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 SWB 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!
The morning after my long, memorable day in Bowling Green to see the Hot Rods host the Fort Wayne TinCaps, I was on the move again. This time, I was driving east toward Lexington, KY, to catch the Lexington Legends host the Kannapolis Intimidators in South Atlantic League action. Whitaker Bank Ballpark, home of the Legends, was the fourth SAL ballpark I’ve visited since 2011, although I’d add another the next day.
The day was pretty open, but because I was driving back into the Eastern Time Zone after being in the Central Time Zone in Bowling Green, I was losing an hour. Still, I got to Lexington in decent time, hung out in my hotel for a bit and then packed up for the short drive to the ballpark.
Once I parked, I grabbed this shot of Whitaker Bank Ballpark from the parking lot …
… and then took a lap around the back of the park, taking shots like this one:
While I was in the parking lot behind the park, a man in a full Kansas City Royals uniform and carrying a pail yelled to me: “Are you picking up balls back here?”
“No,” I replied, because I wasn’t. “Why?”
He responded by, well, not responding and I continued on my merry way. As for the Royals guy? Hmm. The Legends are an affiliate of the Royals, hence the Royals uniform on the guy. MLB teams often send roving instructors through the minors, and I’ve seen guys in MLB uniforms several times in minor league dugouts. But was this Royals employee tasked with picking up errant BP balls? No idea.
I got around to the front of the ballpark without running into any more wayward MLB coaches and took a bunch of shots to make up this panorama:
Next, I photographed this enormous baseball and wondered if the scrawled names are supposed to be there:
If so, there was no sign inviting fans to sign the ball, but it’s sort of a neat idea. If not, someone needs to get scrubbing.
I briefly met the team’s director of broadcasting and media relations, Keith Elkins, who gave me my media pass. Thanks again, Keith! And then, it was into the park for a quick walk through the deserted and somewhat dark concourse:
Things got brighter, literally and figuratively, when I went out to the seating bowl and got my first good look at the field, which I captured in panorama form:
Other than the game of baseball itself, is there anything more perfect looking that a pristine field just waiting for action? I think not.
As you might guess from the above photo, there wasn’t much going on just yet. And because it was still well before game time and there wasn’t any sign of players on the field, I wandered over to the left field corner to check out a large and very impressive kids’ play area, complete with a Legends-themed bouncy castle:
The mustache, by the way, plays a key role in the team’s merchandise and marketing — the team shop, which I’d soon visit, even sold mustache bumper stickers. Since I was beyond the outfield fence, I took the opportunity to head to the outfield bleachers and take the photos to make up this panorama:
Next up was a visit to the aforementioned team shop, which had the best assortment of game-used jerseys I’ve ever seen. The Legends have obviously had a number of special jersey promotions, and this one caught my eye:
From their inception in 2001 up until the end of last season, the Legends were affiliated with the Houston Astros, and I thought these Astros-style Legends throwback jerseys were absolutely awesome looking.
One of the really neat things about this ballpark is the team’s hall of fame outside the team shop. The information about past Legends players was interesting, but I especially liked the home plates signed by all sorts of celebrities, including Hank Williams, Jr.:
When I finished browsing the signed home plates, I went out to the field to catch the warmups, which had just begun. For some reason, the ballpark had a fun, holiday-style vibe. It wasn’t an actual holiday, but maybe that’s just the way things are in Lexington. Outfielder Ethan Chapman and pitcher Daniel Stumpf were having fun with a fan:
Kannapolis pitching coach Jose Bautista was chatting and signing for a couple young fans:
And Intimidators pitcher Zach Isler was meeting fans, too:
After watching the action on the Kannapolis side of the field for a bit, I went over toward the right field corner where I noticed one of the coolest things I’ve seen at a ballpark. Remember the onion dispenser at Nationals Park that I’d love to have at home? Well, I’d love to have this instant refreshment station, too:
Just press the button and you’re hit with several jets of cold mist — a perfect way to cool down on a hot day!
