For the third consecutive day, I stayed within the Philadelphia Phillies system on this road trip. After checking out the Phillies Short-Season A and Triple-A affiliates (Lehigh Valley and Williamsport, respectively), I traveled to Reading, PA, to check out the Fightin Phils, who play in the Double-A Eastern League. The who, you might ask? The team’s been known as the Reading Phillies since 1967, but during the offseason, management made a number of changes that included a name and logo change.
I was anxious to explore Reading’s FirstEnergy Stadium on this trip. The park opened way back in 1951, but the team has consistently made upgrades to give the park a historic feel with modern-day perks. Best of all, I’d get an awesome opportunity to check out the entire park with director of PR Eric Scarcella, who had not only given me a media pass for my visit, but had also arranged to give me a tour once I arrived. I hung out around the press box to meet up with Eric, and snapped the photos to make up this panorama, which should give you an idea of how things look:
The first stop on our tour was a huge plaza outside the first base stands that was very reminiscent of Fenway Park‘s Yawkey Way or, more aptly, Citizens Bank Park’s Ashburn Alley. At FirstEnergy Stadium, this area opens early and fans can grab some food, catch some live entertainment and even play carnival-style games. Here’s what the area looks like from the opening:
From there, Eric took me outside the park to check out the recent renovations to the front gate area. The brick walkway is full of plaques recognizing different inductees from throughout the team’s history. If you’ve been a fan of the Phillies (or should I say a phan of the Phillies?) over the last half-century, it’s pretty likely that your favorite players once suited up in Reading. Here’s a plaque honoring a trio of 1987 Reading hall of fame inductees with a couple names you’ll surely recognize:
Eric was more than generous with his time and we kept a pretty good pace throughout the tour because we had so many spots to hit. Up next was the main concourse, which is absolutely awesome. It’s under the stands, and while this type of concourse can occasionally seem dark, damp and dingy, that’s not the case in Reading at all. In fact, when you walk through this area, it feels like you’ve just stepped back in time. The signs are hand painted to really give the area a vintage feel — much in the same way as some parts of Fenway Park. Here’s a concession stand, for instance:
On top of the concessions, the concourse is also lined with historical displays. If you want to know virtually every detail about the history of baseball in Reading, take a wander through here and you’ll soon be a walking trivia machine. Here’s one example of the year-by-year data:
Once Eric had given me a crash course on the team’s history, we followed the concourse up the area behind the third base line and took this ramp:
To the right of this ramp, we stopped in the ’67 Club, a picnic area with this view:
Then, it was farther along the walkway and over to this awesome deck area in the left field corner:
This deck is an absolutely perfect place to enjoy the game. It’s got standing room areas, bar-style tables and, my favorite, boxes like this one:
I think if I was visiting FirstEnergy Stadium with a handful of people, I’d push pretty hard to buy tickets in one of these boxes. Wouldn’t you?
As we checked out the sites, I couldn’t help but try to keep an eye on the field. The New Hampshire Fisher Cats were taking batting practice, and balls were thudding into the area all around us. Want proof?
Those balls weren’t the only ones I saw. There were at least eight or 10 others in various spots throughout the deck. Although I left most of them where they saw, I couldn’t resist grabbing one for my collection:
Eric had already spent more than half an hour with me and there was still lots to see. We retraced our steps back down to the concourse, where I snapped this photo to give you an idea of what it looks like when it’s empty:
Our next stop was the party deck area in right field, which has this view:
But as great as the view is, it’s not the prime spot in this area. You know the swimming pools in Miami’s park? Check out Reading’s version of this style of “seating”:
By now, Eric had spent about an hour with me and soon had to get back to his pre-game responsibilities. First, though, he took me to two last spots in the park, starting with the team shop. I’ve found on my travels throughout the minors leagues that team shops at MiLB parks vary considerably. The one at FirstEnergy Stadium, however, is one of the nicest I’ve visited. In addition to an enormous selection of Fighting Phils stuff — including a ton of their various jerseys — I was impressed with the Mitchell & Ness wall of retro Phillies gear:
Equally impressive, albeit for another reason, was a pair of lockers dedicated to a couple former Reading stars — Ryan Howard and Darin Ruf. Each locker was loaded with a bunch of game-used gear, plus some other neat items:
Just when I thought our tour was over, Eric led me through a door into the team’s offices, where I not only spotted this Mike Schmidt signed jersey …
… and raised an eyebrow about this Taylor Swift plaque. Turns out that Swift grew up just a few miles from Reading and still has ties to the area. In fact, long before she became a household name, she sung the anthem before a game at FirstEnergy Stadium:
Once Eric and I said our goodbyes and he went to get ready for the game, I went back out to the seating bowl and contemplated my next move. My brain was swimming with all the information Eric just dropped on me, and I was pumped to get wandering around and see all the sights again. It made sense to start outside, so I went back through the gates (which were now open and full of people streaming in) and checked out the front of the park, which I captured in this panorama:
I also got a closer look at the two ostriches outside the front gates. We all know that ostriches are extremely fast and have big eggs, but did you know they can stand up to nine feet fall and weigh more than 300 pounds? Neither did I. (That’s comparable to Shaq, by the way.) I learned this information by talking with the staff member handling the pair of birds. The two are female, as males would be too aggressive toward fans. One last interesting tidbit: During the season, the two ostriches live at FirstEnergy Stadium in a pen behind the outfield fence. Here’s one of them checking me out:
Next, I went back into the plaza behind the first base stands to capture this panorama, which shows just how happening the area is:
I got back to the seating bowl just in time to see a few Fightin Phils heading to the field. One of the best parts of FirstEnergy Stadium is just how close you can get to the players. I mean, this concept is common throughout the minors, but it’s at a different level in Reading. The home team’s clubhouse is just behind this door …
… and before the game, the guys cut across the concourse and through a walkway to the field. You’re close enough to touch the players although, as with the ostriches, I suggest keeping your hands to yourself. Here’s one player making his way toward the field:
It was neat to see a handful of Fightin Phils up close, but as a Jays fan, I was more interested in seeing the Fisher Cats. I raced through the concourse and got to the spot outside the visiting clubhouse just in time to see a bunch of New Hampshire players pass by:
After watching most of the guys walk by, I saw 2012 first-round draft pick Marcus Stroman leave the clubhouse in his street clothes. He was carrying a clipboard, so he was obviously tasked with charting pitches for the game:
That’s him in the plaid shirt with the New York Rangers cap, and the two guys walking in front of him are also members of the Fisher Cats. I’ve followed Stroman’s path through the minors and can’t wait until the “Stro Show” takes the mound for the Jays.
Anyway, wanting to confirm my theory that Stroman was charting pitches, I trailed him through the concourse until he took his seat behind home plate:
I moved out to the left field deck for the anthem and the first inning, and then set my sights on dinner. When I asked Eric about the park’s notable eats, he recommended the Churger — a burger, slice of cheese and a chicken breast on a roll. If this had been the first day of my trip, I would’ve wolfed down this sandwich, but having eaten ballpark food for several days, I decided to get something lighter. Not healthier, mind you, but lighter. When I’d passed through the concession area earlier, I was intrigued with the several varieties of gourmet hot dogs, and decided to pick the Chooch Dog, named after Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz. It features chili, shredded mozzarella cheese, coleslaw and hot sauce. And it looks like this:
OK, so it might not look that great, but it was tasty. A little tough to eat, which reminded me of the Pops Special hot dog I ate back in April at Syracuse’s NBT Bank Stadium.
Once I finished eating (and finished glaring at the drips of hot sauce that were mocking me from my T-shirt), I found a camera bay-type area on the third base line and started to take a bunch of action photos. As much as I love touring new parks, I really enjoy taking action shots — especially since I upgraded my camera. I’ll continue to upgrade my lenses over time but, for now, I’m pretty happy with the shots I’m able to get. Here’s Fisher Cats second baseman Ryan Schimpf:
(You’ll notice a large sign for the Churger in the background, mocking me.)
