Summer of Baseball: Allentown raises the bar

Jul 03

When it comes to minor league baseball – there are stadiums and then there are stadiums.

Depending what a fan looks for, you can find anything. You can find the places set more for families with playgrounds and things always going on, to finding parks where baseball is what it is all about (and, in my eyes, should be). Sometimes you find a good middle ground.

Coca-Cola Park is a great place to watch a game.

Coca-Cola Park is a great place to watch a game.

And then there’s Coca-Cola Park, home of the Triple-A Lehigh Valley IronPigs. Opened in 2008, this park has been on my must-visit list for a long time. It’s not easy to secure a ticket to these games, but one can get them when needed (StubHub, Craig’s List etc.), so seeing a game isn’t impossible by any means.

In my summer of baseball, this was on the list. And I’m glad I did finally get here – and have been there twice so far this year.

This is the top of the line when it comes to minor league parks, at least those I’ve been to. Though I won’t give it a perfect score across the board – it is going to take a lot for me to do that – I will say the experience here was top of the line.

Everything I need at the park!

Everything I need at the park!

The park itself is much like newer ones – there’s a wrap-around concourse, which is nice. Lawn seats in the outfield lend for a nice view of the field, as well as a spot for possible home runs. The seats are nice and roomy – and even better that they angle toward the field, giving you a good view from wherever you sit. One downer to the setup, however, is a lack of shade when sitting. The first time we were there was a Sunday afternoon game and I baked to the point where I had to get up and head to the concourse for an inning. The second time, we went at night and where the sun set, it was caught behind the luxury boxes and it was a lot nicer.

This is a park that goes beyond the game, though. There are other things to do and see. The concessions are aplenty. But it doesn’t take away from the product on the field, which is nice. They definitely push the pig part of the name as there is a lot of bacon reference. In fact, they have bacon hats and uniforms for certain days.

A great touch - you can pick up a pre-made scorecard with the day's lineups.

A great touch – you can pick up a pre-made scorecard with the day’s lineups.

The sight lines are nice and you can see everything going on. The bullpens are a bit interesting and it’s nice to be able to stroll around the entire park without missing a pitch. There’s also plenty of standing room, where you can lean on a small “table” and watch the game.

The team store is pretty big, too, which is super nice to see at this level. There were plenty of options, one of which was a team pin – something many minor league teams don’t seem to have. As a collector of pins, it’s nice to find these.

One very cool thing is the IronPigs’ social media center, which is in the concourse. It’s a small room where you can see all going on with the social media world. I spent an inning my first trip chatting with the person running it and it’s a very cool setup. It’s definitely a smart move to have something like this as social media is an extremely important part of society and sports.

Though the ad walls in left and right are a little too much, the park overall is really nice.

Though the ad walls in left and right are a little too much, the park overall is really nice.

One more cool thing – lineups. As person who keeps a scorebook at each game I attend, I always look for the lineup board. Coca-Cola park doesn’t have one, per say, but they take it up a notch by having a spot where you can pick up rosters and lineups at a customer service spot. The best part is the lineups are on a scorecard, so if you don’t have your own, it’s right there for you. Programs (titled Pork Illustrated) are free as you enter the park, too, which is a nice thing. Three stadiums (Allentown, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, New Britain) I’ve attended this year, so far, have free programs and it’s a touch that is very nice to see.

Though not many, there are a few negatives to cover – specifically advertising. In right field and left field there are monster walls full of ads. Though I understand revenue is important, this is a bit of an eyesore. It doesn’t block anybody from seeing the game, which is good, but it does make the stadium look a little cheaper.

The IronPigs also sett their media guide, something I don't see a lot of minor league teams still doing.

The IronPigs also sett their media guide, something I don’t see a lot of minor league teams still doing, or even having.

Parking was also a concern of sorts. Though both times it was pretty easy to get in and out, the first time was a nightmare when leaving the park. There was a massive holdup and it was backed up a long way. It did improve the second time immensely. One note – parking lots are set up so roads run through it, which means when you are exiting, you’ll likely have seas of people walking in the roads.

In the end this is a great experience and a great park to watch a game in. It helps, too, that it’s a farm team of the Phillies. They put some great work in here. Those who work here, at least those I interacted with, were top line, too. They were knowledgeable, friendly and fun, which is a good thing. It makes the overall experience that much better.

It’s also a relatively short drive for me (2.5 hours or so), so I can see getting back there a couple of more times this year. If you are looking for a solid minor league baseball experience, this is a good spot to choose.

