One of the things I enjoy about visiting a new ballpark is finding the players’ parking lot. It’s usually not hard — just look for the Range Rovers on 24-inch rims.
The players’ lot isn’t visible or accessible at every ballpark. In the Majors, the lots are blocked off or hidden completely, such is the case at Toronto’s Rogers Centre, where the lot is underground.
In Minor League parks, the players’ lot is always easy to find. In some spots, like Rochester’s Frontier Field or Syracuse’s Alliance Bank Stadium, it’s as close or closer to the front gate as the lot where fans park.
I don’t always make a point of looking for the players’ lot, but plan to from now on. Still, in my travels, I’ve been able to take a bunch of photos of some amazing-looking vehicles.
At Cleveland’s Progressive Field, the players park in a walled-in lot at the corner of Carnegie Avenue and East 9th Street. The lot is visible from the street and also from the stadium concourse. This is what the lot looks like from the street:
It’s hard to make out too many of the cars in the shot above, but you can clearly see a Porsche just to the left of the words ‘Private Entrance.’
From one spot on the concourse, you’ve got this view of the lot:
And from another area, you can see closer to the gate:
That’s a Bentley in the foreground, an Escalade diagonally above it and a late-1960s Chevrolet Camaro SS in hugger orange.
At Nationals Park, the players’ lot is walled in and located along Potomac Avenue SE. From the concourse, I snapped this photo last July, showing a white Range Rover:
(Hands up if you noticed the Range was parked illegally in the photo.)
At Camden Yards in Baltimore, the players’ lot is situated in the corner of a fan lot between the ballpark and M&T Bank Stadium, home of the NFL’s Ravens:
From the concourse, I spotted a Mercedes-Benz and a white Range Rover …
… and a red Range Rover, white Mercedes-Benz and a maroon Cadillac Escalade:
But the players’ lots at the Major League parks aren’t the only ones that feature high-end vehicles. Salaries aren’t high in Minor League Baseball, but if a player received a substantial signing bonus, the odds are good he’ll spend some of it on a sweet set of wheels.
At Alliance Bank Stadium in 2010, I toured the players’ lot and snapped this photo of an Escalade with a custom license plate:
The Aberdeen IronBirds play in the Short-Season A New York-Penn League, so the lot at Ripken Stadium isn’t full of $100,000 cars. But there are some big rims:
Move up through the minors a bit and the cars improve. At Fifth Third Ballpark, home of the West Michigan Whitecaps, this Range Rover stood out among its peers:
If I was a betting man, I’d wager that it belongs to Nick Castellanos, who the Detroit Tigers drafted in 2010 and signed for $3.45 million.
When I visited Bowie’s Prince George’s Stadium last summer, I thought the Pontiac Grand Am stood out a little in the row of Benzes and an Escalade:
Sometimes, it’s fun to try to figure out which vehicle belongs to which player. At New Hampshire’s Northeast Delta Dental Stadium, you can see the players’ lot from behind the first base line. Last summer, I took this photo of an Escalade and a Lincoln Navigator:
The Lincoln has Connecticut plates, and the only player from Connecticut on the Fisher Cats at the time of my visit was Mark Sobolewski, a fourth-round pick of the Blue Jays in the 2008 draft.
The last two photos are of Chevrolet Tahoe trucks, both of which have custom rims. I spotted this one last year at Potomac’s G. Richard Pfitzner Stadium:
And this one at Delmarva’s Arthur W. Perdue Stadium:
Traveling to dozens of professional ballparks for my website, TheBallparkGuide.com, has yielded some pretty amazing experiences over the past two summers. This is a story about my best ballpark souvenir ever and how it led to a pro ball player’s best Christmas.
In the second inning, as I sat on the third base side, Delmarva Shorebirds left fielder Jeremy Nowak stepped to the plate and dug in against Greensboro starter Rett Varner. Varner had already struck out two Shorebirds in the game, but Nowak jumped on the pitch and launched it over the fence in left-center field.
During pre-game batting practice, I’d managed to snag 12 balls behind the outfield fence. As I watched Nowak’s shot disappear over the fence, I wondered if another fan or a team employee would go retrieve the ball. Or, perhaps, would the ball be sitting on the grass undisturbed?
This question lingered in my mind as I watched the game unfold, and at the end of the eighth inning, I decided to duck out early and see if the ball was still there.
I quickly made my way out the gate, along the fence down the first base line and eventually behind the outfield fence. When I got to the area that I figured Nowak’s ball must’ve landed, it stood out easily:
My first home run ball!
When I got back to my hotel, I checked the box score to see how the game ended. It turns out that Delmarva lost 2-1; Nowak’s home run was the only run the Shorebirds scored. I also took a look at Nowak’s stats to learn a bit about him. A 13th round pick of the Baltimore Orioles in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft out of Mount Olive College, he spent 2010 with the Short-Season A Aberdeen IronBirds. He began the 2011 season in Aberdeen, too, but after collecting eight hits, two home runs and six RBIs in his first eight games, Nowak earned a promotion to Delmarva. I also saw that he hadn’t had any South Atlantic League home runs before the one I saw. All this is a long way of saying the home run ball sitting in my backpack was Nowak’s first at the South Atlantic League level.
I weighed my options. Part of me wanted to give the ball back to him, but another part of me was pumped to have my first home run ball. I finally decided it would mean more to him than to me, so I sent these Tweets to the team around 11 p.m. that night:
I was driving to Baltimore the next morning, but I wondered if I could leave the ball at Perdue Stadium’s ticket office for Nowak to pick up. Ideally, I would’ve loved to meet him to hand over the ball, too. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a response.
Fast forward to the middle of December, when I received an email from Alicia, who is Nowak’s girlfriend.
My boyfriend Jeremy Nowak recently showed me your Ballpark Guide website. Jeremy plays outfield for the Delmarva Shorebirds. You visited his stadium back in June and wrote an article about your experience on your website. Jeremy said that he randomly stumbled upon your blog one day when he was fooling around on the computer and googling his name. He was so shocked to get to the end of the article and to see that you found his home run ball! He told me that he would love to have the ball.
As soon as Jeremy said that, I knew that I wanted to try to get the ball back for him because I know it would mean so much to him. I just bought a beautiful case to hold and display the ball and I plan on getting it engraved.
I would LOVE to give the ball back to him for a very special Christmas gift! If you could please contact me and let me know what you think, I would *really* appreciate it! Thank you so much for your time!
Wow! Nearly six months after I got the ball and tried to get it back to Nowak, (who I’ll call Jeremy from now on) here was another opportunity. I emailed back and forth with Alicia and arranged to send her the ball, as well as email her some photos I’d taken of Jeremy that she wanted to use for a collage. Before packing the ball up, I took a few last photos of it …
… and then put the ball in the mail the next day and kept my fingers crossed it would arrive before Christmas.
On Dec. 22, I heard back from Alicia:
The ball came in today!! I’m so happy it came in on time!! I put the pictures you sent me in a cute frame and then I put the article you wrote in a nice binder. Have a great holiday! I will talk to you soon. Thank you again for everything!
I have to admit that over the holidays, I thought about how Jeremy might like the ball on Christmas Day, and looked forward to hearing all about it. Alicia also said she’d send some photos of Jeremy with the ball to use on my blog.
On Jan. 4, Alicia emailed me:
Jeremy literally described this Christmas by saying, “This is the best Christmas I have ever had!” The whole thing went awesome!! I gave him a few other Christmas gifts I bought for him then I pretended that I was done with his gifts, so he gave me my gifts. When I was done opening mine, I acted like our gift exchange was over.
About two or three minutes later, I was like “Oh, Jeremy, I almost forgot … I have one more gift for you!” He was so confused! I tied a scarf around his eyes and made him sit on the ground. I placed the ball (which was in the case with the engraved plate) on the coffee table.I turned him toward the coffee table and took the scarf off his eyes. He looked at the ball, read the plate, and was like “Oh my god! It’s my ball!! How did you get it?! This is so awesome!”
