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)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Being an ALPB game, there were some important rules differences from the MLB and minor leagues. Balls and strikes were called by the Automated Ball-Strike System (ABS), with the output from the system relayed to the home plate umpire, who then makes the call to the players and fans. During this game, many players were visibly upset by the calls. Another rule change included the use of larger bases (18 inches), in hopes of reducing inquires on the base paths. When a starting pitcher is removed from the game, that team loses its designated hitter from the lineup. Dubbed the Double Hook, the rule is intended to inject some strategy back into the game, perhaps encouraging managers to stick with starting pitchers longer. Finally, this was the first ALPB game we had seen since the pitching rubber was moved back one foot to 61 feet 6 inches (the change seemed to have negligible effects on the pitchers). Each of these “experiments” were at the behest of MLB, with which the ALPB has a developmental agreement. It is possible some or all of these rules could someday become part of the MLB game.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UPMC Field, Erie PA, Sunday July 18th 2021

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

Following monsoon-like rains in Buffalo the day before (resulting in a rainout of the Rangers/Blue Jays game at Sahlen Field), Sunday morning dawned mainly dry but cloudy. The last stop on our two ballpark tour laid ahead of us in Erie, PA, 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.

Clipper Magazine Stadium, Lancaster PA July 10-11 2021

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

Though the threat of storms loomed across central and southeast PA during the weekend of July 10-11, 2021, my brother and I planned to visit Clipper Magazine Stadium to see the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball’s (ALPB) Lancaster Barnstormers take on the Gastonia Honey Hunters for the final two games of their weekend series. Clipper Magazine Stadium is about 50 minutes from my home in central PA, so we were able to enjoy the comforts of home while adding a new ballpark to our list.

Arriving about 50 minutes before the first pitch for the Saturday July 10th evening game (with the first pitch scheduled for 635 pm), we were surprised to find a line to get into the parking lots of Clipper Magazine Stadium. In fact, the first parking lot we encountered on our left (open to the general public) was filled, and we needed to proceed to a lot further up the road. Unlike most ballparks, parking here was free. From the lot further from the park, the walk to the ballpark was less than 10 minutes. As we typically do, we toured the outside of the stadium. Upon reaching the main gate, we discovered that the ticket office was very busy, as it appeared as though a large walk-up crowd was taking advantage of the warm and not too humid summer weather to take in a ball game on a Saturday night.

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

At first glance, the main gate of Clipper Magazine Stadium bore a resemblance to PeoplesBank Park in York, PA (the home of the York Revolution, another member of the ALPB). Eventually, we worked our way back toward an entrance in centerfield. Having seen what we could from the outside, we decided to enter the park at this entrance. While waiting to enter the ballpark, I thought I heard a cow mooing coming from the other side of the wall. Upon entering the park, we were deposited onto the concrete concourse, where we were greeted by farm animals. It was Farm Show Night at the ballpark, and it turns out I DID here some mooing. Among the many types of farm animals on display along the concourse in center and left field, we saw some baby cows as we made our way toward home plate.

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

Following the concourse down the left field line toward the home plate area, we encountered a kids zone near the pink left field foul pole, complete with a carousel, a climbing wall, and assorted games. Being Farm Show Night, we also saw farm equipment for kids to explore scattered along the concourse in the outfield. Passing through the covered portion of the concourse near home plate, we noticed two concession areas, serving the normal baseball fare. Lines were long, which was not surprising considering how many people we saw entering the ballpark. We made a mental note of the line, since we would not obtain our baseball dinner until after we concluded out tour of the inside of the stadium.

Walking down the right field concourse, we found various places to get food and drink. Not being much of a drinker, I did not imbibe, but the selection of local craft beers seemed impressive. Further along the concourse behind the right field foul pole (a mere 300 feet from home plate) we found the Pavilion. It was closed for a private event this night, but there were many places to sit while eating and drinking, in addition to watching the game. Our tour complete, we headed back toward our seats, located on the third base side.

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

From our seats, we had a great view of the entire park. Perhaps the most noticeable feature was the scoreboard/videoboard in left field, behind the grass berm. A decent size for the venue, not many videos were played (other than some brief clips of the broadcast of the game). However, the board did have a nearly continuous display of the score, the count, and the pitch speed. In addition, there were auxiliary scoreboards on the second deck behind first and third base, showing this information, as well as the name of the pitcher. Most fans probably did not notice, but being the true baseball fan that I am, I was grateful for the information. In many minor league and ALPB games, there is a dearth of information about the game, which dulls the experience for me to some extent.

Being an ALPB game, there were some important rules differences from the MLB and minor leagues. First, balls and strikes were called by the Automated Ball-Strike System (ABS), with the output from the system relayed to the home plate umpire, who then makes the call to the players and fans. The second rule change was the continued use of larger bases (18 inches), in hopes of reducing injuries on the base paths. Finally, when a starting pitcher is removed from the game, that team loses its DH from the lineup. Dubbed the Double Hook, the rule is intended to inject some strategy back into the game, perhaps encouraging managers to stick with starting pitchers longer. Each of these “experiments” were at the behest of MLB, with which the ALPB has a developmental agreement. It is possible some or all of these rules could someday become part of the MLB game.

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

As for the game itself, we saw what appears to be a trend in the ALPB; a poorly pitched game by both sides. At one time, the ALPB pitchers were ahead of hitters when it came to talent and experience, but that is no longer the case. Through the first three innings, both teams traded runs amid a plethora of walks and errors, and by the end of the third inning, the score was 8-6 in favor of Gastonia. Typically, the first three innings of a baseball game are completed in an hour or less. On this evening, it took more than an hour and 45 minutes to reach that mark. Luckily for us, there was a treat at the end of the third inning. Rather than holding a contest for fans, there was an alpaca race on the warning track in center and right field, to the delight of all.

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

While the Barnstormers pitching held the Honey Hunters’ offense in check in the middle innings, Lancaster scored eight unanswered runs to take a lead they would not relinquish. In the bottom of the sixth inning, the home plate umpire took a fastball to the face mask, sending him reeling backward before hitting the ground. Lying motionless, it appeared as though he was seriously injured, as the entire crowd held its collective breath. To my amazement, the umpire climbed to his feet, and continued to umpire the game. Eventually he was replaced, as it was evident he was still feeling the effects of the beaning. Before he left, a Gastonia pitcher was ejected for ridiculing the umpire. Ostensibly the ridicule was about ball/strike calls (which the umpire was NOT making; see above), but it likely was an attempt to intimidate the umpire due to his diminutive physical size.

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

Once evening blended into night, it was clear that some of the lights at Clipper Magazine Stadium were out. Darkness descended on the outfield, and at times it was tough to track the flight of the ball. Both teams continues to pitch poorly, and scoring occurred until the very end of the game. It took four hours and four minutes to complete the contest, during which there were 25 hits and 17 walks, as Lancaster outlasted Gastonia 15-12. While most of the crowd stayed for the fireworks display, we chose that time to exit.


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


We were back a mere 13 hours later for the finale of the three game series between the Lancaster Barnstormers and the visiting Gastonia Honey Hunters. Rain showers in the morning left the field soggy, especially on the warning track, where it seemed that the rainwater that collected on the tarp was emptied. In the wake of the showers were clouds and very humid conditions. We arrived even before the gates opened for the 1 pm contest so that we could have a game of catch on the field. Despite the wet and humid conditions, there were a number of people playing catch in centerfield as the players prepared for the game. This marked the third occasion during which were played catch on a minor league field, and after about 20 minutes, we left the field and prepared for the start of the game.

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

Sunday was Princess Day at Clipper Magazine Stadium, with several of the staff of the ballpark, a well as many fans, dressing for the occasion. There were contests with princess themes throughout the game, with some impressive knowledge demonstrated by a young lady not far from us. Though not my cup of tea, the fairly sparse crowd (which is not unusual for a Sunday afternoon game, particularly during the heat of summer) seemed to thoroughly enjoy the theme of the day.

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

Not long after the start of the game, the sun broke free of the clouds, and conditions become hot fairly quickly. Hot and humid conditions sent fans scurrying for cover soon after the first pitch. It seemed as though we would once again have a slugfest, as Gastonia scored early and often. This time, though, the Honey Hunters pitching was more than up for the task, yielding runs toward the end of the contest, when the outcome had already been decided. The time of the game was a more merciful three hours, as the heat and humidity drained me much more quickly than expected.

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

Overall, I was impressed with Clipper Magazine Stadium. Despite being a modular ballpark, it possesses its own charm, which came through particularly well during Farm Show Night. It reminded me of PeoplesBank Park in York, though this park did not seem to be as well kept as the stadium in York. In any event, this ballpark is within striking distance of home for me, so I intend to visit when my schedule allows.

Whitaker Bank Park, Lexington Kentucky June 26th 2021

A composite image of Whitaker Bank Park, home of the Lexington Legends. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Following a day of exploring Louisville (including Churchill Downs and the Louisville Slugger Museum), we drove east on Interstate 64 for an hour to attend a baseball game in Lexington. As part of the restructuring of the minor leagues, Lexington lost their South Atlantic league affiliation. Left without a baseball team, the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball (ALPB) announced that they would add Lexington as a member for the 2021 baseball season. Since we have an affinity for the ALPB (as each of us had ALPB franchises close to us), we decided to visit this park, as well as Louisville Slugger Field as part of our first baseball trip since the onset of the pandemic.

About 70 miles from Louisville (where we were headquartered for the Kentucky visit), the trip took about an hour and was unremarkable as traffic was generally light. Upon arrival, we found onsite parking that was very close to the park, though at $6, a bit higher than we usually see at minor league or ALPB parks. Per our usual method of operation, we toured the outside of the park. Debuting in 2001, Whitaker Bank Park had the appearance of a modular ballpark, equipped with some add-ons (including the Stache Shop near the main gate).

This message appears on the outside wall of Whitaker Bank Park, along the first base side. “Pass the Baton” is good advice, in sports and in life. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

There were reminders that we were not far from the home of the Kentucky Derby. Steeples similar to those at Churchill Downs adorned the top of the stadium, and murals of race horses graced the outside wall behind third base. Perhaps the most interesting was artwork on the outside wall behind first base. It took me a moment to read the lettering, but the message was crystal clear. Being hot and humid, we did not spend much more time viewing the outside of ballpark, entering through the main gate behind home plate.

A composite image showing Whitaker Bank Park from behind home plate. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

My first impression of the inside of Whitaker Bank Park was that it had a wide open feel, with a small videoboard adjacent to bleachers in left field, and a larger scoreboard/videoboard in right centerfield. In between the two, next to the batter’s eye in centerfield, stands a small white transmission tower, complete with a dome on top. Research concerning the dome indicated that it once was part of a Doppler radar weather, but I have not been able to substantiate that claim. Nonetheless, I enjoyed the wide open feel of the ballpark, and in this case, I believe that less is more.

Walking along the main concourse toward right field, we encountered the Budweiser Stables down the first base line. Beer and food can be ordered here while fans watch the game. On this evening, the Budweiser Stables was hosting a private party, so we did not explore this area much. Next to the right field foul pole we found the Pepsi Party Deck. Covered by a canvas roof, the Pepsi Party Deck contained a large number of benches for fans to view the game while eating and drinking. As was the case with the Budweiser Stables, the Pepsi Party Deck was closed for a private event. However, a kind security person allowed me to take some pictures from the deck before politely asking me to leave.

The Pepsi Party Deck in right field at Whitaker Bank Park. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Backtracking on the concourse behind home plate into left field, we found picnic benches covered from the hot late June sun by a canvas roof. A small kids zone adjacent to the left foul pole was empty, as it was likely too hot to play directly in the sun. Finally, we briefly explored the rather large bleacher section in left field, which was comprised of aluminum seating. As we headed back toward our seats, we were better able to visualize the seating area. Two decks of seats stretch from mid right filed behind home plate to mid left field. The lower deck, which is much smaller, encompasses the first few rows closest to the field, while the upper deck contained the bulk of the seating. Above the upper deck, private boxes extended along the length of the seating area. All told, Whitaker Bank Park can accommodate just under 7,000 fans, but it was clear fairly early that the crowd size this evening would be nowhere near that number.

Our seats for the game were situated in the lower portion of the upper deck, directly behind first base. These seats were chosen for their proximity to the action around first base, and eventually this section filled to about half of its capacity. After locating our seats, we headed up to the concession stands for a baseball dinner. The line at the concession stand was surprisingly long, and it took about 10 minutes to order and receive our food. Prices at the concession stand were much higher than I expected, and higher than we have seen in other minor league and ALPB parks we have visited. Food and drinks in hand, we settled in for the game.

