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.
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.
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.
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.
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
See all three Minor League Baseball teams (Birmingham Barons, Mobile BayBears, and Montgomery Biscuits) in Alabama with my wife.
Attend a Lexington Legends and Louisville Bats game with my wife. Resolution kept.
Attend a Potomac Nationals game during the Beer Bloggers Conference. Resolution not kept.
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.
The second stop on my trip through the Bluegrass State for baseball and beer was Lexington, Ky. It is a city that I used to know really well because I attended the University of Kentucky for two years as an undergraduate, but it has been nearly two decades since I was last a student at UK. So returning to Lexington to explore its budding craft beer scene (yes, BEER not bourbon) while also visiting another Minor League Baseball stadium has been on my “to-do” list for quite a few years. Finally this summer, I got to make it happen.
So on a Tuesday afternoon following some visits to the city’s local craft breweries, my wife Katie and I made it to Whitaker Bank Ballpark, home of the Lexington Legends. When I was a student at UK in the mid-1990s there was regularly talk of Lexington seeking a MiLB team, but none of it came to fruition until 2001. Unlike many other ballparks built during the early-2000s, the Legends’ stadium is not in downtown, but instead northeast of downtown off a ring road (New Circle Road) across from a strip mall.
I didn’t know it at the time we planned our visit, but it was a mystery giveaway night. It turned out that the Legends were giving away a bobblehead of University of Kentucky head football coach Mark Stoops. So I neglected to capture my customary stadium entrance photo, as we hurriedly entered to secure out bobblehead. However, I went back outside to capture the view the typically greets fans arriving at the ballpark.
There was a LOT going on after entering the ballpark, but in a good way. Fans see a lot of branding in multiple places, so you have to be oblivious to the environment to be unaware that you are attending a Lexington Legends baseball game.
For fans interesting in scoring the game, you find the home team’s lineup and the South Atlantic League standings.
Although Katie and I hurried through the gate, we had plenty of time before the game started so we wandered the concourse checking out the food options with a brief pit stop at the team gift store.
We didn’t get any food before the game because I wanted to get a picture of the night’s bobblehead honoree, UK head football coach Mark Stoops throwing out the ceremonial first pitch. So we headed to our seats that were just to the right of home plate.
Following Stoops’s ceremonial first pitch we watched the beginning of the game, which pitted the Columbia Fireflies against the host Legends.
With seats almost immediately behind home plate, we also had easy access to the Kentucky Ale Taproom. It has a full-service bar and kitchen with many ballpark staples, but also some of the signature food items available at the ballpark like the Larry Mac Burger (more on that later).
After watching some of the action, I went exploring the concourse again. Along the way I found something most Minor League teams incorporate into their ballpark, and something I had never seen before at a baseball stadium. Near a display case showing off the team’s current uniform set, I found plaques commemorating all of the players who played for the Legends and made it to the Majors. The unique item I found was artwork created to commemorate the team’s 15th season in 2015, which was made from signed mini baseball bats.
Speaking of unique items at the ballpark, the Legends feature a collection of wall decals featuring two prominent groups of people: former Legends who made it to the Majors and former University of Kentucky basketball players throwing out ceremonial first pitches.
I’ve seen all sorts of ways Minor League teams commemorate their former players who reach “The Show,” so seeing a collection of generic Fathead decals wasn’t surprising. It was different, but certainly not surprising. However, it was very surprising to see wall decals of former UK basketball stars (Patrick Patterson, Willie Cauley-Stein, and others) throwing out ceremonial first pitches. Wildcat basketball may make the world go ’round in Kentucky, but it was not something I expected to see incorporated into a Minor League stadium in Lexington, even if it is the university’s home city.
The concourse does not wrap around the ballpark, but I was easily able to photograph the bleachers in left field and the Pepsi Party Deck in right field.
There are also multiple spots around the stadium to keep kids entertained. Down the right field line is a basketball court, which seems unusual at a baseball stadium but also seems completely natural in Kentucky.
At Whitaker Bank Ballpark, the bullpens of both teams are in play. The home team’s bullpen is down the right field line and the visiting team’s bullpen is down the left field line. While exploring I was able to capture photos of both bullpens and some other scenes of the ballpark.
