My night with the Portland Sea Dogs – April 7, 2018

The springtime cliché is that April showers bring May flowers, and I’m sure that is the case for many people and places.  For me, April brings the AAG Annual Meeting and usually early-season baseball games.  As covered in a post previewing my trip (read it here), early April meant leading a field trip of fellow geographers to attend a Portland Sea Dogs game and meeting up with baseball author Josh Pahigian (Twitter: @JoshPahigian).

I had hoped to have about 20 people sign-up for the field trip, but alas only seven people besides myself registered for the trip.  So instead of riding in a bus, I ended up renting a minivan and driving to the venerable Hadlock Field with six passengers.  So after parking in a nearby lot, I was eager to have my photo taken with the statue outside the stadium.

Me with the Slugger the Sea Dog statue outside the stadium.

Although the rest of the field trippers had never been to Hadlock Field, it was my second visit as I attended a Sea Dogs game in June 2007 during a road trip with a friend from graduate school.  However, this was my first opportunity to blog about a visit to the ballpark, so I did my best to treat it like a brand new experience.

But before entering the park, I needed to get a photo of the main entrance.

Main entrance to the stadium.

After entering the stadium you quickly see the Eastern League standings above a concession stand.

Eastern League standings entering play on Friday, April 7.

Not far from the league standings was the Opening Night rosters for the Sea Dogs and visiting Reading Fightin Phils.  Minor League Baseball‘s Opening Night was Thursday, but heavy rain across New England led to the cancellation of Thursday’s game.

Lineups for the Reading Fightin Phils and Portland Sea Dogs for Friday, April 7.

We arrived at the stadium about 30 minutes before first pitch, so instead of exploring in search of food I opted to take a seat and watch the end of Opening Night ceremonies.  Following the conclusion of the national anthem I headed over to a spot behind home plate so I could capture the game’s first pitch.

Portland Sea Dogs starting pitcher Teddy Stankiewicz delivering the first pitch
to Reading Fightin Phils second baseman Scott Kingery.

I watched a bit of the game from our seats near home plate before exploring the stadium in detail.  So I captured some pictures of the grandstand and a few action photos before going in search of food and beverage.

Banners celebrating the Sea Dogs division and league titles adorn the suite boxes; the colors denote whether they were a Florida Marlins (1994-2002) or Boston Red Sox (2003-present) affiliate. The Sea Dogs also honor Portland city manager Robert Ganley, who was instrumental in the construction of Hadlock Field, with a retired number.

 

A collection of players who appeared in a MLB game appear in another area of the suite boxes.

While enjoying the game, I took a few pictures of the outfield, which is notable for a handful of reasons.  The primary reason the outfield at Hadlock Field is well-known is because of the “Maine Monster” in left field, which is a 37-foot replica of the famed Fenway Park Green Monster.  The Sea Dogs built the wall after becoming a Red Sox affiliate before the 2003 season.

The Maine Monster includes a Coca-Cola bottle like the Green Monster at Fenway Park in Boston.

In right field, the stadium features something that is unique to Maine: a L.L. Bean rain boot.  The outdoor recreation company is headquartered in Freeport, Maine, which is a 20-mile drive from Hadlock Field.

A view of right field, which includes the home team’s bullpen, and a L.L. Bean rain boot.

From my spot behind home plate I got some excellent action photos that capture the dichotomy of Minor League Baseball: a hot, young prospect (Rafael Devers) and a former Major Leaguer trying to resurrect a stalled career (Mike Olt).  Devers is rated the Red Sox’s No. 1 prospect and No. 14 in all MiLB according to MLB Pipeline while Olt last played in the Majors two years ago.

Sea Dogs designated hitter Mike Olt was a first-round draft pick of the Texas Rangers in 2010.

 

Sea Dogs third baseman Rafael Devers signed as a teenager with the Red Sox.

Eventually I went in search of a local craft beer and food, but I found some franchise history along the way.  The first stop was the Portland Sea Dogs Hall of Fame.

Outfielder Brandon Moss and manager Todd Claus, inducted into the Sea Dogs Hall of Fame in 2016,
helped lead the Sea Dogs to the 2006 Eastern League championship.

The second stop was the Road to the Show, which lists all 268 former Sea Dogs who have played in a Major League Baseball game.

The Road to the Show lists the 368 former players who have made it to MLB.

The third stop was the team photo wall, which is along the concourse behind third base.

Every team photo from the Sea Dogs’s history.

