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.
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.
As you may have read about here, I watched the Portland Sea Dogs play at Hadlock Field on July 31. Hadlock Field certainly has its charms, but one of its drawbacks is the ability for fans to get autographs.
If you want the visiting club’s players to sign, it’s easy to gather around the bullpen and between the bullpen and dugout. For the home side, it’s a different story, because the bullpen is beyond the right field fence and there’s a restricted access group area down the first base line.
All that said, I did manage to get one autograph during my visit, and it came easily. The Sea Dogs had one player sign in the concourse prior to game, and I got him on a ball:
Who is it, you ask?
Stephen Fife. He may not be a household name, but he’s definitely a guy I’ll keep my eyes on. With Portland, he was 11-4 in 18 starts with an ERA of 3.66 and was a 2011 (and 2010) Eastern League all-star. (Keep in mind Portland has a winning percentage of only around .420ish.
It turns out that Fife was traded the same day I got him to sign (not sure if the deal was made before or after I got the autograph) but he was part of the three-team deal that sent Erik Bedard to Boston. Fife ended up in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization, and is currently pitching for the Double-A Chattanooga Lookouts. He hasn’t suffered any post-trade blues; he’s 2-0 with a 1.64 ERA and 11 strikeouts in 11 innings.
Hard to know where Fife’s career will go, but as a former third-round draft pick, it’s clear MLB scouts think he has what it takes to get to the big leagues. It’ll be fun to watch how the rest of his season progresses and where he ends up.
First off, apologies for taking so long to get to this blog post. My two-game road trip in late July was part of a week-long trip through New Hampshire and Maine, and it was a holiday trip with my wife more than a baseball-specific trip. So, I’m now catching up on things.
Anyway, as you may have previously read, I took in my first New Hampshire Fisher Cats game last September, and had an awesome time. If you want to read my blog about it, click here. And if you want to read a full ballpark guide to Northeast Delta Dental Stadium on my website, TheBallparkGuide.com, click here.
On this trip to the east coast, I wanted to hit a Portland Sea Dogs game. But since we were driving through New Hampshire, it only made sense to catch the Toronto Blue Jays AA team for one game.
One of the coolest things about Northeast Delta Dental Stadium is the on-site Hilton Garden Inn with field-facing rooms. I’m a sucker for places like this. I stayed here last year, and had to do it again this year.
We arrived around 3 p.m. on the day of the game and checked in. When I anxiously got to our room, however, I was dismayed to see it was right behind the batter’s eye:
(I later took a look at the outside of the hotel from the ballpark, and our room (#201) is probably the only one with an obstructed view. I could’ve complained, but I didn’t want to mess around. I couldn’t tell if the batting cages were up for BP, though since the Fisher Cats played a double-header the day before, I severely doubted it.
Either way, I took a rather limited panorama …
… and waited for a bit until the Reading Phillies came out to stretch:
The hotel has an outdoor eatery called The Patio. It’s directly over the outfield fence and you can sit there at any time, including for batting practice. Last year, the teams didn’t take BP, and unfortunately, it wasn’t in the cards again this year. I was really hoping to snag some home runs, but I guess that will have to wait for my next visit.
Here’s the view from The Patio:
And here’s a panorama shot from roughly the same spot:
With no BP to watch, I took some photos of the Phillies, who looked like they were having fun despite the temperatures of nearly 100 degrees:
Eventually, the Fisher Cats came out to run, too:
I’m not sure who the guy on the left is, but I believe the other guy is Henderson Alvarez, who’s only 21 but has an impressive 7-4 record with a 2.82 ERA.
My wife and I decided to have an early dinner on The Patio, and the food and service were great. I’d recommend staying at the Hilton Garden Inn if you ever go to a Fisher Cats game, but either way, check out this eatery prior to the game.
After eating, we headed around the corner of the hotel …
… and right to the Fisher Cats ticket office, where we got our tickets. I took my customary ticket shot:
And since my wife wanted in on the fun, here’s a shot with both our tickets:
We entered the stadium as soon as it opened, and climbed the big flight of stairs up to the concourse:
When I got on the concourse, I took a look back at the hotel. I think you’ll agree that our room (which is circled) didn’t have the most ideal view among the rooms facing the field:
All those umbrellas directly between the hotel and the outfield fence are part of The Patio, so you can see what I mean about being close to the action during BP.
The concourse was crowded with camp kids, but we made our way through to the area behind home plate where last year, I visited the Ted Williams Hitters Museum and Hall of Fame. Here’s what it looked like last year:
And here’s the scene this year:
We continued our way around the concourse to the right field corner, and I snapped this panorama:
Soon, the Fisher Cats came out to stretch again, so I made my way down to the first base line to try to get some autographs. Remember how the Phillies looked loose and fun before the game? The Cats were that way, too. First baseman Mike McDade (#40) seems to be telling some sort of funny story here:
Here are Moises Sierra, Mark Sobolewski and Adeiny Hechavarria getting stretched out:
As the players got warmed up, I noticed that one of the rotary display boards on the scoreboard wasn’t working:
Unfortunately, that wasn’t the only problem for the Fisher Cats on this night. The main scoreboard was dead, too:
(As you’ll see above, that guy up the ladder finally did get the rotary display to work correctly.)
I managed to get six autographs, which I’ll blog about at a later date, as usual. For now, I’ll say I’m pretty pleased with how I did.
As the players awaited the start of the game, I snapped a quick shot of the dugout, which is very nice by AA standards …
… and one of catcher Travis D’Arnaud, who was a key figure in the trading of Roy Halladay:
Note: I think D’Arnaud is giving the stink-eye here to two kids who ran to the railing screaming, “Catchercatchercanwehaveabat?Catchercanwehaveaball?Catchercanwehaveabat?”
When the game began a few minutes later, we took our seats down the third base line, where we had this view:
From our seats, I could see that The Patio was really packed with people watching the game, and I could even see fans watching from their hotel rooms:
On this visit, jets flew overhead at a frequency of maybe one every 10 to 15 minutes. I don’t remember this last year, so maybe the Manchester airport’s flight plans have changed? Either way, it was cool to see the jets so low. Here’s the FedEx one …
… which was followed a few minutes later by the UPS one.
As for the action on the field, our close seats enabled us to get a few decent shots. Here’s Fisher Cats manager Sal Fasano:
And Mike McDade (photo courtesy of my wife):
After a few innings, we took a walk around the concourse and my wife snapped a sunset shot of Manchester over the Merrimack River:
We then relocated to behind home plate in the same row as some scouts. We had this view:
While in this area, we got dinner. Last year, I had a clam strips basket, which was no longer on the menu. I wanted to try the clam chowder, which was a big seller last September given the cold weather, but didn’t seem too popular given this game’s hot temperature. It came with oyster crackers and was tasty. I mean, it’s not exactly homemade, but it tasted like Campbell’s soup, which isn’t a bad thing at a ballpark:
As you can see here, it’s got loads of chunks, too. It’s not just broth:
Following our meal, we went down the third base line to a relatively empty area behind the Reading bullpen:
We spent the rest of the game here, watching the Fisher Cats continue to put up goose eggs. Despite three errors by the visiting team, the Phillies won 6-1:
Next up, Portland — home of the AA Sea Dogs.
Last week, I posted photos and short blog entries about four different autographed balls I obtained during my most recent ballpark road trip.
Today, I realized I still haven’t posted pictures of the ball I got signed during my visit to Dow Diamond to watch the Great Lakes Loons play back on May 22. If you haven’t read about that memorable trip, here’s my blog post about it.
On this ball, I got a total of eight different signatures. I’m not sure about the first two, but the next two in the image below are pitcher Bret Montgomery and outfield Bobby Coyle:
In this image, the sigs belong to 1B Blake Dean and another mystery guy:
Here, it’s another mystery guy:
And here, it’s pitcher Andrew Pevsner:
I know, it’s lame to not know a few of the signatures, but given the way players jump from team to team in the Minor Leagues, figuring these guys out is difficult. At least two of the guys whose signatures I obtained are no longer with the Loons, and it’s a huge task to go through the team’s transactions to see if a name lines up with one of these autographs.
That said, I’d love to know which guys I have. Does anyone out there know?
Finally, here’s one last image of the ball, alongside the giant Loons collectible cup I bought during my visit:
Hopefully, you’re not sick of seeing signed balls yet. But if you are, I’ve got a treat for everyone either tomorrow or Friday. It’s not signed, and it’s not a ball, but it’s definitely awesome. I’ll say game-used, and leave it at that … for now.
** UPDATE **
A couple hours after posting this entry, the Great Lakes Loons got in touch with me for information about the mystery autographs.
They tell me the top autograph likely belongs to 2B Bryant Hernandez and the next one belongs to pitcher Michael Drowne.
The bottom sig on my second image above likely is that of Chris Jacobs or Chris Henderson, while the image below the “China” marking is former Loons closer Logan Bawcom.
A couple notes: Since I got Drowne’s autograph, he was sent down to the Pioneer League’s Ogden Raptors.
Bawcom, meanwhile, after putting up an impressive 4-1 record with 14 saves and 56 Ks in just 45.1 innings pitched with the Loons, was promoted to the California League’s Rancho Cucamonga Quakes.
Thanks to the Loons for the reply. They were awesome to deal with when I visited Dow Diamond, and I definitely hope to get back there some day.
If you’ve been reading my blog this week, you’ll likely have seen the three autographed balls I posted over the last three days.
Today, I’ve got a pretty cool ball that I got autographed at the Bowie Baysox game on June 26.
On the day of my visit, the team had an autograph day. Everyone but the day’s starting pitcher sat at tables throughout the concourse with Sharpies and pens in hand. I took a ball, started at one end of the line, and maybe 20 or 30 minutes later, I had 26 signatures.
There’s no point in listing all the guys; I got everyone on the roster at the time, plus the coaches. There are, however a few notable signatures. Below is the sweet spot, with manager Gary Kendall’s autograph right in the middle. Kendall was super nice; I was wearing my Aberdeen Ironbirds cap, and since he used to manage that team, we talked about Ripken Stadium a bit. The signature to the right of Kendall’s is Buck Britton, the brother of O’s pitcher Zach Britton. Why else is this noteworthy, you ask? Buck was selected 1,046 overall in 2008, and he’s hitting a combined .323 between A-class Frederick and AA Bowie this season. I love stories like that.
Here’s the next angle of the ball:
And another angle. Right in the middle of this ball is the signature of former MLB catcher Einar Diaz, who’s a coach with Bowie. Diaz played 11 seasons in the Bigs and was really friendly.
The fourth angle of my ball:
And, finally, the last shot. See the sig right at the very bottom? That’s Denny Hocking, the team’s hitting coach and a 13-year MLB vet. He also did broadcasting work for Fox Sports Radio, so you might recognize him from there.
Anyway, I’m pretty happy with this ball. It’s a little crammed, but it’s always cool to get a full team on one ball. I’m attending at least one more AA team autograph day this season, so I hope to repeat this success.
I’ll have more cool stuff to post soon, including details of my next trip and some awesome game-used memorabilia I picked up this summer. Check back soon!
If you read yesterday’s post, you’ll know that I’m currently in the middle of posting four balls in four days. I got these balls through various means on my last road trip, which you can read about on this blog.
Ball #2 belongs to a member of the National League team for tonight’s MLB All-Star game. As you can read from the super-legible signature, it’s Arizona‘s Justin Upton:
Upton is a former first overall draft pick and a two-time NL All-Star.
I bought this ball at Nationals Park during my recent visit there. The Nats have a great autograph booth featuring MLB-authenticated autographs and game-used equipment. This ball was a decent price, and I couldn’t pass it up — in part because of how perfect Upton’s autograph appears.
I’ll post ball #3 tomorrow. In the meantime, thanks for reading and remember to check out The Ballpark Guide to help plan your own baseball road trips!
Today, and for the next three days, I’m going to post a photo of a different autographed ball I got on my last road trip for The Ballpark Guide. Make sure to follow me on Twitter or bookmark this blog to see my next post.
My first post is an autographed ball of Baltimore Orioles great, and 1970 American League MVP, Boog Powell:
Powell is a two-time World Series winner, four-time All-Star and hit 339 home runs in a career that spanned from 1961 to 1977. Powell currently owns Boog’s BBQ at Camden Yards, and frequently hangs out at the popular eatery and meets fans. I got to meet him and get a photo with him during my second game in Baltimore on June 30.
Which autographed ball will I feature tomorrow? Check back and find out!
Finally, I’ll have news on my next road trip very soon.