Globe iconLogin iconRecap iconSearch iconTickets icon

Ben looks back at 2019's ballpark road trips

Traveling scribe visited Fayetteville, Amarillo, Vegas and more
In 2019, for the 10th season in a row, Ben Hill spent a significant portion of the spring and summer traveling to Minor League parks.
April 16, 2020

The best thing about Minor League Baseball? In this writer's estimation, it's ballpark road trips. With 160 teams spread out over 14 leagues and six levels of play, there's no shortage of places to visit. It's a great way to see the country, giving fans a reason to visit locales

The best thing about Minor League Baseball? In this writer's estimation, it's ballpark road trips. With 160 teams spread out over 14 leagues and six levels of play, there's no shortage of places to visit. It's a great way to see the country, giving fans a reason to visit locales they otherwise may not have considered. 
This is the time of year in which I'd be announcing my slate of 2020 Minor League ballpark road trips. I've visited 177 stadiums over the past decade, and each season I look forward to visiting new facilities as well as revisiting old favorites. Those plans, like all baseball-related plans, are on hold. Instead of looking forward to the summer of 2020, I'll revisit the many highlights of 2019.  
Here's an overview of my 2019 Minor League ballpark travels, which included all three stadiums that debuted last season. For similar roundups from previous seasons, visit Ben's Biz Blog. .

Trip No. 1: North Carolina-Virginia

My travels began in Fayetteville, North Carolina, one of three cities to debut new Minor League ballparks in 2019. Segra Stadium, located downtown and abutted on two sides by railroad tracks, is the home of the Woodpeckers of the Class A Advanced Carolina League. The Woodpeckers replaced the Buies Creek Astros, who spent two seasons on the campus of Campbell University. 

Further reading:
Exploring Segra Stadium -- Take a tour of the facility, which seats 5,200 fans and was often very, very loud. 
Culinary Classics with a twist -- Designated Eater Jenny Bell tries pulled pork nachos, carne asada fries and more. 
Fayetteville's Baseball History -- A visit to a local museum illuminated Fayetteville's rich National Pastime past. 
Park pals living the suite life -- "Peckers Suite One" is occupied by a group of friends who formed an LLC just for this purpose. 
Beyond the ballpark -- A brief roundup of my experiences outside of the ballpark, including a rental car mishap at Fowler's. 

From Fayetteville I traveled to Lynchburg, Virginia, home of the Hillcats. This was my first visit to see the Hillcats since 2015. Much was the same, but even more had changed. Further reading: 
Lynchburg's new era -- New ownership and new leadership has led to a vibrant new era of Hillcats baseball. 
Parking lot living with Robert Broom -- In lieu of a host family or rental apartment, reliever Robert Broom opted to live in his RV. 
Who's up for a Cheesy Western? -- The Hillcats' signature food item is a regional specialty. A fried egg plays a key role. 
Beyond the ballpark -- Did you know? Lynchburg's fanciest hotel is located on the site of what had once been a shoe factory. 

RIP Richmond baseball fan and longtime lip balm distributor Ed "Chappy" Loyd. 
From Lynchburg, I headed north to The Diamond in Richmond. This, of course, is the longtime home of the Eastern League's Flying Squirrels. I last visited Richmond in 2015, during which I donned a Jumanji jersey and ran across the field alongside a pig. Further reading: 
Ed "Chappy" Loyd, the man with the lip balm -- It was an honor to meet ballpark fixture Ed Loyd, who passed away in November.
On the call and gluten-free -- Like this writer, broadcaster Jake Eisenberg has celiac disease. It's a challenge, but he copes creatively.
Brisket, bacon and PB&J -- Join Designated Eater Joe Tutino as he tours the Flying Squirrels' wide variety of concession offerings. 
Trip No. 2: Texas, New Mexico and back to Texas

Amarillo's HODGETOWN, the home of the Sod Poodles, was another of last year's new ballparks. My three days with the team were about as action-packed as three nights at the ballpark could be and yielded a wealth of prairie dog-centric material.

Further reading:
HODGETOWN, a guided tour -- A thorough overview of the Texas League's newest facility. Yes, the name is in all-caps. 
Before Sod Poodles, Gold Sox -- Amarillo's previous Minors' entities played at Potter County Memorial Stadium. It was a different time.
The Sod Poodles Anthem -- The unlikely story of how local singer-songwriter Carson Leverett crafted an instantly beloved theme song.
Prairie Hot Dogs -- Designated Eater Trevor Wyatt samples a variety of local frankfurters, including the breakfast-themed Sunrise Dog.
Meeting the Baseball Brit -- In Amarillo, I crossed paths with a noted traveler from across the pond: Joey "The Baseball Brit" Mellows.
Ed Montana comes around -- Ed Montana, a Texan's Texan, initially hated the Sod Poodles name. Now he loves it. 
The journey of Freddy Flores -- The Sod Poodles' fielding coach is a true baseball grinder. This wasn't his first go-round in Amarillo.

James Keefner, the unofficial mayor of Isotopes Park, has been attending games for a decade.

After Amarillo, I drove across state lines and into the Mountain time zone. My destination was Isotopes Park, home of the Albuquerque Isotopes. I hadn't been there since 2014. Further reading: 
Albuquerque's Ballpark Mayor -- The most popular man at the parki s James Keefner, avid dancer and member of the grounds crew. 
Josh Fuentes? No, DJ Fuent -- Third baseman Josh Fuentes oversees his own fictional clubhouse radio station, 96.7 The Fuent.
In Albuquerque, chiles abound -- Ryan Curry dishes on the cotton candy and chile masterpiece that is the Tumbleweed Burger. 

Lance and Morgan Burkhart, El Paso's brotherly coaching duo. 

From New Mexico, it was on to West Texas to see the El Paso Chihuahuas. It was my first visit since 2014, when I was in attendance for the second home game in franchise history. Further reading: 
A pair of Burkharts -- The 2019 Chihuahuas coaching staff included brothers Morgan and Lance Burkhart. 
El Paso's many flavors -- Designated Eater Daniel Acuña's Chihuahuas concession tour included meaty nachos and meatier drinks. 
Trip No. 3: Central New York
This wasn't so much a trip as a weekend getaway, featuring one night with the Auburn Doubledays and one night with the Syracuse Mets. 

Further reading: 
The Syracuse Butter Sculptures -- On this night, Syracuse ditched its Mets moniker and suited up in State Fair-inspired duds. 
Loaded Salt Potatoes, Amazin' Burgers and more -- Noted Syracusean Nando DiFino serves as Designated Eater and tries it all. 
Culinary improvisations in Auburn -- In which Tom Ando, inventor of the Cotton Candy Dog, creates a new ballpark item.

Trip No. 4: Nevada to California

The third and final new stadium I was able to visit was Las Vegas Ballpark, home of the Aviators [formerly known as the 51s]. My colleague, Josh Jackson, joined me on this trip, during which he confirmed his reputation as a stone-cold tricycle assassin. 

Further reading: 
Las Vegas Ballpark tour -- The Aviators' digs, luxurious by Minor League standards, are located within a master-planned community.
Don Logan's Triumph -- For Aviators president Don Logan, Las Vegas Ballpark was the culmination of a decades-long effort. 
High-end hot dogs -- Brian Howard, a local celebrity chef, partnered with the Aviators on a lineup of gourmet hot dogs. 
Food, food, more food -- From branded buns to burnt end burritos, Designated Eater Ben Saxe tried it all. 
From Las Vegas, it was on to California's Central Valley to see the Fresno Grizzlies suit up as the Lowriders at Chukchansi Park. This was my first time in Fresno since 2013

Further reading:
Lowriders cruise into Fresno -- What goes into a Minor League team's Copa de la Diversión identity? In Fresno's case, a lot. 
"Car"-ne Asada and more -- Daniel "The Grizzly Fanatic" Rivas eats his way through Chukchansi Park. 
Trip No. 5: Virginia and Maryland

My season of travel ended in the mid-Atlantic region, motivated by the desire to pay one last visit to the Potomac Nationals' home of Pfitzner Stadium [I'd last been there in 2015]. Further reading: 
Goodbye to The Pfitz -- It may have been a dump, but it was their dump. Longtime P-Nats' fans say goodbye. 
The P-Nats' strange promo legacy -- From Turkey Bryce Harper to Buffalo Wilson Ramos, Potomac created some strange bobbleheads.
The mother of invention -- At the penultimate P-Nats game, Designated Eater Jennings Compton invented a new concession item.

After seeing the final games at Pfitzner Stadium, it was on to a season-ending visit to the Hagerstown Suns. I hadn't been to Municipal Stadium since 2011

Further reading: 
Suns fans shine bright -- The Hagerstown Suns Fan Club is a labor of love for all involved.
Shagging the key to happiness -- Tony Dahbura isn't just the Suns' co-owner, he's the team's batting practice ball shagger.
Tim's Burger and a Suns Dog -- When it comes to concessions, the Hagerstown Suns keep it simple, filling and tasty.

Benjamin Hill is a reporter for and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz.