Here we go again. It’s time to hit the open road.
Since 2010, I’ve spent a portion of the baseball season visiting Minor League Baseball stadiums all across the country. My mission at each ballpark is to highlight what it is that makes that team (and city) unique. If each team is a reflection of the community in which it operates, then Minor League Baseball’s 160 teams, taken together, are a reflection of America. So what better way to explore America than through Minor League Baseball?
So, that’s me and what I’m all about. (Plan your own road trips HERE.)
I’ve visited 139 Minor League ballparks through the years (some more than once), including 128 of the 159 currently in use. 2016 will see me get that much closer to my goal of “collecting ’em all,” while also providing the opportunity to revisit some past favorites. Here’s a thumbnail; an extensive breakdown immediately follows.
My itinerary is a touch lighter as compared to the last couple of seasons, but should nonetheless result in plenty of unique articles, blog posts, Tweets, Instagram photos and Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Jokes. And, of course, 2016 will mark the fourth season of the “Designated Eater,” in which I recruit an individual at each ballpark to consume the cuisine that my gluten-diet prohibits.
If YOU are interested in being a designated eater at one of the ballparks listed in the itineraries below, then get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org. First come, first served — and you MUST get in touch via email. Also: first-time DEs are prioritized over veterans, good communicators are especially welcome and how come women almost never apply?
Anyhow, this could be you:
Trip #1: Carolinas On My Mind
May 6: Greensboro Grasshoppers (vs. Columbia Fireflies, 7:00 p.m.)
Designated Eater: Alan Hand
May 7: Durham Bulls (vs. Norfolk Tides, 7:05 p.m.)
Designated Eater: Ken Childs
This should be a memorable evening in Durham, as it’s a “A Tribute to Han Solo” Star Wars Night.
— Durham Bulls (@DurhamBulls) March 23, 2016
May 8: Greenville Drive (vs. Columbia Fireflies, 4:05 p.m.)
Designated Eater: Rich Wofford
May 9: Charleston RiverDogs (vs. Hickory Crawdads, 7:05 p.m.)
Designated Eater: Frank Monterisi
May 10: Myrtle Beach Pelicans (vs. Winston-Salem Dash, 7:05 p.m.)
May 11: “Off”
May 12: Columbia Fireflies (vs. Asheville Tourists, 7:05 p.m.)
Designated Eater: Carter Blackmon
May 13: Carolina Mudcats (vs. Lynchburg Hillcats, 7:00 p.m.)
Designated Eater: Sherman Gillespie
Why? The Columbia Fireflies, one of two new teams/stadiums in Minor League Baseball this season, served as the impetus for this trip. But I was overdue for a Carolinas trip, anyway; I last visited Durham, Charleston and Myrtle Beach in 2011, and have never before been to Greensboro or Zebulon (home of the Mudcats). Greenville I’ve kinda sorta been to, having stopped by the ballpark when the team was on the road in 2010. I’m glad to actually see the Drive in action this time around.
Also, I am one of tens (or, likely, hundreds) of millions of Americans who condemn the idiotic bigotry codified within North Carolina’s HB2 law. The Durham Bulls have recently spoken out against it, and I hope (but am not necessarily expecting) other NC teams to do the same. I’ll be interested in getting the perspectives of fans — particularly those whom this law directly affects — when I’m in North Carolina.
Trip #2: Getting Hartford’s Goat
Note: This trip is now TBD, as it remains unclear when Dunkin Donuts Park will open.
June 3-4: Hartford Yard Goats (vs. Portland, 7:05 p.m.)
Designated Eater: Jim Manning
Why? This isn’t a trip, really. I’d consider it to be more of a jaunt. It is imperative that I make it to Hartford this season, as the brand-new Yard Goats (who formerly existed as the New Britain Rock Cats) will be playing in brand-new Dunkin’ Donuts Park. After ending last season with a New England-based trip — including the Rock Cats’ last-ever home game — there aren’t many teams in the region I currently feel compelled to visit. So a Hartford exclusive this shall be.
Eat It Up.
Trip #3: Appy League Entirety
June 25: Greeneville Astros (vs. Johnson City, 6:00 p.m.)
Designated Eater: Curt Collins
June 26: Kingsport Mets (vs. Pulaski, 4:00 p.m.)
June 27: Johnson City Cardinals (vs. Elizabethton, TBD)
Designated Eater: Marc Aiken
June 28: Bristol Pirates (vs. Greeneville, 7:00 p.m.)
Designated Eater: Todd Hare
June 29: Elizabethton Twins (vs. Pulaski, TBD)
Designated Eater: Daniel Buck
June 30: Princeton Rays (vs. Greeneville, 7:00 p.m.)
July 1: Bluefield Blue Jays (vs. Kingsport, 7:05 p.m.)
July 2: Pulaski Yankees (vs. Bristol, TBD)
Designated Eater: Thomas Panek
July 3: Danville Braves (vs. Burlington, TBD)
July 4: Burlington Royals (vs. Danville, 6:35 p.m.)
Designated Eater: Justin Moody
Why? Finally, after years of pestering, hectoring, cajoling, persuading and pleading from various Appalachian League personnel, I am happy to announce a trip that covers the entire Rookie-level circuit. With the exception of Danville and Burlington (in 2011), I haven’t visited any of these teams before. The travel will be minimal, as well. The first five days of the trip cover the Western Division, during which I will be staying in the same hotel. Johnson City, I’ll soon know you well.
And, yes, by ending in Burlington I’ll pretty much be exactly where I started (and ended) during my May Carolinas trip. I’m sure I’ll get some flak for hitting the same general area twice in the same season, but I’m used to it. Last year, I didn’t make it west of Omaha and this annoyed my three-hours-behind-the-times pals in the Pacific Time Zone.
Trip 4: Sacramento to Spokane, the Long Way
August 1: Sacramento River Cats (vs. Salt Lake, 7:05 p.m.)
August 2: Stockton Ports (vs. Rancho Cucamonga, 7:10 p.m.)
August 3: Modesto Nuts (vs. Visalia, 7:05 p.m.)
Designated Eater: Derek Nyquist
August 4: San Jose Giants (vs. Modesto, 6:30 p.m.)
Designated Eater: John Lambert
August 5: Visalia Rawhide (vs. Inland Empire, 7:00 p.m.)
August 6: Las Vegas 51s (vs. Fresno, 7:05 p.m.)
Designated Eater: Zachary Lucy
August 7: “Off”
August 8: Reno Aces (vs. Salt Lake, 7:05 p.m.)
Designated Eater: Jose Aguilar
August 9: “Off”
August 10: Boise Hawks (vs. Hillsboro, 7:15 p.m.)
August 11: Tri-City Dust Devils (vs. Spokane, TBD)
August 12: Spokane Indians (vs. Eugene, 6:30 p.m.)
Why? Speaking of the Pacific Time Zone, here we are! This trip is a behemoth, motivated by the desire to hit a bunch of disparate teams whom I have missed on past trips. This includes Golden State stalwarts Sacramento and San Jose as well as the final three Northwest League teams I’ve yet to visit: Boise, Tri-City and Spokane. My time in those regions are book-ended by a swing into Nevada, to see the Las Vegas 51s for the first time and to make a return trip to Reno (the Aces were rained out when I visited in 2013). There are several other repeats from the 2013 season thrown in out of scheduling necessity, in the form of Modesto, Stockton and Visalia. My apologies to the Fresno Grizzlies, another 2013 stop whom I would have loved to include had the home and away gods smiled upon me. Maybe I can still stop by Fresno on the way to Visalia and get some Spam fries to go.
Postscript: 2017, the Path is Clear
Upon the conclusion of the 2016 season, there will be only a handful of teams I have yet to visit: the Colorado Springs Sky Sox, Frederick Keys, Frisco RoughRiders, Rancho Cucamonga Quakes, Salt Lake Bees and … the entirety of the Pioneer League. Thus, I anticipate the following itineraries:
Southern California: Seeing the Quakes also allows me to see California League teams (such as Lake Elsinore, Lancaster and High Desert) whom I have not visited since 2011.
Frisco: Maybe this will tie into a larger trip, maybe it will just be a RoughRiders exclusive. Either way, visiting Dr Pepper Ballpark is the only way to get RoughRiders broadcaster Nathan Barnett to stop bothering me.
Four States, Four Days: In addition to having never visited the Frederick Keys in Maryland, I am long overdue for stops in both Binghamton and Wilmington. (I visited the former in 2008 and the latter in 2009, both before I started doing these trips in earnest.) The Altoona Curve would be a necessity as well; I have visited them three times but, weirdly enough, never in a traditional regular-season game context.
Oh, Pioneer: This would be a huge one, comprising Colorado Springs and Salt Lake as well as the eight-team Pioneer League (which has teams in Colorado, Utah, Idaho and Montana). I’m up for it.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Thanks to everyone who has followed along with me thus far, and welcome to anyone who’s on board for the first time. I’m looking forward to my upcoming travels, and also looking forward to receiving my annual barrage of complaints regarding why my itineraries are flawed. (Yes, of course, I went out of my way to visit your team on a Monday.)
As always, feel free to get in touch with all manner of questions and concerns. I remain: