I’m a huge fan of taking in the entire ballpark experience every time I watch a game. For me, this typically means trying to snag a foul ball, getting a handful of autographs and eating some unique food. It also includes grabbing a game program and checking out what it has to offer. My stipulation, however, is that I rarely get programs if you have to pay for them. I’m not big on paying for something I’ll likely only flip through once, and if I buy one, I’m less likely to want to throw it out later.
I don’t have programs from every ballpark I’ve visited, but I have a handful that range from amazing to bland. Here’s a look at them.
For a Short-Season A franchise, Aberdeen’s “First Pitch” program has a lot to offer. For one, it’s printed specifically for the game you’re attending. (Most teams print programs per series, week or homestand.) It’s got a clean, attractive cover and a preview of the night’s game. Because the program is printed for each game, all the standings and stats are up to date, which is a huge bonus for a stats guy like me. A couple standout features in this edition of “First Pitch” were a list of IronBirds with Twitter accounts and a well-illustrated diagram of pitcher Aaron Wirsch’s four pitches, along with commentary from the pitcher himself.
Baltimore’s AA franchise in Bowie provides a program called “Baywatch” for each home series. This one had a decent fan guide to Prince George’s Stadium, a list of former Baysox who’ve made the Major Leagues and a discussion between the team’s infielders on turning a double play.
The Indians’ “Batter Up!” is given out free and printed for each series. Of course, you can also buy a more in-depth game program, but this one’s worth picking up. It’s got a good concession directory, a fan guide to Progressive Field and a couple interesting articles. I was also impressed with the full-page ad for Cleveland’s Midwest League affiliate, the Lake County Captains, who play just 15 minutes outside of C-Town.
A South Atlantic League franchise, the Shorebirds program “Play Ball” is one of the shortest I’ve seen. Still, it contains a couple interesting stories on Shorebirds players, a decent look at the team’s opponents and a nice, comprehensive breakdown of each team in the Baltimore Orioles system.
Fort Wayne TinCaps
Fort Wayne’s “Gameday” program is printed each homestand, which is pretty much the norm in the Minor Leagues. This one had pink as a dominant color, given the theme of the team’s homestand, Turn the Park Pink for breast cancer awareness. This program featured a thorough, five-page guide to Parkview Field’s food and interesting features such as a tutorial on how to score a game, a map showing the location of each Midwest League franchise and a couple articles about the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
New Hampshire offers an amazing fan experience, but there wasn’t anything to write home about in the “Inside Pitch” free program. The schedules, stats, rosters and promotional schedules were all handy, but they’re all things you’d expect to find here. The worst part was the ads, even though I know they’re necessary. Early in the program, 22 out of 23 straight pages were full ads. Ugh.
The P-Nats, as they’re often called, provide a standard gameday program for free. It’s got all the things you’d expect, but a few interesting pages are the breakdown of the Washington Nationals’ farm system and a look at the Carolina League franchises. Additionally, this program isn’t overly laden with ads.
Rochester Red Wings
After spending two sentences explaining how I don’t buy programs, I’ll quickly recant that statement to say I spent $1 on Rochester’s yearbook during my first ballpark trip in 2010. Simply put, it’s one of the best programs I’ve ever seen, and for $1, it’s a real bargain. This baby is more than 100 pages long and contains a ton of interesting information — not just ads and more ads. The highlights of this edition were a look at the Red Wings’ uniforms throughout the years, an article about Stan Musial’s time as a Red Wing, in-depth player profiles, a pretty good guide to Frontier Field and an ultra-thorough map of the where to find every food item sold at the ballpark. (In case you’re wondering, the cover is damaged because I spilled water on it. Oops.)
The big perk to the S/W-B Yankees’ “Play Ball!” program is like the IronBirds, it’s printed for the game you’re attending. Although it’s relatively short in length, “Play Ball!” has an interesting game preview, a “This Date in Yankees History” page and an interesting section about the players to watch from the visiting team.
Toledo Mud Hens
It’s a toss-up whether Toledo or Rochester has the best program I’ve seen so far on my travels. “The Muddy Times” is amazing, and might get the nod over Rochester because it’s free. This book is giant, measuring 9.5 by 12 inches and numbering 112 pages. The pages are newsprint, but they’re thick and in full color. I love the cover shot, as well as the in-depth player and coach profiles, the 2010 season review, some good player Q&As and an awesome two-page spread on the Detroit Tigers’ top 10 prospects, written by Baseball America. This is the type of program you’d spend $5 on and still feel as though you got your value.
Like Cleveland, the Nats hand out a free game program to complement their paid program. “Inside Pitch” (which is the same title as New Hampshire’s program) is printed on thick paper, which is a definite upgrade over the newsprint in some programs. This one has an extensive Nationals Park fan guide, a guide on how to score a game and even two removable player cards (Jason Marquis and Michael Morse).
The morning after the rainout between the Detroit Tigers and Tampa Bay Rays, I loaded my car and set my GPS for Toledo, OH. If you’re ever watching a Tigers game in Detroit, and have time to spare, I recommend checking out the Mud Hens. Toledo is less than an hour’s drive from D-Town, and their stadium, Fifth Third Field, is a nice place to watch a game.
After about 55 minutes of listening to sports talk radio hosts and callers complain about LeBron (I was in Ohio, after all), I arrived in downtown Toledo and easily found parking a block from the stadium for $5.
The game was slated to begin at 10:30 a.m., which is definitely the earliest game I’ve ever attended. Minor League teams have the occasional matinée on their schedules to accommodate school groups. For the record, I am not a big fan of going to school day games (read: shrieking kids, long lineups and more shrieking kids) but today’s game time was perfect. After the game, I’d have time to drive straight to Fort Wayne, IN, which was more than four hours away.
Anyway, there were already tons of school groups milling around in front of Fifth Third Field when I got there, but there were no lines at the box office as I bought my ticket:
When the gates opened at 9:30 a.m., I took a brief look at the team store before it got too crowded:
And took a walk down the concourse:
Here’s a look at Fifth Third Field from right field before it got too crowded:
This ballpark has several neat features, including a bar in the right field corner:
Cupholders along the outfield fence:
An ample-sized kids’ play area:
And a party deck area in right field:
Pretty soon, the Mud Hens came out to stretch and sign autographs. I didn’t even try to get close to the fence, as I would’ve had to trample a bunch of 6th graders:
The food at Fifth Third Field was pretty standard (more on that later) but one concession stand that did catch my eye was one offering baked goods:
There was a Snickers pie, chocolate tuxedo mousse, brownies, cookies, squares, tarts and all sorts of good stuff. Of course, diving into this at 9:45 a.m. wouldn’t result in anything positive, so I abstained.
The kids, however, were immediately into the soft drinks and cotton candy upon their entrance to the stadium. I definitely felt bad for the teachers and chaperons.
I fought my way behind home plate to take a panorama before it got too crowded:
And when the game was just beginning, I lined up forever to get a steak sandwich, fries and coleslaw. (For the record, this was the earliest I’ve ever eaten this meal.)
The sandwich itself is buried in this photo, but it tasted good.
I spent a handful of innings sitting on a picnic table in center field with this view:
For the rest of the game, I moved to the third base side and had a great view of the action:
For whatever reason, this game just didn’t do it for me. Sure, the screaming school kids didn’t help, but there wasn’t anything that really jumped out at me about this stadium. It’s a nice, clean, modern facility. As far as bells and whistles, though?
I also found the ushers are MLB-style, meaning they’re way too strict about where you can and can’t go.
Take a look at the ballpark’s official seating chart below:
I had a $9 ticket in section 106, but when I tried to go up into The Roost, which ESPN apparently calls the “best seats in the Minors,” I wasn’t allowed. Now, I can understand preventing people from buying cheap seats and getting closer to the action. But buying a dugout seat and trying to see a section as far away as it gets? Nope, sorry. The worst part was, it didn’t appear as though the area was booked for a party, and it was definitely three-quarters empty.
Anyway, like I said, Fifth Third Field is a nice place. When you can’t move freely from section to section, though, especially at a MiLB facility, it’s a big negative in my books. Still, if you’re a baseball fan, you’ll like it here. The outfield area has plenty of standing room and terrace areas, which is great if you enjoy leaving your seat and getting a bit of space.
As I write this, I’m still debating going to Syracuse in the morning for the Chiefs game against Rochester at 2 p.m. It’s a big driving commitment, but I’m anxious to get one game under my belt in 2011. Plus, as you may have read here, I’d like to get a bit more information about Alliance Bank Stadium before I write its official guide for my website, TheBallparkGuide.com.