Tagged: Hudson Valley Renegades

Connecticut Tigers – August 17

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:

And 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:

Me: Hello.

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 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.

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Vermont Lake Monsters – August 21

About a month ago, I planned to make the drive to Burlington, VT, to watch the Short-Season A Lake Monsters play a doubleheader at Centennial Field.

In the days leading up to that game, I kept an eye on the weather forecast, which read something like rain-rain-thundershowers-rain-thundershowers-thundershowers-rain.

So, I decided not to risk the long drive … and the doubleheader went off without a hitch.

Fast forward to last week, when I was planning to visit Vermont on August 21. The forecast was eerily similar, but I decided to chance it. Instead of making a solo trip, I went with a good friend I don’t get to see enough. We met bright and early and headed out into the rain, thunder and lightning that was the entire drive to Vermont.

About 30 minutes outside Burlington, the rain let up to a light drizzle, and shortly before we arrived at Centennial Field, the drizzle stopped completely. Perfect!

We got to the park around 11:20 a.m. for the 1 p.m. game, so there were only a handful of cars in the parking lot:

Note that I said it was a 1 p.m. game. But when we got up to the ticket window, there was an ominous message …

… a 6:05 p.m. start? I asked the ticket vendor incredulously, thinking the forecast had bumped the start of the game. Luckily, he said the 6:05 reference was an error. Whew!

With some time to kill before the gates opened, we took a walk toward the left field corner, and made a right turn to get behind the outfield fence to look for balls. Here’s the scene:

But since there was no batting practice because of the rain, there were no balls to be had. I’ve got to think that if BP had been on, the balls would’ve been easy to snag. Nevertheless, we continued the walk with our eyes peeled for balls, and I paused to take my usual ticket shot:

In the background is the Lake Monsters log cabin-themed scoreboard, which is unique looking, despite lacking a little on the information-giving side of things:

After making it to center field, we turned into the area beyond the right field fence where this was the scene:

Back here, there were a few neat things to see. Members of the Vermont side were having a pre-game prayer group:

While the Hudson Valley Renegades took some swings in the cage behind them:

No one paid us any notice, including a staff member who walked by at one point. I scanned the area for balls, and quickly noticed a white blip up against a chain-link fence well beyond the area we were standing in. I went closer and found this:

The markings are mostly rubbed off, but it was an official Northwest League ball. In other words, it was a long way from home. I’m trying to collect a ball from every league I’ve visited, so this was a super-cool find.

So far, I have balls from the:

– Major Leagues
– International League
– Eastern League
– Carolina League
– Midwest League
– South Atlantic League
– New York-Penn League
– Northwest League

With no other balls to find, we walked back toward the left field corner …

… and peeked over the fence to see the Renegades close up:

Actually, it wasn’t the first time we saw the team so close. They were using the adjacent soccer field’s dressing room as their clubhouse, so they walked down the driveway we used to access the field.

There wasn’t much to see when we walked in the other direction from the park’s main gate. A fence blocked off the area, but we were able to look into the concourse:

See the Ford display in the foreground? A minute or so after I took this picture, the employees began packing it up quickly. Hmmm. It appeared they knew something we didn’t, because soon after, the skies opened up again.

Though the scene was grim, it wasn’t all bad; the gate attendants let everyone in early to get a bit of shelter, and even said we could use the handicap area because it was covered. People in Vermont seem pretty friendly.

Over the next hour, the rain fell hard and fell soft, but kept falling continuously. Despite the showers, we wandered around the stadium to note the old, cement general admission section …

… and the wooden seats:

Scenery aside, there wasn’t much else happening here of note:

Eventually, an announcement said the game wouldn’t begin at 1 p.m., but that team officials hoped things would get underway within an hour or so. Around this time, members of the Renegades came out and played catch:

And returned from the batting cage:

Just when things were looking up, more thunder struck, the players retreated and the skies went dark again. Here’s where we took refuge during another downpour:

With the rain still coming down, we moved out into the concourse (staying against the building under the roof’s overhang) and went to the team shop:

I ended up buying a Lake Monsters alternate cap, which has a unique look because of its white front panel:

We also stopped by the team’s silent auction table, where I resisted the urge to bid on an MC Hammer bobblehead:

As the rain let up, we began to hear talk that the game would begin around 1:40 p.m., which wasn’t bad, all things considered. For the next while, we walked around to take in the sights, including a historical plaque:

The Lake Monsters clubhouse, located behind the first base-side bullpen:

And another panoramic view of Centennial Field from atop the stands behind the first base line:

Below is a photo looking down at the home clubhouse. Fans can stand behind the yellow chain and get autographs as the players enter and exit, though there still wasn’t any activity:

So, we took a rather “you shouldn’t be here”-looking path behind the clubhouse …

… to an area called The Cage, which is a bar right behind the batting cage. On our way, we could see piles of cleats in the windows of the clubhouse …

… and the batting cages:

Here’s the bar, such as it is:

In its defense, what it lacks in appearance, it makes up for in location. It’s a neat place to watch the game. In this area, a bunch of Lake Monsters were playing cards and a handful more were playing darts:

FINALLY, the Lake Monsters came out to stretch:

And the bullpen got some life in it. Below is starting pitcher Brent Powers tossing:

The game began around 1:50 p.m., so we made a quick stop at the concession stand and took our seats directly behind home plate, where we had this view:

And equally importantly, here was my view as I devoured a rather good sausage on a bun:

We actually ended up sitting two rows behind Chris Pittaro, the A’s director of pro scouting, who spent a lot of his time firing off emails on his iPhone.

After four innings, we made another stop at the concession stand, bought some Dippin’ Dots and found a relatively dry spot in the bleachers on the first base line.

Food:

And baseball:

Is there anything better?

Hudson Valley seemed to be cruising along until Vermont second baseman Michael Fabiaschi blasted a fifth-inning grand slam (his first career pro dinger) to put the Lake Monsters ahead for good. It’s always neat to see a guy’s first home run, and Fabiaschi (#12) was pretty stoked:

Vermont put up a three-spot an inning later to take an 8-3 lead. With the game well in hand, we made our way back to The Cage, which was empty. Before settling in to watch the rest of the game, I made my way behind a chain-link fence into a forest to retrieve a foul ball that’d been hit an inning earlier. It was easy to find and was in near-perfect condition:

We had this view for the last inning or so …

… and watched the Lake Monsters celebrate after their 8-3 win to extend their lead in the Stedler Division:

After the game, we went to the Vermont clubhouse where I got a handful of autographs on a ball. (As usual, I’ll blog about this separately.)

Then, we went around to the picnic area down the third base line to gain access to the field to play some catch. Here’s a shot of the empty ballpark from the field:

After taking this shot, I noticed some pieces of paper affixed to the visitors dugout wall. I asked a grounds crew member if I could go retrieve the official lineup card, and his response was, “Go for it.” Like I said earlier, friendly people in Vermont. Anyway, the lineup was gone; all that remained was stats sheets, which I wasn’t really interested in.

Still, it was a great experience at an interesting, historical-feeling ballpark. We hit the road as soon as our game of catch was done, and drove through rain so hard that we had to pull off the road at one point. I’m just glad the rain held off long enough for nine innings.