this afternoon. The Harrisburg Senators are the AA affiliate of the Washington Nationals and, of course, I can’t wait to see what that ballpark has to offer.
Keep checking back regularly, as I’m blogging daily on this trip. Or, follow me on Twitter.
My first big road trip of 2011 was amazing, and I have my fingers crossed that road trip #2 will be even better.
Last trip, I saw teams in the Major Leagues, AA Eastern League and Single-A Midwest League.
This time, I’ll see four Big League games, one AAA International League game, three AA Eastern League games, two A South Atlantic League games, one Class A Advanced Carolina League game and one game in the Short-Season A New York-Penn League.
If you’re keeping score, that’s 12 games. In 12 days. In 10 different cities.
A week today, on June 23, I head to Moosic, PA, where I’ll watch the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees take on the Norfolk Tides in matinee action.
On day two, I made the short trip to Harrisburg, PA to watch the Senators battle the Altoona Curve.
Day three sees me watching the NYPL Aberdeen IronBirds host the Staten Island Yankees.
June 26, I’ll stay in Maryland to watch the Bowie Baysox battle the Binghamton Mets, then make the drive north to Hagerstown, MD.
On June 27, I’ll hopefully get to see Bryce Harper and his Hagerstown Suns in action against the Lakewood Blueclaws.
The next day, I’ll drive south to Salisbury, MD, to watch the Delmarva Shorebirds host the Greensboro Grasshoppers.
Then, it’s a pair of games (June 29 and 30) between the Baltimore Orioles and St. Louis Cardinals.
After B’more, I’ll catch the Potomac Nationals against the Winston-Salem Dash.
And after watching the baby Nats, I’ll see the big boys play host to the Pirates for games on July 2 and 3.
My last stop on this trip is a Fourth of July showdown between the Binghamton Mets and Portland Sea Dogs.
Sounds good, right?
1. S/W-B Yankees vs. Norfolk Tides: The Yankees play at PNC Field, and because everything the Yankees do is grandiose, I’m excited to see how this ballpark stacks up.
2. Harrisburg vs. Altoona: Harrisburg was Stephen Strasburg’s first stop in pro ball last season. The Senators’ ballpark, Metro Bank Park, is actually located on an island in Harrisburg.
3. Aberdeen IronBirds vs. Staten Island Yankees: The Birds play at Ripken Stadium and are owned by Hall of Famer Cal Ripken, Jr. I saw them last season against the Mahoning Valley Scrappers.
4. Bowie Baysox vs. Binghamton Mets: Bowie’s Prince George’s Stadium has hosted the AA All-Star Game, U.S. Congressional Baseball Game and Allen Iverson’s charity softball game. It’s also a drive-in theater when the Baysox are on the road.
5. Hagerstown Suns vs. Lakewood Blueclaws: I’m beyond excited to watch Bryce Harper. If he’s called up before I get there, I get the chance of seeing him at the Potomac game.
6. Delmarva Shorebirds vs. Greensboro Grasshoppers: Delmarva stands for Delaware/Maryland/Virginia. The team plays in south Maryland, in the town of Salisbury. It’s out of my way a bit, but I’m excited to explore this new terrain.
7 & 8: Baltimore Orioles vs. St. Louis Cardinals: I’ve wanted to go to Camden Yards since it opened. I think it’s one of the most beautiful stadiums in baseball. It’ll be an added bonus to see Albert Pujols.
9. Potomac National vs. Winston-Salem Dash: The Nats’ Class A-Advanced team is based in Woodbridge, VA. I don’t know much about their stadium, so I’m anxious to see it.
10 & 11: Washington National vs. Pittsburgh Pirates: Too bad there’s no Strasburg, but I’ve never been to D.C., so that’s exciting. And Nationals Park is one of the newest stadiums in the Bigs.
12. Binghamton Mets vs. Portland Sea Dogs: I hear the in-park atmosphere is iffy, but the prices and views are great. Looking forward to seeing for myself.
Back on May 21, I visited Cooley Law School Stadium to watch the Midwest League’s Lansing Lugnuts in action.
As I wrote at the time, I obtained a couple autographs at the ballpark’s autograph area in the right field corner.
Here’s the ball:
And who signed it, you ask?
The first signature is 1989-born pitcher Danny Barnes, who was drafted by the Blue Jays in the 35th round of the 2010 First-Year Player Draft. Barnes has to be one of the smartest guys in the Midwest League, too — he went to Princeton University. He’s pitching this season in a relief role, but has a very nice 4-0 record in 18 appearances. His ERA is just 2.73 and in 29.2 innings pitched, he has 50 strikeouts and just nine walks. With those numbers, I think people will soon be asking for his autograph at A+ Dunedin or AA New Hampshire.
The second signature is relief pitcher Marcus Walden, a 1988-born righty who’s one of three guys named Marcus on the Lugnuts. In 12 appearances this season, Walden is 1-2 with an ERA of 4.44. He was drafted by the Jays in the ninth round of the 2007 Amateur Entry Draft.
When I visited Lansing, MI last month to watch the Lugnuts game, it was one of the team’s three bobblehead giveaways. I’m not a bobblehead collector, but if there’s a cool giveaway during my roadtrip, I’ll try to make my schedule so that I can hit that ballpark that game.
One neat thing the Lugnuts do is keep the bobblehead identity fairly secret until a few days before the game. I say “fairly” secret, because the player’s identity wasn’t publicized on the team’s website until the week of the game.
Considering the Lugnuts are the Blue Jays A-ball affiliate, and I’m a Jays fan, I was excited to see which player it’d be, as some great Jays went through Lansing.
When future Hall of Famer John Smoltz was announced as the guy on the bobblehead, I didn’t immediately see the connection. Eventually, I learned that he was born in Warren, MI and attended Waverly High School in Lansing.
Too bad it wasn’t a Jays player, but this is a unique collectible, too: