Here’s proof of what a baseball nerd I am: I often begin my baseball road trips with a long drive, which means I’m leaving home while it’s still dark outside. The first city on this trip, Auburn, is slightly more than three hours from my home … but I was still up at 5 a.m. and on the road a couple hours later. You can never start your baseball trip too early.
I made a bunch of stops along the way and checked into my hotel in the middle of the afternoon. You can reach much more about the hotel toward the end of the post. I had a quick late lunch and then packed up my camera stuff and was off to Falcon Park.
More baseball nerdism: I’ve already been to Falcon Park twice since 2010 and it’s such a small park that you can reasonably explore every part of it in well under 10 minutes. The average fan might arrive shortly before first pitch, right? Not me — I was there more than two hours before game time and it was so early that the parking lot looked like this:
Falcon Park has one of the best parking setups you’ll find in all of baseball. The lot is free for fans and directly across the street from the ballpark gates. It really couldn’t be any better.
One thing that I enjoy doing when visiting smaller parks is to walk around behind the park and see if I can snag a ball during batting practice. If you follow this blog regularly, you’ll have seen several times that I’ve done this. Although I was hoping to get a ball, I didn’t plan to stand back there for long as I was excited to get inside and watch BP from the seats.
Falcon Park has such an intimate feel that there’s really no spot in which the players are inaccessible, except when they’re behind closed doors. As I cut through the staff parking lot on my way toward the rear of the ballpark, I could hear the sound of a man talking and looked up to see a member of the Auburn coaching staff talking to the entire team in this training building:
I didn’t want to blatantly stand there and take a photo of the team meeting, so I moved over a little to show the building and the open door without invading the team’s privacy, but the entire team was on folding chairs just out of sight from this view. This building has training equipment — you can see some medicine balls on a rack — and also serves as the indoor batting cages for use during inclement weather. It’s located in the left field corner, just behind the fence and adjacent to the Doubledays clubhouse, which is the red brick building.
After listening to the coach’s remarks for a moment, I continued toward the grassy hill behind the outfield fence and a moment later, this was my view:
I scoured the area nearly from foul pole to foul pole and there weren’t any balls to be had. I stood around for about 10 or 15 minutes and while I could hear some balls hitting the fence, absolutely nothing was flying out of the park. I thought briefly about climbing this ladder to not only watch BP, but to also take a cool photograph …
… and then decided that a home run ball in the head would be a poor way to start my trip.
Shrugging off the desire to add more balls to my collection, I followed along the edge of the ballpark until I reached the front where I snapped this photo:
Don’t you just love the look of the front of this ballpark? I think it looks super sharp.
I picked up the media pass that Doubledays broadcaster David Lauterbach had left me (thanks, David!) and walked inside the park. The area just inside Falcon Park’s main gate is a hubbub of activity during the game — a souvenir shop, several promotional tables, the concession stand and, in general a gathering place. At this point, though, it was still quiet:
The visiting Mahoning Valley Scrappers were still hitting and I climbed to the top of the bleachers on the third base side to take this panorama:
After watching BP for a few minutes, both from the bleachers and then from the first-row seats directly above the dugout, I decided to take advantage of the empty park and walk around. One place where I’d never spent too much time during previous visits was the party deck down the first base line, so that’s where I went next. I think you’ll agree that it offers a great view:
I didn’t see any balls in this area, which was fine. My self-imposed rule is that if I find a ball inside a ballpark before the gates open, I throw it back on the field. For fun, I decided to do a little ball hunting and thought that this spot between the party deck and the adjacent standing room and kids’ play area might yield something:
All it yielded, however, was an enormous spider web on my face. I guess this wasn’t a high-traffic area because the web spanned from the wooden deck right across to the metal fence. After a moment of
frantically swiping at myself calmly removing the strands of web from my face, I decided to grab a cobweb-less seat adjacent to the field to watch the rest of BP.
One thing that was really interesting was watching Scrappers manager Travis Fryman, himself a 13-year MLB veteran and Gold Glove winner, working with third baseman Nathan Winfrey for several minutes on positioning and glove placement. Although I couldn’t hear everything Fryman was saying, it was neat to witness the lesson. Fryman even took Winfrey’s glove to reinforce a few points …
… before giving it back but continuing the lesson:
When the teaching moment ended, I shifted my attention back to the area around home plate and took a photo of this “you know you’re in the minors” moment — players loading batting practice balls into a Pep Boys shopping cart:
I milled around for the next little while before making my way down the third base line toward the Doubledays clubhouse. The players were starting to filter out and I wanted to capture some shots, like this one of third baseman Kelvin Gutierrez and outfielder Randy Encarnacion:
I noticed that even though it was still about half an hour before first pitch, Encarnacion was already wearing his ankle guard. I made a mental note to make a joke in my blog about him looking really ready go to … and then he went out and hit a home run in his first at-bat and a bases-clearing double in his second at-bat. I guess his strategy worked!
When the home team started playing catch, I snapped a bunch of shots, like this one of first baseman Diomedes Eusebio:
During the anthem, I got my only photo of Mariano Rivera III, who did not pitch in this game. He’s wearing #44 and spent the entire game in the bullpen where I didn’t have a good view of him:
When the game began, I grabbed a seat in the front row behind the home dugout, which is where I sat a lot during my last visit. The park had an amazing atmosphere. For this game, bleacher tickets cost $1, so the bleachers were close to full and very boisterous. From my vantage point, I took this cool shot of third baseman Melvin Rodriguez calling off catcher Jorge Tillero to catch a pop-up in foul territory:
Here’s a shot of 2015 third-rounder Rhett Wiseman just after laying down a bunt that ended up rolling foul:
And a pair of pictures of Encarnacion just after rounding third after his home run …
… and returning to the dugout right in front of me:
From where I sat, I had a great view of not only the field, but also of the players as they’d come and go through the dugout entrance on my right. Here’s Tillero who, despite how it looks, isn’t trying to avoid my shot:
At the start of the fifth inning, I went back down the first base line and took the pictures to build this panorama. Really nice sky, huh?
I decided to take another walk down that gap where I’d previously walked into the cobweb. It led to a great standing-room spot along the fence and, besides, I’d already gotten rid of all the web with my head, right? Well, I walked into the opening again and took another giant web in the face — uhh! To make matters worse, I looked to my right and saw this guy:
I guess he’d been busy rebuilding the damage I caused and I was in no mood to hang out near him. I scanned Falcon Park for my next spot to hang out and decided to go up the bleachers behind home plate to beside the press box. Here, I had this view:
Next, I left the park to capture this nighttime shot:
Later in the game, Mahoning Valley’s Connor Marabell blasted a home run over the fence in left center, so I ran quickly outside to look for the ball. Either it was too dark …
… or someone happened to be walking past and grabbed it, but I didn’t get it. Too bad, too, because it was Marabell’s first career home run as a professional and I would’ve loved to give it back to him.
I spent the game’s last couple innings in the front row behind home plate where I had a great view of not only the action at the plate, but also the Auburn on-deck circle, which was just a few feet in front of me:
In addition to the great atmosphere in the park, the game itself was also exciting. Auburn won 5-2 and the teams combined for 19 hits. Lots of action to enjoy and an absolutely perfect night for baseball.
Once the game wrapped up, I was looking forward to getting back to my hotel and relaxing. As I said, I’d been up at 5 a.m. and on the go ever since. Fortunately, I didn’t have to spend long getting to my hotel, the Hilton Garden Inn Auburn. It’s located just over a mile from the home of the Doubledays, so your drive between the hotel and ballpark only takes a few minutes. The last thing you need after a long day of traveling is to spend 20 or 30 minutes driving to your hotel, right? Here’s a shot of the outside of the hotel — a welcome sight after my long day!
This hotel was perfect — not only for the traveling baseball fan, but for anyone visiting Auburn for any reason. My room was large and clean with free Wi-Fi, a super-comfy bed, microwave, mini fridge and a 37-inch TV, among other things. And the hotel has a ton of other amenities that I checked out, including an athletic center, pool and business center. Here’s a shot of my room:
When I’d checked in earlier in the day, the hotel’s director of sales, Rita Trenti, gave me an extensive tour of the hotel, its connected restaurant BeauVine Chophouse and the hotel conference center. One thing I noticed was how much this hotel gives you a sense of where you are. At some hotels, there’s absolutely nothing to distinguish your location, but this one is filled with photos of the local area, which is neat. We also saw an outdoor courtyard with a fire pit, which is something I don’t think I’ve seen at other Hilton Garden Inns, and walked through the huge lobby where there are complimentary “happy hour” refreshments for guests:
The Hilton Garden Inn is definitely the place I’ll stay the next time I’m in Auburn to see the Doubledays and if you’re in the area, you definitely won’t regret booking this hotel, either. In addition to its close proximity to Falcon Park, it’s within walking distance (or a very short drive) to restaurants, grocery stores and Auburn’s downtown scene. Here’s one last shot of the exterior after I checked out:
Next up, Cleveland’s Progressive Field and the #TribeLive experience!
My bags are packed and I’m just about ready to hit the road. But first, I’m excited to share the schedule for my week-long baseball road trip that begins this morning.
Once I publish this post, I’ll be loading my car and driving to Auburn, NY, to watch the Auburn Doubledays in action against the Mahoning Valley Scrappers at Falcon Park. I visited this New York-Penn League ballpark on my very first trip for The Ballpark Guide, back in 2010, and I’m excited to return again. It’ll be a great place to start my trip.
On the morning of Tuesday, Aug. 25, I’ll drive to Cleveland where I’ll have to fortune of visiting Progressive Field as a guest of the Indians at the #TribeLive experience. It’s an updated version of the old Indians Social Suite, which I visited back in 2013. This time, I’ll be closer to field level and the entire visit promises to be exciting.
Because one day at an MLB park is never enough, I’m heading back to Progressive Field on Wednesday, Aug. 26. This time, I’ll have a regular ticket and will enjoy walking around the park and checking out all the new scenery from the off-season renovations.
I normally don’t schedule off-days on my baseball trips, but I’m taking off Thursday, Aug. 27, which will help me catch up with some blogging. I’m going to be spending the day in Cleveland, so I expect to get up to some fun touristy thing(s) that I’ll likely blog about. Any suggestions? Leave them below in the comments section. I’m thinking maybe the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, but we’ll see.
Friday, Aug. 28 is possibly up in the air. I’d originally planned to be in Washington, PA, to see my friend Jeremy Nowak play with his Evansville Otters teammates against the Washington Wild Things, just as I did last year around this time. As of last week, however, Jeremy is now a member of the Frontier League’s Joliet Slammers (where he’s hitting .333 with 10 RBIs in six games) so he won’t be in Washington. Unfortunately, that means I won’t get to see Jeremy this season, which will be the first time I’ve not seen him dating back to a streak that began in 2011. Anyway, Washington’s ballpark was beautiful and I really enjoyed my time there last year, so I might go to the game anyway. Or, I might find something else to do. In any case, I’ll be tweeting about my decision and blogging about wherever I end up.
On the morning of Saturday, Aug. 29, I’ll drive to Pittsburgh for the first of two Pirates games at beautiful PNC Park. I visited PNC Park last season but I’m excited to get back there again. I’ll see the Pirates in action both games against the Colorado Rockies. I’m also pumped to get to explore the city a little. I didn’t have much time during my last visit, but this time I’ll have the chance to do some sightseeing. Again, I’m open to any suggestions you want to throw my way.
As usual, I’ll be tweeting along the way and blogging as well.
Off I go!
Last week, I had the fortune of taking part in a once-in-a-lifetime baseball event.
I got to take my three-year-old nephew, Ben, to his first baseball game, alongside my brother (and Ben’s dad) Phil. Ben is about as much of a baseball fan as someone his age can be, watching the first few innings of Blue Jays games on many nights with my brother and chanting “Go Jays, go!” and “Home run!” when the mood suits him. Phil and I have been excited to think about taking Ben to his first Blue Jays game, but decided to try out something a bit more subdued until he’s a little older.
That plan found us at Raymond Chabot Grant Thornton Park (doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, eh?) in Ottawa, Canada, home of the Ottawa Champions of the Can-Am League. For the record, I’ve seen one Can-Am game in the past, back in 2013 when my friend Jeremy Nowak was playing for the Trois-Rivières Aigles. The Ottawa ballpark is the former home of the Triple-A Ottawa Lynx, who were in existence from 1993 through 2007 before moving to Allentown, PA, to become the Lehigh Valley IronPigs. Phil and I figured the park would be the perfect venue for Ben’s first game — not too overwhelming in terms of size and crowd, but still enough to truly provide the experience of watching professional baseball.
First, of course, we had to remind Ben that we’d be watching, not playing. He told me on the way to the park that he was going to “hit the ball and catch it” and when I asked him if he’d hit it far, he responded with “I can hit it a little bit far.” Thankfully, the little guy dozed in the car on the drive to the park, which would give him the energy for a late night out — even if he wouldn’t end up getting to pinch-hit.
We arrived just after 6:30 p.m. for the 7 p.m. game and our first view of the park was this shot from the parking lot:
OK, not the most enticing picture in history, but I can promise you that the pictures get much cuter as we go.
Ben was still groggy from his nap on the drive, so he got treated to a chauffeur ride across the lot from my brother:
After briefly walking around the concourse, we decided to head out to the seating bowl to give Ben a chance to take in the sights. The Champions had already taken the field by the time we reached the cross-aisle and it was truly a joy to see Ben processing all the new things before him:
(This photo was followed by a question: “Ben, do you have your mouth on that bar?”)
As you’ve probably encountered if you’ve attended a baseball game with a child, we sat for part of the first half of the first inning before Ben said he was hungry and we returned to the concourse for dinner. I’d scouted out the ballpark’s concessions menu online before our visit and I’ve gotta say that I was impressed with the look of things. While Ben scarfed a couple hot dogs (no picture of this — I asked if I could take his picture while he ate and he told me “Nope”) my brother and I set our sights on the ballpark’s poutine menu. Now, I’m not the hugest poutine fan in the world, but if it’s done right, it’s delicious.
While you can order your poutine plain — fries, gravy and cheese curds — there are some extra toppings to kick things up a notch. I got General Tao’s poutine, which was topped with breaded chicken, General Tao’s sauce, diced green onions and black sesame seeds. It was ridiculously good. I think it would crack my all-time ballpark food top-10 list. Absolutely delicious:
My brother had a winner, too. He got the 911 poutine, which had sriracha sauce and two types of hot sausage as toppings. He reported that the heat had him just on the verge of sweating, which is always a good sign. Here’s the serving:
We took our food down to some front-row seats on the first base side (the park is entirely general admission, so we wanted to sit close to the action) and mowed down our dinner with this view:
Once we’d eaten, Phil and I used toothpicks he’d grabbed at a concession stand and it wasn’t long, of course, before Ben convinced us that he needed one, too:
(By the way, if you think it’s odd that a three-year-old kid can successfully use a toothpick, you’d be pleased to know Phil taught Ben to chew and spit sunflower seeds well before his third birthday.)
Anyway, the toothpick adventure ended up being short lived because Ben found that if he held it in his mouth, he could pretend to be a “‘squito” and peck at us.
Now, over the last few weeks, Phil and I had been talking about how cool it would be for Ben to get a baseball at his very first game. Phil asked me if I thought there was a chance, and I told him I guaranteed it would happen. When we arrived at the park and I saw a bigger crowd than I expected, I was sweating about my guarantee — or maybe it was just the fumes coming off the 911 poutine. In any case, I figured that if I wasn’t able to snag a foul ball down the line, we might have a chance of a player giving Ben a warm-up ball.
Cute kid + glove = ball, right? Yes, but by the third inning, he’d yet to snag one. I hatched a plan: Jackals starting pitcher Gabriel Perez, who played between 2009 and 2014 in the Angels and Diamonbacks organizations, was coming out of the dugout each inning to play catch with the right fielder. We got Ben to patiently stand with his glove while Perez played catch and tried to make eye contact before the pitcher returned to the dugout each inning:
It didn’t take long to get his attention. In fact, after the first inning of this strategy, Perez caught the warm-up ball and turned to us — except by this point, Ben was down off the fence and had his back turned. So, Perez turned away and went back to the dugout.
By the midway point of the game, Ben still hadn’t managed to get a ball. Perez was down the line toward the bullpen and Phil caught his eye and pointed toward Ben. Perez gave a subtle hand rotation, as if to say, “Next inning” and we were able to breathe at least a partial sigh of relief.
In the meantime, we shifted our attention back toward the game and I was happy to see the familiar name of Tony Caldwell. A 2011 draft pick of the Marlins, Caldwell hit five home runs in his MiLB career and I managed to get one of them during a 2013 visit to Charleston, West Virginia. I didn’t get a good action shot of Caldwell during the game, but here he is on the video board:
The next half-inning, Phil and I looked for Perez. Sure enough, he emerged from the bullpen with a ball in his hand and began walking straight toward Ben. We told Ben to hold out his glove and be ready, just in case. I could barely contain my excitement and as Perez approached, the moment was absolutely priceless. Perez was awesome — instead of just handing Ben the ball and walking away, he made a point of holding it out to get Ben excited and then even helped Ben hold his glove the right way to secure the ball. I was snapping photos the entire time so I’ll let them speak for now:
Ben was stunned — when he said “thank you,” I think his words registered at 0.1 decibels because he was in awe, but Phil and I were quick to thank Perez multiple times. Ben accidentally dropped the ball onto the warning track, but Perez turned back around the grabbed it for him. This time, the pitcher put the ball in Ben’s throwing hand and made a joking point of closing his fingers around the ball.
What a moment!
Heartfelt thanks to Perez for being so generous and such a good sport. He’s having a great season so far (7-3, 2.56 ERA and 84 strikeouts in 84.1 innings) so I hope he gets a chance in affiliated ball again. We’ll definitely be pulling for him!
Ben assured us that he would “play with the ball every day” and “be careful with it,” so I’m glad to see he’s got a good head on his shoulders!
The next inning, Phil took a picture of Ben and me …
By 9 p.m. or so, Ben began telling us that he was getting tired. We decided to stay another half inning and a moment after this decision, a kid who couldn’t have been older than 10 appeared behind us with a ball for Ben! We thanked the kid profusely and were soundly impressed with his generosity. Kids get pretty excited to get baseballs at games and it obviously takes someone special to give his ball away. You could say that Ben was slightly happy with the two balls:
Figuring we’d end the evening on a high note, we took this group shot with my GoPro …
… and then headed up to the cross-aisle, where I snapped this quick panorama of the ballpark:
Ben was now energized by his new acquisitions and we stopped to take his photo at this display …
… before heading out to the parking lot and saying goodnight to the ballpark:
There was zero sleep for Ben on the ride back home, but plenty of talk about baseball and the playing thereof. It’s funny to think that Ben is probably still young enough that he won’t remember his first baseball experience, but I hope I’ll get the chance to share many more games with him as he grows up.
Thanks for such a special memory, Phil and Ben!
Getting to spend consecutive days watching baseball in any given city is awesome. So, after an exciting first day in Syracuse on June 22, it was great to get up early and enjoy hanging out in my hotel for the day before heading over to NBT Bank Stadium.
The day had a bit of an inauspicious start, though. I took the following photo at 6:30 a.m. and, as you can see, it was rainy and miserable looking:
The forecast was calling for sun and clear skies by game time, though, so I didn’t let the rain dampen my mood. Plus, even with the dreary morning skies, I got to enjoy a great view of the city from the window of my 15th-floor room at the Crowne Plaza Syracuse. By noon, the weather had cleared up …
… and I was looking forward to another perfect day of baseball with temperatures in the upper 70s. The evening’s game was set to begin at 7 p.m. For 7 p.m. games, I usually get to the park between 4:30 and 5 p.m., but I had a couple good reasons to be earlier on this day. Just before midnight the night before, Chiefs assistant GM Jason Horbal had sent me a tweet saying to have someone in the reception area call him when I got to the ballpark so we could catch up. I’d also met Syracuse.com sports reporter Lindsay Kramer during my Monday visit, and he wanted to meet up to interview me for a story he was going to write about my visit. Man, I never need any extra incentive to get to the ballpark, but I certainly had it on day #2 and couldn’t wait to get to the park.
My media pass from a day earlier was still valid — thanks, Jay! — so I entered the Chiefs admin area and ran into Jason right away. He had to speak to someone for a moment, so I hung out in this cool area …
… before he reappeared and I followed him to his office. I didn’t take any photos of his office because, hey, that’s his personal space. But I can tell you that it was amazing — practically a Chiefs/baseball memorabilia museum. Signed balls, game-used bats, random baseball stuff everywhere and a cool picture of Bryce Harper wearing his Chiefs uniform above the desk. We talked baseball for probably half an hour and I was at my baseball nerdiest, asking Jason a million questions about behind-the-scenes stuff that goes on with an MiLB franchise. I heard stories about the recent Dwight Gooden and Lenny Dykstra autograph appearance at NBT Bank Stadium, Nick Swisher’s visit during a rehab stint in May and a whole lot more. Jason’s a great guy. Give him a follow on Twitter and if you’re at a Chiefs game, look for him in the concourse and say hello.
After a while, he understandably had to get back to his pregame duties, but first he led me through the Chiefs offices, into a tunnel, through the Charlotte dugout and onto the field! Let me tell you, there’s no cooler experience than being on the field of a professional ballpark. Jason said to feel free to hang out on the field for as much of batting practice as I wanted and then headed away. Once he left, I took this photo to show where I was standing:
And this is what it looked like in panorama form:
As you can see, there was no action just yet. The Chiefs were due to hit very shortly, though, so I found a spot next to the home dugout, which was still empty:
Before the action began, I took this quick shot of myself with my GoPro:
The first sign of action on the field wasn’t the Chiefs hitting — it was three members of the Knights playing hacky sack. I was pretty impressed with their dedication. I believe they played for over an hour:
From left to right, that’s pitcher Zach Phillips with the sack on his head, pitcher Maikel Cleto and, I think, a member of the training/conditioning staff, although I could be incorrect. Incidentally, Phillips was one of the Knights I saw several times in the hotel lobby over the course of my stay.
Soon enough, the Syracuse players emerged from the dugout tunnel, took the field and started to hit. I was standing on the edge of the warning track beside the home dugout for virtually the entire batting practice, so I had an awesome view. Here’s star infielder Emmanuel Burriss, who was called up to the Nationals just three days after this game:
And here’s Tony Gwynn, Jr., who also made an appearance in my previous blog post:
Sometimes, the Knights’ game of hacky sack got a little crazy. At one point, an errant kick sent the sack into the stands and Cleto had to retrieve it:
As some players hit, infielder Josh Johnson did some running drills:
Although I took a bunch of photos, I was trying to remain as stationary as possible for much of BP, as I once again had my new GoPro strapped to my chest. I took some cool footage of the experience that I’ll be uploading onto my YouTube channel very soon. If you subscribe, you’ll be the first to know when it’s live!
It was an absolute blast watching BP from the field. I’d done it once before, when a guy named Jeter was rehabbing in Triple-A, and this time was awesome, too. If you read my blog regularly, you know how much I enjoy the batting practice experience in the minors, so watching it from just a handful of feet away on Jason’s recommendation was outstanding. Thanks again, Jay!
Before I left the field at the conclusion of BP, I snapped one last picture of Darin Mastroianni’s bat and batting gloves sitting on the tarp next to the cage. It’s interesting (to me, anyway) because Mastroianni’s jersey number with the Chiefs is actually 16, so the number 19 on the end of his bat must’ve been from a different season:
After leaving the field, I walked through the stands over to the Charlotte bullpen area, where the players were now playing catch. I was excited to see pitcher Kyle Drabek, who I saw lots of times between 2010 and 2014 in the Blue Jays system:
I also saw Brad Penny playing catch a day after his start. Even cooler, I noticed Penny running the stadium stairs when I first went out to the field. Pretty cool to see a a 37-year-old pitcher who has made nearly $50 million in his career working so hard to get back to the majors.
By this time, Phillips was done his marathon hacky sack game and was playing catch, too:
I watched the action on the field until the players headed for the clubhouse, and then I, too, found a different place to visit. It was time to hit the press box to meet up with Lindsay to discuss my interview. I met him and we decided to speak later in the game, so I took this photo of the empty field just before 6:30 p.m. …
… and then went to a suite-level observation area that allowed me to capture the scene outside NBT Bank Stadium:
Time to eat? I think so!
The Chiefs have a two-for-one Tuesday special every Tuesday home game, in which you can buy select concession items and get a second one for free. I’d been excited to see what the promotion would feature during my visit, and I pumped that it would be the food I was planning to buy anyway — the “Hofmann Ripper.” This deep-fried hot dog included hot sauce, blue cheese sauce and celery pieces. Sounds good, right? Obviously, I ordered two:
They were tasty. I’m not sure that they were the best ballpark hot dogs that I’ve eaten, but they were certainly among the most creatively designed. The combination of the hot sauce and blue cheese sauce was very chicken wing-esque, and the crunch from the celery was good. If you’re at NBT Bank Stadium this summer, I definitely recommend checking them out at the Chicken Fry Fry stand on the first base side.
Once I’d eaten, I took a bunch of photos to make up this big panorama …
… and then went down to field level in time for the first pitch. Like a day earlier, I found a spot in the front row behind the Chiefs dugout, which gave me a great vantage point for some action shots. Here’s Syracuse starter Taylor Hill, who pitched 5.2 innings of three-run ball:
And Charlotte second baseman Micah Johnson in the process of stealing his first of two bases in the game:
(You can see that Burris had a little trouble getting a handle on the ball!)
And here’s a shot of Chiefs catcher Dan Butler on his way back to the dugout after an inning:
I got this cool action shot of Burris just after he made contact with a pitch that ended up landing foul …
… and this one a moment later on his way to the dugout after lining out sharply:
As I’d been mentioning on Twitter in the days leading up to my Syracuse visit, I’d hoped to get a foul ball during either game. Back in 2013 when I visited NBT Bank Stadium for a doubleheader, I got a pair of foul balls. I didn’t make a real attempt to snag a foul during the first day of my visit this time, though, so I wanted to get a souvenir during the second game. For whatever reason, the crowd on this night was sparse, which meant the upper deck was pretty bare — especially down the lines. See this photo for evidence:
I always find that an easy way to end up with a foul ball is to sit in an empty section if there is one. Even if the ball isn’t hit directly to you, you shouldn’t have any trouble getting there before other fans. So, that’s exactly what I did. I took a seat in the above section just behind the News Channel 9 sign and less than half an inning later, I was holding this foul ball off the bat of Charlotte DH Tyler Saladino:
Funny story about this ball: It landed half a section to my right and a few rows above me, but I got there quickly and grabbed it. There was a kid a couple sections to my left who started running in the general direction of the foul, but he wasn’t even close to entering the section by the time I’d grabbed the ball. A handful of fans in that area booed loudly once I picked up the ball, apparently since I hadn’t chosen to ignore the ball so the kid could grab it. Not because of the booing, I decided right then and there that I’d quickly take a photo of the ball and then walk over and hand it to the kid. As I took the above photo, I noticed who I presumed to be the kid’s father waving his arms to encourage people to continue booing. Hmmm. That was enough of an incentive to convince me to keep it myself.
This is the seventh foul ball in my collection. One day, I’ll have to write a post about all of them.
Anyway, with my mission complete, I met up with Lindsay in the press box for my interview. I took this photo as we talked:
When the interview was done, I headed back down to the concourse when I ran into Jason behind home plate. I think it was the bottom of the seventh inning, and I decided to hang out with him and watch the rest of the game from this spot:
That’s former MLB pitcher Jose Valverde on the mound for Syracuse. He pitched the ninth inning and picked up the save as the Chiefs won 4-3. It was hilarious to watch his disregard for the new pitch clock that’s made headlines throughout baseball in 2015. Simply put, he cares zero percent about it. I was actually laughing out loud a few times. I believe the clock begins its 20-second countdown when the pitcher either receives the ball back from the catcher or steps onto the mound dirt between hitters. In any case, there were plenty of times that the entire 20 seconds had wound down long before Valverde had even taken the rubber. He never got a warning for it, either, so it was a funny game within a game to watch.
Although I was sad to be leaving NBT Bank Stadium when the game wrapped up, I was once again looking forward to enjoying the Crowne Plaza Syracuse for the remainder of my visit. The next morning, I took this panorama out my window …
… before taking my camera and going for a walk around the block to take some more shots. Here’s the hotel from the top level of the parking garage:
And the lobby entrance closest to the garage. There’s also valet parking here, too, if you’re interested:
I don’t know when I’ll visit Syracuse next, but I do definitely know that the Crowne Plaza is where I’ll stay. I was thoroughly impressed with every element of this visit, from the location of the hotel to the in-room amenities to the professionalism and friendliness of every staff member I encountered. If you’re a baseball fan visiting the city — or are just visiting the ‘Cuse for any reason, really — I wholeheartedly recommend this hotel.
The next morning, I checked out of the hotel about 10:30 a.m. and planned to do a little shopping before I made the three-hour drive home. First, though, I wanted to make one last baseball-related stop. I’m always interested in seeing baseball facilities of any type on my trips, and when I saw on the map that I was just a few minutes from Le Moyne College, a school that has an NCAA Div. II baseball team, I knew I had to visit. The college campus was beautiful and quiet. I found the athletic facilities easily, parked my car and took a walk around to check out everything. Here’s a look at the baseball field from just inside the gate:
And the field in panorama form:
After taking these photos, I packed up my camera for good and began the short drive home after an outstanding few days.
I’ll be announcing my next travel plans very soon, so please keep an eye on this blog for details. Thanks for reading!
I’ve never been good at math.
But the reason that I got up on Monday at 5 a.m. for a 7 p.m. baseball game in a city located three hours away wasn’t due to poor math skills. Rather, it was simply due to a love of the game. For me, there’s absolutely nothing better than watching live baseball and it’s tough to get much sleep the night before a trip.
Even though I’d been to Syracuse to see the Chiefs in action twice for The Ballpark Guide (and also visited but ended up being rained out a couple other times) I was excited to get back to town for a pair of games at the start of last week. So, yeah, I was up bright and early and on the road a few hours later. I made a handful of stops on the drive but ended up getting to Syracuse about 2 p.m. I’ve often said that one of the things that boosts the enjoyment of a baseball road trip is staying in a great hotel, and that would be true once again. I’d booked two nights at the Crowne Plaza Syracuse; in past visits to the city, I’ve often noticed this tall hotel and the prominent role it plays in the city’s skyline, so I was excited to check it out. (More on the hotel later in this post.)
Because I arrived about an hour before check-in, I had some time to kill, so I hung out in the lobby and did some people watching. It proved exciting because the Crowne Plaza is the hotel that visiting International League clubs use! The Charlotte Knights were in town to square off against the Chiefs and the Knights players and staff members were coming and going the entire time that I sat in the lobby. It’s pretty easy to spot ballplayers, and I’d estimate that I saw at least 15 players and coaches during the short time I sat there.
At one point, a Knights staffer approached the front desk with a rolling suitcase and asked if the hotel staff could keep the suitcase behind the desk for a player to pick up later. Apparently, he was on a different flight and wouldn’t arrive for a little while. The clerk asked who the luggage belonged to and I perked up my ears as the staffer replied “Chris Beck.” Beck was a second-round pick of the Chicago White Sox in 2012 and has already pitched one game for the ChiSox this season.
Before long, it was time to check in, so I left my spying for another time and went up to my room on the 15th floor. I expected that I’d have a great view of the city and I definitely wasn’t disappointed. Here’s what it looked like:
I didn’t have much time to enjoy the room just yet — I wanted to get over to NBT Bank Stadium good and early, because assistant GM Jason Horbal was providing me with a media pass. If you recognize his name, he’s the former GM of the Auburn Doubledays who give me the opportunity to throw out the first pitch at a game in July of 2013.
I was extra excited to get to the ballpark because I recently got a GoPro that I’ll be using to document my adventures on each trip. It’s going to take me a little time to edit all the footage I shot, but I can promise that I’ve got some cool stuff to share with you.
In any case, I got ready for the game, made the nine- or 10-minute drive over to the park and was standing here with this glorious view before any other fans were in the area:
I always take a pre-entry walk around every park I visit, so I took a tour through the players’ parking lot on the third base side of the main gate and then went over to this path beyond the right field corner:
As I did during my last visit, I walked up the path and along the railway tracks that run behind the park until I could see the field and catch a glimpse of the batting practice that was taking place:
The area directly behind the outfield fence is fenced off, so this is as close as you can get to seeing the field before entering the park. After watching the action for a couple minutes, I retraced my steps to the pavilion in front of the main gate, entered via the admin/office area, took the elevator up to the concourse and was soon looking at the field shortly before Charlotte’s BP session was set to begin. I decided to take a walk down toward the left field corner and it wasn’t long before I found these:
After I took this photo, I tossed these two International League balls into the Syracuse bullpen because I don’t think it’s fair to snag BP balls when the stadium isn’t yet open to fans. Still, they made for a fun picture, right?
I found another ball during my subsequent walk to the right field corner …
… and instead of dropping it into the bullpen, I saw a Charlotte coach approaching so I made a motion as though I was going to throw him the ball. He had his glove under his arm, but he put it on and I tossed it to him from about 30 feet away. When he caught it, he walked over to the fence where I was standing. I noticed he was wearing #34 on his BP jersey, which meant he was Richard Dotson, the team’s pitching coach and a former big leaguer. (In fact, he was an all-star in 1983 and went 22-7 that season.)
“Do you want to keep this ball?” he asked.
“No, I’m good, thanks,” I replied.
He looked carefully at the ball and said, “It’s not one of ours, so you can keep it if you’d like.”
I said that I didn’t need it and we talked for a few minutes about the team’s previous series against Indianapolis and the outstanding baseball weather. Eventually, he walked away and I snapped this quick shot of him:
Dotson was heading toward home plate because the Knights were about to start hitting, so I walked in that direction, too. He went around to the third base side of home plate and I followed his path in the front row of the seats. There, I took this picture of him hitting fungoes to the first base side:
Watching BP is one of my very favorite things to do, and experiencing it in a virtually empty stadium is pretty much as good as it gets. I made the decision to go grab something to eat and watch the proceedings on the field while I munched, but first I took this shot after I spotted a Crowne Plaza banner in the outfield:
The Chiefs have introduced a number of new concession items for the 2015 season and before my trip, I browsed the list and thought about what I wanted to try. I always like sampling original items at the ballpark, so I went with the team’s unique stadium-centric take on chicken and waffles — chicken and funnel cakes:
It included two large funnel cakes, three chicken tenders and a dusting of icing sugar with a side order of syrup.
Overall, the meal was pretty good. I loved the chicken tenders. They had far more chicken than bread, the breading was tasty and they were a perfect texture. I’d definitely eat ’em again on their own. The funnel cakes were a little too crunchy for my liking. I couldn’t skewer them with my plastic fork, so I had to eat them by hand. These are the first funnel cakes I’ve ever had, so I’m not sure if they’re always this way or if these were a little overdone. In any case, it was a tasty meal and something that was different to try, so I’m glad I gave it a shot. While I ate, I set up my GoPro to snap some pictures of me, including this one:
I ate in the upper deck on the third base side and when I was done, went down to field level on the opposite side of the field to watch Brad Penny warming up for the Knights. It was a nice surprise to see that Penny was starting. He’s a 14-year MLB veteran, a two-time all-star and a winner of 121 games in the big leagues. I stood directly behind catcher Kevan Smith while he and Penny played catch …
… and then moved adjacent to the bullpen once Penny took the mound. From just a few feet away, I took pictures like this:
As the end of his warm-up approached, Penny said “One more” to Smith. But after that pitch, he said “One more” again. And again. It was obvious he was trying to work on something/end his warm-up on a positive note, but that some minor detail was a little off. I’m not sure how many times he attempted his final warm-up pitch, but I think it was four or five. Eventually, he said, “$%#&@. I’ll fix it out there.”
With that, Penny proceeded to the Charlotte dugout and I headed around to grab a seat above and next to the Syracuse dugout to take some action shots. The sun beginning to set over NBT Bank Stadium made action shots a challenge — not only were there a lot of shadows to contend with, but the black and white nature of the Chiefs uniforms meant that, from some angles, players were either washed out or too shaded because of the contrast. Nevertheless, I took a pile of action shots, including Syracuse starter Paolo Espino, who pitched seven innings of one-run, five-hit ball:
And Penny, who indeed did “fix it out there,” giving up three hits and no runs in his four innings of work:
Syracuse leadoff hitter Darin Mastroianni was the game’s best offensive player with two doubles, two RBIs and a stolen base. I took this shot while he was taking his lead off third after swiping it in the bottom of the first inning:
Here’s a bonus shot of Mastroianni, simply because he’s one of my favorite players:
He’s a former Toronto Blue Jays draft pick, so I followed his early career when he was in the minors. He’s played for a handful of organizations, including two stints with Toronto, and is a guy who shows an unbelievable amount of hustle and is really a pleasure to watch and root for.
As the game progressed, I continued to take a ton of action shots, including this sequence of Charlotte outfielder Trayce Thompson getting nailed at third after trying to advance from first base on a hit:
Here’s another sequence: It’s Knights second baseman Drew Garcia losing his grip on his bat …
… and a fan tossing it back to him after retrieving it against the fence:
My seat location gave me an awesome vantage point for shooting the Chiefs players on deck, including outfielder Tony Gwynn, Jr.:
And a funny shot of catcher Steven Lerud in mid-spit:
From here, I could also see small details, such as Mastroianni’s name engraved on his bat:
In the fifth inning, I left my seat in favor of an upper-deck spot on the first base side. In this area, I attached my GoPro to the railing in front of me and took a few shots as I watched the game, including this one:
This high location wasn’t a great place for action shots, but it certainly was conducive to cool panoramas like this one, as well as some time-lapse stuff that I shot with the GoPro and will edit shortly:
I watched part of the eighth inning from behind home plate …
… and then moved to the upper deck down on the third base side in time to see one of my tweets featured on NBT Bank Stadium’s video board:
The Chiefs have a promotion in which you tweet about the game, hashtag #GannonChiefsBuzz and you might get your tweet featured on the screen. Well, mine was, and I think this is the first time my Twitter account has appeared on an MiLB video board!
Syracuse won a closely fought game 2-1 and although I was sad to be leaving, I was excited to know that I’d be back at the ballpark in fewer than 24 hours. I was also excited to get back to my hotel, but before I did, I took this shot of the front of the park as the fans were leaving:
I was back at the Crowne Plaza Syracuse before long and excited for a chance to relax, given that it’d been a long day. The first thing I did was snap this shot out my window to show the nighttime version of the first photo in this post …
… and then it was time to relax. I’m really glad I stayed at this hotel. Not only does it have an awesome view of the city, but the fact that visiting teams also stay there is reason enough for any baseball fan to make a reservation when planning a trip to Syracuse. The guest rooms are sizable and stylish — here’s a shot I took of the desk area the following morning:
And see that basket of snacks to the left of my desk? Room service dropped those off to welcome me to the hotel — pretty awesome! Here’s the king-sized bed and sitting area, too:
I’ll get into some of the other details about the hotel in my post about my second day in Syracuse, but let’s talk about the in-room amenities: 32-inch high-def TVs, free high-speed Internet and rain shower heads were my favorite amenities. There’s plenty of on-site parking and the hotel is just a minute off the highway, making it really accessible. Between the guest room perks, the outstanding view, the short drive to NBT Bank Stadium and the opposing players you’ll see throughout the hotel, I definitely recommend the Crowne Plaza Syracuse when you’re visiting the city to see the Chiefs.
I’m excited to say that my 2015 season of baseball road trips will finally get underway on Monday. I’ll be making the drive to Syracuse …
… to see the Triple-A Chiefs in action against the Charlotte Knights for games on Monday and Tuesday (June 22 and 23).
Syracuse is slightly more than three hours’ drive from my home, and this will be the fifth and sixth time I’ll be visiting what’s now known as NBT Bank Stadium. I’ve unfortunately been bitten by the rainout bug in Syracuse on a couple occasions — both taking place during a round-trip visit to the city to catch a matinee game. Here’s a look at my hit-or-miss success with seeing the Chiefs, and you can click the date links to read about each day:
May 3, 2011: Rainout. Drove three hours to Syracuse. Found out the game was cancelled. Drove three hours home.
April 14, 2013: An amazing day! Watched a doubleheader against Lehigh Valley. Awesome tour, tasty food and two foul balls.
July 28, 2014: Rainout again. Drove three hours to Syracuse. Found out the game was cancelled. Drove three hours home.
For starters, I’m obviously hoping for good weather for these two games. Beyond that, I’m just excited to be back at the ballpark. NBT Bank Stadium has an impressive list of new concession items for 2015, so I’ll definitely be giving some of them a try. It might be nice to snag another foul ball or two, too.
As usual, I’ll be tweeting and blogging along the way and can’t wait to share my adventures with you.
If you’ve been reading my blog for a number of years, you’ll know the name Jeremy Nowak. But if you’re a new reader, here are a pair of links that tell the amazing story:
I’ve seen Jeremy play live in 2011, 2012 and 2013, and was excited to see him in action again in 2014 — in my final game of the season. After visiting Rochester, Pittsburgh and Jamestown earlier on this trip, I got up the morning of September 2 in Jamestown, NY and drove about 200 miles to Washington, PA. This city, located slightly southwest of Pittsburgh, is home to the Washington Wild Things, who play in the independent Frontier League.
You might remember that in 2013, I saw Jeremy play (and met his parents) at a road game in New Jersey, when Jeremy was a member of the Trois-Rivières Aigles of the independent Can-Am League. Well, after one season in that league, Jeremy signed with the Evansville Otters of the Frontier League in April 2014. I wasn’t able to make it all the way to Evansville, IN, to see him play in 2014 — which is a shame, because the Otters play in the amazingly historic Bosse Field. Haven’t heard of it? It’s the third-oldest pro ballpark still in use in the U.S., behind only Fenway Park and Wrigley Field. Not bad company, right? Since a trip to Evansville wasn’t in the cards, I was pumped that Jeremy and the Otters would be heading east to play in Washington for their final series of the regular season.
I got to Washington around noon, killed some time at the nearby Tanger Outlets and made my way to Consol Energy Park. For the second day in a row, I was getting to see a doubleheader, which was doubly awesome because Jeremy’s parents, Kevin and Maria, would also be in attendance.
Game one was set to being at 6 p.m., and I got to the park at 4 p.m. so I could check out the surroundings before the gates opened. The Wild Things were great to me, giving me a media pass, so I was able to get inside early. First, though, my mission was to scour the vast parking lot beyond the outfield fence and see if I could find a Frontier League baseball. As you might know, I enjoy collecting balls from every league I visit, and since this was my first Frontier League game, I wanted to add a ball to my collection.
I was looking at an empty lot once I climbed out of my car, but the grass behind the fence promised to yield a ball or two. At least, that’s what I was hoping:
I couldn’t see any balls in the grass as I got closer …
… but within a few minutes of searching, I found this practice ball and this official Frontier League ball:
Although batting practice was still on, and I’d have likely had no trouble adding another few balls to my collection, I set out for the park’s ticket office, grabbed my media pass and snapped this shot of the gate:
As you can see, Consol Energy Park isn’t only the home of the Wild Things. It’s also shared by the Pennsylvania Rebellion, a National Pro Fastpitch team.
The inside of the park was picturesque, especially for an indy-league facility. Nice paved concourses, lots of plants and some great open areas:
I didn’t take long to stop and smell the flowers — I moved quickly through the concourse until I found a spot along the first-base side where I could watch BP.
Now, Jeremy’s family and I have a running joke that I’m a stalker. (Well, I think that they’re joking.) I mean, just because I see the guy every year and have a baseball card collection dedicated to him doesn’t make me a stalker, does it? If it does, I label myself a friendly stalker. In any case, when I got to field level, peered through my camera and zoomed in, I saw that Jeremy was currently in the cage. I snapped this photo …
… and several more, and thought, “Damn, if he looks up and sees me here, he’s really gonna think I’m a stalker.”
Fortunately, that didn’t happen. What did happen, however, was I
stalked moved into the stands closer to home plate to take photos like this one during his next stint in the cage:
I’m not sure if you noticed in these two pictures, but the playing field at Consol Energy Park is artificial turf. I believe this is the first time I’ve seen this type of turf below the MLB level. If you look carefully, you’ll see that even the baselines are turf. Even the mound is made of turf.
When Jeremy grabbed his glove and trotted to the outfield to begin shagging flies, I took the opportunity to explore the park. Out in the main concourse, I ran into an usher who had just grabbed an errant BP ball in the stands. The gates were still closed, so I was the only fan in the place, and he came up to me to chat. He was tossing the ball back and forth in his hands, and I figured he’d soon go back toward the field and toss the ball back or perhaps even give it to me. Nope on both accounts. As we stood on the concourse in front of this gate …
… he said, “Watch this,” assumed a bowling stance and attempted to “bowl” the baseball through the fence. It clanged off the iron on his first attempt, so he scrambled to grab it … and proceeded to toss it over the fence into the brush beyond the road. Don’t ask me why, but it seemed a little odd to just waste the ball.
After that bizarre spectacle, I climbed up to the top of the seating bowl behind home plate and took a series of photos to build this panorama. I think you’ll agree that Consol Energy Park is beautiful, and the hilly backdrop beyond the outfield fence is picturesque:
Next, I headed back toward the main gate to check out the starting lineups for game one. When I’d entered the park, the white board hasn’t yet been filled out, and it was still empty when I saw it again. After a few minutes of impatient toe tapping, a Wild Things staffer emerged and methodically added the names. I was glad to see Jeremy’s name added to the fifth spot on the visitors’ side, and saw that he’d be DHing for the first game:
About this time, the gates opened and I met up with Maria and Kevin — although I’m sorry to say we didn’t get a picture of the three of us together. A complete mind-blip on my behalf, and I regret it. I hope I’ll run into them next year, and we’ll take two photos for good measure! It was great to catch up with them; despite having met them just once, we get along really well and watching a doubleheader without barely a pause in good conversation is a testament to that. We all headed over to the visitors’ dugout to wait for Jeremy. Before he emerged from the clubhouse in the left field corner, I snapped this photo of some of the Otters’ bats — the fourth bat from the left is a Sam Bat, which is a Canadian company. I was lucky enough to get a personal tour of the Sam Bat factory from the company’s president back in 2012, so I’ve always got my eyes open for this Canuck lumber on my trips:
Before long, Jeremy came into view and he immediately came up into the stands to say hello and get this picture with me:
I didn’t want to detain him, but he spent several minutes talking baseball, which was awesome. Soon enough, he had to go get warmed up, so the Nowaks and I grabbed a trio of seats in the front row behind the dugout and waited for first pitch. The next million photos I took are — you guessed it — action shots of Jeremy. To avoid the stalker label, I’ll share just a few here:
I normally only sit still for a couple innings at a time during my ballpark visits, but this day was different. Other than when I’d move to the other side of the diamond to photograph Jeremy batting left, Maria, Kevin and I stayed in our seats for every inning of the doubleheader and had an absolute blast. After the second game, we waited outside the clubhouse and talked to Jeremy for a few minutes before the Nowaks went to their hotel and I went to mine. Jeremy signed a contract extension with the Otters a few weeks ago, and I’m already looking forward to seeing him in action again this season. I’ll be posting details as soon as I get that trip planned.
Who loves entering contests? Well, I know I sure do.
So, last month, when the Hilton Garden Inn Detroit Downtown held a Twitter contest, I was all in. All you had to do was submit a photo that you’d taken of the hotel, and the winner would have his or her photo used as the hotel’s new Twitter header shot. Pretty easy, right?
If you remember reading about my visit to the Motor City last June, you might recall that I stayed in this hotel and loved it. Don’t remember? Here are two posts to jog your memory:
In any case, the hotel was awesome — a great downtown location within walking distance to Comerica Park, huge guest rooms, super-friendly staff and a whole lot of other perks. If you’re headed to Detroit to see the Tigers, I absolutely recommend staying at this hotel. (And while you’re at it, give the hotel a follow on Twitter.) Anyway, since I took a bunch of photos inside and outside the hotel last June, I figured I’d submit a couple and keep my fingers crossed.
I sent in this shot of my room:
And this one of the front of the hotel:
And, whaddya know? The hotel tweeted at me earlier today to say I’d been chosen as the winner:
I was pretty excited, as you might have guessed, and even more thrilled when I checked the hotel’s Twitter page and saw my photo as the top banner image. Check it out!
Additionally, I just checked out the hotel’s Facebook page and saw that my two photos are being used as the profile picture and the header picture. Here’s a screen capture:
Hmm — all this Detroit talk makes me think I should visit again this season!
The Jamestown Jammers joined the New York-Penn League in 1994, but their two-decade tenure would come to an end on September 1, 2014, the day of my visit to Jamestown. Now, it’s not that the team didn’t like the look of me and decided to skip town. Rather, declining attendance numbers over the last several years have consistently sparked rumors that the Jammers would be relocating, perhaps in time for the start of the 2015 NYPL season.
Despite the persistent rumors, no relocation had been announced when I finalized plans for my August/September road trip early in August. But just four days before I hit the road, the team announced that the 2014 campaign would be its last in Jamestown. A quick look at the schedule meant I’d be seeing the final game in Jammers history, and the day was extra special because a doubleheader was scheduled.
Normally, when I visit a ballpark, my mission is to document everything for my website, The Ballpark Guide. But that approach would be moot; after September 1, no baseball road trippers would be visiting Jamestown’s Russell Diethrick Park, at least not for the foreseeable future. All this equated to a chance to simply enough the games and witness a bit of history in a park with plenty of it; Diethrick Park opened in the 1940 season and hosted NYPL ball in every season since.
The drive from Pittsburgh, where I’d spent the two previous days, took about 2.5 hours, and I arrived in Jamestown well before the gates were set to open for the doubleheader. There wasn’t much going on around the park — only a few fans were gathered outside the gates. My first picture documents the last NYPL games in Jamestown …
… and my second shows how quiet the park still seemed to be:
The Jammers were giving me a media pass for the day, which came in the form of a blank ticket, as you can see here:
Before I entered, I took a walk around the park’s perimeter, partly to look for any errant balls and partly just to enjoy the old park from every angle. The ball-searching part of my mission didn’t turn up anything, but the walk through the tree-lined field beyond the outfield fence was nice:
After a full lap, I entered the park through an open gate for employees and found myself looking at a very empty concourse:
As you can probably tell, the concourse runs directly behind the seating area. Out in front of the seats, nothing was going on, either:
There was a little action on the field, though. The grounds crew was preparing Diethrick Park for the final time and, on the first base side, a few members of the visiting Mahoning Valley Scrappers were warming up. You can see all the goings-on by clicking to enlarge this panorama:
A handful of Scrappers were wrapping up their batting practice at the cages down the third base side, and I watched for a moment from beside the home bullpen bench, which you can see here:
Next, I decided to take a walk through the still-empty concourse. Despite the excitement of the upcoming games, there was a sense of melancholy in the park. Maybe it was the emptiness or maybe it was just my imagination, but things definitely seemed a little down. My mood, however, perked up quickly when I saw this sign outside the team shop:
If there’s one thing better than a sale, it’s a mega sale, right?! The shop door was still shut, so I continued walking down the concourse behind the first base stands. As you might’ve guessed, the area was also empty:
Seen enough empty ballpark shots? How about some action, you ask? Sounds good to me. My next stop was the batting cage back on the third base side, where the Jammers were now hitting:
I watched the proceedings for a few minutes, and then turned my attention to the field, where members of the home team were beginning to stretch and play catch. Here’s infielder Erik Lunde, an 18th-round pick of the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 2014 Draft:
Remember my earlier comment about declining attendance being a major reason for the Jammers leaving town? Here’s a picture I took during a pregame speech Check out the fans behind home plate — this is minutes before the first pitch:
I was excited for the game to get underway so I could take some action shots. Often, I spend so much time walking around the ballpark during my visits that I don’t get to focus on the game too much. With the first pitch just moments away, I settled — rebelliously, I should say — into the “No Standing” area behind the home dugout, which offered a fantastic view of the field. In this next photo, you can look at Jamestown starter Montana DuRapau … or you can just ask yourself what the umpire’s doing in the background:
From my vantage point, I didn’t just have a great view of the field. I could also see other neat details, such as this barrel of rubbed-up baseballs ready to be used:
Here’s Mahoning Valley’s Steven Patterson taking a cut during his first at-bat:
Scrappers starter Cameron Hill — you’ll notice the umpire isn’t up to any monkey business in the background:
Jamestown outfielder Carl Anderson making contact:
And Jammers catcher Taylor Gushue fouling one off:
At the end of the next inning, I captured Gushue walking toward the home dugout:
I was really digging this spot for photos, but when I looked across the field to see that the area behind the visitors’ dugout was clear, I decided to scamper (that’s right, I scampered) over there for a few innings. From here, as you might expect, I had another great view of the action and took several photos. (For the record, I took 456 photos during my visit to Jamestown, although I’m only uploading a fraction of them.)
Here’s infielder Steven Patterson, who I’d previously shot at the plate:
And pitcher Cameron Hill, walking toward the dugout after pitching a half-inning:
Although I was still keen to continue taking action shots, I was starved. The Diethrick Park concession stand was modest, but it had one item that caught my eye. I forget its name — it was something similar to “Firecracker,” “Firestarter” or “Fire in the Hole” — I don’t think it was the latter, though. In any case, it was a burger with pepper jack cheese and lots of bacon, and I ate it in the stands:
The verdict? Absolutely delicious, although the value wasn’t great at $6. See the size of the burger compared to my hand? I didn’t want to spend another $6 on another small burger, so I silently pledged to overeat when I got to my hotel after the game.
Back on the field, Hill was still on the mound for Mahoning Valley (he ended up pitching 5.0 innings of one-run ball), so I took some more photos of him, including this one:
The next inning, I took this close-up shot of Scrappers outfield D’vone McClure:
And, an inning later, shot Jammers shortstop Tyler Filliben attempting to lay down a bunt:
Want to see a few more action photos? Here’s Mahoning Valley’s first baseman Leo Castillo making contact …
… and Steven Patterson making yet another appearance in this post. This time, he’s just crossed home plate after hitting a home run:
It was a blast being so close to home plate to take so many action shots, like this one of Jammers third baseman Chase Simpson:
Even better, though, was watching Jamestown win on a walk-off in the seventh inning. (Minor league doubleheaders have just seven innings per game. ) With the score tied 2-2, Jammers left fielder Jordan Luplow hit his sixth home run of the season to clinch what ended up being the last win in the franchise’s history. As you might expect, he got mobbed at home plate, and I took several photos of the scene, including these two that I like:
It was an exciting end to game one, and I was glad the day was only half over. As is the deal during doubleheaders, the teams disappeared and the grounds crew came out to get the field prepped for the second contest. I took the opportunity to visit the team shop mega sale to pick up some great items. I got a pair of Jammers on-field caps for just $5 each — crazy, I know:
I also picked up a game-used jersey for just $10 that was worn by Miami Marlins starter Tom Koehler in 2008. I’m in the process of connecting with Koehler on Twitter to see if he wants it back. I’ll keep you posted on how that turns out. In the meantime, here’s the jersey:
After my mega shopping extravaganza, I returned to field level in time to see the teams getting warmed up for the second game. From my spot behind the Mahoning Valley dugout, I watched a pair of Scrappers playing long-distance catch. In the Google Maps image below, I’ve placed numbers 1 and 2 where the players were. The X is where I was standing. Partway through their game of catch, player 1 threw a bomb that sailed over the outfield fence (crazy, right?) and landed where I’ve placed the ball image.
As the map shows, I was about as far from the ball as humanly possible, but I thought that if I hustled, I might have a chance of getting to it before someone else found it. I walked with a purpose through the concourse until I exited the park, and then ran to where I thought the ball had landed. The result?
Woo hoo! I was thrilled to add the ball to my collection and happy that my long-distance mission had paid off.
When I got back to the park, I decided to wander through the seats behind home plate to take a few photos from this new angle. Before I did, however, I noticed a curious set of stairs leading to the park’s roof. Hmmm. The stairs weren’t roped off, so I quickly told myself, “Do it for the story,” and began to climb …
… until I emerged through this trap door on the park’s roof:
I saw the press box in the center of the roof, and it had ample standing room on either side. While I don’t think this area could possibly be open to fans, I was confident that my media pass gave me the right to be here, so I took this panorama that captures the scene from the bird’s eye view:
This vantage point was new; although it’s possible to get up high behind home plate at many MLB and MiLB parks, it felt like I was right on top of the field. And, in a sense, I was. It’s always fun to have an unobstructed view for photos, so I started shooting the action. Here’s Jamestown starter Alex McRae, who didn’t have his best outing of the season:
He gave up nine runs on nine hits in just 2.2 innings of work. Yikes. The Scrappers looked formidable early in the second game, using speed …
… and hitting …
… until the scoreboard looked like this:
(Is it just me, or does it look like the fielder is thinking “WTF?”)
I soon moved over to the other side of the roof, where I shot Scrappers starter Ramon Rodriguez:
I also took this shot, of my shadow, to show you my cool position on the roof:
From up here, I had a clear view of everything, including two Scrappers hitters who were hit by pitches from McRae. You can’t see the ball in this shot of centerfielder Greg Allen, but you can see its shadow bouncing off his body:
Three batters later, McRae drilled catcher Francisco Mejia behind the knee, and I snapped a photo just as the ball was making contact with him:
Remember how I said it felt as though I was right on top of the field? That sentiment was especially true for the players standing on deck. Need proof? Look at this shot of Leo Castillo:
Although I was having a blast up top, I decided it’d be fitting to spend the last part of the game back at field level behind the Jamestown dugout. I wasn’t sure if anything cool would happen — I was envisioning the players saluting the fans after the game, perhaps — and I wanted to be in the right spot to watch. I returned to the “No Standing” spot I’d used at the start of the penultimate game and once again had a super-close view of the goings-on. Any post-game events would have to wait, as there was still some baseball to be played. Here’s Jammers first baseman David Andriese on deck:
And 6-foot-8 reliever Eric Dorsch, who had one inning of work:
As for my hope of a post-game ceremony? It didn’t happen, and neither did a Jamestown rally. They fell 12-3 in their final game, with the last out coming via an Elvis Escobar ground out. I filmed Escobar’s at-bat to capture the moment, and you can check out that short video here, if you’re interested:
I hung out in the concourse for about 10 minutes after the game. Lots of the Jammers were taking photos with family members and fans and some were giving away their bats and batting gloves. The whole scene was still a little sad, but I’m sure the Jammers players are excited to continue their minor league careers in Morgantown, WV, next season. The team has since announced that it’ll be known as the West Virginia Black Bears and will play at the new Monongalia County Ballpark, which it’ll share with the West Virginia University Mountaineers. (Does that mean a trip to Morgantown will be in the cards for me? I sure think so, and hopefully this coming season!)
In the meantime, I snapped a picture of the sign board outside the ballpark, which had been changed since I last saw it:
This photo was the last one I took at Russell Diethrick Park. I’d been at the ballpark for more than seven hours in a visit that was outstanding and memorable. Although the day was winding to a close, my trip wasn’t over just yet. I still had one more awesome day to come, but first it was time to head to my hotel for the evening, the Comfort Inn Jamestown. The hotel is just two miles from the ballpark, and it was great — close to several places to eat and less than a minute off the highway. It’s the second-ranked Jamestown hotel on TripAdvisor and features free Internet, free parking and a free hot breakfast. Here’s a look at the hotel from the exterior:
And here’s my room for the night:
After grabbing a pizza from a nearby Little Caesars (not as thrilling as the Little Caesars at Comerica Park, I tell you) I crashed for the night and anticipated my final ballgame of 2014. In the morning, I headed back to the Pittsburgh area to visit the city of Washington, PA. You didn’t think I’d miss seeing Jeremy Nowak in action in 2014, did you? That story’s up next!
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When I woke up on the morning of August 31 for my second day in Pittsburgh, there wasn’t much time to waste. The Pirates were hosting the Cincinnati Reds with a 1 p.m. start time, which meant I wanted to get to PNC Park by 10:30 a.m. I packed up my stuff, checked out of my hotel on the edge of the city and drove straight to my next hotel, the Hampton Inn & Suites Pittsburgh-Downtown. It was still too early to check in, but I was lucky enough to park my car for free at the hotel and walk a few blocks over to PNC Park. The hotel stay was outstanding, and I’ll have lots more about it later in this blog post.
It was absolutely pouring, and I figured there’d be no chance the game would be played at all. Still, I figured a soggy day wandering around the park would be more than all right, so I climbed out of my car and ducked into the rainy morning. From the edge of the hotel’s parking lot, I could see the yellow of the Roberto Clemente Bridge and, beyond it, PNC Park:
Several minutes later, I was standing on the center line of the bridge, as I had a day before:
I entered the ballpark a short while later and saw, as you might expect, that the infield was covered with the tarp. No surprise there:
The steady rain made me not too interested in standing in the seating area getting soaked, so I moved indoors to the Rivertowne Brewing Hall of Fame Club, which is found above the bleachers in left-center field. This spot is an enormous indoor bar and eatery that is open to all fans. It was packed during much of my visit to PNC Park the day before, but wasn’t too crowded during this rainy day. Apparently, I was so happy to be out of the rain that I completely neglected to take a photo inside the club area, so you’ll have to take my word that I was there.
I killed some time in this area and then checked out the team shop before walking down to field level to enjoy this scene:
Sure, the tarp is a buzz kill, but the overall view is one of the best you’ll see in baseball. The cold, dreary day called for something hot to eat, and I’d spied a Quaker Steak & Lube concession stand during my first visit to PNC Park and decided to check it out. I’ve often said that the chicken wings at the Quaker Steak & Lube in Toronto’s Rogers Centre are among my all-time favorite ballpark eats, but I wanted to try something different this time. I’ve often been tempted by the onion rings, so I bought an order with blue cheese dip and dug in:
The rings were delicious — thick, hot and a good onion to batter ratio. The dip wasn’t very good, so I’d definitely try ranch or another flavor next time. If you like onion rings, though, give these a shot at any QS&L location. They look pretty perfect, don’t they?
Soon enough, the rain disappeared and the Pirates miraculously announced the game was expected to start on time. By now, fans were beginning to take their seats, but the crowd was light enough that I was able to
sneak walk casually into the park’s famous seats in right field. This section is small to avoid blocking the city’s skyline, so it’s a coveted ticket for Pirates games. The ushers are vigilant about restricting access during the game, but I was able to hang out in the area for a few minutes to take this panorama, which you can click to enlarge:
After leaving the area, I walked the length of the Riverwalk and over to the corner in left, where I took the long walk up this spiral ramp:
Think the climb might’ve been dizzying? It wasn’t, but looking down at the escalators was:
After spending the next little while just walking around PNC Park’s various levels and taking in the sights, I went back down to the main level and found a spot to stand to watch the game. Like a day earlier, I’d bought a standing room ticket. The dreary day, however, meant I had no problem getting a front-row spot along the railing on the third base side. From here, I had an unobstructed view to the field … unless you think this little fella, resting on a nearby wheelchair, was blocking my view:
My pictures of the action at home plate are only so-so, but I had a blast watching guys like Billy Hamilton:
Once I’d watched a couple innings from this spot, I was on the move again. It’s not that I can’t stand still — it’s that it’s always too tempting to explore a new ballpark, rather than just hang out in the same spot for the entire game. During each lap of the park, I couldn’t resist taking a look down to the river and over the water to the impressive city skyline. At one point, I noticed something on the water that you just don’t see every day:
I eventually returned to a spot on the third base side and snapped pictures like this one of Pirates starter Francisco Liriano:
As I watched him work, keeping an eye on the ribbon board behind home plate to watch his pitch speed, I noticed something I’ve never seen at a single one of the 50-plus parks I’ve visited since 2010. Take a look at this next photo and you’ll see not only the pitch speed, but also the ball’s horizontal break and vertical break:
Pretty cool, huh? Of course, the baseball nerd in me had fun watching for off-speed pitches and quickly guessing the break before the data appeared in front of me. Has anyone encountered other parks that provide this data? If so, I’d love to hear about it in the comments section below.
I’ve often said in the past how I love the speed element of baseball, so it was definitely a thrill to see Hamilton in person again. The next time he was up, I positioned myself to the third base side of home and watched as he flew up the base line on a routine ground out. His speed was absolutely incredible, and I shot a series of photos that I’ve made into this gif:
After beating the Reds 3-2 a day earlier, the Pirates fell by the same score in a game that saw Cincy starter Johnny Cueto, who I captured earlier in the game during this bunt attempt, win his 16th of the season:
As fans filed out of PNC Park toward their cars, I was excited to avoid the post-game traffic jam and, instead, take a short walk to my hotel, the Hampton Inn & Suites Pittsburgh-Downtown. The hotel is just one mile from the ballpark and an easy walk. It’s totally perfect for baseball fans visiting Pittsburgh — or, really, anyone who enjoys staying downtown and being able to walk to various locations. In addition to its close proximity to PNC Park, the hotel is also within walking distance to Heinz Field, the University of Pittsburgh, a downtown convention center and the Senator John Heinz History Center, a museum that is located directly across the street. (Unfortunately, I didn’t get to visit it, but it looked outstanding.) Speaking of the hotel’s location, a huge perk is that guests get free parking. In all my traveling, I can’t recall another true downtown hotel that has this benefit.
The hotel staff knew of my arrival, and kindly gave me a welcome gift bag loaded with snacks upon checking in. That was the first big surprise. The other? Seeing this sign in the elevator — in particular, the part I’ve pointed out with the red arrow — on the way up to my room:
Wowsers! Did I just say “wowsers?” I sure did.
I was lucky to get a corner suite on an upper floor of the hotel; given the room’s location, it really felt as though I had the best room in the hotel. The view was spectacular — from one window, I could see the river, the yellow bridges and even PNC Park in the distance:
And from the other, I had a great view of the city’s downtown, which I photographed early in the evening …
… and again at night:
The view wasn’t the only amazing thing about my room. The room itself was perfect — it was a suite, so it was extremely spacious and had a kitchen area, desk, couch, king-sized bed and more. Check out this shot …
… and this one to see what I mean:
The Hampton Inn & Suites Pittsburgh-Downtown is an outstanding choice if you’ve visiting the Steel City. Beyond the perks I’ve already listed, the hotel features free Wi-Fi, free breakfast, a business center, fitness center, indoor pool and more. From these amenities to its ideal location to its free parking to its awesome rooms, you’ll be glad to hang your Pirates hat (or the hat of whatever team you root for) here.
Two more ballpark experiences from my road trip are coming up! Next one: The end of an era in Jamestown, New York.