I try to visit Rogers Centre every two years, which means that after not seeing a game at the stadium since the spring of 2013, I was way overdue to travel to Toronto.
Time to do something about that.
For this visit, I think I was more excited about the hotel I’d be visiting than the game itself, despite being a longtime Blue Jays fan. That’s because I had one night booked at the Delta Toronto, which is one of the city’s newest hotels and the tallest hotel in the Toronto skyline. Even more importantly, it’s located about a Jose Bautista home run distance from Rogers Centre, and the ballpark-facing room photos that I’d obsessively browsed online offered as impressive a view as I’ve ever had from a hotel. (And, if you know me, you know one of my very favorite things is a hotel from which you can see the ballpark.)
I opted to take the train to Toronto instead of drive, as I was swamped with work and sitting on the train would allow me to get caught up on some writing during the trip. The VIA Rail train arrives at Toronto’s Union Station, which is the city’s central travel hub downtown, and I was pleased to see that I could actually access the Delta through a series of walkways and pedestrian bridges.
Anyway, I arrived super early, as I was hoping to get into my room before check-in, and I wanted to give myself some time to check out the new hotel and tour the area around it, too. When I passed through a walkway from Union Station to the Delta, I found my path blocked by a large group of men stretching on the floor — I quickly noticed that they were all wearing Vancouver Whitecaps uniforms, and were obviously doing their pregame stretching routine at the hotel before playing Toronto FC in Major League Soccer action later that afternoon. Always a good sign when a major league sports franchise is staying in the hotel you’re visiting, right?
My early arrival meant that my room wasn’t quite ready, so the front desk clerk asked if I wanted to visit the exclusive Club Lounge on the 46th floor while I waited. Umm, that was a no brainer!
When I reached the lounge, I rushed to the window to check out the view, and this is what I saw:
How’s that for incredible? The focal points, of course, are Rogers Centre and the CN Tower, but you can also see Ripley’s Aquarium, Roundhouse Park and a whole lot more. See the island on the left? That’s the tip of the Toronto Islands, home to Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport. And, since I love my panoramas, here’s the same view in panoramic format:
While the view was the main attraction, the lounge was outstanding, too. Here’s how it looks:
With the exception of an attendant and a couple people working on laptops, the lounge was empty, so I toured around it and learned that there were complimentary drinks and snacks — including red licorice, which I may or may not have overindulged in. It was cool being so high off the ground; I don’t think I’ve ever stayed in a hotel so tall, so I had a blast looking out the floor-to-ceiling windows and identifying the sights below that I recognized.
Soon enough, I was called because my room was now available, and I was in for even more of a treat. Here’s a photo of how my room looked; this shot is off the hotel’s website because it looks better than the ones I took:
I’ve been lucky to stay in some outstanding hotels over the years, and this room is easily on the shortlist of the very best, both in terms of in-room amenities and view. My room was on the same side of the building as the lounge I’d just left, so the view was similar, albeit with a lower vantage point as it was on the 33rd floor. Here’s the view from the desk, which I took just after the dome started to open:
Would you like to see a dozen or so shots of the dome in various states of opening? No? Fine, I’ll respect that. (But I’ve got the photos ready if you want to see ’em.)
I was fortunate to be in a corner room, so I had a spectacular view in two directions. The outer walls were entirely made of glass, truly giving a panoramic feel to the world outside. I normally don’t devote too many words to hotel bathrooms, but this one was outstanding. It featured a soaker tub set up to offer amazing views of the city and lake:
I was loving the room, but there would soon be baseball to watch — and even though I’ve been to Rogers Centre a million times, I was still eager to arrive early. So, I quickly changed into my Gregg Zaun shirsey …
… in the hopes of having it autographed by the former Jay and current Sportsnet studio analyst, and headed downstairs. As you could tell from the earlier photos, the Delta is very close to Rogers Centre, making it a perfect choice for baseball fans or those who want to stay in a central area downtown. This is the view from the sidewalk directly outside the hotel:
When I got closer to the stadium, I turned around and snapped this photo of the Delta:
Then, at exactly 4:36 p.m., I claimed the first spot in line at Gate 2 …
… and began the process of standing there for another 54 minutes until I was able to hustle inside the park. When you enter through Gate 2, which I don’t think I’ve ever done before, you’re in right field. I was the first fan into the second deck seats less than a minute after my gate opened, and I was soon looking at this view:
My plan was to spend 10 or 15 minutes seeing if a BP home run would come my way. I’ve had reasonably good success snagging BP balls at Rogers Centre with minimal effort over the years, and hoped that being in the virtually empty second deck for the lefty hitters might yield some results. Unfortunately, it did not, so I soon began to tour the park and note the changes since my last visit. My first visit was the game-used room of the team shop, which is always a cool place to check out. The prices are beyond ludicrous, but I always get a kick out of seeing artifacts from the team and ballpark. Here’s the rubber that sat under Mark Buehrle’s cleats when he pitched his 200th inning of 2014, for example. Yours for a cool $2,500:
Speaking of pricey, how about a Blue Jays pub table for $650? Buck Martinez books not included:
After opting not to spend three or four figures on anything at the shop, but thoroughly enjoying perusing everything, I went back to the main concourse and headed over behind home plate:
And, as I made my way over to the third base side, I looked up and could see the top of the Delta poking above the upper deck:
Beyond wanting to see the hotel from inside the stadium, I had another reason for heading to the third base side — I wanted to visit the broadcast studio and flag down Zaun for an autograph and a photo. After all, I figured he’d get a kick out of my shirt. To my dismay, he had a rare night off, and a couple other panelists were talking with host Jamie Campbell:
Argh. Of all the luck.
I decided that it’d be appropriate to quell my tears with some food. Rogers Centre’s food selection has changed dramatically over the years since I started The Ballpark Guide. My all-time favorite concession stand at the park was the Quaker Steak & Lube stand that sold delicious chicken wings, but it’s no longer there. My second-favorite food item was sold at the Shopsy’s concession stand, which has also gone the way of the dodo. (By the way, the sandwich that I’d always get at Shopsy’s was called the Bill Cosby Triple Decker, which I imagine is no longer available anywhere except perhaps a cell block.)
After a full lap of the main concourse to note all the new food selections, of which there were many, I opted for the buffalo cauliflower poutine. It’s a dish that was new for 2016 and had been receiving lots of publicity, so I was curious to check it out. (Plus, I also thought it’d be fun — and rare — to have a veggie at the ballpark.) I grabbed the food and ascended to the upper deck to eat it. Here’s how it looked:
As I dug in, I was surprised at the lack of fries. The “poutine” label, to me, suggested that there’d be fries at the bottom of the container, but that wasn’t the case. Rather, the pieces of breaded and fried cauliflower made up the bulk of the meal. They were topped with cheese curds, buffalo sauce and fresh parsley. The verdict? It fell into the odd “good but I wouldn’t order it again” category. The fried cauliflower was definitely tasty, but I found there was a lack of variety in this meal. Soon enough, the cauliflower was soggy from the melted cheese and hot sauce, so everything sort of clumped together. I definitely appreciated the meal’s creativity, though — even if it wasn’t something I’d likely order again, it was fun to try something so unique.
The game began as I ate, so I enjoyed watching the first inning from a section I don’t think I’d visited much in the past. Of course, the ever-present Rogers Centre usher had to come over and check my ticket. I had a ticket for a section in the 500 Level in right field, but had stopped in a nearly empty section in left field to eat. For the record, the usher “let” me stay but admonished me to leave the section as soon as I finished eating.
Anyway, it takes more than an overzealous usher to get me down, so I finished my meal, enjoyed the unique view from my seat …
… and then decided to head over toward my seat in right field.
As I walked through the 500 Level concourse for the first time since 2013, I noticed a change. Ever since the Blue Jays became good again, the 500 Level has once again come alive. In the glory years of the team, the seats in the upper deck were often packed. During the team’s down years, though, many sections were blocked off and several of the 500 Level concession stands remained closed, giving a bit of a ghost town feel to the sections and concourse toward the foul poles. It was nice to see this part of the stadium so lively during this visit, and I imagine it’ll stay that way as long as the team continues to be competitive.
Moving from the 500 Level concourse to the seating area, I did a bit of exploring around to look at some of the varied/bizarre seating options that I hadn’t previously noticed during my Rogers Centre visits. This photo shows the top row of Section 504, which is the first section to the right field side of the video board:
I initially thought the seats behind the “504” sign were sort of a cool area, but you might beg to differ if I showed you the view from those seats:
After watching the game from this section for a bit, I continued to meander around to see the various sights. I noticed my hotel from a different part of the stadium, with the base of the CN Tower visible on the left:
My next stop was the WestJet Flight Deck in center field, which is one of the hottest places to catch the game in the entire stadium. Here’s how this party deck looks …
… and here’s the view from this area:
Later, I returned to the team shop as it was a little less crowded, and that gave me a better chance to look at the game-used items. Perhaps the coolest thing I saw there was Roberto Alomar’s glove from the 1992 and 1993 World Series championships:
It was, as you might expect, not for sale.
I spent the last part of my visit watching the action from behind home plate, enjoying views like this one:
I’ll admit, though, that my visit ended before the game’s last out. I’m not typically a fan of leaving a game early, but I ducked out of Rogers Centre a couple innings before the game was over so that I could get back to my hotel room and shoot some time-lapse images of the evening scene. Although it’s tough to beat the idea of being in the stadium, the idea of watching the sun setting over it from an awesome hotel room was pretty appealing, too.
