Saturday, March 21, 2015

Baseball Stadiums: Experiencing a Stadium to the Fullest

For a few weeks now I've been thinking about what makes for a "good" ballpark experience.  I don't think there is a definitive list because everybody has their own "must do" items to truly experience a baseball stadium, especially a Minor League stadium.

However, as a geographer who studies place and place attachment, I've thought about the things I try to do when I visit a new ballpark.  The premise can be applied to any sports venue, but my primary experience has been with baseball stadiums and especially Minor League stadiums.

#1: Read Up on the Park
There are a lot of blogs and books that talk about stadium visits, but my favorite is by writer Benjamin Hill called Ben's Biz.  As a member of the media he gets more access than the average fan, but he samples the local fare and provides a humorous take on his visit.  He often has local fans sample food and beer and provide their feedback, too.  Hill's blog covers more than just his stadium visits, so you'll find a healthy dose of news about promotions, theme nights, franchise relocation, and a lot more.

If you prefer to read something handheld in a printed format there are a lot of books available, but one of the best I've found is Josh Pahigian's The Ultimate Minor League Baseball Road Trip.  It provides a lot of detail about the history of the team and stadium in addition to notes about where are the best seats, food and beverage choices, and nearby dining options for people who don't want to eat at the ballpark.

Whether you agree with my suggestions or prefer a different blog or book, and there are plenty of other sources out there, familiarizing yourself with unique features of the ballpark will let you maximize your experience.

#2: Talk to the Locals
Maybe you're not interested in reading a book or a blog before your trip.  Or perhaps you didn't know you were attending this new ballpark so you didn't have the chance to plan.  So what's the best way to learn quickly about the park?  Talk to the locals.

When choosing seats you may not get a lot of detail from the staff at the ticket window, but they will definitely steer you toward certain seats if you want to be in the shade on a blistery day or under an awning in the case of rain.  If you want to know about food or beverages that are unique to that ballpark you should talk to a ticket taker or an usher.  Not all employees eat at the stadium where they work, but many do and are usually quite talkative about what is good and unique.

If you don't get a helpful answer from an employee, strike up a conversation with another fan.  For introverts, like myself, that's easier said than done, but it led me to a unique non-menu item hot dog when I visited McKechnie Field in Bradenton, Fla., last spring (read about it here).  Many Minor League teams have their regulars, and most are more than willing to share recommendations with people who are visiting a ballpark for the first time.

#3: Eat and Drink Local
As more Minor League teams try to bring innovative food items to their concession stands many stadium seems to boast at least a few specialty items that are unique to that ballpark.  Some teams get creative with new items every year like West Michigan Whitecaps (read about the 2014 winner here from the MWL Traveler).  So identifying these items is pretty easy, and sometimes it can be difficult to choose because teams like the Memphis Redbirds have multiple signature items (read about my visit here).

While it's easier to find those items, it's not as easy but probably as important to find the truly local foods like the Arkansas-made sausage available at an Arkansas Travelers game (read about my visit here) or Mississippi-brewed beer at a Mississippi Braves games (read about my visit here).  If you have the choice between a generic hot dog or a bratwurst made locally you should always choose the local item.  If you can choose between a Budweiser or a local craft beer, always pick the local craft beer.

There's not much purpose to traveling to a new ballpark and drinking a Bud while eating a basic hot dog.  If you want basic you might as well stay at home.

#4: Have Fun
It probably seems redundant to tell people to "have fun" while attending a Minor League Baseball game, but it's an important reminder.  Many traditionalists may poo-poo the goofy jerseys that many Minor League teams will wear or the seemingly countless theme nights throughout the season, but that's the charm of MiLB games.  The game itself is serious, but the atmosphere is meant to be fun and a time for fans to escape from the real world and forget about work and their other troubles.

So if you get out to a Minor League stadium this summer make sure to go with the flow and enjoy America's pastime.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Presidential Pathways: #16, Abraham Lincoln

Born: Feb. 12, 1809, in Hodgenville, Ky. (Visited: June 2005)
Died: April 15, 1865, in Washington, D.C.
Burial Place: Oak Ride Cemetery in Springfield, Ill.


The Lincoln cabin no longer stands, but a Memorial Building contains a replica cabin.

There are 56 steps to the Memorial Building, which represent the 56 years of Lincoln's life, and 16 rosettes, which symbolize Lincoln being the 16th president.

The replica cabin inside the Memorial Building.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Presidential Pathways: #9, William Henry Harrison

Born: Feb. 9, 1773, in Charles City, Va. (Visited: Dec. 2009)
Died: April 4, 1841, in Washington, D.C.
Burial Place: William Henry Harrison Tomb Historic Site in North Bend, Ohio (Visited: May 2011)


Historic marker outside of Berkeley Plantation.

Main entrance to the mansion.

Burial Place

View of William Henry Harrison Tomb Historic Site from Brower Road.

Stairs to tomb entrance.

Harrison family crypt.

