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 Charleston RiverDogs – May 23, 2016

Following our stay in Myrtle Beach (read about it here), Katie and I continued our South Carolina baseball road trip in Charleston.  We spent the Sunday doing sightseeing in Mount Pleasant seeing the Charles Pinckney National Historic Site, who was a key framer of the U.S. Constitution, and Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum, which features the USS Yorktown (CV-10).

When Katie and I initially planned the trip, we were going to spend Monday exploring the city after starting the morning by going to Fort Sumter National Monument.  That partially happened, but due to my audition for Sports Jeopardy! that afternoon we only made it to Fort Sumter before we decided to get lunch before I had to be at the hotel for the audition.

So after the audition and celebratory drinks at Holy City Brewing, Katie and I headed to the Charleston RiverDogs stadium for the game.  The stadium sits on the west side of the peninsula near the Ashley River, but the stadium does not sit immediately on the river so it lacks a noticeable grand entrance.

Instead fans walking into Joseph P. Riley, Jr. Park see this…

Main gate.

To the left of the gate there is some signage welcoming fans to Joseph P. Riley, Jr. Park.

The stadium is used by the RiverDogs and The Citadel’s baseball team.

So just who is Joseph P. Riley, Jr.?  Shortly after entering the ballpark I found a plaque with his remarks at the opening of the stadium named in his honor.  In case you don’t want to read the plaque, he served as a mayor of Charleston for 40 years and dramatically increased the amount of park space throughout the city.

Plaque honoring former Charleston mayor Joseph P. Riley, Jr., inside the stadium.

Also right after you enter the stadium is guest services and a post that includes the game’s starting lineups, so I immediately snapped a photo.

Starting lineups for the West Virginia Power and Charleston RiverDogs for May 23.

Reviewing the lineups there were a few highly rated prospects playing for each team.  The only top-30 prospect (see full list here) in the RiverDogs’ (a New York Yankees affiliate) lineup was shortstop Kyle Holder (22nd).  The West Virginia Power, a Pittsburgh Pirates affiliate, had two top-30 prospects (see full list here) in the lineup: third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes (6th), shortstop Cole Tucker (9th).

As Katie and I had arrived close to six o’clock, we walked around the stadium.  So we got to see that there are not one, but two halls of fame at the stadium.

The Charleston Baseball Hall of Fame includes notable teams and people associated with the city
not just former Minor League players.

 

The Professional Baseball Scouts Hall of Fame, which was started by The Goldklang Group,
honors the men who found the diamonds in the rough that became MLB stars.

Beyond the two hall of fame displays, we had to navigate a very crowded concourse because it was DWAC/Dog Dag.  So there were lots of fans who brought their four-legged friends to the game.

Along the concourse on the third base line.

 

Dog World concession stand on the first base line that specializes in hot dogs.

Even though there is no view of the river from the stadium there is a view of marshes behind the ballpark that creates a breathtaking backdrop.

Sunset over marshland behind Joseph P. Riley, Jr. Park.

After deciding not to get any food just yet, we took our seats behind home plate to watch the first few innings of the game.

Charleston RiverDogs starting pitcher Christian Morris delivering the first pitch
to West Virginia Power shortstop Cole Tucker.

As we watched the first few innings we lucked out as Charleston mascot Charlie T. RiverDog walked past out seats behind home plate.  So we lucked out and got out photo with him early in the game.

Katie and I with Charlie T. RiverDog.

After watching some of the game, I walked around to take some pictures of the ballpark and game action.

West Virginia Power left fielder Logan Hill and center fielder Tito Polo with the right field videoboard.

 

Scoreboard in left field.

The RiverDogs had an entry in this season’s MiLB Food Fight (see full list here), and it had been what I intended to eat.  Growing up in the South I’ve been around shrimp and grits a lot, and had them in a mini helmet last season at a Pensacola Blue Wahoos game (read about it here).  However, I’ve never seen or heard of a shrimp-n-grit corn dog until seeing Charleston’s entry in the Food Fight.

Although I had easily determined what signature food item I wanted to eat at the game, I should have ordered it almost immediately after entering the gate.  Dave’s Country Kitchen, where the shrimp-n-grit corn dog is usually served, had run out of them by the time I tried to order mine.  Luckily the stand served alligator sausages, so I decided to have one of those instead.

Alligator sausage with chipotle sauce.

I was understandably disappointed that I did not get to try the shrimp-n-grit corn dog, but the alligator sausage was quite good.  I’ve had alligator on multiple occasions, but not as part of an encased meat.  This version along with the chipotle sauce was spicy, but flavorful.  Katie also got the alligator sausage and paired it with a beer shake from the Pie House. She got the Palmetto Espresso Porter Mint Chocolate Chip shake, which she said was fantastic.

After finishing my food, I realized that I did not actually have photos of any players in action besides the first pitch of the game.  So I decided I should get some pictures before it got too dark and my digital camera was rendered useless.

RiverDogs right fielder Jhalan Jackson at the plate.

 

West Virginia reliever Sean Keselica facing Charleston left fielder Nathan Mikolas.

There are lots of reasons to enjoy Minor League games: the food, the low ticket prices, the prospects, the mascots, the promotions, etc. One things people don’t often discuss is the opportunity to watch baseball legends visit with teams as a roving or guest instructor.

I did not know he would be at the game, but late in the game the RiverDogs public address announcer informed fans that Hall of Famer and New York Yankees legend Reggie Jackson was in the dugout with the RiverDogs.  He briefly stepped out to the front step of the dugout and acknowledged the crowd, which allowed me an opportunity to take a photo of him talking with a player.

Former MLB outfielder Reggie Jackson now serves as a special advisor to the Yankees in the RiverDogs dugout.

Lest I forget, while picking up our “first game” certificate at guest services before the game had started Katie and I mentioned to the staffer that we were celebrating our engagement-moon, or whatever you call a trip you take after getting engaged.  Lo and behold while the RiverDogs made their announcements welcoming groups and fans celebrating special events on the videoboard, our names appeared on the board.

That unexpected announcement capped off what was already a great gameday experience.  The food was varied and delicious.  The in-game entertainment was good, although I admittedly didn’t pay much attention to the on-field promotions.  Katie and I got a “first-game” certificate, which led to one of the most special things to happen at the game: an impromptu appearance on the videoboard.

Final Score: West Virginia 2, Charleston 10
Box Score

My night with the Myrtle Beach Pelicans – May 21, 2016

After stops in Kodak, Tenn., (read about it here) and Asheville, N.C., (read about it here) Katie and I were supposed to attend a Greenville Drive game on a Friday night.  However, the game was canceled after it rained a majority of the afternoon in the Upstate area.  With hotel reservations already made for the rest of the trip, we continued on to Myrtle Beach, S.C., where we would see the Pelicans that Saturday night.

After checking into our hotel (more on it later) and relaxing for a bit, Katie and I headed to the ballpark.  It is easy to get to the stadium because it sits at the intersection of US-17 and 21st Avenue North, which makes it easily accessible to local residents or visitors like ourselves.  The one problem we encountered was that I was unable to get a photo of the sign at the entrance of the parking lot because there is no pull off area and a car immediately followed us into the lot.

Another issue when arriving at the ballpark is that it does not present a ready-made “main entrance” image.  Coming from the parking lot, we encountered the entrance by right field, but nothing screamed “main entrance” to me.  So we walked around toward home plate thinking I’d find the shot I wanted, but unfortunately that was not the case.

Instead of a “grand entrance” to the ballpark the photo I got was this…

The entrance behind home plate isn’t even labeled as the “Home Plate Gate.” Instead it is simply “Gate 3.”

En route to Gate 3, we did see a banner celebrating former Pelicans who have played in the Majors with the team’s current parent club, the Chicago Cubs.

A banner celebrating former Pelicans who have played for the Cubs.

Maybe I’m being nit-picky, but the banner seems a tad disingenuous because both players spent time with the club while it was affiliated with different MLB teams.  Heyward played for the Pelicans coming up in the Atlanta Braves organization while Hendricks played in Myrtle Beach as part of the Texas Rangers organization.  I know the Pelicans only became a Cubs affiliate before the 2015 season, but it seems weird to promote this connection considering that these players only became Cubs via free agency (Heyward) and a trade (Hendricks).  However, as the cliché goes “baseball in a business” and the Pelicans seems determined to cement their connection to the Cubs, even if the relationship is only in its second season.

So once in the gates, Katie and I explored the concourse so I could capture pre-game pictures of the starting lineups and league standings.  Thankfully those were side-by-side.

Starting lineups and Carolina League standings entering play on May 21.

When it comes to watching the game, I don’t generally look up information about the prospects in advance.  I go to games because I enjoy watching the game and exploring a new stadium, but I do check out the prospects after the fact.  So it’s interesting to see how many prospects played in a particular game.

The Lynchburg Hillcats are a Cleveland Indians affiliate, which is a MLB club I don’t see much about living in the South (see prospect list here).  They had first baseman Bobby Bradley (3rd), shortstop Yu-Cheng Chang (12th), second baseman Mark Mathias (16th), left fielder Mike Papi (17th), center fielder Greg Allen (22nd), and designated hitter Claudio Bautista (30th) in the lineup.

The Pelicans lineup had some Cubs prospects, too (see full list here).  I had no idea that shortsop Gleyber Torres was the top-rated prospect in the Cubs organization nor did I know about the other players like second baseman Ian Happ (3rd) or starting pitcher Jake Stinnett (22nd).

So after exploring a bit and deciding that we were not hungry enough to eat, Katie and I headed to our seats behind home plate.  It was Military Appreciation Night at the game, so the Pelicans honored local veterans with an on-field ceremony before the game and capped it off with a biker salute.

The team also donned special uniforms for the game, too.

Pelicans starting pitcher Jake Stinnett delivering the first pitch to Hillcats center field Greg Hill.

After watching a few innings of play, we started to consider our food options.  If you follow Ben’s Biz, you saw his visit to the ballpark a few weeks before my stop (read it here).  So Katie and I were armed with a LOT of information, which actually made it difficult to choose just one food item apiece.  Thankfully we had time to wander down to the specialty concession stand in right field.

Along the way we passed the wall displaying all of the former Pelicans who made it to the Majors.

All the former Myrtle Beach Pelicans players who have played in the Majors.

Right as you enter the patio that houses the Clark & Addison Grille there is a post showing directions to a bevy of things.  Some local, and some distant.

Directions to a few important places around the ballpark, but also the other two Minor League Baseball teams
owned by Chuck Greenberg along with a few notable baseball places.

 

Clark & Addison Grille with the Wrigley Field marquee has numerous Chicago-specific food items along with a diverse craft beer selection at the American Tap House, where you have a growler filled to take home after the game.

It was difficult for me to pick just one item, but had to admit to myself that trying the Double Play Dog would be too much for me on this night.  It was the Pelicans’ featured item in the 2016 MiLB Food Fight (see full list here), but I opted for a slimmer version of the Double Play Dog minus the dog, and ordered the Buckner’s Italian Beef.  While I opted for the Italian beef, Katie heeded the Twitter advice of Ben Hill and order the chicken bog balls.

While waiting for our food, I took some photos of the game.

Scoreboard in right field with the rising moon appearing behind the trees.

 

The home team bullpen beyond the right field wall with the retired number 43 of former pitching coach Bruce Dal Canton.

 

Lynchburg Hillcats starting pitcher Sean Brady on the mound.

After a short wait, my food arrived.

Buckner’s Italian Beef with homemade chips.

I’ve only had one other Italian beef in my life, which was about a year ago in Chicago.  This sandwich was wet and had the usual accompaniment of giardiniera on top.  I paired with with a Palmetto Brewing Company’s Lowcountry Pilsner.  While I enjoyed the pilsner (another great, light, refreshing beer style for the summer), I was disappointed to see that the Pelicans no longer serve Pelicans Summer Tide (read about it here), which was a beer specially made for the team by New South Brewing Company which is a local brewery.

As I said earlier, Katie opted for the chicken bog balls.

Being unfamiliar with this item, we inquired about what it entailed.  There is a dish served in the area called a chicken bog, which usually made with rice, chicken, sausage, and seasonings.  In this case, the Pelicans culinary staff took all of these elements and hand-packed the ingredients into convenient balls and fried them.  It may sound weird, but they were delicious!  I would encourage anybody who has never had chicken bog to try them when visiting the Pelicans.

After filling our stomachs with beer and food, we headed back to our seats to watch some more of the game.  Along the way we passed under a sign for Marina Inn at Grande Dunes, which is the four-diamond resort we stayed at that night.  We booked it through Hotwire, and got a great on the place, so I felt like I needed to get a picture of the resort’s advertising at the stadium.

Signage promoting the Marina Inn at Grande Dunes.

After taking our seats, I noticed the series of numbers below the press box, which I presumed were retired numbers.  One number’s significance is obvious with 42 being retired across affiliated baseball in the United States and Canada in honor of Jackie Robinson.  The other numbers are naturally a different story.

The Pelicans retired numbers and paws.

Rafael Furcal (#2) played parts of two seasons (1999-2000) in Myrtle Beach before making his MLB debut with the Atlanta Braves, but was the first Pelicans player to have his number retired in 2001.  Former pitching coach Bruce Dal Canton (#43) coached in the Braves system for 25 years, spending nine seasons (1999-2007) at the Pelicans pitching coach before passing away in 2008.  Dinger served as the team’s “home run dog” for 10 seasons (1999-2009) before passing away in 2009 (read about it here), and has his role honored with a paw.  Rocket Wheeler served as the team’s manager for five seasons (2006-2010), helping the team to a franchise-record 89 wins in 2008 had his number retired on April 22, 2016, when he was in town with his current team, the Carolina Mudcats.

Also while watching the game from behind home plate I got an opportunity to get a photo of the specialty jerseys the Pelicans were wearing for Military Appreciation Night, which coincided with Armed Forces Day (read more here).

Pelicans manager Buddy Bailey (#46) discussing a call with the umpires.

Although the Pelicans were leading late in the game, we saw Rally Shark roaming along the third base line.  So we felt compelled to get a photo taken with him.

Katie and I with Rally Shark.

We also got to see the visitors’ bullpen, which has seating on a beach behind it.

Lynchburg Hillcats reliever Justin Garcia warming up in the bullpen.

I also got my best chance to get a closeup of the Pelicans’ special jersey with the team’s closer on the mound to close out the game.

Pelicans closer Jose Rosario on the mound in the 8th inning.

After finally feeling like I had a decent photo showing off the specialty jersey, Katie and I headed back to our seats and watched the end of the game.  Fireworks were scheduled for after the game, but after Deuce’s victory lap, the tennis ball toss, and distributing the raffled off jerseys it seemed like it was going to be quite a wait for the fireworks.  So we headed out to soak up the comforts of our four-diamond resort.

Ultimately, we got to see the fireworks display as we drove back to the hotel.  Perhaps most importantly, we got to enjoy an awesome pregame ceremony, some of the most unique food I have ever seen or eaten at a Minor League stadium, and some really good, local craft beer.

Final Score: Lynchburg 4, Myrtle Beach 6
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 MiLB.com 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 MiLB.com 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.