Tagged: New Britain Rock Cats

New Hampshire Fisher Cats – April 16

After waking up to a wet, dreary day on April 15, I hoped the view out my hotel window would look different on April 16.

It did:

northeast-delta-dental-stadium-snow-field-1

Different. Just not better.

Yes, my friends, that’s snow covering the field of Northeast Delta Dental Stadium. Snow. In April. Hmm.

The New Hampshire Fisher Cats had a 10:35 a.m. game scheduled, which I’d planned to catch and then hit the road for the eight-hour drive home. I was still slated to join Tom Gauthier on the team’s radio broadcast in the fifth inning but, like a day earlier, the fifth inning was looking hypothetical at best.

The team had yet to make an official announcement about the likelihood of the day’s game, so I spent the first part of my day getting packed for the trip home and taking a few more photos. I wrote extensively about the outstanding hotel I was visiting, the Hilton Garden Inn Manchester Downtown, in my previous two entries, so I won’t rehash all the details here. I will, however, tell you the hotel has a home plate-shaped hot tub — on this morning, though, it looked a tad chilly:

northeast-delta-dental-stadium-hot-tub-snow

In fact, everything out my window did. Here’s the view directly below my room:

northeast-delta-dental-stadium-snow-below-window

That’s the batter’s eye on the left side, the hotel’s outdoor eatery, The Patio, on the right side and I think you get the rest of the picture. It was a snowy day.

Soon enough, the Fisher Cats announced on Twitter that the start of their game would be delayed. No surprised there, but now I faced the decision of whether to wait to see if the game would ever begin or to pull the plug on my trip and start the drive home.

I anxiously kept an eye on the field in the hopes that the snow would melt quickly. By about 8:30 a.m., you can see things were looking slightly better:

northeast-delta-dental-stadium-snow-field-2

Apparently, I wasn’ t the only person interested in the condition of the field. About 8:50 a.m., a member of the Fisher Cats came out, stood on the bullpen mound for several seconds and then headed toward the dugout:

northeast-delta-dental-stadium-player-snow-field

A little while later, I watched the visiting New Britain Rock Cats’ bus leave the ballpark, obviously after dropping off the team. That was a good sign; if the bus was still hanging around, it’d be an indicator that the powers that be weren’t expecting the game to be played.

At 10:20 a.m., the scene out my window looked a lot more optimistic, but it also seemed clear the game wasn’t going to begin any time soon:

northeast-delta-dental-stadium-snow-melting

I made the decision to check out of my hotel, load my car and take a walk through the ballpark and see if any staff member could provide an estimated start time. As I waited for the elevator to ride down to the lobby, I took a bunch of photos to make up this panorama:

hilton-garden-inn-manchester-downtown-panorama-city-view

It’s the scene out the hotel’s front-side windows and provides a great view of downtown Manchester, don’t you think?

After scraping the layer of ice off my car, I took this last shot of the hotel …

hilton-garden-inn-manchester-downtown-from-parking-lot

… and then walked into a very icy Northeast Delta Dental Stadium. The sun was taking care of the field rather nicely, so the grounds crew was working to make the concourse and seats safe for fans. There was plenty of ice to be melted and snow to be shoveled, as you can see here:

northeast-delta-dental-stadium-ice-removal

I took a quick walk through the concourse — check out the icy footprints — and decided there’d be no way the game would be played any time soon:

northeast-delta-dental-stadium-icy-concourse

I had one last priority before getting in the car: I wanted to visit the ballpark’s team shop to use the gift card that was part of the gift basket I received upon checking in two days earlier. I bought a pair of Fisher Cats athletic pants and as I was ready to leave, ran into Tom and told him I’d decided to go home. As we talked briefly about the weather, Fisher Cats and Bowling Green Hot Rods owner Art Solomon stopped to talk to Tom. I was the third wheel, but it was neat to meet someone who’s had a big impact on Minor League Baseball.

After saying bye to Tom, I hopped in the car and drove a few blocks to Gill Stadium, which was built in 1913 and hosted the Fisher Cats in 2004 before their current park was built. I couldn’t get into Gill Stadium, but I took this cool-looking panorama from across the street:

gill-stadium-manchester-new-hampshire-panorama

And then, it was time to close the book on a great first trip of the season, although I would’ve enjoyed better cooperation from the weather. Still, an exciting ballgame Monday night and two nights in an awesome hotel was a memorable start to my baseball season and I can’t wait to hit the road again. I’ll leave you with one final photo that I took on the drive home — it’s a sight you don’t typically see during baseball season:

new-hampshire-mountains-snow

If you enjoyed reading this blog post, I’d love to tell you how you can support my future baseball road trips. If you shop on Amazon or MLB Shop, your purchases can help fund my trips without costing you an extra cent. Please take a moment to look at this page and thank you in advance for your support!

