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)

Prince George’s County Stadium, Bowie Maryland

Prince George’s County Stadium from behind home plate in the lower level. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)
  • First visit: unknown, sometime in the summer of 2013
  • Most recent visit: Friday, September 13 2019

A job change in early 2013 brought me to the Washington DC area, and I was pleasantly surprised to see the wide array of baseball options that came with the move. The Washington Nationals were only a 20 minute train ride from home, and the Baltimore Orioles were just a 45 minute car ride north along Interstate 95. There was also a number of minor league options an hour away or less, with the Bowie Baysox (the AA affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles) the closest, a mere 20 minute car ride away (as long as traffic on the Beltway cooperated). Since the ballpark was easily accessible, I adopted the Baysox as my team in the new surroundings.

Though I do not recall the exact date of my first visit to Prince George’s County Stadium (the home of the Bowie Baysox) in 2013, I do remember a few surprises from the trip. The first surprise was parking. Because Prince George’s County Stadium holds about 10,000 fans, the parking lot for the stadium is huge. Not knowing where to park, I flagged down an attendant and asked him the cost of parking. With a wry smile, he told me that parking was free. If memory serves, this was first stadium I’d visited that had that perk. Arriving about an hour before game time, I was able to park right next to the ballpark. Not having a ticket for the game, I feared that I would not be able to secure a good seat so close to game time.

The view from seats we typically occupied for Baysox games at Prince George’s County Stadium (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Asking for the best available seat, I received my second surprise. Despite arriving close to game time, there were great seats available. Not knowing anything about the layout of the park, I took seats near the on deck circle just to the left of home plate, about six rows from the field. At the time, I could not believe my luck, but after going to a few games, I realized that, despite easy access off Route 50 in Bowie, attendance was generally fairly light. That was both shocking and disappointing to me, but I eventually learned that Bowie did not aggressively advertise, which could a contributing factor to the low attendance. Quickly I learned to enjoy the relatively sparse attendance, as it virtually guaranteed me great seats any time I went to the ballpark.

Passing through an old styled turnstile, my ticket was torn by a friendly and knowledgeable ticket taker, leading me into the lower concourse. A quick walking tour of the stadium followed. Like most minor league ballpark from the 1990s, the ballpark was a cookie cutter prefabricated stadium, with seats in the lower levels, and aluminum bench seating in the upper sections. There were also enclosed club suites at the top of the stadium, stretching from the home dugout behind home plate to the visitor’s dugout (we never saw a game from these seats). Down the right field line is a kid-friendly play area, complete with a carousel, as well as other attractions. A lighthouse located near the play area blared following a Baysox home run.

Prince George’s County Stadium at sunset on a warm summer evening.

Like most minor league parks, Prince George’s County Stadium featured a grass playing field, as well as series of wooden advertising signs perched above and just behind the outfield wall. In left centerfield there was a scoreboard, which seemed out of date and a bit worse for wear. At this time, there was no video board, which I found odd, as most AA stadium have at least a small but functional videoboard. Finishing my tour of the ballpark, I stopped for a baseball dinner before heading to my seat. Standard concession stands were available on the lower concourse, as well as specialty food and drink carts along the lower concourse. On this night, only the right field concession stand was operating, but the small crowd meant a short wait time. Walking back on the concourse toward my seat I discovered a table that offered scorecards and rosters for both the Baysox and the visiting team. Being an old-timer, I keep score at games, and I found these offerings very useful.

The scoreboard at Prince George’s County Stadium. A video board was added in right centerfield to supplement the aging scoreboard. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

My first visit to Prince George’s County Stadium was an evening contest, which led to my third surprise. The lightning for the playing field seemed woefully underpowered, leaving portions of the outfield (especially centerfield) fairly dark. My brother and I would joke later that outfielders, rather than losing balls in the lights, would lose ball in the dark. Overall, Prince George’s County Stadium seemed like an average minor league park, with signs of aging that indicate that the park was older than its 20 years. Despite its shortcomings, I would grow accustomed to the “charm” the ballpark offered, and much like the old Shea Stadium in New York, it became like an old friend.

Lineup card exchange at home plate just before game time. Note the lack of fans in the seats minutes before the start of the game. This image also shows the kids play area at the top of the picture, as well as Louie, the Baysox mascot in front of the Baysox dugout. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Sparse crowds like the one on that night gave me access to the action like I’d never seen. In fact, I was so close to the action that I couldn’t speak badly about the batter in the visitor’s on deck circle; he might hear me! My proximity to the field also allowed to see and hear the game in a way that isn’t possible in an MLB park. In general, minor league baseball is more about evaluating talent and less about strategy. It is not unusual to see players (especially pitchers) leave ballgames seemingly without a logical reason; we would later learn that once a manager had seen what he needed from a player, that player could be removed from the game. Pitching changes during innings are scarce, as teams are interested in seeing what players do under pressure, rather than making moves designed to win games.

As a result, minor league games tend to move along more quickly that their MLB counterparts. In between most innings, the Baysox offered games and contests in foul territory (typically in front of the dugouts), plucking fans out of the stands to participate in the contests. Despite the obvious attempt to make the games there more family friendly, there were a strange lack of kids in the park. Perhaps with myriad options for entertainment in the DC area, and MLB baseball as little as 20 minutes away, families were opting for choices other than Baysox baseball. My recall of the first game itself is fuzzy at best, but it did remember that exiting Prince George’s County Stadium was made simple, as cones and attendants made sure that the traffic flow was smooth. In about 20 minutes time, I went from the parking lot to my home with little difficulty. Even with the shortcomings offered by the home of the Baysox, I knew that I would frequent this place often, as it appeared to be a fine way to spend a summer evening.

A close up view of the centerfield fence at Prince George’s County Stadium. Once darkness falls, this area would become a problem for outfielders trying to track down fly balls.

Over the years, my brother and I would frequent Prince George’s County Stadium often, particularly on weekends when the AA affiliates of the New York Mets (the Binghamton Mets/Rumble Ponies) and New York Yankees (the Trenton Thunder) were in town. All told, I probably saw about 100 games at the ballpark between 2013-2019, usually near the on deck circle. Going as often as I did, I befriended many of the staff members, with whom I would swap baseball tales, talking about players we liked or ballparks we visited. My brother and I would be mistaken for scouts more often than you might expect, as I kept score, my brother took pictures, and we chatted almost non stop about the game. The only things (other than my job, which required shift work) that would keep me away when I could manage to go were rain and heat. DC and environs generally experience hot, humid summers, and this would occasionally keep me home. Thunderstorms were a nearly daily occurrence in the summer, and it seemed we had to endure rain delays more than any other place I had been.

Even with these distractions, we attended games at the park whenever possible, as prices were reasonable, great seats were almost always available, and fireworks occurred most summer nights (when weather permitted). Still, I was sad to see so few fans at the park. Occasionally, Orioles players would complete their injury rehabilitation at Prince George’s County Stadium, but attendance on these days/nights were surprisingly light. Perhaps my greatest memory of the ballpark was when the Baysox allowed fans to play catch on the field following a Sunday matinee. My brother and I brought our gloves and eagerly took the field when instructed. We were both surprised how good the turf in the field looked and felt, and we spent about 30 minutes on the field before being shooed away by management so that they could close the stadium for the day. That was only the second time I’d stepped foot on a professional baseball field, and despite being 52 years old, I was as excited as some of the kids playing catch with their parents.

My brother posing in front of the centerfield wall at Prince George’s County Stadium.

During my time at Prince George’s County Stadium, I became an ardent fan of minor league baseball. In addition to the more intimate experience offered by the smaller ballparks, I found myself becoming invested in the younger players as they passed through Bowie. Many players I saw in Bowie would eventually make an appearance with the Orioles, or other MLB teams, and I felt a certain satisfaction in knowing I saw these players on the way up. My experiences at Prince George’s County Stadium rekindled what was flagging relationship with baseball, and because of that, now I prefer minor league games over MLB games. Thanks Bowie!

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.