I always like to book a two-day visit when I’m checking out MLB ballparks, so after getting the awesome chance to take in the Cleveland Indians #TribeLive experience on August 25, I made plans to stay in Cleveland and enjoy the game 24 hours later. That meant I had the day to myself in my outstanding hotel, which you’ll hear about more later in this post. The day flew past quickly and before long, it was time to load up the car and make the short drive north to Progressive Field.
It was a gray day that had rained on and off, so I was pretty sure that batting practice would be canceled. Despite this suspicion, I still got to the ballpark about an hour before the gates opened, which equated to three hours before first pitch. I parked at my usual parking garage a couple blocks away from Progressive Field and once I made it out of the garage and onto the sidewalk, here’s what I was looking at:
I never get tired of seeing this sight!
The Indians were giving away T-shirts for this game, but the crummy weather meant that the lineups were non-existent at the time of my arrival. This gave me time to once again walk around the park, but to also take the opportunity to enjoy a lap around the nearby Quicken Loans Arena:
Though not an NBA fan, it’s always interesting to see sports facilities, so I stuck my head in the team shop and enjoyed a reprieve from the humidity outside as I browsed through the myriad LeBron-related items. After spending maybe 15 minutes in the shop, I went back to Progressive Field, bought a ticket for the night’s game …
… and had a brainwave. Instead of standing at the gate for the next half hour or so waiting for it to open, I decided to enter the relatively quiet team shop through the street entrance and browse through everything. As you might’ve read in my last post, I always visit the memorabilia part of the shop, but this time I had a longer opportunity to take some photos to share with you. Here’s the knob of a Michael Bourn game-used bat:
Some bottled Progressive Field dirt, which I thought was really neat:
And the barrel of a Carlos Santana game-used bat:
After spending time in the team shop, I walked past the Indians player/staff parking lot to check out the cars. As you can see here, there wasn’t anything absolutely out of the ordinary, at least as far as I could tell:
At 5 p.m., the gates opened and I grabbed my free T-shirt and headed over to the visiting team’s bullpen, where longtime MLB starter Matt Garza was playing catch and then talking with pitching coach Rick Kranitz and bullpen catcher Marcus Hanel:
The new layout of the bullpens means that was the visiting team’s pitcher throws, you’re just a few feet away from him, which offers a great vantage point. I took another bunch of photos to form this panorama, which is similar to this one from yesterday’s post, only you’ll now see gray skies, a damp field and the tarp:
Before I left the area, I took a quick shot of myself with Heritage Park and the Progressive Field video board as a backdrop …
… and then took a short walk over to the new concession stands in the right field area. As you might’ve read in my previous post, there’s an extensive list of food choices available in this new area from a wide range of vendors. A day earlier, I’d eaten the “sounds-appealing-but-wasn’t-as-good-as-I’d-hoped” Parmageddon, a grilled cheese sandwich packed with a pierogie. On this day, I was hoping to find something a little more appetizing and this was the selection of choices awaiting my decision:
I browsed the concession stands and nothing immediately jumped out, so I decided to take a little climb and shoot this photo that shows The Corner and the surrounding area from above:
(The #TribeLive area, where I’d spent the previous day’s game, is the standing-room area adjacent to the right field foul pole.)
After enjoying the sights for a few minutes, I went back down to the main concourse and watched a few minutes of the Indians pregame show, on which Columbus Blue Jackets winger Brandon Saad was being interviewed and would later throw out the first pitch:
I watched the interview for a few minutes from just a few feet away and it was neat to be able to hear Saad tell his story about growing up in Ohio and playing sports. Once I’d enjoyed a bit of the conversation, it was time to complete my quest to find something delicious to eat. As I perused the available options you saw a few photos ago, one of the vendors cheerfully called out to me, “Hey, Mr. Photographer!”
I looked over and saw that he was standing at one of the gourmet hot dog concession stands that I’d seen earlier, so I walked over and said hello. “I’ll make you up some special,” he promised, so I figured I’d play along. I asked him which of the hot dogs was the best and he directed me toward “The Thomenator,” named for slugger Jim Thome. It was a foot-long dog with three pierogies, onions and sauerkraut. It sounded a little too similar to my sandwich yesterday, plus I can’t stand foot-long dogs. It’s a weird thing; I can happily eat four or five normal hot dogs in one sitting, but put a foot-long dog in front of me and I have no interest. Anyway, I asked about his second-best recommendation and he suggested one with a name that escapes me but that sounded interesting:
- Pretzel bun
- Banana peppers
- Some sort of hot sauce
In any case, I ordered this one and totally bought into the seller’s enthusiasm about a strawberry milkshake and bought one of those, too. Here’s what the meal looked like:
The hot dog’s ingredients were good — lots of bacon and some nice heat from the peppers without being ridiculously hot. The pretzel bun, however, was a letdown. Every time I have one of these buns I vow I won’t make the same mistake again. Anyone with me here? They’re so dense and hard that they just taste like a stale bun. Let me know what you think in the comments. Do you agree? Disagree? As for the strawberry milkshake, it was the worst thing I’ve had to drink at a ballpark. It tasted of neither strawberry nor milk, but I suppose “Sweet Goo” is probably a poor name to market. I’m sad to say that it went the way of the dodo bird after just a couple saccharine sips.
It takes more than an unpleasant milkshake to deter my day, so when I finished dinner, I headed to the Family Deck section above right field, which I hadn’t explored a day earlier. In fact, I don’t recall ever being up in this section, for some reason — and it was awesome! The view was perfect …
… and the entire section had a small, intimate feel that was appealing. There were a ton of attractions and games for kids and the overhang provided some dry seats, which was nice. I hung out and rested my legs for a little while and then went over to the bleachers where I shot this picture that shows the Family Deck where I’d previously been:
The Family Deck is the section directly above the concourse and, as you can see from the photo, there’s lots of open space behind the seats. As I sat on the top row of the bleachers and took in all the wonderful sights, I started thinking about the game’s starting lineups. A day earlier in the #TribeLive section, we were joking how we didn’t know that many names on the Brewers for whatever reason. With that thought in my mind, I noticed this name on the ribbon board …
… and briefly thought, “Nelson Bosoto. That’s a weird last name and I’ve never heard of that guy. And it’s weird how they’ve used a different font for his last name.”
I quickly realized, of course, that the pitcher is Jimmy Nelson and that the “Bosoto” is actually his empty pitch tracker — zero balls, zero strikes and zero total pitches. But, hey, if you can’t laugh at yourself, who are you going to laugh at, right?
Soon after taking this photo, I knew that Nelson would be heading to the bullpen to get warmed up, so I went that way, too. My plan was to grab a close vantage spot along the railing, just as I had done earlier when Garza was throwing, and shoot some photos. The plan worked and I was able to get a dozen or so photos like this one:
As first pitch approached, I decided to go back to the Family Deck area that I’d enjoyed a little earlier. As you can see in this panorama, it was a dreary night but the view from up here was fantastic:
After a couple innings, I wanted to make a last visit to the team shop. One of the perks of the #TribeLive experience is that each visitor gets a $4 coupon to use virtually anywhere in Progressive Field, from the concession stands to the team shop. I had two coupons because each #TribeLive guest gets one, and since I didn’t need to eat more, I wanted to find something inexpensive to buy at the shop. I settled on an Oyo figure of Michael Bourn because, hey, I guess I’m eight years old at heart:
I spent the rest of the game sitting in the Family Deck and it was a perfect way to end my two Progressive Field visits.
My stay in Cleveland wasn’t done just yet, though. Once again, I was staying at the Hyatt Place Cleveland/Independence and it continued to be perfect. Here’s what the hotel looked like after I made the short drive back from Progressive Field:
Every time I visit a Hyatt Place, I’m struck by the size of the rooms. I lived in tiny dorms and apartments when I was in university that were a fraction of the space offered by this hotel. In yesterday’s post, you saw photos of the living room and bedroom area. Here’s the desk and kitchen space:
And an enormous open area beside the bathroom, which is basically the view you have while lying on he bed:
Another super-cool feature? The TV swivels so that you can watch it comfortable from the couch or the bed.
I’ve often said that while the opportunity to enjoy different ballparks on my baseball road trips is awesome, I’m also a big fan of having some downtime to relax in a nice hotel, and the Hyatt Place Cleveland/Independence definitely delivered on that front. Whether it was chilling on the couch and watching some Little League World Series games, burning off some ballpark food calories in the indoor pool or grabbing a salad from the nearby Panera, a steak dinner at the nearby Outback or some snacks at the supermarket just a few minutes away, (I did all of these, for the record!) my stay at this hotel was perfect.
But don’t just take my word for it — earlier this year, the Hyatt Place Cleveland/Independence was awarded its fifth TripAdvisor certificate of excellence, earning a spot in the TripAdvisor hall of fame. Whether you’re visiting Cleveland to take in a ballgame or have other plans in the city, you’ll be pleased if you make this hotel your home base.
Next up, some independent league action in Washington, PA!
Attending the Indians Social Suite at Progressive Field back in 2013 ranks as one of my most memorable experiences since I started The Ballpark Guide in 2010. Don’t remember my account of that adventure? Here’s the link if you want to read it and get caught up.
The Social Suite was so great that I made a point of applying for it again last year. I was accepted, but wasn’t able to put a trip together and had to cancel my invitation, unfortunately. Fast forward to last off-season and I’d read that the Indians were discontinuing the Social Suite and introducing something called #TribeLive. Like the suite, you had to apply for #TribeLive and if you were picked, you’d get to visit Progressive Field for free and hang out in a special area during the game with other selected fans. To make a long story short, I applied, got invited and three hours before the first pitch on August 25, I was looking at this view after parking my car:
Progressive Field was the first MLB park outside of Toronto that I visited when I began traveling to games in 2010 and this trip would mark my sixth and seventh times visiting. It’s one of the nicest parks you’ll find and certainly one of my favorite places to watch baseball.
In addition to my excitement about #TribeLive, I was also curious to check out the recent changes to the ballpark. The Indians reportedly spent more than $25 million this past off-season to drastically change the appearance of Progressive Field, specifically the area in the right field corner and the old Gate C, which is the gate I always used to enter the park. I could see from my first view of the park (in the above picture) that things were indeed looking different, so I was eager to look around.
As I approached, I saw that the main attractions in the area were the three statues of Indians legends Larry Doby, Bob Feller and Jim Thome. The Feller statue has been a longtime focal point in this area, but the other statues are new since my last visit. A sports reporter from the local Fox affiliate was filming a report in front of the Doby statue …
… so I headed over to the Thome statue. It’s got a neat connection for me. Back in 2012, my brother and I visited Progressive Field on Jim Thome Night. The Tribe was honoring the slugger for recently hitting his 600th home run and part of the celebrations included unveiling plans for the statue. If you read my post about that game, you’ll see some early images of how the statue would look, so it was awesome to see the actual statue in person:
The new area around the gate was cool — in addition to the statues, there were a ton of plaques recognizing key Indians players and moments in history. The team does a great job honoring the past (Heritage Park is a testament to that) but it was nice to get a bit of a history lesson before even entering the gates. Here’s what the new spot looks like in panoramic form:
As always, I’d arrived at the park early enough to enjoy a nice walk around its perimeter before the gates opened. I set off counter-clockwise and headed down this street:
See the building at the end of the alley with the yellow “Q” sign? That’s Quicken Loans Arena, home of the Cleveland Cavaliers:
When I got to the front of the park, I decided to cross Carnegie Avenue and stand on a traffic island to take a bunch of pictures to build this panorama:
I continued my walk around Progressive Field until I made it back to the right field gate, where I lined up at about 4:40 p.m. and began the 20-minute wait until the park opened. I was nearly at the head of the line and when I looked straight forward, these scourges mocked me:
I first experienced metal detectors at an MLB park last year when I visited Comerica Park in Detroit. The Tigers were trialing metal detectors a season before they became mandatory at all parks. I get that they’re “needed,” but they definitely make it slower to enter the park. Your bag gets checked, which was always the norm, but then you have to put anything bulky or metal into a tray like at the airport before you pass through the detector. There’s always someone in front of you who didn’t hear the instructions and sets the machine off, which stops your line dead in its tracks. I figured out the quickest way to get through, though — take everything you have in your pockets or on your person and load it all into your backpack. This way, instead of putting your backpack, camera, keys, cellphone, wallet, etc. in the tray separately and then trying to fish them out while the next person’s stuff slides onto your possessions, you can just grab your backpack and unload it a few steps away at your leisure.
When the gates opened at 5 p.m., I headed in and went straight down to the right field seats to check out the view:
As you can see, batting practice was on, but I didn’t stick around for long. I watched a couple minutes of the action and then was excited to walk through all the new changes to the park. One of the notable differences is that the bullpens are now together and stacked. Previously, the Indians’ pen was in center and the visitors’ was in right; now, they’re side by side (Cleveland’s is the one closest to the field) and they’re directly behind a cool new section of a select number of seats:
Here’s a panoramic view from behind the bullpens to put things in perspective a little:
My next stop was Heritage Park, which has always been one of my favorite destinations at Progressive Field. If you’re a baseball history buff, this is a place you need to visit. It’s still the same — pillars and plaques on the upper level …
… and more plaques and the top 100 players in Indians history on the bottom level:
I didn’t spend too long in Heritage Park as I’ve read all the plaques during previous visits. Instead, I ascended to the main concourse and soon noticed this set of intriguing stairs:
At first, I wasn’t sure what to expect as I descended, but I soon remembered that I’d read about this new feature, which might just be the best of all the recent changes. Since the visitors’ bullpen is no longer in this area, the Indians have opened it up to fans! Fans are free to check out this area before the game and after first pitch, you’ve got to line up at the top to receive a wristband that gives you access to the section for one full inning. Twenty-three fans can enjoy this zone per inning, and then they have to return to the concourse for the next group of 23 to come down. The best part is that you can go straight to the end of the line and get another wristband to enjoy this area for a later inning. Check out the seating:
And here’s the view of an Indians player about to toss a BP ball to the fans overhead:
This new section is not only a good spot to get a ball during BP, but also gives you a field-level view of the action, which is something you won’t find at every park. Here’s another cool feature — the old bullpen phone box is still mounted on the wall:
Of course, I had to be nosy and open it up to see if the phone was still there. Alas, it was not:
I took a quick shot of myself sitting on the bench …
… and then it was time to continue my exploring. I next visited The Corner, a new two-level bar with ample seating, tons of TV and even some radiant heaters, which were welcome on this semi-chilly night:
There’s also some cool memorabilia on display at the bar, including Corey Kluber’s 2014 Cy Young Award. After walking through The Corner, I found the #TribeLive section, but it was still empty:
There was no one milling around, either, so I figured the other guests were either not at the park yet or, like me, were simply off exploring elsewhere. At this point, I was weighing my options about where to go next when my camera made the decision for me — I looked down to see that my battery was almost dead. I charge my battery before each park visit but when I’d grabbed my camera out of my bag upon arriving at Progressive Field, I noticed that I’d left it turned on, which had obviously drained the battery. I couldn’t help but be partially amused; I’d given my wife trouble for leaving the camera on and letting the battery run down less than a week earlier, and now here was doing the same thing.
The amusement turned to a bit of panic, though — I had a lot of photos that I wanted to take and the battery would be dead any second. I always travel with my battery charger, so I grabbed it and began the hunt to find a wall outlet somewhere in Progressive Field. It wasn’t long before I tracked one down, but it was either dead or turned off. Hmmm. Time for Plan B. I noticed an usher who was standing right beside an outlet. I decided I’d just ask him if I could use the outlet for a little bit and figured there’d be no issue.
I approached him and asked, “How’s it going?” to get his attention. He responded with, “What?” This response wasn’t “what” as in, “what did you say?” but rather, “what do you want?”
I was caught off guard by his rudeness: “Uh, I see there’s a wall outlet there and I wonder if I could just charge my camera battery for a few minutes. I’ve traveled a long way for this game and my battery is about to die.”
His follow-up response as he pointed at the standard wall outlet: “That’s not an outlet.”
Other than wanting to visit the Indians team shop and buy him a custom jersey that read “World’s Worst Usher,” I didn’t have an idea of what to do. And then, I remembered that the attendant in the Field View Bullpen section was quite friendly. I went back down the stairs, spotted an outlet in a storage room off to the side of the seating area and explained my predicament. “Sure,” he said. “No problem — and if you want to keep walking around and come back later, I’ll watch the charger for you.” I didn’t want to let it out my sight so I hung out in the area and told him that I’d give him a shout-out in my blog. Thanks for helping me, Brandon!
It was inconvenient to have to spend the next 40 minutes waiting for my battery to charge, but the view couldn’t have been better. I watched more BP from the area and when my battery was full, thanked Brandon for his help and returned to the concourse. By this time, the gates allowing access to the rest of the park had opened so I went to the team shop and straight to the memorabilia section, which is my favorite area:
As you can see, there were game-used bats and helmets, signed balls, photos and all sorts of cool stuff. I didn’t buy anything, but did spend about 15 minutes thoroughly examining everything.
Next, I went back to The Corner, climbed up the stairs to the second level and immediately noticed this fire pit:
Comerica Park has recently added a fire pit and the first park I ever saw this feature was Dow Diamond, home of the Midwest League’s Great Lakes Loons. What a great idea for parks where it’s chilly in April and September, eh? The area around the fire pit has couches and standing-room spots and treats fans to an awesome view:
By now, it was about 6:15 p.m. and I was ready to eat. The new right field area has a ton of great-looking eateries, many of which offered an appetizing lineup of products. I’m always in favor of trying something different, so I lined up at Melt, a concession stand that sells various types of grilled cheese sandwiches. My choice was the Parmageddon, which you know is going to be ridiculous (in a good way) just from its name. It’s an enormous grilled cheddar cheese sandwich loaded with vodka sauerkraut, sauteed onions and a potato and onion pierogi! Here’s this beast in all its glory:
It was solid (in every definition of the word) but didn’t absolutely blow me away. The sauerkraut was very good but, overall, the sandwich could’ve used an additional ingredient to provide a textural change, like bacon or ham or something. It all sort of blended together.
A sandwich of this nature calls for a little exercise, so as soon as I’d wiped the last crumbs from my face I set out to tour around the other parts of Progressive Field. Besides, the #TribeLive area was still surprisingly empty. My first stop was the bleachers in left field, which is a spot I rarely visit at this ballpark. There’s no reason why; I just don’t often make the climb up there. The bleachers have a fun atmosphere, although they were still largely quiet at this point. Here’s the view from this area:
My next mission was to head to the upper deck to shoot some photos. On the way to the top, I had this cool view of part of the city. The “Welcome to Cleveland” sign is new since my last visit:
I made it to the upper deck in time for the anthem and then took a number of photos to build this panorama:
The #TribeLive area still looked empty, although I couldn’t be 100 percent sure because of the distance between the area and me. I switched to my zoom lens to survey the scene and here’s how the area looked shortly before first pitch:
As an aside, do you see the bullpen view area in the bottom left of the image? And see the staff member standing directly above the yellow University of Toledo crest? That’s Brandon, the guy who helped me with my dead battery issue.
Since first pitch was approaching, I descended back to the main concourse level and made my way to the #TribeLive spot. From a distance, I could see that it was now occupied and, as I got closer, I was shocked at who I saw. Jacob Rosen, who was one of the Social Suite guests when I sat in that area two years ago, was standing right in front of me! He and I chatted a lot during the Social Suite experience, follow each other on Twitter and have occasionally exchanged tweets over the last two years. I think I was staring at him with my mouth wide open, and he noticed me and said, “Ballpark guide?” It was a funny moment and good to catch up with him in person. Want to give him a follow on Twitter? Just click here. His Twitter account is full of interesting and varied sports stuff.
Jacob told me that I had to go elsewhere in the park to pick up my nifty-looking #TribeLive credential, so I ran to grab it, returned to the section and shot this photo:
The view from this section was great. As you might have seen in other photos, we were right behind the right field foul pole, as you can see at the edge of this panorama:
I watched the first inning or two from this spot and then met with a pair of other #TribeLive guests, Mark Firkins and his son Travis. They live near Rochester but are huge Indians fans and make a number of trips to Progressive Field each year. (It actually turns out that they were staying in a hotel about two minutes from my hotel, too.) I spent the duration of the game talking baseball with the Firkins. It’s always fun to meet other baseball travelers and Mark and Travis have been to several MLB and MiLB parks over the years so it was interesting to compare notes. We essentially never stopped talking right until the end of the game, and I definitely hope to run into them again on my trips.
Summed up, my #TribeLive experience was this: Talk a bit to Jacob, watch some baseball, talk to Mark and Travis, watch some more baseball, take some photos — and repeat. Overall, the #TribeLive didn’t have as much to offer in terms of its setting as the Social Suite. It was basically a standing-room area at the front of a larger standing-room area that any can can use. But, it was still a fun experience with some fellow passionate baseball fans, and I’d love the chance to do it again in the future.
Since I spent the rest of the game in this designated area and didn’t wander around the park, I only took a few more photos. Here’s a shot of one of Mark’s tweets on the huge video board:
I wasn’t able to get on Twitter during the game because you now have to be an Xfinity customer to use the Progressive Field connection. I get that business is business, but after having dedicated Wi-Fi in the Social Suite, I couldn’t help but think the Xfinity idea wasn’t very fan friendly.
Wi-Fi aside, here are two photos that I found funny. The Progressive Field upper deck features giant tributes to the team’s all-time greats (more on that in my next post) and one of the players I could see across from where I stood was Tris Speaker. Speaker, of course, is a hall of famer and one of the best hitters in the history of the game. He’s also a little controversial because he was apparently a member of the KKK. Anyway, I couldn’t help but think that his display looked a little sinister:
The other amusing thing I noticed was over to my right on the Progressive Field video board. This board is arguably the best I’ve ever seen and provides great situational stats and tidbits that really provide value to the fan. Normally, these messages shine a favorable light on the Indians, but poor Yan Gomes got the short end of the stick on this one highlighting his 5-for-33 streak (that’s a .152 average) over the last nine games:
Finally, here’s one last panoramic shot from where I stood for the entire game:
When I left the ballpark, I made the short drive to my hotel for the next three days, the Hyatt Place Cleveland/Independence, where I’ve previously stayed twice in the past. It’s one of my favorite hotels to visit on my trips and, for fans visiting Cleveland, makes a lot of sense. The hotel is a little more than 10 minutes from Progressive Field and its location offers the many amenities of hotels in the suburbs, like being close to the highway and close to an impressive list of shopping and dining options.
Here’s a shot of the outside of the hotel:
As with my previous stays, all the staff members I encountered were exceedingly friendly. The room, too, was outstanding. The Hyatt Place has enormous guest rooms that feature a separate bedroom, living room and office/kitchen area. I’ll have more photos of my room in my next post, but here’s the living room:
And a shot of the living room and bedroom with the small partition between the two:
Other perks if you’re thinking about visiting the Hyatt Place Cleveland/Independence during your next baseball trip? Free parking, free Wi-Fi, one of the best complimentary breakfasts you’ll ever come across and a pool and athletic center. Whether you’re traveling with a few people or are solo and you just want a little more space in your hotel room, this one definitely provides that. It’s the one for me when I visit Cleveland and you won’t regret making that choice, either.
My next post will be detail my follow-up visit to Progressive Field and I’ll have it up soon!
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!