Tagged: Midwest League

Lake County Captains – May 28

A day after my exciting time in Fort Wayne, I faced another lengthy drive. This time, I’d be driving about four hours east to Cleveland. Just to the east of Cleveland is Eastlake, home of the Lake County Captains. The Captains are another Midwest League team that I could cross off my list on this trip.

I checked into my hotel about 3 p.m., chilled for a little over an hour and headed to Classic Park, home of the Captains.

When you arrive at Classic Park, you may quickly notice a parking lot for permit holders only. So, where does the average fan park? See the foot bridge over the road? There’s a giant — and free — fan lot on the other side of it:

I was one of the first cars in the lot, so the pavilion in front of Classic Park wasn’t overly crowded as I bought my ticket for a seat right behind home plate:

This is the biggest Minor League Baseball ticket I’ve seen so far.

Waiting for the gates to open, I milled around the stadium entrance …

… and found a good-natured sign:

Today’s game was supposed to start at 7 p.m., but because the Captains were making up a previously rained out game against the West Michigan Whitecaps, this would be a doubleheader starting at 6 p.m. Lots of baseball to watch.

Upon entry to the ballpark, I took a quick browse through the team store and bought a $10 T-shirt. I was tempted to spend another $15 on a game-used bat (the best price I’ve seen so far), but didn’t bother. Instead, I donned my new gear and went to the right field corner, where I could see players leaving the clubhouses and heading toward the field.

Last summer, I visited Eastwood Field, home of the Mahoning Valley Scrappers. One of this stadium’s best features (for autograph seekers, anyway) is the conjoined clubhouses. If you want to get signatures from both teams, you don’t have to run back and forth — you simply wait outside the clubhouses and get the guys to sign as they come by. Well, the same is true for Classic Park.

The players leave their respective teams’ clubhouses (the building in the background) and make their way down this walkway to the field:

There are plenty of opportunities to catch guys for autographs along the route.

At this point, the concourse was still fairly empty:

My guess was that with a doubleheader scheduled, many people would arrive later, and that’s exactly what happened.

I took this panorama of Classic Park from the right field corner …

… then went to check out some sights. There’s a nice grass berm in right field:

And a historical area behind it, which was closed due to a fireworks setup:

I wasn’t able to see who’s represented on those plaques, but the Captains’ notable alumni include CC Sabathia, Fausto Carmona, Victor Martinez and Kevin Kouzmanoff.

The Captains dugout is on the first base side, so their bullpen is in the right field corner. The cement walkway is high above the pen, so you have a neat vantage point:

There’s a shingled roof and eavestrough to the rear of the bullpen, and my eye caught a ball in the eavestrough. Unfortunately, it had seen days, weeks or months worth of water, so it wasn’t one I wanted:

I watched Lake County warm up for a bit:

(This isn’t as awkward as it looks.) Then started to make my way around the stadium to see the sites. I like the scoreboard here — reminds me of the one at Progressive Field, in a scaled-down sort of way:

What do you think?

I also noticed that Classic Park offers Bertman’s Ball Park Mustard, just as is available at Indians games:

Outside the team shop (appropriately named the Cargo Hold), the team displays some game-used bases and the trophy from its 2010 Midwest League championship:

Remember the parking lot and bridge across the road? Here’s a look back at it from the ballpark:

West Michigan was warming up in the left field corner, and I went up to the suite level and took a panorama to capture the park:

From up here, I could look down to the party deck in the left field corner:

As you can see, there’s a pitching game here, but an extensive kids play area is behind the left field bleachers:

Here are the bleachers themselves …

… and here’s the view from this area:

Lake County’s Jordan Cooper got the start in Game 1 (which was resumed four innings in) and I watched from above as he warmed in the pen:

When the game started, I found my seat directly behind home. I was between the guys doing some filming/radar gun and a handful of MLB scouts. This was the view:

I love sitting behind home plate, as you get a really accurate appreciate of the movement on pitchers’ pitches. Even at the Single-A level, these guys bring it.

