Tuesday, August 7, 2018

My Summer Vacation at the Ballpark

I usually start making my summer vacation plans around late January. This usually coincides with the first waves of cabin fever enveloping me along with the fourth layer of thermal clothing I've wriggled into to avoid hypothermia in my perpetually chilly New England colonial home.

While some would scour the internet travel sites in search of the best beaches in the tropics or perhaps a deal on a refreshing lakeside cottage in the woods, I click elsewhere.

I pore over the schedules for all the professional baseball teams within a 90-minute drive of my home. My goal: finding any and all weekday home games.

Nothing means "summer vacation" more to me than kicking back in the sun with a beer at a ballpark in one hand and a scorecard in the other when the rest of working world is having its soul sucked dry by the fluorescent lighting above its cubicle. And being able to do so without repercussions is one of the things I love most about my life as a freelancer.

This seems to be getting a little more difficult every year. "Businessman specials," "camp days" and "education in baseball" outings are becoming a rarity. Teams find it easier to put fannies in the seats at night and trips to the ol' ball game are less in demand from kids and schools (damn you, standardized testing!) But there are still exceptions and I managed to hit at least one game from most of my local teams this season.

Hartford (Conn.) Yard Goats

The Hartford Yard Goats are a Minor League Baseball (MiLB) team, the Double A affiliate of the Colorado Rockies. The team has been in the Connecticut capital for only the past two years, having relocated from nearby New Britain (God save ya, departed Hardware City Rock Cats!) in 2016 and spending that season the road while their new ballpark was being built.

And, man, what a ballpark. Dunkin' Donuts Park is a two-tiered minor league park, located right in downtown and, aside from a few quirks (like netting that block the seats under the right field outfield porch), it's just one great place to see a game or pet a baby goat because ... THEY HAVE A PEN OF BABY GOATS YOU CAN PET!

Between games of a Yard Goats day doubleheader, watching the field crew from the centerfield bar.
Between games of a Yard Goats day doubleheader, watching the field crew from the centerfield bar.

hartford yard goats chair

My $10 standing room only seat. Hartford yard goats
My $10 standing room only seat.

View from the left field BBQ ledge.
View from the left field BBQ ledge.
The place is regularly sold out, even when Tim Tebow is not playing the Goats like he did the first game I attended this year. Don't despair. Unless you need dedicated seats because you have little kids, buy a $10 standing-room only seat. With those tickets, I had my choice of empty seats right behind home plate, standing next to rail at its excellent BBQ stand in left field or even, due to it being the second game of a doubleheader and security being lax at that point, a table in the luxury club upstairs.

Yep. That's Tim Tebow in left.
Yep. That's Tim Tebow in left.
New York Mets

I let Excitable skip school once annually so he can accompany me to one of my day game escapades. This year we took in our (as always) beleaguered N.Y Mets at Citi Field. On the upside, rooting for a mediocre team means you get excellent field level seats at a reasonable price.

me and the boy at citi field mets

Rockland (N.Y.) Boulders

The Rockland Boulders are part of the Can-Am (Canadian-American) independent league, mostly young guys only a few years out of college. (There was that one time the team had a middle-aged billionaire who learned to toss the knuckleball ... and his opponents learned to hit it very hard and very far, but that's another story.) It's a great family-oriented ballpark with excellent sight lines though the food is so-so and, sadly, the two outfield bars and beer pub are never opened at weekday games.

me and the boy rockland boulders

I let Excitable skip school for this game, too, because only an hour before he got his driver's permit and we needed to celebrate. Also, I needed I designated driver. (I'm kidding, people!)

Hudson Valley (N.Y.) Renegades

The Hudson Valley Renegades, the Single A affiliate for the Tampa Bay Rays, have been playing out in Dutchess County since the mid-1990s but this was the first time I made it up to see this MiLB team. It's in older stadium and an oddity given it's artificial turf, but it has some charm along with a decent BBQ stand and some local brews on tap.

hudson valley renegades

They even have CrackerJack in the old-school cardboard box. Better yet, I scored two peanuts in the first handful..
And for just $6 you can sit out in the right-field landing which, to me, is a pretty good life.

Yes, I am nerdy enough to have my own spiral bound scorebook.
Yes, I am nerdy enough to have my own spiral bound scorebook.
I enjoyed last Tuesday's day game so much that I took My Love and Excitable (Li'l Diva was working) back on Sunday so we could watch the Mets' Single A team, the Brooklyn Cyclones, lose to the Renegades on -- and I've never before seen this in baseball -- a walk-off balk.

the fam at the hudson valley renegades

Durham (N.C.) Bulls

And then there were the two night games for the Durham Bulls, Triple A affiliate for the Tampa Bay rays, I took with Excitable when his 15u baseball team went on road trip to North Carolina.

Both of us being big fans of Bull Durham (yeah, I let him watch it when he was 12, call child services on me), we were a little disappointed when we learned the game was not at that historic ballpark.

durham bulls athletic park

That didn't last long because -- wow, the "new" park opened in 1995 is amazing.

Note the first retired number is Crash Davis from 'Bull Durham.' But where is the love for Ebby Calvin "Nuke" LaLoosh?
Note the first retired number is Crash Davis from 'Bull Durham.' But where is the love for Ebby Calvin "Nuke" LaLoosh?
Built right next to an old Lucky Strike plant converted into offices and restaurants, it's a perfect combination of old looks and modern conveniences. It is loaded with excellent food, tons of local beers, many activities for the little ones and lots of touches that make fans like me rave.

durham bulls

durham bull hit bull win steak sign

And they also sell these awesome T-shirts.

lollygagers t-shirt durham bulls

DISCLOSURE: MiLB provided my son and I with tickets to one of the Durham Bulls game in exchange for a blog post. However, the second game and all the other games written about here, we're paid for by me and written about because, heck, I love the game.

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