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!
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!
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!
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.
The first day of my trip to Detroit lasted about 21 hours from the time I got up till the time my head hit the pillow, and it was absolutely awesome. Although the rainy weather was a brief concern on June 4, things were looking a lot brighter when I slid back the drapes of my sixth-floor room at the Hilton Garden Inn Detroit Downtown to see this view on the morning of June 5:
As you can see, not a cloud in the sky ahead of the afternoon game between the Tigers and Blue Jays at Comerica Park. The game was set for 1 p.m., when meant the gates would open at 11 a.m. It was a Max Scherzer Cy Young Award bobblehead giveaway day, too, so I wanted to get to the ballpark well in advance to assure I’d be at the head of the line like the day before.
Until that time, I hung out in my great hotel room, did some writing and watched SportsCenter. As I said in my previous post, this is a great hotel for baseball fans visiting Detroit. Not only is it close to Comerica Park, but it’s within a short walk of a ton of restaurants, entertainment choices (the Greektown Casino is just a few steps away) and more. The hotel also has free Internet, two in-house restaurants, an indoor pool and fitness center and earned a 2014 TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence. I know this is the hotel I’ll choose next time I visit the Motor City, and you’ll be pleased if you make that choice, too.
When it came time to make the two-block walk to Comerica, I first wanted to get a picture of the outside of my hotel. In doing so, I briefly lived the life of a rebel by standing here …
… before taking this shot to show the hotel from the street:
Surprisingly, when I got to Comerica Park about 10 a.m., there were virtually no fans in sight. I mean, there were a few people buying tickets and taking photos and such, but the gates were mostly sparse:
I figured there was no point in standing in the non-existent line for an hour, so I took a short walk to a great memorabilia shop just a few steps from the park. The shop in question is next door to Cheli’s Chili Bar, which is roughly at the corner of East Adams and Witherell streets. If you plan to buy Tigers memorabilia, I highly recommend this spot — everything is a good chunk of change cheaper than the team shops at the ballpark.
After browsing for about 15 minutes, I headed back toward the “big tiger statue” gate, pausing briefly to snap this photo of myself:
See how I’m wearing one of my shirts with my website’s logo? Just a few minutes later, as I stood in line a few people back from the gate, a college student in front of me said, “Excuse me, but are you from The Ballpark Guide?” I told him I was, and he said he discovered the site the night before while searching for Comerica Park autograph tips. He said he browsed the site (and my blog, I think) for a couple hours! I was thrilled to meet someone who’s used the site, as it’s nice hearing firsthand how people benefit from the information I provide, given the countless hours I put into everything.
As we chatted, the lines behind us quickly began to grow, and it wasn’t long before the scene looked like this:
When the gates opened, I grabbed my bobblehead and hustled down to field level to check out the scene. I had a sneaking suspicion that despite it being a day game, the teams would be hitting because they’d missed BP yesterday. Turns out, I was right. And, like a day earlier, I was inside the park a few minutes early. Check out the time on the bottom of the video board:
(I only mention the time because gate attendants are normally such huge sticklers for waiting until exactly the specified time to let people in.)
The Tigers were still hitting, and while I would’ve been happy to snag a ball, I wasn’t going to fight too hard for one. I went to the right field stands and just enjoyed the spectacular view, while also taking various photos of players when they were close to me. Here’s the aforementioned Scherzer, for example:
If you followed my blog back in 2011, you might recall that I got his autograph during my visit to Comerica Park.
The Tigers players weren’t the only ones shagging balls during BP. Here are the kids of Joba Chamberlain and Victor Martinez:
During Detroit’s BP, I watched jays reliever Sergio Santos throw a long-toss and bullpen session, and then watched starter Drew Hutchison do the same. On his way back across the field to Toronto’s dugout, he walked close to me and I got this photo:
While I waited for the Jays to start hitting, I quickly removed my bobblehead from its package and snapped this photo. Usually, I photograph stadium giveaway items at home, but I thought this backdrop would look cool:
And, yes, if you’re wondering, the bobblehead accurately reflects Scherzer’s heterochromia iridum.
Because I wasn’t bent on getting a BP ball, I decided to skip Toronto’s session and get wandering around the park. My first stop was the Jungle section …
… followed by the New Amsterdam 416 Club. The flames in the foreground weren’t lit yet, but here’s proof to the story that Babe Ruth loved his alcohol:
After a couple visits to the park’s team shops, including a walk through the two-level shop…
… I was forced to make a pivotal decision that would shape the remainder of my ballpark visit. It wasn’t a decision I took lightly; as Spider-Man said, with great power comes great responsibility.
I decided to make the pledge to be the designated driver for the day:
I kid about it, but this is a great program that more teams should do. You sign up and commit to be a DD, and you get a voucher for a free soda, which is awesome, given the price of drinks at the ballpark. Anyone want to chime in to say if their home park does this? I know Cleveland does it, and Toronto does a classic Toronto version — you sign up and get entered in a draw to win a prize. No free drink, though. Sorry ’bout that.
With my voucher in hand, I headed back to the Big Cat Court to look for a hot dog for what amounted to my breakfast. Turns out there’s a perfect breakfast-themed hot dog, although its name would indicate the opposite. The Late Night hot dog is topped with shredded cheese, bacon bits and a fried egg, and was just what the doctor ordered for me … not a real doctor, though. No real doctor would endorse this bad boy:
Like yesterday, I climbed to the upper deck to eat the hot dog. Unlike yesterday, though, this one wasn’t as tough to eat as the Poutine Dog. The Late Night dog was delicious. I’m not the biggest fan off eggs, but this egg was cooked perfectly and the cheese and bacon came in just the right amounts. And the dog was good and snappy. The breakfast of champions, especially when washed down with my free soda.
After devouring my “breakfast,” I moved to the seats behind home plate, but still in the upper deck, to take a series of photos that would become this panorama. As always, you can click it to make it bigger:
My next mission was to head back down to the main concourse to do something strictly for the story. If you know much about Comerica Park, you’ll know the carousel in the Big Cat Court isn’t the only amusement park-style ride. There’s also a baseball-themed Ferris wheel, and that’s where I soon found myself. Rides cost $2, and as I stood in line waiting my turn to board, I had a horrible realization: I absolutely can’t handle amusement park rides.
Now, I know a Ferris wheel is pretty mild, but I’ve incorrectly assumed that certain rides would be safe in the past, only to lose my lunch. In fact, I thought of my best childhood friend, Lennie, on whom I’ve barfed multiple times. If he’s reading this now, I know he’s thinking, “Oh no, here it comes again.” The only issue was that he wasn’t with me to barf on, so I’d have to share my breakfast with a stranger. I started to feel confident in the fact that the wheel seemed mild, but then realized all that was in my stomach was a soda and a hot dog with a fried egg, cheese and bacon. And, even as I watched the wheel turn at about 0.001 MPH, I thought, “This is trouble.”
No turning back now, though, and when a father and two his two young sons joined me in the car, I thought, “You poor, poor people don’t know what you’re in for.”
As we set off, though, I didn’t feel myself turning green. In fact, after one full revolution, I knew things would be thankfully be OK, and I snapped some photos of the world outside. Here we are well above street level …
… and here’s a look across to the other cars on the wheel:
The ride was great, and I definitely recommend checking it out. Don’t be afraid to give it a shot if you don’t have kids. I pulled off the shadiest move possible — a solo guy on a kids’ ride — so there’s nothing for you to worry about.
After mentally kissing the ground once I stopped off the ride, I hustled down to field level in time for the first pitch, where I took this photo of Justin Verlander dealing:
I spent the remainder of the inning here, getting photos like this one of Jose Reyes advancing to third on a Jose Bautista single:
And Adam Lind fouling off a pitch:
The weather was absolutely perfect — hot, but perfect. I decided to grab one of my favorite ballpark refreshments, a frozen lemonade, and climb to the upper deck to watch a few innings:
I spent five innings in this spot, which was as close to the video board as you could get:
This spot gave me a great vantage point for the back-to-back home runs hit by Juan Francisco and Brett Lawrie in the sixth inning, and once that inning wrapped up, I went back to the 100 Level cross-aisle for a few more action shots, like this one of Melky Cabrera taking a hack:
With just the eighth and ninth innings remaining at this point, I ventured up to the one remaining area I hadn’t been — the upper deck in right field. Here, I had this spectacular view:
Toronto beat Detroit 7-3, completing a three-game sweep of the American League Central leaders. I was sad to finally leave Comerica Park, but looking forward to getting back to my hotel and relaxing before the eight-hour drive home the next day. First, I stopped at the Five Guys Burgers and Fries just a short walk from the Hilton Garden Inn to grab dinner, and then was back in my room for the evening to soon watch the sun set over the city:
Because I showed you the nighttime view from my window in panorama form at the end of my previous blog post, here are a couple different photos. This is the back of the video board at night …
… and here’s the gate I could see from the hotel. I think the concrete tigers are asleep:
So, what’s next for me? Well, I don’t have any plans completely solidified. My work schedule has been crazy but I’ll definitely be traveling again this summer. I’m eyeing up a couple small trips in July and a longer one in August, and hope to have details about at least the July outings soon. I’ve also got a big announcement about a project I’m working on very soon, so keep your eyes open for that. As always, if you’ve enjoyed reading about my adventures, please check out this page on my website to read about the simple ways you can support my trips.
Although it’s my mission to visit as many ballparks across the major leagues and minor leagues as possible as I continue to build my website, The Ballpark Guide, there are times I can’t resist making a return visit to one of my favorite places. I’ve been to 53 different ballparks since 2010, but ever since I saw a pair of games at Detroit’s Comerica Park in 2011, I’ve been itching to get back. You can read about those visits here and here. Fortunately, I had a chance last week to make a whirlwind trip to the Motor City for a pair of Tigers games.
My day began shortly after 4 a.m. and I was on the road just after 5 a.m. for the eight-hour drive to Detroit. To cross into the U.S., I’ve often taken the Ambassador Bridge, which connects Windsor, Ont., with Detroit. It was drizzling and gray for the latter half of my drive on this trip, so I decided to use the Detroit Windsor Tunnel, located just a short distance west of the bridge. After crossing through customs, I entered the tunnel, which gives the illusion that you’re in a different dimension. This picture isn’t Photoshopped or anything, either. This is actually how it looks down there:
When I emerged from the tunnel in downtown Detroit, I had just a few blocks to drive to reach my hotel. I booked two nights at the Hilton Garden Inn Detroit Downtown for a few reasons. I’ve stayed at numerous Hilton Garden Inn locations over my years of traveling for The Ballpark Guide and have consistently had positive experiences. This particular location is one of the top-ranked Detroit hotels on TripAdvisor and its location is ideal. It’s just two blocks from Comerica Park, which you can’t beat. I often love staying downtown when I’m visiting a downtown park. You can’t beat leaving your car at the hotel, walking through the city to check out the sights and then being back in your hotel room after the game when other fans are sitting in traffic.
The Hilton Garden Inn Detroit Downtown has valet parking, so you don’t have to fuss with finding overnight parking in the area. Once I left my car, I checked in at 3 p.m. with the help of one of the friendliest front desk clerks I’d ever met, who presented me with a gift bag as she gave me my room keys. I’m always excited to get up to my room to check out not only the amenities, but also the view, and both delivered big time. Here’s a look at the room:
I’ll have some more details on my room in my next blog post, but you can see that it looks perfect — king-sized bed, desk, huge TV and more. And as for the view, that was perfect, too:
The large, tan/gray building in the center of the picture is the Detroit Athletic Club, but you can see Comerica Park to the left and right of the club. To the right, you’ll see some of the upper-deck seats and the rear of the scoreboard (complete with the enormous tiger on top) and to the left of the club, if you look carefully, you can see more tiger statues just beside the red-brick building. (This is how much of a baseball nerd I am — analyzing the baseball-centric view out my window.)
