Whitaker Bank Park, Lexington Kentucky June 26th 2021

A composite image of Whitaker Bank Park, home of the Lexington Legends. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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).

This message appears on the outside wall of Whitaker Bank Park, along the first base side. “Pass the Baton” is good advice, in sports and in life. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

A composite image showing Whitaker Bank Park from behind home plate. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

The Pepsi Party Deck in right field at Whitaker Bank Park. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

The view from our seats for the game. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

Hustlers second baseman and part owner of the team, Brandon Phillips. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

Mercifully, the setting sun put an end to the nearly blinding light I experienced for a good portion of the game. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

My brother’s picture of a close play at the plate. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

The main scoreboard/videoboard at Whitaker Bank Park, as day dissolves into evening. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

PeoplesBank Park, York PA June 13th 2021

Welcome to PeoplesBank Park in York PA!

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

The view of PeoplesBank Park from the Smalls Athletic Field across the Codorus Creek in York PA. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

A statue of Brooks Robinson and young fans in Brooks Robinson Plaza at PeoplesBank Park. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

PeoplesBank Park from the centerfield concourse. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

The Arch Nemesis, located in left field at PeoplesBank Park in York PA. Note the hand operated scoreboard at the base, like the one at Fenway Park in Boston MA. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

A bald eagle passing overhead on a cloudy Sunday afternoon at PeoplesBank Park in York PA. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

Most of the chairs in the Revolution bullpen area are empty, as line drive foul balls off the bats of right handed hitters puts the pitchers in danger. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

The kids zone at PeoplesBank Park, nestled between the Arch Nemesis and the centerfield picnic area. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

The view from our seats. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

A view of the scoreboard/video board in centerfield. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

Revolution shortstop and third baseman converging on a popup. Feeling the shortstop got too close, the third baseman playfully swatted at him after making the catch. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

The York Train Station, just outside PeoplesBank Park. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Campbell’s Field, Camden NJ

Main entrance to Campbell’s Field in Camden NJ. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)
  • 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.

The view from behind home plate at Campbell’s Field in Camden, with the Ben Franklin Bridge dominating the skyline. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

A view of Campbell’s Field from the lower level seats behind first base. Note the bullpen in the foul territory down the left field line. Finley, the Riversharks mascot, is located at the end of the first base dugout. Brief glimpse of the Philadelphia skyline to the right of the luxury boxes are available in left field. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

Campbell’s Field’s scoreboard/videoboard in right centerfield. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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).

The view from our seats for the first game of a doubleheader before a nearly deserted ballpark. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

Goodbye, Campbell’s Field. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Regency Furniture Stadium, Waldorf MD

Regency Furniture Stadium, home of the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs, located in Waldorf MD. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)
  • 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.

Regency Furniture Stadium from the main concourse on the third base side. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

A look at the right field area of Regency Furniture Park, which contains Pinch’s Playground, a Wawa wall and the bullpen. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

Regency Furniture Stadium from the pavilion in left field, adjacent to the Legends Club. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

The hand operated scoreboard at Regency Furniture Stadium, located on what appears to be a “mini Green Monster” in left field. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

The view from where we typically sit when attending games at Regency Furniture Stadium. Note the Blue Crabs mascot Pinch near the dugout.(Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

Pinch, the Blue Crabs mascot, entertaining fans at Regency Furniture Stadium in Waldorf, MD. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

Occasional flashes of lightning light up the storm clouds over the right field fence at Regency Furniture Stadium. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

Hope to see you again soon, Regency Furniture Stadium! (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

TD Bank Park, Bridgewater NJ

TD Bank Park, home of the Somerset Patriots. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)
  • 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.

Yankees great and Somerset Patriots manager (1998-2012) Sparky Lyle. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

Endy Chavez signing autographs on the field during an organized event before the game. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

The outfield at TD Bank Park, as seen from the seating area down the left field line. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

A view of the grass berm down the right field line, adjacent to the Patriots bullpen. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

The scoreboard/videoboard combo in right centerfield at TD Bank Park. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

TD Bank Park at night: (photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

TD Bank Park will host AA ballgames for the 2021 season, as the Patriots become an affiliate of the New York Yankees. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.