Some may say the smell of the flowers’ bloom is Mother Nature’s decree that spring has sprung. Others may simply chalk it up to the sight of a groundhog’s prediction. But to many, the true signaling of spring’s arrival is neither a smell or a sight, but a distinctive sound: the crack of the bat.
Baseball season has arrived to wake us all out of our winter slumber. And while the major leagues gets most of the attention, minor league baseball games can often be a more enjoyable (and practical) experience.
Attending a minor league game is one of the great spectating experiences for baseball and non-baseball fans alike. Because they’re not the biggest draw in the sports world, minor league games cater to the fans: they are inexpensive, family friendly and centered around entertainment and eccentric promotions.
And minor league baseball cities are often smaller, distinctively charming and unique. Here is a list of minor league baseball teams in nine such locations.
1. Pawtucket, RI
Home of the Pawtucket Red Sox (Boston Red Sox Triple-A team)
Just on the outskirts of Providence lies the town of Pawtucket. This New England city has a storied history both with the sport of baseball and with America’s industrial past.
Professional baseball has been played in the city since the 1800s. The Red Sox have fielded a minor league team in Pawtucket since 1970. But 200 years before the “Paw Sox” came to town, a man by the name of Samuel Slater put Pawtucket on the map. In the late 1700s, Slater built and installed the first hydro-powered mill in North America. This meant that for the first time in America, cotton could be spun by machine instead of hand. Touring Slater Mill gives you a glimpse of a 19th-century industrial village.
Slater’s invention created a ripple effect around the area and more mills popped up along the Blackstone River. Many of those mills have since become studios for the hundreds of working artists that reside in Pawtucket’s burgeoning arts community. You can find their work in the city’s numerous art galleries or just walking down the street as the city has a growing public art program.
The city’s annual marquee event is the Pawtucket Arts Festival, which lasts the entire month of September. The event features hundreds of artists showcasing their work, along with dozens of other attractions.
As far as attending a game in Pawtucket, McCoy Stadium is your destination. The park was built in 1948 and renovated in 1999. Its seating bowl is elevated with the first row of seats sitting eight feet above field level. The park’s unique viewing options include a terrace down the left-field line, field-level standing down the right-field line and a berm seating area beyond the left-center-field fence.
One more reason to visit soon: The Red Sox Triple-A affiliate will be packing up and moving to Worcester, Mass., in 2021
Promotional Highlight: July 20 – Margaritaville Night at the Ballpark
A night for the Parrotheads. Enjoy some Cheeseburgers in Paradise and stay for a spectacular Jimmy Buffett-themed fireworks show
2. Buffalo, NY
Home of the Buffalo Bison (Toronto Blue Jays Triple-A team)
Buffalo is the second-largest city in New York, so there’s plenty of attractions no matter what form of entertainment you’re seeking. If visiting Niagara Falls is on your bucket list, this is the time to cross it off the list. The state park is just a 20-minute ride away.
Buffalo is one of the few minor league baseball cities that is also home to other professional sports teams, the Buffalo Sabres and Buffalo Bills. While the Bills’ season doesn’t start until the fall, depending on the time of year you visit, you may be able to take in a hockey game and make it a fully sports-themed trip.
Make sure to include on your itinerary a visit to the Martin House. It was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright for wealthy Buffalo businessman Darwin D. Martin. Consisting of six interconnected buildings, the complex is considered to amongst Wright’s finest achievements. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1986. Wright designed several residential and recreational buildings in Buffalo, all which are available to tour. Check out our list of things to do in Buffalo.
Speaking of architecture, Sahlen Field, home of the Bison, is one of the most significant ballparks in the sport’s history, even if it is relatively unknown to most baseball fans. Built in 1998, Sahlen Field was designed by the architect firm HOK Sport as one of the first retro-classic stadiums, a concept that features distinctive aesthetics and architecture, and a location within the downtown area. A few years later, the same firm constructed Oriole Park at Camden Yards, kicking off a new wave of ballpark design that has become commonplace across major league baseball.
Promotional Highlight: June 22 – “Game of Thrones” Tribute Night
Buffalo will celebrate the hit show with in-game promotions, including “Beyond the Wall,” when a fan will win a prize if the Bison hit a home run. The opposing team will take the walk of atonement after strikeouts.
3. Coney Island, NY
Home of the Brooklyn Cyclones (New York Mets Single-A team)
One could spend a whole afternoon simply wandering the Coney Island boardwalk and only scratch the surface of things to do. But there are a few must-see attractions. One of those is Luna Park. Opened in 2010 and named after the original amusement park that operated just north of the current park’s location in the first half of the 20th century, Luna is home to dozens of rides, games, shops and dining options. And don’t forget to take a ride on the Cyclone. Built in 1927, the Cyclone is the country’s oldest wooden roller coaster still in operation. After you work up an appetite, head to the corner of Surf and Stillwell for a hot dog from the original Nathan’s Famous location.
Another top Coney Island attraction is the New York Aquarium, home to 8,000 animals including penguins, seals and a variety of shark species. (Save 20% on admission when you purchase tickets in advance online.) If you’re in the mood for some music, since opening in 2016, the Ford Amphitheater has played host to a who’s-who of musical acts including the Beach Boys, Sting and Peter Gabriel.
The Cyclones play at MCU Park, steps away from the boardwalk. The park opened in 2001 and marked the return of pro baseball to the borough of Brooklyn since the departure of the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1950s. It’s hard to beat the view at MCU Park, as the Atlantic Ocean dominates the skyline (and brings in some cool ocean breezes during the summer) and the famous Parachute Jump ride towers over the right-field wall.
Promotional Highlight: $10 Wednesdays
Throughout the season, all tickets to Wednesday home games are just $10
4. Scranton, Pa.
Home of the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders (New York Yankees Triple-A team)
Scranton is more than just the home of Dunder Mifflin Paper Company. The northeastern Pennsylvania city played an important role in American history, one you can learn all about with a visit to the Electric City.
In the mid-1800s, brothers George and Seldon Scranton combined several smaller railroads to form the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad. This turned Scranton into a transportation hub. This history is immortalized at the Steamtown National Historic Site, a museum dedicated to Scranton’s railroad history.
Scranton also has a strong history in other trades that helped industrialize America. The Anthracite Heritage Museum showcases the story of hard coal mining, its related industries and the immigrant culture of northeastern Pennsylvania. For the brave of heart, you can also tour a coal mine originally opened in 1860. You’ll take a mine car down 300 feet to explore the winding underground rock tunnels and learn about the methods used in deep mining’s history.
When you get above ground, you’ll be happy to breathe the fresh air at PNC Field, home of the RailRiders. The stadium opened in 1989 and received a $40-million renovation in 2013.
The perfect time to see the RailRiders is in 2019; throughout the season the team will be celebrating 30 years of professional baseball in Northeast Pennsylvania. The 30th anniversary season will include 12 fireworks shows, premium giveaway items and appearances, a jersey retirement ceremony and reunion weekend, new and returning theme nights and several new season-long nightly promos. This is in addition to the nine bobblehead giveaways that feature the likenesses of the All-Time SWB Team as nominated and voted on by the fans.
Promotional Highlight: Glow in the Park Fridays
During Friday home games, the RailRiders will play in their alternate Glow in the Park jerseys. Afterward, there will be post-game fireworks.
5. Manchester, NH
Home of the New Hampshire Fisher Cats (Toronto Blue Jays Double-A team)
Manchester lies along the Merrimack River in southern New Hampshire. One of it’s top tourist attractions is the SEE Science Center, which offers interactive exhibits for people of all ages. One particular highlight is the LEGO Millyard. The display represents Manchester’s Amoskeag Millyard as it might have looked circa 1900. It is the largest permanent LEGO installation at mini-figure scale in the world.
The Currier Museum of Art features European and American works by the likes of Picasso, Monet and O’Keeffe. It also offers tours of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Zimmerman House. The property is the only Wright-designed building in New England opened to the public. If you’re looking for a show or concert, two of the area’s premier entertainment venues are the SNHU Arena and the Palace Theatre.
Located on the shore of the Merrimack River in downtown Manchester, Northeast Delta Dental Stadium has been home to the Fisher Cats since it opened in 2005. The 6,500-seat stadium has an open concourse, allowing guests to see the game action wherever they are. In 2008, the Samuel Adams Brewhouse opened just beyond the left-field wall. The bar and restaurant is open before and during home games. A $1 million stadium renovation in 2017 added a state-of-the-art live music stage, a Tiki Bar and a rock waterfall at the top of the main entrance stairs.
As for the product on the field, the Fisher Cats took home the Eastern League title in 2018 so they should be a fun team to watch.
Promotional Highlight: July 26 – Christmas in July
The Fisher Cats will put a Yuletide spin on baseball, celebrating all things Christmas throughout the game.
6. Wappingers Falls, NY
Home of the Hudson Valley Renegades (Tampa Bay Rays Single-A team)
Tucked away in the picturesque Hudson Valley, two hours north of New York City and a stone’s throw from the Hudson River, sits the town of Wappingers Falls.
One of the area’s can’t-miss spots for culture lovers is Dia: Beacon. Opened in 2003 in a former Nabisco box printing factory, the museum presents the Dia Art Foundation’s collection of art from the 1960s to the present as well as special exhibitions and public programs.
Just to the north of Wappingers Falls, in Poughkeepsie is another kind of tourist attraction that lets you enjoy the great outdoors. Built on a converted railway bridge, Walkway over the Hudson allows guests to traverse the Hudson River. The site welcomes 500,000 visitors each year who walk, bike and run amidst its scenic beauty.
