Experiencing a new ballpark to the fullest

For a few weeks now I’ve been thinking about what makes for a “good” ballpark experience.  I don’t think there is a definitive list because everybody has their own “must do” items to truly experience a baseball stadium, especially a Minor League stadium.

However, as a geographer who studies place and place attachment, I’ve thought about the things I try to do when I visit a new ballpark.  The premise can be applied to any sports venue, but my primary experience has been with baseball stadiums and especially Minor League stadiums.

#1: Read Up on the Park
There are a lot of blogs and books that talk about stadium visits, but my favorite is by MiLB.com writer Benjamin Hill called Ben’s Biz.  As a member of the media he gets more access than the average fan, but he samples the local fare and provides a humorous take on his visit.  He often has local fans sample food and beer and provide their feedback, too.  Hill’s blog covers more than just his stadium visits, so you’ll find a healthy dose of news about promotions, theme nights, franchise relocation, and a lot more.

If you prefer to read something handheld in a printed format there are a lot of books available, but one of the best I’ve found is Josh Pahigian’s The Ultimate Minor League Baseball Road Trip.  It provides a lot of detail about the history of the team and stadium in addition to notes about where are the best seats, food and beverage choices, and nearby dining options for people who don’t want to eat at the ballpark.

Whether you agree with my suggestions or prefer a different blog or book, and there are plenty of other sources out there, familiarizing yourself with unique features of the ballpark will let you maximize your experience.

#2: Talk to the Locals
Maybe you’re not interested in reading a book or a blog before your trip.  Or perhaps you didn’t know you were attending this new ballpark so you didn’t have the chance to plan.  So what’s the best way to learn quickly about the park?  Talk to the locals.

When choosing seats you may not get a lot of detail from the staff at the ticket window, but they will definitely steer you toward certain seats if you want to be in the shade on a blistery day or under an awning in the case of rain.  If you want to know about food or beverages that are unique to that ballpark you should talk to a ticket taker or an usher.  Not all employees eat at the stadium where they work, but many do and are usually quite talkative about what is good and unique.

If you don’t get a helpful answer from an employee, strike up a conversation with another fan.  For introverts, like myself, that’s easier said than done, but it led me to a unique non-menu item hot dog when I visited McKechnie Field in Bradenton, Fla., last spring (read about it here).  Many Minor League teams have their regulars, and most are more than willing to share recommendations with people who are visiting a ballpark for the first time.

#3: Eat and Drink Local
As more Minor League teams try to bring innovative food items to their concession stands many stadium seems to boast at least a few specialty items that are unique to that ballpark.  Some teams get creative with new items every year like West Michigan Whitecaps (read about the 2014 winner here from the MWL Traveler).  So identifying these items is pretty easy, and sometimes it can be difficult to choose because teams like the Memphis Redbirds have multiple signature items (read about my visit here).

While it’s easier to find those items, it’s not as easy but probably as important to find the truly local foods like the Arkansas-made sausage available at an Arkansas Travelers game or Mississippi-brewed beer at a Mississippi Braves games (read about my visit here).  If you have the choice between a generic hot dog or a bratwurst made locally you should always choose the local item.  If you can choose between a Budweiser or a local craft beer, always pick the local craft beer.

There’s not much purpose to traveling to a new ballpark and drinking a Bud while eating a basic hot dog.  If you want basic you might as well stay at home.

#4: Have Fun
It probably seems redundant to tell people to “have fun” while attending a Minor League Baseball game, but it’s an important reminder.  Many traditionalists may poo-poo the goofy jerseys that many Minor League teams will wear or the seemingly countless theme nights throughout the season, but that’s the charm of MiLB games.  The game itself is serious, but the atmosphere is meant to be fun and a time for fans to escape from the real world and forget about work and their other troubles.

So if you get out to a Minor League ballpark this summer make sure to go with the flow and enjoy America’s pastime.

Abraham Lincoln Birthplace in Hodgenville, Ky.

In the fall of 1808, Thomas and Nancy Lincoln moved to a farm in LaRue County in Western Kentucky.  On Feb. 12, 1809, at the Sinking Spring Farm Abraham Lincoln was born in a one-room log cabin.  The original cabin was likely dismantled prior to 1865 and used in the construction of a nearby house, which was later dismantled and used to re-create the Lincoln cabin.  The Lincoln Farm Association believed it purchased the original logs from the cabin and attempted to reconstruct the building, but soon learned they did not have the authentic logs.  Eventually, the organization built a replica cabin on the site that resides inside the Memorial Building constructed near the spring.

The Lincoln Farm Association completed the construction of the Memorial Building in 1911, and donated the site to the U.S. government in 1916.  The U.S. Department of War oversaw the site and created Abraham Lincoln National Park, which it administered until 1933 when it was transferred to the National Park Service.  In 1998, the site became responsible for the Knob Creek Farm, where Lincoln lived from two to seven years old.  In 2009, the site took on its current moniker as Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park.

The Lincoln cabin no longer stands, but a Memorial Building contains a replica cabin.
There are 56 steps to the Memorial Building, which represent the 56 years of Lincoln’s life, and 16 rosettes, which symbolize Lincoln being the 16th president.
The replica cabin inside the Memorial Building is smaller than the original cabin where Lincoln was born.

William Henry Harrison Birthplace in Charles City County, Va.

On the banks of the James River, a group of 38 English settlers arrived at Berkeley Hundred on Dec. 4, 1619.  The 8,000-acre site later became known as Berkeley Plantation and eventually the home of the Harrison family.  In 1726, Benjamin Harrison IV built a Georgia-style three-story brick mansion overlooking the river.  On Feb. 9, 1773, William Henry Harrison, the youngest child of Benjamin V and Elizabeth Bassett Harrison, was born at the house.

In the early 1900s, Malcolm and Grace Jamieson bought the house from his father John and restored the home.  They ultimately opened the house to the public.  In 1971, the home became a National Historic Landmark.

Historic marker outside of Berkeley Plantation mansion.
Main entrance to the mansion.

Woodrow Wilson Burial Place in Washington, D.C.

After leaving the presidency, Woodrow Wilson opened a law practice with his former Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby.  Wilson disliked practicing law, and turned to writing.  On Feb. 3, 1924, died from a stroke at his home in Washington, D.C.  He became the only president buried in the District of Columbia when he was interred at Washington National Cathedral.  Wilson’s second wife Edith Bolling Wilson was buried next to him following her death in 1961.

Exterior of the Washington National Cathedral.
Bay with Wilson’s tomb in the South Nave.
Marker detailing the burial place of First Lady Edith Bolling Wilson.
A view of Wilson’s tomb and the nave.
An overview of the Wilson sarcophagus.

Calvin Coolidge Burial Place in Plymouth Notch, Vt.

Following his departure from the presidency in 1929, Calvin Coolidge and his wife Grace retired to Northampton, Mass., where the couple lived before he became governor of Massachusetts in 1919.  He published his autobiography shortly after leaving office, and served on the board of several organizations.  The couple purchased a home known as “The Beeches,” where he died from a coronary thrombosis on Jan. 5, 1933.  He was buried with four generations of his ancestors in Plymouth Notch Cemetery in Vermont.

Calvin Coolidge is buried next to his wife Grace and son Calvin Jr.
Coolidge’s headstone makes no reference to his political career except for the presidential seal at the top of the marker.

Revealing my 2015 ballpark resolutions

Last year I made resolutions to visit some Minor League Baseball stadiums and wrote about those resolutions on this blog (read the post here) and recapped my success-failure, too (read post here).  So I decided that I would make some resolutions for 2015, and detail them here, too.

Without further ado, my 2015 MiLB travel resolutions are…

Annually since 2010, I attend the Annual Meeting of the Association of American Geographers.  The 2015 conference is in Chicago, and I plan to attend a White Sox game while in town.  Finding an MiLB game nearby is a bit more difficult, but the Kane County Cougars are only about an hour drive from downtown Chicago.  So I’m planning to rent a car and make the drive out there, and hopefully meet a blogger I’ve been following during the past year.

Over the past year I’ve started to read more blogs about Minor League Baseball, and now follow Craig Wieczorkiewicz.  Craig writes The Midwest League Traveler blog, and tweets extensively about former and current players with connections to the league.  I have only interacted with him via Twitter, but look forward to watching a game with him and discussing our mutual interests of attending Minor League Baseball games.

In 2014, I attended a Nashville Sounds game at Greer Stadium during its final season (read the post here).  After years of negotiations and many failed efforts, the Sounds will finally move into a new stadium this season.  I’ve never specifically trekked to a stadium during its opening season, but Nashville is one of my favorite cities so I am looking forward to planning an excursion.

Since 2010, I have traveled to Cincinnati to participate in the AP Human Geography Reading, and twice I’ve been lucky enough to get together with my friend Mike Bradley, who is a leisure studies professor at Eastern Kentucky University.  He’s invited me to spend a few days in Lexington, where he lives, so I’m aiming to spend a few days in the Bluegrass region after completing my work before I return to Alabama.  I attended the University of Kentucky for two years in the mid-90s, and rumors circled about Lexington getting a Minor League team but it did not come to fruition until the 2000s.  So I’ve never seen a Lexington Legends game.

Last year I resolved to see all four Georgia teams, and succeeded in only seeing one of them – the Gwinnett Braves.  I’m optimistic that I can accomplish this resolution because I will not be held down working on a dissertation this coming summer.  I’ll probably work on some kind of research this summer, but I’ll feel more free to travel without the weight of a dissertation hanging over my head.

Reviewing my 2014 ballpark resolutions

In January, I made four resolutions related to visiting Minor League Baseball stadiums.  As 2014 comes to a close, I wanted to revisit my resolutions and see what I accomplished.

My first resolution was…

I visited the Gwinnett Braves in July (read about my visit here), but did not succeed in visiting the other three teams.  I spent a majority of my summer working on my dissertation, and did not get to visit Augusta, Rome, or Savannah.  So I was only 1-for-4 in completing this resolution.  Now that my dissertation is completed, I hopeful will visit those teams during the 2015 season.

My second resolution was…

I was 2-for-4 with my goal of visiting all the Minor League teams in Alabama.  I visited the Birmingham Barons in early May (read about visit here), and visited the Huntsville Stars in August while meeting up with a gang of former Stars coworkers (read about visit here).  I did not make it to Mobile or Montgomery though.  Again, working on my dissertation prevented me from fulfilling some of my travel goals for 2014.

My third resolution was…

I actually accomplished this resolution.  On the first day of the AAG Annual Meeting, I made a trek from downtown Tampa to Clearwater for a game between the Threshers and Tampa Yankees (read about visit here).  The game and meeting Phinley lived up to expectations.  I went on a Tuesday night, but the Threshers had a beer special so I enjoyed a few Yuengling lagers.

My fourth resolution was…

I was 1-for-3 on completing this resolution. I saw my first Bowling Green Hot Rods game (read about visit here), but did not get to visit the Lexington Legends or Louisville Bats.  I had hoped to visit the Bluegrass region before going to Cincinnati for the AP Human Geography Reading, but at the risk of sounding like a broken record I did not get to do that because I was working on my dissertation.

Of my four resolutions, I only completed one.  Maybe I was too ambitious with my resolutions, but at least I tried.  Tallying up the individual components of my resolutions, I was 5-for-12, which depending upon how you look at it is amazing or decidedly mediocre.  It means I accomplished 41.6 percent of the tasks to complete all four resolutions.  By normal standards of excellence that’s not good, but by baseball standards I’d be batting .417 which is Hall of Fame caliber stats.

Ultimately, I’m disappointed I didn’t complete more of my resolutions, but I knew that some of them were overly ambitious.  Regardless of my results, I am glad that I set some travel resolutions to keep myself motivated and my mind churning with ideas of places to visit.  I will set some travel goals for 2015 and post about those within a few weeks.

John F. Kennedy Burial Place in Arlington, Va.

Following his assassination in Dallas, the body of John F. Kennedy was flown back to Washington, D.C.  He laid in repose in the White House’s East Room for twenty-four hours.  Kennedy later laid in state in the Capitol rotunda before a horse-drawn caisson took his casket to Arlington National Cemetery where he was interred just below Arlington House on Nov. 25, 1963.

Kennedy’s friend and architect John Carl Warnecke designed the grave site, which Jacqueline Kennedy stipulated must include an eternal flame.  After several years of design work and construction, the grave site was dedicated and opened to the public on March 15, 1967.

The John F. Kennedy Eternal Flame grave site includes Kennedy’s wife Jacqueline and their two infant children, Arabella and Patrick.
Headstone of John Fitzgerald Kennedy.
Headstone of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis.

Chester A. Arthur Burial Place in Menands, N.Y.

After leaving office, Chester A. Arthur returned to his old law practice in New York City.  In retirement, Arthur battled illness and made few public appearances.  After spending the summer in New London, Conn., he returned to his home in New York and died from a cerebral hemorrhage on Nov. 18, 1886.  He was buried in his family plot at Albany Rural Cemetery in Menands, N.Y.

Overview of the Arthur family plot.
Closeup of Chester A. Arthur’s grave. Ephraim Keyser designed a monument that was added to the grave site in 1889.

Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace in New York, N.Y.

In a row house on East 20th Street in downtown New York City, Theodore Sr. and Martha Bulloch Roosevelt welcomed their second child Theodore Jr. on Oct. 27, 1858.  The family lived in the house until 1872 when they moved to West 57th Street because the neighborhood became more commercial.  In 1916, the original building was demolished to accommodate retail space.  The Women’s Roosevelt Memorial Association rebuilt the Victorian brownstone in 1923 using the neighboring building as a model.  The rededicated house contains main furnishings from the original house donated by family members.  The organization donated the property to the National Park Service in 1963, which dedicated the property as Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace National Historic Site in 1966.

A recreated brownstone stands at 28 East 20th Street in place of the original house where Roosevelt was born.
A recreation of the bedroom where Roosevelt was born.
A recreation of the nursery.