Reviewing my 2018 ballpark resolutions

Over the past four years I’ve made ballpark travel resolutions based primarily upon seeing Minor League Baseball games, and each year I recap the goals and assess how successful I was in accomplishing my goals.  So without further ado, here is how I did with my 2018 ballpark travel resolutions.

Resolution #1:

I had previously seen all of Alabama’s Minor League teams play at home, but never during the same season.  More importantly, setting the goal of seeing all three Alabama teams at home in one season was about my wife getting the opportunity to see each of the teams at home.  In turn, this goal was about us as a couple seeing each team play at their home ballpark.

We accomplished this goal pretty easily, as we built our Memorial Day weekend plans around this travel resolution (read about the trip here).  We made a trip down to Mobile and visited some nearby craft breweries before attending a Montgomery Biscuits game, and finished the trip with my wife’s first time at the Rickwood Classic.

Resolution #2:

It wasn’t the easiest resolution to keep, but I did get to see the Lexington Legends and Louisville Bats at home with my wife this past year.  For the past seven years I’ve participated in the AP Human Geography Reading in Cincinnati, Ohio, in early June.  As my wife had never been to Ohio, we made plans for her to fly into Cincinnati at the end of my work week, and for us to drive back through Kentucky on our way home to Alabama.

So I created an itinerary that would allow us to spend a few days in Louisville and Lexington en route to Alabama.  After a great weekend in Cincinnati, we caught a Bats games in Louisville (read about it here) and a Legends games in Lexington (read about it here) before our trek back to Tuscaloosa.

Resolution #3:

When I make my travel resolutions, I try to be fairly realistic about what I can and cannot accomplish.  I don’t always go for easily attainable goals, but I don’t go for the nearly-impossible-to-attain goals either.  When I set the goal of attending a Potomac Nationals game during the Beer Bloggers Conference, I felt like it was something I could make happen.  Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately), I moved to Japan shortly before the conference and was unable to attend.  Naturally this meant that I did not get to attend a Potomac Nationals games this past season.

So I whiffed on this resolution.

Resolution #4:

I’ve been to several Major League and Minor League ballparks before getting married last year.  So when my wife & I got married, I wanted to start something new with her as I (and ultimately we) continued to visit more ballparks.  So after being introduced to the MLB BallPark Pass-Port a few years ago, we decided to purchase the large, leather-bound book to chronicle our journey to attend games at all 30 Major League Baseball stadiums.

As we made plans for her to meet me in Cincinnati in early June, it was easy to get a stamp in our “big book.”  I hoped to visit at least one other MLB ballpark in 2018, but our July trip to Central Europe and move to Japan prevented us from traveling more in the U.S.  So I count this as a resolution being kept.  However, I would have preferred adding at least one more MLB park this past season.

Recapping the Resolutions
  1. See all three Minor League Baseball teams (Birmingham Barons, Mobile BayBears, and Montgomery Biscuits) in Alabama with my wife.
    Resolution kept.
  2. Attend a Lexington Legends and Louisville Bats game with my wife.  Resolution kept.
  3. Attend a Potomac Nationals game during the Beer Bloggers Conference.  Resolution not kept.
  4. Visit a new MLB ballpark with my wife and get a stamp in our passport book.  Resolution kept.

I upheld three of my four ballpark resolutions for this past year.  In hindsight, I don’t feel like my resolutions were particularly difficult to keep.  However, I am please that I accomplished most of my baseball travel goals this year.  Now to contemplate my New Year’s Resolutions for 2019.

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.

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.