Sunday, May 15, 2016

Baseball Stadiums: Carolinas Preview

Since this past December, my girlfriend and I have been planning a trip to North and South Carolina once the school year was over.  She grew up in Texas and Oklahoma, so she has not visited many of the states in the Southeast.  She loves to travel, and thankfully appreciates and supports my desire to visit baseball stadiums - Major League and Minor League.

So when I thought about places we could visit in the spring after we both wrapped up the spring semesters, I had two suggestions: the Carolinas or the Mississippi Gulf Coast and New Orleans.  As Katie has visited Louisiana before, and made a brief stop in Mississippi last summer, she quickly said she would prefer to visit the Carolinas.

Next came the more difficult task of figuring out a schedule.  As Ben Hill or Malcolm MacMillan or Craig Wieczorkiewicz and countless others can tell you, it is difficult pulling together a schedule where you see a new ballpark every day.  I can't attest to how others compile their schedule, but I usually put multiple teams' schedules into an Excel spreadsheet and highlight dates where the home schedules overlap or are at least contiguous, which would allow me to visit one team on Wednesday, travel the next day, and visit another team on Thursday.

The biggest goal I laid out for this trip was to limit driving each day to 3-4 hours.  Considering the distribution of MiLB teams (see map) in the Southeast this was an easy goal to accomplish.  However, considering that my girlfriend lives in Nashville, and we are departing from there to begin our journey I had to make an exception and we'll make our first stop at a Tennessee ballpark.

So without further back story, here is our schedule:

Wednesday, May 18: Birmingham Barons at Tennessee Smokies, 7:05 p.m.

Thursday, May 19: Kannapolis Intimidators at Asheville Tourists, 7:05 p.m.

Friday, May 20: Lexington Legends at Greenville Drive, 7:05 p.m.

Saturday, May 21: Lynchburg Hillcats at Myrtle Beach Pelicans, 7:05 p.m.

Sunday, May 22: Day Off

Monday, May 23: West Virginia Power at Charleston RiverDogs, 7:05 p.m.

Tuesday, May 24: August GreenJackets at Columbia Fireflies, 7:05 p.m.

If you prefer a visual perspective with the list, you can follow along with the map below.

Map of upcoming baseball stadium visits.

I may not have the staff of MiLB.com like Ben Hill to Photoshop stuff for me, but this former SID still has a few Photoshop skills.  You'll be able to follow along via my Twitter handle (@geoSteven) or my Instagram (@geo_steven).  If you want a woman's perspective, you can follow Katie's Twitter handle (@DJKati).

Katie and I have traveled together before, but never for such a long period of time or to so many baseball stadiums.  We also share a common interest in craft beer, so we will incorporate our visits to local breweries into the blog as well.  We have not come up with a name for our brewery visits, but we will create a dedicated page on the blog for these visits.  So along with visits to a number of baseball stadiums with my usual write up, you'll be able to read about some of the South's craft breweries.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Baseball Stadiums: Kauffman Stadium

Seven-plus years after my first visit to Ewing M. Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo., I returned for my second game and first opportunity to write about my visit to the ballpark.  In 2008, I attended an end-of-season game between the White Sox and Royals just as the stadium started to undergo major renovations.  Due to the renovations and the fact that I hadn't begun blogging about my stadium visits yet, this trip was my first opportunity to write about Kauffman Stadium.

Usually when I write about baseball early in the season it involves me attending the AAG Annual Meeting, but that was not the case here.  I attended the conference, which was in San Francisco, but did not get to any of the exhibition games hosted in the Bay Area while I was there.  Instead, my first MLB game of the season was a Royals game in tandem with an invited lecture at Missouri Western State University (read about it here).

So after my presentation and lunch in St. Joseph, the friend who invited me to give the presentation and I booked it down to Kansas City to watch early-bird batting practice.  While many fans had not even made it to the stadium or were setting up their grills in the parking lot, we got to enter the stadium and watch batting practice with a few less people in the stands.

After scurrying around the stadium to arrive at Gate A, which is the only gate you can enter through if you have early-bird ticket.  Once we got inside, we made our way down to the first base line and watched as the Royals took BP.  While I don't typically take photos during batting practice, I felt it was appropriate to include them here.

Royals players during batting practice.

A coach throwing BP.

Once all the gates were opened, we explored the outfield and I got to take in the statues honoring the three Royals who have their numbers retired along with another notable duo.

Manager Dick Howser (1981-86) was inducted into the Royals' Hall of Fame in 1987,
and led the franchise to its first World Series victory in 1985.

Third baseman George Brett (1973-93) was inducted into the Royals Hall of Fame in 1994,
and into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1999.

Second baseman Frank White (1973-90) was inducted into the Royals Hall of Fame in 1995.

Owner Ewing and his wife Muriel Kauffman were inducted into the Royals Hall of Fame in 1993 and 1996, respectively.

