Durham Bulls Athletic Park-Durham, NC: This is one that have been on my bucket list for some time…the Durham Bulls. And what a better time than the 25th anniversary of the hit movie Bull Durham? The new ballpark is located right downtown, so parking can be a nightmare. Throw in all the construction, and it’s a pain if you don’t get to the ballpark early. The Durham Bulls Athletic Park was simply the gem of our trip. It’s an amazing ballpark with no bad seat in the house. It’s easily one of the best minor league parks we’ve ever been to. It was a beautiful sunny day, and luckily we were able to catch some shade. It was a little ironic, too, that we were sitting next to someone from my hometown, Grand Rapids, MI. I enjoyed the game immensely, and the Bulls really do put on a great show for their fans. Triple-A is also a good chance to see the young stars on the rise, and former major leaguers in action as well. If you’re a baseball fan, you need to see a Durham Bulls game. It’s as simple as that.
The game itself saw the Bulls defending their home turf against the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs. The Bulls took care of business early, and never looked back. Lead-off hitter Jason Bourgeois led the way offensively, going 3-4 with an RBI. Third-baseman Vince Belome contributed a pair of hits and an RBI, also. Alex Colome earned the win on the mound for the home team, throwing seven complete innings. Our Durham experience lived up to the hype, and couldn’t have gone better (well, maybe it would have been nice to see a player win a steak, and the mascot hit by a pitch). Final score: Bulls 8, Iron Pigs 2.
Burlington Athletic Stadium-Burlington, NC: On our way east from Greensboro, we decided to stop by the home of the Burlington Royals to check out the ballpark and see if they had a gift shop open. The Royals are in the Rookie Appalachian League, so they don’t start play until later on in June. Unfortunately, they didn’t have any memorabilia for sale at this time, but the ballpark was wide open for us to poke around a bit. We were also lucky enough to run into the Royals GM, Ben Abzug, who last season was named the Appalachian League Executive of the Year. Ben was a very gracious host, giving us a history of the team and the ballpark. I found it very interesting that the ballpark was originally built in Virginia, but purchased and brought to Burlington piece by piece when they were awarded a team. He also explained to us the differences between the rookie league and other Minor League clubs. It was a very interesting and informative morning! Too bad we couldn’t see a game here, but at least I made it into the park to get some nice pics. Next stop…Durham!
NewBridge Bank Park-Greensboro, NC: We had to leave the college game a little early to make sure we made it to Greensboro on time. It was well worth it, too, as NewBridge Bank Park has a beautiful facade, and it gave me a chance to get some nice pics outside the ballpark. We also wanted to be there when the gates opened so we had time to play catch on the field. It’s always a thrill to actually get out there where all of the action takes place! It was fun and relaxing to get out there and have a good game of catch. Also, with all of the travelling, it was good to be active and stretch our legs. After my impressive athletic display, we found our seats and got ready for the game to start. There wasn’t a huge crowd for a Sunday game, but the fact that it was Mother’s Day may have had a hand in that. Still a good crowd, though, and they really like their Grasshoppers! The mascot Guilford was active with the fans, and liked to hang out on the visitors dugout. He seemed to be really good with the kids in the crowd. The really fun and unique aspect of the Greensboro experience, is that they have two dogs, Miss Babe Ruth and Lulu Gehrig who fetch the bats, and take baseballs to the umpires. Just one of the many things we’ll always remember about this trip! A Grasshoppers game is a must for any baseball fan who is in this area. With a beautiful ballpark, great fan base, and unique aspects of the club, no one can leave a game not satisfied!
For the actual game itself, the Grasshoppers (Miami) hosted the Lakewood BlueClaws, a Phillies affiliate. Greensboro jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the first inning, but unfortunately, that was the only scoring for the home team. The BlueClaws would score three runs in the fourth, and two in the seventh for the win. We did see some solid pitching for both teams, though. Anthony Gomez, Matt Juengel, and Cody Keefer each had two hits for the home town ‘Hoppers. Austin Brice looked solid on the hill, but still took the loss. Final score: Grasshoppers 1, BlueClaws 5.
