On the Road: 2016 Edition

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.) 

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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.

roadtrips 2016

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:  benjamin.hill@mlb.comFirst 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:

0482Alright, let’s break it down:

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.

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.)
Designated Eater:

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.

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Manning an HD camera in Durham, 2011

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.)
Designated Eater:

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.)
Designated Eater:

July 1: Bluefield Blue Jays (vs. Kingsport, 7:05 p.m.)
Designated Eater:

July 2: Pulaski Yankees (vs. Bristol, TBD)
Designated Eater: Thomas Panek

July 3: Danville Braves (vs. Burlington, TBD)
Designated Eater:

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.

Burlington heckling squad, 2011. I hope to see them again.

Burlington heckling squad, 2011. I hope to see them again.

Trip 4: Sacramento to Spokane, the Long Way

August 1: Sacramento River Cats (vs. Salt Lake, 7:05 p.m.)
Designated Eater:

August 2: Stockton Ports (vs. Rancho Cucamonga, 7:10 p.m.)
Designated Eater: 

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.)
Designated Eater:

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.)
Designated Eater:

August 11: Tri-City Dust Devils (vs. Spokane, TBD)
Designated Eater:

August 12: Spokane Indians (vs. Eugene, 6:30 p.m.)
Designated Eater: 

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.

A "what could've been" moment from my rained out Reno visit, 2013.

A “what could’ve been” moment from my rained-out Reno visit, 2013.

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:

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz

5 Comments

As one of the highlights of your trips is filling us in on your used record store finds, where did you go and what did you buy this past Saturday on Record Store Day 2016?

Y’know, I skipped it this year. I’ve still got a backlog of LPs to listen to (new and used) and in the past I’ve gotten frustrated with RSD because of the crowds and prices (still think it’s a great idea, though). Did you get anything?

You’re right, the new vinyl releases are pricey. However, I always get the free poster and free book bag which I put in my classroom. Vinyl is making a comeback in high schools. I stick to buying used albums. This year I bought some Steve Earle, Buck Owens, Split Enz, Love and Bob Newhart.

Nice haul — and kudos to you for encouraging the younger generation to embrace physical media.

Don’t make plans to visit High Desert just yet, there’s no guarantee they’ll be there next year

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