Syracuse Chiefs – June 22

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:


And 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 Heading Back to Syracuse

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 …

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… 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:

July 18, 2010: During my very first road trip for The Ballpark Guide, I saw the Chiefs in action and it was a perfect, sunny 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.

Washington Wild Things – September 2

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:

Part I
Part II

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.

I Won a Contest!

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:

Day One

Day Two

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!

Jamestown Jammers – September 1

The Jamestown Jammers joined the New York-Penn League in 1994, but their two-decade tenure would come to an end on September 1, 2014, the day of my visit to Jamestown. Now, it’s not that the team didn’t like the look of me and decided to skip town. Rather, declining attendance numbers over the last several years have consistently sparked rumors that the Jammers would be relocating, perhaps in time for the start of the 2015 NYPL season.

Despite the persistent rumors, no relocation had been announced when I finalized plans for my August/September road trip early in August. But just four days before I hit the road, the team announced that the 2014 campaign would be its last in Jamestown. A quick look at the schedule meant I’d be seeing the final game in Jammers history, and the day was extra special because a doubleheader was scheduled.

Normally, when I visit a ballpark, my mission is to document everything for my website, The Ballpark Guide. But that approach would be moot; after September 1, no baseball road trippers would be visiting Jamestown’s Russell Diethrick Park, at least not for the foreseeable future. All this equated to a chance to simply enough the games and witness a bit of history in a park with plenty of it; Diethrick Park opened in the 1940 season and hosted NYPL ball in every season since.

The drive from Pittsburgh, where I’d spent the two previous days, took about 2.5 hours, and I arrived in Jamestown well before the gates were set to open for the doubleheader. There wasn’t much going on around the park — only a few fans were gathered outside the gates. My first picture documents the last NYPL games in Jamestown …


… and my second shows how quiet the park still seemed to be:


The Jammers were giving me a media pass for the day, which came in the form of a blank ticket, as you can see here:


Before I entered, I took a walk around the park’s perimeter, partly to look for any errant balls and partly just to enjoy the old park from every angle. The ball-searching part of my mission didn’t turn up anything, but the walk through the tree-lined field beyond the outfield fence was nice:


After a full lap, I entered the park through an open gate for employees and found myself looking at a very empty concourse:


As you can probably tell, the concourse runs directly behind the seating area. Out in front of the seats, nothing was going on, either:


There was a little action on the field, though. The grounds crew was preparing Diethrick Park for the final time and, on the first base side, a few members of the visiting Mahoning Valley Scrappers were warming up. You can see all the goings-on by clicking to enlarge this panorama:


A handful of Scrappers were wrapping up their batting practice at the cages down the third base side, and I watched for a moment from beside the home bullpen bench, which you can see here:


Next, I decided to take a walk through the still-empty concourse. Despite the excitement of the upcoming games, there was a sense of melancholy in the park. Maybe it was the emptiness or maybe it was just my imagination, but things definitely seemed a little down. My mood, however, perked up quickly when I saw this sign outside the team shop:


If there’s one thing better than a sale, it’s a mega sale, right?! The shop door was still shut, so I continued walking down the concourse behind the first base stands. As you might’ve guessed, the area was also empty:


Seen enough empty ballpark shots? How about some action, you ask? Sounds good to me. My next stop was the batting cage back on the third base side, where the Jammers were now hitting:


I watched the proceedings for a few minutes, and then turned my attention to the field, where members of the home team were beginning to stretch and play catch. Here’s infielder Erik Lunde, an 18th-round pick of the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 2014 Draft:


Remember my earlier comment about declining attendance being a major reason for the Jammers leaving town? Here’s a picture I took during a pregame speech Check out the fans behind home plate — this is minutes before the first pitch:


I was excited for the game to get underway so I could take some action shots. Often, I spend so much time walking around the ballpark during my visits that I don’t get to focus on the game too much. With the first pitch just moments away, I settled — rebelliously, I should say — into the “No Standing” area behind the home dugout, which offered a fantastic view of the field. In this next photo, you can look at Jamestown starter Montana DuRapau … or you can just ask yourself what the umpire’s doing in the background:


From my vantage point, I didn’t just have a great view of the field. I could also see other neat details, such as this barrel of rubbed-up baseballs ready to be used:


Here’s Mahoning Valley’s Steven Patterson taking a cut during his first at-bat:


Scrappers starter Cameron Hill — you’ll notice the umpire isn’t up to any monkey business in the background:


Jamestown outfielder Carl Anderson making contact:


And Jammers catcher Taylor Gushue fouling one off:


At the end of the next inning, I captured Gushue walking toward the home dugout:


I was really digging this spot for photos, but when I looked across the field to see that the area behind the visitors’ dugout was clear, I decided to scamper (that’s right, I scampered) over there for a few innings. From here, as you might expect, I had another great view of the action and took several photos. (For the record, I took 456 photos during my visit to Jamestown, although I’m only uploading a fraction of them.)

Here’s infielder Steven Patterson, who I’d previously shot at the plate:


And pitcher Cameron Hill, walking toward the dugout after pitching a half-inning:


Although I was still keen to continue taking action shots, I was starved. The Diethrick Park concession stand was modest, but it had one item that caught my eye. I forget its name — it was something similar to “Firecracker,” “Firestarter” or “Fire in the Hole” — I don’t think it was the latter, though. In any case, it was a burger with pepper jack cheese and lots of bacon, and I ate it in the stands:


The verdict? Absolutely delicious, although the value wasn’t great at $6. See the size of the burger compared to my hand? I didn’t want to spend another $6 on another small burger, so I silently pledged to overeat when I got to my hotel after the game.

