Seeing all 14 teams in the South Atlantic League this summer was a challenging but rewarding adventure.
It was a little more costly than I would have guessed. Even midweek tickets are not cheap at many venues - the very best deal was a web Wednesday deal in Hickory for $6 right behind home plate. Most parks averaged $10 or so down the baselines. It's a good value, and you get more ambience for your buck at some parks than others.
I was struck by how the league ranges from urban to rural and from older stadiums to new. The new parks are mostly in the ten-year-old range, but the oldest ones and from a century ago. It's a nice spectrum.
The costs also include travel expenses -- even though several parks are within driving range of Charlotte without needing hotels, there are still several that require a good bit of planning (I'm pointing at you, Delmarva and Lakewood!).
I would go out of my way again to visit these: Greensboro (if only for the bat dogs!), Kannapolis (such a short drive for us in Charlotte and such a great park!), Charleston (but no beer shakes), West Virginia (also in Charleston but the other one), and I never would have believed it four months ago - Hagerstown (it's still everything a ballpark should be).
Since we saw him last, Kannapolis catcher Jeremy Dowdy (Raleigh Wakefield, Appalachian State), has been promoted to the Class AA Birmingham Barons. Also, Crawdads RHP Josh McElwee was promoted to the Class A+ Myrtle Beach Pelicans.
It's been fun, but I'm very much looking forward to next summer's Carolina League slate - they have only eight teams!
My mom, Julie Ritterskamp, was able to visit all but two of the Sally League teams with me. Here are her reflections.
Mom's TakeI was fortunate enough to be able to travel with Ellyn on her tour of the Sally League baseball teams' summer games. If I had known I was going to miss only two stops, Rome, Ga., and Augusta, Ga., I would have tried to make sure I saw them all. But the twelve games I did get to were amazing, fun, and very much family oriented. Any baseball game at this level is an inexpensive way to enjoy a summer evening. Here are a few highlights, from my point of view:
Best national anthem: Krystal Marshall Kasten, Charleston RiverDogs
Most unbelievable drive: Richmond, Va., to Lakewood, N.J.: $22 in tolls, but worth the drive.
Most eye-catching stadium decoration: Three huge lifeguard chairs around the outfield in Lakewood, N.J. - people can actually climb up and sit on them!
Most interesting parking lot attraction: Kannapolis, N.C. - One of Dale Earnhardt's cars that you can touch and get your picture made with.
Most old-fashioned baseball stadium feeling: Hagerstown, Md.
Best example of wretched excess in a food item: S'mores panini at Savannah - the thing would have fed six people!
Most fun mascot: Charleston, W.V. This guy interacted with kids and families in a wonderful way. This stadium also has the most fun staff and attendees. The Toastman alone is worth a trip.
Stadium where we could have gotten in for free: Asheville, N.C. We won't tell you how, but it involved climbing a high hill ... we paid, of course!
Best overall stadium experience: Greensboro, N.C. The three charming bat dogs, Miss Babe Ruth, Miss Lulu Gehrig, and Master Yogi Berra, make any game fun. I took more people back twice, just to see the dogs. The last time a very helpful employee, Tim, made sure that my request was honored to be seated where we could see the dogs the best, and the kids I brought from Charlotte have three new best buddies.
Thanks go out to friends in Richmond, Va., who let us make their home our base for visiting three stadiums. At the Salisbury, Md., venue, we were joined by a high school friend we had not seen in many years.
In Lexington, KY, we visited the Woodford Reserve and picked up a bottle of their finest double oak bourbon, a gift for a friend. Driving around that area was just lovely with lots of horse pastures.
I count myself lucky that my daughter looks on me as a suitable traveling companion, and that my husband Jack does not mind me leaving him with the house and kitties. It has been a super summer!