Although I walked around the entire stadium to capture the surroundings, I did manage to watch some of the baseball game. Katie and I literally had front row seats, so there was no shortage of baseball watching this night. In fact, the Legends starting pitcher Janser Lara, first baseman Nick Pratto, right fielder Seuly Matias, and catcher MJ Melendez are among the Kansas City Royals’ top-30 prospects.
Eventually watching all of these top prospects made Katie and I hungry, so we settled upon the aforementioned Larry Mac Burger, which we found at the Ballpark Favorites concession stand along the third base line. The burger is a third-pound Kentucky Proud burger topped with either original or jalapeño Larry Mac’s beer cheese, Applewood-smoked bacon, lettuce, tomato, and onion.
The version I received was a two quarter-pound beef patties smothered in jalapeño beer cheese. Unfortunately there was no lettuce, tomato, or onion in sight. It was a deliciously, gooey, and messy meal though. In hindsight, I might have opted for the original beer cheese, as the jalapeño-version remained with me throughout the night.
I did not have any beers at the ballpark, but that was not because of any shortage of craft beer options. The Kentucky Ale Taproom is sponsored by Alltech Lexington Brewing & Distilling Co., which produces the Kentucky Ale line of beers and the Town Branch Distillery spirits. Craft beer choices are available throughout the stadium, but The Handle Bar (along the first base line) has the largest selection of beer.
The biggest deterrent to having a beer at the ballpark to compliment my Larry Mac Burger was that shortly after ordering my food the skies opened and the tarp came out to cover the field. Following a 37-minute delay with one out in the bottom of the fifth inning the game was called. When the game was called the skies had started to clear, but apparently the field was too wet to continue the game and it had progressed far enough to be an official game.
Despite an abbreviated game, I had a great experience at Whitaker Bank Ballpark watching a Lexington Legends game. There is plenty of parking at the stadium, which is a benefit of its outside of downtown location. The stadium has been well maintained and updated since its opening in 2001.
Most importantly the experience at the ballpark checked off all of the boxes I expect when visiting a Minor League ballpark. The stadium had a pleasant setting and was well-maintained. The food and beverage choices were unique and included locally-produced products. The team offered unique promotions during the game. The staff was friendly and helpful. I wish the game had resumed so I could’ve enjoyed the atmosphere at the ballpark more, but it was an enjoyable experience and definitely a family and fan-friendly place.
Final: Columbia 1, Lexington 2 (Five innings) Box Score
Disclosure: My admission to the Lexington Legends baseball game was provided by the Lexington Convention and Visitors Bureau (VisitLEX). I received a media rate for my two-night stay at the Lexington Hilton/Downtown. Be assured that all words and opinions contained here are 100% my own.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
After two days in Charleston (read about it here), Katie and I headed to our last stop on our tour of Minor League Baseball stadiums in South Carolina. Before making it to Columbia to watch the Fireflies, we explored Congaree National Park, which is the place that inspired the team’s name (read about it here).
After watching a few innings of play, Katie and I made another trip around the concourse so I could take some photos. So first things we saw was the kids zone in left field.
Inflatables in the kids zone.
Grandstand with suite boxes on the second level.
Among the buildings in the outfield there are a number of displays detailing Columbia’s baseball history. One of the displays specifically discusses the first professional team in Columbia, which used a variety of names before settling on the Comers.
One of two displays detailing the history of baseball in Columbia.
Display detailing the Columbia Commies, which played in the original South Atlantic League from 1903 to 1930.
Second set of display detailing Columbia’s baseball history, including the Columbia Reds and the Capital City Bombers, who were the last professional team in Columbia until the Fireflies moved to town before the 2016 season.
Display honoring Larry Doby, a native of nearby Camden, was the first African-American player in the American League
and second African-American to play in the Major Leagues after Jackie Robinson.
Beyond the current stadium wall is the South Carolina State Hospital, which was locally known as the Bull Street Lunatic Asylum. The stadium and other planned developments are being built on land that once belonged to the hospital, which the Babcock Building (read its entry on the National Register of Historic Places here) and other structures still stand (read about development plans here). The Babcock Building’s Italian Renaissance Revival architecture provides an aesthetically pleasing perch overlooking the ballpark.
The Babcock Building just beyond the ballpark.
After getting beers at the bar in right field, we fortunately ran into the Fireflies mascot Mason. So Katie and I waited for him and had our picture taken with him for the second time that day. We originally got a photo with Mason by the main entrance, but the staff member’s shadow was evident in the first photo.
Katie and I with Mason.
Following our trip around the concourse, I finally settled on my dinner choice. There is a portable concession stand near home plate that serves barbecue. South Carolina is noted for its unique take on barbecue, so I felt like having some was appropriate as we had not eaten any during the rest of our trip.
Barbecue Sliders with three sauces: Carolina Gold, Sweet ‘n’ Spicy, and Pepper Vinegar.
The shredded pork was excellent. It was moist yet not sopping wet. The sauces were a mixed bag, as could be expected. The Carolina Gold sauce was great. It is a mustard-based sauce, but it was sweet and tangy all at once. The Sweet ‘n’ Spicy was a tomato-based sauce that matched its name to a T. The Pepper Vinegar sauce was OK, but I have never been a fan of vinegar-based sauces.
Following my meal, I decided to take a few photos of two notable locations on the concourse that I had missed earlier. The first was the gift shop, which unto itself is not special, but I wanted to capture the iridescent glow on the marquee that is featured at other locations along the concourse.
The gift store.
The other location I wanted to feature was the SweetWater Brewing Company-branded bar behind home plate. SweetWater is an Atlanta-based regional craft brewery. So I was a little surprised to see their name splashed across the bar instead of seeing one of the local breweries featured. While beers from Columbia-based breweries are available at the stadium, I did not expect to see an Atlanta-based brewery to have naming rights at the ballpark.
Home Plate Bar featuring the branding of Georgia-based SweetWater Brewing Company.
In addition to capturing these two shots of the concourse, I realized that I did not have a photo of the videoboard or any good pictures of players in action.
Videoboard in left field.
Augusta reliever Jake McCasland facing Columbia right fielder Kevin Kaczmarski.
Unfortunately my camera does a mediocre job taking photos at night, but I felt like it was necessary to show off the Fireflies’ uniforms.
Perhaps one of the funnest things Katie and I got to do took place after the game when all fans were allowed to run the bases. Running the bases is a common event at many MiLB stadiums, but it’s usually reserved for kids and typically takes places only one day a week. However, the Fireflies let fans of all ages run the bases after all home games, so Katie and I took advantage and ran the bases after the final out.
Although the stadium opened on time for the season, the push to complete the stadium meant that the parking lot was not completed when we attended the game in mid-May. However, all the amenities at the stadium were completed. So I got to enjoy delicious barbecue and a good selection of craft beer.
While the barbecue was great, I was a bit disappointed to see that the team didn’t push the envelope by offering more unique food items. In their first season, the team may not have wanted to experiment too much with food choices. Regardless, the food available at the stadium was excellent, and the beer selection covered the bases with domestic macro brews, regional craft beers, and local craft beers. The stadium is beautiful and was completed on time, as promised. Hopefully fosters further development as Hardball Capital‘s stadium project in Fort Wayne did.
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…
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
After a Wednesday night game in Kodak (read about it here), Katie and I headed for Asheville, N.C., to watch the Tourists.
The benefit of driving from Kodak to Asheville was getting to travel US-441 through Great Smoky Mountain National Park. While I have explored the Smokies multiple times, Katie had never visited. Unfortunately, the weather was overcast and we encountered a bit of rain during our drive.
Eventually as we arrived in Asheville, the rain cleared out as we made a stop at New Belgium Brewing’s new East Coast facility. After checking into our hotel, Katie and I hit a few breweries en route to McCormick Field, but we will detail our brewery stops in a later stand-alone post.
So onto the stadium…
McCormick Field sits on the southern edge of downtown Asheville, which can be a positive or negative depending upon your perspective. The negative: a downtown ballpark almost always means there is limited parking. That is definitely the case in Asheville. The positive: the stadium may be walkable from nearby hotels and residential areas. That is definitely the case in Asheville. Katie and I stayed at the Four Points by Sheraton Asheville Downtown, which is about one mile – approximately a 20-minute walk.
After immediately walking into the ballpark, I found the two things I always try to photograph early in the night: the starting lineup and the league standings.
Starting lineups for the Kannapolis Intimidators and the Asheville Tourists.
South Atlantic League standings entering play on Thursday, May 19.
After stumbling upon the lineups and standings, Katie and I spotted the Tourists’ mascot, Mr. Moon walking by. So I hailed down a nearby employee and asked him to take our picture with the mascot.
Katie and I with Mr. Moon.
I won’t go into detail about the history of McCormick Field (read it here), but because of its age and its location it is a smaller ballpark. So it’s easy to check out all the concession stands and portable stations along the concourse. Katie and I did that before taking our seats.
Concourse with games, concession stands, and portable stations.
Portable food and beverage stations along the concourse.
One of the best named concession stands was Crash’s Kitchen, which most baseball fans should know is named after the character Crash Davis from the movie “Bull Durham.” For those unfamiliar with the 1988 cinematic classic, I can only suggest you watch it or read about it here. I’ll come back to the movie later.
As it was a Thursday, the Tourists, like many other Minor League Baseball teams, was having its usual Thirsty Thursday promotion on soft drinks and beers. The unique part about being in Asheville on a Thirsty Thursday is that the Tourists were the first team to use that phrase, and the team owns the federal trademark on it. I tried to track down the plaque commemorating the trademark, but unfortunately it is in the press box so an average fan like myself is not able to see it. If you want to read more about the history of the promotion, you can read Ben Hill’s piece on MiLB.com about it here.
After checking out a few stands to explore our food and beer options, we each got a fantastic local craft beer for $2 and took to our seats to watch the start of the game. I got a Catawba Brewing Co.‘s White Zombie, which is a witbier. I find that a witbiers is one of the best styles to have during the warmer months plus how does someone turn down a beer with such a great name?
I could drone on about the beer choices at the stadium, but will do my best to be concise. Asheville has a lot of great local craft breweries and some regional craft breweries that have opened East Coast facilities nearby (like New Belgium, Oskar Blues, and Sierra Nevada). So Thirsty Thursday at a Tourists game is like heaven because it’s cheap, but quality beer.
With beers in hand, we took our seats to watch the start of the game between the Kannapolis Intimidators and the Tourists. What I didn’t know at the time was that I got to watch the Colorado Rockies‘ 13th rated prospect, Peter Lambert, start for the Tourists (see list here) along with shortstop Carlos Herrera (22nd), second baseman Jonathan Piron (24th), and first baseman Brian Mundell (30th).
Tourists starting pitcher Peter Lambert preparing for the first pitch against Intimidators center fielder Tyler Sullivan.
While I didn’t take action photos of all the top-rated prospects for the two teams, I got to see the White Sox‘s 10th rated prospect (first baseman Corey Zangari) and 16th rated prospect (shortstop Johan Cruz).
After watching a few innings of play, we started exploring the ballpark, which allowed me to get a few different perspectives on the stadium.
The scoreboard in right field.
View of the grandstand from the third base line, which highlights the Bojangles Dugout Suite along the first base line.
Perhaps the most interesting sight at the stadium is a mural featured in “Bull Durham.” If you watch the clip (see it here, thanks to Ben Hill for posting it), you will see the mural at about the 30-second mark. Due to ballpark renovations the mural was relocated next to the concession stand along the third base line.
Mural featured during the waning minutes of “Bull Durham” that is preserved along the third base line.
After walking to one end of the stadium, we walked around to the other end and I watched Tourists reliever Drasen Johnson warming up.
The home team bullpen down the right field line allows fans to watch closely as pitchers warm up.
So after wandering around the stadium and debating the food choices, I finally settled on having the Bacon Mac and Cheese Dog.
The Bacon Mac and Cheese Dog.
The Tourists cover the basics when it comes to food at the ballpark, and have a few unique items like Roots organic hummus with chips, which may not appeal to most baseball fans, but would definitely appeal to the hipster/hippie/millennial demographic in Asheville. However, the Tourists do not really have a “signature” food item that you just “have to have,” so I opted for what I considered to be the most unique item.
The mac and cheese was good. Bacon, of course, is always good. The dog itself was fine, but I it could be better if the bacon was cooked into the mac and cheese instead of simply being sprinkled on top.
Attending a Tourists game on a Thirsty Thursday was dumb luck on my part, but I’m thrilled that Katie and I got to experience it. The beer selection is great, and you truly cannot beat the $2 price. The food choices are good, but didn’t blow me out of the water. Although I might feel differently if I had eaten the fried Oreos for dessert.
Most importantly, the ballpark setting is great. The trees provide a great backdrop, and allow fans to forget that they are in the midst of a mid-sized city. Despite its opening in 1924, McCormick Field has been updated on multiple facets and does not give off the vibe of an “older” ballpark, except for fans being close to the action no matter where they sit.
