Tagged: baseball roadtrip

Washington Nationals – July 2

A day after my disappointing visit to Pfitzner Stadium to watch the Potomac Nationals, I was excited to watch the parent club Washington Nationals. I was staying for three nights in Alexandria, VA, just across from D.C. When I drove through D.C. to get to my hotel, I noted how bad the traffic was. (I’m sure it was worse because of the Independence Day long weekend.) As such, I decided to take the D.C. Metro to Nationals Park instead of try driving.

As it turns out, the metro is absolutely the way to go. It’s very clearly signed, and even though I’d never attempted it before, I didn’t have any problems. Even if you’re tentative to try it, go for it — there are scores of people wearing Nationals jerseys, so if all else fails, you can just follow a group.

When I arrived at the Navy Yard stop, just a block or so away from Nationals Park, I went up to street level and this was my first sight:

Yep, George Washington, Abe Lincoln and a ton of baseball fans. Nationals Park is in the background. As you approach the stadium, you have to pass by several vendors hawking water, peanuts, Nationals apparel and the like. They offer some great deals; $1 water, for example, instead of paying $4 inside the park.

Here’s one vendor and the “licensed” merchandise:

Once I made it through the throngs of sellers, here’s what I saw:

I didn’t have my ticket, so I had to get in line. Today was a double-header AND a T-shirt giveaway, so the crowds were pretty wild. A few days earlier, the team started selling $2 tickets for the game online. “I’ll buy one later,” I thought. Of course, the tickets were sold out when I checked later, and now, standing in line, I heard people grumbling that the cheapest ticket was $45. UGH!

When I finally got to the window, I was able to get one in the upper deck for $18, which wasn’t bad, all things considered:

The entry to Nationals Park is smooth. See the guys in the yellow shirts in the image below? You pass by them to have your bags checked, then you go through the gates in the foreground to get into the stadium. Some stadiums try to do both in one shot, and it ends up being chaotic:

As soon as you enter the gates, you find yourself in a huge, open pavilion with statues very reminiscent of those in Comerica Park:

Just behind the statues is the Red Porch, which is an awesome bar with two levels of seating. Here’s a closer look:

I immediately passed through the pavilion to take a look at the field. As I expected, there was no batting practice today, as it was a double-header:

In desperate need of some shade or air conditioning, I checked out a couple of the stadium’s team shops, which are nice. There are a ton of jerseys, memorabilia and even TVs to watch what’s happening on the stadium scoreboard:

After I cooled off for a bit, I started to make a big lap around the main-level concourse, noting all the impressive choices for food. Some that stood out were gelato:

Taste of the Majors, which offered food from different regions:

And even a place for some healthy food:

After touring the concourse, I went down the field level but there wasn’t much going on:

So, despite the heat, I went back up to the concourse and kept walking around. I found a pretty cool kids’ play area:

Indoor batting cage:

And a Build-a-Bear station (cool if you have kids; probably not on your to-see list if you’re with a bunch of buddies):

Beside the batting cage, there was a speed throwing station. Both were neat, though I’d suggest watching a couple rounds of someone else batting if you plan to step into the cage. When I watched, the machine was horribly uncalibrated; one guy had three pitches sail over his head, another guy was beaned on the arm and yet another had one of his 10 pitches go through the strike zone. It all made for a rather interesting spectacle. And the poor guy running the cage just stood there shaking his head.

Eventually, some players came out to stretch, so I went back down to field level. Here’s Pittsburgh’s starting pitcher James McDonald stretching:

And here’s Washington’s Ian Desmond signing autographs:

It’s hard to believe, but the day’s game between Pittsburgh and Washington featured two clubs with decent records. Both were around .500, and trying to climb higher; it’s a big departure from where these teams usually are.

That said, how is Washington a .500 team? As I scanned through its batting order, absolutely nothing positive jumped out:

Roger Bernadina: .265

Jayson Werth: .226

Ryan Zimmerman: .228

Laynce Nix: .278

Michael Morse: .302 (Finally, a .300 hitter!)

Danny Espinosa: .239

Ivan Rodriguez: .216

Ian Desmond: .222

Livan Hernandez: .154 (As the pitcher, he gets a bye.)

Anyway, awful! But kudos to this team for somehow getting things done on the field.

After watching the on-field happenings for a while, I went up to the 200 level to see the sights. There’s a neat eating area with comfy chairs, turf and some tents:

When the game began, I fought my way through the crowds to get waaaay up behind home plate for this panorama:

Then, I headed toward the left field corner to snap this panorama:

(Yes, lots of panoramas today. Click on them to get a larger version, if you’re interested.)

I couldn’t help but notice that for just $30, you can get yourself a cheese pizza:

Gotta love ballpark food prices, huh?

Speaking of food, it was about time to find something to eat. I passed up the opportunity at that $30 cheese pizza and returned to the Taste of the Majors concession stand. I asked the vendor which food he recommended, and he suggested chicken fingers. Hmm, that wasn’t really what I had in mind. Chicken fingers are, you know, chicken fingers. He said the New York pastrami sandwich was a popular option, so I went with it:

And as good as it looks, it honestly wasn’t all that great. The pastrami didn’t have much flavor, but live and learn. I’m still glad I tried it.

While I was up high in that left field corner, I took the following picture of the center field gate and pavilion area to show a few neat features. Fans enter from the “10 o’clock” area, which is hidden behind the Jayson Werth billboard. The team shop is back there, too, and you can see some concession stands, the MASN broadcast booth, the Red Porch, nice, wide concourses and a cool vegetation pattern on top of the concession stands at the lower left:

Nationals Park has a great scoreboard, too. It’s extremely thorough and gives you all the info you need:

If you’re not focusing on the stadium itself, you’ve got an amazing view from the upper deck of Nationals Park. Recognize these landmarks?

Yep, it’s the United States Capitol building and the Washington Monument.

After touring the stadium a little more, I succumbed to my sweet tooth’s cravings and bought some Dippin’ Dots. I’d never tried these in the past, and they are dangerously good:

After my snack, I climbed up to the Red Porch, which is THE place to be at Nationals Park. It’s crazy crowded, though, so you have to get there early to get a spot. Here’s a panorama from up here:

I spent the next few innings up here, down the first base line:

From here, I had a good view of not only the whole stadium, but also of a couple of my favorite players — Canadian Matt Stairs and future HOFer Ivan Rodriguez:

The Pirates won game 1 and Washington took game 2, and I had a great time at the double-header. A day later, I’d be back in D.C. for one more game on my road trip ….

Potomac Nationals – July 1

You know how sometimes, you just get a good feeling about something? That was the case with the Potomac Nationals on this trip. For some unknown reason, I was really looking forward to taking in a Nats game at G. Richard Pfitzner Stadium on July 1.

I wish I could say the Nationals game lived up to my hopes, but I honestly have to report it fell short. Now, I don’t think I had unrealistic expectations, but I didn’t see a lot here that would excite people visiting on a baseball road trip.

When I arrived at the facility in Woodbridge, VA, I paid $5 for parking. Paying for parking is one thing, but paying more for parking at an A-class game than at a AAA game seems a little ridiculous. (And I think I paid $8 to park a block from Progressive Field in Cleveland last summer.) To make matters worse, the entire complex is enormous, so you’re not parked remotely near the ballpark. That said, Pfitzner Stadium (as it’s most commonly known) is smack dab in the middle of a really cool baseball site. It’s not as neat as the Ripken facility in Aberdeen, MD, but it’s similar in many ways. There are three other ball diamonds around the MiLB one, so it’s fun to watch other teams in action while waiting for the gates to open.

