My day with the Saitama Seibu Lions – Sept. 29, 2018

For a long time I have wanted to attend a professional baseball game in Japan.  I don’t remember when I first became interested in watching baseball played outside the United States (and outside of MLB).  However, when the prospect of moving to Japan became a reality, I became excited about being able to experience a Japanese baseball game in person.  So when the prospect of attending a game presented itself after my wife & I had settled into our new home in Japan I jumped at the opportunity.

Although we live in Greater Tokyo, my first baseball game in Japan wasn’t going to be seeing the famed Yomiuri Giants.  Instead my first game was going to be seeing the Saitama Seibu Lions at the MetLife Dome on the western side of the Tokyo metropolitan area.

Instead of taking the train to the ballpark, which is what most fans do when attending games in Japan, Katie & I took a tour bus as part of a day trip organized by the military base where she works.  Although we were in the minority of people taking private transit to the stadium, we were not alone as there were three other tour buses in our parking lot and a smattering of cars as well.  So after the bus parked we walked across a pedestrian bridge to MetLife Dome.

An overview of the MetLife Dome.

Although we were in the minority of fans who arrived at the ballpark via private vehicle, the train station let fans out into the large plaza outside the stadium.  You could tell when a train had arrived as the plaza swelled with people.

Fans pile off a commuter train at the station next to the stadium.

In front of the stadium was a large plaza, which was packed with fans because we were attending the final home game of the regular season.  The plaza offers a variety of amenities ranging from concession stands to a merchandise stand for the visiting team to fan club counters for the home team.

Due to a consistent, but light rain I did not take too many pictures in the plaza and instead hurried into the ballpark.  Additionally, the nearly overflowing volume of fans in the plaza made it difficult to capture images that properly showed off the amenities.

MetLife Dome is an interesting ballpark because it was not built as a domed stadium.  It opened in 1979 without a roof, but one was constructed in two stages following the 1997 and 1998 seasons.  Although the ballpark started the 1999 season as a dome stadium it is an open-air stadium, as the roof only covers the field and stands.  There is no wall that closes the ballpark from the surrounding environment.  So some concession stands around the park sit just beyond the roof, which prevents the concourse from becoming overcrowded.

As I navigated the crowd toward my seat on the third base line I captured a photo of what can best be described as loge boxes.

Fans sit in loge seating along the third base line.

As I passed the loge boxes I decided to walk around the park to a spot behind home plate so I could capture that perspective before the game began.

An overview of the stadium from near home plate.

As the game started at one o’clock, I grabbed some food after perusing the nearby concession stands while walking the concourse.  Stands carried a variety of traditional Japanese fare from bowls of ramen to meat skewers, and even globalized items like KFC and Blue Moon Belgian White beer.

I opted for a simple yet filling option of a beer skewer, mostly because it had a relatively short line and I wanted to be able to enjoy the start of the ballgame instead of missing the pre-game festivities and the first pitch.

A trio of beef skewers.

After devouring my skewers, I settled in to watch the first pitch.

Saitama Seibu Lions right-handed pitcher Tatsuya Imai delivers the first pitch to Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks right fielder Seiji Uebayashi.

I settled into my seat to soak in the experience, so the majority of my photos of the ballpark and the atmosphere were taken from my seat along the third base line.

The ballpark was renovated following the team’s posting of Daisuke Matsuzaka after the 2006 season, which garnered over $50 million for the club.  So it features many of the amenities fans find at MLB ballparks like a large videoboard in center field and luxury seating behind home plate.

Sitting midway down the third base line, I had several opportunities to capture photographs of the pitchers and batters.  So I regularly snapped shots during the game hoping to capture each team’s uniform and the subtle differences in pitching form and batting stance of each player.  By far the coolest moment I captured during the game was when Kazuo Matsui came to the plate late in the game as a pinch-hitter.

Matsui played for the Lions for nine seasons before signing with the New York Mets in 2003 and spending seven seasons playing in the MLB.  After returning to NPB in 2011, Matsui signed with the Lions for his final professional season.

There are a lot of things to take in attending a game at any professional ballpark, but it’s quite different when you’re attending a game in Japan.  There are many similarities between games in the U.S. and Japan, but SO many differences, too.  One of the biggest differences is the delivery of beer.  In Japan, young women carry mini kegs on their backs and pour beer for fans instead of lugging around giant tubs of beers in cans or aluminum bottles.  Additionally, the biiru no uriko (“beer girl”) only sells one brand of beer.  So each woman is outfitted in attire specific to the beer she is pouring.  Although craft beer exists in Japan, the only brands being poured by the beer girls were the major macrobrews like Kirin, Asahi, Suntory, and Yebisu.

Beyond seeing several young women selling beer, women also dominate the majority of vendor positions.  I was able to capture different women selling cotton candy and ice cream later during the game.

One of the better documented aspects of Japanese baseball games is that fans lead the cheers for players instead of the sound system being used to generate excitement.  The fan-led cheering results in unique cheers for each player, and sometimes this brings about unique signs for particular players, too.  I saw that at play with Lions designated hitter Ernesto Mejía, as fans held up Venezuelan flags each time he came up to bat.

Saitama Seibu Lions fans show off Venezuelan flags for designated hitter Ernesto Mejía.

Whenever I attend a baseball game, I always make an effort to get a picture with the team’s mascot.  That is usually more difficult to accomplish at a Major League game, and that experience was no different at today’s Lions’ game.  I saw the team’s mascots a few times on the field, but never saw either walking through the stands.  However, I did get a picture of the pair on the field.

Saitama Seibu Lions mascots Lina and Leo. The pair are based upon characters in shōnen manga “Janguru Taitei” (or “Kimba the White Lion” when dubbed into English).

Without a doubt, the seventh inning was the most unique experience I’ve ever encountered during a baseball game.  In Japan, fans from both teams sing their respective fight songs in the top and bottom of the inning and then release team-colored balloons into the air.  The tradition is called the “Lucky Seventh,” and is a way for fans to help rally their team in the late innings.

Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks fans wave banners and hold their balloons high while singing their team’s fight song during the Lucky Seventh.

In addition to capturing a photo of Hawks’ fans singing their fight song, I got a video of the Lions’ fans singing their team’s fight song entering the bottom of the seventh.

Unfortunately for Lions’ fans hoping to see the team clinch the Pacific League regular-season title, the home team did not come out victorious.  However, players from both teams paid their respects to the fans with the customary post-game bow.  The home Lions lined up along the third base line and bowed multiple times in different directions to show their respect and appreciation for the home fans while the visiting Hawks lined up in right field and bowed to their fans and the home fans as well.

Like many others in attendance, I had hoped to see the Lions clinch the regular-season crown, so I was disappointed to see them lose and miss the opportunity to watch the trophy presentation following the game.  Putting the game result aside, it was a great experience.

It was exciting to be in a packed ballpark.  Despite a packed house, I never felt cramped or fighting for space while walking on the concourse.  The food options met my expectations, although I had not anticipated such long lines to get food.  The food I ate was delicious and satisfying.  The beer was cold and refreshing.  The atmosphere far exceeded my hopes and dreams.  The crowd was loud from start to finish, but it was not a deafening experience because of the unique roof that does not completely enclose the stadium.

Despite traveling by private transportation, I got to enjoy what feels like the quintessential experience at a professional Japanese baseball game.

Final: Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks 3, Saitama Seibu Lions 1
Box Score

A Minor League Baseball road trip through Alabama

People who enjoy baseball, and especially Minor League Baseball, regularly plan their summer vacations around visiting ballparks.  These trips are often based around individual goals, whether it’s to visit new states or new ballparks or to watch top prospects or even the most ambitious goal of seeing all 159 active, affiliated Minor League baseball stadiums.

With good timing, visiting all of the Minor League ballparks in Alabama can be done in a matter of four days.  I undertook this adventure earlier this summer with my wife Katie.

THE BASICS
Currently, Alabama has three Minor League Baseball teams: Birmingham Barons, Mobile BayBears, and Montgomery Biscuits.  From north-to-south, the drive from Birmingham to Mobile is about four hours (266 miles).  The drive between Mobile and Montgomery is about two-and-a-half hours (172 miles), and the drive from Montgomery to Birmingham is about one-and-a-half hours (90 miles).  So for any baseball fan, this is a really easy drive whether you start in Alabama or begin your trip in a neighboring state.

THE PLANNING
Planning this trip is a bit more difficult because a few years ago the Southern League, the Double-A league all three Alabama teams play in, switched from the traditional structure of three-game series to five-game series.  So when one of the Alabama teams hosts another team from the state it can be difficult to visit all three ballparks in quick succession.  Everybody has their own method for organizing schedules to create travel plans.  I am a BIG fan of putting everything into an Excel spreadsheet so I can look at what teams are at home side-by-side.

A spreadsheet showing home games for the three Minor League teams in Alabama for the end of May.

I was fortunate that my goal of seeing all three teams play at home came together over Memorial Day weekend.  Once the dates were settled, then I started working on planning hotels in each of the cities and what other sights my wife Katie and I could see along the way.

PLAY BALL!
As we lived in Tuscaloosa when planning the trip, we headed south to Mobile and worked our way north to see each of the teams.  Due to the Southern League having an off-day on Monday, May 28 (Memorial Day), we were unable to see all three teams on consecutive nights.  However, if schedules align it is quite feasible.  So instead of trying to cram three ballparks into consecutive nights, we added a few extras days to spend in Mobile, Gulf Shores and Montgomery.

GAME ONE: MOBILE BAYBEARS
We visited two breweries (Fairhope Brewing Co. and Serda Brewing Co.) and checked into our hotel in downtown Mobile before heading to Hank Aaron Stadium west of downtown near the junction of Interstate 10 and Interstate 65.  I had previously attended a Mobile BayBears game in 2015, but this was Katie’s first visit to the stadium.

The entrance to Hank Aaron Stadium, home of the Mobile BayBears.

The stadium is located on reclaimed marsh land and is surrounded by a variety of shopping plazas, so there are plenty of parking spots at the ballpark that opened in 1997.  The stadium is named after Mobile-native and Hall of Famer Hank Aaron, but a plaque outside the park honors all of the city’s native sons who have been elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.  The plaque notes that Satchel Paige (Class of 1971, Willie McCovey (Class of 1986), Billy Williams (Class of 1987), and Ozzie Smith (Class of 2002) are also enshrined at Cooperstown alongside Aaron (Class of 1982).

After walking under the gate that proclaim “Hank Aaron Stadium,” fans are immediately greeted with a dose of the team’s history.

The gate to Hank Aaron Stadium.

Many fans may overlook the BayBears Hall of Fame because it is on the left-hand side of the entrance to the ballpark, but it is worth checking out in addition to the banners highlighting former players who have achieved notable levels of success in Major League Baseball.

The stadium has a unique design because the luxury suites are not elevated, as they are at most ballparks.  Instead, the luxury boxes are on the field level and infield seating for the general public is elevated about 20-feet above the field.  So the view for spectators is quite different from what fans experience at other baseball games.  With luxury suites underneath the general seating area, concession stands face the luxury suites.

A view of a concession stand at the Mobile BayBears stadium.

Each concession stand carries the same items, so fans don’t have to go in search of specialty items available at only one stand (as can be the case at some Minor League stadiums).  Fans will find all the typical ballpark items at the concession stands ranging from sunflower seeds and peanuts to hot dogs and hamburgers.  The most unique items with local connections are a foot-long Conecuh sausage and Conecuh jambalaya.  As I had ordered the Conecuh sausage on my previous visit, I opted for the jambalaya.

A view of the jambalaya at Hank Aaron Stadium.

The best sight lines in the stadium are in Sections 106 or 107, which are immediately behind home plate in the seating bowl above the luxury suites.  My seats down the first base line were enjoyable, but the view of home plate was cut off by the luxury suites.  So my recommendation for buying seats would be to find something in either 106 or 107, assuming you actually want to watch the game action.

A view of game action from the first base line.

There are a lot of reasons to attend a Minor League Baseball game, and attending a game at Hank Aaron Stadium offers a particularly unique reason.

A view of the Hank Aaron Childhood Home & Museum on the grounds of the Mobile BayBears stadium.

In 2010, the City of Mobile relocated the childhood home of Hall of Famer Hank Aaron to the ballpark’s site and restored it as a museum (read more here).  Visiting Aaron’s childhood home and museum should be on the must-see list for any baseball fan.  The museum is open to visitors Monday through Friday on non-gamedays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.  Admission costs $5 for adults, and $12 for children under 12 years-old.  However, the museum is open during ALL games and admission is free.

Final: Biloxi 3, Mobile 11
Box Score

GAME TWO: MONTGOMERY BISCUITS
After seeing some sights in Mobile, Katie and I headed to Montgomery for the second game of our road trip.  Due to the Southern League’s schedule, we would not get to watch a baseball game until Tuesday evening.  So we enjoyed a couple of days in town seeing some of the city’s historic sights, and some of its newer sights.

Montgomery had a long history of supporting Minor League teams before the Biscuits arrived in 2004, but the last affiliated team to call the city home, the Southern League’s Montgomery Rebels, left in 1980.  So a downtown ballpark built that incorporated part of an old train shed was welcomed by the community.

An overview of the former train shed and entrance to Riverwalk Stadium.

The downtown location of Riverwalk Stadium means there is limited parking, but it is great if you’re visiting from out-of-town.  Depending where you stay in downtown, walking to the ballpark takes between five and ten minutes.  If you aren’t staying in downtown there is parking on streets around the stadium, but there is are dedicated surface parking lots explicitly for the stadium.

When Katie and I arrived the team’s mascot, Big Mo, was just inside the gate greeting fans.  So we quickly stopped to get our photo with him.

My wife Katie and I with Montgomery Biscuits mascot Big Mo.

Big Mo may look like an aardvark or anteater or some other real or imagined animal, but he is NONE of these.  The Biscuits call him simply, “A Biscuit Lovin’ Beast.”

Regarding biscuits there is NEVER a problem finding them at the park because there is a portable concession stand right behind home plate that sells biscuits, of course!

A concession stand selling solely biscuits, of course!

Maybe if for some unbelievable reason a fan doesn’t like eating biscuits, but instead wants to wear some biscuit paraphernalia then the team store is the place to go.

A view of special Greenbow Biscuits gear available at the Montgomery Biscuits team store.

On the night I visited, I found some special “Greenbow Biscuits” gear for sale.  The team did a special promotion and renamed themselves the “Greenbow Biscuits” in honor of the fictional hometown of Forrest Gump.  However, I was more impressed by the biscuit-shaped “hat” you could purchase that was on display next to the Greenbow Biscuits jerseys.  Naturally, there is a LOT of other team gear available in the store, too.

Like most Minor League baseball stadiums built since 2000, visitors to Riverwalk Stadium enter on the main level and walk down to the seating bowl.  The concourse wraps around the ballpark, so Katie and I explored a bit before settling in to watch some of the game.  The concession stands offer a variety of food options from the common ballpark fare like hot dogs and chicken tenders to the more unique like chicken wings (a special on Tuesday nights) and, of course, biscuits.

We didn’t get food on our first trip around the ballpark, but did find a great selection of craft beers.  Down the right field line there is a bar with a large entertainment stage.  The Club Car Bar is a full-service bar that offers liquor drinks and wine in addition to beer.  There are over a dozen beers on draft in addition to several in cans and bottles.  There is a solid representation of Alabama craft beers as well with brews from Fairhope Brewing, Ghost Train Brewing, Back Forty Beer, and Goat Island Brewing on draft when we visited.

A portable stand by home plate also had a solid selection of craft beers with offerings from Alabama breweries like Back Forty, Fairhope, Folklore Brewing, Ghost Train, and Goat Island.  Seeing these selections shows how much the craft beer industry has grown in Alabama over the past five years, as beer drinkers can support local breweries at the ballpark.

After picking up a beer at the Club Car Bar, Katie and I took our seats behind home plate and settled in to watch some of the game.

A view of the field at Riverwalk Stadium from behind home plate.

The design of the stadium is conducive to great sight lines everywhere, but it is particularly fun watching the trains pass by left field wall.  The luxury suites are elevated above the seating bowl with six built into the old train shed and the remainder in a newer structure down the third base line.

Like my previous visit to Riverwalk Stadium in 2012 (read it here), it was a great time at the park.  The stadium is beautiful with a great downtown location that makes it easily accessible to local fans and visitors alike.  The promotions are unique, and fun.  The food and beverage choices are diverse, and most importantly reflect location connections and options.

Final: Jackson 6, Montgomery 3
Box Score

GAME THREE: BIRMINGHAM BARONS
If you ask baseball fans what’s the oldest stadium in America many of them are likely to say either Fenway Park in Boston or Wrigley Field in Chicago, and both answers would be wrong.  The oldest professional ballpark in the United States is Rickwood Field in the West End neighborhood of Birmingham, Ala.  It opened in 1910, two years before Fenway and four years before Wrigley.

Despite being the old professional baseball stadium in America, Rickwood Field hasn’t hosted a regular tenant since 1987 when the Birmingham Barons relocated to suburban Hoover.  However, since 1996 the Barons and Friends of Rickwood have hosted a throwback game at the stadium.  The game usually takes places during the Barons’ first homestand in late May or early June immediately after Memorial Day weekend.  I previously attended the 20th Rickwood Classic in 2015, but Katie badly wanted to attend the game so it was incorporated into our road trip plans.

Really ambitious baseball fans can attend a Barons’ game at Regions Field, which opened in 2013, in downtown Birmingham, and attend the Rickwood Classic on consecutive days.  Usually the Barons’ schedule has them hosting a game at Regions Field the day and after the Rickwood Classic, so it is possible to see all four Minor League ballparks in Alabama within a relatively short time frame.

Stories say that Rick Woodward, who owned the Birmingham Coal Barons in the early 1900s, used Philadelphia’s Shibe Park and Pittsburgh’s Forbes Fields as the models for his new ballpark.

My wife Katie and I in front of Rickwood Field.

Attending the Rickwood Classic is really like attending a game from another era.  The starting lineups are written in chalk on a board shortly after entering the park.

The lineup for the 2018 Rickwood Classic between the visiting Chattanooga Lookouts and host Birmingham Barons.

Beyond the chalk-written lineups, the game lacks many of the elements of a modern Minor League game.  There are no promotional contests between innings and no walk-up music for batters or music between innings.  The only music is played by a live band behind home plate that plays music fitting each year’s theme.  The 2018 Classic celebrated the “Fabulous Fifties” when the Barons were affiliated with the New York Yankees (1953-56).

The game usually starts at 12:30 p.m. with gates opening at eleven o’clock, so visitors are provided ample time to wander around the ballpark and bask in its history.  It is been painstakingly restored, including the manually-operated scoreboard in left field and the advertisements on the outfield walls that feature vintage-style ads of current companies and one dedicated to Woodward Iron Co. paid for by descendants of Rick Woodward.

After exploring the park, Katie and I settled into our general admission seats near home plate under the roof that was added to the ballpark in the 1920s.

A view of Rickwood Field during the 2018 Rickwood Classic.

One possible short-coming of attending the Rickwood Classic is the lack of unique food items at the game.  The most “unique” items available would be the Polish or Italian sausage available at a tent outside the seating bowl where a grill cooks up a variety of encased meats.  That’s not to say the food is bad because it is quite delicious, but fans will not find as many options at the Rickwood Classic as they would attending a Barons’ game at Regions Field.  One modern convenience is that fans can regularly find personal-sized pizza from Papa John’s at the park.  Beer choices are limited to either Miller Lite or Yuengling, so sadly none of Birmingham’s delicious craft beers are available at the game either.

None of these limitations should affect the enjoyment of the game because the purpose of attending the Rickwood Classic is to bask in the essence of “old timey” baseball before technology became integrated into our enjoyment of the contest.  Watching a baseball game in America’s oldest professional ballpark is about watching the sport in virtually its purest form.

Perhaps the greatest aspect of attending the Rickwood Classic is that fans are allowed onto the field after the game.  At most Minor League stadiums only kids are allowed onto the field to run the bases after certain games, or if people of all ages are allowed onto the field it is only on rare occasions.  As part of being a “living museum,” fans are allowed onto the field to play catch, run the bases, take home some of the infield dirt, or just lay down in the grass and reflect on the history that has occurred at the ballpark.

Final: Chattanooga 1, Birmingham 7
Box Score

WRAP-UP
So after an extended weekend, Katie and I got to see all three of Alabama’s Minor League Baseball teams play at home.  It took us five days to see all three teams, but the additional days provided us the opportunity to see and experience a bit more in each city.  Whether you’re from Alabama or visiting from out-of-state there is a lot to see and do in each city, even if you’ve been to the cities before there is something to explore in each downtown area.  There are several craft breweries and award-winning restaurants in Mobile, Montgomery, and Birmingham, along with a bevy of historic sights and contemporary museums to keep baseball fans of all ages engaged on a road trip to see Alabama’s Minor League teams.

My night with the Lexington Legends – June 12, 2018

The second stop on my trip through the Bluegrass State for baseball and beer was Lexington, Ky.  It is a city that I used to know really well because I attended the University of Kentucky for two years as an undergraduate, but it has been nearly two decades since I was last a student at UK.  So returning to Lexington to explore its budding craft beer scene (yes, BEER not bourbon) while also visiting another Minor League Baseball stadium has been on my “to-do” list for quite a few years.  Finally this summer, I got to make it happen.

So on a Tuesday afternoon following some visits to the city’s local craft breweries, my wife Katie and I made it to Whitaker Bank Ballpark, home of the Lexington Legends.  When I was a student at UK in the mid-1990s there was regularly talk of Lexington seeking a MiLB team, but none of it came to fruition until 2001.  Unlike many other ballparks built during the early-2000s, the Legends’ stadium is not in downtown, but instead northeast of downtown off a ring road (New Circle Road) across from a strip mall.

