Tagged: baseball road trip

El Paso Chihuahuas – May 6, 2019

One of the best things about my visit to El Paso and the three Chihuahuas games that I attended was how different each day was. When you’re attending games over three straight days at a single ballpark, there’s always a chance that things will be a little repetitive — but I’m happy that wasn’t the case here.

Day one was all about presenting the team with a plaque for winning my Best View in the Minors competition.

Day two was a chance to tour the ballpark and enjoy the game (and the food) like I normally do.

What was on the agenda for day three?

I’m glad you asked.

My last Chihuahuas game of this trip was all about spreading the word about the Best View competition, my website, blog and baseball travels in general, and I had a number of people who graciously helped me in that regard. I ended up booking a trio of interviews, all of which took place on May 6 in a true back-to-back-to-back fashion.

Before the interviews began, however, I needed to spend a little time on the hotel pool deck enjoying the view. Doing so was a popular pastime on this trip, as it was impossible to tire of looking at beautiful Southwest University Park while hanging out in the equally beautiful El Paso weather. Here’s a shot that my wife snapped of me mid-morning:

You might notice that I’m wearing my Stars and Stripes road trip tee, which you can buy here.

After a bit of relaxing at the hotel and a bit of tourist stuff, the baseball portion of my day started with a 4 p.m. visit to the ESPN El Paso studio, located about 12 minutes from Southwest University Park. Steve Kaplowitz, host of the afternoon drive show, had agreed to have me on to talk about the Best View competition, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little nervous. I’ve been fortunate to do a ton of interviews on various teams’ game broadcasts overs the years, but this was the first time that I’d ever visited a radio stadium studio to sit in with the host. And that definitely had me dealing with a case of the nerves.

Anyway, I met Steve shortly before 4 p.m., and he decided that instead of leading the show off with my interview, he’d do a segment talking about the Kentucky Derby controversy from two days earlier. That suited me just fine, because I got to hang out in the studio and watch Steve go to work. I was absolutely in awe about what a professional he was. We were shooting the breeze about baseball just seconds before the show began, and he seamlessly switched into his radio voice and began the show by talking about horse racing. Absolutely amazing. It was a thrill to sit across the desk from him and listen to his Derby discussion while being simultaneously excited and nervous for my segment to begin.

After the first commercial break, he introduced me and we were off and running. I’m happy to say that my nerves only lasted a couple of minutes, and I soon felt a lot more at ease because of Steve’s easygoing demeanor. I’d initially figured that I’d be on the air with him for maybe five or 10 minutes, but Steve graciously had me on for two segments — maybe about 20 or so minutes altogether. And if it weren’t for me having to run off to my next interview, he’d actually hoped to keep me on until the top of the hour! We covered a host of topics, including Best View, my thoughts on El Paso and Southwest University Park, baseball road trips in general, ballpark food — and I even took some listener questions. At one point, I mentioned that my wife and I were enjoying the sightseeing around El Paso, and Steve asked, “You didn’t leave her sitting in the lobby, did you?” I gulped and admitted that she was actually sitting in the car in the parking lot. Steve quickly told his producer Adrian to go summon my wife to the studio, so off Adrian went while Steve and I continued talking baseball. A few minutes later, there was a commotion at the door and Adrian told Steve that he’d brought my wife in, but that she didn’t want to enter the studio for fear of making me nervous. By now, I was over my case of the nerves, but my wife had seen me fretting on the way to the studio and I guess she didn’t want to throw me off. Anyway, there was a hilarious back-and-forth exchange — all of it on the air — and she decided to hang out in the lobby while we finished our segment. The time with Steve flew past, and I’m really thankful to him for having me on.

During the commercial break, Steve snapped this shot of me …

… and then a staffer brought my wife in, and she took this shot of Steve and me:

Steve had to obviously get ready for returning after the commercial break, so after another brief moment of conversation, my wife and I headed out of the studio, where I got this photo taken:

Then, it was straight into the car and back on the road toward the ballpark for my next interview. Interview #2 was with longtime Chihuahuas broadcaster Tim Hagerty. Instead of having me on that evening’s game broadcast, Tim decided to interview me off the air with the plan of using our conversation as filler material when needed throughout the season. He noted that he’d always looking for fillers for rain delays, and that my interview might air multiple times over the course of the season. That sounded perfect to me, so I met Tim in the lobby of the ballpark and we headed up to the radio booth to get underway.

Tim and I talked for probably 10 minutes about a wide range of baseball and ballpark topics, and the time together just flew past. Understandably, he soon needed to get back to prepping for the game, so I got this quick photo with him …

… and then it was time to meet up with Nathan Nunez. He works in the team’s broadcast and media relations department and hosts the Fear the Ears podcast. Nathan and I found a quiet place to sit and talk on the suite level, and chatted about — you guessed it — Best View, ballparks and baseball trips for more than 10 minutes. If you’re interested in hearing that podcast episode, you can check it out here.

Nathan and I grabbed this photo before we said our goodbyes …

… and then for the first time in almost an hour and a half, I had time to relax for a minute.

Of course, that didn’t mean that I chose to grab one of the comfy chairs in the air conditioned suite level. Nope, I was ready to walk around the concourse in search of my next adventure. First, though, I met up with my wife, who’d been chilling at our hotel since we got back from the radio station and had since walked over to the ballpark. I should divulge that she’s not a baseball fan, and when we travel, she’ll normally go to one game with me and find other things to do on the other days that I’m at the ballpark. She’d admitted to me a day earlier, however, that after spending the night at Southwest University Park on May 4, so could, “Sort of see” what I like about visiting ballparks. To my surprise, she opted to hang out at the park with me on this night. As such, my goal for this ballpark visit was simply to enjoy the game and the atmosphere — and maybe point out a few things that might increase her enjoyment of baseball. Each of my two previous games had been busy in their own ways, so I thought that a low-key evening would be a fun way to wrap up this visit.

We headed to some seats in the shade in the upper deck for part of the pregame, and enjoyed this view as the grounds crew prepared the field and the players got warmed up:

Then, we went up to the suite level to enjoy the view from behind home plate — which, after all, was the reason for our six-day trip to El Paso:

After enjoying that view for a few minutes, we went back out to the second deck, where I noticed Tim on the video board talking about the upcoming game:

We grabbed some seats in the left field corner for the anthem, watching this impressively large flag on display in center field …

… and then enjoyed the first couple innings of action from that spot. It turned out to be a good place to be. The slugging Chihuahuas were putting on a hitting clinic. They launched six home runs en route to a 15-0 victory, but some of the round trippers were absolute bombs. See the word “Shamaley” on the bottom of the video board?

Austin Allen hit one ball off the bricks directly below it. Not long afterward, Josh Naylor smoked a ball through the structure above and onto North Santa Fe Street outside of Southwest University Park.

One player on Salt Lake who I was excited to see was Ty Kelly, whose name you might recognize from stints with the Mets and Phillies. I’ve been following his career since 2012, when he and my buddy Jeremy Nowak were teammates on the Frederick Keys. They were both Carolina League all-stars that season, and Kelly moved up through the minor leagues and made his MLB debut with the Mets in 2016. I don’t believe that I’d seen him play in person since 2012, so I was excited to see him again. We were sitting fairly far away for each of his at-bats, so here’s a picture of him on the video board:

After taking a lap around the concourse and checking out the team shop for a bit, I decided to grab something to eat in the second half of the game. I wanted to find something unique, and one particular item at one of the home plate concession stands jumped out at me — Churwaffles and Chicken. This dish consisted of four mini cinnamon sugar waffles alongside a couple of chicken tenders, with the whole thing topped with maple butter sauce:

The chicken was excellent, but the waffles weren’t my thing. I think of waffles as fluffy, and these were definitely not that. It’d probably not a meal that I’d be in a hurry to order again, but I’m glad I checked out something different. I washed it down with a horchata, which Nathan had enthusiastically recommended to me earlier. This was the first time that I’d ever had this drink — which is made with rice milk and has flavors of vanilla and cinnamon — and, to my surprise, it was served in a vessel the size of a yogurt tub:

It was really tasty, albeit very sweet, and there was no way I could get through all of it. This was definitely a beverage that I’d order again, though — although I wouldn’t mind if it were available in a smaller serving. (For the record, I think that’s the first time I’ve ever made that statement about ballpark fare.)

We’d hung out at field level in the right field corner while I ate, and I wanted to close out our Southwest University Park experience by watching the remainder of the game from a new vantage point. Earlier in the evening, I’d seen that the Big Dog House high above right field wasn’t very crowded, given that it was a Monday night, and wanted to check it out. This spot had been renovated since my visit three years earlier, and it looks really swanky. We were escorted up by a super-friendly staffer named Tony who handed me a batting practice baseball, which I somehow neglected to photograph. He gave us a nice tour of the space, which looked like this …

… and then we grabbed a spot on the couch where we enjoyed this view:

Given how the balls were flying on these evening, I had big aspirations to snag a home run in this spot, but that didn’t happen. (We did see a couple more long balls hit, though.)

And that’s how our last Chihuahuas game ended — enjoying this beautiful park from one of the poshest seating sections that I’ve ever encountered in the minor leagues.

The entire visit to El Paso was absolutely outstanding, and I’m so appreciative of everyone who played a part. Thanks so much to the Chihuahuas — especially Angela, Brad, Tim and Nathan — as well as Veronica and Maegan at Visit El Paso, who were super at helping to set up this trip, and Steve and Adrian at ESPN El Paso. Each of you augmented my trip in your own way, and I’m very grateful.

Given that I live 2,300 miles from El Paso, I don’t know when I’ll be back to the Sun City.

One thing’s for certain, though — I’m already looking forward to returning.

Advertisements

El Paso Chihuahuas – May 5, 2019

When I think about all of the experiences that I’ve had at more than 200 baseball games at 70+ ballparks, it’s hard not to consider the Best View in the Minors plaque presentation on the field on May 4 in El Paso to be the most memorable. A chance to walk on the field between innings in front of a Saturday night sellout crowd is an experience that I’ll never forget.

You might think that this meant my subsequent games at Southwest University Park would be a letdown, but I’m happy to report that wasn’t the case — not by a long shot. On May 5, I had plenty of reasons to be excited about returning to this beautiful ballpark. First and foremost, this would be my first Copa de la Diversión game experience. If you aren’t familiar with the Copa series, it’s a huge promotion in the minor leagues that has 72 teams involved this year. Translated as “Fun Cup,” the Copa promotion is an opportunity to celebrate Hispanic culture — and it’d be an understatement to say that I was pumped about being in El Paso on Cinco de Mayo for the first Copa day of the 2019 season.

The game was scheduled for a 1:05 p.m. start, the weather was absolutely perfect and, at about 10:30 a.m., I set out from my hotel to take a walk around Southwest University Park before entering — something that I hadn’t done a day earlier. I started by walking down North Santa Fe Street, which is only a handful of blocks in length but is home to a variety of attractions, including the ballpark. Here’s the view from the sidewalk with the ballpark on my right:

I continued down the street and turned around at the far end of the ballpark to snap this photo of its Wall of Champions:

Most teams display their successes inside of the park — and, for the record, there’s another similar display on the outfield fence — but I think it’s a neat idea to tout the team’s prowess in a spot that passing motorists and pedestrians can see. As you can see in the image above, the Chihuahuas have had a lot of success. They’re only in their sixth season, but already have a Pacific Coast League championship, a pair of conference titles and four division crowns.

One thing that I frequently enjoy during my ballpark visits is checking out ballparks from unusual angles outside. Sure, it’s always cool to snap a photo or a panorama from outside of the main gates, but I also think it’s interesting to find a bizarre angle from which to shoot. One noteworthy thing about this ballpark is that while it’s surrounded on three sides by streets, the fourth side is comprised of a railway line. (Several times throughout the game, trains will go past. And, sometimes, foul balls will leave the stadium and land on the train tracks.) Anyway, there’s a walkway along the rail line, so I followed it and snapped this shot of the ballpark — complete with a freight train rumbling past at the time:

After a full lap around the outside of the park, I entered via the Durango Street office entrance — pausing to snap this photo of the Best View plaque already on display beside the reception desk:

I was thrilled to see it there, and happy that it wouldn’t be gathering dust on some bookshelf or filing cabinet inside the administrative offices where fans wouldn’t be able to see it. And I’d be lying if I said I didn’t return to this area a few additional times over the course of my visit just to see it there.

Once I’d checked out the plaque for a moment, I went up to the quiet concourse and headed toward the outfield. A day earlier, I hadn’t done my usual amount of pregame touring, so I definitely wanted to take advantage of that on this day. Players from both teams were playing catch down the lines as I made my way around to center field to capture Southwest University Park from this angle:

I enjoyed this view for a few minutes, and then continued on my lap around the concourse until I got to the right field corner. This part of the park is really enticing, and it also plays a key role in the view that fans get from home plate. This area is home to a pair of structures — one with four levels and another with three levels — that are connected by a pair of walkways. The second and third levels are known as the City Hall Grill and Sun Kings Saloon, respectively. Both are eateries with a variety of drink and food items and good views of the ballpark. The fourth level, the Big Dog House, is absolutely one of the most impressive seating areas in all of the minor leagues. I’d had a chance to tour these areas when I visited El Paso three years earlier, and was eager to check them out again — especially since the Big Dog House had since gone through a major renovation. I made my way up to the Sun Kings Saloon and sat in the shade for a few minutes with this view in front of me:

This area was completely quiet because the gates hadn’t yet opened, and while it was tempting to remain there for a while longer, I soon decided to continue my walk around the ballpark — opting to visit the Big Dog House a day later. The next spot that I headed — another place that I’d neglected to check out a day earlier — was directly behind home plate, down at field level:

From here, you can clearly see the right field structure that I’d visited a few minutes earlier, as well as my hotel in left-center. As impressive as the view was, I was equally impressed by the seating immediately to my left. Check out this area, known as the Dugout Club, that offers fans a suite-style experience just inches from the field of play and the home dugout:

In the image above, you might have noticed a number of staff members in red shirts — 11 of them, to be precise. The gates were about to open, and they were meticulously wiping down each of the seats. That’s the norm at a lot of ballparks, but I was impressed at just how carefully they were working. I even watched one staffer patiently wiping up and down each of the rungs in the railings between sections. I’ve been to my share of MiLB ballparks that don’t get this TLC, and it shows. It’s this largely behind-the-scenes work that easily makes Southwest University Park one of the cleanest parks, MLB or MiLB, that I’ve ever visited.

