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 as part of my latest baseball road trip for The Ballpark Guide. 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.