Time to check out the gift bag I received upon check in:
It contained a card welcoming me to the hotel and a variety of tasty snacks that I enjoyed in short order. I still had some time to kill before heading down for the game, so I enjoyed standing at the window and taking in the various sights, many of which I recognized from my visit to Detroit in 2011. Here’s a view, for example, of the legendary Fox Theatre and, to the bottom right of the image, you can see one of Comerica Park’s distinctive gates:
At about 4 p.m., I loaded my backpack and set out for the short walk to the ballpark. This is the view from the street right outside the hotel’s entrance:
Football fans will recognize Ford Field on the right, which is home of the NFL’s Lions. Comerica Park is directly across the street, but just out of sight in this shot. Within just a couple minutes, I was standing on the sidewalk in front of Ford Field with this view of the rear of Comerica Park’s video board:
Despite the rain, I was pretty pumped to be once again seeing the Tigers in person. This time, however, I had even more reason to celebrate — the Tigers, who are my second-favorite team, were hosting the Blue Jays, who are my favorite team. I’ve seen the Jays several dozen times in Toronto, but this would be the first time I’d see them on the road. I wanted to buy my ticket at the ticket office on the other side of the park, so I began the walk down a deserted East Adams Street:
I was happy to once again see the tiger-themed gate at the corner of East Adams and Witherell streets, but dismayed at the noticeable change since my last visit:
Yep, metal detectors. These
safety features banes of existence will be mandatory at MLB parks in 2015, but the Tigers are among a few teams using them this season. Metal detectors aside, here’s what the glorious-looking gate looks like in panorama form. You can click on all panoramas in this post to make them huge:
I bought the cheapest ticket available — $12 for a spot on the Jungle Rooftop Bleachers, which is an amazing section at Comerica — and snapped a quick shot of my ticket:
I still had 30 minutes to kill until the gates opened, which meant plenty of time to take a wander around the ballpark and capture the scene. The first shots I took were to build this panorama, which looks quite different that the one I shot back when I visited Detroit this January, don’t you think?
And, of course, there were lots of tiger statue photos, like this one …
… and this one:
Hard not to say that Comerica Park has the best-looking gates in baseball, right?
I eventually made a full lap around the park, stopping to snap this photo of the General Motors headquarters, which is several blocks away and dominates the Detroit skyline:
By this time, the gates were soon to open, and I grabbed the first spot in one of the lines in front of the metal detectors. The pavilion around the gate is made up of countless bricks donated by fans and ex-players. You know the drill. Anyway, the bulk of these bricks are fan messages, but when I looked down between my feet, I saw a name that caught my eye:
Baseball hall of famer Whitey Herzog played his last season of baseball as a Tiger before a lengthy managerial career, and it was neat to see the name of someone I instantly knew.
I spent the remaining few minutes before the gates opened talking with a couple members of the park’s security team about the metal detector situation. They said the new system was a pain. One actually joked that he should rent a spot in the parking lot, set up a trailer and have a “check your weapon” business: People leave their weapons with him for $10, and then pick them up again after the game.
The crowds around the gate were sparse, despite it being a fan giveaway game. After successfully passing through the metal detectors and being the first fan into the ballpark through these gates, I was handed a Tigers cloth shopping bag:
(I just informed my wife this bag is too important to use for shopping, and she rolled her eyes and sighed.)
I was thrilled to finally be back inside Comerica Park. As you might have seen if you read my two blog posts from 2011, my second game was postponed due to rain, so I’ve been anxious to return to this park ever since. It was awesome to get to the seating bowl and see the logos of my two favorite teams on the video board:
And look — it was only 4:57 p.m.! The gates had opened a few minutes early, which never seems to happen.
Since the Blue Jays were starting to filter out of the first base dugout to stretch, I zipped down to field level to take some shots. Here are relievers Todd Redmond and Dustin McGowan kicking off a run together:
And the bullpen staff celebrating after completing a run:
Jays pitching coach Pete Walker, who has one of the better mustaches in the majors today, was just a few feet in front of me:
Once the relievers headed into the dugout, I went that direction, too. Although the dugout was empty, it wasn’t long before Jays TV announcer (and former Jays player and manager) Buck Martinez appeared, and was obviously making a point about the intricacies of pitching to a couple other Toronto reporters:
As I hung around the dugout, I had a good, clean view of my theoretical seat for the night in the Jungle section. Check it out:
It’s my favorite section at Comerica; close to the action, affordable and a fun, party atmosphere. You can’t beat it, and I definitely recommend buying your ticket here if you’re visiting Detroit for a Tigers game.
Because it was drizzling, batting practice was off. This meant that with about 1:45 till game time, I had a lot of time to spend wandering around and taking in the sights. My first stop was the concourse booth that sells authentic Tigers items, and it was a blast to browse the game-used balls, jerseys and equipment, as well as the myriad signed items:
One of the staff members was trying to sell me a Victor Martinez signed helmet that was $600.
“Think of it this way,” he suggested, when I offered it was a bit outside my price range. “This time next year, it’ll probably be worth …”
“$400?” I interrupted, making a joke because I knew the direction he was headed before he got there.
“No, $700,” he said, but then admitted, “I have no idea who the player is, anyway.”
