Reviewing my 2015 ballpark resolutions

Since 2014, I have posted baseball-related travel resolutions.  If you want to see how I did meeting my 2014 resolutions, read about it here.

Starting off January 1, I made four resolutions relating to visiting Minor League Baseball stadiums.

I started the year off on a good note, as I did in fact attend a Kane County Cougars game, and I got to meet Craig Wieczorkiewicz.  Craig operates The Midwest League Traveler, which covers appropriately enough, the Midwest League.  The first day I was in Chicago I got a rental car and drove from downtown Chicago to the West Suburbs (specifically Geneva).  It was a chilly evening, but I got to hang out with Craig, drink a Raging Cougar Ale, and talk about baseball.  You can read about my visit here.

In hindsight I’m not sure how you quantify the success/failure of this resolution.  I made it to First Tennessee Park for a Nashville Sounds game at their new ballpark.  That is obviously a success.  However, I did not get another photo with Ozzie because he was replaced by Booster the Hot Chicken.  Considering that I did get a photo with the mascot, I’m counting this as a win.  You can read about my visit here.

Somewhere along the way we all fall short of fulfilling our resolutions, and I can report that I did not attend a Lexington Legends game with my friend Dr. Michael Bradley.  I wasn’t swamped with writing my dissertation, but due to car repairs I did not drive to Cincinnati, Ohio, for the AP Human Geography Reading and therefore failed to drive through Kentucky on my way back south.  I’m optimistic that I will be able to attend a game in 2016.

Last year I hoped to visit all four of Georgia’s Minor League Baseball teams, but only visited one of them.  I visited the Gwinnett Braves with my Oklahoma State Grad School classmate Bill McBrayer for Back to the Future Night.  I did not blog about my visit because I had visited the G-Braves in 2014 (read about that visit here).  On the same road trip I did visit the Augusta GreenJackets and Savannah Sand Gnats, who were in their final season.  You can read about my visit to Augusta here and my visit to Savannah here.  I made a daytrip to watch the Rome Braves play about a week after my trip to Augusta and Savannah.  You can read about my Rome visit here.  So I can definitely mark my Georgia-related resolution as a success.

Of my four resolutions, I completed three.  From an individual component perspective I completed six of seven resolutions for a 0.857 average in baseball terms.  From an overall vantage I went 3-for-4 for a 0.750 average.  Either way you look at my baseball resolutions for 2015 I consider myself a winner.  I’d like to go 4-for-4 with my resolutions one year, but I will definitely take a 3-for-4 day at the plate.

Now to consider my baseball travel resolutions for 2016…

My night with the Chicago White Sox – April 24, 2015

After visiting the Kane County Cougars (read about visit here) to start my week in Chicago during the AAG Annual Meeting, I got to attend a Chicago White Sox game to close out my week.  The day prior to attending the game, I led a field trip on a tour of the stadium, but will only be writing about my experience at the baseball game here.

For those unfamiliar with baseball in Chicago, one of the great advantages of the city and its stadiums is that you can access both ballparks using mass transit.  After meeting with some colleagues at the conference hotel, we walked to the CTA’s “L” Red Line to travel south.  Following our 30-minute commute the first sight we saw of U.S. Cellular Field was from the platform on the other side of the interstate.

View of U.S. Cellular Field with the Dan Ryan Expressway in the foreground.

While walking to get my tickets at will call, I got to explore the exterior of the stadium.  The coolest thing I saw was a street sign for former owner Bill Veeck.  He is a controversial figure in baseball history, but is arguably one of the greatest marketing innovators.

Coolest street sign outside U.S. Cellular Field.

In addition to Veeck, the White Sox commemorate their 2005 World Series win with multiple pieces in a plaza.

Sculpture commemorating key moments of the White Sox 2005 playoffs run.

U.S. Cellular Field opened in 1991, replacing Comiskey Park, which had been home to the Pale Hose since 1910.  The only remnants of Comiskey Park is a marker for home plate and foul lines that are painted into the now parking lot.

A marker showing the location of home plate at old Comiskey Park.

After hitting all the highlights outside the stadium, I finally entered through the main entrance on the north side of the ballpark.

Main entrance at Gate 5.

The White Sox have eight statues on the outfield concourse to honor former players and one for former owner Charles Comiskey.  I took photos of each statue, but don’t want to inundate people with that many consecutive photos.  Instead, I’m going to focus on the Hall of Fame figures associated with the White Sox.

Owner Charles Comiskey (1900-1931) was inducted to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1939.
Shortstop Luis Aparicio (left) and second baseman Nellie Fox (right). Aparicio (1956-1962, 1968-1970) was inducted to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1984, and Fox (1950-1963) was inducted to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1997.
Catcher Carlton Fisk (1981-1993) was inducted to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2000.
First baseman Frank Thomas (1990-2005) was inducted to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2014.

Although I had no need for it on a chilly April evening, the coolest feature on the outfield concourse is the Old Comiskey Park Shower.  Installed at Comiskey Park in 1976, the shower offers fans with a great way to cool off during hot summer days.

I did not use the shower, but had to get my photo taken inside this piece from Comiskey Park.

After receiving a fantastic discount on tickets negotiated by the AAG, I enjoyed the game from the first base line.

Chicago White Sox starting pitcher Jose Quintana delivering the first pitch to Kansas City Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar.

With seats along the first base line, I had a great view of the scoreboard and video board in the outfield.

Center field videoboard with pinwheels and scoreboard in left center.

I also got a good view of the upper deck and left field bleachers from my seat.

A view of the left field bleachers.

One of the more interesting banners on the light towers was the set commemorating the White Sox’s 2005 World Series title.

Out-of-town scoreboard with banners honoring the White Sox’s 2005 World Series title.

I also got a good view of the luxury suites and club seats behind home plate, which also features the White Sox’s retired numbers.

A view of the Home Plate Club, luxury suites, and the White Sox’s retired numbers.

While exploring the concourse I had a couple of local craft beers.  The White Sox have a good selection of local and regional beers.  I opted for Two Brothers’s (Warrenville, Ill.)  Ebel’s Weiss and Great Lakes’s (Cleveland, Ohio) Eliot Ness, which were great precursors to my food choice.  I wasn’t sure what to order, but ultimately decided on the Comiskey Burger.

Comiskey Burger as the rain starts to come down.

While I did not eat the burger in the stands because the precipitation had changed from sleet into a steady rain, but I had to get my customary photo of my food with the ballpark in the background.  The Comiskey Burger features two beef patties topped with Merkt’s cheddar cheese and “Chi-town pico,” which includes tomato, neon green relish, white onion, Kosher pickle, and sport pickle (all the ingredients found on a Chicago-style hot dog).  Needless to say, the burger is very messy to eat, but it is delicious!  In fact, I’m wishing I had one right now because I’m so hungry I could devour one again.

Due to the rain, most of the group I attended the game with migrated onto the concourse and eventually we found empty seats under the overhang.  It was amazing that the umpires did not call the game sooner than they did, but eventually in the top of the 9th inning after White Sox closer David Robertson had completed his warmup pitches the crew chief called for the tarp to be put on the field.

Our group decided that after enduring sleet and some rain that we would depart the stadium instead of waiting out a potential rain delay.

View of the tarp from behind home plate.

By the time I arrived at my hotel room, I found out the game was suspended and would be completed the next day before the regularly scheduled game.  So while I was disappointed that I did not get to see the conclusion of the game, I am not upset about the decision to leave at the time we did.

For a stadium built just before the retro craze kicked off in the mid-90s, U.S. Cellular Field has been massively renovated numerous times.  For old-time Chicago fans it may not have the same character as old Comiskey Park, but it definitely has its charm and has excellent food and beverage choices to go along with some good customer service.  The best part of the customer service is the ability to get a certificate printed with your name on it to commemorate your first visit to the stadium.  With that in mind Go Go Sox!

My night with the Kane County Cougars – April 21, 2015

Springtime means a handful of things for me, but the one consistency that helps fuel this blog is the AAG Annual Meeting.  This year’s meeting was in Chicago, Ill., so when the Minor League Baseball schedule came out last fall, I investigated to see what games I could attend while in the Windy City.  There are multiple baseball teams in Chicago, but besides the Cubs and White Sox the only team playing games in late-April is the Kane County Cougars.

Over the past year as I’ve gotten more into blogging about my visits to baseball stadiums, I’ve started following other bloggers on Twitter and interacting with them.  So when I saw that Kane County was playing at home during my visit, I asked Craig Wieczorkiewicz if he wanted to attend a game with me.  He replied that he would try to plan around it.

For those who don’t use Twitter or aren’t familiar with Craig, he runs a site called The Midwest League Traveler.  He does a great job of taking photos and keeping tabs on former MWL players through his Twitter account.

After arriving in Chicago and getting a rental car to drive out to Geneva, I got to the stadium incredibly early.  I used that time to take some photos of the signage outside the stadium.

Signage on Strikers Fox Valley Soccer Club‘s facility showing the most notable former Cougars.

 

Main signage with the night’s matchup.

As fans started to arrive, I took some photos of the main entrances.  With a capacity of over 10,000, the stadium has multiple entrances to accommodate the significantly larger summertime crowds.

Most fans entered via Gate 1, which is the closest entry point to the expansive parking lot.

While standing around Gate 1 waiting for Craig, I started talking with the man operating the free-standing booth when he asked why I was wearing an Alabama Crimson Tide cap.  It turns out that the Cougars’ ticketing director, Michael Patterson, had worked in Atlanta with the Hawks and new some of my former bosses from an internship I did there years after he had left.  It was also great learning that he had a bachelor’s degree in geography, so we swapped business cards and I’m hopeful that he will be able to talk with my sports geography course next year via Skype.

The Cougars Den souvenir shop was not open prior to the game.

 

Yet another ticket window, this time by the front office entrance.

Before entering the park it’s important to note that this is one of four Minor League Baseball stadiums with a naming rights deal with Fifth Third Bank, so if you thought you were in Toledo or Dayton or Grand Rapids you’re mistaken.  Toledo and Dayton are both home to Fifth Third Field and Grand Rapids (technically Comstock Park) is home to Fifth Third Ballpark.  Geneva’s stadium is the only one that has “bank” in its name.

Finally when Craig arrived after his drive from Wisconsin, I got to enter the stadium.  We quickly found the starting lineups posted near home plate.

Starting lineups for LumberKings vs. Cougars on April 21 plus the Midwest League standings.

I explored the stadium a bit before settling down to watch the first pitch.  So as usual, I made sure to capture the first pitch before settling in for the game.

Kane County Cougars starting pitcher Jefferson Mejia after delivering the first pitch
to Clinton LumberKings center fielder Chantz Mack.

Although I often watch a game from behind home plate that location does not work well for getting unobstructed photographs of players, and so I sat along the third base line because Craig takes a TON of photos for his web site.  It was a chilly and windy April night, so there were a lot of available seats, and I took a few of my own pictures from our vantage point at the end of the dugout.

Kane County Cougars starting pitcher Jefferson Mejia delivers a pitch
with Clinton LumberKings center fielder Chantz Mack on first.

Some people ogle over watching top-rated prospects play, and while I enjoy watching top-tier players I’ve never been one to get caught up in the excitement.  However, I can thank Craig for pointing out that the Seattle Mariners’ No. 1 prospect was playing for the LumberKings (read more here).  So I made sure to snap a picture of Alex Jackson, who was all sorts of bundled up on the very chilly and windy night.

Clinton LumberKings left fielder Alex Jackson is the Seattle Mariners No. 1 ranked prospect.

Another thing I learned from following Craig and his blog is that the Cougars installed a new video board, and we had a great view of it, too.  I can’t compare it to the old video board, but the one I saw looks really spiffy.

The Cougars new video board with the old scoreboard in left field.

I’ve been a baseball fan for a long time, and one thing has recently started to happen that shows my age and my age as a baseball fan.  I now see numerous former Major League players managing in the Minor Leagues, and this night I saw Mark Grudzielanek managing the Cougars.

Kane County Cougars manager Mark Grudzielanek (#15) watching
Clinton LumberKings starting pitcher Tyler Herb get set to deliver a pitch.

After finishing my Raging Cougar Ale, a beer specially brewed for the Cougars by Two Brothers Brewing Company, I heard an announcement about the grill along the first base line closing.  I was surprised to hear the announcement in only the 3rd or 4th inning, but I guess fan turnout and chilly conditions led to the earlier-than-usual closing.  So I headed there hoping to try either the BBQ pork chop sandwich or another of the Cougars’ signature sandwich items, but unfortunately the grill was closed by the time I arrived.  So I missed out on having a specialty food item, and instead explored the concession stands lining the concourse.

Bobak’s sausage stand, where I got an Ozzie Dog.

I enjoy encased meat, so it seemed only natural I ended up getting a sausage of some variety.  I could’ve had a Polish sausage or bratwurst, but felt like the appropriate selection was the foot-long Ozzie Dog served with grilled onions.

Foot-long Ozzie Dog with yellow mustard.

While the Ozzie Dog is not a standard Chicago-style hot dog, I felt awkward putting ketchup or other condiments on it.  So I kept it basic and paid respect to the locals by just using yellow mustard.  It was a good dog, and very filling.  However, I had really hoped for something off the grill.  If I get back to Kane County, I will be sure to come hungry and get something hot off the grill after I walk through the gate.

After finishing the hot dog, I sat along the first base line and talked with Craig about baseball and our mutual interests.  It was a great way to enjoy a baseball game, and recommend that anybody who visits stadiums to reach out to local people to watch a game with them.  I don’t follow the Midwest League, and learned a lot about it and the teams by talking to Craig.

While talking and watching the game we saw Kane County catcher Stryker Trahan crush a ball to right field in the 6th inning that put the home team ahead for good.  It’s a shame more people didn’t see it, but it highlighted his performance that earned him Player of the Game honors in a 5-2 Cougars victory.

The video board featuring Stryker Trahan as the Player of the Game after going 3-for-5 with a two-run home run.

My visit was not quite what I expected, but it was definitely worth it.  The weather was chilly and windy, which made me happy that I had brought gloves on my trip despite my teeth chattering a few times during the game.  I didn’t get my usual photo with the mascot.  I was a bit disappointed that I missed out on sampling a signature item from the grill, but I enjoyed the atmosphere and had a great time taking in the game with a very knowledgeable fan.  I’m thankful for Craig’s willingness to make the trek to attend the game, and hope that I’ll get to see the Cougars play in some warmer weather next time and that I’ll be able to return the hospitality Craig extended to me.

Anybody who visits Minor League ballparks should definitely put Kane County on their list.  It may be a trek from downtown Chicago, but the beer is good, the food is delicious, and the atmosphere is fun even on a chilly April night.

Revealing my 2015 ballpark resolutions

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

Without further ado, my 2015 MiLB travel resolutions are…

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

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

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

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

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