Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Bowling Green Hot Rods 0 at Dayton Dragons 12 (Midwest League) - August 22, 2017


The Dayton Dragons have been one of minor league baseball's most successful franchises, selling out 1,188 consecutive games through 2016, which means every game played at Fifth Third Field. The stadium opened in 2000 when the Dragons moved from Rockford, and has a capacity of 7,230 seats. Average attendance exceeds 8,000 though, as the team sells lawn seats that seem to be unlimited. Sold out doesn't mean filled to the brim however, as many tickets are owned by season seat holders who aren't there for every game and there are empty seats around.



The ballpark is located on the northeast edge of downtown. Parking on the street is metered until 6 pm, perfect for a night game. If you do get there early, it is a penny a minute to park.



As we drove down from Fort Wayne, there was a bit of rain and the forecast was slightly worrisome, but by the time we arrived, it had cleared up and there were no concerns about a postponement. We bought the $17 seats (lawn seats are $9 but ushers check for sneaks) and sat near the top of Section 106 at first base. The entire seating section is protected by netting, so if you want a clear view, you will have to use the lawn.



The concourse is wide and has a good array of concession stands. Jumbo dogs are only $3.75 (as is a Cincinnati Coney) and there are excellent craft beers for $7 at Milano's. Pick up a free program before heading to your seat.



Before the game, I did a quick lap around the concourse. The scoreboard sits above left field and includes lineups, always appreciated by those who keep score.



There is a scary slide behind the batter's eye.



The view from centerfield with a few buildings in the background. The white building is still under construction it seems; there is a bar called Lock 27 that has yet to open but promises to be a good pre-game venue. Other spots just south of the ballpark include Southern Belle Tavern and Canal Street, whose sandwiches are definitely better than your typical ballpark fare.



There is an upper level here, rare for this level of baseball, and it is not reserved for the suites or club seats, so you can wander around here as well. There are two colours of seats here: maroon and green, though I never found out what the differentiating factor was.



Along the concourse are banners celebrating past Dragons who have gone on to the majors, including Canadian Joey Votto. I didn't notice much else here in terms of history or other displays, but I wasn't looking to hard, preferring to relax on this night rather than explore every nook and cranny.



Sharpy and I were sitting next to a friendly foursome who knew quite a bit about Canada. When I told them about the trip, she went and got a member of the Dragons staff who gave us free hats and first game certificates. A nice touch and thanks to the Dragons for the hospitality.



Overall, I really enjoyed my time here. Fifth Third Field is a big ballpark for this level, but it works very well and the fans are some of the best I've encountered. It seems as if the neighbourhood is beginning to develop around it, and as that happens, the ballpark will become even more of a destination. Dayton is a great little city with a lot of history (see below), and the Dragons are a good way to spend the evening after doing some touring.

The Game

Bowling Green (Tampa Bay) was in town to take on the Dragons (Cincinnati) and this one was over quick. Dayton scored 3 in the second, another 5 in the fifth, and 3 more in the sixth to keep the home fans happy. An insurance run in the 8th made the final 12-0.



The stars were Dragon starter Tony Santillan (2nd round, 2015, Reds #14 prospect) who yielded just a single through 5 innings, and reliever Alex Webb (a Surrey native drafted in the 9th round out of UBC in 2016), who got the save after throwing 4 frames, with a 9th inning double his only mistake. It was nice to cheer a home team win after that weekend at Wrigley.

Notes

The Reds must have a good scout in Canada, as there were two other Canucks on the roster in addition to Webb. Bruce Yari (24th, 2016, out of UBC and a Waterloo native, thus making him the first pro player to represent both my universities) and Malik Collymore from Mississauga (where I also lived as a kid), who was actually drafted by St. Louis in the 10th round in 2013 and spent a year in the Australian Baseball League.

Before heading to the game, we spent some time at the Aviation Heritage National Historic Park where the Wright Brothers spent their time developing their airplanes. Most people think of Kitty Hawk as the first flight, but the two men were from Dayton and actually the first motorized flight happened here, about 8 miles outside of town at Huffman Prairie Flying Field.



There is also a Wright Brothers Memorial (below) near the Huffman Prairie Interpretative Center. From here, you can see the field in the distance, though it is tough to get a good picture.



The Air Force Museum and Aviation Hall of Fame are also in Dayton, as is the Wright-Patterson AFB, so aviation geeks need to spend a couple of days here to see everything.

Next Up

The rest of the trip is going to be busy with two games today (Lake County and Toledo) and tomorrow (Detroit and Great Lakes) before I finish off the active minor league ballpark list with Lansing and West Michigan on Friday and Saturday. As always, updates will be posted here when I get around to it.

Best,

Sean

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Great Lakes Loons 5 at Fort Wayne TinCaps 3 (Midwest League) - August 21, 2017


After a wrecked weekend in the Windy City, I woke early on Monday, ready to take on the next portion of the trip - the conclusion of my active minor league ballpark quest. With the solar eclipse taking place, I decided to leave Chicago early, picking up a rental car downtown at 8 am and heading southeast to Fort Wayne. The drive was uneventful and Sharpy and I arrived in time for the big show. As it turned out, an 88% partial eclipse is only mildly interesting, certainly not worth standing outside for 3 hours. There was only a small change in visible sunlight, so I understand why so many people went out of their way to experience totality as anything less would be disappointing.



Once the cosmic hijinks were complete, we headed downtown to visit Parkview Field, home of the Fort Wayne TinCaps, low-A affiliate of the San Diego Padres. The stadium is quite big for a venue at this level, and it has seamlessly integrated into the surrounding neighbourhood. Parking is free on the street after 5 pm, which is the time that local office workers start making their way home, opening up spots for fans. The main entrance (above) is at the corner of Brackenridge and Ewing, but there are a couple of other gates as you make your way around clockwise.



Next to the North Gate (above) is an inflatable Johnny, the TinCaps mascot, sporting the two most important words to the sports traveler (below). The TinCaps took their name from the legend of Johnny Appleseed, who wore his cooking pot on his head in order to keep his hands free.



The real Johnny Appleseed, John Chapman, lived in Fort Wayne in his later years and is buried here, though the precise location of his grave is disputed. The TinCaps use the motif cleverly, with their team store called The Orchard, and one of the group areas known as the Treetops, as it resembles the Wrigley rooftops.



The view from the Treetops is below. Home runs have reached here on a couple of occasions.



On the north side of the complex is The Harrison, a combination retail/residential development, with O'Reilly's Pub a good stopping point before the game. Their patio even faces onto the field should you want to stay there.



Parkview Field was named the top minor league experience by Stadium Journey for the last 3 years, and the TinCaps have a very good relationship with Paul, the Stadium Journey founder. Paul contacted them to let them know of my trip, and they were quite interested in helping me enjoy their gameday experience as much as possible.



Sharpy and I met Mike Limmer, VP of Marketing and Promotions for the TinCaps. Mike gave us a personalized tour of the venue, taking us to a variety of seating areas. First up was the 400 Club, a large patio space atop the centerfield wall that was added just last season (above). Just below is an enclosed space which doubles as the batters eye, reminiscent of Windows restaurant in the Skydome. The view from up top is quite nice, and a couple of home runs have made it here too.



We then took a lap around the spacious concourse, which measures about 1/3 of a mile. One of the promotions they have is Race the Game, where a runner tries to complete 79 laps (the approximate distance of a marathon) from the time when gates open to last pitch.



The concourse is where you will find a great variety of concession items. The free program has a comprehensive list of concession stands, but the must-try item is the apple dumpling (of course), found at the Apple Cart behind home plate. For $3.75 (plus $2 for a la mode) you get a huge apple-filled crust that might be the best bargain in minor league baseball.



