This blog is dedicated to the baseball travels my brother and I have taken over the past 20 years or so. Each entry will include pictures, videos (where available), scorecards and stories about our experiences on the road.
Following monsoon-like rains in Buffalo the day before (resulting in a rainout of the Rangers/Blue Jays game at Sahlen Field), Sunday morning dawned mainly dry but cloudy. The last stop on our two ballpark tour laid ahead of us in Erie, PA, the home of the SeaWolves (the AA affiliate of the Detroit Tigers). From Buffalo, the trip was about 90 minutes on Interstate 90 West. Outside of a few showers near Buffalo early, the drive was uneventful, and as we approached Erie, the sun broke free of the clouds. Unlike Buffalo, the forecast for this stop included sunshine and temperatures in the 70s, much warmer than our stay in western NY.
A rainout the previous night in Erie necessitated a doubleheader today, and the start time for the first game was scheduled for 1205 pm. Because of the accelerated timeline for our visit, we did not have an opportunity to explore Erie or the lakeside (as we had hoped to do before the rainout the previous evening). Driving into Erie, we could see that it was a city that had seen better days, long divorced from its rich history of shipping, fishing and railroad traffic. However, we did signs of construction away from the lake, especially near UPMC Park, perhaps the beginning of a rebirth. Never having been to Erie before, we were unsure where to park, and we decided on a parking garage just down the street of the ballpark on 10th Street.
Oddly, we paid the parking fee (which was $5.00) to a man sitting in a car just inside the entrance. Parking at the top of the first level, we took the back stairs to street level. Immediately it became apparent that was probably not the best choice, as the area seemed unsavory. Luckily, UPMC Park was just down the street, and we covered that distance in a matter of minutes. After arriving at the park, we noted parking across the street, though we did not know who controlled the lot, and whether we were permitted to park there. As is our custom, we walked the outside perimeter of the stadium. Due to the proximity of Erie Insurance Arena, there was little to see outside of the ballpark, other than the netting along Holland Street in right field.
My preconceived notion of UPMC Park was that is was probably a run down ballpark in a region of northwest PA where baseball might not be that popular. My notion was wrong, to say the very least! Upon entering the main gate near home plate, I was pleasantly surprised by what I saw. Almost immediately, my eye was drawn to the high left field wall, provided by the Erie Insurance Arena. It is the most prominent feature in the ballpark, and in my estimation, represents a great use of an existing structure to enhance the park, like Camden Yards in Baltimore or Petco Park in San Diego. From the main entrance, we walked down the left field line (which was short due to the presence of the arena). Crammed into that space was the home team bullpen (the home team also occupied the third base dugout). Just to the left of the bullpen was a seating area above the entrance to the ballpark, located within the arena itself. Those seats seemed like a good place to watch a game, but I imagined they were likely unavailable to the general public. Walking back toward home plate, we passed in front of Flagship Funland, a space geared toward younger fans with games and activities, including a giant inflatable slide.
Seating at UPMC Park is divided into two main sections, as we discovered walking toward home. The lower section extends from just past third base behind home plate to just past first base. The upper section (the main concrete concourse divides the two sections) consisted of two distinct pieces, each different from the other. Behind third base is a large, contiguous section (almost like a grandstand) containing about 20 rows of forest green seats, with private suites sitting at the top of the section. Behind the first base lies a much smaller upper section, recessed from the lower section. Beyond the upper and lower seating areas in right field, a covered picnic area, complete with benches and tables, was under construction. From my perspective, this area will be mainly for dining, as the view of the action from this area would be limited, at best. All told, UPMC Park has a seating capacity of about 6,000, which is typical for AA baseball.
After viewing the bullpen tucked into the right field corner, we headed back toward our seats behind home plate. Along the way we encountered three concession stands on the main concourse, as well as a couple of speciality eateries, but we chose baseball lunches for the 1205 pm start, and found our seats. My brother purchased our tickets back in the spring, and I was astounded by the quality of the choice. Our seats were in the first row, just to the right of home plate. These seats were at ground level, providing us with our closest access to the action EVER. Though we were behind the protective net, my brother sneaked his camera into the holes of the netting, allowing him to get some of his best action shots. Occasionally, the batter in the on deck circle would obscure my view, but it was a small price to pay for such an amazing view of UPMC Park!
From our seats, we had great sight lines spanning the entire park. The huge left field wall (dubbed the “Gray Monster” by the locals) dominates the view, just 316 feet from home plate. In an attempt to prevent “cheap” home runs, a yellow line approximately 20 feet up the wall marks the line of demarcation between home runs and balls in play. At the top of the wall is an digital auxiliary scoreboard, showing information on the game in progress, as well as scores for the remainder of the AA Northeast games. UPMC Park also boasts a great scoreboard/videoboard. Located just beyond right centerfield fence, its modest size was overshadowed by its crisp picture, providing a wonderful source of information for baseball diehards like myself. The outfield wall spanning from centerfield into right field was no more than about eight feet in height, allowing an expansive view of the neighborhood beyond it. Obviously, UPMC Park was designed to fit into the urban area in which it was built, providing a cozy feel to a beautiful ballpark, far exceeding my preconceived notion of the place.
First pitch of the first game of the doubleheader occurred at precisely 1206 pm, as the hometown SeaWolves hosted the Bowie BaySox, my ersatz home team when I lived in MD. On the mound for the BaySox was right hander Grayson Rodriguez. Pounding the catcher’s glove with fastballs in the upper 90s, it was clear that Rodriguez was a unusual talent, with “stuff” better than most I have seen at this level. Rodriguez essentially shut down the SeaWolves offense, allowing only an unearned run in five innings of work, while striking out 12. Being directly adjacent to the BaySox dugout on the first base side, we could see the Bowie manager asking for balls to be taken out of play, saved for Rodriguez after his terrific start.
Though temperatures were only in the 70s, the unceasing sunshine started to sap me of energy, and at the end of the first game, we got out of our seats and walked around the ballpark a bit (as well as replenish our drinks). Being a Sunday, the crowd was relatively sparse (certainly less than the reported attendance of 3,100). However, it was a noisy crowd, and in some instances, unrelenting. Several fans made it clear they were NOT pleased with the umpiring crew (especially with the home plate umpire and his ball/strike calls). Rarely have I heard such prolonged abuse of an umpiring crew in the minor leagues, with the constant berating more fitting of an MLB crowd along the Interstate 95 corridor from Boston to Washington (you can listen to the heckling of the umpires here). It took me aback, since the umpire’s calls had little bearing with respect to the outcome of the first game.
After a 30 minute break, the second game of the doubleheader commenced, with each team wearing different jerseys than they did in the first game. This game was not quite as crisply played as the first, with more scoring, as the SeaWolves jumped out to an early lead. A slower pace of play was important to us, as we still had a five hour drive home ahead of us. Unfortunately, I had one eye on the clock and one eye on the game, as we quickly reached the time we needed to leave. Only four and one-half innings had been completed by 5 pm (each game of the doubleheader was seven innings). With still too much of the game left, we did something we have very rarely done; left a game early.
We did get to see 11 1/2 innings of baseball on a sunny day in this beautiful stadium. With UPMC Park being so far away from where we lived, I did not imagine we would ever visit, but I feel most fortunate that we did. It quickly became one of my favorite minor league ballparks, nestled perfectly into a urban setting. Though I did enjoy the stadium experience thoroughly, its remoteness from home makes it unlikely we will visit again. If you find yourself within range of Erie during baseball season, pay a visit to UPMC Park. You will be glad you did.
Rain threatened to wash away our baseball weekend in weather New York and northwest Pennsylvania, as the forecast was very wet and cool. My brother and I traveled from my home near Harrisburg to Buffalo on Friday, July 26th, with the intent of seeing a game on Saturday at Sahlen Field (to see the “Buffalo” Blue Jays host the Texas Rangers), then taking in a game at UPMC Field in Erie on Sunday. Since the drive to Buffalo took only five hours, we found ourselves with some time Friday afternoon to do some sightseeing. Since Niagara Falls was only 30 minutes away, we went there for our first glimpse of the natural beauty from the American side.
An overcast sky yielded occasional light showers and drizzle, which resulted in us cutting our visit to the Falls short. Before leaving, my brother suggested that we visit Sahlen Field that night, since the forecast for Saturday afternoon was bad, almost assuring a rain out. Not wanting to miss our opportunity to see an MLB game in Buffalo, we quickly purchased tickets for the game, which was slated for a 707 pm started. Since we were 30 minutes from the hotel, we raced back to change and prepare for the game, and headed by up Interstate 90 back toward Buffalo in time to make the game.
Though there is no onsite parking at Sahlen Field (the reason for which was obvious once we arrived), we had little trouble finding parking within a couple of blocks of the stadium. Not surprisingly, parking was generally $20 that distance from the park, and as high as $35 right next to the ballpark. It seems as though parking prices for MLB games found there way to Buffalo! Once we reached Sahlen Field, we wandered around the outside of the park taking pictures. The outfield area was largely inaccessible from the outside, due to the proximity of Oak Street in left field, and restricted parking outside centerfield and right field. However, along Washington and Swan Streets, we found what appeared to be a recently refurbished look, complete with Toronto Blue Jays signage along the way. We also discovered that this portion of downtown Buffalo contained some older buildings with some interesting architecture. If the weather was kinder than forecast on Saturday, perhaps we would investigate this area further.
Returning to the home plate entrance, we entered the ballpark. Security was unsurprisingly tighter than minor league ballparks, but the process was much smoother than most MLB parks, as the staff was cheerful and helpful. Walking through the tunnel to the interior concourse, we felt as though we were in an MLB stadium, with a large and enthusiastic crowd milling around. It was clear that the ballpark had received a significant upgrade for the MLB games played there in 2020 and 2021. Sahlen Field was covered in Blue Jay blue, from the padded outfield walls to the trim on both the lower level and the private suites.
Typically, we explore the interior of a new stadium shortly after arriving, but the bustling crowd inside the inner concourse made that a bit more difficult than usual. Rather than encircle the playing field on the outer concourse (which was more challenging than other ballparks), we ducked into the tunnels between the inner and outer concourses, taking pictures, and repeating the process from the right field line back toward the left field line. Unlike some stadiums, the concourse did NOT extend around the outfield, as Sahlen Field was tucked in between streets in downtown Buffalo, leaving little room for maneuvering beyond those confines.
As we further explored Sahlen Field, we discovered that it consisted of two decks of seating. The lower deck (separated into two sections by a concrete concourse) extends from the left field foul pole behind home plate to the right field foul line, with the upper portion of the lower deck protected from the elements by the deck of red seats and private suites located above. Seats near the foul poles were angled for a better view of home plate, something we have not seen in many minor league parks, and a nice touch for fans in those locations. In total, the ballpark holds about 16,600 fans, which made it the largest minor league park we have yet visited.
Down the right field line we found the Party Zone, a multi tiered collection of picnic table style benches, covered at the top by a canvas roof. Just to the right of the Party Zone are the bullpens. Constructed shortly before we arrived, the dual leveled bullpen housed the home team on the top tier, and the visiting Texas Rangers on the lower level. Because of the alignment of Sahlen Field, there was only a short wall and a large mesh netting strung across left into centerfield, with Oak Street acting as a barrier. We would later discover that, due to the height of the netting, that it would be difficult for a home run ball to actually land on Oak Street (as its trajectory would more likely deposit in on the other side of the road).
Finished with our exploration of the park, we ducked back into the inner concourse, in search of a baseball dinner. While there were many places to obtain food and drinks, all of the lines were long, as it seemed that many in the large crowd has the same idea. Skipping this option for now, we headed toward our seats. Securing seats only 90 minutes earlier, we opted for section 118, which was down the right field line; a pessimistic forecast precluded us from getting better seats, for fear of a rainout tonight AND Saturday. Though the seats we scored did not offer the best view of home plate, it did give us great sight lines for the rest of the park. As the time of the first pitch arrived, clouds continued to produce intermittent light rain and drizzle, but not enough to delay the game (which was slated for a 707 pm start).
From our seats, we could see some of the larger buildings of Buffalo, most notably the Old Buffalo Post Office. However, the scoreboard in centerfield seems to be the most prominent feature in Sahlen Field. Not quite as sophisticated as scoreboards/videoboards in MLB parks, the scoreboard/videoboard here is an upgrade from what we typically encounter in minor league stadiums (with possibly the exception of Arm&Hammer Park in Trenton, NJ). For the most part, the space was used as a scoreboard, with only a few video replays shown during the game. As mentioned earlier, there were a number of upgrades made to the park to accommodate the Blue Jays in their tenure here, including new LED lights (which are MUCH better than standard lighting), a resurfaced outfield, and the aforementioned bullpens.
While not a sellout, Sahlen Field was about two-thirds full shortly after the first pitch was thrown, with intermittent light rain and drizzle (as it would for the balance of the game). In the bottom of the first inning, we were treated to a home run by Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. The Blue Jays tacked on four more runs in the third inning, with two more home runs. Rainy and cool weather at night are not normally conducive to balls flying out of the ballpark, but the smaller dimensions of this park may have been a factor in each of the home runs hit. Meanwhile, the Texas bats remained quiet for the first six innings, as the Blue Jays maintained a sizable lead through that time.
The Blue Jays put the game away in the bottom of the sixth inning, which featured another home run by Guerrero Jr. This time he blasted the ball well over the net in left field and across Oak Street to the parking lot on the other side of the road. With the Jays taking a 10-0 lead at the end of the frame, some of the fans started to file out of Sahlen Field, if for no other reason that to escape the cool and wet conditions. Like many MLB games, there were loud, intoxicated fans around us, but unlike many MLB, they were not particularly obnoxious. It was clear to me that the fans in Buffalo had accepted the Blue Jays as their own, and I noticed several “Buffalo Blue Jays” in the stadium. These signs had me wondering how the Buffalo fans would react if/when the Blue Jays returned to Toronto.
During the morning hours of Saturday, the Blue Jays management issued a press release stating that the Jays would be returning to Toronto, starting with the next home stand on July 30th. Although I am sure the fans were aware of an eventual return to Toronto, I wonder if Buffalo was ready to let them go so soon. Our timing could not have been better to see an MLB game here, as waiting any longer would have meant missing a golden opportunity to see MLB players in such an intimate setting. These were my thoughts as we filed out of Sahlen Field. Leaving the building proved more difficult than I anticipated, as there were logjams at each gate. Eventually, we walked back to the car, headed back to the hotel after a long day on the road.
My brother’s suggestion to see the game at Sahlen Field on Friday night rather than Saturday afternoon loomed large, as heavy rainfall plagued the Buffalo area through mid to late afternoon. After visiting Niagara Falls again in the morning, we encountered flooded roads on our way back to the hotel. Not surprisingly, the game was rained out, even as the heaviest rainfall was exiting the region. Apparently the field was unplayable, and considering how much rain fell into mid afternoon, that was not a shock. Once the heavy rainfall exited, we walked around downtown Buffalo to view the architecture, and we found ourselves face to face with the ballpark. Peering through the chain link in centerfield, we got one last look at the interior of the stadium, with the tarp still firmly in place over the infield.
Once the Blue Jays leave for Toronto, the main tenants of Sahlen Field, the Bisons, will return from their stay in Arm&Hammer Park in Trenton NJ. Buffalo has attempted to obtain a MLB team in the past, and I wonder, after hosting the Blue Jays, if there will be a clamoring from the faithful for an MLB team of their own. If that happens, and a MLB ready stadium is constructed, perhaps we will return. Otherwise, having seen Sahlen Field hosting MLB games, I am not sure we will be back.
Though the threat of storms loomed across central and southeast PA during the weekend of July 10-11, 2021, my brother and I planned to visit Clipper Magazine Stadium to see the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball’s (ALPB) Lancaster Barnstormers take on the Gastonia Honey Hunters for the final two games of their weekend series. Clipper Magazine Stadium is about 50 minutes from my home in central PA, so we were able to enjoy the comforts of home while adding a new ballpark to our list.
Arriving about 50 minutes before the first pitch for the Saturday July 10th evening game (with the first pitch scheduled for 635 pm), we were surprised to find a line to get into the parking lots of Clipper Magazine Stadium. In fact, the first parking lot we encountered on our left (open to the general public) was filled, and we needed to proceed to a lot further up the road. Unlike most ballparks, parking here was free. From the lot further from the park, the walk was less than 10 minutes. As we typically do, we toured the outside of the stadium. Upon reaching the main gate, we discovered that the ticket office was very busy, as it appeared as though a large walk-up crowd was taking advantage of the warm and not too humid summer weather to take in a ball game on a Saturday night.
At first glance, the main gate of Clipper Magazine Stadium bore a resemblance to PeoplesBank Park in York, PA (the home of the York Revolution, another member of the ALPB). Eventually, we worked our way back toward an entrance in centerfield. Having seen what we could from the outside, we decided to enter the park at this entrance. While waiting to enter the ballpark, I thought I heard a cow mooing coming from the other side of the wall. Upon entering the park, we were deposited onto the concrete concourse, where we were greeted by farm animals. It was Farm Show Night at the ballpark, and it turns out I DID here some mooing. Among the many types of farm animals on display along the concourse in center and left field, we saw some baby cows as we made our way toward home plate.
Following the concourse down the left field line toward the home plate area, we encountered a kids zone near the pink left field foul pole, complete with a carousel, a climbing wall, and assorted games. Being Farm Show Night, we also saw farm equipment for kids to explore scattered along the concourse in the outfield. Passing through the covered portion of the concourse near home plate, we noticed two concession areas, serving the normal baseball fare. Lines were long, which was not surprising considering how many people we saw entering the ballpark. We made a mental note of the line, since we would not obtain our baseball dinner until after we concluded out tour of the inside of the stadium.
