About a year ago, I wrote a blog post detailing all the shirts I’d bought or picked up in stadium giveaways during my 2011 road trips. I didn’t get as many shirts in 2012, partly because I didn’t attend quite as many games and partly because I’ve got to pull back the reins on my T-shirt collection. If you saw my closet, you’d know what I mean.
Anyway, I still managed to add a half-dozen shirts to the collection this year.
Here they are in the order in which I bought ’em:
I’ve been to Tri-City’s Joseph L. Bruno Stadium on two occasions, 2010 and 2012, and I loved the experience each time. When I visited in 2010, the ‘Cats were hosting the Brooklyn Cyclones in the first game of the New York-Penn League championship, which Tri-City eventually won. And when I got back to the park this past August, one of the items that caught my eye in the team shop was a long-sleeved T-shirt commemorating that title. Here’s a close-up of the front of the shirt:
And the back, which has a fun pun:
The Detroit Tigers are one of my favorite MLB teams, and given that I really like the look of their NYPL affiliate’s uniforms and logo, I had my mind set on buying something from the Connecticut Tigers’ team shop during my visit. A few items stood out, but when I saw this Connecticut Defenders T-shirt on the remainder rack, I had to grab it. The Tigers have played in Norwich, CT, since 2010, but before that, the city was home to the Double-A Defenders from 1995 to 2009. As you might’ve read in my last post, I’m interested in military history, so the sub design is cool. And I couldn’t resist the price tag of just $3:
Some shirts quickly become among your favorites, and this Lowell Spinners pullover is on that list. As you might remember from last year’s post about clothing, I bought a Binghamton Mets pullover in 2011. That shirt was a replica of what the players wear on the field, but this Spinners item is made by Majestic and is exactly what the players wear. I love the look and feel of these pullovers (who thought this blog would turn into a fashion critique?) and will be on the lookout this summer for other pullovers like it:
And here’s a close-up of the stitched logo beneath the collar:
Toronto Blue Jays 1
I hit two Jays games in September and because all my Jays stuff features the old logo, I wanted to get something featuring the current design. Before the game, I stopped and bought this Brett Lawrie jersey T-shirt:
And here’s the back:
Toronto Blue Jays 2
I ended up wearing the Lawrie T-shirt for both games, but in the second game at Rogers Centre, the team was giving away player jersey T-shirts because it was fan appreciation weekend. There were a number of guys featured on the shirts, and I ended up getting J.P. Arencibia. It’s neat to have a white jersey T-shirt to contrast the blue one, and even neater that Arencibia wasn’t traded away in the off-season. Except for the hardware store logo on the sleeve, you’d never know this wasn’t the type of shirt sold in stores:
True, I didn’t visit D.C. this summer, but last year, my brother got me a gift card to the MLB Shop for Christmas, and I’d been hanging onto it until I found something I really wanted. Just before Christmas, I bought this Bryce Harper jersey T-shirt. If you’re new to this blog, check out this post to see why I’m such a fan of Harper. Here’s the front:
And the back:
I’ve still got a bunch of cool things to blog about this off-season before I start revealing my road trip plans for 2013. If you’re planning any trips yourself, check out The Ballpark Guide to learn how to make the most of your ballpark visits and, as always, you can follow me on Twitter.
I had an outstanding visit to Wilmington’s Daniel S. Frawley Stadium to watch the Blue Rocks host the Potomac Nationals last month. That visit included a pre-game, all-access tour, a half-inning in the press box and more. If you haven’t already read about it, here’s how it all went down.
As I said a while back, I added a cool game-used souvenir to my collection while I was in Wilmington, and here it is:
It’s a lineup card that hung in the visitors dugout at Potomac’s G. Richard Pfitzner Stadium during the Blue Rocks’ 5-4 loss to Potomac on May 4. The team was selling these for a whopping $2 in the team shop, so I couldn’t resist getting one.
And because I’m a baseball nerd, here are a handful of cool things about it:
– I think it’s neat that the Kansas City Royals (Wilmington’s parent club) is on the card. It doesn’t actually say Wilmington (or Potomac, for that matter) anywhere.
– As you can see on the Wilmington column, reserve Brian Fletcher was moved off the bench (hence his name being crossed out under the Extras header) to the third spot in the batting order midway through the game.
– Because this was Wilmington manager Vance Wilson’s lineup, there were considerably more notations next to the opponents’ names. I have no idea what the highlighter strokes next to the 1, 2 and 6 hitters mean, but the S and L notations denote switch hitter or left-handed hitter. The other little markings, which you can see around both teams’ lineups are codes used by the manager to note in-game events. And the star next to David Freitas’ name? I have no idea, except it might mean: “Beware. This guy’s good.” Freitas went 0-for-4 in the game but had a .356 average at the time.
