Sunday, June 22, 2014

McCormick Field, Asheville NC

Basic Information
Team: Asheville Tourists (South Atlantic League)
Game: 6/8 and 6/9/2014-Tourists vs Kannapolis Intimidators
Team Website: www.theashevilletourists.com
Ticket Information: (828) 258-0428 or www.theashevilletourists.com
Tourism Information: (828) 258-6101 or www.exploreasheville.com
Online Broadcasts: WRES-FM 100.7 www.wresfm.com
Local Newspaper: Asheville Citizen Times www.citizen-times.com

Team History: While minor league baseball has been played in the beautiful Blue Ridge mountains since the end of the nineteenth century, the current franchise known as the Asheville Tourists came to be in 1976. The Asheville Orioles moved to Charlotte after the 1975 season, but McCormick Field would not be empty for long, as an expansion team in the Western Carolinas League (now known as the South Atlantic League) was awarded to Asheville in time for the 1976 season. The current franchise has won two league championships, in 1984 and in 2012.

Affiliation: The Tourists have been the "high-A" affiliate of the Colorado Rockies since 1994, making it one of the longest current affiliations in minor league baseball.

Seating Capacity: McCormick Field has a seating capacity of 4,000.

Other Tenants: McCormick Field is also the home of the University of North Carolina-Asheville men's baseball team.

How About That Name (And Some History): Named after Dr. Lewis McCormick, a local resident, McCormick Field was built in 1924. At ninety years of age, the home of the Tourists one of the oldest minor league ballparks still in use today. Lights were added in 1930, and after 1991, the largely wooden ballpark was rebuilt in concrete, as the original facility developed severe leaks. One of McCofrmick Field's "trademarks" is it's short right field distance. In order to combat the short 300 foot home run distance, a new 38 foot high wall was erected in right and right center field.

On The Town: With a population of 84,000, Asheville is the largest city in western North Carolina, and the 11th largest city in the state. Asheville is located in the western third of the state, approximately 2 1/2 hours from the Charlotte and four hours from the state capital of Raleigh.
The first European to come to what is now known as Asheville was Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto. In 1540, de Soto's party made their way to western North Carolina, and came across the Cherokee nation, who had lived in the area for centuries. Unfortunately, the meeting would have long-lasting effects, as the Spanish brought diseases to the aboriginals which they had no resistance to. This seriously depleted the local population.

In 1784, Samuel Davidson received a "soldiers land grant" and built a cabin at the banks of a creek near what is present-day Asheville. Soon after, Davidson was killed by a Cherokee hunting party, and his family sought refuge at a large fort nearby. After making a safe return, other members of Davidson's family made a punitive expedition against the Cherokee who killed Samuel. After the expedition, members of Davidson's family returned to the area and built a settlement. In 1797, the settlement, now with a population of a thousand, incorporated. The settlement, originally called Morristown, as renamed Asheville, after state governor Samuel Ashe.

Famous Asheville natives include soul singer Roberta Flack, author Thomas Wolfe, and MLB umpire "Country" Joe West.

Major Airports: Although the city is serviced by Asheville Regional Airport, the nearest "major" airport is located in Charlotte.
What To Do Before The Game: If you're in the area, a visit to the Biltmore Estate is an absolute must. The Biltmore is the largest privately-owned house in the US, measuring almost 180,000 square feet. The estate took almost seven years to build, starting in 1889 and finishing in 1895. It was the home of the famous Vanderbilt family and was opened as a tourist attraction in 1930 while the family still lived in the mansion.

Where To Eat Before The Game: There really isn't much in the immediate area of the stadium, so I would check with your lodging choice or on the city's visitors information website.

Where To Stay: On this trip, we stayed at the Red Roof in Asheville, which is located approximately ten minutes from McCormick Field. This location is right near the interstate, and is close to several restaurants. For more information, call (800) THE ROOF, or visit www.redroof.com.
Tickets: Tourists tickets are priced as follows $25.00 (dugout suites), $15.00 (press row),  $10.50 (box seats), $7.50 (general admission). Note that there is a $1.00 additional charge for tickets purchased on game day.

Getting In: The main entrance is near the right field foul pole, and is up a hill from street level. However, if you time it right, you might be able to hitch a ride up to the ballpark from the nice gentleman who drive's the team's golf cart.

Parking: Parking is at a premium in the immediate area of the ballpark. There are two small lots, one which is reserved for season ticket holders, and the other is open for general parking. The general parking lot costs $5.00 to use, is supplanted by some street parking.

The Good Seats: With a capacity of four thousand seats, McCormick Field is intimate, with all of the seats near the action. The first five rows are flip-up plastic seats and the upper ten rows are aluminum bleachers with backs. About half of the upper level is under cover.

Stadium Food: For a park of it's size, the home of the Tourists had an excellent selection of concession choices. The selection runs the gamut from the standard ballpark favorites to Carolina barbecue to cheese steaks. I sampled the traditional ballpark hotdog, which was very good, served freshly made and hot when presented. The pizza wasn't half bad, with the $6.75 portion consisted of what would be two normal sized slices.

Linda had the barbecue pork sandwich which was served "Carolina style", which means with cole slaw on a large Kaiser bun. She ordered the "meal deal", which included a bag of potato chips and a soft drink, which for $7.50 was a pretty good value. She said the sandwich was "very good", and not "pre-sauced", which means you can add as little or as much as you'd like. Joan had the taco salad, which could be made with either beef or pork in a large taco shell with a substantial amount of add ins for $7.75.

Linda and I split a funnel cake which was absolutely huge! It was freshly made, not greasy or overdone at all, and was a definite winner.

Here is a selection of the concession prices at McCormick Field:

Hot Dog: $3.50   Cheeseburger: $5.50   Nachos: $4.50   Draft Beer: $5.75   Large Soda: $3.50   French Fries: $3.75   Pizza Slice: $6.75 

Soft Drinks: Coca Cola is the soft drink of choice at McCormick Field

ATM: An ATM is located near the main entrance adjacent to the merchandise stand.

Souvenirs: The "Tourist Trap" (love the name) merchandise store is located near the main entrance. The store, while small, has a nice sized line of merchandise.
Restrooms: Located in the concourse along the first base side, they are large, clean, and serviceable. They were recently renovated.

Mascots: The Tourists have two mascots: Ted E. Tourist, a large friendly bear, and Mr. Moon, a large "moon headed" character. Both are very active in the crowd, and some of the best mascots I've seen in some time.

Scoreboard/Stadium Voice: The Tourists have a large scoreboard built into the 38 foot high right field wall. The scoreboard features a large area for the score and basic game information, and a smaller video screen which is used for advertising and player data.

The stadium voice is good and clear, and the music played at the stadium is very good.

Stadium Staff: One of McCormick Field brightest points is the class of people that work at the park. The place just oozes "Southern Hospitality". Everyone I encountered was friendly, helpful, and welcoming, almost to a fault.

Atmosphere: Tourist fans are loyal, baseball savvy fans who know the game and are loyal to their team.

Overall Rating: McCormick Field is a true jewel in western North Carolina. While recently renovated, the old ball field in Asheville retains the old time and small town charm which should make it a "must see" for anyone who appreciates fine old ball parks and anyone who just likes a great night out on a balmy Southern night.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

NYSEG Stadium, Binghamton, NY

Basic Information
Team: Binghamton Mets (Eastern League)
Game: 5/23 and 5/25/14 Mets vs New Britain Rock Cats
Team Website: www.bmets.com
Ticket Information: (607) 723-METS or www.bmets.com
Tourism Information: (800) 836-6740 or www.visitbinghamton.com
Online Broadcasts: WNBF-AM 129O www.wnbf.com
Local Newspaper: Binghamton
Press and Sun-Bulletin www.pressconnects.com

Team History: The Mets have had their double-A affiliate in New York's Southern Tier since 1992. Prior to that, the team played in Williamsport, PA as the Williamsport Bills, and were affiliated with the Cleveland Indians and Seattle Mariners before being purchased by the Orange and Blue. The Mets have won the Eastern League championship on two occasions (1992 and 1994), and have reached the playoffs on five other occasions.

Affiliation: The Mets are (logically enough), the Eastern League affiliate of the New York Mets.

Seating Capacity: NYSEG Stadium has a listed capacity of 6,012.

How About That Name (And Some History): Construction on the home of the B-Mets was begun in July of 1991, and was completed in time for Opening Day the following season. The park, which was known as Binghamton Municipal Stadium from 1992 through 2001, cost $4.6 million to build. The park received it's new name, NYSEG Stadium (pronounced nice-egg), prior to the 2002 season when naming rights were purchased by the New York State Energy and Gas Company.

On The Town: Binghamton is located in New York's "Southern Tier", which runs along the border the state shares with Pennsylvania. Binghamton, which is seat and largest city in Broome County, has a population of just over 46 thousand, according to the latest census.

Binghamton is located in a bowl-shaped valley at the confluence of the Chenango and Susquehanna Rivers. Today, it is serviced by Interstates 81 (which connects it to Syracuse) and Interstate 88 (which connects it to Albany). State Route 17, which runs along the southern border of New York and connects Binghamton to the greater New York City area, is in the process of being upgraded, and will, when completed, be renamed Interstate 86.
What is now known as Binghamton was named after William Bingham, a wealthy Philadelphia land speculator, who purchased the rights to the area in 1786. His agent decided upon a pleasant point between the Chenango and Susquehanna rivers, and in 1834, the city of Binghamton was incorporated. While agriculture was a major force in the growth of Binghamton, the opening of the Chenango Canal in 1837, which created a link to the famous Erie Canal, helped spark industrial growth in the area. Binghamton became a major transportation hub ten years later with the opening of the Erie Railroad, which connected Binghamton with New York City.

Binghamton was the home of the "Link" Trainer, which to this day, has helped pilots of all types hone and practice their flying skills. Edwin Link invented the trainer, which was originally invented to help pilots fly on instruments without visual cues, was built in the pipe organ factory his family owned in 1927.

Notable Binghamton natives include sixties and seventies actor Jim Hutton, comedienne Amy Sedaris, and former major league umpire and author Ron Luciano.

Major Airports: Greater Binghamton Airport is located eight miles outside of downtown Binghamton.

What To Do Before The Game: As a part of this trip, I made it a point to spend part of one day at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. The Hall is approximately ninety minutes north of Binghamton, and for even a baseball fan, is worth at least a once in a lifetime visit.

The Hall of Fame is located in downtown Cooperstown, on Main Street, and is the main focal point of the entire city. In addition to the enshrinement area, the museum features exhibits on the history of baseball, it's influence on American culture, and the game around the world. For more information, visit www.baseballhall.org.

Where To Eat Before The Game: With the exception of a small Italian restaurant/bar across the street from NYSEG Stadium, there really isn't much within a walk of the ballpark.

Where To Stay: I stayed at the Red Roof Inn in Johnson City, which was a ten minute drive to NYSEG Stadium. It was convenient to the interstate and had several restaurants (Friendly's, McDonalds, Pizza Hut, and Friday's) just adjacent. For more information, call (800) THEROOF or visit www.redroof.com.
Ticket Prices: B-Mets tickets are priced as follows: $11.00 (Box Seats) and $9.00 (Reserved Seats). There is a one dollar increase for tickets purchased on game day.

Getting In: The main entrance is located on Henry St, which leads you into the main concourse behind the seating area. There is a ticket window outside the stadium and inside on the concourse as well.

The Good Seats: NYSEG Stadium is designed in the traditional wishbone style with the main grandstand extending just past first base to a similar position on the opposite side. All of the seating provides a good view of the game.

Parking: There is a stadium-run lot behind the right field fence, which cost $4.00 and a small private lot across Henry St, which costs $3.00. Parking anywhere else isn't exactly recommended since the area can be a little "dodgy", especially after dark.

Stadium Food: NYSEG Stadium has a decent selection of concession items, ranging from the ballpark standards to local favorites.

On Saturday night, I sampled the stadium's barbecued pork sandwich, which was one of the best I've eaten in some time. It was of a good size, made fresh, well marinated with a sweet, yet tangy sauce, and for just $4.50, was a real bargain. The pizza wasn't quite as good, however. I purchased a slice around the bottom of the fourth inning, and it had obviously been sitting for a while. While it was fairly warm and crispy, it didn't have much of a taste, just generally "meh". On Sunday, I sampled the ballpark burger, and that was a definite plus! It was a half pound patty, grilled fresh, and served on a Kaiser bun with white cheddar cheese. The ballpark hot dog, made by Hatfield's, was quite tasty, and despite being purchased around he midpoint of the game, was still warm, and the bun was still fairly fresh.

In right field, a local restaurant, Lupo's runs a small stand which sells spiedes, a local sandwich made of marinated cubed chicken or pork.

Here is a sampling of the concession prices at the home of the B-Mets:

Hot Dog: $3.50   Hamburger: $7.00    Nachos: $4.50   Draft Beer: $6.25   Pretzel: $4.00   Large Soda: $4.50   French Fries: $3.50   Pizza Slice: $3.50

Soft Drinks: Coca-Cola is poured at NYSEG Stadium

ATMs: A "no-brand" ATM is provided in the main concourse in the team office

Souvenirs: A nice-sized souvenir store is located adjacent to the team office on the third base side.

Restrooms: While showing a big of age, they are all useful and clean and well stocked.

Mascot: Buddy the Bee
Scoreboard/Stadium Voice: NYSEG Stadium has a large video-capable scoreboard in right center field, which provides all the basic game information, as well as good quality video playback. A nice touch is the pre-game show shown as fans walk into the park. The show, hosted by the team's radio announcer, gives a recap of the most recent game as well as information on that day's game. There is a small color "ribbon" board in left center which is used exclusively for advertising messages. The team's PA announcer is good and the "in-game" host is enthusiastic without being overly so.

Stadium Staff: Everyone I encountered was pleasant, friendly, and welcoming.

Atmosphere: While both crowds were both on the "smallish" side (around three thousand), everyone there knew their baseball and had a good time.

Overall Rating: NYSEG Stadium is a nineties era park, but is still in good shape, and will continue to serve Binghamton and their fans well. It's definitely worth a stop if you're in the beau