Walking down the right field concourse, we found various places to get food and drink. Not being much of a drinker, I did not imbibe, but the selection of local craft beers seemed impressive. Further along the concourse behind the right field foul pole (a mere 300 feet from home plate) we found the Pavilion. It was closed for a private event this night, but there were many places to sit while eating and drinking, in addition to watching the game. Our tour complete, we headed back toward our seats, located on the third base side.
From our seats, we had a great view of the entire park. Perhaps the most noticeable feature was the scoreboard/videoboard in left field, behind the grass berm. A decent size for the venue, not many videos were played (other than some brief clips of the broadcast of the game). However, the board did have a nearly continuous display of the score, the count, and the pitch speed. In addition, there were auxiliary scoreboards on the second deck behind first and third base, showing this information, as well as the name of the pitcher. Most fans probably did not notice, but being the true baseball fan that I am, I was grateful for the information. In many minor league and ALPB games, there is a dearth of information about the game, which dulls the experience for me to some extent.
Being an ALPB game, there were some important rules differences from the MLB and minor leagues. First, balls and strikes were called automatically by the Automated Ball-Strike System (ABS), with the output from the system relayed to the home plate umpire, who then makes the call to the players and fans. The second rule change was the continued use of larger bases (18 inches), in hopes of reducing inquires on the base paths. Finally, when a starting pitcher is removed from the game, that team loses its DH from the lineup. Dubbed the Double Hook, the rule is intended to inject some strategy back into the game, perhaps encouraging managers to stick with starting pitchers longer. Each of these “experiments” were at the behest of MLB, with which the ALPB has a developmental agreement. It is possible some or all of these rules could someday become part of the MLB game.
As for the game itself, it was what appears to be a trend in the ALPB; a poorly pitched game by both sides. At one time, the ALPB pitchers were ahead of hitters when it came to talent and experience, but that is no longer the case. Through the first three innings, both teams traded runs amid a plethora of walks and errors, and by the end of the third inning, the score was 8-6 in favor of Gastonia. Typically, the first three innings of a baseball game are completed in an hour or less. On this evening, it took more than an hour and 45 minutes to reach that mark. Luckily for us, there was a treat at the end of the third inning. Rather than holding a contest for fans, there was an alpaca race on the warning track in center and right field, to the delight of all.
While the Barnstormers pitching held the Honey Hunters’ offense in check in the middle innings, Lancaster scored eight unanswered runs to take a lead they would not relinquish. In the bottom of the sixth inning, the home plate umpire took a fastball to the face mask, sending him reeling backward before hitting the ground. Lying motionless, it appeared as though he was seriously injured, as the entire crowd held its collective breath. To my amazement, the umpire climbed to his feet, and continued to umpire the game. Eventually he was replaced, as it was evident he was still feeling the effects of the beaning. Before he left, a Gastonia pitcher was ejected for ridiculing the umpire. Ostensibly the ridicule was about ball/strike calls (which the umpire was NOT making; see above), but it likely was an attempt intimidate the umpire due to his diminutive physical size.
Once evening blended into night, it was clear that some of the lights at Clipper Magazine Stadium were out. Darkness descended on the outfield, and at times it was tough to track the flight of the ball. Both teams continues to pitch poorly, and scoring occurred until the very end of the game. It took four hours and four minutes to complete the contest, during which there were 25 hits and 17 walks, as Lancaster outlasted Gastonia 15-12. While most of the crowd stayed for the fireworks display, we chose that time to exit.
We were back a mere 13 hours later for the finale of the three game series between the Lancaster Barnstormers and the visiting Gastonia Honey Hunters. Rain showers in the morning left the field soggy, especially on the warning track, where it seemed that the rainwater that collected on the tarp was emptied. In the wake of the showers were clouds and very humid conditions. We arrived even before the gates opened for the 1 pm contest so that we could have a game of catch on the field. Despite the wet and humid conditions, there were a number of people playing catch in centerfield as the players prepared for the game. This marked the third occasion during which were played catch on a minor league field, and after about 20 minutes, we left the field and prepared for the start of the game.
Sunday was Princess Day at Clipper Magazine Stadium, with several of the staff of the ballpark, a well as many fans, dressing for the occasion. There were contests with princess themes throughout the game, with some impressive knowledge demonstrated by a young lady not far from us. Though not my cup of tea, the fairly sparse crowd (which is not unusual for a Sunday afternoon game, particularly during the heat of summer) seemed to thoroughly enjoy the theme of the day.
Not long after the start of the game, the sun broke free of the clouds, and conditions become hot fairly quickly. Hot and humid conditions sent fans scurrying for cover soon after the first pitch. It seemed as though we would once again have a slugfest, as Gastonia scored early and often. This time, though, the Honey Hunters pitching was more than up for the task, yielding runs toward the end of the contest, when the outcome had already been decided. The time of the game was a more merciful three hours, as the heat and humidity drained me much more quickly than expected.
Overall, I was impressed with Clipper Magazine Stadium. Despite being a modular ballpark, it possesses its own charm, which came through particularly well during Farm Show Night. It reminded me of PeoplesBank Park in York, though this park did not seem to be as well kept as the stadium in York. In any event, this ballpark is within striking distance of home for me, so I intend to visit when my schedule allows.
Following a day of exploring Louisville (including Churchill Downs and the Louisville Slugger Museum), we drove east on Interstate 64 for an hour to attend a baseball game in Lexington. As part of the restructuring of the minor leagues, Lexington lost their South Atlantic league affiliation. Left without a baseball team, the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball (ALPB) announced that they would add Lexington as a member for the 2021 baseball season. Since we have an affinity for the ALPB (as each of us had ALPB franchises close to us), we decided to visit his park, as well as Louisville Slugger Field as part of our first baseball trip since the onset of the pandemic.
About 70 miles from Louisville (where we were headquartered for the Kentucky visit), the trip took about an hour and was unremarkable as traffic was generally light. Upon arrival, we found onsite parking that was very close to the park, though at $6, a bit higher than we usually see at minor league or ALPB parks. Per our usual method of operation, we toured the outside of the park. Debuting in 2001, Whitaker Bank Park had the appearance of a modular ballpark, equipped with some add-ons (including the Stache Shop near the main gate).
There were reminders that we were not far from the home of the Kentucky Derby. Steeples similar to those at Churchill Downs adorned the top of the stadium, and murals of race horses graced the outside walls behind third base. Perhaps the most interesting was artwork on the outside wall behind first base. It took me a moment to read the lettering, but the message was crystal clear. Being hot and humid, we did not spend much more time viewing the outside of ballpark, entering through the main gate behind home plate.
My first impression of the inside of Whitaker Bank Park was that it had a wide open feel, with a small videoboard adjacent to bleachers in left field, and a larger scoreboard/videoboard in right centerfield. In between the two, next to the batter’s eye in centerfield, stands a small white transmission tower, complete with a dome on top. Research concerning the dome indicated that it once was part of a Doppler radar weather, but I have not been able to substantiate that claim. Nonetheless, I enjoyed the wide open feel of the ballpark, and in this case, I believe that less is more.
Walking along the main concourse toward right field, we encountered the Budweiser Stables down the first base line. Beer and food can be ordered here while fans watch the game. On this evening, the Budweiser Stables was hosting a private party, so we did not explore this area much. Next to the right field foul pole we found the Pepsi Party Deck. Covered by a canvas roof, the Pepsi Party Deck contained a large number of benches for fans to view the game while eating and drinking. As was the case with the Budweiser Stables, the Pepsi Party Deck was closed for a private event. However, a kind security person allowed me to take some pictures from the deck before politely asking me to leave.
Backtracking on the concourse behind home plate into left field, we found picnic benches covered from the hot late June sun by a canvas roof. A small kids zone adjacent to the left foul pole was empty, as it was likely too hot to play directly in the sun. Finally, we briefly explored the rather large bleacher section in left field, which was comprised of aluminum seating. As we headed back toward our seats, we were better able to visualize the seating area. Two decks of seats stretch from mid right filed behind home plate to mid left field. The lower deck, which is much smaller, encompasses the first few rows closest to the field, while the upper deck contained the bulk of the seating. Above the upper deck, private boxes extended along the length of the seating area. All told, Whitaker Bank Park can accommodate just under 7,000 fans, but it was clear fairly early that the crowd size this evening would be nowhere near that number.
Our seats for the game were situated in the lower portion of the upper deck, directly behind first base. These seats were chosen for their proximity to the action around first base, and eventually this section filled to about half of its capacity. After locating our seats, we headed up to the concession stands for a baseball dinner. The line at the concession stand was surprisingly long, and it took about 10 minutes to order and receive our food. Prices at the concession stand were much higher than I expected, and higher than we have seen in other minor league and ALPB parks we have visited. Food and drinks in hand, we settled in for the game.
Before the first pitch, we were treated to a mashup of the National Anthem and the Black National Anthem, as part of the I Was Here project. When the Black National Anthem portions of the mashup were sung, I noticed some of the crowd near me being less than respectful, and I did my best not to let this affect my experience of the song. On this evening, the home Lexington Legends played host to the High Point Rockers. As a nod to the Negro Leagues, Lexington donned uniforms with the name Hustlers emblazoned on the jersey. While there were a few familiar names in the lineups, no name was bigger than Brandon Phillips. Playing second base for the Hustlers, Phillips had recently become a part owner of the Hustlers/Legends. Phillips seemed to be enjoying the experience, as he seemed almost joyful in his approach the game that night.
Being an ALPB game, there were some important rules differences from the MLB and minor leagues. First, balls and strikes were called automatically by the Automated Ball-Strike System (ABS), with the output from the system relayed to the home plate umpire, who then makes the call to the players and fans. More than a few players, thinking they had walked, started off for first base, only to be called out. The second rule change was the continued use of larger bases (18 inches), in hopes of reducing inquires on the base paths. Finally, when a starting pitcher is removed from the game, that team loses its DH from the lineup. Dubbed the Double Hook, the rule is intended to inject some strategy back into the game, perhaps encouraging managers to stick with starting pitchers longer. Each of these “experiments” were at the behest of MLB, with which the ALPB has a developmental agreement. It is possible some or all of these rules could someday become part of the MLB game.
Lexington struck first with four runs in the first two innings, but the Hustlers starter lasted only two innings. High Point responded with two runs of their own in the bottom of the second, and the score was 4-3 going into the bottom of the sixth inning. Lexington scored fours runs as the Rockers committed two costly errors. Though the sun has been in my eyes for much of the game, it became nearly blinding at about this time, and continued that way until sunset (around 905 pm EDT) finally provided some relief. Though fans around me (including my brother, who as seated next to me) were affected, my sun angle seemed to be the worst, making watching the game virtually impossible.
Being near first base, we were treated to the enthusiasm of Hustlers’ first base coach Ben Revere. Playing for a handful of MLB teams during the 2010s, Revere was animated much of the night, assuming a batting stance while timing pitchers, as well as chatting up Hustlers and Rockers players alike. Watching Revere and his unabashed zeal was almost as much fun to watch as the game itself.
Typically when my brother and I go to games, we keep mostly to ourselves, engaged in conversation about the game. On occasion, nearby fans have mistaken us for scouts, as they follow our banter, my brother taking pictures and me keeping score (which seemingly only old fans still do). On this night, fans around us openly engaged us, sensing our passion for the game. A woman in front of us told us her husband was the first base umpire, while a fan behind us, apparently friends with some of the players, told us about the unfamiliar players we were seeing. Finally, an amateur photographer approached my brother, and they engaged in discourse about taking pictures at the ballgame. Perhaps it was the area that influenced the interactions, as we are unaccustomed to talking to fans near us, other than to comment briefly on what is happening on the field.
Lexington tacked on two more runs in the bottom of the seventh inning, and the Hustlers bullpen held the Rockers’ offense in check on the way to a 10-3 victory. The action on the field, as well as the interaction with fellow fans kept us busy, and we enjoyed the experience at Whitaker Bank Park. We exited during the post game fireworks, as many of the fans stayed to watch the show. This allowed us to navigate the parking lot quickly, and we made the trip back to Louisville in less than an hour. The ballpark was more or less what I expected, though the rather paltry crowd for a Saturday night game worried me that the Legends may not draw well enough for the franchise to survive in Lexington. Living so far away, it is unlikely we will return.
After exploring downtown Louisville on a warm and humid morning, we headed to the second ballpark on our first baseball trip of 2021. Arriving well before the gates opened at Louisville Slugger Field, we parked next to the stadium in a public parking lot adjacent to the right field wall. Since parking (a rather hefty $8) was presumably for the day, we left the car in the lot and wandered around nearby Louisville. Gates at the ballpark opened about an hour before game time (scheduled for 100 pm), and we returned just as fans were entering.
As is typical for a new ballpark, we walked around the outside of Louisville Slugger Field (home of the Louisville Bats, the Triple A affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds). Though the ballpark opened in 2000, the brick face on all sides of the stadium gave it a retro field, and it fit in well with the surrounding buildings. Located in front of the ballpark is a statue of Pee Wee Reese. Raised in Louisville from the age of eight, the Hall of Fame shortstop played his entire MLB career with the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers, where he won a world championship in 1955. Reese returned to Louisville after his playing career ended, and later in his life, he worked for the owners of the Louisville Slugger company. Louisville honored its “native” son with a symbol that greets fans as they enter the ballpark.
Following our tour of the outside of the park, we entered through the side entrance (nearest the main parking lot). Greeted by smiling and helpful ticket attendants, we were reminded we were in Kentucky, where the hospitality was almost disarming to a couple of life long residents of the Northeast. Once inside, we were impressed with the inner concourse of Louisville Slugger Field. Reminiscent of Truist Park in Atlanta, the inner concourse had the look and feel of an MLB park, a feature not expected in a minor league stadium. In addition, a portion of the inner concourse was air conditioned, which was a welcome respite from the building northern Kentucky heat and humidity.
Walking along the concourse (which encircles the playing field), we wandered past the right field foul pole, where ongoing construction indicated additional seating in the right field corner, as well as a picnic area. While passing center field (and the batter’s eye), we found a grass covered seating berm stretched across left center field, in front of one of the two videoboards in the ballpark. We did not see anyone seated on the berm (it was probably too hot in the direct sunlight for that), but there were a few people milling around seats above the berm. Just beyond the berm was a left center entrance gate, for those fans entering from East Witherspoon Street.
From the concourse in left field, we were treated to some outstanding views of Louisville’s Main Street, as well as the Ohio River and southernmost Indiana to the north. As we would discover later, this part of Louisville Slugger Field afforded the best view of both the city and the river. Interstates between the ballpark and the river would obscure the Ohio River, but the gold colored bridges were visible. From the remainder of the stadium, only the tallest buildings in Louisville were visible over the forest green aluminum roof.
Seating in the lower level of the park extended from left field behind home plate to the right field foul pole, offering more than 10,000 green seats. There is a second level in Louisville Slugger Field, but unlike the vast majority of the ballparks we have visited in the US, we were not granted access (because we did not possess tickets stating our seats were located there). While we have become accustomed to exclusivity in MLB parks, this was one of the first examples of it we have seen in a minor league (MiLB) stadium. Hopefully the exclusivity seen here does not become more widespread in the future. Including the second level and private suites, the ballpark can accommodate over 13,000 fans, which makes it possibly the largest MiLB stadium we have visited (with regard to capacity).
To my mild surprise, there were plenty of seats available for the early afternoon contest. We have found that Sunday afternoon games are generally more lightly attended than Saturday night games, but the assembled crowd seemed smaller than might be expected. Perhaps the heat (with temperatures at game time near 90 degrees, with moderate humidity) or the small threat of thunderstorms kept the attendance light, but we were able to secure great seats just two rows behind the first base dugout. Unlike most ballparks, the home team occupied the third base dugout, placing us close to the visiting team, the Indianapolis Indians (the Triple A affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates).
Unfortunately, our seats put us in direct sunshine, though intermittent clouds helped take the edge off the heat at times. After finding our seats, we sought out a baseball lunch at the concession stands scattered across the inner concourse. There were several places to eat within Louisville Slugger Field, but we were content with standard fare, along with plenty of cold drinks to combat the heat and humidity. Surprisingly, the cost of the concessions was much higher than I expected, at least when compared to ballparks in other portions of the US. These prices would become significant, as we attempted to keep well hydrated during the game. During the first pitch ceremony, three siblings threw out first pitches to the catcher, who turned out to be their father returning from active duty.
Our seats provided great sight lines for the entire park. Two moderately sized videoboards located in left center and right centerfield provided all of the essential information for serious baseball fans, and played videos and replays as well. The left videoboard displayed the hitter’s information, while the right videoboard showed the pitcher’s stats, as well as the score. Auxiliary scoreboards located above the second deck beyond the dugouts kept fans informed on the count, the inning and the score. As a dedicated baseball fan, I appreciated the multiple sources of data.
Crisp starting pitching from both sides kept the game moving, and only 41 minutes had elapsed by the end of the third inning. Clouds that had been building since late morning started to produce showers and thunderstorms, most of which bypassed Louisville Slugger Field. However, we did not escape unscathed, as mainly light rain showers (lasting about 20 minutes) did affect the ballpark, though it did not require a stoppage of play. Despite the rain, conditions did not cool off much, and by the middle innings, I began to feel the effects of the heat. In fact, many of the fans in the seats around us eventually sought refuge from the sun by heading to seats out of the sun, or into the cooler inner concourse.
We quickly discovered that Louisville Slugger Field was very close to the flight path of nearby Muhammed Ali Louisville Airport. Though planes did not pass directly overhead, we did see planes every couple of minutes come very close as they took off from the airport. Being veterans of the air traffic out of LaGuardia Airport over Shea Stadium in New York, we were hardly phased by the nearly constant planes passing by, but I did find myself catching a glimpse of the aircraft as they climbed out to wherever they were going.
In the bottom of the seventh inning of a scoreless game, we saw something of a rarity. Indians lefthander Braeden Ogle took too long to deliver a pitch, and the home plate umpire awarded the batter a ball. In the minor leagues (as well as the Atlantic League), pitchers are required to deliver a pitch to the plate within 15 seconds (20 seconds with runners on base), in an attempt to speed up the pace of play. Failure to do so can result in a ball being awarded to the hitter. Despite the presence of pitch clocks in most ballparks, this rule is rarely enforced, but I saw delighted that it was in this instance.
A home run in the top of the eight inning gave the visiting Indians a 1-0 lead, and it appeared as though the Indianapolis bullpen would make the single run stand up going into the bottom of the ninth. The Louisville Bats, which had been largely dormant for much of the game, came to life in the bottom of that frame. The Bats used three singles and a walk to plate two runs to secure a 2-1 victory. Even with the heat and threat of rain, most of the Louisville faithful remained to celebrate the hard fought win.
After the game, kids were invited to run the bases (which is not unusual for weekend games). In a surprise to us, all fans were permitted on the field for a game of catch. Nearly three hours in the heat and and humidity of northern Kentucky essentially wiped me out, and I was not up for a game of catch. With a long drive awaiting us, we did something that would normally be unconscionable; we did not partake in the opportunity to walk on a professional baseball field.
Louisville Slugger Field is a fine example of a Triple A ballpark, complete with all the amenities fans could need. The concourse area looks as though it was modeled after a MLB park, and ongoing construction indicated that the ownership was dedicated to improving the fan experience. Only limited access to the second deck, and the seemingly high concession prices, detracted from a great baseball atmosphere, and we were treated to an outstanding game as well. While I would recommend visiting the ballpark if you are in the vicinity during baseball season, being so far away, I am not sure we will return.
On a cloudy Sunday afternoon, with the threat of thunderstorms looming in the distance, my brother and I set out for PeoplesBank Park in York, PA, the home of the Atlantic League’s (ALPB) York Revolution. About 45 minutes from home for me, the ride was relatively simple, as traffic was generally light during the early afternoon. Parking at PeoplesBank Park is spread across the general area of the stadium, with the most popular lot across the Codorus Creek from the park at the Smalls Athletic Field (using Google Maps with this location should make finding parking fairly simple). At $4.00, parking was a bargain, with the walk from the lot to the stadium taking less than 10 minutes. For those fans with mobility issues, there is a parking lot next to the field, but you may want to check on availability.
My brother and I had been here once before, as we headed home following a trip to eastern OH/western PA to see ballparks out that way. Just ahead of some deteriorating weather, we walked around the outside of the ballpark, which did not afford much of a sense of the place. Leaving just as the rain began, we left without knowing much more than we did before we arrived. Since the ballpark was within range of both of us, we planned to visit PeoplesBank Park in 2020, but the pandemic resulted in the cancellation of the Atlantic League season. Our first proper visit to York would have to wait…until today
PeoplesBank Park is located on the edge of a neighborhood in York, and we saw row houses somewhat reminiscent of those found in Philadelphia. We found the architecture similar to what we saw in Harrisburg as well, so it seems to be a common theme across southeast and central PA. In fact, I would have been interested in walking through the neighborhood to get a better feel for the area, but we did not leave sufficient time for a side trip. Perhaps if time permits in a subsequent trip, we will investigate this portion of York more thoroughly.
Though we were briefly here less than two years before, my memory of the event is fuzzy at best, so it was as if we were seeing the ballpark for the first time. PeoplesBank Park features Brooks Robinson Plaza, located to the right of the main entrance to the ballpark. A statue of Robinson graces the plaza, along with a plaque outlining information about the Hall of Famer’s storied career. Opening in 2007, PeoplesBank Park was constructed to resemble Orioles Park at Camden Yards, the favorite MLB team in this portion of PA. Without much to see on the outside of the park, we entered the stadium through the home plate gate.
Upon entering the stadium, we quickly walked around the lower concourse, which encircled the ballpark. Not knowing what to expect, I was immediately impressed with the park, which seemed colorful and vibrant, even on this cloudy Sunday afternoon. With only minutes before the first pitch, we quickly walked from right field to left field before finding our seats along the third base side. Though I did see why others thought PeoplesBank Park looked liked Camden Yards (especially the picnic area in right field), another ballpark came to mind: Regency Furniture Stadium, located in Waldorf, MD. Also home to an Atlantic League franchise (the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs), there was more than just a passing resemblance to that ballpark, which we would discover during the game.
Perhaps the most prominent feature in PeoplesBank Park is the wall in left field. Known as Arch Nemesis, the forest green wall stands 37 feet 8 inches tall (six inches taller than the Green Monster in Fenway Park), making it the highest wall in professional baseball. Creation of the highest wall in baseball was apparently in response to the short distance from home down the left field (a mere 300 feet), due to the presence of train tracks just beyond the wall. We saw the wall in “action”, as the ballpark held a couple of balls that may have left other ballparks with shorter fences. There is also a manually operated scoreboard at the base of the Arch Nemesis, which bares some resemblance to the one in Fenway.
We reached our seats in the lower level behind the dugout just as the first pitch was thrown. Minutes later, to our surprise, a beautiful sight appeared. A bald eagle passed nearly overhead, and it seemed as though the entire crowd noticed its passage. Based on the murmuring in the crowd, I got the impression that the eagle had been there before, and PeoplesBank Park could be on its normal route through the area. Quick reactions by my brother allowed him to capture the moment perfectly with his camera. Unfortunately, the eagle did not pass by again during the game.
This was not the first time we were graced by the presence of a bald eagle. While exploring Lock #1 on the Mississippi River in St Cloud MN on an overcast and cold late September afternoon, a bald eagle passed overhead, flying south along the river. That time, we were caught completely off guard by the eagle’s passage, and neither of us managed to snap a picture before it disappeared into the distance.
Following the excitement of our unexpected visitor, we turned our attention back to the game. For this Sunday matinee, the York Revolution were hosting the Long Island Ducks for the finale of their series. There is a strong tie between the Ducks franchise and the New York Mets. Ducks manager Wally Backman was the starting second baseman for the the 1986 World Championship team, and the Ducks starting left fielder, L.J. Mazzilli, is the son of perennial Mets fan favorite Lee Mazzilli. Coming into the action this afternoon, the Ducks held a three game lead over the Revolution in the North Division of the ALPBA.
Settling into the game, I began to take a better look at PeoplesBank Park. As mentioned earlier, I felt as though it had more than a passing resemblance to Regency Furniture Stadium, and the more I examined my surroundings, the more I saw the similarities. Like the ballpark in Waldorf, MD, the bullpens were located in foul territory just behind the bases. Seating for the respective bullpens is near the railing, with line drive foul balls putting the relievers in a precarious spot. On this day, most relievers were either in the dugout or further down the line, a testament of the danger these players face sitting in prime line drive areas.
In addition, the main seating area was structured similarly to Regency Furniture Park, with seats on the left and right field lines angled such that they faced the pitcher’s mound. When the seating in left and right field along the rail is considered, PeoplesBank Park hold about 7,500 fans, which is large for an ALPB stadium.
In addition to the hand operated scoreboard, there is a more modern scoreboard, located in centerfield, just behind the picnic area. Modest in size and resolution, this scoreboard was mainly informational, with occasional video replays presented. During the game, I noticed to auxiliary video boards near centerfield (that seemed to play mainly advertisements). Finally, sandwiched between the Arch Nemesis and the centerfield score board was a tightly packed kids zone. Complete with a carousel and several slides, these facilities offered something else for the kids to do while the adults enjoyed baseball.
Though I did not exactly know what to expect as we drove toward York, PeoplesBank Park far exceeded my expectations. The more I saw of the park, the more I liked it. Placed along Arch Street (on the edge of a neighborhood), the ballpark has an urban feel to it, providing the stadium with an appealing backdrop. Not long after the first pitch, I felt as though PeoplesBank Park was possibly my favorite ALPB ballpark (sorry Southern Maryland Blue Crabs).
During our brief tour of the ballpark, we did notice places to eat, especially on the concourse in right field. Given our time constraints, we did not examine any of the cuisine at PeoplesBank Park, instead choosing standard baseball fare (sodas, hot dogs and pretzels) at the nearby concession stand. Considering that my palette is relatively unsophisticated (and I do not drink alcohol at ball games), it is likely that I would be unable to render an intelligent review of food and drink at the park. For that, you are on your own.
Following a quiet top of the first, the Revolution scored three runs in the bottom of the frame. After that outburst, the game did not see any more scoring until the top of the sixth inning. However, due to the 16 walks issued by both teams (as well as a number of deep counts), the pace of play slowed to a crawl at times. This is not atypical for an ALPB game, as the rosters mainly consist of ex MLB/MiLB players, as well as those that went undrafted. For comparison, the level of play in the ALPB is roughly similar to that seen at the Double A level in affiliated baseball, though players (with the notable exception of pitchers) are typically more polished in the ALPB, due to the experience level of the players.
It is not unusual for ALPB rosters to have familiar names on it, which helps with attendance in most cities, but many of these players are past their best days. Some hang onto the notion of being picked up by an affiliated team (which happens fairly often, given there is a player development deal in place between MLB and the ALPB), while others play baseball for as long as they can before hanging up their spikes for good. The ALPB also brings baseball to underserved areas, in places where there are no MLB or MiLB teams close by.
Though the crowd was not particularly large (as often happens for Sunday afternoon games), the fans were vocal, especially those close to us. That enthusiasm was also evident on the field, as the Revolution third baseman pretended to swat at the York shortstop who got too close on an infield popup. Though the sample size is admittedly small, there seems to be a good repertoire between the fans and the team, and that is refreshing. All too often when teams play badly, so called fans seem to turn on them, but that does not seem to be the case here.
In the top of the sixth inning, the Ducks scored two runs, drawing within a run of the Revolution. However, York tacked on another run in the bottom of the seventh inning, and a trio of Revolution relievers held off Long Island for a 4-2 victory. Unlike most crowds, many Revolution fans stayed until the last pitch. Thankfully, the threat of thunderstorms held off, providing a cloudy but dry experience at PeoplesBank Park. As we filed out of the park, I was still surprised how much I enjoyed the place. Obviously, a great deal of thought went into the design of the stadium, and the place still looks great years after first opening its gates. Being just 45 minutes away, I plan to visit this beautiful ballpark as often as it feasible.
Walking back to the parking lot after the game, I once again enjoyed the surroundings. Being relatively new to the area, I found this part of York fascinating, and could spend time here simply exploring. The entire visit was enjoyable, and PeoplesBank Park is worth a visit if you are within range during the ALPB season.
Yet another move placed me near Harrisburg, PA this spring, and I am once again in a hot spot for baseball. Just 11 miles away is First National Bank (FNB) Field, the home of the Harrisburg Senators, the Double A affiliate of the Washington Nationals. My brother and I visited FNB Field once before, on our way back from a baseball trip that took us to eastern OH and western PA during August of 2019. There was no baseball that day (as the Senators were out of town), but we were able to wander through portions of the park. Of course, we could not get the true essence of the ballpark that day, but we vowed to come back here at some point in the future.
Fast forward nearly two years, and we did indeed return. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of FNB Field is that it is located on an island in the Susquehanna River. Known as City Island, the mile long island is home to the ballpark, as well as other attractions. We approached City Island from Harrisburg, taking the Market Street Bridge to the main parking lot adjacent to the ballpark. Concerned about the availability of parking on an island, we arrived well before the first pitch. Despite my trepidations, there was plenty of parking available in the main lot, as well as a lot just over the bridge.
A short walk from the parking lot to FNB Field ensued, which involved climbing stairs and an uphill walk before reaching the gate. The trek could present some issues for those fans with mobility issues, but free rides from the parking lot to the gate are available via bicycles equipped with a rider seat. Though I did not see anyone take advantage of this service, I imagine it would be helpful for those in need. Per our usual approach, we walked outside the stadium taking pictures. About halfway across the outside of the park, we entered through a gate behind first base. Pleasant staff members working at the gate welcomed us warmly as we presented our mobile tickets, reminding me we were in neither the New York City Metro area nor Maryland/DC.
Once inside the park, we wandered taking pictures. Our visit occurred during the pandemic, and masks were worn by most fans. Because of the continuing pandemic, I was concerned that our movements within the ballpark would be restricted to limit exposure. However, we were able to encircle the playing field, as the main concourse wraps around the park. The layout of the outfield and the seating along the concourse vaguely reminded me of Regency Furniture Stadium in Waldorf, MD (home of the Atlantic League’s Southern Maryland Blue Crabs).
As we walked from the right field line to the left field line, I was surprised to discover than FNB Field held more than 6,000 fans. Even with a sizable seating area behind home plate. at first glance, I would have thought the maximum capacity was closer to 5,000, which would have been on the smaller side for a Double A team. However, when the bleacher seating along the first base side, and the “Cheap Seats” in the left field corner are considered, the ballpark holds about the average number of fans for Double A ballparks.
Located on the concourse near the left field foul pole was the Senators Team Store. Seemingly smaller than most team stores, it contained most of the standard fare fans would expect, and had much more of an Expos presence than Nationals Park (the Montreal Expos moved to DC following the 2004 season). After browsing in the team store, we headed down the left field course to our seats
Seating in FNB Field was arranged in pods to limit interaction among fans. Unlike the pods we occupied the week before in Arm&Hammer Park in Trenton NJ, seating here was not as restrictive. Being closer to fans, we wore our masks, removing them only to eat and drink. Sitting in section 201 (near third base), we had a great view of the entire park. Our vantage point afforded us a view of the hills to the north and northwest of the stadium, reminding me of our visit to FirstEnergy Stadium in Reading, PA. In addition to a standard videoboard/scoreboard in right centerfield, there was a supplemental horizontal videoboard in the left centerfield. This board contained information on the inning/score, the pitcher’s statistics, as well as the pitch speed. For avid baseball fans like us, the additional treasure trove of data was quite welcome.
The weather could not have been better, as remaining clouds melted away with the setting sun. Clear skies and pleasantly warm temperatures for mid May set the stage for a perfect evening for baseball. Though the crowd was necessarily small for the contest, that did not stop those in attendance from showing their affection for the Senators. Because of the pandemic, there was no minor league season in 2020, and the pent up frustrations of the faithful resulted in an almost raucous crowd.
Though there are a number of places to eat, we grabbed a standard baseball dinner at the concession stand on the concourse level behind the main seating area. Servers were friendly, prices were reasonable, and the service was relatively quick. After some of the BAD experiences we have had at other parks (especially MLB parks), cheerful faces were a welcome change of pace. Perhaps as I get a number of visits under my belt, I can comment further on the cuisine offered at FNB Field.
As evening blended into night, the view of the hills to the north and northwest disappeared, but the feel of the stadium unchanged. Unlike many Saturday night minor league games, the crowd did not leave early, as the game remained relatively tight until the end. Even with a small crowd, I became concerned that exiting an island from one parking area could take a considerable amounts of time. Reversing our course from the stadium to the parking lot, we took some time to admire the view of Harrisburg across the Susquehanna River. It was worth the detour; Harrisburg alit was quite a sight, especially since it was our first visit. If you have the time after a Senators night game, make sure to take in the skyline.
As expected, exiting the parking lot was a slow process, as several lines that developed in the lot bottlenecked at the confluence of the lines near the turn onto the bridge. Having been in parking lots that were slow to clear in the past, we knew that patience was key, and eventually we managed to get out of the lot, heading back toward the east side of Harrisburg. FNB Field is an excellent minor league facility, providing a great fan experience among the passionate faithful. Since this facility is my new “home” ballpark, I was very pleased to find such a great stadium so nearby.
- First visit: Tuesday, July 26th 2011
- Final visit: Sunday, August 3rd, 2014
During a brief return to NJ in the early 2010s, I became aware of the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball‘s (ALPB) franchise in Camden NJ. Dubbed the Riversharks, the team played its home games at Campbell’s Field, located near the Delaware River. Campbell’s Field was the northern extent of the Camden Waterfront, a revitalization project which includes the Adventure Aquarium and the BB&T Pavilion, an outdoor amphitheater. Opening in 2001, not only was Campbell’s Field home of the Riversharks, it also hosted baseball for Rutgers University, St. Joseph’s University, and Temple University. The field served as the home of the Riversharks between 2001 and 2015.
Living less than 20 miles away, the trip to the ballpark was relatively simple, taking state roads to the Waterfront. Parking was also simple, as there was generally many available spots in the main lot adjacent to the stadium. Driving through Camden, it was clear that the city was still in the process of recovery, with reclamation projects in progress. Not that many years before, people actively avoided Camden, as it had a reputation for violence, and that reputation kept the city from rebounding. With the opening of the Camden Waterfront, positive changes occurred, and by the time we visited Campbell’s Field, it was a much more pleasant environment.
Being an independent league, ALPB rosters often include ex-MLB players, minor leaguers out of options with their MLB club, and young players not drafted into the MLB pipeline. It is not unusual for teams to have a few notable ex-MLB players, and being able to seem them in a much more intimate setting can be a boost for the ALPB team’s attendance. Due to the mix of experienced players and young talent, the level of play at Campbell’s Field was good, rivaling the level of play in AA, and the pitching tends to be perhaps just a bit better. Pay in the ALPB is not great, so players in the league have motivation to perform well, as ex-MLBers play for one more shot at The Show, and younger players try to get noticed by MLB organization.
Walking up to Campbell’s Field, the view is dominated by the Ben Franklin Bridge, which connects Camden to Philadelphia, PA. Regardless of what we might find inside, the magnificent view of the suspension bridge superimposed on the ballpark was worth the trip itself. Entering the ballpark required climbing a not inconsequential set of concrete stairs (as shown in the first picture), which would pose an issue for those with mobility issues. Stairs climbed, we were deposited on the upper concourse. Almost all of the concession stands were located on the upper concourse, as well as a small team store. Unlike most ballparks we have visited, there were not any specialty cuisine locations available, but the “essentials” for a baseball dinner were available. Strolling along the upper concourse toward right field, there was not much to see, outside of the gorgeous view of the bridge. Doubling back to the left field line, there was Picnic Pavilion, a picnic area toward the foul pole. Just above the Picnic Pavilion was the Kid’s Zone, a place designed for younger fans.
During our tour, we discovered that Campbell’s Field had two levels of seating. Separated by a lower concourse, the lower level seats extended from mid left field behind home plate to mid right field. The upper level seating mirrored the lower level in coverage, and luxury boxes stood atop the ballpark near home plate. All told, the park held 6,700 fans, though the seating area did not appear to be big enough to accommodate that many fans. Like most minor league/independent league ballparks, advertisement boards extended from foul line to foul line just above the outfield wall. A small and seemingly dated combination scoreboard/videoboard was placed just behind the right centerfield wall. My overall impression was that Campbell’s Field was a functional but unimpressive modular ballpark, lacking many of the amenities seen in parks built during the same era.
Of course, the star of the stadium was the view of the bridge, which seemingly towers above the park as it stretches from just beyond left field (where one of the concrete supports sits) out past right centerfield. Even during game action, I found myself transfixed by the view, and the effect was amplified at night when the bridge was lit. From most of the park, it was not that easy to see the Philadelphia skyline, but seats in right field afforded the best view. Even pictures don’t do the view justice, as the superstructure announces its presence with authority. To be honest, the remainder of the park pales in comparison, and in 2004, Baseball America named Campbell’s Field the Ballpark of the Year. Based on the view alone, I can understand why the honor was bestowed.
Apparently, the view at Campbell’s Field was not enough to entice fans to the ballpark. During each of our visits, attendance was disappointing. For a doubleheader in July of 2011, there were fewer than 750 fans in the park, making it look nearly deserted. Granted, the first game of the doubleheader started at 510 pm, which is just about the time most people in the area leave work, but the weather was warm and dry for July. Attendance statistics indicated that Camden drew about 3,200 fans per game, but we never saw anything close to that in the park. Having the Phillies just a few miles away might have had an influence on attendance, and perhaps the location had a deleterious effect on getting fans to the game (as the reputation of Camden seems to be slow to fade).
Even though Campbell’s Field was fairly close to my home in 2011/2012, we did not go to the ballpark very often. Competition from other baseball options meant that Camden was typically a last choice, especially when all other teams were out of town. Plummeting ticket sales meant that Camden would have difficulty holding onto its place in the ALPB. Sadly, Camden eventually lost its franchise, as the team folded after the 2015 season. Replacing the Riversharks in the ALPB was the New Britain Bees, which only lasted a couple of seasons before folding themselves. Between 2015-2018, all three colleges that called Campbell’s Field home found other accommodations, meaning that the stadium no longer had full time residents. With the prospect of attracting new teams looking unlikely, the ballpark was demolished late in 2018.
Aside from the amazing backdrop, Campbell’s Field held no charm for me. It was, after all, a modular stadium in a location that many felt was difficult to reach, or didn’t feel comfortable visiting. While I do not miss the park, I mourn the loss of baseball in an area that could have used it as another attraction to help a city on the rise.
- First visit: Sunday, August 13th 2015
- Most recent visit: Saturday, July 23rd 2019
Moving to the DC area in 2013 opened up quite a few baseball opportunities, including MLB baseball, minor league baseball (at just about all levels), as well as access to an Atlantic League of Professional Baseball (ALPB) team. Located in Waldorf, MD, I was aware of the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs, but their ballpark, Regency Furniture Stadium is a distance from my home. While the drive is only about 40 miles, traffic along the preferred route can be very difficult, especially during the evening commute. Colleagues living in that area report that the trip to Waldorf during the drive home can take as much as 90 minutes. That prospect caused my curiosity to wane, as there are many other baseball options closer to home. As a result, we did not visit Regency Furniture Stadium for the first time until 2015.
Our first trip to Waldorf occurred toward the end of the 2015 campaign, on a Sunday afternoon. That game was chosen as it promised to be a much less onerous drive. Even so, the trip down to Waldorf took about 50 minutes, with travel conditions being nearly idea. Nestled away in a more rural portion of southern Maryland, we needed to consult Google Maps to find the stadium, which routed us through some bucolic scenery before reaching the ballpark. As we approached the stadium, it was clear that parking would NOT be an issue, as there is a large lot in front of the park. Though the Blue Crabs website stated that parking in the lot was $5.00, we did not see any attendants collecting fees, so we simply found a suitable spot and walked up to the stadium. In subsequent visits, we noticed that there never seemed to be anyone dedicated to collect payment for parking.
With very little to see around the ballpark, we headed to the ticket window to purchase seats for the game. It seemed as though few people were performing many tasks at the window, giving the place a mom-and-pop store feel. After securing seats, we entered through the main gate (located behind home plate), which featured an old-style turnstile. Attendants at the main entrance were friendly, reminding me that we were in southern Maryland, a much different environment from the DC area, where stadium attendants can be far less cordial (yeah, I’m looking at you, Nationals Park). Seeing the interior of Regency Furniture Stadium, it was clear there was something different about this place. Though it was obviously a modular stadium, there were aspects of the park that appeared to be an intentional departure from the cookie cutter minor league/independent park form.
Upon entering the park, we walked along the main concourse. Virtually all of the concession stands are located there. In addition to standard fare, there were many seafood based offerings available. Also located on the main concourse is the Blue Crabs team store. Relatively small when compared to other ballparks, it offers hats, jersey, jackets and other apparel, with very friendly and helpful staff that seem to understand when you are “just looking”. Walking down the right field line, we encountered Pinch’s Playground (named after the team’s mascot, Pinch), a fairly large area with games and attractions (including a rock wall for climbing) designed for younger fans.
Unlike most minor league/independent league parks, the main concourse encircles Regency Furniture Stadium, allowing us access to the outfield. From behind the centerfield wall, we were able to take in the entire ballpark. There is one main seating area in the stadium, extending from mid right field behind home plate to mid left field. Curiously, the seating area shrinks to just a few rows directly behind home plate, with luxury boxes sitting just above them. This is a configuration we had not seen before, but this would not be the last unique aspect of the park we would discover. In total, Regency Furniture Stadium holds about 4,200 patrons, which is smaller than average for the minor league and independent ballparks we have visited
Extending from mid left/right field to the foul poles are large yellow walls adorned with Wawa advertisements. A convenience store chain based in PA, we are very familiar with the stores, but were surprised it was advertising this far south. Like the seats behind home plate, we had not seen high walls like this in many ballparks, and I couldn’t help but focus on them. Bullpens for each team are located next to the Wawa walls in foul territory. Seating for the bullpen pitchers is located a bit further toward home plate. Placing the bullpen seating in these locations was a curious decision, as they are in prime areas for line drive foul balls, which could result in bodily harm. Not surprisingly, bullpen pitchers don’t actually sit there during play, preferring the relative safety of the dugouts. Following the concourse to left field, we found Crabby Cove, an artificial pond with paddle boats (though we never saw anyone actually using the boats). Near the left field foul pole stands the Legends Club. This facility is designed for private events, and we had not seen this facility open during the baseball season.
Following our brief tour of the stadium, we obtained a baseball lunch from the concession stand behind third base and headed toward our seats. From there, we saw on the large green left field wall a hand operated scoreboard, which is somewhat reminiscent of the scoreboard at Fenway Park in Boston. That final touch solidified, in my mind, that Regency Furniture Stadium was the quirkiest ballpark I had seen. However, rather than feeling forced, the eccentricities of the park seemed more organic, lending an air of authenticity to largely modular ballpark. There was enough to look at during breaks in the action to keep fans interested, and I found that refreshing.
Attendance was light for this game, and we had most of the section to ourselves. At first, I though it was odd that there were some many empty seats for the game, but after visiting a number of times, I learned that the Blue Crabs don’t draw very well. Perhaps it’s the location of the ballpark; getting to the stadium from the north during the evening commute can be brutal. Perhaps baseball just isn’t as popular here as it is closer to DC. In fact, we have never seen the ballpark more than one-quarter full, and there have been times when I’ve seen less than 500 people in the seats. It saddened me to see such little support from the community for the team, and I wondered how the seemingly poor attendance could justify keeping an ALPB franchise here.
Being an independent league, ALPB rosters often include ex-MLB players, minor leaguers out of options with their MLB club, and young players not drafted into the MLB pipeline. It is not unusual for teams to have a few notable ex-MLB players, and being able to seem them in a much more intimate setting can be a boost for the ALPB team’s attendance. We didn’t see any familiar names during this game, but given the fluidity of the ALPB team rosters, there is always a chance to see a former MLB star on the field in Waldorf. Due to the mix of experienced players and young talent, the level of play at Regency Furniture Stadium is surprisingly good. For those with knowledge of minor league play, the ALPB is close to that of AA, and the pitching tends to be perhaps just a bit better.
Pay in the ALPB is not great, so players in the league have motivation to perform well, as ex-MLBers play for one more shot at The Show, and younger players try to get noticed by MLB organization. Since the MLB and ALPB have a working relationship, it is not unusual for MLB teams to pluck players from teams like the Blue Crabs and place them in their minor league system. Right hander Chris Mazza, a Southern Maryland Blue Crab alum, has recently pitched in the MLB for the New York Mets and the Boston Red Sox. As part of that relationship, the ALPB tests rule changes that the MLB is considering for the future, and because of that, my brother and I were in Regency Furniture Stadium when the first steal of first base occurred. Another important change is the use of an automated strike zone. Though I did not see the automated system in Waldorf, my brother has seen it in action in Somerset, home of the Patriots.
Most of the games we have seen at Regency Furniture Stadium seemed to have a weather memory associated with them. During the spring, cold air wedged against the mountains to the west results in cloudy, cool weather with drizzle and fog, and we have seen our share of those games. During the summer, heat and humidity is common at the ballpark, with a semi-regular threat of thunderstorms. On one occasion, thunderstorms east of the stadium lit up the night, but did not affect the game. While details of that game escape me, the images of the lightning pealing across the dark sky revealing storm clouds remains etched in my memory. Luckily, most of the games we’ve seen at the ballpark have been rain free.
Following night games, the drive back home to the DC area can be as peaceful as drive down during the evening commute are painful. Winding through the rural roads from the stadium is a dark drive with little in the way of street lights. It is not unusual for fog to develop, and we often see as many deer as we do cars on our way back to the highway. On these nights, the drive home can take as little as 45 minutes, with traffic light until we reach the DC suburbs.
Due to COVID-19, the 2020 ALPB season was scrapped, raising fears that the league might not survive. Two of the flagship franchise left the league during the offseason to become minor league affiliates, further stoking concern about the viability of the ALPB to play a 2021 season. However, three new teams joined the league after being released as minor league affiliates, and the league is planning to play a 2021 campaign. This means another season of Blue Crabs baseball is in the offing. If you are within range of Regency Furniture Stadium when the team is in town, make sure to go and see the Blue Crabs, if for no other reason than to see one the quirkiest ballpark we have seen in our travels.
- First visit: exact date unknown; probably during the summer of 2013
- Most recent visit: Sunday June 9th, 2019
Until my brother moved close to Bridgewater NJ in the early 2010s, I must admit I did not know much about the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball (ALPB). Established in 1998, the independent ALPBA saw many changes in the number and locations of teams in the league over the years, but the Somerset Patriots remained the flagship franchise from the inception of the league until 2019 (the 2020 ALPB season was scuttled by COVID-19). In fact, the Somerset Patriots (who played their home games at TD Bank Park) were the “New York Yankees” of the ALPBA, having won 13 division titles and six ALPB championships. To extend the New York connection to Somerset, the Patriots manager from 1998-2012 was Yankees great Sparky Lyle . Having Lyle manage the Patriots helped legitimize the team and the league, and though he no longer manages the team, he does still make occasional appearances at TD Bank Park as an ambassador for the ALPB.
Being an independent league, the ALPB does not have a steady stream of players shuttling through Somerset. Instead, rosters are typically filled with ex-MLB players, as well as some of the players we have seen in the minor leagues, and younger players that were not drafted into the MLB pipeline. From what we have seen, it is not unusual to have three to five players on each team that have MLB experience. Signing ex-MLBers can be a boon for the teams, as name recognition boosts attendance for home teams, as well as those coming to town. One of the more famous ex-MLBers to play for the Patriots was outfielder Endy Chavez. Mets fans fondly remember his tenure with the team, especially his spectacular catch in Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS. Chavez was a fan favorite for the Patriots as well, known for his gregarious style and willingness to engage with fans before the game.
Another ex-Met who played for the Patriots was left hander Bill Pulsipher. At the end of his playing career, Pulsipher would only play at home, not traveling with the team on the road. He showed up, made his start, left the game, and went home. Other players for the Patriots included teachers, and even front office officials. Though the ALPB does not pay very well, it can attract former MLB players trying to extend their careers, as well as young and hungry players utilizing the ALPB as a means to further their MLB aspirations. Given the mix of talent and experience, the level of play is actually quite good, about on par with AA teams in affiliated baseball. Being able to see these players in an intimate setting can be a big draw for die-hard baseball fans in areas with little in the way of other options.
My brother introduced me to the Somerset Patriots sometime during 2013, and I believe that we went to see games at TD Bank Park together that summer (though my brother has seen many more games there than me). From my brother’s home, the park is less than 20 miles away, but due to the volume of traffic in the area (especially near the evening commute), travel time to the stadium could easily reach 45 minutes. Because of scheduling (and the fact that I was living and working in Maryland during much of the 2010s), we typically attended games together on weekends, which eased the trek to some degree. The very end of the trip had us snaking through Bridgewater, crossing over the Peters Brook before reaching the stadium.
General parking is located just before the stadium, adjacent to the Bridgewater train stop of the NJ Transit Raritan Valley line (the train passes the left field wall, and is noticeable when it does) Parking is $2.00 (as it has been since the stadium opened), and typically there is plenty of parking available, particularly on weekends. Some people try to avoid paying for parking by leaving their vehicles in a store parking lot across the road from the stadium. This is a BAD IDEA, as the owners of the store parking lot will tow your vehicle if you are NOT shopping there. From the parking lot to the main gate of TD Bank Park, the distance is a manageable one-quarter of a mile, with sidewalks available for much of the walk.
Entering through the main gate behind home plate (which includes old style turnstiles) brings you to the upper concourse of TD Bank Park. Concessions and the Patriots team store are located on the upper concourse, which stretches from mid right field behind home plate to mid left field. Concession stands, for the most part, offer standard baseball fare, at reasonable prices. Down the left field on the upper concourse is a picnic area (complete with tables), as well as National BBQ. Extending down the right field line are additional concession stands, as well as the Kids Zone, containing activities designed especially for younger fans. There is a large grass berm located further down the right field line, which is available for larger groups. Finally, luxury boxes are located at the top of the stadium, adjacent to the Party Zone. In total, TD Bank Park hold about 6,100 seated fans, with standing room only adding another 2,000 to that total.
Like most minor league ballparks, visitor and home team bullpens lie down the left field and right field lines, respectively, easily within sight of most of the seats. Large advertising signs reach from the left field foul pole to the right field pole, and like many minor league parks, are stacked two high. A relatively small but functional scoreboard/videoboard combo rises up behind the wall in right centerfield. The scoreboard contains quite a bit of information for those fans who like it, and the videoboard is unobtrusive, used mainly for short video clips appropriate to the game situation. For a modular ballpark, TD Bank Park contains quite a bit of charm, while maintaining an understated feel absent in many new stadiums in baseball. Perhaps this is why the ballpark has won numerous awards, including Ballpark Digest’s Best Independent Minor League Ballpark, as well as best ballpark in the ALPB.
Somerset has carefully cultivated a baseball experience focused on families and kids. In between innings, there are games and contests for kids on the field, and the Patriots’ mascot, Sparkee, entertains the crowd throughout the game. One of my favorite interactions is when the PA announcer shouts “Somerset”, and the kids respond with “Patriots”. Affordable tickets prices, good quality of play, and a suburban setting combine to make the Patriots an attractive family outing. As might be expected, attendance at TD Bank Park is among the highest in the ALPB, with near sellouts common during the warmer months. During the hottest part of the NJ summer, Somerset schedules night games as often as possible, even starting at 505 pm on Sunday, for the comfort of the fans.
Unfortunately, the 2020 ALPB season was scrapped due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the Patriots did play some games during the summer, taking on the NJ Blasters in a series games played on the weekend. A limited number of fans were permitted to see each game, and my brother was fortunate enough to see a number of games in the series. While another team in the ALPB played some games during 2020, other teams remained idle, and we were concerned that the ALPB might not survive the pandemic to play in 2021.
During the offseason, the Somerset Patriots accepted an offer from the New York Yankees to become their AA affiliate. New York chose a bizarre path for changing their AA affiliate, as the previous club, the Trenton Thunder, discovered they had been replaced in a tweet by the big league club. Affiliation with the New York Yankees meant that the Patriots would leave the ALPB, which is a blow to a league as it loses its flagship franchise. Another ALPB team (the Sugarland Skeeters) left the ALPB to become the AAA affiliate of the Houston Astros. We feared that the loss of the top two teams in the league could topple the ALPB, but the league announced replacements, and are planning to play the 2021 season.
Regardless of their status, we expect the same great baseball environment at one of the finest minor league stadiums in the Northeast during the 2021 season. A number of changes are expected at TD Bank Park as the Patriots become part of the New York Yankee family. Most of the changes will be to the internal portion of the park, such as an upgrade to player facilities. On the field, bullpens will move off the field, and new energy efficient lightning will be installed in time for the season opener. Some enhancements are planned to the videoboard, including better instant replay results. Depending on how quickly fans are allowed back into the stadium, we plan to attend games at TD Bank Park during the 2021 season. If you find yourself close to TD Bank Park during the summer, check to see if the Patriots are in town. You will be glad you did.