When my alarm beeped at 4:20 a.m. today, it signaled the start of my first road trip of 2012. And despite the ridiculous hour, I was full of energy as I loaded the car and hit the road. As you may know by now, I’m just starting a road trip that includes seven games in seven ballparks in just four days. The whole itinerary is here, if you want to check it out.
While the evening’s game in Lakewood, N.J. was the priority, I figured I might as well add quick stops at a few other ballparks to liven up my eight-hour drive. My route took me through some familiar territory, so I couldn’t resist making a few detours.
My first stop was at Syracuse’s Alliance Bank Stadium, which I’ve visited twice in the past. If you’re interested, you can read about those visits here and here. It was still early when I pulled up to the ballpark, and it was a welcome sight — my first ballpark of 2012!
This Welcome to Chiefsville sign has been erected since I last visited:
And while I was there, I couldn’t resist taking a quick self-portrait with the auto timer on my camera:
The Chiefs are on the road, but there were a number of presumably injured players’ vehicles in the parking lot:
I’m assuming the players are rehabbing, which makes me impressed with their dedication, as it was only about 8 a.m.
Another hour down the road, and I arrived in Binghamton, site of NYSEG Stadium. I visited there last year, and given the rumors about the Mets’ potential relocation, this might be the last time I see the ballpark:
Like the Chiefs, the B-Mets are on the road, but there were still a number of players’ vehicles in the lot:
(Looking for big rims is the best way to identify a player’s car, I’ve learned.)
NYSEG Stadium was still quiet at this hour …
… and so were the streets around the park:
It’s pretty sweet that Alliance Bank Stadium and NYSEG Stadium are so close to each other, right? Well, drive another hour south, and you’ll come across PNC Field, home of the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees. I visited here last year, but I was really excited to see it again. As you might know, the stadium is undergoing a major renovation that has forced the Yanks to play all of 2012 as a road team. The plan was to park and walk around to check out the changes, but upon arriving, it was clear that visitors weren’t encouraged:
Not to be thwarted, but also not really wanting to break the rules, I headed for the lookout point on a road high above the park to see what I could see. Last year, I took this photo:
And from roughly the same spot today, here’s what the park looks like:
Wow! As you can see, work crews are in the midst of tearing an awful lot of the stadium apart:
The upper deck looks a bit like it’s from a ghost stadium:
The team’s championship and player banners have certainly seen better days:
In general, most of the stadium was rough looking …
… but it was encouraging to see a number of people busily working away:
Oddly enough, the grass is still in immaculate shape and the PNC Field logo behind home plate is pristine:
Today’s lunch was to be the only lunch or dinner on my road trip that I wasn’t scheduled to be at a ballpark. And because it was approaching noon, I ducked over to a nearby Quiznos and grabbed a sub …
… and now I can say I ate this meal with baseball as a backdrop, too!
After lunch, I resumed the drive to New Jersey, and the weather, which had been iffy all morning, quickly got worse:
Eventually, the rain let up a little — enough for my Grade 2 self to take a photo of a sign marking the small town called Buttzville:
I checked into my hotel around 3 p.m., hung out for a bit and then jumped in the car again for the short drive to Lakewood. As you might guess from the time of this post, the BlueClaws game was rained out. But that didn’t stop me from checking out the ballpark and coming across a number of cool things. I’ll sum up my visit in my next post, which will come either later tonight or tomorrow.
If you’re new to this blog, thanks for stopping by. Please follow me on Twitter to catch the latest from my road trip adventure!
Ballpark giveaways are a bit of a double-edged sword in my mind. On one hand, it’s usually fun to add something new to your collection, especially when it’s free. On the other hand, giveaway days draw more fans, which means longer lines, less space to walk, etc.
Still, if I see a giveaway day when I’m planning a road trip, I do what I can to arrange my schedule so that I can take advantage of the giveaway.
Over the past couple summers, I’ve added a handful of unique items to my collection. Some have actually been useful, too.
Here are the items that I accumulated in 2010 and 2011.
Cleveland Indians – Kenny Lofton Bobblehead
When I visited Progressive Field in 2010 for Kenny Lofton Indians Hall of Fame induction night, fans were given this Lofton bobblehead. I like how it replicates his famous catch in ’96. I also got a bobblehead last year when I was in Lansing. You can check it out here.
Lansing Lugnuts – Sticker
The story about getting this sticker was sort of funny. I read on Lansing’s website that if it’s your first Lugnuts game, you should visit the guest services booth to get a Lugnuts sticker. Cool, I thought. I’ll get a Lugnuts logo sticker that I can put on my laptop. And if other teams have a similar giveaway, I can build a MiLB sticker collection. Obviously, the sticker aimed at toddlers isn’t what I was expecting. I left guest services with a bit of a sheepish look on my face — but with the sticker in hand.
