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!
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:
One of the big perks to my August road trip was getting media passes at most of the ballparks I visited. Nearly all the teams I dealt with were extremely accommodating when I told them about my visit and my website.
The lone downside (and it’s a small one) to getting a media pass is that you can’t get autographs. When I went to Fenway Park for the Futures at Fenway doubleheader, however, I didn’t have a pass. This meant, of course, that I was free to get some autographs.
I was lucky to get three members of the Hudson Valley Renegades to sign a baseball for me before they squared off against the Lowell Spinners.
Here’s the ball:
From top to bottom, the ball features the signatures of pitcher Jeff Ames, catcher Justin O’Conner and catcher Luke Maile.
Ames, who was recently ranked as the number 19 prospect in the Tampa Bay Rays organization, was arguably Hudson Valley’s best pitcher in 2012. He posted a 6-1 record with a 1.96 ERA and 70 strikeouts in 64.1 innings pitched.
O’Conner joines Ames on the Rays’ top prospect list, placing 18th. He hit .223 and finished fifth on the team in hits (53) and fourth in RBIs (29). He also hit the longest Renegades home run at Dutchess Stadium in 2012.
Maile finished third on the team with a .278 batting average, while leading the club in RBIs (41) and triples (3). When’s the last time you saw a catcher lead his team in three-baggers?
I’m glad to add this ball to my autograph collection, and it’ll be exciting to follow the careers of these three guys, who all look to be off to a great start.
Remember how on August 22, I debated going to another Boston Red Sox game and opted to stay in my hotel, get to bed in decent time and hopefully feel better for the last game of my trip? Mission accomplished. I woke up the morning of August 23 feeling great, and although the last game of any road trip can be a bit of a downer, I was excited to drive from Boston to Wappingers Falls, N.Y., to see the Hudson Valley Renegades. This road trip had a bit of a Renegades theme — I’d already seen them on the road three separate times, so it was cool to finally see them at Dutchess Stadium, the place they call home.
The hotel for the last night of my trip was the Hilton Garden Inn Poughkeepsie/Fishkill, and after stopping to visit some neat sights along the route, I checked into the hotel around 4 p.m. I love traveling, seeing new cities and hotels, and I always look forward to staying at Hilton Garden Inns. I’ve had some great experiences at this chain in the past, including in Manchester, N.H., and Lakewood, N.J. And I’m pleased to report this hotel was amazing. Here’s what it looks like from the outside:
When I checked in, the people at the front desk were extremely friendly and given that they knew about my trip from when I booked, were asking me about my travels. I was thrilled to see the room — spacious, clean and very new looking. This shot shows the basics of the room …
… and this one shows the TV and desk, as you can see:
The Hilton Garden Inn Fishkill is less than 10 minutes from Dutchess Stadium, which is perfect. The hotel is also in the middle of a giant complex that includes a bunch of places to shop and eat, like Walmart (perfect for loading up on road trip snacks), Panera Bread and Cold Stone Creamery. I definitely recommend this hotel if you’re in town to see the Renegades, and next time I visit the area, I’ll certainly stay here again.
I didn’t have long to check out the hotel, though, as I wanted to get to the ballpark in good time. Like many other teams on this trip, the Renegades were extremely helpful and had offered to provide me with a media credential. And, as you know, whenever I’m fortunate enough to get one, I like to arrive early and explore.
The drive was a quick one, and pretty soon, I was standing in the unique pavilion in front of the place the locals call “The Dutch.” I use the word unique because I can’t recall a green baseball field on the ground like the one here:
After snapping a few photos outside the park, I went into the team office and picked up the media credential from broadcaster Ben Gellman. I also owe thanks to director of baseball communications Joe Ausanio, who helped set everything up in regards to my pass. Thanks, guys! I peeked into the nearly-empty ballpark and while it was temping to immediately go check things out, I always love to see if I can add a batting practice home run ball to my collection.
I walked down a hill to an area in the left field corner and saw this:
A few baseball collectors were in the area grabbing home run balls and given that I’m not the type to compete with others for balls, I wandered to an empty area and hoped a ball might come my way. There was no immediate action, so I wandered back and forth in the area down this path:
I even stood beneath the scoreboard and looked back up at it for a different-angled view:
A moment later, I heard a ball bounce hard off something wooden, and when I turned to look in the direction of the sound, I saw the ball sitting plainly in the mud. The ball collectors were in the woods a short distance away, and after the ball landed, I didn’t hear them rustling through the underbrush toward the ball, so I walked over and picked it up:
Satisfied with a ball, I continued along the path to the area beyond the right field corner, where I saw the covered batting cages:
There wasn’t much happening in this area, so I decided to retrace my footsteps back along the path and possibly find another ball before heading into the park. Then, I saw this:
And a handful more, until I had eight (mostly wet and soggy) balls. It was a strange ball utopia. The thick brush hid a ton of baseballs and as I was searching, more seemed to keep flying past me. I actually was thinking how awful it’d be to get hit by one, which is entirely possible given that you really can’t see them coming. Not five seconds after I thought this, I felt one go past my ear as I had my head turned. It sounds dramatic, but it was chilling. I could actually feel and hear the air displaced by the ball as it whistled past, and I know that if it had hit me, it would have been bad news. I was actually pretty rattled and my hands were shaking as I sorted the eight balls I’d gathered and took this photo:
The second I snapped the photo, I shoved the balls into my backpack and got the heck out of there. The incident hasn’t necessarily changed how I feel about hanging out behind the fence during BP, but I’m going to be a little more selective about where I go from now on.
After exiting the area in the right field corner, I walked through the players’ parking lot and back toward the front of the ballpark:
By now, the pavilion in front of the main gates was crowded, and I entered the park to begin exploring before it got too packed. I couldn’t resist stopping at the team shop, which was absolutely outstanding. I’ve found that in the New York-Penn League, team shops range from full stores to tiny carts parked on the concourse. Hudson Valley’s is large, roomy and has a ton of Renegades things for sale:
When I made it out to the seating bowl, I saw that the Connecticut Tigers (who I’d already seen at home on this trip) were still taking batting practice:
I opted to continue exploring The Dutch, rather than sit down at field level and watch. I’m glad I did, too, because I’m pleased with how this panorama I took from the park’s suite level turned out. I especially like the mountains in the background:
Remember the baseball field laid out in the ground at the front gate? As I walked along the walkway of the suite level (which you can see in the photo of the front of the park), I got a better view of the field, as well as the people waiting to get in:
After a quick stop in the press box …
… I went up top on the first base side to take this panorama:
During my travels, I noticed this setting for two, which I thought was unique:
The menu, which was sitting on the table, contained such options as fried calamari, penne with vodka sauce, tilapia and cannoli. I didn’t figure the lucky patrons who would soon occupy this spot would appreciate me sitting down and placing my order, so I continued walking.
Speaking of food: You know how food service at some stadiums is a complete free-for-all? This dizzying photo shows how the Renegades keep things systematic and sensible at their concession stands:
Next, I went down to field level where I came across some of the neatest close-to-the-action seats I’ve seen in the Minors:
And when I looked back up toward the concourse, a nice waterfall setup reminiscent of the one at Fifth Third Ballpark, home of the West Michigan Whitecaps:
From the third base line, I followed the cross-aisle all the way over to the first base line, where there’s an enormous picnic deck area:
Next up, three cool things you just don’t see in the Major Leagues:
1. A Hudson Valley player cleaning his cleats outside the clubhouse before the game:
2. A bunch of Connecticut players standing in line at one of the concession stands in the concourse:
3. A pair of Renegades walking through the concourse:
When I passed by the team shop again, I paused to look at several Negro league jerseys that caught my eye. They were super cheap (around $15, I think) and while I was tempted to get one, they were all enormous — like XXXXXXXL (for real) and so on. Here’s one from the Brooklyn Royal Giants:
I spent the next little bit wandering around and taking in the sights. A lot of players were signing autographs around the dugouts, and believe it or not, the outfield was opened up to fans who wanted to play catch. I didn’t bother going down to the field, as I have in the past. Instead, I saw this catchy sign and really liked it:
I think I’m a combination of The Fanatic and The Collector and The Cuisine Connoisseur. What about you?
Although dinner time was approaching, the menu didn’t have anything that really enticed me. The selection was good, but I found most of the items to be overpriced. A salad for $6? Hot dogs for $3.50? Seems a little pricey by NYPL standards.
Once the fans finished up their game of catch in the outfield, I went over to the Hudson Valley bullpen area down the first base line and took some action shots of the warmups:
Second baseman Thomas Coyle:
First baseman Michael Williams:
Catcher Jake DePew:
While I was down here, I captured my press pass:
When the game finally began (I should note I’ve somehow managed to write 1,600 words before the first pitch), I took a spot above the third base dugout to snap some action photos, including Hudson Valley starter Jeff Ames:
Connecticut outfielder Zach Kirksey, facing some high heat:
See the tiger-striped wrist tape? Love it! Here’s a closer shot of another player’s tape that I snapped in the pre-game:
Next, it was behind home plate for an inning, where I enjoyed this view:
Then, over to the first base line for a few more action shots, like this one of Hudson Valley’s Marty Gantt sliding into second:
The PA announcer at The Dutch is the best I’ve ever heard. He talked often throughout the game but was never obnoxious, as some people with unlimited access to a microphone can be. The most impressive part of the evening was something I couldn’t document with my camera, so I’ll share it here. Sometime before this game, an area husband and wife were killed in a car accident, leaving three children behind. The team’s PA announcer challenged fans to make donations to help out the family, and as an interactive twist, fans could take their money right up to the PA window and the announcer would declare the amount. The donations ranged from children handing over pocket change to businesses putting up three figures, and despite the horrible circumstances of the fundraising, it was exciting — and very heart warming — to witness. By the end of the night, more than $3,000 was raised, which says a great deal about the community spirit of the Renegades fan base.
I spent a chunk of the mid to late innings behind the third base dugout, and in the last inning, moved back behind home plate where I enjoyed this view:
The game was an
offensive defensive display; the Renegades won 1-0 while outhitting Connecticut 5-3. Ames was awesome, pitching five innings of one-hit ball while striking out eight Tigers. Although it was the last game of my big road trip of 2012, I’ve since attended a pair of MLB games that I’ll be blogging about soon.
Could a ballpark visit be augmented because of my love of boxing? Yes. Yes, it could.
Boxing has been one of my favorite sports for a long time, and I vividly remember junior welterweight Micky Ward wearing a Lowell Spinners jersey while walking to the ring before his “fight of the century” with the late Arturo Gatti in 2002. He also wore trunks emblazoned with a Spinners logo. I didn’t know a ton about Minor League Baseball back then, but Ward (long before he was a household name after his life story was told in The Fighter) was one of my favorite boxers and I thought it was cool that he was giving a nod to a ball club. Fast forward a decade, and I was excited to be visiting Lowell, MA, to see the Spinners as part of my latest baseball road trip for The Ballpark Guide. And, yes, Lowell is Ward’s hometown and is heavily featured in The Fighter.
I had a few hours to kill before the evening’s game between the Spinners and the Hudson Valley Renegades, so the plan was to check in and do some blogging. When I arrived, I noticed three athletic-looking guys sitting in the lobby. My initial reaction was to assume they were members of the Renegades, but I had to remind myself that the world doesn’t revolve around Minor League Baseball and not every athletic-looking person plays in the New York-Penn League.
But then, I saw that one of the guys was holding a document on Tampa Bay Rays letterhead, and given that the Rays are the Renegades’ parent club, I knew my initial reaction was correct. And I’ve gotta say, it was pretty cool to know I was staying at the same hotel as the team.
When I made it to my room, however, my thoughts quickly shifted to how impressed I was with the accommodation. My suite was larger than each of my first three apartments! Although I was just staying one night, I definitely had room to spread out, which was awesome. Here’s the room from the door:
And looking back toward the door:
Amazing, right? If you visit Lowell to see the Spinners, perhaps as a side trip after going to Fenway Park for a Red Sox game, this is the hotel to choose. If it’s not already cool enough that the visiting team stays here, the hotel staff was extremely friendly, my suite was enormous and very clean and the icing on the cake is that there’s a Domino’s Pizza just across the parking lot. (I can’t deny that I treated myself to a late-night pie after getting back from the game.)
My suite faced the parking lot, so after I took the above photos, I took a look out the window and saw what I figured was Hudson Valley’s bus parked at the far end of the lot. While I blogged a little, I heard the bus start up and make its way to the curb directly below my second-floor window! By now, I was in full spy mode and it wasn’t long before the Renegades began to file onto the bus. Since my camera was charging, I snapped photos like this one with my iPod touch:
Soon enough, the bus departed for the 10-minute drive to the ballpark, and I followed shortly thereafter.
If you’re into American history, you’ll definitely enjoy visiting Lowell. As you can learn on the interwebs, the town played a key role in Industrial Revolution America, primarily as a mill town. Check out the Wikipedia entry for Lowell at the very least. There’s lots of interesting stuff to read about. Anyway, the Spinners play in Edward A. LeLacheur Park, a modern facility that was built to fit right in with the surrounding historical area. As you get close to the park, you’ll see several old mills — some of which have been converted to condos and this one, which is now the American Textile History Museum:
Although I had a little trouble finding the right parking lot (turns out that fans can park in the adjacent UMass Lowell) garage, I got to the ballpark a couple hours before first pitch. My first order of business was to check out the area behind the outfield fence. Many NYPL parks have open areas back here that make getting balls during batting practice easy, and the setup in Lowell is no different. The only catch is that the area behind the fence is mostly underbrush, rather than an open field, so you have your work cut out for you because many balls will be hard to spot. Here’s a shot that shows the fence in the background and just how much brush you’ll have to contend with:
Just beyond this area is the Merrimack River, which really enhances the scene:
As a side note, the Merrimack directly past Northeast Delta Dental Stadium, home of the New Hampshire Fisher Cats. I wonder which river takes the prize for running past the most ballparks.
I decided not to spend time trying to get a BP ball. There were a few other fans in the area and I hate competing with others for baseballs. Instead, I took a walk around the path behind the outfield fence …
… and then around to the right field corner of the park, where I saw this old mill that’s now condos, I believe:
The front of LeLacheur Park looks awesome. The combination of bricks and iron tie the park right into the surrounding area, and in a way, you’d never guess that the park has only been around since 1998. The contradiction to this statement is that everything in the park is pristine, and in many ways, you’d guess it’s only a year or two old. LeLacheur Park was designed by HOK Sport (now called Populous), which made Baltimore’s Oriole Park at Camden Yards, among a ton of other facilities across all sports. Perhaps the most notable point about Camden Yards is how it fits into the surrounding area, and it’s no coincidence that Lowell’s park has the same going for it:
I made my way to the ticket office and picked up my media pass, then went into the park and began to wander around. The team’s director of media relations, Jon Boswell, provided me with the pass and set aside time to give me a pre-game tour, but I wanted to take a quick look at things before I went to find him. When you enter the park through the main gates, you end up in a small pavilion area. From there, you take a climb (or an elevator ride) up a set of stairs to reach the concourse. Check out the stairs:
Jon later told me that if the team’s sales staff can figure out a spot to display an ad, they’ll do it. I think they’ve got the stairs covered, don’t you?
When I reached the concourse, this was the scene to my right:
And to my left:
I’ve said it before, but I’ll reiterate that it NEVER gets old to get into a ballpark early and be able to explore before the crowds fill it up. Regardless of the park, it’s one of the coolest experiences I get the privilege of enjoying on my trips.
The Renegades, fresh off being spied upon as they loaded up to drive to the park, were taking batting practice. As I stood on the concourse, I took this panorama to capture the whole glorious scene:
Afterward, I went down to field level and just enjoyed watching BP for a few minutes. That enjoyment, however, quickly dissipated as bee after bee decided to check me out. Now, this is obviously no fault of the Spinners, but LeLacheur Park was inundated with bees. (Jon later told me the bee problem had begun a few days earlier and an exterminator was already fixing the issue.) People who know me know that I freaking hate bees. I don’t play the fake “I’m allergic” card, either. I just hate them. I don’t have any love for things that will sting you for no good reason. They are a scourge, I say. A scourge!
Fighting the urge to shriek and flail my arms, I went back up to the concourse and continued my tour, stopping to see the team’s “Road to the Show” wall, which you can click to read the names:
And the press box, looking back at it from field level:
Remember how I said LeLacheur Park fits in perfectly with the surrounding mill area? Check out how nice everything looks:
Nothing I saw on my tour (and perhaps at any ballpark I’ve visited) was as touching as this seat:
The Spinners dedicated this box seat earlier this summer in honor of the 92,000 (!) American soldiers who are unaccounted for since World War I. It will always stay empty and Jon told me it’s got the best view in the park. Really neat stuff.
Partway through BP, the Renegades had a short team meeting, led by manager Jared Sandberg (22) who’d playfully heckled me a few nights earlier in Connecticut:
For the inside scoop on the park, I then went down to the park’s office to meet up with Jon. The first stop on our tour was the on-field standing-room area, which I’d completely overlooked earlier:
(This is one of the reasons tours are so great — if I miss anything on my own, I get to learn about it from someone in the know.) From this area down the first base line, you can actually watch the game from on the field. Talk about getting close to the action! Some parks have seating that is very close to the field, but at LeLacheur Park, you’re actually standing on the clay.
Jon took to all the park’s notable areas, giving me a ton of information as we walked. We saw the kids’ play area, complete with a “Dunk the Yankee” dunk tank:
Went past the batting cages under the concourse:
And through the office, which features a display case that includes a pair of Ward’s Spinners trunks!
We also saw a banner featuring former Red Sox 3B Mike Lowell, wearing the Spinners’ special “Mike Lowell” jersey:
And one of those jerseys signed by Lowell himself:
The inscription reads, “To the Mike Lowell Spinners, thanks for the great honor!”
Our tour flew by, and soon enough, Jon had to get back to his pre-game duties. It was a great tour. Thanks, Jon! Before we parted ways, Jon gave me a neat souvenir that I’ll feature in a future blog post.
On my own again, I visited the team shop and made a really cool purchase that I’ll also share later. The shop itself had a lot of neat Spinners and Red Sox merchandise, and being air conditioned, was a big-time reprieve from the bright sunshine. (There were no bees to be found in the team shop, either.)
As game time approached, I met up with Brian Moynahan, who founded the site Bus Leagues Baseball, and also writes for MiLB.com. Brian and I have talked over Twitter for several months, so it was cool to finally meet him. It’s always fun to meet other baseball people, and we chatted for nearly half an hour in the concourse. If you haven’t visited Bus Leagues Baseball, it’s an awesome site with a ton of interesting stories about interesting people. By the time we finished blabbing, the game had already begun, so I found a spot on the third base side with this view:
(I love the smokestacks in the background.)
A couple innings later, I was back on the move and eventually made a quick stop at a concession stand to pick up dinner before finding a great spot in an open row in front of the press box. As for my meal? A delicious bowl of hot clam chowder, which was perfect as once the sun went down, the evening became cool and perfect. I chose soup as my meal partly to avoid something ultra-heavy, and partly because it was comfort foody enough given that I was still sick. If you’ve read this blog for some time, you might recall that I had clam chowder last year in New Hampshire. This one was just as good:
In the late stages of the game, I realized that I hadn’t yet photographed my media pass. Failing to do so would’ve been disastrous, right? Here it is:
Media pass documented, a stomach filled and a couple hundred photos added to my camera, I hunkered down into my seat with this great view …
… and just enjoyed the rest of the game. It was a perfect night.
PS: While I enjoy photographing the food I eat on my travels, I did not get the camera out to document the pizza I ate about 11 p.m. Sharing it here would result in you thinking that I am a glutton.
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.
After my day in New Britain, I had just a short drive to Norwich, CT to see the New York-Penn League’s Connecticut Tigers play. When I reached town, I checked into my hotel and caught some Little League World Series action for an hour or two on TV until it was time to head out for my latest ballpark visit for The Ballpark Guide.
As has been the case so far on this trip, I continue to have great luck with hotels. For my visit to Norwich, I was staying at the Holiday Inn Express & Suites Plainfield. I took this rainy shot of it the following morning before heading to Boston for the Futures at Fenway doubleheader:
The inside of my room looked like this:
I’ll definitely stay at this hotel next time I visit Norwich. It’s only about 20 minutes from Dodd Stadium, home of the Tigers, and if you’re in need of a snack after the game, the hotel is next door to a Domino’s and a Wendy’s. The hotel is just a minute off the highway and as far as my room, it was clean, spacious and the hotel’s amenities (gym, breakfast room, etc.) were all great.
I didn’t find Dodd Stadium particularly easy to reach, but I think that’s because my GPS somehow instructed me to take the long way. The ballpark is in the rear of a business park, and as you’re driving through the park, you definitely get the feeling that you’re in the wrong spot. Thankfully, the team does a great job of posting signs along the route to assure you that you’re pointed in the right direction. After a couple minutes wondering if the park would ever appear ahead of me, this is what I saw:
It was still quite early, so there were only a couple fans milling about. I took advantage of the open area in front of the park to take this panorama:
And quickly document my media pass, which Jon Versteeg, the team’s director of media relations, had left for me:
Thanks, Jon! I really appreciate it.
Although the pass would allow me early access to the park, I decided to wander around for a bit, and as is my norm, and see if it was possible to get a ball during batting practice. I set out walking to the left side of the main gate, which heads toward the left field corner. From a spot on the hill overlooking the park, I could see the visiting Hudson Valley Renegades throwing …
… but this fence gave me the subtle indication that I wouldn’t be getting behind the outfield fence:
Fortunately, just as there are two sides to every story, there are also two sides to every outfield. I retraced my steps and went over to the right field corner. On the way, I passed this submarine, which would later be firing T-shirts at unsuspecting fans:
The road on this side of the park is frequently used by the grounds crew, and there were lots of lawnmowers and other equipment used for maintenance of Dodd Stadium. I was excited to see the gate in the corner open, as I knew it would allow me to watch BP instead of just stand blindly behind the fence:
Before I got much closer, though, I saw this to my right:
The ball was was so worn that I couldn’t tell what was stamped on it, but it wasn’t an MiLB or MLB ball. Either way, this is number five on my trip, so I’m halfway to my goal of 10. The area behind the fence was a mishmash of stuff, including a stadium seat graveyard:
There was also a fireman sitting in his SUV back here, presumably preventing fans from walking close to the setup area for the evening’s fireworks show and subsequently catching on fire. We had a memorable exchange:
Fireman: Are you Gary?
Me: No, I’m just looking around and taking some photos.
Fireman: Well, if you’re not Gary or with Gary, you have to leave.
This didn’t dissuade my hopes of getting a BP home run ball, however. I hung out in the open gate and watched the players hit, but I didn’t see a single home run. Not one! Still, it was fun to watch BP from field level, and I talked briefly with Hudson Valley starter Sean Bierman who, in his first year of pro ball, is 3-2 with a strikeout to walk ratio of 30:4!
Eventually, I abandoned the plan to get a ball and decided to enter Dodd Stadium and watch the last bit of BP from the stands. Because almost every Minor League park’s gates don’t open until BP is done, it’s always a treat to sit in the front row behind the dugout and watch the players hit and take infield practice. I walked to the main gate, showed my pass to the ticket taker and expected him to open the gate and let me in. He said I could just come in myself, and in doing so, I managed to close the steel gate on my finger.
Despite my throbbing finger, I got to field level and took a spot behind the visitors’ dugout. Sure enough, the Renegades were still practicing. As BP wrapped up, the players had to take the steps up through the seating bowl to their clubhouse, as is common at many parks in the low Minor Leagues. I turned to take this photo …
… and then heard, “Hey! No photos!” Despite being surprised by the shout, I wasn’t caught off guard because I knew that I wasn’t doing anything wrong. I turned quickly and saw someone on a Renegades uniform duck into the dugout, and a handful of players smiling. Obviously, someone was just messing with me, and that someone, I believe, was manager Jared Sandberg, who you might recall as having played parts of three seasons with Tampa Bay between 2001 and 2003. In 2002, he hit 18 home runs in 102 games. A moment later, Sandberg (#22) called his players in for a quick meeting:
And shortly thereafter, they finished up and disappeared. Time for me to explore the ballpark a little!
I quickly noticed that the seats I saw the night before in New Britain were also here in Norwich. Dodd Stadium has normal box seats in the lower part of the bowl, but the upper is made up of these highchair-style seats:
The team shop at Dodd was absolutely awesome. Because the team was based in Oneonta, New York through the 2009 season, there were a number of Oneonta Tigers items at ridiculous prices — like polos for $5 and game-used stuff for $20. Unfortunately, small was the dominant size, and I couldn’t even find a medium to try. I did, however, spend $3 on a T-shirt that I’ll post at a later date.
While I was browsing around the store, a couple of notable things happened. Pitcher Ramon Lebron showed up for an autograph signing, and because the park was still relatively uncrowded, the lineup of fans waiting for his autograph was approximately zero. Because I had a media pass, I wasn’t permitted to get autographs, and I sort of felt badly for him. I was glad when a few kids in the shop got him to sign their gear on the way out.
Second, I found a $5 bill in the team store! I had mixed feelings about picking it up, because someone had obviously dropped it a short time earlier, but asking, “Hey, did anyone lose $5?” is a good way to have everyone volunteer to take the money. I lingered around the store in case someone made a kerfuffle about losing the money. Sure enough, I overheard a kid complaining that he’d lost $5 a few minutes later, so I gave it back to him. Good deed done for the day!
Here’s a shot of some of the game-used stuff for sale:
And a close-up of one of the wall next to the signing booth, where I assume players scrawl their name whenever they visit. I think it’s a neat touch:
By now, the players were back on the field, so I got my first look at Connecticut. I think their uniforms are one of the sharpest in the NYPL. I like the simple approach, which is obviously modeled after their parent club in Detroit. As the players warmed up, I took photos of a few of them, including Jared Reaves:
Starting pitcher Endrys Briceno, who gave up seven hits and two earned runs over five innings in a non-decision:
Briceno is listed at 6’5″, 150 lbs., which might make him the lightest pro ball player I’ve ever noticed.
And catcher Tim Remes, who picked up his first RBI in a Connecticut uniform after being called up from the Gulf Coast League a short while earlier:
When the game began, I settled into a spot on the third base side for a couple innings, and then began to explore my food options. The Burger Barn stand in the right field corner appeared to have the most appealing menu, so I asked what the server recommended. She suggested the Cheesy Potato Burger, which is covered in, as you might suspect, cheese and French fries. In case your potato intake was dangerously low, it was served with a side of … fried chips. I decided to go with her suggestion, and although my stomach is casting me dirty glances as I write this early the following morning, the burger was tasty:
And hugely filling. I wasn’t a fan of the fried chips, and the burger left me more than full anyway.
Once I finished the burger (and it took some time), I waddled over to a seat behind the protective netting and watched the rest of the game with this view:
The Tigers won 5-3, despite just six hits, and a couple minutes after the team celebrated its win on the mound …
… I hopped in the car, skipping the fireworks show, to get back to my hotel.