Tagged: autographs

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:

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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:

citizens-bank-park-first-view-day-2

(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:

citizens-bank-park-food-campos-cheesesteak-wrapped

And then this one:

citizens-bank-park-food-campos-cheesesteak

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:

citizens-bank-park-ashburn-alley-above

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:

citizens-bank-park-upper-deck-panorama

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:

citizens-bank-park-park-sign

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:

citizens-bank-park-upper-deck-view

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:

citizens-bank-park-phillies-wall-of-fame-plaques

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:

citizens-bank-park-silent-auction-jerseys

And an autographed Chase Utley bat:

chase-utley-phillies-signed-bat

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

citizens-bank-park-left-field-corner-view

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

citizens-bank-park-food-philadelphia-water-ice-lemon

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:

citizens-bank-park-surrounding-area-panorama

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

citizens-bank-park-parking-lot-panorama

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:

hyatt-place-philadelphia-king-of-prussia-outside

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

hyatt-place-philadelphia-king-of-prussia-bathroom-area

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:

hyatt-place-philadelphia-king-of-prussia-living-room

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:

Vermont Lake Monsters – August 21

About a month ago, I planned to make the drive to Burlington, VT, to watch the Short-Season A Lake Monsters play a doubleheader at Centennial Field.

In the days leading up to that game, I kept an eye on the weather forecast, which read something like rain-rain-thundershowers-rain-thundershowers-thundershowers-rain.

So, I decided not to risk the long drive … and the doubleheader went off without a hitch.

Fast forward to last week, when I was planning to visit Vermont on August 21. The forecast was eerily similar, but I decided to chance it. Instead of making a solo trip, I went with a good friend I don’t get to see enough. We met bright and early and headed out into the rain, thunder and lightning that was the entire drive to Vermont.

About 30 minutes outside Burlington, the rain let up to a light drizzle, and shortly before we arrived at Centennial Field, the drizzle stopped completely. Perfect!

We got to the park around 11:20 a.m. for the 1 p.m. game, so there were only a handful of cars in the parking lot:

Note that I said it was a 1 p.m. game. But when we got up to the ticket window, there was an ominous message …

… a 6:05 p.m. start? I asked the ticket vendor incredulously, thinking the forecast had bumped the start of the game. Luckily, he said the 6:05 reference was an error. Whew!

With some time to kill before the gates opened, we took a walk toward the left field corner, and made a right turn to get behind the outfield fence to look for balls. Here’s the scene:

But since there was no batting practice because of the rain, there were no balls to be had. I’ve got to think that if BP had been on, the balls would’ve been easy to snag. Nevertheless, we continued the walk with our eyes peeled for balls, and I paused to take my usual ticket shot:

In the background is the Lake Monsters log cabin-themed scoreboard, which is unique looking, despite lacking a little on the information-giving side of things:

After making it to center field, we turned into the area beyond the right field fence where this was the scene:

Back here, there were a few neat things to see. Members of the Vermont side were having a pre-game prayer group:

While the Hudson Valley Renegades took some swings in the cage behind them:

No one paid us any notice, including a staff member who walked by at one point. I scanned the area for balls, and quickly noticed a white blip up against a chain-link fence well beyond the area we were standing in. I went closer and found this:

The markings are mostly rubbed off, but it was an official Northwest League ball. In other words, it was a long way from home. I’m trying to collect a ball from every league I’ve visited, so this was a super-cool find.

So far, I have balls from the:

– Major Leagues
– International League
– Eastern League
– Carolina League
– Midwest League
– South Atlantic League
– New York-Penn League
– Northwest League

With no other balls to find, we walked back toward the left field corner …

… and peeked over the fence to see the Renegades close up:

Actually, it wasn’t the first time we saw the team so close. They were using the adjacent soccer field’s dressing room as their clubhouse, so they walked down the driveway we used to access the field.

There wasn’t much to see when we walked in the other direction from the park’s main gate. A fence blocked off the area, but we were able to look into the concourse:

See the Ford display in the foreground? A minute or so after I took this picture, the employees began packing it up quickly. Hmmm. It appeared they knew something we didn’t, because soon after, the skies opened up again.

Though the scene was grim, it wasn’t all bad; the gate attendants let everyone in early to get a bit of shelter, and even said we could use the handicap area because it was covered. People in Vermont seem pretty friendly.

Over the next hour, the rain fell hard and fell soft, but kept falling continuously. Despite the showers, we wandered around the stadium to note the old, cement general admission section …

… and the wooden seats:

Scenery aside, there wasn’t much else happening here of note:

Eventually, an announcement said the game wouldn’t begin at 1 p.m., but that team officials hoped things would get underway within an hour or so. Around this time, members of the Renegades came out and played catch:

And returned from the batting cage:

Just when things were looking up, more thunder struck, the players retreated and the skies went dark again. Here’s where we took refuge during another downpour:

With the rain still coming down, we moved out into the concourse (staying against the building under the roof’s overhang) and went to the team shop:

I ended up buying a Lake Monsters alternate cap, which has a unique look because of its white front panel:

We also stopped by the team’s silent auction table, where I resisted the urge to bid on an MC Hammer bobblehead:

As the rain let up, we began to hear talk that the game would begin around 1:40 p.m., which wasn’t bad, all things considered. For the next while, we walked around to take in the sights, including a historical plaque:

The Lake Monsters clubhouse, located behind the first base-side bullpen:

And another panoramic view of Centennial Field from atop the stands behind the first base line:

Below is a photo looking down at the home clubhouse. Fans can stand behind the yellow chain and get autographs as the players enter and exit, though there still wasn’t any activity:

So, we took a rather “you shouldn’t be here”-looking path behind the clubhouse …

… to an area called The Cage, which is a bar right behind the batting cage. On our way, we could see piles of cleats in the windows of the clubhouse …

… and the batting cages:

Here’s the bar, such as it is:

In its defense, what it lacks in appearance, it makes up for in location. It’s a neat place to watch the game. In this area, a bunch of Lake Monsters were playing cards and a handful more were playing darts:

FINALLY, the Lake Monsters came out to stretch:

And the bullpen got some life in it. Below is starting pitcher Brent Powers tossing:

The game began around 1:50 p.m., so we made a quick stop at the concession stand and took our seats directly behind home plate, where we had this view:

And equally importantly, here was my view as I devoured a rather good sausage on a bun:

We actually ended up sitting two rows behind Chris Pittaro, the A’s director of pro scouting, who spent a lot of his time firing off emails on his iPhone.

After four innings, we made another stop at the concession stand, bought some Dippin’ Dots and found a relatively dry spot in the bleachers on the first base line.

Food:

And baseball:

Is there anything better?

Hudson Valley seemed to be cruising along until Vermont second baseman Michael Fabiaschi blasted a fifth-inning grand slam (his first career pro dinger) to put the Lake Monsters ahead for good. It’s always neat to see a guy’s first home run, and Fabiaschi (#12) was pretty stoked:

Vermont put up a three-spot an inning later to take an 8-3 lead. With the game well in hand, we made our way back to The Cage, which was empty. Before settling in to watch the rest of the game, I made my way behind a chain-link fence into a forest to retrieve a foul ball that’d been hit an inning earlier. It was easy to find and was in near-perfect condition:

We had this view for the last inning or so …

… and watched the Lake Monsters celebrate after their 8-3 win to extend their lead in the Stedler Division:

After the game, we went to the Vermont clubhouse where I got a handful of autographs on a ball. (As usual, I’ll blog about this separately.)

Then, we went around to the picnic area down the third base line to gain access to the field to play some catch. Here’s a shot of the empty ballpark from the field:

After taking this shot, I noticed some pieces of paper affixed to the visitors dugout wall. I asked a grounds crew member if I could go retrieve the official lineup card, and his response was, “Go for it.” Like I said earlier, friendly people in Vermont. Anyway, the lineup was gone; all that remained was stats sheets, which I wasn’t really interested in.

Still, it was a great experience at an interesting, historical-feeling ballpark. We hit the road as soon as our game of catch was done, and drove through rain so hard that we had to pull off the road at one point. I’m just glad the rain held off long enough for nine innings.