(Video: Walkway Over the Hudson)
The Renegades’ season doesn’t kick off until June but when games do start, expect to see a quality product. Last year, Hudson Valley won more games than any other team in the New York Penn League.
The Renegades play in Dutchess Stadium. Built in just 71 days in 1994, the stadium has also hosted numerous concerts over the years. Performers have included none other than Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen.
This year the Renegades are offering free tickets to select games to any federal employee affected by this year’s government shutdown, as well as their immediate family members.
Promotional Highlight: Aug. 4 – Star Wars Night
Various ticket packages include post-game Jedi training and a laser sword and Star Wars t-shirt.
7. Portland, ME
Home of the Portland Sea Dogs (Boston Red Sox Double-A team)
Thoughts of Maine often conjure up images of scenic coastlines, and the seaside town of Portland brings those visions to life. A walk along Commercial Street let’s you explore a working waterfront and dip in to a restaurant of your choosing for another Maine staple: fresh seafood.
And when you need a beverage to wash down the delectable fare, you’ll soon discover you’re in the perfect town. Portland has become one of the country’s craft brewing epicenters. There are a host of local breweries all worth a visit to including Allagash, Rising Tide and Shipyard, just to name a few.
If it’s a more high-brow experience you’re after, head on over for a tour of the Wadsworth-Longfellow House, where the iconic poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow grew up.
When you’re ready to watch the Sea Dogs, McCoy Field is a great setting to catch a game. The park takes a cue from Maine’s picturesque surroundings with a lighthouse that rises from the center-field fence every time a Sea Dogs player hits a home run and when the home team wins. The stadium’s most prominent feature, however, is the “Maine Monster” in left field, a nod to the famed “Green Monster” at Fenway Park.
Promotional Highlight: May 26 – Superhero Day
There will be a special appearance by Black Panther. Black Panther will throw out the ceremonial first pitch, lead the Superhero Parade and be available for photos. Fans are encouraged to wear their superhero costume to the game and participate in a pregame parade.
8. Norwich, Conn.
Home of the Connecticut Tigers (Detroit Tigers Single-A team)
Norwich is located in the southwestern corner of Connecticut. One need not travel far to discover another type of fun other than America’s pastime. Mohegan Sun Casino & Resort and Mohegan Sun Arena are just a 15-minute ride away. And if you want to learn more about the Native Americans, past and present, that live in this area, visit the Pequot Museum.
If you keep driving south to the Connecticut shoreline, you’ll discover several idyllic New England towns that offer a glimpse into the past as well as many fun and exciting modern-day attractions.
Dodd Stadium, named after former U.S. Senator Thomas Dodd, has been home to minor league baseball for 25 seasons. Its current residents, the Connecticut Tigers, moved in in 2010. The park is unique in that it is sunk into the ground, so fans enter at street level and walk down to their seats. A large concourse runs around the top of the seating area so fans can continue watching the game as they walk around the stadium or stand in line for food. Popular seating options include the grassy berms down each line and a large picnic area that can be rented out.
Promotional Highlight: Schedule TBA
However, for one game last year, the Tigers changed their name to the Lobster Rolls and fans received a pair of New England Lobster Rolls sunglasses.
9. Trenton, NJ
Home of the Trenton Thunder (New York Yankees Double-A team)
New Jersey’s capital city is home to the State Museum, which features collections, research, exhibitions and programs in science, history and art. There are also several war memorials within city limits. The Trenton War Memorial is dedicated to the memory of the soldiers and sailors from Mercer County who died fighting World War I. It houses an 1,807-seat, fully-equipped theater for performances and assemblies. The Trenton Battle Monument commemorates the American victory at the first Battle of Trenton on Dec. 26, 1776.
One of the more unique Trenton attractions is the Grounds for Sculpture. This 42-acre property is covered with giant sculptures by artists from around the world. The site has welcomed more than two millions visitors.
Trenton’s Arm & Hammer Park lies along the shoreline of the Delaware River. Fans can see the river (and Pennsylvania beyond) from their seats. Several players have hit home runs over the right-field wall and into the river. There’s also a possibility of a player hitting a home run out of the state, since the middle of the Delaware River is the border between New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
One unique fixture that you’ll notice at Trenton Thunder games is the absence of traditional bat boys and girls. Instead, since 2002, the team has employed a family of bat dogs. Third-generation golden retriever “Rookie” is the Thunder’s current bat dog. He retrieves each hitter’s bat once they get on base and will even run out to give the umpires some water.
Promotional Highlight: Pork Roll Fridays
During every Friday home game, the team will wear special Thunder Pork Roll uniforms and serve $2 Case’s Pork Roll Sandwiches, a New Jersey delicacy.
Have you been to any of the minor league baseball cities? What were some of the highlights? Let us know in the comments.