Saturday, May 26, 2018

Indianapolis Indians 1 at Charlotte Knights 2 (International League) - May 25, 2018

I'm on a one-way trip from Florida back to NYC, taking advantage of rental car specials that get vehicles back to the Northeast in time for the summer. The purpose of the trip was to see a game in Augusta and thus maintain my ability to boast of having seen a game in all 160 active minor league ballparks. With that done, the rest of the drive back with my family is more about seeing things other than sports, such as national parks and historic sites. But if there happens to be a game in a city I am in, I will stop by. Such was the case in Charlotte on Friday night, as the Knights were hosting the Indianapolis Indians.

The game was scheduled to start at 7:04, and I headed downtown a little bit early to enjoy some of the atmosphere of race weekend, as NASCAR was holding the Coca-Cola 600 on Sunday at Charlotte Motor Speedway. After a brief visit to a local pub, I went over to the ballpark just before first pitch. The weather was good, so I didn't bother checking any social media to see if the game was delayed. Big mistake. Upon entering the ballpark, I was greeted by the below sight. Note the sign in the fence. Yep, a weather delay. A more appropriate description would be a radar delay, as the weather in the immediate vicinity of the ballpark was quite nice.

Patches of blue were apparent beyond the skyline but the delay continued past the rescheduled start time of 7:40.

There were some dark clouds at one point, and a few drops fell, but nothing that would have caused the game to stop, had it started.

There was even a rainbow in the distance, but no rain. Fans stayed because it was fireworks night, which probably helped the Knights coffers with 90 more minutes of food and drink consumed. The only positive for me from the delay was the opportunity to take pictures of the spectacular Charlotte skyline, which is really the only reason to post this. As I visited here 2015 (for the same matchup coincidentally), I won't bother discussing the ballpark, but it is interesting to see the changes in the skyline in just three years.

Anyway, the threat of rain finally passed and the game started at 8:25, with recent demotee Carson Fulmer starting for Charlotte (White Sox) against Nick Kingham for Indy (Pirates), who made history by retiring the first 20 batters he faced in his MLB debut back in April. Fulmer was wild and walked 6 in five frames, but none of them came around to score, while Kingham was taken out after one inning as he might start for Pittsburgh on Tuesday.

The Indians opened the scoring in the 4th when Jordan Luplow doubled, was sacrificed to third, and came home on a wild pitch. Charlotte managed two in the bottom half after Alex Presley reached on an error, Patrick Leonard tripled, and Mason Robbins added an infield single. And that was it. The bullpens chucked zeros the rest of the way. Casey Sadler was the hard luck loser having given up no earned runs, while Tyler Danish pitched 3 strong innings in relief of Fulmer, with Rob Scahill picking up the save. Despite all the walks, the game took only 2:29, a nice change from some of the 3+ hour affairs in the majors. I wish it had started on time, or that I had been smart enough to check their Twitter feed so I didn't have to stand around for 90 minutes. Next time, I'll be checking social media regardless of the weather.



Friday, May 25, 2018

Charleston RiverDogs 0-3 at Augusta GreenJackets 4-2 (South Atlantic League) - May 23, 2018

There is only one new stadium in minor league baseball this season, with the Augusta GreenJackets moving from Lake Olmstead Stadium to SRP Park. Much like the Atlanta Braves who left Turner Field after just 20 years and moved to another city, the GreenJackets left a ballpark that was only 22 years old and landed in another town. In fact, they no longer play in Georgia, as SRP Park is across the Savannah River in North Augusta, South Carolina.

The ballpark is the centerpiece of a larger development known as Riverside Village. Most of it is still under construction so parking can be a bit of a hassle. Fortunately, my hotel had a shuttle as well as a free ticket, so I was dropped off right at the main gate. If you do drive, check out the GreenJackets website for parking information. Note that the pictures above and below were taken on Friday morning, which is why the gates are closed.

The box office and Hive team shop are right next to the main gate, but with the game about to start, I hurried right in. I did not bother to tour the ballpark on this visit as I planned to attend the game on Thursday, but that was rained out, so photos are at a minimum.

The single seating bowl is mostly Kelly green seats, with the exception of Section 100 right behind the plate. The first few rows have wooden seat backs (somewhat visible in the photo below) while the last few rows are called VIP Loge, where four seats come with a table. Both of these were sold out long before the season started.

Above right field is the TaxSlayer Terrace, where you can stand in the hopes of catching a home run ball. The concourse is 360 degrees and there are drink rails all the way around, which is very useful as beer here is a bargain, with 32-ounce premium beers only $7 (you can save a buck by drinking the usual stuff). There are plenty of concession stands too, each with a different name and different options. Maurice's BBQ sandwich, found at  was a bargain at $5.

I didn't see much history here but again, I did not do my usual tour. A Wall of Champions can be found on the back of the concourse behind first base.

Overall, SRP Park is an impressive addition to the South Atlantic League. It is similar to many other new minor league parks, with a single seating bowl with suites above, an open concourse, a berm in one corner, a children's area in the outfield, and plenty of good food options. As work on the project continues, the overall experience will only improve, and I will have to return to enjoy it completely next time.

The Games

The previous night's game had been rained out so a doubleheader was scheduled for 5 p.m., 2 hours earlier than the original game time. I had a long drive from Cocoa Beach, and I didn't arrive at my hotel until 5, but a rainstorm had soaked the grounds and the start was delayed until 6:45, so I was able to catch both games.

In the opener, J.P. Sears (11th round, 2017 by Seattle) started for visiting Charleston (Yankees) while Joey Marciano (36th, 2017) took the hill for Augusta (Giants). The GreenJackets plated 3 in the second with Giants top prospect Heliot Ramos (19th overall in 2017) singling home one of those runs. Augusta added another run in the 6th when Manuel Geraldo doubled and scored on a line out to centerfielder Pablo Olivares by Jacob Gonzalez (2nd, 2017, Giants #11 prospect). How do you score from second on a lineout? Olivares bobbled the ball while transferring it to throw, but even then, I believe that Geraldo left early. Charleston threw to second to appeal, but it was denied. In the end, Olivares was given an error but I'm sure the umpire missed the call. Anyway, Ryan Koziol relieved Marciano in the 7th and retired the side in order as Augusta won 4-0.

The second game saw Janson Junk (22nd, 2017) start for the RiverDogs against Aaron Phillips (9th, 2017). Charleston took an early 2-0 lead but Ramos got one back for Augusta with a third-inning double. Both teams scored in the fifth and that was it as Charleston won the nightcap 3-2. I enjoyed the scoreboard shot above as it was a rare palindromic line score (3-5-1, 1-5-3).

By the end of the second game, fog was sweeping across the outfield. It did not impact play, but was interesting to see.


Near the end of the second game, a tiny frog hopped in front of me. I have seen a lot of things at baseball games, but this was a first, and an obvious omen of the impending rainout on Thursday.

There are three new ballparks opening in 2019: Amarillo, Fayetteville, and Las Vegas. I don't know if I will be able to get to them all, so this could be the last time I can say that I have seen a game in all 160 active minor league stadiums.

Next Up

I'll be heading through Baltimore as I drive back to NYC and will see at least one Orioles game. After that, the summer will be quiet, though I am hoping to get to Chicago for the Blue Jays at the end of July. As always, check back for updates.



Friday, May 4, 2018

Toronto Blue Jays at Minnesota Twins - May 1-2, 2018

I've seen the Toronto Blue Jays in every American League road city except Oakland, so I've decided to add new ballparks to my Toronto on the Road quest. I saw the Jays play in Tiger Stadium in 1985, Comiskey and the Metrodome in 1990, and the Kingdome in 1991. All of those parks have since been replaced, thus, I now include Comerica Park, Guaranteed Rate Field, Target Field, and Safeco Field on my list of places to see the Blue Jays. This season, Minnesota was the first of those to be visited by Toronto, so I decided to take a one-night trip to Minneapolis to see the last two in the three-game set.

I first attended games at Target Field during its inaugural season in 2010, and covered the ballpark extensively, with three separate posts detailing all that you needed to know. Rather than rehash that information, I'll just highlight some of the changes I noticed.

Target Field is located on the west edge of downtown, and is easily accessible via the Blue Line on Light Rail, which also runs through the airport. My flight landed around 4:30 and I was at my hotel, located just a minute away from the ballpark, within an hour. After dropping off my bag, I headed over to Gate 29, so named for Rod Carew, whose iconic batting stance is beautifully demonstrated in a statue out front. Each gate here represents a retired uniform number and the statue of the player who sported that uniform is found in front of the gate, so take a walk around before entering.

Gate 29 is also where you can find a display of every past ballpark used professionally in the Minneapolis area. Target Field has so many of these touches that you really need to visit twice to see them all.  I didn't have much time to tour the whole venue on Tuesday, so I waited until Wednesday's afternoon game to do a full walk around.

The first thing I noticed was Bat & Barrel, a new restaurant that is open to all fans and replaces the Metropolitan Club that was open only to fans with club tickets. This is like a huge sports bar, with the benefit of having a large amount of Twins memorabilia.

One example is Byron Buxton's Gold Glove from last year (above), but more importantly, the 1987 and 1991 World Series trophies are now available to be seen by all fans (below). Championship trophies are the pinnacle of sports for most fans, and these two were off-limits to the average fan when the park first opened, so it is good to see that the organization has rectified that.

Continuing on to the hallway that leads to the Delta Sky360 Club (which is only open to fans with club tickets), you will pass by Minimalist Ballparks, a series of paintings by S. Preston, with one work for each MLB stadium. Each piece shows a small part of the ballpark, but a part that is unique so that the ballpark is easily identifiable. This is a very impressive display, especially for those of us who have visited every stadium.

I had a Stadium Journey credential on Wednesday, and that allowed me into the Delta Club, where there is more history on display. Each past star is honoured in several ways, such as a large wall photo for Tony Oliva below. If you are a Twins fan, you will want to splurge at least once to fully experience this area.

The club seats are below and are cantilevered above the lower bowl, giving them excellent sight lines. Note the wooden seat backs as well.

Moving around the lower concourse, stop to note the All-Star Game logos that are posted on a wall behind left field. Don't try to steal one, though, the camera is watching you!

Above left field is the Town Ball Tavern, one of many sit-down eateries that can be found inside the stadium. Photos of local ballparks are featured here, as well as a display on black baseball in the state.

There is so much more to see here, so make sure that you get there when gates open and use the full two hours to take a slow walk around. I haven't even mentioned the incredible variety of food that is available; pick up a concessions guide at Guest Services to see the full menu.

The Jays are not a popular draw, so I was able to get several shots of an empty concourse. When Target Field opened, it was sold out for the season, but eight years on, the lustre has been lost and it is easy to get a cheap ticket these days.

I also wandered through the seating bowl, going to the farthest point down the right field line (above). The Budweiser sign at the top is where the Budweiser Roof Deck is located; this is a new party area that is usually reserved for groups but is open to individuals on Thursday.

Above is the very steep grandstand above right field; below is the view from the top. This seems to be one of the more severe inclines I've seen in pro sports.

Finally, the shot from behind home plate, with a partial view of the Minneapolis skyline in the distance. The best place to site is along the third base line as the majority of the buildings are southeast of the ballpark.

The ballpark is built on the second smallest footprint in the majors (AT&T Park in San Francisco is smaller) and you can see that in the panorama shot below. It is amazing how much they are able to fit in such a relatively small area.

Overall, Target Field is one of my favourite ballparks and certainly one of the most underrated. It checks all the boxes for me: downtown with plenty of bars around, easy public transit, lots of history on display, and standing areas with drink rails. I am already looking forward to my next visit; I just need an excuse to get back here.

The Games

Tuesday night saw Marco Estrada facing Kyle Gibson, who I had seen at Yankee Stadium in his previous start, where he took a no-hitter into the 6th. The Twins scored a couple in the first including a solo homer from Joe Mauer, and Gibson kept Toronto off the board until the fifth, when Kendrys Morales homered and Justin Smoak singled home Luke Maile. Morales added another solo shot in the 6th to give the Jays the lead, but Eddie Rosario responded with a 2-run shot in the bottom half to make it 4-3 Twins. In top of the 8th, with Addison Reed on the hill for Minnesota, Smoak walked, went to third on a Yangervis Solarte double, and scored on a sacrifice fly from Kevin Pillar. Neither team could add to their total in regulation, so we went to extras, where the Blue Jays mounted a rally off John Curtiss in the 10th. A Pillar double was followed by an intentional pass to Morales and a regular walk to Maile. A wild pitch, infield single from Aledmys Diaz, and another wild pitch resulted in 3 runs, more than enough for Roberto Osuna to get a 6-pitch save. Jays win!

The next day saw Fernando Romero, the Twins top pitching prospect (below), making his major league debut. He was stellar, pitching 5.2 shutout innings before his bullpen picked him up, while his offense gave him a couple of runs off Marcus Stroman, including another Rosario homer. Four Twins relievers completed the shutout, while Minnesota added a couple of insurance runs in the 8th to win 4-0. I'll take a road split, but wish I could have seen Monday's game, which the Jays won 7-5, as they took the series 2-1.


Curtiss was sent back to Rochester after the game to make room for Romero on the roster, leaving with a 40.50 ERA (3 ER in 0.2 IP). Hope he gets back to lower that a bit.