The morning after my long, memorable day in Bowling Green to see the Hot Rods host the Fort Wayne TinCaps, I was on the move again. This time, I was driving east toward Lexington, KY, to catch the Lexington Legends host the Kannapolis Intimidators in South Atlantic League action. Whitaker Bank Ballpark, home of the Legends, was the fourth SAL ballpark I’ve visited since 2011, although I’d add another the next day.
The day was pretty open, but because I was driving back into the Eastern Time Zone after being in the Central Time Zone in Bowling Green, I was losing an hour. Still, I got to Lexington in decent time, hung out in my hotel for a bit and then packed up for the short drive to the ballpark.
Once I parked, I grabbed this shot of Whitaker Bank Ballpark from the parking lot …
… and then took a lap around the back of the park, taking shots like this one:
While I was in the parking lot behind the park, a man in a full Kansas City Royals uniform and carrying a pail yelled to me: “Are you picking up balls back here?”
“No,” I replied, because I wasn’t. “Why?”
He responded by, well, not responding and I continued on my merry way. As for the Royals guy? Hmm. The Legends are an affiliate of the Royals, hence the Royals uniform on the guy. MLB teams often send roving instructors through the minors, and I’ve seen guys in MLB uniforms several times in minor league dugouts. But was this Royals employee tasked with picking up errant BP balls? No idea.
I got around to the front of the ballpark without running into any more wayward MLB coaches and took a bunch of shots to make up this panorama:
Next, I photographed this enormous baseball and wondered if the scrawled names are supposed to be there:
If so, there was no sign inviting fans to sign the ball, but it’s sort of a neat idea. If not, someone needs to get scrubbing.
I briefly met the team’s director of broadcasting and media relations, Keith Elkins, who gave me my media pass. Thanks again, Keith! And then, it was into the park for a quick walk through the deserted and somewhat dark concourse:
Things got brighter, literally and figuratively, when I went out to the seating bowl and got my first good look at the field, which I captured in panorama form:
Other than the game of baseball itself, is there anything more perfect looking that a pristine field just waiting for action? I think not.
As you might guess from the above photo, there wasn’t much going on just yet. And because it was still well before game time and there wasn’t any sign of players on the field, I wandered over to the left field corner to check out a large and very impressive kids’ play area, complete with a Legends-themed bouncy castle:
The mustache, by the way, plays a key role in the team’s merchandise and marketing — the team shop, which I’d soon visit, even sold mustache bumper stickers. Since I was beyond the outfield fence, I took the opportunity to head to the outfield bleachers and take the photos to make up this panorama:
Next up was a visit to the aforementioned team shop, which had the best assortment of game-used jerseys I’ve ever seen. The Legends have obviously had a number of special jersey promotions, and this one caught my eye:
From their inception in 2001 up until the end of last season, the Legends were affiliated with the Houston Astros, and I thought these Astros-style Legends throwback jerseys were absolutely awesome looking.
One of the really neat things about this ballpark is the team’s hall of fame outside the team shop. The information about past Legends players was interesting, but I especially liked the home plates signed by all sorts of celebrities, including Hank Williams, Jr.:
When I finished browsing the signed home plates, I went out to the field to catch the warmups, which had just begun. For some reason, the ballpark had a fun, holiday-style vibe. It wasn’t an actual holiday, but maybe that’s just the way things are in Lexington. Outfielder Ethan Chapman and pitcher Daniel Stumpf were having fun with a fan:
Kannapolis pitching coach Jose Bautista was chatting and signing for a couple young fans:
And Intimidators pitcher Zach Isler was meeting fans, too:
After watching the action on the Kannapolis side of the field for a bit, I went over toward the right field corner where I noticed one of the coolest things I’ve seen at a ballpark. Remember the onion dispenser at Nationals Park that I’d love to have at home? Well, I’d love to have this instant refreshment station, too:
Just press the button and you’re hit with several jets of cold mist — a perfect way to cool down on a hot day!
I wanted to get some pictures of the Legends warming up, but made a quick stop in the Pepsi Party Deck, which has awesome Legends-themed seats:
Lexington’s clubhouse is back in this corner of the park, and from the walkway leading to the party deck, I spotted something you don’t often see — a player sitting by himself outside the clubhouse, cleaning his cleats with Scrubbing Bubbles bathroom cleaner:
As more players hit the field and started throwing, I went over to the fence by the Legends bullpen and looked for Bubba Starling. If you follow baseball’s prospects, you’ll likely know his name. A fifth overall draft pick back in 2011 (several spots ahead of Taylor Guerrieri and Joe Ross, who I saw the day before in Bowling Green), he’s the top-ranked prospect in KC’s system and the 24th-ranked prospect in the game, according to MLB. It didn’t take long to spot him:
While I was here, I got another picture of Chapman …
… and then looked for the next guy I wanted to spot: Raul Mondesi, Jr. Being a Jays fan, I watched Mondesi, Sr. play for Toronto for three years, and it made me feel annoyingly old to watch his son getting warmed up:
Well, “warming up” might be a bit of an exaggeration. In the several minutes I stood a few yards away from Mondesi, Jr., “hanging out” more aptly describes his pre-game prep. I have several photos similar to the above, but I won’t post them all. Actually, I shouldn’t say they’re all that similar — in some, he wasn’t standing with his legs crossed. His pre-game prep seemed to work for him, though, as you’ll soon read. And, besides, he was DHing, hence the lack of throwing.
When the game got underway, I grabbed a spot in the front row above the Kannapolis dugout to photograph the action. That action included this bat boy, who may be hoping for a growth spurt so he can fill his uniform:
From my seat, I had a great view of Intimidators starter Brandon Brennan:
And Mondesi, Jr., who showed bunt in the first inning and then drove the ball to right field for a triple:
In his next at-bat he hit a home run. In the following one, a single. And in his fourth at-bat, a double. Yep. The freaking cycle! It’s the first time I’ve ever seen a player do it in person, and it was hugely exciting to witness.
Starling wasn’t so fortunate at the plate. He went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts. Regardless, it was cool to see him up close:
It was hard to leave this perfect spot to watch the game, but I decided to hit the upper deck for panoramic purposes. Here’s the result:
After a bit of time up here, I went down to the concourse to find something to eat. I was looking for something tasty but not over the top, and the idea of boneless BBQ wings sounded good to me. When I got to my designated eating area, a picnic table down the first base line, I opened the box and was less than impressed:
The chicken was dry, had absolutely no flavor and at least half the pieces were badly burnt. You win some and lose some with ballpark food, I guess.
My underwhelming meal didn’t hamper the evening — getting to see Mondesi Jr.’s cycle will definitely go down as a highlight of my summer.
West Virginia tomorrow!