Monday morning began with a big decision to make. I got up at 6 a.m. and was working at my computer when I saw something on Twitter that caught my eye. The Cleveland Indians were playing a noon game to wrap up their series against Seattle. Hmmm. I planned to be in Akron for a 7 p.m. Aeros game, and Akron is just a short drive from Cleveland. It’d be very possible to do the Tribe game from noon to 3 p.m. and still get to Akron in plenty of time.
I sprang into action, getting changed and quickly getting my room packed up. But then I decided to put a little more thought into it. It was only day four of my 13-day road trip, and I didn’t want to burn myself out. Last spring, I did three straight days of two-city doubleheaders (two games in two cities) and was a zombie by the end. It was a fun trip, but so rushed that it was tough.
So, I regretfully decided to stay at my hotel, continue blogging and forget about visiting Progressive Field. After all, I’ll be there again next week when I visit the Social Suite!
I blogged till shortly before noon, and then drove into Cleveland to see Lake View Cemetery. I visited this enormous cemetery back in 2011, but wanted to check it out again. It’s the burial site of Ray Chapman, a former Indians player who’s one of only a couple MLBers to die after being hit by a pitch. Chapman is a member of the Indians Hall of Fame and has a big plaque in his honor at Heritage Park. I’m not normally one for visiting cemeteries, but I wanted to find his headstone and share it on here. The 285-acre graveyard is enormous, but because many of the notable people buried there are marked with signs along the road, I figured it’d be a piece of cake to find Chapman’s plot. Boy, was I wrong. I drove in circles for about half an hour until my GPS screen looked like an Etch A Sketch that needed shaking. I decided to end this little adventure without finding Chapman’s site; if you’re really curious, you can see a picture of his headstone on his Wikipedia page. The cemetery, by the way, does have some neat sights. President James Garfield is buried there, as are John D. Rockefeller and Eliot Ness.
Afterward, I made the short trip to Akron and checked into my hotel. I was staying at the Courtyard Akron Stow, which is just outside Akron. The hotel is next to the highway, which makes accessibility a breeze. I was checked in and relaxing five minutes after pulling off the highway. Here’s the outside of the hotel:
And here’s the room that awaited me:
This room had two queen-sized beds, a sitting area, a desk and a plasma-screen TV. It was a perfect setup, too. I sat at the desk to work on my blog and turned to TV toward me to keep an eye on ESPN. Doesn’t get better than that. The staff I encountered was extremely warm and friendly and this is definitely the hotel I recommend if you’re visiting Akron to watch the Aeros — and especially if you’re coming from Cleveland the day before.
Remember how close I said the hotel is to the highway? Look at the view out my window:
(By the way, I could barely hear the highway and it certainly didn’t disrupt my sleep; there was a card in my room saying that if the highway disturbed me, I could request to move to the other side of the building — pretty accommodating, if you ask me.)
You can also see the nice courtyard outside my window. In terms of location, the Courtyard Akron Stow is just minutes from a million places to eat and shop. It’s within walking distance of a Skyline Chili and McDonald’s, and a very short drive to the Graham Square Plaza, which has a Walmart for snacks and a Subway, Applebee’s, Red Lobster, Chipotle and a ton more options. I actually stopped here on the way to the hotel and grabbed a Chipotle. You definitely have a long list of choices.
I spent about an hour in the room before loading up and heading to Akron for the evening’s game. Canal Park is located in downtown Akron, and while the team doesn’t have an “official” parking lot, parking is readily available. In fact, parking is free downtown in any lot after 6 p.m., which is perfect. I got to the area around 5 p.m., and parked in a garage that was free for the first hour. It can’t get any better than that — by the time the second hour rolled around, parking was free everywhere. The lot I picked was just across the street from the park, and when I emerged from the garage and crossed the street, I was looking at the back of the video board:
Canal Park has a nice brick and iron design, but looks inconspicuous from the street. In fact, if you’re just walking along the sidewalk, the park looks like storefronts in certain areas. But then, you come to a spot like this:
There are even a number of gates through which you can see the field. I didn’t spend long watching the action through the gates; the Aeros were providing me with a press pass and I found the admin office and got hooked up. Thanks, Adam Liberman!
After getting accredited, I went through the office to the concourse and got my first proper look at the inside of the ballpark:
Beautiful. There was still a good chunk of time until the gates opened, so I made a huge circuit of the entire park and would up in the right field bleachers to watch BP. The video board was just to my right, and it was outstanding:
Like in Cleveland, Akron’s board was huge, full of good info and really well run. One of the neat features in this area is the stacked bullpens. I’ve seen this idea a few times throughout my travels; Lehigh Valley’s Coca-Cola Park comes to mind. The bullpen on the left belongs to the home team and the one on the right, which is a few feet higher, is for the visitors:
As BP got close to finishing, I went down to field level and captured the visitor’s dugout:
Then, it was over behind home plate to take the photos to make up this panorama:
When the gates opened at 6 p.m., I walked over to the left field corner to see a thin stretch of the Ohio and Erie Canal, which runs directly behind the park. I’ve visited some parks that have nearby rivers, but this was neat to see and the area is really well kept:
I decided to go down to field level to watch the players warming up, and en route, a ball caught my eye:
Because the park was already open and there were fans milling around, I didn’t have a moral dilemma about adding this one to my collection.
This next photo might look as though one player’s sleeping, but I can assure you he was just getting his back cracked by a teammate:
I’ve said before that I love the subtle things you notice during ballpark visits. As a trainer was loosening up Giovanny Urshela’s legs, teammate Jesus Aguilar snuck over and gave Urshela a wicked zap on the backside with stretching band. Urshela reacted as anyone would — with a wild swing at his teammate. It was all in good fun, as the two guys were playing catch five minutes later.
I watched the first inning from behind home plate and pretty much had my choice of the seats. Canal Park wasn’t exactly hopping this evening. Here’s a look at the stands along the first base line in the first inning:
The lack of people didn’t concern me, as I don’t need a huge crowd to have a good time at the ballpark. Plus, I wanted to tackle the 3 Dog Night without making a scene. The 3 Dog Night is one of Canal Park’s signature dishes, although I was really impressed with the overall choices available at the park’s concession stands. Still, I wanted to eat the food that’s most notable, so I ordered one. It’s a hot dog stuffed into a split bratwurst stuffed into a split kielbasa. When the server handed it to me, I thought, Ugh. It was enormous and as I still had to load it up with sauerkraut, onions and mustard, it didn’t look very appetizing. Heck, it didn’t look much better once I’d loaded it up:
Here’s a photo with my baseball that puts the 3 Dog Night in perspective:
I retreated to the privacy of the bleachers to devour the meal, but sat stunned for a couple minutes with the beast on my lap. I had no idea how I would tackle it. Luckily, I had a plastic fork in my backpack and the availability of the piece of cutlery gave me the courage to begin. Unfortunately, I wasn’t impressed. Now, this isn’t to say don’t try the item — you might love it — but it didn’t do it for me. It was so big that I basically had to eat it in segments, and individually, those segments didn’t taste great. The hot dog tasted like a hot dog, but the brat and kielbasa just tasted like giant hot dogs. I gave it a valiant effort for a few minutes, but tapped out shortly thereafter. Next time I’m in Akron, I’ll be sampling something else.
Eating even a few bites of that meal meant that taking another walk was a good idea, so I went over to the third base seats to take some action shots. Here’s Bowie starter Tim Bascom, who went four innings and got a no-decision in his team’s 4-3 win:
And here’s a close play at first involving Bowie’s Brandon Waring and Akron’s Roberto Perez:
The game was entertaining; Akron led 1-0 but trailed 3-1 before scoring two runs in the bottom of the ninth to push the game to extras. Bowie, which managed just seven hits in 12 innings, went ahead for good in the 12th to get the win.
Next up, Columbus!