Here’s the front of the ballpark:

I bought my ticket …

… and started to walk down the first base line. One really cool feature here is how Potomac’s batting cage is just a few yards inside a chain-link fence. I watched one of the Nationals take some pre-game cuts:

When I got to the area beyond the outfield fence, an un-fan-friendly sign greeted me:

This is the first time I’ve ever seen such a fence at a Minor League facility. Some areas behind fences are fenced off, but I’ve never seen a sign telling fans not to walk through the area. There’s nothing much back there except for a path …

… so I assume the team just doesn’t want fans picking up balls. (A few innings into the game, a player popped a foul over the fence behind the third base bleachers, and team staff bolted out the gate to grab the ball before any fans could. Lame.)

That said, I did manage to find a ball just beyond the picnic area in right field (not in the verboten zone, thank you), and it had gone three rounds with a lawnmower and lost:

Still, it was a ball, and was the first “practice ball” I’ve added to my collection. I’ve only seen one of these in the past, though I imagine lots of teams use them.

When the gates opened, I went into the ballpark and found a small common area. There are several picnic tables to grab a snack before the game. I suppose the downside to this area is you can’t see the field:

I browsed through Potomac’s wall of fame area, and was amazed at the impressive list of alumni. Now, the Potomac Nationals have only been around since 2005, but several teams have called the area home dating back to 1978. A few of the guys to come through here include Albert Pujols, Barry Bonds, Andy Pettitte, Bobby Bonilla, Jorge Posada, Magglio Ordonez and Joey Votto. Not bad, right?

A quick look at the concession stand’s menu wasn’t too inspiring. Most ballparks have some sort of food item that sets them apart, but that’s not the case here. Though, this might be the first time I’ve seen Red Bull on a ballpark menu. For $6, no less. Pardon?

The ballpark’s souvenir store is small, but has great prices. In fact, the deals were as good as I’ve seen anywhere. The team’s New Era, on-field caps are just $20, for instance. And shirts and so on don’t require you to sign over your firstborn. Here’s the outside of the store …

… and here’s the inside:

A super neat feature behind the first base line is the team’s booster club. During my visit (and likely all the time), the club was selling game-used, cracked, autographed bats for $15. Like the team store, this is the best price I’ve ever seen. There was a giant selection …

… but when I went to buy one in the second inning, the kiosk was gone. So, if you’re interested in something from the booster club, do it early, I guess.

I then walked down the third base line and watched the Winston-Salem Dash stretch …

… and warm up. Here’s starting pitcher Joseph Serafin throwing:

For a small park, Pfitzner Stadium has a decent scoreboard:

Here’s a look at the whole facility from the third base line bleachers:

Take a look at the home dugout. I think it’s the smallest I’ve ever seen; check how there are two rows of benches:

When the game began, I took a spot in the bleachers down the first base line and had the whole section to myself:

Between innings, I climbed up to the top of the section and something white caught my eye:

Yep, a batting practice ball stuck in the bleachers. Typically, you’d think balls hit here would fall through, but this one didn’t. And except for a few flakes of dirt, it was in perfect condition:

One of the best things about small parks is how close you can get to the players. Here, the bullpens are down the lines, and Potomac’s relievers were as fan friendly as I’ve seen. There seemed to be a great rapport between fans and players, which was neat to see. I watched part of an inning from here …

… then took another walk through the ballpark. I noticed a board tracking the progress of former Potomac players:

Another neat feature about Pfitzner Stadium is the standing room gate right beside the home dugout. If you can get a spot here, you’re extremely close to the field and have a perfect view:

Here’s a panorama of the field from behind home plate …

… in front of a modest pressbox area:

Don’t get me wrong, this ballpark isn’t horrible. It’s just not that exciting. The design is uninspiring, the atmosphere the night I visited was non existent (though I realize that can change from game to game) and the expensive parking, inability to go behind the fence and bland menu just left me with a “blah” feeling. I can see it being good if you’re a fan of the team, but if you’re just an average baseball fan, there might not be much here to excite you.

Baltimore Orioles – June 30

Because I’ve already blogged about Camden Yards, I’m not going to go overboard with this post. That said, my second Baltimore Orioles game in as many days was great. I really like this ballpark. It’s a ballpark, not a stadium, so it’s got a great feel to it. While it’s huge, it still has a “ballpark-y” feel, which is the type of place I enjoy.

I bought another $10 ticket before the game (Actually, I bought this one at the time of my 11 a.m. tour earlier in the day so that I wouldn’t have to wait in line at the ticket office prior to the gates opening):

Today was J.J. Hardy T-shirt giveaway day, so the lines outside the stadium were longer than usual. That said, I was still fairly close to the start of the line, so I had no problem getting a T-shirt:

I was glad to get into the ballpark today to find some shade. I’d been walking around the inner harbor for the last several hours, and it was extremely hot. Instead of spending time in the outfield during BP, I decided to go get a cold drink and hang out in the shade. On my way to one of the lounges off Eutaw Street, I saw an autograph booth. The three guys signing in about 30 minutes were Ron Hansen, Tippy Martinez and Jimmy Williams:

As much as I love autographs, I wasn’t too familiar with these guys, so I decided to forgo the line. After cooling off with a drink (and eating two cups of ice), I went down to the first base side and watched BP from up in the shade:

I then made a long, slow lap of the stadium and made it all the way back to Boog’s BBQ on Eutaw Street. A day earlier, I had a great BBQ sandwich for dinner, so I was going to repeat the process again. But as soon as I got into line, I saw Boog Powell was signing autographs for fans! He often does, from what I’ve read, so I asked him to sign a ball and I got a photo with him:

(I’ll photograph and blog about the ball at a later date. His autograph is a cool addition to a number of neat souvenirs I’ve picked up during my travels for The Ballpark Guide.)

This time, I got the pork sandwich, and while I preferred yesterday’s turkey, it was still good:

I ate my sandwich up in the stands behind right field, which allowed me to take a photo of the scene down Eutaw Street. I think the following picture gives you a good idea of the area:

After eating, I moved over to the upper deck down the third base line, where I could keep an eye on the out-of-town scoreboard to see how the Jays were doing. Losing to the Pirates? What’s the world coming to?

I spent the game’s late innings in center field, with this view …

… then went behind home plate and got this action photo of Alfredo Simon dealing to David Freese:

Despite a comeback attempt by the O’s, they lost again and I went back to my hotel to enjoy the view once again. Remember how I said the cleaning staff worked until at least 3 a.m. after the previous night’s game? Well, they were (obviously) at it again, and this time I got a photo:

The following morning, I’d head for the D.C. area, but not without a bit of sadness. My two days in Baltimore were even better and I’d expected — a great ballpark, amazing sights and lots to see and do. I’ll definitely be back.

Baltimore Orioles – June 29

I’ve wanted to go to Camden Yards for a game since I watched the 1993 All-Star Game and saw what a perfect-looking ballpark it was.

And on June 29, after driving up from Salisbury, MD, I was here for my first Baltimore Orioles game.

A lot can be said about Orioles Park at Camden Yards (the ballpark’s official name). It set the standard for present-day facilities, giving fans modern amenities and conveniences with a tip of the hat to the parks of yesteryear. Instead of building a giant cement mound and filling it with seats, the architects on this project took time to use the area’s existing environment and features of some of the game’s greatest historical parks to build Camden Yards.

