Tagged: Fort Wayne TinCaps

I’m on a Professional Baseball Jersey!

When I was a kid, I dreamed that one day, my name would be on a professional baseball jersey.

It took a while, but it’s finally happened!

OK, so it’s not exactly what I dreamed about. But I’m still pretty excited.

This spring, I read that the Fort Wayne TinCaps would be wearing a special social media jersey for a game in June. Promo jerseys are nothing new in the minor leagues, but this one made me take notice — it would feature the Twitter handles of all 6,000-odd of the team’s followers. Awesome, right?

I started following the ‘Caps on Twitter early in 2011, before I visited Parkview Field in May of that year. That visit still ranks as one of my favorite ballpark experiences, and you can read all about it here. The highlight, though, was this: During the game, TinCaps general manager Mike Nutter introduced himself and gave me a lengthy tour of the ballpark, including a stop in the clubhouse and tunnel next to the dugout. I’ve semi-kept in touch with Mike via Twitter since then, and I sent him an excited tweet upon hearing about the social media jersey. He responded right away, assuring me I’d be on the jersey, and that was all I needed to hear.

While it was temping to travel to Fort Wayne in June to watch the game and bid on a game-used jersey, I restrained myself and waited till the one-of-a-kind items came on sale that month. I bought one online and when it arrived last week, I excitedly tore open the package and unfolded the marvelous-looking jersey:


See how the team’s name is “@TinCaps,” rather than just “TinCaps?” Super cool.

And, in keeping with the social media theme, check out the logo on the right sleeve:


And check out the special commemorative badge noting the date the jerseys were worn:


Once I’d marveled at the look of the jersey, the lengthy process of finding my Twitter name began. I was also keeping an eye out for Craig Wieczorkiewicz’s Twitter name. You hopefully know Craig as the Midwest League Traveler, and he and I have been excitedly exchanging tweets about this jersey for a couple months. I spent the afternoon searching for both names at regular intervals. I’d stop when I was a little cross-eyed and resume a short time later.

No luck.

Later that evening, I was showing my wife the jersey and we both looked for a few seconds before she pointed out a Twitter name that included the word “baseball,” and groaned, “Ah, I thought that was you!” I looked in the direction of where she was pointing and somehow managed to immediately spot my name, @BallparkGuide:


It turns out my name is on the front of the jersey, roughly below the “a” in “@TinCaps” and between the fourth and fifth buttons. (I know you were wondering.)

I’m still busy scouring the jersey for Craig’s name and am having fun noticing the other MiLB clubs and people I’ve met on Twitter.

And that brings me to my next point: Is your Twitter name is on the jersey? Would you like to know where it’s located and get a picture of it? I’m happy to help. All I’m asking in return is to support my baseball road trips by making a small donation to The Ballpark Guide, and then I’ll track down your name and get in touch with you.

Top 10 Ballpark Food I’ve Eaten

As I mentioned yesterday on Twitter, I’ve been working on compiling a list of the top 10 food items I’ve eaten on my travels.

Well, the results are in, and I’ve got a number of tasty items that you must try if you ever have the chance. Before we begin, let’s go over the ground rules:

1. I’m only counting food I’ve eaten at parks I’ve visited. You won’t see any items on this list that I haven’t eaten or sold at parks I haven’t visited.
2. I’m looking at individual food items, rather than a ballpark’s overall selection.

Let’s begin!

10. Pulled pork nachos – Classic Park – Lake County Captains

You might think you’d need to reach for some Tums after getting through these ample nachos, but they’re not heavy in a bad way. The pulled pork was excellent and better than I’d expect to find at a ballpark. The one knock on these was the server forgot to give me cheese.

9. Apple crisp – Parkview Field – Fort Wayne TinCaps

Parkview Field has several apple-themed dishes on its menu, given that Fort Wayne in the place Johnny Appleseed is buried. The apple crisp was the best ballpark dessert I’ve ever eaten. (And the ‘Caps helmet it’s served in is a cool bonus.) Visit my website to read about all the apple treats and other food items at Parkview Field.

8. Clam chowder – Northeast Delta Dental Stadium – New Hampshire Fisher Cats

I ate Northeast Delta Dental Stadium’s clam chowder on a July evening last year, and even though it was a hot day, really enjoyed the soup. I can see it being the perfect ballpark food on a cold April or September night. The clam chowder isn’t the only seafood item on the menu here. Here’s the full list.

7. Philly cheesesteak – Cooley Law School Stadium – Lansing Lugnuts

I wasn’t a huge fan of the processed cheese goop on the Philly cheesesteak in Lansing, but the bun was fresh, the steak was perfect and the onions and peppers were savory.

6. Old Bay pretzel – Prince George’s Stadium – Bowie Baysox

Crab might as well be the official food of Maryland, and if you’re having crab, you need to season it with Old Bay. This cheese-filled jumbo pretzel was rolled in Old Bay. Dangerously perfect.

5. Boog’s BBQ turkey sandwich – Oriole Park at Camden Yards – Baltimore Orioles

I tried turkey and pork sammies at Boog’s BBQ in Baltimore, and the turkey one ranked higher in my books. It’s expensive, but you get an ample amount of meat and can also load up on onions, Old Bay, BBQ sauce and horseradish.

4. Shopsy’s Bill Cosby Triple Decker – Rogers Centre – Toronto Blue Jays

Shopsy’s makes darned good deli sandwiches and the Bill Cosby Triple Decker was outstanding. It was huge, filling and not as greasy as you might expect. The coleslaw and pickle were a nice addition, affirming that I’d eaten healthily by getting a meal with “vegetables.”

3. Quaker Steak & Lube chicken wings – Rogers Centre – Toronto Blue Jays

Quaker Stake & Lube wings are delicious, and surprisingly, the quality doesn’t drop off when served at a stadium. I’ve had several flavors of these wings at Rogers Centre, and they’re all winners in my book.

2. Buffalo chicken macaroni and cheese – Frontier Field – Rochester Red Wings

Mac and cheese? Check. Chicken and hot sauce? Check. Blue cheese dressing? Check. Simply the best mac and cheese I’ve ever had anywhere. If you’re in Rochester, don’t pass up a chance to try any of the gourmet mac and cheeses. On my website, I’ve got a complete rundown of Frontier Field’s delicious foods.

1. Bo Brooks crab cake sandwich – Ripken Stadium – Aberdeen IronBirds

Aberdeen’s menu offers many variations on crab and the crab cake sandwich was killer. On a fresh bun atop lettuce and tomato, and seasoned with plenty of Old Bay, this is the type of sandwich you could eat every inning. Definitely worth the drive if you’re remotely in the area. Visit my website for a complete guide to Ripken Stadium’s food selection.

I’m curious to hear about the amazing food other people have eaten, and where. I’ll be sure to check it out!

As always, follow me on Twitter to read the latest about my website, my blog and my travels.

Shirts I’ve Collected

Last week, I blogged about the six caps I’ve bought during my travels around Major League and Minor League Baseball.

This week, I want to continue the sports-centered wardrobe theme and talk about some of the shirts I’ve bought and received through stadium giveaways. As I’ve said, I don’t buy a hat at every park I visit. The same holds true for shirts and other memorabilia. Still, when the price is right and I like the look of something, I’ll add it to my collection.

Dating back to my first baseball road trips for The Ballpark Guide in 2010, here’s what I’ve picked up:

Cleveland Indians – Travis Hafner jersey shirt

This isn’t a traditional jersey shirt; you’ll see that it has Hafner’s nickname, Pronk, on the back. I’m a Hafner fan, and thought this shirt was unique.

New Hampshire Fisher Cats 1

When I visited New Hampshire’s (now called Northeast Delta Dental Stadium) in September 2010, the team was about to play what would be its final playoff game of the season. As such, most of the products in the team shop were on sale. I picked up this T-shirt for under $10.

New Hampshire Fisher Cats 2

I got this one for around $10, too. Not bad for a Nike product, and I like the look of it.

Great Lakes Loons

When I watched the Great Lakes Loons play in May 2011, I visited the team shop during a long rain delay. This shirt was priced way less than other comparable products, so I bought it. What I didn’t notice at the time is that the logo is significantly closer to the left sleeve. (Hence the price reduction.) Still, I like this shirt because it’s one baseball shirt that isn’t gaudy.

West Michigan Whitecaps

Speaking of gaudy (in a good way, of course), this bright red Whitecaps shirt featuring their logo is eye catching. Most of the shirts I’ve gotten are white, so this one stands out in my closet.

Fort Wayne TinCaps

Perhaps partly influenced by my amazing visit to beautiful Parkview Field, this TinCaps shirt is one of my favorites. I like its design and the fact it uses the MiLB logo in a prominent spot. Plus, who doesn’t like angry apples?

Lake County Captains

I wasn’t around to see Lake County win the first half of the Midwest League championship in 2010, but I liked this shirt enough to buy it in 2011.

Delmarva Shorebirds

I’m a big fan of this simple Shorebirds T-shirt by Nike. I like Delmarva’s logo and the simple design of this shirt.

Baltimore Orioles 1

When I was in B-More, I was lucky enough to attend a game with a T-shirt giveaway. The T-shirt this day was J.J. Hardy.

Baltimore Orioles 2

Last summer, Chevrolet heavily promoted the Volt at MLB stadiums, including Camden Yards. If you signed up to receive Chevrolet marketing material, you got a free T-shirt. Count me in! And, if you wanted to sign up multiple times, you’d get multiple shirts ….

Washington Nationals 1

A couple days after I was in Baltimore, I was in the nation’s capital over the July 4 long weekend. The Nats gave away American flag-themed T-shirts at the gate.

Washington Nationals 2

Just like in Baltimore, Chevrolet had a kiosk promoting the Volt. I managed to get, uh, a few of these shirts, too.

Binghamton Mets

On July 4, I stopped in Binghamton to see the B-Mets battle the Portland Sea Dogs before an impressive fireworks show at NYSEG Stadium. During the game, I picked up what’s become one of my favorite items — a B-Mets pullover. These are the shirts the players wear during BP, in the dugout and while warming up. It’s awesome.

But what about game-used items? You’ll just have to check back tomorrow for some goodies that fall under that category.

Game Programs

I’m a huge fan of taking in the entire ballpark experience every time I watch a game. For me, this typically means trying to snag a foul ball, getting a handful of autographs and eating some unique food. It also includes grabbing a game program and checking out what it has to offer. My stipulation, however, is that I rarely get programs if you have to pay for them. I’m not big on paying for something I’ll likely only flip through once, and if I buy one, I’m less likely to want to throw it out later.

I don’t have programs from every ballpark I’ve visited, but I have a handful that range from amazing to bland. Here’s a look at them.

Aberdeen IronBirds

For a Short-Season A franchise, Aberdeen’s “First Pitch” program has a lot to offer. For one, it’s printed specifically for the game you’re attending. (Most teams print programs per series, week or homestand.) It’s got a clean, attractive cover and a preview of the night’s game. Because the program is printed for each game, all the standings and stats are up to date, which is a huge bonus for a stats guy like me. A couple standout features in this edition of “First Pitch” were a list of IronBirds with Twitter accounts and a well-illustrated diagram of pitcher Aaron Wirsch’s four pitches, along with commentary from the pitcher himself.

Bowie Baysox

Baltimore’s AA franchise in Bowie provides a program called “Baywatch” for each home series. This one had a decent fan guide to Prince George’s Stadium, a list of former Baysox who’ve made the Major Leagues and a discussion between the team’s infielders on turning a double play.

Cleveland Indians

The Indians’ “Batter Up!” is given out free and printed for each series. Of course, you can also buy a more in-depth game program, but this one’s worth picking up. It’s got a good concession directory, a fan guide to Progressive Field and a couple interesting articles. I was also impressed with the full-page ad for Cleveland’s Midwest League affiliate, the Lake County Captains, who play just 15 minutes outside of C-Town.

Delmarva Shorebirds

A South Atlantic League franchise, the Shorebirds program “Play Ball” is one of the shortest I’ve seen. Still, it contains a couple interesting stories on Shorebirds players, a decent look at the team’s opponents and a nice, comprehensive breakdown of each team in the Baltimore Orioles system.

Fort Wayne TinCaps

Fort Wayne’s “Gameday” program is printed each homestand, which is pretty much the norm in the Minor Leagues. This one had pink as a dominant color, given the theme of the team’s homestand, Turn the Park Pink for breast cancer awareness. This program featured a thorough, five-page guide to Parkview Field’s food and interesting features such as a tutorial on how to score a game, a map showing the location of each Midwest League franchise and a couple articles about the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

New Hampshire Fisher Cats

New Hampshire offers an amazing fan experience, but there wasn’t anything to write home about in the “Inside Pitch” free program. The schedules, stats, rosters and promotional schedules were all handy, but they’re all things you’d expect to find here. The worst part was the ads, even though I know they’re necessary. Early in the program, 22 out of 23 straight pages were full ads. Ugh.

Potomac Nationals

The P-Nats, as they’re often called, provide a standard gameday program for free. It’s got all the things you’d expect, but a few interesting pages are the breakdown of the Washington Nationals’ farm system and a look at the Carolina League franchises. Additionally, this program isn’t overly laden with ads.

Rochester Red Wings

After spending two sentences explaining how I don’t buy programs, I’ll quickly recant that statement to say I spent $1 on Rochester’s yearbook during my first ballpark trip in 2010. Simply put, it’s one of the best programs I’ve ever seen, and for $1, it’s a real bargain. This baby is more than 100 pages long and contains a ton of interesting information — not just ads and more ads. The highlights of this edition were a look at the Red Wings’ uniforms throughout the years, an article about Stan Musial’s time as a Red Wing, in-depth player profiles, a pretty good guide to Frontier Field and an ultra-thorough map of the where to find every food item sold at the ballpark. (In case you’re wondering, the cover is damaged because I spilled water on it. Oops.)

Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees

The big perk to the S/W-B Yankees’ “Play Ball!” program is like the IronBirds, it’s printed for the game you’re attending. Although it’s relatively short in length, “Play Ball!” has an interesting game preview, a “This Date in Yankees History” page and an interesting section about the players to watch from the visiting team.

Toledo Mud Hens

It’s a toss-up whether Toledo or Rochester has the best program I’ve seen so far on my travels. “The Muddy Times” is amazing, and might get the nod over Rochester because it’s free. This book is giant, measuring 9.5 by 12 inches and numbering 112 pages. The pages are newsprint, but they’re thick and in full color. I love the cover shot, as well as the in-depth player and coach profiles, the 2010 season review, some good player Q&As and an awesome two-page spread on the Detroit Tigers’ top 10 prospects, written by Baseball America. This is the type of program you’d spend $5 on and still feel as though you got your value.

Washington Nationals

Like Cleveland, the Nats hand out a free game program to complement their paid program. “Inside Pitch” (which is the same title as New Hampshire’s program) is printed on thick paper, which is a definite upgrade over the newsprint in some programs. This one has an extensive Nationals Park fan guide, a guide on how to score a game and even two removable player cards (Jason Marquis and Michael Morse).

Fort Wayne TinCaps – May 27

In a word, awesome. That’s how I’d describe my May 27 visit to Fort Wayne, IN, to watch the Midwest League’s TinCaps take on the Great Lakes Loons at beautiful Parkview Field. A few days previous, I’d watched the Loons play at Dow Diamond, and had a great time.

My visit to Fort Wayne, however, was off the charts. No, I didn’t get any foul balls, and no, I didn’t chase players for autographs. My experience was even better.

I got to Fort Wayne in the evening after a morning Mud Hens game in Toledo, and the drive was awful. Heavy rainfalls and flooding meant huge delays and scenes like this one:

When I finally arrived at my hotel, I checked in, ate dinner and got some work done. The TinCaps weren’t playing that night, so I’d have to wait 24 hours. Twenty-four hours later, I drove 14 minutes from my hotel to downtown Fort Wayne, and found $3 parking a block away from Parkview Field. The TinCaps do parking the right way; parking at Minor League facilities shouldn’t cost a lot, so the team does graduated parking. If you want to park next to the stadium, it’ll cost you more than a spot, say, one minutes’ walk away. Smart.

Anyway, I parked in the cheapest lot and had a very short walk through a couple other lots until I reached the stadium:

When I got there, I saw the Loons’ bus parked beside a loading area:

Parkview Field has an amazing pavilion in front of it. On this day, the trees were decorated with pink ribbons as it was breast cancer awareness day at the park:

There’s a team store, The Orchard, located to the left of the main gates:

The ticket office is over to the right, and I walked up and bought one in section 106:

With 15 minutes until the gates opened, I had time to take my usual walk around the ballpark. The team’s offices are located along the left side of the facility, when eventually opens up into a ramp that vehicles use to access the field:

The main street beyond left field, West Jefferson Boulevard, has a couple fast-foot joints, and there’s a large pit just over the outfield fence:

Later, I learned that a building housing condominiums, retail and a gym will be going into this area as part of the stadium and city’s downtown face-lift efforts. Pretty nice. There’s another gate in center field, which has an open concourse area:

Eventually, I toured back to the home plate gate and waited for the gates to open. A super nice detail about Parkview Field is that the gates open 1:15 before game time. Virtually every other MiLB ballpark’s gates open one hour early, and by the time you get in, all the players are gone. When I got in, batting practice was still on, and some infield drills followed. When they did, I ran in and found a spot in right field to take a panorama during BP:

From my spot, I had a good view of the cage:

As I said, I didn’t get a ball, unfortunately. One bounced off the wall on the fly directly below me, but it was too low to reach. After BP wrapped up, I moved down to the first base-side bullpen area to watch infield drills and keep my fingers crossed that an errant ball would come my way. No luck again. I did, however, take a field-level panorama from the bullpen area:

Already, I could see that Parkview Field had a ton of places to sit. I love ballparks that have multiple seating options. I’ll often watch an inning or two from my actual seat, then watch the rest of the innings from different locations. As you can see in my first panorama above, there are large picnic areas down both base lines. These are reserved, but in the outfield, there are a ton of areas to sit and watch:

A subsequent walk around the concourse yielded lots of neat things to see, including, from top to bottom: TinCaps-themed garbage and recycling cans (nice to see a team with a green focus, as I’m a recycling freak); The Orchard and a giant Johnny Appleseed bobblehead (the real Johnny Appleseed is buried just outside Fort Wayne); the team’s 2009 Midwest League championship trophy and other assorted honors; and a giant kids’ play area in the left field corner, complete with a rock climbing wall:

Here’s a panorama from the left field corner that shows not only Parkview Field, but the other downtown developments that was part of the stadium package:

The beige structure on the left is a 249-room Courtyard by Marriott hotel and the brick building behind the scoreboard is a convention center and parking garage. Oh, and it’s got one of the coolest seating sections in the Minors, but we’ll get to that later.

There’s a catch to the large centerfield pavilion area. It’s more than just a place for kids to run around during the ballgame. At 7 a.m. daily, the stadium gates are opened and this area, as well as the entire concourse of the stadium, is used as a walking path for local walking groups. Talk about a community facility:

Pretty soon, the concourse started to fill up:

And I came across one of the neatest features I’ve seen at any ballpark. Along the first base concourse, there’s a batting cage that’s used by the players before the game and open to fans during the game. It’s encased with garage door-style roll-up doors, so my pictures weren’t perfect, but I hope you get the idea:

I got a photo when the teams came out for the national anthem:

(The TinCaps were wearing pink jerseys tonight.) I went behind home plate to take a panorama of the Caps warming up …

… and snapped a picture of some great, close-to-the-action seats:

Parkview Field has an impressive concessions menu, including barbecued turkey legs:

Their prices are also among the best I’ve seen, and I opted for a couple plain, ol’ hot dogs. I found a standing spot behind the fence in right-center, and started shooting the breeze with one of the TinCaps ushers. Actually, I found that numerous ushers were super friendly, but this usher and I had a great time talking about baseball and baseball roadtrips, and I told him about my website. My usher friend didn’t give me permission to use his name, so I’ll keep him anonymous, but it’s always great to meet another baseball fan with whom you can converse. I spent a few innings talking to him, and eventually he disappeared to make his rounds. When I was taking this picture …

… I felt someone come up and stand beside me. I thought it was just another fan, so I kept looking through my camera, then stopped and glanced over at him.

“Hi, I’m Mike. I’m the GM of the TinCaps. I heard about you and your website. Would you like a tour of Parkview Field?” he asked.

Uhh, yes!! (Double exclamation marks are seldom warranted, but they are here.)

My usher friend had tracked down GM Mike Nutter, told him about my site, told him where to find me, and in the middle of the game, he devoted a good half hour to touring me around privately. You can take guided, behind-the-scenes tours at plenty of MLB and MiLB facilities, but a private tour from the GM? This definitely goes down as a huge highlight of my trip.

He took me up behind home plate in the suite areas, which contain a giant dining room and all sorts of good food:

Then we went into a suite that was empty on this night, where I took this shot:

I should say, I’m not a suite guy. I like being down near the field and really experiencing the game. But these suites were a great combination of business and pleasure. You can open the sliding glass doors and sit in box seats in a private ledge area to enjoy the game. It doesn’t get any better.

Following the suite tour, it was through the pressbox and into the booth from which the team controls all aspects of the production of a game. The stadium announcer sits here, as do the guys who control the music, scoreboard and other aspects of the stadium. They were great, too, taking time in the middle of the game to talk to me about my website and my roadtrip.

Mike asked if I wanted to see the clubhouse, and I imagine you know my answer. We walked through the doors, which contain a warning to media and and breakdown of Minor League Baseball rule 6.02(d), which requires batters to keep one foot in the box throughout the entire at-bat. I imagine this is to encourage fast play and nip any future Nomars in the bud:

The clubhouse itself was amazing (and extra messy because the TinCaps had just returned from a roadtrip, Mike assured me):

Here’s a close-up to show the San Diego Padres duffel bags, the TinCaps chairs, the uniforms and the bats:

After the clubhouse, we saw the trainers’ room, the team lounge (complete with Guitar Hero) and a room in which the team eats its post-game meals. (Sorry, no photos of these.)

Remember the ultra-close seats just behind the on-deck circle? Our tour trumped these, and we watched part of an inning from the tunnel at the end of the TinCaps dugout:

Eventually, our tour took us to the convention center, which is the brick building beyond right field that houses that rooftop party deck reminiscent of Wrigley Field. This is a look back toward the field from the lobby of the conference center:

The seating area up there is called The Treetops, and it’s reserved groups only. Why? Because it’s all-you-can-eat up there, and the menu is impressive. Best of all, it changes every three innings!

If you’re keeping score, tonight’s fare was burgers and hot dogs, grilled chicken breasts and chicken wings, pulled pork and smoked rib tips and apple crisp for dessert. As sides dishes, you could eat as much as you wanted of Parmesan and cracked pepper potato chips, fresh fruit, baked beans with smoked pork, pasta salad, mac and cheese and soft drinks. Surely, a ticket in this section has to be one of the best tickets in the Minors.

Oh, and the view is perfect, too:

I thanked Mike for the tour after seeing The Treetops, and went and found my usher friend to thank him for setting it up. And, upon seeing that apple crisp was on the Treetops menu, set off to find some for myself. Because of the Johnny Appleseed connection, there’s an entire concession stand at Parkview Field dedicated to apples. Heck, you can even buy a plain ol’ apple here:

I, however, found my apple crisp to satisfy my sweet tooth, and enjoyed it in a TinCaps helmet cup:

After the game, I stuck around to watch the fireworks show …

… then headed back to my hotel after a very satisfying experience.

Thanks to Mike Nutter, my usher friend and all the TinCaps ushers and staff members I dealt with for a great time.

West Michigan Whitecaps – May 23

After I left the game between the Great Lakes Loons and South Bend Silver Hawks at Dow Diamond on May 22, I drove all the way to Grand Rapids, Michigan in anticipation of the West Michigan Whitecaps game on May 23.

Like the Lugnuts and Loons, which I’d seen previously on this trip, the Whitecaps play in the Midwest League. They’re the affiliate of the Detroit Tigers.

The Whitecaps play at Fifth Third Ballpark (not to be confused with Toledo’s Fifth Third Field), which is in the Grand Rapids suburb of Comstock Park. The ballpark itself is right off the highway, and simple to get to. After I parked, I took a photo of the sign …

… and bought my ticket:

Fifth Third Ballpark is built up on top of a hill, and is surrounded by a lot of green space:

Touring the outside of the facility, I came across the players’ parking lot, which is to the rear of the stadium. I always like looking at players’ lots, whether it’s an MLB team’s lot or one at an MiLB park. MLB lots are full of expensive cars. MiLB? Not so much. I always like to take a brief look at the vehicles and see how many nice ones there are, then compare that number to the team’s first-round draft picks. See the brand-new Range Rover?

Now, I have no idea who it actually belongs to, but I looked up that first-rounder Nick Castellanos (who coincidently attended the same high school as Tigers catcher Alex Avila) was a first-round draft pick of the Tigers in 2010. His signing bonus? $3.45 million. So, I’m guessing he’s not driving a minivan. (This is reason 1,357 that I love baseball — it’s awesome to tour the stadiums, take in the sights and form your own conclusions about what you see.)

After walking up and down the hills surrounding the ballpark, and taking the photos to make up this panorama …

… I went around to look at the front. Here’s a view looking up the steps toward Fifth Third Ballpark …

… and a view looking down the steps:

If all the stairs make you worried about accessibility, you can get up to the gate via a long ramp:

There’s a ticket office located at the top of the stairs/ramp:

And through the chain-link fence, I could peruse a concession menu while I waited:

Once the gates opened, I headed in quickly in search of a batting practice ball. Like other MiLB parks, the gates to Fifth Third Ballpark open after BP is done, but you can occasionally find a ball in the stands.

I headed straight to the first-base side dugout and, in the second row, found this:

The picture doesn’t show it, but the other side of the ball had a huge gash, as though it had hit something sharp. Nevertheless, it was another Official Midwest League Ball! A tour of the rest of the seating turned up nothing, so I started taking in the ballpark’s different features. From top to bottom: An extensive picnic deck in right field; a picturesque waterfall area beyond third base; the pressbox area, with the Whitecaps’ five league banners from 1996, 1998, 2004, 2006 and 2007 (pretty consistent, huh?); and the two-tier Pepsi Stadium Club, which is located in right-center:

As you can see in the two photos below, Fifth Third Ballpark has both bleachers and box seats in the lower deck and suites up above:

Soon, the Whitecaps, who were playing the Fort Wayne TinCaps (Caps vs. Caps) came out to stretch:

After watching them for a bit, I took a tour around the concourse:

Fifth Third Ballpark has all sorts of concessions, including a unique tiki hut:

But everything pales in comparison to the Fifth Third Burger, which has been featured on Travel Channel’s Man vs. Food:

Note the 4,889 calories, 299.5 grams of fat and other ridiculous numbers. This burger costs $20, and is about the size of a hub cap. If you conquer it (without “reversing” it, as indicated in rule #6) you win a T-shirt. There’s an official competition area and a referee to watch you:

I didn’t tackle this monstrosity, mainly because I was at this game alone and engaging in eating challenges by one’s self = loserish. Had I been with a few buddies? Uh-oh!

Behind home plate, a daily-updated board shows the Midwest League’s standings:

I thought this was much nicer than simply writing it with a Sharpie on a white board, as many ballparks do. As you can see, the Whitecaps are dead last in the East and second last in the league, but you wouldn’t know it by their fan base. The park was loaded with passionate fans who were really into the game. And as you’ll see below, the Caps are actually fourth in Midwest League attendance:

A note to fans of the Beloit Snappers: Step your game up. Really. 628 fans a game? Brutal. Canada has lost a ton of Minor League franchises over the years because of a lack of fan interest. And it’s awful. Once it’s gone, it’s not coming back. Get out and support your team, which has an impressive alumni list including Prince Fielder.

Note: If you’re visiting Fifth Third Ballpark, see if you have an old glove you can donate. You can leave gloves in a bin inside the front gate, and the Caps will see that they’re distributed to kids who need them:

By now, the game was set to begin, so I grabbed a picnic area spot up high on the first base side to watch. Here was my view:

And here’s the foul ball I caught on a one hop in the top of the first inning:

A day earlier, when I was in Midland to watch the Great Lakes Loons, I caught a foul in the first inning, too.

After a couple innings, I grabbed an order of “super nachos” and settled in behind first base:

Once the nachos were down, I walked around the concourse again, noting the nice wooden ceilings and flat-screen TVs throughout:

I checked out the team store behind third base, and bought a Whitecaps T-shirt, then watched the next several innings from a picnic area up high on the first base side, and eventually, the sun began to set, so I snapped this panorama:

The game itself was interesting — and probably infuriating for Whitecaps fans. West Michigan starter Antonio Cruz had his best outing of the season, going 6.1 innings and allowing just one run on four hits, while striking out eight. He left the game with the lead, and after a hold by Ramon Lebron (don’t freak, Cleveland — it’s a different Lebron), Dan Gentzler allowed three earned runs in the eighth and ninth. Final score: Fort Wayne 4, West Michigan 2.

Detroit tomorrow for the first of two Tigers games!

First road trip booked!

As I write this, I’m still debating going to Syracuse in the morning for the Chiefs game against Rochester at 2 p.m. It’s a big driving commitment, but I’m anxious to get one game under my belt in 2011. Plus, as you may have read here, I’d like to get a bit more information about Alliance Bank Stadium before I write its official guide for my website, TheBallparkGuide.com.

But, whether I go to Syracuse tomorrow or not, I’ve got my first major baseball roadtrip planned.
It’ll be 12 games in 12 days in nine different ballparks. Here’s what my itinerary looks like:
Thursday, May 19: Toronto Blue Jays vs. Tampa Bay Rays
Friday, May 20: Toronto Blue Jays vs. Houston Astros
Saturday, May 21: Lansing Lugnuts vs. Bowling Green Hot Rods
Sunday, May 22: Great Lakes Loons vs. South Bend Silver Hawks
Monday, May 23: West Michigan Whitecaps vs. Fort Wayne TinCaps
Tuesday, May 24: Detroit Tigers vs. Tampa Bay Rays
Wednesday, May 25: Detroit Tigers vs. Tampa Bay Rays
Thursday, May 26: Toledo Mud Hens vs. Durham Bulls
Friday, May 27: Fort Wayne TinCaps vs. Great Lakes Loons
Saturday, May 28: Lake County Captains vs. West Michigan Whitecaps
Sunday, May 29: Erie SeaWolves vs. Reading Phillies
Monday, May 30: Toronto Blue Jays vs. Cleveland Indians
Some miscellaneous notes about these games:
– I’m going to three Jays games in this roadtrip because they’re my favorite team. I’m pumped to see three different opponents in Toronto in these three games.
– I’m ultra excited to watch the Lansing Lugnuts, the A affiliate of the Jays. One of my favorite (and Canadian!) prospects, Marcus Knecht, is ripping it up for Lansing this season. As you may have read, I met him and got his autograph last summer in Auburn. The Lugnuts are giving away bobbleheads at this game, too. The player’s identity is a mystery, but given that it’ll probably be a current Jay, I’m excited.
– I don’t know much about the Great Lakes Loons, which are the A affiliate of the Dodgers. But they play at a ballpark called Dow Diamond, which looks neat in photos I’ve seen. They’re also in northern Michigan, which is new territory to explore.
– I’ve seen the West Michigan Whitecaps profiled on a couple different food-related shows and websites, thanks to their gigantic Fifth Third Burger. It’s ridiculous. Will I try to eat it? You’ll just have to keep reading the blog to find out.
– I love Detroit. I’ve only been there once, but I liked what I saw of the city. I’m stoked to visit Comerica Park, one of the most beautiful MLB stadiums in my opinion. I’m also staying at the Greektown Casino, which looks amazing and is just a short walk from the ballpark.
– Toledo has one of the best parks in all the Minor Leagues, so I’m anxious to check it out.
– Fort Wayne is the farthest I’ll visit for a ball game this season … as far as I’ve planned so far, anyway. The TinCaps play at Parkview Field, which was build in 2009, making it one of the newest parks in the Minors.
– The day after the game in Fort Wayne, I’ve got a pretty long drive all the way to just east of Cleveland, to watch the Lake County Captains.
– A day later, I’ll be a bit closer to home, in Erie, PA. The SeaWolves game will be just the second AA game I’ll attend. (The first was last fall in New Hampshire.)
I’m also thinking about some sort of keepsake to get at each new stadium. A cap? A T-shirt? I’d love to get caps from each stadium I visit, but I’ve already got enough hats I don’t wear. Any good ideas what I should get from every new ballpark?
I’ve also got a 10-plus day roadtrip planned for June, another for August and a shorter one in September. Please bookmark this blog and keep checking my website throughout the summer