Tagged: ballpark food

Batavia Muckdogs – July 15, 2018

Despite being only 4.5 hours from my front door, Dwyer Stadium, home of the Batavia Muckdogs, isn’t a place that I’d previously managed to visit since I launched The Ballpark Guide in 2010. And while I’d visited Rochester’s Frontier Field — just 45 minutes from Batavia — five separate times and zipped along I-90 past Batavia more times than I can count, this New York-Penn League team had never made it onto my road trip schedule.

Half of the issue has been scheduling. Often, when I’d plan to be near Batavia or would be driving past it, the Muckdogs weren’t at home. The other half of the issue was the fact that the team has essentially been on life support for the last several years. If you follow the NYPL, you’ll be no stranger to the talk about the Muckdogs leaving town. Many recent seasons have seemed like they’d be the team’s last, but the ‘Dogs continue to survive their standing eight-count and hang on.

Given the team’s relatively close proximity to where I live, as well as knowing that I’d regret not seeing the Muckdogs if they ended up departing, I knew that 2018 had to be the season that I finally visited Dwyer Stadium — and I’m happy that I made it happen.

I don’t normally schedule afternoon games on the first day of road trips, but this was the plan to start the trip that I’m currently on:

  • Wake up at 4 a.m.
  • Leave the house at 5 a.m.
  • Arrive in Batavia at 10 a.m.
  • See the Muckdogs host the Lowell Spinners at 1 p.m.

I completed the first two items on that list with no problem, and after several hours of driving, found myself pulling into the quiet parking lot at Dwyer Stadium just a few minutes after 10 a.m. — hopefully earning a Guinness record for “Earliest Arrival to a New York-Penn League Game.”

Dwyer Stadium opened in 1996, replacing the team’s former ballpark that was built on the same site in 1939. It’s nestled into a residential community, greatly reminiscent of Falcon Park in Auburn. Nearby residents can easily hear the ballpark PA announcer’s words and foul balls can make their way out of the park and onto neighborhood lawns. There’s a Little League facility beyond the left field fence and when there’s a lull in the action at Dwyer Stadium, fans can easily hear the kids’ game taking place just out of sight.

These are things that give Dwyer Stadium an appealing quality, and one that is increasingly rare as ballparks get bigger and fancier. It’s also the type of thing that makes me hope that the Muckdogs are able to stay in Batavia for many more years.

Since the parking lot was almost empty when I arrived, I had my pick of the spots — and chose one far enough away that my vehicle would be safe from foul balls. Before I got out of the car, I watched a coach bus pull up and knew that it carried the Spinners, which made me a combination of amused/proud/embarrassed to know that I’d beaten the visiting team to the ballpark yet again. I watched the Spinners climb out of the bus and walk into the visitors clubhouse, which is situated in the right field corner, and then I, too, left my vehicle to begin walking around the park.

The following image shows how Dwyer Stadium appears from the parking lot:

The pointed structure on the left houses the team’s offices and concession stand, while you can also see the sloped grandstands above the green walls and the covered grandstand behind home plate.

I walked around to the front of the ballpark and snapped this panorama:

To take it, I had to stand in the middle of the road — not something that you can do around most parks, but the quiet neighborhood around Dwyer Stadium made it easy.

The residential location of Dwyer Stadium isn’t the only thing that makes it reminiscent of Auburn’s Falcon Park. Although the latter opened a season earlier, the two ballparks are virtually identical, and it was fun to see so many familiar sights as I walked around.

I made my way down the sidewalk outside of the stadium and turned to walk behind the outfield fence. From there, I could see the batting cages and although I couldn’t hear anyone hitting, a Muckdogs cap and baseball bat were a sure sign that a member of the home team was about to start:

The space beyond the outfield fence has a unique combination of things to see. The impressiveness of the neatly manicured Little League park provides a contrast to rundown and vandalized structures such as this one:

This is how the backside of the outfield fence looks from where I stood behind the mound of a small children’s baseball diamond:

After making a complete lap around the facility, I figured that I’d pick up my media pass and go inside, but then I heard the Muckdogs taking batting practice. Doing so before a 1 p.m. game is rare, so I quickly ran back behind the outfield fence in the hopes of snagging a home run ball. Luck wasn’t in my favor — the fence is taller than most, and given that players at this level are still developing (and often using wooden bats for the first time) it’s definitely not a home run league. After a few minutes of not seeing a single ball leave the yard, I decided to head inside.

Here’s a look at the space immediately inside the main gates, which includes a beer concession stand, a bunch of picnic tables and some open space:

And this is the view that fans get upon entering and turning to the left:

The main concession stand is just out of the frame to the left, and the structure that you see is the backside of the team’s offices. The grandstand, of course, is on the right, and the gray wall in the middle of it is the back of the press box.

When I visit ballparks like Dwyer Stadium, I often think about what the experience might be for players. The Muckdogs are affiliated with the Marlins, and I can’t help but suspect that the gap between Batavia and Miami feels bigger than the 1,450 miles it actually is. The big leagues have to feel like a long shot when you’re in Batavia, but your motivation is never too far away. Behind the grandstand, there’s a huge wall display that recognizes the big leaguers who began their pro careers in Batavia. It’s an impressive list, too, with names such as Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Marlon Byrd, JA Happ, Carlos Carrasco, Lance Lynn, Matt Carpenter and many more.

After reading the alumni display and browsing some historical plaques mounted in the same area, I walked from the main plaza area down the third base concourse, which looks like this:

Down the third base line, there’s a large tent for groups, and I enjoyed a couple minutes of reprieve from the sun while watching BP:

One interesting thing that I noticed in this spot is that the Muckdogs were using a pitching machine for batting practice. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen that in all of the ballparks I’ve visited.

My next stop was the cross-aisle behind home plate, which looks like this:

This area is essentially the heart of Dwyer Stadium, perhaps thanks in part to the shelter from the sun that fans can enjoy here. After enjoying a few minutes of shade, I then stood directly behind home plate and watched some BP with this view:

Next, I continued my self-guided tour of Dwyer Stadium by walking along the cross-aisle down the first base line to a party deck at the end of the seating bowl:

The party deck has a small number of seats and a bar, and I later noticed that it was packed from first pitch through the ninth inning.

The next place I visited was the front row on the third base side, where I checked out the seating situation in detail. I love the cozy vibe that small ballparks like Dwyer Stadium provide fans. If you take a look at the following photo …

… you’ll notice that there are only five rows of seats below the cross-aisle. I especially love how the front row allows you to look right into the dugout, which is one of the ways that fans can get outstanding access to players at this level. You may have also noticed that Dwyer Stadium doesn’t yet have its dugout netting up, which I was happy to see.

As the gates opened and fans began to trickle into the park, I took a walk down the first base side toward the visitors clubhouse. Just before you reach the clubhouse, there’s an open area that I figured would be a good spot to stand in the hopes of snagging a foul ball:

And speaking of balls, you can’t really see it in the above photo, but there was a BP ball stuck between the rolled-up tarp and the fence. I noticed it as I got closer and grabbed it:

As I walked back toward the seating bowl, I saw a man leaning over the fence in front of the visitors dugout. I figured he was a reporter waiting for a player, but then saw that he appeared to be conversing with whoever was in the dugout. Curious, I walked over to the far side of the park so that I could see who he was talking to, and saw that it was a large contingent of Spinners. I quickly realized that he was a minister who was holding a church service for the players, given that it was a Sunday:

A while later, both teams came out to get warmed up, and in a true “you know you’re at a minor league game” moment, I watched two members of the home side playing catch with a pair of fans who were standing on the grass next to the picnic area down the third base line. It wasn’t just a couple of tosses, either — they were consistently playing catch for several minutes.

As I watched, I saw my buddy Mark Firkins waving at me from halfway across the ballpark. He’s someone I met when I was in the Cleveland Indians #TribeLive suite three season ago, and we’ve kept in touch ever since. He lives close to Batavia, so he and his son Travis made plans to be at this game. It was great to get caught up with him. He’s an Indians fan who attends a lot of games in Cleveland each season, which is a heck of a feat, given that it’s about a four-hour drive each way.

Mark and Travis joined me up in the shade to the left side of home plate, where we had this view as the game began:

Although the shade in this area was a welcome relief, we soon decided that we wanted to get closer to the action. Mark suggested going down to the front row behind the visitors dugout, and that was a perfect idea for me — the rare absence of netting meant that I was excited to snap some action photos over the next few innings. Before we settled into our new seats, Travis snapped this shot of Mark and me:

We also decided to grab some food. I’d spent some time perusing the Dwyer Stadium concessions before the gates opened, and there wasn’t anything overly noteworthy on the menu. Don’t get me wrong — this ballpark has all of the standard fare that you might want, but nothing out of the ordinary. I figured that when all else fails, you can’t go wrong with a hot dog, and I was surprised at the size of the one I was given:

Mark quickly explained that this is a Zweigle’s hot dog, which is thicker and shorter than a standard hot dog. Zweigle’s is based in Rochester and dates back to 1880. (The company is known for its white hots, which I ate in Rochester several years ago.)

