Tagged: Aberdeen IronBirds

Second Annual Top 10 Ballpark Food I’ve Eaten

In February 2012, I wrote a blog post counting down the 10 best things I’d eaten on my travels in 2010 and 2011. I thought it’d be fun to do, but had no idea of the response I’d get. It’s been one of my top three most-read blog posts to date and my ballpark eating exploits even got mentioned in the Dallas Observer! In honor of Opening Day 2013, it’s time to reveal what things I ate in 2012 were good enough to crack the top 10 list.

As with last year’s list, I’m only considering things I’ve personally eaten and this is an overall list, not just a list of 2012 food. Grab your Rolaids and get ready for your stomach to start growling; you might need to grab a bite after seeing this list. In the list below, you’ll see the name of the item, the park at which I bought it and the team that calls the park home. The number in brackets is last year’s ranking; as you might guess, an “NR” note means it’s new to this list.

** When I released this list, I said I’d post an honorable mention item if I reached 200 followers on Twitter. You responded, so here’s the item, as promised. Thanks for all the follows and for all those who retweeted my message about getting to 200 followers! **

Honorable mention: Curverogie – Peoples Natural Gas Field – Altoona Curve (NR)

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I’ve had a number of different types of sandwiches on my ballpark travels, but Altoona’s Curverogie is certainly one that stands out. Introduced to the menu in 2012, it features ham, onions, cheese and an enormous pierogi. As you can see, it was absolutely loaded with ham, and complemented with a nice, crusty roll, it was delicious. It doesn’t quite crack the top 10 because the pierogi was sort of lost among the strong tastes of the ham and onions, but this is still a sandwich I’d buy again and again.

10. Old Bay pretzel – Prince George’s Stadium – Bowie Baysox (6)

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Although I ate this pretzel way back in 2011, it’s still the best pretzel I’ve ever eaten. A reader of this blog told me that Bowie didn’t sell the Old Bay pretzel in 2012. I haven’t confirmed that, but if so, it’s too bad. If you like a tangy combination of Old Bay, two types of cheese and pretzel dough, this is a real treat.

9. Shopsy’s Bill Cosby Triple Decker – Rogers Centre – Toronto Blue Jays (4)

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Rye bread, corned beef, smoked meat, sauerkraut, cheese and mustard. Mmmm. I tried this enormous sandwich in 2011 and loved it … and then had it again this summer and it was bad enough to slide down five spots on my list. The 2012 version of the sandwich was largely cold, which really didn’t work well. It’s expensive enough that it’s got to be tasty to order, and the verdict is out as to whether I’ll try it again.

8. Clam chowder – Northeast Delta Dental Stadium / LeLacheur Park  – N.H. Fisher Cats / Lowell Spinners (8/NR)

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We’ve got a tie in the eighth spot on this list! I really enjoyed the clam chowder I had in New Hampshire in 2011, and I’m including the bowl I enjoyed in 2012 in Lowell as a split entry, given that they tasted exactly the same. I had a cold during my visit to Lowell, so the piping hot soup was a welcome relief on my throat. You’ll see above that I had oyster crackers on my soup in New Hampshire, but didn’t bother in Lowell. Still, a really tasty soup for a chilly evening at the park. (Odd how I was sitting in virtually the same spot in both parks, huh?)

7. Steak and cheese sandwich – Fenway Park – Boston Red Sox (NR)

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I love red meat, so I’ve had steak and cheese sandwiches at a number of parks. This one was made to order, just like at Subway, which was a nice touch. The bun was soft and doughy, the steak was surprisingly fresh and the addition of hot sauce made this sandwich jump. And, hey, the scenery made this sandwich taste even better.

6. Chickie’s & Pete’s crab fries – Arm & Hammer Park – Trenton Thunder (NR)

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Here’s an item that has grown on me since my visit to Trenton last May. I’ll admit I didn’t know what crab fries were, and when I realized they didn’t have anything to do with crab, I was slightly disappointed. But as far as fries go, they were delicious — just the right texture (not bony but not too soft) and the Old Bay was a nice addition. The warmed white cheddar sauce served with them was perfect for dipping, and the portion size was huge, too.

5. Boog’s BBQ turkey sandwich – Oriole Park at Camden Yards – Baltimore Orioles (4)

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As I said above, I’m a big red meat fan, but the turkey sandwich I had in B’More in 2011 was outstanding. And meeting 1970 AL MVP Boog Powell at his concession stand was an added bonus. A word to the wise — the horseradish is molten hot. Go easy.

