Upon learning that a key component of my job involves exploring America through Minor League Baseball, innumerable people have responded with a simple three word phrase:
Living the dream.
The 2015 season marks the sixth in which I will have the honor, privilege and anxiety of living this dream — hitting the road in order to deliver the Minor League Baseball ballpark experience to YOU, the presumably loyal reader. I have visited more than 100 stadiums thus far — some more than once — and, when 2015 is said and done, that count should be close to 130. There are 159 ballparks in the Minors and, of course, my ultimate goal is to “collect ’em all.”
This image, taken from the indispensable (and new and improved!) MiLB.com “Tickets” page, shows just how vast the Minor League landscape is. This post is dedicated to sharing the portions of it that I plan to travel through in 2015.
(For links to all of my 2014 “On the Road” coverage, click HERE. To see all of my “On the Road” blog posts, click HERE. If you have trouble finding any of my “On the Road” articles and blog posts from seasons past, then please do not hesitate to get in touch.)
As many of you know, I was diagnosed with celiac disease in 2012 and had to switch to a gluten-free diet. This makes it hard for me to sample ballpark delicacies with the reckless abandon to which I had been accustomed, but there is a solution: THE DESIGNATED EATER.
At each ballpark I visit, I am looking for a fan (ideally) or local media member who will sample the concessions that I cannot. I will document your eating experiences in words and pictures, so that those reading can still enjoy the comprehensive ballpark food coverage they have come to expect.
If YOU are interested in being a designated eater at one of the ballparks listed in the itineraries below, then get in touch: email@example.com. First come, first served.
(Note to teams: if you are planning on staging a contest of some sort to find the designated eater, then let me know so that I do not accept someone on my own accord.)
This could be you!
As always, my time at each location will be limited. But, also as always, I am interested in your recommendations regarding what else there is to do, see and consume in the area. If you have any cultural, culinary or record-store expertise regarding any of the locations listed, then GET IN TOUCH.
I have (or will be) getting in touch with all of the teams included, but if you’re a member of the front office, feel free to jump the gun and reach out to me regarding lodging, story suggestions, designated-eater leads, etc.
Sorry for burying the lede here, but I wanted to get all of the fine print out of the way first. And now, without further ado, the itineraries!
TRIP #1: The Sunshine State
April 11: Bradenton Marauders
Designated Eater: Joe Mynaugh
April 12: Tampa Yankees
Designated Eater: Brian Cochrane
April 13: Dunedin Blue Jays
Designated Eater: I know some guys
April 14: Jupiter Hammerheads
Designated Eater: Stephen Goldsmith
April 15: Jackie Robinson Celebration Game at Historic Dodgertown in Vero Beach (St. Lucie Mets vs. Brevard County Manatees)
April 16: St. Lucie Mets
Designated Eater: Jay Meyer
April 17: Brevard County Manatees
Designated Eater: Enrique Cortes
April 18: Jacksonville Suns
Notes: April, in general, is a tough month for Minor League travel. The weather is cold, school is still in session, and none of the short-season leagues are in operation. Florida, though, is a relatively safe bet. Here’s hoping for no game-ruining downpours.
The second annual Jackie Robinson Game will be one of the highlights of this trip, for sure. April 15 marks the 68th anniversary of Robinson’s debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers. In 1948, Dodgertown became the first integrated Spring Training site in the south.
Upon the conclusion of this trip, I will have visited every Minor League team in the state of Florida. (My first trip to the Sunshine State occurred in 2012, when I visited Clearwater, Fort Myers, Charlotte, Lakeland, Daytona and Pensacola.)
TRIP #2: More Midwest Meanderings
May 23: Kane County Cougars
Designated Eaters: Jason Bohn, David Lesser
May 24: Quad Cities River Bandits
Designated Eater: Dean Birkhofer
May 25: Clinton LumberKings
Designated Eater: Amanda Cady
May 26: Peoria Chiefs
Designated Eater: Thomas Doran
May 27: Cedar Rapids Kernels
Designated Eater: Tim Mullin
May 28: Omaha Storm Chasers
Designated Eater: Paul Biler
Notes: After this trip, I will have finally visited every team in the sprawling 16-team Midwest League. Clinton, Peoria and Cedar Rapids had been the last three I needed in this regard. I visited Kane County, Quad Cities and Omaha as part of a season-ending trip in 2010, but much about my operation, and much about those teams, have changed since then. Omaha, for example, changed its name from the “Royals” to the “Storm Chasers” and moved to a new stadium.