As soon as I finished eating, I began to shoot some action shots. Here’s Spinners outfielder Dylan Hardy fouling a ball off:

And here’s Spinners first baseman Devlin Granberg striding to touch the bag after fielding a ground ball:

After a couple of innings, I took a wander around the park to see more of the sights. Check out how empty the field-level seats were at this point:

As I noted earlier, it was very hot and sunny, so the bulk of the fans were seated in the shade behind home plate or up on the bleachers with umbrellas.

Next, I went back to the grassy area adjacent to the visitors clubhouse. Shortly after I was there last, the grounds crew had wheeled the batting cage into this spot:

At most of the parks I’ve been to, even those in the lower levels of the minors, the batting cage is kept in a spot away from the fans. I couldn’t resist thoroughly checking it out and, of course, standing in it for a few minutes.

My next stop was the top row of the bleachers on the first base side, which gave me this awesome view of the field:

In a sense, it’s too bad that I’d decided to attend an afternoon game instead of an evening one. Mark told me that the sunset views from this spot in the stadium are outstanding, and that would’ve been nice to see.

I spent about an inning wandering, and then rejoined Mark and Travis and continued to snap some action shots. Here’s Granberg after his next at-bat — I wish I could say that I’d captured a post-home run bat flip, but alas this was only a post-walk bat flip:

One of the many things that I enjoy the most about watching games in the lower levels of the minors is the things that you pick up that you might not notice at larger ballparks. From where we sat, we could easily hear home plate umpire Dylan Bradley and one of the Spinners coaches going back and forth about, of all things, some batting gloves that a player had in his back pocket. Bradley ended the exchange by yelling, “Enough, enough!” at the Lowell dugout, but we had the feeling that things weren’t over yet. True enough, an inning or two later, first base umpire Thomas Fornarola ejected Spinners hitting coach Nate Spears, and we could hear the entire exchange. Spears, who apparently thought that the ejection was iffy, challenged Fornarola: “I’d like to see how you write this one up.” The umpire had a quick response — “Easy!” I didn’t get a photo of the ejection itself, but here’s a shot of a displeased Spears gesturing at the umpire on his way off the field:

In the seventh inning, Batavia reliever C.J. Carter came on to pitch, and we noticed something that I don’t think I’ve ever seen before — the right-handed pitcher threw sidearm to lefties and had a traditional windup and delivery when he faced righties. Here’s his funky sidearm delivery:

Mark, Travis and I said our goodbyes as soon as the game wrapped up. My initial thought was to go check out some Little League action for a while, but the sunburn on my arms, knees and face told me that getting into some air conditioning would be a better idea. I hopped in my car, drove less than five minutes to my hotel, and soon was enjoying the shade and the cool — and thinking about taking a short drive to Rochester in the morning.

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Ottawa Champions – June 8, 2018

The Can-Am League’s Ottawa Champions have been a fixture in my blog dating back to 2015. While I don’t make independent baseball my primary focus, I can’t resist checking out this team and have done so one or more times every season since then.

This blog post is about my visit on June 8, but I’d actually been to Ottawa’s Raymond Chabot Grant Thornton Park once earlier in the season. That visit took place back on May 22, and between a delayed start due to a rain and my early departure because I had a busy schedule the next day, there wasn’t a ton of blog-worthy content.

There was, however, one exciting thing that transpired and that would factor into my June visit to Ottawa. During that May game, Ottawa first baseman Vincent Guglietti blasted his first home run of the season over the right field fence, and I managed to track the ball down later on. Guglietti is in his first year with the Champions, so I knew that the home run was a bit of a milestone for him. The next day, I caught up with him on Twitter and asked if he wanted the ball back. He told me that he’d appreciate giving it to his parents, who collect his baseball memorabilia, and I made plans to hand it over the next time I was in Ottawa.

Fast forward to June 8, and I was once again on my way to Canada’s capital city with his home run ball safely tucked in my backpack. The ball, which I’d photographed earlier …

… would be the second home run that I’d be returning to the player who hit it. (If you’ve followed my blog for a long time, you’ll know that my first foray into the ball-returning game turned out well.)

I pulled into RCGT Park’s parking lot as the Champions were taking batting practice, as I’d planned to meet up with Guglietti at the end of BP. When I walked into the stadium, I was pleased to see bright skies overhead and the home team hitting — two things that weren’t a part of my visit a few weeks earlier. Here’s my first view of the field:

I hung out in the stands and watched Ottawa hit and then, just as we’d planned, met up with Guglietti as soon as BP wrapped up. He was super friendly and seemed happy to get the ball back, and I was certainly happy to give it to him. We chatted a bit about how he was liking Ottawa and how the season was going so far, but I completely missed an opportunity to get a photo with him. I intended to, but was enjoying our brief conversation and sort of felt weird about blurting out a photo request. Boo to me.

Soon enough, he said goodbye and headed into the Ottawa clubhouse, and decided to wander around for a bit. I’ve been to RCGT Park enough times that there isn’t much exploring to do, but I always enjoy moving around the stadium and taking in the sights. By now, the sights included the visiting Salina Stockade, who were just starting to take BP. The Kansas-based Stockade is a traveling team in 2018 that played in the American Association last season and the Pecos League in 2016. (The franchise has also been called the “worst pro baseball team of 2017” in an entertaining article in The Ringer.)

Bad team or not, I was interested to see the Stockade for the first time as I watched the first few minutes of its BP session from the grass berm/picnic area down the third base line:

After the Stockade finished hitting, I decided to grab a few minutes of shade by climbing to the upper row of the seats behind home plate, which are shaded by the press box and suites. As I looked above me, I saw the familiar face of Mike Nellis, the Champions’ lead broadcaster and director of communications, in the press box. He’s a guy I’ve gotten to know over the past few seasons, and I always enjoy talking baseball with him. We caught up for a few minutes, and then he got back to preparing for the game and I got back to, well, enjoying the shade.

Pretty soon, the Champions made their way out onto the field, and I headed down to the third base side to watch them warm up. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t aware of the presence of their all-star catcher, Danny Grauer, who is at home rehabbing off-season surgery. He’s a player I met early last season and became friendly with, often talking with him for a few minutes before each game. We kept in touch through the off-season, and I even caught a Norfolk Tides game with him back in May. So, yeah, it was weird not seeing Danny there and talking to him, and I was definitely missing seeing him.

I was snapped back into reality when I noticed a player waving at me from the field — it was Guglietti, and it was cool to see him again. I snapped this shot of him after he began stretching:

As more and more players filtered out onto the field, I began to see a bunch of familiar faces and lots of new ones. There’s a significant amount of turnover in independent baseball, as you might guess, so I needed to figure out who was who. Here’s infield Steve Nyisztor, a former Arizona Diamondbacks farmhand who is in his second season with Ottawa:

And here’s a new addition to Ottawa’s roster in 2018 — outfielder Coco Johnson, who played in the Miami Marlins system in 2013 and 2014:

He comes to Ottawa from the Windy City ThunderBolts of the independent Frontier League, where he swiped 57 bases in 96 games last year and 48 in 93 a season earlier.

I watched Ottawa for a few minutes, and then went over to the first base side to watch Salina. Here’s one player warming up …

… unfortunately, I have no idea who he is. He wore #5 and there’s currently no #5 on the team’s roster, according to its website. There are four #24s, though! And, for what it’s worth, Salina’s manager was also wearing #5.

Uniform numbers aside, there were a couple of interesting things that I noticed about the team’s jerseys. As you can see here, some players were wearing mesh-style jerseys, while others were made of solid fabric:

And here’s something that I found amusing — one player safety pinning sleeves on his teammate’s jersey, which appeared to be one of those sleeveless types:

I took a spot behind the visitors dugout on the first base side for the start of the game and watched the action from there. The view was definitely different — alongside other parks around baseball, RCGT Park installed protective netting over the dugouts prior to the season starting. I get what the netting is there for, but I’m not the biggest fan of looking through it. So, after the inning wrapped up, I was on the move again. Before I found another place to sit, I decided to grab some dinner. Ottawa’s selection of food over the last few seasons has really impressed me. If you’ve seen some of my posts about visiting RCGT Park, which you can check out here, here and here, you’ll see some images of tasty fare that you might not expect in independent baseball. Although I was tempted to go for one of my tried-and-tested meals (General Tao poutine, I’m looking at you) I wanted to try something different. This quest sent me over to a concession stand in the left field picnic area, which I’d walked past a million times over the years but had never bought anything from. I grabbed an order of chicken wings and took them up to a seat on the third base side to eat. Here’s how they looked:

Not a sight that has your mouth watering, is it? This surprised me, because lots of people were buying wings in line ahead of me. It sure looked as those these had been sitting around for some time. Fortunately, they tasted much better than they looked. They weren’t very meaty, but the chicken didn’t taste as dry as I’d feared and the hot sauce they came with was a good addition. In fact, it was blazing hot, so as soon as I finished eating dinner, I set off to find something for dessert to cool down my mouth. Dessert came in the form of a bowl of root beer ice cream, which I bought at a concession stand just a few paces away from where I’d bought the wings:

This is the second time I’ve had root beer ice cream in my life, and both times have been at a ballpark. (My first root beer ice cream experience was last season at a Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders game.)

Happily full, it was time to snap some action photos. I didn’t want to contend with the netting, so I went to a perfect spot that I first encountered last season — the umpires’ door right behind home plate. Here’s one of the first shots that I took, which shows Ottawa’s Johnson a split-second after laying down a bunt:

And here’s Ottawa outfielder Steve Brown waiting for a pitch:

I ended up spending several innings in this spot. It’s such a thrilling place to watch the game, and Ottawa’s official photographer Marc Lemieux soon arrived, so I had fun talking baseball and photography with him.

I spent the last three innings rotating between seats on the first and third base sides, and enjoyed the rest of the game. Salina, for all of its uniform issues, looked solid, beating Ottawa 8-6. The Champions got revenge a day later, though, trouncing the road team 13-0. It was an entertaining visit to RCGT Park, as always. I don’t know when my next visit will be, but I’ll definitely be back there again this season.

Norfolk Tides – May 29, 2018

I woke up in Norfolk, VA, on the morning of Tuesday, May 29 to the sound of heavy rain.

It wasn’t really a surprise.

Since I’d arrived in Norfolk the previous afternoon, it had rained without reprieve, and I’d be lying if I said I was concerned that I might not get to see a single Norfolk Tides game on this trip. The plan for this trip was to get to Norfolk on Monday, attend the Tides games on Tuesday and Wednesday, and cram in whatever sightseeing I could manage when I wasn’t at the ballpark.

Of course, Mother Nature seemed to have different plans, dropping more than three inches of rain on the city on Monday night. It actually rained so hard at times that I couldn’t get any TV reception in my hotel room, which was definitely a first for me.

By 10 a.m. on Tuesday, though, the rain had stopped and the forecast seemed to improve — making me cautiously optimistic that I’d actually get a chance to see some baseball on this trip.

After some really good sightseeing around the city, I got to Harbor Park around 3:30 p.m., roughly three hours before first pitch. By now, the conditions were dry and the forecast looked fine, and I was very relieved.

Harbor Park is the 67th professional/affiliated ballpark that I’ve visited since 2010 and the 53rd different Minor League Baseball park that I’ve been to. It’s also, for those keeping score, the 10th different International League park at which I’ve seen at least one game. It’s always exciting to visit a ballpark for the first time, and this visit was no exception. I was immediately impressed with the look of Harbor Park from the outside — and I think the following photo does a good job of showing the eye-catching design from just outside the front gates:

As you might’ve noticed in the above photo, there wasn’t much going on outside due to my early arrival time. That was just fine with me — I was just thankful that the rain hadn’t interfered with this ballpark visit. I decided to walk through the parking lot to the right of the main gates, and soon made it to a large plaza area outside the first base entrance:

Did you catch the propeller statue? It’s just one of many nautical-themed sights in and around Harbor Park. The Elizabeth River is immediately beyond the outfield fence at this ballpark, and Norfolk is just a short drive from Virginia Beach. So, yeah, lots of nautical stuff to see.

While still in this area, I snapped the following photo of the gates and the ramp that led up to the concourse level:

My favorite thing in that image? The small ticket office nestled below the ramp. As is the norm, there was a large ticket office beside the main gates, but I thought the inclusion of this other office was a cool touch.

The river was just over my right shoulder as I took the above photo, and I wanted to get a little closer to check it out. Norfolk and the entire Hampton Roads area is dominated by shipbuilding/repairing/naval industry, and that was evident within sight of where I stood outside Harbor Park. This next photo shows an enormous dry dock that belongs to Colonna’s Shipyard. There’s a huge boat from New York City being repaired in it:

Unfortunately, that was as close as I could get to the water. The space behind Harbor Park was completely fenced off, so I gave up on further explorations in that area and took the long walk around the front of the stadium toward the third base entrance and left field corner. Before I got there, I came across another cool sight — a light rail system with a stop adjacent to the Harbor Park parking lot. The train, known as “The Tide,” travels to several areas through Norfolk, but I think it’s awesome that it stops next to the ballpark. It wasn’t long ago that I was in Minneapolis, marveling at the light rail system that carries fans to Target Field, but I think this might be the first time I’ve encountered the opportunity to travel to a minor league ballpark by train:

I continued on my walk across the parking lot until the elevated railway bridges that I believe give Harbor Park one of the most iconic views in the minor leagues came into view. If you’ve seen any picture of Harbor Park over the years, you’ve almost certainly noticed the pair of bridges that point skyward beyond the outfield fence. From where I stood at the far edge of the parking lot, I could see them clearly:

Curious to see how close I could get to them, I headed to my left to a small railway platform that serves Amtrak’s Norfolk Station (which is separate from the light rail station I showed you earlier). I walked the length of the platform toward the bridges before being thwarted by a sign, but I still had a nice view of this iconic Norfolk sight:

Speaking of other Norfolk sights, it was time to get inside Harbor Park to officially be able to cross ballpark #67 off my list. I entered via the main gates, which open into a lobby that houses the Hampton Roads Sports Hall of Fame. I took a couple minutes to browse the many plaques recognizing people from all different sports, and then eagerly climbed a set of stairs to the concourse, hurried across it and snapped this shot:

How’s that for a view? Sure, the clouds weren’t looking all that friendly, but I was thrilled to be inside the stadium and excited to start checking out all of the sights.

I started by going up to the press level, which offered a similarly impressive view. I then descended back to the concourse and began to walk around — starting with a walk down the third base side. I was relieved to quickly identify the Hot Dog Nation concession stand, which I’d read about in advance of my trip and wanted to visit once the gates opened up. After perusing the menu for a moment, I continued all the way down the concourse to the group party deck known as The Virginian-Pilot Picnic Area. It’s new for this season, and I noticed the mild smell of new paint in the air — a definite sign of just how fresh this area is. This is how the picnic area, which can accommodate up to 500 people, looks from the edge of the cross-aisle:

And here’s the view from the edge of this section:

As is always the case with group areas at minor league ballparks, you can’t buy tickets in this section unless you’re buying as a group. But, I later learned, when there’s no group that has booked the section for any given game, it’s open to all fans — and that’s definitely a fan-friendly feature.

I spent a few minutes wandering around the picnic area, in part because it offered a nice view of the field, and in part because it provided me with some much-needed shade. Even though the sky was overcast, the humidity this close to the ocean was tangible, and cooling off under the roof of the picnic zone soon had me feeling refreshed and ready to continue exploring. Instead of retracing my steps along the concourse, I took the opportunity to get closer to the field by walking along the cross-aisle. I think the following photo gives you a good idea of the seating setup at Harbor Park — essentially, two different levels of seating on the lower section, a suite level above, and an upper deck down the lines.

I followed the cross-aisle all the way around the park until I ended up in the party deck immediately behind the right field foul pole. This one contained a bar and a bunch of bar-style seating, and provided this view of the field:

From there, I could also see the railway bridges and the river, as well as the remnants of a dock that once held a popular Norfolk concert venue that was demolished in 2011 after being severely damaged during Hurricane Isabel:

I realize that this area might not look that hot, but I liked it because it was neat to think about a who’s who of popular music playing just behind the ballpark over the years. I also appreciated the rugged appearance of the area, although I can imagine that the Tides management would love an opportunity to develop this area into usable space at some point in the future.

Speaking of management, my next stop was back in the press box where I met up with Ian Locke, the team’s longtime director of media relations. He offered me a tour of the ballpark, and you know I wasn’t about to turn it down. Even though I’d been to several spots around the park over the last hour or so, hearing Ian’s inside information and insight on these areas really augmented the visit for me — thanks again, Ian!

We began our tour immediately outside of the press area, which provided this view of downtown Norfolk. As you can see, the ballpark is conveniently located to the major arteries running through the city, and the view of the city’s skyline — including the Ferris wheel in the distance — was perfect from this spot:

Next, we headed somewhere that I’d hadn’t previously been — one of the team’s suites. This one is the swankiest in the ballpark, and even featured a vaulted ceiling:

As you might expect, it provided an excellent view of the field, including the railway bridges — one of which was currently descending as we stood in the suite:

Before my visit, I’d strangely always assumed that the bridges remained up. I had some idea in my head that they were historic bridges that were no longer used and were set to the upper position to create a cool backdrop behind Norfolk Park, but Ian assured me that they were fully functional. (And I definitely saw them go up and down multiple times over my two visits the ballpark.) I’m not really sure how I came to my erroneous conclusion, other than the fact that the bridges were always pointing skyward in any photo I’d ever seen of Norfolk Park.

We next visited another suite on the opposite side of the park, taking a few minutes to step out into the seats on the balcony in front of it:

This is the setup that many MiLB suites offer, and it’s a cool design. You can enjoy some food and A/C indoors, while also watching the game’s broadcast on TV. And, when desired, you can grab a seat outside to really get the traditional ballpark experience. Talk about the best of both worlds.

Ian took me through the left field picnic area I’d visited earlier and then all the way over to Hits at the Park, a buffet-style restaurant in an enclosed area in the right field corner. It seats 225 people, has a nice-looking bar with multiple TVs and gives fans a pretty extensive buffet — all for less than $20 for adults. Most notably, this is where fans can take the Salute to Pork Challenge, one of the most notable eating challenges in the minor leagues. What does this eating challenge feature, you might ask?

  • Four pulled pork BBQ sliders
  • Four four-ounce Cajun-smoked sausages
  • A dozen pork wings
  • Bacon and chili cheese tots

The whole thing weighs about five pounds, and if you can successfully conquer it in an hour, you win tickets to a future Tides game and get your photo on a wall of fame inside the restaurant. Should you fail, your photo goes on the wall of shame. There were far, far more photos on the latter, thus convincing me that I didn’t need to partake in any pork-fueled eating challenges on this visit.

The last stop on our tour was probably my favorite. Ian took me out to the roof to the left field side of the press box, which provided an awesome view of the field and everything beyond it (including the slightly foreboding skies — yikes):

I’ve been fortunate to be able to get up to the roofs of several ballparks over the years, and it’s always a thrill. And Ian told me to feel free to visit the roof as much as I wanted throughout the game, so that’s definitely something I made a mental note to do.

After Ian and I said our goodbyes, I went back down to the concourse level to grab dinner. As I mentioned earlier, the Hot Dog Nation concession stand was on my radar, and one of the noteworthy dogs in particular had my eye. I ordered the Oriole Dog, which pays homage to the Tides’ MLB parent club and one of the popular food choices in Baltimore. It consisted of a hot dog topped with macaroni and cheese and crab meat. I’ve had mac and cheese on hot dogs on a few occasions, but never with crab, too. This was definitely one that I was excited check out:

I definitely give the Tides food services team credit for a cool idea, but it felt a little flat for me. The hot dog itself had a squishy texture instead of the snap that I look for. The mac and cheese was tasty, but the crab was cold — and I got a big piece of shell in my first bite. I think that a few minor tweaks, like heating the crab and maybe seasoning it with Old Bay, would make this hot dog a definite winner.

I’d taken the hot dog to the upper deck, and as soon as finished eating, I went back down to the concourse and made a beeline over to the Tides bullpen in the right field corner. The party deck is directly above the ‘pen, so it provides a perfect spot for watching the Tides pitchers warming up. I spent several minutes watching starter Tim Melville:

And then, once the game began, I spent the first inning in the picnic area in left field in the hopes of snagging a home run ball — something that didn’t happen. There weren’t any fans in the area, so I could’ve theoretically hung out there for a long time in the hopes of getting a baseball, but you know me — I’ve always gotta be on the move. I decided that I’d take Ian up on his offer to visit the roof, so I took the stairs back up to the press level and walked out on the roof on the third base side. Here’s how it looked as I got there …

… and here’s the view of the field from the edge:

Simply outstanding!

I snapped off a handful of photos, and then was content to just hang out in the unique spot and enjoy the game. I ended up staying on the roof for an entire inning, and then went back down to the concourse to visit the team shop — and enjoy a bit of the air conditioning to cool off from all the walking I’d been doing.

After another lap of the concourse, stopping here and there to watch the game from different angles, I went back up to the press level and went to check out the roof on the first base side. From here, I was enjoying looking into the visitors dugout, and there are a couple of things worth pointing out:

For starters, check out the length of the dugout. Harbor Park’s dugouts are longer than average, and Ian told me why. When the park was being built, the team discussed where fans like to sit at games. The consensus was that many fans enjoy sitting behind the dugout, so why not make them longer than they’d otherwise be? It’s a win-win for the fans and for the players. The other noteworthy thing is that there isn’t any netting over the dugouts here. (Woo hoo!) I asked Ian about it, since netting has become the norm in baseball, and he said the nets will be up before much longer. I think it’s cool that I got to experience Harbor Park before that.

After watching a bit more of the game, I snapped this picture …

… and soon afterward, noticed a baseball that had obviously been fouled back onto the roof, and was happy to grab it:

I love the black smudge where it smacked the roof.

A moment after stuffing the ball into my backpack, I headed to the door that led off the roof, turned the knob, and … nothing. It was locked.

I assessed the situation. There wasn’t another way off the roof that I was aware of, at least without acting like Spider-Man. Hmmm. I knocked on the door — normally at first and then loudly, but I knew it was largely futile. On the other side of the door, there was a long hallway with a bend in it, and that meant that no one would likely be within earshot. Plus, anyone who might’ve heard the knocking would’ve been working — the radio/TV rooms and stadium operation rooms were not too far away, but their doors were shut and their staffs were busy. I walked back out the roof to think about my choices. All things considered, at least I was trapped in a good spot to watch the game. But, I legitimately needed to figure out a way off the roof. Thankfully, I thought to send an email to Ian. The Wi-Fi was spotty in this part of the park, so it probably took me 10 minutes to get a connection and actually send the email — but I eventually did … and a short while later, my knight in shining armor Ian showed up and rescued me.

The rooftop misadventure had worked up an appetite, so I headed along the concourse in search of something else to eat. I don’t always eat two meals at ballparks, but given that I was concerned about a rainout the following day, I wanted to sample another concession stand. There’s a barbecue stand down the third base side that I’d checked out earlier, and it looked promising. I arrived in maybe the fifth inning, and was told that the stand was just about to close. Fortunately, I was able to order a brisket platter, which I took over to one of the picnic tables on the concourse:

The platter consisted of a good helping of brisket, along with two sides and coleslaw. The only sides still available when I placed my order were baked beans and green beans, so I narrowly missed the opportunity to have my second serving of mac and cheese of the day. Unfortunately, I wasn’t very impressed with this meal. The baked beans were fine, the green beans were very soggy — which I can chalk up to the stand about to close, I guess — and the brisket contained far too much fat for my liking.

Underwhelming barbecue did little to dampen my enjoyment of the evening, though, and I soon found myself back on the roof — the third base side, with the unlocked door, for those keeping score — where I took this photo during the game’s late innings:

After a bit of time up top, I watched the last bit of the game from the seats behind home plate, where I had this view:

Just minutes after the final out, I hopped into my rental car and headed back to my hotel. On the drive, I figured that if the next day’s game ended up being a rainout (spoiler alert — it wasn’t) I’d crammed an awful lot into my first Harbor Park visit, and I was thrilled with the overall experience.

Syracuse Chiefs – April 18, 2018

A little more than 12 hours after I’d thawed out following a frigid but fun visit to NBT Bank Stadium in Syracuse, I was back at the International League ballpark for a doubleheader that was set to begin at 10:30 a.m. The previous day’s wintry weather had canceled the second game of a scheduled doubleheader, so the teams tacked that game onto the end of the matinee game on this day, and I was thrilled to be able to take in both contests before driving home.

