I kept an eye on the Indians website over the off-season and bookmarked the Social Suite application page when it appeared with a message saying the team would soon be taking applications. Meanwhile, I planned out about the application essay I’d write, making a point to include mentions of The Ballpark Guide, my blog, my Twitter account, my Facebook page and my baseball road trips in general.
Eventually, the application process opened and the essay I’d mentally mapped out was not a factor. Instead, in keeping with social media trends, applications had to be no more than 140 characters. Hmmm. Back to the drawing board.
I thought long and hard about how to sum up my passion for baseball in just a handful of words, and eventually came up with:
Top 15 blog on MLBlogs / The Ballpark Guide founder / Visited 40+ parks since 2010 / Passionate about baseball & chatting with fans
In early May, I heard from the Indians that I was selected to watch a game from the Social Suite on May 18. Cool, right? Yes, but May 18 was the day I’d planned to attend the Field of Dreams game in Rochester. Fortunately, the Indians were able to juggle the date for me and invite me to the Social Suite on May 29, which would be the last day of my first big road trip of 2013.
I drove to Cleveland from Charleston, WV, on the day in question and parked in my usual $10 parking garage a block from Progressive Field. The game was scheduled for 7 p.m., and the Social Suite members were to gather at 6 p.m. to have dinner in the media dining room. Since I was so early, I had some time to kill.
As I waited, I peered through the fence outside the park and took this photo of the suite …
… and then passed the time in the team shop. Specifically, I spent the time in the authentics section, where I checked out the great selection of game-used stuff:
Here’s Ubaldo Jimenez’ game-used cap, for instance:
Thankfully, the time passed quickly and before long, I got my ticket and entered the park. Here are the tickets, which I photographed a moment later at Heritage Park:
Everyone who gets invited into the Social Suite gets two tickets, but since I was traveling solo on this road trip, I didn’t take anyone with me to the game. I did, however, get the day’s giveaway item, a throwback Indians dry-fit T-shirt:
I actually wondered if I might get two T-shirts, given my two tickets. That question, however, was answered clearly (and loudly) when the ticket taker turned to the usher giving away the T-shirts and yelled, “This guy has two tickets but make sure he only gets one T-shirt!”
All right, then. One T-shirt for me.
Although I could get to the stadium’s suite level by taking the stairs, I chose the elevator and after showing my ticket to get into exclusive “suite territory,” I took this photo:
I didn’t realize it at the time, but the elevator had an attendant — actually, he’s ever so slightly visible at the left of the door. As I took the photo and turned around to take in all the new surroundings, I was surprised when I heard a voice call out, “Is anyone going up?” Oops.
It was still well before 6 p.m., so I had a bit of time to wander around the suite level. From up here, I had a different vantage point of the players’ parking lot:
And I could look down into a very nice restaurant:
After walking around for 10 minutes or so, I was dying to get to the suite and check it out, so after taking this quick photo …
… I walked inside and got my first view of where I’d be hanging out for the next four hours or so:
Wow! I’ve never watched a game from a suite in an MLB park, so this was a huge thrill. The suite had a kitchen, a nice sitting area with a couch and a couple comfy armchairs and bar-style seating on each side of the door leading outside. I can see how renting it with a handful of friends or family members would be an absolute blast. Before I stepped out to get a good view of the field, I checked out the chalkboard’s welcome greeting:
And in case you missed it in the photo above, here’s a close-up that shows my Twitter name:
When I stepped out into the outdoor seating area, I took a bunch of photos to make up this mammoth panorama, which you can click on to enlarge:
A couple of the Social Suite guests were already sitting outside, and after saying hello and taking this shot of Cincinnati‘s batting practice …
… I went back inside the suite to take this photo:
Full disclosure: I’ve never been a “suite guy.” For me, going to a ballgame is about being close to the field, smelling the popcorn, hearing the sounds of the game and, in general, just wandering around and taking everything in. The suite experience, however, was quickly changing my mind. I mean, I still love going to a game and getting that authentic baseball experience, but seeing it all from a bird’s eye with the suite amenities? Pretty darned perfect, too. In fact, the jury’s still out for me, so if anyone wants to invite me to watch a game from a suite, I’ll be more than happy to conduct further field research.
Up next, I checked out this 2013 Social Suite banner …
… and added my Twitter name to it, as you can see here:
For the next while, I just hung out and took various photos of the suite, field and stadium as a whole. This next photo shows the nice chairs in the outside part of the suite and, in fact, the chair on the right is where I spent most of the game:
At 6 p.m., most of the suite guests had gathered, and after we introduced ourselves, we went for dinner in a dining room most Indians fans won’t ever get to see, so I’m happy to show it here:
There was an enormous buffet with all sorts of items, from ballpark staples such as Italian sausages and burgers to salads, cold meats and a variety of vegetables — the latter of which was noticeably sparse on this trip, so I was happy to add something green to my plate:
For the record, my meal included a garden salad with grated carrots and fresh Parmesan cheese, a hot Italian sausage with peppers, onions and mustard, a pile of pulled pork with BBQ sauce, broccoli, dill pickles and kettle chips. It was all delicious.
After hanging out and talking baseball with others in the suite, primarily Shane Rogers and Jacob Rosen, both of whom you can follow on Twitter by clicking their names, the game began and I grabbed a spot in the aforementioned seat where I had this mega-glorious view:
From here, I watched as Joey Votto stepped to the plate …
… and crushed a home run:
Sorry, Indians fans, but as a huge fan of Votto, I was secretly smirking.
He wasn’t, however, the only player to go yard. Mark Reynolds hit a bomb for the Tribe, as did elder statesman Jason Giambi, who celebrated his three-run home run with a forearm bash a la McGwire-Canseco:
One of the many things I love about baseball at Progressive Field is the city’s skyline, especially as the sun begins to set. I think you’ll agree that this view is absolutely perfect:
Around the midpoint of the game, we got a visit from Courtney Shilling, who works in PR and communication with the Indians. She’s also the person who picked me to join the Social Suite, and the one who juggled my Social Suite date to ensure I could attend, so I owe her a huge thank you.
Here’s the sun continuing to set over the Quicken Loans Arena:
And here’s Progressive Field’s awesome video board as the sky darkened:
Cleveland won 5-2 despite Cincinnati scoring one run in the ninth to give me a slight hope the game would be pushed to extra innings just so I could spend a little longer in the Social Suite. After the game, I got this photo taken of me …
… and made the short drive to my hotel, the Hyatt Place Independence. If this hotel sounds familiar, you’ve definitely been paying attention. It’s the place I visited back on May 19 when I visited Cleveland, and everything was so great I decided to stay here again. If you read my previous post, you’ll know the hotel is just seven miles south of Progressive Field, making it ideal for fans visiting C-Town on baseball road trips. One thing I didn’t note in that blog entry, however, is the Hyatt Place Independence is ranked second on TripAdvisor among Independence hotels. Part of the reason for this high ranking is the professional staff at this hotel. One front-desk member recognized me upon checking it and said she was glad I was back. It’s nice to get that personalized touch.
As this was the last day of my 13-day road trip, I was exhausted and looking forward to crashing when I got to the hotel — especially since I had an eight-hour drive ahead of me a day later. Blogging tonight wasn’t in the cards, but relaxing on the bed and watching ESPN certainly were:
The next morning, I took this shot that shows the bathroom setup:
I’m not a huge fan of having to cram into a small bathroom to brush my teeth or wash my hands, so this room design was perfect. As you can see, the sink and counter aren’t in a closed-in room; rather, they’re in a big, open area several feet from the foot of the bed. And, if you’re wondering, the bathroom is to the left of the photo and there’s a closet to the right.
As perfect as the hotel stay was, I wish I’d been able to hang out a little longer. I planned to be on the road by 7 a.m. so it was a quick stay. I quickly packed up my suitcases — with ESPN on, of course …
… and then checked out and took the following photo of the front of the hotel before hopping in the car and pressing the “Home” button on my GPS:
The outstanding hotel stay wrapped up a hugely memorable baseball road trip, but there’s more to come. In the coming weeks, I’ll have blog posts about some of the cool souvenirs I picked up along the way, a look at my visit to the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame and more. I’ll also be revealing the schedule of my next baseball road trip, which will begin before you know it.
As always, if you’re planning your own baseball trips this summer, check out The Ballpark Guide to read tips on how to make the most out of your holiday.
This was the highlight of my day:
Despite having visited Cleveland’s Progressive Field a couple times over the last few summers, I’ve never continued on to Cincinnati. I’ve really wanted to get to Cincy, though — Great American Ball Park looks awesome on TV and I’m a big fan of Joey Votto. I passed through Cincinnati on the way to Dayton and Louisville, and now heading back toward the city, it was exciting to finally see it approaching and know that’s where I’d be stopping for a couple days:
By the way, visiting Cincinnati has been the only thing that’s made me able to spell the city’s name without auto-correct. I’ve been a very good speller since I was a kid, but whenever I’ve needed to write the city’s name, I’ve always gone with “Cincinatti” or “Cincinnatti” before figuring it out.
As I pulled into the city, I was excited about checking in to my hotel, too. For the first night of my stay, which was a Friday, I picked the Residence Inn Cincinnati Downtown. Why? Well, I liked the fact that it’s a couple blocks from Great American Ball Park and if you look on Tripadvisor’s list of Cincy hotels, you won’t have to look far to find the Residence Inn — it’s ranked number one in the entire city. If those aren’t reason enough to stay here when you take a trip to see the Reds, here’s something else neat to consider: The hotel is in the historic Phelps Building, which dates back nearly a century and looks cool from the outside:
Of course, as soon as you enter the hotel, you’re greeted with modern amenities and, as I quickly found, exceptionally friendly and helpful staff. When I got up to my room, I was shocked at how huge the suite was. I love staying in suites on my trips, and this one was huge — a kitchen, living room, office, bedroom and a huge bathroom. Here’s the office area:
And the bedroom:
The next picture isn’t great, given the reflection in the glass, but this was the view out my window. It’s the hotel’s courtyard that features a fountain and fire pit. Pretty nice, huh?
It was nice, given all the driving I’ve done on this trip, to be able to park my car and forget about it for a couple days. The traffic around Great American Ball Park is extremely heavy before and after games, and I was happy to be able to get to the stadium quickly by foot. The stadium isn’t the only local attraction you can reach with ease from the Residence Inn Cincinnati Downtown; because you’re right smack downtown, a ton of attractions, including museums and a casino, are a short walk or taxi ride away. If you’re the type of road tripper who enjoys getting to a city and experiencing it all without sitting stuck in traffic, this is the hotel for you.
After relaxing in my room for a couple hours, I packed up to make the quick walk over to Great American Ball Park. There’s a big park in front of the hotel, and from here, check out what I could see:
That’s right — the stadium lights were well within sight! I-71 runs past the stadium, but I had no trouble finding a road that cut beneath the highway and soon enough, I knew I was on the right path when I saw this:
I walked up the north side of the stadium and rounded a corner to reach the main pavilion area, which was already super crowded:
There are several statues of former players in the area, and I snapped this one of Johnny Bench, which had special significance because I saw him a week earlier at the Field of Dreams game in Rochester:
I spent the next little while walking around the outside of the stadium. As I’d be here for two games, it was nice not to feel rushed and know that I had plenty of time to document all the sights. From the outside of the park, I could see the kids’ play area, and while I can’t comment on whether it’s better than other play areas, I can definitely say it’s got the best way to get there:
From the back of the stadium, which is close to the Ohio River, I took the shots to make this panorama …
… and captured the National Steamboat Monument, which I’ve often seen on Reds telecasts:
With the gates soon to open, I bought my standing room ticket …
… and started out with a visit to the enormous team shop, which you can access from outside the park:
Interestingly enough, the Reds allow you to leave the park to visit the team shop, as they’re not connected — you just get your hand and ticket stamped and have to enter and exit through a specific gate. Most MLB teams don’t allow re-entry, so this is neat. After I look the above photo, I heard a familiar — and heart-sinking — “beep-beep-beep” sound. That’s the sound my camera makes when the memory card is full, and I quickly realized that while I typically transfer all my photos to my laptop every couple days, I hadn’t done so in a while. Just a short while into my Great American Ball Park visit, I needed to be creative. I quickly found a quiet spot and started going through my photos, deleting those from Dayton and Louisville that I knew I wouldn’t need. Normally, I shoot hundreds of photos at each ballpark and edit them on my computer. I was able to delete several dozen and soon enough, I was back in business. A few minutes later, however, I heard the same noise — and realized it wasn’t my camera at all. It was the security noise that beeped when the team shop door opened. The egg was directly on my face, but no harm, no foul.
Once I entered Great American Ball Park, the first sight that caught my eye was a healthy concession stand, and I couldn’t resist taking this photo:
Next, though, I wanted to get my first view of the field:
Because my next blog post will be all about Cincinnati, too, I’ll hold off overdoing it with photos right now. Instead, I’ll show you a picture I got of the ballpark’s most notable sights — the Riverboat Deck on the left and the Power Stacks on the right:
And here’s a little bit of interesting trivia. Each of the power stacks has seven bats atop it. As you might know, seven plus seven equals 14, and who wore number 14 for the Reds? Charlie Hustle himself. MLB doesn’t allow teams to display Pete Rose’s name or number, but this is the team’s quiet tribute to the man. I love subtle things like this — reminds me of the Yawkeys’ names spelled out in Morse Code on the Green Monster at Fenway.
Remember how I said the team shop was huge? It was hard to photograph to put into context from outside the ballpark, but from the upper deck, I could look out and present it from an angle that puts it in perspective:
Soon enough, the Cubs had wrapped up their batting practice, which meant the Long Haul Bombers were taking the field. Who are they? They’re a traveling softball home run-hitting derby. How do I describe it? Hmm. You know the stereotypical “softball guy?” The aggressive one with the chip on his shoulder because he didn’t play professional baseball? Multiply that guy by a few, and you’ve got the Long Haul Bombers. On one hand, it was somewhat impressive to see guys pound balls over the fence — albeit balls that were tossed underhand to them. On the other hand, I figured these guys would scatter pretty fast if I yelled I was there to administer a performance-enhancing drug test.
I watched the sideshow act for a few minutes and then decided to continue touring. After all, hitting a ballpark for the first time and knowing how much you get to explore is an exciting feeling. One of the first stops I made was the authentics kiosk on the concourse behind the third base side. Unlike the Indians, who use a portion of the team shop at Progressive Field to sell game-used and player-issued items, the Reds only have a stand. It would’ve been nice if it was larger, but I still got a kick out of seeing the items, like this Brandon Phillips helmet and bats from Jay Bruce and Joey Votto:
The park was quickly filling up, and as game time approached, I discovered the Reds’ bullpen. Unlike many parks, in which you can see the bullpen over the outfield fence or along foul territory, the pens in Cincy are mainly visible from the concourse and are protected by netting. For a few minutes, I watched Reds starter Bronson Arroyo get his tosses in:
Next, I went down to the lower concourse and checked out a bunch of signed items that the Reds Hall of Fame was selling. After talking briefly with a rep from the HOF, I decided that I needed to squeeze a HOF visit into my day tomorrow, as it sounded promising. As I turned to leave, I caught a glimpse of a familiar-looking face. There wasn’t much of a spectacle around him, but it didn’t take me long to realize I was looking at Hall of Famer Ferguson Jenkins. I recognized him easily because I’ve got a picture of him in my office. As the only Canadian-born Hall of Famer, he’s certainly someone Canadian baseball fans admire. Jenkins was sitting at a table with a couple staffers around him but there weren’t any people waiting in line, which was odd. I checked with a staff member to find out what was happening, and Jenkins was indeed signing autographs to raise funds for the Reds HOF. I got his signature on an 8×10 and then got the photo with him that you saw at the start of this entry. What an awesome surprise! (I’ll post the signed photo in an upcoming entry, alongside a couple cool game-used items I bought later on my trip.)
Feeling more than elated, I got down to the next order of business — getting dinner. I’d spied a Food Network concession stand a little bit earlier, and since I had luck with a similar stand at Progressive Field, I got in line and checked the menu. This is what I chose:
You’re looking at the Food Network’s Bacon Sloppy Joe with pepper jack cheese, crispy onions, Fritos and a pickle. It was absolutely delicious.
By now, the game had begun and after eating, I raced to the concourse behind home plate where I caught the early innings with this view:
I spent the game’s middle innings wandering around Great American Ball Park with one eye on the game and another on the sights. Once the sun had set, I captured another shot of the enormous team shop …
… before climbing to the right field side of the upper deck where I caught a couple innings with this view:
After Cubs starter Scott Feldman got his team on the board with a three-run home run in the second (the first of his career), Arroyo buckled down and pitched well. The Reds offense, meanwhile, was lifted by home runs from Joey Votto, Ryan Hanigan and Brandon Phillips and Cincy won 7-4. Aroldis Chapman, who I’d hoped to see on this road trip, struck out the side in the ninth to get his 11th save of the year.
Shortly before leaving the upper deck, I turned and got this shot of the moon over the Ohio River, and I’m pretty happy with how it turned out:
I was back in my hotel room working on my blog as the post-game fireworks boomed in the not-so-far distance. In a little more than 12 hours, I’d be back at Great American Ball Park to do it all over again.