Altoona PA Part 2: August 20th and 21st 2022

Aerial view of the People’s Natural Gas Field complex, including the Skyliner Roller Coaster and go carts at Lakemont Park. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Following an ill-fated visit to People’s Natural Gas Field in August of 2019 (the details of which are available here), my brother and I scheduled another visit for the end of August of 2022. From my current home, the ballpark is about two and one-half hours away, which would have been a long day combining travel and seeing the game, so we opted for a weekend visit, attending games on Saturday evening and Sunday evening.

Leaving my home in central PA in the early afternoon of Saturday, August 20th placed us at the hotel in Altoona about 400 PM. Since the gates did not open until 500 pm (ahead of a 600 pm first pitch), we had some time to relax before the game. However, I recently acquired a new drone and was eager to use it on the trip. Heading out to the park early, we parked in the nearby parking garage (where the fee was a very reasonable $3.00) and climbed to the top deck. From there, we launched the drone, and since we were so early, not many people were around to witness the flight. You can see a short video from the flight here.

People’s Natural Gas Field from behind home plate.

Batting practice was underway, and has become the custom across baseball at all levels, the public was not permitted to view it. With the drone, we were able to view batting practice and more. People’s Natural Gas Field is one component of the larger Lakemont Park facility, which includes a roller coaster and go kart track. After capturing video and images from the air for about 25 minutes, we returned to the vehicle to secure the drone and grab the camera equipment.

A view of batting practice at People’s Natural Gas Field in Altoona PA.

The parking deck, just across the street from centerfield, is a longer than expected walk to the front of the stadium, leading me to believe the walk could be uncomfortable during hot or inclement weather. We were blessed with sunshine and seasonable temperatures for late August as we waited in line for the gates to open. Once inside, we eschewed our normal tour of the ballpark, as we had been here once before. Instead, we explored the upper deck, which we neglected on our previous visit, due to a lack of time. This brief visit allowed us to get a better look at the Kids Zone, located behind the right field bullpen, as well the excellent auxiliary scoreboard (which I did not notice during our last visit).

For this game, we chose seats in the upper deck, just to the right of home plate, giving us a different perspective. The seats did not disappoint, as there does not seem to be a bad seat in the house, and sitting behind home plate gave us a great view of the Allegheny Mountains in the distance. Rather than procure a baseball dinner (there are a number of good choices for food at the park), I chose to focus on the game and the location. People’s Natural Gas Field has one of the best views I have seen in a minor league ballpark, perhaps third behind Truist Field in Charlotte NC and Canal Park in Akron OH. In fact, our initial visit was based primarily on the word of others stating that this minor league ballpark was the best they had ever seen. Our view this evening was surely a validation of those recommendations.

The view from the upper deck behind home plate at People’s Natural Gas Field. Note the mountains in the background. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

This evening’s matchup featured the Harrisburg Senators (my newly adopted minor league home team, and the AA affiliate of the Washington Nationals) and the Curve, the AA affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Senators sent right hander Ronald Herrera to the mound, who was in the midst of a disappointing 2022 campaign. Altoona countered with right hander Luis Ortiz, who was also experiencing a down season. Despite the seemingly underwhelming starting pitching, no runs were scored in the first three innings, which took only 34 minutes to complete. Harrisburg scored twice in the top of the fourth inning, as Herrera was cruising along through the fifth inning.

Great action shot from People’s Natural Gas Field, Altoona PA. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Altoona broke through with five runs in the top of the sixth inning, ending Herrera’s night and effectively putting the game out of reach for Harrisburg. Even as the competitiveness of the game waned, my rapt attention turned to the surroundings. As evening slipped into night, I could not help but admire the beauty of the ballpark and the terrain beyond it. We saw both the go karts in action, as well as people enjoying the roller coaster, the subtle lighting accenting the visually pleasing structure.

A closeup of the roller coaster beyond the right field fence at People’s Natural Gas Field. It had my attention for much of the game. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Despite the outcome of the game having been decided, the large Saturday night crowd remained, probably due to the promise of fireworks following the final out. As is our custom, we used the fireworks as cover for a quick getaway, essential when using a parking garage. Our visit today went a long way toward washing away the memories of a rain out last time we were here. Hopefully the weather would cooperate tomorrow, and allow us one more game in this impressive stadium.

Night approaching at People’s Natural Gas Field in Altoona, PA. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Sunday, August 21st 2022

The Railroaders Memorial Museum in Altoona, PA (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Overnight thunderstorms left cloudy and humid conditions in their wake Sunday morning. Based on the radar, it would not be long until the next round of storms approached Altoona, forcing us indoors for our plans. We decided on the Railroaders Memorial Museum, located in downtown Altoona. Our choice fed into my latent obsession with trains, which has been growing since my relocation to central PA. Resembling a train station (though it is actually a Master Mechanic’s Building during the height of train operations in western PA), the museum houses a wide array of displays and exhibits.

Status board for the PA Railroad at the Railroaders Memorial Museum in Altoona PA. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Perhaps my favorite part of the museum was the section dedicated to the science of better (and safer) train travel. Several of the exhibits depicted rail accidents that resulted in lost lives, and others showed just how dangerous it was working for the railroad was during the first half of the 20th century. An entire section was devoted to the problem, and I must admit to marveling at the amount and variety of research that was on display here. My brother and I are both scientists, which allowed us to truly appreciate the effort and dedication employed to improve the rail experience. While the tools may seem primitive now, they were state of the art at this time, demonstrating the commitment of the PA Railroad. To my great surprise, we learned that the results of the research conducted was given to rival companies free of charge, something that seems unimaginable now.

