Wilmington Blue Rocks – May 23

There’s no doubt I was pumped about my entire road trip, but I was secretly (well, I suppose it’s not a secret any more) especially looking forward to May 23. This day would include games in Wilmington and Frederick, and each visit would include a half-inning on the respective home teams’ radio broadcasts, talking about TheBallparkGuide.com. Plus, in Frederick, I couldn’t wait to meet Jeremy Nowak, who you’ll probably know if you’ve followed this blog for a while. That said, I got on the road very early on the morning of May 23 and drove southwest from Trenton to Wilmington. As I left New Jersey and crossed into Delaware, I got to drive over the enormous Delaware Memorial Bridge, which is more than three miles long:

The game between the Wilmington Blue Rocks and Potomac Nationals (who I saw last year at G. Richard Pfitzner Stadium) was scheduled for 11:05 a.m., and I pulled in to Frawley Stadium just before 9 a.m. As you might expect, the ballpark’s lot was mostly empty and there weren’t many people around. (I even beat a few of the Blue Rocks players to the park!) I took the opportunity to photograph the front of the park …

… and also shoot some photos to turn into this panorama:

The Blue Rocks were awesome to deal with prior to my visit, and were leaving a media pass for me at the will call window. Unfortunately, I was so early that the window wasn’t open yet …

… so I decided to use the time to walk around and document the park’s surroundings. One of the neat things to see is a statue of former Negro league star Judy Johnson, who spent the latter portion of his life in Wilmington:

The pavilion in front of the park also has plaques honoring Wilmington’s Vic Willis, a hall of fame pitcher, and Bill McGowan, a hall of fame umpire. I set out to take a walk around the outside of Frawley Stadium, heading to the left of the front pavilion …

… and down the side of the ballpark …

… until I got to an opening in the left field corner where I could see the tarp-covered field:

With no batting practice, I didn’t expect to find any balls behind the outfield fence, but scoured the area anyway. The area looked like this:

I even got right under the scoreboard and aimed my camera up to take this neat shot:

Eventually, I got to the first base line, where there was another spot from which the field was visible:

To the right of the main pavilion, sits the Delaware Sports Museum and Hall of Fame, which was closed, unfortunately:

The pavilion in front of the park is very picturesque. You can tell the stadium crew puts a lot of care into maintenance, and the vast flower gardens are a testament to that:

After I finished the circuit, I looked up at perhaps the grayest sky in history. This photo isn’t an error — it’s actually a shot of the sky above the park:

Fortunately, it never did rain during the game, and it actually turned into a hot, sunny day. The ticket office still wasn’t open, and while I could’ve gone into the team’s office and asked to pick up my media pass, I wasn’t in a huge rush. I climbed the long ramp up to the concourse level …

… where I could see that the tarp was still on the field:

After a while, the will call window opened and I received my pass and went into the park. I took the elevator up to the concourse, and during my ride, had a little chuckle at this sign, which is posted inside the elevator:

Ha! As you can see from the panorama below, by the time I’d entered the park, the team’s staff had just finished removing the tarp:

I was supposed to meet Jeff O’Connor, the team’s assistant director of broadcasting/media relations, who would introduce me to Joe Valenti, the team’s director of marking. Joe would give me a tour when he had a few moments, so I kept my fingers crossed. While I waited for Jeff, I took a short walk around the concourse. Like the other games on my trip, I got in early enough that there wasn’t much going on. The Blue Rocks players were hanging out around the dugout:

And the seating bowl was very quiet:

The Blue Rocks, who are associated with the Kansas City Royals, have had a number of MLBers come through over the years, including Zack Greinke:

Still killing time, I went down to field level and took this shot, looking up at the press box and suite level:

By now, most of the Blue Rocks were out. Check out their high socks in the photo below:

Another neat thing to note is that while they were wearing their Wilmington batting practice caps before the game, they actually switched into their Kansas City Royals caps for the game. Is this the norm? I’ve never seen an MiLB team wear an MLB cap.

While I’d yet to get my tour of Frawley Stadium, I could already tell this was an impressive facility. Not only was it immaculate outside and in, it included a number of unique features that I hadn’t seen elsewhere, including HD TVs listing the items on the concession menu:

Right after I took the above photo, I met up with Jeff who took me deep into the heart of the ballpark and introduced me to Joe, who was just starting to give a tour to three high school students from Philadelphia, who were doing a project on the Minor League Baseball experience. The tour was absolutely amazing. It included several stops that most fans will never get to see, although I’m excited to share them with you here. Our first stop was one of the storage rooms under the concourse. This room included a ton of items the team uses for promotions …

… signed photos of several celebrities who’ve visited the stadium over the years …

… and the costumes for Rocky, the team’s mascot:

From there, our tour headed to the home team’s clubhouse area, where I snapped a quick shot of the players’ bats:

Then we went under the stands, directly behind home plate. This area isn’t fancy, but go through the opening in the center of the photo, and you’re on the field right behind home plate:

I believe this is the door the umpires use, and it’s also used by the promotions staff. Once we went through the door, we walked onto the field. That’s Joe in the lead and one of the high school students right behind him:

Here’s what the field looked like from here:

The home dugout:

When we were standing here, Blue Rocks manager Vance Wilson came by and shook our hands and welcomed us to the ballpark. I wish I’d gotten a photo with him, but if you know baseball, you’ll probably know Wilson’s name. He played eight years in the Major Leagues with the Mets and Tigers. After being on the field, we went back under the stands and saw the indoor batting cages, which were doubling as a meeting spot for the team’s gameday staff:

