Tagged: International League

Syracuse Chiefs – June 23

Getting to spend consecutive days watching baseball in any given city is awesome. So, after an exciting first day in Syracuse on June 22, it was great to get up early and enjoy hanging out in my hotel for the day before heading over to NBT Bank Stadium.

The day had a bit of an inauspicious start, though. I took the following photo at 6:30 a.m. and, as you can see, it was rainy and miserable looking:

crowne-plaza-syracuse-room-view-day-two-rain

The forecast was calling for sun and clear skies by game time, though, so I didn’t let the rain dampen my mood. Plus, even with the dreary morning skies, I got to enjoy a great view of the city from the window of my 15th-floor room at the Crowne Plaza Syracuse. By noon, the weather had cleared up …

crowne-plaza-syracuse-room-view-day-two

… and I was looking forward to another perfect day of baseball with temperatures in the upper 70s. The evening’s game was set to begin at 7 p.m. For 7 p.m. games, I usually get to the park between 4:30 and 5 p.m., but I had a couple good reasons to be earlier on this day. Just before midnight the night before, Chiefs assistant GM Jason Horbal had sent me a tweet saying to have someone in the reception area call him when I got to the ballpark so we could catch up. I’d also met Syracuse.com sports reporter Lindsay Kramer during my Monday visit, and he wanted to meet up to interview me for a story he was going to write about my visit. Man, I never need any extra incentive to get to the ballpark, but I certainly had it on day #2 and couldn’t wait to get to the park.

My media pass from a day earlier was still valid — thanks, Jay! — so I entered the Chiefs admin area and ran into Jason right away. He had to speak to someone for a moment, so I hung out in this cool area …

syracuse-chiefs-office

… before he reappeared and I followed him to his office. I didn’t take any photos of his office because, hey, that’s his personal space. But I can tell you that it was amazing — practically a Chiefs/baseball memorabilia museum. Signed balls, game-used bats, random baseball stuff everywhere and a cool picture of Bryce Harper wearing his Chiefs uniform above the desk. We talked baseball for probably half an hour and I was at my baseball nerdiest, asking Jason a million questions about behind-the-scenes stuff that goes on with an MiLB franchise. I heard stories about the recent Dwight Gooden and Lenny Dykstra autograph appearance at NBT Bank Stadium, Nick Swisher’s visit during a rehab stint in May and a whole lot more. Jason’s a great guy. Give him a follow on Twitter and if you’re at a Chiefs game, look for him in the concourse and say hello.

After a while, he understandably had to get back to his pregame duties, but first he led me through the Chiefs offices, into a tunnel, through the Charlotte dugout and onto the field! Let me tell you, there’s no cooler experience than being on the field of a professional ballpark. Jason said to feel free to hang out on the field for as much of batting practice as I wanted and then headed away. Once he left, I took this photo to show where I was standing:

nbt-bank-stadium-bp-on-field

And this is what it looked like in panorama form:

nbt-bank-stadium-bp-on-field-pano

As you can see, there was no action just yet. The Chiefs were due to hit very shortly, though, so I found a spot next to the home dugout, which was still empty:

nbt-bank-stadium-home-dugout

Before the action began, I took this quick shot of myself with my GoPro:

The first sign of action on the field wasn’t the Chiefs hitting — it was three members of the Knights playing hacky sack. I was pretty impressed with their dedication. I believe they played for over an hour:

charlotte-knights-hacy-sack

From left to right, that’s pitcher Zach Phillips with the sack on his head, pitcher Maikel Cleto and, I think, a member of the training/conditioning staff, although I could be incorrect. Incidentally, Phillips was one of the Knights I saw several times in the hotel lobby over the course of my stay.

Soon enough, the Syracuse players emerged from the dugout tunnel, took the field and started to hit. I was standing on the edge of the warning track beside the home dugout for virtually the entire batting practice, so I had an awesome view. Here’s star infielder Emmanuel Burriss, who was called up to the Nationals just three days after this game:

emmanuel-burris-syracuse-chiefs

And here’s Tony Gwynn, Jr., who also made an appearance in my previous blog post:

tony-gwynn-jr-syracuse-chiefs

Sometimes, the Knights’ game of hacky sack got a little crazy. At one point, an errant kick sent the sack into the stands and Cleto had to retrieve it:

maikel-cleto-charlotte-knights

As some players hit, infielder Josh Johnson did some running drills:

josh-johnson-syracuse-chiefs

Although I took a bunch of photos, I was trying to remain as stationary as possible for much of BP, as I once again had my new GoPro strapped to my chest. I took some cool footage of the experience that I’ll be uploading onto my YouTube channel very soon. If you subscribe, you’ll be the first to know when it’s live!

It was an absolute blast watching BP from the field. I’d done it once before, when a guy named Jeter was rehabbing in Triple-A, and this time was awesome, too. If you read my blog regularly, you know how much I enjoy the batting practice experience in the minors, so watching it from just a handful of feet away on Jason’s recommendation was outstanding. Thanks again, Jay!

Before I left the field at the conclusion of BP, I snapped one last picture of Darin Mastroianni’s bat and batting gloves sitting on the tarp next to the cage. It’s interesting (to me, anyway) because Mastroianni’s jersey number with the Chiefs is actually 16, so the number 19 on the end of his bat must’ve been from a different season:

darin-mastroianni-bat

After leaving the field, I walked through the stands over to the Charlotte bullpen area, where the players were now playing catch. I was excited to see pitcher Kyle Drabek, who I saw lots of times between 2010 and 2014 in the Blue Jays system:

kyle-drabek-charlotte-knights

I also saw Brad Penny playing catch a day after his start. Even cooler, I noticed Penny running the stadium stairs when I first went out to the field. Pretty cool to see a a 37-year-old pitcher who has made nearly $50 million in his career working so hard to get back to the majors.

By this time, Phillips was done his marathon hacky sack game and was playing catch, too:

zach-phillips-charlotte-knights

I watched the action on the field until the players headed for the clubhouse, and then I, too, found a different place to visit. It was time to hit the press box to meet up with Lindsay to discuss my interview. I met him and we decided to speak later in the game, so I took this photo of the empty field just before 6:30 p.m. …

syracuse-chiefs-nbt-bank-stadium-empty-field

… and then went to a suite-level observation area that allowed me to capture the scene outside NBT Bank Stadium:

nbt-bank-stadium-pano-parking-lot

Time to eat? I think so!

The Chiefs have a two-for-one Tuesday special every Tuesday home game, in which you can buy select concession items and get a second one for free. I’d been excited to see what the promotion would feature during my visit, and I pumped that it would be the food I was planning to buy anyway — the “Hofmann Ripper.” This deep-fried hot dog included hot sauce, blue cheese sauce and celery pieces. Sounds good, right? Obviously, I ordered two:

syracuse-chiefs-food-hoffman-ripper

They were tasty. I’m not sure that they were the best ballpark hot dogs that I’ve eaten, but they were certainly among the most creatively designed. The combination of the hot sauce and blue cheese sauce was very chicken wing-esque, and the crunch from the celery was good. If you’re at NBT Bank Stadium this summer, I definitely recommend checking them out at the Chicken Fry Fry stand on the first base side.

Once I’d eaten, I took a bunch of photos to make up this big panorama …

nbt-bank-stadium-left-field-corner-pano

… and then went down to field level in time for the first pitch. Like a day earlier, I found a spot in the front row behind the Chiefs dugout, which gave me a great vantage point for some action shots. Here’s Syracuse starter Taylor Hill, who pitched 5.2 innings of three-run ball:

taylor-hill-syracuse-chiefs

And Charlotte second baseman Micah Johnson in the process of stealing his first of two bases in the game:

nbt-bank-stadium-stolen-base-attempt

(You can see that Burris had a little trouble getting a handle on the ball!)

And here’s a shot of Chiefs catcher Dan Butler on his way back to the dugout after an inning:

dan-butler-syracuse-chiefs

I got this cool action shot of Burris just after he made contact with a pitch that ended up landing foul …

emmanuel-burris-syracuse-chiefs-plate

… and this one a moment later on his way to the dugout after lining out sharply:

emmanuel-burris-syracuse-chiefs-dugout-walk

As I’d been mentioning on Twitter in the days leading up to my Syracuse visit, I’d hoped to get a foul ball during either game. Back in 2013 when I visited NBT Bank Stadium for a doubleheader, I got a pair of foul balls. I didn’t make a real attempt to snag a foul during the first day of my visit this time, though, so I wanted to get a souvenir during the second game. For whatever reason, the crowd on this night was sparse, which meant the upper deck was pretty bare — especially down the lines. See this photo for evidence:

nbt-bank-stadium-empty-section

I always find that an easy way to end up with a foul ball is to sit in an empty section if there is one. Even if the ball isn’t hit directly to you, you shouldn’t have any trouble getting there before other fans. So, that’s exactly what I did. I took a seat in the above section just behind the News Channel 9 sign and less than half an inning later, I was holding this foul ball off the bat of Charlotte DH Tyler Saladino:

syracuse-chiefs-foul-ball

Funny story about this ball: It landed half a section to my right and a few rows above me, but I got there quickly and grabbed it. There was a kid a couple sections to my left who started running in the general direction of the foul, but he wasn’t even close to entering the section by the time I’d grabbed the ball. A handful of fans in that area booed loudly once I picked up the ball, apparently since I hadn’t chosen to ignore the ball so the kid could grab it. Not because of the booing, I decided right then and there that I’d quickly take a photo of the ball and then walk over and hand it to the kid. As I took the above photo, I noticed who I presumed to be the kid’s father waving his arms to encourage people to continue booing. Hmmm. That was enough of an incentive to convince me to keep it myself.

This is the seventh foul ball in my collection. One day, I’ll have to write a post about all of them.

Anyway, with my mission complete, I met up with Lindsay in the press box for my interview. I took this photo as we talked:

nbt-bank-stadium-press-box-view

When the interview was done, I headed back down to the concourse when I ran into Jason behind home plate. I think it was the bottom of the seventh inning, and I decided to hang out with him and watch the rest of the game from this spot:

nbt-bank-stadium-behind-plate-night

That’s former MLB pitcher Jose Valverde on the mound for Syracuse. He pitched the ninth inning and picked up the save as the Chiefs won 4-3. It was hilarious to watch his disregard for the new pitch clock that’s made headlines throughout baseball in 2015. Simply put, he cares zero percent about it. I was actually laughing out loud a few times. I believe the clock begins its 20-second countdown when the pitcher either receives the ball back from the catcher or steps onto the mound dirt between hitters. In any case, there were plenty of times that the entire 20 seconds had wound down long before Valverde had even taken the rubber. He never got a warning for it, either, so it was a funny game within a game to watch.

Although I was sad to be leaving NBT Bank Stadium when the game wrapped up, I was once again looking forward to enjoying the Crowne Plaza Syracuse for the remainder of my visit. The next morning, I took this panorama out my window …

crowne-plaza-syracuse-room-view-day-two-pano

… before taking my camera and going for a walk around the block to take some more shots. Here’s the hotel from the top level of the parking garage:

crowne-plaza-from-parking-lot

And the lobby entrance closest to the garage. There’s also valet parking here, too, if you’re interested:

crowne-plaza-lobby-entrance

I don’t know when I’ll visit Syracuse next, but I do definitely know that the Crowne Plaza is where I’ll stay. I was thoroughly impressed with every element of this visit, from the location of the hotel to the in-room amenities to the professionalism and friendliness of every staff member I encountered. If you’re a baseball fan visiting the city — or are just visiting the ‘Cuse for any reason, really — I wholeheartedly recommend this hotel.

The next morning, I checked out of the hotel about 10:30 a.m. and planned to do a little shopping before I made the three-hour drive home. First, though, I wanted to make one last baseball-related stop. I’m always interested in seeing baseball facilities of any type on my trips, and when I saw on the map that I was just a few minutes from Le Moyne College, a school that has an NCAA Div. II baseball team, I knew I had to visit. The college campus was beautiful and quiet. I found the athletic facilities easily, parked my car and took a walk around to check out everything. Here’s a look at the baseball field from just inside the gate:

le-moyne-college-gate-shot

And the field in panorama form:

le-moyne-college-field-pano

After taking these photos, I packed up my camera for good and began the short drive home after an outstanding few days.

I’ll be announcing my next travel plans very soon, so please keep an eye on this blog for details. Thanks for reading!

Syracuse Chiefs – June 22

I’ve never been good at math.

But the reason that I got up on Monday at 5 a.m. for a 7 p.m. baseball game in a city located three hours away wasn’t due to poor math skills. Rather, it was simply due to a love of the game. For me, there’s absolutely nothing better than watching live baseball and it’s tough to get much sleep the night before a trip.

Even though I’d been to Syracuse to see the Chiefs in action twice for The Ballpark Guide (and also visited but ended up being rained out a couple other times) I was excited to get back to town for a pair of games at the start of last week. So, yeah, I was up bright and early and on the road a few hours later. I made a handful of stops on the drive but ended up getting to Syracuse about 2 p.m. I’ve often said that one of the things that boosts the enjoyment of a baseball road trip is staying in a great hotel, and that would be true once again. I’d booked two nights at the Crowne Plaza Syracuse; in past visits to the city, I’ve often noticed this tall hotel and the prominent role it plays in the city’s skyline, so I was excited to check it out. (More on the hotel later in this post.)

Because I arrived about an hour before check-in, I had some time to kill, so I hung out in the lobby and did some people watching. It proved exciting because the Crowne Plaza is the hotel that visiting International League clubs use! The Charlotte Knights were in town to square off against the Chiefs and the Knights players and staff members were coming and going the entire time that I sat in the lobby. It’s pretty easy to spot ballplayers, and I’d estimate that I saw at least 15 players and coaches during the short time I sat there.

At one point, a Knights staffer approached the front desk with a rolling suitcase and asked if the hotel staff could keep the suitcase behind the desk for a player to pick up later. Apparently, he was on a different flight and wouldn’t arrive for a little while. The clerk asked who the luggage belonged to and I perked up my ears as the staffer replied “Chris Beck.” Beck was a second-round pick of the Chicago White Sox in 2012 and has already pitched one game for the ChiSox this season.

Before long, it was time to check in, so I left my spying for another time and went up to my room on the 15th floor. I expected that I’d have a great view of the city and I definitely wasn’t disappointed. Here’s what it looked like:

crowne-plaza-syracuse-city-view

I didn’t have much time to enjoy the room just yet — I wanted to get over to NBT Bank Stadium good and early, because assistant GM Jason Horbal was providing me with a media pass. If you recognize his name, he’s the former GM of the Auburn Doubledays who give me the opportunity to throw out the first pitch at a game in July of 2013.

I was extra excited to get to the ballpark because I recently got a GoPro that I’ll be using to document my adventures on each trip. It’s going to take me a little time to edit all the footage I shot, but I can promise that I’ve got some cool stuff to share with you.

In any case, I got ready for the game, made the nine- or 10-minute drive over to the park and was standing here with this glorious view before any other fans were in the area:

syracuse-chiefs-nbt-bank-stadium-front

I always take a pre-entry walk around every park I visit, so I took a tour through the players’ parking lot on the third base side of the main gate and then went over to this path beyond the right field corner:

syracuse-chiefs-pathway-behind-park

As I did during my last visit, I walked up the path and along the railway tracks that run behind the park until I could see the field and catch a glimpse of the batting practice that was taking place:

syracuse-chiefs-view-from-tracks

The area directly behind the outfield fence is fenced off, so this is as close as you can get to seeing the field before entering the park. After watching the action for a couple minutes, I retraced my steps to the pavilion in front of the main gate, entered via the admin/office area, took the elevator up to the concourse and was soon looking at the field shortly before Charlotte’s BP session was set to begin. I decided to take a walk down toward the left field corner and it wasn’t long before I found these:

syracuse-chiefs-batting-practice-baseballs

After I took this photo, I tossed these two International League balls into the Syracuse bullpen because I don’t think it’s fair to snag BP balls when the stadium isn’t yet open to fans. Still, they made for a fun picture, right?

I found another ball during my subsequent walk to the right field corner …

nbt-bank-stadium-ball

… and instead of dropping it into the bullpen, I saw a Charlotte coach approaching so I made a motion as though I was going to throw him the ball. He had his glove under his arm, but he put it on and I tossed it to him from about 30 feet away. When he caught it, he walked over to the fence where I was standing. I noticed he was wearing #34 on his BP jersey, which meant he was Richard Dotson, the team’s pitching coach and a former big leaguer. (In fact, he was an all-star in 1983 and went 22-7 that season.)

“Do you want to keep this ball?” he asked.

“No, I’m good, thanks,” I replied.

He looked carefully at the ball and said, “It’s not one of ours, so you can keep it if you’d like.”

I said that I didn’t need it and we talked for a few minutes about the team’s previous series against Indianapolis and the outstanding baseball weather. Eventually, he walked away and I snapped this quick shot of him:

richard-dotson-charlotte-knights

Dotson was heading toward home plate because the Knights were about to start hitting, so I walked in that direction, too. He went around to the third base side of home plate and I followed his path in the front row of the seats. There, I took this picture of him hitting fungoes to the first base side:

richard-dotson-charlotte-knights-bp

Watching BP is one of my very favorite things to do, and experiencing it in a virtually empty stadium is pretty much as good as it gets. I made the decision to go grab something to eat and watch the proceedings on the field while I munched, but first I took this shot after I spotted a Crowne Plaza banner in the outfield:

syracuse-chiefs-crowne-plaza-syracuse-sign

The Chiefs have introduced a number of new concession items for the 2015 season and before my trip, I browsed the list and thought about what I wanted to try. I always like sampling original items at the ballpark, so I went with the team’s unique stadium-centric take on chicken and waffles — chicken and funnel cakes:

syracuse-chiefs-food-funnel-cakes-and-chicken

It included two large funnel cakes, three chicken tenders and a dusting of icing sugar with a side order of syrup.

Overall, the meal was pretty good. I loved the chicken tenders. They had far more chicken than bread, the breading was tasty and they were a perfect texture. I’d definitely eat ’em again on their own. The funnel cakes were a little too crunchy for my liking. I couldn’t skewer them with my plastic fork, so I had to eat them by hand. These are the first funnel cakes I’ve ever had, so I’m not sure if they’re always this way or if these were a little overdone. In any case, it was a tasty meal and something that was different to try, so I’m glad I gave it a shot. While I ate, I set up my GoPro to snap some pictures of me, including this one:

I ate in the upper deck on the third base side and when I was done, went down to field level on the opposite side of the field to watch Brad Penny warming up for the Knights. It was a nice surprise to see that Penny was starting. He’s a 14-year MLB veteran, a two-time all-star and a winner of 121 games in the big leagues. I stood directly behind catcher Kevan Smith while he and Penny played catch …

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… and then moved adjacent to the bullpen once Penny took the mound. From just a few feet away, I took pictures like this:

brad-penny-charlotte-knights-bullpen-1

And this:

brad-penny-charlotte-knights-bullpen

As the end of his warm-up approached, Penny said “One more” to Smith. But after that pitch, he said “One more” again. And again. It was obvious he was trying to work on something/end his warm-up on a positive note, but that some minor detail was a little off. I’m not sure how many times he attempted his final warm-up pitch, but I think it was four or five. Eventually, he said, “$%#&@. I’ll fix it out there.”

With that, Penny proceeded to the Charlotte dugout and I headed around to grab a seat above and next to the Syracuse dugout to take some action shots. The sun beginning to set over NBT Bank Stadium made action shots a challenge — not only were there a lot of shadows to contend with, but the black and white nature of the Chiefs uniforms meant that, from some angles, players were either washed out or too shaded because of the contrast. Nevertheless, I took a pile of action shots, including Syracuse starter Paolo Espino, who pitched seven innings of one-run, five-hit ball:

paolo-espino-syracuse-chiefs

And Penny, who indeed did “fix it out there,” giving up three hits and no runs in his four innings of work:

brad-penny-charlotte-knights

Syracuse leadoff hitter Darin Mastroianni was the game’s best offensive player with two doubles, two RBIs and a stolen base. I took this shot while he was taking his lead off third after swiping it in the bottom of the first inning:

darin-mastroianni-stolen-base

Here’s a bonus shot of Mastroianni, simply because he’s one of my favorite players:

darin-mastroianni-dirty

He’s a former Toronto Blue Jays draft pick, so I followed his early career when he was in the minors. He’s played for a handful of organizations, including two stints with Toronto, and is a guy who shows an unbelievable amount of hustle and is really a pleasure to watch and root for.

As the game progressed, I continued to take a ton of action shots, including this sequence of Charlotte outfielder Trayce Thompson getting nailed at third after trying to advance from first base on a hit:

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Here’s another sequence: It’s Knights second baseman Drew Garcia losing his grip on his bat …

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… and a fan tossing it back to him after retrieving it against the fence:

drew-garcia-charlotte-knights-bat-2

My seat location gave me an awesome vantage point for shooting the Chiefs players on deck, including outfielder Tony Gwynn, Jr.:

tony-gwynn-jr-syracuse-chiefs

And a funny shot of catcher Steven Lerud in mid-spit:

steven-lerud-spitting

From here, I could also see small details, such as Mastroianni’s name engraved on his bat:

darin-mastroianni-feet-and-bat

In the fifth inning, I left my seat in favor of an upper-deck spot on the first base side. In this area, I attached my GoPro to the railing in front of me and took a few shots as I watched the game, including this one:

This high location wasn’t a great place for action shots, but it certainly was conducive to cool panoramas like this one, as well as some time-lapse stuff that I shot with the GoPro and will edit shortly:

nbt-bank-stadium-panorama

I watched part of the eighth inning from behind home plate …

syracuse-chiefs-nbt-bank-stadium-home-plate-view

… and then moved to the upper deck down on the third base side in time to see one of my tweets featured on NBT Bank Stadium’s video board:

nbt-bank-stadium-video-board-my-tweet

The Chiefs have a promotion in which you tweet about the game, hashtag #GannonChiefsBuzz and you might get your tweet featured on the screen. Well, mine was, and I think this is the first time my Twitter account has appeared on an MiLB video board!

Syracuse won a closely fought game 2-1 and although I was sad to be leaving, I was excited to know that I’d be back at the ballpark in fewer than 24 hours. I was also excited to get back to my hotel, but before I did, I took this shot of the front of the park as the fans were leaving:

syracuse-chiefs-nbt-bank-stadium-front-night

I was back at the Crowne Plaza Syracuse before long and excited for a chance to relax, given that it’d been a long day. The first thing I did was snap this shot out my window to show the nighttime version of the first photo in this post …

crowne-plaza-syracuse-city-view-night

… and then it was time to relax. I’m really glad I stayed at this hotel. Not only does it have an awesome view of the city, but the fact that visiting teams also stay there is reason enough for any baseball fan to make a reservation when planning a trip to Syracuse. The guest rooms are sizable and stylish — here’s a shot I took of the desk area the following morning:

crowne-plaza-syracuse-desk-shot

And see that basket of snacks to the left of my desk? Room service dropped those off to welcome me to the hotel — pretty awesome! Here’s the king-sized bed and sitting area, too:

crowne-plaza-syracuse-bed

I’ll get into some of the other details about the hotel in my post about my second day in Syracuse, but let’s talk about the in-room amenities: 32-inch high-def TVs, free high-speed Internet and rain shower heads were my favorite amenities. There’s plenty of on-site parking and the hotel is just a minute off the highway, making it really accessible. Between the guest room perks, the outstanding view, the short drive to NBT Bank Stadium and the opposing players you’ll see throughout the hotel, I definitely recommend the Crowne Plaza Syracuse when you’re visiting the city to see the Chiefs.

I’m Heading Back to Syracuse

I’m excited to say that my 2015 season of baseball road trips will finally get underway on Monday. I’ll be making the drive to Syracuse …

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… to see the Triple-A Chiefs in action against the Charlotte Knights for games on Monday and Tuesday (June 22 and 23).

Syracuse is slightly more than three hours’ drive from my home, and this will be the fifth and sixth time I’ll be visiting what’s now known as NBT Bank Stadium. I’ve unfortunately been bitten by the rainout bug in Syracuse on a couple occasions — both taking place during a round-trip visit to the city to catch a matinee game. Here’s a look at my hit-or-miss success with seeing the Chiefs, and you can click the date links to read about each day:

July 18, 2010: During my very first road trip for The Ballpark Guide, I saw the Chiefs in action and it was a perfect, sunny day.

May 3, 2011: Rainout. Drove three hours to Syracuse. Found out the game was cancelled. Drove three hours home.

April 14, 2013: An amazing day! Watched a doubleheader against Lehigh Valley. Awesome tour, tasty food and two foul balls.

July 28, 2014: Rainout again. Drove three hours to Syracuse. Found out the game was cancelled. Drove three hours home.

For starters, I’m obviously hoping for good weather for these two games. Beyond that, I’m just excited to be back at the ballpark. NBT Bank Stadium has an impressive list of new concession items for 2015, so I’ll definitely be giving some of them a try. It might be nice to snag another foul ball or two, too.

As usual, I’ll be tweeting and blogging along the way and can’t wait to share my adventures with you.

Rochester Red Wings – August 29

Whenever I meet new people on my baseball road trips and tell them about The Ballpark Guide, the question I’m most often asked is, “What’s your favorite park?” It’s a question that’s almost impossible to answer — how can you compare the history of a 100-year-old park with the amazing, modern amenities of a new one?

The way I answer this common question, albeit in a roundabout way, is to talk about which parks I’d pick if I could theoretically relocate somewhere and buy season tickets. Rochester’s Frontier Field is always on that list. I’ve often said that Frontier Field might offer my favorite all-round ballpark experience, and when I was planning my recent trip, I couldn’t resist kicking things off in Rochester.

All that said, I was pretty excited to hop in the car the morning of August 29 and punch Rochester into my GPS. I checked in to my amazing hotel when I got to town (lots more on that later) and made it to Frontier Field shortly before 4 p.m., a couple hours before first pitch. I closely follow the Rochester Red Wings, given my love of Frontier Field, and they were hosting the Buffalo Bisons during this final series of the International League regular season. Buffalo, of course, is the Triple-A affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays, and I hadn’t seen the Bisons in action since they became affiliated with the Jays. Lots of reasons to get inside and check things out!

First, though, I took the following photo from the parking lot, which shows not only the front gate of Frontier Field and the tip of the Kodak building beyond, but also a decent contingent of eager fans:

frontier-field-parking-lot-view

The reason for the early arrival? Stan Musial bobblehead night. As much as getting a bobblehead of Stan the Man was appealing, it wasn’t in the cards for me, as I didn’t have a ticket. The Red Wings were once again providing me with a media credential, which you can see here:

frontier-field-media-pass-malcolm

(Huge thanks to Tim from the Red Wings for taking care of me again this season.)

Before I entered, I took a series of photos to capture the pavilion in front of Frontier Field in panorama form …

frontier-field-front-gate-panorama

… and the next shot I took was my initial view of the ballpark’s suite level, upon exiting the elevator:

frontier-field-suite-level-hallway

I didn’t spend time exploring the suite level or pressbox; I’ve been lucky to check these areas out extensively in the past, and my priority was to get to field level. After making my way down to the concourse and out to the seating bowl, here’s the first thing I saw:

frontier-field-batting-practice-buffalo

Yep, it was the Bisons getting ready to hit. As you can see from the following panorama, Frontier Field was virtually deserted:

frontier-field-first-base-side-view-panorama

There’s something absolutely amazing about being in a nearly-empty ballpark. Watching BP is one of my favorite baseball experiences, and it doesn’t get any better than wandering around a virtually empty park with the music playing and the cracks of the bat in the background. I decided to take a full lap around the field, starting with a walk down the first base line. As I headed toward the foul pole, I came across a couple baseballs sitting on the grass. As per usual, it would’ve been tempting to grab ’em for my collection, but I didn’t want to use my media pass for any monkey business, so I steered clear:

frontier-field-balls-on-berm

I even left this home run ball, nestled just over the outfield fence, where it sat:

frontier-field-batting-practice-home-run-ball

When I got to the left field corner, I had a great view of the upper levels of the Kodak building:

rochester-kodak-building-upper-levels

Sure, this building isn’t part of Frontier Field per se, but it’s a Rochester landmark and, given its location virtually across the street from the ballpark, makes for an awesome backdrop.

Instead of finishing my complete lap, I decided to stop on the grass berm down the third base line to watch the Bisons, who were shagging BP balls. I saw top prospects Daniel Norris and A.J. Jimenez just a short distance away, and as I surveyed the scene in the outfield through my camera, I heard someone yelling at me in Spanish. Slightly befuddled, I lowered my camera, looked in the direction of the sound and saw a Bisons player looking toward me and saying something I couldn’t understand. Then, he held up his hands and clicked the shutter on an imaginary camera, so I quickly focused on him and snapped this shot:

radhames-liz-buffalo-bisons-peace-sign

“Gracias,” he yelled over to me. Now, I’ve been slowly learning how to speak Spanish, and this would’ve been a perfect opportunity to respond with a “de nada,” but I got cold feet and just waved and gave a thumbs up. When he turned, I took note of his jersey number — 59 — and quickly checked my roster sheet to see who it was, since I didn’t recognize him. The Buffalo roster didn’t have a #59, which left me to guess the player was on the disabled list. Of course, telling a story here on my blog about a mystery player wouldn’t cut it, so I needed to figure out who it was. I waited a moment and aimed my camera back at him. He saw me, motioned to Jimenez, and this was the result:

radhames-liz-aj-jimenez-buffalo-bisons

After I took the picture (and exchanged thumbs up with them) the mystery player made his way over to me and asked if the photos turned out well. Yes, I told him. “Are you putting them online?” he asked. “Yes,” I replied, “but if you’d like, I can send you the full-sized versions by email.” He said that would be great, and I gave him one of my business cards. Then, he asked to see the photos. I lowered my camera over the fence and watched as he checked them out. He thanked me for taking them and, since I didn’t want to let him get away without figuring out who he was, I quickly said, “I’m Malcolm,” and extended my hand toward him. “Radhames,” he replied, shaking my hand. I instantly knew he was Radhames Liz, a former Baseball America top-100 prospect and pitcher for the Balitmore Orioles. He appeared in 28 games for the O’s over three seasons, including a stint in 2008 in which he started 17 games. After spending 2011 through 2013 pitching in Korea, Liz signed with the Blue Jays and started 12 games this season between Double-A and Triple-A, putting together a tidy 2.95 ERA.

Anyway, he’s yet to email me, but I sure hope he does. And if not, he’ll certainly be a guy I’ll keep tabs on and try to meet again.

I took a few posed photos of Liz and Raul Valdes (I think):

radhames-liz-and-teammate

And embraced my new role as his personal photographer by taking some action shots of him shagging balls, including this one …

radhames-liz-buffalo-bisons

… and playing catch, like this one:

radhames-liz-buffalo-playing-catch

Occasionally, Liz seemed to get the sense that I was still shooting him, so he’d look over the give the peace sign or a nod. When BP wrapped up, he gave me a salute as he headed off to the dugout, and then I continued making my way around Frontier Field.

Once the gates opened at 5 p.m. I decided to take another lap around the field and, to my surprise, came across a ball sitting in the grass behind the batter’s eye. It seemed like an odd place, but since other fans were milling around (luckily for me, oblivious to the ball), I grabbed it:

frontier-field-bp-batters-eye-ball

All the walking and, let’s face it, Frontier Field’s awesome concessions menu, had me hungry. I headed for the Red Osier stand on the third base side to get one of my favorite items, an enormous prime rib sandwich. The lineup, though, was extensive:

frontier-field-food-red-osier-lineup

Lineups make me absolutely insane, and as much as I wanted another delicious sandwich, I decided to keep walking. Before long, the “Say Cheese!” stand on the first base side beckoned. The gourmet mac and cheese at this stand is phenomenal, and was what I ate during my very first visit to Frontier Field back in 2010. Perhaps feeling a little nostalgic, I made a quick decision to add a little mac and cheese to my day and ordered the buffalo chicken variety, which consists of mac and cheese, diced chicken, buffalo sauce and blue cheese dressing:

frontier-field-food-mac-and-cheese

Fantastic! (The size of this meal, however, significantly curtailed my plans to grab a prime rib sandwich.)

As I was eating, a family consisting of a pair of grandparents and a young boy sat down in front of me. They asked me to take their picture with their camera, and after doing so, I figured I could do one better. I reached into my backpack to grab the baseball I’d found earlier and handed it to the boy. He was thrilled, although I think his excitement pales in comparison to my wife’s when I told her I wouldn’t be adding another ball to my collection.

Next, I went back down to field level to watch the Bisons get warmed up. It was shortly before game time, and starting pitcher Sean Nolin was getting his stretches in:

sean-nolin-stretching

His battery mate, Jimenez, was also getting ready, and looked a little more in “business mode” than the last time I’d taken his photo:

aj-jimenez-pregame

Since I’d been making the rounds of Frontier Field for a couple hours, I’d done enough to see what I needed for my website. Now, all that was left to do was to settle in and enjoy the ballgame. I began the game on the grass berm in the right field corner, where I had this great view of the action …

frontier-field-right-field-berm

… and this awesome shot of the Kodak building:

frontier-field-kodak-building

(I know I’ve mentioned this building a few times, but it’s such a cool backdrop. Take a visit to Rochester and you’ll know what I mean.)

My next vantage point was behind home plate, which offers a pretty darned good view, too. Here’s Buffalo outfielder Cole Gillespie getting a hit off Rochester’s Sean Gilmartin:

frontier-field-home-plate-view

After a bit of time behind the visitors’ dugout, I took a trip to the Frontier Field team shop, which is always a fun place to browse. A lot of apparel was marked down in price because of the end of the season, but the coolest thing I saw was a barrel of game-used broken bats for sale. I’ve added a number of bats to my collection over the years, and as I browsed the selection, one jumped out at me quickly:

aj-jimenez-game-used-bat

It’s typically tough to find a game-used bat from a top prospect, let alone one from a visiting team. Furthermore, did he break this bat during the day’s batting practice? It seemed so fresh that it couldn’t have been around for long. It looked brand new, except for a few ball marks and a crack along the handle. The display indicated that game-used bats were $25, while bats from MLB players were $50. Jimenez’s bat obviously belonged to the former category, so I was thrilled to find it for such a bargain. I stepped to the counter to buy it, and the clerk told me the the bat was $50, as it belonged to an MLB player. I pointed out that Jimenez has yet to appear in the big leagues, and offered to show her proof online. She was uneasy about giving me the bat for $25, so I didn’t want to press the issue. At the same time, I didn’t want to spend $50 for the bat, so I begrudgingly returned it to its barrel. Oh well.

My next stop was the group picnic area in left field. Although it had earlier been closed for a group function, it was now open to other fans, and I found a spot right behind the Buffalo bullpen, where I hung out for a couple innings. From here, I not only had a great view of the field, but also a close view of guys like former MLB all-star Steve Delabar and Kyle Drabek:

steve-delabar-kyle-drabek-buffalo-bisons

I also had a view of this unidentified flying object hovering above Frontier Field:

frontier-field-ufo

I was pretty amused to watch it — I assume the remote-control helicopter was being piloted by someone in the parking lot — and kept looking around me to see if any other fans had noticed it. It appeared to stay under the proverbial radar and, before long, off it went into the night.

I too went off into the night, but only temporarily. I love taking photos of ballparks at night, and my media pass meant that I could head out the parking lot to shoot Frontier Field, and then walk back inside to enjoy the rest of the game. Here’s the view from the team/media parking lot as a panorama and, as always, you can click on my panoramas to make them huge:

frontier-field-parking-lot-view-night-panorama

After taking this shot, I went back inside where I grabbed a spot behind home plate and watched the remainder of the game. It was an exciting one between two above-.500 clubs. The home team slipped past the visitors 3-2. As a Jays fan, it was awesome to see so many prospects that I’ve yet to see in the Bisons colors or that I’ve seen on TV during brief stints with the big-league club.

As great as the day had been so far, it continued to get better when I got to my hotel after the game. As you know, I love scouting out and staying at cool hotels in each city I visit, and I’d had my eye on The Strathallan in Rochester since I started planning this trip. This hotel is an awesome choice not only for baseball fans visiting town, but also for anyone with Rochester on their travel agenda. It’s only two miles from Frontier Field, or about seven or eight minutes, depending on traffic. As far as location, it’s actually on the edge of a residential neighborhood, so it’s extremely quiet. At the same time, you’re just a few blocks from several downtown eateries, so it’s the best of both worlds.

I was blown away by my room; these photos show the room the following morning. Here’s the living room area:

the-strathallan-suite-living-room

And the bedroom:

the-strathallan-suite-bedroom

I was fortunate to get a suite, so the room was extremely spacious. It also had a kitchen area, huge bathroom, two HDTVs and a balcony, which I think is a first for me on my baseball travels. It was cool to get some fresh air both after the game and early the following morning. The view off my balcony was of the back entrance to the hotel, which I’m sure you’ll agree was beautiful:

the-strathallan-view-from-balcony

The Strathallan has great features such as an indoor pool, fitness center and even an onsite massage clinic. I was especially impressed with the awesome fire pits. Here’s a look at the fire pit on the patio:

the-strathallan-patio-fire-put

And, maybe even cooler, one on the roof:

the-strathallan-rochester-roof-deck-fire-pit

The hotel is nine levels tall, and guests have access to the roof. I rode the elevator to the top floor and had fun checking out the roof deck, which you can book for parties or meetings. As I walked around, the pleasant smell of wood smoke was noticeable, but the fire pits weren’t ablaze. It took me a moment to realize I was smelling the wood-burning ovens at Char Streak & Lounge, the hotel’s upscale restaurant. I didn’t get a chance to eat here during my stay, but that didn’t stop me from salivating over its menu! This hotel is one of the nicest I’ve visited, period, and will definitely be the place I hang my hat the next time I’m in Rochester to visit Frontier Field.

Up next: A pair of outstanding days in Pittsburgh!

Milestone Trip Coming Up!

It’s road trip time again!

On this trip, I’ll be …

– Throwing out the first pitch at a New York-Penn League game;

– Visiting my 50th different ballpark since 2010;

– And once again seeing Jeremy Nowak, who was the center of the coolest adventure I’ve encountered since starting The Ballpark Guide.

Sound good? I’d sure say it does, and I’m absolutely pumped to kick it all off!

On Saturday morning, I’ll be packing up and hitting the road once again for my fourth baseball road trip of the season and second trip of at least 10 days. On this 10-day trip, I’ll see 11 games in 10 cities across three states and will be having a ton of exciting adventures along the way.

Here’s the schedule:

Saturday, July 6: Jamestown Jammers at Auburn Doubledays 6 p.m.

Sunday, July 7: Lehigh Valley IronPigs at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders 1 p.m.

Monday, July 8: Bowie Baysox at Harrisburg Senators 12 p.m.

Monday, July 8: Mahoning Valley Scrappers at State College Spikes 7 p.m.

Tuesday, July 9: Auburn Doubledays at Williamsport Crosscutters 7 p.m.

Wednesday, July 10: Pawtucket Red Sox at Lehigh Valley IronPigs 7 p.m.

Thursday, July 11: New Hampshire Fisher Cats at Reading Fightin’ Phils 7 p.m.

Friday, July 12: Trois-Rivieres Aigles at New Jersey Jackals 7 p.m.

Saturday, July 13: Chicago White Sox at Philadelphia Phillies 4 p.m.

Sunday, July 14: Chicago White Sox at Philadelphia Phillies 1:30 p.m.

Monday, July 15: Hickory Crawdads at Lakewood BlueClaws 7 p.m.

The excitement begins in Auburn, N.Y. at Falcon Park. Way back in July of 2010, on my first-ever road trip for my website, I visited Falcon Park to watch the Auburn Doubledays and loved the experience. Here’s a pre-game picture of me in front of the park:

falcon-park-malcolm

Although I don’t normally make a point of making repeat visits to ballparks, Doubledays general manager Jason Horbal sent me a tweet a couple months back out of the blue and said he’d enjoy showing me the changes made to Falcon Park since my last visit. We exchanged Tweets and emails and I’m super pumped to say I’ll be throwing out the first pitch before the Doubledays host the Jamestown Jammers.

I’ve wanted to throw out a first pitch for a long time, and although I’ve got a few butterflies in my stomach about doing this item on my baseball bucket list, it promises to be exciting. I’ll also get the chance to be interviewed during the game’s radio broadcast, if all goes according to plan and I’ll post further details closer to the game as they come available.

That’s a pretty good start to the trip, don’t you think?

Well, I’m also pumped for day two when I visit Moosic, PA to see the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders. I visited PNC Field in 2011 and the park was closed for the entirety of 2012 for a major renovation project. Now that it’s open again, I’m excited to see the changes.

Day three promises to be a full day with two games in two cities. First, I’ll visit Harrisburg’s Metro Bank Park again. I wasn’t planning to include Harrisburg on this trip, but when I saw the Senators will play a matinee game within easy driving distance, I decided to visit the Eastern League park I last saw in 2011. Here’s the glorious view I had for part of the game:

harrisburg-senators-hat

Right after that game wraps up, I’ll hop in the car and zip to State College to watch the Spikes. I’ve heard good things about Medlar Field at Lumbrano Park, which is also the home field for Penn State’s baseball team. The State College game will be a milestone ballpark visit for me — the 50th different park I’ll have visited for a game since 2010, so I’m excited for that.

The next day, I’ll stay in Pennsylvania to check out the Williamsport Crosscutters, another NYPL team. The Crosscutters play at Bowman Field, which is one of the oldest parks in baseball. Williamsport, of course, is also home to the Little League World Series, and I plan to check out the parks used in that tournament if I have enough time.

When I was originally planning this trip, I thought I’d take an off-day on July 10 to catch up on blogging and rest, but after noticing the Lehigh Valley IronPigs are home, and considering how much I enjoyed my trip to Coca-Cola Park last season, I’ve decided to visit again for another game in this beautiful facility. Here’s a panorama I shot before the game:

coca-cola-park-outfield-panorama

A day later, I’ll visit Reading’s FirstEnergy Stadium, a ballpark that has somehow eluded me despite seeing several games around the state over the last couple years. I haven’t read too much about FirstEnergy Stadium, so I’m anxious to check it out.

On Friday, July 12, I’ll take my first sojourn outside affiliated ball when I travel to Little Falls, N.J., to watch the New Jersey Jackals host the Trois-Rivieres Aigles. I’m excited for this game because Jeremy Nowak is playing for the Aigles this season and it’ll be awesome to see him again. I saw him with Delmarva back in 2011 and Frederick in 2012. In both games, he hit a home run, so I have my fingers crossed that he hits another at the game I attend.

On Saturday morning, I’ll step up to the big leagues and drive to Philadelphia for two Phillies/White Sox games over the weekend. Citizens Bank Ballpark will be the eighth MLB stadium I’ll have visited since 2010 and I also plan to do a bunch of touristy things in Philly.

The last game of my trip will be a quick jaunt to Lakewood, N.J., to see the Lakewood BlueClaws in action. Last May, I drove about eight hours to Lakewood to kick off a road trip, only to end up missing the game because it was canceled due to rain. My fingers are crossed this visit will be a little sunnier.

I’ve got a ton to do before I set my sights on Auburn on July 6, but in the meantime, I’m still counting down the days until I hit the road. I’ll be blogging along the way, as always, as this trip’s lighter schedule means I should do a better job at getting each blog post up in a timely fashion. As always, you can follow me on Twitter for the latest updates and if you enjoy reading about my adventures, please visit The Ballpark Guide and consider making a small contribution to my travels — even a few bucks goes a long way and is hugely appreciated.

Otherwise, your visits to the website also support my trips, and if you’re planning your own baseball road trip in July, check out the site and see if I’ve written about any parks on your schedule. I promise you’ll learn something new that’ll help you get the most out of your visit.

Columbus Clippers – May 21

What a day!

You know those days that are long but full of general awesomeness? Well, May 21 was one of those days. From a beautiful ballpark to delicious food to a phenomenal hotel, this day had a little of everything.

It did, however, start early. After watching an Akron Aeros game the night before and staying close to Akron, I was up by 6 a.m. and on the road by 7 a.m. The Columbus Clippers were playing a 10:35 a.m. game, which teams occasionally do in May and June to cater to school trips. I made the couple-hour drive to Columbus and found parking a couple blocks from Huntington Park. This isn’t a park I knew a lot about before my visit. Sometimes, I’ll have read so much about a given park that it seems completely familiar during my visit, but other times, it’s a whole new experience.

The outside of Huntington Park is eye catching. Although it opened in 2009, it has a real retro feel. See this view from the sidewalk? It’s cool to be able to see through to the field:

huntington-park-columbus-view-from-outside

I took my usual giant lap of the park and took in the sights. One particularly neat thing I noticed was a statue and a series of plaques honoring past Columbus teams. Minor league baseball in the city dates back to 1902, and as someone who’s interested in the history of the game, it was cool to see the Clippers giving a nod to those who came before them:

huntington-park-columbus-statue-plaque

Once again, I was fortunate to get a media pass for this game, which meant I could get into the park early. (Thanks to Joe Santry for hooking me up.) Except for staff, who were bustling around in anticipation of the busloads of school kids in the parking lot, Huntington Park was quiet and I took the opportunity to explore. I immediately went up to the suite and pressbox level and followed the walkway out toward the right field corner. Look at the view from here:

huntington-park-columbus-panorama-right-field

This area to the right side of this photo is comprised of two levels of bar-style seating and I knew I’d want to spend some time here during the game. Next up was the open area behind the loge seats on the suite level. There were two concession stands and an enormous bar:

huntington-park-columbus-loge-area-bar

And speaking of the loge seats, I love the way the Clippers have this part of their park designed. If you check out the following photo, you’ll see several levels of bar seats — with rolling office-style chairs, no less! It’s a nice reprieve from standard stadium seating:

huntington-park-columbus-loge-seating

The park was still largely empty, so I went down to the main concourse and wandered out toward the outfield. You can’t walk the entire way around Huntington Park’s field, but you can go around most of it; there’s an enormous open area in left-center and the team shop is also located here. One of the coolest spots I saw was the lawn seating, which is always a neat addition to any ballpark:

huntington-park-columbus-lawn-seating

And the picnic tables give the park a real laid-back feel:

huntington-park-columbus-picnic-deck

Columbus was hosting the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders, and when a couple RailRiders pitchers came out to throw bullpen sessions, I went down to field level to watch. Here’s sidearmer Cody Eppley tossing. It was neat to watch a guy with such a crazy delivery from just a few feet away:

cody-eppley-swb-railriders

Once Eppley wrapped up his session and the rest of the players came out to start tossing, I went back to the multi-level deck over right field to watch the action. The top level of the deck was completely empty. From here, I had a great view of the entire park, including this pavilion behind left-center:

huntington-park-columbus-power-pavilion

As you can see, there are two levels of seating in the tower and concession stands and the team shop at the ground level. But don’t worry — I’d soon explore this area. From where I stood, Columbus right fielder Jeremy Hermida was right below me, and it was interesting to watch him. You know how you’re always taught to shift a few feet for righties versus lefties? Hermida didn’t change his position for anyone. I could tell, as he was standing on an L-shaped sod patch. Interesting. Anyway, here’s Hermida:

jeremy-hermida-columbus-clippers

From here, I could smell the delicious smoke wafting from the nearby City Barbeque stand, and knew I had to pay it a visit. The day’s promotion was “Buck-a-Bone” — $1 per rib bone, and while I’m not the hugest fan of ribs, I wanted to give these a shot. I grabbed three and they were absolutely delicious:

huntington-park-columbus-food-bbq-ribs

A few minutes after eating, an usher apologetically told me that I had to leave. Apparently, the top deck of the structure belongs to the group that rents out the party area on the same level. The lower deck, however, is open to all fans. I didn’t realize this at the time — I thought it was just sparsely inhabited up here.

See this photo, which I took a few innings later?

huntington-park-columbus-wendys-balcony

I was standing on the far left, directly below the 328 sign. The group that complained about me had gathered out of the picture on the right. I can’t imagine I was causing them much heartache, but I suppose rules are rules. I know the group was from Nationwide — apparently, Nationwide is not on my side.

Undeterred, I went to the loge area and grabbed a comfy seat with this view:

huntington-park-columbus-home-plate-view

This view here was outstanding, but also responsible for my first major sun burn of the year. Boy, was it hot! I paid special attention to RailRiders shortstop Addison Maruszak. His wife, Breanna, writes an interesting blog called Married to Baseball and we follow each on Twitter. I’m not sure if she happened to be at this game, but it was neat to finally see a player I’ve read a lot about. Here’s an action shot of Addison:

addison-maruszak-swb-railriders

Once I’d watched a few innings from the loge area, I found an empty front-row seat behind the third base dugout so I could take photos without being obstructed by the netting. I’m pretty pleased with this one of Ezequiel Carrera. Whenever I can get the player in sharp focus and the ball in the frame, I’m happy:

columbus-clippers-ezequiel-carrera

The view from here was great. Here’s Zoilo Almonte swiping second base:

huntington-park-columbus-second-base

Recognize this guy?

chien-ming-wang-swb-railriders

Yep, it’s Chien-Ming Wang, who had back-to-back 19-win seasons for the Yankees in 2006 and 2007. More recently, I saw him play in Hagerstown back in 2011 — that was the same day I met Bryce Harper.

I spent the rest of the game with this awesome vantage point and took a ton of action shots. The game was exciting. Despite being deadlocked at no score through five innings, the Clippers had a big second half and won 5-1. The teams combined for 23 hits and the Clippers pitchers, led by starter Carlos Carrasco, struck out 11 SWB batters.

Although it’s always a little disappointing leaving the park after a game, I was pumped to check out my hotel. In Columbus, I was staying at the Hilton Columbus Downtown, which looked awesome online. I could quickly tell upon arriving that this was one of the best hotels I’ve ever visited. The staff I encountered in the parking area and lobby were exceedingly friendly, and when I reached my 11th floor room, I was blown away. The first thing I noticed was a gift bag with my name on it and a Hilton flash drive for me:

hilton-columbus-downtown-malcolm-gift-bag

And while I was tempted check it out right away, I couldn’t resist exploring the room. I had a suite and it was enormous. (I always compare suite sizes to my first apartment, and this one was way bigger!) There was an enormous living room with a huge TV:

hilton-columbus-downtown-suite-living-room

A kitchen area and a giant bedroom:

hilton-columbus-downtown-bedroom-suite

The photos hardly do the room justice; if you want to see even better shots, check out the hotel’s website. Anyway, the bathroom was giant as well, and had an amazing shower:

hilton-columbus-downtown-shower

By the way, this is the first hotel I’ve visited that had TWO bathrooms — I didn’t even notice the second for a few minutes. After I’d taken everything in, and peeked out the windows to look directly out at the sprawling Greater Columbus Convention Center …

hilton-columbus-downtown-view-of-columbus-exhibition-center

… I inspected the gift bag. There was a nice card welcoming me to town:

hilton-columbus-downtown-malcolm-welcome-note

And some baseball-themed snacks! How awesome is this?

hilton-columbus-downtown-malcolm-treats

The snacks were awesome, but I was blown away by what was at the bottom of the bag. The Hilton knew that I was in town for baseball, and gave me a Homage T-shirt featuring the old-school Clippers logo. Wow! I tweeted the photo out a few days ago, and you can check out what it looks like here. I didn’t realize it, but Homage is from Columbus. Their T-shirts are awesome.

But back to the hotel — what a great experience! The next time I’m in Columbus, this is definitely where I’ll stay. This was one of those stays in which every element exceeded my expectations. When you’re planning your own baseball road trip — or planning to visit Columbus for any other reason — this is the hotel to pick. It’s three minutes from Huntington Park and is in the heart of the city. Shortly before dinner, I took an hour-long walk around the hotel to take in the sights. The hotel is practically next to Nationwide Arena, home of the NHL’s Blue Jackets, which was neat to check out. The whole area around the hotel and arena is trendy and fun — lots of restaurants, patios and even a brewery. If you like getting to your hotel quickly after the game, parking your car and discovering the surrounding area on foot, the Hilton Columbus Downtown is for you.

I didn’t end up eating at any of the nearby restaurants. Instead, I returned to my hotel after my walk, had a swim in the indoor pool and then ordered some room service, which was delicious. One more neat thing about the hotel — the hallways on each floor are open, so you can see down to the upscale restaurant on the second floor. It was a neat view, and I couldn’t resist taking a photo:

hilton-columbus-downtown-11th-floor-indoor-view

What a perfect day!

Rochester Red Wings – May 17

Way back in 2010, when I decided to visit as many MLB and MiLB parks as I could and start The Ballpark Guide, my first stop was in Rochester. (If you want to read my first ballpark visit blog entry, you can do so here. Just excuse the wonky formatting.) In the years since, I’ve thought fondly of Frontier Field and always looked forward to returning. I got back to Rochester for another visit last summer, but when I was planning my current 13-day baseball road trip, I couldn’t resist starting out at Frontier Field.

Leading up to this trip, there were many reasons to be excited about returning to Rochester. First, the overall selection and quality of food is the best I’ve encountered. Second, I think Frontier Field is beautiful; it’s one of my favorite places to watch a ballgame. Of course, before I got to kick back in the sun and enjoy something tasty to eat, I had to cross the border. Ugh:

canada-u.s.-border-crossing

It’s a long weekend back in Canada, so the traffic was ridiculous. I sat within sight of the border crossing for 45 minutes before getting through, and then it was clear sailing all the way through to Rochester. If you’ve read this blog for some time, you’ll likely recall that I like seeing a few sites in each city I visit, time permitting. One spot I wanted to check out this time is Rochester’s High Falls, which looked cool online and isn’t too far from Frontier Field. Although it’s not exactly Niagara Falls, it’s a neat scene and worth visiting when you’re in town:

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In fact, it’s just a short walk from the ballpark. Here’s the view from the opening of the walkway leading toward the bridge over the falls. As you can see, the ballpark is in the distance:

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I always wander around whenever I get to a ballpark, and even though this was my third trip to Frontier Field, I stopped to take this panorama by the front gate:

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I think you’ll agree that it’s a beauty of a ballpark. One neat feature that I hadn’t noticed in the past — or perhaps that’s new — is some old seats from, I’m guessing, Silver Stadium:

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Silver Stadium was the home of the Red Wings from 1929 to 1996. In fact, I plan to check out the site of the old stadium today before tonight’s game.

As usual, I took a walk around the perimeter of the ballpark but this time, I didn’t go nuts with photos. I’ll just share this one:

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I’m a sucker for modern brick parks, as I think they do an awesome job of paying tribute to the history of the game. The wrought-iron bars and old-style lights really give you an feel of what a park might’ve looked like several generations ago.

During this visit, the Red Wings were providing me with a media pass, so I wanted to get in early and check everything out. A quick thanks to Tim Doohan for the pass; Tim was with the Lehigh Valley IronPigs last season, and provided me with a pass during my visit there, too. Instead of going straight up to the press box, I went down to field level and saw that Rochester had just started hitting:

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As you’ve seen in the past, I enjoy trying to collect a baseball from each park I visit. Getting in early means that I technically could’ve snagged a dozen BP home runs and foul balls, but I didn’t think that was very fair. So, in a move that might make you ballhawks’ heads explode, I tossed balls back onto the field when I found them. While walking through the seats and across the grass behind the outfield fence, I came across several balls. Some were partially hidden:

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And others were easy to see:

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Watching BP is one of my favorite experiences in baseball, and I prefer it at the minor league level. Instead of standing in a crowd of screaming fans at an MLB park, MiLB parks are virtually deserted during BP. I always make a point of sitting near the field and just taking it all in. One of the cool things about being in the park before it opens is seeing sights you wouldn’t otherwise see. For example, here’s a member of the visiting Durham Bulls hanging out with Red Wings pitcher Caleb Thielbar during BP:

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And here’s Rochester manager Gene Glynn talking on his cellphone in the stands:

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Back to the ballpark itself: As you no doubt know if you’ve been to Rochester, it’s impossible to miss the Kodak building, which looms just across the street:

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Much of the area beyond the outfield fence is closed off during games, but given that it was still open, I walked through the grass and watched some BP with this view:

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The area around the Rochester bullpen was lined with lilacs, and I thought this made for a neat photo:

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After walking around the entire park and watching a lot of BP, I decided to go up to the press box to check out the view:

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It wasn’t long before I noticed these guys standing below me:

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What the heck? I began to see more and more guys dressed like ballplayers from days of yore, so I quickly went back down to field level and it felt like I’d stepped onto the set of Field of Dreams. It was an odd juxtaposition. When I looked the left, this is what I saw:

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But when I looked to my right, here was the scene:

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When the Bulls wrapped up BP, it became clear that these old-timers were getting ready to play a game. Their umpire, who doubled as an announcer for the curious fans who entered the ballpark shortly after the historic game began, provided some clarity. The players were playing a short exhibition game with 1866 rules — no gloves, underhand pitching from 45 feet and no balls and strikes. It was fascinating. When the umpire called a batter to the plate, he yelled “striker to the line!” The umpire, dressed in black, is below:

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As much as the 1866 version of the game was different, it was neat to see how much today’s game is similar — despite its evolution. I think guys today are thankful for the gloves, though. Imagine fielding a line drive with your bare hands.

Just as the game was wrapping up, I returned to the press box to meet up with Chris Fee. I got to know him a bit on Twitter a couple years ago when he was writing for the Bus Leagues Baseball website, and now he’s doing a bunch of Red Wings/Twins stuff for Twins Daily. It’s always neat to finally meet someone you’ve conversed with online, and Chris is a good guy. Give his Twitter account a follow and you’ll be glad you did. We blabbed baseball for maybe 15 minutes before I went back to field level to watch the warmups, which had begun after the clock struck 12 on the 1866 game. Here are a couple Bulls you’ll probably recognize:

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That’s Shelley Duncan, who’s played more than 300 games in the bigs and Tim Beckham, the 2008 first-overall draft pick.

I wanted to take another full lap around the field before the game began in a few minutes, but the outfield was blocked off. As I turned to head back toward the third base line, a baseball caught my eye. It was stuck in the fence directly behind the visitor’s bullpen. Since the gates had been open for nearly an hour, I didn’t feel bad about grabbing the ball.

Once the game began, it didn’t take me long to seek out something to eat. I consider two items from Frontier Field as among the 10 best things I’ve ever eaten on my travels, but I was determined to branch out on this visit. I returned to the Red Osier concession stand but instead of getting the delicious sandwich I enjoyed last year, I got the R.O.B.B. sandwich — double roast beef on a salt and caraway seed bun with au jus sauce and plenty of horseradish:

frontier-field-food-red-osier-roast-beef-sandwich

It was absolutely delicious and I can safely say it’ll crack the top 10 when I redo the list in the off-season. Wow!

As for the game, I was especially excited to see prospect Wil Myers. Prior to the season, he was ranked fourth overall by Baseball America and MLB, and it’s always neat to see a top prospect in person. I grabbed a seat behind home plate with this view:

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The view, however, was better than Myers’ results throughout the game. He went just 1-for-5 and left three runners on base.

One guy who isn’t struggling is Wings first baseman Chris Colabello. He went 2-for-4 to boost his average to .350. He’s also got 11 HRs, 31 RBIs and an OPS of 1.059:

frontier-field-chris-colabello-rochester-red-wings

By the fifth inning, I can’t stay I was hungry, but I was hoping to find something else to eat. I don’t normally eat desserts at ballparks, but I’m always intrigued by Frontier Field’s crepe stand, so I decided to get an order of crepes with ice cream, fresh strawberries and blueberries and whipped cream:

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Again, absolutely incredible! It didn’t taste like ballpark food; if I’d received it at a decent restaurant, I would’ve been more than happy.

Once dessert was down, I snapped this shot of the nighttime scene and the Kodak building in the background:

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And then moved behind home plate where I enjoyed this view for the rest of the game, which Rochester won 11-6:

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Funny thing about baseball — Rochester cruised through much of the game, leading 11-0 at one point. In the eighth, Durham’s offense went nuts and scored six runs. By the end of the once-lopsided contest, the Bulls had outhit the Wings 12-11.

Yesterday’s visit just reaffirms how great Frontier Field is. I’m already looking forward to getting back there later today for the Pepsi Max Field of Dreams game. It features a bunch of retired MLB legends, and promises to be entertaining.