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Navigate me out to the ballgame

A series of road trips to the regional ballparks

A fireworks show over Harbor Park

Baseball. No matter how popular other sports get, baseball will always remain the Great American Pastime; and nowhere is that more evident than at minor league baseball games. Minor league teams, especially the smaller ones, are often cornerstones of their local communities, and their ballparks are places where people can get together and share a community experience, rather than simply witness a spectacle. It's classic Americana.

Here in our home state (well, commonwealth, technically), of Virginia, we're fortunate to have eight minor league teams, plus an NCAA-sanctioned summer league. Until this season, I'd only been to one minor league game in my 18 years living in Virginia. But this year, that's changing. I've made a commitment to visit all of Virginia's minor league and amateur ballparks, and catch a game at each one.

Along the way, I'll also get to test some of the products we're carrying, and offer my review of each one. I'll be listening to SiriusXM Satellite Radio on each road trip (it's perfect for spending hours on the road, especially during baseball season), and will highlight the best of what I've heard. It should be tons of fun.

Here are the teams I visited (all shown below) and links to reviews of the products I used while on the road:

Teams I visited over the summer
The Salem Red Sox at LewisGale Field
The Norfolk Tides at Harbor Park
The Potomac Nationals at Pfitzner Stadium
Gear I played with during my trips
Garmin nüvi 2599LMTHD portable navigator
Automatic Car Adapter

5/4/2015: The Salem Red Sox vs. the Potomac Nationals in Salem, Virginia

Not far from the center of Salem, Virginia, a town of about 25,000 people, stands LewisGale Field, home of the Salem Red Sox, the single-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. For a small-market, single-A team, it's an impressively big stadium, seating up to 6,400 fans. But for its size, it still feels intimate, and there's not a bad seat in the house. Plus, the setting couldn't be more gorgeous. Nestled in the Roanoke Valley, the stadium gives visitors a perfect view of some of Salem's mountains in the distance.

A view of LewisGale Field from the concourse

A pregame view of LewisGale Field from the concourse

Games at LewisGale are family-friendly, community-minded affairs; everything you want minor league baseball to be. There's plenty of interaction with fans, including giveaways, dizzy bat races, singing contests, t-shirt tosses, races on inflatable horses, and much more. And it's all easy for fans to see, thanks to the outfield video board. Add to that the plentiful food and drink options, and it's no wonder that the team gets impressive support from Salem and nearby Roanoke.

I'd like to thank the Salem Red Sox organization for their hospitality in hosting me on a perfect night (and a 4-2 win over Potomac, no less). I'll certainly be going back for games as often as I can.

Salem Red Sox logo

Salem Red Sox: the vital info
Minor League class: Single-A Advanced
Major League affiliation: Boston Red Sox
Stadium name: LewisGale Field
Capacity: 6,400
Year stadium opened: 1996
Unique stadium feature: Mini Fenway!
Outfield depths: Left: 325', Center: 401', Right: 325'
First year in Salem: 1967
First year affiliated with the Red Sox: 2009
Previous affiliations:

Houston Astros; Independent rookie team

Number of players sent to the Majors: Over 30 to the Red Sox
Top five SiriusXM programming highlights
from the drive to the stadium:
"Head over Heels" by the Go-Go's (on 1st Wave);
"Tirol Concerto" by Philip Glass (on Symphony Hall);
"One Piece at a Time" by Johnny Cash (on Willie's Roadhouse);
"Midnight Special" by Leadbelly (on B.B. KIng's Bluesville);
"The Peanut Vendor" by Stan Kenton (on '40s)


5/5/2015: A tour of Harbor Park, home of the Norfolk Tides in Norfolk, Virginia

If you travel to the city of Norfolk, you might just find yourself standing in front of Sandy Tide, the mermaid who welcomes visitors to Harbor Park, home of the Norfolk Tides, the triple-A affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles. A popular outing for the residents of Norfolk, including its large military population (the city is home to the largest Naval base in the world), this 12,000-seat ballpark routinely fills up to capacity.

The mermaid statue in front of Harbor Park

Harbor Park is a neat place. Even though it's a big park, it feels intimate, with great sightlines in every section. In early May, I was treated to a guided tour of the park, for a cool, behind-the-scenes look at this fun venue, and came away utterly charmed.

The park's size allows for some creativity in seating arrangements. While it offers the traditional stands and seats you'd expect from a ballpark, it also offers some neat options for people who want to experience the game differently. Out in right field, for example, is a big party deck that large groups can rent out for in-game festivities, including food and beverages. What's great about the deck is that it drops you right in the action: fans can stand right at the warning track (and catch the occasional home run), or watch the relief pitchers warming up from right above the adjacent bullpen.

Along the first base side, in the outfield, the Tides set up a section with two- and four-top tables, which makes it easier for people in those sections to enjoy the plentiful food options the stadium offers. Meanwhile, on the left-field side stands a big picnic area that seats a few hundred people, and is a big hit with families that include kids who like to run around. Finally, the more luxury-minded can enjoy the various suites that are available — some of which are quite luxurious, indeed. 

The backdrop to Harbor Park is fascinating, too. It's quite literally a working harbor, complete with drawbridges that are raised up to allow boats to come through, then lowered again for trains to pass over. It's not unusual to see boats going by, and fans are also sometimes treated to the flying sparks from the boat-repair facility at the other end of the waterway, where very large vessels are typically seen in drydock being made seaworthy once more.

My deepest thanks to the Tides organization, who graciously provided me with the guided tour, including a quick peek at the clubhouse.

Norfolk Tides logo

Norfolk Tides: the vital info
Minor League class: Triple-A
Major League affiliate: Baltimore Orioles
Stadium name: Harbor Park
Capacity: 12,000+
Year stadium opened: 1993
Outfield depths: Left: 333', Center: 400', Right: 318'
Unique stadium feature: Outdoor party deck
First year in Norfolk: 1969 (as the Tidewater Tides)
First year affiliated with the Orioles: 2007
Previous affiliation: New York Mets
Number of players sent to the Majors: 142 to the Orioles
Top five SiriusXM programming highlights
on the drive to the stadium:

"Getting Away with It" by Electronic (on 1st Wave)
"The In Crowd" by Ramsey Lewis (on Soul Town)
"Telstar" by the Tornados (on Underground Garage)
"Conversations with Cardinal Dolan" (on the Catholic Channel)
New York Yankees vs. Toronto Blue Jays, live from Toronto


5/9/2015: The Potomac Nationals vs. the Frederick Keys in Woodbridge, Virginia

Pfitzner Stadium, nestled in the heart of the bustling D.C. suburb of Woodbridge, Virginia, is a popular place. That's what I discovered on a perfect Saturday evening in early May as I joined thousands of fans to watch the Potomac Nationals take on the Frederick (Maryland) Keys. The P-Nats, as they're affectionately known in Northern Virginia, played to a packed house, drawn in equal measure to support the team and to catch the fireworks display following the game.

A view of the Potomac Nationals in action from the pressbox level.

A view of the Potomac Nationals in action from the pressbox level.

The Nationals have been a fixture in Woodbridge for years, dating back to 1984, when they moved to the Prince William County town from Alexandria, Virginia. Then known as the Prince William Pirates, due to their affiliation with the Pittsburgh Pirates, the team has changed affliliations and, accordingly, names several times over the last quarter century. Team names include the Prince William Yankees, the Prince William Cannons, and the Potomac Cannons. With the reintroduction of baseball to Washington, D.C., and another change in affiliation, the team finally settled on it's current incarnation: the Potomac Nationals.

The park itself is a delighful hodge-podge of styles that reflects the growing popularity of the team. As you wander the park, you can clearly see the original stadium structure, which only seats a few thousand fans. Bleachers were added down both the first- and third-base lines (all the way to the outfield walls) to accommodate even more fans, and, recently, field-level box seats were installed down each base line, which are exciting places to catch the action. Really, though, there's not a bad seat in the house, as I discovered when I made my rounds.

When you enter the stadium, you're greeted by a commons area filled to capacity with lots of options for food, drink, and souvenirs; it has something of a carnival midway feel to it, which adds to the fun. From there, you can head through tunnels to the assigned seating, or wander the side passages to find a spot in the bleachers, which are general admission.

The action on the field was a blast. Though the Nationals lost, the crowd stayed engaged throughout, clearly demonstrating their affection for their local team. It was a fun, family-friendly atmosphere, too, which the organization clearly makes it a goal to foster, as evidenced by the number of fun promotions scheduled throughout the summer (including a Goonies bobblehead night in August!).

Our deepest thanks go to the Nationals organization for being such generous hosts.

Potomac Nationals logo

Potomac Nationals vital statistics
Minor League class: Single-A Advanced
Major League affliate: Washington Nationals
Stadium name: Pfitzner Stadium
Capacity: 6.000
Year stadium opened: 1984 (as Davis Ford Park)
Outfield depths: Left: 315'; Center: 400'; Right: 315'
Unique stadium feature: Giant inflatable Uncle Slam mascot greeting fans at the entrance
First year in Woodbridge: 1984 (as the Prince William PIrates)
First year affiliated with the Nationals: 2005
Previous affiliations: Seattle Mariners (while in Alexandria), Pittsburgh Pirates, New York Yankees, Chicago White Sox, St. Louis Cardinals, and Cincinnati Reds
Number of players sent to the Majors: 35 to all affiliates
Top five SiriusXM programming highlights on the way to the stadium:

"(You Can Still) Rock in America" by Night Ranger (on Hair Nation)
"Blue Murder" by Blue Murder (on Hair Nation)
"Not Fakin' It" by Michael Monroe (also on Hair Nation; it was that kind of trip)
"Best of my Love" by The Emotions (on The Groove)
"Let Me In" by The Sensations (on 50s on 5)



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