Ever since I was a kid, I’ve loved collecting ticket stubs from all the various sporting events I’ve attended. Since I started traveling for The Ballpark Guide, I’ve been fortunate to visit more than 40 ballparks. This past off-season, I scanned all my stubs from 2010 and 2011 into a blog post, which you can check out here if you’re interested. (It’s sort of cool to see all the varied designs used by teams.)
This summer, the home teams I’ve seen have been unbelievably hospitable to me and I haven’t had to buy a single ticket. I’ve received media accreditation at every park I’ve visited, which provides such varied benefits as being able to enter early, access the press box, walk on the field and many other great things. An added bonus is that while I don’t get a ticket stub to add to my collection, I get something even cooler – a media pass.
As I continue to plan my next road trip, I thought it’d be fun to take a quick look back at the passes I’ve received thus far, in chronological order.
May 21: Lakewood Blue Claws
This game was rained out, which was a letdown given I’d driven roughly eight hours for it. But even though there was no game to see, I picked up my media pass at the ticket office. It’s simple, but it was exciting because it was my first of the season.
May 22: Lehigh Valley IronPigs
I think I like this media pass best. Perhaps because the IronPigs play at the Triple-A level, the pass is really professional and it also included a nice lanyard from when Coca-Cola Park hosted the Triple-A All-Star Game in 2010.
May 22: Trenton Thunder
Trenton offered up a sharp-looking pass that came with a chain lanyard. As you can see, this one allowed me to access the press box, but not the clubhouse or field.
May 23: Wilmington Blue Rocks
The Blue Rocks’ press pass was simple and not unlike the one from Lakewood. This one gave me access to several areas, including the field. It’s always fun to see my name in print!
May 23: Frederick Keys
There’s no mention of my name or The Ballpark Guide on the laminated pass provided by the Keys, which suddenly makes me wonder if I was supposed to turn it in after the game. Oops.
May 24: Altoona Curve
Altoona’s media pass is really sharp. My information, as you can see, is written in by hand, and I like the retro-style design of this one.
May 24: Buffalo Bisons
I was a little surprised that Buffalo, being a Triple-A team, had a cardboard pass similar to those from Lakewood and Wilmington. I think this is because it’s only a one-day pass, rather than a season’s pass.
July 19: Rochester Red Wings
The Red Wings were the first team this season that didn’t hook me up with a standard media pass, but they essentially gave me the same privileges. The ticket provided access to any section in the park, while the photo pass allowed me to get on the field before the game.
After the completion of the morning’s Lehigh Valley IronPigs/Louisville Bats game, I drove back to the Trenton area for the night game between the Trenton Thunder and the Akron Aeros, who are the AA Eastern League affiliates of the Yankees and Indians, respectively. This day marked the first time I’ve watched two different games in two different locations in one day — perhaps the only thing better in baseball than a traditional doubleheader. Although I had time to check into my hotel in Trenton, I decided to head straight to Mercer County Waterfront Park, and arrived around 3 p.m.
On Google Maps, it looks like this ballpark is perfect to give you a shot at snagging some home run balls during batting practice. When I got back to the area behind the outfield fence, though, I was early enough that the players weren’t hitting just yet. So, I waited here:
After a short while, BP still hadn’t yet started, so I decided to go to the front of the park, get my press pass, take some photos and wander for a bit. I like what the team has done with the area around the stadium. There are a ton of banners recognizing former Thunder players, including Nomar Garciaparra:
You wouldn’t normally associate Garciaparra, a longtime Red Sox player, with a team affiliated with the Yankees. But Garciaparra played in Trenton in 1995 when it was a Red Sox affiliate, and hit .267 with 47 RBIs and 35 steals. This is what the front of the ballpark looks like …
… and here’s the scene in panorama form:
After I picked up my press pass, I noticed a coach bus to my right, and saw the Aeros unloading:
I also took a photo of my press pass, which was provided by Bill Cook, the team’s director of public relations:
Like the other teams on this trip, the Thunder were very accommodating and I’d meet Bill later on.
Once I toured for a while, I began to hear the bats cracking on the field, so I peeked through the fence and saw BP was getting underway:
I headed quickly back to the area behind the right field fence and waited. And waited. And waited. The problem was, no one was hitting home runs. I heard a lot go off the wall and while some may have gone out in left, nothing came my way for a very long time. Eventually, I heard a giant splash and turned to see a ball floating in the Delaware River behind me:
This is a neat feature of this park — the river is so close behind the fence that a home run can actually land in the water on the fly, much like at San Francisco’s AT&T Park. With the river right behind you, this area is picturesque and sort of reminds me of how the Merrimack River runs right by New Hampshire’s Northeast Delta Dental Stadium. The lone knock on hanging out for BP balls is that the grass is completely covered in goose turds, so it’s impossible to avoid stepping in some. After about 45 minutes without a shot at a ball and with my shoes in need of some wiping, I pulled the plug on trying to get a ball and returned to the front of the park. As I did in Lehigh Valley earlier in the day, I used my press pass to get into the park early and walk around. Again, it was awesome having the place virtually to myself, with the exception of the staff. Look how deserted the concourse was:
And the same goes for the seating bowl:
Watching BP is one of the best things any baseball fan can do. Not only does it enhance your enjoyment of your visit, but you always learn something and get a better appreciation for the skill of the players. It’s difficult to see BP at the Minor League level because parks don’t open early enough. So, I took advantage of the situation and sat on a picnic table and just took it all in:
Soon enough, the Aeros came out to get warmed up:
Check it out — 5:02 p.m. and still an hour to go before the gates opened. I was in heaven!
I moved all around the park during BP, including down to field level on the first base side where I took this panorama:
And then I moved behind the first base dugout to get some close shots of the Aeros hitting:
At 5:30 p.m., I went to the home plate concourse to meet Bill, who’d agreed to give me a tour of the park. We were outside at one point and he pointed at the large party suite that looked out onto the field. He said the room was decorated with Yankees memorabilia, and as I peered through the glass, I could see a Phil Hughes Yankees jersey displayed. “That’s neat — Phil Hughes,” I said. Bill smiled and said there was a more impressive jersey for me to see. When we went into the suite, I got a close-up shot of what was stitched inside the jersey’s collar:
And took a second photo:
Yep, an authentic Babe Ruth game-worn jersey! The jersey was given to the Thunder by a big-time Yankees collector, and it’s simply one of the coolest things you’ll ever see at any MiLB park. Although the rest of the suite’s items might pale in comparison to the Ruth jersey, they are still very impressive. How about a signed shot of Derek Jeter’s 3,000th hit?
Or an Andy Pettite signed jersey from a rehab start:
Here’s a signed photo of Yankees legends Dave Winfield and Don Mattingly:
The tour with Bill was great. We looked around a number of areas of the park and talked baseball, which is always great. It was really nice of him to give me the pre-game time because unless you’ve been around it, you can’t imagine how much work goes into prepping for a game. Everyone wears a ton of hats in order to make your visit to the ballpark enjoyable. Thanks again for your time, Bill!
After Bill and I parted ways, I checked out the Thunder team shop, which blended Thunder merchandise with Yankees stuff:
And I also looked through a number of game-used bats that were on sale, although I didn’t buy one:
At 6 p.m., the park’s gates opened and the concourse started to fill up:
Soon, the players came out and began signing autographs along the base lines. While it was tempting to go get a ball signed, I resisted the urge. Technically, having a press pass means you can’t ask for autographs, and while I could’ve removed the pass and no one might have been the wiser, I thought this would be a bush league play. So, no asking for autographs on this trip for me. But several fans, including those getting Abraham Almonte’s signature, were crowded around the dugouts:
A few minutes later, I saw something pretty cute. Like the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, the Thunder have a golden retriever who comes out onto the field and carries a basket in its mouth. I’m not fully aware of the official role of the dog — I think it delivers a ball to the umpire, perhaps? — but the kids love it. (Update: A reader, Ben, told me that the dog is an honorary bat “boy” for the first inning, and come to think of it, I’ve seen this at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium in New Hampshire, too. Thanks, Ben!) Anyway, the dog came out and sat on the grass for a few moments, and when Trenton’s Corban Joseph came over to give the dog’s belly a scratch, the dog flopped over completely:
Shortly before the start of the game, I figured it was time to get something to eat. Nearly everyone I talked to said to try the crab fries at the Chickie’s & Pete’s concession stand, which is located on the third base side. I love seafood, but had never heard of crab fries. Would they be fries topped with crab meat? That’s what I was picturing, so I was a little confused when I picked up my order and it appeared to be regular fries with Old Bay seasoning covering them:
They also included white cheese dip, and while everything was good, I’m not sure if I see the huge appeal. Let me know if I’m missing something. Thankfully, the cup of fries was large, so it took me a while to eat everything. The game began as I stuffed my face, and I moved behind home plate after I was finished eating to take this panorama:
While I was there, a player hit a long foul ball that flew over the third base concourse and right out of the park. There didn’t seem to be a flurry of fans running for the exits, so I walked quickly over to where it left the park, looked out and saw this:
I also saw a man and his kids heading toward it, so I was a few moments too late. Since I was in the area, I found a seat on the third base side and started shooting some action photos, which is something I want to do more frequently this season. Here’s Akron starter Paolo Espino, who had a brilliant 2011 season but ended up with the loss on the night:
Aeros third baseman Kyle Bellows:
A cool shot of the Trenton dugout:
And what would’ve been a great action shot of Abraham Almonte sliding into third base, if not blocked by Espino, who was backing up the play:
Trenton catcher Jose Gil (I think) making contact:
After a couple innings seated on the third base side, I switched over to behind the first base dugout, where I enjoyed this view:
The game itself was entertaining. Trenton led from wire to wire, but Akron scored single runs in the seventh and eighth to narrow the deficit to 3-2, which is how the game ended up. Trenton’s pitchers combined for 10 strikeouts, too.
I spent the last inning up in the concourse behind home plate, where the view was great. My camera gets a little grumpy in the dark, but I took this shot, which I think looks neat:
By the end of the game, I was pooped. It’d been a very long day with lots of sun and a ton of excitement. But the next day would be awesome, too! I’d be in Wilmington, DE, and Frederick, MD, for two games and two radio interviews. I’ll have those blog posts up as soon as I can!