If you’ve read more than a couple of my blog entries, you’ll know I get pretty excited about traveling to new ballparks. And while I was pumped for my entire July road trip, I especially had my July 12 visit to Yoga Berra Stadium, home of the New Jersey Jackals, circled in my mind.
But the reason wasn’t what you might guess. I didn’t know much about the ballpark itself and I couldn’t name a single player on the Jackals. I was more interested in who was coming to town.
I’ve regularly mentioned Jeremy Nowak in this blog dating back to 2011 and, if you’re not familiar with his story, I absolutely recommend checking out part one and part two before you continue reading this post. It’s definitely the coolest story I’ve encountered since starting The Ballpark Guide.
All caught up? OK, good. Unfortunately, after a stellar 2012 campaign for the Frederick Keys, Nowak was released by the Orioles during Spring Training. This happened despite him being a 2012 Carolina League all-star and leading the Keys in games played, hits, runs and doubles, all while batting .281. This spring, Jeremy signed with an independent team in the Can-Am League, the Trois-Rivières Aigles, or Three Rivers Eagles, if your French isn’t up to par. I’d planned to go see him play in Three Rivers at some point this season, but when I was planning my July road trip, I checked the Eagles schedule on a hunch and saw they’d be in Little Falls, N.J, when I was close to Philadelphia. I talked to Jeremy and made plans to see him on July 12.
After driving from Allentown, PA, earlier in the day, I made it to Yogi Berra Stadium more than a couple hours before game time. The park is located on the campus of Montclair State University. After parking on a very gray day weather-wise, I took a look at the front gate of the park and, as you can see, there wasn’t much activity:
I wasn’t able to get a press pass for this visit, but something even cooler happened. Jeremy said he’d leave a ticket for me at the ticket office! I can’t deny I was very excited to tell the ticket office employee, “A player on the visiting team left a ticket for me.” You might have trouble reading it, but the bottom of the ticket reads “Team Comp Visiting.” Pretty cool, huh?
With my ticket in hand, but the gates not yet open, I decided to spend the next hour or so wandering the area. Because rain was in the forecast and the field was wet, batting practice was cancelled, but I still wanted to take a walk around the perimeter of the stadium to look for a ball. I started, though, by checking out the Yogi Berra Museum & Learning Center:
And a statue of Berra:
The parts I saw of the Montclair State campus were picturesque, and the ballpark itself is surrounded by woods on a couple sides. With ample time to kill, I decided to wander down this path:
Despite thinking how this is how a lot of scary movies begin, I kept treading through the underbrush until I could spy the field through a break in the trees. There were a few guys playing catch on the field, but as the Eagles and Jackals both wear red, white and black uniforms, I couldn’t even tell which team the players were from:
I retraced my steps and ventured over to the other side of the park, where I saw a team (I’m still not positive which one, given the uniform color issue) using the batting cage:
Then, it was down a dirt and gravel road to the area behind the outfield fence:
I could see a few more guys on the field by this point, but sure didn’t recognize Jeremy, much less decipher which team I was looking at. After watching the players play catch as I stood in the open door in the fence, I set my sights on finding a ball. With the wooded area behind the fence, I knew there had to be dozens of balls hiding in the brush, much like the Hudson Valley Renegades’ Dutchess Stadium. It took less than a minute to see this ball:
And less than five seconds to decide to leave it where it sat. It was down a pretty steep embankment that was slippery with mud and littered with all sorts of sharp branches. I’d find a different ball that wouldn’t require slipping to my muddy and humiliating death, I decided.
Unfortunately, the area wasn’t as ball-ridden as I’d hoped. I walked and walked and walked and didn’t come up with anything, although I did take this picture of a neat university building:
I went back to the opening in the fence and checked out the scene again. From here, I had a good view of the entire park, as well as the university buildings nearby:
As I began the long walk back toward the front gate, I took another look at the ball, which seemed to be mocking me. And then I reminded myself of one of my favorite lines — “Do it for the story.” I began slipping and sliding down the slope until I reached the ball. Going down was the easy part, and after grabbing a branch and trying to Tarzan my way back up to the roadway, I emerged from the brush (with no one around, thankfully) with a Can-Am League ball for my collection:
I jammed the ball into my backpack and with that mission accomplished, headed back to the main gate and was the second fan to enter:
The park wasn’t exactly brimming with activity. I’m guessing the Jackals don’t draw too well, but if they do, the fan base was at home because of the weather. I walked around the virtually deserted park for a while and took a handful of photos, including this one that shows the seating on the first base side and the team shop. My favorite part, though? Check out the suite on the upper level. If you enjoy peace and quiet as you watch baseball, I think this suite has your name on it:
I quickly figured out the Aigles/Eagles dugout and bullpen were on the first base side, so I walked over to the fence between the two to wait for Jeremy. The players enter the field from a gate directly behind home plate, so I’d be able to spot him early and say hello when he was done warming up. Only a handful of players were out at this point, so I checked out the grass seating area in the right field corner and found this:
This ball was in pretty good rubbed-up condition, so I’m guessing it was a foul ball from an earlier game that no one chased down. In any case, I was glad to see it displayed the league name much better than the muddy ball I’d found just a short while earlier.
Several members of the visiting team filed out on the field but there was still no sign of Jeremy. As I glanced around, however, I did see a familiar face heading toward me … Jeremy’s dad! I’ve never met Jeremy’s folks, but I’m friends with his dad, Kevin, on Facebook. I had no idea Jeremy’s parents were planning to drive to New Jersey for this game, and it was an absolutely awesome surprise. We were both pretty excited and amused to finally meet each other, and before Jeremy hit the field, Kevin took me up to meet his wife and Jeremy’s mom, Maria. We made plans to sit together for the game and before another minute passed, Jeremy appeared along the fence and Kevin and I went down to greet him. We chatted with Jeremy for a few minutes, and then he had to run and get ready for the game.
I was excited to sit with Maria and Kevin for the game. You know when you meet people and within a moment of talking, it feels like you’ve known each other forever? That was the case here. The three of us sat jammed in our seats and never shut up for the whole game. It was an absolutely wonderful time.
In the first inning, I hopped up to get down toward field level to take photos of Jeremy. I was excited to capture him hitting but, before I got the chance, I snapped this four-photo series of him catching a fly ball:
When Jeremy was due up in the second inning, I went around to the third base side to take a handful of photos of him, including this one:
Early in the game, Kevin got a text message from Alicia, Jeremy’s girlfriend. If you’ve read the background on Jeremy, you’ll know Alicia is the reason I ever came to know Jeremy. I’m paraphrasing here, but her text basically said, “I don’t know if Jeremy told you, but Malcolm will be at this game. Maybe you’ll meet him.” Kevin leaned over to me, snapped this photo with his cellphone …
… and texted it back to her as his response. We all had a good laugh.
The next time Jeremy was on deck, I took this photo of him:
And then took this one of him in the subsequent at-bat:
Jeremy advanced a runner on that at-bat and got some fist bumps from his teammates upon returning to the dugout:
By now, the rain decided to make an appearance. Of all games on this road trip, I was hoping this one wouldn’t get rained out. Fortunately, the rain came and went and, when necessary, I shared the two Nowak family umbrellas:
And so went the game. Lots of chatting, a little rain here and there and when Jeremy came to the plate, I’d dash off to get some photos.
Before Jeremy’s third at-bat, I noticed his name was engraved on his Old Hickory bat, which I thought was really cool:
A moment later, he drove the ball on this swing …
… and ended up on second on what should’ve been a double:
Instead, the scorekeeper called it an error and the Jeremy Nowak fan club in attendance (me, Maria and Kevin) voiced our disapproval to no avail. As I stood on the third base-side cross aisle and snapped photos of Jeremy’s lead off second base, like this one …
… the skies opened up and it absolutely poured. It was one of those rains that made you think, “Gee, I don’t think it could possibly rain harder.” Jeremy ended up scoring a run in the inning:
And although the rain was starting to fall a little lighter, the Jackals pitcher kept complaining to the umpires until they called a delay after six innings. Soon enough the skies opened up again and, as you can tell in this photo, it was soon rather rainy and dark:
Maria, Kevin and I were as dry as could be under the umbrellas, so that’s where we stayed. (Actually, I was soaking from standing out in the rain to take photos, but at least it was dry under the umbrellas.) Before long, it became pretty clear the game wasn’t going to resume, so we found a dry spot on the concourse and watched in amusement as a bunch of the Eagles came out in their underwear and did a tarp slide once the game was called:
(They were subsequently scolded by a member of the grounds crew.)
I think the three of us were the last three fans in the park and soon enough, the lights were turned off. We made our way up to the pavilion in front of the main gate in the dark and saw Three Rivers’ bus:
Recognize anyone on it? Here’s a closer look:
That’s Jeremy on the right! Pretty cool, huh?
Eventually, Jeremy emerged and it was great to talk to him again, despite standing in the pouring rain. I wanted to get a photo with the Nowaks, but it was pitch black. I hatched an idea — the parking garage where I’d left my vehicle was decently lit, so we all piled in their SUV and drove to the garage. With a little help from my camera’s self-timer, I got this photo:
Soon enough, we had to say our goodbyes, despite Maria inviting me several times to travel back to their hotel and hang out with the family for a bit. (As I said — super, super friendly people!) Although it was certainly tempting, I didn’t want to infringe on their family time and, besides, I was soaking wet and also looking forward to checking out my own hotel. The hotel I picked for the trip to Little Falls was the Saddle Brook Marriott, which was about 10 minutes from Yogi Berra Stadium. The hotel looked awesome online, and once I got there, I was really impressed.
Here’s what my room looked like the following morning:
As you can see, there was a king-sized bed, sitting area, desk, big TV and everything was clean and modern. That evening, I did nothing but change into some dry clothes and watch ESPN. On Saturday morning, though, I took some more pictures of the hotel, including this one that shows the room from another angle:
Next, I went outside and took this photo of the exterior of the building:
I definitely recommend this hotel for people traveling to the area. Not only are the hotel rooms spacious and clean, there’s a huge indoor pool, well-stocked fitness area and a restaurant and lounge adjacent to the lobby. If you want to go out for dinner, there are Italian, American and seafood restaurants within a couple miles. And speaking of close proximity, this view out my window shows how accessible to the hotel is:
That’s the Garden State Parkway and I-80 you see. I was glad at how easy the hotel was to find, given that it was raining like crazy when I arrived shortly after leaving Yogi Berra Stadium.
As for Jeremy, I’m rooting like crazy for him to get back to affiliated ball. And I’m already looking forward to seeing him in action again and crossing paths with his folks, too — whenever and wherever that may be.
If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you’ll likely recall the awesome adventure I had with Baltimore Orioles prospect Jeremy Nowak. If not, take a couple minutes to read part one and part two of the story. I’m confident that you’ll agree it’s one of the feel-good baseball stories of 2012. I’m anxious to see where Jeremy gets assigned to start the season and after a very impressive 2013 campaign in High-A Frederick, I’ll enjoy following his career again this season.
I’ve collected baseball cards on and off since the late 1980s, and when I learned last fall that Jeremy was featured on a number of cards in the 2012 Bowman Chrome set, I knew I had to collect as many as I could. It’s been fun to add a bunch of his cards to my collection over the last few months, and while I’m always scouring eBay for new additions, I thought I’d share the cards I have now.
Here we go:
On the left we have Jeremy’s base card, which you’ll notice reads “1st Bowman Chrome Card,” as it’s his first appearance in any official (rather than issued by a team) baseball card set. On the right is the Refractor version of the card, which is Topps’ fancy way of saying it’s shiny. If you look at the two cards together, you’ll notice that the base card has a white border and the Refractor has a metallic border. It also shimmers in the light when you tilt it.
Next up, and pictured above, are the Xfractor and Blue Wave Refractor on the left and right, respectively. The Xfractor, you’ll see, is metallic like the Refractor, but is made up of squares, which didn’t really come through in the scan. The Blue Wave Refractor looks awesome when you move it in the light. As I understand it, this card wasn’t available in packs — you had to send your package wrappers in to Topps, which would then send you packs of Blue Wave Refractors.
The above two cards are pretty cool and one is serial numbered. Experienced collectors will know what this means, but if you’re new to the collecting game, it means each card has a unique number stamped on it. On the left, the Green Refractor isn’t numbered, but it’s a fairly rare pull. On the left, the Blue Refractor is numbered 86/250, which means that Topps only produced 250 of this card and mine is number 86.
The final two cards are the rarest of Jeremy’s cards that I have so far. As you might guess, the Purple Refractor is the one on the left. It’s numbered 97/199, which means that it’s rarer than the Blue Refractor. And finally, on the right, you’ll see Jeremy’s short-print variation. Each card in the 2012 Bowman Chrome set has a short print, or SP. These cards aren’t numbered but the rumor is that only about 75 of each exist, making them extremely rare. As you’ll see, the photo is of Jeremy in the Orioles home uniform, which is doctored, unfortunately. The other cards feature him in Baltimore’s Spring Training uniform, but unless I’m mistaken, the SP card is Photoshopped.
There are still a handful of Jeremy’s cards in the set, including cards numbered out of 50, 25 and even 5! I recently bought one numbered out of 50 on eBay, but the seller had to refund me because he lost the card. Here’s hoping he tracks it down. Rarer cards that I’ll likely never encounter are the four printing plates used to make the card (each numbered out of 1) and the Superfractor, which is numbered out of 1, too. The Superfractor sold several months back in the neighborhood of $165, and because many collectors are obsessed with hanging onto Superfractors, I don’t know when it’ll hit the market again.
For good measure, he’s the back of Jeremy’s card:
Even though the fronts are all different, the backs are basically the same. The back was neat to read; I had no idea about his 35-game hitting streak in college, for example. Finally, I can’t resist adding that if you check out his 2011 home run totals toward the bottom of the card, one of those five long balls is the one I retrieved!
UPDATE: June 9, 2013
I’ve added a really cool card to this collection and while it looks virtually the same as another one, this one’s extra special:
This is another Blue Refractor numbered out of 250. The neat thing with this one is it’s numbered 11/250, as you can see here:
The significance of this number is this is the uniform number Jeremy wore in 2012 with the Frederick Keys. Collectors go nuts for numbered cards that feature a player’s uniform number, and I’m no different. I’m pumped to add this one to the collection!
UPDATE: February 6, 2015
Over the last several months, I’ve managed to add three more cards to my collection, and each one is rarer than the last. Let’s start with this one:
This is the gold variation, numbered out of 50. For those keeping score, this means there are only 50 of these gold versions floating around out there. Mine is #14/50, and although it’s a great addition to my collection, it’s not nearly as rare as this next one:
I never thought I’d have a shot at the red variation, of which only five copies exist in the world. But, here it is in my collection. Mine is #5/5, and I think the red looks awesome. The back is basically the same as every other of Jeremy’s cards, but you’ll notice the numbering on the upper left:
Drum roll, please.
This next card is the crown jewel of the collection. It’s the black printing plate that was actually used to produce all of Jeremy’s cards in this set. Bowman released all four printing plates — cyan, magenta, yellow and black — used on the printing press itself, and I managed to score this one. Because it’s a printing plate, it’s actually made of metal. And, because of the way printing technology works, the image is completely reversed:
On the rear of the card, you’ll see the sticker that proves there’s only one black printing plate in the world:
Now that I’ve blogged about meeting Frederick Keys outfielder Jeremy Nowak, which was the highlight of last month’s baseball road trip, I want to review the 10 goals I made for myself before hitting the road.
In all, I did pretty well, especially considering there were a few hiccups along the way that impacted my ability to cross off some of the goals.
Here’s the recap:
1. Get tours of five of the seven parks
The first stop on my road trip, May 21 in Lakewood, was rained out, so tours at five of seven was skewed from the get-go. That said, of the six games I attended, I did get an official tour at four parks and some great help/advice at the other two, so I’d say I achieved this goal.
2. Get 10 baseballs
The short answer is that I finished with six baseballs, which falls slightly short of my goal. But hang on. One game was rained out and of the other six, only two had batting practice. So, I’d say that six balls in six games is good, considering I try to average a ball a game. Here they are, including two International League balls from batting practice at Buffalo’s Coca-Cola Field, an NCAA tournament ball from Wilmington, two Carolina League balls from Frederick’s Harry Grove Stadium and, at bottom, the Jeremy Nowak home run ball:
3. Get a game-used item
If you read my recent post about Jeremy Nowak’s home run ball, you’d agree I knocked this item off my list of goals. Hard to imagine a cooler game-used item! The runner-up is a game-used item that I picked up in Wilmington, which I’ll blog about later this week.
4. Get autographs from Wally Backman and Ryne Sandberg
This one was a wash. Why? Because I got media passes for all the games I attended, including those in which I saw the two legendary MLBers. And as you can see on the bottom on one of my passes (and they all say this), passholders are prohibited from asking for autographs:
5. Find a food item that gets into my top 10
As a reference point, here are the top 10 things I’ve eaten on my travels. It’s close, but I think I’ll bump off Classic Park’s pulled pork nachos and replace the #10 slot with the crab fries at Trenton’s Waterfront Park. They weren’t quite as good as I thought they might be, but they were unique enough to sneak through the backdoor into the 10th spot:
6. Be interviewed during a game broadcast
Check! This happened twice and both times, it was really exciting. I was interviewed on the Wilmington Blue Rocks broadcast by Jeff O’Connor and the Frederick Keys broadcast by Adam Pohl. And in case you missed the pictures I posted about those interviews, here they are:
7. Get 50 autographs
In the same vein as the attempt to get Backman and Sandberg to sign, this one is a no-go. But I’ll call it an N/A rather than a fail, because I didn’t ask for a single autograph.
8. Buy a hat
Oops! There were a couple times I wanted to get a hat and just didn’t pull the trigger. The first was at the rained-out game in Lakewood. I think the BlueClaws’ hats look neat, but given the cancellation of the game, I wasn’t able to get one. Secondly, I wanted to get a Keys hat at Harry Grove Stadium, but the hats were all behind the counter and I’m a methodical hat buyer. I like to try a bunch on until I find one that fits me perfectly, and didn’t bother doing so. Does this mean that next road trip I’ll get two hats? Yes. Yes, it does.
9. Have my photo taken with a player
It’s fitting that I got a fan to capture the coolest moment of the road trip. The photo is grainy and dark but the smiles say it all:
10. Have some unforeseen fun adventure
I think this qualifies, don’t you? If you want a runner-up, here it is:
– Despite the rainout, I was able to get into Lakewood’s FirstEnergy park and wander around the near-empty park by myself. It might not seem that thrilling on the surface, but imagine getting into a ballpark by yourself and touring it at your leisure. It was special. Here’s a photo of the deserted park I took on my self-guided tour that I haven’t previously published:
So, what’s next for me? Despite the highlights of my May trip, I’m confident my next trip will be great for a number of other reasons. I’m in the middle of planning it now, and I’ll have a blog post about that soon enough.
In the meantime, please check out The Ballpark Guide and remember that your clicks help me pay for future travels and adventures. Thank you.
If you’ve read the details of my first baseball road trip of 2012 by now, you’ll know that I’ve been saving the best story for last. But first, a little background.
My trip would include a stop at Harry Grove Stadium, home of the Frederick Keys, but this visit would be extra special. Finally, I’d get the chance to meet Keys outfielder Jeremy Nowak, who I’ve been in touch with since last December. The full story is at this link, and I definitely recommend you check it out before proceeding. It’s a definite baseball feel-good story.
Obviously, I was pretty pumped to meet Jeremy. I’ve been following his progress closely in 2012 and he’s having a career year. In addition to being named to the Carolina League All-Star team, he’s been among the Keys’ statistical leaders all season. In fact, despite a stint on the DL earlier in the season, his 68 hits put him first among the entire Baltimore Orioles farm system, as you can see from this stat tracker on the O’s website:
I’d kept in touch with him on Facebook before departing on my trip, so he knew I’d be showing up at the Keys game against the Carolina Mudcats on May 23. (You can read about that visit here.)
The weather throughout the afternoon of the game was miserable enough that at times, it looked like the game would be called off before it even began. Still, I hoped to spot Jeremy on the field — or in the players’ parking lot, at worst — at some point to say hello.
Shortly before the scheduled start of the game, the Keys took the field and it wasn’t long until I spotted #11:
Despite the weather, the game was indeed on, and the Keys began to get warmed up. I took a ton of photos of Jeremy, but I’ll just share a few here so I don’t look like a demented stalker:
At the end of the warmup, I stood at the fence and when Jeremy looked up, we sort of made eye contact and he came over to say hello. Even though the game was fast approaching, he was enormously friendly and it was awesome to finally meet him. I wanted to get a photo with him, and we decided to meet up again after the game.
Jeremy was batting third and hitting from the left side, so I moved over to the seats above the visitors’ third base-side dugout to get some pictures of him at the plate:
He struck out during his first at-bat and after I spent the top of the fourth inning in the broadcast booth being interviewed about TheBallparkGuide.com by Adam Pohl, I raced back to field level in time to see Jeremy hit a single in the bottom of the inning:
And when Michael Flacco doubled two batters later, Jeremy moved up to third base:
As the game progressed, the weather got miserable. Don’t get confused — I was still having the time of my life, but the rain and darkness made the quality of my photos quickly deteriorate. Jeremy came up again in the fifth inning, and this time, I was eating a late dinner in a seat down the first base line where I had this view:
Then, with runners on second and third and one out, and the the Keys trailing 2-0, Jeremy blasted a Kyle Blair pitch over the fence in right field! It was on a line and hit the billboards above and behind the outfield fence hard enough that it bounced back onto the field, where Mudcats right fielder Anthony Gallas scooped it up and tossed it to the Frederick bullpen. From there, a Keys reliever flipped the to ball to a couple fans who’d run to the area.
When I saw the ball take off, I jumped out of my seat and thought how it’d be so cool to run behind the fence, grab the ball and give it to Jeremy after the game. (The home was his second at the High-A level.) But when I saw it come back on the field and eventually make its way to the fans, I forgot about it and just stood up and cheered. I probably should’ve run toward the Keys dugout to get a picture of Jeremy crossing home plate, but I think I was in enough awe that I just stood and clapped. Eventually, I snapped out of it and got this rainy photo of him heading toward the dugout after scoring:
I was still pumped, so I emailed my wife a quick message:
JEREMY JUST HIT A HOME RUN!!!!!!!!!
And my wife, who cares about baseball as much as I care about molecular biology, responded with:
Jeremy had one more at-bat (a strikeout in the two-run sixth) and as the rain intensified, the game was called in the seventh. Final score: Frederick 7, Carolina 2. In other words, Jeremy’s three-run bomb scored the game’s winning runs.
One of the neatest features about Harry Grove Stadium is that after the game, the players exit the field, walk up a set of stairs at the end of the seating bowl and cross the concourse to their clubhouse. Naturally, I was waiting to congratulate Jeremy and shake his hand. When I spotted him, I went to meet him with a huge smile on my face and told him congrats. He shook my hand quickly and said, “That’s your ball.”
Then he disappeared as I stood there starting to suspect what was happening.
He was referring to something he wrote in his letter to me back in December. Here’s a close-up of what he said:
I’d long since stopped hoping I might get the ball; to me, the big prize was not only meeting him, but seeing him hit a game-winning home run for the Keys.
Minutes later, Jeremy returned with a ball in his hand and a fan trailing behind — only the fan was carrying a bat that I knew was Jeremy’s. It turns out that he’d given the fan one of his bats in exchange for getting the ball back.
This time, it was Jeremy who approached with a huge smile and handed me the ball, which he’d also signed for me. I was completely speechless for a moment as I stumbled to remember to say thank you. After Jeremy and the other fan, Jason, told me the story of the ball/bat exchange, I took a photo of the two of them with the bat:
And then got a photo taken of Jeremy and me:
The three of us stood and chatted for a minute, and Jason asked, “Are the two of you friends? How do you know each other?” In a moment that almost seemed scripted, we both responded at the same time, “It’s a long story!”
Soon enough, Jeremy headed into the clubhouse and I hung out on the concourse for a bit, where I took this photo of the ball:
I’ve since taken these better shots of it:
You know how you sometimes build something up in your mind and then the actual event falls short? And other times, it’s pretty much what you expected. This game and its events absolutely blew me away and were far better than I could’ve dreamed. I can’t imagine what will top it — perhaps catching Jeremy’s first MLB home run when he’s playing for the Orioles!
Thank you, Jeremy, for not only the ball, but for being so accommodating. One of Jeremy’s relatives told me prior to meeting him that as good a ballplayer as he is, he’s a better person. I can say that in addition to playing the game at a very high level, he’s also an athlete who treats his fans well. He certainly didn’t need to give me the ball, and I appreciate him giving away one of his bats to get the ball back. It means a ton.
As always, please check out The Ballpark Guide to help plan your upcoming trips and keep an eye on this blog as I gear up for my second road trip of the summer. You can also follow me on Twitter or send me an email to keep in touch.
It’s fitting that my 100th post on this blog is about an outstanding ballpark visit and one that I’ve been looking forward to for months. I began an exciting May 23 with a trip to Wilmington, DE, to watch the Blue Rocks take on the Potomac Nationals at beautiful Frawley Stadium. And after the game was done, I zipped quickly to Frederick, MD, where the plan was to watch the Keys in an evening game.
I arrived extremely early — before 3:30 p.m. for the 7 p.m. game. The Keys were graciously providing me with a media pass for this game, and when you’ve got a pass hanging around your neck, you can come and go as you please. So, I wanted to take advantage of as much time at Harry Grove Stadium as possible. Plus, as you’ll know if you’ve read this blog, this game was my chance to finally meet Keys outfielder Jeremy Nowak. (I’ll include a photo of him in this post, but I’m going to write a separate post about meeting him. It was that awesome.)
When I pulled into the ballpark, the parking lot was almost empty, save for the players’ cars and staff vehicles. I’m almost certain I was the first fan in the area:
Harry Grove Stadium has a large pavilion in front of the main gates, but there wasn’t anything happening just yet:
(I should say the pavilion has one of the coolest features I’ve ever seen. You know those fake rocks that are actually speakers for you to place in your garden? The garden here has these speaker-rocks that play the team’s radio broadcast. I love when a team thinks of little things like this that make a difference.)
I quickly picked up my media pass at the will call window:
And then took a photo of the pass:
I took a quick peek inside the ballpark to see that Jeremy was in the starting lineup. Sure enough, he was hitting third, where he’d been hitting for the previous several games:
As you probably know if you’ve read other accounts of my travels, I like to start each visit with a walk around the outside of the park. There’s always the opportunity to find a baseball, of course, but the tour also provides different perspectives on the park. So, I headed down the pathway to the right of the main gate:
See the red fence in the above photo? The visiting Carolina Mudcats were hitting in a cage here because the uncooperative weather meant the tarp was on the field. The fence was difficult to see through, but the thwack sounds emanating from behind it were unmistakable. When I got halfway along the fence, I saw this:
The ball must’ve somehow flown out of the batting cage, despite all the protective netting. I picked it up and was pumped to see it was an Official Carolina League ball:
This is the first Carolina League ball in my collection, which now includes balls from eight leagues. For a complete rundown of some of the coolest balls I’ve collected on my travels, check out this blog post.
After finding the ball, I stuffed it in my backpack and continued walking toward the outfield, where I could see the visitors on the tarp-covered field:
I scoured the area outside the center field fence for any balls that might’ve been hit in a previous batting practice session or game, but didn’t come up with anything. But when I made it to the left field corner, where I could see the Mudcats with ease …
… I saw another Carolina League ball, which I grabbed. Afterward, I made it back to the pavilion in front of the park, where there still wasn’t much going on:
So, I decided to head in and tour around. I would be meeting assistant GM Adam Pohl for a tour later on, but in the meantime, I took the opportunity to scout out the nearly-empty ballpark. As you can see here, the sky had quickly become extremely dark and foreboding, and I wondered if the night’s game would even get started:
You can tell from the time on the scoreboard that there was still a ton of time to wait until the game’s start time:
I spent the next while touring the park, taking in sights such as the batting cage area:
The suite level:
And the empty seating bowl …
… before the sky opened up and it began to rain. As the rain fell around me, I retreated to this row of seats, which was protected from the elements by the overhang:
I started to get the impression that not a pitch would be thrown, but I kept my fingers crossed and sent out Tweets like this:
And, eventually, this happy one:
Eventually, I met up with Adam in the team’s office and we started our tour. While I was still in the office, I snapped a quick picture of the framed jerseys of former Keys Nick Markakis and Matt Wieters:
The tour itself was great. I always love meeting baseball people and talking about the ballpark and the game. Adam was really proud to point out a number of accessibility improvements made at Harry Grove Stadium over the recent years, including large, open spaces on the concourse for wheelchairs:
As they always seem to do, the tour flew by, and before long, Adam had to go to the press box to continue getting ready for the game. We agreed to meet in the radio booth at the top of the fourth inning for my on-air interview. Adam is also one of the team’s broadcasters, so I looked forward to speaking with him again.
I was anxious for the Keys to come out onto the field, but used the time to take photos of some of the park’s attractions, including a great kids’ area that includes inflatable games:
And a merry-go-round, almost identical to the one at Bowie’s Prince George’s Stadium:
Soon enough, the Keys hit the field, and I spotted Jeremy:
And the video board in left-center came to life, which boded well for the evening:
It certainly wasn’t a perfect day for baseball, but after Miss Maryland shot-putted a ceremonial first pitch toward home plate …
… we were ready to play ball!
It turns out that I saw a lot of the Keys last year when they were members of the Delmarva Shorebirds. I visited Arthur W. Perdue Stadium in June and saw Nowak, Mike Flacco (brother of Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe) and several others. Here’s Flacco:
Richard Zagone got the start for Frederick. Check out his high leg kick:
I decided to spend the second and third innings sitting behind home plate, where I enjoyed this view:
In the top of the second, Carolina’s Delvi Cid smashed a pitch over the fence in left-center, and while I was tempted to run and see if I could find it, I didn’t want to be all soaking wet from rummaging through the grass and out of breath when I got to the broadcast booth for my interview. Still, I wondered if the ball was sitting out there, just waiting to be claimed.
Before long, it was up to the broadcast booth to reconvene with Adam and talk about my website and my visit to Harry Grove Stadium. It was a lot of fun and went by quickly. We had our photo taken together afterward:
Like the Wilmington Blue Rocks, the Keys graciously provided me with a media meal voucher, so I had my choice of dinner once the interview was done. First, though, I ducked out the main gate and hurried toward the area beyond the outfield fence to look for Cid’s ball. I ran stealthily through the soaking wet grass …
… which I regretted quickly, and then behind the fence where I looked all over for the ball …
… but couldn’t find it. I guess someone had gotten there before me.
When I got back inside, I took a quick photo of the Carolina League Championship Trophy, which the Keys won last season:
And then, it was time to eat! Unfortunately, many of the concession stands were closed by now (it was around the sixth inning) because the crowd was very thin and the rain was picking up again. I’d hoped to try something unique, but settled for a pair of hot dogs, which were a welcome reprieve, given how I was cold and wet:
There wasn’t much baseball played after I finished my dinner. A heavy downpour began around the seventh inning, and the game was called after seven innings were complete. The Keys were on top handily, 7-2. As for getting to meet Jeremy, it was awesome. I’ll have a blog dedicated to that soon. I hung out for about 20 minutes after the rain delay began, taking a series of pictures to make up this panorama:
When it became clear that the game wasn’t going to resume, I hit the road. Although the entire night was great, I was quite wet at the end, so I was looking forward to getting to my hotel. Fortunately, I was staying at the Hampton Inn Frederick, which is located just a few minutes from Harry Grove Stadium. This is one of those nights that I wouldn’t have been up for driving a half-hour to my hotel after the game, so if you’re visiting Frederick for a Keys game, I’d definitely recommend you stay at this hotel. Here’s how it looks from outside:
When I checked into my room, I was super pleased at how it looked — large, clean and with a king-sized bed, sofa, desk and flat-screen TV:
The room’s bathroom was also amazing …
… and despite the hotel’s close proximity to I-270, it was very quiet. As an added bonus, there are a ton of eateries (which are a staple of every baseball road trip) within walking distance, including T.G.I. Friday’s and IHOP. It’s the perfect spot if you’re in Frederick for a baseball road trip.
Traveling to dozens of professional ballparks for my website, TheBallparkGuide.com, has yielded some pretty amazing experiences over the past two summers. This is a story about my best ballpark souvenir ever and how it led to a pro ball player’s best Christmas.
In the second inning, as I sat on the third base side, Delmarva Shorebirds left fielder Jeremy Nowak stepped to the plate and dug in against Greensboro starter Rett Varner. Varner had already struck out two Shorebirds in the game, but Nowak jumped on the pitch and launched it over the fence in left-center field.
During pre-game batting practice, I’d managed to snag 12 balls behind the outfield fence. As I watched Nowak’s shot disappear over the fence, I wondered if another fan or a team employee would go retrieve the ball. Or, perhaps, would the ball be sitting on the grass undisturbed?
This question lingered in my mind as I watched the game unfold, and at the end of the eighth inning, I decided to duck out early and see if the ball was still there.
I quickly made my way out the gate, along the fence down the first base line and eventually behind the outfield fence. When I got to the area that I figured Nowak’s ball must’ve landed, it stood out easily:
My first home run ball!
When I got back to my hotel, I checked the box score to see how the game ended. It turns out that Delmarva lost 2-1; Nowak’s home run was the only run the Shorebirds scored. I also took a look at Nowak’s stats to learn a bit about him. A 13th round pick of the Baltimore Orioles in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft out of Mount Olive College, he spent 2010 with the Short-Season A Aberdeen IronBirds. He began the 2011 season in Aberdeen, too, but after collecting eight hits, two home runs and six RBIs in his first eight games, Nowak earned a promotion to Delmarva. I also saw that he hadn’t had any South Atlantic League home runs before the one I saw. All this is a long way of saying the home run ball sitting in my backpack was Nowak’s first at the South Atlantic League level.
I weighed my options. Part of me wanted to give the ball back to him, but another part of me was pumped to have my first home run ball. I finally decided it would mean more to him than to me, so I sent these Tweets to the team around 11 p.m. that night:
I was driving to Baltimore the next morning, but I wondered if I could leave the ball at Perdue Stadium’s ticket office for Nowak to pick up. Ideally, I would’ve loved to meet him to hand over the ball, too. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a response.
Fast forward to the middle of December, when I received an email from Alicia, who is Nowak’s girlfriend.
My boyfriend Jeremy Nowak recently showed me your Ballpark Guide website. Jeremy plays outfield for the Delmarva Shorebirds. You visited his stadium back in June and wrote an article about your experience on your website. Jeremy said that he randomly stumbled upon your blog one day when he was fooling around on the computer and googling his name. He was so shocked to get to the end of the article and to see that you found his home run ball! He told me that he would love to have the ball.
As soon as Jeremy said that, I knew that I wanted to try to get the ball back for him because I know it would mean so much to him. I just bought a beautiful case to hold and display the ball and I plan on getting it engraved.
I would LOVE to give the ball back to him for a very special Christmas gift! If you could please contact me and let me know what you think, I would *really* appreciate it! Thank you so much for your time!
Wow! Nearly six months after I got the ball and tried to get it back to Nowak, (who I’ll call Jeremy from now on) here was another opportunity. I emailed back and forth with Alicia and arranged to send her the ball, as well as email her some photos I’d taken of Jeremy that she wanted to use for a collage. Before packing the ball up, I took a few last photos of it …
… and then put the ball in the mail the next day and kept my fingers crossed it would arrive before Christmas.
On Dec. 22, I heard back from Alicia:
The ball came in today!! I’m so happy it came in on time!! I put the pictures you sent me in a cute frame and then I put the article you wrote in a nice binder. Have a great holiday! I will talk to you soon. Thank you again for everything!
I have to admit that over the holidays, I thought about how Jeremy might like the ball on Christmas Day, and looked forward to hearing all about it. Alicia also said she’d send some photos of Jeremy with the ball to use on my blog.
On Jan. 4, Alicia emailed me:
Jeremy literally described this Christmas by saying, “This is the best Christmas I have ever had!” The whole thing went awesome!! I gave him a few other Christmas gifts I bought for him then I pretended that I was done with his gifts, so he gave me my gifts. When I was done opening mine, I acted like our gift exchange was over.
About two or three minutes later, I was like “Oh, Jeremy, I almost forgot … I have one more gift for you!” He was so confused! I tied a scarf around his eyes and made him sit on the ground. I placed the ball (which was in the case with the engraved plate) on the coffee table.I turned him toward the coffee table and took the scarf off his eyes. He looked at the ball, read the plate, and was like “Oh my god! It’s my ball!! How did you get it?! This is so awesome!”
He just kept looking at the ball and at me in a state of amazement! After that, I told him that I had another surprise for him. I put your article in this binder and added a cute little note in the beginning and end of it. He absolutely loved it!!
The article in the binder worked out great because later in the evening when he went to show everything to his family and friends, he showed them the article first and then the ball … which made the story really great!
After he looked through the binder, I told him that I had one last surprise for him! He was like “Alicia, are you serious?!” I made him this frame with the pictures that you sent me, the box score, and this cute motivational quote that he loves. Jeremy was so surprised and happy! He was like, “Does anyone in my family know you did this?” I was like,“No, I kept it a total secret!”He literally could not wait to get home and show everyone because his family and friends already knew the story about your article. It was seriously such an amazing Christmas!This Christmas was honestly my favorite Christmas too! It was great to give Jeremy such a special gift and to see his reaction toward it. I cannot thank you enough Malcolm!! This Christmas was honestly perfect! THANK YOU SO MUCH AGAIN!!
In the photo above, you can see the case Alicia bought and had engraved. Here’s a close-up:
Alicia included a photo of Jeremy with the display she’d made, which included a few of my photos:
One with Jeremy and the binder that included my blog entry about the whole adventure:
And finally, one of Jeremy and Alicia — with the ball, of course:
A couple days later, Alicia told me that she and Jeremy had put a thank you package in the mail for me, so I anxiously awaited it. When it arrived a week later, it felt like another Christmas morning for me. I carefully opened the envelope and inside, I found four things:
A thank you note from Jeremy:
A signed rookie card featuring Jeremy with the IronBirds:
A Tim Hortons gift card:
And a photo of Jeremy crossing home plate after he’d hit the home run. Somehow, Alicia had tracked down the photo from another fan who was in attendance that day. (She later put the photo in the blank spot on the collage.)
Strangely enough, I’m actually in the background of the photo above. See the guy with the yellow shirt and black cap who’s sitting alone in the top row of the section with the green seats? That’s me.
I have to say, this whole experience was extremely rewarding for me. It’s obviously amazing to get the generous package from Alicia and Jeremy, but it feels amazing to see that Jeremy was so excited about getting the ball back. As much as Alicia and Alicia have thanked me, I thank them equally for allowing me to be a part of such a great experience. Obviously, I’m excited to follow Jeremy’s career and hopefully see him in action again soon!
A full guide to Arthur W. Perdue Stadium is available on my website, as are guides to 15 other parks I’ve visited. Your visits and clicks help pay for my travels!
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