I watched a heck of a lot of MiLB games in person last summer, and saw hundreds of players. When MLB released its Top 100 Prospects list last week, I started scrolling through it and was amazed at how many of these guys I saw throughout my travels. I also got photos of a bunch of them. Here they are:
#2: Bryce Harper – Hagerstown Suns
Harper was hurt when I visited Hagerstown, but I saw him and tried my hardest to get his autograph. I blogged about that entire experience, so check it out if you haven’t already seen it.
#12: Jesus Montero – Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees
I saw Montero, who was recently traded to Seattle, on the first day of my second big road trip. He didn’t play this game, but amusingly spent several minutes before first pitch standing on the top dugout step and making hand signals with his girlfriend several rows up. (I wish I’d gotten a photo, but I was sitting so close that it would’ve been blatantly obvious.)
#15: Jacob Turner – Erie SeaWolves
I actually got to see Turner pitch when he was with Erie. I stood right behind him as he was warming up in the bullpen, which was an amazing experience. He didn’t get the win, but gave up three runs through seven innings with eight strikeouts.
#25: Travis D’Arnaud – New Hampshire Fisher Cats
I’m happy I got to witness one game out of D’Arnaud’s 2011 Eastern League MVP season. On the game on July 28, he had a hit and a stolen base.
Four guys in the top 25. Not bad, right?
#35: Christian Yelich – Greensboro Grasshoppers
Yelich and his teammates played the Delmarva Shorebirds when I was there on June 28. Yelich didn’t get a hit, although in reviewing the box score, I’m amused to see the ‘Birds had five of their starting nine named Michael … including 1-2 hitters Michael Mooney and Michael Rooney. Collectively, the five Michaels went 1-18 in the game. But I digress.
#38: Matt Harvey – Binghamton Mets
I watched the B-Mets twice this season and saw Harvey start the game in Bowie on June 26. He got roughed up, giving up nine hits and four earned runs in 4.2 innings.
#40: Starling Marte – Altoona Curve
I saw Marte when I was in Harrisburg and Portland. He had one hit against Harrisburg and against Portland, had a single and two doubles.
#51: Nick Castellanos – West Michigan Whitecaps
I saw Castellanos go 1-for-4 with an RBI during my visit to Comstock Park, MI to watch the West Michigan Whitecaps in May.
#56: Will Middlebrooks – Portland Sea Dogs
I was lucky enough to see Middlebrooks’ team on two occasions, both at home and on the road. On July 4 in Binghamton, he went 3-for-3 with two RBIs, two walks and three runs scored. He didn’t play at home on July 31.
#57: Anthony Gose – New Hampshire Fisher Cats
Despite stealing 70 bases in ’11, Gose only managed to get picked off when I saw him in July. Before the game, I was able to get his autograph.
#60: Rymer Liriano – Fort Wayne TinCaps
My May visit to Fort Wayne was one of my summer highlights. Seeing Liriano was pretty cool, too. He walked twice, stole two bases and scored two runs.
#73: Mason Williams – Staten Island Yankees
As I enjoyed eating crab at Aberdeen’s Ripken Stadium, I watched Williams hit a triple and drive in two runs.
#75: Brad Peacock – Harrisburg Senators
I got to see Peacock pitch when I visited Harrisburg. He pitched a gem, going 6.2 innings with five hits allowed and no runs with six strikeouts. He’s since been traded to the Oakland A’s organization.
#88: A.J. Cole – Hagerstown Suns
Cole got the win on June 27 against Lakewood, throwing five innings of two-hit ball after Chien-Ming Wang pitched the first three in a rehab start.
#90: Jeurys Familia – Binghamton Mets
Familia got the start during my July 4 visit to Binghamton, and picked up his first win in the Eastern League, pitching five shutout innings and striking out six.
Of note, there were six guys on this list who weren’t in the lineup when I saw their teams. As such, I’m not counting them. (I’m counting Harper because of my successful quest to get his autograph.) But still, 15 out of the top 100 (and 22 if you count the guys who weren’t playing) is great. I hope to see even more of these guys, including some of the new draftees, on my travels this summer.
If the money tree in my backyard had more foliage, I’d buy a baseball cap at every new ballpark I visit during my The Ballpark Guide road trips. But as much as it’s tempting to do so, it’s not very practical financially. Still, I’ve bought a handful of caps over the last two summers of traveling.
I typically buy a cap for a couple reasons. First, the look is important. I’m particularly partial to MiLB caps because most people in Canada have no idea what cap I’m wearing. Second, the price has got to be good. I’m not a fan of spending $40 on a hat, so if I find one that I like and is a good price, look out!
Here are the caps I’ve bought, in chronological order:
This was the first cap I bought on my travels, and arguably my favorite. I love the giant mustache on the ‘A’ emblem, which is the team’s alternate logo. I wore this one an awful lot until a bird had his way with it outside Syracuse last summer. (As you can see.)
New Hampshire Fisher Cats
I bought this cap in September of 2010 during a visit to New Hampshire for a playoff game. The team has since changed its colors, and given that I saw the last game of 2010, this one was on sale for $15.
I’ve liked Harrisburg’s logo for a while, so I couldn’t pass up the chance to get this hat. The downside is it’s a little big, but I think the logo and the blue look great.
This hat was a big steal at $10, and even though it only fits comfortably when my hair is short, I’m still glad I got it. The home of the IronBirds, Ripken Stadium, is outstanding. This is a great souvenir of an awesome ballpark.
Vermont Lake Monsters
When a friend and I visited Vermont last summer, we each bought hats. I liked the white panel on the front of this one; kind of reminds of me collegiate teams’ caps. The lone strike against this one is I’m not partial to cap logos that don’t include a letter. Call me a traditionalist, but I think caps should have a letter on them.
My brother and I visited Cleveland’s Progressive Field last fall and had to make a stop at the team shop. I like the team’s alternate logo, and given that batting practice caps are significantly cheaper than game caps, I went with this one.
PS: It feels like I’ve bought way more than five caps during my travels. Since I’ve been so responsible, I might just have to treat myself to a few more this summer!
I’m a huge fan of taking in the entire ballpark experience every time I watch a game. For me, this typically means trying to snag a foul ball, getting a handful of autographs and eating some unique food. It also includes grabbing a game program and checking out what it has to offer. My stipulation, however, is that I rarely get programs if you have to pay for them. I’m not big on paying for something I’ll likely only flip through once, and if I buy one, I’m less likely to want to throw it out later.
I don’t have programs from every ballpark I’ve visited, but I have a handful that range from amazing to bland. Here’s a look at them.
For a Short-Season A franchise, Aberdeen’s “First Pitch” program has a lot to offer. For one, it’s printed specifically for the game you’re attending. (Most teams print programs per series, week or homestand.) It’s got a clean, attractive cover and a preview of the night’s game. Because the program is printed for each game, all the standings and stats are up to date, which is a huge bonus for a stats guy like me. A couple standout features in this edition of “First Pitch” were a list of IronBirds with Twitter accounts and a well-illustrated diagram of pitcher Aaron Wirsch’s four pitches, along with commentary from the pitcher himself.
Baltimore’s AA franchise in Bowie provides a program called “Baywatch” for each home series. This one had a decent fan guide to Prince George’s Stadium, a list of former Baysox who’ve made the Major Leagues and a discussion between the team’s infielders on turning a double play.
The Indians’ “Batter Up!” is given out free and printed for each series. Of course, you can also buy a more in-depth game program, but this one’s worth picking up. It’s got a good concession directory, a fan guide to Progressive Field and a couple interesting articles. I was also impressed with the full-page ad for Cleveland’s Midwest League affiliate, the Lake County Captains, who play just 15 minutes outside of C-Town.
A South Atlantic League franchise, the Shorebirds program “Play Ball” is one of the shortest I’ve seen. Still, it contains a couple interesting stories on Shorebirds players, a decent look at the team’s opponents and a nice, comprehensive breakdown of each team in the Baltimore Orioles system.
Fort Wayne TinCaps
Fort Wayne’s “Gameday” program is printed each homestand, which is pretty much the norm in the Minor Leagues. This one had pink as a dominant color, given the theme of the team’s homestand, Turn the Park Pink for breast cancer awareness. This program featured a thorough, five-page guide to Parkview Field’s food and interesting features such as a tutorial on how to score a game, a map showing the location of each Midwest League franchise and a couple articles about the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
New Hampshire Fisher Cats
New Hampshire offers an amazing fan experience, but there wasn’t anything to write home about in the “Inside Pitch” free program. The schedules, stats, rosters and promotional schedules were all handy, but they’re all things you’d expect to find here. The worst part was the ads, even though I know they’re necessary. Early in the program, 22 out of 23 straight pages were full ads. Ugh.
The P-Nats, as they’re often called, provide a standard gameday program for free. It’s got all the things you’d expect, but a few interesting pages are the breakdown of the Washington Nationals’ farm system and a look at the Carolina League franchises. Additionally, this program isn’t overly laden with ads.
Rochester Red Wings
After spending two sentences explaining how I don’t buy programs, I’ll quickly recant that statement to say I spent $1 on Rochester’s yearbook during my first ballpark trip in 2010. Simply put, it’s one of the best programs I’ve ever seen, and for $1, it’s a real bargain. This baby is more than 100 pages long and contains a ton of interesting information — not just ads and more ads. The highlights of this edition were a look at the Red Wings’ uniforms throughout the years, an article about Stan Musial’s time as a Red Wing, in-depth player profiles, a pretty good guide to Frontier Field and an ultra-thorough map of the where to find every food item sold at the ballpark. (In case you’re wondering, the cover is damaged because I spilled water on it. Oops.)
The big perk to the S/W-B Yankees’ “Play Ball!” program is like the IronBirds, it’s printed for the game you’re attending. Although it’s relatively short in length, “Play Ball!” has an interesting game preview, a “This Date in Yankees History” page and an interesting section about the players to watch from the visiting team.
Toledo Mud Hens
It’s a toss-up whether Toledo or Rochester has the best program I’ve seen so far on my travels. “The Muddy Times” is amazing, and might get the nod over Rochester because it’s free. This book is giant, measuring 9.5 by 12 inches and numbering 112 pages. The pages are newsprint, but they’re thick and in full color. I love the cover shot, as well as the in-depth player and coach profiles, the 2010 season review, some good player Q&As and an awesome two-page spread on the Detroit Tigers’ top 10 prospects, written by Baseball America. This is the type of program you’d spend $5 on and still feel as though you got your value.
Like Cleveland, the Nats hand out a free game program to complement their paid program. “Inside Pitch” (which is the same title as New Hampshire’s program) is printed on thick paper, which is a definite upgrade over the newsprint in some programs. This one has an extensive Nationals Park fan guide, a guide on how to score a game and even two removable player cards (Jason Marquis and Michael Morse).
And as I mentioned, I got a few autographs that I’m excited to share. Last fall when I visited Manchester, I got current Blue Jay Edwin Encarnacion and future Jay Adeiny Hechavarria on balls, and even ran into Encarnacion in my hotel the morning after the game.
Anyway, prior to the game on July 28, I got a ball signed by six different guys on the Fisher Cats.
In the first photo, from top to bottom, are the signatures of shortstop Jonathan Diaz, third baseman Craig Stansberry and the Fisher Cats bullpen catcher, whose name I can’t recall:
In the photo below, you’re looking at the autographs of speedy centerfielder Anthony Gose, third baseman Mark Sobolewski and a guy (#12) I can’t identify. The current #12 on New Hampshire’s roster is Danny Perales, but this signature isn’t his. If anyone knows, I’d love to know!
Of all the autographs, I’m pretty excited to have Gose’s signature. He should be a Blue Jay in the next season or so, thanks to his speed. This season, he has 61 steals through 126 games; in 2010, he swiped 45 bases and a year earlier, he had 76!
Here’s a picture of Gose signing just after I got him:
First off, apologies for taking so long to get to this blog post. My two-game road trip in late July was part of a week-long trip through New Hampshire and Maine, and it was a holiday trip with my wife more than a baseball-specific trip. So, I’m now catching up on things.
Anyway, as you may have previously read, I took in my first New Hampshire Fisher Cats game last September, and had an awesome time. If you want to read my blog about it, click here. And here’s the link if you want to read a full ballpark guide to Northeast Delta Dental Stadium.
On this trip to the east coast, I wanted to hit a Portland Sea Dogs game. But since we were driving through New Hampshire, it only made sense to catch the Toronto Blue Jays AA team for one game.
One of the coolest things about Northeast Delta Dental Stadium is the on-site Hilton Garden Inn with field-facing rooms. I’m a sucker for places like this. I stayed here last year, and had to do it again this year.
We arrived around 3 p.m. on the day of the game and checked in. When I anxiously got to our room, however, I was dismayed to see it was right behind the batter’s eye:
(I later took a look at the outside of the hotel from the ballpark, and our room (#201) is probably the only one with an obstructed view. I could’ve complained, but I didn’t want to mess around. I couldn’t tell if the batting cages were up for BP, though since the Fisher Cats played a double-header the day before, I severely doubted it.
Either way, I took a rather limited panorama …
… and waited for a bit until the Reading Phillies came out to stretch:
The hotel has an outdoor eatery called The Patio. It’s directly over the outfield fence and you can sit there at any time, including for batting practice. Last year, the teams didn’t take BP, and unfortunately, it wasn’t in the cards again this year. I was really hoping to snag some home runs, but I guess that will have to wait for my next visit.
Here’s the view from The Patio:
And here’s a panorama shot from roughly the same spot:
With no BP to watch, I took some photos of the Phillies, who looked like they were having fun despite the temperatures of nearly 100 degrees:
Eventually, the Fisher Cats came out to run, too:
I’m not sure who the guy on the left is, but I believe the other guy is Henderson Alvarez, who’s only 21 but has an impressive 7-4 record with a 2.82 ERA.
My wife and I decided to have an early dinner on The Patio, and the food and service were great. I’d recommend staying at the Hilton Garden Inn if you ever go to a Fisher Cats game, but either way, check out this eatery prior to the game.
After eating, we headed around the corner of the hotel …
… and right to the Fisher Cats ticket office, where we got our tickets. I took my customary ticket shot:
And since my wife wanted in on the fun, here’s a shot with both our tickets:
We entered the stadium as soon as it opened, and climbed the big flight of stairs up to the concourse:
When I got on the concourse, I took a look back at the hotel. I think you’ll agree that our room (which is circled) didn’t have the most ideal view among the rooms facing the field:
All those umbrellas directly between the hotel and the outfield fence are part of The Patio, so you can see what I mean about being close to the action during BP.
The concourse was crowded with camp kids, but we made our way through to the area behind home plate where last year, I visited the Ted Williams Hitters Museum and Hall of Fame. Here’s what it looked like last year:
And here’s the scene this year:
We continued our way around the concourse to the right field corner, and I snapped this panorama:
Soon, the Fisher Cats came out to stretch again, so I made my way down to the first base line to try to get some autographs. Remember how the Phillies looked loose and fun before the game? The Cats were that way, too. First baseman Mike McDade (#40) seems to be telling some sort of funny story here:
Here are Moises Sierra, Mark Sobolewski and Adeiny Hechavarria getting stretched out:
As the players got warmed up, I noticed that one of the rotary display boards on the scoreboard wasn’t working:
Unfortunately, that wasn’t the only problem for the Fisher Cats on this night. The main scoreboard was dead, too:
(As you’ll see above, that guy up the ladder finally did get the rotary display to work correctly.)
I managed to get six autographs, which I’ll blog about at a later date, as usual. For now, I’ll say I’m pretty pleased with how I did.
As the players awaited the start of the game, I snapped a quick shot of the dugout, which is very nice by AA standards …
… and one of catcher Travis D’Arnaud, who was a key figure in the trading of Roy Halladay:
Note: I think D’Arnaud is giving the stink-eye here to two kids who ran to the railing screaming, “Catchercatchercanwehaveabat?Catchercanwehaveaball?Catchercanwehaveabat?”
When the game began a few minutes later, we took our seats down the third base line, where we had this view:
From our seats, I could see that The Patio was really packed with people watching the game, and I could even see fans watching from their hotel rooms:
On this visit, jets flew overhead at a frequency of maybe one every 10 to 15 minutes. I don’t remember this last year, so maybe the Manchester airport’s flight plans have changed? Either way, it was cool to see the jets so low. Here’s the FedEx one …
… which was followed a few minutes later by the UPS one.
As for the action on the field, our close seats enabled us to get a few decent shots. Here’s Fisher Cats manager Sal Fasano:
And Mike McDade (photo courtesy of my wife):
After a few innings, we took a walk around the concourse and my wife snapped a sunset shot of Manchester over the Merrimack River:
We then relocated to behind home plate in the same row as some scouts. We had this view:
While in this area, we got dinner. Last year, I had a clam strips basket, which was no longer on the menu. I wanted to try the clam chowder, which was a big seller last September given the cold weather, but didn’t seem too popular given this game’s hot temperature. It came with oyster crackers and was tasty. I mean, it’s not exactly homemade, but it tasted like Campbell’s soup, which isn’t a bad thing at a ballpark:
As you can see here, it’s got loads of chunks, too. It’s not just broth:
Following our meal, we went down the third base line to a relatively empty area behind the Reading bullpen:
We spent the rest of the game here, watching the Fisher Cats continue to put up goose eggs. Despite three errors by the visiting team, the Phillies won 6-1:
Next up, Portland — home of the AA Sea Dogs.
My next road trip won’t be as long as my last two, but I’m definitely looking forward to it. This one isn’t about seeing as many games as I can in a short period of time (that’ll come during my next one, beginning mid-August). Instead, my wife and I are fitting three games into a summer holiday. But don’t worry, I’ll still be blogging while I’m away.
Game #1 takes place on July 28 as we travel to Manchester to watch the New Hampshire Fisher Cats take on the Reading Phillies. As you can read about here, I watched the Fisher Cats in playoff action last fall at home. Why go back, you ask? Well, I always want to get as much ballpark information as I can for my growing website. (If you want to read a fan guide to Northeast Delta Dental Stadium, home of the Fisher Cats, you can visit this link.) Also, the ballpark has changed names since I was there last fall, so I want to get some new photos.
Last year, I stayed in the Hilton Garden Inn with a field-facing room:
And because I can’t resist, I’ll be doing the same thing again this year. This time, however, I’m hoping to catch some BP home runs on The Porch, an outdoor bar run by the hotel that is situated directly over the outfield fence. During my last visit, the teams didn’t take BP.
I’m also keen on sampling more off the Fisher Cats’ seafood menu. Last time I was there, I had the clam strips basket. This year, who knows?
And lastly, this is a great facility and the on-site hotel is just plain awesome. Plus, the Cats are the AA affiliate of my favorite team, the Toronto Blue Jays.
Game #2 will be in Portland, Maine, on July 31. We’ll watch the Portland Sea Dogs host the Altoona Curve. I’m excited for this game because Portland’s Hadlock Field looks neat, and because fans are allowed to play catch on the field after the game. This’ll be the second time I’ll be on a field this summer. In June, I got to go on the field at an Erie SeaWolves game.
Game #3 will be on August 2, and we’ll watch the host Vermont Lake Monsters up against the State College Spikes. These teams play in the New York-Penn League, a league I’m rapidly getting through ballpark by ballpark. So far, I’ve got three official guides to NYPL ballparks up on my website: Falcon Park, home of the Auburn Doubledays, Eastwood Field, home of the Mahoning Valley Scrappers and Joseph L. Bruno Stadium, home of the Tri-City ValleyCats.
It should be a great trip. Between now and then, I’ll have details on my fourth road trip of the summer; it’s another 12-day, 12-game affair that I’ve almost got completely finalized.
Thanks for reading!
You know those baseball roadtrips (or even single games) that rank pretty high among your all-time favorites? This was going to be one of those days.