Tagged: baseball roadtrips

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 ….

Fort Wayne TinCaps – May 27

In a word, awesome. That’s how I’d describe my May 27 visit to Fort Wayne, IN, to watch the Midwest League’s TinCaps take on the Great Lakes Loons at beautiful Parkview Field. A few days previous, I’d watched the Loons play at Dow Diamond, and had a great time.

My visit to Fort Wayne, however, was off the charts. No, I didn’t get any foul balls, and no, I didn’t chase players for autographs. My experience was even better.

I got to Fort Wayne in the evening after a morning Mud Hens game in Toledo, and the drive was awful. Heavy rainfalls and flooding meant huge delays and scenes like this one:

When I finally arrived at my hotel, I checked in, ate dinner and got some work done. The TinCaps weren’t playing that night, so I’d have to wait 24 hours. Twenty-four hours later, I drove 14 minutes from my hotel to downtown Fort Wayne, and found $3 parking a block away from Parkview Field. The TinCaps do parking the right way; parking at Minor League facilities shouldn’t cost a lot, so the team does graduated parking. If you want to park next to the stadium, it’ll cost you more than a spot, say, one minutes’ walk away. Smart.

Anyway, I parked in the cheapest lot and had a very short walk through a couple other lots until I reached the stadium:

When I got there, I saw the Loons’ bus parked beside a loading area:

Parkview Field has an amazing pavilion in front of it. On this day, the trees were decorated with pink ribbons as it was breast cancer awareness day at the park:

There’s a team store, The Orchard, located to the left of the main gates:

The ticket office is over to the right, and I walked up and bought one in section 106:

With 15 minutes until the gates opened, I had time to take my usual walk around the ballpark. The team’s offices are located along the left side of the facility, when eventually opens up into a ramp that vehicles use to access the field:

The main street beyond left field, West Jefferson Boulevard, has a couple fast-foot joints, and there’s a large pit just over the outfield fence:

Later, I learned that a building housing condominiums, retail and a gym will be going into this area as part of the stadium and city’s downtown face-lift efforts. Pretty nice. There’s another gate in center field, which has an open concourse area:

Eventually, I toured back to the home plate gate and waited for the gates to open. A super nice detail about Parkview Field is that the gates open 1:15 before game time. Virtually every other MiLB ballpark’s gates open one hour early, and by the time you get in, all the players are gone. When I got in, batting practice was still on, and some infield drills followed. When they did, I ran in and found a spot in right field to take a panorama during BP:

From my spot, I had a good view of the cage:

As I said, I didn’t get a ball, unfortunately. One bounced off the wall on the fly directly below me, but it was too low to reach. After BP wrapped up, I moved down to the first base-side bullpen area to watch infield drills and keep my fingers crossed that an errant ball would come my way. No luck again. I did, however, take a field-level panorama from the bullpen area:

Already, I could see that Parkview Field had a ton of places to sit. I love ballparks that have multiple seating options. I’ll often watch an inning or two from my actual seat, then watch the rest of the innings from different locations. As you can see in my first panorama above, there are large picnic areas down both base lines. These are reserved, but in the outfield, there are a ton of areas to sit and watch:

A subsequent walk around the concourse yielded lots of neat things to see, including, from top to bottom: TinCaps-themed garbage and recycling cans (nice to see a team with a green focus, as I’m a recycling freak); The Orchard and a giant Johnny Appleseed bobblehead (the real Johnny Appleseed is buried just outside Fort Wayne); the team’s 2009 Midwest League championship trophy and other assorted honors; and a giant kids’ play area in the left field corner, complete with a rock climbing wall:

Here’s a panorama from the left field corner that shows not only Parkview Field, but the other downtown developments that was part of the stadium package:

The beige structure on the left is a 249-room Courtyard by Marriott hotel and the brick building behind the scoreboard is a convention center and parking garage. Oh, and it’s got one of the coolest seating sections in the Minors, but we’ll get to that later.

There’s a catch to the large centerfield pavilion area. It’s more than just a place for kids to run around during the ballgame. At 7 a.m. daily, the stadium gates are opened and this area, as well as the entire concourse of the stadium, is used as a walking path for local walking groups. Talk about a community facility:

Pretty soon, the concourse started to fill up:

And I came across one of the neatest features I’ve seen at any ballpark. Along the first base concourse, there’s a batting cage that’s used by the players before the game and open to fans during the game. It’s encased with garage door-style roll-up doors, so my pictures weren’t perfect, but I hope you get the idea:

I got a photo when the teams came out for the national anthem:

(The TinCaps were wearing pink jerseys tonight.) I went behind home plate to take a panorama of the Caps warming up …

… and snapped a picture of some great, close-to-the-action seats:

Parkview Field has an impressive concessions menu, including barbecued turkey legs:

Their prices are also among the best I’ve seen, and I opted for a couple plain, ol’ hot dogs. I found a standing spot behind the fence in right-center, and started shooting the breeze with one of the TinCaps ushers. Actually, I found that numerous ushers were super friendly, but this usher and I had a great time talking about baseball and baseball roadtrips, and I told him about my website. My usher friend didn’t give me permission to use his name, so I’ll keep him anonymous, but it’s always great to meet another baseball fan with whom you can converse. I spent a few innings talking to him, and eventually he disappeared to make his rounds. When I was taking this picture …

… I felt someone come up and stand beside me. I thought it was just another fan, so I kept looking through my camera, then stopped and glanced over at him.

“Hi, I’m Mike. I’m the GM of the TinCaps. I heard about you and your website. Would you like a tour of Parkview Field?” he asked.

Uhh, yes!! (Double exclamation marks are seldom warranted, but they are here.)

My usher friend had tracked down GM Mike Nutter, told him about my site, told him where to find me, and in the middle of the game, he devoted a good half hour to touring me around privately. You can take guided, behind-the-scenes tours at plenty of MLB and MiLB facilities, but a private tour from the GM? This definitely goes down as a huge highlight of my trip.

He took me up behind home plate in the suite areas, which contain a giant dining room and all sorts of good food:

Then we went into a suite that was empty on this night, where I took this shot:

I should say, I’m not a suite guy. I like being down near the field and really experiencing the game. But these suites were a great combination of business and pleasure. You can open the sliding glass doors and sit in box seats in a private ledge area to enjoy the game. It doesn’t get any better.

Following the suite tour, it was through the pressbox and into the booth from which the team controls all aspects of the production of a game. The stadium announcer sits here, as do the guys who control the music, scoreboard and other aspects of the stadium. They were great, too, taking time in the middle of the game to talk to me about my website and my roadtrip.

Mike asked if I wanted to see the clubhouse, and I imagine you know my answer. We walked through the doors, which contain a warning to media and and breakdown of Minor League Baseball rule 6.02(d), which requires batters to keep one foot in the box throughout the entire at-bat. I imagine this is to encourage fast play and nip any future Nomars in the bud:

The clubhouse itself was amazing (and extra messy because the TinCaps had just returned from a roadtrip, Mike assured me):

Here’s a close-up to show the San Diego Padres duffel bags, the TinCaps chairs, the uniforms and the bats:

After the clubhouse, we saw the trainers’ room, the team lounge (complete with Guitar Hero) and a room in which the team eats its post-game meals. (Sorry, no photos of these.)

Remember the ultra-close seats just behind the on-deck circle? Our tour trumped these, and we watched part of an inning from the tunnel at the end of the TinCaps dugout:

Eventually, our tour took us to the convention center, which is the brick building beyond right field that houses that rooftop party deck reminiscent of Wrigley Field. This is a look back toward the field from the lobby of the conference center:

The seating area up there is called The Treetops, and it’s reserved groups only. Why? Because it’s all-you-can-eat up there, and the menu is impressive. Best of all, it changes every three innings!

If you’re keeping score, tonight’s fare was burgers and hot dogs, grilled chicken breasts and chicken wings, pulled pork and smoked rib tips and apple crisp for dessert. As sides dishes, you could eat as much as you wanted of Parmesan and cracked pepper potato chips, fresh fruit, baked beans with smoked pork, pasta salad, mac and cheese and soft drinks. Surely, a ticket in this section has to be one of the best tickets in the Minors.

Oh, and the view is perfect, too:

I thanked Mike for the tour after seeing The Treetops, and went and found my usher friend to thank him for setting it up. And, upon seeing that apple crisp was on the Treetops menu, set off to find some for myself. Because of the Johnny Appleseed connection, there’s an entire concession stand at Parkview Field dedicated to apples. Heck, you can even buy a plain ol’ apple here:

I, however, found my apple crisp to satisfy my sweet tooth, and enjoyed it in a TinCaps helmet cup:

After the game, I stuck around to watch the fireworks show …

… then headed back to my hotel after a very satisfying experience.

Thanks to Mike Nutter, my usher friend and all the TinCaps ushers and staff members I dealt with for a great time.

Toledo Mud Hens – May 26

The morning after the rainout between the Detroit Tigers and Tampa Bay Rays, I loaded my car and set my GPS for Toledo, OH. If you’re ever watching a Tigers game in Detroit, and have time to spare, I recommend checking out the Mud Hens. Toledo is less than an hour’s drive from D-Town, and their stadium, Fifth Third Field, is a nice place to watch a game.

After about 55 minutes of listening to sports talk radio hosts and callers complain about LeBron (I was in Ohio, after all), I arrived in downtown Toledo and easily found parking a block from the stadium for $5.

The game was slated to begin at 10:30 a.m., which is definitely the earliest game I’ve ever attended. Minor League teams have the occasional matinée on their schedules to accommodate school groups. For the record, I am not a big fan of going to school day games (read: shrieking kids, long lineups and more shrieking kids) but today’s game time was perfect. After the game, I’d have time to drive straight to Fort Wayne, IN, which was more than four hours away.

Anyway, there were already tons of school groups milling around in front of Fifth Third Field when I got there, but there were no lines at the box office as I bought my ticket:

When the gates opened at 9:30 a.m., I took a brief look at the team store before it got too crowded:

And took a walk down the concourse:

Here’s a look at Fifth Third Field from right field before it got too crowded:

This ballpark has several neat features, including a bar in the right field corner:

Cupholders along the outfield fence:

An ample-sized kids’ play area:

And a party deck area in right field:

Pretty soon, the Mud Hens came out to stretch and sign autographs. I didn’t even try to get close to the fence, as I would’ve had to trample a bunch of 6th graders:

The food at Fifth Third Field was pretty standard (more on that later) but one concession stand that did catch my eye was one offering baked goods:

There was a Snickers pie, chocolate tuxedo mousse, brownies, cookies, squares, tarts and all sorts of good stuff. Of course, diving into this at 9:45 a.m. wouldn’t result in anything positive, so I abstained.

The kids, however, were immediately into the soft drinks and cotton candy upon their entrance to the stadium. I definitely felt bad for the teachers and chaperons.

I fought my way behind home plate to take a panorama before it got too crowded:

And when the game was just beginning, I lined up forever to get a steak sandwich, fries and coleslaw. (For the record, this was the earliest I’ve ever eaten this meal.)

The sandwich itself is buried in this photo, but it tasted good.

I spent a handful of innings sitting on a picnic table in center field with this view:

For the rest of the game, I moved to the third base side and had a great view of the action:

For whatever reason, this game just didn’t do it for me. Sure, the screaming school kids didn’t help, but there wasn’t anything that really jumped out at me about this stadium. It’s a nice, clean, modern facility. As far as bells and whistles, though?

I also found the ushers are MLB-style, meaning they’re way too strict about where you can and can’t go.

Take a look at the ballpark’s official seating chart below:

I had a $9 ticket in section 106, but when I tried to go up into The Roost, which ESPN apparently calls the “best seats in the Minors,” I wasn’t allowed. Now, I can understand preventing people from buying cheap seats and getting closer to the action. But buying a dugout seat and trying to see a section as far away as it gets? Nope, sorry. The worst part was, it didn’t appear as though the area was booked for a party, and it was definitely three-quarters empty.

Anyway, like I said, Fifth Third Field is a nice place. When you can’t move freely from section to section, though, especially at a MiLB facility, it’s a big negative in my books. Still, if you’re a baseball fan, you’ll like it here. The outfield area has plenty of standing room and terrace areas, which is great if you enjoy leaving your seat and getting a bit of space.