Tagged: baseball travel

Coors Field Tour – September 20

Being able to spend three days in Denver meant that I’d not only have a chance to take in three Colorado Rockies games, but that I’d also be able to take a guided tour of Coors Field on the middle day of my visit.

That meant that a little more than 12 hours after I walked out of the ballpark following my first visit, I was heading back to Coors Field for a tour. My usual travel schedule doesn’t always allow time for booking tours — in fact, Coors Field is only the third MLB park that I’ve officially toured. (If you’re interested, here are the recaps of my Oriole Park at Camden Yards tour in 2011 and my Fenway Park tour in 2012.)

The walk from my downtown hotel to the ballpark took less than 10 minutes, which meant that just a short while after leaving my room, I’d bought my tour ticket at the ticket office and was hanging out here:

As the above image shows, there wasn’t much going on around Coors Field, and that suited me just fine. It’s cool to simply be at the ballpark, and arriving early gave me a chance to walk around the exterior and scout out some areas that I hadn’t seen a day earlier. I began by checking out the area just west of the ballpark, and came across this cool diamond made of bricks. If you look carefully, the words to “Take me out to the ballgame” are engraved on bricks around the perimeter:

There was absolutely no one around, which made it feel as though I had the entire area to myself — and if you read this blog regularly, you’ll surmise that I was more than giddy with this idea. I spent the next 45 or so minutes walking around the area and checking out Coors Field from various angles, before returning to the main gates to wait for the start of my tour. As I waited, I sat on a small ledge next to an engraved brick commemorating Coors Field’s very first opening day in 1995, and snapped this photo that I uploaded to Instagram:

When the tour began, our guide led us to the top row of the seats in the lower bowl to give a brief history of the stadium and an overview of the plans for the tour. While he talked, I snapped this photo of the field:

Before we continued along the concourse, I saw MLB Network insider and longtime baseball writer Tracy Ringolsby emerge from the home dugout to do a spot with the network. He’s pretty easy to spot with his cowboy hat:

It’s always a thrill to be inside a ballpark when it’s nearly empty. Although there were lots of staff members preparing the park for that evening’s game, the tranquility of the environment is always something that I enjoy.

Our first notable stop was The Rooftop, which I’d checked out briefly the night before but was excited to see again. The following shot gives you an idea of just how high you are in this area:

Next, our guide (who was excellent) pointed out the row of purple seats that runs through the upper third of the upper deck. It wasn’t something that I’d noticed a day earlier, so I was glad to have my attention brought to it, as well as to understand what it represents:

Any guesses? That row is exactly one mile above sea level. As you likely know, Denver is often called the Mile High City, so it was neat to see the exact mark at which you’re a mile above sea level. We didn’t go visit that row during the tour, but if you know me, you’ll know that I made a point of checking it out when I was at the ballpark later that night.

The purple seats aren’t the only seats at Coors Field that don’t match those around them. From our vantage point up on The Rooftop, our guide pointed out the four red seats at field level that make up the Coca-Cola front row area …

… and the two Coors Light “Silver Bullet” seats in the 10th row behind the visitor’s dugout:

Our next stop was the suite level, where we checked out a number of spots. Here’s a dining area for suite members:

And a view from the outdoor seats of one of the suites that we visited:

From the suite, we had a great view of the batter’s eye and natural vegetation area that I’d enjoyed seeing a day earlier. The fountains were currently turned off, but our guide told us a funny story — when the fountains and the bullpens were put in, the team’s management opted to position the visiting team’s bullpen immediately adjacent to the fountains, as you can see here:

Why? Well, the prevailing winds blow from left field to right field, which means that some of the spray from the fountains gets blown on the visiting team’s bullpen — not very appealing during an April or September evening game, as you might imagine. You’ll notice that the Rockies bullpen in the above image is tucked well out of the way on the right.

