As you might suspect, the last day of my North Carolina baseball road trip concluded with a baseball game.
From the time that I left my hotel in Fayetteville until I pulled into the parking lot of Intimidators Stadium in Kannapolis, however, this day was all about stock car racing.
The drive between these two North Carolina cities is only about two and a half hours, so I drafted up an itinerary that would take me to half a dozen NASCAR-related attractions — namely, a museum and a handful of race shops — and still get to Kannapolis before the ballpark gates opened. I was a huge NASCAR fan in my late teens and early 20s, and after a handful of years away from the sport, I’ve been getting back into it over the last couple of years. (You might remember my exciting visit to the NASCAR Hall of Fame when I was in Charlotte in the summer of 2018.) I’m not planning to blog about my visit to each of these attractions on this day, but I can tell you that even if you’re a moderate stock car racing fan, visiting any race shop around Charlotte is something to add to your to-do list if you’re in the area.
My NASCAR-themed day made sense based on where I’d end up. The Kannapolis Intimidators, who played in the South Atlantic League, owe their name to NASCAR hall of famer Dale Earnhardt. He was born in Kannapolis and nicknamed “The Intimidator” — and, for a short amount of time, was a minority owner of the baseball team.
My daylong sightseeing was so extensive that I only got to Intimidators Stadium about 30 minutes before the gates were due to open. That didn’t leave me much time for my usual pre-entry touring, but that was just fine on this occasion. Why? The 2019 season was the team’s last in this ballpark — and the last with the Intimidators nickname, for that matter. Earlier this off season, the team rebranded to the Kannapolis Cannon Ballers and will move into a downtown ballpark for the 2020 campaign. All of that meant that I wasn’t feeling any pressure to meticulously document Intimidators stadium for my website. Instead, this evening was all about visiting a new-to-me ballpark (#76!) and enjoying the experience.
So, instead of spending some time outside of the park, I entered just a couple of minutes after parking my rental car. Normally, I spend a fair bit of time on the main level concourse upon arriving at a park, but I decided to change things up a little during this visit. Immediately after I walked inside, went up to the suite level, where I had this view of batting practice:
Nice looking ballpark, right?
I was immediately impressed at the scene before me. At the time of my visit, the Intimidators would only be using this park for another two months, but virtually everything that I saw was in tip-top condition. I can’t say that I was expecting to see things looking unkempt to some degree … but I suppose that I wouldn’t have been surprised if some part.
As I looked over to my left, I started to take in some of the park’s unique design features. Take a look at the following photo:
You’ll notice a number of noteworthy things — small seating sections, a wide cross-aisle, an enormous concourse and the press box in its own building at concourse level. You’ll also see some picnic areas down the third base side and, on the far left, a tree growing in the concourse. Pretty neat, if you ask me.
Encouraged by what I saw from my high vantage point, I headed down to the concourse to begin taking in the sights.
As it had been during my two previous days in Fayetteville, the temperature was hovering around the 100-degree mark — and I was feeling it for the entirety of my walk around the concourse. Undeterred, the first place that I stopped was the third base side of the press box, where I stood for a few minutes to watch the visiting Rome Braves take BP. I’ve said it before, but there’s something so peaceful and enjoyable about taking in batting practice, especially at the minor league level. It’s something I’ll never tire of watching.
As the gates opened and Intimidators Stadium slowly began to fill, I moved to the other side of the press box to snap this picture of myself:
(You can buy my shirt here.)
Then, it was time to head down the third base concourse to check out the stock car that I’d spotted earlier from the suite level:
It’s an Intimidators/Earnhardt-branded Chevrolet stock car, which was neat to look at — even if it had regretfully seen better days. The body of the car has several rust spots on it, likely a result of dents from foul balls causing the paint to chip off. Nevertheless, I was glad to see the unique sight of a stock car in a ballpark — especially on a day that was centered around racing and baseball.
Before batting practice wrapped up, I took this panorama of the field not far from the stock car …
… and then took a short walk around the concourse area behind the press box. Check out how expansive this area is:
It’s definitely the type of place that you could stand for a few innings and almost certainly snag a foul ball.
After a brief stop in the modest team shop, I made my way down the first base side …
… to check out the carousel — another feature at the park that impressed me:
In the right field corner, I turned back toward home plate and admired this view of the park:
It’s always sad to see ballparks go the way of the dodo, and while I’m certainly excited to check out Kannapolis’ new ballpark, I can’t deny feeling a bit of melancholy at the idea that this would be my first and last visit to Intimidators Stadium.
I took this next shot to give you another view of the ballpark’s unique layout:
You’ll see the press box and picnic areas on the right side of the shot, but take a look at the structure on the left. It’s the ballpark’s lone building, and houses the suites, offices, team shop, ticket office and more.
One of the things that I love best about visiting ballparks at all levels is thoroughly exploring them and finding unusual nooks and crannies. Just past the carousel, I followed this pathway …
… around to the left and found myself in this unique area:
You can catch a glimpse of the field and video board in the distance, but this spot is otherwise completely isolated. It was a neat and random place to visit, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t take a couple of minutes to search for errant BP baseballs in the shrubs around the path — to no avail, unfortunately.
After spending a bit of time in the right field corner, I made my way back around the concourse to the left field corner. While there, I peeked through a fence at the end of the grass berm to look at the home bullpen …
… and managed to step in a quicksand-like puddle of mud next to the bullpen fence that almost made me stumble right out of my shoe. No photos of that, unfortunately.
Once I’d aggressively rubbed my muddy shoe through the grass until it was respectable again, I made my way over to the cross-aisle and headed toward home plate:
Batting practice had since ended, and the Intimidators ground crew was getting the field prepared. From where I stood, I snapped this panorama:
When I got back up to the concourse and was contemplating where to go next, a man approached me and introduced himself as Alan Hand — one of my Twitter followers, and a 100+ ballpark visitor. I didn’t realize that he lives in the Kannapolis area, but he made a point of attending this game to say hello. Of course, we snapped a picture:
You might notice that Alan is wearing a Vancouver Canadians shirt, which I’m guessing aren’t too common in North Carolina. You might also notice the unsightly sweat marks on my shirt — an unfortunate byproduct of the mix of a hot day and a lot of walking.
I’m always thrilled to meet fellow baseball fans on my travels, and enjoyed chatting with Alan for several minutes about our various travels, baseball in Kannapolis and, of course, NASCAR. We decided that we’d sit together for some of the game, so after a quick farewell, I continued down the first base line again. There wasn’t any action in the visitors bullpen when I arrived — but I couldn’t help but smile at the following scene:
You’d think that a bunch of guys who get paid to throw strikes would fare a little better at tossing their paper cups in the trash, right?
I decided that I’d grab some food before the game began, so I took a brief lap around the concourse in search of Kannapolis’ famed “Mater Sandwich” — a simple tomato and mayo sandwich served on white bread that was Earnhardt’s favorite. I’d heard about this sandwich a few years ago, and I liked the story behind it. Unfortunately, I couldn’t track it down anywhere, and no one I asked seemed to have a clue what I was talking about. Undaunted, I opted for the next best thing — a sausage on a bun:
As you probably know, I try to focus on unique ballpark fare whenever possible, and a sausage on a bun isn’t exactly unique. But it caught my eye, and nothing else on the Intimidators Stadium menu really jumped out at me. One bite into the sausage made me very happy that I’d chosen it. While very simple, it was perfectly executed — a high-quality sausage cooked perfectly on a fresh bun. There’s something really satisfying about simple food done right, and this was a perfect example.
I wrapped up my meal just before first pitch before going partway down the first base side to watch the top half of the first inning …
… and then moved all the way to the corner before the half-inning was over:
In the second inning, I met up with Alan in the bleachers on the third base line, where we sat with this view as the summer sun slowly began to set, making long shadows over the field:
I sat with Alan for the rest of my visit — which, sadly, wasn’t until the end of the game. I had nearly a 2.5-hour drive to get to where I was staying for the night, and as much as I’d have loved to stay until the final out, I was tired enough that the idea of leaving for a long, solo drive at 10 p.m. wasn’t appealing. I pulled the plug on this game about 8:30 p.m., pausing to take one last look at the stadium’s exterior before I hopped back in my rental car and hit the road again.
I’ve traveled to more than 50 stadiums for The Ballpark Guide, and have managed to pick up some pretty cool souvenirs along the way. These include:
– A Jeremy Nowak (Frederick Keys) home run ball;
– A Tony Caldwell (Greensboro Grasshoppers) home run ball;
– A Randy Ruiz game-used bat;
– A New Hampshire Fisher Cats game-used jacket;
– A Ryan Skube (former Padres prospect) game-used bat;
– A Curtis Thigpen clubhouse nameplate — OK, not “game-used,” but you know what I mean.
Well, as promised, I added a couple really neat items to my collection during my travels last year.
Here’s the first one:
This is a game-used bat that belonged to Justin O’Conner, the Tampa Bay Rays’ first-round draft pick in 2010. I bought it in May when I visited Bowling Green Ballpark, home of the Bowling Green Hot Rods. (You can read about this visit here.) It’s exciting to have a bat from a first rounder. I actually saw O’Conner play back in 2012 at the Futures at Fenway game at Fenway Park, and managed to get his autograph on a ball. Last year, when I saw his bat in the team shop at Bowling Green Ballpark, I couldn’t resist grabbing it.
As you can see here, it’s got his name written on the knob:
Lots of signs of use on the handle:
And a ton of wear on the barrel, which shows that he used this bat an awful lot before it broke. Here are some ball marks:
And some little chips, which are caused by when you tap the bat’s barrel against your cleats to them off:
O’Conner hit .223 for the Hot Rods in 2013 but showed some solid pop with 14 home runs in 102 games. I’ll be excited to see where he starts the 2014 season and look forward to following his career.
The next item I added to my collection has a little mystery to it. It’s a Lexington Legends game-used batting practice jersey, and here’s a picture of it:
When I visited Whitaker Bank Ballpark, home of the Legends, in May, I was excited to see a TON of game-used jerseys for sale at decent prices. Often, you see Minor League Baseball game-used jerseys for around $100, which seems like a little much. Anyway, the BP jerseys were just $25, which was impossible to resist. I browsed through the available jerseys, worn during the 2012 season, while checking out the team’s 2012 roster on The Baseball Cube. My goal was to find a jersey of a player with promise, and when I came across the #8 jersey, I saw it apparently belonged to first baseman Zach Johnson. While with Lexington in 2012, Johnson hit 15 home runs and added 108 RBIs. I was sold, and grabbed the jersey off the rack.
When I took it to the counter, the staff member said, “Nice — Delino DeShields, Jr.” Huh? I told him I was pretty sure this was Johnson’s jersey, pointing to the data on my iPod.
He replied that he thought DeShields might have worn the #8 on a promotional jersey night when his usual #4 wasn’t available in his size. If that was the case, what number did Johnson wear on that night? Or did Johnson play? As I said, it’s a mystery.
I have to admit I’m intrigued about DeShields, though. While with the Legends in 2012, he stole 83 bases in 111 games. Yep, you read that right. He added 18 more steals in 24 games with High-A Lancaster to finish the year with 101 stolen bases. This total would be enough to be the best in the entire minor leagues virtually any year, if not for a guy named Billy Hamilton. Hamilton, of course, set the all-time record by swiping 155 bases. (I was lucky enough to see him play at Louisville Slugger Field last year, too.)
So, did I have the jersey of Johnson, a slugger who was released last year, or of DeShields, Jr., a first-round draft pick who might be on the fast track to the majors? (He played in High-A last season and stole 51 bases while batting .317 while just 20 years of age.)
Let’s look at some more pictures of the jersey before we wade even deeper into this mystery. Here’s a shot of the #8 in question:
The back of the entire jersey:
And a close-up of the Legends logo, which has a sharp design:
Now, back to the mystery. I’ve found proof that Johnson wore my jersey in 2012. The next four pictures I found online, and were taken by Clinton Riddle.
And here’s one that shows the front of the jersey:
The Baseball Cube says DeShields wore #4 in 2012, and I’ve found proof of that with this picture:
And here’s the front of his jersey:
As you can tell from these photos, they’re taken during BP, not during a game.
So, based on what The Baseball Cube says, and with the photographic proof I can find online, I’m sure the jersey is Johnson’s. But I’m curious about the suggestion of the team shop employee, and I’m determined to find out the truth. I’m going to contact the Legends, as well as DeShields, Jr., himself, to get to the bottom of this mystery.
And when I have an answer, I’ll share it here!