4. Red Osier prime rib sandwich – Frontier Field – Rochester Red Wings (NR)

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The highest-debuting entry on this year’s edition of the list, the Red Osier prime rib sandwich in Rochester was amazing. I’ll concede that the photo isn’t overly great; I snapped it fast because I wanted to get eating. The prime rib was the best I’ve eaten outside of a steak house and far better than Quiznos prime rib, for reasons of comparison. I’m definitely hitting Red Osier when I visit Rochester again. Thanks to a few readers of this blog who told me to check this item out — you were absolutely right!

3. Quaker Steak & Lube chicken wings – Rogers Centre – Toronto Blue Jays (3)

rogers-centre-quaker-steak-lube-chicken-wings

Unlike my second experience with the Shopsy’s Bill Cosby Triple Decker, I ate the Quaker Steak & Lube chicken wings again at Rogers Centre this past fall and they were just as good as ever. Hot, meaty and flavorful. There’s nothing else to want in a chicken wing. I went to an actual Quaker Steak & Lube restaurant in Cleveland in 2011 and I’m happy to report the quality of the ballpark wings isn’t any less than at the restaurant.

2. Buffalo chicken macaroni and cheese – Frontier Field – Rochester Red Wings (2)

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The buffalo mac and cheese at Frontier Field was the first thing I ate since starting The Ballpark Guide in 2010, and it remains the second-best thing I’ve eaten. Nearly three years after eating it, I still consider is the best mac and cheese I’ve ever eaten and will have a hard time saying no to it when I’m in Rochester this year.

1. Bo Brooks crab cake sandwich – Ripken Stadium – Aberdeen IronBirds (1)

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The crab cake sandwich in Aberdeen hangs onto the championship belt for another year. As I wrote last year, it’s the type of sandwich you could eat every inning. The crab tasted fresh and didn’t have that gross seafood odor. The tomato and lettuce were a nice touch, the bun was tasty and the Old Bay (which seems to be prevalent on this list) just topped everything off. I wonder if 2013 will finally be the year I find something better at the ballpark.

As always, please give me a follow on Twitter and visit The Ballpark Guide for comprehensive guides to Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball parks. Your visits support my baseball road trips!

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Jeremy Nowak Baseball Card Collection

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you’ll likely recall the awesome adventure I had with Baltimore Orioles prospect Jeremy Nowak. If not, take a couple minutes to read part one and part two of the story. I’m confident that you’ll agree it’s one of the feel-good baseball stories of 2012. I’m anxious to see where Jeremy gets assigned to start the season and after a very impressive 2013 campaign in High-A Frederick, I’ll enjoy following his career again this season.

I’ve collected baseball cards on and off since the late 1980s, and when I learned last fall that Jeremy was featured on a number of cards in the 2012 Bowman Chrome set, I knew I had to collect as many as I could. It’s been fun to add a bunch of his cards to my collection over the last few months, and while I’m always scouring eBay for new additions, I thought I’d share the cards I have now.

Here we go:

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On the left we have Jeremy’s base card, which you’ll notice reads “1st Bowman Chrome Card,” as it’s his first appearance in any official (rather than issued by a team) baseball card set. On the right is the Refractor version of the card, which is Topps’ fancy way of saying it’s shiny. If you look at the two cards together, you’ll notice that the base card has a white border and the Refractor has a metallic border. It also shimmers in the light when you tilt it.

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Next up, and pictured above, are the Xfractor and Blue Wave Refractor on the left and right, respectively. The Xfractor, you’ll see, is metallic like the Refractor, but is made up of squares, which didn’t really come through in the scan. The Blue Wave Refractor looks awesome when you move it in the light. As I understand it, this card wasn’t available in packs — you had to send your package wrappers in to Topps, which would then send you packs of Blue Wave Refractors.

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The above two cards are pretty cool and one is serial numbered. Experienced collectors will know what this means, but if you’re new to the collecting game, it means each card has a unique number stamped on it. On the left, the Green Refractor isn’t numbered, but it’s a fairly rare pull. On the left, the Blue Refractor is numbered 86/250, which means that Topps only produced 250 of this card and mine is number 86.

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The final two cards are the rarest of Jeremy’s cards that I have so far. As you might guess, the Purple Refractor is the one on the left. It’s numbered 97/199, which means that it’s rarer than the Blue Refractor. And finally, on the right, you’ll see Jeremy’s short-print variation. Each card in the 2012 Bowman Chrome set has a short print, or SP. These cards aren’t numbered but the rumor is that only about 75 of each exist, making them extremely rare. As you’ll see, the photo is of Jeremy in the Orioles home uniform, which is doctored, unfortunately. The other cards feature him in Baltimore’s Spring Training uniform, but unless I’m mistaken, the SP card is Photoshopped.

There are still a handful of Jeremy’s cards in the set, including cards numbered out of 50, 25 and even 5! I recently bought one numbered out of 50 on eBay, but the seller had to refund me because he lost the card. Here’s hoping he tracks it down. Rarer cards that I’ll likely never encounter are the four printing plates used to make the card (each numbered out of 1) and the Superfractor, which is numbered out of 1, too. The Superfractor sold several months back in the neighborhood of $165, and because many collectors are obsessed with hanging onto Superfractors, I don’t know when it’ll hit the market again.

For good measure, he’s the back of Jeremy’s card:

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Even though the fronts are all different, the backs are basically the same. The back was neat to read; I had no idea about his 35-game hitting streak in college, for example. Finally, I can’t resist adding that if you check out his 2011 home run totals toward the bottom of the card, one of those five long balls is the one I retrieved!

UPDATE: June 9, 2013

I’ve added a really cool card to this collection and while it looks virtually the same as another one, this one’s extra special:

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This is another Blue Refractor numbered out of 250. The neat thing with this one is it’s numbered 11/250, as you can see here:

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The significance of this number is this is the uniform number Jeremy wore in 2012 with the Frederick Keys. Collectors go nuts for numbered cards that feature a player’s uniform number, and I’m no different. I’m pumped to add this one to the collection!

UPDATE: February 6, 2015

Over the last several months, I’ve managed to add three more cards to my collection, and each one is rarer than the last. Let’s start with this one:

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This is the gold variation, numbered out of 50. For those keeping score, this means there are only 50 of these gold versions floating around out there. Mine is #14/50, and although it’s a great addition to my collection, it’s not nearly as rare as this next one:

jeremy-nowak-bowman-chrome-red

I never thought I’d have a shot at the red variation, of which only five copies exist in the world. But, here it is in my collection. Mine is #5/5, and I think the red looks awesome. The back is basically the same as every other of Jeremy’s cards, but you’ll notice the numbering on the upper left:

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Drum roll, please.

This next card is the crown jewel of the collection. It’s the black printing plate that was actually used to produce all of Jeremy’s cards in this set. Bowman released all four printing plates — cyan, magenta, yellow and black — used on the printing press itself, and I managed to score this one. Because it’s a printing plate, it’s actually made of metal. And, because of the way printing technology works, the image is completely reversed:

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On the rear of the card, you’ll see the sticker that proves there’s only one black printing plate in the world:

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The Ultimate Souvenir and a Pro’s Best Christmas

Traveling to dozens of professional ballparks for my website, TheBallparkGuide.com, has yielded some pretty amazing experiences over the past two summers. This is a story about my best ballpark souvenir ever and how it led to a pro ball player’s best Christmas.

Last summer, in the midst of a 12-day, 13-game road trip, I visited Arthur W. Perdue Stadium to watch the South Atlantic League’s Delmarva Shorebirds play the Greensboro Grasshoppers.

In the second inning, as I sat on the third base side, Delmarva Shorebirds left fielder Jeremy Nowak stepped to the plate and dug in against Greensboro starter Rett Varner. Varner had already struck out two Shorebirds in the game, but Nowak jumped on the pitch and launched it over the fence in left-center field.

During pre-game batting practice, I’d managed to snag 12 balls behind the outfield fence. As I watched Nowak’s shot disappear over the fence, I wondered if another fan or a team employee would go retrieve the ball. Or, perhaps, would the ball be sitting on the grass undisturbed?

This question lingered in my mind as I watched the game unfold, and at the end of the eighth inning, I decided to duck out early and see if the ball was still there.

I quickly made my way out the gate, along the fence down the first base line and eventually behind the outfield fence. When I got to the area that I figured Nowak’s ball must’ve landed, it stood out easily:

My first home run ball!

When I got back to my hotel, I checked the box score to see how the game ended. It turns out that Delmarva lost 2-1; Nowak’s home run was the only run the Shorebirds scored. I also took a look at Nowak’s stats to learn a bit about him. A 13th round pick of the Baltimore Orioles in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft out of Mount Olive College, he spent 2010 with the Short-Season A Aberdeen IronBirds. He began the 2011 season in Aberdeen, too, but after collecting eight hits, two home runs and six RBIs in his first eight games, Nowak earned a promotion to Delmarva. I also saw that he hadn’t had any South Atlantic League home runs before the one I saw. All this is a long way of saying the home run ball sitting in my backpack was Nowak’s first at the South Atlantic League level.

I weighed my options. Part of me wanted to give the ball back to him, but another part of me was pumped to have my first home run ball. I finally decided it would mean more to him than to me, so I sent these Tweets to the team around 11 p.m. that night:

I was driving to Baltimore the next morning, but I wondered if I could leave the ball at Perdue Stadium’s ticket office for Nowak to pick up. Ideally, I would’ve loved to meet him to hand over the ball, too. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a response.

Fast forward to the middle of December, when I received an email from Alicia, who is Nowak’s girlfriend.

My boyfriend Jeremy Nowak recently showed me your Ballpark Guide website. Jeremy plays outfield for the Delmarva Shorebirds. You visited his stadium back in June and wrote an article about your experience on your website. Jeremy said that he randomly stumbled upon your blog one day when he was fooling around on the computer and googling his name. He was so shocked to get to the end of the article and to see that you found his home run ball! He told me that he would love to have the ball.

As soon as Jeremy said that, I knew that I wanted to try to get the ball back for him because I know it would mean so much to him. I just bought a beautiful case to hold and display the ball and I plan on getting it engraved. 

I would LOVE to give the ball back to him for a very special Christmas gift! If you could please contact me and let me know what you think, I would *really* appreciate it! Thank you so much for your time!

Wow! Nearly six months after I got the ball and tried to get it back to Nowak, (who I’ll call Jeremy from now on) here was another opportunity. I emailed back and forth with Alicia and arranged to send her the ball, as well as email her some photos I’d taken of Jeremy that she wanted to use for a collage. Before packing the ball up, I took a few last photos of it …

… and then put the ball in the mail the next day and kept my fingers crossed it would arrive before Christmas.

On Dec. 22, I heard back from Alicia:

The ball came in today!! I’m so happy it came in on time!! I put the pictures you sent me in a cute frame and then I put the article you wrote in a nice binder. Have a great holiday! I will talk to you soon. Thank you again for everything!

I have to admit that over the holidays, I thought about how Jeremy might like the ball on Christmas Day, and looked forward to hearing all about it. Alicia also said she’d send some photos of Jeremy with the ball to use on my blog.

On Jan. 4, Alicia emailed me:

Jeremy literally described this Christmas by saying, “This is the best Christmas I have ever had!” The whole thing went awesome!! I gave him a few other Christmas gifts I bought for him then I pretended that I was done with his gifts, so he gave me my gifts. When I was done opening mine, I acted like our gift exchange was over.

About two or three minutes later, I was like “Oh, Jeremy, I almost forgot … I have one more gift for you!” He was so confused! I tied a scarf around his eyes and made him sit on the ground. I placed the ball (which was in the case with the engraved plate) on the coffee table.I turned him toward the coffee table and took the scarf off his eyes. He looked at the ball, read the plate, and was like “Oh my god! It’s my ball!! How did you get it?! This is so awesome!”

He just kept looking at the ball and at me in a state of amazement! After that, I told him that I had another surprise for him. I put your article in this binder and added a cute little note in the beginning and end of it. He absolutely loved it!! 

The article in the binder worked out great because later in the evening when he went to show everything to his family and friends, he showed them the article first and then the ball … which made the story really great! 

After he looked through the binder, I told him that I had one last surprise for him! He was like “Alicia, are you serious?!” I made him this frame with the pictures that you sent me, the box score, and this cute motivational quote that he loves. Jeremy was so surprised and happy! He was like, “Does anyone in my family know you did this?” I was like,“No, I kept it a total secret!”He literally could not wait to get home and show everyone because his family and friends already knew the story about your article.  It was seriously such an amazing Christmas!

This Christmas was honestly my favorite Christmas too! It was great to give Jeremy such a special gift and to see his reaction toward it. I cannot thank you enough Malcolm!! This Christmas was honestly perfect! THANK YOU SO MUCH AGAIN!!
Amazing! Alicia provided plenty of photographic proof of Jeremy with the ball:

In the photo above, you can see the case Alicia bought and had engraved. Here’s a close-up:

Alicia included a photo of Jeremy with the display she’d made, which included a few of my photos:

One with Jeremy and the binder that included my blog entry about the whole adventure:

And finally, one of Jeremy and Alicia — with the ball, of course:

A couple days later, Alicia told me that she and Jeremy had put a thank you package in the mail for me, so I anxiously awaited it. When it arrived a week later, it felt like another Christmas morning for me. I carefully opened the envelope and inside, I found four things:

A thank you note from Jeremy:

A signed rookie card featuring Jeremy with the IronBirds:

A Tim Hortons gift card:

And a photo of Jeremy crossing home plate after he’d hit the home run. Somehow, Alicia had tracked down the photo from another fan who was in attendance that day. (She later put the photo in the blank spot on the collage.)

