For a few weeks now I’ve been thinking about what makes for a “good” ballpark experience. I don’t think there is a definitive list because everybody has their own “must do” items to truly experience a baseball stadium, especially a Minor League stadium.
However, as a geographer who studies place and place attachment, I’ve thought about the things I try to do when I visit a new ballpark. The premise can be applied to any sports venue, but my primary experience has been with baseball stadiums and especially Minor League stadiums.
#1: Read Up on the Park
There are a lot of blogs and books that talk about stadium visits, but my favorite is by MiLB.com writer Benjamin Hill called Ben’s Biz. As a member of the media he gets more access than the average fan, but he samples the local fare and provides a humorous take on his visit. He often has local fans sample food and beer and provide their feedback, too. Hill’s blog covers more than just his stadium visits, so you’ll find a healthy dose of news about promotions, theme nights, franchise relocation, and a lot more.
If you prefer to read something handheld in a printed format there are a lot of books available, but one of the best I’ve found is Josh Pahigian’s The Ultimate Minor League Baseball Road Trip. It provides a lot of detail about the history of the team and stadium in addition to notes about where are the best seats, food and beverage choices, and nearby dining options for people who don’t want to eat at the ballpark.
Whether you agree with my suggestions or prefer a different blog or book, and there are plenty of other sources out there, familiarizing yourself with unique features of the ballpark will let you maximize your experience.
#2: Talk to the Locals
Maybe you’re not interested in reading a book or a blog before your trip. Or perhaps you didn’t know you were attending this new ballpark so you didn’t have the chance to plan. So what’s the best way to learn quickly about the park? Talk to the locals.
When choosing seats you may not get a lot of detail from the staff at the ticket window, but they will definitely steer you toward certain seats if you want to be in the shade on a blistery day or under an awning in the case of rain. If you want to know about food or beverages that are unique to that ballpark you should talk to a ticket taker or an usher. Not all employees eat at the stadium where they work, but many do and are usually quite talkative about what is good and unique.
If you don’t get a helpful answer from an employee, strike up a conversation with another fan. For introverts, like myself, that’s easier said than done, but it led me to a unique non-menu item hot dog when I visited McKechnie Field in Bradenton, Fla., last spring (read about it here). Many Minor League teams have their regulars, and most are more than willing to share recommendations with people who are visiting a ballpark for the first time.
#3: Eat and Drink Local
As more Minor League teams try to bring innovative food items to their concession stands many stadium seems to boast at least a few specialty items that are unique to that ballpark. Some teams get creative with new items every year like West Michigan Whitecaps (read about the 2014 winner here from the MWL Traveler). So identifying these items is pretty easy, and sometimes it can be difficult to choose because teams like the Memphis Redbirds have multiple signature items (read about my visit here).
While it’s easier to find those items, it’s not as easy but probably as important to find the truly local foods like the Arkansas-made sausage available at an Arkansas Travelers game or Mississippi-brewed beer at a Mississippi Braves games (read about my visit here). If you have the choice between a generic hot dog or a bratwurst made locally you should always choose the local item. If you can choose between a Budweiser or a local craft beer, always pick the local craft beer.
There’s not much purpose to traveling to a new ballpark and drinking a Bud while eating a basic hot dog. If you want basic you might as well stay at home.
#4: Have Fun
It probably seems redundant to tell people to “have fun” while attending a Minor League Baseball game, but it’s an important reminder. Many traditionalists may poo-poo the goofy jerseys that many Minor League teams will wear or the seemingly countless theme nights throughout the season, but that’s the charm of MiLB games. The game itself is serious, but the atmosphere is meant to be fun and a time for fans to escape from the real world and forget about work and their other troubles.
So if you get out to a Minor League ballpark this summer make sure to go with the flow and enjoy America’s pastime.