Wake Forest Demon Deacans vs. Miami Hurricanes (Atlantic Coast Conference/NCAA)
Gene Hooks Field-Winston-Salem, NC: We were blessed with another beautiful day, as we headed north from Charlotte up to Winston-Salem for some college baseball. You might be wondering how a kid growing up in northern Michigan can become a fan of the Miami Hurricanes. Then again, you might not be. Anyway, I became a fan of the ‘U’ in the 80’s, while watching their sports teams win with attitude and swagger. You can understand my excitement, then, when I realized that the Wake Forest Demon Deacons would be hosting the ‘Canes during the very weekend we would be down there. The game took place at Gene Hooks Field, which is located just off campus next to the football field. It’s formerly Ernie Shore Field, that at one time hosted the Winston-Salem Warthogs of the Carolina League. With the Deacons taking over after the Warthogs became the Dash, and moved to their new stadium, Wake Forest inherited a nice venue for college baseball. I spent most of the game chatting with a fellow Michigander, who now coached football and baseball in the area. It was also senior day for the Deacons, with a pre-game ceremony celebrating their last home game. The rubber match of the series went to the home team, with the ‘Canes giving up six runs in the bottom of the eighth inning that broke a 3-3 tie. Despite the loss, the future looks bright for Miami as freshman David Thompson and sophomore Garrett Kennedy both hit home runs in the loss. It was still a lot of fun for me, and I really wish we could have squeezed more college games into our trip. Final score: Wake Forest 9, Miami 3.
Charlotte Knights vs. Pawtucket Red Sox (International League)
Knights Stadium-Fort Mill, SC: Well, it was a beautiful night in Fort Mill, anyway. The stadium is located just south of Charlotte. It was a Saturday game, so there was a really good crowd, and again it was good to see so many kids and families. It was also breast cancer awareness night, so the Knights were wearing their pink jerseys that were auctioned off after the game. The Knights had two mascots on hand, with Homer being the boy dragon, but I didn’t catch the name of the female one. The Charlotte Knights cheerleaders/dance team was also on hand, the lovely KnightinGals. Knights Stadium is nothing spectacular, but is good size for Triple-A. It’s a good walk up the stairs from the front row to the concourse. Some fans are excited by the new stadium being built downtown, but most feel it will bring higher prices for tickets and concessions. The current stadium isn’t that far from Charlotte, and has plenty of parking, so I think an upgrade would be better than a new one. We ended up moving from the front row to the upper deck to get a better view of the action, too. There’s not a bad seat in the house, but we love the upper deck. We met some great baseball fans in Charlotte, and it was a great night for baseball.
The game itself wasn’t much fun for the home town fans, but there seemed to plenty of Red Sox fans cheering the visitors. I guess the Nation really is expanded, because we met plenty of BoSox fans in both North and South Carolina. It was good to see former Whitecap Justin Henry play again, also, for the PawSox. He played in West Michigan back in 2007. Final score: Charlotte 0, PawSox 4.
Photos property of Minoring In Baseball
‘Shoeless’ Joe Jackson Museum-Greenville, SC: While in Greenville, we also visited the ‘Shoeless’ Joe Jackson Museum, which is located right behind Flour Field. The folks who run the museum are the nicest you’d ever meet, and they love their baseball. They stated that they spend more time at the museum than their own homes! They are also extremely knowledgeable about Joe and the history of baseball in the area. The museum is in Joe’s home that he had built-in 1940. Unfortunately, many of his trophies and memorabilia were taken after the death of his wife. It’s believed that family members came to the house and took most those items. It’s a nice little museum and a must for any baseball fan in the area, especially if your taking in a Drive game anyway.
Flour Field-Greenville, SC: After flying into Charlotte, we headed south for the first game of our trip. We were about five miles from the Greenville exit, though, when traffic came to a stop. Complete stop. It took us about forty minutes to go that five miles, but we finally made it to Flour Field downtown well before game time. As with most downtown stadiums parking is scarce, so if you visit here be sure to leave yourself some time. The gift shop is outside the stadium, so it’s was easy to get our shopping done and leave it in the car. The Greenville Drive is affiliated with the Red Sox, and they really embrace the Nation. The outfield at Flour Field is replicated after Fenway Park, they have their own ‘green monster’, and they even sing ‘Sweet Caroline‘ in the eighth inning. It was a good crowd with a fine baseball atmosphere, also. Lots of kids and families watching the game which is good to see. My only complaint about the stadium is that the netting extends beyond the dugouts, so it was difficult to see the game at times.