Here’s how that view looked:
At about the midway point, you’ll see the Rogers Centre dome close, which I think looks cool.
I spent the rest of the evening enjoying the outstanding view, occasionally peering down at the street 33 floors below …
… and then I drifted off to sleep with the glorious scene of Rogers Centre and the CN Tower in front of me. My sleep, however, was rather short-lived by design — I had my alarm set for 3:30 a.m. so that I could get up when it was still dark, set up my GoPro again, and capture the sunrise in time-lapse mode. It was fun to watch the city come to life through my window:
(By the way, if you’d click to give each of those videos a thumbs-up, I’ll send you a virtual high five. Subscribe to my channel and I’ll send a double high five.)
When the sun rose the next morning, I — you guessed it — enjoyed the view some more before having an awesome breakfast at the hotel restaurant and then going back up to my room just to hang out and enjoy the view until it was checkout time. Given the cool corner bathroom, I sat on a stool next to the tub, drank a black cherry lemonade, and just relaxed:
The Delta Toronto definitely provided an outstanding visit, and I wholeheartedly recommend it for baseball fans. You can’t beat the view or the easy proximity to a ton of major attractions, as well as the impeccable guest rooms and top-notch service. It’ll definitely be my choice when I visit Toronto again to see the Blue Jays.
When I woke up early on the morning of May 21, my first mission was to run to my balcony and check out the view of Dr Pepper Ballpark like a kid charging downstairs on Christmas morning to see if Santa came. Yep, the ballpark was still there, as expected, and it still looked great.
Next, it was time to excitedly think about returning to the ballpark — where I’d spent an awesome evening a day earlier — later that day.
While I was pumped to get inside on the nicest MiLB parks I’ve visited, I was especially excited for two stomach-related things:
- Filling my stomach in the exclusive JC Penney Club, thanks to an invitation from Jason Dambach, executive VP and general manager of the Frisco RoughRiders.
- Feeling butterflies in my stomach being interviewed during the team’s broadcast.
After a big, delicious breakfast at my hotel, the Embassy Suites Hotel and Convention Center, I settled down at the desk with my laptop to catch up on a little blogging … but I’d also intermittently go out to the balcony, sit on the chair and just take in the beautiful view in front of me. This was the pattern for the bulk of the day, and pretty soon it was time to pack up my stuff and walk over to the ballpark. I walked through the gates early so that I could shoot a bunch of video with my GoPro, which you’ll be able to see on my YouTube channel in the future.
In between recording video clips, I also wanted to make sure that I could simply enjoy the ballpark experience. I’d be up around 4 a.m. the next morning and had a travel day that exceeded 12 hours, so I wanted to have a relaxing visit and savor every last minute of my 10th day in Texas. One of the first things I did was stand right behind the home plate netting and enjoy a long stretch of batting practice … turning around for a brief moment to take this picture:
While I was in that spot, I took a bunch of peeks at the JC Penney Club, where I’d be eating later:
Let me explain the context: A day earlier, I’d met Jason and we’d talked about my baseball trip, Dr Pepper Ballpark and bunch of other cool things. The topic of food came up, and I’d excitedly told him about my plan to eat the Texas Mac & Cheese BBQ Sandwich. He mentioned the JC Penney Club, an upscale eatery with a great view of the ballpark, and told me that I’d be hard-pressed to find better food in all of the minor leagues — and then told me that he’d make me a reservation to eat there before the RoughRiders game a day later. Wow!
I was scheduled to eat at 5 p.m., and had about an hour to continue to explore the park before then; I wanted to do lots of walking around, as I suspected I might be a little sedentary after experiencing the buffet-style dining.
With BP still taking place, I took a walk down the first base line and found a spot to stand next to the visiting team’s bullpen. From there, I watched a pitcher throw a side session, while also keeping an eye on the action on the field. It was glorious:
In my blog post about my first day in Frisco, I wrote about the unique, fan-friendly position of the home bullpen. The visitors’ bullpen is in basically the same position, albeit on the first base side, but is a little different in the way that it’s laid out. It has seats on two sides of it and a party deck above, which is where I was standing a moment earlier. Here’s what the scene looks like:
And, for good measure, here’s a panoramic shot of Dr Pepper Ballpark during BP from the first base side:
My next stop was the Diamond Deck group party area in the left field corner. I’d originally planned to hang out on the grass berm for a bit, but when I passed the Diamond Deck, something caught my eye:
See the baseball right below the rail?
I picked it up after taking the above photo, and saw that it was a generic minor league practice ball:
I’ve got a few of those in my collection, but I don’t think I’ve seen once since I visited G. Richard Pfitzner Stadium, home of the Potomac Nationals, back in 2011. Anyway, since the gates weren’t open and I didn’t want to keep the ball, I tossed it to a San Antonio Missions player (the guy in the middle):
It was awesome to still have a bit of time until the ballpark opened; I was loving just watching BP from various vantage points and taking in the park’s beauty and uniqueness — here, for example, is a look at the separate buildings down the third base line, which I talked about in my previous blog post:
Soon enough, it was time to head up toward the JC Penney Club and check out the buffet. First, though, I shot this image of the construction crew still hard at work on the lazy river …
… and this shot of the beautiful ballpark as the grounds crew performed its post-batting practice duties:
I was impressed when I finally entered the JC Penney Club. The room was long and thin, and had identical buffets on each side of the door, which meant that long lineups wouldn’t be an issue. There were a number of bistro-style tables throughout, and windows that ran the full length of the club, giving diners an outstanding view of the ballpark from wherever they sat:
The menu, however, was what impressed me the most:
- Beef Wellington with shallot and red wine sauce
- Pan-seared chicken with chasseur sauce
- Roasted carrots with hazelnut tapenade
- Lyonnais potatoes with herb compound butter
- Baked Brie with assorted dried fruits and nuts
There were also several salads — let’s be honest, I wasn’t going to focus much on them — and some traditional ballpark fare that seemed favored by the kids who were dining at the same time as me. When I stepped up to the buffet for the first time and asked for a slice of the beef, the server asked, “Just one? You’ll be back for sure.” And then, a bit later when I did indeed return, he offered, “I told you that you’d be back,” with a smile.
For those of you who enjoy my food photos, check out plate #1:
That’s the beef Wellington on the left side, a huge chunk of the baked Brie on the top and the pan-seared chicken on the bottom right. And, of course, there was also another plate:
You’re looking at more beef Wellington, baked brief, pan-seared chicken and, this time, some of the Lyonnais potatoes and a bit of chick pea salad, too.
I can definitely say that the meal was one of the best I’ve ever eaten at a ballpark, and the tremendous quality of the food was as good as you’d find in a fancy restaurant. If you get the chance to eat at the JC Penney Club, make sure that you go for it!
For a reason that could only be described as greed, I grabbed these two cookies before I hit the road …
… and waddled back down to the concourse level. (Come to think of it, waddling seemed to be a bit of a theme on my Texas trip!)
As I made my way along the concourse, well, looking for somewhere to sit down for a little bit, I noticed the Roughned Odor-themed drinks that had made headlines a little earlier in my trip. As you likely remember, the Texas Rangers infielder had sucker punched Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista after a hard slide at second, and the RoughRiders capitalized on the moment quickly by producing souvenir cups depicting the image and filled with a red energy drink. I hadn’t noticed the drinks for sale during my first day at Dr Pepper Ballpark, so I was glad to track them down on my second day. It turns out, there was a “licensing issue” about the use of the cup, so the promotion had to be changed a little. The teams were offering the cups for a donation, and I stopped to snap this picture:
I sat in a shaded area in the left field corner while my food digested, and then returned to the standing room area behind home plate in time for the anthem:
I watched the first inning from the same spot, enjoying views like this …
… before heading down the third base line and finding a spot against the railing, where I had this view:
After a couple of innings in that spot, it was time to make my way toward the press box, as I was slated to join the broadcast in the top of the fourth inning. As I said earlier, I had a few butterflies in my stomach, which is always the case when I’m interviewed on the air. This time, though, I wasn’t as nervous because I’d had a chance to talk to the broadcast guys during a quick visit before the game. They were all super down to earth and fun to talk to, and we exchanged lots of baseball stories. They even asked me to name my best ballpark adventure story, which was an easy one to answer.
Anyway, I hung out outside the broadcast studio, and as soon as the third inning wrapped up, I went in and grabbed a seat and a set of headphones between Nathan Barnett and Ryan Rouillard. My nerves quickly subsided, thanks to the fun, easy banter and professionalism of Nathan and Ryan, and the top of the fourth was just about in the books. Luckily, Nathan asked if I’d stay on for the bottom half, and of course I was thrilled for the chance. We talked about my Texas trip, my assorted ballpark visits and more, and it was an absolute blast. As soon as the inning ended, the third member of the broadcast team, Steve Goldberg, took a photo of me between Nathan and Ryan:
By the way, give the RoughRiders broadcast team a follow on Twitter, and check out a broadcast online, too. These guys are great.
When I left the press box for the last time, I went back to the concourse and picked up a lemon ice …
… and then grabbed a spot behind home plate to watch the remainder of the game, which seemed to fly by quickly. Each passing inning meant that my Texas trip was coming to an end, but I was grateful for all the wonderful memories I made, the great people I met and the help of all those who contributed to the adventure. I’m certainly looking forward to returning to the Lone Star State again soon.
