Tagged: baseball road trips

Buffalo Bisons – April 19 and 20, 2019

What has 700 miles of driving, three scheduled games and only two actual innings of baseball?

My first road trip of 2019, that’s what!

If you follow my adventures on my various social media channels, you’ll know that the 2019 season didn’t exactly get off to a baseball-filled start for me. But that doesn’t mean that I didn’t have a good time in Buffalo in my quest to see some baseball at the newly named Sahlen Field.

April road trips — in the northeast, anyway — can be really hit or miss. This is the fourth time I’ve taken a trip in April, and each one has involved frigid cold, rain, snow or a combination thereof. My visit to Buffalo didn’t involve snow, but it was extremely heavy on the cold and the rain.

I left my house early on the rainy morning of April 19 with the plan to get into Buffalo around lunchtime, do some sightseeing, check into my hotel and then head over to Sahlen Field before batting practice began. Those plans changed dramatically when I got to Niagara Falls, Ontario, and was stuck in one of the worst traffic jams I’ve ever encountered. How bad? Well, it took me about two hours to cover a distance of one mile as I approached the Rainbow Bridge from Ontario to New York. It sounds implausible, I realize, but I can assure you that it’s true — after all, I had little to occupy me during this time other than watch the suggested arrival time on my GPS.

Frustrations about traffic aside, I was glad to finally cross the border, make the short drive to me hotel and check in. There wasn’t any time to unpack or get settled, though. After I took this photo of a nice pond outside of my window …

… I headed back to the parking lot and hopped back into my car to make the short drive to Sahlen Field.

It’d been raining virtually the entire day, and I was pretty sure that the Bisons game that evening against the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders would be rained out. Nevertheless, the Bisons Twitter account made a few tweets that suggested the team was still hopeful to play.

I pulled into the ballpark’s parking lot a couple of minutes after 4 p.m. under drizzly conditions, and made my way through the lot toward the security gate to pick up my pass. From the parking lot, I had my first glimpse of the field …

… and it was no surprise that the tarp was on and not a player was in sight.

Still, I was excited to get my first ballpark visit of what is going to be a very exciting 2019 season underway — and to also check out this ballpark for the first time since 2012.

After picking up my pass, I walked through the tunnel beneath the stadium, rode the elevator up to the concourse and immediately went to the upper deck to snap this bird’s-eye view of Sahlen Field:

By now, as you might have noticed in the image above, the RailRiders pitchers were playing catch in left field. That didn’t mean that the conditions were dry, though. I was surprised to see the group of them out there, given that the rain was falling steadily. I watched the action for a few minutes under the overhang of the roof above the top rows of the upper deck, and then descended to the main concourse to have a look around. The gates were still about 45 minutes from opening, which meant that things were pretty quiet. This is how the concourse on the first base side looked:

And how did things look on the third base side, you might wonder? Good news! I’ve got a picture for you:

I wandered around the lower and upper concourses for a bit, which was fine, but I really wanted to be out near the field. Unfortunately, the rain was still coming down, and while I’m not made of sugar, I’m also not a huge proponent of standing in the rain. Taking photos is difficult because of how quickly raindrops get on the camera lens — which was definitely an issue because of how hard the wind was blowing — and I hate having raindrops on my glasses.

After another lap of the concourse, I went back out to the covered area in the upper deck to check how hard it was raining. The verdict? It was still raining hard, as evidenced by this photo:

I’ve been around baseball long enough to know that this game was not going to be played, despite my hopes to the contrary. That said, I figured that if I was at the ballpark, I might as well have something to eat. If the name Sahlen Field isn’t familiar to you, you might know this ballpark by its former name, Coca-Cola Field. Or the name before that, Dunn Tire Park. Or North AmeriCare Park. Or Pilot Field. Yep, it’s had a few names over the years. In any case, the park was renamed this past off-season, with the naming rights bought for 10 years by the Sahlen Packing Company — a meat processing company based in Buffalo that has been around for 140 years. As you might expect, the Sahlen name means that the ballpark’s concession stands sell Sahlen hot dogs — which seemed like a fitting first meal of the season for me. I grabbed a hot dog, topped it with mustard and went out to the covered seats on the third base side to snap this photo:

It was a tasty meal, and its warmth was highly welcome on this chilly day.

After eating, I went back up to the upper deck and stood behind home plate to snap this panorama of the scene:

I took the photo above at 5:41 p.m., which meant that the game’s scheduled start time of 6:05 p.m. was obviously not going to happen. The Bisons had made a Twitter announcement saying that the start time would be pushed back, but that they still hoped to play.

It’d already been a long day for me, and I would’ve wagered a heck of a lot that not a single pitch would been thrown that night. So, I made the executive decision to call it an evening. After one more lap through the park, I returned to the parking lot and headed back to my hotel. Not a characteristic move for me, I realize, but the idea of standing in the cold, wet and rainy conditions for much longer without any baseball to watch had lost its appeal. Shortly after I got back to the hotel, I checked Twitter and, as expected, the game had been postponed.

I spent my evening watching some baseball on TV and got to bed early in anticipation of a long day of baseball the following day, as the Bisons and RailRiders had a doubleheader scheduled.

***

Saturday, April 20:

The first thing that I did when I woke up on Saturday morning was lift the blind of my hotel room window to check the conditions outside. To my dismay, it was still raining, albeit lightly. This wasn’t much of a surprise, given that the forecast was calling for rain all day Friday and Saturday, but I was hopeful things would look a little drier. It was all well and good to lose the first game of my road trip to rain, but I definitely didn’t want the doubleheader to be a wash.

Feeling a little discouraged by the crummy weather, but still eager to get back to Sahlen Field, I once again made the short drive downtown and parked my car in the lot behind the outfield fence a little after 10 a.m. The doubleheader was scheduled to start at 1:05 p.m., and while I knew there wouldn’t likely be any batting practice, I wanted to be at the ballpark just in case anything exciting happened.

Since I hadn’t done so a day earlier, I decided to take a full walk around Sahlen Field. There was some sporadic drizzle at times, but the conditions at this point were mostly dry — although the 42-degree temperature and heavy winds made for less-than-ideal conditions. Determined to make the most of my visit, I walked across the parking lot and followed this path behind the outfield fence:

Before I ascended the stairs that you see in the image above, I peeked through a chain-link fence that was a few yards behind the outfield fence:

Once I got to street level, I started up the third base side where I stopped to take this panorama …

… and then continued a little farther before stopping to snap the ballpark from this angle:

After a full lap, I looked through to the field and saw that the tarp was still in place and that no one was around, so I decided to take advantage of the quiet morning by walking a few blocks to KeyBank Center, home of the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres. My mission was twofold. I’d never previously checked out the arena, so I was interested in seeing it. And, if the team shop just happened to be open, I knew I could browse through it for a few minutes to warm up. I’m happy to report that I had success on both fronts. After snapping this photo of Alumni Plaza …

… I entered and spent about 10 minutes getting warm inside of the team shop.

Soon enough, it was time to brave the elements once again, so I made the short walk back to Sahlen Field, pausing to snap this cold-looking photo before I went in:

As I’d done a day earlier, I entered via the security gate adjacent to the parking lot, made my way through the tunnel and went up to the concourse. Then, I went straight out to the cross-aisle behind home plate and took this photo:

Beyond my chilly face, you’ll see a positive sight — the tarp was off! The rain had fully let up by this point, and the grounds crew was starting to prepare the infield.

A minute or so after I snapped the image above, I took this panorama and couldn’t help but smile. I had a pretty good feeling that there’d be some baseball coming up:

You might’ve noticed in the panorama above that the Bisons had come out and were playing catch in right field. The players were thoroughly bundled up due to the cold, but I decided to go get a closer look to see who I could recognize. I made my way along the wet cross-aisle to the party deck in right field, where I snapped this panorama …

… and then went down to the front row to watch the action for a few minutes.

Since it wasn’t currently raining, I decided to take some time to exploring the open parts of the ballpark that I’d neglected to see a day earlier because of the wet conditions. There are some International League facilities at which fans’ ability to spend time beyond the outfield fence is limited, but that certainly isn’t the case at Sahlen Field. In addition to the party deck that I’d visited a moment earlier, there’s a huge picnic area, a grass berm, concessions, bathrooms and a lot of walking space. Granted, there wasn’t much going on in these areas during my visit, but I know that when the weather is good during the summertime, this area is packed with fans and has a lively vibe. Here’s how the view looked from the area a handful of yards behind the fence:

After spending a bit of time walking around behind the fence, I made my way back to the seating bowl. One of the cool Sahlen Field features (which actually reminds me of Frontier Field in nearby Rochester) is that there’s a pedestrian bridge between the seating bowl and the party deck beyond the right field foul pole. It provides a nifty vantage point of the stadium, and that’s where I stood to take this next shot:

I took another lap around the concourse, mainly in an effort to get out of the wind for a few minutes, and then went down to field level in advance of the dog parade that was scheduled for 12:20 p.m. as part of the team’s Bark in the Park promotion. Normally, I have zero interest in such things, but I’d learned that my friend and fellow blogger Rox-Anne and her husband Adam were planning to be in attendance at the game, and I wanted to snap some pictures of them on the field. I wasn’t sure how easy it’d be to spot them, but the miserable weather meant that the turnout of dogs and owners was fairly low, and I quickly identified them and shot some photos like this one:

Shortly after the dog parade ended, the players began filtering back onto the field, so I went down to the front row on the Bisons’ side.

I wasn’t the only one.

While the weather kept the Sahlen Field crowd small, a considerable percentage of those in attendance were gathered down the first base line in anticipation of seeing #1 prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr. take the field. I’d be lying if I wasn’t pumped to see him, too. In fact, Guerrero and the other young Bisons’ prospects — namely Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio — were a big part of the reason for my first trip of the season. Over the years, I’ve been fortunate to see a number of future MLB stars in the minors — Bryce Harper, Christian Yelich, Billy Hamilton and a whole bunch more — but I’d never actually seen a #1-ranked prospect at the minor league level. (When I saw Harper in 2011, he was actually ranked #2; some guy named Mike Trout was #1.) I was fortunate to see Guerrero Jr. in a Spring Training game in Montreal last season, but there’s nothing like seeing top prospects in the minor leagues — and I was eager to see him emerge from the dugout.

Before that happened, however, there were plenty of other Bisons to see up close. When I was last at a Bisons game, they were affiliated with the New York Mets. The Toronto Blue Jays became the parent club in 2013, and while I’d seen the Bisons on the road since that change, the lifelong Blue Jays fan in me was especially excited to see them at home. David Paulino was scheduled to pitch for Buffalo, so he and catching prospect Reese McGuire were the first players to make their way down the line. Here’s McGuire after he finished stretching …

… and here he is standing directly below me:

A moment later, some familiar-looking players caught my eye as they posed for some photos behind home plate. I was obviously a couple hundred feet away, but managed to snap this photo:

Before long, pitcher Danny Barnes made his way to the bullpen bench. I was excited to see him not only because he’s played more than 100 games in the big leagues, but also because I got his autograph all the way back in 2011 when he was with the Lansing Lugnuts. Anyway, Barnes was tightly gripping a cup of coffee, which I’m imagining provided a little warmth against the chilly winds, as he sat down right below me:

The other relievers soon made their way to the bullpen area, and I watched the goings-on below me while keeping an eye trained toward the Bisons’ dugout.

During this time, I casually watched an interaction between a player and a couple of young fans that I think bears sharing. The player, who I’m not mentioning by name, was chewing tobacco while he warmed up. Smokeless tobacco is banned in the minor leagues, but that doesn’t mean that a lot of players don’t do it. Anyway, when the two young fans called out to the player, he raised his glove to his face, removed the dip, discreetly dropped it on the warning track and ground it into the clay with his cleat — and then made his way over to engage with the two youngsters. In an age in which we’re very quick to take to social media to speak poorly about professional athletes, I was impressed with how this particular player obviously wanted to portray a positive image before he approached the kids.

Soon enough, Bichette was the first of the future superstars to emerge, running onto the grass behind the infield to begin the process of warming up:

It wasn’t long before the man who’s made countless headlines in recent weeks — he made his major league debut last Friday in Toronto — ran onto the field to considerable applause:

For the next 10 or so minutes, I had a blast watching the Guerrero, Bichette and their teammates getting loose not far from where I stood:

I continued to snap some photos during the anthems, including this one of Bichette, Guerrero and Roemon Fields:

I took some post-anthem photos, too, capturing this one of Bichette playing catch …

… and this one of Guerrero Jr. telling what appeared to be a humorous story to teammate Richard Ureña, who was just out of frame to the right:

As first pitch approached, a lot of the fans who’d flocked to the front row to watch the warm-ups went back to their ticketed seats, and I moved in to get a better view of the action. It wasn’t long before Bisons hitting coach Devon White took his spot in the first base coach’s box, and I was excited to snap some photos like this one:

White, of course, was someone I closely followed as a kid. He patrolled center field at SkyDome for the Blue Jays from 1991 to 1995, winning six Gold Gloves and two World Series titles in that span.

When I visit a ballpark, I’m normally more interested in the ballpark than the game, and am happy for the game to be somewhat of an afterthought as I explore the facility. On this visit, though, I was eager to watch the Bisons’ top prospects get their first at-bats, especially since the game a day earlier had been postponed and I was a little concerned about how the weather might jeopardize game two of the doubleheader. I settled into a spot behind the end of the dugout and watched Bichette lead off the bottom of the first:

A couple of batters later, it was Guerrero Jr.’s chance to step to the plate …

… and he drew a walk:

While Biggio batted, I kept an eye of Guerrero Jr. as he took his lead off first base:

Did you notice anything in the background? More rain!

It had started to drizzle again, and the sky was dark in places. Not a good sign of things to come.

At the end of the first, I set off in search of something to eat. The Bisons have dramatically improved the concession options since I was last in town, and I was eager to try something new. I opted for an order of Pizza Logs, which consist of cheese, pepperoni and pizza sauce inside of a wonton-like wrapper:

The Pizza Log company is based just outside of Buffalo, and I always like to try local fare when I’m able. They were better than I’d expected, and way better than a pizza pocket if you’re making that comparison.

The rain wasn’t appearing to lighten up, so I moved to a covered area behind home plate after I ate:

You might be thinking, “Hey, I don’t see any rain in the image above.” If so, I can assure you that it was indeed drizzling, although the sky had lightened up a little.

I decided to run up to the upper deck for the third inning, and here’s how things looked once that inning began:

To quote Carl Lewis when he botched the national anthem back in the day: Uh-oh.

The sky completely opened up, sending the teams scrambling for their dugouts — and prompting the video board to change to a message that could aptly sum up my weekend in Buffalo:

Again, the team indicated on Twitter that it had hopes of resuming play, but the forecast told a different story. I decided that I’d make the most of the rain delay by exploring Sahlen Field a little. I started by going back down to the tunnel under the concourse, where I saw the Bisons’ clubhouse …

… and the batting cages, which were understandably quiet at this point:

I hung out around the cages for a bit, chatting with one of the security guards and secretly feeling hopeful that some players would show up to hit. That didn’t happen, so I went all the way up to Consumer’s Pub at the Park, which is a full-service restaurant on the ballpark’s mezzanine level. As you might expect, given the shelter and warmth that it provided, it was absolutely packed. I checked out the view of the field from this area, which was impressive, and kicked myself for not visiting earlier in the day.

As was the case a day earlier, I faced a decision. The team was suggesting that more baseball might be played later on, but my Spidey-sense was telling me otherwise. And when I noticed about half a dozen Bisons staff members heading to the parking lot, I knew that the probability of one more pitch being thrown was extremely low. By this time, I’d been out in the cold for more than four hours, and had pretty much had my fill of being frozen and wet. As I’d done a day earlier, I took a gamble that there’d be nothing more to see during this visit, and headed out of Sahlen Field. As I left via the right field corner, I turned back once more to take a last look at the rainy park:

Indeed, I was right. As had happened a day earlier, the Bisons officially called the game shortly after I left. I hadn’t expected this day to wrap up so early; with a doubleheader scheduled, I was originally counting on being at the ballpark from about 10 a.m. until probably 6 p.m., and that left me with a big block of time to fill. I gave some thought to doing some sightseeing around town, but most of the attractions I’d earmarked before my trip were outdoors, and the idea of spending more time outside was unappealing. I decided to grab some food and head back to my hotel to hang out for the rest of the evening. That proved to be a good decision, because my hotel was a fun place to be. I’d booked this stay at the Hyatt Place Buffalo/Amherst, and chose it because of my familiarity with the Hyatt Place brand — a brand I’ve visited in several different major league and minor league cities. Here’s the hotel from the outside:

Each of the guestrooms at this hotel is divided into a sleeping area and a living space, and I knew that with a lot of time to kill, I wouldn’t feel cramped in my room. Check out the large sitting area, complete with this L-shaped couch that was perfect for reclining on while I watched an afternoon baseball game on TV:

This hotel is located about 15 minutes from Sahlen Field, in the Buffalo suburb of Amherst. It gives you the best of both worlds — you can make the short, easy drive downtown, but not have to deal with the inconveniences of staying downtown. In addition to its huge rooms and convenient location, it offers a stylish lounge with an impressive 24/7 menu, an extensive breakfast area, an outdoor fire pit, a clean and modern athletic center and a lot more. The Hyatt Place Buffalo/Amherst was a good choice for a baseball road tripper like me, and definitely the place I’ll choose when I next set my sights on Buffalo. If you’re planning to see the Bisons in action this season, I’d highly recommend this hotel as the place to stay.

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Milwaukee Brewers – September 15, 2018

There’s always something fun about waking up on the morning of a travel day, imagining the adventure that will take place over the next several hours.

There’s also something fun about waking up in a city for the first time and knowing that travel isn’t going to be a part of the day’s activities. It’s that type of balance that keeps my baseball trips always exciting, and this latter type of day was what I faced on Saturday, September 15.

Having arrived in Milwaukee a day earlier and with already one Miller Park visit under my belt, I was excited to get back to the ballpark that I could see from my hotel room — but, in the meantime, I was pumped to spend the day finding fun things to see and do. The Milwaukee area has a wealth of activities to consider but, to be honest, I was looking to spend the day in a very low-key way.

That worked perfectly, thanks for the hotel at which I was staying. Being at the Potawatomi Hotel & Casino not only meant that I was just a short distance from Miller Park, but it also gave me plenty to see without ever leaving the property. After working on my blog a bit and having breakfast in my room — keeping an eye on Miller Park, of course — I decided to tour through the hotel and check out some of the areas that I hadn’t seen a day earlier. I spent a fair bit of time walking around the gaming floor, and while I’m not a gambling enthusiast, it was fun to see what a spectacle everything was. I also spent some time evaluating my options for lunch. The property has nine different restaurants, and while the buffet was definitely tempting, I also wanted to leave room for some ballpark food later that day. I ended up ordering a meal from The Pit, a sports bar on the premises, and taking it back to my room to eat. On this day, lunch was a meal called the Pit Burger — a burger that was topped with prime rib, bacon, steak sauce and provolone.

I spent the afternoon sticking pretty close to the hotel, other than a quick trip to a nearby Target to buy some provisions that I’d forgotten to buy a day earlier. I don’t have a picture, but you could clearly see Miller Park in the distance from the Target parking lot, which made for a cool backdrop that definitely added excitement to an otherwise mundane shopping outing.

Just before 4 p.m., I made the short drive over to Miller Park and set out to explore the tailgating scene. I’d seen a fair number of tailgaters a day earlier, but now that Saturday had arrived, they were out in full force. The scene was unlike anything I’d ever encountered at a ballpark. If you didn’t see Miller Park in the background, you’d easily mistake this for a college or professional football tailgating environment. There were scenes like this …

… and like this …

… everywhere I turned. I spent a fair bit of time walking through the various parking lots around Miller Park, enjoying the sights, but also the sounds and smells — namely, country music or sports talk radio blasting from car speakers and the ever-present smell of charcoal and grilled meats wafting through the air. Before I continued on my way to Miller Park, I noticed a sign for the Hank Aaron State Trail, which I knew was something that I definitely needed to check out. It’s a 14-mile trail that runs from the shore of Lake Michigan and west across the city of Milwaukee to the edge of the adjacent Waukesha County — including going right past Miller Park. I got on the trail here …

… and while I didn’t walk on it for long, I was happy to get the chance to check it out.

After my brief trail walk, I continued on to Miller Park:

If the sun looks bright to you in the photo above, I can assure you that it was. It was a perfect fall day with a mixture of warm sun and mild breezes that made me glad to be taking in a baseball game. I took a short look at Halfaer Field, which is a Little League field just a minute’s walk from Miller Park. I had this view of the kick ball tournament that was taking place:

How close is Halfaer Field to Miller Park? When I turned to face away from the Little League facility, this was my view:

Even with all of the time that I’d already spent in the area, I still had to wait a while longer for the gates to open. Rather than stand in line, I took a slow walk around the exterior of the park to check it out from different angles, like this one:

It’s funny, the above photo makes it look as though I was one of only a handful of fans in the area, but the reality is that there were probably a few thousand people tailgating just a few minutes’ walk away.

As I made my way around the ballpark, I also checked out the players’ parking lot:

There are obviously some staff members’ cars parked here — I don’t think anyone on the Brewers roster is driving a Camry — but there were definitely some sweet rides to check out. I love scouting out the players’ parking lot at different MLB stadiums whenever I have the chance. Cleveland always comes to mind as providing one of the most visible parking lots, as you can see it from both the concourse and from the sidewalk, but this one was pretty visible, too.

In my previous blog post, I talked about being in the outfield and enjoying the design of Miller Park. Specifically, I mentioned the windows on the ground floor and the openings above, which allow fresh air to flow into the park from outside. Here’s how that area looks from the plaza directly outside of the park:

See the various sets of railings below the Miller Lite Deck sign? I stood in several of those locations a day earlier.

I should also note that if you’re interested in snagging a baseball during your visit to Miller Park, it’s possible to get one by standing roughly in the spot from which I snapped the above photo. You have to be well over 500 feet from home plate in this area, but I definitely saw a couple of balls bounce off the outfield concourse and leave the stadium through these openings when I was inside of the stadium for BP a day earlier.

As for the windows along the ground floor, I approached one, peeked through and was surprised that I could see all the way to home plate. I could clearly see that the Pittsburgh Pirates were currently taking batting practice:

I instantly got obsessed with the idea of somehow snagging a baseball outside of the stadium, and stood well back from this wall and stared intently at it. I’m sure those passing by wondered what I was up to, but I figured that I’d answer their doubt by deftly running to catch a home run baseball.

Unfortunately, that didn’t happen, and after standing in that spot for about 10 minutes, I decided to continue on my way.

I walked a short distance and looked up so that I could see Bernie’s Slide, which is located in left field and is one of the more memorable/quirky ballpark features across the big leagues:

As I stood there and looked up at the stadium, I was continually impressed with the transparency of everything. In my travels, I’ve encountered a ton of MiLB parks, even at the game’s lower levels, that go to considerable effort to prevent fans from seeing inside the park. The fact that the Brewers are encouraging people to see inside is a real treat, and an example that more teams should follow.

