Minneapolis, MN Thursday September 22nd, 2011

Looking at home plate from right center field at Target Field as the sun broke through the clouds.

Following a late night at Target Field the night before, we had breakfast at the Denny’s adjacent to our hotel, then relaxed until it was time to leave for the ballpark. Game time was 1210 pm, leaving little time to do much before arriving at the park as the gates opened.

We got a good look at Target Field during a cloudy evening, but hoped for a better look during the day. Unfortunately, the morning dawned cloudy, and remained so as we caught the Metro Blue Line from the Mall of America (which was adjacent to our hotel). Temperatures in the 40s reminded us that we were indeed in Minnesota in late September, which is a fall month this far north.

Our trip to Target Field via light rail took us past the old home of the Twins, the Hubert Humphrey Metrodome.

The trip took about 40 minutes, seemingly slow for the distance covered. That being said, the trip was pleasant, unlike mass transit we have seen in others cities. The Metro dropped us off right in front of Target Field, forgoing the need to drive and park at the stadium. There were few people milling around as the gates opened, suggesting that the game might be lightly attended, as the season was winding down for a team that wasn’t playing very well.

There was a distinct nip in the air at Target Field as we wandered throughout the seating areas. A gusty wind and temperatures struggling to reach 50 degrees was very different from the 80s and humidity we had been experiencing back home. In the light of day, we discovered that Target Field was quite photogenic, blunted only by the low clouds hanging over the city.

View of Target Field from the upper deck behind home plate. The sun lost its battle with the clouds for this picture.

Fans passed through the turnstiles as the stadium starting waking from its early autumn slumber. After encircling the stadium taking pictures, we hit the concession stand on the lower level for hot chocolate and hot dogs, which served as our lunch. Because the Twins were playing sub .500 baseball, tickets for the matinee with the Seattle Mariners were plentiful. As result, we obtained possibly the best seats we’ve ever had at an MLB game.

Our seats for the game, which offered a view of downtown Minneapolis.

The amazing seats gave us access we normally only get at minor league games. Our proximity to the field, as well as the sparse crowd, allowed us to hear chatter on the field. That is something we’ve never experienced in an MLB stadium. The announced crowd for the game was 37,000+, which was laughable. At most, there were 7500 souls in the park braving the early afternoon chill by the time the first pitch was thrown.

Leading off for the Mariners was Ichiro Suzuki. We’ve seen him a few times during our baseball travels, but never this close. Even among the Twins faithful, Ichiro was a fan favorite, receiving scattered applause as his name was announced. Ichiro was 3 for 9 in the two games we saw at Target Field, but each at bat was a thing of beauty from one of the best hitters in my lifetime.

Ichiro Suzuki at bat against the Twins at Target Field on September 22nd, 2011.

The pitching matchup for the final game of the series featured Anthony Swarzak for the Twins and Blake Beaven for the Mariners. Both starters were in their first full season with their teams, and each had a fairly mediocre campaign. The matchup seemed to be fitting for teams that were simply playing out their 2011 schedules, with little left to accomplish save evaluating young talent for the future.

The sun made a brief appearance shortly after we arrived at Target Field, but since that time the sky maintained a slate gray overcast, ensuring little warming during the game. The Mariners scored single runs in the first and second innings to take an early lead. The Twins tied it up with runs in the third and fifth innings. Despite the starters having little MLB experience, they each performed admirably.

Mariners starter Blake Beaven delivers a pitch at Target Field.

Breaks in the clouds after the fifth inning allowed a few rays of sun to sneak through, giving us a better view of downtown Minneapolis over the right field wall. Though there wasn’t enough sunshine to warm the air much, just seeing it through the overcast seemed to modify the fall chill firmly entrenched over the stadium.

A look at skyline of downtown Minneapolis as breaks in the overcast allowed the sun to make a brief appearance.

The Twins’ and Mariners’ bullpens shut down the opponent’s offense through the Mariners’ at bat in the top of the ninth. The Twins scored with two outs in the bottom of the ninth to seal a 3-2 victory. Despite the lack of scoring in the game, the contest clocked in at about three hours, which seemed longer in the late September chill.

The hometown Twins celebrate a walk off win at Target Field.

As we filed out of Target Field following the game, I turned around to take one final look at the ballpark. It had a clean, new feel to it, though I still couldn’t understand why a stadium in a place where snow can occur in May did not have a dome. It was a great place to see a game, and I may be back here someday, especially when the Mets are in town.

Strangely enough, this sign may have been my favorite part of Target Field.

Minneapolis, MN Wednesday, September 21st 2011

Minnesota Twins scorecard from 2011.

Our second MLB trip of the 2011 season took us to Minneapolis to see the Twins at Target Field. Planning the trip for late September, we knew there was a chance that the night game we would attend could be cold, with temperatures in the 30s. Circumstances dictated the timing of our visit, and we were delighted to get a chance to visit Minnesota. Though I have been to the Minneapolis airport (to change planes), this visit would be the first “real” trip to Minnesota for each of us.

In a perfect world, we would have driven to from central NJ to Minneapolis, as road trips allow us to see some much of the US. However, there simply wasn’t time, since the drive would have been 2400 miles round trip, taking 34 hours. With the drive not a viable choice, we flew from Newark, NJ to Minneapolis, MN. With the flight clocking in at two hours and 30 minutes, we arrived too late to catch the game that night (September 20th). Instead, we checked into our hotel in Bloomington and settled in for the night.

1. Minneapolis, Wednesday September 21st

The morning dawned cloudy, with temperatures in the 40s. That might not qualify as cold in September for Minnesotans, but considering we came from a place where it was still warm and humid, it felt as though we skipped fall and went straight into early winter. Luckily, we knew this was possible and dressed accordingly.

Following breakfast at the Denny’s that was part of the hotel complex, we drove to Minniehaha Regional Park, along the banks of the Mississippi River. A bucolic retreat from urban Minneapolis, the park reminded me to some degree of Central Park in New York City. A stroll along the Mississippi River in the late September chill made it feel more like football weather, but we enjoyed the fall like conditions, despite the lack of sunshine.

Waterfall in Minniehaha Park. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Based on the rock formations in the park, it seemed as though at least some of the features were carved out by glaciers. We’ve seen similar rock formations at the Delaware Water Gap on the border of New Jersey and Pennsylvania. In fact, Minniehaha Park was very reminiscent of the Water Gap, from the rocks to the forest primeval. After following the river for a while, we decided to drive further up the river, closer to downtown Minneapolis.

Rapids in Minnehaha Park. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Parking near the locks on the Mississippi River, we walked up to Lock No. 1. Over the years, we have seen the Mississippi from different locations, but this view was special; we were near at the start of the mighty river. As we walked along the river side, we were surprised by a visitor; a bald eagle. The beautiful visitor caught us completely off guard, so we didn’t manage to get any pictures.

The view looking north along the Mississippi River from Minneapolis. The trees in the foreground left reminded us what is was indeed autumn here. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes).

Even though the sun never did peek out that day, the refreshingly cool autumn air made our exploration quite enjoyable. On the way back to the car, we wandered through some of downtown Minneapolis. Despite the tall buildings, the vibe of the place was more like a medium sized city. Remarkably clean for an urban area, Minneapolis possessed a charm that cities of its size do not have back East. My first impression of Minneapolis was overwhelmingly positive.

Mississippi River Lock No. 1 on a cloudy autumn day. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

2. Target Field

Rather than drive to Target Field and search for parking in an unfamiliar urban area, we opted to take public transportation to the game. Walking to a Metro stop from the hotel, we passed the Mall of America, which was just down the street from our hotel. Strangely, we did not visit the Mall during our stay, even though it is a top tourist destination.

Catching the Metro Blue Line near the Mall, the light rail took us to a stop just across the street from Target Field. Since the trip was on a local line with several stops, it took about 40 minutes to reach our destination. With trip being a mere 10 miles, the ride seemed fairly long, similar to that of the train ride from Manhattan to Citifield, the home of the Mets. However, that’s where comparison ends, since the light rail in Minneapolis was MUCH nicer than the New York City subway system.

Target Field on a cloudy and cool night. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

After getting off the train, we got our first view of Target Field. The curves and the glass on the exterior gave the park a futuristic look, yet the brick siding exuded a more retro vibe. Walking around the stadium, we discovered several bronze statues of Twins’ legends. Each statue seemed to capture the essence of the player, from the crouched batting stance of Rod Carew to the quiet dignity of Harmon Killebrew.

My favorite, however, was the statue of Kirby Puckett. It perfectly caught the fist pump of Puckett rounding the bases following the home run that won Game Six of the 1991 World Series. Glimpsing the statue took me back to that night, reliving the moment as if it happened yesterday. In my opinion, that image epitomizes Twins baseball.

“We’ll see you tomorrow night”. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

The cloudy skies that night did not afford us the best view of the interior of Target Field, though we did wander the concourse snapping pictures and taking in the atmosphere. Target Field felt like a modern ballpark, with great sight lines throughout the stadium. Though the stadium seemed bigger in person than I expected (due primarily to the four deck seating layout, which included the press level), the seating capacity is just under 40,000. Yet, despite its size, there seemed to be some sense of intimacy that does not come through at home on TV.

Following our tour of the stadium, we searched for food before heading to our seats. Like most big league parks, there were many places to grab something to eat. The featured restaurant within the park was Hrbeck’s Restaurant, named for the Twins first baseman during the glory days of the 1980s and early 1990s. Open even when the Twins aren’t playing, it seems to be popular in the community, though Yelp reviews are not particularly flattering. As is our custom, we opted for more standard baseball fare, grabbing hot dogs and sodas before finding our seats.

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

Sitting in our seats in the autumn chill before the first pitch, I couldn’t understand why a ballpark in Minneapolis would be an open air stadium. Having seen all of the current MLB stadiums, it is clear to me that an outdoor stadium offers a better fan experience. However, when you play baseball in a place where snow is not that uncommon into May, pragmatism may have to have some place in the decision making process. Perhaps Twins fans are accustomed to the chillier conditions, but at least some baseball fans would trade comfort for ambiance in this situation.

The Twins hosted the Seattle Mariners on this night. Both teams were limping to the finish at the conclusion of disappointing seasons, and seemed to be playing out the schedule. Starting for the Mariners was the young right hander Michael Pineda, completing his rookie year. Following the season, Pineda underwent surgery to repair a right shoulder labrum tear, and it would take two full seasons for him to return the mound. For the home team, the starter was Kevin Slowey, suffering through a brutal 2011. This would be his last season in Minnesota.

Efficient use of space in left field at Target Field. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

On this cloudy and cool evening, there were far fewer fans in the park than the announced crowd of 36,000 by the time the first pitch was thrown. The Twins scored runs in the first two innings off Pineda, whose night ended after four innings, and Slowey was pitching as though he would make the slim lead hold up.

The view from the lower level in left field with Ichiro Suzuki coming to the plate. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

The Mariners’ offense awoke in the fifth inning, scoring two runs, followed by thee more runs in the sixth. That ended Slowey’s night after six innings. Though the Twins would score single runs in the 8th and 9th innings, the Mariners held on for the 5-4 victory. Even with the scoring, the game time clocked in at about two hours and 45 minutes, which is not bad for an American League contest. We left Target Field that night with a favorable impression of the park, and we would get a look at the stadium in the daylight the following day.

Goodnight from Target Field. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Florida Baseball Trip 2014 – St Petersburg

Google Earth view of Tropicana Field, St Petersburg, FL.

1. Miami to St Petersburg, Florida Thursday May 8th 2014

The next and final stop of our 2014 MLB tour was St Petersburg, Florida, home of the Tampa Bay Rays. The three hour and 45 minute drive led us across the northern portion of the Everglades National Park, as well as the Big Cypress National Preserve. Never having seen an alligator in the wild (not many gators in the Northeast), we welcomed the opportunity to seek them out in their natural habitat.

Google Maps showing the drive from Miami to St Petersburg FL.

As might be expected, each stop along the way yielded no gator sitings. Granted, we did not venture far from the road, as we were not prepared to trek into the swamp. This greatly reduced our chances of seeing gators in the water. Disappointed, we abandoned our attempts and followed Interstate 75 North toward St Petersburg.

Along the way, we stopped shortly after crossing the Sunshine Skyway to get pictures of the bridge. While taking pictures along the waterline, we caught the attention of the local wildlife. A great egret, standing tall on a wooden pallet, made no attempt to hide her contempt for our presence near HER shallows. Even while taking pictures of her, she did her best to intimidate us. Not wanting to aggravate her further, we left as soon as we were finished with our picture taking.

A great egret looking us over with a jaundiced eye while perched on a wooden pallet near St Petersburg, FL. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Arriving at our hotel in St Petersburg well ahead of the 705 pm first pitch at Tropicana Field, we relaxed at the hotel before heading out to the ballpark.

2. Tropicana Field

Tropicana Field, St Petersburg, FL. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

We arrived at Tropicana Field about 90 minutes before game time, just as the gates were opening. There was ample parking in the general vicinity of the stadium, much of which is one-quarter of a mile or less from the stadium. On this night, with a fairly light crowd expected, parking was $15, but parking can vary between $15 and $30.

Upon arriving at the park, we walked around the stadium. Being a domed stadium, there was not much to see outside. Entering the park behind home plate, the brightness outside was replaced by the dimness of the translucence of the roof of Tropicana Field. Having seen what appeared to be a drab interior on TV, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that is was not as dark nor dank as I imagined. Fun fact; Tropicana Field is the only remaining MLB Park with a fixed roof.

The roof of Tropicana Field. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Perhaps the most noticeable feature of the roof is that is slants from home plate down toward center field. While the slant is discernible from outside, it is much more exaggerated inside the park. Suspended from the roof are catwalks. They are part of the support structure of the roof, specifically the lighting and speaker system. There are four rings of catwalks, some of which are in play. Many times over the years, the catwalks have giveth and taketh away, resulting in confusion and loathing. Because of this, the catwalks have been a lightning rod for criticism since the opening of the park.

With plenty of time before the scheduled 710 pm start, we wandered inside the stadium. Outside of the roof, the stadium was a nondescript domed ballpark. Like most domed stadiums, the place seemed cavernous, with three levels of seats spanning from foul pole to foul pole. Much of the stadium was accessible via concourses, allowing us to take pictures of virtually the entire park.

Tropicana Field from the upper deck behind home plate. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Wandering the lower level in center field, we discovered the fabled ray tank. Arriving as early as we did, there was almost nobody around the tank, meaning we were able to pet the rays at will. Knowing very little about rays, I was unsure whether they were bothered by human contact. Of course, the rays are probably accustomed to the interaction, and petting them likely did not cause any additional stress. However, in deference to the animals, I chose not to pet them, instead admiring them from a respectful distance.

Viewing the ray tank at Tropicana Field from above. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Like most major league ballparks, there were more than a dozen locations from which food was available, including standard concession stands. Despite the large selection available, we chose to indulge in more standard ballpark fare before seeking out our seats for the game.

David Price delivering a pitch at Tropicana Field. (Photo credit:Jeff Hayes)

The Rays hosted the Baltimore Orioles this evening, the last game in a three game set. The announced crowd for this game was just over 11,000, which made Tropicana Field (with its 42,735 seat capacity) seem almost empty. The Orioles sent Umbaldo Jimenez against the Rays’ David Price in what promised to be a pitcher’s duel. Our seats for the contest were behind the Orioles dugout in the lower level.

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

The Rays opened the scoring with a run in the bottom of the first, with the Orioles scoring in the second and third innings to take a 3-1 lead. That was the extent of the scoring, as both starters and respective bullpens kept the promise of a potential pitcher’s duel. Despite being a low scoring affair, the game clocked in at just over three and one-half hours.

Front end of a double play at Tropicana Field. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

The extra time have us the opportunity to take in the feel of the park. While Tropicana Field was not as dungeon-like as I expected (based on what I’d seen on TV), the park lacked any significant charm or presence. It’s no wonder the franchise has been seeking another home, one that might provide fans with a warmer environment.


1. St Pete Beach, Friday May 9th 2014

St Pete Beach under sunny skies. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Following breakfast at the hotel, we had plenty of time to explore the region ahead of the 705 pm game time at Tropicana Field. Our first stop was St Pete Beach. Located on Long Key, a barrier island a few miles west of St Petersburg, St Pete Beach is consistently voted one of the top beaches in the United States.

Wall to wall sunshine and temperatures climbing into the 80s during the late morning resulted in a perfect beach day. The white sandy beach reminded me of those we saw at South Beach the day before. However, unlike the rougher surf we saw near Miami, the crystal clear waters along St Pete Beach were nearly calm.

Black skimmers walking along St Pete Beach.

Though the weather was conducive for beach going, there were surprisingly few people on the beach, and none in the water. However, there were plenty of birds on the sand and fishing in the shallow water of the Gulf. In fact, there were many more black skimmers (a bird I’d never seen before) than people on the beach that morning. Great egrets roamed the surf, occasionally pulling a fish out of the water.

Strolling along the beach, we saw much of the architecture had some connection to Art Deco, much like we noticed in Miami. Though it was only early May, the sun angle was high enough to give me a mild sunburn. As the temperature headed toward 90 degrees, we cut short our walk along the beach to find some shelter and lunch.

The Gulf of Mexico along St Pete Beach.

2. Sawgrass Park

Following lunch, we headed into St Petersburg. We happened upon Sawgrass Park, which looked like a good place to spend some time before riding back to the hotel to relax before the game.

Almost immediately after leaving the car, we became acutely aware of the lizard population. Brown anoles were everywhere; in fact, I had to actively avoid the lizards for fear of stepping on them. We started our exploration of the park near Sawgrass Lake, following a dirt path to an elevated boardwalk. Along the way, we passed a large variety of birds forging in the marshes.

A great egret using some ingenuity to catch fish in the marshes of Sawgrass Park. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

We stopped to watch a great egret stomping his way through marshes along the dirt path leading to the boardwalk. At first, it wasn’t clear why the egret was stomping. However, after stomping a few times, the egret pulled a fish out of the marsh. The bird was stomping until it found a fish and pounced on it. We watched this happen a few times before moving on.

Following the elevated boardwalk brought us to a viewing platform on the edge of the lake. A sign posted in the gazebo covering the viewing platform warned that we were in gator country. Gazing out across the lake, it seemed as though there were no alligators to be found. Being early to mid afternoon, I thought they were basking in the sunshine elsewhere, someplace less conspicuous.

Baby alligators lounging in the mud on the edge of the lake. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

My brother signaled to me that he found something in the mud on the edge of the lake; baby alligators. The hatchlings were partially submerged in the mud, numbering about a dozen (though there could have been others deeper in the mud). Despite being small and arguably cute, the hatchlings possess little but sharp teeth that could inflict some pain, if harassed.

Lurking not far offshore we finally spotted the mama gator. Like mothers of other species, this cow was keeping a sharp eye on her babies. Though she was a distance away, I had no doubt that if her young were threatened, she would take swift and definitive action to protect them. It seemed, though, that she was not particularly agitated, as if she had become accustomed to people being close to her young.

Mama alligator maintaining a watchful eye on her hatchlings. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Spending far more time in the park than anticipated, we left the park shortly after finding the gators, and headed back to the hotel to relax before the game. Wanting to see alligators while in Florida, I didn’t expect to find them in a park in St Petersburg. If you find yourself with some time near Sawgrass Park, I’d recommend a visit, if only to track down some gators.

3. Tropicana Field

Tropicana Field from the third base side. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Having been to Tropicana Field the night before, we did not arrive as early for this contest. With little to see outside the park, and exploring much of the park with the Orioles in town, we arrived about an hour before the first pitch, scheduled for 710 pm. The Rays’ opponent this evening was the Cleveland Indians, who were beginning a weekend series in St Petersburg.

For this game, our seats were on the first base side behind the Rays’ dugout in the lower levels. Once again, the announced crowd of 17,455 for the series opener seemed like an overestimate. The sparse crowd made the domed stadium feel nearly empty. Granted, the Rays were not playing well so far this season, but without fan support, the environment almost felt drab.

Our seats for the series opener against the Cleveland Indians. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Starting for the home team was right hander Jake Odorizzi, and right hander Corey Kluber took the ball for the visiting Indians. For Corey Kluber, 2014 was a breakout season which ended with him winning his first Cy Young award. Odorizzi was in his first full season with the Rays, and tonight’s matchup was promising to be a pitcher’s duel.

The game started out just that way, with both pitchers tossing three scoreless innings. The Rays scored single runs in the fourth and fifth innings, and as well as Odorizzi was pitching, two two runs looked as though they might be enough to ensure a Rays’ victory.

The Tribe completing a double play supporting the outstanding start made by Corey Kluber. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Jake Odorizzi struck out 11 Indians in five innings of work, but in doing so, threw over 100 pitches. With Odorizzi out of the game, the Indians torched the bullpen for a run in the sixth and five runs in the seventh. That outburst was more than enough to support Kluber, who struck out nine in six innings of work.

By the seventh inning stretch, the sparse crowd began to file out, all but assured of yet another Rays’ loss. A team with promise at the start of the season, a loss would drop them six games under the .500 mark. The Rays’ managed to score a run in the bottom of the ninth, but it wasn’t enough to prevent an Indians’ 6-3 win.

The Tropicana Field scoreboard tells the tale of an Indians victory. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Leaving Tropicana Field, I understood why some refer to this stadium as the least attractive in MLB. While the place lacks an discernible charm, and seems almost tomblike with small crowds in the cavernous building, it was not the dungeon I imagined it to be. Having said that, I get why fans stay away; should they return, they deserve a better home for their team.

Florida Baseball Trip 2014 – Miami

Google Earth view of Marlins Park in Miami, FL.

Our only Major League Baseball trip of 2014 was focused on the teams in Florida (Miami and St Petersburg). We chose early May for the trip, since it is just before the heat and humidity typically descend on the Peninsula. Because we were starting the trip in New Jersey (which is just out of range for a road trip, given the time constraints we had for the visit), we chose to fly to Miami, our first stop.

1. New Jersey to Miami, Tuesday May 6th 2014

While preparing for the trip, we discovered that it was more economical to fly into Ft Lauderdale, then drive to Miami, than to fly into Miami International Airport. In addition to being a cheaper flight, there were many more flights to Ft Lauderdale than Miami on the day we wished to travel. This could be due to the fact that Ft Lauderdale is a major port for cruise ships.

We chose to fly out the afternoon before the game in Miami. Even including the nearly three hour flight from New Jersey to Ft Lauderdale, we believed we’d built in enough time to get to Marlins Park before the 705 pm first pitch.

The view from our seats at Marlins Park in Miami, FL. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

However, shortly after boarding the flight, our carefully planned (and admittedly tight) timing was derailed by a problem with the plane. We have encountered mechanical issues with planes before, but the problem with this plane was new: toilet malfunction. Both toilets in economy were unavailable, though the first class toilet was functional. With just one toilet available for a nearly three hour flight, we were forced to deplane and wait for a replacement.

The delay ensured that we would miss the first pitch in Miami. Disappointed but undaunted, we eventually left New Jersey more than an hour late. After landing in Ft Lauderdale, we rushed to pick up our rental car and sped toward the park. Slackening evening traffic allowed us to get to the park in under 30 minutes. Parking was ample (after all, this WAS a Marlins home game), but still we arrived in the top of the second inning.

Bartolo Colon delivers a pitch against the Miami Marlins on May 6th, 2014. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

The weather in Miami was delightful, with clear skies, temperatures in the 70s and low humidity (at least for Miami). The weather afforded us a view of Marlins Park with the roof open. Built in an area where thunderstorms are common (typically peaking right around 700 pm), getting to see a game with the roof open was a treat. There had been controversy concerning the roof, as the Marlins apparently had a much better record against the Mets with the roof closed. Tonight, however, that was not an issue.

The Marlins’ opponent for this evening was the New York Mets, and the starting pitcher for the Mets was ageless Bartolo Colon. The Marlins scored two runs against Bartolo before we had arrived, but he settled down for the next few innings. Meanwhile, the Mets offense sputtered against Marlins starter Henderson Alvarez III (who had thrown a no-hitter in 2013).

Giancarlo Stanton (going by Mike Stanton at the time) standing in against Bartolo Colon. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Overall, it wasn’t a bad appearance for Colon, who allowed three runs in seven innings. However, the Mets were no match for Alvarez, who tossed a six hit shutout in a 3-0 Marlins win. With both pitchers throwing efficiently, the time of the game was a mere two hours and eight minutes, one the shortest games we had seen in years.

Our late arrival did not allow us any time to explore the park, and the speed of the game kept our attention on the field, not the park itself. The initial impression of the park was that is was perfect for South Florida, with warm colors and an Art Deco feel. Fortunately, we would have much more time to investigate the park and it surroundings the next afternoon. Shortly after the end of the game, we headed to the hotel and settled in for the night.


2. Miami, Wednesday May 7th 2014

Outside Marlins Park, Miami, FL. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Following breakfast at the hotel just outside Miami, we headed to the ballpark early to explore the area. Unbeknownst to me, Marlins Park was constructed on the site of the former Orange Bowl, in Little Havana just west of downtown Miami. Unlike the trend in ballparks of the past couple of decades, Miami eschewed the “retro” look in favor of a more contemporary feel. From my perspective, the outside of the park was more reminiscent of an art gallery than a ballpark, but seems to fit in well in Miami

Strolling around the ballpark, we quickly discovered that there wasn’t much in the vicinity, outside of parking garages. However, the combination of architecture and landscaping (replete with palm trees) provided a very attractive environment, perhaps one of the finest we’d visited. Waiting outside for the gates to open, it seemed many of the fans we encountered were Mets fans, no doubt some of them transplants from the New York City metro area.

Marlins Park with the roof closed. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Walking into the park, it became evident that the roof was closed. Like most ballparks with retractable roofs, Marlins Park looked cavernous with the roof closed. It wasn’t clear why the roof was closed; sunshine and temperatures in the 70s made for an ideal early May afternoon in Miami. There was a breeze, but it didn’t seem as though the wind was strong enough to warrant closing the roof. The fact that the Marlins were again hosting the Mets for the Wednesday matinee may have been part of the decision. While I’m not sure there is enough evidence to implicate the Marlins in unsportsmanlike conduct, it DOES make a Mets fan like me wonder.

Arriving well before the first pitch, we had plenty of time to explore Marlins Park. Walking the concourse in the upper deck, we ran into a uniformed Florida State trooper, presumably working security. Since we were walking alone near centerfield, I thought he might give us trouble. After asking us what we were doing, he then followed us halfway across the concourse toward home plate, talking baseball.

Marlins Park from the upper deck in centerfield. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Following our tour of the inside of Marlins Park, we hit the concession stand on the lower level before finding our seats. As might be expected, there were more than a dozen eateries and bars scattered throughout the park, not counting the more traditional concession stands. Perhaps the most famous is the Clevelander in left center field, adjacent to the Marlins bullpen. Not surprisingly, there was a fair amount of Cuban and Hispanic food available, but we stuck closer to the standard fare for ballparks.

The view from our seats behind the first base dugout. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

The closed roof changed the feel of the park, robbing it of whatever charm it possessed the previous night with the roof open. It seemed dark against the light streaming through the glass behind the left field wall, giving Marlins Park an almost drab feeling. It was against this backdrop that the Marlins hosted the Mets for an early afternoon game. The contest was a lightly attended affair, with far less than the announced crowd of 18,000 actually in the park.

On the mound for the Mets right hander Zack Wheeler, who was in the midst of his first full season with the Mets. A highly touted prospect acquired from the San Francisco Giants in 2011, Wheeler finally joined a promising Mets rotation. Unfortunately, after a encouraging 2014, Wheeler underwent Tommy John surgery in 2015. Recovery from the surgery, and subsequent setbacks, took over two years.

Zack Wheeler delivering a pitch at Marlins Park on May 7th, 2014. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

On this day, however, Wheeler was on top of his game. Wheeler threw six shutout innings, striking out seven but walking five, reaching 100 pitches before exiting. Not to be outdone, Marlins starter Tom Koehler matched Wheeler nearly pitch for pitch in what evolved into a classic pitcher’s duel.

Interestingly, the best play of the day was not made by a Met or a Marlin. During the top of the third, the Mets’ Reuben Tejada lined a fastball down the left field line. With the ball headed toward the seats in foul territory , a Marlins ball boy made a lunging catch of the screaming liner, diving into the seats to make the outstanding grab. The catch seemed even better in person, and the sparse crowd gave the kid a warm ovation.

A sea creature themed mascot race during the seventh inning stretch at Marlins Park. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

The score remained tied 0-0 going into the bottom of the ninth of the briskly paced game, with each team mustering only two hits. The Marlins scored with one out in the ninth on a sacrifice fly, a seemingly fitting end to a game dominated by pitching (or was it inept offense?).

The Marlins celebrating their 1-0 walk off win over the Mets. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

As the crowd filed out of the stadium following the game, the roof was opened. The timing was curious, which made me wonder further about the conspiracy involving the closed roof and Mets’ losses. Marlins Park was a nice place to see a game, though the closed roof put a damper on its feel. While there was not enough to make me want to visit again in the future, Marlins fans should be thankful they have such a good home ballpark.

The roof of Marlins Park opening AFTER the game ended. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Following the game, we made a quick trip to South Beach. Ocean Drive, the main strip along the beach, was lined with bars and restaurants on one side, and a white sandy beach on the other. The ocean was rough that late afternoon, preventing people from entering the water. The setting sun and refreshing sea breeze made the visit enjoyable, but we left before the area got too crazy.

To my great dismay, neither my brother or I could locate our pictures of South Beach. Surely those pictures would have told a better story than me about the area.

Portland, ME July 20th 2015

Portland Head Light, reputedly the most photographed lighthouse in the world. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

The middle stop our three day baseball tour of New England was Portland, Maine. Having lived in southern Maine for 12 and 1/2 years, it was almost like coming home. We arrived in the Portland area the night before, and the morning brought sunshine and temperatures in the 70s, much cooler than the 90s we endured the previous day in southern New Hampshire. Game time in Portland was slated for 705 pm, giving us plenty of time to visit some my favorite places in the area.

1. Freeport/Yarmouth/Portland

Following breakfast at our hotel, a Holiday Inn Express in Freeport, Maine (though I didn’t feel any smarter for the experience), we headed for my favorite place in Maine: Fort Williams Park in Cape Elizabeth. A former Army base, active during World War I and World War II, the main attraction of the 90 acre park is the Portland Head Light. Completed in 1791 (built on the order of George Washington), the lighthouse is said to be the most photographed lighthouse in the world. Considering that I personally have taken hundreds of pictures of the lighthouse, that claim is easy for me to believe.

Viewing Portland Head Light from the north. The complex (which includes a small museum and a gift shop) sits near the edge of a granite cliff. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

This sunny and pleasantly warm late morning drew a large number of sightseers, focusing mainly on the lighthouse. However, being very familiar with the park, I headed straight for the rocks behind the lighthouse. Facing Casco Bay, the rocks provide a great view of the bay, as well as the Halfway Rock Lighthouse.

On this morning, as is common during the warm months, the seemingly ever present fog partially shrouded the lighthouse. Located about halfway between Portland and the Atlantic Ocean, Halfway Rock stands approximately where the sea fogs recesses during the day, only to surge inland after the warmest part of the day.

Halfway Rock Lighthouse, partially obscured by sea fog. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

The rocks adjacent to Portland Head Light present a very real hazard to boat traffic moving through Casco Bay, as strong storms and dense fog can obscure the coastline. Perhaps the most famous example of the hazards of the rocky Maine coast was the wreck of the Annie C Maguire on Christmas Eve 1886. The wreck has been immortalized on the rocks of the lighthouse.

The commemoration of the wreck of the Annie C Maguire on the rocks near the Portland Head Light. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

The morning flew by visiting the park, and after more than two hours there, we headed north into nearby Falmouth for lunch at Richetta’s Brick Oven Ristorante. Featuring possibly the best brick oven pizza in Maine, we dined alfresco under brilliant sunshine with a cooling sea breeze.

Following lunch, we visited my second favorite place in Maine: Royal River Park in Yarmouth. Living less than a mile from the park for more than 12 years, it is a beautiful place to visit all times of year, but especially so during the summer. The Royal River was once the home of paper mills, and the river provided power for the mills. Though the mills are long gone, the foundations are still visible.

Paper mill foundations are still evident on the banks of the Royal River Park in Yarmouth, ME. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Rapids over the northern stretch of the river transition to still waters closer to Route 1. A tire swing along the banks of the river here provides recreation for the locals, and dogs often dive into the river to swim in the calm waters. Though it is tucked away west of Interstate 295, it is worth a visit if you are in the area, as it affords a view into the natural beauty Maine has to offer.

Calmer waters on the Royal River. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

2. Hadlock Field, Portland Maine

After a brief repair to the hotel in Freeport to relax before the game, we made the 20 minute drive to Hadlock Field, the home of the Portland Sea Dogs. Located on the edge of downtown Portland, Maine, parking was at a premium near the stadium. Fortunately, we were able to park just down the street from the park in a commercial lot; during the warm months, available parking is often more than a mile away. Access to the field from these lots is provided via shuttle bus.

Outside Hadlock Field in Portland, ME. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

My first game at Hadlock Field was back in 1998, when the Sea Dogs were the Double A affiliate of the Florida Marlins. A lot had changed over the years, as the Sea Dogs became the Double A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. Shortly after the change, the stadium underwent a fairly substantial remodeling, adding changes that reminded fans of Fenway Park.

A replica of the Green Monster at Hadlock Field in Portland, ME. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Nestled between the hills of downtown Portland and Interstate 295 to its west, the view of Portland is one of the best attractions of the park. Since my last visit to the field, there were a number of additions, including a huge boot from LL Bean on the right field wall. While the additions may have enhanced the popularity of the park, I found that the changes may have detracted from the charm of the place.

The view from our seats. Note the buildings of downtown Portland in the distance. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Hadlock Field is a modular stadium, with aluminum grandstands along the left field line. During the summer months, a Sea Dogs ticket can be a hot commodity, and seats for this game were at a premium. Because of the demand for tickets, our seats were located more than halfway down the left field line, offering a less than ideal view of home plate.

The view of right field at Hadlock Field, including the bleachers and the LL Bean boot over the home team bullpen. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

The design of Hadlock Field brings the left field foul line very close to the seats, allowing for a more intimate feel for the fans. However, bringing the fans that close to the line had an unintended side effect. Line drives off the bats of left hand hitters reach the seats at high velocity, making some of the seats flat out DANGEROUS. We saw two fans hit by these line drives injured during this game, both seriously enough to require medical attention.

Being a veteran of the ballpark, I knew enough to stay alert for line drives. Still, I was surprised upon my return that this portion of the seating area was not protected by a net. Hopefully, this has been addressed, as fans not paying close attention are putting themselves at a risk they may not truly appreciate.

The Hadlock Field display of retired Sea Dogs numbers, replete with familiar names to Red Sox fans. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Concessions were located in the concourse below the seating area. The concessions were mostly standard fare, but included fish sandwiches, as well as a Maine favorite, fried dough covered with powered sugar. We briefly toured the ballpark before settling into our seats shortly before game time.

The Sea Dogs hosted the Trenton Thunder, the Double A affiliate of the New York Yankees. The Sea Dogs opened the scoring in the bottom of the first, scoring four runs on four hits and a walk off Thunder starter Brady Lail. Meanwhile, Sea Dogs starter William Cuevas kept the Thunder scoreless through five innings.

Sea Dogs starter William Cuevas delivers a pitch at Hadlock Field. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

The four runs the Sea Dogs scored in the first inning capped for the scoring for the home team. Meanwhile, the Thunder clawed their way back into game, scoring a run in the sixth and two more in the seventh. The Thunder threatened in the ninth, as RF Danny Oh delivered a run scoring double, making the score 4-3. However, the game ended as Oh was thrown out trying to steal third base.

Thunder RF Danny Oh scoring in the sixth inning. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Though there were many changes to Hadlock Field since my last visit, it still ranks as one of my favorite minor league ballparks, the problem with foul balls in left field not withstanding. The great feel of the park, augmented by the vistas of downtown Portland, make this field worth the visit, if you can score tickets during the summer months.

Portland, ME to New Britain, CT July 21st 2015

New Britain Stadium, New Britain, CT. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

The last day of the three-stop New England minor league tour started in Portland, Maine, following a game at Hadlock Field the previous night. Following breakfast in nearby Freeport, we headed for New Britain, Connecticut for an evening ball game at New Britain Stadium, home of the Rock Cats.

The weather had been spectacular across southern Maine the previous day, but as we drove south, we drew closer to a heat wave that was underway from southern New England into the Mid Atlantic states. By the time we reached New Britain in the mid afternoon, we traded temperature in the 70s in Portland for the lower 90s in Connecticut. In addition, the humidity levels were markedly higher, setting the stage for active weather later in afternoon.

Google Maps showing the three and one-half hour drive from Portland, ME to New Britain, CT

Having arrived in New Britain well before game time, we decided to explore the city. However, the hot and humid conditions were hardly conducive to walking, and after a quick tour of Walnut Hill Park, we took shelter in the New Britain Museum of American Art. Established in 1903, it was the first museum in the US dedicated to American art. Much of the art displayed during our visit was impressionist, as well as post-contemporary.

After about an hour in the museum, we headed toward the ballpark. While in the museum, hazy sunshine had given way to clouds, which were yielding scattered showers and thunderstorms. Conditions improved as we reached the park, with more hazy sunshine as we arrived. There was onsite parking for $5 (for better parking) and $3 (for the rest of the lot), and we got to the stadium early enough so that parking was ample.

New Britain Stadium from the left field concourse, adjacent to the picnic area. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Though it opened in 1996, the brick facade of New Britain Stadium gave the park an older, almost throwback feel. Once inside, it was clear that the ballpark was modular. Unlike most modular ballparks, there were no aluminum grandstands; instead, there were nearly 6,000 pine green seats. A concrete concourse spanned from left field to right field, with covered picnic areas near each foul line.

Storm clouds started gathering over the park, and suddenly a thunderstorm enveloped over the stadium. Thunder, lightning and pouring rain accompanied the storm, sending fans under the stands and toward the concession areas. While we waited for the rain to slacken, we visited the team store. As might be expected, the store was busy with bored fans killing time while the storm raged. The store possessed standard fare, and I indulged in a hat, a yearbook and a Rock Cats tote.

This is NEVER a good sight when hoping to see a ballgame. The rain delay pushed back the start time of the game by one hour and twenty minutes. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Just as the first storm ended, another followed on its heel. At that point, I became increasingly pessimistic that we would get the game in. Fortunately, the second storm dissipated almost as quickly as it formed, leaving just some drizzle as the darkness approached. Finally, the tarp was removed, and the game started about 830 pm, almost 90 minutes after the scheduled first pitch.

Fans milling around the inner concourse, waiting for the storms to end. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

For tonight’s game, the Rock Cats (the Double A affiliate of the Colorado Rockies) hosted the Binghamton Mets. In the lineup for the Mets was LF Michael Conforto. The left handed hitting Conforto had been swinging a hot bat for much of the season, though he had cooled off some heading into this series. Despite the dry spell, Conforto would make his MLB debut three days later.

Also in the lineup was CF Brandon Nimmo, a former number one draft pick, who was working his was through the Mets’ system. Finally, LJ Mazzilli started at 2B. Mazzilli, the son of former Met Lee Mazzilli, had been in the Mets system for a couple of years, trying to break through to AAA.

The sweet left handed swing of Michael Conforto. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Our seats for the game were adjacent to the Mets’ dugout, affording us a unique view of the Mets on the bench. Some of the hijinks in the dugout was nearly as entertaining as the action on the field. We were also treated to a close up look at players we would see in the big leagues in years to come.

Apparently, the weather delay chased away all but the heartiest of baseball fans. The sparse crowd that remained made the 6,000 seat stadium seem almost empty as the first pitch was thrown. Once the rain ended, the remainder of the night was dry, but clouds remained for the balance of the game.

The view from our seats gave us a direct look into the Mets’ dugout. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

The B-Mets offense got going early, scoring three runs in the top of the first, featuring a run-scoring triple by Brandon Nimmo. Mets starter Gabriel Ynoa made those runs stand up, yielding a single run in his seven innings of work. Ynoa, who would eventually reach the MLB with the Mets, had possibly his best outing of the season.

Mets starter Gabriel Ynoa delivers a pitch at New Britain Stadium. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Ynoa, along with two relievers, held the Rock Cats to five hits while striking out 11. The quick-paced game clocked in at two hours and 30 minutes. Toward the end of the game, the sparse crowd thinned out even more. Among the remaining fans was LJ Mazzilli’s father, Lee Mazzilli.

It seemed that only a few in the remaining crowd recognized him, but his presence was brought to our attention by murmuring fans near his seat. Mazzilli seemed gracious, but his facial expression indicated that perhaps he just wanted to watch the game. After the final out, we saw him in the concourse, but left him alone.

Lee Mazzilli, donning an NYPD cap, shooting video, presumably of his son’s at-bats. (Photo credit)

At the conclusion of the game, we exited quickly, with a three hour drive ahead of us. New Britain Stadium was the epitome of a modular stadium, complete with a unassuming but functional video board. The 2015 season was the last for the Rock Cats, as the would become the Hartford Yard Goats in 2016, scheduled to move into the brand new Dunkin’ Donuts Park.

Binghamton, NY July 19-20 2016

NYSEG Stadium, home of the Binghamton Mets. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Our initial target for this baseball junket was Hartford, Connecticut to see Dunkin’ Donuts Park, the newly minted home of Hartford Yard Goats. Having recently moved from New Britain and rebranded the Yard Goats, this was their inaugural season in the new ballpark. However, construction delays and political rankling delayed the opening of Dunkin’ Donuts Park, forcing the Yard Goats on the road for the remainder of the their 2016 schedule.

With that target no longer available, we decided to change our focus and head to Binghamton, New York to catch the Mets (now known as the Rumble Ponies) series with the Bowie BaySox (the Double A affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles). Changing targets presented little in the way of logistical problems, as the travel time for each trip was about the same.

Google Maps showing a travel time of a little more than three hours from central NJ to NYSEG Stadium in Binghamton NY.

The early afternoon drive was relatively easy, with just some construction delays slowing our progress. We arrived in Binghamton early enough to check into the hotel and relax for a bit before heading out to the ballpark. Having been here before 2014, we knew that there was ample parking across the street from NYSEG Stadium, as well as parking in a lot behind the right field fence.


1. Tuesday, July 19 2016

Located in downtown Binghamton, the ballpark is nestled between the Chenango and Susquehanna Rivers, with the Mt Prospect visible over the left field fence. Arriving about an hour before game time, we entered the ballpark behind home plate and walked the concourse taking pictures and enjoying the atmosphere.

The view from our seats, watching the exchange of the lineup cards shortly before game time. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

The ballpark, opened in 1992, has a modular feel to it, not unlike many minor league parks constructed around the same time. The seating area features two levels, both of which have seats (as opposed to aluminum bench seating for grandstands in many other minor league parks). The main concession area is located behind the lower level, and there are picnic areas down each line.

In addition to the team store located behind the lower level to the left of home plate, there is an additional outlet down the right field line, adjacent to a small restaurant. Otherwise, the ballpark was unremarkable, with a relatively small but functional video board in right center field, as well as a scoreboard in left center field.

NYSEG Stadium viewed from the left field line, featuring a picnic area and small souvenir shop to the left of the seating area. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Despite the warm and dry evening weather, the crowd for the game was fairly sparse, with the number of people in the park far less than the 6,012 seating capacity of NYSEG Stadium. Our seats for the evening contest was just to the right of home plate, next to the Mets dugout. However, the seating area was covered by protective netting, which caused issues with picture taking.

The B-Mets lineup featured two future Mets, as well as a 2B with a familiar last name in New York Mets lore.

Though the Bowie BaySox are my “hometown” minor league team (I live about 20 minutes from their home stadium), my allegiance was solidly with the B-Mets. In the lineup for the B-Mets were SS Amed Rosario and 1B Dominic Smith, two highly touted prospects in the pipeline to join the Mets soon. Also in the lineup was 2B LJ Mazzilli, son of perennial Mets favorite Lee Mazzilli.

The B-Mets struck first, as Dominic Smith scored on a single to make it 1-0. Pitching dominated this contest as the teams traded runs in the sixth and seventh innings, as night descended on Binghamton. With the score tied at 2, the game went into extra innings, as cooler conditions replaced the late afternoon warmth.

Amed Rosario batting in the third inning at NYSEG Stadium. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

The game ended in the bottom of the 11th as the winning run scored on a fielders choice. With the game ending after 10 pm, the stadium was nearly deserted as we exited for the parking lot. The hotel was only about a mile from the park, and we saw little in the way of activity as we made our way through downtown Binghamton.


Wednesday, July 20th 2016

Since we had some time before the 105 pm contest between the Bowie BaySox and the hometown Binghamton Mets, we ate breakfast at the hotel, then wandered along the Chenango River (which flowed adjacent to the hotel). The mid to late morning was growing warmer and more humid, so we cut the walk short, relaxing at the hotel before checkout time.

We arrived at NYSEG Stadium well before game time, this time parking on the lot beyond the right field fence (since the lot we employed the previous night was in use by local merchants). The bright sunshine afforded a better view of the park and its surroundings.

The view from behind the B-Mets dugout before game time. This view offers a great look at Mt Prospect. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

My favorite aspect of NYSEG Stadium has always been the view beyond the park. Just behind the left field fence lies an active train track, with Conrail trains occasionally passing during the games. Further in the distance, the hills provided a spectacular backdrop for the ballpark. During the games, I often found myself admiring the view almost as much as the action on the field.

B-Mets right hander Rafael Montero delivers a pitch in the first inning at NYSEG Stadium. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

The starting lineups for each team were similar to those of the night before. The starting pitcher for the B-Mets was Rafael Montero, a prospect that showed alternating displays of brilliance and maddening streaks of inconsistency. Despite having made MLB appearances in the recent past, Montero’s start this afternoon in Binghamton was a clear sign that the Mets’ patience with the talented right hander was wearing thin.

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

By first pitch, temperatures had climbed into the 80s, with just a touch of humidity in the air under full sunshine. The BaySox jumped out to a 2-0 lead against Montero, who allowed three runs in 5 1/3 innings of work. However, Montero also walked six batters, continuing the streak of inconsistent efforts that plagued his 2016 season.

B-Mets employee providing some relief from the heat to fans down the left field line. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

The B-Mets struck back in the fifth with seven runs, highlighted by a two run home run by DH Dominic Smith. The potent B-Mets offense effectively put the game away, though the BaySox bullpen shut down the B-Mets for the remainder of the contest.

Dominic Smith celebrating with teammates after launching a two run home run in the bottom of the fifth inning. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

With the game in hand, I turned my attention back to the beautiful backdrop. Though the ballpark is on the edge of downtown Binghamton, it retains a suburban feel, taking advantage of the terrain to make the ballpark seem as though it was far from the city. The bucolic surroundings offset a ballpark that seemed to lack a charm of its own.

Amed Rosario turning a double play in the sixth inning at NYSEG Stadium. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Shortly after the final out in the 8-4 B-Mets victory, we headed back toward central New Jersey. The main reason to visit the park again was to see the Mets’ prospects in action, as there was no other compelling reason to return to the region. The visit takes on a greater significance in light of the MLB decision to pare as many as one-fourth of minor league teams after the 2020 season, with many reports indicating the Binghamton team is on the chopping block.

Given the current crisis, it is possible that 2020 minor league is in jeopardy. With that in mind, it is within the realm of probability that the Binghamton entry in the Eastern League may have already played its last game.

Richmond, VA, May 20th and 21st, 2017

The first baseball trip of the 2017 was a short one, at least with respect to distance. Our target was The Diamond, home of the Flying Squirrels in Richmond, Virginia. From home in Maryland, Richmond is just two hours away on Interstate 95 South, making it an ideal choice for the first baseball trip of the season.

Being a member of the Eastern League, the Flying Squirrels are a familiar team, as both of the us live near Eastern League teams and see the team at least a couple of times a year. Since The Diamond was so close, we didn’t leave Maryland until early afternoon to arrive in Richmond early enough to check into our hotel and get to the ballpark.

1. The Diamond, Richmond Virginia, Saturday May 20th

The Diamond, Richmond VA. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Arriving about 60 minutes before game time, we found that parking was not an issue at The Diamond. Like many suburban ballparks, there is parking on site, and the price was average for a minor league park ($5). Walking from the parking lot, The Diamond looks huge, due in part to the concrete construction of the seating area stretching from foul line to foul line.

The view of The Diamond from the parking lot. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Originally constructed for the Triple A Richmond Braves, the capacity of nearly 10,000 is larger than the typical Double A Stadium. Though the ballpark has undergone a few renovations, the stadium has the feel of a 30+ year old structure, which is not necessarily a bad attribute.

After walking the concourse taking pictures of the park, we perused the concession stand closer to home plate on the field level. The main concession area offered standard fare, though there was a wider food selection in concession locations located on the field and upper levels.

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

We settled into our seats behind the visitors dugout about 30 minutes before the first pitch. The Flying Squirrels’ opponent was the Harrisburg Senators, the Double A affiliate of the Washington Nationals. Mainly clear skies and temperatures in the 70s set the stage for a pleasant evening for baseball in Richmond.

The Diamond was somewhat reminiscent of Arm & Hammer Park in Trenton, New Jersey with its two tiered row of advertising billboards in left field. The ballpark has a modest video board/scoreboard in left center field; otherwise, the ballpark was unremarkable. In some respects, the lack of multiple video boards was a blessing, allowing fans to concentrate on the game, rather than the technology.

The video board/scoreboard in left center field of The Diamond. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

It is typical for Saturday night minor league games to draw well, and this evening was no different at The Diamond. While the crowd was sizable for the contest, the number of people in the ballpark that evening was nowhere near the announced attendance of just over 9,000.

After the Squirrels scored a run in the first inning, the Harrisburg Senators took the lead in the third inning, scoring three runs. The Senators tacked on two more runs in the fifth, taking a 5-1 lead as the evening gave way to night in Richmond.

The Flying Squirrels completing a 1-4 sacrifice during the third inning, as the Senators took a 3-1 lead. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Though the Squirrels scored single runs in the sixth and seventh innings, the Senators held on for a 5-3 victory. As often happens when the home team fall behind, the crowd started thinning out after the seventh inning, and by the time of the last out, the stadium was almost empty. The parking lot was nearly deserted, allowing for a quick getaway to the nearby hotel.

The Diamond at night. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

2. The Diamond, Sunday May 21st

During the night, a cold front pushed through the Richmond area, and the morning dawned with cloudy skies and drizzle. Temperatures were cooler than Saturday, and humidity levels increased as well. With the game at The Diamond scheduled for a 1200 pm start, we decided to spend a part of the morning exploring Richmond.

The cool, humid and occasionally drizzly conditions precluded a walk through Richmond, so we opted to conduct a driving tour of the city. Being the capital of the Confederacy for the bulk of the Civil War, Richmond is replete with historical sites, which deserved more attention than a driving tour could afford. Being a history buff, I will need to return here in the future to better appreciate the history of Richmond.

The Diamond on a cool, overcast late Sunday morning. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

We arrived at the Diamond about an hour before the first pitch. Unbeknownst to us, fans were invited to play catch on the field prior to the game. Unfortunately, not knowing about this opportunity, we were not prepared to take advantage of it. So, rather than take the field, we spent the time before the game wandering around the park, taking pictures and exploring the offerings of the concession stands on the field level.

For the Sunday matinee, the Flying Squirrels donned alternate home jerseys. Sporting their “waffle” jerseys, the Squirrels took the field for the first pitch, which occurred just after noon.

Jordan Johnson, sporting the “waffle” jersey, delivers a pitch in the first inning. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

The clouds and cool moist flow made watching the game this afternoon a bit less enjoyable than last night, but not that out of line for weather just prior to Memorial Day over the Mid Atlantic.

The matinee’s lineup cards posted on the wall of the Squirrels’ dugout. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

As often occurs for Sunday afternoon minor league games, the crowd was much smaller than the night before, though the weather might have had an influence of people’s plans. In any event, the starting pitchers dominated the much of the game, with the Senators taking a 2-1 lead into the the top of the seventh inning.

The view from our seats. Note the sparse crowd on this cool and drizzly afternoon. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

The Senators broke the game open in the seventh, scoring four runs and putting the game out of reach. By this time, the bulk of the crowd had left, leaving few people in the park when the final out was recorded. Rather than linger to get more pictures of the park, we headed north back to Maryland.

Though The Diamond has some interesting aspects, it is an unremarkable ballpark in a city with a rich history of baseball. Based on my impression of the ballpark, I felt that one visit would suffice. However, we would visit again about a year later, the last stop on a longer baseball tour.

BBT Ballpark, Charlotte, NC June 16th 2017

The start of our second baseball mini-road trip of 2017 started on Friday, June 16th. Our first stop was scheduled for Charlotte, North Carolina, to see BB&T Ballpark. Having seen a photo of the park, I felt as though it was worth a visit, before traveling to our final destination, SunTrust Park in Atlanta.

Google Maps showing a 6 hour 30 minute drive from Greenbelt MD to Charlotte NC.

Our drive took us through Richmond, VA on Interstate 95 South (where we saw The Diamond, home of the Richmond Flying Squirrels from the highway) before linking up with Interstate 85 South near Petersburg, VA. Following a quick stop for lunch, we pressed onward toward Charlotte, NC. As we traveled south, the warm and humid airmass was becoming increasingly conducive to thunderstorm development.

Scattered storms started to dot the route toward the ballpark. Arriving in the Charlotte area around the time of the evening commute, the combination of traffic and storms slowed our approach, and it appeared as though we might miss the first pitch. We weaved our way off the interstate to the ballpark complex. Though not raining at the time, it was apparent that heavy rain has just occurred at the ballpark.

The view of BB&T Ballpark from the street outside the parking garage. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

The rain at the ballpark was heavy enough to bring the tarp on the field. Putting the tarp on the field almost always involves a rain delay of at least 30 minutes, and this delay worked in our favor. Rather than arriving just about the time of the scheduled first pitch, we were given some time to explore the ballpark before settling into our seats.

Storms moving away from Charlotte NC. The storms resulted in a rain delay at the ballpark. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

We parked in the same deck used for the Carolina Panthers games, and ambled over the park. BB&T Ballpark was yet another example of a ballpark with an urban setting as its backdrop. This seems to be a trend for minor league parks, as it was for some MLB parks in the previous two decades. The skyline of Charlotte was impressive from street level was we headed toward the stadium.

Because of the 45 minute rain delay, fans were still milling around outside of the park, waiting to gain entry. With some extra time before the first pitch, we encircled the ballpark before heading inside. We noted a center field entrance, which is unusual for a minor league ballpark.

Center field entrance for BB&T Ballpark in Charlotte, NC (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Mainly out of convenience, we entered through this gate. BB&T Ballpark has a concourse that surrounds the playing field, and we walked the entire circle, taking pictures and marveling at the view in right field. Clearly, the ballpark was designed to feature the amazing view. Though I had seen the view in a photo earlier, it did not do the incredible vista justice.

The amazing view of the Charlotte skyline from left field. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

I had only caught a glimpse of the ballpark, and it was already my favorite!!! My previous favorite (PNC Park in Pittsburgh) also features a magnificent skyline, but for some reason, this one seemed more majestic. As we walked along the concourse toward home plate, every view seems better than the last. I began wondering if I needed to move to Charlotte, if for no other reason that to visit this place as often as possible.

This is it!!! Of all of the views at the park, this one is my favorite! (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

The best view from the park was the last, peering out from under the overhang just to the third base side of home plate. Unfortunately, our seats were not located in this prime piece of real estate. The Charlotte Knights, the Triple A affiliate of the Chicago White Sox, draw well, and after seeing the ballpark, that was not surprising. In fact, tickets for this game were at a premium, and rather than get seats via the normal route, we needed to use StubHub to get seats for this game.

The Knights’ opponent for the game was the Indianapolis Indians, the Triple A affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates (a team we would see at home later in the 2017 season). Because of the 45 minute rain delay, the starters for the game were just warming up when we reached our seats. We were treated to a up close look at the Knights’ starter Lucas Giolito as he completed his warmup pitches in the bullpen before heading out to the mound.

Lucas Giolito as he finished his warmup in the bullpen before the game. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Giolito, once the pride of the Washington Nationals farm system, was dealt to the White Sox for Adam Eaton in a controversial trade. Frankly, I was surprised to see Giolito still in Triple A, assuming the White Sox could use the help at the big league level.

However, it didn’t take long into his start to determine why he was still in Charlotte. Giolito surrendered three runs on five hits in 4 2/3 innings, while striking out five and walking four. His control was actually worse than his line showed, going into deep counts again many batters.

The view from our seats down the right field line. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Despite the shaky start by Giolito putting them behind, the Knights’ bats came alive in the sixth inning, scoring six runs against three Indians pitchers, including left hander Antonio Bastardo (so that’s where he was hiding). As the evening faded into night, the Knights’ relievers held the lead as the offense tacked on two runs in each of their last two at-bats.

BB&T Ballpark at night. The backdrop is still magnificent. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

As often happens during blowouts in the minor leagues, the fairly large crowd started thinning out after the seventh inning. The extra room allowed my brother to wander about, taking pictures of this gorgeous stadium. By the time the Knights recorded the final out of their 12-4 victory, most of the crowd was gone or leaving. This is often fortuitous for us, since it generally means a cleaner getaway.

What can I say??? This ballpark quickly became my favorite, and was well worth the stop before heading south to Atlanta. If you are a baseball fan and find yourself within range of Charlotte when the Knights are home, do yourself a BIG favor and visit BB&T Ballpark. You need to see it for yourself to truly appreciate it.

Good night BB&T Ballpark. I will definitely be back as soon as possible. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

UPDATE: Saturday, August 28th 2021

As part of another North Carolina based baseball trip, we revisited BB&T Ballpark (now called Truist Field) for an evening game on Saturday, August 28th 2021. After walking through downtown Charlotte (something time did not allow last time we were here), we entered the ballpark via the home plate gate. While I passed through security with no issues, my brother was stopped. Security informed him that his camera was too large to bring into the stadium!

Dejected, my brother was forced to return to the vehicle to drop off the camera. Though there was a sign stating no cameras with lenses more than 50 mm were permitted in the park, I was stunned by the turn of events. NO OTHER BALLPARK in the US (or Japan, for that matter) has EVER turned my brother away because of the size or sophistication of his camera. My brother has NEVER received a single complaint about his camera or lenses being a hinderance to any fans’ enjoyment of the game. In my opinion, enforcement of a regulation that detracts from a fan’s experience at the ballpark is counterproductive. We are lifelong baseball fans, and enforcement of what seems to be an arbitrary rule felt like a slap in the face to that devotion.

So, despite the magnificent view of downtown Charlotte from the ballpark, the experience was indelibly marred for me. Under no circumstances will I ever revisit Truist Field. This is in no way reflective of how I feel about Charlotte or the fans of the Knights. My wrath is pointed directly at management of Truist Field regarding their asinine policy about cameras in the ballpark.

SunTrust Park, Atlanta GA, June 17th and 18th, 2017

Google Map route from Charlotte NC to Atlanta GA.

1. SunTrust Park, Saturday June 17th 2017

Following an enjoyable visit to BB&T Ballpark in Charlotte, North Carolina, we headed out on the next leg our our journey, toward Atlanta to see the Braves host the Miami Marlins at Truist Park (known as SunTrust Park when we visited). The game was scheduled for a 410 pm start (presumably at the behest of Fox Sports), before which we needed to complete a three and one-half hour drive.

Fortunately for us, traffic was relatively light on Interstate 85 South, and the trip flew by. We stopped at our hotel just long enough to drop off our bags and relax a bit before heading out to the park. Not knowing much about the new ballpark, we simply followed the Google directions for parking.

SunTrust Park from the edge of the pedestrian walkway. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

We were quite surprised to find out there was no on-site parking at the stadium. Instead, we were directed to a lot at a municipal building about three-quarters of a mile from the park. There wasn’t much guidance about transportation to the stadium, so we followed the crowd toward the ballpark. Crossing over Interstate 75 on a pedestrian bridge, we reached the entrance to the park in about 15 minutes.

SunTrust Park, about 10 minutes before the first pitch. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Granted, this was the inaugural season for the ballpark, but seemingly the Braves hadn’t worked out the problem of getting fans to the complex. Luckily for us, the weather was dry and seasonably warm. Heat or thunderstorms could wreak havoc with people trying to attend the game, especially those with limited mobility. Hopefully, this oversight has been corrected since our visit.

Obviously, the Braves and local government had plans for the area. The gates were not yet open, so we walked around the complex. Adjacent to the stadium were bars, restaurants and shops, most of which were not yet open for business. By the time we had encircled the area, the gates had opened, and we entered the ballpark.

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

Clearly, the ballpark was anchored to the Comcast Building in right field. Unfortunately, the building seemed to be something of an eyesore (in my opinion), which detracted from the overall feel of the park. The stadium featured a functional but unobtrusive video board in center field, flanked in left field by a smaller video board dedicated primarily to game stats, which I found to be very useful.

The Marlins lineup for the late afternoon game with the Braves. This lineup had six former or future All-Stars.

The park appeared much bigger in person than on TV, due in large part to the third deck spanning foul territory from pole to pole. This detracted from any sense of intimacy within the stadium. In fairness, we didn’t get to explore the park much before the game, so perhaps another look tomorrow afternoon would change my initial evaluation. One thing was certain: this park was a welcome relief from Turner Field.

The Freeze in action. After a stunning loss the night before, The Freeze got back to his winning ways in commanding fashion tonight. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

The Marlins’ lineup for this contest was actually fairly well stacked, featuring future NL MVP Christian Yelich. This lineup struck for five runs in the fifth inning to take the lead. However, the Braves clawed their way back into the game, tying it in the bottom of the ninth. Brandon Philips singled in the winning run in the bottom of the tenth, securing the come from behind victory.

Following the final out, we traveled with the herd back over the pedestrian bridge to our parking spot. Though the new stadium had some positive aspects, the parking issue seemed to overshadow them. We would be back tomorrow afternoon for the final game in the series.

2. SunTrust Park, Sunday June 18th 2017

Having seen much of what we wanted to see in the Atlanta area back in 2011, we stayed close to the hotel until checkout time. We decided to get an early start for the afternoon game, heading to the parking lots outside of SunTrust Park so that we would arrive at the park when the gates opened.

Clouds gathering during the late morning threatened rain, but for the moment we were dry. With the extra time, we got an extended opportunity to explore the park. One the gems we missed the night before was the Braves Hall of Fame, located at Monument Gardens.

Hammerin’ Hank in the Braves Hall of Fame. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Thirty one plaques, commemorating Braves greats from the Boston, Milwaukee and Atlanta eras of the franchise, are interspersed with multi media presentations and memorabilia. The Braves Hall of Fame is oriented linearly, which could result in a crowded visit with a large fan presence in the stadium. Fortunately for us, there were not many fans in the Hall while we visited. The Hall is informative and entertaining, having something for even casual baseball fans. Being a die hard, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Before looking for our seats, we headed for the concession stand to get lunch. There are many concession areas within SunTrust Park, including a Waffle House and Chick-Fil-A on the field level, as well as other outlets from restaurants in the Atlanta area. Despite the wide variety of food available here, our choices were more pedestrian in nature. If you are willing to explore, you can probably find something to suit varying tastes somewhere within the park.

SunTrust Park, about 90 minutes before game time. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Shortly after finding our seats, the clouds yielded a few sprinkles. However, the rain was short lived, and was completely finished before the start of the game. Eventually, skies began to clear, and we were washed in sunshine during the second half of the game. The start of the game was unusually late, with first pitch scheduled for 130 pm. Most Sunday matinees begin closer to 1 pm, but we’ve found that games in Atlanta start later than most parks, presumably because of traffic.

Miami starter Jose Urena delivers a pitch in the first inning. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Starting for the visiting Miami Marlins was 25 year old right hander Jose Urena. Though he only allowed two runs in six plus innings, he had some control issues, particularly early. Urena hit three batters in the first three innings, and when hit, Matt Adams was NOT happy about it.

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

The Marlins held a 2-0 lead heading into the bottom of the seventh. The Braves struck for four runs, with the majority of the offensive outburst aimed at Marlins reliever David Phelps. The 4-2 Braves lead lasted one-half inning, as the Marlins tied it in the top of the eighth. Much like the game last night, the game came down to the Braves final at-bat.

The Braves erupted for four runs in the bottom of the seventh to take the lead.

And just like the previous night, Brandon Phillips was the hero, singling in Johan Camargo to seal the Braves’ 5-4 victory. The happy Braves fans filed out of the SunTrust Stadium, heading back to the distant parking lots. We saw two good baseball games in a brand new park. SunTrust Stadium is a significant improvement over the Braves’ former home, though the curious parking situation was a definite detraction from an otherwise nice ballpark.

Warren Spahn greets you at SunTrust Park. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)