Category Archives: eastern league

Ballparks of the Eastern League.

Mercer County Waterfront Ballpark, Trenton, New Jersey

Mercer County Waterfront Ballpark, Trenton NEW JERSEY

Number of states: 23
States to go:  27

Number of games: 1
First game:  August 16, 2007 (Trenton Thunder 8, Portland SeaDogs 4)

(Click on any image to see a larger version.)

It is indeed a challenge, I learned back in August of 2007, to make it from the Philadelphia Airport to the Mercer County Waterfront Ballpark for a game…but it is, indeed, possible.  Because the 2007 baseball trip was the

first in my history that involved no driving (in an effort to be both cheap and green), I dashed from my flight to my SEPTA train in perhaps record time.  Since I had no luggage to check, I made it onto a train that left only ten minutes after my flight arrived.  And since I wanted to be totally sure that I could legally hop onto the train downtown (for a transfer to Trenton), I even asked the man who was working on the ticket machine…could I buy a ticket on board?  Yes, he told me.  Well, nobody asked me for money or a ticket or proof I belonged there or absolutely anything else all the way to Walnut Street, where I detrained, feeling lucky and a little bit dirty.  If anybody from SEPTA happens to read this, I owe you seven bucks or whatever it was.  I wasn’t trying to dodge a fare (as should be noted by the way I duly paid my way from downtown Philly to Trenton).  I asked if I could pay on the train, got on, and then nobody asked me for a cent.  Please do not prosecute me.

The fine folks who work with the Trenton Thunder will work with you if you

happen to be crashing on their park directly from the airport, I learned.  The Thunder were nothing but nice to me.  I phoned ahead to ask them if I could keep my bag somewhere during the ballgame and pick it up afterwards…I had no time to get to my hotel prior to the game, as I simply took a cab from the train station to the ballpark.  I therefore got to meet several of the fine folks from the Thunder, who didn’t seem to mind when I had to unpack a lot of my suitcase to get to my hat, scorecard, and pencils (and thus unwittingly let some of the fine folks of south Jersey see a few pairs of socks and underwear).  Indeed, after the game, they were nice enough to call me a cab, and when that cab never showed up (the dispatcher seemed to have far more important social engagements than to help me), a worker told me that the nice hotel I had treated myself to, the Trenton Courtyard by Marriott, would routinely send a van to the ballpark to pick up a guest.  Sold!  So, even if it weren’t a great ballpark, the Thunder won me over with fine customer service.

The good news for them is that they work at a splendid ballpark.  I was a big fan of Mercer County Waterfront Park almost from the moment of my arrival.  I was a little bit concerned when my cab took me through slum after slum until we were just a few feet from the ballpark, simply because I was worried that the ballpark would have a Comerica Park feel…a baseball theme-park fortress designed to get me to ignore the urban blight around me.  But it didn’t have that feel, I think because of the immediate surroundings.  The ballpark is right on the Delaware, so if George Washington were a lefty pull hitter with power, he could knock one into the river (although likely not over).  It’s possible to walk along a path between the ballpark and the river, and some of the crappier seats in the ballpark offer a view across the river of Morrisville, Pennsylvania.  And with some rowdy fans on hand (the Yankee-affiliated Thunder were facing the Red Sox-affiliated

Portland SeaDogs), there was no question where I was.  The ballpark therefore aces the important Is There Any Question Where You Are test.

Further, Trenton does well in celebrating Trenton baseball history rather than concentrating on Yankee baseball history. 

A look at their retired numbers tells the story–Nomar Garciaparra and Tony Clark share billing with Jackie Robinson.  The idea that a ballplayer best known as a Red Sox gets a nod with a retired number at a Yankee-affiliated ballpark tells me that they have their priorities straight–Trenton first, parent club second.  Additionally, I was struck by a female name, Nicole Sherry, on their list of former Thunders (what is one member of the Thunder called anyway?  A Clap?) who have made the show.  A quick Google search reveals that, after two years in Trenton, Sherry went on to become head groundskeeper for the Orioles.  It’s great that they give her some recognition.

I got one of my favorite seats on this night…in the very front row, in a seat that juts out from the main stands into foul territory.  I could look back into the Trenton dugout from my position, but more importantly, I got an opportunity to watch the work of the first-base umpire (whose name I can no longer locate) quite closely.  No close plays transpired at first this night, but I enjoyed seeing the difference between his regular “out” call and his sell “out” call.  On the former, he wouldn’t even vocalize at all, but on the latter, he sure would.  On top of that, I got to enjoy all of this while taking advantage of the significant ledge in front of me as a table:

A cheap cheese steak, a FREE scorecard, a gorgeous night on the river, and up-close double-A baseball.  What more can a guy ask for?

Hell of a nice night at Mercer County Waterfront Park.  If you’re in Philly or South Jersey, it’s worth the trip up.  It’s definitely one of the top ballparks I’ve been to on the East Coast.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel:  9/10
On top of everything else the ballpark had going for it–the river, the cheese steak, the retired numbers–they have concession stands shaped like commuter trains.  Nice!

Charm:  4/5
Quite nice.  Might have scored even higher were it not for the nearby urban blight.

Spectacle:  4/5
I know there were some promotions, but I can’t remember them.  That’s a good sign for quality double-A ball.

Team mascot/name:  2.5/5

Boomer with handler.  Nothing special about him or his name–I can’t even tell what he is.  Also, I’m not a fan of the name “Thunder.”

Aesthetics:  4.5/5
Quite a nice place right there on the river.

Pavilion area:  4.5/5
I especially like the places where the river is visible.  And I’m sort of counting the river walkway outside the stadium.  It’s my party and I’ll break my rules if I want.

Scoreability:  5/5

That’s right…FREE SCORECARDS.  And they say to PLEASE take one.  Then, they follow that up with conscientiously-placed scoring decisions, including the too-often-skipped wild pitch/passed ball calls.  One of the best ballparks I’ve ever been to in this regard.

Fans:  3.5/5

Intangibles:  4.5/5
It was a splendid night.  This is a ballpark I want to visit again.

TOTAL:  41.5/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

Gabriel Lopez is the batting star for the Thunder, going 4-for-4 with 3 RBIs.

Andrew Pinckney homered for the SeaDogs.

(Written April 2008.)

Blair County Ballpark, Altoona, PA

Blair County Ballpark, Altoona, PENNSYLVANIA

Number of states: 21
States to go:  29

Number of games: 1
First game:  August 4, 2006 (Altoona Curve 6, New Britain Rock Cats 4)

(Click on any image to see a larger version.)

A ballgame was welcome after a day of American Tragedy Tourism.  I spent much of the morning at the Shanksville memorial, which is a pilgrimage I believe

every American should take, and then at the Johnstown Flood National Memorial, which was depressing in an entirely different way.  Blair County Ballpark was a refreshing change at the end of the day. I had heard many positive reviews of the ballpark–some call it the best in the United States–and while I prefer a few others to this one, it still was a tremendous place to see a ballgame, and well worth a detour if you’re anywhere nearby.

Blair County Ballpark sits adjacent to Lakemont Park, and a roller coaster sits past right field. This creates a carnival atmosphere to the ballpark. I could see this being a bad thing–after all, I loathe any ballpark with a carousel, and

I don’t like distractions during my baseball (though between innings, they’re fine).  But Blair County Ballpark manages to take its baseball seriously without taking itself seriously, which is fantastic.

First, the bit about not taking itself too seriously. There’s plenty of wackiness going on, and not just from the multiple mascots. The night I attended was a promotion to honor bowling in the Altoona area.  Kids could bowl out on the concourse, and the first pitch was bowled out (a bowling ball painted to look like a baseball).  There were

about 800 first pitches, including one from Mrs. Pennsylvania (I didn’t know they still did that), and loads of promotions between every inning.  Many of the distractions were quite hilarious–they recruited youngsters to walk along the tops of the dugouts between every inning with a card saying the inning number, like the ring card girls in boxing.  It was really very funny.

On the other hand, however, when it came time for baseball, the ballpark provided a great experience.  Unlike any other lower-level ballpark I’d been to, the ballpark gave in-progress scores of other minor-league games.

A true fan of the Eastern League could keep track of the divisional races on one of the two big video screens.  Speaking of which, I was impressed that a double-A ballpark would have two big scoreboard screens.  Some might feel it’s unnecessary, but I don’t see anything wrong with a small-town park having a gorgeous couple of scoreboards that they use properly.

And who can come up with a better use for a scoreboard than to put me on it?  Altoona’s radio pre-game show interview takes place on the concourse behind home plate, and is broadcast on the scoreboard.  That means that, if I place myself just right, I can see myself on the scoreboard, and if I bring a camera and are especially vain, I can photograph the back of my purple T-shirt as broadcast on the scoreboard, just over the guest’s right shoulder.

Memory of the game:  a foul ball glanced off of a three-year-old girl a few rows behind me.  Sweetly, the entire Curve dugout came out to look and see if the kid was okay.  I believe Steamer came to give her a Diesel Dawg stuffed animal.  People are really nice.

I had the pleasure of hanging out with a great guy for most of the ballgame.  As usual, the conversation began when we both scored the game.

He’s a history professor (emeritus? I don’t remember) at nearby Indiana University of Pennsylvania. We talked a bit about teaching, baseball, and travel. I teach history sometimes (although literature is more my game), and I recognize that a love of history plays into a love of baseball.  I had spent an entire day reflecting on the history of our nation, both distant and recent, and was in a place that respected its history–from the locally-appropriate name to the plaques honoring every former Altoona player to make the majors. Hearing about the area through the eyes of a historian was a nice touch–the icing on the cake. He was kind enough to give me a business card…which I, like a bonehead, have since lost.  Nonetheless, thanks for the conversation, Professor.

On the whole, it’s a unique ballpark experience in a lovely, while often overlooked, part of the country.  It lands very near the top of my list.  The atmosphere was the perfect blend of frivolous and baseball-respecting, and the people were quite fun.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel: 7.5/10
Pretty good, but not quite great.  I like the unique feel of watching a game in the shadow of a roller coaster, but I can’t say I could look around and now where I was.  Still, the team name and a sense of local baseball history is apparent.

Charm:  5/5
Nice.

Spectacle:  5/5
They get this right.

Team mascot/name:  3/5


Steamer and me above, and Steamer’s pet dog Diesel Dawg below.  Steamer has his own email and his own pets.  Weird.  I like the idea of Steamer, but he looks derivative of the Phillie Phanatic, and the dog, while adorable, could be anywhere.

Aesthetics:  4/5
Not bad.

Pavilion area:  5/5
Loads of activity, all within view of the ballgame.

Scoreability:  4/5

Fans:  2.5/5
Surprisingly quiet.

Intangibles:  4/5
On the whole, a fine night, but maybe I had my expectations too high.

TOTAL:  40/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

Brett Roneberg’s first-inning two-run triple gave the Curve the lead they never gave up.

Milver Reyes goes three-for-four.

(Written December 2006.)