If the money tree in my backyard had more foliage, I’d buy a baseball cap at every new ballpark I visit during my The Ballpark Guide road trips. But as much as it’s tempting to do so, it’s not very practical financially. Still, I’ve bought a handful of caps over the last two summers of traveling.
I typically buy a cap for a couple reasons. First, the look is important. I’m particularly partial to MiLB caps because most people in Canada have no idea what cap I’m wearing. Second, the price has got to be good. I’m not a fan of spending $40 on a hat, so if I find one that I like and is a good price, look out!
Here are the caps I’ve bought, in chronological order:
This was the first cap I bought on my travels, and arguably my favorite. I love the giant mustache on the ‘A’ emblem, which is the team’s alternate logo. I wore this one an awful lot until a bird had his way with it outside Syracuse last summer. (As you can see.)
New Hampshire Fisher Cats
I bought this cap in September of 2010 during a visit to New Hampshire for a playoff game. The team has since changed its colors, and given that I saw the last game of 2010, this one was on sale for $15.
I’ve liked Harrisburg’s logo for a while, so I couldn’t pass up the chance to get this hat. The downside is it’s a little big, but I think the logo and the blue look great.
This hat was a big steal at $10, and even though it only fits comfortably when my hair is short, I’m still glad I got it. The home of the IronBirds, Ripken Stadium, is outstanding. This is a great souvenir of an awesome ballpark.
Vermont Lake Monsters
When a friend and I visited Vermont last summer, we each bought hats. I liked the white panel on the front of this one; kind of reminds of me collegiate teams’ caps. The lone strike against this one is I’m not partial to cap logos that don’t include a letter. Call me a traditionalist, but I think caps should have a letter on them.
My brother and I visited Cleveland’s Progressive Field last fall and had to make a stop at the team shop. I like the team’s alternate logo, and given that batting practice caps are significantly cheaper than game caps, I went with this one.
PS: It feels like I’ve bought way more than five caps during my travels. Since I’ve been so responsible, I might just have to treat myself to a few more this summer!
I’m a huge fan of taking in the entire ballpark experience every time I watch a game. For me, this typically means trying to snag a foul ball, getting a handful of autographs and eating some unique food. It also includes grabbing a game program and checking out what it has to offer. My stipulation, however, is that I rarely get programs if you have to pay for them. I’m not big on paying for something I’ll likely only flip through once, and if I buy one, I’m less likely to want to throw it out later.
I don’t have programs from every ballpark I’ve visited, but I have a handful that range from amazing to bland. Here’s a look at them.
For a Short-Season A franchise, Aberdeen’s “First Pitch” program has a lot to offer. For one, it’s printed specifically for the game you’re attending. (Most teams print programs per series, week or homestand.) It’s got a clean, attractive cover and a preview of the night’s game. Because the program is printed for each game, all the standings and stats are up to date, which is a huge bonus for a stats guy like me. A couple standout features in this edition of “First Pitch” were a list of IronBirds with Twitter accounts and a well-illustrated diagram of pitcher Aaron Wirsch’s four pitches, along with commentary from the pitcher himself.
Baltimore’s AA franchise in Bowie provides a program called “Baywatch” for each home series. This one had a decent fan guide to Prince George’s Stadium, a list of former Baysox who’ve made the Major Leagues and a discussion between the team’s infielders on turning a double play.
The Indians’ “Batter Up!” is given out free and printed for each series. Of course, you can also buy a more in-depth game program, but this one’s worth picking up. It’s got a good concession directory, a fan guide to Progressive Field and a couple interesting articles. I was also impressed with the full-page ad for Cleveland’s Midwest League affiliate, the Lake County Captains, who play just 15 minutes outside of C-Town.
A South Atlantic League franchise, the Shorebirds program “Play Ball” is one of the shortest I’ve seen. Still, it contains a couple interesting stories on Shorebirds players, a decent look at the team’s opponents and a nice, comprehensive breakdown of each team in the Baltimore Orioles system.
Fort Wayne TinCaps
Fort Wayne’s “Gameday” program is printed each homestand, which is pretty much the norm in the Minor Leagues. This one had pink as a dominant color, given the theme of the team’s homestand, Turn the Park Pink for breast cancer awareness. This program featured a thorough, five-page guide to Parkview Field’s food and interesting features such as a tutorial on how to score a game, a map showing the location of each Midwest League franchise and a couple articles about the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
New Hampshire Fisher Cats
New Hampshire offers an amazing fan experience, but there wasn’t anything to write home about in the “Inside Pitch” free program. The schedules, stats, rosters and promotional schedules were all handy, but they’re all things you’d expect to find here. The worst part was the ads, even though I know they’re necessary. Early in the program, 22 out of 23 straight pages were full ads. Ugh.
The P-Nats, as they’re often called, provide a standard gameday program for free. It’s got all the things you’d expect, but a few interesting pages are the breakdown of the Washington Nationals’ farm system and a look at the Carolina League franchises. Additionally, this program isn’t overly laden with ads.
Rochester Red Wings
After spending two sentences explaining how I don’t buy programs, I’ll quickly recant that statement to say I spent $1 on Rochester’s yearbook during my first ballpark trip in 2010. Simply put, it’s one of the best programs I’ve ever seen, and for $1, it’s a real bargain. This baby is more than 100 pages long and contains a ton of interesting information — not just ads and more ads. The highlights of this edition were a look at the Red Wings’ uniforms throughout the years, an article about Stan Musial’s time as a Red Wing, in-depth player profiles, a pretty good guide to Frontier Field and an ultra-thorough map of the where to find every food item sold at the ballpark. (In case you’re wondering, the cover is damaged because I spilled water on it. Oops.)
The big perk to the S/W-B Yankees’ “Play Ball!” program is like the IronBirds, it’s printed for the game you’re attending. Although it’s relatively short in length, “Play Ball!” has an interesting game preview, a “This Date in Yankees History” page and an interesting section about the players to watch from the visiting team.
Toledo Mud Hens
It’s a toss-up whether Toledo or Rochester has the best program I’ve seen so far on my travels. “The Muddy Times” is amazing, and might get the nod over Rochester because it’s free. This book is giant, measuring 9.5 by 12 inches and numbering 112 pages. The pages are newsprint, but they’re thick and in full color. I love the cover shot, as well as the in-depth player and coach profiles, the 2010 season review, some good player Q&As and an awesome two-page spread on the Detroit Tigers’ top 10 prospects, written by Baseball America. This is the type of program you’d spend $5 on and still feel as though you got your value.
Like Cleveland, the Nats hand out a free game program to complement their paid program. “Inside Pitch” (which is the same title as New Hampshire’s program) is printed on thick paper, which is a definite upgrade over the newsprint in some programs. This one has an extensive Nationals Park fan guide, a guide on how to score a game and even two removable player cards (Jason Marquis and Michael Morse).
I’ve taken several thousand photos since I began traveling and compiling research for The Ballpark Guide in the summer of 2010. The vast majority of my photos focus on the elements of each ballpark I visit, but one thing I’ve noticed is that I’ve missed getting photos of myself in most locations. I often travel alone, and while it’s possible to hold the camera at arm’s length to shoot myself, some of these photos don’t turn out that great.
That said, I’ve got a handful of photos taken at different locations that I’m posting below. Click the date to read my blog about the visit.)
The second ballpark I visited, back on July 17, 2010, was Auburn’s Falcon Park. While I was snapping shots of the front of the ballpark, the man who lives next door to the facility offered to take my shot:
Later that summer, I traveled to Cleveland for two games on Aug. 7 and Aug. 8. During the second game, I got a few autographs around the visitors dugout, and then had my photo taken by another fan while sitting on the Indians dugout:
… and a day later, took one of me along the fence during batting practice. I snagged two balls here:
I toured around Michigan in May 2011, and watched the second of two Detroit Tigers games on May 25. Unfortunately, this game was called because of the rain after a few innings. While the tarp was still on the field, an usher took my photo:
On June 27, I watched the Hagerstown Suns play at Municipal Stadium. Bryce Harper was hurt and didn’t play, but that didn’t stop me from finding his truck in the parking lot and taking a photo of myself in front of it:
And on the second day, up on a deck in the left field corner:
The third-last game I watched in 2011 was on July 31 at Hadlock Field, home of the Portland Sea Dogs. Before entering the ballpark, my wife took a photo of me out front:
The Sea Dogs are the AA affiliate of the Boston Red Sox, and Hadlock Field is equipped with a mini green monster. During our visit, fans were able to play catch on the field before the game. Here’s me in front of the scoreboard:
And while throwing balls off the wall and catching them:
And pretending to relay them to the imaginary cut-off man. (I can’t lie.)
As always, thanks for reading. If you don’t do so already, check me out on Twitter.
Believe it or not, I still have one game to blog about from this past summer. I know, I know, one of the big rules about blogging is to be timely. But instead of offering excuses as to why it’s taken me a few months to write about an amazing visit to Cleveland, I’ll just get right to it.
Every fall, my brother and I visit a different NFL stadium. This year, we went to Cleveland, and even though I drove through C-Town this past summer and went to two Indians games in 2010, I wanted to check out Progressive Field again. We were in luck, as we’d be in Cleveland for the September 25 Browns game against the Dolphins, and the Indians were also home that weekend. The plan was to see the ball game on Friday night, which was also Jim Thome Night.
The drive down was rainy, which didn’t bode well for the possibility of the game that night:
When we got into town around mid-afternoon, we could see Progressive Field’s bright lights illuminating the gray skyline:
Inclement weather not withstanding, I was pumped to hopefully see my last baseball game of the 2011 season. For me, approaching the stadium is an exciting experience. So, sitting in the car, in traffic, with this sight ahead of us was cool:
We parked a short walk from Progressive Field and by then, the skies were even darker:
No worries, though. We walked around the perimeter of the stadium, stopping briefly to take a picture of the front sign …
… my ticket …
… our tickets …
… and a pretty deserted “Rally Alley”:
After waiting in line at Gate C, and upon entering, we were handed Jim Thome posters:
The posters were neat, but with rain falling and given the size of the posters, we had to fold them to put them in my backpack.
This was my brother’s first visit to Progressive Field, so I played the role of tour guide and showed him some of the stadium’s neater features, including the Ridgid Jobsite bar:
The team shop, where we saw this game-used Indians helmet for $50:
And Heritage Park, which had a new wall honoring HOFer Bob Feller:
Unfortunately, there was no action on the field, unless you consider the tarp action:
New this season is the Food Network concession stand, which was selling a Cleveland Steak Sandwich and Buffalo Chicken Macaroni and Cheese:
Despite being pricey, I waited in line to find out both were temporarily sold out. Fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately, depending on your point of view, it was $1 hot dog night. So we got two each …
… downed them quickly and then continued touring around. I can’t get enough of Progressive Field’s amazing scoreboard:
We also spent a little more time in Heritage Park, where my brother took a pic of me next to Feller’s plaque:
Our last stop before finding our seats waaaaaaaay up in Row X of Section 570 was a visit to the concourse overlooking the players’ parking lot; and yes, that’s a Bentley:
On the way to our seats, my brother nabbed two more hot dogs:
That’s six total dogs between us, for those keeping score. By the time we made it up to our seats down the third base line, the sky was dark, to put it mildly:
The grounds crew was in the process of putting the tarp back on the infield after removing it perhaps an hour earlier and this was the panoramic scene:
With the status of the game uncertain, Thome, his families and a bunch of dignitaries took to the field around home plate to honor the veteran who hit his 600th career home run earlier in the summer:
Here was the display on the scoreboard during the on-field festivities:
After the presentation, the Indians confirmed the start of the night’s game would be delayed. It wasn’t all bad, though; they showed the Blue Jays/Rays game on the scoreboard:
During the Thome presentation, the team announced that the slugger will be recognized with a statue located behind the left field corner. Staff unveiled a mural of the future statue during the presentation, so we took a walk over to look at the area during the rain delay:
The game finally began following a lengthy delay, and we spent a few innings up in our seats and a few more standing behind a railing beyond right field, where we had this view:
We also managed to grab four more hot dogs …
… and Indians rally towels that were being passed out in the area:
A few minutes after being handed the towels, we got a perfect opportunity to wave them. Thome came to bat and launched his 604th career home run (and, as it turned out, his last as an Indian) over the fence in right-center, just to our right. Amazing!
Soon, we moved into the bleachers in left-center and spent the rest of the game there with this view:
All in all, it was a great game. I have no idea how many home runs Thome has left, but it was awesome to see him hit his last as a Cleveland Indian.
Now, if only Opening Day would come sooner!
I’ll have a number of other blog updates over the off-season, however. Keep checking back to see a bunch of neat extras from my 2011 road trip season.
Ballpark food can be one of the best things about going to a baseball game. If it’s plain ol’ hot dogs and pop, it’s not necessarily noteworthy. But if it’s exceptional food, like the fare served at Rochester’s Frontier Field, it can truly improve your whole experience.
The next morning, my wife and I had breakfast near our hotel at the Cleveland airport and began to plan our day. We didn’t have tickets for the day’s 1 p.m. game (it was Sunday) but planned to buy them at the ticket office. Then we had a change in plan. Our stay in Cleveland was breezing by, and there were still some things we wanted to see. My wife wanted to check out the botanical gardens, but there wouldn’t be time to do so after the day’s Indians game. So, we decided that she’d drop me off at Progressive Field at 11 a.m., then visit the gardens herself and pick me up later. I had another day to check out Progressive Field for my website.