I had an outstanding visit to Wilmington’s Daniel S. Frawley Stadium to watch the Blue Rocks host the Potomac Nationals last month. That visit included a pre-game, all-access tour, a half-inning in the press box and more. If you haven’t already read about it, here’s how it all went down.
As I said a while back, I added a cool game-used souvenir to my collection while I was in Wilmington, and here it is:
It’s a lineup card that hung in the visitors dugout at Potomac’s G. Richard Pfitzner Stadium during the Blue Rocks’ 5-4 loss to Potomac on May 4. The team was selling these for a whopping $2 in the team shop, so I couldn’t resist getting one.
And because I’m a baseball nerd, here are a handful of cool things about it:
– I think it’s neat that the Kansas City Royals (Wilmington’s parent club) is on the card. It doesn’t actually say Wilmington (or Potomac, for that matter) anywhere.
– As you can see on the Wilmington column, reserve Brian Fletcher was moved off the bench (hence his name being crossed out under the Extras header) to the third spot in the batting order midway through the game.
– Because this was Wilmington manager Vance Wilson’s lineup, there were considerably more notations next to the opponents’ names. I have no idea what the highlighter strokes next to the 1, 2 and 6 hitters mean, but the S and L notations denote switch hitter or left-handed hitter. The other little markings, which you can see around both teams’ lineups are codes used by the manager to note in-game events. And the star next to David Freitas’ name? I have no idea, except it might mean: “Beware. This guy’s good.” Freitas went 0-for-4 in the game but had a .356 average at the time.
– I find it interesting that Wilson didn’t fill out the bullpen pitchers in the designated spot. I’ve seen lots of lineup cards, and I believe this is the first I’ve seen without the pitchers. As you can see, he did add the names of the two umpires.
– Here’s something else intriguing. The 10 spot, which is used for each starting pitcher, isn’t correct on the Wilmington side. Wilson had Yordano Ventura penned in for the start, but it was actually Ryan Dennick who took the ball. (Ventura pitched two days later against Potomac.) It’s funny that Wilson didn’t mark this change.
There are a ton of other cool things, and before long, I’ll have written 1,500 words about a lineup card. Two players I want to quickly point out, though: Randolph Oduber, who led off for the P-Nats, played last season in Hagerstown, where I got a couple photos of him walking with Bryce Harper. And the Beltre you see on the Wilmington side isn’t Adrian, obviously. It’s the lesser-known Geulin. (This is only worth mentioning because I heard fans excitedly saying Adrian Beltre was playing after they saw the starting lineups posted in the stadium concourse.)
This is the second lineup card in my collection. Last year, I bought an MLB one in Detroit, which you can read about here.
Finally, since we’re on the topic of Wilmington, I thought I’d post a picture of the souvenir cup I got during my visit. (With a Carolina League ball beside it for perspective.) I’ve collected a handful of souvenir cups on my travels over the years, so one day, I’ll blog about them. In the meantime, here’s the Blue Rocks one, which features a 2012 schedule:
If all goes according to plan, I should have some early details on my next road trip next week. Either way, I plan to have a couple more blog posts.
There’s no doubt I was pumped about my entire road trip, but I was secretly (well, I suppose it’s not a secret any more) especially looking forward to May 23. This day would include games in Wilmington and Frederick, and each visit would include a half-inning on the respective home teams’ radio broadcasts, talking about TheBallparkGuide.com. Plus, in Frederick, I couldn’t wait to meet Jeremy Nowak, who you’ll probably know if you’ve followed this blog for a while. That said, I got on the road very early on the morning of May 23 and drove southwest from Trenton to Wilmington. As I left New Jersey and crossed into Delaware, I got to drive over the enormous Delaware Memorial Bridge, which is more than three miles long:
The game between the Wilmington Blue Rocks and Potomac Nationals (who I saw last year at G. Richard Pfitzner Stadium) was scheduled for 11:05 a.m., and I pulled in to Frawley Stadium just before 9 a.m. As you might expect, the ballpark’s lot was mostly empty and there weren’t many people around. (I even beat a few of the Blue Rocks players to the park!) I took the opportunity to photograph the front of the park …
… and also shoot some photos to turn into this panorama:
The Blue Rocks were awesome to deal with prior to my visit, and were leaving a media pass for me at the will call window. Unfortunately, I was so early that the window wasn’t open yet …
… so I decided to use the time to walk around and document the park’s surroundings. One of the neat things to see is a statue of former Negro league star Judy Johnson, who spent the latter portion of his life in Wilmington:
The pavilion in front of the park also has plaques honoring Wilmington’s Vic Willis, a hall of fame pitcher, and Bill McGowan, a hall of fame umpire. I set out to take a walk around the outside of Frawley Stadium, heading to the left of the front pavilion …
… and down the side of the ballpark …
… until I got to an opening in the left field corner where I could see the tarp-covered field:
With no batting practice, I didn’t expect to find any balls behind the outfield fence, but scoured the area anyway. The area looked like this:
I even got right under the scoreboard and aimed my camera up to take this neat shot:
Eventually, I got to the first base line, where there was another spot from which the field was visible:
To the right of the main pavilion, sits the Delaware Sports Museum and Hall of Fame, which was closed, unfortunately:
The pavilion in front of the park is very picturesque. You can tell the stadium crew puts a lot of care into maintenance, and the vast flower gardens are a testament to that:
After I finished the circuit, I looked up at perhaps the grayest sky in history. This photo isn’t an error — it’s actually a shot of the sky above the park:
Fortunately, it never did rain during the game, and it actually turned into a hot, sunny day. The ticket office still wasn’t open, and while I could’ve gone into the team’s office and asked to pick up my media pass, I wasn’t in a huge rush. I climbed the long ramp up to the concourse level …
… where I could see that the tarp was still on the field:
After a while, the will call window opened and I received my pass and went into the park. I took the elevator up to the concourse, and during my ride, had a little chuckle at this sign, which is posted inside the elevator:
Ha! As you can see from the panorama below, by the time I’d entered the park, the team’s staff had just finished removing the tarp:
I was supposed to meet Jeff O’Connor, the team’s assistant director of broadcasting/media relations, who would introduce me to Joe Valenti, the team’s director of marking. Joe would give me a tour when he had a few moments, so I kept my fingers crossed. While I waited for Jeff, I took a short walk around the concourse. Like the other games on my trip, I got in early enough that there wasn’t much going on. The Blue Rocks players were hanging out around the dugout:
And the seating bowl was very quiet:
The Blue Rocks, who are associated with the Kansas City Royals, have had a number of MLBers come through over the years, including Zack Greinke:
Still killing time, I went down to field level and took this shot, looking up at the press box and suite level:
By now, most of the Blue Rocks were out. Check out their high socks in the photo below:
Another neat thing to note is that while they were wearing their Wilmington batting practice caps before the game, they actually switched into their Kansas City Royals caps for the game. Is this the norm? I’ve never seen an MiLB team wear an MLB cap.
While I’d yet to get my tour of Frawley Stadium, I could already tell this was an impressive facility. Not only was it immaculate outside and in, it included a number of unique features that I hadn’t seen elsewhere, including HD TVs listing the items on the concession menu:
Right after I took the above photo, I met up with Jeff who took me deep into the heart of the ballpark and introduced me to Joe, who was just starting to give a tour to three high school students from Philadelphia, who were doing a project on the Minor League Baseball experience. The tour was absolutely amazing. It included several stops that most fans will never get to see, although I’m excited to share them with you here. Our first stop was one of the storage rooms under the concourse. This room included a ton of items the team uses for promotions …
… signed photos of several celebrities who’ve visited the stadium over the years …
… and the costumes for Rocky, the team’s mascot:
From there, our tour headed to the home team’s clubhouse area, where I snapped a quick shot of the players’ bats:
Then we went under the stands, directly behind home plate. This area isn’t fancy, but go through the opening in the center of the photo, and you’re on the field right behind home plate:
I believe this is the door the umpires use, and it’s also used by the promotions staff. Once we went through the door, we walked onto the field. That’s Joe in the lead and one of the high school students right behind him:
Here’s what the field looked like from here:
The home dugout:
When we were standing here, Blue Rocks manager Vance Wilson came by and shook our hands and welcomed us to the ballpark. I wish I’d gotten a photo with him, but if you know baseball, you’ll probably know Wilson’s name. He played eight years in the Major Leagues with the Mets and Tigers. After being on the field, we went back under the stands and saw the indoor batting cages, which were doubling as a meeting spot for the team’s gameday staff:
We continued down this path …
… until we ended up in the umpires’ room. Incredible! Their little room is small, and one wall is lined with lockers where their gear hangs:
On a table in the center of the room, there was a box containing some rubbed-up official Carolina League balls:
And in the middle locker stall, there was a jar of Lena Blackburne Rubbing Mud, which is the mystery mud used throughout professional baseball:
The mud also comes from the area, I believe. The company doesn’t reveal the exact location, but does say the mud is from a bank of a tributary of the Delaware River. Visiting the umpires’ room was a definite highlight. When I took a tour of Baltimore’s Camden Yards last summer, I saw the umpires’ room from the outside, but this was the first time I’ve ever actually been in one.
After touring the lower level of the ballpark, we climbed up to the suite level, and went into the main suite, where I took this panorama:
The tour just flew by, and after a while, Joe needed to get back to his pre-game duties. I really appreciate how accommodating Jeff, Joe and the Blue Rocks were. Thanks, everyone!
Left to my own devices, I set off to look around the park a little more. There was still a chunk of time until the game was set to begin, so I had plenty of time to explore. I decided to climb to the top of the general admission bleachers on the third base side to take this panorama:
Eventually, the Potomac Nationals, who’d been out stretching earlier, returned to the field and I caught this cute picture of Rick Hague and Randolph Oduber signing autographs:
I was scheduled to join Jeff on the team’s radio broadcast for the top of the third inning, so I decided to cool my jets for the first couple innings and just watch the game. I found a spot behind home plate with this view and chilled until it was time to head to the press box. Although the protective netting is an obstacle to good photos, I thought this one of Wilmington’s Guelin Beltre attempting a bunt turned out well:
Just before I was due in the radio booth, I went up to the press box where I snapped a photo of a picture of Johnny Damon, who’s perhaps the most famous Blue Rock of all:
The interview with Jeff went well. It’s always a little nerve-wracking, but it was fun to talk about my website with Jeff, who was really easy to talk to. The half-inning just flew by, and after it wrapped up, we got our photo taken:
Jeff also surprised me with a voucher to have lunch compliments of the team, so I scouted out something that looked delicious, and found this menu:
I settled on the Rocky’s Crab Burger, which was a burger topped with crab meat and Old Bay seasoning. The photo below isn’t the most exciting, but the burger was tasty and definitely something I’d order again:
Remember Joe, who gave me the pre-game tour? Before long, he was out on the field, leading one of the between-inning games:
Once I’d finished eating, I moved a little closer to the field and started taking some action shots. Here’s Potomac starter Matthew Grace, who took the loss:
Wilmington starter Tyler Sample, who picked up his first win of the season:
The visitors’ dugout:
Blue Rocks reliever Jon Keck, who got the hold and was promoted the following day to AA Arkansas:
Remember how I mentioned that the Blue Rocks were wearing Royals caps? Here’s the proof:
P-Nats cleanup hitter Justin Bloxom, who struck out on this pitch:
Soon enough, there was a close play on the field that got reversed after an umpire discussion. You’ve got to love call reversals, because the team that gets burned usually loses it, and that’s exactly what happened. Potomac’s Adrian Sanchez was initially called safe on a close play at first, which brought Wilson out to contest the play:
And after the umpires had a short conference, Sanchez was called out, which ticked him off …
… and brought P-Nats manager Brian Rupp out to complain:
The atmosphere may have been tense, but it was quickly lightened up when Goofy made an appearance:
The play didn’t end up affecting the game either way. Wilmington scored a run in the fourth and added two insurance runs in the eighth to win 3-0. The second the game wrapped up, I dashed out of Frawley Stadium, jumped in my sauna-like car and punched Frederick’s Harry Grove Stadium into my GPS.
You know how sometimes, you just get a good feeling about something? That was the case with the Potomac Nationals on this trip. For some unknown reason, I was really looking forward to taking in a Nats game at G. Richard Pfitzner Stadium on July 1.
I wish I could say the Nationals game lived up to my hopes, but I honestly have to report it fell short. Now, I don’t think I had unrealistic expectations, but I didn’t see a lot here that would excite people visiting on a baseball road trip.
When I arrived at the facility in Woodbridge, VA, I paid $5 for parking. Paying for parking is one thing, but paying more for parking at an A-class game than at a AAA game seems a little ridiculous. (And I think I paid $8 to park a block from Progressive Field in Cleveland last summer.) To make matters worse, the entire complex is enormous, so you’re not parked remotely near the ballpark. That said, Pfitzner Stadium (as it’s most commonly known) is smack dab in the middle of a really cool baseball site. It’s not as neat as the Ripken facility in Aberdeen, MD, but it’s similar in many ways. There are three other ball diamonds around the MiLB one, so it’s fun to watch other teams in action while waiting for the gates to open.
Here’s the front of the ballpark:
I bought my ticket …
… and started to walk down the first base line. One really cool feature here is how Potomac’s batting cage is just a few yards inside a chain-link fence. I watched one of the Nationals take some pre-game cuts:
When I got to the area beyond the outfield fence, an un-fan-friendly sign greeted me:
This is the first time I’ve ever seen such a fence at a Minor League facility. Some areas behind fences are fenced off, but I’ve never seen a sign telling fans not to walk through the area. There’s nothing much back there except for a path …
… so I assume the team just doesn’t want fans picking up balls. (A few innings into the game, a player popped a foul over the fence behind the third base bleachers, and team staff bolted out the gate to grab the ball before any fans could. Lame.)
That said, I did manage to find a ball just beyond the picnic area in right field (not in the verboten zone, thank you), and it had gone three rounds with a lawnmower and lost:
Still, it was a ball, and was the first “practice ball” I’ve added to my collection. I’ve only seen one of these in the past, though I imagine lots of teams use them.
When the gates opened, I went into the ballpark and found a small common area. There are several picnic tables to grab a snack before the game. I suppose the downside to this area is you can’t see the field:
I browsed through Potomac’s wall of fame area, and was amazed at the impressive list of alumni. Now, the Potomac Nationals have only been around since 2005, but several teams have called the area home dating back to 1978. A few of the guys to come through here include Albert Pujols, Barry Bonds, Andy Pettitte, Bobby Bonilla, Jorge Posada, Magglio Ordonez and Joey Votto. Not bad, right?
A quick look at the concession stand’s menu wasn’t too inspiring. Most ballparks have some sort of food item that sets them apart, but that’s not the case here. Though, this might be the first time I’ve seen Red Bull on a ballpark menu. For $6, no less. Pardon?
The ballpark’s souvenir store is small, but has great prices. In fact, the deals were as good as I’ve seen anywhere. The team’s New Era, on-field caps are just $20, for instance. And shirts and so on don’t require you to sign over your firstborn. Here’s the outside of the store …
… and here’s the inside:
A super neat feature behind the first base line is the team’s booster club. During my visit (and likely all the time), the club was selling game-used, cracked, autographed bats for $15. Like the team store, this is the best price I’ve ever seen. There was a giant selection …
… but when I went to buy one in the second inning, the kiosk was gone. So, if you’re interested in something from the booster club, do it early, I guess.
I then walked down the third base line and watched the Winston-Salem Dash stretch …
… and warm up. Here’s starting pitcher Joseph Serafin throwing:
For a small park, Pfitzner Stadium has a decent scoreboard:
Here’s a look at the whole facility from the third base line bleachers:
Take a look at the home dugout. I think it’s the smallest I’ve ever seen; check how there are two rows of benches:
When the game began, I took a spot in the bleachers down the first base line and had the whole section to myself:
Between innings, I climbed up to the top of the section and something white caught my eye:
Yep, a batting practice ball stuck in the bleachers. Typically, you’d think balls hit here would fall through, but this one didn’t. And except for a few flakes of dirt, it was in perfect condition:
One of the best things about small parks is how close you can get to the players. Here, the bullpens are down the lines, and Potomac’s relievers were as fan friendly as I’ve seen. There seemed to be a great rapport between fans and players, which was neat to see. I watched part of an inning from here …
… then took another walk through the ballpark. I noticed a board tracking the progress of former Potomac players:
Another neat feature about Pfitzner Stadium is the standing room gate right beside the home dugout. If you can get a spot here, you’re extremely close to the field and have a perfect view:
Here’s a panorama of the field from behind home plate …
… in front of a modest pressbox area:
Don’t get me wrong, this ballpark isn’t horrible. It’s just not that exciting. The design is uninspiring, the atmosphere the night I visited was non existent (though I realize that can change from game to game) and the expensive parking, inability to go behind the fence and bland menu just left me with a “blah” feeling. I can see it being good if you’re a fan of the team, but if you’re just an average baseball fan, there might not be much here to excite you.