Old fashioned clock outside the Railroaders Memorial Museum in Altoona, PA (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Following our exploration of the main facility, we visited Harry Bennett Memorial Roundhouse, which housed trains and equipment in various states of repair. On the way, we saw locomotives and cars in decay, aping the decline of train ridership since its peak so long ago. Seeing these one majestic machines rusting in the elements also felt sad, as warriors from the past slowly faded away. Finally, we were prepared to visit the World Famous Horseshoe Curve, an outdoor exhibit featuring excellent view of trains cast against the terrain of the Allegheny Mountains. Unfortunately, impending weather drove us back inside, as storms would have marred the visuals of the area.

A rusting giant fading away in a lot behind the Railroaders Memorial Museum in Altoona, PA (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Just ahead of the storms, we headed back toward the hotel, choosing to eat lunch at La Fiesta Mexican Bar & Grill, just steps away. The food was good and reasonably priced, but I soon discovered that the food was indeed too rich for me, and I would pay the price. In the wake of the most recent storms, the sun reappeared. Rather than relax after the big meal, my brother suggested another drone flight over the stadium, from a nearby park. Skies had become almost sunny, allowing us to fly over the deserted ballpark and Lakemont Park. As might be expected, the humidity was high during our flights, and we could see storms already developing off in the distance. The forecast for game time was problematic, but we hoped to squeeze the game in before the next round of storms arrived.

The view from the centerfield gate at People’s Natural Gas Field. Note the ominous clouds gathering in the distance, a harbinger of things to come. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Following the drone flights, we headed back to the room to relax before heading out to the ballpark. During that time, storms had formed and began their approach. Arriving just before the gate opened, it was clear that we would have to contend with at least one rain delay, but because we were staying in Altoona that night, we were prepared to stay as long as necessary. To pass the time, we explored the center field area of People’s Natural Gas Field, an area we had not yet visited. By the time we found our seats on the 3rd base side of the ballpark, it was becoming increasingly apparent this would be the only time we sit in those seats.

The view from our seats for the Sunday evening game, featuring a good look at the roller coaster. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

As the rain commenced, people abandoned their seats and headed for the concourse. Knowing it would be a long rain delay (based on the radar trends displayed on our phones), we found a bench on the outer concourse, near some open windows. For more than an hour, we listened to the rain falling, interspersed with the occasional peal of thunder. Occasionally, the rain fell so hard that we needed to close the windows or risk becoming soaked. After about 45 minutes, it was obvious that the field had absorbed more water than it could handle, and the inevitable announcement followed; the game was canceled. Because it was so late in the season, there was likely no time that would fit the schedules of both teams for a makeup game, so the contest was simply cancelled.

We waited for a time to leave the park after the official announcement, and it was still raining when we headed back to the vehicle. In fact, it rained all the way back to the hotel, heavily enough at times to obscure traffic. Though the Curve did what they could to play the game, we were destined to miss yet another game to rain. In total, we saw only one complete game of the three that we had hoped to see. While .333 may be a good baseball batting average, it is poor average for seeing baseball games. However, we did not let the weather ruin what was a good visit overall, and we did get to see the park at its best Saturday night. People’s Natural Gas Field (and surroundings) was worth the trip and then some. If you find yourself within range of this beautiful ballpark when the Curve are in town, do yourself a favor and GO!

Incredibly, we were rained out AGAIN at People’s Natural Gas Field, for the second time in three tries. The message on the centerfield video board says it all. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

PNC Field, Moosic PA July 16-17 2022

PNC Field in Moosic, PA on a warm and humid early Sunday morning. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Our first mini road trip of 2022 took us to see the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Railriders (Triple A affiliate of the New York Yankees) at PNC Field in Moosic PA. Located in northeast PA, the stadium is located about 105 miles from my home in central PA, so it seemed like a logical choice to kick off our 2022 baseball road trip season. We left from my home in the early afternoon hours of Saturday, July 16th, anticipating a 400 pm arrival time at our hotel near the park. However, nearly blinding rain with storms moving along I-81 north slowed our progress considerably, with traffic at a near standstill during the peak of the storm.

Once we cleared the storms, the remainder of the trip was uneventful, which allowed us to make up for time lost to the storms. Luckily, virtually all of the travel to the stadium was along I-81 north, as both the hotel and the stadium located just off the interstate. Though clouds threatened from time to time, particularly shortly after arriving at the hotel, the remainder of the day into night was dry. With little to see or do near the hotel, we dropped off our bags, and headed to the ballpark.

Just outside of the main gate at PNC Field in Moosic PA on late Saturday afternoon. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

PNC Field is located off a local highway, and at first, it was difficult finding the main entrance, as it was obscured by trees. Once located, the entrance lead us to a VERY large parking lot in front of the park. Like most minor league ballparks, parking was $5, and there were multiple lanes of attendants collecting the fee. Note – PNC Field is a cashless facility, and credit cards are accepted for parking payment. Though we paid with cash this evening, we were encouraged to pay with a credit card the following afternoon. Arriving about 45 minutes before the gates opened (which was, like most minor league ballparks, one hour before the scheduled game time), we had intended to launch a drone and obtain some images and pictures of the ballpark. However, the ballpark is VERY close to the airport, severely limiting drone activities. Give proximity to the airport, and the potential to alarm fans, we scuttled the idea of a drone flight and toured the outside of the stadium. Without much to see outside, we waited until the gates opened at 500 pm.

