Thursday, June 24, 2010

TST Talks With Slippery Rock Sliders Owner Mike Bencic

Slippery Rock Sliders owner Mike Bencic is a businessman with long-time ties to the Butler County area. A native of the area, Mike graduated from Slippery Rock High School, and now is involved with several business ventures in the area including the Sliders, which he has owned since 2009. He is a member of the board of directors of the Prospect League, and is a firm believer in the concept of making the Sliders a success in one of the smallest markets in all of organized baseball. During a recent game, TST had the chance to talk with Mike about the league and the Sliders.

RP: Mike, tell me a little bit about the Prospect League.

Mike Bencic: Our general concept is to be the best collegiate wood bat league in the country. We, of course, were one of the five original charter members that founded the league and then in our search for a sixth team we came across the Central Illinois Collegiate League that had been in business since 1962. They were between four teams one year and six teams another. They were looking to expand, so we decided to just have a merger with them.

Before we threw our first pitch, we grew from five teams to eleven. Last year I believe we had 27 players drafted out of our league. This year we have four new teams onboard: Nashville, Beckley (WV), DeKalb County (IL) and Terra Haute-Indiana State (which is the first time a major university has purchased a sports franchise). Their foundation actually purchased it. We have those four and at this point we have close to twenty cities that want us to contact them. That’s not saying that they’ll get in, but they are interested in what we are trying to do here.

RP: How did you get involved with getting a franchise in the league?

MB: I actually did the transportation for the team when there were here in ’07 under the Frontier League. I travelled with them some and got to like the kids. I just saw the value to the community. My wife and daughter and I came to just about every game at home plus I travelled on the road with them doing the bussing. Basically, through that I got to know the Frontier League Commissioner, and at that point I tried to buy the team.

By the time I got everything together and got things in order to buy the franchise, it had already been sold to an ownership group out of Detroit. In ’08 they were a
road team.

I got a call from the athletic director here at Slippery Rock University and he said was I still looking to buy a baseball team, and I told him I wasn’t sure, and he said you need to get a hold of Leo. At the time Leo Trish was the Deputy Commissioner of the Frontier League and he basically said that we have an idea of a wood bat league similar to the Frontier League but using college students. So that’s what we did. We started the league.

RP: Are these players drafted, or is it an open tryout?

MB: They come here by invitation only. We have a list of probably 20 players for each position. We pick the best that’s available and invite them to come here.

RP: Are they local players, or is it national?

MB: It’s national. Last year we had players anywhere from Vancouver, WA, to Hawaii to the Florida Gulf Coast, North Carolina and all over.

RP: It must be nice for you to have a rival 10-15 minutes down the road (the Butler Blue Sox).

MB: Yes, it is. A lot of people ask me about Butler as a negative, but I think it’s a positive. It’s almost another home game for us. It cuts down on transportation and other costs.

RP: These players, I understand, they are still college eligible but they don’t get paid?

MB: Right. They have to have college eligibility to play for us. We are actually sanctioned by the NCAA, so they have to have college eligibility.

RP: So I’m assuming they all live with host families?

MB: Yes. We basically do everything that the Frontier League does, as I said. We use wooden bats, we house them, we feed them, we transport them. We give them the major league, or minor league experience I should say, while they are still in college.

RP: Have any Sliders players gone up to the minors in the big leagues?

MB: Well, if you count the CICL that we merged with, yes. We’ve had over 150 go on. Jonathan Papelbon from the Red Sox came from our Quincy team. Since our league formation two years ago, we had 27 drafted last year. This year just between Danville and Beckley we had fourteen.

RP: I was telling the GM in Lorain that I see this as baseball in the purest form. You try to keep prices low all the way around so it’s more family friendly.

MB: Right.

RP: If you go to a major league park anymore you almost have to mortgage your house to get there. When you come here, you can bring a family of four for less than $50.

MB: Again, that’s our goal. That’s one of the things that makes this work for us. We don’t have to turn big numbers. It’s not even so much about paying the players. We are able to keep our costs down because we do the host families and those sort of things.

RP: So being in a small market like Slippery Rock, that doesn’t really hurt you as much.

MB: We all pretty much have the same costs. Some of the teams can spend more if they want to spend more on transportation or what they do with their PR. The basic budgets are pretty level. We actually do the transportation for five of the teams, and I gave them all the same price per day. So their transportation costs are even equal. It doesn’t cost Lorain more to come here than it costs to go to them, so it’s an even deal.

RP: I see this kind of league as nothing but up side. It’s a low budget league, but you can pass that on to the consumer.

