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.
Photos property of Minoring In Baseball
Durham Athletic Park-Durham, NC: I’d be crazy not to check out the old stadium in Durham. You know, the one they filmed that movie at? It’s located just a mile or so from the new one, and it still sits in a neighborhood like it does in the movie. It seems like it’s still in use, as the outfield was being mowed when I got there. My luck, too, because the outfield gate was open, allowing me to sneak in a get a few pics, anyway. I was just amazing, though, to think that back in 1988 it was full of Hollywood magic, and Bull Durham would become one of the most loved baseball movies of all time. The first thing I did when returning home, was to watch the movie again (ok, it wasn’t the first thing, but I did watch it). It was cool to see where I had been, and knowing I’d been to Asheville, too, that was featured toward the end of the show. Our day wasn’t done yet, though, as we still needed to head west for some Carolina League action that night. I know what you’re thinking, though. Seeing four ballparks and two games in one day is a little excessive. Even for the Carolina League.
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!