CaroMont Health Park, Gastonia NC, Sunday August 29th 2021

Outside CaroMount Health Park, Gastonia NC. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

On the back end of a weekend baseball trip to North Carolina, we visited CaroMont Health Park in Gastonia, home of the Atlantic League’s (ALPB) Honey Hunters. Playing their inaugural season, Gastonia offered an opportunity to again visit the Tar Heel State (having done so before in 2017 and 2019). Following an eight hour drive on Friday, and after attending a Charlotte Knights game on Saturday night, we visited Gastonia on Sunday afternoon, in advance of their 450 pm game against the Lexington Legends.

Headquartered in Charlotte for the weekend, we took Interstate 85 south from there to Gastonia, a trip that lasted about 25 minutes. Arriving about 30 minutes before the gates opened at CaroMont Health Park, we parked on West Main Street, and walked through the downtown area. Along the strip, there were many storefronts that reminded me of a small town you might expect to find in North Carolina. In fact, we encountered a sign that stated Gastonia was named an All American City in 1979, 2000 and again in 2010. After walking for about 30 minutes in the hot late August sun, we headed back toward the vehicle and headed toward the ballpark.

A look at downtown Gastonia. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Located about a mile down West Main St is CaroMont Health Park. The ballpark is the centerpiece of the Franklin Urban Sports and Entertainment (FUSE) District , an economic zone developed to reinvigorate downtown Gastonia. Interestingly, there was only parking for season ticket holders onsite, but we were able to secure parking across the street from the stadium in the lot of a church. Parking was free, and just a couple minute walk to the main entrance of the ballpark. My brother wore his vintage Montreal Expos hat to the game, and that did not go unnoticed in Gastonia. The hat spurred a short conversation at the main gate, and later members of the Legends commented on the hat as well. Given that the Montreal Expos have not existed for 17 years, I was mildly surprised that the insignia was still so recognizable.

CaroMont Health Park from behind home plate. The entire playing surface is turf, including the mound. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

It did not take long, after entering the ballpark, to see that there was something different about this place. Like BBT Point (home of the High Point Rockers), CaroMont Health Park has an all turf field, including the mound, home plate, and the bullpens (which have odd, wedge shaped mounds). Just as unique is the vast amount of foul territory on the first and third base lines. After studying the ballpark, it became clear that the stadium was designed for multi purpose use, and that we were seeing its baseball configuration. In fact, during the game, there were several announcements concerning a high school football game that was to take place later in the week.

Home bullpen at CaroMont Health Park. Note the wedge shaped bullpen mound, consisting of artificial turf. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Per our standard operating procedure, we toured the inside of the ballpark. The concrete concourse at CaroMont Health Park rings the stadium, providing us with unfettered access to the entire ballpark. For the most part, the stadium is rather spartan. An entrance gate graces right field, with the Gas House Grill located in centerfield (located beneath the main scoreboard/videoboard). Though we did not actually eat anything at the park (it was simply too hot to eat), it was obvious that the Gas House Grill is meant to be the centerpiece of the dining and drinking experience in the ballpark. A Kids Zone sits between the Gas House Grill and the left field seats, filled with bouncy houses. When we passed, there were no kids playing, but later, from our vantage point down the first base line, we could see the bouncy houses bouncing.

Gas House Grill at CaroMont Health Park, Gastonia NC. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Left field in CaroMont Health Park is yet another interesting element of the stadium. Because the left field wall is close to the plate (a mere 304 feet), a 20 foot net was placed in front the of the seats there, ostensibly to protect fans from balls leaving the playing field, and to prevent “cheap” home runs. Located beyond the netting is a covered picnic area. On this late afternoon, the area was closed for a private event. We have noticed that sadly, even in minor league and ALPB ballparks, exclusivity has become more prevalent. Working our way back toward home plate, we saw two additional covered picnic areas (complete with ceilings fans) before we reached the main concession stands behind home plate. As mentioned, we did not eat that night, but the concession stands offered standard baseball fare at reasonable prices. Loading up on cold drinks to combat the late August heat, we went in search of our seats.

The left field wall is extended by netting covering left field and the Kids Zone. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

My brother chose great seats down the first base side, immediately adjacent to the visitor’s dugout (at CaroMont Health Park, the home team occupies the third base dugout). Those seats provided us with an unobstructed view of the Lexington Legends, and their antics in the dugout. Fortunately, there were no kids near the dugout, because the Legends players were spewing almost nonstop colorful metaphors. Our seats gave us a great view of the entire park, including the surprisingly large scoreboard in centerfield. Unlike most ballparks, clusters of seats were scattered throughout the ballpark, rather than one or two large seating sections. Including the six luxury cabanas located in the second deck behind home plate, the stadium has a capacity of 5,000, though from my perspective, I would not have estimated a capacity quite that high.

Our view of the Lexington Legends dugout. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Being an ALPB game, there were some important rules differences from the MLB and minor leagues. 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. During this game, many players were visibly upset by the calls. Another rule change included the use of larger bases (18 inches), in hopes of reducing inquires on the base paths. When a starting pitcher is removed from the game, that team loses its designated hitter 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. Finally, this was the first ALPB game we had seen since the pitching rubber was moved back one foot to 61 feet 6 inches (the change seemed to have negligible effects on the pitchers). 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.

Brandon Phillips smiling after being called out on strikes. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Clearly the most recognizable member of either team was the Lexington Legends second baseman Brandon Phillips. A seven time All Star with the Cincinnati Reds, Phillips attracted quite a bit of attention as he crossed the field before the game. A part owner of the Legends, Phillips seemed to be enjoying his tenure in the ALPB, and had a smile for everyone he encountered that day. First pitch occurred at 455 PM, and the first inning saw only one run scored. However, from there, the game quickly got out of hand, as both teams scored runs by the bunch. Lexington scored nine runs in the top of the second inning, chasing the Gastonia starter from the game. Not to be outdone, the Honey Hunters scored five runs in the bottom of the third inning, and the slugfest was on!

A near collision between the Legends’ catcher and third baseman on an infield popup. The catcher made the play, and was none to pleased that the third baseman was so close. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Until recently, the ALPB was a league where the pitching was almost always better than the hitting. Since the beginning of the 2019 season, the quality of pitching in the league has dwindled, and the game in Gastonia was the quintessential case in point. Even the starting pitcher for Lexington (right hander JJ Hoover, the winner pitcher) surrendered nine runs in his five innings of work. Nearly continuous scoring slowed the pace of the game to a crawl, as late afternoon slowly faded into early evening. That time gave us a better opportunity to take in the environment. Though the crowd was fairly sparse (which is not usual for a Sunday game), they were vocal when the Honey Hunters scored, and were supportive when Lexington was running up the score. Eventually, the home team simply ran out of pitchers, sending outfielder Boog Powell to the mound for the top of the ninth inning. Predictably, Powell was tattooed as he threw batting practice fastballs that were swatted for home runs by the Lexington batters. Powell was replaced by center fielder Jake Sloke, who induced a double play to end the inning.

CaroMont Health Park as evening approaches. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Mercifully, the Honey Hunters went down relatively quietly to end the contest. The final score was 26-12 in favor of Lexington, who hit eight home runs during the game. My brother dubbed the game a “train wreck”, and I would be hard pressed to disagree. Watching an outfielder take the mound brought the game to a standstill, and I seriously considered leaving before the game concluded. As we exited the stadium, I took one last look at the ballpark. CaroMont Health Park is a bare bones, multi purpose community facility, something akin to what we saw in High Point. It is possible that lower levels of the minor leagues, as well as independent baseball, could follow this blueprint when constructing ballparks in the future. We left shortly after the game, heading back to our hotel in Charlotte. While I am glad we visited Gastonia during its maiden season, there is not enough to bring me back to this North Carolina town.

CaroMont Health Park after the game. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

UPMC Field, Erie PA, Sunday July 18th 2021

Main gate at UPMC Park, home of the Erie SeaWolves. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

Walking up to UPMC Park from the parking garage. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

Seats near the top of Erie Insurance Arena. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

This view shows the two very different looks of the second deck at UPMC Park in Erie, PA. This configuration is unique in my experience. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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!

The view from our seats, putting closer to the action than we have ever been! (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

Another view from our seats, providing a great look at the “Gray Monster”. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

Bowie starting pitcher Grayson Rodriguez delivering a pitch at UPMC Park in Erie, PA. Rodriguez struck our 12 in five innings of work. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

Scoreboard/videoboard at UPMC Park in Erie, PA. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

UPMC Park from behind home plate. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Sahlen Field, Buffalo NY, July 16th 2021

Outside the Swan Street gate at Sahlen Field, Buffalo NY. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

Welcome to Sahlen Field! (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

Sahlen Field from behind home plate in the lower level. This image is featured in the Wiki page for Sahlen Field. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

A view of Sahlen Field, centered on the home plate area. This view shows the green seated lower deck, red seated upper deck, some of the private suites, the press box, and the tower at the Old Post Office in Buffalo. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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).

The dual layered bullpen at Sahlen Field, Buffalo NY. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

The scoreboard in centerfield at Sahlen Field in Buffalo, NY. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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 view from our seats at Sahlen Field in Buffalo, NY. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

Vladimir Guerrero hitting a home run at Sahlen Field in Buffalo NY. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

Sahlen Field at night. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

Puddles on the tarp over the infield at Sahlen Field on Saturday told the story; no baseball today. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

Clipper Magazine Stadium, Lancaster PA July 10-11 2021

Clipper Magazine Stadium on Farm Show Night in Lancaster, PA. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

A composite image showing Clipper Magazine Stadium from behind home plate. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

One of the visitors to Clipper Magazine Stadium on Farm Show Night. Was this the cow I heard moo entering the park? (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

A composite image showing Clipper Magazine Stadium from centerfield, showing the bulk of the seating at the ballpark. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

The Trackman. This radar based technology provides the information for automated ball and strike calls in the ALPB, as well as data about launch angle, exit velocity off the bat, as well as spin rate of the pitches. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

Participants readying themselves for the alpaca race in centerfield. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

Alejandro de Aza of the Lancaster Barnstorms at bat. de Aza played for the New York Mets in 2016. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.


Large puddles are evident on the left field line after early morning showers doused Clipper Magazine Stadium. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

Fans playing catch on the field before the Sunday afternoon game at Clipper Magazine Stadium. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

Cyclo, the Lancaster Barnstormers mascot, trying to fire up the sparse crowd on Princess Day at Clipper Magazine Stadium. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

The Gastonia dugout on the third base side of Clipper Magazine Stadium. Note the puddles in front of the dugout, a consequence of the early morning rain showers. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

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.

Louisville Slugger Field, Louisville Kentucky – June 27th 2021

Entrance to Louisville Slugger Field, complete with a statue of Pee Wee Reese. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

Louisville’s own Pee Wee Reese gracing the main entrance of Louisville Slugger Field. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

A very MLB like inner concourse at Louisville Slugger Field, featuring banners of former players hanging from the rafters. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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).

The view of downtown Louisville from right centerfield concourse at Louisville Slugger Field. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

A composite image of Louisville Slugger Field from centerfield. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

A view from behind home plate on the lower level showing the videoboards in left center and right centerfield. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

An Air Force aircraft passing near Louisville Slugger Field after taking off from the nearby airport. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

Indianapolis Indians pitcher being checked for illegal substances before the top of the inning. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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 Bats celebrating after a walk off single in the bottom of the ninth. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

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)

First National Bank (FNB) Field – Harrisburg PA

FNB Field in Harrisburg PA. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

Google Maps image showing the location of FNB Field on City Island in the middle of the Susquehanna River.

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).

The view of the outfield in left center field. Note the seats above the wall. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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

The main seating area of FNB Field from the right centerfield concourse. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

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

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.

FNB Field at night. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

Harrisburg at night from the banks of the Susquehanna River just outside of FNB Field. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

PNC Park, Pittsburgh PA

Looking at PNC Park in Pittsburgh across the Allegheny River. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)
  • First visit: Wednesday September 19th 2001
  • Most recent visit: Sunday September 17 2006

Our first visit to PNC Park was not supposed to happen. This game was originally scheduled to be played at Shea Stadium in New York City, but following the attacks on September 11th 2001, the parking lot at Shea was used as a staging area to deal with the aftermath of the attacks. Since Shea Stadium would not be available for baseball in the near term, the games were moved to PNC Park in Pittsburgh PA. After a short break, baseball resumed on September 17th 2001, and the Mets played a three game set against the Pirates, starting on that date.

Since we had travel plans scrapped after the attacks (we were flying to Chicago to see the Pirates take on the Cubs, but the games and flights were cancelled), we both had some time off. We chose to attend the last game of the series, a Wednesday matinee on September 19th. Getting an early start from central NJ, we made the 365 mile drive in about five and one-half hours, arriving at the ballpark before noon. Because the game was supposed to be played in New York, there was not much demand for parking, which allowed us to park just across the street from the stadium for a reasonable price.

The view of downtown Pittsburgh from the walking path along the Allegheny River adjacent to PNC Park.

With time before the game, we briefly wandered around the park. Along the right field wall, we discovered a walking path adjacent to the Allegheny River. Dubbed Three Rivers Heritage Trail, the concrete path snakes along the river for about one and one-half miles. Given our time constraints, we did not amble nearly that far, but we did enjoy the view of downtown Pittsburgh from the riverside. Even if we were not taking in a ballgame that day, a simple trek along the river would have provided an early afternoon of peaceful vistas. Its proximity to the river enhanced the appeal of PNC Park, and we had not even seen the inside of the stadium yet!

During our exploration of the environs of the the stadium, we found a pair of Pirates greats immortalized in bronze. Both Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell were on display outside the park, with each statue larger than life. Roberto Clemente was just a bit before my time, as I was a toddler when he had his best years in Pittsburgh. Conversely, I was much more familiar with Stargell, with his trademark “windmill” bat twirl just before the arrival of the pitch. Two other statutes stood outside the ballpark (Honus Wagner and Bill Mazeroski) eluded our search, but perhaps we would view them on another visit.

Pirates greats Roberto Clemente (left) and Willie Stargell (right) are immortalized outside of PNC Park in Pittsburgh PA. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

PNC Park is a baseball only stadium, at the end of its inaugural season in September 2001. Since the game was not supposed to be played in PNC Park, there were few fans present was we ended our tour of the outside of the stadium before heading into the park. It seemed that, based on the number of New York jerseys we saw on people milling around near the home plate entrance, those who did attend the matinee were mainly Mets fans, making a drive similar to ours. Apparently a five hour drive did not deter the New York faithful, who seemed determined to see the game. Unfortunately, the weather was less than cooperative, with warm and humid conditions under mainly cloudy skies.

Once inside, we could immediately see that the view of downtown Pittsburgh was the focus of the new ballpark. Unlike its predecessor (Three Rivers Stadium), PNC Park was open in centerfield, providing a sweeping vista of the city and Allegheny in front of it. Rather than AstroTurf, the field was covered with Kentucky bluegrass, which looked a bit worse for wear after a hot Pittsburgh summer. As we started to walk along the lower concourse toward right field, I couldn’t tear myself away from the view beyond the centerfield wall! Beyond the ballpark, several of the bridges connecting the north shore of the Allegheny River to downtown Pittsburgh were painted Aztec gold. At the time, I did not understand why they were painted this hue, but research later indicated that the bridges connected surrounding areas to the Golden Triangle section of the city. In any case, even the overcast of the day could not hide the luster of the bridges, and I discovered that I’d found my new favorite MLB ballpark!

The view of PNC Park and surroundings from the upper deck. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Following the lower concourse to the right field line brought us to the detached bleacher area, which extends from the foul pole to the 375 foot sign in right centerfield (where a hand operated scoreboard runs the length of the 21 foot high fence). Venturing up into the bleachers gave us a great view of the river and the city. Each seat provided a clean view of the action, due primarily to the elevated nature of the bleachers. Continuing counter clockwise on the lower concourse, we encountered a smaller bleacher area adjacent to the green batter’s eye in centerfield. Since the crowd was small, there were very few fans here, but given the sight lines here (as all seats in PNC Park are angled to produce the best view of home plate), these seats appear as though they would be almost as good as the seats in the right field bleachers.

Standing on the lower concourse behind the batter’s eye gave us an amazing view of the bridges and downtown Pittsburgh. Even the pictures we took on the cloudy and humid day (resulting in haze that partially obscured the city) could not do justice to the backdrop for PNC Park. Even if we did not see a game here, the view alone was worth the time and expense. Proceeding toward home plate, we got a close up view of the video board, which stood atop two tiered seating in left field. The video board seemed curiously small for a brand new park, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Light stands bracketing the video board were wrought steel, and looked similar those at Comerica Park. In fact, the placement and size of the video board at Comerica Park bore a striking resemblance to what we saw at PNC Park.

The right field bleachers at PNC Park, with a great view of the riverfront at the top of the section. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

We completed the loop around the stadium on the lower concourse behind home plate, and went in search of a baseball lunch. Like most “newer” MLB stadiums, PNC Park has many places to eat, including outlets of many popular local restaurants, with premium services available in the club level provided by Levy’s Restaurant. Per my usual, I eschewed these choices, instead choosing hot dogs and drinks to bring to our seats. In keeping with the somber nature of the situation following the attacks on 9/11, there was a sense of sullenness in the crowd, and even the typically boisterous Mets fans kept their enthusiasm in check for the game. Mets players were wearing hats of the various first responder services (like the NYPD, NYFD, etc.) that gallantly answered the call during and after the attacks.

Mets catcher Mike Piazza, donning an NYPD helmet, signing autographs for fans at PNC Park. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Despite the air of melancholy in the air at PNC Park that afternoon, Mets players did sign autographs and interact with the crowd. Because the game was moved to Pittsburgh with little advance notice, we were able to get seats along the right field line just beyond the Mets dugout (PNC Park is one of the few MLB parks where the home team dugout is on the third base side). Though I was mesmerized by the ballpark and its surroundings, we were there to see a game. Following a World Series berth in 2000, New York, facing a depleted Pirates squad, overcame an early deficit to win the game, 9-2. We were treated to a Mike Piazza home run, and the game time was under three hours. Facing a long drive home, we headed straight to the parking lot. PNC Park was as advertised and much more, leaving me dazzled. We would have to return, if only to the the park and its views in better weather conditions.

My scorecard from the game.

Our second visit to PNC Park was not as hurried, as we planned a weekend visit to Pittsburgh to once again see the New York Mets. Unlike our previous stay, clear skies and pleasantly warm and dry conditions were expected for Saturday and Sunday. Our trip from central NJ to Pittsburgh was uneventful, and we drop off our bags at the hotel before heading to the park. Leaving ourselves plenty of time to explore, we crossed the Allegheny River on one of the bridges, where my brother got some excellent shots of the stadium, with the river in the foreground. Given the great late summer weather, we strolled along the riverfront, where we encountered scores of people walking, biking and sitting along the banks of the river.

A view of the Roberto Clemente Bridge just north of PNC Park. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Following our extended tour of the area, we headed into PNC Park through the home plate entrance. Of course, we wandered through the ballpark, though we didn’t spend as much time doing so, as we would get a better look at the park the next afternoon. After visiting the concession stand in the lower level behind home plate for a baseball dinner, we headed to our seats. Because the Pirates were playing out a disappointing season, tickets for the game were plentiful, and we were fortunate enough to secure good seats just to the right of home plate in the lower level.

Sunshine, though decreasing with time, afforded us a better look at PNC Park and downtown Pittsburgh. The Aztec gold of the bridges crossing the Allegheny seemed more vivid in the waning daylight, and the overall feel of the park was much lighter, a stark contrast to our previous visit, when skies were gray and the country was still reeling from the attacks on 9/11. PNC Park has a two tiered seating area extending from the left field foul pole behind home plate to the right field foul pole (minus the luxury boxes and the press level). When combined with the bleachers, there were just over 38,000 seats in the ballpark (which is the second smallest capacity in MLB), and almost all of the seats in the stadium offer a view of downtown Pittsburgh.

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

PNC Park offers one of the smallest distances from home plate to the backstop (51 feet), giving fans nearly unprecedented closeness to the action. Clearly, the stadium was designed with a maximum fan experience in mind. When combined with the spectacular views of the city and the river, my opinion that PNC Park was the best park in MLB (though my brother would disagree, as he is partial to Comerica Park) was cemented. Even after the game started, I found myself scoping out the park and scenery beyond it, instead of paying more attention to the action on the field. More than once, I found myself envious of the Pirates home, wishing and hoping that the Mets would construct a ballpark with similar magic.

View of the Pittsburgh skyline from out seats in PNC Park. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Though 25 games under .500 coming into the game, the Pirates kept pace with the visiting Mets (who were destined for a division championship and a trip to the 2006 NLCS), as evening blended into night. Surprisingly, there were few lights emanating from the buildings in downtown Pittsburgh, as I expected the coming of night might allow the downtown area to shine. That was probably the only negative we encountered on our visit to the park that evening. Had the game been a nationally televised broadcast, it is possible that the city might have obliged with more lights from the structures, producing a spectacle for the fans in attendance and those on TV.

Between the time we entered the ballpark before the game and the third inning, the crowd filled out nicely. Even the four level steel rotunda in left field, used primarily for standing room only, was filled with fans. Officially, there were more than 37,000 people in the ballpark that night (nearly a sellout), but the actual count was almost certainly less. In any event, the fans in attendance made their presence felt, and the game was deadlocked at two going into the bottom of the ninth. Pittsburgh scratched out a run in the bottom of the frame, beating the Mets and their closer, Aaron Heilman 3-2. As the jubilant Pirate fans filed out of PNC Park that night, I quickly scanned the ballpark while we waited to exit. As we left, I remember thinking that I hoped the Pittsburgh fans appreciated the park they were lucky enough to call home.

PNC Park at night. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Sunday September 17 2006 was a mainly sunny and pleasantly warm late summer day, and after breakfast we headed out to PNC Park to see the finale of the series. Early morning fog was begin transformed into cumulus clouds as the sun shone over the park, and the filtered sunshine showed that we were indeed headed toward fall, despite the warm weather. We did not spend as much time outside of the park as the previous day, but we did focus our attention on the river. Much like we saw in Cincinnati in 2004, there was quite a bit of river boat traffic this Sunday morning, and it reminded me what life might have been like on the river long ago. Leftover haze gave the river and its surroundings a softer hue, and somehow this seemed to add to the appeal of the area.

A passing river boat tour on the Allegheny River. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Upon entering the park, we conducted one final walkthrough of the stadium with the best conditions we had seen so far. Based on the number of fans milling around outside, the crowd promised to be much smaller than the game the previous night. Our experience has taught that Sunday afternoon games were usually more lightly attended than Saturday night games, and it seemed that trend would hold for the afternoon contest. In addition, we had entered football season, which meant the part of the crowd that might have come to see a poorly performing Pirate team instead stayed home to watch gridiron action. Regardless of the reason, we expected to have more elbow room for the matinee contest.

Before getting a baseball lunch and heading for our seats, we headed up the upper deck to get some pictures of the stadium with downtown as the backdrop. From that vantage point, my brother took some of my favorite ballpark pictures, and even those picture did not do the scenery justice. Though we did not have pristine conditions, the panorama my brother constructed from those pictures qualify (in my opinion; his may vary) as his best work at baseball stadiums, and helps to shape my opinion of PNC Park being the best ballpark in MLB.

This is it: my favorite picture of PNC Park, courtesy of my brother. (Phot credit: Jeff Hayes)

Our seats were very similar to those of the previous night, in the lower level just to the right of home plate. For the New York Mets, the game was not particularly meaningful, as they were on their way to the NL East title, but most of the regular starters were in the lineup. On the mound for the Mets was right hander John Maine, who was the number five starter in the New York rotation. For the hometown Pirates, left hander Zach Duke took the mound. Duke was the ace of the Pittsburgh staff, and we were not quite sure what to expect out of either team, with so little at stake for either team this late in the season.

Pittsburgh scored two runs against the Mets in the bottom of the first inning, and as it would turn out, that would be more than enough for Duke, who tossed eight shutout innings against a formidable New York lineup. Despite the second straight flat performance by the Mets, the game was again almost superfluous, as the fine late summer conditions made PNC Park shine even more than the night before. In between innings, I spent my time shifting my attention from one feature to the other, while my brother’s camera was busy capturing the nearly perfect baseball environment. As we suspected, the crowd was quite thin, nowhere near the announced crowd of nearly 30,00. Later I would learn that the Pirates’ attendance in 2006 was 1.8 million, which was next to last in the NL. Apparently, a poorly playing team trumped the beautiful ballpark, which had been racking up accolades since it opened its doors in 2001.

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

Time passed quickly during the low scoring game, which clocked in at about two hours and 30 minutes, which was shorter than the league average. Before I knew it, we were leaving this baseball palace, headed out for a five hour drive back home to central NJ (during which we would listen to the Jets lose another game). To say we thoroughly enjoyed the ballpark would be a great understatement. Though we were split as to whether we thought that PNC Park was the best MLB park, we did agree that it was a great baseball experience that we would have to repeat as soon as possible. If you find yourself near Pittsburgh during baseball season, check to see if the Pirates are home. If they are, GO! You will be glad that you did.

Goodbye PNC Park. Hope to see you again soon! (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Cleveland OH/Pittsburgh PA, Saturday May 20, 2000

Welcome to Jacobs Field!

Our only baseball trip of 2000 took us to western PA and northeast OH in late May. Since the trip by car was in excess of five hours from central NJ, we drove out to northeast OH on Friday, May 19th, staying just outside of Cleveland for the night.

Saturday, May 20th dawned cloudy and chilly, much cooler than one might expect in late May across northeast OH. With a few hours before the 105 PM contest between the visiting New York Yankees and the hometown Indians, we decided to visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, located adjacent to the southern shore of Lake Erie. Uncharacteristically, we visited the Hall without a camera, so we don’t have a visual record of our visit.

To my delight, the crowd at the Hall was thin, perhaps due to the weather and the relative early hour (as the doors opened at 1000 AM). As a result, we were treated to nearly unobstructed views of the myriad exhibits. Though we moved fairly quickly through the artifacts, we were able to appreciate the history of rock and roll (as well as pop music). Not surprisingly, the Beatles exhibit was the largest in the Hall, and our favorite band, Led Zeppelin, was well represented.

Not wanting to miss an opportunity to explore Jacobs Field, we left the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame after about 90 minutes. Even with the limited time spent there, we were impressed by the museum, and plan to return in the future for a better look. If you are a rock and roll fan, and plan to be in the vicinity of the Hall, leave yourself some time for a visit: you won’t be disappointed.

1. Jacobs Field

Venturing back out in the cool and breezy conditions, we completed the short drive from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to Jacobs Field. Had the weather been better, we might have walked the distance, but the cool and damp air ruled that out. We were able to secure parking just across the street from the ballpark in a private lot at a reasonable price.

We performed our typical tour around the outside of the park, but the weather curtailed our walk. Ducking inside the stadium at the home plate entrance, we were greeted by a nearly empty park. Once inside, we had access to the entire seated area, exploring while taking pictures. Unfortunately, the low overcast made the stadium appear drab, but the images capture the conditions on the cool and cloudy early afternoon perfectly.

Jacobs Field from the upper deck behind home plate.

Since both teams were playing well, tickets for the Saturday matinee were scarce, and our seats were located in the last row of the upper deck on the first base side of the field. Just before game time, temperatures hovered in the 40s, and the persistent breeze off the lake made it feel even colder. Despite an announced crowd of 42,000+, the unseasonably cool weather held the actual attendance far below that number.

Starting for the visiting New York Yankees was veteran right hander David Cone. Thus far in 2000, Cone was struggling (with an ERA over 5.50), though he was less than a season from his perfect game in 1999. On the mound for the Indians was left hander Chuck Finley, who was in his first campaign for the Tribe. Each team featured a potent offense, but the combination of good starting pitching and cool weather raised the specter on a low scoring contest.

Indians starter Chuck Finley featured on the cover of the scorecard/magazine.

New York scratched out a single run in the first inning against Finley, then tacked on another run in the fourth inning (with Yankee right fielder Paul O’Neill driving in the run with a single), giving the visitors a 2-0 lead. Meanwhile, David Cone kept the Cleveland bats at bay through the first six innings. Each pitcher worked deliberately, slowing their approaches with runners on base. In spite of the lack of scoring, the pace of the game was glacial, punctuated by the cold and damp conditions.

During the slow play, we were able to get a better feel for Jacobs Field. Dreary weather made the six year old stadium seem drab, with little contrast between the field and the slate gray overcast that seemingly encased it. Because of the conditions, Jacobs Field did not shine, and the lack of fans made the ballpark seem larger than it appeared on TV. Clearly we were not seeing the park at its best. Though the crowd was sparse, one of the more memorable parts of our visit was the persistent drumming in the left field stands. With a typical crowd, the drumming may not have been as noticeable, but with little else happening in the largely empty stadium, it echoed almost to the point of distraction.

The view from our seats. Note that the tops of the buildings were obscured by low clouds.

Cleveland broke through against David Cone in the bottom of the seventh inning, as Richie Sexson led off the frame with a solo home run. Scoring another run in the seventh, the Indians tied the game, while simultaneously knocking the Yankees starter out of the game. Each bullpen then kept the game tied heading into the bottom of the ninth inning. Yankees Jeff Nelson surrendered four walks during the frame, forcing in the winning run with two outs to give the Indians a 3-2 victory.

Despite the low scoring affair, the nine inning contest took three hours and 38 minutes to complete, which seemed even longer in the cold and wind. We filed out Jacobs Field quickly, as we planned to attend a game at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburg that evening. Disappointed that we didn’t get to experience the ballpark in better weather, we would have to return in the future to get a better feel for the stadium and environs.

My scorecard for the game

2. Three Rivers Stadium, Pittsburgh PA

Google Maps depiction of the route from Cleveland to Pittsburgh.

Spending more time at Jacobs Field than expected, we were left with about two and one-half hours to get to Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh. Though it would be tight, we were optimistic that, with light traffic, we would arrive before the first pitch at 710 PM. However, events would conspire to make arriving on time impossible. A bit more than an hour into the trip, we encountered thunderstorms that hampered our progress. As we got closer to Pittsburgh, traffic slowed to a crawl.

Finally, we reached the parking lot next to the ballpark, located on the north shore of the Allegheny River (north of downtown Pittsburgh). Arriving well after the first pitch, we parked in a dark area under an overpass of Interstate 385. While there were plenty of fans in the area, it seemed fairly remote, and I had an uneasy feeling about leaving the car there.

Because we arrived in the second inning, we had no time to wander and explore as we normally would at a new stadium. Instead, we rushed to our seats to enjoy the game. As we travelled from Cleveland to Pittsburgh, we went from early spring weather to early summer weather, as very warm and humid conditions greeting us at Three Rivers Stadium. While there were storms in the area, they managed to avoid us during the game.

Unfortunately, we did not take pictures at the stadium, as we left the camera in the car in our haste. Three Rivers Stadium was a typical multipurpose stadium, nearly identical to Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia. This season would be the last for the Pirates at this ballpark, and its condition seemed to reflect that fact. However, it was a pleasant place to see a Saturday night ballgame.

Pittsburgh hosted the St Louis Cardinals, who scored early and often. St Louis scored six runs in the first four innings, the scored 13 runs in the last three frames, on the way to a 19-4 drubbing of the hometown Pirates. With the game out of hand for the Pirates, they sent catcher Keith Osik to the mound to pitch the top of the ninth inning. As might have been expected, Osik fared poorly, surrendering five runs on five hits. This outing marked Osik’s second MLB pitching performance. In 1999, he also pitched an inning during a blow out, and his performance then was only slight better than this night.

Even with the high scoring, the game took less than three hours, a stark contrast to the affair in Cleveland. Fortunately, my car was still there following the game, and because of the late game finish, we stayed at nearby a nearby hotel, driving home Sunday morning.