Tagged: autographs

Colorado Rockies – September 21

On my third and final full day in Denver, I was filled with not only excitement about returning to Coors Field for yet another Rockies game, but also some sadness. It’s always a bummer to know that a baseball trip is coming to an end, but I was determined that my last ballgame of 2016 would be a good one.

Unlike my first and second Rockies games, my final visit to Coors Field would be for an afternoon game, which meant that I was once again up before the sun and excited about making the short walk from the Westin Denver Downtown over to the ballpark. My wife decided to do more touristy stuff while I went to the game, so we parted ways outside the front door of our hotel and, 10 minutes later, I was here:

I realize this photo might not be the most exciting, but I’m using it to show just how empty the area outside Coors Field was when I arrived. This doesn’t mean that the game would be poorly attended — it simply means that I was once again mega early, giving me an awesome opportunity to wander around and enjoy the sights.

Eventually, I made my way into the lineup at Gate A, and when the gate opened, I was the first fan inside the ballpark. For this visit, I had my mind set on snagging a baseball. I hadn’t bothered trying during either of my first two games, but I felt that game #3 would be a good opportunity. Of course, the odds of doing so would be better if batting practice were scheduled, but I wasn’t too hopeful because of the early start time. As soon as I got up to the concourse, I ran to the fence to see if, by any chance, BP was on. Here was my answer:

That was OK, though. As much as I love the atmosphere of a ballpark while BP is taking place, there’s something peaceful about walking around when it’s quieter, too. Although the posted attendance for the day ended up being more than 26,000, the park was dead early on — I guess that’s sometimes the deal when you’re there two hours early. In fact, things were so quiet initially that it almost felt as though I had the park to myself, and that suited me just fine.

After I spent a few minutes just hanging out in this amazing area …

… I walked down to field level in the right field corner to watch a pair of Rockies playing catch. There still weren’t many players out on the field yet as I settled in to simply enjoy the scene. The following photo gives you an idea of not only how empty Coors Field still was, but also where I was standing in relation to the two players:

Eventually, they moved away from the foul line as their game picked up intensity, and I hung out and snapped some action photos like this one:

A moment after I took the above photo, the player in the black T-shirt (I’m not sure who it was) completely airmailed his partner and the ball clanged off the seats just three or four seats from where I stood. That was easy, I thought, and bent down to pick up the ball. But, before I could take a photo of it, the player in the purple T-shirt banged his glove at me a couple times, as if to say, “Throw it here.” I figured that throwing the ball back would make for a cooler story that simply snagging it, so I quickly set my backpack down and (thankfully) fired a strike to him. I quickly realized that he was asking for the ball back because he assumed he and his partner were out of balls, but the black-shirted player then produced a ball from his back pocket. Sure enough, the player in the purple T-shirt turned, made eye contact with me and lobbed the ball in my direction.

I caught it easily and took this photo a moment later:

The player who tossed the ball to me, I later learned, was rookie Matt Carasiti. He’s a hard-throwing reliever who’d only been in the big leagues a month at the time of my visit. Carasiti spent the bulk of 2016 pitching with double-A Hartford, where he led the Eastern League with 29 saves. He’s obviously a young talent to watch — and he joins my ever-growing “Players I follow and cheer for because I’ve had a cool interaction with them” list.

When Carasiti and his teammate headed off, I thanked him for the ball and he nodded. With that, I looked up and took this shot of The Rooftop area from a unique vantage point …

… and then went over to the visiting team’s dugout, as the Cardinals had recently made their way onto the field. Here are three young pitchers — Matt Bowman, Mike Mayers and Sam Tuivailala:

I watched a bunch of the Cardinals play catch for a few minutes before noticing pitcher Seung-Hwan Oh make his way to the fence and begin signing:

The Cardinals’ fan base travels well, so within a moment or two, dozens of Cards fans were jockeying for position around the closer, who’d signed with St. Louis before the 2016 season after a sensational career in South Korea and Japan. Oh pitched in the Korean KBO League from 2005 to 2013, where he was a five-time champion, five-time championship series MVP, seven-time all-star, five-time top reliever and rookie of the year. Pretty impressive, right?

Oh signed for quite a while, and despite the language barrier, seemed to be connecting well with his fans. When he wrapped up and began to step back toward the grass with his interpreter, a loudmouthed “lady” with two kids in two started screaming, “No no no no! Not until you sign two more!”and waving her finger in a condescending way. Surprisingly, he stuck around and signed a pair of balls for the kids.

Once the action on the field died out, I began to think about finding something to eat. Given that it was my last game at Coors Field (for 2016, anyway) I wanted to be sure there wasn’t anything noteworthy that I’d missed eating. I tweeted the Rockies and asked what their recommended food item was, and the team tweeted back just a few minutes later. (I should note that I’ve asked questions on Twitter a handful of times, and the team has been super quick to respond. Two thumbs up, Rockies!) Anyway, the team recommended that I try the Chuburger concession stand up on The Rooftop, so that’s where I headed. There was a decent-sized lineup, speaking to the popularity of Chuburger, but it moved along quickly and a moment later, I was holding a cheeseburger:

Maybe I was expecting a life-altering experience, given the recommendation, but it just tasted like an average cheeseburger. Don’t get me wrong — it was perfectly fine, but it didn’t excite me the way the ribs had during my first visit to Coors Field.

(By the way, that’s not a bite out of the top bun, I hope. That’s just how it looked when I got it.)

After I finished eating, I went to the upper deck in the left field corner, which is a spot I hadn’t previously visited. The section was mostly empty, which meant that I could easily grab a good seat, stretch out my legs and wait for the game to start:

And then wait.

And then wait.

And then wait.

As the game’s designated start time came and went, I was initially puzzled as to why nothing was happening — after all, the Rockies had long since taken the field. It took me a moment, but I realized that a pair of players were playing the “see who can stay on the field the longest after the anthem” game. You’ll have to look carefully at the following photo, but you’ll see the infield all ready to go — a Rockies player and a Cardinals player each standing at the edge of the dirt in front of his respective dugout:

For the record, that’s Colorado pitcher Carlos Estevez and St. Louis outfielder Jose Martinez.

Who won? I’ll let this picture do the talking:

Yep, that’s Martinez strutting back to the dugout to the cheers of his teammates, after he stayed on longer than Estevez.

The standoff game wasn’t the most exciting thing I saw from my spot in the upper deck. In the second inning, Colorado’s Nolan Arenado hit a grand slam that was also the 39th home run of his monster 2016 campaign:

I figured the best way for me to celebrate was to go buy one of these:

Makes sense, right?

You’re looking at a skewer featuring a combination of strawberries and two-bite brownies, with the whole thing drizzled in milk chocolate and white chocolate. Delicious, and multifaceted — you could theoretically use the skewer to kebab anyone on the concourse who might try to steal your dessert from you.

Fortunately, that didn’t happen, and I was able to enjoy my dessert without incident. Once I’d finished eating, I went back down to the main concourse. By now, the game was halfway over, and I wanted to enjoy the rest of my Coors Field experience by just walking around and taking in the sights. As I said in my post about my first game in Denver, Coors Field wasn’t a park with which I was very familiar. I’ll say now that I’m very glad I was able to visit for three games. This ballpark doesn’t often get mentioned when people talk about the most beautiful parks in baseball, but I can definitely tell you that it should be in the discussion. Its features and amenities make it as enticing as any MLB park I’ve visited, and the view of the mountains in the distance is one of the best views you’ll find in baseball. If you’re planning to take a trip somewhere this season, might I suggest Coors Field? I can assure you that you’ll be glad to visit.

And if you’re visiting, I’ll wholeheartedly recommend the West Denver Downtown. I couldn’t have been happier about my stay. Not only is the hotel conveniently located to Coors Field and a ton of restaurants and shopping options, but it’s one of the sharpest-looking places I’ve ever stayed. When I returned from the game, I wanted to capture some shots around the hotel. Here’s a look of the exterior of the building:

And here’s my favorite hotel shot that I took during our stay — this is the pool on the roof deck, and there are no filters used or tweaks made in Photoshop. This is simply how beautiful this spot looks:

The pool was great, too. It’s part indoors and part outdoors, so you swim under a glass partition that divides the two — and, obviously, I giddily did so a number of times.

I want to give a shout-out to the Westin’s staff, too. Everyone I encountered was exceedingly friendly, and there was even a baseball-themed welcome package in our room when we arrived, including beer, peanuts and Cracker Jack:

One last shot from the hotel — you saw my photo of our guest room in my previous post, but I feel that it hardly does the room justice. I rarely share photos that aren’t my own, but I wanted to post this professional image of a room with the same layout as ours, courtesy of the hotel’s website, just to show you how cool the room looks:

I don’t know when I’ll return to Denver for some baseball. Hopefully, it won’t take too long to return — but, whenever I do get back, I’ll definitely be booking a room at the Westin Denver Downtown.

After a delicious dinner on the 16th Street Mall downtown, we were in bed early in anticipation of our 3 a.m. alarm to begin our long travel day home. We flew from Denver to Newark and finally home to Canada, and I want to share just a few images from that trip, including this one of the sun rising while we were in the air:

While we were taxiing at Newark Liberty International Airport, I noticed this departure gate:

It’s gate A17, and it’s the one from which United Flight 93 departed on the morning of September 11, 2001. The U.S. flag was mounted afterward, and it was a sobering sight.

When we took to the air on our connecting flight home, I was excited to see New York City out my window — and I was even able to spot Yankee Stadium, although you’ll have to pardon the pixelated photo:

I hope you enjoyed reading about my visit to Denver half as much as I enjoyed visiting.

I’m working on some exciting travel plans for 2017, which I’ll be sharing as soon as things are finalized. If you’re interested in following along, I’d love if you might consider:

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Pittsburgh Pirates – August 30

Spending two days in the same city is always a blast, so after a great first day in Pittsburgh, I was excited to rise early on August 30 and get my second day underway. The Pirates were once again hosting the Rockies at PNC Park, but unlike a day before, the game was an afternoon game. This is the best possible scenario for baseball road trippers — you get to experience the park both at night and during the afternoon on subsequent days.

I took a look out my hotel window as soon as I got up and saw that the weather looked perfect over downtown Pittsburgh, which was a good way to start my day:

downtown-pittsburgh-morning-view-pano

So, I packed up quickly and headed out in search of adventure. As usual, I wanted to get into the ballpark as soon as the gates opened, but being up early meant that I had a good chance to explore some of the sights around the ballpark, including Point State Park, which is the spot where the Allegheny, Ohio and Monongahela rivers meet. It’s also the place with the giant fountain that you often see on TV broadcasts when you’re watching the Pirates. For a quiet Sunday morning, there was lots to check out at this tourist-friendly park, and I’ll be sharing some photos and anecdotes in an upcoming off-season blog post.

For now, though, I’ll share this shot of PNC Park taken from the Three Rivers Heritage Trail, which I walked along to Point State Park:

pnc-park-from-across-river

And here’s a shot of me on the trail with the ballpark in the background:

malcolm-in-front-of-pnc-park-2

I spent a couple hours playing tourist before retracing my steps, crossing the Roberto Clemente Bridge and getting in line to enter PNC Park. As soon as I got inside, I went straight down to field level on the Rockies side where I planned to get an autograph or two. As I waited, I watched pitcher Yohan Flande do some jogging back and forth. I positioned myself directly in front of him and shot a bunch of photos, including this one:

yohan-flande-colorado-rockies

It was sort of a funny moment — I shot photos for several minutes, and he silently ran toward me, then away from me, and then back toward me. He never acknowledged me with a nod or anything — not that you’d expect him to — but did sort of quizzically look at me a few times. I wonder if he was questioning why the heck I was standing there shooting photo after photo.

After Flande left, I gathered with some other fans to watch the soon-to-be-retired A.J. Burnett chatting with three members of the Rockies and teammate Jeff Locke:

pnc-park-players-before-game

It was cool to see Locke in person in the major leagues; I previously saw him pitch with the Double-A Altoona Curve way back in June of 2011 while visiting the Harrisburg Senators. You can see a photo of him from that day here.

Soon enough, Colorado reliever Christian Friedrich approached where I was standing and began signing autographs. He was a first-round pick in 2008, taken three spots ahead of 2015 MLB all-star Gerrit Cole. I normally don’t like getting autographs on tickets, but I didn’t have anything else handy, so I handed him my ticket from yesterday’s game and got it signed:

pnc-park-christian-friedrich-autograph-ticket

After I’d received the autographed and tucked it safely away in my backpack, I shot this panorama from field level:

pnc-park-field-level-pano

If you look carefully, you can actually see Friedrich signing on the far left.

Before leaving the area in search of something to eat that would technically play the role of my breakfast, I took a shot of the out-of-town scoreboard:

pnc-park-out-of-town-scoreboard

While the scoreboard itself is cool, take a look at the area directly above where it says “National League” and “American League.” This is the viewing area that I mentioned in my previous post and also referenced when I wrote about visiting PNC Park last season. It’s a great spot to enjoy the game and while the first row is reserved for wheelchairs, you can often enjoy an inning or two standing against the concrete wall. If you plan on visiting PNC Park, make it a priority to watch some of the game from this spot if you can.

My quest for some food led me to the Quaker Steak & Lube concession stand near Section 110. I often eat at the QS&L stand at Rogers Centre in Toronto and had some delicious onion rings at the PNC Park location during my visit last August.

Amusingly enough, those onion rings served as my breakfast during that 2014 Sunday matinee game. Now, almost exactly a year to the day later, I was standing in line to buy chicken wings that was serve as breakfast. Apparently, my eating habits have not improved.

As for the wings, they weren’t Quaker Steak & Lube’s best effort. In fact, I’d say they were the worst QS&L wings I’ve eaten at a ballpark. Dry, not flavorable and only slightly above room temperature are three drawbacks to chicken wings in my book. Nevertheless, here they are:

pnc-park-food-quaker-steak-lube-wings

As you might’ve noticed from the background of the chicken wings picture, I’d eaten in the upper deck on the first base side. Once I finished eating, I realized that I could see my hotel, the Hampton Inn & Suites Pittsburgh-Downtown, from where I sat — which makes sense, I suppose, given that I could see PNC Park from my hotel room! Here’s a shot that shows the hotel and a bunch of Pittsburgh’s iconic bridges:

pnc-park-upper-deck-view-hotel

As first pitch approached, I went off in search of some more food, given that the chicken wings didn’t really satisfy. My quest took me down to the Riverwalk area and, in particular, the Rita’s Italian Ice concession stand. I’m a big fan of this sort of icy frozen treat, and I ordered the black cherry flavor:

pnc-park-food-rita's-ice

I’m pleased to report it was delicious and included several actual black cherry chunks; I’m slightly embarrassed to report that this sugar-laden snack was technically part of my breakfast.

Part of my priority for this visit was to watch the game from various vantage points that I hadn’t visited a day earlier. As I walked toward a cool area you’ll see in just a minute, I stopped to take this shot of the Roberto Clemente statue and the area around it:

pnc-park-roberto-clemente-statue

The statue is directly outside the gates, as you can see, but I think this photo does a good job of showing just how close the Clemente Bridge is to the park’s gates. As you can see, the bridge and the gates are just a few steps apart.

(Also, there appears to be a real-life pirate at the bottom of the photo.)

After taking this shot, I cut through the air conditioned Hall of Fame Club, which is located behind the left field seats. This area is impressive — it’s an upscale eatery with a view of the field and an extensive bar and menu, but it’s also open to anyone with a ticket. Whereas some upscale spots in MLB parks aren’t accessible, this one is definitely fun for everyone to check out. Directly outside the Hall of Fame Club sits a standing-room area, which is where I stood to watch the game’s opening innings with this view:

pnc-park-left-field-view-pano

You don’t get the downtown Pittsburgh skyline from this spot, but I think you’ll agree that the view is outstanding.

I next watched some of the game from this spot on the third base side of home plate:

pnc-park-main-level-view-pano

The overhang limits your full view of the city’s skyline, but it’s easy enough to see if you simply duck a little. After a couple more innings in this spot, I watched a little from the Riverwalk and then set off for another few laps around beautiful PNC Park to take in the sights. Many of the shots I took during my walk were similar to those I showed in my last blog post, so I won’t duplicate them here.

When the game wrapped up, I made the short walk back to the Hampton Inn & Suites Pittsburgh-Downtown:

hampton-inn-suites-pittsburgh-downtown-outside

As you might have read in my previous post, this hotel is awesome for baseball fans visiting Pittsburgh. Its close proximity to PNC Park means you can comfortably walk to and from the game and won’t have to fuss over parking. There are a number of key tourist attractions, including those that I visited before the game, within an easy walk from the hotel.

The rooms are awesomely spacious, too — here’s a shot of just part of my suite:

hampton-inn-suites-pittsburgh-downtown-room02

I’m not sure when I’ll be back in Pittsburgh, but I do know that when it comes time to book my hotel room, I won’t hesitate to contact the Hampton Inn for a third time.

Next up, I’ll have a bunch of posts about my outstanding trip to Texas!

Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame and Museum

Back in late May, I visited Cincinnati for a couple of days as part of my May road trip for The Ballpark Guide, and caught two Reds/Cubs games, which you can read about here and here. As I mentioned at the time, I’d walked past the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame and Museum, and pledged to make time for a visit.

That visit came on the morning of May 25, several hours before the Reds were set to host the Cubs in an afternoon game. The HOF is attached to the Reds team shop and directly outside Great American Ball Park’s main gate, so it’s a must-see place any time you’re in town for a ball game:

cincinnati-reds-hall-of-fame-outside

Part of the reason for my enthusiasm to visit — other than my love of baseball history — was to check out the special autograph exhibit. I understand this exhibit isn’t a permanent fixture of the museum, which made it more exciting to see. The Reds have a long, storied history, and the exhibit featured autographs of nearly every single player to ever suit up for the Reds.

This picture isn’t that great, but gives you an idea of how many of the autographs were displayed:

cincinnati-reds-hall-of-fame-autograph-display-2

As an autograph collector myself, I was in awe as I browsed through the artifacts. Some autographs were on index cards, while others were on baseball cards, but they were all beautifully framed with each player’s name and years of service. I got a kick out of seeing how players from bygone decades took the time to actually sign their name — not just draw their first initial and add a squiggle. Some autographs featured just the player’s name, while others included greetings like “Your Truly,” and so on. One of the best such notations I saw was from pitcher Cy Morgan, who had a 10-year career between 1903 and 1913. He wrote:

Hello Peggy,
Pleased to know you are so interested in base ball, for it is a grand, good, American game. Keep it up, little girl. Good luck to you.
Harry R. Morgan
or “Cy.”

Although the lion’s share of the autographs were on index cards and baseball cards, there was a sizable signed baseball display, part of which looked like this:

cincinnati-reds-hall-of-fame-autographed-balls

There were also hundreds of signatures from various elements of life, including other sports:

cincinnati-reds-hall-of-fame-auto-displays

The autograph exhibit filled the downstairs portion of the hall, but there was still more to see upstairs. On the way, though, I stopped to sign a giant wall that was reserved for visitors to leave their “autographs”:

cincinnati-reds-hall-of-fame-autograph-wall-malcolm

The walk up to the second floor was mesmerizing. Along the way, there were thousands of baseballs — 4,256, to be exact — that represented every hit of Pete Rose’s career. You won’t find much recognition of Rose in Great American Ball Park itself, but the Reds HOF was loaded with Rose displays. Here’s a partial look at the 4,256 balls:

cincinnati-reds-hall-of-fame-pete-rose-balls

(Of course, they’re not the actual balls he hit — just regular balls representative of each hit.)

One of the first displays on the second floor recognized the Reds’ farm system. As a big Minor League Baseball fan, I got a kick out of seeing the jerseys of the Pensacola Blue Wahoos, Bakersfield Blaze, Billings Mustangs, Louisville Bats and Dayton Dragons — the latter two teams I saw on this same road trip:

cincinnati-reds-hall-of-fame-milb-affiliate-jerseys

There were a ton of displays featuring artifacts from throughout the team’s history, and several exhibits specifically focusing on players. The Joe Morgan one, for example, included several of his baseball rings:

cincinnati-reds-hall-of-fame-joe-morgan-rings

The top two are World Series rings, the next two are National League Championship rings and the remainder are All-Star Game rings.

Baseball-related items weren’t the only things that caught my eye as I moved around the floor. Here’s the pocket pistol of Garry Herrmann, who served as the Reds’ president between 1903 and 1927 — he also was one of the people instrumental in the development of the World Series:

cincinnati-reds-hall-of-fame-pocket-pistol

Other unexpected things? How about the enormous dog collar for Schottzie, the St. Bernard of former team owner Marge Schott?

cincinnati-reds-hall-of-fame-dog-collar-schottzie

The team’s 1976 payroll ledger:

cincinnati-reds-hall-of-fame-payroll-ledger-1976

Perhaps the sport’s most uncomfortable uniform:

cincinnati-reds-hall-of-fame-old-reds-uniform

An an original turnstile from Crosley Field, home of the Reds between 1912 and 1970:

cincinnati-reds-hall-of-fame-crosley-field-turnstile

The first interactive display I checked out looked like this:

cincinnati-reds-hall-of-fame-pitching-area

I took this photo as I stood on the mound, and then put my camera and backpack aside and tested out my arm. This wasn’t a speed pitch game; it was designed to see if you could throw a strike from 60 feet, six inches away. It’s hard to see in the picture, but there’s a strike zone painted on the wall next to the batter. The game was pretty simple — hit that box and you’ll hear an umpire yell “Steeerike!” Miss and, well, you know the deal.

