Tagged: Fenway Park

A Game-Used Bat and a Jersey Mystery

I’ve traveled to more than 50 stadiums for The Ballpark Guide, and have managed to pick up some pretty cool souvenirs along the way. These include:

– A Jeremy Nowak (Frederick Keys) home run ball;
– A Tony Caldwell (Greensboro Grasshoppers) home run ball;
– A Randy Ruiz game-used bat;
– A New Hampshire Fisher Cats game-used jacket;
– A Ryan Skube (former Padres prospect) game-used bat;
– A Curtis Thigpen clubhouse nameplate — OK, not “game-used,” but you know what I mean.

Well, as promised, I added a couple really neat items to my collection during my travels last year.

Here’s the first one:


This is a game-used bat that belonged to Justin O’Conner, the Tampa Bay Rays’ first-round draft pick in 2010. I bought it in May when I visited Bowling Green Ballpark, home of the Bowling Green Hot Rods. (You can read about this visit here.) It’s exciting to have a bat from a first rounder. I actually saw O’Conner play back in 2012 at the Futures at Fenway game at Fenway Park, and managed to get his autograph on a ball. Last year, when I saw his bat in the team shop at Bowling Green Ballpark, I couldn’t resist grabbing it.

As you can see here, it’s got his name written on the knob:


Lots of signs of use on the handle:


And a ton of wear on the barrel, which shows that he used this bat an awful lot before it broke. Here are some ball marks:


And some little chips, which are caused by when you tap the bat’s barrel against your cleats to them off:


O’Conner hit .223 for the Hot Rods in 2013 but showed some solid pop with 14 home runs in 102 games. I’ll be excited to see where he starts the 2014 season and look forward to following his career.

The next item I added to my collection has a little mystery to it. It’s a Lexington Legends game-used batting practice jersey, and here’s a picture of it:


When I visited Whitaker Bank Ballpark, home of the Legends, in May, I was excited to see a TON of game-used jerseys for sale at decent prices. Often, you see Minor League Baseball game-used jerseys for around $100, which seems like a little much. Anyway, the BP jerseys were just $25, which was impossible to resist. I browsed through the available jerseys, worn during the 2012 season, while checking out the team’s 2012 roster on The Baseball Cube. My goal was to find a jersey of a player with promise, and when I came across the #8 jersey, I saw it apparently belonged to first baseman Zach Johnson. While with Lexington in 2012, Johnson hit 15 home runs and added 108 RBIs. I was sold, and grabbed the jersey off the rack.

When I took it to the counter, the staff member said, “Nice — Delino DeShields, Jr.” Huh? I told him I was pretty sure this was Johnson’s jersey, pointing to the data on my iPod.

He replied that he thought DeShields might have worn the #8 on a promotional jersey night when his usual #4 wasn’t available in his size. If that was the case, what number did Johnson wear on that night? Or did Johnson play? As I said, it’s a mystery.

I have to admit I’m intrigued about DeShields, though. While with the Legends in 2012, he stole 83 bases in 111 games. Yep, you read that right. He added 18 more steals in 24 games with High-A Lancaster to finish the year with 101 stolen bases. This total would be enough to be the best in the entire minor leagues virtually any year, if not for a guy named Billy Hamilton. Hamilton, of course, set the all-time record by swiping 155 bases. (I was lucky enough to see him play at Louisville Slugger Field last year, too.)

So, did I have the jersey of Johnson, a slugger who was released last year, or of DeShields, Jr., a first-round draft pick who might be on the fast track to the majors? (He played in High-A last season and stole 51 bases while batting .317 while just 20 years of age.)

Let’s look at some more pictures of the jersey before we wade even deeper into this mystery. Here’s a shot of the #8 in question:


The back of the entire jersey:


And a close-up of the Legends logo, which has a sharp design:


Now, back to the mystery. I’ve found proof that Johnson wore my jersey in 2012. The next four pictures I found online, and were taken by Clinton Riddle.


And here’s one that shows the front of the jersey:


The Baseball Cube says DeShields wore #4 in 2012, and I’ve found proof of that with this picture:


And here’s the front of his jersey:


As you can tell from these photos, they’re taken during BP, not during a game.

So, based on what The Baseball Cube says, and with the photographic proof I can find online, I’m sure the jersey is Johnson’s. But I’m curious about the suggestion of the team shop employee, and I’m determined to find out the truth. I’m going to contact the Legends, as well as DeShields, Jr., himself, to get to the bottom of this mystery.

And when I have an answer, I’ll share it here!

** UPDATE **

Well, that didn’t take long. Immediately after publishing this blog post, I sent messages on Twitter to DeShields, Jr. and the Legends. DeShields was the first to respond, and he straightened things up:


Now, I’m not up on the nicknames of former Legends players, but it looks like “Ziggy” is Zach Johnson, which means my initial understanding about the jersey’s rightful owner was correct. An hour later, the Legends confirmed things:


I suppose there’s still a chance DeShields wore the jersey once, but that’s probably difficult to confirm. In any case, the theory about the rightful owner of the BP jersey sure made for a fun mystery while it lasted.

As always, thanks for reading. Please visit The Ballpark Guide for comprehensive fan guides to MLB and MiLB parks and remember, each of your visits help support my road trips!

Some Souvenirs I Picked Up in 2012

I was lucky enough to see 18 games at 16 parks in 2012, and while last year wasn’t quite as busy as 2011, in which I saw 29 games in 24 parks, it was still packed with awesome moments. For a complete rundown on everywhere I’ve been since I started The Ballpark Guide in 2010, you can check out this link.

On my travels, I occasionally get to pick up some neat souvenirs. Traveling in itself is expensive, so I don’t always splurge for extras, but between some neat ballpark giveaways, cool things to buy and unforeseen adventures, I’m often able to pick up a few things of note.

When I visited the Eastern League’s New Britain Rock Cats in August, I had to buy a ticket for the game — all the other MiLB teams I visited in 2012 hooked me up with press passes, which was awesome. Buying a ticket to see the Rock Cats wasn’t all bad, though, as my visit happened to fall on the evening of an above-average stadium giveaway. On this night, the team was handing out blankets, which is something different for my collection and actually useful:


It’s big enough (4 feet by 4.5 feet) that it’s hard to photograph, but I think you’ll agree that it looks great.

A few days later, I visited LeLacheur Park, home of the Short Season-A Lowell Spinners. This visit was outstanding. Not only did I get a comprehensive tour from Jon Boswell, the team’s director of media relations, but the ballpark is absolutely beautiful. During our tour, we talked about boxer Micky Ward being from Lowell and Jon told me he’s met Ward on more than one occasion. In fact, the team had had a Micky Ward garden gnome giveaway at one point. Before I could hardly comment, Jon rifled through a box in the team’s office and dug up a Ward gnome for me!


While Ward might look a little silly with a gnome hat and beard, this is a neat item to add to my collection, especially given that I’m a huge fan of boxing and have a bunch of Ward fight posters and even a boxing glove signed by him. As you can see here, he’s depicted in his Lowell Spinners trunks, which he’s actually worn in the ring:


When I had the fortune of visiting Fenway Park during its 100th season, I definitely wanted to get my hands on a couple 100th anniversary souvenirs. I bought a 100th anniversary cap, which you can see here, and since I loved the logo, I also picked up this large crest:


As you can see, I haven’t taken it out of the package yet, as I’m still contemplating whether to stick it to something or not.

During my Fenway visit, I also couldn’t resist getting a drink in a Fenway Park commemorative cup:


It goes well with the other cups I’ve picked up on my travels:


Late in the summer, when I was back home, I bought a couple cans of something to put in the cups above:


I used to collect sports-themed commemorative soda cans, but I’m a big fan of these Budweiser Jays cans.

And speaking of the Blue Jays, I picked up my last souvenir of 2012 when I caught a couple games at Rogers Centre in September. The Jays significantly revamped their team shop before last season, and it featured a ton of neat game-used and player-issued items. When I was browsing through the store, I came across this:


It’s the name plate off former catcher Curtis Thigpen’s locker stall in the clubhouse. Thigpen played just 57 games over parts of 2007 and 2008 with Toronto, but he was a prospect I followed very closely. I’m a huge Texas Longhorns fan, and when the Jays drafted Thigpen out of Texas in 2004, I was super pumped. I closely followed Thigpen’s progress through the minors, including his stops in Auburn, Lansing, New Hampshire and Syracuse, and although he had a short MLB career, he was one of the guys I really rooted for. This was his name plate during the 2008 season and, as you can see, it’s got the MLB authenticated hologram in the lower right corner.

If you’re wondering how much of a fan of Thigpen I am, I can tell you I’ve got almost all his signed baseball cards and this beauty — a game-used bat that I picked up a few years ago:


A close-up of the barrel:


The rear of the barrel:


And the knob:


In fact, I’ve got the clubhouse name plate and bat displayed together here in my home office, and they look awesome.

Thinking about the Jays has me fired up for Opening Day, so I’ll share another souvenir. I didn’t get this one in 2012 (although the Jays are still selling these) but I think you’ll agree it’s neat. It’s a piece of authenticated turf from the team’s World Series wins in 1992 and 1993:


Just for you, I’ll pop open the box and show you the actual piece of turf:


I wonder what souvenirs I’ll end up picking up this year. I’m going to be visiting a ton of ballparks in 2013; significantly more than I did in 2012, so there’ll be lots of opportunities for neat items to grab and share with everyone here.

Thanks for reading and please remember to follow me on Twitter and visit The Ballpark Guide to help support my trips!

August Road Trip Goals Revisited

This year, I decided that before each of my road trips, I’d blog about a list of goals that I hoped to accomplish. I did pretty well on my May road trip goals and in case you missed it, listed some goals for my August road trip, too.

I’m largely pleased with how I did goal-wise on this trip. It would’ve been nice to knock off a couple more, but I always try to create some challenging goals to keep things interesting.

Here’s a recap:

1. Get to the top of the Green Monster

Woo hoo! This was the biggest goal for me, and I was lucky to accomplish it. One awesome reader of this blog, Mike, offered to take me up to the Monster as his guest. (Thanks again, Mike!) That didn’t work out, but I was able to take a Fenway Park tour, where I made it all the way up top:


2. Eat something that cracks my ballpark top 10

The jury’s still out on this one. Plus, I’m going to unveil my new top 10 (and possibly top 15) in the new year, so you’ll see the details then.

3. Buy something that says ‘Fenway Park 100 Years’

I really like this logo and was glad to get this hat. I also got one additional thing featuring the logo, which I’ll include in my post about clothing that I got this summer.


4. Get interviewed on one team’s broadcast

This didn’t work out, unfortunately. But, I’m excited to say that I’ve already got one on-air interview loosely scheduled for 2013!

5. Visit a bunch of touristy attractions

I hit a number of cool places in Boston and a few other areas. I’m going to blog about those adventures in the new year, but in the meantime, here’s a picture of me before I boarded the U.S.S. Constitution in Boston:


6. Visit 10 non-MLB/MiLB ballparks

As I recently blogged about, I visited four of these parks on my trip, so I fell short of the 10 I’d hoped to see. Seeing 10 was definitely doable, but it was pretty time consuming, so I decided to scrap this goal early on.

7. Get 10 autographs

I thought I’d have better luck with this goal, but all I managed were three autographs from the Futures at Fenway game:


8. Buy at least one team’s hat

I really wanted to get a hat on this trip, and after I bought my Futures at Fenway hat, I decided to pass on a second hat. So, I didn’t really accomplish the goal, but I still got a hat, so I’m happy.

9. Get 10 baseballs

I’m not a ballhawk, but I do like to try to get a ball whenever I can. I’m happy to say I accomplished this goal with 13 balls:


10. Have some unforeseen fun adventure

Aside from getting up onto the Green Monster, two things stand out from this trip:

a) Sitting in the Lone Red Seat at Fenway Park:


b) Writing my name on Pesky’s Pole:


Fenway Park Tour – August 22

A day after watching the Red Sox at Fenway Park and a few days after the memorable Futures at Fenway doubleheader, I faced a bit of a dilemma. I’d planned to see the Red Sox and Angels play on August 22, but a couple factors were at play here. Since I’d already been to Fenway Park twice, I really didn’t need to visit a third time to take photos and explore for my website. I’d be going mainly as a fan, and while that’s fine, Fenway Park is an expensive place to visit and my travel budget isn’t enormous. Plus, I was still suffering from a nagging cold.

On the flip side, I was really looking forward to meeting a reader of this blog named Mike. Let me explain: Before I embarked on this road trip, I blogged about a list of goals I’d set for myself. The most important one was getting to the top of the Green Monster. Less than 24 hours after I blogged about this goal, Mike sent me a message and said to meet him before the August 22 game and he’d get me up on the Monster. Incredible! I hadn’t ever met Mike, and I don’t think he’d previously left a comment on my blog. But his overwhelming generosity was amazing. So, we hatched a plan to meet before the game and because Mike is a member of the Red Sox Nation club, he’d take me up to the Monster as his guest.

Mike’s extreme generosity made it tough to make this decision, but I chose to skip the game. It wasn’t easy to do, but I felt it was the most sensible option. And as my goal of getting atop the Monster was in jeopardy, I decided to head down to Fenway during the day and take a guided tour of the park, as it includes a Monster visit. I should note that Mike has generously invited me to contact him next time I’m planning a visit to Boston. Mike, I’ll definitely take you up on that offer, and thanks again!

As you might remember, I took the outstanding tour at Oriole Park at Camden Yards last summer, so I was excited to check out this one. When I got downtown and parked (for only around $15, I am happy to say) I got to the ticket office and bought my tour ticket with five minutes to spare. The tours begin in the team shop on Yawkey Way, and I ran to join the enormous group. The tour had to have 100-plus people, and a quick discussion led by the guide revealed there were visitors from across the globe — Australia, Ireland, Japan and throughout North America. What a testament to the attraction of Fenway Park.

The tour set off toward Gate A, and as you can tell from the picture below, I was able to get near the front of the pack:

As the group began to file into Fenway Park, I paused to quickly snap a photo of my tour ticket:

We all gathered in the concourse inside Gate A, and one of the first things we saw was the modified golf cart that used to carry relievers in from the bullpen. You might not be able to tell from this photo, but the Red Sox leave it open to allow fans to sit in it and take photos:

One of the neatest things to see at the park is the original ticket booths. They’re no longer used (although they were up until a few years ago) and each is loaded with artifacts from a World Series-winning season:

After seeing Fenway Park so crowded during my two previous visits, it was odd to see the concourses so empty:

And when we got out to the seating bowl, things were just as quiet:

Out here, we watched a short video about the park’s history, which contained a memorable clip of David Ortiz telling us to, “Enyoy the tour.”

I could share a bunch of photos of an empty Fenway Park, but instead, I want to show this one of the right field bleachers. If you look closely, you can see the Lone Red Seat in the shadow of the light pole:

The tour was excellent. I can’t recall the guide’s name, but he was humorous, knowledgeable and kept things moving along. We followed him through the seating bowl and eventually, close to the Monster:

That could only mean one thing, right? My visit atop the Monster was fast approaching! This was the scene was we passed into new territory for me and headed toward the Monster seats:

We all took seats as our guide gave some information about the Green Monster, and I snapped this panorama from up here:

Everyone knows about Ted Williams’ 502-foot home run in 1946 that landed in what is now the Lone Red Seat, right? Well, I thought it was bizarre that no one had trumped that blast, especially given the game’s steroid era and the fact that Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz pounded scores of home runs out of Fenway Park. Well, here’s the answer to that question, posted in the Monster seats:

The group only spent a few minutes in this area, but I was able to take a bunch of photos. After I took a number of photos of myself, another fan offered to photograph me up here:

As I said, our guide was great and gave us a ton of interesting stories. Recognize the famous Citgo sign?

Apparently, Joe Carter was once asked why he hit so many home runs at Fenway Park. He pointed out the Citgo sign to the interviewer, who was confused. Then, Carter explained, “I don’t see Citgo. I see ‘C-it-go.'”

After spending time on the left field side, our tour proceeded over to a spot high above the first base line, where I took this panorama:

And from up here, I spotted a Red Sox coach playing catch with his son:

I also saw the door to Manny Ramirez’ personal washroom:

Next, we learned another fact that you probably don’t know unless you’re a big-time Sox fan or trivia buff. Like me, you’ve probably seen the Green Monster a million times on TV but never noticed the Morse Code written on it. See the code in the vertical white stripes?

This code represents the initials of Thomas Yawkey and his wife Jean Yawkey, who owned the team from 1933 to 1992. The location of the initials is the cause for the urban legend that says the Yawkeys are buried in left field.

The tour continued up to the Bud Deck high above the right field corner, and pretty soon, it wrapped it. It was just over an hour in length, and boy, did it fly by! As it ended, our tour guide, pictured here …

… led us to the new Royal Rooters Club, a swank hangout for BoSox season ticket holders. This club is a restaurant and bar, but more importantly, contains a Hall of Fame-like selection of team memorabilia, with everything from Manny Ramirez’ game-used helmet and Bill Mueller’s bat:

To American League MVP awards:

And Cy Young Awards:

Historical displays:

And my favorite, a team-signed ball from each year of the team’s history:

Check out the signature on the sweet spot of this ball:

I was settling in to spend a good hour in this area, but the ushers encouraged people to move along after maybe 10 minutes or so. But first, I got a good laugh. One old usher (who reminded me of Burgess Meredith in the Grumpy Old Men movies) announced, “If anyone wants to see some World Series rings, I’ve got two!” And sure enough, he was sporting the enormous rings from the team’s 2004 and 2007 championships. As a crowd gathered and began to ooh and aah, he shocked more than a few of us by declaring to a couple women, “They’re chick magnets! Wanna look closer, baby?”

I’m glad that I got to take the tour, and if you’re visiting Boston, it’s something I definitely recommend. It’s too bad that I missed meeting Mike, but I hope to get back to Boston before long, so maybe it’ll work out then.

Boston Red Sox – August 21

Having an enjoyable, relaxing experience in Lowell on August 20 did wonders for my cold, and although I wasn’t feeling 100 percent just yet, going to Fenway Park to see the Boston Red Sox — and a great opponent in the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim — does wonders to improve how you feel. I spent the morning of August 21 doing some touristy things around Boston, before heading to my hotel in the early afternoon and looking forward to visiting Fenway Park again.

For the two nights I stayed in Boston, I was at the Holiday Inn Express Saugus. This hotel is just outside of the city, which makes a huge difference because Boston is not a cheap place to visit. With most hotels close to Fenway Park going for $300 and up a night, it definitely makes sense to stay outside of the city’s core.

The Holiday Inn Express Saugus is ideal because it’s only about 20 minutes from Fenway Park (more during periods of high traffic) and it’s located on a main artery that takes you right into Boston. There’s no messing around and getting lost where this hotel is concerned. Additionally, the area around the hotel is full of restaurants, grocery stores, fast-food places and more. On my second night, I made a short walk down the road to a Panera Bread that was less than a mile away, for instance.

Here’s the front of the hotel:

I was impressed with my room, and as I’ve said previously, I had great luck with hotels on this trip. The room was large and featured all the amenities I needed for a two-night stay. This is what my room looked like:

Mid-afternoon, I packed up and made to drive back to Boston. Doing so wasn’t intimidating because I’d already been to the city and Fenway Park itself for the Futures at Fenway game three days earlier. As you might remember, I paid just $10 to park for that game, so when I got to Boston and started seeing $35, $45 and $50 parking lots, I scoffed at the type of people who’d pay that much to park. In fact, I even took this photo …

… to illustrate just how much people will pay to park for a Red Sox game. Fortunately, I knew the secret and I expertly navigated the streets to find my trusty ol’ lot. You can imagine my slow-motion, confused reaction when I saw that the lot was charging $35 for parking. I quickly realized the price had been dropped for the Futures game because it wasn’t a Red Sox game. Stunned, I started to pull into the lot but then had a change of heart. I couldn’t accept this price, which was more than the ticket I’d bought for the game.

So what did I do? I drove around the city for 10 minutes before returning to the lot and handing the attendant two $20 bills. Argh. That took a little of the wind out of my sails, but when I got out of my car and turned the corner, this sight quickly cheered me up:

Although I’d done a million laps of Fenway Park and the surrounding area when I was here for the Futures game, I enjoyed wandering around again. With a Red Sox game a few hours away, there was definitely more electricity in the air, even with the Sox’ struggles this season. Instead of repeating the same type of shots as in my Futures post, I’ll focus on things I didn’t see/share last time.

I checked out the statue of the recently deceased Johnny Pesky, which had crowds around it whenever I saw it:

I returned again to the Bleacher Bar (but didn’t get IDed this time) where I could look through the gate to see a couple Red Sox during batting practice:

By now, the streets were starting to fill up, and I continued to walk around and snap photos.  One of the coolest areas outside Fenway Park is the wall covered in player banners and retired numbers. Trivia time: Anyone know the weirdly ironic connection between the Tris Speaker banner and Jackie Robinson number?

After a while, I picked up my ticket at the will call window. I love the 100 Years logo on these tickets:

Since I’d done a lot of walking, I decided to get in line and wait for the street to open back up again. As I waited, I looked over at the NESN set, and guess who I saw? Peter Gammons:

It was a good thing I got in line when I did, because check out what the scene looked like ahead of me:

Soon enough, the gates opened up and I stepped into Fenway Park for my first Red Sox game. Although the crowds were fierce, the seating bowl wasn’t overly stuffed, so I was able to make it down to the front row behind home plate for batting practice:

After a few minutes watching from here, I moved over to the first base side and had this view:

My mission was to get close to Pesky’s Pole, as I hadn’t been able to do so during my previous visit. I still wasn’t sure about the legality of signing it, but given that it’s completely covered in signatures, I wanted to give it a shot. When the crowd dispersed slightly, I made it up to the pole and signed my name quickly. You can see it right in the center of the right side of the pole. Yep, it’s the one with all those Ms and Ls:

As I milled around at field level, I was able to see a handful of Red Sox stretching. I should note that I visited a few days before the mega Boston-Los Angeles trade, but even still, the Sox lineup wasn’t exactly brimming with superstars because of injuries. Still, it was cool to see Jarrod Saltalamacchia (so close I could see the white paint on his fingernails):

Shortly before 7 p.m., I made my way toward my first vantage point of the game. I had a standing room only ticket that gave me free reign anywhere in the infield, provided I wasn’t actually in the seating bowl. Tickets like this are common at Fenway Park; in many standing room areas, people are four and five deep. On the third base side, I peered through the crowds and had this view during the anthem:

Then, in a tribute to Pesky, the Sox did three cool things. They draped the Green Monster in an American flag:

Pointed out the #6 cut into the grass in left field:

And Pesky’s son threw out the first pitch:

As the game was seconds from getting underway, I managed to squeeze into a tight spot at a railing, which gave me something to lean against, at least. The view wasn’t exactly superb, but it just seemed like part of the Fenway Park experience. Here’s what I saw from my spot:

From here, parts of the field were slightly obstructed, but I had a perfect view of the plate, which was perfect given that I really wanted to see Mike Trout:

I watched an inning or two from this spot, and then decided to continue trekking around. I enjoy walking, but I’m not a huge fan of standing. I ventured toward the left field corner where I saw this neat-looking sign:

And when I followed the arrow, I made it to a spot overlooking the Monster, which was packed:

If you’re wondering, there’s no sneaking onto it; security here is very tight. From roughly the same area, I turned and captured this panorama of the park before it got too dark:

Remember how I had the Bud Deck virtually to myself during the Futures at Fenway game? That wasn’t the case during this visit:

Somewhere high above the third base side, I came across a wall featuring concert posters of acts that have played at Fenway. I thought I’d walked around the entire park during my earlier visit, but I completely missed this. The display was really neat and featured acts from the Rolling Stones to Boston bands like the Dropkick Murphys and Mighty Mighty Bosstones.

From there, I went all the way to the other side of the park — back to the Bud Deck, where I looked down on the sea of people in the right field bleachers. I like how this shot turned out. Can you see the Lone Red Seat? I sure can’t:

Last year, I took two long road trips in May and June. This year, my first trip was in May, but I hadn’t taken an extended trip as late as August until now. One thing I realized is that late-summer trips aren’t as conducive to photos. In May and June, for example, I can take pretty decent photos up until perhaps the seventh inning or so. But in August, things are dark around the third or fourth inning, which means photos are a little more challenging. Before things got too dark, I took this photo of the purple sky above the press box:

And this panorama of the city:

As the sky got darker, I found a somewhat low-traffic standing-room spot on the first base side and stood there for the rest of the game. When I zoomed in with my camera, I could still take half-decent shots …

… but that soon became more difficult. So, I put my camera away, leaned against a wall and enjoyed the best sport in the world in the sport’s most celebrated venue.

Futures at Fenway – August 18

Finally, the day of my first visit to Fenway Park was here. But this visit had a twist. Instead of seeing the Boston Red Sox, I’d be attending the seventh Futures at Fenway day, which features a pair of Minor League games for affiliates of the Red Sox. The premise is the Minor Leaguers will get to play a game at Fenway and the fans will get to enjoy a full day of baseball for relatively low prices. This year, the two Boston affiliates in action were the Short-Season A Lowell Spinners and the Triple-A Pawtucket Red Sox.

I’ve wanted to go to this event since I first heard about it a few years back, and the timing here could not be more perfect. I’ll be checking out the BoSox on August 21 and 22, but beforehand, I get the opportunity to explore Fenway Park without it being absolutely packed.

Nearly everyone I’ve talked to about going to Fenway Park says to never consider driving. Instead, they say, leave your car in the outskirts of the city and take the train in. I decided to drive right down to the park for this event, however, because I knew it wouldn’t be as busy as a Red Sox game and it was Saturday morning when I got to town. It turns out that driving was perfectly fine on this day, and despite all the parking lots charging $25 and $30 for the day, I managed to park about a block away for just $10. This was the view from the lot, and you can see the famous Citgo sign that’s visible from inside Fenway:

After a few seconds of walking, I rounded a corner and this was the scene before me:

It’s hard not to get pumped just reliving the experience through these photos. It truly was amazing to see Fenway Park standing before me for the first time.

It seemed like I was the only person in the area without some sort of Red Sox garment, so I quickly stopped at the first team shop I saw and bought a Fenway 100 cap, which incidentally knocks off two items on my to-do list for the trip — get a new cap and get something with the Fenway 100 logo.

It’s a crappy photo, but here’s a shot of me with the cap as I’m standing at the mouth of the legendary Yawkey Way:

Now, I should say that I’m not going to go nuts with the photos in this post. Well, maybe a bit, but considering I took nearly 400 and I’ll be at Fenway twice more this week, I need to practice some moderation. A bit about Yawkey Way: It’s a street along one side of the ballpark and it’s full of cool things to see and do. One side is basically a humongous merchandise store and the other side has food vendors. It’s open before the game, but a short while before the park’s gates open, everyone is cleared out of Yawkey Way and it’s blocked off. This is done so that after you enter the park, you can go out to Yawkey Way and still get back inside when you want. It’s basically an extension of Fenway Park.

The side of the ballpark is lined with World Series banners:

And as for that merchandise store I mentioned? It’s as big as a warehouse and sells anything you could ever want if you’re a Red Sox fan.  This is just one part of the store:

The part I liked best was a back room full of memorabilia, including game-used bats and jerseys, signed baseballs and so much more. They even had Fenway Park bricks for sale for $75! Some of the displays were set up like locker stalls:

I spent a fair bit of time browsing around the store, and then exited back onto Yawkey Way and took a shot of my Futures at Fenway ticket, which is cool to add to my collection:

Next up was a stop at the bleacher bar (I got IDed on the way in!), which is a bar basically under the outfield bleachers. I just wanted to go in and take a photo of the field, and that’s exactly what I did:

I took two giant laps around Fenway Park, taking photos along the way to document all the sights. It was amazing just to be there, next to the building that is arguably the most famous in all of North American sports. I found it neat that while I’m sure the park is structurally sound, there are a lot of spots that have plenty of character, like this corner of the building:

I also saw the Howard Johnson hotel next to the ballpark, which looks run-down. But it’s noteworthy in that it’s the hotel that Ben Affleck visits while planning the Fenway Park robbery in The Town. If you watch the trailer in the link I just provided, you’ll see the exact same curtains as those on the ground floor of this photo in the scene with Affleck at the 2:05 mark:

OK, one more movie trivia thing. At exactly 1:59 of the trailer, you’ll see the team shop in the following photo in the background:

Eventually, the area around the park started getting crowded, although I’m sure that I’ll soon learn this crowd is nothing like that at a Sox game:

On my walk around the park, I got a bunch of photos of the back of the video board, which is decorated with the Fenway Park 100 Years logo:

Finally, about an hour before first pitch, the gates opened up and I was in! As soon as I entered, I didn’t get the same overwhelming feeling that is easy to get at a lot of parks. It was more of a, “I just want to see everything” feeling. As I wandered, I took shots of many of Fenway’s trademark sights, including the retired numbers:

The press box:

And, of course, the Green Monster:

And the Green Monster with me:

The entire time I just had this feeling of, “I can’t believe I’m here.” I don’t tend to like people who tell me that I “should” go do something, but if you’re a baseball fan and haven’t been here, I’ll just say that you’ll love it. I wasn’t sure if it would completely meet my expectations, as I’ve wanted to come here forever and it’s easy to build something up in your mind. But it was way more than I expected.

Futures at Fenway had a Star Wars theme this year, so you’ll see a number of Star Wars-related photos throughout this post. There was a pre-game parade of Star Wars characters, too. It was made up of kids in cute costumes and adults who, well, wear Star Wars costumes. You know the type. (Let’s just say that several hours after the parade was over, I still saw many of the adults marching around the concourse in full costume, looking sinister.)

Soon enough, it was time for the player introductions, and I happened to be just on the visitors’ side of home plate, so I took this panorama to capture everything:

As expected, the Sox had a nice tribute to Johnny Pesky, who’d died the week before. This was the first game at Fenway Park since his death. I didn’t get down to check out Pesky’s Pole, but I hope to do that in my follow-up visits to Fenway. He was honored on the video board in center field:

In keeping with the Star Wars theme, Darth Vader threw out the first pitch — only he did so from atop the Green Monster. The next photo isn’t the greatest, but here’s what the scene looked like:

I think he was using “the force” to throw the pitch, which traveled all the way to the wall behind home plate. (He may have been aided by the string to which the ball was attached.) It was all very funny. As you can see here, the ball is zooming past the managers and umpires exchanging scorecards. It’s in the air, too, although it somewhat looks like it’s on the grass:

As the game was about to begin, I found a great spot to sit — the Budweiser Right Field Roof Deck in right field. As you can see below, areas like this one were nearly empty during Futures at Fenway, which gave me an awesome opportunity to move around and check things out. I sat at a table right above Ted Williams’ number nine:

I had the video boards just to my right …

… and the bullpens below and to my right:

The starting pitcher for Lowell was a rookie named Brian Johnson, a 2012 draft pick. It wasn’t a very good day for the poor guy; on just the second pitch of the game, he took a line drive to the face off the bat of Hudson Valley’s Joey Rickard. It was a scary sight, and about the last thing you ever want to see at any level of baseball. The game was delayed for several minutes while Johnson was attended to …

… and eventually carted off:

He sustained multiple fractures of his orbital bone, but had no signs of a concussion. Let’s hope he heals as quickly as possible. You feel for anyone who suffers this injury, but to have his Fenway experience end so prematurely is sad.

After a couple innings, I continued my exploring. There’s an awesome pavilion area in the outfield that is not only lined with concession stands, but also has bricks donated by Sox fans and players’ hand prints, just like in Hollywood. Here’s longtime Sox catcher and captain Jason Varitek:

All my walking had definitely worked up an appetite, and given that I was in a big concession area, it was the perfect time for lunch. I settled on a steak and cheese sandwich with peppers, onions and hot sauce (a Philly cheesesteak by any other name, although perhaps anything with Philly in its name wouldn’t sell well in Boston):

And I couldn’t resist a souvenir cup of pop, which meets my soft drink quota for the next, oh, year or two:

I ate my lunch down in the right field bleachers, and if you’re able to peek past my giant cup, you’ll see the crowds weren’t bad at all. Once I’d eaten (but it would take me probably 45 minutes to drink all that pop) I went back up to the Bud Deck where I took a self-portrait:

I absolutely loved this spot that I’d found, so I hung out here (and in another bar-style area nearby) for much of both games. I didn’t want to go nuts with exploring, because I’ve got two more chances to do so. As I said earlier, I had a close-up view of the video board, where I saw that Lowell’s Matty Johnson looks old and wise …

… and Hudson Valley’s Justin O’Connor is sporting the latest in batting helmets:

Midway through the game, I resumed my trekking around and saw a bunch of neat historical displays, such as framed replicas of every Sports Illustrated featuring a Red Sox player on the cover …

… and wall with plaques recognizing a number of key moments in the team’s history:

I also ducked into the State Street Pavilion bar behind home plate (I didn’t get IDed this time!) and took a shot of the view …

… as well as of the bar itself:

Afterward, I went over to the left field corner, right near the entrance to the Green Monster seats. I looked back into the right field bleachers and was delighted at what I saw:

The Lone Red Seat was open! I’d been keeping an eye on the seat all game, and it was always occupied. And although I was literally the farthest away I could get, I set out on a “walking with purpose” route that took me right to the area. When I got there …

… success! The Lone Red Seat is one of Fenway’s must-see sights. It’s represents the longest home run ever hit in the park — a Ted Williams blast in 1946 that landed on the fan in the seat, exactly 502 feet from home plate. The fan, whose straw hat was “penetrated,” according to Wikipedia, reportedly said, “How far away must one sit to be safe?” Awesome.

I occupied the seat for a half inning and shot this panorama from one of the most famous seats in all of sports:

I tried to get a shot of myself in the seat with the red showing, but most of the images just show my crotch. I shall not be posting them on here.

Or will I? BWA HA HA!

For those of you still reading, here’s what the Pesky Pole looks like from afar:

I’d love to sign it, but need to find out whether fans are actually allowed to, or do they just sign it anyway? I imagine it’s the former, as you’d think the ushers would be on top of things if it wasn’t permitted.

For the last three innings of the first game, I found a seat down the third base side to take some action photos. I’ve got to say that Fenway’s ushers were remarkably helpful/easygoing. Maybe they’ll be more vigilant during Red Sox games, but on Saturday, they were great.

Here’s Lowell’s Matty Johnson stealing second:

And Hudson Valley’s Dylan Floro, who got roughed up but hung on in a very exciting ninth inning:

Final score: Hudson Valley 6, Lowell 5:

Boy, we’re at nearly 2,200 words and I haven’t reached the second game of the doubleheader yet. Fortunately, I didn’t take as many photos during the Buffalo Bisons vs. Pawtucket Red Sox game. By 5 p.m., which is roughly when the game began, I’d been at Fenway Park for more than seven hours, and I was ready to just find a quiet area, get off my feet and enjoy the game. So that’s exactly what I did. I’ve seen the Bisons play twice in the past, including this season, but I’ve only seen the PawSox in action once — way back in 2010. (Although I’ll see them again on this trip.)

First, though, I went back out to Yawkey Way before the second game …

… toured through the team shop again:

And then stood in the concourse while the Spinners passed by on their way to a post-game autograph session:

As the Bisons and Sox were starting to warm up, I watched the action for a few minutes from the right field seats:

But once the game was set to begin, I went back up to the roof deck in the right field corner where I was literally the only spectator seated in the area. I watched the entire second game with this view — although, technically, the popcorn level went down steadily and the souvenir cup eventually went into my backpack so I wouldn’t have to think about how much soda I’d had today:

I took a handful of photos from this spot, but most are pretty similar to others through this blog entry, so I’ll leave you with one final shot:

The entire Futures at Fenway experience was phenomenal. I highly recommend it to everyone, whether you’ve been to Fenway or not. It’s a great way to get accustomed to the park without giant crowds or huge expense. And speaking of crowds, I’d be seeing the Red Sox at Fenway in just a couple days. But in the meantime, there were stops at the home parks of two of the teams involved in the Futures doubleheader — Pawtucket and Lowell.