Strangely enough, I’m actually in the background of the photo above. See the guy with the yellow shirt and black cap who’s sitting alone in the top row of the section with the green seats? That’s me.

I have to say, this whole experience was extremely rewarding for me. It’s obviously amazing to get the generous package from Alicia and Jeremy, but it feels amazing to see that Jeremy was so excited about getting the ball back. As much as Alicia and Alicia have thanked me, I thank them equally for allowing me to be a part of such a great experience. Obviously, I’m excited to follow Jeremy’s career and hopefully see him in action again soon!

A full guide to Arthur W. Perdue Stadium is available on my website, as are guides to 15 other parks I’ve visited. Your visits and clicks help pay for my travels!

For more travel adventures, please bookmark this blog and follow me on Twitter.

Topps Pro Debut Cards

I’ve collected baseball cards for a good chunk of my life and while it’s somewhat tempting to share a bunch of my best cards here, I don’t want this to turn into a baseball card blog.

I can, however, show a few cards from the 2011 Topps Pro Debut set that I picked up last summer in the team shop at Ripken Stadium, home of the Short Season A Aberdeen IronBirds. How cool is it that a ballpark’s shop sells Minor League Baseball cards? I’ve seen some MLB parks sell waaaay overpriced cards, but I think it’s awesome that Aberdeen sells cards that are geared to the Minors.

Imagine sitting at a ballpark on a summer night, watching a game, eating some amazing seafood and opening a few packs of cards. It’s all part of the experience in Aberdeen.

In four packs, I pulled two autographed cards, which means I did pretty well.

I got a standard Solo Signatures card of Yankees first rounder Slade Heathcott, who is depicted as a member of the Charleston RiverDogs:

And I got a cut autograph of Washington Nationals second round pick Destin Hood, depicted with the Hagerstown Suns. The cut autograph is from one of his Aflac All-American baseball cards:

In his young career, 21-year-old Hood has played with three teams I’ve seen in action: the Vermont Lake Monsters, Hagerstown Suns and Potomac Nationals. Hood wasn’t in the lineup when I saw Potomac play on July 1, but he was on the cover of the gameday program I picked up.

Does anyone know of any other MiLB parks that sell Minor League cards? (Other than standard teams sets.)

Game Programs

I’m a huge fan of taking in the entire ballpark experience every time I watch a game. For me, this typically means trying to snag a foul ball, getting a handful of autographs and eating some unique food. It also includes grabbing a game program and checking out what it has to offer. My stipulation, however, is that I rarely get programs if you have to pay for them. I’m not big on paying for something I’ll likely only flip through once, and if I buy one, I’m less likely to want to throw it out later.

I don’t have programs from every ballpark I’ve visited, but I have a handful that range from amazing to bland. Here’s a look at them.

Aberdeen IronBirds

For a Short-Season A franchise, Aberdeen’s “First Pitch” program has a lot to offer. For one, it’s printed specifically for the game you’re attending. (Most teams print programs per series, week or homestand.) It’s got a clean, attractive cover and a preview of the night’s game. Because the program is printed for each game, all the standings and stats are up to date, which is a huge bonus for a stats guy like me. A couple standout features in this edition of “First Pitch” were a list of IronBirds with Twitter accounts and a well-illustrated diagram of pitcher Aaron Wirsch’s four pitches, along with commentary from the pitcher himself.

Bowie Baysox

Baltimore’s AA franchise in Bowie provides a program called “Baywatch” for each home series. This one had a decent fan guide to Prince George’s Stadium, a list of former Baysox who’ve made the Major Leagues and a discussion between the team’s infielders on turning a double play.

Cleveland Indians

The Indians’ “Batter Up!” is given out free and printed for each series. Of course, you can also buy a more in-depth game program, but this one’s worth picking up. It’s got a good concession directory, a fan guide to Progressive Field and a couple interesting articles. I was also impressed with the full-page ad for Cleveland’s Midwest League affiliate, the Lake County Captains, who play just 15 minutes outside of C-Town.

Delmarva Shorebirds

A South Atlantic League franchise, the Shorebirds program “Play Ball” is one of the shortest I’ve seen. Still, it contains a couple interesting stories on Shorebirds players, a decent look at the team’s opponents and a nice, comprehensive breakdown of each team in the Baltimore Orioles system.

