I’ve traveled to more than 50 stadiums for The Ballpark Guide, and have managed to pick up some pretty cool souvenirs along the way. These include:
– A Jeremy Nowak (Frederick Keys) home run ball;
– A Tony Caldwell (Greensboro Grasshoppers) home run ball;
– A Randy Ruiz game-used bat;
– A New Hampshire Fisher Cats game-used jacket;
– A Ryan Skube (former Padres prospect) game-used bat;
– A Curtis Thigpen clubhouse nameplate — OK, not “game-used,” but you know what I mean.
Well, as promised, I added a couple really neat items to my collection during my travels last year.
Here’s the first one:
This is a game-used bat that belonged to Justin O’Conner, the Tampa Bay Rays‘ first-round draft pick in 2010. I bought it in May when I visited Bowling Green Ballpark, home of the Bowling Green Hot Rods. (You can read about this visit here.) It’s exciting to have a bat from a first rounder. I actually saw O’Conner play back in 2012 at the Futures at Fenway game at Fenway Park, and managed to get his autograph on a ball. Last year, when I saw his bat in the team shop at Bowling Green Ballpark, I couldn’t resist grabbing it.
As you can see here, it’s got his name written on the knob:
Lots of signs of use on the handle:
And a ton of wear on the barrel, which shows that he used this bat an awful lot before it broke. Here are some ball marks:
And some little chips, which are caused by when you tap the bat’s barrel against your cleats to them off:
O’Conner hit .223 for the Hot Rods in 2013 but showed some solid pop with 14 home runs in 102 games. I’ll be excited to see where he starts the 2014 season and look forward to following his career.
The next item I added to my collection has a little mystery to it. It’s a Lexington Legends game-used batting practice jersey, and here’s a picture of it:
When I visited Whitaker Bank Ballpark, home of the Legends, in May, I was excited to see a TON of game-used jerseys for sale at decent prices. Often, you see Minor League Baseball game-used jerseys for around $100, which seems like a little much. Anyway, the BP jerseys were just $25, which was impossible to resist. I browsed through the available jerseys, worn during the 2012 season, while checking out the team’s 2012 roster on The Baseball Cube. My goal was to find a jersey of a player with promise, and when I came across the #8 jersey, I saw it apparently belonged to first baseman Zach Johnson. While with Lexington in 2012, Johnson hit 15 home runs and added 108 RBIs. I was sold, and grabbed the jersey off the rack.
When I took it to the counter, the staff member said, “Nice — Delino DeShields, Jr.” Huh? I told him I was pretty sure this was Johnson’s jersey, pointing to the data on my iPod.
He replied that he thought DeShields might have worn the #8 on a promotional jersey night when his usual #4 wasn’t available in his size. If that was the case, what number did Johnson wear on that night? Or did Johnson play? As I said, it’s a mystery.
I have to admit I’m intrigued about DeShields, though. While with the Legends in 2012, he stole 83 bases in 111 games. Yep, you read that right. He added 18 more steals in 24 games with High-A Lancaster to finish the year with 101 stolen bases. This total would be enough to be the best in the entire minor leagues virtually any year, if not for a guy named Billy Hamilton. Hamilton, of course, set the all-time record by swiping 155 bases. (I was lucky enough to see him play at Louisville Slugger Field last year, too.)
So, did I have the jersey of Johnson, a slugger who was released last year, or of DeShields, Jr., a first-round draft pick who might be on the fast track to the majors? (He played in High-A last season and stole 51 bases while batting .317 while just 20 years of age.)
Let’s look at some more pictures of the jersey before we wade even deeper into this mystery. Here’s a shot of the #8 in question:
The back of the entire jersey:
And a close-up of the Legends logo, which has a sharp design:
Now, back to the mystery. I’ve found proof that Johnson wore my jersey in 2012. The next four pictures I found online, and were taken by Clinton Riddle.
And here’s one that shows the front of the jersey:
The Baseball Cube says DeShields wore #4 in 2012, and I’ve found proof of that with this picture:
And here’s the front of his jersey:
As you can tell from these photos, they’re taken during BP, not during a game.
So, based on what The Baseball Cube says, and with the photographic proof I can find online, I’m sure the jersey is Johnson’s. But I’m curious about the suggestion of the team shop employee, and I’m determined to find out the truth. I’m going to contact the Legends, as well as DeShields, Jr., himself, to get to the bottom of this mystery.
And when I have an answer, I’ll share it here!
** UPDATE **
Well, that didn’t take long. Immediately after publishing this blog post, I sent messages on Twitter to DeShields, Jr. and the Legends. DeShields was the first to respond, and he straightened things up:
Now, I’m not up on the nicknames of former Legends players, but it looks like “Ziggy” is Zach Johnson, which means my initial understanding about the jersey’s rightful owner was correct. An hour later, the Legends confirmed things:
I suppose there’s still a chance DeShields wore the jersey once, but that’s probably difficult to confirm. In any case, the theory about the rightful owner of the BP jersey sure made for a fun mystery while it lasted.
As always, thanks for reading. Please visit The Ballpark Guide for comprehensive fan guides to MLB and MiLB parks and remember, each of your visits help support my road trips!
After a couple outstanding days in Cincinnati, I was on the move again. And early, too, given the following travel considerations:
– The Midwest League’s Bowling Green Hot Rods were hosting the Fort Wayne TinCaps at 2 p.m.
– I wanted to get to Bowling Green Ballpark before noon.
– The drive from Cincy to Bowling Green is nearly 3.5 hours and I had a couple stops to make.
All this meant that despite more than a week of traveling and a lack of sleep, I was up bright and early on a Sunday morning to hit the road in good time.
The Hot Rods and, more specifically, broadcasting and media relations manager Hank Fuerst, were kind enough to supply me with a media pass for my visit. There was a lot of construction around Bowling Green Ballpark during my visit, and when I pulled up, I had no idea where to park. After a couple trips around the park, I decided to park in the player/staff lot. Players, staff and media members often share lots in the minors, so I didn’t think there’d be a problem stashing my car here for a few hours. Here’s the rather nondescript area I parked:
My car is out of the frame to the left, and to get out of the lot, I walked through a gate just at the right of the picture. As I passed through the gate and reached the sidewalk, I got a pleasant surprise:
Batting practice was taking place, and despite being a good chunk more than 500 feet from home plate, a nicely worn Midwest League baseball was sitting in plain view. I was initially puzzled by its location, but didn’t take long to realize what’d happened. You can see a tiny green sliver of the field above the tractor with the two yellow seats, which means the outfield fence gate was open. The ball must have rolled through the gate, hit the edge of the chain-link gate to the left of the photo and followed along the bottom of the gate until ending up on the sidewalk. I had no idea how long the ball had sat there, but was happy to add it to my collection.
I decided to take a walk around the perimeter of the park, as per usual, and started to walk down this sidewalk:
Soon enough, I was behind the outfield fence and decided to take a few minutes to see if I could find any home run balls. The foliage, though, was what you might call thick:
I looked and looked and looked, and came up completely blank. No worries, though. A construction area up ahead cut my walk short, so I retraced my steps to the parking lot and then followed this sidewalk …
… until I saw this:
At first, I thought this was a pretty sedate-looking front gate, but then I realized I wasn’t yet at the front of the ballpark. A handful of additional paces later, this was the view:
Once I picked up my media pass, I cut through the team shop and was out to the concourse. The Hot Rods were stretching and playing catch, and I quickly spotted the game’s starting pitcher, Taylor Guerrieri, playing long toss. He’s ranked as the #2 prospect in Tampa Bay’s system, and this was the second time I was lucky enough to see him pitch. Last summer, I watched him at the Futures at Fenway game. I resisted the urge to explore the quiet ballpark and walked down the third base line to get as close to Guerrieri as I could. I like this next photo I got. You can almost see the two TinCaps in the background thinking, “Hmm, we’re facing the #40 prospect in baseball, huh?”
As Guerrieri kept throwing, I took the shots to make up this panorama:
A few minutes later, he was off to the bullpen to continue warming up, and I wasn’t far behind. Here, I got one more picture of Guerrieri …
… and then continued on my way. With activity over on the Fort Wayne side of the field, that’s where I headed next, getting this photo of outfielders Corey Adamson and Brian Adams stretching:
As excited as I was to see Guerrieri pitch, I was also pumped to see Fort Wayne’s starter. Joe Ross, a first-round pick in 2011, was touted earlier this year by MLB.com as the 12th-best prospect in the San Diego Padres organization. I was in for a match-up of two promising starters today. Mirroring my earlier pursuit of Guerrieri, I followed Ross to the bullpen and got this photo of him:
Next, I went up to the Bowling Green Ballpark press box to meet Hank, and up there, I also ran into Micheal Compton, who covers the Hot Rods for the local paper and is someone I follow on Twitter. It was fun to talk baseball with both guys, but before long I left them to their pre-game duties and went down to field level as first pitch approached. I grabbed a seat behind home plate. During the anthem, as I looked around the ballpark, I thought I saw myself in the background of the video board image, as I was just a few yards behind the girl singing the anthem. My camera was still hanging around my neck, so I fired off a quick shot to check out later:
Sure enough, that’s me in the red/orange shirt. There was a short delay on the video board, hence the image not showing me taking a photo.
I’d grabbed this seat for a couple reasons. One, it’s tough to argue with sitting in the first row behind home plate. And two, I wanted to get some head-on action shots of Guerrieri and Ross throwing.
I’ve said before that one of the things I love about live baseball is seeing things that TV broadcasts just don’t pick up. Case in point? Check out the patches and overall wear on Maxx Tissenbaum’s, uhh, rear:
The next inning, I got this photo of Ross …
… before my rumbling stomach led me to a concession stand. The concession menu in Bowling Green has a bunch of tasty-looking items, but I decided to keep it simple during this visit. I hadn’t yet eaten a hot dog on this trip (I’m not counting Akron’s Three Dog Night fiasco) and it’s tough to beat a ballgame on a perfect day with a couple dogs and an ice-cold water:
I should say an extra thanks to Hank and the Hot Rods, who provided me with a media voucher that paid for my lunch.
Bowling Green Ballpark has a feature that I’ve seen at several parks and absolutely love — bar-style tables for fans who want to stand and eat. It’s a nice change and after I ate my lunch here, I watched an inning or so:
Since I was close to the Hot Rods bullpen, I took another walk past and captured this photo of a handful of relievers who appeared to be enjoying the day as much as I was:
I spent the next inning behind the outfield fence with this glorious view, half hoping a home run ball might come my way:
On my way back toward the seating bowl, I saw another thing you wouldn’t notice on TV. Check out the dents in Jackie Robinson’s retired #42 sign:
It’s located in the Hot Rods bullpen, and obviously isn’t immune to home run balls during BP and in games. Seeking a bit of shade, I climbed up to the second deck and found a completely empty group picnic area down the first base line, where I enjoyed this view:
Up here, I experienced a first for me. I’ve never seen the protective netting behind home plate reach all the way up to the second deck, but if you look carefully at the above photo, that’s exactly the case here.
I was up here enjoying the shade in the eighth inning when the aforementioned Tissenbaum stepped to the plate and blasted a two-run home run to right field. It disappeared over the fence right in the area I’d been searching before the game, and I made a split-second decision to go after the ball with the hopes to finding it to return to him. Although I was sitting relatively close to right field, the construction fence blocked me off, so I made the lengthy trip around the other side of the park until I arrived here:
Hmmm. Where to look? Well, I got busy and started parting the clumps of greenery as quickly as I could, hoping to spot the clean, white sphere. It was stifling hot, especially after my long-distance run, but braving the heat and occasional pricks from branches, I soldiered on until I spotted a ball. Success? Nope. This ball had clearly been half-buried in the mud for days, if not weeks, and to loosely paraphrase Star Wars, it was not the ball I was looking for. I looked for a few more minutes and abandoned the dream of finding the ball to return to Tissenbaum before making the long trek back inside the ballpark.
As the game was winding down, I grabbed a seat behind home plate where, in the home half of the ninth, I had a great view as Bowling Green’s Joey Rickard was caught stealing. He wasn’t happy with the call and seemed in a bit of disbelief. Even as manager Jared Sandberg came out to argue, Rickard was still bent over and touching the base:
(The argument was to no avail.)
As the game wound down, I took a shot I’m really happy with …
… and watched Fort Wayne celebrate a win:
The Caps scored three runs in the first off Guerrieri and after Bowling Green came back to take a lead in the seventh, went ahead for good on the home run ball that I couldn’t find. Final score: Fort Wayne 6, Bowling Green 5.
I stopped at the team shop on the way out to buy a super-cool souvenir that I’ll share in a future blog post and then made the nine-minute drive to my hotel. On this night, I was staying at the Hilton Garden Inn Bowling Green, which is an awesome hotel. Not only was it close to the ballpark, but it was easy to find and looked really sharp from the outside, as you can see here:
I was happy to check into my room and find it nice and cool from the air conditioning. I was also pleased with the usual Hilton Garden Inn amenities — king-sized bed, desk, comfy chair, flat-screen TV, mini fridge and so on, as you can see here:
Although I was looking forward to relaxing in my room for the evening, I planned to make the very short drive to Outback for dinner. I always try to have one Outback dinner on each of my trips, and there was an Outback just a few minutes away from the hotel. And speaking of other things in the area, well, there are almost too many to list. The hotel is virtually walking distance to such eateries as Buffalo Wild Wings, Steak ‘n Shake and Double Dogs, a fun-looking hot dog-themed restaurant and bar. It’s also virtually next to the airport if you happen to be flying into town and a golf course if you enjoy sneaking a round of golf into your baseball road trips. All told, it was a great hotel and it’s definitely the spot I recommend picking when you visit Bowling Green for some Hot Rods baseball.
After touring the hotel a little, I went outside to check out the patio and fountain area …
… and then zipped over to Outback for a huge, tasty dinner before returning to the Hilton Garden Inn and watching Sunday Night Baseball. A perfect end to a perfect day.