I didn’t know it at the time we planned our visit, but it was a mystery giveaway night.  It turned out that the Legends were giving away a bobblehead of University of Kentucky head football coach Mark Stoops.  So I neglected to capture my customary stadium entrance photo, as we hurriedly entered to secure out bobblehead.  However, I went back outside to capture the view the typically greets fans arriving at the ballpark.

The main entrance to the ballpark.

There was a LOT going on after entering the ballpark, but in a good way.  Fans see a lot of branding in multiple places, so you have to be oblivious to the environment to be unaware that you are attending a Lexington Legends baseball game.

For fans interesting in scoring the game, you find the home team’s lineup and the South Atlantic League standings.

Although Katie and I hurried through the gate, we had plenty of time before the game started so we wandered the concourse checking out the food options with a brief pit stop at the team gift store.

We didn’t get any food before the game because I wanted to get a picture of the night’s bobblehead honoree, UK head football coach Mark Stoops throwing out the ceremonial first pitch.  So we headed to our seats that were just to the right of home plate.

Following Stoops’s ceremonial first pitch we watched the beginning of the game, which pitted the Columbia Fireflies against the host Legends.

Lexington Legends starting pitcher Janser Lara delivers the first pitch to Columbia Fireflies left fielder Raphael Gladu.

With seats almost immediately behind home plate, we also had easy access to the Kentucky Ale Taproom.  It has a full-service bar and kitchen with many ballpark staples, but also some of the signature food items available at the ballpark like the Larry Mac Burger (more on that later).

After watching some of the action, I went exploring the concourse again.  Along the way I found something most Minor League teams incorporate into their ballpark, and something I had never seen before at a baseball stadium.  Near a display case showing off the team’s current uniform set, I found plaques commemorating all of the players who played for the Legends and made it to the Majors.  The unique item I found was artwork created to commemorate the team’s 15th season in 2015, which was made from signed mini baseball bats.

Speaking of unique items at the ballpark, the Legends feature a collection of wall decals featuring two prominent groups of people: former Legends who made it to the Majors and former University of Kentucky basketball players throwing out ceremonial first pitches.

I’ve seen all sorts of ways Minor League teams commemorate their former players who reach “The Show,” so seeing a collection of generic Fathead decals wasn’t surprising.  It was different, but certainly not surprising.  However, it was very surprising to see wall decals of former UK basketball stars (Patrick Patterson, Willie Cauley-Stein, and others) throwing out ceremonial first pitches.  Wildcat basketball may make the world go ’round in Kentucky, but it was not something I expected to see incorporated into a Minor League stadium in Lexington, even if it is the university’s home city.

The concourse does not wrap around the ballpark, but I was easily able to photograph the bleachers in left field and the Pepsi Party Deck in right field.

There are also multiple spots around the stadium to keep kids entertained.  Down the right field line is a basketball court, which seems unusual at a baseball stadium but also seems completely natural in Kentucky.

An overview of the basketball court and the entrance to the part deck.

Down the left field line is the more traditional kid zone.  The team’s kids club is sponsored by Jif peanut butter, which is produced in Lexington at the world’s largest peanut butter production facility.

At Whitaker Bank Ballpark, the bullpens of both teams are in play.  The home team’s bullpen is down the right field line and the visiting team’s bullpen is down the left field line.  While exploring I was able to capture photos of both bullpens and some other scenes of the ballpark.

Although I walked around the entire stadium to capture the surroundings, I did manage to watch some of the baseball game.  Katie and I literally had front row seats, so there was no shortage of baseball watching this night.  In fact, the Legends starting pitcher Janser Lara, first baseman Nick Pratto, right fielder Seuly Matias, and catcher MJ Melendez are among the Kansas City Royals’ top-30 prospects.

Eventually watching all of these top prospects made Katie and I hungry, so we settled upon the aforementioned Larry Mac Burger, which we found at the Ballpark Favorites concession stand along the third base line.  The burger is a third-pound Kentucky Proud burger topped with either original or jalapeño Larry Mac’s beer cheese, Applewood-smoked bacon, lettuce, tomato, and onion.

My dinner for the night was the Larry Mac Burger.

The version I received was a two quarter-pound beef patties smothered in jalapeño beer cheese.  Unfortunately there was no lettuce, tomato, or onion in sight.  It was a deliciously, gooey, and messy meal though.  In hindsight, I might have opted for the original beer cheese, as the jalapeño-version remained with me throughout the night.

I did not have any beers at the ballpark, but that was not because of any shortage of craft beer options.  The Kentucky Ale Taproom is sponsored by Alltech Lexington Brewing & Distilling Co., which produces the Kentucky Ale line of beers and the Town Branch Distillery spirits.  Craft beer choices are available throughout the stadium, but The Handle Bar (along the first base line) has the largest selection of beer.

The biggest deterrent to having a beer at the ballpark to compliment my Larry Mac Burger was that shortly after ordering my food the skies opened and the tarp came out to cover the field.  Following a 37-minute delay with one out in the bottom of the fifth inning the game was called.  When the game was called the skies had started to clear, but apparently the field was too wet to continue the game and it had progressed far enough to be an official game.

The cloud appear to part after a heavy downpour led to the cancellation of the game after five innings.

Despite an abbreviated game, I had a great experience at Whitaker Bank Ballpark watching a Lexington Legends game.  There is plenty of parking at the stadium, which is a benefit of its outside of downtown location.  The stadium has been well maintained and updated since its opening in 2001.

Most importantly the experience at the ballpark checked off all of the boxes I expect when visiting a Minor League ballpark.  The stadium had a pleasant setting and was well-maintained.  The food and beverage choices were unique and included locally-produced products.  The team offered unique promotions during the game.  The staff was friendly and helpful.  I wish the game had resumed so I could’ve enjoyed the atmosphere at the ballpark more, but it was an enjoyable experience and definitely a family and fan-friendly place.

Final: Columbia 1, Lexington 2 (Five innings)
Box Score

Disclosure: My admission to the Lexington Legends baseball game was provided by the Lexington Convention and Visitors Bureau (VisitLEX).  I received a media rate for my two-night stay at the Lexington Hilton/Downtown.  Be assured that all words and opinions contained here are 100% my own.

My night with the Louisville Bats – June 11, 2018

There is something to be said for returning to places you have visited before.  If you haven’t been to that place in a number of years you may get to see how it has changed since your last visit.  Sometimes the more you visit a place the more you notice different characteristics.  That was the case this summer when I returned to Louisville, Ky., to attend a Louisville Bats baseball game.

I had previously attends a Bats game in 2005.  So some things had changed and some things had relatively remained the same since my last visit 13 years ago.  The Bats still play at Louisville Slugger Field just east of downtown Louisville.  However, the team’s color scheme changed dramatically ahead of the 2016 season.  The team switched from a purple and black color scheme to a red and blue color scheme, and overhauled their logos.  However, the exterior of the facility appears the same as it did when I visited several years ago.

A view of the ballpark at the intersection of Main and Preston streets with the former Brinly-Hardy Company warehouse being incorporated into the stadium.

Fans walking from downtown will see the former Brinly-Hardy warehouse first, but the “real” entrance to the ballpark is adorned by one of Louisville’s favorite sons: Brooklyn Dodgers shortstop Pee Wee Reese.

The main entrance to Louisville Slugger Field with a statue of Louisville-native and National Baseball Hall of Famer Pee Wee Reese.

Although the statue of Pee Wee Reese serves as the welcome to fans attending a Bats baseball game, but it is really a facade before fans get to enter the seating bowl.  The stadium’s incorporation of the Brinly-Hardy warehouse allowed the stadium to enclose all the entrance ways on Main Street, and create a restaurant at the end of the building that is now occupied by Against the Grain Brewery & Smokehouse.  The space between the building and seating bowl also allows the team to decorate with pieces of the franchise’s history.

Fans walking into Louisville Slugger Field will find that they enter the stadium concourse and walk down to their seats unless they’re in the more posh luxury suites upstairs.  As my wife Katie and I arrived at the ballpark just a bit before the first pitch, we took a moment to hang out behind home plate so I could capture the official start of the game.

Louisville Bats starting pitcher Homer Bailey delivers a pitch to Columbus Clippers center fielder Todd Hanks.

With the seating bowl below the concourse there are numerous concession stands around the level, which wraps around the entire field.  As is my habit, I walked around the entire concourse to peruse the food and beverage options and get a feel for the stadium.

In addition to the concession stands and portable stands between the first and third base bags, Katie and I saw some food options down the left field line and on the outfield concourse.  However, it was just beyond the gate in left field that struck my attention during our stroll around the concourse.  So I investigated and found something I did not know existed at the stadium.

A statue of Louisville-native and famed football star Paul Hornung stands at the northwest gate to the stadium.

A statue of famed Green Bay Packer and Notre Dame Fighting Irish running back Paul Hornung.  I was stunned to see this statue outside the stadium because it featured a football star outside a baseball field, but also because until seeing the statue and doing some research I had no clue that he grew up in Louisville.  In hindsight, it still seems a bit odd to see a statue of a famous football player outside a baseball stadium, but it is also cool to see the city commemorate its star athletes.

After capturing a photograph of the Paul Hornung statue I returned to the ballpark to snap shots of the view from the outfield concourse.  One of the first things I saw was an empty chair reserved in honor for POWs.

“One empty seat” as part of the POW-MIA Chair of Honor program sits in left field.

After capturing the Chair of Honor, I turned my attention back to the stadium and the downtown area.  The stadium’s location on the eastern edge of downtown provides a lot of great views of the downtown Louisville skyline.

As Katie and I continued walking around the concourse, we were dwarfed by the scoreboards.  In fact, the primary scoreboard in right field loomed over us so much that I had to capture of photo standing beneath it.

A closeup of the scoreboard in right field.

The concession stand beneath the scoreboard is aptly named because the scoreboard overlooks everything around it, including the kid play zone nearby.

A glimpse of the carousel and kids play area in right field.

After finishing our walk around the stadium, I started to contemplate my food and beverage choices for the night.  While walking around the stadium, I saw the usual ballpark food items (hot dogs, hamburgers, nachos, pizza, etc.), but nothing screamed, “You must eat this food at a Louisville Bats baseball game!”  So while continuing to think about my food choices, I remembered that the Bats had partnered with Against the Grain to create a beer specifically to be served at the ballpark.  After asking a few people working at stands serving alcohol, Katie and I ended up behind home plate at the Diamond Drinks concession stand.

A view of the Diamond Drinks stand behind home plate.

In addition to offering a variety of beers, including some craft beers, Diamond Drinks is notable because the stand serves liquor and wine.  So if you’re not a beer drinker, you can still find a quality drink at the ballpark.  We each ordered our 16-oz. cans of Bats Win! and took our seats.

The beer is a golden ale that checks in with 4.9% ABV.  It is a light, crisp, and clean beer that is great for summer and baseball.  It is among the growing trend of collaborations between Minor League Baseball teams and local craft breweries, which I wrote about in a guest piece for MiLB.com’s Ben Hill (a.k.a. Ben’s Biz).  You can read the piece here if you want to learn more about the trend.

Soon after finishing our beers, Katie and I started discussing food options.  As I try to avoid the “usual suspects” at the ballpark, I remembered that a few years prior the Bats had entered a grilled pork chop sandwich in the annual MiLB Food Fight.  We also happened upon a sign advertising the delectable treat, and decided that was the right choice to fill our bellies.  We located it at the outfield grill in center field.

The sandwich did not come with the advertised lettuce, tomato, or onion, which would have really complimented the deliciously grilled pork.  However, the sandwich was filling and definitely a unique food item that I’ve not seen or read about being served at other ballparks.

With my stomach full and my thirst quenched, I turned my focus to capturing the sights of the ballparks.  I realized that during my walk I had photographed much of the park except for a closeup of the seating bowl and the scoreboards in the outfield.

As I took pictures of the scoreboards, I got to witness one of the between-innings contests put on by the Bats.  As is common practice at baseball games, teams have people race around the bases or sometimes around the warning track.  Often times these races incorporate a local connection to make it more unique.  In Louisville, home of the Kentucky Derby, the team has people dress as horses and race around the bases.  It was a nice twist to a classic ballgame contest.

Although my focus was not as much on the game at hand, I did get to enjoy watching Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Homer Bailey make a rehabilitation start with the Bats.  Additionally, I got to watch some of the top prospects for the Cleveland Indians like catcher Eric Haase and infielder Yu-Cheng Chang and some of the top prospects for the Cincinnati Reds like infielder Nick Senzel, who is the fourth-rated prospect in all of Minor League Baseball, and reliever Tanner Rainey.

Although ogling over star prospects and rehabilitating Major Leaguers draws some people out to the ballpark, my focus is always on the experience.  I come to the stadium to eat some great food, drink some good craft beer, and enjoy the atmosphere.  Without the doubt, I got to do all of those things at Louisville Slugger Field.  The stadium does not show its age, despite opening in 2000.  Most importantly, the Bats do a great job of keeping fans involved in the game with some local twists on the between-inning contests.

Final Score: Columbus 7, Louisville 4
Box Score

Disclosure: My admission to the Louisville Bats baseball game was provided by Louisville Tourism.  I received a media rate for my two-night stay at the Aloft Louisville Downtown.  Be assured that all words and opinions contained here are 100% my own.

Touring Hank Aaron’s childhood home in Mobile

It’s not every day that a ticket to a baseball game also gets you admission to the childhood home of a baseball Hall of Famer.  However, that is precisely what you will find at Hank Aaron Stadium in Mobile, Ala., home of the Mobile BayBears.  In 2008, the city moved the childhood home of Mobile-native Henry Louis (“Hank”) Aaron to the grounds of the stadium that bears his name.

HISTORY OF THE HOME
Herbert Aaron, Hank’s father, built the house in 1942.  It initially consisted of three rooms, but the Aaron family gradually expanded the house.  It now has seven rooms, and it is possible to see where the Aaron family added an extension to the rear of the house.  In 2008, the home was moved from its original location in the Toulminville section of Mobile, restored, and dedicated on April 14, 2010, as the Hank Aaron Childhood Home & Museum.

INSIDE THE HOME
When visitors enter the home they are greeted by Hank Aaron’s voice detailing his childhood in segregated Mobile, and see a sign detailing the transformation of the home into a museum.

A sign displaying the restoration of the historic home.

The first room to the left used to be the bedroom of Hank and his brothers.  It has now been converted into a room that preserves Aaron family pieces, including a dress worn by his mother Estella.

Items from the Aaron family home including a china cabinet.

The only room in the house that resembles its original appearance is the kitchen.

A view of the kitchen.

The remainder of the exhibits chronicle Aaron’s illustrious baseball career starting with playing semi-professional baseball for an independent Negro League team and concluding with his final season in the Major Leagues playing for the Milwaukee Brewers.

Most notable among the exhibits are the items associated with hitting the record-breaking 715th career homerun, which made him the Major League homerun king.

Hank Aaron received numerous accolades after hitting his 715th career homerun to become the all-time homerun leader in Major League Baseball history.

The exhibits focus primarily on the accomplishments of Hank Aaron, but his younger brother Tommie also played and later coached in the Major Leagues.  So  two lockers feature items from Hank and Tommie’s careers in baseball, including photographs of them as teammates on the Atlanta Braves.

Lockers reflecting the career of siblings Hank and Tommie Aaron.

The home centers around what Hank Aaron accomplished on the baseball field, but it was first and foremost a family home.  As visitors exit the home you see a portrait of Hank’s parents, Herbert and Estella Aaron.  It was commissioned by MLB Commissioner Bud Selig in honor of the dedication of the home museum on April 14, 2010.

A painting of Herbert and Estella Aaron commissioned by MLB Commissioner Bud Selig.

If you want to visit the home of this National Baseball Hall of Famer and cannot attend a baseball game, it is also open Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.  Admission is $5.

Alabama Memorial Day weekend road trip preview

As the summer travel season is almost upon us, my wife Katie and I will be making our first extended trip of the year over the Memorial Day weekend.  The inspiration for our upcoming trip is baseball and craft beer, as we are setting out to see every Minor League Baseball team that plays in Alabama while also visiting more of the state’s craft breweries.

Our schedule is built around attending MiLB games, but we will assuredly be visiting craft breweries and seeing other local sights.  Here is our schedule…

Saturday, May 26:Biloxi Shuckers at Mobile BayBears, 7:05 p.m.

Tuesday, May 29:Jackson Generals at Montgomery Biscuits, 6:35 p.m.

Wednesday, May 30:Chattanooga Lookouts at Birmingham Barons, 12:30 p.m. (Rickwood Classic)

In addition to seeing games at every Minor League ballpark in the state, Katie will get to attend the Rickwood Classic.  We regularly attend Barons games at Regions Field in the Southside District, but she has never been to the annual game at Rickwood Field.  So this year, we are making it happen.

In addition to the baseball games, we plan on visiting the following breweries…

Fairhope Brewing Co. in Fairhope

Serda Brewing in Mobile

Big Beach Brewing Co. in Gulf Shores

For good measure, we’ll also be exploring some Civil Rights sights in Montgomery and Selma, too.

To see everything together, you can check out the Google Map I created that combines two of my favorite interests and some of the other sights we plan to visit during our trip.

You can follow along with our trip on the usual social media accounts.  I’ll be posting regularly on Twitter (@StevenOnTheMove) and Instagram (@StevenOnTheMove).  If you enjoy craft beer, you can follow my check-ins on Untappd (StevenOnTheMove) by sending me a friend request.

Revealing my 2018 ballpark resolutions

Since 2014, I have posted travel resolutions for each new year.  They typically related to traveling to see new Minor League Baseball stadiums.  As I rung in the new year, I sat down and posted my resolutions.  So here are my resolutions for the upcoming year.

My first resolution for 2018…

Over the past six years, I have managed to see all of the MiLB teams in my current home state of Alabama.  However, I have not seen them all with my now wife Katie.  Since she moved to the Yellowhammer State just over a year ago, she has stated how much she wants to see all the teams in the state.  In fact, it was a resolution I made last year, hoping to see all three teams in 2017.  We’ve seen the Birmingham Barons on multiple occasions, as Regions Field is just about an hour away from our home.  However, she wants to attend the Barons’ annual game at Rickwood Field.

So our goal for this year is to visit all three teams over Memorial Day weekend. Tentatively we’ll start our trip with a game on the Gulf Coast in Mobile, and then work our way north through Montgomery, and conclude our trip with the Rickwood Classic in Birmingham.

My second resolution for 2018…

For the past few years, I’ve been made resolutions to see all three MiLB teams in Kentucky. Specifically, I made the resolution in 2016 and 2014, and resolved to see the Lexington Legends in 2015.  I’ve fallen short each time, and so far have only seen the Bowling Green Hot Rods.  I first saw them in 2014 by myself (read about it here) and next saw them in 2016 with Katie (read about it here), and enjoyed the game from the club level.

The plan this year is to see the Legends and Bats on the way back to Cincinnati, Ohio, after the A.P. Human Geography Reading, which is the first week of June.  The game schedules line up to allow us to visit both ballparks after spending a few days in Ohio, so I’m pretty optimistic that we will get to visit these two ballparks.

My third resolution for 2018…

Last year, I learned that there was a conference/convention for people who blog about beer. It was in the fall in 2017, so I was unable to attend because of my other commitments. However, I followed closely the announcement of the dates and venue for 2018, and decided that I would attend it this year.  So while I will be going to Loudoun County, Va., primarily to network and learn more about beer blogging, I’m going to arrive a few days in advance of the Beer Bloggers & Writers Conference to visit a few MiLB teams in the area.  There are a LOT of teams within a two-hour drive or so from the conference hotel.  So I am not 100% sure what teams I will see just yet, but I felt like I should visit the Potomac Nationals because of the continuous rumors about the team moving into a yet-to-be-built stadium or potentially relocating.

My fourth resolution for 2018…

Last summer, I started a new “collection” with my wife Katie.  In an effort to keep us traveling and visiting new cities, I purchased the MLB BallPark Pass-Port.  There are a variety of books you can purchase, but I opted for the “big book” that contains a set of pages for each of the 30 Major League Baseball stadiums.  A friend I met through participating in the A.P. Human Geography Reading has been using the passport for years to track his family’s quest to visit all 30 parks, and finally last summer I decided to join the craze.  It functions like a standard international passport that is stamped each time you enter a new country.  The idea is to “stamp in” at each stadium and journal about your visit as a way to preserve your memories of visiting a new place.  There is also a book that focuses on Minor League Baseball ballparks, which I purchased for Katie and I to chronicle our visits to MiLB stadiums since getting married.  So we now have something new to do when we visit stadiums together.

My resolution about visiting a new MLB park this year is that Katie and I have planned our summer around a variety of events, and have tried to find a time to visit a new ballpark.  Unfortunately, we have not been able to figure out a time to visit a new stadium.  So I am hoping that making this resolution will set us on a path of making the time to visit a new park together in 2018.  As much as I’d like to plan a long trip around visiting a new ballpark, I will be content to visit over a weekend for the sole purpose of getting another stamp in our “big book.”

RECAP
Do you make travel resolutions for the new year?  Are they about visiting countries, states, sports venues, or something else?  I’d love to hear what others resolve to do related to travel each year.  Share in the comments, and let’s keep each other on point to fulfill our travel resolutions for 2018.

Reviewing my 2017 ballpark resolutions

As 2017 comes to a close, it’s time for the annual review of my New Year’s resolutions.  Unlike people who resolve to lose weight or be kinder to others, which are all great goals, mine focus on travel and more specifically they focus on baseball travel.

My first resolution for 2017 was…

While attending the American Association of Geographers (AAG) Annual Meeting in Boston in April, I organized a field trip to see the Portland Sea Dogs and got to meet Josh at the game.  It was great getting to talk baseball and our travel experiences during the game.  I wrote about my experience at Hadlock Field, too (read it here).

In addition to attending a Sea Dogs game, I also made it to a New Hampshire Fisher Cats game during the AAG Annual Meeting.  Josh did not join me at the game in Manchester, but it was still a great visit.  I stopped at Stark Brewing before going to the game, and got to watch a doubleheader because of bad weather that canceled the previous night’s game (read about it here).

It’s easy to assess whether I accomplished my first resolution, which is a resounding yes.

My second resolution for 2017 was…

Although I did not blog about my trips, I did attend a few Birmingham Barons games this past season. My first visit was in April to celebrate my bachelor party with some friends. I also attended a game later in the season with my now wife Katie. Unfortunately, I was unable to make it to Mobile or Montgomery for a baseball game. So I can clearly acknowledge that I did not accomplish this resolution.

My third resolution for 2017 was…

When I made the resolution to see the Biloxi Shuckers with Katie, I had no idea when I was going to make that trip. However, Katie and I were both intent on making it happen because we had planned to visit in 2016 to celebrate her birthday, but we had to cancel those plans at the last minute.  But this year, we made the trip to Biloxi in mid-July after returning from our honeymoon to Southeast Asia.  We spent a long weekend on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and visited a number of breweries in addition to attending a Shuckers game.  I blogged about my brewery visits (here) and wrote about my visit to MGM Park (read it here).  So clearly I accomplished this goal.

My fourth resolution for 2017 was…

Following the trip to the Mississippi Gulf Coast, Katie and I visited family in Atlanta and made it to an Atlanta Braves game.  Although we spent several hours exploring The Battery Atlanta and having drinks at the Terrapin Taproom & Fox Brother BBQ, we did not get to explore much of the ballpark because of an extensive rain delay.  So I have opted not to blog about my visit to the ballpark because I feel like it was an incomplete visit.  However, I firmly feel that I accomplished my resolution to attending a Braves game at SunTrust Park.

Recapping the Resolutions
Unlike previous years, it is pretty easy to determine the success of accomplishing my 2017 resolutions.

#1: See a New Hampshire Fisher Cats or Portland Sea Dogs game with Josh Pahigian.  Goal accomplished.
#2: See all three Alabama MiLB teams (Birmingham Barons, Mobile BayBears, and Montgomery Biscuits).  One of three stadiums visited.  Goal unaccomplished.
#3: See a Biloxi Shuckers game at MGM Park with Katie.  Goal accomplished.
#4: See an Atlanta Braves game at SunTrust Park.  Goal accomplished.

On a grand scale, I accomplished three of four resolutions (0.750).  If I measured each individual component of my resolutions, I accomplished four of six objectives (0.666).  Either way, I feel good about upholding my resolutions for the past year.

My night with the Biloxi Shuckers – July 14, 2017

The newest stadium in the Southern League opened nearly two years ago to much fanfare, as the stadium endured numerous construction delays and the team played its first 25 home games on the road at a number of different ballparks (read more here).  So I was thrilled when I finally got to attend a Biloxi Shuckers home game this summer. However, I did not plan the date to attend the game.  My wife Katie scoured the Shuckers promotional scheduled picked the date because the team was giving away a bobblehead commemorating outfielder Brett Phillips chasing away an opossum (see video here).

So after visiting Biloxi Brewing Company, which is just a few blocks from the stadium, we walked over to the ballpark to make sure we were in line to secure our bobbleheads.  So while we waited, I got a few pictures of the main entrance.

Main entrance.

There were significantly more people at the north entrance to the ballpark, but the more interesting view on that side of the stadium was the outfield gates that were adorned with images of former players.

Gate on north side of stadium covered with images of former players who have played in MLB.

Once we entered the stadium and claimed our bobbleheads (more on that later), we walked around the concourse checking out food options.  However, I was most concerned about getting a photo of the game’s starting lineups.

Starting lineups for the Birmingham Barons vs. Biloxi Shuckers on July 14.

After having some beers before walking to the stadium, neither Katie nor I were particularly hungry.  So we checked out the team store and I took advantage of the opportunity to capture a few pictures of the visiting Birmingham Barons and the home Shuckers warming up before the game.

While watching warm ups we opted to get a beer at the Buena Vista Beer Garden, which is along the right field line close to the home team’s bullpen.  There are 24 beers available on draft there, which is the most available at any one location in the stadium.  Half of the 24 taps are dedicated to local and regional craft breweries with Abita, Lazy Magnolia, and Biloxi Brewing each having four taps at the stand.

The Buena Vista Beer Garden is the go-to spot for craft beer at the stadium.

There are other spots in the stadium where you can get beer, and specifically craft beer.  For example, the True Blue Brew Crew stand and The Sand bar both feature a selection of macrobrews and craft beers.  These two spots are along the first base line close to the team store.  So with drinks in hand, we ventured to our seats and I waited to take my usual photo of the game’s first pitch.

Biloxi Shuckers starting pitcher Jon Perrin delivering the first pitch to Birmingham Barons shortstop Eddy Alvarez.

After capturing the first pitch, I decided to capture a few more photos of game action before returning to my seat.

Once I returned to my seats, which were awesome with many thanks to the great staff at the Mississippi Gulf Coast Convention & Visitors Bureau, I felt like I needed a photo to capture how amazing the view was from our seats.

Game action with Barons pitcher Michael Kopech and Shuckers batter Michael Choice.

After watching a few innings of play, Katie and I decided to consider our food options and decided to examine the concession stands along the concourse.  While we opted to visit each stand to find out what they offered, the Shuckers also have a flip board with a map of “Food Finds” that helps fans find specific items.

A map of “Food Finds” helps fans locate each concession stand and portable stand throughout the stadium.

So what did we see as we explored the concourse and checked out our food options…

When it comes to food, the Shuckers do a superb job.  As you can see from the previous photos, they ballpark has all the baseball staples like hot dogs, chicken tenders, and even pizza.  Fans can also find more local flavors like po’ boys and local BBQ.  My wife and I asked people before we went to the game what we should eat and we asked some of the employees for suggestions, and we got a LOT of recommendations.  So it was difficult to decide what to eat because we didn’t keep hearing the same chorus of eat at a particular stand or order a particular item.

Considering that we came for the weekend to enjoy the beach, Katie and I felt like the natural choice was to order seafood.  Choosing seafood led us to the Aw Shucks Gulf Grill, but then the choices got more difficult.  The menu includes garlic butter oysters, jambalaya, red beans and rice stuffed Cajun sausage, beer brats, and grilled boudin.  We struggled to choose just ONE item, but thankfully we didn’t have to pick just one.  We ordered the Grand Slam Gulf Grill!

Everything in the Grand Slam Gulf Grill was fantastic.  We probably ordered AND ate way too much food, but it was by far the best food option at the park to split between two people.  By far the best part of our dining experience was that we ate something that is genuinely unique to Biloxi.

After eating and becoming stuffed on all that great seafood, I felt like it was appropriate to walk around a bit and get a few more pictures of the stadium to show off the luxury suites, kids’ area, and the grandstand.

After walking off some of the food, I remembered that I had not taken a picture of the item that Katie and I claimed when we walked in the gates: the Brett Phillips and opossum bobblehead.

A bobblehead commemorating a game during the 2016 when outfielder Brett Phillips chased away a possum.

The bobblehead itself is great, and I’m excited to have it in my collection.  However, it’s also cool because the bobblehead includes an audio recording of Brett Phillips laughing.  Phillips’s laugh is so notorious that it has been the focus of multiple articles (read one here).

Shortly after photographing the bobblehead, we got to watch a staple of Shuckers’ games: the Crawfish Boil Race.  It features a race between Spud (a potato), Kernel Cobb (an ear of corn), and Crawford (a crawfish).

Spud, Kernel Cobb, and Crawford prepare for the Desporte & Son’s Seafood Market & Deli Crawfish Boil Race.

But something different was afoot this night…

A possum appeared out of nowhere to win the Desporte & Son’s Seafood Market & Deli Crawfish Boil Race.

As we watched the end of the Crawfish Boil Race, I hoped to get a picture with the team’s seagull mascot, Schooner.  Sadly we remained elusive until we were leaving the stadium.

Katie and I with Shuckers’ mascot Schooner.

It’s the first time I’ve taken a picture with a mascot outside the stadium after the game had ended, but getting that photo with the team mascot is always an important part of enjoying the full gameday experience.

There’s no doubt the Biloxi Shuckers provide a great gameday experience at MGM Park.  From the start of our visit with free parking at the parking deck next to the Beau Rivage Resort & Casino to a unique giveaway item to excellent local beer and food options to fun in-game entertainment like the Crawfish Boil Race to getting our photo taken with the team mascot at the end of the game, we enjoyed the quintessential Minor League Baseball experience along the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

Final Score: Birmingham 3, Biloxi 1
Box Score

My night with the Oklahoma City Dodgers – July 4, 2017

There are a lot of pluses and minuses to regularly visiting Minor League Baseball stadiums.  The biggest minus for me is that I only starting blogging about my ballpark visits consistently five years ago.  So I haven’t blogged about all the stadiums I’ve visited over the years.  However, that is also a plus because it gives me incentive to re-visit and blog about those parks.

Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark is one that I originally visited in 2009 while in graduate school at Oklahoma State University, but I hadn’t started blogging about my stadium visits at that time.  So when planning my summer road trip to visit my wife’s family in Oklahoma, I wanted to be sure to visit the stadium.

Over the eight years since my first visit to the stadium, a lot has changed.  The name changed from AT&T Bricktown Ballpark to RedHawks Field at Bricktown (2011) to Newcastle Field at Bricktown (April 4, 2012) to the current moniker the next day.

The team itself also changed affiliations since my initial visit.  The team was a Texas Rangers affiliate (until 2010) and then became a Houston Astros club (2011-14) and ultimately became affiliated with the Los Angeles Dodgers (2015).

The change in affiliation and ultimately ownership resulted in the team becoming the Oklahoma City Dodgers in 2015, as L.A. Dodgers minority owner Peter Guber bought the club (read more details here).

Despite multiple changes through the years, one thing has not changed.  The beautiful view fans get when walking up to the stadium’s main gate.

Stadium’s main gate (a.k.a. Johnny Bench Plaza).

There are two murals that flank the main gate.  The art installation is called “Bricktown Experience” and depicts facets of the area’s community.  In the word’s of Susan Morrison, the artist who created these mosaic murals in 2000: “The juxtaposition of old Bricktown and that of modern skyscrapers suggest a physical and spiritual connection between the two.  By placing 1890 motifs alongside present day images, a visual metaphor is created that evokes the timeless connection between past and present.”

The exterior of many stadiums can be rather ho-hum, but Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark celebrates the Hall of Fame careers of a trio of baseball players with ties to Oklahoma.

The statues are a great way to celebrate the state’s baseball heritage, but they are not the only pieces of art outside the stadium of note.  Along the third base line there is a row of six busts celebrating players like “Bullet” Rogan and Lloyd Waner.

A collections of busts outside the stadium celebrate native Oklahomans elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

While the team store isn’t usually something to celebrate, unless it has an unusual name that is a terrific pun, I thought the wraparound stickers were noteworthy because of the clear connection between the Oklahoma City affiliate and its parent club in Los Angeles.

The exterior of the team store plays up the club’s relatively new partnership.

After walking around the stadium for a few minutes and capturing photos of the numerous statues, Katie and I finally entered the ballpark.  We walked around the concourse taking in the sights and contemplating our choices at the concession stands.  Before we delved into food, I was particularly struck by the amount of images depicting Oklahoma City’s and the state’s baseball history.

The concourse also features a couple of signage pieces celebrating the team’s more recent history.

The Esurance Call Up Worthy marker celebrating former players who have made their Major League debut.

One of the coolest things about attending Minor League games is getting to see future stars, and the #CallUpWorthy marker celebrates those players.  Another cool part about MiLB games (at least for me as a geographer) is getting to see geographical representations of a MLB’s Minor League affiliates.  Not very stadium has something, but I really enjoyed the display at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark.

A banner along the first base line shows the distance from Oklahoma City to each of the Los Angeles Dodgers’ other affiliates.

As we were not hungry just yet, I snapped pictures of the starting lineups and the Pacific Coast League standings entering play that night.  Like some other clubs, Oklahoma City displays the starting lineups and league standings on TV screens instead of writing them out on dry-erase boards.  I’m still unsure how I feel about teams using TV screens to display the lineups.  It is certainly easier for the staff to use the electronic format, but as a fan I felt like I was blocking the walkway waiting to get a photo of both lineups and the league standings.  Granted, I probably wasn’t in anybody’s way.

After capturing the lineups and league standings, we waited around a few minutes because it was almost time for the game to begin and I wanted to capture my usual photo of the first pitch from behind home plate.

Oklahoma City Dodgers starting pitcher Madison Younginer delivers the first pitch to Iowa Cubs center fielder Jacob Hannemann.

After snapping a picture of the game’s first pitch, we found our seats along the first base line and enjoyed some of the game.

After watching a couple of innings, we decided it was time to get something to eat.  So we checked out the concourse to weigh our dinner options.

Most of the concession stands have the standard ballpark fare like hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken tenders, and more.  There are some unique options at Burgertopia and Franx, although these are both chains found at baseball stadiums.  So it was difficult for me to choose something that I felt was truly unique to this particular stadium.  After much debate, I opted for…

Porker Hot Dog, available at Franx, is a foot-long dog covered in pulled pork BBQ, BBQ sauce, and coleslaw.

The Porker Hot Dog was good.  It wasn’t anything super unique, as I’ve seen this style of hot dog throughout the South (yes, we can kind of call Oklahoma part of the South).  Don’t get me wrong, I’d encourage others to order it and I’d have it again myself.  However, in my stadium journeys I try to find something that is truly unique and reflects the local culture and cuisine.

I finished my hot dog while catching up with grad school friends who met us at the game.  However, these friends were late buying tickets and had to purchase general admission seats because the Fourth of July game is almost always a sell out for the Dodgers.  So instead of trying to find spots for four of us, we chatted and walked around the stadium a bit as I took some photos.

As we walked around the stadium, I was able to capture a few more photos of the game action.

The Dodgers were greeted with raucous cheers after winning the game.  However, I attended a game on the Fourth of July.  So people were there to see fireworks.

The start of the fireworks extravaganza following the game.

I didn’t get many great photos of the fireworks, but it was an awesome display.  It was a national holiday, and it was clear the Dodgers went above and beyond to celebrate America.  However, I saw something this night that I haven’t seen before at other games featuring a fireworks display.  I saw players sitting on the field with their wives and girlfriends and children enjoying the show.

Players, their wives, and children watching the fireworks on the field after the game.

It was awesome seeing the players and their families watching the fireworks display.  It’s a great reminder that no matter how old we are that it’s always special to watch a fireworks display.  It also reminds me of why I enjoy attending Minor League games.  There’s always something new to discover and a memory to be created at every single baseball stadium.

Final Score: Iowa 2, Oklahoma City 5
Box Score