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.

2018 Baseball Road Trip – Day 9 (Chattanooga Tennessee back to Maryland)

Day 9 of the 2018 Baseball Road trip began with us checkling out of the hotel just outside of Chatanooga Tennessee after 800 am. The plan for this day was to make the trip back to Maryland after a hugely successful tour of ballparks through the Southeast US. The day started sunny and relatively warm, and we expected traffic to be light, considering it was a Saturday. Conditions seemed ripe for an easy drive home.

Google Maps depiction of the drive home.

Google Maps showed a drive time of 9 hours and 9 minutes with much of the drive on Interstate 81. In preparation for the trip, we knew that we would be passing by a couple of towns with minor league teams. The first was Knoxville, Tennessee, the home of the Tennessee Smokies. They were out of town, as we had just seen them in Chatanooga the night before. We also passed close to Kingsport, Tennessee, the home of the Kingsport Mets. The Mets, the advanced Rookie League team of the New York Mets, are a member of the Appalachian League. They play a short season, meaning their schedule did not start until the end of June.

About 5 hours into the trip, near Roanoke Virginia, I asked my brother if any of the minor league teams on our way back to Maryland had a home game that night. A quick searched showed that only the Richmond Flying Squirrels were home. Not quite ready to end the trip, we decided to make a relatively large detour, and headed for Richmond Virgina. While that destination did take us off the best path back, Richmond is only about 2 hours from home, so it was not as much of a detour as it seemed

We continued along Interstate 81 until we met Interstate 64, and about 2 hours later, we were in Richmond, Virginia. Our destination was The Diamond, the home of the Richmond Flying Squirrels. The AA afflilate of the San Francisco Giants, the Flying Squirrels hosted the Hartford Yard Goats. We arrived less than an hour before game time, having secured tickets for the 605 pm start via the web on the way to the ballpark. Not surprisingly, the game was well attended, and the best seats we could get were for the upper deck.

The Diamond, home of the Richmond Flying Squirrels. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Because of the sizeable crowd, we parked near the far edge of the parking lot, and made our way to the ballpark. We got to our seats about 20 minutes before the first pitch, which gave us just enough time to get something to eat. This was not our first visit to The Diamond. We came down to Richmond in May of 2017 to see a pair of games against the Harrisburg Senators. During those games, our seats were much better, but the weather that weekend was cloudy and cool.

Our seats for the game. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

The first pitch occurred precisely at 605 pm. After a scoreless top of the first, the Flying Squirrels jumped on the YardGoats starter Parker French for three runs in the bottom of the first, adding two more in the bottom of the 3rd. The Flying Squirrels outburst continued in the bottom of the 5th, plating three more runs.

The Flying Squirrels Miguel Gomez reaches third without a throw following a wild pitch the bottom of the 1st inning. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Though the Yard Goats scored three run in the in the bottom of the 3rd, Hartford would not pull much closer. As the evening wore on, with the outcome of the game all but assured, the crowd started thinning out after 6th inning. By the end of the game, more than half the crowd had left. Considering we still had a two hour drive home after the game, a dwindling crowd would make exiting much easier.

The Diamond at night. Note that the crowd had thinned out considering that the Flying Squirrels had put the game out of reach. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

As mentioned earlier, this was not our first trip to the Diamond. A much more extensive review of the stadium can be found later in this blog. Overall, it was a pleasant experience at a nice AA stadium. It was also a great way to end the trip, squeezing in one more game before heading home.

Luckily for us, the exit from the Diamond was swift, and we headed north of Interstate 95 toward Maryland. The trip was smooth until we approached Maryland. The combination of traffic and rain slowed our progress, as it took closer to three hours to finally reach home