Soon enough, the gates opened and the players returned to the field — this time, wearing their El Paso Margarita uniforms. I made a beeline toward the home bullpen in foul territory to snap some pictures of what one might reasonably call the loudest uniforms in the history of baseball. Here are catcher Austin Allen, pitcher Dillon Overton and bullpen coach Akinori Otsuka:

You’ll notice that Otsuka was wearing a Margaritas umbrella hat, which was the day’s stadium giveaway. For the record, he wore it for much of the pregame warm-ups, and only swapped it for his regular cap when the anthem was played. (By the way, if his name sounds familiar, he’s the former MLBer who saved 32 games for the Texas Rangers in 2006.)

It’s always fun watching players get warmed up, and the scene in front of me seemed even more lively because it was easy to tell that the players were having a blast in their bright uniforms. There were a lot of smiles as they got together, stretched and began to play catch — and definitely some laughs as they spotted Otsuka in his umbrella hat. As Overton and Allen began to throw, I positioned myself behind the catcher and took shots like this one:

I watched the players for a few more minutes, and then decided to go grab some food. As you might remember, I hadn’t eaten a ballpark meal the night before, so I was determined to make up for it during this visit. I’d been impressed with Southwest University Park’s menu when I visited three years ago, and while it’s always tempting to try items that I’ve previously enjoyed, I generally like to mix things up. El Paso might not be known for its pizza, but as silly as it may sound, I’d spotted a Peter Piper Pizza billboard a day earlier and had been thinking of pizza on and off ever since. I decided that my first meal of the game would be a pepperoni slice, which you can see here:

I was absolutely blown away by how good this pizza was. It was piping hot with a nice, thin crust, and there was a generous helping of cheese. It was difficult not to go back for another slice immediately. Of course, I needed something to wash the pizza down, and opted for a cold drink that worked well with the Copa theme. The team was selling margaritas for $2. The city of El Paso lays claim to inventing this drink, so I felt that it was an appropriate beverage on this hot, sunny day:

If you find the image above to look tantalizing, here’s another shot that is a bit more … amateurish. As I held the cup and moved it to get a good angle for some photos, I failed to initially realize that I’d tipped the cup too far forward and was pouring the drink on the concourse in front of me. Oops:

I wrapped up my meal just before the national anthem was about to begin, and went back over to the bullpen area to watch the players. While there, I noticed that El Paso’s Sammy Solis was also wearing his own umbrella hat. I was curious to see what he’d do with it when the music started to play. Here’s your answer:

When the game began, I spent the first few innings doing what I love best — checking out the ballpark and the action on the field from different vantage points and just generally soaking up the atmosphere. Eventually, I made my way to the upper deck down the first base line, where I was able to keep my eye on Chihuahuas’ right fielder Josh Naylor:

Because I always have my eye out for Canadian-born players, I’ve enjoyed following his career since he was drafted by Miami in the first round of the 2015 MLB Amateur Draft. (And I even got a chance to hold one of his bats before it was sent to him back when I toured the Sam Bat factory.) Anyway, Naylor has been a wrecking ball for the Chihuahuas this season — and has since been called up to San Diego. Before the call-up, he hit .299 with 10 home runs and 35 RBI in 45 games. And he’s only 21 years old.

After watching the game from the upper deck for about an inning, I set off to find something else to eat. I didn’t really feel like a hot dog, so I browsed the multiple concession stands around the concourse to look for something that caught my eye. On unique item that sounded appealing was called Diablo Fries, named after the El Paso Diablos franchises that played at various times for nearly 100 years in El Paso. This dish consisted of a serving of fries topped with Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, diced jalapenos and nacho cheese — although the latter was more like queso, which was definitely a good thing, given how I generally feel about nacho cheese. Here’s the meal:

I have to say that it was pretty darned tasty. I’m not the biggest fry lover, but these were crisp and seasoned well, and the Cheetos and jalapenos provided some nice spice without being so hot that they melted my face. It’s definitely a meal that I’d recommend for fans who are visiting Southwest University Park.

Of course, I needed something cool and refreshing to drink with a spicy meal, so I grabbed a green apple slushie from the Slush’ae concession stand on the first base side. I’d had a couple of slushies from that stand during my last trip, and they were perfect. The green apple flavor, I’m pleased to say, was just as good as the lemonade and mango varieties that I’d previously had:

Once I’d eaten, I knew that I needed to get out of the sun for a bit. El Paso averages more than 300 days of sun per year, which is absolutely incredible. Where I live, we had snow up until about three weeks before I left for this trip, so I wanted to avoid getting a sunburn. There are plenty of spots around the ballpark in which you’re in the full sun, but there are also fortunately a number of other places where you can catch some shade. I went back down to the concourse and browsed in the team shop for a bit, and then went and found a shady spot down the third base line where I watched a bit more of the game out of the sun.

As the game progressed, I decided to once again head back to the upper deck on the first base side, and not only because it provided a good view of the action. Since I’d finished my slushie, it had been on my mind to the point that I wanted to try another. Perhaps not the best dietary choice, but the sweet, fruity flavor and the chill of this beverage made it a perfect companion during this ballpark visit. This time, I opted for the cherry flavor, and it was also delicious:

I polished this drink off shortly before the game concluded, and spent the rest of the time until the final out on the outfield concourse where I could watch the game and keep an eye on the action in the visitors bullpen. This spot also allowed me to leave the park quickly so that I could get back to my hotel, pick up my wife and head off for some more sightseeing and dinner.

After dinner, we returned to the hotel and immediately went out to the pool deck and hung out with this view of the ballpark:

Over time, the scene changed to look like this …

… and, eventually, this is what we were looking at:

After two excellent yet dramatically different days at Southwest University Park, I was already looking forward to the excitement that the next day would bring.

El Paso Chihuahuas – May 4, 2019

At the conclusion of the fourth inning of the May 4 game between the host El Paso Chihuahuas and visiting Salt Lake Bees, I left where I’d been sitting, wove my way through the crowded concourse and took the elevator down to the clubhouse level.

Checking out the various areas of a ballpark while the game is going on is nothing new to me. Going down to the clubhouse level, however, is something that I rarely do — especially once the game has begun. But this wasn’t any old game. Two days earlier, I’d traveled 12 hours and nearly 2,300 miles to El Paso — a city with warm weather and warmer people — for a big reason. The reason for my visit to this West Texas city was to present its Triple-A team with a plaque for winning the Best View in the Minors competition that I ran last year. If you’re new to this blog or perhaps didn’t hear about the competition, here’s a quick rundown.

When I visit different ballparks, I like to watch the game from as many vantage points as possible — and that usually includes spending an inning in the seats behind home plate. When I sit in this spot in any park, I always make a point of appreciating the view. To me, the view isn’t just about watching the game itself. Rather, it’s about taking in what sights are within view in the distance. In downtown ballparks, the city’s skyline is often visible. At other parks, you can see forests, mountains, bodies of water and more. I’ve always found that the right view from home plate can augment my ballpark visit, and I know many of you feel the same way. And that was the impetus behind the Best View competition. It gave you, the fans, a chance to decide which MiLB park offers the best view from home plate — and you overwhelmingly chose El Paso’s Southwest University Park. As part of the competition, I’d promised to visit the winning city to present the team with a plaque this season.

Back to the night in question. After taking the elevator down to the clubhouse level, I walked through the tunnel toward the home dugout and stopped just short of entering it. The field of play was just a few yards in front of me, roughly at waist level, and the familiar sounds of a professional dugout was nearby — the semi-muffled sounds of the stadium PA in the distance. The shouts of encouragement and claps from the dugout. The click-clack of metal cleats on cement. The dull thud of baseball bats being placed in their holders.

Here’s a quick peek at how things looked in front of me:

I hadn’t made the journey through this tunnel merely to enjoy the sounds, though. Rather, I was alongside Angela Olivas, the Chihuahuas’ senior director of marketing and communications and Brad Taylor, the team’s general manager, both of whom played a major role in my visit to El Paso. Angela, who was outstanding in coordinating a number of elements related to my visit and the presentation, had arranged for me to present the Best View plaque to Brad on the field during at the start of the sixth inning. I was also joined by my wife, who was attending this game to capture the presentation on video.

Our meetup just behind the home dugout at the end of the fourth inning meant that we had a whole inning until our moment on the field — and that was a major thrill for me, as I got to enjoy this time in this behind-the-scenes location. As I chatted with Angela, Brad and, eventually, the team’s on-field host Andy Imfield, I also noticed that my pregame jitters about going onto the field were quickly dissipating.

It turns out that the fifth inning was a bit of a marathon. Sixteen batters, seven runs scored and three mound visits meant that the inning took a long time to complete; I’d guess it was close to half an hour. That suited me just fine, because it lengthened our time spent in this area. I was constantly enjoying the sights and sounds, but was especially excited to see that the tunnel in which we stood was steadily busy, too. Left-hander Sammy Solis, who has pitched in nearly 150 games in the big leagues, went back and forth a few times in anticipation of entering the game in the sixth inning. Catcher Austin Allen, who was DHing for the Chihuahuas, made a few trips past us — presumably to get some swings in at the batting cage just a handful of yards behind where we stood. Outfielder Boog Powell, midway through his three-hit game, chatted with Brad for a moment.

Eventually, when the fifth inning came to an end, someone said, “We’re up,” and our contingent went up the dugout steps, turned left and walked along the warning track in front of the Chihuahuas dugout. As Brad and I positioned ourselves on the grass, facing the crowd, I heard the PA announcer say my name and explain the reason for my visit. The in-stadium video camera operator positioned himself in front of us, and Andy gave me a cue to wave once I was on the video board in right-center field. The whole time, team photographer Jorge Salgado snapped photos; those that you see here are courtesy of him.

Here’s Brad and me while the competition was being announced …

… and here’s me waving once I was on the video board:

On cue, I presented the plaque to Brad …

… and we then posed for another picture before heading off the field in time for the inning to begin:

(By the way, you might have noticed that I was wearing one of my new The World Needs More Baseball T-shirts. If you want to buy one of my shirts, you can click here.)

Thanks to my wife, I’m excited to be able to show you the presentation as a video. Check it out here:

*****

My visit to Southwest University Park on May 4 hadn’t begun with my walk through the clubhouse-level tunnel, of course. Nope, I’d arrived at the park several hours prior with the goal of enjoying the environment in anticipation of the plaque presentation that would happen later on. After arriving in El Paso late on the night of May 2, and spending all of May 3 doing touristy things, I was more than ready to attend a ballgame. That’s partly because this ballpark wasn’t just in my mind for much of my stay in El Paso — it was also within sight. We were fortunate to stay at the Courtyard El Paso Downtown, a new hotel that is across the street from the ballpark. Not only were we able to see Southwest University Park from our room’s window, but the hotel also has a pool deck on the fifth floor that offers this view of the park:

Absolutely perfect, right?

If you were to make a guess at how much of my trip I spent standing on the pool deck and admiring the scenery, the correct answer would be, “A lot.”

Fortunately, by the time 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, May 4 rolled around, I no longer had to just look at the park from afar. It was time to make the short walk over. First pitch wouldn’t be taking place for another 2.5 hours, but I wanted to get into the park good and early and enjoy its environment. Plus, I was feeling a little anxious about presenting the plaque, and figured that if I wandered around the ballpark for a while, it’d help to relax me a bit.

Of course, relaxing in the beautiful Southwest University Park was as easy as it gets. After a slow walk around the concourse, I went to the outfield grass berm and snapped this photo …

… and then hung out in this spot for a few minutes:

Neither team was hitting, which was a bit of a surprise to me. Part of the reason I’d gone to the park so early was to watch batting practice, but with little happening on the field beyond the usual pregame field prep, the park was still quiet. That was fine with me, as it gave me a chance to just enjoy the environment; my first two ballpark visits of the season, as you might recall, didn’t exactly offer favorable weather.

While I was in the outfield, I took some time to photograph the plaque before I presented it. Here’s one of those shots:

After taking the above shot, I carefully packed up the plaque in its bubble wrap-lined box and secured it in my backpack again. I’d been careful while traveling with it two days earlier, and the last thing I wanted was to chip it in the couple of hours that remained until I was due to turn it over. Upon doing so, I snapped this shot of myself with the video board — which was incidentally showing the live broadcast of the Kentucky Derby — in the background …

… and then continued to explore the park a bit more. On the upper level, I noticed an addition since my last visit — the Section 211 Patio Suite. It was added two seasons ago, and offers a private experience for groups. Check out the cool faux-foliage surroundings:

This suite has three different types of seating — stadium seats, tall chairs and, my personal favorite, this comfy sectional:

As much as I’m not a “suite guy,” because I prefer wandering around ballparks rather than remaining in one specific area, you wouldn’t have to twist my arm too hard to have me watch a ballgame in this cool spot.

Once I’d checked out the suite, I went down to the main concourse to meet up with Angela, who gave me a rundown on how the plaque presentation would go. I’d meet her at the end of the fourth inning, we’d go down below the ballpark and meet up with GM Brad behind the home dugout, and then go out onto the field between innings. Sounds just about perfect, right?

By now, the ballpark’s gates had opened, so I met up with my wife who was playing the role of photographer/videographer for this ballpark visit.

The evening’s promotion was First Responders Night, so we went over to the plaza in the right field corner to check out some of the sights. There were police motorcycles and a police car, but the big attraction for me was an FBI SWAT team’s armored vehicle. I had the opportunity to not only climb inside of the vehicle, but to also hold one of the SWAT team’s shields — which I can attest was much heavier than expected:

Soon after I decided that I probably wouldn’t cut it as a SWAT officer, we set out in search of something to eat. I made the uncharacteristic move of declining dinner on this evening. Sorry, folks. I was a little anxious about the upcoming plaque presentation, and didn’t want to put anything in my stomach. My wife, non-queasy about said presentation, was hungry and asked me for a food recommendation. During my visit three years ago, I’d been really impressed with the Juarez Dogs concession stand on the first base side, so that’s where we headed. She opted for an impressive hot dog called the Memphis Meets Mexico Dog. It consisted of an all-beef hot dog wrapped in bacon, topped with pulled pork, BBQ sauce, coleslaw, pickles and pork rinds. Any time you can have pork three ways in a meal, it’s a good day, right? Here’s how this hot dog looked:

Even though I’d decided not to eat a proper meal — something that I’d make up for in my subsequent visit to Southwest University Park — I knew I needed to celebrate the plaque presentation after it was done. At several points throughout the game, my wife and I had spotted other fans walking around with a drink that caught our attention, and we knew we had to seek one out to buy. Shortly after we returned to the concourse following the presentation, we made our way to the Frutas Locas concession stand on the first base side and bought a drink known as a pinas locas. Behold:

It consisted of an entire pineapple filled with pineapple juice and fresh pineapple rings. The red sauce is called chamoy, which is a Mexican condiment that is both salty and spicy. And the straw that you see is wrapped in dried fruit and rolled in chili powder, making for even more spice with the drink. I wasn’t sure about all of the spice at first, but it quickly grew on me and I appreciated the contrast that it provided to the sweetness of the fruit. If you’re ever in El Paso, you might decide to order this drink for its Instagram appeal — but I bet that you’ll enjoy the taste, too.

It was fitting to wrap up this ballpark visit with an enormous, novelty pineapple drink, because this was a day that was sweet in a lot of ways.

I’ve got so many people with the Chihuahuas to thank:

  • Angela for so skillfully organizing the event, as well as fielding what probably felt like a million questions from me leading up to it;
  • Brad for receiving the award;
  • Andy for giving me the cue to wave and for writing the script that was read over the PA;
  • Jorge for snapping the awesome photos that you see here; and
  • The Chihuahuas fans who voted, shared and otherwise supported the Best View competition last season — and who made me feel exceedingly welcome in their city.

About 12 hours after this game ended, I’d be back at Southwest University Park for the team’s first Copa de la Diversión day, in which the Chihuahuas would suit up as the Margaritas in what are probably that loudest uniforms I’ve ever seen. A big blog post all about that experience will be coming very soon.

Milwaukee Brewers – September 17, 2018

My last day in Milwaukee was a special one, and not just because I had another opportunity to visit Miller Park.

I was also getting a chance to meet up with my longest-standing Twitter friend, Craig Wieczorkiewicz, also known as the Midwest League Traveler. We’ve talked regularly on Twitter dating back to 2011, which is when he started his website and when I was in the second year of The Ballpark Guide. He was among the first 50 people I followed on Twitter and I have the unusual honor of being the first person Craig followed on Twitter outside of each of the MWL teams. (These details are important to know in case they ever come up in a trivia game.) So, yeah, we go back pretty far. But, even through we’d had countless Twitter exchanges, DMs and emails, we’d never had the opportunity to meet up. There were a few times that we tried to sync up trips that never panned out, and in 2014, we were both in Syracuse at the same time but didn’t get a chance to meet.

Craig was the first person I contacted when I planned my trip to Milwaukee, knowing that he lives less than two hours from there, and I was thrilled when he confirmed that he’d be able to take in a Brewers game with me on the last day of my visit.

My first two Miller Park experiences gave me plenty of opportunities to explore the park, which was good because I knew that visiting with Craig would be more of a “find somewhere to sit and blab our faces off” visit than a ballpark exploration one. Our plan was to meet up well before the gates were scheduled to open so that we could get in line to eat at the Friday’s restaurant located inside of the ballpark. I’d purposely avoided checking out this eatery during my two previous visits, and found myself thinking of it several times as game time approached.

The day itself was fairly quiet for me once again. Instead of doing a bunch of touristy things, I mostly stuck around my hotel, the Potawatomi Hotel & Casino. As I’d done throughout my visit, I frequently enjoyed looking at Miller Park in the distance. On this day, though, I took out my zoom lens and snapped this photo of the park:

As much as I was enjoying keeping an eye on the ballpark, I was also enjoying the environment immediately around me. This hotel was easily one of the most impressive that I’ve ever had the fortune of visiting, and not only because it’s such a convenient choice for baseball travelers. Beyond its prime location and the numerous on-site amenities that I enjoyed throughout my stay, the room was outstanding. My photos don’t do my room justice, so I’ve decided not to show them here. If you’re curious, though, check out this link to read more about the rooms. Beyond being spacious, having a super-comfy bed and a roomy bathroom, my favorite feature were the window blinds. The entire ballpark-facing side of the room was a window, and drawing the blinds was as easy as pressing a button on the wall to shut out the sun and turn the room dark. (If you’re wondering if I may have possibly overused this fun feature, I plead the fifth.)

Throughout the day as I waited for Craig to arrive, I kept an eye on the Marquette University fields that were visible from my room. They’re quiet here, but there were several times throughout the day that they were in use with school teams practicing lacrosse and soccer on this perfect autumn day:

Eventually, I met Craig in the lobby of the hotel and we drove over to Miller Park together in my rental car. We made a beeline for the Friday’s door as soon as we parked, and despite my worries that we might not be early enough to get a spot toward to the front of the line — I tend to overdo things in the early department sometimes — Craig repeatedly convinced me that we were in more than enough time. Soon enough, we were standing here …

… and, most importantly, there were only a few people in line ahead of us.

Friday’s at Miller Park has ample seating, but the coveted spots are the “outside” tables. Fans who get into the restaurant first generally choose to sit outside, so being too far back in the lineup outside could relegate you to an inside seat at the restaurant — still cool, but not nearly as exciting as an outside spot. When the doors finally opened, we headed inside and there was no problem getting an outside spot. Craig was right all along, and I was relieved. As we were about to sit down, I snapped this panorama to show the view from our table:

The Brewers were taking batting practice when we first arrived at our table, but left the field just a moment later. That was no concern, though. The home team takes BP first, so I knew that the visiting Cincinnati Reds would soon be headed to the cage — and hopefully hitting lots of home run balls our way.

I took advantage of the empty outfield to snap this shot of the view to my left:

Check out how close we were to the field!

Before we ordered, I took this shot of Craig and me …

… and then we got down to business getting acquainted and, of course, talking baseball. It’s tough to think of a better place to finally meet another baseball fan than exactly where we were sitting. Things got even more exciting — and a bit challenging, to be honest — when the Reds began to hit. I hadn’t taken a glove on this trip, simply because it never fits in my carry-on luggage, so I definitely had to be attentive to balls when they were hit. It was a juggling act to have a conversation while also watching the action on the field, and the challenge intensified when our food arrived.

I’d ordered a beef dip sandwich, and was hungry enough (and possibly distracted enough by watching BP) that I took a few bites of it before I realized that I’d failed to snap a photo. A first-world problem, granted, but in all of the 170+ other ballpark food photos that I’ve shared on this blog, I’ve always documented my food with a photo before digging in. The OCD side of me bristles with the idea of having one food photo in which the food is partially eaten, but I’ll share this shot anyway:

I can categorize the meal as “fine.” Nothing to write home about, but not bad, either. What was several steps above “fine,” however was the combination of the view and the company. As an introvert, I can sometimes feel a little anxious about meeting new people, especially if we’ll be spending a few hours together. But I was thrilled at how naturally Craig and I got along — which I suppose makes sense, given the amount of time that we’ve been Twitter friends. We chatted non stop about baseball, blogging and many other things that don’t start with the letter “B.” And, all the while, we were both digging the view. As we talked, I’d occasionally grab my camera and document the view from different vantage points. For instance, when I looked up and to my right, I had an outstanding view of the upper deck and the enormous glass panels:

Early in the BP session, four Reds wandered over and stood on the grass right below us:

This proved to be the biggest source of action we saw the whole time we were at Friday’s, believe it or not. There were a couple of home runs that entered the restaurant several tables to our left, but otherwise, no baseballs came remotely close to us. I was absolutely blown away by the lack of home runs, as I’d figured we’d have no trouble snagging a few balls between the two of us. The lack of baseballs did nothing to dampen the fun, though, and the Friday’s at Miller Park definitely goes down as one of my favorite ballpark eating experiences because of its uniqueness. I definitely recommend that you check it out when you visit this stadium.

