Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Baseball Stadiums: 2016 Resolutions

Over the past two years I've made some baseball-related travel resolutions for the new year (Read 2015 resolutions here).  I've continued that trend into 2016, so before the semester gets away from me I wanted to sit down and recap my goals for the upcoming baseball season.

Getting right to the point, my first Minor League Baseball travel resolution is to...
I've previously made resolutions to see specific teams, but I have not made a resolution to attend on a specific day of the week or to attend a specific promotion. I have avoided these resolutions for two reasons:

#1, most teams do not release their complete promotional schedules until February or March at the earliest;

#2, my goal is usually to visit multiple teams on a trip, which means that in order to visit multiple teams on a trip that I may visit a specific club on a Tuesday because another team is on the road and I have to visit them on a Wednesday.

However, I have already been planning a trip through North Carolina and South Carolina, so I know that my schedule permits me to attend a game in Asheville on a Thursday. So my resolution is more about sticking to my plan than making a special effort to attend a game on a Thursday night. While many MiLB teams have a Thirsty Thursday promotion, it is unique in Asheville because the promotion originated with the Tourists. You can read about the origins of the promotion from MiLB.com writer Ben Hill here.

My second MiLB travel resolution is to...
I have previously aimed to see all the Minor League teams in a state before, and so far I've had mixed success in achieving the goal.  In 2014, I made separate resolutions to see all the teams in Alabama, Georgia, and Kentucky.  While I saw teams in each of those states, I did not come anywhere near reaching my goal.  However, last year I made only one resolution to see all the MiLB teams in a state.  I was able to meet that goal when I visited all four teams in Georgia.

My girlfriend, who thankfully enjoys baseball and many of my other interests, has not yet visited South Carolina, so she and I have been discussing taking a trip to the Palmetto State after the spring semester.  So it seemed natural to me that we try to visit all of the teams in South Carolina because each of the cities represents a different region of the state, and allows us to see the variety that the state offers visitors.

The added bonus is that I have never seen any Minor League games in South Carolina, so I would visit four new ballparks and add another state to my tally.

My third MiLB travel resolution is to...
For the second time in three years, I have set the goal to see all three Kentucky MiLB teams.  In 2014, I saw the Bowling Green Hot Rods, but did not see the Bluegrass State's other two teams in action (read about my visit here).  My motivation for seeing all three Kentucky teams in based primarily around proximity.  My girlfriend lives in Nashville, and wants to see Mammoth Cave National Park, which is approximately 90 minutes away.  As I have never seen the Lexington Legends in action nor have I written about visiting the Louisville Bats, I'm aiming to make a short trip to the Commonwealth to explore baseball, bourbon, and beer.

The past two years I have made four MiLB-related resolutions, one often ties into my travel to the AAG Annual Meeting.  In 2016, the conference takes place the last week of March, which is before the start of the Minor League season.  So for the first time ever, I limited my MiLB resolutions to three, and made my first MLB-related resolution.

My first MLB travel resolution is to...
I've written previously about growing up an Atlanta Braves fan, and the club plays its final season at Turner Field before moving to a new stadium in the suburbs for the 2017 season.  So while Turner Field is not a particularly historic venue, it holds special significance to me as a fan and as someone who worked at the stadium for many years.  So I would like to see at least one more game at the stadium before it is replaced.

With my resolutions set, now the planning and working to ensure they happen really starts.  While I upheld three of my four resolutions from 2015, we will see what 2016 holds and how many of my baseball-related travel resolutions I can uphold.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Baseball Stadiums: Reviewing 2015 Resolutions

Since 2014, I have posted baseball-related travel resolutions.  If you want to see how I did meeting my 2014 resolutions, read about it here.

Starting off January 1, I made four resolutions relating to visiting Minor League Baseball stadiums.
I started the year off on a good note, as I did in fact attend a Kane County Cougars game, and I got to meet Craig Wieczorkiewicz.  Craig operates The Midwest League Traveler, which covers appropriately enough, the Midwest League.  The first day I was in Chicago I got a rental car and drove from downtown Chicago to the West Suburbs (specifically Geneva).  It was a chilly evening, but I got to hang out with Craig, drink a Raging Cougar Ale, and talk about baseball.  You can read about my visit here.
In hindsight I'm not sure how you quantify the success/failure of this resolution.  I made it to First Tennessee Park for a Nashville Sounds game at their new ballpark.  That is obviously a success.  However, I did not get another photo with Ozzie because he was replaced by Booster the Hot Chicken.  Considering that I did get a photo with the mascot, I'm counting this as a win.  You can read about my visit here.
Somewhere along the way we all fall short of fulfilling our resolutions, and I can report that I did not attend a Lexington Legends game with my friend Dr. Michael Bradley.  I wasn't swamped with writing my dissertation, but due to car repairs I did not drive to Cincinnati, Ohio, for the AP Human Geography Reading and therefore failed to drive through Kentucky on my way back south.  I'm optimistic that I will be able to attend a game in 2016.
Last year I hoped to visit all four of Georgia's Minor League Baseball teams, but only visited one of them.  I visited the Gwinnett Braves with my Oklahoma State Grad School classmate Bill McBrayer for Back to the Future Night.  I did not blog about my visit because I had visited the G-Braves in 2014 (read about that visit here).  On the same road trip I did visit the Augusta GreenJackets and Savannah Sand Gnats, who were in their final season.  You can read about my visit to Augusta here and my visit to Savannah here.  I made a daytrip to watch the Rome Braves play about a week after my trip to Augusta and Savannah.  You can read about my Rome visit here.  So I can definitely mark my Georgia-related resolution as a success.

Of my four resolutions, I completed three.  From an individual component perspective I completed six of seven resolutions for a 0.857 average in baseball terms.  From an overall vantage I went 3-for-4 for a 0.750 average.  Either way you look at my baseball resolutions for 2015 I consider myself a winner.  I'd like to go 4-for-4 with my resolutions one year, but I will definitely take a 3-for-4 day at the plate.

Now to consider my baseball travel resolutions for 2016...

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 MiLB.com 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.