Tagged: Midwest League

A Game-Used Bat and a Jersey Mystery

I’ve traveled to more than 50 stadiums for The Ballpark Guide, and have managed to pick up some pretty cool souvenirs along the way. These include:

– A Jeremy Nowak (Frederick Keys) home run ball;
– A Tony Caldwell (Greensboro Grasshoppers) home run ball;
– A Randy Ruiz game-used bat;
– A New Hampshire Fisher Cats game-used jacket;
– A Ryan Skube (former Padres prospect) game-used bat;
– A Curtis Thigpen clubhouse nameplate — OK, not “game-used,” but you know what I mean.

Well, as promised, I added a couple really neat items to my collection during my travels last year.

Here’s the first one:

o'conner-bat-full

This is a game-used bat that belonged to Justin O’Conner, the Tampa Bay Rays‘ first-round draft pick in 2010. I bought it in May when I visited Bowling Green Ballpark, home of the Bowling Green Hot Rods. (You can read about this visit here.) It’s exciting to have a bat from a first rounder. I actually saw O’Conner play back in 2012 at the Futures at Fenway game at Fenway Park, and managed to get his autograph on a ball. Last year, when I saw his bat in the team shop at Bowling Green Ballpark, I couldn’t resist grabbing it.

As you can see here, it’s got his name written on the knob:

o'conner-bat-knob

Lots of signs of use on the handle:

o'conner-bat-handle

And a ton of wear on the barrel, which shows that he used this bat an awful lot before it broke. Here are some ball marks:

o'conner-bat-wear

And some little chips, which are caused by when you tap the bat’s barrel against your cleats to them off:

o'conner-bat-cleat-marks

O’Conner hit .223 for the Hot Rods in 2013 but showed some solid pop with 14 home runs in 102 games. I’ll be excited to see where he starts the 2014 season and look forward to following his career.

The next item I added to my collection has a little mystery to it. It’s a Lexington Legends game-used batting practice jersey, and here’s a picture of it:

legends-jersey-front

When I visited Whitaker Bank Ballpark, home of the Legends, in May, I was excited to see a TON of game-used jerseys for sale at decent prices. Often, you see Minor League Baseball game-used jerseys for around $100, which seems like a little much. Anyway, the BP jerseys were just $25, which was impossible to resist. I browsed through the available jerseys, worn during the 2012 season, while checking out the team’s 2012 roster on The Baseball Cube. My goal was to find a jersey of a player with promise, and when I came across the #8 jersey, I saw it apparently belonged to first baseman Zach Johnson. While with Lexington in 2012, Johnson hit 15 home runs and added 108 RBIs. I was sold, and grabbed the jersey off the rack.

When I took it to the counter, the staff member said, “Nice — Delino DeShields, Jr.” Huh? I told him I was pretty sure this was Johnson’s jersey, pointing to the data on my iPod.

He replied that he thought DeShields might have worn the #8 on a promotional jersey night when his usual #4 wasn’t available in his size. If that was the case, what number did Johnson wear on that night? Or did Johnson play? As I said, it’s a mystery.

I have to admit I’m intrigued about DeShields, though. While with the Legends in 2012, he stole 83 bases in 111 games. Yep, you read that right. He added 18 more steals in 24 games with High-A Lancaster to finish the year with 101 stolen bases. This total would be enough to be the best in the entire minor leagues virtually any year, if not for a guy named Billy Hamilton. Hamilton, of course, set the all-time record by swiping 155 bases. (I was lucky enough to see him play at Louisville Slugger Field last year, too.)

So, did I have the jersey of Johnson, a slugger who was released last year, or of DeShields, Jr., a first-round draft pick who might be on the fast track to the majors? (He played in High-A last season and stole 51 bases while batting .317 while just 20 years of age.)

Let’s look at some more pictures of the jersey before we wade even deeper into this mystery. Here’s a shot of the #8 in question:

legends-jersey-number

The back of the entire jersey:

legends-jersey-back

And a close-up of the Legends logo, which has a sharp design:

legends-jersey-logo

Now, back to the mystery. I’ve found proof that Johnson wore my jersey in 2012. The next four pictures I found online, and were taken by Clinton Riddle.

zach-johnson-lexington-legends

And here’s one that shows the front of the jersey:

zach-johnson-lexington-legends2

The Baseball Cube says DeShields wore #4 in 2012, and I’ve found proof of that with this picture:

delino-deshields-jr-lexington-legends2

And here’s the front of his jersey:

delino-deshields-jr-lexington-legends

As you can tell from these photos, they’re taken during BP, not during a game.

So, based on what The Baseball Cube says, and with the photographic proof I can find online, I’m sure the jersey is Johnson’s. But I’m curious about the suggestion of the team shop employee, and I’m determined to find out the truth. I’m going to contact the Legends, as well as DeShields, Jr., himself, to get to the bottom of this mystery.

And when I have an answer, I’ll share it here!

** UPDATE **

Well, that didn’t take long. Immediately after publishing this blog post, I sent messages on Twitter to DeShields, Jr. and the Legends. DeShields was the first to respond, and he straightened things up:

deshields-tweet

Now, I’m not up on the nicknames of former Legends players, but it looks like “Ziggy” is Zach Johnson, which means my initial understanding about the jersey’s rightful owner was correct. An hour later, the Legends confirmed things:

lexington-tweet

I suppose there’s still a chance DeShields wore the jersey once, but that’s probably difficult to confirm. In any case, the theory about the rightful owner of the BP jersey sure made for a fun mystery while it lasted.

As always, thanks for reading. Please visit The Ballpark Guide for comprehensive fan guides to MLB and MiLB parks and remember, each of your visits help support my road trips!

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I’m on a Professional Baseball Jersey!

When I was a kid, I dreamed that one day, my name would be on a professional baseball jersey.

It took a while, but it’s finally happened!

OK, so it’s not exactly what I dreamed about. But I’m still pretty excited.

This spring, I read that the Fort Wayne TinCaps would be wearing a special social media jersey for a game in June. Promo jerseys are nothing new in the minor leagues, but this one made me take notice — it would feature the Twitter handles of all 6,000-odd of the team’s followers. Awesome, right?

I started following the ‘Caps on Twitter early in 2011, before I visited Parkview Field in May of that year. That visit still ranks as one of my favorite ballpark experiences, and you can read all about it here. The highlight, though, was this: During the game, TinCaps general manager Mike Nutter introduced himself and gave me a lengthy tour of the ballpark, including a stop in the clubhouse and tunnel next to the dugout. I’ve semi-kept in touch with Mike via Twitter since then, and I sent him an excited tweet upon hearing about the social media jersey. He responded right away, assuring me I’d be on the jersey, and that was all I needed to hear.

While it was temping to travel to Fort Wayne in June to watch the game and bid on a game-used jersey, I restrained myself and waited till the one-of-a-kind items came on sale that month. I bought one online and when it arrived last week, I excitedly tore open the package and unfolded the marvelous-looking jersey:

tincaps-social-media-jersey-full

See how the team’s name is “@TinCaps,” rather than just “TinCaps?” Super cool.

And, in keeping with the social media theme, check out the logo on the right sleeve:

tincaps-social-media-jersey-sleeve-logo

And check out the special commemorative badge noting the date the jerseys were worn:

tincaps-social-media-jersey-date-stamp

Once I’d marveled at the look of the jersey, the lengthy process of finding my Twitter name began. I was also keeping an eye out for Craig Wieczorkiewicz’s Twitter name. You hopefully know Craig as the Midwest League Traveler, and he and I have been excitedly exchanging tweets about this jersey for a couple months. I spent the afternoon searching for both names at regular intervals. I’d stop when I was a little cross-eyed and resume a short time later.

No luck.

Later that evening, I was showing my wife the jersey and we both looked for a few seconds before she pointed out a Twitter name that included the word “baseball,” and groaned, “Ah, I thought that was you!” I looked in the direction of where she was pointing and somehow managed to immediately spot my name, @BallparkGuide:

tincaps-social-media-jersey-ballpark-guide-name

It turns out my name is on the front of the jersey, roughly below the “a” in “@TinCaps” and between the fourth and fifth buttons. (I know you were wondering.)

I’m still busy scouring the jersey for Craig’s name and am having fun noticing the other MiLB clubs and people I’ve met on Twitter.

And that brings me to my next point: Is your Twitter name is on the jersey? Would you like to know where it’s located and get a picture of it? I’m happy to help. All I’m asking in return is to support my baseball road trips by making a small donation to The Ballpark Guide, and then I’ll track down your name and get in touch with you.

Bowling Green Hot Rods – May 26

After a couple outstanding days in Cincinnati, I was on the move again. And early, too, given the following travel considerations:

– The Midwest League’s Bowling Green Hot Rods were hosting the Fort Wayne TinCaps at 2 p.m.
– I wanted to get to Bowling Green Ballpark before noon.
– The drive from Cincy to Bowling Green is nearly 3.5 hours and I had a couple stops to make.

All this meant that despite more than a week of traveling and a lack of sleep, I was up bright and early on a Sunday morning to hit the road in good time.

The Hot Rods and, more specifically, broadcasting and media relations manager Hank Fuerst, were kind enough to supply me with a media pass for my visit. There was a lot of construction around Bowling Green Ballpark during my visit, and when I pulled up, I had no idea where to park. After a couple trips around the park, I decided to park in the player/staff lot. Players, staff and media members often share lots in the minors, so I didn’t think there’d be a problem stashing my car here for a few hours. Here’s the rather nondescript area I parked:

bowling-green-ballpark-parking-lot

My car is out of the frame to the left, and to get out of the lot, I walked through a gate just at the right of the picture. As I passed through the gate and reached the sidewalk, I got a pleasant surprise:

bowling-green-ballpark-bp-ball

Batting practice was taking place, and despite being a good chunk more than 500 feet from home plate, a nicely worn Midwest League baseball was sitting in plain view. I was initially puzzled by its location, but didn’t take long to realize what’d happened. You can see a tiny green sliver of the field above the tractor with the two yellow seats, which means the outfield fence gate was open. The ball must have rolled through the gate, hit the edge of the chain-link gate to the left of the photo and followed along the bottom of the gate until ending up on the sidewalk. I had no idea how long the ball had sat there, but was happy to add it to my collection.

I decided to take a walk around the perimeter of the park, as per usual, and started to walk down this sidewalk:

bowling-green-ballpark-sidewalk-behind-fence

Soon enough, I was behind the outfield fence and decided to take a few minutes to see if I could find any home run balls. The foliage, though, was what you might call thick:

bowling-green-ballpark-fence-greenery

I looked and looked and looked, and came up completely blank. No worries, though. A construction area up ahead cut my walk short, so I retraced my steps to the parking lot and then followed this sidewalk …

bowling-green-ballpark-sidewalk

… until I saw this:

bowling-green-ballpark-gate

At first, I thought this was a pretty sedate-looking front gate, but then I realized I wasn’t yet at the front of the ballpark. A handful of additional paces later, this was the view:

bowling-green-ballpark-front-entrance

Once I picked up my media pass, I cut through the team shop and was out to the concourse. The Hot Rods were stretching and playing catch, and I quickly spotted the game’s starting pitcher, Taylor Guerrieri, playing long toss. He’s ranked as the #2 prospect in Tampa Bay’s system, and this was the second time I was lucky enough to see him pitch. Last summer, I watched him at the Futures at Fenway game. I resisted the urge to explore the quiet ballpark and walked down the third base line to get as close to Guerrieri as I could. I like this next photo I got. You can almost see the two TinCaps in the background thinking, “Hmm, we’re facing the #40 prospect in baseball, huh?”

taylor-guerrieri-bowling-green-hot-rods-long-toss

As Guerrieri kept throwing, I took the shots to make up this panorama:

bowling-green-ballpark-panorama-left-field-corner

A few minutes later, he was off to the bullpen to continue warming up, and I wasn’t far behind. Here, I got one more picture of Guerrieri …

taylor-guerrieri-bowling-green-hot-rods-bullpen

… and then continued on my way. With activity over on the Fort Wayne side of the field, that’s where I headed next, getting this photo of outfielders Corey Adamson and Brian Adams stretching:

corey-adamson-brian-adams-fort-wayne-tincaps

As excited as I was to see Guerrieri pitch, I was also pumped to see Fort Wayne’s starter. Joe Ross, a first-round pick in 2011, was touted earlier this year by MLB.com as the 12th-best prospect in the San Diego Padres organization. I was in for a match-up of two promising starters today. Mirroring my earlier pursuit of Guerrieri, I followed Ross to the bullpen and got this photo of him:

joe-ross-fort-wayne-tincaps-bullpen

Next, I went up to the Bowling Green Ballpark press box to meet Hank, and up there, I also ran into Micheal Compton, who covers the Hot Rods for the local paper and is someone I follow on Twitter. It was fun to talk baseball with both guys, but before long I left them to their pre-game duties and went down to field level as first pitch approached. I grabbed a seat behind home plate. During the anthem, as I looked around the ballpark, I thought I saw myself in the background of the video board image, as I was just a few yards behind the girl singing the anthem. My camera was still hanging around my neck, so I fired off a quick shot to check out later:

bowling-green-ballpark-malcolm-video-board-anthem

Sure enough, that’s me in the red/orange shirt. There was a short delay on the video board, hence the image not showing me taking a photo.

I’d grabbed this seat for a couple reasons. One, it’s tough to argue with sitting in the first row behind home plate. And two, I wanted to get some head-on action shots of Guerrieri and Ross throwing.

I’ve said before that one of the things I love about live baseball is seeing things that TV broadcasts just don’t pick up. Case in point? Check out the patches and overall wear on Maxx Tissenbaum’s, uhh, rear:

maxx-tissenbaum-fort-wayne-tincaps-pants

The next inning, I got this photo of Ross …

joe-ross-fort-wayne-tincaps

… before my rumbling stomach led me to a concession stand. The concession menu in Bowling Green has a bunch of tasty-looking items, but I decided to keep it simple during this visit. I hadn’t yet eaten a hot dog on this trip (I’m not counting Akron’s Three Dog Night fiasco) and it’s tough to beat a ballgame on a perfect day with a couple dogs and an ice-cold water:

bowling-green-ballpark-food-hot-dogs

I should say an extra thanks to Hank and the Hot Rods, who provided me with a media voucher that paid for my lunch.

Bowling Green Ballpark has a feature that I’ve seen at several parks and absolutely love — bar-style tables for fans who want to stand and eat. It’s a nice change and after I ate my lunch here, I watched an inning or so:

bowling-green-ballpark-bar-table-view-of

Since I was close to the Hot Rods bullpen, I took another walk past and captured this photo of a handful of relievers who appeared to be enjoying the day as much as I was:

bowling-green-ballpark-hot-rods-bullpen

I spent the next inning behind the outfield fence with this glorious view, half hoping a home run ball might come my way:

bowling-green-ballpark-panorama-outfield

On my way back toward the seating bowl, I saw another thing you wouldn’t notice on TV. Check out the dents in Jackie Robinson’s retired #42 sign:

bowling-green-ballpark-jackie-robinson-retired-number

It’s located in the Hot Rods bullpen, and obviously isn’t immune to home run balls during BP and in games. Seeking a bit of shade, I climbed up to the second deck and found a completely empty group picnic area down the first base line, where I enjoyed this view:

bowling-green-ballpark-upper-deck-view

Up here, I experienced a first for me. I’ve never seen the protective netting behind home plate reach all the way up to the second deck, but if you look carefully at the above photo, that’s exactly the case here.

I was up here enjoying the shade in the eighth inning when the aforementioned Tissenbaum stepped to the plate and blasted a two-run home run to right field. It disappeared over the fence right in the area I’d been searching before the game, and I made a split-second decision to go after the ball with the hopes to finding it to return to him. Although I was sitting relatively close to right field, the construction fence blocked me off, so I made the lengthy trip around the other side of the park until I arrived here:

bowling-green-ballpark-foliage

Hmmm. Where to look? Well, I got busy and started parting the clumps of greenery as quickly as I could, hoping to spot the clean, white sphere. It was stifling hot, especially after my long-distance run, but braving the heat and occasional pricks from branches, I soldiered on until I spotted a ball. Success? Nope. This ball had clearly been half-buried in the mud for days, if not weeks, and to loosely paraphrase Star Wars, it was not the ball I was looking for. I looked for a few more minutes and abandoned the dream of finding the ball to return to Tissenbaum before making the long trek back inside the ballpark.

As the game was winding down, I grabbed a seat behind home plate where, in the home half of the ninth, I had a great view as Bowling Green’s Joey Rickard was caught stealing. He wasn’t happy with the call and seemed in a bit of disbelief. Even as manager Jared Sandberg came out to argue, Rickard was still bent over and touching the base:

joey-rickard-bowling-green-hot-rods

(The argument was to no avail.)

As the game wound down, I took a shot I’m really happy with …

bowling-green-ballpark-behind-home-plate-action-2

… and watched Fort Wayne celebrate a win:

fort-wayne-tincaps-win

The Caps scored three runs in the first off Guerrieri and after Bowling Green came back to take a lead in the seventh, went ahead for good on the home run ball that I couldn’t find. Final score: Fort Wayne 6, Bowling Green 5.

I stopped at the team shop on the way out to buy a super-cool souvenir that I’ll share in a future blog post and then made the nine-minute drive to my hotel. On this night, I was staying at the Hilton Garden Inn Bowling Green, which is an awesome hotel. Not only was it close to the ballpark, but it was easy to find and looked really sharp from the outside, as you can see here:

hilton-garden-inn-bowling-green-ky-outside

I was happy to check into my room and find it nice and cool from the air conditioning. I was also pleased with the usual Hilton Garden Inn amenities — king-sized bed, desk, comfy chair, flat-screen TV, mini fridge and so on, as you can see here:

hilton-garden-inn-bowling-green-ky-room

Although I was looking forward to relaxing in my room for the evening, I planned to make the very short drive to Outback for dinner. I always try to have one Outback dinner on each of my trips, and there was an Outback just a few minutes away from the hotel. And speaking of other things in the area, well, there are almost too many to list. The hotel is virtually walking distance to such eateries as Buffalo Wild Wings, Steak ‘n Shake and Double Dogs, a fun-looking hot dog-themed restaurant and bar. It’s also virtually next to the airport if you happen to be flying into town and a golf course if you enjoy sneaking a round of golf into your baseball road trips. All told, it was a great hotel and it’s definitely the spot I recommend picking when you visit Bowling Green for some Hot Rods baseball.

After touring the hotel a little, I went outside to check out the patio and fountain area …

hilton-garden-inn-bowling-green-ky-patio-fountain

… and then zipped over to Outback for a huge, tasty dinner before returning to the Hilton Garden Inn and watching Sunday Night Baseball. A perfect end to a perfect day.

Lexington next!

Dayton Dragons – May 22

It’s been a couple years since my last foray into Midwest League territory, but with my May 22 visit to Dayton to see the Dragons, I was back. I visited five Midwest League ballparks in 2011 — Fort Wayne, Great Lakes, Lake County, Lansing and West Michigan, for those keeping score — but was pumped to see Dayton, which Sports Illustrated has called “one of the 10 hottest tickets in sports.” More on that later.

The drive from Columbus to Dayton isn’t far, and if you’re in either city, it’s worth seeing if the team in the other city is playing. I noted that Columbus’ Huntington Park is a great place to watch a game, and from the moment I pulled up to Dayton’s Fifth Third Field, I could tell the same was true here. Unfortunately, Mother Nature wasn’t too happy on this day. I’d experienced great weather each day of my trip, but when I got to Fifth Third Field, the rain started to fall. I parked across the street and ran to the suite entrance. By the time I got inside, the quick downpour had all but stopped.

Although I’m always excited to check out a new ballpark, this visit was extra special. I was lucky to get a tour from Brandy Guinaugh, the team’s director of sponsor services. She met me in the lobby at 5:15 p.m. and for the next hour, took time out of her busy day to show me the ins and outs of Fifth Third Field, including many stops behind the scenes.

One of the neat things the Dragons do is honor each past star with a framed photo. Recognizing alumni is nothing new in the minor leagues, but this wall — which is forever growing — has a photo and interesting stats on each guy. I could’ve spent an hour here, but had time for a quick photo before we kept moving:

fifth-third-field-alumni-wall

Across the hall from the alumni wall is another display honoring celebrities who’ve appeared at Fifth Third Field, often to throw out the first pitch. One notable guy I saw was Johnny Bench (the Dragons are an affiliate of the Reds), and it was neat to see him, given I’d seen him just a few days earlier at the Field of Dreams game. Two other ex-athletes were notable — Magic Johnson and Archie Griffin, each of whom owns a stake in the team. The team’s principle owner is Mandalay Sports Entertainment, whose name you might recognize. The sports division of the enormous entertainment company also owns the Erie SeaWolves, Frisco RoughRiders, Oklahoma City RedHawks and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders.

Up next, we descended into the lower level of the ballpark, where the walls were painted with not only Dragons logos and color schemes, but also the logos of each of the Midwest League franchises. Here’s that hall:

fifth-third-field-hallway-logos

Brandy explained that ex-players often maintain their connection to Dayton, given the team’s avid fan base. As you might know if you’re a baseball die hard, the Dragons currently have the longest consecutive sell-out streak in all of sports — not baseball or the minor leagues, but all professional sports. They set the mark with their 815th-straight sellout in 2011 and are still going strong. Incredible! How much do former players like the city? Todd Coffey, who’s played with four MLB teams, named his child Dayton. And a Joey Votto quote is displayed on the ballpark’s wall:

fifth-third-field-joey-votto-quote

Even though I’ve got a chance to do it several times, it’s always a thrill to be behind the scenes at a ballpark. As I learned about the team, a number of the opposing West Michigan Whitecaps walked by us down the hall. Before long, we too were headed down another hallway toward the dugout, but not before I snapped a shot of this sign to show where we were:

fifth-third-field-sign-lower-level

Then, with a quick turn, we were through a tunnel and out into the Dragons dugout. Awesome! The first sight I saw was the team’s notable video board:

fifth-third-field-videoboard

I mention it because when the team scores a run or wins the game, the dragons’ eyes light up and steam shoots out their noses. But more on that later. A handful of Dragons were sitting in the dugout, and that was the only sign of player activity; the tarp was on the field and there was no batting practice:

fifth-third-field-dugout-field-level

After a few minutes in the dugout, we went up to the suite level where the tributes to past players continued. The Dragons, despite having never won a Midwest League title, could field a pretty darned good all-time team, and many of these players’ jerseys are displayed along the hallways. Here’s a guy who should hit the 500-home run plateau in another few years:

fifth-third-field-dayton-dragons-adam-dunn-jersey

We stopped to see the team’s suite …

fifth-third-field-suite

… and then went out to the seats in front of the suite where I took this panorama that shows the dark sky:

fifth-third-field-suite-level-panorama

See this building beyond left field?

fifth-third-field-left-field-corner-building

And this one beyond right?

fifth-third-field-right-field-bar

Brandy pointed them both out because Adam Dunn and Votto have each hit the buildings with home runs. Look how far they are beyond the wall!

Our next stop was a big highlight — we went into the official scorer’s booth and spoke to the man who has the best job in the ballpark. He’s the guy who presses the button to activate the scoreboard dragons, and he asked me if I wanted to press the “most important button in the park.” My answer?

fifth-third-field-malcolm-pressing-button

I pressed away and watched the two sets of eyes glow red and steam cut through the air. Super cool — I’ve never done anything that’s affected a video board in my travels.

By now, the grounds crew was taking the tarp off the field, and after watching them work for a few minutes, we went back to the suite hallway and I learned about all the notable non-baseball events that Fifth Third Field has hosted. Notable speakers have included Barack Obama and John Kerry, while musical acts including Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp and the Counting Crows have performed. Here’s Obama speaking during a 2008 campaign stop:

fifth-third-field-obama-speech

Our last visit was the enormous team shop on the concourse level, and after all the time Brandy had spent with me, she had to get back to her pre-game duties. Thanks for the tour and your time, Brandy!

The team shop, by the way, is enormous. Take a look at this photo and tell me if you’d guess this belongs to a Class-A franchise:

fifth-third-field-team-shop

Now on my own, I made my customary lap of the ballpark and took in the sights. Here’s what Fifth Third Field looks like from center field:

fifth-third-field-center-field-panorama

The next half-hour breezed past and before long, the game began. I watched the first couple innings from various spots, including the second deck, where I had this view:

fifth-third-field-home-plate-view

The between-inning entertainment, I should note, was fun. The hosts were really energetic and my favorite part was the one-eyed mascot, Wink, messing with a Whitecaps player:

fifth-third-field-wink-mascot

I was soon ready for some dinner, but faced a dilemma. As is often the case by the end of the first week of my baseball road trips, I was ready for something healthy. Brandy had recommended the park’s healthy concession choices, but I wasn’t so sure after this exchange with the concession staff member:

Me: I’ll have the salad, please. (Holding out my money.)

Him: I’ll wait to take your money until you see the salad.

Hmmm. The Dragons have a different salad choice each month, and this one was outstanding! It was a little small, but had fresh greens, toasted pine nuts, crumbled blue cheese and a homemade-tasting dressing:

fifth-third-field-food-salad

I was pleasantly surprised and while this exact salad might not be on the menu when you visit Dayton, give the healthy choices some consideration.

After eating, I took this photo of Dayton starter Pedro Diaz:

pedro-diaz-dayton-dragons

And then captured this rainbow over the ballpark, before putting my camera away and sitting back to enjoy the rest of the game:

fifth-third-field-rainbow

Despite the threat of rain, the game went off without a hitch and I was glad to get another Midwest League city under my belt. Fifth Third Field is an awesome place to catch a game and definitely worth visit — as long as you can get a ticket.

Thirteen Days, 13 Games and 10 Parks

I’ve said before that there’s nothing like the first ballpark visit of the season, and while that’s true, I’m always extra pumped for my first extended road trip of the year. Already in 2013, I’ve been able to hit four games — a doubleheader at Syracuse’s NBT Bank Stadium and a pair of Blue Jays games at Rogers Centre. If you click this link, you can see a list of everywhere I’ve been and also bring up my blog entry about each visit. Those trips were the appetizer to the main course that is my May road trip, which begins on Friday.

I’ve taken road trips in May for the last couple years. In 2011, I visited nine parks in 11 days and in 2012, I went on a grueling seven-park, four-day trip. The schedule I’ve come up with for this year will be my longest road trip to date but one that is sure to be awesome.

Here it is:

Friday, May 17: Durham Bulls at Rochester Red Wings

Rochester’s Frontier Field is the first ballpark I visited after starting The Ballpark Guide in 2010, and while the park has sentimental value to me, it’s also one of my favorite places to watch a game. Geographically, it’s a logical starting point for this trip, and I can’t resist stopping there again.

Saturday, May 18: Pepsi Max Field of Dreams game in Rochester

As you’ll see, I’ll end up spending a couple days in Rochester and will be lucky to attend the Pepsi Max Field of Dreams game. This will be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see a number of MLB legends up close. Some of the game’s all-time greats, including Johnny Bench, Wade Boggs, Rickey Henderson, Trevor Hoffman, Reggie Jackson, Pedro Martinez, Mike Schmidt and Ozzie Smith will be playing. As excited as I am to see those guys, I’m most excited to see Fred McGriff, who was my first favorite ballplayer back when he played for Toronto in the ’80s.

Sunday, May 19: Seattle Mariners at Cleveland Indians

I’ve been to Cleveland’s Progressive Field three times since 2010, and consider it one of my favorite places to visit. But, as you’ll see later in this post, this won’t be my only chance to see the Indians at home.

Monday, May 20: Bowie Baysox at Akron Aeros

I’ve seen Bowie play at home and Akron play on the road, but haven’t yet visited Akron’s Canal Park. I don’t know much about the home of the Aeros, but do know about one notable concession item. The Three Dog Night is a hot dog stuffed in a bratwurst stuffed in a kielbasa, all loaded on a bun with sauerkraut and mustard. I guess I know what I’ll be having for dinner.

Tuesday, May 21: SWB RailRiders at Columbus Clippers

My visit to Columbus’ Huntington Park will be for a 10:35 a.m. game, which means May 21 will be an early morning. More importantly, Columbus will be the eighth International League team I’ll have seen play at home.

Wednesday, May 22: West Michigan Whitecaps at Dayton Dragons

It’s been a couple years since I ventured into Midwest League territory; back in 2011, I got to five Midwest League parks. I’m sure that Craig Wieczorkiewicz, the Midwest League Traveler, will have some tips for me about Dayton’s Fifth Third Field. (Coincidentally, I’ve also been to Toledo’s Fifth Third Field and West Michigan’s Fifth Third Ballpark.)

Thursday, May 23: Pawtucket Red Sox at Louisville Bats

Louisville promises to be an exciting stop on my road trip. In addition to seeing the Bats play at Louisville Slugger Field, I also plan to visit the Louisville Slugger Museum and, as a huge boxing fan, the Muhammad Ali Center.

Friday, May 24: Chicago Cubs at Cincinnati Reds

Cincinnati’s Great American Ball Park looks like an awesome place to watch a game, and I’m looking forward to catching the Cubs in town for a pair. As an added bonus, this game will have my first fireworks show of the 2013 season and pre- and post-game hitting by the Long Haul Bombers. (Look ’em up.)

Saturday, May 25: Chicago Cubs at Cincinnati Reds

Whenever I’m visiting a new MLB park, I like to catch two games, if possible. I’ll spend my second Reds game checking out whatever I missed the day earlier, and I’m excited to get an MLB Network backpack, which is the giveaway of the day.

Sunday, May 26: Fort Wayne TinCaps at Bowling Green Hot Rods

Visiting Fort Wayne’s Parkview Field is one of the best ballpark experiences I’ve had so far, but this time, I’ll be seeing the TinCaps on the road in another Midwest League showdown. The Hot Rods are managed by Jared Sandberg, who playfully heckled my photo-taking exploits last summer. The team also includes big-time prospect Taylor Guerrieri, who I saw pitch last year at Fenway Park.

Monday, May 27: Kannapolis Intimidators at Lexington Legends

The Legends were a focal point of Katya Cengel’s book Bluegrass Baseball, which I read over the winter. Her chapters on the South Atlantic League franchise painted a picture of the club and the ballpark, and I’m excited to check both out in person. Lexington will be the fourth SAL city I’ve visited since 2011.

Tuesday, May 28: Greensboro Grasshoppers at West Virginia Power

And speaking of the South Atlantic League, I’ll visit Charleston, WV, to watch the Power host Greensboro on the penultimate day of my road trip. I’ve seen Greensboro once before (back in June of 2011 in a very memorable game) but have never seen the Power. I like the look of the team’s concession menu and the park looks great, too.

Wednesday, May 29: Cincinnati Reds at Cleveland Indians

Why am I making a second stop in Cleveland on this trip? Two words: Social Suite. The Indians have invited me to watch their May 29 game from the Social Suite, which is a Wi-Fi-equipped suite in which a handful of baseball fans and social networking types use social media to share their experiences. I’m absolutely pumped (and honored) to be checking out Progressive Field from this vantage point and will have more details as they become available. It should be a real highlight and I’m considering live blogging the day to share the entire adventure with you. Anyone else watched a game from the Social Suite? I’d love to hear your recollections.

So, a pretty good-looking two weeks, huh? And when the sun sets on my road trip …

progressive-field-sunset

… I’ll have seen 13 games in 10 parks in 13 days. This means that by the end of the road trip, I’ll have seen 75 games at 49 parks since starting The Ballpark Guide in 2010. Wow!

I’ll be tweeting through the trip and blogging as close to daily as I can manage. I’ll be staying in some neat hotels and checking out some cool tourist attractions, too. To keep on top of my travels, please follow me on Twitter. And if you enjoy following my adventures or have used The Ballpark Guide to improve your baseball road trip experiences, please consider making a small donation to support my trips. Otherwise, I really appreciate your hits on my website and blog.

Four more sleeps ….

Shirts I’ve Collected

Last week, I blogged about the six caps I’ve bought during my travels around Major League and Minor League Baseball.

This week, I want to continue the sports-centered wardrobe theme and talk about some of the shirts I’ve bought and received through stadium giveaways. As I’ve said, I don’t buy a hat at every park I visit. The same holds true for shirts and other memorabilia. Still, when the price is right and I like the look of something, I’ll add it to my collection.

Dating back to my first baseball road trips for TheBallparkGuide.com in 2010, here’s what I’ve picked up:

Cleveland Indians – Travis Hafner jersey shirt

This isn’t a traditional jersey shirt; you’ll see that it has Hafner’s nickname, Pronk, on the back. I’m a Hafner fan, and thought this shirt was unique.

New Hampshire Fisher Cats 1

When I visited New Hampshire’s (now called Northeast Delta Dental Stadium) in September 2010, the team was about to play what would be its final playoff game of the season. As such, most of the products in the team shop were on sale. I picked up this T-shirt for under $10.

New Hampshire Fisher Cats 2

I got this one for around $10, too. Not bad for a Nike product, and I like the look of it.

Great Lakes Loons

When I watched the Great Lakes Loons play in May 2011, I visited the team shop during a long rain delay. This shirt was priced way less than other comparable products, so I bought it. What I didn’t notice at the time is that the logo is significantly closer to the left sleeve. (Hence the price reduction.) Still, I like this shirt because it’s one baseball shirt that isn’t gaudy.

West Michigan Whitecaps

Speaking of gaudy (in a good way, of course), this bright red Whitecaps shirt featuring their logo is eye catching. Most of the shirts I’ve gotten are white, so this one stands out in my closet.

Fort Wayne TinCaps

Perhaps partly influenced by my amazing visit to beautiful Parkview Field, this TinCaps shirt is one of my favorites. I like its design and the fact it uses the MiLB logo in a prominent spot. Plus, who doesn’t like angry apples?

Lake County Captains

I wasn’t around to see Lake County win the first half of the Midwest League championship in 2010, but I liked this shirt enough to buy it in 2011.

Delmarva Shorebirds

I’m a big fan of this simple Shorebirds T-shirt by Nike. I like Delmarva’s logo and the simple design of this shirt.

Baltimore Orioles 1

When I was in B-More, I was lucky enough to attend a game with a T-shirt giveaway. The T-shirt this day was J.J. Hardy.

Baltimore Orioles 2

Last summer, Chevrolet heavily promoted the Volt at MLB stadiums, including Camden Yards. If you signed up to receive Chevrolet marketing material, you got a free T-shirt. Count me in! And, if you wanted to sign up multiple times, you’d get multiple shirts ….

Washington Nationals 1

A couple days after I was in Baltimore, I was in the nation’s capital over the July 4 long weekend. The Nats gave away American flag-themed T-shirts at the gate.

Washington Nationals 2

Just like in Baltimore, Chevrolet had a kiosk promoting the Volt. I managed to get, uh, a few of these shirts, too.

Binghamton Mets

On July 4, I stopped in Binghamton to see the B-Mets battle the Portland Sea Dogs before an impressive fireworks show at NYSEG Stadium. During the game, I picked up what’s become one of my favorite items — a B-Mets pullover. These are the shirts the players wear during BP, in the dugout and while warming up. It’s awesome.

But what about game-used items? You’ll just have to check back tomorrow for some goodies that fall under that category.

Lansing Lugnuts autographs

Back on May 21, I visited Cooley Law School Stadium to watch the Midwest League’s Lansing Lugnuts in action.

As I wrote at the time, I obtained a couple autographs at the ballpark’s autograph area in the right field corner.

Here’s the ball:

And who signed it, you ask?

The first signature is 1989-born pitcher Danny Barnes, who was drafted by the Blue Jays in the 35th round of the 2010 First-Year Player Draft. Barnes has to be one of the smartest guys in the Midwest League, too — he went to Princeton University. He’s pitching this season in a relief role, but has a very nice 4-0 record in 18 appearances. His ERA is just 2.73 and in 29.2 innings pitched, he has 50 strikeouts and just nine walks. With those numbers, I think people will soon be asking for his autograph at A+ Dunedin or AA New Hampshire.

The second signature is relief pitcher Marcus Walden, a 1988-born righty who’s one of three guys named Marcus on the Lugnuts. In 12 appearances this season, Walden is 1-2 with an ERA of 4.44. He was drafted by the Jays in the ninth round of the 2007 Amateur Entry Draft.