I wanted to get some pictures of the Legends warming up, but made a quick stop in the Pepsi Party Deck, which has awesome Legends-themed seats:
Lexington’s clubhouse is back in this corner of the park, and from the walkway leading to the party deck, I spotted something you don’t often see — a player sitting by himself outside the clubhouse, cleaning his cleats with Scrubbing Bubbles bathroom cleaner:
As more players hit the field and started throwing, I went over to the fence by the Legends bullpen and looked for Bubba Starling. If you follow baseball’s prospects, you’ll likely know his name. A fifth overall draft pick back in 2011 (several spots ahead of Taylor Guerrieri and Joe Ross, who I saw the day before in Bowling Green), he’s the top-ranked prospect in KC’s system and the 24th-ranked prospect in the game, according to MLB. It didn’t take long to spot him:
While I was here, I got another picture of Chapman …
… and then looked for the next guy I wanted to spot: Raul Mondesi, Jr. Being a Jays fan, I watched Mondesi, Sr., play for Toronto for three years, and it made me feel annoyingly old to watch his son getting warmed up:
Well, “warming up” might be a bit of an exaggeration. In the several minutes I stood a few yards away from Mondesi, Jr., “hanging out” more aptly describes his pre-game prep. I have several photos similar to the above, but I won’t post them all. Actually, I shouldn’t say they’re all that similar — in some, he wasn’t standing with his legs crossed. His pre-game prep seemed to work for him, though, as you’ll soon read. And, besides, he was DHing, hence the lack of throwing.
When the game got underway, I grabbed a spot in the front row above the Kannapolis dugout to photograph the action. That action included this bat boy, who may be hoping for a growth spurt so he can fill his uniform:
From my seat, I had a great view of Intimidators starter Brandon Brennan:
And Mondesi, Jr., who showed bunt in the first inning and then drove the ball to right field for a triple:
In his next at-bat he hit a home run. In the following one, a single. And in his fourth at-bat, a double. Yep. The freaking cycle! It’s the first time I’ve ever seen a player do it in person, and it was hugely exciting to witness.
Starling wasn’t so fortunate at the plate. He went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts. Regardless, it was cool to see him up close:
It was hard to leave this perfect spot to watch the game, but I decided to hit the upper deck for panoramic purposes. Here’s the result:
After a bit of time up here, I went down to the concourse to find something to eat. I was looking for something tasty but not over the top, and the idea of boneless BBQ wings sounded good to me. When I got to my designated eating area, a picnic table down the first base line, I opened the box and was less than impressed:
The chicken was dry, had absolutely no flavor and at least half the pieces were badly burnt. You win some and lose some with ballpark food, I guess.
My underwhelming meal didn’t hamper the evening — getting to see Mondesi Jr.’s cycle will definitely go down as a highlight of my summer.
West Virginia tomorrow!
After a couple outstanding days in Cincinnati, I was on the move again. And early, too, given the following travel considerations:
- The Midwest League’s Bowling Green Hot Rods were hosting the Fort Wayne TinCaps at 2 p.m.
- I wanted to get to Bowling Green Ballpark before noon.
- The drive from Cincy to Bowling Green is nearly 3.5 hours and I had a couple stops to make.
All this meant that despite more than a week of traveling and a lack of sleep, I was up bright and early on a Sunday morning to hit the road in good time.