Park Notes:

Coca-Cola Stadium
Allentown, Pennsylvania
Home of the Lehigh Valley IronPigs (AAA affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies)
Visited on: June 10 and June 27.
Opponents: Indianapolis Indians (AAA affiliate of the Cleveland Indians) and Rochester Redwings (AAA affiliate of the Minnesota Twins)

Ratings (out of 10):

  • Stadium: 9.5
  • Concessions: 9
  • Parking: 8
  • Ambiance: 10
  • Friendliness: 10

I am embarking on a summer of baseball with the plan to hit a minimum of 10 stadiums this summer. Hopefully, there will be more than that. I will report on each park that I hit on the blog.

Feel free to leave a comment, or e-mail P.J. at hoohaablog [at] gmail.com. Also, please “Like” HooHaa Blog on Facebook!

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Summer of Baseball: A game in Binghamton is a nice night

Jun 23

It’s almost crazy to think of a minor league baseball stadium built in 1992 as being old, but as the years go by – it becomes older.

To think that 1992 was more than 20 years ago will age a park, especially at the Double-A level. When NYSEG Stadium, in Binghamton, was built in 1992, it was quite the stadium. And over the years, it’s been used for other things, including high school football.

Home of the B-Mets.

Home of the B-Mets.

But, in the landscape of baseball, it’s an older stadium. Though one thing is certain – it’s still a pretty nice stadium.

I usually make a few trips to Binghamton per season as it’s an easy trip, never a problem to park and there are no issues getting tickets. There isn’t a bad seat in the house and, unless you go on a few uber-popular days, you can usually lounge a little more when there. I’ve sat on both sides of this field, as well as in the “upper deck,” which came on this trip. The third-base line is better if you want to avoid the sun.

You really are pretty close to the action, which is always a bonus. There’s a train yard out over the left-field wall, so sometimes you may get a train going through. That’s kind of a cool thing, though. The fences are average or so in length, which gives you the opportunity to see some homers.

The day's lineup.

The day’s lineup.

There aren’t a ton of bells and whistles with this stadium. They do quite a few games and such and there’s a kids area down the first-base line. The food selection is decent and the prices are OK, but not stellar. Case in point – I purchase two hot dogs and a soda. The soda cost about as much as the two dogs and if I had wanted French fries, they would have cost more than $4. A little steep when consider the hot dogs were $1.75 each, if I remember right.

As a hot dog nut, I wouldn’t classify those served in Binghamton as the best I’ve ever had a game and it’s not even close. But, I did enjoy them as they were cooked right and tasted just fine. I’d go above average on the hot dogs, say a 3.5 out of 5 or a 7 out of 10.

Keeping book, as always, on my Eephus League Halfliner.

Keeping book, as always, on my Eephus League Halfliner.

If you are looking to watch a baseball game, this is a good spot. The seats are pretty decent and you have a good amount of room. But if you are looking for a lot of extras, this might not be a place for you.

In recent years, there have been rumors about the Double-A team leaving Binghamton, which possibly could open the stadium up to be a Single-A team. This stadium, actually, would be really top-notch for that level (especially in the short-season Single-A New York-Penn League), though drawing fans might take a hit in that regard. Still, even with the rumors, Double-A ball remains in Binghamton and, hopefully, it will stay that way.

Park Notes:

NYSEG Stadium
Binghamton, New York
Home of the Binghamton Mets (AA affiliate of the New York Mets)
Visited on: Monday, May 26
Opponent: New Britain Rock Cats (AA affiliate of the Minnesota Twins)

Ratings (out of 10):

  • Stadium: 7
  • Concessions: 6
  • Parking: 8
  • Ambiance: 7
  • Friendliness: 9

I am embarking on a summer of baseball with the plan to hit a minimum of 10 stadiums this summer. Hopefully, there will be more than that. I will report on each park that I hit on the blog.

Feel free to leave a comment, or e-mail P.J. at hoohaablog [at] gmail.com. Also, please “Like” HooHaa Blog on Facebook!

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Summer of Baseball: Syracuse a solid spot to watch a game

Jun 16

I’ve always been a fan of the Syracuse ballpark. It’s quaint, easy to get to and, usually, easy to get out of. But, despite a city of about 145,000 people, it doesn’t seem like the Chiefs draw on a nightly basis.

NBT Bank Stadium in Syracuse.

The day I was there was a cool spring afternoon with a 2:05 start and had an announced attendance of 2,559. With the seating capacity at NBT Bank Stadium at about 11,000, I am quite sure the stadium wasn’t a quarter filled, so it was easy to put the feet up, watch the game and enjoy. Parking had a fee of $5, but I can’t imagine that would necessarily scare people away.

The layout of Syracuse is quite nice. I’m not sure there’s a bad seat in the house. However, one thing I learned from the year before – it’s better to sit on the third-base side because of the sun. If you are on the first-base side and it’s hot and sunny, you’re in trouble. Therefore, it’s the third-base side for me.