Soon enough, it was time not just to peek into the park, but to actually go in. I lined up right after I took the above photo, and was soon inside of Miller Park to begin my second visit. This was a giveaway day, and while I normally try to schedule my trips to avoid big promotions because big promotions mean big crowds that can sometimes limit my ability to explore the stadium so much, that was unavoidable on this trip. The giveaway was a throwback Brewers hat, which actually sounded sort of cool when I’d heard about it. The hat, however, left a little to be desired:

I couldn’t have ever imagined myself wearing this hat, so I left it on a table with the hopes that someone might pick it up and enjoy it.

To start this visit, I had a clear mission as soon as I got in — I quickly made it to a ramp, did a sort of half-walk, half-run all the way to the upper deck, and emerged into the seating bowl at this spot:

For those keeping score, that’s Bernie’s Slide behind the foul pole, and it was fun to see it from two uniquely different vantage points, just a few minutes apart. But I wasn’t in the upper deck to check out the slide. I had my sights focused on the Bob Uecker statue that sits in the top row of Miller Park, way up behind home plate. Being so close to the foul pole meant that I obviously had quite a trek to get to this popular Miller Park attraction, so I hustled through the seats in the direction of the statue. I could see that it was covered in a tarp, but a little over halfway through my journey, a stadium staffer emerged, climbed up to the statue and pulled the tarp off Bob. A moment later, I got there and was the first fan in the area. I snapped this shot of the statue:

And then took the seat next to Bob for a few minutes. It was no surprise to soon see some fans coming my way, and I asked the first one who arrived to snap this photo of me …

… before I took a similar photo of him, and then continued on my way.

By the way, if you have plans of grabbing the seat next to the statue and perhaps enjoying a bit of the game, here’s the view from that spot:

Because I was already in the upper deck, I took advantage of this spot to enjoy the view of Miller Park:

The sun wasn’t as bright as it had been a day earlier, which meant that it wasn’t as glaring in the outfield. That gave me a better chance to enjoy the view not only of the ballpark, but also of the space outside of it.

While I was in the upper deck, I gazed around me to check out any sights that I’d perhaps missed a day earlier. One thing that caught my eye at this point was the visual appeal of the glass and metal design in the upper deck, which you can see here:

As I’ve repeatedly stated, I’m not generally a fan of stadiums with roofs, but it’s hard to knock one that looks this sharp.

BP had wrapped up early, so with nothing to see on the field, I decided to spend a little longer in the upper deck. Since I’d entered it roughly at the left field foul pole, I thought it’d only be fitting to go all the way to the right field foul pole, so that’s where I headed next. From here, I had a good view of the video board, the Toyota deck to the right field side of it and the openings to the stadium’s exterior:

I moved a little farther through the seats until I was essentially in line with the first base line, and snapped this panorama to show the view from where I stood:

Just then, I noticed that the video board was showing a selection of fan photos from the previous day. I began to wonder if one of the shots that I’d tweeted out might appear. Then, seemingly right on cue, my big head appeared on the video board. I was able to quickly snap this shot, despite not being at an optimal angle:

If you look sharply, you can see me in the lower right. Some of you might recall that this isn’t the first time one of my pics made it to an MLB video board — I had a similar situation occur a couple of years prior at Coors Field.

Next, I decided to head back down to the main level, where I took a full lap around the concourse until the players came out to the field, and then went down to watch them warm up. When first pitch approached, I found a spot in the outfield, and that’s where I remained for the first inning with this view:

Just for fun, I’ve added an arrow to show the position of the Bob Uecker statue relative to the field and roof.

After the first inning, I started to browse some of the concession stands to find dinner for my second visit to Miller Park. Again, I was hoping to find something that suited the city or the state, and pierogies caught my eye. There are a lot of areas across Wisconsin with significant Polish populations; Wikipedia tells me that nearly 10 percent of the population of Milwaukee itself is of Polish descent. All this means that there was a pierogi concession stand, and it definitely caught my eye. Pierogies are one of my all-time favorite foods, and while I’ve had them at a number of ballparks, I’ve yet to encounter a truly memorable meal. Fortunately, that was about to change. I bought an order of bacon/sauerkraut pierogies, which looked like this:

Granted, the serving seemed a little small, but it was really good. If I had to nitpick, I’d like the bacon to have been a little crispier. Overall, though, the flavor of this dish was excellent and I’m glad that I found another winner.

I knew that I couldn’t resist another visit to the Brewers Authentics kiosk, so that’s where I headed next. I’d eyed up so many different game-used items each time that I’d previously browsed the kiosk, and knew that I had to pull the trigger on something. I’ve got a number of game-used jerseys in my collection, but the wide selection of game-used pants was really catching my eye. In particular, I was eyeing up the special pants that the Brewers wore in 2015 to pay tribute to the Milwaukee Bears, a Negro National League team that operated in 1923. There were several of these pants from a variety of players, but not from anyone who was really notable. I’d been talking to one of the kiosk staffers a day earlier, and he recognized me when I returned again. When I expressed some interest in the pants but lamented that there weren’t any bigger names, he told me to wait for a moment and started pulling some additional pairs out of a storage area. I reviewed the names and was surprised to see Francisco Rodriguez, who was one of the best closers in the game for several seasons. I couldn’t resist getting the game-used pants of a six-time all-star, and for $20, I think it was one heck of a buy. Resisting the urge to don the pants for the rest of the game, I headed to a seat in the outfield and checked them out once I sat down. I’ll have a dedicated post sometime later this off-season about all of the game-used gear that I’ve picked up over the last few seasons. For now, though, here’s the label inside of the waistband:

After carefully folding up the pants and putting them in my backpack, I snapped this shot …

… and watched a bit of the game from this spot. Then, I made my way back up to the upper deck, taking a seat not far from Bernie’s Slide:

I opted to sit in that spot for a few innings, and the short September days meant that before long, the sun was setting and Miller Park was quickly taking on an evening appearance:

It took a while, but Bernie finally made an appearance, holding up a sign that I couldn’t read from my vantage point:

(Full disclosure: I don’t really have any interest in mascots, but I like the unique slide feature at Miller Park and was anxious to see it in use.)

Alas, I did not see Bernie take a carefree slide down it, and after spending a few innings in that spot, I found a seat in right field and stayed there until the game was over.

With two games under my belt, I was glad that it wasn’t time to fly home just yet. On my next visit to Miller Park, I’d finally get a chance to meet someone with whom I’ve been Twitter friends for about eight years.

Milwaukee Brewers – September 14, 2018

Less than two weeks after getting home from an outstanding visit to Atlanta, I was once again hitting the road — well, the sky, technically — for a trip that would take me to Milwaukee’s Miller Park, which is my 15th different MLB ballpark since 2010. If you’re keeping score, that means that I’ve finally hit the halfway point to getting to all 30 MLB facilities.

As usual, the day began early with a 3 a.m. alarm and a trip to Ottawa/Macdonald-Cartier International Airport. This time, I took a quick, 63-minute flight to Toronto Pearson International Airport, where I had just over an hour to catch my flight to Milwaukee. If you’ve ever flown through Pearson, you know it’s big airport. It’s the busiest airport in Canada, and the 11th busiest in North America, and that means long lineups. It also means that a layover of only an hour can be a challenge. Thankfully, my decision to get a NEXUS card two years ago paid off big time on this trip. As I got to the security checkpoint at Pearson, there were several hundred people in the “regular” line, and perhaps a dozen in the NEXUS line. I was more than happy to maneuver my way to the NEXUS line, knowing that there was absolutely no way that I’d have made my flight to Milwaukee if it weren’t for having this pass.

I cleared security and customs in less than 10 minutes, and was soon on my way to my gate to wait for my United flight to Milwaukee. I snapped this shot out the window of the terminal as I approached my gate — that’s my airplane straight ahead, between all the Air Canada planes:

My flight from Toronto to Milwaukee was only 95 minutes, which made for one of the shortest and easiest travel days that I’ve had in a long time. And, because Milwaukee is one hour behind Toronto, I touched down just before 9 a.m. local time. I’m not always a fan of attending a game on the same day that I travel, because it can make for a long and rushed day. But the early arrival meant that I’d have more than enough time to get my rental car sorted out, explore the city a little, buy some groceries and check into my hotel before heading over to Miller Park.

Speaking of food, you probably know that Wisconsin — the 24th different state or province to which I’ve traveled for baseball, by the way — is known for its cheese. You might also know, especially if you’ve read this blog for a long time, that I am a bit of a cheese lover. All that to say, when I stepped into the terminal of General Mitchell International Airport and immediately saw this display outside of my gate …

… I knew I was going to enjoy Milwaukee.

My early arrival time meant that it was nice not to have to rush through the airport. I took a little while to browse a Green Bay Packers merchandise shop, checked out a Harley-Davidson store and also toured through the Mitchell Gallery of Flight, an aviation museum inside of the airport. After wandering around the airport for a bit, I headed for the car rental area and picked up the ride that I’d be using for the next four days. For this trip, I picked up a Kia Soul — sort of an odd selection for someone who is 6’3″, but I have to admit that it was roomier than I’d expected, and pretty fun to drive.

The airport was less than 10 miles away from my hotel, but because I’d arrived so early, I knew that it was way too early to check in. I sought out a Guitar Center, which is something that I like to do when I travel, and spent a bit of time there, before visiting a Dick’s Sporting Goods and browsing for a while. Both stops ate up a fair bit of time, and by the time I’d eaten a quick lunch and stopped at a nearby Target to buy some water and snacks for my visit, I figured I’d test my luck at an early check-in.

The hotel that I visited for this trip was the Potawatomi Hotel & Casino. It’s about 1.5 miles from Miller Park, making it the closet hotel to the ballpark. After parking, I made my way through the enormous hotel, inquired at the front desk to see if my room was ready — and was relieved to hear that it was. I’d left everything in the car in case there wasn’t a room available, so I then made my way back to the parking structure, gathered up my backpack, suitcase and groceries, once again made the walk through the hotel and was seriously sweating by the time I stepped into the elevator — but thrilled to be checking in so early. Whenever I check into a hotel, my favorite thing is rushing to the window and seeing what the view is like. This is especially true of hotels that are close to ballparks, as I’m strangely obsessed with being able to see the park from my window. In this hotel, there was no need to rush to the window. One entire side of the room was made of glass, so the second I stepped through the door, I could see Miller Park — and that was an exciting feeling.

Here’s how the scene looked from my room:

Granted, it’s a little hazy in the distance, but Miller Park was unmistakable, and just seeing it made me pumped to go check it out. (By the way, the grass fields you see on the right are the soccer/lacrosse/field hockey fields for Marquette University, which were occupied for much of my visit to Milwaukee and fun to watch from my room.)

After checking in, I still had a couple of hours until I wanted to head over to Miller Park. Fortunately, I was staying in a place in which killing time wouldn’t be a challenge. I love staying in casino hotels, even though there’s no part of me that has an interest in gambling. In fact, over the course of my four-day stay, I didn’t wager a single dollar on anything. My interest in this type of hotel is that there are always things to see and do at any hour, and I soon set off to take a big walk through the building. I walked around the gaming floor for several minutes, checked out a bunch of the restaurants that I’d sample over the course of my stay and even toured the fitness center — a place that I didn’t spend much time in, although given all that I ate at Miller Park, that wouldn’t have been a bad idea.

Then, I went back up to my room and grabbed a chair by the window and just enjoyed the view. A handful of Marquette lacrosse players were practicing on the field below me, so they kept me entertained while I took regular glances at the ballpark in the distance.

Eventually, I couldn’t handle looking at Miller Park from afar any longer, and had to get over there. I’d been debating on whether I’d walk or drive to the ballpark, and while 1.5 miles isn’t a tough distance, I decided that driving would be the best bet. The drive, of course, took just a couple of minutes, and it was cool to see the ballpark in the distance for the entirety of the short trip. I parked my rental car in the cheapest lot and walked for a few minutes until I saw Miller Park just a short distance from where I stood:

I quickly moved closer to the park and then went around to the side with the sign so that I could snap this panorama of the glorious sight in front of me:

Ballpark #71!

My plan, as always, was to walk around the ballpark a couple of times before going in. First, though, I snapped this sunny picture …

… and then set out to enjoy the sights.

One thing that I quickly noted is how much of a tailgating atmosphere was present at Miller Park. A few friends/fellow baseball road trippers had pointed out this feature to me in advance of my visit, and they definitely weren’t exaggerating. Although you don’t see a whole lot of people in the two above images, the parking lots were a happening place and getting busier by the minute. The tailgating culture at Miller Park is heavily influenced by the tailgating at Lambeau Field, home of the Green Bay Packers, which is less than two hours away. I should note that this game took place on a Friday, and the tailgating definitely intensified during the weekend games.

Another interesting thing that I noticed was the lineup of fans outside of the TGI Friday’s restaurant:

It opens before the ballpark’s gates open, so it’s a popular way to get in early. I wasn’t planning to experience this restaurant during my first visit, but had plans to do so three days later.

Next, I checked out some of the plaques on the Brewers Wall of Honor, which you may have noticed on left side of the image above, and then browsed the plaques commemorating the team’s all-time stars that were situated in the ground of the plaza outside of the park. Having been in Atlanta just a couple of weeks earlier and seen a bunch of Hank Aaron displays, it was fun to see Hammerin’ Hank again being recognized:

Although, I thought that it was unfortunate to see this plaque in such a state of disrepair. Wouldn’t you agree?

Speaking of Aaron, I also checked out his statue outside of one of the gates and snapped this photo:

(Want a shirt like the one I’m wearing? You can buy one here to wear on your next baseball road trip!)

Perhaps because I’d been to Atlanta so recently, SunTrust Park was in my mind as I walked around Miller Park, and I was definitely aware of the major differences in the areas that surround both ballparks. SunTrust has 1,001 things to see and do within a few minutes walk (or so it seemed) and that’s not the case at Miller Park. Short of tailgating, looking at the stadium and visiting the team shop, which I did before the gates opened, there’s not a lot of stuff to do. That said, I was really enjoying the contrast between the two locations. Miller Park’s “neighborhood,” for lack of a better term, felt very laid back — and on a mild September afternoon, that was just perfect for me.

I spent the next hour or so walking around the ballpark a couple of times, occasionally sitting on a bench to just admire the structure before me. As the park got closer to opening, I got in line about 10 people back from the front. It wasn’t long before the gates opened, and when they did, I entered the park into an area that had a number of large concession stands. I took a couple of minutes to browse their menus, but this was not a time to eat. As always, I wanted to get to the seating bowl to see the field for the first time. Because I could hear batting practice taking place, I navigated my way to the seats in right field, and hurried down to the front row. This was the view from where I stood:

There wasn’t a single other fan in this entire section just yet, which meant that if any Pirates hitter could smack a home run to left field, the ball would be mine for the snagging. That task proved to be a little much to ask, however, and after 10 minutes of seeing nothing closer than a ball that landed on the warning track, I decided to continue my sightseeing.

The next spot I visited was the Brewers Authentics kiosk, which offered as good a selection of game-used items as I’ve ever seen at a ballpark. (Which, of course, is both a good and a bad thing … and this kiosk would definitely have some of my money before I left Milwaukee.) Take a look at this photo of part of the display:

You can see game-used jerseys, pants, bats, baseballs and even some of the old suite signs from Miller Park. They also had clubhouse stalls set up with nameplates, uniforms, helmets and bases for sale:

Although I knew I’d need to buy something from this kiosk, I resisted the urge for a while and continued taking a walk around the concourse. When I got to the area behind home plate, I walked down to the cross-aisle behind the field level seats and took this panorama:

The sun was so brightly glaring off the windows beyond the outfield that part of this photo is washed out, but it still shows a number of cool things. I love how the Brewers display their retired numbers, which you’ll see high above either side of the video board. I think it’s one of the more visible positions in the big leagues, and I imagine that it’s inspiring for players to be able to sit in their dugouts and glance up at those numbers. You’ll also notice the retractable roof, which I was very glad to see open. In fact, it was one of the first things I checked when I saw the ballpark from my hotel window. I understand the value of closed roofs for games, but I love being able to see the sky while I watch baseball. Another thing to notice in the panorama above is the Friday’s restaurant, which is above the fence in left field. Here’s a closer look:

The restaurant has both “inside” and “outside” tables — the latter are behind the railing immediately above the “Fridays” and “State Farm” signage, while the inside tables are farther back, inside of the restaurant. As you might expect, the outside tables are a lot more popular and fill up quickly, and I’m pleased to say that I was able to get one on my last visit to Miller Park — which I’ll be detailing in a few blog posts from now, of course.

As I stood behind home plate and watched the Pirates hit, I have to admit that the idea of sitting in this restaurant during BP got me excited, so I walked around the concourse and found a spot where I could check out the view from behind an empty table:

This is one of the more unique ways to watch batting practice in the big leagues, isn’t it?

Soon after taking that photo, I was back on the move and walking through the outfield part of the concourse. One of the neatest things about the Miller Park design is just how open it is. Take a look at the following picture:

The field is out of sight to the left, and that’s the plaza outside of the stadium behind the windows on the right. I don’t know if I can think of another MLB park that uses as many windows, and it makes for a friendly, open feel as you walk along the concourse.

The next spot that I checked out was the Autograph Alley wall, which featured a huge selection of autographed balls:

It was quite an eclectic mix — in addition to signed balls from many baseball legends, there were also a ton of signed balls from Brewers fans located around the world, which I thought was a neat way to connect the team with its supporters.

I browsed the display of baseballs for a while, and then decided that I was time to grab some dinner. I’d frequently been thinking of my earlier perusal of the concession stands, and knew that I wanted to stick with some local fare for my first Miller Park meal. That meal came in the form of a Johnsonville bratwurst sausage on a bun:

Johnsonville is headquartered in nearby Sheboygan Falls, WI, which is less than an hour from Miller Park. A brat on a bun cost $5.75, but for an extra $1, you could get one with warm sauerkraut and “Secret Stadium Sauce,” so that’s what I chose. And I’ve got to say, of all the Johnsonville brats that I’ve eaten in my life, this one was easily the best. I can’t really put my finger on what made it better — and perhaps I was influenced by my surroundings — but this was a simple meal that I won’t soon forget.

After eating, I continued to explore Miller Park. The crowds were still pretty sparse at this point, so weaving my way through the concourse and checking out different seating sections and angles of the ballpark was easy. I spent a moment in these seats behind the left field foul pole …

… and then climbed a set of stairs up to the next level of seating, pausing to snap a shot from this little landing:

I mentioned the prevalence of the windows in the design of Miller Park earlier, and should add one thing. While there are lots of windows, there are also lots of open areas — spaces in which the glass panels slide out of the way, thus eliminating the barrier between the interior and exterior of the park. This was another feature that I enjoyed. As I walked around, the warm autumn breeze was evident at many points, and I spent several minutes in front of one of the openings on the second level of the park, enjoying watching the pregame action unfold behind me as I felt the fresh air on my back. From this spot, with my back turned to home plate, I also had a good view of fans approaching the park as first pitch got closer:

As is often the case when tailgating is involved, there are a lot of fans who don’t actually enter the stadium until after the game begins, and that was definitely the deal here, too.

Since I was already on the second level, I decided to go all the way up to the upper deck to watch the start of the game from that vantage point. Here’s how the scene was just moments before the teams took the field:

Tailgating-related absences aside, there were a number of empty seats throughout the stadium — which surprised me a bit, because this Brewers team was an exciting one that was on its way toward winning its division. I understand when September attendance dips in markets in which the team is out of the hunt, but I fully expected Miller Park to be a lot more crowded with the Brewers heading toward the playoffs. Anyway, the open seats meant that I had no trouble finding a spot to sit in the upper deck for the first inning. Afterward, I decided to go back down to the main concourse, and went straight for the Brewers Authentics kiosk again. Earlier, I’d done some preliminary browsing, but now I wanted to devote a little more time to finding an item that I wanted to buy. One item that caught my eye was an Orlando Arcia batting helmet, complete with a C-Flap, from Players’ Weekend:

This piece of game-used gear was listed for a cool $500, though, so I decided that I’d have to continue my search. I browsed a few more of the items and talked to one of the sales reps about some of the products on display, but decided not to buy anything just yet. I still had lots of time for that, I figured.

My next stop was one of the Culver’s concession stands, where I bought a cup of frozen vanilla custard. Culver’s is a fast food chain that is based in Wisconsin, so after my Johnsonville brat, I thought that it was only fitting to eat locally with my choice of dessert:

I must admit that I didn’t have high expectations when I ordered the frozen custard. For whatever reason, I figured it would simply taste like vanilla ice cream, but I was blown away at how unique this treat tasted. It definitely had a custardy taste, and while I won’t pretend to be enough of a food reviewer to describe what a “custardy” taste is like, I’ll definitely tell you that this sweet treat is the perfect dessert at Miller Park.

After eating, I decided to check out The Selig Experience, which many readers and people on Twitter/Instagram had wholeheartedly recommended to me prior to my visit. It’s an exhibit that tells the story of former MLB commissioner and longtime Brewers owner Allan (Bud) Selig, who was instrumental in bringing big league baseball to Milwaukee and keeping it there. Although I knew some of this story, there was a wealth of information that was new to me, and I found this exhibit to be hugely informative.

It took place in a small theater and was popular enough that there were frequent lineups when I’d passed by several times earlier. This time, there was no one in line, so I grabbed a spot and waited a few minutes for the previous show to end and the new one to begin. Surprisingly, I was the only person in the theater, which looked to be able to accommodate maybe 20 or 30 people. It was sort of funny to sit there in the dark and essentially have a private showing of the movie that told Selig’s story!

Photos weren’t permitted in the theater itself, but I did snap this recreation of Selig’s office on the way out:

The Selig Experience is free to enter, although depending on when you arrive, you may have to wait for a few minutes in line. I highly recommend it, and while I don’t have to give its secrets away, I’ll tell you that it’s more than just a movie.

After leaving the theater, I went down to an area behind the Pirates bullpen, where I had this noteworthy view:

OK, so the view itself might not seem overly noteworthy, but the players are noteworthy to me. The outfielder is Jordan Luplow, who I’ve seen at three different levels of the minors in my travels dating back to 2014. I saw him with the:

As for Nick Kingham, the player in the bullpen, I also saw him in the minors last season as a member of the Indianapolis Indians. If you remember the snowy game that I attended in Syracuse in April, Kingham was the starting pitcher in that one.

I absolutely love following the careers of players I see in the minors, and this is especially true when I’ve had the fortune of seeing certain guys at multiple levels.

Midway through the game, I once again went back to the upper deck and found a seat that gave me this view:

That’s where I remained for the rest of the contest, and was soon back in my hotel room, enjoying the nighttime view of Miller Park in the distance.

Atlanta Braves – August 31, 2018

Day one of my visit to Atlanta was so memorable that there was a part of me that worried about the second day being a letdown.

Fortunately, it wasn’t long before I realized that wouldn’t be the case.

The Braves were hosting the Pittsburgh Pirates in an evening game, and I was excited to head over to the ballpark in the early afternoon, where I planned to take in The Battery for a few hours, and then experience SunTrust Park for a second straight night.

Before I walked to the park, I decided to grab lunch and take it back to my hotel. As I rode in my hotel elevator, another guest got on. He looked at my shirt — which you might be surprised to know wasn’t one of my shirts, but was just a generic Under Armour baseball shirt — and asked, “Are you here for baseball?” I told him that I was, and asked if he was, too. He indeed was, and he soon introduced himself as Wesley Wright, a former major leaguer. I recognized his name, but I don’t think I’d have recognized him, so I’m glad he introduced himself. We talked about some of the different ballparks we had in common — me visiting as a fan, and him playing in — and chatted the rest of the elevator ride, through the hotel lobby and out to the parking lot, where we took this photo:

I did some research on him afterward, and he played eight seasons in the big leagues with the Astros, Rays, Angels, Cubs and Orioles. His best season came in 2012 with the Astros, when he made 77 appearances and struck out 54 batters in 52.1 innings, all while posting a tidy 3.27 ERA. He last played professional baseball in 2017, making 30 appearances for the Triple-A Round Rock Express, and is now an MLB scout for the Twins. If you’ve read my blog for a while, you’ll know that I love when I have interactions with professional baseball players, so meeting one in my hotel was a definite highlight that got this day off to a good start.

After eating lunch, I got packed up and took the short walk over to the ballpark. I was insanely early, getting to the area something like four hours before the gates were scheduled to open. But, if you read my post about my first day in town, you’ll understand my excitement about the area known as The Battery, and I was eager to experience it again.

Being so close to the ballpark made for a nice, easy walk — and I also appreciated not having to pay for parking at any of the games. The walk took about 15 minutes, and I spent part of that time dawdling and enjoying the scenery. Here’s how things looked a few minutes after I set out from my hotel …

… and it wasn’t long before I could see SunTrust Park poking through the trees:

I talked in my previous blog post about just how easy it was to get to the ballpark on foot, thanks to a network of sidewalks, pathways and pedestrian bridges. I took so many photos as I approached the ballpark that I could probably produce a coffee table book entitled, “Views of SunTrust Park From the Sidewalk,” but instead of sharing all of them here, I thought I’d just share a few. Here’s the view from the bridge over the interstate. You can see the walkway and pedestrian bridge that will take you from this spot right up to the ballpark:

And here’s another view of the park from the mouth of the bridge:

What could this scene possibly look like as a panorama, you might ask? You’re in luck — I’ve got just the picture for you:

When I got closer to the park, I took a moment to check out the Phil Niekro statue, which was something that I don’t even recall seeing a day earlier because I was in such a hurry to get to the Chop House Gate:

I love statues like this, especially when they’re placed around the perimeter of ballparks. The Braves have done a really good job in this regard at SunTrust.

As you might know, Delta Air Lines is from Georgia, and has traditionally had a visible advertising presence at the different ballparks that the Braves have called home. This is true inside of SunTrust Park, but there’s also a cool Delta display outside of the third base gate — check out this actual vertical stabilizer off a Delta airplane:

Definitely a cool spot for a photo, right?

After walking around the third base gate for a bit, and headed toward The Battery, just as I did a day earlier. Today, though, I’d given myself more time to wander, so I had fun taking in the sights as I walked. Take a look at how beautiful this scene is:

I snapped that shot on my walk, and I was impressed at how clean and tidy everything around SunTrust Park was. I know it’s a new park, but I also know that things can quickly get messy unless there’s a top-notch maintenance crew working on the site, and that’s obviously the case here.

If you noticed the Bobby Cox statue in the image above, you’ve got a good eye. Here’s a better view of it:

This is one of the more unique ballpark statues that I’ve seen because of the use of the dugout wall and steps that the sculptor incorporated. (Of course, I might’ve preferred seeing a Bobby Cox ejection pose statue.)

Since there was no traffic, I went over to the roadway and walked down the center of it for a minute or so to capture this view of the area …

… and then took this shot of the exterior of Live! at the Battery Atlanta, which is an enormous restaurant and entertainment venue that even offers mechanical bull riding on select nights:

I then crossed back to the opposite side of the street and took this photo of the plaza that divides SunTrust Park, on the left, and the start of The Battery, on the right:

I spent the next little while slowly browsing through the Mizuno and the Baseballism stores, each of which I’d visited a day earlier but definitely wanted to see again. Then, it was time to head back over to the Chipper Jones Road to the Hall Pop-Up Experience and explore it a little more thoroughly. I’d been impressed with the selection of artifacts when I’d stopped in briefly a day earlier, but now I had the chance to finally check out one of the space’s prime attractions — the actual Braves dugout bench from Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, which Jones and the Braves used from 1993 through 1996. Even better than seeing it was the chance to sit on it, which is exactly what I did:

Eventually, I made my way back toward the Chop House Gate, which was still pretty quiet. I snapped this photo of the big Atlanta Braves sign that stretches overhead …

… and then set out to find a way to get up there. I wasn’t sure if this bridge was open to fans or only to authorized personnel, but I figured that I’d do my best to see if I could get up there. There’s a restaurant at each end of the bridge, so I started by going into the one at the left of the bridge in the photo above. The restaurant wasn’t busy because it was the middle of the afternoon, so I just sort of walked with a purpose until I found a set of stairs, went up it and discovered a second-level patio that was empty. I made my way through it until I was standing here:

Success!

I have no idea whether I was supposed to be up there or not, so I quickly got busy enjoying the 360-degree view around me, as well as snapping a bunch of photos. Here’s a view of the Chop House Gate, the First & Third restaurant, the Omni Hotel and the Georgia Power Pavilion from above:

And here’s a look at The Battery, including a bunch of the residences, from my elevated position:

I spent a few more minutes in that spot, enjoying the surroundings, before retracing my steps back to ground level and continuing to wander around. After taking several steps away from the bridge that I’d just been on, I took this panorama that shows the scene:

Pretty soon, there was a live band — Summer Brooke and the Mountain Faith Band — starting to get ready to play on the pavilion stage, so I walked over there, found a place to sit in the shade, and watched it for a little bit:

After a couple of songs, and feeling refreshed from the shade, I headed back to The Battery to check out the sights. It starting to fill up now as game time got closer, and that brought out more attractions. Chief among them was this street performer, who was hugely entertaining to watch:

His ability to not only stay still for long stretches at a time, but the comic relief that he’d provide by moving just as an unsuspecting passerby thought he was a statue, was highly entertaining, and a large crowd was soon gathered around him. I watched for a few minutes, and then browsed through a few of the shops to not only get more of the area’s experience, but to also enjoy some A/C.  The cool air in the shops was refreshing, but I soon headed off to find a cold drink, and spontaneously bought a margarita from a restaurant in The Battery called Goldbergs:

It’s actually a bagel restaurant, but they were inexplicably selling margaritas and other cold drinks from a cart on the sidewalk, and I couldn’t resist. It felt very resort-like to walk around the area and sip on this drink — but the knowledge that SunTrust Park’s gates would soon be opening quickly snapped me out of any all-inclusive resort daydreams I might have been experiencing.

After I finished my cold drink, I headed back toward the gates, which were much more active by this time. The live music had ended, but there was a big game of Wiffle ball taking place on the pavilion turf, and jugglers and other performers were also making the rounds. I enjoyed the scene from a few vantage points, and then took a spot near the head of the line.

As soon as the gates opened, I went straight to the seats in center field, where I checked out the pond/fountain display and the batter’s eye beyond it:

It very much reminded me of the display at Coors Field in Denver, which I visited a few seasons ago.

Next, I followed the concourse around to the area behind the visitors dugout on the first base side, where I enjoyed the scene for a brief period …

… before finding the netting annoying and deciding to seek another vantage point.

As always, there’s a part of me that can understand the reason for the netting … but I absolutely loathe it.

My next view of SunTrust Park was thankfully unobstructed. I’d climbed all the way up to the upper deck and, unlike a day earlier when I’d spent a lot of time down the third base line, I went straight to the seats behind home plate. From here, I had this outstanding view of this beautiful park:

I was in no hurry to escape this view, so I grabbed a seat and just sat and enjoyed for a few minutes, occasionally checking my Twitter account.

Then, I decided to do a little exploring of the upper deck. One of the unique things I noticed in this area was the walkways behind the seating sections. There’s a normal upper-level concourse that you can walk along, but in several spots, you climb up and walk across these areas to get into the seating bowl:

If you were to glance at the scene above, you might think that I was in a prohibited area, but that wasn’t the case. It’s definitely a unique way of reaching your seat in the upper deck.

I next checked out the ballpark from the first base side of home plate, which provided this view:

After taking this photo, I decided to set off in search of something to eat. One thing had caught my eye at a nearby concession stand earlier, and while there were still lots of worthy choices around the ballpark, I made a bit of an impulse purchase with this meal. It was called the Spec-Tator:

Here’s a breakdown:

  • Smoked jumbo potato, wrapped in bacon
  • Jalapeno cheddar sausage, stuffed inside of said potato
  • Topped with cheese, sour cream and green onions

Sounds ridiculously awesome, right?

Awesome, it was not.

In fact, I think I can safely put this meal at the very top of the “Worst Thing I’ve Ever Eaten at a Ballpark” list. Don’t get me wrong — the idea of the Spec-Tator was cool, but the execution was incredibly flawed. For starters, the potato wasn’t remotely cooked through, so much of it was inedibly hard. Speaking of uncooked, a lot of the bacon that wrapped around it was barely cooked and had a slimy consistency. The sausage inside of the potato was also underdone, and had a terrible gelatinous texture. And, to add insult to injury, the cheese in this dish was actually a ladle of oily nacho “cheese,” which is one of my top ballpark nemeses. In fairness, the sour cream and green onions were fine — but it’s hard to get them wrong, right?

Know what wasn’t fine, though? Spending $15 for this, taking two bites and then tossing the entire thing in the nearest trash can. I perhaps could’ve returned to the concession stand to explain the situation and get my meal replaced, but after just a couple of bites, I wasn’t in the mood for eating another Spec-Tator in this lifetime.

As a lover of ballpark food, it’s always disappointing when I eat something that doesn’t deliver — and it’s also disappointing not to be able to share my excitement about the meal with you. Fortunately, more ballpark meals are good than awful, but it’s a letdown when I run into something that sits firmly in the “awful” category.

Fortunately, even a bad meal wasn’t going to leave a bad taste in my mouth about SunTrust Park. I put the Spec-Tator firmly out of my mind and continued to explore the upper deck. My next stop was high above the right field foul pole, where I could clearly see the pool deck at the nearby Omni Hotel — including some guests who were wearing Braves gear and would undoubtedly be watching the game from the deck once it got underway:

From here, I also took took this shot of me with the field in the background — and with my red road trip shirt, which you might recognize from this visit to Target Field a season earlier:

By this time, the grounds crew had just about finished getting the field ready for play, so I went back down to the main concourse and watched the scene from an outfield seat for a few minutes. Then, I headed past the Sandlot kids’ play area, snapping this shot to show the hotel’s pool deck and some assembled fans from a different angle:

I watched the first inning from an outfield seat, and then went up to the upper deck on the third base side to watch the next couple of innings, where I had this amazing view as the sun set to my right:

 

It was fun to watch a bit of the action, but I was soon anxious to continue to exploring the park. I went back down to the concourse and checked out the team shop. Immediately outside of the shop, I paused to snap this impressive sight:

This is a Braves tomahawk that is made out of 17,257 Lego bricks, made by a Lego enthusiast from nearby Alpharetta named Jason Williams.

Next, I headed straight toward Monument Garden, which I’d visited a couple of times a day earlier but was eager to check out again. Here’s another neat display that you’ll find in this spot — a staggering 755 bats positioned to recognize Hank Aaron’s 755 career home runs:

I probably spent about an inning in Monument Garden, and then took another big lap around the concourse before heading back to the seating bowl to check in on the game. And that’s how I spent the remainder of this game — a bit of time in the seating bowl, and then a bit of time walking around the concourse.

As I’d done a day earlier, I left SunTrust Park promptly after the last out, and was back in my hotel about 10 minutes later — ready to crash after a long, outstanding day in and around this tremendous National League ballpark.

Atlanta Braves – August 30, 2018

After three outstanding days watching the Knights in Charlotte, I got up early on the morning of August 30, took the bus to from uptown Charlotte to Charlotte Douglas International Airport, and boarded a Delta flight to Atlanta a couple of hours later.

The flight from Charlotte to Atlanta was just 70 minutes, and I was standing in the terminal of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the busiest airport in the world, a few minutes after noon — or, more importantly, about 7.5 hours before the Braves would host the Chicago Cubs at SunTrust Park.

SunTrust Park opened at the start of the 2017 season, and I’d originally planned to visit later that year. Those plans didn’t pan out, though, and I knew that getting to Atlanta in 2018 would be a priority of mine. The park has earned rave reviews from a lot of people, so I was eager for the opportunity to see it a few times on this visit.

The ballpark, located in Cobb County, rather than in Atlanta itself, is about a 30-minute drive north of the airport. As soon as I picked up my rental car (a Jeep Cherokee for this trip, which I was definitely loving), I drove straight to Cobb County. Before I checked into my hotel, I hit a nearby Target to grab some snacks for the next three days, and also picked up lunch, which I ate in the parking lot of my hotel because I had arrived well before check-in time. About 2 p.m., I decided to see if my room was open, and I was happy to learn that it was. My hotel was so close to the ballpark that I was hoping I could see it from my window, so as soon as I got into my room, I went straight to the window and looked out. Unfortunately, I was situated on the other side of the building, which meant no ballpark view. And, while my view of I-75 wasn’t exactly thrilling …

… I was pleased at how bright the sky was and how perfect the day appeared to be for baseball.

I didn’t spend long in my room, though. As soon as I’d made a couple of trips from my vehicle to my room to get everything unloaded, I changed shirts (into this one) and began the walk over to the park.

My hotel was just one mile from SunTrust Park, which made for an easy walk — although it also made for a very hot one, as I was quickly learning that the Georgia heat was stifling. To get to SunTrust, I walked up a street called Interstate North Parkway, and then turned right onto Windy Ridge Parkway Southeast, which spans across I-75. I mention these roads because of the many ways to get to this ballpark on foot, I think that this way is one of the best. As you walk across I-75, SunTrust Park comes into full sight ahead of you, and it’s an anticipatory and exciting scene that looked like this after I crossed over the bridge:

See the pedestrian bridge on the right side of the photo? I crossed over just a moment after I took the above photo, and was soon standing near the third base gate and looking up at the sunny SunTrust Park sign:

While I was tempted to start exploring the immediate area, I knew that I’d have plenty of time to do so over the coming few days. My priority was to get over to the Chop House Gate, which is the place to be at SunTrust Park. This gate appears at one end of an area called The Battery which, with no hyperbole, is probably the coolest spot that I’ve seen in all my travels.

The first photo that I took in this area was of the enormous Atlanta Braves lettering, which is mounted to a footbridge that extends between the end of The Battery and SunTrust Park itself:

I also grabbed a quick shot of myself in this spot, in which I’m wearing my stars and stripes shirt:

As you can see, this area was pretty quiet at the time — but that’s only because I was mega early. I’d soon find out just how popular and festive this spot would be. I also couldn’t resist getting a photo of one of the wooden Chop On signs, which appear in a few locations around the ballpark and make for cool photo ops. Being alone during this visit, and with no one close enough to take my photo, I had to settle for a photo of the sign by itself:

Here’s another shot that I took a few minutes later:

The buildings here are the Omni Hotel, barely visible at the left, and the Comcast building. The turfed area is known as the Georgia Power Pavilion, and it’s a really popular spot for fans. During my various visits to SunTrust Park, I saw this space being used for Wiffle ball, a live concert and flag football.

This next photo is of the hotel, which definitely provides one of the most impressive hotel/baseball experiences that I’ve ever seen. In addition to being ultra fancy and new, it has an elevated pool deck from which you can see into SunTrust Park. Many of the hotel’s balconies face the field, too, and I saw a ton of fans hanging out on the pool deck and on their balconies to watch the game:

Pretty soon, I met up with Caroline Burleson, the Braves corporate communications manager, for a private tour through SunTrust Park before the gates opened. It was something that I’d been eagerly anticipating in the weeks leading up to my trip, and I can certainly tell you that it was a major highlight for me. We met at the Chop House Gate and entered the ballpark a couple of hours before the gates were set to open, and then spent the next hour or so checking out a bunch of the highlights.

The first place we visited was the kids’ play area known as the Sandlot, which is located just to the right of the Chop House Gate once you enter. It’s got a really impressive selection of carnival-style games, a climbing wall and more, but the biggest attraction is an actual zip line for kids — definitely the first one that I’ve ever seen inside of a ballpark. In the photo below, the carnival games are located in the red brick structure running down the left side, while the zip line platform is elevated on the right in the distance:

We next went out to the seats in left-center, where Caroline pointed out the Coors Light Chop House in right field, which has climate-controlled seating indoors and bar-style seating outdoors:

Did you notice the opening in the right field fence? That’s an area known as Below the Chop, which is a private group area that puts you not only at field level, but also just a handful of feet behind the right fielder.

While we stood in the outfield seats, I couldn’t resist snapping this photo of the quiet ballpark:

As you can see, the batting cage was set up, but none of the screens had yet been moved into position, so it was neat to see SunTrust Park at such a dormant time. It was also exciting to see all of the different levels of seating and know that I’d be doing some serious exploring over the next few days.

We continued our tour by walking through the concourse behind the left field seats …

… stopping at various points so that Caroline could point out the different features along the way. One neat thing that we soon came across was the Mizuno Glove Experience, which was yet another thing that I’d never seen elsewhere before my visit to SunTrust Park:

There are two Mizuno booths at the ballpark, and they’re both there to give you a chance to borrow a baseball glove for your visit. To do so, you authorize a small hold on your credit card, which is reversed when you return the glove at the end of the game, and you can choose anything from a youth glove to a Chipper Jones signature glove. You can then use the glove during BP and the game in an attempt to snag a ball. I can see this idea being really appealing. Although I usually enjoy taking my glove to the ballpark, I don’t travel with it when I fly to games. I don’t check my luggage, so when it comes to devoting carry-on bag space to my glove versus some extra clothing, I have to opt for the latter. Having a kiosk like this is thus a perfect idea for people in a similar position to me.

Our next stop was one of the places in SunTrust Park that you could easily spend a lot of time browsing, and I was super fortunate to get to check it before there were any crowds competing for space. It’s called Monument Garden, and gives you a chance to walk through the team’s history with plenty of interesting artifacts displayed in a really picturesque way. The area also features the Braves Hall of Fame, so there are a ton of plaques and other displays that are worth reading. Here’s how it looks from the front:

And here’s a look back at Monument Garden after we’d finished walking through it:

There are too many highlights in this area to list and depict, so I’ll encourage you to devote some time to this space whenever you visit SunTrust Park. I will, however, share a few of my favorite sights.

Seeing the Braves 1995 World Series trophy was definitely a highlight …

… as was browsing this display that showed how the team’s uniforms have changed over the years:

There was also a display that recognized the multiple MVPs, Cy Young Award winners, Silver Slugger Award winners, Rawlings Gold Glove Award winners and Rookie of the Year Award winners from throughout the team’s history:

I’m sure that I could’ve spent an hour in Monument Garden — and I definitely returned during my subsequent visits to SunTrust Park — but there were more things to see and do, so Caroline soon led me up to the second level, where we went out to the seats for a moment to check out the view:

From here, I could clearly see a number of cool seating areas that the ballpark offers, starting with the Coca-Cola Corner up top, which we’d soon be visiting, and the Hank Aaron Terrace. I could also see a pair of Cubs playing catch on the field below, which is the type of sight that always makes me excited to be at a ballpark.

Our next stop was the upscale Infiniti Club on the terrace level, which was definitely an area that I’d have been unable to visit without Caroline’s help. It’s holds the ballpark’s suites and has an amazing common area with plenty of pictures of players and managers from throughout the team’s history. Here’s a look at the bar/dining area of the club:

We then went over to the Hank Aaron Terrace, which had some display pieces that rivaled Monument Garden, as far as I’m concerned. It’s not the best photo because the lighting was pretty challenging, but how’s this for a sight?

This is the bat that Aaron used to hit his 715th home run, as well as the ball that he hit. Truly hall of fame-worthy stuff, right?

The Hank Aaron Terrace was ultra swanky with a variety of seating options including these that faced the field. What a view!

As I mentioned a bit ago, we then made our way up — way, way up — to the Coca-Cola Corner, which is high above left field. It was one of my favorite places to visit for several reasons. Here’s the scene from one end:

I absolutely love how the ground is covered in turf. It makes this spot seem field-like and special, and I love the bright red accents throughout. There were lots of photo-worthy scenes in this area, including an enormous chair that I had to sit in for a moment:

Our last stop in SunTrust Park was the Xfinity Rooftop, located high in the right field corner, essentially across the field from the Coca-Cola Corner. It’s a group area that offers a fantastic view of the field, as you can see here:

In addition to upscale amenities, such as bar seating, couches, big TVs, and more, this area has table tennis, foosball and cornhole games, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t notice that there was a Waffle House concession stand just a few steps away.

Our time in SunTrust Park drawing to a close, but that didn’t mean that my tour was over just yet. Next up, we spent some time walking through The Battery, making a stop at the Chipper Jones — Road to the Hall Pop-Up Experience. The Battery has an empty storefront that is used for rotating exhibits, and that’s exactly what the Jones experience was. The longtime Braves third baseman (and occasional outfielder) was inducted in the hall of fame last season, and this pop-up museum was all about celebrating Jones’ career. There were a bunch of Jones-related artifacts throughout the exhibit, including the actual sign that hung at Turner Field after the Braves retired Jones’ #10:

There were also several life-size Jones cutouts, including this one …

… and a selection of mannequins wearing Jones’ various Braves uniforms:

After the pop-up experience, Caroline left me to explore The Battery on my own, but I’ve got to give her a huge thank you for sharing her time and expertise with me. Truly an outstanding experience and one that I won’t forget!

SunTrust Park’s gates hadn’t yet opened, and that suited me just fine because I was really eager to explore The Battery. If this is the first you’ve heard of this area, let me take a moment to explain it a little before I take you on my walk around it.

Picture an upscale pedestrian neighborhood. Restaurants and shops line the picturesque streets, and SunTrust Park is never more than a few minutes’ walk away. I can safely say that this area is the best space around a ballpark that I’ve ever encountered, and while I haven’t been to every stadium yet, I have a hard time picturing anything that could top The Battery. One thing that continuously struck me was how neat and tidy everything was — it was as though I was walking through the photos in the pages of some sort of a Utopian tourism magazine.

Here’s a look down the length of one of the sections:

Check out just how gorgeous everything looks. And did you see the residences on the second level of the building on the left? I can’t imagine how amazing it would be to live in this area. Here’s another look at the same block, but from the other direction. You can see the residences more easily from this angle, and that’s SunTrust Park’s light posts poking over the top of the trees:

The selection of restaurants in The Battery was truly outstanding. You could grab some fast food — pizza, burgers, fried chicken and more — or you could sit down for a meal at any number of high-end eateries — steak, seafood and so on. The shopping options were amazing, too. Two of my favorites were the Baseballism store and a Mizuno retailer that had a huge selection of gloves, cleats and bats. Because SunTrust Park is new, so too is The Battery — and it’s always adding new things. New restaurants, an escape room, a hotel and more are slated to be added to this area soon.

Here’s a shot of one of the streets that runs through The Battery, although I should note that the streets are closed off prior to games, so fans can walk anywhere with ease:

The ballpark’s gates were going to be opening shortly, so I wrapped up my walk through The Battery and made my way over to the Chop House Gate. Normally, I like to be among the first fans in line, but since I’d already had a tour through the park and was so thoroughly enjoying my visit to The Battery, I got to the gate and lined up about 30 fans back. It wasn’t too long before the gates opened, and as soon as I got inside, I went down to the seats in left-center to watch BP for a few minutes:

I didn’t spend long in this spot, though, and headed over to the Braves Authentics Store, which carries a wide selection of game-used products. As much as I love team shops at MLB stadiums, I always love when a team has a game-used shop or kiosk, and get a kick out of browsing the various items. As always, I was tempted to add a game-used base to my collection …

… but knew that it wouldn’t remotely fit in my carry-on bag, so I’d have to pass. One day, I tell you, I’ll own an MLB base!

By now, I’d been walking for several hours, between my walk to the ballpark, my tour, my trip through The Battery, and more, and I was in need of something to cool down. Refreshment came in the form of a frozen lemonade, which is always one of my favorite ballpark treats. I took it all the way up to the upper deck to enjoy some shade, and ate/drank it with this view:

After this snack, I went back down to the main concourse, and as amazed at how many Cubs fans there were. I’d seen hundreds of people in Cubs shirts, jerseys and caps when I’d been in The Battery before the game, and I don’t think it’s a stretch to suggest there were more fans with Cubs apparel than with Braves apparel. There was quite a crowd around the zip line, so I took a walk over there and watched a handful of kids trying it out, including this young man:

I spent the rest of the time up until first pitch walking around the main concourse, stopping here and there to check out the sights and just generally loving this ballpark. At one point, I went out to the outfield seats in right-center to shoot this panorama:

Then, once the game began, I set off in search of some dinner. I’d been scouring the SunTrust Park concession stands since I got in, and I have to say that I was thoroughly impressed with many of the offerings. That said, I kept it simple for this game with a visit to one of the Waffle House stands. I’d never previously been to a Waffle House in my life, and the idea of visiting one in a ballpark was appealing. Plus, Waffle House is originally from Georgia.

The SunTrust Park Waffle House concessions don’t have full menus, obviously, but they do have a handful of items that people will likely find appealing. I bought a cheesesteak melt hash brown bowl. It may sound excessive, and I can assure you that it absolutely was:

You’re looking at a heap of hash browns and onions, topped with minced steak and cheese. It was actually pretty tasty, although I feel as though I could’ve flown all the way home by flapping my arms and still not burned off this dish’s calories. Still, I’m glad to have finally have some Waffle House food, and it seemed fitting to do in Georgia.

Instead of heading off in search of some new adventure after I’d finished eating, I stayed in that spot to just enjoy the view for a couple of innings. Then, I went to find something sweet to counteract the saltiness of my dinner, and found it in the form of a peach milkshake from the Chick-Fil-A — another Georgia company — concession stand:

I’d never had a Chick-Fil-A milkshake in the past, and have to admit that it was very good. And my choice of peach was intentional, given that Georgia is, of course, the Peach State.

After I’d had my milkshake, I spent a bit of time on the first base side, and then went back over to the upper deck in left field where I’d eaten dinner. I’d noticed a cool visual effect in this area that I’d missed earlier, and wanted to check it out. I find that the upper decks of some MLB stadiums can be really dark at night, which some fans may not find inviting. The upper deck overhang at SunTrust Park has a neat glow emanating from it, which really boosts the visual appeal of this area:

I remained in the upper deck for a little bit longer, and then went back down to take a tour of the main concourse, stopping again at the authentics store, the main team shop and Monument Garden. About halfway through the game, I went back to the seating bowl, found a spot in the upper deck and remained there for the duration.

I left SunTrust Park pretty promptly after the game’s final out, stopping to snap this photo on the walk back to my hotel:

And as always, I was anxious to get back to the ballpark the next day.

Charlotte Knights – August 28, 2018

My first day in Charlotte gave me a chance to thoroughly explore the beautiful BB&T BallPark, and from the moment I walked out the gates that evening, I felt eager to get back to the park a day later. Fortunately, I didn’t have to sit around twiddling my thumbs. I spent much of the morning of Day #2 in Charlotte at the outstanding NASCAR Hall of Fame, which is just over half a mile from the ballpark. Afterward, I grabbed a late lunch at Five Guys, returned to my hotel for a few hours until it was time to head over to the ballpark.

My hotel, the Hilton Charlotte Center City, was one that I’d been eyeing up well in advance of booking the trip to Charlotte. The pictures on the hotel’s website impressed me, as did its central location to everything that I planned to see and do during my visit. Part of the way I spent my time between the hall of fame visit and leaving for the ballpark was wandering around the hotel, which offers a lot to see and do. There’s a huge atrium with a gift shop that I browsed for a bit, and the hotel is also connected to a state-of-the-art YMCA, which I visited, too. One of my favorite features was the plaza outside of the main entrance, which you can see in the photo that I shot through one of the hotel’s windows:

This was a popular spot for guests to sit outside and eat, and the numerous fountains and water features looked cool both during the day and at night.

I really enjoyed staying so close to the ballpark that I was able to walk to it from my hotel. I find that when you’re driving to a game, you’re busy watching traffic, following your GPS and looking for places to park — and that isn’t exactly conducive to enjoying the environment or the overall experience. Making the short walk from the Hilton Charlotte Center City to BB&T BallPark each day gave me the ability to really take in the sights of the city, and something that might sound so simple really boosted my overall enjoyment of my visit to Charlotte.

On my way to the ballpark, I cut through Romare Bearden Park — a five-acre park directly across the street from BB&T. It’s a beautiful space with lots of places to sit, as well as an awesome view of the city’s skyline, and the expansive lawn would make a perfect spot to play catch before heading to the ballgame. Here’s part of the park’s lawn with the ballpark situated just a handful of steps away:

I entered the ballpark about two hours before first pitch, which would once again give me ample time to explore and take in the park’s many features before the gates opened. During my visit a day earlier, I’d been so enthralled with the view that I think I was a little distracted when it came to noting some of the park’s other features. I was determined to change that during my second visit. I began by talking a slow walk around the concourse, which was gloriously empty and looked like this at the time:

As you can see, BB&T BallPark uses an open concourse that is pretty much the norm for newer minor league parks. It’s a design feature that is absolutely integral to the fan experience, in my mind. Wherever you’re walking, you can keep an eye on the field. Even if you have to wait in line at a concession stand for several minutes, you can always see the action on the field. This is such a positive upgrade over the 1980s- and 1990s-era ballparks and their enclosed concourses that cause fans to be oblivious to the action when they’re anywhere but in their seats.

You might have also noticed the standing room spots with the attached bar-style structure along the edge of the concourse — another key design feature at BB&T. A lot of parks only have railings in this area, and while these places are fine to stand, it’s nice to have the bar to hold your food, purse, souvenirs or whatever you’re carrying. I also like that the bar and railing is several feet back from the seats in this area, because no one likes sitting with a fan standing immediately above him or her.

The next place I checked out was the bleacher area in left field. I’d spent a bit of time there a day earlier, but wanted to visit again. There’s no debating that the best seats in the house at BB&T BallPark are behind home plate and on the third base side, but another nice place to watch the game is this bleacher section. You’re nice and close to the field, of course, and when you turn to your left, you’ve got a perfect view of the Charlotte skyline. If you’re visiting with kids, this spot is also a good one because it’s only a short walk over to the kids’ play area, which is located just to the left of the batter’s eye:

From where I stood in the left field seats, I had a good view of the seating situation in right field. It’s another good attribute at BB&T BallPark. I love the small seating sections on the concourse level and the home run porch section, both of which you can see in this photo:

Home run porches are pretty common at MLB parks, but any time that an MiLB team makes a point of including one, I’m always excited to see it. The porch at BB&T is an intimate space, with just a single row of seats and some standing room immediately to the rear of the seats.

After staring at the home run porch from afar for a moment, I decided to make it my next stop. Here’s an image that shows the view of the field from the front row …

… and here’s a shot that I took after turning to my right:

Here, you can see the five rows of outfield seating, which I love. More and more new MiLB parks are making a point of having small outfield seating sections, and I think that it works well. The size of these sections means that they’re more crowded (compared to a larger section having the same number of fans dispersed throughout it) and that creates a fun energy, especially when the team is playing well.

I spent a few minutes on the home run porch, mainly just enjoying the view. I’d stand at the railing and look at the empty field in front of me, and then turn and marvel at the city skyline behind me. When I decided to continue on my journey, I descended to the main concourse and wandered over to the dugout suites. They’re located on the first base side of home plate — if you look carefully, you can see them in the second-last photo — and are comprised of stadium seating, bistro tables, lots of standing room and a pair of indoor suites:

I snapped this shot of myself …

… while I stood next to the dugout suites and watched the grounds crew get the field ready. Then, I moved around the dugout suites until I was immediately behind home plate, about 10 rows from the field. From that spot, I took this panorama of the scene in front of me:

There was no batting practice on this day, but that didn’t mean that things would stay quiet for long. After a few minutes, the visiting Durham Bulls came onto the field and some began to stretch and play catch, while a pair of pitchers took the bullpen mound and threw side sessions. I made my way through the seats in the lower bowl over to where they were throwing, and watched for several minutes:

After a while, I felt a little conspicuous watching the bullpen sessions. The gates hadn’t yet opened, so the seats were completely empty — except for me standing just a few rows from the field. No one was paying me any mind, but I soon decided to continue on my way. I took one more slow walk around the concourse and, once the gates opened, went to the berm in left field. As you can see in the photo below, the picnic area was now occupied:

The grass berm is a neat spot to hang out, and is easily one of the largest seating sections of this type that I’ve ever encountered in all my travels. The odd thing about it is that the view of the field from this area is really obstructed. While you can position yourself to peek through the picnic section and see most of the game, doing so is more than a little awkward. My assumption is that the berm is more of a place to go to hang out than it is to follow the game.

As I did a day earlier, I decided to grab dinner before first pitch. I normally wait until the game gets going, but I was hungry enough and tantalized by the BB&T BallPark menu. This time, I went to one of the hot dog stands, where I grabbed Homer’s Citrus Dog:

It consisted of an all-beef hot dog topped with beef brisket, orange soda coleslaw, grilled green onions and horseradish. Each of the individual components tasted good on its own, but that was the problem — this hot dog was so huge that it was impossible to bite everything at once. I’d nibble some of the coleslaw off the top, pick up the loose brisket pieces and eat them and then eventually take a bite of the hot dog and bun. Don’t get me wrong — everything was tasty, but the need to eat the individual components on their own made this a hot dog that wasn’t memorable for the right reasons. I’ve had a few ballpark meals like this over the years. In an effort to be as creative as possible, a team’s culinary staff comes up with an impressive concept — but one that is very difficult to eat, and that makes it fall a little short, unfortunately.

I spent the first inning and a half of the game standing on the concourse on the third base side. As I’d discovered a day earlier, this spot provides arguably a better view of the city skyline than a spot behind home plate, so I wanted to make sure to enjoy some time there before it got dark:

If you read my post about my first game at BB&T BallPark, you might remember that I’d unsuccessfully tried to flag down Knights outfield Ryan Cordell to say hello. He was the college roommate of my buddy Danny Grauer, so I wanted to surprise him by telling him this news. I once again missed him before the game so, like a day earlier, I positioned myself in the center field seats after leaving the third base side in the hopes of somehow getting his attention between innings. Again, I came up short, but I was able to snap some photos of him, at least:

Speaking of photos, here’s one that you might enjoy. It’s a shot of the picnic area and, most importantly, part of the city skyline as the sun was setting:

I don’t mean to go on and on about the skyline view at BB&T, but it’s such an impressive sight that I needs to be enthusiastically mentioned.

Since I’d been walking or standing almost exclusively since I entered the ballpark more than two hours prior, I decided to grab a seat for a bit. I scanned the park to find somewhere new, and opted for a seat down the first base line:

It didn’t offer a city skyline view, but it gave a good view of the action and put me in a position where I thought there might be a chance of snagging a foul ball. Maybe an inning after I took this spot, I noticed a fan nearby make eye contact with me and approach. It turns out that he recognized me by my shirt, and he took a seat next to me. His name was Greg, and he’s a big baseball fan. We talked about BB&T as well as some other ballparks over the course of about an inning, and then snapped this photo before he departed:

It’s always nice to meet fellow baseball fans during my trips, and an unexpected and deeply humbling thrill when someone recognizes me from social media or elsewhere online. If you notice me at any game, please make a point of coming up and saying hello.

After Greg and I parted ways, I took another lap of the concourse and spent some time in the team shop. Its air conditioning provided a reprieve from the heat, which I appreciated. In addition to a handful of reasonably priced game-used bats — which I didn’t buy only because it’d be a hassle to take on the airplane with me — I also noticed a bin of game-used balls:

This type of souvenir is a fixture at MLB parks, but I don’t often see it in the minors and am always glad when I do.

Later on, I returned to a seat near where I’d been sitting when Greg had approached me …

… and once again had hopes of snagging a foul ball. Just a few batters after I sat down, a player hit a curving foul that ricocheted off a seat about 10 seats to my left, but bounced completely away from me before I could grab it. Lack of a foul ball aside, I really enjoyed this spot and remained there until the end of the game. Then, less than 10 minutes later, I was back in my hotel room and already anticipating my next day in Charlotte.

Charlotte Knights – August 27, 2018

The alarm on my iPod rang at precisely 3:30 a.m. on August 27, signifying the start of a day that would take me from Ottawa, Canada, to Charlotte, North Carolina, to kick off a six-day baseball trip. I’d traveled to Ottawa the afternoon before and booked a hotel next to Ottawa International Airport to make the start of my first day of travel a little easier. Normally, I have to get up mega early to travel to the airport for early morning flights, so waking up at 3:30 a.m. actually represented a chance to sleep in a little. I caught the shuttle to the airport outside of my hotel about 30 minutes after my alarm went off, and cleared customs to begin waiting for my first flight of the day just a short while later.

The first leg of my trip was a 6:05 a.m. flight to Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport, which is an airport that I first visited back in 2015 when I spent more than seven hours there after missing a flight to Texas. Killing seven-plus hours in any airport is a drag, but I actually enjoyed the time that I spent at the Detroit airport enough that I always transfer through there when there’s a chance. Since I’d had an early start to the day, I was ravenous when I got off the plane in the Motor City at 7:44 a.m., and made a beeline to a Chick-Fil-A where I grabbed a chicken biscuit with two hot sauces and a lemonade for breakfast. My layover was a little more than two hours (much better than seven, right?) so after eating, I went to find a quiet gate and grabbed a seat to wait for my flight to Charlotte:

Boarding that flight proved to be a bit of an adventure. I was in the final boarding group and had a terrible seat in the back row of the airplane. When I finally boarded and got all the way to my spot, it was clear that all of the overhead bins were full, meaning that there wasn’t any room for my carry-on bag. This meant that I had to fight my way back up to the front of the plane through an aisle that was filled with people, and embarrassingly ask for my bag to be gate checked.

“Didn’t fit, huh?” asked the Delta gate attendant who’d earlier commented on my Tabasco T-shirt and told me I was “hot stuff.”

“Nope,” I replied, “and I got all the way to the back of the plane before I realized there wasn’t any room. Not my lucky day, I guess.”

She responded with a sympathetic smile and told me that she’d give me some good news. I watched as she tapped her keyboard a few times, printed a new boarding pass and handed it to me with a wink. When I got back onto the plane and headed for my new seat assignment, I quickly realized that she’d moved me into a seat that had an empty seat beside it — the only one on the plane, other than the one next to my recently vacated back row seat. Things were looking up.

My flight touched down in Charlotte just before noon, and I made my way to the bus station outside of the airport. I often rent cars when I travel, but a little research led me to learn that public transit would be smarter for this visit. There’s a bus route between the airport and the Charlotte Transportation Center, which is only a couple of blocks from the hotel I’d booked, so forgetting about a rental car seemed to make the most sense.

The hotel that I’d booked for this stay, the Hilton Charlotte Center City, proved to be a perfect hotel for the baseball traveler. In addition to being so close to the city’s major transportation hub, it was also within walking distance of BB&T BallPark — as well as a number of other cool tourist attractions that I’d visit over the course of my stay. I was thankfully able to check into my room well in advance of the regular check-in time, and when I got to my room and looked out the window, I could actually see the transportation center. It’s the turquoise-roofed structure:

After checking into my room, I walked just a few minutes to a Panera Bread to buy a salad for lunch. Veggies aren’t in huge supply on my baseball trips, so I figured I’d get a few greens into me while I had the chance. I took the salad back to my room, ate it and relaxed for a couple of hours, and was soon back outside and headed toward the ballpark. Less than half a mile separates the hotel and the ballpark, so it was a short walk but one that gave me an opportunity to see a few sights around the downtown area.

BB&T BallPark opened in 2014 and has frequently made headlines for not only the exceptional city view that it offers fans, but also its overall beauty — and I couldn’t wait to check it out. I arrived a couple of hours before the gates opened, and before I went in, I took a few shots from the exterior. This is the main gate, and I think you’ll agree that it looks pretty awesome:

I took a partial walk around the ballpark, noting the banners that recognize past Knights stars …

… before entering and going up to the press box, where I met with Tommy Viola, the team’s V.P. of communications. He gave me a quick overview of the park before getting back to his pregame duties, and that left me free to begin wandering around. As I mentioned earlier, the crown jewel of BB&T BallPark is its view. I have to admit that when I launched the Best View in the Minors competition last season, I was pretty sure that this ballpark would win. It didn’t, but there’s no knocking the fabulous view that Knights fans get to enjoy all summer. All that said, I wanted to get out to the seating bowl right away to take in the view, so that’s what I did:

It’s funny, because as impressive as the view looks in this photo, it’s far better in person. Standing behind home plate and looking out at the city skyline — much of it new and resplendent — almost seemed to take my breath away. That might sound like a dramatic reaction, but I can tell you that it was a truly dramatic scene.

There was a big part of me that was eager to begin checking out the ballpark from top to bottom, but another part of me wanted to just stand there and take in that view. And with three days in Charlotte, I knew that I’d have plenty of time to explore BB&T BallPark, so I hung out behind home plate for about 10 quiet minutes, just enjoying what I was seeing.

Soon enough, the allure of taking a lap around the concourse was too strong to ignore, so I set out toward the left field foul pole to begin a full lap. I was pleased to see how the concourse wrapped around the entire park. It’s something that is more and more common with newer parks these days and, in my mind, it’s integral to a 10/10 ballpark experience. While I was on the outfield concourse, I snapped this photo of Bank of America Stadium, home of the NFL’s Carolina Panthers, poking over the upper edge of the ballpark:

I love when different sporting venues are close together, and these two venues are just a block apart. (I’m not much of a football fan, but I took an outstanding stadium tour later during my stay, so look for a blog post about that sometime in the future.)

Before I left the center field area, I went down to the front row of the outfield seats to take this photo:

A lot of MiLB parks have traditional aluminum bleachers in the outfield, but I like what the Knights have done here. These aren’t typical stadium box seats, of course, but they’re a nice upgrade over bleachers, don’t you think?

I stopped walking for a moment again when I got all the way over to the right field foul pole, turning back toward center field to take the following photo:

And here’s a shot of the still-quiet home plate area shortly before batting practice began:

When BP got underway, I went down to the front row behind home plate to snap this photo:

Then, I went up to the concourse on the third base side, which gave me this view of the city’s skyline:

If you’re visiting BB&T BallPark next season and are trying to decide where to buy tickets, I definitely recommend sitting on the third base side. The view from behind home plate is outstanding, but even more buildings are visible when you’re on the third base side. Tickets anywhere in this area give you one of the best views in all of baseball — and that includes the big leagues — as far as I’m concerned.

Speaking of being concerned, see that gray cloud in the image above? It soon moved over the ballpark and started to sprinkle, so the grounds crew hustled to tarp the field. I moved up to the edge of the concourse to get some shelter, and stood there until the rain passed. You’ve got to admit that even with a tarp covering the infield, the view was pretty darned good:

I’m happy to report that the rain cleared just as quickly as it had arrived, so it wasn’t long before the tarp was gone, the sky was blue and the gates were open. I took another walk through the park about 15 minutes after the gates opened and noticed a pair of baseballs in the seats down the third base line. One was an MLB ball in decent shape, and the other was an International League ball that had definitely seen better days:

Soon afterward, I decided that it was time to grab some dinner. The airport breakfast and the Panera Bread salad were the only things that I’d eaten all day, and I’d scouted out the BB&T BallPark concession lists online before my visit and knew there were lots of tantalizing choices. I started with order of Philly cheesesteak nachos, which were a new menu item at the start of the season:

For $8.50, I was hugely impressed with the amount of steak piled up on the chips. The volume of steak isn’t necessarily apparent in the photo above, but I can assure you that there was a lot of meat. And the cheese was a cut above what I’d expected, too. It was more like proper cheesesteak cheese than nacho cheese, which helped make this meal a winner and one of the better things I ate all season.

After eating — and I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I wasn’t able to finish the nachos — I wandered over to the grass berm behind the Piedmont Natural Gas Picnic Area in left field. From there, I snapped this panorama:

This is an interesting feature at BB&T BallPark. It’s fairly far back from the field, and the view from this area is partially obstructed, but it’s a cool place to hang out. It was pretty quiet when I took the above photo, but the crowds picked up throughout the evening. It was a Bark in the Park night, so there were tons of dogs with their owners, as well as people on blankets and kids rolling down the hill.

By the time I’d finished wandering around the berm for a bit, the game was about to begin. I took another lap of the concourse so that I could stand behind home plate for the national anthem, and then snapped this shot during the first at-bat of the game:

I’d snapped the following photo of the left field bleachers just before the anthem, and noticed that they were still this sparsely populated midway through the first inning:

I thought I might stand a reasonable chance of snagging a home run baseball if one came my way, so I hurried out and grabbed a front row seat for an inning. No home run balls were hit, so I moved toward center field a bit to give myself a good view of Knights outfielder Ryan Cordell. Before the game, my buddy Danny Grauer (you might remember me meeting him at an Ottawa Champions game a couple of seasons ago and taking in a Norfolk Tides game with him earlier in 2018) had sent me a message to let me know that he and Cordell were college roommates at Liberty University. I’d hoped to catch Cordell during BP to say hello, but wasn’t able to do so. So, the best I could do was watch from afar and hope that he’d maybe come over to the warning track while playing catch between innings, thus giving me the chance to yell down to him.

That didn’t happen, unfortunately, so after an inning or so in that spot, I was on the move again. I caught a little bit of the action from the third base concourse where I had this gorgeous view …

… and then watched a fun between-innings promotion on the video board from across the field. As part of the Bark in the Park festivities that were going on, staffers speared blobs of peanut butter on opposite sides of a large piece of glass, and then a pair of dogs raced to lick it off:

Midway through the game, I grabbed a large unsweet tea from the McAlister’s Deli concession stand, which really hit the spot on a hot evening:

Then, in the bottom of the sixth inning, I grabbed a seat on the third base side of home plate where I could watch the rest of the action with this outstanding view:

As always, the first day of my trip was a long one, but one that offered plenty of excitement. And a lot of that excitement was knowing that I’d be back at BB&T BallPark twice more before leaving town.