Fightin Phils third baseman Maikel Franco:
And New Hampshire DH Gabe Jacobo who, in his first game after being promoted from High-A Dunedin, had a three-hit game that included a home run and two runs batted in:
His home run came just a moment after I captured him on deck, and from my spot next to the New Hampshire dugout, I had a great view of Jacobo shaking hands with Fisher Cats manager Gary Allenson:
I spent several innings in this spot and shot dozens more action photos before taking another walk through the stadium. I soon came across Stroman, and snapped this photo of him:
Speaking of the Fisher Cats, they were en route to a 5-1 win, thanks (in part, at least) to Jacobo’s blast). As the game progressed, I decided to make a lap around the outside of the park, as I hadn’t had a chance before the game. One of the neat things you’ll notice outside FirstEnergy Stadium is a giant brick wall, which gives the park a really neat, retro feel:
After a full lap, I went back inside, found a seat and watched the remaining few innings before packing up and heading to my hotel. Although I was in Reading, I decided to drive on to Allentown, PA, for the night. I’d been in Allentown for the previous night’s IronPigs game, but heading back to the city made sense geographically. The next day, I was driving on to Little Falls, N.J. to see Jeremy Nowak play again, and Allentown was right on my way. Before long, I got to my hotel, the Hilton Garden Inn Allentown – Bethlehem Airport. I love staying in Hilton Garden Inns. I’ve done so a number of times in the past and the Allentown hotel was as great as I’d expected. I didn’t take any photos upon arriving, but the next morning snapped this one of the outside of the hotel:
The room was great and had all the amenities I’ve grown to expect at a Hilton Garden Inn — comfy bed, desk, sitting chair, fridge, etc. Here’s a look at the room from the front hallway:
And here’s the scene looking back toward the door:
The next morning, I went down to the hotel’s main level and swam for about half an hour in the indoor pool, which I often love doing on my baseball road trips. Afterward, I hopped in the car and checked out the surrounding areas. One of the perks of staying in this hotel is the neighborhood. Not only is the hotel close to the highway, it’s also close to virtually anything you’d need. It’s across the street from a Target, which I visited for some snacks and a couple packs of baseball cards, and eateries including Five Guys, Dunkin’ Donuts, Friendly’s, Sonic, Waffle House, Starbucks and more are within walking distance. And if you’d rather eat in the hotel, it has a neat feature I don’t recall encountering in the past. A Red Robin sits across the parking lot from the hotel, and you can order things off the Red Robin menu for room service. Pretty cool, huh?
I’d definitely recommend the Hilton Garden Inn Allentown – Bethlehem Airport when you’re staying in the area, and this will definitely be the place I visit next time I’m back. Up next, though, I’d head back to New Jersey for the first time since 2012. This time, I’d be checking out some indy league action!
Every player in the Philadelphia Phillies system who suits up for the Short-Season A Williamsport Crosscutters dreams of one day moving up through the minor leagues to Triple-A in Allentown to play for the Lehigh Valley IronPigs. It’s a journey that takes some players years to make, while others never get the chance to make it at all. I was lucky to make the jump from Williamstown to Allentown in less than 24 hours.
OK, so I wasn’t exactly promoted through the ranks of the Phillies system, but I was checking out my second Phillies affiliate in two days when I stopped at Coca-Cola Park to watch the IronPigs host the Pawtucket Red Sox.
I got to experience Coca-Cola Park last May, and when setting the schedule for this road trip, I was excited to visit this gem of a ballpark once again.
The IronPigs were hooking me up with a press pass like they did during last year’s visit (thanks, Matt!), so I got to the park a couple hours before first pitch so I could take in all the sights. The team was giving away an IronPigs replica cap at the gate, which meant that shortly after 5 p.m., this was the scene at the right field gate:
Fortunately, I grabbed my credential, entered through the media entrance and a few seconds later, was staring at this:
I love walking into a park and seeing batting practice underway. It’s one of the best moments I get to enjoy on my road trips.
When I make return visits to parks, I’m always curious to see what’s changed since I was last in town. This year, the IronPigs introduced PorkCenter, which you can follow on Twitter. It’s a social media booth with a pile of TV screens and staffers who post regular updates about the team on social media. It sort of brought back memories of my visit to the Social Suite at Progressive Field earlier this year, and it’s a really neat feature. Here’s what the outside of the studio looks like, and if you’re visiting Coca-Cola Park, be sure to check it out. It’s on the concourse on the third base side:
With the park largely deserted except for employees scurrying around, I took the opportunity to take a big circuit of the concourse. One of the things I stopped to photograph was the park’s video board:
It’s one of the nicest-looking boards I’ve seen on my travels. The video portion, of course, is huge, and I love the use of iron in the board’s construction to pay tribute to the area’s iron industry. See the Coke bottle up top? It lights up and moves when the ‘Pigs score a run, which is cool. I love interactive stuff like this that people might not immediately notice.
The Red Sox were taking batting practice, so I stopped on the grass berm in center field for a few minutes to watch the action. From here, I had this great view:
And as I looked around, I caught a glimpse of a pair of home run balls sitting at the base of the batter’s eye. I’m leery about picking up baseballs I find before the gates open, and since there was a little fence between the balls and me, I decided it’d be better to leave them where they sat:
Did you see the giant acoustic guitar on the left side of the panorama above? Martin Guitars, which arguably makes the best acoustic guitars in the business, is located in nearby Nazareth, PA, and this guitar standing area is new to the park this year. It’s got a few places to lean against and watch the game. Check it out:
I’m an avid guitar player, so this perhaps the coolest music-related thing I’ve seen on my travels.
Speaking of cool, I took the opportunity to cool off up in the suite level. It was an extremely hot day and the air conditioned suite level offered a nice reprieve from the muggy heat. It also provided a great view, which I captured in this panorama:
I suppose not everyone who visits Coca-Cola Park gets to experience the suite level, so I thought I’d share a neat photo for you here. One of the interesting visuals you’ll encounter is an enormous timeline of the team’s history, dating back to the team’s move from Ottawa, Canada, before the 2008 season. That moment and dozens of others are mentioned on the timeline, which winds along the hallway:
By now, the gates were open and the park was quickly filling up, so I went back down to the main level of the park and took another walk around. In the terrace in left field, I briefly watched the team’s pre-game broadcast with Matt Provence and Doug Heater being filmed, which was neat:
This area is also home to the Red Robin Oasis, which I saw last year but didn’t study in depth. Turns out, it’s a really fun place to watch the game and enjoy a meal. At first glance, it looks like a group picnic area, which might convince you to steer clear of it. It’s open to all fans, however, and all you need to do is find a table and wait:
Pretty soon, a server will be over to take your order, and as you wait, you can enjoy the game and the Philadelphia Phillies broadcast on numerous TVs throughout the area. The menu here looked great. I didn’t end up eating in this area, but was certainly tempted. Menu items included pierogies, BBQed turkey, chicken skewers, flank steak sliders, burgers and s’mores. I’m getting hungry just thinking of it. Why the heck didn’t I eat here?!
Well, in short, the answer is that I wanted something light tonight. After several consecutive days of pounding heavy ballpark food, I was looking forward to something that wasn’t going to feel like a bowling ball in my stomach. I found what I was looking for at the Aw Shucks concession stand in right field. Now, I don’t want to alarm you, but the following food photo contains a vegetable:
The seasoned corn on the cob is one of Coca-Cola Park’s signature dishes, and I definitely recommend trying it out. My cob was tasty and the seasoning — salt, Parmesan cheese and an assorted spice rub — was delicious. And I have to give the folks at Aw Shucks credit; they even supply toothpicks!
After dinner, my next mission was to find a seat on the first base side and shoot some action shots with my new camera. On the way there, I looked back and saw a couple people using the giant guitar, and snapped this picture to give you a better idea of what the front of the guitar looks like:
Here’s an action shot that only loosely involves the word “action.” It’s PawSox first baseman Drew Sutton in mid-spit:
Sort of gross, but the chances are good if you’ve watched a ballgame in the past, you’ve seen more spits than you care to recall.
Here’s some better action. This is Lehigh Valley catcher Erik Kratz fouling off a pitch:
PawSox third baseman Will Middlebrooks striking out:
And Pawtucket starter Charlie Haeger, one of just a handful of knuckleballers in the minors:
After spending a couple innings behind the first base dugout, I took another walk through the suite level and then made my way back out to the outfield grass berm, from which the park looks awesome at night:
Once I spent an inning with the above view, I returned to the first base side to shoot a few more action shots. Here’s Red Sox third baseman Xander Bogaerts, who had a home run later in this at-bat:
And Tyson Gillies and Freddy Galvis celebrating Galvis’ two-run home run in the home half of the inning:
The ‘Pigs scored three runs in that inning to bring their total to nine, and cruised to a 9-4 win over Pawtucket, thanks to 16 hits from their offense and 11 strikeouts from their pitchers. I had a blast during my second visit to Allentown and a day later, I’d be demoted (well, you know what I mean, right?) to the Phillies Double-A franchise, the Reading Fightin Phils.
My visit to Williamsport, PA, began not at historic Bowman Field, the second-oldest ballpark in the minors, but at another famous baseball site across town.
Although my reason for visiting Williamsport was checking out the Crosscutters, who play in the New York-Penn League, I was also excited to visit the Little League World Series complex, which is just a few miles away. You’ve almost certainly seen ESPN’s summer coverage of the Little League World Series, and this is where it all goes down. In addition to several baseball fields, the area includes a giant housing complex for visiting players, the headquarters of Little League International and a Little League museum and gift shop.
All the fields are in a valley; once I parked and took this shot of Howard J. Lamade Stadium, which is one of two fields used for games …
… I took a walk down a pathway to check things out. The parking lot of the facility was packed, but except for a number of maintenance men, I was the only person around. Here’s another shot of Lamade Stadium:
It was neat wandering around the complex. On my drive to Williamsport, I was hoping the entire grounds weren’t closed to spectators, but a sign invited people to take a “self-guided walking tour.” As I continued to navigate the grounds, I found Little League Volunteer Stadium, the second official field at the complex:
Obviously, such as sprawling facility gets big-time donations, and a number of plaques throughout the area recognized financial contributors. Most of the names were corporate, but I also saw lots of retired MLBers, including Mike Mussina:
As I climbed back up the hill one more time, I took a last shot of Lamade Stadium:
And a shot of a statue of Casey of “Casey at the Bat” fame. The plaques around the base of the statue feature the entire poem:
After exploring the Little League facility for half an hour, I made the short trip over to the Residence Inn Williamsport, where I was staying for the evening. When I was planning this trip and looking at hotels, the Residence Inn jumped out at me. It’s the top-ranked hotel on TripAdvisor in all of Williamsport and has an outstanding location. It’s less than a minute off the highway, virtually next door to an enormous Wegman’s supermarket and less than three miles to the Crosscutters’ Bowman Park.
The hotel is new, extremely clean and has all the amenities you’d need — and it’s baseball friendly, too! Just check out the art on the wall of my room:
Gotta love it, right? One of the things I loved about this hotel was the size of the room. It was equipped with a desk, couch, king-sized bed, huge shower and a kitchen bigger than the one in my first apartment. Here’s the latter:
And here’s the desk, TV and bed. As you can see, everything is modern and clean:
Given the amount of time I spend driving on these baseball road trips, I love when my hotel is within walking distance to a supermarket or restaurant. It’s nice to just park and walk around instead of hopping in the car again. I walked over to the Wegman’s before checking in and again after the game. It’s perfect. If you’re looking for other places to eat, there are a ton of other bars and restaurants within walking distance. Finally, here’s a look at the outside of the hotel:
I hung out in my room for a couple hours and then made the short drive over to Bowman Field. A brief history of the park is described on this plaque:
And here’s a look at the park itself — talk about an old-school baseball feel, right?
The Cutters’ Gabe Sinicropi had left a media pass for me, so I grabbed the pass and headed into the park. A second after walking in, I ran into Graham Doty, the voice of the Auburn Doubledays. The Doubledays were in town to play the Crosscutters, and if you remember my visit to Falcon Park that kicked off this road trip, Graham interviewed me before the game. We got caught up for a few minutes and then I headed up this ramp …
… to the seating bowl, where this was my first view of the field:
As you wander around Bowman Field, there’s no mistaking this ballpark for a new one. It’s definitely got an old feel but the team has obviously made significant investments in seating and amenities to give fans the best of both worlds — a historic-feeling park with modern (at least by MiLB standards) comforts. Here’s a look at the bleachers and box seats, for example:
The park has a couple great picnic decks down the third base line, which is where I hung out for a few minutes at the start of Auburn’s batting practice:
BP is always fun to watch, but I really get a kick out of watching infield practice. It’s even more impressive when you’re close to the field, and it’s absolutely incredible to watch how sure-handed these guys are, even at Short-Season A ball. Here’s Auburn’s Jean Carlos Valdez fielding a ball:
After BP, I stayed in the area and waited until Auburn’s players came back out to the field in the game uniforms. Bowman Field gives you the ability to really get close to the teams; after BP, they cut across the concourse to go to their clubhouse, and then come back through the concourse to return to the field. Here are some photos of a couple noteworthy guys. This first photo is Brenton Allen, who was Washington’s 20th-round selection in this year’s draft:
My July 6 visit to Auburn was Allen’s first game with the Doubledays. While I was standing on the field waiting to throw out the first pitch, Allen was in the dugout introducing himself to teammates.
And speaking of that first pitch, here’s a look at Austin Chubb, who was my catcher:
Finally, I was glad to see Greg Zebrack back in action:
He was the Doubledays player who was hit in the head during my visit and it’s good news that he’s returned so quickly. In fact, in his first game back, two days after being hit, he went 3-for-3 with a home run — his best game as a professional so far.
But it wasn’t just Auburn guys I was photographing. Here’s Williamsport’s Dylan Cozens, a second-round pick in last year’s draft, ducking away from some high heat:
And Julio Reyes, who gave up just one run on two hits over five innings to get the win for the Crosscutters:
Up next, I stay within the Phillies organization but step up to Triple-A with a visit to Lehigh Valley’s Coca-Cola Park. As always, you can follow me on Twitter to get the latest news on my baseball road trip!
After pulling the plug on my Metro Bank Park visit in Harrisburg because of the rain delay, I drove through crazy storms to get to State College, PA. If you’re a baseball fan, you’ll know the New York-Penn League’s Spikes play here. If you’re an overall sports fan, you’ll recognize State College as the home of Penn State University.
Although seeing the Spikes host the Mahoning Valley Scrappers at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park was my priority, I also wanted to check out the Penn State campus and, in particular, Beaver Stadium. Fortunately, the ballpark and football stadium are across the road from one another. (Penn State’s baseball team shares use of Medlar Field at Lubrano Park, for the record.) I parked in the media lot and, upon exiting my car, I had this view of the ballpark to my right:
And when I turned to my left, there was Beaver Stadium:
The Penn State campus is in immaculate shape and must have an enormous crew of workers keeping it that way. I took this shot as I followed the sidewalk that runs alongside the road between the ballpark and stadium to give an idea of just how great everything looks:
After picking up the media pass that Joe Putnam had left for me, I took my customary lap around the ballpark. As I passed through the field behind the outfield fence, I got this neat shot that shows Beaver Stadium looming high above:
Next up was a lap around the football stadium, which obviously took much longer than a walk around the ballpark. I was struck at the size of the complex; I’ve been to a number of NFL and NCAA stadiums, but it’s easy to forget how huge they are until you’re standing in front of them. During my walk, I couldn’t help notice the new-look area on the east side of the stadium, which is where the Joe Paterno statue used to stand. Looking at the picture below, you’d hardly know this was the spot you’ve seen a million times on TV, right?
