Tagged: baseball road trip

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.

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 15, 2017

Since I first saw it on TV back in 2010, I’ve considered Target Field to be one of the best-looking ballparks in baseball. Of course, it’s difficult to authoritatively make that call without a thorough fact-finding mission, right?

Time to make that happen.

Midway through last summer, I decided that I wanted to take another September baseball trip. I’d done it a year earlier, spending three days at Coors Field in Denver, and the idea of fall baseball once again beckoned. This time, I set my sights on the Twin Cities of Minneapolis-Saint Paul for a trio of Twins games on September 15 through 17, plus an awesome day of sightseeing planned for September 18.

The morning of September 15 began early, as the first days of my trips frequently do. I was up about 3:30 a.m. for an early-morning flight to Toronto, fanny pack at the ready as always. I landed about 6:30 a.m. and snapped this shot of my plane midway through my two-hour layover:

Soon enough, I was back in the air and on the way to Minneapolis, where I touched down just before 10 a.m. — gaining an hour because of the time zone difference.

I was fortunate to get a hotel just a few blocks from Target Field, but the fact that the Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport is about 15 miles outside of the downtown area compelled me to plan to rent a car for my visit. Fortunately, the good people at Meet Minneapolis, who were super helpful with my trip planning, talked me out of doing so — they stressed that Minneapolis is extremely public transit friendly, and assured me that I’d be better off getting from the airport to downtown on the city’s light rail system. I’m pretty much a public transit novice. Growing up in a rural area meant that I drove everywhere, and it wasn’t until I was in university that I set foot on my first subway. In fact, I’m midway through my 30s and have still never taken a city bus. All this to say that I was a little tentative about getting around the city via light rail, but I was up to the challenge. It turns out, it wasn’t a challenge at all — Minneapolis’ light rail system was an absolutely breeze to navigate, and I used it several times during my visit.

Several minutes after stepping off my flight and into the airport terminal, I’d found my way down to the light rail station below the airport:

A few minutes later, I was comfortably seated on a Metro Blue Line light rail car and on my way downtown. The ride, which took about half an hour, was really pleasant. I love driving through new cities, but you don’t really get a full appreciation for the sights when you’re carefully watching the GPS screen as much as you’re looking through the windshield. On the train, with my route map in hand, I could take in all of the sights and get a real feel for the different parts of the city. One highlight that was impossible to miss was the enormous U.S. Bank Stadium, home of the NFL’s Vikings and the host stadium of Super Bowl LII. Seeing it, however briefly, was a pleasant tease — I’d be getting a private tour of it on the last day of my visit to Minneapolis!

I hopped off my train at the Warehouse District/Hennepin Avenue station and had about a block to walk to get to my hotel — can’t get much better than that. I arrived at the Embassy Suites by Hilton Minneapolis Downtown shortly before 11 a.m., fully expecting that I’d have to hang out in the lobby and scroll through Twitter for a couple hours, given that I’d arrived well in advance of the hotel’s 4 p.m. check-in time. I’ve learned over the course of my many travels, however, that it’s never a bad idea to let the front desk know that you’ve arrived, even if check-in isn’t for a few hours. I did, and was delighted to learn that my room was ready for me — welcome news after so much traveling. I quickly checked in, grabbed a burger from a restaurant a block or so away, and then headed to a nearby Target to pick up some snacks for my trip.

As I proceeded toward the checkout, I caught a familiar-looking person out of the corner of my eye. Longtime MLB veteran and 1992 World Series winner Pat Tabler, now a color commentator for Toronto’s TV broadcasts on Rogers Sportsnet, headed past me while walking toward the rear of the store. This is a guy I grew up watching, and now see on Jays broadcasts, so I couldn’t resist chasing him down. Lugging my overloaded shopping basket, I caught up to him a moment later and asked if I could take a picture with him:

We talked for a minute or two afterward; I told him that I was from Ontario and grew up watching him, and he told me that made him feel old. He also jokingly chastised me for busting him in the cookie aisle. “Not to worry,” I told him, “I was in the same aisle a few minutes ago, too.”

Highly content with how my visit to Minneapolis had been so far, I walked back to my hotel, unpacked my shopping bags, and relaxed in my room until it was time to make the short walk over to Target Field. I got there just after 3 p.m., which is pretty darned early for a 7 p.m. game, you might think. The Twins were hooking me up with media credentials for all three games, though, which meant that I could get in well before the gates opened — and if you know me, you know I was more than a little excited by this prospect.

I arrived at Target Field through what’s known as Twins Plaza outside Gate 34, which is the gate that you frequently see on TV broadcasts. I was immediately impressed with the look of the entire area. I was early enough that it was still pretty quiet, and that suited me just fine because I could take this photo that shows the scene without a throng of people:

Twins Plaza is definitely a place that you want to visit when you go to Target Field. It’s notable for being home to several statues, including the famous one that depicts hall of famer Kirby Puckett rounding the bases and pumping his fist after hitting his iconic home run in the 1991 World Series. Of course, I had to get a photo in front of it:

Normally, I take at least one lap around the outside of every ballpark I visit, so that would’ve come next. Knowing that I had three days to thoroughly take in all the sights in and outside of Target Field, I decided to put the perimeter tour on hold until a day later so that I could get inside as quickly as possible. I entered via the press entrance, which put me in the open concourse close to where you’d be upon walking through Gate 34. I immediately rushed to the front row of the right field seats to take a look at the field for the first time, and was amused to see the players playing catch with a football — a sure sign of autumn, I guess:

Next, I wandered over to right-center to take this panorama, which shows just how beautiful Target Field truly is:

When I get inside a ballpark for the first time, there’s a temptation to run helter-skelter around and try to take in all the sights at once. It can be tough to tell myself, “OK, you’ve got three days here. Take a nice, slow lap around the concourse for starters to get your bearings.” Fortunately, that little voice in my head won out, so I continued wandering through the outfield seats and all the way past the left field foul pole, where I stopped to snap this picture of myself:

(As you might’ve noticed, I’m wearing one of my custom T-shirts. Want your own? Click here.)

