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.

A Minor League Baseball road trip through Alabama

People who enjoy baseball, and especially Minor League Baseball, regularly plan their summer vacations around visiting ballparks.  These trips are often based around individual goals, whether it’s to visit new states or new ballparks or to watch top prospects or even the most ambitious goal of seeing all 159 active, affiliated Minor League baseball stadiums.

With good timing, visiting all of the Minor League ballparks in Alabama can be done in a matter of four days.  I undertook this adventure earlier this summer with my wife Katie.

The Basics

Currently, Alabama has three Minor League Baseball teams: the Birmingham Barons, the Mobile BayBears, and the Montgomery Biscuits.  From north-to-south, the drive from Birmingham to Mobile is about four hours (266 miles).  The drive between Mobile and Montgomery is about two-and-a-half hours (172 miles), and the drive from Montgomery to Birmingham is about one-and-a-half hours (90 miles).  So for any baseball fan, this is an easy drive whether you start in Alabama or begin your trip in a neighboring state.

The Planning

Planning this trip is a bit more difficult because a few years ago the Southern League, the Double-A league all three Alabama teams play in, switched from the traditional structure of three-game series to five-game series.  So when one of the Alabama teams hosts another team from the state it can be difficult to visit all three ballparks in quick succession.  Everybody has their own method for organizing schedules to create travel plans.  I am a BIG fan of putting everything into an Excel spreadsheet so I can look at what teams are at home side-by-side.

A spreadsheet showing home games for the three Minor League teams in Alabama for the end of May.

I was fortunate that my goal of seeing all three teams play at home came together over Memorial Day weekend.  Once the dates were settled, I started working on booking hotels in each of the cities and what other sights my wife Katie and I could see along the way.

Play Ball!

As we lived in Tuscaloosa when planning the trip, we headed south to Mobile and worked our way north to see each of the teams.  Due to the Southern League having an off-day on Monday, May 28 (Memorial Day), we were unable to see all three teams on consecutive nights.  However, if schedules align it is quite feasible.  So instead of trying to cram three ballparks into consecutive nights, we added a few extras days to our trip.

Game One: Mobile BayBears

We visited two breweries (Fairhope Brewing Co. and Serda Brewing Co.) and checked into our hotel in downtown Mobile before heading to Hank Aaron Stadium west of downtown near the junction of Interstate 10 and Interstate 65.  I had previously attended a Mobile BayBears game in 2015, but this was Katie’s first visit to the stadium.

The entrance to Hank Aaron Stadium, home of the Mobile BayBears.

The stadium is located on reclaimed marsh land and is surrounded by a variety of shopping plazas, so there are plenty of parking spots at the ballpark that opened in 1997.  The stadium is named after Mobile-native and Hall of Famer Hank Aaron, but a plaque outside the park honors all of the city’s native sons who have been elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.  The plaque notes that Satchel Paige (Class of 1971, Willie McCovey (Class of 1986), Billy Williams (Class of 1987), and Ozzie Smith (Class of 2002) are also enshrined at Cooperstown alongside Aaron (Class of 1982).

After walking under the gate that proclaim “Hank Aaron Stadium,” fans are immediately greeted with a dose of the team’s history.

The gate to Hank Aaron Stadium.

Many fans may overlook the BayBears Hall of Fame because it is on the left-hand side of the entrance to the ballpark, but it is worth checking out in addition to the banners highlighting former players who have achieved notable levels of success in Major League Baseball.

The stadium has a unique design because the luxury suites are not elevated, as they are at most ballparks.  Instead, the luxury boxes are on the field level and infield seating for the general public is elevated about 20-feet above the field.  So the view for spectators is quite different from what fans experience at other baseball games.  With luxury suites underneath the general seating area, concession stands face the luxury suites.

A view of a concession stand at the Mobile BayBears stadium.

Each concession stand carries the same items, so fans don’t have to go in search of specialty items available at only one stand (as can be the case at some Minor League stadiums).  Fans will find all the typical ballpark items at the concession stands ranging from sunflower seeds and peanuts to hot dogs and hamburgers.  The most unique items with local connections are a foot-long Conecuh sausage and Conecuh jambalaya.  As I had ordered the Conecuh sausage on my previous visit, I opted for the jambalaya.

A view of the jambalaya at Hank Aaron Stadium.

The best sight lines in the stadium are in Sections 106 or 107, which are immediately behind home plate in the seating bowl above the luxury suites.  My seats down the first base line were enjoyable, but the view of home plate was cut off by the luxury suites.  So my recommendation for buying seats would be to find something in either 106 or 107, assuming you actually want to watch the game action.

A view of game action from the first base line.

There are a lot of reasons to attend a Minor League Baseball game, and attending a game at Hank Aaron Stadium offers a particularly unique reason.

A view of the Hank Aaron Childhood Home & Museum on the grounds of the Mobile BayBears stadium.

In 2010, the City of Mobile relocated the childhood home of Hall of Famer Hank Aaron to the ballpark’s site and restored it as a museum (read more here).  Visiting Aaron’s childhood home and museum should be on the must-see list for any baseball fan.  The museum is open to visitors Monday through Friday on non-gamedays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.  Admission costs $5 for adults, and $12 for children under 12 years-old.  However, the museum is open during ALL games and admission is free.

Final: Biloxi 3, Mobile 11
Box Score

Game Two: Montgomery Biscuits

After seeing some sights in Mobile, Katie and I headed to Montgomery for the second game of our road trip.  Due to the Southern League’s schedule, we would not get to watch a baseball game until Tuesday evening.  So we enjoyed a couple of days in town seeing some of the city’s sights.

Montgomery had a long history of supporting Minor League teams before the Biscuits arrived, but the last affiliated team to call the city home, the Southern League’s Montgomery Rebels, left in 1980.  So the community welcomed a downtown ballpark that incorporated part of an old train shed when the Biscuits arrived in 2004.

An overview of the former train shed and entrance to Riverwalk Stadium.

The downtown location of Riverwalk Stadium means there is limited parking, but it is great if you’re visiting from out-of-town.  Depending where you stay in downtown, walking to the ballpark takes between five and ten minutes.  If you aren’t staying in downtown there is parking on streets around the stadium, but there are a few dedicated surface parking lots explicitly for the stadium.

When Katie and I arrived the team’s mascot, Big Mo, was just inside the gate greeting fans.  So we quickly stopped to get our photo with him.

My wife Katie and I with Montgomery Biscuits mascot Big Mo.

Big Mo may look like an aardvark or anteater or some other real or imagined animal, but he is NONE of these.  The Biscuits call him, “A Biscuit Lovin’ Beast.”

Regarding biscuits there is NEVER a problem finding them at the park because there is a portable concession stand right behind home plate that sells biscuits, of course!

A concession stand selling solely biscuits, of course!

Maybe if for some unbelievable reason a fan doesn’t like eating biscuits, but instead wants to wear some biscuit paraphernalia then the team store is the place to go.

A view of special Greenbow Biscuits gear available at the Montgomery Biscuits team store.

On the night I visited, I found some special “Greenbow Biscuits” gear for sale.  The team did a special promotion and renamed themselves the “Greenbow Biscuits” in honor of the fictional hometown of Forrest Gump.  However, I was more impressed by the biscuit-shaped “hat” you could purchase that was on display next to the Greenbow Biscuits jerseys.  Naturally, there is a LOT of other team gear available in the store, too.

Like most Minor League baseball stadiums built since 2000, visitors to Riverwalk Stadium enter on the main level and walk down to the seating bowl.  The concourse wraps around the ballpark, so Katie and I explored a bit before settling in to watch some of the game.  The concession stands offer a variety of food options from the common ballpark fare like hot dogs and chicken tenders to the more unique like chicken wings (a special on Tuesday nights) and, of course, biscuits.

We didn’t get food on our first trip around the ballpark, but did find a great selection of craft beers.  Down the right field line there is a bar with a large entertainment stage.  The Club Car Bar is a full-service bar that offers liquor drinks and wine in addition to beer.  There are over a dozen beers on draft in addition to several in cans and bottles.  There is a solid representation of Alabama craft beers in bottles and cans plus brews from Fairhope Brewing, Ghost Train Brewing, Back Forty Beer, and Goat Island Brewing were on draft when we visited.

A portable stand by home plate also had a solid selection of craft beers with offerings from Alabama breweries like Back Forty, Fairhope, Folklore Brewing, Ghost Train, and Goat Island.  Seeing these selections shows how much the craft beer industry has grown in Alabama over the past five years, as beer drinkers can support local breweries at the ballpark.

After picking up a beer at the Club Car Bar, Katie and I took our seats behind home plate and settled in to watch some of the game.

A view of the field at Riverwalk Stadium from behind home plate.

The design of the stadium is conducive to great sight lines everywhere, but it is particularly fun watching the trains pass by left field wall.  The luxury suites are elevated above the seating bowl with six built into the old train shed and the remainder in a newer structure down the third base line.

Like my previous visit to Riverwalk Stadium in 2012 (read it here), it was a great time at the park.  The stadium is beautiful with a great downtown location that makes it easily accessible to local fans and visitors alike.  The promotions are unique, and fun.  The food and beverage choices are diverse, and most importantly reflect location connections and options.

Final: Jackson 6, Montgomery 3
Box Score

Game Three: Birmingham Barons

If you ask baseball fans what’s the oldest stadium in America many of them are likely to say either Fenway Park in Boston or Wrigley Field in Chicago, and both answers would be wrong.  The oldest professional ballpark in the country is Rickwood Field in the West End neighborhood of Birmingham, Ala.  It opened in 1910, two years before Fenway and four years before Wrigley.

Despite being the old professional baseball stadium in America, Rickwood Field hasn’t hosted a regular tenant since 1987 when the Birmingham Barons moved to suburban Hoover.  However, since 1996 the Barons and Friends of Rickwood have hosted a throwback game at the stadium.  The game usually takes places during the Barons’ first homestand in late May or early June immediately after Memorial Day weekend.  I previously attended the 20th Rickwood Classic in 2015, but Katie badly wanted to attend the game so it was incorporated into our road trip plans.

Really ambitious baseball fans can attend a Barons’ game at Regions Field, which opened in 2013, in downtown Birmingham, and attend the Rickwood Classic on consecutive days.  Usually the Barons’ schedule has them hosting a game at Regions Field the day before and after the Rickwood Classic, so it is possible to see all four Minor League ballparks in Alabama within a relatively short time frame.

Stories say that Rick Woodward, who owned the Birmingham Coal Barons in the early 1900s, used Philadelphia’s Shibe Park and Pittsburgh’s Forbes Fields as the models for his new ballpark.

My wife Katie and I in front of Rickwood Field.

Attending the Rickwood Classic is really like attending a game from another era.  The starting lineups are written on a chalkboard shortly right as fans enter the park.

The lineup for the 2018 Rickwood Classic between the visiting Chattanooga Lookouts and host Birmingham Barons.

Beyond the chalk-written lineups, the game lacks many of the elements of a modern Minor League game.  There are no promotional contests between innings and no walk-up music for batters or music between innings.  The only music is played by a live band behind home plate that plays music fitting each year’s theme.  The 2018 Classic celebrated the “Fabulous Fifties” when the Barons were affiliated with the New York Yankees (1953-56).

The game usually starts at 12:30 p.m. with gates opening at eleven o’clock, so visitors are provided ample time to wander around the ballpark and bask in its history.  It is been painstakingly restored, including the manually-operated scoreboard in left field and the advertisements on the outfield walls that feature vintage-style ads of current companies and one dedicated to Woodward Iron Co. paid for by descendants of Rick Woodward.

After exploring the park, Katie and I settled into our general admission seats near home plate under the roof that was added to the ballpark in the 1920s.

A view of Rickwood Field during the 2018 Rickwood Classic.

One possible short-coming of attending the Rickwood Classic is the lack of unique food items at the game.  The most “unique” items available would be the Polish or Italian sausage available at a tent outside the seating bowl where a grill cooks up a variety of encased meats.  That’s not to say the food is bad because it is quite delicious, but fans will not find as many options at the Rickwood Classic as they would attending a Barons’ game at Regions Field.  One modern convenience is that fans can find personal-sized pizza from Papa John’s at the park.  Beer choices are limited to either Miller Lite or Yuengling, so sadly none of Birmingham’s delicious craft beers are available at the game either.

None of these limitations should affect the enjoyment of the game because the purpose of attending the Rickwood Classic is to bask in the essence of “old timey” baseball before technology became integrated into our enjoyment of the contest.  Watching a baseball game in America’s oldest professional ballpark is about watching the sport in virtually its purest form.

Perhaps the greatest aspect of attending the Rickwood Classic is that fans are allowed onto the field after the game.  At many Minor League stadiums only kids are allowed onto the field to run the bases after certain games.  As part of being a “living museum,” fans are allowed onto the field to play catch, run the bases, or just lay down in the grass and reflect on the history that has occurred at the ballpark.

Final: Chattanooga 1, Birmingham 7
Box Score

Wrap-Up

So after an extended weekend, Katie and I got to see all three of Alabama’s Minor League Baseball teams play at home.  It took us five days to see all three teams, but the additional days provided us the opportunity to see and experience a bit more in each city.  Whether you’re from Alabama or visiting from out-of-state there is a lot to see and do in each city, even if you’ve been to the cities before there is something to explore in each downtown area.  There are several craft breweries and award-winning restaurants in Mobile, Montgomery, and Birmingham, along with a bevy of historic sights and contemporary museums to keep baseball fans of all ages engaged on a road trip to see Alabama’s Minor League teams.

Touring Hank Aaron’s childhood home in Mobile

It’s not every day that a ticket to a baseball game also gets you admission to the childhood home of a baseball Hall of Famer.  However, that is precisely what you will find at Hank Aaron Stadium in Mobile, Ala., home of the Mobile BayBears.  In 2008, the city moved the childhood home of Mobile-native Henry Louis (“Hank”) Aaron to the grounds of the stadium that bears his name.

