Road Trip! Destination: Minor League baseball parks
Christopher Reilly of Plum is drawn to the intimacy of the sport and the opportunity to interact with the players.
Donald Lancaster of Indiana, Pa., appreciates that it is family-oriented, affordable, offers “goofy and fun” between-inning entertainment and many close-to-the-field vantage points.
Marky Billson of Pittsburgh likes the interesting little quirks and the variety of the parks.
Minor league baseball really is in a league of its own in terms of a unique experience, according to these ardent baseball fans.
These half-dozen options are worthy destinations for baseball fans.
The team, named after the nearby railroad legend, the Horseshoe Curve, is home to the Pittsburgh Pirates' AA Eastern League affiliate.
The Curve plays 71 home games from April to September at Peoples Natural Gas Field, located just off Interstate 99 in Altoona. The two-level structure was built in 1999 with a brick exterior and seating for 7,210 fans.
The design is modeled after a railroad roundhouse, honoring the industry that helped found the city.
An easy drive from Pittsburgh, the entire field, in the shadow of the scenic Allegheny Mountains, is in view from the lower concourse. Families can watch the game from picnic tables if they choose.
Historic Lakemont Park, opened in 1894, sits beyond the right field fence, with the old wooden roller coaster, the Skyliner, adding an interesting background, visually and aurally.
Details: www.altoonacurve.com, 814-943-5400
Native son Francis Scott Key, author of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” is the namesake for the Frederick Keys, Class A affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles in Frederick, Md.
The stadium is across the street from Mt. Olivet Cemetery, the final resting place of Key, a Frederick lawyer who penned the words during the War of 1812. This summer, the entire state is commemorating the 200th anniversary of its writing. Harry Grove Stadium, which can be seen from Interstate 70, includes an amusement-park area where families with young children can play and still be able to see the game.
Details: www.frederickkeys.com, 301-662-0013
West Virginia Power
Appalachian Power Park, home to the Pittsburgh Pirates' Class A South Atlantic League affiliate, is celebrating its 10th season.
The stadium was constructed in 2004 and opened in 2005 in Charleston's east end, in part to secure baseball's presence in Charleston after more than 50 years at its predecessor, Watt Powell Park.
The franchise was re-branded from the Charleston Alley Cats to the West Virginia Power when it made the move. It previously was the Charleston Wheelers and the Charleston Charlies.
“In the minor leagues, it isn't just the sport that people watch, but also the in-game promotions that they have a very good chance to participate in,” says Adam Marco, director of marketing and media for the team, as well as its radio broadcaster. “For the true baseball enthusiast, it is the chance to meet and see players that may be stars within a few years.”
The Power's nightly promotions and specials continue to encourage fans to come back.
The organization received an industry award in 2012 for “Best Theme Night” for its annual “Redneck Night.” It is May 24 this season and features an official wedding on the dugout between half innings, presided over by an Internet-ordained officiant. The night also includes an appearance by stock-car legend Bobby Allison and a Mason-jar mug giveaway.
Be careful if you sit near super fan and city official Rob Blackstone, aka The Toastman. The season ticketholder leads fans in chants to support the Power and attempts to unnerve the visiting team. When the opposition strikes out, he slings pieces of toast in the stands and leads the chant, “You are toast. You are toast. You. Are. Toast!”
Details: www.wvpower.com, 304-344-2287
The New York Yankees and Brooklyn Dodgers christened City Stadium, Lynchburg, Va., in 1940 with an exhibition game in which Joe DiMaggio drove in the first two runs.
In the 1980s, the team was affiliated with the New York Mets. The club later became a Red Sox team and then was affiliated with the Pittsburgh Pirates before becoming the Braves high-A team, playing in the Carolina League.
It is old-fashioned baseball in a classic ballpark, with a nice view of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Details: www.Lynchburg-Hillcats.com or 434- 528-1144
Once you get past the reality that this Triple A team, formerly associated with the Pittsburgh Pirates, is now under the Cleveland Indians' umbrella, you can just sit back and take in the experience at Huntington Park in downtown Columbus. Built in 2009, it was named ballpark of the year that year by baseballparks.com.
It is the fifth season at this 10,100 seat facility for the Clippers, who were also once affiliated with the New York Yankees.
The left-field building includes a 110-foot bar with six open patios overlooking the playing field. Nostalgia reigns inside with hundreds of photos and memorabilia. The third-story pavilion is an open-air rooftop with bleachers reminiscent of Chicago's Wrigley Field. An 18-foot “Mini-Green Monster” is a nod to Boston's Fenway Park.
Knotholes along Nationwide Boulevard allow fans to stand outside the field and watch the game for free, an homage to the tradition of Columbus' Knothole Gang of the 1940s and 1950s.
Details: www.clippersbaseball.com, 614-462-5250
Pittsburghers driving to Ocean City on Route 50 often pass Arthur W. Perdue Stadium, in Salisbury, Md., home field of the Class A siblings of the Baltimore Orioles.
The field is named after a member of the Perdue chicken empire. Chicken farming helps drive the economy on Maryland's Eastern Shore.
The South Atlantic League team opened its gates in 1996, beginning as a Montreal Expos affiliate, a relationship that lasted just a single season as a deal was struck with the Orioles in 1997. The Shorebirds have been crowned champions in 1997 and 2000.
The Eastern Shore Baseball Hall of Fame is located at the stadium. It is dedicated to the history, preservation and recognition of amateur, semi-pro and professional baseball as it was played on the Del-Mar-Va (Delaware-Maryland-Virginia) peninsula. The walls offer photos of every player who went on to the major leagues, including Hall of Famer Jimmie “XX” Foxx.
Details: www.theshorebirds.com, 410-219-3112