Next, our tour took us past a Todd Helton display …

… through a series of upscale hallways …

… and finally, to the Coors Field press box. It’s always a thrill to visit any ballpark’s press box, and I find that whether it’s a short-season club or a big league club, the press area just feels like a special place. During games, it’s a beehive of activity. When we visited, though, the area was mostly quiet. As our guide talked, I took a spot in the front row of seats to enjoy this perfect view of Coors Field:

You can see a lot of Coors Field’s features in the above shot. The outfield concession stands, where I’d bought my ribs and chocolate-dipped bacon the night before, are seen stretching from the left field foul pole to beneath the red “King Soopers” sign next to the video board. The Rockpile section is the elevated section beyond straightaway center, while The Rooftop is high up in right-center field.

Here’s a cool behind-the-scenes item from the press box — this is Tracy Ringolsby’s laptop computer:

Ringolsby came and went as we sat in the press box. During this time, one of the members of our tour group (a loud-mouthed guy who had to offer a comment on virtually every point our guide made from the start of the tour to the end) went over and introduced himself to the scribe, only to be quickly reprimanded by our guide and reminded of the rule he’d stressed when we entered the room a few minutes earlier — this is a working press area and no one using it is to be disturbed.

As you can imagine (although you’ve probably never thought about it) the idea of powering a stadium has to be a huge infrastructure undertaking. And, as such, there are miles of cables strewn about the stadium. I looked overhead before we left the press box and noticed this housing with cable after cable neatly laid out. I snapped the following photo not only because it looked interesting …

… but also because it reminded me of this photo I took when I toured the press box at Camden Yards in 2011.

From the press box, we went down below Coors Field to see some more behind-the-scenes stuff. Tours never go into the home clubhouse, but you can get into the visitor’s clubhouse if there’s no game that day. Of course, with a game scheduled that night, we weren’t allowed into the visitor’s clubhouse, either. So, you’ll have to settle for a shot right outside the Rockies clubhouse:

(For the record, I did press my eye against the tiny crack between the two doors and I could see a few players walking back and forth inside the clubhouse. I didn’t hold that pose for long, though, so as to avoid having my face caved in by a rapidly opening door.)

Before we headed to the last (and best) part of our tour, I noticed a locked door with this sign on the outside:

It made me wonder just how much tape the Rockies go through.

The tour concluded on the field, and we had a handful of minutes to walk around the warning track behind home plate and even sit in the visitor’s dugout. Although I’ve been lucky to be on the field at a handful of MLB (and a bunch more MiLB) parks, this is always one of my very favorite experiences. Just feeling and hearing the crunch of the warning track beneath my feet is something that will never get old. Here’s the view from directly behind the team’s logo painted on the grass behind home plate:

And here’s yours truly from that same spot:

Before our time ran out, I had a chance to sit in the visitor’s dugout for a few minutes:

And also hang out here:

I can’t recommend the Coors Field tour enough. The tour lasts about 80 minutes, and is just $8 for adults for this upcoming season. Of course, by the time the tour wrapped up, I was already anticipating that evening’s game — and I’ll have that blog post published very soon.

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:


(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:


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:


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 …


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


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:


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:


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:


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:


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:


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:


And then this one:


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:


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:


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:


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:


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:


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:


And an autographed Chase Utley bat:


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


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


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:


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


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:


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


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:


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 Jarrod 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 my website.

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 is 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 The Ballpark Guide 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 The Ballpark Guide in the summer of 2010. 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.

Vermont Lake Monsters – August 21

About a month ago, I planned to make the drive to Burlington, VT, to watch the Short-Season A Lake Monsters play a doubleheader at Centennial Field.

In the days leading up to that game, I kept an eye on the weather forecast, which read something like rain-rain-thundershowers-rain-thundershowers-thundershowers-rain.

So, I decided not to risk the long drive … and the doubleheader went off without a hitch.

Fast forward to last week, when I was planning to visit Vermont on August 21. The forecast was eerily similar, but I decided to chance it. Instead of making a solo trip, I went with a good friend I don’t get to see enough. We met bright and early and headed out into the rain, thunder and lightning that was the entire drive to Vermont.

About 30 minutes outside Burlington, the rain let up to a light drizzle, and shortly before we arrived at Centennial Field, the drizzle stopped completely. Perfect!

We got to the park around 11:20 a.m. for the 1 p.m. game, so there were only a handful of cars in the parking lot:

Note that I said it was a 1 p.m. game. But when we got up to the ticket window, there was an ominous message …

… a 6:05 p.m. start? I asked the ticket vendor incredulously, thinking the forecast had bumped the start of the game. Luckily, he said the 6:05 reference was an error. Whew!

With some time to kill before the gates opened, we took a walk toward the left field corner, and made a right turn to get behind the outfield fence to look for balls. Here’s the scene:

But since there was no batting practice because of the rain, there were no balls to be had. I’ve got to think that if BP had been on, the balls would’ve been easy to snag. Nevertheless, we continued the walk with our eyes peeled for balls, and I paused to take my usual ticket shot:

In the background is the Lake Monsters log cabin-themed scoreboard, which is unique looking, despite lacking a little on the information-giving side of things:

After making it to center field, we turned into the area beyond the right field fence where this was the scene:

Back here, there were a few neat things to see. Members of the Vermont side were having a pre-game prayer group:

While the Hudson Valley Renegades took some swings in the cage behind them:

No one paid us any notice, including a staff member who walked by at one point. I scanned the area for balls, and quickly noticed a white blip up against a chain-link fence well beyond the area we were standing in. I went closer and found this:

The markings are mostly rubbed off, but it was an official Northwest League ball. In other words, it was a long way from home. I’m trying to collect a ball from every league I’ve visited, so this was a super-cool find.

So far, I have balls from the:

– Major Leagues
– International League
– Eastern League
– Carolina League
– Midwest League
– South Atlantic League
– New York-Penn League
– Northwest League

With no other balls to find, we walked back toward the left field corner …

… and peeked over the fence to see the Renegades close up:

Actually, it wasn’t the first time we saw the team so close. They were using the adjacent soccer field’s dressing room as their clubhouse, so they walked down the driveway we used to access the field.

There wasn’t much to see when we walked in the other direction from the park’s main gate. A fence blocked off the area, but we were able to look into the concourse:

See the Ford display in the foreground? A minute or so after I took this picture, the employees began packing it up quickly. Hmmm. It appeared they knew something we didn’t, because soon after, the skies opened up again.

Though the scene was grim, it wasn’t all bad; the gate attendants let everyone in early to get a bit of shelter, and even said we could use the handicap area because it was covered. People in Vermont seem pretty friendly.

Over the next hour, the rain fell hard and fell soft, but kept falling continuously. Despite the showers, we wandered around the stadium to note the old, cement general admission section …

… and the wooden seats:

Scenery aside, there wasn’t much else happening here of note:

Eventually, an announcement said the game wouldn’t begin at 1 p.m., but that team officials hoped things would get underway within an hour or so. Around this time, members of the Renegades came out and played catch:

And returned from the batting cage:

Just when things were looking up, more thunder struck, the players retreated and the skies went dark again. Here’s where we took refuge during another downpour:

With the rain still coming down, we moved out into the concourse (staying against the building under the roof’s overhang) and went to the team shop:

I ended up buying a Lake Monsters alternate cap, which has a unique look because of its white front panel:

We also stopped by the team’s silent auction table, where I resisted the urge to bid on an MC Hammer bobblehead:

As the rain let up, we began to hear talk that the game would begin around 1:40 p.m., which wasn’t bad, all things considered. For the next while, we walked around to take in the sights, including a historical plaque:

The Lake Monsters clubhouse, located behind the first base-side bullpen:

And another panoramic view of Centennial Field from atop the stands behind the first base line:

Below is a photo looking down at the home clubhouse. Fans can stand behind the yellow chain and get autographs as the players enter and exit, though there still wasn’t any activity:

So, we took a rather “you shouldn’t be here”-looking path behind the clubhouse …

… to an area called The Cage, which is a bar right behind the batting cage. On our way, we could see piles of cleats in the windows of the clubhouse …

… and the batting cages:

Here’s the bar, such as it is:

In its defense, what it lacks in appearance, it makes up for in location. It’s a neat place to watch the game. In this area, a bunch of Lake Monsters were playing cards and a handful more were playing darts:

FINALLY, the Lake Monsters came out to stretch:

And the bullpen got some life in it. Below is starting pitcher Brent Powers tossing:

The game began around 1:50 p.m., so we made a quick stop at the concession stand and took our seats directly behind home plate, where we had this view:

And equally importantly, here was my view as I devoured a rather good sausage on a bun:

We actually ended up sitting two rows behind Chris Pittaro, the A’s director of pro scouting, who spent a lot of his time firing off emails on his iPhone.

