Tagged: Tri-City Valleycats

Tri-City ValleyCats – August 21

Five hours after shutting off my hotel room light to end a memorable first day in Troy, N.Y., I was up again and eager to get my second day underway. I had a bit of sightseeing and shopping planned before I got over to Joseph L. Bruno Stadium for that evening’s Tri-City ValleyCats game.

After breakfast, I set out to make the short drive to the Albany airport area, where my mission was to hunt down the remnants of a ballpark that was torn down several years prior. Heritage Park, which opened in 1982, closed in 2002 and was demolished in 2009, was the home of the Albany-Colonie A’s between 1982 and 1984 and the Albany-Colonie Yankees from ’85 to ’94. Many future major leaguers played at Heritage Park during its time hosting affiliated ball. Notable Yankees included Derek Jeter, who hit .377 for the Albany-Colonie squad in 1994 at the age of 20; two seasons later, he had his first World Series ring as a member of the Bronx Bombers. The three other members of the Yankees Core Four, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera all played for Albany-Colonie, as did scores of other future MLBers.

To get to the Heritage Park site, I drove down a dead-end road …

… and parked on a patch of gravel that I assume was once part of the area in front of the ballpark’s main gates. In walking around the area for a bit, it was obvious that something used to be here, but there were no clues about what it might have been. A sunken field area sloped away from the road but, by now, the entire area was thoroughly overgrown. There were a handful of metal posts that I assume were once part of a chain-link fence around the ballpark’s perimeter:

And some red posts like this one, which I think were around the main gates:

I spent about 15 minutes exploring, and while it was neat to think about what used to stand here, it was a little disappointing to not see as many signs of the old ballpark as I’d hoped.

I wrapped up my tour by opting not to check out the spooky abandoned house at the end of the road. Instead, I returned to my hotel and relaxed for a bit by watching some Little League World Series action — a favorite pastime whenever I travel in August. I also joined many staff and guests in the parking lot midway through the afternoon when the solar eclipse took place, although without any eclipse glasses, I basically just stood around and tried to resist the urge to stare at what was happening overhead.

About 3:30 p.m., I drove over to Joseph L. Bruno Stadium, a.k.a. “The Joe” with the intention of getting inside nice and early to enjoy the ballpark experience. After snapping this photo …

… I heard a familiar “click-clack” sound and turned to my left to watch the Hudson Valley Community College football team about to pass between the stadium and me on its way to the nearby football stadium. The Joe is located on the HVCC campus, and while I’d briefly checked out the football stadium a day earlier, I was curious to watch a little of the football practice. That desire grew when I peeked inside the ballpark and saw that batting practice wasn’t taking place. That meant that was I pretty early to sit in a virtually empty stadium by myself, so I changed up my plans a little and followed the football team over to its practice. For about 45 minutes, I leaned against the grandstands and watched scenes like this:

No one paid me any mind, so I guess it wasn’t assumed that I was a spy from Alabama or Texas. Other than a few players silently nodding to me as they walked past, the only interaction I had was when an agitated linebacker groaned at me, “Where the water at, man?” Apparently, the water machine had yet to arrive, and I had the appearance of the water boy.

After a while, I headed back to The Joe and there still wasn’t much going on. The field was set up, but there weren’t yet any players on it. Instead of walking around, I just grabbed a seat at the end of the concourse behind home plate, where I sat in the quiet and enjoyed the view in front of me.

Perhaps 15 minutes later, as a few players played catch down the right field line, I walked down the concourse on the third base side, went up on the hill above left field, and then took a pass directly behind the outfield fence:

It’s an area that is technically closed off, but no one was around and I wanted to see the park from a new vantage point. (Also, the fact that BP wasn’t taking place, which meant that no home runs balls would be landing on my head, was rather appealing.) When I emerged from behind the fence, I climbed up to the top of the berm in the right field corner and took this shot:

This area is one of my favorite places to hang out at The Joe, although it’s tough to narrow down all the great spots down to a short list. I love the view that this berm provides of the field, as well as the visitor’s bullpen, and I like the visual effect of the tall grass that separates the berm from the seats.

After watching the visiting Brooklyn Cyclones play catch for a bit, I set out to find something to eat. As much as it was tempting to go with another pizza from the wood-burning oven, I was eager to try something different. As I lined up at a concession stand on the first base side, I saw a great “you know you’re in the minors” scene — a pair of the visiting Cyclones buying dinner ahead of me. (Chicken fingers and fries, for the record.)

As for me, I went with something a little less conventional: BBQ in a Bag:

This meal consists of a bag of Fritos topped with smoked pulled pork, baked beans, coleslaw and bacon. It was the ValleyCats’ entry for the MiLB Food Fight promotion that takes place each season, and it was tasty — perhaps the only knock on it was the fact that when you get down toward the bottom of the bag, Fritos are a little tough to eat with a plastic fork. It’s definitely something I’d try again, if given the chance, but that probably won’t be the case. Teams switch up their Food Fight entries annually, so unless the team decides to bring this dish (bag?) back, I don’t expect you’ll see it on the menu next season.

Once I’d eaten, I went down to field level on the first base side to watch the Cyclones warming up. I was particularly drawn to their uniforms, which I thought looked super sharp:

It’s sort of hard to tell in these pictures, but the material had a heather-like appearance to it, which gave the whole ensemble a real throwback look. It’s one of the nicest uniforms I’ve seen in the minors in some time.

Here’s shortstop Dylan Snypes playing catch:

And here’s a closer look at the Cyclones uniform, thanks to third baseman Carl Stajduhar:

As I did a day earlier, I spent the first part of the game in a seat directly behind home plate, shooting action photos like this one:

Then, I went down to the ramp in the left field corner to enjoy the action from that spot. While there, an interesting event caught my eye. Remember how I took a walk behind the outfield fence before the game? It turns out that I’m not the only user of that route. There was a member of the Brooklyn bullpen staff standing behind the ValleyCats bullpen, talking with someone he obviously knew. Perhaps as a peace offering, the ValleyCats reliever tossed some bubble gum over the fence …

… and then the Brooklyn player disappeared behind the fence again on his way back over to the visitor’s bullpen.

Want to hear about a ridiculous dessert?

I don’t normally eat dessert at ballparks, but I was keen on munching on something else in the game’s middle innings. Dessert on this night came in the form of a deep-fried Twinkie sundae. Why have a deep-fried Twinkie on its own when you can have it as a sundae? is the age-old question mankind has always pondered. As the friendly server built it for me, she asked, Do you want all the toppings? I’ll give you one guess as to my answer.

Check this out:

You’re looking at one deep-fried Twinkie, chocolate ice cream, whipped cream, sprinkles and a cherry, and everything was pretty good. I can’t recall ever eating a Twinkie, let alone a deep-fried one. The middle was nice and gooey, and the crispy exterior was a nice contrast to the softness of the other ingredients. Definitely a winner, although something your arteries might not want you to eat each game.

With the game winding down, I grabbed a spot on the concourse behind home plate and snapped this panorama:

I really like how this one turned out, and I hope it gives you a good idea of just how beautiful this ballpark is.

Even though my second game wrapped up soon enough, my road trip wasn’t over just yet. I still got to hang out at my hotel, which was hugely enjoyable. In case you missed yesterday’s post, I was staying at the Hilton Garden Inn Troy, and the hotel had upgraded me to the presidential suite. After the game, I made the 10-minute drive back to the hotel, had a swim in the indoor pool and then watched SportsCenter in the living room, which looks like this:

In my previous post, I talked about the suite I was in, but there are lots of reasons that this hotel is ideal for baseball roadtrippers beyond its guest rooms and location. For starters, there’s a sports bar, Recovery Sports Grill, on the ground floor. I didn’t have a meal there, but I stuck my head in and it’s the perfect place to watch the some sports on TV with some refreshments after you’ve come back from The Joe. And that’s not the only on-site eatery; there’s also The Garden Grille & Bar, which serves breakfast and lunch. Free Internet and parking and a good-sized pool and fitness center all combine to make this hotel a great one for baseball travelers — and it’s definitely the spot I’ll be visiting whenever I’m in Troy again.

The next morning, I took a short walk around the area, stopping to snap this shot of the hotel from the outside:

Then, it was time to check out, load up the car and head home — with my next baseball road trip less than a week away.

Tri-City ValleyCats – August 20

I pulled onto the campus of Hudson Valley Community College shortly after 3 p.m. on August 20, noticing small groups of first-year students and their parents checking out the school in advance of moving in. It wasn’t the campus that I was interested in seeing, though — my sights were focused on the building at the rear of the campus.

That’s where Joseph L. Bruno Stadium, home of the Tri-City ValleyCats, stands. It’s one of my favorite stops in the Short-Season A New York-Penn League, and a place that I visited way back in 2010 and again in 2012. If you’re thinking that another visit was overdue, I totally agree with you — and that’s why I had two ValleyCats games scheduled on this short road trip.

The ‘Cats were hosting the Brooklyn Cyclones, who were amusingly the team that I’d seen play Tri-City in each of my previous two visits, and by the time I got to the front gate of the ballpark affectionately known as “The Joe,” there was already a sizable crowd waiting to get in:

Although I was anxious to get inside, I also knew that I’d have more than enough time to enjoy the ballpark over the course of two days. So, I took a bit of time to make a lap of the park’s perimeter and check it out from a few angles.

Seeing the field for the first time, a peek through the chain-link fence atop the grass berm in the right field corner, instantly brought back fond memories of my two previous visits — a championship series game in September of 2010 and the first day of a road trip that took me through New England in 2012:

Given The Joe’s location on the HVCC campus, there are some cool sights to see around the ballpark — namely, a football stadium and a softball field, as well as a ropes course beyond the left field corner of the ballpark. But I was here to see the baseball field, and enjoyed looking through the trees that line the hill beyond the outfield fence to catch glimpses of it. Here’s a shot of the ballpark from the back side of the “hit it here” sign in right-center:

After a full circuit, I headed into The Joe through the main gates, which put me on the concourse directly behind home plate. As I often do, I snapped a photo of the field from this angle …

… and then walked down to field level to just enjoy the sights in front of me.

Fortunately, I’d be standing on the field before too long. The ValleyCats were hosting a “play catch on the field” promotion before the game, and even though I was traveling solo and didn’t have a catch partner, I took advantage of the opportunity to walk around the outfield, trying to dodge errant throws from the scores of kids playing catch. Here’s a panorama that I snapped from the left field corner a moment after nearly getting hit with a football, funny enough:

And here’s how the scene looked from straightaway center:

The drive from my home to Troy, New York (the Tri-City ValleyCats name represents the Tri-City area of Albany, Troy and Schenectady, the latter of which I impressively spelled correctly on my first attempt) took a little under five hours, and I didn’t make a stop for food. That meant that getting something to eat was pretty high up on my list of priorities. Last visit, I had an order of delicious salt potatoes, but I was looking to try something different this time. After a quick circuit of the concourse to evaluate the options, I was drawn to the pizza concession stand on the third base side. But this wasn’t any old ballpark pizza. Rather, this stand was serving made-to-order pizzas in a wood-burning oven:

I knew I had to try one. I ordered a pepperoni and cheese pizza, and hustled to a picnic table above left field once I had the hot box in my hands. I was impressed with the look of the pizza as soon as I lifted the lid, and even more impressed once I bit into the first slice. This pizza was absolutely delicious, and gets the nod as the best ballpark pizza I’ve ever eaten:

I finished the pizza about the time that the teams wrapped up their pregame warmups, so I walked back down the length of the concourse and grabbed a seat behind home plate for the first inning. Even though I had the netting to contend with, I had fun taking some action shots, like this one of ValleyCats starter Alex House:

And this one of Cyclones catcher Scott Manea picking up his first of two hits of the game:

Next, I took another couple laps around the concourse, enjoying the sights and keeping an eye on the action. The Joe is absolutely beautiful, but perhaps the lone knock on it is that the concourse doesn’t wrap around the entire field. Maybe it’s just a matter of personal preference, but I love parks that have this feature, as it’s enjoyable to take entire circuits of the field instead of have to walk back and forth from foul pole to foul pole. On my walk, I had to chuckle when I saw this banner:

What do you think? Agree or disagree?

After I watched a ball that landed in the outfield roll under the gate beside the left field foul pole for a ground rule double, I wanted to spend some time in this area. I figured that not only could there be a chance of snagging a home run, but grabbing a ground rule double ball would make for an interesting story. I snapped this panorama of this pristine-looking ballpark on my walk to the left field corner …

… and then hung out for an inning and a half just a few steps away from the base of the foul pole. While there, I snapped this shot of myself — of course, I’m wearing one of my T-shirts:

Interested in buying one for your own baseball road trips? Here’s the link.

No baseballs came my way, but that was all right. I was still having a blast, and especially excited that I had two days in Troy on this visit. Once I abandoned the idea of getting a baseball, I went behind the home bullpen for a few minutes:

One of the things that I love about the minor leagues is just how close you can get to the bullpens. While this is occasionally the case in the big leagues, there are also several MLB parks at which close access to the bullpen is impossible. It’s fun to watch the players hanging out, getting loose and, of course, warming up for action.

Speaking of the bullpen, there were a few interesting things that I noticed. We’ve probably all seen a player go to stand next to the plate to mimic the batter while a pitcher is warming up, right? Well, at The Joe, the ValleyCats had a pair of wooden batter-shaped models that could be used instead of actual players. I’ve seen some of these in the past, but they’re still fairly rare. You can see a couple of them below, “standing” next to the bench:

Even more interesting were a couple things that I hadn’t noticed at other parks. If you look carefully in the image above, you’ll see a series of strings that run across the bullpen. These represent the top and bottom edges of the strike zone for pitchers who are warming up. Has anyone else noticed these at other parks? I’m wondering if it’s something that’s exclusively done in the lower levels of the minors. Also, you’ll notice a large target that is laying against the fence. It’s divided into four quadrants with clock-style numbers around the perimeter. I’m guessing it’s a teaching tool and may even be something that pitchers use when practicing on their own. This is the first time that I can remember seeing such a thing.

The game itself was bonkers. Tri-City won 13-10 despite being outhit 17-11. Sounds like an offensive juggernaut, right? Yes, but the teams also combined for 20 strikeouts in a game that took 3:41 to play.

About 10 minutes after the final out, I was pulling into my hotel, the Hilton Garden Inn Troy:

I’ve stayed at Hilton Garden Inns many, many times over the years, and this hotel was easily among the most impressive I’ve visited. As with many hotel chains, HGIs have a lot of common features that are similar from property to property, so I was sort of expecting the standard king room that I usually get at this brand of hotel. I was shocked, however, to learn that the hotel had upgraded me to the presidential suite — something I didn’t expect or even imagine might be possible. I’ve since learned that when suites are available (the HGI Troy has 15 suites, including the presidential suite I was lucky to stay in) guests will sometimes get surprised with upgrades. So, if you book a room at this hotel when you’re traveling to Troy for some ValleyCats baseball, you never know which room you may end up in.

This suite was hands down the biggest hotel room I’ve ever stayed in, and featured a list of amenities that was hugely impressive. Standout features included a full kitchen and bar, living room with leather furniture and a fireplace, three TVs and a separate bedroom with a king bed at the end of the long hallway. There was even a full-sized dining room. Honestly, the photos of this suite fail to do it justice, but here’s a look at part of the scene in panorama format:

Above, you’re looking at the living room, with the dining room and kitchen beyond it. The bedroom is down a hall between the dining room and kitchen.

Since you’re probably wondering:

Yes, I used all three TVs during my visit.

And, yes, I put the fireplace on when I sat in the living room.

The full kitchen was another feature that I really appreciated:

While simply having a bar fridge is usually enough for me, it was great to have a full-sized fridge and freezer so that I could stock up on some snacks and drinks for my two-day stay. And, hey, if a fella’s gonna eat some Häagen-Dazs out of the tub in bed while watching SportsCenter, the freezer means that he can ration it out instead of eat it all in one serving. Theoretically.

The location of the hotel was also perfect for me as a baseball traveler. Just a short and easy drive to The Joe, the hotel was an even shorter drive to grocery stores and walking distance to several fast-food restaurants.

My intention of going to bed in decent time was zapped when I got into bed, flipped on the TV and found that it had on-demand programming. As I tweeted out at the time, Showtime boxing captured my attention, and I watched a couple hours of fights before shutting off the lights, anxious for my second day in Troy to begin.

A Few Baseball Stops Along the Way

When I was planning my August road trip for The Ballpark Guide, I spent a lot of time checking out Google Maps, and was intrigued to see how many university campuses were along my route. I planned to take the opportunity to make a few stops along the way and check out some of the schools’ baseball facilities. (Apparently, the nine games in nine days on my trip weren’t enough baseball to satisfy me.)

Originally, I hoped to visit 10 or more non-MLB/MiLB parks, and I included this plan in my August road trip goals. After visiting a handful, I decided to forgo the attempt to get to 10. It was doable geographically, but was adding on a lot of time to my trips — head off the main route, find the school, drive around the campus until I found the baseball field, find a place to park, walk around taking photos, etc.

Why the interest in collegiate baseball, you ask? As you probably know by now, I love not only the Major Leagues, but also the lower levels of the game. In Canada, if a high school even offers baseball, it’s played on a field that is laughable. Many universities don’t have baseball, but those that do typically use fields that wouldn’t be up to par with American high school fields. Long story short: I wanted to marvel at some nice fields.

All that said, my first stop on August 15 was the State University of New York at Canton, in Canton, N.Y.:


The school’s baseball team, the Kangaroos (more commonly known as the ‘Roos), plays in the United States Collegiate Athletic Association, which is comprised of 82 small institutions.

The SUNY Canton campus was virtually deserted (being August, of course) and after I found the athletic area, I parked my car and began to look around. Of course, a coach happened to walk by just as I was standing alone in the middle of the empty area, and he asked if I needed anything. I explained what I was up to and he said to feel free to enjoy the sights. Before I got to the baseball field, I walked past a beautifully maintained soccer (and lacrosse, I think) field:


The soccer field was cool to see, but I was on a mission, and soon I came across the baseball field’s scoreboard:


And baseball field:


Since no one was around, I stood at home plate for this shot:


Then, over to the dugout (hardly a “dugout,” but you know what I mean) on the third base side to show the field from this angle:


And finally, a look down the first base line; you can see the bullpen mounds just to the right of the foul pole and the bullpen plates in the foreground:


I get the impression this field is modest by U.S. collegiate standards, but it was exciting to check out.

My next stop was St. Lawrence University, which is also located in Canton, N.Y. St. Lawrence is known for its elite hockey team, but I was more interested in seeing the baseball facility. The St. Lawrence Saints play at Tom Fay Field, and belong to the Div. III Liberty League. Here’s my first look at the field:


And this is what it looks like from behind home plate:


As you can see, the dugouts are very nice:


Overall, this was a pristine facility, despite being several months removed from the school’s baseball season. When I was packing up to leave, this row boat, presumably from the school’s crew team, caught my eye:


Notice any issues with the hull? How about this closer shot?



Next up was Clarkson University in nearby Potsdam, N.Y.:


It’s also known for its hockey and has a huge rivalry with St. Lawrence. The Golden Knights baseball team plays at Jack Phillips Stadium on Snell Field, which I found easily:


The protective netting behind home plate was still up, so you’ll have to excuse it in the following panorama:


But, as you can probably tell, it’s an immaculate field with impressive dugouts:


I even caught a photo of this little fella on the netting:


After spending a bit of time at each of these three schools, I had to get back on the road to drive to the Albany area, where I’d watch the Tri-City ValleyCats at Joseph L. Bruno Stadium that evening.

The drive was much longer than it should’ve been, thanks to things like this:


And this:


But I did have some beautiful sights along the way:


And some snacks to help occupy the time:



The morning after the ValleyCats game, I had a bit of time before I drove to New Britain, Connecticut, to check out the Double-A Rock Cats in action that night. I stopped at Albany’s Christian Plumeri Sports Complex, which is used by teams from The College of Saint Rose, and numerous other local organizations, I imagine:


The school’s team, also called the Golden Knights, plays in the Div. II Northeast-10 Conference. Here’s a panorama from behind home plate of the absolutely beautiful ball field:


The grandstand and press box:


One of the bullpens:


A dugout:


And a shot looking out over the complex from atop the baseball grandstand:


The entire facility was just outstanding, and I hung out for quite a while, walking around the taking in the sights. It was virtually deserted, too — just a couple people walking their dogs.

I’ll have more photos from the road in an upcoming post. Next time, I’ll be taking a step back into history in Boston and looking at some very cool sights related to military history.

Tri-City ValleyCats – August 15

Hello from Troy, N.Y.

Normally, I write each blog post in chronological order, and while I’ll do so for this post, I want to start off with a really cool photo:

This is me with Tri-City ValleyCats manager Stubby Clapp! Keep reading and you’ll see how I got the fortune of meeting him.

I often begin each road trip with a really long drive, but this time, my first city was only around five hours from where I live. I’ll have lots of photos from things I saw on the drive in a later post, but let’s jump forward to once I got to the Tri-City area. I arrived in Troy, N.Y., around 4 p.m. and checked into my hotel. I stayed at the Best Western Plus Franklin Square Inn Troy/Albany, which is definitely a great choice if you’re coming to Troy to watch the ValleyCats. Here’s the outside of the hotel:

The hotel is easily accessible, sitting just a couple minutes’ away from the highway. It’s also just a short drive from Joseph L. Bruno Stadium, home of the ‘Cats. (It’s less than three miles away and the amount of time it takes you to reach the park depends on the number of green lights you get.) And here’s something that’ll interest baseball fans — for years, teams that came to town to play against Tri-City stayed at this hotel. So, if you look at some New York-Penn League rosters from throughout the 2000s (the ValleyCats were formed in 2002) you’ll see that a number of current MLBers stayed here while paying their dues in the Minor Leagues.

When I got to my room, I was impressed. Not only was the a/c blasting to keep the room nice and cold, it was clean and spacious. Here’s a look from the door:

And another showing the Samsung LCD TV and desk, which is where I’m sitting as I write this:

I didn’t have long to enjoy the room, however, as I needed to get to the ballpark the locals call “The Joe” quickly. ValleyCats media/production manager Chris Chenes, who was really helpful prior to my visit, would be meeting me at 5 p.m. to give me a media pass and tour of the park. When I arrived, I stopped quickly to get a photo of the front:

A ticket office employee took me inside to meet Chris, and as soon as I went through the gates, I saw that the Brooklyn Cyclones were taking batting practice:

(I resisted the urge to run to the grass berm behind the outfield fence and try to catch a home run.) Instead, I learned a lot about the history of the team and stadium from Chris. When I visited The Joe in 2010, which you can read about here, I didn’t have the fortune of a tour. So, it was great to speak with Chris, who’s been with the team in several roles for years. The game I saw in 2010 was the opening game of the NYPL championship against Brooklyn. The ‘Cats won that game and went on to win the title, and during this most recent visit, I saw the banner from that win hanging proudly in the home plate concourse:

Chris took me up to the suite level, where we checked out the production room. There’s SO much that goes into the production of a game, even at the Minor League Baseball levels. We saw the computer that runs the music and sound effects and another that runs the video board. The production staff certainly are kept hopping during the game. The game’s promo was “Halfway to Valentine’s Day,” so each player’s profile shot had been adjusted accordingly for the video board:

The team is having a winter-themed game this week and Chris gave me a sneak peek of the player profiles for that game:

We then moved into the press box, where I got an interesting lesson about the history of baseball in Troy. Professional baseball in this city dates back to 1871’s Troy Haymakers. That team, through a lengthy and interesting series of events (I’ll detail it all on my website rather than here) eventually became the San Francisco Giants.

Not surprisingly, there are also ties to the New York Yankees. Between 1935 and 1951, the Amsterdam Rugmakers (definitely one of the funniest baseball team names ever) were the Class C affiliate of the Yanks. In 1942, the Rugmakers hosted the Bronx Bombers in an exhibition game, and a 27-year-old Joe DiMaggio came to town to play that game. In one of the suites, there’s a photo snapped on that day:

Chris took me through a couple suites, which are nice inside …

… and have a great view of the park:

Then it was time to head back to the concourse, where we ducked our heads into the home team’s clubhouse area. This cool quote is displayed on the wall where the players walk by it repeatedly:

And I also snapped this shot of the team’s indoor batting cages, which are used when it’s rainy enough that BP is canceled:

When I told Chris I’m from Canada, he said, “I’ll introduce you to another Canadian.” I had to think for a moment, but then I realized he was talking about Stubby, who’s an enormous figure in Canadian baseball. He didn’t have a long Big League career, but he was a Minor League legend as a player and also did a lot for the Canadian game internationally. It was Stubby who delivered the walk-off single in the 1999 Pan American Games to help Canada beat the heavily favored American team. And you might also know him from having one of the best manager freakouts in recent years.

Anyway, Stubby wasn’t free right away, and Chris had to set up an interview for a local newspaper reporter, so I stuck around and watched the Cyclones take infield practice as I waited. I think they’re set for catchers, don’t you?

(As an aside to the smorgasbord of catchers — during the anthem, I counted 26 Cyclones in uniform standing in front of the dugout, and this doesn’t include the six to eight guys in the bullpen. Take out the four members of the coaching staff and you’ve still got nearly 30 players in uniform. What gives?)

As I waited, I snapped photos of a handful of things that caught my eye. The ValleyCats’ dugout:

The closest I came to a ball all night:

And first baseman Jesse Wierzbicki’s glove hanging on the dugout rail:

Suddenly, Chris came over to me and said Stubby was waiting. Sure enough, I looked around and saw him standing on the concourse. I went over and said hello and talked to him a bit about The Ballpark Guide, which was awesome. We also joked that both being Canadian, we could let our guard down in front of each other and say “eh?” at the end of sentences. He was really friendly and I can definitely see why he’s so well liked in baseball. He’s the third manager I’ve been lucky enough to meet on my travels, and he gave me more time than anyone, which was impressive as first pitch was less than an hour away. Thanks, Stubby! And thanks to Chris for setting it up. Afterward, Chris had to get back to his myriad pre-game duties, so we parted ways and I started touring around myself.

One of the best features of The Joe is the bar area behind left field, called the Top of the Hill Bar & Grill. Here’s a panorama from this area:

It’s got a ton of seating options, too – everything from tables to barstools to a small set of bleachers to the grass berm and finally, Adirondack chairs:

You can see into Tri-City’s bullpen from this area, and from the grass berm in the right field corner, you’ve got a great view of the visitors’ pen, which is where I soon went to watch Brooklyn starter Luis Cessa warm up:

When the game begun, I took a spot behind home plate where I had this perfect view on an excellent night for baseball:

After an inning, though, it was time to check out the food selection. Everyone you talk to raves about Buddy’s BBQ, and as a result, the lineups are often long. So, when I eyed a relatively short line, I grabbed a spot and got an order of salt potatoes, which is a Buddy’s specialty. I’ve never had them, although I’ve seen them in Binghamton and Syracuse, I believe. They’re small potatoes that are rolled in butter and aren’t as salty as I expected. And they were delicious:

Hey, this should count as a vegetable, right? I washed ’em down with an Arnold Palmer, which the park also has available:

With dinner down, I returned to the hill behind left field, where I took this photo of the bullpen guys:

And another panorama, now that it was getting darker:

Throughout the rest of the game, I continued to move around, from the third base side where I got a photo of Stubby in action:

To behind home plate:

To the first base line, where I made sure to document my media pass:

In the eighth, I visited the team shop where I talked with an employee named Ryan, who I had met earlier. I bought a shirt, which will be included in a future post. I also saw an awesome game-used section and resisted the urge to go nuts:

In an exciting game, Tri-City won 6-2 to improve their record to 41-14. They currently have the best winning percentage in Minor League Baseball:

Afterward, Chris was on the field interviewing outfielder Preston Tucker, who was named the player of the game after a two-hit, three-RBI performance:

Shortly after the final out, the team was hosting an on-field renewal of wedding vows for any couple interested (to keep with the Val Day theme) as well as fireworks, but I decided to skip these events and head back to my hotel.

I woke up this morning, enjoyed a giant complimentary breakfast at the hotel, which was tasty, and then after a bit of blogging, headed out toward New Britain.

All in all, the first day of my trip was perfect, from the hotel to the game to the tour and everything that came with it. And from here on out, it’s all new parks for me!

Next Road Trip Planned

My next road trip won’t be as long as my last two, but I’m definitely looking forward to it. This one isn’t about seeing as many games as I can in a short period of time (that’ll come during my next one, beginning mid-August). Instead, my wife and I are fitting three games into a summer holiday. But don’t worry, I’ll still be blogging while I’m away.

Game #1 takes place on July 28 as we travel to Manchester to watch the New Hampshire Fisher Cats take on the Reading Phillies. As you can read about here, I watched the Fisher Cats in playoff action last fall at home. Why go back, you ask? Well, I always want to get as much ballpark information as I can for my growing website. (If you want to read a fan guide to Northeast Delta Dental Stadium, home of the Fisher Cats, you can visit this link.) Also, the ballpark has changed names since I was there last fall, so I want to get some new photos.

Last year, I stayed in the Hilton Garden Inn with a field-facing room:

And because I can’t resist, I’ll be doing the same thing again this year. This time, however, I’m hoping to catch some BP home runs on The Porch, an outdoor bar run by the hotel that is situated directly over the outfield fence. During my last visit, the teams didn’t take BP.

I’m also keen on sampling more off the Fisher Cats’ seafood menu. Last time I was there, I had the clam strips basket. This year, who knows?

And lastly, this is a great facility and the on-site hotel is just plain awesome. Plus, the Cats are the AA affiliate of my favorite team, the Toronto Blue Jays.

Game #2 will be in Portland, Maine, on July 31. We’ll watch the Portland Sea Dogs host the Altoona Curve. I’m excited for this game because Portland’s Hadlock Field looks neat, and because fans are allowed to play catch on the field after the game. This’ll be the second time I’ll be on a field this summer. In June, I got to go on the field at an Erie SeaWolves game.

Game #3 will be on August 2, and we’ll watch the host Vermont Lake Monsters up against the State College Spikes. These teams play in the New York-Penn League, a league I’m rapidly getting through ballpark by ballpark. So far, I’ve got three official guides to NYPL ballparks up on my website: Falcon Park, home of the Auburn Doubledays, Eastwood Field, home of the Mahoning Valley Scrappers and Joseph L. Bruno Stadium, home of the Tri-City ValleyCats.

It should be a great trip. Between now and then, I’ll have details on my fourth road trip of the summer; it’s another 12-day, 12-game affair that I’ve almost got completely finalized.

Thanks for reading!

Tri-City ValleyCats – September 11, 2010

A day after I watched the New Hampshire Fisher Cats season end at home to the Trenton Thunder, I arrived in Troy, NY, to watch the New York-Penn League’s Tri-City ValleyCats in championship series action.

I got to town about five hours before game time, which is a little early even by my standards. Because I didn’t have a hotel yet, I drove around and found a Holiday Inn Express near the airport, signed in and chilled for a few hours. Before long, I packed up and made the short drive to the ballpark.

The ValleyCats play at Joseph L. Bruno Stadium, which is located on the campus of Hudson Valley Community College. It’s somewhat tricky to get to, mainly because you can’t see the ballpark from the road and you may wonder if you’re in the right place. To read my tips on getting to “The Joe,” see my website.

I got to the facility about two hours before the game, or one hour before the opening pitch. As I usually do, I took a walk around the entire stadium, pausing beyond the outfield fence to see what my batting practice home run snagging chances were. Ouch. Beyond the fence is a fence, a hill and another fence:

joseph-l-bruno-stadium-fence.jpgSimply put, no ball is going to leave the fenced area. I scouted around the trees beyond the second fence, just in case, but there were no balls to be found. Afterward, I walked back around to the front of the stadium and bought my ticket:
The front of Joseph L. Bruno Stadium is pretty unique. I mean, most stadiums are unique, but this one’s pretty different. On the left is the team shop, in the middle are the gates and on the right are enclosed stairs going up to the suite level. For some reason, it looks like a fire station to me:
It was September 11, so the stadium’s flags were at half-mast:
I lined up first at the gate and had about 40 minutes to kill before the gates opened. Boy, was it a long wait. You can only look around, glance at your watch and re-read your ticket so many times before the minutes seem to crawl by. Eventually, the gates were opened and I walked in and got my bearings.
During BP, I’d seen several home run balls land beyond the outfield fence but not make it to the second fence. I knew ushers would be quickly snatching all these balls, but I took my chances and headed to the grass berm behind left field. There’s also a bar here called the Top of the Hill Bar & Grill. I greeted the bartender and walked around the bar looking for a ball in the grass below. The fences made it clear that fans aren’t allowed behind the fence, but I quickly spotted this:
See anything noteworthy here? If not, here’s a close up:
A ball was sitting on the grass hill, and while there were no ushers in site, I wanted to get it quickly. I turned to the bartender: “Look, I came all the way from Canada for this game, and I’d really like to get a ball. I see one just down there. Could I grab it?” He gave me a quick nod, adding, “Just do it quickly,” and I was off. As I bent to grab it, I turned to see he was now engaged with another fan. I decided to take a quick run all the way around to the right field corner to see if there were any other balls in the area, and there wasn’t a single one.
When I got back, I thanked the staff member and took a quick panoramic shot from the bar and grill. If you’re watching a ValleyCats game, this is a pretty cool area. You can sit here regardless of where your ticket is located, and as you can see from the shot below, you’ve got a great view:
I went back down the hill to the left field corner and checked out Tri-City’s bullpen:
This facility has sweet bullpens for Short-Season A ball. See the elevated area for the players to sit? Because the gate was open, I took some from the warning track area. It was neat to just wander down to the edge of the outfield:
jose<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /> ph-l-bruno-stadium-left-field-corner.jpg
Afterward, I was on the move again. The Joe has myriad seating options if stadium seats aren’t your thing. You can sit on the grass berm in the right field corner:
The picnic deck along the right field line:
Or The Porch, a wooden, bar-style area adjacent to the grass berm in the right field corner. This area looked pretty decent, and had great sightlines. I decided that once the game began, I’d spend a little time here:
Then went back down to the box seats as the stadium was beginning to fill up:
This was game one of the best-of-three NYPL championship series, and the opponent was the Brooklyn Cyclones, the affiliate of the Mets. (The ValleyCats are a part of Houston’s system.)
I snapped a quick shot of the scoreboard, which is hugely impressive by NYPL standards:
By now, the Cyclones were out on the field stretching:
I wandered over to the ValleyCats dugout on the third base side and watched three players play a mesmerizing game. Each guy holds a baseball in each hand, and one guy throws one of his balls to another guy. If the ball comes toward you, you have to throw your ball back at someone else and catch the ball coming at you. It’s dizzying but addictive to watch. Nothing like staying loose before the biggest game of your young pro career:
With the national anthem about to begin, I headed over to my new favorite seating area — The Porch. I was sharing it with one other couple on the lower level and a couple other people above me, so it was mostly deserted. Here’s a view during the pregame ceremonies, which included a moment of silence:
To my right, I could see Brooklyn’s starter, A.J. Pinera:
The Cyclones got off to a quick start; two runs in the top of the first innings. But the ValleyCats rebounded with four runs in the third inning and never looked back. In the late innings of the game, I headed to the grass hill in the left field corner to watch a bit of the action:
From here, I could see the home team’s bullpen:
Tri-City ended up winning 5-2 to take Game 1 of the series. The next two days’ games in Brooklyn were rained out, but the ValleyCats prevailed in Game 2 on Sept. 14 to win the 2010 New York-Penn League championship. It was cool to see a game of the championship series.
That was that for my 2010 ballpark tour. This summer will be even better, so check back regularly to see where I’m going and what I’ve seen.
And, as always, visit my website for guides to the stadiums I’ve visited.

New Hampshire Fisher Cats – September 10, 2010

You know those baseball roadtrips (or even single games) that rank pretty high among your all-time favorites? This was going to be one of those days.

On the morning of September 10 last fall, I woke up early and loaded up my car for the seven-hour drive to Manchester, New Hampshire, home of the Eastern League’s New Hampshire Fisher Cats. The Cats are the AA affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays, so their roster is usually stacked with guys you’d recognize. My plan was to make the drive to Manchester to catch Game 3 of the Eastern League semifinals against the Trenton Thunder, the Yankees affiliate. The Thunder won Games 1 and 2 at home, and with a best-of-five series, the game I would attend would be pivotal.
The drive to Manchester was beautiful — lots of picturesque views through the Adirondacks. The nice views started, however, after I snaked my way through Montreal. Anyone who’s driven in Montreal rush hour knows how ridiculous it is. I arrived in Montreal about 9 a.m., meaning I was right in the heart of it and had to cross the city to get to the border. That took longer than expected, but pretty soon, I was off.
After a painfully slow stop at the border, and a couple bottles of Vitaminwater later (you’ve gotta go with orange and lemonade in the morning) I had to go. Bad. Of course, being in the middle of nowhere, there wasn’t exactly a place to stop. So I kept driving. And driving.
Pretty soon, it was either pull over and find a discrete area or risk unfortunate circumstances. I elected to stop. I pulled off the highway and found a back road in sort of a cottage country area.
(If this story is horrific, or boring, feel free to skip ahead. Otherwise, it might give you a chuckle.)
Anyway, on a quiet, wooded street next to a body of water, I, uhh, relieved myself. As I stood there, looking at the giant lake ahead of me, I casually wondered what body of water it was. Then, I had a minor, silly panic. This was Lake Champlain!
This lake, like Scotland’s Loch Ness, is known for supposedly containing some sort of creature of the deep. I had horrible visions of my empty car being discovered a day later after I’d been eaten by a lake monster who took exception to my adding a little liquid to his lake. Quickly, I got back in the car and was on my way.
(Back to baseball briefly: The Short-Season A team in Burlington, VT, is called the Vermont Lake Monsters in honor of this creature.)
The rest of the drive was more relaxing, and offered plenty of spectacular views through the mountains:
Yes, I took that photo while driving, and yes, I did it when the road was otherwise deserted. See the dark clouds and rain on my windshield? I had my fingers crossed that the game would go off as scheduled and my roadtrip wouldn’t be for naught.
Typically, I book my ballpark travel hotels on Hotwire, opting for a low price over knowing exactly what I’m getting. For this trip, however, I booked my room on another site because I wanted to stay at Manchester’s Hilton Garden Inn, which overlooks the Fisher Cats stadium, Automerchants.com Stadium. (It’s since had its name changed to another equally long one: Northeast Delta Dental Stadium.) More specifically, I wanted a field-facing room. Other than Rogers Centre in Toronto, I don’t know any pro ballparks with hotels overlooking the field. If you do, please leave a comment below. I’d love to know about them!
I arrived mid afternoon, checked into my hotel and couldn’t wait to get to my room. Here was the view:
Absolutely outstanding! As I said earlier, this trip was awesome.
Because I was three or four hours early for the game, there was very little going on at the stadium. Eventually, the grounds crew came out to prepare the field, but otherwise, it was cool to just keep an eye on the empty ballpark.
Here’s a panoramic I took from my window, which was on the third or fourth floor:
And this is The Porch, an outdoor eatery that is ideal for snagging batting practice home runs:
Unfortunately, the teams didn’t have BP, otherwise I would’ve been able to add a few more balls to my collection.
Pretty soon, the teams came out to stretch for a bit. Here’s Trenton:
And here’s another group of Thunder players:
After some waiting in my room, and continuously checking the field to see what was up, I took a brief tour of the hotel, scouting out the pool and gym, and packed up and headed on the short walk to the park.
Here’s a shot looking back at the hotel. Pretty nice, huh?
Merchantsauto.com Stadium is located on Line Drive:
And the stadium front is pretty different looking from the front:
You buy your tickets at the window on the left, then climb about 30 stairs up to the concourse.
Here’s my ticket shot:
Before the gates opened, I took a walk down a path at the side of the stadium that runs parallel to the Merrimack River. It’s all pretty nice looking:
On the path, I saw this:
I don’t know what it is, but it looked old and neat. After walking for a few minutes, I could hear players taking swings at an indoor cage, but couldn’t see anything. By now, the stadium was ready to open, so I headed back and walked in. Here are those stairs leading up to the concourse:
Before I climbed them, however, I stopped at the team shop. Because this was potentially the team’s last game of the season, there was a huge sale. I bought an official Fisher Cats cap for $15 and a T-shirt for $10.
Here’s the view when you get to the top of the stairs:
This is the outdoor patio for the Samuel Adams Bar & Grill, which is located indoors just behind these picnic tables, as you can see here:
And you can see the hotel in the background. And here’s a view looking toward home plate while standing in the area around the picnic tables:
I spun to my right, and snapped this photo of the sun setting over the Merrimack River:
Time to walk around and get my bearings! The ballpark has an open concourse and only one level of seating. There’s a suite level, but I don’t count that as regular seating. Here’s a panoramic I took from the concourse in left field:
The autograph seekers were already hanging out at the Trenton dugout:
I should point out that Andy Pettitte pitched for the Thunder the night before, but didn’t make the trip to Manchester. Too bad, because he’s since retired and it would’ve been pretty neat to see him.
Here’s a look at the seats and press box behind home plate. I think you’ll agree this is an awesome-looking stadium. I can assure you the vibe was even better:
Even though I’m not a suite type of guy, I climbed up to the suite level to take this photo looking back at the concourse:
To the left of the giant milk bottle is where you enter the stadium and you can see the picnic area and bar on the right.
I descended back to the main concourse and checked out the Ted Williams Hitters Hall of Fame, which is roughly located behind home plate. The real one is in Tampa, but this replica museum was all right. It focused largely on Williams and had some displays about New Hampshire-born MLBers:
Pretty soon, I found the game’s starting lineups and got even more excited. I have to admit I knew none of the names on the Thunder, but I knew all the guys on the Fisher Cats:
Darin Mastroianni has lots of hustle; Adeiny Hechavarria is the Cuban shortstop snatched by the Jays a few months earlier; Eric Thames is a home run machine; Edwin Encarnacion can’t play defence but was down from Toronto for a rehab stint, so that was cool. I won’t go on, but it’s neat to go to a Minor League game and see a lineup full of guys you recognize.
I headed over to the right field corner, which is the only area of the stadium that has bleacher seating. New Hampshire’s bullpen is also in this area. Here, I took a panorama that shows what a perfect evening for ball it was:
The stadium was still mostly empty, so I went behind the Fisher Cats dugout and snapped this photo:
Then went behind home plate and got this one:
I sure get my exercise during ballgames. After those photos, I walked back down the concourse (saying “no, thanks” to the vendor who tried to sign me up for some insurance thing for the fourth time) to the picnic area to get this panorama:
I also snapped this photo of the hotel. My room is either the bottom or middle window on the left:
After these shots, I once again climbed the stairs to the suite level, took a browse around and chatted with a friendly Fisher Cats staffer.
By now, there was action in the Fisher Cats bullpen, so I walked over to watch Canadian Scott Richmond warm up:
And spotted Encarnacion, who was signing autographs along the fence:
I grabbed a ball from my bag and got him to sign it:
I also spotted Hechavarria, who’s supposed to be Toronto’s shortstop of the future. I called out to him and he came over to me. As he turned, he tripped on a groundskeeper’s rake and almost fell, briefly giving me visions of a blown ACL and an angry call from Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos. Anyway, he signed quickly for me and I must admit his autograph is one of the oddest I’ve seen:
Pretty soon, the clock said a few minutes before 7 p.m., meaning the game was set to begin. I snapped the shots to build this panorama during the national anthem:
Then, took my seat behind the visiting team’s dugout. (Not that it mattered where I sat, because I would soon be on the move again!) After the first batter, the three or four kids beside me who were yelling, eating and generally not paying attention to the game got on my nerves. Normally I sit in my designated seat for the first inning or two, but not this time. Off I went again.
Here’s Hechavarria batting:
And a panorama from sort of behind home plate:
Merchantsauto.com Stadium/Northeast Delta Dental Stadium (say that five times fast) has a Fenway Park-style manual scoreboard in left field:
You can also see it in the shot below, which captures the busy concourse behind the third base line:
Dinner time! I’d read about the ballpark’s decent selection of seafood, given Manchester’s proximity to the Atlantic Ocean. Normally, I’d be wary of eating something too exotic at a baseball stadium, but on this chilly night, I wanted something hot and tasty. Here’s the seafood menu:
I went with a clam basket, which came with fries and coleslaw. It was all right — lots and lots of breading but the slaw was excellent and the clams and fries were nice and hot:
It was also amply sized. I had trouble finishing it, but perhaps that’s because my hands were shaking because of the cold. I was only wearing a light jacket, so I was very chilly on this September evening. After I was done eating, I sat in the left field corner for a couple innings. If you love baseball like I do, you’ll appreciate how passionate I am about attending live games. It’s awesome, though there are hardly the words to describe it. I love moving around, taking photos and watching the game from different angles. Here’s a close-up shot of the scoreboard:
I was so close I could hear the men who were operating it talking back and forth. And here’s a look down the line from the corner. That’s Trenton’s bullpen; you can see one of the Thunder’s relievers stretching his throwing arm with a band tied to the fence:
Remember that $15 cap I mentioned earlier? Here it is on the fence:
And speaking of the fence, it’s ideal for snagging foul balls. I had no luck, but unlike solid fences that require you to hang over them to grab a ball, you can simply reach through the rungs of this one:
I watched a freezing cold inning from the picnic area behind the left field fence. I was the lone person braving the cold in this area. More sensible people were enjoying warming beverages in the bar behind me. Here’s a view from the picnic zone:
By now, the game was nearing its late stages, and things were still close. Trenton led 1-0 through six, but New Hampshire had trouble getting any kind of rally going. To make matters worse, the Thunder scored two in the seventh, four in the eighth and one more in the ninth. Normally, I don’t cheer for either team unless the Jays are involved, but given Toronto’s connection to the Fisher Cats, I was cheering like crazy for the home side. New Hampshire put up one run in the bottom of the ninth, but that was it. Final score: Trenton 8, NH 1. End of the season for the Cats, who quickly beelined it for the clubhouse. I was hoping they might return to greet the fans, as teams occasionally do after the end of the season, but soon the lights went off and a fireworks show began:
After the show, it was a bit of a depressing feeling. The team’s season was over, and my 2010 ballpark adventure might be over, too. I needed to check to see if the Tri-City ValleyCats had advanced to the New York-Penn League final; if so, they’d play in nearby Troy, NY, the following night.
So, with my 2010 hanging in the balance, I looked around at the dark Merchantsauto.com Stadium:
(As I had not been drinking, my vision wasn’t this blurry; it was just the camera.)
Because I’d yet to get a ball at this game, I decided I’d take advantage of the quickly emptying ballpark to see if I could come up with one. There was nothing in the NH bullpen, nor the home side’s dugout. As a last-ditch effort, I checked the Trenton dugout. Nothing. A hopeful peek into the elevator that helps people in wheelchairs get into the dugout, however, yielded a white sphere in a shadowy corner. Aha! I reached for the ball … and reached … and reached again. The elevator was so deep there was no way I could get the ball. Unless, of course, I climbed into the elevator. Its door was latched, so I quickly scaled it and reached for the (very cobwebby) ball. Got it! When I got back out and held it to the light, I could see it was an Official Eastern League Baseball. It had obviously been there a significant length of time, and I have no idea whether it was a game ball or just a practice ball:
Anyway, with ball in hand, I left the now-almost empty park, walked quickly past the line of traffic waiting to exit the stadium parking lot and was back in my hotel room watching ESPN before many fans were on the highway. Awesome! I also kept an eye on the darkened stadium. Lots of workers were scurrying around the concourse cleaning and doing other duties. Eventually, the workers thinned out and soon, the lights were turned off.
The next morning, I woke early, worked out in the Hilton’s gym for an hour and stopped in at the business center to check the Tri-City website. It turns out the ValleyCats beat Batavia in the opening round of the NYPL playoffs, setting up a championship round Game 1 against Brooklyn starting that night. One more game to get to in 2010! Troy, NY, is a 3.5-hour drive from Manchester. I quickly packed up my room, loaded up the car and returned to the hotel lobby to check out. In the lobby, I ran into a familiar face. It was Edwin Encarnacion, who was leaving the hotel to wait for a shuttle. The shuttle would take him to the airport where he’d fly back to join the Jays. He was carrying his Jays duffel bag, too. I said hello to him, and he said hello back. I should’ve asked to get a photo with him, but there was no one readily available to take it, and I like to be respectful of pro athletes’ privacy when they’re not at work.
Before leaving, I walked back down to the ballpark and took one last shot of the building front:
Then I hopped in the car, punched Tri-City’s Joseph L. Bruno Stadium into my trusty GPS, and hit the road.