Toledo Mud Hens vs. Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders (International League)
Fifth Third Field-Toledo, OH: Well, it’s been about seven years since our last trip to Toledo to see the Mud Hens, so it was about time we made it back to Mudville. We stayed in Findlay, so it was a fairly brief drive into Toledo. With any downtown stadium, parking can be tough, but we got there early enough to make it into the lot across the street. The weather was perfect, even though it had rained the night before. I was hoping for maybe a double-header, but the Hens finished five innings the night before to make it a complete game. We had plenty of time to get a beer and a dog for lunch, and get some shopping in. I was hoping to get Brian a Muddy mascot, but they didn’t have any for some reason. He was happy I picked him up a Ghostbusters night t-shirt, though, as he loves that movie. There was a pretty decent crowd, and, as many mid-week day games go, catered to kids and seniors. I really do love seeing kids at ball games, but when they’re brought in for groups, the counselors really need to set some rules for them. The kids next to us were in and out of their seats every inning, which can be distracting, and inconvenient for my elderly father. Before the game we also got to see Tigers’ prospect Robbie Ray getting some extra work in. He didn’t pitch on this day, but always cool to see a top prospect. The mascot Muddy also paraded some kids from a youth group around the field.
As the Mud Hens are a Tigers affiliate, I was pretty familiar with most of the players, and had seen many of them in West Michigan. The RailRiders even had former Whitecap Scott Sizemore on their roster, who was one of my favorite players from the ‘Caps 2007 Midwest League championship team. Others we’ve seen before included first baseman Jordon Lennerton, second baseman Brandon Douglas, third baseman Wade Gaynor, catcher James McCann, and Duane Below who was on the mound for Toledo. The game got off to a good start, with the Hens scoring twice in the first inning on Tyler Collins sacrifice fly, and a home run by Trevor Crowe. Gaynor hit an RBI double in the second inning to take a 3-0 lead.
With the Mud Hens doing well, I took the opportunity to explore the ballpark a little bit more. I love the full wrap-around concourses, and used it to get some nice shots, including a panoramic of the stadium.
The ‘Roost’ is a set of seats connected to a neighboring building, with a great view of the game. We couldn’t buy these unfortunately, because they are always saved for a group outing. The usher, or ‘guard’, at the stairs to the Roost let me sneak up there and take a few pics, even though he made it clear he wasn’t supposed to.
We were also able to see the RailRiders ambidextrous pitcher Pat Venditte for a few innings. He took the loss for Scranton/WB, though. I remember watching him throw back in 2009 when he was playing for the Charleston River Dogs.
The Hens gave up three runs in the sixth inning, but got those three right back. Both teams ended up trading runs in the eighth inning, also. Ezequiel Carrera went 1-4 on the day with two runs scored and a stolen base, while Gaynor ended up 2-3. Below earned the win, pitching 6.2 innings, giving up the three runs, with one strike out and Kevin Whelan earned the save. Carrera also made a wicked catch in the outfield. In all, this was just a great day watching a great game, and I got a game ball to top it all off. I really love Fifth Third Field, and need to make it there much more often. Final: Mud Hens 7, RailRiders 4.
All photos and video property of Minoring In Baseball
Columbus Clippers vs. Buffalo Bisons (International League)
Huntington Park-Columbus, OH: For our official first game of our 2014 baseball trip, we travelled south into Ohio. I’m dedicating this season’s trip to my favorite baseball movie Major League, due to its 25th anniversary, and the fact we’re visiting so many Cleveland Indians affiliates! Columbus is a great sports city, and we actually spent the day there checking out Ohio State, the Jack Nicklaus museum, and the Columbus Blue Jackets’ arena. We arrived at Huntington Park early, so we were one of the first few fans through the gates to explore at little. The home of the Clippers is really a nice Triple-A stadium that has many positive aspects. There doesn’t seem to be a bad seat in the house, and even has a group of seats attached to a building next to it in left field. The main concession stand was an island, so you don’t always have to miss part of the game when getting a snack or a beer. The ballpark also had many bits of baseball history, and history of the sport in Columbus, which I always find interesting. The Clippers have two mascots, Lou Seal and Krash (a parrot). Neither were active in the crowd, only on the field before the game. We were also joined by my best friend Darryl who lives near Dayton, so it was a pretty special game for us.
Unfortunately, we only got four innings in before the rain started. It really wasn’t all that bad at first, but then came down in buckets with thunder and lightning to boot. The storm really didn’t last that long, but the lightning stuck around long enough for them to postpone the game. The Clippers were up on the Buffalo Bisons 3-1 when the game was called, but ended up losing 5-3 when it was resumed the next day. Fans said the big prospect in the Clippers is Jesus Aguilar, and he went 1-3 in the game. Left fielder Tim Fedroff led the way for Columbus, going 2-4 with a double and RBI. On the mound, Travis Banwart started the game, but Nick Hagadone took over when it was resumed the next day, taking the loss. Even though we only got four innings in, we had fun in Columbus and the Clippers are a must see for baseball fans. Postponed: Clippers 3, Bisons 1 (3-5 Final).
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East Division vs. West Division
Fifth Third Ballpark-Comstock Park, MI: We started off this seasons’ baseball trip with a bang this year, right here in Michigan with the 50th Midwest League All-Star Classic. The doors opened at 4:00, so when we arrived we were able to watch some of the West players during batting practice. We were really lucky it turned out to be such a beautiful day, too, as the forecast called for some rain, and thankfully we never got a drop.
There were plenty of things going on to keep fans entertained during the three hours until the first pitch, also. Joining the hometown mascots Crash, Franky, and Roxy, were Big Lug (Lansing), Johnny (Fort Wayne), Lou E. Loon (Great Lakes), and Fang (Wisconsin). The mascots did a great job all night and throughout the game. Crash and Lou E. Loon really stood out from the others, though, in entertaining the crowd.
Fans were also lucky enough to get down on the field and get some autographs from the all-stars. They didn’t give us a whole lot of time, but I was able to get most of the East team to sign a baseball for the kids. It was fun talking to the players, also, even the ones from opposing teams we don’t get to see that often. All the players were great with the fans, and seemed very happy to be participating in the game.
Another pre-game activity was the ‘Lost Art of Bunting’ contest. Players from each team had a chance to try bunting the ball onto select targets down the first and third base side. This year’s winner was Mallex Smith, and outfielder for the Fort Wayne TinCaps.
Also on hand to sign some autographs was Detroit Tigers’ legend Willie Horton. Being a World Champion for the Tigers in 1968, he was someone my parents watched back in the 60’s and 70’s. We made sure he signed a ball for both of them, and I tried to get Horton in a photo with my dad, but there was some bad lighting. Still better than nothing, though. There was a long line for autographs, but it moved pretty quickly. Almost comical, though, as you couldn’t have him personalize an autograph or get an actual picture with him.
Now, on to the game itself…which was a blowout. You’d think an all-star game would be pretty competitive, but the West shut down the hitters from the East almost the entire game. In fact, the East was no-hit for 7 2/3 innings, before South Bend’s Marty Herum wrecked it. The Whitecaps’ starting pitcher Jonathan Crawford took the loss for the East, giving up one run in two innings of work. The ‘Caps Buck Farmer came in and pitched a scoreless fifth inning. He struck out one, walked one, and hit one batter. He leads the Midwest League with 87 strikeouts. Wynton Bernard played left field the entire game, going 0-3 with a walk, and leaving two runners on. Second baseman Javier Betancourt came into the game in the fifth inning. Although he was tied for the league lead in hits, he went 0-2 with a line-drive out and a ground-out. West Michigan pitchers Austin Kubitza, Chad Green, and reliever Joe Mantiply did not make an appearance.
The MVP award went to Hershel ‘Boog’ Powell of the Beloit Snappers. Boog went 1-3 with two walks, two stolen bases, and a two-run double. Even though the games wasn’t a close one, it was still an exciting experience for any baseball fan. And, hey, at least I caught a game ball! Final score: East 0, West 7.
All photos and video property of Minoring In Baseball
Next seasons’ Baseball Trip will be a little later this time, in June instead of May. One of the reasons for the change, is that we wanted to hit the Midwest League All-Star game on June 17th in West Michigan. This should be a great experience as I’ve never been to an all-star game before. This will be the hardest game to get tickets for, so I really need to be on the ball when they go on sale. The next day takes us south to Columbus, OH to check out our first Clippers game. I’ve heard nothing but good things about the stadium and franchise, so it should be a game to remember. The day after is a double-header for us. We start out with the Toledo Mud Hens for a day game. We saw the Hens back in 2007, and look forward to another great time at Fifth-Third Field. After we see the Hens, we head east to see the Mahoning Valley Scrappers and our first New York-Penn League game. Travelling in the early spring usually prevents us from making these games, since they start their season in mid-June. We stay busy the next morning, hitting the big city of Cleveland to check out the Baseball Heritage Museum. I don’t know much about this, so if anyone has been there any info would be appreciated. Next we enjoy more Midwest League action visiting the Lake County Captains in Eastlake, just east of Cleveland. Lake County and Bowling Green are the only two MWL teams I haven’t visited yet, as they transferred from the South Atlantic League a few years ago.
The next stop on our journey should be interesting, visiting Canton, OH, and just south of that the Temperance Tavern and Cy Young Museum. Again, I don’t have much info on this, so if anyone has visited there I’d appreciate your input. That’s just one stop on our way to Washington, PA to see the Wild Things in Frontier League action. Washington is an independent team, but it look like they have a nice stadium. The town was just awarded a pro softball franchise called the Revolution, too, so that’s something else to look into. The next morning, we travel north to see the Detroit Tigers’ Double-A affiliate, the Erie Seawolves. This is another team I’ve wanted to see for some time, and look forward to checking out some of the Tigers’ prospects. Another double-header for us, we go a little farther east to check out our second New York-Penn League team in the Jamestown Jammers. And..our trip concludes with the newly dubbed Akron RubberDucks. This should be a fun adventure if the weather holds, and it should be better in June. If anyone has been to this region and can recommend any other points of interest or eating establishments, I’d love to hear about them.
Fifth-Third Ballpark–Comstock Park, MI: As much as I loved my time in North Carolina, it was good to be back in Michigan, and have the home field advantage. It felt comfortable to be back in my own ballpark, and to see the Whitecaps play for the first time this season. After riding in airplanes most of the day, it was nice to be in the fresh air and wandering around Fifth-Third Ballpark. We were also one of the lucky ones to get an Avisail Garcia bobble head at the gate. It was good to see the best mascot in the minors, Crash the River Rascal, hamming it up on the concourse with the kids. I wandered down and watched the Whitecaps warm up, and got some good pics of the team. I was excited to see guys like Devin Travis and Danry Vasquez in action. It was also cool to see new pitching coach Mike Henneman, who was one of my favorite Tigers when I was younger. Henneman seemed to be joking around with his staff a little, and keeping his pitchers loose. It was good to see some familiar faces and be back home, and this will go down as one of the best baseball trips ever.
The game did not go our way, and the Whitecaps home field advantage did them little good as the Hot Rods shut them right down. Starting pitcher Charlie Gillies took the loss, but had no run support. He gave up three runs and struck out three, in just over five innings of work. Both second baseman Jared Reaves and third baseman Mario Martinez went 2-4, but could not help get a run across the plate. Win or lose, however, there’s still no place that I’d rather be. Final score: Whitecaps 0, Hot Rods 4.
CMC-Northeast Stadium-Kannapolis, NC: Wow…what to do on a day when we only have one game scheduled to attend? Well, if you’re into the nascar thing, then you would have enjoyed our experiences. Our first stop was in Concord, NC, home of the Charlotte Motor Speedway. Despite the advertising of daily tours around the track, we found they were cancelled because some trucks were practicing all weekend. Great luck, so we poked around a bit and headed out. Just down the street there was a nice little car museum, so we decided to check that out. The highlight for me was seeing a couple of cars used in the movie Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (if you’re not first, you’re last…). We still had plenty of time before our game in Kannapolis, so, sticking with the nascar theme, we decided to head back into downtown Charlotte to the nascar Hall of Fame. Our experience there was ok, but decided just to head back north to Kannapolis. We arrived a little early, but noticed that the gates were open. The ballpark wasn’t really open to the public then, but I started chatting with head of ticket sales, and he was nice enough to open the gift shop for me so we could get our souvenirs and put them back in the car before the game. The whole Intimidators staff was very friendly, and treated us well. We actually had time to take and little snooze in the car before the gates officially opened. Before heading inside, though, I took a few pics of the race car parked in front of the stadium…sticking with the nascar theme, of course. Kannapolis is the birthplace of deceased nascar driver Dale Earnhardt, and the Intimidators are named after him. Inside, we had plenty of time to explore the small ballpark before the game began. This included hanging out with mascot Tim E. Gator. The concourse was nice, and wide open. There were some good eats, too, but we just stuck with beer and hot dogs. I bought seats in the V.I.P. section, right next to the Intimidators dugout. On a two dimensional seating chart, the seats looked great, but in reality, I had a huge pole directly in front of me, and couldn’t see anything. With a small crowd, we quickly found new seats. CMC-Northeast Stadium is a nice, unique, ballpark, and was a good low-key end to our adventures in North Carolina, as I really love the South Atlantic League.
The in-game action started out well for the home town nine. They scored three runs in the first inning, and one run in the fourth to take a 4-1 run lead. Things would fall apart in the late innings, though, as they gave up four and five runs in consecutive innings to go down 10-4. They battled back in the eighth, scoring three runs to cut the Suns’ lead to three, but couldn’t come up with the equalizer. The Intimidators got great production our of right fielder Jason Coats, who went 3-5 with four RBI’s and two runs scored. Brandon Brennan took the loss on the hill for Kannapolis, going 6.1 innings and giving up four earned runs. Relief pitcher Todd Kibby really got roughed up, though, not even lasting one innings and giving up four runs on three walks and one hit. Final score: Intimidators 7, Suns 10.
BB&T Ballpark–Winston-Salem, NC: Ok, so we were in Winston-Salem a few days ago, and now we came back to see the Dash play in more Carolina League action. I really wish we could have stayed and explored Asheville a little more, but this is the life we’re leading on these trips. Our evening starting with an amazing dinner at Tripps Restaurant, where my dad was reunited with an old army buddy that he hasn’t seen in many years. It was an amazing experience to listen to their stories and see them catch up. It was hard to break away, but we finally did and headed to the ballpark. The home of the Dash, BB&T Ballpark, is very impressive for single-A baseball. It had a nice large parking lot, which made things easy for us to get in and out. We entered through the outfield, which is something we’ve been seeing more and more of in recent years. The modern park is very beautiful, and looked like it didn’t have a bad seat in the house. I liked the fact that the concourse goes entirely around the field, too. Thier mascot Bolt was entertaining, and played some tricks on the umpire before the game. I never saw him in the stands interacting with the fans, though, which is too bad. The ballpark is really nice, but to me it seemed a little sterile. Maybe just because it’s so new, and that we were at a game during the week without a huge crowd. Still lots of fun, and a ballpark worth visiting.
The game saw the home team get roughed up a bit, especially early. Dash pitcher Chris Bassitt only lasted 2.1 innings, and gave up nine runs. The bullpen seemed to keep the visiting Pelicans in check the rest of the way, though. Shortstop Chris Curley led the offensively, going 2-4 on the night. Left fielder Grant Buckner, however, had the two RBI’s going 1-4. Final score: Dash 2, Pelicans 9.
McCormick Field–Asheville, NC: I just want to start off by stating that I loved this game. I love McCormick Field, and this should be on every baseball fans bucket list. Another downtown stadium, so parking is a little rough. That, however is the about the only thing you’d have to worry about. The stadium is located on a large hill, or mountain, I guess, which make for some nice scenery. The whole setup of the stadium is nice, with the concourse and gift shop in a nice setting. Part of the concourse is limited by part of the mountain, also. Our seats were great, as we got the dugout suites right next to the home team dugout. This luxury comes with snacks, drinks, and a chicken dinner from Bojangles’. We really felt we were treated like royalty! It was a day game which saw some buses of school kids enjoying the game also. This helped make for a great atmosphere, as well as the loyal regulars of McCormick Field. Another unique aspect, is that one lucky fan gets to deliver the game ball via a zip line. It was fun to watch, and must have been a great experience for that fan! The fact that it was a day game make it a little warm for us, but I can only imagine how awesome a night game would be here. The home team put on a great show, and I also got my first South Atlantic League game ball. This honestly rivals Durham for the best game on the trip. You can also see McCormick Field at the end of the movie Bull Durham, where Crash hits his record breaking home run.
The game itself was a good one for the Tourists. When we saw the Drive a few days before they looked like a pretty solid hitting team, but Asheville hurler T.J. Oaks seemed to keep them of the kilter all day, as he went seven innings and only gave up the one run. The Tourists took the game over with a huge seven run fourth inning. It seemed like they were pounding doubles off the wall left and right. Second baseman Juan Ciriaco seemed to be the player of the game. Not only did he toss me the game ball, but he went 3-5 with an RBI. Rosell Herrera also pitched in, going 2-5 with a pair of RBI’s. Final score: Tourists 8, Drive 1.
Hickory Crawdads vs. West Virginia Power (South Atlantic League)L.P. Frans Stadium–Hickory, NC: The fifth day of our trip was pretty busy also. We spent the morning and afternoon visiting some Civil War battle fields, and I was in heaven at the Under Armour outlet store. We then started the long road back west toward Hickory. We pulled into L.P. Frans Stadium ready for some baseball, though. There seemed to be another small crowd, but there were a few buses that arrived to fill the seats. Our seats were front row, right behind home plate. It’s a given you’ll have to deal with some netting with these seats, but the netting just seemed to keep going and going. I don’t think there were many seats at all with a clear view. Not sure if this is just the team teams in the Carolinas that love the net, or the SALly league. Hickory seemed to be a team that is community based, and the fans all seemed to know each other for the most part. Again, I’m sure with a bigger crowd the atmosphere would greatly improve. They did have a nice play area for the kids and a carousel, also. The Crawdads do host a nice game, and this was a good addition to our trip.
The game gave us a victory for the home team, but not much offense for either team. Center fielder Lewis Brinston led the ‘Dads going 2-3 with a double. On the mound, C.J. Edwards earned the win going over five innings. Final score: Crawdads 2, Power 1.
Carolina MudCats vs. Lynchburg HillCats (Carolina League)
Five County Stadium–Zebulon, NC: It was a bit of a day of polar opposites, as we arrived in Zebulon to watch the MudCats. The GPS couldn’t find the stadium address, either, so getting there was a bit of a chore, but once we got our of Raleigh and headed east, it was all good. It was a Monday night, and it’s been my experience that games on this night are generally not well attended. I really didn’t expect, like, fifteen to twenty fans to be there, though. Really…I’m not exaggerating. Lucky for the MudCats, too, that I was meeting up with an old friend that I played baseball with in high school, to add to the attendance. At least it was a quiet game, so my buddy Chris and I could catch up a bit, and talk about old times. I also had a chance to explore the ballpark some and get some pictures. Five County Stadium is very unique, and I really like the way it’s set up. There are not too many rows of seats in the lower level, but mostly in the upper level. The upper level seats hang over the dugouts, and really give you a nice view of the game. As with most of the stadium in North Carolina, there was plenty of netting, too, to protect the fans. A little too much for my tastes, but I was able to move around it to get some more pictures. Despite the low attendance, the on field DJ still had some fun with the fans who were there, and the mascot Muddy the MudCat (a giant catfish) wandered the concourse, as did a gorilla chasing a giant banana. See how fun the minors are? I’m sure the atmosphere is better when the stands start filling up this summer, and I did very much enjoy my first Carolina League game in Zebulon. At least I was able to catch a foul ball, but waited until there was two outs in the ninth inning to do it!
As for the game, the home team didn’t rally much with such an empty stadium. The HillCats, however, really had their bats heated up, as they put eleven runs across the plate. Shawn Morimando took the loss for the MudCats, giving up seven runs, but only five of them earned. Carolina did have a couple of players got 2-4, though, in catcher Ryan Battaglia and third baseman Yhoxian Medina. Tough loss for the hometown MudCats, but I’m sure things will get better once some fans are in the stands. Final score: MudCats 4, HillCats 11.
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