June 25: Richmond Flying Squirrels
Designated Eater: Stuart Jordan
June 26: Norfolk Tides
Designated Eater: Andrew Lind (taking the “Salute to Pork Challenge“)
June 27: Lynchburg Hillcats
Designated Eater: Judi Muir/David Freier
June 28: Salem Red Sox
Designated Eater: Jennifer Frye
June 29: Potomac Nationals
Designated Eater: Tony Jaeger
June 30: West Virginia Black Bears
Notes: The impetus for this trip was to see the West Virginia Black Bears in their first season of existence. Morgantown, where the team is based, is not particularly close to any of the other cities in this itinerary. But, still, the idea of a “Virginia” trip appealed to me as it is not a state that I have visited before in a Minor League context.
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July 11: Vermont Lake Monsters
Designated Eater: “Weird Al” Yankovic, until I hear otherwise
Note: On July 12th, my cousin and I are seeing a “Weird Al” Yankovic concert in Burlington, Vermont. With that on the calendar already, then why not stop in and see Burlington’s Minor League Baseball team? I attended a Lake Monsters game in 2009, before these road trips were really a “thing.” so I’m glad to be able to visit again and (hopefully) do it up right.
* * *
Trip #4: Deep South in the Deep Summer
July 28: New Orleans Zephyrs
Designated Eater: [Name Withheld]
July 29, 30: Biloxi Shuckers
Designated Eater: Cale Merrill
July 31: Mobile BayBears
August 1: Montgomery Biscuits
Designated Eater: Joe Marcus
August 2: Mississippi Braves
Designated Eater: Steven Ericson
August 3: Jackson Generals
Designated Eater: Bob Sanders (Bob, my email reply to you keeps bouncing back)
August 4: Off (drive to Nashville)
August 5: Nashville Sounds
Designated Eater: Tyler Glaser
This is a big one. The Biloxi Shuckers (formerly the Huntsville Stars) are a new team in a new stadium. However, due to construction delays, this stadium will not be ready until at least June. Fingers crossed that everything will be good to go this late in the season. I’ve already visited Mobile (2010), Jackson (2012) and Nashville (2013), but since the Sounds are playing in a new stadium this season, it became imperative to visit the Music City once again.
August 29: Connecticut Tigers
Designated Eater: Paul Woodin
August 30: New Britain Rock Cats
Designated Eater: Ryan Drzewianowski
August 31: Lowell Spinners
Designated Eater: Joe Beauregard
September 1: Pawtucket Red Sox
Designated Eater: Brian O’Connell
September 2: New Hampshire Fisher Cats
September 3: “Off”
September 4: Portland Sea Dogs
Designated Eater: Isaac Stephenson
Notes: This is an awkward itinerary. But, similar to how I ended the season in New York State in 2014, I really liked the idea of being in New England as summer begins to give way to fall. The only one of these teams that I have visited previously is the New Britain Rock Cats, but that game on August 30 is significant as it is the last-ever Rock Cats game. In 2016, the team will move to nearby Hartford and begin existence as the “Yard Goats.” Pawtucket should be intriguing as well, as the team is nearing the end of the line at McCoy Stadium (the new ownership group plans to build a new stadium in Providence).
Finally, upon the conclusion of this trip I will have visited all of the teams in the New York-Penn, Eastern and International Leagues.
So there you have it: my 2015 road trip itineraries. Complaints, critiques, commendations and criticisms always encouraged; feel free to get in touch any time.
And apologies once again to the teams in the Appalachian and Pioneer Leagues. Here’s hoping that I can make 2016 my “Rookie” season on the road, as I very much want to visit both of these circuits in their entirety.