Tagged: Frederick Keys

Jeremy Nowak Baseball Card Collection

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you’ll likely recall the awesome adventure I had with Baltimore Orioles prospect Jeremy Nowak. If not, take a couple minutes to read part one and part two of the story. I’m confident that you’ll agree it’s one of the feel-good baseball stories of 2012. I’m anxious to see where Jeremy gets assigned to start the season and after a very impressive 2013 campaign in High-A Frederick, I’ll enjoy following his career again this season.

I’ve collected baseball cards on and off since the late 1980s, and when I learned last fall that Jeremy was featured on a number of cards in the 2012 Bowman Chrome set, I knew I had to collect as many as I could. It’s been fun to add a bunch of his cards to my collection over the last few months, and while I’m always scouring eBay for new additions, I thought I’d share the cards I have now.

Here we go:

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On the left we have Jeremy’s base card, which you’ll notice reads “1st Bowman Chrome Card,” as it’s his first appearance in any official (rather than issued by a team) baseball card set. On the right is the Refractor version of the card, which is Topps’ fancy way of saying it’s shiny. If you look at the two cards together, you’ll notice that the base card has a white border and the Refractor has a metallic border. It also shimmers in the light when you tilt it.

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Next up, and pictured above, are the Xfractor and Blue Wave Refractor on the left and right, respectively. The Xfractor, you’ll see, is metallic like the Refractor, but is made up of squares, which didn’t really come through in the scan. The Blue Wave Refractor looks awesome when you move it in the light. As I understand it, this card wasn’t available in packs — you had to send your package wrappers in to Topps, which would then send you packs of Blue Wave Refractors.

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The above two cards are pretty cool and one is serial numbered. Experienced collectors will know what this means, but if you’re new to the collecting game, it means each card has a unique number stamped on it. On the left, the Green Refractor isn’t numbered, but it’s a fairly rare pull. On the left, the Blue Refractor is numbered 86/250, which means that Topps only produced 250 of this card and mine is number 86.

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The final two cards are the rarest of Jeremy’s cards that I have so far. As you might guess, the Purple Refractor is the one on the left. It’s numbered 97/199, which means that it’s rarer than the Blue Refractor. And finally, on the right, you’ll see Jeremy’s short-print variation. Each card in the 2012 Bowman Chrome set has a short print, or SP. These cards aren’t numbered but the rumor is that only about 75 of each exist, making them extremely rare. As you’ll see, the photo is of Jeremy in the Orioles home uniform, which is doctored, unfortunately. The other cards feature him in Baltimore’s Spring Training uniform, but unless I’m mistaken, the SP card is Photoshopped.

There are still a handful of Jeremy’s cards in the set, including cards numbered out of 50, 25 and even 5! I recently bought one numbered out of 50 on eBay, but the seller had to refund me because he lost the card. Here’s hoping he tracks it down. Rarer cards that I’ll likely never encounter are the four printing plates used to make the card (each numbered out of 1) and the Superfractor, which is numbered out of 1, too. The Superfractor sold several months back in the neighborhood of $165, and because many collectors are obsessed with hanging onto Superfractors, I don’t know when it’ll hit the market again.

For good measure, he’s the back of Jeremy’s card:

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Even though the fronts are all different, the backs are basically the same. The back was neat to read; I had no idea about his 35-game hitting streak in college, for example. Finally, I can’t resist adding that if you check out his 2011 home run totals toward the bottom of the card, one of those five long balls is the one I retrieved!

UPDATE: June 9, 2013

I’ve added a really cool card to this collection and while it looks virtually the same as another one, this one’s extra special:

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This is another Blue Refractor numbered out of 250. The neat thing with this one is it’s numbered 11/250, as you can see here:

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The significance of this number is this is the uniform number Jeremy wore in 2012 with the Frederick Keys. Collectors go nuts for numbered cards that feature a player’s uniform number, and I’m no different. I’m pumped to add this one to the collection!

UPDATE: February 6, 2015

Over the last several months, I’ve managed to add three more cards to my collection, and each one is rarer than the last. Let’s start with this one:

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This is the gold variation, numbered out of 50. For those keeping score, this means there are only 50 of these gold versions floating around out there. Mine is #14/50, and although it’s a great addition to my collection, it’s not nearly as rare as this next one:

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I never thought I’d have a shot at the red variation, of which only five copies exist in the world. But, here it is in my collection. Mine is #5/5, and I think the red looks awesome. The back is basically the same as every other of Jeremy’s cards, but you’ll notice the numbering on the upper left:

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Drum roll, please.

This next card is the crown jewel of the collection. It’s the black printing plate that was actually used to produce all of Jeremy’s cards in this set. Bowman released all four printing plates — cyan, magenta, yellow and black — used on the printing press itself, and I managed to score this one. Because it’s a printing plate, it’s actually made of metal. And, because of the way printing technology works, the image is completely reversed:

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On the rear of the card, you’ll see the sticker that proves there’s only one black printing plate in the world:

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Media Passes and More

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve loved collecting ticket stubs from all the various sporting events I’ve attended. Since I started traveling for The Ballpark Guide, I’ve been fortunate to visit more than 40 ballparks. This past off-season, I scanned all my stubs from 2010 and 2011 into a blog post, which you can check out here if you’re interested. (It’s sort of cool to see all the varied designs used by teams.)

This summer, the home teams I’ve seen have been unbelievably hospitable to me and I haven’t had to buy a single ticket. I’ve received media accreditation at every park I’ve visited, which provides such varied benefits as being able to enter early, access the press box, walk on the field and many other great things. An added bonus is that while I don’t get a ticket stub to add to my collection, I get something even cooler – a media pass.

As I continue to plan my next road trip, I thought it’d be fun to take a quick look back at the passes I’ve received thus far, in chronological order.

May 21: Lakewood Blue Claws

This game was rained out, which was a letdown given I’d driven roughly eight hours for it. But even though there was no game to see, I picked up my media pass at the ticket office. It’s simple, but it was exciting because it was my first of the season.

May 22: Lehigh Valley IronPigs

I think I like this media pass best. Perhaps because the IronPigs play at the Triple-A level, the pass is really professional and it also included a nice lanyard from when Coca-Cola Park hosted the Triple-A All-Star Game in 2010.

May 22: Trenton Thunder

Trenton offered up a sharp-looking pass that came with a chain lanyard. As you can see, this one allowed me to access the press box, but not the clubhouse or field.

May 23: Wilmington Blue Rocks

The Blue Rocks’ press pass was simple and not unlike the one from Lakewood. This one gave me access to several areas, including the field. It’s always fun to see my name in print!

May 23: Frederick Keys

There’s no mention of my name or The Ballpark Guide on the laminated pass provided by the Keys, which suddenly makes me wonder if I was supposed to turn it in after the game. Oops.

May 24: Altoona Curve

Altoona’s media pass is really sharp. My information, as you can see, is written in by hand, and I like the retro-style design of this one.

May 24: Buffalo Bisons

I was a little surprised that Buffalo, being a Triple-A team, had a cardboard pass similar to those from Lakewood and Wilmington. I think this is because it’s only a one-day pass, rather than a season’s pass.

July 19: Rochester Red Wings

The Red Wings were the first team this season that didn’t hook me up with a standard media pass, but they essentially gave me the same privileges. The ticket provided access to any section in the park, while the photo pass allowed me to get on the field before the game.

First Road Trip Goals Revisited

Now that I’ve blogged about meeting Frederick Keys outfielder Jeremy Nowak, which was the highlight of last month’s baseball road trip, I want to review the 10 goals I made for myself before hitting the road.

In all, I did pretty well, especially considering there were a few hiccups along the way that impacted my ability to cross off some of the goals.

Here’s the recap:

1. Get tours of five of the seven parks

The first stop on my road trip, May 21 in Lakewood, was rained out, so tours at five of seven was skewed from the get-go. That said, of the six games I attended, I did get an official tour at four parks and some great help/advice at the other two, so I’d say I achieved this goal.

2. Get 10 baseballs

The short answer is that I finished with six baseballs, which falls slightly short of my goal. But hang on. One game was rained out and of the other six, only two had batting practice. So, I’d say that six balls in six games is good, considering I try to average a ball a game. Here they are, including two International League balls from batting practice at Buffalo’s Coca-Cola Field, an NCAA tournament ball from Wilmington, two Carolina League balls from Frederick’s Harry Grove Stadium and, at bottom, the Jeremy Nowak home run ball:

3. Get a game-used item

If you read my recent post about Jeremy Nowak’s home run ball, you’d agree I knocked this item off my list of goals. Hard to imagine a cooler game-used item! The runner-up is a game-used item that I picked up in Wilmington, which I’ll blog about later this week.

4. Get autographs from Wally Backman and Ryne Sandberg

This one was a wash. Why? Because I got media passes for all the games I attended, including those in which I saw the two legendary MLBers. And as you can see on the bottom on one of my passes (and they all say this), passholders are prohibited from asking for autographs:

5. Find a food item that gets into my top 10

As a reference point, here are the top 10 things I’ve eaten on my travels. It’s close, but I think I’ll bump off Classic Park’s pulled pork nachos and replace the #10 slot with the crab fries at Trenton’s Waterfront Park. They weren’t quite as good as I thought they might be, but they were unique enough to sneak through the backdoor into the 10th spot:

6. Be interviewed during a game broadcast

Check! This happened twice and both times, it was really exciting. I was interviewed on the Wilmington Blue Rocks broadcast by Jeff O’Connor and the Frederick Keys broadcast by Adam Pohl. And in case you missed the pictures I posted about those interviews, here they are:

7. Get 50 autographs

In the same vein as the attempt to get Backman and Sandberg to sign, this one is a no-go. But I’ll call it an N/A rather than a fail, because I didn’t ask for a single autograph.

8. Buy a hat

Oops! There were a couple times I wanted to get a hat and just didn’t pull the trigger. The first was at the rained-out game in Lakewood. I think the BlueClaws’ hats look neat, but given the cancellation of the game, I wasn’t able to get one. Secondly, I wanted to get a Keys hat at Harry Grove Stadium, but the hats were all behind the counter and I’m a methodical hat buyer. I like to try a bunch on until I find one that fits me perfectly, and didn’t bother doing so. Does this mean that next road trip I’ll get two hats? Yes. Yes, it does.

9. Have my photo taken with a player

It’s fitting that I got a fan to capture the coolest moment of the road trip. The photo is grainy and dark but the smiles say it all:

10. Have some unforeseen fun adventure

I think this qualifies, don’t you? If you want a runner-up, here it is:

– Despite the rainout, I was able to get into Lakewood’s FirstEnergy park and wander around the near-empty park by myself. It might not seem that thrilling on the surface, but imagine getting into a ballpark by yourself and touring it at your leisure. It was special. Here’s a photo of the deserted park I took on my self-guided tour that I haven’t previously published:

So, what’s next for me? Despite the highlights of my May trip, I’m confident my next trip will be great for a number of other reasons. I’m in the middle of planning it now, and I’ll have a blog post about that soon enough.

In the meantime, please check out The Ballpark Guide and remember that your clicks help me pay for future travels and adventures. Thank you.

Meeting Jeremy Nowak

If you’ve read the details of my first baseball road trip of 2012 by now, you’ll know that I’ve been saving the best story for last. But first, a little background.

My trip would include a stop at Harry Grove Stadium, home of the Frederick Keys, but this visit would be extra special. Finally, I’d get the chance to meet Keys outfielder Jeremy Nowak, who I’ve been in touch with since last December. The full story is at this link, and I definitely recommend you check it out before proceeding. It’s a definite baseball feel-good story.

Obviously, I was pretty pumped to meet Jeremy. I’ve been following his progress closely in 2012 and he’s having a career year. In addition to being named to the Carolina League All-Star team, he’s been among the Keys’ statistical leaders all season. In fact, despite a stint on the DL earlier in the season, his 68 hits put him first among the entire Baltimore Orioles farm system, as you can see from this stat tracker on the O’s website:

I’d kept in touch with him on Facebook before departing on my trip, so he knew I’d be showing up at the Keys game against the Carolina Mudcats on May 23. (You can read about that visit here.)

The weather throughout the afternoon of the game was miserable enough that at times, it looked like the game would be called off before it even began. Still, I hoped to spot Jeremy on the field — or in the players’ parking lot, at worst — at some point to say hello.

Shortly before the scheduled start of the game, the Keys took the field and it wasn’t long until I spotted #11:

Despite the weather, the game was indeed on, and the Keys began to get warmed up. I took a ton of photos of Jeremy, but I’ll just share a few here so I don’t look like a demented stalker:

At the end of the warmup, I stood at the fence and when Jeremy looked up, we sort of made eye contact and he came over to say hello. Even though the game was fast approaching, he was enormously friendly and it was awesome to finally meet him. I wanted to get a photo with him, and we decided to meet up again after the game.

Jeremy was batting third and hitting from the left side, so I moved over to the seats above the visitors’ third base-side dugout to get some pictures of him at the plate:

He struck out during his first at-bat and after I spent the top of the fourth inning in the broadcast booth being interviewed about TheBallparkGuide.com by Adam Pohl, I raced back to field level in time to see Jeremy hit a single in the bottom of the inning:

And when Michael Flacco doubled two batters later, Jeremy moved up to third base:

As the game progressed, the weather got miserable. Don’t get confused — I was still having the time of my life, but the rain and darkness made the quality of my photos quickly deteriorate. Jeremy came up again in the fifth inning, and this time, I was eating a late dinner in a seat down the first base line where I had this view:

Then, with runners on second and third and one out, and the the Keys trailing 2-0, Jeremy blasted a Kyle Blair pitch over the fence in right field! It was on a line and hit the billboards above and behind the outfield fence hard enough that it bounced back onto the field, where Mudcats right fielder Anthony Gallas scooped it up and tossed it to the Frederick bullpen. From there, a Keys reliever flipped the to ball to a couple fans who’d run to the area.

When I saw the ball take off, I jumped out of my seat and thought how it’d be so cool to run behind the fence, grab the ball and give it to Jeremy after the game. (The home was his second at the High-A level.) But when I saw it come back on the field and eventually make its way to the fans, I forgot about it and just stood up and cheered. I probably should’ve run toward the Keys dugout to get a picture of Jeremy crossing home plate, but I think I was in enough awe that I just stood and clapped. Eventually, I snapped out of it and got this rainy photo of him heading toward the dugout after scoring:

I was still pumped, so I emailed my wife a quick message:

JEREMY JUST HIT A HOME RUN!!!!!!!!!

And my wife, who cares about baseball as much as I care about molecular biology, responded with:

EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Jeremy had one more at-bat (a strikeout in the two-run sixth) and as the rain intensified, the game was called in the seventh. Final score: Frederick 7, Carolina 2. In other words, Jeremy’s three-run bomb scored the game’s winning runs.

One of the neatest features about Harry Grove Stadium is that after the game, the players exit the field, walk up a set of stairs at the end of the seating bowl and cross the concourse to their clubhouse. Naturally, I was waiting to congratulate Jeremy and shake his hand. When I spotted him, I went to meet him with a huge smile on my face and told him congrats. He shook my hand quickly and said, “That’s your ball.”

Then he disappeared as I stood there starting to suspect what was happening.

He was referring to something he wrote in his letter to me back in December. Here’s a close-up of what he said:

I’d long since stopped hoping I might get the ball; to me, the big prize was not only meeting him, but seeing him hit a game-winning home run for the Keys.

Minutes later, Jeremy returned with a ball in his hand and a fan trailing behind — only the fan was carrying a bat that I knew was Jeremy’s. It turns out that he’d given the fan one of his bats in exchange for getting the ball back.

This time, it was Jeremy who approached with a huge smile and handed me the ball, which he’d also signed for me. I was completely speechless for a moment as I stumbled to remember to say thank you. After Jeremy and the other fan, Jason, told me the story of the ball/bat exchange, I took a photo of the two of them with the bat:

And then got a photo taken of Jeremy and me:

The three of us stood and chatted for a minute, and Jason asked, “Are the two of you friends? How do you know each other?” In a moment that almost seemed scripted, we both responded at the same time, “It’s a long story!”

Soon enough, Jeremy headed into the clubhouse and I hung out on the concourse for a bit, where I took this photo of the ball:

I’ve since taken these better shots of it:

You know how you sometimes build something up in your mind and then the actual event falls short? And other times, it’s pretty much what you expected. This game and its events absolutely blew me away and were far better than I could’ve dreamed. I can’t imagine what will top it — perhaps catching Jeremy’s first MLB home run when he’s playing for the Orioles!

Thank you, Jeremy, for not only the ball, but for being so accommodating. One of Jeremy’s relatives told me prior to meeting him that as good a ballplayer as he is, he’s a better person. I can say that in addition to playing the game at a very high level, he’s also an athlete who treats his fans well. He certainly didn’t need to give me the ball, and I appreciate him giving away one of his bats to get the ball back. It means a ton.

As always, please check out The Ballpark Guide to help plan your upcoming trips and keep an eye on this blog as I gear up for my second road trip of the summer. You can also follow me on Twitter or send me an email to keep in touch.

Frederick Keys – May 23

It’s fitting that my 100th post on this blog is about an outstanding ballpark visit and one that I’ve been looking forward to for months. I began an exciting May 23 with a trip to Wilmington, DE, to watch the Blue Rocks take on the Potomac Nationals at beautiful Frawley Stadium. And after the game was done, I zipped quickly to Frederick, MD, where the plan was to watch the Keys in an evening game.

I arrived extremely early — before 3:30 p.m. for the 7 p.m. game. The Keys were graciously providing me with a media pass for this game, and when you’ve got a pass hanging around your neck, you can come and go as you please. So, I wanted to take advantage of as much time at Harry Grove Stadium as possible. Plus, as you’ll know if you’ve read this blog, this game was my chance to finally meet Keys outfielder Jeremy Nowak. (I’ll include a photo of him in this post, but I’m going to write a separate post about meeting him. It was that awesome.)

When I pulled into the ballpark, the parking lot was almost empty, save for the players’ cars and staff vehicles. I’m almost certain I was the first fan in the area:

Harry Grove Stadium has a large pavilion in front of the main gates, but there wasn’t anything happening just yet:

(I should say the pavilion has one of the coolest features I’ve ever seen. You know those fake rocks that are actually speakers for you to place in your garden? The garden here has these speaker-rocks that play the team’s radio broadcast. I love when a team thinks of little things like this that make a difference.)

I quickly picked up my media pass at the will call window:

And then took a photo of the pass:

I took a quick peek inside the ballpark to see that Jeremy was in the starting lineup. Sure enough, he was hitting third, where he’d been hitting for the previous several games:

As you probably know if you’ve read other accounts of my travels, I like to start each visit with a walk around the outside of the park. There’s always the opportunity to find a baseball, of course, but the tour also provides different perspectives on the park. So, I headed down the pathway to the right of the main gate:

See the red fence in the above photo? The visiting Carolina Mudcats were hitting in a cage here because the uncooperative weather meant the tarp was on the field. The fence was difficult to see through, but the thwack sounds emanating from behind it were unmistakable. When I got halfway along the fence, I saw this:

The ball must’ve somehow flown out of the batting cage, despite all the protective netting. I picked it up and was pumped to see it was an Official Carolina League ball:

This is the first Carolina League ball in my collection, which now includes balls from eight leagues. For a complete rundown of some of the coolest balls I’ve collected on my travels, check out this blog post.

After finding the ball, I stuffed it in my backpack and continued walking toward the outfield, where I could see the visitors on the tarp-covered field:

I scoured the area outside the center field fence for any balls that might’ve been hit in a previous batting practice session or game, but didn’t come up with anything. But when I made it to the left field corner, where I could see the Mudcats with ease …

… I saw another Carolina League ball, which I grabbed. Afterward, I made it back to the pavilion in front of the park, where there still wasn’t much going on:

So, I decided to head in and tour around. I would be meeting assistant GM Adam Pohl for a tour later on, but in the meantime, I took the opportunity to scout out the nearly-empty ballpark. As you can see here, the sky had quickly become extremely dark and foreboding, and I wondered if the night’s game would even get started:

You can tell from the time on the scoreboard that there was still a ton of time to wait until the game’s start time:

I spent the next while touring the park, taking in sights such as the batting cage area:

The suite level:

And the empty seating bowl …

… before the sky opened up and it began to rain. As the rain fell around me, I retreated to this row of seats, which was protected from the elements by the overhang:

I started to get the impression that not a pitch would be thrown, but I kept my fingers crossed and sent out Tweets like this:

And, eventually, this happy one:

Woo hoo!

Eventually, I met up with Adam in the team’s office and we started our tour. While I was still in the office, I snapped a quick picture of the framed jerseys of former Keys Nick Markakis and Matt Wieters:

The tour itself was great. I always love meeting baseball people and talking about the ballpark and the game. Adam was really proud to point out a number of accessibility improvements made at Harry Grove Stadium over the recent years, including large, open spaces on the concourse for wheelchairs:

As they always seem to do, the tour flew by, and before long, Adam had to go to the press box to continue getting ready for the game. We agreed to meet in the radio booth at the top of the fourth inning for my on-air interview. Adam is also one of the team’s broadcasters, so I looked forward to speaking with him again.

I was anxious for the Keys to come out onto the field, but used the time to take photos of some of the park’s attractions, including a great kids’ area that includes inflatable games:

And a merry-go-round, almost identical to the one at Bowie’s Prince George’s Stadium:

Soon enough, the Keys hit the field, and I spotted Jeremy:

And the video board in left-center came to life, which boded well for the evening:

It certainly wasn’t a perfect day for baseball, but after Miss Maryland shot-putted a ceremonial first pitch toward home plate …

… we were ready to play ball!

It turns out that I saw a lot of the Keys last year when they were members of the Delmarva Shorebirds. I visited Arthur W. Perdue Stadium in June and saw Nowak, Mike Flacco (brother of Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe) and several others. Here’s Flacco:

Richard Zagone got the start for Frederick. Check out his high leg kick:

I decided to spend the second and third innings sitting behind home plate, where I enjoyed this view:

In the top of the second, Carolina’s Delvi Cid smashed a pitch over the fence in left-center, and while I was tempted to run and see if I could find it, I didn’t want to be all soaking wet from rummaging through the grass and out of breath when I got to the broadcast booth for my interview. Still, I wondered if the ball was sitting out there, just waiting to be claimed.

Before long, it was up to the broadcast booth to reconvene with Adam and talk about my website and my visit to Harry Grove Stadium. It was a lot of fun and went by quickly. We had our photo taken together afterward:

Like the Wilmington Blue Rocks, the Keys graciously provided me with a media meal voucher, so I had my choice of dinner once the interview was done. First, though, I ducked out the main gate and hurried toward the area beyond the outfield fence to look for Cid’s ball. I ran stealthily through the soaking wet grass …

… which I regretted quickly, and then behind the fence where I looked all over for the ball …

… but couldn’t find it. I guess someone had gotten there before me.

When I got back inside, I took a quick photo of the Carolina League Championship Trophy, which the Keys won last season:

And then, it was time to eat! Unfortunately, many of the concession stands were closed by now (it was around the sixth inning) because the crowd was very thin and the rain was picking up again. I’d hoped to try something unique, but settled for a pair of hot dogs, which were a welcome reprieve, given how I was cold and wet:

There wasn’t much baseball played after I finished my dinner. A heavy downpour began around the seventh inning, and the game was called after seven innings were complete. The Keys were on top handily, 7-2. As for getting to meet Jeremy, it was awesome. I’ll have a blog dedicated to that soon. I hung out for about 20 minutes after the rain delay began, taking a series of pictures to make up this panorama:

When it became clear that the game wasn’t going to resume, I hit the road. Although the entire night was great, I was quite wet at the end, so I was looking forward to getting to my hotel. Fortunately, I was staying at the Hampton Inn Frederick, which is located just a few minutes from Harry Grove Stadium. This is one of those nights that I wouldn’t have been up for driving a half-hour to my hotel after the game, so if you’re visiting Frederick for a Keys game, I’d definitely recommend you stay at this hotel. Here’s how it looks from outside:

When I checked into my room, I was super pleased at how it looked — large, clean and with a king-sized bed, sofa, desk and flat-screen TV:

The room’s bathroom was also amazing …

… and despite the hotel’s close proximity to I-270, it was very quiet. As an added bonus, there are a ton of eateries (which are a staple of every baseball road trip) within walking distance, including T.G.I. Friday’s and IHOP. It’s the perfect spot if you’re in Frederick for a baseball road trip.

As always, please check out my website, TheBallparkGuide.com, and follow me on Twitter.