Final Score: Lexington 10, Asheville 7 (10 innings) Box Score
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.
I failed miserably because I only visited the Gwinnett Braves last year (read more here). Wanting to avoid a repeat, I did not make that resolution this year. However, this summer I finally fulfilled my goals and saw all four of Georgia’s Minor League Baseball teams in a single summer.
After visiting Gwinnett, Augusta (read more here), and Savannah (read more here), I only had Rome left to visit to complete my goal. So I decided to take a day trip from my family’s house in Marietta up to Rome to explore the city, but most importantly to watch the Rome Braves play.
After a hot and humid day I saw the main entrance to State Mutual Stadium…
Across from the main entrance was the Redneck Rummage Sale trailer, which earned the 2014 Best Between-Inning On-Field Attraction Bizzie from MiLB.com‘s Ben Hill (read more here).
The Redneck Rummage Sale trailer in the parking lot.
But I didn’t come to the stadium to ogle at a trailer in the parking lot. I came to the game to explore the stadium and watch a baseball game.
Exhibit detailing the history of baseball in northwest Georgia.
Exhibit detailing the industrial-based Northwest Georgia Textile League.
Exhibit displaying notable photographs of baseball in northwest Georgia.
While exploring the concourse I found the South Atlantic League standings as the league had just started its second half the night before.
South Atlantic League standings entering play on June 26, 2015.
While I did not ask for assistance, I was unable to locate the lineups posted on the concourse. However, I did find an interesting piece of Rome Braves history hanging over the concourse.
Championship flag honoring the Braves’ first title since moving to Rome.
After exploring the concourse and seeking input about my food choices for the evening I decided to take my seat behind home plate and catch the beginning of the game before making my dinner selection. So sitting comfortably behind home I was easily able to get my standard photo of the first pitch.
Rome Braves starting pitcher Zach Quintana delivering the first pitch
to Augusta GreenJackets center fielder Johneshwy Fargas.
I moved down each base line to get a few more action shots, and to get pictures of other parts of the ballpark. Moving down the third base line I got a closeup shot of Quintana pitching and the Suzuki Showcase in right field.
Rome Braves starting pitcher Zach Quintana with a view of right field in the background.
When I walked around to the first base line I got a picture of Miller Lite Marina that sits in foul territory along the third base line. The Miller Lite Marina has a few craft beers, but there is a standalone stand nearby that has a much wider selection of craft beers. The beer selection was OK, but I was especially surprised they did not carry any beers from the nearby Blue Ridge Brewery and instead carried selections from Florida and Chattanooga Brewing Company just up the road in Tennessee.
Rome Braves first baseman Matt Tellor at the plate with the Miller Lite Marina in the background.
Finally after watching a few innings of play I decided to find something to eat. When I checked out the concession stands before the start of the game I saw all the usual suspects like hot dogs, pizza, chicken tenders, and hamburgers. There was also a Chick-fil-A stand, but in Georgia that’s not unique. Where I finally found some unique food items was down the right field line at Bubba’s BBQ Barn.
Down the right field line Bubba’s BBQ Barn has the most unique food items at State Mutual Stadium.
At Bubba’s BBQ Barn fans can order the standard barbecue items, but also unique items like a fried bologna sandwich or the kitchen sink nachos shown below…
Kitchen sink nachos come served in a pizza box and include chips, barbecue pork or chicken, and the usual nacho toppings.
While the kitchen sink nachos looked delicious I was not nearly hungry enough to consume them. Instead I opted for the BBQ sundae, which is a piece of cornbread topped by coleslaw, BBQ pork or chicken, and topped by another piece of cornbread. The BBQ sundae had been featured in MiLB.com‘s 2013 Food Fight, which pitted unique food items against each other.
My BBQ sundae.
The BBQ sundae lived up to expectations. It was filling and a great mix of flavors, but I wish the top piece of cornbread had been topped with honey or perhaps BBQ sauce.
After finishing the BBQ sundae and returning to my seat I got a few more photos. I wanted to be sure to get a photo of the scoreboard.
The scoreboard in left field.
In addition to the scoreboard I wanted to be sure to get a photo of Ozhaino “Ozzie” Albies, who entered the 2015 season as one of the Atlanta Braves top prospects. According to MLB.com he is currently ranked as the fifth-best prospect (read more here) in the Braves’ farm system. He was also selected to play in the 2015 Futures Game, and USA Today Sports named him one of the top players to watch in that game (read more here).
Rome Braves shortstop Ozzie Albies in the batter’s box.
After taking those two pictures I was content to watch the rest of the game, but quickly got up when the mascot Romey came by.
Me with Romey late in the game.
After giving up a first inning run to Augusta, Rome tied the game in the fifth inning. However, the game was still tied after the completion of nine innings so the game headed to extra innings. The GreenJackets took a 2-1 lead off Aramis Garcia’s RBI-double in the 10th, but the Braves tied it in the bottom of the frame when GreenJackets reliever walked Braxton Davidson. A Wigberto Nevarez sacrifice fly brought home Omar Obregon to give Rome a 3-2 win.
It’s always good when the home team wins.
The day ended with the Braves celebrating a win and me fulfilling a New Year’s resolution a year late. Although I grew up in Georgia, it was odd to see that all the unique food items were connected to BBQ, which isn’t particularly a food the state is known for producing. However, the BBQ sundae was tasty, and the kitchen sink nachos looked delicious. The craft beer selection needs to be improved, especially as that market has grown in the state over the past few years. Overall, I had a great experience at the ballpark and would definitely return for more games.
Final Score: Augusta 2, Rome 3 (10 innings) Box Score
Following the announcement in late May that the Savannah Sand Gnats are moving to Columbia, S.C., for the 2016 season (read the story here) I set a goal of seeing the Sand Gnats before they left town. With the goal of seeing the Sand Gnats before they moved, I made a three-day trek and saw the Augusta GreenJackets (read about it here) before catching the Sand Gnats at Grayson Stadium.
So when arriving at Grayson Stadium for the rest of the 2015 season fans are greeted by this image…
The Sand Gnats fenced off the entrance plaza to create more entertainment space, so it’s difficult to see the stadium marquee until fans are about to walk into the ballpark.
Closeup of the stadium marquee.
Originally built in 1926 and named Municipal Stadium, the ballpark was devastated by a hurricane in 1940. Spanish-American War veteran General William L. Grayson helped raise the funds to rebuild the facility, which with the aid of Works Progress Administration (WPA) workers underwent a renovation in 1941. The newly rebuild stadium was renamed in honor of Grayson’s efforts, and commemorated with a plaque.
Plaque renaming the stadium for William Grayson.
As I entered I asked employees for suggestions and the most common answer was to hit the grill in the plaza. However, as I was attending a game on a Wednesday the grill was closed. Apparently it is only open on the weekends, but the menu did not look particularly unique so I didn’t feel liked I missed out on anything great.
Nor was I particularly hungry because I had a delicious hamburger and a flight of beer at Moon River Brewing Company in downtown. So I opted to walk around the stadium a bit before settling in to watch the first few innings of action.
While exploring I got photos of the first half standings, as the Sand Gnats were in the hunt for the division title and playoff berth when I was there.
The kind of blurry and tough to read South Atlantic League Southern Division first half standings entering play on June 17.
Nearby the standings were the starting lineups, so I got a photo of them as well.
The starting lineups are important, but money wins out.
The obstructed view of the starting lineups kind of illustrates some of the issues with Grayson Stadium. There’s no doubt a stadium needs an ATM, but it needs access to a phone line to complete transactions so other important things like the starting lineups have to take a backseat to taking care of fans.
After exploring the stadium some, I took my seat behind home plate. As usual, I got a picture of the first pitch from behind home plate.
Savannah Sand Gnats starting pitcher Martires Arias delivers the first pitch
to Asheville Tourists center fielder Omar Carrizales.
After exploring the food options and consulting a few employees for feedback I decided to get a bite at the Philly Cheese stand, which is just past the gift shop on the first base line.
The Philly Cheese stand.
Savannah is not known for its Philly cheese steaks nor are the Sand Gnats a Philadelphia Phillies affiliate, so I don’t have a good rationale for why they have the stand except that it’s a popular food item with mass appeal.
What made my choice unique is that I did not opt for just a standard Philadelphia cheese steak. The Sand Gnats offer a steak and chicken option, and something called The Godfather. I opted for the latter, which consists of an Italian sausage topped with either the steak or chicken variety. I went for the traditional choice and had my Italian sausage coated in a steak variety.
The Godfather cheese steak.
The Godfather may have nothing to do with Savannah, but it was a delicious surprise. The seasonings used to cook the steak mixed well with the cheese and Italian sausage, which I chose to top off with yellow mustard and ketchup. Even “if” the grill had been open I would still choose The Godfather over those offerings. It is definitely the best food item at Grayson Stadium.
Shortly after finishing my Godfather, the Sand Gnats mascot Gnate the Gnat came by. So I quickly had my photo taken with him.
Me with Gnate the Gnat.
One plus and minus of Grayson Stadium is the net that extends all the way around the seating bowl. It means fans are protected from any bats or balls entering the stands, but it also means taking clear action photos is incredibly difficult. So I did not take many action photos and had to venture far down the right field line to the colossal party deck called the Southern Comfort Station.
View of the Southern Comfort Station from the third base side.
So what did I get to actually see from the SoCo Station? The home team bullpen abuts it, so I got to see some young kids asking some Sand Gnats for their autographs. I also got a nice view of the scoreboard…
View of the scoreboard from the Southern Comfort Station.
and a decent view of the picnic area along the third base line, which is cordoned off from the field of play by a chain-link fence and netting.
View of game action and the picnic area along the third base line.
After my photos from the SoCo Station I walked over to the picnic area so I could get some more photos. Aside from the photo of the Southern Comfort Station, I was able to get a picture of the seating bowl and the elevated press box.
View of the elevated press box and seating bowl from the third base line.
After taking pictures to show off the seating bowl and the amenities at the stadium, I returned to my seat to watch the action. Although Savannah threatened in the bottom of the 9th, the game went to extra innings. Sitting right behind the net, I got one last action photo in the bottom of the 12th with Asheville reliever Yoely Bello on the mound.
Asheville Tourists reliever Yoely Bello facing Savannah Sand Gnats center fielder John Mora in the 12th inning.
Ultimately the Tourists pushed across two runs in the top of the 13th inning and held on for a victory. I missed the final inning because I had sightseeing plans early the next morning, but thoroughly enjoyed my time as Historic Grayson Stadium. The craft beer selection covered a wide spectrum that included local beers like Southbound’s Scattered Sun Belgian Wit and SweetWater’s 420. There was not a huge variety of food, but The Godfather was delicious and assuredly the items off the grill would be equally good.
Grayson Stadium definitely shows some wear it is still a great venue to watch baseball. Despite reports that a collegiate-wood bat Coastal Plain League team will move to Savannah in 2016 (read more here) fans should go out and watch the Sand Gnats this season. If I lived in the vicinity I would definitely check out the Sand Gnats on a regular basis.
Final Score: Asheville 4, Savannah 2 (12 innings) Box Score
One great thing about growing up in metro Atlanta is the amount of Minor League Baseball teams within a day’s drive. One of the worst things about growing up in metro Atlanta is having to decide which teams to visit. Having to choose which teams to visit has led me to only recently seeing the Augusta GreenJackets in action last week.
By the time I made it to Lake Olmstead Stadium for my first game I had read up on the place from my favorite MiLB blogger, Ben Hill (read his visit here), and consulted my trusted copy of The Ultimate Minor League Baseball Road Trip by Josh Pahigian. So I was well prepared for my visit, but the most notable part of my planning was taking advantage of BOGO tickets on Social Media Night. I submitted the requested information and ultimately purchased two box seats for $12 instead of the usual $12 apiece.
After the planning the first thing I saw after parking the car was a red carpet rolled out for fans at Lake Olmstead Stadium like this…
After getting in the gate, I immediately saw the gift shop, but opted to explore a bit before taking photos of the shop. The sun was still setting when I entered the stadium, so I wanted to get some better photos with the shadows not wreaking havoc on my pictures. In fact, I came back around to take the above photo because of the sunlight issues.
Next to The Hive gift shop the GreenJackets mascot shows off his arm on a beehive background.
The concession stands along the third base line were closed, but the banners above them displayed the GreenJackets’ pride in their current affiliation with the San Francisco Giants.
A banner shows off the number of former GreenJackets on the Giants’ 2014 World Series team.
Along the third base line is also a plaque honoring former South Atlantic League president John Henry Moss, who worked in Minor League Baseball for 50 years before his retirement in 2007. The plaque details that the South Atlantic League Board of Directors retired the number 50 throughout the league in his honor.
Plaque honoring former South Atlantic League president John Henry Moss.
Closer to the gift shop, appropriately called The Hive, I found the traditional items: the league standings and the night’s starting lineup.
South Atlantic League Southern Division standings entering play on June 16, 2015.
Starting lineups for the Lexington Legends and Augusta GreenJackets on June 16, 2015.
After exploring the concession stands and gift shop, I decided to take my seat before the game started. As I waited for the first pitch the GreenJackets mascot Auggie came around, so I was quickly able to get my mascot photo out of the way.
Me with Auggie before the start of the game.
Soon after getting my photo with Auggie the game started.
Augusta GreenJackets starting pitcher D.J. Snelten delivering the first pitch
to Lexington Legends shortstop Humberto Arteage.
Sitting to the left of the net by the visitors’ dugout on the third base side, I had a great vantage point for some action photos.
Closeup of GreenJackets starting pitcher D.J. Snelten.
Closeup of Legends starting pitcher Niklas Stephenson.
GreenJackets second baseman Ryan Jones at the plate with the SweetWater Draft House in the background.
After watching a few innings of the game, I decided to explore a bit and get a bite to eat. So I set out toward the first base line because that was the only location with concession stands open on the Tuesday night I was in attendance.
Along the way I saw the team’s Wall of Champions, which celebrates wild card, division, and league championships since the the team’s first SAL title in 1989.
GreenJackets Wall of Champions with two former players who made it to the Majors and the year they played in Augusta.
One thing I got photos of, but didn’t to explore was the SweetWater Draft House. It is a picnic area that groups can reserve for large parties, which was the case when I was there.
SweetWater Draft House down the first base line.
After debating my choices between an Auggie Doggie or Auggie Burger, I settled on maintaining my trend of having encased meat over alternative choices when dining on a ballpark’s signature food item.
Auggie Doggie, which is a hot dog topped with coleslaw and pulled pork.
The Auggie Doggie was tasty, but admittedly in hindsight I should’ve made one important change to the dog. I should’ve added BBQ sauce because while the pulled pork was tasty it needed a bit of flavor, and it would have been more flavorful with the BBQ sauce.
Although the ballpark is named after the nearby lake there are no views of the lake in the distance. However that doesn’t mean there aren’t occasionally aesthetically pleasing views from the ballpark like the sunset I captured.
Sunset over center field.
After enjoying a few more innings of action, I wandered down the left field line and saw a couple of banners that I had missed earlier. The GreenJackets seem to take a lot of pride in their history and the history of baseball in Augusta. I know that before Spring Training became focused on Florida, and later Arizona, that many Major League teams would use different sites from year to year, but I was unaware of Augusta’s role until seeing the banner.
Banner detailing the history of Spring Training in Augusta.
In addition to the banner hailing Augusta’s Spring Training history there were a variety of banners detailing the previous names of baseball teams that called the town home like the Augusta Electricians in 1893. Instead of inundating people with all banners, I wanted to share the banner with the most unique name: the 1922-29 Augusta Tygers, who were named after Ty Cobb.
Banner honoring the Augusta Georgians and Augusta Tygers.
After seeing the banners, I returned to my seat and enjoyed the last few innings of the game before taking a photo of the scoreboard. So in the bottom of the ninth inning I got a photograph of the scoreboard.
Closeup of the scoreboard in the final frame.
Despite Deacon’s name appearing on the scoreboard, the Giants No. 15 ranked prospect Aramis Garcia pinch hit for him. However, the pinch hitter did not make an impact in the game and the Legends held on for a 4-2 victory over the GreenJackets.
Despite the incredibly warm evening (with temps during the day hitting above 95 degrees), I enjoyed the BOGO night at Lake Olmstead Stadium. The drink deals were great, and the signature food items were very good. I would definitely order the Auggie Doggie again, and I was extremely tempted to try the Auggie Burger. The concession stand lines always moved quickly. The mascot was accessible throughout the game, so even if I hadn’t gotten my picture early in the game I would have been able to capture that shot numerous times throughout the game. The staff was friendly and welcoming throughout the game, which is always a key part of wanting to return to a ballpark. So I’m glad that I finally made it to Lake Olmstead Stadium and “Caught the Buzz.”