Tagged: Buffalo Bisons

Rochester Red Wings – August 29

Whenever I meet new people on my baseball road trips and tell them about The Ballpark Guide, the question I’m most often asked is, “What’s your favorite park?” It’s a question that’s almost impossible to answer — how can you compare the history of a 100-year-old park with the amazing, modern amenities of a new one?

The way I answer this common question, albeit in a roundabout way, is to talk about which parks I’d pick if I could theoretically relocate somewhere and buy season tickets. Rochester’s Frontier Field is always on that list. I’ve often said that Frontier Field might offer my favorite all-round ballpark experience, and when I was planning my recent trip, I couldn’t resist kicking things off in Rochester.

All that said, I was pretty excited to hop in the car the morning of August 29 and punch Rochester into my GPS. I checked in to my amazing hotel when I got to town (lots more on that later) and made it to Frontier Field shortly before 4 p.m., a couple hours before first pitch. I closely follow the Rochester Red Wings, given my love of Frontier Field, and they were hosting the Buffalo Bisons during this final series of the International League regular season. Buffalo, of course, is the Triple-A affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays, and I hadn’t seen the Bisons in action since they became affiliated with the Jays. Lots of reasons to get inside and check things out!

First, though, I took the following photo from the parking lot, which shows not only the front gate of Frontier Field and the tip of the Kodak building beyond, but also a decent contingent of eager fans:

frontier-field-parking-lot-view

The reason for the early arrival? Stan Musial bobblehead night. As much as getting a bobblehead of Stan the Man was appealing, it wasn’t in the cards for me, as I didn’t have a ticket. The Red Wings were once again providing me with a media credential, which you can see here:

frontier-field-media-pass-malcolm

(Huge thanks to Tim from the Red Wings for taking care of me again this season.)

Before I entered, I took a series of photos to capture the pavilion in front of Frontier Field in panorama form …

frontier-field-front-gate-panorama

… and the next shot I took was my initial view of the ballpark’s suite level, upon exiting the elevator:

frontier-field-suite-level-hallway

I didn’t spend time exploring the suite level or pressbox; I’ve been lucky to check these areas out extensively in the past, and my priority was to get to field level. After making my way down to the concourse and out to the seating bowl, here’s the first thing I saw:

frontier-field-batting-practice-buffalo

Yep, it was the Bisons getting ready to hit. As you can see from the following panorama, Frontier Field was virtually deserted:

frontier-field-first-base-side-view-panorama

There’s something absolutely amazing about being in a nearly-empty ballpark. Watching BP is one of my favorite baseball experiences, and it doesn’t get any better than wandering around a virtually empty park with the music playing and the cracks of the bat in the background. I decided to take a full lap around the field, starting with a walk down the first base line. As I headed toward the foul pole, I came across a couple baseballs sitting on the grass. As per usual, it would’ve been tempting to grab ’em for my collection, but I didn’t want to use my media pass for any monkey business, so I steered clear:

frontier-field-balls-on-berm

I even left this home run ball, nestled just over the outfield fence, where it sat:

frontier-field-batting-practice-home-run-ball

When I got to the left field corner, I had a great view of the upper levels of the Kodak building:

rochester-kodak-building-upper-levels

Sure, this building isn’t part of Frontier Field per se, but it’s a Rochester landmark and, given its location virtually across the street from the ballpark, makes for an awesome backdrop.

Instead of finishing my complete lap, I decided to stop on the grass berm down the third base line to watch the Bisons, who were shagging BP balls. I saw top prospects Daniel Norris and A.J. Jimenez just a short distance away, and as I surveyed the scene in the outfield through my camera, I heard someone yelling at me in Spanish. Slightly befuddled, I lowered my camera, looked in the direction of the sound and saw a Bisons player looking toward me and saying something I couldn’t understand. Then, he held up his hands and clicked the shutter on an imaginary camera, so I quickly focused on him and snapped this shot:

radhames-liz-buffalo-bisons-peace-sign

“Gracias,” he yelled over to me. Now, I’ve been slowly learning how to speak Spanish, and this would’ve been a perfect opportunity to respond with a “de nada,” but I got cold feet and just waved and gave a thumbs up. When he turned, I took note of his jersey number — 59 — and quickly checked my roster sheet to see who it was, since I didn’t recognize him. The Buffalo roster didn’t have a #59, which left me to guess the player was on the disabled list. Of course, telling a story here on my blog about a mystery player wouldn’t cut it, so I needed to figure out who it was. I waited a moment and aimed my camera back at him. He saw me, motioned to Jimenez, and this was the result:

radhames-liz-aj-jimenez-buffalo-bisons

After I took the picture (and exchanged thumbs up with them) the mystery player made his way over to me and asked if the photos turned out well. Yes, I told him. “Are you putting them online?” he asked. “Yes,” I replied, “but if you’d like, I can send you the full-sized versions by email.” He said that would be great, and I gave him one of my business cards. Then, he asked to see the photos. I lowered my camera over the fence and watched as he checked them out. He thanked me for taking them and, since I didn’t want to let him get away without figuring out who he was, I quickly said, “I’m Malcolm,” and extended my hand toward him. “Radhames,” he replied, shaking my hand. I instantly knew he was Radhames Liz, a former Baseball America top-100 prospect and pitcher for the Balitmore Orioles. He appeared in 28 games for the O’s over three seasons, including a stint in 2008 in which he started 17 games. After spending 2011 through 2013 pitching in Korea, Liz signed with the Blue Jays and started 12 games this season between Double-A and Triple-A, putting together a tidy 2.95 ERA.

Anyway, he’s yet to email me, but I sure hope he does. And if not, he’ll certainly be a guy I’ll keep tabs on and try to meet again.

