Florida Baseball Trip 2014 – Miami

Google Earth view of Marlins Park in Miami, FL.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


2. Miami, Wednesday May 7th 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Portland, ME July 20th 2015

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

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

1. Freeport/Yarmouth/Portland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Hadlock Field, Portland Maine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Binghamton, NY July 19-20 2016

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

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

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

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

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


1. Tuesday, July 19 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, July 20th 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Richmond, VA, May 20th and 21st, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. The Diamond, Sunday May 21st

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BBT Ballpark, Charlotte, NC June 16th 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UPDATE: Saturday, August 28th 2021

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

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

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

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

Google Map route from Charlotte NC to Atlanta GA.

1. SunTrust Park, Saturday June 17th 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. SunTrust Park, Sunday June 18th 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dunkin’ Donuts Park, Hartford CT, July 15th and 16th, 2017

1. New Jersey to Hartford, Connecticut

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Confucius is in Hartford???

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Indianapolis, August 11, 2017

We embarked on yet another mini baseball tour, with stops planned in Indianapolis and St Louis, began on the morning of August 11, 2017 from Maryland. Google Maps showed us that the 575 mile trip would take close to nine hours to complete. Since we had tickets for the Indianapolis Indians at 705 pm, we needed to leave before 900 am local time to leave enough time to drop off our bags at the hotel and reach Victory Field, home the Indians, in time for the first pitch.

Google Maps showing the way from Greenbelt, MD to Victory Field in Indianapolis, IN.

The drive was uneventful, with late morning and mid day traffic working in our favor. Following a stop for lunch in West Virginia, we simply followed Interstate 70 the rest of the way toward Indianapolis. Construction slowed us down a few times, but the weather was good until we started approaching the Ohio/Indiana border.

By that time, storms were building in front of us. Luckily, we were able to dodge them as we approached Indianapolis. Despite the construction delays and the emerging weather, we were still on time to make the first pitch. However, it seemed as though our luck had run out, as showers and thunderstorms slowed our progress moving through Indianapolis.

Passing Lucas Oil Field on the way to Victory Field in Indianapolis. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Traffic had slowed to a crawl as we lurched toward the ballpark. An enormous crowd appeared as the rain started, slowing things even further. We didn’t know it at the time, but a large band jamboree was in progress in Indianapolis, and the rain caused the crowd to disperse all at once. In almost no time, we went from being early to running the risk of missing the first pitch.

Victory Field in Indianapolis, just after the rain ended. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Arriving at the ballpark after the game start time, we quickly found parking down the street, not far from Lucas Oil Field. The rain that slowed our approach to the park had also provided a blessing. Apparently the rain was intense enough to require the infield to be covered, which delayed the start of the game.

Victory Field after the rain stopped. People were still milling around, waiting for the start of the game. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Not only did we not miss the first pitch, we were afforded time to undertake a quick tour of the park. Victory Field was typical of urban minor league ballparks, using the city skyline as a backdrop. The Marriott Building dominates the view in left center field, with a factory building (which looks like it could be a foundry or a slaughterhouse) visible in right field.

A view of Victory Field from the left field concourse. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Unlike most minor league ballparks, Victory Field features a full wraparound concourse, as well was a picnic area that spans the entire outfield. The ballpark also has a second deck, which is unusual for a minor league park. Throw in a decent scoreboard in right centerfield, and Victory Field was an unexpectedly nice ballpark.

After visiting the team store and concession stand (both of which offered standard fare), we looked for our seats. Luckily, the 20 minute rain delay allowed us to explore the ballpark and still catch the first pitch. Our seats were located behind the dugout on the first base side, about 10 rows back. The seats afforded a great view of the park, as well as the Marriott Building.

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

Slowly clearing skies and mild temperatures at first pitch set the stage for a pleasant evening to watch a ballgame. The Indianapolis Indians, the Triple A affiliate of the Pittsburg Pirates, were hosting the Syracuse Chiefs (the Nationals Triple A affiliate). As might be expected in a Triple A contest, their were some familiar names in the lineup.

In John Feinstein’s book Where Nobody Knows Your Name: Life in the Minor Leagues of Baseball, he states that nobody actually wants to be in Triple A. Either you were an ex-MLBer trying to get back up to the big leagues, or a minor leaguer trying to get there for the first time. Seeing the names of the ex big leaguers in the lineup reminded me of that quote.

Indianapolis Indians starter Tyler Glasnow delivers a pitch in the first inning. The 6 foot 8 right hander pitched a gem, striking out 11 in 7 innings while giving up one run on five hits. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Starting for the hometown Indians was Tyler Glasnow. The 6 foot 8 inch right hander was dominant this night, allowing only a second inning solo homer in seven innings of work, while scattering five hits and striking out 11. The Chiefs starter, Esmil Rogers, was almost as good, allowing two earned runs in six innings.

The Chiefs Brandon Snyder thrown out attempting to steal second in the fourth inning. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

The game remained tight as the evening faded into night. The Indians’ bullpen held the lead they were handed, resulting in a 2-1 win for the Indians. Even before the end of the game (which ran longer than usual due to the rain delay at the start of the game), Indians fans started leaving, as the hour was growing late.

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

Though rain delayed the start of the game, it did not detract from the experience. Victory Field was an unexpectedly enjoyable ballpark nestled in downtown Indianapolis. The ballpark had all of the amenities of a Triple A stadium with its own character. Should you find yourself near Indianapolis on a summer evening, check to see if the Indians are in town. You’ll be glad you did.

Indianapolis/St Louis, August 12 2017

Our next game on this mini baseball tour was St Louis, where the Cardinals hosted the Braves at 600 pm on Saturday, August 12th. Google Maps indicated that the trip from Indianapolis to St Louis would take about three and one-half hours (not counting time to be built into the trip to explore the new ballpark and surroundings).

1. Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Google Maps showing our trip from Indianapolis to St Louis.

With the time we had before leaving for St Louis, we decided to go find the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Located on the northwest side of town, it took about 15 minutes to get from the hotel to the speedway. When we arrived, the parking lot was empty, which was not surprising. We were content to take pictures of the outside of the Speedway before heading out.

Outside the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. (Photo credit
Jeff Hayes)

However, we saw cars going into the the Speedway, one at a time. After some debate, we decided to follow the next car into the complex. After passing through the dark, narrow entrance, we emerged to see a building ahead of us, with cars in the parking lot. This was unexpected, as the Speedway did indeed appear to be open to the public, but that was far from obvious.

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway welcomes you. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

We parked outside of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum. After paying the $12 entrance fee, we set out to explore the museum. Not being a “car guy” (though my brother Jeff is), I wasn’t sure if I would enjoy the experience. Much to my surprise, I found the museum to be informative and well designed. Though there were knowledgeable museum employees ready and willing to help, they were fairly unobtrusive, which I found refreshing.

Inside the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum. There were cars from virtually every era of the track. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

The collection of cars inside the museum was impressive, to say the least. It seemed as though virtually every era was represented, from the earliest machines to some of the more recent vehicles. There were also engines on display, generally grouped with the vehicles they powered. Finally, there were some NASCAR vehicles there as well, representing Brickyard 400.

One of the earliest cars to race at the Speedway. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

After about an hour or so wandering among the cars and engines, we stepped outside. From the museum, we could see that there were cars on the track, but it wasn’t clear who was racing. From the appearance, it seemed as though people brought their personal vehicles to the track. It was fun standing near the fence, watching the cars race around the track. Not all of the drivers were either professional or experienced. One driver consistently missed the shift as he came around the corner closest to us, and it was obvious each time the missed shift occurred.

Cars on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

More than two hours had passed since we entered the Speedway grounds, and it was time to get on the road for St Louis. It was fun to visit an American icon of racing world, especially since it was so unexpected.

A good shot from inside the Museum, showing both cars and engines. The Museum was very impressive. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

2. St Louis/Busch Stadium

We stopped at our hotel in Illinois before crossing the Mississippi River to St Louis Missouri. This was not our first baseball trip to St Louis; we saw the Mets play the Cardinals in 2004 on a hot Saturday afternoon in July. The old Busch Stadium was a cookie cutter multi purpose monolith, much like Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia and Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh.

The Gateway Arch, St Louis. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Much had changed in the vicinity since we’d been here last. On our prior trip, we left little time to investigate the portion of St Louis near the river (as our travel schedule was tight). Our first stop was the Gateway Arch. Unfortunately for us, the arch elevators were under repair, so there was no ride to top for us. Instead, we strolled the grounds to the river, affording a view of the river traffic. Being a nice late afternoon weather wise, the arch area was a popular destination.

The Old State House, St Louis, MO. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Walking back up the steps from the river, the Old State Court House caught our attention. Being a history buff, I was intrigued by its appearance, a fine example of 19th century architecture. The Court House has deep roots in the history, with two landmark cases decided here. Visiting late on a Saturday afternoon was fortuitous, as we had the place mostly to ourselves. The court house reminded me of the court room scene in old movies, complete with creaking wooden floors and chairs.

Inside the Basilica of Saint Louis. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

With time running short, there was one final place to visit. The Basilica of Saint Louis (affectionately known as the Old Cathedral) is one of the oldest buildings in St Louis, with its roots dating back to the 18th century. Like the old State House, it was nearly empty when we arrived. Seeing this old building fed my fascination with churches. The ornate architecture was especially appealing, with careful attention to detail.

3. Busch Stadium

Stan Musial immortalized outside Busch Stadium, St Louis. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

With the stadium just down the road for the Old State House, we were there is a matter of minutes. There are a number of parking lots in the vicinity of the ballpark, and we parked in the Cardinal Lot (which was reasonably priced) just across the street from the stadium. A good crowd was expected for tonight’s game, since the 1987 Cardinals were being honored. Parking near the stadium with a full crowd anticipated can make for a dicey exit, but the price was right, and the location ideal.

The view from our seats. Very impressive indeed! (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

As usual, we walked around this beautiful stadium before taking pictures. Our seats were in the upper deck just left of home plate. Typically, we attempt to get the best available seats, but better tickets for this game were hard to find. The Cardinals were honoring the 1987 team, and demand was high. Immediately, the view grabbed our attention. Having seen games from Busch Stadium on TV, the view seemed spectacular, but it was nothing compared to being there.

The 1987 Cardinals being honored before the game. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Of course, the Arch in the distance is impressive, but the reflection of one building on the glass of the other was nothing short of amazing. After mere minutes in the park, it had become one of my favorites. The pre game ceremony was nice, but not being a Cardinals fan, I did not have the same investment as others around me.

Carlos Martinez delivering a pitch in the first inning. Hard to tell from this distance, but his hair looks yellow with some patches of purple. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Following the ceremony, Carlos Martinez took the mound for the Cardinals. On this night, Martinez’s hair looked yellow, but we were far enough away so that it was difficult to tell. He faced the lineup of the Atlanta Braves, who we saw at home at SunTrust Park in June. After giving up two runs in the top of the first, Martinez settled down, allowing just a solo home run in the fifth. He registered a quality start, lasting six innings while giving up three earned runs.

The Braves were turned back by a nice play at the plate by Yadier Molina. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

As the evening turned into night, the stadium took on a different hue. Gone from view was the Arch, shrouded in darkness. The buzz of the large crowd, combined with the stadium lights, provided a great baseball environment. Though the darkness seemed to shrink the stadium to some degree, it is hardly the bandbox some of the newer MLB parks are.

Busch Stadium at night. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

The bullpen protected the lead handed to them by Martinez until the ninth. The Braves scored two runs, and left runners stranded at second and third when Nick Markakis struck out to end the game. A good game in a great ballpark was a fine way to start our weekend stay in St Louis. We would get another chance to see Busch Stadium tomorrow, as the Braves meet the Cardinals for the series finale.

Good night, St Louis. See you tomorrow. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)