Back on the field, Hill was still on the mound for Mahoning Valley (he ended up pitching 5.0 innings of one-run ball), so I took some more photos of him, including this one:


The next inning, I took this close-up shot of Scrappers outfield D’vone McClure:


And, an inning later, shot Jammers shortstop Tyler Filliben attempting to lay down a bunt:


Want to see a few more action photos? Here’s Mahoning Valley’s first baseman Leo Castillo making contact …


… and Steven Patterson making yet another appearance in this post. This time, he’s just crossed home plate after hitting a home run:


It was a blast being so close to home plate to take so many action shots, like this one of Jammers third baseman Chase Simpson:


Even better, though, was watching Jamestown win on a walk-off in the seventh inning. (Minor league doubleheaders have just seven innings per game. ) With the score tied 2-2, Jammers left fielder Jordan Luplow hit his sixth home run of the season to clinch what ended up being the last win in the franchise’s history. As you might expect, he got mobbed at home plate, and I took several photos of the scene, including these two that I like:



It was an exciting end to game one, and I was glad the day was only half over. As is the deal during doubleheaders, the teams disappeared and the grounds crew came out to get the field prepped for the second contest. I took the opportunity to visit the team shop mega sale to pick up some great items. I got a pair of Jammers on-field caps for just $5 each — crazy, I know:


I also picked up a game-used jersey for just $10 that was worn by Miami Marlins starter Tom Koehler in 2008. I’m in the process of connecting with Koehler on Twitter to see if he wants it back. I’ll keep you posted on how that turns out. In the meantime, here’s the jersey:


After my mega shopping extravaganza, I returned to field level in time to see the teams getting warmed up for the second game. From my spot behind the Mahoning Valley dugout, I watched a pair of Scrappers playing long-distance catch. In the Google Maps image below, I’ve placed numbers 1 and 2 where the players were. The X is where I was standing. Partway through their game of catch, player 1 threw a bomb that sailed over the outfield fence (crazy, right?) and landed where I’ve placed the ball image.


As the map shows, I was about as far from the ball as humanly possible, but I thought that if I hustled, I might have a chance of getting to it before someone else found it. I walked with a purpose through the concourse until I exited the park, and then ran to where I thought the ball had landed. The result?


Woo hoo! I was thrilled to add the ball to my collection and happy that my long-distance mission had paid off.

When I got back to the park, I decided to wander through the seats behind home plate to take a few photos from this new angle. Before I did, however, I noticed a curious set of stairs leading to the park’s roof. Hmmm. The stairs weren’t roped off, so I quickly told myself, “Do it for the story,” and began to climb …


… until I emerged through this trap door on the park’s roof:


I saw the press box in the center of the roof, and it had ample standing room on either side. While I don’t think this area could possibly be open to fans, I was confident that my media pass gave me the right to be here, so I took this panorama that captures the scene from the bird’s eye view:


This vantage point was new; although it’s possible to get up high behind home plate at many MLB and MiLB parks, it felt like I was right on top of the field. And, in a sense, I was. It’s always fun to have an unobstructed view for photos, so I started shooting the action. Here’s Jamestown starter Alex McRae, who didn’t have his best outing of the season:


He gave up nine runs on nine hits in just 2.2 innings of work. Yikes. The Scrappers looked formidable early in the second game, using speed …


… and hitting …


… until the scoreboard looked like this:


(Is it just me, or does it look like the fielder is thinking “WTF?”)

I soon moved over to the other side of the roof, where I shot Scrappers starter Ramon Rodriguez:


I also took this shot, of my shadow, to show you my cool position on the roof:


From up here, I had a clear view of everything, including two Scrappers hitters who were hit by pitches from McRae. You can’t see the ball in this shot of centerfielder Greg Allen, but you can see its shadow bouncing off his body:


Three batters later, McRae drilled catcher Francisco Mejia behind the knee, and I snapped a photo just as the ball was making contact with him:


Remember how I said it felt as though I was right on top of the field? That sentiment was especially true for the players standing on deck. Need proof? Look at this shot of Leo Castillo:


Although I was having a blast up top, I decided it’d be fitting to spend the last part of the game back at field level behind the Jamestown dugout. I wasn’t sure if anything cool would happen — I was envisioning the players saluting the fans after the game, perhaps — and I wanted to be in the right spot to watch. I returned to the “No Standing” spot I’d used at the start of the penultimate game and once again had a super-close view of the goings-on. Any post-game events would have to wait, as there was still some baseball to be played. Here’s Jammers first baseman David Andriese on deck:


And 6-foot-8 reliever Eric Dorsch, who had one inning of work:


As for my hope of a post-game ceremony? It didn’t happen, and neither did a Jamestown rally. They fell 12-3 in their final game, with the last out coming via an Elvis Escobar ground out. I filmed Escobar’s at-bat to capture the moment, and you can check out that short video here, if you’re interested:

I hung out in the concourse for about 10 minutes after the game. Lots of the Jammers were taking photos with family members and fans and some were giving away their bats and batting gloves. The whole scene was still a little sad, but I’m sure the Jammers players are excited to continue their minor league careers in Morgantown, WV, next season. The team has since announced that it’ll be known as the West Virginia Black Bears and will play at the new Monongalia County Ballpark, which it’ll share with the West Virginia University Mountaineers. (Does that mean a trip to Morgantown will be in the cards for me? I sure think so, and hopefully this coming season!)

In the meantime, I snapped a picture of the sign board outside the ballpark, which had been changed since I last saw it:


This photo was the last one I took at Russell Diethrick Park. I’d been at the ballpark for more than seven hours in a visit that was outstanding and memorable. Although the day was winding to a close, my trip wasn’t over just yet. I still had one more awesome day to come, but first it was time to head to my hotel for the evening, the Comfort Inn Jamestown. The hotel is just two miles from the ballpark, and it was great — close to several places to eat and less than a minute off the highway. It’s the second-ranked Jamestown hotel on TripAdvisor and features free Internet, free parking and a free hot breakfast. Here’s a look at the hotel from the exterior:


And here’s my room for the night:


After grabbing a pizza from a nearby Little Caesars (not as thrilling as the Little Caesars at Comerica Park, I tell you) I crashed for the night and anticipated my final ballgame of 2014. In the morning, I headed back to the Pittsburgh area to visit the city of Washington, PA. You didn’t think I’d miss seeing Jeremy Nowak in action in 2014, did you? That story’s up next!

If you enjoyed reading this blog post, I’d love to tell you how you can support my future baseball road trips. If you shop on Amazon, your purchases can help fund my trips — without costing you an extra cent. Please take a moment to look at this page and thank you in advance for your support!

Pittsburgh Pirates – August 31

When I woke up on the morning of August 31 for my second day in Pittsburgh, there wasn’t much time to waste. The Pirates were hosting the Cincinnati Reds with a 1 p.m. start time, which meant I wanted to get to PNC Park by 10:30 a.m. I packed up my stuff, checked out of my hotel on the edge of the city and drove straight to my next hotel, the Hampton Inn & Suites Pittsburgh-Downtown. It was still too early to check in, but I was lucky enough to park my car for free at the hotel and walk a few blocks over to PNC Park. The hotel stay was outstanding, and I’ll have lots more about it later in this blog post.

It was absolutely pouring, and I figured there’d be no chance the game would be played at all. Still, I figured a soggy day wandering around the park would be more than all right, so I climbed out of my car and ducked into the rainy morning. From the edge of the hotel’s parking lot, I could see the yellow of the Roberto Clemente Bridge and, beyond it, PNC Park:


Several minutes later, I was standing on the center line of the bridge, as I had a day before:


I entered the ballpark a short while later and saw, as you might expect, that the infield was covered with the tarp. No surprise there:


The steady rain made me not too interested in standing in the seating area getting soaked, so I moved indoors to the Rivertowne Brewing Hall of Fame Club, which is found above the bleachers in left-center field. This spot is an enormous indoor bar and eatery that is open to all fans. It was packed during much of my visit to PNC Park the day before, but wasn’t too crowded during this rainy day. Apparently, I was so happy to be out of the rain that I completely neglected to take a photo inside the club area, so you’ll have to take my word that I was there.

I killed some time in this area and then checked out the team shop before walking down to field level to enjoy this scene:


Sure, the tarp is a buzz kill, but the overall view is one of the best you’ll see in baseball. The cold, dreary day called for something hot to eat, and I’d spied a Quaker Steak & Lube concession stand during my first visit to PNC Park and decided to check it out. I’ve often said that the chicken wings at the Quaker Steak & Lube in Toronto’s Rogers Centre are among my all-time favorite ballpark eats, but I wanted to try something different this time. I’ve often been tempted by the onion rings, so I bought an order with blue cheese dip and dug in:


The rings were delicious — thick, hot and a good onion to batter ratio. The dip wasn’t very good, so I’d definitely try ranch or another flavor next time. If you like onion rings, though, give these a shot at any QS&L location. They look pretty perfect, don’t they?

Soon enough, the rain disappeared and the Pirates miraculously announced the game was expected to start on time. By now, fans were beginning to take their seats, but the crowd was light enough that I was able to sneak walk casually into the park’s famous seats in right field. This section is small to avoid blocking the city’s skyline, so it’s a coveted ticket for Pirates games. The ushers are vigilant about restricting access during the game, but I was able to hang out in the area for a few minutes to take this panorama, which you can click to enlarge:


After leaving the area, I walked the length of the Riverwalk and over to the corner in left, where I took the long walk up this spiral ramp:


Think the climb might’ve been dizzying? It wasn’t, but looking down at the escalators was:


After spending the next little while just walking around PNC Park’s various levels and taking in the sights, I went back down to the main level and found a spot to stand to watch the game. Like a day earlier, I’d bought a standing room ticket. The dreary day, however, meant I had no problem getting a front-row spot along the railing on the third base side. From here, I had an unobstructed view to the field … unless you think this little fella, resting on a nearby wheelchair, was blocking my view:


My pictures of the action at home plate are only so-so, but I had a blast watching guys like Billy Hamilton:


If you follow my blog closely, you might remember that I saw Hamilton in Triple-A last summer as a member of the Louisville Bats. You can read about that ballpark visit here, if you’re interested.

Once I’d watched a couple innings from this spot, I was on the move again. It’s not that I can’t stand still — it’s that it’s always too tempting to explore a new ballpark, rather than just hang out in the same spot for the entire game. During each lap of the park, I couldn’t resist taking a look down to the river and over the water to the impressive city skyline. At one point, I noticed something on the water that you just don’t see every day:


I eventually returned to a spot on the third base side and snapped pictures like this one of Pirates starter Francisco Liriano:


As I watched him work, keeping an eye on the ribbon board behind home plate to watch his pitch speed, I noticed something I’ve never seen at a single one of the 50-plus parks I’ve visited since 2010. Take a look at this next photo and you’ll see not only the pitch speed, but also the ball’s horizontal break and vertical break:


Pretty cool, huh? Of course, the baseball nerd in me had fun watching for off-speed pitches and quickly guessing the break before the data appeared in front of me. Has anyone encountered other parks that provide this data? If so, I’d love to hear about it in the comments section below.