We continued down this path …

… until we ended up in the umpires’ room. Incredible! Their little room is small, and one wall is lined with lockers where their gear hangs:

On a table in the center of the room, there was a box containing some rubbed-up official Carolina League balls:

And in the middle locker stall, there was a jar of Lena Blackburne Rubbing Mud, which is the mystery mud used throughout professional baseball:

The mud also comes from the area, I believe. The company doesn’t reveal the exact location, but does say the mud is from a bank of a tributary of the Delaware River. Visiting the umpires’ room was a definite highlight. When I took a tour of Baltimore’s Camden Yards last summer, I saw the umpires’ room from the outside, but this was the first time I’ve ever actually been in one.

After touring the lower level of the ballpark, we climbed up to the suite level, and went into the main suite, where I took this panorama:

The tour just flew by, and after a while, Joe needed to get back to his pre-game duties. I really appreciate how accommodating Jeff, Joe and the Blue Rocks were. Thanks, everyone!

Left to my own devices, I set off to look around the park a little more. There was still a chunk of time until the game was set to begin, so I had plenty of time to explore. I decided to climb to the top of the general admission bleachers on the third base side to take this panorama:

Eventually, the Potomac Nationals, who’d been out stretching earlier, returned to the field and I caught this cute picture of Rick Hague and Randolph Oduber signing autographs:

I was scheduled to join Jeff on the team’s radio broadcast for the top of the third inning, so I decided to cool my jets for the first couple innings and just watch the game. I found a spot behind home plate with this view and chilled until it was time to head to the press box. Although the protective netting is an obstacle to good photos, I thought this one of Wilmington’s Guelin Beltre attempting a bunt turned out well:

Just before I was due in the radio booth, I went up to the press box where I snapped a photo of a picture of Johnny Damon, who’s perhaps the most famous Blue Rock of all:

The interview with Jeff went well. It’s always a little nerve-wracking, but it was fun to talk about my website with Jeff, who was really easy to talk to. The half-inning just flew by, and after it wrapped up, we got our photo taken:

Jeff also surprised me with a voucher to have lunch compliments of the team, so I scouted out something that looked delicious, and found this menu:

I settled on the Rocky’s Crab Burger, which was a burger topped with crab meat and Old Bay seasoning. The photo below isn’t the most exciting, but the burger was tasty and definitely something I’d order again:

Remember Joe, who gave me the pre-game tour? Before long, he was out on the field, leading one of the between-inning games:

Once I’d finished eating, I moved a little closer to the field and started taking some action shots. Here’s Potomac starter Matthew Grace, who took the loss:

Wilmington starter Tyler Sample, who picked up his first win of the season:

The visitors’ dugout:

Blue Rocks reliever Jon Keck, who got the hold and was promoted the following day to AA Arkansas:

Remember how I mentioned that the Blue Rocks were wearing Royals caps? Here’s the proof:

P-Nats cleanup hitter Justin Bloxom, who struck out on this pitch:

And, finally, one of the best action shots I’ve taken since I began traveling for TheBallparkGuide.com. It’s center fielder Michael Taylor, who played with Class-A Hagerstown last season:

Soon enough, there was a close play on the field that got reversed after an umpire discussion. You’ve got to love call reversals, because the team that gets burned usually loses it, and that’s exactly what happened. Potomac’s Adrian Sanchez was initially called safe on a close play at first, which brought Wilson out to contest the play:

And after the umpires had a short conference, Sanchez was called out, which ticked him off …

… and brought P-Nats manager Brian Rupp out to complain:

The atmosphere may have been tense, but it was quickly lightened up when Goofy made an appearance:

The play didn’t end up affecting the game either way. Wilmington scored a run in the fourth and added two insurance runs in the eighth to win 3-0. The second the game wrapped up, I dashed out of Frawley Stadium, jumped in my sauna-like car and punched Frederick’s Harry Grove Stadium into my GPS.

5 comments

  1. Malcolm - TheBallparkGuide

    Mike: As I’m sure you’ve seen, a lot of ex-WWF entertainers make the rounds at Minor League ballparks each summer. It was funny to see the different autographs!
    Matt: The weather wasn’t great overall, but I only missed out on the Lakewood game, thankfully.

  2. Matt P

    Great entry! Thats my son getting Ricks autograph., nice photo! I love Frawley, its our second home during the season. neat to see the behind the scenes stuff that i’ve never seen. I must also comment on Vance Wilson. my son luke got to be the”mini manager” and play ball kid that day. (pure luck!!)Anyway, after he went up to home plate for the lineup card with him, while luke was waiting to do play ball Vance came back to the dugout where I was tanding in front of, asked if I was lukes father, introduced himself, told me how great his personality was then proceeded to have a couple minute conversation about baseball with me.Right before he was about to manage a game! Super nice guy! I wish him all the best and hope he rises through the ranks soon.

  3. Malcolm - TheBallparkGuide

    Matt P: Great story about Vance! I definitely got a good impression of him, too. That’s awesome that he chatted with you right before the game. He was really friendly with us for a few moments, too. If you’d like a copy of the photo of your son emailed to you, send me an email at malcolm@theballparkguide.com and I’ll fire the full-size version your way.
    Thanks for reading.
    – Malcolm

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