Fort Wayne TinCaps

Fort Wayne’s “Gameday” program is printed each homestand, which is pretty much the norm in the Minor Leagues. This one had pink as a dominant color, given the theme of the team’s homestand, Turn the Park Pink for breast cancer awareness. This program featured a thorough, five-page guide to Parkview Field’s food and interesting features such as a tutorial on how to score a game, a map showing the location of each Midwest League franchise and a couple articles about the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

New Hampshire Fisher Cats

New Hampshire offers an amazing fan experience, but there wasn’t anything to write home about in the “Inside Pitch” free program. The schedules, stats, rosters and promotional schedules were all handy, but they’re all things you’d expect to find here. The worst part was the ads, even though I know they’re necessary. Early in the program, 22 out of 23 straight pages were full ads. Ugh.

Potomac Nationals

The P-Nats, as they’re often called, provide a standard gameday program for free. It’s got all the things you’d expect, but a few interesting pages are the breakdown of the Washington Nationals’ farm system and a look at the Carolina League franchises. Additionally, this program isn’t overly laden with ads.

Rochester Red Wings

After spending two sentences explaining how I don’t buy programs, I’ll quickly recant that statement to say I spent $1 on Rochester’s yearbook during my first ballpark trip in 2010. Simply put, it’s one of the best programs I’ve ever seen, and for $1, it’s a real bargain. This baby is more than 100 pages long and contains a ton of interesting information — not just ads and more ads. The highlights of this edition were a look at the Red Wings’ uniforms throughout the years, an article about Stan Musial’s time as a Red Wing, in-depth player profiles, a pretty good guide to Frontier Field and an ultra-thorough map of the where to find every food item sold at the ballpark. (In case you’re wondering, the cover is damaged because I spilled water on it. Oops.)

Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees

The big perk to the S/W-B Yankees’ “Play Ball!” program is like the IronBirds, it’s printed for the game you’re attending. Although it’s relatively short in length, “Play Ball!” has an interesting game preview, a “This Date in Yankees History” page and an interesting section about the players to watch from the visiting team.

Toledo Mud Hens

It’s a toss-up whether Toledo or Rochester has the best program I’ve seen so far on my travels. “The Muddy Times” is amazing, and might get the nod over Rochester because it’s free. This book is giant, measuring 9.5 by 12 inches and numbering 112 pages. The pages are newsprint, but they’re thick and in full color. I love the cover shot, as well as the in-depth player and coach profiles, the 2010 season review, some good player Q&As and an awesome two-page spread on the Detroit Tigers’ top 10 prospects, written by Baseball America. This is the type of program you’d spend $5 on and still feel as though you got your value.

Washington Nationals

Like Cleveland, the Nats hand out a free game program to complement their paid program. “Inside Pitch” (which is the same title as New Hampshire’s program) is printed on thick paper, which is a definite upgrade over the newsprint in some programs. This one has an extensive Nationals Park fan guide, a guide on how to score a game and even two removable player cards (Jason Marquis and Michael Morse).

Bowie Baysox – June 26

After a great experience at Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen, it was time to take a step up the Baltimore Orioles organizational food chain with a stop in Bowie, MD. Pronounced “Boowie,” this team is called the Baysox, plays at Prince George’s Stadium and is the AA affiliate of the Orioles. They play in the Eastern League, and this is the fourth Eastern League ballpark I’ve visited. (I should hit five more later this summer.)

As great as baseball road trips are, I’ve found in the past it’s easy to experience a bit of a letdown three or four days in. There’s lots of driving, lots of ballpark food and late nights. Sometimes, all this can combine to make you feel a little lethargic, and I was determined not to have that happen in Bowie.

I found the stadium easily, parked for free and took a quick shot of the front:

Then, I took my usual walk behind the outfield fence to try to find a ball. Up to this point, I’d gotten at least one ball in each of my three games and 10 total. It’d be nice to keep that streak intact for a few days longer.

On my way back, I could see the action on the field:

I stopped briefly to take a shot of the players’ lot:

Then, quickly found two balls; an Eastern League one and an MLB one:

Further searching yielded nothing, so I returned to the front of the stadium, took this photo and bought my ticket:

The pavilion in front of the ballpark was pretty crowded. Why? Because it was a team signing day; everyone but the starting pitcher was set up at tables throughout the concourse, and you could walk from table to table to get autographs. Pretty cool. Here’s what it looked like:

This is another reason I love Minor League Baseball. If this type of promotion happened in the Bigs, the place would be bonkers. You’d get about two autographs in an hour, and spend the rest of the time crammed in line and being jostled by annoying, middle-aged men trying to get autographs to sell on eBay. Here, you get the chance to talk to the players if you like, line up for about 15 seconds per guy, and move on. It’s perfect.

I got the entire team (except the starting pitcher) on a ball, which I’ll photograph and blog about at a later date. The guys were pretty friendly, especially manager Gary Kendall, who I talked to for a few minutes. I was wearing my Aberdeen IronBirds cap, and he managed the IronBirds over the last few seasons, so we talked about that. The team also has former Big Leaguers Denny Hocking and Einar Diaz as coaches.

