Saturday, July 23, 2016

Baseball Stadiums: Great American Ball Park

Since 2011, I have participated in the AP Human Geography Reading in Cincinnati, Ohio, which means I have gone to a number of Cincinnati Reds games - specifically 11 games over the last five years after this visit.  However, I did not post about my first visit to Great American Ball Park, but after starting this blog I wrote about my visit in 2012 while combining it with my visit to a Dayton Dragons game (read it here).

As I've grown my blog and the stadium underwent renovations in preparation for the 2015 MLB All-Star Game, I decided that I should write a more complete entry about the stadium.  So I decided that I would write about my first visit to the stadium this year, which was a Friday night game between the Reds and Washington Nationals.

So after making the usual mile trek from my downtown hotel to the ballpark, I captured what most fans see as they come to Great American Ball Park.

"The Spirit of Baseball" sculpture designed by Mark Riedy.

The sculpture is part of the Reds' office space and varies based upon sunlight and artificial light, but really what people care about seeing when coming to the stadium is the actual main entrance.

Main entrance.

Outside the main entrance there are multiple statues honoring former players, the team's main gift store, and the Reds Hall of Fame and Museum.  There are nearly too many statues honoring players to photograph, after all the Reds are the oldest professional baseball club and claim a history dating back to 1869.  So I don't have photos of every single statue, but did capture some noteworthy players' statues and one of the most recent additions, a mustache.

To promote the 2015 MLB All-Star Game the Reds commissioned mustache statues that are now throughout Cincinnati.

In homage to the franchise's history the Reds created a monument in front of the main entrance called the "Reds Legends of Crosley Field" that was designed by Tom Tsuchiya.  The sculpture includes Joe Nuxhall pitching, Ernie Lombardi catching, Frank Robinson batting, and Ted Kluszewski waiting on deck.

"Reds Legends of Crosley Field" monument that honors of team's former home field (1912-1970).

The Reds also have some decorative shrubbery by the main entrance that has become a popular place for fans to take photographs.

Decorative shrubbery by the main entrance.

Besides the imaginary baseball game featuring former star players there are two other sculptures by the entrance recognizing some of the Reds greatest and most beloved players: Tony Perez and Johnny Bench.

Tony Pérez (1964-76, 1984-86) was inducted in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2000.

Johnny Bench (1967-83) was inducted in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1989.

So what do fans see when they walk into the concourse?

First sight upon entering the stadium.

There are also two mosaics called "The First Nine" and "The Great Eight," which commemorate the 1869 Red Stockings (the first professional baseball team) and the 1975-76 Reds teams known as the Big Red Machine that won back-to-back World Series titles.  Both mosaics were designed by Mark Riedy, who also designed the bas relief that welcomes fans outside the stadium.

"The Great Eight" and "The First Nine" mosaics that are immediately inside the main gates.

There are a lot of great food choices, but I ate before the game on this particular night.  So I don't have the typical food photo to share, but have shared a pair of signature Cincinnati food items on Twitter from previous visits.

Food porn photos aside, the options at the concession stand cover the spectrum, but most notably incorporate a lot of items associated with food in Cincinnati.

The hot dog and sausage stand is known as Porkopolis, which was a nickname given to Cincinnati in 1835
because the city was a major hog packing center.

There's pizza...

LaRosa's Family Pizzeria was founded in 1954 in Cincinnati, but now has stores in nearby Kentucky and Indiana plus Dayton.

There's also a burger chain...

The Big Boy statue by the Frisch's Big Boy concession stand.

While Big Boy is a national chain, Frisch's owns the rights to the franchise in most of Ohio and all of Kentucky and Indiana, so it is a chain many Reds fans know.

Additionally, there are Skyline Chili stands throughout the stadium that serve not only the namesake chili, but also coneys (a hot dog topped with chili and shredded cheese).

Beyond hot dogs, beer might be the most famous ballpark item, and Great American Ball Park does not lack for a selection of excellent local craft beers.  Near home plate there is an extensive bar that features macro brews, but also great Cincinnati-brewed beers and some solid regional choices from Kentucky and other parts of Ohio.

Brewery District Bar near home plate.

For fans along the first base line and in the outfield there is another large bar.

Bootleggers Bar along the first base line.

By Bootleggers Bar there is a sign commemorating Cincinnati's brewing heritage, which runs very deep.  It may not be as well-known outside the region because there are no major macro breweries in town nor is the craft beer industry as well established here as elsewhere around the United States (read about it here), but Cincinnati has a rich brewing history that recently has begun to be celebrated.

Sign showing off the Cincinnati Brewing Heritage Trail.

While exploring the concourse I happened to encounter one of the team's mascots: Rosie Red.

Me with Rosie Red.

Perhaps one of the most unique things I saw while walking around the terrace level was a special seat between the Sun/Moon Deck in right field and the Power Stacks in right center field is a vacant seat designated to the memory of American prisoners of war and and those missing in action.

The Chair of Honor was dedicated in 2014.

But enough of the concourse, what do fans see what sitting in their seats?  After all, fans comes to games to watch a game not tour a stadium, right?  Well, most fans come to watch the game.  I generally do, even when I explore and check out the unique components of a new ballpark I'm visiting for the very first time.

