Ever since I was a kid, I’ve loved collecting ticket stubs from all the various sporting events I’ve attended. Since I started traveling for The Ballpark Guide, I’ve been fortunate to visit more than 40 ballparks. This past off-season, I scanned all my stubs from 2010 and 2011 into a blog post, which you can check out here if you’re interested. (It’s sort of cool to see all the varied designs used by teams.)
This summer, the home teams I’ve seen have been unbelievably hospitable to me and I haven’t had to buy a single ticket. I’ve received media accreditation at every park I’ve visited, which provides such varied benefits as being able to enter early, access the press box, walk on the field and many other great things. An added bonus is that while I don’t get a ticket stub to add to my collection, I get something even cooler – a media pass.
As I continue to plan my next road trip, I thought it’d be fun to take a quick look back at the passes I’ve received thus far, in chronological order.
May 21: Lakewood Blue Claws
This game was rained out, which was a letdown given I’d driven roughly eight hours for it. But even though there was no game to see, I picked up my media pass at the ticket office. It’s simple, but it was exciting because it was my first of the season.
May 22: Lehigh Valley IronPigs
I think I like this media pass best. Perhaps because the IronPigs play at the Triple-A level, the pass is really professional and it also included a nice lanyard from when Coca-Cola Park hosted the Triple-A All-Star Game in 2010.
May 22: Trenton Thunder
Trenton offered up a sharp-looking pass that came with a chain lanyard. As you can see, this one allowed me to access the press box, but not the clubhouse or field.
May 23: Wilmington Blue Rocks
The Blue Rocks’ press pass was simple and not unlike the one from Lakewood. This one gave me access to several areas, including the field. It’s always fun to see my name in print!
May 23: Frederick Keys
There’s no mention of my name or The Ballpark Guide on the laminated pass provided by the Keys, which suddenly makes me wonder if I was supposed to turn it in after the game. Oops.
May 24: Altoona Curve
Altoona’s media pass is really sharp. My information, as you can see, is written in by hand, and I like the retro-style design of this one.
May 24: Buffalo Bisons
I was a little surprised that Buffalo, being a Triple-A team, had a cardboard pass similar to those from Lakewood and Wilmington. I think this is because it’s only a one-day pass, rather than a season’s pass.
July 19: Rochester Red Wings
The Red Wings were the first team this season that didn’t hook me up with a standard media pass, but they essentially gave me the same privileges. The ticket provided access to any section in the park, while the photo pass allowed me to get on the field before the game.
The morning of Thursday, May 24 came very quickly. It was the final day of my road trip, and given that I’d averaged about four hours of sleep per night over the last few days, the 5:30 a.m. alarm was a bit of a jolt. But if there’s one thing that makes me move quickly in the morning, it’s knowing there’s a baseball game to attend.
I was in Frederick for the night after the previous day’s Keys game, and my day would begin with a two-and-a-half hour drive to Altoona. The Curve, who are the Eastern League affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates, were playing a 10:30 a.m. game, and I’d arranged to have a stadium tour with Mike Passanisi, the Curve’s director of communications. The tour was scheduled for 9 a.m., which meant I wanted to get on the road by 6:15 a.m. or so. The route from Frederick to Altoona includes many small back roads, and the drive was painfully slow. I can tell you I was thrilled when this appeared ahead of me:
Yep, Peoples Natural Gas Field, straight head! I ended up being 10 to 15 minutes late to our tour because of ridiculous traffic, so I parked quickly in the parking garage behind the outfield fence …
… and hustled along the sidewalk to get to the stadium as quickly as I could:
When I picked up my media pass, I went upstairs to the press box, where I had this view while I waited for Mike:
Mike arrived a few minutes later, and despite his busy morning, made time to take me around the stadium and show me all the highlights. We checked out a few of the suites, including this one:
And then went down to the field, which never, ever gets old:
After we were on the field, we went through the tunnel to tour several places most people don’t get to see. But you will now! We went through the batting cage/training area, where a number of Curve players were getting loose:
I took a picture of this funny sign posted outside the room above:
We then went into the press conference room, which definitely has similarities to the rooms in MLB stadiums:
I was tempted to sit at the desk and shout, “No comment!” but decided to repress that urge so the tour could continue.
Next up were the home and visitors’ clubhouses, which were outstanding. Both were full of players, so I obviously didn’t take any photos, but it was definitely a highlight to see. Afterward, we climbed up to the concourse where I documented the team’s 2010 Eastern League championship banner:
A banner with the team’s 2005 opening day roster:
(Sorry, but as a Jays fan, I need to point out Rajai Davis and Jose Bautista.) This banner was part of a series around the concourse of each opening day roster in the Curve’s history. It’s the first type of display I can recall, and I think it’s a great way to pay tribute to past teams and players. Really cool. The concourse is also lined with banners of past stars, including Pittsburgh’s Andrew McCutchen. I love how the banner combines a picture of him then and now — really smart:
The tour zipped right along, but it was great talking about the stadium’s features with Mike. I’ll be highlighting more of them when I write the official fan guide to Peoples Natural Gas Field for TheBallparkGuide.com.
After our tour, I went up to the second deck on the third base side to capture the stadium in panorama form:
If you missed the roller coaster behind the right field fence, look again. It’s not part of the ballpark, but it’s still one of the coolest features you’ll see at any park. The roller coaster is part of Lakemont Park, an amusement park just beyond the ballpark’s fences. The roller coaster you see here …
… is called the Skyliner, and it’s one of four in the park. The park’s crown jewel is the Leap-the-Dips coaster, which opened in 1902 and is the oldest in-use roller coaster in the world.
After being up top, I continued wandering and captured a shot of the sign out front of the park:
Mike said the new logo on the sign was just a week old (Peoples Natural Gas Field was called Blair County Ballpark through last season) and the new sign isn’t completely finished. Soon, bricks will be added to make the sign more in line with the ballpark’s design.
By this time, Mike had re-appeared on the field with a Curve player who was fielding questions from fans over the PA system. It was a neat thing to see — fans asking about his favorite subjects in school, his favorite holiday, etc., certainly improves the player/fan connection. I definitely think more teams should do this:
As I continued walking, I spotted the players’ parking lot behind the first base side of the stadium:
With, of course, a Range Rover:
Range Rovers seem to be the popular choice among ballplayers. In fact, I wrote a blog entry a while back about players’ vehicles, and it’s a fun read.
I then changed direction and headed down the third base concourse, where I stopped to check out the team’s “Road to the Show” alumni board:
Here’s a close-up of a couple years:
I also checked out the Rail Kings party deck in the left field corner, which offers a great view of the park and also includes small TVs built into the fence so that you can watch the game broadcast or check out how the Pirates are doing:
The bleachers in left field also provided a perfect view, and I decided I’d spend a few innings out here once the game started:
The kids’ area at Peoples Natural Gas Field included inflatable games …
… and arcade-style attractions:
I went to check out the team’s store down the third base line:
And as the game began, captured this quick shot of the ballpark’s impressive scoreboard:
All this walking worked up an appetite, so after spending the first inning in the outfield bleachers, where I had a close-up view of the team’s mascot Al Tuna (get it?) …
… I decided to get some breakfast/lunch. Mike had earlier recommended the Curverogie, a new menu item for 2012:
While this sandwich is certainly excessive, it was delicious. It wasn’t skimpy on the ham, and while the perogie sort of got lost, the ham, cheese and onions were tasty:
After eating, I documented my media pass, as I’ve been doing during each stop on this trip:
Then, it was time to find a seat along the third base side so I could capture some of the action on the field. Here’s Altoona starter Shairon Martis, who was solid through six innings and got the win:
And Curve third baseman Jeremy Farrell, who’s the son of Blue Jays manager John Farrell:
Before long, it was time to hit the road. I had to sneak out of this ballgame a little bit early so I could drive the four hours or so north to Buffalo for that night’s Bisons game at Coca-Cola Field. I absolutely hate leaving a game early, but sometimes it’s necessary to fit into my schedule. All in all, it was a great visit to Altoona. The park, built in 1999, is fantastic and if you’re in the area, it’s definitely a must visit.
Up next is the story of my visit to Buffalo later on May 24.
The day to visit Portland’s Hadlock Field had finally arrived. I’ve been looking forward to this particular ballpark for roughly a year, since I first started my regular baseball travels.
Hadlock Field is home to the Sea Dogs, who are the Eastern League AA affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. There’s a replica Green Monster in the outfield, which is one of the neatest things to see in all the Minor Leagues.
Even better than seeing the Monster, however, was the chance to play catch below it. Yep, the Sea Dogs were giving fans the chance to play catch for an hour prior to the game, so I was pumped for that. And unlike the games in which I travel alone, my wife could be my catch partner this time.
Catch began at 10 a.m and ran for 1:15. The game began at 1 p.m., and unfortunately, fans weren’t allowed to leave the ballpark. Don’t get me wrong — I like getting to the game early, but spending that amount of time before the game was a bit much, especially given the day’s extreme heat and the zero shade throughout the entire seating area.
Anyway, we arrived around 10 a.m. and bought our tickets. Here’s mine:
And here’s both of ours:
Because we didn’t need to play catch the whole time, we took a walk around the outside of the ballpark to look for balls and see the sights. Hadlock Field is directly beside the Portland Exposition Building, which is home to the NBA Developmental League’s Maine Red Claws. I imagine this doesn’t rank too high on the caring meter for most of you, but if you’re into basketball, you might be interested:
The walk around Hadlock Field proved pretty uneventful. The path around the stadium’s left, or third base side is blocked off, while there’s not much to see around the other side, either. From the parking lot, you can look back and see the ballpark’s picnic area and some of the field:
We also found the rear entrance to Portland’s clubhouse:
And one ball:
I didn’t feel the need to add it to my collection, though.