There is a small window into the team offices where team awards are displayed. Stadium Journey is not the only organization to recognize the achievements here; the team has won a number of accolades for promotions and overall fan experience.



Mike showed us the other special seating areas, including the top three rows behind home plate, which are known as Legacy Seats (below). They are padded and come with a drink rail, and at $12.50, are another bargain, though naturally most are snapped up by season ticket holders.



We saw each of the special group areas, including the Treetops and the Club, and all were filled with happy fans enjoying their pregame festivities. The Club also has a few historical touches, such as the base from the first game played here back in 2009 and photos of the Fort Wayne Daisies of the All-American Girls League.



Tickets here are among the best value in the minors. Five bucks gets you a lawn seat, $8 puts you down the lines, while $10 gets you an All-Star seat between the dugouts. There is a picnic area down the third base lines that are sold to the general public for $40 for 4 seats, which includes wait service. In terms of seating options, there is certainly something for everyone at Parkview Field.



Atop each section is a picture of Fort Wayne baseball history, usually a player from a group picture.



If you want to know more, just below this is a brief description of the team that is being honoured, such as the Allen Dairymen below. Each section has a different bit of history displayed and it is well worth your time to wander around and read them all. There has been a lot of baseball played here and it is good to see it recognized in this manner.



In front of the Orchard is a giant Johnny bobblehead...



...as well as the Call-Up Worthy display. The TinCaps used to be the Fort Wayne Wizards until they rebranded in 2009 in conjunction with the move to Parkview Field. They have had over 150 players make The Show, though only a few of the early ones are mentioned here.



Overall, Parkview Field is as good as it gets in the minor leagues. Affordable tickets, downtown location, excellent concessions, history on display, plenty of unique options for groups, and a lot of fun promotions make this an absolute must-see for any ballpark traveler. Make sure to get to Fort Wayne for the TinCaps if you haven't already done so.



The Game

The Great Lakes Loons (Dodgers) were the visitors with Dustin May (3rd round, 2016, L.A.'s #15 prospect) taking the hill to face Osvaldo Hernandez, a young Cuban who I had seen start in Tri-City last month. Hernandez had just been promoted and was making his first start for Fort Wayne. May, a lanky 6'6 righty, is instantly recognizable with a big bushel of red hair and a distinctive leg kick.

Both pitchers gave up early solo shots, with Hudson Potts (24th overall in 2016, Padres #23 prospect) going yard for Fort Wayne in the first, while Connor Wong (3rd, 2017, #26 on the Dodgers prospect list) replied for the Loons in the second. Hernandez was frustrated in the third, when Great Lakes plated two despite never hitting the ball hard. Two infield singles along with 3 steals, a balk, and a sacrifice fly gave them the 3-1 lead, and they added two more in the sixth on a Jared Walker (5th, 2014) single off reliever Jordan Guerrero (6th, 2015). A solo homer from TinCap Nate Easley (23rd, 2016, nephew of Damion) got one back, but May stayed in the game, lasting 8 innings with just one walk and only those two solos to blemish his line. Ryan Moseley (8th, 2016 by Baltimore) came in for the save and walked the first two batters, but only one could score on a sacrifice fly as Great Lakes prevailed 5-3. It also looks like the marathon runner fell 3 laps short of the goal.



There were a lot of prospects appearing in this game, but May is definitely the Player to Watch after his 97-pitch performance. His appearance and delivery should make him a fan favourite when he reaches the majors. You can watch the highlights here.

Notes

As part of the experience, I was allowed to throw out one of the ceremonial first pitches, something I had never done before. Thanks to Sharpy for the photo.



I also spent an inning in the broadcast booth regaling TinCaps TV guy John Nolan with stories of my past trips. This was another first and I'd like to thank John for the opportunity, as well as Mike Limmer and GM Mike Nutter for all their help in making this the most memorable experience in my minor league travels.

Next Up

We are off to Dayton today to see the Dragons. Rain threatens, so here's hoping the game gets played, otherwise I'll be scrambling to reorganize the rest of the trip.

Best,

Sean

Monday, August 21, 2017

Toronto Blue Jays at Chicago Cubs - August 18-20, 2017


If there is one stadium in which you need to see your favourite team play a road game, it is Wrigley Field. For years, I have waited for the Jays to have a series there where I could make it and 2017 finally presented that opportunity as the Jays played three afternoon games against the defending World Champions from Friday through Sunday. As it turned out, many, many other Blue Jays fans had circled the dates and Wrigleyville was filled with Canadians from all over the country. Cubs fans said they had never seen such a turnout for a visiting team before, which was probably the only point of pride for Toronto fans during the series.



It was a great weekend weather-wise, but unfortunately, the Blue Jays were the Blew Jays, blowing leads in all three games to get swept by a Cubs team that might be peaking at the right time. The final game on Sunday was particularly painful as Toronto had a 5-3 lead in the 10th and closer Roberto Osuna actually got three outs. Unfortunately, backup catcher Raffy Lopez failed to block two of the swinging third strikes, and both runners reached. In one case, Lopez simply forgot to throw to first. A couple of batters later and the Cubs had their sweep.



The Jays came into the weekend just 3 games out of the second wild card spot, but what faint hope was left was quickly extinguished. They simply don't have the depth they need to overcome all the injuries, and it showed repeatedly over the weekend. It could be a while before the team contends again. Fortunately baseball is a sport where teams can go from worst to first and who knows what might happen in the next year or two. I just hope that I can see another road win sometime!

Thoughts

I arrived Thursday and went to the Reds-Cubs game that afternoon, getting a first row seats for $40 from a guy who had received the tickets from work. The seats (view below) are called Bullpen Box, which is a misnomer as the bullpens are now behind the outfield wall. The Cubs lost that game, falling 13-10 after coming from a 9-0 deficit to tie the game at 9. To compare, the Blue Jays scored 12 runs in their 3 contests.



On Saturday, Take Me Out to the Ballgame was sung by Don Cherry (standing under the Harry Caray logo) during the 7th inning stretch. Possibly the highlight of the weekend, other than a spectacular catch by Kevin Pillar on Sunday.



We splurged on Saturday, getting seats just 9 rows from the field along third base. A great view and fans sitting there are good fans, watching the action without getting up in the middle of the inning. Given how much these seats cost, that makes sense.



On Sunday, I sat next to a pillar. My view was not obstructed, but the seat beside me is directly behind the post. Amazingly, they sell that seat and it was an unfortunate Blue Jays fan who had driven from Toronto who had bought the ticket. Thankfully he was able to move to an open seat across the aisle. Even better for him, he had left by the time the Blue Jays collapsed.



The area around the ballpark is undergoing remarkable change as more and more money flows in, but there is still a lot of history. Make sure to check out all the statues, including Ernie Banks, right near the corner of Clark and Addison.



Ron Santo is along Addison Avenue near the right field entrance. Other sculptures can be found by walking all around the entire ballpark.



The scoreboard doesn't have enough room for all the out of town scores. Curious how they decide which teams to leave out.



The Air and Water Show took place during Saturday and Sunday, with practices held on Thursday and Friday. The participants included the Blue Angels, and you could see them flying by during all three games. It was pretty impressive.



After Friday's game, we went to The Wieners Circle, whose staff is famous for verbally abusing their customers. We were easy targets with our Blue Jays jerseys. I really wanted to go back and laugh at them after a Cubs loss, but it was not to be. The char dog was fantastic by the way. Check out this video of Triumph the Insult Comic Dog taking of the staff.



I flew out of LaGuardia on Thursday morning and got pictures of both Citi Field and Yankee Stadium, rather appropriate as that was the final day of the Subway Series, which the Yankees swept.





If you want a good pregame meal, try the chicken tenders at Houndstooth Saloon. It is a country bar at night, but before day games the patio is a good place to sit and listen to the trains rumbling by.

Next Up

The minor league portion of my trip begins today in Fort Wayne. I'll be seeing 9 games over the next 7 days, check back for updates as usual.

Best,

Sean

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Toronto FC 3 at Chicago Fire 1 - August 19, 2017


When I first planned this trip last year, the MLS schedule wasn't out yet, so I figured I'd have Saturday night free after the Jays and Cubs. I then completely forgot about the MLS until a couple of weeks before my departure, when I happened to be sniffing around, and wouldn't you know it?! Toronto FC was visiting the Chicago Fire on the same day that the Blue Jays were at the Cubs. A Toronto road doubleheader! Truly a blessing from the sports scheduling gods.



The Fire play out of Toyota Park in Bridgeview, and you can get there on public transit, with an express shuttle taking you from Midway Airport station. One thing to note is that this shuttle is run by PACE and requires a separate $2 fare both ways, so it will cost you $8.50 round trip including the CTA train fare (you can save a bit with a Ventra Card). As parking is $20, this is still a better option than driving if you have two people, particularly considering the postgame traffic.



It took 100 minutes to get from Wrigley and we arrived about an hour before kickoff. The venue is still dubbed Toyota Park even though the naming rights agreement has expired; the city of Bridgeview is looking for another firm to take over as they desperately need the revenue. For some reason, they expected that a soccer stadium in the middle of nowhere would lead to development, but that has not transpired and now the taxpayers are getting gouged as the city tries to pay off the debt incurred from constructing the facility. A perfect example of why new sports venues benefit nobody but the team owners.



The Fire have had some success, particularly in their early years, and these accomplishments are commemorated on banners out front. The team started in 1997-98 and won the MLS Cup that year, as well as several US Open Cups since then.



We walked around to the west side, where there is a large activity area with games and some concession stands. From there, you can head up to the west seating area, which includes a small upper deck, which is where we sat.



We did a quick tour of the concourse, stopping at Fan Services to pick up the designated driver coupon (RC Cola is served here!) and a pack of commemorative playing cards, with each one representing a player who has donned the Fire uniform in their first 20 years. The view from the southwest corner is below, with the only scoreboard in the distance. The away seating section is the corner area in the middle of the photo; as Toronto fans we should have sat there but I much prefer to see the game from a better angle.



We had a good overview of the pitch from our seats. As the match was sold out, we bought on the secondary market, getting a good deal a few days beforehand, which was fortunate because there wasn't much available on game day.



There were a few other fans dressed in Blue Jay colours, but not as many as I expected. I suspect that many were not even aware of this battle, or didn't want to bother making the trip. That's too bad, because they missed the best game of the weekend, at least from a Toronto point of view.

The Match

Toronto FC came in with the best record in the league while Chicago was third, making this a marquee matchup. TFC opened the scoring in the 14th minute when Marco Delgado had an easy knock-in after Fire keeper Matt Lampson (in sky blue below) couldn't corral a Nick Hasler shot.



Early in the second half, Chicago knotted things up when Bastian Schweinsteiger drilled a shot off the post that rebounded to David Accam who kneed it home in the 54th minute. But TFC got that back just 9 minutes later when Hasler headed home a Victor Vasquez volley (well, it was a cross, but the alliteration works so well). As the minutes ticked down, the Fire had chances to tie and were on the attack late when Toronto launched a quick counter that resulted in a 2-on-1. Tosaint Ricketts fed Sebastian Giovinco for the easy goal to seal the match as TFC salvaged an otherwise lost Toronto weekend with an entertaining 3-1 victory.



Notes

This was my first TFC match live and I hope it won't be the last. MLS soccer is not as technically proficient as the European game, but it can be fun, especially when your team actually wins!

Best,

Sean