Planning baseball road trips for my website, The Ballpark Guide, is a heck of a lot of fun, but it’s not the easiest thing to do.
When you’re planning to be away for 10 or more days, a lot of factors are involved in planning — teams’ schedules, travel times, geographical considerations, etc. It can take hours to create a perfect road trip itinerary … and then a rainout can quickly wipe out all your meticulous work.
That’s what happened on my first road trip of 2012. I woke up very early, drove for nearly eight hours to Lakewood, N.J., and the BlueClaws’ game was rained out. This hardly ruined the road trip, but it did mean a return visit to Lakewood was in the cards. At the time, I had no idea when I’d get back to check out the South Atlantic League team but, when planning my road trip for this July, decided to wrap up the 10-day trip in Lakewood. (And I kept my fingers crossed that it wouldn’t rain again.)
Lakewood isn’t far from Philadelphia, but I wasn’t planning to stay directly in Lakewood. Because I’d face a long drive home the day after seeing the BlueClaws, I decided to stay in New Brunswick, N.J., as it’s directly on the route between Lakewood and home. As it turns out, my decision to stay in New Brunswick was a good one. I booked a night’s stay at the Hyatt Regency New Brunswick, and it was outstanding. Just a short jaunt off I-95, the hotel was easy to find and when I reached the lobby, I was looking at one of the sharpest-looking lobbies I’ve ever been in. (Take a look at the professional photos on the hotel’s website to see what I mean.)
As nice as the lobby was, I was equally impressed with my room. (And the ride up the glass elevator was cool, too!) First, though, I took a photo of the guests’ lounge on my floor …
… before documenting my room:
As you can see, it’s got a big bed, a couple of sitting chairs, a huge desk and HD TV and, in general, plenty of room. Here’s a look at the room from the other direction:
Other perks? The room had a balcony and the hotel had perhaps the biggest athletic center I’ve ever seen at a hotel — scores of machines and free weights and refrigerated towels to use to help you cool off post-workout. Although I didn’t have a chance to eat at the Hyatt Regency New Brunswick during my stay, the hotel had a great-looking restaurant and lounge. I definitely recommend this hotel if you include a visit to Lakewood’s FirstEnergy Park on your baseball road trip schedule. It’s less than an hour from the ballpark and is in a perfect spot whether you’re heading northeast to New York City or southwest to Philadelphia.
I spent about an hour enjoying my room and exploring the hotel before packing up and making the drive to Lakewood for the last game of this road trip. The drive breezed past and before long, I was standing here:
You’ve got to admit FirstEnergy Park sure looks great from the outside, huh?
Well, it looks pretty darned good from the inside, too. And I got the chance to check out the park good and early, long before the gates opened. The team’s media and PR manager, Greg Giombarrese, had left a media pass for me (thanks, Greg!), which meant just a couple minutes after parking my car, I was looking at this:
A glorious sight, no? And a much better sight than during my last visit. (Although that one was cool in the sense of being able to get into the empty park and wander around.)
Given my love for watching batting practice, I was eager to find a spot with a good view of the field and just hang out and enjoy the scenery on the last game of my road trip. The weather was perfect and with the park empty except for players and staff, I had my pick of the spots. The grass seating berms in the outfield, one of which you can see here …
… seemed like a great place to enjoy BP, so that’s where I headed. Over the next 45 minutes or so, I hung out in several spots — both grass berms, the center field picnic area, along the walkway and even right beneath the video board:
Obviously, home run balls were plunking to the ground (and occasionally hitting the walkway and bouncing like crazy) all around me. As much as it was tempting to add ’em to my collection, I once again stuck to my code: If I’m in the park early because the team has given me a media pass, I won’t take any balls. Instead of just leaving them where they landed, I had a blast picking them up, photographing them …
… and then calling to any of the Hickory Crawdads outfielders and tossing them back. With the exception of my ceremonial first pitch in Auburn on the first day of this trip, I’d never thrown a ball to a professional ballplayer, so it was fun standing on the berm and firing the balls back into rotation to guys like Sam Stafford:
And Cody Kendall, who’s since been promoted to High-A Myrtle Beach:
This was the pattern for the next stretch of time, and the balls were plentiful:
I probably grabbed and tossed back at least a dozen before heading over to the group picnic area in the right field corner, as I figured there were more balls to find here:
Sure enough, there were a handful, including this one:
I grabbed some and chucked them to the closest Hickory player. But before I could throw the last one, he’d already walked out of range. There was a ball sitting on the bullpen rubber just in front of me, so I decided to toss my ball onto the mound so it’d sit next to the one pictured below:
Unfortunately, it took a crazy bounce of something on the mound and rolled away, finally ending up here near the foul line:
As I watched the ball roll away from the mound, I heard a voice behind me: “Did you just toss that ball on the field?”
I turned around and started to explain myself to an usher, who interrupted me: “Thanks for doing that, but you could’ve kept it for yourself.”
Go figure. Anyway, as BP started to wrap up, I went up to the suite level to check out the view. From here, I took this panoramic shot of FirstEnergy Park:
By now, the gates had just opened, so I took the stairs back down toward the concourse, rounded a corner and … screeched to halt. I’d come within inches of colliding with Lakewood pitchers Miguel Nunez and Delvi Francisco, who were on the way from the BlueClaws clubhouse to the autograph table on the concourse:
I followed them toward the autograph table, which sits outside the team shop. During my last visit, I didn’t get to check out the team shop, so I was anxious to see what it was like. Turns out, it’s nice and large and has a huge selection of BlueClaws and Phillies gear:
Since the gates were open, BP balls were fair game, as far as I was concerned. I set out toward the outfield to see if I could track one down to add to my collection. It didn’t take long. Turns out, there were a pile of balls farther back on the grass berm on the far side of the outfield concourse. Within a couple minutes, I had this:
There was still a bit of time to wait before first pitch, so I went up to the press box where I captured this panorama:
After checking out the suite level, which was the only place I didn’t get to see during my last visit, I went back down to field level to wait for the BlueClaws to begin tossing. Within a few minutes, they came out and I sat in the front row along the first base side and took a pile of photos. Here’s second baseman Alejandro Villalobos:
Once I’d watched Lakewood for a bit, I zipped over to the Hickory side, as this was the first time I’d seen the Crawdads on my travels. Here’s Luis Marte, whose pants are begging for the end of the season to come to a quick, merciful end:
And starter Andrew Faulkner, who gave up just one hit over six innings to pick up his third win of the season:
Throwing out the first pitch before this game was none other than Mookie Wilson. You’ll remember him as the “other player” from the infamous Billy Buckner play, of course, but he’s also a longtime resident of Lakewood and got a huge ovation after he threw out the pitch:
I stayed on the third base side for the first inning, before heading up to the concourse to watch Wilson sign a few autographs. The autograph line was insanely long — I’m guessing about 500 people. Wilson’s often remembered as a friendly, easy-going player and, after watching his interactions with fans, I can definitely agree with that statement. Here’s a shot of him signing:
Once the game began, I decided to watch a few innings from behind home plate, and found a spot with this view:
Sitting in this area not only gave me a panoramic-type view of the park, but also allowed me to keep tabs on the speed of each pitch, as the radar gun was just a few feet away:
From here, I had a great view of Lakewood starter Nic Hanson, who was promoted to High-A Clearwater soon after this game:
When I casually glanced over toward the BlueClaws dugout, I did a double take to see longtime Toronto Blue Jays catcher Ernie Whitt, who’s a roving instructor for the Phillies:
Quick side note: When I was a kid, Whitt was one of my favorite players. Around 1988 or 1989, he was scheduled to sign autographs at a mall near Toronto and my mom packed up my younger brother and me, bought a pair of baseballs and headed to the mall in hopes of getting my first-ever autograph. Of course, the line was extremely long and as we slowly snaked toward Whitt, his allotted signing time was quickly running out. Sure enough, the staff cut off the line before we got there — in fact, my brother and I were at the head of the line. We must’ve looked heartbroken, because Whitt caught a glimpse of us and waved us up to get his autograph. Needless to say, I’ve always liked and respected Whitt even more since then and wish I’d noticed him during BP so I could’ve told him this story.
I took a handful of action shots from this area, including Villalobos again:
And this guy, whose name I missed:
By the middle innings, I was hungry. During my pre-game walk, I’d spotted a great-looking taco stand in the concession area in the right field corner, and knew there were a couple tacos with my name on them. I went with the mahi taco — blackened mahi mahi with avocado, lime, cabbage, pineapple and pico de gallo. The verdict? Delicious:
The taco was refreshingly tasty and light, making it a nice footnote to my 10-day baseball road trip. I’d definitely eat it again and suggest that when you visit Lakewood, the taco stand should be on your radar.
Once I’d eaten and enjoyed the view from center field, I went back up to the suite level and captured this sunset over the parking lot, which looks cool:
I was so impressed with the bright glow of the sun that I headed out the front gate to take a look at how the sun was illuminating the front of the park. The result was this shot, which I love:
The shots that made up this panorama proved to be the last baseball pictures of this road trip. After taking them, I went back inside, found a seat and enjoyed the remaining few innings that wrapped up this awesome adventure.
Thanks for checking out all the details from my July road trip. Through your support, my blog ranked eighth among MLBlogs last month! I couldn’t do it without you. Rest assured, I’ve got lots more content coming. I’m still hoping to take a short road trip or two next month and have a ton of other content to share over the coming weeks and months.
Ever since I was a kid, I’ve loved collecting ticket stubs from all the various sporting events I’ve attended. Since I started traveling for The Ballpark Guide, I’ve been fortunate to visit more than 40 ballparks. This past off-season, I scanned all my stubs from 2010 and 2011 into a blog post, which you can check out here if you’re interested. (It’s sort of cool to see all the varied designs used by teams.)
This summer, the home teams I’ve seen have been unbelievably hospitable to me and I haven’t had to buy a single ticket. I’ve received media accreditation at every park I’ve visited, which provides such varied benefits as being able to enter early, access the press box, walk on the field and many other great things. An added bonus is that while I don’t get a ticket stub to add to my collection, I get something even cooler – a media pass.
As I continue to plan my next road trip, I thought it’d be fun to take a quick look back at the passes I’ve received thus far, in chronological order.
May 21: Lakewood Blue Claws
This game was rained out, which was a letdown given I’d driven roughly eight hours for it. But even though there was no game to see, I picked up my media pass at the ticket office. It’s simple, but it was exciting because it was my first of the season.
May 22: Lehigh Valley IronPigs
I think I like this media pass best. Perhaps because the IronPigs play at the Triple-A level, the pass is really professional and it also included a nice lanyard from when Coca-Cola Park hosted the Triple-A All-Star Game in 2010.
May 22: Trenton Thunder
Trenton offered up a sharp-looking pass that came with a chain lanyard. As you can see, this one allowed me to access the press box, but not the clubhouse or field.
May 23: Wilmington Blue Rocks
The Blue Rocks’ press pass was simple and not unlike the one from Lakewood. This one gave me access to several areas, including the field. It’s always fun to see my name in print!
May 23: Frederick Keys
There’s no mention of my name or The Ballpark Guide on the laminated pass provided by the Keys, which suddenly makes me wonder if I was supposed to turn it in after the game. Oops.
May 24: Altoona Curve
Altoona’s media pass is really sharp. My information, as you can see, is written in by hand, and I like the retro-style design of this one.
May 24: Buffalo Bisons
I was a little surprised that Buffalo, being a Triple-A team, had a cardboard pass similar to those from Lakewood and Wilmington. I think this is because it’s only a one-day pass, rather than a season’s pass.
July 19: Rochester Red Wings
The Red Wings were the first team this season that didn’t hook me up with a standard media pass, but they essentially gave me the same privileges. The ticket provided access to any section in the park, while the photo pass allowed me to get on the field before the game.
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.
When my alarm beeped at 4:20 a.m. today, it signaled the start of my first road trip of 2012. And despite the ridiculous hour, I was full of energy as I loaded the car and hit the road. As you may know by now, I’m just starting a road trip that includes seven games in seven ballparks in just four days. The whole itinerary is here, if you want to check it out.
While the evening’s game in Lakewood, N.J. was the priority, I figured I might as well add quick stops at a few other ballparks to liven up my eight-hour drive. My route took me through some familiar territory, so I couldn’t resist making a few detours.
My first stop was at Syracuse’s Alliance Bank Stadium, which I’ve visited twice in the past. If you’re interested, you can read about those visits here and here. It was still early when I pulled up to the ballpark, and it was a welcome sight — my first ballpark of 2012!
This Welcome to Chiefsville sign has been erected since I last visited:
And while I was there, I couldn’t resist taking a quick self-portrait with the auto timer on my camera:
The Chiefs are on the road, but there were a number of presumably injured players’ vehicles in the parking lot:
I’m assuming the players are rehabbing, which makes me impressed with their dedication, as it was only about 8 a.m.
Another hour down the road, and I arrived in Binghamton, site of NYSEG Stadium. I visited there last year, and given the rumors about the Mets’ potential relocation, this might be the last time I see the ballpark:
Like the Chiefs, the B-Mets are on the road, but there were still a number of players’ vehicles in the lot:
(Looking for big rims is the best way to identify a player’s car, I’ve learned.)
NYSEG Stadium was still quiet at this hour …
… and so were the streets around the park:
It’s pretty sweet that Alliance Bank Stadium and NYSEG Stadium are so close to each other, right? Well, drive another hour south, and you’ll come across PNC Field, home of the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees. I visited here last year, but I was really excited to see it again. As you might know, the stadium is undergoing a major renovation that has forced the Yanks to play all of 2012 as a road team. The plan was to park and walk around to check out the changes, but upon arriving, it was clear that visitors weren’t encouraged:
Not to be thwarted, but also not really wanting to break the rules, I headed for the lookout point on a road high above the park to see what I could see. Last year, I took this photo:
And from roughly the same spot today, here’s what the park looks like:
Wow! As you can see, work crews are in the midst of tearing an awful lot of the stadium apart:
The upper deck looks a bit like it’s from a ghost stadium:
The team’s championship and player banners have certainly seen better days:
In general, most of the stadium was rough looking …
… but it was encouraging to see a number of people busily working away:
Oddly enough, the grass is still in immaculate shape and the PNC Field logo behind home plate is pristine:
Today’s lunch was to be the only lunch or dinner on my road trip that I wasn’t scheduled to be at a ballpark. And because it was approaching noon, I ducked over to a nearby Quiznos and grabbed a sub …
… and now I can say I ate this meal with baseball as a backdrop, too!
After lunch, I resumed the drive to New Jersey, and the weather, which had been iffy all morning, quickly got worse:
Eventually, the rain let up a little — enough for my Grade 2 self to take a photo of a sign marking the small town called Buttzville:
I checked into my hotel around 3 p.m., hung out for a bit and then jumped in the car again for the short drive to Lakewood. As you might guess from the time of this post, the BlueClaws game was rained out. But that didn’t stop me from checking out the ballpark and coming across a number of cool things. I’ll sum up my visit in my next post, which will come either later tonight or tomorrow.
If you’re new to this blog, thanks for stopping by. Please follow me on Twitter to catch the latest from my road trip adventure!