So onto the game's first pitch from my seat high above the field.

Reds starting pitcher Brandon Finnegan getting ready to deliver the first pitch
to Washington Nationals center fielder Ben Revere.

The most unique feature of the outfield has to be the riverboat above the batter's eye in center field.  Cincinnati was once well known for its riverboat, and still has some in service now that do tours along the Ohio River.

The Riverboat Deck in center field.

Along side the riverboat is a pair of smokestacks, which are a staple of the vessel.  Additionally, highlighting the smokestacks allows me to point out the secondary videoboard in right field that was added during the 2015 in advance of the All-Star Game.

Right field's Sun/Moon Deck with the secondary videoboard alongside the PNC Power Stacks, which shoot fireworks.

With the secondary videoboard in right field, the stadium's primary videoboard stands over the left field bleachers.

With the bases loaded early in the game, the videoboard features a graphic referencing a common phrase
used to describe the situation.

While enjoying my view from the upper deck, I was able to capture a photo of the pitcher's mound.

Washington Nationals starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez.

I have shown off most of the stadium except for the seats down the first base line, where the JACK Cincinnati Casino Champions Club is located.  It is a member's only club that features a buffet along with seating inside and outside.  It had been the Riverfront Club, which was open to all stadium-goers, but it was renovated prior to the 2015 season and became a members-only area.

View down the first base line featuring the JACK Cincinnati Casino Champions Club.

The stadium faces the Ohio River, which is great because so much of Cincinnati's history is tied to the river.  However, the views into Kentucky can be considered a little lackluster as there are no skyscrapers or other stunning sights.  So in order to get views of the city's skyline fans need to walk to the outfield.  Normally fans wouldn't be able to see much of a skyline outside a stadium because the upper deck would block the view, but Great American Ball Park has a specially designed gap that allows fans to see the downtown Cincinnati skyline.

View of Great American Insurance Group Tower, headquarters of the namesake sponsor of the ballpark.

While capturing the view of the skyline, I also got a photo of the grandstand behind home plate.  Naturally this includes the press box and many of the luxury suites, but all of the franchise's retired numbers are also honored

View of the grandstand behind home plate with the press box and the franchise's retired numbers.

As the oldest professional franchise in baseball, the Reds have a lot of retired numbers (read about them here).  So I won't detail all of them, but instead focus on the one number that was not posted when I attended this game in June: Pete Rose's #14.  Following Rose's banishment from MLB in 1989, the Reds did not retire his number.  Finally entering this season the Reds announced they would retire his number.  A few weeks after my visit the team fêted Rose as part of a weekend-long event that also honored the 1976 World Series (read the details here).

The first game I attended in Cincinnati was on a Friday, so following the Reds victory over the Nationals fans got treated to a fireworks show.

Fireworks over the Ohio River.

Fireworks above the Sun/Moon Deck in right field.

A colorful fireworks display.

Great American Ball Park really does live up to its name.  It is a great American ballpark.  It has wide concourses.  It has tons of concession stands with local-inspired options.  It has lots of great craft beer selections.  It has great architecture.  It has a penchant for incorporating history into the stadium.

There is one very minor drawback about the stadium.  The views from the seats are good, although the Kentucky hilltops aren't the most aesthetically pleasing.  However, the stadium beautifully incorporates views of the Cincinnati skyline for fans sitting in the outfield.

Despite this minor drawback, the stadium lives up to its name.  It is a great American ballpark.

Final Score: Washington 2, Cincinnati 7
Box Score

Friday, July 15, 2016

Baseball Stadiums: Spirit Communications Park

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).

Before heading to the game, we stopped at a couple of local breweries (Conquest Brewing Company and Hunter-Gatherer Brewery & Alehouse), but those will be covered in a separate post.

Following parking in a field on the grounds of the former Bull Street Lunatic Asylum, we headed toward the newest Minor League Baseball stadium in the United States: Spirit Communications Park.

Main entrance.

Although Katie and I made the 1/3-mile loop around the concourse and checked out the gift shop, we opted to wait on food and beverages to watch the beginning of the game.

Columbia Fireflies starting pitcher Andrew Church delivering the first pitch to Augusta GreenJackets shortstop Lucius Fox.

Somehow I never found a posted lineup for the game or the South Atlantic League standings posted at the stadium.  However, due to an online box score I was able to see what San Francisco Giants prospects (see full list here) were playing for the visiting Augusta GreenJackets and what New York Mets (see full list here) prospects were on the field for the hometown Columbia Fireflies.

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.

Final Score: Augusta 2, Columbia 14
Box Score

Monday, July 11, 2016

Baseball Stadiums: Joseph P. Riley, Jr. Park

Following our stay in Myrtle Beach (read about it here), Katie and I continued our South Carolina baseball road trip in Charleston.  We spent the Sunday doing sightseeing in Mount Pleasant seeing the Charles Pinckney National Historic Site, who was a key framer of the U.S. Constitution, and Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum, which features the USS Yorktown (CV-10).

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...

Main gate.

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