** UPDATE **
Well, that didn’t take long. Immediately after publishing this blog post, I sent messages on Twitter to DeShields, Jr. and the Legends. DeShields was the first to respond, and he straightened things up:
Now, I’m not up on the nicknames of former Legends players, but it looks like “Ziggy” is Zach Johnson, which means my initial understanding about the jersey’s rightful owner was correct. An hour later, the Legends confirmed things:
I suppose there’s still a chance DeShields wore the jersey once, but that’s probably difficult to confirm. In any case, the theory about the rightful owner of the BP jersey sure made for a fun mystery while it lasted.
As always, thanks for reading. Please visit The Ballpark Guide for comprehensive fan guides to MLB and MiLB parks and remember, each of your visits help support my road trips!
Planning baseball road trips for my website, The Ballpark Guide, is a heck of a lot of fun, but it’s not the easiest thing to do.
When you’re planning to be away for 10 or more days, a lot of factors are involved in planning — teams’ schedules, travel times, geographical considerations, etc. It can take hours to create a perfect road trip itinerary … and then a rainout can quickly wipe out all your meticulous work.
That’s what happened on my first road trip of 2012. I woke up very early, drove for nearly eight hours to Lakewood, N.J., and the BlueClaws’ game was rained out. This hardly ruined the road trip, but it did mean a return visit to Lakewood was in the cards. At the time, I had no idea when I’d get back to check out the South Atlantic League team but, when planning my road trip for this July, decided to wrap up the 10-day trip in Lakewood. (And I kept my fingers crossed that it wouldn’t rain again.)
Lakewood isn’t far from Philadelphia, but I wasn’t planning to stay directly in Lakewood. Because I’d face a long drive home the day after seeing the BlueClaws, I decided to stay in New Brunswick, N.J., as it’s directly on the route between Lakewood and home. As it turns out, my decision to stay in New Brunswick was a good one. I booked a night’s stay at the Hyatt Regency New Brunswick, and it was outstanding. Just a short jaunt off I-95, the hotel was easy to find and when I reached the lobby, I was looking at one of the sharpest-looking lobbies I’ve ever been in. (Take a look at the professional photos on the hotel’s website to see what I mean.)
As nice as the lobby was, I was equally impressed with my room. (And the ride up the glass elevator was cool, too!) First, though, I took a photo of the guests’ lounge on my floor …
… before documenting my room:
As you can see, it’s got a big bed, a couple of sitting chairs, a huge desk and HD TV and, in general, plenty of room. Here’s a look at the room from the other direction:
Other perks? The room had a balcony and the hotel had perhaps the biggest athletic center I’ve ever seen at a hotel — scores of machines and free weights and refrigerated towels to use to help you cool off post-workout. Although I didn’t have a chance to eat at the Hyatt Regency New Brunswick during my stay, the hotel had a great-looking restaurant and lounge. I definitely recommend this hotel if you include a visit to Lakewood’s FirstEnergy Park on your baseball road trip schedule. It’s less than an hour from the ballpark and is in a perfect spot whether you’re heading northeast to New York City or southwest to Philadelphia.
I spent about an hour enjoying my room and exploring the hotel before packing up and making the drive to Lakewood for the last game of this road trip. The drive breezed past and before long, I was standing here:
You’ve got to admit FirstEnergy Park sure looks great from the outside, huh?
Well, it looks pretty darned good from the inside, too. And I got the chance to check out the park good and early, long before the gates opened. The team’s media and PR manager, Greg Giombarrese, had left a media pass for me (thanks, Greg!), which meant just a couple minutes after parking my car, I was looking at this:
A glorious sight, no? And a much better sight than during my last visit. (Although that one was cool in the sense of being able to get into the empty park and wander around.)
Given my love for watching batting practice, I was eager to find a spot with a good view of the field and just hang out and enjoy the scenery on the last game of my road trip. The weather was perfect and with the park empty except for players and staff, I had my pick of the spots. The grass seating berms in the outfield, one of which you can see here …
… seemed like a great place to enjoy BP, so that’s where I headed. Over the next 45 minutes or so, I hung out in several spots — both grass berms, the center field picnic area, along the walkway and even right beneath the video board:
Obviously, home run balls were plunking to the ground (and occasionally hitting the walkway and bouncing like crazy) all around me. As much as it was tempting to add ’em to my collection, I once again stuck to my code: If I’m in the park early because the team has given me a media pass, I won’t take any balls. Instead of just leaving them where they landed, I had a blast picking them up, photographing them …
… and then calling to any of the Hickory Crawdads outfielders and tossing them back. With the exception of my ceremonial first pitch in Auburn on the first day of this trip, I’d never thrown a ball to a professional ballplayer, so it was fun standing on the berm and firing the balls back into rotation to guys like Sam Stafford:
And Cody Kendall, who’s since been promoted to High-A Myrtle Beach:
This was the pattern for the next stretch of time, and the balls were plentiful:
I probably grabbed and tossed back at least a dozen before heading over to the group picnic area in the right field corner, as I figured there were more balls to find here:
Sure enough, there were a handful, including this one:
I grabbed some and chucked them to the closest Hickory player. But before I could throw the last one, he’d already walked out of range. There was a ball sitting on the bullpen rubber just in front of me, so I decided to toss my ball onto the mound so it’d sit next to the one pictured below:
Unfortunately, it took a crazy bounce off something on the mound and rolled away, finally ending up here near the foul line:
As I watched the ball roll away from the mound, I heard a voice behind me: “Did you just toss that ball on the field?”
I turned around and started to explain myself to an usher, who interrupted me: “Thanks for doing that, but you could’ve kept it for yourself.”
Go figure. Anyway, as BP started to wrap up, I went up to the suite level to check out the view. From here, I took this panoramic shot of FirstEnergy Park:
By now, the gates had just opened, so I took the stairs back down toward the concourse, rounded a corner and … screeched to halt. I’d come within inches of colliding with Lakewood pitchers Miguel Nunez and Delvi Francisco, who were on the way from the BlueClaws clubhouse to the autograph table on the concourse:
I followed them toward the autograph table, which sits outside the team shop. During my last visit, I didn’t get to check out the team shop, so I was anxious to see what it was like. Turns out, it’s nice and large and has a huge selection of BlueClaws and Phillies gear:
Since the gates were open, BP balls were fair game, as far as I was concerned. I set out toward the outfield to see if I could track one down to add to my collection. It didn’t take long. Turns out, there were a pile of balls farther back on the grass berm on the far side of the outfield concourse. Within a couple minutes, I had this:
There was still a bit of time to wait before first pitch, so I went up to the press box where I captured this panorama:
After checking out the suite level, which was the only place I didn’t get to see during my last visit, I went back down to field level to wait for the BlueClaws to begin tossing. Within a few minutes, they came out and I sat in the front row along the first base side and took a pile of photos. Here’s second baseman Alejandro Villalobos:
Once I’d watched Lakewood for a bit, I zipped over to the Hickory side, as this was the first time I’d seen the Crawdads on my travels. Here’s Luis Marte, whose pants are begging for the end of the season to come to a quick, merciful end:
And starter Andrew Faulkner, who gave up just one hit over six innings to pick up his third win of the season:
Throwing out the first pitch before this game was none other than Mookie Wilson. You’ll remember him as the “other player” from the infamous Billy Buckner play, of course, but he’s also a longtime resident of Lakewood and got a huge ovation after he threw out the pitch:
I stayed on the third base side for the first inning, before heading up to the concourse to watch Wilson sign a few autographs. The autograph line was insanely long — I’m guessing about 500 people. Wilson’s often remembered as a friendly, easy-going player and, after watching his interactions with fans, I can definitely agree with that statement. Here’s a shot of him signing:
Once the game began, I decided to watch a few innings from behind home plate, and found a spot with this view:
Sitting in this area not only gave me a panoramic-type view of the park, but also allowed me to keep tabs on the speed of each pitch, as the radar gun was just a few feet away:
From here, I had a great view of Lakewood starter Nic Hanson, who was promoted to High-A Clearwater soon after this game:
When I casually glanced over toward the BlueClaws dugout, I did a double take to see longtime Toronto Blue Jays catcher Ernie Whitt, who’s a roving instructor for the Phillies:
Quick side note: When I was a kid, Whitt was one of my favorite players. Around 1988 or 1989, he was scheduled to sign autographs at a mall near Toronto and my mom packed up my younger brother and me, bought a pair of baseballs and headed to the mall in hopes of getting my first-ever autograph. Of course, the line was extremely long and as we slowly snaked toward Whitt, his allotted signing time was quickly running out. Sure enough, the staff cut off the line before we got there — in fact, my brother and I were at the head of the line. We must’ve looked heartbroken, because Whitt caught a glimpse of us and waved us up to get his autograph. Needless to say, I’ve always liked and respected Whitt even more since then and wish I’d noticed him during BP so I could’ve told him this story.
I took a handful of action shots from this area, including Villalobos again:
And this guy, whose name I missed:
By the middle innings, I was hungry. During my pre-game walk, I’d spotted a great-looking taco stand in the concession area in the right field corner, and knew there were a couple tacos with my name on them. I went with the mahi taco — blackened mahi mahi with avocado, lime, cabbage, pineapple and pico de gallo. The verdict? Delicious:
The taco was refreshingly tasty and light, making it a nice footnote to my 10-day baseball road trip. I’d definitely eat it again and suggest that when you visit Lakewood, the taco stand should be on your radar.
Once I’d eaten and enjoyed the view from center field, I went back up to the suite level and captured this sunset over the parking lot, which looks cool:
I was so impressed with the bright glow of the sun that I headed out the front gate to take a look at how the sun was illuminating the front of the park. The result was this shot, which I love:
The shots that made up this panorama proved to be the last baseball pictures of this road trip. After taking them, I went back inside, found a seat and enjoyed the remaining few innings that wrapped up this awesome adventure.
Thanks for checking out all the details from my July road trip. Through your support, my blog ranked eighth among MLBlogs last month! I couldn’t do it without you. Rest assured, I’ve got lots more content coming. I’m still hoping to take a short road trip or two next month and have a ton of other content to share over the coming weeks and months.
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;
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:
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:
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:
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.
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.
After a couple more games in Kentucky, I was headed east again for the penultimate game of my first big road trip of 2013. This time, my stop was in Charleston, WV, to watch the South Atlantic League’s West Virginia Power host the Greensboro Grasshoppers. I saw Greensboro on the road against the Delmarva Shorebirds way back in June of 2011, but I hadn’t previously seen West Virginia at all.
The drive from Lexington to Charleston took about three hours, so I got to my hotel in plenty of time before the evening’s game. I stayed at the Wingate by Wyndham Charleston, and there were plenty of good reasons to choose this hotel. First, it was extremely easy to reach, being just a minute or so off the highway. Second, it was less than 10 minutes from Appalachian Power Park, home of the Power, which made for a convenient drive before and after the game. Third, it ranks first among South Charleston hotels on TripAdvisor with overwhelmingly positive reviews. After reading up on the hotel online, I knew I wanted to stay there.
I’d soon experience the tidiness and spaciousness of the guest rooms, too. After checking in, I made it to my room which looked like this:
And here’s the view from the other side of the bed, looking toward the sitting area:
To the right of the above photo was a large desk, ultra-comfy desk chair, bar fridge and other amenities. And at the foot of the bed, there was a dresser and flat-screen TV, which meant I could do my usual routine of catching up on my blog and Twitter messages while watching ESPN.
The location of the hotel is perfect. Despite its close proximity to the highway, it’s very quiet and you’ve got gas stations and eateries within walking distance. After I’d checked in, I took a very short drive to a supermarket to load up on some snacks and then bought gas at a nearby gas station. On the way back to my room, I stopped and took this photo of the front of the hotel:
For some reason, the sun’s glare made my camera a little moody during this shot. It’s not a great shot, but you can still see how nice the hotel looks from the outside. Anyway, I relaxed for an hour or so and then making the quick drive to Appalachian Power Park.
I parked in the media lot and on my way to pick up my media pass, could see some action on the field through the fence:
It’s hard not to love this general design. Instead of blocking out the community, it’s cool that people can look through and watch the game. If someone really wants to see the game, he/she will likely buy a ticket, but for those who want to just catch an inning or are perhaps on a budget, I think this is a cool idea that more teams should consider.
Anyway, as I walked up the sidewalk outside the park, I also saw this:
Fortunately, I didn’t face any moral dilemma about taking or not taking it once I got inside. By then, it had been retrieved by an usher and tossed back onto the field.
More intrigue about the design of this ballpark: Don’t you think the warehouse look is a neat touch?
