Tagged: New York-Penn League

Tri-City ValleyCats – August 21

Five hours after shutting off my hotel room light to end a memorable first day in Troy, N.Y., I was up again and eager to get my second day underway. I had a bit of sightseeing and shopping planned before I got over to Joseph L. Bruno Stadium for that evening’s Tri-City ValleyCats game.

After breakfast, I set out to make the short drive to the Albany airport area, where my mission was to hunt down the remnants of a ballpark that was torn down several years prior. Heritage Park, which opened in 1982, closed in 2002 and was demolished in 2009, was the home of the Albany-Colonie A’s between 1982 and 1984 and the Albany-Colonie Yankees from ’85 to ’94. Many future major leaguers played at Heritage Park during its time hosting affiliated ball. Notable Yankees included Derek Jeter, who hit .377 for the Albany-Colonie squad in 1994 at the age of 20; two seasons later, he had his first World Series ring as a member of the Bronx Bombers. The three other members of the Yankees Core Four, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera all played for Albany-Colonie, as did scores of other future MLBers.

To get to the Heritage Park site, I drove down a dead-end road …

… and parked on a patch of gravel that I assume was once part of the area in front of the ballpark’s main gates. In walking around the area for a bit, it was obvious that something used to be here, but there were no clues about what it might have been. A sunken field area sloped away from the road but, by now, the entire area was thoroughly overgrown. There were a handful of metal posts that I assume were once part of a chain-link fence around the ballpark’s perimeter:

And some red posts like this one, which I think were around the main gates:

I spent about 15 minutes exploring, and while it was neat to think about what used to stand here, it was a little disappointing to not see as many signs of the old ballpark as I’d hoped.

I wrapped up my tour by opting not to check out the spooky abandoned house at the end of the road. Instead, I returned to my hotel and relaxed for a bit by watching some Little League World Series action — a favorite pastime whenever I travel in August. I also joined many staff and guests in the parking lot midway through the afternoon when the solar eclipse took place, although without any eclipse glasses, I basically just stood around and tried to resist the urge to stare at what was happening overhead.

About 3:30 p.m., I drove over to Joseph L. Bruno Stadium, a.k.a. “The Joe” with the intention of getting inside nice and early to enjoy the ballpark experience. After snapping this photo …

… I heard a familiar “click-clack” sound and turned to my left to watch the Hudson Valley Community College football team about to pass between the stadium and me on its way to the nearby football stadium. The Joe is located on the HVCC campus, and while I’d briefly checked out the football stadium a day earlier, I was curious to watch a little of the football practice. That desire grew when I peeked inside the ballpark and saw that batting practice wasn’t taking place. That meant that was I pretty early to sit in a virtually empty stadium by myself, so I changed up my plans a little and followed the football team over to its practice. For about 45 minutes, I leaned against the grandstands and watched scenes like this:

No one paid me any mind, so I guess it wasn’t assumed that I was a spy from Alabama or Texas. Other than a few players silently nodding to me as they walked past, the only interaction I had was when an agitated linebacker groaned at me, “Where the water at, man?” Apparently, the water machine had yet to arrive, and I had the appearance of the water boy.

After a while, I headed back to The Joe and there still wasn’t much going on. The field was set up, but there weren’t yet any players on it. Instead of walking around, I just grabbed a seat at the end of the concourse behind home plate, where I sat in the quiet and enjoyed the view in front of me.

Perhaps 15 minutes later, as a few players played catch down the right field line, I walked down the concourse on the third base side, went up on the hill above left field, and then took a pass directly behind the outfield fence:

It’s an area that is technically closed off, but no one was around and I wanted to see the park from a new vantage point. (Also, the fact that BP wasn’t taking place, which meant that no home runs balls would be landing on my head, was rather appealing.) When I emerged from behind the fence, I climbed up to the top of the berm in the right field corner and took this shot:

This area is one of my favorite places to hang out at The Joe, although it’s tough to narrow down all the great spots down to a short list. I love the view that this berm provides of the field, as well as the visitor’s bullpen, and I like the visual effect of the tall grass that separates the berm from the seats.

After watching the visiting Brooklyn Cyclones play catch for a bit, I set out to find something to eat. As much as it was tempting to go with another pizza from the wood-burning oven, I was eager to try something different. As I lined up at a concession stand on the first base side, I saw a great “you know you’re in the minors” scene — a pair of the visiting Cyclones buying dinner ahead of me. (Chicken fingers and fries, for the record.)

As for me, I went with something a little less conventional: BBQ in a Bag:

This meal consists of a bag of Fritos topped with smoked pulled pork, baked beans, coleslaw and bacon. It was the ValleyCats’ entry for the MiLB Food Fight promotion that takes place each season, and it was tasty — perhaps the only knock on it was the fact that when you get down toward the bottom of the bag, Fritos are a little tough to eat with a plastic fork. It’s definitely something I’d try again, if given the chance, but that probably won’t be the case. Teams switch up their Food Fight entries annually, so unless the team decides to bring this dish (bag?) back, I don’t expect you’ll see it on the menu next season.

Once I’d eaten, I went down to field level on the first base side to watch the Cyclones warming up. I was particularly drawn to their uniforms, which I thought looked super sharp:

It’s sort of hard to tell in these pictures, but the material had a heather-like appearance to it, which gave the whole ensemble a real throwback look. It’s one of the nicest uniforms I’ve seen in the minors in some time.

Here’s shortstop Dylan Snypes playing catch:

And here’s a closer look at the Cyclones uniform, thanks to third baseman Carl Stajduhar:

As I did a day earlier, I spent the first part of the game in a seat directly behind home plate, shooting action photos like this one:

Then, I went down to the ramp in the left field corner to enjoy the action from that spot. While there, an interesting event caught my eye. Remember how I took a walk behind the outfield fence before the game? It turns out that I’m not the only user of that route. There was a member of the Brooklyn bullpen staff standing behind the ValleyCats bullpen, talking with someone he obviously knew. Perhaps as a peace offering, the ValleyCats reliever tossed some bubble gum over the fence …

… and then the Brooklyn player disappeared behind the fence again on his way back over to the visitor’s bullpen.

Want to hear about a ridiculous dessert?

I don’t normally eat dessert at ballparks, but I was keen on munching on something else in the game’s middle innings. Dessert on this night came in the form of a deep-fried Twinkie sundae. Why have a deep-fried Twinkie on its own when you can have it as a sundae? is the age-old question mankind has always pondered. As the friendly server built it for me, she asked, Do you want all the toppings? I’ll give you one guess as to my answer.

Check this out:

You’re looking at one deep-fried Twinkie, chocolate ice cream, whipped cream, sprinkles and a cherry, and everything was pretty good. I can’t recall ever eating a Twinkie, let alone a deep-fried one. The middle was nice and gooey, and the crispy exterior was a nice contrast to the softness of the other ingredients. Definitely a winner, although something your arteries might not want you to eat each game.

With the game winding down, I grabbed a spot on the concourse behind home plate and snapped this panorama:

I really like how this one turned out, and I hope it gives you a good idea of just how beautiful this ballpark is.

Even though my second game wrapped up soon enough, my road trip wasn’t over just yet. I still got to hang out at my hotel, which was hugely enjoyable. In case you missed yesterday’s post, I was staying at the Hilton Garden Inn Troy, and the hotel had upgraded me to the presidential suite. After the game, I made the 10-minute drive back to the hotel, had a swim in the indoor pool and then watched SportsCenter in the living room, which looks like this:

In my previous post, I talked about the suite I was in, but there are lots of reasons that this hotel is ideal for baseball roadtrippers beyond its guest rooms and location. For starters, there’s a sports bar, Recovery Sports Grill, on the ground floor. I didn’t have a meal there, but I stuck my head in and it’s the perfect place to watch the some sports on TV with some refreshments after you’ve come back from The Joe. And that’s not the only on-site eatery; there’s also The Garden Grille & Bar, which serves breakfast and lunch. Free Internet and parking and a good-sized pool and fitness center all combine to make this hotel a great one for baseball travelers — and it’s definitely the spot I’ll be visiting whenever I’m in Troy again.

The next morning, I took a short walk around the area, stopping to snap this shot of the hotel from the outside:

Then, it was time to check out, load up the car and head home — with my next baseball road trip less than a week away.

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Tri-City ValleyCats – August 20

I pulled onto the campus of Hudson Valley Community College shortly after 3 p.m. on August 20, noticing small groups of first-year students and their parents checking out the school in advance of moving in. It wasn’t the campus that I was interested in seeing, though — my sights were focused on the building at the rear of the campus.

That’s where Joseph L. Bruno Stadium, home of the Tri-City ValleyCats, stands. It’s one of my favorite stops in the Short-Season A New York-Penn League, and a place that I visited way back in 2010 and again in 2012. If you’re thinking that another visit was overdue, I totally agree with you — and that’s why I had two ValleyCats games scheduled on this short road trip.

The ‘Cats were hosting the Brooklyn Cyclones, who were amusingly the team that I’d seen play Tri-City in each of my previous two visits, and by the time I got to the front gate of the ballpark affectionately known as “The Joe,” there was already a sizable crowd waiting to get in:

Although I was anxious to get inside, I also knew that I’d have more than enough time to enjoy the ballpark over the course of two days. So, I took a bit of time to make a lap of the park’s perimeter and check it out from a few angles.

Seeing the field for the first time, a peek through the chain-link fence atop the grass berm in the right field corner, instantly brought back fond memories of my two previous visits — a championship series game in September of 2010 and the first day of a road trip that took me through New England in 2012:

Given The Joe’s location on the HVCC campus, there are some cool sights to see around the ballpark — namely, a football stadium and a softball field, as well as a ropes course beyond the left field corner of the ballpark. But I was here to see the baseball field, and enjoyed looking through the trees that line the hill beyond the outfield fence to catch glimpses of it. Here’s a shot of the ballpark from the back side of the “hit it here” sign in right-center:

After a full circuit, I headed into The Joe through the main gates, which put me on the concourse directly behind home plate. As I often do, I snapped a photo of the field from this angle …

… and then walked down to field level to just enjoy the sights in front of me.

Fortunately, I’d be standing on the field before too long. The ValleyCats were hosting a “play catch on the field” promotion before the game, and even though I was traveling solo and didn’t have a catch partner, I took advantage of the opportunity to walk around the outfield, trying to dodge errant throws from the scores of kids playing catch. Here’s a panorama that I snapped from the left field corner a moment after nearly getting hit with a football, funny enough:

And here’s how the scene looked from straightaway center:

The drive from my home to Troy, New York (the Tri-City ValleyCats name represents the Tri-City area of Albany, Troy and Schenectady, the latter of which I impressively spelled correctly on my first attempt) took a little under five hours, and I didn’t make a stop for food. That meant that getting something to eat was pretty high up on my list of priorities. Last visit, I had an order of delicious salt potatoes, but I was looking to try something different this time. After a quick circuit of the concourse to evaluate the options, I was drawn to the pizza concession stand on the third base side. But this wasn’t any old ballpark pizza. Rather, this stand was serving made-to-order pizzas in a wood-burning oven:

I knew I had to try one. I ordered a pepperoni and cheese pizza, and hustled to a picnic table above left field once I had the hot box in my hands. I was impressed with the look of the pizza as soon as I lifted the lid, and even more impressed once I bit into the first slice. This pizza was absolutely delicious, and gets the nod as the best ballpark pizza I’ve ever eaten:

I finished the pizza about the time that the teams wrapped up their pregame warmups, so I walked back down the length of the concourse and grabbed a seat behind home plate for the first inning. Even though I had the netting to contend with, I had fun taking some action shots, like this one of ValleyCats starter Alex House:

And this one of Cyclones catcher Scott Manea picking up his first of two hits of the game:

Next, I took another couple laps around the concourse, enjoying the sights and keeping an eye on the action. The Joe is absolutely beautiful, but perhaps the lone knock on it is that the concourse doesn’t wrap around the entire field. Maybe it’s just a matter of personal preference, but I love parks that have this feature, as it’s enjoyable to take entire circuits of the field instead of have to walk back and forth from foul pole to foul pole. On my walk, I had to chuckle when I saw this banner:

What do you think? Agree or disagree?

After I watched a ball that landed in the outfield roll under the gate beside the left field foul pole for a ground rule double, I wanted to spend some time in this area. I figured that not only could there be a chance of snagging a home run, but grabbing a ground rule double ball would make for an interesting story. I snapped this panorama of this pristine-looking ballpark on my walk to the left field corner …

… and then hung out for an inning and a half just a few steps away from the base of the foul pole. While there, I snapped this shot of myself — of course, I’m wearing one of my T-shirts:

Interested in buying one for your own baseball road trips? Here’s the link.

No baseballs came my way, but that was all right. I was still having a blast, and especially excited that I had two days in Troy on this visit. Once I abandoned the idea of getting a baseball, I went behind the home bullpen for a few minutes:

One of the things that I love about the minor leagues is just how close you can get to the bullpens. While this is occasionally the case in the big leagues, there are also several MLB parks at which close access to the bullpen is impossible. It’s fun to watch the players hanging out, getting loose and, of course, warming up for action.

Speaking of the bullpen, there were a few interesting things that I noticed. We’ve probably all seen a player go to stand next to the plate to mimic the batter while a pitcher is warming up, right? Well, at The Joe, the ValleyCats had a pair of wooden batter-shaped models that could be used instead of actual players. I’ve seen some of these in the past, but they’re still fairly rare. You can see a couple of them below, “standing” next to the bench:

Even more interesting were a couple things that I hadn’t noticed at other parks. If you look carefully in the image above, you’ll see a series of strings that run across the bullpen. These represent the top and bottom edges of the strike zone for pitchers who are warming up. Has anyone else noticed these at other parks? I’m wondering if it’s something that’s exclusively done in the lower levels of the minors. Also, you’ll notice a large target that is laying against the fence. It’s divided into four quadrants with clock-style numbers around the perimeter. I’m guessing it’s a teaching tool and may even be something that pitchers use when practicing on their own. This is the first time that I can remember seeing such a thing.

The game itself was bonkers. Tri-City won 13-10 despite being outhit 17-11. Sounds like an offensive juggernaut, right? Yes, but the teams also combined for 20 strikeouts in a game that took 3:41 to play.

About 10 minutes after the final out, I was pulling into my hotel, the Hilton Garden Inn Troy:

I’ve stayed at Hilton Garden Inns many, many times over the years, and this hotel was easily among the most impressive I’ve visited. As with many hotel chains, HGIs have a lot of common features that are similar from property to property, so I was sort of expecting the standard king room that I usually get at this brand of hotel. I was shocked, however, to learn that the hotel had upgraded me to the presidential suite — something I didn’t expect or even imagine might be possible. I’ve since learned that when suites are available (the HGI Troy has 15 suites, including the presidential suite I was lucky to stay in) guests will sometimes get surprised with upgrades. So, if you book a room at this hotel when you’re traveling to Troy for some ValleyCats baseball, you never know which room you may end up in.

This suite was hands down the biggest hotel room I’ve ever stayed in, and featured a list of amenities that was hugely impressive. Standout features included a full kitchen and bar, living room with leather furniture and a fireplace, three TVs and a separate bedroom with a king bed at the end of the long hallway. There was even a full-sized dining room. Honestly, the photos of this suite fail to do it justice, but here’s a look at part of the scene in panorama format:

Above, you’re looking at the living room, with the dining room and kitchen beyond it. The bedroom is down a hall between the dining room and kitchen.

Since you’re probably wondering:

Yes, I used all three TVs during my visit.

And, yes, I put the fireplace on when I sat in the living room.

The full kitchen was another feature that I really appreciated:

While simply having a bar fridge is usually enough for me, it was great to have a full-sized fridge and freezer so that I could stock up on some snacks and drinks for my two-day stay. And, hey, if a fella’s gonna eat some Häagen-Dazs out of the tub in bed while watching SportsCenter, the freezer means that he can ration it out instead of eat it all in one serving. Theoretically.

The location of the hotel was also perfect for me as a baseball traveler. Just a short and easy drive to The Joe, the hotel was an even shorter drive to grocery stores and walking distance to several fast-food restaurants.

My intention of going to bed in decent time was zapped when I got into bed, flipped on the TV and found that it had on-demand programming. As I tweeted out at the time, Showtime boxing captured my attention, and I watched a couple hours of fights before shutting off the lights, anxious for my second day in Troy to begin.

A Major Website Is Using Two Of My Photos

Even though my priority when I travel for The Ballpark Guide is to document the parks themselves, I’m always eager to get a chance to snap some action photos when I’m able. The minor leagues are ideal for action photos, of course, because you can get extremely close to the field — and some of my favorite action shots came back on the last day of the 2014 MiLB season in Jamestown, NY. You can read all about that experience at this link; it was a memorable one because it was a doubleheader that would serve as the last two games in the history of the New York-Penn League’s Jamestown Jammers, who moved to West Virginia after the season.

Anyway, I ended up taking more than 500 photos over the course of the doubleheader, and most of them were individual shots of players. Afterward, I connected with a bunch of players on Twitter, sent many of them my photos by email and some of the guys even started using my shots as their Twitter profile or header images, which was super cool.

One guy I shot on this day was D’Vone McClure, a fourth-round pick of the Indians who was playing for their Mahoning Valley affiliate. As I crouched beside the dugout on the Mahoning Valley side of the field, McClure looked in my direction for a few moments while he was on deck — and this meant that I could get a bunch of shots of him from just a few feet away. This shot, in particular, isn’t an “action” shot per se, but it’s one that I really liked:

d'vone-mclure-mahoning-valley-scrappers

I started following McClure on Twitter after the game and he even followed me back. I tagged him in some of my photos and he sent me his email address so I could send him the originals. I’ve been eagerly hoping for McClure to rise through the ranks of the Indians system, but that hasn’t been the case. He played just nine games last season and was released by the Indians during spring training of this year.

But the good news is that we all might to get to watch McClure again — on TV on Saturdays.

The former outfielder, who was also a standout wide receiver in high school, just committed to the University of Arkansas to play on its football team — and that’s where my photos come into play.

Late last week, Danny West, a reporter who covers the Razorbacks for Rivals.com, contacted me and asked to use a photo of McClure that I’d taken on that day in Jamestown for an upcoming article about McClure committing to the U of A. I sent him the shot I posted above, as well as a couple others — and he ended up using two of them!

Check out Danny’s story here to read all about McClure’s path from the minor leagues to Div. I football, or take a look at this screenshot that uses my photo:

dvone-mcclure-article

Pretty cool, huh?

I’ve had a few different news organizations use my photos over the years, and it’s always a thrill.

Speaking of thrills, I’m almost ready to announce my latest ballpark trip, so keep an eye out for that!

Auburn Doubledays – August 24

Here’s proof of what a baseball nerd I am: I often begin my baseball road trips with a long drive, which means I’m leaving home while it’s still dark outside. The first city on this trip, Auburn, is slightly more than three hours from my home … but I was still up at 5 a.m. and on the road a couple hours later. You can never start your baseball trip too early.

I made a bunch of stops along the way and checked into my hotel in the middle of the afternoon. You can reach much more about the hotel toward the end of the post. I had a quick late lunch and then packed up my camera stuff and was off to Falcon Park.

More baseball nerdism: I’ve already been to Falcon Park twice since 2010 and it’s such a small park that you can reasonably explore every part of it in well under 10 minutes. The average fan might arrive shortly before first pitch, right? Not me — I was there more than two hours before game time and it was so early that the parking lot looked like this:

falcon-park-empty-parking-lot

Falcon Park has one of the best parking setups you’ll find in all of baseball. The lot is free for fans and directly across the street from the ballpark gates. It really couldn’t be any better.

One thing that I enjoy doing when visiting smaller parks is to walk around behind the park and see if I can snag a ball during batting practice. If you follow this blog regularly, you’ll have seen several times that I’ve done this. Although I was hoping to get a ball, I didn’t plan to stand back there for long as I was excited to get inside and watch BP from the seats.

Falcon Park has such an intimate feel that there’s really no spot in which the players are inaccessible, except when they’re behind closed doors. As I cut through the staff parking lot on my way toward the rear of the ballpark, I could hear the sound of a man talking and looked up to see a member of the Auburn coaching staff talking to the entire team in this training building:

falcon-park-team-meeting

I didn’t want to blatantly stand there and take a photo of the team meeting, so I moved over a little to show the building and the open door without invading the team’s privacy, but the entire team was on folding chairs just out of sight from this view. This building has training equipment — you can see some medicine balls on a rack — and also serves as the indoor batting cages for use during inclement weather. It’s located in the left field corner, just behind the fence and adjacent to the Doubledays clubhouse, which is the red brick building.

After listening to the coach’s remarks for a moment, I continued toward the grassy hill behind the outfield fence and a moment later, this was my view:

falcon-park-behind-fence

I scoured the area nearly from foul pole to foul pole and there weren’t any balls to be had. I stood around for about 10 or 15 minutes and while I could hear some balls hitting the fence, absolutely nothing was flying out of the park. I thought briefly about climbing this ladder to not only watch BP, but to also take a cool photograph …

falcon-park-ladder-behind-fence

… and then decided that a home run ball in the head would be a poor way to start my trip.

Shrugging off the desire to add more balls to my collection, I followed along the edge of the ballpark until I reached the front where I snapped this photo:

falcon-park-front

Don’t you just love the look of the front of this ballpark? I think it looks super sharp.

I picked up the media pass that Doubledays broadcaster David Lauterbach had left me (thanks, David!) and walked inside the park. The area just inside Falcon Park’s main gate is a hubbub of activity during the game — a souvenir shop, several promotional tables, the concession stand and, in general a gathering place. At this point, though, it was still quiet:

falcon-park-inside-gate-panorama

The visiting Mahoning Valley Scrappers were still hitting and I climbed to the top of the bleachers on the third base side to take this panorama:

falcon-park-bleachers-pano

After watching BP for a few minutes, both from the bleachers and then from the first-row seats directly above the dugout, I decided to take advantage of the empty park and walk around. One place where I’d never spent too much time during previous visits was the party deck down the first base line, so that’s where I went next. I think you’ll agree that it offers a great view:

falcon-park-party-deck

I didn’t see any balls in this area, which was fine. My self-imposed rule is that if I find a ball inside a ballpark before the gates open, I throw it back on the field. For fun, I decided to do a little ball hunting and thought that this spot between the party deck and the adjacent standing room and kids’ play area might yield something:

falcon-park-gap

All it yielded, however, was an enormous spider web on my face. I guess this wasn’t a high-traffic area because the web spanned from the wooden deck right across to the metal fence. After a moment of frantically swiping at myself calmly removing the strands of web from my face, I decided to grab a cobweb-less seat adjacent to the field to watch the rest of BP.

One thing that was really interesting was watching Scrappers manager Travis Fryman, himself a 13-year MLB veteran and Gold Glove winner, working with third baseman Nathan Winfrey for several minutes on positioning and glove placement. Although I couldn’t hear everything Fryman was saying, it was neat to witness the lesson. Fryman even took Winfrey’s glove to reinforce a few points …

mahoning-valley-scrappers-nathan-winfrey-travis-fryman-2

… before giving it back but continuing the lesson:

mahoning-valley-scrappers-nathan-winfrey-travis-fryman

When the teaching moment ended, I shifted my attention back to the area around home plate and took a photo of this “you know you’re in the minors” moment — players loading batting practice balls into a Pep Boys shopping cart:

falcon-park-shopping-cart-balls

I milled around for the next little while before making my way down the third base line toward the Doubledays clubhouse. The players were starting to filter out and I wanted to capture some shots, like this one of third baseman Kelvin Gutierrez and outfielder Randy Encarnacion:

auburn-doubledays-kelvin-gutierrez-randy-encarnacion

I noticed that even though it was still about half an hour before first pitch, Encarnacion was already wearing his ankle guard. I made a mental note to make a joke in my blog about him looking really ready go to … and then he went out and hit a home run in his first at-bat and a bases-clearing double in his second at-bat. I guess his strategy worked!

When the home team started playing catch, I snapped a bunch of shots, like this one of first baseman Diomedes Eusebio:

auburn-doubledays-diomedes-eusebio

During the anthem, I got my only photo of Mariano Rivera III, who did not pitch in this game. He’s wearing #44 and spent the entire game in the bullpen where I didn’t have a good view of him:

auburn-doubledays-anthem

When the game began, I grabbed a seat in the front row behind the home dugout, which is where I sat a lot during my last visit. The park had an amazing atmosphere. For this game, bleacher tickets cost $1, so the bleachers were close to full and very boisterous. From my vantage point, I took this cool shot of third baseman Melvin Rodriguez calling off catcher Jorge Tillero to catch a pop-up in foul territory:

auburn-doubledays-po-up

Here’s a shot of 2015 third-rounder Rhett Wiseman just after laying down a bunt that ended up rolling foul:

rhett-wiseman-auburn-doubledays

And a pair of pictures of Encarnacion just after rounding third after his home run …

randy-encarnacion-auburn-doubledays-home-run

… and returning to the dugout right in front of me:

randy-encarnacion-auburn-doubledays

From where I sat, I had a great view of not only the field, but also of the players as they’d come and go through the dugout entrance on my right. Here’s Tillero who, despite how it looks, isn’t trying to avoid my shot:

jorge-tillaro-auburn-doubledays

At the start of the fifth inning, I went back down the first base line and took the pictures to build this panorama. Really nice sky, huh?

falcon-park-night-sky-pano

I decided to take another walk down that gap where I’d previously walked into the cobweb. It led to a great standing-room spot along the fence and, besides, I’d already gotten rid of all the web with my head, right? Well, I walked into the opening again and took another giant web in the face — uhh! To make matters worse, I looked to my right and saw this guy:

falcon-park-spider

I guess he’d been busy rebuilding the damage I caused and I was in no mood to hang out near him. I scanned Falcon Park for my next spot to hang out and decided to go up the bleachers behind home plate to beside the press box. Here, I had this view:

falcon-park-behind-home-plate-pano

Next, I left the park to capture this nighttime shot:

falcon-park-front-night

Later in the game, Mahoning Valley’s Connor Marabell blasted a home run over the fence in left center, so I ran quickly outside to look for the ball. Either it was too dark …

falcon-park-behind-fence-dark

… or someone happened to be walking past and grabbed it, but I didn’t get it. Too bad, too, because it was Marabell’s first career home run as a professional and I would’ve loved to give it back to him.

I spent the game’s last couple innings in the front row behind home plate where I had a great view of not only the action at the plate, but also the Auburn on-deck circle, which was just a few feet in front of me:

falcon-park-on-deck-circle

In addition to the great atmosphere in the park, the game itself was also exciting. Auburn won 5-2 and the teams combined for 19 hits. Lots of action to enjoy and an absolutely perfect night for baseball.

Once the game wrapped up, I was looking forward to getting back to my hotel and relaxing. As I said, I’d been up at 5 a.m. and on the go ever since. Fortunately, I didn’t have to spend long getting to my hotel, the Hilton Garden Inn Auburn. It’s located just over a mile from the home of the Doubledays, so your drive between the hotel and ballpark only takes a few minutes. The last thing you need after a long day of traveling is to spend 20 or 30 minutes driving to your hotel, right? Here’s a shot of the outside of the hotel — a welcome sight after my long day!

hilton-garden-inn-auburn-front-night

This hotel was perfect — not only for the traveling baseball fan, but for anyone visiting Auburn for any reason. My room was large and clean with free Wi-Fi, a super-comfy bed, microwave, mini fridge and a 37-inch TV, among other things. And the hotel has a ton of other amenities that I checked out, including an athletic center, pool and business center. Here’s a shot of my room:

hilton-garden-inn-auburn-room

When I’d checked in earlier in the day, the hotel’s director of sales, Rita Trenti, gave me an extensive tour of the hotel, its connected restaurant BeauVine Chophouse and the hotel conference center. One thing I noticed was how much this hotel gives you a sense of where you are. At some hotels, there’s absolutely nothing to distinguish your location, but this one is filled with photos of the local area, which is neat. We also saw an outdoor courtyard with a fire pit, which is something I don’t think I’ve seen at other Hilton Garden Inns, and walked through the huge lobby where there are complimentary “happy hour” refreshments for guests:

hilton-garden-inn-auburn-lobby

The Hilton Garden Inn is definitely the place I’ll stay the next time I’m in Auburn to see the Doubledays and if you’re in the area, you definitely won’t regret booking this hotel, either. In addition to its close proximity to Falcon Park, it’s within walking distance (or a very short drive) to restaurants, grocery stores and Auburn’s downtown scene. Here’s one last shot of the exterior after I checked out:

hilton-garden-inn-auburn-front-outside

Next up, Cleveland’s Progressive Field and the #TribeLive experience!

State College Spikes – July 8

After pulling the plug on my Metro Bank Park visit in Harrisburg because of the rain delay, I drove through crazy storms to get to State College, PA. If you’re a baseball fan, you’ll know the New York-Penn League’s Spikes play here. If you’re an overall sports fan, you’ll recognize State College as the home of Penn State University.

Although seeing the Spikes host the Mahoning Valley Scrappers at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park was my priority, I also wanted to check out the Penn State campus and, in particular, Beaver Stadium. Fortunately, the ballpark and football stadium are across the road from one another. (Penn State’s baseball team shares use of Medlar Field at Lubrano Park, for the record.) I parked in the media lot and, upon exiting my car, I had this view of the ballpark to my right:

medlar-field-at-lubrano-park-parking-lot-view

And when I turned to my left, there was Beaver Stadium:

medlar-field-at-lubrano-park-parking-lot-beaver-stadium

The Penn State campus is in immaculate shape and must have an enormous crew of workers keeping it that way. I took this shot as I followed the sidewalk that runs alongside the road between the ballpark and stadium to give an idea of just how great everything looks:

medlar-field-at-lubrano-park-street-view

After picking up the media pass that Joe Putnam had left for me, I took my customary lap around the ballpark. As I passed through the field behind the outfield fence, I got this neat shot that shows Beaver Stadium looming high above:

medlar-field-at-lubrano-park-behind-fence-beaver-stadium

Next up was a lap around the football stadium, which obviously took much longer than a walk around the ballpark. I was struck at the size of the complex; I’ve been to a number of NFL and NCAA stadiums, but it’s easy to forget how huge they are until you’re standing in front of them. During my walk, I couldn’t help notice the new-look area on the east side of the stadium, which is where the Joe Paterno statue used to stand. Looking at the picture below, you’d hardly know this was the spot you’ve seen a million times on TV, right?

beaver-stadium-former-statue-area

With my exterior sightseeing wrapped up, I entered the park and took the first door I saw, thinking it would lead up to the press box. The stairs only went down, however, so I curiously followed them …

medlar-field-at-lubrano-park-stairs-down

… until I got to the bottom, looked in the tiny window in the door and saw a bunch of players sitting in their clubhouse. Oops. I quickly found an elevator up to the park’s suite level where I had another great view of Beaver Stadium:

medlar-field-at-lubrano-park-beaver-stadium-view

And even found Penn State’s baseball team office:

medlar-field-at-lubrano-park-penn-state-baseball-office

In the press box, I met with Joe and talked about the ballpark for a few minutes. The press box view from Medlar Field at Lubrano Park has to be one of the nicest in baseball. Every good view had its own perks, but you can’t deny how great this view is:

medlar-field-at-lubrano-park-press-box-view

That’s Mount Nittany in the distance and, yes, I realize the view is slightly hampered by the tarp on the field. It was that kind of day, unfortunately. After talking with Joe for another few minutes, I went down to the concourse and started my tour with a stop in the team shop. It’s technically in the ballpark, but its in its own building at the front of the park. I spent a few minutes checking out the Spikes and Nittany Lions gear …

medlar-field-at-lubrano-park-team-shop

… and by the time I was ready to leave, this was the view out the window:

medlar-field-at-lubrano-park-team-shop-rain

Uh-oh. I dashed through the open pavilion between the team shop and the covered concourse, getting soaked in the process. When I was safely beneath the concourse, here’s what the seating area looked like:

medlar-field-at-lubrano-park-rain

Fortunately, the rain stopped as quickly as it had started and soon enough, the Spikes announced the game’s start time would be pushed back to 7:20 p.m., which wasn’t bad, all things considered. I spent the time touring the concourse and taking photos, as you might imagine. Check out this view of the ballpark, Beaver Stadium in the background and the sky that looks like it hadn’t just poured five minutes ago:

medlar-field-at-lubrano-park-panorama-left-field-corner

By now, I was hungry and debating between a couple items that caught my eye. There’s a stand in the right field corner that sells gourmet burgers, and Joe recommended the Nittany Lion burger — two half-pound patties, two pieces of cheese and the usual lettuce, onions, tomato, etc. The stand also had some other tasty-looking burgers, but I decided to pass in favor of a hot dog from a stand on the third base side. These weren’t any regular hot dogs, either. They were loaded with a variety of toppings and after a recommendation from the guys working the concession stand, I chose the Firecracker — a hot dog on a pretzel bun loaded with shredded spicy chicken, pepper jack cheese, jalapeno peppers and chipotle mayo:

medlar-field-at-lubrano-park-food-firecracker-hot-dog

Despite being challenging to eat, as you might suspect, it was tasty. I wasn’t a fan of the pretzel bun, as it just seemed like a dense, semi-stale normal bun. The toppings were good, though. After eating, I moved down close to field level to take some action shots. I really like this three-shot series of Scrappers third baseman Robel Garcia:

robel-garcia-mahoning-valley-scrappers-1

robel-garcia-mahoning-valley-scrappers-2

robel-garcia-mahoning-valley-scrappers-3

Three or four innings into the game, as I was sitting in the second row on the first base side, a player hit a foul ball a mile in the air. I watched it drift toward the seats and realized it was going to land pretty darned close to me. As I was busy taking photos, I didn’t have my glove ready and wasn’t going to try to make a barehanded catch. I think one of the silliest things you can do if a foul ball is heading your way is to panic and run. When you take your eyes off the ball, you’re more at risk of getting walloped. I calmly watched it reach its apex and start to descend, and remember thinking, “This ball is going to land right on my head. What are the odds of that?” As it sped toward me, I watched and watched and finally turned my shoulder and ducked out the way at the last second, hearing it smash off the aluminum steps right beside me. It bounced away and I decided I was happy to give up the chance for a foul ball in favor of keeping my camera gear intact.

I sat in that same seat until the fifth, when I began another walking tour of the ballpark. While walking down the concourse on the third base side, I liked how the park’s video board looked with Mount Nittany behind it:

medlar-field-at-lubrano-park-video-board

In the seventh inning, I made a quick trip out to my car for a moment and as I walked, heard the sound of a ball smacking off asphalt just a few feet away — apparently I was wearing my foul ball magnet shirt today. I turned quickly and sure enough, saw a ball bounce high off the ground, rattle between two cars and land on the grass. The area was completely deserted, so I had no trouble walking over and grabbing it:

medlar-field-at-lubrano-park-foul-ball-malcolm

I quickly realized that being temporarily outside the park, I had no idea who hit it. Not the end of the world, but I like to know these things. I considered sprinting back to the park to check the video board or running around toward the outfield where I could see the video board, but then had a better idea. I waited for the PA announcer to introduce Mahoning Valley batter Ryan Battaglia, which meant the previous batter — and the one who hit my foul ball — was Paul Hendrix. At the time, Hendrix was just 11 games into his professional career. He was drafted in the 18th round of this year’s draft out of TCU by Cleveland. It’ll be fun to follow his progress.

Hendrix and his teammates fell 4-3 to State College in an exciting, 20-hit game. Once things wrapped up, I was happy to only have to drive a couple minutes to my hotel. My hotel for the evening was the Country Inn & Suites State College, which sits less than two miles from Medlar Field at Lubrano Park and is a perfect choice for baseball fans visiting the area. It’s only about a year old, too, which means it’s exceptionally clean and almost has that “new car” smell. Its location is perfect, too. There are dozens of shopping and dining choices about five minutes away, and after the game, I stopped at a supermarket at the edge of the Penn State campus to grab some snacks.

Here’s a shot of the exterior of the hotel at night:

country-inn-&-suites-state-college-night-outside

I was excited to check in and see my room, given all I’d read about this hotel before my visit. It’s ranked second among State College hotels on TripAdvisor and has a 95 percent approval rating. Before I got to my room, though, I was impressed with the front desk staff. I’ve said before that some front desk people act inconvenienced that you’re checking in, but the people I dealt with at the Country Inn & Suites were outstanding — friendly, helpful and warm. About 10 minutes after getting to my room, one of the people at the front desk called to make sure I was happy with everything. The room was a suite and was huge. Here’s a shot of the desk and living room area:

country-inn-&-suites-state-college-suite-living-room

The basket of complimentary treats left in my room:

country-inn-&-suites-state-college-treat-basket

And a shot from the door, which shows just how big everything is:

country-inn-&-suites-state-college-room-from-door

I love suite hotels for my baseball road trips. When you’re stuck in the car for hours a day, it’s nice to get to your hotel and be able to spread out a little, and this room definitely gave me that feeling. It’s cool to sit at the desk, work on my blog and watch Sportcenter, and then head down the hall to the bedroom to sleep. It’s sort of like being at home, actually. And speaking of sleeping, here’s the king-sized bed:

country-inn-&-suites-state-college-suite-bedroom

I didn’t take a photo of it, but you could also see the very top of Beaver Stadium out my window. Pretty awesome. I definitely know where I’ll be staying whenever I return to State College.

In the meantime, though, the road trip continues! Next up, another NYPL franchise — the Williamsport Crosscutters.

Milestone Trip Coming Up!

It’s road trip time again!

On this trip, I’ll be …

– Throwing out the first pitch at a New York-Penn League game;

– Visiting my 50th different ballpark since 2010;

– And once again seeing Jeremy Nowak, who was the center of the coolest adventure I’ve encountered since starting The Ballpark Guide.

Sound good? I’d sure say it does, and I’m absolutely pumped to kick it all off!

On Saturday morning, I’ll be packing up and hitting the road once again for my fourth baseball road trip of the season and second trip of at least 10 days. On this 10-day trip, I’ll see 11 games in 10 cities across three states and will be having a ton of exciting adventures along the way.

Here’s the schedule:

Saturday, July 6: Jamestown Jammers at Auburn Doubledays 6 p.m.

Sunday, July 7: Lehigh Valley IronPigs at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders 1 p.m.

Monday, July 8: Bowie Baysox at Harrisburg Senators 12 p.m.

Monday, July 8: Mahoning Valley Scrappers at State College Spikes 7 p.m.

Tuesday, July 9: Auburn Doubledays at Williamsport Crosscutters 7 p.m.

Wednesday, July 10: Pawtucket Red Sox at Lehigh Valley IronPigs 7 p.m.

Thursday, July 11: New Hampshire Fisher Cats at Reading Fightin’ Phils 7 p.m.

Friday, July 12: Trois-Rivieres Aigles at New Jersey Jackals 7 p.m.

Saturday, July 13: Chicago White Sox at Philadelphia Phillies 4 p.m.

Sunday, July 14: Chicago White Sox at Philadelphia Phillies 1:30 p.m.

Monday, July 15: Hickory Crawdads at Lakewood BlueClaws 7 p.m.

The excitement begins in Auburn, N.Y. at Falcon Park. Way back in July of 2010, on my first-ever road trip for my website, I visited Falcon Park to watch the Auburn Doubledays and loved the experience. Here’s a pre-game picture of me in front of the park:

falcon-park-malcolm

Although I don’t normally make a point of making repeat visits to ballparks, Doubledays general manager Jason Horbal sent me a tweet a couple months back out of the blue and said he’d enjoy showing me the changes made to Falcon Park since my last visit. We exchanged Tweets and emails and I’m super pumped to say I’ll be throwing out the first pitch before the Doubledays host the Jamestown Jammers.

I’ve wanted to throw out a first pitch for a long time, and although I’ve got a few butterflies in my stomach about doing this item on my baseball bucket list, it promises to be exciting. I’ll also get the chance to be interviewed during the game’s radio broadcast, if all goes according to plan and I’ll post further details closer to the game as they come available.

That’s a pretty good start to the trip, don’t you think?

Well, I’m also pumped for day two when I visit Moosic, PA to see the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders. I visited PNC Field in 2011 and the park was closed for the entirety of 2012 for a major renovation project. Now that it’s open again, I’m excited to see the changes.

Day three promises to be a full day with two games in two cities. First, I’ll visit Harrisburg’s Metro Bank Park again. I wasn’t planning to include Harrisburg on this trip, but when I saw the Senators will play a matinee game within easy driving distance, I decided to visit the Eastern League park I last saw in 2011. Here’s the glorious view I had for part of the game:

harrisburg-senators-hat

Right after that game wraps up, I’ll hop in the car and zip to State College to watch the Spikes. I’ve heard good things about Medlar Field at Lumbrano Park, which is also the home field for Penn State’s baseball team. The State College game will be a milestone ballpark visit for me — the 50th different park I’ll have visited for a game since 2010, so I’m excited for that.

The next day, I’ll stay in Pennsylvania to check out the Williamsport Crosscutters, another NYPL team. The Crosscutters play at Bowman Field, which is one of the oldest parks in baseball. Williamsport, of course, is also home to the Little League World Series, and I plan to check out the parks used in that tournament if I have enough time.

When I was originally planning this trip, I thought I’d take an off-day on July 10 to catch up on blogging and rest, but after noticing the Lehigh Valley IronPigs are home, and considering how much I enjoyed my trip to Coca-Cola Park last season, I’ve decided to visit again for another game in this beautiful facility. Here’s a panorama I shot before the game:

coca-cola-park-outfield-panorama

A day later, I’ll visit Reading’s FirstEnergy Stadium, a ballpark that has somehow eluded me despite seeing several games around the state over the last couple years. I haven’t read too much about FirstEnergy Stadium, so I’m anxious to check it out.

On Friday, July 12, I’ll take my first sojourn outside affiliated ball when I travel to Little Falls, N.J., to watch the New Jersey Jackals host the Trois-Rivieres Aigles. I’m excited for this game because Jeremy Nowak is playing for the Aigles this season and it’ll be awesome to see him again. I saw him with Delmarva back in 2011 and Frederick in 2012. In both games, he hit a home run, so I have my fingers crossed that he hits another at the game I attend.

On Saturday morning, I’ll step up to the big leagues and drive to Philadelphia for two Phillies/White Sox games over the weekend. Citizens Bank Ballpark will be the eighth MLB stadium I’ll have visited since 2010 and I also plan to do a bunch of touristy things in Philly.

The last game of my trip will be a quick jaunt to Lakewood, N.J., to see the Lakewood BlueClaws in action. Last May, I drove about eight hours to Lakewood to kick off a road trip, only to end up missing the game because it was canceled due to rain. My fingers are crossed this visit will be a little sunnier.

I’ve got a ton to do before I set my sights on Auburn on July 6, but in the meantime, I’m still counting down the days until I hit the road. I’ll be blogging along the way, as always, as this trip’s lighter schedule means I should do a better job at getting each blog post up in a timely fashion. As always, you can follow me on Twitter for the latest updates and if you enjoy reading about my adventures, please visit The Ballpark Guide and consider making a small contribution to my travels — even a few bucks goes a long way and is hugely appreciated.

Otherwise, your visits to the website also support my trips, and if you’re planning your own baseball road trip in July, check out the site and see if I’ve written about any parks on your schedule. I promise you’ll learn something new that’ll help you get the most out of your visit.

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.)