Tagged: Cincinnati Reds

Pittsburgh Pirates – August 31

When I woke up on the morning of August 31 for my second day in Pittsburgh, there wasn’t much time to waste. The Pirates were hosting the Cincinnati Reds with a 1 p.m. start time, which meant I wanted to get to PNC Park by 10:30 a.m. I packed up my stuff, checked out of my hotel on the edge of the city and drove straight to my next hotel, the Hampton Inn & Suites Pittsburgh-Downtown. It was still too early to check in, but I was lucky enough to park my car for free at the hotel and walk a few blocks over to PNC Park. The hotel stay was outstanding, and I’ll have lots more about it later in this blog post.

It was absolutely pouring, and I figured there’d be no chance the game would be played at all. Still, I figured a soggy day wandering around the park would be more than all right, so I climbed out of my car and ducked into the rainy morning. From the edge of the hotel’s parking lot, I could see the yellow of the Roberto Clemente Bridge and, beyond it, PNC Park:

pnc-park-from-hotel-parking-lot

Several minutes later, I was standing on the center line of the bridge, as I had a day before:

pnc-park-bridge-center-line

I entered the ballpark a short while later and saw, as you might expect, that the infield was covered with the tarp. No surprise there:

pnc-park-tarp-outfield

The steady rain made me not too interested in standing in the seating area getting soaked, so I moved indoors to the Rivertowne Brewing Hall of Fame Club, which is found above the bleachers in left-center field. This spot is an enormous indoor bar and eatery that is open to all fans. It was packed during much of my visit to PNC Park the day before, but wasn’t too crowded during this rainy day. Apparently, I was so happy to be out of the rain that I completely neglected to take a photo inside the club area, so you’ll have to take my word that I was there.

I killed some time in this area and then checked out the team shop before walking down to field level to enjoy this scene:

pnc-park-tarp

Sure, the tarp is a buzz kill, but the overall view is one of the best you’ll see in baseball. The cold, dreary day called for something hot to eat, and I’d spied a Quaker Steak & Lube concession stand during my first visit to PNC Park and decided to check it out. I’ve often said that the chicken wings at the Quaker Steak & Lube in Toronto’s Rogers Centre are among my all-time favorite ballpark eats, but I wanted to try something different this time. I’ve often been tempted by the onion rings, so I bought an order with blue cheese dip and dug in:

pnc-park-quaker-steak-lube-onion-rings

The rings were delicious — thick, hot and a good onion to batter ratio. The dip wasn’t very good, so I’d definitely try ranch or another flavor next time. If you like onion rings, though, give these a shot at any QS&L location. They look pretty perfect, don’t they?

Soon enough, the rain disappeared and the Pirates miraculously announced the game was expected to start on time. By now, fans were beginning to take their seats, but the crowd was light enough that I was able to sneak walk casually into the park’s famous seats in right field. This section is small to avoid blocking the city’s skyline, so it’s a coveted ticket for Pirates games. The ushers are vigilant about restricting access during the game, but I was able to hang out in the area for a few minutes to take this panorama, which you can click to enlarge:

pnc-park-right-field-seats-panorama

After leaving the area, I walked the length of the Riverwalk and over to the corner in left, where I took the long walk up this spiral ramp:

pnc-park-spiral-walkway

Think the climb might’ve been dizzying? It wasn’t, but looking down at the escalators was:

pnc-park-escalators

After spending the next little while just walking around PNC Park’s various levels and taking in the sights, I went back down to the main level and found a spot to stand to watch the game. Like a day earlier, I’d bought a standing room ticket. The dreary day, however, meant I had no problem getting a front-row spot along the railing on the third base side. From here, I had an unobstructed view to the field … unless you think this little fella, resting on a nearby wheelchair, was blocking my view:

pnc-park-praying-mantis

My pictures of the action at home plate are only so-so, but I had a blast watching guys like Billy Hamilton:

cincinnati-reds-billy-hamilton-batting

If you follow my blog closely, you might remember that I saw Hamilton in Triple-A last summer as a member of the Louisville Bats. You can read about that ballpark visit here, if you’re interested.

Once I’d watched a couple innings from this spot, I was on the move again. It’s not that I can’t stand still — it’s that it’s always too tempting to explore a new ballpark, rather than just hang out in the same spot for the entire game. During each lap of the park, I couldn’t resist taking a look down to the river and over the water to the impressive city skyline. At one point, I noticed something on the water that you just don’t see every day:

pnc-park-river-stand-up-boarder

I eventually returned to a spot on the third base side and snapped pictures like this one of Pirates starter Francisco Liriano:

pnc-park-pirates-francisco-liriano

As I watched him work, keeping an eye on the ribbon board behind home plate to watch his pitch speed, I noticed something I’ve never seen at a single one of the 50-plus parks I’ve visited since 2010. Take a look at this next photo and you’ll see not only the pitch speed, but also the ball’s horizontal break and vertical break:

pnc-park-pitching-details-board

Pretty cool, huh? Of course, the baseball nerd in me had fun watching for off-speed pitches and quickly guessing the break before the data appeared in front of me. Has anyone encountered other parks that provide this data? If so, I’d love to hear about it in the comments section below.

I’ve often said in the past how I love the speed element of baseball, so it was definitely a thrill to see Hamilton in person again. The next time he was up, I positioned myself to the third base side of home and watched as he flew up the base line on a routine ground out. His speed was absolutely incredible, and I shot a series of photos that I’ve made into this gif:

dt83p

After beating the Reds 3-2 a day earlier, the Pirates fell by the same score in a game that saw Cincy starter Johnny Cueto, who I captured earlier in the game during this bunt attempt, win his 16th of the season:

cincinnati-reds-johnny-cueto-bunt

As fans filed out of PNC Park toward their cars, I was excited to avoid the post-game traffic jam and, instead, take a short walk to my hotel, the Hampton Inn & Suites Pittsburgh-Downtown. The hotel is just one mile from the ballpark and an easy walk. It’s totally perfect for baseball fans visiting Pittsburgh — or, really, anyone who enjoys staying downtown and being able to walk to various locations. In addition to its close proximity to PNC Park, the hotel is also within walking distance to Heinz Field, the University of Pittsburgh, a downtown convention center and the Senator John Heinz History Center, a museum that is located directly across the street. (Unfortunately, I didn’t get to visit it, but it looked outstanding.) Speaking of the hotel’s location, a huge perk is that guests get free parking. In all my traveling, I can’t recall another true downtown hotel that has this benefit.

The hotel staff knew of my arrival, and kindly gave me a welcome gift bag loaded with snacks upon checking in. That was the first big surprise. The other? Seeing this sign in the elevator — in particular, the part I’ve pointed out with the red arrow — on the way up to my room:

hampton-inn-suites-pittsburgh-downtown-welcome-sign copy

Wowsers! Did I just say “wowsers?” I sure did.

I was lucky to get a corner suite on an upper floor of the hotel; given the room’s location, it really felt as though I had the best room in the hotel. The view was spectacular — from one window, I could see the river, the yellow bridges and even PNC Park in the distance:

hampton-inn-suites-pittsburgh-downtown-pnc-park-view

And from the other, I had a great view of the city’s downtown, which I photographed early in the evening …

hampton-inn-suites-pittsburgh-downtown-city-view-day

… and again at night:

hampton-inn-suites-pittsburgh-downtown-city-view-night

The view wasn’t the only amazing thing about my room. The room itself was perfect — it was a suite, so it was extremely spacious and had a kitchen area, desk, couch, king-sized bed and more. Check out this shot …

hampton-inn-suites-pittsburgh-downtown-city-room-2

… and this one to see what I mean:

hampton-inn-suites-pittsburgh-downtown-city-room-1

The Hampton Inn & Suites Pittsburgh-Downtown is an outstanding choice if you’ve visiting the Steel City. Beyond the perks I’ve already listed, the hotel features free Wi-Fi, free breakfast, a business center, fitness center, indoor pool and more. From these amenities to its ideal location to its free parking to its awesome rooms, you’ll be glad to hang your Pirates hat (or the hat of whatever team you root for) here.

Two more ballpark experiences from my road trip are coming up! Next one: The end of an era in Jamestown, New York.

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Pittsburgh Pirates – August 30

Any time I talk to baseball fans about the parks they’ve visited, it doesn’t take long before Pittsburgh’s PNC Park is mentioned as a favorite. I’ve been trying to add PNC Park to the list of the parks I’ve visited for the last few years, but I’ve never managed to sync my travel schedule with the Pirates’ home schedule. This year, however, everything worked out perfectly.

After an awesome day in Rochester, I drove about 4.5 hours to Pittsburgh, getting to the Steel City about three hours before the 4 p.m. game. I parked in a parking tower across the Roberto Clemente Bridge from PNC Park and, as I entered the structure, I could hear a security guard’s radio crackle with the message, “No more cars.” That meant I’d have a heck of a time finding a parking spot; after driving around for way too long, another guard directed me to park in a non-spot on the upper level of the structure. I wasn’t crazy about leaving my car in an area that it might get towed, but I quickly forgot about this problem when I stepped out and had this exciting view:

pnc-park-parking-lot-view

Just about perfect, right?

The view from where I stood was incredible. Here’s what it looks like as a panorama, which you can click to expand:

pnc-park-parking-garage-view-panorama

In addition to the ballpark and Pittsburgh’s iconic series of bridges, you can also see Heinz Field, home of the Steelers, on the left. After a couple minutes of descending the stairs to get to street level, the Clemente Bridge once again had a prominent spot in front of me:

pnc-park-street-view-bridge

This bridge is closed to vehicles on game days, which makes for one of the best approaches to any MLB park you can find. Leave your car, take a stroll over the bridge and enjoy the view, and a few minutes later, you’re standing at the gates of an outstanding ballpark. As I set out across the bridge, I noticed most pedestrians were sticking to the sidewalk. I couldn’t resist walking right down the center line, where I had this view:

pnc-park-clemente-bridge-center-line

I saw a plaque honoring Clemente …

pnc-park-clemente-bridge-sign

… and a few minutes later, I’d picked up my ticket at will call and paused to take this photograph:

pnc-park-ticket

As usual, I set out to take a walk around the perimeter of the park, and it didn’t take long to see a pile of cool things. Musician Gavin DeGraw was set to play a postgame concert, and I could see the band’s gear stored behind PNC Park:

jason-aldean-guitars-basses

The North Shore Trail, which runs between the ballpark and the Allegheny River, is one of the best “neighborhood” features you’ll ever see in all of baseball. It’s absolutely beautiful — full of baseball fans and boaters. (And so many people drinking beer while floating on inner tubes in the water.) In fact, boaters moor their vessels along the trail and tailgate before and after Pirates games. It’s a really fun place to be, and here’s what the scene looks like:

pnc-park-along-river-panorama

No visit to PNC Park is complete without spending some time on the trail. It’s the perfect place to get pumped up for your eventual entry into the ballpark and the game ahead. Although it was about a million degrees and sunny, and I was excited to get to the park itself, I couldn’t resist taking a few laps up and down the trail. The view of the city’s skyline is absolutely spectacular, as you can see here:

pnc-park-city-view-panorama

After quite a bit of walking and a few dozen photos later, I was ready to get inside the ballpark — but it wasn’t open yet. The team shop was, though, and I took advantage of the air conditioning and went inside. MLB team shops are always impressive, and the one at PNC Field was no different. The special touch? Pirates-colored flooring:

pnc-park-team-shop

I spent some time touring the two-level shop as much for a reprieve from the heat as for browsing the Pirates gear, but I soon headed outside again to spend more time walking around before the gates opened. I know you’re probably curious to see the inside of PNC Park,and we’re almost there. First though, here are a few more photos of the scene outside the gates. Here’s a plaque recognizing the 1903 World Series:

pnc-park-first-world-series-plaque

A look at some of the boats docked along the trail:

pnc-park-boats-moored

And Heinz Field, which was hosting a University of Pittsburgh football game against Delaware:

heinz-field-pittsburgh

When the center field gates opened, I entered the park and expected to begin my sightseeing. What I didn’t realize, however, is that these gates open into a an area called the Riverwalk, and then you have to wait another short period of time for the rest of the park to open. No worries, though — the Riverwalk area is fun to explore and is loaded with concession stands. It’s the area of the park you often see during TV broadcasts — the one with the giant PNC Park sign:

pnc-park-riverwalk-pnc-sign

I wandered the length of the Riverwalk a couple times and, before long, it was time for the gates the to rest of PNC Park to open. When they opened, I found myself in a semi-covered behind the seats in right-center, so I quickly made my way through the crowd and got out to the bleachers where I had this amazing view:

pnc-park-bleachers-view-batting-practice-panorama

I wasn’t interested in getting a ball during BP. I just sat for a few minutes atop the bleachers and enjoyed the view. Soon enough, however, I was on the move again and decided to take my journey skyward. I followed the curved ramp toward the upper deck, pausing along the way to snap this shot that shows the bleachers I’d previously visited, the video board, the bullpens and the river with the city skyline in the background:

pnc-park-bleachers-city-view

Once I made it to the upper deck, I made a beeline for the seats behind home plate so that I could capture one of the most iconic views in baseball. Ready? Ta-da!

pnc-park-home-plate-city-view

I absolutely love a ballpark that offers an impressive view of the city beyond, and I’ve had the fortune of enjoying repeat visits to parks with comparable views over the years, like Cleveland’s Progressive Field and Detroit’s Comerica Park. Take a look at the two preceding links, compare the photos with the above shot of PNC Park, and let me know in the comments section which view is your favorite. Or, if you’ve got another favorite view, I’d love to hear about it.

Before I left the spot behind home plate, I took a series of photos to build this huge panorama …

pnc-park-behind-home-plate-view-panorama

… and then snapped this close-up shot of the team’s World Series banners directly behind me:

pnc-park-world-series-banners

As I stood and enjoyed the view, I realized that I could see the parking garage at which I’d left my car. I switched to my zoom lens, adjusted the focus and, sure enough, there was my car!

pnc-park-parking-lot-car

(See what I meant about the lot being absolutely packed?)

Although I was eager to get back down to the 100 Level concourse to explore the park, it was pretty cool being up here with this vantage point. I slowly made my way over toward the right field corner and snapped this shot that shows a few neat things:

pnc-park-boat-statue-tent

First, we’ve got the statue of Bill Mazeroski on the left side of the image, depicted after hitting his iconic home run during the 1960 World Series; the white tent in the center is covering the musical instruments I noticed earlier; and how about the boat dropping people off? Can you think of a better way to get to a ballgame?

While I was in this spot, I took a shot that illustrates a couple areas in the park I’ve already mentioned:

pnc-park-riverwalk-field

See the structure to the left of the bleachers and video board? That’s the giant ramp I climbed to get to the upper deck. And the concrete area running along the right side of the photo? That’s the Riverwalk, as you might’ve guessed.

Next, I descended to the main concourse to begin checking things out. My first step was Legacy Square, an informative spot that honors the Pittsburgh area’s rich Negro Leagues history with a series of statues and plaques. Here’s one of “Cool Papa” Bell, for example:

pnc-park-cool-papa-bell-statue

I browsed the area for several minutes and decided to return later on to read all the plaques in detail. In the meantime, I was anxious to continue my trek. The next spot I visited was the small seating section inside the right field scoreboard, that you often see on TV. Here’s what the view looks like, and I can certainly attest that this is one of the neatest spots to see a game in all of baseball:

pnc-park-view-inside-scoreboard

It was still a short time before first pitch, but I was ready to get my eat on. My number one food priority for visiting PNC Park was to grab a sandwich from the Primanti Brothers concession. Primanti, of course, is a Pittsburgh specialty with several locations around the city. The premise to these sandwiches, if you haven’t heard of them, if that they’re an all-in-one, if you will. The sandwich is loaded with your meat of choice — I got roast beef — but is also stacked with coleslaw and french fries. Sound excessive? Sure is! Here’s a look at mine:

pnc-park-primanti-brothers-beef-sandwich

And how was it, you might ask? Well, it didn’t exactly blow me away. I can understand the appeal of loading a sandwich with the side ingredients — I’m all for food gimmickry — but the coleslaw only served to make the beef and fries instantly cold. Also, the meat’s flavor wasn’t much to write home about, and the whole thing was pretty doughy.

First pitch was fast approaching by the time I finished my unsatisfying sandwich, so I made my way back down to the main level to find a spot to hang out. I’d bought a standing room only ticket for the game, and while this type of ticket is great on the wallet, it’s always a challenge to find a suitable spot from which to watch the game. I found a ramp in center that had this view …

pnc-park-center-field-view

… and got settled in to enjoy the first few innings. A moment later, however, I noticed a guard nixing the similar plans of other fans to my left, and knew he’d make his way over to me in just a matter of time. I decided to go all National Geographic photojournalist and take this photo, pretending to be immersed in my work with the hope he’d pass by:

pnc-park-flowers

It didn’t fool him, however, and given the horrible threat I was apparently posing by standing in the area, I was encouraged to find somewhere else to be. So, where to go? Well, I found a great spot on the concourse behind home plate where I had this view:

pnc-park-standing-room-home-plate-view

I decided that I’d done enough walking for the day, and with another game at PNC Park less than 24 hours away, I knew I’d have another day to explore the park. So, I spent much of the game standing in this perfect location. This spot gave me an awesome view of two home runs — a first-inning blast by Pittsburgh’s Neil Walker and a fourth-inning shot by Cincy’s Todd Frazier. Walker’s three-run shot was all the offense Pittsburgh got and needed. The Buccos won 3-2 to help them inch closer to the playoffs.

Although I’d had a great day at the ballpark, I was exhausted and couldn’t wait to get to my hotel. I’d booked a pair of Pittsburgh hotels for my two nights in the city, and up first was the Hyatt Place Pittsburgh Airport, located just 11 miles from PNC Park. I’ve stayed at Hyatt Place hotels a few times in MLB cities — Cleveland and Philadelphia come to mind immediately, and they always deliver. Big time. Here’s the front of the hotel:

hyatt-place-pittsburgh-airport-outside

The Hyatt Place Pittsburgh Airport was awesome. I was impressed with how quickly the 11-mile drive passed, and even more impressed with how friendly everyone was at the front desk when I checked in. After dropping off my luggage, I made a short drive to a nearby/enormous retail area to buy some dinner and snacks for the evening. The hotel is smack dab in the middle of a part of Pittsburgh that you can find everything, from restaurants to supermarkets to malls, and so on. Needing something a little healthier than my lunch at the ballpark, I grabbed a gigantic salad at a nearby Panera Bread location, and absolutely crashed when I got back to my room.

I love the room layout at Hyatt Place hotels — every room is suite style — a living room area with a sectional couch, desk area, kitchenette and then a separate bedroom. And I’d be lying if I said I didn’t love the 42-inch TV that swivels so you can watch it in the living room or bedroom:

hyatt-place-pittsburgh-airport-living-room

The king-sized bed was super comfy and I love how it’s separate from the rest of the room:

hyatt-place-pittsburgh-airport-bedroom

I definitely recommend this hotel if you’re visiting Pittsburgh to see the Pirates — or if you’re in the Steel City for any other reason. In addition to the perks I already mentioned, it’s near other attractions such as the Pittsburgh Zoo, the Sandcastle Water Park and, of course, the airport. It has business center, indoor pool and offers complimentary breakfast, as well as free Wi-Fi and free parking.

Up next, another great day at PNC Park and another great hotel!

Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame and Museum

Back in late May, I visited Cincinnati for a couple of days as part of my May road trip for The Ballpark Guide, and caught two Reds/Cubs games, which you can read about here and here. As I mentioned at the time, I’d walked past the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame and Museum, and pledged to make time for a visit.

That visit came on the morning of May 25, several hours before the Reds were set to host the Cubs in an afternoon game. The HOF is attached to the Reds team shop and directly outside Great American Ball Park’s main gate, so it’s a must-see place any time you’re in town for a ball game:

cincinnati-reds-hall-of-fame-outside

Part of the reason for my enthusiasm to visit — other than my love of baseball history — was to check out the special autograph exhibit. I understand this exhibit isn’t a permanent fixture of the museum, which made it more exciting to see. The Reds have a long, storied history, and the exhibit featured autographs of nearly every single player to ever suit up for the Reds.

This picture isn’t that great, but gives you an idea of how many of the autographs were displayed:

cincinnati-reds-hall-of-fame-autograph-display-2

As an autograph collector myself, I was in awe as I browsed through the artifacts. Some autographs were on index cards, while others were on baseball cards, but they were all beautifully framed with each player’s name and years of service. I got a kick out of seeing how players from bygone decades took the time to actually sign their name — not just draw their first initial and add a squiggle. Some autographs featured just the player’s name, while others included greetings like “Your Truly,” and so on. One of the best such notations I saw was from pitcher Cy Morgan, who had a 10-year career between 1903 and 1913. He wrote:

Hello Peggy,
Pleased to know you are so interested in base ball, for it is a grand, good, American game. Keep it up, little girl. Good luck to you.
Harry R. Morgan
or “Cy.”

Although the lion’s share of the autographs were on index cards and baseball cards, there was a sizable signed baseball display, part of which looked like this:

cincinnati-reds-hall-of-fame-autographed-balls

There were also hundreds of signatures from various elements of life, including other sports:

cincinnati-reds-hall-of-fame-auto-displays

The autograph exhibit filled the downstairs portion of the hall, but there was still more to see upstairs. On the way, though, I stopped to sign a giant wall that was reserved for visitors to leave their “autographs”:

cincinnati-reds-hall-of-fame-autograph-wall-malcolm

The walk up to the second floor was mesmerizing. Along the way, there were thousands of baseballs — 4,256, to be exact — that represented every hit of Pete Rose’s career. You won’t find much recognition of Rose in Great American Ball Park itself, but the Reds HOF was loaded with Rose displays. Here’s a partial look at the 4,256 balls:

cincinnati-reds-hall-of-fame-pete-rose-balls

(Of course, they’re not the actual balls he hit — just regular balls representative of each hit.)

One of the first displays on the second floor recognized the Reds’ farm system. As a big Minor League Baseball fan, I got a kick out of seeing the jerseys of the Pensacola Blue Wahoos, Bakersfield Blaze, Billings Mustangs, Louisville Bats and Dayton Dragons — the latter two teams I saw on this same road trip:

cincinnati-reds-hall-of-fame-milb-affiliate-jerseys

There were a ton of displays featuring artifacts from throughout the team’s history, and several exhibits specifically focusing on players. The Joe Morgan one, for example, included several of his baseball rings:

cincinnati-reds-hall-of-fame-joe-morgan-rings

The top two are World Series rings, the next two are National League Championship rings and the remainder are All-Star Game rings.

Baseball-related items weren’t the only things that caught my eye as I moved around the floor. Here’s the pocket pistol of Garry Herrmann, who served as the Reds’ president between 1903 and 1927 — he also was one of the people instrumental in the development of the World Series:

cincinnati-reds-hall-of-fame-pocket-pistol

Other unexpected things? How about the enormous dog collar for Schottzie, the St. Bernard of former team owner Marge Schott?

cincinnati-reds-hall-of-fame-dog-collar-schottzie

The team’s 1976 payroll ledger:

cincinnati-reds-hall-of-fame-payroll-ledger-1976

Perhaps the sport’s most uncomfortable uniform:

cincinnati-reds-hall-of-fame-old-reds-uniform

An an original turnstile from Crosley Field, home of the Reds between 1912 and 1970:

cincinnati-reds-hall-of-fame-crosley-field-turnstile

The first interactive display I checked out looked like this:

cincinnati-reds-hall-of-fame-pitching-area

I took this photo as I stood on the mound, and then put my camera and backpack aside and tested out my arm. This wasn’t a speed pitch game; it was designed to see if you could throw a strike from 60 feet, six inches away. It’s hard to see in the picture, but there’s a strike zone painted on the wall next to the batter. The game was pretty simple — hit that box and you’ll hear an umpire yell “Steeerike!” Miss and, well, you know the deal.

It’d been a long time since I’d thrown off a mound, and given that my arm was completely cold, I didn’t know what to expect. Instead of rearing back and ripping an errant pitch toward the zone, I decided to test out a curveball, which I’m always working on when I play catch. I figured the solid-colored background would allow me to see how much the ball broke, if at all.

I found a ball with decent seams, wound up and “pulled the string.” The ball sailed through the air and hit the top inside corner for a strike. Hmmm. I figured lightning couldn’t strike twice, so I threw another curve — this one miraculously plunked against the wall in the center of the zone. I was beaming like a fool and looked around to see that no one was sharing in my glory. Undeterred, I grabbed a third ball, threw a third straight hook and this one dotted the inside edge of the strike zone. “Strike three — batter’s out!” yelled the umpire.

Then, in a baseball version of a freestyle rapper dropping the mic, I flipped my last ball to the ground and walked out of the cage, thoroughly delighted with myself.

Sparky Anderson, who’d been watching from a few yards away, didn’t seem as impressed:

cincinnati-reds-hall-of-fame-sparky-anderson-statue

Next up was a visit to the building’s actual “hall of fame.” Everything I’d seen so far, I believe, was part of the museum, but the hall was filled with plaques for each member:

cincinnati-reds-hall-of-fame-plaques

After spending a good chunk of time browsing the plaques, I doubled back to another room that featured the team’s World Series trophies and a bunch of bronze statues depicting the Big Red Machine era:

cincinnati-reds-hall-of-fame-bronze-statues

The best testament I can give to the Reds Hall of Fame and museum is this: When I finished checking everything out, I exited … and started again on the ground floor. Everything was that good, and I didn’t want to miss a single thing. (Another perk of the place is your ticket is good for re-entry as many times as you’d like throughout the day.)

An hour later, I made it to the building’s last room in time to get a spot near the head of the line for an autograph signing. Reds HOF member Leo Cardenas, who played for the team between 1960 and 1968, earning a Gold Glove Award and four All-Star Game nominations during the span, was signing for visitors:

cincinnati-reds-hall-of-fame-leo-cardenas

He’s 74 years old, but was full of energy and happy to share stories with the scores of fans who filtered past his table. I got his autograph on a ticket stub that I’ll share at a later date. And speaking of things to share, admission to the museum also netted me a small statue of former Reds catcher and HOFer Ernie Lombardi. I’ll unpack and photograph the statue sometime over the off-season and share it a blog post about some of the cool souvenirs I picked up this summer.

Thanks for reading!

Cleveland Indians – May 29

When I first heard about the Cleveland Indians Social Suite at Progressive Field, I knew I wanted to get the opportunity to experience it at some point on one of my baseball road trips.

I kept an eye on the Indians website over the off-season and bookmarked the Social Suite application page when it appeared with a message saying the team would soon be taking applications. Meanwhile, I planned out about the application essay I’d write, making a point to include mentions of The Ballpark Guide, my blog, my Twitter account, my Facebook page and my baseball road trips in general.

Eventually, the application process opened and the essay I’d mentally mapped out was not a factor. Instead, in keeping with social media trends, applications had to be no more than 140 characters. Hmmm. Back to the drawing board.

I thought long and hard about how to sum up my passion for baseball in just a handful of words, and eventually came up with:

Top 15 blog on MLBlogs / The Ballpark Guide founder / Visited 40+ parks since 2010 / Passionate about baseball & chatting with fans

In early May, I heard from the Indians that I was selected to watch a game from the Social Suite on May 18. Cool, right? Yes, but May 18 was the day I’d planned to attend the Field of Dreams game in Rochester. Fortunately, the Indians were able to juggle the date for me and invite me to the Social Suite on May 29, which would be the last day of my first big road trip of 2013.

I drove to Cleveland from Charleston, WV, on the day in question and parked in my usual $10 parking garage a block from Progressive Field. The game was scheduled for 7 p.m., and the Social Suite members were to gather at 6 p.m. to have dinner in the media dining room. Since I was so early, I had some time to kill.

As I waited, I peered through the fence outside the park and took this photo of the suite …

progressive-field-cleveland-social-suite-outside

… and then passed the time in the team shop. Specifically, I spent the time in the authentics section, where I checked out the great selection of game-used stuff:

progressive-field-cleveland-team-shop-authentics

Here’s Ubaldo Jimenez’ game-used cap, for instance:

progressive-field-cleveland-team-shop-game-used-ubaldo-cap

Thankfully, the time passed quickly and before long, I got my ticket and entered the park. Here are the tickets, which I photographed a moment later at Heritage Park:

progressive-field-cleveland-social-suite-tickets

Everyone who gets invited into the Social Suite gets two tickets, but since I was traveling solo on this road trip, I didn’t take anyone with me to the game. I did, however, get the day’s giveaway item, a throwback Indians dry-fit T-shirt:

progressive-field-cleveland-indians-t-shirt-giveaway

I actually wondered if I might get two T-shirts, given my two tickets. That question, however, was answered clearly (and loudly) when the ticket taker turned to the usher giving away the T-shirts and yelled, “This guy has two tickets but make sure he only gets one T-shirt!”

All right, then. One T-shirt for me.

Although I could get to the stadium’s suite level by taking the stairs, I chose the elevator and after showing my ticket to get into exclusive “suite territory,” I took this photo:

progressive-field-cleveland-suite-level-elevators

I didn’t realize it at the time, but the elevator had an attendant — actually, he’s ever so slightly visible at the left of the door. As I took the photo and turned around to take in all the new surroundings, I was surprised when I heard a voice call out, “Is anyone going up?” Oops.

It was still well before 6 p.m., so I had a bit of time to wander around the suite level. From up here, I had a different vantage point of the players’ parking lot:

progressive-field-cleveland-players-parking-lot-from-suite-level

And I could look down into a very nice restaurant:

progressive-field-cleveland-suite-level-restaurant

After walking around for 10 minutes or so, I was dying to get to the suite and check it out, so after taking this quick photo …

progressive-field-cleveland-social-suite-sign

… I walked inside and got my first view of where I’d be hanging out for the next four hours or so:

progressive-field-cleveland-social-suite-from-door

Wow! I’ve never watched a game from a suite in an MLB park, so this was a huge thrill. The suite had a kitchen, a nice sitting area with a couch and a couple comfy armchairs and bar-style seating on each side of the door leading outside. I can see how renting it with a handful of friends or family members would be an absolute blast. Before I stepped out to get a good view of the field, I checked out the chalkboard’s welcome greeting:

progressive-field-cleveland-social-suite-chalkboard

And in case you missed it in the photo above, here’s a close-up that shows my Twitter name:

progressive-field-cleveland-social-suite-chalkboard-names

When I stepped out into the outdoor seating area, I took a bunch of photos to make up this mammoth panorama, which you can click on to enlarge:

progressive-field-cleveland-panorama-social-suite-view

A couple of the Social Suite guests were already sitting outside, and after saying hello and taking this shot of Cincinnati‘s batting practice …

progressive-field-cleveland-cincinnati-batting-practice

… I went back inside the suite to take this photo:

progressive-field-cleveland-social-suite

Full disclosure: I’ve never been a “suite guy.” For me, going to a ballgame is about being close to the field, smelling the popcorn, hearing the sounds of the game and, in general, just wandering around and taking everything in. The suite experience, however, was quickly changing my mind. I mean, I still love going to a game and getting that authentic baseball experience, but seeing it all from a bird’s eye with the suite amenities? Pretty darned perfect, too. In fact, the jury’s still out for me, so if anyone wants to invite me to watch a game from a suite, I’ll be more than happy to conduct further field research.

Up next, I checked out this 2013 Social Suite banner …

progressive-field-cleveland-social-suite-banner

… and added my Twitter name to it, as you can see here:

progressive-field-cleveland-social-suite-banner-malcolm

For the next while, I just hung out and took various photos of the suite, field and stadium as a whole. This next photo shows the nice chairs in the outside part of the suite and, in fact, the chair on the right is where I spent most of the game:

progressive-field-cleveland-social-suite-seating

At 6 p.m., most of the suite guests had gathered, and after we introduced ourselves, we went for dinner in a dining room most Indians fans won’t ever get to see, so I’m happy to show it here:

progressive-field-cleveland-media-dining-room-buffet

There was an enormous buffet with all sorts of items, from ballpark staples such as Italian sausages and burgers to salads, cold meats and a variety of vegetables — the latter of which was noticeably sparse on this trip, so I was happy to add something green to my plate:

progressive-field-cleveland-indians-media-dining-room-meal

For the record, my meal included a garden salad with grated carrots and fresh Parmesan cheese, a hot Italian sausage with peppers, onions and mustard, a pile of pulled pork with BBQ sauce, broccoli, dill pickles and kettle chips. It was all delicious.

After hanging out and talking baseball with others in the suite, primarily Shane Rogers and Jacob Rosen, both of whom you can follow on Twitter by clicking their names, the game began and I grabbed a spot in the aforementioned seat where I had this mega-glorious view:

progressive-field-panorama-social-suite-view

From here, I watched as Joey Votto stepped to the plate …

joey-votto-cincinnati-reds-at-bat

… and crushed a home run:

joey-votto-cincinnati-reds-in-cleveland

Sorry, Indians fans, but as a huge fan of Votto, I was secretly smirking.

He wasn’t, however, the only player to go yard. Mark Reynolds hit a bomb for the Tribe, as did elder statesman Jason Giambi, who celebrated his three-run home run with a forearm bash a la McGwire-Canseco:

progressive-field-cleveland-jason-giambi-arm-bash

One of the many things I love about baseball at Progressive Field is the city’s skyline, especially as the sun begins to set. I think you’ll agree that this view is absolutely perfect:

progressive-field-cleveland-panorama-city-skyline

Around the midpoint of the game, we got a visit from Courtney Shilling, who works in PR and communication with the Indians. She’s also the person who picked me to join the Social Suite, and the one who juggled my Social Suite date to ensure I could attend, so I owe her a huge thank you.

Here’s the sun continuing to set over the Quicken Loans Arena:

progressive-field-cleveland-sunset-over-quicken-loans-arena

And here’s Progressive Field’s awesome video board as the sky darkened:

progressive-field-cleveland-video-board-night

Cleveland won 5-2 despite Cincinnati scoring one run in the ninth to give me a slight hope the game would be pushed to extra innings just so I could spend a little longer in the Social Suite. After the game, I got this photo taken of me …

progressive-field-cleveland-malcolm-social-suite

… and made the short drive to my hotel, the Hyatt Place Independence. If this hotel sounds familiar, you’ve definitely been paying attention. It’s the place I visited back on May 19 when I visited Cleveland, and everything was so great I decided to stay here again. If you read my previous post, you’ll know the hotel is just seven miles south of Progressive Field, making it ideal for fans visiting C-Town on baseball road trips. One thing I didn’t note in that blog entry, however, is the Hyatt Place Independence is ranked second on TripAdvisor among Independence hotels. Part of the reason for this high ranking is the professional staff at this hotel. One front-desk member recognized me upon checking it and said she was glad I was back. It’s nice to get that personalized touch.

As this was the last day of my 13-day road trip, I was exhausted and looking forward to crashing when I got to the hotel — especially since I had an eight-hour drive ahead of me a day later. Blogging tonight wasn’t in the cards, but relaxing on the bed and watching ESPN certainly were:

hyatt-place-independence-tv-night

The next morning, I took this shot that shows the bathroom setup:

hyatt-place-independence-bathroom-view

I’m not a huge fan of having to cram into a small bathroom to brush my teeth or wash my hands, so this room design was perfect. As you can see, the sink and counter aren’t in a closed-in room; rather, they’re in a big, open area several feet from the foot of the bed. And, if you’re wondering, the bathroom is to the left of the photo and there’s a closet to the right.

As perfect as the hotel stay was, I wish I’d been able to hang out a little longer. I planned to be on the road by 7 a.m. so it was a quick stay. I quickly packed up my suitcases — with ESPN on, of course …

hyatt-place-independence-tv-view

… and then checked out and took the following photo of the front of the hotel before hopping in the car and pressing the “Home” button on my GPS:

hyatt-place-independence-ohio-front-outside

The outstanding hotel stay wrapped up a hugely memorable baseball road trip, but there’s more to come. In the coming weeks, I’ll have blog posts about some of the cool souvenirs I picked up along the way, a look at my visit to the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame and more. I’ll also be revealing the schedule of my next baseball road trip, which will begin before you know it.

As always, if you’re planning your own baseball trips this summer, check out The Ballpark Guide to read tips on how to make the most out of your holiday.

Cincinnati Reds – May 25

Did you read my last blog post about my visit to Great American Ball Park and my meeting with a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame? I sure hope so, but if not, you can check it out here.

I was scheduled to catch a second game in Cincinnati on May 25 on this road trip, and unlike the previous day’s evening game, this one started at 4 p.m. I’m not usually a huge fan of the 4 p.m. start time, but on this day, it worked out well. I blogged in my hotel until around 11 a.m., and then checked out, loaded my car and drove about a block to find parking for the day. Fortunately, I was able to score a $10 parking lot, which seems pretty impressive given that it was a block from the ballpark. How many other cities can boast this? Boston, I’m sending a somewhat evil eye your way.

Because I was essentially at Great American Ball Park more than four hours before it opened, I decided to check out a couple other sports-related things in the area. My first stop was a largely deserted Paul Brown Stadium, home of the NFL’s Bengals:

paul-brown-stadium-cincinnati-bengals

Before my next stop, I stopped at a Jimmy John’s a couple blocks from the ballpark and bought a sub, which I ate right next to the re-entry gate, which is the gate I referenced in my previous post:

great-american-ball-park-re-entry-gate

After eating, I took the very short walk to the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame, which is connected to the team shop. I’d read about the HOF during the previous day’s visit, and decided to hit it before I left town. The hall had a special autograph exhibit, in which it had featured all but 15 players from the Reds history. Think about that for a second. The team’s history dates back more than a century, and in that time, thousands of players have suited up for the Reds. This was the single most impressive autograph collection I’ve ever encountered. I’m going to write a separate blog post about it, but in the meantime, here’s a photo that shows how many of the autographs were displayed:

great-american-ball-park-reds-hall-of-fame-autograph-exhibit

I spent more than an hour in the museum before buying another standing room ticket …

great-american-ball-park-ticket

… and heading over to the long lineup at the front gate. The day’s giveaway was an MLB Network drawstring bag, and as is typically the case when there’s a good giveaway, there were lots of people eagerly waiting:

great-american-ball-park-main-gate-panorama

Upon getting through the gate and getting my bag, I headed straight for the left field seats to watch batting practice. This was my view during the 20 or so minutes I watched the Cubs hitting:

great-american-ball-park-malcolm-during-bp

Yes, I’m sitting down with my feet up on the seat in front of me. Why? Because in those 20 minutes, not one ball entered the left field seats. Perhaps this is part of the reason the Cubbies are 14 games out of first place. Given that this BP session was much like watching paint dry, I decided to go down to the field level seats on the third base side. I wasn’t sure what security would be like, and when I sauntered past a guard and descended toward the field, I heard him say something behind me. Ugh. I turned around, expecting to be asked to leave or show my ticket, and said, “Pardon?” He responded with, “How’s it going?” WOW! I’ve apparently put up with too many years of Rogers Centre ushers. Imagine an usher asking how you’re doing, rather than trying to pull a heavy on you? Unbelievable.

Anyway, it was good to get down to field level, especially when Alfonso Soriano walked past less than a minute later:

alfonso-soriano-bp

It’s hard to see it in the photo above, but instead of having his name stitched into his glove, Soriano has “El Monstruo.” Now, I didn’t take Spanish in high school, but I’m guessing that means “The Monster.” One more note on Soriano — last year, I toured the Sam Bat factory, which is the company that makes bats for “El Monstruo” and many other MLBers. You can read about that awesome tour here.

Watching BP is fun, but I always get a kick out of infield practice. And from my vantage point next to the Cubs dugout, I had a great view of the action. Here’s third baseman Luis Valbuena making a throw:

luis-valbuena-chicago-cubs

I hung out there until BP wrapped up, and then went all the way up to the upper deck, where I’d also explored a day earlier. As the grounds crew worked to get the field ready, I took the photos to make up this huge panorama:

great-american-ball-park-panorama-third-base-side

Next, I stopped to see the Machine Room bar and the Power Alley Patio, the latter of which is pictured below. It’s a group picnic area, but what a spot to watch a ballgame!

great-american-ball-park-power-alley-patio-view

When the game began, I found a standing room spot on the first base side of home plate and just hung out and watched the action. From here, I had a pretty clear view of the plate, which allowed me to get shots like this one of Starlin Castro fouling off a pitch:

great-american-ball-park-starlin-castro-foul-ball

Reds manager Dusty Baker:

great-american-ball-park-dusty-baker-cincinnati-reds

And Soriano — you’ll notice he’s holding his Sam Bat:

alfonso-soriano-sam-bat

Turns out that very photo of Soriano and his Sam Bat might’ve been the last photo taken of the bat. On the next pitch, here’s what happened:

alfonso-soriano-broken-bat

A quick note about Reds fans — they’re extremely passionate and both games I attended in Cincinnati had huge crowds. I took this photo to show just how packed the ballpark was:

great-american-ball-park-fans

(The photo sort of reminds me of the heavy crowd I captured last season at Fenway Park. I took a similar photo in this post.)

Next, I took a walk around the concourse where I ran into a good exchange between three drunken fans and a quickly growing contingent of the Cincinnati Police Department. Here’s the abridged version:

Drunken woman mouths off at other fans. Fans mouth back. Back-and-forth arguing ensues. Security and cops are summoned. Friend #1 of drunken woman tries to get between her and cops. Bad idea. He gets told to back off. He ignores request. He gets taken to the ground and handcuffed. Friend #2 whips out his cellphone camera in attempt to be a hero and document the “police brutality.” Cop doesn’t like Friend #2’s fast movement and draws and points his Tazer. Cop says, “Reach into your pocket again and see what happens.” Friend #2 tries to gain sympathy from the crowd that has gathered. No one is impressed. Friend #1 gets taken to jail. Drunken woman and Friend #2 get kicked out of ballpark. I continue on my walk.

One of the features about Great American Ball Park that continuously caught my eye was the view. Don’t get me wrong — the view inside the park is great, but the view outside the park is spectacular. I love being up high in a ballpark and being able to look out over the city. Because the park is next to the Ohio River, the view is impressive:

great-american-ball-park-panorama-looking-toward-river

Did you click on the above panorama? It looks better when it’s big. Back to the game: In the sixth inning, I got this cool picture of Todd Frazier. On this hit, he drove in Votto to tie the game 2-2:

todd-frazier-hit-against-cubs

That sixth inning proved to be the difference for the Reds, who scored four runs in the frame and won 5-2. Aroldis Chapman closed out the game once again, fanning two batters in the process.

Once things had wrapped up, I made the very quick walk back to my car and after getting caught in the traffic jams caused by the Taste of Cincinnati event, which was taking place downtown that weekend, made the short drive to my hotel for the night.

This time, I was staying a little outside the city, but still just an eight-minute drive from Great American Ball Park. My hotel was the Kingsgate Marriott Conference Center at the University of Cincinnati which, as you might guess, is on the university’s campus. Despite being so close to the city, the campus is very green, which was cool to see. In fact, here’s the view out my window:

kingsgate-marriott-conference-center-at-the-university-of-cincinnati-view-out-window

The staff members I dealt with at this hotel were hugely helpful and friendly, and even offered me a complimentary drink from the cooler in the snack area. As far as the room, I had a nice, big room with lots of natural light, as it had windows on two sides. The room amenities were up to the usual standards of the Marriott chain — comfy bed, desk, big TV, large bathroom, and so on. This hotel currently ranks seventh among Cincinnati hotels on Tripadvisor. Here’s a look at the room from the front hallway:

kingsgate-marriott-conference-center-at-the-university-of-cincinnati-room

And the desk and TV:

kingsgate-marriott-conference-center-at-the-university-of-cincinnati-desk-and-tv

If you’re a baseball fan visiting Cincy for a Reds game, I definitely recommend this hotel, especially if you enjoy staying slightly outside the city but not overly far away from all the attractions. The hotel is just a few minutes from two cool University of Cincinnati stadiums — Nippert Stadium, home of the Bearcats football team and Marge Schott Stadium, home of the baseball team. I didn’t make time to visit both stadiums, but wish I had. Nearby sports facilities aside, the Marriott Conference Center at the University of Cincinnati is close to a long list of eateries; there’s a Papa John’s less than a mile away and after getting settled into my room, I ordered a pizza while I blogged and watched a ballgame on TV to round out a perfect day. If you aren’t into fast food, the hotel has a pair of eateries — an upscale restaurant called Caminetto and a casual bar called the Bearcat Lounge.

The next morning, I got up early and punched Bowling Green, KY, into my GPS. The adventure continues!

Cincinnati Reds – May 24

This was the highlight of my day:

fergie-jenkins-with-malcolm

The awesome moment took place during my May 24 visit to Cincinnati to watch the Reds and Cubs at Great American Ball Park. But you’ll just have to keep reading to know it happened.

Despite having visited Cleveland’s Progressive Field a couple times over the last few summers, I’ve never continued on to Cincinnati. I’ve really wanted to get to Cincy, though — Great American Ball Park looks awesome on TV and I’m a big fan of Joey Votto. I passed through Cincinnati on the way to Dayton and Louisville, and now heading back toward the city, it was exciting to finally see it approaching and know that’s where I’d be stopping for a couple days:

first-view-of-cincinnati

By the way, visiting Cincinnati has been the only thing that’s made me able to spell the city’s name without auto-correct. I’ve been a very good speller since I was a kid, but whenever I’ve needed to write the city’s name, I’ve always gone with “Cincinatti” or “Cincinnatti” before figuring it out.

As I pulled into the city, I was excited about checking in to my hotel, too. For the first night of my stay, which was a Friday, I picked the Residence Inn Cincinnati Downtown. Why? Well, I liked the fact that it’s a couple blocks from Great American Ball Park and if you look on Tripadvisor’s list of Cincy hotels, you won’t have to look far to find the Residence Inn — it’s ranked number one in the entire city. If those aren’t reason enough to stay here when you take a trip to see the Reds, here’s something else neat to consider: The hotel is in the historic Phelps Building, which dates back nearly a century and looks cool from the outside:

residence-inn-cincinnati-downtown-outside-front

Of course, as soon as you enter the hotel, you’re greeted with modern amenities and, as I quickly found, exceptionally friendly and helpful staff. When I got up to my room, I was shocked at how huge the suite was. I love staying in suites on my trips, and this one was huge — a kitchen, living room, office, bedroom and a huge bathroom. Here’s the office area:

residence-inn-cincinnati-downtown-office

And the bedroom:

residence-inn-cincinnati-downtown-bedroom

The next picture isn’t great, given the reflection in the glass, but this was the view out my window. It’s the hotel’s courtyard that features a fountain and fire pit. Pretty nice, huh?

residence-inn-cincinnati-downtown-outside-courtyard

It was nice, given all the driving I’ve done on this trip, to be able to park my car and forget about it for a couple days. The traffic around Great American Ball Park is extremely heavy before and after games, and I was happy to be able to get to the stadium quickly by foot. The stadium isn’t the only local attraction you can reach with ease from the Residence Inn Cincinnati Downtown; because you’re right smack downtown, a ton of attractions, including museums and a casino, are a short walk or taxi ride away. If you’re the type of road tripper who enjoys getting to a city and experiencing it all without sitting stuck in traffic, this is the hotel for you.

After relaxing in my room for a couple hours, I packed up to make the quick walk over to Great American Ball Park. There’s a big park in front of the hotel, and from here, check out what I could see:

great-american-ball-park-view-from-hotel

That’s right — the stadium lights were well within sight! I-71 runs past the stadium, but I had no trouble finding a road that cut beneath the highway and soon enough, I knew I was on the right path when I saw this:

great-american-ball-park-outside-view

I walked up the north side of the stadium and rounded a corner to reach the main pavilion area, which was already super crowded:

great-american-ball-park-front

There are several statues of former players in the area, and I snapped this one of Johnny Bench, which had special significance because I saw him a week earlier at the Field of Dreams game in Rochester:

great-american-ball-park-johnny-bench-statue

I spent the next little while walking around the outside of the stadium. As I’d be here for two games, it was nice not to feel rushed and know that I had plenty of time to document all the sights. From the outside of the park, I could see the kids’ play area, and while I can’t comment on whether it’s better than other play areas, I can definitely say it’s got the best way to get there:

great-american-ball-park-kids-zone-slide

From the back of the stadium, which is close to the Ohio River, I took the shots to make this panorama …

great-american-ball-park-panorama-rear

… and captured the National Steamboat Monument, which I’ve often seen on Reds telecasts:

great-american-ball-park-national-steamboat-monument

With the gates soon to open, I bought my standing room ticket …

great-american-ball-park-ticket-shot

… and started out with a visit to the enormous team shop, which you can access from outside the park:

great-american-ball-park-team-shop-inside

Interestingly enough, the Reds allow you to leave the park to visit the team shop, as they’re not connected — you just get your hand and ticket stamped and have to enter and exit through a specific gate. Most MLB teams don’t allow re-entry, so this is neat. After I look the above photo, I heard a familiar — and heart-sinking — “beep-beep-beep” sound. That’s the sound my camera makes when the memory card is full, and I quickly realized that while I typically transfer all my photos to my laptop every couple days, I hadn’t done so in a while. Just a short while into my Great American Ball Park visit, I needed to be creative. I quickly found a quiet spot and started going through my photos, deleting those from Dayton and Louisville that I knew I wouldn’t need. Normally, I shoot hundreds of photos at each ballpark and edit them on my computer. I was able to delete several dozen and soon enough, I was back in business. A few minutes later, however, I heard the same noise — and realized it wasn’t my camera at all. It was the security noise that beeped when the team shop door opened. The egg was directly on my face, but no harm, no foul.

Once I entered Great American Ball Park, the first sight that caught my eye was a healthy concession stand, and I couldn’t resist taking this photo:

great-american-ball-park-healthy-food

Next, though, I wanted to get my first view of the field:

great-american-ball-park-view-during-bp

Because my next blog post will be all about Cincinnati, too, I’ll hold off overdoing it with photos right now. Instead, I’ll show you a picture I got of the ballpark’s most notable sights — the Riverboat Deck on the left and the Power Stacks on the right:

great-american-ball-park-river-boat-deck-power-stacks

And here’s a little bit of interesting trivia. Each of the power stacks has seven bats atop it. As you might know, seven plus seven equals 14, and who wore number 14 for the Reds? Charlie Hustle himself. MLB doesn’t allow teams to display Pete Rose’s name or number, but this is the team’s quiet tribute to the man. I love subtle things like this — reminds me of the Yawkeys’ names spelled out in Morse Code on the Green Monster at Fenway.

Remember how I said the team shop was huge? It was hard to photograph to put into context from outside the ballpark, but from the upper deck, I could look out and present it from an angle that puts it in perspective:

great-american-ball-park-team-shop-above

Soon enough, the Cubs had wrapped up their batting practice, which meant the Long Haul Bombers were taking the field. Who are they? They’re a traveling softball home run-hitting derby. How do I describe it? Hmm. You know the stereotypical “softball guy?” The aggressive one with the chip on his shoulder because he didn’t play professional baseball? Multiply that guy by a few, and you’ve got the Long Haul Bombers. On one hand, it was somewhat impressive to see guys pound balls over the fence — albeit balls that were tossed underhand to them. On the other hand, I figured these guys would scatter pretty fast if I yelled I was there to administer a performance-enhancing drug test.

I watched the sideshow act for a few minutes and then decided to continue touring. After all, hitting a ballpark for the first time and knowing how much you get to explore is an exciting feeling. One of the first stops I made was the authentics kiosk on the concourse behind the third base side. Unlike the Indians, who use a portion of the team shop at Progressive Field to sell game-used and player-issued items, the Reds only have a stand. It would’ve been nice if it was larger, but I still got a kick out of seeing the items, like this Brandon Phillips helmet and bats from Jay Bruce and Joey Votto:

great-american-ball-park-authentics-team-shop

The park was quickly filling up, and as game time approached, I discovered the Reds’ bullpen. Unlike many parks, in which you can see the bullpen over the outfield fence or along foul territory, the pens in Cincy are mainly visible from the concourse and are protected by netting. For a few minutes, I watched Reds starter Bronson Arroyo get his tosses in:

great-american-ball-park-bronson-arroyo-bullpen

Next, I went down to the lower concourse and checked out a bunch of signed items that the Reds Hall of Fame was selling. After talking briefly with a rep from the HOF, I decided that I needed to squeeze a HOF visit into my day tomorrow, as it sounded promising. As I turned to leave, I caught a glimpse of a familiar-looking face. There wasn’t much of a spectacle around him, but it didn’t take me long to realize I was looking at Hall of Famer Ferguson Jenkins. I recognized him easily because I’ve got a picture of him in my office. As the only Canadian-born Hall of Famer, he’s certainly someone Canadian baseball fans admire. Jenkins was sitting at a table with a couple staffers around him but there weren’t any people waiting in line, which was odd. I checked with a staff member to find out what was happening, and Jenkins was indeed signing autographs to raise funds for the Reds HOF. I got his signature on an 8×10 and then got the photo with him that you saw at the start of this entry. What an awesome surprise! (I’ll post the signed photo in an upcoming entry, alongside a couple cool game-used items I bought later on my trip.)

Feeling more than elated, I got down to the next order of business — getting dinner. I’d spied a Food Network concession stand a little bit earlier, and since I had luck with a similar stand at Progressive Field, I got in line and checked the menu. This is what I chose:

great-american-ball-park-food-network-bacon-sloppy-joe

You’re looking at the Food Network’s Bacon Sloppy Joe with pepper jack cheese, crispy onions, Fritos and a pickle. It was absolutely delicious.

By now, the game had begun and after eating, I raced to the concourse behind home plate where I caught the early innings with this view:

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I spent the game’s middle innings wandering around Great American Ball Park with one eye on the game and another on the sights. Once the sun had set, I captured another shot of the enormous team shop …

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… before climbing to the right field side of the upper deck where I caught a couple innings with this view:

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After Cubs starter Scott Feldman got his team on the board with a three-run home run in the second (the first of his career), Arroyo buckled down and pitched well. The Reds offense, meanwhile, was lifted by home runs from Joey Votto, Ryan Hanigan and Brandon Phillips and Cincy won 7-4. Aroldis Chapman, who I’d hoped to see on this road trip, struck out the side in the ninth to get his 11th save of the year.

Shortly before leaving the upper deck, I turned and got this shot of the moon over the Ohio River, and I’m pretty happy with how it turned out:

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I was back in my hotel room working on my blog as the post-game fireworks boomed in the not-so-far distance. In a little more than 12 hours, I’d be back at Great American Ball Park to do it all over again.

Thirteen Days, 13 Games and 10 Parks

I’ve said before that there’s nothing like the first ballpark visit of the season, and while that’s true, I’m always extra pumped for my first extended road trip of the year. Already in 2013, I’ve been able to hit four games — a doubleheader at Syracuse’s NBT Bank Stadium and a pair of Blue Jays games at Rogers Centre. If you click this link, you can see a list of everywhere I’ve been and also bring up my blog entry about each visit. Those trips were the appetizer to the main course that is my May road trip, which begins on Friday.

I’ve taken road trips in May for the last couple years. In 2011, I visited nine parks in 11 days and in 2012, I went on a grueling seven-park, four-day trip. The schedule I’ve come up with for this year will be my longest road trip to date but one that is sure to be awesome.

Here it is:

Friday, May 17: Durham Bulls at Rochester Red Wings

Rochester’s Frontier Field is the first ballpark I visited after starting The Ballpark Guide in 2010, and while the park has sentimental value to me, it’s also one of my favorite places to watch a game. Geographically, it’s a logical starting point for this trip, and I can’t resist stopping there again.

Saturday, May 18: Pepsi Max Field of Dreams game in Rochester

As you’ll see, I’ll end up spending a couple days in Rochester and will be lucky to attend the Pepsi Max Field of Dreams game. This will be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see a number of MLB legends up close. Some of the game’s all-time greats, including Johnny Bench, Wade Boggs, Rickey Henderson, Trevor Hoffman, Reggie Jackson, Pedro Martinez, Mike Schmidt and Ozzie Smith will be playing. As excited as I am to see those guys, I’m most excited to see Fred McGriff, who was my first favorite ballplayer back when he played for Toronto in the ’80s.

Sunday, May 19: Seattle Mariners at Cleveland Indians

I’ve been to Cleveland’s Progressive Field three times since 2010, and consider it one of my favorite places to visit. But, as you’ll see later in this post, this won’t be my only chance to see the Indians at home.

Monday, May 20: Bowie Baysox at Akron Aeros

I’ve seen Bowie play at home and Akron play on the road, but haven’t yet visited Akron’s Canal Park. I don’t know much about the home of the Aeros, but do know about one notable concession item. The Three Dog Night is a hot dog stuffed in a bratwurst stuffed in a kielbasa, all loaded on a bun with sauerkraut and mustard. I guess I know what I’ll be having for dinner.

Tuesday, May 21: SWB RailRiders at Columbus Clippers

My visit to Columbus’ Huntington Park will be for a 10:35 a.m. game, which means May 21 will be an early morning. More importantly, Columbus will be the eighth International League team I’ll have seen play at home.

Wednesday, May 22: West Michigan Whitecaps at Dayton Dragons

It’s been a couple years since I ventured into Midwest League territory; back in 2011, I got to five Midwest League parks. I’m sure that Craig Wieczorkiewicz, the Midwest League Traveler, will have some tips for me about Dayton’s Fifth Third Field. (Coincidentally, I’ve also been to Toledo’s Fifth Third Field and West Michigan’s Fifth Third Ballpark.)

Thursday, May 23: Pawtucket Red Sox at Louisville Bats

Louisville promises to be an exciting stop on my road trip. In addition to seeing the Bats play at Louisville Slugger Field, I also plan to visit the Louisville Slugger Museum and, as a huge boxing fan, the Muhammad Ali Center.

Friday, May 24: Chicago Cubs at Cincinnati Reds

Cincinnati’s Great American Ball Park looks like an awesome place to watch a game, and I’m looking forward to catching the Cubs in town for a pair. As an added bonus, this game will have my first fireworks show of the 2013 season and pre- and post-game hitting by the Long Haul Bombers. (Look ’em up.)

Saturday, May 25: Chicago Cubs at Cincinnati Reds

Whenever I’m visiting a new MLB park, I like to catch two games, if possible. I’ll spend my second Reds game checking out whatever I missed the day earlier, and I’m excited to get an MLB Network backpack, which is the giveaway of the day.

Sunday, May 26: Fort Wayne TinCaps at Bowling Green Hot Rods

Visiting Fort Wayne’s Parkview Field is one of the best ballpark experiences I’ve had so far, but this time, I’ll be seeing the TinCaps on the road in another Midwest League showdown. The Hot Rods are managed by Jared Sandberg, who playfully heckled my photo-taking exploits last summer. The team also includes big-time prospect Taylor Guerrieri, who I saw pitch last year at Fenway Park.

Monday, May 27: Kannapolis Intimidators at Lexington Legends

The Legends were a focal point of Katya Cengel’s book Bluegrass Baseball, which I read over the winter. Her chapters on the South Atlantic League franchise painted a picture of the club and the ballpark, and I’m excited to check both out in person. Lexington will be the fourth SAL city I’ve visited since 2011.

Tuesday, May 28: Greensboro Grasshoppers at West Virginia Power

And speaking of the South Atlantic League, I’ll visit Charleston, WV, to watch the Power host Greensboro on the penultimate day of my road trip. I’ve seen Greensboro once before (back in June of 2011 in a very memorable game) but have never seen the Power. I like the look of the team’s concession menu and the park looks great, too.

Wednesday, May 29: Cincinnati Reds at Cleveland Indians

Why am I making a second stop in Cleveland on this trip? Two words: Social Suite. The Indians have invited me to watch their May 29 game from the Social Suite, which is a Wi-Fi-equipped suite in which a handful of baseball fans and social networking types use social media to share their experiences. I’m absolutely pumped (and honored) to be checking out Progressive Field from this vantage point and will have more details as they become available. It should be a real highlight and I’m considering live blogging the day to share the entire adventure with you. Anyone else watched a game from the Social Suite? I’d love to hear your recollections.

So, a pretty good-looking two weeks, huh? And when the sun sets on my road trip …

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… I’ll have seen 13 games in 10 parks in 13 days. This means that by the end of the road trip, I’ll have seen 75 games at 49 parks since starting The Ballpark Guide in 2010. Wow!

I’ll be tweeting through the trip and blogging as close to daily as I can manage. I’ll be staying in some neat hotels and checking out some cool tourist attractions, too. To keep on top of my travels, please follow me on Twitter. And if you enjoy following my adventures or have used The Ballpark Guide to improve your baseball road trip experiences, please consider making a small donation to support my trips. Otherwise, I really appreciate your hits on my website and blog.

Four more sleeps ….