As you can see from the photo below, the area behind the outfield fence is fenced off, so finding batting practice balls is next to impossible here:
With nothing more to see back there, we headed back to the pavilion in front of Hadlock Field where I got my picture taken with a statue of Slugger, the Sea Dogs’ mascot:
Before we went in, I took a photo of the front of the ballpark …
… and a panorama to show the whole front area:
When we got in, we went straight to the field, which we had to access via the left field corner. As always, it was awesome to be on a pro ball field, and there were already a bunch of people playing catch:
re’s me at the base of the Monster:
From down here, we had a great view of the scoreboard:
And the Citgo logo and Coke bottle, just like Fenway:
I should also mention the Sea Dogs gave the first bunch of fans Sea Dogs balls to play catch with, which was pretty nice:
Here’s a panorama from field level:
Around 11 a.m., we went over to the first base line which had a tiny bit of shade around the picnic area. A couple minutes later, the Altoona Curve (affiliate of the Pirates) players arrived:
Before we left the field, the Sea Dogs came on and started stretching. There were still maybe 100 fans on the field when they came out; definitely something that doesn’t happen every day!
After walking around the concourse for a bit, we decided to grab something to eat. The basic menu at Hadlock Field is below:
Once we ate, we went to the team shop, which is disappointingly the worst I’ve seen at any level. It’s all behind the counter, so you can’t actually touch anything, try anything on or just browse. You stand there like you’re at McDonald’s, and place your order. See the photo below? All that stuff is unreachable. I’m not sure why the Sea Dogs do it this way, but it’s not very fan friendly:
Something that was neat to see, though, was how the Sea Dogs were selling Bryce Harper T-shirts on the concourse outside the team store. If you’re missing something here, don’t worry. There’s no Sea Dogs/Harper connection, but you can’t deny that Harpermania has spread throughout the Minor Leagues:
These prices were good, but nothing could compare to my experience of seeing Harper a month or so ago in Hagerstown. If you haven’t read this post, I can guarantee you’ll enjoy it.
Hadlock Field has a neat feature in the concourse down the first base line; photos of each team’s ballpark in the Eastern League:
This is the first time I’ve seen something like this, and my only knock on it as that it’s hugely outdated — old photos, old logos, etc. Still, though, pretty cool.
Just a little further along is the team’s hall of fame, which includes guys such as Kevin Millar and Mark Kotsay:
After spending some time in the concourse, we went back out toward the field. I’d sort of been avoiding it because it was SO HOT. I’m not normally one to care about the weather either way, but it was brutal.
And a wall covered in current Red Sox jersey graphics:
Off to one side of the press box is the team’s banners:
I then climbed up in front of the press box and took a panorama of the whole ballpark:
(See the lack of shade? For the record, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing … but it’s not ideal on super hot days.)
Anyway, we then went down the third base line to watch Altoona warm up:
Another knock on Hadlock Field? You can’t get close to the area in which the Dogs warm up without having a seat in the picnic area. Lame:
Down the third base line, however, you can stand on a little runway directly above the visitors’ bullpen, which is neat. There’s also a hilarious sign:
I watched Altoona’s starter Aaron Pribanic warming up for a bit:
In case you’re wondering, Portland’s bullpen is up high above the fence in right-center. I’ve never seen anything like it:
As for the game, I was most excited to watch Chih-Hsien Chiang. I saw him a while back when the Sea Dogs were in Binghamton, and he’s incredible. Look at his stats:
(He was since traded to Seattle for Erik Bedard.)
We sat for most of the game up in the bleachers along the third base line, with this view:
And occasionally, we’d go into the concourse for a bit of shade. (Though the temperature was nearly as hot.) There were a number of TV sets there to help you keep an eye on the game, but the picture quality was lacking just a bit:
Here’s an action shot of Chiang I took in around the sixth inning:
Portland led the game 8-3 in the ninth, but Altoona scored two runs to make it a little more interesting. Final score: Portland 8, Altoona 5. The teams also combined for 26 hits, including three Sea Dogs home runs. The game lasted until around 4:20 p.m., so after more than six hours inside Hadlock Field, we left.
On our way back to the parking lot, we saw Altoona’s bus waiting in the team lot behind the first base side:
I should say that I got one pretty cool autograph at this ballpark, which I’ll blog about later this week.
In the meantime, I’m putting the last touches on my next trip of the season, which will begin in a couple weeks. I’ll blog about it soon.