Before I shift gears to concentrate on my travels in 2012, I want to take a few moments to look back at the highlights that made up my 2011 baseball road trips. I’ve put together an extensive list of memorable events from an amazing summer — a list that’s not chronological or alphabetical. It’s just a list of some neat things to share. Most of the items below are highlights, but there are a few lowlights, too. Today’s installment is the first of three “best of 2011″ blog entries. The next two will come in the days ahead.
1. First ball collected: Game 1 in Toronto
It didn’t take me long to grab my first ball of 2011. When the gates opened during my first game of the season (May 19 in Toronto), I charged in, ran down to field level and found a batting practice ball sitting in a row of seats a few rows up. Here’s the ball:
2. Foul balls collected: Four
In 29 games, I managed to snag four foul balls, which is pretty good if you ask me. I got my first one on May 22 at a Great Lakes Loons game, followed that one up a day later in West Michigan, then added one on May 29 in Erie and finally, August 21 at Vermont’s Centennial Field. Here’s the foul ball from Erie:
3. Home run balls collected: One
4. Most balls collected at a single park: 13
Arthur W. Perdue Stadium, home of the Delmarva Shorebirds, is ball-snagging heaven. I collected 12 balls during batting practice and added Nowak’s home run ball to give me 13, which is the most I’ve ever got at one park. Here are three of them during BP:
5. Most unexpected ball: Lansing
I don’t ask players or coaches for balls; I’d rather catch them. A few minutes before a Lansing Lugnuts game on May 21, I was standing at the Lugnuts bullpen and saw a warmup ball sitting partially under a tarp. Because it was starting to rain, I called to the Lansing pitching coach (who was collecting balls in the area) and pointed out the ball. His response? He grabbed it and flipped it to me. Before he did, I took this photo of the ball:
6. Most autographs:
I collected autographs at most of the ballparks during my travels, but nowhere yielded success like Bowie, MD. Before the Baysox game, the entire team was set up at tables throughout the concourse. I walked from one end to the other and got 26 signatures on one ball. You can read about that ball and see all the autographs by checking out this blog post.
7. Most MLB autographs: Four in Detroit
Before a rain-shortened game on May 25 in D-Town, I got four Tigers to sign a ball for me. One guy, Adam Wilk, isn’t a household name just yet, but the others — Max Scherzer, Rick Porcello and manager Jim Leyland — are awesome. This is the panel with the three players’ autographs:
8. Best autograph: Bryce Harper
Hands down, my favorite autograph of the summer was that of former first-round draft pick Bryce Harper, who’s arguably the top prospect in baseball and the most exciting one to come along in decades. I visited Hagerstown’s Municipal Stadium on June 27 with the hopes of getting Harper to sign and after a long adventure, it finally worked out. You can read the entire adventure here. In the meantime, here’s the ball:
9. Best souvenirs: Game-used lineup card and game-used bat
I’m pretty fond of these two top souvenirs I collected this summer. The first is a lineup card that hung in the Tigers dugout at Comerica Park during a Tigers-Blue Jays game. As you can see, it’s signed and filled out by Tigers manager Jim Leyland and features all sorts of neat notations:
The other great collectible is a game-used bat from former Blue Jays slugger Randy Ruiz. My wife bought me this amazing bat during our visit to New Hampshire in July:
10. Biggest star I saw: Justin Verlander
The Tigers ace had one of the best seasons by a pitcher in recent memory — and I got to see him pitch live when I was in Detroit on May 24. Verlander won 24 games in 2011, but when I saw him, he had a no-decision after giving up six runs on nine hits in six innings. Before the next day’s game, I snapped a photo of him as he walked by:
11. Worst rain: Tie between Midland, MI and driving to Fort Wayne
During a May 22 visit to Midland to watch the Great Lakes Loons, the game was interrupted by this crazy rain and hail storm …
… but eventually, conditions improved and the game resumed. A few days later, on May 26, I drove through an equally nuts storm on the way to Fort Wayne:
12. Worst sky color: Detroit
Sticking with the Mother Nature theme, the rain storm during my second Tigers game was intense. You’d hardly believe that I took this photo early in the afternoon:
13. Best ballpark tour: Tie — Fort Wayne and Baltimore
Not every baseball fans gets a one-on-one tour of a ballpark by a team’s general manager, but that’s exactly what I was fortunate enough to enjoy on May 27 in Fort Wayne. After telling a friendly usher about my website and my travels, he sought out TinCaps GM Mike Nutter, who took me for a tour around Parkview Field for more than 20 minutes. The highlight was a stop in the team’s clubhouse, which is something few fans get to see:
On the big league stage, I enjoyed a group tour of Camden Yards before my second Orioles game in two days on June 30. The tour offered impressive behind-the-scenes look at the ballpark and even took us to field level, where I got my picture taken with head groundskeeper Nicole Sherry:
14. Best food eaten: Crab cake sandwich, Aberdeen
As you might’ve read about here, I recently ranked the best food I’ve eaten on my travels. The crab cake sandwich at Aberdeen’s Ripken Stadium beat all the competition:
15. Most food eaten: Metro Bank Park, Harrisburg
I bought a ticket in the all-you-can-eat section of Harrisburg’s Metro Bank Park on June 24. And while I didn’t overdo it, I did put away two hot dogs, two sliders, two bags of popcorn, one bag of peanuts and one ice cream sandwich.
Check back soon for parts two and three of this “best of 2011″ series! And remember to follow me on Twitter for updates about my website, blog and upcoming travels.
I’ve collected baseball cards for a good chunk of my life and while it’s somewhat tempting to share a bunch of my best cards here, I don’t want this to turn into a baseball card blog.
I can, however, show a few cards from the 2011 Topps Pro Debut set that I picked up last summer in the team shop at Ripken Stadium, home of the Short Season A Aberdeen IronBirds. How cool is it that a ballpark’s shop sells Minor League Baseball cards? I’ve seen some MLB parks sell waaaay overpriced cards, but I think it’s awesome that Aberdeen sells cards that are geared to the Minors.
Imagine sitting at a ballpark on a summer night, watching a game, eating some amazing seafood and opening a few packs of cards. It’s all part of the experience in Aberdeen.
In four packs, I pulled two autographed cards, which means I did pretty well.
I got a standard Solo Signatures card of Yankees first rounder Slade Heathcott, who is depicted as a member of the Charleston RiverDogs:
And I got a cut autograph of Washington Nationals second round pick Destin Hood, depicted with the Hagerstown Suns. The cut autograph is from one of his Aflac All-American baseball cards:
In his young career, 21-year-old Hood has played with three teams I’ve seen in action: the Vermont Lake Monsters, Hagerstown Suns and Potomac Nationals. Hood wasn’t in the lineup when I saw Potomac play on July 1, but he was on the cover of the gameday program I picked up.
Does anyone know of any other MiLB parks that sell Minor League cards? (Other than standard teams sets.)
Since I started traveling to new ballparks in the summer of 2010 for my website, TheBallparkGuide.com, I’ve collected a decent number of balls. When I go to any game, getting one or more balls isn’t my chief goal, but I do try to get one if I can.
One of my favorite elements of my collection is that I have at least one ball from several professional leagues, all the way from Major League Baseball to the Short-Season Class-A New York-Penn League.
Right now, my collection totals 59 balls.
Here’s an artsy look at some of them:
As far as totals per league, here’s what I’ve got:
Major League Baseball: 22
New York-Penn League: 15
Eastern League: 6
Midwest League: 4
South Atlantic League: 4
International League: 3
Minor League Baseball: 2
Northwest League: 1
And I’ve also got two generic Minor League practice balls.
I’ve only been to one Carolina League game so far, and didn’t manage an official Carolina League ball. (I did get two generic practice balls, though.) It’s a fair trade-off considering I’ve never been to a Northwest League game and still have a ball from that league.
Here’s a look at some of the notable balls in my collection:
A pristine Official Major League Baseball:
And a dirty Official Major League Baseball:
I snagged this foul ball during a New York-Penn League game last August:
If you look at the blue mark on the side of the ball, you can tell it’s caused by the letter ‘n’ in the word Rawlings. Obviously, another ball rubbed up against this one in a ball bag or the umpire’s pouch:
This is another NYPL ball, only this one is marked on the sweet spot with ‘SI,’ which stands for Staten Island. I snagged this one during Staten Island’s batting practice in Aberdeen last summer:
Here’s one of my Official Eastern League balls; this one is a foul ball from Erie:
And here’s an Official Midwest League ball that was a foul ball at a Great Lakes Loons game:
All four of the Official South Atlantic League balls in my collection are well worn, including this one:
This Official International League ball is in the best shape of any of my IL balls:
My Official Minor League Baseball has seen better days:
Believe it or not, I picked up this Official Northwest League ball in Vermont, of all places:
And finally, this Official Minor League practice ball looks like it might’ve only been hit once:
I’ve snagged nearly all of the 59 balls during or immediately after batting practice at various ballparks. Four of my balls, however, were game foul balls that I grabbed and one was a home run.
Well, the results are in, and I’ve got a number of tasty items that you must try if you ever have the chance. Before we begin, let’s go over the ground rules:
1. I’m only counting food I’ve eaten at parks I’ve visited. You won’t see any items on this list that I haven’t eaten or sold at parks I haven’t visited.
2. I’m looking at individual food items, rather than a ballpark’s overall selection.
10. Pulled pork nachos – Classic Park – Lake County Captains
You might think you’d need to reach for some Tums after getting through these ample nachos, but they’re not heavy in a bad way. The pulled pork was excellent and better than I’d expect to find at a ballpark. The one knock on these was the server forgot to give me cheese.
9. Apple crisp – Parkview Field – Fort Wayne TinCaps
Parkview Field has several apple-themed dishes on its menu, given that Fort Wayne in the place Johnny Appleseed is buried. The apple crisp was the best ballpark dessert I’ve ever eaten. (And the ‘Caps helmet it’s served in is a cool bonus.) Visit my website to read about all the apple treats and other food items at Parkview Field.
8. Clam chowder – Northeast Delta Dental Stadium – New Hampshire Fisher Cats
I ate Northeast Delta Dental Stadium’s clam chowder on a July evening last year, and even though it was a hot day, really enjoyed the soup. I can see it being the perfect ballpark food on a cold April or September night. The clam chowder isn’t the only seafood item on the menu here. Here’s the full list.
7. Philly cheesesteak – Cooley Law School Stadium – Lansing Lugnuts
I wasn’t a huge fan of the processed cheese goop on the Philly cheesesteak in Lansing, but the bun was fresh, the steak was perfect and the onions and peppers were savory.
6. Old Bay pretzel – Prince George’s Stadium – Bowie Baysox
Crab might as well be the official food of Maryland, and if you’re having crab, you need to season it with Old Bay. This cheese-filled jumbo pretzel was rolled in Old Bay. Dangerously perfect.
5. Boog’s BBQ turkey sandwich – Oriole Park at Camden Yards – Baltimore Orioles
I tried turkey and pork sammies at Boog’s BBQ in Baltimore, and the turkey one ranked higher in my books. It’s expensive, but you get an ample amount of meat and can also load up on onions, Old Bay, BBQ sauce and horseradish.
4. Shopsy’s Bill Cosby Triple Decker – Rogers Centre – Toronto Blue Jays
Shopsy’s makes darned good deli sandwiches and the Bill Cosby Triple Decker was outstanding. It was huge, filling and not as greasy as you might expect. The coleslaw and pickle were a nice addition, affirming that I’d eaten healthily by getting a meal with “vegetables.”
3. Quaker Steak & Lube chicken wings – Rogers Centre – Toronto Blue Jays
Quaker Stake & Lube wings are delicious, and surprisingly, the quality doesn’t drop off when served at a stadium. I’ve had several flavors of these wings at Rogers Centre, and they’re all winners in my book.
2. Buffalo chicken macaroni and cheese – Frontier Field – Rochester Red Wings
Mac and cheese? Check. Chicken and hot sauce? Check. Blue cheese dressing? Check. Simply the best mac and cheese I’ve ever had anywhere. If you’re in Rochester, don’t pass up a chance to try any of the gourmet mac and cheeses. On my website, TheBallparkGuide.com, I’ve got a complete rundown of Frontier Field’s delicious foods.
1. Bo Brooks crab cake sandwich – Ripken Stadium – Aberdeen IronBirds
Aberdeen’s menu offers many variations on crab and the crab cake sandwich was killer. On a fresh bun atop lettuce and tomato, and seasoned with plenty of Old Bay, this is the type of sandwich you could eat every inning. Definitely worth the drive if you’re remotely in the area. Visit my website for a complete guide to Ripken Stadium’s food selection.
I’m curious to hear about the amazing food other people have eaten, and where. I’ll be sure to check it out!
As always, follow me on Twitter to read the latest about my website, my blog and my travels.
Ballpark giveaways are a bit of a double-edged sword in my mind. On one hand, it’s usually fun to add something new to your collection, especially when it’s free. On the other hand, giveaway days draw more fans, which means longer lines, less space to walk, etc.
Still, if I see a giveaway day when I’m planning a road trip, I do what I can to arrange my schedule so that I can take advantage of the giveaway.
Over the past couple summers, I’ve added a handful of unique items to my collection. Some have actually been useful, too.
Here are the items that I accumulated in 2010 and 2011.
Cleveland Indians – Kenny Lofton Bobblehead
When I visited Progressive Field in 2010 for Kenny Lofton Indians Hall of Fame induction night, fans were given this Lofton bobblehead. I like how it replicates his famous catch in ’96. I also got a bobblehead last year when I was in Lansing. You can check it out here.
Lansing Lugnuts – Sticker
The story about getting this sticker was sort of funny. I read on Lansing’s website that if it’s your first Lugnuts game, you should visit the guest services booth to get a Lugnuts sticker. Cool, I thought. I’ll get a Lugnuts logo sticker that I can put on my laptop. And if other teams have a similar giveaway, I can build a MiLB sticker collection. Obviously, the sticker aimed at toddlers isn’t what I was expecting. I left guest services with a bit of a sheepish look on my face — but with the sticker in hand.
Detroit Tigers – Pin
I’m not sure I’ll ever find the occasion to wear this Tigers pin in the lapel of a suit jacket, but nonetheless, it’s a nice giveaway. This wasn’t given to every fan upon entering Comerica Park; you had to sign up for some mailing list to receive the pin.
Binghamton Mets – Lip Chap
This B-Mets lip chap is one of the most useful giveaways I’ve ever received. I got it last July 4 during a stop at NYSEG Stadium. Of course, I’m drawn to the baseball shape of the container. Pretty cool.
Portland Sea Dogs – Baseball
Fans who played catch on the field at Hadlock Field when I visited last July were given a Sea Dogs baseball. When I was in Vermont in August, the team had a similar giveaway — although I was busy getting autographs outside the clubhouse and the balls were gone by the time I got to field level.
Cleveland Indians – Tribe Time Towel
My brother and I hit Progressive Field last September and took in Jim Thome Night. Fans were given It’s Tribe Time Now towels, which we got to wave when Thome hit his last home run as an Indian.
I’ve blogged a handful of times about the different items I’ve bought or otherwise obtained (through giveaways, not stealing!) at ball games.
Today, I’ve got two game-used items that I think are pretty awesome.
The first is a New Hampshire Fisher Cats game-used player jacket. I visited Northeast Delta Dental Stadium in both 2010 and 2011, and loved the whole experience. When the team sold off its 2010 apparel at the end of the season because of a logo switch for the following year, every item was on sale. Big time.
Here’s the jacket …
… which I bought for $12.50. No joke. Regular price = $100. Sale price = $12.50. I bought the jacket online after the 2010 season, and part of me wonders if the item was priced incorrectly. After I bought it, the price shot up to $50, as I recall.
Anyway, you might wonder who wore it. Well, because Minor League players often share jackets as they move up and down through a team’s system, this jacket was worn by at least three players. You can see the numbers 4, 14 and 44 on the tag:
According to The Baseball Cube, these numbers belong to Brad Emaus (#4) and Bobby Bell (#14). There’s no one listed as #44, so I can only assume it was a Blue Jay on a rehab start on someone else who passed through quickly. Anyone have any ideas?
The second game-used item isn’t one I picked up last summer or the summer before, but it’s still worth sharing. In 2007, I got an Ottawa Lynx game-used jersey after the team sold off all its uniforms before moving to become the Lehigh Valley IronPigs of the International League.
Tim Raines, Jr. wore this Lynx jersey for a Halloween promotion. Here’s the front:
And here’s the back:
This summer, one of my goals is to buy another game-used item. I have no idea where or what at this point, but hopefully my game-used collection will grow.
Last week, I blogged about the six caps I’ve bought during my travels around Major League and Minor League Baseball.
This week, I want to continue the sports-centered wardrobe theme and talk about some of the shirts I’ve bought and received through stadium giveaways. As I’ve said, I don’t buy a hat at every park I visit. The same holds true for shirts and other memorabilia. Still, when the price is right and I like the look of something, I’ll add it to my collection.
Dating back to my first baseball road trips for TheBallparkGuide.com in 2010, here’s what I’ve picked up:
Cleveland Indians – Travis Hafner jersey shirt
This isn’t a traditional jersey shirt; you’ll see that it has Hafner’s nickname, Pronk, on the back. I’m a Hafner fan, and thought this shirt was unique.
New Hampshire Fisher Cats 1
When I visited New Hampshire’s (now called Northeast Delta Dental Stadium) in September 2010, the team was about to play what would be its final playoff game of the season. As such, most of the products in the team shop were on sale. I picked up this T-shirt for under $10.
New Hampshire Fisher Cats 2
I got this one for around $10, too. Not bad for a Nike product, and I like the look of it.
Great Lakes Loons
When I watched the Great Lakes Loons play in May 2011, I visited the team shop during a long rain delay. This shirt was priced way less than other comparable products, so I bought it. What I didn’t notice at the time is that the logo is significantly closer to the left sleeve. (Hence the price reduction.) Still, I like this shirt because it’s one baseball shirt that isn’t gaudy.
West Michigan Whitecaps
Speaking of gaudy (in a good way, of course), this bright red Whitecaps shirt featuring their logo is eye catching. Most of the shirts I’ve gotten are white, so this one stands out in my closet.
Fort Wayne TinCaps
Perhaps partly influenced by my amazing visit to beautiful Parkview Field, this TinCaps shirt is one of my favorites. I like its design and the fact it uses the MiLB logo in a prominent spot. Plus, who doesn’t like angry apples?
Lake County Captains
I wasn’t around to see Lake County win the first half of the Midwest League championship in 2010, but I liked this shirt enough to buy it in 2011.
I’m a big fan of this simple Shorebirds T-shirt by Nike. I like Delmarva’s logo and the simple design of this shirt.
Baltimore Orioles 1
When I was in B-More, I was lucky enough to attend a game with a T-shirt giveaway. The T-shirt this day was J.J. Hardy.
Baltimore Orioles 2
Last summer, Chevrolet heavily promoted the Volt at MLB stadiums, including Camden Yards. If you signed up to receive Chevrolet marketing material, you got a free T-shirt. Count me in! And, if you wanted to sign up multiple times, you’d get multiple shirts ….
Washington Nationals 1
A couple days after I was in Baltimore, I was in the nation’s capital over the July 4 long weekend. The Nats gave away American flag-themed T-shirts at the gate.
Washington Nationals 2
Just like in Baltimore, Chevrolet had a kiosk promoting the Volt. I managed to get, uh, a few of these shirts, too.
On July 4, I stopped in Binghamton to see the B-Mets battle the Portland Sea Dogs before an impressive fireworks show at NYSEG Stadium. During the game, I picked up what’s become one of my favorite items — a B-Mets pullover. These are the shirts the players wear during BP, in the dugout and while warming up. It’s awesome.
But what about game-used items? You’ll just have to check back tomorrow for some goodies that fall under that category.
I watched a heck of a lot of MiLB games in person last summer, and saw hundreds of players. When MLB released its Top 100 Prospects list last week, I started scrolling through it and was amazed at how many of these guys I saw throughout my travels. I also got photos of a bunch of them. Here they are:
#2: Bryce Harper – Hagerstown Suns
Harper was hurt when I visited Hagerstown, but I saw him and tried my hardest to get his autograph. I blogged about that entire experience, so check it out if you haven’t already seen it.
#12: Jesus Montero – Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees
I saw Montero, who was recently traded to Seattle, on the first day of my second big road trip. He didn’t play this game, but amusingly spent several minutes before first pitch standing on the top dugout step and making hand signals with his girlfriend several rows up. (I wish I’d gotten a photo, but I was sitting so close that it would’ve been blatantly obvious.)
#15: Jacob Turner – Erie SeaWolves
I actually got to see Turner pitch when he was with Erie. I stood right behind him as he was warming up in the bullpen, which was an amazing experience. He didn’t get the win, but gave up three runs through seven innings with eight strikeouts.
#25: Travis D’Arnaud – New Hampshire Fisher Cats
I’m happy I got to witness one game out of D’Arnaud’s 2011 Eastern League MVP season. On the game on July 28, he had a hit and a stolen base.
Four guys in the top 25. Not bad, right?
#35: Christian Yelich – Greensboro Grasshoppers
Yelich and his teammates played the Delmarva Shorebirds when I was there on June 28. Yelich didn’t get a hit, although in reviewing the box score, I’m amused to see the ‘Birds had five of their starting nine named Michael … including 1-2 hitters Michael Mooney and Michael Rooney. Collectively, the five Michaels went 1-18 in the game. But I digress.
#38: Matt Harvey – Binghamton Mets
I watched the B-Mets twice this season and saw Harvey start the game in Bowie on June 26. He got roughed up, giving up nine hits and four earned runs in 4.2 innings.
#40: Starling Marte – Altoona Curve
I saw Marte when I was in Harrisburg and Portland. He had one hit against Harrisburg and against Portland, had a single and two doubles.
#51: Nick Castellanos – West Michigan Whitecaps
I saw Castellanos go 1-for-4 with an RBI during my visit to Comstock Park, MI to watch the West Michigan Whitecaps in May.
#56: Will Middlebrooks – Portland Sea Dogs
I was lucky enough to see Middlebrooks’ team on two occasions, both at home and on the road. On July 4 in Binghamton, he went 3-for-3 with two RBIs, two walks and three runs scored. He didn’t play at home on July 31.
#57: Anthony Gose – New Hampshire Fisher Cats
Despite stealing 70 bases in ’11, Gose only managed to get picked off when I saw him in July. Before the game, I was able to get his autograph.
#60: Rymer Liriano – Fort Wayne TinCaps
My May visit to Fort Wayne was one of my summer highlights. Seeing Liriano was pretty cool, too. He walked twice, stole two bases and scored two runs.
#73: Mason Williams – Staten Island Yankees
As I enjoyed eating crab at Aberdeen’s Ripken Stadium, I watched Williams hit a triple and drive in two runs.
#75: Brad Peacock – Harrisburg Senators
I got to see Peacock pitch when I visited Harrisburg. He pitched a gem, going 6.2 innings with five hits allowed and no runs with six strikeouts. He’s since been traded to the Oakland A’s organization.
#88: A.J. Cole – Hagerstown Suns
Cole got the win on June 27 against Lakewood, throwing five innings of two-hit ball after Chien-Ming Wang pitched the first three in a rehab start.
#90: Jeurys Familia – Binghamton Mets
Familia got the start during my July 4 visit to Binghamton, and picked up his first win in the Eastern League, pitching five shutout innings and striking out six.
Of note, there were six guys on this list who weren’t in the lineup when I saw their teams. As such, I’m not counting them. (I’m counting Harper because of my successful quest to get his autograph.) But still, 15 out of the top 100 (and 22 if you count the guys who weren’t playing) is great. I hope to see even more of these guys, including some of the new draftees, on my travels this summer.