New Hampshire Fisher Cats – April 14

Yesterday was one heck of a day. It began for me at 4:30 a.m. and ended with my involvement in some photos I took being shared with nearly half a million people.

Here’s how it happened:

The drive from my house to Northeast Delta Dental Stadium, home of the Eastern League’s New Hampshire Fisher Cats, takes almost exactly eight hours. And while it seems a little nuts to get up so early and leave my house shortly after 5 a.m. for a 6:35 p.m. game, I couldn’t wait to get to my destination for my first live baseball game of the season.

I’ve seen the Fisher Cats at home twice in the past, and both times I’ve stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn Manchester Downtown. That’s where I’m staying again, and I can’t imagine visiting Northeast Delta Dental Stadium without staying at this hotel. Its major perk is its field-facing rooms, and as soon as I checked in and opened my door, I dropped my luggage and dashed straight to my window to take this photo:

hilton-garden-inn-manchester-view

Heaven!

This is absolutely the hotel for you during your visit to Manchester. You can’t beat its location, of course, but staying here saves you having to pay to park at the game and you’ll be back in your room before many fans are even on the highway. I’ll have plenty more details about the hotel in the blog posts about the rest of my visit, but here are a couple photos in the meantime. I was lucky enough to get a suite, which has a huge living area and a separate bedroom, each with windows facing the field. Here’s the bedroom:

hilton-garden-inn-manchester-bedroom-view

And before I get ahead of myself — like I did with my rush to look out my window — I have to share a big surprise. Look at this gift basket I was given upon arriving:

hilton-garden-inn-manchester-gift-basket

It’s got several types of snacks, two Fisher Cats foam fingers, free breakfast vouchers, a greeting card and even a $25 gift card to the Fisher Cats team shop. Now, the latter was a special gift because the hotel knew about my ballpark travels, but if you quote the “baseball package” upon booking a room in this hotel, you’ll get something similar upon check-in — as well as a field-facing room, free breakfast vouchers and more.

I spent some time at my window watching the Fisher Cats play catch and perform various on-field drills, before deciding to grab my camera and take a short walk around the entire ballpark/hotel complex — something I hadn’t fully done on my two previous visits. My first stop was the park’s ticket office, where I picked up my media credentials for the three-game series. Special thanks to Tom Gauthier and the Fisher Cats for taking care of me. Next, I took this photo of the ticket office and the hotel:

northeast-delta-dental-stadium-ticket-office

The wind had picked up like crazy, but the weather was otherwise warm and such a nice change from the cold back home, so I started down this path that runs between the ballpark and the Merrimack River:

northeast-delta-dental-stadium-pathway

When I reached the end of the path, I had the option of turning to continue my way around the rear of the ballpark or take a footbridge across the river. Here’s what I decided:

manchester-merrimack-river-bridge

Despite occasionally wondering if the wind would blow me over the railing, I had a great view up river and down river, and snapped a bunch of photos to make this panorama looking back toward the ballpark:

manchester-nh-bridge-panorama

The lack of leaves on the trees actually improved the visibility, as you can see here:

northeast-delta-dental-stadium-hilton-garden-inn-from-bridge

See the huge blue and white roof above the Northeast Delta Dental Stadium sign? That’s the Verizon Wireless Arena, home of the American Hockey League’s Manchester Monarchs.

After taking a ton of photos, I partially retraced my steps and continued my walk to the rear of the ballpark. Here’s the road leading down to the field, directly behind the Fisher Cats bullpen:

northeast-delta-dental-stadium-back

The walk took about 45 minutes, and I was soon back in my room watching the proceedings below. It’s such an enormous treat to have this vantage point. Most minor league parks don’t open their gates until batting practice is over, but a field-facing room provides an outstanding view of what you wouldn’t normally get to enjoy. But your room isn’t the only spot from which you can see the field. The Hilton Garden Inn has an outdoor eatery called The Patio, which is located directly between the hotel and the outfield fence. Grab a spot here during BP (or even during the game, if you don’t want to buy a ticket) and you’ll truly have a rare experience. I could see batting practice was about to begin, so I hustled downstairs and out to The Patio. Batting practice didn’t happen during either of my previous visits, so I was pumped to have to chance to watch it — and hopefully snag a ball or two. This is the view from the hotel hallway looking out toward The Patio …

