As you may have read about in my post a couple days ago, I saw the New York-Penn League’s Vermont Lake Monsters in action last weekend.
Like always, I was on the hunt for autographs, and the Lake Monsters didn’t disappoint. I managed four signatures on a ball, and could’ve had way more, had I not decided to cut my autograph seeking short to go play catch on the field.
In the photo below, you’ll see the autograph of Lake Monsters manager Rick Magnante:
For trivia buffs, Magnante played Minor League Baseball in 1969 and began managing in 1987. He scouted for the A’s for a decade, and even managed the South African team at the 2006 World Baseball Classic. And, according to Baseball-Reference, had a role as a third base coach in the movie “The Fan,” with Wesley Snipes and Robert De Niro.
In this next photo, you’ll see the autographs of OF Xavier Macklin, LHP Eric Potter and pitching coach John Wasdin. Wasdin was a first rounder in 1993, pitched for a decade in the big leagues and had a couple stints in Japan:
As you may have read about here, I visited Manchester’s (take deep breath) Northeast Delta Dental Stadium in the final couple days of July to watch the AA Fisher Cats against the Reading Phillies.
And as I mentioned, I got a few autographs that I’m excited to share. Last fall when I visited Manchester, I got current Blue Jay Edwin Encarnacion and future Jay Adeiny Hechavarria on balls, and even ran into Encarnacion in my hotel the morning after the game.
Anyway, prior to the game on July 28, I got a ball signed by six different guys on the Fisher Cats.
In the first photo, from top to bottom, are the signatures of shortstop Jonathan Diaz, third baseman Craig Stansberry and the Fisher Cats bullpen catcher, whose name I can’t recall:
In the photo below, you’re looking at the autographs of speedy centerfielder Anthony Gose, third baseman Mark Sobolewski and a guy (#12) I can’t identify. The current #12 on New Hampshire’s roster is Danny Perales, but this signature isn’t his. If anyone knows, I’d love to know!
Of all the autographs, I’m pretty excited to have Gose’s signature. He should be a Blue Jay in the next season or so, thanks to his speed. This season, he has 61 steals through 126 games; in 2010, he swiped 45 bases and a year earlier, he had 76!
Here’s a picture of Gose signing just after I got him:
About a month ago, I planned to make the drive to Burlington, VT, to watch the Short-Season A Lake Monsters play a doubleheader at Centennial Field.
In the days leading up to that game, I kept an eye on the weather forecast, which read something like rain-rain-thundershowers-rain-thundershowers-thundershowers-rain.
So, I decided not to risk the long drive … and the doubleheader went off without a hitch.
Fast forward to last week, when I was planning to visit Vermont on August 21. The forecast was eerily similar, but I decided to chance it. Instead of making a solo trip, I went with a good friend I don’t get to see enough. We met bright and early and headed out into the rain, thunder and lightning that was the entire drive to Vermont.
About 30 minutes outside Burlington, the rain let up to a light drizzle, and shortly before we arrived at Centennial Field, the drizzle stopped completely. Perfect!
We got to the park around 11:20 a.m. for the 1 p.m. game, so there were only a handful of cars in the parking lot:
Note that I said it was a 1 p.m. game. But when we got up to the ticket window, there was an ominous message …
… a 6:05 p.m. start? I asked the ticket vendor incredulously, thinking the forecast had bumped the start of the game. Luckily, he said the 6:05 reference was an error. Whew!
With some time to kill before the gates opened, we took a walk toward the left field corner, and made a right turn to get behind the outfield fence to look for balls. Here’s the scene:
But since there was no batting practice because of the rain, there were no balls to be had. I’ve got to think that if BP had been on, the balls would’ve been easy to snag. Nevertheless, we continued the walk with our eyes peeled for balls, and I paused to take my usual ticket shot:
In the background is the Lake Monsters log cabin-themed scoreboard, which is unique looking, despite lacking a little on the information-giving side of things:
After making it to center field, we turned into the area beyond the right field fence where this was the scene:
Back here, there were a few neat things to see. Members of the Vermont side were having a pre-game prayer group:
While the Hudson Valley Renegades took some swings in the cage behind them:
No one paid us any notice, including a staff member who walked by at one point. I scanned the area for balls, and quickly noticed a white blip up against a chain-link fence well beyond the area we were standing in. I went closer and found this:
The markings are mostly rubbed off, but it was an official Northwest League ball. In other words, it was a long way from home. I’m trying to collect a ball from every league I’ve visited, so this was a super-cool find.
So far, I have balls from the:
- Major Leagues
- International League
- Eastern League
- Carolina League
- Midwest League
- South Atlantic League
- New York-Penn League
- Northwest League
With no other balls to find, we walked back toward the left field corner …
… and peeked over the fence to see the Renegades close up:
Actually, it wasn’t the first time we saw the team so close. They were using the adjacent soccer field’s dressing room as their clubhouse, so they walked down the driveway we used to access the field.
There wasn’t much to see when we walked in the other direction from the park’s main gate. A fence blocked off the area, but we were able to look into the concourse:
See the Ford display in the foreground? A minute or so after I took this picture, the employees began packing it up quickly. Hmmm. It appeared they knew something we didn’t, because soon after, the skies opened up again.
Though the scene was grim, it wasn’t all bad; the gate attendants let everyone in early to get a bit of shelter, and even said we could use the handicap area because it was covered. People in Vermont seem pretty friendly.
Over the next hour, the rain fell hard and fell soft, but kept falling continuously. Despite the showers, we wandered around the stadium to note the old, cement general admission section …
… and the wooden seats:
Scenery aside, there wasn’t much else happening here of note:
Eventually, an announcement said the game wouldn’t begin at 1 p.m., but that team officials hoped things would get underway within an hour or so. Around this time, members of the Renegades came out and played catch:
And returned from the batting cage:
Just when things were looking up, more thunder struck, the players retreated and the skies went dark again. Here’s where we took refuge during another downpour:
With the rain still coming down, we moved out into the concourse (staying against the building under the roof’s overhang) and went to the team shop:
I ended up buying a Lake Monsters alternate cap, which has a unique look because of its white front panel:
We also stopped by the team’s silent auction table, where I resisted the urge to bid on an MC Hammer bobblehead:
As the rain let up, we began to hear talk that the game would begin around 1:40 p.m., which wasn’t bad, all things considered. For the next while, we walked around to take in the sights, including a historical plaque:
The Lake Monsters clubhouse, located behind the first base-side bullpen:
And another panoramic view of Centennial Field from atop the stands behind the first base line:
Below is a photo looking down at the home clubhouse. Fans can stand behind the yellow chain and get autographs as the players enter and exit, though there still wasn’t any activity:
So, we took a rather “you shouldn’t be here”-looking path behind the clubhouse …
… to an area called The Cage, which is a bar right behind the batting cage. On our way, we could see piles of cleats in the windows of the clubhouse …
… and the batting cages:
Here’s the bar, such as it is:
In its defense, what it lacks in appearance, it makes up for in location. It’s a neat place to watch the game. In this area, a bunch of Lake Monsters were playing cards and a handful more were playing darts:
FINALLY, the Lake Monsters came out to stretch:
And the bullpen got some life in it. Below is starting pitcher Brent Powers tossing:
The game began around 1:50 p.m., so we made a quick stop at the concession stand and took our seats directly behind home plate, where we had this view:
And equally importantly, here was my view as I devoured a rather good sausage on a bun:
We actually ended up sitting two rows behind Chris Pittaro, the A’s director of pro scouting, who spent a lot of his time firing off emails on his iPhone.
After four innings, we made another stop at the concession stand, bought some Dippin’ Dots and found a relatively dry spot in the bleachers on the first base line.
Is there anything better?
Hudson Valley seemed to be cruising along until Vermont second baseman Michael Fabiaschi blasted a fifth-inning grand slam (his first career pro dinger) to put the Lake Monsters ahead for good. It’s always neat to see a guy’s first home run, and Fabiaschi (#12) was pretty stoked:
Vermont put up a three-spot an inning later to take an 8-3 lead. With the game well in hand, we made our way back to The Cage, which was empty. Before settling in to watch the rest of the game, I made my way behind a chain-link fence into a forest to retrieve a foul ball that’d been hit an inning earlier. It was easy to find and was in near-perfect condition:
We had this view for the last inning or so …
… and watched the Lake Monsters celebrate after their 8-3 win to extend their lead in the Stedler Division:
After the game, we went to the Vermont clubhouse where I got a handful of autographs on a ball. (As usual, I’ll blog about this separately.)
Then, we went around to the picnic area down the third base line to gain access to the field to play some catch. Here’s a shot of the empty ballpark from the field:
After taking this shot, I noticed some pieces of paper affixed to the visitors dugout wall. I asked a grounds crew member if I could go retrieve the official lineup card, and his response was, “Go for it.” Like I said earlier, friendly people in Vermont. Anyway, the lineup was gone; all that remained was stats sheets, which I wasn’t really interested in.