I know there aren’t many people who do this anymore, but I am a baseball nerd in that I still keep a scorebook. Last year, I backed a Kickstarter campaign for a Halfliner (bia the Eephus League) and it goes with me to any professional game. So, when doing this, you need the lineups.

Everything needed for a game!

Most professional stadiums (and many smaller college summer leagues) have a lineup posted. You’ll often see people with scorebooks scribbling the lineup so they can keep track of what’s going on. I noticed it last year – and again this year – that Syracuse doesn’t have one. That makes it a little difficult for those of us who keep score to do it.

That means getting the names off as announced or when they come to bat. It takes away from the experience.

At one point, the new general manager was walking around and chatting with people. He sat with us for a few minutes and I noted this one important piece missing from the baseball experience. He assured me it was in the works and hoped, by the next time we visited for a game, one would be in place. I do, too, as even for those who don’t keep score, it’s nice to be able to look at a lineup.

Warming up in the pen.

Turns out, though, this is a whole new regime in Syracuse. The Chiefs lost upward of a million dollars last year, and this new GM is part of a new group hoping to turn things around. From our brief talk, he seems to have some good ideas and a vision, so hopefully he can make the franchise viable again and put some people in the stands.

Overall, the stadium is a good place to watch a game. There are plenty of options in regard to concessions. The hot dogs were pretty solid, albeit a bit pricey for a Triple-A team that doesn’t seem to overflow the stands. I only had that and a small order of fries, so I can’t comment on the quality of everything else. But if it’s anything like the dog and fries, it should be good. There are a lot of choices, and that is always a good thing.

Though I didn’t dabble, the beer selection was the normal items, though I did see a few local brews as well.

In the end, Syracuse is a good stadium to visit. I’ll likely do it at least one more time this summer, hopefully with a lineup card available.

Park Notes:  

NBT  Bank Stadium
Syracuse, New York
Home of the Syracuse Chiefs (AAA affiliate of the Washington Nationals)
Visited on: Sunday, May 18.
Opponent: Columbus Clippers (AAA affiliate of the Cleveland Indians)

Ratings (out of 10)

  • Stadium: 7.5/10
  • Concessions: 7/10
  • Parking: 9/10
  • Ambiance: 8/10
  • Friendliness: 8/10

I am embarking on a summer of baseball with the plan to hit a minimum of 10 stadiums this summer. Hopefully, there will be more than that. I will report on each park that I hit on the blog.

Feel free to leave a comment, or e-mail P.J. at hoohaablog [at] gmail.com. Also, please “Like” HooHaa Blog on Facebook!

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A long road pays off with a soccer state championship

Nov 28

Long before becoming a state champion, youth soccer was King.

This is a story that started long ago.

Maybe 2006? Earlier? Somewhere around there, anyway.

My niece, at that point, was a soccer nut. She played travel soccer for tots. She was all of about 8 or 9. So she probably started playing well before that, but this was my time in documenting many games with my camera.

State champ!

I haven’t been to every game my niece has played in. But I’ve been to my fair share. And, despite knowing quite a bit about the game, I’m not always the biggest fan. Whether it’s fans or whatever else, I don’t always enjoy myself. When I go, however, I try and get away from people. I watch, I’ll cheer and I support.

Two Sundays ago, my nice — a junior in high school — and her teammates won a state championship. It was the second straight year they played in the title game, losing in overtime last year.

Many of these girls have played together through all these years. From “pee-wee” style, to travel, to indoor, to junior high, to JV to varsity …

Yeah, it’s been quite a trip.

It’s quite amazing, actually, to look at some of these older photos. To see how these young ladies have grown and developed as players. They’ve always been quite talented, too.

One of the best parts about these girls is many of them went through the ranks together. To be sure, there are key people who joined up at different times, but a good handful of these girls started at a young age together.

That has to help.

Controlling the ball in 2006.

Not just for the sake of knowing one another, but have been friends for a long time and know what the others can do.

Last year, this one set of girls were sophomores. Though there were upperclassmen on the team, these girls made an impact.

How good were they?

Two of them shared player of the year honors from the local newspaper.

That good.

This year, they were strong as normal. They rallied in spots they needed to. They reached the state final and the opposing team scored early. Things didn’t seem so good.

But, despite how the game went, they battled. A goal early in the second half tied it and then the winner — an extremely odd and crazy goal — came with about a minute left.

When the final horn sounded, they exploded in celebration.

I went digging for the photos of my niece in this post. But while I was at it, I found some others of the girls she is still teammates with. It’s quite amazing to see what they were like back then — still battling, still playing and still competing. They learned young and the payoff was obviously worth the time.

Hopefully, they cherish this moment and relish in the accomplish they had. It’s something to truly be proud and thankful for. A hearty congrats and maybe they’ll be able to do it again next year.

Check out some of the photos below.

This girl has become one of the top players in the area. And the other girl in the yellow jersey is one of the fastest on the team.

This gal is now one of the top defenders.

Even at a younger, this one was connecting on corner kicks. Now they are quite an offensive threat any time she takes one.

Now… the goalie.

Feel free to leave a comment, or e-mail P.J. at hoohaablog@gmail.com. Also, please “Like” HooHaa Blog on Facebook!

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Soundless Sunday: Sept. 15

Sep 15

“Curling is sweeping the nation.”

– Author unknown

Sweep!

Soundless Sunday is a weekly feature where I’ll try and feature a favorite quote and a photo that I’ve taken. Enjoy life — it’s the only way to go!

Feel free to leave a comment, or e-mail P.J. at hoohaablog@gmail.com. Also, please “Like” HooHaa Blog on Facebook!

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Foto Friday: Seeing all aspects in sports photography

May 10

Though photography as a whole is a passion of mine, I really enjoy sports photography.

I have several favorite topics when shooting photos, but there’s something special about stopping action in a shot. Capturing a ball in midair or an athlete doing something really wild makes it even better. Though I love video, I’ll take a great action shot over the video any day.

Recently, I’ve shot a few softball and lacrosse games of a local college.

This isn’t a how-to post when it comes to action photography. I have to keep learning just as much as anybody else. I know I can continue to get better and that’s why I try and shoot sports photos whenever I have a chance.

The thing is trying to think a little differently. Not just the pitching or swinging photos in softball or baseball, but something different.

Baseball and softball can be tough to shoot at times. There’s the issue of timing when the ball is going to be in play somewhere, or being thrown, or being hit. There are times when you focus on somebody and nothing happens. But there’s so much more going on. It’s a true game of reaction when it comes to photos.

With all that in mind, below are some of my favorites I’ve taken of the local college and their spring sports I saw, as well as some thoughts on my process of getting them.

I actually haven’t processed all my photos from the games, so I’m going with ones I have done and have already uploaded to Flickr.

1. Quick to react

Even if you focus on a certain player or spot during a game, you still have to be quick to react. Sometimes you can fire off several shots and still not get the ball or good action. Shots like this one really work out well because it goes beyond the norm. This is one of my favorite shots because of her focus, as well as the bouncing ball — where you even see the shadow.

Stay focused.

2. Other things make good images

The photo of a sporting event doesn’t have to always be on the action. Look around. Are there celebrations? People being upset? With those two, you can capture emotion. This shot is something I liked. I knew this umpire, so I was going to get a few shots of him. This one, in between innings, really worked out for me as he flipped the ball up and down.

In between innings.

3. Close in on the action

No matter what anybody says, I’m a firm believer that one’s whole body doesn’t have to be in the image. Take, for example, this one. What more would it add if their legs and feet were in the shot? The action would be more of a wider shot. In this one, you can see the action, the expressions and the ball (in the netting of the one stick).

Battling

4. Shoot from the front or, at worst, side

Nobody wants to see an image behind the action. It’s one of the biggest issues I find with disc golf images. Try and keep it so you capture the action and, hopefully, the faces of those involved. In this one, the Delhi (gold) player is coming in on the action, but the shooter from the other team is coming almost right at me. This shot would have been worthless if taken from behind. Instead, it’s one of my favorites from the season because of the action and where the ball is.

Shooting

5. Anticipate

Sports photography is all about knowing what could happen and where. If you think something might happen, focus on that spot. Especially in baseball and softball. You can only take so many images of pitching and hitting, so look around. Is there a chance somebody could steal? Focus on that base. Is a certain player hitting one way? Stay looking at that spot. It’s all anticipation. This shot was one where I had a feeling there would be a steal coming. As it was, I snapped a whole series of shots, but this one really shows the thought of anticipation with the dirt flying up on the slide.

 

Safe

Sports is a great theme when it comes to photography. And the best part of it is it really challenges your skills and your ability. One thing I would recommend, no matter what, is to familiarize yourself with the sport you might shoot. You don’t have to be an expert, but knowing a bit about the sport will help you react, anticipate and find the good spots when it comes to shooting. Most of all, have fun with it. I have a ton of interests when it comes to photography, but sports images are still the ones that make me get excited more than most because there’s a better chance to really get that “one” shot.

Feel free to leave a comment, or e-mail P.J. at hoohaablog [at] gmail.com. Also, please “Like” HooHaa Blog on Facebook!

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