I love staying at hotels with views of the ballpark I’m visiting. I did so last fall during my trip to see the New Hampshire Fisher Cats. For this trip, I booked two nights in a field-facing room in the Hilton Baltimore, which looks directly out onto the field.

After checking in around 2 p.m., I went up to my room, looked out the window and saw that some guys were already throwing:

And here’s a panorama looking out from my 17th floor room:

I knew I could get into the ballpark at 5 p.m. for the night’s game against St. Louis, so that gave me a few hours to explore before getting in. I took a few prerequisite shots in the area of Eutaw Street. Here are the Sports Legends Museum and the famous Babe Ruth statue:

I also looked around the pavilion at the end of the Eutaw Street, which features statues of the Orioles retired numbers. Here’s the #8 of Cal Ripken, Jr.:

I bought a ticket in the upper deck …

… and set out to walk around the ballpark:

After touring around, I went down to Baltimore’s Inner Harbor area to check it out. There are a ton of sights to see in this area, which is a big tourist spot. No visit to Baltimore is complete without a stop here, but make sure you book yourself considerable time.

Back at the Eutaw Street gate, there was a small group of people waiting for the 5 p.m. gate opening:

The line moved quickly, and soon I was in.

I took an immediate right turn and went down into the center field stands for batting practice. Normally, I’d spend the entire BP in this area hoping to catch a ball. But I’ve gathered 25 balls, give or take, so far this trip and I felt like walking around more to see the sights. Before heading back to Eutaw Street, I took this panorama during BP:

Eutaw Street is full of things to see and do. There’s the Orioles team shop, numerous concession stands and historical information such as the Orioles Hall of Fame:

There are a couple key concession spot to hit — Boog’s BBQ and the Jack Daniels stand. Look at the chickens grilling at the latter:

My next stop was the flag court, which is full of fans both during BP and once the game begins:

I also took a quick walk through the very expensive team shop:

Once the inner gates opened 30 minutes after Eutaw Street opened up, I decided to go down to field level and watch the Cardinals hit from close up. Here are a couple guys who were watching:

Of course, that’s St. Louis hitting coach Mark McGwire and manager Tony La Russa. I’d really hoped to see Albert Pujols on this trip, but since he was injured a few weeks back, he wasn’t around. It was neat, however, to see the Major Leaguers up close. Here’s Skip Schumaker:

After BP wrapped up, I went back into the concourse and saw a number of neat things, such as a silent auction:

Lots of historical information (I’m too young to remember when the O’s were actually good, but they do have quite a history):

And a signed Michael Jordan Birmingham Barons jersey available for a cool $2,500:

I went back to the stands around 6:30 p.m. to watch some guys warm up. Here’s Vladimir Guerrero:

And Derrek Lee and J.J. Hardy:

Before first pitch, I found a spot along the wall in the flag court and took up a spot with this view:

Then, an inning later, went up into the stands behind the right field foul pole after I’d made a quick stop at Boog’s BBQ to get a BBQ turkey sandwich:

It was amazing. I cringe at spending $10 on a sandwich, but it did contain lots of meat and the taste was great. You can add onions, sauces and horseradish, too. The horseradish, I soon found out, is killer.

After eating, I went back into the concourse took walk around a bit. Here, I saw the banners for the O’s six HOFers — Frank Robinson, Brooks Robinson, Earl Weaver, Jim Palmer, Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken, Jr.:

I then climbed to the upper deck and saw M&T Bank Field, home of the Ravens …

… and the O’s player parking lot:

With another climb, I was up to the top of the upper deck in the right field corner, where I had this view:

Check out the scoreboard. Isn’t it awesome? It’s got a modern screen but the use of the iron beams gives it a historic feel:

I then went closer to the home plate area to take this panorama:

Eventually, I made my way to center field, where both teams’ bullpens are located. From up high, here’s the Cardinals bullpen:

And remember when I was in the flag court earlier? Here’s a bird’s-eye view of it:

Soon, I climbed back down to the main level. It’s a good thing I do all this walking on my baseball road trips to help offset all the ballpark food I eat. I sat along the first base line with this view:

And watched a masterful performance by Cards starter Chris Carpenter:

Carpenter went the distance, throwing 131 pitches to get the 5-1 win. The final pitch hit 95 mph on the gun, too. Here’s his pitch count:

After the game, while other people were stuck in traffic or waiting for public transit, I walked about one minute and was back in my hotel. When I got up to my room, I took a panorama of the ballpark:

A while later, some of the lighting was cut out and here’s what the scene was:

Here’s something that may interest only me, but is worth sharing. We go to games, eat, make a mess, then leave. We don’t really think about how much work goes into cleaning up the ballpark, but we expect it to be clean when we arrive the following day. That said, I watched Camden Yards on and off through the evening, and despite the lights being dimmed, there was plenty of work that went on. I watched the grounds crew watering the infield and the cleaning staff meticulously going row by row to pick up garbage, then pressure wash the entire stadium.

I finally went to bed around 3 a.m., and the crew was still at work! I don’t know how long they stayed, but that was a full five hour after the conclusion of the game. I’m impressed. We should all be thankful about how much hard work goes into the upkeep of such a great facility.

Delmarva Shorebirds – June 28

Getting to Salisbury, MD from Hagerstown took three hours and provided plenty of picturesque scenery, including a drive over the enormous Bay Bridge at Annapolis. Because I’d spent time blogging on the morning of June 28, I didn’t leave until nearly noon so I arrived about 3 p.m. for the 7 p.m. game.

Though based in Salisbury, the Shorebirds are known as “Delmarva,” which stands for Delaware, Maryland, Virginia. They play in the Single-A South Atlantic League, as did the team I watched a day earlier, the Hagerstown Suns. To read about that game, and my pursuit of getting Bryce Harper’s autograph, click here.

I checked out Delmarva’s Arthur W. Perdue Stadium on Google Maps, and it looked as though there was lots of open space beyond the outfield fence. So, as usual, I decided to go about an hour before the gates opened and see if I could get a ball during batting practice.

Here’s what the area looks like:

And here’s what I found about a minute after getting there:

It was like shooting fish in a barrel. Within a minute or two, I had three balls …

… and kept finding them about as fast as possible. In 10 minutes, I had 10 total, despite not actually witnessing a single one come over the fence. To make a long story short, I finished with an even 12, which is the most I’ve ever got in one game. With the gates about to open, I hurried around to the front of the stadium and took a peek at the players’ lot:

(I could do an entire post on the rims of Minor League Baseball players). Then, photographed the front of the stadium …

… and got my ticket:

There weren’t a ton of fans waiting to get in, so the concourse was very open at 6 p.m.:

The Shorebirds have an impressive alumni list, and their banners are displayed throughout the concourse. Here’s the pre-caveman look Jayson Werth:

This is a look from the third base side …

and here’s one from the right field corner:

I spent a bit of time in the air conditioned team shop, as I was dying from the heat after being in the full sun during BP:

Then, went to watch some players sign autographs around the Shorebirds third base-side dugout:

Arthur W. Perdue has a giant, multi-level picnic deck for groups along the first base line:

There wasn’t any group in this section the entire game, so it remained closed. Often, these groups areas are great places to sit and watch, but are routinely empty or nearly empty. I think it’d be neat if the team opened them to all the fans in the event there isn’t a group. When there’s a group that’s bought space here, by all means, block it off from the rest of the fans. But it wouldn’t hurt anyone to allow the average person to enjoy the game here, too.

