My third day in Charlotte included another evening Knights game at BB&T BallPark, but before I headed to the ballpark, I had another sports facility to visit. A day after using some spare time to visit the NASCAR Hall of Fame, I made the short walk over to Bank of America Stadium, home of the Carolina Panthers. It’s only a block away from the ballpark, and offers daily tours. The tour that I took was only $6, and was very extensive — including a visit to field level, the visiting locker room, several luxury suites and more locations around the stadium.
After the tour, I grabbed a sub on the short walk back to my hotel and took it up to my room to eat. In my previous posts, I noted how conveniently located the Hilton Charlotte Center City was to not only the ballpark, but also to the other sports venues that I wanted to see. This is definitely the hotel that I recommend when you visit Charlotte on a baseball trip, and not only for its location. For more on the hotel, check out the bottom of this post.
As I did a day earlier, I walked over to BB&T BallPark between two and two-and-a-half hours before first pitch, which would once again give me plenty of time to explore. Even though I was eager to get inside, I spent a few minutes walking around the park’s exterior and looking at it from different angles. I took a handful of shots, but I’ll share just this one — this image of the main gates from across South Mint Street, which separates the ballpark from the picturesque Romare Bearden Park:
A moment after taking this photo, I entered the park and decided to go right up to the home run porch in right field — a place that I’d visited a day earlier, but in which I wanted to spend a little more time. In this spot, I snapped this shot:
You can see a bit of Romare Bearden Park behind me and, of course, some of the city skyline that never gets old. You might’ve also noticed that I’m wearing one of my stars and stripes road trip T-shirts shirts — the first time I’d worn it, actually — which you can buy here if you’re interested.
Batting practice hadn’t taken place during either of my first two visits to BB&T BallPark, so when the players emerged onto the field and started to gather around the cage, I left the home run porch and walked over to a spot just above the first base dugout, where I had this view:
I didn’t do much walking around during BP. Instead, I mostly hung out in various spots behind home plate and just enjoyed the scene in front of me. Shortly before the gates were due to open, I made my way over to the area immediately inside of the main gates. The Knights were welcoming longtime MLB pitcher Steve Avery for an autograph signing, and I wanted to see him up close for a few minutes. You probably know Avery’s name — he was a key member of the talented Atlanta Braves pitching staff of the early 1990s — and while he didn’t get the same acclaim as teammates Greg Maddux, John Smoltz and Tom Glavine, Avery ended up winning 96 ballgames in his career and was a part of Atlanta’s 1995 World Series-winning team.
Avery spent the last few minutes before the gates opened chatting with Knights staffers and even signing a few autographs for them …
… and as soon as fans entered the stadium, they quickly lined up next to him. I’m not sure how long he spent signing, but it had to be at least half an hour, and I’m sure that a few hundred fans left BB&T BallPark that night as happy owners of Avery’s autograph.
While Avery signed, and the grounds crew prepared the field after the completion of BP, I set off in search of something to eat. I always find that it can sometimes be difficult to choose my meal during my last visit to a ballpark. Even after visiting the previous two days, there were still a lot of menu items that sounded appealing — and that meant that the pressure was on to find something good. After excellent cheesesteak nachos during my first visit and an interesting but awkward hot dog on Day #2, I went in a different direction and bought a hamburger. This wasn’t any ol’ burger, though. It was called the Dragon’s Breath Burger (I’m assuming to pay homage to the enormous dragon near the batter’s eye) and it promised to be spicy.
The spice came in the form of habanero pepper relish and jalapeno pimento cheese. I decided to go grab a quiet seat in the outfield to tackle this burger, and I’m glad I did — it would’ve been awkward for any fans in busier sections of the ballpark to witness my tears.
This was easily the hottest freaking thing I’ve ever eaten at a ballpark, and probably one of the hottest things I’ve ever had in my life. The jalapeno pimento cheese wasn’t noticeable because of the heat of the habanero relish, which seemed to essentially just be a generous spoonful of finely diced habanero peppers. You can see plenty of the relish (in orange) in this image:
So, how hot is a habanero? I actually grow them in our garden, and know that a fraction of one pepper will nicely spice an entire pot of chili, for instance. It felt as though there was at least one full pepper on this burger, which put it well past the point of being “nicely spiced.” In terms of metrics, a jalapeno pepper can register as high as 10,000 units on the Scoville scale, but a habanero can get as high as 350,000 units. It’s about as hot a hot pepper you can find before you get into the “ridiculous” range with ghost peppers, Carolina reapers, etc. All of this meant that even a valiant effort from me wasn’t enough to finish this burger. After just a couple of bites, I was sweating, hiccuping, my eyes were watering and my nose was running.
I regretted not being able to finish the burger, but each bite was agony. I generally like spicy foods, but this meal was just too much for me.
After unfortunately tossing the rest of the burger, I blew my nose several times as though I was in the midst of a mid-January head cold — which might’ve seemed bizarre to any onlookers, given the pleasant August weather. Then, I walked over to the Charlotte bullpen area to watch the Knights get ready. As you can see here, they were wearing their throwback uniforms, which are clearly inspired by the old unis of their parent club, the Chicago White Sox:
I watched the warm-ups from field level, and then headed over to the team shop — known as “The Knights Armor Shoppe” — to browse for a bit before first pitch:
I was actually inside of the shop when the game began, but soon went back out to the concourse and once again made my way around to the third base side for the first couple innings of action. Here was my view in the bottom of the second:
For the rest of the game, I spent time in a bunch of places — an inning in the outfield, an inning on the home run porch, an inning on the grass berm, and so on — and, of course, I closed out the game by hanging out on the third base side of home plate where I could take in the view as the evening turned to night, wrapping up three outstanding days in Charlotte.
As I noted, the three days in Charlotte were really augmented by the caliber of my hotel. I always love choosing the hotels that I’ll visit on my baseball trips, and I’m glad I chose this one. From the moment I checked in to the time that I left, I enjoyed everything about this hotel — even though I was on the go so much that it didn’t feel as though I spent a lot of time there. Take a look at the image of the check-in area …
… and here’s a shot of a guest room identical to mine; I used a photo from the hotel’s website because it looked better than the ones I took:
The room was absolutely perfect. A really comfortable bed, free Wi-Fi that was really fast, free bottled water, a mini fridge and more, with everything spotlessly clean, were all things that I appreciated about my room at the Hilton. Every day of my trip was long and full, so it was always nice to have a comfortable hotel room with all the amenities I’d ever need to return to each night. It will definitely be the hotel I choose whenever I get back to Charlotte.
The end of my visit to Charlotte wasn’t the end of this trip, fortunately. About 12 hours after leaving BB&T BallPark, I’d be waiting in line at Charlotte Douglas International Airport to catch a flight to my next destination.
My first day in Charlotte gave me a chance to thoroughly explore the beautiful BB&T BallPark, and from the moment I walked out the gates that evening, I felt eager to get back to the park a day later. Fortunately, I didn’t have to sit around twiddling my thumbs. I spent much of the morning of Day #2 in Charlotte at the outstanding NASCAR Hall of Fame, which is just over half a mile from the ballpark. Afterward, I grabbed a late lunch at Five Guys, returned to my hotel for a few hours until it was time to head over to the ballpark.
My hotel, the Hilton Charlotte Center City, was one that I’d been eyeing up well in advance of booking the trip to Charlotte. The pictures on the hotel’s website impressed me, as did its central location to everything that I planned to see and do during my visit. Part of the way I spent my time between the hall of fame visit and leaving for the ballpark was wandering around the hotel, which offers a lot to see and do. There’s a huge atrium with a gift shop that I browsed for a bit, and the hotel is also connected to a state-of-the-art YMCA, which I visited, too. One of my favorite features was the plaza outside of the main entrance, which you can see in the photo that I shot through one of the hotel’s windows:
This was a popular spot for guests to sit outside and eat, and the numerous fountains and water features looked cool both during the day and at night.
I really enjoyed staying so close to the ballpark that I was able to walk to it from my hotel. I find that when you’re driving to a game, you’re busy watching traffic, following your GPS and looking for places to park — and that isn’t exactly conducive to enjoying the environment or the overall experience. Making the short walk from the Hilton Charlotte Center City to BB&T BallPark each day gave me the ability to really take in the sights of the city, and something that might sound so simple really boosted my overall enjoyment of my visit to Charlotte.
On my way to the ballpark, I cut through Romare Bearden Park — a five-acre park directly across the street from BB&T. It’s a beautiful space with lots of places to sit, as well as an awesome view of the city’s skyline, and the expansive lawn would make a perfect spot to play catch before heading to the ballgame. Here’s part of the park’s lawn with the ballpark situated just a handful of steps away:
I entered the ballpark about two hours before first pitch, which would once again give me ample time to explore and take in the park’s many features before the gates opened. During my visit a day earlier, I’d been so enthralled with the view that I think I was a little distracted when it came to noting some of the park’s other features. I was determined to change that during my second visit. I began by talking a slow walk around the concourse, which was gloriously empty and looked like this at the time:
As you can see, BB&T BallPark uses an open concourse that is pretty much the norm for newer minor league parks. It’s a design feature that is absolutely integral to the fan experience, in my mind. Wherever you’re walking, you can keep an eye on the field. Even if you have to wait in line at a concession stand for several minutes, you can always see the action on the field. This is such a positive upgrade over the 1980s- and 1990s-era ballparks and their enclosed concourses that cause fans to be oblivious to the action when they’re anywhere but in their seats.
You might have also noticed the standing room spots with the attached bar-style structure along the edge of the concourse — another key design feature at BB&T. A lot of parks only have railings in this area, and while these places are fine to stand, it’s nice to have the bar to hold your food, purse, souvenirs or whatever you’re carrying. I also like that the bar and railing is several feet back from the seats in this area, because no one likes sitting with a fan standing immediately above him or her.
The next place I checked out was the bleacher area in left field. I’d spent a bit of time there a day earlier, but wanted to visit again. There’s no debating that the best seats in the house at BB&T BallPark are behind home plate and on the third base side, but another nice place to watch the game is this bleacher section. You’re nice and close to the field, of course, and when you turn to your left, you’ve got a perfect view of the Charlotte skyline. If you’re visiting with kids, this spot is also a good one because it’s only a short walk over to the kids’ play area, which is located just to the left of the batter’s eye:
From where I stood in the left field seats, I had a good view of the seating situation in right field. It’s another good attribute at BB&T BallPark. I love the small seating sections on the concourse level and the home run porch section, both of which you can see in this photo:
Home run porches are pretty common at MLB parks, but any time that an MiLB team makes a point of including one, I’m always excited to see it. The porch at BB&T is an intimate space, with just a single row of seats and some standing room immediately to the rear of the seats.
After staring at the home run porch from afar for a moment, I decided to make it my next stop. Here’s an image that shows the view of the field from the front row …
… and here’s a shot that I took after turning to my right:
Here, you can see the five rows of outfield seating, which I love. More and more new MiLB parks are making a point of having small outfield seating sections, and I think that it works well. The size of these sections means that they’re more crowded (compared to a larger section having the same number of fans dispersed throughout it) and that creates a fun energy, especially when the team is playing well.
I spent a few minutes on the home run porch, mainly just enjoying the view. I’d stand at the railing and look at the empty field in front of me, and then turn and marvel at the city skyline behind me. When I decided to continue on my journey, I descended to the main concourse and wandered over to the dugout suites. They’re located on the first base side of home plate — if you look carefully, you can see them in the second-last photo — and are comprised of stadium seating, bistro tables, lots of standing room and a pair of indoor suites:
I snapped this shot of myself …
… while I stood next to the dugout suites and watched the grounds crew get the field ready. Then, I moved around the dugout suites until I was immediately behind home plate, about 10 rows from the field. From that spot, I took this panorama of the scene in front of me:
There was no batting practice on this day, but that didn’t mean that things would stay quiet for long. After a few minutes, the visiting Durham Bulls came onto the field and some began to stretch and play catch, while a pair of pitchers took the bullpen mound and threw side sessions. I made my way through the seats in the lower bowl over to where they were throwing, and watched for several minutes:
After a while, I felt a little conspicuous watching the bullpen sessions. The gates hadn’t yet opened, so the seats were completely empty — except for me standing just a few rows from the field. No one was paying me any mind, but I soon decided to continue on my way. I took one more slow walk around the concourse and, once the gates opened, went to the berm in left field. As you can see in the photo below, the picnic area was now occupied:
The grass berm is a neat spot to hang out, and is easily one of the largest seating sections of this type that I’ve ever encountered in all my travels. The odd thing about it is that the view of the field from this area is really obstructed. While you can position yourself to peek through the picnic section and see most of the game, doing so is more than a little awkward. My assumption is that the berm is more of a place to go to hang out than it is to follow the game.
As I did a day earlier, I decided to grab dinner before first pitch. I normally wait until the game gets going, but I was hungry enough and tantalized by the BB&T BallPark menu. This time, I went to one of the hot dog stands, where I grabbed Homer’s Citrus Dog:
It consisted of an all-beef hot dog topped with beef brisket, orange soda coleslaw, grilled green onions and horseradish. Each of the individual components tasted good on its own, but that was the problem — this hot dog was so huge that it was impossible to bite everything at once. I’d nibble some of the coleslaw off the top, pick up the loose brisket pieces and eat them and then eventually take a bite of the hot dog and bun. Don’t get me wrong — everything was tasty, but the need to eat the individual components on their own made this a hot dog that wasn’t memorable for the right reasons. I’ve had a few ballpark meals like this over the years. In an effort to be as creative as possible, a team’s culinary staff comes up with an impressive concept — but one that is very difficult to eat, and that makes it fall a little short, unfortunately.
I spent the first inning and a half of the game standing on the concourse on the third base side. As I’d discovered a day earlier, this spot provides arguably a better view of the city skyline than a spot behind home plate, so I wanted to make sure to enjoy some time there before it got dark:
If you read my post about my first game at BB&T BallPark, you might remember that I’d unsuccessfully tried to flag down Knights outfield Ryan Cordell to say hello. He was the college roommate of my buddy Danny Grauer, so I wanted to surprise him by telling him this news. I once again missed him before the game so, like a day earlier, I positioned myself in the center field seats after leaving the third base side in the hopes of somehow getting his attention between innings. Again, I came up short, but I was able to snap some photos of him, at least:
Speaking of photos, here’s one that you might enjoy. It’s a shot of the picnic area and, most importantly, part of the city skyline as the sun was setting:
I don’t mean to go on and on about the skyline view at BB&T, but it’s such an impressive sight that I needs to be enthusiastically mentioned.
Since I’d been walking or standing almost exclusively since I entered the ballpark more than two hours prior, I decided to grab a seat for a bit. I scanned the park to find somewhere new, and opted for a seat down the first base line:
It didn’t offer a city skyline view, but it gave a good view of the action and put me in a position where I thought there might be a chance of snagging a foul ball. Maybe an inning after I took this spot, I noticed a fan nearby make eye contact with me and approach. It turns out that he recognized me by my shirt, and he took a seat next to me. His name was Greg, and he’s a big baseball fan. We talked about BB&T as well as some other ballparks over the course of about an inning, and then snapped this photo before he departed:
It’s always nice to meet fellow baseball fans during my trips, and an unexpected and deeply humbling thrill when someone recognizes me from social media or elsewhere online. If you notice me at any game, please make a point of coming up and saying hello.
After Greg and I parted ways, I took another lap of the concourse and spent some time in the team shop. Its air conditioning provided a reprieve from the heat, which I appreciated. In addition to a handful of reasonably priced game-used bats — which I didn’t buy only because it’d be a hassle to take on the airplane with me — I also noticed a bin of game-used balls:
This type of souvenir is a fixture at MLB parks, but I don’t often see it in the minors and am always glad when I do.
Later on, I returned to a seat near where I’d been sitting when Greg had approached me …
… and once again had hopes of snagging a foul ball. Just a few batters after I sat down, a player hit a curving foul that ricocheted off a seat about 10 seats to my left, but bounced completely away from me before I could grab it. Lack of a foul ball aside, I really enjoyed this spot and remained there until the end of the game. Then, less than 10 minutes later, I was back in my hotel room and already anticipating my next day in Charlotte.
The alarm on my iPod rang at precisely 3:30 a.m. on August 27, signifying the start of a day that would take me from Ottawa, Canada, to Charlotte, North Carolina, to kick off a six-day baseball trip. I’d traveled to Ottawa the afternoon before and booked a hotel next to Ottawa International Airport to make the start of my first day of travel a little easier. Normally, I have to get up mega early to travel to the airport for early morning flights, so waking up at 3:30 a.m. actually represented a chance to sleep in a little. I caught the shuttle to the airport outside of my hotel about 30 minutes after my alarm went off, and cleared customs to begin waiting for my first flight of the day just a short while later.
The first leg of my trip was a 6:05 a.m. flight to Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport, which is an airport that I first visited back in 2015 when I spent more than seven hours there after missing a flight to Texas. Killing seven-plus hours in any airport is a drag, but I actually enjoyed the time that I spent at the Detroit airport enough that I always transfer through there when there’s a chance. Since I’d had an early start to the day, I was ravenous when I got off the plane in the Motor City at 7:44 a.m., and made a beeline to a Chick-Fil-A where I grabbed a chicken biscuit with two hot sauces and a lemonade for breakfast. My layover was a little more than two hours (much better than seven, right?) so after eating, I went to find a quiet gate and grabbed a seat to wait for my flight to Charlotte:
Boarding that flight proved to be a bit of an adventure. I was in the final boarding group and had a terrible seat in the back row of the airplane. When I finally boarded and got all the way to my spot, it was clear that all of the overhead bins were full, meaning that there wasn’t any room for my carry-on bag. This meant that I had to fight my way back up to the front of the plane through an aisle that was filled with people, and embarrassingly ask for my bag to be gate checked.
“Didn’t fit, huh?” asked the Delta gate attendant who’d earlier commented on my Tabasco T-shirt and told me I was “hot stuff.”
“Nope,” I replied, “and I got all the way to the back of the plane before I realized there wasn’t any room. Not my lucky day, I guess.”
She responded with a sympathetic smile and told me that she’d give me some good news. I watched as she tapped her keyboard a few times, printed a new boarding pass and handed it to me with a wink. When I got back onto the plane and headed for my new seat assignment, I quickly realized that she’d moved me into a seat that had an empty seat beside it — the only one on the plane, other than the one next to my recently vacated back row seat. Things were looking up.
My flight touched down in Charlotte just before noon, and I made my way to the bus station outside of the airport. I often rent cars when I travel, but a little research led me to learn that public transit would be smarter for this visit. There’s a bus route between the airport and the Charlotte Transportation Center, which is only a couple of blocks from the hotel I’d booked, so forgetting about a rental car seemed to make the most sense.
The hotel that I’d booked for this stay, the Hilton Charlotte Center City, proved to be a perfect hotel for the baseball traveler. In addition to being so close to the city’s major transportation hub, it was also within walking distance of BB&T BallPark — as well as a number of other cool tourist attractions that I’d visit over the course of my stay. I was thankfully able to check into my room well in advance of the regular check-in time, and when I got to my room and looked out the window, I could actually see the transportation center. It’s the turquoise-roofed structure:
After checking into my room, I walked just a few minutes to a Panera Bread to buy a salad for lunch. Veggies aren’t in huge supply on my baseball trips, so I figured I’d get a few greens into me while I had the chance. I took the salad back to my room, ate it and relaxed for a couple of hours, and was soon back outside and headed toward the ballpark. Less than half a mile separates the hotel and the ballpark, so it was a short walk but one that gave me an opportunity to see a few sights around the downtown area.
BB&T BallPark opened in 2014 and has frequently made headlines for not only the exceptional city view that it offers fans, but also its overall beauty — and I couldn’t wait to check it out. I arrived a couple of hours before the gates opened, and before I went in, I took a few shots from the exterior. This is the main gate, and I think you’ll agree that it looks pretty awesome:
I took a partial walk around the ballpark, noting the banners that recognize past Knights stars …
… before entering and going up to the press box, where I met with Tommy Viola, the team’s V.P. of communications. He gave me a quick overview of the park before getting back to his pregame duties, and that left me free to begin wandering around. As I mentioned earlier, the crown jewel of BB&T BallPark is its view. I have to admit that when I launched the Best View in the Minors competition last season, I was pretty sure that this ballpark would win. It didn’t, but there’s no knocking the fabulous view that Knights fans get to enjoy all summer. All that said, I wanted to get out to the seating bowl right away to take in the view, so that’s what I did:
It’s funny, because as impressive as the view looks in this photo, it’s far better in person. Standing behind home plate and looking out at the city skyline — much of it new and resplendent — almost seemed to take my breath away. That might sound like a dramatic reaction, but I can tell you that it was a truly dramatic scene.
There was a big part of me that was eager to begin checking out the ballpark from top to bottom, but another part of me wanted to just stand there and take in that view. And with three days in Charlotte, I knew that I’d have plenty of time to explore BB&T BallPark, so I hung out behind home plate for about 10 quiet minutes, just enjoying what I was seeing.
Soon enough, the allure of taking a lap around the concourse was too strong to ignore, so I set out toward the left field foul pole to begin a full lap. I was pleased to see how the concourse wrapped around the entire park. It’s something that is more and more common with newer parks these days and, in my mind, it’s integral to a 10/10 ballpark experience. While I was on the outfield concourse, I snapped this photo of Bank of America Stadium, home of the NFL’s Carolina Panthers, poking over the upper edge of the ballpark:
I love when different sporting venues are close together, and these two venues are just a block apart. (I’m not much of a football fan, but I took an outstanding stadium tour later during my stay, so look for a blog post about that sometime in the future.)
Before I left the center field area, I went down to the front row of the outfield seats to take this photo:
A lot of MiLB parks have traditional aluminum bleachers in the outfield, but I like what the Knights have done here. These aren’t typical stadium box seats, of course, but they’re a nice upgrade over bleachers, don’t you think?
I stopped walking for a moment again when I got all the way over to the right field foul pole, turning back toward center field to take the following photo:
And here’s a shot of the still-quiet home plate area shortly before batting practice began:
When BP got underway, I went down to the front row behind home plate to snap this photo:
Then, I went up to the concourse on the third base side, which gave me this view of the city’s skyline:
If you’re visiting BB&T BallPark next season and are trying to decide where to buy tickets, I definitely recommend sitting on the third base side. The view from behind home plate is outstanding, but even more buildings are visible when you’re on the third base side. Tickets anywhere in this area give you one of the best views in all of baseball — and that includes the big leagues — as far as I’m concerned.
Speaking of being concerned, see that gray cloud in the image above? It soon moved over the ballpark and started to sprinkle, so the grounds crew hustled to tarp the field. I moved up to the edge of the concourse to get some shelter, and stood there until the rain passed. You’ve got to admit that even with a tarp covering the infield, the view was pretty darned good:
I’m happy to report that the rain cleared just as quickly as it had arrived, so it wasn’t long before the tarp was gone, the sky was blue and the gates were open. I took another walk through the park about 15 minutes after the gates opened and noticed a pair of baseballs in the seats down the third base line. One was an MLB ball in decent shape, and the other was an International League ball that had definitely seen better days:
Soon afterward, I decided that it was time to grab some dinner. The airport breakfast and the Panera Bread salad were the only things that I’d eaten all day, and I’d scouted out the BB&T BallPark concession lists online before my visit and knew there were lots of tantalizing choices. I started with order of Philly cheesesteak nachos, which were a new menu item at the start of the season:
For $8.50, I was hugely impressed with the amount of steak piled up on the chips. The volume of steak isn’t necessarily apparent in the photo above, but I can assure you that there was a lot of meat. And the cheese was a cut above what I’d expected, too. It was more like proper cheesesteak cheese than nacho cheese, which helped make this meal a winner and one of the better things I ate all season.
After eating — and I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I wasn’t able to finish the nachos — I wandered over to the grass berm behind the Piedmont Natural Gas Picnic Area in left field. From there, I snapped this panorama:
This is an interesting feature at BB&T BallPark. It’s fairly far back from the field, and the view from this area is partially obstructed, but it’s a cool place to hang out. It was pretty quiet when I took the above photo, but the crowds picked up throughout the evening. It was a Bark in the Park night, so there were tons of dogs with their owners, as well as people on blankets and kids rolling down the hill.
By the time I’d finished wandering around the berm for a bit, the game was about to begin. I took another lap of the concourse so that I could stand behind home plate for the national anthem, and then snapped this shot during the first at-bat of the game:
I’d snapped the following photo of the left field bleachers just before the anthem, and noticed that they were still this sparsely populated midway through the first inning:
I thought I might stand a reasonable chance of snagging a home run baseball if one came my way, so I hurried out and grabbed a front row seat for an inning. No home run balls were hit, so I moved toward center field a bit to give myself a good view of Knights outfielder Ryan Cordell. Before the game, my buddy Danny Grauer (you might remember me meeting him at an Ottawa Champions game a couple of seasons ago and taking in a Norfolk Tides game with him earlier in 2018) had sent me a message to let me know that he and Cordell were college roommates at Liberty University. I’d hoped to catch Cordell during BP to say hello, but wasn’t able to do so. So, the best I could do was watch from afar and hope that he’d maybe come over to the warning track while playing catch between innings, thus giving me the chance to yell down to him.
That didn’t happen, unfortunately, so after an inning or so in that spot, I was on the move again. I caught a little bit of the action from the third base concourse where I had this gorgeous view …
… and then watched a fun between-innings promotion on the video board from across the field. As part of the Bark in the Park festivities that were going on, staffers speared blobs of peanut butter on opposite sides of a large piece of glass, and then a pair of dogs raced to lick it off:
Midway through the game, I grabbed a large unsweet tea from the McAlister’s Deli concession stand, which really hit the spot on a hot evening:
Then, in the bottom of the sixth inning, I grabbed a seat on the third base side of home plate where I could watch the rest of the action with this outstanding view:
As always, the first day of my trip was a long one, but one that offered plenty of excitement. And a lot of that excitement was knowing that I’d be back at BB&T BallPark twice more before leaving town.
Getting to spend consecutive days watching baseball in any given city is awesome. So, after an exciting first day in Syracuse on June 22, it was great to get up early and enjoy hanging out in my hotel for the day before heading over to NBT Bank Stadium.
The day had a bit of an inauspicious start, though. I took the following photo at 6:30 a.m. and, as you can see, it was rainy and miserable looking:
The forecast was calling for sun and clear skies by game time, though, so I didn’t let the rain dampen my mood. Plus, even with the dreary morning skies, I got to enjoy a great view of the city from the window of my 15th-floor room at the Crowne Plaza Syracuse. By noon, the weather had cleared up …
… and I was looking forward to another perfect day of baseball with temperatures in the upper 70s. The evening’s game was set to begin at 7 p.m. For 7 p.m. games, I usually get to the park between 4:30 and 5 p.m., but I had a couple good reasons to be earlier on this day. Just before midnight the night before, Chiefs assistant GM Jason Horbal had sent me a tweet saying to have someone in the reception area call him when I got to the ballpark so we could catch up. I’d also met Syracuse.com sports reporter Lindsay Kramer during my Monday visit, and he wanted to meet up to interview me for a story he was going to write about my visit. Man, I never need any extra incentive to get to the ballpark, but I certainly had it on day #2 and couldn’t wait to get to the park.
My media pass from a day earlier was still valid — thanks, Jay! — so I entered the Chiefs admin area and ran into Jason right away. He had to speak to someone for a moment, so I hung out in this cool area …
… before he reappeared and I followed him to his office. I didn’t take any photos of his office because, hey, that’s his personal space. But I can tell you that it was amazing — practically a Chiefs/baseball memorabilia museum. Signed balls, game-used bats, random baseball stuff everywhere and a cool picture of Bryce Harper wearing his Chiefs uniform above the desk. We talked baseball for probably half an hour and I was at my baseball nerdiest, asking Jason a million questions about behind-the-scenes stuff that goes on with an MiLB franchise. I heard stories about the recent Dwight Gooden and Lenny Dykstra autograph appearance at NBT Bank Stadium, Nick Swisher’s visit during a rehab stint in May and a whole lot more. Jason’s a great guy. Give him a follow on Twitter and if you’re at a Chiefs game, look for him in the concourse and say hello.
After a while, he understandably had to get back to his pregame duties, but first he led me through the Chiefs offices, into a tunnel, through the Charlotte dugout and onto the field! Let me tell you, there’s no cooler experience than being on the field of a professional ballpark. Jason said to feel free to hang out on the field for as much of batting practice as I wanted and then headed away. Once he left, I took this photo to show where I was standing:
And this is what it looked like in panorama form:
As you can see, there was no action just yet. The Chiefs were due to hit very shortly, though, so I found a spot next to the home dugout, which was still empty:
Before the action began, I took this quick shot of myself with my GoPro:
The first sign of action on the field wasn’t the Chiefs hitting — it was three members of the Knights playing hacky sack. I was pretty impressed with their dedication. I believe they played for over an hour:
From left to right, that’s pitcher Zach Phillips with the sack on his head, pitcher Maikel Cleto and, I think, a member of the training/conditioning staff, although I could be incorrect. Incidentally, Phillips was one of the Knights I saw several times in the hotel lobby over the course of my stay.
Soon enough, the Syracuse players emerged from the dugout tunnel, took the field and started to hit. I was standing on the edge of the warning track beside the home dugout for virtually the entire batting practice, so I had an awesome view. Here’s star infielder Emmanuel Burriss, who was called up to the Nationals just three days after this game:
And here’s Tony Gwynn, Jr., who also made an appearance in my previous blog post:
Sometimes, the Knights’ game of hacky sack got a little crazy. At one point, an errant kick sent the sack into the stands and Cleto had to retrieve it:
As some players hit, infielder Josh Johnson did some running drills:
Although I took a bunch of photos, I was trying to remain as stationary as possible for much of BP, as I once again had my new GoPro strapped to my chest. I took some cool footage of the experience that I’ll be uploading onto my YouTube channel very soon. If you subscribe, you’ll be the first to know when it’s live!
It was an absolute blast watching BP from the field. I’d done it once before, when a guy named Jeter was rehabbing in Triple-A, and this time was awesome, too. If you read my blog regularly, you know how much I enjoy the batting practice experience in the minors, so watching it from just a handful of feet away on Jason’s recommendation was outstanding. Thanks again, Jay!
Before I left the field at the conclusion of BP, I snapped one last picture of Darin Mastroianni’s bat and batting gloves sitting on the tarp next to the cage. It’s interesting (to me, anyway) because Mastroianni’s jersey number with the Chiefs is actually 16, so the number 19 on the end of his bat must’ve been from a different season:
After leaving the field, I walked through the stands over to the Charlotte bullpen area, where the players were now playing catch. I was excited to see pitcher Kyle Drabek, who I saw lots of times between 2010 and 2014 in the Blue Jays system:
I also saw Brad Penny playing catch a day after his start. Even cooler, I noticed Penny running the stadium stairs when I first went out to the field. Pretty cool to see a a 37-year-old pitcher who has made nearly $50 million in his career working so hard to get back to the majors.
By this time, Phillips was done his marathon hacky sack game and was playing catch, too:
I watched the action on the field until the players headed for the clubhouse, and then I, too, found a different place to visit. It was time to hit the press box to meet up with Lindsay to discuss my interview. I met him and we decided to speak later in the game, so I took this photo of the empty field just before 6:30 p.m. …
… and then went to a suite-level observation area that allowed me to capture the scene outside NBT Bank Stadium:
Time to eat? I think so!
The Chiefs have a two-for-one Tuesday special every Tuesday home game, in which you can buy select concession items and get a second one for free. I’d been excited to see what the promotion would feature during my visit, and I pumped that it would be the food I was planning to buy anyway — the “Hofmann Ripper.” This deep-fried hot dog included hot sauce, blue cheese sauce and celery pieces. Sounds good, right? Obviously, I ordered two:
They were tasty. I’m not sure that they were the best ballpark hot dogs that I’ve eaten, but they were certainly among the most creatively designed. The combination of the hot sauce and blue cheese sauce was very chicken wing-esque, and the crunch from the celery was good. If you’re at NBT Bank Stadium this summer, I definitely recommend checking them out at the Chicken Fry Fry stand on the first base side.
Once I’d eaten, I took a bunch of photos to make up this big panorama …
… and then went down to field level in time for the first pitch. Like a day earlier, I found a spot in the front row behind the Chiefs dugout, which gave me a great vantage point for some action shots. Here’s Syracuse starter Taylor Hill, who pitched 5.2 innings of three-run ball:
And Charlotte second baseman Micah Johnson in the process of stealing his first of two bases in the game:
(You can see that Burris had a little trouble getting a handle on the ball!)
And here’s a shot of Chiefs catcher Dan Butler on his way back to the dugout after an inning:
I got this cool action shot of Burris just after he made contact with a pitch that ended up landing foul …
… and this one a moment later on his way to the dugout after lining out sharply:
As I’d been mentioning on Twitter in the days leading up to my Syracuse visit, I’d hoped to get a foul ball during either game. Back in 2013 when I visited NBT Bank Stadium for a doubleheader, I got a pair of foul balls. I didn’t make a real attempt to snag a foul during the first day of my visit this time, though, so I wanted to get a souvenir during the second game. For whatever reason, the crowd on this night was sparse, which meant the upper deck was pretty bare — especially down the lines. See this photo for evidence:
I always find that an easy way to end up with a foul ball is to sit in an empty section if there is one. Even if the ball isn’t hit directly to you, you shouldn’t have any trouble getting there before other fans. So, that’s exactly what I did. I took a seat in the above section just behind the News Channel 9 sign and less than half an inning later, I was holding this foul ball off the bat of Charlotte DH Tyler Saladino:
Funny story about this ball: It landed half a section to my right and a few rows above me, but I got there quickly and grabbed it. There was a kid a couple sections to my left who started running in the general direction of the foul, but he wasn’t even close to entering the section by the time I’d grabbed the ball. A handful of fans in that area booed loudly once I picked up the ball, apparently since I hadn’t chosen to ignore the ball so the kid could grab it. Not because of the booing, I decided right then and there that I’d quickly take a photo of the ball and then walk over and hand it to the kid. As I took the above photo, I noticed who I presumed to be the kid’s father waving his arms to encourage people to continue booing. Hmmm. That was enough of an incentive to convince me to keep it myself.
This is the seventh foul ball in my collection. One day, I’ll have to write a post about all of them.
Anyway, with my mission complete, I met up with Lindsay in the press box for my interview. I took this photo as we talked:
When the interview was done, I headed back down to the concourse when I ran into Jason behind home plate. I think it was the bottom of the seventh inning, and I decided to hang out with him and watch the rest of the game from this spot:
That’s former MLB pitcher Jose Valverde on the mound for Syracuse. He pitched the ninth inning and picked up the save as the Chiefs won 4-3. It was hilarious to watch his disregard for the new pitch clock that’s made headlines throughout baseball in 2015. Simply put, he cares zero percent about it. I was actually laughing out loud a few times. I believe the clock begins its 20-second countdown when the pitcher either receives the ball back from the catcher or steps onto the mound dirt between hitters. In any case, there were plenty of times that the entire 20 seconds had wound down long before Valverde had even taken the rubber. He never got a warning for it, either, so it was a funny game within a game to watch.
Although I was sad to be leaving NBT Bank Stadium when the game wrapped up, I was once again looking forward to enjoying the Crowne Plaza Syracuse for the remainder of my visit. The next morning, I took this panorama out my window …
… before taking my camera and going for a walk around the block to take some more shots. Here’s the hotel from the top level of the parking garage:
And the lobby entrance closest to the garage. There’s also valet parking here, too, if you’re interested:
I don’t know when I’ll visit Syracuse next, but I do definitely know that the Crowne Plaza is where I’ll stay. I was thoroughly impressed with every element of this visit, from the location of the hotel to the in-room amenities to the professionalism and friendliness of every staff member I encountered. If you’re a baseball fan visiting the city — or are just visiting the ‘Cuse for any reason, really — I wholeheartedly recommend this hotel.
The next morning, I checked out of the hotel about 10:30 a.m. and planned to do a little shopping before I made the three-hour drive home. First, though, I wanted to make one last baseball-related stop. I’m always interested in seeing baseball facilities of any type on my trips, and when I saw on the map that I was just a few minutes from Le Moyne College, a school that has an NCAA Div. II baseball team, I knew I had to visit. The college campus was beautiful and quiet. I found the athletic facilities easily, parked my car and took a walk around to check out everything. Here’s a look at the baseball field from just inside the gate:
And the field in panorama form:
After taking these photos, I packed up my camera for good and began the short drive home after an outstanding few days.
I’ll be announcing my next travel plans very soon, so please keep an eye on this blog for details. Thanks for reading!
On July 17, 2010, I made Rochester’s Frontier Field the first ballpark I visited since coming up with the idea for my website, The Ballpark Guide. This past Thursday, almost exactly two years later, I made a nine-hour round trip to visit Frontier Field again. This time, I was joined by my photographer friend Ryan, who visited Centennial Field in Burlington, VT, with me last summer. So, the photos you’ll see below are a mix of his photos and mine.
It’s my goal to eventually visit every MLB and MiLB park, which means repeat visits aren’t normally on the agenda. But ever since that first visit two years ago, I’ve looked forward to returning to Rochester. The ballpark is absolutely incredible, the food is amazing and the team has been extremely helpful and kind to me since the start. If those aren’t good reasons to go back, I don’t know what is.
Ryan and I met at 5:30 a.m., set the GPS for Rochester and drove for several hours. Although I’m always excited on every baseball road trip, I get even more pumped up when approaching the park, and as we drove through Rochester, we could see signs for Frontier Field. Eventually, we were able to see the ballpark’s red sign in the distance:
We had extra reason to be excited for this trip, because the Rochester Red Wings were giving us media passes and a pre-game tour before the park’s gates opened. A special shout-out to the team’s director of marketing Matt Cipro and account executive Derek Swanson, who were immensely helpful leading up to (and during) our visit. I’ve had a number of tours of different parks in the past, and they’re great because they give me a deeper understanding and appreciation for the park and all its features.
This game was unique in that the Red Wings weren’t playing. As you may know, Frontier Field is also being used by the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees this summer, as their home field, PNC Field, is under a major renovation.
Instead of parking in the main lot, we were able to drive straight into the VIP lot, because Matt had put my name on the VIP list. We parked here:
And then, Ryan got a photo of me wearing the new T-shirt I made up for this visit:
The VIP lot is also where the players park, and it’s always fun to check out some of the nice cars, including this Jaguar:
We parked about 9:25 a.m., and with our tour with Derek scheduled for 10 a.m., we had a bit of time to wander around the outside of the park and take some photos. We checked out the view from the main lot across the street:
The empty pavilion in front of the main gates:
And a Red Wings sticker on a light post in the parking lot:
I normally travel alone, so documenting everything can be a lot of work. Luckily, as I was taking some shots of the side of Frontier Field …
… I glanced over to my right to see Ryan capturing the visiting Charlotte Knights:
The team had just pulled up in a coach and was heading toward the door that would take them down to the clubhouse:
After the players disappeared, we continued walking down Morrie Silver Way, parallel with the bricked side of Frontier Field. I love this park’s old-school feel, and I looked up to capture this shot that I really like:
(I think it looks neat in black and white.)
When we reached Plymouth Avenue North, we could turn and look through the outfield gates to see inside the ballpark:
There’s something really cool about seeing an almost-empty park but knowing it’ll be hopping in a short period of time. We continued along the outside of the fence behind the outfield fence …
… while I kept a watchful eye out for any baseballs that might’ve been hiding in the grass from the previous day’s game or batting practice. (Fortunately, I didn’t find any. And when I say “fortunately,” it’s because I’d have faced a moral dilemma about climbing the fence. Just kidding. Sort of.)
Then, we turned back and passed by the outfield gate again …
… and made our way back down Morrie Silver Way toward the front of the park:
The pavilion in front of the gates was still quiet, and since it was a couple minutes before 10, we went into the park’s office to meet Matt and Derek. Soon, they arrived and Matt gave us our passes. Instead of a traditional media pass, we were given premium-level tickets to allow us to sit anywhere, as well as photo passes that would get us anywhere we wanted to be.
Derek led us out into the cross-aisle behind home plate, where we began our tour. There’s a wide cross-aisle that wraps around Frontier Field, and a huge opening directly behind home plate. It’s a perfect area for trying to catch a foul ball, as evidenced by this sign:
The tour quickly went down to the field:
No matter how many times I get the fortune of standing on a professional baseball field, it never gets old! From there, we went up the tunnel behind home plate…
… through the hallways around the clubhouses and training rooms and rode an elevator up to the suite level:
The entire time, Derek was telling us cool stories about Frontier Field, its history, its operations and pretty much everything you’d ever need to know. You could tell he loved his job and enjoyed taking people on tours.
We made a quick stop in the press box:
And then went to check out some of the suites. Although the suite common area, shown above, is enclosed, you access the suites via a walkway that you can see in the eighth photo of this post. As we walked along the suite level, I noticed the Rolls-Royce suite, so I couldn’t resist commenting on it:
Without hesitation, Derek pulled out a key, opened the door and led us in. We went out to the box seats on the suite’s balcony, and I took this panorama:
The next suite we entered was the biggest in the park, and roughly three times the size of most of the other suites:
From this suite, we could see some of the Charlotte players warming up down the first base line:
And I also took a panorama to show the beautiful skyline beyond the outfield fence:
Derek explained that unlike a lot of MiLB parks, Frontier Field’s outfield isn’t overly cluttered with billboards. It’s mostly left open, which affords fans a great view of the cityscape. See the tan building behind the right field foul pole? There’s a cool story surrounding it. The Red Wings were affiliated with the Baltimore Orioles between 1961 and 2002, and when Frontier Field was built in 1996, it was built with the same field specs as Camden Yards, to give players a Camden Yards feel before they made it to Baltimore. The ballpark was placed so that the tan building could represent the B&O Warehouse, which is one of Camden Yards’ signature sights. Cool, huh?
Our tour took us all along the suite level, and in addition to seeing the indoor suites, we also checked out the open-air suites at each end. After going as far as we could on the third base side, we changed direction and went all the way to the Hardball Cafe, which is down the first base line. It’s a giant, open-air suite for groups of 100:
While there, a bottle of Red Wings wine caught our eye:
By now, Derek had spent probably 45 minutes with us, but still wanted to show us more. We went down to field level and out to the group picnic area behind the right field fence, where groups can eat here:
And then stand above the right field bullpen and watch the game or move to the seating bowl. We also saw the park’s most unique suite, the Power Alley Grille, which is enclosed in glass and situated in right-center:
And the most comfy seat in the house, just to the left field side of the outfield suite:
We then passed under the batter’s eye, which has a neon advertisement that is turned off during play and on between innings, which I think is really smart:
I can’t resist showing these unlit and lit shots taken once the game began:
And under the 25×35 video board in left field, which is the largest screen in the county:
(See the Empire State Yankees logo on the screen?)
In all, Derek spent about 75 minutes with us and gave us more information than I could’ve imagined. It was amazing of him to spend so much time with us, especially as the start of the game drew close. Thanks again, Derek!
Because we’d covered everywhere in the park during our tour, we decided to check out a few more sights and then grab some food in time for the first pitch. We made a brief stop at the team shop, where I enjoyed looking at the game-used bats, including this one used by Cincinnati’s Zack Cozart:
An area recognizing former Red Wing Cal Ripken, Jr.:
And this shot, which shows some of the engraved bricks that make up much of the open area down the third base line:
You’ll notice the Red Osier concession stand in the background. Last time I visited Frontier Field, I had an excellent bowl of gourmet mac and cheese, but many fans weren’t shy about telling me that I missed the park’s best item — a prime rib sandwich at Red Osier. I love beef, so I got an original Red Osier sandwich, added a bit of horseradish and documented the evidence before devouring it:
It was absolutely delicious. The meat seemed like actual prime rib, rather than brown-dyed mystery meat. I could’ve eaten three or four of these things. It was that good, and I definitely recommend it. Remember that top 10 list of the best things I’ve eaten at ballparks? Let’s just say I’m going to have to revise it in off-season to include this sandwich.
While I washed my prime rib down with one of my ballpark favorites, a cup of freshly squeezed lemonade …
… Ryan mowed through a Buffalo wing chicken steak sandwich, which he said was delicious but spicy:
We watched the first four innings from the first base side. There’s not a bad seat at Frontier Field, but I love sitting on the first base side, as you get a perfect view of the historic Kodak building towering above the field:
While here, I took shots of my ticket and pass, as I always do:
The game was entertaining; 15 strikeouts in total, and two Yankees gunned down at home. On one of them, the runner was out by so much that when Ryan snapped this picture of the catcher waiting with the ball …
… the runner wasn’t even in the frame yet! But a second later, he was:
In the third, after a close play at home, Knights manager Joel Skinner took exception to the call and emphatically protested his case. It was one of those “I’m going to stay out here and complain until you throw me out” arguments, and that’s exactly what home plate umpire Chris Ward did, as you can see in this three-shot sequence that Ryan captured:
One of the notable players to see was former Chicago Cub Kosuke Fukudome, who signed a Minor League deal with the Yankees less than a week earlier, and was suited up for Empire State. After he walked early in the game, Ryan snapped his photo …
… and Fukudome appeared to wave at Ryan. It was hilarious and odd.
I wanted to grab something else to eat before we switched seats to the third base side, and I settled on a white hot dog, just because I was curious:
Had I been blindfolded, I wouldn’t have known the difference between this dog and a regular one, although it’s not something I’d likely try again. I don’t know if it was just this one or all white dogs in general, but this one had a spongy consistency that I wasn’t crazy about.
We spent the rest of the game on the third base side, and were able to capture some cool player shots, including Empire State catcher (and occasional Yankee) Francisco Cervelli:
Charlotte starter Matt Zaleski, who got the loss:
Corban Joseph, who I noticed was using a Sam Bat:
(I mention his bat because I toured the Sam Bat factory a month or so ago, which you can read all about it here.)
And Ramiro Pena:
The weather throughout the entire day was perfect. It was overcast and in the mid-to-high 70s from the time we arrived to the time we left:
One hilarious thing the gameday staff did late in the game was show solo fans on the video board while Roy Orbison’s “Only the Lonely” played. It was funny enough that I laughed right out loud at some of the images:
The Yankees won 2-0 …
… and we wandered around for a few minutes after the conclusion of the game, stopping to check out the Red Wings Hall of Fame wall, which is extensive:
I’m definitely glad to have made a return visit to Frontier Field, and while I don’t know when I’ll get back again, I’ll definitely enjoy it when I do. Thanks to Matt and Derek for going out of their way to make our visit so memorable.
I’m planning a road trip for about a month from now, and I’ll post details about it soon — probably sometime next week, once the details are ironed out. As always, please visit The Ballpark Guide to not only read comprehensive ballpark guides, but also to support my travels. Thanks!
On the morning of Thursday, July 19, I’ll be hopping in the car when it’s still dark out and doing something that’s a symptom of my baseball obsession — driving about nine hours round-trip to watch a three-hour baseball game.
And I can’t wait.
I’ll have an announcement about my next big baseball road trip before long, but in the meantime, I’m excited to share that I’ll be visiting Rochester’s Frontier Field in a little over a week. Almost two years ago to the day (July 16, 2010, to be exact), I visited Frontier Field, and it was the first ballpark I went to since launching TheBallparkGuide.com. Here’s a panorama I took during that visit:
Since then, I’ve been to more than 30 other parks on my travels.
So, why the return trip to Rochester? Well, there are several reasons. I absolutely loved the entire Frontier Field experience when I visited two years ago, and since Rochester is within day trip-distance for me, I’ve decided to go again. Although I normally travel solo, I’ll be joined on this trip by a friend who is also a photographer, and he’ll be helping me out by taking photos for my website. Last year, he visited Vermont’s Centennial Field with me, and you can check out a blog post about that visit here.
One of the unique things about this visit is that the Rochester Red Wings won’t even be playing. The Empire State Yankees (formerly the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees who are spending 2012 as a travel team) will be the home team, and they’ll host the Charlotte Knights.
I’m hoping to get a chance to be interviewed on the game’s radio broadcast to talk about my website, as I’ve done at other parks earlier this summer, and I’m also really looking forward to enjoying some of Frontier Field’s food. I’ve been unabashed in saying that Rochester’s ballpark has the best overall food quality and selection of any MiLB park I’ve visited. Last time, I had the buffalo chicken mac and cheese …
… and it was delicious. This time, I’m hoping to try a few other things, based on some recommendations from fans. (If you’ve been to Frontier Field and have a food recommendation, please post it in the comments below.)
I may post a few goals prior to this trip, as I’ve done in the past, but either way, it should be a great day.
Thanks for reading!