hilton-garden-inn-manchester-patio-inside

… and here’s what I was looking at upon getting a spot at the fence:

northeast-delta-dental-stadium-hilton-garden-inn-the-patio

I was curious to see how many BP home runs would land on The Patio or even hit the hotel. Both are located in left-center, and while a player would need a good blast to reach either, I certainly expected to see some action. Sure enough, a few balls came my way. Some smacked off the hotel’s brick so hard that they bounced right back on the field, while others found a gap and bounced toward the parking lot. There was a neat camaraderie between the players standing in the outfield and the few fans watching BP. Whenever a ball looked like it would be a home run, the players would turn and yell “Heads up!” to make sure no one was caught unaware.

This happened a handful of times on balls that weren’t that close to me, but the next home run, smacked by Yusuf Carter, sailed directly over my head and hit the hotel with a tremendous crash. The sound indicated that it must have rattled off a window, but when I turned to look for the ball, this was what I saw about 10 feet behind me:

northeast-delta-dental-stadium-hilton-garden-inn-broken-window-1

WOW!

The people on The Patio were shocked, and members of the Fisher Cats who’d heard the glass exploding were hopping up and down trying to see the damage over the outfield fence. Soon enough, a hotel employee came to photograph the window:

northeast-delta-dental-stadium-hilton-garden-inn-broken-window-photographing

And then more curious onlookers arrived. I talked about what had happened with the hotel’s executive chef and a maintenance staff member, and asked how often this happens. “Never,” they said, surprisingly. They said one home run ball had once landed in the bar area and broken some glass, but as far as they knew, the hotel hadn’t ever had any broken windows. They were more surprised that upset, so I took this shot as we all stood there:

northeast-delta-dental-stadium-hilton-garden-inn-broken-window-2

The home team’s BP wrapped up at this point, and I grabbed one more photo before weighing my options:

northeast-delta-dental-stadium-hilton-garden-inn-broken-window-3

Although I was having a blast outside, I thought that given the rarity of this moment, I wanted to be the first person to tweet it out. I ran back to my hotel room, transferred my photos to my laptop and sent a couple tweets about the incident with some photos of the broken window. Several people retweeted the images, and I soon headed back down to watch the visiting New Britain Rock Cats take batting practice. Fast-forward to midway through the game, and I started getting notifications like crazy on Twitter. Turns out the MLB Fan Cave had picked up on the story, tweeted out my photos (with credit to me, happily) …

mlb-fan-cave-tweet

… and even written a short blurb about the incident, featuring my tweets, which you can find at this link. The Fan Cave shared this story with its 422,000 followers, and my pictures were then retweeted a couple hundred more times to even more people. So exciting!

Anyway, back to the Rock Cats batting practice: After no home runs in the first few minutes, I decided to see if I could find some leftover balls hit by the Fisher Cats. Remember the balls I mentioned that had rolled toward the parking lot? It didn’t take long for me to find them:

northeast-delta-dental-stadium-bp-balls

Now, with a handful of balls to add to my collection, I decided to head inside the ballpark. I took this quick shot of my media pass …

northeast-delta-dental-stadium-media-pass

… and a few seconds later, I was standing on the concourse looking back toward the hotel and the scene of all the excitement:

northeast-delta-dental-stadium-hilton-garden-inn-manchester

Given my previous visits to Northeast Delta Dental Stadium, I didn’t have much exploring to do, but I still wanted to take my customary first lap of the park to see what was new since I was last here in 2011. Here’s the scene in panoramic form from the first base side:

northeast-delta-dental-stadium-rf-panorama

Did you see the Samuel Adams Bar & Grill two images ago? That was my next stop. I hadn’t previously visited this eatery, which boasts an 85-foot bar, a bunch of TV screens and an extensive menu, but it was great. Its walls were loaded with not only images of New Hampshire baseball stars like Chris Carpenter, but also autographed photos and other neat baseball stuff:

northeast-delta-dental-stadium-samuel-adams-bar-grill

There was still some time before first pitch, so I poked around the park, taking photos here and there. Remember those foam fingers in my gift basket? I’d carefully placed them on my window ledge before heading down to the game, and they were visible from the park’s seats:

hilton-garden-inn-manchester-foam-fingers

Soon enough, players began to appear and I was excited to see New Hampshire’s starter Deck McGuire. He’s a 2011 first-round draft pick of the Toronto Blue Jays and I headed to the bullpen area down the first base line to watch him warm up. Here he is during long toss:

deck-mcguire-long-toss

And here’s Carter, the source of all the earlier excitement:

yusuf-carter-new-hampshire-fisher-cats

Carter has a neat story. He’s the nephew of 1993 World Series hero Joe Carter and although he appeared at several levels of the minors between 2005 and 2011, he played independent ball in 2012 and 2013. And he’s obviously got some pop.

Once McGuire had finished warming up with Carter …

deck-mcguire-yusuf-carter

… I spent the next while photographing Fisher Cats players as I waited for first pitch. When the game was underway, I grabbed a spot on the third base side and took photos like this one, of Fisher Cats slugger Brad Glenn:

brad-glenn-new-hampshire-fisher-cats

And the Rock Cats hulking first baseman Kennys Vargas, who’s 6’5″ and 275 pounds:

kennys-vargas-new-britain-rock-cats

In the top of the second inning, Rock Cats outfielder Reynaldo Rodriguez crushed a home run to left-center. I was seated pretty far from where I saw the ball leave the field, but still decided to wander over to the area and see if I could track it down. It took me a good couple minutes to reach the spot I expected to see the ball; sure enough, there it was on the asphalt between the Samuel Adams Bar & Grill and the hotel. I zipped down a set of stairs and grabbed it:

northeast-delta-dental-stadium-reynaldo-rodriguez-home-run-ball

My first thought was to see if the home run was notable for Rodriguez, and then see if I could return it to him. I put the question out on Twitter and heard back from several people saying that while it was his first of the season, he’d already hit a bunch at Double-A. In fact, he’s quite a slugger. He hit 21, 16 and 18 home runs, respectively, over the previous three seasons in the minors. I figured this one wouldn’t be special to him, so I decided to keep it for my collection. For the record, this is the third home run ball in my collection.

Next, I hung out behind home plate for half an inning …

northeast-delta-dental-stadium-behind-home-plate-panorama

… and then set off to look for something to eat. In my previous two visits to New Hampshire, I enjoyed seafood for dinner — clam strips during my first visit and clam chowder during my second. This time, however, there was no sign of these items on the menu, which is disappointing. There were a handful of new items, which I’ll likely explore tomorrow. For my first game, though, I decided to keep things simple with a pair of hot dogs:

northeast-delta-dental-stadium-food-hot-dogs

After three innings, I was puzzled to see the Fisher Cats weren’t taking the field to start the fourth. In fact, the umpires and both managers were having a conference at home plate, and they were soon joined by a member of the grounds crew. My initial thought was that because of the crazy wind, bad weather was in the forecast. Perhaps some lightning was in the area? Turns out it was lighting, not lightning, that was the issue. I hadn’t realized it, but the stadium lights in right-center weren’t on, and it was getting dark enough that this was now an issue:

northeast-delta-dental-stadium-lights-out

Soon enough, part of the lights came on, and another set of lights responded by turning off. This was the pattern for 35 minutes, and I was slightly concerned the game would be postponed. I wasn’t the only one — McGuire, who’d given up just one hit (the home run) through his three innings of work, also looked concerned as he stood in the dugout:

northeast-delta-dental-stadium-deck-mcguire-delay

The Fisher Cats bullpen members weren’t too upset. They resumed the game they’d been playing earlier — a sort of baseball-themed curling, in which they’d each toss balls off the bullpen mound and see whose could land closest to the bullpen plate:

northeast-delta-dental-stadium-fisher-cats-bullpen-curling

When the action resumed on the field, it was a big relief. Not for Glenn, though, who took a pitch in his thigh during his first post-blackout at-bat:

northeast-delta-dental-stadium-brad-glenn-fisher-cats-hbp

I spent the rest of the game walking around the ballpark, taking photos here and there and enjoying the game and even the scenery outside the park. Here’s a look at the dark Merrimack River with the city’s lights behind it, for example:

northeast-delta-dental-stadium-merrimack-river-night

The Fisher Cats won 3-2, thanks to a two-run home run by Ryan Schimpf in the sixth inning. I didn’t get the ball, though I did get this photo of the eventual post-game high-fives:

northeast-delta-dental-stadium-fisher-cats-win

Although the game was over, my evening wasn’t. I was excited to get back to my room and answer the ton of Twitter messages that had come in about Carter’s BP home run — and, yes, take more shots out my window.

Here’s the scene at about 10 p.m.:

northeast-delta-dental-stadium-night-1

Again at 10:30 p.m.:

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And again at 11:20 p.m.:

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And finally, at 12:50 a.m. once all the stadium lights were off:

northeast-delta-dental-stadium-night-4

As I said, one heck of a day.

If you enjoyed reading this blog post, I’d love to tell you how you can support my future baseball road trips. If you shop on Amazon or MLB Shop, your purchases can help fund my trips without costing you an extra cent. Please take a moment to look at this page and thank you in advance for your support!

Just a Few Days Left

I’ve said before that while Opening Day is a big day for me, I really get excited when it’s time for my first road trip of the baseball season. Fortunately, that day is just about here.

About 5 a.m. on Monday, I’ll hop in the car for the drive to Manchester, N.H., home of the New Hampshire Fisher Cats. I’ll be seeing three games at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium — Monday through Wednesday, April 14 through 16. All three games are against the New Britain Rock Cats.

I’ve been to Northeast Delta Dental Stadium twice before — once in 2010, on my very first summer of travels for The Ballpark Guide, and again in 2011. I’m returning not only because I’m anxious to see one of my favorite ballparks, but also because I get the awesome opportunity to be interviewed on the air during the game broadcast on April 15 by Tom Gauthier, the voice of the Fisher Cats. And the fact that I’m a Toronto Blue Jays fan doesn’t hurt either, as the Fisher Cats are the Double-A affiliate of the Jays.

I’ll also be staying at the outstanding Hilton Garden Inn Manchester, which is located just over the left field fence. As in previous visits, I’ll have a field-facing room so I can enjoy the ballpark even when I’m not inside it.

Here’s the panoramic view out my window during my first visit, which you can read all about here:

panorama-from-hilton-garden-inn-window

And here’s a scene from my second visit during pregame warmups from The Patio, an outdoor eatery at the hotel at which you can eat, watch batting practice and snag home balls:

hilton-garden-inn-patio

(To read the blog post about my second visit, just click here.

Finally, here’s a look at the hotel and its field-facing rooms, taken from the third base seats at the ballpark:

hilton-garden-inn-from-park

It’s shaping up to be a great trip and, as always, I’ll be tweeting and blogging along the way. Planning to be at any of these games? Send me a tweet and we’ll meet up and say hello.

If you enjoy reading about my baseball road trip adventures and want to support them, there are a few ways of doing so — you can read about them here at this link. If you shop on Amazon, for example, you can help my road trips without it costing you an extra cent. And you’ll even get a shout out on Twitter or here on my blog, too! Thanks for your support and I’ll talk to you next week from Manchester.

Some Souvenirs I Picked Up in 2012

I was lucky enough to see 18 games at 16 parks in 2012, and while last year wasn’t quite as busy as 2011, in which I saw 29 games in 24 parks, it was still packed with awesome moments. For a complete rundown on everywhere I’ve been since I started The Ballpark Guide in 2010, you can check out this link.

On my travels, I occasionally get to pick up some neat souvenirs. Traveling in itself is expensive, so I don’t always splurge for extras, but between some neat ballpark giveaways, cool things to buy and unforeseen adventures, I’m often able to pick up a few things of note.

When I visited the Eastern League’s New Britain Rock Cats in August, I had to buy a ticket for the game — all the other MiLB teams I visited in 2012 hooked me up with press passes, which was awesome. Buying a ticket to see the Rock Cats wasn’t all bad, though, as my visit happened to fall on the evening of an above-average stadium giveaway. On this night, the team was handing out blankets, which is something different for my collection and actually useful:

new-britain-rock-cats-blanket

It’s big enough (4 feet by 4.5 feet) that it’s hard to photograph, but I think you’ll agree that it looks great.

A few days later, I visited LeLacheur Park, home of the Short Season-A Lowell Spinners. This visit was outstanding. Not only did I get a comprehensive tour from Jon Boswell, the team’s director of media relations, but the ballpark is absolutely beautiful. During our tour, we talked about boxer Micky Ward being from Lowell and Jon told me he’s met Ward on more than one occasion. In fact, the team had had a Micky Ward garden gnome giveaway at one point. Before I could hardly comment, Jon rifled through a box in the team’s office and dug up a Ward gnome for me!

micky-ward-lowell-spinners-garden-gnome

While Ward might look a little silly with a gnome hat and beard, this is a neat item to add to my collection, especially given that I’m a huge fan of boxing and have a bunch of Ward fight posters and even a boxing glove signed by him. As you can see here, he’s depicted in his Lowell Spinners trunks, which he’s actually worn in the ring:

micky-ward-lowell-spinners-trunks

When I had the fortune of visiting Fenway Park during its 100th season, I definitely wanted to get my hands on a couple 100th anniversary souvenirs. I bought a 100th anniversary cap, which you can see here, and since I loved the logo, I also picked up this large crest:

fenway-park-100-years-patch

As you can see, I haven’t taken it out of the package yet, as I’m still contemplating whether to stick it to something or not.

During my Fenway visit, I also couldn’t resist getting a drink in a Fenway Park commemorative cup:

fenway-park-souvenir-cup

It goes well with the other cups I’ve picked up on my travels:

souvenir-cup-collection

Late in the summer, when I was back home, I bought a couple cans of something to put in the cups above:

toronto-blue-jays-budweiser-cans

I used to collect sports-themed commemorative soda cans, but I’m a big fan of these Budweiser Jays cans.

And speaking of the Blue Jays, I picked up my last souvenir of 2012 when I caught a couple games at Rogers Centre in September. The Jays significantly revamped their team shop before last season, and it featured a ton of neat game-used and player-issued items. When I was browsing through the store, I came across this:

curtis-thigpen-name-plate

It’s the name plate off former catcher Curtis Thigpen’s locker stall in the clubhouse. Thigpen played just 57 games over parts of 2007 and 2008 with Toronto, but he was a prospect I followed very closely. I’m a huge Texas Longhorns fan, and when the Jays drafted Thigpen out of Texas in 2004, I was super pumped. I closely followed Thigpen’s progress through the minors, including his stops in Auburn, Lansing, New Hampshire and Syracuse, and although he had a short MLB career, he was one of the guys I really rooted for. This was his name plate during the 2008 season and, as you can see, it’s got the MLB authenticated hologram in the lower right corner.

If you’re wondering how much of a fan of Thigpen I am, I can tell you I’ve got almost all his signed baseball cards and this beauty — a game-used bat that I picked up a few years ago:

curtis-thigpen-louisville-slugger

A close-up of the barrel:

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The rear of the barrel:

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And the knob:

curtis-thigpen-louisville-slugger-knob

In fact, I’ve got the clubhouse name plate and bat displayed together here in my home office, and they look awesome.

Thinking about the Jays has me fired up for Opening Day, so I’ll share another souvenir. I didn’t get this one in 2012 (although the Jays are still selling these) but I think you’ll agree it’s neat. It’s a piece of authenticated turf from the team’s World Series wins in 1992 and 1993:

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Just for you, I’ll pop open the box and show you the actual piece of turf:

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I wonder what souvenirs I’ll end up picking up this year. I’m going to be visiting a ton of ballparks in 2013; significantly more than I did in 2012, so there’ll be lots of opportunities for neat items to grab and share with everyone here.

Thanks for reading and please remember to follow me on Twitter and visit The Ballpark Guide to help support my trips!

2012 Media Passes and Tickets

Nearly a year ago, I spent a bunch of time scanning and posting all my tickets from my baseball road trips in 2010 and 2011 for The Ballpark Guide, and I think it was a neat look at how different teams do their tickets. If you haven’t seen that, you can view that post here.

And then, after my first road trip from this past summer, I blogged about all the media passes I received. You can read all about it here.

On my second road trip of 2012, I was fortunate enough to get media passes to most of the games, but occasionally bought my own ticket. All this means that in this post, I’ll have a combination of media passes and tickets to share with you.

The first game of my August road trip was in Troy, N.Y., to watch the Tri-City ValleyCats. I meet the team’s media/production manager Chris Chenes for a pre-game tour, and as he gave me my press pass, he said, “One to add to your collection. I saw your blog entry about media passes.” It was a cool moment, and thanks again, Chris, for everything. If you’re interested in the ValleyCats or the New York-Penn League, you can follow Chris on Twitter.

Here’s the Tri-City pass:

tri-city-valleycats-media-pass

The next day, I drove to New Britain, CT, to watch the Rock Cats. I didn’t get a pass for that game, so here’s my ticket:

new-britain-rock-cats-ticket

A day later, I was in nearby Norwich, CT, to see the Connecticut Tigers, and they were kind enough to give me a media pass:

connecticut-tigers-media-pass

Next up was Boston, where I watched the absolutely outstanding Futures at Fenway doubleheader. I bought my own ticket for this event, but it was well worth it for eight-plus hours in Fenway Park. For some reason, this ticket has decided to grow legs and is hiding from me. When I’m able to solve this troubling conundrum, I’ll post the ticket here.

After visiting Fenway for the first time, I made the short drive to Pawtucket, R.I., to see the International League’s Red Sox, and got this awesome press pass:

pawtucket-red-sox-media-pass

Then, it was back to the New York-Penn League to watch the Lowell Spinners, who gave me this pass, which was on a neat Spinners lanyard:

lowell-spinners-media-pass

Twenty-four hours after seeing the Spinners, it was back to Boston to watch the Red Sox host the Angels:

boston-red-sox-ticket

If you read my blog entry about the BoSox game, you might recall that I paid $15 more to park than I paid for my ticket. Ugh.

A day later, I checked out Fenway Park in a tour, which you can read about here. The pass, as you can see, has the same background as a game ticket, but with different lettering:

boston-red-sox-fenway-park-tour-ticket

The last game of my August road trip was in New York’s Hudson Valley to watch the Renegades. The NYPL team keeps it simple with its press passes:

hudson-valley-renegades-media-pass

In September, I caught two Blue Jays games against the Yankees. I’ve been to several Jays games in the past, and if you clicked the first link in this entry, you’ll see a handful of tickets to Rogers Centre. Nonetheless, here are the two tickets from a few months back:

toronto-blue-jays-2012-ticket-1

toronto-blue-jays-2012-ticket-2

(I should note that when I dug through my backpack to find the Jays tickets, I also found a granola bar that the team was giving away to people before the game. Time to get snacking.)

New Britain Rock Cats – August 16

After my great experience on August 15 at Joseph L. Bruno Stadium, I spent the morning of August 16 writing this blog post before checking out of the hotel. The drive to New Britain, CT, is between two and three hours, but I added a few stops to check out some sights for a future blog post. It turns out that my timing was perfect, because I got to my new hotel right around the 3 p.m. check-in time.

To see the New Britain Rock Cats, I’m staying at the Hampton Inn and Suites Hartford/Farmington, which is just outside New Britain and only about 12 minutes or so from the ballpark. And it’s an amazing hotel! It’s very close to the highway, which is especially ideal if you’re checking in after you’ve watched the ballgame. Who wants to be driving around looking for a hotel when there’s a great one just off your route?

Here’s what it looks like from the outside:

And I was excited to see that when I got inside, the inside looks even better. My room is absolutely amazing. It’s a huge suite and my favorite part is the desk/TV area. Instead of a traditional desk with a TV nearby, check out this setup:

Here’s the room from another angle:

Needless to say, this is definitely the place to stay when you’re in town to see the Rock Cats. I’m thrilled that I am here and next time I return, I’ll absolutely stay at this hotel again.

Once I checked in, I blogged a bit and then packed up and headed over to New Britain Stadium. The game was at 7 p.m. and I arrived shortly before 5 p.m. to buy my ticket:

A ticket, you ask? While it’s temping to completely go off here, I’ll just say that, yep, the Rock Cats didn’t give me a media pass. They’re the first and only MiLB team this year that has not done so. It’s not for a lack of trying — I emailed them three separate times and each time, the team didn’t bother getting back to me. Every other team I’ve visited or will visit this summer has been hugely accommodating, so it’s annoying that the Rock Cats can’t be bothered helping me out when my blog/website are going to help them out. I’d accept the situation more if I got an email back saying that the team didn’t want to give me a pass, but the lack of any response at all is just bush league.

All right.

The exterior of New Britain Stadium, which opened in 1996, isn’t particularly eye catching. But it’s got a  unique feature that I really like. This is the front of the park:

And this is what I’m talking about — check out all the MLB  and Eastern League team logos (the parent club sits above the Eastern League club). I really like how this looks and think it does a great job of tying the two leagues together:

Because I was early and unable to get in the park to look around, I decided to check out the area beyond the outfield fence, as I could hear that batting practice was on. It took me a minute or two to walk back there, and another minute or two to see these:

Yes, a pair of Eastern League balls!

(I’m amused that when I hold two balls in this manner, my hands look oddly wide.)

Boy, was it hot back in this area, and really swampy, too. There were a ton of frogs croaking and jumping about and while watching our for soakers, I shot a couple videos of my ball-hunting adventures that I’ll upload to YouTube at some point.

Anyway, I stuck around for nearly a half hour and managed four balls. The home run fence is extremely tall, and I figured its height would be offset by a smaller field. Nope. It’s 330 down the lines, meaning it takes a heck of a shot to get a ball out of the park.

Soon, I wandered back to the front of the stadium and close to 5:30 p.m., the lineups at the main gate were long. This could mean one of two things — the gates would open an hour and a half before the game, or there was a giveaway. Turns out the answer was both! From my understanding, gates normally open an hour before the game on weekdays, but there was some sort of Whiffle ball game with radio personalities taking place before the game, so people got in early for that. And the day’s giveaway was a fleece blanket, which is neat. I’ll post a photo of it later on.

There were lots of things going on in the main concourse area, which is located under the seating bowl. I quickly saw the Legends Diner concession stand, which is adorned with photos of Justin Morneau, Torii Hunter, Joe Mauer and David Ortiz in their Rock Cats uniforms. Not a bad list of alumni, right?

In fact, a ton of notable MLBers have passed through New Britain at one time or another. If you click on this photo, you’ll be able to see many of the names:

Here’s a panorama from behind home plate while the Whiffle ball game was taking place:

It was one of those things that would no doubt be a total blast to play, but was awful to watch — non-athletes swinging and missing and occasionally hitting the ball all the way to the mound. So, I only did hung around for a moment before continuing my tour.

New Britain Stadium has the weirdest box seats I’ve ever seen. They’re not standard fold-down seats; instead, they look like those plastic high chair seats you get when you visit a restaurant with a toddler. If you’re wondering, their comfort level was on par with a standard stadium seat:

Although my lack of a media pass meant nothing was stopping me from getting some autographs, I didn’t bother. Lots of kids, however, were getting players to sign around both dugouts:

One of the things I love about MiLB parks is how close you get to the action and the players. You’ll always hear funny comments and notice things you’d never see on TV or in an MLB stadium. One guy on the home team (I’m not sure who because his name isn’t on their roster) had paper clips clipped to the cuffs of his pants as a makeshift way of hemming them.

I hadn’t eaten much throughout the day, so once the first inning began, my stomach’s growls meant it was time to get dinner. Nothing jumped off the menu as incredibly unique (although New Britain Stadium has a very impressive beer list), so I went with a kielbasa and sauerkraut on a bun:

It was tasty, but because it has been sitting wrapped up for some length of time, the bun was soaking wet with sauerkraut juice. For a beverage, I took advantage of a cool feature that is mostly common at MLB parks. If you sign up to be a designated driver, you get a plastic cup and two vouchers for free drinks. So that’s exactly what I did:

I spent much of the game on the third base side with this view:

And for much of that time, I was utterly obsessed with the pitch speed indicator on the outfield fence. My camera’s batteries (and spare batteries, argh) were dying, so I didn’t take any photos, but the indicator was hilarious. In the bottom of the first, I was amused to see that Richmond starter Chris Gloor’s fastball was normally only registering between 82 and 84 mph. At first, I thought he just didn’t have much of an arm, but then, the speeds started to get really weird. The bulk of his pitches showed up as being in the 70s, he had a handful more in the high 60s and went as low as 59 mph. He topped out with a pair at 88 mph. Basically, the pitches were all over the map and the difference between a 59 mph off-speed pitch and an 88 mph fastball should be apparent to the eye. But it wasn’t. Something seemed to be up.

In the next inning, things got even more hilarious/weird. New Britain’s Andrew Albers hit 96 and 97 in the inning, and threw one that registered 03. Was this meant to be 103 mph? It couldn’t be, because it was a breaking ball. A moment later, he was hovering in the high 50s, and the hilarity just basically went on from there. A couple innings later, the indicator stopped showing anything at all. Obviously, it had been on the fritz the entire game, or else some villain had taken over and was trying to confuse everyone.

I wonder if perhaps the Rock Cats had been spending their time trying to fix the indicator over the last two weeks instead of responding to my emails.

During the majority of my ballpark visits, I spend most of the game on the go. I’d been able to get all the photos I needed early on, so it was fun to just hang out in one spot for a big block of innings and enjoy the ballgame. Toward the end of the game, though, I moved behind home plate for a short while …

… and then way up to the top of the bleachers on the first base side:

After the game, I’ve got to say I was excited to return to the hotel. When I got back, I went to the pool and swam for about a half hour, and then watched ESPN HD while blogging. Pretty darned perfect! (You have to remember that as a Canadian, ESPN is a commodity.) This morning, I worked on my blog for an hour or so before working out in the hotel gym. And forgetting my room access card in the process. Oops.) I’m going to miss this place when I check out!

The drive to Norwich, CT, is less than an hour away, so I’m planning to make a few stops here and there before checking into my next hotel, which is where I’ll likely be when I publish this blog.