Tagged: baseball travel

Philadelphia Phillies – July 14

One day after a marathon, 24-inning doubleheader at Citizens Bank Park, I got up early to work on my blog for a very short period before hopping in the car for the half-hour drive to the ballpark. My road trip for The Ballpark Guide was rolling on, despite averaging about five hours of sleep over the last week.

On my first visit to CBP, I parked for $15 but on my subsequent walking tour, came across a $10 lot even closer to the ballpark’s gates. Go figure. That’s where I headed during this visit and, after parking and walking for a couple minutes down a side street, here’s what I was looking at:

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(Cue the sound of triumphant trumpets playing.)

I was in plenty of time for the 1:35 p.m. start; instead of rushing to buy my ticket as I had a day earlier, I took a quick lap around the ballpark, stopping to note McFadden’s Restaurant and Saloon, which you can enter before the gates open:

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Of course, with it being about 10:30 a.m., a greasy cheesesteak wasn’t exactly what I wanted just yet. Instead, I went to the corner of Pattinson Avenue and South 11th Street to take a series of photos to make this panorama. Because the crowds weren’t too heavy yet, I think this shot gives you a cool look at what the area looks like:

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After taking a series of photos that show Citizens Bank Park parking options, which I’ll show on my website rather than here, I grabbed my ticket …

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… and picked up the day’s giveaway item, a Phillies travel mug:

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Being able to get into the park soon after it opened gave me the ability to get down to field level without crazy fan traffic. I headed to the third base side first and watched a handful of White Sox sign autographs for kids. While here, I snapped this photo of Hector Santiago signing an autograph:

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I then made a beeline over to the first base side where a number of Phillies were hanging around. My mission wasn’t to get autographs; instead, I was hoping to get some up-close shots of some players, which I’d failed to do a day earlier. As I watched a couple pitchers signing autographs, my eye caught a tall player out toward center field, and I instantly recognized him:

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Doc! I had no idea Roy Halladay would even be in Philly during my visit, Halladay played catch for several minutes as he continues to rehab after his shoulder surgery this spring. It was absolutely awesome to watch him. After his throwing session, he and a coach stood in right field and talked for several minutes:

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Halladay then made the long walk to the Phillies dugout and disappeared, while I stood grinning like a nerd, I’m sure, that I just happened to see him for the first time since he played for Toronto:

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About an hour before first pitch, I decided to get some lunch, Philly-style. Faced with the prospect of choosing between the park’s three cheesesteak vendors, I picked Campo’s. As I waited in the sizable line, I heard a commotion behind me and as I turned, I saw former Phillies slugger Greg Luzinski walking past. That’s him with the tan shirt and ridiculous calves:

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Luzinski was a four-time all-star and had a pair of seasons in the mid-1970s in which he hit at least 34 home runs, drove in 120 or more runs and batted at least .300. He ended up with more than 300 home runs during his 15-year career.

Once I grabbed my cheesesteak from Campo’s, I went up to the Budweiser rooftop, climbed up the small set of bleachers and took this photo:

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And then this one:

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As for my verdict? It was … good. I realize that’s not the best adjective to assign anything, but this cheesesteak certainly wasn’t great, nor was it awful. The next time I’m in Philly, I’ll have to try the other brands of cheesesteak at CBP to make a comparison, but I wasn’t overly impressed with the Campo’s selection. Of course, every cheesesteak company bills itself as the best in the city, so I had to start somewhere.

As I sat on the bleachers, an usher ventured over to ask if I had a ticket for the section. I explained that I didn’t, but I was using the empty bleachers as a spot to eat my meal, and then I’d be gone. I expected the the usher to tell me to get lost, but she was fine with me sitting there and asked where I was sitting. I explained that I had a standing-room ticket and, after furtively glancing around, she took about five minutes to explain to me how to sneak into certain sections to grab a seat without being caught by ushers. Not a conversation you’ll come across every day, right?

My next stop was in the upper deck. From my vantage spot, I could look down at a semi-crowded Ashburn Alley:

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If you look carefully, you’ll see a number of bronze-colored plaques embedded in the bricks down the length of the alley. They represent different standout players from throughout the team’s history — great idea, right? Yes, but what an awful location. Whenever I visit a park, I love looking at the historical displays, but these are virtually impossible to admire. Any time you’re in Ashburn Alley, so too are hundreds of other fans, which means several hundred feet are continuously trampling over the plaques. What a bad design idea.

I was enjoying my spot in the shade because, like yesterday, it was extremely hot again at Citizens Bank Park. As I kept out of the sun for a few minutes, I took this panorama that shows the relatively empty seats about 45 minutes before first pitch:

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Remember yesterday’s post, in which I stood right beneath the green Citizens Bank Park sign beyond center field? Here’s another shot of that area, but this one also shows the Liberty Bell:

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Before I left the upper deck, I walked over to the seats behind home plate to get this shot, which I think looks pretty cool. Every ballpark, of course, has a unique view with some perks and some drawbacks, but I love how you can see downtown Philadelphia here:

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By the time I got back down to the 100 Level, there was still a good amount of time till first pitch, so I headed to the Memory Lane area off Ashburn Alley to see if I could get a close-up view of some of the plaques I couldn’t see yesterday. Unfortunately, the area was once again blocked off (it was open when I was in the upper deck) so the closest I could get to the plaque area was this:

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I spent right up until game time checking out the silent auction tables on the concourse. I love when teams do this and, while the prices are mostly crazily inflated, it’s fun to check out a variety of autographed and game-used memorabilia. Here are a couple game-used jerseys from John Mayberry, Jr. and Domonic Brown, for example:

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And an autographed Chase Utley bat:

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I watched the first inning of play from this spot in the left field corner …

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… and then, in need of some refreshment, I hit the Philadelphia Water Ice concession stand for some frozen lemonade:

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The menu included a cherry and lemon swirl flavor, which I thought looked good — but when I ordered it, the cheery fella behind the cash literally grunted, “Out.” If you imagine the noise a hippo would make after you threw a rock at it, that’s the noise he gave me. I’m sure it will come as a surprise to you that his tip jar was empty.