See the players on the field behind me? The Jays pitchers were playing catch, and I watched them from this vantage point for a moment before heading down to field level. You might be wondering about me seeing Toronto on the road: Even though the Jays are my favorite team, seeing them on this trip was pure luck — I only had a couple scheduling opportunities for visiting Minneapolis in September, and the Jays were in town for one of them. Couldn’t pass up that chance. For all the times that I’ve seen Toronto in action, this was only the second series that I’d seen them on the road, funny enough.

Down at field level, I found a spot behind third base, where I simply hung out and enjoyed the scene. It was fun, as always, to watch the players up close, but my attention was more drawn to the beautiful ballpark landscape around me:

Soon enough, the enormous video board began to show different clips and information. At one point, there was live footage of the field. I quickly snapped the following photo because I could see myself (or, more aptly, the few pixels that I knew were me) and I thought it would be fun to share:

As I stood there, players and staff passed back and forth in front of me, going to and from the dugout. Longtime trainer George Poulis, who has since become the head trainer for the Braves, said hello to me as he walked past, while reliever Danny Barnes, who I met way back in 2011 when he was with the Lansing Lugnuts, nodded as he passed me. One player I was keeping my eye (and camera) on was closer Roberto Osuna, and I’m glad that I did. Just a moment after I took this photo …

… he finished playing catch. Instead of carrying his warmup ball to the dugout with him or tossing it into the ball bag, he turned and fired it all the way into the upper deck — like it was no big deal, I might add. I don’t know if he was aiming for this opening — I suspect he was — but his throw sailed through the opening to Section 329, which you’ll see at the bottom left of the deck:

As I watched the ball disappear, I thought, “That’ll make a cool souvenir for someone,” and then thought, “Hey, what about me?” Being at the edge of the infield, I was extremely far away from the upper deck, of course. Getting there would require running back up to the concourse, along the concourse to the foul pole, and up several flights of stairs — and then hoping that a staff member hadn’t scooped up the ball. If you know me, though, you know that I’m always up for a baseball challenge, so I took off in the direction of where I hoped the ball would be.

And found nothing.

I searched, searched, and searched some more, and the ball wasn’t anywhere. There were a couple concessions employees preparing their stand nearby, so I figured that one of them had grabbed it. I figured that at least I got a little exercise out of the quest, and turned to head back down the stairs toward the concourse. Midway down, I stopped and thought about the situation. I couldn’t imagine concession staff caring about errant baseballs, so I figured the ball still had to be there. I ran back up, searched for a few more minutes — including getting down on my hands and knees, and came up with this gem:

I have to admit that I was pretty satisfied with myself as I retraced my steps back down the stairs, along the concourse, and back down to field level. I might’ve even been grinning like a fool.

There were still a few Jays leaving the field when I returned, and I happily stood there and snapped pictures of several of them. Most ignored me, but starter/reliever Joe Biagini looked right at me as I was taking his picture …

… and asked, “How do I look? Good?” I told him that he indeed did look good, and he nodded and continued to the dugout.

As the Jays left the field, the Twins made their way toward home plate to take batting practice. I snapped this shot from a spot above the visitors dugout …

… and then just stood there and watched the action. When the gates opened, I went back to left field to try to snag a home run ball. The lower deck had a moderate number of people trying to snag baseballs, so I went all the way back to the upper deck, where there were just a couple other fans. Of course, upper deck shots are relatively rare, even in BP, but I figured that I’d hang out in this spot for a few minutes to see if anything came my way. It wasn’t long before someone on the Twins — I’m not sure who, unfortunately — blasted a moonshot that landed a few rows in front of me, and I had no trouble dashing down and grabbing it:

I’m always happy to snag a ball during BP, so I dropped the ball in my backpack and headed off to further explore Target Field. My first stop was the press box (no photos there — sorry) to pick up some lineup sheets. I saw Tabler again, and nearly collided with his TV broadcast partner and longtime MLBer Buck Martinez, who hurried out of the broadcast booth and almost walked straight into me. I also saw Twins legend and HOFer Bert Blyleven, who did not circle me.

Speaking of circles, I headed straight for the iconic “Welcome to Target Field” sign below the press box next. Target Field’s press box location is unique in the big leagues. Instead of being on the suite level, it’s immediately above the 200 Level, and there’s a cross-aisle directly below it. One of my pre-visit goals was to get a picture of myself with the Target logo on the wall below the press box, and here’s that effort:

I stood with my back to the Target sign for a few minutes to enjoy the view. From that spot, I could hear the broadcasters in their various booths talking, which provided a nice soundtrack as I took in the perfect scene in front of me:

As I posted on Instagram later on my visit, Pittsburgh’s PNC Park often has a much-deserved reputation as offering the best view from home plate in the majors, but I think that the view at Target Field is certainly no slouch. What do you think?

Next, I went back to the concourse and began a slow walk to take in the sights. Remember the Puckett statue from outside Gate 34 recognizing his game six home run? Well, on the concourse, there was a display featuring the seat in which the home run ball landed:

Returning to the outfield seats at the end of my walk through the concourse, I enjoyed this cool view of the Budweiser Roof Deck above the left field foul pole:

I love how you can see the top of the Ford Center and its water tower just beyond the roof deck. Today, the building provides office space, but it was once one of the locations where Model T Fords were assembled.

As the time ticked down toward first pitch, I spent a few minutes standing in a variety of spots to enjoy the view and atmosphere at the ballpark — high above the field in the seats in right-center, in the area inside Gate 34 and down toward field level in the right field corner, to name a few. Just before first pitch, I grabbed some food and took a seat in the upper deck in left-center. What did I eat, you might ask? Well, I’ll be glad to tell you.

I present to you deep-fried, beer-battered cheese curds:

They were pretty darned good. I’d have liked them to be a little more gooey — the cheese basically still held its shape as I bit into them — but I was glad to add another unique type of ballpark fare to my ever-expanding repertoire.

After eating, I headed to the team shop for the first time, and was immediately blown away by its size and some of its unique features. Case in point, this Twins suit, which could be yours for the low-low price of $740:

Later in the game, I took a seat in the upper deck in right field, stopping to snap this panorama of the area inside Gate 34:

I watched a couple innings of the game from that spot, in part because the view of the field was perfect, and in part because I needed to get off my feet. I hadn’t sat for four or five hours by that point, and was ready to give my feet a little break.

Midway through the game, I grabbed a spot here, where I enjoyed this outstanding view:

I spent the game’s latter innings watching the action from several spots, while also enjoying a few more laps around the concourse to take in all the sights. As soon as the ninth inning drew to a close, I made the short walk back to my hotel, majorly in need of sleep after such a long day:

I crashed pretty soon after getting back to my room, pumped to have finally made it to Minneapolis and excited for the next day’s visit to beautiful Target Field.

Ottawa Champions – June 28

Whenever I return to a ballpark I’ve previously visited, my mission is to have a new adventure to blog about. It can be easy to fall into the ever-present blogging trap of being formulaic, and that’s something that I try to avoid as best I can.

Sometimes, I really have to get creative to give you a new story. Other times, something awesome just falls into my lap.

The latter was the case during a late-June visit to Ottawa to watch the Can-Am League’s Champions host the Dominican Republic National Team. As you might remember, I’ve seen Ottawa in international baseball action twice over the past two seasons — against Cuba in 2016 and again against Cuba earlier this June.

Once I heard that the Dominican squad would be in Ontario, I couldn’t resist traveling to Ottawa to see the Champions again. I arrived at Raymond Chabot Grant Thornton Park about 3.5 hours before first pitch, and went down to the field as Ottawa was taking BP. I figured that I’d just be watching the action for a bit on my own, but team president and minority owner David Gourlay was in front of the dugout. I went over to say hello, and we spent about 15 minutes talking everything from baseball to baseball card collecting. Before David and I wrapped up, he asked if I’d had a chance to tour behind the scenes of RCGT Park.

“Well,” I said somewhat sheepishly, “I’ve done a little snooping … but haven’t ever had a full tour.”

He pledged to meet up with me midway through the game and give me the grand tour. Things were already looking up.

Before Ottawa finished its BP, I also got a chance to talk to all-star catcher Danny Grauer for a few minutes; he and I had chatted during my first Champions game of the season and it was fun to get caught up with him. He’s a friendly and instantly likable guy, so I make a point of saying hello to him or speaking to him for a few minutes at each the Champions games I attend.

Once Danny left the field, I spoke for a while to team broadcaster Mason Detre, and also enjoyed such scenes as this one:

Yeah, it looks like a batting cage, but that’s Ottawa manager Hal Lanier watching his players hit. Lanier is a decorated former MLB coach and manager, with a World Series title in 1982 and National League manager of the year honors in 1986. And he also had a decade-long playing career for the Giants and Yankees. It’s not every day I get to see someone with that baseball pedigree.

In each of the times I saw Cuba in Ottawa, the international team was late getting to town and didn’t take BP. That was a disappointment for me, so I was pleased to hear that the Dominicans had arrived in plenty of time — and even more pleased to see some players filtering into the visitor’s dugout with bats in their hands toward the end of the Champions BP session.

I soon learned that the Dominican side was being managed by Luis Polonia, another manager with extensive MLB experience (and a pair of World Series rings). Before long, Polonia and his club were on the field, and I was thrilled to be soaking it all in:

I watched the majority of the Dominican BP session before heading off to wander around RCGT Park a little more. What I found, however, was rain. The weather was hot and sunny enough during Ottawa’s BP session that I could feel the skin on my neck burning a bit. By the time the Dominicans were on the field, the weather was still good but there were clouds in the area. As the visitors left the field, Ottawa rushed to get the tarp in place as the raindrops fell. And a few minutes later, this was the scene:

As it rained just about as hard as I could, an usher and I checked the weather app on his phone and learned that the storm was supposed to let up around 7 p.m. With the game’s first pitch scheduled for just a few minutes later, that meant that an on-time start was in doubt — but that things looked hopeful for a little later.

There wasn’t much exploring to be done as the rain fell; I wanted to stay in sheltered areas, so I went up to the suite level and walked into the restaurant/sports bar that is located on the suite level’s third base side. It’s not a working restaurant during most games, but it’s used for a variety of functions and is adorned with lots of cool Champions action pictures, as well as an overall baseball theme. It was empty except for me, so I silently stood at the windows and hoped for the storm to go away. This scene wasn’t overly promising …

… but this one, just a short while later, certainly was:

The rainbow was so impressive that I’d quickly scampered down to the seating bowl to get a better angle of it. And, would you believe that by shortly after 7 p.m., this was how the ballpark and sky looked?

That’s right, the skies had cleared and the stage was set for a great night of baseball in Canada’s capital.

As the players hit the field, I walked down the front row of the third base seats to watch the warmups. Ottawa’s starter was Phillippe Aumont, who’s the only former major leaguer on the Champions roster and is also a former MLB first-round draft pick. He signed with Ottawa just three week earlier, and is doubling as the team’s pitching coach. I watched Aumont and Grauer go through their stretching routines and then begin to play catch:

A short while later, I went over to the visitor’s side to see the Dominican team up close for the first time since BP. One noteworthy thing caught my eye — one of the Dominican pitchers, Luis Nunez, was wearing a Hudson Valley Renegades  (short-season A affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays) warmup jacket over his uniform. (He played for the Renegades last season, for the record.) Its blue was nearly a perfect match with the Dominican uniform, so it blended in, with the exception of the team logo on the left chest. I was amused enough to snap a series of photos at Nunez, who eventually noticed me and gave me a peace sign:

I also noticed catcher Danny Tavares and a teammate who appeared to be having a secretive conversation, but were really just using Tavares’s glove to block the sun:

As the game was just about set to begin, I had my first big-time surprise of the evening. A fan who was headed toward his seat noticed my shirt and stopped to ask me about it. “Are you the guy who does those shirts?” he wondered. It turns out that the fan, Ben Lampron, follows me on Twitter. Even cooler is the fact that he’s not from Ottawa — he lives in Minneapolis, and was visiting Ontario for business when he decided to take in a Champions game. Ben snapped this shot of us right away:

It was such a strange occurrence to run into each other in this manner, and we made plans to meet up once the game had begun. We ended up sitting together for the first couple innings and talking baseball. It turns out that, counting independent ball, Ben has been to nearly twice as many stadiums as me. He travels frequently for work and attends baseball games whenever his schedule allows. We had a great time comparing notes on our favorite (and not-so-favorite) ballparks, and I’m sure our paths will cross again at some point.

After Ben and I parted ways, I went behind home plate to watch a few batters, and then decided that it was time for some dinner. Earlier, I’d heard the PA announcer suggest the “Fan Club Burger” to fans, and while I didn’t know exactly what the burger was about, I decided to take a shot. I’m glad I did. The burger was like what you’d make at home if you were competent in the kitchen — a nice, thick patty with a series of conventional toppings, including bacon:

It was excellent and definitely gets my recommendation for fans visiting RCGT Park. In fact, I’ll probably try it again this summer. Once I’d eaten, I settled into a seat in the front row behind the visitor’s dugout. From there, I had a great view of the Dominican players as they leaned on the railing while their team was on offense …

… as well as the action at the plate and first base. Here’s former Blue Jays minor leaguer Gustavo Pierre at the dish …

… and Sebastien Boucher, a Mariners draft pick in 2004 who’s in his 13th season of professional baseball:

In the fifth inning, I went up to the cross-aisle, where I had this view as I watched a couple batters with Champions director of marketing/communications Craig Richenback:

At one point, a Dominican hitter showed bunt and fouled it back to the screen. Craig sort of shook his head about the idea of bunting, and I was initially puzzled by his reaction. Then, it hit me.

Aumont had a no-hitter going.

It’s funny — when I’m attending ballgames, I don’t have a complete pulse on the game. It might sound weird, given what a baseball fan I am, but I’m walking around so much and checking out different sights that I don’t always know the score. I’ll always have an eye on what’s taking place on the field, but I’m just not glued to the action. I find that at baseball games, there’s so much more to see and do than just sit watching the game itself. To me, seeing a bit less of the game and a lot more of the ballpark and the sights around it actually enriches the entire experience.

I’d never seen a no-hitter in all my baseball adventures, but that didn’t stop me from continuing to experience the ballpark as I usually do. Just a moment after realizing that the no-no was intact, I connected with David and we began an outstanding tour — most of which was out of sight of what was happening on the field.

We met up in the concourse inside the main gates, but soon descended into RCGT’s Park’s lower level. For me, no matter how many stadiums I visit, it’s always exciting to see things that the average fan doesn’t get to see — and then share them on my blog. For me, even something as standard as this hallway beneath the stadium carries with it an excitement:

Our first stop was a seemingly ordinary room with an important role. It holds the beer (and soft drinks, I’m presuming) that are pumped up to the concourse concession stands and served to fans. The Champions are one of only a handful of teams with their own beer, and there were several kegs of it waiting to be hooked up:

Next, we checked out the visitor’s clubhouse, which was marked with a Dominican Republic team logo on the door:

Want to see inside? I did, too, and David led me in to check it out for a moment:

We then walked down the a hallway that is essentially parallel with the first base line. It has a tunnel running perpendicular to it that leads you to the visitor’s dugout, but we kept going until we reached the end. Here, we could see not only the DR bus, but also the batting cage that had been on the field earlier:

I stuck my head through the roll-up door in the above photo and this is what I saw to my left:

You can see a couple of the Dominican relievers in the bullpen, as well as Ottawa mascot Champ waiting for the next on-field, between-innings promotion.

While you can see part of the field in the last picture, our next stop was to a spot where the view of the field was much better. Check it out:

David led me through the umpires’ tunnel to the door directly behind home plate, which is a spot I’d never been at RCGT Park and rarely at any of the 60+ parks I’ve visited. It provides an awesome view of the action — the pitcher looking in to get his sign from the catcher, the batter digging in, the umpire crouching as the pitcher begins his windup, and then the ball highlighted against the batter’s eye on its way to the plate. Visiting this spot was a true highlight of the tour.

While I was within sight of the video board, I checked the score. The Dominicans were still hitless.

Our next stop was the laundry room — not to look at the laundry, but to check out a concrete pillar that David was excited to show me. If you don’t know much about RCGT Park, here’s a quick primer. It opened in 1993 as JetForm Park and was the home of the International League’s Ottawa Lynx, who were the top affiliate of the Montreal Expos. The Lynx remained the prime tenant through the 2007 season, and then moved off to Allentown, PA, to become the Lehigh Valley IronPigs. In the years that followed, the stadium was used by independent and semi-pro teams, and even sat vacant for a stretch. The Champions took over in time for the 2015 season and have been there ever since. But back to the Lynx — they won the league title in 1995, just their third year in existence, and the team signed a pillar in the laundry room to commemorate the victory. How cool is this?

You can clearly make out the names of many future major leaguers who were on that roster, including Curtis Pride, F.P. Santangelo, Kirk Rueter and more. If you click on the image, you can blow it up to see the various names.

In a tip of the cap to the Lynx, the Ottawa Champions signed another side of the same pillar following their Can-Am League title last season. As I was checking out the names, David realized that he’d yet to sign it himself. “I’ve got a Sharpie,” I offered, “want to do the honors?”

David took my marker, added his name, and I snapped his shot next to the pillar:

After the laundry room, we stopped by Lanier’s office. It was pretty basic, but it was cool to see a framed photo on the shelf recognizing the manager’s 900th career win, which he’d accomplished just a few days earlier:

I knew from previous visits to the ballpark that the manager’s office is connected to the home team’s clubhouse, so I was hoping that that would be our next stop — and the tour didn’t disappoint. This was another major highlight. I’ve only been into professional baseball clubhouses a few times, so it was a huge thrill to just walk into the space and look around me. I respect that this space is the home team’s sanctuary, so I wanted to take a photo that would avoid invading anyone’s privacy while still giving you an idea of how the room looks. I figured that a wide-angle shot would do that the best:

Our last stop on the tour was a room adjacent to the clubhouse, which featured a workout area …

… and a pair of soaking tubs:

It’s hard to see in the image above, but there was a hilarious homemade sign on the wall that read:

SHOWER “WITH SOAP” BEFORE USING TUBS!

I love how “with soap” was emphasized.

The tour lasted a little longer than 15 minutes, so David was pretty darned generous with his time. Thanks so much, David!

Once we went back up to the concourse, I hurried up to the seating area to check the scoreboard. Still a no-hitter.

Next, I met up with a Twitter follower and fellow baseball fan named Jane-Anne Dugas. She and I have talked several times on Twitter dating back to last season, but our paths had never crossed in person. We’d connected earlier in the game, and I grabbed a seat next to her with this view for the ninth inning:

That’s Aumont dealing to outfielder Juan Crousset and if it’s difficult to see the goose eggs on the video board in the background, here’s a closer look:

It was great to meet and talk baseball with Jane-Anne, but as the game’s final batter dug in, we hit the pause button on our conversation to simply watch the magic before us. This is what unfolded:

As soon as I stopped recording, I rushed down to the field to snap a bunch of photos. As this was the first-ever no-hitter that I’d witnessed in person, I wanted to get as many shots as I could of this special occasion. I watched as outfielder Steve Brown and pitcher Daniel Cordero ran onto the field with a jug of water …

… and dumped it all over Aumont, much to everyone’s excitement:

This next photo isn’t the greatest, but it was a cool moment — Grauer hugging Aumont:

Here’s a teammate giving Aumont his hat back, which came off in the celebration:

You’ll notice that the pitcher has a firm grip on the final-out baseball, too.

And here’s my favorite photo of the no-hitter — Aumont saluting the fans on his way to the dugout:

While I’ve been lucky enough to see a long list of cool on-field accomplishments in person, I don’t know if anything beats seeing my first no-hitter. And this isn’t just my first no-hitter since starting The Ballpark Guide; I’ve been going to professional baseball games since 1988 and had never seen one before this night.

It was a perfect conclusion to a perfect day at RCGT Park.

Binghamton Rumble Ponies – May 18

Less than 24 hours after leaving Binghamton’s NYSEG Stadium following my first visit since 2011, I was back in the car and pulling into the Eastern League ballpark’s parking lot for some matinee action.

I always find matinee games awesome on my baseball road trips. In some instances, they provide a full nine innings of daylight, which is great for photographs, a quiet evening off and an opportunity to catch up on blogging in my hotel. At other times, they give me a chance to see a stadium for a second time before hitting the road again. This time, I’d be heading home after the game, but was glad for the follow-up opportunity to see the Rumble Ponies again host the Altoona Curve at NYSEG Stadium.

My first game’s experience, which you might have read about here, was excellent. As I said in my last post, the changes that have recently been made to the ballpark made for a much better fan experience than when I last visited six years ago.

A day earlier, I’d enjoyed snagging a couple batting practice home runs in the parking lot. Given the 10:30 a.m. start time on this day, however, I knew that BP wouldn’t be in the cards. Instead of hanging out in the parking lot again, I immediately entered through Gate 1 and headed over to the new picnic area behind the fence in right field. In my previous blog post, I showed you the view from this spot — but not a full shot of how the spot itself looks. Check it out:

I can imagine this being a thrilling place during a home run. The ball would ricochet like crazy on the asphalt and likely bounce off the rounded building, too. If there were a bunch of fans in the area, it’d be fun a scramble to see who could come up with the baseball. (There ended up being one home run ball land in this spot later in the game, but I was unfortunately sitting on the opposite side of the park at the time. It’s too bad, too, because there weren’t any fans using the picnic tables when the home run was hit. A lone fan sauntered over to the area to easily pick up the baseball.)

As I said, batting practice wasn’t taking place, but that didn’t mean that the field was empty. Many players on each team were on their respective sides of the field and and were just starting to warm up, so I began my second day at NYSEG Stadium by standing in the shade under the party deck down the first base line and watching the scene. One funny thing that I noticed was a Rumble Ponies player sitting on one of the field-level seats and impersonating a silly batting stance while a teammate laughed:

Speaking of that party deck, that’s where I headed next. I wanted a bird’s-eye view of the field and the warmups below me, as you’ll see in this shot of the mostly empty ballpark …

… and this one of a Rumble Ponies team meeting taking place:

Next, I headed to the opposite side of the field to check out another new seating area. I hadn’t visited this spot a day earlier, and while it might not have all the bells and whistles of the new party deck I’d just been standing on, it’s an awesome spot to watch a ballgame. This new area consists of tables and chairs that are protected by netting, as well as bar-style seating at field level:

Since I apparently cannot stand still for long when I’m at a ballpark, my next stop was back where I’d been standing earlier. By now, the Binghamton players were playing catch, and I watched the action for a few minutes before noticing a scene that shows just how solitary gameday can be for the starting pitcher. Here’s Rumble Ponies starter PJ Conlon, more than an hour before first pitch, standing by himself against the center field fence and stretching:

Once I’d watched the Binghamton warmups for a few minutes, I once again returned to the visitors’ side to see Altoona. Remember the new seating area from two photos ago? I took a spot at field level, which put me just a few yards from the closest Curve players. Not 30 seconds after arriving, a Curve player walked over toward me and I realized it was outfielder Connor Joe, Pittsburgh’s 30th-ranked prospect and the same player who’d said hello before the game a day earlier. I could tell he was reading the lettering on my new T-shirt and taking it in.

“Cool shirt,” he told me. “What’s The Ballpark Guide?” I was once again a little surprised at being approached by a player, but excited to tell him a little about my site. Seemingly hearing the conversation between his teammate and me, Curve shortstop Kevin Newman, the third-ranked prospect in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization, turned around and read my shirt aloud: “Fastballs and walkoffs and hot dogs and road trips.”

As this was happening, I was telling Joe how I’d been to 64 different stadiums, but I suggested that he’d probably played at more throughout all the years of his baseball career, and he laughed. Soon enough, he waved and headed back to the field. The whole exchange lasted less than a minute, but it was pretty cool. I made up my new T-shirts just before this trip with the hope of having them catch peoples’ eyes, and the thought that two players were commenting on the design was an unexpected thrill.

Of course, now I had a pair of new players to add to my “players with whom I’ve had a cool interaction and now I cheer for them” list, so I got busy snapping some shots of both Joe and Newman. Here’s one of Joe that turned out well:

And one of Newman:

Although I was mostly watching Joe and Newman, something unusual caught my eye. Altoona shortstop Pablo Reyes was wearing his Oakley sunglasses upside down on his face. I thought he might’ve just been doing it for a joke, and I’m sure he was to some extent, but they remained in place while he played catch. It was a bizarre sight, but one that definitely made me smile:

In fact, I thought this sight was so bizarre that I submitted it for consideration in ESPN’s Uni Watch blog, and it got included. Here’s the tweet that I sent:

And here’s a screenshot of the part of the Uni Watch blog post that mentions my submission:

By the way, the photo of Reyes may make it appear as though he was just wearing his shades upside down while standing around, but he was actually wearing them that way while playing catch. Here’s proof:

After I’d finished watching the oddity with Reyes, I shifted by attention back to Joe and Newman, who appeared to be having a good time toward the end of warmups:

When warmups wrapped up and first pitch approached, I went back over to the Rumble Ponies side of the field for a few minutes. While there, I snapped this shot during the national anthem …

… and then took a spot in the first row above the Altoona dugout to shoot some action shots of players. Here’s Curve starting pitcher Yeudy Garcia, who’s the #12 prospect in the Pirates system:

Here’s Champ Stuart, who hit the first foul ball I snagged a day earlier, just after laying down a bunt:

And, since we’re talking about those foul balls from my first game in Binghamton, here’s Luis Guillorme, who hit the second one I snagged:

The next inning, Altoona outfielder Jordan Luplow got hit by a pitch, and I snapped this shot just after the ball made contact:

The HBP was sort of interesting, although I’m sure Luplow would beg to differ. He had absolutely crushed a home run the previous night, and while I hadn’t noticed if he’d watched it a little too long or done something else to get under the opposition’s skin, the beanball made it obvious that Binghamton wasn’t pleased. In fact, the intentional nature of the pitch was so evident that one of the Curve coaching staff yelled out a warning to Conlon, “You’ve got to hit, too,” and then may have used two-part curse word.

There’s no way Conlon didn’t hear what was yelled, but he didn’t react. I was ready for some fireworks when he came up to bat, but it wasn’t payback time on this day. Speaking of Conlon, here’s a shot I snapped just after his delivery a few pitches after hitting Luplow:

After watching innings one and two from behind the dugout, I opted for a change of scenery and found it on one of the picnic tables in the right field corner. I was determined to spend some time there in the hopes of snagging another home run ball for my collection. I spent about an inning and a half with this view …

… but nothing came my way.

Eager for a little shade, I decided to take a walk through the covered concourse under the seats to check out some of the historical plaques recognizing those enshrined in Binghamton’s baseball hall of fame. This part of NYSEG Stadium might initially go unnoticed because of its location, but it’s a must-see area. (Although, I’d love to see it somewhere with a little more visibility, given that there are plaques recognizing many all-time greats of the game who have a connection to Binghamton.) One name that I thought was notable was that of Bud Fowler. His name isn’t one that I recognize, but Fowler was the first African-American player to play professional baseball. He suited up for the International Association’s Binghamton Crickets in 1887 and hit .350.

My short walk through Binghamton baseball history lasted about half an inning, although I could’ve spent longer reading all the plaques. I wanted to get back out to the seats to enjoy some more action, and settled into a seat behind home plate, where I had this view:

After an inning in that spot, I took a front-row seat above the Binghamton dugout to shoot a few more action shots. Here’s L.J. Mazzilli, the home run hero from a night earlier, ducking out of the way of a pitch …

… and then making square contact a couple pitches later to hit his first triple of the season:

Later in the inning, Stuart hit a single. Altoona was careful to keep Stuart from getting a big lead, given his speed. The result was a number of pick-off attempts, and I had a great view for them:

The throws must’ve worked; Stuart did indeed try to swipe second base, but was tossed out by Altoona catcher Zane Chavez:

(I like how first baseman Edwin Espinal is making the “out” sign at the same time as the umpire.)

The next inning, I shot this image of Altoona’s Reyes who was batting without his lucky upside-down sunglasses …

… and Rumble Ponies reliever Luis Mateo, looking skyward after coming off the mound following a one-inning outing:

I spent the game’s final innings once again in the right field corner hoping for a home run ball:

Again, though, nothing came my way. That didn’t do anything to dampen an excellent two days in Binghamton. After my disappointment in 2011, I was really hoping that I’d enjoy this visit — but had no idea things would’ve changed for the better to this degree. Now, I’m eagerly looking forward to returning to Binghamton for some Rumble Ponies baseball, whenever that may be. And if you’re remotely in the area, I wholeheartedly recommend that you make a stop at NYSEG Stadium, too.

Colorado Rockies – September 19

Want to guess what time I got up on my first morning in Denver?

If you guessed 3:45 a.m. local time, you’d be right.

Now, before you label me a sleep-deprived maniac, let me tell you two things — my body was clearly still on east coast time, and I was thrilled to be in a new city for three days of baseball at my 63rd different ballpark. Deciding that I wouldn’t wake my wife like a tot on Christmas morning, I quietly let myselfout of our hotel room and went down to the lobby of the Westin Denver Downtown. My wife and I hadn’t done much exploring of the hotel the night before, and I was itching to check out some of the amenities. It’s definitely one of the nicest hotels I’ve stayed at over the years, so I’m anxious to share some pictures over my next few blog posts.

My first stop was the super-cool pool deck that you might’ve seen me post about on Instagram during my trip. It’s probably my favorite feature at the hotel, as it’s the first pool I’ve seen that is part indoors, and part outdoors — and, as you might guess, it was pretty quiet about 4 a.m.:

After walking around the hotel a bit, I set out for an early morning walk, anxious to smell the mountain air before the streets got busy with vehicles. The Westin is situated in the heart of Denver in an area known as the 16th Street Mall. The mall is an open-air pedestrian mall that’s more than one mile long and stocked with 300+ stores and 50+ restaurant. You can’t actually drive down 16th Street (although I mistakenly did the day before — but that’s another story) so it’s a great place for pedestrians and tourists to browse. Anyway, I walked around the mall a bit and then zigzagged my way through some of the neighboring streets, noting some eye-catching scenery like this:

Once I’d walked for a bit, I returned to the lobby to hang out until my wife arrived, and then we went back to our room in time to watch the Rocky Mountains come into focus, which was absolutely amazing:

If you’re visiting Denver for any reason and book a room at the Westin Denver Downtown, make sure ask for a room that faces the mountains. As you know, I’m a sucker for a hotel room with a view, and it’s certainly tough to top a mountain range! While the mountains were certainly the star attraction out the window of our room, it was also impressive to see Sports Authority Field at Mile High, home of the NFL’s Denver Broncos, and Pepsi Center, home of the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche. Can you spot the two stadiums in the photo above? Let me know in the comments below.

After having breakfast near the hotel, my wife and I did a handful of touristy things around the city, but once mid-afternoon arrived, it was time to head back to the hotel and get ready to walk over to Coors Field. My wife, meanwhile, had a different plan, and hopped in our rental car and drove off to check out the Denver Botanic Gardens. She’s not the biggest baseball fan, but to be fair, if we’d traveled to Denver to see the botanic gardens, I might’ve sneaked off to a ballgame.

I loaded my camera stuff into my backpack and began the short walk from the Westin to Coors Field, getting more excited with each city block that I put behind me. Soon enough, the glorious ballpark came into view, and I snapped this panorama from across the street:

I was immediately impressed with the exterior beauty of the park, but it was just the tip of the iceberg (or tip of the mountain, perhaps?) in terms of how I felt about the look of this ballpark. Admittedly, Colorado isn’t a team I watch on TV very much; I live on the east coast, so most of the Rockies games aren’t at an ideal time, and I don’t follow the National League as much as I do the American League. This meant that I was in for plenty of positive surprises throughout my entire visit to Denver, starting before I even entered the ballpark.

As you can see from this photo …

… I got to Coors Field just after 4 p.m., which was well in advance of the gates opening. That was part of my plan, though, as I wanted to wander around the exterior for a bit. I’ve mentioned in other blog posts that I love red brick ballparks, so it was a thrill to simply walk the exterior perimeter of Coors Field and enjoy the mammoth structure towering over my left shoulder:

The streets around the ballpark were still fairly quiet …

… but the energy picked up by the time I made it around to the center field gate, although at least half of the fans waiting in line were St. Louis Cardinals fans (and one confused guy with a Rockies jersey and Cardinals cap). I hung out in the line for just a little bit, and soon enough, I was through the gates (and metal detectors, ugh), up the stairs, and onto the concourse:

Wooo! Look at those lovely wide concourses — I love the feel of big concourses that aren’t claustrophobic. There are a handful of MLB parks that are simply too confined, and while tight confines might have their own charm, I’ll always favor those that don’t make me feel like a sardine.

I made my way through the concourse until I got to the natural landscape area beyond the fence in straightaway center — wow!

I’d obviously seen this area on TV, but didn’t get a true appreciation until I saw it in person. Just imagine the sound of the fountains mixed with the music wafting over the stadium speakers, the cracks of the bats from batting practice and the shouts of the players on the field. I was in heaven.

After taking in the natural oasis for a few minutes, I hustled over to the adjacent bleacher seats and snapped this panorama:

(The haziness you see on the right of the image is barbecue smoke — more on that later.)

As I stood there and basked in the view, I was feeling pretty darned lucky to be spending three days in Denver.

I didn’t bother with trying to snag a BP ball. Instead, I took a walk along the outfield concourse, noting all the delicious food options that I’d be undoubtedly diving into — if not during my first game, then definitely over the next couple days.

I also scoped out the play area in the left field corner, which is a must-visit spot if you’re taking in a game at Coors Field with kids:

Next, I shot this photo of the Rockpile section in center field to give you an idea of what it looks like:

This ended up being a spot in which I’d spend plenty of time over the next three days. It provides a fantastic view of the playing field, and its prices are dirt cheap — certainly among the best I’ve ever seen in the major leagues. Seeing this section made me think about my favorite unique seating sections in baseball. Let’s just take the major leagues — let me know about your favorite spots, and why, in the comments section. (And, after I’ve received a few comments, I’ll chime in with my favorite spots, too!)

By now, I’d spent a fair bit of time checking out the scenes around center field, but had yet to make my way toward the home plate concourse. That obviously had to change, so I set out to walk down the concourse on the third base side — stopping to enjoy this perfect scene for a few minutes before I went:

One cool sight that I saw (and visited during each of my three games at Coors Field) was the game-used kiosk along the concourse. If you’ve read this blog for a while, you’ll know that I love collecting game-used gear when I can, so I took in the Rockies game-used selection of bases, helmets, jerseys, bats and balls with great interest:

The one knock on the kiosk? There were no prices listed for anything, which made it annoying to browse the available options without any idea of whether anything was good value or not. Of course, this certainly wasn’t enough to sour my mood, so after browsing for several minutes, I continued through the concourse …

… until I made it to the Blue Moon Brewery at the Sandlot. You probably know Blue Moon beer, right? Well, it was originally created by the Sandlot Brewery, located in Coors Field. (In fact, it was originally known as Bellyslide Belgian White, which is something I learned on my Coors Field tour the next day.) Anyway, Coors has since bought the brand, and the beer is still brewed at the brewery inside the ballpark. And, in the photo you’ll see below, there’s a smokehouse restaurant attached to the brewery that sells all sorts of tasty fare — and offers seating right along the edge of the concourse, too:

Once I’d wandered around the home plate area for a bit, I headed back to the outfield to climb atop the Rockpile section. As I said earlier, it provides a perfect view of the field, but you’ll also see that this vantage point gives you a great impression of the stadium overall, and even the Denver skyline in the distance:

I spent several minutes just standing there and taking in the sights. Just being at a ballpark always makes me smile, so it’s nice to occasionally slow down and breathe the (mountain) air a bit.

Of course, I was also itching to do more exploring of Coors Field, so I made my way behind home plate, climbed all the way up to the top row of the upper deck, and snapped this photo:

And here’s the scene as a panorama:

Since I was already on the upper level, I wanted to check out Coors Field’s newest big attraction, The Rooftop. It’s a two-level bar/eatery/hangout that is nearly 40,000 square feet in size and not only provides panoramic views of the field and stadium, but of the city’s skyline, as well. Here’s how this area looks from across the way:

As I made my way onto The Rooftop and began to marvel at the sights, another sight caught my eye — my enormous head on the video board! I definitely did a double take when I looked up and saw a screenshot of one of the tweets I’d sent when I arrived at Coors Field. I’ve been lucky to be on the video board at a few ballparks over the years, but this was definitely the biggest I’d ever seen myself:

Several fans’ images were cycling through, so I’d see myself, then wait for a few minutes for other photos to cycle through, and there I’d be again. Hilariously, though, the cycling stopped at my photo at one point — it was as though the program running the images had frozen. And that meant that my face was fixed on the video board for maybe three or four minutes straight. I couldn’t resist scurrying to a different spot of The Rooftop and snapping another shot:

I didn’t actually spend too long up in this location on this day, but I devoted a lot of time to The Rooftop during my visit the next day. For now, though, I went back down to the main concourse, headed behind home plate, and enjoyed watching the Coors Field grounds crew finish the last of the pregame field prep as the seats slowly began to fill:

I love the look of a ballpark as the sun begins to set, which is something that occurred earlier than I’m used to on this visit. September 19 is among the latest I’ve ever attended an outdoor baseball game since I started my travels, which meant that the sun was already low in the sky before first pitch. That was fine with me, though, as I provided great views like this one of right-center and The Rooftop:

The game soon began, and after watching the first inning from the center field concourse, I decided that I was time to eat — based on my food-scouting mission from earlier, I felt that a made-to-order burger, onion rings and a shake from the nearby Helton Burger Shack were in order. Can’t go wrong with that choice, right?

Well, that wouldn’t be in the cards, as evidenced by this sign:

I’m not sure which player hit the bomb that sabotaged my dinner plans, but no worries — it was an interesting occurrence and brought back memories of a 2014 visit to New Hampshire’s Northeast Delta Dental Stadium. As I was watching batting practice, a home run sailed over my head and smashed a window of the adjacent hotel. I snapped a photo of the broken window and it got shared a lot on social media. If you’re interested in that story, you can find my blog post about it here.

Anyway, I certainly wouldn’t have enjoyed a glass shard-filled burger, so I’m glad that the powers that be decided to close the Helton concession stand. That meant that I needed a new choice for dinner, and the choice was easy. I’d noticed the Famous Dave’s Bar-B-Que concession stand earlier — in part because the delicious smoke that was wafting through the concourse was impossible to ignore. There was a long lineup at Famous Dave’s, which is always a good sign. I ordered a pound of Memphis dry rub rib tips, and while I’m not the hugely rib fan in the world, these looked too good to pass up:

They were delicious. The rub was the perfect blend of seasonings and the sweetness of the barbecue sauce I added to my container for dipping purposes complemented the smokiness of the rib tips perfectly. Definitely a meal worth getting when you visit Coors Field.

Of course, that wasn’t the only thing I bought from Famous Dave’s. For “dessert,” I washed down my rib tips with three slices of chocolate-dipped bacon; I’d never previously tried chocolate-dipped bacon, and couldn’t pass up the opportunity. So, so delicious:

After I’d eaten (and enjoyed a post-rib and bacon rest) I realized that there’s another big incentive to the Rockpile section. If you sit atop it, and turn to your right, you’ll have a perfect view of the sun setting over the Rockies. The view was so good that probably 20 or so fans came up to where I was sitting and shot photos of the scene; it was just too beautiful to pass up. As for my photos, here are a couple that show the progression of the sunset:

Once the sun was down, I made my way around this guy (who, in fairness, was just retrieving the cellphone he’d dropped) …

… to go grab a frozen lemonade, which I ate on the Rockpile:

Next, I watched an inning from this spot …

… and noted just how accommodating the Coors Field ushers were. At some parks, you’ll get shooed away if you stand in this area for more than a couple seconds, but the local ushers weren’t hassling anyone. As long as the cross-aisle was kept clear for people to walk, the ushers had no problem with fans watching the action from this spot. Definitely another check mark for Coors Field in my books.

As the game progressed, I decided to make another visit to the upper deck, so I took a long elevator ride …

… and a few moments later, I was exactly a mile above sea level. How did I know? Check out this cool Coors Field feature — see the purple beam? That mark is 5,280 feet, or one mile, above sea level:

I caught the game’s final innings from a seat that provided this spectacular view:

And, once the final out had been recorded, I made my way back down to street level, having a quick chuckle at this sign …

… and made the short walk back to my hotel, where I fell into bed eagerly anticipating my second full day in Denver.