I’ve often said in the past how I love the speed element of baseball, so it was definitely a thrill to see Hamilton in person again. The next time he was up, I positioned myself to the third base side of home and watched as he flew up the base line on a routine ground out. His speed was absolutely incredible, and I shot a series of photos that I’ve made into this gif:


After beating the Reds 3-2 a day earlier, the Pirates fell by the same score in a game that saw Cincy starter Johnny Cueto, who I captured earlier in the game during this bunt attempt, win his 16th of the season:


As fans filed out of PNC Park toward their cars, I was excited to avoid the post-game traffic jam and, instead, take a short walk to my hotel, the Hampton Inn & Suites Pittsburgh-Downtown. The hotel is just one mile from the ballpark and an easy walk. It’s totally perfect for baseball fans visiting Pittsburgh — or, really, anyone who enjoys staying downtown and being able to walk to various locations. In addition to its close proximity to PNC Park, the hotel is also within walking distance to Heinz Field, the University of Pittsburgh, a downtown convention center and the Senator John Heinz History Center, a museum that is located directly across the street. (Unfortunately, I didn’t get to visit it, but it looked outstanding.) Speaking of the hotel’s location, a huge perk is that guests get free parking. In all my traveling, I can’t recall another true downtown hotel that has this benefit.

The hotel staff knew of my arrival, and kindly gave me a welcome gift bag loaded with snacks upon checking in. That was the first big surprise. The other? Seeing this sign in the elevator — in particular, the part I’ve pointed out with the red arrow — on the way up to my room:

hampton-inn-suites-pittsburgh-downtown-welcome-sign copy

Wowsers! Did I just say “wowsers?” I sure did.

I was lucky to get a corner suite on an upper floor of the hotel; given the room’s location, it really felt as though I had the best room in the hotel. The view was spectacular — from one window, I could see the river, the yellow bridges and even PNC Park in the distance:


And from the other, I had a great view of the city’s downtown, which I photographed early in the evening …


… and again at night:


The view wasn’t the only amazing thing about my room. The room itself was perfect — it was a suite, so it was extremely spacious and had a kitchen area, desk, couch, king-sized bed and more. Check out this shot …


… and this one to see what I mean:


The Hampton Inn & Suites Pittsburgh-Downtown is an outstanding choice if you’ve visiting the Steel City. Beyond the perks I’ve already listed, the hotel features free Wi-Fi, free breakfast, a business center, fitness center, indoor pool and more. From these amenities to its ideal location to its free parking to its awesome rooms, you’ll be glad to hang your Pirates hat (or the hat of whatever team you root for) here.

Two more ballpark experiences from my road trip are coming up! Next one: The end of an era in Jamestown, New York.

Pittsburgh Pirates – August 30

Any time I talk to baseball fans about the parks they’ve visited, it doesn’t take long before Pittsburgh’s PNC Park is mentioned as a favorite. I’ve been trying to add PNC Park to the list of the parks I’ve visited for the last few years, but I’ve never managed to sync my travel schedule with the Pirates’ home schedule. This year, however, everything worked out perfectly.

After an awesome day in Rochester, I drove about 4.5 hours to Pittsburgh, getting to the Steel City about three hours before the 4 p.m. game. I parked in a parking tower across the Roberto Clemente Bridge from PNC Park and, as I entered the structure, I could hear a security guard’s radio crackle with the message, “No more cars.” That meant I’d have a heck of a time finding a parking spot; after driving around for way too long, another guard directed me to park in a non-spot on the upper level of the structure. I wasn’t crazy about leaving my car in an area that it might get towed, but I quickly forgot about this problem when I stepped out and had this exciting view:


Just about perfect, right?

The view from where I stood was incredible. Here’s what it looks like as a panorama, which you can click to expand:


In addition to the ballpark and Pittsburgh’s iconic series of bridges, you can also see Heinz Field, home of the Steelers, on the left. After a couple minutes of descending the stairs to get to street level, the Clemente Bridge once again had a prominent spot in front of me:


This bridge is closed to vehicles on game days, which makes for one of the best approaches to any MLB park you can find. Leave your car, take a stroll over the bridge and enjoy the view, and a few minutes later, you’re standing at the gates of an outstanding ballpark. As I set out across the bridge, I noticed most pedestrians were sticking to the sidewalk. I couldn’t resist walking right down the center line, where I had this view:


I saw a plaque honoring Clemente …


… and a few minutes later, I’d picked up my ticket at will call and paused to take this photograph:


As usual, I set out to take a walk around the perimeter of the park, and it didn’t take long to see a pile of cool things. Musician Gavin DeGraw was set to play a postgame concert, and I could see the band’s gear stored behind PNC Park:


The North Shore Trail, which runs between the ballpark and the Allegheny River, is one of the best “neighborhood” features you’ll ever see in all of baseball. It’s absolutely beautiful — full of baseball fans and boaters. (And so many people drinking beer while floating on inner tubes in the water.) In fact, boaters moor their vessels along the trail and tailgate before and after Pirates games. It’s a really fun place to be, and here’s what the scene looks like:


No visit to PNC Park is complete without spending some time on the trail. It’s the perfect place to get pumped up for your eventual entry into the ballpark and the game ahead. Although it was about a million degrees and sunny, and I was excited to get to the park itself, I couldn’t resist taking a few laps up and down the trail. The view of the city’s skyline is absolutely spectacular, as you can see here:


After quite a bit of walking and a few dozen photos later, I was ready to get inside the ballpark — but it wasn’t open yet. The team shop was, though, and I took advantage of the air conditioning and went inside. MLB team shops are always impressive, and the one at PNC Field was no different. The special touch? Pirates-colored flooring:


I spent some time touring the two-level shop as much for a reprieve from the heat as for browsing the Pirates gear, but I soon headed outside again to spend more time walking around before the gates opened. I know you’re probably curious to see the inside of PNC Park,and we’re almost there. First though, here are a few more photos of the scene outside the gates. Here’s a plaque recognizing the 1903 World Series:


A look at some of the boats docked along the trail:


And Heinz Field, which was hosting a University of Pittsburgh football game against Delaware:


When the center field gates opened, I entered the park and expected to begin my sightseeing. What I didn’t realize, however, is that these gates open into a an area called the Riverwalk, and then you have to wait another short period of time for the rest of the park to open. No worries, though — the Riverwalk area is fun to explore and is loaded with concession stands. It’s the area of the park you often see during TV broadcasts — the one with the giant PNC Park sign:


I wandered the length of the Riverwalk a couple times and, before long, it was time for the gates the to rest of PNC Park to open. When they opened, I found myself in a semi-covered behind the seats in right-center, so I quickly made my way through the crowd and got out to the bleachers where I had this amazing view:


I wasn’t interested in getting a ball during BP. I just sat for a few minutes atop the bleachers and enjoyed the view. Soon enough, however, I was on the move again and decided to take my journey skyward. I followed the curved ramp toward the upper deck, pausing along the way to snap this shot that shows the bleachers I’d previously visited, the video board, the bullpens and the river with the city skyline in the background:


Once I made it to the upper deck, I made a beeline for the seats behind home plate so that I could capture one of the most iconic views in baseball. Ready? Ta-da!


I absolutely love a ballpark that offers an impressive view of the city beyond, and I’ve had the fortune of enjoying repeat visits to parks with comparable views over the years, like Cleveland’s Progressive Field and Detroit’s Comerica Park. Take a look at the two preceding links, compare the photos with the above shot of PNC Park, and let me know in the comments section which view is your favorite. Or, if you’ve got another favorite view, I’d love to hear about it.

Before I left the spot behind home plate, I took a series of photos to build this huge panorama …


… and then snapped this close-up shot of the team’s World Series banners directly behind me:


As I stood and enjoyed the view, I realized that I could see the parking garage at which I’d left my car. I switched to my zoom lens, adjusted the focus and, sure enough, there was my car!


(See what I meant about the lot being absolutely packed?)

Although I was eager to get back down to the 100 Level concourse to explore the park, it was pretty cool being up here with this vantage point. I slowly made my way over toward the right field corner and snapped this shot that shows a few neat things:


First, we’ve got the statue of Bill Mazeroski on the left side of the image, depicted after hitting his iconic home run during the 1960 World Series; the white tent in the center is covering the musical instruments I noticed earlier; and how about the boat dropping people off? Can you think of a better way to get to a ballgame?

While I was in this spot, I took a shot that illustrates a couple areas in the park I’ve already mentioned:


See the structure to the left of the bleachers and video board? That’s the giant ramp I climbed to get to the upper deck. And the concrete area running along the right side of the photo? That’s the Riverwalk, as you might’ve guessed.

Next, I descended to the main concourse to begin checking things out. My first step was Legacy Square, an informative spot that honors the Pittsburgh area’s rich Negro Leagues history with a series of statues and plaques. Here’s one of “Cool Papa” Bell, for example:


I browsed the area for several minutes and decided to return later on to read all the plaques in detail. In the meantime, I was anxious to continue my trek. The next spot I visited was the small seating section inside the right field scoreboard, that you often see on TV. Here’s what the view looks like, and I can certainly attest that this is one of the neatest spots to see a game in all of baseball:


It was still a short time before first pitch, but I was ready to get my eat on. My number one food priority for visiting PNC Park was to grab a sandwich from the Primanti Brothers concession. Primanti, of course, is a Pittsburgh specialty with several locations around the city. The premise to these sandwiches, if you haven’t heard of them, if that they’re an all-in-one, if you will. The sandwich is loaded with your meat of choice — I got roast beef — but is also stacked with coleslaw and french fries. Sound excessive? Sure is! Here’s a look at mine:


And how was it, you might ask? Well, it didn’t exactly blow me away. I can understand the appeal of loading a sandwich with the side ingredients — I’m all for food gimmickry — but the coleslaw only served to make the beef and fries instantly cold. Also, the meat’s flavor wasn’t much to write home about, and the whole thing was pretty doughy.

First pitch was fast approaching by the time I finished my unsatisfying sandwich, so I made my way back down to the main level to find a spot to hang out. I’d bought a standing room only ticket for the game, and while this type of ticket is great on the wallet, it’s always a challenge to find a suitable spot from which to watch the game. I found a ramp in center that had this view …


… and got settled in to enjoy the first few innings. A moment later, however, I noticed a guard nixing the similar plans of other fans to my left, and knew he’d make his way over to me in just a matter of time. I decided to go all National Geographic photojournalist and take this photo, pretending to be immersed in my work with the hope he’d pass by:


It didn’t fool him, however, and given the horrible threat I was apparently posing by standing in the area, I was encouraged to find somewhere else to be. So, where to go? Well, I found a great spot on the concourse behind home plate where I had this view:


I decided that I’d done enough walking for the day, and with another game at PNC Park less than 24 hours away, I knew I’d have another day to explore the park. So, I spent much of the game standing in this perfect location. This spot gave me an awesome view of two home runs — a first-inning blast by Pittsburgh’s Neil Walker and a fourth-inning shot by Cincy’s Todd Frazier. Walker’s three-run shot was all the offense Pittsburgh got and needed. The Buccos won 3-2 to help them inch closer to the playoffs.

Although I’d had a great day at the ballpark, I was exhausted and couldn’t wait to get to my hotel. I’d booked a pair of Pittsburgh hotels for my two nights in the city, and up first was the Hyatt Place Pittsburgh Airport, located just 11 miles from PNC Park. I’ve stayed at Hyatt Place hotels a few times in MLB cities — Cleveland and Philadelphia come to mind immediately, and they always deliver. Big time. Here’s the front of the hotel:


The Hyatt Place Pittsburgh Airport was awesome. I was impressed with how quickly the 11-mile drive passed, and even more impressed with how friendly everyone was at the front desk when I checked in. After dropping off my luggage, I made a short drive to a nearby/enormous retail area to buy some dinner and snacks for the evening. The hotel is smack dab in the middle of a part of Pittsburgh that you can find everything, from restaurants to supermarkets to malls, and so on. Needing something a little healthier than my lunch at the ballpark, I grabbed a gigantic salad at a nearby Panera Bread location, and absolutely crashed when I got back to my room.

I love the room layout at Hyatt Place hotels — every room is suite style — a living room area with a sectional couch, desk area, kitchenette and then a separate bedroom. And I’d be lying if I said I didn’t love the 42-inch TV that swivels so you can watch it in the living room or bedroom:


The king-sized bed was super comfy and I love how it’s separate from the rest of the room:


I definitely recommend this hotel if you’re visiting Pittsburgh to see the Pirates — or if you’re in the Steel City for any other reason. In addition to the perks I already mentioned, it’s near other attractions such as the Pittsburgh Zoo, the Sandcastle Water Park and, of course, the airport. It has business center, indoor pool and offers complimentary breakfast, as well as free Wi-Fi and free parking.

Up next, another great day at PNC Park and another great hotel!

Rochester Red Wings – August 29

Whenever I meet new people on my baseball road trips and tell them about The Ballpark Guide, the question I’m most often asked is, “What’s your favorite park?” It’s a question that’s almost impossible to answer — how can you compare the history of a 100-year-old park with the amazing, modern amenities of a new one?

The way I answer this common question, albeit in a roundabout way, is to talk about which parks I’d pick if I could theoretically relocate somewhere and buy season tickets. Rochester’s Frontier Field is always on that list. I’ve often said that Frontier Field might offer my favorite all-round ballpark experience, and when I was planning my recent trip, I couldn’t resist kicking things off in Rochester.

All that said, I was pretty excited to hop in the car the morning of August 29 and punch Rochester into my GPS. I checked in to my amazing hotel when I got to town (lots more on that later) and made it to Frontier Field shortly before 4 p.m., a couple hours before first pitch. I closely follow the Rochester Red Wings, given my love of Frontier Field, and they were hosting the Buffalo Bisons during this final series of the International League regular season. Buffalo, of course, is the Triple-A affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays, and I hadn’t seen the Bisons in action since they became affiliated with the Jays. Lots of reasons to get inside and check things out!

First, though, I took the following photo from the parking lot, which shows not only the front gate of Frontier Field and the tip of the Kodak building beyond, but also a decent contingent of eager fans:


The reason for the early arrival? Stan Musial bobblehead night. As much as getting a bobblehead of Stan the Man was appealing, it wasn’t in the cards for me, as I didn’t have a ticket. The Red Wings were once again providing me with a media credential, which you can see here:


(Huge thanks to Tim from the Red Wings for taking care of me again this season.)

Before I entered, I took a series of photos to capture the pavilion in front of Frontier Field in panorama form …


… and the next shot I took was my initial view of the ballpark’s suite level, upon exiting the elevator:


I didn’t spend time exploring the suite level or pressbox; I’ve been lucky to check these areas out extensively in the past, and my priority was to get to field level. After making my way down to the concourse and out to the seating bowl, here’s the first thing I saw:


Yep, it was the Bisons getting ready to hit. As you can see from the following panorama, Frontier Field was virtually deserted:


There’s something absolutely amazing about being in a nearly-empty ballpark. Watching BP is one of my favorite baseball experiences, and it doesn’t get any better than wandering around a virtually empty park with the music playing and the cracks of the bat in the background. I decided to take a full lap around the field, starting with a walk down the first base line. As I headed toward the foul pole, I came across a couple baseballs sitting on the grass. As per usual, it would’ve been tempting to grab ’em for my collection, but I didn’t want to use my media pass for any monkey business, so I steered clear:


I even left this home run ball, nestled just over the outfield fence, where it sat:


When I got to the left field corner, I had a great view of the upper levels of the Kodak building:


Sure, this building isn’t part of Frontier Field per se, but it’s a Rochester landmark and, given its location virtually across the street from the ballpark, makes for an awesome backdrop.

Instead of finishing my complete lap, I decided to stop on the grass berm down the third base line to watch the Bisons, who were shagging BP balls. I saw top prospects Daniel Norris and A.J. Jimenez just a short distance away, and as I surveyed the scene in the outfield through my camera, I heard someone yelling at me in Spanish. Slightly befuddled, I lowered my camera, looked in the direction of the sound and saw a Bisons player looking toward me and saying something I couldn’t understand. Then, he held up his hands and clicked the shutter on an imaginary camera, so I quickly focused on him and snapped this shot:


“Gracias,” he yelled over to me. Now, I’ve been slowly learning how to speak Spanish, and this would’ve been a perfect opportunity to respond with a “de nada,” but I got cold feet and just waved and gave a thumbs up. When he turned, I took note of his jersey number — 59 — and quickly checked my roster sheet to see who it was, since I didn’t recognize him. The Buffalo roster didn’t have a #59, which left me to guess the player was on the disabled list. Of course, telling a story here on my blog about a mystery player wouldn’t cut it, so I needed to figure out who it was. I waited a moment and aimed my camera back at him. He saw me, motioned to Jimenez, and this was the result:


After I took the picture (and exchanged thumbs up with them) the mystery player made his way over to me and asked if the photos turned out well. Yes, I told him. “Are you putting them online?” he asked. “Yes,” I replied, “but if you’d like, I can send you the full-sized versions by email.” He said that would be great, and I gave him one of my business cards. Then, he asked to see the photos. I lowered my camera over the fence and watched as he checked them out. He thanked me for taking them and, since I didn’t want to let him get away without figuring out who he was, I quickly said, “I’m Malcolm,” and extended my hand toward him. “Radhames,” he replied, shaking my hand. I instantly knew he was Radhames Liz, a former Baseball America top-100 prospect and pitcher for the Balitmore Orioles. He appeared in 28 games for the O’s over three seasons, including a stint in 2008 in which he started 17 games. After spending 2011 through 2013 pitching in Korea, Liz signed with the Blue Jays and started 12 games this season between Double-A and Triple-A, putting together a tidy 2.95 ERA.

Anyway, he’s yet to email me, but I sure hope he does. And if not, he’ll certainly be a guy I’ll keep tabs on and try to meet again.

I took a few posed photos of Liz and Raul Valdes (I think):


And embraced my new role as his personal photographer by taking some action shots of him shagging balls, including this one …


… and playing catch, like this one:


Occasionally, Liz seemed to get the sense that I was still shooting him, so he’d look over the give the peace sign or a nod. When BP wrapped up, he gave me a salute as he headed off to the dugout, and then I continued making my way around Frontier Field.

Once the gates opened at 5 p.m. I decided to take another lap around the field and, to my surprise, came across a ball sitting in the grass behind the batter’s eye. It seemed like an odd place, but since other fans were milling around (luckily for me, oblivious to the ball), I grabbed it:


All the walking and, let’s face it, Frontier Field’s awesome concessions menu, had me hungry. I headed for the Red Osier stand on the third base side to get one of my favorite items, an enormous prime rib sandwich. The lineup, though, was extensive:


Lineups make me absolutely insane, and as much as I wanted another delicious sandwich, I decided to keep walking. Before long, the “Say Cheese!” stand on the first base side beckoned. The gourmet mac and cheese at this stand is phenomenal, and was what I ate during my very first visit to Frontier Field back in 2010. Perhaps feeling a little nostalgic, I made a quick decision to add a little mac and cheese to my day and ordered the buffalo chicken variety, which consists of mac and cheese, diced chicken, buffalo sauce and blue cheese dressing:


Fantastic! (The size of this meal, however, significantly curtailed my plans to grab a prime rib sandwich.)

As I was eating, a family consisting of a pair of grandparents and a young boy sat down in front of me. They asked me to take their picture with their camera, and after doing so, I figured I could do one better. I reached into my backpack to grab the baseball I’d found earlier and handed it to the boy. He was thrilled, although I think his excitement pales in comparison to my wife’s when I told her I wouldn’t be adding another ball to my collection.

Next, I went back down to field level to watch the Bisons get warmed up. It was shortly before game time, and starting pitcher Sean Nolin was getting his stretches in:


His battery mate, Jimenez, was also getting ready, and looked a little more in “business mode” than the last time I’d taken his photo:


Since I’d been making the rounds of Frontier Field for a couple hours, I’d done enough to see what I needed for my website. Now, all that was left to do was to settle in and enjoy the ballgame. I began the game on the grass berm in the right field corner, where I had this great view of the action …


… and this awesome shot of the Kodak building:


(I know I’ve mentioned this building a few times, but it’s such a cool backdrop. Take a visit to Rochester and you’ll know what I mean.)

My next vantage point was behind home plate, which offers a pretty darned good view, too. Here’s Buffalo outfielder Cole Gillespie getting a hit off Rochester’s Sean Gilmartin:


After a bit of time behind the visitors’ dugout, I took a trip to the Frontier Field team shop, which is always a fun place to browse. A lot of apparel was marked down in price because of the end of the season, but the coolest thing I saw was a barrel of game-used broken bats for sale. I’ve added a number of bats to my collection over the years, and as I browsed the selection, one jumped out at me quickly:


It’s typically tough to find a game-used bat from a top prospect, let alone one from a visiting team. Furthermore, did he break this bat during the day’s batting practice? It seemed so fresh that it couldn’t have been around for long. It looked brand new, except for a few ball marks and a crack along the handle. The display indicated that game-used bats were $25, while bats from MLB players were $50. Jimenez’s bat obviously belonged to the former category, so I was thrilled to find it for such a bargain. I stepped to the counter to buy it, and the clerk told me the the bat was $50, as it belonged to an MLB player. I pointed out that Jimenez has yet to appear in the big leagues, and offered to show her proof online. She was uneasy about giving me the bat for $25, so I didn’t want to press the issue. At the same time, I didn’t want to spend $50 for the bat, so I begrudgingly returned it to its barrel. Oh well.

My next stop was the group picnic area in left field. Although it had earlier been closed for a group function, it was now open to other fans, and I found a spot right behind the Buffalo bullpen, where I hung out for a couple innings. From here, I not only had a great view of the field, but also a close view of guys like former MLB all-star Steve Delabar and Kyle Drabek:


I also had a view of this unidentified flying object hovering above Frontier Field:


I was pretty amused to watch it — I assume the remote-control helicopter was being piloted by someone in the parking lot — and kept looking around me to see if any other fans had noticed it. It appeared to stay under the proverbial radar and, before long, off it went into the night.

I too went off into the night, but only temporarily. I love taking photos of ballparks at night, and my media pass meant that I could head out the parking lot to shoot Frontier Field, and then walk back inside to enjoy the rest of the game. Here’s the view from the team/media parking lot as a panorama and, as always, you can click on my panoramas to make them huge:


After taking this shot, I went back inside where I grabbed a spot behind home plate and watched the remainder of the game. It was an exciting one between two above-.500 clubs. The home team slipped past the visitors 3-2. As a Jays fan, it was awesome to see so many prospects that I’ve yet to see in the Bisons colors or that I’ve seen on TV during brief stints with the big-league club.

As great as the day had been so far, it continued to get better when I got to my hotel after the game. As you know, I love scouting out and staying at cool hotels in each city I visit, and I’d had my eye on The Strathallan in Rochester since I started planning this trip. This hotel is an awesome choice not only for baseball fans visiting town, but also for anyone with Rochester on their travel agenda. It’s only two miles from Frontier Field, or about seven or eight minutes, depending on traffic. As far as location, it’s actually on the edge of a residential neighborhood, so it’s extremely quiet. At the same time, you’re just a few blocks from several downtown eateries, so it’s the best of both worlds.

I was blown away by my room; these photos show the room the following morning. Here’s the living room area:


And the bedroom:


I was fortunate to get a suite, so the room was extremely spacious. It also had a kitchen area, huge bathroom, two HDTVs and a balcony, which I think is a first for me on my baseball travels. It was cool to get some fresh air both after the game and early the following morning. The view off my balcony was of the back entrance to the hotel, which I’m sure you’ll agree was beautiful:


The Strathallan has great features such as an indoor pool, fitness center and even an onsite massage clinic. I was especially impressed with the awesome fire pits. Here’s a look at the fire pit on the patio:


And, maybe even cooler, one on the roof:


The hotel is nine levels tall, and guests have access to the roof. I rode the elevator to the top floor and had fun checking out the roof deck, which you can book for parties or meetings. As I walked around, the pleasant smell of wood smoke was noticeable, but the fire pits weren’t ablaze. It took me a moment to realize I was smelling the wood-burning ovens at Char Streak & Lounge, the hotel’s upscale restaurant. I didn’t get a chance to eat here during my stay, but that didn’t stop me from salivating over its menu! This hotel is one of the nicest I’ve visited, period, and will definitely be the place I hang my hat the next time I’m in Rochester to visit Frontier Field.

Up next: A pair of outstanding days in Pittsburgh!

I’m Packing My Bags Again

It’s been a slow summer of traveling for me, but I’ve had hopes of getting on the road once more for a road trip before the Minor League Baseball season is over. And finally, I’ve got things planned!

I’ll begin my road trip on Friday, when I’ll be in Rochester to watch the Red Wings host the Buffalo Bisons at Frontier Field. I haven’t made it a secret that Frontier Field provides one of my favorite overall ballpark experiences, so I can’t wait to get back. In fact, the Rochester park serves up one of the best things I’ve ever eaten at a ballpark, and I’m sure I’ll cross paths with this sandwich again:


On Saturday morning, I’ll hit the road to Pittsburgh to see Pirates games on Saturday, Aug. 30 and Sunday, Aug. 31. I’ve been trying to get to PNC Park for years, but it’s never worked out because of scheduling issues. I’m excited to see the Bucs host the Cincinnati Reds for two games and get the chance to explore this park, which many people consider one of the best in the majors. The food selection looks outstanding, too, so I’m sure you’ll see some mouthwatering photos in my blog on the weekend.

On Monday morning, I’ll make the short drive from Pittsburgh to Jamestown, N.Y., to watch the hometown Jammers face the Mahoning Valley Scrappers in New York-Penn League action. The Jammers play at Russell Diethrick Park, which is one of the oldest parks in the minors and this game will be the final one of their season, so I’m happy to be able to fit it in.

The next day, on Tuesday, Sept. 2., I’ll head back to the Pittsburgh area to visit Washington, PA. There, the Washington Wild Things will host the Evansville Otters in independent league action. Jeremy Nowak, whose name you’ll recognize if you’re a longtime follower of this blog, is playing for Evansville this season, and I can’t wait to see him in action for the fourth time. It’ll be a doubleheader, so it should be lots of fun. And, as a bonus, his parents plan to attend this game — I met them last summer in New Jersey and had a blast hanging out with them for the game.

As always, I’ll be blogging and tweeting along the way. If you plan to be in any of these cities, give me a shout and we’ll meet up and say hello.

Remember, if you enjoy reading my blog and following along with my travel adventures, you can give me a helping hand without it costing you an extra cent. Please take a moment to check out this page. Thanks for your support!

I’m Doing a Podcast and Need Your Help!

At the end of my most recent blog post, I mentioned that I’d soon have an exciting announcement to share. I figure I might as well let the cat out of the bag right now.

I’m doing a podcast!

This project has been in the works for a long time, put on the shelf and pulled back off the shelf, but it’s about to become a reality. Instead of giving away all the details here, I’d much rather you check out the first episode when it’s available. In the meantime, though, I’m looking for a few good questions from you guys and gals. The podcast will have a Q & A component with questions from readers of this blog, my followers on Twitter or members of my Facebook group.

So, ask away! I’ll pick a question or two, answer them on the first episode and give a shout-out to your Twitter handle, blog URL, etc. Questions can be about anything ballpark related, from tips about any of the parks I’ve visited (here’s the full list) to anything you want to ask about my various baseball travel adventures.

My podcast co-host will be my good friend, Ryan Birtch, who’s joined me on a couple trips over the last few years. In 2011, we went to Centennial Field, home of the Vermont Lake Monsters and in 2012, we went to Frontier Field, home of the Rochester Red Wings. Like me, he’s a big-time baseball guy and we’re going to have a blast sharing this podcast with you.

Send your questions my way by leaving a comment below this blog post, tweeting at me or emailing me directly. Thanks for your support!


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