After deciding not to part with $600, I began a lap around the park, stopping at the statues in left-center to capture Ty Cobb in his famous spikes-up slide:
Each park I visit seems to have a different setup for the batter’s eye. At Toronto’s Rogers Centre, it’s a black, slightly tattered screen mounted over some empty seating sections. At Cleveland’s Progressive Field, it’s part of Heritage Park. The batter’s eye at Comerica is made of ivy, but has a walkway directly behind it for fans to pass from left field to right field. It’s sort of a bizarre blind spot:
Here’s a look at the area from the far side, after I’d emerged and was standing in right-center:
Because I was in the park so early and the crowd was light due to the rain, there was almost no one in the Big Cat Court when I arrived with dinner on my mind. The Big Cat Court is a fun spot; it’s known for the tigers-themed carousel, but the area’s circular design allows for a multitude of concession stands around the perimeter. I resisted the temptation to take a solo ride on the carousel …
… and instead headed for the Gourmet Hot Dogs stand. I’d heard about the Tigers introducing some notable hot dogs at the start of the season, and after conferring with a couple fans on Twitter, decided this should be my dinner plan. Take a look at this menu …
… and tell me what you’d get. (You can leave a comment at the bottom of this post or hit me up on Twitter.) Against the orders of my future cardiologist, I opted for the Poutine Dog. That’s right — a hot dog topped with french fries, cheese curds and smothered with gravy. As per usual, I took a photo of my food before tackling it. Ready?
And, as I’ve done in the past with difficult-to-eat items, took the long climb to the upper deck so I could eat it without making a scene. Once I’d grabbed a spot in the very top row of the stadium, I literally looked at the dog for about two minutes to figure out my eating strategy. I’d neglected to grab a fork, and had no idea how to dig in. But then, it hit me. I opened the end of the cardboard container much like the landing crafts used in the Allied assault on D-Day — history buffs will get the reference:
Doing so provided newfound access to the mass of gluttony. Soon enough, the only evidence that remained were a few curds on the ground and, I’m sure, some gravy on my face.
Next, partly to burn off a few of the calories I’d just taken in, I descended back to field level to hang out behind home plate. I can’t stress enough how awesome the Comerica Park ushers are. They’re hands down the best I’ve encountered on my travels throughout the major leagues. At some parks, you’re not allowed to get behind home plate before the game. Not a problem here. And when game time approaches, there’s no mass push to get every fan out of the area. Now, this isn’t to say I try to sneak into a seat at field level, but I do enjoy hanging out on the cross-aisle behind the field level seats. And although there are signs saying that standing is prohibited, the ushers don’t employ the Gestapo techniques common at other parks. Rogers Centre, I’m looking your way. It’s an extra reason to visit Comerica Park. The ushers truly make you feel welcome and you get the sense the team appreciates you buying a ticket. Anyway, here’s where I was standing, just to the third base side of home plate:
While I stood in this area, the rain let up and the grounds crew removed the tarp. Success! It wasn’t long before the Tigers started to filter into the dugout. Here’s starter Rick Porcello having a last-minute chat with Tigers pitching coach Jeff Jones:
(Check out the giant jar of gumballs in the background.)
I stayed in the front row behind the Tigers dugout during the anthems, getting the opportunity to snap photos of guys like future hall of famer Omar Vizquel, now a coach with Detroit:
And manager Brad Ausmus sharing a laugh with Justin Verlander:
By the time first pitch came around, I headed over to the first base side, standing in the cross aisle behind the Jays dugout. From here, I was able to get a bunch more close-up shots of the players, but I’ll just share this wide-angle one I took of Porcello delivering to Melky Cabrera:
Cabrera crushed the next pitch into the seats in right field for his ninth home run of the season and celebrated with Jose Bautista right in front of where I was standing:
Speaking of home runs, I was pumped to get another chance to see Miguel Cabrera in the bottom of the first. He’s probably my favorite current player who doesn’t wear a Blue Jays uniform, so I stayed put to watch his first plate appearance. This was the swing he put on a fastball from R.A. Dickey …
… and this was the result:
That’s the Chevrolet fountain in center field going off after the ball landed in the left field stands for Cabrera’s 11th home run of the season. Being so close to home plate when Cabrera made contact, I can unequivocally tell you it sounded different than the average hit. Absolutely incredible power, and a treat to watch.
I moved my position closer to the rear of home plate for the remainder of the inning, enjoying this outstanding view:
And then, with the game underway, resumed my travels around Comerica Park. My first mission was to head up to the Jungle Rooftop Bleachers area, not to find my seat, but rather to check out the New Amsterdam 416 Bar, which is new since my last visit. It’s an upscale, bar-style hangout between the Jungle and the right field seats. It’s got a bunch of comfy seating, and even a flaming bar. That’s not what I mean. A bar that flames? That doesn’t sound right, either. Well, just look at the photo and you’ll see some flickers of the flames:
Next, my travels took me past the Fox Theatre, where I snapped this shot of the sun beginning to set …
… and up to the upper deck. From here, I was able to spot my hotel, which I hadn’t been able to see yet. See the Grand Valley State University building? Look right above it and you’ll see a red-bricked building with white window frames. That’s the Hilton Garden Inn Detroit Downtown:
I watched a few innings from the upper deck, happy to take a seat after being on my feet for the last four-plus hours. The game was entertaining to watch — after the teams traded first-inning home runs from the Cabreras, the score remained close and I cut the tension by hitting a Little Caesars kiosk and buying a slice of pizza that was hands down the best ballpark pizza I’ve eaten. I couldn’t resist Little Caesars, given the connection to the Tigers. Mike Ilitch, the Tigers owner, got the start of his billion-dollar empire by founding Little Caesars.
Now, this next part might make you hungry, so be forewarned: The individual slices are square pieces so you get that delicious cheese-coasted crust on two sides. As an added bonus, you can get pouches of dried red pepper flakes to sprinkle on your slice. I’m contemplating going back to Detroit just for another piece or seven:
I spent the game’s latter innings in the outfield seats with this spectacular view:
One of the great features about Comerica Park is its view of the Detroit skyline, which you’ve seen in the previous images. One of my favorite parts of the skyline is the David Broderick Tower, which is characterized by its enormous mural of whales. I could see part of this building from my hotel room and, as I sat in the left field seats, had a great view of it at night over the Comerica Park statues:
The Jays blew the game open in the late innings, scoring three runs in the eighth inning and two in the ninth to claim an 8-2 win. The final out took place at 10:22 p.m. and from my seat below the video board, I had easy access to the final box score:
The walk back to my hotel was quick and provides another reminder why the Hilton Garden Inn is your best choice if you’re visiting Comerica Park. If you’re a little nervous about walking in the city at night, I can assure you that the walk from the park to the hotel is perfectly safe. Not only are there plenty of cops directing traffic, but you’ll find yourself in a throng of fans for the entire walk.
I was anxious to get back to my room and check out the night scene, and it didn’t disappoint. In the following panorama, you can see not only Comerica Park, but the bright lights of the Fox Theatre and plenty more. What a view!
I enjoyed the view on and off for the evening and finally got to bed after 1 a.m., or about 21 hours after my day began. A few short hours later, I’d be heading back to Comerica Park for a day game with perfect weather, Verlander on the mound, a return visit to the hot dog concession stand and a whole lot more.
After waking up to a wet, dreary day on April 15, I hoped the view out my hotel window would look different on April 16.
Different. Just not better.
Yes, my friends, that’s snow covering the field of Northeast Delta Dental Stadium. Snow. In April. Hmm.
The New Hampshire Fisher Cats had a 10:35 a.m. game scheduled, which I’d planned to catch and then hit the road for the eight-hour drive home. I was still slated to join Tom Gauthier on the team’s radio broadcast in the fifth inning but, like a day earlier, the fifth inning was looking hypothetical at best.
The team had yet to make an official announcement about the likelihood of the day’s game, so I spent the first part of my day getting packed for the trip home and taking a few more photos. I wrote extensively about the outstanding hotel I was visiting, the Hilton Garden Inn Manchester Downtown, in my previous two entries, so I won’t rehash all the details here. I will, however, tell you the hotel has a home plate-shaped hot tub — on this morning, though, it looked a tad chilly:
In fact, everything out my window did. Here’s the view directly below my room:
That’s the batter’s eye on the left side, the hotel’s outdoor eatery, The Patio, on the right side and I think you get the rest of the picture. It was a snowy day.
Soon enough, the Fisher Cats announced on Twitter that the start of their game would be delayed. No surprised there, but now I faced the decision of whether to wait to see if the game would ever begin or to pull the plug on my trip and start the drive home.
I anxiously kept an eye on the field in the hopes that the snow would melt quickly. By about 8:30 a.m., you can see things were looking slightly better:
Apparently, I wasn’ t the only person interested in the condition of the field. About 8:50 a.m., a member of the Fisher Cats came out, stood on the bullpen mound for several seconds and then headed toward the dugout:
A little while later, I watched the visiting New Britain Rock Cats’ bus leave the ballpark, obviously after dropping off the team. That was a good sign; if the bus was still hanging around, it’d be an indicator that the powers that be weren’t expecting the game to be played.
At 10:20 a.m., the scene out my window looked a lot more optimistic, but it also seemed clear the game wasn’t going to begin any time soon:
I made the decision to check out of my hotel, load my car and take a walk through the ballpark and see if any staff member could provide an estimated start time. As I waited for the elevator to ride down to the lobby, I took a bunch of photos to make up this panorama:
It’s the scene out the hotel’s front-side windows and provides a great view of downtown Manchester, don’t you think?
After scraping the layer of ice off my car, I took this last shot of the hotel …
… and then walked into a very icy Northeast Delta Dental Stadium. The sun was taking care of the field rather nicely, so the grounds crew was working to make the concourse and seats safe for fans. There was plenty of ice to be melted and snow to be shoveled, as you can see here:
I took a quick walk through the concourse — check out the icy footprints — and decided there’d be no way the game would be played any time soon:
I had one last priority before getting in the car: I wanted to visit the ballpark’s team shop to use the gift card that was part of the gift basket I received upon checking in two days earlier. I bought a pair of Fisher Cats athletic pants and as I was ready to leave, ran into Tom and told him I’d decided to go home. As we talked briefly about the weather, Fisher Cats and Bowling Green Hot Rods owner Art Solomon stopped to talk to Tom. I was the third wheel, but it was neat to meet someone who’s had a big impact on Minor League Baseball.
After saying bye to Tom, I hopped in the car and drove a few blocks to Gill Stadium, which was built in 1913 and hosted the Fisher Cats in 2004 before their current park was built. I couldn’t get into Gill Stadium, but I took this cool-looking panorama from across the street:
And then, it was time to close the book on a great first trip of the season, although I would’ve enjoyed better cooperation from the weather. Still, an exciting ballgame Monday night and two nights in an awesome hotel was a memorable start to my baseball season and I can’t wait to hit the road again. I’ll leave you with one final photo that I took on the drive home — it’s a sight you don’t typically see during baseball season:
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I knew the first day of my trip, April 14, would be a tough one to beat. Why? Rather than try to summarize it here in a sentence or two, here are all the details in blog form.
All caught up? Good. On to day two.
Like the baseball nerd I am, I woke up the morning of April 15 and ran to the window of my hotel room to see the view:
Yep, Northeast Delta Dental Stadium was still there.
The tarp wasn’t new — I’d watched it go on the night before — but the dreary-looking day was. After enjoying temperatures close to 75 degrees on Monday, it was now in the 40s with rain in the forecast.
Fortunately, I had all day to work on my blog and enjoy my hotel. As I said yesterday, the Hilton Garden Inn Manchester Downtown is outstanding. It ranks very high on my all-time favorite hotels list (what, you don’t have one?) and it’s the perfect choice for baseball fans. In my previous post, I talked about the hotel’s proximity in relation to the Fisher Cats ballpark, so I won’t be a broken record. Instead, I’ll tell you that the hotel is within walking distance of a ton of places to eat, and if you’d rather stay close, its on-site restaurants, Pavilion and The Patio, are outstanding.
In fact, everything I’ve experienced about this hotel has been awesome. You saw some photos in my last blog post, but here are some others that show just how great my suite was. Here’s the living room area (with ESPN on TV, of course):
And the entrance/kitchen area:
Some more facts about the Hilton Garden Inn Manchester Downtown: It has free parking, free Internet and an indoor swimming pool and athletic center. Its downtown location is perfect for not only the baseball game, but also for those interested in checking out the city’s other attractions or taking a jog along the banks of the Merrimack River. Each hotel staff member I encountered was hugely friendly and, while I don’t know when I’ll get back to Manchester, I definitely know that I’ll make this hotel my choice again.
After breakfast, I returned to my room to hear the sound of rain smacking off the windows — not exactly a promising omen for the evening’s 5:35 p.m. game:
I settled down at the desk and started working on my blog, which is what I did for most of the day. And, yes, I made frequent visits to both my windows to look down at the ballpark. Sometime after lunch, I noticed action on the field in the form of two New Hampshire players playing catch in the pouring rain:
Throughout the afternoon, I watched on Twitter as a ton of major league and minor league ballgames in the Midwest and on the east coast were canceled due to rain and cold weather, but the Fisher Cats still hadn’t made an announcement about that evening’s game. Part of me hoped this meant they planned to play, but a bigger part of me knew this idea was largely unrealistic. Either way, the team announced late in the afternoon that the game was still on, so I packed up my camera gear and walked into the park about 4:15 p.m. At that time, there was no sign of the Fisher Cats, and a single Rock Cats player was stretching by himself in the light rain:
I was still almost certain there’d be no game this evening, but there’s no better place to be than a ballpark — even when the weather’s bad. I climbed up to the park’s suite level and took this shot looking back toward the main gate:
While I was in this spot, I took this panorama that shows the rainy scene:
If you’d seen my Facebook page or follow me on Twitter, you’ll know I was supposed to be interviewed on the Fisher Cats radio broadcast during the game. I escaped the rain for a bit to meet the team’s broadcaster, Tom Gauthier, in the press box. This was the scene as I waited to cross paths with him:
The radio booths are on the left side, facing the field, and you can see various notable newspaper front pages and pictures of Eastern League alumni decorating the walls. The black trays on the right side contain each team’s roster, game notes and the starting lineup — great reading material that I always grab when I’m in any press box. I eventually met Tom and he invited me to join him for the fifth inning — or, the “theoretical fifth inning” as we called it. We also decided that if the game was indeed rained out, I’d join Tom during the fifth inning of the following day’s matinee game.
Once I’d talked to Tom for a few minutes, I went back down to the wet concourse and watched some New Britain players play hacky sack. Not something you see at the ballpark every day:
It was now about 20 minutes before first the supposed first pitch, the park was still almost empty …
… and so was the home dugout:
Shortly before 5:30 p.m., a small group of Fisher Cats (including catcher Yusuf Carter, the key figure in yesterday’s blog post) came out to get warmed up. Just as I made my way down to field level to watch the proceedings, one player came out and said something to the group — obviously, telling them the game was canceled. It didn’t take long for them to quickly retreat to the dugout and eventually the clubhouse. Designated hitter Brad Glenn (#44) and Carter seemed just slightly happy that they didn’t have to play in the rain:
Within a minute or two, the field was empty but a moment later, a pair of Fisher Cats came out to play catch in the drizzle:
I watched them for a few minutes …
… before deciding to get out the rain and make the short walk back to my hotel. I was back in my room by 6 p.m., so I had the whole evening open. I filled it by grabbing dinner at Outback, which is less than 10 minutes from the hotel, and then crashing in front of ESPN until bed — while keeping my fingers crossed that the weather wouldn’t affect Wednesday’s morning game.
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Yesterday was one heck of a day. It began for me at 4:30 a.m. and ended with my involvement in some photos I took being shared with nearly half a million people.
Here’s how it happened:
The drive from my house to Northeast Delta Dental Stadium, home of the Eastern League’s New Hampshire Fisher Cats, takes almost exactly eight hours. And while it seems a little nuts to get up so early and leave my house shortly after 5 a.m. for a 6:35 p.m. game, I couldn’t wait to get to my destination for my first live baseball game of the season.
I’ve seen the Fisher Cats at home twice in the past, and both times I’ve stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn Manchester Downtown. That’s where I’m staying again, and I can’t imagine visiting Northeast Delta Dental Stadium without staying at this hotel. Its major perk is its field-facing rooms, and as soon as I checked in and opened my door, I dropped my luggage and dashed straight to my window to take this photo:
This is absolutely the hotel for you during your visit to Manchester. You can’t beat its location, of course, but staying here saves you having to pay to park at the game and you’ll be back in your room before many fans are even on the highway. I’ll have plenty more details about the hotel in the blog posts about the rest of my visit, but here are a couple photos in the meantime. I was lucky enough to get a suite, which has a huge living area and a separate bedroom, each with windows facing the field. Here’s the bedroom:
And before I get ahead of myself — like I did with my rush to look out my window — I have to share a big surprise. Look at this gift basket I was given upon arriving:
It’s got several types of snacks, two Fisher Cats foam fingers, free breakfast vouchers, a greeting card and even a $25 gift card to the Fisher Cats team shop. Now, the latter was a special gift because the hotel knew about my ballpark travels, but if you quote the “baseball package” upon booking a room in this hotel, you’ll get something similar upon check-in — as well as a field-facing room, free breakfast vouchers and more.
