What’s on your baseball bucket list?
One item that has been on my list in recent years is the Triple-A Championship Game. It pits the winner of the International League against the winner of the Pacific Coast League in a one-game showdown held each September at a neutral site. Every time that the host city is announced, I keep this game in mind as I’m planning my trips, and I’m happy to say that I was able to check out this game as my last game of 2018.
My final trip of the season consisted of four days in Milwaukee. But, instead of flying straight home after my time at Miller Park, I took a detour to Columbus to see the best of the IL and the PCL square off. As I was planning this trip, I was happy with how easily things came together. The flight from Milwaukee to Columbus was only $139, and it was kinda/sorta in the same direction as home, so I figured this wasn’t an opportunity that I could miss.
September 18 began with another 3:30 a.m. alarm, followed by a drive to the airport to catch an early flight. There weren’t any direct flights from Milwaukee to Columbus, which meant that I had to fly to Atlanta for a 65-minute layover and then onto Columbus. That was fine, though, and even upon losing an hour due to a time zone change, I was in Ohio before noon. The early arrival meant that I could pick up my rental car, grab some lunch and then check into my hotel early in the afternoon so that I could relax for a couple of hours before heading over to Huntington Park.
Throughout the day, I was excited to get back to this ballpark. I’d only been there once in the past — a visit back in 2013, which you can read about here — and was really impressed with it. Plus, the excitement of the Triple-A champ being crowned meant that this was anything but a regular minor league game. After a couple of hours relaxing in my hotel room, I made the short drive to Huntington Park, parked cheaply a few block away and was soon looking at this sight:
It was still about an hour before the gates were scheduled to open, but I was pleased to see a handful of fans already milling around at each entrance, including the home plate one pictured above. I’ll admit, though, that I had no idea what to expect in terms of the crowd, given that this was my first time at an event of this type. I soon made my way around to the center field entrance, and there were a handful of fans already lined up in this area, too. Here’s how this spot looked as a panorama:
I wasn’t feeling a big need to be the first fan into the park, so I took the next little while to hang out in the shade. I also spent some time standing with some other fans along West Nationwide Boulevard, which runs beyond left field. Batting practice was taking place, and I knew there’d be a chance that some baseballs would leave the ballpark in this area. I didn’t manage to catch anything, though, so I soon went back to the center field gate and waited in line. As soon as the gates opened, I headed directly to the seats in right field, and saw that the PCL champion Memphis Redbirds were hitting. The major thing that struck me, however, was the use of temporary netting above the outfield fence:
I’ve never seen such a thing in the outfield at any of the stadiums I’ve visited, and thought this was a strange site. As expected, it was taken down before first pitch, and while I can understand the team’s efforts to protect fans, I also think the idea of preventing people from catching BP baseballs is something that would’ve likely bothered a lot of people in attendance. I was pretty indifferent to the whole thing — just surprised, mainly — and, besides, I don’t think I could’ve fit a baseball into my carry-on suitcase even if I’d wanted to. (For the record, there were a few balls that soared above the netting and landed in the bleachers, much to the delight of the fans who were obviously hoping for a souvenir.)
Next, I went over to the grass berm in left-center and snapped this photo of the video board, which was currently displaying the Redbirds and Durham Bulls lineups. A couple of noteworthy things in this next shot — more netting in the foreground, and a neat Triple-A Championship Game flag flying high on the left of the image:
Before leaving the outfield area, I decided to spend some more time watching BP from a vantage point I found that wasn’t obscured by the netting. I’d gone up into this picnic area, which was currently unoccupied …
… and from there, I had this view of the field:
I figured that if one of the Memphis right-handed hitters pulled the ball a little, it might stretch into foul territory and end up landing near where I stood. That didn’t happen, but I still enjoyed hanging out in that area for a few batters.
Next, I started to make my way down the third base side toward home plate, and stopped to look back and snap this photo of the netting above the fence:
Has anyone else experienced a ballpark with temporary outfield netting for BP?
I decided that it was now time to eat, and I knew exactly what I was going to get. While I like switching up my ballpark meals as much as possible, there was no way that I was missing out on some ribs from the City Barbeque concession stand. I’d tried them during my previous visit in 2013, which happened to be a “Buck-a-Bone” promotion, and really enjoyed them. I don’t normally eat so early upon arriving at the ballpark, but I wondered if concession stand lines might be long later on, and wanted to take advantage of a quick bite now. The City Barbeque stand is in the right field corner, so I made my way around home plate and was happy to see no lineup at the concession stand when I got there. A moment later, I was happily seated in the third base seats munching on these:
The ribs were every bit as good as I’d remembered them, and while ribs aren’t generally the first type of barbecued fare that I’d order, this is a must-eat item at Huntington Park, as far as I’m concerned. Crispy bark, good smoky flavor and not too much fat = my definition of perfect ribs.
After eating, I went around to the seats behind home plate to watch a few minutes of batting practice from this vantage point:
You’ve got to admit that the home plate view from Huntington Park is outstanding. I love seeing the city skyline, and that includes Nationwide Arena (home of the NHL’s Columbus Blue Jackets) which you can see in the distance on the foul side of the left field foul pole.
The next spot that I visited was the two-level home run deck in right field, which you can actually see on the right side of the panorama above. It’s a spot that groups normally reserve, but there didn’t appear to be a group that had booked it for this game. I spent a few minutes enjoying this view …
… and then shifted my attention to the AEP Power Pavilion:
This is one of the most unique seating selections that I’ve encountered in the minor leagues so far, and while you’re a considerable distance from home plate — as the creative markers on the building will point out — I think it’d be outstanding to watch a game from those bleachers under the “480” sign. Unfortunately, the upper level of this structure appeared to be closed on this occasion, so I’ll have to wait a little longer to explore it.
Despite all the exploring (and eating) that I’d done so far, first pitch still hadn’t happened. By now, BP had wrapped up and the grounds crew had prepared the field, so I went down to the third base line to snap some photos of the Redbirds warming up. Given that I’d only seen four PCL teams in action up to that point, I was excited to check out the Redbirds in the
flesh feathers, so to speak. Here’s infielder Alex Mejia warming up:
And here’s outfielder Randy Arozarena playing catch:
Finally, here’s outfielder Lane Thomas:
I grabbed a spot in the seats on the third base side for the pregame ceremonies …
… and then went over to the first base side of home for the first inning:
I spent the next inning or so just wandering around the park and enjoying the various sights. I spent a decent amount of time in the team shop, which is on the ground floor of the AEP Power Pavilion. In particular, I was checking out a number of game-used items, including lots of cleats and promotional jerseys. (No pants, though!)
Then, I met up with a Twitter friend who runs the Minor League Promos Twitter account, which is one of my favorite Twitter follows. (I’m not mentioning his name here because I get the feeling that he likes to stay at least somewhat anonymous.) We’d made plans to meet at this game, and I spent a couple of innings sitting with him in the outfield bleachers. It’s always fun to meet another baseball nut, and I really enjoyed hearing some of his stories about his various baseball trips and asking him questions about his super-successful Twitter account. I hope our paths will cross again at some point.
After he and I said our goodbyes, I went over to the grass berm, where I had this view:
Later on, I returned to a spot in the outfield bleachers, where I had a good view of this sprinkler system malfunction:
And that’s where I spent the remainder of the game, watching the Redbirds beat up on Durham — which was the defending champion — by a score of 14-4.
I didn’t waste much time hurrying out of the park as soon as the game wrapped up, and was back to my hotel and into bed for some overdue sleep not much later.
Instead of flying home the next morning, I’d booked a second day in Columbus as a precaution in the event that the championship game got rained out. I spent the following day doing a few bits of sightseeing around the city, including touring the Ohio State University campus and checking out the sports facilities. Here I am in front of Ohio Stadium, the 100,000+ seat football facility:
The following day, I was once again up at 3:30 a.m. to begin my trip home, thus wrapping up an outstanding 2018 season of baseball travel
Bring on the 2019 season!
What a day!
You know those days that are long but full of general awesomeness? Well, May 21 was one of those days. From a beautiful ballpark to delicious food to a phenomenal hotel, this day had a little of everything.
It did, however, start early. After watching an Akron Aeros game the night before and staying close to Akron, I was up by 6 a.m. and on the road by 7 a.m. The Columbus Clippers were playing a 10:35 a.m. game, which teams occasionally do in May and June to cater to school trips. I made the couple-hour drive to Columbus and found parking a couple blocks from Huntington Park. This isn’t a park I knew a lot about before my visit. Sometimes, I’ll have read so much about a given park that it seems completely familiar during my visit, but other times, it’s a whole new experience.
The outside of Huntington Park is eye catching. Although it opened in 2009, it has a real retro feel. See this view from the sidewalk? It’s cool to be able to see through to the field:
I took my usual giant lap of the park and took in the sights. One particularly neat thing I noticed was a statue and a series of plaques honoring past Columbus teams. Minor league baseball in the city dates back to 1902, and as someone who’s interested in the history of the game, it was cool to see the Clippers giving a nod to those who came before them:
Once again, I was fortunate to get a media pass for this game, which meant I could get into the park early. (Thanks to Joe Santry for hooking me up.) Except for staff, who were bustling around in anticipation of the busloads of school kids in the parking lot, Huntington Park was quiet and I took the opportunity to explore. I immediately went up to the suite and pressbox level and followed the walkway out toward the right field corner. Look at the view from here:
This area to the right side of this photo is comprised of two levels of bar-style seating and I knew I’d want to spend some time here during the game. Next up was the open area behind the loge seats on the suite level. There were two concession stands and an enormous bar:
And speaking of the loge seats, I love the way the Clippers have this part of their park designed. If you check out the following photo, you’ll see several levels of bar seats — with rolling office-style chairs, no less! It’s a nice reprieve from standard stadium seating:
The park was still largely empty, so I went down to the main concourse and wandered out toward the outfield. You can’t walk the entire way around Huntington Park’s field, but you can go around most of it; there’s an enormous open area in left-center and the team shop is also located here. One of the coolest spots I saw was the lawn seating, which is always a neat addition to any ballpark:
And the picnic tables give the park a real laid-back feel:
Columbus was hosting the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders, and when a couple RailRiders pitchers came out to throw bullpen sessions, I went down to field level to watch. Here’s sidearmer Cody Eppley tossing. It was neat to watch a guy with such a crazy delivery from just a few feet away:
Once Eppley wrapped up his session and the rest of the players came out to start tossing, I went back to the multi-level deck over right field to watch the action. The top level of the deck was completely empty. From here, I had a great view of the entire park, including this pavilion behind left-center:
As you can see, there are two levels of seating in the tower and concession stands and the team shop at the ground level. But don’t worry — I’d soon explore this area. From where I stood, Columbus right fielder Jeremy Hermida was right below me, and it was interesting to watch him. You know how you’re always taught to shift a few feet for righties versus lefties? Hermida didn’t change his position for anyone. I could tell, as he was standing on an L-shaped sod patch. Interesting. Anyway, here’s Hermida:
From here, I could smell the delicious smoke wafting from the nearby City Barbeque stand, and knew I had to pay it a visit. The day’s promotion was “Buck-a-Bone” — $1 per rib bone, and while I’m not the hugest fan of ribs, I wanted to give these a shot. I grabbed three and they were absolutely delicious:
A few minutes after eating, an usher apologetically told me that I had to leave. Apparently, the top deck of the structure belongs to the group that rents out the party area on the same level. The lower deck, however, is open to all fans. I didn’t realize this at the time — I thought it was just sparsely inhabited up here.
See this photo, which I took a few innings later?
I was standing on the far left, directly below the 328 sign. The group that complained about me had gathered out of the picture on the right. I can’t imagine I was causing them much heartache, but I suppose rules are rules. I know the group was from Nationwide — apparently, Nationwide is not on my side.
Undeterred, I went to the loge area and grabbed a comfy seat with this view:
This view here was outstanding, but also responsible for my first major sun burn of the year. Boy, was it hot! I paid special attention to RailRiders shortstop Addison Maruszak. His wife, Breanna, writes an interesting blog called Married to Baseball and we follow each on Twitter. I’m not sure if she happened to be at this game, but it was neat to finally see a player I’ve read a lot about. Here’s an action shot of Addison:
Once I’d watched a few innings from the loge area, I found an empty front-row seat behind the third base dugout so I could take photos without being obstructed by the netting. I’m pretty pleased with this one of Ezequiel Carrera. Whenever I can get the player in sharp focus and the ball in the frame, I’m happy:
The view from here was great. Here’s Zoilo Almonte swiping second base:
Recognize this guy?
Yep, it’s Chien-Ming Wang, who had back-to-back 19-win seasons for the Yankees in 2006 and 2007. More recently, I saw him play in Hagerstown back in 2011 — that was the same day I met Bryce Harper.
I spent the rest of the game with this awesome vantage point and took a ton of action shots. The game was exciting. Despite being deadlocked at no score through five innings, the Clippers had a big second half and won 5-1. The teams combined for 23 hits and the Clippers pitchers, led by starter Carlos Carrasco, struck out 11 SWB batters.
Although it’s always a little disappointing leaving the park after a game, I was pumped to check out my hotel. In Columbus, I was staying at the Hilton Columbus Downtown, which looked awesome online. I could quickly tell upon arriving that this was one of the best hotels I’ve ever visited. The staff I encountered in the parking area and lobby were exceedingly friendly, and when I reached my 11th floor room, I was blown away. The first thing I noticed was a gift bag with my name on it and a Hilton flash drive for me:
And while I was tempted check it out right away, I couldn’t resist exploring the room. I had a suite and it was enormous. (I always compare suite sizes to my first apartment, and this one was way bigger!) There was an enormous living room with a huge TV:
A kitchen area and a giant bedroom:
The photos hardly do the room justice; if you want to see even better shots, check out the hotel’s website. Anyway, the bathroom was giant as well, and had an amazing shower:
By the way, this is the first hotel I’ve visited that had TWO bathrooms — I didn’t even notice the second for a few minutes. After I’d taken everything in, and peeked out the windows to look directly out at the sprawling Greater Columbus Convention Center …
… I inspected the gift bag. There was a nice card welcoming me to town:
And some baseball-themed snacks! How awesome is this?
The snacks were awesome, but I was blown away by what was at the bottom of the bag. The Hilton knew that I was in town for baseball, and gave me a Homage T-shirt featuring the old-school Clippers logo. Wow! I tweeted the photo out a few days ago, and you can check out what it looks like here. I didn’t realize it, but Homage is from Columbus. Their T-shirts are awesome.
But back to the hotel — what a great experience! The next time I’m in Columbus, this is definitely where I’ll stay. This was one of those stays in which every element exceeded my expectations. When you’re planning your own baseball road trip — or planning to visit Columbus for any other reason — this is the hotel to pick. It’s three minutes from Huntington Park and is in the heart of the city. Shortly before dinner, I took an hour-long walk around the hotel to take in the sights. The hotel is practically next to Nationwide Arena, home of the NHL’s Blue Jackets, which was neat to check out. The whole area around the hotel and arena is trendy and fun — lots of restaurants, patios and even a brewery. If you like getting to your hotel quickly after the game, parking your car and discovering the surrounding area on foot, the Hilton Columbus Downtown is for you.
I didn’t end up eating at any of the nearby restaurants. Instead, I returned to my hotel after my walk, had a swim in the indoor pool and then ordered some room service, which was delicious. One more neat thing about the hotel — the hallways on each floor are open, so you can see down to the upscale restaurant on the second floor. It was a neat view, and I couldn’t resist taking a photo:
What a perfect day!