I took a few posed photos of Liz and Raul Valdes (I think):

radhames-liz-and-teammate

And embraced my new role as his personal photographer by taking some action shots of him shagging balls, including this one …

radhames-liz-buffalo-bisons

… and playing catch, like this one:

radhames-liz-buffalo-playing-catch

Occasionally, Liz seemed to get the sense that I was still shooting him, so he’d look over the give the peace sign or a nod. When BP wrapped up, he gave me a salute as he headed off to the dugout, and then I continued making my way around Frontier Field.

Once the gates opened at 5 p.m. I decided to take another lap around the field and, to my surprise, came across a ball sitting in the grass behind the batter’s eye. It seemed like an odd place, but since other fans were milling around (luckily for me, oblivious to the ball), I grabbed it:

frontier-field-bp-batters-eye-ball

All the walking and, let’s face it, Frontier Field’s awesome concessions menu, had me hungry. I headed for the Red Osier stand on the third base side to get one of my favorite items, an enormous prime rib sandwich. The lineup, though, was extensive:

frontier-field-food-red-osier-lineup

Lineups make me absolutely insane, and as much as I wanted another delicious sandwich, I decided to keep walking. Before long, the “Say Cheese!” stand on the first base side beckoned. The gourmet mac and cheese at this stand is phenomenal, and was what I ate during my very first visit to Frontier Field back in 2010. Perhaps feeling a little nostalgic, I made a quick decision to add a little mac and cheese to my day and ordered the buffalo chicken variety, which consists of mac and cheese, diced chicken, buffalo sauce and blue cheese dressing:

frontier-field-food-mac-and-cheese

Fantastic! (The size of this meal, however, significantly curtailed my plans to grab a prime rib sandwich.)

As I was eating, a family consisting of a pair of grandparents and a young boy sat down in front of me. They asked me to take their picture with their camera, and after doing so, I figured I could do one better. I reached into my backpack to grab the baseball I’d found earlier and handed it to the boy. He was thrilled, although I think his excitement pales in comparison to my wife’s when I told her I wouldn’t be adding another ball to my collection.

Next, I went back down to field level to watch the Bisons get warmed up. It was shortly before game time, and starting pitcher Sean Nolin was getting his stretches in:

sean-nolin-stretching

His battery mate, Jimenez, was also getting ready, and looked a little more in “business mode” than the last time I’d taken his photo:

aj-jimenez-pregame

Since I’d been making the rounds of Frontier Field for a couple hours, I’d done enough to see what I needed for my website. Now, all that was left to do was to settle in and enjoy the ballgame. I began the game on the grass berm in the right field corner, where I had this great view of the action …

frontier-field-right-field-berm

… and this awesome shot of the Kodak building:

frontier-field-kodak-building

(I know I’ve mentioned this building a few times, but it’s such a cool backdrop. Take a visit to Rochester and you’ll know what I mean.)

My next vantage point was behind home plate, which offers a pretty darned good view, too. Here’s Buffalo outfielder Cole Gillespie getting a hit off Rochester’s Sean Gilmartin:

frontier-field-home-plate-view

After a bit of time behind the visitors’ dugout, I took a trip to the Frontier Field team shop, which is always a fun place to browse. A lot of apparel was marked down in price because of the end of the season, but the coolest thing I saw was a barrel of game-used broken bats for sale. I’ve added a number of bats to my collection over the years, and as I browsed the selection, one jumped out at me quickly:

aj-jimenez-game-used-bat

It’s typically tough to find a game-used bat from a top prospect, let alone one from a visiting team. Furthermore, did he break this bat during the day’s batting practice? It seemed so fresh that it couldn’t have been around for long. It looked brand new, except for a few ball marks and a crack along the handle. The display indicated that game-used bats were $25, while bats from MLB players were $50. Jimenez’s bat obviously belonged to the former category, so I was thrilled to find it for such a bargain. I stepped to the counter to buy it, and the clerk told me the the bat was $50, as it belonged to an MLB player. I pointed out that Jimenez has yet to appear in the big leagues, and offered to show her proof online. She was uneasy about giving me the bat for $25, so I didn’t want to press the issue. At the same time, I didn’t want to spend $50 for the bat, so I begrudgingly returned it to its barrel. Oh well.

My next stop was the group picnic area in left field. Although it had earlier been closed for a group function, it was now open to other fans, and I found a spot right behind the Buffalo bullpen, where I hung out for a couple innings. From here, I not only had a great view of the field, but also a close view of guys like former MLB all-star Steve Delabar and Kyle Drabek:

steve-delabar-kyle-drabek-buffalo-bisons

I also had a view of this unidentified flying object hovering above Frontier Field:

frontier-field-ufo

I was pretty amused to watch it — I assume the remote-control helicopter was being piloted by someone in the parking lot — and kept looking around me to see if any other fans had noticed it. It appeared to stay under the proverbial radar and, before long, off it went into the night.

I too went off into the night, but only temporarily. I love taking photos of ballparks at night, and my media pass meant that I could head out the parking lot to shoot Frontier Field, and then walk back inside to enjoy the rest of the game. Here’s the view from the team/media parking lot as a panorama and, as always, you can click on my panoramas to make them huge:

frontier-field-parking-lot-view-night-panorama

After taking this shot, I went back inside where I grabbed a spot behind home plate and watched the remainder of the game. It was an exciting one between two above-.500 clubs. The home team slipped past the visitors 3-2. As a Jays fan, it was awesome to see so many prospects that I’ve yet to see in the Bisons colors or that I’ve seen on TV during brief stints with the big-league club.

As great as the day had been so far, it continued to get better when I got to my hotel after the game. As you know, I love scouting out and staying at cool hotels in each city I visit, and I’d had my eye on The Strathallan in Rochester since I started planning this trip. This hotel is an awesome choice not only for baseball fans visiting town, but also for anyone with Rochester on their travel agenda. It’s only two miles from Frontier Field, or about seven or eight minutes, depending on traffic. As far as location, it’s actually on the edge of a residential neighborhood, so it’s extremely quiet. At the same time, you’re just a few blocks from several downtown eateries, so it’s the best of both worlds.

I was blown away by my room; these photos show the room the following morning. Here’s the living room area:

the-strathallan-suite-living-room

And the bedroom:

the-strathallan-suite-bedroom

I was fortunate to get a suite, so the room was extremely spacious. It also had a kitchen area, huge bathroom, two HDTVs and a balcony, which I think is a first for me on my baseball travels. It was cool to get some fresh air both after the game and early the following morning. The view off my balcony was of the back entrance to the hotel, which I’m sure you’ll agree was beautiful:

the-strathallan-view-from-balcony

The Strathallan has great features such as an indoor pool, fitness center and even an onsite massage clinic. I was especially impressed with the awesome fire pits. Here’s a look at the fire pit on the patio:

the-strathallan-patio-fire-put

And, maybe even cooler, one on the roof:

the-strathallan-rochester-roof-deck-fire-pit

The hotel is nine levels tall, and guests have access to the roof. I rode the elevator to the top floor and had fun checking out the roof deck, which you can book for parties or meetings. As I walked around, the pleasant smell of wood smoke was noticeable, but the fire pits weren’t ablaze. It took me a moment to realize I was smelling the wood-burning ovens at Char Streak & Lounge, the hotel’s upscale restaurant. I didn’t get a chance to eat here during my stay, but that didn’t stop me from salivating over its menu! This hotel is one of the nicest I’ve visited, period, and will definitely be the place I hang my hat the next time I’m in Rochester to visit Frontier Field.

Up next: A pair of outstanding days in Pittsburgh!

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Pawtucket Red Sox – August 19

Immediately upon completion of the Futures at Fenway experience, I hopped into my car and began the hour or so drive to Pawtucket, RI. Although it might have been logical to stay the night in the Boston area, I was taking in a Pawtucket Red Sox game on Sunday afternoon, so I decided to get right to where I needed to go.

This meant two nights at the Holiday Inn Express & Suites Smithfield-Providence, which turned out to be great. The hotel was packed because of a couple events in town, but I didn’t hear a peep; nice, especially given how exhausted I was after touring Fenway Park for so many hours. The next morning, I awoke and took this shot of the outside of the hotel …

… as well as these images of my room:

The room was perfect. I was in a suite, and although traveling by myself, it was nice to have room to spread out, especially given that I was staying for two nights. I’m also 6’3″, so small rooms tend to make me feel a little claustrophobic. None of those feelings here! The room was equipped with two beds, a living room area, kitchen area and a desk, which I used to catch up on blogging and Twitter messages. And as I’ve said in the past, given that I’m Canadian, it’s always a treat to be able to watch any of the ESPN feeds when I’m staying at a hotel in the U.S.

One last word on the hotel. From a baseball fan’s perspective, it’s a perfect place to stay. It’s only around 20 minutes to Pawtucket’s McCoy Stadium, and there are a number of places to eat and shop less than five minutes’ drive from the hotel. It’s also very close to the highway, making it quick and easy to access.

The PawSox, as they’re often called, were playing a 1 p.m. game against Buffalo in a continuation of the series that included the game at Fenway. As I packed up and got ready to make the short drive, I realized that since I’d gotten up, I wasn’t feeling that well. It’s easy to say I’d caught some sort of bug, or perhaps my system was in shock from the sharp contrast of the cold air conditioning of my car or hotel rooms and then the hot sun of these stadiums, but the reality is I wasn’t eating very well or getting enough sleep on this trip. Yep, I’d come down with a cold.

I virtually never get sick, so this was a real drag. I didn’t feel the worst I’ve ever felt, but it was one of those deals where I needed to blow my nose every 34 seconds. Not fun. So, with my pockets stuffed full of Kleenex, I made the drive to McCoy Stadium and arrived around 11 a.m.

The first thing I did was pick up my media pass, which is one of the nicest passes I’ve gotten so far on my adventures:

And before I entered the park, I walked around and took in the sights. McCoy is an older ballpark, and given that the Pawtucket team has been affiliated with the Boston Red Sox since 1970, there are tons of cool Red Sox displays to see. I can see visiting McCoy Stadium being a bucket list item for any die-hard Sox fan, simply because of all the displays. If a guy in recent memory came up through Boston’s system, he almost certainly had a stop in Pawtucket. I couldn’t resist taking a photo of a banner featuring my favorite current Red Sox player, Dustin Pedroia:

By the time I made it to the main gate, I was impressed at the length of the line. Likely because of Pawtucket’s affiliation with the BoSox, the fans here seemed very serious and passionate:

Toward the back side of McCoy Stadium, the team has its International League division championship banners on display:

And just below, are the parking spots reserved for the coaching staff. Here’s the spot belonging to pitching coach Rich Sauveur, for example:

After wandering outside for a bit, I decided to head in and get out of the sun — and load up on some napkins at a concession stand, as my Kleenex supply had dwindled quickly. One of the neatest things I saw was a huge wall display honoring the longest game in professional baseball history, which took place in 1981 between the PawSox and Rochester Red Wings:

The stadium’s team shop was selling a book about this game, and the wall display was absolutely fascinating. Imagine a game that long? It was actually played over three days and actually involved some Baseball Hall of Famers. Who? Wade Boggs suited up for the Red Sox and Cal Ripken, Jr., was playing for Rochester in those days.

The box score for the game was absolutely hysterical. Ripken went 2-for-13 and Boggs went 4-for-12, but there were some guys who had horrendous luck. It was a bad time to play center field, apparently. Rochester’s Williams went 0-for-13! And Pawtucket leadoff hitter Graham went 1-for-14. A combined 1-for-27 from center field — yikes!

As you might have seen above, there’s a giant scoreboard-style box score painted along the bottom of the wall. It’s far too wide to capture straight-on in one shot, but I think this angle looks neat:

Before the park began to fill up, I went out to the cross-aisle and took the shots that make up this panorama:

Notice anything about the relationship between the first level of seats and the field? Perhaps this photo will demonstrate things a little better:

As you can probably see, the field is way below the seats. You can see some suites located to the right side of the dugout, but otherwise, the fans are well above the action. How do you get any autographs? We’ll get to that a bit later.

I took a quick trip up to the press box, which you can see to the left side of the panorama above. Here’s the view from up here:

Then, it was time to visit the team shop. Despite the age of the stadium (it opened in 1942), the team shop was spacious and modern. There were lots of neat things to see …

… and my favorite area was a rack with game-used Pawtucket jerseys. Here’s one worn by Mike Cameron:

So, any ideas on how you’d get an autograph from a player around the dugout? You go fishing! I saw many fans with long lengths of rope and buckets; just fill your bucket with a baseball or card and a Sharpie, and lower it to your favorite player. In fact, the stadium’s team shop sells autograph fishing kits. This picture will give you a better idea of how it all goes down:

I’ve got to admit that my legs were still a little sore from all yesterday’s walking, so I decided to go to the outfield bleachers and chill for a few minutes. The game hadn’t begun yet, but I took a bit of a breather out here:

And, yes, blew my nose a dozen or so times.

It was out here that I learned that the Pawtucket Red Sox frown heavily on rowdyism! Egads! Scoundrels!

Soon enough, Buffalo starter Jeurys Familia, who I saw pitch last summer at Binghamton’s NYSEG Stadium, came out to stretch. There’s a great open area down the first base line, and that’s where I stood to watch him get ready:

The visitors’ bullpen is in the right field corner, so it wasn’t long before Familia was warming up. I was right there to take some shots and appreciate his power from my spot roughly three feet behind catcher Lucas May:

How close was I? Check out this shot of May’s left foot:

When the game began, I went to the nearest concession stand and perused the menu. I didn’t want anything too obscene, given that I was feeling crummy. So, I settled on boneless chicken wings. I made the mistake of picturing the boneless wings that you get in a sports bar or even see on a KFC commercial, but I was pretty far off. I realize that “boneless wings” are a man-made idea to begin with, but all I got were dry chicken nuggets. Blah:

They were so dry that I went back to the concession and got some honey-mustard dipping sauce, which improved things dramatically.

After an inning or two in the bleachers, I went back to the first base line, which is the only place in the park that puts you at actual field level. From here, I had this view:

And as soon as I took this panorama, I got as close to home plate as I could so that I could take a bunch of action photos, which is something I really enjoy doing.

Here’s Buffalo’s Fred Lewis, who played for the Toronto Blue Jays for a stint:

Pawtucket outfielder Alex Hassan, I think:

Shortstop Jose Iglesias:

Outfielder J.C. Linares, fouling off a pitch:

A close play at the plate:

And, finally, Andy LaRoche showing some poor form chasing this pitch:

Next, it was over to one of the viewing decks on the tower on the third base side:

And then, thanks to my media pass, a seat directly behind home plate:

Remember Lucas May, the catcher I watched warming up? I managed a pretty decent shot of him making contact from my next vantage spot, on the first base side:

I spent the rest of the game doing the same as I’d done for the last few hours — checking out the game from different locations. And while I really felt miserable, there’s nothing that acts as a cure as well as being out in the fresh air and doing something you enjoy.

After the game, I went back to my hotel, grabbed some groceries at a nearby store and relaxed for the evening. Time to recharge my batteries a little, as there were still lots of places to see on my road trip!

Futures at Fenway – August 18

Finally, the day of my first visit to Fenway Park was here. But this visit had a twist. Instead of seeing the Boston Red Sox, I’d be attending the seventh Futures at Fenway day, which features a pair of Minor League games for affiliates of the Red Sox. The premise is the Minor Leaguers will get to play a game at Fenway and the fans will get to enjoy a full day of baseball for relatively low prices. This year, the two Boston affiliates in action were the Short-Season A Lowell Spinners and the Triple-A Pawtucket Red Sox.

I’ve wanted to go to this event since I first heard about it a few years back, and the timing here could not be more perfect. I’ll be checking out the BoSox on August 21 and 22, but beforehand, I get the opportunity to explore Fenway Park without it being absolutely packed.

Nearly everyone I’ve talked to about going to Fenway Park says to never consider driving. Instead, they say, leave your car in the outskirts of the city and take the train in. I decided to drive right down to the park for this event, however, because I knew it wouldn’t be as busy as a Red Sox game and it was Saturday morning when I got to town. It turns out that driving was perfectly fine on this day, and despite all the parking lots charging $25 and $30 for the day, I managed to park about a block away for just $10. This was the view from the lot, and you can see the famous Citgo sign that’s visible from inside Fenway:

After a few seconds of walking, I rounded a corner and this was the scene before me:

It’s hard not to get pumped just reliving the experience through these photos. It truly was amazing to see Fenway Park standing before me for the first time.

It seemed like I was the only person in the area without some sort of Red Sox garment, so I quickly stopped at the first team shop I saw and bought a Fenway 100 cap, which incidentally knocks off two items on my to-do list for the trip — get a new cap and get something with the Fenway 100 logo.

It’s a crappy photo, but here’s a shot of me with the cap as I’m standing at the mouth of the legendary Yawkey Way:

Now, I should say that I’m not going to go nuts with the photos in this post. Well, maybe a bit, but considering I took nearly 400 and I’ll be at Fenway twice more this week, I need to practice some moderation. A bit about Yawkey Way: It’s a street along one side of the ballpark and it’s full of cool things to see and do. One side is basically a humongous merchandise store and the other side has food vendors. It’s open before the game, but a short while before the park’s gates open, everyone is cleared out of Yawkey Way and it’s blocked off. This is done so that after you enter the park, you can go out to Yawkey Way and still get back inside when you want. It’s basically an extension of Fenway Park.

The side of the ballpark is lined with World Series banners:

And as for that merchandise store I mentioned? It’s as big as a warehouse and sells anything you could ever want if you’re a Red Sox fan.  This is just one part of the store:

The part I liked best was a back room full of memorabilia, including game-used bats and jerseys, signed baseballs and so much more. They even had Fenway Park bricks for sale for $75! Some of the displays were set up like locker stalls:

I spent a fair bit of time browsing around the store, and then exited back onto Yawkey Way and took a shot of my Futures at Fenway ticket, which is cool to add to my collection:

Next up was a stop at the bleacher bar (I got IDed on the way in!), which is a bar basically under the outfield bleachers. I just wanted to go in and take a photo of the field, and that’s exactly what I did:

I took two giant laps around Fenway Park, taking photos along the way to document all the sights. It was amazing just to be there, next to the building that is arguably the most famous in all of North American sports. I found it neat that while I’m sure the park is structurally sound, there are a lot of spots that have plenty of character, like this corner of the building:

I also saw the Howard Johnson hotel next to the ballpark, which looks run-down. But it’s noteworthy in that it’s the hotel that Ben Affleck visits while planning the Fenway Park robbery in The Town. If you watch the trailer in the link I just provided, you’ll see the exact same curtains as those on the ground floor of this photo in the scene with Affleck at the 2:05 mark:

OK, one more movie trivia thing. At exactly 1:59 of the trailer, you’ll see the team shop in the following photo in the background:

Eventually, the area around the park started getting crowded, although I’m sure that I’ll soon learn this crowd is nothing like that at a Sox game:

On my walk around the park, I got a bunch of photos of the back of the video board, which is decorated with the Fenway Park 100 Years logo:

Finally, about an hour before first pitch, the gates opened up and I was in! As soon as I entered, I didn’t get the same overwhelming feeling that is easy to get at a lot of parks. It was more of a, “I just want to see everything” feeling. As I wandered, I took shots of many of Fenway’s trademark sights, including the retired numbers:

The press box:

And, of course, the Green Monster:

And the Green Monster with me:

The entire time I just had this feeling of, “I can’t believe I’m here.” I don’t tend to like people who tell me that I “should” go do something, but if you’re a baseball fan and haven’t been here, I’ll just say that you’ll love it. I wasn’t sure if it would completely meet my expectations, as I’ve wanted to come here forever and it’s easy to build something up in your mind. But it was way more than I expected.

Futures at Fenway had a Star Wars theme this year, so you’ll see a number of Star Wars-related photos throughout this post. There was a pre-game parade of Star Wars characters, too. It was made up of kids in cute costumes and adults who, well, wear Star Wars costumes. You know the type. (Let’s just say that several hours after the parade was over, I still saw many of the adults marching around the concourse in full costume, looking sinister.)

Soon enough, it was time for the player introductions, and I happened to be just on the visitors’ side of home plate, so I took this panorama to capture everything:

As expected, the Sox had a nice tribute to Johnny Pesky, who’d died the week before. This was the first game at Fenway Park since his death. I didn’t get down to check out Pesky’s Pole, but I hope to do that in my follow-up visits to Fenway. He was honored on the video board in center field:

In keeping with the Star Wars theme, Darth Vader threw out the first pitch — only he did so from atop the Green Monster. The next photo isn’t the greatest, but here’s what the scene looked like:

I think he was using “the force” to throw the pitch, which traveled all the way to the wall behind home plate. (He may have been aided by the string to which the ball was attached.) It was all very funny. As you can see here, the ball is zooming past the managers and umpires exchanging scorecards. It’s in the air, too, although it somewhat looks like it’s on the grass:

As the game was about to begin, I found a great spot to sit — the Budweiser Right Field Roof Deck in right field. As you can see below, areas like this one were nearly empty during Futures at Fenway, which gave me an awesome opportunity to move around and check things out. I sat at a table right above Ted Williams’ number nine:

I had the video boards just to my right …

… and the bullpens below and to my right:

The starting pitcher for Lowell was a rookie named Brian Johnson, a 2012 draft pick. It wasn’t a very good day for the poor guy; on just the second pitch of the game, he took a line drive to the face off the bat of Hudson Valley’s Joey Rickard. It was a scary sight, and about the last thing you ever want to see at any level of baseball. The game was delayed for several minutes while Johnson was attended to …

… and eventually carted off:

He sustained multiple fractures of his orbital bone, but had no signs of a concussion. Let’s hope he heals as quickly as possible. You feel for anyone who suffers this injury, but to have his Fenway experience end so prematurely is sad.

After a couple innings, I continued my exploring. There’s an awesome pavilion area in the outfield that is not only lined with concession stands, but also has bricks donated by Sox fans and players’ hand prints, just like in Hollywood. Here’s longtime Sox catcher and captain Jason Varitek:

All my walking had definitely worked up an appetite, and given that I was in a big concession area, it was the perfect time for lunch. I settled on a steak and cheese sandwich with peppers, onions and hot sauce (a Philly cheesesteak by any other name, although perhaps anything with Philly in its name wouldn’t sell well in Boston):

And I couldn’t resist a souvenir cup of pop, which meets my soft drink quota for the next, oh, year or two:

I ate my lunch down in the right field bleachers, and if you’re able to peek past my giant cup, you’ll see the crowds weren’t bad at all. Once I’d eaten (but it would take me probably 45 minutes to drink all that pop) I went back up to the Bud Deck where I took a self-portrait:

I absolutely loved this spot that I’d found, so I hung out here (and in another bar-style area nearby) for much of both games. I didn’t want to go nuts with exploring, because I’ve got two more chances to do so. As I said earlier, I had a close-up view of the video board, where I saw that Lowell’s Matty Johnson looks old and wise …

… and Hudson Valley’s Justin O’Connor is sporting the latest in batting helmets:

Midway through the game, I resumed my trekking around and saw a bunch of neat historical displays, such as framed replicas of every Sports Illustrated featuring a Red Sox player on the cover …

… and wall with plaques recognizing a number of key moments in the team’s history:

I also ducked into the State Street Pavilion bar behind home plate (I didn’t get IDed this time!) and took a shot of the view …

… as well as of the bar itself:

Afterward, I went over to the left field corner, right near the entrance to the Green Monster seats. I looked back into the right field bleachers and was delighted at what I saw:

The Lone Red Seat was open! I’d been keeping an eye on the seat all game, and it was always occupied. And although I was literally the farthest away I could get, I set out on a “walking with purpose” route that took me right to the area. When I got there …

… success! The Lone Red Seat is one of Fenway’s must-see sights. It’s represents the longest home run ever hit in the park — a Ted Williams blast in 1946 that landed on the fan in the seat, exactly 502 feet from home plate. The fan, whose straw hat was “penetrated,” according to Wikipedia, reportedly said, “How far away must one sit to be safe?” Awesome.

I occupied the seat for a half inning and shot this panorama from one of the most famous seats in all of sports:

I tried to get a shot of myself in the seat with the red showing, but most of the images just show my crotch. I shall not be posting them on here.

Or will I? BWA HA HA!

For those of you still reading, here’s what the Pesky Pole looks like from afar:

I’d love to sign it, but need to find out whether fans are actually allowed to, or do they just sign it anyway? I imagine it’s the former, as you’d think the ushers would be on top of things if it wasn’t permitted.

For the last three innings of the first game, I found a seat down the third base side to take some action photos. I’ve got to say that Fenway’s ushers were remarkably helpful/easygoing. Maybe they’ll be more vigilant during Red Sox games, but on Saturday, they were great.

Here’s Lowell’s Matty Johnson stealing second:

And Hudson Valley’s Dylan Floro, who got roughed up but hung on in a very exciting ninth inning:

Final score: Hudson Valley 6, Lowell 5:

Boy, we’re at nearly 2,200 words and I haven’t reached the second game of the doubleheader yet. Fortunately, I didn’t take as many photos during the Buffalo Bisons vs. Pawtucket Red Sox game. By 5 p.m., which is roughly when the game began, I’d been at Fenway Park for more than seven hours, and I was ready to just find a quiet area, get off my feet and enjoy the game. So that’s exactly what I did. I’ve seen the Bisons play twice in the past, including this season, but I’ve only seen the PawSox in action once — way back in 2010. (Although I’ll see them again on this trip.)

First, though, I went back out to Yawkey Way before the second game …

… toured through the team shop again:

And then stood in the concourse while the Spinners passed by on their way to a post-game autograph session:

As the Bisons and Sox were starting to warm up, I watched the action for a few minutes from the right field seats:

But once the game was set to begin, I went back up to the roof deck in the right field corner where I was literally the only spectator seated in the area. I watched the entire second game with this view — although, technically, the popcorn level went down steadily and the souvenir cup eventually went into my backpack so I wouldn’t have to think about how much soda I’d had today:

I took a handful of photos from this spot, but most are pretty similar to others through this blog entry, so I’ll leave you with one final shot:

The entire Futures at Fenway experience was phenomenal. I highly recommend it to everyone, whether you’ve been to Fenway or not. It’s a great way to get accustomed to the park without giant crowds or huge expense. And speaking of crowds, I’d be seeing the Red Sox at Fenway in just a couple days. But in the meantime, there were stops at the home parks of two of the teams involved in the Futures doubleheader — Pawtucket and Lowell.

Media Passes and More

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve loved collecting ticket stubs from all the various sporting events I’ve attended. Since I started traveling for The Ballpark Guide, I’ve been fortunate to visit more than 40 ballparks. This past off-season, I scanned all my stubs from 2010 and 2011 into a blog post, which you can check out here if you’re interested. (It’s sort of cool to see all the varied designs used by teams.)

This summer, the home teams I’ve seen have been unbelievably hospitable to me and I haven’t had to buy a single ticket. I’ve received media accreditation at every park I’ve visited, which provides such varied benefits as being able to enter early, access the press box, walk on the field and many other great things. An added bonus is that while I don’t get a ticket stub to add to my collection, I get something even cooler – a media pass.

As I continue to plan my next road trip, I thought it’d be fun to take a quick look back at the passes I’ve received thus far, in chronological order.

May 21: Lakewood Blue Claws

This game was rained out, which was a letdown given I’d driven roughly eight hours for it. But even though there was no game to see, I picked up my media pass at the ticket office. It’s simple, but it was exciting because it was my first of the season.

May 22: Lehigh Valley IronPigs

I think I like this media pass best. Perhaps because the IronPigs play at the Triple-A level, the pass is really professional and it also included a nice lanyard from when Coca-Cola Park hosted the Triple-A All-Star Game in 2010.

May 22: Trenton Thunder

Trenton offered up a sharp-looking pass that came with a chain lanyard. As you can see, this one allowed me to access the press box, but not the clubhouse or field.

May 23: Wilmington Blue Rocks

The Blue Rocks’ press pass was simple and not unlike the one from Lakewood. This one gave me access to several areas, including the field. It’s always fun to see my name in print!

May 23: Frederick Keys

There’s no mention of my name or The Ballpark Guide on the laminated pass provided by the Keys, which suddenly makes me wonder if I was supposed to turn it in after the game. Oops.

May 24: Altoona Curve

Altoona’s media pass is really sharp. My information, as you can see, is written in by hand, and I like the retro-style design of this one.

May 24: Buffalo Bisons

I was a little surprised that Buffalo, being a Triple-A team, had a cardboard pass similar to those from Lakewood and Wilmington. I think this is because it’s only a one-day pass, rather than a season’s pass.

July 19: Rochester Red Wings

The Red Wings were the first team this season that didn’t hook me up with a standard media pass, but they essentially gave me the same privileges. The ticket provided access to any section in the park, while the photo pass allowed me to get on the field before the game.