He just kept looking at the ball and at me in a state of amazement! After that, I told him that I had another surprise for him. I put your article in this binder and added a cute little note in the beginning and end of it. He absolutely loved it!!
The article in the binder worked out great because later in the evening when he went to show everything to his family and friends, he showed them the article first and then the ball … which made the story really great!
After he looked through the binder, I told him that I had one last surprise for him! He was like “Alicia, are you serious?!” I made him this frame with the pictures that you sent me, the box score, and this cute motivational quote that he loves. Jeremy was so surprised and happy! He was like, “Does anyone in my family know you did this?” I was like,“No, I kept it a total secret!”He literally could not wait to get home and show everyone because his family and friends already knew the story about your article. It was seriously such an amazing Christmas!This Christmas was honestly my favorite Christmas too! It was great to give Jeremy such a special gift and to see his reaction toward it. I cannot thank you enough Malcolm!! This Christmas was honestly perfect! THANK YOU SO MUCH AGAIN!!
In the photo above, you can see the case Alicia bought and had engraved. Here’s a close-up:
Alicia included a photo of Jeremy with the display she’d made, which included a few of my photos:
One with Jeremy and the binder that included my blog entry about the whole adventure:
And finally, one of Jeremy and Alicia — with the ball, of course:
A couple days later, Alicia told me that she and Jeremy had put a thank you package in the mail for me, so I anxiously awaited it. When it arrived a week later, it felt like another Christmas morning for me. I carefully opened the envelope and inside, I found four things:
A thank you note from Jeremy:
A signed rookie card featuring Jeremy with the IronBirds:
A Tim Hortons gift card:
And a photo of Jeremy crossing home plate after he’d hit the home run. Somehow, Alicia had tracked down the photo from another fan who was in attendance that day. (She later put the photo in the blank spot on the collage.)
Strangely enough, I’m actually in the background of the photo above. See the guy with the yellow shirt and black cap who’s sitting alone in the top row of the section with the green seats? That’s me.
I have to say, this whole experience was extremely rewarding for me. It’s obviously amazing to get the generous package from Alicia and Jeremy, but it feels amazing to see that Jeremy was so excited about getting the ball back. As much as Alicia and Alicia have thanked me, I thank them equally for allowing me to be a part of such a great experience. Obviously, I’m excited to follow Jeremy’s career and hopefully see him in action again soon!
A full guide to Arthur W. Perdue Stadium is available on my website, as are guides to 15 other parks I’ve visited. Your visits and clicks help pay for my travels!
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Last year, I saw a ton of MLB and MiLB games on my travels. If you’re curious where I went, check out this link.
In continuing with my Best of 2011 series, I’ll be looking at 15 more highlights (and the odd lowlight) from Portland, Maine to Midland, Michigan and several spots in between. (If you missed them, here are links to part one and part two of this three-part series.)
31. Best baseball overload: Dow Diamond
One of the many perks of Dow Diamond, home of the Midwest League’s Great Lakes Loons, is that the park has Wi-Fi. As you’ll see below, while I waited for the start of the Loons game, I took in an inning or so of the Blue Jays game on my iPod touch, thanks to the MLB ’11 app:
32. Most expensive jersey: Michael Jordan signed Birmingham Barons jersey
Most MLB parks have numerous memorabilia items for sale or up for auction, and it’s fun to check out the selection. When I was in Baltimore in June, I saw a Minor League Baseball jersey that might’ve been a tad overpriced. You can draw your own conclusions, but I’d rather put $2,000 to better use:
33. Best parking job: Detroit’s Comerica Park
When I call this the best parking job I saw, it’s a little tongue-in-cheek. I spotted the Ferrari below in one of the lots outside Comerica Park. The guy obviously didn’t want to put his car in a regular space, and I wonder if he carries the pylons around in his trunk:
As a side note, after I took this picture, a homeless person asked me for money … while we were both inside the ballpark. (WTF?) I thought of suggesting that he should hang out around the car and wait for the owner to return. (As an extra side note, I was hit up for money THREE times inside ballparks this summer — Comerica Park, Progressive Field and Parkview Field. Triple WTF?)
34. Oddest home run celebration: Toronto
I was stoked when Toronto’s J.P. Arencibia homered during my first game of the season on May 19 in Toronto. But I obviously wasn’t as excited as this guy sitting a couple rows in front of me. He used the on-field distraction to lower his pants, rearrange himself and do his pants back up:
35. Worst seat I saw: Tie between Toronto and Baltimore
This seat in Toronto needs little explanation. Glad I didn’t buy a ticket for it:
Was it as bad as the seats chosen by these chickens at the Jack Daniel’s BBQ concession in Camden Yards? You be the judge:
36. Best team HOF induction ceremony: Cleveland’s Jim Thome Night
I’ve always been a fan of Jim Thome, regardless of where he’s played. A prolific hitter, he’s always just gone about his business and is one of the lone modern-day sluggers never associated with steroids. It was amazing to be at Progressive Field in September to watch Thome be inducted into the Indians Hall of Fame. Although a long rain delay dampened the festivities slightly, Thome put an exclamation on everything by blasting a home run, which would end up being his final as an Indian. Here are a couple pictures from that great evening:
37. Best/worst concourse TVs: West Michigan and Portland
Fifth Third Ballpark, home of the West Michigan Whitecaps, has a lot of catchy features. I was a big fan of the wooden ceilings over the concourse and the nice flat-screen TVs mounted below. The combination just seemed to work:
I’m not the type of person who spends much time gazing at the concourse TVs, but if I’m standing in line and can’t see the field, they’re a good way to keep an eye on the game. During my visit to Portland, however, the game on the TV was a little hard to follow:
38. Best being in the zone: Portland
As you might’ve read in part two of this series, I tested my mettle at the speed pitch booth at Hadlock Field in Portland. My wife served as my official photographer for the demonstration of blazing speed and as I awaited my turn in line, she snapped the picture below. She swears it’s me meditating or otherwise getting in the zone for my throws; I maintain I was just blinking:
39. Best place to toast marshmallows: Dow Diamond
Technically, I don’t know if fans can toast marshmallows on either of the two wonderful open fire pits at Dow Diamond. (I doubt it, due to that pesky fire marshal and his rules.) Sugary treats aside, isn’t this fire pit one of the coolest things you’ve ever seen at a ballpark?
40. Best sunset: Fifth Third Ballpark
If you’re a baseball fan, there’s something neat about watching the sun as it sets over the park. Oftentimes, you can get some amazing shots as the sun dips. I try to get a sunset shot everywhere I visit, but I think the one I took at Fifth Third Ballpark, home of the West Michigan Whitecaps, takes the cake:
41. Best bird’s eye view: PNC Field
As I watched the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees beat the Norfolk Tides at PNC Field in June, I could see the observation area high above the ballpark, which you can see toward the top of the image below:
I guessed this area would be a perfect location to shoot an overhead view of the park, so after the final out, I drove up the mountain to look for the lookout. It didn’t take long to find it, and I was able to take the shot below. The trees obstruct a little more than I would’ve liked, but it was still neat to get this view of the park:
42. Best YouTube legend spotted: Wally Backman
If you haven’t seen the outstanding documentary Playing for Peanuts, you definitely need to check it out. Former Met Wally Backman takes center stage in the documentary and in the scores of extras available on YouTube. I was lucky enough to see Backman up close in Bowie, although I wasn’t quick enough to get an autograph:
43. Most famous landmark spotted: Washington Monument
When I was in the nation’s capital to watch the Washington Nationals play three games in July against the Pittsburgh Pirates, I didn’t have time to do any sightseeing. Still, from the upper deck of Nationals park, I could make out the Washington Monument (and also the U.S. Capitol building):
44. Most terrifying company logo: Uncle Julio
I’m not sure who Uncle Julio is, but he’s represented larger than life on a sign at G. Richard Pfitzner Stadium, home of the Potomac Nationals. Is it just me, or is Julio a little disturbing?
45. Best game program: Toledo’s Muddy Times
If you plan on visiting Toledo’s Fifth Third Field, make sure to get yourself a copy of the team’s Muddy Times game program. It’s the best I saw this summer. It’s free, has 100+ pages and gives you plenty of interesting things to read while you’re waiting for the game to start or between innings. I blogged about some of the different programs I’ve picked up here.
Thanks for reading. Lots more cool content coming soon as I count down the days to 2012 Opening Day and finalize some of my early-season trips.
Last week, I explained that while I’m looking forward to the 2012 baseball season, I’m wrapping up an amazing 2011 by blogging about the bests and worsts from my travels. If you missed it, you can find part one here.
Let’s get to the second installment of this three-part series.
16. Best action photo: Ryan Perry
I took a number of action photos throughout my travels and while my camera isn’t the best that money can buy, I’ve got a lot of experience with shooting sports and can usually get some good shots. When I was in Detroit, I took this photo of Tigers pitcher Ryan Perry during a bullpen section. I’d say it turned out pretty well:
17. Best-looking desserts I didn’t try: Toledo
I was in Toledo on May 26 for a rare matinee game that started at 10:30 a.m. The early start time was fine by me, but it meant I was a little reluctant to dive into the delicious-looking desserts offered at Fifth Third Field:
18. Worst screaming kids: Toledo
Toledo had an impressive dessert cart, but given the game’s start time, the ballpark was full of school groups. Let’s just say my ears were ringing for much of the game. And the PA announcer’s cries of, “I can’t hearrrrr you!” didn’t help the cause.
19. Worst smoking section placement: Erie’s Jerry Uht Park
I had a good time in Erie on May 29. It was a perfect day weather-wise and I even got a foul ball. Jerry Uht Park has a number of cool features, including a standing-room area in left field. The downside? You have to forge a path through the death cloud that hovers in the park’s smoking section to make it to the left field area. See the nice photo below? When the park gets crowded, the air in this caged area is purplish-blue:
One more comment on the smoking section. It’s directly above the Erie bullpen. Figure that one out.
20. Best and worst signs: Lake County and Binghamton
One last point on my anti-smoking crusade. I saw the sign below at the main gate of Lake Erie’s Classic Park and was impressed with the club’s tongue-in-cheek warning for smokers.
The honor for worst sign goes to this sketchy one posted outside the main gate of Binghamton’s NYSEG Stadium.
And now, onto nicer topics.
21. Best on-field experience: Portland
I got to walk on the field at four ballparks this summer: Bowie’s Prince George’s Stadium, Erie’s Jerry Uht Park, Vermont’s Centennial Field and Portland’s Hadlock Field. I visited the latter with my wife and (much to her chagrin) we played catch for about half an hour. Hadlock Field has a Green Monster of its own, so I threw balls off it and fielded them. For your viewing pleasure, I’ve posted one of me misplaying a ball. In my defense, I was trying to barehand it. The invisible cutoff man was not pleased:
22. Hottest horseradish: Boog’s BBQ at Camden Yards
I had sandwiches at the famous Boog’s BBQ booth in Baltimore (say that five times fast) during both visits. I bought a giant BBQ sandwich during my first game and loaded it with horseradish. I carefully carried the enormous meal to an empty seat, bit into it and then promptly reached for a napkin to pick up my eyeballs, which had blown out of my head. If you’re ever in B’more, get a sandwich at Boog’s. But go lightly on the horse:
23. Best in-stadium museum: Delmarva’s Arthur W. Perdue Stadium
If you ever visit Arthur W. Perdue Stadium, home of the South Atlantic League’s Delmarva Shorebirds, you absolutely have to check out the Eastern Shore Baseball Hall of Fame Museum. It’s free to enter and it’s loaded with amazing baseball memorabilia from the Maryland/Delaware area and beyond. Here’s one picture that hardly does the museum justice:
24. Worst food rip-off: Large pizza at Nationals Park
For the record, I didn’t get suckered into buying this item, but I did a good double-take when I saw the concession stand’s price board. Take a look at the picture below and tell me if you’d order a full-size cheese pizza:
25. Best hotel view: Hilton Baltimore
It’s not cheap to get a field-facing room at the Hilton Baltimore, but it’s absolutely worth doing if you’re a sucker for a great view. The photos hardly do it justice, but here’s Camden Yards from my room in the daylight and at night. Click to make the pics big:
26. Best rain delay competition: Vermont
When I was at Centennial Field in August, there was a long rain delay. I walked around behind Vermont’s clubhouse and found out what players do during these sorts of delays:
27. Best former MVP meeting: Boog Powell in Baltimore
A day after his sandwich’s horseradish blew my face off, I met Powell, the 1970 American League MVP. I neglected to mention the horseradish incident to him, but did get a photo with the O’s legend:
28. Most mayflies spotted: Harrisburg
Late in the game during my May visit to Harrisburg’s Metro Bank Park, the sky got busy as roughly, oh, a zillion mayflies flew overhead. Their lifespan wasn’t much to brag about, as a ton of them dropped from the sky onto everything below. It was actually like it was raining dead bugs; I’ve never experienced something like it, but it wasn’t bad at all. Here’s the scene overhead:
29. Best ballpark song: Lansing Lugnuts
A description doesn’t do it justice, but if you’ve been to Lansing’s Cooley Law School Stadium, you’ll know what I mean. When the Lugnuts score, the park’s speakers (and the fans) sing, “GO NUTS GO NUTS GO NUTS GO NUTS LUGNUTS LUGNUTS LUGNUTS LUGNUTS.” It’s actually catching. Next time I’m there, I’m going to record it.
30. Best “Put me in, coach” moment: Speed pitch in Portland
Under the watchful eye of a
few MLB scouts bunch of nine-year-olds, I paid my dollar, stepped up and threw two balls into the speed pitch netting in Portland’s kids’ play area. The gun showed 68 mph, but I’m sure that number was the result of a clerical error. The good news? I trounced those nine-year-olds. Look at this form:
Part three of this series is coming soon!
Every single day, a number of people find my blog on the Internet by searching for Bryce Harper. And why not? Harper is arguably the most exciting — and promising — baseball prospect to come along in years. Visitors to my blog find me by searching his name, his now-famous truck and his autograph.
Fortunately, and the reason that people find my blog when searching for Harper, I got to see him last summer when he was a member of the Hagerstown Suns. Back on June 27, I visited Hagerstown’s Municipal Stadium to watch the Suns against the Lakewood Blueclaws.
Harper was nursing a minor injury and wasn’t in the lineup during my visit. But as soon as I made it to the parking lot at the rear of the ballpark, I saw his truck and knew he was around.
Here are some pictures of the truck:
This was pretty cool to see. I’ve since seen Harper post pics of his vehicles on his Twitter feed, but this was the first time I saw his ride in person.
After taking these pictures, I waited for Municipal Stadium to open and quickly secured a spot along the fence near the Suns clubhouse, waiting for Harper to come out. He finally did, just before 7 p.m., walking alongside teammate Randolph Oduber. I was waiting with camera in hand:
I was hoping for an autograph, but as you can tell from the sequence above, Harper came toward me and kept walking.
Other fans, however, were luckier. Anyone who thinks that Harper isn’t fan friendly probably isn’t speaking from experience. Even though the other players had finished signing and the first pitch was just moments away, Harper stopped and signed:
After snapping this picture, I made my way through the crowd to get a better angle. All the while, Harper signed:
He even stood waiting as a veteran climbed all the way down from the top of the bleachers to get an autograph. Not exactly the type of behavior that some in the media are focusing on, is it?
Once the game begun, Harper took a spot on the top step of the dugout:
A few innings in, he spent part of an inning serving as Hagerstown’s first base coach:
While I didn’t manage to get his autograph before the game, I didn’t give up. Thirty or 40 minutes after the final out, I met Harper beside his truck where I chatted with him for a moment and he signed my ball for me: