Thursday, June 30, 2016

Toronto Blue Jays at Colorado Rockies - June 27-29, 2016


My first sports road trip after I started this blog in 2009 was to Colorado and Arizona, including a stop at Coors Field. I revisited the ballpark before my NFL Road Trip in 2013 but both times, I neglected to post many pictures of what is one of the most beautiful stadiums out there. So I'll rectify that this time with a short photo essay.



Coors Field opened in 1995, in time for the Rockies third campaign after they played two seasons at Mile High Stadium. At that time, the LoDo area of Denver was midway through an ambitious revitalization program, and Coors Field became its cornerstone. The ballpark is now surrounded by dozens of bars and restaurants and the area is fun to visit even when there isn't a game on. Many of the buildings are over a hundred years old and red brick is the dominant theme in the area immediately around the ballpark, as you can see above.



The home plate entrance is at 20th and Blake, where a generic statue greets you with a quote from Branch Rickey. You can also get your water and peanuts here and bring them into the stadium.



Upon entering, you can see the Rockies starting lineup, a nice touch that helps you fill out your scorecard.



Coors Field has three seating levels, with the third level actually quite close to the field. There are only a couple of staircases to get to the upper level, compared to five at Citi Field, where there are two sections between the lower and upper levels. The purple row of seats near the top represents one mile above sea level. The outfield seats in the foreground above are known as the Pavilion and are not recommended on sunny afternoons as you will bake, even with copious amounts of sunscreen.



As you walk around the concourse, you will notice pennants honouring those achievements by past greats. Most of these related to offense as the stadium's high elevation leads to more hits and runs; Colorado players have earned nine batting titles in the 23 seasons the franchise has been around. I did spot the defensive pennants above though, noting Larry Walker's Gold Glove and the first triple play in franchise history, which was accomplished in the franchise's 11th season.



What makes Coors Field so beautiful is the surrounding area. From high atop the right field corner, you can see the mountains and sunset in the distance. The photo above was taken after a long rain delay so it was a bit cloudier than I would have liked, but still a very impressive view.



The iconic feature here is the Rockpile, a standalone seating area above center field. The photo above was taken from the Rooftop, Coors Field's new social area. The team removed several sections of seats here and installed a couple of bars with standing areas. Any fan can enter here and just hang around, drink some beer, and chat with friends. Many younger fans now see sports as a social event (i.e. they show up late, leave early, chat nonstop with their friends, and pay little attention to what happens on the field) as opposed to a game and the Rockies are capturing that demographic with this party area. Hey, to each his own, but needless to say, I did not stay long here.



Above is the view from the top of the Rockpile with downtown in the background.



Finally, a view from the upper level looking towards the Rooftop. Coors Field is truly one of the more inspiring ballparks and I love visiting Denver just for all the bars around the stadium. Having said that, I rarely enjoy the games I see here because they are usually high-scoring, drawn out affairs and that was no different on this trip.

The Games

I was in Denver to see the Jays in a three-game series, but ended up arriving a day early and checked out the Sunday afternoon battle between Arizona and the Rockies to get things started. My buddy Sharpy had flown in from Chicago and I met him at the airport after flying in from Omaha. It was just after 7 a.m., so we watched France dispose of Ireland in Euro 2016 before heading downtown. My friend Meg, a Denver resident, took us to the Jagged Mountain Brewing Company on 20th Street just a few blocks from Coors Field. After a couple of very nice IPAs, we entered the stadium and watched as the teams combined for 16 runs and 26 hits in a typical Coors contest. Carlos Gonzalez hit a grand slam and Mark Reynolds delivered a walk-off homer in the bottom of the 9th (surprisingly the first of his career) as the Rockies won 9-7. The game took 3:35 and I was so happy that it ended when it did as I was exhausted after that long day.

Monday was the first of three Jays tilts, and it started well with Toronto taking a 4-0 lead into the bottom of the 6th. Gonzalez hit a 3-run homer in that inning to make it close, and after starter Marco Estrada was pinch hit for in the top of the 7th, the bullpen had a meltdown, with Drew Storen and Jesse Chavez combining to allow 6 runs as the Rockies scored 9 for the second day in a row, taking the game 9-5.



On Tuesday, Meg joined Sharpy and I, but weather was a problem. The game was scheduled for 6:40, but before it got underway, the field was inundated with hail as part of a larger thunderstorm. The picture above shows the field nearly covered in hail and we thought that the game wouldn't be played. But the clouds cleared and the grounds crew did a top-notch job getting the field ready. First pitch was at 9:20 and by then, many fans had left (including Meg who had to get to work the next day). Those who stayed were treated to an offensive outburst with the teams combining for 32 hits. Thankfully Toronto won 14-9, but the game lasted 3:52, meaning it did not end until 1:12 a.m., just 12 hours before Wednesday's afternoon game was to start. This late finish put a serious dent in our ability to explore the area, but we did find one bar open late. Their website is astonishing.



The Wednesday afternoon game was the best of the bunch. First, the weather couldn't have been better, and then Aaron Sanchez lasted 8 strong innings while yielding just one run, giving the bullpen a much needed rest. Up 5-1 in the bottom of the ninth, closer Roberto Osuna came in and promptly walked Gonzalez and gave up back to back doubles that made it 5-3. A couple of strikeouts, another double and a hit batsman loaded the bases. Rockies manager Walt Weiss decided to leave Cristhian Adames in to hit despite having Trevor Story and DJ LeMahieu on the bench (though both were possibly nursing injuries). Anyway, Adames struck out swinging on a controversial call (home plate ump Nic Lentz did not ask for help) and the Jays held on to take the series 2-1 and make the journey to Denver worthwhile (final below). This game took 3:17, giving Sharpy and I plenty of time to enjoy the LoDo happy hour scene, which we did and then some. A great way to end the trip.



Next Up

I have a couple of minor league trips that will close out my summer, starting with a week in the Applachians to complete the rookie Appalachian League in mid-July. The schedule will be posted shortly, so check back for that.

Best,

Sean

College World Series - June 24-25, 2016


TD Ameritrade Park was opened in 2011 to be the exclusive home of the College World Series, as well as Creighton Bluejays baseball. Lately the Big Ten tournament is held here and a couple of football clubs have used the venue as well. The stadium is the largest non-MLB park in the country, holding 24,505 fans, though more can be allowed in to take up all the standing room spots around the entire concourse.



There are dedicated CWS parking lots that charge $10 for the whole day, but a better option are the ten-hour parking meters, which are 25 cents an hour and are not that far from the stadium, though you might have to drive around a bit to find them (I believe there are some at 13th and Douglas). You can even pay for street parking through an app, thus eliminating the need to carry a bunch of quarters around.



The ballpark is on the northeast edge of downtown (as you can see above from the 300 level in left field, looking southwest), so there isn't much in terms of permanent eateries in the immediate vicinity. There is a Fan Fest that is worth a look, as well as a temporary party area if you want to load up on booze and a baseball equipment show if you want to load up on bats and gloves. If you are too lazy to head downtown, Goodnights Pizza is right across 13th Street from the stadium, but they don't serve drafts during the CWS because apparently fans can't be trusted with glass objects. Their pizza is pretty good, but a better choice is the Omaha Tap House at 14th and Farnam, only a few blocks away, with a much more appealing food selection and draft beer served in a glass.



Before entering the stadium, take a few minutes to walk around the area; if you are fan of a team that has already been sent home, you can get some deals on the elimination rack.



If you haven't been following the results, you can check the bat bracket which is updated after every game...



...or just look at the flags to see which teams are still alive. Eight schools make the trip and it is a double elimination tournament, so it does take some time to complete, lasting nearly two weeks.



Tickets are generally priced the same for each game in the CWS, somewhere between $32-39 each, with the upper deck seats slightly cheaper. There are also general admission vouchers that can be used for any game, though you will be in the outfield bleachers. These are $85 for 10 tickets, a bargain if you are staying for several games, as you can move around the stadium and sit in the better seats for the less attractive matchups.



For midweek games, it seems like the secondary ticket market is the much better option; I found seats behind home plate (view below) for $25 on Prime Sports, the official reseller, while StubHub also had plenty below face value and I used them for the second game. The advantage of StubHub is that you get an actual stub, though you do have to pick up the tickets from their temporary location a few blocks from the stadium (but conveniently close to the Omaha Tap House).



There are three seating levels that you can see below. The 100 level stretches from foul pole to foul pole, while the 200 level is mostly suites and the club area. There are three 300 level sections on each side of the suites and these are actually pretty good places to sit, particularly in the evening when the lack of shade is not a problem.



In fact, much of the park is unshaded, so if you are attending an afternoon game, try to sit in row 23 or above behind the plate or along third base. There are many standing areas along the main concourse which provide shelter should you forget your sunscreen.



The park is dedicated to college baseball, so it lacks many of the amenities that you would find in minor league stadiums. There are no fun zones, on-field antics, or giveaways, though mascots do roam the concourse. History is remembered with a series of posters high above the main concourse that highlight past CWS winners along with players who went on to fame and fortune in the majors, such as Dave Winfield (below).



There is also a small memorial to Rosenblatt Stadium, which hosted the CWS from 1950-2010.



Alcohol is now served here; you just have to get a wristband in advance and beers are reasonably priced at $6, though only Bud Light and that sort of swill is available. Food options are more varied, with Famous Dave's Rib Tips generating the most interest.



Overall, TD Ameritrade Park is a very impressive venue that must be visited by any college baseball fan. It is true that it can be an expensive venture with hotels in the area still overcharging during the first week at least, but if you stay a few miles away from downtown, you can find good deals and neither traffic nor parking seems to be a problem in Omaha. Fan interest has started to wane in this annual event, a result of holding it in the same place every year and some schools repeatedly making the final eight. As a neutral observer, this is a benefit with tickets easily available at reduced prices, particularly in the latter stages of the tournament when some teams have already been eliminated. Keep all that in mind should you decide to pay a visit to the College World Series in 2017 or beyond.

The Games

I saw two games here. The first was on Friday as Arizona took on Oklahoma State at 2 p.m. The Wildcats needed to win to stay alive and sent ace Nathan Bannister (drafted in the 28th round by Seattle) to the hill, while the Cowboys, who had won both their games 1-0 and had two chances to advance to the final, let freshman Jensen Elliott make the start. It was obvious right away that Elliott was not ready for the challenge as Arizona scored one in the first on a walk and two singles, and added two more in the second on two doubles and a single. What was really frustrating was that Arizona played slow-down ball, where they would step out after every pitch or pickoff, watching the coach for signs. The first four innings took 2 hours, helped by an injury to Bannister and I was more than annoyed at these tactics as I had to leave by 5:30 to get to the Storm Chasers. Surprisingly the next three frames took just 45 minutes as I guess somebody told Arizona to speed things up, but it didn't matter to the Cowboys, who simply didn't have the offense to come back. They did answer a Wildcat run in the 4th with two of their own in the bottom half. But Cameron Ming came on in relief and threw five strong innings for the save as Arizona added 2 in the eighth and 3 in the ninth to rout the Cowboys 9-3. I missed the last inning and a bit as the game took 3:50, a travesty for such a blowout. I can't believe the NCAA allows their showcase event to be managed like this.

The two teams played again on Saturday in the afternoon, but I skipped that game (Arizona won to advance) and instead went to the evening game between TCU and Coastal Carolina, with the winner going on to face the Wildcats in the best-of-3 final. The Chanticleers were certainly the Cinderella story of the tournament; coming out of the Big South and making their first appearance in Omaha. But they were not to be underestimated as they were ranked 12th in RPI, the best among the remaining four schools (TCU was 16th, Arizona 21st, Oklahoma State 32nd).

Sure enough, CCU scored 1 in the second and 2 in third before adding 4 runs break the game open in the fourth. Down 7-1, TCU chipped away and were within 7-5 in the ninth with the tying run at the plate in the form of Michael Landestoy, son of former major leaguer Rafael. Landestoy grounded one up the middle but the CCU defense turned a fantastic double play and suddenly the Chanticleers were on their way to the final. A very entertaining game played at a good pace to end my time in Omaha.



Notes

Unfortunately I couldn't stick around as I had to get to Denver to see the Jays take on the Rockies, but Arizona won the first game of the final, then lost the second. The third game was rained out on Wednesday night, forcing it to be played Thursday afternoon, when I was flying back to New York. The Chanticleers won that 4-3 to become the 2016 College World Series champions, the first championship in any sport for the school. A great story that received relatively little play in the news; if a Big South school won a basketball championship in football or basketball it would be considered the upset of the century.

The Olympic Swim Trials were held at the CenturyLink Center from June 26th until July 3rd. The CLC is right beside TD Ameritrade Park (it's visible in the background of the photo of the empty outfield seats). I found it curious that these two high profile events would be held at the same time, but guess that there are few fans that would be interested in both. I personally would like to have attended one of the swimming sessions but left Omaha early Sunday morning to get to Denver to see the Rockies and Diamondbacks in a snoozer. Poor planning on my part and a reminder that you should always check venue event schedules in whatever city you plan to visit; you never know what might be happening.

Best,

Sean

Saturday, June 25, 2016

New Orleans Zephyrs at Omaha Storm Chasers (PCL) - June 23-24, 2016


Omaha has been the home of the College World Series since 1950 with Johnny Rosenblatt Stadium hosting the tournament for its first 60 years. Rosenblatt was also home to the Omaha Royals, AAA affiliate of Kansas City since their formation in 1969. Between then and 2010, the AAA Royals were forced to take to the road in late June while the CWS took place, which meant that a sports road trip to catch both teams was difficult. All this changed in 2011 when two new stadiums were built. TD Ameritrade Park was constructed in downtown to be the home to the CWS (as well as Creighton baseball), while Werner Park was built about 20 miles southwest of the city in Papillion to house the Royals, who had renamed themselves Storm Chasers. I had visited Rosenblatt Stadium in 2001, but had to make another visit to Omaha to see Werner Park as part of my quest to see all active minor league ballparks. Naturally, I wanted to go during the CWS so I could add that to my list, and as it happens the Toronto Blue Jays have an interleague matchup with the Rockies in nearby Denver around the same time. A perfect combination and so I found myself in Omaha for a couple of Storm Chasers games.

Werner Park

Located in the middle of nowhere, Werner Park is surrounded mostly by parking lots. If you enter off Lincoln Avenue, these are free, but if you want to be a bit closer, there are $5 lots that save you a couple of minutes on foot. Alex Gordon was down on rehab for the two games I attended which drew nearly twice as many fans as average, but even then there was no problem getting in or out from the free lot.

The Storm Chasers employ dynamic pricing, which means there is no set price for a particular zone. There are six seating zones, with the most expensive being the Diamond Club, which is around $28. Other tickets range from $19 down to $11 for the Home Run Porch, but again that depends on the date and promotion (weekends are slightly more expensive). The main thing to note is that the difference between the Dugout Box down low between the bases and Infield Box in the upper rows is  $1, while the Baseline Box seats further down the lines are $2 cheaper than that.



The park is not as elaborate as other new stadiums at this level, with the design quite similar to some AA parks that I have recently visited. The single seating bowl is below the concourse, with a few buildings behind that contain suites and the press box.



There is a path that encircles the entire stadium, and there are a few interesting things to note. There is a small tribute to Omaha native Bob Gibson along a back wall near the main entrance. Behind third base is a small standing table that allows you to rest your drink and your scorebook and gives a good view of the action.



A Family Fun Zone with a Ferris wheel and foosball table is in the left field corner, and an autograph bridge has been set up to allow fans to seek signatures as players walk from the clubhouse.



The stadium naming rights are owned by Werner Enterprises, a trucking company, and they have a series of plaques dedicated to their drivers who have completed more than 1 million, 2 million, 3 million miles. One gentleman has driven over 5 million miles, which assuming an average speed of 60 MPH, is nearly 10 years on the road.



Along the right field line is Gary's Greens, a six-hole mini golf course, while a tribute to Rosenblatt Stadium can be found on the main concourse near first base.



The sun sets beyond third base, so sit along that side to avoid the sun in your eyes for the first five innings of an evening game.



There are a number of concessions with a good variety at reasonable prices. My favourite stand was selling Nebraska Brewing Company cans for $6; these cans have lids that come completely off (as opposed to small tabs), an interesting innovation that debuted just last month. There are also your typical promotions throughout the game that are handled by an in-game host who is not overbearing. There are lots of giveaways throughout the game depending on what happens on the field.



Overall, I really enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere here, quite surprising given Gordon's appearance and the 8,000+ fans that attended both games. The concourses were more than wide enough for the crowds, with the only issue being on exit, when there were coupons being handed out that caused a bit of a traffic jam. Fans are friendly as are all the staff and ushers. The Storm Chasers won the PCL title in 2011 and the AAA championship in 2013 (a game I attended) and 2014. It's no coincidence that the Royals went to the World Series in 2014 and won it all in 2015. This organization, long the laughing stock of baseball, breeds winning and it shows here at Werner Park. Make plans to visit if you have yet to do so.

The Games

The Zephyrs (Miami's affiliate) were in town in a reversal of the matchup I saw in New Orleans just two weeks prior.



In the first game, Robert Andino (#11 above) led off with a home run off Miguel Almonte (Royals #4 prospect) and followed that up with a 2-run double in the second. In between that, Omaha's Ramon Torres tripled and scored on a Gordon (#6 below) groundout. The teams traded runs in the 6th, including a Jorge Bonifacio home run for Omaha that cut their deficit to 4-2. Unfortunately, the Storm Chaser bullpen fell apart in the last couple of innings as both Joe Beimel and Tyler Olson were slapped around as the Zephyrs added five runs, including another homer from Andino as New Orleans won 9-3.



The second game featured Alec Mills (22nd round, 2012, KC's #11 prospect) making his second AAA start for Omaha taking on Chris Reed (16th overall in 2011 by LA), who had a brief spell in the majors last year. The Chasers scored two in the second on a Torres single, and added another couple in the third on a couple of doubles and a wild pitch. As Reed slowly walked back to the mound after the wild pitch, he hung his head and I have never seen an athlete look so sad. I thought perhaps that his dog had died, but he is from England, so I guess he was just depressed about Brexit.

Anyway, the Zephyrs managed a run off Mills in the 6th on a walk, single, and double play, but that was all they would get. Omaha added two more in the 8th on RBI singles from Gordon and Bonifacio to win 6-1. Mills went 6.2 innings yielding just 5 hits and the lone earned run, so he gets my Player to Watch award.

Notes

The Zephyrs have announced the seven finalists for their new nickname. All of them have some connection to the city, such as Crawfish, King Cakes, and Po'Boys, but my vote is for Red Eyes. Ostensibly this refers to crawfish, but it also has links to New Orleans' wild nightlife scene, from which many revelers wake with red eyes. Results will be announced in a couple of weeks.

Best,

Sean

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Off to Omaha for the College World Series and Denver for the Blue Jays


My Toronto on the Road quest continues next week with a trip to Denver to see Troy Tulowitzki make his return to Coors Field, assuming he is off the DL by then. The schedule maker was kind to set this series while the College World Series was taking place in nearby Omaha. As it turns out, Omaha is also home to the AAA Storm Chasers, who play in one of the two PCL parks I have yet to visit, so everything works out very well. The full schedule is below:
Thu, Jun 23 New Orleans Zephyrs at Omaha Storm Chasers (PCL) 7:05 
Fri, Jun 24 Arizona Wildcats vs Oklahoma State Cowboys (College World Series, Game 11) 2:00
Fri, Jun 24 New Orleans Zephyrs at Omaha Storm Chasers (PCL) 7:05
Sat, Jun 25 TCU Horned Frogs vs Coastal Carolina Chanticleers (Bracket 2 Elimination Game) 19:00
Sun, Jun 26 Arizona Diamondbacks at Colorado Rockies 2:10
Mon, Jun 27 Toronto Blue Jays at Colorado Rockies 6:40
Tue, Jun 28 Toronto Blue Jays at Colorado Rockies 6:40
Wed, Jun 29 Toronto Blue Jays at Colorado Rockies 1:10
As always, check back for recaps!

Best,

Sean

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Montgomery Biscuits 7 at Pensacola Blue Wahoos 1 (Southern League) - June 14, 2016


After watching an afternoon game in Mobile, I made the short drive to Pensacola to complete the two-state twinbill. The Blue Wahoos are celebrating their fifth anniversary though the franchise itself has been around since 1959 and most recently played in Zebulon as the AA version of the Carolina Mudcats. In 2012, they moved to the Florida Panhandle to play in Blue Wahoos Stadium, part of the Maritime Park area on Pensacola Bay.



Getting to the stadium is quite easy as it is just a mile or so from the end of the I-110 spur into the city. There is plenty of free parking around as meters expire at 5 p.m. and there is not much traffic downtown in the evening. From the outside, the stadium really doesn't resemble a ballpark, with the ticket window lineups the only obvious sign that a game is imminent.



Go through the main gate and up a staircase to reach the main concourse, making sure to note all the awards that the team has earned in its short history, which you can see above.



Blue Wahoos Stadium has the smallest capacity in AA with only 5,038 seats, so over the first few years tickets have been difficult to get, with many sellouts. This season though, the shine seems to be wearing off and there were plenty of seats available when I visited. Prices are very reasonable with a $7 GA seat a decent choice as there are plenty of standing tables along the concourse. If you want to sit, box seats are $12, with reserved seats down the lines $10 (add $2 to all tickets for Friday and Saturday games). Season seat holders can resell their tickets through the Blue Wahoos and these are an extra $1.50 for some reason.



You cannot walk all the way around, but you can get behind the outfield fence, which gives you a good view of the layout. There are no suites, though there are some club seats in the lower rows behind home plate.



The press box and team store are housed in a building behind home plate, along with a small bar known as Bubba's Sandtrap, named after two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson who is a minority owner, and who appears on the scoreboard several times throughout the game to exhort fans to cheer their team.



There is no cover over the seating bowl, so when it drizzles, fans move back to the concourse and seek shelter. Note the difference between the roof along third base (below) and the canopy along first (above). You might also notice that the foul poles are pink (rubine red actually), which shows support for breast cancer awareness according to the team.



Concessions here are quite nice too, with a good variety, much of it seafood based. There is also a dollar menu that includes mini pretzels, small bags of popcorn, and tiny cups of soda. There are two concession stands labeled Port Side and Starboard Side to maintain the nautical theme. The free program lists all available items and their price, something that all teams should consider.

There is an in-game host known as DJ Double Play who is not overbearing and runs the promotions efficiently. A wahoo is a type of fish, but the mascot Kazoo is simply called an aquatic creature.



Overall, Blue Wahoos Stadium is one of the top minor league parks in the country. Facing Pensacola Bay gives it one of the best views you'll ever get at this level; add in the affordable tickets and food choices and you understand why this is a premier destination for all ballpark travellers.

The Game

Montgomery (Tampa Bay) was in town to take on the Blue Wahoos (ironically the Reds affiliate) to finish up a 5-game set. The pitching matchup was very intriguing, with the two starters both former first-round picks: Nick Travieso for Pensacola and Taylor Guerrieri for Montgomery. Travieso was drafted 14th overall out of high school in 2012 and is working his way up the Reds chain, sitting as their #9 prospect at the moment. Guerrieri was drafted 24th overall out of high school in 2011 but Tommy John surgery and a 50-game suspension for drug abuse have slowed his progress, but he is considered the Rays #6 prospect this year.

After three scoreless innings, the Biscuits got on the board first when Travieso struggled with command. A hit batsman, a walk, and two wild pitches put runners on second and third and Cade Gotta (26th, 2014) directed a single to right to score both. Guerrieri lasted five frames, yielding just 3 hits, while Travieso completed six innings with just the two runs blemishing his line. This made it a battle of the bullpens, and Blue Wahoos were out of their depth here. El'Hajj Muhammad (49th, 2010, out of New Jersey) started the 7th and promptly gave up a double and misplayed a bunt. A suicide squeeze scored a run, and after a deep fly ball, Muhammad left with two outs and runners on the corners, to be replaced by Nick Routt (16th, 2012), who is not well named for a pitcher. When Routt was done, the rout was on as he gave up a walk, a bases loaded double to Patrick Leonard (5th round, 2011 by KC), and a single as the Biscuits took a 7-0 lead. Pensacola did manage a run in the 8th on a walk, two wild pitches, and a sacrifice fly, earning a sarcastic cheer from the few remaining fans.

The scoreboard turned off before I could snap a picture, so you'll have to trust me that I stayed until the end. A good game for six innings, but as is the case in baseball so often these days, it was the bullpens that decided it.

Notes

I saw three games along the Gulf Coast in just over 24 hours, and the home teams combined to lose all three by a score of 23-6. My deepest apologies for jinxing you.

Next Up

I'm off to Omaha for the College World Series next week and Denver for the Blue Jays just after. The schedule will be posted shortly, so check back for that.

Best,

Sean

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Jacksonville Suns 7 at Mobile BayBears 3 (Southern League) - June 14, 2016


The reason I choose this week to do a quick trip to the Gulf Coast was a day-night doubleheader in Mobile and Pensacola. These cities are less than an hour apart, so it was a perfect chance to knock off two ballparks in one day. About 70 miles of Alabama lies along the coast between Florida and Mississippi and Mobile is right in the middle of it. The city has a storied baseball history, with its most prominent son being Hank Aaron, so it should be no surprise that the AA Mobile BayBears play out of Hank Aaron Stadium. That's mascot Bay B. Bear greeting me below.



The ballpark is located just north of I-10 at the I-65 interchange, in a rather nondescript neighbourhood quite far from downtown Mobile. Parking here is $5, but you have no choice as there are no other spots within walking distance. Fortunately tickets are half price on Tuesday so I got a seat for $5. This place draws very poorly so you never have to pay more than the minimum, though for day games, you might want to ensure that you are sitting in a shaded seat.



Despite being opened in 1997, this is an old-style stadium, with a single entrance that leads to a concourse with no view of the field. Go up the stairs to enter the seating bowl, which is separated by a walkway. The seats are not that comfortable; in fact I thought the stadium was 50 years old as I wandered around. As you can see below, the roof covers the top five rows of about three sections. Suites and  party areas are located at field level, so any seats between the bases are elevated.



If you want to sit at field level, you have to go down the lines, which doesn't provide the best view. You can see those seats in the photo below.



There are a couple of features inside the concourse that are worth noting. First, seats from County Stadium in Milwaukee (below), Fulton County Stadium in Atlanta, and Wrigley Field are on display, along with a poster highlighting historic happenings at the stadium in question, with particular focus on Aaron's accomplishments.



There is also a small Wall of Fame just inside the main entrance that emulates Cooperstown and has about six inductees, including Buddy Carlyle, who played in Japan while I was there.



However, the most impressive attraction lies outside the stadium. In 2010, Aaron's childhood home was moved here and turned into a small museum that provides an extensive look into his life and baseball career. Admission is free and the house is air conditioned, so it makes a great place to visit before the game.



There are many pieces of memorabilia here and quite a bit of text that details his home runs year by year. Definitely a must see for any baseball fan. I'm only showing the trophy awarded for his 500th home run, but there are many other things on display. Do not miss this if you visit Mobile; it is one of the best on-site features at any minor league ballpark.



It is these extras that make a visit to Hank Aaron Stadium rewarding. The stadium gets a lot of poor reviews as it doesn't compare well to all the new ballparks dotting the minor league landscape, but it isn't that bad. I can see why the BayBears struggle to attract local fans (the team is last in the league in attendance at 1,600 per game) but as a stadium traveller, this is one of the better places I have visited for seeing a bit of baseball history.



The Game

Jacksonville (Miami) was in town to take on the BayBears (Arizona) on camp day, which saw several groups of rambunctious youngsters and a few tired counsellors in the crowd. The Suns scored first when Brian Anderson (3rd round, 2014, Miami's #12 prospect) launched a 2-run shot to left field in the top of the third off Luke Irvine (27th, 2011 by Tampa Bay). In the next inning, while showers were falling, Jacksonville added 3 runs on 4 hits and a walk, but Mobile responded with 3 of their own in the bottom half, including a 2-run homer from journeyman minor leaguer Travis Denker (21st, 2003, Dodgers), who had a cup of coffee with the Giants in 2008 (think about that - he's playing AA 8 years after making the majors).

After that the rain stopped and so did the runs. The Suns added one in the 7th and another in the 9th to win 7-3 in a game that lasted 3:05 due to 13 walks issued by both teams. Patrick Johnson (25th, 2011 by Colorado) got the win, yielding just 3 hits in 6 innings, along with 3 walks. Not a very interesting game, but at least there were no errors.



Notes

Attendance was 2,026, exactly 2 less than the previous night's game in Biloxi. About 90% of that number was kids.

I met a couple of fellow sports travellers in Jack and Dave from Philadelphia, who I had seen in Biloxi as well. It was Jack's 100th minor league park, so congratulations are in order! Always good to meet others chasing ballparks, and sure enough, they were in Pensacola that night too. More on that in the next post.

Best,

Sean