Reviewing my 2016 ballpark resolutions

Like many people, I make New Years’ resolutions.  Unlike most people mine aren’t about losing weight, spending more time with family, getting organized, or any of the other most common resolutions that people end up breaking a few weeks into the new year.  Instead, my resolutions are about travel related to baseball teams.  Specifically, I tweet my resolutions about the baseball teams/stadiums I hope to visit during the upcoming year.

So as 2016 is nearly coming to a close, I’ve taken some time to sit down and look at my success of accomplishing my New Years’ resolutions.  Since 2014, I’ve written four resolutions on January 1st of each year.  So without further ado, I’ll review how I did accomplishing my resolutions for 2016.

Attending a Thirsty Thursday game hosted by the Asheville Tourists was easily accomplished as part of my trip to the Carolinas following my engagement.  It was the second stop of our trip through the Carolinas, and we did indeed took advantage of the beer specials that night (read about it here).

It’s tough for me to assess this resolution because I did not get to see all four South Carolina Minor League teams play at home, but I did make it to all four towns and had the intent of attending a game at all of the stadiums.  However, the Greenville Drive‘s home game was rained out on the night I was in town as part of my #SCMiLBTour.  So I ended up seeing the other three Minor League teams in the Palmetto State.  You can read about my experiences in Myrtle Beach (here), Charleston (here), and Columbia (here).

Since 2014, I’ve tried to see all three Kentucky Minor League teams in action, and have failed to accomplish that resolution.  Sadly, this past year was no different.  In early August, Katie and I attended a Bowling Green Hot Rods game (read it here), but we were unable to incorporate visits to Lexington or Louisville into our trip.

I hoped to make it to multiple Braves games at Turner Field during the 2016 season, but had to settle for just one ballgame before the club moved out.  However, in late May on the way back from the Carolinas, Katie and I watched the Milwaukee Brewers take on the Atlanta Braves in Turner Field.

As I’ve previously mentioned, trying to assess whether I accomplished all four of my resolutions is a bit difficult.  However, if I apply a black-or-white filter things become much clearer.  In a black-and-white world, I accomplished two of my four resolutions by attending a Braves game at Turner Field during their final season there and by attending an Asheville Tourists game on a Thirsty Thursday.  So overall I finished the year 2-for-4 (0.500 average).

If I break down the individual components of the resolutions my average climbs to 0.667 or 6-for-9.  As usual, my eyes are often bigger than my schedule when it comes to attending baseball games.  But now it’s time to consider my resolutions for 2017…

My night with the Asheville Tourists – May 19, 2016

After a Wednesday night game in Kodak (read about it here), Katie and I headed for Asheville, N.C., to watch the Tourists.

The benefit of driving from Kodak to Asheville was getting to travel US-441 through Great Smoky Mountain National Park.  While I have explored the Smokies multiple times, Katie had never visited.  Unfortunately, the weather was overcast and we encountered a bit of rain during our drive.

Eventually as we arrived in Asheville, the rain cleared out as we made a stop at New Belgium Brewing’s new East Coast facility.  After checking into our hotel, Katie and I hit a few breweries en route to McCormick Field, but we will detail our brewery stops in a later stand-alone post.

So onto the stadium…

Main entrance.

McCormick Field sits on the southern edge of downtown Asheville, which can be a positive or negative depending upon your perspective.  The negative: a downtown ballpark almost always means there is limited parking.  That is definitely the case in Asheville.  The positive: the stadium may be walkable from nearby hotels and residential areas.  That is definitely the case in Asheville.  Katie and I stayed at the Four Points by Sheraton Asheville Downtown, which is about one mile – approximately a 20-minute walk.

After immediately walking into the ballpark, I found the two things I always try to photograph early in the night: the starting lineup and the league standings.

Starting lineups for the Kannapolis Intimidators and the Asheville Tourists.
South Atlantic League standings entering play on Thursday, May 19.

After stumbling upon the lineups and standings, Katie and I spotted the Tourists’ mascot, Mr. Moon walking by.  So I hailed down a nearby employee and asked him to take our picture with the mascot.

Katie and I with Mr. Moon.

I won’t go into detail about the history of McCormick Field (read it here), but because of its age and its location it is a smaller ballpark.  So it’s easy to check out all the concession stands and portable stations along the concourse.  Katie and I did that before taking our seats.

Concourse with games, concession stands, and portable stations.
Portable food and beverage stations along the concourse.

One of the best named concession stands was Crash’s Kitchen, which most baseball fans should know is named after the character Crash Davis from the movie “Bull Durham.”  For those unfamiliar with the 1988 cinematic classic, I can only suggest you watch it or read about it here.  I’ll come back to the movie later.

As it was a Thursday, the Tourists, like many other Minor League Baseball teams, was having its usual Thirsty Thursday promotion on soft drinks and beers.  The unique part about being in Asheville on a Thirsty Thursday is that the Tourists were the first team to use that phrase, and the team owns the federal trademark on it.  I tried to track down the plaque commemorating the trademark, but unfortunately it is in the press box so an average fan like myself is not able to see it.  If you want to read more about the history of the promotion, you can read Ben Hill’s piece on about it here.

After checking out a few stands to explore our food and beer options, we each got a fantastic local craft beer for $2 and took to our seats to watch the start of the game.  I got a Catawba Brewing Co.‘s White Zombie, which is a witbier.  I find that a witbiers is one of the best styles to have during the warmer months plus how does someone turn down a beer with such a great name?

I could drone on about the beer choices at the stadium, but will do my best to be concise.  Asheville has a lot of great local craft breweries and some regional craft breweries that have opened East Coast facilities nearby (like New Belgium, Oskar Blues, and Sierra Nevada).  So Thirsty Thursday at a Tourists game is like heaven because it’s cheap, but quality beer.

With beers in hand, we took our seats to watch the start of the game between the Kannapolis Intimidators and the Tourists.  What I didn’t know at the time was that I got to watch the Colorado Rockies‘ 13th rated prospect, Peter Lambert, start for the Tourists (see list here) along with shortstop Carlos Herrera (22nd), second baseman Jonathan Piron (24th), and first baseman Brian Mundell (30th).

Tourists starting pitcher Peter Lambert preparing for the first pitch against Intimidators center fielder Tyler Sullivan.
Intimidators starting pitcher Johnathan Frebis facing Tourists third baseman Mylz Jones.

While I didn’t take action photos of all the top-rated prospects for the two teams, I got to see the White Sox‘s 10th rated prospect (first baseman Corey Zangari) and 16th rated prospect (shortstop Johan Cruz).

After watching a few innings of play, we started exploring the ballpark, which allowed me to get a few different perspectives on the stadium.

The scoreboard in right field.
View of the grandstand from the third base line, which highlights the Bojangles Dugout Suite along the first base line.

Perhaps the most interesting sight at the stadium is a mural featured in “Bull Durham.”  If you watch the clip (see it here, thanks to Ben Hill for posting it), you will see the mural at about the 30-second mark.  Due to ballpark renovations the mural was relocated next to the concession stand along the third base line.

Mural featured during the waning minutes of “Bull Durham” that is preserved along the third base line.

After walking to one end of the stadium, we walked around to the other end and I watched Tourists reliever Drasen Johnson warming up.

The home team bullpen down the right field line allows fans to watch closely as pitchers warm up.

So after wandering around the stadium and debating the food choices, I finally settled on having the Bacon Mac and Cheese Dog.

The Bacon Mac and Cheese Dog.

The Tourists cover the basics when it comes to food at the ballpark, and have a few unique items like Roots organic hummus with chips, which may not appeal to most baseball fans, but would definitely appeal to the hipster/hippie/millennial demographic in Asheville.  However, the Tourists do not really have a “signature” food item that you just “have to have,” so I opted for what I considered to be the most unique item.

The mac and cheese was good.  Bacon, of course, is always good.  The dog itself was fine, but I it could be better if the bacon was cooked into the mac and cheese instead of simply being sprinkled on top.

Attending a Tourists game on a Thirsty Thursday was dumb luck on my part, but I’m thrilled that Katie and I got to experience it.  The beer selection is great, and you truly cannot beat the $2 price.  The food choices are good, but didn’t blow me out of the water.  Although I might feel differently if I had eaten the fried Oreos for dessert.

Most importantly, the ballpark setting is great.  The trees provide a great backdrop, and allow fans to forget that they are in the midst of a mid-sized city.  Despite its opening in 1924, McCormick Field has been updated on multiple facets and does not give off the vibe of an “older” ballpark, except for fans being close to the action no matter where they sit.

Final Score: Lexington 10, Asheville 7 (10 innings)
Box Score

Previewing my trip through the Carolinas

Since this past December, my girlfriend and I have been planning a trip to North and South Carolina once the school year was over.  She grew up in Texas and Oklahoma, so she has not visited many of the states in the Southeast.  She loves to travel, and thankfully appreciates and supports my desire to visit baseball stadiums – Major League and Minor League.

So when I thought about places we could visit in the spring after we both wrapped up the spring semesters, I had two suggestions: the Carolinas or the Mississippi Gulf Coast and New Orleans.  As Katie has visited Louisiana before, and made a brief stop in Mississippi last summer, she quickly said she would prefer to visit the Carolinas.

Next came the more difficult task of figuring out a schedule.  As Ben Hill or Malcolm MacMillan or Craig Wieczorkiewicz and countless others can tell you, it is difficult pulling together a schedule where you see a new ballpark every day.  I can’t attest to how others compile their schedule, but I usually put multiple teams’ schedules into an Excel spreadsheet and highlight dates where the home schedules overlap or are at least contiguous, which would allow me to visit one team on Wednesday, travel the next day, and visit another team on Thursday.

The biggest goal I laid out for this trip was to limit driving each day to 3-4 hours.  Considering the distribution of MiLB teams (see map) in the Southeast this was an easy goal to accomplish.  However, considering that my girlfriend lives in Nashville, and we are departing from there to begin our journey I had to make an exception and we’ll make our first stop at a Tennessee ballpark.

So without further back story, here is our schedule:

Wednesday, May 18: Birmingham Barons at Tennessee Smokies, 7:05 p.m.

Thursday, May 19: Kannapolis Intimidators at Asheville Tourists, 7:05 p.m.

Friday, May 20: Lexington Legends at Greenville Drive, 7:05 p.m.

Saturday, May 21: Lynchburg Hillcats at Myrtle Beach Pelicans, 7:05 p.m.

Sunday, May 22: Day Off

Monday, May 23: West Virginia Power at Charleston RiverDogs, 7:05 p.m.

Tuesday, May 24: August GreenJackets at Columbia Fireflies, 7:05 p.m.

If you prefer a visual perspective with the list, you can follow along with the map below.

Map of upcoming baseball stadium visits.

I may not have the staff of like Ben Hill to Photoshop stuff for me, but this former SID still has a few Photoshop skills.  You’ll be able to follow along via my Twitter handle (@geoSteven) or my Instagram (@geo_steven).  If you want a woman’s perspective, you can follow Katie’s Twitter handle (@DJKati).

Katie and I have traveled together before, but never for such a long period of time or to so many baseball stadiums.  We also share a common interest in craft beer, so we will incorporate our visits to local breweries into the blog as well.  We have not come up with a name for our brewery visits, but we will create a dedicated page on the blog for these visits.  So along with visits to a number of baseball stadiums with my usual write up, you’ll be able to read about some of the South’s craft breweries.

Revealing my 2016 ballpark resolutions

Over the past two years I’ve made some baseball-related travel resolutions for the new year (Read 2015 resolutions here).  I’ve continued that trend into 2016, so before the semester gets away from me I wanted to sit down and recap my goals for the upcoming baseball season.

Getting right to the point, my first Minor League Baseball travel resolution is to…

I’ve previously made resolutions to see specific teams, but I have not made a resolution to attend on a specific day of the week or to attend a specific promotion. I have avoided these resolutions for two reasons:

#1, most teams do not release their complete promotional schedules until February or March at the earliest;

#2, my goal is usually to visit multiple teams on a trip, which means that in order to visit multiple teams on a trip that I may visit a specific club on a Tuesday because another team is on the road and I have to visit them on a Wednesday.

However, I have already been planning a trip through North Carolina and South Carolina, so I know that my schedule permits me to attend a game in Asheville on a Thursday. So my resolution is more about sticking to my plan than making a special effort to attend a game on a Thursday night. While many MiLB teams have a Thirsty Thursday promotion, it is unique in Asheville because the promotion originated with the Tourists. You can read about the origins of the promotion from writer Ben Hill here.

My second MiLB travel resolution is to…

I have previously aimed to see all the Minor League teams in a state before, and so far I’ve had mixed success in achieving the goal.  In 2014, I made separate resolutions to see all the teams in Alabama, Georgia, and Kentucky.  While I saw teams in each of those states, I did not come anywhere near reaching my goal.  However, last year I made only one resolution to see all the MiLB teams in a state.  I was able to meet that goal when I visited all four teams in Georgia.

My girlfriend, who thankfully enjoys baseball and many of my other interests, has not yet visited South Carolina, so she and I have been discussing taking a trip to the Palmetto State after the spring semester.  So it seemed natural to me that we try to visit all of the teams in South Carolina because each of the cities represents a different region of the state, and allows us to see the variety that the state offers visitors.

The added bonus is that I have never seen any Minor League games in South Carolina, so I would visit four new ballparks and add another state to my tally.

My third MiLB travel resolution is to…

For the second time in three years, I have set the goal to see all three Kentucky MiLB teams.  In 2014, I saw the Bowling Green Hot Rods (read it here), but did not see the Bluegrass State’s other two teams in action.  My motivation for seeing all three Kentucky teams in based primarily around proximity.  My girlfriend lives in Nashville, and wants to see Mammoth Cave National Park, which is approximately 90 minutes away.  As I have never seen the Lexington Legends in action nor have I written about visiting the Louisville Bats, I’m aiming to make a short trip to the Commonwealth to explore baseball, bourbon, and beer.

The past two years I have made four MiLB-related resolutions, one often ties into my travel to the AAG Annual Meeting.  In 2016, the conference takes place the last week of March, which is before the start of the Minor League season.  So for the first time ever, I limited my MiLB resolutions to three, and made my first MLB-related resolution.

My first MLB travel resolution is to…

I’ve written previously about growing up an Atlanta Braves fan, and the club plays its final season at Turner Field before moving to a new stadium in the suburbs for the 2017 season.  So while Turner Field is not a particularly historic venue, it holds special significance to me as a fan and as someone who worked at the stadium for many years.  So I would like to see at least one more game at the stadium before it is replaced.

With my resolutions set, now the planning and working to ensure they happen really starts.  While I upheld three of my four resolutions from 2015, we will see what 2016 holds and how many of my baseball-related travel resolutions I can uphold.