Still, it was a great experience at an interesting, historical-feeling ballpark. We hit the road as soon as our game of catch was done, and drove through rain so hard that we had to pull off the road at one point. I’m just glad the rain held off long enough for nine innings.
As you may have read about here, I watched the Portland Sea Dogs play at Hadlock Field on July 31. Hadlock Field certainly has its charms, but one of its drawbacks is the ability for fans to get autographs.
If you want the visiting club’s players to sign, it’s easy to gather around the bullpen and between the bullpen and dugout. For the home side, it’s a different story, because the bullpen is beyond the right field fence and there’s a restricted access group area down the first base line.
All that said, I did manage to get one autograph during my visit, and it came easily. The Sea Dogs had one player sign in the concourse prior to game, and I got him on a ball:
Who is it, you ask?
Stephen Fife. He may not be a household name, but he’s definitely a guy I’ll keep my eyes on. With Portland, he was 11-4 in 18 starts with an ERA of 3.66 and was a 2011 (and 2010) Eastern League all-star. (Keep in mind Portland has a winning percentage of only around .420ish.
It turns out that Fife was traded the same day I got him to sign (not sure if the deal was made before or after I got the autograph) but he was part of the three-team deal that sent Erik Bedard to Boston. Fife ended up in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization, and is currently pitching for the Double-A Chattanooga Lookouts. He hasn’t suffered any post-trade blues; he’s 2-0 with a 1.64 ERA and 11 strikeouts in 11 innings.
Hard to know where Fife’s career will go, but as a former third-round draft pick, it’s clear MLB scouts think he has what it takes to get to the big leagues. It’ll be fun to watch how the rest of his season progresses and where he ends up.
The day to visit Portland’s Hadlock Field had finally arrived. I’ve been looking forward to this particular ballpark for roughly a year, since I first started my regular baseball travels.
Hadlock Field is home to the Sea Dogs, who are the Eastern League AA affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. There’s a replica Green Monster in the outfield, which is one of the neatest things to see in all the Minor Leagues.
Even better than seeing the Monster, however, was the chance to play catch below it. Yep, the Sea Dogs were giving fans the chance to play catch for an hour prior to the game, so I was pumped for that. And unlike the games in which I travel alone, my wife could be my catch partner this time.
Catch began at 10 a.m and ran for 1:15. The game began at 1 p.m., and unfortunately, fans weren’t allowed to leave the ballpark. Don’t get me wrong — I like getting to the game early, but spending that amount of time before the game was a bit much, especially given the day’s extreme heat and the zero shade throughout the entire seating area.
Anyway, we arrived around 10 a.m. and bought our tickets. Here’s mine:
And here’s both of ours:
Because we didn’t need to play catch the whole time, we took a walk around the outside of the ballpark to look for balls and see the sights. Hadlock Field is directly beside the Portland Exposition Building, which is home to the NBA Developmental League’s Maine Red Claws. I imagine this doesn’t rank too high on the caring meter for most of you, but if you’re into basketball, you might be interested:
The walk around Hadlock Field proved pretty uneventful. The path around the stadium’s left, or third base side is blocked off, while there’s not much to see around the other side, either. From the parking lot, you can look back and see the ballpark’s picnic area and some of the field:
We also found the rear entrance to Portland’s clubhouse:
And one ball:
I didn’t feel the need to add it to my collection, though.
As you can see from the photo below, the area behind the outfield fence is fenced off, so finding batting practice balls is next to impossible here:
With nothing more to see back there, we headed back to the pavilion in front of Hadlock Field where I got my picture taken with a statue of Slugger, the Sea Dogs’ mascot:
Before we went in, I took a photo of the front of the ballpark …
… and a panorama to show the whole front area:
When we got in, we went straight to the field, which we had to access via the left field corner. As always, it was awesome to be on a pro ball field, and there were already a bunch of people playing catch:
re’s me at the base of the Monster:
From down here, we had a great view of the scoreboard:
And the Citgo logo and Coke bottle, just like Fenway:
I should also mention the Sea Dogs gave the first bunch of fans Sea Dogs balls to play catch with, which was pretty nice:
Here’s a panorama from field level:
Around 11 a.m., we went over to the first base line which had a tiny bit of shade around the picnic area. A couple minutes later, the Altoona Curve (affiliate of the Pirates) players arrived:
Before we left the field, the Sea Dogs came on and started stretching. There were still maybe 100 fans on the field when they came out; definitely something that doesn’t happen every day!