MB: Exactly. That’s why you can charge five dollars in advance and six at the gate. We had four fireworks nights. We have live radio broadcasts. We have Sarah Wilson coming in, she’s actually opening for Leann Rimes this year. We’ve got upscale talent for entertainment. We do the things between innings. More than anything, we try to get the kids involved. We get them on the field to run with the mascot and that sort of thing.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Jack Critchfield Park, Slippery Rock PA

Basic Information
Team: Slippery Rock Sliders (Prospect League)
Game: Sliders vs DeKalb County Liners-6/11/2010
Team Website: http://www.theslipperyrocksliders.com/
Ticket Information: (888) 458-8831
Tourism Information: (888) 856-8444 or http://www.visitbutlercounty.com/
Online Broadcasts: http://www.msasportsnetwork.com/
Local Newspaper: http://www.butlereagle.com/

Team History: The Sliders are an outgrowth of the Frontier League team that played in the league in 2007. The team became a "travel" team in the FL in 2008, and was sold to a group which moved them to suburban Detroit. In the winter of 2008, local businessman Mike Bencic purchased the name and logo of the FL team, and joined the college-level
Prospect League for the 2009 season.

How About That Name (And Some History): Jack Critchfield Park was opened on the campus of Slippery Rock State University in 2002. The park was named for Dr. Jack Critchfield, a Slippery Rock alumni and former pitcher.

Getting There: From I-79: Exit at Exit 105 (PA Rt 108). Go east on Rt 108 for approximately 4 1/2 miles until reaching downtown Slippery Rock. Make a right onto South Main St. Go south on South Main St for a half mile, then make a left onto Kiester Rd. Follow Kiester Rd to Stadium Dr. Make a left into Stadium Dr and proceed to ballpark.

Nearest Airport: The closest major airport to Slippery Rock is Pittsburgh International Airport, which is 42 miles to the south.

What To Do Before The Game: My trip didn't involve any time for sightseeing, so it would be best to check with the Butler County Visitors Bureau for more information.

Where To Eat Before The Game: There really is not in the general area of the ballpark, so I would again check with the local visitors bureau.

Where To Stay: Again, there is not a lot of lodging in the immediate area of the ballpark, so I would check with the local visitors bureau, or check with your favorite hotel chain.

Tickets: Sliders tickets are $7.00 (reserved) and $6.00 (general admission).

Parking: There is plenty of free parking around the main entrance of the ballpark.

The Good Seats: The 1,500 seats at "the Jack" are located in one main grandstand which starts between home and third, and bends around to the same position down the first base side. The upper ten rows are under cover of a roof, which has some obstructing poles. The first threev rows of seating are chairback, and the remainder of the seating is aluminum bleacher.

Getting In: The main entrance and box office is located behind home plate.

Stadium Food: There is a small table set up with a fairly representative selection of your typical stadium fare. While it isn't the hugest selection, it had to be probably the best value of any stadium I've been to, as a hot dog, a hamburger, a bag of chips. and a bottle of Diet Pepsi cost an incredible $8.00! In addition, the Sliders serve a local sausage as well as macaroni and cheese. There is also a selection of candy sold at the stand. The burger and hot dog, while pre-cooked were hot and tasty, and the buns were fresh.

Here is a selection of the prices for concessions at Jack Critchfield Park:

Hot Dog: $2.oo Hamburger: $3.00 Potato Chips: $1.00 Bottled Soda: $2.00 Sausage: $3.00 Macaroni and Cheese: $3.00

Soft Drinks: "The Jack" serves Pepsi products.

Souvenirs: There is a table under the grandstand which sells t-shirts, caps, polo shirts and sweatshirts.

Restrooms: The restrooms are located just adjacent to the main entrance behind first base. The facilities are servicable and well stocked.

Mascot: "Slider", a human in a Sliders uniform and a baseball for a head, was laconic at best. He looked like he would rather be somewhere else as when he prowled the stands, he had his head down and wasn't really responsive to the fans.

Game Program: $2.oo

Scoreboard/Stadium Voice: Critchfield Park has a typical scoreboard mounted in right center field, which provides standard game information. It also has a small message area above, which is only used to show sponsor information. The PA announcer has a good delivery, and there is very little music played during the breaks.

Game Staff: The majority of Sliders staff is made up of young interns who are "learning the biz".

Atmosphere: This is where the Sliders need to improve. Granted that at the game I attended there might have been 200 people there, the team needs to do a few more things to liven up the place. However, the people that were there were supportive.

Overall: Jack Critchfield Park is a great little ballpark that, hopefully, will become a jewel in the Prospect League once the community warms up to the club.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

TST Talks with "Captain Tony" Tarantino

A fixture at Lake County Captains since the team's beginning, "Captain Tony" Tarantino is the man you first see when you enter Classic Park in Eastlake. Between welcoming fans, giving out game programs, talking to the kids, and helping the Captains' players celebrate a home run or Captain win, "Captain Tony" is everywhere at the ballpark on gameday. TST had the chance recently to catch up with Tony and find out why he loves his job!

R: Tony, what would you describe your job as?

CT: It’s kind of like a goodwill ambassador, a mascot, a cheerleader. I’m at the main gate when people come, and I help them hand out things and that’s about it. I just love what I do.

R: Kind of the team greeter?

CT: That’s about what it amounts to, the team greeter.

R: How did you get the position with the Captains?

CT: You want to really know the story on this, I really was lucky. The guy that used to be the on field announcer about two or three years ago, he said to me one day, “You know, I hear they are going to build a lighthouse out in center field, and you’d be the perfect guy to be the Captain.” I said, “Well, they are paying me, I don’t care what I do.” So, here I am, Captain Tony.

R: I think you are one of the only people who doesn’t play on the team who has actually got their own baseball card. How did that come about?

CT: Well, I asked them last year because the one that I had I used to buy them myself, and now they have me going up into the loge area to greet people, so there are always birthday parties and stuff like that, and the kids want an autograph, so they figured “Well, we’ll give him his own card.” So I have my own card now, and it’s really neat. I love it.

R: Tell us what basically your game day is like.

CT: Well, I come in here and we have a production meeting. If we start at 6:30 p.m., our production meetings are at 4:30 p.m., and we have a script that we go by. Basically, I’m there at the meeting to listen. There are certain things that I have to do, not all of the time, but every once and a while there are things that they want me to do. After that, I go to the main gate and I’ll stay at the main gate and help them hand out programs and any promotions that they have to hand out. Then I go to the lighthouse and I’m there for most of the game until about the 4th inning. After that, I go to through the loges and suites and I greet people and sign autographs for the kids, which is really a neat thing because I really love what I do.

R: So, a lot of it is for the kids. You enjoy being with the kids.

CT: It’s really all about the kids. You get these little kids sometimes that come in, and you’d be surprised that a lot of them are afraid of Skipper and start crying. So I try to make them happy, and if they come out of here – especially the ones that have never been to the ball park before or a real little one, I’ll try to give them a ball, and that makes they real happy and they are all excited and Dad’s all excited and Mom’s all excited. That’s what I do.

R: You know it’s good with the Captains, the ownership is really committed to make this thing work on the long term and it seems like it’s really good people who own the team.

CT: The owners are just phenomenal people. They come out here every once and a while and say hello to me and ask me how I’m doing. I make it a point with my going into the loges every game that I go into their loge and I meet them. For example, in the last home stand, we had the President of the league. He was there; what a real nice man he was. They introduced me to him, and I talked with him for about 10 minutes and got along real great, and it was fun.

R: Minor league baseball, especially here in Cleveland, you’ve got the Indians as a competitor, well not really a competitor, but you are going for the same entertainment dollar. I find minor league is great fun for less money anymore.

CT: Well, I never realized how much fun minor league baseball is, because I never was involved in it. I had five years with the Cleveland Indians as an usher and then as a supervisor. I tell you, I really enjoy the minor league game better. Not that I don’t like pro ball or the Indians, I love both of them, but minor league we always have something going for the fans. The players are really nice young men. Every one of them.

R: Do you have a favorite player that you track who played here over the years?

CT: No, I don’t have one that I really keep an eye on. I had a few a couple of years ago, I had Adam White, who was a nice young man. He was one of our outfielders, and Juan Valdez who was another one. Juan and I got to be pretty tight on the field. Now I kind of have a liking with Bo Greenwell. I just think he’s a really nice young man.

R: You have the best seat in the house out here in center field just keeping the lighthouse running. Do they have just one switch and the lighthouse goes off?

CT: Yes. We had a siren, and what happed was that broke. It was running off a car battery, and I don’t know what happened to it. Anyway, the siren is now controlled up in the press box on their sound system, and I control the light. When the Captains hit a home run, I flick the light on. I given them a little signal, and they set the siren off. I try to do it at the end of the game too to give the players a little extra thrill.

R: The worst part of it is, in the early Spring you don’t have a heater up there.

CT: No, unfortunately not. Like everyone else we have got to be cold. But it’s baseball, and it’s Cleveland baseball. You don’t know what you might get. We might get snow tomorrow, we don’t know! Let’s hope not, but you never know!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

US Steel Pipe Yard, Lorain OH

Basic Information
Team: Lorain County Ironmen (Prospect League)
Game: Ironmen vs Chillicothe Paints-6/4/2010
Team Website: http://www.lcironmenbaseball.com/
Ticket Information: (440) 522-9549
Tourism Information: (800) 344-1673 or http://www.visitloraincounty.com/
Online Broadcasts: http://www.lcironmenbaseball.com/
Local Newspaper: Lorain Morning Journal http://www.morningjournal.com/

Team History: The Lorain County Ironmen are playing in their first season in the Prospect League, an independent league which feeatures college players who wish to play in the college off-season, but still retain their elegibility. This is the first baseball team of any level to play in Lorain, which is approximately 35 miles west of downtown Cleveland.

How About That Name (And Some History): Built in 2007, the US Steel Pipe Yard is part of a large city park, and along with the Ironmen, is the host stadium for Cleveland State University's mens' baseball team as well as several high schools in the area. It has been called the Pipe Yard since it's opening. US Steel helped provide financing for the stadium in exchange for naming rights.

Getting There: From downtown Cleveland-take I-90/Route 2 west into Lorain County. Follow Route 2 west when the road splits. Exit at Route 58 north (North Leavitt Rd). Follow North Leavitt Rd for 2 miles. Make a left onto Meister Rd. Follow for a quarter mile to park entrance on the right.

Nearest Airport: The nearest airport to Lorain is Cleveland Hopkins International, which is approximately 30 miles to the south east.

What To Do Before The Game: Check with the Lorain County Visitors Bureau for suggestions.

Where To Eat Before The Game: There are more than a few choices along North Leavitt Rd as you approach the ballpark.

Where To Stay: Many of the larger chains have locations either near or in Lorain, so I would check with your favorite, or visit the Lorain County Visitors Bureau for suggestions.

Tickets: Ironmen tickets are priced as follows: $5.00 (adults), $4.00 (seniors), $3.00 (children), and those under 4 years old are free. All seating is general admission.

Parking: Parking is free, and adjacent to the stadium.

The Good Seats: All of the approximately 1500 seats at the Pipe Yard are located in a large completely covered grandstand which runs from between first base and home, bending around the plate, and runs to the same spot on the third base side. The seating in the section behind home plate is chair back, and the remainder are aluminum bleachers with backs. There are girders holding up the roof in front of the seating area, but they don't make for too much of a distraction.

There is a party deck under construction down the left field line and berm seating also under construction down the right field line. A Ironmen staff member told me that they would probably be complete within a few weeks.

Getting In: The box office and main entrance are located in front of the grandstand.

Stadium Food: There is a small concession stand under the grandstand. Although the selection wasn't particularly large, the prices were definitely agreeable. I had two hot dogs (quarter pound), a small bag of chips, and a bottle of iced tea for $8.75. The taste was pretty good, as the dogs were made while I waited on a small grill outside the concession stand. They did have Stadium Mustard (a C-town institution), which is always a plus on the condiment stand.

Here is a selection of the concession items available at the Pipeyard:

Hot Dog: $2.00 Hamburger: $2.50 Cheeseburger: $2.75 Bottle Soda: $2.00 Beer: $3.00 Potato Chips: $0.75 Peanuts: $1.00

Soft Drinks: The Pipe Yard sells bottled Pepsi products.

Souvenirs: There is a small shed near first base which sells t-shirts, caps, and sweatshirts.

Restrooms: The only restrooms at the Pipe Yard are located behind first base in a single building. They are small, but serviceable, although not spotlessly clean.

Mascot: Piper, a lively human with a baseball head.

Game Program: $1.00

Scoreboard/Stadium Voice: There is a small "high school" sized electronic scoreboard in left center, with a manually operated line scoreboard underneath it. The manual portion of the scoreboard was not in use for this game to my surprise.

The PA system was very good and clear, and the announcer had a very good delievery. The music leaned towards classic rock and standard stadium music, although I think they overdid the sound effects just a little bit.

Game Staff: I found the Ironmen staff to be helpful and friendly despite all of the insanity that is associated with "opening night", something that I am quite familiar with from my days working in soccer.

Atmosphere: I didn't think there was much in the way of "atmosphere" the game I attended. My feeling was that this was beacuse it was the first home game of a new team, and once the fans get to know the players and team better, the park will be more lively. The team's mascot "Piper" did a great job trying to fire up the crowd, however.

Overall: This is baseball in its purest form. You've got a good park, economical prices, and college kids on the field who are working hard to get noticed, which when combined make a nice alternative to the overpriced big league team down the road. There were a few faults, but a good portion of those can be chalked up to "opening night jitters". However, none of those were that much of an issue, and should not keep anyone from the Pipe Yard to see the Ironmen play.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Municipal Stadium, Hagerstown MD

Basic Information
Team: Hagerstown Suns (South Atlantic League)
Game: Suns vs Greenville Drive-5/30/2010
Team Website: http://www.hagerstownsuns.com/
Ticket Information: (301) 791-6266 or http://www.hagerstownsuns.com/
Tourism Information: (888) 257-2600 or http://www.marylandmemories.com/
Online Broadcasts: http://www.hagerstownsuns.com/
Local Newspaper: Hagerstown Daily Herald http://www.herald-mail.com

Team History: Hagerstown has hosted professional minor league baseball on and off since the early twentieth century. In that time, the Hubs, Owls, and Packets have call called Hagerstown home. In 1955, the Packets left town, leaving Hagerstown without pro baseball. In 1981, the ownership of the Carolina League team in Rocky Point, NC moved the team to Hagerstown, and the Suns were born. In 1988, the Orioles moved the Suns down I-70 to Frederick, MD, and moved their single-A South Atlantic League team to Hagerstown. The Orioles ended their affiliation with the Suns after the 1992 season, and since then, the Suns have affiliated with the Toronto Blue Jays, the San Francisco Giants, the New York Mets, and since 2007, have been the single-A affilate of the Washington Nationals.

Team Affilation: For the fourth straight season, the Suns have been affiliated with the Washington Nationals.

How About That Name (And Some History): In 1930, a civic group was created to find a new home for the Hagerstown Hubs, whose original home was chosen to build a new school. The current site, south of downtown Hagerstown, was selected, and in six weeks, Municipal Stadium was built. Municipal Stadium is currently the third oldest stadium currently in use in the minors, after Centennial Field in Burlington, VT (1906) and Jackie Robinson Stadium in Daytona Beach, FL (1914).

Getting There: From I-70, exit at US-40 north (exit 32B). Go north on US-40 for approximatel y a half mine, making a left onto Eastern Blvd. Follow Eastern Blvd for less than a mile to the ballpark.

Nearest Airport: The closest major airport to Hagerstown is Thurgood Marshall/Baltimore-Washington International Airport, which is approximately 76 miles from Hagerstown.

What To Do Before The Game: Approximately fifteen minutes from Municipal Stadium is the Antietam National Battlefield, the site of the bloodiest single day in the entire Civil War, with over 23,000 Union and Confederate soliders killed. There is a driving tour of the battlefield, more than 350 monuments, markers, and tablets as well as 41 authentic cannon from the Civil War. The visitor center has an informative film on the battle, relics, as well as interpretive talks from park rangers. For more information, call (301) 423-5124 or visit www.nps.gov/anti.

Where To Eat Before The Game: There are many chain restaurants along US-40, so you can pick and choose from your favorites.

Where To Stay: We stayed at the Clarion Hotel and Convention Center for our trip. It was conveniently located at the intersection of I-70 and US-40, and was less than five minutes from the ballpark. All of the sleeping rooms were large and well furnished. Many of the rooms had easy access to a large, heated indoor swimming pool located in the center courtyard. The Clarion also features a free continental breakfast. For more information, call (301) 735-5100 or visit http://www.choicehotels.com/.

Tickets: Suns tickets are priced as follows: $9.00 (VIP), $8.00 (reserved grandstand), $7.00 (general admission). Youth and senior tickets are two dollars less for reserved and general admission.

Parking: There is sufficient free parking on-site on stadium grounds.

The Good Seats: The main grandstand starts halfway between home and first, curves around the plate, and ends at the same place between home and third. This grandstand is completely undercover, which is convenient on a hot night or one with the threat of rain. The first three rows of the grandstand are made up of fold-down seats, the remainder are bleachers with backs. The general admission grandstands are along the left and right field lines, and are standard aluminum bleachers.

Getting In: The box office and main entrance are under the main grandstand behind home plate.

Stadium Food: For a smaller park, I thought that the home of the Suns had a larger than expected concession list. In the concourse behind the main stand, there is a barbecue stand, another that serves more "healthy" products, and another that serves burgers and meatball sandwiches.

My main meal included two hot dogs, an order of mozzerella sticks, and a medium diet Coke, which set me back an agreeable $13.50.

Down the left field line, the Suns have the Yuengling Beer Garden, which features a stand serving Yuengling beer, and a grill making sandwiches. In front of the Beer Garden, there is a standing area where fans can watch the game from along the fence.

Here is a sampling of the standard food items at Municipal Stadium and their prices:

Hot Dog: $3.25 Hamburger: $6.00 Nachos: $5.00 Pizza: $4.00 Soda: $3.25 Beer: $6.50 Candy: Various Pretzel: $3.50

Joan and Linda will be reporting on their food experience in Hagerstown soon.

Soft Drinks: Municipal Stadium serves Coca-Cola products.

Souvenirs: There is a moderately sized souvenir store located on the main concourse to the left of the main entrance.

Restrooms: There are sufficiently sized restrooms on either side of the park. They are functioning, but need a good cleaning.

Mascot: Wooly, a black and orange striped Woolybear.

Game Program: $3.00

Scoreboard/Stadium Voice: Municipal Stadium features a large, mechianically operated scoreboard, which displays the line score and basic game information. The numbers on the scoreboard are changed by a local character named the "Scoreboard Cowboy". I wasn't sure of the correlation, but as I was told by a Suns staff member, he's just been doing it in the western rig for years.

The PA announcer is good, and the game music is your basic stadium music, and other selections which lean towards country.

Game Staff: The people I encountered were friendly, but Joan had some issues with the concessions people.

Atmosphere: Despite some of the modern touches, Municipal Stadium is a throwback to the way ballparks used to be, which to me, isn't a bad thing. Most of the seats have a good view, although, as we found out, the were a little on the cramped side.

Overall: As I said, in some aspects, when you visit Municipal Stadium, you sacrifice some of the creature comforts for more of the "minor league" experience. With that being said, the home of the Suns is still a pleasant night out and worth a stop of you're in the area.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Perdue Stadium, Salisbury MD

Basic Information
Team: Delmarva Shorebirds (South Atlantic League)
Game: Shorebirds vs Lakewood BlueClaws-5/29/2010
Team Website: http://www.theshorebirds.com/
Ticket Information: (410) 219-3112 or http://www.theshorebirds.com/
Tourism Information: (800) 332-TOUR or http://www.wicomicotourism.org/
Online Broadcasts: http://www.sportstalk960.com/
Local Newspaper: Salisbury Daily Times http://www.delmarvanow.com/

Team History: After an absence of 44 years, professional minor league baseball returned to Salisbury, MD when the Shorebirds came to "roost" in 1996. On land donated by the Perdue family, a spanking new ballpark was built, and the Shorebirds have become an integral part of the Delmarva community.

Team Affiliation: The Shorebirds are the Single-A South Atlantic League affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles and have been so since 1997.

How About That Name (And Some History): Arthur W. Perdue Stadium was named after the patriarch of the world-famous chicken producer, which is based in Salisbury, and has had that name since the park opened. The stadium's press box is named after Frank Perdue, the more famous member of the family, known for his television commercials where he maintained that "it takes a tough man to make a tender chicken".

Getting There: Take US-50 east towards Ocean City. Exit at Hobbs Rd.

Nearest Airport: The nearest major airport is Thurgood Marshall/Baltimore-Washington International Airport, which is approximately two hours to the northwest.

What To Do Before The Game: Unfortunately, our trip to Salisbury didn't allow us any time for sightseeing. I would contact the Wicomico County Convention and Visitors Bureau for ideas for things to see.

Where To Eat Before The Game: In the area of the hotel we stayed in, there really wasn't much other than a Denny's and a McDonalds, so you might want to check with your hotel for your food choices.

Where To Stay: The girls and I stayed at the Sleep Inn in Salisbury and we were very impressed with it. It's located about a mile from the ballpark, and has all the necessities. The sleeping rooms are quite large and comfortable, with large bathrooms and self contained showers with glass doors. The hotel features an outdoor pool and a continental breakfast every morning. The only drawback was that it was about $140.00 per night, but we chalked that up to fact that it was the first holiday weekend of the summer travel season, and that Salisbury is less than a half hour drive from Ocean City, a notorious tourist destination in the summer. For more information, call (800) 4-CHOICE or visit http://www.choicehotels.com/.

Tickets: Shorebirds tickets are priced as follows: $12.00 (luxury and reserved field box), $10.00 (reserved box), $6.00 (general admission-adult), and $5.00 (general admission-youth/senior/military). Tickets purchased on game day are a dollar higher.

Parking: There is a large on-site lot at the stadium which provides ample parking. Parking is $3.00 per car.

The Good Seats: Seating at Perdue Stadium is in the traditional "wishbone" design. with the grandstand extending from approximately halfway down the right field line to the same position down the left field line. The seating in the lower portion of the main grandstand is of the fold down type, with the seating in the larger upper portion are metal bleachers with backs.

One of the nicer parts of Perdue Stadium is the 300 luxury level seats. This seating area, which extends along the upper level along the third base side, has traditional stadium seating, but also has an open area with tables and chairs, along with some wicker seating in the back and a large screen TV. These seats also have exclusive access to the "Bird's Eye View" concession stand. A perfect way, in my eyes, to watch a ball game on a warm spring evening.

Getting In: The main entrance is behind home plate, which is also where the team offices and ticket office is located.

Stadium Food: I found this to be one of the highlights of my trip to the Shorebirds. The concesison selections were varied, interesting, and most of all, quite tasty. Before the game, I sampled an Angus Burger and chips from the Bird's Eye View. For eight dollars, I had a tasty half-pound burger and what appeared to be freshly made potato chips. It seemed to me that unlike some parks, the items were made to order, and everything I had was fresh and hot.

On the field level, there were concession stands all over the main concourse, all serving, what I think was better than average stadium food. A stand serving ice cream and pizza was located directly behind home plate in the seating area, so you could watch the game while waiting.

The food service wasn't exactly the fastest, but the quality of the product and the friendly staff made me overlook the speed.

Here is a sampling of some of the food items at Perdue, and their costs:

Hot Dog: $3.25 Hamburger: $4.00 Pretzel: $3.00 Nachos: $4.25 Pizza: $3.00 French Fries: $3.50 Soda: $4.50 Beer: $6.00

Linda and Joan sampled some of the other concession offerings, and their report will be up soon.

Soft Drinks: Pepsi products are served at Perdue Stadium.

Souvenirs: The "Flock Shop" souvenir store is located behind home plate next to the main entrance, and has a good selection of team items.

Restrooms: Very clean and well stocked.

Mascot: Sherman the Shorebird, a large orange bird of an undetermined species

Game Program: Free

Scoreboard/Stadium Voice: Perdue Stadium has a video board in right field, and a standard line score scoreboard in left. The video board was used mostly for promotions and information on the players, and could have been more utilized. The scoreboard in left must have been having issues the game we attended, since the portion with the team names was not operating, as well as the message center and the indicators for the player at bat.

The PA announcer was fairly good, and the music played was standard stadium music. The sound system seemed a little muffled, and could use some work.

Game Staff: Everyone we encountered at Perdue Stadium was friendly, helpful, and engaging.

Stadium Features: Perdue Stadium also is the home of the Eastern Maryland Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. Located on the main concourse of the park, the small museum features memorabilia from the long history of baseball on the Eastern Shore. It's a nice way to kill a few minutes before the game starts.

Atmosphere: As I have mentioned, everyone I encountered at Perdue Stadium was welcoming, which made for a pleasant night at the park. Since the Shorebirds are the "only game in town", they have a passionate and enthusiastic fan base which made the evening that much more entertaining.

Overall: Definitely a positive experience. The girls and I had never been to this part of Maryland before, and we were impressed. From top to bottom, we were glad we made the trip, and would love to come back to see the Shorebirds if our plans have us coming to the Eastern Shore again.

Canal Park, Akron OH

Basic Information
Team: Akron Aeros (Eastern League)
Game: Aeros vs Harrisburg Senators-5/22/2010
Team Website: http://www.akronaeros.com/
Ticket Information: (800) 97-AEROS or http://www.akronaeros.com/
Tourism Information: (800) 245-4254 or http://www.visitakron-summit.com/
Online Broadcasts: http://www.sportsradio1350.com/
Local Newspaper: Akron Beacon Journal http://www.ohio.com/

Team History: The franchise now known as the Akron Aeros has been affiliated with the Cleveland Indians since 1989, which is one of the longest continuous affiliations in minor league baseball. In 1989, owner Mike Agganis purchased the Lynn (MA) Sailors and moved them to Canton, OH, where the newly named Canton-Akron Indians would play at the brand new Thurman Munson Stadium, located just south of downtown Canton. Thurman Munson Stadium, while acceptable in many areas, was far behind the times in many others, and after being able to unable to reach an agreement for a new park in Canton, Agganis moved the team just up Interstate 77 to Akron in 1997, becoming the Akron Aeros. The Aeros have won the EL championship three times: 2003, 2005, and 2009.

Team Affiliation: The Aeros are the double-A Eastern League affilate of the Cleveland Indians.

How About That Name (And Some History): Canal Park, named for the canal system that runs through downtown Akron, has had that name since the park opened.

Geting There: From I-77: exit at Ohio Rt 59 east (also known as the Central Interchange). Take Rt 59 to the last exit (Exchange/Cedar), and make a right onto Cedar. Take Cedar to Main St, and turn left. Canal Park will be on the left hand side.

Nearest Airport: Akron/Canton Regional Airport is approximately 15 minutes south of Canal Park.

Where To Go Before The Game: Check with the Akron/Summit County Convention and Visitors Bureau for a list of things to do in the area.

Where To Eat Before The Game: Conveniently, Canal Park features it's own on-site restaurant, called the Wing Warehouse. Located on the park's upper deck overlooking right field, the Wing Warehouse features burgers, appetizers, and, yes, wings in a sports bar type atmosphere. For hours of operation, call the Aeros.

Where To Stay: Most of the major hotel chains have locations in the Akron area. I don't believe that there are any properties within a walking distance of the park, so it would be best to check with your favorite hotel chain.

Tickets: Adult tickets for Aeros games are $10.00 (reserved) and $9.00 (bleachers). Tickets for juniors and seniors are a dollar less at both price points.

Parking: There are two main covered garages near Canal Park. The first is the City of Akron garage, located on West State St. This is the one that I usually park in. It's usually easy to get in and out of, and is a five minute walk to the main entrance. According to the Downtown Akron Partnership's website, this garage is free on weekends and after 6PM. There is also street parking which is metered. There is another covered garage one block north of the park on Bowery St, this one belonging to the Akron Childrens Hospital. I'm not sure if they charge for Aeros parking, since it has been years since I parked there.

The Good Seats: All of Canal Park's sightlines are excellent, as the park was designed in the traditional "wishbone" shape, with all seats facing the infield. All of the main grandstand's seats are chair back, with the exception of the outfield bleachers, which are metal bleachers with backs.

Getting In: There are two main entrances, one on Main St, the other on Exchange St. The box office is located adjacent to the Main St (First Base) entrance.

Stadium Food: Canal Park offers the standard ballpark type fare, but for the most part, is done fairly well. Before the game, I sampled the stadium hot dogs. I found them to be fairly tasty, but since they were pre-made, the buns were rather mangled. However, the french fries I ordered were hot and crisp. My two dogs and fries cost a rather economical ten dollars.

Here is a sampling of some of the other offerings at Canal Park, and their costs:
Hot Dog: $3.25 Pretzel: $3.00 Nachos: $3.50 Hamburger: $4.50
French Fries: $3.50 Soda: $4.50 Draft Beer: $6.00

Along the main concourse, there are specialty item tents and carts, which include Chick-fil-A chicken sandwiches, lemonade, Dippin' Dots, and the Ohio Brewing Company. I would like to send a shout out to Kelly and Randy from the Ohio Brewing Company, who turned me on to some of their fine product.

Soft Drinks: Canal Park serves Pepsi brands.

Souvenirs: Canal Park has a well stocked souvenir store on the first base side called Infield Outfitters".

Restrooms: There are restrooms located along the concourse on the first and third base sides, and in the Wing Warehouse restaurant.

Mascot: Orbit, a bright red "space cat".

Game Program: $4.00

Scoreboard/Stadium Voice: The Aeros can boast of one of the largest free standing scoreboards in the minor leagues, located in right center field. It has a large video screen, as well as a section dedicated to pertinent game information. Surprisingly, the video board is not used to (what I think) would be to it's fullest, as it only shows information on the hitter, some animation, and commercials between innings. However, the picture is clear and easy to read. The PA announcer has a good delivery, and doesn't overdo, and the music is your standard "stadium rock".

Game Staff: Plentiful and professional.

Atmosphere: Threatening weather kept the crowd down for the game I attended, however, in the past, I have noticed that Aeros crowds know their baseball, and are intensely into the game.

Overall: Having helped the renaissance of downtown Akron, Canal Park is a jewel in the city. It has won several awards, and has been featured in several articles about the "best ballparks in the minors". This park will no doubt serve the Rubber City will for many years to come.