Around this time, I met a longtime season ticket holder who was friendly enough to give me some tips about the stadium. We talked about baseball for a while, and I went to visit the Maryland Eastern Shore Baseball Hall of Fame, which is inside the stadium. I didn’t end up staying long, but if you ever take in a Shorebirds game, give yourself plenty of time to check out the museum. It’s amazing. It focuses on ball players from the area, and there’s a ton of historic memorabilia:

Upon the season ticket holder’s advice I went up to the club level, which has a good concession stand and a place to watch the game:

This is my view from up here:

I checked out the first few innings of action, capturing this shot of Mike Flacco. He’s Delmarva’s cleanup hitter and the brother of Baltimore Ravens QB Joe:

I then went back down to the main concourse where I got a chicken tender basket, which was a big mistake. I should’ve tried the “better” food up top, but that’ll be on the list for next visit. The chicken was all right, I suppose, but pretty dry and there was no sauce that I could find:

I spent a little time down the third base line with this view:

In the ninth inning, I decided to duck out to see if there was a chance of finding the home run ball hit by Jeremy Nowak in the second inning. It was highly unlikely, but I thought I’d take five minutes to walk around behind the left field fence and see for myself. Here’s what I saw:

Yep, there it was! I picked it up and had the first-ever home run ball in my collection:

All in all, a very good day: A great drive to this area, which is close to the ocean, 13 balls, and a nice stadium to tour.

When I got back to my hotel, I was regretting not checking to see if the home run was significant for Nowak. So, I took a look at the box score and saw that it was his first career HR at the SAL level. He began the season in the New York-Penn League, where he had two, but was called up to Delmarva and the home run came in just his fourth game. Had I known this while still at the ballpark, I would’ve got in touch with the team and asked if he wanted the ball back. I missed out on an opportunity, but sent the team a message on Twitter afterward, so hopefully, I’ll hear back.

As much as I’m excited to have my first career HR ball, if getting the ball back would mean something to Nowak, I’d be happy to do it.

Hagerstown Suns – June 27

Harpermania, otherwise known as my visit to see the Hagerstown Suns, began about 2 p.m. on June 27. I’d been in my hotel all morning and was getting a little stir-crazy. So, I decided to go out and grab some lunch, then check out Municipal Stadium, home of the Suns. I didn’t expect to see much going on five hours before first pitch, but I wondered if I’d be able to find a ball beyond the outfield fence.

So far, I’ve managed 12 balls in four games, and wanted that streak to continue. More importantly, however, this would be my first game in the South Atlantic League, and I really wanted a SAL ball to add to my collection of balls from different leagues as I continue to hit different leagues through my travels for The Ballpark Guide.

Getting a ball in this manner, however, would prove impossible. Beyond the outfield fence at Municipal Stadium stands a giant fence that would be tough to clear. Now, I’m sure Harper can do it in BP, but it wouldn’t be an easy task. Here’s the fence:

So, no balls. I took another brief look around and headed back to my hotel to wait for a couple more hours.

About 5 p.m., I returned to the ballpark and went back behind the fence, where I noticed this:

It was an old, scuffed ball with part of its leather missing. I didn’t bother picking it up, nor did I find any other balls back here.

Here’s another shot of the fence that shows just how high it is:

There’s a road just beyond the fence, which is likely the reason for a fence so tall. I found a gate in right field that was open enough to watch batting practice from afar:

There was a ball laying near the fence post, and while I really wanted one, it was a little risky to walk in and get it. After a few minutes of watching with about 10 other fans, a stadium guy who took his job way too seriously came and closed the gate on us, saying, “Show’s over.” I watched for a few minutes longer through the fence (strictly out of principle), then turned to the coolest attraction in the area:

Want to guess who it belongs to? Yep, it’s Harper’s truck. I saw this truck parked discretely (as if the thing could ever be discrete) behind the grounds crew’s hut. The other players all parked in the lot in front of the stadium, but Harper gets hounded so much that he obviously parks back here.

I should note that once I saw this truck (and confirmed it was Harper’s due to its Nevada plates), I was unsure about posting these photos. I didn’t want to infringe on his privacy and show everyone what he’s driving. I Googled “Bryce Harper truck” and there are news stories, blogs, YouTube clips and all sorts of stuff online, including photos, about his truck. So, it’s not as though I’m breaking new ground here.

All that said, look at this bad boy:

By the way, it’s a 2011 Toyota Tundra completely customized.

Eventually, I returned back to the front of the stadium and took a parking lot panorama …

… then bought my ticket:

There were still about 30 minutes to go before the gates opened, so I lined up and waited. Season ticket holders get in 15 minutes before the rest of the crowd, and you should’ve seen the hubbub it caused. I mean, it’s like this in most stadiums, but people are so bitter. There was a solid 15 minutes’ worth of grumbling, complaining and questioning from the time the gates opened for the season ticket holders. Old lady behind me kept asking rhetorical questions, including, “Why can’t they just let everyone in early?”

I turned around: “It’s a matter of insurance. If you go in before you’re allowed, and hurt yourself, the team might not be insured because fans weren’t supposed to be there.” It’s the same reason you can’t go into the bank five minutes early. Rules are rules.

Anyway, bitter, annoying people aside, the gates did indeed open when they were supposed to, and I went in. Normally, I take a quick tour to get my bearings, but this time, I wanted to get straight to the Suns clubhouse area to try to get Harper to sign something. Not that this idea was original — everyone else went for it, too.

I was in a good position, or so I thought, to get an autograph. Over the next 30 minutes, players from both sides (the Suns were playing the Lakewood Blueclaws, the Phillies’ affiliate) came out and signed some autographs. No Harper. People were getting agitated. Here’s where I was standing:

The players come out of the clubhouses on the right and make their way past you to the dugouts.

As much as people wanted Harper, there was an equal enthusiasm for the Suns’ starter, who was Hagerstown on a rehab start. Who was it? None other than former Yankee Chien-Ming Wang. This was his first appearance in the Washington Nationals organization since joining the franchise, and people were ecstatic. There was a sizable Taiwanese media contingent and a ton of fans who’d flown from Taiwan. I asked a couple how long it took, and they said 24 hours. Being a rehab start, Wang was scheduled to pitch just three innings — talk about dedicated fans!

Soon, Wang came out to stretch …

… and his fan club took photos while being photographed by Taiwanese media:

By about 6:40 p.m., almost all of the players were out on the field, and stretched up:

Wang started to toss under the watchful eye of the media:

And still, no Harper.

Time out:

Here’s what I hate about autograph collectors: They make life a living hell for guys like Harper. Yes, the kid is a public figure, and yes, he has an obligation to his fans. But you know a huge percentage of the autographs he signs are going on eBay within 24 hours, and he knows it, too. “But he’s a millionaire,” people say, “Why should he care?” Would you want someone profiting off your name without being compensated for it?

The longer Harper didn’t appear, the more angry people became. A minute earlier, they would’ve hand-cleaned his jockstrap for a signature, calling him “Mr. Harper” and “sir” while they did it. Now, it was, “Who does he think he is, staying in the clubhouse?” He’s staying there to keep the heck away from you vultures!

(And before you lump me in with these people, hear me out: I don’t sell autographs and I am polite. I say please and thank you, and if a guy doesn’t sign for me, I don’t start hating him. Sure, I’d love a Harper autograph, but if he doesn’t sign, my world’s not going to end.)

One final rant about this: People have elaborate schemes to get him to sign. Many use their kids. I heard one guy telling his five year old how he’d buy the kid the “biggest ice cream ever” if the kid could get Harper to sign. Others drop items at the player’s feet so he’ll pick them up. Others justify their actions, saying, “He asked for this life.” Freaking brutal, people.

I guess, all this to say I feel bad for Harper and those like him. He’s a prodigious talent and has been in an intense spotlight since he was a kid. Wouldn’t you think that in his first year of pro ball, he’d rather be out stretching and playing catch with his teammates? Instead, he’s hiding in the clubhouse until the last possible second. Sad.

Time in:

At 7 p.m., Harper emerged and the crowd went bananas. Here’s my first look at him:

He walked right by me …

… and signed for a handful of people down the line. I scrambled to get near him, but wasn’t able to get close enough. I did get close enough, however, for a nice picture:

After signing maybe 25-30 autographs, he went into the dugout and the crowd dispersed. I took this opportunity to go check out Municipal Stadium’s team shop.

There were overpriced Harper T-shirts and jerseys. T-shirts cost $27, which seems a little much for a Single-A shirt, and jerseys were $200! (I didn’t see one single person in the crowd wearing a jersey.)

When the game begun, I walked around to a picnic area down the third base line and looked back at the Suns dugout to see Harper:

Here’s a panorama from the area:

So far, I hadn’t done well with my two goals for the game: Get an SAL ball and get Harper’s signature. I decided to see what I could do about goal #1 by taking a quick look around the picnic deck, which had lots of places a ball could be trapped. About five seconds after starting to look, here’s what I saw:

Woo hoo!

It’s an Official South Atlantic League ball, and the first such ball in my collection:

So far, my collection includes balls from the Major Leagues, Eastern League, Midwest League, International League, New York-Penn League and now the South Atlantic League. I couldn’t be more excited!

I sat in a few different areas throughout the game, and despite Municipal Stadium being one of the oldest ballparks I’ve attended in a while, it was neat. There are some drawbacks, but lots of perks, too. The menu looked impressive, with a wide range of items. I decided to skip a meal, however, as the thought of another consecutive day of ballpark food wasn’t really appealing.

Here’s a panorama I took from behind home plate:

Wang’s Taiwan contingent remained faithful throughout the game …

… and even gathered in the parking lot late in the game in the hopes of meeting him.

After the game wrapped up, I waited with other fans along the first base-side fence, hoping that Harper would sign more autographs. Somehow, he pulled a total disappearing act; none of us saw him walk by, but pretty soon, the field and dugout were completely empty. Obviously, there’s no tunnel connecting the dugout and clubhouse, so he either left way early (and none of us noticed) or he hunkered down in the dugout, out of sight, until everyone left.

Anyway, when it was clear he wasn’t going to walk by, I went out into the parking lot and milled around the entrance to the stadium, where the Taiwanese fans were hoping to see Wang. I waited maybe 10 minutes, and a staff member walked by and told he Wang wouldn’t come out through this door.

I figured I’d just head back to my hotel for the night, but then had a better idea.

Then I had the thought of going back to the rear parking lot to see if Harper would sign. I decided that if there were others there, I’d wait with them. If no one was there, I’d let Harper be. There was just one guy standing around with his daughter, so I waited to see what would happen. Maybe 20 minutes later, or about 40 minutes after the game ended, the rear door opened and a clubhouse attendant stuck his head out. “Sorry, guys, he’s not signing tonight,” he told us. Harper emerged a second later and it was cool to see him so close.

He went straight to his truck and met with a couple buddies for a minute. Then, one of the guys said, “I’ll let you sign for these guys and then they can go on their way,” and Harper nodded.

He signed a pair of autographs for the first guy, then I asked if he would mind signing a ball for me. He nodded again. I didn’t want to look like a professional autograph seeker, so I asked if he’d make the ball out to me. I spelled my name for him and told him I’d come all the way from Canada.

“Cool. Thanks for coming,” he said, and handed my newly signed ball back to me.

WOW!

He was really polite — quiet, but polite. People rag on him for having a supposed attitude. I read an interview with his dad, who said he taught all his kids to “be like John Wayne on the baseball field,” and that’s what Harper is. Call it what you want; he’s immensely talented and confident in his skills. Don’t forget he’s only 18, too. That’s what people forget when they criticize people younger than them.

Getting his autograph made my day, and is the highlight of my trip thus far. I liked what I read about this kid when I first read that Sports Illustrated cover article two years ago, and now I’m an even bigger fan.

Thanks, Bryce, for taking the time to sign and best of luck in your career. Don’t let the idiots who complain about you get you down.

Oh, and here’s the ball:

Bowie Baysox – June 26

After a great experience at Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen, it was time to take a step up the Baltimore Orioles organizational food chain with a stop in Bowie, MD. Pronounced “Boowie,” this team is called the Baysox, plays at Prince George’s Stadium and is the AA affiliate of the Orioles. They play in the Eastern League, and this is the fourth Eastern League ballpark I’ve visited. (I should hit five more later this summer.)

As great as baseball road trips are, I’ve found in the past it’s easy to experience a bit of a letdown three or four days in. There’s lots of driving, lots of ballpark food and late nights. Sometimes, all this can combine to make you feel a little lethargic, and I was determined not to have that happen in Bowie.

I found the stadium easily, parked for free and took a quick shot of the front:

Then, I took my usual walk behind the outfield fence to try to find a ball. Up to this point, I’d gotten at least one ball in each of my three games and 10 total. It’d be nice to keep that streak intact for a few days longer.

On my way back, I could see the action on the field:

I stopped briefly to take a shot of the players’ lot:

Then, quickly found two balls; an Eastern League one and an MLB one:

Further searching yielded nothing, so I returned to the front of the stadium, took this photo and bought my ticket:

The pavilion in front of the ballpark was pretty crowded. Why? Because it was a team signing day; everyone but the starting pitcher was set up at tables throughout the concourse, and you could walk from table to table to get autographs. Pretty cool. Here’s what it looked like:

This is another reason I love Minor League Baseball. If this type of promotion happened in the Bigs, the place would be bonkers. You’d get about two autographs in an hour, and spend the rest of the time crammed in line and being jostled by annoying, middle-aged men trying to get autographs to sell on eBay. Here, you get the chance to talk to the players if you like, line up for about 15 seconds per guy, and move on. It’s perfect.

I got the entire team (except the starting pitcher) on a ball, which I’ll photograph and blog about at a later date. The guys were pretty friendly, especially manager Gary Kendall, who I talked to for a few minutes. I was wearing my Aberdeen IronBirds cap, and he managed the IronBirds over the last few seasons, so we talked about that. The team also has former Big Leaguers Denny Hocking and Einar Diaz as coaches.

After the signing, I went out onto the field, which was open for fans until 45 minutes before first pitch. This is the second field I’ve been on this summer; the first was in Erie, another Eastern League team. Fans were playing catch and it was neat to walk around out there:

Just before the time was up, I went back up to get a shot of the crowded playing surface:

With some time to kill before first pitch, I took in the various sights of the stadium, including a kids’ play area, complete with inflatable games and a merry-go-round:

Today’s opponent was the Binghamton Mets, a team I’ll see on the last day of this current road trip. A few of the guys were signing and others were warming up, so I went to check it out. This is Allan Dykstra (no relation to Lennie):

And this is Jordany Valdespin. I’m pleased with how this photo turned out:

Finally, here’s manager Wally Backman, who played for the Mets in the 1980s:

Today’s weather was hot and sunny, so I wanted to stay in the shade as much as possible. There isn’t a ton of it at Prince George’s Stadium, but I found a covered picnic area down the third base line. It was mostly empty, and I just sat on a table with a good view of the action:

After a while, I took a wander back around the ballpark to watch from behind home plate:

It was after 3 p.m., and I still hadn’t had lunch. Don’t get me wrong — ballpark food is cool. But after eating it daily for a few days, you get to start dreading it. A lot of it’s tasty, but most of it so heavy that it gets a bit gross after a while. That said, I was curious about the cheese-stuffed, Old Bay-covered pretzel. I love Old Bay seasoning, and in prime seafood territory, it was cool they used the seasoning even without seafood. I’m happy to report this was a tasty snack:

The sun started to subside around the fifth inning, so I went down to field level and found a spot down the third base line with this view:

Once there, I just relaxed and watched the game. I’d made good notes for my website earlier, as the gates opened 1.5 hours before first pitch because of the autograph signing. As a result, I had a lot of time to just enjoy some baseball, which is exactly what I did. After the game, kids and parents were allowed to run the bases, though I resisted the temptation.

I took one last look around the stadium, noting a neat feature. The press box area is open, and relatively low to the field. As there’s no window protecting it, the wall in front of the desks has seen some damage from foul balls:

A unique touch!

Right after the game, I made the drive north to Hagerstown, MD. I didn’t have a game planned until the following day, when I’d head to Municipal Stadium to catch teen phenom Bryce Harper!

Harrisburg Senators – June 24

Day #2 of my 12-game, 12-day baseball road trip for The Ballpark Guide put me in Harrisburg, PA on June 24. Harrisburg’s AA team, the Senators, plays in the Eastern League and is notable as being the starting point for Stephen Strasburg’s pro career last season.

When I got to town, I found my hotel and waited to head over to the ballpark. Metro Bank Park is actually on an island called City Island. It’s close to the Pennsylvania State Capitol so it’s an interesting drive.

The game was set for 7 p.m., but when I arrived around 5 p.m., the parking lot was partly full and people were everywhere. Did I miss something? Did the game’s start time get bumped up?

No and no. It turns out that in addition to hosting baseball, City Island has a ton of other things to see and do. Before the ballpark’s gates open, you can check out such attractions as batting cages, a miniature train ride, mini-putt, kayak rentals, arcades and a merry-go-round.

I could hear one of the teams hitting, so I headed beyond the outfield fence and tried to find some balls. There’s a boardwalk that runs around the perimeter of the stadium, and while lots of balls were home runs, they were hitting the boardwalk or a fence and staying in the park. I walked under the bleachers and peeked through at the field …

… (creeping this player out in the process, I think) but there were no balls.

Without having any luck, I went back to the area beyond a small parking lot where I could stand back and watch for balls. Here was my view:

I figured that if a ball came out, I’d be able to see it and track it down quickly. And that’s exactly what happened about five minutes later:

The ball was majorly scuffed, but it was my second ball in two games on this trip, so I was happy.

When BP wrapped up, I went to buy my ticket …

… and as the gates were still 20 minutes from opening, took a walk around the park in the other direction:

See the rails? That’s for the miniature train you can ride.

I paused to appreciate the Senators’ physical location:

And just as I got back to the main gate, it was open and people were streaming in. Tonight was the team’s flatscreen TV giveaway. Yes, you read that correctly. Wild, right? The team does this promotion every Friday night, and one TV is given away every inning. The main concourse was crowded as people filled out ballots and jammed them into boxes. I waded through the crowd and headed down the boardwalk a bit. Here’s a view from the third base side, looking back toward the main gate:

Instantly, I could tell this facility was beautiful and well cared for. There were so many things to take in that it was hard to decide where to go first. I took this quick panorama from the center field area:

And started to note all the great features at Metro Bank Park. Below is the boardwalk, which stretches around the entire stadium except for a paved area behind the right field corner. This particular shot is taken behind the batter’s eye. I bet I made more than 10 complete laps of the stadium from the time the gates opened, and the funny thing is, other people were, too. I’d routinely pass people I’d seen earlier, so it’s obvious this ballpark feature is well used.

Metro Bank Park has a great seating option — a bar around most of the outfield with bar stools. They’re assigned, but if you happen across an open one, it’s a perfect place to sit and watch the action:

I went into the right field corner and because the field-level gate was open, took a panorama from this spot:

If you visit this park, the first thing you need to do is walk its entire perimeter. When you do, you’ll get an appreciation for just how much is in here. Even under the home plate grandstand, you can find a ton of concession stands and other things to see. This random area is for groups and features a stage:

In my travels behind the stadium, I came across Harrisburg’s clubhouse:

Back up top, I marveled at the quality of the image on Metro Bank Park’s scoreboard:

Remember the bar stools I mentioned earlier? Here’s what they look like above left field:

The bar stools are a great place to sit, but one of the neatest seating sections I’ve ever seen is the field-level boxes along the third base line. They’re reserved for groups, and they’re adjacent to the visiting team’s dugout:

The kids’ play zone is under the boardwalk along the third base line, directly behind the field-level boxes:

After checking out that area of the stadium, I wandered back to the right field area (I told you I did a lot of walking) and found a little something that must’ve been hit during BP:

I watched Harrisburg starter Brad Peacock warm up:

Notice that he’s got his eyes shut during delivery? Then, I went to the other bullpen to watch Altoona’s Jeff Locke getting ready:

When the game began, I headed to my seat, which was in the outfield just over the right-center fence. For the first time in a long time, I bought an all-you-can-eat ticket. Here’s the argument for it: The ticket itself cost $16. I could’ve bought a $10 ticket and eaten $10 of food, right? The $16 gets you as many hot dogs, sliders, peanuts, popcorn and ice cream sandwiches as you can eat. (There’s also a nicer all-you-can-eat section for $30, featuring salads, chicken, beef and more.) Anyway, I quickly polished off a couple dogs and took a quick shot of my popcorn and slider (my final food tally will be at the end of this post):

I spent the next couple innings in the Ollie’s Bargain Outlet Cheap Seats section, directly above left field. If any fan in this section catches a home run, she gets a gift certificate to Ollie’s:

Back to the all-you-can-eat area a short while later, I ate a tiny ice cream sandwich:

Size, of course, is irrelevant as you can eat 100 of them if you want.

The home run catch promotion in the Ollie’s section is pretty cool, but it pales in comparison to this guy’s seat:

Every game, a fan gets picked to sit in this beach chair for one inning. If he catches a home run, he wins $10,000! And speaking of giveaways, I still hadn’t won my free TV, but I’m sure it’d come later.

I soon made the trek behind home plate to take this panorama:

Metro Bank Park is the first ballpark I’ve seen that has a bar-style seating area for MLB scouts directly behind home plate; you can see that in the above shot.

Midway through the game, I went back to the left field area to check out the team store. It’s huge and very nicely done, and also gives you a nice, air-conditioned reprieve from the sun. There were lots of things to consider, including a selection of game-used bats, jerseys and warm-up jackets. I opted for a Harrisburg cap, as I’ve always liked the logo:

I spent innings seven and eight in the Ollie’s section again. In the seventh, Altoona manager P.J. Forbes went bonkers over a call and got himself ejected. He was pretty wild, too. The following series of photos aren’t great, as I was so far away, but hopefully they give you an idea of what happened:

As darkness fell, the stadium was invaded by mayflies. I have to give the Senators credit, though. Faced with a situation they can’t control, they have fun with it. They rate the night’s invasion with the Mayfly Meter, which is shown on the scoreboard. Tonight’s game ranked 5/10, but you can see that there were lots of the flying critters:

I don’t think I’d want to see what 10/10 looks like.

I spent the ninth inning in one of the field-level boxes, as it was now empty. It gave a perfect view of the field. As for the game, it was exciting but scoreless through nine innings. In the bottom of the 10th, however, pinch hitter Alex Valdez blasted a home run into the Harrisburg bullpen to give the Senators a walk-off win; an exciting end to an awesome experience.

I didn’t stick around for the fireworks display, but could see and hear them as I drove back to my hotel.

As for my food tally, here was the damage:

– 2 hot dogs

– 2 sliders

-2 bags of popcorn

– 1 bag of peanuts

– 1 ice cream sandwich

(I didn’t want to overdo it and feel miserable for the next day, so I kept things under control.)

Oh, and I didn’t win a TV.

Tomorrow, I’m off to Maryland to check out the New York-Penn League’s Aberdeen IronBirds.

Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees – June 23

Day one of my latest road trip for The Ballpark Guide began with loading the car and leaving my house before the crack of dawn. I had several hours to drive before reaching Moosic, PA, home of the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees. The Yankees play in the International League and are the AAA team of the … you guessed it, Yankees.

Unfortunately, the team’s website has next to no information about PNC Field, so I didn’t know much before I arrived. All I knew was that it was big, but the rest I’d have to learn for myself.

The drive through Pennsylvania was rain filled and I heard a flash flooding/heavy rainfall warning on the radio about an hour before I arrived in Moosic. I thought there’d be no possible way they’d play the game, but from the time I arrived in the parking lot, I didn’t see one single drop of rain.

Speaking of that parking lot, it’s different. Surprisingly, by International League standards, the team offers free parking, which is nice. The lot is huge and staffed by people who point you in the right direction, so parking was a breeze. This is my first look at PNC Field when I stepped out of my car:

And here’s a panorama shot from the parking lot:

Though it was about 1:40 before the game started, and an hour before the gates opened, there were lots of people around. Before buying my ticket, I decided to take a walk around behind the home run fence to see if the players were taking batting practice and if I could find a ball. When I made it around to the rear of the stadium, I could see players on the field but no BP screens:

The gate to the area immediately behind the fence was open, so I walked down the roadway and saw the turf the grounds crew uses to replace areas of the field:

I also took a few photos, including a panorama, through the opening in the center field wall:

Behind the fence, I found two balls. I left this one right where it sat:

And grabbed this one out of a puddle:

The one I kept may have been from a previous day’s BP, or it may have been hit in a recent game. The fact that it was still pretty white, and had only two scuffs, leads me to believe it’s a game ball. I checked the team’s box scores from the day before when I got back to the hotel, and saw that Yankees third baseman Brandon Laird hit a home run a day before my visit. He’s a righty, so I’m guessing he hit his shot to left, and that’s where I found the ball. Makes you wonder, anyway.

Soaking wet (and heavy) ball in hand, I made my way back up to the main pavilion area at the front of the stadium and bought my ticket. PNC Field has two seating decks, but the upper deck is closed on Monday through Friday. I bought a $14 ticket behind S/W-B’s dugout begrudgingly — seems like a little too much money for a Minor League ticket. (Recently, I sat about five rows behind the Detroit Tigers bullpen for the same price.)

PNC Field has a really cool feature to help occupy your time before the gates open. See the windows next to the box office in the photo below?

The glare of the glass makes photographing what’s beyond the windows difficult, but it’s the Yankees indoor batting cages. Several players were hitting, and it was neat to watch for a few minutes:

When the gates opened, I went in and checked out the concourse. The team gives out a free program in the main concourse and it’s pretty good. There are walkways to the left and right, and I was surprised at how dark they were:

After scouting out the hallways, I moved outside to take a panorama of the stadium from the right field corner:

The visiting team’s bullpen is in the right field corner, as is the indoor cage used by the visitors. I could see a Norfolk Tides (the affiliate of the Orioles, if you can’t tell) coach giving some tips to a player:

This is the visitors’ bullpen, which sort of has the appearance of a bar (a bar that only serves chewing tobacco, gum, sunflower seeds and Gatorade, I guess):

Remember the Yankees batting cage? The visiting teams hit in a trailer that doesn’t look quite as nice:

I headed back to the inside concourse, and noted a bunch of neat features. Just inside the front gate, a banner proudly displays the Yankees’ recent IL successes:

The day’s starting lineups are on an HD television, rather than written on a whiteboard as they are at many MiLB parks:

If you walk along the concourse down the third base line, you’ll see a gate to your left about halfway down:

This is the entrance to the Yankees batting cage and clubhouse. I took a couple pics of guys who were out in the hallway. I’m not sure who the first guy is, but he’s cleaning his cleats. The second is 6’10” pitcher Andrew Brackman, who was talking on the phone:

In this area, there’s a collage of images showing inside the Yankees clubhouse. Not bad, right?

Back outside again, I saw an elaborate group deck in the left field corner. The one in the right field corner is open to all fans, but this one is only for registered groups:

As I went to check it out, I noticed three balls sitting on the top of the LF fence (later, I’d notice six on the RF fence):

Though the upper deck was closed, I wanted to get up there and take a few shots of the stadium. I went back into the concourse and stopped briefly at the Yankees team shop:

I wasn’t really planning on getting anything, but the prices were, well, what you’d expect to pay at Yankee Stadium. $60 for a golf shirt? $75 for a sweatshirt? There was a sale, though … 15% off the $10 shot glasses. It’s interesting to see how things are priced across the Minor Leagues. You’d think there’d be some system of regulated pricing, but there isn’t. Teams charge what they want and it’s always interesting to see the prices.

Anyway, I went up to the upper deck and, given that the seats weren’t open, the area was deserted:

(Kind of reminds me of the 500s at Rogers Centre.)

Here’s the panorama I shot from up here:

I climbed back down again and set out to locate my seat. PNC Field’s lower deck isn’t as giant as the size of the stadium would dictate, so it’s got a nice, close-to-the-field feel:

I did, however, notice this sign on the walkway:

Really?

The teams soon came out to stretch …

… and I went to take a look at Legends, the sports bar behind the first base line. It’s open two hours before first pitch, and anyone can get in with a game ticket. I didn’t care about the food, but did want to see the memorabilia they have on display:

WOW! Autographed balls from Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia, Johnny Damon, Andy Pettitte, Jason Giambi, Goose Gossage, Graig Nettles and many, many more. There were also several game-used balls significant to the AAA team’s history, and such game-used artifacts as a Shelley Duncan hat and cleats, a Roger Clemens hat, Phil Hughes hat, Melky Cabrera jersey and more. It’s absolutely awesome and definitely worth visiting, even if you’re not planning to eat.

And this is what Legends itself looks like:

After visiting Legends, I went and found my seat. The pitching duel was between two guys with a decent amount of MLB experience — Greg Smith for the Yankees and Chris Tillman for the Tides. Here’s the latter:

Two innings later, I opted for a pair of hot dogs for lunch. There appeared to be more intriguing options, in the form of a number of Italian dishes, but they were more than I wanted to pay. The dogs themselves were good-sized, cost $3 and you could load them up:

I moved down the third base line a bit to get an area to myself, and took this panorama:

As you can see, PNC Field is set in a valley. It’s one of the most picturesque settings I’ve seen at a ballpark. Here’s another shot showing the rock cut behind the outfield fence:

I spent the next three or four innings in the front row down the first base side, and JUST missed a foul ball that caromed off the rolled-up tarp.

This area gave me a nice view, though. Here’s Terry Tiffee, in his first game with the Yankees. He signed a contract with them a day earlier, after beginning the season in independent ball:

For the last three innings, I moved to the deck in the right field corner, which wasn’t very crowded by this point. On my way there, I snapped a picture of the Tides bullpen:

Here’s the view from that deck:

It’s an awesome place to sit. Comfy, padded chairs, tables and a railing to rest your feet. It’s also covered, so it gives you a reprieve from the sun:

Up here, I was also privy to a funny exchange between the Yankees ball boy in the corner and the Tides bullpen. When a Tides reliever came into the game late, one of the Norfolk guys told the ball boy to run the reliever’s jacket in, which is what’s always done. The kid said he didn’t want to, and the bullpen got ALL OVER HIM. It was awesome. This kid has the best summer job a kid can have, and he’d rather just sit in the corner than do what he’s supposed to do. The bullpen didn’t let up, either. I bet the kid was glad when the game was over.

And 3:01 after first pitch, the game was indeed over. The Yankees put up 10 runs on 13 hits to win 10-5 in a game with lots of action. Here’s the final scoreboard:

After the game, I drove up the hill behind the stadium to capture it from above:

All in all, a great start to my current road trip. As I write this, I’m in my hotel in Scranton and will make the short drive to Harrisburg, PA this afternoon. The Harrisburg Senators are the AA affiliate of the Washington Nationals and, of course, I can’t wait to see what that ballpark has to offer.

Keep checking back regularly, as I’m blogging daily on this trip. Or, follow me on Twitter.

Erie SeaWolves – May 29

With the May 28 double bill between the Midwest League’s Lake County Captains and West Michigan Whitecaps in the books, I had one last stop of my first multi-game roadtrip of 2011: Erie.

Erie is home to the AA Eastern League’s SeaWolves, affiliate of the Detroit Tigers. Today, the SeaWolves (which is a slang term for ‘pirate,’ if you’re wondering) were hosting the Reading Phillies.

Though my trip was coming to a close, I was excited to see this game, particular for the opportunity to watch Erie’s starter Jacob Turner. If you don’t know him, he’s a former ninth overall draft pick who came into 2011 ranked #15 on MLB’s list of its 50 top prospects. His signing bonus, for those keeping score, was $5.5 million.

Anyway, I drove a couple hours from Cleveland to Erie (continuing to listen to people complain about LeBron on Ohio sports radio) and got to town a couple hours before the 1 p.m. game. Erie’s Jerry Uht Park is in downtown Erie, so there are a lot of parking options. I found a covered lot for $3 less than a block from the stadium:

Jerry Uht Park has one of the most nondescript entrances I’ve seen. Actually, I think it IS the most nondescript I’ve seen. I kept looking for a big sign with the stadium’s name, but there wasn’t one:

There was this guy, however, whose eyes are so big that he’s wearing ballcaps on each one:

I took a quick tour around the ballpark, noting the surrounding area is rather nondescript:

(That building behind the ballpark is Louis J. Tullio Arena, home of the Ontario Hockey League’s Erie Otters.)

With no stadium sign under which to photograph my ticket, I took my usual shot in front of the gates, and I think the guy to my right thinks I was photographing him:

When the gates opened, the first thing I noticed was the team shop. It’s not really a store — there’s a kiosk out in front of a cubby area, but there were some neat things for sale, including a bunch of game-used bats and jerseys. The SeaWolves were selling team warmup shirts (you know, the shirts with the small logo at the neck?) for $35, which is a good deal. I thought about buying one, as I haven’t seen a better price, but I wasn’t sure about wearing something with a pirate/wolf on it.

One of the neatest features at the stadium is the giant “The Road to the Show” board, which has the names of every SeaWolves player whose made it to the Big Leagues. There are a ton of recognizable names, including Justin Verlander and Curtis Granderson, plus newer Tigers such as Alex Avila and Brennan Boesch:

(Click on the image to bring up a huge version so you can see all the names.)

Jerry Uht Park is unique. Most of the concession stands and other booths and displays are in the concourse behind home plate, giving the area an exciting, happening feel.

Perhaps as a result, the third base side concourse can be dead at times:

At the end of the third base concourse is the fun zone, which has a variety of inflatable attractions:

And beside that kids area is a picnic section with a clear view of the field:

Though telling time isn’t difficult, I liked the team’s countdown to first pitch:

Unlike many MiLB parks, here you can venture beyond the outfield fence in left field and left-center to a cement concourse between the ball field and the hockey arena:

It’s a home run porch-type of area, but the only knock is that smoking is allowed, so you have that to contend with if you’re not a fan. And to get there, you have to go through the stadium’s smoking area, which is located in the left field corner (oddly, right next to Erie’s bullpen):

The ballpark has a great set of standings and stats posted behind home plate:

For the next little while, I took a wander around the stands looking at the different sites and checking out viewing angles. Down the first base line, there’s an elevator that allows people in wheelchairs to get to the field. Next to the elevator, I saw this:

A ball jammed against the fence! It was well out of my reach, and unlike last year’s excursion under the cover of darkness into the elevator in New Hampshire to retrieve a ball, I didn’t have to guts to go for this one. Sigh.

Nevertheless, I pressed on and climbed to the upper deck to take in the sight:

Up behind home plate, I took my usual panorama from this area:

When the SeaWolves came out to stretch, they were wearing pink jerseys that they’d auction off at the end of the game. I quickly made my way over to the home run porch area over the Erie bullpen to watch Turner throw:

When the game began, I found a front-row seat in an open section down the third base line. It was, I figured, prime foul ball-snagging territory. I was sitting right behind the Budweiser signs in this photo:

And in the top of the third inning, I was proved correct:

This ball was pitched by Turner and came off the bat of Reading catcher Tuffy Gosewisch. It’s in great condition, perhaps because Gosewisch led off the inning. It’s got one dirty area where it bounced in the dirt, but otherwise, it’s nearly pristine.

Having accomplished my mission of getting a ball here, I took another walk around, partly to get out of the intense sun in the area. I decided to take in a few innings from the home run porch after seeing third- and fourth-inning home runs blasted into this area. Up here, there’s a nice view of the field:

And here’s what my free SeaWolves cap looks like. The team was giving away these hats because it was anti-breast cancer day:

After a few innings of seeing nothing close to a home run, I relocated down the third base line to a lone row of seats behind the railing above the lower seating level. From here, I had a perfect view:

I had the opportunity to take some decent action shots in what ended up being an exciting game. Turner ended up with a no decision, but went seven strong and fanned eight Phillies. Though Erie led most of the game, the R-Phils scored two in the ninth the push the game to extras. But back to my photos for a second. Here’s Jordan Ellis:

And Chance Ruffin, who blew the save opportunity:

And Canadian Phillippe Aumont:

Aumont was part of the Cliff Lee deal, but struggled in his 0.2 innings of work. Still, I’m rooting for him because he’s Canadian! With Aumont on the mound in the bottom of the 10th, the SeaWolves got runners on the corners and walked off after a Adam Calderone single:

After the game, fans were invited onto the field to play catch:

I took the opportunity to go look for that ball over by the elevator, but it was gone. So, I took one last shot to prove that I was indeed on the field — look how perfect the grass is — then hopped back in the car and drove home.

One roadtrip down, three more to go!