As is often the case with April matinee games, it was Education Day at the ballpark — and that meant that a lot of students would be in attendance. I planned to get to the park well in advance of the gates opening up and the students arriving so that I could enjoy the quiet scene for a bit. As soon as I got in, I went straight to the upper deck in the left field corner. A couple Chiefs pitchers were throwing bullpen sessions, and while I always enjoy watching such moments, I didn’t want to awkwardly stand right at field level. From my spot in the front row of the upper deck, I could not only enjoy watching the action in the Syracuse bullpen below me, but also take in the great view of the park that the upper deck provides:

I watched the scene from this area for a while, and then made my way over to the visitors side of the field to watch the Indianapolis Indians after they’d taken the field. A day earlier, it’d been funny to watch the players warming up in the cold and snow flurries. Today, the flurries were gone but the cold remained — as you can probably tell by the hat choice of Indians pitcher Clay Holmes:

And, while his teammates might not have been quite as cold as they were the last time I watched them, many of them were still wearing assorted pieces of extra clothing to keep the chills at bay:

My next stop was back over to the Syracuse side. By now, starting pitcher Austin Voth had taken the bullpen mound to begin to warm up, so I grabbed a spot in the front row and snapped a bunch of pictures of him, including this one:

I knew there’d be a chance that once the students in attendance decided it was time to eat, there could be some lineups at the concession stands, so I headed to the concourse to get my first meal of the day shortly before first pitch. A handful of concession stands had been closed a day earlier because of the weather, but I’m happy to report that everything was open on this day — and that meant that I could get an item I’d been reading about in advance of this visit. The Chiefs introduced three new hot dogs for the 2018 season, and the one that caught my eye was the salt potato hot dog. Salt potatoes are a big thing in Syracuse and other spots in New York (I ate them years ago at a Tri-City ValleyCats game, actually). The hot dog in question was pretty simple — a regular hot dog loaded with salt potatoes:

The Hofmann hot dogs served at NBT Bank Stadium are probably my favorite dogs of any ballpark, so the idea of adding potatoes with butter, salt and pepper was a winner. I will say, though, that I think this hot dog could’ve used a little something else in the flavor department. Of course, I could’ve added a flavorful condiment such as mustard, but it felt as though it was a little more bland than I’d have liked. Still, it was a good hot dog overall, and the unique topping of the salt potatoes made it fun to eat.

During my visit to NBT Bank Stadium a day earlier, I hadn’t spent any time sitting behind home plate, so doing so was definitely a priority for the doubleheader. I spent the first couple innings on the Jim Beam Party Deck in right field, but then went and grabbed a spot in the front row. It’s always a fun challenge to shoot action photos from this spot, and the action doesn’t necessarily have to be a hitter making contact with the ball — here’s a shot I snapped of Indianapolis infielder Kevin Kramer at the point of being hit by a pitch thrown by David Goforth:

Later in that inning, I got this shot of Indians outfielder Jordan Luplow taking a hack:

As you might know, I’m always on the lookout for unusual sights at the ballpark, including those related to players’ uniforms. I’ve had my pictures included in ESPN’s Uni Watch blog a number of times, so finding subtle and bizarre uniform-related minutiae is always something I enjoy. Case in point, here’s a picture of Chiefs catcher Tuffy Gosewisch walking toward the home dugout:

Notice anything unique about him?

You might have seen that he’s wearing Seattle Mariners pants, as evidenced by the colors of the MLB logo on the belt tunnel. I’ve noticed that a lot of guys who’ve bounced between Triple-A and the big leagues wear their big league pants with their Triple-A jerseys, but I think this is the first time that I’ve seen a mismatch in organizations — the Chiefs are affiliated with the Washington Nationals, not the Mariners. Gosewisch, though, played 11 games for Seattle last season, which explains the pants.

In the fifth inning of the game, I noticed that Syracuse had a no-hitter going. It may seem funny, but I tend not to notice such accomplishments as quickly as you might think. I’m normally so focused on exploring the ballpark, taking photos — and, yes, sometimes eating — that I’m not usually watching the scoreboard. As soon as I saw the goose eggs, though, I was fixated on the action. I decided that if the Chiefs were able to toss a no-no, I’d want to get some pictures from above. I headed to the upper deck and, after Austin Adams got Erich Weiss to strike out to end the game, I snapped this shot of the initial celebration:

I should note, of course, that there are a couple unique points about this no-hitter. Four Chiefs pitchers shared it, and it only went seven innings, given that MiLB doubleheader games are this length. Still, an impressive accomplishment, especially given the chilly conditions. This is actually the second no-hitter I’ve seen in two seasons. Last summer, at an independent game in Ottawa, Canada, I watched former MLBer Phillippe Aumont toss a no-no against the Dominican Republic National Team.)

Here’s the video board showing the score after the final out:

I got some reprieve from the cold conditions by hanging out in the Hank Sauer Room between games of the doubleheader. As had been the case a day earlier, the Chiefs had opened up this room for fans looking for a little warmth, and it was nice to be able to warm up a little as I waited for the second game of the twin bill to begin.

Like I’d done earlier in the day, I grabbed some food right before first pitch. For my second meal of the day, I opted for an order of spicy fried cheese curds, which came with some ranch dipping sauce:

I actually had fried cheese curds at Target Field last fall, and while they were good, I’d give the nod to those I ate in Syracuse. The NBT Bank Stadium curds were more gooey, which was a big plus, and the spiciness was a nice addition, too.

As you might’ve noticed, I ate the curds in the upper deck above the first base side, which was a spot in which I’d snagged a pair of foul balls a day earlier. Not long after I finished my meal, another ball came soaring my way. This one was off the bat of Indians pitcher Casey Sadler, and it marked the fourth and final foul ball I’d gotten on this trip. And, for the record, the first foul ball in my collection hit by a pitcher, as far as I can recall:

From a similar vantage point in the upper deck, I noticed for the first time that my hotel for this visit, Embassy Suites by Hilton Syracuse Destiny USA, had an ad on the outfield fence:

 

That’s because this hotel is the official hotel of the Chiefs, and I wholeheartedly recommend it for baseball fans visiting the city. In my last blog post, I mentioned its awesome proximity to both the ballpark and Destiny USA, the sixth-largest mall in the U.S., but it’s worth noting a few other features if you’re thinking about staying in this hotel during your next visit to Syracuse. One of the things I love about the Embassy Suites brand is the complimentary made-to-order breakfasts. A lot of hotels have free breakfasts, but they’re generally pretty basic. At this hotel, I got to enjoy made-to-order omelets each morning, as well as a number of other items that had me feeling full and ready for the cold weather. Another cool food-related note is that there’s a reception for guests each evening with complimentary drinks and appetizers, served around this stylish space:

I can’t say enough good things about the guest rooms, either. Mine was spacious and extremely clean, with a big bathroom and a small kitchen area that definitely came in handy. Here’s the desk that I used for much of the visit:

From here, I could not only work on my blog while watching a wall-mounted TV across the room, but also keep an eye out the window to see what the weather was doing.

This hotel will definitely be my choice when I get back to Syracuse to see the Chiefs in action — and, hopefully, it won’t be that long before that happens.

Syracuse Chiefs – April 17, 2018

It’s impossible for me to understate how much I dislike talking about the weather, hearing about the weather and thinking about the weather.

That said, weather did play a major factor in this week’s trip to Syracuse, so it’s going to come up a time or two in this blog post.

Weather is, of course, the biggest obstacle to face during April baseball road trips. I’ve been rained out, snowed out and shivered for hours in ballparks during games in the first month of the season. It’s probably smartest to wait until May to take a baseball trip, but when you’re eager to get your road tripping season underway, games in April are ever so tempting.

I scheduled three days in Syracuse a few weeks back because the Chiefs schedule was favorable — there were games Monday and Tuesday night, plus a bonus matinee game on Wednesday that I could attend before the three-hour drive home. As the trip approached, though, and winter returned to not only where I live in Canada, but also to New York and several other states, I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t concerned about seeing any baseball on this trip.

We got hit with an ice storm on the weekend before I left, which meant that I had plenty of scraping to do before I could even see out my car windows enough to get on the road. The ice had turned to rain by the time I pulled out of my driveway at 9 a.m. on Monday, and I made it all the way to Syracuse without ever turning the windshield wipers off. I checked into my hotel about 2 p.m., and figured that there’d be no way the Chiefs would host the Indianapolis Indians at 6:35 p.m., so I vigilantly checked Twitter for updates on the game’s status. Big kudos to the Chiefs for canceling the game in a timely manner. Even though I love going to any ballpark, the idea of standing around in the rain for an hour or two, only to then hear that the game has been postponed, isn’t that appealing — and this is especially true when it’s 35 degrees!

The postponement meant that the Chiefs and Indians would square off the following afternoon, April 17, and even though snow was in the forecast for that day, I was hopeful I’d get to see at least some baseball.

With game one of the twin bill scheduled for 4 p.m., I pulled into the NBT Bank Stadium parking lot two hours early and parked, and then took a quick and chilly walk around to enjoy the stadium from the exterior. Here’s the first picture I took:

If you think that the conditions look cold in this image, you’re definitely right. The temperatures remained in the 30s and the constant wind made it feel much colder than that. I approached the gates and snapped this shot, which I think looks cool:

I then entered the stadium, went up to the concourse level and was excited to see the field for the first time. I figured that batting practice wouldn’t be taking place, and I was correct. The tarp was on the field and there were flurries in the air, but I was happy to be in the ballpark:

I’ve been to NBT Bank Stadium enough that I didn’t feel a huge need to run around and start taking in all the sights. That said, there were some new additions since I last visited in 2015, so I wanted to check them out. One big and noticeable difference is that five of the seating sections in the upper deck are now tarped off. I’m sure management is never thrilled about having to do this, but I commend the Chiefs on using five different tarp images, including three of the team’s logos. The use of these tarps, rather than just plain ones, add to the look of the park. Here’s a panorama from the corner in left field. You can see three tarps in the foreground and two across the field:

The biggest addition since my last visit — and one I’m sure that management is excited about — is the Jim Beam Party Deck beyond right field. I’ve always felt that the one knock on NBT Bank Stadium has been its lack of outfield seating, which is fairly common among parks of its age. I always love a ballpark that has a concourse that wraps around the entire field, and while that’s not the case in Syracuse, the addition of an expansive party deck that allows you to hang out in the outfield is a big upgrade. Here’s how the deck looks from above:

And here’s how the view from this area looked just a few minutes after the Indians took the field and began to play catch:

The party deck is an appealing hangout. There are picnic tables and bistro tables, as well as a wide railing along the entire front edge of the deck to comfortably hold your food and drink. The deck can accommodate up to 300 people and booking it for your group includes an all-you-can-eat menu. Here’s one more view of the deck:

I watched a few minutes of Indianapolis’ warmup from this area, and then headed back toward home plate when it became evident that the infield tarp was about to be removed — something that is always a welcome sight for baseball fans. After it was gone, I was excited to see the field for the first time:

There were just a few snow flurries in the air before and after the tarp removed, but nothing of concern. The temperature and the wind, however, were bitter. The open concourse at NBT Bank Stadium is perfect because you can always see the field as you’re walking around or waiting in line at the concession stands, but it wasn’t providing much refuge from the wind. Once the gates opened, I hurried into the team shop not just to browse the items, but also to enjoy the warmth — it was definitely the warmest spot in the park. I spent about five minutes in the shop, and then went back outside to brave the elements. In a few minutes, the players would be heading back out to the field, and I wanted to see them come out. As the Indians came out, the flurries started to pick up. The scene felt pretty bizarre, and I could tell that as cold as the players were, they were also a little amused by the weather conditions. Here’s Indians infielder Kevin Newman (who was one of two players who talked to me about my shirt last year in Binghamton) surrounded by flurries as he played catch:

An here’s outfielder Jordan Luplow (who I saw hit a walk-off home run on the last day of the Jamestown Jammers franchise back in 2014) who was wearing ninja-style gear to keep the wind and cold at bay:

By the time starting pitcher Nick Kingham toed the bullpen rubber — after I overhead him joking that his water bottle might freeze — the flurries had intensified:

The increasingly poor weather initially had me concerned about the game getting underway, but as quickly as the snow would worsen, it would then lighten. As first pitch approached, no sort of delay seemed to be imminent. Here’s how the scene looked just four minutes before the game began:

Did you notice the emptiness of the stands? So did I — in fact, I’d never been to a game that was this sparsely attended. Then again, this was the coldest game I’d ever been to, and the only one with snow. I hardly blame Syracuse residents for staying at home on this afternoon. I should note, in fairness, that most of the fans who were at the game were up on the concourse to get shelter from the flurries. That said, I estimate fewer than 100 people were at the game.

As the game began, I headed out to the party deck to enjoy the view of the field from this new vantage point:

Playing right field for the Chiefs was Alejandro De Aza, who’s suited up for more than 800 MLB games in his career. It was clear throughout the contest that he was having a hard time with the snow while he tracked down fly balls. A couple times after making catches, I saw him shaking his head, wiping at his eyes and muttering something in Spanish.

While I was super hopeful of a home run being hit to right field, I also knew that the cold air made that less likely to happen. Being the only fan on the party deck, I would’ve easily been able to track down any balls hit over the fence, but if you know me, you know that I don’t stay put in any given spot for too long. After the top of the first inning, I decided to head back down the concourse and go to the upper deck, where there wasn’t a single other fan. During my 2013 visit, I snagged a pair of foul balls in the upper deck, and I knew I’d have another one without having to wait too long. The second batter for the Chiefs, Adrian Sanchez, hit a foul ball that landed a section away from me, and I was able to easily retrieve it:

You might notice the lack of flurries in the photo above. That’s how the game’s early innings went. There’d be thick flurries, followed by clear conditions — the one constant was the bitter cold.

In the second inning, I took advantage of a brief lull in the flurries to grab dinner. A few of the concession stands at NBT Bank Stadium were closed, likely due to the weather and the small crowds, but that was fine with me. As part of the team’s Taco Tuesday promotion, there was a kiosk in the concourse selling three beef or chicken tacos for $8. I opted for the former, and the staff member told me that I was the first one to buy them on this day — and, by extension, on the season, given that this was the team’s first Taco Tuesday promotion of 2018. The tacos were tasty, and about on par with the soft tacos from Taco Bell. They were definitely something that I’d enjoy ordering again:

While I was eating, another foul flew up toward me. This one was off the bat of outfielder Rafael Bautista, and because I was still the only fan in the upper deck, I was able to walk over and pick up the baseball with tacos in hand:

Shortly after I finished my dinner, the flurries once again picked up. I made my way over to the upper deck on the third base side, where I shot some snowy action pictures, including this one of infielder Kevin Kramer:

During another short lull in the flurries, I headed to the Dunkin’ Donuts concession stand on the third base side — another new addition since my last visit — and bought a hot chocolate, which I enjoyed in the upper deck:

The flurries intensified to the point that there was a 20-minute delay in the game after three innings. The grounds crew covered up home plate and the mound, but didn’t use the big tarp to cover the entire infield — a positive sign, to be sure, that the delay would be short. I spent the delay trying to thaw out in the Hank Sauer Room, a private party room in the right field corner that I’d never previously entered. The Chiefs were gracious enough to open the room for fans looking for some relief from the cold, and there were a handful of fans hanging out in there for some warmth. After the delay, I went back out to the concourse and any warmth that I’d enjoyed in the party room was quickly gone. The temperature was still in the 30s, but the fact that I’d been outside for several hours had finally caught up to me. Although I was wearing warm gloves whenever I could, my hands were bare when I was updating Twitter and taking photos. In fact, my hands got cold enough that typing quickly and accurately were a challenge.

The hot chocolate may have warmed me a little, but I was still freezing when I went out to the party deck at the top of the sixth inning. Luplow, the second batter, blasted a pitch that sailed just a few yards to my left. Off the bat, it looked very much as though it would be a home run, but it ended up hitting the fence a foot or two from the top and caroming back past De Aza. Luplow had himself a triple, De Aza had flurries in his eyes and I just missed out on getting a home run ball. Here’s a shot that I took just before Luplow’s hit; you’ll notice the flurries in the air:

I figured that was as close as I’d come to a home run ball, so I went back down the concourse and watched a half-inning from behind home plate, pressing my body up against one of the pillars in an attempt to keep out of a wind a bit. For the seventh inning, I once again retreated to the shelter of the Hank Sauer Room, where this was the view:

When the first game of the doubleheader wrapped up, I was anticipating waiting 30 or so minutes for the second game to begin — and I planned to stay in the warm spot that I currently occupied for the entirety of the break. Just a few minutes later, however, a staff member arrived to tell me that management had opted to postpone the second game, as the weather was getting colder and the flurries were once again picking up. There was already a 10:30 a.m. game scheduled for the following day, so the postponed game would be tacked onto the end of that game to make another doubleheader. That suited me just fine, but instead of heading straight for the gates, I had one mission to fulfill.

Earlier in the game, I’d seen Indians outfielder Austin Meadows, the top-ranked prospect in Pittsburgh’s system, hit a foul ball into the seats in front of one of the suites on the third base side. I hadn’t seen anyone retrieve it, but I also didn’t want to go into this area if there were people in the suite. As the fans filed out of the stadium, I went up to the upper deck and quickly found the ball:

Afterward, I just stood for a few minutes to enjoy the snowy scene in front of me. I knew that it’ll likely be a long time before I’m at another snow game, so I couldn’t resist just marveling at the unique nature of this day. Here’s how the field looked after the game:

The flurries were still coming down hard when I left NBT Bank Stadium, prompting me to take this shot …

… and I couldn’t resist grabbing this one, too:

Next, I hopped into my car, put the defroster/heater on high, and shivered for a few minutes while the windows defogged. Then, I pulled out of the parking lot and headed toward my hotel. A quick glimpse of the stadium over my shoulder prompted me to pull over and get out to shoot the following photo from afar. Funny enough, the flurries weren’t coming down quite as hard at this moment, and the scene looked peaceful. When I travel to Syracuse for baseball, I always get a thrill turning left off NBT Bank Parkway onto Tex Simone Drive and seeing NBT Bank Stadium through my windshield, and seeing it now with snow on the ground was definitely a scene that I’ll remember for a long time:

As soon as I snapped that photo, I got back into my car and was back to my hotel less than five minutes later. For this trip, I was staying at the Embassy Suites by Hilton Syracuse Destiny USA:

It’s one of the city’s newest hotels and gets its name from being across the street from Destiny USA, the sixth-largest mall in the U.S. A day earlier, when the Chiefs game was rained out, I walked around this expansive mall for about and hour and grabbed some dinner that I took back to the hotel. I did the same on this night, after thawing out for a bit, and ended up visiting the mall four or five separate times during my stay. If you’re headed to Syracuse for a Chiefs game, I can’t recommend this hotel enough. If you’re a big shopper, there’s no better hotel in the city. Or, perhaps you’re a baseball fan and your spouse isn’t — you can head to the game and she could head to the mall.

Another cool point for baseball fans — this hotel is the official hotel of the Chiefs, which means that the visiting team stays there. I picked up on this fact pretty quickly upon my arrival when I saw staff members in Indians gear and players walking around the hotel lobby with Pirates apparel on. Here’s a look at the lobby:

I always get a thrill out of staying at the same hotel as ballplayers, even if I don’t have any interactions with them, and I’m forever scouting out people and trying to assess whether they’re players or not.

My snowy day at the ballpark was certainly memorable, even if I was uncomfortably cold for most of it. The cold didn’t deter me from heading back bright and early the following morning for a doubleheader, albeit one without fluffy white flakes.

Minnesota Twins – September 17, 2017

Going into my third visit to Target Field, my mission was twofold — I wanted to make sure to document any sights that I’d perhaps missed on my two previous visits, and to simply chill out for a few innings and enjoy watching some baseball at this gorgeous ballpark.

A pretty good to-do list, right?

This was a Sunday game with an early start time, which meant that I’d have an even earlier arrival time at Target Field. For 7 p.m. games, I find that I have a habit of repeatedly looking at the clock and wanting the day to fly by faster so that I can get to the ballpark. For afternoon games, however, it’s exciting to basically get up, get ready, and head to the ballpark. I left my hotel a little after 9 a.m. and made the short walk over to Target Field. Before going in, I wanted to spend some time enjoying the sights outside the park. The sightseeing began once again in Twins Plaza, where I took in the selection of statues in the area. If you read about my first visit to Target Field, you might recall seeing the Kirby Puckett statue. He’s just one of several former Twins stars honored in this fashion. Another statue depicts the late Harmon Killebrew, a hall of famer and member of the 500 home run club:

Another notable statue that you’ll definitely want to check out upon visiting Target Field is that of HOFer and 18-time all-star Rod Carew, which you’ll find just a short walk from Twins Plaza, over in front of the Majestic Clubhouse Store:

I next took a couple long laps around Target Field, pausing to snap this shot of a Metro Blue Line train on its way to Target Field station:

About 10 a.m., I went inside the park and hung out in the outfield seats, taking in the quiet ballpark in front of me on a breezy, sunny and perfect fall day. It’s moments like this in which I feel a deep sense of appreciation for being able to travel to so many different cities to watch baseball — and also a deep sense of appreciation for everyone who takes time out of their busy days to read about my ongoing adventures.

After the gates opened, I went down to the seats on the third base side. The Twins were warming up along the first base line, and while a lot of fans were scrambling to the front row to get autographs, I was content to hang back and, once again, just enjoy the scene from this sunny spot:

My next stop, the seats in right-center, weren’t sunny at all. This area was fully in the shade, and the autumn breeze made where I stood downright chilly. I snapped this panorama …

… and then headed back to a sunny area where the conditions were a little more pleasant. After watching the Twins warm up for a bit longer, I went over to the third base side to watch the Blue Jays do the same. I was neat seeing the sizable contingent of Jays fans taking in the three games I attended. As I scanned the crowd, it felt as though there was a 50/50 split in people wearing Twins gear versus Jays gear, and the throng of fans was always thick around the visitors dugout before the games. Case in point — here’s relief pitcher Danny Barnes signing some autographs, and just look at all the blue apparel around him:

As first pitch approached, I went back to the outfield seats and watched a parade of families walking along the warning track. Instead of a wide-angle shot of the field, here’s how the scene looked as I turned to my right to watch the parade “highlights” on the video board:

Once the parade wrapped up, I took this shot toward home plate that clearly shows all the different levels of seating in the area:

Something that Target Field does really well is break its seating into smaller sections. This is common at lots of MLB parks, of course, but I really like how this ballpark does it. I don’t need to break down each of the sections, but I particularly like the yellow seats in the middle of the image. I visited this section a handful of times throughout my three games at Target Field, and I appreciated how close they were to the action, but also how much of a bird’s-eye view of the field they gave you. Accomplishing this balance can be tricky — sometimes, you’re too close to appreciate the whole field and, other times, you’re too far away to see the game’s small details — but these seats, which are technically part of the Delta SKY360 Club, are outstanding.

With a bit more time to go before first pitch, I walked over to the plaza inside Gate 34 and watched a bit of the Twins pregame show on the local Fox Sports affiliate:

And then, just in time for first pitch, I grabbed a seat above the third base line, which gave me not only a perfect view of the field …

… but also a nice view of the city’s skyline beyond right-center. I have to also admit that I chose this area partly because I expected that it might be a good spot to snag a foul ball — and, while a few fouls did indeed come up to this level, they were all a couple sections away from me.

About an inning into the game, I was on the move again. This time, I took a spot in the upper deck in the left field corner, where I watched an inning of action:

Next, I set off in search of something to eat. While highly tempted to get another order of the seafood boil, a fantastic dish that I’d enjoyed a day earlier, I wanted to branch out and find something different. Choosing what to eat during the last game at a particular ballpark can be a bit stressful. (And, yes, I realize this is a colossal first-world problem.) I always want to get something that appeals to me, but there are normally a handful of items that fit this bill — meaning that I’ve got to make the right choice. A dish that had caught my eye a few times was the walleye and chips. It seems funny now, but the use of “walleye” really drew me in. Had the menu simply read “fish and chips,” there’s a 100 percent chance that I wouldn’t have ordered this dish. The inclusion of walleye, which is the state fish of Minnesota, made the meal seem a lot more regionally appealing — and it was enough for me to take the bait, so to speak.

I grabbed my order, took it back to a seat not far from where I’d sat for the first inning, and dug in:

The meal was good, but basically tasted like any average fish and chips I’ve ever eaten. The inclusion of the walleye instead of a saltwater fish such as cod or haddock might have been geographically appropriate, but I certainly wasn’t able to taste anything different about it.

I ended up spending the bulk of the second half of the game in this spot. While I usually enjoy wandering around and taking in all the sights, it’s also fun to grab a good seat and just enjoy watching the game. As the game wound to a close, and my third visit to Target Field ended with it, it wasn’t time to fly home just yet. Instead, I’d be spending the final day of my Minneapolis visit getting a chance to tour three of the city’s notable sports venues.

First, though, I was looking forward to spending a quiet evening relaxing in my hotel, the Embassy Suites by Hilton Minneapolis Downtown. This is definitely the hotel that I’ll be booking whenever I visit the Twin Cities again. In addition to its proximity to Target Field, the rooms were absolutely outstanding and among the largest and most impressive I’ve ever stayed in. I wholeheartedly recommend it to baseball travelers planning to see the Twins. I normally only post my own photos on my blog, but the shots that I took in my room pale in comparison to the hotel’s official images, so I can’t resist sharing the latter. Here’s a shot that shows the living room part of the suite …

… and here’s one that shows the bedroom:

After relaxing (and watching some football on that ginormous TV for a bit) I grabbed a sub from Jimmy John’s, which I could see out my window, and then returned to my room to eat, watch Sunday Night Baseball, and then head to bed in excitement of the next day’s adventures.

Minnesota Twins – September 16, 2017

I’m an early riser at home, and that holds true on my baseball trips, too. The way I see it, there’s very little point in lying in bed when I’m in a new city filled with interesting things to see and do.

All that to say, I was up good and early on my second day in Minneapolis and eager to get things started. I decided to begin my day with a walk around the city’s downtown. One of my favorite things about Minneapolis is that you can get virtually anywhere downtown on foot, all without going outside. Nothing against fresh air of course, but the Minneapolis Skyway System quickly became a hit for me. It’s a network of enclosed pedestrian bridges and walkways that link up the buildings over 80 (!!) city blocks. It’s the biggest system of its kind in the world, and I found it exceedingly handy and exciting to use.

I took one of the bridges that connected to the second floor of my hotel, the Embassy Suites by Hilton Minneapolis Downtown, and from it, I could see my hotel on the right and Target Field in the distance. And that’s the Mayo Clinic on the left:

After walking for about 45 minutes, all without going outside, I made my way back to my hotel and had breakfast. One of the things that I really like about the Embassy Suites brand is that breakfast is included with your stay, and it’s outstanding. Each of the four days of my stay, I had ready-made omelets for breakfast, among other things, to ensure that I’d be properly fueled for my adventure.

Speaking of adventure, after relaxing in my hotel room for a bit, I headed off to Target Field. A day earlier, I’d gone straight into the ballpark instead of doing my usual walk around its exterior, so that was atop my to-do list on this day. Check out this panorama that shows just how gorgeous this ballpark is:

There’s a lot going on in this photo. Starting at the far left, you’ll see a parking structure that is connected to the ballpark with one of the Minneapolis Skyway System’s bridges. Below that is North 7th Street, which runs roughly parallel to the first base line. On this side of the bridge is the team shop; despite the size of it, it’s just one level — but the tall ceilings give it a really roomy feel. Next is Gate 29, followed by one of the ticket offices. And, of course, you’ve also got the famous baseball statue. It’s difficult to tell in the above panorama, but the curved markings on the ground make up an enormous Target logo. (There are actually a handful of them on the ground around Target Field.)

Next, I walked around to the corner of North 5th Street and North 3rd Avenue, which is where you’ll find Gate 3:

This is a popular gate for the fans who arrive via light rail, and there are a lot of them. Up the hill on the right side of the above image is Target Field Station, one of the stops on Minneapolis’ light rail system. If you’ve read my post about the first day of my visit, you’ll recall that I was thoroughly impressed with how easy it was to get around the city via light rail, and that I’d taken it from the airport terminal to within a block of my hotel. Target Field Station is where the Metro Blue Line ends, and I think it’s outstanding that you can so easily get to the ballpark in this manner.

Because I’m apparently on a roll with panoramas, here’s another one. It’s similar to the first one that you saw, but taken from farther back:

I like how it turned out, and I also like that the dark clouds soon went away and didn’t interfere with the ballgame!

My last stop before entering the park was Twins Plaza outside Gate 34, which I’d enjoyed checking out a day earlier. In addition to the Kirby Puckett statue, which I grabbed a photo with, you’ll likely recognize the statue called The Golden Glove. It was added in 2010 and recognizes the Twins’ Gold Glove winners. Lots of great names are honored on a plaque next to the glove — Puckett, Jim Kaat, Gary Gaetti, Tony Oliva, Torii Hunter and Joe Mauer, among others.

Even more enticing than the plaque is the glove itself, which is cupped to make it one of the coolest seats in all of baseball. Before games, there’s a lineup of fans waiting to sit on it and have their pictures taken, but I was early enough that no one was around — and that meant I had the glove to myself:

Want one more panorama before we head into the ballpark? Yes? I’m glad to hear it.

Here’s a look at Twins Plaza with Gate 34 in the background — and you can see the glove roughly in the middle of the picture:

Apparently, I was panorama-happy on my second day in Minneapolis, because after getting into Target Field and walking to the concourse behind home plate, I snapped this shot:

The Twins have one darned impressive-looking ballpark, don’t they?

As you can see, batting practice hadn’t yet begun, so I went straight down to field level on the third base side. A day earlier, I’d watched the Blue Jays playing catch, and now I was interested in seeing the Twins. As I made my way down the front row of seats toward the outfield, I saw a baseball that someone have evidently airmailed into the stands, and decided to take an artsy shot of it. I call this one “Baseball on Concrete With Sunflower Seed Shell in Background.”

I didn’t have any noteworthy interactions with the Twins, but I did get to stand behind one of my all-time favorite players, Joe Mauer, and watch him play catch for several minutes …

… before moving toward the infield to watch him field ground balls at first base:

I also had a close-up encounter with ageless wonder Bartolo Colón, who holds distinction for many things, including being the last remaining player from the Montréal Expos to be playing in the big leagues:

After watching the Twins for a while longer, I went over to the visitors dugout for the first time since a day earlier, where I watched a bunch of the Jays get loose.

I also noticed Hazel Mae, the on-field reporter for Toronto’s TV broadcasts on Sportsnet, signing some autographs for fans — including this very happy young man:

I’ve included this mention of Mae because it wasn’t long before she was making Twitter headlines. Later in the game, she was hit in the ankle with a Kevin Pillar foul ball and had to go get some first aid. (A day later, she was back on the field with a crutch.)

During my first game at Target Field’s I’d gazed way up to the Budweiser Roof Deck in the left field corner and pledged that I’d check it out at some point. Now seemed as good a time as any, so I headed toward the left field corner, rode an elevator all the way to the roof deck, and soon had this bird’s eye view of the stadium:

The roof deck, like many of its kind, is reserved for group/private functions. The one booked for this game hadn’t yet begun, but there were several stadium staffers busily getting the area prepared. In addition to multiple levels of stadium seating, the rood deck also had couches, bistro tables and an enormous bar, some of which you can see here:

Upon departing the roof deck, I went back down to the main concourse and made my way over to the first base side, where I snapped the following photo that I want to use to illustrate some of Target Field’s seating situation:

One of the things that really struck me about this ballpark was just how many different spots there were for fans to hang out and watch the game. The above image is looking in just a single direction, of course, but check out how many places there are for fans. The main spot in this image is the upper deck in right-center, and I love how it’s asymmetrical in design. I spent some time in this area during each game I attended, and really enjoyed the view. You’ve got a smaller, more intimate seating section directly below that deck, as well as standing room behind it. Moving toward center field, there’s the ultra-popular Minnie and Paul’s, a pub-style area that you can see directly below the Target Field sign. It’s got tables and chairs and standing-room spots, and is open to all fans. Directly below it is a premium seating area called Catch, which is limited to just 120 seats and includes high-end food with your ticket. And these are just the spots in a single photograph. It seemed as though whatever direction I looked, there were many different spots for fans.

My next stop was the top row of the upper deck on the third base side, where I was anxious to not only see the ballpark from this vantage point, but to also turn my back to the field and check out Target Field Station. As I mentioned in my last post, I took Minneapolis’ light rail around the city extensively during my visit, and while I walked to Target Field instead of traveled to it via light rail, I remain thoroughly impressed with the ease of getting around — and getting to the ballpark — in this city. Here’s a look at Target Field Station from inside the ballpark, and I think you’ll agree that it looks sharp:

In the above image, the video board was showing an advertisement, but was otherwise airing the Twins pregame show, which I thought was a cool touch for fans to see as they got off the train and proceeded toward the gates.

Because I was already in the upper deck, I decided to walk all the way around to behind home plate, where I paused to take in this spectacular view:

All the sightseeing — or was it simply the fact that I’d been keeping my eye on the various concession stand menus as I toured around — had worked up my appetite, so I soon decided that something to eat would be a good idea. Although there were many things that intrigued me, I quickly made my mind up about what I’d be eating. I present to you the shrimp boil:

Shrimp boils aren’t exactly popular where I live in Canada, but I’ve seen them enough online that I’ve always wanted to try one. So, when I scouted out this item on the Target Field menu, I knew that I had to eat it at some point during my visit. At $14.50, this meal wasn’t cheap, but it also wasn’t small. It contained a hefty serving of shrimp, spicy sausage, corn on the cob segments and red potatoes, all tossed with creole seasoning. The verdict, I’m pleased to say, was freakin’ awesome. The variety of tastes and textures, all coated with the spicy seasoning, made this dish a real winner, and one that I had to fight the urge not to order a day later. In fact, it left such an impression on me that when I helped to put together the list for USA Today’s Best Stadium Food competition a couple months ago, I included it as one of the choices.

After eating, I went to check out the Delta Sky360 Club, which is situated at the concourse level behind home plate. It’s got a ton of concession stands, bar-style seating and, most importantly, allows you to walk through the history of the Twins by showcasing dozens of interesting artifacts. This is how the area looks in panoramic form:

See the display cases? Here are some closeups:

I spent a considerable amount of time browsing the hall of fame-worthy collection, which paid tribute to not only the top players and best moments from throughout the history of the franchise, but also to other key moments in Target Field’s history, including the various big concerts that the stadium has hosted over the years.

I ended up watching a couple innings of the action from the seats inside the Delta Sky360 Club, taking advantage of each break between innings to walk over to the artifact displays and browse them for a couple minutes. As the game progressed and night fell, I went back out to the concourse, took a lap of the stadium, and then went outside to snap some shots of it from the exterior. Here’s one in particular that I like:

Soon enough, I was back inside the stadium and looking for a spot to sit for the remainder of the game. I found it in the top row of the upper deck in right center, where I had this view:

Just like a day earlier, I headed out of Target Field immediately after the final out and was back in my hotel room just a few minutes later, eagerly anticipating the Twins day game that I’d be attending about 12 hours later.