Now, I have no idea if the warehouse existed before the park or is just supposed to look old, but I love the concept. After taking the above photo, I began a long lap around the park, which included a trip down this deserted side street:
And a stop at this window where I could see a shopping cart full of baseballs sitting in the indoor batting cages. It’s far from the first time I’ve seen a shopping cart used to hold BP balls in the minor leagues. Off-hand, I remember seeing one when I visited PNC Field in 2011.
As you can see from this next shot of the gate, the area was still pretty quiet:
With the exception of staff members arriving and the odd commuter walking toward the nearby parking garage, there wasn’t any action at all. Action or no action, it was time to get inside! I grabbed my media pass that director of media relations and broadcaster Adam Marco left for me (thanks, Adam!) and walked right in. The thing thing that caught my eye was how cool the hilly backdrop behind the video board looked. I think you’ll agree when you see this photo:
To show the area even more, here it is in panorama format:
I took a walk along the upper deck’s walkway, finally ending up above the gate that I’d photographed earlier:
From there, it was back down to the concourse, where a PlayStation 3 console caught my eye:
It wasn’t the only gaming console in the vicinity, and I was impressed. I can’t immediately recall another Minor League Baseball park with gaming consoles. Despite being impressed by the ability to play video games while watching the game, I was confused by this next scene:
Any ideas? Well, it was the team’s Bark in the Park promotion and soon enough, there’d be a giant bowl of water for dogs to drink beneath this sign. I have to admit that for a moment, though, I was stumped.
As I walked down the third base line toward the outfield, I grabbed this shot of the video board:
It’s pretty standard as far as MiLB video boards go, but check out the yellow seats beneath the board. Appalachian Power Park’s concourse wraps all the way around the field, providing plenty of standing area, but I thought the seats would be an exclusive area to watch the game. And speaking of exclusive areas, the park has no shortage of picnic zones, including this one:
As I walked along the concourse behind the left field fence, I snapped this shot of my media pass …
… and decided that once the game began, I’d spend a few innings in this area in hopes of catching a home run ball.
Remember the yellow seats beneath the video board? I hope so, as you likely read about them less than a minute ago. Either way, here’s a closer view of them:
While I was in right-center, I did a double-take when I stopped to think about the park’s press box. In virtually all MiLB parks, the press box and suites are joined at the hip. Here, though, the press box stands on its own right behind home plate …
… whereas the suites are on the second level down the first base side:
The gates hadn’t opened just yet, but the Power staff were busy preparing for the deluge of dogs that would soon hit the park. And given how hot it was, I thought this cooling station was a great idea:
By the time the gates opened, I was down at field level on the first base side and the wife or girlfriend of Power outfielder Walker Gourley came to say hello with her dog in tow:
After I snapped the above photo, the dog took notice of me enough that this next photo turned out sort of funny:
But that dog was far from the only pooch in the park. There were scores of them and there may have been one or two million barks over the next few hours. Dodging the consistent packs of dogs, I next hit the right field corner to watch West Virginia starter Tyler Glasnow get his warm-up tosses in:
The lanky Glasnow (6’7″, 195 lbs.) has had a great year, but struggled during my visit. He went just 3.2 innings and while he allowed only two hits, he walked seven batters and gave up seven runs.
Just before the anthem, I made it out to the left field spot I’d spotted earlier and hung out with this view:
In the bottom of the second, with a runner on second, Greensboro catcher Tony Caldwell connected on a ball that sailed deep to left-center, I was close to the foul pole and although I turned and ran toward where I expected the ball to land, it skipped once off the concourse before I could reach it and bounced through this fence into the parking lot on the other side of the road:
I temporarily thought about making a run for it, but a pedestrian walking along the sidewalk quickly changed direction and started walking toward the ball. I watched as he bent to grab it, but was surprised when he waved the ball at me.
“Here,” he said, getting ready to toss the home run ball over the fence to me.
“That’s OK,” I said. “You got it, not me.”
He shook his head and flipped the ball to me, adding, “I figure you was standing there trying to get a home run.”
Well, I can’t complain about that good fortune! I quickly checked the stats to see if the home run ball was notable for Caldwell, but it wasn’t. It was only his fourth in three years, but wasn’t his first at this level. I happily photographed the ball:
And then went behind home plate to watch an inning with this view:
From here, I was able to get a good look at Caldwell, too:
Caldwell’s home run got the Grasshoppers on the board, but it was hardly the only offense the team mustered. It scored 12 runs on 10 hits to cruise to an easy 12-3 win.
I spent the game’s late innings sitting on the first base side where I had a great view of Power first baseman Stetson Allie. Earlier in this road trip, I’d marveled at the size of Frank Thomas while standing next to him, and while few humans can draw similar comparisons, Allie is a BIG boy at 6’2″ and (listed at) 238 lbs. — at just 22 years old:
One more game to go on this road trip, and I can promise you it’s a special one!
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!
I’ve said before that there’s nothing like the first ballpark visit of the season, and while that’s true, I’m always extra pumped for my first extended road trip of the year. Already in 2013, I’ve been able to hit four games — a doubleheader at Syracuse’s NBT Bank Stadium and a pair of Blue Jays games at Rogers Centre. If you click this link, you can see a list of everywhere I’ve been and also bring up my blog entry about each visit. Those trips were the appetizer to the main course that is my May road trip, which begins on Friday.
I’ve taken road trips in May for the last couple years. In 2011, I visited nine parks in 11 days and in 2012, I went on a grueling seven-park, four-day trip. The schedule I’ve come up with for this year will be my longest road trip to date but one that is sure to be awesome.
Here it is:
Friday, May 17: Durham Bulls at Rochester Red Wings
Rochester’s Frontier Field is the first ballpark I visited after starting The Ballpark Guide in 2010, and while the park has sentimental value to me, it’s also one of my favorite places to watch a game. Geographically, it’s a logical starting point for this trip, and I can’t resist stopping there again.
Saturday, May 18: Pepsi Max Field of Dreams game in Rochester
As you’ll see, I’ll end up spending a couple days in Rochester and will be lucky to attend the Pepsi Max Field of Dreams game. This will be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see a number of MLB legends up close. Some of the game’s all-time greats, including Johnny Bench, Wade Boggs, Rickey Henderson, Trevor Hoffman, Reggie Jackson, Pedro Martinez, Mike Schmidt and Ozzie Smith will be playing. As excited as I am to see those guys, I’m most excited to see Fred McGriff, who was my first favorite ballplayer back when he played for Toronto in the ’80s.
Sunday, May 19: Seattle Mariners at Cleveland Indians
I’ve been to Cleveland’s Progressive Field three times since 2010, and consider it one of my favorite places to visit. But, as you’ll see later in this post, this won’t be my only chance to see the Indians at home.
Monday, May 20: Bowie Baysox at Akron Aeros
I’ve seen Bowie play at home and Akron play on the road, but haven’t yet visited Akron’s Canal Park. I don’t know much about the home of the Aeros, but do know about one notable concession item. The Three Dog Night is a hot dog stuffed in a bratwurst stuffed in a kielbasa, all loaded on a bun with sauerkraut and mustard. I guess I know what I’ll be having for dinner.
Tuesday, May 21: SWB RailRiders at Columbus Clippers
My visit to Columbus’ Huntington Park will be for a 10:35 a.m. game, which means May 21 will be an early morning. More importantly, Columbus will be the eighth International League team I’ll have seen play at home.
Wednesday, May 22: West Michigan Whitecaps at Dayton Dragons
It’s been a couple years since I ventured into Midwest League territory; back in 2011, I got to five Midwest League parks. I’m sure that Craig Wieczorkiewicz, the Midwest League Traveler, will have some tips for me about Dayton’s Fifth Third Field. (Coincidentally, I’ve also been to Toledo’s Fifth Third Field and West Michigan’s Fifth Third Ballpark.)
Thursday, May 23: Pawtucket Red Sox at Louisville Bats
Louisville promises to be an exciting stop on my road trip. In addition to seeing the Bats play at Louisville Slugger Field, I also plan to visit the Louisville Slugger Museum and, as a huge boxing fan, the Muhammad Ali Center.
Friday, May 24: Chicago Cubs at Cincinnati Reds
Cincinnati’s Great American Ball Park looks like an awesome place to watch a game, and I’m looking forward to catching the Cubs in town for a pair. As an added bonus, this game will have my first fireworks show of the 2013 season and pre- and post-game hitting by the Long Haul Bombers. (Look ’em up.)
Saturday, May 25: Chicago Cubs at Cincinnati Reds
Whenever I’m visiting a new MLB park, I like to catch two games, if possible. I’ll spend my second Reds game checking out whatever I missed the day earlier, and I’m excited to get an MLB Network backpack, which is the giveaway of the day.
Sunday, May 26: Fort Wayne TinCaps at Bowling Green Hot Rods
Visiting Fort Wayne’s Parkview Field is one of the best ballpark experiences I’ve had so far, but this time, I’ll be seeing the TinCaps on the road in another Midwest League showdown. The Hot Rods are managed by Jared Sandberg, who playfully heckled my photo-taking exploits last summer. The team also includes big-time prospect Taylor Guerrieri, who I saw pitch last year at Fenway Park.
Monday, May 27: Kannapolis Intimidators at Lexington Legends
The Legends were a focal point of Katya Cengel’s book Bluegrass Baseball, which I read over the winter. Her chapters on the South Atlantic League franchise painted a picture of the club and the ballpark, and I’m excited to check both out in person. Lexington will be the fourth SAL city I’ve visited since 2011.
Tuesday, May 28: Greensboro Grasshoppers at West Virginia Power
And speaking of the South Atlantic League, I’ll visit Charleston, WV, to watch the Power host Greensboro on the penultimate day of my road trip. I’ve seen Greensboro once before (back in June of 2011 in a very memorable game) but have never seen the Power. I like the look of the team’s concession menu and the park looks great, too.
Wednesday, May 29: Cincinnati Reds at Cleveland Indians
Why am I making a second stop in Cleveland on this trip? Two words: Social Suite. The Indians have invited me to watch their May 29 game from the Social Suite, which is a Wi-Fi-equipped suite in which a handful of baseball fans and social networking types use social media to share their experiences. I’m absolutely pumped (and honored) to be checking out Progressive Field from this vantage point and will have more details as they become available. It should be a real highlight and I’m considering live blogging the day to share the entire adventure with you. Anyone else watched a game from the Social Suite? I’d love to hear your recollections.
So, a pretty good-looking two weeks, huh? And when the sun sets on my road trip …
… I’ll have seen 13 games in 10 parks in 13 days. This means that by the end of the road trip, I’ll have seen 75 games at 49 parks since starting The Ballpark Guide in 2010. Wow!
I’ll be tweeting through the trip and blogging as close to daily as I can manage. I’ll be staying in some neat hotels and checking out some cool tourist attractions, too. To keep on top of my travels, please follow me on Twitter. And if you enjoy following my adventures or have used The Ballpark Guide to improve your baseball road trip experiences, please consider making a small donation to support my trips. Otherwise, I really appreciate your hits on my website and blog.
Four more sleeps ….
Getting to Salisbury, MD from Hagerstown took three hours and provided plenty of picturesque scenery, including a drive over the enormous Bay Bridge at Annapolis. Because I’d spent time blogging on the morning of June 28, I didn’t leave until nearly noon so I arrived about 3 p.m. for the 7 p.m. game.
Though based in Salisbury, the Shorebirds are known as “Delmarva,” which stands for Delaware, Maryland, Virginia. They play in the Single-A South Atlantic League, as did the team I watched a day earlier, the Hagerstown Suns. To read about that game, and my pursuit of getting Bryce Harper’s autograph, click here.
I checked out Delmarva’s Arthur W. Perdue Stadium on Google Maps, and it looked as though there was lots of open space beyond the outfield fence. So, as usual, I decided to go about an hour before the gates opened and see if I could get a ball during batting practice.
Here’s what the area looks like:
And here’s what I found about a minute after getting there:
It was like shooting fish in a barrel. Within a minute or two, I had three balls …
… and kept finding them about as fast as possible. In 10 minutes, I had 10 total, despite not actually witnessing a single one come over the fence. To make a long story short, I finished with an even 12, which is the most I’ve ever got in one game. With the gates about to open, I hurried around to the front of the stadium and took a peek at the players’ lot:
(I could do an entire post on the rims of Minor League Baseball players). Then, photographed the front of the stadium …
… and got my ticket:
There weren’t a ton of fans waiting to get in, so the concourse was very open at 6 p.m.:
The Shorebirds have an impressive alumni list, and their banners are displayed throughout the concourse. Here’s the pre-caveman look Jayson Werth:
This is a look from the third base side …
and here’s one from the right field corner:
I spent a bit of time in the air conditioned team shop, as I was dying from the heat after being in the full sun during BP:
Then, went to watch some players sign autographs around the Shorebirds third base-side dugout:
Arthur W. Perdue has a giant, multi-level picnic deck for groups along the first base line:
There wasn’t any group in this section the entire game, so it remained closed. Often, these groups areas are great places to sit and watch, but are routinely empty or nearly empty. I think it’d be neat if the team opened them to all the fans in the event there isn’t a group. When there’s a group that’s bought space here, by all means, block it off from the rest of the fans. But it wouldn’t hurt anyone to allow the average person to enjoy the game here, too.
Around this time, I met a longtime season ticket holder who was friendly enough to give me some tips about the stadium. We talked about baseball for a while, and I went to visit the Maryland Eastern Shore Baseball Hall of Fame, which is inside the stadium. I didn’t end up staying long, but if you ever take in a Shorebirds game, give yourself plenty of time to check out the museum. It’s amazing. It focuses on ball players from the area, and there’s a ton of historic memorabilia:
Upon the season ticket holder’s advice I went up to the club level, which has a good concession stand and a place to watch the game:
This is my view from up here:
I checked out the first few innings of action, capturing this shot of Mike Flacco. He’s Delmarva’s cleanup hitter and the brother of Baltimore Ravens QB Joe:
I then went back down to the main concourse where I got a chicken tender basket, which was a big mistake. I should’ve tried the “better” food up top, but that’ll be on the list for next visit. The chicken was all right, I suppose, but pretty dry and there was no sauce that I could find:
I spent a little time down the third base line with this view:
In the ninth inning, I decided to duck out to see if there was a chance of finding the home run ball hit by Jeremy Nowak in the second inning. It was highly unlikely, but I thought I’d take five minutes to walk around behind the left field fence and see for myself. Here’s what I saw:
Yep, there it was! I picked it up and had the first-ever home run ball in my collection:
All in all, a very good day: A great drive to this area, which is close to the ocean, 13 balls, and a nice stadium to tour.
When I got back to my hotel, I was regretting not checking to see if the home run was significant for Nowak. So, I took a look at the box score and saw that it was his first career HR at the SAL level. He began the season in the New York-Penn League, where he had two, but was called up to Delmarva and the home run came in just his fourth game. Had I known this while still at the ballpark, I would’ve got in touch with the team and asked if he wanted the ball back. I missed out on an opportunity, but sent the team a message on Twitter afterward, so hopefully, I’ll hear back.
As much as I’m excited to have my first career HR ball, if getting the ball back would mean something to Nowak, I’d be happy to do it.
Harpermania, otherwise known as my visit to see the Hagerstown Suns, began about 2 p.m. on June 27. I’d been in my hotel all morning and was getting a little stir-crazy. So, I decided to go out and grab some lunch, then check out Municipal Stadium, home of the Suns. I didn’t expect to see much going on five hours before first pitch, but I wondered if I’d be able to find a ball beyond the outfield fence.
So far, I’ve managed 12 balls in four games, and wanted that streak to continue. More importantly, however, this would be my first game in the South Atlantic League, and I really wanted a SAL ball to add to my collection of balls from different leagues as I continue to hit different leagues through my travels for The Ballpark Guide.
Getting a ball in this manner, however, would prove impossible. Beyond the outfield fence at Municipal Stadium stands a giant fence that would be tough to clear. Now, I’m sure Harper can do it in BP, but it wouldn’t be an easy task. Here’s the fence:
So, no balls. I took another brief look around and headed back to my hotel to wait for a couple more hours.
About 5 p.m., I returned to the ballpark and went back behind the fence, where I noticed this:
It was an old, scuffed ball with part of its leather missing. I didn’t bother picking it up, nor did I find any other balls back here.
Here’s another shot of the fence that shows just how high it is:
There’s a road just beyond the fence, which is likely the reason for a fence so tall. I found a gate in right field that was open enough to watch batting practice from afar:
There was a ball laying near the fence post, and while I really wanted one, it was a little risky to walk in and get it. After a few minutes of watching with about 10 other fans, a stadium guy who took his job way too seriously came and closed the gate on us, saying, “Show’s over.” I watched for a few minutes longer through the fence (strictly out of principle), then turned to the coolest attraction in the area:
Want to guess who it belongs to? Yep, it’s Harper’s truck. I saw this truck parked discretely (as if the thing could ever be discrete) behind the grounds crew’s hut. The other players all parked in the lot in front of the stadium, but Harper gets hounded so much that he obviously parks back here.
I should note that once I saw this truck (and confirmed it was Harper’s due to its Nevada plates), I was unsure about posting these photos. I didn’t want to infringe on his privacy and show everyone what he’s driving. I Googled “Bryce Harper truck” and there are news stories, blogs, YouTube clips and all sorts of stuff online, including photos, about his truck. So, it’s not as though I’m breaking new ground here.
All that said, look at this bad boy:
By the way, it’s a 2011 Toyota Tundra completely customized.
Eventually, I returned back to the front of the stadium and took a parking lot panorama …
… then bought my ticket:
There were still about 30 minutes to go before the gates opened, so I lined up and waited. Season ticket holders get in 15 minutes before the rest of the crowd, and you should’ve seen the hubbub it caused. I mean, it’s like this in most stadiums, but people are so bitter. There was a solid 15 minutes’ worth of grumbling, complaining and questioning from the time the gates opened for the season ticket holders. Old lady behind me kept asking rhetorical questions, including, “Why can’t they just let everyone in early?”
I turned around: “It’s a matter of insurance. If you go in before you’re allowed, and hurt yourself, the team might not be insured because fans weren’t supposed to be there.” It’s the same reason you can’t go into the bank five minutes early. Rules are rules.
Anyway, bitter, annoying people aside, the gates did indeed open when they were supposed to, and I went in. Normally, I take a quick tour to get my bearings, but this time, I wanted to get straight to the Suns clubhouse area to try to get Harper to sign something. Not that this idea was original — everyone else went for it, too.
I was in a good position, or so I thought, to get an autograph. Over the next 30 minutes, players from both sides (the Suns were playing the Lakewood Blueclaws, the Phillies’ affiliate) came out and signed some autographs. No Harper. People were getting agitated. Here’s where I was standing:
The players come out of the clubhouses on the right and make their way past you to the dugouts.
As much as people wanted Harper, there was an equal enthusiasm for the Suns’ starter, who was Hagerstown on a rehab start. Who was it? None other than former Yankee Chien-Ming Wang. This was his first appearance in the Washington Nationals organization since joining the franchise, and people were ecstatic. There was a sizable Taiwanese media contingent and a ton of fans who’d flown from Taiwan. I asked a couple how long it took, and they said 24 hours. Being a rehab start, Wang was scheduled to pitch just three innings — talk about dedicated fans!
Soon, Wang came out to stretch …
… and his fan club took photos while being photographed by Taiwanese media:
By about 6:40 p.m., almost all of the players were out on the field, and stretched up:
Wang started to toss under the watchful eye of the media:
And still, no Harper.
Here’s what I hate about autograph collectors: They make life a living hell for guys like Harper. Yes, the kid is a public figure, and yes, he has an obligation to his fans. But you know a huge percentage of the autographs he signs are going on eBay within 24 hours, and he knows it, too. “But he’s a millionaire,” people say, “Why should he care?” Would you want someone profiting off your name without being compensated for it?
The longer Harper didn’t appear, the more angry people became. A minute earlier, they would’ve hand-cleaned his jockstrap for a signature, calling him “Mr. Harper” and “sir” while they did it. Now, it was, “Who does he think he is, staying in the clubhouse?” He’s staying there to keep the heck away from you vultures!
(And before you lump me in with these people, hear me out: I don’t sell autographs and I am polite. I say please and thank you, and if a guy doesn’t sign for me, I don’t start hating him. Sure, I’d love a Harper autograph, but if he doesn’t sign, my world’s not going to end.)
One final rant about this: People have elaborate schemes to get him to sign. Many use their kids. I heard one guy telling his five year old how he’d buy the kid the “biggest ice cream ever” if the kid could get Harper to sign. Others drop items at the player’s feet so he’ll pick them up. Others justify their actions, saying, “He asked for this life.” Freaking brutal, people.
I guess, all this to say I feel bad for Harper and those like him. He’s a prodigious talent and has been in an intense spotlight since he was a kid. Wouldn’t you think that in his first year of pro ball, he’d rather be out stretching and playing catch with his teammates? Instead, he’s hiding in the clubhouse until the last possible second. Sad.
At 7 p.m., Harper emerged and the crowd went bananas. Here’s my first look at him:
He walked right by me …
… and signed for a handful of people down the line. I scrambled to get near him, but wasn’t able to get close enough. I did get close enough, however, for a nice picture:
After signing maybe 25-30 autographs, he went into the dugout and the crowd dispersed. I took this opportunity to go check out Municipal Stadium’s team shop.
There were overpriced Harper T-shirts and jerseys. T-shirts cost $27, which seems a little much for a Single-A shirt, and jerseys were $200! (I didn’t see one single person in the crowd wearing a jersey.)
When the game begun, I walked around to a picnic area down the third base line and looked back at the Suns dugout to see Harper:
Here’s a panorama from the area:
So far, I hadn’t done well with my two goals for the game: Get an SAL ball and get Harper’s signature. I decided to see what I could do about goal #1 by taking a quick look around the picnic deck, which had lots of places a ball could be trapped. About five seconds after starting to look, here’s what I saw:
It’s an Official South Atlantic League ball, and the first such ball in my collection:
So far, my collection includes balls from the Major Leagues, Eastern League, Midwest League, International League, New York-Penn League and now the South Atlantic League. I couldn’t be more excited!
I sat in a few different areas throughout the game, and despite Municipal Stadium being one of the oldest ballparks I’ve attended in a while, it was neat. There are some drawbacks, but lots of perks, too. The menu looked impressive, with a wide range of items. I decided to skip a meal, however, as the thought of another consecutive day of ballpark food wasn’t really appealing.
Here’s a panorama I took from behind home plate:
Wang’s Taiwan contingent remained faithful throughout the game …
… and even gathered in the parking lot late in the game in the hopes of meeting him.
After the game wrapped up, I waited with other fans along the first base-side fence, hoping that Harper would sign more autographs. Somehow, he pulled a total disappearing act; none of us saw him walk by, but pretty soon, the field and dugout were completely empty. Obviously, there’s no tunnel connecting the dugout and clubhouse, so he either left way early (and none of us noticed) or he hunkered down in the dugout, out of sight, until everyone left.
Anyway, when it was clear he wasn’t going to walk by, I went out into the parking lot and milled around the entrance to the stadium, where the Taiwanese fans were hoping to see Wang. I waited maybe 10 minutes, and a staff member walked by and told he Wang wouldn’t come out through this door.
I figured I’d just head back to my hotel for the night, but then had a better idea.
Then I had the thought of going back to the rear parking lot to see if Harper would sign. I decided that if there were others there, I’d wait with them. If no one was there, I’d let Harper be. There was just one guy standing around with his daughter, so I waited to see what would happen. Maybe 20 minutes later, or about 40 minutes after the game ended, the rear door opened and a clubhouse attendant stuck his head out. “Sorry, guys, he’s not signing tonight,” he told us. Harper emerged a second later and it was cool to see him so close.
He went straight to his truck and met with a couple buddies for a minute. Then, one of the guys said, “I’ll let you sign for these guys and then they can go on their way,” and Harper nodded.
He signed a pair of autographs for the first guy, then I asked if he would mind signing a ball for me. He nodded again. I didn’t want to look like a professional autograph seeker, so I asked if he’d make the ball out to me. I spelled my name for him and told him I’d come all the way from Canada.
“Cool. Thanks for coming,” he said, and handed my newly signed ball back to me.
He was really polite — quiet, but polite. People rag on him for having a supposed attitude. I read an interview with his dad, who said he taught all his kids to “be like John Wayne on the baseball field,” and that’s what Harper is. Call it what you want; he’s immensely talented and confident in his skills. Don’t forget he’s only 18, too. That’s what people forget when they criticize people younger than them.
Getting his autograph made my day, and is the highlight of my trip thus far. I liked what I read about this kid when I first read that Sports Illustrated cover article two years ago, and now I’m an even bigger fan.
Thanks, Bryce, for taking the time to sign and best of luck in your career. Don’t let the idiots who complain about you get you down.
Oh, and here’s the ball: