A genuine perk to visiting city after city as I travel around for The Ballpark Guide is getting to see so many new locations. While my visits to most cities consist of arriving, checking into my hotel, blogging, going to the game, blogging some more, sleeping and then departing, I’m occasionally able to do some exploring when my schedule allows it.
If you’re a longtime follower of this blog, you might remember some baseball-themed explorations such as the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame and Museum, the Little League World Series complex and checking out a bunch of NCAA baseball facilities. Non-baseball touristy things I’ve done include war ships, Super Bowl rings and choppers back in 2012.
This May, I visited Louisville to watch the Bats host the Pawtucket Red Sox at Louisville Slugger Field, and was lucky enough to have time to explore the city. As a huge boxing fan, the first stop on my agenda was the Muhammad Ali Center, a six-story museum dedicated to The Greatest. But since you’re probably reading this because you’re a baseball fan, I’ll share details about another exciting stop — the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory, which is just a mile from the ballpark.
If you’ve heard of the museum, you’ve likely seen a picture of the 68,000-pound bat, which definitely catches your eye as you approach:
Like my sensational visit to the Sam Bat factory in 2012, I got the opportunity to take a tour and see how bats are made. Unfortunately, however, Louisville Slugger doesn’t allow photographs in the factory, so you’ll have to settle for this semi-illicit photo that I took looking through the window from outside the building:
The tour was impressive. As the largest bat manufacturer in the world, it was fascinating to hear about how the various levels of bats are made. The Slugger bats you see for sale at Walmart? Let’s just say they aren’t made the same way — or from the same wood — as those custom ordered by today’s MLB stars. On our tour, we watched scores of bats being made for retailers and a smaller number being made to ship to MLB teams. We also heard funny anecdotes about past MLB greats who used the company’s bats. In today’s era of lucrative endorsement deals, you’d probably be amused to hear Ted Williams signed with Louisville Slugger for a set of golf clubs.
While I can’t share images from the factory tour, I do have a bunch of shots from the museum portion of my visit, which was equally impressive. First, though, I stopped in the huge gift shop and bought a T-shirt, a magnet and got an actual bat engraved with my brother’s name for his birthday. Here’s a look at part of the shop:
Outside the shop is something you can stare at for a long time — it’s called The Signature Wall, and is made of wooden blocks featuring the name and signature of most of the MLB players who’ve signed contracts with Louisville Slugger. There’s also a Hall of Fame section, which notes that more than 80 percent of HOFers were under contract with the company. Here’s just a small snippet of The Signature Wall …
… and a close-up of the HOF section, with some names you’ll likely recognize:
The museum itself had a wealth of displays, mannequins and, of course, bats:
There were life-size displays of notable Louisville Slugger stars, including Ken Griffey, Jr.:
And Derek Jeter, whose face was repeatedly bashed by a kid with a replica bat just before I took this photo:
After spending an hour or so perusing all the displays, I relaxed for a minute in the dugout area:
(I don’t think I looked like a deer in the headlights the entire time.)
Before leaving, I checked out the coolest part of the museum — one that gave me the opportunity to actually hold a game-used bat from one of the biggest stars in MLB history. Visitors had to don a pair of batting gloves, but were then able to pick up and swing a bat belonging to one of the following players: Carlton Fisk, Mickey Mantle, Cal Ripken, Jr., David Ortiz, Derek Jeter or Joey Votto. It was an easy choice for me to pick Mantle’s bat:
Whose bat would you pick? Let me know in the comments below.
And while you’re commenting, let me know how you’re getting through the baseball off-season. I’m taking advantage of the downtime to add more ballparks to my website. I’ve got about 20 more guides to complete before opening day. I’m also gearing up for some more off-season blog posts, including a few more recaps of my 2013 adventures, a look at some of the awesome game-used souvenirs I got, my third annual top 10 food list and plenty more.
Day two of my first baseball road trip of 2012 began early, although not quite as early as day one, which you can read about here and here. I woke up at my hotel just outside of Trenton, and made the 1.5-ish hour drive north to Lehigh Valley, PA, which is home to the AAA IronPigs. They were playing a matinee game at 10:35 a.m., and it would be the first of two games in two cities for me this day.
I got to the stadium roughly 2.5 hours before game time. I always like to get there early to tour the outside and take in all the sights, but given that the IronPigs were hooking me up with a media pass to this game, I thought I’d use the pass to get in early and check out the stadium before it got crazy crowded with the thousands of school kids who were coming to the game.
When I parked, I noted that the parking lot at Coca-Cola Park is somewhat far away from the park, but quickly saw that if you don’t feel like walking, you can get chauffeured in a golf cart. What a great idea! Here’s the scene as I walked from the lot toward the pavilion in front of the stadium:
I love when teams get the names of the roads around the park changed to baseball words. Coca-Cola Park is at the junction of Home Run Lane and Long Drive:
Off the top of my head, I know that New Hampshire’s Northeast Delta Dental Stadium is on Line Drive, Harrisburg’s Metro Bank Park is on Championship Way and I’m sure there are others, too.
I quickly went to the will call window and picked up my media pass, and then went to the west entrance of the park …
… and walked right in. Now, being so early, the only people around were staff, so I basically had 30-40 minutes to wander the park myself and take in all the sights. It’s hard not to go nuts when you get this opportunity. Yet, I resisted the urge to run and shoot photos like a madman. Instead, I started methodically working my way down the third base concourse, where I saw a number of cool sights, including:
The IronPigs’ alumni wall of players who made it to the Majors:
A mini-putt area:
And a cool tiki bar-style area in left field:
Coca-Cola Park has a concourse that surrounds the whole field, so you can take laps around the park. But when I got to center field, an usher quickly gave me a big “Whoa” and pointed upward. I looked way up and saw this:
Two workers were making a last-minute repair to the enormous Coke bottle atop the scoreboard. It vibrates when the IronPigs score a run, and I’m guessing it needed a bit of tightening or something before it could be deemed operational for the game. Since I couldn’t pass under it, I retraced my steps and headed back down the third base concourse toward the home plate area. When I got to the dugout on the third base side, I turned back to face the Coke bottle and got another view of the repair work:
Wow, so much to see! The park was still empty except for a ton of staff bustling around, so I took pictures of the cool seating area right behind home plate:
The press box:
And even bar chairs complete with IronPigs logos:
Pretty soon, the IronPigs and Louisville Bats came out to stretch, and I took a quick detour into the team’s huge store:
It’s got virtually anything you’d ever want if you’re an IronPigs and/or Phillies fan:
After checking out the store, I went back outside and saw the gates still weren’t open, which meant I still had a great opportunity to scour the park and take in everything. I did just that and before long, hordes of school kids began to stream in. I always have to chuckle about ballgames designed for school outings. If I’d gotten to do this as a kid, it would’ve been great. But what amuses me is how the kids are already bonkers because of they get a day off school, but then you add soft drinks, ice cream and cotton candy to the equation (at 11 a.m.) and the decibels quickly go up. As you can see from this next photo, the multi-tiered picnic area on the third base side was filling up with school groups:
But before the park got too crowded, I took this panorama:
After I’d taken a good chunk of time moving around the main concourse, I figured I’d put my media pass to good use and do some exploring that I wouldn’t otherwise get to do. That meant climbing up to the suite level and seeing what was what. Remember the photo of the seats directly behind home plate? Here’s what they look like from up here:
There’s a group party deck at each end of the suite level and suites all along the level except for the middle, which has a swank bar area. There’s also an aisle that runs in front of the suites, so I ventured along it …
… where I eventually came across a series of sheets taped to the wall showing the IronPigs’ transactions and roster and the Bats’ roster, as well as a scorecard:
My favorite was this hilarious addition to the transactions sheet:
Once I’d walked through the outside portion of the suite level, I went inside and took in the surroundings, including the bar area in the middle:
And some neat focal points including the jerseys of past IronPigs who’d made the AAA All-Star Game:
An eye-catching timeline of the team’s history:
Baseballs mounted to read LV:
And plaques for the team’s pitcher and hitter of the year:
I ducked back outside for a minute, just in time to see media relations director Tim Doohan on the video board:
Tim was the person who not only hooked me up with my media pass, but also was very accommodating before (and during, as it turned out) my visit. I took this picture so I could recognize him if I saw him. (It turns out he doesn’t look pixelly in real life!)
I’d seen enough upstairs for the moment, so I zipped back down and basically retraced my steps from earlier. I always find that when you make additional passes through different areas, you notice things you missed earlier. One of these was a clever photo board featuring photos of IronPigs fans wearing their team gear in different spots across the globe. You name it, and there was an IronPig fan there at some point:
In center, I watched both starting pitchers warm up. Coca-Cola Park has a unique bullpen setup. They pens are stacked, which is different than most MiLB pens, which are either located down the lines or else in each corner. One interesting thing I noticed was that the visitors’ portion had an open chain-link fence while the home side’s had a barrier over the fence. Here’s the dividing line:
Being 6’3″, however, means that I can see over most obstacles, so I was able to take a few pictures of Lehigh Valley starter Dave Bush, who’s won more than 50 MLB games in a career dating back to 2004. I always enjoy watching pitchers from up close. He was spending a lot of time fine-tuning his breaking ball, and it was filthy. Bush is in the first picture and in the second one, he’s joined by catcher Tuffy Gosewisch, who hit a foul ball that I caught last summer in Erie’s Jerry Uht Park:
Soon enough, it was time for some big pre-game ceremonies …
… and then, time to play ball!
I saw that the standing room area in right-center wasn’t too occupied, so I headed there to watch the first inning, and I couldn’t resist documenting my media pass:
By now, I was hungry so I took a walk to the outfield concession stand and ordered the All Star Sandwich, which is pastrami, cheese sauce, coleslaw and fries on a bun:
The benefit to this sammie is that it contains every food group — meat, processed cheese and deep-fried stuff. At least I think that’s what the food groups are, aren’t they? The sandwich was good. Not quite enough to crack my top 10 all-time ballpark food list, but it was tasty. If it’d had a few more slices of meat, it might’ve pushed Classic Park’s pulled pork nachos out of the 10 spot.
As the game progressed, I continued moving around and taking photos. I got a bunch of Lehigh Valley manager Ryne Sandberg, who’s pictured here on the right:
An oh-so-close-to-being-great-if-it-was-sharper shot of speedy outfielder Kyle Hudson stealing second base:
And a bunch more action shots, including another of Bush:
A swinging strike from Louisville’s Kristopher Negron:
Kevin Frandsen attempting a bunt:
Louisville catcher Corky Miller:
The action itself was exciting. Bush threw a complete-game, five-hitter as the IronPigs won 2-0:
Next up will be a blog about my excitement-filled visit to Trenton. Coming soon!