After the signing, I went out onto the field, which was open for fans until 45 minutes before first pitch. This is the second field I’ve been on this summer; the first was in Erie, another Eastern League team. Fans were playing catch and it was neat to walk around out there:

Just before the time was up, I went back up to get a shot of the crowded playing surface:

With some time to kill before first pitch, I took in the various sights of the stadium, including a kids’ play area, complete with inflatable games and a merry-go-round:

Today’s opponent was the Binghamton Mets, a team I’ll see on the last day of this current road trip. A few of the guys were signing and others were warming up, so I went to check it out. This is Allan Dykstra (no relation to Lennie):

And this is Jordany Valdespin. I’m pleased with how this photo turned out:

Finally, here’s manager Wally Backman, who played for the Mets in the 1980s:

Today’s weather was hot and sunny, so I wanted to stay in the shade as much as possible. There isn’t a ton of it at Prince George’s Stadium, but I found a covered picnic area down the third base line. It was mostly empty, and I just sat on a table with a good view of the action:

After a while, I took a wander back around the ballpark to watch from behind home plate:

It was after 3 p.m., and I still hadn’t had lunch. Don’t get me wrong — ballpark food is cool. But after eating it daily for a few days, you get to start dreading it. A lot of it’s tasty, but most of it so heavy that it gets a bit gross after a while. That said, I was curious about the cheese-stuffed, Old Bay-covered pretzel. I love Old Bay seasoning, and in prime seafood territory, it was cool they used the seasoning even without seafood. I’m happy to report this was a tasty snack:

The sun started to subside around the fifth inning, so I went down to field level and found a spot down the third base line with this view:

Once there, I just relaxed and watched the game. I’d made good notes for my website earlier, as the gates opened 1.5 hours before first pitch because of the autograph signing. As a result, I had a lot of time to just enjoy some baseball, which is exactly what I did. After the game, kids and parents were allowed to run the bases, though I resisted the temptation.

I took one last look around the stadium, noting a neat feature. The press box area is open, and relatively low to the field. As there’s no window protecting it, the wall in front of the desks has seen some damage from foul balls:

A unique touch!

Right after the game, I made the drive north to Hagerstown, MD. I didn’t have a game planned until the following day, when I’d head to Municipal Stadium to catch teen phenom Bryce Harper!

