What a day!
You know those days that are long but full of general awesomeness? Well, May 21 was one of those days. From a beautiful ballpark to delicious food to a phenomenal hotel, this day had a little of everything.
It did, however, start early. After watching an Akron Aeros game the night before and staying close to Akron, I was up by 6 a.m. and on the road by 7 a.m. The Columbus Clippers were playing a 10:35 a.m. game, which teams occasionally do in May and June to cater to school trips. I made the couple-hour drive to Columbus and found parking a couple blocks from Huntington Park. This isn’t a park I knew a lot about before my visit. Sometimes, I’ll have read so much about a given park that it seems completely familiar during my visit, but other times, it’s a whole new experience.
The outside of Huntington Park is eye catching. Although it opened in 2009, it has a real retro feel. See this view from the sidewalk? It’s cool to be able to see through to the field:
I took my usual giant lap of the park and took in the sights. One particularly neat thing I noticed was a statue and a series of plaques honoring past Columbus teams. Minor league baseball in the city dates back to 1902, and as someone who’s interested in the history of the game, it was cool to see the Clippers giving a nod to those who came before them:
Once again, I was fortunate to get a media pass for this game, which meant I could get into the park early. (Thanks to Joe Santry for hooking me up.) Except for staff, who were bustling around in anticipation of the busloads of school kids in the parking lot, Huntington Park was quiet and I took the opportunity to explore. I immediately went up to the suite and pressbox level and followed the walkway out toward the right field corner. Look at the view from here:
This area to the right side of this photo is comprised of two levels of bar-style seating and I knew I’d want to spend some time here during the game. Next up was the open area behind the loge seats on the suite level. There were two concession stands and an enormous bar:
And speaking of the loge seats, I love the way the Clippers have this part of their park designed. If you check out the following photo, you’ll see several levels of bar seats — with rolling office-style chairs, no less! It’s a nice reprieve from standard stadium seating:
The park was still largely empty, so I went down to the main concourse and wandered out toward the outfield. You can’t walk the entire way around Huntington Park’s field, but you can go around most of it; there’s an enormous open area in left-center and the team shop is also located here. One of the coolest spots I saw was the lawn seating, which is always a neat addition to any ballpark:
And the picnic tables give the park a real laid-back feel:
Columbus was hosting the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders, and when a couple RailRiders pitchers came out to throw bullpen sessions, I went down to field level to watch. Here’s sidearmer Cody Eppley tossing. It was neat to watch a guy with such a crazy delivery from just a few feet away:
Once Eppley wrapped up his session and the rest of the players came out to start tossing, I went back to the multi-level deck over right field to watch the action. The top level of the deck was completely empty. From here, I had a great view of the entire park, including this pavilion behind left-center:
As you can see, there are two levels of seating in the tower and concession stands and the team shop at the ground level. But don’t worry — I’d soon explore this area. From where I stood, Columbus right fielder Jeremy Hermida was right below me, and it was interesting to watch him. You know how you’re always taught to shift a few feet for righties versus lefties? Hermida didn’t change his position for anyone. I could tell, as he was standing on an L-shaped sod patch. Interesting. Anyway, here’s Hermida:
From here, I could smell the delicious smoke wafting from the nearby City Barbeque stand, and knew I had to pay it a visit. The day’s promotion was “Buck-a-Bone” — $1 per rib bone, and while I’m not the hugest fan of ribs, I wanted to give these a shot. I grabbed three and they were absolutely delicious:
A few minutes after eating, an usher apologetically told me that I had to leave. Apparently, the top deck of the structure belongs to the group that rents out the party area on the same level. The lower deck, however, is open to all fans. I didn’t realize this at the time — I thought it was just sparsely inhabited up here.
See this photo, which I took a few innings later?
I was standing on the far left, directly below the 328 sign. The group that complained about me had gathered out of the picture on the right. I can’t imagine I was causing them much heartache, but I suppose rules are rules. I know the group was from Nationwide — apparently, Nationwide is not on my side.
Undeterred, I went to the loge area and grabbed a comfy seat with this view:
This view here was outstanding, but also responsible for my first major sun burn of the year. Boy, was it hot! I paid special attention to RailRiders shortstop Addison Maruszak. His wife, Breanna, writes an interesting blog called Married to Baseball and we follow each on Twitter. I’m not sure if she happened to be at this game, but it was neat to finally see a player I’ve read a lot about. Here’s an action shot of Addison:
Once I’d watched a few innings from the loge area, I found an empty front-row seat behind the third base dugout so I could take photos without being obstructed by the netting. I’m pretty pleased with this one of Ezequiel Carrera. Whenever I can get the player in sharp focus and the ball in the frame, I’m happy:
The view from here was great. Here’s Zoilo Almonte swiping second base:
Recognize this guy?
Yep, it’s Chien-Ming Wang, who had back-to-back 19-win seasons for the Yankees in 2006 and 2007. More recently, I saw him play in Hagerstown back in 2011 — that was the same day I met Bryce Harper.
I spent the rest of the game with this awesome vantage point and took a ton of action shots. The game was exciting. Despite being deadlocked at no score through five innings, the Clippers had a big second half and won 5-1. The teams combined for 23 hits and the Clippers pitchers, led by starter Carlos Carrasco, struck out 11 SWB batters.
Although it’s always a little disappointing leaving the park after a game, I was pumped to check out my hotel. In Columbus, I was staying at the Hilton Columbus Downtown, which looked awesome online. I could quickly tell upon arriving that this was one of the best hotels I’ve ever visited. The staff I encountered in the parking area and lobby were exceedingly friendly, and when I reached my 11th floor room, I was blown away. The first thing I noticed was a gift bag with my name on it and a Hilton flash drive for me:
And while I was tempted check it out right away, I couldn’t resist exploring the room. I had a suite and it was enormous. (I always compare suite sizes to my first apartment, and this one was way bigger!) There was an enormous living room with a huge TV:
A kitchen area and a giant bedroom:
The photos hardly do the room justice; if you want to see even better shots, check out the hotel’s website. Anyway, the bathroom was giant as well, and had an amazing shower:
By the way, this is the first hotel I’ve visited that had TWO bathrooms — I didn’t even notice the second for a few minutes. After I’d taken everything in, and peeked out the windows to look directly out at the sprawling Greater Columbus Convention Center …
… I inspected the gift bag. There was a nice card welcoming me to town:
And some baseball-themed snacks! How awesome is this?
The snacks were awesome, but I was blown away by what was at the bottom of the bag. The Hilton knew that I was in town for baseball, and gave me a Homage T-shirt featuring the old-school Clippers logo. Wow! I tweeted the photo out a few days ago, and you can check out what it looks like here. I didn’t realize it, but Homage is from Columbus. Their T-shirts are awesome.
But back to the hotel — what a great experience! The next time I’m in Columbus, this is definitely where I’ll stay. This was one of those stays in which every element exceeded my expectations. When you’re planning your own baseball road trip — or planning to visit Columbus for any other reason — this is the hotel to pick. It’s three minutes from Huntington Park and is in the heart of the city. Shortly before dinner, I took an hour-long walk around the hotel to take in the sights. The hotel is practically next to Nationwide Arena, home of the NHL’s Blue Jackets, which was neat to check out. The whole area around the hotel and arena is trendy and fun — lots of restaurants, patios and even a brewery. If you like getting to your hotel quickly after the game, parking your car and discovering the surrounding area on foot, the Hilton Columbus Downtown is for you.
I didn’t end up eating at any of the nearby restaurants. Instead, I returned to my hotel after my walk, had a swim in the indoor pool and then ordered some room service, which was delicious. One more neat thing about the hotel — the hallways on each floor are open, so you can see down to the upscale restaurant on the second floor. It was a neat view, and I couldn’t resist taking a photo:
What a perfect day!