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

Before the first pitch, we were treated to a mashup of the National Anthem and the Black National Anthem, as part of the I Was Here project. When the Black National Anthem portions of the mashup were sung, I noticed some of the crowd near me being less than respectful, and I did my best not to let this affect my experience of the performance. On this evening, the home Lexington Legends played host to the High Point Rockers. As a nod to the Negro Leagues, Lexington donned uniforms with the name Hustlers emblazoned on the jersey. While there were a few familiar names in the lineups, no name was bigger than Brandon Phillips. Playing second base for the Hustlers, Phillips had recently become a part owner of the Hustlers/Legends. Phillips seemed to be enjoying the experience, as he seemed almost joyful in his approach the game that night.

Hustlers second baseman and part owner of the team, Brandon Phillips. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Being an ALPB game, there were some important rules differences from the MLB and minor leagues. First, balls and strikes were called by the Automated Ball-Strike System (ABS), with the output from the system relayed to the home plate umpire, who then makes the call to the players and fans. More than a few players, thinking they had walked, started off for first base, only to be called out. The second rule change was the continued use of larger bases (18 inches), in hopes of reducing inquires on the base paths. Finally, when a starting pitcher is removed from the game, that team loses its DH from the lineup. Dubbed the Double Hook, the rule is intended to inject some strategy back into the game, perhaps encouraging managers to stick with starting pitchers longer. Each of these “experiments” were at the behest of MLB, with which the ALPB has a developmental agreement. It is possible some or all of these rules could someday become part of the MLB game.

Lexington struck first with four runs in the first two innings, but the Hustlers starter lasted only two innings. High Point responded with two runs of their own in the bottom of the second, and the score was 4-3 going into the bottom of the sixth inning. Lexington scored fours runs as the Rockers committed two costly errors. Though the sun has been in my eyes for much of the game, it became nearly blinding at about this time, and continued that way until sunset (around 905 pm EDT) finally provided some relief. Though fans around me (including my brother, who as seated next to me) were affected, my sun angle seemed to be the worst, making watching the game virtually impossible.

Mercifully, the setting sun put an end to the nearly blinding light I experienced for a good portion of the game. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Being near first base, we were treated to the enthusiasm of Hustlers’ first base coach Ben Revere. Playing for a handful of MLB teams during the 2010s, Revere was animated much of the night, assuming a batting stance while timing pitchers, as well as chatting up Hustlers and Rockers players alike. Watching Revere and his unabashed zeal was almost as much fun to watch as the game itself.

My brother’s picture of a close play at the plate. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Typically when my brother and I go to games, we keep mostly to ourselves, engaged in conversation about the game. On occasion, nearby fans have mistaken us for scouts, as they follow our banter, my brother taking pictures and me keeping score (which seemingly only old fans still do). On this night, fans around us openly engaged us, sensing our passion for the game. A woman in front of us told us her husband was the first base umpire, while a fan behind us, apparently friends with some of the players, told us about the unfamiliar players we were seeing. Finally, an amateur photographer approached my brother, and they engaged in discourse about taking pictures at the ballgame. Perhaps it was the area that influenced the interactions, as we are unaccustomed to talking to fans near us, other than to comment briefly on what is happening on the field.

The main scoreboard/videoboard at Whitaker Bank Park, as day dissolves into evening. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Lexington tacked on two more runs in the bottom of the seventh inning, and the Hustlers bullpen held the Rockers’ offense in check on the way to a 10-3 victory. The action on the field, as well as the interaction with fellow fans kept us busy, and we enjoyed the experience at Whitaker Bank Park. We exited during the post game fireworks, as many of the fans stayed to watch the show. This allowed us to navigate the parking lot quickly, and we made the trip back to Louisville in less than an hour. The ballpark was more or less what I expected, though the rather paltry crowd for a Saturday night game worried me that the Legends may not draw well enough for the franchise to survive in Lexington. Living so far away, it is unlikely we will return.

Louisville Slugger Field, Louisville Kentucky – June 27th 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cleveland OH/Pittsburgh PA, Saturday May 20, 2000

Welcome to Jacobs Field!

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

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

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

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

1. Jacobs Field

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

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

Jacobs Field from the upper deck behind home plate.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My scorecard for the game

2. Three Rivers Stadium, Pittsburgh PA

Google Maps depiction of the route from Cleveland to Pittsburgh.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Montreal Quebec, Sunday July 15th 2001

Olympic Stadium, Montreal Quebec.

1. Shea Stadium (Queens NY) to Plattsburgh NY

After seeing a Saturday afternoon game at Shea Stadium (where the Mets beat the Boston Red Sox), we headed toward Montreal, Quebec, where we would see a game between the Expos and the Red Sox at Olympic Stadium on Sunday afternoon. Weaving our way through New York City traffic, we eventually arrived at Interstate 87 North (also known as the New York State Thruway). Once out of New York City, the drive was fairly straightforward and uneventful.

During our drive toward Montreal, we noticed an unusually high number of vehicles with Massachusetts license plates traveling northward on the Thruway. At the time, it was a curiosity, but I didn’t give it much thought. Following a four hour drive, we decided to find lodging on the US side of the border with Quebec. My concern was that we would have difficulty communicating with people in Quebec, especially late at night, so we secured accommodations in a hotel in Plattsburgh for the night.

Google Maps depiction of our drive from Shea Stadium to Plattsburgh, NY

2. Plattsburgh NY to Montreal

While checking out of the hotel and moving our bags to the car, we saw many vehicles with Massachusetts plates in the parking lot. It dawned on me that there were Red Sox fans doing exactly what we were doing: going to see a ballgame at Olympic Stadium. Following breakfast, we crossed the Canadian border, stopping to exchange currency for our day in Montreal. As we crossed the border, we saw a very interesting road sign.

A sign much like the one we saw crossing the border from NY to Quebec, reminding Americans that speed limits there are posted in kilometers per hour.

The sign stated 100 = 65, to remind American drivers that speed limits posted in Quebec were in kilometers per hour, NOT miles per hour. Part of me could not help but wonder how many Americans received citations in Quebec before these signs were posted. The trip from the hotel to Montreal took about an hour, meaning we arrived well before game time. Since we did not plan to stay following the game, we spent some time conducting a driving tour of Montreal.

Not having been to France at that time, I couldn’t help but believe the Montreal was modeled after Paris. The “newer” portion of Montreal was clearly modern, not unlike many American cities we had visited. However, during our tour through Old Montreal, I couldn’t help but feel as though we were in a French city. The architecture reminded me of pictures I’d seen of Paris, especially along the Montreal River, with some structures dating back to the 17th and 18th centuries.

A view of Olympic Stadium from the sidewalk in a residential neighborhood.

3. Olympic Stadium

As fascinating as the tour of Montreal was to me, it was soon time to head toward Olympic Stadium to catch the game. Though we had directions to the park, I was surprised to find that it was located immediately adjacent to a residential neighborhood. Parking was located under the stadium, with several decks offering tight parking spaces. Snaking our way out of the underground lot, we wandered outside the park taking pictures.

The Montreal franchise was in trouble, a victim of the 1994 baseball strike. During that season, the Expos sported the best record in the league before the work stoppage prematurely ended the season. While the rest of MLB slowly recovered from the damaging strike, baseball in Montreal never did. By 2001, with ownership struggling to make payroll, MLB took stewardship of the franchise, actively seeking to move the team. Not surprisingly, attendance at Olympic Stadium steadily declined, with average game attendance bottoming out at about 5,000 fans.

Fans enjoying the carnival on the outfield turf at Olympic Stadium. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

On this Sunday, attendance was MUCH higher than average, due mainly to the influx of Red Sox fans. During the 2001 season, the Red Sox were playing well, and it was exceedingly difficult to get seats for home games at Fenway Park. Apparently, Red Sox fans thought that a road trip to Montreal would afford them better seats than they could get in Boston. As a result, the attendance for the game was 32,500, or about six times normal. The large crowd overwhelmed the staff at Olympic Stadium, who were struggling with not only the crush of visitors, but the language barrier as well.

Arriving early, we discovered that a carnival was in place at the stadium, and fans were welcome to come onto the field to enjoy the festivities. Stepping onto the artificial surface of the domed stadium marked the my first time on a MLB field, which I found exhilarating. Activities for the fans were set up in the outfield (the infield was roped off), and there was a sizable crowd enjoying the opportunity to walk on the playing field. Rather than engage in the activities, we wandered the outfield. It was clear that stadium maintenance was not a priority to the struggling franchise, and we saw many flaws in the turf.

Patches sown together with thread were used to keep the turf at Olympic Stadium in one piece.

Spending so much time on the field, we left ourselves little opportunity to tour the remainder of the stadium. After leaving the field, we headed to the concession stand, seeking a baseball lunch. Despite being in Montreal, we were able to secure standard baseball fare. With snacks and drinks in hand, we headed to the register. Despite the language differences, we were able communicate well enough to complete our transaction, then headed toward our seats. It seems as though our timing to grab concessions was fortuitous; we later heard that it took people an hour to get hot dogs and beer, as the concession staff was completely overwhelmed by the unexpectedly large crowd.

