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Base Hits and Highways: A Solo Baseball Road Trip Experience

Chasing baseball across state lines - that's the name of the game on this solo road trip.

Base Hits and Highways: A Solo Baseball Road Trip Experience
Dunkin' Park in Hartford, CT

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I didn't grow up a baseball fan, it just fell into place. I grew up in an area that was the battleground between the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox and if you were a baseball fan, you had to "pick a side". Well, not me. I always observed from a distance, catching a game every now and then, even if it was just a few innings on TV. Growing up, my cable system picked up WSBK-TV in Boston, which carried the Red Sox, and WWOR-TV out of New York City, which carried the Mets. I don't recall ever getting to see Yankee games. Nevertheless, I gradually became a New York Mets fan. I was drawn to that team for some reason. I was captivated by their history and their working-class roots. Fast forward to college, and I started watching again, intentionally following them during the 2006 season. I began attending games at Shea Stadium, and later at Citi Field, going every year with friends. However, since the pandemic, I have been transitioning to attending minor league baseball games. This year, when I had the chance to see back-to-back minor league Mets games with the Binghamton Rumble Ponies (AA level) and the Syracuse Mets (AAA level) making appearances in my region, I couldn't resist. Inspired by the fantastic Ballpark Review, and a great example of using sports to plan a solo road trip, the opportunity was right in front of me. Two baseball games back to back in two days.


Night One: Hartford Yard Goats vs Binghamton Rumble Ponies at Dunkin' Park in Hartford, CT

We start on a very humid Friday evening. I was here to visit the park to see the Binghamton Rumble Ponies take on the Hartford Yard Goats. I arrived to park around 2 hours before the game. I arrived a couple of hours before the game, but man, there was nothing around the ballpark in terms of bars or restaurants. Just some construction across the street. I guess that could be somewhat promising. It is close to downtown, just a few blocks away but still in the city. There are quite a few nearby parking options available, which is great, and they only cost $5 per car. The Yard Goats really nailed it with the affordable parking – that's definitely a plus about minor league baseball. I walked towards the stadium since the website mentioned you could enter 90 minutes before the game started. Unfortunately, not all the gate staff got that memo! Nevertheless, I managed to get in through the main entrance not long after the 90-minute mark.

I walked through the ballpark, and I have visited a few times for not just games but a yearly brewfest with good friends. My seats for the game were these wonderful swivel seats, in Section 230. I love swivel seats as it feels like you’re sitting at a bar stool watching the game. The seats are comfortable and it’s easy to get in and out. One aspect of this particular game I noticed was the sheer number of Mets fans at the ballpark. As Citi Field is within driving distance, and the team's performance is mediocre at best this year, it is a smart play for fans to come to the minor league game.

The Food at Dunkin' Park

Dunkin' Park offers the typical ballpark food such as burgers, hot dogs, nachos, chicken sandwiches, and chicken tenders. Nevertheless, they also embrace the diverse culinary scene in Hartford by collaborating with local restaurants to provide a variety of dishes suitable for a ballpark setting. Therefore, on this particular evening, I would like to try out a few of these offerings:

  • Primavera Pub's “Prego no Pao”: This dish is a Portuguese style steak sandwich with peppers, onions and cheese, along with a side of sauteed potatoes. I was impressed! Steak was good, nicely seasoned, flavorful, tender and juicy. The potatoes were good, almost like a good plate of home fries but I would prefer them more crispy. Grade: A-
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  • Cuban Dog: Definitely reminds me of a Chicago Dog more than a Cuban sandwich. Tasty but the bun should be toasted for something like this. Grade C+
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The night was incredibly humid, so it was only a matter of time before a line of thunderstorms passed through. When the rain started falling late in the game, I decided to move to the indoor side of the ballpark and watched as much as I could handle with the humidity.

The ballpark has some nice amenities, but the surrounding development is lacking, which seems to be more of a city issue than a ballpark issue. The food options have improved and diversified, and the seating choices are great. Dunkin' Park gets a solid Grade B+ from me.

As for the visiting Binghamton Rumble Ponies, it was a big night for them, turning around a losing streak and finishing the game with a 7-3 victory against Hartford.

goat bleating

Worcester Red Sox (WooSox) vs Syracuse Mets at Polar Park in Worcester, MA

While the New York Mets' AA-level minor league team in Binghamton was visiting Hartford, the AAA-level minor league Syracuse Mets was visiting Worcester, MA. I decided to take a drive and opted to catch the game in the afternoon. I found parking at a nearby garage I secured parking at one of the nearby parking garages, and took a short walk to the ballpark using these trusty signs to guide my way!

street, signs, poles, sidewalks
Signs directing you to Polar Park

For a park that is hosting a Boston Red Sox minor league team, it’s quite….blue! With the exception of the team's logo and a few vibrant red Adirondack chairs, there is no trace of red to be found. Surprisingly, there's not even a hint of green to pay homage to the infamous Green Monster. However, despite the weird color scheme, the park offers a fantastic game day experience. Children can enjoy the playground area, local businesses can host events on the party porches, and the Craft Corner proudly displays beers from the area's breweries. Additionally, there is a variety of food options to choose from. As the game was about to begin, I made my way to my seat - a "drink rail" seat that was unfortunately not as comfortable as I had hoped. While I appreciated the swivel feature, the tightness of the rail left much to be desired.

The stadium gives off a modern vibe, kind of like a simpler version of a modern baseball stadium. It's a hit with the locals and it's obvious that Red Sox fans have really taken a liking to it. There's a "woo" chant that happens during the games, and I'm not really into wrestling, but it feels like a cool reference to Ric "Nature Boy" Flair. The overall atmosphere is just like any other major league game. The fans are really into it and having a blast. It's surprising to me that the stadium isn't modeled after Fenway Park, but at the same time, I get that they wanted to have their own unique identity. One thing I found really interesting about the park is how understated the presence of Samuel Adams Brewery is. They're there, but they're definitely overshadowed by other local breweries like Harpoon and Wormtown. It's not necessarily a bad thing, just something that caught my attention, especially considering that Samuel Adams is based in Boston.

Woo!

The Food at Polar Park:

When visiting ballparks, I enjoy exploring the local cuisine and trying new dishes. While walking around the ballpark, I observed that the food choices were quite typical, mainly consisting of burgers and hot dogs. However, I managed to sample two local specialties:

  • Wonderbar Pizza:
    I purchased the Park Special Pizza slice from Wonderbar Pizza without any expectations. Wonderbar Pizza is a popular local pizza spot in Worcester, and at the ballpark, their large slices were priced at around $9 each. I decided to give it a try and found it to be quite good, despite being a bit greasy. The white pie, which consists of cheese and bacon without any sauce, had a nice flavor. The crust was chewy but not overly dense, making it feel light. While it may not be my top choice (I prefer Frank Pepe’s Pizza in New Haven, CT, or any of their other locations), I still found it to be tasty and enjoyable. Grade: B
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  • Lobster Roll:
    Yeah, these aren't cheap (I paid $27 for mine), but if they make them right, they're really good. It looks like the WooSox are in charge of this booth, and they also sell Clam Chowder here (or as they say, “clam chowdah”). And yeah, on this disgustingly hot and humid day, SOMEONE got a cup of clam chowder while I was waiting. Anyway, I like lobster rolls cold, or I should say, I prefer the lobster in the form of a cold salad. It was worth it. The roll was nicely buttered and toasted, and you can have it as toasted as you want. They can also heat up the lobster if you want it hot. There was a good amount of lobster, not too much and not too little. Great for a ballpark in terms of both price and portion. Grade: A-
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In the midst of the 8th inning, fans at Polar Park joined in on the Boston Red Sox tradition of singing along to “Sweet Caroline,” as the stadium erupted into a collective sing along with the iconic Neil Diamond tune.

"Sweet Caroline" sing-along at Polar Park

Mike Vasil took the mound for the Syracuse Mets with his family cheering him on from the stands. This is what makes minor league baseball games so special. While this kind of support can also be seen in major league games, it carries a different weight when a strong performance could potentially propel him to the big leagues. However, it seems like the pressure may have gotten to him in this particular game, resulting in a 4-0 loss to the Worcester Red Sox.

There's room for improvement in the food choices and the "drink rail" seating, but it's a great spot for anyone looking to catch a baseball game. Polar Park gets a solid B+ grade.

polar bear

Closing Thoughts

Baseball provides a fantastic opportunity to embark on a road trip and solo travel experience centered around a series of games. This solo road trip afforded me the opportunity to take in games for both the AA-level and AAA-level minor league baseball teams affiliated with my favorite baseball team, all within close proximity to my home. This type of experience can also be used to watch major league teams. Living in the Northeastern United States, there are numerous major and minor league baseball teams that can be reached within a relatively short driving distance. Ballpark Review offers a comprehensive nationwide map to help locate minor league parks in your area. Baseball, along with sports in general, can serve as a platform for creating a solo travel experience. Personally, I am considering exploring other areas of the Northeast and using baseball as my main motivation. It's an excellent way to immerse oneself in local cultures and savor some delicious local cuisine. It's important to note that baseball games may be canceled due to rain, so it's essential to have a backup plan in place. This additional time can be utilized to explore a National Park or participate in a group tour, making the most of your time.