BY: MATTHEW PRESLAR
Our year was full and exciting; from one really crappy low to a lifetime of highs and long lasting memories. We have had a blast and can look back fondly on all the things we did together in 2018. Some of our adventures were with the children and some without, we took in 26 games at 18 venues, 14 of which were new to us at Ballpark Adventures. On top of all these special minor league memories, I umpired a ton of baseball which included my first year working high school and middle school baseball in the greater Charlotte area. While my family is not the most athletic and I never played past high school, I feel incredibly lucky we can enjoy baseball together. Baseball may never be full time employment for any of us, but this is really turning into a family business.
We already have big things in mind for next year. A planned destination includes the new stadium of the Fayetteville Woodpeckers (formerly the Buies Creek Astros). Another new stadium is being built in High Point, NC and will host a team in the Atlantic League (unaffiliated and independent professional baseball). Another on my outlandish wish list is the new stadium being built in Las Vegas. We also have another crazy trip that will take us to the Midwest... more details to come!
Hopefully 2019 will be a little more safe but still filled with family memories, love and laughter.
As time allowed, we made a few more stops at BB&T Ballpark with our friends at the Charlotte Knights. These outings were a little different. We weren’t concerned about our normal grading criteria. Our objective was to simply have fun. We went to enjoy the surrounding city, take advantage of awesome promotions, and see top rated prospects. We found restaurants we love nearby the ballpark. We saw a game that featured two of the top three rated players in all of minor league baseball. We went to a game with a noon start time where the Knights provided waterpark style attractions behind the outfield wall for children. This also gave us a chance to connect more deeply with the staff. Nobody with the Knights had seen or heard from us since our redemption game on June 22. On our August 4th return, which we went to without the kids, several members of the staff stopped us and asked us about Katelyn and how the rest of us were doing since the incident. We really figured that our business was done and our family would be figuratively swept under the rug. These people seemed to genuinely care about us and we are very grateful on how they helped us cope. BB&T Ballpark won the attendance championship in all of minor league baseball. For that team alone, my family hit the turnstile 18 times, helping be a part of that distinction. Again, we are thankful for the relationships we built with the great staff members of the Knights in 2018.
This is the South Atlantic League affiliate of the 2018 World Champion Boston Red Sox. An enticing attraction in Greenville is that the stadium is a near replica of Fenway Park. The outside of the Fluor Field is a big city full of dining and attractions. There really is a Major League feel in the atmosphere around the park. However, when the gates opened, the inside of the stadium failed to deliver. In my opinion, the Greenville Drive matched the stiff feeling of the Charleston River Dogs. I feel like this was another low level minor league franchise that was trying a little too hard to be “big league.”
Another return trip with a better experience in 2018: McCormick Field. Our 2017 visit left us unimpressed with the people and atmosphere in Asheville. Our 2018 adventure was much more fun. We came the day after a rainout. Therefore, the team hosted a double header that started very early in the day. This time, we also purchased tickets just a few rows behind home plate. All of this allowed us to really settle in and get intimate with McCormick Field. With two games, we enjoyed the food and beverage and had the tallest helmet cup of soft serve ice cream we have seen at a ballpark. 2018 was also the 30th year anniversary of BULL DURHAM. At the end of the movie, Crash Davis is cut by the Bulls and signs with the Asheville Tourists. At McCormick Field, Crash hits the home run that breaks the minor league home run record. The cover of Asheville’s game programs for the season commemorates that famous, fictitious, cinematic piece of history.
We headed through Bristol, where one side of the street is Tennessee and the other side is Virginia. Quite a sight to see opposing state flags lining the buildings on this main stretch of highway. As we continued to Salem, VA, a suburb of Roanoke, we saw our most beautiful stadium in terms of natural scenery: Haley Toyota Field at Salem Ballpark. Every seat in the park had incredible views of rolling mountains as you looked out past the outfield wall. To my personal liking, this stadium paid homage to great players that have passed through Salem on the way to Major League stardom. One of the most notable names depicted is Mookie Betts, the 2018 American League MVP who led the Boston Red Sox to the World Series Championship.
12/28/2018 1 Comment
Lumped in very close proximity in East Tennessee are these three Rookie level Appalachian League Teams: Elizabethton Twins, Johnson City Cardinals, and Kingsport Mets. Rookie Leagues is really designed for American players straight out of high school and International players who are allowed to sign at 16 years old. The quality of baseball is on par with upper level high school showcases or average college baseball below the Division I level. These small Tennessee towns are a great place to host this level of baseball. Ticket prices and concessions are very cheap and the town is provided affordable entertainment over the summer months. These towns can build an identity as a member of these organizations. In back to back seasons, the Elizabethton Twins have won the Appalachian League Championship and have had a relationship with the Twins since the 1970’s.
Yet another new league for us, the Smokies play in the AA Southern League. The Smokies brand their park (Smokies Stadium) as “America’s Friendliest Ballpark.” This proved very true! A neighbor near our seats, oddly enough also named Rebecca, was tossed a ball from a player. She was looking to give it away to a kid. The adult beverages came into play as my wife, Rebecca, chimed in that we tour around and collect tokens from all the venues and how we really need a Southern League baseball. She gave us the ball and became a great memory from our time with the Smokies. The biggest treat of this stop was that former NL MVP Kris Bryant had a couple at bats as part of an injury rehab assignment. This outing was another example of the top notch quality provided by Cubs affiliates (Myrtle Beach).
We left home near Charlotte, NC around 1AM on July 8th after a UFC PPV. We stopped for gas in Asheville at 4:30 AM and saw sunrise in Knoxville on the campus of the University of Tennessee. We caught a few tourists sites on the way and continued on to Central Tennessee. We crossed into the Central Time Zone, stopped at our hotel in a Nashville suburb and napped for a couple hours. We then headed to the city and saw the party that is Sunday afternoon in Nashville, TN.
First Tennessee Park also was a brand new league for us. Nashville is the most eastern franchise in the AAA Pacific Coast League. As we got to the stadium, we loved the ballpark so much we named it the 2018 Ballpark Adventures Stadium of the Year. For brevity purposes, I encourage you to at least view our pictures of First Tennessee Park. This is the biggest party environment I have ever seen at a park and I remember it very fondly. For 2019, the Sounds have “remastered” their logos and uniforms as they embark in a new Player Development Agreement beginning next year with the Texas Rangers.
For our closure, we wanted to return to BB&T Ballpark...the quicker, the better. Thanks to all the team personnel for hosting us and letting us run back our planned outing only four weeks prior. We were treated to the buffet meal upstairs in the Diamonds Direct Lounge and given prime tickets to watch the game. We were even afforded the opportunity to do the same pregame activities on the field. Much like our return to the ball field in Greensboro, this was about way more than baseball. It was about being appreciative of life and health and being able to do things as our team of four. Most importantly, the smile on Katelyn’s face was as bright as ever.
We put the top down on the Jeep and continued down the South Carolina Coast to visit this Yankees affiliate. This franchise and the Riverdogs venue was very reminiscent of the parent club in that it seemed straight laced and professional. Many fans at the stadium were retirees from New York who chose to move to Charleston and root for an affiliate of their beloved Yankees. It almost felt out of place in this iconic SOUTHERN city. We also felt very unsafe as the River Dogs officials chose to play through a very close lighting storm. We left in the third inning and essentially got robbed of a game at the most expensive ticket price (by far) in the South Atlantic League.