A few innings later, I found Classic Park’s “must-try” item, the pulled pork nachos. There are a ton of toppings on these beauties, and I definitely recommend ’em. The only area in which they fell short was cheese — after the lady asked if I wanted grated (real) cheese or cheese sauce, she put neither on my meal. I didn’t notice until I was a few bites in, so oh well:

I ate my nachos from a picnic area down the first base side, which was free of crowding and had a great view.

After dinner, I continued walking around, pausing to notice this sign:

Most ballparks allow backpacks, but Classic Park seems to have an anti-backpack policy. I had mine on, but didn’t get stopped, so I’m not sure what the deal is.

The Captains won Game 1, and the teams took a 30-minute break to change uniforms and allow the grounds crew to prep the field for Game 2. Between contests, I took this photo of the lit-up scoreboard as the evening grew darker:

I watched the first part of Game 2 from the left field bleachers, then toured the ballpark a bit more before departing a little early, as I was exhausted.

One stop left on my first trip — Jerry Uht Park, home of the AA Erie SeaWolves.

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Fort Wayne TinCaps – May 27

In a word, awesome. That’s how I’d describe my May 27 visit to Fort Wayne, IN, to watch the Midwest League’s TinCaps take on the Great Lakes Loons at beautiful Parkview Field. A few days previous, I’d watched the Loons play at Dow Diamond, and had a great time.

My visit to Fort Wayne, however, was off the charts. No, I didn’t get any foul balls, and no, I didn’t chase players for autographs. My experience was even better.

I got to Fort Wayne in the evening after a morning Mud Hens game in Toledo, and the drive was awful. Heavy rainfalls and flooding meant huge delays and scenes like this one:

When I finally arrived at my hotel, I checked in, ate dinner and got some work done. The TinCaps weren’t playing that night, so I’d have to wait 24 hours. Twenty-four hours later, I drove 14 minutes from my hotel to downtown Fort Wayne, and found $3 parking a block away from Parkview Field. The TinCaps do parking the right way; parking at Minor League facilities shouldn’t cost a lot, so the team does graduated parking. If you want to park next to the stadium, it’ll cost you more than a spot, say, one minutes’ walk away. Smart.

Anyway, I parked in the cheapest lot and had a very short walk through a couple other lots until I reached the stadium:

When I got there, I saw the Loons’ bus parked beside a loading area:

Parkview Field has an amazing pavilion in front of it. On this day, the trees were decorated with pink ribbons as it was breast cancer awareness day at the park:

There’s a team store, The Orchard, located to the left of the main gates:

The ticket office is over to the right, and I walked up and bought one in section 106:

With 15 minutes until the gates opened, I had time to take my usual walk around the ballpark. The team’s offices are located along the left side of the facility, when eventually opens up into a ramp that vehicles use to access the field:

The main street beyond left field, West Jefferson Boulevard, has a couple fast-foot joints, and there’s a large pit just over the outfield fence:

Later, I learned that a building housing condominiums, retail and a gym will be going into this area as part of the stadium and city’s downtown face-lift efforts. Pretty nice. There’s another gate in center field, which has an open concourse area:

Eventually, I toured back to the home plate gate and waited for the gates to open. A super nice detail about Parkview Field is that the gates open 1:15 before game time. Virtually every other MiLB ballpark’s gates open one hour early, and by the time you get in, all the players are gone. When I got in, batting practice was still on, and some infield drills followed. When they did, I ran in and found a spot in right field to take a panorama during BP:

From my spot, I had a good view of the cage:

As I said, I didn’t get a ball, unfortunately. One bounced off the wall on the fly directly below me, but it was too low to reach. After BP wrapped up, I moved down to the first base-side bullpen area to watch infield drills and keep my fingers crossed that an errant ball would come my way. No luck again. I did, however, take a field-level panorama from the bullpen area:

Already, I could see that Parkview Field had a ton of places to sit. I love ballparks that have multiple seating options. I’ll often watch an inning or two from my actual seat, then watch the rest of the innings from different locations. As you can see in my first panorama above, there are large picnic areas down both base lines. These are reserved, but in the outfield, there are a ton of areas to sit and watch:

A subsequent walk around the concourse yielded lots of neat things to see, including, from top to bottom: TinCaps-themed garbage and recycling cans (nice to see a team with a green focus, as I’m a recycling freak); The Orchard and a giant Johnny Appleseed bobblehead (the real Johnny Appleseed is buried just outside Fort Wayne); the team’s 2009 Midwest League championship trophy and other assorted honors; and a giant kids’ play area in the left field corner, complete with a rock climbing wall:

Here’s a panorama from the left field corner that shows not only Parkview Field, but the other downtown developments that was part of the stadium package:

The beige structure on the left is a 249-room Courtyard by Marriott hotel and the brick building behind the scoreboard is a convention center and parking garage. Oh, and it’s got one of the coolest seating sections in the Minors, but we’ll get to that later.

There’s a catch to the large centerfield pavilion area. It’s more than just a place for kids to run around during the ballgame. At 7 a.m. daily, the stadium gates are opened and this area, as well as the entire concourse of the stadium, is used as a walking path for local walking groups. Talk about a community facility:

Pretty soon, the concourse started to fill up:

And I came across one of the neatest features I’ve seen at any ballpark. Along the first base concourse, there’s a batting cage that’s used by the players before the game and open to fans during the game. It’s encased with garage door-style roll-up doors, so my pictures weren’t perfect, but I hope you get the idea:

I got a photo when the teams came out for the national anthem:

(The TinCaps were wearing pink jerseys tonight.) I went behind home plate to take a panorama of the Caps warming up …

… and snapped a picture of some great, close-to-the-action seats:

Parkview Field has an impressive concessions menu, including barbecued turkey legs:

Their prices are also among the best I’ve seen, and I opted for a couple plain, ol’ hot dogs. I found a standing spot behind the fence in right-center, and started shooting the breeze with one of the TinCaps ushers. Actually, I found that numerous ushers were super friendly, but this usher and I had a great time talking about baseball and baseball roadtrips, and I told him about my website, TheBallparkGuide.com. My usher friend didn’t give me permission to use his name, so I’ll keep him anonymous, but it’s always great to meet another baseball fan with whom you can converse. I spent a few innings talking to him, and eventually he disappeared to make his rounds. When I was taking this picture …

… I felt someone come up and stand beside me. I thought it was just another fan, so I kept looking through my camera, then stopped and glanced over at him.

“Hi, I’m Mike. I’m the GM of the TinCaps. I heard about you and your website. Would you like a tour of Parkview Field?” he asked.

Uhh, yes!! (Double exclamation marks are seldom warranted, but they are here.)

My usher friend had tracked down GM Mike Nutter, told him about my site, told him where to find me, and in the middle of the game, he devoted a good half hour to touring me around privately. You can take guided, behind-the-scenes tours at plenty of MLB and MiLB facilities, but a private tour from the GM? This definitely goes down as a huge highlight of my trip.

He took me up behind home plate in the suite areas, which contain a giant dining room and all sorts of good food:

Then we went into a suite that was empty on this night, where I took this shot:

I should say, I’m not a suite guy. I like being down near the field and really experiencing the game. But these suites were a great combination of business and pleasure. You can open the sliding glass doors and sit in box seats in a private ledge area to enjoy the game. It doesn’t get any better.

Following the suite tour, it was through the pressbox and into the booth from which the team controls all aspects of the production of a game. The stadium announcer sits here, as do the guys who control the music, scoreboard and other aspects of the stadium. They were great, too, taking time in the middle of the game to talk to me about my website and my roadtrip.

Mike asked if I wanted to see the clubhouse, and I imagine you know my answer. We walked through the doors, which contain a warning to media and and breakdown of Minor League Baseball rule 6.02(d), which requires batters to keep one foot in the box throughout the entire at-bat. I imagine this is to encourage fast play and nip any future Nomars in the bud:

The clubhouse itself was amazing (and extra messy because the TinCaps had just returned from a roadtrip, Mike assured me):

Here’s a close-up to show the San Diego Padres duffel bags, the TinCaps chairs, the uniforms and the bats:

After the clubhouse, we saw the trainers’ room, the team lounge (complete with Guitar Hero) and a room in which the team eats its post-game meals. (Sorry, no photos of these.)

Remember the ultra-close seats just behind the on-deck circle? Our tour trumped these, and we watched part of an inning from the tunnel at the end of the TinCaps dugout:

Eventually, our tour took us to the convention center, which is the brick building beyond right field that houses that rooftop party deck reminiscent of Wrigley Field. This is a look back toward the field from the lobby of the conference center:

The seating area up there is called The Treetops, and it’s reserved groups only. Why? Because it’s all-you-can-eat up there, and the menu is impressive. Best of all, it changes every three innings!

If you’re keeping score, tonight’s fare was burgers and hot dogs, grilled chicken breasts and chicken wings, pulled pork and smoked rib tips and apple crisp for dessert. As sides dishes, you could eat as much as you wanted of Parmesan and cracked pepper potato chips, fresh fruit, baked beans with smoked pork, pasta salad, mac and cheese and soft drinks. Surely, a ticket in this section has to be one of the best tickets in the Minors.

Oh, and the view is perfect, too:

I thanked Mike for the tour after seeing The Treetops, and went and found my usher friend to thank him for setting it up. And, upon seeing that apple crisp was on the Treetops menu, set off to find some for myself. Because of the Johnny Appleseed connection, there’s an entire concession stand at Parkview Field dedicated to apples. Heck, you can even buy a plain ol’ apple here:

I, however, found my apple crisp to satisfy my sweet tooth, and enjoyed it in a TinCaps helmet cup:

After the game, I stuck around to watch the fireworks show …

… then headed back to my hotel after a very satisfying experience.

Thanks to Mike Nutter, my usher friend and all the TinCaps ushers and staff members I dealt with for a great time.

Great Lakes Loons – May 22

I’d never been as far north in Michigan as Midland, which is in the Great Lakes area. That would change today. I checked out of my hotel in Lansing in the middle of the morning, and began the drive to Midland, home of the Great Lakes Loons and Dow Diamond. Like the Lugnuts, the Loons play in the Midwest League. They’re the A affiliate of the Los Angeles Dodgers and they were playing the South Bend Silver Hawks today.

The drive up to Midland was picturesque — lots of small towns and forests, similar in many ways to Canada. Midland itself is a pristine town. The major industry in town is Dow Chemical, and you can quickly tell the Dow family has a lot to do with the town’s image. Many different places — libraries, community areas, gardens, etc. — are named after the Dow family.

Speaking of Dow, I got to Dow Diamond about three hours before game time. There was a kids’ baseball clinic taking place on the field, so there was lots of activity around the ballpark. I opted to go to a nearby grocery store and buy some food for a picnic, and ate on the grass in front of the stadium, just to the left of the batter’s eye:

After lunch, I bought my ticket …

… and began to walk around the stadium’s exterior. Dow Diamond has several solar panels to harness the sun’s energy, which I thought was neat. I believe it’s the first ballpark I’ve seen that does such a thing, and since they were installed, the panels have generated roughly 127,000 kilowatt hours:

The place in which I ate lunch was actually the rear of the stadium. I think. When I walked around to the other side, there was another gate, but this was only for season ticket holders. There was also a huge team store, but it was closed until the gates opened:

At 1 p.m., the gates opened and I rushed in to see a picturesque ballpark. One of my favorite features is  the two fire pits in the outfield concourse:

Before walking around too much, I watched Loons starter Gustavo Gomez warming up. This was his first start of the season, and I imagine he was hoping to improve his 12.00 ERA. (He didn’t.)

Yesterday, I saw the Lansing Lugnuts impressive kids’ play area. Dow Diamond’s was different, but equally impressive. It was play structure-style instead of inflatable slides and such, but it would soon be full and the kids looked to be having a great time:

In the above photo, you can see Dow’s chemical plant in the distance.

The park also features free Wi-Fi, so I tuned into a few minutes of the Blue Jays game while I was waiting for the Loons game to start:

Can you say, baseball nerd?

The Loons soon came onto the field and began signing. This picture makes it look like the players are part of a synchronized signing team:

Wherever you looked, there were ties to the LA Dodgers, despite being so far away from California. Here’s a banner on a light pole and a party deck named after Tommy LaSorda, who was on hand when Dow Diamond opened:

In the first inning, I was standing on the concourse behind first base, watching the action. I noticed a historical plaque, so I turned to look at it …

… and learned that Dow Chemical’s headquarters stood adjacent to the ballpar …

THWACK!

A heard a bang right behind me, and half turned to watch a foul ball fly past me and over the fence. An usher told me it was extremely close to hitting me, but I wasn’t worried about that — I was worried about getting the ball. A maintenance guy picked up the ball, which had landed in a service area below. And, after three tries to throw it up to me, he finally got it far enough:

It might be hard to tell, but it’s got a major scuff on the right side, which is where it skipped off the cement. And, this was my first game ball of 2011! (I had previously gotten a BP ball in Toronto and a bullpen ball in Lansing.) Anyway, back to the plaque that almost cost me an injury. When Dow’s headquarters was demolished, the bricks were saved, ground into dust and used to build Dow Diamond’s warning track. A neat historical tie to the community.

Because of my pre-game picnic, I didn’t get a meal at this ballpark. I did, however, get a freshly squeezed lemonade in a Loons cup:

Is it just me, or does the loon look flirtatious or smug? Maybe a little of both.

Pretty soon, this was the sight overhead:

And suddenly, the rain came. After a few minutes of sprinkling, an all-out storm hit the area:

The hail was nearly as large as marbles, and though everyone had gathered in the concourse, people were still soaking wet. Then, as quickly as it came, the rain left again and the sun came out. The field was in a bad way, however:

The PA announcer declared that the grounds crew would fix the field and the game would resume, and I spent a few minutes chatting back and forth on Twitter with someone from the Loons head office. I had a 2.5 hour drive ahead of me, but I stuck around, hoping to see the conclusion of the game. The grounds crew did a great job getting rid of all the standing water, but after 1.5 hours, there was still a lot to be done, and I made the decision to hit the road. This was the first ballgame I’d ever left early, but there was no guarantee the field could even be salvaged, and I had a long drive ahead.

Of course, the game was resumed about 30 minutes later, and Great Lakes lost 10-7. I saw the bulk of the action, though. Gomez struggled heavily in his first start, giving up three hits, four walks and six earned runs in just 2.2 innings. The outing upped his ERA to 15.88 — ouch!

I listened to a bit of the Loons game on the drive out of town, and made it to Grand Rapids around dinner time. Tomorrow I’d see the West Michigan Whitecaps take on the Fort Wayne TinCaps.

Lansing Lugnuts – May 21

After a pair of games in Toronto, I set out early on Saturday morning to drive to Lansing, Michigan. The drive from Toronto to Lansing is roughly five hours, but with the Canadian long weekend just starting, the border was likely to be slow.

I crossed into the U.S. at the Sarnia border. The drive over the bridge took forever, and because of fog, there was absolutely no visibility:

Soon enough, I was into Michigan:

The border was mind-numbingly slow. Customs guards were checking the trunks of many cars, and when I finally got up to the booth, I had to show the guard the snacks in my cooler to prove it didn’t contain weapons of mass destruction. Nevertheless, I passed through without incident, and drove straight to Lansing. I was pretty excited for this game, as the Lugnuts are the A affiliate of the Blue Jays, so it’d be neat to see a bunch of future Jays. Last summer, I watched the Jays’ then-Short Season A affiliate, the Auburn Doubledays. If you’re in the New York State area, I definitely recommend checking out Falcon Park.

The Lugnuts play at Cooley Law School Stadium (perhaps the smartest ballpark name in baseball), which is adjacent to the campus of Michigan State University. The Spartans also share the stadium:

I always show up early, but even 1.5 hours before game time, there were a ton of people milling around. Why? Because it was one of the Lugnuts’ three bobblehead giveaway nights. I bought my ticket …

… and started my walking tour of the outside of the stadium. Because the facility is downtown, it’s surrounded by a sidewalk and you can see the field from many different places outside the fence:

After my tour, I got in line and waited. Though the facility is nice, it’s close to a homeless shelter so there were a number of homeless men sleeping on the benches around the park and going from fan to fan asking for money. I mean, it’s not the end of the world, but if that sort of stuff bothers you, you may find it a bit intimidating in front of the stadium at times.

After the long wait, the gates were opened and I got my bobblehead. Who was it? Check back soon for a quick update on the player who was featured on it. Once I got into the stadium, I took a walk around to check out the scenes. Here’s a panorama I shot soon after entering:

Cooley Law School Stadium has lots of places to watch the game. There are decks, picnic areas, grass berms and many different little spots. It’s pretty neat. I like moving around during the game, and this ballpark definitely is ideal for that. From top to bottom, here is one of the grass berms in the outfield, part of an extensive kids’ play area beyond left field, a picnic area in left-center and the walkway that shows the field, a first fence, a concourse, a second fence, the sidewalk and the road:

At low levels of pro ball, it’s typically easy to get a ton of autographs before the game. Lansing, however, was a bit different. The team has two players sign in the right field corner for about 20 minutes, but other than that, no one came to the fence to sign. I got both guys on a ball. (Their names escape me right now, and the ball’s in my car so I can’t check. I’ll blog about it and upload a photo later.) Here they are signing for some kids:

Pretty soon, the Lugnuts came out to throw. I got an up-close picture of Gustavo Pierre, who I think has the tools to reach the Majors:

While I was hanging out at the fence on the first base side, I spotted a ball just out of my reach:

It was directly below me, and short of jumping on the field, there was no way I could get it. After the starter’s bullpen session, Lansing’s pitching coach packed up the bullpen and because it was starting to rain, I figured I’d let him know about the hidden ball so it wouldn’t get soaked and ruined.

“Coach, there’s one here,” I said. He looked over, then picked it up. “Do you want it?” he asked. Of course! I think he appreciated that I wasn’t just demanding the ball like everyone else does. So, after getting one ball in Toronto, I got an official Midwest League ball. This is the first ball from this league in my collection:

By the time of the first pitch, the umbrellas were starting to come out. The rain fell steadily throughout most of the game, but never came down hard enough to warrant a stoppage. I normally like to sit in several different areas each game, but since every unoccupied seat was soaked, I mostly stood.

Eventually, I got my dinner — a Philly cheesesteak sandwich. The “cheese” was gross and unnecessary, but the steak itself was actually really tasty:

I also checked out the Lugnuts Hall of Fame area. I didn’t know that Carlos Beltran and Carlos Zambrano once played for this team:

The game itself was mental. Lansing scored a pair of runs in the first inning, but Bowling Green exploded with seven in the second. Lansing then responded by scoring runs in every inning but the eighth to win 13-9. The team combined for 36 hits, too, plus nine total walks. I think it’s safe to say these teams’ batters are ahead of the pitchers, development-wise. The Lugnuts have had a couple huge offensive games since then, too.

After the game, I watched the fireworks show and headed back to my hotel. In the morning, I’d head north to Midland, Michigan, to watch the Great Lakes Loons in what’s considered one of the best ballparks in the Minor Leagues.