It’d been a long time since I’d thrown off a mound, and given that my arm was completely cold, I didn’t know what to expect. Instead of rearing back and ripping an errant pitch toward the zone, I decided to test out a curveball, which I’m always working on when I play catch. I figured the solid-colored background would allow me to see how much the ball broke, if at all.

I found a ball with decent seams, wound up and “pulled the string.” The ball sailed through the air and hit the top inside corner for a strike. Hmmm. I figured lightning couldn’t strike twice, so I threw another curve — this one miraculously plunked against the wall in the center of the zone. I was beaming like a fool and looked around to see that no one was sharing in my glory. Undeterred, I grabbed a third ball, threw a third straight hook and this one dotted the inside edge of the strike zone. “Strike three — batter’s out!” yelled the umpire.

Then, in a baseball version of a freestyle rapper dropping the mic, I flipped my last ball to the ground and walked out of the cage, thoroughly delighted with myself.

Sparky Anderson, who’d been watching from a few yards away, didn’t seem as impressed:

cincinnati-reds-hall-of-fame-sparky-anderson-statue

Next up was a visit to the building’s actual “hall of fame.” Everything I’d seen so far, I believe, was part of the museum, but the hall was filled with plaques for each member:

cincinnati-reds-hall-of-fame-plaques

After spending a good chunk of time browsing the plaques, I doubled back to another room that featured the team’s World Series trophies and a bunch of bronze statues depicting the Big Red Machine era:

cincinnati-reds-hall-of-fame-bronze-statues

The best testament I can give to the Reds Hall of Fame and museum is this: When I finished checking everything out, I exited … and started again on the ground floor. Everything was that good, and I didn’t want to miss a single thing. (Another perk of the place is your ticket is good for re-entry as many times as you’d like throughout the day.)

An hour later, I made it to the building’s last room in time to get a spot near the head of the line for an autograph signing. Reds HOF member Leo Cardenas, who played for the team between 1960 and 1968, earning a Gold Glove Award and four All-Star Game nominations during the span, was signing for visitors:

cincinnati-reds-hall-of-fame-leo-cardenas

He’s 74 years old, but was full of energy and happy to share stories with the scores of fans who filtered past his table. I got his autograph on a ticket stub that I’ll share at a later date. And speaking of things to share, admission to the museum also netted me a small statue of former Reds catcher and HOFer Ernie Lombardi. I’ll unpack and photograph the statue sometime over the off-season and share it a blog post about some of the cool souvenirs I picked up this summer.

Thanks for reading!

Philadelphia Phillies – July 14

One day after a marathon, 24-inning doubleheader at Citizens Bank Park, I got up early to work on my blog for a very short period before hopping in the car for the half-hour drive to the ballpark. My road trip for The Ballpark Guide was rolling on, despite averaging about five hours of sleep over the last week.

On my first visit to CBP, I parked for $15 but on my subsequent walking tour, came across a $10 lot even closer to the ballpark’s gates. Go figure. That’s where I headed during this visit and, after parking and walking for a couple minutes down a side street, here’s what I was looking at:

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(Cue the sound of triumphant trumpets playing.)

I was in plenty of time for the 1:35 p.m. start; instead of rushing to buy my ticket as I had a day earlier, I took a quick lap around the ballpark, stopping to note McFadden’s Restaurant and Saloon, which you can enter before the gates open:

citizens-bank-park-food-mcfadden's

Of course, with it being about 10:30 a.m., a greasy cheesesteak wasn’t exactly what I wanted just yet. Instead, I went to the corner of Pattinson Avenue and South 11th Street to take a series of photos to make this panorama. Because the crowds weren’t too heavy yet, I think this shot gives you a cool look at what the area looks like:

citizens-bank-park-outside-avenue-corner-panorama

After taking a series of photos that show Citizens Bank Park parking options, which I’ll show on my website rather than here, I grabbed my ticket …

citizens-bank-park-ticket

… and picked up the day’s giveaway item, a Phillies travel mug:

citizens-bank-park-phillies-travel-mug-giveaway

Being able to get into the park soon after it opened gave me the ability to get down to field level without crazy fan traffic. I headed to the third base side first and watched a handful of White Sox sign autographs for kids. While here, I snapped this photo of Hector Santiago signing an autograph:

citizens-bank-park-autograph-signing

I then made a beeline over to the first base side where a number of Phillies were hanging around. My mission wasn’t to get autographs; instead, I was hoping to get some up-close shots of some players, which I’d failed to do a day earlier. As I watched a couple pitchers signing autographs, my eye caught a tall player out toward center field, and I instantly recognized him:

citizens-bank-park-roy-halladay-1

Doc! I had no idea Roy Halladay would even be in Philly during my visit, Halladay played catch for several minutes as he continues to rehab after his shoulder surgery this spring. It was absolutely awesome to watch him. After his throwing session, he and a coach stood in right field and talked for several minutes:

citizens-bank-park-roy-halladay-2

Halladay then made the long walk to the Phillies dugout and disappeared, while I stood grinning like a nerd, I’m sure, that I just happened to see him for the first time since he played for Toronto:

citizens-bank-park-roy-halladay-3

About an hour before first pitch, I decided to get some lunch, Philly-style. Faced with the prospect of choosing between the park’s three cheesesteak vendors, I picked Campo’s. As I waited in the sizable line, I heard a commotion behind me and as I turned, I saw former Phillies slugger Greg Luzinski walking past. That’s him with the tan shirt and ridiculous calves:

citizens-bank-park-greg-luzinski

Luzinski was a four-time all-star and had a pair of seasons in the mid-1970s in which he hit at least 34 home runs, drove in 120 or more runs and batted at least .300. He ended up with more than 300 home runs during his 15-year career.

Once I grabbed my cheesesteak from Campo’s, I went up to the Budweiser rooftop, climbed up the small set of bleachers and took this photo:

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And then this one:

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As for my verdict? It was … good. I realize that’s not the best adjective to assign anything, but this cheesesteak certainly wasn’t great, nor was it awful. The next time I’m in Philly, I’ll have to try the other brands of cheesesteak at CBP to make a comparison, but I wasn’t overly impressed with the Campo’s selection. Of course, every cheesesteak company bills itself as the best in the city, so I had to start somewhere.

As I sat on the bleachers, an usher ventured over to ask if I had a ticket for the section. I explained that I didn’t, but I was using the empty bleachers as a spot to eat my meal, and then I’d be gone. I expected the the usher to tell me to get lost, but she was fine with me sitting there and asked where I was sitting. I explained that I had a standing-room ticket and, after furtively glancing around, she took about five minutes to explain to me how to sneak into certain sections to grab a seat without being caught by ushers. Not a conversation you’ll come across every day, right?

My next stop was in the upper deck. From my vantage spot, I could look down at a semi-crowded Ashburn Alley:

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If you look carefully, you’ll see a number of bronze-colored plaques embedded in the bricks down the length of the alley. They represent different standout players from throughout the team’s history — great idea, right? Yes, but what an awful location. Whenever I visit a park, I love looking at the historical displays, but these are virtually impossible to admire. Any time you’re in Ashburn Alley, so too are hundreds of other fans, which means several hundred feet are continuously trampling over the plaques. What a bad design idea.

I was enjoying my spot in the shade because, like yesterday, it was extremely hot again at Citizens Bank Park. As I kept out of the sun for a few minutes, I took this panorama that shows the relatively empty seats about 45 minutes before first pitch:

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Remember yesterday’s post, in which I stood right beneath the green Citizens Bank Park sign beyond center field? Here’s another shot of that area, but this one also shows the Liberty Bell:

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Before I left the upper deck, I walked over to the seats behind home plate to get this shot, which I think looks pretty cool. Every ballpark, of course, has a unique view with some perks and some drawbacks, but I love how you can see downtown Philadelphia here:

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By the time I got back down to the 100 Level, there was still a good amount of time till first pitch, so I headed to the Memory Lane area off Ashburn Alley to see if I could get a close-up view of some of the plaques I couldn’t see yesterday. Unfortunately, the area was once again blocked off (it was open when I was in the upper deck) so the closest I could get to the plaque area was this:

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I spent right up until game time checking out the silent auction tables on the concourse. I love when teams do this and, while the prices are mostly crazily inflated, it’s fun to check out a variety of autographed and game-used memorabilia. Here are a couple game-used jerseys from John Mayberry, Jr. and Domonic Brown, for example:

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And an autographed Chase Utley bat:

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I watched the first inning of play from this spot in the left field corner …

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… and then, in need of some refreshment, I hit the Philadelphia Water Ice concession stand for some frozen lemonade:

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The menu included a cherry and lemon swirl flavor, which I thought looked good — but when I ordered it, the cheery fella behind the cash literally grunted, “Out.” If you imagine the noise a hippo would make after you threw a rock at it, that’s the noise he gave me. I’m sure it will come as a surprise to you that his tip jar was empty.

I spent the remainder of the game, which Chicago won 4-3 (in extra innings, no less), walking around Citizens Bank Park, checking out the sights and taking a pile of photos. I love the openness of this park — from virtually every location, you can see the surrounding area, which I think is great. It’s a crummy feeling to be in a bowl-style park without any idea of what the area around you looks like. That’s certainly not the case at CBP. I talked about the ballpark’s close proximity to Lincoln Financial Field and the Wells Fargo Center in yesterday’s post, but check out this panorama that captures the scene:

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And here’s a cool-looking shot that shows several of CBP’s parking lots, as well as the downtown skyline beyond:

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Unlike yesterday’s long, awesome day at the ballpark, this visit seemed to fly by, despite the game going into extra innings. Before long, I was back in my car making the short drive to my hotel for the weekend, the Hyatt Place Philadelphia/King of Prussia. If you read my most-recent post, you’ll remember how impressed I was about this hotel upon checking in — everything from the friendly, professional front-desk staff to my huge room to the cupcake and welcome note waiting for me. After a great day at the ballpark, I was looking forward to chilling in my room for the evening. Before I kicked off my shoes and relaxed, though, I drove about four miles to an Outback steakhouse for dinner — something that’s become a bit of a tradition on my baseball road trips.

Whether you enjoy Outback or not, staying at the Hyatt Place Philadelphia/King of Prussia gives you a ton of eating and shopping options for your downtime. The hotel is virtually within sight of the enormous King of Prussia mall, which is the largest mall in the country, apparently. As such, you’ve got dozens upon dozens of nearby restaurants to consider. And if you’re the shopping type, the mall has more than 400 stores.

A bunch more features about the hotel are worth considering when you’re planning to visit Philadelphia. It’s got free Wi-Fi, complimentary breakfast, a 24-hour gym and a variety of sandwiches, salads and other quick bites to eat for sale just off the lobby — one of my favorite features of Hyatt Place hotels. And the guest rooms are enormous. I’ve used this analogy before, but this room was significantly bigger than my first apartment.

Here’s a look at the outside of the hotel:

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And here’s the bathroom, which I’ll explain below:

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You know how some hotels have small bathrooms that make getting ready in the morning a pain? At this hotel (and the last Hyatt Place I visited), the “bathroom” isn’t its own room — it’s an open area outside the actual bathroom, which is really convenient. Lots of light, a huge mirror and more counter space than you’d ever need.

Finally, here’s the sectional couch in my room — perfect for lounging after the game and watching Baseball Tonight:

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Despite three extra-innings games, my visit to the City of Brotherly Love flew by and although my road trip was quickly coming to an end, I had one more awesome ballpark and game to check out.

Hudson Valley Renegades Signed Baseball

One of the big perks to my August road trip was getting media passes at most of the ballparks I visited. Nearly all the teams I dealt with were extremely accommodating when I told them about my visit and my website, The Ballpark Guide.

The lone downside (and it’s a small one) to getting a media pass is that you can’t get autographs. When I went to Fenway Park for the Futures at Fenway doubleheader, however, I didn’t have a pass. This meant, of course, that I was free to get some autographs.

I was lucky to get three members of the Hudson Valley Renegades to sign a baseball for me before they squared off against the Lowell Spinners.

Here’s the ball:

From top to bottom, the ball features the signatures of pitcher Jeff Ames, catcher Justin O’Conner and catcher Luke Maile.

Ames, who was recently ranked as the number 19 prospect in the Tampa Bay Rays organization, was arguably Hudson Valley’s best pitcher in 2012. He posted a 6-1 record with a 1.96 ERA and 70 strikeouts in 64.1 innings pitched.

O’Conner joines Ames on the Rays’ top prospect list, placing 18th. He hit .223 and finished fifth on the team in hits (53) and fourth in RBIs (29). He also hit the longest Renegades home run at Dutchess Stadium in 2012.

Maile finished third on the team with a .278 batting average, while leading the club in RBIs (41) and triples (3). When’s the last time you saw a catcher lead his team in three-baggers?

I’m glad to add this ball to my autograph collection, and it’ll be exciting to follow the careers of these three guys, who all look to be off to a great start.

New Britain Rock Cats – August 16

After my great experience on August 15 at Joseph L. Bruno Stadium, I spent the morning of August 16 writing this blog post before checking out of the hotel. The drive to New Britain, CT, is between two and three hours, but I added a few stops to check out some sights for a future blog post. It turns out that my timing was perfect, because I got to my new hotel right around the 3 p.m. check-in time.

To see the New Britain Rock Cats, I’m staying at the Hampton Inn and Suites Hartford/Farmington, which is just outside New Britain and only about 12 minutes or so from the ballpark. And it’s an amazing hotel! It’s very close to the highway, which is especially ideal if you’re checking in after you’ve watched the ballgame. Who wants to be driving around looking for a hotel when there’s a great one just off your route?

Here’s what it looks like from the outside:

And I was excited to see that when I got inside, the inside looks even better. My room is absolutely amazing. It’s a huge suite and my favorite part is the desk/TV area. Instead of a traditional desk with a TV nearby, check out this setup:

Here’s the room from another angle:

Needless to say, this is definitely the place to stay when you’re in town to see the Rock Cats. I’m thrilled that I am here and next time I return, I’ll absolutely stay at this hotel again.

Once I checked in, I blogged a bit and then packed up and headed over to New Britain Stadium. The game was at 7 p.m. and I arrived shortly before 5 p.m. to buy my ticket:

A ticket, you ask? While it’s temping to completely go off here, I’ll just say that, yep, the Rock Cats didn’t give me a media pass. They’re the first and only MiLB team this year that has not done so. It’s not for a lack of trying — I emailed them three separate times and each time, the team didn’t bother getting back to me. Every other team I’ve visited or will visit this summer has been hugely accommodating, so it’s annoying that the Rock Cats can’t be bothered helping me out when my blog/website are going to help them out. I’d accept the situation more if I got an email back saying that the team didn’t want to give me a pass, but the lack of any response at all is just bush league.

All right.

The exterior of New Britain Stadium, which opened in 1996, isn’t particularly eye catching. But it’s got a  unique feature that I really like. This is the front of the park:

And this is what I’m talking about — check out all the MLB  and Eastern League team logos (the parent club sits above the Eastern League club). I really like how this looks and think it does a great job of tying the two leagues together:

Because I was early and unable to get in the park to look around, I decided to check out the area beyond the outfield fence, as I could hear that batting practice was on. It took me a minute or two to walk back there, and another minute or two to see these:

Yes, a pair of Eastern League balls!

(I’m amused that when I hold two balls in this manner, my hands look oddly wide.)

Boy, was it hot back in this area, and really swampy, too. There were a ton of frogs croaking and jumping about and while watching our for soakers, I shot a couple videos of my ball-hunting adventures that I’ll upload to YouTube at some point.

Anyway, I stuck around for nearly a half hour and managed four balls. The home run fence is extremely tall, and I figured its height would be offset by a smaller field. Nope. It’s 330 down the lines, meaning it takes a heck of a shot to get a ball out of the park.

Soon, I wandered back to the front of the stadium and close to 5:30 p.m., the lineups at the main gate were long. This could mean one of two things — the gates would open an hour and a half before the game, or there was a giveaway. Turns out the answer was both! From my understanding, gates normally open an hour before the game on weekdays, but there was some sort of Whiffle ball game with radio personalities taking place before the game, so people got in early for that. And the day’s giveaway was a fleece blanket, which is neat. I’ll post a photo of it later on.

There were lots of things going on in the main concourse area, which is located under the seating bowl. I quickly saw the Legends Diner concession stand, which is adorned with photos of Justin Morneau, Torii Hunter, Joe Mauer and David Ortiz in their Rock Cats uniforms. Not a bad list of alumni, right?

In fact, a ton of notable MLBers have passed through New Britain at one time or another. If you click on this photo, you’ll be able to see many of the names:

Here’s a panorama from behind home plate while the Whiffle ball game was taking place:

It was one of those things that would no doubt be a total blast to play, but was awful to watch — non-athletes swinging and missing and occasionally hitting the ball all the way to the mound. So, I only did hung around for a moment before continuing my tour.

New Britain Stadium has the weirdest box seats I’ve ever seen. They’re not standard fold-down seats; instead, they look like those plastic high chair seats you get when you visit a restaurant with a toddler. If you’re wondering, their comfort level was on par with a standard stadium seat:

Although my lack of a media pass meant nothing was stopping me from getting some autographs, I didn’t bother. Lots of kids, however, were getting players to sign around both dugouts:

One of the things I love about MiLB parks is how close you get to the action and the players. You’ll always hear funny comments and notice things you’d never see on TV or in an MLB stadium. One guy on the home team (I’m not sure who because his name isn’t on their roster) had paper clips clipped to the cuffs of his pants as a makeshift way of hemming them.

I hadn’t eaten much throughout the day, so once the first inning began, my stomach’s growls meant it was time to get dinner. Nothing jumped off the menu as incredibly unique (although New Britain Stadium has a very impressive beer list), so I went with a kielbasa and sauerkraut on a bun:

It was tasty, but because it has been sitting wrapped up for some length of time, the bun was soaking wet with sauerkraut juice. For a beverage, I took advantage of a cool feature that is mostly common at MLB parks. If you sign up to be a designated driver, you get a plastic cup and two vouchers for free drinks. So that’s exactly what I did:

I spent much of the game on the third base side with this view:

And for much of that time, I was utterly obsessed with the pitch speed indicator on the outfield fence. My camera’s batteries (and spare batteries, argh) were dying, so I didn’t take any photos, but the indicator was hilarious. In the bottom of the first, I was amused to see that Richmond starter Chris Gloor’s fastball was normally only registering between 82 and 84 mph. At first, I thought he just didn’t have much of an arm, but then, the speeds started to get really weird. The bulk of his pitches showed up as being in the 70s, he had a handful more in the high 60s and went as low as 59 mph. He topped out with a pair at 88 mph. Basically, the pitches were all over the map and the difference between a 59 mph off-speed pitch and an 88 mph fastball should be apparent to the eye. But it wasn’t. Something seemed to be up.

In the next inning, things got even more hilarious/weird. New Britain’s Andrew Albers hit 96 and 97 in the inning, and threw one that registered 03. Was this meant to be 103 mph? It couldn’t be, because it was a breaking ball. A moment later, he was hovering in the high 50s, and the hilarity just basically went on from there. A couple innings later, the indicator stopped showing anything at all. Obviously, it had been on the fritz the entire game, or else some villain had taken over and was trying to confuse everyone.

I wonder if perhaps the Rock Cats had been spending their time trying to fix the indicator over the last two weeks instead of responding to my emails.

During the majority of my ballpark visits, I spend most of the game on the go. I’d been able to get all the photos I needed early on, so it was fun to just hang out in one spot for a big block of innings and enjoy the ballgame. Toward the end of the game, though, I moved behind home plate for a short while …

… and then way up to the top of the bleachers on the first base side:

After the game, I’ve got to say I was excited to return to the hotel. When I got back, I went to the pool and swam for about a half hour, and then watched ESPN HD while blogging. Pretty darned perfect! (You have to remember that as a Canadian, ESPN is a commodity.) This morning, I worked on my blog for an hour or so before working out in the hotel gym. And forgetting my room access card in the process. Oops.) I’m going to miss this place when I check out!

The drive to Norwich, CT, is less than an hour away, so I’m planning to make a few stops here and there before checking into my next hotel, which is where I’ll likely be when I publish this blog.

New Hampshire Fisher Cats Autographed Ball

As you may have read about here, I visited Manchester’s (take deep breath) Northeast Delta Dental Stadium in the final couple days of July to watch the AA Fisher Cats against the Reading Phillies.

And as I mentioned, I got a few autographs that I’m excited to share. Last fall when I visited Manchester, I got current Blue Jay Edwin Encarnacion and future Jay Adeiny Hechavarria on balls, and even ran into Encarnacion in my hotel the morning after the game.

Anyway, prior to the game on July 28, I got a ball signed by six different guys on the Fisher Cats.

In the first photo, from top to bottom, are the signatures of shortstop Jonathan Diaz, third baseman Craig Stansberry and the Fisher Cats bullpen catcher, whose name I can’t recall:

In the photo below, you’re looking at the autographs of speedy centerfielder Anthony Gose, third baseman Mark Sobolewski and a guy (#12) I can’t identify. The current #12 on New Hampshire’s roster is Danny Perales, but this signature isn’t his. If anyone knows, I’d love to know!

Of all the autographs, I’m pretty excited to have Gose’s signature. He should be a Blue Jay in the next season or so, thanks to his speed. This season, he has 61 steals through 126 games; in 2010, he swiped 45 bases and a year earlier, he had 76!

Here’s a picture of Gose signing just after I got him: