Results tagged ‘ ballhawking ’
With the exception of being away from home, I love everything about my baseball road trips. The ballparks and games themselves are the focal point as I continue to build The Ballpark Guide, but my trips are often full of other fun adventures, like doing interesting touristy things and staying in cool hotels. I’ve driven to and from Toronto countless times, so when I got up at 6 a.m. yesterday to get ready for my second baseball game of 2013, I decided I wanted to get to the city quickly, rather than do some sightseeing along the way. Why?
I can’t deny that I was excited for last night’s game, but I was super excited to check out my hotel. I love staying in hotels, and from the minute I booked a two-night stay at Toronto’s Westin Harbour Castle, I was pumped to check in. I’ve heard about this hotel for years and have always heard it to be a prime spot for baseball fans. Now that I’m here, I can definitely confirm this sentiment.
The Westin is one of Toronto’s nicest hotels and has a prime location right on the shore of Lake Ontario. It’s just a short walk from a number of downtown attractions, which is ideal because parking downtown is expensive and driving downtown can be a hassle, given traffic and the permanent construction in the city’s core. It was easy to find my hotel, though, and I’m rather directionally challenged. It’s just a couple minutes off the highway and before long, I was parked and checking in. As far as the nearby attractions, they’re too many to list extensively. If you’re into fine dining, for example, consider the Westin’s restaurants or take just a short walk to hit dozens of area eateries. There are also at least two grocery stores about five minutes away if you want to load up on snacks for your room. One thing I did before visiting was check out the hotel on Google Maps, and just scroll around a bit to see what’s in the area. If you want to do the touristy thing, the CN Tower, Hockey Hall of Fame and all sorts of shops are just a short walk away.
I was told that I’d enjoy my room, but WOW — I didn’t have any idea it’d be this great! I’m on one of the upper floors and have a lake-facing view. Here’s a shot out my window, although the photo hardly does the view justice:
You’re looking at a ferry taking people over to the Toronto Islands, a group of islands just a stone’s throw from the city’s downtown. As a side note, I went over to the islands once — during a Grade 8 trip to Toronto with my school band to play the anthems at the SkyDome. The spot that we boarded the ferry is directly below my window here at the Westin. And here’s another side note that baseball fans will enjoy — in 1914, Babe Ruth hit his first professional home run at Hanlan’s Point Stadium, a ballpark on the island. He was playing Double-A ball at the age of 19 and was still a half-decade away from tearing up Major League Baseball.
Most of one side of my room is made up of windows, so I truly have a panoramic view of the lake and islands. If I look out the window on the right side of the room, I can see Centre Island and Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport:
I’m pretty pumped about the view, but the room itself is outstanding, too. But before I get to the room itself, check out what was waiting for me when I got in:
Yes, it’s a welcome note AND a mini baseball bat filled with baseball-shaped candy! I should explain — since booking this trip late last week, the Westin has been following me on Twitter and knows about my love of baseball. How cool is it that they’d make the effort to find a baseball-themed welcome gift for me? It’s outstanding, but it wasn’t the only thing waiting for me. On top of a nice platter of fresh snacks, there was this:
My room is about 400 square feet, which is significantly larger than my first apartment. Since I’m staying here two nights, I’ll get to more details about the room and the hotel in my next blog post — I’ve still got some exploring to do!
The gates at Rogers Centre open 90 minutes before first pitch, so I figured I wanted to get to the stadium shortly before 5 p.m. I’d have time to walk around and take some photos, buy my ticket and get a good spot in line. First, though, I toured around my floor of the Westin and looked out the different windows to get varying views of the city. Hockey and basketball fans will like this one:
As you can see, I’m right across the street from Air Canada Centre, which is home of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Toronto Raptors. What a view! Soon enough, I made the short walk over toward Rogers Centre. The walk took about 15 minutes; you could do it in less time, as much of that time was spent waiting for street lights to change. It’s a nice walk and if you’re new to the city, gives you the opportunity to walk past the ACC and Toronto’s historic Union Station, as well as walk in the shadow of the CN Tower.
I’ve been to Rogers Centre virtually every year since it opened in 1989, I believe. And regardless of how many times I visit, it’s always exciting to approach the stadium. After crossing the pedestrian bridge over the railway tracks, I looked up to see the stadium’s famous statue called The Audience. (Side note — it’d be nice to see some statues of Blue Jays legends outside the stadium, too.) Whenever I see this statue …
… I can’t help but recall visiting Rogers Centre (then known as SkyDome) in 1989 for my birthday party. I remember thinking the statue, for whatever reason, was the coolest and funniest thing ever.
There weren’t many people around when I bought my ticket shortly before 5 p.m. and, as usual, I headed toward Gate 11, which is where I like to enter the stadium. Once there, I took my usual ticket shot:
I often enjoy taking panoramas of the outside of ballparks, but at Rogers Centre, it’s very difficult to get far enough away and still have a clear view. I kept walking backward and as you can see here, I still couldn’t get far enough away to get the entire height of the park in my frame:
After embarrassingly tripping on a step (the perils of walking backward while looking through a camera, I guess), I looked to my right and Gregg Zaun walked right past me! He played 16 years in the majors, including a stint in Toronto, and has worked for years as the studio analyst during Jays games. I didn’t want to run ahead of him and snap a photo, so I took this one:
I’ve zoomed in to show his World Series ring, which he won in 1997 with the Marlins:
How do people feel about the Jays current logo? I love it. I wasn’t a huge fan of the last couple incarnations, so it’s fun to see a logo that I enjoy so much adorning all sorts of things around the park, including many light posts:
The half-hour or so that I had to wait in line went quickly, and as soon as I entered the stadium, I made a quick turn to my left to head down to the left field corner. This is the route I always take when the gates open; sometimes you can find a batting practice ball here, or just hang out in hopes of catching a ball. I, however, wanted to get an early shot of the team’s new 200 Level Outfield Patio, which has been featured repeatedly on the team’s broadcasts:
I’ll have more photos of it later on, but it’s the structure with the railings between the Budweiser and Rogers logos. It’s free for anyone to enter, has nearby bars and a souvenir stand and, most importantly, has three levels of standing room. I figured that given its new popularity, it would be packed during the game. It was, but it was never packed enough that I couldn’t get a spot when I tried.
I often try to get a batting practice ball by hanging out in the 100 Level outfield seats or in the corners at field level. This time, I wanted to go up to the less-crowded 200 Level, so I made the quick jaunt up the dark ramp:
Seriously, how dark is this area? If you didn’t know better, you’d swear you were somewhere you shouldn’t be. I know this photo is less than thrilling, but I wanted to show how dark things are without using my flash. Things were brighter and more exciting when I got up to the 200 Level seats, and I took a moment to grab this shot of myself with the White Sox batting practice in the background:
I had to be quick; as I hoped, the balls were flying into the 200 Level fairly consistently. While I was standing in this area, I was thinking how I’ve been to Rogers Centre so many times. I don’t want to have my blog posts seem formulaic or mundane, so I decided I should try to take some shots of things I haven’t previously shared. As I looked around, the phone in the Toronto bullpen caught my eye:
I also get a kick out of these three seats; I always seem them from afar but this might be the first time I’ve stood right next to them:
And speaking of being next to things, check out the view to my immediate left:
Yep, it’s the new standing room area I mentioned earlier. As for Chicago’s BP, catcher Tyler Flowers was putting on an impressive display. He crushed several balls into the 100 Level seats, and before long, blasted this one into the seats just to my right:
Adam Dunn was putting on an even better performance. He was routinely hitting 200 Level bombs and even hit a handful off the facing of the fourth level; I specifically noticed one hit between the Cito Gaston and Pat Gillick names in the photo below. Talk about power:
I decided not to hang out and try to get more balls. I was pleased to get one, so I made a beeline for the new standing room area to my left. I’ve got to say that it’s absolutely awesome. I’ve ranted about the ushers at Rogers Centre in the past, but those watching over this new area seemed really proud to welcome fans to check things out. I took a number of shots, but I’ll share just a few for now. Here’s one taken through the giant “B” in the Budweiser sign:
And here’s one that shows the layout of the area before it got crowded:
As you can see, there are three levels, tables and a number of sections have wooden bars for your food and drinks, or just to lean on. It’s a perfect spot.
The 200 Level has a number of cool additions since I last visited this part of the park. I was excited to see two bars named after former stars Roberto Alomar:
And Joe Carter, although I cringe when I see how they’ve left out a crucial comma:
After making one complete circuit of the 200 Level, I went down the ramp to check out the team shop. As I mentioned last year during my Rogers Centre visits, the new Memorabilia Clubhouse section is absolutely amazing. It’s full of game-used and game-issued stuff, and the only disappointment was not seeing the club’s two World Series trophies, which were on display here last year.
There was a cool assortment of game-used balls for sale:
And other neat things, too. Did you know that for just $800, you can get a broken Jose Bautista bat?
Since I was on the 100 Level, I decided to head over to the Sportsnet studio to watch the pre-game show with Jamie Campbell and Gregg Zaun:
I watched most of the show and from there, went over to the first base side during the anthems. Here, I caught my first glimpse of new Blue Jay Munenori Kawasaki, who was called up to fill in at shortstop with Jose Reyes hurt. Kawasaki has quickly become a popular figure in Toronto for his hustle and for bowing after plays:
(More on him later.)
I spent the first inning standing in this general area, where I took the photos to make up this panorama:
But by now, my stomach was growling. It’d been a long day and I was ready for something filling. I toured around for a bit, noting the new (and delicious-smelling) food options, but caved and went with my favorite thing to eat at Rogers Centre, the chicken wings at Quaker Steak & Lube:
After buying my food, I often grab one of the many folding chairs stacked up around the 100 Level and eat while watching the game through the railing. It’s a perfect strategy if you have a 500 Level ticket, as there’s no way you’ll make it up to your seat while your food is still remotely warm. I’ve done this for years, but this year, I was dismayed to notice that the chairs are locked up — see the padlock?
As for the wings, they were delicious and very meaty, as always. I got my usual flavour, Louisiana Lickers … and ordered it in my usual way: “The Louisiana one, please.” I wonder how many people actually say “lickers.” I stood to eat dinner behind the 100 Level outfield seats and after I was finished, noticed that the Jays new-look team has apparently brought all species out to Rogers Centre:
No big deal; just a guy in a bear costume, enjoying the game. My next stop was the outfield standing room area again, which was considerably more crowded than last time I stopped by:
It wasn’t difficult to find an open spot on the third level, however, and I lucked out because this screen was directly above me:
Game broadcasts nowadays are so good that it’s easy to feel at a slight loss for information when you attend games in person. Being able to watch the live game while consulting the screen for stats was baseball heaven!
The view from this area is really good. Photos always make things look a million miles away, but here’s the panorama I took from the area:
Late in the game, I decided to watch an inning or two from the concourse behind home plate, partly to watch Kawasaki. He’s a slap hitter who reminds me very much of Ichiro — and it’s not just that they’re both from Japan. Both have an insane dedication to stretching and calisthenics. Both guys routinely stretch between pitches while at bat and while in the field. At one point, the Jays showed a video of Kawasaki performing a handstand during pre-game stretching. As for the stretching, see what I mean?
Kawasaki had an outstanding at bat while I stood behind home plate. With two strikes, he fouled off at least five pitches until he drew a walk. (He finished 2-for-2 with a walk to boost his batting average to .364.) My favorite picture of him is this one:
Even though I’d bought a 500 Level ticket, I hadn’t quite made the trek up to the nosebleed seats just yet. In the bottom of the sixth, and with the Jays getting pummeled 5-0, I went up to the 500s and had this view of the video board …
… and this view of the field:
Remember my quest to find new things to photograph? I’ve never noticed it, but the foul poles at Rogers Centre (which are actually netting) are held in place by giant, crane-like arms:
I spent up until the middle of the ninth inning up in the 500s, and then slipped down to the 100 Level concourse to watch the Jays’ last at-bat. The Sox had tacked on two more runs to make the final score 7-0, which drops Toronto’s record to 6-9. What a disappointing start to the season. Fans are already panicking, and while that’s a little premature, it’s frustrating to see the team faring so poorly early on.
Nevertheless, I’ll be back at Rogers Centre for the final game of the series against the White Sox, and I can’t wait. I’ll be blogging about the game, and more about my stay at the Westin Harbour Castle, in the next day or two. If you’ve recently found this blog, please consider following me on Twitter to keep up to date with all my road trip plans and visit The Ballpark Guide. If you’re planning a baseball road trip of your own, my website has a ton of tips to help you make the most of your ballpark visits. If you find that my website has saved you a few bucks or increased your enjoyment of the game — or if you just enjoy reading about my travels, please consider making a small donation to help the cause. Thank you!
Opening Day is the day that most baseball fans circle on their calendars each April, but for me, the day I think about the most is the day of my first live game. When I started The Ballpark Guide in 2010, my first game didn’t come till July. In 2011 and 2012, it was May. This year, however, I wanted to get a game under my belt early, as I’ve got some great trips planned for the spring and summer.
For the last month or so, I’ve been eyeing yesterday’s Syracuse Chiefs doubleheader at NBT Bank Stadium against the Lehigh Valley IronPigs. As I wrote in my previous blog post, the Chiefs are the closest MLB/MiLB team to where I live and since visiting in 2010 for a game, I’ve wanted to get back to the Cuse. And though the forecast was calling for a high of about 46 degrees and a chance of rain, I decided to chance it — after all, 46 degrees and a little rain is better than the ice and snow back home, right? Fortunately, I didn’t see more than a few drops of rain on the drive and by the time I got to the ballpark, I was pleased to see this sign:
(It’s much better than the sign I saw when I tried to watch the Chiefs in 2011.)
After parking, I decided to walk away from the stadium to take some shots of this little train platform, appropriately named Chiefsville:
I also wanted to check out the far end of the giant parking lot in front of NBT Bank Stadium. As I walked across the lot, I turned around and took this panorama:
And then I took this shot:
Why? Well, before NBT Bank Stadium opened in 1997, the Chiefs played at MacArthur Stadium, which was located on this site. Minus a three-year window, it was home to the Chiefs between 1934 and 1996, so you can imagine the long list of stars who played here. Although there isn’t a plaque marking the area (at least there isn’t one that I noticed), it’s a neat spot to visit.
Next, I went up to the pavilion in front of the home plate gate to capture the park’s new sign and name:
The NBT Bank Stadium name is new — the name was changed in the off-season from Alliance Bank Stadium. As I’ve said before, I love the look of this ballpark from the outside. I’m a sucker for brick ballparks and the turret concept is cool:
Although I was tempted to grab my media pass and dash inside the park to wander around, I decided to take a little more time outside. I wandered to the corner of the parking lot beyond the right field corner of the field, followed a winding path up to a set of train tracks, wandered along the tracks and balanced on a rail while I took this photo:
OK, time to get inside. I picked up my media pass (thanks again, Chiefs!) and stopped to look at a historical display honoring a bunch of former Chiefs …
… before I hopped in the elevator and rode up to the concourse level. It was just after noon, and with nearly an hour until the gates opened and nearly two hours until first pitch, the concourse was very quiet:
In fact, so too was the seating bowl:
Obviously, with a doubleheader on the schedule, batting practice wasn’t in the cards, and with the cold weather, only a handful of guys were out on the field — all from the visiting Lehigh Valley IronPigs side. You can barely see them in this panorama:
While I was walking around, I noticed a familiar name on a sign — the Ramada Syracuse is not only the hotel I’d visit after the game, but it’s also the official hotel of the Chiefs. I’ll have much more on the hotel later in this blog post, but for now, it was cool to see this sign:
As I continued to walk around and take photos, I got a Tweet from the Chiefs, who’d been Tweeting with me over the last week or so leading up to my visit. The person behind the team’s Twitter account, Desiree Ellison, said she’d give me a tour of the park! Desiree works in the team’s marketing and promotions department, and as I soon found out, she’s a big-time baseball nerd — and I mean that in a completely complimentary way. (It takes one to know one, right?!)
Anyway, the first thing we did on our tour was go out on the field, which is something that never gets old:
We went into the Chiefs dugout where I snapped this picture of the helmet rack:
And, after turning 180 degrees, I took this shot showing manager Tony Beasley’s view:
Then, it was down the third base line to the home side’s bullpen …
… and even the sod farm behind the outfield fence. (I’ll spare you the photo I took of sod growing, but I thought it was neat.) Next, we went into the bowels of NBT Bank Stadium to see the indoor batting cages, which were quiet:
And then up to the press box, which has this view:
See the video board?
It was installed last year and I think you’ll agree it’s a huge upgrade from the board that was in use when I visited Syracuse in 2010.
The tour continued to the second deck, where Desiree showed me her favorite vantage point:
I’d use this spot throughout much of the game, as you’ll read soon enough. The tour was awesome; it’s always impressive to not only learn some interesting facts about a park, but also wander through some behind-the-scenes areas. Thanks so much, Desiree!
After the tour, I decided to check out the team’s souvenir shop, which is notable for having a working train ride the rails above your head:
There was a bit of a group of people in front of me, and after I snapped the photo of the train, I looked down and realized I was standing face to face with Chiefs (and former Toronto Blue Jays) pitcher Jeremy Accardo! He was signing autographs in the team shop so I got him on my game program:
By this time, both teams were out on the field, so I jetted down to field level to take in the sights. I like this shot of Syracuse’s Yunesky Maya, who started game one, warming up in the bullpen:
As I said earlier, it was a chilly day. In the sun, it was all right, but in the shade, it was very cold. It didn’t take long to notice how different guys were keeping warm:
But Syracuse infielder Mike Costanzo had a more traditional method of keeping his hands warm:
I spent the first inning in the lower seats along the first base line with this view:
As you can see, the park wasn’t exactly full, but on a cold day that coincided with the final round of the Masters, some people might’ve chosen to stay at home on the couch. (Mini rant: The Chiefs are the closest affiliated team to my home and if they were closer, I’d be at the ballpark all the time. Support your home team, people! There’s nothing better than live baseball.)
By now, it was after 2 p.m., I’d been up since 6 a.m. and at the park since 11 a.m. I was hungry. Desiree recommended the Pops Special hot dog, so that’s what I went with. It’s a hot dog loaded with mac and cheese, and while I had a similar item back in 2011 at Nationals Park, I was anxious to try it:
The hot dog itself was absolutely the best dog I’ve ever eaten at a ballpark, and while the mac and cheese was a nice touch, it wasn’t quite as flavorful as I’d have liked. Still, it was a delicious meal and it’s something I heartily recommend. I neglected to pick up any utensils, so I ate it without — it’s a good thing the upper deck was so quiet, as I would’ve undoubtedly disgusted any fans around me. Seriously, though, it was very tasty. The NBT Bank Stadium dog was good enough that I’d be interested to eat a plain dog with traditional toppings.
After eating, I moved to my right a little and hung out on a second-level group deck that Desiree recommended and that was empty during the game. I can’t argue that it’s a prime spot — especially given that foul balls were flying in and around this area during the first inning alone, before I got up there. From here, you’ve got not only a nice panoramic view of the park, but no obstructions for photos. Granted, you’re not in the first row at field level, but lots of my shots, including this one of Lehigh Valley starter Ethan Martin, turned out well:
My quest for a foul ball, however, wasn’t going as well as I’d hoped. It was a standoff; I refused to relocate elsewhere, as Murphy’s Law would dictate that as soon as I left the section, a foul ball would land in the area. But in the fifth inning, Canadian Pete Orr came to bat for the IronPigs and fouled off a Yunesky Maya pitch that went off the facing of the suite next to me, bounced twice on the concrete and then into my (winter gloved) hands:
Mission accomplished! I decided to spend the game’s final innings (remember, doubleheader games are only seven innings each in the minors) at field level, and I found a spot next to the Lehigh Valley dugout with this view:
I don’t often sit in this spot at ballparks, but from here, I had a neat angle for shots like this one of IronPigs reliever Jake Diekman:
Diekman didn’t fare too well during his appearance — he went just 0.1 innings and gave up three walks, and when he was pulled, he walked back to the dugout entrance just a few feet to my right with a strange sense of calm. Once inside the dugout, however, he slammed his glove against the bench and didn’t seem too happy as he sat there. The visitors won 5-2, and during the 30-minute break between games, I was on the move again. By this time, I was pretty cold. I’d dressed warmly, but just being outside for that length of time was taking its toll. As I walked around to stay warm, I was glad to find this:
OK, so it didn’t provide refuge from the cold. Actually, I don’t know what it provided refuge from. But it gave me a chuckle.
Before long, the teams came out to warm up for the second game, and I went over to the Syracuse bullpen to watch the warmup of Ryan Perry, who got the start in game two for the Chiefs. I saw him pitch back in 2011 with the Tigers at Comerica Park, so it was neat to see him again. As he was warming up, I could see a colorful tattoo sticking out from beneath his glove. I couldn’t tell what it was from where I was standing, but now that I can enlarge the photo, it looks like a skeleton version of the MLB logo:
I decided to sit in the sun for a bit to get warm, and given that it was shining bright on the first base-side seats, that’s where I ventured. From here, I had a clear view to the plate and could take pictures like this one of Jeff Kobernus, who actually hit a single on this non-textbook swing:
Being in the sun warmed my bones a little, and it wasn’t long before I wondered if I could get a foul ball during the second game; I figured it’d be quite the feat to get balls in games one and two of a doubleheader. I went back to my prime foul ball territory, and in the fifth inning, a foul ball flew back toward the suite level, where it bounced around and landed out of sight. I estimated the ball to be about six suites from where I was standing, and since no one was rushing out from those suites (or any others) to retrieve the ball, I wandered over but the ball had disappeared. I looked for a few moments and wondered what the heck had happened. Then, I noticed that the concrete wall in front of each suite has a drainage hole at the bottom. Could the ball have magically found the hole? I couldn’t tell, so I looked over the fence into the gutter below, and this is what I saw:
So, I blindly reached my hand through the hole into the cold water, felt around and came up with this:
After the Chiefs led the entire game, Lehigh Valley scored late to tie the contest 2-2 and force extra innings. In the bottom of the eighth, Chiefs third baseman Jimmy Van Ostrand got up with the bases loaded and hit a walk-off single:
It was a very full and entertaining day at the ballpark, and as I walked out to my car, I turned and took one last shot of the sunset hitting NBT Bank Stadium:
Fortunately, I didn’t have to drive far to reach my hotel. Remember how I mentioned the Ramada Syracuse earlier? It’s less than three miles from the ballpark, making it the perfect choice for Chiefs fans — no trekking downtown and no driving out to the suburbs to find a hotel. It’s also within sight of the junction of I-81 and I-90, which made getting on the road this morning super easy. I’ll definitely stay here during future visits to Syracuse, and I think it’s the best choice in town for baseball fans. I didn’t have a chance to use the hotel’s on-site amenities, but it’s got a restaurant, as well as a pool and athletic center — perfect for burning off the extra hot dogs you ate at the Chiefs game!
After seeing where the hotel was, I decided to find a supermarket nearby. There’s a Wegman’s about five minutes away, and I always enjoy hitting this brand of store when I’m on my trips, so I made the quick drive to load up on some snacks for the night. If you want something closer to the hotel, Subway, Burger King, Denny’s, a pizza place and an ice cream parlor are all within walking distance. If you need an extra reason to choose this hotel, it’s ranked fourth among Syracuse hotels on TripAdvisor.
When I got back to the Ramada, I took this photo from the outside …
… before heading to my room which was thankfully nice and warm, but also large and inviting — king-sized bed, couch, coffee table and desk, which is where I sat to work on this blog post. I waited till morning to take this shot, which shows the how roomy the room is:
I managed to get about 1,100 words of this blog post written Sunday night while watching Sunday Night Baseball, and checked out just before 7 a.m. this morning. After loading up the car, I took a an early-morning shot of the exterior before hitting the road:
But wait! There’s a little more. If you remember this blog post, you’ll know that when possible, I enjoy checking out collegiate baseball fields. Instead of seeing a collegiate field, though, I stopped at Duffy Fairgrounds, a park in Watertown, NY. Built in 1938, the park has been home to a long list of teams, including the Watertown Pirates (1983 to 1988), and later the Watertown Indians (1989 to 1998), of the New York-Penn League. The park had a classic grandstand, as you can see here:
If you’re wondering, guys including Sean Casey, Brian Giles, Moises Alou, Orlando Merced and Jay Buhner played here during their stint in Watertown. And in 1988, the Watertown Pirates had a 21-year-old first baseman named Tim Wakefield, who hit just .189, began pitching the following season and eventually rode his knuckleball to a pair of World Series titles with the Red Sox. Neat, huh?
One more side note: I was stuck in a long lineup at the border waiting to cross back into Canada, and at one point, I looked out my window and saw this, which shows I was sitting exactly on the line between Canada and the U.S.:
Also, when the border guard asked my reason for being in the U.S., I explained that I’d watched the “Syracuse Chiefs Triple-A baseball team playing a doubleheader.” He responded with: “A Double-A team playing a tripleheader?” I’m guessing he’s not a baseball fan.
Now that my first road trip of the season is in the books, I’m already looking forward. In fact, I’ll have a big announcement this week! As always, you can follow me on Twitter and visit The Ballpark Guide. Your traffic on my website helps support my trips.
Last offseason, I blogged about my baseball collection from my first two summers of traveling for The Ballpark Guide. Since then, I’ve been to several additional ballparks and have managed to add a bunch more balls to my collection:
By the end of last year, my collection totaled 59, and with the 19 balls I added this year, I’m now up to 78. This means I shouldn’t have any trouble reaching 100 during one of my road trips in 2013.
(Before you get too excited to tell me that 78 balls isn’t a lot compared to a bunch of other collectors, I’ll remind you that I’m not a ballhawk. I like trying to get a ball at each of the parks I visit, and I occasionally enjoy trying to snag one during BP. I don’t ask for balls and I don’t compete with others. If I’m lucky enough to get one, I’m happy. If not, I’m not going to shed any tears.)
One of the things I enjoy about my ball collection is breaking down the different leagues represented on each ball. I’ll provide the totals in a moment, but first, here’s the rundown on what I got this summer:
Major League Baseball: 4
New York-Penn League: 4
Eastern League: 4
Carolina League: 3
International League: 2
Cape Cod Baseball League: 1
National Collegiate Athletic Association: 1
All this means that my totals are now up to:
Major League Baseball: 26
New York-Penn League: 19
Eastern League: 10
International League: 5
Midwest League: 4
South Atlantic League: 4
Carolina League: 3
Minor League Baseball: 2
Minor League Baseball Practice Ball: 2
Northwest League: 1
Cape Cod Baseball League: 1
National Collegiate Athletic Association: 1
The three oddest balls I’ve collected during my travels are from the Northwest League, Cape Cod Baseball League and NCAA — odd, given that I haven’t been to games from any of these leagues. I found the Northwest League ball during batting practice in Vermont last year, the Cape Cod league ball during BP at a Hudson Valley Renegades game this past August and the NCAA ball sitting in the grass in Lakewood, N.J., while I was wandering around during a rained-out BlueClaws game.
Of the 12 minor leagues between Short-Season A and Triple-A, I’ve got balls from seven of the leagues. Anyone else have balls from this many? If so, let me know about it in the comments below, and if you’ve got a blog post about it, include that, too.
Remember how on August 22, I debated going to another Boston Red Sox game and opted to stay in my hotel, get to bed in decent time and hopefully feel better for the last game of my trip? Mission accomplished. I woke up the morning of August 23 feeling great, and although the last game of any road trip can be a bit of a downer, I was excited to drive from Boston to Wappingers Falls, N.Y., to see the Hudson Valley Renegades. This road trip had a bit of a Renegades theme — I’d already seen them on the road three separate times, so it was cool to finally see them at Dutchess Stadium, the place they call home.
The hotel for the last night of my trip was the Hilton Garden Inn Poughkeepsie/Fishkill, and after stopping to visit some neat sights along the route, I checked into the hotel around 4 p.m. I love traveling, seeing new cities and hotels, and I always look forward to staying at Hilton Garden Inns. I’ve had some great experiences at this chain in the past, including in Manchester, N.H., and Lakewood, N.J. And I’m pleased to report this hotel was amazing. Here’s what it looks like from the outside:
When I checked in, the people at the front desk were extremely friendly and given that they knew about my trip from when I booked, were asking me about my travels. I was thrilled to see the room — spacious, clean and very new looking. This shot shows the basics of the room …
… and this one shows the TV and desk, as you can see:
The Hilton Garden Inn Fishkill is less than 10 minutes from Dutchess Stadium, which is perfect. The hotel is also in the middle of a giant complex that includes a bunch of places to shop and eat, like Walmart (perfect for loading up on road trip snacks), Panera Bread and Cold Stone Creamery. I definitely recommend this hotel if you’re in town to see the Renegades, and next time I visit the area, I’ll certainly stay here again.
I didn’t have long to check out the hotel, though, as I wanted to get to the ballpark in good time. Like many other teams on this trip, the Renegades were extremely helpful and had offered to provide me with a media credential. And, as you know, whenever I’m fortunate enough to get one, I like to arrive early and explore.
The drive was a quick one, and pretty soon, I was standing in the unique pavilion in front of the place the locals call “The Dutch.” I use the word unique because I can’t recall a green baseball field on the ground like the one here:
After snapping a few photos outside the park, I went into the team office and picked up the media credential from broadcaster Ben Gellman. I also owe thanks to director of baseball communications Joe Ausanio, who helped set everything up in regards to my pass. Thanks, guys! I peeked into the nearly-empty ballpark and while it was temping to immediately go check things out, I always love to see if I can add a batting practice home run ball to my collection.
I walked down a hill to an area in the left field corner and saw this:
A few baseball collectors were in the area grabbing home run balls and given that I’m not the type to compete with others for balls, I wandered to an empty area and hoped a ball might come my way. There was no immediate action, so I wandered back and forth in the area down this path:
I even stood beneath the scoreboard and looked back up at it for a different-angled view:
A moment later, I heard a ball bounce hard off something wooden, and when I turned to look in the direction of the sound, I saw the ball sitting plainly in the mud. The ball collectors were in the woods a short distance away, and after the ball landed, I didn’t hear them rustling through the underbrush toward the ball, so I walked over and picked it up:
Satisfied with a ball, I continued along the path to the area beyond the right field corner, where I saw the covered batting cages:
There wasn’t much happening in this area, so I decided to retrace my footsteps back along the path and possibly find another ball before heading into the park. Then, I saw this:
And a handful more, until I had eight (mostly wet and soggy) balls. It was a strange ball utopia. The thick brush hid a ton of baseballs and as I was searching, more seemed to keep flying past me. I actually was thinking how awful it’d be to get hit by one, which is entirely possible given that you really can’t see them coming. Not five seconds after I thought this, I felt one go past my ear as I had my head turned. It sounds dramatic, but it was chilling. I could actually feel and hear the air displaced by the ball as it whistled past, and I know that if it had hit me, it would have been bad news. I was actually pretty rattled and my hands were shaking as I sorted the eight balls I’d gathered and took this photo:
The second I snapped the photo, I shoved the balls into my backpack and got the heck out of there. The incident hasn’t necessarily changed how I feel about hanging out behind the fence during BP, but I’m going to be a little more selective about where I go from now on.
After exiting the area in the right field corner, I walked through the players’ parking lot and back toward the front of the ballpark:
By now, the pavilion in front of the main gates was crowded, and I entered the park to begin exploring before it got too packed. I couldn’t resist stopping at the team shop, which was absolutely outstanding. I’ve found that in the New York-Penn League, team shops range from full stores to tiny carts parked on the concourse. Hudson Valley’s is large, roomy and has a ton of Renegades things for sale:
When I made it out to the seating bowl, I saw that the Connecticut Tigers (who I’d already seen at home on this trip) were still taking batting practice:
I opted to continue exploring The Dutch, rather than sit down at field level and watch. I’m glad I did, too, because I’m pleased with how this panorama I took from the park’s suite level turned out. I especially like the mountains in the background:
Remember the baseball field laid out in the ground at the front gate? As I walked along the walkway of the suite level (which you can see in the photo of the front of the park), I got a better view of the field, as well as the people waiting to get in:
After a quick stop in the press box …
… I went up top on the first base side to take this panorama:
During my travels, I noticed this setting for two, which I thought was unique:
The menu, which was sitting on the table, contained such options as fried calamari, penne with vodka sauce, tilapia and cannoli. I didn’t figure the lucky patrons who would soon occupy this spot would appreciate me sitting down and placing my order, so I continued walking.
Speaking of food: You know how food service at some stadium is a complete free-for-all? This dizzying photo shows how the Renegades keep things systematic and sensible at their concession stands:
Next, I went down to field level where I came across some of the neatest close-to-the-action seats I’ve seen in the Minors:
And when I looked back up toward the concourse, a nice waterfall setup reminiscent of the one at Fifth Third Ballpark, home of the West Michigan Whitecaps:
From the third base line, I followed the cross-aisle all the way over to the first base line, where there’s an enormous picnic deck area:
Next up, three cool things you just don’t see in the Major Leagues:
1. A Hudson Valley player cleaning his cleats outside the clubhouse before the game:
2. A bunch of Connecticut players standing in line at one of the concession stands in the concourse:
3. A pair of Renegades walking through the concourse:
When I passed by the team shop again, I paused to look at several Negro league jerseys that caught my eye. They were super cheap (around $15, I think) and while I was tempted to get one, they were all enormous — like XXXXXXXL (for real) and so on. Here’s one from the Brooklyn Royal Giants:
I spent the next little bit wandering around and taking in the sights. A lot of players were signing autographs around the dugouts, and believe it or not, the outfield was opened up to fans who wanted to play catch. I didn’t bother going down to the field, as I have in the past. Instead, I saw this catchy sign and really liked it:
I think I’m a combination of The Fanatic and The Collector and The Cuisine Connoisseur. What about you?
Although dinner time was approaching, the menu didn’t have anything that really enticed me. The selection was good, but I found most of the items to be overpriced. A salad for $6? Hot dogs for $3.50? Seems a little pricey by NYPL standards.
Once the fans finished up their game of catch in the outfield, I went over to the Hudson Valley bullpen area down the first base line and took some action shots of the warmups:
Second baseman Thomas Coyle:
First baseman Michael Williams:
Catcher Jake DePew:
While I was down here, I captured my press pass:
When the game finally began (I should note I’ve somehow managed to write 1,600 words before the first pitch), I took a spot above the third base dugout to snap some action photos, including Hudson Valley starter Jeff Ames:
Connecticut outfielder Zach Kirksey, facing some high heat:
See the tiger-striped wrist tape? Love it! Here’s a closer shot of another player’s tape that I snapped in the pre-game:
Next, it was behind home plate for an inning, where I enjoyed this view:
Then, over to the first base line for a few more action shots, like this one of Hudson Valley’s Marty Gantt sliding into second:
The PA announcer at The Dutch is the best I’ve ever heard. He talked often throughout the game but was never obnoxious, as some people with unlimited access to a microphone can be. The most impressive part of the evening was something I couldn’t document with my camera, so I’ll share it here. Sometime before this game, an area husband and wife were killed in a car accident, leaving three children behind. The team’s PA announcer challenged fans to make donations to help out the family, and as an interactive twist, fans could take their money right up to the PA window and the announcer would declare the amount. The donations ranged from children handing over pocket change to businesses putting up three figures, and despite the horrible circumstances of the fundraising, it was exciting — and very heart warming — to witness. By the end of the night, more than $3,000 was raised, which says a great deal about the community spirit of the Renegades fan base.
I spent a chunk of the mid to late innings behind the third base dugout, and in the last inning, moved back behind home plate where I enjoyed this view:
The game was an
offensive defensive display; the Renegades won 1-0 while outhitting Connecticut 5-3. Ames was awesome, pitching five innings of one-hit ball while striking out eight Tigers. Although it was the last game of my big road trip of 2012, I’ve since attended a pair of MLB games that I’ll be blogging about soon.
Could a ballpark visit be augmented because of my love of boxing? Yes. Yes, it could.
Boxing has been one of my favorite sports for a long time, and I vividly remember junior welterweight Micky Ward wearing a Lowell Spinners jersey while walking to the ring before his “fight of the century” with the late Arturo Gatti in 2002. He also wore trunks emblazoned with a Spinners logo. I didn’t know a ton about Minor League Baseball back then, but Ward (long before he was a household name after his life story was told in The Fighter) was one of my favorite boxers and I thought it was cool that he was giving a nod to a ball club. Fast forward a decade, and I was excited to be visiting Lowell, MA, to see the Spinners. And, yes, Lowell is Ward’s hometown and is heavily featured in The Fighter.
I had a few hours to kill before the evening’s game between the Spinners and the Hudson Valley Renegades, so the plan was to check in and do some blogging. When I arrived, I noticed three athletic-looking guys sitting in the lobby. My initial reaction was to assume they were members of the Renegades, but I had to remind myself that the world doesn’t revolve around Minor League Baseball and not every athletic-looking person plays in the New York-Penn League.
But then, I saw that one of the guys was holding a document on Tampa Bay Rays letterhead, and given that the Rays are the Renegades’ parent club, I knew my initial reaction was correct. And I’ve gotta say, it was pretty cool to know I was staying at the same hotel as the team.
When I made it to my room, however, my thoughts quickly shifted to how impressed I was with the accommodation. My suite was larger than each of my first three apartments! Although I was just staying one night, I definitely had room to spread out, which was awesome. Here’s the room from the door:
And looking back toward the door:
Amazing, right? If you visit Lowell to see the Spinners, perhaps as a side trip after going to Fenway Park for a Red Sox game, this is the hotel to choose. If it’s not already cool enough that the visiting team stays here, the hotel staff was extremely friendly, my suite was enormous and very clean and the icing on the cake is that there’s a Domino’s Pizza just across the parking lot. (I can’t deny that I treated myself to a late-night pie after getting back from the game.)
My suite faced the parking lot, so after I took the above photos, I took a look out the window and saw what I figured was Hudson Valley’s bus parked at the far end of the lot. While I blogged a little, I heard the bus start up and make its way to the curb directly below my second-floor window! By now, I was in full spy mode and it wasn’t long before the Renegades began to file onto the bus. Since my camera was charging, I snapped photos like this one with my iPod touch:
Soon enough, the bus departed for the 10-minute drive to the ballpark, and I followed shortly thereafter.
If you’re into American history, you’ll definitely enjoy visiting Lowell. As you can learn on the interwebs, the town played a key role in Industrial Revolution America, primarily as a mill town. Check out the Wikipedia entry for Lowell at the very least. There’s lots of interesting stuff to read about. Anyway, the Spinners play in Edward A. LeLacheur Park, a modern facility that was built to fit right in with the surrounding historical area. As you get close to the park, you’ll see several old mills — some of which have been converted to condos and this one, which is now the American Textile History Museum:
Although I had a little trouble finding the right parking lot (turns out that fans can park in the adjacent UMass Lowell) garage, I got to the ballpark a couple hours before first pitch. My first order of business was to check out the area behind the outfield fence. Many NYPL parks have open areas back here that make getting balls during batting practice easy, and the setup in Lowell is no different. The only catch is that the area behind the fence is mostly underbrush, rather than an open field, so you have your work cut out for you because many balls will be hard to spot. Here’s a shot that shows the fence in the background and just how much brush you’ll have to contend with:
Just beyond this area is the Merrimack River, which really enhances the scene:
As a side note, the Merrimack directly past Northeast Delta Dental Stadium, home of the New Hampshire Fisher Cats. I wonder which river takes the prize for running past the most ballparks.
I decided not to spend time trying to get a BP ball. There were a few other fans in the area and I hate competing with others for baseballs. Instead, I took a walk around the path behind the outfield fence …
… and then around to the right field corner of the park, where I saw this old mill that’s now condos, I believe:
The front of LeLacheur Park looks awesome. The combination of bricks and iron tie the park right into the surrounding area, and in a way, you’d never guess that the park has only been around since 1998. The contradiction to this statement is that everything in the park is pristine, and in many ways, you’d guess it’s only a year or two old. LeLacheur Park was designed by HOK Sport (now called Populous), which made Baltimore’s Oriole Park at Camden Yards, among a ton of other facilities across all sports. Perhaps the most notable point about Camden Yards is how it fits into the surrounding area, and it’s no coincidence that Lowell’s park has the same going for it:
I made my way to the ticket office and picked up my media pass, then went into the park and began to wander around. The team’s director of media relations, Jon Boswell, provided me with the pass and set aside time to give me a pre-game tour, but I wanted to take a quick look at things before I went to find him. When you enter the park through the main gates, you end up in a small pavilion area. From there, you take a climb (or an elevator ride) up a set of stairs to reach the concourse. Check out the stairs:
Jon later told me that if the team’s sales staff can figure out a spot to display an ad, they’ll do it. I think they’ve got the stairs covered, don’t you?
When I reached the concourse, this was the scene to my right:
And to my left:
I’ve said it before, but I’ll reiterate that it NEVER gets old to get into a ballpark early and be able to explore before the crowds fill it up. Regardless of the park, it’s one of the coolest experiences I get the privilege of enjoying on my trips.
The Renegades, fresh off being spied upon as they loaded up to drive to the park, were taking batting practice. As I stood on the concourse, I took this panorama to capture the whole glorious scene:
Afterward, I went down to field level and just enjoyed watching BP for a few minutes. That enjoyment, however, quickly dissipated as bee after bee decided to check me out. Now, this is obviously no fault of the Spinners, but LeLacheur Park was inundated with bees. (Jon later told me the bee problem had begun a few days earlier and an exterminator was already fixing the issue.) People who know me know that I freaking hate bees. I don’t play the fake “I’m allergic” card, either. I just hate them. I don’t have any love for things that will sting you for no good reason. They are a scourge, I say. A scourge!
Fighting the urge to shriek and flail my arms, I went back up to the concourse and continued my tour, stopping to see the team’s “Road to the Show” wall, which you can click to read the names:
And the press box, looking back at it from field level:
Remember how I said LeLacheur Park fits in perfectly with the surrounding mill area? Check out how nice everything looks:
Nothing I saw on my tour (and perhaps at any ballpark I’ve visited) was as touching as this seat:
The Spinners dedicated this box seat earlier this summer in honor of the 92,000 (!) American soldiers who are unaccounted for since World War I. It will always stay empty and Jon told me it’s got the best view in the park. Really neat stuff.
Partway through BP, the Renegades had a short team meeting, led by manager Jared Sandberg (22) who’d playfully heckled me a few nights earlier in Connecticut:
For the inside scoop on the park, I then went down to the park’s office to meet up with Jon. The first stop on our tour was the on-field standing-room area, which I’d completely overlooked earlier:
(This is one of the reasons tours are so great — if I miss anything on my own, I get to learn about it from someone in the know.) From this area down the first base line, you can actually watch the game from on the field. Talk about getting close to the action! Some parks have seating that is very close to the field, but at LeLacheur Park, you’re actually standing on the clay.
Jon took to all the park’s notable areas, giving me a ton of information as we walked. We saw the kids’ play area, complete with a “Dunk the Yankee” dunk tank:
Went past the batting cages under the concourse:
And through the office, which features a display case that includes a pair of Ward’s Spinners trunks!
We also saw a banner featuring former Red Sox 3B Mike Lowell, wearing the Spinners’ special “Mike Lowell” jersey:
And one of those jerseys signed by Lowell himself:
The inscription reads, “To the Mike Lowell Spinners, thanks for the great honor!”
Our tour flew by, and soon enough, Jon had to get back to his pre-game duties. It was a great tour. Thanks, Jon! Before we parted ways, Jon gave me a neat souvenir that I’ll feature in a future blog post.
On my own again, I visited the team shop and made a really cool purchase that I’ll also share later. The shop itself had a lot of neat Spinners and Red Sox merchandise, and being air conditioned, was a big-time reprieve from the bright sunshine. (There were no bees to be found in the team shop, either.)
As game time approached, I met up with Brian Moynahan, who founded the site Bus Leagues Baseball, and also writes for MiLB.com. Brian and I have talked over Twitter for several months, so it was cool to finally meet him. It’s always fun to meet other baseball people, and we chatted for nearly half an hour in the concourse. If you haven’t visited Bus Leagues Baseball, it’s an awesome site with a ton of interesting stories about interesting people. By the time we finished blabbing, the game had already begun, so I found a spot on the third base side with this view:
(I love the smokestacks in the background.)
A couple innings later, I was back on the move and eventually made a quick stop at a concession stand to pick up dinner before finding a great spot in an open row in front of the press box. As for my meal? A delicious bowl of hot clam chowder, which was perfect as once the sun went down, the evening became cool and perfect. I chose soup as my meal partly to avoid something ultra-heavy, and partly because it was comfort foody enough given that I was still sick. If you’ve read this blog for some time, you might recall that I had clam chowder last year in New Hampshire. This one was just as good:
In the late stages of the game, I realized that I hadn’t yet photographed my media pass. Failing to do so would’ve been disastrous, right? Here it is:
Media pass documented, a stomach filled and a couple hundred photos added to my camera, I hunkered down into my seat with this great view …
… and just enjoyed the rest of the game. It was a perfect night.
PS: While I enjoy photographing the food I eat on my travels, I did not get the camera out to document the pizza I ate about 11 p.m. Sharing it here would result in you thinking that I am a glutton.
After my day in New Britain, I had just a short drive to Norwich, CT to see the New York-Penn League’s Connecticut Tigers play. When I reached town, I checked into my hotel and caught some Little League World Series action for an hour or two on TV until it was time to head out to the ballpark.
As has been the case so far on this trip, I continue to have great luck with hotels. For my visit to Norwich, I was staying at the Holiday Inn Express & Suites Plainfield. I took this rainy shot of it the following morning before heading to Boston for the Futures at Fenway doubleheader:
The inside of my room looked like this:
I’ll definitely stay at this hotel next time I visit Norwich. It’s only about 20 minutes from Dodd Stadium, home of the Tigers, and if you’re in need of a snack after the game, the hotel is next door to a Domino’s and a Wendy’s. The hotel is just a minute off the highway and as far as my room, it was clean, spacious and the hotel’s amenities (gym, breakfast room, etc.) were all great.
I didn’t find Dodd Stadium particularly easy to reach, but I think that’s because my GPS somehow instructed me to take the long way. The ballpark is in the rear of a business park, and as you’re driving through the park, you definitely get the feeling that you’re in the wrong spot. Thankfully, the team does a great job of posting signs along the route to assure you that you’re pointed in the right direction. After a couple minutes wondering if the park would ever appear ahead of me, this is what I saw:
It was still quite early, so there were only a couple fans milling about. I took advantage of the open area in front of the park to take this panorama:
And quickly document my media pass, which Jon Versteeg, the team’s director of media relations, had left for me:
Thanks, Jon! I really appreciate it.
Although the pass would allow me early access to the park, I decided to wander around for a bit, and as is my norm, see if it was possible to get a ball during batting practice. I set out walking to the left side of the main gate, which heads toward the left field corner. From a spot on the hill overlooking the park, I could see the visiting Hudson Valley Renegades throwing …
… but this fence gave me the subtle indication that I wouldn’t be getting behind the outfield fence:
Fortunately, just as there are two sides to every story, there are also two sides to every outfield. I retraced my steps and went over to the right field corner. On the way, I passed this submarine, which would later be firing T-shirts at unsuspecting fans:
The road on this side of the park is frequently used by the grounds crew, and there were lots of lawnmowers and other equipment used for maintenance of Dodd Stadium. I was excited to see the gate in the corner open, as I knew it would allow me to watch BP instead of just stand blindly behind the fence:
Before I got much closer, though, I saw this to my right:
The ball was was so worn that I couldn’t tell what was stamped on it, but it wasn’t an MiLB or MLB ball. Either way, this is number five on my trip, so I’m halfway to my goal of 10. The area behind the fence was a mishmash of stuff, including a stadium seat graveyard:
There was also a fireman sitting in his SUV back here, presumably preventing fans from walking close to the setup area for the evening’s fireworks show and subsequently catching fire. We had a memorable exchange:
Fireman: Are you Gary?
Me: No, I’m just looking around and taking some photos.
Fireman: Well, if you’re not Gary or with Gary, you have to leave.
This didn’t dissuade my hopes of getting a BP home run ball, however. I hung out in the open gate and watched the players hit, but I didn’t see a single home run. Not one! Still, it was fun to watch BP from field level, and I talked briefly with Hudson Valley starter Sean Bierman who, in his first year of pro ball, is 3-2 with a strikeout to walk ratio of 30:4!
Eventually, I abandoned the plan to get a ball and decided to enter Dodd Stadium and watching the last bit of BP from the stands. Because almost every Minor League park’s gates don’t open until BP is done, it’s always a treat to sit in the front row behind the dugout and watch the players hit and take infield practice. I walked to the main gate, showed my pass to the ticket taker and expected him to open the gate and let me in. He said I could just come in myself, and in doing so, I managed to close the steel gate on my finger.
Despite my throbbing finger, I got to field level and took a spot behind the visitors’ dugout. Sure enough, the Renegades were still practicing. As BP wrapped up, the players had to take the steps up through the seating bowl to their clubhouse, as is common at many parks in the low Minor Leagues. I turned to take this photo …
… and then heard, “Hey! No photos!” Despite being surprised by the shout, I wasn’t caught off guard because I knew that I wasn’t doing anything wrong. I turned quickly and saw someone on a Renegades uniform duck into the dugout, and a handful of players smiling. Obviously, someone was just messing with me, and that someone, I believe, was manager Jared Sandberg, who you might recall as having played parts of three seasons with Tampa Bay between 2001 and 2003. In 2002, he hit 18 home runs in 102 games. A moment later, Sandberg (#22) called his players in for a quick meeting:
And shortly thereafter, they finished up and disappeared. Time for me to explore the ballpark a little!
I quickly noticed that the seats I saw the night before in New Britain were also here in Norwich. Dodd Stadium has normal box seats in the lower part of the bowl, but the upper is made up of these highchair-style seats:
The team shop at Dodd was absolutely awesome. Because the team was based in Oneonta, New York through the 2009 season, there were a number of Oneonta Tigers items at ridiculous prices — like polos for $5 and game-used stuff for $20. Unfortunately, small was the dominant size, and I couldn’t even find a medium to try. I did, however, spend $3 on a T-shirt that I’ll post at a later date.
While I was browsing around the store, a couple notable things happened. Pitcher Ramon Lebron showed up for an autograph signing, and because the park was still relatively uncrowded, the lineup of fans waiting for his autograph was approximately zero. Because I had a media pass, I wasn’t permitted to get autographs, and I sort of felt badly for him. I was glad when a few kids in the shop got him to sign their gear on the way out.
Second, I found a $5 bill in the team store! I had mixed feelings about picking it up, because someone had obviously dropped it a short time earlier, but asking, “Hey, did anyone lose $5?” is a good way to have everyone volunteer to take the money. I lingered around the store in case someone made a kerfuffle about losing the money. Sure enough, I overheard a kid complaining that he’d lost $5 a few minutes later, so I gave it back to him. Good deed done for the day!
Here’s a shot of some of the game-used stuff for sale:
And a close-up of one of the wall next to the signing booth, where I assume players scrawl their name whenever they visit. I think it’s a neat touch:
By now, the players were back on the field, so I got my first look at Connecticut. I think their uniforms are one of the sharpest in the NYPL. I like the simple approach, which is obviously modeled after their parent club in Detroit. As the players warmed up, I took photos of a few of them, including Jared Reaves:
Starting pitcher Endrys Briceno, who gave up seven hits and two earned runs over five innings in a non-decision:
Briceno is listed at 6’5″, 150 lbs., which might make him the lightest pro ball player I’ve ever noticed.
And catcher Tim Remes, who picked up his first RBI in a Connecticut uniform after being called up from the Gulf Coast League a short while earlier:
When the game began, I settled into a spot on the third base side for a couple innings, and then began to explore my food options. The Burger Barn stand in the right field corner appeared to have the most appealing menu, so I asked what the server recommended. She suggested the Cheesy Potato Burger, which is covered in, as you might suspect, cheese and French fries. In case your potato intake was dangerously low, it was served with a side of … fried chips. I decided to go with her suggestion, and although my stomach is casting me dirty glances as I write this early the following morning, the burger was tasty:
And hugely filling. I wasn’t a fan of the fried chips, and the burger left me more than full anyway.
Once I finished the burger (and it took some time), I waddled over to a seat behind the protective netting and watched the rest of the game with this view:
The Tigers won 5-3, despite just six hits, and a couple minutes after the team celebrated its win on the mound …
… I hopped in the car, skipping the fireworks show, to get back to my hotel.
Now that I’ve blogged about meeting Frederick Keys outfielder Jeremy Nowak, which was the highlight of last month’s baseball road trip, I want to review the 10 goals I made for myself before hitting the road.
In all, I did pretty well, especially considering there were a few hiccups along the way that impacted my ability to cross off some of the goals.
Here’s the recap:
1. Get tours of five of the seven parks
The first stop on my road trip, May 21 in Lakewood, was rained out, so tours at five of seven was skewed from the get-go. That said, of the six games I attended, I did get an official tour at four parks and some great help/advice at the other two, so I’d say I achieved this goal.
2. Get 10 baseballs
The short answer is that I finished with six baseballs, which falls slightly short of my goal. But hang on. One game was rained out and of the other six, only two had batting practice. So, I’d say that six balls in six games is good, considering I try to average a ball a game. Here they are, including two International League balls from batting practice at Buffalo’s Coca-Cola Field, an NCAA tournament ball from Wilmington, two Carolina League balls from Frederick’s Harry Grove Stadium and, at bottom, the Jeremy Nowak home run ball:
3. Get a game-used item
If you read my recent post about Jeremy Nowak’s home run ball, you’d agree I knocked this item off my list of goals. Hard to imagine a cooler game-used item! The runner-up is a game-used item that I picked up in Wilmington, which I’ll blog about later this week.
4. Get autographs from Wally Backman and Ryne Sandberg
This one was a wash. Why? Because I got media passes for all the games I attended, including those in which I saw the two legendary MLBers. And as you can see on the bottom on one of my passes (and they all say this), passholders are prohibited from asking for autographs:
5. Find a food item that gets into my top 10
As a reference point, here are the top 10 things I’ve eaten on my travels. It’s close, but I think I’ll bump off Classic Park’s pulled pork nachos and replace the #10 slot with the crab fries at Trenton’s Waterfront Park. They weren’t quite as good as I thought they might be, but they were unique enough to sneak through the backdoor into the 10th spot:
6. Be interviewed during a game broadcast
Check! This happened twice and both times, it was really exciting. I was interviewed on the Wilmington Blue Rocks broadcast by Jeff O’Connor and the Frederick Keys broadcast by Adam Pohl. And in case you missed the pictures I posted about those interviews, here they are:
7. Get 50 autographs
In the same vein as the attempt to get Backman and Sandberg to sign, this one is a no-go. But I’ll call it an N/A rather than a fail, because I didn’t ask for a single autograph.
8. Buy a hat
Oops! There were a couple times I wanted to get a hat and just didn’t pull the trigger. The first was at the rained-out game in Lakewood. I think the BlueClaws’ hats look neat, but given the cancellation of the game, I wasn’t able to get one. Secondly, I wanted to get a Keys hat at Harry Grove Stadium, but the hats were all behind the counter and I’m a methodical hat buyer. I like to try a bunch on until I find one that fits me perfectly, and didn’t bother doing so. Does this mean that next road trip I’ll get two hats? Yes. Yes, it does.
9. Have my photo taken with a player
It’s fitting that I got a fan to capture the coolest moment of the road trip. The photo is grainy and dark but the smiles say it all:
10. Have some unforeseen fun adventure
I think this qualifies, don’t you? If you want a runner-up, here it is:
- Despite the rainout, I was able to get into Lakewood’s FirstEnergy park and wander around the near-empty park by myself. It might not seem that thrilling on the surface, but imagine getting into a ballpark by yourself and touring it at your leisure. It was special. Here’s a photo of the deserted park I took on my self-guided tour that I haven’t previously published:
So, what’s next for me? Despite the highlights of my May trip, I’m confident my next trip will be great for a number of other reasons. I’m in the middle of planning it now, and I’ll have a blog post about that soon enough.
In the meantime, please check out The Ballpark Guide and remember that your clicks help me pay for future travels and adventures. Thank you.
I’ve taken several thousand photos since I began traveling and compiling research for TheBallparkGuide in the summer of 2010. (If you’re new to this blog and are curious about where I’ve visited, look at the tag cloud on the right side of the menu or click here.) The vast majority of my photos focus on the elements of each ballpark I visit, but one thing I’ve noticed is that I’ve missed getting photos of myself in most locations. I often travel alone, and while it’s possible to hold the camera at arm’s length to shoot myself, some of these photos don’t turn out that great.
That said, I’ve got a handful of photos taken at different locations that I’m posting below. Click the date to read my blog about the visit.)
The second ballpark I visited, back on July 17, 2010, was Auburn’s Falcon Park. While I was snapping shots of the front of the ballpark, the man who lives next door to the facility offered to take my shot:
Later that summer, I traveled to Cleveland for two games on Aug. 7 and Aug. 8. During the second game, I got a few autographs around the visitors dugout, and then had my photo taken by another fan while sitting on the Indians dugout:
… and a day later, took one of me along the fence during batting practice. I snagged two balls here:
I toured around Michigan in May 2011, and watched the second of two Detroit Tigers games on May 25. Unfortunately, this game was called because of the rain after a few innings. While the tarp was still on the field, an usher took my photo:
On June 27, I watched the Hagerstown Suns play at Municipal Stadium. Bryce Harper was hurt and didn’t play, but that didn’t stop me from finding his truck in the parking lot and taking a photo of myself in front of it:
And on the second day, up on a deck in the left field corner:
The third-last game I watched in 2011 was on July 31 at Hadlock Field, home of the Portland Sea Dogs. Before entering the ballpark, my wife took a photo of me out front:
The Sea Dogs are the AA affiliate of the Boston Red Sox, and Hadlock Field is equipped with a mini green monster. During our visit, fans were able to play catch on the field before the game. Here’s me in front of the scoreboard:
And while throwing balls off the wall and catching them:
And pretending to relay them to the imaginary cut-off man. (I can’t lie.)
As always, thanks for reading. If you don’t do so already, check me out on Twitter.
About a month ago, I planned to make the drive to Burlington, VT, to watch the Short-Season A Lake Monsters play a doubleheader at Centennial Field.
In the days leading up to that game, I kept an eye on the weather forecast, which read something like rain-rain-thundershowers-rain-thundershowers-thundershowers-rain.
So, I decided not to risk the long drive … and the doubleheader went off without a hitch.
Fast forward to last week, when I was planning to visit Vermont on August 21. The forecast was eerily similar, but I decided to chance it. Instead of making a solo trip, I went with a good friend I don’t get to see enough. We met bright and early and headed out into the rain, thunder and lightning that was the entire drive to Vermont.
About 30 minutes outside Burlington, the rain let up to a light drizzle, and shortly before we arrived at Centennial Field, the drizzle stopped completely. Perfect!
We got to the park around 11:20 a.m. for the 1 p.m. game, so there were only a handful of cars in the parking lot:
Note that I said it was a 1 p.m. game. But when we got up to the ticket window, there was an ominous message …
… a 6:05 p.m. start? I asked the ticket vendor incredulously, thinking the forecast had bumped the start of the game. Luckily, he said the 6:05 reference was an error. Whew!
With some time to kill before the gates opened, we took a walk toward the left field corner, and made a right turn to get behind the outfield fence to look for balls. Here’s the scene:
But since there was no batting practice because of the rain, there were no balls to be had. I’ve got to think that if BP had been on, the balls would’ve been easy to snag. Nevertheless, we continued the walk with our eyes peeled for balls, and I paused to take my usual ticket shot:
In the background is the Lake Monsters log cabin-themed scoreboard, which is unique looking, despite lacking a little on the information-giving side of things:
After making it to center field, we turned into the area beyond the right field fence where this was the scene:
Back here, there were a few neat things to see. Members of the Vermont side were having a pre-game prayer group:
While the Hudson Valley Renegades took some swings in the cage behind them:
No one paid us any notice, including a staff member who walked by at one point. I scanned the area for balls, and quickly noticed a white blip up against a chain-link fence well beyond the area we were standing in. I went closer and found this:
The markings are mostly rubbed off, but it was an official Northwest League ball. In other words, it was a long way from home. I’m trying to collect a ball from every league I’ve visited, so this was a super-cool find.
So far, I have balls from the:
- Major Leagues
- International League
- Eastern League
- Carolina League
- Midwest League
- South Atlantic League
- New York-Penn League
- Northwest League
With no other balls to find, we walked back toward the left field corner …
… and peeked over the fence to see the Renegades close up:
Actually, it wasn’t the first time we saw the team so close. They were using the adjacent soccer field’s dressing room as their clubhouse, so they walked down the driveway we used to access the field.
There wasn’t much to see when we walked in the other direction from the park’s main gate. A fence blocked off the area, but we were able to look into the concourse:
See the Ford display in the foreground? A minute or so after I took this picture, the employees began packing it up quickly. Hmmm. It appeared they knew something we didn’t, because soon after, the skies opened up again.
Though the scene was grim, it wasn’t all bad; the gate attendants let everyone in early to get a bit of shelter, and even said we could use the handicap area because it was covered. People in Vermont seem pretty friendly.
Over the next hour, the rain fell hard and fell soft, but kept falling continuously. Despite the showers, we wandered around the stadium to note the old, cement general admission section …
… and the wooden seats:
Scenery aside, there wasn’t much else happening here of note:
Eventually, an announcement said the game wouldn’t begin at 1 p.m., but that team officials hoped things would get underway within an hour or so. Around this time, members of the Renegades came out and played catch:
And returned from the batting cage:
Just when things were looking up, more thunder struck, the players retreated and the skies went dark again. Here’s where we took refuge during another downpour:
With the rain still coming down, we moved out into the concourse (staying against the building under the roof’s overhang) and went to the team shop:
I ended up buying a Lake Monsters alternate cap, which has a unique look because of its white front panel:
We also stopped by the team’s silent auction table, where I resisted the urge to bid on an MC Hammer bobblehead:
As the rain let up, we began to hear talk that the game would begin around 1:40 p.m., which wasn’t bad, all things considered. For the next while, we walked around to take in the sights, including a historical plaque:
The Lake Monsters clubhouse, located behind the first base-side bullpen:
And another panoramic view of Centennial Field from atop the stands behind the first base line:
Below is a photo looking down at the home clubhouse. Fans can stand behind the yellow chain and get autographs as the players enter and exit, though there still wasn’t any activity:
So, we took a rather “you shouldn’t be here”-looking path behind the clubhouse …
… to an area called The Cage, which is a bar right behind the batting cage. On our way, we could see piles of cleats in the windows of the clubhouse …
… and the batting cages:
Here’s the bar, such as it is:
In its defense, what it lacks in appearance, it makes up for in location. It’s a neat place to watch the game. In this area, a bunch of Lake Monsters were playing cards and a handful more were playing darts:
FINALLY, the Lake Monsters came out to stretch:
And the bullpen got some life in it. Below is starting pitcher Brent Powers tossing:
The game began around 1:50 p.m., so we made a quick stop at the concession stand and took our seats directly behind home plate, where we had this view:
And equally importantly, here was my view as I devoured a rather good sausage on a bun:
We actually ended up sitting two rows behind Chris Pittaro, the A’s director of pro scouting, who spent a lot of his time firing off emails on his iPhone.
After four innings, we made another stop at the concession stand, bought some Dippin’ Dots and found a relatively dry spot in the bleachers on the first base line.
Is there anything better?
Hudson Valley seemed to be cruising along until Vermont second baseman Michael Fabiaschi blasted a fifth-inning grand slam (his first career pro dinger) to put the Lake Monsters ahead for good. It’s always neat to see a guy’s first home run, and Fabiaschi (#12) was pretty stoked:
Vermont put up a three-spot an inning later to take an 8-3 lead. With the game well in hand, we made our way back to The Cage, which was empty. Before settling in to watch the rest of the game, I made my way behind a chain-link fence into a forest to retrieve a foul ball that’d been hit an inning earlier. It was easy to find and was in near-perfect condition:
We had this view for the last inning or so …
… and watched the Lake Monsters celebrate after their 8-3 win to extend their lead in the Stedler Division:
After the game, we went to the Vermont clubhouse where I got a handful of autographs on a ball. (As usual, I’ll blog about this separately.)
Then, we went around to the picnic area down the third base line to gain access to the field to play some catch. Here’s a shot of the empty ballpark from the field:
After taking this shot, I noticed some pieces of paper affixed to the visitors dugout wall. I asked a grounds crew member if I could go retrieve the official lineup card, and his response was, “Go for it.” Like I said earlier, friendly people in Vermont. Anyway, the lineup was gone; all that remained was stats sheets, which I wasn’t really interested in.
Still, it was a great experience at an interesting, historical-feeling ballpark. We hit the road as soon as our game of catch was done, and drove through rain so hard that we had to pull off the road at one point. I’m just glad the rain held off long enough for nine innings.