After clearing security (which was quick and courteous), we ducked into the team store. Following a look through the RailRiders and Yankees merchandise (nothing was purchased), we began our pre-game tour inside the park. Despite the fact that the stadium was a prefabricated park, PNC Field obviously had a personality of its own, which is rare for this type of construction. Unlike many minor league parks, the concourse at PNC Field encircles the playing field, giving a 360 degree view of the stadium. Walking down the concourse on the right field side, we encountered the Budweiser Railhouse near the right field foul pole. The seats in front of and adjacent to the RailHouse were bleachers, offering a better view of the action than the seats in far right field (which did NOT face the plate).

The Budweiser RailHouse in right field at PNC Field. Bleacher seating flanks the right field foul pole. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Moving toward centerfield, we saw an expansive lawn seating area, with the batter’s eye located on the far left hand side. Since it was still early, we did not see many people here yet, though the lawn seating did begin to fill in closer to game time. As we walked toward center field, we crossed into Homer Zone. From our perspective, it would take a prodigious blast to reach the Homer Zone in right field, given the distance from home plate. Beyond the concourse, the original rock face was left in place, affording PNC Field a signature look. The decision to keep the rock in place was a good one, as it can be seen from just about everywhere in the ballpark.

Rock face along the concourse in right field at PNC Field. Leaving the exposed rock made for an appealing view, but signs remind fans of the hazards of climbing the rocks. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Other than the exposed rock face in right field, perhaps the most interesting attribute of PNC Field is the advertising billboards sitting atop the bullpens. Like most minor league fields, there is a two tiered advertising deck, but here the advertising billboards are above the playing field. It seemed like an elegant solution to what has been a problem of placement in other stadiums (with deleterious effects in some ballparks). The advertising is simultaneously visible yet unobtrusive sitting over the bullpens. Residing beyond the left field wall, it was refreshing to see the pens out of play, where they can be a hazard for players. Just to the right of the bullpens is the main scoreboard/videoboard. Surprisingly small for a Triple A venue, the video capability seems subpar, which was especially noticeable during replays of the action on the field.

A good view of the scoreboard/videoboard, the left field advertising deck, and the bullpens. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Finishing our tour of the concourse, we headed to the concession stands for a baseball dinner. As is the case in most minor league stadiums, there was a wide variety of food choices in PNC Field, including Smokehouse BBQ (behind the Budweiser Railhouse), the Electric City Grill and Chickies and Pete’s (which we had seen at Arm and Hammer Park in Trenton NJ – great crab seasoned fries!). However, we settled for fare from the concession stand behind home plate. Not having eaten since breakfast, I chose the hot dogs (which were fried, not boiled), a choice I soon regretted.

We sat in section 23 (infield box seats – get the tickets online; you will save some money versus obtaining the tickets from the box office), on the third base side. With clouds winning out, we did not have to contend with the sun much before the 605 pm start. During the pregame ceremonies, a star was born on the field. Wilson, a service dog in training, had finished his service with the RailRiders, and was being honored before the game. Though there were other activities occurring, Wilson stole the show.

Wilson the service dog participating in the pregame ceremonies, and we had great seats for his going away party. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

The RailRiders were hosting the Louisville Bats (the Triple A affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds), a team we visited in June of 2021. Like most Triple A games, there were familiar names in the lineups, especially for the RailRiders, as we occasionally see games in Somerset NJ (home of the Patriots, the Double AA affiliate of the Yankees). Two of the starters for the Bats this evening were on rehab starts from the Cincinnati Reds (outfielders Aristides Aquino and Jake Fraley).

The Louisville Bats struck early, scoring two runs in the first inning off RailRiders’ starter Jhony Brito  The RailRiders tied the game in the bottom of the frame on solo home runs by Oswald Peraza and Josh Breaux . However, the Louisville offense poured on the runs in the middle innings, essentially putting the game away by fifth inning. Meanwhile, Bats’ starter Justin Nicolino recovered from a rocky first inning to pitch seven innings. With the game outcome decided fairly early, we turned our attention to our surroundings. From our seats, we had a great view of the entire park, yet my attention was drawn to the rock face in right center field. The region is hilly, and the rock face was a good indication of the surrounding area.

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

PNC Field has a capacity of about 10,000, and the announced crowd this evening was about 5,600. At first, I was skeptical of the capacity of the stadium, but after reviewing the seating area (which spans from foul pole to foul pole), as well as the second deck and the lawn seating, that number seemed to be about right. During the daylight, it was difficult to discern the output of the auxiliary scoreboard/videoboard in right center field, but it came alive after sunset, displaying pitching information, as well as celebratory graphics when the RailRiders scored.

The colorful videoboard lit up with fireworks in right center field. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

My initial impression of PNC Field was very favorable, with great sight lines from our seats, the bountiful fan amenities and the a palpable baseball atmosphere. As the game ended, we were prepared to make a quick getaway, since it was a Fireworks Night. Normally, we do not stay to view the display, but as we made our way into the parking lot, my brother turned back to take some pictures of the fireworks exploding over the ballpark. We had seen the stadium at night, and tomorrow we would see the ballpark in sunlight.

Fireworks over PNC Field from the parking lot. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Sunday, July 17th 2022Downtown Scranton

Sunday morning was clear, warm and humid, but nothing out of the ordinary for the middle of July in northeast PA. Both our hotel and the ballpark are located between Scranton and Wilkes-Barre, so we did not get a flavor of either there. Since we had a couple of hours before gates opened at PNC Field, my brother suggested we visit downtown Scranton. Located just a few miles away from the park, we arrived quickly in the light Sunday morning traffic.