I spent some time at my window watching the Fisher Cats play catch and perform various on-field drills, before deciding to grab my camera and take a short walk around the entire ballpark/hotel complex — something I hadn’t fully done on my two previous visits. My first stop was the park’s ticket office, where I picked up my media credentials for the three-game series. Special thanks to Tom Gauthier and the Fisher Cats for taking care of me. Next, I took this photo of the ticket office and the hotel:
The wind had picked up like crazy, but the weather was otherwise warm and such a nice change from the cold back home, so I started down this path that runs between the ballpark and the Merrimack River:
When I reached the end of the path, I had the option of turning to continue my way around the rear of the ballpark or take a footbridge across the river. Here’s what I decided:
Despite occasionally wondering if the wind would blow me over the railing, I had a great view up river and down river, and snapped a bunch of photos to make this panorama looking back toward the ballpark:
The lack of leaves on the trees actually improved the visibility, as you can see here:
See the huge blue and white roof above the Northeast Delta Dental Stadium sign? That’s the Verizon Wireless Arena, home of the American Hockey League’s Manchester Monarchs.
After taking a ton of photos, I partially retraced my steps and continued my walk to the rear of the ballpark. Here’s the road leading down to the field, directly behind the Fisher Cats bullpen:
The walk took about 45 minutes, and I was soon back in my room watching the proceedings below. It’s such an enormous treat to have this vantage point. Most minor league parks don’t open their gates until batting practice is over, but a field-facing room provides an outstanding view of what you wouldn’t normally get to enjoy. But your room isn’t the only spot from which you can see the field. The Hilton Garden Inn has an outdoor eatery called The Patio, which is located directly between the hotel and the outfield fence. Grab a spot here during BP (or even during the game, if you don’t want to buy a ticket) and you’ll truly have a rare experience. I could see batting practice was about to begin, so I hustled downstairs and out to The Patio. Batting practice didn’t happen during either of my previous visits, so I was pumped to have to chance to watch it — and hopefully snag a ball or two. This is the view from the hotel hallway looking out toward The Patio …
… and here’s what I was looking at upon getting a spot at the fence:
I was curious to see how many BP home runs would land on The Patio or even hit the hotel. Both are located in left-center, and while a player would need a good blast to reach either, I certainly expected to see some action. Sure enough, a few balls came my way. Some smacked off the hotel’s brick so hard that they bounced right back on the field, while others found a gap and bounced toward the parking lot. There was a neat camaraderie between the players standing in the outfield and the few fans watching BP. Whenever a ball looked like it would be a home run, the players would turn and yell “Heads up!” to make sure no one was caught unaware.
This happened a handful of times on balls that weren’t that close to me, but the next home run, smacked by Yusuf Carter, sailed directly over my head and hit the hotel with a tremendous crash. The sound indicated that it must have rattled off a window, but when I turned to look for the ball, this was what I saw about 10 feet behind me:
The people on The Patio were shocked, and members of the Fisher Cats who’d heard the glass exploding were hopping up and down trying to see the damage over the outfield fence. Soon enough, a hotel employee came to photograph the window:
And then more curious onlookers arrived. I talked about what had happened with the hotel’s executive chef and a maintenance staff member, and asked how often this happens. “Never,” they said, surprisingly. They said one home run ball had once landed in the bar area and broken some glass, but as far as they knew, the hotel hadn’t ever had any broken windows. They were more surprised that upset, so I took this shot as we all stood there:
The home team’s BP wrapped up at this point, and I grabbed one more photo before weighing my options:
Although I was having a blast outside, I thought that given the rarity of this moment, I wanted to be the first person to tweet it out. I ran back to my hotel room, transferred my photos to my laptop and sent a couple tweets about the incident with some photos of the broken window. Several people retweeted the images, and I soon headed back down to watch the visiting New Britain Rock Cats take batting practice. Fast-forward to midway through the game, and I started getting notifications like crazy on Twitter. Turns out the MLB Fan Cave had picked up on the story, tweeted out my photos (with credit to me, happily) …
… and even written a short blurb about the incident, featuring my tweets, which you can find at this link. The Fan Cave shared this story with its 422,000 followers, and my pictures were then retweeted a couple hundred more times to even more people. So exciting!
Anyway, back to the Rock Cats batting practice: After no home runs in the first few minutes, I decided to see if I could find some leftover balls hit by the Fisher Cats. Remember the balls I mentioned that had rolled toward the parking lot? It didn’t take long for me to find them:
Now, with a handful of balls to add to my collection, I decided to head inside the ballpark. I took this quick shot of my media pass …
… and a few seconds later, I was standing on the concourse looking back toward the hotel and the scene of all the excitement:
Given my previous visits to Northeast Delta Dental Stadium, I didn’t have much exploring to do, but I still wanted to take my customary first lap of the park to see what was new since I was last here in 2011. Here’s the scene in panoramic form from the first base side:
Did you see the Samuel Adams Bar & Grill two images ago? That was my next stop. I hadn’t previously visited this eatery, which boasts an 85-foot bar, a bunch of TV screens and an extensive menu, but it was great. Its walls were loaded with not only images of New Hampshire baseball stars like Chris Carpenter, but also autographed photos and other neat baseball stuff:
There was still some time before first pitch, so I poked around the park, taking photos here and there. Remember those foam fingers in my gift basket? I’d carefully placed them on my window ledge before heading down to the game, and they were visible from the park’s seats:
Soon enough, players began to appear and I was excited to see New Hampshire’s starter Deck McGuire. He’s a 2011 first-round draft pick of the Toronto Blue Jays and I headed to the bullpen area down the first base line to watch him warm up. Here he is during long toss:
And here’s Carter, the source of all the earlier excitement:
Carter has a neat story. He’s the nephew of 1993 World Series hero Joe Carter and although he appeared at several levels of the minors between 2005 and 2011, he played independent ball in 2012 and 2013. And he’s obviously got some pop.
Once McGuire had finished warming up with Carter …
… I spent the next while photographing Fisher Cats players as I waited for first pitch. When the game was underway, I grabbed a spot on the third base side and took photos like this one, of Fisher Cats slugger Brad Glenn:
And the Rock Cats hulking first baseman Kennys Vargas, who’s 6’5″ and 275 pounds:
In the top of the second inning, Rock Cats outfielder Reynaldo Rodriguez crushed a home run to left-center. I was seated pretty far from where I saw the ball leave the field, but still decided to wander over to the area and see if I could track it down. It took me a good couple minutes to reach the spot I expected to see the ball; sure enough, there it was on the asphalt between the Samuel Adams Bar & Grill and the hotel. I zipped down a set of stairs and grabbed it:
My first thought was to see if the home run was notable for Rodriguez, and then see if I could return it to him. I put the question out on Twitter and heard back from several people saying that while it was his first of the season, he’d already hit a bunch at Double-A. In fact, he’s quite a slugger. He hit 21, 16 and 18 home runs, respectively, over the previous three seasons in the minors. I figured this one wouldn’t be special to him, so I decided to keep it for my collection. For the record, this is the third home run ball in my collection.
Next, I hung out behind home plate for half an inning …
… and then set off to look for something to eat. In my previous two visits to New Hampshire, I enjoyed seafood for dinner — clam strips during my first visit and clam chowder during my second. This time, however, there was no sign of these items on the menu, which is disappointing. There were a handful of new items, which I’ll likely explore tomorrow. For my first game, though, I decided to keep things simple with a pair of hot dogs:
After three innings, I was puzzled to see the Fisher Cats weren’t taking the field to start the fourth. In fact, the umpires and both managers were having a conference at home plate, and they were soon joined by a member of the grounds crew. My initial thought was that because of the crazy wind, bad weather was in the forecast. Perhaps some lightning was in the area? Turns out it was lighting, not lightning, that was the issue. I hadn’t realized it, but the stadium lights in right-center weren’t on, and it was getting dark enough that this was now an issue:
Soon enough, part of the lights came on, and another set of lights responded by turning off. This was the pattern for 35 minutes, and I was slightly concerned the game would be postponed. I wasn’t the only one — McGuire, who’d given up just one hit (the home run) through his three innings of work, also looked concerned as he stood in the dugout:
The Fisher Cats bullpen members weren’t too upset. They resumed the game they’d been playing earlier — a sort of baseball-themed curling, in which they’d each toss balls off the bullpen mound and see whose could land closest to the bullpen plate:
When the action resumed on the field, it was a big relief. Not for Glenn, though, who took a pitch in his thigh during his first post-blackout at-bat:
I spent the rest of the game walking around the ballpark, taking photos here and there and enjoying the game and even the scenery outside the park. Here’s a look at the dark Merrimack River with the city’s lights behind it, for example:
The Fisher Cats won 3-2, thanks to a two-run home run by Ryan Schimpf in the sixth inning. I didn’t get the ball, though I did get this photo of the eventual post-game high-fives:
Although the game was over, my evening wasn’t. I was excited to get back to my room and answer the ton of Twitter messages that had come in about Carter’s BP home run — and, yes, take more shots out my window.
Here’s the scene at about 10 p.m.:
Again at 10:30 p.m.:
And again at 11:20 p.m.:
And finally, at 12:50 a.m. once all the stadium lights were off:
As I said, one heck of a day.
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 or MLB Shop, 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!
I’ve said before that while Opening Day is a big day for me, I really get excited when it’s time for my first road trip of the baseball season. Fortunately, that day is just about here.
About 5 a.m. on Monday, I’ll hop in the car for the drive to Manchester, N.H., home of the New Hampshire Fisher Cats. I’ll be seeing three games at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium — Monday through Wednesday, April 14 through 16. All three games are against the New Britain Rock Cats.
I’ve been to Northeast Delta Dental Stadium twice before — once in 2010, on my very first summer of travels for The Ballpark Guide, and again in 2011. I’m returning not only because I’m anxious to see one of my favorite ballparks, but also because I get the awesome opportunity to be interviewed on the air during the game broadcast on April 15 by Tom Gauthier, the voice of the Fisher Cats. And the fact that I’m a Toronto Blue Jays fan doesn’t hurt either, as the Fisher Cats are the Double-A affiliate of the Jays.
I’ll also be staying at the outstanding Hilton Garden Inn Manchester, which is located just over the left field fence. As in previous visits, I’ll have a field-facing room so I can enjoy the ballpark even when I’m not inside it.
Here’s the panoramic view out my window during my first visit, which you can read all about here:
And here’s a scene from my second visit during pregame warmups from The Patio, an outdoor eatery at the hotel at which you can eat, watch batting practice and snag home balls:
(To read the blog post about my second visit, just click here.
Finally, here’s a look at the hotel and its field-facing rooms, taken from the third base seats at the ballpark:
It’s shaping up to be a great trip and, as always, I’ll be tweeting and blogging along the way. Planning to be at any of these games? Send me a tweet and we’ll meet up and say hello.
If you enjoy reading about my baseball road trip adventures and want to support them, there are a few ways of doing so — you can read about them here at this link. If you shop on Amazon, for example, you can help my road trips without it costing you an extra cent. And you’ll even get a shout out on Twitter or here on my blog, too! Thanks for your support and I’ll talk to you next week from Manchester.