The next morning, I was up about 4 a.m. to begin my long trip home — but I couldn’t resist taking one last photo of the darkened Dr Pepper Ballpark from my balcony:
So long, Texas. I hope to see you soon again.
Following an awesome two-day visit to El Paso, it was time to hop back in my rental car and set my sights on Midland for the seventh and eighth days of my Texas road trip. The drive from El Paso to Midland is one that I’d been cautioned about by multiple people soon after I announced my trip — including a Twitter friend named Steven Ericson, who is a geography instructor and knows about such things. He strongly advised me to make sure that my car was full of gas before I left El Paso, given that there are long stretches without gas stations (and without much at all, to be honest) between the two cities.
I heeded the advice, topped up my car and pulled out of El Paso about 7:30 a.m. on May 18. There was a Midland RockHounds game scheduled for that evening and, while the drive from El Paso to Midland is only about 4.5 hours, I’d be losing an hour due to a time zone change. Plus, I was scheduled to meet with some folks from Visit Midland in the afternoon before the ballgame to tour the area a bit.
As promised, the drive between the cities was indeed memorable — and not because of running out of gas, thankfully. There was plenty of beautiful terrain to enjoy, including the mountains around El Paso …
… and vast areas of flat ground that stretched as far as the eye could see:
Occasionally, I’d see a small town, so I’ll pull off and top up my gas. In one stop, my car would only take $5 to fill the remainder of the tank, which shows you that I wasn’t taking any chances! Someone told me there’s a stretch of about 80 miles without a gas station. I didn’t measure, but this doesn’t seem improbable.
Eventually, the scenery around me began to change, and I was soon seeing pump jacks and flares on each side of the road for miles on end. Yep, I was definitely entering oil country. In addition to being the midway point between El Paso and Fort Worth, Midland is very well known for its oil. Oil was discovered in the Permian Basin in the 1920s, and the oil production has been going strong ever since. I’ve since read that today, this area produces around 20 percent of the country’s petroleum and natural gas. One more quick noteworthy fact about the area — if you’ve read the book “Friday Night Lights” or seen the movie or TV show of the same name, you’ll recognize the name of Permian High School. Well, it’s located in Odessa, which is just outside Midland. Or, you could say that Midland is just outside Odessa — there’s definitely a sports rivalry between the two cities!
Under dreary skies, I pulled into Midland and checked into my hotel just 10 minutes before I was supposed to meet up with Visit Midland. After spending so many hours in the car, I only had the chance to drop my luggage in the room, splash some water on my face and run back down to the lobby. There, I met up with Visit Midland’s Lyndsey White and Amy Harrison, who’d arranged for me to have a private tour at the Permian Basin Petroleum Museum, which had just undergone a $18 million renovation to improve the facility and its exhibits for local residents and tourists alike. It was an informative experience, and one that I’ll write about in a future blog post. For now, though, here’s a photo of me in front of two pump jacks on the museum’s property:
I came into the experience knowing very little about oil production, so it was interesting to learn a lot from our well-versed tour guide, as well as see a ton of artifacts from the area’s rich oil history. Lyndsey and Amy dropped me back at my hotel later in the afternoon, and I had a few minutes to relax and check out the amazing gift basket that had been left for me by the people at Visit Midland, who really went out of their way to make my stay memorable. I hadn’t had time to look at it earlier, but I was excited to now check it out. It was brimming with cool RockHounds souvenirs, including this bucket hat, Security Bank Ballpark replica and logo baseball:
There were also treats from local vendors, including some white chocolate-covered Oreos with baseball stitching from a local candy store — and how Visit Midland knew that Oreos are my weakness is beyond me!
Before making the short walk over to the ballpark, I thought I’d check to make sure that the game was still on. Though it wasn’t raining, the sky was definitely dark and rain was in the forecast. I looked on my Twitter to see if there were any updates about that night’s game and, to my disappointment, I read that it had been postponed due to the weather. There was good news, though — there’d be a doubleheader the next day.
A little more good news: The hotel I was staying in, Home2 Suites Midland, was outstanding, and the idea of having a sit-down dinner and then relaxing in the air conditioning for the evening more than a little appealing at this point on my trip. The hotel was new, clean and the suite-style rooms were huge, so I zipped out for a big steak and loaded baked potato at Outback, and then returned to relax for the evening … and also shoot this photo from my window looking across a few parking lots to Security Bank Ballpark under dreary skies:
The next morning, I’m pleased to say that the scene outside my window looked significantly brighter, as you can see here:
The doubleheader was scheduled for 4:30 p.m., and I had plenty to fill my time before then. I was fortunate to get invited to lunch with Lyndsey and several of her colleagues, as well as Ray Fieldhouse, the RockHounds assistant general manager/operations, to taste some local fare and learn more about the city. We went to Gerardo’s Casita, a place that has authentic Mexican cuisine and reminded me a bit of L&J Cafe, a place I’d visited in El Paso a couple days earlier. I ordered the steak enchilada platter, and it was delicious:
During lunch, the discussion turned to the fact that President George W. Bush was raised in Midland, which is something I hadn’t realized. In fact, the Bush family home is still intact and now serves as a museum. After eating, Lyndsey took me over to the museum and had a tour, which I’ll be blogging about in a future post. Here, though, is a shot of me in front of the house:
Lyndsey dropped me back off at the hotel shortly after 2 p.m. and I immediately headed out for the short walk to Security Bank Ballpark. I figured that the crowd would be pretty sparse for the early innings of the first game, as is often the case with doubleheaders, but I still wanted to get to the park good and early to tour around, take lots of photos and shoot some video with my GoPro.
Although I’m always excited when I approach a ballpark, this one had an extra-special feel, as it was the 50th different Minor League Baseball park I’ve visited since 2010. By the way, if you want to see everywhere I’ve been, it’s all at this link.
After I took the photo of the main gate …
… my plan, like always, was to take a long walk around the park’s perimeter and check out everything from all angles. I enjoyed a nice walk around the quiet park by myself, stopping occasionally to photograph things like this statue, which has plaques recognizing the team’s various championships and awards:
(The RockHounds won back-to-back Texas League titles in 2014 and 2015, and those plaques are on the base of this statue behind the catcher.)
When I stopped in the team’s office to pick up my press pass, I saw those two championship trophies, as well as another from when the club won the Texas League championship in 2009. The tall trophy second from the left is the John H. Johnson President’s Trophy, which was awarded to Midland in 2007 after it was named the top franchise in the minors:
This was the first photo I took upon entering the ballpark:
As you can see, it was a little dreary and there were a few puddles from the previous day’s rain, but I had my fingers crossed that weather wouldn’t interfere with the doubleheader. I set out down the third base side to take my customary lap of the concourse and, as this picture shows, Security Bank Ballpark was still majorly empty, which suited me just fine, as it would make my life easier when it came to shooting some video:
Although Security Bank Ballpark had a pretty standard feel (it was built in 2002 and shares a lot of traits with other parks from that era) there were a bunch of cool features that I enjoyed seeing. Check out the expansive areas down the baselines — perfect for hanging out if you want to catch a long foul ball:
Another neat thing was the grass berm beyond the left field fence:
The berm is very tall — more of a hill than a standard berm, and climbing it provided a great panoramic view of the park. Here’s the view from close to the top of the berm:
After climbing back down from the berm, I took this shot of myself with my 50th different MiLB ballpark as the backdrop:
Then, I walked around a baseball-themed splash pad in center field …
… and a good-sized kids’ play area nearby:
While the grass hill in left field might be the prime attraction as far as grass seating is concerned, it’s hardly the only place to throw down a blanket and enjoy the game. There’s also lots of grass seating just to the right field side of the batter’s eye:
If you’ve been following along with my Texas trip, you’ll know that I’ve been impressed with the basketball courts at several of the parks I’ve visited. Well, Security Bank Ballpark no different, and actually has the best in-stadium basketball court I’ve seen in all my travels. It has one of those rubber-mat surfaces in RockHounds colors and is emblazoned with the team’s logo:
Speaking of that logo, I found a foam RockHounds ball near the basketball court, just after taking the above photo:
I grabbed it and gave it to a kid soon after the gates opened a while later.
Shortly before the gates opened, I snapped this photo from the wide concourse area down the first base line to show just how empty the park still was:
Don’t get me wrong, there were lots of staffers running around getting ready for the game, but there were occasional pockets of time in which I was really the only person in the area — and that was awesome. It’s always such a treat to get to wander around an empty ballpark; it’s hard to explain, but it’s a feeling that I really enjoy when I get to experience.
About the time that the gates opened, the teams came onto the field and began to play catch. I was in the area behind home plate, so I snapped this photo that shows the view from the area:
Did you notice the big hill in left field? This picture should hopefully put its size into perspective.
As I suspected, the crowds weren’t exactly flooding into Security Bank Ballpark right away. But, I suspected that by midway through the first game, the park would be hopping — and that was indeed the case, thanks in part to the team’s Thirsty Thursday promotion that began after the conclusion of Game #1.
