Saturday, November 14, 2015

Baseball Stadiums: 2015 MiLB Mascot Mania Recap

Baseball's Hot Stove season is heating up with trades and free agent signings.  A few weeks ago I recapped the stadiums (MiLB and MLB alike) that I visited during the 2015 season, and I felt it was appropriate to recap the mascots I saw during the past season.

I went to 17 games during the 2015 season, including a handful of return visits to stadiums.  I visited nine new ballparks during the season, but only got pictures with five mascots.

The mascot I most wanted my picture with was Gnate the Gnat of the Savannah Sand Gnats.  In May, the Sand Gnats announced that they would relocate to Columbia, S.C. (read story here), and in August announced they would be renamed the Columbia Fireflies (read story here).  So when I visited Savannah in June it was a priority to get my photo with Gnate before his retirement (read about my visit here).

Me with Gnate the Gnat at Grayson Stadium.

On the same trip to Savannah I visited Augusta where I saw the GreenJackets (read about my visit here) and got my photo taken with Auggie.

Me with Auggie just before the game started.

Although I placed a priority on getting my photo taken with Gnate the Gnat, my first trip of the 2015 baseball season led to me the Gulf Coast where I watched the Pensacola Blue Wahoos and enjoyed my first shrimp and grits at a baseball game (read about my visit here).  I also got my photo taken with Kazoo, a ubiquitous sea creature.

Me with Kazoo on the third base concourse.

While in Georgia this past summer, I made it a point to visit all four of the state's Minor League Baseball teams.  In 2014, I visited the Gwinnett Braves and got my photo with their mascot, Chopper (read about my visit here).  So after my trip to Augusta and Savannah, I only needed to visit Rome to watch the R-Braves and see all of Georgia's Minor League teams in one season.

As the game entered the 10th inning I was able to snag a photo with Romey, the team's anthropomorphic mascot.

Me with Romey as the Braves begin their extra-inning rally.

I finished my Minor League trips with a visit to Nashville, Tenn., in early August when my girlfriend moved to the Music City.  So I had the opportunity to visit the Nashville Sounds in their new ballpark, First Tennessee Park (read about my visit here).

After relocating from Greer Stadium south of downtown, the Sounds retired their former mascot Ozzie the Cougar with Booster, who is a hot chicken.  Nashville is noted for its hot chicken, which allows the team to incorporate a local tie into their mascot.

Me with Booster after entering the stadium.

So with five new photos of me and mascots, I now have 27 pictures of me with Minor League mascots since 2011.  Those 27 pictures represent 21 teams, as some teams like the Dayton Dragons, which has three mascots, have multiple mascots.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Presidential Pathways: #1, George Washington

Born: Feb. 22, 1732, in Westmoreland County, Va.
Died: Dec. 14, 1799 in Mount Vernon, Va.
Burial Place: Mount Vernon in Mount Vernon, Va. (Visited: Sept. 2015)

Burial Place

The Old Vault where George Washington, his wife Martha, and some family members were entombed.

Details of the tomb Washington wanted built were specific in his will.

Washington family tomb with the American flag and Washington's flag as General of the Armies.

Marker above Washington family tomb.

Tombs of First Lady Martha Washington (left) and President George Washington (right)
with a wreath laid during an hourly ceremony.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Baseball Stadiums: 2015 Recap

With the 2015 Minor League Baseball season officially concluded following the Triple-A National Championship Game in El Paso, Texas, on Sept. 22, and the Major League Baseball season approaching the playoffs, it felt like an appropriate time to recap the stadiums I visited during the 2015 season.

I visited three MLB stadiums, and wrote about two visits.  For the first time, I visited U.S. Cellular Field, home of the Chicago White Sox (read about it here).  As has become custom for me over the past five years, I attended a few Cincinnati Reds games at Great American Ball Park while in town for the A.P. Human Geography Reading, but I did not blog about my visits.  In the sense of playing catch up with ballparks I have visited, but not written about I attended an Atlanta Braves game at Turner Field in late August (read about it here).

I visited eight new MiLB stadiums and revisited three during the season.  I attended a Gwinnett Braves game at Coolray Field; this time on Back to the Future Night when the team wore jerseys replicating the attire of Marty McFly, the main character in the 1985 film "Back to the Future."  I also saw the Mississippi Braves at Trustmark Park, but attended because I served as "designated eater" for reporter Benjamin Hill (read it here).  Hill also interviewed me about my academic work and how I study sports through a geographic lens (read it here).  Closer to home, I attended a pair of Birmingham Barons games at Regions Field during the season; once in April with a friend and on the Fourth of July with my girlfriend.

Screen capture of Ben Hill's article about my academic research on the Minor League Baseball web site.

The first new Minor League stadium I visited was Fifth Third Bank Ballpark in Geneva, Ill., home of the Kane County Cougars (read about it here).  In April I was in Chicago for the 2015 Association of American Geographers Annual Meeting, and made a one-day trek to the west suburbs to watch the Cougars.  I also got to meet fellow baseball blogger Craig Wieczorkiewicz, who runs the The Midwest League Traveler site.

After the end of the spring semester, I took a 3-day trip to the Gulf Coast and saw games at Pensacola Bayfront Stadium, home of the Pensacola Blue Wahoos (read about it here), and Hank Aaron Stadium, home of the Mobile BayBears (read about it here).

At the end of May I made a daytrip to Birmingham to attend the 20th Rickwood Classic at Rickwood Field.  While I have seen the host Birmingham Barons play at their current home, Regions Field, I had never attended a Rickwood Classic (read about it here), when the team wears throwback uniforms and play at the oldest continuously used baseball stadium in the United States.

While visiting family in Atlanta during the month of June I took a trip and saw the Augusta GreenJackets at their home, Lake Olmstead Stadium (read about it here), and the Savannah Sand Gnats in their final season at Grayson Stadium (read about it here).  I also made a daytrip to see the Rome Braves at State Mutual Stadium (read about it here).  Along with attending a game at Coolray Field, home of the Gwinnett Braves, I was able to visit all four of the Minor League stadiums in Georgia, which is a resolution I set out to accomplish a year ago, but failed to fulfill during the 2014 season.

I made the same resolution in 2015, but was actually able to fulfill my goal and visited all four of Georgia's Minor League teams in the same season.

At the beginning of August I made a trip to Nashville with two goals.  The primary objective was to help my girlfriend move into her new apartment, and the second reason was to attend a Nashville Sounds game at their new ballpark, First Tennessee Park (read about it here).

I also made a change to my blogging experience during the past season and abandoned using Google Maps to display my stadium visits, and changed to mapping my blogs with Esri Story Maps.  Esri is a company that makes mapping software, most notably ArcGIS, and provides a free online format that incorporates maps and photographs to create mashups like story maps.  My Story Map can be found here.

Screen capture of my Story Map.

As the 2015 baseball season concludes I wrote about ten ballparks and attended 17 games at 13 stadiums across the MLB, Triple-A, Double-A, and Class A levels.

These trips now bring my stadium tally to:
  • MLB = 21 (14 active)
  • Triple-A = 10 (8 active)
  • Double-A = 21 (16 active)
  • Class A-Advanced = 5 (5 active)
  • Class A = 8 (5 active)
  • Class A-Short-Season = 6 (5 active)
  • Independent = 5 (2 active)
  • Spring Training = 10 (9 active)

I have now seen professional baseball games (including Spring Training) in 28 states, the District of Columbia, and one Canadian province (British Columbia).  I attended games in seven states during the 2015 season, but the only new state was Illinois where I saw the Chicago White Sox and Kane County Cougars.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Baseball Stadiums: Turner Field

When you grow up in a city you rarely take the time to visit the sights because those are the things tourists do.  As someone who grew up in metro Atlanta and worked at Turner Field for many years until recently, it was not a baseball stadiums I sought to include in my blog because it was always going to be there and I'd get to it sometime.

That "sometime" came recently after winning three free tickets to see the New York Yankees play the Atlanta Braves on August 29.  So when making plans for a weekend trip to Atlanta I made sure to bring my camera, arrive early, and do my best to document a stadium where I have seen numerous games since it opened in 1997 and worked many more games over the last 17 seasons.  Finally I got to play tourist and take in the sights and sounds of Turner Field along with my girlfriend and mother.

View of the facade from the northwest.

After parking to the northwest away from the primary parking lots, I walked around Monument Grove and photographed many of the statues and other markers for Braves players with retired numbers.

The ticket office along with retired numbers for Hank Aaron (#44) and Phil Niekro (#35).

Pitcher Warren Spahn (1942, 1946-1964) was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1973.

Phil Niekro (1964-1983, 1987) was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1997.

Outfielder Hank Aaron (1954-1974) was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982.

Katie and I with a bust of Hank Aaron, who had two statues in Monument Grove.

Chipper Jones (1993-2012) was honored upon his retirement with bricks from the building
that houses the Ivan Allen Jr. Braves Museum and Hall of Fame.

After finally entering the stadium we explored the Fan Plaza, which is usually full of fans dining while listening to live music that is played in front of the Majestic Clubhouse Store.  We arrived about two hours before the game started, so the plaza was not packed nor was their live music yet.

The back of the gargantuan scoreboard sits above the entrance to the Majestic Clubhouse Store.

People, however, were checking out the Taste of the Majors concession stand.  It was a stand that had unique food items from the Braves' opponent, but when I checked it out the menu was the same at each line.

Taste of the Majors concession stand in the Fan Plaza.

In addition to the concession stand in the plaza there is the SweetWater Beer Shack, which has a selection of primarily local craft beers.  When SweetWater signed a deal to sponsor the stand it caused quite a bit of controversy (read more from Creative Loafing here).

An overview of the Fan Plaza with the SweetWater Beer Shack prominently featured.

Beyond the Taste of the Majors stand, there are a variety of specialty concession stands throughout Turner Field.  One of the best known stands is local favorite Holman & Finch, which is noted for its hamburgers.

H&F Burger concession stand near the Fan Plaza.

Near the H&G Burger stand is Southern favorite, Waffle House.  Known for their hash browns and, obviously waffles, the Waffle House concession stand usually has a very long, but there was no line a few hours prior to the start of the game.

The Waffle House concession stand.

Beyond the Waffle House stand is Scouts Alley, which is an interactive area that allows children to test the speed of their fast ball or swing for the fences against their MLB pitcher of choices.

The entrance to Scouts Alley.

After exploring the stadium some more and checking out food options, we ended up taking our seats in the upper deck along the third base line.  After settling into the seats finally we go to see the first pitch.

Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Matt Wisler delivering the first pitch to New York Yankees center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury.

After watching a few innings of action I went in search of my dinner choice after previously settling on the Dixie Dog, which I found at a variety of locations throughout the ballpark.  I ultimately purchased my decadent hot dog at Grillman's All Beef Hotdogs near Aisle 421.

Grillman's is the official hot dog of the Braves.

The Dixie Dog, which is half-pound, foot-long dog, topped
with pulled pork, Carolina BBQ sauce, cole slaw, sauerkraut, and pickles.

With an announced attendance of 49,243, for a marquee game against the Yankees I opted not to explore as much during the game and instead focuses on capturing the sights from my seats.

One of the coolest things was seeing the "Simba Cam."  Instead of doing the standard "Kiss Cam" during games, the Braves have been doing the "Simba Cam" with parents raising their young child replicating a scene from Disney movie "The Lion King."  All of this may sound odd considering that the team is called the Braves and there is no obvious connection to lions, but shortstop Andrelton Simmons picked up Simba as a nickname a few years ago.

A pair of parents celebrate their children being featured on "Simba Cam."

In addition to the gargantuan scoreboard, the other notable outfield features include a tomahawk-chopping Chick-fil-A cow.

A view of the 755 Club with the Chick-fil-A cow to the left.

After capturing some highlights of the stadium, I returned to capturing some game action photos.  The majority of these photos were in the later innings.

New York Yankees starting pitcher Luis Severino on the mound.

Braves closer Arodys Vizcaino on the face the Yankees in the top of the ninth inning.

Yankees closer Andrew Miller preparing to take the mound in the bottom of the ninth inning.

Braves right fielder Nick Markakis at the plate in the bottom of the ninth inning.

The game was a pitcher's duel throughout, but the Yankees came out victorious 3-1.  The crowd was overwhelmingly filled with Yankees fans, which isn't completely surprising given the volume of transplants from the Northeast now living in metro Atlanta.  Despite the over abundance of Yankees fans, Turner Field provides fans with a good experience despite some minor flaws.

Ticket prices are among some of the lowest in MLB.  The food prices are in line with other MLB stadiums, as are the beer prices (at least relatively).  The specialty food choices are good, as evidenced by the delicious Dixie Dog.  The craft beer available from SweetWater are good, but it's disappointing there aren't more local craft beers available considering the recent growth of the industry in the Atlanta area.

Although I did not get a good picture to capture it, the view of the downtown Atlanta skyline is also quite memorable (and highly underrated when discussed by baseball fans).  Baseball fans should get out to Turner Field before it's gone because it leaves people with a memorable experience regardless of their fandom.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Baseball Stadiums: First Tennessee Park

For the second year in a row I was in Nashville for a baseball game, but this season the Sounds were playing in a brand new ballpark instead of 36-year-old Herschel Greer Stadium (read about last season's visit here).  Although I was visiting a brand new stadium in First Tennessee Park, my visit was quite different because I attended the game with my girlfriend and two of her friends.

Another wrinkle to my visit was that the previous day's game had been suspended due to rain in the bottom of the first inning, so instead of a single game starting at 7 p.m. the Sounds hosted the completion of the previous day's game before hosting a seven-inning game afterward.  So instead of arriving around 6 p.m. to secure my 1940s Nashville Vols bobblehead, we arrived around 5 p.m. to get our giveaway items and settle in for the resumption of Wednesday's game at 6 p.m.

With it's location just north of downtown, First Tennessee Park does not have a lot of designated parking.  However, there are multiple parking lots and street parking spots around the stadium.  So after parking in one of these lots, the first view of the ballpark was not the main entrance but instead I got to see...

My first view of First Tennessee Park, which was a view of the "big ass" guitar-shaped scoreboard.

The back of the guitar-shaped scoreboard may have been my first view of First Tennessee Park, but the main entrance looks like this...

Main entrance.

Moments after walking into the stadium at the Home Plate Entrance I got my Nashville Vols bobblehead and lucked out finding the Sounds' new mascot Booster.  So I got my photo taken with him before the setting out to explore the ballpark.

Me with Booster in a throwback Nashville Vols jersey.

With my bobblehead in hand and a photo with the mascot done, our group went about exploring the stadium, which almost immediately led us to the souvenir shop.  With two people who had never visited Nashville in tow we stopped and explored the shop for quite a bit.  I bought a coloring puzzle for my friend's 5-year-old son, but the most interesting scene in the souvenir shop was the display around the Nashville Vols items.

A sign above the t-shirts commemorates the history of baseball at the site.

As someone who appreciates history it was really cool to see the signage above the throwback t-shirts to help educate fans who might not know about the baseball teams in Nashville before the Sounds came into existence in 1978.

In addition to the signage in the souvenir shop fans who walk around the entire concourse will see something especially unique on the back of the batter's eye.

Signage commemorating the history of baseball at the site that First Tennessee Park now occupies.

Immediately across from the batter's eye and the historic signage there is a fence with netting featuring the First Tennessee Park logo, which creates a compelling juxtaposition between the past, present, and future as you can see the construction underway in the area immediately surrounding the ballpark.

A fence with the First Tennessee Park logo just behind the batter's eye.

The most popular feature in the outfield is by far the concession stand and bar area known as The Band Box.  The concession stand features a farm-to-table approach to ballpark dining, which results in some unexpected ballpark food items like a quinoa chopped salad or a hot dog produced in town by Porter Road Butcher.

Additionally there is a picture perfect photo opportunity, so I took advantage and had one of our friends take a photo of me and my girlfriend.

Me and Katie at The Band Box.

Despite the great photo opp, people come to The Band Box for the bar and other entertainment like ping pong, cornhole, shuffleboard, and the foosball table.

A view of the bar before the game started.

Later in the game I wandered back to The Band Box, and it was jam packed with urban-dwelling millenials enjoying the craft beer selection.  On that note, The Band Box has a good beer selection with popular national brands, notable regional brands, and some awesome local beers from breweries like Black Abbey, Little Harpeth, and Turtle Anarchy.

The Band Box during the game.

After getting a drink at The Band Box we migrated to our seats on the third base line to watch the start of the previous day's suspended game.  The August 5 game was suspended before the Sounds came to bat in the bottom of the first inning, so I opted not to get a photo of the first pitch because it wasn't really the "first pitch."

So from my view along the third base line I took some photos of the game action, but started with probably the most notable feature of First Tennessee Park ... the guitar-shaped scoreboard.

The scoreboard with a throwback motif with the Sounds batting in the first inning.

I also took some photos of the game action.  Notably I took some pictures of former Major Leaguer Barry Zito toiling for the Sounds.

Nashville Sounds pitcher Barry Zito delivering a pitch to Memphis Redbirds second baseman Dean Anna.

I also captured Memphis Redbirds second baseman Dean Anna at the plate facing Zito.

Memphis Redbirds second baseman Dean Anna at the plate against Nashville Sounds pitcher Barry Zito.

One of the coolest things I saw on Throwback Thursday was the outfits worn by the on-field emcee and the accompanying spirit girls (or cheerleaders or whatever is the appropriate term).  The emcee wore a baseball uniform that mimicked an old New York Yankees uniform with the number "3" adorned on his chest while the spirit girls wore uniforms reminiscent of the Rockford Peaches of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, and immortalized in the 1992 film A League of Their Own.

A between-inning trivia contest during the first game.

One of the great improvements with the Sounds relocating from Greer Stadium to First Tennessee Park is the view.  Greer Stadium, which is still standing, is removed from downtown and does not provide fans with an aesthetically pleasing backdrop.  By comparison, First Tennessee Park is located just north of downtown facing south with great views of the downtown Nashville skyline.  So fans are easily able to get a picture of downtown like the one I took that night.

A view of the left field berm and a snippet of the downtown Nashville skyline.

When it comes to food, Nashville has cultivated its own tradition that has yet to be copied elsewhere in the country.  That unique dish is known as "hot chicken."  The dish is what it sounds like, but you can read more here.  It is fried chicken that is spiced to make it extremely hot.  So when I sought out something unique to eat at the stadium it was a no-brainer to try some hot chicken, especially considering the team's mascot Booster is a hot chicken.

A basket of hot chicken with waffle fries from the Hot or Not Chicken stand.

After finishing my hot chicken, which was tasty, but not nearly as spicy as I expected considering that two people in the group said it made their eyes water, I sat back to watch the Sounds complete their come-from-behind victory over the Redbirds.

In the suspended game from Aug. 5 that was completed on Aug. 6, the Sounds scored eight unanswered runs to win 8-3.

After the first game concluded the grounds crew took about 30 minutes to prepare the field for the second game, which I decided was the appropriate time to get my usual photograph of the first pitch of the ballgame.  Unfortunately first pitch wasn't until almost 9:30 p.m., so my picture may not have turned out as good as usual.

Nashville Sounds starting pitcher Dan Otero delivering the first pitch to Memphis Redbirds left fielder Rafael Ortega.

After getting a photograph of the first pitch I walked around and to the first base line to get some photographs of the game action.

Memphis Redbirds center fielder Tommy Pham takes a lead off first base in the top of the first inning.

A closeup of Nashville pitcher Dan Otero on the mound.

A closeup of Memphis Redbirds starting pitcher Tyler Waldron on the mound.

After picking up another beer at The Band Box, I made sure to capture a view of the field from the outfield looking over the grandstand.

A view of the stadium from the outfield.

After scoring three runs in the first, the Sounds never looked back and coasted to an 8-0 win over the Redbirds.  The impromptu doubleheader ended around 11:30 p.m., so it was a much later night than expected, but I had a great time on my first visit to First Tennessee Park.

The architecture is unique.  The views are magnificent.  The food is delicious.  The beer selection is plentiful.  And all of that makes for an awesome experience at a ballpark.