After the completion of the morning’s Lehigh Valley IronPigs/Louisville Bats game, I drove back to the Trenton area for the night game between the Trenton Thunder and the Akron Aeros, who are the AA Eastern League affiliates of the Yankees and Indians, respectively. This day marked the first time I’ve watched two different games in two different locations in one day — perhaps the only thing better in baseball than a traditional doubleheader. Although I had time to check into my hotel in Trenton, I decided to head straight to Mercer County Waterfront Park, and arrived around 3 p.m.
On Google Maps, it looks like this ballpark is perfect to give you a shot at snagging some home run balls during batting practice. When I got back to the area behind the outfield fence, though, I was early enough that the players weren’t hitting just yet. So, I waited here:
After a short while, BP still hadn’t yet started, so I decided to go to the front of the park, get my press pass, take some photos and wander for a bit. I like what the team has done with the area around the stadium. There are a ton of banners recognizing former Thunder players, including Nomar Garciaparra:
You wouldn’t normally associate Garciaparra, a longtime Red Sox player, with a team affiliated with the Yankees. But Garciaparra played in Trenton in 1995 when it was a Red Sox affiliate, and hit .267 with 47 RBIs and 35 steals. This is what the front of the ballpark looks like …
… and here’s the scene in panorama form:
After I picked up my press pass, I noticed a coach bus to my right, and saw the Aeros unloading:
I also took a photo of my press pass, which was provided by Bill Cook, the team’s director of public relations:
Like the other teams on this trip, the Thunder were very accommodating and I’d meet Bill later on.
Once I toured for a while, I began to hear the bats cracking on the field, so I peeked through the fence and saw BP was getting underway:
I headed quickly back to the area behind the right field fence and waited. And waited. And waited. The problem was, no one was hitting home runs. I heard a lot go off the wall and while some may have gone out in left, nothing came my way for a very long time. Eventually, I heard a giant splash and turned to see a ball floating in the Delaware River behind me:
This is a neat feature of this park — the river is so close behind the fence that a home run can actually land in the water on the fly, much like at San Francisco’s AT&T Park. With the river right behind you, this area is picturesque and sort of reminds me of how the Merrimack River runs right by New Hampshire’s Northeast Delta Dental Stadium. The lone knock on hanging out for BP balls is that the grass is completely covered in goose turds, so it’s impossible to avoid stepping in some. After about 45 minutes without a shot at a ball and with my shoes in need of some wiping, I pulled the plug on trying to get a ball and returned to the front of the park. As I did in Lehigh Valley earlier in the day, I used my press pass to get into the park early and walk around. Again, it was awesome having the place virtually to myself, with the exception of the staff. Look how deserted the concourse was:
And the same goes for the seating bowl:
Watching BP is one of the best things any baseball fan can do. Not only does it enhance your enjoyment of your visit, but you always learn something and get a better appreciation for the skill of the players. It’s difficult to see BP at the Minor League level because parks don’t open early enough. So, I took advantage of the situation and sat on a picnic table and just took it all in:
Soon enough, the Aeros came out to get warmed up:
Check it out — 5:02 p.m. and still an hour to go before the gates opened. I was in heaven!
I moved all around the park during BP, including down to field level on the first base side where I took this panorama:
And then I moved behind the first base dugout to get some close shots of the Aeros hitting:
At 5:30 p.m., I went to the home plate concourse to meet Bill, who’d agreed to give me a tour of the park. We were outside at one point and he pointed at the large party suite that looked out onto the field. He said the room was decorated with Yankees memorabilia, and as I peered through the glass, I could see a Phil Hughes Yankees jersey displayed. “That’s neat — Phil Hughes,” I said. Bill smiled and said there was a more impressive jersey for me to see. When we went into the suite, I got a close-up shot of what was stitched inside the jersey’s collar:
And took a second photo:
Yep, an authentic Babe Ruth game-worn jersey! The jersey was given to the Thunder by a big-time Yankees collector, and it’s simply one of the coolest things you’ll ever see at any MiLB park. Although the rest of the suite’s items might pale in comparison to the Ruth jersey, they are still very impressive. How about a signed shot of Derek Jeter’s 3,000th hit?
Or an Andy Pettite signed jersey from a rehab start:
Here’s a signed photo of Yankees legends Dave Winfield and Don Mattingly:
The tour with Bill was great. We looked around a number of areas of the park and talked baseball, which is always great. It was really nice of him to give me the pre-game time because unless you’ve been around it, you can’t imagine how much work goes into prepping for a game. Everyone wears a ton of hats in order to make your visit to the ballpark enjoyable. Thanks again for your time, Bill!
After Bill and I parted ways, I checked out the Thunder team shop, which blended Thunder merchandise with Yankees stuff:
And I also looked through a number of game-used bats that were on sale, although I didn’t buy one:
At 6 p.m., the park’s gates opened and the concourse started to fill up:
Soon, the players came out and began signing autographs along the base lines. While it was tempting to go get a ball signed, I resisted the urge. Technically, having a press pass means you can’t ask for autographs, and while I could’ve removed the pass and no one might have been the wiser, I thought this would be a bush league play. So, no asking for autographs on this trip for me. But several fans, including those getting Abraham Almonte’s signature, were crowded around the dugouts:
A few minutes later, I saw something pretty cute. Like the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, the Thunder have a golden retriever who comes out onto the field and carries a basket in its mouth. I’m not fully aware of the official role of the dog — I think it delivers a ball to the umpire, perhaps? — but the kids love it. (Update: A reader, Ben, told me that the dog is an honorary bat “boy” for the first inning, and come to think of it, I’ve seen this at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium in New Hampshire, too. Thanks, Ben!) Anyway, the dog came out and sat on the grass for a few moments, and when Trenton’s Corban Joseph came over to give the dog’s belly a scratch, the dog flopped over completely:
Shortly before the start of the game, I figured it was time to get something to eat. Nearly everyone I talked to said to try the crab fries at the Chickie’s & Pete’s concession stand, which is located on the third base side. I love seafood, but had never heard of crab fries. Would they be fries topped with crab meat? That’s what I was picturing, so I was a little confused when I picked up my order and it appeared to be regular fries with Old Bay seasoning covering them:
They also included white cheese dip, and while everything was good, I’m not sure if I see the huge appeal. Let me know if I’m missing something. Thankfully, the cup of fries was large, so it took me a while to eat everything. The game began as I stuffed my face, and I moved behind home plate after I was finished eating to take this panorama:
While I was there, a player hit a long foul ball that flew over the third base concourse and right out of the park. There didn’t seem to be a flurry of fans running for the exits, so I walked quickly over to where it left the park, looked out and saw this:
I also saw a man and his kids heading toward it, so I was a few moments too late. Since I was in the area, I found a seat on the third base side and started shooting some action photos, which is something I want to do more frequently this season. Here’s Akron starter Paolo Espino, who had a brilliant 2011 season but ended up with the loss on the night:
Aeros third baseman Kyle Bellows:
A cool shot of the Trenton dugout:
And what would’ve been a great action shot of Abraham Almonte sliding into third base, if not blocked by Espino, who was backing up the play:
Trenton catcher Jose Gil (I think) making contact:
After a couple innings seated on the third base side, I switched over to behind the first base dugout, where I enjoyed this view:
The game itself was entertaining. Trenton led from wire to wire, but Akron scored single runs in the seventh and eighth to narrow the deficit to 3-2, which is how the game ended up. Trenton’s pitchers combined for 10 strikeouts, too.
I spent the last inning up in the concourse behind home plate, where the view was great. My camera gets a little grumpy in the dark, but I took this shot, which I think looks neat:
By the end of the game, I was pooped. It’d been a very long day with lots of sun and a ton of excitement. But the next day would be awesome, too! I’d be in Wilmington, DE, and Frederick, MD, for two games and two radio interviews. I’ll have those blog posts up as soon as I can!