Graves of William Henry and Anna Harrison, and their son John Scott.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Presidential Pathways: #28, Woodrow Wilson

Born: Dec. 28, 1856, in Staunton, Va.
Died: Feb. 3, 1924, in Washington, D.C.
Burial Place: Washington National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. (Visited: April 2010)

Burial Place

Exterior of Washington National Cathedral.

Bay with Wilson's tomb in the South Nave.

View of Wilson's tomb and the nave.

Flowers left at Wilson's tomb.

Wilson is the only president buried in the District of Columbia.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Baseball Stadiums: 2015 Resolutions

Last year I made resolutions to visit some Minor League Baseball stadiums and wrote about those resolutions on this blog (read the post here) and recapped my success-failure, too (read post here).  So I decided that I would make some resolutions for 2015, and detail them here, too.

Without further ado, my 2015 MiLB travel resolutions are...

Annually since 2010, I attend the Annual Meeting of the Association of American Geographers.  The 2015 conference is in Chicago, and I plan to attend a White Sox game while in town.  Finding an MiLB game nearby is a bit more difficult, but the Kane County Cougars are only about an hour drive from downtown Chicago.  So I'm planning to rent a car and make the drive out there, and hopefully meet a blogger I've been following during the past year.

Over the past year I've started to read more blogs about Minor League Baseball, and now follow Craig Wieczorkiewicz.  Craig writes The Midwest League Traveler blog, and tweets extensively about former and current players with connections to the league.  I have only interacted with him via Twitter, but look forward to watching a game with him and discussing our mutual interests of attending Minor League Baseball games.

In 2014, I attended a Nashville Sounds game at Greer Stadium during its final season (read the post here).  After years of negotiations and many failed efforts, the Sounds will finally move into a new stadium this season.  I've never specifically trekked to a stadium during its opening season, but Nashville is one of my favorite cities so I am looking forward to planning an excursion.

Since 2010, I have traveled to Cincinnati to participate in the AP Human Geography Reading, and twice I've been lucky enough to get together with my friend Mike Bradley, who is a leisure studies professor at Eastern Kentucky University.  He's invited me to spend a few days in Lexington, where he lives, so I'm aiming to spend a few days in the Bluegrass region after completing my work before I return to Alabama.  I attended the University of Kentucky for two years in the mid-90s, and rumors circled about Lexington getting a Minor League team but it did not come to fruition until the 2000s.  So I've never seen a Lexington Legends game.

Last year I resolved to see all four Georgia teams, and succeeded in only seeing one of them - the Gwinnett Braves (read the post here).  I'm optimistic that I can accomplish this resolution because I will not be held down working on a dissertation this coming summer.  I'll probably work on some kind of research this summer, but I'll feel more free to travel without the weight of a dissertation hanging over my head.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Baseball Stadiums: Reviewing 2014 Resolutions

In January, I made four resolutions related to visiting Minor League Baseball stadiums.  As 2014 comes to a close, I wanted to revisit my resolutions and see what I accomplished.

My first resolution was...
I visited the Gwinnett Braves in July (read about my visit here), but did not succeed in visiting the other three teams.  I spent a majority of my summer working on my dissertation, and did not get to visit Augusta, Rome, or Savannah.  So I was only 1-for-4 in completing this resolution.  Now that my dissertation is completed, I hopeful will visit those teams during the 2015 season.

My second resolution was...

I was 2-for-4 with my goal of visiting all the Minor League teams in Alabama.  I visited the Birmingham Barons in early May (read about visit here), and visited the Huntsville Stars in August while meeting up with a gang of former Stars coworkers (read about visit here).  I did not make it to Mobile or Montgomery though.  Again, working on my dissertation prevented me from fulfilling some of my travel goals for 2014.

My third resolution was...

I actually accomplished this resolution.  On the first day of the AAG Annual Meeting, I made a trek from downtown Tampa to Clearwater for a game between the Threshers and Tampa Yankees (read about visit here).  The game and meeting Phinley lived up to expectations.  I went on a Tuesday night, but the Threshers had a beer special so I enjoyed a few Yuengling lagers.

My fourth resolution was...

I was 1-for-3 on completing this resolution. I saw my first Bowling Green Hot Rods game (read about visit here), but did not get to visit the Lexington Legends or Louisville Bats.  I had hoped to visit the Bluegrass region before going to Cincinnati for the AP Human Geography Reading, but at the risk of sounding like a broken record I did not get to do that because I was working on my dissertation.

Of my four resolutions, I only completed one.  Maybe I was too ambitious with my resolutions, but at least I tried.  Tallying up the individual components of my resolutions, I was 5-for-12, which depending upon how you look at it is amazing or decidedly mediocre.  It means I accomplished 41.6 percent of the tasks to complete all four resolutions.  By normal standards of excellence that's not good, but by baseball standards I'd be batting .417 which is Hall of Fame caliber stats.

Ultimately, I'm disappointed I didn't complete more of my resolutions, but I knew that some of them were overly ambitious.  Regardless of my results, I am glad that I set some travel resolutions to keep myself motivated and my mind churning with ideas of places to visit.  I will set some travel goals for 2015 and post about those within a few weeks.