With my exterior sightseeing wrapped up, I entered the park and took the first door I saw, thinking it would lead up to the press box. The stairs only went down, however, so I curiously followed them …
… until I got to the bottom, looked in the tiny window in the door and saw a bunch of players sitting in their clubhouse. Oops. I quickly found an elevator up to the park’s suite level where I had another great view of Beaver Stadium:
And even found Penn State’s baseball team office:
In the press box, I met with Joe and talked about the ballpark for a few minutes. The press box view from Medlar Field at Lubrano Park has to be one of the nicest in baseball. Every good view had its own perks, but you can’t deny how great this view is:
That’s Mount Nittany in the distance and, yes, I realize the view is slightly hampered by the tarp on the field. It was that kind of day, unfortunately. After talking with Joe for another few minutes, I went down to the concourse and started my tour with a stop in the team shop. It’s technically in the ballpark, but its in its own building at the front of the park. I spent a few minutes checking out the Spikes and Nittany Lions gear …
… and by the time I was ready to leave, this was the view out the window:
Uh-oh. I dashed through the open pavilion between the team shop and the covered concourse, getting soaked in the process. When I was safely beneath the concourse, here’s what the seating area looked like:
Fortunately, the rain stopped as quickly as it had started and soon enough, the Spikes announced the game’s start time would be pushed back to 7:20 p.m., which wasn’t bad, all things considered. I spent the time touring the concourse and taking photos, as you might imagine. Check out this view of the ballpark, Beaver Stadium in the background and the sky that looks like it hadn’t just poured five minutes ago:
By now, I was hungry and debating between a couple items that caught my eye. There’s a stand in the right field corner that sells gourmet burgers, and Joe recommended the Nittany Lion burger — two half-pound patties, two pieces of cheese and the usual lettuce, onions, tomato, etc. The stand also had some other tasty-looking burgers, but I decided to pass in favor of a hot dog from a stand on the third base side. These weren’t any regular hot dogs, either. They were loaded with a variety of toppings and after a recommendation from the guys working the concession stand, I chose the Firecracker — a hot dog on a pretzel bun loaded with shredded spicy chicken, pepper jack cheese, jalapeno peppers and chipotle mayo:
Despite being challenging to eat, as you might suspect, it was tasty. I wasn’t a fan of the pretzel bun, as it just seemed like a dense, semi-stale normal bun. The toppings were good, though. After eating, I moved down close to field level to take some action shots. I really like this three-shot series of Scrappers third baseman Robel Garcia:
Three or four innings into the game, as I was sitting in the second row on the first base side, a player hit a foul ball a mile in the air. I watched it drift toward the seats and realized it was going to land pretty darned close to me. As I was busy taking photos, I didn’t have my glove ready and wasn’t going to try to make a barehanded catch. I think one of the silliest things you can do if a foul ball is heading your way is to panic and run. When you take your eyes off the ball, you’re more at risk of getting walloped. I calmly watched it reach its apex and start to descend, and remember thinking, “This ball is going to land right on my head. What are the odds of that?” As it sped toward me, I watched and watched and finally turned my shoulder and ducked out the way at the last second, hearing it smash off the aluminum steps right beside me. It bounced away and I decided I was happy to give up the chance for a foul ball in favor of keeping my camera gear intact.
I sat in that same seat until the fifth, when I began another walking tour of the ballpark. While walking down the concourse on the third base side, I liked how the park’s video board looked with Mount Nittany behind it:
In the seventh inning, I made a quick trip out to my car for a moment and as I walked, heard the sound of a ball smacking off asphalt just a few feet away — apparently I was wearing my foul ball magnet shirt today. I turned quickly and sure enough, saw a ball bounce high off the ground, rattle between two cars and land on the grass. The area was completely deserted, so I had no trouble walking over and grabbing it:
I quickly realized that being temporarily outside the park, I had no idea who hit it. Not the end of the world, but I like to know these things. I considered sprinting back to the park to check the video board or running around toward the outfield where I could see the video board, but then had a better idea. I waited for the PA announcer to introduce Mahoning Valley batter Ryan Battaglia, which meant the previous batter — and the one who hit my foul ball — was Paul Hendrix. At the time, Hendrix was just 11 games into his professional career. He was drafted in the 18th round of this year’s draft out of TCU by Cleveland. It’ll be fun to follow his progress.
Hendrix and his teammates fell 4-3 to State College in an exciting, 20-hit game. Once things wrapped up, I was happy to only have to drive a couple minutes to my hotel. My hotel for the evening was the Country Inn & Suites State College, which sits less than two miles from Medlar Field at Lubrano Park and is a perfect choice for baseball fans visiting the area. It’s only about a year old, too, which means it’s exceptionally clean and almost has that “new car” smell. Its location is perfect, too. There are dozens of shopping and dining choices about five minutes away, and after the game, I stopped at a supermarket at the edge of the Penn State campus to grab some snacks.
Here’s a shot of the exterior of the hotel at night:
I was excited to check in and see my room, given all I’d read about this hotel before my visit. It’s ranked second among State College hotels on TripAdvisor and has a 95 percent approval rating. Before I got to my room, though, I was impressed with the front desk staff. I’ve said before that some front desk people act inconvenienced that you’re checking in, but the people I dealt with at the Country Inn & Suites were outstanding — friendly, helpful and warm. About 10 minutes after getting to my room, one of the people at the front desk called to make sure I was happy with everything. The room was a suite and was huge. Here’s a shot of the desk and living room area:
The basket of complimentary treats left in my room:
And a shot from the door, which shows just how big everything is:
I love suite hotels for my baseball road trips. When you’re stuck in the car for hours a day, it’s nice to get to your hotel and be able to spread out a little, and this room definitely gave me that feeling. It’s cool to sit at the desk, work on my blog and watch Sportcenter, and then head down the hall to the bedroom to sleep. It’s sort of like being at home, actually. And speaking of sleeping, here’s the king-sized bed:
I didn’t take a photo of it, but you could also see the very top of Beaver Stadium out my window. Pretty awesome. I definitely know where I’ll be staying whenever I return to State College.
In the meantime, though, the road trip continues! Next up, another NYPL franchise — the Williamsport Crosscutters.
One of the things I love about baseball road trips for The Ballpark Guide is that every day seems to have something special.
On day one, I threw out the first pitch in Auburn.
On day two, I watched Derek Jeter rehab in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
Day three began early with a trip to Harrisburg to watch the Eastern League’s Senators host the Bowie Baysox at Metro Bank Park. When I planned this road trip, my priority was getting to State College on the evening of July 8, which meant most of the day would be wide open. But when I saw the Senators were playing a rare noon game, I knew I could pull off another two-city doubleheader.
I got to Metro Bank Park about 10 a.m. and when I pulled into the parking lot, I explained to the attendant that I was picking up a media pass and asked if I was on the media parking list. “Don’t worry,” he responded, “we don’t start charging for parking until 10:30 a.m.” Awesome! What a great perk for Senators fans — come early, check out the area around the park and save a couple bucks. More teams should do this.
Although I explain a lot about Metro Bank Park in the fan guide on my website, I’ll remind you that one of the coolest things about this park is its location. Its on Harrisburg’s City Island, which means you get to cross a bridge (or swim, if you’re really dedicated, I suppose) on your way there. Once I parked, I took a walk along the pedestrian bridge that runs between downtown Harrisburg and the island:
I picked up my media pass that Terry Byrom had left for me (thanks, Terry!) and decided to take a walk around the entire park before entering. Here’s the first shot I took after getting my pass:
From the island, you have a pretty good view of Harrisburg, including the Pennsylvania State Capitol building, which is the big dome on the right:
When I was walking back toward Metro Bank Park from the point of the island, I noticed this banner of former Senator Bryce Harper:
Last time I was in Harrisburg in 2011, Harper was still playing Class-A ball in Hagerstown and hadn’t even made it to the Senators. And now he’s taking part in the MLB home run derby.
After my lap of the park, I decided to go inside and check out the action. The noon game meant no batting practice, but the players on both teams were on the field. Before I focused on the players, though, I wandered through the nearly empty park. Metro Bank Park has some awesome seating options that are definitely worth considering if you plan to visit. There are bar seats in a couple spots in the outfield and a boardwalk behind them. Here are the seats in left-center:
In the washroom, I noticed the Senators are one of a handful of MiLB teams that put the logos of their league rivals in the urinals. I took a photo of one, thinking it would be cool to share. But upon looking at it just now, I figured no one wants to see a close-up view of a urinal. You’ll just have to take my word for it.
As I continued throughout the stadium, a shirtless man roaming through a patch of lilies outside the park caught my eye. You know when someone is acting suspicious and it just rings an alarm for you? That’s what was happening here and I stopped and watched as I tried to figure out what he was up to. Soon enough, I realized he was trying to find foul balls. Fair enough. But to avoid suspicion, it seemed, he was also halfheartedly weeding the flowerbed. Bizarre:
One of the neat things about getting into a park early is the proliferation of players wandering around. By now, they’d finished their on-field stretching and many were sitting or walking through the concourse talking on cellphones. As I approached the Senators clubhouse, I saw a handful of players but a sign recognizing the 2011 flood caught my eye. I actually blogged about that flood at the time, which you can check out here. Much of the park was underwater and this sign noted how high the water was in the park’s lower level:
It reads: “September 2011 Flood: High Water Mark” and the line has to be nearly six feet up the wall. I remember reading that both clubhouses were completely full of water, and quickly noticed the park’s elaborate water-tight doors now covering the home clubhouse door:
The ballpark has an upper concourse boardwalk and a lower concourse. The boardwalk is more fun to walk along, but the lower level has its perks, too. One of those perks is standing next to the road bullpen and watching the action from just a couple feet away. You’re so close you can hear the ball zip past you. By the time I reached the bullpen, Bowie starter Tyler Wilson was just about to start throwing. I waited for a few minutes and then was able to get shots like this one:
If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you’ll know one of the things I enjoy doing on my road trips is capturing moments you don’t notice on TV. Sometimes they’re funny and sometimes they’re a subtle reminder of life in the minor leagues. As I stood behind the Bowie bullpen after the anthem, I shot this photo:
It’s reliever Chris Petrini’s glove sitting on the bullpen phone box, but the thing that caught my eye was the bottle of water sitting in the box. In the majors, players often have climate-controlled bullpens, but that’s not the case in the minors. Whoever had this bottle of water stashed it here to keep it out of the glaring sun.
After the first pitch, I sought out something to eat. During my last visit, I sat in the all-you-can-eat seats, so I didn’t try anything at the other concession stands. This time, I settled on some wings at Arooga’s Wing Shack. I’m not usually a fan of boneless wings, but chose them instead of traditional wings to avoid too much of a mess:
The sauce was really tasty but the chicken was far too breaded for my liking. One neat thing about Arooga’s is if you like a particular type of sauce, you can buy a bottle of it in the Senators team shop. I love when teams make smart decisions like that.
I spent the first inning in the shade in a picnic area in center field, and then made my way down to the box seats on the third base side to take some action shots. Here’s Bowie’s Seth Loman fouling off a pitch:
Unfortunately, that was as far as I got. A minute later, a light rain started falling. About 30 seconds after the light rain, the skies completely opened up and I ran — along with dozens of other fans — to the team shop where I looked out and had this rainy view:
The view lasted just a few more seconds. The umpires postponed the game right away and the players scurried out of sight. Given the darkness of the sky and intensity of the rainfall, I weighed my options. If the game had a substantial delay, which looked likely, I’d have to leave early to get to State College. On the other hand, as the last game before the Eastern League all-star break, the officials might just decide to postpone the game and resume it in the second half of the season. As much as I hate leaving games early, I decided to hit the road and start the rainy drive to State College. The rain delay in Harrisburg lasted about 90 minutes, so I’m not too heartbroken with my decision to leave.
Check back soon to read about my State College experience, which included more rain, a foul ball and a tour around Penn State’s Beaver Stadium!
With day one of my July road trip for The Ballpark Guide in the books, it was time to shift my attention to the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders, PNC Field and Derek Jeter. I planned this trip months ago, and when I heard last week that Jeter would begin rehabbing with the RailRiders on July 6, I had my fingers firmly crossed he’d still be around a day later during my visit.
Fortunately, the team confirmed the news on Twitter and I was thrilled to get a chance to see the captain up close. What perfect luck!
I was also excited to see the new PNC Field. I visited the park back in 2011 and found it outdated and in need of a facelift. In case you don’t follow the International League, the S/W-B team played its entire 2012 campaign on the road while a multi-million dollar renovation put a new face on PNC Field, and I can definitely say the new look is outstanding.
I arrived just before 10 a.m. for the 1 p.m. game and a pile of fans were already waiting for Jeter in the parking lot. As much as I was tempted to hang out and see if I could spot him, I was more excited to document the stadium renovations. Here’s a panoramic shot of the front gate area:
(If you click on the link about my 2011 visit, you can see how the park looked back then and draw your own conclusions.)
John Sadak with the RailRiders had left a media pass for me at Will Call, which was awesome. Thanks, John! Not only would it give me a chance to get in early on what would be a Jeter-induced sellout, but I’d get the opportunity to really explore. I entered the park through the Mohegan Sun Club entrance and climbed the stairs to find an MLB-quality bar/lounge area:
I believe this area is only open to suiteholders, but if you’re lucky enough to score a suite at PNC Field, you’ll sure enjoy this spot:
The club was virtually deserted except for a few servers scurrying around and a guy mopping the floor. I went outside to the suite-level seating to take this panorama of the park and its hilly backdrop, which I think gives the park a really cool feel:
Next, I went down to field level to take in the sights. In its previous incarnation, PNC Field’s concourse was a dark tunnel that ran beneath the seats. I’m not a fan of this type of design because you miss the game as you’re standing in line for food. The new look, however, was bright, wide open and welcoming:
An added perk was you could now walk around the entire field — there wasn’t anything in the outfield during my last visit. I love parks like this, and the walk with the field on one side and the cliff on the other was awesome:
Many parks have grass seating areas, but the grass area at the new PNC Field has trees and rocks to make it fit in with the surrounding terrain, and it definitely works. Some of the other post-reno features? An enormous, four-level party deck in the left field corner:
An upscale bar area in right field:
And standing-room areas in the outfield, bullpens you can stand over and a huge kids’ play area:
The RailRiders dugout is on the third base side, and while the players can access their clubhouse through the tunnels, many were walking around the concourse. I saw third baseman Josh Bell talking on a cellphone and pitcher Dellin Betances walked so close to me that I had to step out of the way. I don’t think I realized how big he is, but at 6’8″, he towered over me. Before he disappeared into a doorway, I quickly snapped this photo (he’s on the left):
Surprisingly for an afternoon game, the cage was on the field and I was hoping Jeter would be among the players hitting. I kept an eye on the RailRiders side of the field and sure enough, he emerged at 11:09 a.m. Although dozens of media members were descending on PNC Field for the game, I can safely say I got the first photo of Jeter after he came out of the dugout:
The area between the cage and the stands was roped off for the media, and since I had a pass, I went out onto the field and stood about 20 feet from the cage for the next 45 minutes or so. I took dozens of photos of Jeter and while there’s no need to share them all, here are a few that I like. Before he hit the cage, he jogged up and down the line:
And when teammate Addison Maruszak stepped in, Jeter stood and watched:
The whole batting practice experience was amazing. I was so close I could hear Jeter groan when he hit a ball awkwardly and yell “Wooo!” when a teammate hit a home run. The group that joined Jeter was small — just Thomas Neal, Bell and Maruszak. Here are the latter three waiting while Jeter hits:
And here are Maruszak and Jeter chatting:
It was cool to see Maruszak again. I saw him in Columbus on my first big road trip and follow his wife, Breanna, on Twitter. She writes a really cool blog, Married to Baseball, about her life as the wife of a professional baseball player, and I’d get a chance to meet her later in the day and talk baseball for about 10 minutes.
When the gates opened, it didn’t take long for the autograph-seeking crowd to pour down the steps to field level and begin screaming Jeter’s name:
After the captain finished hitting, he took some infield drills, and it was absolutely surreal to stand there on the field and watch it all unfold:
It was also funny watching how everything revolved around Jeter. For example, when he saw Lehigh Valley pitching coach Ray Burris walk past, Jeter just stopped fielding ground balls and everyone waited for him to finish chatting with Burris:
After Jeter finished the drill, he headed down the line and signed for a few minutes with a pair of cops and three RailRiders employees surrounding him:
Before long, he disappeared back into the dugout and then the clubhouse, and I continued wandering around the park. The game’s starting lineups are displayed on a board outside the press box and, as you might imagine, people were anxious to photograph Jeter’s name:
I was getting pretty hungry, but as game time approached, I wanted to be sure to see Jeter’s first plate appearance before I went off in search of lunch. As you might expect, he got a lengthy ovation as he led off the bottom of the first …
… and then drew a walk:
After seeing him, my next mission was lunch, and I was drawn to the smoky smells of a concession stand in right field that had pulled pork, brisket and the like. I went with a beef brisket sandwich and chips:
The beef itself was smoky and delicious and the sauce was good, too. My first bite, however, was not. Somehow, there was a chunk of fat nearly the size of a golf ball buried in the sandwich, which was beyond gross. It wasn’t a bit of gristle or a tiny sliver of fat. It was enormous and although it partly hurt the overall quality of the sandwich, I’d still recommend this meal — just inspect your meat first.