First Road Trip Goals Revisited

Now that I’ve blogged about meeting Frederick Keys outfielder Jeremy Nowak, which was the highlight of last month’s baseball road trip, I want to review the 10 goals I made for myself before hitting the road.

In all, I did pretty well, especially considering there were a few hiccups along the way that impacted my ability to cross off some of the goals.

Here’s the recap:

1. Get tours of five of the seven parks

The first stop on my road trip, May 21 in Lakewood, was rained out, so tours at five of seven was skewed from the get-go. That said, of the six games I attended, I did get an official tour at four parks and some great help/advice at the other two, so I’d say I achieved this goal.

2. Get 10 baseballs

The short answer is that I finished with six baseballs, which falls slightly short of my goal. But hang on. One game was rained out and of the other six, only two had batting practice. So, I’d say that six balls in six games is good, considering I try to average a ball a game. Here they are, including two International League balls from batting practice at Buffalo’s Coca-Cola Field, an NCAA tournament ball from Wilmington, two Carolina League balls from Frederick’s Harry Grove Stadium and, at bottom, the Jeremy Nowak home run ball:

3. Get a game-used item

If you read my recent post about Jeremy Nowak’s home run ball, you’d agree I knocked this item off my list of goals. Hard to imagine a cooler game-used item! The runner-up is a game-used item that I picked up in Wilmington, which I’ll blog about later this week.

4. Get autographs from Wally Backman and Ryne Sandberg

This one was a wash. Why? Because I got media passes for all the games I attended, including those in which I saw the two legendary MLBers. And as you can see on the bottom on one of my passes (and they all say this), passholders are prohibited from asking for autographs:

5. Find a food item that gets into my top 10

As a reference point, here are the top 10 things I’ve eaten on my travels. It’s close, but I think I’ll bump off Classic Park’s pulled pork nachos and replace the #10 slot with the crab fries at Trenton’s Waterfront Park. They weren’t quite as good as I thought they might be, but they were unique enough to sneak through the backdoor into the 10th spot:

6. Be interviewed during a game broadcast

Check! This happened twice and both times, it was really exciting. I was interviewed on the Wilmington Blue Rocks broadcast by Jeff O’Connor and the Frederick Keys broadcast by Adam Pohl. And in case you missed the pictures I posted about those interviews, here they are:

7. Get 50 autographs

In the same vein as the attempt to get Backman and Sandberg to sign, this one is a no-go. But I’ll call it an N/A rather than a fail, because I didn’t ask for a single autograph.

8. Buy a hat

Oops! There were a couple times I wanted to get a hat and just didn’t pull the trigger. The first was at the rained-out game in Lakewood. I think the BlueClaws’ hats look neat, but given the cancellation of the game, I wasn’t able to get one. Secondly, I wanted to get a Keys hat at Harry Grove Stadium, but the hats were all behind the counter and I’m a methodical hat buyer. I like to try a bunch on until I find one that fits me perfectly, and didn’t bother doing so. Does this mean that next road trip I’ll get two hats? Yes. Yes, it does.

9. Have my photo taken with a player

It’s fitting that I got a fan to capture the coolest moment of the road trip. The photo is grainy and dark but the smiles say it all:

10. Have some unforeseen fun adventure

I think this qualifies, don’t you? If you want a runner-up, here it is:

– Despite the rainout, I was able to get into Lakewood’s FirstEnergy park and wander around the near-empty park by myself. It might not seem that thrilling on the surface, but imagine getting into a ballpark by yourself and touring it at your leisure. It was special. Here’s a photo of the deserted park I took on my self-guided tour that I haven’t previously published:

So, what’s next for me? Despite the highlights of my May trip, I’m confident my next trip will be great for a number of other reasons. I’m in the middle of planning it now, and I’ll have a blog post about that soon enough.

In the meantime, please check out The Ballpark Guide and remember that your clicks help me pay for future travels and adventures. Thank you.

Buffalo Bisons – May 24

The last game of my first road trip of the summer featured the Buffalo Bisons at Coca-Cola Field, but with a twist. The Bisons were playing the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees who are currently known as the Empire State Yankees. The Yankees’ home, PNC Field, is under major renovations, so the team is playing all its games on the road in 2012. Earlier on this road trip, I swung by PNC Field to document the renovations. So while the Bisons and Yankees were indeed playing in Buffalo, it was the Yankees who would be the “home” team for this game.

May 24 began with an Altoona Curve matinee game, and after I left Peoples Natural Gas Field, I faced a four-plus hour drive north to Buffalo. I didn’t break any speed records during the drive, as I often found myself in situations like this:

Yep, lots of the route is on small, winding roads, and I was stuck behind a convoy of slow-moving trucks for what seemed like half the journey. Eventually, though, I pulled into Buffalo and saw a familiar sight:

I visited Coca-Cola Field in 2010 for a Bisons game, which you can read about here. I was hitting this stadium for a second time for three reasons — the drive home from Altoona was too long to do in one chunk and because the Bisons are hosting the AAA All-Star Game this July, I wanted to check out the changes to the park. Finally, the team put in a ginormous video board before the 2011 season, so I wanted to check it out, too.

The Bisons were providing me with a media pass for this game, so I was looking forward to getting to the park early to explore. The team’s director of public relations, Brad Bisbing, was very accommodating before and during my visit. Thanks, Brad!

I got to Buffalo early enough that I wandered around the stadium for a few minutes, taking photos of a rather empty front pavilion:

And a look at the pillared design of Coca-Cola Field:

Then I went inside, picked up my media pass and enjoyed the press box air conditioning for a while. Here was the view:

And here’s a panorama from up there:

I also took a few minutes to explore the press area. There’s a big very nice press lounge, for example:

Batting practice was taking place, so I decided to head down to field level to check it out. As I made my way down, the concourses were still deserted:

(There’s something super cool about being one of the only people in a stadium.)

When I got to field level, it didn’t take long to notice the ads promoting the upcoming all-star game, including this one:

And as for that huge video board, check it out:

MLB Network’s Intentional Talk was airing as batting practice was taking place. How perfect could things get?

Well, a little better when I took a walk through the lower seats on the third base side and spotted this:

An International League ball to add to my collection!

From this area, I could see another big banner celebrating the all-star game:

Once I made it to the left field corner, I turned around and shot this panorama of the stadium:

By now, the Bisons were hitting so I went over to the first base side to take some pictures of Wally Backman. I’ve been a fan of his for a long time and it’s awesome to see him back in affiliated ball and at the AAA level. I hope he gets another shot in the Bigs before long. Here’s one of him hitting fungoes to the infielders:

And another of him talking to someone in the dugout:

I watched BP from this area for a while, and then decided to head beyond the outfield fence to check out the park from that angle. There’s an awesome multi-level party deck behind the right foul pole, and I stood in this area to take the following panorama:

If you ever visit Coca-Cola Field, I definitely recommend checking out the area behind the fence. Every time a Bisons player hits a long home run, the ball’s landing spot is marked on the asphalt. Former Bison Russell Branyan owns many of the marks, but a number of other players also make appearances:

Here’s the scene from ground level:

I watched BP for several minutes through the fence …

… and then checked out the player/staff parking lot just behind the picnic area, as it contained several more home run markers:

I had to laugh at this next photo. Check out how this new Cadillac is parked in harm’s way. Yikes:

After a while, I went back behind the first base dugout and took this funny photo. It’s a photo of a Tweet I’d just posted that included a photo of Backman:

And here’s another picture of the skip, for good measure:

From here, I documented my media credential, as I’ve been doing at each stop on this road trip:

Soon, batting practice wrapped up, so I took advantage of the downtime to check out the new team shop, which had moved since my last visit. There’s a giant wall of hats …

… and a bunch of AAA All-Star Game stuff for sale:

Eventually, the game began and I grabbed a seat on the third base side with a great view of the action. I had a good angle for some photos, including Yankees starter Adam Warren:

Buffalo starter Matt Harvey, who ended up getting the win:

Later in the game, I moved up behind home plate with this perfect view:

While I was in this area, I met up with Austin and Danny from the NYBisons blog. It was fun to meet some other MLBloggers and if you haven’t seen their blog full of all things Bisons, Mets and ballhawking, check it out. You can also follow them on Twitter.

Regardless of where I sat, the scoreboard was awesome to watch. Not only does it have a crystal-clear picture that I can’t capture with my camera, the gameday staff in Buffalo is really on the ball. Whenever there was a close play, such as this play at home, the scoreboard showed the play live:

I don’t know if I can recall another MiLB park doing this. And throughout the evening, the board provided a countdown to the all-star game:

After the game, I had a very short drive (about two minutes) to my hotel. I was staying at the Hyatt Regency Buffalo, and definitely recommend this hotel if you’re in town for a Bisons game. I’ve stayed here in the past, and it’s always outstanding. Plus, you can’t beat being so close to Coca-Cola Field. When other fans are waiting in traffic to get on the highway, you’re already checking into your hotel. Another huge perk to this hotel is that E.B. Green’s, one of the 10 best steakhouses in the U.S., is located on site. One of these days, I’m going to eat there. Every time I visit Buffalo, it just doesn’t work out time-wise.

When I arrived, I got the good news that the hotel had upgraded me to a suite one of the upper floors! The room itself was giant, with a full living room area, a separate bedroom area, two hallways and a huge bathroom. Here’s the living room area, where I hung out while catching up on some Twitter messages and enjoying room service:

Here’s the bedroom area …

… and the nighttime view of Buffalo out my window:

It was one of those hotel rooms that you wish you could enjoy for longer, but given that I was leaving early the next morning to drive home, I had to get to bed so I could get up at a decent hour. The morning came soon enough, and I packed my stuff, checked out, took a photo of the outside of the hotel …

… and punched “Home” into my GPS. It was an outstanding first road trip, but I’ll have plenty of additional exciting content coming soon!

Ballpark food and snacks

Ballpark food can be one of the best things about going to a baseball game. If it’s plain ol’ hot dogs and pop, it’s not necessarily noteworthy. But if it’s exceptional food, like the fare served at Rochester’s Frontier Field, it can truly improve your whole experience.

As you’ve read in previous entries, I’ve had a lot of positive food experiences at different ballparks. There are a few, however, that I want to highlight just for fun.
Rochester was my first ballpark stop in the summer of 2010, and as you can read on my website, TheBallparkGuide.com, the food I had here was perhaps the best I’ve ever had at a ballgame. In Rochester, I bought a giant Mountain Dew in a Red Wings collectible cup, which was pretty cool. On one side, it had former Rochester star Cal Ripken, Jr., and on the other side, most recent Red Wing player Joe Mauer. As you can see below, the cup was pretty large:
rochester-red-wings-cal-ripken-cup.jpg
In Buffalo, the Buffalo chicken wings were underwhelming. But what was neat was the ability to grab packets of Frank’s RedHot sauce at concession stands. This is the first time I’ve seen packets of this spicy cayenne pepper sauce, and it was neat to grab a bunch and add to my food. I’ve even used them at home since:
buffalo-wings-franks-hot-sauce.jpg
Lastly, ask a Clevelandite about what mustard to eat, and you’ll likely have a lengthy discussion on your hands. Of course, there’s the bright yellow French’s mustard, but in C-Town, you’ve also got Bertman’s Original Ball Park Mustard and another product called Stadium Mustard. Bertman’s Original Ball Park Mustard is available in pumps at concession stands and also for sale in the Progressive Field shop. I bought the bottle below for less than $5:
cleveland-indians-ballpark-mustard.jpg