Not knowing much about the layout of the city, we searched for the most convenient parking. Shortly after getting a space, we lit out for looking for town hall. Not surprisingly, Scranton was quiet, but it was clear that we were in one of the older sections of town. Wandering without a clear understanding of where were headed, we found the Lackawanna County Courthouse. Architecture in Scranton was not much different than Harrisburg, and seems to be a theme throughout much of eastern and central PA.

Lackawanna County Courthouse. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Adjacent to the courthouse stands the Gettysburg Monument, which I did not expect to find so far from Gettysburg. Following North Washington Avenue to Biden Street, we saw several other monuments, including a statue dedicated to Columbus as well as the Pulaski statue. Working our way back toward the vehicle, we found that Scranton has a sense of humor, as demonstrated by the name of a local bar. Finally, we passed by the iconic Scranton Times building, admiring some of the older buildings along the way. Time passed quickly during our abbreviated visit, as the time for us to leave had arrived. Scranton reminded me of a PA from a different time, and I was happy my brother suggested that we see at least some of the largest city in northeast PA.

whiskey dick’s in Scranton PA. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)
The Scranton Times building with the sign that can been seen from much of the city. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

PNC Field

The main gate at PNC Field, on a much sunnier late Sunday morning. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Fresh from our tour of downtown Scranton, we arrived at PNC Field about 30 minutes before the gates opened. Bright sunshine and moderate humidity levels made for an increasingly warm late morning, so we relaxed in seats under a tree, awaiting the signal to enter the ballpark. Once inside, we retraced our steps from yesterday, as the sunshine offered an opportunity to get a better view of the park. However, not long into our tour, higher clouds began to filter the sunshine, mitigating the brightness, which dimmed as we walked.

PNC Field from the top of the lower section. Note the rock face over the right center field wall. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Unbeknownst to us, fans were playing catch on the field. We later learned this is a Sunday tradition, and had we known, we likely would have partaken of the chance to toss the ball in the outfield. In the daylight, the rock face was even more impressive, and I became convinced that it was my favorite amenity of PNC Field. As we trundled along the concourse in the outfield, the brilliant mid July sun was becoming obscured by the high clouds. On the plus side (since I am not a fan of the heat), the thickening clouds would put the brakes on the amount for the game, even as the clouds dimmed the pictures we took.

The view from centerfield, as the last of the catch on the field participants began to depart. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

After we completed our tour of the ballpark, we headed to the concession stand to grab our baseball lunch. It was Champ’s birthday (the RailRiders’ mascot), and mascots from near and far attended to help him celebrate. While at the concession stand, my brother spotted Rowdy, the mascot of the Binghamton Rumble Ponies, purchasing what might have been an adult beverage for the games.

Rowdy, the Binghamton Rumble Ponies mascot, availing himself of the concessions at PNC Field. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

The first pitch occurred at 105 pm, marking the last game of the series between the Bats and the RailRiders. Once again, there were some MLB players in the lineup for both teams. Starting for Louisville was right handed pitcher Justin Dunn, on a rehab assignment. We recognized Dunn as a former Met farmhand that was part of the trade that brought closer Edwin Diaz and 2B Robinson Cano from the Seattle Mariners to the Mets in 2019. Once considered a blue chip prospect, Dunn’s tenure with Seattle was unremarkable, and he was looking to reestablish himself with the Reds. Miguel Andújar and Tyler Wade  were in the lineup for the RailRiders, both having MLB experience with the Yankees. RailRiders starter Clarke Schmidt be called up to the Yankees less than a week following his appearance here.

For this afternoon’s contest, we were again seated in the infield box section, this time behind the RailRiders’ dugout on the first base side. Like most ballparks, PNC Field has netting extending from dugout to dugout. We learned the night before that perhaps the netting needs to be extended even further, as a line drive down the right field line injured a child. Though we were not in an area that was susceptible to line drives, I was cognizant of the danger of line drives in this park. If you plan to sit beyond the netting on the left or right line, BE ON THE ALERT for line drives.

Our view of the the field on Sunday afternoon. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Dunn’s appearance for the visiting Bats was rocky from the start, as he allowed five runs in the first inning, capped by a Armando Alvarez two-run home run. Following a smooth top of the first, Schmidt allowed four runs in the top of the second inning. However, Dunn’s poor start continued, as he surrendered single runs during the next two innings. Neither starter survived past the fifth inning, but by that time, the outcome of the game was all but decided.

RailRiders’ starter Clarke Schmidt delivers a pitch at PNC Field. Schmidt would be called up by the Yankees less than a week later. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Lower clouds started to shroud the sunshine at PNC Field by the middle innings, which capped the temperatures. Had the sunshine dominated, conditions could have become brutal, but luckily that did not occur. That was good news for the participants of the Legends Race. Four Yankees Legends (Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, Thurman Munson and Don Mattingly) raced along the warning track dirt from left center field to the third base dugout. Many MLB and minor league teams have similar races, with similar themes, but my thoughts were with the people in the suits, having to run in the mid July heat.

The Legends Race at PNC Field, with Champ taking in the action. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

With much of the scoring in the game complete by the middle innings, once again my attention turned to the ballpark. My second visit to the park confirmed my initial assessment: this is an interesting venue, even though it is a modular stadium. Allowing the rock face to play such an important part in the character of the ballpark was a great move, and the placement of the advertising over the bullpens allowed the pens to be moved from the playing field, which is always a plus at this level. Attendance for the game this afternoon was announced at 5,400, which is impressive for a Sunday afternoon. Clearly, the RailRiders fans appreciate the ballpark as well as the team. If I had a criticism of the park, it would be that the main scoreboard/videoboard is too small and seemingly antiquated, particularly for a Yankees affiliate (the videboard at the previous Double AA affiliate could serve as a guide for a new scoreboard here; it is certainly deserving).

Scranton/Wilkes-Barre maintained the lead built in the early innings, and beat the Bats 8-6. We left shortly after the last out, having an hour and 45 minute drive home. This was our first visit here, and based on my very favorable impression, it may not be the last.

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

UPMC Field, Erie PA, Sunday July 18th 2021

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

Following monsoon-like rains in Buffalo the day before (resulting in a rainout of the Rangers/Blue Jays game at Sahlen Field), Sunday morning dawned mainly dry but cloudy. The last stop on our two ballpark tour laid ahead of us in Erie, PA, home to 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, 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 the 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, 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 live, I did not imagine we would ever visit, but I feel most fortunate that we did. It quickly became one of my favorite minor league ballparks, nestled perfectly into a urban setting. Though I did enjoy the stadium experience thoroughly, its remoteness from home makes it unlikely we will visit again. If you find yourself within range of Erie during baseball season, pay a visit to UPMC Park. You will be glad you did.

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

Sahlen Field, Buffalo NY, July 16th 2021

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

Rain threatened to wash away our baseball weekend in weather New York and northwest Pennsylvania, as the forecast was very wet and cool. My brother and I traveled from my home near Harrisburg to Buffalo on Friday, July 26th, with the intent of seeing a game on Saturday at Sahlen Field (to see the “Buffalo” Blue Jays host the Texas Rangers), then taking in a game at UPMC Field in Erie on Sunday. Since the drive to Buffalo took only five hours, we found ourselves with some time Friday afternoon to do some sightseeing. Niagara Falls was only 30 minutes away, so we went there for our first glimpse of the natural beauty from the American side.

An overcast sky yielded occasional light showers and drizzle, which resulted in us cutting our visit to the Falls short. Before leaving, my brother suggested that we visit Sahlen Field that night, since the forecast for Saturday afternoon was bad, almost assuring a rain out. Not wanting to miss our opportunity to see an MLB game in Buffalo, we quickly purchased tickets for the game, which was slated for a 707 pm start. We were 30 minutes from the hotel, so we had to race back to change and prepare for the game, and headed by up Interstate 90 back toward Buffalo in time to make the game.

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

Though there is no onsite parking at Sahlen Field (the reason for which was obvious once we arrived), we had little trouble finding parking within a couple of blocks of the stadium. Not surprisingly, parking was generally $20 that distance from the park, and as high as $35 right next to the ballpark. It seems as though parking prices for MLB games found there way to Buffalo! Once we reached Sahlen Field, we wandered around the outside of the park taking pictures. The outfield area was largely inaccessible from the outside, due to the proximity of Oak Street in left field, and restricted parking outside centerfield and right field. However, along Washington and Swan Streets, we found what appeared to be a recently refurbished look, complete with Toronto Blue Jays signage along the way. We also discovered that this portion of downtown Buffalo contained some older buildings with some interesting architecture. If the weather was kinder than forecast on Saturday, perhaps we would investigate this area further.

Returning to the home plate entrance, we entered the ballpark. Security was unsurprisingly tighter than minor league ballparks, but the process was much smoother than most MLB parks, as the staff was cheerful and helpful. Walking through the tunnel to the interior concourse, we felt as though we were in an MLB stadium, with a large and enthusiastic crowd milling around. It was clear that the ballpark had received a significant upgrade for the MLB games played there in 2020 and 2021. Sahlen Field was covered in Blue Jay blue, from the padded outfield walls to the trim on both the lower level and the private suites.

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

Typically, we explore the interior of a new stadium shortly after arriving, but the bustling crowd inside the inner concourse made that a bit more difficult than usual. Rather than encircle the playing field on the outer concourse (which was more challenging than other ballparks), we ducked into the tunnels between the inner and outer concourses, taking pictures, and repeating the process from the right field line back toward the left field line. Unlike some stadiums, the concourse did NOT extend around the outfield, as Sahlen Field was tucked in between streets in downtown Buffalo, leaving little room for maneuvering beyond those confines.

As we further explored Sahlen Field, we discovered that it consisted of two decks of seating. The lower deck (separated into two sections by a concrete concourse) extends from the left field foul pole behind home plate to the right field foul line, with the upper portion of the lower deck protected from the elements by the deck of red seats and private suites located above. Seats near the foul poles were angled for a better view of home plate, something we have not seen in many minor league parks, and a nice touch for fans in those locations. In total, the ballpark holds about 16,600 fans, which made it the largest minor league park we have yet visited.

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

Down the right field line we found the Party Zone, a multi tiered collection of picnic table style benches, covered at the top by a canvas roof. Just to the right of the Party Zone are the bullpens. Constructed shortly before we arrived, the dual leveled bullpen houses the home team on the top tier, and the visiting Texas Rangers on the lower level. Because of the alignment of Sahlen Field, there was only a short wall and a large mesh netting strung across left into centerfield, with Oak Street acting as a barrier. We would later discover that, due to the height of the netting, that it would be difficult for a home run ball to actually land on Oak Street (as its trajectory would more likely deposit in on the other side of the road).

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

Finished with our exploration of the park, we ducked back into the inner concourse, in search of a baseball dinner. While there were many places to obtain food and drinks, all of the lines were long, as it seemed that many in the large crowd had the same idea. Skipping this option for now, we headed toward our seats. Securing seats only 90 minutes earlier, we opted for section 118, which was down the right field line; a pessimistic forecast precluded us from getting better seats, for fear of a rainout tonight AND Saturday. Though the seats we scored did not offer the best view of home plate, it did give us great sight lines for the rest of the park. As the time of the first pitch arrived, clouds continued to produce intermittent light rain and drizzle, but not enough to delay the game (which was slated for a 707 pm start).

From our seats, we could see some of the larger buildings of Buffalo, most notably the Old Buffalo Post Office. However, the scoreboard in centerfield seems to be the most prominent feature in Sahlen Field. Not quite as sophisticated as scoreboards/videoboards in MLB parks, the scoreboard/videoboard here is an upgrade from what we typically encounter in minor league stadiums (with possibly the exception of Arm&Hammer Park in Trenton, NJ). For the most part, the space was used as a scoreboard, with only a few video replays shown during the game. As mentioned earlier, there were a number of upgrades made to the park to accommodate the Blue Jays in their tenure here, including new LED lights (which are MUCH better than standard lighting), a resurfaced outfield, and the aforementioned bullpens.

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

While not a sellout, Sahlen Field was about two-thirds full shortly after the first pitch was thrown, with intermittent light rain and drizzle falling (as it would for the balance of the game). In the bottom of the first inning, we were treated to a home run by Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. The Blue Jays tacked on four more runs in the third inning, with two more home runs. Rainy and cool weather at night are not normally conducive to balls flying out of the ballpark, but the smaller dimensions of this park may have been a factor in each of the home runs hit. Meanwhile, the Texas bats remained quiet for the first six innings, as the Blue Jays maintained a sizable lead through that time.

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

The Blue Jays put the game away in the bottom of the sixth inning, which featured another home run by Guerrero Jr. This time he blasted the ball well over the net in left field and across Oak Street to the parking lot on the other side of the road. With the Jays taking a 10-0 lead at the end of the frame, some of the fans started to file out of Sahlen Field, if for no other reason that to escape the cool and wet conditions. Like many MLB games, there were loud, intoxicated fans around us, but unlike many MLB, they were not particularly obnoxious. It was clear to me that the fans in Buffalo had accepted the Blue Jays as their own, and I noticed several “Buffalo Blue Jays” shirts and signs in the stadium. These signs had me wondering how the Buffalo fans would react if/when the Blue Jays returned to Toronto.

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

During the morning hours of Saturday, the Blue Jays management issued a press release stating that the Jays would be returning to Toronto, starting with the next home stand on July 30th. Although I am sure the fans were aware of an eventual return to Toronto, I wonder if Buffalo was ready to let them go so soon. Our timing could not have been better to see an MLB game here, as waiting any longer would have meant missing a golden opportunity to see MLB players in such an intimate setting. These were my thoughts as we filed out of Sahlen Field. Leaving the building proved more difficult than I anticipated, as there were logjams at each gate. Eventually, we walked back to the car, headed back to the hotel after a long day on the road.

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

My brother’s suggestion to see the game at Sahlen Field on Friday night rather than Saturday afternoon loomed large, as heavy rainfall plagued the Buffalo area through mid to late afternoon. After visiting Niagara Falls again in the morning, we encountered flooded roads on our way back to the hotel. Not surprisingly, the game was rained out, even as the heaviest rainfall was exiting the region. Apparently the field was unplayable, and considering how much rain fell into mid afternoon, that was not a shock. Once the heavy rainfall exited, we walked around downtown Buffalo to view the architecture, and we found ourselves face to face with the ballpark. Peering through the chain link in centerfield, we got one last look at the interior of the stadium, with the tarp still firmly in place over the infield.

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

Once the Blue Jays leave for Toronto, the main tenants of Sahlen Field, the Bisons, will return from their stay in Arm&Hammer Park in Trenton NJ. Buffalo has attempted to obtain a MLB team in the past, and I wonder, after hosting the Blue Jays, if there will be a clamoring from the faithful for an MLB team of their own. If that happens, and a MLB ready stadium is constructed, perhaps we will return. Otherwise, having seen Sahlen Field hosting MLB games, I am not sure we will be back.

Louisville Slugger Field, Louisville Kentucky – June 27th 2021

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

After exploring downtown Louisville on a warm and humid morning, we headed to the second ballpark on our first baseball trip of 2021. Arriving well before the gates opened at Louisville Slugger Field, we parked next to the stadium in a public parking lot adjacent to the right field wall. Since parking (a rather hefty $8) was presumably for the day, we left the car in the lot and wandered around nearby Louisville. Gates at the ballpark opened about an hour before game time (scheduled for 100 pm), and we returned just as fans were entering.

As is typical for a new ballpark, we walked around the outside of Louisville Slugger Field (home of the Louisville Bats, the Triple A affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds). Though the ballpark opened in 2000, the brick face on all sides of the stadium gave it a retro field, and it fit in well with the surrounding buildings. Located in front of the ballpark is a statue of Pee Wee Reese. Raised in Louisville from the age of eight, the Hall of Fame shortstop played his entire MLB career with the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers, where he won a world championship in 1955. Reese returned to Louisville after his playing career ended, and later in his life, he worked for the owners of the Louisville Slugger company. Louisville honored its “native” son with a symbol that greets fans as they enter the ballpark.

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

Following our tour of the outside of the park, we entered through the side entrance (nearest the main parking lot). Greeted by smiling and helpful ticket attendants, we were reminded we were in Kentucky, where the hospitality was almost disarming to a couple of life long residents of the Northeast. Once inside, we were impressed with the inner concourse of Louisville Slugger Field. Reminiscent of Truist Park in Atlanta, the inner concourse had the look and feel of an MLB park, a feature not expected in a minor league stadium. In addition, a portion of the inner concourse was air conditioned, which was a welcome respite from the building northern Kentucky heat and humidity.

Walking along the concourse (which encircles the playing field), we wandered past the right field foul pole, where ongoing construction indicated additional seating in the right field corner, as well as a picnic area. While passing center field (and the batter’s eye), we found a grass covered seating berm stretched across left center field, in front of one of the two videoboards in the ballpark. We did not see anyone seated on the berm (it was probably too hot in the direct sunlight for that), but there were a few people milling around seats above the berm. Just beyond the berm was a left center entrance gate, for those fans entering from East Witherspoon Street.

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

From the concourse in left field, we were treated to some outstanding views of Louisville’s Main Street, as well as the Ohio River and southernmost Indiana to the north. As we would discover later, this part of Louisville Slugger Field afforded the best view of both the city and the river. Interstates between the ballpark and the river would obscure the Ohio River, but the gold colored bridges were visible. From the remainder of the stadium, only the tallest buildings in Louisville were visible over the forest green aluminum roof.

Seating in the lower level of the park extended from left field behind home plate to the right field foul pole, offering more than 10,000 green seats. There is a second level in Louisville Slugger Field, but unlike the vast majority of the ballparks we have visited in the US, we were not granted access (because we did not possess tickets stating our seats were located there). While we have become accustomed to exclusivity in MLB parks, this was one of the first examples of it we have seen in a minor league (MiLB) stadium. Hopefully the exclusivity seen here does not become more widespread in the future. Including the second level and private suites, the ballpark can accommodate over 13,000 fans, which makes it possibly the largest MiLB stadium we have visited (with regard to capacity).

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

To my mild surprise, there were plenty of seats available for the early afternoon contest. We have found that Sunday afternoon games are generally more lightly attended than Saturday night games, but the assembled crowd seemed smaller than might be expected. Perhaps the heat (with temperatures at game time near 90 degrees, with moderate humidity) or the small threat of thunderstorms kept the attendance light, but we were able to secure great seats just two rows behind the first base dugout. Unlike most ballparks, the home team occupied the third base dugout, placing us close to the visiting team, the Indianapolis Indians (the Triple A affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates).

Unfortunately, our seats put us in direct sunshine, though intermittent clouds helped take the edge off the heat at times. After finding our seats, we sought out a baseball lunch at the concession stands scattered across the inner concourse. There were several places to eat within Louisville Slugger Field, but we were content with standard fare, along with plenty of cold drinks to combat the heat and humidity. Surprisingly, the cost of the concessions was much higher than I expected, at least when compared to ballparks in other portions of the US. These prices would become significant, as we attempted to keep well hydrated during the game. During the first pitch ceremony, three siblings threw out first pitches to the catcher, who turned out to be their father returning from active duty.

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

Our seats provided great sight lines for the entire park. Two moderately sized videoboards located in left center and right centerfield provided all of the essential information for serious baseball fans, and played videos and replays as well. The left videoboard displayed the hitter’s information, while the right videoboard showed the pitcher’s stats, as well as the score. Auxiliary scoreboards located above the second deck beyond the dugouts kept fans informed on the count, the inning and the score. As a dedicated baseball fan, I appreciated the multiple sources of data.

Crisp starting pitching from both sides kept the game moving, and only 41 minutes had elapsed by the end of the third inning. Clouds that had been building since late morning started to produce showers and thunderstorms, most of which bypassed Louisville Slugger Field. However, we did not escape unscathed, as mainly light rain showers (lasting about 20 minutes) did affect the ballpark, though it did not require a stoppage of play. Despite the rain, conditions did not cool off much, and by the middle innings, I began to feel the effects of the heat. In fact, many of the fans in the seats around us eventually sought refuge from the sun by heading to seats out of the sun, or into the cooler inner concourse.

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

We quickly discovered that Louisville Slugger Field was very close to the flight path of nearby Muhammed Ali Louisville Airport. Though planes did not pass directly overhead, we did see planes every couple of minutes come very close as they took off from the airport. Being veterans of the air traffic out of LaGuardia Airport over Shea Stadium in New York, we were hardly phased by the nearly constant planes passing by, but I did find myself catching a glimpse of the aircraft as they climbed out to wherever they were going.

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

In the bottom of the seventh inning of a scoreless game, we saw something of a rarity. Indians lefthander Braeden Ogle took too long to deliver a pitch, and the home plate umpire awarded the batter a ball. In the minor leagues (as well as the Atlantic League), pitchers are required to deliver a pitch to the plate within 15 seconds (20 seconds with runners on base), in an attempt to speed up the pace of play. Failure to do so can result in a ball being awarded to the hitter. Despite the presence of pitch clocks in most ballparks, this rule is rarely enforced, but I saw delighted that it was in this instance.

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

A home run in the top of the eight inning gave the visiting Indians a 1-0 lead, and it appeared as though the Indianapolis bullpen would make the single run stand up going into the bottom of the ninth. The Louisville Bats, which had been largely dormant for much of the game, came to life in the bottom of that frame. The Bats used three singles and a walk to plate two runs to secure a 2-1 victory. Even with the heat and threat of rain, most of the Louisville faithful remained to celebrate the hard fought win.

After the game, kids were invited to run the bases (which is not unusual for weekend games). In a surprise to us, all fans were permitted on the field for a game of catch. Nearly three hours in the heat and and humidity of northern Kentucky essentially wiped me out, and I was not up for a game of catch. With a long drive awaiting us, we did something that would normally be unconscionable; we did not partake in the opportunity to walk on a professional baseball field.

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

Louisville Slugger Field is a fine example of a Triple A ballpark, complete with all the amenities fans could need. The concourse area looks as though it was modeled after a MLB park, and ongoing construction indicated that the ownership was dedicated to improving the fan experience. Only limited access to the second deck, and the seemingly high concession prices, detracted from a great baseball atmosphere, and we were treated to an outstanding game as well. While I would recommend visiting the ballpark if you are in the vicinity during baseball season, being so far away, I am not sure we will return.

First National Bank (FNB) Field – Harrisburg PA

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

Yet another move placed me near Harrisburg, PA this spring, and I am once again in a hot spot for baseball. Just 11 miles away is First National Bank (FNB) Field, the home of the Harrisburg Senators, the Double A affiliate of the Washington Nationals. My brother and I visited FNB Field once before, on our way back from a baseball trip that took us to eastern OH and western PA during August of 2019. There was no baseball that day (as the Senators were out of town), but we were able to wander through portions of the park. Of course, we could not get the true essence of the ballpark that day, but we vowed to come back here at some point in the future.

Fast forward nearly two years, and we did indeed return. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of FNB Field is that it is located on an island in the Susquehanna River. Known as City Island, the mile long island is home to the ballpark, as well as other attractions. We approached City Island from Harrisburg, taking the Market Street Bridge to the main parking lot adjacent to the ballpark. Concerned about the availability of parking on an island, we arrived well before the first pitch. Despite my trepidations, there was plenty of parking available in the main lot, as well as a lot just over the bridge.

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

A short walk from the parking lot to FNB Field ensued, which involved climbing stairs and an uphill walk before reaching the gate. The trek could present some issues for those fans with mobility issues, but free rides from the parking lot to the gate are available via bicycles equipped with a rider seat. Though I did not see anyone take advantage of this service, I imagine it would be helpful for those in need. Per our usual approach, we walked outside the stadium taking pictures. About halfway across the outside of the park, we entered through a gate behind first base. Pleasant staff members working at the gate welcomed us warmly as we presented our mobile tickets, reminding me we were in neither the New York City Metro area nor Maryland/DC.

Once inside the park, we wandered taking pictures. Our visit occurred during the pandemic, and masks were worn by most fans. Because of the continuing pandemic, I was concerned that our movements within the ballpark would be restricted to limit exposure. However, we were able to encircle the playing field, as the main concourse wraps around the park. The layout of the outfield and the seating along the concourse vaguely reminded me of Regency Furniture Stadium in Waldorf, MD (home of the Atlantic League’s Southern Maryland Blue Crabs).

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

As we walked from the right field line to the left field line, I was surprised to discover than FNB Field held more than 6,000 fans. Even with a sizable seating area behind home plate. at first glance, I would have thought the maximum capacity was closer to 5,000, which would have been on the smaller side for a Double A team. However, when the bleacher seating along the first base side, and the “Cheap Seats” in the left field corner are considered, the ballpark holds about the average number of fans for Double A ballparks.

Located on the concourse near the left field foul pole was the Senators Team Store. Seemingly smaller than most team stores, it contained most of the standard fare fans would expect, and had much more of an Expos presence than Nationals Park (the Montreal Expos moved to DC following the 2004 season). After browsing in the team store, we headed down the left field course to our seats

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

Seating in FNB Field was arranged in pods to limit interaction among fans. Unlike the pods we occupied the week before in Arm&Hammer Park in Trenton NJ, seating here was not as restrictive. Being closer to fans, we wore our masks, removing them only to eat and drink. Sitting in section 201 (near third base), we had a great view of the entire park. Our vantage point afforded us a view of the hills to the north and northwest of the stadium, reminding me of our visit to FirstEnergy Stadium in Reading, PA. In addition to a standard videoboard/scoreboard in right centerfield, there was a supplemental horizontal videoboard in the left centerfield. This board contained information on the inning/score, the pitcher’s statistics, as well as the pitch speed. For avid baseball fans like us, the additional treasure trove of data was quite welcome.

The weather could not have been better, as remaining clouds melted away with the setting sun. Clear skies and pleasantly warm temperatures for mid May set the stage for a perfect evening for baseball. Though the crowd was necessarily small for the contest, that did not stop those in attendance from showing their affection for the Senators. Because of the pandemic, there was no minor league season in 2020, and the pent up frustrations of the faithful resulted in an almost raucous crowd.

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

Though there are a number of places to eat, we grabbed a standard baseball dinner at the concession stand on the concourse level behind the main seating area. Servers were friendly, prices were reasonable, and the service was relatively quick. After some of the BAD experiences we have had at other parks (especially MLB parks), cheerful faces were a welcome change of pace. Perhaps as I get a number of visits under my belt, I can comment further on the cuisine offered at FNB Field.

As evening blended into night, the view of the hills to the north and northwest disappeared, but the feel of the stadium unchanged. Unlike many Saturday night minor league games, the crowd did not leave early, as the game remained relatively tight until the end. Even with a small crowd, I became concerned that exiting an island from one parking area could take a considerable amounts of time. Reversing our course from the stadium to the parking lot, we took some time to admire the view of Harrisburg across the Susquehanna River. It was worth the detour; Harrisburg alit was quite a sight, especially since it was our first visit. If you have the time after a Senators night game, make sure to take in the skyline.

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

As expected, exiting the parking lot was a slow process, as several lines that developed in the lot bottlenecked at the confluence of the lines near the turn onto the bridge. Having been in parking lots that were slow to clear in the past, we knew that patience was key, and eventually we managed to get out of the lot, heading back toward the east side of Harrisburg. FNB Field is an excellent minor league facility, providing a great fan experience among the passionate faithful. Since this facility is my new “home” ballpark, I was very pleased to find such a great stadium so nearby.

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

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.

Coca Cola Park, 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 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!

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 departed Seattle, 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.