I’ve traveled to more than 50 stadiums for The Ballpark Guide, and have managed to pick up some pretty cool souvenirs along the way. These include:
– A Jeremy Nowak (Frederick Keys) home run ball;
– A Tony Caldwell (Greensboro Grasshoppers) home run ball;
– A Randy Ruiz game-used bat;
– A New Hampshire Fisher Cats game-used jacket;
– A Ryan Skube (former Padres prospect) game-used bat;
– A Curtis Thigpen clubhouse nameplate — OK, not “game-used,” but you know what I mean.
Well, as promised, I added a couple really neat items to my collection during my travels last year.
Here’s the first one:
This is a game-used bat that belonged to Justin O’Conner, the Tampa Bay Rays’ first-round draft pick in 2010. I bought it in May when I visited Bowling Green Ballpark, home of the Bowling Green Hot Rods. (You can read about this visit here.) It’s exciting to have a bat from a first rounder. I actually saw O’Conner play back in 2012 at the Futures at Fenway game at Fenway Park, and managed to get his autograph on a ball. Last year, when I saw his bat in the team shop at Bowling Green Ballpark, I couldn’t resist grabbing it.
As you can see here, it’s got his name written on the knob:
Lots of signs of use on the handle:
And a ton of wear on the barrel, which shows that he used this bat an awful lot before it broke. Here are some ball marks:
And some little chips, which are caused by when you tap the bat’s barrel against your cleats to them off:
O’Conner hit .223 for the Hot Rods in 2013 but showed some solid pop with 14 home runs in 102 games. I’ll be excited to see where he starts the 2014 season and look forward to following his career.
The next item I added to my collection has a little mystery to it. It’s a Lexington Legends game-used batting practice jersey, and here’s a picture of it:
When I visited Whitaker Bank Ballpark, home of the Legends, in May, I was excited to see a TON of game-used jerseys for sale at decent prices. Often, you see Minor League Baseball game-used jerseys for around $100, which seems like a little much. Anyway, the BP jerseys were just $25, which was impossible to resist. I browsed through the available jerseys, worn during the 2012 season, while checking out the team’s 2012 roster on The Baseball Cube. My goal was to find a jersey of a player with promise, and when I came across the #8 jersey, I saw it apparently belonged to first baseman Zach Johnson. While with Lexington in 2012, Johnson hit 15 home runs and added 108 RBIs. I was sold, and grabbed the jersey off the rack.
When I took it to the counter, the staff member said, “Nice — Delino DeShields, Jr.” Huh? I told him I was pretty sure this was Johnson’s jersey, pointing to the data on my iPod.
He replied that he thought DeShields might have worn the #8 on a promotional jersey night when his usual #4 wasn’t available in his size. If that was the case, what number did Johnson wear on that night? Or did Johnson play? As I said, it’s a mystery.
I have to admit I’m intrigued about DeShields, though. While with the Legends in 2012, he stole 83 bases in 111 games. Yep, you read that right. He added 18 more steals in 24 games with High-A Lancaster to finish the year with 101 stolen bases. This total would be enough to be the best in the entire minor leagues virtually any year, if not for a guy named Billy Hamilton. Hamilton, of course, set the all-time record by swiping 155 bases. (I was lucky enough to see him play at Louisville Slugger Field last year, too.)
So, did I have the jersey of Johnson, a slugger who was released last year, or of DeShields, Jr., a first-round draft pick who might be on the fast track to the majors? (He played in High-A last season and stole 51 bases while batting .317 while just 20 years of age.)
Let’s look at some more pictures of the jersey before we wade even deeper into this mystery. Here’s a shot of the #8 in question:
The back of the entire jersey:
And a close-up of the Legends logo, which has a sharp design:
Now, back to the mystery. I’ve found proof that Johnson wore my jersey in 2012. The next four pictures I found online, and were taken by Clinton Riddle.
And here’s one that shows the front of the jersey:
The Baseball Cube says DeShields wore #4 in 2012, and I’ve found proof of that with this picture:
And here’s the front of his jersey:
As you can tell from these photos, they’re taken during BP, not during a game.
So, based on what The Baseball Cube says, and with the photographic proof I can find online, I’m sure the jersey is Johnson’s. But I’m curious about the suggestion of the team shop employee, and I’m determined to find out the truth. I’m going to contact the Legends, as well as DeShields, Jr., himself, to get to the bottom of this mystery.
And when I have an answer, I’ll share it here!
** UPDATE **
Well, that didn’t take long. Immediately after publishing this blog post, I sent messages on Twitter to DeShields, Jr. and the Legends. DeShields was the first to respond, and he straightened things up:
Now, I’m not up on the nicknames of former Legends players, but it looks like “Ziggy” is Zach Johnson, which means my initial understanding about the jersey’s rightful owner was correct. An hour later, the Legends confirmed things:
I suppose there’s still a chance DeShields wore the jersey once, but that’s probably difficult to confirm. In any case, the theory about the rightful owner of the BP jersey sure made for a fun mystery while it lasted.
As always, thanks for reading. Please visit The Ballpark Guide for comprehensive fan guides to MLB and MiLB parks and remember, each of your visits help support my road trips!
The morning after my long, memorable day in Bowling Green to see the Hot Rods host the Fort Wayne TinCaps, I was on the move again. This time, I was driving east toward Lexington, KY, to catch the Lexington Legends host the Kannapolis Intimidators in South Atlantic League action. Whitaker Bank Ballpark, home of the Legends, was the fourth SAL ballpark I’ve visited since 2011, although I’d add another the next day.
The day was pretty open, but because I was driving back into the Eastern Time Zone after being in the Central Time Zone in Bowling Green, I was losing an hour. Still, I got to Lexington in decent time, hung out in my hotel for a bit and then packed up for the short drive to the ballpark.
Once I parked, I grabbed this shot of Whitaker Bank Ballpark from the parking lot …
… and then took a lap around the back of the park, taking shots like this one:
While I was in the parking lot behind the park, a man in a full Kansas City Royals uniform and carrying a pail yelled to me: “Are you picking up balls back here?”
“No,” I replied, because I wasn’t. “Why?”
He responded by, well, not responding and I continued on my merry way. As for the Royals guy? Hmm. The Legends are an affiliate of the Royals, hence the Royals uniform on the guy. MLB teams often send roving instructors through the minors, and I’ve seen guys in MLB uniforms several times in minor league dugouts. But was this Royals employee tasked with picking up errant BP balls? No idea.
I got around to the front of the ballpark without running into any more wayward MLB coaches and took a bunch of shots to make up this panorama:
Next, I photographed this enormous baseball and wondered if the scrawled names are supposed to be there:
If so, there was no sign inviting fans to sign the ball, but it’s sort of a neat idea. If not, someone needs to get scrubbing.
I briefly met the team’s director of broadcasting and media relations, Keith Elkins, who gave me my media pass. Thanks again, Keith! And then, it was into the park for a quick walk through the deserted and somewhat dark concourse:
Things got brighter, literally and figuratively, when I went out to the seating bowl and got my first good look at the field, which I captured in panorama form:
Other than the game of baseball itself, is there anything more perfect looking that a pristine field just waiting for action? I think not.
As you might guess from the above photo, there wasn’t much going on just yet. And because it was still well before game time and there wasn’t any sign of players on the field, I wandered over to the left field corner to check out a large and very impressive kids’ play area, complete with a Legends-themed bouncy castle:
The mustache, by the way, plays a key role in the team’s merchandise and marketing — the team shop, which I’d soon visit, even sold mustache bumper stickers. Since I was beyond the outfield fence, I took the opportunity to head to the outfield bleachers and take the photos to make up this panorama:
Next up was a visit to the aforementioned team shop, which had the best assortment of game-used jerseys I’ve ever seen. The Legends have obviously had a number of special jersey promotions, and this one caught my eye:
From their inception in 2001 up until the end of last season, the Legends were affiliated with the Houston Astros, and I thought these Astros-style Legends throwback jerseys were absolutely awesome looking.
One of the really neat things about this ballpark is the team’s hall of fame outside the team shop. The information about past Legends players was interesting, but I especially liked the home plates signed by all sorts of celebrities, including Hank Williams, Jr.:
When I finished browsing the signed home plates, I went out to the field to catch the warmups, which had just begun. For some reason, the ballpark had a fun, holiday-style vibe. It wasn’t an actual holiday, but maybe that’s just the way things are in Lexington. Outfielder Ethan Chapman and pitcher Daniel Stumpf were having fun with a fan:
Kannapolis pitching coach Jose Bautista was chatting and signing for a couple young fans:
And Intimidators pitcher Zach Isler was meeting fans, too:
After watching the action on the Kannapolis side of the field for a bit, I went over toward the right field corner where I noticed one of the coolest things I’ve seen at a ballpark. Remember the onion dispenser at Nationals Park that I’d love to have at home? Well, I’d love to have this instant refreshment station, too:
Just press the button and you’re hit with several jets of cold mist — a perfect way to cool down on a hot day!
I wanted to get some pictures of the Legends warming up, but made a quick stop in the Pepsi Party Deck, which has awesome Legends-themed seats:
Lexington’s clubhouse is back in this corner of the park, and from the walkway leading to the party deck, I spotted something you don’t often see — a player sitting by himself outside the clubhouse, cleaning his cleats with Scrubbing Bubbles bathroom cleaner:
As more players hit the field and started throwing, I went over to the fence by the Legends bullpen and looked for Bubba Starling. If you follow baseball’s prospects, you’ll likely know his name. A fifth overall draft pick back in 2011 (several spots ahead of Taylor Guerrieri and Joe Ross, who I saw the day before in Bowling Green), he’s the top-ranked prospect in KC’s system and the 24th-ranked prospect in the game, according to MLB. It didn’t take long to spot him:
While I was here, I got another picture of Chapman …
… and then looked for the next guy I wanted to spot: Raul Mondesi, Jr. Being a Jays fan, I watched Mondesi, Sr. play for Toronto for three years, and it made me feel annoyingly old to watch his son getting warmed up:
Well, “warming up” might be a bit of an exaggeration. In the several minutes I stood a few yards away from Mondesi, Jr., “hanging out” more aptly describes his pre-game prep. I have several photos similar to the above, but I won’t post them all. Actually, I shouldn’t say they’re all that similar — in some, he wasn’t standing with his legs crossed. His pre-game prep seemed to work for him, though, as you’ll soon read. And, besides, he was DHing, hence the lack of throwing.
When the game got underway, I grabbed a spot in the front row above the Kannapolis dugout to photograph the action. That action included this bat boy, who may be hoping for a growth spurt so he can fill his uniform:
From my seat, I had a great view of Intimidators starter Brandon Brennan:
And Mondesi, Jr., who showed bunt in the first inning and then drove the ball to right field for a triple:
In his next at-bat he hit a home run. In the following one, a single. And in his fourth at-bat, a double. Yep. The freaking cycle! It’s the first time I’ve ever seen a player do it in person, and it was hugely exciting to witness.
Starling wasn’t so fortunate at the plate. He went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts. Regardless, it was cool to see him up close:
It was hard to leave this perfect spot to watch the game, but I decided to hit the upper deck for panoramic purposes. Here’s the result:
After a bit of time up here, I went down to the concourse to find something to eat. I was looking for something tasty but not over the top, and the idea of boneless BBQ wings sounded good to me. When I got to my designated eating area, a picnic table down the first base line, I opened the box and was less than impressed:
The chicken was dry, had absolutely no flavor and at least half the pieces were badly burnt. You win some and lose some with ballpark food, I guess.
My underwhelming meal didn’t hamper the evening — getting to see Mondesi Jr.’s cycle will definitely go down as a highlight of my summer.
West Virginia tomorrow!