After walking around the concourse for a bit, we decided to grab something to eat. The basic menu at Hadlock Field is below:
Once we ate, we went to the team shop, which is disappointingly the worst I’ve seen at any level. It’s all behind the counter, so you can’t actually touch anything, try anything on or just browse. You stand there like you’re at McDonald’s, and place your order. See the photo below? All that stuff is unreachable. I’m not sure why the Sea Dogs do it this way, but it’s not very fan friendly:
Something that was neat to see, though, was how the Sea Dogs were selling Bryce Harper T-shirts on the concourse outside the team store. If you’re missing something here, don’t worry. There’s no Sea Dogs/Harper connection, but you can’t deny that Harpermania has spread throughout the Minor Leagues:
These prices were good, but nothing could compare to my experience of seeing Harper a month or so ago in Hagerstown. If you haven’t read this post, I can guarantee you’ll enjoy it.
Hadlock Field has a neat feature in the concourse down the first base line; photos of each team’s ballpark in the Eastern League:
This is the first time I’ve seen something like this, and my only knock on it as that it’s hugely outdated — old photos, old logos, etc. Still, though, pretty cool.
Just a little further along is the team’s hall of fame, which includes guys such as Kevin Millar and Mark Kotsay:
After spending some time in the concourse, we went back out toward the field. I’d sort of been avoiding it because it was SO HOT. I’m not normally one to care about the weather either way, but it was brutal.
And a wall covered in current Red Sox jersey graphics:
Off to one side of the press box is the team’s banners:
I then climbed up in front of the press box and took a panorama of the whole ballpark:
(See the lack of shade? For the record, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing … but it’s not ideal on super hot days.)
Anyway, we then went down the third base line to watch Altoona warm up:
Another knock on Hadlock Field? You can’t get close to the area in which the Dogs warm up without having a seat in the picnic area. Lame:
Down the third base line, however, you can stand on a little runway directly above the visitors’ bullpen, which is neat. There’s also a hilarious sign:
I watched Altoona’s starter Aaron Pribanic warming up for a bit:
In case you’re wondering, Portland’s bullpen is up high above the fence in right-center. I’ve never seen anything like it:
As for the game, I was most excited to watch Chih-Hsien Chiang. I saw him a while back when the Sea Dogs were in Binghamton, and he’s incredible. Look at his stats:
(He was since traded to Seattle for Erik Bedard.)
We sat for most of the game up in the bleachers along the third base line, with this view:
And occasionally, we’d go into the concourse for a bit of shade. (Though the temperature was nearly as hot.) There were a number of TV sets there to help you keep an eye on the game, but the picture quality was lacking just a bit:
Here’s an action shot of Chiang I took in around the sixth inning:
Portland led the game 8-3 in the ninth, but Altoona scored two runs to make it a little more interesting. Final score: Portland 8, Altoona 5. The teams also combined for 26 hits, including three Sea Dogs home runs. The game lasted until around 4:20 p.m., so after more than six hours inside Hadlock Field, we left.
On our way back to the parking lot, we saw Altoona’s bus waiting in the team lot behind the first base side:
I should say that I got one pretty cool autograph at this ballpark, which I’ll blog about later this week.
In the meantime, I’m putting the last touches on my next trip of the season, which will begin in a couple weeks. I’ll blog about it soon.
First off, apologies for taking so long to get to this blog post. My two-game road trip in late July was part of a week-long trip through New Hampshire and Maine, and it was a holiday trip with my wife more than a baseball-specific trip. So, I’m now catching up on things.
Anyway, as you may have previously read, I took in my first New Hampshire Fisher Cats game last September, and had an awesome time. If you want to read my blog about it, click here. And if you want to read a full ballpark guide to Northeast Delta Dental Stadium on my website, TheBallparkGuide.com, click here.
On this trip to the east coast, I wanted to hit a Portland Sea Dogs game. But since we were driving through New Hampshire, it only made sense to catch the Toronto Blue Jays AA team for one game.
One of the coolest things about Northeast Delta Dental Stadium is the on-site Hilton Garden Inn with field-facing rooms. I’m a sucker for places like this. I stayed here last year, and had to do it again this year.
We arrived around 3 p.m. on the day of the game and checked in. When I anxiously got to our room, however, I was dismayed to see it was right behind the batter’s eye:
(I later took a look at the outside of the hotel from the ballpark, and our room (#201) is probably the only one with an obstructed view. I could’ve complained, but I didn’t want to mess around. I couldn’t tell if the batting cages were up for BP, though since the Fisher Cats played a double-header the day before, I severely doubted it.
Either way, I took a rather limited panorama …
… and waited for a bit until the Reading Phillies came out to stretch:
The hotel has an outdoor eatery called The Patio. It’s directly over the outfield fence and you can sit there at any time, including for batting practice. Last year, the teams didn’t take BP, and unfortunately, it wasn’t in the cards again this year. I was really hoping to snag some home runs, but I guess that will have to wait for my next visit.
Here’s the view from The Patio:
And here’s a panorama shot from roughly the same spot:
With no BP to watch, I took some photos of the Phillies, who looked like they were having fun despite the temperatures of nearly 100 degrees:
Eventually, the Fisher Cats came out to run, too:
I’m not sure who the guy on the left is, but I believe the other guy is Henderson Alvarez, who’s only 21 but has an impressive 7-4 record with a 2.82 ERA.
My wife and I decided to have an early dinner on The Patio, and the food and service were great. I’d recommend staying at the Hilton Garden Inn if you ever go to a Fisher Cats game, but either way, check out this eatery prior to the game.
After eating, we headed around the corner of the hotel …
… and right to the Fisher Cats ticket office, where we got our tickets. I took my customary ticket shot:
And since my wife wanted in on the fun, here’s a shot with both our tickets:
We entered the stadium as soon as it opened, and climbed the big flight of stairs up to the concourse:
When I got on the concourse, I took a look back at the hotel. I think you’ll agree that our room (which is circled) was the worst of those facing the field:
All those umbrellas directly between the hotel and the outfield fence are part of The Patio, so you can see what I mean about being close to the action during BP.
The concourse was crowded with camp kids, but we made our way through to the area behind home plate where last year, I visited the Ted Williams Hitters Museum and Hall of Fame. Here’s what it looked like last year:
And here’s the scene this year:
We continued our way around the concourse to the right field corner, and I snapped this panorama:
Soon, the Fisher Cats came out to stretch again, so I made my way down to the first base line to try to get some autographs. Remember how the Phillies looked loose and fun before the game? The Cats were that way, too. First baseman Mike McDade (#40) seems to be telling some sort of funny story here:
Here are Moises Sierra, Mark Sobolewski and Adeiny Hechavarria getting stretched out:
As the players got warmed up, I noticed that one of the rotary display boards on the scoreboard wasn’t working:
Unfortunately, that wasn’t the only problem for the Fisher Cats on this night. The main scoreboard was dead, too:
(As you’ll see above, that guy up the ladder finally did get the rotary display to work correctly.)
I managed to get six autographs, which I’ll blog about at a later date, as usual. For now, I’ll say I’m pretty pleased with how I did.
As the players awaited the start of the game, I snapped a quick shot of the dugout, which is very nice by AA standards …
… and one of catcher Travis D’Arnaud, who was a key figure in the trading of Roy Halladay:
Note: I think D’Arnaud is giving the stink-eye here to two kids who ran to the railing screaming, “Catchercatchercanwehaveabat?Catchercanwehaveaball?Catchercanwehaveabat?”
When the game began a few minutes later, we took our seats down the third base line, where we had this view:
From our seats, I could see that The Patio was really packed with people watching the game, and I could even see fans watching from their hotel rooms:
On this visit, jets flew overhead at a frequency of maybe one every 10 to 15 minutes. I don’t remember this last year, so maybe the Manchester airport’s flight plans have changed? Either way, it was cool to see the jets so low. Here’s the FedEx one …
… which was followed a few minutes later by the UPS one.
As for the action on the field, our close seats enabled us to get a few decent shots. Here’s Fisher Cats manager Sal Fasano:
And Mike McDade (photo courtesy of my wife):
After a few innings, we took a walk around the concourse and my wife snapped a sunset shot of Manchester over the Merrimack River:
We then relocated to behind home plate in the same row as some scouts. We had this view:
While in this area, we got dinner. Last year, I had a clam strips basket, which was no longer on the menu. I wanted to try the clam chowder, which was a big seller last September given the cold weather, but didn’t seem too popular given this game’s hot temperature. It came with oyster crackers and was tasty. I mean, it’s not exactly homemade, but it tasted like Campbell’s soup, which isn’t a bad thing at a ballpark:
As you can see here, it’s got loads of chunks, too. It’s not just broth:
Following our meal, we went down the third base line to a relatively empty area behind the Reading bullpen:
We spent the rest of the game here, watching the Fisher Cats continue to put up goose eggs. Despite three errors by the visiting team, the Phillies won 6-1:
Next up, Portland — home of the AA Sea Dogs.