Tagged: Rochester Red Wings

Rochester Red Wings – August 29

Whenever I meet new people on my baseball road trips and tell them about The Ballpark Guide, the question I’m most often asked is, “What’s your favorite park?” It’s a question that’s almost impossible to answer — how can you compare the history of a 100-year-old park with the amazing, modern amenities of a new one?

The way I answer this common question, albeit in a roundabout way, is to talk about which parks I’d pick if I could theoretically relocate somewhere and buy season tickets. Rochester’s Frontier Field is always on that list. I’ve often said that Frontier Field might offer my favorite all-round ballpark experience, and when I was planning my recent trip, I couldn’t resist kicking things off in Rochester.

All that said, I was pretty excited to hop in the car the morning of August 29 and punch Rochester into my GPS. I checked in to my amazing hotel when I got to town (lots more on that later) and made it to Frontier Field shortly before 4 p.m., a couple hours before first pitch. I closely follow the Rochester Red Wings, given my love of Frontier Field, and they were hosting the Buffalo Bisons during this final series of the International League regular season. Buffalo, of course, is the Triple-A affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays, and I hadn’t seen the Bisons in action since they became affiliated with the Jays. Lots of reasons to get inside and check things out!

First, though, I took the following photo from the parking lot, which shows not only the front gate of Frontier Field and the tip of the Kodak building beyond, but also a decent contingent of eager fans:

frontier-field-parking-lot-view

The reason for the early arrival? Stan Musial bobblehead night. As much as getting a bobblehead of Stan the Man was appealing, it wasn’t in the cards for me, as I didn’t have a ticket. The Red Wings were once again providing me with a media credential, which you can see here:

frontier-field-media-pass-malcolm

(Huge thanks to Tim from the Red Wings for taking care of me again this season.)

Before I entered, I took a series of photos to capture the pavilion in front of Frontier Field in panorama form …

frontier-field-front-gate-panorama

… and the next shot I took was my initial view of the ballpark’s suite level, upon exiting the elevator:

frontier-field-suite-level-hallway

I didn’t spend time exploring the suite level or pressbox; I’ve been lucky to check these areas out extensively in the past, and my priority was to get to field level. After making my way down to the concourse and out to the seating bowl, here’s the first thing I saw:

frontier-field-batting-practice-buffalo

Yep, it was the Bisons getting ready to hit. As you can see from the following panorama, Frontier Field was virtually deserted:

frontier-field-first-base-side-view-panorama

There’s something absolutely amazing about being in a nearly-empty ballpark. Watching BP is one of my favorite baseball experiences, and it doesn’t get any better than wandering around a virtually empty park with the music playing and the cracks of the bat in the background. I decided to take a full lap around the field, starting with a walk down the first base line. As I headed toward the foul pole, I came across a couple baseballs sitting on the grass. As per usual, it would’ve been tempting to grab ’em for my collection, but I didn’t want to use my media pass for any monkey business, so I steered clear:

frontier-field-balls-on-berm

I even left this home run ball, nestled just over the outfield fence, where it sat:

frontier-field-batting-practice-home-run-ball

When I got to the left field corner, I had a great view of the upper levels of the Kodak building:

rochester-kodak-building-upper-levels

Sure, this building isn’t part of Frontier Field per se, but it’s a Rochester landmark and, given its location virtually across the street from the ballpark, makes for an awesome backdrop.

Instead of finishing my complete lap, I decided to stop on the grass berm down the third base line to watch the Bisons, who were shagging BP balls. I saw top prospects Daniel Norris and A.J. Jimenez just a short distance away, and as I surveyed the scene in the outfield through my camera, I heard someone yelling at me in Spanish. Slightly befuddled, I lowered my camera, looked in the direction of the sound and saw a Bisons player looking toward me and saying something I couldn’t understand. Then, he held up his hands and clicked the shutter on an imaginary camera, so I quickly focused on him and snapped this shot:

radhames-liz-buffalo-bisons-peace-sign

“Gracias,” he yelled over to me. Now, I’ve been slowly learning how to speak Spanish, and this would’ve been a perfect opportunity to respond with a “de nada,” but I got cold feet and just waved and gave a thumbs up. When he turned, I took note of his jersey number — 59 — and quickly checked my roster sheet to see who it was, since I didn’t recognize him. The Buffalo roster didn’t have a #59, which left me to guess the player was on the disabled list. Of course, telling a story here on my blog about a mystery player wouldn’t cut it, so I needed to figure out who it was. I waited a moment and aimed my camera back at him. He saw me, motioned to Jimenez, and this was the result:

radhames-liz-aj-jimenez-buffalo-bisons

After I took the picture (and exchanged thumbs up with them) the mystery player made his way over to me and asked if the photos turned out well. Yes, I told him. “Are you putting them online?” he asked. “Yes,” I replied, “but if you’d like, I can send you the full-sized versions by email.” He said that would be great, and I gave him one of my business cards. Then, he asked to see the photos. I lowered my camera over the fence and watched as he checked them out. He thanked me for taking them and, since I didn’t want to let him get away without figuring out who he was, I quickly said, “I’m Malcolm,” and extended my hand toward him. “Radhames,” he replied, shaking my hand. I instantly knew he was Radhames Liz, a former Baseball America top-100 prospect and pitcher for the Balitmore Orioles. He appeared in 28 games for the O’s over three seasons, including a stint in 2008 in which he started 17 games. After spending 2011 through 2013 pitching in Korea, Liz signed with the Blue Jays and started 12 games this season between Double-A and Triple-A, putting together a tidy 2.95 ERA.

Anyway, he’s yet to email me, but I sure hope he does. And if not, he’ll certainly be a guy I’ll keep tabs on and try to meet again.

I took a few posed photos of Liz and Raul Valdes (I think):

radhames-liz-and-teammate

And embraced my new role as his personal photographer by taking some action shots of him shagging balls, including this one …

radhames-liz-buffalo-bisons

… and playing catch, like this one:

radhames-liz-buffalo-playing-catch

Occasionally, Liz seemed to get the sense that I was still shooting him, so he’d look over the give the peace sign or a nod. When BP wrapped up, he gave me a salute as he headed off to the dugout, and then I continued making my way around Frontier Field.

Once the gates opened at 5 p.m. I decided to take another lap around the field and, to my surprise, came across a ball sitting in the grass behind the batter’s eye. It seemed like an odd place, but since other fans were milling around (luckily for me, oblivious to the ball), I grabbed it:

frontier-field-bp-batters-eye-ball

All the walking and, let’s face it, Frontier Field’s awesome concessions menu, had me hungry. I headed for the Red Osier stand on the third base side to get one of my favorite items, an enormous prime rib sandwich. The lineup, though, was extensive:

frontier-field-food-red-osier-lineup

Lineups make me absolutely insane, and as much as I wanted another delicious sandwich, I decided to keep walking. Before long, the “Say Cheese!” stand on the first base side beckoned. The gourmet mac and cheese at this stand is phenomenal, and was what I ate during my very first visit to Frontier Field back in 2010. Perhaps feeling a little nostalgic, I made a quick decision to add a little mac and cheese to my day and ordered the buffalo chicken variety, which consists of mac and cheese, diced chicken, buffalo sauce and blue cheese dressing:

frontier-field-food-mac-and-cheese

Fantastic! (The size of this meal, however, significantly curtailed my plans to grab a prime rib sandwich.)

As I was eating, a family consisting of a pair of grandparents and a young boy sat down in front of me. They asked me to take their picture with their camera, and after doing so, I figured I could do one better. I reached into my backpack to grab the baseball I’d found earlier and handed it to the boy. He was thrilled, although I think his excitement pales in comparison to my wife’s when I told her I wouldn’t be adding another ball to my collection.

Next, I went back down to field level to watch the Bisons get warmed up. It was shortly before game time, and starting pitcher Sean Nolin was getting his stretches in:

sean-nolin-stretching

His battery mate, Jimenez, was also getting ready, and looked a little more in “business mode” than the last time I’d taken his photo:

aj-jimenez-pregame

Since I’d been making the rounds of Frontier Field for a couple hours, I’d done enough to see what I needed for my website. Now, all that was left to do was to settle in and enjoy the ballgame. I began the game on the grass berm in the right field corner, where I had this great view of the action …

frontier-field-right-field-berm

… and this awesome shot of the Kodak building:

frontier-field-kodak-building

(I know I’ve mentioned this building a few times, but it’s such a cool backdrop. Take a visit to Rochester and you’ll know what I mean.)

My next vantage point was behind home plate, which offers a pretty darned good view, too. Here’s Buffalo outfielder Cole Gillespie getting a hit off Rochester’s Sean Gilmartin:

frontier-field-home-plate-view

After a bit of time behind the visitors’ dugout, I took a trip to the Frontier Field team shop, which is always a fun place to browse. A lot of apparel was marked down in price because of the end of the season, but the coolest thing I saw was a barrel of game-used broken bats for sale. I’ve added a number of bats to my collection over the years, and as I browsed the selection, one jumped out at me quickly:

aj-jimenez-game-used-bat

It’s typically tough to find a game-used bat from a top prospect, let alone one from a visiting team. Furthermore, did he break this bat during the day’s batting practice? It seemed so fresh that it couldn’t have been around for long. It looked brand new, except for a few ball marks and a crack along the handle. The display indicated that game-used bats were $25, while bats from MLB players were $50. Jimenez’s bat obviously belonged to the former category, so I was thrilled to find it for such a bargain. I stepped to the counter to buy it, and the clerk told me the the bat was $50, as it belonged to an MLB player. I pointed out that Jimenez has yet to appear in the big leagues, and offered to show her proof online. She was uneasy about giving me the bat for $25, so I didn’t want to press the issue. At the same time, I didn’t want to spend $50 for the bat, so I begrudgingly returned it to its barrel. Oh well.

My next stop was the group picnic area in left field. Although it had earlier been closed for a group function, it was now open to other fans, and I found a spot right behind the Buffalo bullpen, where I hung out for a couple innings. From here, I not only had a great view of the field, but also a close view of guys like former MLB all-star Steve Delabar and Kyle Drabek:

steve-delabar-kyle-drabek-buffalo-bisons

I also had a view of this unidentified flying object hovering above Frontier Field:

frontier-field-ufo

I was pretty amused to watch it — I assume the remote-control helicopter was being piloted by someone in the parking lot — and kept looking around me to see if any other fans had noticed it. It appeared to stay under the proverbial radar and, before long, off it went into the night.

I too went off into the night, but only temporarily. I love taking photos of ballparks at night, and my media pass meant that I could head out the parking lot to shoot Frontier Field, and then walk back inside to enjoy the rest of the game. Here’s the view from the team/media parking lot as a panorama and, as always, you can click on my panoramas to make them huge:

frontier-field-parking-lot-view-night-panorama

After taking this shot, I went back inside where I grabbed a spot behind home plate and watched the remainder of the game. It was an exciting one between two above-.500 clubs. The home team slipped past the visitors 3-2. As a Jays fan, it was awesome to see so many prospects that I’ve yet to see in the Bisons colors or that I’ve seen on TV during brief stints with the big-league club.

As great as the day had been so far, it continued to get better when I got to my hotel after the game. As you know, I love scouting out and staying at cool hotels in each city I visit, and I’d had my eye on The Strathallan in Rochester since I started planning this trip. This hotel is an awesome choice not only for baseball fans visiting town, but also for anyone with Rochester on their travel agenda. It’s only two miles from Frontier Field, or about seven or eight minutes, depending on traffic. As far as location, it’s actually on the edge of a residential neighborhood, so it’s extremely quiet. At the same time, you’re just a few blocks from several downtown eateries, so it’s the best of both worlds.

