Summer of Baseball: The game is the main event in New Britain

Jul 23

If you’ve ever read books about baseball players and their growth through a system, you probably realize what the minor leagues are all about.

It’s not glamorous, that’s for sure.

Often enough, stadiums aren’t that great, travel is tough and the living conditions differ from place to place.

New Britain is a pretty solid place to watch a game.

New Britain is a pretty solid place to watch a game.

In recent years, it’s becoming more of a money-driven setup. Top-of-the-line stadiums are being built. Former major leagues coach and manage young prospects in their ascent to the big leagues. Travel conditions have improved and, in some spots, the living setup has changed.

But with big-money comes bigger places looking to take these minor league teams to a new spot. I watched it happen when the new owners of the then Oneonta Tigers packed up and moved to Connecticut a year after buying (despite agreeing to keep the team in Oneonta through its lease). Other small towns have watched it happen (to be fair, Norwich watched it happen, too, before snaking the Tigers).

Of course, when that happens, it also means these smaller areas lose a part of their community and identity.

New Britain, Connecticut appears to be next on that list.

The city is trying to keep the team from moving to nearby Hartford.

The city is trying to keep the team from moving to nearby Hartford.

It was announced in June that the New Britain Rock Cats would be moving to nearby Hartford in two years, once a $60 million stadium is built. I didn’t know that until actually heading to New Britain for a game and to take in New Britain Stadium, built in 1996, which makes it far from a relic.

The Rock Cats are the Double-A affiliate for the Minnesota Twins. New Britain has hosted a Double-A team since 1983, but a move to Hartford could signal the end of minor league baseball in New Britain. Often, when a team leaves an area, another will move it. That might mean a lower level (such as a Single-A team), but with Hartford being so close to New Britain, territorial rights will likely come into play. That being said, it appears there are some issues with the whole Hartford thing, so we’ll see how it all plays out and if the owner has to eat crow and stick it out in New Britain.

I didn’t know about all this until the day of a visit to New Britain Stadium. Waiting in line to get in (it was Ted Williams bobblehead night, so worth getting there early), a few fans chatted with us about the impending doom of their team and how it seemed like attendance had started to go down since the announcement, which is fully understandable. Signs were handed out as we parked, asking people to support and save the Rock Cats.

Free programs are always appreciated!

Free programs are always appreciated!

And from reading reports, it doesn’t sound like Hartford – at least those who pay – are too thrilled with paying for a new baseball stadium when other things (such as a good supermarket) are needed.

New Britain Stadium doesn’t have a lot of bells and whistles. It’s a baseball stadium. The seats are decent (though the ones we had were permanent bucket seats, almost like enlarged child seats) and the sight lines were pretty strong. But, much like stadiums built in the past 20 or so years, there’s not a lot of cover, which is good and bad. It’s bad because there isn’t a good way to get out of the sun, but good because there aren’t any beams and such blocking views.

There is a walkway between the box seats and upper seats that goes from the third-base line to the first-base line, giving you open looks at the park. The concourse is covered and behind the baselines — and below the main seating area. The club store is a tad small and the prices are average. I did walk out with a past-season sweatshirt for a good price, which was nice. They have the normal offerings, however.

Rocky was easy to find.

Rocky was easy to find.

One bonus — and I’ve seen this at more stadiums than not this year — free programs. That’s truly a bonus. The programs were given as we came in the stadium and you could get statistics and a lineup at the customer service booth, which was directly in front of the main entrance.

Food offerings were normal ballpark fare. The hot dogs weren’t bad, but there were no cups for drinks, rather just a bottle. That’s a little on the odd size as it’s nice to have a cup with ice to keep your drink cold. It’s also another stadium without a souvenir cup, which was disappointing. I’ve been trying to collect them at most stops this year, at least when they are available.

In the end, I enjoyed the park. It’s in an easy-to-reach area, the parking is right at the park (if I remember right, I think it was $3 or $5) and it’s easy to get in and out. The old ballpark is next door, though we didn’t check it out. It’s a shame if the Rock Cats do leave. as it’s a nice setting for a minor league baseball game.

Park Notes:

New Britain Stadium
New Britain, Connecticut
Home of the New Britain Rock Cats (AA affiliate of the Minnesota Twins)
Visited on:  June 14, 2014
Opponent: Trenton Thunder (AA affiliate of the New York Yankees)

Ratings (out of 10):

  • Stadium: 7.5
  • Concessions: 7
  • Parking: 8
  • Ambiance: 8
  • 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@gmail.com. Also, please “Like” HooHaa Blog on Facebook!

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Summer of Baseball: Passport is good addition to travels

Jul 08

One of my filled out pages. I don't put a ton of stuff in the notes, rather items of interest to me.

One of my filled out pages. I don’t put a ton of stuff in the notes, rather items of interest to me.

I love passport programs.

Basically, programs that give you a passport and you have to collect stamps for yourself or to complete a challenge. It’s a good concept, in theory, because it gets people out doing things to collect said stamps.

In my actual passport, I only have one stamp – Ireland. When I went into the Bahamas last year on a cruise, I couldn’t find where they would stamp at one of the ports, which is too bad as I really would have liked to have had it done.

The Minor League Baseball Passport.

The Minor League Baseball Passport.

But I digress.

One passport program I am in is the National Park program. There you have a passport and when you visit parks, you can get to certain spots and get a stamp. It’s a really cool program and I’ve blogged about it in the past.

The newest one is even cooler – baseball.

When at a recent game, I discovered this minor league baseball passport. It has 25 spots for you to get stamps from parks you visit and write in any details about the game. Though I keep a scorebook at games I go to, this is a new way to keep track of places I’ve been.

I first saw this passport at a game in Allentown (Lehigh Valley IronPigs), but one wasn’t open. I ended up not buying it because I didn’t want purchase it and find out a bunch of places I planned on hitting up this year didn’t have the stamp available. So, I skipped. I checked at the next stadium and they had no idea what I was talking about.

Then, I hit up Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and they had it – and had one unwrapped. That was huge because it allowed me to see the list of teams who were involved with this program and a lot of the places I hope to hit this year are on it, so I bought it.

A blank page in the passport.

A blank page in the passport.

Score!

Of course, they stamped my passport there and my first game is in the book. What’s nice is I plan on hitting several more stadiums this summer, so it will be nice to get them stamped (as long as the teams still have the stamps etc.) and to get some of it filled up. And though I’ll probably hit places more than once this summer, I’ll only stamp once so I can keep it as a record of stadiums I’ve hit.

There, apparently, is a Major League one, too. However, I’m not sure I would get that one because I don’t go to MLB games, outside of Philadelphia, too often. So I thought the minor league version would work best for me.

It’s disappointing I didn’t know about this at the beginning of the year as there’s at least one stadium I won’t be back to this year… but maybe next year. Still, it will be a cool item to see if I can slowly fill up and look back at in years to come.

At a recent game, a couple asked me about the passport as I was getting it stamped. It’s definitely something that fans can get into using. Every stadium I have gone to, so far, has the stamp and stamped my passport. Not everybody appears to know about it, but those who need to know do.

I did notice that several places didn’t have places to get a stamp (though the majority of the minors seem to be in there). I can’t imagine it costs all that much to have the stamp made, so it baffles me that a minor league team would skip it. In the same light, it appears the originator of this program didn’t include independent league teams, which is a real shame. Independent teams do a lot with customer service and fan promotions, so I have a hard time believing an independent team wouldn’t jump on this.

A stamp from one of the parks.

A stamp from one of the parks.

My only other issue with this passport is not being able to find an active list of participating teams on the website. It’s marketing 101 – if I want somebody to buy it, I need to answer every question I think they might have. As a consumer, my first question was – where will this be stamped? I wanted to make sure it wasn’t just AAA teams with a few lower-level teams in. This way, too, if one was to reach out to minor league teams, it could be noted and updated on the website.

But, overall, I am pretty pleased with the passport and I look forward to filling it up and maybe even getting a second one!

You can find more information about the Minor League Passport at its website.

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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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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