The game itself was one of the best we’ve seen. Both the Drive and GreenJackets made some great defensive plays. In a high scoring game, Greenville hit three home runs while Augusta added one. I really recommend a Drive game for anyone in the area. We had a lot of fun, with great weather, and it was a perfect way to kick off our trip. The Drive have the best on field DJ I’ve seen, too. He really kept the crowd into the game without it being too much. Final Score: Greenville 10, Augusta 6.
Recently Parkview Field, home of the Fort Wayne TinCaps, has been honored by Stadium Journey magazine as the best overall Minor League experience. This is the second year in a row that Parkview and Fort Wayne has received this award. In Stadium Journey’s ‘Top 101 sports venues of 2012′, Parkview ranked #14 overall.
“The thing about Parkview Field, is that it combines all of the elements that we recognize as making a stadium experience great”, stated Stadium Journey’s president and co-founder Paul Swaney. “The food and beverage is better than you’ll find most places and (the concessions options are) related to the overall theme. When I go to Parkview Field apple turnovers are something I seek out. Having a downtown location is an important factor as well. The variety of seating selections is important, too. Fans can go back again and again and have different experiences each time depending on where they want to sit.”
Stadium Journey ranked the venues on many different factors, including the neighborhood, food and drink options, fan experience and atmosphere. The access to the outside and inside of the stadium is also taken into consideration.
“This award is a testament to our great community and fans who continue to make Parkview Field an enjoyable place to be,” TinCaps president Mike Nutter stated to Stadium Journey. “We’re honored to be ranked among the best venues in all of professional sports.”
We were lucky enough to visit Parkview Field in its first year during our 2009 baseball trip. We had a great time at the game, and the ballpark does live up to the hype. Our seats were directly next to the Fort Wayne dugout, to the point that we could literally look right into it and interact with players. It didn’t take much for Trevor to snag a game ball that night. It had been raining all day, and we were pretty lucky to even get the game in.
We had a lot of fun moments this last year, and here are the best of them. It’s always hard to narrow it down to just nine, but the top few were really special and it’s fun to look back and think of the smiles on the kids faces in most of these. It’s also hard to find an order, or to really think that one’s childs’ moment meant more than an other. Read and enjoy, and I honestly hope that everyone had as much fun this past season as we did.
#9-Our 4th up North
With the kids participating in the Sault Area Little League and me coaching, we were able to be in the local Independence Day Parade. The kids had fun being seen by their friends, but really didn’t like the fact that they were throwing candy to the crowd instead of eating it. Riding on the float was fun, but it was literally a pain in the a$$ for me, as I tried to keep out of the public eye, and make sure no kids jumped off. It was good to have Trevor back in baseball and this was Brian’s first year. Lily played in the Sault Girls Softball League, but was able to march anyway because she was helping me coach Brian’s team.
#8-Back in Buffalo
Seeing the Buffalo Bisons is a great Minor League Baseball experience. I saw my first game there back in the ’90’s as my first minor league game. It was really good to be back and that my dad could experience this with me. Coca-Cola Field is a great place to watch a game and one of the best we’ve ever been to. Another first for me, was meeting felling bloggers Danny and Quinn from nybisons. They had a party night going on, too, with live music and I did drink a beer or two. I highly recommend hitting a game in Buffalo if anyone is in that area.
#7-Lily goes 6 for 6
Nothing like starting the season out on a high note. In Lily’s first game of the season, she went 6-6 in helping her team on to victory. Although she never repeated this feat, she did have multiple hit games though out the season. It was a brutal summer for these girls, as the temp was in the 90’s many times for their games. They played during the heat of the day, too, as the boys played in the evening so the heat wasn’t as bad for them. Lily had a great season, though, and this first game is something she can really be proud of herself for, as we’re proud of her! She played just about every position, but like her brother really liked playing catcher.