I was blown away by my room; these photos show the room the following morning. Here’s the living room area:

the-strathallan-suite-living-room

And the bedroom:

the-strathallan-suite-bedroom

I was fortunate to get a suite, so the room was extremely spacious. It also had a kitchen area, huge bathroom, two HDTVs and a balcony, which I think is a first for me on my baseball travels. It was cool to get some fresh air both after the game and early the following morning. The view off my balcony was of the back entrance to the hotel, which I’m sure you’ll agree was beautiful:

the-strathallan-view-from-balcony

The Strathallan has great features such as an indoor pool, fitness center and even an onsite massage clinic. I was especially impressed with the awesome fire pits. Here’s a look at the fire pit on the patio:

the-strathallan-patio-fire-put

And, maybe even cooler, one on the roof:

the-strathallan-rochester-roof-deck-fire-pit

The hotel is nine levels tall, and guests have access to the roof. I rode the elevator to the top floor and had fun checking out the roof deck, which you can book for parties or meetings. As I walked around, the pleasant smell of wood smoke was noticeable, but the fire pits weren’t ablaze. It took me a moment to realize I was smelling the wood-burning ovens at Char Streak & Lounge, the hotel’s upscale restaurant. I didn’t get a chance to eat here during my stay, but that didn’t stop me from salivating over its menu! This hotel is one of the nicest I’ve visited, period, and will definitely be the place I hang my hat the next time I’m in Rochester to visit Frontier Field.

Up next: A pair of outstanding days in Pittsburgh!

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Rochester Red Wings – May 17

Way back in 2010, when I decided to visit as many MLB and MiLB parks as I could and start The Ballpark Guide, my first stop was in Rochester. (If you want to read my first ballpark visit blog entry, you can do so here. Just excuse the wonky formatting.) In the years since, I’ve thought fondly of Frontier Field and always looked forward to returning. I got back to Rochester for another visit last summer, but when I was planning my current 13-day baseball road trip, I couldn’t resist starting out at Frontier Field.

Leading up to this trip, there were many reasons to be excited about returning to Rochester. First, the overall selection and quality of food is the best I’ve encountered. Second, I think Frontier Field is beautiful; it’s one of my favorite places to watch a ballgame. Of course, before I got to kick back in the sun and enjoy something tasty to eat, I had to cross the border. Ugh:

canada-u.s.-border-crossing

It’s a long weekend back in Canada, so the traffic was ridiculous. I sat within sight of the border crossing for 45 minutes before getting through, and then it was clear sailing all the way through to Rochester. If you’ve read this blog for some time, you’ll likely recall that I like seeing a few sites in each city I visit, time permitting. One spot I wanted to check out this time is Rochester’s High Falls, which looked cool online and isn’t too far from Frontier Field. Although it’s not exactly Niagara Falls, it’s a neat scene and worth visiting when you’re in town:

rochester-high-falls

In fact, it’s just a short walk from the ballpark. Here’s the view from the opening of the walkway leading toward the bridge over the falls. As you can see, the ballpark is in the distance:

frontier-field-from-waterfalls

I always wander around whenever I get to a ballpark, and even though this was my third trip to Frontier Field, I stopped to take this panorama by the front gate:

frontier-field-front-panorama

I think you’ll agree that it’s a beauty of a ballpark. One neat feature that I hadn’t noticed in the past — or perhaps that’s new — is some old seats from, I’m guessing, Silver Stadium:

frontier-field-silver-stadium-seats

Silver Stadium was the home of the Red Wings from 1929 to 1996. In fact, I plan to check out the site of the old stadium today before tonight’s game.

As usual, I took a walk around the perimeter of the ballpark but this time, I didn’t go nuts with photos. I’ll just share this one:

frontier-field-brick-wall-outside-park

I’m a sucker for modern brick parks, as I think they do an awesome job of paying tribute to the history of the game. The wrought-iron bars and old-style lights really give you an feel of what a park might’ve looked like several generations ago.

During this visit, the Red Wings were providing me with a media pass, so I wanted to get in early and check everything out. A quick thanks to Tim Doohan for the pass; Tim was with the Lehigh Valley IronPigs last season, and provided me with a pass during my visit there, too. Instead of going straight up to the press box, I went down to field level and saw that Rochester had just started hitting:

frontier-field-rochester-red-wings-bp

As you’ve seen in the past, I enjoy trying to collect a baseball from each park I visit. Getting in early means that I technically could’ve snagged a dozen BP home runs and foul balls, but I didn’t think that was very fair. So, in a move that might make you ballhawks’ heads explode, I tossed balls back onto the field when I found them. While walking through the seats and across the grass behind the outfield fence, I came across several balls. Some were partially hidden:

frontier-field-bp-ball

And others were easy to see:

frontier-field-bp-ball-1

Watching BP is one of my favorite experiences in baseball, and I prefer it at the minor league level. Instead of standing in a crowd of screaming fans at an MLB park, MiLB parks are virtually deserted during BP. I always make a point of sitting near the field and just taking it all in. One of the cool things about being in the park before it opens is seeing sights you wouldn’t otherwise see. For example, here’s a member of the visiting Durham Bulls hanging out with Red Wings pitcher Caleb Thielbar during BP:

frontier-field-durham-and-rochester-during-bp

And here’s Rochester manager Gene Glynn talking on his cellphone in the stands:

frontier-field-red-wings-manager-gene-glynn

Back to the ballpark itself: As you no doubt know if you’ve been to Rochester, it’s impossible to miss the Kodak building, which looms just across the street:

frontier-field-with-kodak-building

Much of the area beyond the outfield fence is closed off during games, but given that it was still open, I walked through the grass and watched some BP with this view:

frontier-field-bp-from-outfield

The area around the Rochester bullpen was lined with lilacs, and I thought this made for a neat photo:

frontier-field-view-through-lilacs

After walking around the entire park and watching a lot of BP, I decided to go up to the press box to check out the view:

frontier-field-press-box-view

It wasn’t long before I noticed these guys standing below me:

frontier-field-historic-players-stretching

What the heck? I began to see more and more guys dressed like ballplayers from days of yore, so I quickly went back down to field level and it felt like I’d stepped onto the set of Field of Dreams. It was an odd juxtaposition. When I looked the left, this is what I saw:

frontier-field-bulls-during-bp

But when I looked to my right, here was the scene:

frontier-field-historic-baseball-game-2

When the Bulls wrapped up BP, it became clear that these old-timers were getting ready to play a game. Their umpire, who doubled as an announcer for the curious fans who entered the ballpark shortly after the historic game began, provided some clarity. The players were playing a short exhibition game with 1866 rules — no gloves, underhand pitching from 45 feet and no balls and strikes. It was fascinating. When the umpire called a batter to the plate, he yelled “striker to the line!” The umpire, dressed in black, is below:

frontier-field-historic-baseball-game

As much as the 1866 version of the game was different, it was neat to see how much today’s game is similar — despite its evolution. I think guys today are thankful for the gloves, though. Imagine fielding a line drive with your bare hands.

Just as the game was wrapping up, I returned to the press box to meet up with Chris Fee. I got to know him a bit on Twitter a couple years ago when he was writing for the Bus Leagues Baseball website, and now he’s doing a bunch of Red Wings/Twins stuff for Twins Daily. It’s always neat to finally meet someone you’ve conversed with online, and Chris is a good guy. Give his Twitter account a follow and you’ll be glad you did. We blabbed baseball for maybe 15 minutes before I went back to field level to watch the warmups, which had begun after the clock struck 12 on the 1866 game. Here are a couple Bulls you’ll probably recognize:

durham-bulls-shelley-duncan-tim-beckham

That’s Shelley Duncan, who’s played more than 300 games in the bigs and Tim Beckham, the 2008 first-overall draft pick.

I wanted to take another full lap around the field before the game began in a few minutes, but the outfield was blocked off. As I turned to head back toward the third base line, a baseball caught my eye. It was stuck in the fence directly behind the visitor’s bullpen. Since the gates had been open for nearly an hour, I didn’t feel bad about grabbing the ball.

Once the game began, it didn’t take me long to seek out something to eat. I consider two items from Frontier Field as among the 10 best things I’ve ever eaten on my travels, but I was determined to branch out on this visit. I returned to the Red Osier concession stand but instead of getting the delicious sandwich I enjoyed last year, I got the R.O.B.B. sandwich — double roast beef on a salt and caraway seed bun with au jus sauce and plenty of horseradish:

frontier-field-food-red-osier-roast-beef-sandwich

It was absolutely delicious and I can safely say it’ll crack the top 10 when I redo the list in the off-season. Wow!

As for the game, I was especially excited to see prospect Wil Myers. Prior to the season, he was ranked fourth overall by Baseball America and MLB, and it’s always neat to see a top prospect in person. I grabbed a seat behind home plate with this view:

wil-myers-durham-bulls

The view, however, was better than Myers’ results throughout the game. He went just 1-for-5 and left three runners on base.

One guy who isn’t struggling is Wings first baseman Chris Colabello. He went 2-for-4 to boost his average to .350. He’s also got 11 HRs, 31 RBIs and an OPS of 1.059:

frontier-field-chris-colabello-rochester-red-wings

By the fifth inning, I can’t stay I was hungry, but I was hoping to find something else to eat. I don’t normally eat desserts at ballparks, but I’m always intrigued by Frontier Field’s crepe stand, so I decided to get an order of crepes with ice cream, fresh strawberries and blueberries and whipped cream:

frontier-field-food-berry-crepes

Again, absolutely incredible! It didn’t taste like ballpark food; if I’d received it at a decent restaurant, I would’ve been more than happy.

Once dessert was down, I snapped this shot of the nighttime scene and the Kodak building in the background:

frontier-field-rochester-kodak-building-night

And then moved behind home plate where I enjoyed this view for the rest of the game, which Rochester won 11-6:

frontier-field-behind-home-plate-night

Funny thing about baseball — Rochester cruised through much of the game, leading 11-0 at one point. In the eighth, Durham’s offense went nuts and scored six runs. By the end of the once-lopsided contest, the Bulls had outhit the Wings 12-11.

Yesterday’s visit just reaffirms how great Frontier Field is. I’m already looking forward to getting back there later today for the Pepsi Max Field of Dreams game. It features a bunch of retired MLB legends, and promises to be entertaining.

Second Annual Top 10 Ballpark Food I’ve Eaten

In February 2012, I wrote a blog post counting down the 10 best things I’d eaten on my travels in 2010 and 2011. I thought it’d be fun to do, but had no idea of the response I’d get. It’s been one of my top three most-read blog posts to date and my ballpark eating exploits even got mentioned in the Dallas Observer! In honor of Opening Day 2013, it’s time to reveal what things I ate in 2012 were good enough to crack the top 10 list.

As with last year’s list, I’m only considering things I’ve personally eaten and this is an overall list, not just a list of 2012 food. Grab your Rolaids and get ready for your stomach to start growling; you might need to grab a bite after seeing this list. In the list below, you’ll see the name of the item, the park at which I bought it and the team that calls the park home. The number in brackets is last year’s ranking; as you might guess, an “NR” note means it’s new to this list.

** When I released this list, I said I’d post an honorable mention item if I reached 200 followers on Twitter. You responded, so here’s the item, as promised. Thanks for all the follows and for all those who retweeted my message about getting to 200 followers! **

Honorable mention: Curverogie – Peoples Natural Gas Field – Altoona Curve (NR)

peoples-natural-gas-field-food-curverogie

I’ve had a number of different types of sandwiches on my ballpark travels, but Altoona’s Curverogie is certainly one that stands out. Introduced to the menu in 2012, it features ham, onions, cheese and an enormous pierogi. As you can see, it was absolutely loaded with ham, and complemented with a nice, crusty roll, it was delicious. It doesn’t quite crack the top 10 because the pierogi was sort of lost among the strong tastes of the ham and onions, but this is still a sandwich I’d buy again and again.

10. Old Bay pretzel – Prince George’s Stadium – Bowie Baysox (6)

prince-george's-stadium-food-pretzel

Although I ate this pretzel way back in 2011, it’s still the best pretzel I’ve ever eaten. A reader of this blog told me that Bowie didn’t sell the Old Bay pretzel in 2012. I haven’t confirmed that, but if so, it’s too bad. If you like a tangy combination of Old Bay, two types of cheese and pretzel dough, this is a real treat.

9. Shopsy’s Bill Cosby Triple Decker – Rogers Centre – Toronto Blue Jays (4)

rogers-centre-shopsys-bill-cosby-triple-decker

Rye bread, corned beef, smoked meat, sauerkraut, cheese and mustard. Mmmm. I tried this enormous sandwich in 2011 and loved it … and then had it again this summer and it was bad enough to slide down five spots on my list. The 2012 version of the sandwich was largely cold, which really didn’t work well. It’s expensive enough that it’s got to be tasty to order, and the verdict is out as to whether I’ll try it again.

8. Clam chowder – Northeast Delta Dental Stadium / LeLacheur Park  – N.H. Fisher Cats / Lowell Spinners (8/NR)

northeast-delta-dental-stadium-clam-chowder

lelacheur-park-food-clam-chowder

We’ve got a tie in the eighth spot on this list! I really enjoyed the clam chowder I had in New Hampshire in 2011, and I’m including the bowl I enjoyed in 2012 in Lowell as a split entry, given that they tasted exactly the same. I had a cold during my visit to Lowell, so the piping hot soup was a welcome relief on my throat. You’ll see above that I had oyster crackers on my soup in New Hampshire, but didn’t bother in Lowell. Still, a really tasty soup for a chilly evening at the park. (Odd how I was sitting in virtually the same spot in both parks, huh?)

7. Steak and cheese sandwich – Fenway Park – Boston Red Sox (NR)

fenway-park-steak-cheese-sandwich

I love red meat, so I’ve had steak and cheese sandwiches at a number of parks. This one was made to order, just like at Subway, which was a nice touch. The bun was soft and doughy, the steak was surprisingly fresh and the addition of hot sauce made this sandwich jump. And, hey, the scenery made this sandwich taste even better.

6. Chickie’s & Pete’s crab fries – Arm & Hammer Park – Trenton Thunder (NR)

waterfront-park-chickie's-and-pete's-crab-fries

Here’s an item that has grown on me since my visit to Trenton last May. I’ll admit I didn’t know what crab fries were, and when I realized they didn’t have anything to do with crab, I was slightly disappointed. But as far as fries go, they were delicious — just the right texture (not bony but not too soft) and the Old Bay was a nice addition. The warmed white cheddar sauce served with them was perfect for dipping, and the portion size was huge, too.

5. Boog’s BBQ turkey sandwich – Oriole Park at Camden Yards – Baltimore Orioles (4)

boog's-bbq-camden-yards-eutaw-street

As I said above, I’m a big red meat fan, but the turkey sandwich I had in B’More in 2011 was outstanding. And meeting 1970 AL MVP Boog Powell at his concession stand was an added bonus. A word to the wise — the horseradish is molten hot. Go easy.

4. Red Osier prime rib sandwich – Frontier Field – Rochester Red Wings (NR)

frontier-field-red-osier-prime-rib

The highest-debuting entry on this year’s edition of the list, the Red Osier prime rib sandwich in Rochester was amazing. I’ll concede that the photo isn’t overly great; I snapped it fast because I wanted to get eating. The prime rib was the best I’ve eaten outside of a steak house and far better than Quiznos prime rib, for reasons of comparison. I’m definitely hitting Red Osier when I visit Rochester again. Thanks to a few readers of this blog who told me to check this item out — you were absolutely right!

3. Quaker Steak & Lube chicken wings – Rogers Centre – Toronto Blue Jays (3)

rogers-centre-quaker-steak-lube-chicken-wings

Unlike my second experience with the Shopsy’s Bill Cosby Triple Decker, I ate the Quaker Steak & Lube chicken wings again at Rogers Centre this past fall and they were just as good as ever. Hot, meaty and flavorful. There’s nothing else to want in a chicken wing. I went to an actual Quaker Steak & Lube restaurant in Cleveland in 2011 and I’m happy to report the quality of the ballpark wings isn’t any less than at the restaurant.

2. Buffalo chicken macaroni and cheese – Frontier Field – Rochester Red Wings (2)

frontier-field-buffalo-chicken-macaroni-and-cheese

The buffalo mac and cheese at Frontier Field was the first thing I ate since starting The Ballpark Guide in 2010, and it remains the second-best thing I’ve eaten. Nearly three years after eating it, I still consider is the best mac and cheese I’ve ever eaten and will have a hard time saying no to it when I’m in Rochester this year.

1. Bo Brooks crab cake sandwich – Ripken Stadium – Aberdeen IronBirds (1)

ripken-stadium-crab-cake-sandwich

The crab cake sandwich in Aberdeen hangs onto the championship belt for another year. As I wrote last year, it’s the type of sandwich you could eat every inning. The crab tasted fresh and didn’t have that gross seafood odor. The tomato and lettuce were a nice touch, the bun was tasty and the Old Bay (which seems to be prevalent on this list) just topped everything off. I wonder if 2013 will finally be the year I find something better at the ballpark.

As always, please give me a follow on Twitter and visit The Ballpark Guide for comprehensive guides to Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball parks. Your visits support my baseball road trips!

Empire State Yankees – July 19

On July 17, 2010, I made Rochester’s Frontier Field the first ballpark I visited since coming up with the idea for my website, The Ballpark Guide. This past Thursday, almost exactly two years later, I made a nine-hour round trip to visit Frontier Field again. This time, I was joined by my photographer friend Ryan, who visited Centennial Field in Burlington, VT, with me last summer. So, the photos you’ll see below are a mix of his photos and mine.

It’s my goal to eventually visit every MLB and MiLB park, which means repeat visits aren’t normally on the agenda. But ever since that first visit two years ago, I’ve looked forward to returning to Rochester. The ballpark is absolutely incredible, the food is amazing and the team has been extremely helpful and kind to me since the start. If those aren’t good reasons to go back, I don’t know what is.

Ryan and I met at 5:30 a.m., set the GPS for Rochester and drove for several hours. Although I’m always excited on every baseball road trip, I get even more pumped up when approaching the park, and as we drove through Rochester, we could see signs for Frontier Field. Eventually, we were able to see the ballpark’s red sign in the distance:

We had extra reason to be excited for this trip, because the Rochester Red Wings were giving us media passes and a pre-game tour before the park’s gates opened. A special shout-out to the team’s director of marketing Matt Cipro and account executive Derek Swanson, who were immensely helpful leading up to (and during) our visit. I’ve had a number of tours of different parks in the past, and they’re great because they give me a deeper understanding and appreciation for the park and all its features.

This game was unique in that the Red Wings weren’t playing. As you may know, Frontier Field is also being used by the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees this summer, as their home field, PNC Field, is under a major renovation.

Instead of parking in the main lot, we were able to drive straight into the VIP lot, because Matt had put my name on the VIP list. We parked here:

And then, Ryan got a photo of me wearing the new T-shirt I made up for this visit:

The VIP lot is also where the players park, and it’s always fun to check out some of the nice cars, including this Jaguar:

We parked about 9:25 a.m., and with our tour with Derek scheduled for 10 a.m., we had a bit of time to wander around the outside of the park and take some photos. We checked out the view from the main lot across the street:

The empty pavilion in front of the main gates:

And a Red Wings sticker on a light post in the parking lot:

I normally travel alone, so documenting everything can be a lot of work. Luckily, as I was taking some shots of the side of Frontier Field …

… I glanced over to my right to see Ryan capturing the visiting Charlotte Knights:

The team had just pulled up in a coach and was heading toward the door that would take them down to the clubhouse:

After the players disappeared, we continued walking down Morrie Silver Way, parallel with the bricked side of Frontier Field. I love this park’s old-school feel, and I looked up to capture this shot that I really like:

(I think it looks neat in black and white.)

When we reached Plymouth Avenue North, we could turn and look through the outfield gates to see inside the ballpark:

There’s something really cool about seeing an almost-empty park but knowing it’ll be hopping in a short period of time. We continued along the outside of the fence behind the outfield fence …

… while I kept a watchful eye out for any baseballs that might’ve been hiding in the grass from the previous day’s game or batting practice. (Fortunately, I didn’t find any. And when I say “fortunately,” it’s because I’d have faced a moral dilemma about climbing the fence. Just kidding. Sort of.)

Then, we turned back and passed by the outfield gate again …

… and made our way back down Morrie Silver Way toward the front of the park:

The pavilion in front of the gates was still quiet, and since it was a couple minutes before 10, we went into the park’s office to meet Matt and Derek. Soon, they arrived and Matt gave us our passes. Instead of a traditional media pass, we were given premium-level tickets to allow us to sit anywhere, as well as photo passes that would get us anywhere we wanted to be.

Derek led us out into the cross-aisle behind home plate, where we began our tour. There’s a wide cross-aisle that wraps around Frontier Field, and a huge opening directly behind home plate. It’s a perfect area for trying to catch a foul ball, as evidenced by this sign:

The tour quickly went down to the field:

No matter how many times I get the fortune of standing on a professional baseball field, it never gets old! From there, we went up the tunnel behind home plate…

… through the hallways around the clubhouses and training rooms and rode an elevator up to the suite level:

The entire time, Derek was telling us cool stories about Frontier Field, its history, its operations and pretty much everything you’d ever need to know. You could tell he loved his job and enjoyed taking people on tours.

We made a quick stop in the press box:

And then went to check out some of the suites. Although the suite common area, shown above, is enclosed, you access the suites via a walkway that you can see in the eighth photo of this post. As we walked along the suite level, I noticed the Rolls-Royce suite, so I couldn’t resist commenting on it:

Without hesitation, Derek pulled out a key, opened the door and led us in. We went out to the box seats on the suite’s balcony, and I took this panorama:

The next suite we entered was the biggest in the park, and roughly three times the size of most of the other suites:

From this suite, we could see some of the Charlotte players warming up down the first base line:

And I also took a panorama to show the beautiful skyline beyond the outfield fence:

Derek explained that unlike a lot of MiLB parks, Frontier Field’s outfield isn’t overly cluttered with billboards. It’s mostly left open, which affords fans a great view of the cityscape. See the tan building behind the right field foul pole? There’s a cool story surrounding it. The Red Wings were affiliated with the Baltimore Orioles between 1961 and 2002, and when Frontier Field was built in 1996, it was built with the same field specs as Camden Yards, to give players a Camden Yards feel before they made it to Baltimore. The ballpark was placed so that the tan building could represent the B&O Warehouse, which is one of Camden Yards’ signature sights. Cool, huh?

Our tour took us all along the suite level, and in addition to seeing the indoor suites, we also checked out the open-air suites at each end. After going as far as we could on the third base side, we changed direction and went all the way to the Hardball Cafe, which is down the first base line. It’s a giant, open-air suite for groups of 100:

While there, a bottle of Red Wings wine caught our eye:

By now, Derek had spent probably 45 minutes with us, but still wanted to show us more. We went down to field level and out to the group picnic area behind the right field fence, where groups can eat here:

And then stand above the right field bullpen and watch the game or move to the seating bowl. We also saw the park’s most unique suite, the Power Alley Grille, which is enclosed in glass and situated in right-center:

And the most comfy seat in the house, just to the left field side of the outfield suite:

We then passed under the batter’s eye, which has a neon advertisement that is turned off during play and on between innings, which I think is really smart:

I can’t resist showing these unlit and lit shots taken once the game began:

And under the 25×35 video board in left field, which is the largest screen in the county:

(See the Empire State Yankees logo on the screen?)

In all, Derek spent about 75 minutes with us and gave us more information than I could’ve imagined. It was amazing of him to spend so much time with us, especially as the start of the game drew close. Thanks again, Derek!

Because we’d covered everywhere in the park during our tour, we decided to check out a few more sights and then grab some food in time for the first pitch. We made a brief stop at the team shop, where I enjoyed looking at the game-used bats, including this one used by Cincinnati’s Zack Cozart:

An area recognizing former Red Wing Cal Ripken, Jr.:

And this shot, which shows some of the engraved bricks that make up much of the open area down the third base line:

You’ll notice the Red Osier concession stand in the background. Last time I visited Frontier Field, I had an excellent bowl of gourmet mac and cheese, but many fans weren’t shy about telling me that I missed the park’s best item — a prime rib sandwich at Red Osier. I love beef, so I got an original Red Osier sandwich, added a bit of horseradish and documented the evidence before devouring it:

It was absolutely delicious. The meat seemed like actual prime rib, rather than brown-dyed mystery meat. I could’ve eaten three or four of these things. It was that good, and I definitely recommend it. Remember that top 10 list of the best things I’ve eaten at ballparks? Let’s just say I’m going to have to revise it in off-season to include this sandwich.

While I washed my prime rib down with one of my ballpark favorites, a cup of freshly squeezed lemonade …

… Ryan mowed through a Buffalo wing chicken steak sandwich, which he said was delicious but spicy:

We watched the first four innings from the first base side. There’s not a bad seat at Frontier Field, but I love sitting on the first base side, as you get a perfect view of the historic Kodak building towering above the field:

While here, I took shots of my ticket and pass, as I always do:

The game was entertaining; 15 strikeouts in total, and two Yankees gunned down at home. On one of them, the runner was out by so much that when Ryan snapped this picture of the catcher waiting with the ball …

… the runner wasn’t even in the frame yet! But a second later, he was:

In the third, after a close play at home, Knights manager Joel Skinner took exception to the call and emphatically protested his case. It was one of those “I’m going to stay out here and complain until you throw me out” arguments, and that’s exactly what home plate umpire Chris Ward did, as you can see in this three-shot sequence that Ryan captured:

One of the notable players to see was former Chicago Cub Kosuke Fukudome, who signed a Minor League deal with the Yankees less than a week earlier, and was suited up for Empire State. After he walked early in the game, Ryan snapped his photo …

… and Fukudome appeared to wave at Ryan. It was hilarious and odd.

I wanted to grab something else to eat before we switched seats to the third base side, and I settled on a white hot dog, just because I was curious:

Had I been blindfolded, I wouldn’t have known the difference between this dog and a regular one, although it’s not something I’d likely try again. I don’t know if it was just this one or all white dogs in general, but this one had a spongy consistency that I wasn’t crazy about.

We spent the rest of the game on the third base side, and were able to capture some cool player shots, including Empire State catcher (and occasional Yankee) Francisco Cervelli:

Charlotte starter Matt Zaleski, who got the loss:

Corban Joseph, who I noticed was using a Sam Bat:

(I mention his bat because I toured the Sam Bat factory a month or so ago, which you can read all about it here.)

And Ramiro Pena:

The weather throughout the entire day was perfect. It was overcast and in the mid-to-high 70s from the time we arrived to the time we left:

One hilarious thing the gameday staff did late in the game was show solo fans on the video board while Roy Orbison’s “Only the Lonely” played. It was funny enough that I laughed right out loud at some of the images:

The Yankees won 2-0 …

… and we wandered around for a few minutes after the conclusion of the game, stopping to check out the Red Wings Hall of Fame wall, which is extensive:

I’m definitely glad to have made a return visit to Frontier Field, and while I don’t know when I’ll get back again, I’ll definitely enjoy it when I do. Thanks to Matt and Derek for going out of their way to make our visit so memorable.

I’m planning a road trip for about a month from now, and I’ll post details about it soon — probably sometime next week, once the details are ironed out. As always, please visit The Ballpark Guide to not only read comprehensive ballpark guides, but also to support my travels. Thanks!

Day Trip Coming Up

On the morning of Thursday, July 19, I’ll be hopping in the car when it’s still dark out and doing something that’s a symptom of my baseball obsession — driving about nine hours round-trip to watch a three-hour baseball game.

And I can’t wait.

I’ll have an announcement about my next big baseball road trip before long, but in the meantime, I’m excited to share that I’ll be visiting Rochester’s Frontier Field in a little over a week. Almost two years ago to the day (July 16, 2010, to be exact), I visited Frontier Field, and it was the first ballpark I went to since launching TheBallparkGuide.com. Here’s a panorama I took during that visit:

Since then, I’ve been to more than 30 other parks on my travels.

So, why the return trip to Rochester? Well, there are several reasons. I absolutely loved the entire Frontier Field experience when I visited two years ago, and since Rochester is within day trip-distance for me, I’ve decided to go again. Although I normally travel solo, I’ll be joined on this trip by a friend who is also a photographer, and he’ll be helping me out by taking photos for my website. Last year, he visited Vermont’s Centennial Field with me, and you can check out a blog post about that visit here.

One of the unique things about this visit is that the Rochester Red Wings won’t even be playing. The Empire State Yankees (formerly the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees who are spending 2012 as a travel team) will be the home team, and they’ll host the Charlotte Knights.

I’m hoping to get a chance to be interviewed on the game’s radio broadcast to talk about my website, as I’ve done at other parks earlier this summer, and I’m also really looking forward to enjoying some of Frontier Field’s food. I’ve been unabashed in saying that Rochester’s ballpark has the best overall food quality and selection of any MiLB park I’ve visited. Last time, I had the buffalo chicken mac and cheese …

… and it was delicious. This time, I’m hoping to try a few other things, based on some recommendations from fans. (If you’ve been to Frontier Field and have a food recommendation, please post it in the comments below.)

I may post a few goals prior to this trip, as I’ve done in the past, but either way, it should be a great day.

Thanks for reading!

Top 10 Ballpark Food I’ve Eaten

As I mentioned yesterday on Twitter, I’ve been working on compiling a list of the top 10 food items I’ve eaten on my travels.

Well, the results are in, and I’ve got a number of tasty items that you must try if you ever have the chance. Before we begin, let’s go over the ground rules:

1. I’m only counting food I’ve eaten at parks I’ve visited. You won’t see any items on this list that I haven’t eaten or sold at parks I haven’t visited.
2. I’m looking at individual food items, rather than a ballpark’s overall selection.

Let’s begin!

10. Pulled pork nachos – Classic Park – Lake County Captains

You might think you’d need to reach for some Tums after getting through these ample nachos, but they’re not heavy in a bad way. The pulled pork was excellent and better than I’d expect to find at a ballpark. The one knock on these was the server forgot to give me cheese.

9. Apple crisp – Parkview Field – Fort Wayne TinCaps

Parkview Field has several apple-themed dishes on its menu, given that Fort Wayne in the place Johnny Appleseed is buried. The apple crisp was the best ballpark dessert I’ve ever eaten. (And the ‘Caps helmet it’s served in is a cool bonus.) Visit my website to read about all the apple treats and other food items at Parkview Field.

8. Clam chowder – Northeast Delta Dental Stadium – New Hampshire Fisher Cats

I ate Northeast Delta Dental Stadium’s clam chowder on a July evening last year, and even though it was a hot day, really enjoyed the soup. I can see it being the perfect ballpark food on a cold April or September night. The clam chowder isn’t the only seafood item on the menu here. Here’s the full list.

7. Philly cheesesteak – Cooley Law School Stadium – Lansing Lugnuts

I wasn’t a huge fan of the processed cheese goop on the Philly cheesesteak in Lansing, but the bun was fresh, the steak was perfect and the onions and peppers were savory.

6. Old Bay pretzel – Prince George’s Stadium – Bowie Baysox

Crab might as well be the official food of Maryland, and if you’re having crab, you need to season it with Old Bay. This cheese-filled jumbo pretzel was rolled in Old Bay. Dangerously perfect.

5. Boog’s BBQ turkey sandwich – Oriole Park at Camden Yards – Baltimore Orioles

I tried turkey and pork sammies at Boog’s BBQ in Baltimore, and the turkey one ranked higher in my books. It’s expensive, but you get an ample amount of meat and can also load up on onions, Old Bay, BBQ sauce and horseradish.

4. Shopsy’s Bill Cosby Triple Decker – Rogers Centre – Toronto Blue Jays

Shopsy’s makes darned good deli sandwiches and the Bill Cosby Triple Decker was outstanding. It was huge, filling and not as greasy as you might expect. The coleslaw and pickle were a nice addition, affirming that I’d eaten healthily by getting a meal with “vegetables.”

3. Quaker Steak & Lube chicken wings – Rogers Centre – Toronto Blue Jays

Quaker Stake & Lube wings are delicious, and surprisingly, the quality doesn’t drop off when served at a stadium. I’ve had several flavors of these wings at Rogers Centre, and they’re all winners in my book.

2. Buffalo chicken macaroni and cheese – Frontier Field – Rochester Red Wings

Mac and cheese? Check. Chicken and hot sauce? Check. Blue cheese dressing? Check. Simply the best mac and cheese I’ve ever had anywhere. If you’re in Rochester, don’t pass up a chance to try any of the gourmet mac and cheeses. On my website, TheBallparkGuide.com, I’ve got a complete rundown of Frontier Field’s delicious foods.

1. Bo Brooks crab cake sandwich – Ripken Stadium – Aberdeen IronBirds

Aberdeen’s menu offers many variations on crab and the crab cake sandwich was killer. On a fresh bun atop lettuce and tomato, and seasoned with plenty of Old Bay, this is the type of sandwich you could eat every inning. Definitely worth the drive if you’re remotely in the area. Visit my website for a complete guide to Ripken Stadium’s food selection.

I’m curious to hear about the amazing food other people have eaten, and where. I’ll be sure to check it out!

As always, follow me on Twitter to read the latest about my website, my blog and my travels.

Game Programs

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.

Aberdeen IronBirds

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.

Bowie Baysox

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.

Cleveland Indians

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.

Delmarva Shorebirds

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.

Potomac Nationals

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.)

Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees

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.

Washington Nationals

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).