I spent the remainder of the game, which Chicago won 4-3 (in extra innings, no less), walking around Citizens Bank Park, checking out the sights and taking a pile of photos. I love the openness of this park — from virtually every location, you can see the surrounding area, which I think is great. It’s a crummy feeling to be in a bowl-style park without any idea of what the area around you looks like. That’s certainly not the case at CBP. I talked about the ballpark’s close proximity to Lincoln Financial Field and the Wells Fargo Center in yesterday’s post, but check out this panorama that captures the scene:

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And here’s a cool-looking shot that shows several of CBP’s parking lots, as well as the downtown skyline beyond:

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Unlike yesterday’s long, awesome day at the ballpark, this visit seemed to fly by, despite the game going into extra innings. Before long, I was back in my car making the short drive to my hotel for the weekend, the Hyatt Place Philadelphia/King of Prussia. If you read my most-recent post, you’ll remember how impressed I was about this hotel upon checking in — everything from the friendly, professional front-desk staff to my huge room to the cupcake and welcome note waiting for me. After a great day at the ballpark, I was looking forward to chilling in my room for the evening. Before I kicked off my shoes and relaxed, though, I drove about four miles to an Outback steakhouse for dinner — something that’s become a bit of a tradition on my baseball road trips.

Whether you enjoy Outback or not, staying at the Hyatt Place Philadelphia/King of Prussia gives you a ton of eating and shopping options for your downtime. The hotel is virtually within sight of the enormous King of Prussia mall, which is the largest mall in the country, apparently. As such, you’ve got dozens upon dozens of nearby restaurants to consider. And if you’re the shopping type, the mall has more than 400 stores.

A bunch more features about the hotel are worth considering when you’re planning to visit Philadelphia. It’s got free Wi-Fi, complimentary breakfast, a 24-hour gym and a variety of sandwiches, salads and other quick bites to eat for sale just off the lobby — one of my favorite features of Hyatt Place hotels. And the guest rooms are enormous. I’ve used this analogy before, but this room was significantly bigger than my first apartment.

Here’s a look at the outside of the hotel:

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And here’s the bathroom, which I’ll explain below:

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You know how some hotels have small bathrooms that make getting ready in the morning a pain? At this hotel (and the last Hyatt Place I visited), the “bathroom” isn’t its own room — it’s an open area outside the actual bathroom, which is really convenient. Lots of light, a huge mirror and more counter space than you’d ever need.

Finally, here’s the sectional couch in my room — perfect for lounging after the game and watching Baseball Tonight:

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Despite three extra-innings games, my visit to the City of Brotherly Love flew by and although my road trip was quickly coming to an end, I had one more awesome ballpark and game to check out.

Boston Red Sox – August 21

Having an enjoyable, relaxing experience in Lowell on August 20 did wonders for my cold, and although I wasn’t feeling 100 percent just yet, going to Fenway Park to see the Boston Red Sox — and a great opponent in the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim — does wonders to improve how you feel. I spent the morning of August 21 doing some touristy things around Boston, before heading to my hotel in the early afternoon and looking forward to visiting Fenway Park again.

For the two nights I stayed in Boston, I was at the Holiday Inn Express Saugus. This hotel is just outside of the city, which makes a huge difference because Boston is not a cheap place to visit. With most hotels close to Fenway Park going for $300 and up a night, it definitely makes sense to stay outside of the city’s core.

The Holiday Inn Express Saugus is ideal because it’s only about 20 minutes from Fenway Park (more during periods of high traffic) and it’s located on a main artery that takes you right into Boston. There’s no messing around and getting lost where this hotel is concerned. Additionally, the area around the hotel is full of restaurants, grocery stores, fast-food places and more. On my second night, I made a short walk down the road to a Panera Bread that was less than a mile away, for instance.

Here’s the front of the hotel:

I was impressed with my room, and as I’ve said previously, I had great luck with hotels on this trip. The room was large and featured all the amenities I needed for a two-night stay. This is what my room looked like:

Mid-afternoon, I packed up and made to drive back to Boston. Doing so wasn’t intimidating because I’d already been to the city and Fenway Park itself for the Futures at Fenway game three days earlier. As you might remember, I paid just $10 to park for that game, so when I got to Boston and started seeing $35, $45 and $50 parking lots, I scoffed at the type of people who’d pay that much to park. In fact, I even took this photo …

… to illustrate just how much people will pay to park for a Red Sox game. Fortunately, I knew the secret and I expertly navigated the streets to find my trusty ol’ lot. You can imagine my slow-motion, confused reaction when I saw that the lot was charging $35 for parking. I quickly realized the price had been dropped for the Futures game because it wasn’t a Red Sox game. Stunned, I started to pull into the lot but then had a change of heart. I couldn’t accept this price, which was more than the ticket I’d bought for the game.