– I find it interesting that Wilson didn’t fill out the bullpen pitchers in the designated spot. I’ve seen lots of lineup cards, and I believe this is the first I’ve seen without the pitchers. As you can see, he did add the names of the two umpires.
– Here’s something else intriguing. The 10 spot, which is used for each starting pitcher, isn’t correct on the Wilmington side. Wilson had Yordano Ventura penned in for the start, but it was actually Ryan Dennick who took the ball. (Ventura pitched two days later against Potomac.) It’s funny that Wilson didn’t mark this change.
There are a ton of other cool things, and before long, I’ll have written 1,500 words about a lineup card. Two players I want to quickly point out, though: Randolph Oduber, who led off for the P-Nats, played last season in Hagerstown, where I got a couple photos of him walking with Bryce Harper. And the Beltre you see on the Wilmington side isn’t Adrian, obviously. It’s the lesser-known Geulin. (This is only worth mentioning because I heard fans excitedly saying Adrian Beltre was playing after they saw the starting lineups posted in the stadium concourse.)
This is the second lineup card in my collection. Last year, I bought an MLB one in Detroit, which you can read about here.
Finally, since we’re on the topic of Wilmington, I thought I’d post a picture of the souvenir cup I got during my visit. (With a Carolina League ball beside it for perspective.) I’ve collected a handful of souvenir cups on my travels over the years, so one day, I’ll blog about them. In the meantime, here’s the Blue Rocks one, which features a 2012 schedule:
If all goes according to plan, I should have some early details on my next road trip next week. Either way, I plan to have a couple more blog posts.
Every single day, a number of people find my blog on the Internet by searching for Washington Nationals prospect Bryce Harper. And why not? Harper is arguably the most exciting — and promising — baseball prospect to come along in years. Visitors to my blog find me by searching his name, his now-famous truck and his autograph.
Fortunately, and the reason that people find my blog when searching for Harper, I got to see him last summer when he was a member of the Hagerstown Suns. Back on June 27, I visited Hagerstown’s Municipal Stadium to watch the Suns against the Lakewood Blueclaws.
Harper was nursing a minor injury and wasn’t in the lineup during my visit. But as soon as I made it to the parking lot at the rear of the ballpark, I saw his truck and knew he was around.
Here are some pictures of the truck:
This was pretty cool to see. I’ve since seen Harper post pics of his vehicles on his Twitter feed, but this was the first time I saw his ride in person.
After taking these pictures, I waited for Municipal Stadium to open and quickly secured a spot along the fence near the Suns clubhouse, waiting for Harper to come out. He finally did, just before 7 p.m., walking alongside teammate Randolph Oduber. I was waiting with camera in hand:
I was hoping for an autograph, but as you can tell from the sequence above, Harper came toward me and kept walking.
Other fans, however, were luckier. Anyone who thinks that Harper isn’t fan friendly probably isn’t speaking from experience. Even though the other players had finished signing and the first pitch was just moments away, Harper stopped and signed:
After snapping this picture, I made my way through the crowd to get a better angle. All the while, Harper signed:
He even stood waiting as a veteran climbed all the way down from the top of the bleachers to get an autograph. Not exactly the type of behavior that some in the media are focusing on, is it?
Once the game begun, Harper took a spot on the top step of the dugout:
A few innings in, he spent part of an inning serving as Hagerstown’s first base coach:
While I didn’t manage to get his autograph before the game, I didn’t give up. Thirty or 40 minutes after the final out, I met Harper beside his truck where I chatted with him for a moment and he signed my ball for me:
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
#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.
Harpermania, otherwise known as my visit to see the Hagerstown Suns, began about 2 p.m. on June 27. I’d been in my hotel all morning and was getting a little stir-crazy. So, I decided to go out and grab some lunch, then check out Municipal Stadium, home of the Suns. I didn’t expect to see much going on five hours before first pitch, but I wondered if I’d be able to find a ball beyond the outfield fence.
So far, I’ve managed 12 balls in four games, and wanted that streak to continue. More importantly, however, this would be my first game in the South Atlantic League, and I really wanted a SAL ball to add to my collection of balls from different leagues as I continue to hit different leagues through my travels for The Ballpark Guide.
Getting a ball in this manner, however, would prove impossible. Beyond the outfield fence at Municipal Stadium stands a giant fence that would be tough to clear. Now, I’m sure Harper can do it in BP, but it wouldn’t be an easy task. Here’s the fence:
So, no balls. I took another brief look around and headed back to my hotel to wait for a couple more hours.
About 5 p.m., I returned to the ballpark and went back behind the fence, where I noticed this:
It was an old, scuffed ball with part of its leather missing. I didn’t bother picking it up, nor did I find any other balls back here.
Here’s another shot of the fence that shows just how high it is:
There’s a road just beyond the fence, which is likely the reason for a fence so tall. I found a gate in right field that was open enough to watch batting practice from afar:
There was a ball laying near the fence post, and while I really wanted one, it was a little risky to walk in and get it. After a few minutes of watching with about 10 other fans, a stadium guy who took his job way too seriously came and closed the gate on us, saying, “Show’s over.” I watched for a few minutes longer through the fence (strictly out of principle), then turned to the coolest attraction in the area:
Want to guess who it belongs to? Yep, it’s Harper’s truck. I saw this truck parked discretely (as if the thing could ever be discrete) behind the grounds crew’s hut. The other players all parked in the lot in front of the stadium, but Harper gets hounded so much that he obviously parks back here.
I should note that once I saw this truck (and confirmed it was Harper’s due to its Nevada plates), I was unsure about posting these photos. I didn’t want to infringe on his privacy and show everyone what he’s driving. I Googled “Bryce Harper truck” and there are news stories, blogs, YouTube clips and all sorts of stuff online, including photos, about his truck. So, it’s not as though I’m breaking new ground here.
All that said, look at this bad boy:
By the way, it’s a 2011 Toyota Tundra completely customized.
Eventually, I returned back to the front of the stadium and took a parking lot panorama …
… then bought my ticket:
There were still about 30 minutes to go before the gates opened, so I lined up and waited. Season ticket holders get in 15 minutes before the rest of the crowd, and you should’ve seen the hubbub it caused. I mean, it’s like this in most stadiums, but people are so bitter. There was a solid 15 minutes’ worth of grumbling, complaining and questioning from the time the gates opened for the season ticket holders. Old lady behind me kept asking rhetorical questions, including, “Why can’t they just let everyone in early?”
I turned around: “It’s a matter of insurance. If you go in before you’re allowed, and hurt yourself, the team might not be insured because fans weren’t supposed to be there.” It’s the same reason you can’t go into the bank five minutes early. Rules are rules.
Anyway, bitter, annoying people aside, the gates did indeed open when they were supposed to, and I went in. Normally, I take a quick tour to get my bearings, but this time, I wanted to get straight to the Suns clubhouse area to try to get Harper to sign something. Not that this idea was original — everyone else went for it, too.
I was in a good position, or so I thought, to get an autograph. Over the next 30 minutes, players from both sides (the Suns were playing the Lakewood Blueclaws, the Phillies’ affiliate) came out and signed some autographs. No Harper. People were getting agitated. Here’s where I was standing:
The players come out of the clubhouses on the right and make their way past you to the dugouts.
As much as people wanted Harper, there was an equal enthusiasm for the Suns’ starter, who was Hagerstown on a rehab start. Who was it? None other than former Yankee Chien-Ming Wang. This was his first appearance in the Washington Nationals organization since joining the franchise, and people were ecstatic. There was a sizable Taiwanese media contingent and a ton of fans who’d flown from Taiwan. I asked a couple how long it took, and they said 24 hours. Being a rehab start, Wang was scheduled to pitch just three innings — talk about dedicated fans!
Soon, Wang came out to stretch …
… and his fan club took photos while being photographed by Taiwanese media:
By about 6:40 p.m., almost all of the players were out on the field, and stretched up:
Wang started to toss under the watchful eye of the media:
And still, no Harper.
Here’s what I hate about autograph collectors: They make life a living hell for guys like Harper. Yes, the kid is a public figure, and yes, he has an obligation to his fans. But you know a huge percentage of the autographs he signs are going on eBay within 24 hours, and he knows it, too. “But he’s a millionaire,” people say, “Why should he care?” Would you want someone profiting off your name without being compensated for it?
The longer Harper didn’t appear, the more angry people became. A minute earlier, they would’ve hand-cleaned his jockstrap for a signature, calling him “Mr. Harper” and “sir” while they did it. Now, it was, “Who does he think he is, staying in the clubhouse?” He’s staying there to keep the heck away from you vultures!
(And before you lump me in with these people, hear me out: I don’t sell autographs and I am polite. I say please and thank you, and if a guy doesn’t sign for me, I don’t start hating him. Sure, I’d love a Harper autograph, but if he doesn’t sign, my world’s not going to end.)
One final rant about this: People have elaborate schemes to get him to sign. Many use their kids. I heard one guy telling his five year old how he’d buy the kid the “biggest ice cream ever” if the kid could get Harper to sign. Others drop items at the player’s feet so he’ll pick them up. Others justify their actions, saying, “He asked for this life.” Freaking brutal, people.
I guess, all this to say I feel bad for Harper and those like him. He’s a prodigious talent and has been in an intense spotlight since he was a kid. Wouldn’t you think that in his first year of pro ball, he’d rather be out stretching and playing catch with his teammates? Instead, he’s hiding in the clubhouse until the last possible second. Sad.
At 7 p.m., Harper emerged and the crowd went bananas. Here’s my first look at him:
He walked right by me …
… and signed for a handful of people down the line. I scrambled to get near him, but wasn’t able to get close enough. I did get close enough, however, for a nice picture:
After signing maybe 25-30 autographs, he went into the dugout and the crowd dispersed. I took this opportunity to go check out Municipal Stadium’s team shop.
There were overpriced Harper T-shirts and jerseys. T-shirts cost $27, which seems a little much for a Single-A shirt, and jerseys were $200! (I didn’t see one single person in the crowd wearing a jersey.)
When the game begun, I walked around to a picnic area down the third base line and looked back at the Suns dugout to see Harper:
Here’s a panorama from the area:
So far, I hadn’t done well with my two goals for the game: Get an SAL ball and get Harper’s signature. I decided to see what I could do about goal #1 by taking a quick look around the picnic deck, which had lots of places a ball could be trapped. About five seconds after starting to look, here’s what I saw:
It’s an Official South Atlantic League ball, and the first such ball in my collection:
So far, my collection includes balls from the Major Leagues, Eastern League, Midwest League, International League, New York-Penn League and now the South Atlantic League. I couldn’t be more excited!
I sat in a few different areas throughout the game, and despite Municipal Stadium being one of the oldest ballparks I’ve attended in a while, it was neat. There are some drawbacks, but lots of perks, too. The menu looked impressive, with a wide range of items. I decided to skip a meal, however, as the thought of another consecutive day of ballpark food wasn’t really appealing.
Here’s a panorama I took from behind home plate:
Wang’s Taiwan contingent remained faithful throughout the game …
… and even gathered in the parking lot late in the game in the hopes of meeting him.
After the game wrapped up, I waited with other fans along the first base-side fence, hoping that Harper would sign more autographs. Somehow, he pulled a total disappearing act; none of us saw him walk by, but pretty soon, the field and dugout were completely empty. Obviously, there’s no tunnel connecting the dugout and clubhouse, so he either left way early (and none of us noticed) or he hunkered down in the dugout, out of sight, until everyone left.
Anyway, when it was clear he wasn’t going to walk by, I went out into the parking lot and milled around the entrance to the stadium, where the Taiwanese fans were hoping to see Wang. I waited maybe 10 minutes, and a staff member walked by and told he Wang wouldn’t come out through this door.
I figured I’d just head back to my hotel for the night, but then had a better idea.
Then I had the thought of going back to the rear parking lot to see if Harper would sign. I decided that if there were others there, I’d wait with them. If no one was there, I’d let Harper be. There was just one guy standing around with his daughter, so I waited to see what would happen. Maybe 20 minutes later, or about 40 minutes after the game ended, the rear door opened and a clubhouse attendant stuck his head out. “Sorry, guys, he’s not signing tonight,” he told us. Harper emerged a second later and it was cool to see him so close.
He went straight to his truck and met with a couple buddies for a minute. Then, one of the guys said, “I’ll let you sign for these guys and then they can go on their way,” and Harper nodded.
He signed a pair of autographs for the first guy, then I asked if he would mind signing a ball for me. He nodded again. I didn’t want to look like a professional autograph seeker, so I asked if he’d make the ball out to me. I spelled my name for him and told him I’d come all the way from Canada.
“Cool. Thanks for coming,” he said, and handed my newly signed ball back to me.
He was really polite — quiet, but polite. People rag on him for having a supposed attitude. I read an interview with his dad, who said he taught all his kids to “be like John Wayne on the baseball field,” and that’s what Harper is. Call it what you want; he’s immensely talented and confident in his skills. Don’t forget he’s only 18, too. That’s what people forget when they criticize people younger than them.
Getting his autograph made my day, and is the highlight of my trip thus far. I liked what I read about this kid when I first read that Sports Illustrated cover article two years ago, and now I’m an even bigger fan.
Thanks, Bryce, for taking the time to sign and best of luck in your career. Don’t let the idiots who complain about you get you down.
Oh, and here’s the ball: