TD Bank Park, Bridgewater NJ

TD Bank Park, home of the Somerset Patriots. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)
  • First visit: exact date unknown; probably during the summer of 2013
  • Most recent visit: Sunday June 9th, 2019

Until my brother moved close to Bridgewater NJ in the early 2010s, I must admit I did not know much about the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball (ALPB). Established in 1998, the independent ALPBA saw many changes in the number and locations of teams in the league over the years, but the Somerset Patriots remained the flagship franchise from the inception of the league until 2019 (the 2020 ALPB season was scuttled by COVID-19). In fact, the Somerset Patriots (who played their home games at TD Bank Park) were the “New York Yankees” of the ALPBA, having won 13 division titles and six ALPB championships. To extend the New York connection to Somerset, the Patriots manager from 1998-2012 was Yankees great Sparky Lyle . Having Lyle manage the Patriots helped legitimize the team and the league, and though he no longer manages the team, he does still make occasional appearances at TD Bank Park as an ambassador for the ALPB.

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

Being an independent league, the ALPB does not have a steady stream of players shuttling through Somerset. Instead, rosters are typically filled with ex-MLB players, as well as some of the players we have seen in the minor leagues, and younger players that were not drafted into the MLB pipeline. From what we have seen, it is not unusual to have three to five players on each team that have MLB experience. Signing ex-MLBers can be a boon for the teams, as name recognition boosts attendance for home teams, as well as those coming to town. One of the more famous ex-MLBers to play for the Patriots was outfielder Endy Chavez. Mets fans fondly remember his tenure with the team, especially his spectacular catch in Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS. Chavez was a fan favorite for the Patriots as well, known for his gregarious style and willingness to engage with fans before the game.

Another ex-Met who played for the Patriots was left hander Bill Pulsipher. At the end of his playing career, Pulsipher would only play at home, not traveling with the team on the road. He showed up, made his start, left the game, and went home. Other players for the Patriots included teachers, and even front office officials. Though the ALPB does not pay very well, it can attract former MLB players trying to extend their careers, as well as young and hungry players utilizing the ALPB as a means to further their MLB aspirations. Given the mix of talent and experience, the level of play is actually quite good, about on par with AA teams in affiliated baseball. Being able to see these players in an intimate setting can be a big draw for die-hard baseball fans in areas with little in the way of other options.

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

My brother introduced me to the Somerset Patriots sometime during 2013, and I believe that we went to see games at TD Bank Park together that summer (though my brother has seen many more games there than me). From my brother’s home, the park is less than 20 miles away, but due to the volume of traffic in the area (especially near the evening commute), travel time to the stadium could easily reach 45 minutes. Because of scheduling (and the fact that I was living and working in Maryland during much of the 2010s), we typically attended games together on weekends, which eased the trek to some degree. The very end of the trip had us snaking through Bridgewater, crossing over the Peters Brook before reaching the stadium.

General parking is located just before the stadium, adjacent to the Bridgewater train stop of the NJ Transit Raritan Valley line (the train passes the left field wall, and is noticeable when it does) Parking is $2.00 (as it has been since the stadium opened), and typically there is plenty of parking available, particularly on weekends. Some people try to avoid paying for parking by leaving their vehicles in a store parking lot across the road from the stadium. This is a BAD IDEA, as the owners of the store parking lot will tow your vehicle if you are NOT shopping there. From the parking lot to the main gate of TD Bank Park, the distance is a manageable one-quarter of a mile, with sidewalks available for much of the walk.

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

Entering through the main gate behind home plate (which includes old style turnstiles) brings you to the upper concourse of TD Bank Park. Concessions and the Patriots team store are located on the upper concourse, which stretches from mid right field behind home plate to mid left field. Concession stands, for the most part, offer standard baseball fare, at reasonable prices. Down the left field on the upper concourse is a picnic area (complete with tables), as well as National BBQ. Extending down the right field line are additional concession stands, as well as the Kids Zone, containing activities designed especially for younger fans. There is a large grass berm located further down the right field line, which is available for larger groups. Finally, luxury boxes are located at the top of the stadium, adjacent to the Party Zone. In total, TD Bank Park hold about 6,100 seated fans, with standing room only adding another 2,000 to that total.

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

Like most minor league ballparks, visitor and home team bullpens lie down the left field and right field lines, respectively, easily within sight of most of the seats. Large advertising signs reach from the left field foul pole to the right field pole, and like many minor league parks, are stacked two high. A relatively small but functional scoreboard/videoboard combo rises up behind the wall in right centerfield. The scoreboard contains quite a bit of information for those fans who like it, and the videoboard is unobtrusive, used mainly for short video clips appropriate to the game situation. For a modular ballpark, TD Bank Park contains quite a bit of charm, while maintaining an understated feel absent in many new stadiums in baseball. Perhaps this is why the ballpark has won numerous awards, including Ballpark Digest’s Best Independent Minor League Ballpark, as well as best ballpark in the ALPB.

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

Somerset has carefully cultivated a baseball experience focused on families and kids. In between innings, there are games and contests for kids on the field, and the Patriots’ mascot, Sparkee, entertains the crowd throughout the game. One of my favorite interactions is when the PA announcer shouts “Somerset”, and the kids respond with “Patriots”. Affordable tickets prices, good quality of play, and a suburban setting combine to make the Patriots an attractive family outing. As might be expected, attendance at TD Bank Park is among the highest in the ALPB, with near sellouts common during the warmer months. During the hottest part of the NJ summer, Somerset schedules night games as often as possible, even starting at 505 pm on Sunday, for the comfort of the fans.

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

Unfortunately, the 2020 ALPB season was scrapped due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the Patriots did play some games during the summer, taking on the NJ Blasters in a series games played on the weekend. A limited number of fans were permitted to see each game, and my brother was fortunate enough to see a number of games in the series. While another team in the ALPB played some games during 2020, other teams remained idle, and we were concerned that the ALPB might not survive the pandemic to play in 2021.

During the offseason, the Somerset Patriots accepted an offer from the New York Yankees to become their AA affiliate. New York chose a bizarre path for changing their AA affiliate, as the previous club, the Trenton Thunder, discovered they had been replaced in a tweet by the big league club. Affiliation with the New York Yankees meant that the Patriots would leave the ALPB, which is a blow to a league as it loses its flagship franchise. Another ALPB team (the Sugarland Skeeters) left the ALPB to become the AAA affiliate of the Houston Astros. We feared that the loss of the top two teams in the league could topple the ALPB, but the league announced replacements, and are planning to play the 2021 season.

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

Regardless of their status, we expect the same great baseball environment at one of the finest minor league stadiums in the Northeast during the 2021 season. A number of changes are expected at TD Bank Park as the Patriots become part of the New York Yankee family. Most of the changes will be to the internal portion of the park, such as an upgrade to player facilities. On the field, bullpens will move off the field, and new energy efficient lightning will be installed in time for the season opener. Some enhancements are planned to the videoboard, including better instant replay results. Depending on how quickly fans are allowed back into the stadium, we plan to attend games at TD Bank Park during the 2021 season. If you find yourself close to TD Bank Park during the summer, check to see if the Patriots are in town. You will be glad you did.

Allentown PA, Sunday May 24th 2015

Coca Cola Park from behind the centerfield fence. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

With most of the local teams on the road for the Memorial Day weekend, we stretched out into eastern Pennsylvania to attend our first AAA game in Allentown PA, to see the Lehigh Valley IronPigs at Coca Cola Park. Years ago, I read a book called Where Nobody Knows Your Name: Life In the Minor Leagues of Baseball, in which the author posits that no players actually want to be in AAA; players from below are waiting for their turn to move to “The Show”, while ex-MLB players are looking to get back there. Not having been to a AAA game, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect, but I would have been surprised if we didn’t see some familiar MLB names in the lineup or on the mound in Allentown that afternoon.

From central NJ, the 80 mile drive to Coca Cola Stadium took about 90 minutes, with just some construction delays slowing us down on Interstate 78 in eastern PA. Arriving about 90 minutes before the scheduled first pitch (slated for 135 pm), we easily found parking in the onsite lots (which were much bigger than I expected, with parking on either side of the stadium) for the typical price of $5.00. Since there was not much surrounding the park, we headed inside the stadium.

The view of Coca Cola Park from the lower level just behind third base. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

From the right field entrance (which is the main entrance for the ballpark), we walked along the upper concourse toward centerfield. Most of the concession stands are located on the upper concourse, and not surprisingly, the more popular cuisine in the park was pig-themed (considering that the team name is the IronPigs). Not one to engage in more than the standard fare at a baseball game, I did not spend too much time or energy on the cuisine at Coca Cola Park, but I did run across a review of what’s good at the park here. We encountered a picnic area in right field, as well as more places to eat behind the right field foul pole. In addition, we saw an area behind the right field fence designed specifically to allow fans to socialize. This is something we have noticed in an increasing number of new stadiums, as the way fans watch the games has changed.

Unlike most ballparks, the concourse encircled the stadium, allowing us access to the outfield. From the behind the berm in centerfield (where people lounged on beach towels in the bright sunshine), we got a good look at the seating area in Coca Cola Park. There are two levels of seating; the lower level, extended from the right field foul pole behind home plate to the left field pole, and the upper level, from mid right field to mid level field. A set of luxury boxes stretched along the same length as the upper level. Factoring in the seating in the picnic areas in left field and right field, and the seating in the grass areas of the outfield, Coca Cola Park can accommodate just over 10,000 fans (making it one of the largest minor leagues parks we have seen with respect to crowd size).

Scoreboard and videoboard behind the centerfield fence at Coca Cola Park. Note the grass perm area, which was not filled to capacity on this afternoon. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Continuing our tour of the ballpark, we passed by the scoreboard/videoboard combination in centerfield, adorned at the top with a Coca Cola bottle. When home runs are hit by IronPigs players, the bottle shakes and fires off fireworks. Next to the scoreboard are the bullpens, and above them, the Tiki Terrace, which houses group seating and a bar open to all ticketed patrons. Adjacent to the Tiki Terrace is the Picnic Patio, which hosts group gatherings. As we headed toward home plate, it was clear that Coca Cola Park was designed with fan comfort and accessibility in mind. It is little wonder that the ballpark has often won awards (such as the Best Minor League Ballpark on a number of occasions).

The IronPigs draw exceptionally well for minor league baseball, and have the highest average attendance since the ballpark opened in 2008. Not knowing this fact, we did not secure tickets until just before the day of the game, and that ignorance resulted in our seats being located in the lower level down the right field line. Though all of the seats in Coca Cola Park are angled for the best view of the infield, I felt as though we were far from the action, even in a park that was relatively cozy when it comes to seating. After grabbing a baseball lunch from the nearest concession stand, we settled into our seats for the beginning of the game.

The view from our seats at Coca Cola Park. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Lehigh Valley (the Triple A affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies) hosted the Charlotte Knights (the Triple A affiliate of the Chicago White Sox) for the early afternoon contest. We expected to see some familiar names in the lineup or on the mound for this game, since AAA teams often have MLB veterans amongst their ranks. Though I didn’t immediately recognize any names in the Knights’ lineup, their starting pitcher was a different story. Taking the mound for the Knights was Brad Penny, celebrating his 37th birthday at Coca Cola Park. A 14 year MLB veteran, Penny was apparently attempting to catch one more ride to the The Show. There were a few familiar names in the IronPigs’ lineup, especially at the top of the order, who were with the Phillies at some point within the last year.

Not every seat in the ballpark was filled, but there did seem to be more than 9,000 fans in attendance for the game. A steady breeze from centerfield kept the temperature from getting too warm (as high temperatures can reach the 90s in eastern PA by Memorial Day weekend), and filtered sunshine made for a nearly perfect day for a ballgame. Charlotte struck first, scoring in the second inning, staking Penny to an early lead. However, Brad Penny did not have his best stuff that day, and after surrendering five runs in the third and fourth innings, his day ended after the sixth inning. Following a disappointing 2015 with the Knights, Penny left organized baseball.

MLB veteran Brad Penny delivering a pitch for the Charlotte Knights at Coca Cola Park in Allentown, PA. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

During the IronPigs’ rallies in the third and fourth innings, we heard something we’d never heard at a ballpark. Rather than simply cheer or applaud, fans squealed or snorted like pigs. Though odd at first (during which time much chuckling ensued, mainly by me), the squealing fit the environment perfectly, as there are MANY aspects of the ballpark that are pig-themed in one way or another. The unique fan celebration lent an air of authenticity to the experience, and when combined with the ballpark itself, created a very enjoyable atmosphere for minor league baseball. Clearly, Allentown loves their IronPigs!

Being fairly close to the right field wall, I could not help but notice the prominence of the advertisement boards. While it is typical for minor league parks to have advertising extending along the outfield wall, these boards seem to rise much higher than most of the parks we had seen to that point. A fairly large set of advertising boards rose up from behind the bullpens in left field, and the signage made Coca Cola Park almost feel like an enclosed MLB park. Despite the signage and its large seating capacity, the ballpark had an imitate feel to it.

A view of the prominent signage above the bullpens in left field. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Charlotte rallied for runs in the seventh and ninth innings, overcoming a 5-3 deficit for a 7-3 victory. As we waited for the sizable crowd to exit the ballpark, I had a few moments to reflect on Coca Cola Park. The layout of the stadium, as well as the atmosphere created by the ardent IronPigs fans, made our experience enjoyable. Our first visit to a AAA park was a huge success, and had we known that the ballpark was such a jewel, we would have visited sooner.

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 (as long as traffic on the Beltway cooperated) away. 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 stand 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 than the MLB. 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, 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.

In 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!

Seattle/Vancouver, Saturday September 29th, 2007

Ferry crossing the Puget Sound, Seattle WA.

1. Seattle

Unlike the clear skies Friday night, Saturday morning dawned with milky sunshine fading behind thickening clouds. The lowering clouds threatened rain later in the day, so we knew we had to get out as soon as possible to see as much of Seattle as we could before the rains came. Though we had a rental car at our disposal, experience has taught us that if we wanted to get a true sense of our surroundings, a walk was our best approach.

After breakfast at the hotel (very close to the Space Needle), we walked toward downtown Seattle. The seasonably cool conditions made walking pleasant, even as the sun continued to fade over us. On the way out, we turned to admire the Space Needle. Towering above its surroundings, the iconic structure looked every bit the majestic symbol of the Pacific Northwest. We made plans to visit the Needle more closely after returning from our sojourn.

Our view of the Space Needle from the hotel. The needle was beginning to blend into the cloudiness lowering and thickening behind it. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

On our way, we headed down Broad Street on our way to Alaskan Avenue and the shore of the Elliot Bay. The view was somewhat reminiscent of that scene in the opening sequence of War Games, with ferries and freighters criss crossing the lower end of the Puget Sound. The clouds prevented us from glimpsing even a fleeting view of Mount Rainier, some 40 miles south southeast of us. Even during late September, Mount Rainier is snow capped, making it perhaps the most prominent feature on the skyline. However, today just wasn’t our day, and considering clouds and rain were in the forecast for the remainder of our stay, it seemed we were destined not to see it at all.

As we ambled along Alaskan Avenue, we came upon a landmark most others might dismiss. The Edgewater Hotel, as its name implies, sits on the edge of Elliot Bay. Besides a great view of the Sound, the hotel ‘s location allows guests to fish from their rooms. Hotel guests in the past include the Beatles, Neil Young and Led Zeppelin in their early trips to the Pacific Northwest. Being diehard Zeppelin fans, we felt obligated to catch a glimpse of the famous hotel, where stories of the band’s excesses may have gotten their start.

The Edgewater Hotel, Seattle WA. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Further on up the road, we approached downtown Seattle. The view from Alaskan Avenue afforded us a different perspective of the city, which was dominated by domiciles and businesses alike. Given that the weather conditions were sliding downhill as the morning progressed, there were few people in the area. Sooner than I expected, we had reached the sports complex. We were free to walk around and between the stadiums, which provided us some insight as to how the Safeco Field dome operated. When the dome is open, it slides back over a train track, rather than retracting (like other MLB domed stadiums). This might have been a view we would have missed had we not found our way to the park on our journey.

The roof at Safeco Field slides out of the way when not covering the playing field. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Feeling as though we were losing in the struggle to beat the rain back to the hotel, we did not linger long around the stadiums. Both parks were physically impressive, and unfortunately our timing did not allow us to take in a Seahawks game at Qwest Field. As much fun as the fan experience was at Safeco Field, I imagine the experience is amplified during a tight Seahawk or Sounders contest at Qwest.

Just outside Safeco Field, Seattle WA. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Picking up the pace along Western Avenue toward the hotel, we came across a place of which I had never heard: The Museum of Pop Culture. We entered the museum, not knowing what we might encounter. What we found was an eclectic assortment of art and science, arranged in a way I wouldn’t have ever considered.

My favorite was the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame. Being huge science fiction fans, we were enthralled with the displays and exhibits. There was a focus on science fiction of the 1950s, which many fans of the genre (including me) consider its golden age. It was a collector’s heaven, and we spent a considerable amount of time among the treasures.

Cover of the map of the Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Next we explored the Sound Lab. The lab had a small recording studio, as well as various musical instruments. Being a sometimes guitarist, I jumped at the chance to play in a recording studio, and banged out the best version of Foxey Lady I could. Fortunately, the lab was nearly deserted, and the only person tortured by my rendition of the Jimi Hendrix classic was my poor brother.

Remembering that the weather was closing in on us, we left before thoroughly examining everything this strange and wonderful place. Should I find myself in the vicinity, I need to see what else the Hall has to offer.

While this sign sends a serious message, I couldn’t help but see cartoonish humor in it. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

On the way back to the hotel, we found a very unusual street sign. Just when I thought I’d seen every type of sign the US has to offer, we came upon the sign above. Clearly, the sign is trying to convey the deadly implications of not giving a wide berth to pedestrians. However, in my mind, the sign crossed a line that separates public service announcements from maudlin satire.

Following our return to the hotel, we ate a quick lunch, then headed toward the Space Needle. Perhaps the most famous landmark in Seattle, it is known worldwide and very popular with tourists. After a short wait, we were whisked up two the observation deck, some 520 feet above ground, in less than a minute.

The view of the Seattle skyline from the observation deck of the Space Needle. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

The observation deck of the Space Needle offers a 360 degree view of its surroundings, spanning the Puget Sound, downtown Seattle, Mount Baker and Mount Rainier. The lowering cloud deck limited our field of view, and we were unable to see Mount Baker or Mount Rainier. Despite these disappointments, the view of Seattle was well worth the visit.

Though we didn’t not indulge, there were restaurants on the observation deck (which have since closed). Because our visibility was limited, we ended up spending less time there than expected. Hopefully, someday I’ll will return to get a better view of the region from Space Needle.

Safeco Field and Qwest Field from the Space Needle. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

2. Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

Google map depiction of the route from Seattle, WA to Vancouver, BC.

Rather than attend the Saturday night game at Safeco Field, we decided instead to take advantage of a sports themed opportunity across the border. The BC Lions, a member of the Canadian Football League (CFL), were home that evening, hosting the Calgary Stampeders at BC Place, a multipurpose stadium in Vancouver, British Columbia (BC). Never having seen a CFL game in person, I couldn’t resist the chance to see one.

Vancouver is about two and one-half hours from Seattle, and we set out after relaxing briefly at the hotel. A steady rain developed shortly after we started, and the rain slowed our travel time a bit as we drove north on Interstate 5 toward the international border. The crossing was quiet, allowing us to proceed quickly (during a time when crossing the border did not require a passport). By the time we reached Vancouver, the rain turned heavy, making the city seem dark and washed out.

BC Place on a dark and wet Saturday night. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Parking onsite was plentiful, which fortuitous since pouring rain greeted as as we made our way into the venue. Located in a region that receives copious amounts of rain throughout the year, BC Place is a domed stadium; had it not been, the cool and wet conditions would have resulted in a miserable fan experience. Even with cover from the elements, the crowd size was surprisingly small.

At first glance, the game appeared as though it would be a one-sided affair. The Lions were generally considered the best team in the CFL’s West Division, while the Stampeders were near the bottom of that bracket. However, not knowing much about the teams, I didn’t know exactly what to expect. There are a number of differences from the NFL, including a longer and wider field, three downs to reach a first down, and a rogue, a single point play involving a kick into the end zone.

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

With only three downs to reach a first down, and multiple players in motion prior to the snap, the CFL game showcases a wide open offense, with more passing than rushing. The high powered Lions offense scored early and often, amassing a sizable lead before halftime. The fast paced game was highly enjoyable, even if I did not fully understand all of the rule differences in the CFL.

While I did not see any ex-NFLers on the team rosters, there were a number of former American college players on each team. Even though I am not sure my company appreciated the different take on the American game, I fully appreciated the differences. The Lions continued the offensive assault, while the defense held the Stampeders in check. With the game fully in hand, we expected to see fans leaving, but the Lions fans remained during what had become a blowout.

Action near the goal line at BC Place. Note that the uprights are flush with the goal line, meaning that the post is in play. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

The fast paced game ended in less than three hours, significantly quicker than a typical NFL game. The game was not as close as the final score of the game would indicate, as the Stampeders were never really in the game. Taking one more look at the field before exiting, I thoroughly enjoyed the Canadian version of the game. Because none of the franchises are nowhere close to where I leave, I’m not sure if/when I’ll see another CFL game.

The final score of the one-sided affair in Vancouver.

Portland, Maine 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 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 brought 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 of 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 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, Maine to New Britain, Connecticut 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 fir 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, New York 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 the 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.

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 15 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 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 tickets 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)

Hartford CT, July 15th and 16th, 2017

1. New Jersey to Hartford, Connecticut

Google Maps showing the trip from Central NJ to Hartford, CT. Compared to some of our other road trips, this one was fairly easy.

Our destination for the quick baseball getaway was Dunkin’ Donuts Park in Hartford Connecticut. Dunkin’ Donuts Park is the home of the Hartford Yard Goats, the Double A affiliate of the Colorado Rockies. (Wondering what a yard goat is? You can find out here). Originally set to debut in 2016, Dunkin’ Donuts Park was unavailable due to construction delays fueled by political posturing. As a result, the Yard Goats were forced to play their games away from home, becoming road warriors for the summer.

Now that the Hartford Yard Goats had their home, we traveled up the road to see yet another new ballpark for Saturday night and Sunday afternoon games. Since the trip was relatively short, we didn’t leave NJ until after lunch. Battling summer weekend traffic, we made the trip in about three hours, arriving at the hotel in Hartford about two and one-half hours before game time.

The view of Dunkin’ Donuts Park from the 17th floor of our hotel. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

2. Dunkin’ Donuts Park, Saturday, July 15th

The late afternoon and early evening were warm but dry (for late July in southern New England), perfect weather for a ballgame. After checking into the hotel (just down the street from the ballpark), we walked to the park. Arriving well before the first pitch (scheduled at 640 pm), we explored the outside of the ballpark first.

Finding nothing special outside the park, we entered the stadium. Though it took far longer to finish the park that expected, it appeared as though the extra time was put to good use. The park was beautiful from top to bottom. During our stroll around the concourse, we discovered that it encompassed the field, allowing us to take pictures from each corner of the park.

View of downtown Hartford from the left field in Dunkin’ Donuts Park. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

The ballpark also featured a second level, which is unusual for a Double A stadium. In fact, almost everything about the ballpark suggested that it was built for a Triple A team. However, the stadium’s capacity is only about 6,200, which would be small for the next level. True to its name, there was a Dunkin’ Donuts in the ballpark, which is also unusual for a minor league ballpark. Toss in the netting in front of the seats in right field, and this park was rife with unique features rarely seen together in a stadium at this level.

Before heading to our seats, we stopped at one of the four concession stands inside the park. Each offered fairly standard fare (though New England Clam Chowder was on the menu), and there was a deli, complete with Reubens and French Dip. Rather than indulge at the deli, we selected something more apropos for the setting.

Is this the next generation of Yard Goats? (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Because this was the inaugural year for Dunkin’ Donuts Park, demand for tickets was very high. Unable to obtain tickets from the usual sources, we were forced to use the secondary market to secure tickets for the games tonight and tomorrow. The only tickets available for tonights game were located in left field, near the wall.

The view from our seats. We were NOT pleased with the view at all. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

From the moment we settled into our seats, it was clear that this was not going to be an particularly enjoyable game. The view was obstructed by the the yellow line that demarcated home run from a ball in play. Astonished by the poor siting of the seats, I sent a tweet to the Yard Gots expressing my dissatisfaction. Predictably, I did NOT get a response, but they DID like my tweet.

The fans in the left field section were fairly raucous, and based on the comradely among them, it was clear there were regulars. We were asked about my brother’s camera equipment and me keeping score (we are mistaken for scouts more often than you might think). During the exchange, we were told that the gunfire in the neighborhood usually died down after 2 am. Apparently, our hotel was in a sketchy part of Hartford!

A close play at the plate in the first inning. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

The Yard Goats’ opponent this evening was the Trenton Thunder, the Double A affiliate of the New York Yankees. The Yard Goats struck early, scoring four runs in the first (including back to back homer runs) off Thunder starter Domingo Acevedo. However, the Thunder struck back with two runs in the second and four runs in the fourth to take the lead as evening faded into night.

Dunkin’ Donuts Park at night. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

The Yard Goats answered with two runs of their own in the bottom of the fourth on the second home run of the night for RF Drew Weeks. After the spate of scoring, the bullpens shut down the opposing lineups, eventually sending the game into extra innings.

The Thunder and the Yard Goats traded zeros on the scoreboard until the bottom of the 13th inning. Yard Goats’ SS Brendan Rodgers’ second home run of the night ended the lengthy affair, giving the home team a 7-6 victory. Unlike most minor league games, a good portion of the crowd stayed for much of the game. Perhaps being a warm Saturday night in July coaxed fans into staying longer than usual.

The aftermath of the fireworks show at the ballpark. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Rather than view the scheduled fireworks (took place in spite of the late ending of the game), we walked back to the hotel. From our perch on the 17th floor, we were able to view the end of the fireworks show. The first impression of the stadium was very positive, save the issue with the view from the left field seats. We were slated to come back for the last game of the series Sunday afternoon.

Dunkin’ Donuts Park still awash in light following the end of the game. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

3. Hartford/Dunkin’ Donuts Park, Sunday, July 16th

Confucius is in Hartford???

Since we did not have a specific plan after checking out of the hotel late in the morning, we decided to walk through Hartford. Not knowing much about the capital of Connecticut, it seemed as though this was a good opportunity to change that. The late morning was warm but not particularly humid, so we embarked on our sojourn.

Though we started in downtown Hartford, our destination was the Connecticut River in East Hartford. We passed through Bushnell Park, where we had a brief encounter with a statue of Confucius, and glimpsed the Old State House above the trees in the distance. Heading east, we crossed over Interstate 91, reaching the river near the Sculpture Walk.

The dome of the Old State House towering over the treetops in Hartford, CT. (Photo credit; Jeff Hayes)

Ambling down the Riverwalk, it was hard to believe we were still in Hartford. The area along the river was serene, a stark contrast from what we saw getting there. However, as peaceful as the area seemed, we could still hear the sounds of the city, reminding us that we were most assuredly still in Hartford.

A view of the Connecticut River in Hartford. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

While the walk along the river was thoroughly enjoyable, we needed to head back toward the ballpark for the start of the game. On the way back, we passed by the park to reach the car. Gathering what we needed for the game, we walked around the ballpark taking pictures before heading in.

Dunkin’ Donuts Park in the bright sunshine about an hour before the first pitch. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Once again, we toured the inside of the park before finding our seats. For the matinee, we have considerably better seats than the previous night. We have discovered that Sunday afternoon games generally have smaller crowds than Saturday night games in the minor leagues, seemingly regardless of the time of year. In the summer, it is likely that the heat and sun have something to do with that trend, and today promised to be warm with wall to wall sunshine.

The view from our seats, a considerable upgrade from the previous night. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

At first pitch (which occurred at 137 pm), temperatures were in the mid 80s under partly sunny skies, and as expected, the crowd was smaller than the previous night. The view from these seats was much better than left field, giving a much better feel to the park. Clearly, a considerable amount of time and effort went into the look and feel of the ballpark, and it showed.

The impressive scoreboard at Dunkin’ Donuts Park. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

After an extra inning affair which featured scoreless streaks by each bullpen, the offensive fireworks began early this afternoon. The Yard Goats scored four runs in the first inning, and the Thunder answered with three in the top of the second. Not to be outdone, the Yard Goats tacked another run in the bottom of the second, with Brendon Rodgers hitting his third home run in two games.

The Thunder added a single run in the 5th inning, which closed out the scoring. Even with the early offensive outburst, both starters figured in the decision. Despite giving up four runs, seven hits and four walks in five innings of work, Yard Goats starter Ryan Castellani earned the victory. His counterpart, Brody Koerner, absorbed the loss going seven innings and allowing five runs.

Yard Goats starter Ryan Castellani delivering a pitch in the first inning. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Not long after the final out, we exited quickly to complete the three hour trip back to NJ. The seating issues for the Saturday night game aside, the stadium was well worth the trip. Dunkin’ Donuts Park delivers a great baseball experience nestled an urban setting. If you’re a die hard baseball fan, a trip to the this park would be worth the investment in time.