So what did I do? I drove around the city for 10 minutes before returning to the lot and handing the attendant two $20 bills. Argh. That took a little of the wind out of my sails, but when I got out of my car and turned the corner, this sight quickly cheered me up:

Although I’d done a million laps of Fenway Park and the surrounding area when I was here for the Futures game, I enjoyed wandering around again. With a Red Sox game a few hours away, there was definitely more electricity in the air, even with the Sox’ struggles this season. Instead of repeating the same type of shots as in my Futures post, I’ll focus on things I didn’t see/share last time.

I checked out the statue of the recently deceased Johnny Pesky, which had crowds around it whenever I saw it:

I returned again to the Bleacher Bar (but didn’t get IDed this time) where I could look through the gate to see a couple Red Sox during batting practice:

By now, the streets were starting to fill up, and I continued to walk around and snap photos.  One of the coolest areas outside Fenway Park is the wall covered in player banners and retired numbers. Trivia time: Anyone know the weirdly ironic connection between the Tris Speaker banner and Jackie Robinson number?

After a while, I picked up my ticket at the will call window. I love the 100 Years logo on these tickets:

Since I’d done a lot of walking, I decided to get in line and wait for the street to open back up again. As I waited, I looked over at the NESN set, and guess who I saw? Peter Gammons:

It was a good thing I got in line when I did, because check out what the scene looked like ahead of me:

Soon enough, the gates opened up and I stepped into Fenway Park for my first Red Sox game. Although the crowds were fierce, the seating bowl wasn’t overly stuffed, so I was able to make it down to the front row behind home plate for batting practice:

After a few minutes watching from here, I moved over to the first base side and had this view:

My mission was to get close to Pesky’s Pole, as I hadn’t been able to do so during my previous visit. I still wasn’t sure about the legality of signing it, but given that it’s completely covered in signatures, I wanted to give it a shot. When the crowd dispersed slightly, I made it up to the pole and signed my name quickly. You can see it right in the center of the right side of the pole. Yep, it’s the one with all those Ms and Ls:

As I milled around at field level, I was able to see a handful of Red Sox stretching. I should note that I visited a few days before the mega Boston-Los Angeles trade, but even still, the Sox lineup wasn’t exactly brimming with superstars because of injuries. Still, it was cool to see Jarred Saltalamacchia (so close I could see the white paint on his fingernails):

Shortly before 7 p.m., I made my way toward my first vantage point of the game. I had a standing room only ticket that gave me free reign anywhere in the infield, provided I wasn’t actually in the seating bowl. Tickets like this are common at Fenway Park; in many standing room areas, people are four and five deep. On the third base side, I peered through the crowds and had this view during the anthem:

Then, in a tribute to Pesky, the Sox did three cool things. They draped the Green Monster in an American flag:

Pointed out the #6 cut into the grass in left field:

And Pesky’s son threw out the first pitch:

As the game was seconds from getting underway, I managed to squeeze into a tight spot at a railing, which gave me something to lean against, at least. The view wasn’t exactly superb, but it just seemed like part of the Fenway Park experience. Here’s what I saw from my spot:

From here, parts of the field were slightly obstructed, but I had a perfect view of the plate, which was perfect given that I really wanted to see Mike Trout:

I watched an inning or two from this spot, and then decided to continue trekking around. I enjoy walking, but I’m not a huge fan of standing. I ventured toward the left field corner where I saw this neat-looking sign:

And when I followed the arrow, I made it to a spot overlooking the Monster, which was packed:

If you’re wondering, there’s no sneaking onto it; security here is very tight. From roughly the same area, I turned and captured this panorama of the park before it got too dark:

Remember how I had the Bud Deck virtually to myself during the Futures at Fenway game? That wasn’t the case during this visit:

Somewhere high above the third base side, I came across a wall featuring concert posters of acts that have played at Fenway. I thought I’d walked around the entire park during my earlier visit, but I completely missed this. The display was really neat and featured acts from the Rolling Stones to Boston bands like the Dropkick Murphys and Mighty Mighty Bosstones.

From there, I went all the way to the other side of the park — back to the Bud Deck, where I looked down on the sea of people in the right field bleachers. I like how this shot turned out. Can you see the Lone Red Seat? I sure can’t:

Last year, I took two long road trips in May and June. This year, my first trip was in May, but I hadn’t taken an extended trip as late as August until now. One thing I realized is that late-summer trips aren’t as conducive to photos. In May and June, for example, I can take pretty decent photos up until perhaps the seventh inning or so. But in August, things are dark around the third or fourth inning, which means photos are a little more challenging. Before things got too dark, I took this photo of the purple sky above the press box:

And this panorama of the city:

As the sky got darker, I found a somewhat low-traffic standing-room spot on the first base side and stood there for the rest of the game. When I zoomed in with my camera, I could still take half-decent shots …

… but that soon became more difficult. So, I put my camera away, leaned against a wall and enjoyed the best sport in the world in the sport’s most celebrated venue.

Lowell Spinners – August 20

Could a ballpark visit be augmented because of my love of boxing? Yes. Yes, it could.

Boxing has been one of my favorite sports for a long time, and I vividly remember junior welterweight Micky Ward wearing a Lowell Spinners jersey while walking to the ring before his “fight of the century” with the late Arturo Gatti in 2002. He also wore trunks emblazoned with a Spinners logo. I didn’t know a ton about Minor League Baseball back then, but Ward (long before he was a household name after his life story was told in The Fighter) was one of my favorite boxers and I thought it was cool that he was giving a nod to a ball club. Fast forward a decade, and I was excited to be visiting Lowell, MA, to see the Spinners as part of my latest baseball road trip for The Ballpark Guide. And, yes, Lowell is Ward’s hometown and is heavily featured in The Fighter.

After spending the previous day in Pawtucket, I made the short drive to Lowell and checked in to my hotel for the night, the Radisson Hotel & Suites Chelmsford-Lowell. Here’s the front of the hotel:

I had a few hours to kill before the evening’s game between the Spinners and the Hudson Valley Renegades, so the plan was to check in and do some blogging. When I arrived, I noticed three athletic-looking guys sitting in the lobby. My initial reaction was to assume they were members of the Renegades, but I had to remind myself that the world doesn’t revolve around Minor League Baseball and not every athletic-looking person plays in the New York-Penn League.

But then, I saw that one of the guys was holding a document on Tampa Bay Rays letterhead, and given that the Rays are the Renegades’ parent club, I knew my initial reaction was correct. And I’ve gotta say, it was pretty cool to know I was staying at the same hotel as the team.

When I made it to my room, however, my thoughts quickly shifted to how impressed I was with the accommodation. My suite was larger than each of my first three apartments! Although I was just staying one night, I definitely had room to spread out, which was awesome. Here’s the room from the door:

And looking back toward the door:

Amazing, right? If you visit Lowell to see the Spinners, perhaps as a side trip after going to Fenway Park for a Red Sox game, this is the hotel to choose. If it’s not already cool enough that the visiting team stays here, the hotel staff was extremely friendly, my suite was enormous and very clean and the icing on the cake is that there’s a Domino’s Pizza just across the parking lot. (I can’t deny that I treated myself to a late-night pie after getting back from the game.)

My suite faced the parking lot, so after I took the above photos, I took a look out the window and saw what I figured was Hudson Valley’s bus parked at the far end of the lot. While I blogged a little, I heard the bus start up and make its way to the curb directly below my second-floor window! By now, I was in full spy mode and it wasn’t long before the Renegades began to file onto the bus. Since my camera was charging, I snapped photos like this one with my iPod touch:

Soon enough, the bus departed for the 10-minute drive to the ballpark, and I followed shortly thereafter.

If you’re into American history, you’ll definitely enjoy visiting Lowell. As you can learn on the interwebs, the town played a key role in Industrial Revolution America, primarily as a mill town. Check out the Wikipedia entry for Lowell at the very least. There’s lots of interesting stuff to read about. Anyway, the Spinners play in Edward A. LeLacheur Park, a modern facility that was built to fit right in with the surrounding historical area. As you get close to the park, you’ll see several old mills — some of which have been converted to condos and this one, which is now the American Textile History Museum:

Although I had a little trouble finding the right parking lot (turns out that fans can park in the adjacent UMass Lowell) garage, I got to the ballpark a couple hours before first pitch. My first order of business was to check out the area behind the outfield fence. Many NYPL parks have open areas back here that make getting balls during batting practice easy, and the setup in Lowell is no different. The only catch is that the area behind the fence is mostly underbrush, rather than an open field, so you have your work cut out for you because many balls will be hard to spot. Here’s a shot that shows the fence in the background and just how much brush you’ll have to contend with:

Just beyond this area is the Merrimack River, which really enhances the scene:

As a side note, the Merrimack directly past Northeast Delta Dental Stadium, home of the New Hampshire Fisher Cats. I wonder which river takes the prize for running past the most ballparks.

I decided not to spend time trying to get a BP ball. There were a few other fans in the area and I hate competing with others for baseballs. Instead, I took a walk around the path behind the outfield fence …

… and then around to the right field corner of the park, where I saw this old mill that’s now condos, I believe:

The front of LeLacheur Park looks awesome. The combination of bricks and iron tie the park right into the surrounding area, and in a way, you’d never guess that the park has only been around since 1998. The contradiction to this statement is that everything in the park is pristine, and in many ways, you’d guess it’s only a year or two old. LeLacheur Park was designed by HOK Sport (now called Populous), which made Baltimore’s Oriole Park at Camden Yards, among a ton of other facilities across all sports. Perhaps the most notable point about Camden Yards is how it fits into the surrounding area, and it’s no coincidence that Lowell’s park has the same going for it:

I made my way to the ticket office and picked up my media pass, then went into the park and began to wander around. The team’s director of media relations, Jon Boswell, provided me with the pass and set aside time to give me a pre-game tour, but I wanted to take a quick look at things before I went to find him. When you enter the park through the main gates, you end up in a small pavilion area. From there, you take a climb (or an elevator ride) up a set of stairs to reach the concourse. Check out the stairs:

Jon later told me that if the team’s sales staff can figure out a spot to display an ad, they’ll do it. I think they’ve got the stairs covered, don’t you?

When I reached the concourse, this was the scene to my right:

And to my left:

I’ve said it before, but I’ll reiterate that it NEVER gets old to get into a ballpark early and be able to explore before the crowds fill it up. Regardless of the park, it’s one of the coolest experiences I get the privilege of enjoying on my trips.

The Renegades, fresh off being spied upon as they loaded up to drive to the park, were taking batting practice. As I stood on the concourse, I took this panorama to capture the whole glorious scene:

Afterward, I went down to field level and just enjoyed watching BP for a few minutes. That enjoyment, however, quickly dissipated as bee after bee decided to check me out. Now, this is obviously no fault of the Spinners, but LeLacheur Park was inundated with bees. (Jon later told me the bee problem had begun a few days earlier and an exterminator was already fixing the issue.) People who know me know that I freaking hate bees. I don’t play the fake “I’m allergic” card, either. I just hate them. I don’t have any love for things that will sting you for no good reason. They are a scourge, I say. A scourge!

Fighting the urge to shriek and flail my arms, I went back up to the concourse and continued my tour, stopping to see the team’s “Road to the Show” wall, which you can click to read the names:

A suite:

And the press box, looking back at it from field level:

Remember how I said LeLacheur Park fits in perfectly with the surrounding mill area? Check out how nice everything looks:

Nothing I saw on my tour (and perhaps at any ballpark I’ve visited) was as touching as this seat:

The Spinners dedicated this box seat earlier this summer in honor of the 92,000 (!) American soldiers who are unaccounted for since World War I. It will always stay empty and Jon told me it’s got the best view in the park. Really neat stuff.

Partway through BP, the Renegades had a short team meeting, led by manager Jared Sandberg (22) who’d playfully heckled me a few nights earlier in Connecticut:

For the inside scoop on the park, I then went down to the park’s office to meet up with Jon. The first stop on our tour was the on-field standing-room area, which I’d completely overlooked earlier:

(This is one of the reasons tours are so great — if I miss anything on my own, I get to learn about it from someone in the know.) From this area down the first base line, you can actually watch the game from on the field. Talk about getting close to the action! Some parks have seating that is very close to the field, but at LeLacheur Park, you’re actually standing on the clay.

Jon took to all the park’s notable areas, giving me a ton of information as we walked. We saw the kids’ play area, complete with a “Dunk the Yankee” dunk tank:

Went past the batting cages under the concourse:

And through the office, which features a display case that includes a pair of Ward’s Spinners trunks!

We also saw a banner featuring former Red Sox 3B Mike Lowell, wearing the Spinners’ special “Mike Lowell” jersey:

And one of those jerseys signed by Lowell himself:

The inscription reads, “To the Mike Lowell Spinners, thanks for the great honor!”

Our tour flew by, and soon enough, Jon had to get back to his pre-game duties. It was a great tour. Thanks, Jon! Before we parted ways, Jon gave me a neat souvenir that I’ll feature in a future blog post.

On my own again, I visited the team shop and made a really cool purchase that I’ll also share later. The shop itself had a lot of neat Spinners and Red Sox merchandise, and being air conditioned, was a big-time reprieve from the bright sunshine. (There were no bees to be found in the team shop, either.)

As game time approached, I met up with Brian Moynahan, who founded the site Bus Leagues Baseball, and also writes for MiLB.com. Brian and I have talked over Twitter for several months, so it was cool to finally meet him. It’s always fun to meet other baseball people, and we chatted for nearly half an hour in the concourse. If you haven’t visited Bus Leagues Baseball, it’s an awesome site with a ton of interesting stories about interesting people. By the time we finished blabbing, the game had already begun, so I found a spot on the third base side with this view:

(I love the smokestacks in the background.)

A couple innings later, I was back on the move and eventually made a quick stop at a concession stand to pick up dinner before finding a great spot in an open row in front of the press box. As for my meal? A delicious bowl of hot clam chowder, which was perfect as once the sun went down, the evening became cool and perfect. I chose soup as my meal partly to avoid something ultra-heavy, and partly because it was comfort foody enough given that I was still sick. If you’ve read this blog for some time, you might recall that I had clam chowder last year in New Hampshire. This one was just as good:

In the late stages of the game, I realized that I hadn’t yet photographed my media pass. Failing to do so would’ve been disastrous, right? Here it is:

Media pass documented, a stomach filled and a couple hundred photos added to my camera, I hunkered down into my seat with this great view …

… and just enjoyed the rest of the game. It was a perfect night.

PS: While I enjoy photographing the food I eat on my travels, I did not get the camera out to document the pizza I ate about 11 p.m. Sharing it here would result in you thinking that I am a glutton.

Altoona Curve – May 24

The morning of Thursday, May 24 came very quickly. It was the final day of my road trip, and given that I’d averaged about four hours of sleep per night over the last few days, the 5:30 a.m. alarm was a bit of a jolt. But if there’s one thing that makes me move quickly in the morning, it’s knowing there’s a baseball game to attend.

