On the morning of August 9 last summer, my wife and I left our hotel at the Cleveland Airport, loaded up the car and drove to Niles, Ohio, which is a little more than an hour east of C-Town and just outside Youngstown. Niles is home to the Eastwood Mall, the largest mall between Cleveland and Pittsburgh. More importantly, however, it’s home to the Mahoning Valley Scrappers, the Short-Season A affiliate of the Indians.
The Scrappers play at Eastwood Field, which is on the same property as the Eastwood Mall, so it’s pretty easy to find. Once we navigated our way through the enormous parking lot, we came upon the ballpark. Time to begin taking photos and notes about it for my website.
Before I got too carried away taking photos of the front of the building, I wanted to quickly park and head behind the stadium to snag batting practice home runs. Just as I did at Auburn’s Falcon Park, I scouted out Eastwood Field before our trip and saw that a grass hill and parking lot was located behind the stadium. When that’s the case, you can just stand back there and pick up or catch home run balls as they leave the stadium. Awesome! (By the way, here’s my complete fan guide to visiting Falcon Park, home of the Auburn Doubledays.)
The thought crossed my mind to just park at the mall and walk up to the stadium, but evidently I’m about the 10,000th person to think of this ploy. As such, the Scrappers charge a $1 walk-in fee for fans, which is half the price it costs to park. Here’s the gate that prevents you from walking in for free:
We decided to park and were one of the first few cars in the lot. My wife stayed in the car to read, and I immediately grabbed my glove and backpack and made a beeline toward the rear of the stadium. (I should note I did a cool, casual walk through the parking lot and past the main gate, and sprinted as soon as I was around the corner.)
I was concerned about two things: That the area beyond the fence wasn’t fenced off; and that there weren’t other fans (or worse, a staff member) gathering balls. I was in luck! Here’s what I saw when I ran around the left field corner:
Clear, open ground! And if you look closely, there’s a ball sitting smack dab in the center of the picture. I grabbed the ball quickly and began looking around. Just behind the actual outfield fence, as is the case with many Minor League stadiums, stands a second, higher fence. This fence is covered in billboards, much like the home run fence. And sometimes, big home runs hit the second board and bounce back toward the first fence. When that’s the case, you see scenes like this one:
I grabbed this ball and a few others in the area. Suddenly, a ball blasted over my head, hit the paved parking lot and rolled into a distant field, scattering a bunch of groundhogs that were sunning in the area. I picked up this ball, then got to thinking. If this ball rolled so far, there might be others out here, too.
Here’s the parking lot:
It takes a big shot, or a lucky roll, to reach it. But once the ball does, it rolls and rolls and rolls all the way to the grass:
I took the above photo after finding another ball. It’s one of my favorites of the summer. After gathering a bunch of balls, I headed toward center, where I hoped to find more balls before moving into right. I quickly noticed, however, that the bus driver from the road team (in this case, the Aberdeen IronBirds) was picking up balls on his side of the field. No biggie. I went back to my left field corner and found a few more. I ended up with 10 balls in total:
I actually got 11, but threw one into the woods because it was so waterlogged and soaked in mud that it was disgusting.
Eventually, BP ended so I headed back to the parking lot with 10 baseballs weighing down my backpack. Here’s where I got my first couple photos of the front of the stadium:
Pretty nice, right? Notice the red carpet on the left side of the first image? That’s where season’s ticket holders get to line up.
Here’s a banner of Travis Fryman, a longtime standout Major Leaguer and the current manager of the Scrappers:
I hoped to get his autograph on a ball, but managers are sometimes hard to get before the game. We bought our tickets from the ticket office here:
And got my ticket/stadium front shot, as per always:
Once the stadium gates opened, we checked out the team shop so that I could buy a Scrappers cap. One of the team’s caps is pretty neat; it’s navy blue with two rows of teeth. It’s sort of bizarre, and since Minor League caps are priced so well, I wanted to get one. Unfortunately, the staff couldn’t seem to scan my debit or credit card and after about 10 minutes of waiting, I left without the cap. (Though I did pay cash for a Scrappers team ball that I wanted to get signed.)
My wife found a relaxing place in the shade, and I went to the conjoined clubhouses, which are in the right field corner. Both teams’ clubhouses are in one building, so you don’t have to make up your mind about which team you’ll pursue for autographs. Here’s the clubhouse door: (Gotta love the modesty of the Minors!)
And here’s the grass hill where you can not only watch the game, but wait for players to emerge prior to first pitch:
Pretty soon, the Scrappers pitcher came out with a strength coach and started stretching. Who was he? None other than Mitch Talbot, a Major Leaguer who was down making a rehab start. I was only a few yards away from him while he was warming up, so I snapped these shots:
You might notice he’s wearing the cap I mentioned earlier. Pretty soon, players on both teams filed out of the clubhouse and stopped to sign autographs. I did pretty well, getting about three-quarters of the home team on the team ball:
Pretty soon, Fryman emerged from the clubhouse no more than 10 minutes before first pitch. A few of us asked him for autographs, and he said he didn’t have time. He seemed to think twice, then said, “Well, OK.” I got him to sign an official New York-Penn League ball that I’d snagged during BP:
After Fryman signed for a few of us, he jogged to the dugout and we went to the Bullpen Bar & Grille, located down the right field line just behind the grass hill I’d stood on for autographs. After a few days of ballpark food, I wasn’t too crazy to eat another hot dog, so my wife and I split an order of nachos. Here’s the concession:
Before the players came out of the clubhouse to sign autographs, we saw three or four of the Aberdeen guys getting hot dogs at this concession stand. You know you’re in a Minor League stadium when the players climb over the railing, up the steps and stand in line for hot dogs.
As usual, we watched a couple innings from our seats. For this game, we were located up high on the first base side in an attempt to stay in the shade. It was one of those sunny days in which the sun climbs by the inning, and you find yourself moving up rows constantly to stay in the shade.
The majority of Eastwood Field’s seating is box seating, and there are aluminum bleachers on behind the third base line and in left field, as well as a picnic area along the right field line:
Here are a few panoramas I took during my walk around the stadium:
And here’s one last photo; it’s of the Eastwood Field scoreboard:
We hit the road as soon as the game was over, because we had to drive about five hours to Toronto, where we’d stay with my aunt and uncle for three nights while catching two Blue Jays games. It was tempting to stay at the Scrappers game after its conclusion, however, as the team was organizing a LeBron James jersey-burning ceremony in the infield.
In my next two entries, you’ll read all about my two games in Toronto watching the Jays lose to the Red Sox.