Tagged: Connecticut Tigers

Hudson Valley Renegades – August 23

Remember how on August 22, I debated going to another Boston Red Sox game and opted to stay in my hotel, get to bed in decent time and hopefully feel better for the last game of my trip? Mission accomplished. I woke up the morning of August 23 feeling great, and although the last game of any road trip can be a bit of a downer, I was excited to drive from Boston to Wappingers Falls, N.Y., to see the Hudson Valley Renegades. This road trip had a bit of a Renegades theme — I’d already seen them on the road three separate times, so it was cool to finally see them at Dutchess Stadium, the place they call home.

The hotel for the last night of my trip was the Hilton Garden Inn Poughkeepsie/Fishkill, and after stopping to visit some neat sights along the route, I checked into the hotel around 4 p.m. I love traveling, seeing new cities and hotels, and I always look forward to staying at Hilton Garden Inns. I’ve had some great experiences at this chain in the past, including in Manchester, N.H., and Lakewood, N.J. And I’m pleased to report this hotel was amazing. Here’s what it looks like from the outside:

When I checked in, the people at the front desk were extremely friendly and given that they knew about my trip from when I booked, were asking me about my travels. I was thrilled to see the room — spacious, clean and very new looking. This shot shows the basics of the room …

… and this one shows the TV and desk, as you can see:

The Hilton Garden Inn Fishkill is less than 10 minutes from Dutchess Stadium, which is perfect. The hotel is also in the middle of a giant complex that includes a bunch of places to shop and eat, like Walmart (perfect for loading up on road trip snacks), Panera Bread and Cold Stone Creamery. I definitely recommend this hotel if you’re in town to see the Renegades, and next time I visit the area, I’ll certainly stay here again.

I didn’t have long to check out the hotel, though, as I wanted to get to the ballpark in good time. Like many other teams on this trip, the Renegades were extremely helpful and had offered to provide me with a media credential. And, as you know, whenever I’m fortunate enough to get one, I like to arrive early and explore.

The drive was a quick one, and pretty soon, I was standing in the unique pavilion in front of the place the locals call “The Dutch.” I use the word unique because I can’t recall a green baseball field on the ground like the one here:

After snapping a few photos outside the park, I went into the team office and picked up the media credential from broadcaster Ben Gellman. I also owe thanks to director of baseball communications Joe Ausanio, who helped set everything up in regards to my pass. Thanks, guys! I peeked into the nearly-empty ballpark and while it was temping to immediately go check things out, I always love to see if I can add a batting practice home run ball to my collection.

I walked down a hill to an area in the left field corner and saw this:

A few baseball collectors were in the area grabbing home run balls and given that I’m not the type to compete with others for balls, I wandered to an empty area and hoped a ball might come my way. There was no immediate action, so I wandered back and forth in the area down this path:

I even stood beneath the scoreboard and looked back up at it for a different-angled view:

A moment later, I heard a ball bounce hard off something wooden, and when I turned to look in the direction of the sound, I saw the ball sitting plainly in the mud. The ball collectors were in the woods a short distance away, and after the ball landed, I didn’t hear them rustling through the underbrush toward the ball, so I walked over and picked it up:

Satisfied with a ball, I continued along the path to the area beyond the right field corner, where I saw the covered batting cages:

There wasn’t much happening in this area, so I decided to retrace my footsteps back along the path and possibly find another ball before heading into the park. Then, I saw this:

And this:

And this:

And a handful more, until I had eight (mostly wet and soggy) balls. It was a strange ball utopia. The thick brush hid a ton of baseballs and as I was searching, more seemed to keep flying past me. I actually was thinking how awful it’d be to get hit by one, which is entirely possible given that you really can’t see them coming. Not five seconds after I thought this, I felt one go past my ear as I had my head turned. It sounds dramatic, but it was chilling. I could actually feel and hear the air displaced by the ball as it whistled past, and I know that if it had hit me, it would have been bad news. I was actually pretty rattled and my hands were shaking as I sorted the eight balls I’d gathered and took this photo:

The second I snapped the photo, I shoved the balls into my backpack and got the heck out of there. The incident hasn’t necessarily changed how I feel about hanging out behind the fence during BP, but I’m going to be a little more selective about where I go from now on.

After exiting the area in the right field corner, I walked through the players’ parking lot and back toward the front of the ballpark:

By now, the pavilion in front of the main gates was crowded, and I entered the park to begin exploring before it got too packed. I couldn’t resist stopping at the team shop, which was absolutely outstanding. I’ve found that in the New York-Penn League, team shops range from full stores to tiny carts parked on the concourse. Hudson Valley’s is large, roomy and has a ton of Renegades things for sale:

When I made it out to the seating bowl, I saw that the Connecticut Tigers (who I’d already seen at home on this trip) were still taking batting practice:

I opted to continue exploring The Dutch, rather than sit down at field level and watch. I’m glad I did, too, because I’m pleased with how this panorama I took from the park’s suite level turned out. I especially like the mountains in the background:

Remember the baseball field laid out in the ground at the front gate? As I walked along the walkway of the suite level (which you can see in the photo of the front of the park), I got a better view of the field, as well as the people waiting to get in:

After a quick stop in the press box …

… I went up top on the first base side to take this panorama:

During my travels, I noticed this setting for two, which I thought was unique:

The menu, which was sitting on the table, contained such options as fried calamari, penne with vodka sauce, tilapia and cannoli. I didn’t figure the lucky patrons who would soon occupy this spot would appreciate me sitting down and placing my order, so I continued walking.

Speaking of food: You know how food service at some stadiums is a complete free-for-all? This dizzying photo shows how the Renegades keep things systematic and sensible at their concession stands:

Next, I went down to field level where I came across some of the neatest close-to-the-action seats I’ve seen in the Minors:

And when I looked back up toward the concourse, a nice waterfall setup reminiscent of the one at Fifth Third Ballpark, home of the West Michigan Whitecaps:

From the third base line, I followed the cross-aisle all the way over to the first base line, where there’s an enormous picnic deck area:

Next up, three cool things you just don’t see in the Major Leagues:

1. A Hudson Valley player cleaning his cleats outside the clubhouse before the game:

2. A bunch of Connecticut players standing in line at one of the concession stands in the concourse:

3. A pair of Renegades walking through the concourse:

Awesome, right?

When I passed by the team shop again, I paused to look at several Negro league jerseys that caught my eye. They were super cheap (around $15, I think) and while I was tempted to get one, they were all enormous — like XXXXXXXL (for real) and so on. Here’s one from the Brooklyn Royal Giants:

I spent the next little bit wandering around and taking in the sights. A lot of players were signing autographs around the dugouts, and believe it or not, the outfield was opened up to fans who wanted to play catch. I didn’t bother going down to the field, as I have in the past. Instead, I saw this catchy sign and really liked it:

I think I’m a combination of The Fanatic and The Collector and The Cuisine Connoisseur. What about you?

Although dinner time was approaching, the menu didn’t have anything that really enticed me. The selection was good, but I found most of the items to be overpriced. A salad for $6? Hot dogs for $3.50? Seems a little pricey by NYPL standards.

Once the fans finished up their game of catch in the outfield, I went over to the Hudson Valley bullpen area down the first base line and took some action shots of the warmups:

Second baseman Thomas Coyle:

First baseman Michael Williams:

Catcher Jake DePew:

While I was down here, I captured my press pass:

When the game finally began (I should note I’ve somehow managed to write 1,600 words before the first pitch), I took a spot above the third base dugout to snap some action photos, including Hudson Valley starter Jeff Ames:

Connecticut outfielder Zach Kirksey, facing some high heat:

See the tiger-striped wrist tape? Love it! Here’s a closer shot of another player’s tape  that I snapped in the pre-game:

Next, it was behind home plate for an inning, where I enjoyed this view:

Then, over to the first base line for a few more action shots, like this one of Hudson Valley’s Marty Gantt sliding into second:

The PA announcer at The Dutch is the best I’ve ever heard. He talked often throughout the game but was never obnoxious, as some people with unlimited access to a microphone can be. The most impressive part of the evening was something I couldn’t document with my camera, so I’ll share it here. Sometime before this game, an area husband and wife were killed in a car accident, leaving three children behind. The team’s PA announcer challenged fans to make donations to help out the family, and as an interactive twist, fans could take their money right up to the PA window and the announcer would declare the amount. The donations ranged from children handing over pocket change to businesses putting up three figures, and despite the horrible circumstances of the fundraising, it was exciting — and very heart warming — to witness. By the end of the night, more than $3,000 was raised, which says a great deal about the community spirit of the Renegades fan base.

I spent a chunk of the mid to late innings behind the third base dugout, and in the last inning, moved back behind home plate where I enjoyed this view:

The game was an offensive defensive display; the Renegades won 1-0 while outhitting Connecticut 5-3. Ames was awesome, pitching five innings of one-hit ball while striking out eight Tigers. Although it was the last game of my big road trip of 2012, I’ve since attended a pair of MLB games that I’ll be blogging about soon.

Connecticut Tigers – August 17

After my day in New Britain, I had just a short drive to Norwich, CT to see the New York-Penn League’s Connecticut Tigers play. When I reached town, I checked into my hotel and caught some Little League World Series action for an hour or two on TV until it was time to head out for my latest ballpark visit for The Ballpark Guide.

As has been the case so far on this trip, I continue to have great luck with hotels. For my visit to Norwich, I was staying at the Holiday Inn Express & Suites Plainfield. I took this rainy shot of it the following morning before heading to Boston for the Futures at Fenway doubleheader:

The inside of my room looked like this:

And this:

I’ll definitely stay at this hotel next time I visit Norwich. It’s only about 20 minutes from Dodd Stadium, home of the Tigers, and if you’re in need of a snack after the game, the hotel is next door to a Domino’s and a Wendy’s. The hotel is just a minute off the highway and as far as my room, it was clean, spacious and the hotel’s amenities (gym, breakfast room, etc.) were all great.

I didn’t find Dodd Stadium particularly easy to reach, but I think that’s because my GPS somehow instructed me to take the long way. The ballpark is in the rear of a business park, and as you’re driving through the park, you definitely get the feeling that you’re in the wrong spot. Thankfully, the team does a great job of posting signs along the route to assure you that you’re pointed in the right direction. After a couple minutes wondering if the park would ever appear ahead of me, this is what I saw:

It was still quite early, so there were only a couple fans milling about. I took advantage of the open area in front of the park to take this panorama:

And quickly document my media pass, which Jon Versteeg, the team’s director of media relations, had left for me:

Thanks, Jon! I really appreciate it.

Although the pass would allow me early access to the park, I decided to wander around for a bit, and as is my norm, and see if it was possible to get a ball during batting practice. I set out walking to the left side of the main gate, which heads toward the left field corner. From a spot on the hill overlooking the park, I could see the visiting Hudson Valley Renegades throwing …

… but this fence gave me the subtle indication that I wouldn’t be getting behind the outfield fence:

Fortunately, just as there are two sides to every story, there are also two sides to every outfield. I retraced my steps and went over to the right field corner. On the way, I passed this submarine, which would later be firing T-shirts at unsuspecting fans:

The road on this side of the park is frequently used by the grounds crew, and there were lots of lawnmowers and other equipment used for maintenance of Dodd Stadium. I was excited to see the gate in the corner open, as I knew it would allow me to watch BP instead of just stand blindly behind the fence:

Before I got much closer, though, I saw this to my right:

The ball was was so worn that I couldn’t tell what was stamped on it, but it wasn’t an MiLB or MLB ball. Either way, this is number five on my trip, so I’m halfway to my goal of 10. The area behind the fence was a mishmash of stuff, including a stadium seat graveyard:

There was also a fireman sitting in his SUV back here, presumably preventing fans from walking close to the setup area for the evening’s fireworks show and subsequently catching on fire. We had a memorable exchange:

Me: Hello.

Fireman: Are you Gary?

Me: No, I’m just looking around and taking some photos.

Fireman: Well, if you’re not Gary or with Gary, you have to leave.

This didn’t dissuade my hopes of getting a BP home run ball, however. I hung out in the open gate and watched the players hit, but I didn’t see a single home run. Not one! Still, it was fun to watch BP from field level, and I talked briefly with Hudson Valley starter Sean Bierman who, in his first year of pro ball, is 3-2 with a strikeout to walk ratio of 30:4!

Eventually, I abandoned the plan to get a ball and decided to enter Dodd Stadium and watch the last bit of BP from the stands. Because almost every Minor League park’s gates don’t open until BP is done, it’s always a treat to sit in the front row behind the dugout and watch the players hit and take infield practice. I walked to the main gate, showed my pass to the ticket taker and expected him to open the gate and let me in. He said I could just come in myself, and in doing so, I managed to close the steel gate on my finger.

Despite my throbbing finger, I got to field level and took a spot behind the visitors’ dugout. Sure enough, the Renegades were still practicing. As BP wrapped up, the players had to take the steps up through the seating bowl to their clubhouse, as is common at many parks in the low Minor Leagues. I turned to take this photo …

… and then heard, “Hey! No photos!” Despite being surprised by the shout, I wasn’t caught off guard because I knew that I wasn’t doing anything wrong. I turned quickly and saw someone on a Renegades uniform duck into the dugout, and a handful of players smiling. Obviously, someone was just messing with me, and that someone, I believe, was manager Jared Sandberg, who you might recall as having played parts of three seasons with Tampa Bay between 2001 and 2003. In 2002, he hit 18 home runs in 102 games. A moment later, Sandberg (#22) called his players in for a quick meeting:

And shortly thereafter, they finished up and disappeared. Time for me to explore the ballpark a little!

I quickly noticed that the seats I saw the night before in New Britain were also here in Norwich. Dodd Stadium has normal box seats in the lower part of the bowl, but the upper is made up of these highchair-style seats:

The team shop at Dodd was absolutely awesome. Because the team was based in Oneonta, New York through the 2009 season, there were a number of Oneonta Tigers items at ridiculous prices — like polos for $5 and game-used stuff for $20. Unfortunately, small was the dominant size, and I couldn’t even find a medium to try. I did, however, spend $3 on a T-shirt that I’ll post at a later date.

While I was browsing around the store, a couple of notable things happened. Pitcher Ramon Lebron showed up for an autograph signing, and because the park was still relatively uncrowded, the lineup of fans waiting for his autograph was approximately zero. Because I had a media pass, I wasn’t permitted to get autographs, and I sort of felt badly for him. I was glad when a few kids in the shop got him to sign their gear on the way out.

Second, I found a $5 bill in the team store! I had mixed feelings about picking it up, because someone had obviously dropped it a short time earlier, but asking, “Hey, did anyone lose $5?” is a good way to have everyone volunteer to take the money. I lingered around the store in case someone made a kerfuffle about losing the money. Sure enough, I overheard a kid complaining that he’d lost $5 a few minutes later, so I gave it back to him. Good deed done for the day!

Here’s a shot of some of the game-used stuff for sale:

And a close-up of one of the wall next to the signing booth, where I assume players scrawl their name whenever they visit. I think it’s a neat touch:

By now, the players were back on the field, so I got my first look at Connecticut. I think their uniforms are one of the sharpest in the NYPL. I like the simple approach, which is obviously modeled after their parent club in Detroit. As the players warmed up, I took photos of a few of them, including Jared Reaves:

Starting pitcher Endrys Briceno, who gave up seven hits and two earned runs over five innings in a non-decision:

Briceno is listed at 6’5″, 150 lbs., which might make him the lightest pro ball player I’ve ever noticed.

And catcher Tim Remes, who picked up his first RBI in a Connecticut uniform after being called up from the Gulf Coast League a short while earlier:

When the game began, I settled into a spot on the third base side for a couple innings, and then began to explore my food options. The Burger Barn stand in the right field corner appeared to have the most appealing menu, so I asked what the server recommended. She suggested the Cheesy Potato Burger, which is covered in, as you might suspect, cheese and French fries. In case your potato intake was dangerously low, it was served with a side of … fried chips. I decided to go with her suggestion, and although my stomach is casting me dirty glances as I write this early the following morning, the burger was tasty:

And hugely filling. I wasn’t a fan of the fried chips, and the burger left me more than full anyway.

Once I finished the burger (and it took some time), I waddled over to a seat behind the protective netting and watched the rest of the game with this view:

The Tigers won 5-3, despite just six hits, and a couple minutes after the team celebrated its win on the mound …

… I hopped in the car, skipping the fireworks show, to get back to my hotel.