Eventually, we wrapped up our meals and headed out to the concourse of Miller Park. The first thing that I wanted to do was take a look at where we’d been sitting from the perspective of the seating bowl, so we went down into the seats in the left field corner where I took this photo:

Our table was directly above the “YS” in Fridays; the person wearing the red T-shirt is a staff member who was preparing our table for the next group.

I knew that we’d be spending more time during the game sitting than walking around like I usually do, so I wanted to continue to check out the ballpark’s sights until we found a place to sit. Before we headed up to the concourse, I took this shot of the seats in right field, which clearly shows the variety of seating options available in that part of the ballpark:

Given that this would be my last visit to Miller Park on this trip, I knew that I once again needed to visit the Brewers Authentics kiosk to investigate more game-used pants options. Craig did a fairly good job of keeping his eye rolls to himself as I hurried us to the display and babbled about the pants that I’d bought two days earlier. I tend to take forever to make decisions involving baseball memorabilia, but didn’t want to make Craig stand idly by while I indecisively browsed others dudes’ drawers. Luckily, I’d scoped out another pair of pants two days earlier and knew that I’d buy them if they were still around during my next visit. Fortunately, they were, and I was soon the proud owner of a pair of Darnell Coles’ pants!

(For the record, that’s probably a line that has never been written in the history of everything.)

There were several reasons that I’d chosen Coles, the team’s hitting coach between 2015 and 2018. (He resigned just over a month after I bought his pants, but my sources say that my purchase of the pants had nothing to do with his decision.) In addition to the pants being of the throwback variety, which made them instantly special, Coles played 14 years in the big leagues — including two seasons with my favorite team, the Blue Jays. I remember watching him as a kid, especially during the 1993 season when the Jays were on their way to their second straight World Series title.

I didn’t take a photo of the pants at the game, but I definitely put them on when I got back to my hotel later that night and snapped this shot, feeling quite delighted that the pants matched my shirt:

(This photo was taken around midnight, or roughly three hours before I had to get up to catch a flight. I definitely wasn’t grinning then, nor was I still wearing these pants.)

Pants safely tucked into my backpack, Craig and I completed our walk around the concourse and then ascended to the upper deck to find a spot from which to watch the game. We chose a spot on the third base side of the upper deck, and in what was apparently a strange case of foreshadowing, I randomly took this photo of Christian Yelich on the video board when he came up to bat in the first inning:

Just a couple of hours later, Yelich hit for the cycle — the second time he’d done so during his 2018 MVP season, and Craig and I were pretty pumped to be there to see it. This was the first time I’d ever seen a player hit for the cycle in the big leagues in person. (I saw Adalberto Mondesi, then known as Raul Mondesi, Jr., hit for the cycle back in May of 2013 while playing for the Lexington Legends. You can read about that visit here, if you’d like.)

Craig and I sat in the upper deck for a few innings, and then moved to a spot in the outfield, where we had this view:

Midway through the game, I bailed on Craig for half an inning to meet Andy and Patrick, a pair of super-friendly baseball fans with whom I’d recently connected on Twitter. They’re Reds fans who were visiting Milwaukee from Indiana — and were impressively making the drive back home after the Brewers game. It’s always a thrill for me to meet people from Twitter at games, and Andy and Patrick are no exception — and I hope our paths will cross again in Indiana or elsewhere.

Then, I returned to the bleachers and met back up with Craig, and we remained in that spot for the rest of the game. Afterward, we drove back to the hotel parking structure and said our goodbyes. Craig began his ride home, and I headed into my hotel and began thinking about my next adventure — one that would begin well before dawn of the next day.

Charlotte Knights – August 29, 2018

My third day in Charlotte included another evening Knights game at BB&T BallPark, but before I headed to the ballpark, I had another sports facility to visit. A day after using some spare time to visit the NASCAR Hall of Fame, I made the short walk over to Bank of America Stadium, home of the Carolina Panthers. It’s only a block away from the ballpark, and offers daily tours. The tour that I took was only $6, and was very extensive — including a visit to field level, the visiting locker room, several luxury suites and more locations around the stadium.

After the tour, I grabbed a sub on the short walk back to my hotel and took it up to my room to eat. In my previous posts, I noted how conveniently located the Hilton Charlotte Center City was to not only the ballpark, but also to the other sports venues that I wanted to see. This is definitely the hotel that I recommend when you visit Charlotte on a baseball trip, and not only for its location. For more on the hotel, check out the bottom of this post.

As I did a day earlier, I walked over to BB&T BallPark between two and two-and-a-half hours before first pitch, which would once again give me plenty of time to explore. Even though I was eager to get inside, I spent a few minutes walking around the park’s exterior and looking at it from different angles. I took a handful of shots, but I’ll share just this one — this image of the main gates from across South Mint Street, which separates the ballpark from the picturesque Romare Bearden Park:

A moment after taking this photo, I entered the park and decided to go right up to the home run porch in right field — a place that I’d visited a day earlier, but in which I wanted to spend a little more time. In this spot, I snapped this shot:

You can see a bit of Romare Bearden Park behind me and, of course, some of the city skyline that never gets old. You might’ve also noticed that I’m wearing one of my stars and stripes road trip T-shirts shirts — the first time I’d worn it, actually — which you can buy here if you’re interested.

Batting practice hadn’t taken place during either of my first two visits to BB&T BallPark, so when the players emerged onto the field and started to gather around the cage, I left the home run porch and walked over to a spot just above the first base dugout, where I had this view:

I didn’t do much walking around during BP. Instead, I mostly hung out in various spots behind home plate and just enjoyed the scene in front of me. Shortly before the gates were due to open, I made my way over to the area immediately inside of the main gates. The Knights were welcoming longtime MLB pitcher Steve Avery for an autograph signing, and I wanted to see him up close for a few minutes. You probably know Avery’s name — he was a key member of the talented Atlanta Braves pitching staff of the early 1990s — and while he didn’t get the same acclaim as teammates Greg Maddux, John Smoltz and Tom Glavine, Avery ended up winning 96 ballgames in his career and was a part of Atlanta’s 1995 World Series-winning team.

Avery spent the last few minutes before the gates opened chatting with Knights staffers and even signing a few autographs for them …

… and as soon as fans entered the stadium, they quickly lined up next to him. I’m not sure how long he spent signing, but it had to be at least half an hour, and I’m sure that a few hundred fans left BB&T BallPark that night as happy owners of Avery’s autograph.

While Avery signed, and the grounds crew prepared the field after the completion of BP, I set off in search of something to eat. I always find that it can sometimes be difficult to choose my meal during my last visit to a ballpark. Even after visiting the previous two days, there were still a lot of menu items that sounded appealing — and that meant that the pressure was on to find something good. After excellent cheesesteak nachos during my first visit and an interesting but awkward hot dog on Day #2, I went in a different direction and bought a hamburger. This wasn’t any ol’ burger, though. It was called the Dragon’s Breath Burger (I’m assuming to pay homage to the enormous dragon near the batter’s eye) and it promised to be spicy.

The spice came in the form of habanero pepper relish and jalapeno pimento cheese. I decided to go grab a quiet seat in the outfield to tackle this burger, and I’m glad I did — it would’ve been awkward for any fans in busier sections of the ballpark to witness my tears.

This was easily the hottest freaking thing I’ve ever eaten at a ballpark, and probably one of the hottest things I’ve ever had in my life. The jalapeno pimento cheese wasn’t noticeable because of the heat of the habanero relish, which seemed to essentially just be a generous spoonful of finely diced habanero peppers. You can see plenty of the relish (in orange) in this image:

So, how hot is a habanero? I actually grow them in our garden, and know that a fraction of one pepper will nicely spice an entire pot of chili, for instance. It felt as though there was at least one full pepper on this burger, which put it well past the point of being “nicely spiced.” In terms of metrics, a jalapeno pepper can register as high as 10,000 units on the Scoville scale, but a habanero can get as high as 350,000 units. It’s about as hot a hot pepper you can find before you get into the “ridiculous” range with ghost peppers, Carolina reapers, etc. All of this meant that even a valiant effort from me wasn’t enough to finish this burger. After just a couple of bites, I was sweating, hiccuping, my eyes were watering and my nose was running.

I regretted not being able to finish the burger, but each bite was agony. I generally like spicy foods, but this meal was just too much for me.

After unfortunately tossing the rest of the burger, I blew my nose several times as though I was in the midst of a mid-January head cold — which might’ve seemed bizarre to any onlookers, given the pleasant August weather. Then, I walked over to the Charlotte bullpen area to watch the Knights get ready. As you can see here, they were wearing their throwback uniforms, which are clearly inspired by the old unis of their parent club, the Chicago White Sox:

I watched the warm-ups from field level, and then headed over to the team shop — known as “The Knights Armor Shoppe” — to browse for a bit before first pitch:

I was actually inside of the shop when the game began, but soon went back out to the concourse and once again made my way around to the third base side for the first couple innings of action. Here was my view in the bottom of the second:

For the rest of the game, I spent time in a bunch of places — an inning in the outfield, an inning on the home run porch, an inning on the grass berm, and so on — and, of course, I closed out the game by hanging out on the third base side of home plate where I could take in the view as the evening turned to night, wrapping up three outstanding days in Charlotte.

As I noted, the three days in Charlotte were really augmented by the caliber of my hotel. I always love choosing the hotels that I’ll visit on my baseball trips, and I’m glad I chose this one. From the moment I checked in to the time that I left, I enjoyed everything about this hotel — even though I was on the go so much that it didn’t feel as though I spent a lot of time there. Take a look at the image of the check-in area …

… and here’s a shot of a guest room identical to mine; I used a photo from the hotel’s website because it looked better than the ones I took:

The room was absolutely perfect. A really comfortable bed, free Wi-Fi that was really fast, free bottled water, a mini fridge and more, with everything spotlessly clean, were all things that I appreciated about my room at the Hilton. Every day of my trip was long and full, so it was always nice to have a comfortable hotel room with all the amenities I’d ever need to return to each night. It will definitely be the hotel I choose whenever I get back to Charlotte.

The end of my visit to Charlotte wasn’t the end of this trip, fortunately. About 12 hours after leaving BB&T BallPark, I’d be waiting in line at Charlotte Douglas International Airport to catch a flight to my next destination.

Rochester Red Wings – July 16, 2018

Every baseball road tripper has a list of ballparks that he or she visits once and can’t wait to visit again. Even though the overall goal might be to get to as many different parks as possible, there’s always an appeal to get back to a park on your shortlist.

For me, Rochester’s Frontier Field is definitely on that list.

There are several things that make this International League facility in Western New York enticing to me. It’s the first ballpark I visited in 2010 when I decided to start The Ballpark Guide, so the park holds a strong nostalgic connection for me. There’s also the fact that the food selection and quality, the ballpark’s design and atmosphere, the view from home plate and the consistent friendliness of the Red Wings staff are top of the line.

All of these traits mean that you don’t have to twist my arm to get me to travel to Rochester, so when I had a chance to visit for three days last month, I jumped at it. It’s hard to believe that, prior to this visit, I hadn’t been at Frontier Field since 2014. Given that lengthy stretch, a 2018 visit was a must.

Rochester is only about 4.5 hours from home, but I left early on July 16 with the plan to get to the city by around noon. Even though my focus on this trip was baseball, as always, I wanted to do a bit of sightseeing when I was able. Getting to town early gave me a couple of hours to visit Towers Field, home of the University of Rochester baseball team, the site of the old Silver Stadium, where the Red Wings played before Frontier Field was built and, finally, Mount Hope Cemetery, an enormous cemetery that is the final resting spot for a number of historic figures, including Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony. If you’re looking for other things to do during your next visit to Rochester, whether it’s museums, historic attractions or more, make sure that you browse Visit Rochester’s website for a comprehensive list of suggestions that will fill your itinerary.

After I saw the sights that I wanted to see, I checked into my hotel, the Holiday Inn Rochester Downtown. It’s not a place at which I’d previously stayed during any of my visits to Rochester, but its amenities and location — less than half a mile from Frontier Field — made it a perfect choice and one that I’d happily choose again.

After a bit of time exploring my hotel, I headed over to Frontier Field about three hours before first pitch. My plan was to enjoy the park for an hour on my own, and then meet up with three members of the Red Wings food & beverage staff for a very exciting food-focused tour. The weather was perfect when I left my hotel, started to drizzle while I was in the administrative office to pick up my media credential and was a complete downpour by the time I got to the concourse.

Argh.

Frontier Field’s concourse is enclosed beneath the seating bowl, which was the standard for minor league parks in 1996 when it opened. I’m not normally keen on this type of design, but was appreciating it during this visit. It rained so hard for the next 45 minutes that I didn’t dare venture out to the cross-aisle, so the concourse kept me mostly dry. When I’d get brave enough, I’d go to the end of the concourse along the third base side, where I’d peek out and see that the weather was still miserable:

The sky wasn’t completely dark, though. You might’ve noticed a small patch of brightness beyond the buildings in straightaway center, so I had hope that the weather picture would change as the afternoon turned to evening. The weather quickly became an afterthought for me as I met up with director of catering and events Courtney Trawitz, GM of food & beverage Jeff Dodge and concessions manager Jeff DeSantis for a culinary adventure that I won’t soon forget.

I’ve often raved about the food at Frontier Field, and these three people are instrumental in making it happen. They’re behind not only my go-to concession fare during each visit, but also the noteworthy new items that often turn heads on social media — and we were going to dive into the latter right away.

Courtney and the two Jeffs led me to a concession stand on the third base side, and Jeff DeSantis asked a food services employee to build me a trash can and a garbage plate. If you’re from Western New York, you’ll certainly know the term “garbage plate,” but if you’re reading this from elsewhere in the country, you might be raising an eyebrow. The garbage plate is Rochester’s specialty dish, and many restaurants around the city serve it. The dish originates from a Rochester restaurant called Nick Tahou Hots, and the traditional garbage plate consists of home fries, baked beans and macaroni salad, along with your choice of hamburger patties or hot dogs, and topped with onions and hot sauce. The noteworthy feature that gives this dish its name is that all of this food is piled in a heap on a plate. Anyway, the Red Wings have been selling garbage plates for years, and recently introduced the “trash can” — essentially, a garbage plate in an easy-to-carry format.

A few minutes after Jeff DeSantis placed the order, I was handed a trash can and a garbage plate with two cheeseburgers, and we moved over to a bar area in the concourse so that I could begin eating. First, though, I had to document this culinary decadence with some photos. Here’s the trash can in its ultra-cool collectible can which, as you might notice, even has dents:

The food itself cleverly sits in a beer cup that slides inside the can, so when you’re done eating, you can chuck the beer cup and your can will be clean to take home. Here’s what the food looks like with the outer can removed:

As you might be able to tell, the trash can’s ingredients are layered. From the bottom up, you’re looking at home fries, macaroni salad, more home fries, hot sauce, chili and onions. Courtney snapped my photo, in which I’m clearly sporting the sunburn that I picked up a day earlier in Batavia

… and then I dug in, wondering how I’d fare against what was easily a couple pounds of food in front of me. (By the way — like my shirt? You can buy one here.)

I have to say that the trash can was really tasty. I had no idea what to expect, but these ingredients worked well together. The crispy outer layer of the home fries was a nice contrast to the soft texture of the macaroni salad, and the chili had a combination of spices that made it a winner. The hot sauce thankfully didn’t blow smoke out my ears and the raw onions weren’t too harsh, so they both complemented the dish (can?) well. I was happy to tell my new friends that I was loving the trash can, and actually found it a little difficult to put down — despite knowing that I had a lot more eating to do.

About two-thirds of the way through it, I tapped out — only for Jeff DeSantis to slide the garbage plate in front of me with a smile. It consisted of all of the ingredients that went into the trash can, plus a pair of one-third pound hamburgers (with cheese, of course):

I think I might’ve liked the plate even more than the can, thanks to the addition of the two cheeseburgers. I find that ballpark burgers can be hit or miss, but those at Frontier Field, not surprisingly, were excellent. While I ate, Courtney, the two Jeffs and I chatted about not only the food at Frontier Field, but ballpark food in general, and I even got a chance to tell them a bit about some of the noteworthy things I’ve eaten on my adventures.

About halfway into the garbage plate, I once again called it quits, and my group led me along the concourse not for the marathon session on an elliptical machine that I needed, but to — you guessed it — eat some more. We stopped at the Nacho Everyday Nacho concession stand so that I could try an order of loaded nachos. For the record, I’m not normally a fan of ballpark nachos. I love homemade and restaurant nachos, but I find that topping some chips with that horrendous orange goo cheese and calling the dish ballpark nachos is a colossal letdown. As soon as the food services team began to build my nachos, however, I could tell that these would be no ordinary ballpark nachos. The chips were topped with beef and chicken, rice, black beans, shredded lettuce, salsa, shredded cheddar cheese, jalapenos, salsa verde and sour cream, and looked like this:

As you might suspect from the image above, it was delicious. A complete departure from conventional ballpark nachos, and even a source of some veggies at the ballpark — something that, um, doesn’t always happen for me.

My ability to move was limited after eating about half of the nachos, but I somehow followed Jeff Dodge and Courtney for a behind-the-scenes look at the Frontier Field kitchen. Jeff DeSantis understandably had to get back to his pregame duties after spending more than an hour with me — thanks, Jeff! I didn’t take much in the way of photos in the kitchen, partly because it was extremely crowded and I didn’t want to interfere with the staff members doing their job. I was hugely impressed with the organization and execution that went on wherever I turned, as well as the sheer volume of some things. As I watched a cook stir an enormous vat of chili, Jeff told me that the vat holds about 35 gallons!

I can’t say how much I appreciate the food experience that the Red Wings provided me, and really want to send my thanks to Courtney, Jeff and Jeff for not only being so generous with their time and expertise, but also so much fun to hang out with. Remember how I said earlier that one of the reasons I love returning to Rochester is the friendliness of the staff? I can definitely add this experience to that list.

The gates had opened by the time my food experience and tour wrapped up, and the rain had also quit. I was eager to get out to the seating bowl for the first time to view the field and begin to explore, so that’s what I did immediately upon saying goodbye to Courtney, Jeff and Jeff. Instead of going straight down to field level, I climbed up to the top row of the section behind home plate and snapped this panorama:

Then, I stood in that spot for a few minutes and enjoyed the view. Frontier Field provides one of my favorite views from home plate in all of baseball, and while it didn’t make my recent top-five list, I had to think long and hard to keep it off. I love the city’s skyline beyond right-center, and the Kodak building that towers beyond the left field corner is majestic. I also love the memories that quickly come back to me as I look at the image above:

  • I can recall standing around the bullpen in right field to watch a number of MLB hall of famers get warmed up during the Pepsi Max Field of Dreams game in 2013
  • I can remember exactly where I was sitting — in one of the covered sections down the right field line — when I took my first ballpark food photo way back in 2010
  • I can picture exactly where I was standing when I talked to MLBer Radhames Liz, took photos of him and even handed him my camera so that he could view the shots in 2014

And so, so many more memories.

Like I said, Frontier Field is a special place for me.

After my trip down memory lane, I took a lap around the concourse and ended up down the first base line, which is the spot in the park that provides the best view of the city’s iconic Kodak building:

I then continued over the small bridge that connects the concourse to the area behind the outfield fence, and settled into a standing-room spot beside the Rochester bullpen. I watched the starting pitcher go through his warmup and ended up spending the first inning in this spot.

This would normally be a time that I’d head off in search of a meal to eat, but in spite of all of the good food options surrounding me, I was absolutely stuffed. I was, however, craving something sweet and, while I don’t normally buy desserts at the ballpark, I decided that I needed something. I didn’t want anything that was insanely heavy, so I grabbed a root beer float. It was made with soft serve ice cream and it really hit the spot:

Once I’d slurped my dessert down, I snapped this panorama from where I sat …

… and then went back to the cross-aisle and walked all the way around to the left field foul pole. Yeah, I’d eaten a lot before the game started, but I was certainly getting my exercise now. There’s a large grass berm in this area, but it was a little wet from the rain earlier on, so it wasn’t as populated as it would’ve normally been. That meant that this area was pretty quiet as I grabbed a spot against the rail and watched an inning with this vantage point:

My next stop was the bridge that I mentioned earlier. It’s always one of my favorite places at Frontier Field to hang out. Not only does it provide a good view of the field, but you can also look into the home bullpen nearby. Here was my view from that spot:

Between innings, I took a walk through the outfield and behind a couple of group seating areas. The concourse doesn’t wrap all the way around the field, so I couldn’t continue — but here’s how the area immediately behind center field appears:

I then returned to the bridge to watch more of the action, and noticed this funny sign painted on the wall below me — helpful for those who might otherwise be confused, I’m guessing?

See the flag on the inside of the gate? It reads “Thursdays are for the Plates,” which pays tribute to the garbage plate. On Thursday home games throughout the seasons, the Red Wings have been donning special Rochester Plates uniforms. See? The garbage plate really is that big in Rochester!

Later in the game, I went outside to the plaza in front of the main gates to snap this panorama:

I love the look of the ticket office at night, don’t you? To me, it looks like a ticket office at a historic movie theater.

Then, I went back inside, took another lap of the concourse — stopping here and there to enjoy the action — and then settled into a seat behind home plate to watch the remainder of the game:

This spot also gave me an opportunity to exit quickly so that I could get out of the parking lot with ease and be back in my hotel room just a handful of minutes after the final out.

As always, it was an awesome day at Frontier Field — and a perfect way to start my three day-visit to Rochester. A day later, the Red Wings were playing a matinee game, so I’d be back at the ballpark in time for breakfast.

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.