Tower above Olympic Stadium, with attached cables originally designed to lift and close the retractable roof. Due to mechanical issues, the roof was eventually closed permanently. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Getting our tickets as early as we did, we had great seats just a few rows behind home plate. Other than the protective netting in front of us, our seats were amazing, providing an unfettered view of the entire park. Soon after reaching our seats, it was obvious that the lighting in Olympic Stadium was not up to the task. In fact, the ballpark seemed dank, and much of the stadium beyond the playing field seemed dark and distance. Originally designed with a retractable roof, cables suspended from a 175 meter toward were used to open and close the roof as weather dictated. Difficulties with the design of the roof proved insurmountable, and eventually the roof was closed permanently, resulting in a dark fan experience.

The view from our seats, as Montreal RF Vladimir Guerrero strides to the plate. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

For the 135 pm start, the Boston Red Sox sent right hander Hideo Nomo to the mound. Due to a rotator cuff injury to Boston ace Pedro Martinez, Nomo became the de facto ace of the Red Sox staff. Boston was in the midst of a pennant race with the AL East leading Yankees, trailing New York by one-half game in the standings. Starting for the host Montreal Expos was 6 foot 4 inch right hander Mike Thurman, the third starter in a struggling Montreal rotation. In contrast to the Red Sox Sox fortunes, the Expos were deeply mired in a losing season, 13 and one-half games behind the NL East leading Philadelphia Phillies. Given the difference in the trajectory of the teams, we expected a fairly easy Boston victory this afternoon.

Unlike the vast majority of Expos home games, there was a raucous energy within Olympic Stadium this afternoon. Perhaps it was the unexpected energy that allowed Montreal to take a two run lead in the first inning, courtesy of a two run home run by second baseman Jose Vidro. However, the Expos lead was short-lived, as Boston scored runs in the second and third inning to take the lead. A run in the bottom of the fourth brought Montreal back even with the Red Sox. It was clear early that neither starting pitcher was particularly sharp, and that we were in for a more competitive game than originally anticipated.

Vladimir Guerrero gracing the cover of the Expos Souvenir Magazine.

Though the Expos were struggling through a rough 2001 campaign, there were All Stars in the starting lineup. Right fielder Vladimir Guerrero was a bona fide superstar, a true five tool player capable hitting 40 home runs and stealing 40 bases in any given season. However, he languished in relative obscurity in Montreal. Playing anywhere else in MLB, he would have been hailed as one of the top players in the game. In this contest, Guerrero was fairly quiet, managing a single and a run scored in five plate appearances.

Boston erupted for three runs in the fifth inning, stringing together several hits to retake the lead. The seesaw contest saw the Expos answer with two runs in the sixth inning. By this time, the starting pitchers for both teams had exited the game, putting the outcome of the game in the hands of the respective bullpens. With the number of Red Sox fans far outnumbering the Expos fans in Olympic Stadium, it was almost like being at Boston home game. Given the dankness of the ballpark, I could only imagine how depressing the stadium must be with the typical small Montreal crowds.

The Red Sox tacked on two more runs in the seventh inning (as 3B Chris Stynes homered) to pad their lead, and Red Sox closer Derek Lowe shut the door on the Expos, earning his 17th save. As we filed out of the ballpark into the parking deck below, I realized that the future of baseball in Montreal was in serious jeopardy. After years in limbo, the franchise moved to Washington in 2005, rechristened as the Nationals. While I was glad we visited Montreal to see a game, there was clearly no reason to come back for MLB baseball.

My scorecard from the game.

4. Montreal to New Jersey

After working our way through Montreal traffic, we headed back toward New Jersey. Just before US border, we stopped at the duty free store to get something to drink. We were astounded by the number of people loading up on alcohol before heading back into New York State. More than a few vehicles were stuffed nearly full with cases of Molson beer, which has nearly twice the alcohol level of Molson sold in the US. Once through the checkpoint, we stopped in Plattsburgh for lunch before heading home.

Hoping to get a quick fast food meal for the road, we were instead faced with crowded eateries with long lines, as people heading back to Massachusetts had the same thought. In one of the restaurants, servers were crying when confronted with the massive influx of patrons. Eventually, tiring of the wait, we obtained what we could at an Arby’s before heading south on Interstate 87 toward New Jersey.