Before Jeter’s next trip to the plate, I made sure to get in better position, opting for a seat on the first base side. Jeter swung and missed at this pitch …
… but then hit a single for the first hit of his rehab stint with the RailRiders. He scored three batters later on a home run from Randy Ruiz. I mention Ruiz because back in 2011, I got one of his game-used bats in New Hampshire.
I spent several innings in this location and at one point, noted a mother and her kid who had sat down behind me. The kid was eating one of those fluorescent red frozen ice drinks, and I remember thinking how awful it’d be if he spilled it on me; I was wearing one of my new, white The Ballpark Guide polo shirts. They left soon enough, thankfully — but flash forward to me arriving at my hotel after the game and noticing the back of my shirt was completely covered in red dye. It’s probably ruined. I can understand that kids are occasionally clumsy, but think of the parenting here — watch your kid make a horrible mess on a stranger and then quietly leave before he notices? Parent of the year.
Betances, who I saw before the game in the concourse, pitched in relief and check out how long his stride is; in particular, how far he ends up away from the rubber when he releases the ball:
Jeter had two more plate appearances — a strikeout and a walk, and I took a picture of him during virtually every pitch he faced and a bunch more after he walked:
The RailRiders ended up winning 6-2 and regardless of the score, this game will go down as a real highlight for me since I started traveling for The Ballpark Guide in 2010. Although I’m not a Yankees fan, I’ve always admired how Jeter plays the game and carries himself and seeing him in this context was incredible.
The whole experience was awesome, but having been in the full sun for about six hours, I was majorly burned and was looking forward to getting to my hotel. Good news: The place I was staying is within walking distance of PNC Field! I’d booked a room at the Courtyard Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, which sits on the hill above the ballpark. In fact, I could see the roof of the hotel during the game:
If you’re taking in the RailRiders on your baseball road trip, this is the hotel to visit. Its convenience is just one reason to do so; I also found the hotel staff exceptionally friendly and personable. The lobby is huge and leads to a business center, sitting area and a large restaurant with a wide-ranging menu. For me, though, I was pumped that my room was great. Here’s a shot that shows the sitting area, king-sized bed and the corner of the desk:
And here are the room from the other direction:
And, finally, the outside of the hotel:
Beyond being close to PNC Field, you can’t beat the Courtyard Scranton/Wilkes-Barre’s location. Less than a minute away is an enormous complex with a ton of eateries, shopping and even a movie theater. The eateries include a LongHorn Steakhouse and an Italian restaurant, plus a Quiznos, Panera bread, pizza place and Pancheros, which is where I grabbed dinner after the game.
The next morning, I got up early, packed up the car and drove to the same observation spot I’ve used on two other occasions. From here, it was cool to see the new-look PNC Field. If you’ve read my blog frequently, you might remember me taking similar photos during my 2011 visit and again in 2012 while passing through town:
Next up: Two games in two cities in one day — Harrisburg and State College.
With those words, Auburn Doubledays on-field presenter/entertainer Shane Truman takes a step away from me, leaving me standing in the grass a few feet in front of the edge of the pitcher’s mound at Falcon Park. I don’t dare look up to see the 1,200 or so people in attendance.
Instead, I look in at the glove of Doubledays catcher Austin Chubb, who’s crouched behind home plate waiting for me to throw out the first pitch at a professional baseball game — something that’s been on my baseball bucket list for as long as I can recall.
I take a slow windup, noting how weird it feels to throw without a glove on my left hand. As I swing my right arm, I’m so nervous it feels like Jell-o. It’s the same feeling I remember having several years ago when I started boxing and my arms would be dead after a few rounds of sparring.
Mercifully, I avoid the one thing that tarnishes a ceremonial first pitch — a bounce. The ball is high and outside to the right side of the plate, but Chubb does an expert job reaching up to snag it. I have no idea if people are clapping or booing or even watching.
Chubb jogs up to me and drops the ball in my hand. “Thanks for framing it,” I say. He just laughs and suddenly, the moment I’ve been anticipating for more than a month is over. (But I’ve got lots of photos of the first pitch later in this post.)
And so begins my second big baseball road trip of 2013.
Actually, it began several hours earlier in Auburn, New York, as I arrived at Falcon Park to watch some New York-Penn League action between Auburn and Jamestown. I’d visited Auburn back in 2010, but when team GM Jason Horbal reached out to me a couple months ago and asked if I wanted to see Falcon Park again, I took him up on the offer.
The deal was I’d throw out the first pitch for the 6 p.m. game, but a rainout the night before meant the Doubledays and Jammers would finish their postponed game starting at 4 p.m. This meant I had some time to explore the park before my big moment.
If you’ve never been to Falcon Park, it’s a great place to stop if you’re ever traveling through New York State or taking in a Triple-A game in nearby Rochester or Syracuse. Falcon Park has an awesome community feel and perhaps because the park is one of the smallest you’ll ever encounter in professional baseball, you’ll quickly feel at home. It was exciting to drive up to the great-looking front of the park and see it yet again:
I arrived just before 3 p.m. for the 4 p.m. game, grabbed my media pass and before long, ran across Jason and chatted with him for about 10 minutes. He’d been hard at work at the ballpark since 7:30 a.m. and before long, he had to run to get more pre-game duties accomplished. First, though, he introduced me to Graham Doty, the voice of the Doubledays. Graham interviewed me for the team’s blog and when that audio clip is up, I’ll share it on here.
Before long, the 4 p.m. game resumed and I was anxious to test out my new camera, which I bought shortly before this trip. It’s a big upgrade from my trusty, ol’ camera that has visited 45+ ballparks with me, and I think you’ll see an upgrade in a lot of my photos, especially the action shots. It was a blast testing out my new lenses and being able to capture better action shots, like this one of Auburn outfielder Greg Zebrack fouling off a pitch:
Auburn starter Silvio Medina:
And his Jamestown counterpart Cesar Lopez:
And Doubledays shortstop Wilmer Difo sliding safely into third base after legging out a triple:
But it wasn’t just players I was shooting. Here’s Jammers manager Dave Turgeon, sporting an interesting glasses arrangement — sunglasses to watch the game AND reading glasses to check his lineup card. Not something you see everyday:
Late in the game, I moved close to home plate so I could keep an eye on the ballpark gate. Why? Well, earlier in the day, my wife surprised me by announcing she was going to make the seven-hour round trip to Auburn to watch me throw out the first pitch! It’s amazing enough to have a wife who supports my dream of building The Ballpark Guide in a million ways, but for her to spend seven hours in the car by herself to watch me do something that takes about a second? Words fail me.
Soon enough, she arrived and I gave her my camera to practice taking a few shots, as she’d be joining me on the field to photograph my first pitch attempt. She took a handful of action shots, including this one of Jamestown reliever Jovany Lopez:
Jamestown walloped Auburn 15-5 in the first game, scoring 14 of their runs from the sixth inning onward. With a 30-minute break before the second game, we met with Shane who handed me a game-used NYPL ball that I’d be using. The break, of course, passed quickly and before long, I was standing on the dirt in front of the Auburn dugout with Shane, with my wife close by to document everything. Shane’s first mission was to find a catcher for me, and he recruited Chubb. We all stood and blabbed a little as the grounds crew finished watering the dirt on the baselines. As we talked, I apparently worked on my splitter grip:
(I’m glad I didn’t get silly and try to throw it, though.)
And then, it was out toward the mound:
We still had a moment to kill before getting the cue from Graham over the P.A. system, and I’ve got to say Shane did an awesome job of keeping the conversation light and the pressure as low as it could’ve been:
And that takes us back to the start of the blog. Once I was announced and Shane backed off, I looked in at Chubb:
Threw my Jell-o-armed first pitch:
And got the ball back from Chubb:
Then the three of us got together for a quick photo …
… before Shane ushered my wife and me off the field. He had to get ready to sing the pre-game anthem — a man of many talents! We hung out in the picnic area down the third base line for a moment, where my wife got this photo of me with the first pitch ball:
A handful of players’ parents were gathered in the picnic area and asked how the pitch went; they could see me but from their position, couldn’t see the plate.
“I didn’t bounce it, at least,” I offered.
“We thought your form looked good,” they surprisingly said.
I spent the start of the second game reliving the entire adventure with my wife, checking out our photos and comparing who was more nervous. Then, it was back over to the seats above the Jamestown dugout to get some more action shots. This next shot wasn’t good action, but I think it tells the story. Zebrack, who I’d photographed earlier fouling off a pitch, was plunked in the head. Sitting in the front row behind the dugout, the sound was startling and Zebrack went down quickly:
He left the game but I see that he’s played since, so I’m glad he’s all right. It was definitely a scary moment, though.
Late in the game, it was time to make a trip to the concession stand. Jason had generously given me a couple food vouchers …
… and I settled on a grilled chicken sandwich for my first ballpark meal of this road trip:
I was pleased to see the chicken wasn’t breaded — it was an actual chunk of chicken — and it was something I’d eat again.
We took our seats behind the dugout again and had not only a great view of the action, but also a clear sightline to the scoreboard, which was again turning in Jamestown’s favor. After a 15-5 win in the first game, the Jammers were well on their way to another lopsided win. Check it out:
The final score was 14-1 in the seven-inning game. Yikes. But the home side losing couldn’t dampen my spirits. Day one of this road trip was a day I’ll remember forever. I definitely need to thank Jason, Shane and Graham for everything they did to help me kick off my trip in fine form. Thanks a million, guys!
After the game, my wife and I drove to Syracuse for the night. Although I could’ve stayed in Auburn, I was excited to once again visit the Ramada Syracuse, where I’d stayed back in April after a Chiefs doubleheader at NBT Bank Stadium. That stay was awesome and with the Ramada about 30 minutes from Falcon Park, it made sense to visit again.
It turns out I ended up with the same room and like last time, was thrilled with its size, cleanliness and amenities. As I did during my last visit, I made the very short drive to a nearby Wegman’s supermarket to load up on some post-game snacks and breakfast items for the following morning. If you don’t want supermarket food, the Ramada is within walking distance to a number of restaurants, and also has an eatery on site. I definitely recommend this hotel if you’re on a baseball road trip in the Syracuse area. As I said earlier, Falcon Park is absolutely worth visiting, and if you’re heading to Syracuse the next day, for example, do yourself the favor of driving to the city and staying at this hotel, which is conveniently at the junction of I-81 and I-90.
Day one of my trip was a long day, so I went to sleep by 11 p.m. and when I woke up on Sunday morning, snapped some photos of the room.
Here’s the king-sized bed:
The desk area where I responded to a bunch of tweets after the game:
And the TV, entertainment unit, fridge microwave, etc.:
I checked out bright and early and got this last photo of the exterior:
Time to head to see Derek Jeter and the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders!
It’s road trip time again!
On this trip, I’ll be …
- Throwing out the first pitch at a New York-Penn League game;
- Visiting my 50th different ballpark since 2010;
Sound good? I’d sure say it does, and I’m absolutely pumped to kick it all off!
On Saturday morning, I’ll be packing up and hitting the road once again for my fourth baseball road trip of the season and second trip of at least 10 days. On this 10-day trip, I’ll see 11 games in 10 cities across three states and will be having a ton of exciting adventures along the way.
Here’s the schedule:
Saturday, July 6: Jamestown Jammers at Auburn Doubledays 6 p.m.
Sunday, July 7: Lehigh Valley IronPigs at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders 1 p.m.
Monday, July 8: Bowie Baysox at Harrisburg Senators 12 p.m.
Monday, July 8: Mahoning Valley Scrappers at State College Spikes 7 p.m.
Tuesday, July 9: Auburn Doubledays at Williamsport Crosscutters 7 p.m.
Wednesday, July 10: Pawtucket Red Sox at Lehigh Valley IronPigs 7 p.m.
Thursday, July 11: New Hampshire Fisher Cats at Reading Fightin’ Phils 7 p.m.
Friday, July 12: Trois-Rivieres Aigles at New Jersey Jackals 7 p.m.
Saturday, July 13: Chicago White Sox at Philadelphia Phillies 4 p.m.
Sunday, July 14: Chicago White Sox at Philadelphia Phillies 1:30 p.m.
Monday, July 15: Hickory Crawdads at Lakewood BlueClaws 7 p.m.
The excitement begins in Auburn, N.Y. at Falcon Park. Way back in July of 2010, on my first-ever road trip for my website, I visited Falcon Park to watch the Auburn Doubledays and loved the experience. Here’s a pre-game picture of me in front of the park:
Although I don’t normally make a point of making repeat visits to ballparks, Doubledays general manager Jason Horbal sent me a tweet a couple months back out of the blue and said he’d enjoy showing me the changes made to Falcon Park since my last visit. We exchanged Tweets and emails and I’m super pumped to say I’ll be throwing out the first pitch before the Doubledays host the Jamestown Jammers.
I’ve wanted to throw out a first pitch for a long time, and although I’ve got a few butterflies in my stomach about doing this item on my baseball bucket list, it promises to be exciting. I’ll also get the chance to be interviewed during the game’s radio broadcast, if all goes according to plan and I’ll post further details closer to the game as they come available.
That’s a pretty good start to the trip, don’t you think?
Well, I’m also pumped for day two when I visit Moosic, PA to see the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders. I visited PNC Field in 2011 and the park was closed for the entirety of 2012 for a major renovation project. Now that it’s open again, I’m excited to see the changes.
Day three promises to be a full day with two games in two cities. First, I’ll visit Harrisburg’s Metro Bank Park again. I wasn’t planning to include Harrisburg on this trip, but when I saw the Senators will play a matinee game within easy driving distance, I decided to visit the Eastern League park I last saw in 2011. Here’s the glorious view I had for part of the game:
Right after that game wraps up, I’ll hop in the car and zip to State College to watch the Spikes. I’ve heard good things about Medlar Field at Lumbrano Park, which is also the home field for Penn State’s baseball team. The State College game will be a milestone ballpark visit for me — the 50th different park I’ll have visited for a game since 2010, so I’m excited for that.
The next day, I’ll stay in Pennsylvania to check out the Williamsport Crosscutters, another NYPL team. The Crosscutters play at Bowman Field, which is one of the oldest parks in baseball. Williamsport, of course, is also home to the Little League World Series, and I plan to check out the parks used in that tournament if I have enough time.
When I was originally planning this trip, I thought I’d take an off-day on July 10 to catch up on blogging and rest, but after noticing the Lehigh Valley IronPigs are home, and considering how much I enjoyed my trip to Coca-Cola Park last season, I’ve decided to visit again for another game in this beautiful facility. Here’s a panorama I shot before the game:
A day later, I’ll visit Reading’s FirstEnergy Stadium, a ballpark that has somehow eluded me despite seeing several games around the state over the last couple years. I haven’t read too much about FirstEnergy Stadium, so I’m anxious to check it out.
On Friday, July 12, I’ll take my first sojourn outside affiliated ball when I travel to Little Falls, N.J., to watch the New Jersey Jackals host the Trois-Rivieres Aigles. I’m excited for this game because Jeremy Nowak is playing for the Aigles this season and it’ll be awesome to see him again. I saw him with Delmarva back in 2011 and Frederick in 2012. In both games, he hit a home run, so I have my fingers crossed that he hits another at the game I attend.
On Saturday morning, I’ll step up to the big leagues and drive to Philadelphia for two Phillies/White Sox games over the weekend. Citizens Bank Ballpark will be the eighth MLB stadium I’ll have visited since 2010 and I also plan to do a bunch of touristy things in Philly.
