Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Baseball Stadiums: MiLB Mascot Mania

A few weeks ago, I mentioned write a post about my experiences with Minor League Baseball mascots.  After taking some time to gather my photographs and put things into a spreadsheet, I can report that I have photographs with 22 MiLB team mascots over the past four seasons.

I've had my picture taken with mascots at almost all levels: Triple-A, Double-A, Class A Advanced, and Class A.  I do not have any pictures with me and mascots from Class A Short-Season or Rookie level teams.

My first photograph with a mascot happened by circumstance.  In 2011, I attended a Tacoma Rainiers game will in Seattle for the AAG Annual Meeting.  I don't remember the situation, but I was exploring the stadium when Rhubarb the Reindeer walked by, and I jumped on the chance to get my photo taken with him.

Me with Rhubarb the Reindeer.

Although I have been attending MiLB games since the early 1990s, I never sought out photo opportunities with mascots until 18 months ago.  I was teaching in the geography department at Oklahoma State University, and decided to add some life to my first day of class slides and incorporated photos of me with mascots.  If students guessed where I was based upon the picture they got a bonus point, and it helped me learn names with faces, too.

So the first time I did that, I included the my photo with Rhubabr and some others that I accumulated during the 2012 season.  In order, I got photos with the Arkansas Travelers mascot Shelly (put out to pasture since the team's rebranding in 2014), the Montgomery Biscuits mascot Big Mo, and the Memphis Redbirds mascot Rockey the Rockin' Redbird.

Me with Shelly at Dickey-Stephens Park.

Me with Big Mo at Riverwalk Stadium.

Me with Rockey the Rockin' Redbird.

During the Spring 2013 semester before I went to Los Angeles for the AAG Annual Meeting, I had a student ask if I was going to get my picture taken with any mascots at the games I planned to attend.  That's when something that started by happenstance turned into a hunt to get my picture with as many mascots as possible.

On that trip, I attended two Minor League games and got my picture with Tremor from the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes and Thunder from the Lake Elsinore Storm.

Me with Tremor at LoanMart Field.

Me with Thunder at the Lake Elsinore Diamond.

During the summer, I visited the Dayton Dragons while in Cincinnati, Ohio, for the AP Human Geography Reading.  So I got my picture taken with all three of the team's mascots: dragons Gem and Heater, and Wink, an ogre.

Me with Gem and Heater during a rain delay at Fifth Third Field.

Me with Wink at Fifth Third Field.

Before my move from Oklahoma to Alabama, I did some sightseeing in in the Ozarks and got my picture taken with the both mascots for the Northwest Arkansas Naturals, Strike and Sinker, and the Springfield Cardinals duo: Louie and Fetch.

Me with Strike at Arvest Ballpark.

Me with Sinker the Lake Creature at Arvest Ballpark.

Me with Louie at Hammons Field.

An extreme closeup of me with Fetch at Hammons Field.

During the 2014 season, I got nine pictures with mascots from eight teams.  The first three mascots I saw came during the AAG Annual Meeting in Tampa, Fla.  I got pictures with Phinley from the Clearwater Threshers, Marty from the Bradenton Marauders, and Blue from the Tampa Yankees.

Phinley try to eat me at Bright House Field.

Me with Marty at McKechnie Field.

Me with Blue at George M. Steinbrenner Field.

After the AP Human Geography Reading I made two stops on my way back south, and saw the Bowling Green Hot Rods and Nashville Sounds.  I got photos with both mascots from the Hot Rods, Axle the Bear and Roscoe the Grease Monkey, and I got a picture with the Sounds' mascot Ozzie.

Me with Axle the Bear at Bowling Green Ballpark.

Me with Roscoe the Grease Monkey at Bowling Green Ballpark.

Me with Ozzie at Herschel Greer Stadium.

In July, I went to a Gwinnett Braves game and got my photo with their mascot, Chopper.  I had been to a G-Braves game prior to this season, but did not get a picture with the groundhog.  So I made sure to my picture with him this time.

Me with Chopper at Coolray Field.

In early August, I made a trip through the Tennessee River Valley and visited the Chattanooga Lookouts and Huntsville Stars.  The primary purpose of the trip was a reunion with former Stars coworkers, as the team has been sold and is supposed to move to Biloxi for the 2015 season.  While I had been to a Lookouts game at AT&T Field many years ago, I had not blogged about my experience and wanted to be sure I got my photo with the Lookouts mascot Looie.  With the Stars set to move, I felt compelled to get my photo with Homer the Polecat.

Me with Looie at AT&T Field before I competed in musical chairs.

Me with Homer the Polecat at Joe W. Davis Stadium.

I have a few places in mind that I hope to visit in 2015, but it's too early to predict how much I may get to travel next season.  I know that I will be in the Chicago area in late April for the AAG Annual Meeting, but many Minor League teams have yet to release their 2015 schedules.  Closer to home, I'm hopeful that I can see the minor league teams in Georgia and Alabama that I have not visited yet, which would add four teams to my tally and theoretically six mascots to my picture collection.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Presidential Pathways: #27, William Howard Taft

Born: Sept. 15, 1857, in Cincinnati, Ohio
Died: March 8, 1930, in Washington, D.C.
Burial Place: Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va. (Visited: April 2010)

Birthplace


The Taft family residence at 2038 Auburn Avenue, which is part of the William Howard Taft National Historic Site.

The room where William Howard Taft was born.
Burial Place

William Howard Taft was the first president buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

An obelisk marks the burial place of William Howard Taft and his wife Helen Herron Taft.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Baseball Stadiums: MLB Mascot Mayhem

In my last post I mentioned that I was going to write about my experience with baseball mascots.  While I don't have a lot of pictures with Major League Baseball mascots, I decided it would be easier to divide MLB mascots from Minor League Baseball mascots.

Over the past three years I've gone to more Minor League games than I have Major League games, so my collection of mascot photos leans heavily toward Minor League mascots.  I can also say from experience attending Major League games for over 25 years that MLB mascots are not as accessible as MiLB mascots.

So far, I only have pictures with three MLB mascots, and two are with the same team.

The first MLB mascots I got a picture with is now retired, as the Houston Astros changed their team colors, uniform, and sent Junction Jack off to retirement in 2013.  However, in 2011 I went to Houston to attend a Georgia State football game, and I went to an Astros game where I got my photograph with the rabbit.

Me with Junction Jack in a section of the Bullpen Box seats.

Since 2011, I have participated as a reader for the AP Human Geography exam.  The reading takes place in Cincinnati, Ohio, so I've gotten my photo taken with two of the Cincinnati Reds' mascots.

In 2012, I got a photo with my first Reds mascot: Rosie Red.  I was walking around the Fan Zone beyond right field.

Me with Rosie Red.

In 2013, I dined in the Riverfront Club with a bunch of fellow AP readers.  As it turned out Mr. Redlegs stopped by the club.  So I don't have an individual photo with him, but I do have a group picture with him.

A bunch of geographers with Mr. Redlegs.

It's not much of a collection, but it's a start.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Baseball Stadiums Update

As the Minor League Baseball regular season comes to a close with the Labor Day weekend and the Major League Baseball regular season concluding at the end of the month, it is only appropriate that I post an update about the stadiums I've visited this season.

I visited five new stadiums this season, re-visited five ballparks, and blogged about nine of them.

The stadiums I had never visited before are:

Bright House Field in Clearwater, Fla. (home of the Clearwater Threshers)
McKechnie Field in Bradenton, Fla. (home of the Bradenton Marauders)
George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Fla. (home of the Tampa Yankees)
Regions Field in Birmingham, Ala. (home of the Birmingham Barons)
Bowling Green Ballpark in Bowling Green, Ky. (home of the Bowling Green Hot Rods)

The ballparks I've visited previously, but had not blogged about are:

Herschel Greer Stadium in Nashville, Tenn. (home of the Nashville Sounds)
Coolray Field in Lawrenceville, Ga. (home of the Gwinnett Braves)
AT&T Field in Chattanooga, Tenn. (home of the Chattanooga Lookouts)
Joe W. Davis Stadium in Huntsville, Ala. (home of the Huntsville Stars)

The lone park I visited, but did not blog about is:

Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati, Ohio (home of the Cincinnati Reds)

Most of my visits were done in clusters as I made other trips.  I visited the three Florida stadiums while in Tampa for the AAG 2014 Annual Meeting.  I visited Bowling Green and Nashville while returning from Cincinnati, Ohio, after attending the AP Reading.  I visits AT&T Field and Joe W. Davis Stadium because I attended a reunion of former Huntsville Stars employees.  My excursions to Regions Field and Coolray Field were solo trips to visit with friends.

These trips now bring my tally to:
  • MLB = 20 (13 active)
  • AAA = 9 (8 active)
  • AA = 18 (14 active)
  • High A = 5 (5 active)
  • Low A = 4 (2 active)
  • Short-Season A = 6 (5 active)
  • Independent = 5 (4 active)
  • Spring Training = 10 (9 active)
Depending upon how you count Joe W. Davis Stadium in Huntsville, my count for active Double-A stadiums is 14 or 13.  As the Stars will play in this season's Southern League playoffs, the stadium is active as of this post.  Additionally, as the opening date of the team's new stadium in Biloxi, Miss., is up in the air it is possible the Stars franchise may play part of the 2015 season in Huntsville.  Until the team's move comes to fruition, I am going to count Joe W. Davis Stadium as an active facility.

As of this post, I have seen professional baseball games (including Spring Training) in 27 states, the District of Columbia, and one Canadian province (British Columbia).  I did not visit stadiums in new states this season, but attended games in six states (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Ohio, and Tennessee).

As a geographer, my life isn't complete without a map.  So for those who want to see my stadium visits in a map, you can check out this active map I created using Google Maps.

In my quest to get a picture with as many Minor League mascots as possible, I probably should discuss the mascots I got pictures with this season.  However, I'm going to save that for another post when I can take the time to tally the photos I got during the 2014 season along with the mascots I got pictures with in previous years.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Presidential Pathways: #23, Benjamin Harrison

Born: Aug. 20, 1833, in North Bend, Ohio
Died: March 13, 1901, in Indianapolis, Ind.
Burial Place: Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis, Ind. (Visited: May 2011)

Birthplace

Benjamin Harrison was born on a family farm in the "Big House," which burned down in 1858.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Baseball Stadiums: Joe W. Davis Stadium

When you used to work in sports, it's not always easy to attend games because you're usually working them.  That is the case with the Huntsville Stars for me.  I interned with the team during the summer of 2003.  I visited for a game that fall during the Southern League playoffs, but like many stadiums that was before I started blogging about my ballpark treks.

When the sale and move of the Stars was announced early this year, I decided that I must watch a home game before the team moved to Biloxi.  I wasn't the only one thinking about returning to Huntsville, as a former coworker organized a reunion via Facebook.  So not only did I get to see a game, but I got to see a bunch of former coworkers who I haven't seen in nearly 10 years.

The exterior of the stadium was just as I remembered it, but that didn't stop me from taking pictures of the road leading to the ballpark named after former team owner, president, general manager, and Huntsville-native Don Mincher.

A road dedicated to former Stars owner Don Mincher with Joe W. Davis Stadium in the background.
The facade of the stadium looks just the same as it did when I last attended a game, except for one change. Until the team changed its logo a few years ago there had been a pair of logos bracketing the text that read "Joe W. Davis Municipal Stadium."  The aluminum where the logos stood is considerably lighter in color than the rest of the facade.

Main entrance.

Once I picked up my ticket from will call, I walked around the stadium a bit.  The biggest change is that the gift shop is no longer a hole in the wall, but an actual shop with an entrance.  After loading up on gifts and some gear for myself, I documented some of the standard ballpark features like the night's starting lineups.

The starting lineups for Saturday, Aug. 2, 2014.

View of gift shop with a sign thanking the fans. The team's mascot can be seen in the store.

As I hadn't found where my former coworkers were sitting, I ended up watching the national anthem from the third base line.  The team celebrated AUSA Military Appreciation Night and had an honor guard present the colors.

Players remain at attention as the honor guard leaves the field.

I could go into detail about the stadium's history, but MiLB.com's Ben Hill has a detailed rundown of the team and the ballpark included in his visit to Huntsville earlier this season (read about it here).

I did want to capture a picture of signage commemorating the Stars' championship seasons.

The left field wall with stars to celebrate the team's three Southern League championships: 1985, 1994, and 2001.

With the national anthem concluded, I headed towards home plate because I wanted to get a photo of the first pitch.  The view from home plate during the first pitch is an image I think conveys the essence of a ballpark.  For many fans, the backdrop is a crucial element to their enjoyment of the game and the view from the grandstand is regularly discussed in books reviewing baseball stadiums.

First pitch between the Huntsville Stars and Jacksonville Suns.

After capturing the first pitch, I checked out the concession stands to determine what I would eat for dinner.  While I hadn't been to a Stars game in over 10 years, very little has changed about the food choices.  The standard ballpark fare is available at each stand (one open on the first and third base lines), so fans looking for a signature food item won't find one in Huntsville.

Former concession stand with a nearby bar.

Concession stand on third base line.

Condiment stand and concourse along first base line.

I wasn't surprised to see the basic food choices, so I opted for one of my favorite items from my internship days: a Philly cheesesteak.  It's not a food item that is part of the Southern food palate, but I would regularly get them at Billy Ray's Grill when I interned with the Stars in 2003.

After getting my cheesesteak and getting a beer, I eventually found my former coworkers who were sitting in a section along the first base line.

My Philly cheesesteak.

Along with the Philly cheesesteak, I got a Speckled Trout Wheat from Old Black Bear Brewing Company, which is a local craft brewery.  There were other beers on tap from OBB, but they were the only local or regional craft beers available.  Living and working in Alabama, I know the state has a growing craft beer industry, so I was disappointed that only one of the state's craft beers was available.

While talking with my friends, I lucked out and got my photo with the team mascot taken.  With a team named Stars, people might expect an alien for a mascot, but that's not the case in Huntsville.  The legend goes that a family of skunks ran across the outfield just before the team's first game in 1985, which ultimately gave birth to Homer the Polecat.

Me with Homer the Polecat, who is sporting an old-style team jersey.

While talking with friends, I did watch some of the game.

Jacksonville starting pitcher Robert Morey.

I also got pictures of the stadium, which should help people unfamiliar with the dimensions of the ballpark understand why ownership in Huntsville sought a new stadium for many years.  The stadium reflects the era in which it was built: the 1980s.  It's a concrete structure designed to host baseball and football.  It hosted high school area football until 2002, so there are extra seats down the third base line that are regularly unoccupied.

View of the grandstand with press box and sky boxes.

The stadium has sky boxes, but they are simply down the third base line and do not open to the elements. While I have never experienced a game from a sky box, I was in them often as an intern and the inability to open the windows leaves fans isolated from the rest of the crowd.

The scoreboard is another piece that reflects its age.  It was upgraded since I last attended a game in 2003, but the video system does not work and the main part of the scoreboard predates my time as an intern.

View of the scoreboard, and sign thanking the fans.

Despite the upkeep issues, the staff was extremely friendly and helpful.  The food was hot and fresh, in spite of the limited selection.  The beer was cold and refreshing, although I would've enjoyed a bigger variety.  Most importantly, it was great to attend Just One Game and see a bunch of former coworkers who I haven't seen in many years.

Group picture of former Stars employees.