Detroit Tigers – Pin
I’m not sure I’ll ever find the occasion to wear this Tigers pin in the lapel of a suit jacket, but nonetheless, it’s a nice giveaway. This wasn’t given to every fan upon entering Comerica Park; you had to sign up for some mailing list to receive the pin.
Binghamton Mets – Lip Chap
This B-Mets lip chap is one of the most useful giveaways I’ve ever received. I got it last July 4 during a stop at NYSEG Stadium. Of course, I’m drawn to the baseball shape of the container. Pretty cool.
Portland Sea Dogs – Baseball
Fans who played catch on the field at Hadlock Field when I visited last July were given a Sea Dogs baseball. When I was in Vermont in August, the team had a similar giveaway — although I was busy getting autographs outside the clubhouse and the balls were gone by the time I got to field level.
Cleveland Indians – Tribe Time Towel
My brother and I hit Progressive Field last September and took in Jim Thome Night. Fans were given It’s Tribe Time Now towels, which we got to wave when Thome hit his last home run as an Indian.
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.
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.
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.
I watched a heck of a lot of MiLB games in person last summer, and saw hundreds of players. When MLB released its Top 100 Prospects list last week, I started scrolling through it and was amazed at how many of these guys I saw throughout my travels. I also got photos of a bunch of them. Here they are:
#2: Bryce Harper – Hagerstown Suns
Harper was hurt when I visited Hagerstown, but I saw him and tried my hardest to get his autograph. I blogged about that entire experience, so check it out if you haven’t already seen it.
#12: Jesus Montero – Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees
I saw Montero, who was recently traded to Seattle, on the first day of my second big road trip. He didn’t play this game, but amusingly spent several minutes before first pitch standing on the top dugout step and making hand signals with his girlfriend several rows up. (I wish I’d gotten a photo, but I was sitting so close that it would’ve been blatantly obvious.)
#15: Jacob Turner – Erie SeaWolves
I actually got to see Turner pitch when he was with Erie. I stood right behind him as he was warming up in the bullpen, which was an amazing experience. He didn’t get the win, but gave up three runs through seven innings with eight strikeouts.
#25: Travis D’Arnaud – New Hampshire Fisher Cats
I’m happy I got to witness one game out of D’Arnaud’s 2011 Eastern League MVP season. On the game on July 28, he had a hit and a stolen base.
Four guys in the top 25. Not bad, right?
#35: Christian Yelich – Greensboro Grasshoppers
Yelich and his teammates played the Delmarva Shorebirds when I was there on June 28. Yelich didn’t get a hit, although in reviewing the box score, I’m amused to see the ‘Birds had five of their starting nine named Michael … including 1-2 hitters Michael Mooney and Michael Rooney. Collectively, the five Michaels went 1-18 in the game. But I digress.
#38: Matt Harvey – Binghamton Mets
I watched the B-Mets twice this season and saw Harvey start the game in Bowie on June 26. He got roughed up, giving up nine hits and four earned runs in 4.2 innings.
#40: Starling Marte – Altoona Curve
I saw Marte when I was in Harrisburg and Portland. He had one hit against Harrisburg and against Portland, had a single and two doubles.
#51: Nick Castellanos – West Michigan Whitecaps
I saw Castellanos go 1-for-4 with an RBI during my visit to Comstock Park, MI to watch the West Michigan Whitecaps in May.
#56: Will Middlebrooks – Portland Sea Dogs
I was lucky enough to see Middlebrooks’ team on two occasions, both at home and on the road. On July 4 in Binghamton, he went 3-for-3 with two RBIs, two walks and three runs scored. He didn’t play at home on July 31.
#57: Anthony Gose – New Hampshire Fisher Cats
Despite stealing 70 bases in ’11, Gose only managed to get picked off when I saw him in July. Before the game, I was able to get his autograph.
#60: Rymer Liriano – Fort Wayne TinCaps
My May visit to Fort Wayne was one of my summer highlights. Seeing Liriano was pretty cool, too. He walked twice, stole two bases and scored two runs.
#73: Mason Williams – Staten Island Yankees
As I enjoyed eating crab at Aberdeen’s Ripken Stadium, I watched Williams hit a triple and drive in two runs.
#75: Brad Peacock – Harrisburg Senators
I got to see Peacock pitch when I visited Harrisburg. He pitched a gem, going 6.2 innings with five hits allowed and no runs with six strikeouts. He’s since been traded to the Oakland A’s organization.
#88: A.J. Cole – Hagerstown Suns
Cole got the win on June 27 against Lakewood, throwing five innings of two-hit ball after Chien-Ming Wang pitched the first three in a rehab start.
#90: Jeurys Familia – Binghamton Mets
Familia got the start during my July 4 visit to Binghamton, and picked up his first win in the Eastern League, pitching five shutout innings and striking out six.
Of note, there were six guys on this list who weren’t in the lineup when I saw their teams. As such, I’m not counting them. (I’m counting Harper because of my successful quest to get his autograph.) But still, 15 out of the top 100 (and 22 if you count the guys who weren’t playing) is great. I hope to see even more of these guys, including some of the new draftees, on my travels this summer.
The last stop on my 12-day, 12-game road trip was Binghamton, NY, for an Independence Day showdown between the Binghamton Mets (NY Mets) and the Portland Sea Dogs (Boston Red Sox). The game was set for 6:35 p.m., with an extensive fireworks show to be held afterward.
I arrived in town around 3 p.m. and bought my ticket. On the way back to my (illegally) parked car, I saw a coach bus from Maine stopped by the curb. I suspected it was the Sea Dogs bus, and sure enough, the door soon opened and out came the team, entering the stadium through the gate in the left field corner.
My next mission was to book a hotel; once I did, I unpacked my car and headed back to NYSEG Stadium, which has an ample parking lot that costs $3:
I made a quick stop in the empty parking lot behind the outfield fence, where a couple fans were hoping to snag a ball during batting practice:
I took a look at the scene, however, and decided that it wasn’t worth waiting here. There’s a gap of at least 10 feet between the outfield fence and a second fence, so it’d take a big shot to clear both.
Besides, the gates were opening 1.5 hours early today, so I’d be able to get in while BP was still going on.
I got my usual ticket photo …
… noting how nice this ticket is. So many MiLB tickets are plain, but I like the colors on this one.
Before I entered, I took a quick shot of the front of NYSEG Stadium …
… and the ticket office itself:
There was a lot to see once I got inside the stadium. The team had a giant hallway full of merchandise:
A number of plaques featuring former Binghamton Mets:
And a big, Mets-themed kids’ play area:
I walked quickly through the kids’ area, however, to get to a picnic section down the right field line. A guy already there said he’d just caught a BP ball, and I knew I would be able to get on the board if I stayed for a bit, too. Sure enough, less than five minutes after standing here …
… I snagged this old, Eastern League ball:
The Mets were taking BP, so a bunch of the guys were out shagging in the outfield:
I figured I might get more than one ball, but only one other came remotely near me, and I misplayed its carom off the fence and missed it.
When BP wrapped up, I took a walk around the stadium to note a few features. There’s a rail yard/line right behind the left field fence, so trains roll through on occasion:
NYSEG Stadium opened for the 1992 season, and as you can see below, it’s got a selection of suites above the seats behind home plate:
I then took a walk down to the left field corner where a few Sea Dogs were hanging around the bullpen. I watched Portland’s Chih-Hsien Chiang do some running with a trainer/interpreter type:
Then watched Stolmy Pimentel throw a bullpen session:
After his session, he got some tips from pitching coach Bob Kipper and catcher Matt Spring:
When their chat wrapped up, I headed back to the main concourse where I browsed the B-Mets’ team shop, which contained a ton of cracked bats …
… and bought an on-field warm-up jacket off the discount rack for $28.
I noticed an open grill area behind home plate, used to cook burgers, sausages and other snacks. Neat, in theory, but it made SO much smoke that flowed through the concourse around the grill:
Later, I went back to the field level to take some action shots of guys warming up. You’ll notice below that Binghamton was wearing patriotic jerseys in honor of Independence Day.
Here’s Portland starter Chris Balcom-Miller (who got royally lit up):
Mets outfielder Matt Den Dekker:
Outfielder Raul Reyes:
Starter Jeurys Familia and catcher Salomon Manriquez:
When the game was about to begin, roughly a zillion summer camp kids descended on the stadium. I was surprised to see this, as it was a holiday and an evening, but it was happening nonetheless. My seat was roughly in the middle of this pack below, and it goes without saying that I didn’t both venturing anywhere near the crowd:
Instead, I took up a spot along the third base line:
The B-Mets jumped all over Portland early, scoring seven runs in the second inning. From my vantage spot, I had a good view of the B-Mets coming around third base to score over and over again. I also was able to get a neat shot of a Bingo player jumping out of the way of a pitch:
Later in the game, I went behind home plate to take this panorama …
… then pushed my way through the gigantic crowd of kids who were milling everywhere. I made it back to the relative quiet of the right field area, where some Portland guys were hanging out in the picnic area instead of the bullpen. And they were looking dejected, I might add:
I had hoped to get a decent meal of a sausage, potatoes and corn on the cob, but they were unfortunately sold out by the midway point of the game. Instead, I opted for perogies:
I added a bit of pepper just so they weren’t looking up at me so forlornly, but they didn’t do much for me. Next time, I’ll be sure to eat earlier in the game when there’s more selection.
I took another panorama from field level in the eighth inning, when hordes of Mayflies were descending on the stadium:
And then, left before the fireworks began. A ton of people from the area had arrived in time for the end of the game, meaning getting out after the fireworks would be a lengthy process. Instead, I left right at the end of the game and got to hear (and occasionally, see) the fireworks from my hotel room.