The Hot Rods and, more specifically, broadcasting and media relations manager Hank Fuerst, were kind enough to supply me with a media pass for my visit. There was a lot of construction around Bowling Green Ballpark during my visit, and when I pulled up, I had no idea where to park. After a couple trips around the park, I decided to park in the player/staff lot. Players, staff and media members often share lots in the minors, so I didn’t think there’d be a problem stashing my car here for a few hours. Here’s the rather nondescript area I parked:
My car is out of the frame to the left, and to get out of the lot, I walked through a gate just at the right of the picture. As I passed through the gate and reached the sidewalk, I got a pleasant surprise:
Batting practice was taking place, and despite being a good chunk more than 500 feet from home plate, a nicely worn Midwest League baseball was sitting in plain view. I was initially puzzled by its location, but didn’t take long to realize what’d happened. You can see a tiny green sliver of the field above the tractor with the two yellow seats, which means the outfield fence gate was open. The ball must have rolled through the gate, hit the edge of the chain-link gate to the left of the photo and followed along the bottom of the gate until ending up on the sidewalk. I had no idea how long the ball had sat there, but was happy to add it to my collection.
I decided to take a walk around the perimeter of the park, as per usual, and started to walk down this sidewalk:
Soon enough, I was behind the outfield fence and decided to take a few minutes to see if I could find any home run balls. The foliage, though, was what you might call thick:
I looked and looked and looked, and came up completely blank. No worries, though. A construction area up ahead cut my walk short, so I retraced my steps to the parking lot and then followed this sidewalk …
… until I saw this:
At first, I thought this was a pretty sedate-looking front gate, but then I realized I wasn’t yet at the front of the ballpark. A handful of additional paces later, this was the view:
Once I picked up my media pass, I cut through the team shop and was out to the concourse. The Hot Rods were stretching and playing catch, and I quickly spotted the game’s starting pitcher, Taylor Guerrieri, playing long toss. He’s ranked as the #2 prospect in Tampa Bay’s system, and this was the second time I was lucky enough to see him pitch. Last summer, I watched him at the Futures at Fenway game. I resisted the urge to explore the quiet ballpark and walked down the third base line to get as close to Guerrieri as I could. I like this next photo I got. You can almost see the two TinCaps in the background thinking, “Hmm, we’re facing the #40 prospect in baseball, huh?”
As Guerrieri kept throwing, I took the shots to make up this panorama:
A few minutes later, he was off to the bullpen to continue warming up, and I wasn’t far behind. Here, I got one more picture of Guerrieri …
… and then continued on my way. With activity over on the Fort Wayne side of the field, that’s where I headed next, getting this photo of outfielders Corey Adamson and Brian Adams stretching:
As excited as I was to see Guerrieri pitch, I was also pumped to see Fort Wayne’s starter. Joe Ross, a first-round pick in 2011, was touted earlier this year by MLB.com as the 12th-best prospect in the San Diego Padres organization. I was in for a match-up of two promising starters today. Mirroring my earlier pursuit of Guerrieri, I followed Ross to the bullpen and got this photo of him:
Next, I went up to the Bowling Green Ballpark press box to meet Hank, and up there, I also ran into Micheal Compton, who covers the Hot Rods for the local paper and is someone I follow on Twitter. It was fun to talk baseball with both guys, but before long I left them to their pre-game duties and went down to field level as first pitch approached. I grabbed a seat behind home plate. During the anthem, as I looked around the ballpark, I thought I saw myself in the background of the video board image, as I was just a few yards behind the girl singing the anthem. My camera was still hanging around my neck, so I fired off a quick shot to check out later:
Sure enough, that’s me in the red/orange shirt. There was a short delay on the video board, hence the image not showing me taking a photo.
I’d grabbed this seat for a couple reasons. One, it’s tough to argue with sitting in the first row behind home plate. And two, I wanted to get some head-on action shots of Guerrieri and Ross throwing.
I’ve said before that one of the things I love about live baseball is seeing things that TV broadcasts just don’t pick up. Case in point? Check out the patches and overall wear on Maxx Tissenbaum’s, uhh, rear:
The next inning, I got this photo of Ross …
… before my rumbling stomach led me to a concession stand. The concession menu in Bowling Green has a bunch of tasty-looking items, but I decided to keep it simple during this visit. I hadn’t yet eaten a hot dog on this trip (I’m not counting Akron’s Three Dog Night fiasco) and it’s tough to beat a ballgame on a perfect day with a couple dogs and an ice-cold water:
I should say an extra thanks to Hank and the Hot Rods, who provided me with a media voucher that paid for my lunch.
Bowling Green Ballpark has a feature that I’ve seen at several parks and absolutely love — bar-style tables for fans who want to stand and eat. It’s a nice change and after I ate my lunch here, I watched an inning or so:
Since I was close to the Hot Rods bullpen, I took another walk past and captured this photo of a handful of relievers who appeared to be enjoying the day as much as I was:
I spent the next inning behind the outfield fence with this glorious view, half hoping a home run ball might come my way:
On my way back toward the seating bowl, I saw another thing you wouldn’t notice on TV. Check out the dents in Jackie Robinson’s retired #42 sign:
It’s located in the Hot Rods bullpen, and obviously isn’t immune to home run balls during BP and in games. Seeking a bit of shade, I climbed up to the second deck and found a completely empty group picnic area down the first base line, where I enjoyed this view:
Up here, I experienced a first for me. I’ve never seen the protective netting behind home plate reach all the way up to the second deck, but if you look carefully at the above photo, that’s exactly the case here.
I was up here enjoying the shade in the eighth inning when the aforementioned Tissenbaum stepped to the plate and blasted a two-run home run to right field. It disappeared over the fence right in the area I’d been searching before the game, and I made a split-second decision to go after the ball with the hopes to finding it to return to him. Although I was sitting relatively close to right field, the construction fence blocked me off, so I made the lengthy trip around the other side of the park until I arrived here:
Hmmm. Where to look? Well, I got busy and started parting the clumps of greenery as quickly as I could, hoping to spot the clean, white sphere. It was stifling hot, especially after my long-distance run, but braving the heat and occasional pricks from branches, I soldiered on until I spotted a ball. Success? Nope. This ball had clearly been half-buried in the mud for days, if not weeks, and to loosely paraphrase Star Wars, it was not the ball I was looking for. I looked for a few more minutes and abandoned the dream of finding the ball to return to Tissenbaum before making the long trek back inside the ballpark.
As the game was winding down, I grabbed a seat behind home plate where, in the home half of the ninth, I had a great view as Bowling Green’s Joey Rickard was caught stealing. He wasn’t happy with the call and seemed in a bit of disbelief. Even as manager Jared Sandberg came out to argue, Rickard was still bent over and touching the base:
(The argument was to no avail.)
As the game wound down, I took a shot I’m really happy with …
… and watched Fort Wayne celebrate a win:
The Caps scored three runs in the first off Guerrieri and after Bowling Green came back to take a lead in the seventh, went ahead for good on the home run ball that I couldn’t find. Final score: Fort Wayne 6, Bowling Green 5.
I stopped at the team shop on the way out to buy a super-cool souvenir that I’ll share in a future blog post and then made the nine-minute drive to my hotel. On this night, I was staying at the Hilton Garden Inn Bowling Green, which is an awesome hotel. Not only was it close to the ballpark, but it was easy to find and looked really sharp from the outside, as you can see here:
I was happy to check into my room and find it nice and cool from the air conditioning. I was also pleased with the usual Hilton Garden Inn amenities — king-sized bed, desk, comfy chair, flat-screen TV, mini fridge and so on, as you can see here:
Although I was looking forward to relaxing in my room for the evening, I planned to make the very short drive to Outback for dinner. I always try to have one Outback dinner on each of my trips, and there was an Outback just a few minutes away from the hotel. And speaking of other things in the area, well, there are almost too many to list. The hotel is virtually walking distance to such eateries as Buffalo Wild Wings, Steak ‘n Shake and Double Dogs, a fun-looking hot dog-themed restaurant and bar. It’s also virtually next to the airport if you happen to be flying into town and a golf course if you enjoy sneaking a round of golf into your baseball road trips. All told, it was a great hotel and it’s definitely the spot I recommend picking when you visit Bowling Green for some Hot Rods baseball.
After touring the hotel a little, I went outside to check out the patio and fountain area …
… and then zipped over to Outback for a huge, tasty dinner before returning to the Hilton Garden Inn and watching Sunday Night Baseball. A perfect end to a perfect day.
Did you read my last blog post about my visit to Great American Ball Park and my meeting with a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame? I sure hope so, but if not, you can check it out here.
I was scheduled to catch a second game in Cincinnati on May 25 on this road trip, and unlike the previous day’s evening game, this one started at 4 p.m. I’m not usually a huge fan of the 4 p.m. start time, but on this day, it worked out well. I blogged in my hotel until around 11 a.m., and then checked out, loaded my car and drove about a block to find parking for the day. Fortunately, I was able to score a $10 parking lot, which seems pretty impressive given that it was a block from the ballpark. How many other cities can boast this? Boston, I’m sending a somewhat evil eye your way.
Because I was essentially at Great American Ball Park more than four hours before it opened, I decided to check out a couple other sports-related things in the area. My first stop was a largely deserted Paul Brown Stadium, home of the NFL’s Bengals:
Before my next stop, I stopped at a Jimmy John’s a couple blocks from the ballpark and bought a sub, which I ate right next to the re-entry gate, which is the gate I referenced in my previous post:
After eating, I took the very short walk to the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame, which is connected to the team shop. I’d read about the HOF during the previous day’s visit, and decided to hit it before I left town. The hall had a special autograph exhibit, in which it had featured all but 15 players from the Reds history. Think about that for a second. The team’s history dates back more than a century, and in that time, thousands of players have suited up for the Reds. This was the single most impressive autograph collection I’ve ever encountered. I’m going to write a separate blog post about it, but in the meantime, here’s a photo that shows how many of the autographs were displayed:
I spent more than an hour in the museum before buying another standing room ticket …
… and heading over to the long lineup at the front gate. The day’s giveaway was an MLB Network drawstring bag, and as is typically the case when there’s a good giveaway, there were lots of people eagerly waiting:
Upon getting through the gate and getting my bag, I headed straight for the left field seats to watch batting practice. This was my view during the 20 or so minutes I watched the Cubs hitting:
Yes, I’m sitting down with my feet up on the seat in front of me. Why? Because in those 20 minutes, not one ball entered the left field seats. Perhaps this is part of the reason the Cubbies are 14 games out of first place. Given that this BP session was much like watching paint dry, I decided to go down to the field level seats on the third base side. I wasn’t sure what security would be like, and when I sauntered past a guard and descended toward the field, I heard him say something behind me. Ugh. I turned around, expecting to be asked to leave or show my ticket, and said, “Pardon?” He responded with, “How’s it going?” WOW! I’ve apparently put up with too many years of Rogers Centre ushers. Imagine an usher asking how you’re doing, rather than trying to pull a heavy on you? Unbelievable.
Anyway, it was good to get down to field level, especially when Alfonso Soriano walked past less than a minute later:
It’s hard to see it in the photo above, but instead of having his name stitched into his glove, Soriano has “El Monstruo.” Now, I didn’t take Spanish in high school, but I’m guessing that means “The Monster.” One more note on Soriano — last year, I toured the Sam Bat factory, which is the company that makes bats for “El Monstruo” and many other MLBers. You can read about that awesome tour here.
Watching BP is fun, but I always get a kick out of infield practice. And from my vantage point next to the Cubs dugout, I had a great view of the action. Here’s third baseman Luis Valbuena making a throw:
I hung out there until BP wrapped up, and then went all the way up to the upper deck, where I’d also explored a day earlier. As the grounds crew worked to get the field ready, I took the photos to make up this huge panorama:
Next, I stopped to see the Machine Room bar and the Power Alley Patio, the latter of which is pictured below. It’s a group picnic area, but what a spot to watch a ballgame!
When the game began, I found a standing room spot on the first base side of home plate and just hung out and watched the action. From here, I had a pretty clear view of the plate, which allowed me to get shots like this one of Starlin Castro fouling off a pitch:
Reds manager Dusty Baker:
And Soriano — you’ll notice he’s holding his Sam Bat:
Turns out that very photo of Soriano and his Sam Bat might’ve been the last photo taken of the bat. On the next pitch, here’s what happened:
A quick note about Reds fans — they’re extremely passionate and both games I attended in Cincinnati had huge crowds. I took this photo to show just how packed the ballpark was:
(The photo sort of reminds me of the heavy crowd I captured last season at Fenway Park. I took a similar photo in this post.)
Next, I took a walk around the concourse where I ran into a good exchange between three drunken fans and a quickly growing contingent of the Cincinnati Police Department. Here’s the abridged version:
Drunken woman mouths off at other fans. Fans mouth back. Back-and-forth arguing ensues. Security and cops are summoned. Friend #1 of drunken woman tries to get between her and cops. Bad idea. He gets told to back off. He ignores request. He gets taken to the ground and handcuffed. Friend #2 whips out his cellphone camera in attempt to be a hero and document the “police brutality.” Cop doesn’t like Friend #2′s fast movement and draws and points his Tazer. Cop says, “Reach into your pocket again and see what happens.” Friend #2 tries to gain sympathy from the crowd that has gathered. No one is impressed. Friend #1 gets taken to jail. Drunken woman and Friend #2 get kicked out of ballpark. I continue on my walk.
One of the features about Great American Ball Park that continuously caught my eye was the view. Don’t get me wrong — the view inside the park is great, but the view outside the park is spectacular. I love being up high in a ballpark and being able to look out over the city. Because the park is next to the Ohio River, the view is impressive:
Did you click on the above panorama? It looks better when it’s big. Back to the game: In the sixth inning, I got this cool picture of Todd Frazier. On this hit, he drove in Votto to tie the game 2-2:
That sixth inning proved to be the difference for the Reds, who scored four runs in the frame and won 5-2. Aroldis Chapman closed out the game once again, fanning two batters in the process.
Once things had wrapped up, I made the very quick walk back to my car and after getting caught in the traffic jams caused by the Taste of Cincinnati event, which was taking place downtown that weekend, made the short drive to my hotel for the night.
This time, I was staying a little outside the city, but still just an eight-minute drive from Great American Ball Park. My hotel was the Kingsgate Marriott Conference Center at the University of Cincinnati which, as you might guess, is on the university’s campus. Despite being so close to the city, the campus is very green, which was cool to see. In fact, here’s the view out my window:
The staff members I dealt with at this hotel were hugely helpful and friendly, and even offered me a complimentary drink from the cooler in the snack area. As far as the room, I had a nice, big room with lots of natural light, as it had windows on two sides. The room amenities were up to the usual standards of the Marriott chain — comfy bed, desk, big TV, large bathroom, and so on. This hotel currently ranks seventh among Cincinnati hotels on Tripadvisor. Here’s a look at the room from the front hallway:
And the desk and TV:
If you’re a baseball fan visiting Cincy for a Reds game, I definitely recommend this hotel, especially if you enjoy staying slightly outside the city but not overly far away from all the attractions. The hotel is just a few minutes from two cool University of Cincinnati stadiums — Nippert Stadium, home of the Bearcats football team and Marge Schott Stadium, home of the baseball team. I didn’t make time to visit both stadiums, but wish I had. Nearby sports facilities aside, the Marriott Conference Center at the University of Cincinnati is close to a long list of eateries; there’s a Papa John’s less than a mile away and after getting settled into my room, I ordered a pizza while I blogged and watched a ballgame on TV to round out a perfect day. If you aren’t into fast food, the hotel has a pair of eateries — an upscale restaurant called Caminetto and a casual bar called the Bearcat Lounge.
The next morning, I got up early and punched Bowling Green, KY, into my GPS. The adventure continues!