Last week, I blogged about the six caps I’ve bought during my travels around Major League and Minor League Baseball.
This week, I want to continue the sports-centered wardrobe theme and talk about some of the shirts I’ve bought and received through stadium giveaways. As I’ve said, I don’t buy a hat at every park I visit. The same holds true for shirts and other memorabilia. Still, when the price is right and I like the look of something, I’ll add it to my collection.
Dating back to my first baseball road trips for The Ballpark Guide in 2010, here’s what I’ve picked up:
Cleveland Indians – Travis Hafner jersey shirt
This isn’t a traditional jersey shirt; you’ll see that it has Hafner’s nickname, Pronk, on the back. I’m a Hafner fan, and thought this shirt was unique.
New Hampshire Fisher Cats 1
When I visited New Hampshire’s (now called Northeast Delta Dental Stadium) in September 2010, the team was about to play what would be its final playoff game of the season. As such, most of the products in the team shop were on sale. I picked up this T-shirt for under $10.
New Hampshire Fisher Cats 2
I got this one for around $10, too. Not bad for a Nike product, and I like the look of it.
Great Lakes Loons
When I watched the Great Lakes Loons play in May 2011, I visited the team shop during a long rain delay. This shirt was priced way less than other comparable products, so I bought it. What I didn’t notice at the time is that the logo is significantly closer to the left sleeve. (Hence the price reduction.) Still, I like this shirt because it’s one baseball shirt that isn’t gaudy.
West Michigan Whitecaps
Speaking of gaudy (in a good way, of course), this bright red Whitecaps shirt featuring their logo is eye catching. Most of the shirts I’ve gotten are white, so this one stands out in my closet.
Fort Wayne TinCaps
Perhaps partly influenced by my amazing visit to beautiful Parkview Field, this TinCaps shirt is one of my favorites. I like its design and the fact it uses the MiLB logo in a prominent spot. Plus, who doesn’t like angry apples?
Lake County Captains
I wasn’t around to see Lake County win the first half of the Midwest League championship in 2010, but I liked this shirt enough to buy it in 2011.
I’m a big fan of this simple Shorebirds T-shirt by Nike. I like Delmarva’s logo and the simple design of this shirt.
Baltimore Orioles 1
When I was in B-More, I was lucky enough to attend a game with a T-shirt giveaway. The T-shirt this day was J.J. Hardy.
Baltimore Orioles 2
Last summer, Chevrolet heavily promoted the Volt at MLB stadiums, including Camden Yards. If you signed up to receive Chevrolet marketing material, you got a free T-shirt. Count me in! And, if you wanted to sign up multiple times, you’d get multiple shirts ….
Washington Nationals 1
A couple days after I was in Baltimore, I was in the nation’s capital over the July 4 long weekend. The Nats gave away American flag-themed T-shirts at the gate.
Washington Nationals 2
Just like in Baltimore, Chevrolet had a kiosk promoting the Volt. I managed to get, uh, a few of these shirts, too.
On July 4, I stopped in Binghamton to see the B-Mets battle the Portland Sea Dogs before an impressive fireworks show at NYSEG Stadium. During the game, I picked up what’s become one of my favorite items — a B-Mets pullover. These are the shirts the players wear during BP, in the dugout and while warming up. It’s awesome.
But what about game-used items? You’ll just have to check back tomorrow for some goodies that fall under that category.
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 Fisher Cats
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).
I’ve taken several thousand photos since I began traveling and compiling research for The Ballpark Guide in the summer of 2010. The vast majority of my photos focus on the elements of each ballpark I visit, but one thing I’ve noticed is that I’ve missed getting photos of myself in most locations. I often travel alone, and while it’s possible to hold the camera at arm’s length to shoot myself, some of these photos don’t turn out that great.
That said, I’ve got a handful of photos taken at different locations that I’m posting below. Click the date to read my blog about the visit.)
The second ballpark I visited, back on July 17, 2010, was Auburn’s Falcon Park. While I was snapping shots of the front of the ballpark, the man who lives next door to the facility offered to take my shot:
Later that summer, I traveled to Cleveland for two games on Aug. 7 and Aug. 8. During the second game, I got a few autographs around the visitors dugout, and then had my photo taken by another fan while sitting on the Indians dugout:
… and a day later, took one of me along the fence during batting practice. I snagged two balls here:
I toured around Michigan in May 2011, and watched the second of two Detroit Tigers games on May 25. Unfortunately, this game was called because of the rain after a few innings. While the tarp was still on the field, an usher took my photo:
On June 27, I watched the Hagerstown Suns play at Municipal Stadium. Bryce Harper was hurt and didn’t play, but that didn’t stop me from finding his truck in the parking lot and taking a photo of myself in front of it:
And on the second day, up on a deck in the left field corner:
The third-last game I watched in 2011 was on July 31 at Hadlock Field, home of the Portland Sea Dogs. Before entering the ballpark, my wife took a photo of me out front:
The Sea Dogs are the AA affiliate of the Boston Red Sox, and Hadlock Field is equipped with a mini green monster. During our visit, fans were able to play catch on the field before the game. Here’s me in front of the scoreboard:
And while throwing balls off the wall and catching them:
And pretending to relay them to the imaginary cut-off man. (I can’t lie.)
As always, thanks for reading. If you don’t do so already, check me out on Twitter.
Over the last two days, I’ve posted autographed balls from 1970 AL MVP Boog Powell and two-time National League All-Star Justin Upton.
Today, I’m posting the third autographed ball I got on my most recent road trip for The Ballpark Guide, which took me through Pennsylvania, Maryland and eventually to D.C.
This ball comes from someone taken second overall in the 2002 MLB Entry Draft — Justin’s brother, B.J. Upton:
B.J. hasn’t been an All-Star like Justin, but he has hit for the cycle, doing so back in 2009. He’s played his whole career with Tampa Bay and I’ve seen him play live a number of times. I bought this MLB-authenticated ball at Nationals Park, just as I did with the one signed by Justin. Both balls were a good deal, and I thought it’d be neat to have signatures from both guys.
One last ball tomorrow!
Before my second Washington Nationals game, I decided to walk around the outside of the stadium to take in the sights. A day earlier, big crowds prompted me to quickly get into the stadium, but on July 3, I had more time.
I took a long walk around the entire stadium, and saw the team’s head office …
… a plaque recognizing baseball’s return to D.C. …
… and even the players’ parking lot:
(Range Rovers seem to be pretty popular among ball players.)
Here’s what the first base gate entrance looks like:
And here’s a panorama of the center field gate, where I entered for both games:
Today, the crowds weren’t so bad, so I was able to score a $5 ticket …
… when the gates opened, I went straight down to field level to watch some Nationals tossing:
(Sorry, this guy’s name escapes me.)
See these giant lineups?
They were for the team’s autograph signing day. Chien-Ming Wang (who I saw pitch a few days earlier on a rehab stint at Hagerstown’s Municipal Stadium), Doug Slaten, Cole Kimball and Alex Cora were all signing:
I decided to forget about standing in line for 20 minutes to get one autograph, and it soon paid off. A few minutes after I took the above photos, the previous day’s starter, Livan Hernandez, came out to sign:
I got him on a ball I snagged a few days earlier at a Minor League game:
After getting my autograph, I went down the to Lexus Presidents Seats, which run $300+ a pop. You can’t even cut through this area, so the photo below is as close as I could get:
I stopped and watched the Nats’ pregame radio broadcast in the center field concourse for a few moments …
… then went and got a loaded hot dog for lunch. I got one covered in mac and cheese and Fritos, and while it tasted OK, it was impossible to eat without making a mess:
I then took a spot up along the first base line …
… and watched Jason Marquis have an absolutely terrible outing:
This mound visit was either in the first or second inning. Ouch. Though he was 7-2 going into the game, Marquis could not make a pitch. He left after 1.1 innings after giving up eight hits, six earned runs and even making an error:
After a few innings, I went behind home plate to take this panorama:
When I write my official guide to Nationals Park for my website, you’ll get a comprehensive list of all the places to eat. But in the meantime, I have to share one cool feature I’ve never seen elsewhere:
Yep, onion and relish dispensers that you crank. (I wonder if I could convince my wife to let me get one of these for the kitchen.)
I spent a couple innings standing behind a railing in the left field corner, where I took this picture of myself:
Nationals Park has a ton of places like this. It’s nice because if your seating area is crowded, or if you just want to stand up for a while, you can go find a spot to watch:
The Pirates cruised to a 10-2 win in a game that was all over in the first inning, and after its conclusion, I took the subway back to my hotel. Waiting for my hotel’s shuttle bus, I struck up a conversation with another guy who’d been to the game. After I told him about my website, he told me how the last time he’d watched a pro game in D.C., it was in the mid 1970s. (The old Washington Senators, of course, left in 1971.)
I love unsolicited opinions. The guy then told me (disgustingly, I should add) what a horrible manager Davey Johnson is and how the day’s loss was on him. He said Johnson’s not ready to manage in the Big Leagues and how Jim Riggleman was slapped in the face by Washington management. I said I understood what he was saying, but giving the team an ultimatum can come back and bite you in the hind parts.
The guy completely flew off the handle, telling me I was wrong and how when you’re “only” making $600,000, the team’s taking advantage of you. “He showed them,” the guy said. I pointed out that now that Riggleman is making $0, the team may be having the last laugh. The guy was starting to ramp up his rebuttal (while his wife stood there and blatantly rolled her eyes) when our shuttle bus came. Saved!
With my visit to the nation’s capital now in the books, I had one last stop on my 12-game, 12-day road trip: A visit to Binghamton, NY, to watch the AA Mets.
A day after my disappointing visit to Pfitzner Stadium to watch the Potomac Nationals, I was excited to watch the parent club Washington Nationals. I was staying for three nights in Alexandria, VA, just across from D.C. When I drove through D.C. to get to my hotel, I noted how bad the traffic was. (I’m sure it was worse because of the Independence Day long weekend.) As such, I decided to take the D.C. Metro to Nationals Park instead of try driving.
As it turns out, the metro is absolutely the way to go. It’s very clearly signed, and even though I’d never attempted it before, I didn’t have any problems. Even if you’re tentative to try it, go for it — there are scores of people wearing Nationals jerseys, so if all else fails, you can just follow a group.
When I arrived at the Navy Yard stop, just a block or so away from Nationals Park, I went up to street level and this was my first sight:
Yep, George Washington, Abe Lincoln and a ton of baseball fans. Nationals Park is in the background. As you approach the stadium, you have to pass by several vendors hawking water, peanuts, Nationals apparel and the like. They offer some great deals; $1 water, for example, instead of paying $4 inside the park.
Here’s one vendor and the “licensed” merchandise:
Once I made it through the throngs of sellers, here’s what I saw:
I didn’t have my ticket, so I had to get in line. Today was a double-header AND a T-shirt giveaway, so the crowds were pretty wild. A few days earlier, the team started selling $2 tickets for the game online. “I’ll buy one later,” I thought. Of course, the tickets were sold out when I checked later, and now, standing in line, I heard people grumbling that the cheapest ticket was $45. UGH!
When I finally got to the window, I was able to get one in the upper deck for $18, which wasn’t bad, all things considered:
The entry to Nationals Park is smooth. See the guys in the yellow shirts in the image below? You pass by them to have your bags checked, then you go through the gates in the foreground to get into the stadium. Some stadiums try to do both in one shot, and it ends up being chaotic:
As soon as you enter the gates, you find yourself in a huge, open pavilion with statues very reminiscent of those in Comerica Park:
Just behind the statues is the Red Porch, which is an awesome bar with two levels of seating. Here’s a closer look:
I immediately passed through the pavilion to take a look at the field. As I expected, there was no batting practice today, as it was a double-header:
In desperate need of some shade or air conditioning, I checked out a couple of the stadium’s team shops, which are nice. There are a ton of jerseys, memorabilia and even TVs to watch what’s happening on the stadium scoreboard:
After I cooled off for a bit, I started to make a big lap around the main-level concourse, noting all the impressive choices for food. Some that stood out were gelato:
Taste of the Majors, which offered food from different regions:
And even a place for some healthy food:
After touring the concourse, I went down the field level but there wasn’t much going on:
So, despite the heat, I went back up to the concourse and kept walking around. I found a pretty cool kids’ play area:
Indoor batting cage:
And a Build-a-Bear station (cool if you have kids; probably not on your to-see list if you’re with a bunch of buddies):
Beside the batting cage, there was a speed throwing station. Both were neat, though I’d suggest watching a couple rounds of someone else batting if you plan to step into the cage. When I watched, the machine was horribly uncalibrated; one guy had three pitches sail over his head, another guy was beaned on the arm and yet another had one of his 10 pitches go through the strike zone. It all made for a rather interesting spectacle. And the poor guy running the cage just stood there shaking his head.
Eventually, some players came out to stretch, so I went back down to field level. Here’s Pittsburgh’s starting pitcher James McDonald stretching:
And here’s Washington’s Ian Desmond signing autographs:
It’s hard to believe, but the day’s game between Pittsburgh and Washington featured two clubs with decent records. Both were around .500, and trying to climb higher; it’s a big departure from where these teams usually are.
That said, how is Washington a .500 team? As I scanned through its batting order, absolutely nothing positive jumped out:
Roger Bernadina: .265
Jayson Werth: .226
Ryan Zimmerman: .228
Laynce Nix: .278
Michael Morse: .302 (Finally, a .300 hitter!)
Danny Espinosa: .239
Ivan Rodriguez: .216
Ian Desmond: .222
Livan Hernandez: .154 (As the pitcher, he gets a bye.)
Anyway, awful! But Kudos to this team for somehow getting things done on the field.
After watching the on-field happenings for a while, I went up to the 200 level to see the sights. There’s a neat eating area with comfy chairs, turf and some tents:
When the game began, I fought my way through the crowds to get waaaay up behind home plate for this panorama:
Then, I headed toward the left field corner to snap this panorama:
(Yes, lots of panoramas today. Click on them to get a larger version, if you’re interested.)
I couldn’t help but notice that for just $30, you can get yourself a cheese pizza:
Gotta love ballpark food prices, huh?
Speaking of food, it was about time to find something to eat. I passed up the opportunity at that $30 cheese pizza and returned to the Taste of the Majors concession stand. I asked the vendor which food he recommended, and he suggested chicken fingers. Hmm, that wasn’t really what I had in mind. Chicken fingers are, you know, chicken fingers. He said the New York pastrami sandwich was a popular option, so I went with it:
And as good as it looks, it honestly wasn’t all that great. The pastrami didn’t have much flavor, but live and learn. I’m still glad I tried it.
While I was up high in that left field corner, I took the following picture of the center field gate and pavilion area to show a few neat features. Fans enter from the “10 o’clock” area, which is hidden behind the Jayson Werth billboard. The team shop is back there, too, and you can see some concession stands, the MASN broadcast booth, the Red Porch, nice, wide concourses and a cool vegetation pattern on top of the concession stands at the lower left:
Nationals Park has a great scoreboard, too. It’s extremely thorough and gives you all the info you need:
If you’re not focusing on the stadium itself, you’ve got an amazing view from the upper deck of Nationals Park. Recognize these landmarks?
Yep, it’s the United States Capitol building and the Washington Monument.
After touring the stadium a little more, I succumbed to my sweet tooth’s cravings and bought some Dippin’ Dots. I’d never tried these in the past, and they are dangerously good:
After my snack, I climbed up to the Red Porch, which is THE place to be at Nationals Park. It’s crazy crowded, though, so you have to get there early to get a spot. Here’s a panorama from up here:
I spent the next few innings up here, down the first base line:
From here, I had a good view of not only the whole stadium, but also of a couple of my favorite players — Canadian Matt Stairs and future HOFer Ivan Rodriguez:
The Pirates won game 1 and Washington took game 2, and I had a great time at the double-header. A day later, I’d be back in D.C. for one more game on my road trip ….
I should preface this day’s breakdown by mentioning the hotel I stayed in the night before. After the Auburn Doubledays game at Falcon Park, I stayed at the Genessee Grande hotel in Syracuse. I booked this hotel on Hotwire, and after losing with my previous night’s Hotwire booking, I definitely won with this one. After Hotwire revealed my hotel as the Genessee Grande, I looked it up and read somewhere that it’s apparently where visiting teams stay when they’re in Syracuse to play against the Orange. When I got there, I have to say I was pretty impressed. This hotel is beautiful and I made out well by scoring it for roughly $100 on Hotwire.
But back to the morning of July 18. I chilled in my room for a few hours in the morning because the Syracuse Chiefs weren’t playing until 2 p.m. I like to get to the ballpark early, as I’ve mentioned, so I checked out around 11:30 a.m. and headed over to Alliance Bank Stadium.