#6-My Loony children
In July we headed down to Dow Diamond, home of the Great Lakes Loons, to see them take on he Whitecaps. This was the kids’ first trip to Midland and they were really impressed. Dow Diamond is a really nice stadium, and the playground there was a big hit. They did a lot of playing and were happy to meet Louie the Loon, the Great Lakes mascot. They also had a camel mascot, but I’m not sure what that was all about. The kids had so much fun I promised to take them again next season, no matter who the Loons are playing.
With Trevor donning the tools and working behind the plate this season, it’s no surprise that he took a liking to the Whitecaps catcher Pat Leyland. Throw in the fact that Leyland’s dad manages the Detroit Tigers, and you have a winning combination. On Sundays at the Whitecaps games, fans are invited onto the field for autographs and to play catch. We really had to seek out Leyland, though, as he was preparing his pitcher for the game. He was nice enough to take the time for a quick picture, and this really made Trevor’s day. This is how we build baseball fans, from childhood moments like this.
#4-Star Wars Night
This is one of the highlights of our summer every year. This season we decided to check out Star Wars Night at the Traverse City Beach Bums instead of the Whitecaps. They didn’t have as many of the characters around the ballpark, but the kids really had a good time anyway. They really like the Beach Bums games, as the atmosphere is really laid back. They like the playground there, too, and it’s not as crowded as some of the other ballparks we go to. They got to meet some of their movie favorites, though, like Darth Vader and Princess Leia. Thank goodness they didn’t have any from the prequels crap. I’m sure this event will be on next years list, too.
#3-The Crash Dash
Our first ballgame of the season was a memorable one. Brian was able to participate in the ‘Crash Dash’, where he raced the ‘Caps mascot Crash around the bases. Brian won, of course, because of this blazing speed, and that Crash usually gets distracted by something on third base. It was cool to see us up on the video board, too. Brian was smiling away, as he loves to win races, and Crash is his favorite mascot. I would love to see him do this next season if he can.
#2-The road to Cooperstown
The National Baseball Hall of Fame was one of the top things on my baseball bucket list (don’t worry, that prime 9 will be posted next month…). Although I admit it was a little disappointing, we still were able to see some breathtaking memorabilia from baseball’s past. Seeing some of the greats enshrined in the Hall is an experience that every baseball fan should take in. This was also something my dad really needed to see and I’m glad I was able to see this with him. We also had a chance to check out Doubleday Field, although there were no games going on that day.
#1-Rookie of the Year
This season Brian made his organized baseball debut…and took one more step toward destiny. He seems to like baseball more than any other sport so far and is really showing flashes of talent. I’m glad they lowered the starting age to four, as he was really ready to play. The problem is that he loves to hit live pitching, so hitting off a tee isn’t the biggest thrill for him, but he still does it well. The biggest thing he has to learn is team work and being a good team-mate. Being the youngest child, he’s spoiled rotten, and he has to get over himself on the field. Lily helped me coach his team and she did a great job with all of the kids, and I think it was positive for Brian, too. Trevor helped out when he could, but was busy with his own team (I was an assistant for Trevor’s team). Seeing your child take the field for the first time is so special, and if I was doing this list a few years ago, then Lily and Trevor would be #1 also.
Photos property of Minoring In Baseball
Fifth-Third Ballpark-Comstock Park, MI: Well, my ex was actually nice enough to drive my kids down state so they could join us for our last game of the trip. I was so happy to be reunited with my babies again, you have no idea!!!! My mom was able to join us, too, for this game, and due to medical reasons this is her first game in some time. It was Sunday, so that meant family day, and the kids could get in free with their Crash’s Kids Club passes. We were also able to get on the field to get some autographs and pics with some of the players and mascots. Brian loves to see Crash and Frankie, and the players are great with all of the fans, especially the kids. It was still extremely hot, but I had the foresight to get us seats under the over-hang and out of the sun. The kids still spent some time on the playground, though. The Whitecaps fell behind 4-0, but battled back on home runs by Dean Green and Steven Moya. Kyle Ryan pitched for the ‘Caps, and did a solid job. This game was so much fun, and it’s just one of those days that you’re so thankful for. This was the perfect finale for our 2012 baseball trip. We have more games on tap for this season, but will start looking into potential trips for next year. Final: Whitecaps 5, Silver Hawks 4.