Mahoning Valley Scrappers – August 9, 2010

Goodbye, Cleveland.
On the morning of August 9 last summer, my wife and I left our hotel at the Cleveland Airport, loaded up the car and drove to Niles, Ohio, which is a little more than an hour east of C-Town and just outside Youngstown. Niles is home to the Eastwood Mall, the largest mall between Cleveland and Pittsburgh. More importantly, however, it’s home to the Mahoning Valley Scrappers, the Short-Season A affiliate of the Indians.
The Scrappers play at Eastwood Field, which is on the same property as the Eastwood Mall, so it’s pretty easy to find. Once we navigated our way through the enormous parking lot, we came upon the ballpark. Time to begin taking photos and notes about it for my website, TheBallparkGuide.com!
Before I got too carried away taking photos of the front of the building, I wanted to quickly park and head behind the stadium to snag batting practice home runs. Just as I did at Auburn’s Falcon Park, I scouted out Eastwood Field before our trip and saw that a grass hill and parking lot was located behind the stadium. When that’s the case, you can just stand back there and pick up or catch home run balls as they leave the stadium. Awesome! (By the way, here’s my complete fan guide to visiting Falcon Park, home of the Auburn Doubledays.)
The thought crossed my mind to just park at the mall and walk up to the stadium, but evidently I’m about the 10,000th person to think of this ploy. As such, the Scrappers charge a $1 walk-in fee for fans, which is half the price it costs to park. Here’s the gate that prevents you from walking in for free:
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We decided to park and were one of the first few cars in the lot. My wife stayed in the car to read, and I immediately grabbed my glove and backpack and made a beeline toward the rear of the stadium. (I should note I did a cool, casual walk through the parking lot and past the main gate, and sprinted as soon as I was around the corner.)
I was concerned about two things: That the area beyond the fence wasn’t fenced off; and that there weren’t other fans (or worse, a staff member) gathering balls. I was in luck! Here’s what I saw when I ran around the left field corner:
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Clear, open ground! And if you look closely, there’s a ball sitting smack dab in the center of the picture. I grabbed the ball quickly and began looking around. Just behind the actual outfield fence, as is the case with many Minor League stadiums, stands a second, higher fence. This fence is covered in billboards, much like the home run fence. And sometimes, big home runs hit the second board and bounce back toward the first fence. When that’s the case, you see scenes like this one:
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I grabbed this ball and a few others in the area. Suddenly, a ball blasted over my head, hit the paved parking lot and rolled into a distant field, scattering a bunch of groundhogs that were sunning in the area. I picked up this ball, then got to thinking. If this ball rolled so far, there might be others out here, too.
Here’s the parking lot:
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It takes a big shot, or a lucky roll, to reach it. But once the ball does, it rolls and rolls and rolls all the way to the grass:
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I took the above photo after finding another ball. It’s one of my favorites of the summer. After gathering a bunch of balls, I headed toward center, where I hoped to find more balls before moving into right. I quickly noticed, however, that the bus driver from the road team (in this case, the Aberdeen IronBirds) was picking up balls on his side of the field. No biggie. I went back to my left field corner and found a few more. I ended up with 10 balls in total:
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I actually got 11, but threw one into the woods because it was so waterlogged and soaked in mud that it was disgusting.
Eventually, BP ended so I headed back to the parking lot with 10 baseballs weighing down my backpack. Here’s where I got my first couple photos of the front of the stadium:
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Pretty nice, right? Notice the red carpet on the left side of the first image? That’s where season’s ticket holders get to line up. Ooooh.
Here’s a banner of Travis Fryman, a longtime standout Major Leaguer and the current manager of the Scrappers:
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I hoped to get his autograph on a ball, but managers are sometimes hard to get before the game. We bought our tickets from the ticket office here:
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And got my ticket/stadium front shot, as per always:
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Once the stadium gates opened, we checked out the team shop so that I could buy a Scrappers cap. One of the team’s caps is pretty neat; it’s navy blue with two rows of teeth. It’s sort of bizarre, and since Minor League caps are priced so well, I wanted to get one. Unfortunately, the staff couldn’t seem to scan my debit or credit card and after about 10 minutes of waiting, I left without the cap. (Though I did pay cash for a Scrappers team ball that I wanted to get signed.)
My wife found a relaxing place in the shade, and I went to the conjoined clubhouses, which are in the right field corner. Both teams’ clubhouses are in one building, so you don’t have to make up your mind about which team you’ll pursue for autographs. Here’s the clubhouse door: (Gotta love the modesty of the Minors!)
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And here’s the grass hill where you can not only watch the game, but wait for players to emerge prior to first pitch:
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Pretty soon, the Scrappers pitcher came out with a strength coach and started stretching. Who was he? None other than Mitch Talbot, a Major Leaguer who was down making a rehab start. I was only a few yards away from him while he was warming up, so I snapped these shots:
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You might notice he’s wearing the cap I mentioned earlier. Pretty soon, players on both teams filed out of the clubhouse and stopped to sign autographs. I did pretty well, getting about three-quarters of the home team on the team ball:
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Pretty soon, Fryman emerged from the clubhouse no more than 10 minutes before first pitch. A few of us asked him for autographs, and he said he didn’t have time. He seemed to think twice, then said, “Well, OK.” I got him to sign an official New York-Penn League ball that I’d snagged during BP:
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After Fryman signed for a few of us, he jogged to the dugout and we went to the Bullpen Bar & Grille, located down the right field line just behind the grass hill I’d stood on for autographs. After a few days of ballpark food, I wasn’t too crazy to eat another hot dog, so my wife and I split an order of nachos. Here’s the concession:
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Before the players came out of the clubhouse to sign autographs, we saw three or four of the Aberdeen guys getting hot dogs at this concession stand. You know you’re in a Minor League stadium when the players climb over the railing, up the steps and stand in line for hot dogs.
As usual, we watched a couple innings from our seats. For this game, we were located up high on the first base side in an attempt to stay in the shade. It was one of those sunny days in which the sun climbs by the inning, and you find yourself moving up rows constantly to stay in the shade.
The majority of Eastwood Field’s seating is box seating, and there are aluminum bleachers on behind the third base line and in left field, as well as a picnic area along the right field line:
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Here are a few panoramas I took during my walk around the stadium:
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And here’s one last photo; it’s of the Eastwood Field scoreboard:
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We hit the road as soon as the game was over, because we had to drive about five hours to Toronto, where we’d stay with my aunt and uncle for three nights while catching two Blue Jays games. It was tempting to stay at the Scrappers game after its conclusion, however, as the team was organizing a LeBron James jersey-burning ceremony in the infield.
In my next two entries, you’ll read all about my two games in Toronto watching the Jays lose to the Red Sox.