The last game of my trip will be a quick jaunt to Lakewood, N.J., to see the Lakewood BlueClaws in action. Last May, I drove about eight hours to Lakewood to kick off a road trip, only to end up missing the game because it was canceled due to rain. My fingers are crossed this visit will be a little sunnier.
I’ve got a ton to do before I set my sights on Auburn on July 6, but in the meantime, I’m still counting down the days until I hit the road. I’ll be blogging along the way, as always, as this trip’s lighter schedule means I should do a better job at getting each blog post up in a timely fashion. As always, you can follow me on Twitter for the latest updates and if you enjoy reading about my adventures, please visit The Ballpark Guide and consider making a small contribution to my travels — even a few bucks goes a long way and is hugely appreciated.
Otherwise, your visits to the website also support my trips, and if you’re planning your own baseball road trip in July, check out the site and see if I’ve written about any parks on your schedule. I promise you’ll learn something new that’ll help you get the most out of your visit.
After a couple more games in Kentucky, I was headed east again for the penultimate game of my first big road trip of 2013. This time, my stop was in Charleston, WV, to watch the South Atlantic League’s West Virginia Power host the Greensboro Grasshoppers. I saw Greensboro on the road against the Delmarva Shorebirds way back in June of 2011, but I hadn’t previously seen West Virginia at all.
The drive from Lexington to Charleston took about three hours, so I got to my hotel in plenty of time before the evening’s game. I stayed at the Wingate by Wyndham Charleston, and there were plenty of good reasons to choose this hotel. First, it was extremely easy to reach, being just a minute or so off the highway. Second, it was less than 10 minutes from Appalachian Power Park, home of the Power, which made for a convenient drive before and after the game. Third, it ranks first among South Charleston hotels on TripAdvisor with overwhelmingly positive reviews. After reading up on the hotel online, I knew I wanted to stay there.
I’d soon experience the tidiness and spaciousness of the guest rooms, too. After checking in, I made it to my room which looked like this:
And here’s the view from the other side of the bed, looking toward the sitting area:
To the right of the above photo was a large desk, ultra-comfy desk chair, bar fridge and other amenities. And at the foot of the bed, there was a dresser and flat-screen TV, which meant I could do my usual routine of catching up on my blog and Twitter messages while watching ESPN.
The location of the hotel is perfect. Despite its close proximity to the highway, it’s very quiet and you’ve got gas stations and eateries within walking distance. After I’d checked in, I took a very short drive to a supermarket to load up on some snacks and then bought gas at a nearby gas station. On the way back to my room, I stopped and took this photo of the front of the hotel:
For some reason, the sun’s glare made my camera a little moody during this shot. It’s not a great shot, but you can still see how nice the hotel looks from the outside. Anyway, I relaxed for an hour or so and then making the quick drive to Appalachian Power Park.
I parked in the media lot and on my way to pick up my media pass, could see some action on the field through the fence:
It’s hard not to love this general design. Instead of blocking out the community, it’s cool that people can look through and watch the game. If someone really wants to see the game, he/she will likely buy a ticket, but for those who want to just catch an inning or are perhaps on a budget, I think this is a cool idea that more teams should consider.
Anyway, as I walked up the sidewalk outside the park, I also saw this:
Fortunately, I didn’t face any moral dilemma about taking or not taking it once I got inside. By then, it had been retrieved by an usher and tossed back onto the field.
More intrigue about the design of this ballpark: Don’t you think the warehouse look is a neat touch?
Now, I have no idea if the warehouse existed before the park or is just supposed to look old, but I love the concept. After taking the above photo, I began a long lap around the park, which included a trip down this deserted side street:
And a stop at this window where I could see a shopping cart full of baseballs sitting in the indoor batting cages. It’s far from the first time I’ve seen a shopping cart used to hold BP balls in the minor leagues. Off-hand, I remember seeing one when I visited PNC Field in 2011.
As you can see from this next shot of the gate, the area was still pretty quiet:
With the exception of staff members arriving and the odd commuter walking toward the nearby parking garage, there wasn’t any action at all. Action or no action, it was time to get inside! I grabbed my media pass that director of media relations and broadcaster Adam Marco left for me (thanks, Adam!) and walked right in. The thing thing that caught my eye was how cool the hilly backdrop behind the video board looked. I think you’ll agree when you see this photo:
To show the area even more, here it is in panorama format:
I took a walk along the upper deck’s walkway, finally ending up above the gate that I’d photographed earlier:
From there, it was back down to the concourse, where a PlayStation 3 console caught my eye:
It wasn’t the only gaming console in the vicinity, and I was impressed. I can’t immediately recall another Minor League Baseball park with gaming consoles. Despite being impressed by the ability to play video games while watching the game, I was confused by this next scene:
Any ideas? Well, it was the team’s Bark in the Park promotion and soon enough, there’d be a giant bowl of water for dogs to drink beneath this sign. I have to admit that for a moment, though, I was stumped.
As I walked down the third base line toward the outfield, I grabbed this shot of the video board:
It’s pretty standard as far as MiLB video boards go, but check out the yellow seats beneath the board. Appalachian Power Park’s concourse wraps all the way around the field, providing plenty of standing area, but I thought the seats would be an exclusive area to watch the game. And speaking of exclusive areas, the park has no shortage of picnic zones, including this one:
As I walked along the concourse behind the left field fence, I snapped this shot of my media pass …
… and decided that once the game began, I’d spend a few innings in this area in hopes of catching a home run ball.
Remember the yellow seats beneath the video board? I hope so, as you likely read about them less than a minute ago. Either way, here’s a closer view of them:
While I was in right-center, I did a double-take when I stopped to think about the park’s press box. In virtually all MiLB parks, the press box and suites are joined at the hip. Here, though, the press box stands on its own right behind home plate …
… whereas the suites are on the second level down the first base side:
The gates hadn’t opened just yet, but the Power staff were busy preparing for the deluge of dogs that would soon hit the park. And given how hot it was, I thought this cooling station was a great idea:
By the time the gates opened, I was down at field level on the first base side and the wife or girlfriend of Power outfielder Walker Gourley came to say hello with her dog in tow:
After I snapped the above photo, the dog took notice of me enough that this next photo turned out sort of funny:
But that dog was far from the only pooch in the park. There were scores of them and there may have been one or two million barks over the next few hours. Dodging the consistent packs of dogs, I next hit the right field corner to watch West Virginia starter Tyler Glasnow get his warm-up tosses in:
The lanky Glasnow (6’7″, 195 lbs.) has had a great year, but struggled during my visit. He went just 3.2 innings and while he allowed only two hits, he walked seven batters and gave up seven runs.
Just before the anthem, I made it out to the left field spot I’d spotted earlier and hung out with this view:
In the bottom of the second, with a runner on second, Greensboro catcher Tony Caldwell connected on a ball that sailed deep to left-center, I was close to the foul pole and although I turned and ran toward where I expected the ball to land, it skipped once off the concourse before I could reach it and bounced through this fence into the parking lot on the other side of the road:
I temporarily thought about making a run for it, but a pedestrian walking along the sidewalk quickly changed direction and started walking toward the ball. I watched as he bent to grab it, but was surprised when he waved the ball at me.
“Here,” he said, getting ready to toss the home run ball over the fence to me.
“That’s OK,” I said. “You got it, not me.”
He shook his head and flipped the ball to me, adding, “I figure you was standing there trying to get a home run.”
Well, I can’t complain about that good fortune! I quickly checked the stats to see if the home run ball was notable for Caldwell, but it wasn’t. It was only his fourth in three years, but wasn’t his first at this level. I happily photographed the ball:
And then went behind home plate to watch an inning with this view:
From here, I was able to get a good look at Caldwell, too:
Caldwell’s home run got the Grasshoppers on the board, but it was hardly the only offense the team mustered. It scored 12 runs on 10 hits to cruise to an easy 12-3 win.
I spent the game’s late innings sitting on the first base side where I had a great view of Power first baseman Stetson Allie. Earlier in this road trip, I’d marveled at the size of Frank Thomas while standing next to him, and while few humans can draw similar comparisons, Allie is a BIG boy at 6’2″ and (listed at) 238 lbs. — at just 22 years old:
One more game to go on this road trip, and I can promise you it’s a special one!