Tagged: South Atlantic League

A Game-Used Bat and a Jersey Mystery

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:

o'conner-bat-full

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:

o'conner-bat-knob

Lots of signs of use on the handle:

o'conner-bat-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:

o'conner-bat-wear

And some little chips, which are caused by when you tap the bat’s barrel against your cleats to them off:

o'conner-bat-cleat-marks

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:

legends-jersey-front

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:

legends-jersey-number

The back of the entire jersey:

legends-jersey-back

And a close-up of the Legends logo, which has a sharp design:

legends-jersey-logo

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.

zach-johnson-lexington-legends

And here’s one that shows the front of the jersey:

zach-johnson-lexington-legends2

The Baseball Cube says DeShields wore #4 in 2012, and I’ve found proof of that with this picture:

delino-deshields-jr-lexington-legends2

And here’s the front of his jersey:

delino-deshields-jr-lexington-legends

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:

deshields-tweet

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:

lexington-tweet

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!

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Lakewood BlueClaws – July 15

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 …

hyatt-regency-new-brunswick-floor-lounge-area

… before documenting my room:

hyatt-regency-new-brunswick-room1

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:

hyatt-regency-new-brunswick-room

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:

firstenergy-park-lakewood-outside-panorama

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:

firstenergy-park-lakewood-hickory-bp

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 …

firstenergy-park-lakewood-video-board

… 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:

firstenergy-park-lakewood-under-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 …

firstenergy-park-lakewood-bp-ball

… 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:

sam-stafford-hickory-crawdads

And Cody Kendall, who’s since been promoted to High-A Myrtle Beach:

cody-kendall-hickory-crawdads

This was the pattern for the next stretch of time, and the balls were plentiful:

firstenergy-park-lakewood-bp-ball-2

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:

firstenergy-park-lakewood-picnic-area-rf

Sure enough, there were a handful, including this one:

firstenergy-park-lakewood-picnic-area-ball

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:

firstenergy-park-lakewood-bullpen-mound-ball

Unfortunately, it took a crazy bounce of something on the mound and rolled away, finally ending up here near the foul line:

firstenergy-park-lakewood-bullpen-mound-balls

Oops.

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:

firstenergy-park-lakewood-suite-level-panorama

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:

firstenergy-park-lakewood-players-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:

firstenergy-park-lakewood-team-shop

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:

firstenergy-park-lakewood-kept-ball-1

And this:

firstenergy-park-lakewood-kept-2

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:

firstenergy-park-lakewood-press-box-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:

alejandro-villalobos-lakewood-blueclaws-1

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:

luis-marte-hickory-crawdads

And starter Andrew Faulkner, who gave up just one hit over six innings to pick up his third win of the season:

andrew-faulkner-hickory-crawdads

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:

mookie-wilson-lakewood-first-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:

firstenergy-park-lakewood-mookie-wilson-signing

Once the game began, I decided to watch a few innings from behind home plate, and found a spot with this view:

firstenergy-park-lakewood-behind-home-plate

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:

firstenergy-park-lakewood-radar-gun

From here, I had a great view of Lakewood starter Nic Hanson, who was promoted to High-A Clearwater soon after this game:

nic-hanson-lakewood-blueclaws

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:

ernie-whitt-phillies-lakewood

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:

alejandro-villalobos-lakewood-blueclaws-2

And this guy, whose name I missed:

firstenergy-park-lakewood-blueclaws-player

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:

firstenergy-park-lakewood-food-fish-tacos

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:

firstenergy-park-lakewood-sunset

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:

firstenergy-park-lakewood-sunset-outside-panorama

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.

Milestone Trip Coming Up!

It’s road trip time again!

On this trip, I’ll be …

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

– Visiting my 50th different ballpark since 2010;

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

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

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

Here’s the schedule:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

falcon-park-malcolm

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

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

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

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

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

harrisburg-senators-hat

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

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

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

coca-cola-park-outfield-panorama

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

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

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

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

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

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

West Virginia Power – May 28

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:

wingate-by-wyndham-charleston-wv-room-1

And here’s the view from the other side of the bed, looking toward the sitting area:

wingate-by-wyndham-charleston-wv-room-2

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:

wingate-by-wyndham-charleston-wv-outside

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:

appalachian-power-park-bp-street-view

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:

appalachian-power-park-bp-ball

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?

appalachian-power-park-warehouse

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:

appalachian-power-park-empty-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.

appalachian-power-park-batting-cage-balls

As you can see from this next shot of the gate, the area was still pretty quiet:

appalachian-power-park-gate

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:

appalachian-power-park-hill-background

To show the area even more, here it is in panorama format:

appalachian-power-park-panorama-first-base-side

I took a walk along the upper deck’s walkway, finally ending up above the gate that I’d photographed earlier:

appalachian-power-park-gate-from-above

From there, it was back down to the concourse, where a PlayStation 3 console caught my eye:

appalachian-power-park-playstation-2

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:

appalachian-power-park-watering-station

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:

appalachian-power-park-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:

appalachian-power-park-picnic-tables

As I walked along the concourse behind the left field fence, I snapped this shot of my media pass …

appalachian-power-park-malcolm-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:

appalachian-power-park-outfield-center-field-seats

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 …

appalachian-power-park-pressbox

… whereas the suites are on the second level down the first base side:

appalachian-power-park-suites-and-seats

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:

appalachian-power-park-pet-cooling-station

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:

appalachian-power-park-bark-in-the-park-1

After I snapped the above photo, the dog took notice of me enough that this next photo turned out sort of funny:

appalachian-power-park-bark-in-the-park-2

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:

tyler-glasnow-west-virginia-power

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:

appalachian-power-park-panorama-left-field

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:

appalachian-power-park-fence-street

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:

tony-caldwell-greensboro-grasshoppers-home-run-ball

And then went behind home plate to watch an inning with this view:

appalachian-power-park-panorama-home-plate

From here, I was able to get a good look at Caldwell, too:

tony-caldwell-greensboro-grasshoppers

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:

stetson-allie-west-virginia-power

One more game to go on this road trip, and I can promise you it’s a special one!

Lexington Legends – May 27

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 …

whitaker-bank-ballpark-from-parking-lot

… and then took a lap around the back of the park, taking shots like this one:

whitaker-bank-ballpark-behind-park

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:

whitaker-bank-ballpark-panorama-front

Next, I photographed this enormous baseball and wondered if the scrawled names are supposed to be there:

whitaker-bank-ballpark-huge-baseball

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:

whitaker-bank-ballpark-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:

whitaker-bank-ballpark-panorama-first-base-side

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:

whitaker-bank-ballpark-kids-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:

whitaker-bank-ballpark-panorama-outfield

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:

whitaker-bank-ballpark-lexington-legends-throwback-astros-jersey

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.:

whitaker-bank-ballpark-signed-plate-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:

whitaker-bank-ballpark-lexington-players-with-fans

Kannapolis pitching coach Jose Bautista was chatting and signing for a couple young fans:

jose-bautista-kannapolis-intimidators

And Intimidators pitcher Zach Isler was meeting fans, too:

zach-isler-kannapolis-intimidators

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:

whitaker-bank-ballpark-water-mist-refreshment

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:

whitaker-bank-ballpark-pepsi-picnic-area

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:

whitaker-bank-ballpark-cleaning-cleats

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:

bubba-starling-lexington-legends-throwing

While I was here, I got another picture of Chapman …

ethan-chapman-lexington-legends

… 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:

raul-mondesi-jr-lexington-legends

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:

whitaker-bank-ballpark-lexington-legends-bat-boy

From my seat, I had a great view of Intimidators starter Brandon Brennan:

brandon-brennan-kannapolis-intimidators

And Mondesi, Jr., who showed bunt in the first inning and then drove the ball to right field for a triple:

raul-mondesi-jr-lexington-legends-bunting

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:

bubba-starling-lexington-legends-batting

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:

whitaker-bank-ballpark-panorama-third-base-side

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:

whitaker-bank-ballpark-food-burnt-chicken-wings

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!

Thirteen Days, 13 Games and 10 Parks

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 …

progressive-field-sunset

… 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 ….

Delmarva Shorebirds – June 28

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.