History of the home

Herbert Aaron, Hank’s father, built the house in 1942.  It initially consisted of three rooms, but the Aaron family gradually expanded the house.  It now has seven rooms, and it is possible to see where the Aaron family added an extension to the rear of the house.  In 2008, the city moved the home from its original location in the Toulminville section of Mobile, restored, and dedicated it on April 14, 2010, as the Hank Aaron Childhood Home & Museum.

Inside the home

When visitors enter the home they are greeted by Hank Aaron’s voice detailing his childhood in segregated Mobile, and see a sign detailing the transformation of the home into a museum.

A sign displaying the restoration of the historic home.

The first room to the left used to be the bedroom of Hank and his brothers.  It has now been converted into a room that preserves Aaron family pieces, including a dress worn by his mother Estella.

Items from the Aaron family home including a china cabinet.

The only room in the house that resembles its original appearance is the kitchen.

A view of the kitchen.

The remainder of the exhibits chronicle Aaron’s illustrious baseball career starting with playing semi-professional baseball for an independent Negro League team and concluding with his final season in the Major Leagues playing for the Milwaukee Brewers.

Most notable among the exhibits are the items associated with hitting the record-breaking 715th career homerun, which made him the Major League homerun king.

Hank Aaron received numerous accolades after hitting his 715th career homerun to become the all-time homerun leader in Major League Baseball history.

The exhibits focus primarily on the accomplishments of Hank Aaron, but his younger brother Tommie also played and later coached in the Major Leagues.  Two lockers feature items from Hank and Tommie’s careers in baseball, including photographs of them as teammates on the Atlanta Braves.

Lockers reflecting the career of siblings Hank and Tommie Aaron.

The home centers around what Hank Aaron accomplished on the baseball field, but it was first and foremost a family home.  As visitors exit the home you see a portrait of Hank’s parents, Herbert and Estella Aaron.  MLB Commissioner Bud Selig commissioned the piece in honor of the dedication of the home museum.

A painting of Herbert and Estella Aaron commissioned by MLB Commissioner Bud Selig.

If you want to visit the Hank Aaron Childhood Home & Museum, and cannot attend a baseball game, it is also open Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.  Admission is $5.

Alabama Memorial Day weekend road trip preview

As the summer travel season is almost upon us, my wife Katie and I will be making our first extended trip of the year over the Memorial Day weekend.  The inspiration for our upcoming trip is baseball and craft beer, as we are setting out to see every Minor League Baseball team that plays in Alabama while also visiting more of the state’s craft breweries.

Our schedule is built around attending MiLB games, but we will assuredly be visiting craft breweries and seeing other local sights.  Here is our schedule…

Saturday, May 26:Biloxi Shuckers at Mobile BayBears, 7:05 p.m.

Tuesday, May 29:Jackson Generals at Montgomery Biscuits, 6:35 p.m.

Wednesday, May 30:Chattanooga Lookouts at Birmingham Barons, 12:30 p.m. (Rickwood Classic)

In addition to seeing games at every Minor League ballpark in the state, Katie will get to attend the Rickwood Classic.  We regularly attend Barons games at Regions Field in the Southside District, but she has never been to the annual game at Rickwood Field.  So this year, we are making it happen.

In addition to the baseball games, we plan on visiting the following breweries…

Fairhope Brewing Co. in Fairhope

Serda Brewing in Mobile

Big Beach Brewing Co. in Gulf Shores

For good measure, we’ll also be exploring some Civil Rights sights in Montgomery and Selma, too.

To see everything together, you can check out the Google Map I created that combines two of my favorite interests and some of the other sights we plan to visit during our trip.

You can follow along with our trip on the usual social media accounts.  I’ll be posting regularly on Twitter (@StevenOnTheMove) and Instagram (@StevenOnTheMove).  If you enjoy craft beer, you can follow my check-ins on Untappd (StevenOnTheMove) by sending me a friend request.

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.

Reviewing my 2017 ballpark resolutions

As 2017 comes to a close, it’s time for the annual review of my New Year’s resolutions.  Unlike people who resolve to lose weight or be kinder to others, which are all great goals, mine focus on travel and more specifically they focus on baseball travel.

My first resolution for 2017 was…

While attending the American Association of Geographers (AAG) Annual Meeting in Boston in April, I organized a field trip to see the Portland Sea Dogs and got to meet Josh at the game.  It was great getting to talk baseball and our travel experiences during the game.  I wrote about my experience at Hadlock Field, too (read it here).

In addition to attending a Sea Dogs game, I also made it to a New Hampshire Fisher Cats game during the AAG Annual Meeting.  Josh did not join me at the game in Manchester, but it was still a great visit.  I stopped at Stark Brewing before going to the game, and got to watch a doubleheader because of bad weather that canceled the previous night’s game (read about it here).

It’s easy to assess whether I accomplished my first resolution, which is a resounding yes.

My second resolution for 2017 was…

Although I did not blog about my trips, I did attend a few Birmingham Barons games this past season. My first visit was in April to celebrate my bachelor party with some friends. I also attended a game later in the season with my now wife Katie. Unfortunately, I was unable to make it to Mobile or Montgomery for a baseball game. So I can clearly acknowledge that I did not accomplish this resolution.

My third resolution for 2017 was…

When I made the resolution to see the Biloxi Shuckers with Katie, I had no idea when I was going to make that trip. However, Katie and I were both intent on making it happen because we had planned to visit in 2016 to celebrate her birthday, but we had to cancel those plans at the last minute.  But this year, we made the trip to Biloxi in mid-July after returning from our honeymoon to Southeast Asia.  We spent a long weekend on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and visited a number of breweries in addition to attending a Shuckers game.  I blogged about my brewery visits (here) and wrote about my visit to MGM Park (read it here).  So clearly I accomplished this goal.

My fourth resolution for 2017 was…

Following the trip to the Mississippi Gulf Coast, Katie and I visited family in Atlanta and made it to an Atlanta Braves game.  Although we spent several hours exploring The Battery Atlanta and having drinks at the Terrapin Taproom & Fox Brother BBQ, we did not get to explore much of the ballpark because of an extensive rain delay.  So I have opted not to blog about my visit to the ballpark because I feel like it was an incomplete visit.  However, I firmly feel that I accomplished my resolution to attending a Braves game at SunTrust Park.

Recapping the Resolutions
Unlike previous years, it is pretty easy to determine the success of accomplishing my 2017 resolutions.

#1: See a New Hampshire Fisher Cats or Portland Sea Dogs game with Josh Pahigian.  Goal accomplished.
#2: See all three Alabama MiLB teams (Birmingham Barons, Mobile BayBears, and Montgomery Biscuits).  One of three stadiums visited.  Goal unaccomplished.
#3: See a Biloxi Shuckers game at MGM Park with Katie.  Goal accomplished.
#4: See an Atlanta Braves game at SunTrust Park.  Goal accomplished.

On a grand scale, I accomplished three of four resolutions (0.750).  If I measured each individual component of my resolutions, I accomplished four of six objectives (0.666).  Either way, I feel good about upholding my resolutions for the past year.

Revealing my 2017 ballpark resolutions

I’m now into year three of writing baseball-travel resolutions (read 2015’s resolutions here; read 2016’s resolutions here).  These resolutions/goals mostly focus on attending Minor League Baseball games, but sometimes I add a Major League Baseball goal.

The first resolution for 2017…

Over the past few years, I’ve gotten to interact with Josh Pahigian, who has written numerous books about attending MLB and MiLB games (see his Amazon author page here).  He lives in Portland, Maine, and teaches at the University of New England.  During this past season he reached out to me about using a photo I took of a biscuit at a Montgomery Biscuits games (read my post here) in his upcoming book The Amazing Baseball Adventure: Ballpark Wonders from the Bushes to the Show, and we’ve corresponded about attending a game together when I’m in the Boston area for the AAG Annual Meeting in May.  My schedule is still in flux, so I’m not sure what ballpark or game we may attend, but I’m optimistic that I’ll get to either a New Hampshire FisherCats or Portland Sea Dogs game and meet Josh.

My second resolution for 2017…

I’ve previously aimed to see all the MiLB teams in Alabama, and setting the same goal this year.  I have seen the Barons (read post here), BayBears (read post here), and Biscuits (read post here) at different times since I started blogging about my stadium visits, but have never visited all three ballparks during the same season.  My fiancée Katie has been keen on the idea of seeing the Biscuits and BayBears, so I decided it would be a good goal to try and see all three teams during the upcoming season as we hopefully visit more of Alabama’s craft breweries.

My third resolution for 2017…

Last August, Katie and I had hoped to visit the Mississippi Gulf Coast and attend a Biloxi Shuckers game, but we were unfortunately unable to accomplish that trip because of other commitments.  As she loves the beach and thankfully enjoys baseball, too, I’ve pitched the idea to her that we could visit Biloxi this summer for some beach time while also watching the Shuckers and visiting some of Mississippi’s craft breweries.

My fourth resolution for 2017…

Last year, I resolved to see the Atlanta Braves play a game during their final season at Turner Field.  So it seemed appropriate and kind of obvious that I’d resolve to see the Braves play a game during their first season at SunTrust Park this year.

Now that I have my four baseball travel resolutions set for 2017 I have to start planning and make them a reality.  I accomplished two of my four resolutions for 2016, and hopefully will be more successful this year.

My night with the Mobile BayBears – May 8, 2015

After arriving late in Pensacola the night before, I was determined to arrive in plenty of time to see the first pitch in Mobile.  So after some sightseeing in Pensacola on a Friday morning, I headed over to Mobile, Ala., and visited the USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park before getting ready to make a short trip from my downtown hotel to Hank Aaron Stadium, home of the Mobile BayBears.

Main entrance to Hank Aaron Stadium.

The silhouette is of the stadium’s namesake following through on his prolific homerun swing, but the BayBears commemorate the rich history of baseball in the city with a marker honoring the five members of the National Baseball Hall of Fame who were born in Mobile.

A marker honoring the five Mobile natives enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame outside the stadium.

Before entering the stadium I wanted to get a photo of the main gate with Hank Aaron’s name because the silhouette obscures the name when I took a photo showing the front of the stadium.

Main gate of Hank Aaron Stadium.

There are some really interesting historic items at Hank Aaron Stadium, but the thing that takes the cake is the Hank Aaron Childhood Home & Museum.  In 2008, the BayBears purchased the home with the intent of moving it to the stadium grounds.  In 2010, the team opened the home as a museum with much fanfare (read more here).  So once I entered the gate, I immediately headed to explore the home.

Only one room in the house has been preserved in its original state (the kitchen), but a display in the home shows the house at its original location, the restoration process, and the opening ceremonies.

A majority of the rooms in the home display Aaron memorabilia and Mobile baseball history, so I opted not to include many of the photos.  Instead I wanted to provide a glimpse into the museum while focusing more on my visit to the stadium.

Inside the stadium there are a handful of historic pieces connected to Aaron’s career.  There are seats from Milwaukee County Stadium, where Aaron began his pro career with the Braves and concluded it with the Brewers, and seats from Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, where Aaron hit his historic 715th career homerun.

In addition to the to the seats from Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium and Milwaukee County Stadium there are seats from Chicago’s Wrigley Field.

Before taking my seat behind home plate I got pictures of the Southern League standings and the night’s starting lineups.

The standings and lineups are visible almost immediately after entering the gates, and when I first arrived it lacked the visitors’ lineup.  I checked back later, but I never saw the Jacksonville Suns’ lineup posted.

After wandering around a bit, I headed up to my seats to watch the start of the game.  Hank Aaron Stadium is unique in that the suite boxes are on the lower level with the other seats above them.  It reminds me a lot of McCoy Stadium, home of the Pawtucket Red Sox.

I had a seat right behind home plate, so I had a perfect view for the first pitch.  I did not know it at the time, but Mobile starting pitcher Braden Shipley is ranked as Arizona’s No. 2 prospect according to MLB.com and Baseball America.  Finding this out afterward is always one of the fun things about watching Minor League Baseball: you could be watching a future All-Star.

Mobile BayBears right-handed pitcher Braden Shipley delivers the first pitch to Jacksonville Suns shortstop Raul Navarro.

Next to me was a seat set aside to honor POW and MIA military personnel.

A seat kept vacant in honor of all POWs and service personnel who are MIA.

After watching a few innings of the game I went to seek out food.  I had spoken with an employee earlier and asked for recommendations, but didn’t get much input because as the employee acknowledged there are not a lot of local food items at the ballpark.  However, when I got a beer before the game a concession stand employee suggested a Conecuh Sausage, which is a noted Alabama brand.

Lines at a concession stand.

After a lengthy wait in line, during which time I was able to drink a beer, I finally got my Conecuh Sausage and headed back to the stands to eat while watching some of the game.

A Conecuh sausage with the works, which includes grilled onions plus grilled red and green peppers.

After eating the spicy and delicious Conecuh Sausage I realized that I hadn’t taken many pictures of the seating bowl.  So I proceeded to explore the stadium while capturing images of the seating bowl and the unique structure of the stadium with the luxury suites on the ground level and chair-back seats above them.

No group of stadium photos would be complete without a shot of the videoboard, especially when so many teams have installed new ones in advance of this season.  Mobile did not install a new videoboard before this season, but it appears to be in good shape.

A view of the videoboard in right field.

After Jacksonville tied the game in the top of the 4th inning Mobile had opportunities late in the game to take the lead, but was unable to push across a run.  Instead the game went to extra innings, which delayed the postgame fireworks.  Eventually in the 14th inning Jacksonville broke the tie on Terrence Dayleg’s double brought home Ryan Rieger, and a groundout scored an insurance run for the Suns.  Sean Donatello recorded a 1-2-3 bottom of the 14th to secure the win, which brought on the fireworks!

The fireworks show was well worth the wait, as the BayBears wrapped up the show with Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama.”

There were some good, some mediocre, and some not so good things about my visit to Hank Aaron Stadium.  There’s plenty of parking, but the stadium is located in the southwest part of town off I-65, which means there is no particularly scenic view while at the game.  However it is easy to reach, especially for an out-of-towner like myself.

The food was good, but nothing special.  The Conecuh Sausage was tasty, but it’s disappointing to see that there were no unique seafood items on the menu considering Mobile’s connections to fishing off the Gulf of Mexico.  The staff was very friendly despite the lines at the concession stands being longer than they should on a Friday night.

Final: Jacksonville 4, Mobile 2 (14 innings)
Box Score

My night with the Birmingham Barons – May 2, 2014

After playing in the suburbs for 25 years, the Birmingham Barons moved back to downtown Birmingham in 2013 when Regions Field opened.  I didn’t get to visit Regions Field during its inaugural season, but I put it high on the priority list for 2014.  It was also much easier to accomplish now that I live just an hour away.  A few days ago, I made the trek to Birmingham for my first visit.

The most unique aspect of the stadium is the steel facade that spells out “BIRMINGHAM.”  I walked past this as I approached the stadium, and made sure to get a picture.

The signature signage at Regions Field.

The stadium has three entrances, but the primary entrance is at the corner of 1st Avenue South and 14th Street South by the Serra Kia Auto Plaza.

Main gate at the Serra Kia Auto Plaza.

After getting a pair of seats behind home plate an hour before the game, my friend and I decided to walk around and check out the food options.  While we were checking out the concession stands, we came across something neither of us expected to see.  With the Aaron’s 499 running at Talladega Superspeedway just 50 miles away, the Barons celebrated with NASCAR Night.  The team had NASCAR Hall of Famer Bobby Allison throw out the honorary first pitch, and had his 1988 race car on display.

Bobby Allison’s car that he drove to victory lane at the 1988 Daytona 500.

After getting a photo of the race car, we continued touring concession stands.  I didn’t take photos of each stand, but I found two unique stands.  The first we ran across was a food truck.  MELT: A Grilled Cheese Truck has a title that says it all, but what it doesn’t say it that it offers a special take on the classic grilled cheese sandwich.  One example is the Flyin’ Hawaiian, which has smoked ham, Cajun grilled pineapple, and Monterey Jack cheese on a pretzel roll.

The food truck craze is growing nationally, and some Minor League teams have organized special nights around local food trucks.  However, the South has been very slow to catch onto the food truck craze, so I was shocked to see this inside the gates at the stadium.

MELT: A Grilled Cheese Truck was setup beyond right field next to the batting cages.

The food truck contrasts nicely with the next stand, something Southerners know and debate about a lot: barbecue.  There’s probably a master’s thesis about the spelling of said food item, too.  Without stirring up a debate about how to spell it or what kind of sauce to use, there is one name that is most often associated with barbecue in Alabama: Dreamland.

In addition to BBQ nachos, fans can get a half rack of ribs or a sandwich at this stand.  The BBQ nachos are a signature item, but I opted not to get them because I ate them in 2012 when I visited Regions Park during the Barons’ last season in Hoover (you can read about that visit here).

Dreamland Bar-B-Que originated in nearby Tuscaloosa, and has spread throughout the Southeast.

Continuing to walk around the outfield, I came across the Brobdingnagian video board.  Just how big is the video board?  So big, I couldn’t fit it all into the shot I took.

The appropriate American idiom to describe the Barons’ scoreboard is “big ass scoreboard.”

Not far from the video board is the Bright House Family Fun Park, where I found a giant inflatable bounce house in the form of the team’s primary mascot: Babe Ruff.

An inflatable bounce house is only part of the Bright House Family Fun Park, which has a variety of games for kids.

After walking around the stadium, my friend and I settled into our seats behind home plate to watch the start of the game.

Birmingham Barons right-handed pitcher Myles Jaye delivers the first pitch to Mobile BayBears center fielder Mike Freeman.

After watching the first three innings, my friend and I went to find food.  My friend had initially committed to getting the Dreamland BBQ nachos, but kept waffling on his decision as we walked around the stadium before the game started.  He thought about getting something at MELT, and then the Magic City Dog, and then Steel City Burger, and finally settled on getting a Chicago Dog at Piper’s Pub & Grill.

I opted for the Magic City Dog after reading about it last year.  Plus I generally try to get an encased meat when I visit a ballpark.  I’m not a picky eater, and really just want to try a signature food item.  However, hot dogs and baseball have been synonymous for decades.

The Magic City Dog, which is a sliced sausage with BBQ sauce, cole slaw, and spiced mustard.

If I hadn’t gotten the Magic City Dog I would have ordered the Steel City Burger.  The description says it is 1/3 lb. all-beef patty on a bed of grilled onions and topped with pepper jack cheese, bacon, a fried egg and Sriracha mayonnaise and served on a Ciabatta roll.

I did watch some of the game beyond the first pitch, so I have this photo from the first base line.

Birmingham Barons starting pitcher Myles Jaye on the mound.

Based upon my photos so far it may look like the stadium lacks a second deck and luxury suites, which is not the case.  So while I took this next photo primarily to capture the action, it shows off other facets of the ballpark.

More game action with a view of the luxury suites on the third base side.

And in case you didn’t get a clear view of the video board before, I made sure to take photo focused on it.  It certainly is a large video board.

The elephantine scoreboard in left field.

The team’s web site says that steel and brick are used to evoke the city’s industrial heritage, which you can see when you take a look back and view the entire third base seating area and its berm.

A view of the third base line from the right field foul pole.

My friend camped out in right field at the end of the game because we wanted a good seat to watch the post-game fireworks.  However, it was tied 1-1 at the end of the 9th inning.  We hung around until the 13th and decided to finally head out with the contest still knotted, and seemingly no end in sight as the pitcher’s duel continued into the extra innings.  Ultimately, the game went 17 innings and lasted 5 hours and 25 minutes.  It fell one inning short of tying the longest game in franchise history, but took the record for the longest game time in team annals.

I hate leaving a game early, but the temperatures were dropping and I was constantly yawning at 11 p.m. when we departed.  Sadly watching fireworks was as likely to happen as my photo with the team mascot: nonexistent.

Despite missing out on fireworks and my mascot photo, the ballpark experience was great.  There’s a wide variety of food items (signature and standard), beers, and entertainment options.  The area around the stadium is still undergoing redevelopment, but Railroad Park provides a great option for families and Good People Brewing Company, right across from the stadium provides an adult option.

Regions Field reminds me a lot of ONEOK Field in Tulsa.  Both are located in gentrifying areas.  Both brought baseball back to downtown.  Both are the envy of teams in their league.  Both are a great place to watch a game.

Final: Mobile 5, Birmingham 3 (17 innings)
Box Score

Revealing my 2014 ballpark resolutions

Last year I hoped to visit a handful of Minor League Baseball stadiums, and hit the mark on a few but missed on some others.  This year I set some rather ambitious goals, but I’ve always aimed high when it comes to traveling.  To make sure I’m accountable, I want to disclose my stadium visit goals for 2014.

I’ve posted a handful of tweets breaking down my goals, and will share them here.

The first goal is close to my heart as someone who grew up in Georgia.

My first Minor League game was between the Greensboro Hornets and Macon Braves at Luther Williams Field in Macon, Ga., with my dad on Aug. 2, 1992, so it is only fitting that I attend a game at each active Minor League stadium in Georgia for my blog.  I have been to a Gwinnett Braves game at Coolray Field, but it was prior to me blogging about my gameday experiences.  I have not seen the three teams that play in the South Atlantic League – Augusta GreenJackets, Rome Braves, or Savannah Sand Gnats.

I currently teach at The University of Alabama, so my second goal is to watch a game at the four Minor League stadiums in the Yellowhammer State.

I have been to three Minor League Baseball stadiums in Alabama, but two of my visits occurred before I started blogging about my experiences and one ballpark no longer houses a team.  My first minor league game in Alabama was between the Greenville Braves and Birmingham Barons at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium (later named Regions Park) in Hoover, Ala., with my dad on Aug. 1, 1993.  Not surprisingly, I did not take photos from that trip, but I visited the stadium during its final season in 2012, and documented the experience for my blog.

To complete the requirements for my master’s degree in sports administration at Georgia State University, I interned with the Huntsville Stars during the 2003 season.  I attended a Southern League playoff game as a fan, but that was long before I considered blogging about my baseball stadium visits.  With rumors swirling about the Stars being sold and moving to Biloxi, Miss., I feel that it’s critical to capture the gameday experience.

While I saw the Montgomery Biscuits play at Riverwalk Stadium in 2012, I have not been to Alabama’s Gulf Coast to see the Mobile BayBears.

My other resolutions relate to trips I typically make each year.

Since 2010, I have attended the Association of American Geographers Annual Meeting.  The conference is in a different city each year, which aides my quest of visiting new ballparks.  Three of the four years I have gotten to visit a new ballpark; 2012 was the lone exception because the conference was in New York in February.  So I am hoping to visit some ballparks around Tampa, Fla.,

Last summer during MiLB.com’s Mascot Mania promotion, I became enamored with the Clearwater Threshers mascot: Phinley.  So I’d like to visit that ballpark and get my photograph taken with him.  I hope to visit a few other ballparks in the region, but have not committed to visit any beyond the Threshers’ Bright House Field.

For the past three summers, I have spent a week in Cincinnati, Ohio, working as an AP Human Geography reader, and on each trip I try to visit at least one new stadium.  This year I want to visit each of the minor league teams in Kentucky.

I have previously seen the Louisville Bats with my mom in 2005, which was well before I started writing about my ballpark travels.  I have never seen the Bowling Green Hot Rods or Lexington Legends play a game.  When I was an undergrad at the University of Kentucky in the mid-90s there was a lot of discussions about bringing a Minor League team to the city, but the Legends didn’t come to the Bluegrass until after I had left UK.

At the end of the summer, I’ll recap and see how successful I was in keeping my New Year’s resolutions.