Zachary Taylor Burial Place in Louisville, Ky.

Following the consumption of raw fruit and iced milk during Fourth of July festivities in Washington, D.C., Zachary Taylor became extremely ill.  He died five days later.  Historians still debate what caused his death.

Following a brief interment at the Public Vault in Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C., Taylor’s remains were interred alongside his parents in their family cemetery in Louisville, Ky.  In 1883, the Commonwealth of Kentucky erected a 50-foot monument capped with a life-size likewise of Taylor near his grave.  After his descendants advocated for turning the family plot into a national cemetery, the U.S. government built a new mausoleum for Taylor and his immediate family members in 1926.

The original Taylor family tomb still stands in the cemetery.
In 1883, the Kentucky government erected a granite column to honor Taylor.
In 1926, the U.S. government built a limestone neoclassical mausoleum for Taylor’s remains.
The mausoleum contains the remains of Zachary and Margaret Taylor.

Harry S. Truman Library in Independence, Mo.

Following his departure from the presidency in 1953, Harry S. Truman and his wife Bess returned to Independence, Mo.  So it was only natural that his presidential library would be built in the city where he lived most of his life.

On a hill overlooking the Kansas City, Mo., skyline, the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum was dedicated on July 6, 1957.  The dedication included the Masonic Rites of Dedication, as Truman received the 33rd degree of the Supreme Council of the Scottish Rite.  Former president Herbert Hoover along with Chief Justice Earl Warren and former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt attended the ceremony.

In addition to the library and museum, Harry and Bess Truman are buried in the courtyard.

Main entrance to the library and museum.

A copy of Harry S. Truman’s official White House portrait.

Statue of Harry S. Truman.

My night with the Nashville Sounds – June 10, 2014

The first baseball game I attended at Herschel Greer Stadium was in March 2002, when the Georgia State Panthers visited the Belmont Bruins in a three-game Atlantic Sun Conference series.  The first minor league game I attended was in July 2006 between the Round Rock Express and the Sounds, when I was attending the CoSIDA Convention in Nashville.  Both events were long before I started blogging about my visits to MLB and MiLB stadiums, so when the Nashville Sounds announced that 2014 would be the last season at Greer Stadium I wanted to be sure to visit for “the last cheer at Greer.”

Unlike MiLB.com’s Ben Hill, nobody had my name marked on a calendar.  Although I had been to the stadium before, it had been several years and, as always, I read up on food suggestions and the gameday experience from Hill’s piece when he visited during the 2013 season.

The main entrance to the stadium is one of my favorites in Minor League Baseball.  The stone wall and wrought-iron fence are distinctive, and the baseball diamond on the ground lets any observer know he is entering a baseball stadium.

Exterior of the main concourse with sky boxes in the background.

It may not be clear in the photos, but there are banners of former Nashville players who have reached the Major Leagues with a picture of them as a Sounds player and with their current club.  For example, a banner shows Prince Fielder with the team in 2005, and in his current uniform with the Texas Rangers.

Ticket office and main gate.

Although I walked around the concourse once I entered the stadium, I wasn’t particularly hungry and I could not find a beer to drink.  So after checking out the gift shop, I decided to take my seat and just watch baseball.  So I took in a lot action during the first inning.

First pitch between the Reno Aces and Nashville Sounds.

In addition to the first pitch of the game, I got photographs of both starting pitchers.

Sounds starting pitcher Ariel Pena.
Aces starting pitcher Zeke Spruill.

I also got a photograph of the Sounds third batter, which isn’t significant unto itself.  However, I wanted to capture a shot that showed the Milwaukee Brewers patch on the shoulder of the uniform.

Sounds second baseman Elian Herrera.

I also took a photo of the seating bowl, although Ben Hill’s piece details the age of the facility much better than my one shot.  Knowing that he took a ton of pictures highlighting the age of the seats, I opted to take a simple overview of the seating bowl with the press box and sky boxes.

A view of the press box and sky boxes from the third base side.

I may need to seek professional help, but getting my picture taken with MiLB mascots has become a bit of an obsession for me.  So instead of exploring more of the stadium, I waited for an inning or two along the third base line so I could get my picture with Ozzie.  I’m wondering if there’s a “Mascot Addicts Anonymous” or something I could join.

Anyway, while I waited I had a Ruby Red from Fat Bottom Brewery.  For beer connoisseurs, the color was a deep red and it was a very tasty amber ale.  While waiting I started talking with a professional photographer who was shooting for a local web site.  He agreed to take my picture with Ozzie whenever the big cat came by.

Me with Ozzie in a blurry photo taken by a professional photographer.

When I entered the stadium, I noticed the paw prints on the concourse as documented in Ben Hill’s piece.  At the risk of being overly critical, I really don’t understand why the paw prints exist.  The team isn’t called the “Cougars,” and it seems like something a high school would do.  In fact, I’ve seen stuff like that at a high school stadium where team was called the “Wildcats.”  Granted, maybe the young kids like following the prints to the funnel cake stand, so who am I to judge.

Ozzie prints leading you to the food.

Like many ballparks built in the late-’70s and early-’80s, Greer Stadium has the concourse and concession stands sitting beneath the seating bowl.  So fans are cutoff from the action, and the stands themselves are rather commonplace.  Surprisingly, the team never added TVs to keep fans connected to the game.

A standard concession stand beneath the seating bowl.

Due to my lack of hunger, I checked out all the concession stands trying to find a signature item and never found one that appealed to me.  Most employees said there wasn’t a particularly unique item, but that I could visit Slugger’s Restaurant on the 4th Floor.  I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I decided to check it out.

The food menu was nondescript.  It had the usual ballpark food like burgers, hot dogs, and chicken tenders.  Nothing particularly appealed to me, so I opted to get a beer and watch some of the game from upstairs.

Viewing the action from Slugger’s Restaurant.

For my beer choice, I opted for the locally brewed Southern Wit from Tennessee Brew Works.  It was a nice alternative to the nationally-available Shocktop Belgian White that was also on draft.  After an inning or so upstairs, I headed downstairs to find something to eat.

Eventually I settled on getting BBQ Nachos from the Whitt’s Barbecue stand along the first base line.  The nachos looked good covered in nacho cheese with a good serving of pulled pork, but I was surprised that it wasn’t topped with any sauce.  Instead, I had to add sauce from the condiment stand.  It got weirder when the sauce at the condiment stand was Sweet Baby Ray’s.  I really like Sweet Baby Ray’s sauce, but it’s odd that a sponsored concession stand wouldn’t have BBQ sauce from its provider.

Regardless, the Sounds re-tweeted the picture I posted on Twitter of the nachos.

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Late in the game after finishing my nachos, I opted to watch the remainder of the game from my seat behind home plate.  In the bottom of the 9th, Jeremy Hermida singled to center field to bring home Elian Herrera and give the Sounds a 2-1 win.

The legendary guitar-shaped scoreboard with the final score: Sounds 2, Aces 1.

Many people have written about the guitar-shaped scoreboard, which is truly one of most unique sights in Minor League Baseball, so there’s not much I can add to that conversation.  However, fans should enjoy a “Last Cheer at Greer” with the old guitar scoreboard before the Sounds move onto their new digs.

My night with the Bowling Green Hot Rods – June 9, 2014

I have participated in the AP Human Geography Reading since 2011, which has taken place in Cincinnati each year.  I regularly attend Cincinnati Reds games while there, but also try to catch a game at a stadium I haven’t visited before or watch a contest at a stadium I have not blogged about previously.

On my drive back to Georgia this year, I decided to make two stops: Bowling Green, Ky., and Nashville, Tenn.  I’ve been through Bowling Green and visited many of the sights in town, but my last visit was prior to the Hot Rods moving there in 2009.

As MiLB.com’s Ben Hill detailed last spring, the stadium is at the center of a revitalized downtown.  If you want to read about his visit, you can click here for details.  I parked my car by Fountain Square Park, snapped some pictures of the park, and then walked over to the stadium.  There is plenty of parking on the streets around the stadium, if people prefer to park closer.  I wanted to visit the park, so chose to park there and make the short walk to the ballpark.

The stadium’s entrance is unique because it doesn’t scream out “baseball stadium here.”  The most unique part of the entrance is the painting on the side detailing how to swing a baseball bat.

Main facade of the ballpark with its address.
Part 1 of 2 detailing how to swing a baseball bat.
Part 2 of 2 detailing how to swing a baseball bat along with the main gate.

By the ticket office is the only imagery outside the stadium displaying the Hot Rods logo.

Only spot on front of the stadium with Hot Rods logo.

The team draws its name from the General Motors Assembly Plant, which is home of the Corvette, but instead of incorporating a sleek, modern hot rod-style the team went with the 1930s and 1940s models for its logo.

The car theme is evident throughout the stadium, such as Chuck’s Liquor Outlets Garage.  It wasn’t until the next day that I realized the local sponsorship because I really focused on the name “Chuck’s Garage” and the baseball bat hanging below it.  I also made a stop at Chuck’s Liquor Outlets and bought two 750ml bottles of Voodoo Doughnut Maple Bacon Ale made by Rogue Ales.  The unique part about the bat is that it appears as if it was dipped in red wax like a bottle of Maker’s Mark bourbon.

Signage for Chuck’s Liquor Outlets Garage features a baseball dipped in red wax like a Maker’s Mark bottle.
Close-up of the hot rod pickup.

Unlike Ben Hill’s designated eaters, I did not have access to the Stadium Club.  Therefore, I did not get to sample the Grand Slam Burger.  The burger choices on the concourse level can be seen below…

The burger selection.

All the above burgers are available at Black Mountain Burgers.

The burger stand on the main concourse.

I really wanted to try the Grand Slam burger, and asked multiple employees about it.  Unfortunately, nobody was able to tell me where I could find it.  However, on my quest for burger heaven I was able to get my picture taken with both of the team’s mascots: Axle the Bear and Roscoe the Grease Monkey.

Me with Axle the Bear.
Me with Roscoe the Grease Monkey.

Between my mascot photos and trying to decide on what to eat for dinner, I watched some baseball and took my seat behind home plate for the first pitch.

First pitch between the Fort Wayne TinCaps and Bowling Green Hot Rods.

I previously mentioned the ballpark as part of a revitalized downtown, and before I continue to neglect that topic I should include a picture of Hitcents Park Plaza.  It contains office space, but most notably has numerous restaurants on the first floor.  I had a beer at Mariah’s before entering the stadium, but there were several other restaurants on the ground floor of the building.  None of the restaurants appeared packed, but on the Monday night I attended a game the restaurants all had a crowd of people dining and drinking before the ballgame.

The kids’ area of the ballpark with Hitcents Park Plaza in the background.

Here is a shot of Hitcents Park Plaza from a distance.

View of Hitcents Park Plaza from the third base line.

Despite perusing the choices at Black Mountain Burgers, I could not decide on what to eat.  So I continued to explore the ballpark while watching the game.

Hot Rods starting pitcher Jaime Schultz.
Hot Rods designated hitter Armando Araiza.
Steakadelphia mobile stand down the third base line.

In the 3rd inning, I finally made a decision about my meal.  I decided to order a Kentucky Hot Brown sandwich.  I’ve had a Hot Brown many times because I spent two years of my undergraduate education at the University of Kentucky.  However, I’ve never had a Kentucky Hot Brown at a baseball game.

I’ve gotten very good over the years at the one-handed photo of my ballpark food.

The Hot Brown was served on a hoagie roll, so instead of having it in the customary open-face fashion I folded the sandwich together after taking my picture.  It was good, and for those who are unfamiliar with a Hot Brown I highly suggest ordering it.  However, as a purist I would have preferred to eat it as an open-face sandwich with a knife and fork.  Admittedly eating food with a fork and knife while sitting at a baseball game isn’t easy, so I don’t blame the Hot Rods for tweaking the sandwich.

In addition to the very good food variety, the beer selection at Chuck’s Liquors Outlets Garage was good.  There were the standard craft beer choices, but no particularly interesting local or Kentucky choices.  Maybe I was just being picky after spending a week in Cincinnati, where I had a plethora of unique options available.  Regardless, beer aficionados should be able to find something to suit their tastes.  I opted for a Goose Island Honker’s Ale.

I have to admit I didn’t pay a lot of attention to the between innings promotions, but when I was watching they seemed to be standard fare for a minor league team.  Two things that did stick out were the scoreboard and the retired number above the Hot Rods bullpen.

High-definition scoreboards have become common place at minor league stadiums, but note the Corvette Assembly sponsorship. Not many teams would swing that sponsorship deal.

Minor league teams do retire numbers, although it’s not often.  While Jackie Robinson’s #42 was retired throughout Major League Baseball in 1997.  Minor League Baseball is not bound by this retirement, but some teams have chosen to honor Robinson’s legacy by retiring his number.

“42” in honor of Jackie Robinson above the home team bullpen.

Bowling Green Ballpark does not have a flashy exterior and it’s interior fails to meet any grandiose, extravagant designs of some newer stadiums.  However, if you want to visit a beautiful ballpark in a re-born downtown where the team places an emphasis on #FUNNER then this is the place for you.

James K. Polk Burial Place in Nashville, Tenn.

James K. Polk was originally buried in Nashville City Cemetery because it is believed that he died from cholera, and health codes requiring those who died from infectious disease to be buried on the periphery of town.  Less than a year later, Polk was moved to a tomb at the house he and his wife Sarah had bought as a retirement property known as Polk Place.  Following Sarah’s death in 1891, she was buried next to him on the property.  In 1893, the couple was relocated to the Tennessee State Capitol.  Their tomb is on the northeast corner of the grounds.

The grave of James and Sarah Polk is on the grounds of the Tennessee State Capitol.
A section of the headstone details Polk’s numerous positions in public service.
Sarah Polk outlived her husband by forty-two years, and was buried next to him at Polk Place in Nashville.

Andrew Jackson Burial Place in Nashville, Tenn.

Andrew Jackson purchased over 400 acres east of Nashville in 1804.  He and his wife Rachel lived on the property in a log cabin until 1821 when a Federal-style mansion was built on the property.  Following a chimney fire that severely damaged the structure in 1834, Jackson ordered the construction of a new Greek Revival building on the original mansion’s foundation.  The Greek Revival structure was completed in 1836, and was home to the Jacksons until both of their deaths.

Following two election cycles of vicious personal attacks, Rachel died on Dec. 22, 1828.  She was buried in a small family cemetery at The Hermitage.  Following his departure from the presidency in 1837, Andrew returned to the plantation and stayed involved in national politics until his death in 1845.

Main entrance to The Hermitage.
An overview of the family cemetery on the grounds of The Hermitage.
The tomb of Andrew and Rachel Jackson.
Plaque in front of Andrew and Rachel Jackson’s graves.

James Buchanan Burial Place in Lancaster, Pa.

Following his presidency, James Buchanan retired to his house in Lancaster, Pa.  While living at Wheatland, Buchanan wrote his memoir Mr. Buchanan’s Administration on the Eve of Rebellion.  He continued living in the house until his death from respiratory failure on June 1, 1868.  The funeral procession went from Wheatland to Woodward Hill Cemetery, where he is interred.

An overview of Buchanan’s grave. The curbside marker reads: “Monument replaced and gravesite restored by the Pilot Club of Lancaster, 1960. Landscaped in memory of Pilot Club member Dorothy Bender Nystrom, 2000.”
An overview of Buchanan’s grave.
Buchanan is the nation’s only bachelor president.

My night with the Birmingham Barons – May 2, 2014

After playing in the suburbs for 25 years, the Birmingham Barons moved back to downtown Birmingham in 2013 when Regions Field opened.  I didn’t get to visit Regions Field during its inaugural season, but I put it high on the priority list for 2014.  It was also much easier to accomplish now that I live just an hour away.  A few days ago, I made the trek to Birmingham for my first visit.

The most unique aspect of the stadium is the steel facade that spells out “BIRMINGHAM.”  I walked past this as I approached the stadium, and made sure to get a picture.

The signature signage at Regions Field.

The stadium has three entrances, but the primary entrance is at the corner of 1st Avenue South and 14th Street South by the Serra Kia Auto Plaza.

Main gate at the Serra Kia Auto Plaza.

After getting a pair of seats behind home plate an hour before the game, my friend and I decided to walk around and check out the food options.  While we were checking out the concession stands, we came across something neither of us expected to see.  With the Aaron’s 499 running at Talladega Superspeedway just 50 miles away, the Barons celebrated with NASCAR Night.  The team had NASCAR Hall of Famer Bobby Allison throw out the honorary first pitch, and had his 1988 race car on display.

Bobby Allison’s car that he drove to victory lane at the 1988 Daytona 500.

After getting a photo of the race car, we continued touring concession stands.  I didn’t take photos of each stand, but I found two unique stands.  The first we ran across was a food truck.  MELT: A Grilled Cheese Truck has a title that says it all, but what it doesn’t say it that it offers a special take on the classic grilled cheese sandwich.  One example is the Flyin’ Hawaiian, which has smoked ham, Cajun grilled pineapple, and Monterey Jack cheese on a pretzel roll.

The food truck craze is growing nationally, and some Minor League teams have organized special nights around local food trucks.  However, the South has been very slow to catch onto the food truck craze, so I was shocked to see this inside the gates at the stadium.

MELT: A Grilled Cheese Truck was setup beyond right field next to the batting cages.

The food truck contrasts nicely with the next stand, something Southerners know and debate about a lot: barbecue.  There’s probably a master’s thesis about the spelling of said food item, too.  Without stirring up a debate about how to spell it or what kind of sauce to use, there is one name that is most often associated with barbecue in Alabama: Dreamland.

In addition to BBQ nachos, fans can get a half rack of ribs or a sandwich at this stand.  The BBQ nachos are a signature item, but I opted not to get them because I ate them in 2012 when I visited Regions Park during the Barons’ last season in Hoover (you can read about that visit here).

Dreamland Bar-B-Que originated in nearby Tuscaloosa, and has spread throughout the Southeast.

Continuing to walk around the outfield, I came across the Brobdingnagian video board.  Just how big is the video board?  So big, I couldn’t fit it all into the shot I took.

The appropriate American idiom to describe the Barons’ scoreboard is “big ass scoreboard.”

Not far from the video board is the Bright House Family Fun Park, where I found a giant inflatable bounce house in the form of the team’s primary mascot: Babe Ruff.

An inflatable bounce house is only part of the Bright House Family Fun Park, which has a variety of games for kids.

After walking around the stadium, my friend and I settled into our seats behind home plate to watch the start of the game.

Birmingham Barons right-handed pitcher Myles Jaye delivers the first pitch to Mobile BayBears center fielder Mike Freeman.

After watching the first three innings, my friend and I went to find food.  My friend had initially committed to getting the Dreamland BBQ nachos, but kept waffling on his decision as we walked around the stadium before the game started.  He thought about getting something at MELT, and then the Magic City Dog, and then Steel City Burger, and finally settled on getting a Chicago Dog at Piper’s Pub & Grill.

I opted for the Magic City Dog after reading about it last year.  Plus I generally try to get an encased meat when I visit a ballpark.  I’m not a picky eater, and really just want to try a signature food item.  However, hot dogs and baseball have been synonymous for decades.

The Magic City Dog, which is a sliced sausage with BBQ sauce, cole slaw, and spiced mustard.

If I hadn’t gotten the Magic City Dog I would have ordered the Steel City Burger.  The description says it is 1/3 lb. all-beef patty on a bed of grilled onions and topped with pepper jack cheese, bacon, a fried egg and Sriracha mayonnaise and served on a Ciabatta roll.

I did watch some of the game beyond the first pitch, so I have this photo from the first base line.

Birmingham Barons starting pitcher Myles Jaye on the mound.

Based upon my photos so far it may look like the stadium lacks a second deck and luxury suites, which is not the case.  So while I took this next photo primarily to capture the action, it shows off other facets of the ballpark.

More game action with a view of the luxury suites on the third base side.

And in case you didn’t get a clear view of the video board before, I made sure to take photo focused on it.  It certainly is a large video board.

The elephantine scoreboard in left field.

The team’s web site says that steel and brick are used to evoke the city’s industrial heritage, which you can see when you take a look back and view the entire third base seating area and its berm.

A view of the third base line from the right field foul pole.

My friend camped out in right field at the end of the game because we wanted a good seat to watch the post-game fireworks.  However, it was tied 1-1 at the end of the 9th inning.  We hung around until the 13th and decided to finally head out with the contest still knotted, and seemingly no end in sight as the pitcher’s duel continued into the extra innings.  Ultimately, the game went 17 innings and lasted 5 hours and 25 minutes.  It fell one inning short of tying the longest game in franchise history, but took the record for the longest game time in team annals.

I hate leaving a game early, but the temperatures were dropping and I was constantly yawning at 11 p.m. when we departed.  Sadly watching fireworks was as likely to happen as my photo with the team mascot: nonexistent.

Despite missing out on fireworks and my mascot photo, the ballpark experience was great.  There’s a wide variety of food items (signature and standard), beers, and entertainment options.  The area around the stadium is still undergoing redevelopment, but Railroad Park provides a great option for families and Good People Brewing Company, right across from the stadium provides an adult option.

Regions Field reminds me a lot of ONEOK Field in Tulsa.  Both are located in gentrifying areas.  Both brought baseball back to downtown.  Both are the envy of teams in their league.  Both are a great place to watch a game.

Final: Mobile 5, Birmingham 3 (17 innings)
Box Score

My night with the Tampa Yankees – April 11, 2014

After deciding to visit Clearwater and Bradenton for games while in Tampa for a conference, I opted to make the short trek from my downtown hotel to watch a Tampa Yankees game at George M. Steinbrenner Field.  I made the 15-minute drive from my hotel, and arrived armed with the code of “Peter O’Brien” to take advantage of the ticket deal on Bill Currie Ford Social Media Friday.

Before delving into details about the ballpark, fans should see the signage that greets visitors as they arrive at the stadium.

The signage for the Tampa Yankees’ home is easily visible off Dale Mabry Highway.

After taking advantage of the free parking (a rarity at Minor League games), I was quickly inundated with imagery related to the big league club that calls this facility home during Spring Training.  A life-size statue of former New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, namesake of the stadium, greets fans as they walk up the stairs to the entrance.

A bronze, life-sized statue of George M. Steinbrenner was added outside the stadium in January 2011.

In addition to the Steinbrenner statue, there is a sculpture dedicated to the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York.

“We Remember” is a memorial to the people who died at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.

Using the social media promotional code, I got my reserved seating ticket for $4 instead of the usual $6.  I could have gotten a general admission ticket for $2, but I preferred to have a reserved seat behind home plate.  Either way, it was a steal.  Ultimately, I got a refund after the ticket office staffer happened to print me a ticket for Sunday’s game, and I had to return to the box office and swap out my ticket.  He apologized and comped my ticket without me asking for any kind of compensation.

So with the proper ticket in hand, I headed back upstairs to enter the stadium.  Steinbrenner Field is unique for a Minor League ballpark because you walk up a large set of stairs before entering the stadium, which then requires you to descend many steps to reach your seats.

Main entrance to the ballpark.

Visible beyond the main gate is a merchandise stand that notably sells “New York Yankees” merchandise.  There is a larger souvenir stand downstairs, but like its smaller counterpart it was stocked primarily with items from the big league club and did not have a wide selection of Tampa Yankees paraphernalia.  Admittedly it was just a few weeks after Spring Training had concluded, and one staff member assured me they would be receiving more Tampa Yankees gear in the next few weeks.

My first impression of this being home of the New York Yankees did not change when I took a closeup view of the concession stands, which has the scalloped grandstand facade of the original Yankee Stadium.  While I am not a New York Yankees fan, I attended a game in “The House That Ruth Built” during its final season in 2008, and appreciate the Tampa ballpark’s homage to the Bronx.

Concession stands have the scalloped façade of old Yankee Stadium.

After looking over the pedestrian concession options, I decided to walk around the stadium and explore the landscape.  As I walked out to the seating bowl, I saw the night’s lineups.

The starting lineups for the Daytona Cubs and Tampa Yankees on April 11.

As I walked toward The Walgreens Deck in right field, I ran into the mascot: Blue.  Naturally, I had my picture taken with the alien from Pluto.

Me with Tampa Yankees mascot Blue.

I didn’t think to ask Blue what he thought of Pluto’s demotion from planet status, but he seemed focused on meeting and greeting people.

On my way back to my seat behind home plate, I stopped by the Yankees bullpen and got a picture of the night’s starting pitcher warming up.

Tampa Yankees starting pitcher Rafael De Paula warming up in the bullpen before the game.

Eventually I wandered back to my seat and relaxed while waiting for the first pitch.

Tampa Yankees right-handed pitcher Rafael De Paula delivers the first pitch of the game to Daytona Cubs second baseman Tim Saunders.

Speaking of seats, I found a pair of seats reserved for the 2014 Most Valuable Patrons.

Two specially reserved seats.

I’m not sure what makes Manuel and Jean Martino-Perez the “Most Valuable Patrons,” but I expect it relates to them being season ticket holders.  Regardless of the reasoning, it’s a cool designation.

Continuing the theme of seats, the seat at the end of each aisle had a New York Yankees logo on the side.

It is obvious the seats need a fresh coat of paint.

With a design that mimics old Yankee Stadium, George M. Steinbrenner has a scalloped overhang.  Unlike old Yankee Stadium, the ballpark in Tampa has sunscreens that spell out the team name.  These have become an iconic part of the facility, and are commonly featured in photos of the ballpark.

The iconic Yankees sunscreens along the third base line.

As I mentioned previously, the stadium lacked any signature food items.  Unless I wanted to have all-you-can-eat chicken wings on The Walgreens Deck, the concessions choices were hot dogs, burgers, or chicken tenders.  I ultimately decided upon a Chili Cheese Home Run Hot Dog.

Chili Cheese Home Run Dog, which is a foot-long hot dog topped with chili and nacho cheese.

The Chili Cheese Home Run Dog was OK, but the most distinctive part about the concession stand experience for me was the sticker shock about beer prices.  There were no craft beers or regional brews offered, instead all the options were macro-brewed choices like Bud Light Platinum or Miller Lite.  However, the prices for these 12-ounce beers was $7, which may not be shocking at a major league stadium, but is very steep for a Minor League ballpark.

Despite some of the things I disliked about the fan experience, the video board is definitely a plus.  It’s been in the background of some photos, but it merits its own photo and commentary.

Tampa Yankees first baseman Reymond Nunez’s info on the scoreboard in left field.

The videoboard’s columns evoke design elements of old Yankee Stadium, so it contributes further to the feeling of the stadium as the springtime home of the New York Yankees.  My camera struggles taking some nighttime photos, but the resolution on the video board is fantastic.  It’s impossible to miss any tidbit of the game because the videoboard has it all covered.

The other highlight is a more personal one, but something any fan can enjoy.  It’s not secret to those who know me that I love using social media, especially Twitter.  For the second year in a row, I won something at a Minor League game because of social media.  During the game, the Yankees had a giveaway during the game to a fan who tweeted their seat location.  I won 4 tickets to the next night’s game plus a serving of Mini Melts, which are similar to Dippin’ Dots.  I ended up giving away the tickets, but definitely enjoyed the winning experience.

Like most Minor League games, after the game the Yankees hosted a launch-a-ball contest.  Blue made his way down to the field during the contest to check for any winners who landed their ball in the bucket, but alas there were no winners.

Tampa Yankees mascot Blue and a staff member watching for potential winners during launch-a-ball.

Despite the pricey beers and lack of signature food items, the gameday experience at George M. Steinbrenner Field is enjoyable.  Ticket pricing certainly makes it an attractive option for families, whether they live in the area or are visiting an want to attend a game.  While I understand the appeal of making the stadium experience like a visit to mini Yankee Stadium, I hope the staff can incorporate some uniquely Tampa items into the food and souvenir selections.

Final: Daytona Cubs 1, Tampa Yankees 5
Box Score

My night with the Bradenton Marauders – April 10, 2014

While in the Tampa region for a conference, I aimed to visit as many of the area Minor League Baseball stadiums.  From downtown Tampa, where I stayed for the conference, there are five Minor League teams within an hour drive.  So after committing to watching a Clearwater Threshers game (more on that visit here), I had to choose between the other ballparks to visit.

Eventually I decided to make a trip to the south end of Tampa Bay, and visit the Bradenton Marauders.  I decided to visit Bradenton for a few reasons.  1: It is near DeSoto National Memorial, and visiting NPS sites is another one of my traveling objectives.  2: The Marauders are a Pittsburgh Pirates affiliate, and with my family roots in Pittsburgh it felt appropriate to visit a Bucs’ farm team.  3: I’ve read and heard stories about McKechnie Field being a great venue.

McKechnie Field has a unique history because it has hosted Spring Training games since it was built in 1923, but did not have a Minor League team for several years because the stadium lacked lights.  Lights went up in 2008, and in 2010 the Marauders came into existence.

The stadium is at the intersection of two major roads, so it lacks the parking lots that have become commonplace with ballparks.  In my case, a colleague told me that parking was limited and encouraged me to park far enough away from the stadium to avoid having my car struck by a foul ball.  As I wrapped up my visit to DeSoto National Memorial around five o’clock, I knew that I would have some time to kill before the gates opened.  Along 9th Street I unexpectedly found Motorworks Brewing, and stopped in for a couple of beers to kill the 30 minutes before the gates opened.  After asking the bartender how much further to the stadium, he said I could leave my car in the lot and walk the three blocks.  Not everybody may be as lucky, but I saw that some small lots surrounding the stadium charged $5 for parking.

Main entrance to the ballpark.

Walking up to the ballpark there are a series of banners.

Like many facilities that host Spring Training, McKechnie Field has decor that promotes its springtime residents: the Pittsburgh Pirates.  The box office reflects this with markings for the Pirates and Marauders.

The box office and main gate.

It is difficult to forget that the ballpark hosts Spring Training baseball in addition to the Minor League team.  Next to the box office a wall includes the Marauders’ schedule and the Pittsburgh Pirates Spring Training schedule.

Signage near the box office shows the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Spring Training schedule alongside the Bradenton Marauders’ regular season schedule.

One of my first stops at a stadium is the gift store to get something for my friend’s 3-year-old son.  Usually I buy a soft baseball or the mascot depending upon what the store carries.  The gift store at McKechnie Field is small, so I didn’t bother taking a photo of it.  However, just outside the store was the up-to-date Florida State League standings and the night’s starting lineups.

The Florida State League standings and the game’s starting lineups for April 10.

While the Marauders don’t have a large gift shop, I had a great experience mostly due to the team’s general manager, A.J. Grant.  In addition to looking for a soft baseball and the mascot, I wanted to get a polo shirt with the Marauders logo on it.  The store didn’t have any polo shirts on display, but after I asked the workers for help A.J. quickly tracked down a selection of shirts.  I opted for a black shirt with the alternate logo, and I’m hopeful the team will introduce a shirt with the stylized B on it.

After completing my most important task, I explored the selections at the concession stands.  Due to the age of the ballpark, the concession stands are all behind the seating bowl in separate facilities.

As I hadn’t found any really unique food, I continued exploring the ballpark and ventured out to the Kona Bar built by NDC Construction in right field.  However, before I got there I encounter the Marauders’ mascot, Marty.

Me with Bradenton Marauders mascot Marty.

After getting my picture taken with Marty, I made it to the Kona Bar built by NDC Construction.  It was Thirsty Thursday, so there were a lot of people already hanging out at the Kona Bar.  While I don’t consider myself a beer snob, I wasn’t excited about the prospects of $1 Bud or Bud Light so I was standing at the bar waffling before a couple in their 20s came up and the guy offered to buy me a Bud.  I wasn’t about to refuse a free drink, so it was Buds all around!

Kona Bar built by NDC Construction was a popular spot on Thirsty Thursday.

As I talked with the couple, I told them I was a geography professor at The University of Alabama, which was met with a groan from the guy.  He was a graduate of Auburn University, and was a bit dismayed about buying me a beer in hindsight.  However, he was gracious about it and the pair recommended I ask for a deep fried hot dog at the main concession stand if I wanted something unique to eat.

After finishing my beer, I continued walking around the stadium and made sure to get to my seat so I could catch the first pitch.

Bradenton Marauders right-handed pitcher Chad Kuhl prepares to deliver the first pitch of the game to Palm Beach Cardinals center fielder Charlie Tilson.

Before hunting down the deep fried hot dog, I watched a few innings from my seat right behind home plate.  And when you’re literally sitting behind home plate you get some great action photos.

Palm Beach Cardinals designated hitter Alex Mejia takes a few sings in the on-deck circle.

When I got to the stadium, I asked workers what they considered the most unique food item that I should eat and all of them said that there wasn’t anything unique or special that I had to eat.  The menu choices were not bad, but just the standard ballpark fare.  When I went back to Pirates Cove Grill, I asked for the manager and requested a deep fried hot dog with nacho cheese.

Deep fried hot dog topped with macho cheese and pickled jalapeños.

The hot dog was good, but not great.  I would have it again though.  I later found A.J. Grant and asked him about why the stadium didn’t have Primanti Brothers sandwiches, which are a famous Pittsburgh food item and available at PNC Park.  Grant said that Primanti Brothers would only open a location if they could get the bread specifically used for their sandwiches, so until Mancini’s Bakery makes their bread available in the Tampa Bay area there will be no Primanti Brothers available at McKechnie Field.

Moving along from food, I took a few shots of game action to capture a fuller sense of the ballpark.  So as I walked around a bit during the game, I snapped shots from the first base side and the third base line.

Along the exterior of the seating bowl, a variety of banners promote the Pirates, Marauders, and their sponsors.

Banners on the back of the seating bowl.

While McKechnie Field may not have a signature food item, it certainly has a variety of unique beers.  In addition to Yuengling being served at the stadium, a concession stand called The Pitt-Stop had a wide variety of beers.

The Pitt-Stop and its diverse beer selection.

The selection at The Pitt-Stop was great.  The stand had a wide variety of imported beers, domestic craft beers, but most importantly it had some Pittsburgh staples like Iron City and I.C. Light.  As a good son of Pittsburghers, I had an Iron City Beer while enjoying the game.  Even if fans don’t want an Iron City there are lots of options for beer connoisseurs.

Like many Minor League games I have attended, the Marauders conclude the night’s festivities with launch-a-ball.  I’m used to hearing it called tennis ball toss, but regardless of the moniker the result is the same.  Fans get an opportunity to throw tennis balls onto the field aiming for a selection of targets to win prizes.

Marty checking the tire to see if anybody won the launch-a-ball contest.

There were no winners from the launch-a-ball contest, but I certainly came away a winner after my experience in Bradenton.  Yes, I was disappointed that there were no unique food items that I “had” to eat.  No, the lack of a marquee food item did not deter from my enjoyment at McKechnie Field.

Yes, the stadium has a wide selection of quality beers.  What the Marauders lack in the food department, the beer offerings more than make-up for it.

Most importantly, the hospitality of the staff stands out.  Every staffer that I spoke with about food or while perusing the Clubhouse Store was extremely helpful, and made sure that I found anything I wanted.  It was great that someone attending the game as a fan, and not a member of the media was able to talk with the team’s general manager when running into him on the concourse or while getting help looking for a polo shirt.

Final: Palm Beach Cardinals 6, Bradenton Marauders 0
Box Score