So, how empty was the ballpark at the start of the first game? Here’s a shot I took in the top of the first inning that puts things into perspective:
I was positively giddy about the initial emptiness, thinking that I’d have an excellent chance of snagging a foul ball or two. In fact, I even sent out a tweet jokingly wondering how many foul balls I’d end up with. Well, the answer was a little humbling. Despite hanging out in a great area — I sat in the top row of right near that wide concourse that you saw a few photos earlier — no balls came even close to me. I had easy access to a couple seating sections, as well as the wide concourse behind me and down to the corner, and there wasn’t a single ball hit anywhere near that area in the first few innings. I suppose that if I’d stayed, my luck might have changed, but I never like to sit in one single area for too long, so I soon headed off to enjoy the ballpark from different areas.
My next stopping place was the grass berm in right field. By now, there were a few fans on the left field berm, but the right field one was empty. I watched a bit of the action from this spot and was surprised to end up with not one, but two baseballs:
Now, they weren’t home run balls, nor were they hit during BP. They were both sitting on the grass berm when I arrived, and were soaking wet. They hadn’t been there earlier, so I’m certain they were found in a bullpen by a pitcher and simply tossed up onto the grass for a fan to find. Since I was the only fan in the area, I was happy to add two more Texas League balls to my collection.
After snapping the shot of the two balls, it was time to get something to eat. Before my visit to Midland, I’d seen that the RockHounds’ entry in the MiLB Food Fight competition was a unique hot dog, and I knew I wanted to try it. It was a hot dog with a couple strips of bacon and slathered in peanut butter and jelly. Sound good? I thought it was:
In fairness, I think it could’ve afforded more peanut butter and jelly, as I found they got a little lost behind the strong flavor of the bacon and the hot dog itself. I was impressed with the solid amount of bacon, though, and I think I may try to recreate one of these hot dogs at home sometime.
After eating my first meal of the evening, I decided to find a front-row seat on the first base side and shoot some action photos. The crowd was still pretty thin, so it was easy to get a good spot and start clicking away with my camera. Here’s Midland starter Sam Bragg:
And Frisco starter Connor Sadzeck:
I spent an inning or so right behind home plate where, despite shooting through the netting, I was able to get a decent shot of Midland infielder Franklin Barreto just after making contact:
For the remainder of the game, I took a few more laps around the concourse, shot a bit of video with my GoPro and, in general, just enjoyed a laid-back night at the ballpark.
During the break between games, I grabbed a spot at field level to rest my legs, and noticed something amusing. The Midland groundskeeper had a dog with him. Now, we’ve all seen the bat-retrieving dogs at minor league parks, but this wasn’t the deal here. The dog simply appeared to be a pet — and one that enjoyed hanging out on the field while it was being prepped. It was nice to see a dog behaving so calmly, despite lots going on around it; while the infield was being leveled, the dog just waited at the end of the grass:
Here’s a wider-angle shot that shows the scene:
Some dogs aren’t crazy about water hoses, but when the base paths were being watered, the dog — once again — just hung out nearby. It was definitely neat to see:
Soon enough, the players returned to the field and began tossing. I was still at field level on the third base side, so I got some cool shots, like this one of Frisco infielder Luis Mendez:
And this one of Frisco catcher Alex Burg:
As the game began, I made another trip over to one of the concession stands to get something else to eat. This time, I went with something that was a little more conventional for a ballpark — a sausage on a bun, which I loaded up with lettuce, onions, pickled jalapenos and mustard:
I watched the early innings of the game behind home plate. By now, the crowd had definitely thickened, but I found a good spot in the front row, where I was able to enjoy views like this one of Frisco starter Victor Payano on the mound:
Here’s a picture from the same spot that turned out sort of neat:
Midland first baseman Viosergy Rosa has just made contact, and you can see the ball against the outfield fence.
Partway through the game, I watched a bit of the action while leaning on the railing at the edge of the concourse behind home plate, where the view looked like this:
Great looking view from home plate, right?
As the sun set, I slipped out of the ballpark to snap this panorama of the main gate …
… and then went back inside to watch the last couple innings from my earlier seat behind home plate and just enjoy the game and the park. It was too bad I didn’t get to experience two days at Security Bank Ballpark, but I’m glad that the doubleheader allowed me to spend lots of time at this Texas League facility — and the other things that I was able to experience in Midland certainly made this a memorable stop on my Texas trip. Hopefully I’ll be able to visit again soon.
When the game wrapped up, I had just a quick walk back to my hotel where I’d relax for a few hours and then go to bed knowing that I’d be up in the morning to drive to Frisco for the last two days of my Texas trip.
After the outstanding first day I had in El Paso, I was eager to get my second day in town started — and I wouldn’t have to wait too long. The Chihuahuas were hosting the New Orleans Zephyrs in an 11 a.m. game, so I planned to get to Southwest University Park between 9 and 9:30 a.m.
First, though, it was time to check out one of El Paso’s top restaurants. The plan was to again meet up with Leesy McColgary from Visit El Paso to have breakfast at L&J Cafe, a restaurant that you’d hardly notice from the outside but that is ranked third on TripAdvisor’s list of top El Paso eateries.
When I exited the DoubleTree Downtown El Paso to meet Leesy, I was amazed at how cool and fresh the morning air was. El Paso has virtually no humidity, and while I’d found it hot a day earlier, it was downright chilly in the morning, which I certainly welcomed.
As I waited, I was excited to look at Southwest University Park just across the street from my hotel:
Soon enough, Leesy arrived and we were off to L&J Cafe. It’s a favorite spot for locals — so much so that when we arrived about 15 minutes before the restaurant opened, there was a lineup outside. On a Tuesday. Here’s the outside of the restaurant:
Since we were a little early, we took a quick tour of the historic Concordia Cemetery, which is something that I’ll blog about in an upcoming post.
While the breakfast choices on the menu looked good, I’m not a huge breakfast guy — and, besides, the other examples of traditional Mexican food were making my taste buds tingle. I decided to forgo the idea of a traditional breakfast and, instead, order an enchilada platter with a combination of red and green sauce. This, ladies and gents, was my breakfast, and it was absolutely delicious:
And, in case I needed more, Leesy suggested that we order some sopaipillas, which are fried pastries served with honey:
They were much lighter than I expected and definitely something I’ve craved a few times since.
This was one of the best overall meals I’ve had in a long time, and I can assure you that L&J Cafe will be on my agenda whenever I make it back to El Paso. Once I finished eating, Leesy dropped me back at my hotel and I waddled over to Southwest University Park, eager to get my second visit underway.
My first visit a day earlier had included a private tour and a lot of ballpark exploring, and frankly it was nice to know that during my second visit, I could do a little more focusing on the game and just enjoying the view. Doing so isn’t always possible when I only have one day in a city, so I was once again thankful for having two days in each city on this trip. Before I grabbed a seat and relaxed, though, I had an exciting experience — I was meeting up with Felix Chavez from the El Paso Times for an interview. I’ve done a handful of newspaper interviews over the years, and as a longtime journalist myself, it’s always fun to be on the “other” side of the interview. I met Felix outside the press box as soon as I arrived, and we chatted for several minutes about my baseball travels, blog/website and, of course, my impressions of Southwest University Park. It was super enjoyable; I’ve occasionally been interviewed by disinterested reporters, but it was clear that Felix was curious about my adventures, which made the process really pleasant. (By the way, you’ll see his story at the end of this post.)
Felix also had a surprise for me — one of the Times‘ photographers was there, and he’d be following me around for a while to take some photos of me to run with the story. I met the photographer, Victor Calzada, after my interview, and we headed down toward the concourse. I was impressed with Victor’s ethical approach to taking my photo. I asked him how he wanted to set me up, and he told me that he didn’t want anything that was staged. Instead, he asked me to do my thing and he’d be a “fly on the wall” behind me for 20 or 30 minutes. It was definitely a new experience to walk around a ballpark and have someone following me to snap photos, but Victor was such a natural that it made everything easy.
This is the first shot I took at the ballpark on this day …
… and as I looked at the video board through my camera’s viewfinder, I could hear Victor snapping off shots in the background.
Since I’d taken so many ballpark shots a day earlier, I primarily wanted to focus on action shots during this visit. I love grabbing a spot close to the field and shooting the players, so that was my main goal today … and Victor was always just a few steps behind me. I began by going down to field level on the first base side, where I took some shots of New Orleans warming up. Here are outfielder Kenny Wilson, a former Toronto Blue Jays prospect, and infielder Elliot Soto:
Even though my focus was on player shots, I still couldn’t resist documenting the beauty of Southwest University Park. It’s one of those places that looks great from every angle. I walked along the outfield concourse and snapped the photos to make up this panorama:
While I was there, I noticed that the grass berm was much more full than it had been a day earlier:
Because it was a morning game, there were a bunch of school groups in attendance, and many of the kids had clearly flocked to the berm.
As I did a day earlier, I went down to the El Paso bullpen to take action shots of the Chihuahuas’ starting pitcher warming up. On this day, it was Daniel McCutchen, and I got a bunch of photos that turned out well, including this one:
Once he finished tossing, I made my way behind home plate snapped this panorama just before the anthem that shows just how beautiful this ballpark is:
I forget exactly when Victor and I parted, but I think it was during the first inning. In any case, he took some great shots of me doing my thing, as you’ll see at the bottom of this post. As the first inning got underway, I found a spot in the front row above the dugout on the first base side, which gave me a great place to shoot the action.
One of the fun things about watching baseball at the Triple-A level is seeing all the guys you recognize from MLB stints, so you’ll likely see some players throughout the rest of this post that you’ve seen on TV in the big leagues.
Here is New Orleans’ Robert Andino …
… and here is El Paso’s Josh Satin, each of whom has played parts of multiple seasons in the bigs:
It was wonderful to sit in the front row on a hot, sunny day and shoot the action. There were a few empty seats on each side of me, so I wasn’t cramped at all as I shifted left and right to snap my shots, like this one of Manuel Margot jumping out of the way of a pitch:
Chris Reed making a pick-off move:
And Margot swiping second base a pitch after the pick-off attempt:
Here’s something interesting that I noticed: Reed, the New Orleans starter, is 6’3″, but has a squat delivery to the point that he looks much shorter just before he releases the ball. Don’t you agree?
As for Margot, he proved himself to be impressive on the base paths, promptly stealing third base, too:
There was plenty of action at home plate, too. Here’s El Paso’s Hunter Renfro about to connect on what ended up being a home run …
… and celebrating with teammate Alex Dickerson just after crossing home plate:
Here’s a funny shot I snapped of Rocky Gale experiencing the definition of chin music:
And this is a better shot of the El Paso catcher connecting on a pitch a moment later:
(I always love when I get a shot just as the bat meets the ball!)
Here’s another of Wilson, who is on his way to the New Orleans dugout after hitting a home run:
After a couple innings of shooting, I decided to get back to walking around the ballpark. Remember this shot of the nighttime view of El Paso and Ciudad Juarez that I took from the upper level of the park a day earlier? This is how the scene looked in the daytime:
Next, I went down to the front row behind home plate for an inning of action. Shooting through the netting rarely yields outstanding photos, but the overall view from this seating area was certainly enjoyable:
By now, it was past noon and although the thought of a ballpark lunch was appealing, I was way too full from my breakfast. I was a bit disappointed to miss the opportunity to sample something else of the Southwest University Park menu, but that’ll just have to wait for another visit.
Speaking of food, I was continuously noticing fans with frozen drinks — which made sense, given the hot temperature. I’m a sucker for frozen lemonade and other such products, so I made my way to the “Slush’ae” concession stand down the first base line. Now, I’d been particularly intrigued by the yellow and red combination of slushie that I’d seen countless fans drinking, and I wanted to give it a try. I scanned the available flavors and, for some inexplicable reason, decided that the mystery color combination had to be pink lemonade. (This, despite the fact that red and yellow do not equal pink. Maybe the heat was getting to me.)
Anyway, I was handed this …
… and while it was delicious and chilly, it didn’t satisfy my curiosity for the red and yellow product that continued to be enjoyed around me.
As I took this photo …
… I said to myself, “Time for another slushie,” and returned to the same concession stand where I’d been less than 10 minutes earlier. “Back again?” the server asked me, with a smile on her face. I explained my predicament and she handed me what is arguably the most unique ballpark drink I’ve ever had:
You’re looking at a mango slushie. Pretty standard, right? Yes, but here’s where the twist comes. The red stuff on the top and bottom of the cup is chamoy sauce, which I certainly hadn’t heard of. It’s a Mexican sauce made of pickled fruit (typically apricot or plum), and the taste is difficult to explain. You’d expect gooey red sauce to be super sweet, but that isn’t the case. It’s sort of a combination of salty and sour, if that makes sense. You can choose how much chamoy sauce you want added; since I was a newbie, the server gave me a small amount, but I saw people who’d obviously asked for a heap of it.
The intrigue didn’t end with the chamoy sauce. It’s hard to clearly see the straw in the above photo, so take a look at this one:
The red stuff wrapped around the straw is flechazos, which is a dried fruit that’s not unlike what is often called “fruit leather.” It’s sweet, chewy and delicious. The twist, though, is that the flechazos-covered straw is rolled in chili powder, which gives you a unique spiciness that you certainly don’t expect when you’re having a frozen fruit drink.
The slushie was outstanding, and something that you should definitely seek out whenever you visit Southwest University Park. I’d definitely order it again, maybe even twice.
Once I slurped down the slushie and gnawed the chili and flechazos off my straw, I headed back down to the front row behind the dugout to take some more action shots — and just in time. Nick Wittgren, who I’d talked to a day earlier during BP, had just taken the mound, and I was anxious to photograph him in action:
I also took another shot of him on the way to the dugout after one efficient inning of work:
It took him just six pitches to get three outs. He was called up to the majors a week after this outing and picked up his first career MLB win a little over a week later.
Wittgren’s efforts aside, his Zephyrs fell to El Paso. And, unlike a day earlier, when I’d slipped out early to enjoy the last bit of the game from my hotel’s roof deck, I had a front-row seat for the final out and the post-game high fives:
As the fans began to filter out of Southwest University Park, and I followed suit, I was definitely sad to be leaving. Although I’d had two full and awesome days in El Paso, they’d gone by very quickly. Still, as much as I was sad to be leaving this beautiful ballpark, I was looking forward to taking a walk around the city and then hanging out in my hotel room, so that’s what I did for the afternoon and evening. There was a short rainfall late in the afternoon, and a nice rainbow right outside my window:
The next morning, I woke up early in advance of my drive to Midland. First, though, I needed to track down some copies of the El Paso Times to read the story about me. I walked over to the Times building, but it didn’t open until 8 a.m. and I wanted to be on the road well before then. So, I took the opportunity to snap this photo of me in front of the newspaper’s building …
… and then found a gas station and bought five copies of the newspaper. “You know they all say the same thing, right?” said the clerk when I flopped the stack of papers down on the counter.
I eagerly flipped through to the sports section and was shocked to see my story as the top item. Here’s a scan of the front page banner:
And the front of the sports page:
And, finally, the turn on the third page of the sports section:
If you’re interested in reading the story, you can click the above images to enlarge them.
Special thanks to everyone who helped make my visit to El Paso so memorable. I can’t wait to return!
Next up, a doubleheader at Security Bank Ballpark, home of the Texas League’s Midland RockHounds.
After an exceptionally long travel day getting to Texas and a whirlwind tour of Globe Life Park in Arlington, it was time to take a short flight from Dallas/Fort Worth to Houston, and get ready for Astros games on back-to-back nights. My flight between the two cities was short and before long, I was hopping in a cab outside George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston for what turned out to be about a $75 (in Canadian dollars) cab ride to my airport. Stupid exchange rate.
Of course, my temporary frown over the fare was turned upside down when I was dropped off in front of the Westin Houston Downtown, which I’d quickly realize was one of the best hotels I’ve ever visited. I’ll share some details and photos about my hotel stay in this post and my next post, but let’s start by discussing the hotel’s location. Well, it’s a short discussion, really — it’s across the street from Minute Maid Park, home of the Astros! I’ve said it before, but I LOVE hotels that offer a ballpark view. I mean, I’m nuts about them. I’ve been fortunate to stay at a number of hotels that offer this feature over the years, so I knew I’d be in for a treat in Houston. Of course, your guest room has to be facing the ballpark, so I held my breath as I made my way up the elevator, down the hall and into my room. I hurriedly ran to the window and saw …
… a nice view of downtown Houston but no Minute Maid Park. Not the end of the world, right? I thought about my situation for a minute and although I’m not a complainer, I returned to the front desk to see if there was a way I’d be able to get a room on the ballpark side of the building. The desk clerk checked but revealed that all those rooms were booked. A little discouraged, I returned to my room and looked around. I’d been so crazed to run to the window when I first arrived that I didn’t realize I had a corner room.
Corner rooms = two walls with windows.
I swung open the drapes on the newfound window and, ta-da, here was the view:
Slightly too bad that there was a church steeple in the way, but I had a spectacular view of Minute Maid Park and, with the retractable roof currently open, I could see some of the seats and part of the video board inside the stadium.
So, so awesome.
I had some time to kill before the game, so I ordered a chicken Caesar salad and a couple of bottles of water from the cafe on the ground floor of the hotel and scarfed them down while enjoying my awesome view. Minute Maid Park’s allure was too strong to keep me in my hotel room for much longer, so I quickly gathered up my camera stuff and headed over to the park. First, though, I snapped this shot in the hotel lobby to show you just how swank the scene was:
I was hit with a wave of 90-degree heat when I stepped out the door of the hotel, but even the mugginess couldn’t dampen my excitement at the scene before me:
This shot, for the record, is from the valet parking area of the hotel and shows that when I said the ballpark and hotel are across the street from one another, I wasn’t exaggerating.
After my missed flight a couple days earlier meant that I had to cram two days’ of sightseeing at Arlington’s Globe Life Park into one visit, it was a huge relief to know that I had two full days to check out the area inside and outside Minute Maid Park. When I crossed the street, I turned around to take this shot of the hotel from the outside …
… and then it was full steam ahead to check out Minute Maid Park. When the park was built prior to the 2000 season, it carefully incorporated Houston’s Union Station, which opened in 1911 and was named to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1977. You’ll see inside the Union Station ballpark entrance shortly, but for now here’s a plaque that connects the old train station with the ballpark:
I was excited to see a wide variety of baseball-related features around the park. Some were somewhat subtle, like these baseball stitching effects in the concrete:
And others were perhaps more noticeable, including a variety of plaques in the sidewalk that were recognizing past Astros greats:
The left field entry to the park was a fun hub of things to see. There were a bunch of plaques …
and a small-scale baseball field, complete with statues:
And if you decided that you’d enjoy sitting and watching the imaginary action on the field, there was a perfect spot for you:
I checked out everything in this area for a little bit and it was still early enough before the game that I was essentially the only fan around. After being satisfied that I’d seen everything around the left field entry, I retraced my steps and began walking down Texas Avenue, which is the street on which the ballpark’s home plate entry is located. Much of the walk was lined with baseballs:
Here’s what the home plate entrance looked like:
And here’s a shot of the famous tower structure that’s so highly visible from the outside of the park:
After I took this shot, I wandered over to the season ticketholder parking lot and the diamond club entrance, which was guarded by a security guard standing in the full sun and chugging on a 2L bottle of Dr. Pepper. I’m not sure he was getting the hydration that he thought he was. Anyway, I took this panorama from the parking lot, which is partially cut off along the bottom because the lot was lined by bushes that prevented me from getting back far enough:
By now, I was starting to get really hot and I figured I had the option of asking the security guard for a swig of his Dr. Pepper or heading to the Union Station entrance and enjoying some air conditioning before the park’s actual gates opened. I chose the latter and a few minutes later, I was standing here:
With a bit of time to kill before I could get inside the park, I was happy to see that there were plenty of things to see while I waited. There were a ton of awesome displays of game-used gear and other Astros-related artifacts that were a blast to browse. Here’s a shot (pardon the glare) that shows some game-used uniforms:
A display that notes the connection between the Astros and the space program:
The #132 jersey, for example, was taken into space aboard Space Shuttle Atlantis in 2010. Awesome!
And, finally, the game-used jersey and cap that Mike Fiers wore during his no hitter at Minute Maid Park exactly a month before my visit:
Once I’d perused all the displays and wandered around the room a little more, I was ready to line up to get inside the ballpark. I spent 20 minutes standing in line behind a local Little League team that was taking part in some pregame thing on the field, and then, at 5 p.m., I entered my 11th MLB park and 57th park between the majors and minors!
The Union Station entrance puts you roughly in the left field corner, so I hustled toward the field and was greeted with this sight:
(No confusion about which state I was visiting, right?)
As you can see, the roof was thankfully closed. I was happy for the opportunity to see it open from the hotel window earlier, but given the day’s heat, had no suspicion that it’d be open for the game.
The scene on the field was as follow: The Astros were nearing the end of their batting practice and the visiting Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim were getting ready to hit. Here’s what the scene looked like in panorama form from the left field foul pole:
Upon taking this photo, I faced a big-time dilemma about what to do next. I love standing and watching batting practice (and seeing if I can snag a ball) but it’s hard to think about staying put when there’s an entire stadium to explore. I reached a compromise with my internal conversation by watching BP for a few minutes from this spot …
… and then setting out to begin exploring Minute Maid Park. If you’ve seen the ballpark during TV broadcasts, you might recall the cool-looking arched structure beyond the fence in left field and left-center. It’s a standing-room area for fans during the game and immediately behind it there’s a wide walkway that runs from the left field gate area over to center. It’s a fun spot to be during BP and during the game — I got to experience both — because long home runs smack off the facing of the wall above you, which a) makes a super loud noise and b) creates a scramble below as all the fans try to grab the ball when it falls into the seats. Anyway, located in the seventh arch moving from left to right is the Home Run Pump, which tallies all the Astros home runs since they moved into Minute Maid Park. It’s a popular spot to stand during games, but since it was still about two hours before first pitch, the area was mostly isolated when I took this photo:
After moving on from the Home Run Pump, I stood above Tal’s Hill, a unique (and ridiculous) feature in straightaway center:
For anyone who’s wondering the #7 painted onto the hill was in honor of longtime Astro Craig Biggio, who was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2015.
I watched a few more minutes of batting practice from this spot, enjoying the hubbub of activity on the field:
Next up on my stop, as I made my way down the concourse from center field to right field, was the team’s game-used and autographed memorabilia stand:
If I could describe this spot in one word, it would be: OhmanIneedtobuyeverythingherebuthowwillItakeithomeontheplanewithme?
I love collecting game-used stuff, as you might have read in previous posts, so I desperately wanted to buy something to remember my Houston visit — especially when I saw that lots of the stuff was more affordable than I would’ve expected. The only problem was that I hadn’t checked any luggage on my flight, so my two carry-on bags were as full as I could make them. Hmmm. What to do? Fortunately, I had two days to decide.
Here’s a cross-section of some of the cool things for sale, ranging from not very affordable — a Nolan Ryan signed jersey for $700:
To pretty darned affordable — dozens and dozens of batting practice-used jerseys for $50:
There were lots of other neat things, too, like this game-used first base with lots of cool wear:
And a whole host of bats:
I considered my first visit to the stand a recon mission; I took stock of everything for what turned out to be multiple later visits, and then continued on my walk. When I got around to behind home plate, I saw that the Little League team I’d been standing behind was now on the field watching BP. You can see them in front of the first base dugout in this panorama:
I also grabbed a shot of myself in this same spot …
… before moving over to the area directly behind home plate to take the following panorama:
At a handful of parks, security prevents you from accessing the seats behind home plate, even during BP. I was pleased to see that wasn’t a factor at Minute Maid Park. In fact, every staff member — ushers, security, etc. — I met was exceedingly courteous. Other teams could learn a thing or two from watching Houston’s staff, let me tell you. Case in point — here’s the cross-aisle in front of the Insperity Club:
Fans were free to walk through this area before the game with no harassment from anyone. I can think of several parks off the top of my head that you can’t even dream of cutting through such an area.
I continued my walk and enjoyed taking in all the sights. It was awesome to know that I had two days to explore the stadium; no stress over trying to see everything and plenty of time to take it all in. As I walked around, I was loving the design of Minute Maid Park and, in particular, the arches. They definitely give the park a cool, vintage feel. I grabbed this shot of myself in front of some the arches and one of the park’s signs:
Eventually, I made it all the way back to the seats in the left field corner where I’d began my journey. This shot shows you the small seating section in this area, known as the “Crawford Boxes,” some of my beloved arches and the signs above that would rattle loudly when hit by batting practice home runs:
With the Angels now hitting, I wanted to find a spot in the front row behind the dugout to see the action and take some photos. Again, accessing these seats was easy and laid back; no overzealous security checking peoples’ tickets or getting people in trouble for leaning against the dugout. (The latter sounds ridiculous, but I’ve experienced it.)
Here’s a shot I got of several Angels waiting while Albert Pujols took his turn in the cage:
Each time after hitting, Pujols would stand on the opposite side of the cage so any photos I took of him were pretty obstructed. But, when he wrapped up his session, he made his way semi-close to me to sign some autographs for the fans on the field:
I stood behind the dugout for as long as the players were on the field, and once they moved into the clubhouses, I was on the move again, too. Since I’d already made one circuit of the main concourse, I took a climb to the upper deck where I captured the scene in this panorama:
I actually spent a little while in the upper deck just relaxing. There was a spot with a nice blast of air conditioning, so I enjoyed just hanging out and watching the scene unfold before me. The stadium was slowly starting to fill, so it was cool to see people making their way into the various sections and watch the grounds crew do its thing.
Eventually, Houston starter and eventual 2015 NL Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel made his way from the dugout toward the bullpen to begin his pregame throwing, so I scrambled back down to the main concourse and hustled over to find a spot close to the ‘pen. On my way, I paused briefly to snap this shot of the living roof that makes up the batter’s eye at Minute Maid Park. I haven’t seen anything like this before, I don’t think:
The crowd wasn’t very thick around the home bullpen, so I was able to get a spot in the front row to watch Keuchel toss the ball around in the outfield for a while:
When he moved into the bullpen, I shifted my position slightly and found a great spot directly behind his catcher so I could take some cool straight-on photos. If you look carefully at this first one, there’s a random piece of Dubble Bubble on the mound in front of the rubber:
Soon enough, Keuchel kicked the gum away; you’ll see that it’s no longer present in this photo I took a couple minutes later:
I watched the entirety of Keuchel’s bullpen session and when he headed toward the dugout a few minutes before first pitch, I found a spot in left-center where I snapped this panorama in the top of the first inning:
The first few innings breezed past, in part because the view from this spot was so perfect. Eventually, I abandoned my spot to find a seat in right-center. The overhang of the deck above provided a cool view — you could basically just see the field. I also liked the vintage-style scoreboards hanging from the ceiling:
Pretty soon, it was time to go hunting for something to eat. I’d been checking out the options during my initial walk around the concourse and, boy, was I impressed. I was also a bit of a loss — there were so many enticing items to consider. The concession stand that intrigued me the most was called Street Eats and the menu looked delicious:
Here were the choices:
Chicken Waffle Cone: Waffle cone stuffed with mashed potatoes, fried chicken and drizzled with honey mustard and sprinkled with green onions.
Texas Hold ‘Em: Texas Toast with smoked pulled barbecue chicken, coleslaw and fried jalapenos.
Brisket Curly Fries: Curly fries topped with brisket, queso, queso fresco and green onion.
If you have the choice, which one would you go for, and why? Feel free to let me know in the comments below. As far as I was concerned, the Chicken Waffle Cone was the clear-cut winner, so that’s what I ordered. Unfortunately, the staff at Street Eats was struggling, to put it mildly. The Chicken Waffle Cone proved to be the big seller at the time, and it was nearly 25 minutes until I got mine. Ridiculous, really, but all was forgiven when I was handed this monstrosity:
How does that look? Pretty incredible, right? Part of me wondered if — given the novelty nature of the item — it wouldn’t taste that great, but it was absolutely awesome. The fried chicken, which I’d originally suspected might be the weak link of the dish, were meaty and perfectly cooked. The potatoes were tasty and the tangy taste of the honey mustard and green onions topped everything off perfectly. I ate everything that was spilling out of the top of the cone with a fork, and then when I was left with just a waffle cone filled with mashed potatoes, I walked around the concourse eating it like an ice cream cone in order to get a few laughs.
After eating, the game was already in its late innings, so I did as I often do — put my camera away, found a seat with a perfect view of the action, put my feet up and enjoyed the rest of the game. The late innings of a game can often feel melancholy, but I certainly didn’t have any such feeling as I knew that I’d soon be headed back to a great hotel and the next day, I’d be doing everything over again. As soon as the final out took place, I hopped out of my seat, found the stadium exit across from my hotel and was looking at the exterior of the Westin at night:
And, I’m thankful to say, I was relaxing in my superb room about two minutes later — and eagerly anticipating my second day in Houston.
I’m in Texas!
Well, not now. But I was. You know what I mean.
As you can probably tell in the above photo, I was super-duper-mega stoked to be visiting Arlington to see the Texas Rangers in action at Globe Life Park. If you’ve already read about my mammoth travel day, you’ll know that I was supposed to see the Rangers on September 19, too, but that the travel gods had different plans. Nevertheless, when I woke up on the morning of September 20, I was glad I was finally in Texas and ready to see some Lone Star State baseball.
Given that I’d now be in Arlington for only one game instead of two, I wanted to make the most out of my visit. I was thrilled to be getting a media credential for the game, which meant that I wanted to get to the park early and check things out before the gates opened.
My hotel, the Hawthorn Suites by Wyndham Arlington/DFW South, was just less than two miles from Globe Life Park, so I set out about 9 a.m. for the short walk down to Ballpark Way, which runs directly to — as you might guess — the park. I was so excited for my first sign of Texas baseball that I took this picture of the Ballpark Way sign:
Just after taking this photo, I could see Globe Life Park standing in the distance, just beyond this Chevron gas station:
The excitement that was building on my walk to the park was quickly zapped when the sidewalk abruptly ended and I was left looking at a six-lane bridge over the interstate. While I was hoping there’d be a pedestrian lane, there definitely wasn’t, as you can see in this Google Street View image:
It didn’t seem particularly smart or legal to walk down the center island, nor take the shoulder, so I reversed my steps back to the hotel to find a different method of transportation. (By the way, you can see Globe Life Park to the right of the road in the distance. The roller coasters you see are part of the sprawling Six Flags Over Texas.)
The good news is that if you’re a guest at the hotel I visited (or several others located around the area) you can get a free trolley pass that allows you to travel easily between nearby attractions. I picked up my pass at the front desk, photographed it …
… and sat at the trolley stop to wait for the next ride.
The wait wasn’t long, although it was crazy hot, and soon enough I was seated on this trolley finally heading for Globe Life Park:
I normally plan to visit MLB parks over the course of two days to make sure I have enough time to take in all the sights. That was the plan for this trip, of course, until my unavoidable travel delays threw a wrench into the plans. I must admit that when I hopped off the trolley and stood on the sidewalk in front of the ballpark, I was a little overwhelmed. Fortunately, the thing that got me out of my head was the beauty of the structure in front of me. Globe Life Park is simply outstanding looking and I’m already itching to go back! I love the brick, the glass and the arches that make up the park’s construction, and it was a thrill to start walking down the sidewalk and take some pictures. One of the first shots I took was this one of myself, which includes part of the park’s gorgeous design and, of course, the state flag of Texas:
Here’s a follow-up shot that shows the pavilion in front of the park:
And, of course, the scene in panoramic format, which you can click to make huge:
I spent a while checking out the scene outside the park, but not as long as I’d have liked. I was eager to get inside and soon found the media entrance:
After I’d picked up my pass, this was my first sight of the field:
Time to feel a little overwhelmed again. This was the first time I’d had full media access to an MLB park and my mind was racing. I wanted to go to the press box. I wanted to go to the dugouts. I wanted to GO ON THE FIELD! But, as always, I also love the idea of strolling the concourse at a virtually empty park. ARGH! What to do?
(Talk about a first-world problem, eh?)
Obviously, the solution was to fit as many things in as I could. This included a walk through a stretch of the concourse …
… and continued with a visit to the press box. My first priority in this awesome spot, even before taking any pictures, was to get hydrated. I headed to the media dining room and devoured several glasses of ice-cold water — that Texas heat is no joke. Next, I took this photo of the field from the front of the press box:
I spent a few minutes hanging out in this area and just enjoying the spectacular view in front of me. Most of the working media had yet to arrive, so the area was pretty quiet with the exception of a handful of people tapping on their laptops. Although I was definitely enjoying my visit in the press box, I was more than intrigued with the idea of taking the elevator down below the concourse and to the clubhouse level. I figured I could return to the press box later in the day, so I took an elevator ride and soon enough I was standing here:
The tunnel was pretty quiet, other than the occasional cart driving past or a staff member hustling somewhere. For the next several minutes, I wandered through the tunnel and saw a bunch of cool behind-the-scenes stuff. Here’s the sign outside the Rangers media room:
The stage all set for the post-game concert that would take place on the field:
And there was and endless pile of shelves containing boxes upon boxes of chips, peanuts, nachos and drinks:
What most intrigued me, however, was this doorway:
The Rangers players walk from their clubhouse through this doorway, down a tunnel and into the dugout. So, naturally, that’s the path I took. Here’s another look at the entrance of the door. At the far end, you can see the steps leading up from the dugout to the field:
The tunnel to the dugout was lined with cool things to see. There were lists of all the Rangers who’d won MLB awards over the years and a series of images that showed the progression of the team’s logo, which I thought was cool:
Tired of tunnel coverage? No? Excellent. Here’s one final shot I took before I entered the Rangers dugout — check out the horseshoe hanging over the doorway:
It was obviously a huge thrill to step into a big league dugout. I’ve done it before, but only during tours and not on game day, so it was cool seeing the players’ equipment laid out in anticipation of their arrival. Here are the Rangers helmets, elbow guards and batting gloves, for example:
Josh Hamilton’s gear is in the second row, second from the right, and I was close enough that I could’ve put it on. I didn’t, for the record.
The team’s benches were still empty at this point, but the drinks, snacks and gum were all carefully laid out:
I spent a few moments in the dugout and was the only person there at the time. It was definitely a big moment to be standing in an MLB dugout alone just a few hours before first pitch. Soon enough, though, I was excited to climb the steps onto the field. When I did, this was the glorious view:
Wanting to really document this exciting moment, I took a bunch of photos.
A shot of me:
A shot of my shoes on the warning track dirt:
A panorama from behind home plate:
And another shot of me from the same spot:
I was stoked to be standing in this spot, but I quickly noticed two things that made it even better.
1. The giant video board atop the right field seats was showing the Blue Jays/Red Sox game:
2. The Rangers began to filter out onto the field, walking right past me in the process.
I enjoyed watching the players’ interactions with one another and, by this time, with a small group of fans that had made its way down to field level. After just hanging out and soaking up the scene for a few minutes, I wandered over to the visitors’ side where I spotted Seattle Mariners starting pitcher Taijuan Walker:
Not very often you get this vantage point of a player, right?
I soon continued toward the left field corner and stopped to take this panorama:
Here, I stood for several minutes and watched the Mariners play catch. I love watching pregame warm-ups and always take the opportunity to observe the proceeding from as close to the action as possible. I think it’s safe to say that this spot …
… has provided the best view of the pregame sights that I’ve encountered so far!
Although part of me was eager to begin exploring the rest of the park, I certainly wasn’t in any rush to leave the field. It was too bad that batting practice wasn’t taking place, but even just standing on the field and being so close to the players was a huge thrill in itself. The next picture I took with my brother in mind, as he’s a fan of Cholula hot sauce — plus, you’ve got to be impressed with this awesome seating setup, right?
Eventually, I made my way back toward home plate and looked around. An usher had just finished carefully placing peanuts, popcorn and bottled water in the fancy seats behind the screen, as you can see here:
I continued to hang out on the warning track between home plate and the Texas dugout for a little while longer until the players began to filter off the field:
Once most of them had left, I figured that I’d follow their lead and head off the field, too. All told, I’d spent close to an hour exploring the tunnels and walking around on the field and it was definitely one of the biggest highlights for me since I started The Ballpark Guide in 2010. Such an amazing experience!
I stepped through the gate between the field and the lower seating bowl and began making my way up toward the cross-aisle so that I could get some shots of Globe Life Park from a different angle. After taking this panorama …
… it was time to return to the concourse and take a serious look around. The thing that drew my eye the most was the absolutely incredible concession options. It’s probably not breaking news for me to inform you that Texas indeed has Texas-sized food, but seeing these creations up close made my jaw drop.
Would you like to take a break for a snack? I don’t think it’s wise to view the following pictures on an empty stomach.
This is a shot that shows the park’s five signature oversized creations. In the middle of the picture, you can see a full-sized baseball bat that works as a reference point. Keeping the bat in mind shows you just how ginormous these options are. From closest to me, you’re looking at:
- Kaboom Kabob: A two-foot-long kabob of chicken and vegetables covered in a Teriyaki glaze and served over rice. ($16)
- Tenaco: A two-foot-long taco shell filled with one foot of ground beef and one foot of ground chicken, topped with lettuce, nacho cheese, pico de gallo, jalapenos and sour cream. ($26)
- Beltre Buster Burger: A one-pound burger topped with a half pound of bacon and slathered in grilled onions, Monterrey Jack cheese and served on a pretzel bun. ($26)
- Choomongous: A two-foot-long sandwich made of Teriyaki beef and loaded with spicy coleslaw and Sriracha mayo. ($26)
- Boomstick: A two-foot-long, one-pound hot dog covered in chili, nacho cheese, grilled onions and jalapenos and served on a hoagie roll. ($26)
Of these, the Boomstick is probably the most famous, as it has made its way around baseball-related social media since it was unveiled. But, I was pretty darned impressed and slightly morbidly curious about each of the other items, too. As much as I would’ve liked to eat one of these, it wasn’t sensible to think about tackling on my own. If I’d had a travel partner, though, I think my first choice would’ve been the Tenaco. What about you? What would you want to eat? Let me know in the comments below.
I loved how the Rangers made visibility a priority with this concession stand. Obviously, many fans would be curious to see this food, and the windows around the stand meant that people could gawk at the cooking and assembly processes. Here’s a shot I took of the kabobs and hot dogs being kept warm:
And for size context, here’s someone tending to the food:
In terms of delicious-looking and huge meals, the above five were far from the few I saw. Here are three others that aren’t as big, but definitely look delicious:
- Steak sandwich: Sliced steak with creamy horseradish, grilled onions, lettuce and tomato on a Ciabatta bun. ($15.50)
- Sausage sundae: Mashed potatoes topped with parsley flakes, one scoop of brisket and one scoop of mac and cheese, all served between a split sausage. ($13.25)
- Brisket sausage: Sausage with barbecue sauce and onions on a hoagie roll. ($10)
Despite being majorly enticed by the food options I was seeing (I was really tempted to grab the sausage sundae) I wanted to continue checking out the sights before sitting down to eat. The next stop I made was the team’s game-used area on the concourse. At this risk of overusing this analogy, it was also Texas-sized and given that I’m a big-time collector, I had a blast checking things out. Here are a couple game-used jerseys:
Game-used bases at half price:
By the way, a game-used base is on my bucket list of sports memorabilia. So, you know, if you’re doing any last-minute shopping ….
After the game-used section, I made a quick trip through the team shop, which was really crowded. First pitch was approaching and I wanted to get some food and grab a seat, but I first took this shot at an outstanding selection of Rangers drinkware:
By now, I couldn’t ignore my excitement for some unique type of food any longer. I perused another few concession stands and found something that really enticed me: Brisket mac and cheese balls:
What you’re looking at is a combination of brisket and mac and cheese, rolled together and formed into balls, and then breaded and deep-fried. They’re topped with nacho cheese and BBQ sauce, and I can tell you that they were absolutely delicious. Good smoky flavor from the brisket, gooey satisfaction from the mac and cheese and a nice crunch from the breading. Freaking awesome combination.
Here’s what the inside of the balls looked like:
I will say, for the record, that nacho cheese in general is a complete abomination. I’ve begrudgingly eaten my fair share of it, but I always find that if it was swapped for some freshly grated cheese, the meal’s appeal would just skyrocket. Anyone with me on this?
After eating — and after a couple minutes of recovery time — I headed over to the Texas bullpen where starting pitcher Derek Holland was beginning to warm up. I was impressed with the ability to walk down into the section and right up to the rail just a handful of feet from Holland, all without any interference from the ushers. I found the Globe Life Park ushers to be extremely friendly and welcoming. In all my travels around the park (and my media pass wasn’t overtly displayed much of the time) I was never asked for my ticket or to move elsewhere. Love it!
As for Holland’s warmup, look how close I got:
After he finished tossing and jogged to the Rangers dugout, I continued my pregame sightseeing with a trip through the restaurant above the outfield. There was quite a crowd gathered, which made me curious, so I made my way through the group and saw that longtime Rangers great Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez had just finished a segment on the local Fox Sports affiliate and was signing a few autographs for the group:
I wasn’t close enough to get his signature and he only signed for a minute before heading off somewhere. The crowd followed him out, which meant that I had a chance to check out the restaurant …
… before descending back to the outfield concourse.
The game was just about to begin, so I took a seat in left field where I had this great view:
Whenever I travel to a new ballpark, I always enjoy checking out the video board. I find that the way major league teams display their information varies significantly, so I’m curious about what I’ll see. Remember that huge video board above the right field seats in the photo I posted earlier? Here’s how the video quality looked:
After I watched a bit of the game from left field, I used my media pass to visit the seats behind home plate where I had this spectacular view:
I watched an inning or so from this spot and then decided it was time to get something else to eat. I was in the mood for something sweet; I don’t normally have desserts at the ballpark, but once again Globe Life Park was offering up so many delicious options that I needed to find something memorable. And here it is:
What’s hiding under that mass of whipped cream and chocolate syrup, you might ask? Why, a sweet-and-savory combination of a thick slab of maple-glazed bacon wrapped in a waffle, of course. I carried this delicious treat all the way from the main concourse to the upper deck so that I could enjoy it with a new view of the stadium. On the way, an usher called me over and asked what the heck I was carrying!
I realized after I’d finished eating my dessert that I’d neglected to take a photo of my media credential. If you follow my blog, you’ll likely have seen dozens of these photos over the years, but because my Rangers one was stuck to me rather than hanging around my neck on a lanyard, I had to turn my camera around and take a picture of the pass stuck to my shorts:
My next mission was to use my GoPro to take some time-lapse shots of Globe Life Park that I could turn into a YouTube video. I’ve done a few of these in the past and am starting to get the hang of it. I’ve always been fond of time-lapse stuff and I’m definitely going to be doing it at each of my future ballpark visits. In the past, I’ve published a time-lapse video I shot at a Syracuse Chiefs game and another that I shot from my hotel window in Pittsburgh. Feel free to check either of them out — and, while you’re at it, I’d love if you’d consider subscribing to my YouTube channel! Anyway, I set up my GoPro on the ledge of the upper deck …
… and shot several hundred photos over the course of part of an inning that I turned into this video:
As I sat while my GoPro went to work, I had a good view of the pavilion in center field and the suites that you often see when you’re watching the Rangers on TV:
After I’d finished my time-lapse shots, I took a walk around the upper-deck concourse and was surprised so see that fans are allowed to smoke in this area, provided they’re within a designated area. I don’t know if I can think, off-hand, of another MLB park in which you can actually smoke inside it. Looking outside the stadium from the upper deck provides you with some great views of local attractions. From here, I could see the nearby Six Flags amusement park …
… and AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys:
If you’re wondering what the area outside the park looks like as a panorama, here’s your answer:
My next stop after the upper deck was back to the press box, where I had some water and lemonade and enjoyed the air conditioning for a few innings. Most of the seats along the press box’s upper level are reserved, but I was able to grab an empty spot where I could see most of the field and also watch the game broadcast on a TV right in front of me:
The above photo ended up being the last shot I took inside Globe Life Park. After I snapped this photo, I went back down to the concourse and watched the game’s remaining innings from various spots with my camera in my backpack. When the game ended, I went outside and looked for a trolley that I could ride back to my hotel. I found one, but it wasn’t set to depart just yet, so I took a short walk to snap the photos that I could turn into this big panorama:
Then, it was time to hop onto the shuttle, listen to the Dallas Cowboys game on the radio (they were on the road, not playing just across the parking lot) and head back to my hotel. I dropped my gear off, took a short walk to a nearby steakhouse and — in a move that might tick off Ron Swanson — bought a salad to take back and eat in my room where I relaxed for the rest of the evening.
Although I was late getting to Dallas, I had an absolutely amazing time. I would’ve loved to see two games at Globe Life Park and have more time to explore the sights and, let’s be honest, fill my gullet with more delicious food. But, hey, maybe I’ll be there again soon — I certainly hope so!
In the meantime, I’m looking forward to sharing two blog posts about two awesome days in Houston. Keep an eye out for them!
Curious about my next travel adventures? Be sure to follow me on Twitter for my latest updates.
I’m excited to say that my 2015 season of baseball road trips will finally get underway on Monday. I’ll be making the drive to Syracuse …
… to see the Triple-A Chiefs in action against the Charlotte Knights for games on Monday and Tuesday (June 22 and 23).
Syracuse is slightly more than three hours’ drive from my home, and this will be the fifth and sixth time I’ll be visiting what’s now known as NBT Bank Stadium. I’ve unfortunately been bitten by the rainout bug in Syracuse on a couple occasions — both taking place during a round-trip visit to the city to catch a matinee game. Here’s a look at my hit-or-miss success with seeing the Chiefs, and you can click the date links to read about each day:
May 3, 2011: Rainout. Drove three hours to Syracuse. Found out the game was cancelled. Drove three hours home.
April 14, 2013: An amazing day! Watched a doubleheader against Lehigh Valley. Awesome tour, tasty food and two foul balls.
July 28, 2014: Rainout again. Drove three hours to Syracuse. Found out the game was cancelled. Drove three hours home.
For starters, I’m obviously hoping for good weather for these two games. Beyond that, I’m just excited to be back at the ballpark. NBT Bank Stadium has an impressive list of new concession items for 2015, so I’ll definitely be giving some of them a try. It might be nice to snag another foul ball or two, too.
As usual, I’ll be tweeting and blogging along the way and can’t wait to share my adventures with you.