Tagged: Durham Bulls

Durham Bulls – June 27, 2019

On my first day in Durham, I’d hurried from the airport to my hotel and then straight to the ballpark. My experience a day later would be completely different. I began my second day in Durham by spending a few hours working on a blog post about the previous day, and then met up with Veda Gilbert from Discover Durham for lunch.

She chose a spot within walking distance of my hotel called Bull City Burger & Brewery, which prides itself on using local beef and making its burger toppings (and buns) from scratch. That sounded perfect to me, and I opted for a burger topped with house-made pickles and pimento cheese:

It was absolutely outstanding — and served as good fuel for the two-hour walking tour of the city that followed. We hit a number of interesting and historical places as we made our way around Durham’s downtown, but there’s one spot in particular that I think you’ll like. If you read yesterday’s post, you’ll know that the Durham Bulls moved from Durham Athletic Park to Durham Bulls Athletic Park in 1995, and have called it home ever since. Fortunately, DAP still stands, and it was the biggest highlight on our walk. This is the park where the Bulls played from 1926 to 1994 and, of course, where the movie Bull Durham was filmed:

There was a showcase tournament taking place at the time …

… but we were able to enter a check out the historic ballpark for a bit:

It’s easy to make an argument that this is the most famous minor league park in the country, so I’m very happy that I had a chance to visit it:

I could’ve sat there and watched the action for a long time, but there were plenty of other interesting sights to see around town. One of the other downtown attractions that we visited was the famous statue of Major the bull, which is a popular spot for photos. Here’s me making an attempt at the “bull horns” hand signal:

After a really interesting tour of the American Tobacco Historic Area …

… I went back to my hotel, enjoyed some air conditioning for an hour or so, and then made the short walk over to DBAP. A day earlier, I’d been intrigued by the gate that opened into the outfield concourse, and had followed it rather than taken my usual lap around the outside of the park. On this day, I made it my top priority to check out the exterior of the ballpark from all angles. After walking behind the office buildings that are situated beyond right field, I turned right and made my way down Jackie Robinson Drive, which runs behind the first base side. Here’s the side of the ballpark from that spot:

One thing that really caught my eye in this area was the Victory Garden, which is situated between the ballpark and the sidewalk. I’ve seen lots of ballpark gardens that supply veggies and herbs to the ballpark’s food services team over the years, but this one’s a little different. The Victory Garden is a partnership between the Bulls, Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina and the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle, and the produce goes to local families in need. This garden produces more than 2,000 pounds of food a year, and together with some other similar gardens around the area, helps to feed 60,000 people each month. I enjoyed walking through it and noting the unique plants — in addition to all of the veggies that you’d expect to see, there were other crops such as a fig tree and some okra plants. Here’s a look at one section of the garden:

After checking out the garden, I arrived at the picturesque plaza in front of the main gates, where I snapped this photo …

… and then went inside. By now, batting practice was taking place, so after a quick lap of the concourse, I grabbed a spot in a semi-shady area and watched for a bit:

I hung out in this spot for about 10 minutes, before moving down the line to continue watching with this view:

As I stood in that area, I noticed something that I’d missed a day earlier. If you look at the following photo …

… do you see the low, gray building in the distance with the horizontal slot-style windows? That’s the Durham County Detention Facility. The stadium’s PA and crowd noises can get pretty loud, and I wonder if those who are jailed in the facility can ever hear the game. I’m assuming that the jail doesn’t have a lot of windows that open, but I’d still be curious if the sound from outside gets in at all. I can’t imagine much being worse than jail, except for perhaps being behind bars while hearing the exciting sounds of a ballpark!

I was glad to be spending a second day in Durham not only for the chance to enjoy DBAP again, but also to see the special jerseys that the Bulls were wearing on this night. The team was honoring the Durham Tobacconists, which was the name of the franchise when it was founded in 1902. The Tobacconists played in the North Carolina League and only made it as far as July before the league abruptly folded. Here’s a picture of pitcher Ricardo Pinto in his Tobacconists uniform:

When BP concluded, I continued walking around the concourse and taking in the various sights. Here’s another thing that I’d failed to notice a day earlier — temporary netting that was draped over the railing and attached to spikes in the warning track to protect the video board during batting practice:

I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a setup in all my travels. Sure enough, a couple of Bulls employees began to remove the netting shortly after I took the above photo.

If you read my previous post, you might remember that I mentioned a pop-up mini golf course that was located adjacent to the ballpark. Here’s a view of it in the daylight, and I think you’ll agree that it’s pretty appealing:

The Bulls and the city have done a really good job of making the area around DBAP really appealing. Throughout my visit, it was clear that there were people who had come down to the area just to hang out, and not necessarily with plans to attend the game. It wouldn’t be long before the mini golf course — and a bunch of restaurants in the area with patios — were full of people enjoying this late-June night, and it made for a really fun vibe around the ballpark.

While I was in the left field corner, I went over to the Blue Monster to watch the grounds crew pack up the protective netting. As they worked, the Monster’s door (I always call this the “Manny Ramirez door”) was open, as you can see here:

Seeing the door open gave me an idea, so I followed the concourse past a concession stand to the end of the Blue Monster, and was able to lean in and see behind it. If you look at this photo, you’ll see the light coming from the open door:

The manual scoreboard operators work in this space, albeit well on the other side of the door. One day, I tell you, I’ll get to help out with a manual scoreboard during a game!

After the grounds crew tucked the protective netting safely behind the fence, I continued walking around the park and went over to the right field side. There, I snapped this photo of this impressive seating section:

Wherever I walked, it seemed as though there was a unique and appealing place to hang out and watch the game, and this was just another example. Kudos to the Bulls for going beyond the standard stadium seats to give fans a variety of fun seating choices.

Sensing another big crowd — especially with the special Tobacconists uniforms in use — I decided to grab dinner soon after the gates opened. Pizza might not be the most original pick at a ballpark, but I’d seen a LOT of fans carrying slices around a day earlier. This had to be a good sign, so I headed for the Pie Pushers Pizza concession stand and checked out the menu. Beyond the standard slices, there was a good selection of unique options. But, I always feel that the best way to evaluate a pizza is with a slice of pepperoni and cheese, so that’s what I ordered:

While it wasn’t the best ballpark pizza that I’ve had, it was pretty good and definitely worth checking out when you visit DBAP.

As I’d done a day earlier, I grabbed a Rita’s Italian Ice as a post-dinner way to beat the heat:

This time, I opted for the blue raspberry flavor, which was a poor choice. I’ve obviously yet to see a blue raspberry in the wild, which should’ve been a warning. This flavor basically just tasted sweet, so I think I’ll stick with better choices such as strawberry, cherry or lemonade in the future.

Once I’d eaten — and furiously rubbed my lips with the back of my hand so it wouldn’t appear as though I was wearing blue lip gloss — I went down to field level on the third base side to watch the visiting Norfolk Tides warm up. Here’s starting pitcher Luis Ysla:

One of the things that never gets old about visiting minor league ballparks is just how close you can get to the players. It’s one of the most appealing things about MiLB games, as far as I’m concerned. I stood fewer than 10 feet from Ysla throughout his entire warm-up, which is far closer than fans can get at most of the MLB parks.

When the game began, I grabbed a spot behind home plate that provided this view for the first inning:

I spent the second inning in this standing-room spot …

… and later went to this spot in straightway center, using the edge of the batter’s eye to block out of the sun as it set beyond the third base line:

For the last half of the game, I continued watching an inning here, an inning there, and loving the overall design and feel of DBAP. It’s a park that I didn’t know much about before arriving, but that has quickly climbed toward the top of my favorite MiLB ballparks list. I can’t wait to return, whenever that may be.

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Durham Bulls – June 26, 2019

Exactly 12 hours after my alarm rang to start Day #1 of my nine-day baseball trip, I walked into Durham Bulls Athletic Park for the first time. I’d made the 815-mile trip using four different methods of transportation — an airport shuttle, two flights, a rental car and a whole lot of steps — and was thrilled to visit my 72nd different ballpark since 2010.

About half an hour earlier, I’d checked into my hotel — the Aloft Durham Downtown — and quickly realized that this is a perfect hotel for the baseball traveler. In addition to being close to DBAP, it has a ticker on the walls of the lobby that displays MLB scores! How perfect is that?

If that’s not perfect enough, being able to see the ballpark and its iconic “Hit Bull Win Steak” bull from the window of my room was definitely a sign that I was in the right place:

After checking in, I dropped my suitcase off in my room, quickly changed into a road trip tee and headed over to the ballpark. The hotel and the ballpark are both key features in Durham’s American Tobacco Historic District, an urban renewal neighborhood that is one of the must-visit spots in this city. It’s the type of area in which you can easily spend a large chunk of day shopping, eating and sightseeing. These were things that I’d do on my second day in town; first, though, I was intent on getting over to the ballpark as quickly as possible.

I’ll admit that DBAP wasn’t a park that I knew a lot about before I arrived in town. Sometimes, I do a lot of advance reading about parks before I visit, but that’s not what I did in this case. It can be fun to be a little in the dark, so to speak, because that can help to make the experience more exciting.

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ll likely know that I tend to take a walk around each ballpark’s perimeter before entering, but that wasn’t the path that I took during this visit. Instead, I was allured by a sidewalk that headed up toward the base of the large bull, so followed it and was surprised to see that the gates were open:

The ballpark’s actual gates don’t technically open until an hour before first pitch — 6 p.m. in this case — but I’d stumbled into an area of the park that is accessible well in advance of that. The sidewalk that I was on quickly turned into an outfield concourse situated above the ballpark’s 32-foot Blue Monster and, when I walked to the railing, this was my view:

I LOVE when teams make community-friendly decisions like this. This gate closes once the game begins, but until then, people are free to walk through this area — from the left field foul pole to about straightaway center — and enjoy the view. More teams need to make parts of their parks accessible like this. I mean, I can think of a lot of ballparks that use privacy slats in their exterior chain link fences and other similar methods to ensure that people from the community can’t even look into the ballpark. Being able to walk through a part of the concourse before the gates open, or perhaps even if you aren’t going to the game, is absolutely outstanding.

On the other side of the concourse is a huge sports bar called Tobacco Road. It was still quiet at 4 p.m., but it got gradually busier and by the time the game began three hours later, it was packed with people enjoying food and drinks while they watched the game. Here’s a shot that shows the restaurant, the field and the concourse that people can use before the park’s gates open:

There were a couple of other fans in the area, but it was still mostly empty. I headed over to center field, where I took this panorama …

… noted the attractive batter’s eye …

… and then snapped this shot of myself:

I continued along the concourse, noting how the look of the office buildings in the area matched nicely with the ballpark:

(By the way, how amazing would it be to work in one of these buildings?)

Downtown ballparks can have a lot of challenges “fitting” in with their environment, but it’s very clear that DBAP does that well. That shouldn’t come as a surprise. The ballpark was designed by Populous, which is most widely known for designing the outstanding Oriole Park at Camden Yards and essentially rewriting the book on not only how ballparks should look, but also how they should fit within their neighborhoods. DBAP opened in 1995, three years after Camden, and it’s visually evident that the same visionaries were behind both projects.

I continued along the concourse until I came to this gate that prevented me from walking any farther:

The concourse that you see beyond the gate is set behind the seats in right field, and very much reminds me of Eutaw Street in Baltimore. After standing near the gates and enjoying the scene for a moment, I retraced my steps past Tobacco Road and toward the iconic bull. Another gate in this area prevented access to the main concourse of the park below me, so I exited and made my way down Blackwell Street toward the main gates. After picking up my credential, I snapped this shot of the team’s retired numbers:

You’ll notice that Crash Davis’ #8 is one of the six numbers retired by the team. He, of course, was the inspiration for Kevin Costner’s character of the same name in the 1988 movie Bull Durham. What you might not know, however, is that the real Davis hit .317 while playing for the Bulls in 1948.

I obviously had to snap a photo with it:

Blue Jays fans may also enjoy noting the retired #25 of current Toronto manager Charlie Montoyo. He served as the skipper of the Bulls from 2007 through 2014, winning a pair of International League championships and one Triple-A title during that span.

Next, I walked around to the plaza in front of the main gates, where I took this photo:

What a beautiful looking park! The fountains, dual staircases and brick design combine to make this one of the most stylish MiLB park entrances that I’ve ever come across.

After a short browse through the team shop, I road an elevator up to the concourse. Check out the signage inside of the elevator:

The concourse at DBAP is under and behind the seating bowl, which is perhaps the only less-than-perfect design feature of this ballpark. I love concourses that are open to the field, and I think that most MiLB fans feel the same way, but I also feel that there are both right and wrong ways to approach enclosed concourses. This one was definitely built the right way — tall ceilings, wide walkways and with lots of natural light, you won’t mind spending time in this area. Plus, if you’re concerned about missing the game, there are a bunch of TVs to ensure that you can always keep your eye on the game. After a short walk through the concourse, I made my way through one of the tunnels to the seating bowl …

… and was immediately impressed with what I saw. Take a look at how wide this cross-aisle is:

The small seating sections and wide cross-aisle mean that it’s easy to get around this part of the park. So, unless you need to head to the concourse to buy food, you can get where you want to go without being out of sight out of the game.

I decided to start checking out the inside of DBAP by walking toward the left field foul pole, so I headed in this direction …

… and soon stopped at field level to snap this panorama:

Eventually, I got close enough to the bull that I was able to take this photo of it:

This bull isn’t the one that you might recognize from the Bull Durham movie. That bull, which moved from the old Durham Athletic Park in 1995 when the team relocated to DBAP, was damaged in a 2007 storm. This one is a recreation — Bull #2, for lack of a better term. Its eyes light up and it snorts during home runs and wins, but it was still quiet at this point.

From this spot, I watched batting practice for a few minutes before heading the opposite way along the cross-aisle toward the right field corner. Here’s the view from the opposite end of the concourse that I’d spotted through the closed gate earlier:

And here’s a look at the Blue Monster and the bull, where I’d stood only a few minutes ago:

Next, I walked around to the grass berm in center field to take this panorama …

… and then continued back to the right field corner to do some preliminary food research. DBAP has an extensive menu and it was no surprise to see some Carolina barbecue available for sale. What was a surprise, however, was just how impressive the Smokehouse Barbeque concession stand looked. It’s clear that a lot of thought went into the design of this concession stand, including the use of barn board, tin and the vintage lights. Check it out:

Just after I took this photo, an usher approached me. I’d seen him picking up BP balls in the outfield seats earlier, and he now was carrying a handful of them. He asked me if I was looking for a ball. I replied that I wasn’t, and he asked if I wanted one anyway. He said that he keeps a few to give out to kids once the gates open. “Big kids, too?” I asked, and he laughed and handed me one that I photographed after he continued on his way:

While I was in the area, I continued to check out some of the interesting and appealing spots for fans to hang out. The White Street Picnic Area in the right field corner seems to answer the age-old question, “Why have a standard party deck when you can have a three-level one?”

Another neat spot that I noticed was a private party area called the Lowes Food Landing. With couches and bar-style seating, it shared a lot of common traits with other party areas that I’ve seen around the minor leagues, but with one exception — the concession stand was a stylishly finished shipping container:

Next, I went back down to the enclosed concourse to take another walk through the part of it that I’d missed earlier. One attraction that I noticed was an on-site brewery from the Bull Durham Beer Company:

I’ve seen a handful of MLB parks with breweries (Coors Field and SunTrust Park immediately come to mind) but I can’t immediately think of another brewery inside of an MiLB facility.

After walking the length of the concourse, I went up to the suite level to check out the PNC Triangle Club, an upscale suite area that looked like this:

It also offers an outstanding view of the action, all from a climate-controlled space that was definitely appealing on this 86-degree day. Here’s the view, through glass, from behind home plate:

I spent a few minutes to enjoy this view, drink a bottle of water and to cool off for a little bit, given that I’d already been walking a lot in the full sun. Then, it was time to head back out into the heat and continue exploring the ballpark. I went along the concourse toward the right field foul pole, and then walked down to the front row of the outfield seats to continue watching BP. This was the view to my right — check out the sweet front-row seats in this area:

This type of seating arrangement is found in many minor league parks, but I don’t know if I’ve seen it make up the front row of the outfield as it does in Durham. Often, it’s found on party decks. Another really creative idea from those who designed DBAP.

I decided not to spend too long in this area. It was extremely bright, and while I could follow most of the hit balls through the air, there were definitely some that I couldn’t track — and standing in the front row of right field is never a good spot to be when you can’t see what’s coming toward you. After a ball that I’d lost in the sun clanged off the picnic deck several yards to my left, I knew it was time to find another spot to check out. I retreated to the concourse to watch the remainder of BP, and then made my way around to left field to check out the Blue Monster up close:

Once the gates opened, I had a sense that this game would be well attended, so I wanted to grab some food before the lineups got long. I originally headed to the Smokehouse Barbeque concession with the hope of grabbing some Carolina barbecue, but nothing on the menu caught my eye. There were lots of pulled pork dishes, and while I’ll eat pulled pork if I have to, it’s not something that I’m all that keen about. The wide selection of concession items throughout the park meant that I wouldn’t be thwarted, so I made my way to the Gonza Tacos Y Tequila stand in the left field corner — a place with eye-catching signage and a food truck-style vibe. After scouring the menu for a moment, I chose a pair of soft corn tacos that were filled with braised beef short rib meat, cilantro, roasted corn-poblano salsa and spicy creme fraiche:

There were only a coupe of people ahead of me in line, so my order came quickly, and I took it up to the top of the Blue Monster and grabbed a comfy seat while I ate. The tacos were very good, and I appreciated the variety of ingredients. They weren’t cheap, though. The two tacos cost $10, and it only took about three bites to eat each one.

I’d added a bit of some delicious hot sauce before eating, so that meant that I needed to look for something cool and refreshing after I finished. The answer was a strawberry Rita’s Italian Ice, which I’m always a sucker for. I took my cup all the way out to the outfield seats and enjoyed cooling down while I ate it:

After eating, I went down to the front row of the seats and took a look around. Something that caught my eye were the video boards in the outfield fence. In particular, I noticed how far back they were from the rest of the fence. I don’t know if I’ve seen this setup before; video panels are always protected by some sort of cage, but it seems to me that they’re not usually set back this far:

One of the things that I love about visiting different ballparks is noticing the small details that I might not pick up during a game broadcast, and this fence/video panel situation definitely falls into that category.

Speaking of the outfield fence, let’s take a moment to pause and appreciate how outstanding the Blue Monster is:

One thing that’s unique about DBAP is that the park’s video board is a part of the fence. There’s no large video board elsewhere in the park, which is highly unusual by MiLB standards. I think including it in this location just adds to the unique and innovative nature of this ballpark. You’ll also notice a manual scoreboard, which always boosts the visual appeal of a ballpark in my books. Throw in the home run bull, a sports bar and tons of seating/standing choices on top of the Monster, and you’ve easily got one of the coolest features throughout all of the minor leagues.

I figured that I needed to spend some time in this unique outfield area now that the game was underway, so that’s exactly what I did. I watched a little of the action from this spot …

… and then stood at the railing on the Monster for a bit, where I could look right down to see Durham left fielder Joe McCarthy:

Between innings, I snapped this shot of myself with the bull:

I spent a couple of innings in that spot and then decided to go find another vantage point from which to watch. The sky beyond the right field corner had turned a nice shade of blue-orange-purple, so I opted for a seat down the third base line where I could enjoy this amazing view:

About half an inning after taking the photo above, I stood up to stretch between innings and noticed an equally appealing sky over my left shoulder. Check out this shot:

That’s the Lucky Strike water tower rising above the American Tobacco district, and the area in the bottom right is a pop-up mini golf course that many fans were playing before, during and after the game.

I watched the remainder of the game from this vantage point, and then made the easy walk back to my hotel through the balmy Durham night after the game concluded. The appeal of the area around the ballpark made me want to stay out and explore more, but after a long travel day and about 16,000 steps, I was ready to get off my feet and call it a night. My plan to explore Durham wouldn’t have to wait long, however — I had an exciting walking tour planned for the following afternoon.

Rochester Red Wings – May 17

Way back in 2010, when I decided to visit as many MLB and MiLB parks as I could and start The Ballpark Guide, my first stop was in Rochester. (If you want to read my first ballpark visit blog entry, you can do so here. Just excuse the wonky formatting.) In the years since, I’ve thought fondly of Frontier Field and always looked forward to returning. I got back to Rochester for another visit last summer, but when I was planning my current 13-day baseball road trip, I couldn’t resist starting out at Frontier Field.

Leading up to this trip, there were many reasons to be excited about returning to Rochester. First, the overall selection and quality of food is the best I’ve encountered. Second, I think Frontier Field is beautiful; it’s one of my favorite places to watch a ballgame. Of course, before I got to kick back in the sun and enjoy something tasty to eat, I had to cross the border. Ugh:

canada-u.s.-border-crossing

It’s a long weekend back in Canada, so the traffic was ridiculous. I sat within sight of the border crossing for 45 minutes before getting through, and then it was clear sailing all the way through to Rochester. If you’ve read this blog for some time, you’ll likely recall that I like seeing a few sites in each city I visit, time permitting. One spot I wanted to check out this time is Rochester’s High Falls, which looked cool online and isn’t too far from Frontier Field. Although it’s not exactly Niagara Falls, it’s a neat scene and worth visiting when you’re in town:

rochester-high-falls

In fact, it’s just a short walk from the ballpark. Here’s the view from the opening of the walkway leading toward the bridge over the falls. As you can see, the ballpark is in the distance:

frontier-field-from-waterfalls

I always wander around whenever I get to a ballpark, and even though this was my third trip to Frontier Field, I stopped to take this panorama by the front gate:

frontier-field-front-panorama

I think you’ll agree that it’s a beauty of a ballpark. One neat feature that I hadn’t noticed in the past — or perhaps that’s new — is some old seats from, I’m guessing, Silver Stadium:

frontier-field-silver-stadium-seats

Silver Stadium was the home of the Red Wings from 1929 to 1996. In fact, I plan to check out the site of the old stadium today before tonight’s game.

As usual, I took a walk around the perimeter of the ballpark but this time, I didn’t go nuts with photos. I’ll just share this one:

frontier-field-brick-wall-outside-park

I’m a sucker for modern brick parks, as I think they do an awesome job of paying tribute to the history of the game. The wrought-iron bars and old-style lights really give you an feel of what a park might’ve looked like several generations ago.

During this visit, the Red Wings were providing me with a media pass, so I wanted to get in early and check everything out. A quick thanks to Tim Doohan for the pass; Tim was with the Lehigh Valley IronPigs last season, and provided me with a pass during my visit there, too. Instead of going straight up to the press box, I went down to field level and saw that Rochester had just started hitting:

frontier-field-rochester-red-wings-bp

As you’ve seen in the past, I enjoy trying to collect a baseball from each park I visit. Getting in early means that I technically could’ve snagged a dozen BP home runs and foul balls, but I didn’t think that was very fair. So, in a move that might make you ballhawks’ heads explode, I tossed balls back onto the field when I found them. While walking through the seats and across the grass behind the outfield fence, I came across several balls. Some were partially hidden:

frontier-field-bp-ball

And others were easy to see:

frontier-field-bp-ball-1

Watching BP is one of my favorite experiences in baseball, and I prefer it at the minor league level. Instead of standing in a crowd of screaming fans at an MLB park, MiLB parks are virtually deserted during BP. I always make a point of sitting near the field and just taking it all in. One of the cool things about being in the park before it opens is seeing sights you wouldn’t otherwise see. For example, here’s a member of the visiting Durham Bulls hanging out with Red Wings pitcher Caleb Thielbar during BP:

frontier-field-durham-and-rochester-during-bp

And here’s Rochester manager Gene Glynn talking on his cellphone in the stands:

frontier-field-red-wings-manager-gene-glynn

Back to the ballpark itself: As you no doubt know if you’ve been to Rochester, it’s impossible to miss the Kodak building, which looms just across the street:

frontier-field-with-kodak-building

Much of the area beyond the outfield fence is closed off during games, but given that it was still open, I walked through the grass and watched some BP with this view:

frontier-field-bp-from-outfield

The area around the Rochester bullpen was lined with lilacs, and I thought this made for a neat photo:

frontier-field-view-through-lilacs

After walking around the entire park and watching a lot of BP, I decided to go up to the press box to check out the view:

frontier-field-press-box-view

It wasn’t long before I noticed these guys standing below me:

frontier-field-historic-players-stretching

What the heck? I began to see more and more guys dressed like ballplayers from days of yore, so I quickly went back down to field level and it felt like I’d stepped onto the set of Field of Dreams. It was an odd juxtaposition. When I looked the left, this is what I saw:

frontier-field-bulls-during-bp

But when I looked to my right, here was the scene:

frontier-field-historic-baseball-game-2

When the Bulls wrapped up BP, it became clear that these old-timers were getting ready to play a game. Their umpire, who doubled as an announcer for the curious fans who entered the ballpark shortly after the historic game began, provided some clarity. The players were playing a short exhibition game with 1866 rules — no gloves, underhand pitching from 45 feet and no balls and strikes. It was fascinating. When the umpire called a batter to the plate, he yelled “striker to the line!” The umpire, dressed in black, is below:

frontier-field-historic-baseball-game

As much as the 1866 version of the game was different, it was neat to see how much today’s game is similar — despite its evolution. I think guys today are thankful for the gloves, though. Imagine fielding a line drive with your bare hands.

Just as the game was wrapping up, I returned to the press box to meet up with Chris Fee. I got to know him a bit on Twitter a couple years ago when he was writing for the Bus Leagues Baseball website, and now he’s doing a bunch of Red Wings/Twins stuff for Twins Daily. It’s always neat to finally meet someone you’ve conversed with online, and Chris is a good guy. Give his Twitter account a follow and you’ll be glad you did. We blabbed baseball for maybe 15 minutes before I went back to field level to watch the warmups, which had begun after the clock struck 12 on the 1866 game. Here are a couple Bulls you’ll probably recognize:

durham-bulls-shelley-duncan-tim-beckham

That’s Shelley Duncan, who’s played more than 300 games in the bigs and Tim Beckham, the 2008 first-overall draft pick.

I wanted to take another full lap around the field before the game began in a few minutes, but the outfield was blocked off. As I turned to head back toward the third base line, a baseball caught my eye. It was stuck in the fence directly behind the visitor’s bullpen. Since the gates had been open for nearly an hour, I didn’t feel bad about grabbing the ball.

Once the game began, it didn’t take me long to seek out something to eat. I consider two items from Frontier Field as among the 10 best things I’ve ever eaten on my travels, but I was determined to branch out on this visit. I returned to the Red Osier concession stand but instead of getting the delicious sandwich I enjoyed last year, I got the R.O.B.B. sandwich — double roast beef on a salt and caraway seed bun with au jus sauce and plenty of horseradish:

frontier-field-food-red-osier-roast-beef-sandwich

It was absolutely delicious and I can safely say it’ll crack the top 10 when I redo the list in the off-season. Wow!

As for the game, I was especially excited to see prospect Wil Myers. Prior to the season, he was ranked fourth overall by Baseball America and MLB, and it’s always neat to see a top prospect in person. I grabbed a seat behind home plate with this view:

wil-myers-durham-bulls

The view, however, was better than Myers’ results throughout the game. He went just 1-for-5 and left three runners on base.

One guy who isn’t struggling is Wings first baseman Chris Colabello. He went 2-for-4 to boost his average to .350. He’s also got 11 HRs, 31 RBIs and an OPS of 1.059:

frontier-field-chris-colabello-rochester-red-wings

By the fifth inning, I can’t stay I was hungry, but I was hoping to find something else to eat. I don’t normally eat desserts at ballparks, but I’m always intrigued by Frontier Field’s crepe stand, so I decided to get an order of crepes with ice cream, fresh strawberries and blueberries and whipped cream:

frontier-field-food-berry-crepes

Again, absolutely incredible! It didn’t taste like ballpark food; if I’d received it at a decent restaurant, I would’ve been more than happy.

Once dessert was down, I snapped this shot of the nighttime scene and the Kodak building in the background:

frontier-field-rochester-kodak-building-night

And then moved behind home plate where I enjoyed this view for the rest of the game, which Rochester won 11-6:

frontier-field-behind-home-plate-night

Funny thing about baseball — Rochester cruised through much of the game, leading 11-0 at one point. In the eighth, Durham’s offense went nuts and scored six runs. By the end of the once-lopsided contest, the Bulls had outhit the Wings 12-11.

Yesterday’s visit just reaffirms how great Frontier Field is. I’m already looking forward to getting back there later today for the Pepsi Max Field of Dreams game. It features a bunch of retired MLB legends, and promises to be entertaining.