Usually before a game, I take some photos of the stadium exterior, but because my friend and I arrived later than expected at the stadium I did not get too take many photos before entering to watch early batting practice.  So shortly after the game got underway I explored the exterior of the stadium and snapped a few pictures of the exterior.

Outside the main ticket windows before sunset.

Main ticket office just after sunset.

Back of the dugout concourse.

Back inside the stadium before the game my friend and I explored the outfield amenities and saw the newest addition to Kauffman Stadium...

On the back of the regal jumbotron the Royals added some text to celebrate their second World Series championship.

In right field though is one of the key additions the Royals added to the stadium during the renovations they started in 2008: a Hall of Fame.

Outside the Royals Hall of Fame.

Inside the Royals Hall of Fame fans are met by a display detailing the history of baseball in Kansas City along with mock lockers featuring jerseys of the Royals' three retired numbers: George Brett, Dick Howser, and Frank White.

Me with the Royals' Statue of Liberty that was part of the 2008 All-Star Game festivities,
which was hosted by Yankee Stadium.

There is a lot of memorabilia detailing baseball in Kansas City, but the Hall of Fame filled up pretty quickly once the gates opened.  So I opted to be super selective about the photos I took.  I also opted to skip the line and not have my photo taken with the 2015 World Series trophy.  I can't dismiss the significance of getting a photo taken with a World Series trophy, but as I do not identify as a Royals fan it did not seem worth waiting in line.  So while preparing to exit the Hall of Fame, I took a picture of the one thing that is especially unique to the museum.

Plaques honoring the members of the Royals Hall of Fame.

After touring the Royals Hall of Fame, we headed checked out some of the food options around the stadium, but ultimately ended up having a beer in Craft & Draft.  As someone who loves craft beer, I had a difficult time deciding what to drink, but opted for Boulevard Brewing's Crown Town Ale.  Boulevard is a well-known craft brewery with a wide distribution, so I debated against having something from them, but the Crown Town Ale is a special release which cinched the decision for me.

Following a beer, we opted to visit the Andrew Zimmern's Canteen Links, which is located by Gate D near the first base entrance to the stadium.

Andrew Zimmern's Canteen Links concession stand.

So after getting a Canteen Dog, which is an all-beef hot dog with cabbage slaw, roasted vegetable mayo, grain mustard, and topped with pickled jalapenos, we headed for our seats in the upper deck behind home plate to watch the game.

Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Chris Young delivering the first pitch to Baltimore Orioles left fielder Joey Rickard.

With the game under way I decided it was time to chow down on my Canteen Dog and snap the standard food photo.

The Canteen Dog is served with cooked chips.

The Canteen Dog was delicious, and the kettle-cooked chips were good.  I would definitely get it again, even though it doesn't meet my usual standard of eating unique food that reflects the local cuisine.

After finishing my food, I took advantage of my seat on the Hy-Vee Level and captured some scenes from around the ballpark.

View of left field, which features the Royals Hall of Fame.

View of right field, which features the famed fountains.

A closeup of  the fountains.

I also got a shot of the Hot Dog Derby, which features a race between ketchup, mustard, and relish.

The condiments making their way toward home.

I didn't get many action photos while the Royals were putting up three runs in the first because I was busy eating the Canteen Dog, but I did get some late-inning action.

Baltimore relief pitcher T.J. McFarland getting ready at the beginning of the fourth inning.

Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas facing Oriole reliever T.J. McFarland in the bottom of the fifth inning.

The Royals dugout in the fifth inning.

One of the coolest things about getting to watch the Royals play at home on a Friday was the special jerseys the players wore, which have gold numbers to celebrate the team's 2015 World Series victory.  And because the Royals were leading by two, I got to watch their closer take the mound.

Royals relief pitcher Wade Davis on to pitch the ninth.

After three easy outs, the Royals clinched the 4-2 win, which led to the usual post-game celebration by the players, mascot, and concluded in hanging the "W" in the outfield.

Players celebrating with the traditional post-game high fives.

Sluggerrr waving the flag after the 4-2 win.

Hanging the "W" after the game.

A big problem when you arrive later than planned and rush into a stadium is that you don't always pay close attention to where you parked.  Unfortunately, my friend and I did not pay as close attention to our parking location as we thought, so we left later than expected.  Regardless of our extracurricular wandering, I had a great experience at Kauffman Stadium.

I could definitely tell the difference from my initial visit in 2008 to this visit.  While the structure was unchanged, the renovations definitely provide fans with a lot more amenities.  As a a beer drinker, I thoroughly enjoyed Craft & Draft and encourage beer AND spirit drinkers to check it out.  The Hall of Fame does an excellent job of preserving and presenting Kansas City's baseball history, and not just the Royals' time in town.  The food and beer choices throughout the stadium are diverse, but could use some more local flavor.

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.