After four innings, we made another stop at the concession stand, bought some Dippin’ Dots and found a relatively dry spot in the bleachers on the first base line.


And baseball:

Is there anything better?

Hudson Valley seemed to be cruising along until Vermont second baseman Michael Fabiaschi blasted a fifth-inning grand slam (his first career pro dinger) to put the Lake Monsters ahead for good. It’s always neat to see a guy’s first home run, and Fabiaschi (#12) was pretty stoked:

Vermont put up a three-spot an inning later to take an 8-3 lead. With the game well in hand, we made our way back to The Cage, which was empty. Before settling in to watch the rest of the game, I made my way behind a chain-link fence into a forest to retrieve a foul ball that’d been hit an inning earlier. It was easy to find and was in near-perfect condition:

We had this view for the last inning or so …

… and watched the Lake Monsters celebrate after their 8-3 win to extend their lead in the Stedler Division:

After the game, we went to the Vermont clubhouse where I got a handful of autographs on a ball. (As usual, I’ll blog about this separately.)

Then, we went around to the picnic area down the third base line to gain access to the field to play some catch. Here’s a shot of the empty ballpark from the field:

After taking this shot, I noticed some pieces of paper affixed to the visitors dugout wall. I asked a grounds crew member if I could go retrieve the official lineup card, and his response was, “Go for it.” Like I said earlier, friendly people in Vermont. Anyway, the lineup was gone; all that remained was stats sheets, which I wasn’t really interested in.

Still, it was a great experience at an interesting, historical-feeling ballpark. We hit the road as soon as our game of catch was done, and drove through rain so hard that we had to pull off the road at one point. I’m just glad the rain held off long enough for nine innings.

Portland Sea Dogs – July 31

The day to visit Portland’s Hadlock Field had finally arrived. I’ve been looking forward to this particular ballpark for roughly a year, since I first started my regular baseball travels.

Hadlock Field is home to the Sea Dogs, who are the Eastern League AA affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. There’s a replica Green Monster in the outfield, which is one of the neatest things to see in all the Minor Leagues.

Even better than seeing the Monster, however, was the chance to play catch below it. Yep, the Sea Dogs were giving fans the chance to play catch for an hour prior to the game, so I was pumped for that. And unlike the games in which I travel alone, my wife could be my catch partner this time.

Catch began at 10 a.m and ran for 1:15. The game began at 1 p.m., and unfortunately, fans weren’t allowed to leave the ballpark. Don’t get me wrong — I like getting to the game early, but spending that amount of time before the game was a bit much, especially given the day’s extreme heat and the zero shade throughout the entire seating area.

Anyway, we arrived around 10 a.m. and bought our tickets. Here’s mine:

And here’s both of ours:

Because we didn’t need to play catch the whole time, we took a walk around the outside of the ballpark to look for balls and see the sights. Hadlock Field is directly beside the Portland Exposition Building, which is home to the NBA Developmental League’s Maine Red Claws. I imagine this doesn’t rank too high on the caring meter for most of you, but if you’re into basketball, you might be interested:

The walk around Hadlock Field proved pretty uneventful. The path around the stadium’s left, or third base side is blocked off, while there’s not much to see around the other side, either. From the parking lot, you can look back and see the ballpark’s picnic area and some of the field:

We also found the rear entrance to Portland’s clubhouse:

And one ball:

I didn’t feel the need to add it to my collection, though.

As you can see from the photo below, the area behind the outfield fence is fenced off, so finding batting practice balls is next to impossible here:

With nothing more to see back there, we headed back to the pavilion in front of Hadlock Field where I got my picture taken with a statue of Slugger, the Sea Dogs’ mascot:

Before we went in, I took a photo of the front of the ballpark …

… and a panorama to show the whole front area:

When we got in, we went straight to the field, which we had to access via the left field corner. As always, it was awesome to be on a pro ball field, and there were already a bunch of people playing catch:

Here’s me at the base of the Monster:

From down here, we had a great view of the scoreboard:

And the Citgo logo and Coke bottle, just like Fenway:

I should also mention the Sea Dogs gave the first bunch of fans Sea Dogs balls to play catch with, which was pretty nice:

Here’s a panorama from field level:

Around 11 a.m., we went over to the first base line which had a tiny bit of shade around the picnic area. A couple minutes later, the Altoona Curve (affiliate of the Pirates) players arrived:

Before we left the field, the Sea Dogs came on and started stretching. There were still maybe 100 fans on the field when they came out; definitely something that doesn’t happen every day!

After walking around the concourse for a bit, we decided to grab something to eat. The basic menu at Hadlock Field is below:

Once we ate, we went to the team shop, which is disappointingly the worst I’ve seen at any level. It’s all behind the counter, so you can’t actually touch anything, try anything on or just browse. You stand there like you’re at McDonald’s, and place your order. See the photo below? All that stuff is unreachable. I’m not sure why the Sea Dogs do it this way, but it’s not very fan friendly:

Something that was neat to see, though, was how the Sea Dogs were selling Bryce Harper T-shirts on the concourse outside the team store. If you’re missing something here, don’t worry. There’s no Sea Dogs/Harper connection, but you can’t deny that Harpermania has spread throughout the Minor Leagues:

These prices were good, but nothing could compare to my experience of seeing Harper a month or so ago in Hagerstown. If you haven’t read this post, I can guarantee you’ll enjoy it.

Hadlock Field has a neat feature in the concourse down the first base line; photos of each team’s ballpark in the Eastern League:

This is the first time I’ve seen something like this, and my only knock on it as that it’s hugely outdated — old photos, old logos, etc. Still, though, pretty cool.

Just a little further along is the team’s hall of fame, which includes guys such as Kevin Millar and Mark Kotsay:

After spending some time in the concourse, we went back out toward the field. I’d sort of been avoiding it because it was SO HOT. I’m not normally one to care about the weather either way, but it was brutal.

And a wall covered in current Red Sox jersey graphics:

Off to one side of the press box is the team’s banners:

I then climbed up in front of the press box and took a panorama of the whole ballpark:

(See the lack of shade? For the record, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing … but it’s not ideal on super hot days.)

Anyway, we then went down the third base line to watch Altoona warm up:

Another knock on Hadlock Field? You can’t get close to the area in which the Dogs warm up without having a seat in the picnic area. Lame:

Down the third base line, however, you can stand on a little runway directly above the visitors’ bullpen, which is neat. There’s also a hilarious sign:

I watched Altoona’s starter Aaron Pribanic warming up for a bit:

In case you’re wondering, Portland’s bullpen is up high above the fence in right-center. I’ve never seen anything like it:

As for the game, I was most excited to watch Chih-Hsien Chiang. I saw him a while back when the Sea Dogs were in Binghamton, and he’s incredible. Look at his stats:

(He was since traded to Seattle for Erik Bedard.)

We sat for most of the game up in the bleachers along the third base line, with this view:

And occasionally, we’d go into the concourse for a bit of shade. (Though the temperature was nearly as hot.) There were a number of TV sets there to help you keep an eye on the game, but the picture quality was lacking just a bit:

Here’s an action shot of Chiang I took in around the sixth inning:

Portland led the game 8-3 in the ninth, but Altoona scored two runs to make it a little more interesting. Final score: Portland 8, Altoona 5. The teams also combined for 26 hits, including three Sea Dogs home runs. The game lasted until around 4:20 p.m., so after more than six hours inside Hadlock Field, we left.

On our way back to the parking lot, we saw Altoona’s bus waiting in the team lot behind the first base side:

I should say that I got one pretty cool autograph at this ballpark, which I’ll blog about later this week.

In the meantime, I’m putting the last touches on my next trip of the season, which will begin in a couple weeks. I’ll blog about it soon.