I was in Frederick for the night after the previous day’s Keys game, and my day would begin with a two-and-a-half hour drive to Altoona. The Curve, who are the Eastern League affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates, were playing a 10:30 a.m. game, and I’d arranged to have a stadium tour with Mike Passanisi, the Curve’s director of communications. The tour was scheduled for 9 a.m., which meant I wanted to get on the road by 6:15 a.m. or so. The route from Frederick to Altoona includes many small back roads, and the drive was painfully slow. I can tell you I was thrilled when this appeared ahead of me:

Yep, Peoples Natural Gas Field, straight head! I ended up being 10 to 15 minutes late to our tour because of ridiculous traffic, so I parked quickly in the parking garage behind the outfield fence …

… and hustled along the sidewalk to get to the stadium as quickly as I could:

And, ta-da!:

When I picked up my media pass, I went upstairs to the press box, where I had this view while I waited for Mike:

Mike arrived a few minutes later, and despite his busy morning, made time to take me around the stadium and show me all the highlights. We checked out a few of the suites, including this one:

And then went down to the field, which never, ever gets old:

After we were on the field, we went through the tunnel to tour several places most people don’t get to see. But you will now! We went through the batting cage/training area, where a number of Curve players were getting loose:

I took a picture of this funny sign posted outside the room above:

We then went into the press conference room, which definitely has similarities to the rooms in MLB stadiums:

I was tempted to sit at the desk and shout, “No comment!” but decided to repress that urge so the tour could continue.

Next up were the home and visitors’ clubhouses, which were outstanding. Both were full of players, so I obviously didn’t take any photos, but it was definitely a highlight to see. Afterward, we climbed up to the concourse where I documented the team’s 2010 Eastern League championship banner:

A banner with the team’s 2005 opening day roster:

(Sorry, but as a Jays fan, I need to point out Rajai Davis and Jose Bautista.) This banner was part of a series around the concourse of each opening day roster in the Curve’s history. It’s the first type of display I can recall, and I think it’s a great way to pay tribute to past teams and players. Really cool. The concourse is also lined with banners of past stars, including Pittsburgh’s Andrew McCutchen. I love how the banner combines a picture of him then and now — really smart:

The tour zipped right along, but it was great talking about the stadium’s features with Mike. I’ll be highlighting more of them when I write the official fan guide to Peoples Natural Gas Field for TheBallparkGuide.com.

After our tour, I went up to the second deck on the third base side to capture the stadium in panorama form:

If you missed the roller coaster behind the right field fence, look again. It’s not part of the ballpark, but it’s still one of the coolest features you’ll see at any park. The roller coaster is part of Lakemont Park, an amusement park just beyond the ballpark’s fences. The roller coaster you see here …

… is called the Skyliner, and it’s one of four in the park. The park’s crown jewel is the Leap-the-Dips coaster, which opened in 1902 and is the oldest in-use roller coaster in the world.

After being up top, I continued wandering and captured a shot of the sign out front of the park:

Mike said the new logo on the sign was just a week old (Peoples Natural Gas Field was called Blair County Ballpark through last season) and the new sign isn’t completely finished. Soon, bricks will be added to make the sign more in line with the ballpark’s design.

By this time, Mike had re-appeared on the field with a Curve player who was fielding questions from fans over the PA system. It was a neat thing to see — fans asking about his favorite subjects in school, his favorite holiday, etc., certainly improves the player/fan connection. I definitely think more teams should do this:

As I continued walking, I spotted the players’ parking lot behind the first base side of the stadium:

With, of course, a Range Rover:

Range Rovers seem to be the popular choice among ballplayers. In fact, I wrote a blog entry a while back about players’ vehicles, and it’s a fun read.

I then changed direction and headed down the third base concourse, where I stopped to check out the team’s “Road to the Show” alumni board:

Here’s a close-up of a couple years:

I also checked out the Rail Kings party deck  in the left field corner, which offers a great view of the park and also includes small TVs built into the fence so that you can watch the game broadcast or check out how the Pirates are doing:

The bleachers in left field also provided a perfect view, and I decided I’d spend a few innings out here once the game started:

The kids’ area at Peoples Natural Gas Field included inflatable games …

… and arcade-style attractions:

I went to check out the team’s store down the third base line:

And as the game began, captured this quick shot of the ballpark’s impressive scoreboard:

All this walking worked up an appetite, so after spending the first inning in the outfield bleachers, where I had a close-up view of the team’s mascot Al Tuna (get it?) …

… I decided to get some breakfast/lunch. Mike had earlier recommended the Curverogie, a new menu item for 2012:

While this sandwich is certainly excessive, it was delicious. It wasn’t skimpy on the ham, and while the perogie sort of got lost, the ham, cheese and onions were tasty:

After eating, I documented my media pass, as I’ve been doing during each stop on this trip:

Then, it was time to find a seat along the third base side so I could capture some of the action on the field. Here’s Altoona starter Shairon Martis, who was solid through six innings and got the win:

And Curve third baseman Jeremy Farrell, who’s the son of Blue Jays manager John Farrell:

Before long, it was time to hit the road. I had to sneak out of this ballgame a little bit early so I could drive the four hours or so north to Buffalo for that night’s Bisons game at Coca-Cola Field. I absolutely hate leaving a game early, but sometimes it’s necessary to fit into my schedule. All in all, it was a great visit to Altoona. The park, built in 1999, is fantastic and if you’re in the area, it’s definitely a must visit.

Up next is the story of my visit to Buffalo later on May 24.

Shirts I’ve Collected

Last week, I blogged about the six caps I’ve bought during my travels around Major League and Minor League Baseball.

This week, I want to continue the sports-centered wardrobe theme and talk about some of the shirts I’ve bought and received through stadium giveaways. As I’ve said, I don’t buy a hat at every park I visit. The same holds true for shirts and other memorabilia. Still, when the price is right and I like the look of something, I’ll add it to my collection.

Dating back to my first baseball road trips for TheBallparkGuide.com in 2010, here’s what I’ve picked up:

Cleveland Indians – Travis Hafner jersey shirt

This isn’t a traditional jersey shirt; you’ll see that it has Hafner’s nickname, Pronk, on the back. I’m a Hafner fan, and thought this shirt was unique.

New Hampshire Fisher Cats 1

When I visited New Hampshire’s (now called Northeast Delta Dental Stadium) in September 2010, the team was about to play what would be its final playoff game of the season. As such, most of the products in the team shop were on sale. I picked up this T-shirt for under $10.

New Hampshire Fisher Cats 2

I got this one for around $10, too. Not bad for a Nike product, and I like the look of it.

Great Lakes Loons

When I watched the Great Lakes Loons play in May 2011, I visited the team shop during a long rain delay. This shirt was priced way less than other comparable products, so I bought it. What I didn’t notice at the time is that the logo is significantly closer to the left sleeve. (Hence the price reduction.) Still, I like this shirt because it’s one baseball shirt that isn’t gaudy.

West Michigan Whitecaps

Speaking of gaudy (in a good way, of course), this bright red Whitecaps shirt featuring their logo is eye catching. Most of the shirts I’ve gotten are white, so this one stands out in my closet.

Fort Wayne TinCaps

Perhaps partly influenced by my amazing visit to beautiful Parkview Field, this TinCaps shirt is one of my favorites. I like its design and the fact it uses the MiLB logo in a prominent spot. Plus, who doesn’t like angry apples?

Lake County Captains

I wasn’t around to see Lake County win the first half of the Midwest League championship in 2010, but I liked this shirt enough to buy it in 2011.

Delmarva Shorebirds

I’m a big fan of this simple Shorebirds T-shirt by Nike. I like Delmarva’s logo and the simple design of this shirt.

Baltimore Orioles 1

When I was in B-More, I was lucky enough to attend a game with a T-shirt giveaway. The T-shirt this day was J.J. Hardy.

Baltimore Orioles 2

Last summer, Chevrolet heavily promoted the Volt at MLB stadiums, including Camden Yards. If you signed up to receive Chevrolet marketing material, you got a free T-shirt. Count me in! And, if you wanted to sign up multiple times, you’d get multiple shirts ….

Washington Nationals 1

A couple days after I was in Baltimore, I was in the nation’s capital over the July 4 long weekend. The Nats gave away American flag-themed T-shirts at the gate.

Washington Nationals 2

Just like in Baltimore, Chevrolet had a kiosk promoting the Volt. I managed to get, uh, a few of these shirts, too.

Binghamton Mets

On July 4, I stopped in Binghamton to see the B-Mets battle the Portland Sea Dogs before an impressive fireworks show at NYSEG Stadium. During the game, I picked up what’s become one of my favorite items — a B-Mets pullover. These are the shirts the players wear during BP, in the dugout and while warming up. It’s awesome.

But what about game-used items? You’ll just have to check back tomorrow for some goodies that fall under that category.

Game Programs

I’m a huge fan of taking in the entire ballpark experience every time I watch a game. For me, this typically means trying to snag a foul ball, getting a handful of autographs and eating some unique food. It also includes grabbing a game program and checking out what it has to offer. My stipulation, however, is that I rarely get programs if you have to pay for them. I’m not big on paying for something I’ll likely only flip through once, and if I buy one, I’m less likely to want to throw it out later.

I don’t have programs from every ballpark I’ve visited, but I have a handful that range from amazing to bland. Here’s a look at them.

Aberdeen IronBirds

For a Short-Season A franchise, Aberdeen’s “First Pitch” program has a lot to offer. For one, it’s printed specifically for the game you’re attending. (Most teams print programs per series, week or homestand.) It’s got a clean, attractive cover and a preview of the night’s game. Because the program is printed for each game, all the standings and stats are up to date, which is a huge bonus for a stats guy like me. A couple standout features in this edition of “First Pitch” were a list of IronBirds with Twitter accounts and a well-illustrated diagram of pitcher Aaron Wirsch’s four pitches, along with commentary from the pitcher himself.

Bowie Baysox

Baltimore’s AA franchise in Bowie provides a program called “Baywatch” for each home series. This one had a decent fan guide to Prince George’s Stadium, a list of former Baysox who’ve made the Major Leagues and a discussion between the team’s infielders on turning a double play.

Cleveland Indians

The Indians’ “Batter Up!” is given out free and printed for each series. Of course, you can also buy a more in-depth game program, but this one’s worth picking up. It’s got a good concession directory, a fan guide to Progressive Field and a couple interesting articles. I was also impressed with the full-page ad for Cleveland’s Midwest League affiliate, the Lake County Captains, who play just 15 minutes outside of C-Town.

Delmarva Shorebirds

A South Atlantic League franchise, the Shorebirds program “Play Ball” is one of the shortest I’ve seen. Still, it contains a couple interesting stories on Shorebirds players, a decent look at the team’s opponents and a nice, comprehensive breakdown of each team in the Baltimore Orioles system.

Fort Wayne TinCaps

Fort Wayne’s “Gameday” program is printed each homestand, which is pretty much the norm in the Minor Leagues. This one had pink as a dominant color, given the theme of the team’s homestand, Turn the Park Pink for breast cancer awareness. This program featured a thorough, five-page guide to Parkview Field’s food and interesting features such as a tutorial on how to score a game, a map showing the location of each Midwest League franchise and a couple articles about the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

New Hampshire Fisher Cats

New Hampshire offers an amazing fan experience, but there wasn’t anything to write home about in the “Inside Pitch” free program. The schedules, stats, rosters and promotional schedules were all handy, but they’re all things you’d expect to find here. The worst part was the ads, even though I know they’re necessary. Early in the program, 22 out of 23 straight pages were full ads. Ugh.

Potomac Nationals

The P-Nats, as they’re often called, provide a standard gameday program for free. It’s got all the things you’d expect, but a few interesting pages are the breakdown of the Washington Nationals’ farm system and a look at the Carolina League franchises. Additionally, this program isn’t overly laden with ads.

Rochester Red Wings

After spending two sentences explaining how I don’t buy programs, I’ll quickly recant that statement to say I spent $1 on Rochester’s yearbook during my first ballpark trip in 2010. Simply put, it’s one of the best programs I’ve ever seen, and for $1, it’s a real bargain. This baby is more than 100 pages long and contains a ton of interesting information — not just ads and more ads. The highlights of this edition were a look at the Red Wings’ uniforms throughout the years, an article about Stan Musial’s time as a Red Wing, in-depth player profiles, a pretty good guide to Frontier Field and an ultra-thorough map of the where to find every food item sold at the ballpark. (In case you’re wondering, the cover is damaged because I spilled water on it. Oops.)

Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees

The big perk to the S/W-B Yankees’ “Play Ball!” program is like the IronBirds, it’s printed for the game you’re attending. Although it’s relatively short in length, “Play Ball!” has an interesting game preview, a “This Date in Yankees History” page and an interesting section about the players to watch from the visiting team.

Toledo Mud Hens

It’s a toss-up whether Toledo or Rochester has the best program I’ve seen so far on my travels. “The Muddy Times” is amazing, and might get the nod over Rochester because it’s free. This book is giant, measuring 9.5 by 12 inches and numbering 112 pages. The pages are newsprint, but they’re thick and in full color. I love the cover shot, as well as the in-depth player and coach profiles, the 2010 season review, some good player Q&As and an awesome two-page spread on the Detroit Tigers’ top 10 prospects, written by Baseball America. This is the type of program you’d spend $5 on and still feel as though you got your value.

Washington Nationals

Like Cleveland, the Nats hand out a free game program to complement their paid program. “Inside Pitch” (which is the same title as New Hampshire’s program) is printed on thick paper, which is a definite upgrade over the newsprint in some programs. This one has an extensive Nationals Park fan guide, a guide on how to score a game and even two removable player cards (Jason Marquis and Michael Morse).

A Few Places I’ve Been

I’ve taken several thousand photos since I began traveling and compiling research for TheBallparkGuide in the summer of 2010. (If you’re new to this blog and are curious about where I’ve visited, look at the tag cloud on the right side of the menu or click here.) The vast majority of my photos focus on the elements of each ballpark I visit, but one thing I’ve noticed is that I’ve missed getting photos of myself in most locations. I often travel alone, and while it’s possible to hold the camera at arm’s length to shoot myself, some of these photos don’t turn out that great.

That said, I’ve got a handful of photos taken at different locations that I’m posting below. Click the date to read my blog about the visit.)

The second ballpark I visited, back on July 17, 2010, was Auburn’s Falcon Park. While I was snapping shots of the front of the ballpark, the man who lives next door to the facility offered to take my shot:

Later that summer, I traveled to Cleveland for two games on Aug. 7 and Aug. 8. During the second game, I got a few autographs around the visitors dugout, and then had my photo taken by another fan while sitting on the Indians dugout:

On Aug. 10 and Aug. 11, my wife and I watched two Blue Jays games at Rogers Centre. My wife snapped this artsy shot of me hoping to catch a ball during batting practice …

… and a day later, took one of me along the fence during batting practice. I snagged two balls here:

I toured around Michigan in May 2011, and watched the second of two Detroit Tigers games on May 25. Unfortunately, this game was called because of the rain after a few innings. While the tarp was still on the field, an usher took my photo:

On June 27, I watched the Hagerstown Suns play at Municipal Stadium. Bryce Harper was hurt and didn’t play, but that didn’t stop me from finding his truck in the parking lot and taking a photo of myself in front of it:

Next, on July 2 and 3, I was in the nation’s capital to catch three Nationals games (July 2 was a doubleheader). Here’s a photo of me before the first game, down at field level:

And on the second day, up on a deck in the left field corner:

The third-last game I watched in 2011 was on July 31 at Hadlock Field, home of the Portland Sea Dogs. Before entering the ballpark, my wife took a photo of me out front:

The Sea Dogs are the AA affiliate of the Boston Red Sox, and Hadlock Field is equipped with a mini green monster. During our visit, fans were able to play catch on the field before the game. Here’s me in front of the scoreboard:

And while throwing balls off the wall and catching them:

And pretending to relay them to the imaginary cut-off man. (I can’t lie.)

As always, thanks for reading. If you don’t do so already, check me out on Twitter.