After checking out the concession stands on the concourse, I heeded the advice of Portland-resident Josh Pahigian and opted for food at the Shipyard Grill.  The grill is off the concourse down the third base line near the visitors’ bullpen and serves a selection of local craft beers (notably the sponsor, Shipyard Brewing) and some grilled meats.

The Shipyard Grill along the third base line.

I hoped to find a lobster roll or something else particularly unique to Maine and New England, but unfortunately it was not quite in season.  So I opted for my default and picked the most unique encased meat option available: an Italian sausage.

The Italian Sausage, which sits on top of a bed of grilled peppers and onions.

For my beer, I chose the Shipyard Export Ale.  Shipyard describes it as “a classic brew which leads the way as a drinkable, well-balanced, flavorful ale.”  As I noted on my check-in on Untappd (User: geoSteven), it paired very well with the Italian sausage.  It balanced the spices of the Italian sausage quite well, but was neither too light nor too heavy of a beer.

I closed off my stomach with a sweet treat: a Shain’s of Maine SeaDog Biscuit.  It may sound fancy, but it’s a chocolate chip ice cream sandwich.  There are two variety, the classic or one that is half-dipped into chocolate.  Per the suggestion of the venerable Josh Pahigian, I went with the half-and-half variety.  It was a chilly night, but the SeaDog Biscuit did not disappoint.

A Shain’s of Maine half-and-half SeaDog Biscuit.

After filling my belly, I continued to explore the ballpark and took a few photos from the third-base side of the stadium.  One provides a larger perspective about the stadium’s location within downtown Portland while the other illustrates the weather on a Friday night in Portland.

A view of the grandstand from third base with the Portland Exposition Building abutting the stadium on the first base line.

The Portland Exposition Building, which opened in 1915, is the second oldest arena in continuous operation in the United States.  It is also home to the NBA D-League’s Maine Red Claws.

Early season baseball games in the Northeast lead to players bundling up in heavy coats,
as the Reading Fightin Phils sip coffee while wearing heavy parkas.

Back in my seat I got to talk all things baseball with Josh and the geographers who came to the game with me.  It was great getting to chat with some extremely knowledgeable baseball folks, but I got giddy as a schoolkid when the SeaDogs mascot Slugger came by.  Naturally, I had to get my picture with him.

Me with Slugger the Sea Dog.

Back to the action, the game was an exciting pitcher’s duel with the teams trading runs and entered the seventh inning tied 2-2.  Thankfully Sea Dogs right fielder Aneury Tavárez belted a two-run homer to right and gave the home team a 4-2 lead they would not relinquish.  The homer also meant the fans would be treated to an appearance of the lighthouse in center field, which celebrates every Sea Dogs’s home run.  I was too slow with the camera to capture the shot, but as Portland held on for the win I got to see the lighthouse again to celebrate the Opening Night victory.

The center field lighthouse that appears to celebrate Portland home runs and victories.

With an appearance by the lighthouse completing the gameday experience at Hadlock Field, myself and a group of road-grizzled geographers prepared for our drive back to Boston.  I owe a big thank you to Josh Pahigian for joining us at the game, as I know myself and others enjoyed talking baseball with him throughout the game.  Although I hoped to take a larger group on the field trip, I have to say six was an excellent number because it allowed us all to explore and talk while getting to soak in a great experience at one of my favorite ballparks in Minor League Baseball.

Final Score: Reading 2, Portland 4
Box Score

Lessons learned at my first TBEX conference

I’ve blogged in this space off-and-on since 2007 after my trip to visit a grad school friend in Germany.  However, I didn’t start taking my blogging seriously until 2012 when I started to write about my baseball stadium visits.  So right on schedule (another five years later), I decided to try and “professionalize” my blog a bit more.  To me, professionalizing my blog meant attending TBEX North America 2017 and seeing what I could learn at a travel blogger conference.

Why I did it…
So why did I decide to spend three days in Huntsville, Ala., attending an event I knew little about?  Like I said, I wanted to make my blog more professional, and I knew that I could only learn so much from reading other people’s blogs and participating in Twitter chats.

However, it was a Twitter chat and my interaction with some of the regular participants that pushed me to attend TBEX in Huntsville.  Since my visit to Chicago in 2015 for a work conference, I’ve regularly participated in #JAchat on Twitter (read more here) and interacting with Pola (Twitter: @JettingAround) and Francesca (Twitter: @WorkMomTravels) convinced me that I would learn more about blogging and interacting with convention and visitor bureaus by attending the conference.

Even after a few conversations, I was still on the fence about attending until I considered the pros of attending a conference that was only 2.5 miles from my home.  It’s not often that such an event would land in my backyard, so I decided to bite the bullet and registered.

Tuscaloosa to Huntsville under ideal traffic conditions is under two and a half hours.

What I expected…
I signed up to attend TBEX about a month before the conference and with the end of the semester closing in on me (my “day job” is a college professor), I really didn’t have a lot of time to plan and formulate expectations far in advance of the conference.  In talking with other travel bloggers, I expected there would be a lot of networking opportunities at the parties each night.

I knew that through speed networking sessions that I’d have the chance to get myself in front of people from CVBs and hopefully make a good impression that could lead to a fruitful collaboration in the future.

What I learned…
Lesson One: It is critical to have business cards.  People had told me about this in advance of the conference, but never having attended a travel blogger conference I really wasn’t prepared for how important it was to have business cards.  Naturally I handed out my business card to people working with DMOs, but I also swapped a number of cards with travel bloggers.

Front and back of my business card for the blog, which features me with Portland Sea Dogs mascot Slugger.

Lesson Two: Take notes.  I was prepared with a notepad to write down what I learned at the different breakout sessions I attended, and while it has been about two weeks since the conference and I still have not converted my hand-written notes into a usable Word document, I at least have important lessons recorded for me to reflect upon later.

Lesson Three: There are multiple ways to run a blog.  My blog has been sparse at times because I’ve generally focused on baseball visits, but I feel like each of my posts is well-written and thoughtful (i.e. quality over quantity).  During a breakout session, one speaker insisted that quantity and flooding the market was important in generating clicks and eyeballs.  During a keynote speech, another speaker said that it was more important to generate quality content instead of just a lot of content.  At a breakout session I did not attend because there was another session that was more interesting to me, a speaker spoke about running a successful travel blog while completing ignoring social media.  All of these comments seem to contradict themselves, so there’s no way of saying who is right or wrong.  Coming into the conference I hoped to get some really poignant advice about ways to professionalize my blog and best ways to grow my audience.  Instead I was left with many unanswered questions, but also the knowledge that there really is no tried-and-true right or wrong way to operate a blog.

Lesson Four: Say “yes” unless you just have to say “no.”  It may seem obvious that travel bloggers are extroverts because we are writing about visiting different places and interacting with a number of people.  However, that is far from the truth.  I identify as an introvert, but my day job requires I be outgoing when giving lectures.  My side gig as a learning travel blogger also requires me to be outgoing.  So I debated how best to approach the conference and opportunities that would be presented to go to after parties or just talk to people I knew nothing about moments ago.  I did my best to say “yes” when offered the opportunity, whether it was drinks out on the town following the Opening Night Party or to striking up a conversation with someone, but I also tried to strike a balance and say “no” when it came to heading to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center for the 2nd Night Party so I could have dinner with my fiancée at Bandito Burrito or exploring downtown Huntsville and having a beer on Saturday when I did  not have any speed networking meetings setup.

Doing it again…
I’ve had almost two weeks to reflect on my experience at TBEX North America 2017, and I’ve been contemplating the biggest question: would I do it again?

The simple answer is “Yes.”  However, there are a lot of underlying issues to address before agreeing to attend a travel conference.  I feel like I made some good contacts with some CVBs that attended the conference, but wish I had come into the conference with a more organized plan about what I am covering with my blog.  I feel like I could have made more contacts if I had a specific plan about what I intended to add to my blog.

I wish there was a way to specifically meet bloggers who share similar interests.  I know that Blogger Bridge provides a platform specific to TBEX that allows attendees to setup speed networking appointments with the DMOs, and that it is also searchable to find other bloggers.  However, I felt like either the opportunities were lacking or I just didn’t know enough in advance to take advantage of opportunities to meet other bloggers who write about sports, the Southeast, or historical sites.

Another shortcoming as a newbie was the FAM trips that TBEX organized with local DMOs.  I saw them in advance of my trip, but did not know how to apply for them nor did I see information to help a newbie sign up.  I am not saying this to lambaste TBEX, but to voice my frustration that some resources are needed for newbies to fully benefit from attending the conference.

Overall, attending TBEX North America 2017 in Huntsville was a really good experience.  I learned a lot, and I would recommend it to other travel bloggers.