Sometime during the second game of a doubleheader in Batavia, N.Y. on a Monday night, you start to realize just how much baseball there is. So when you return home from that game, you look up the fact there were 14,423 games in the majors and the affiliated minor leagues last year, and all of a sudden hitting six games in four days doesn’t sound so impressive.

It is something that every baseball fan with the necessary mobility should try once, though. And then after you try it once, you’ll start picking your next trip before you even take the ticket stubs out of your pocket.

While much has been written on the topic from people with much more exhausted odometers than mine, the advice here might sound a little different. It starts with asking a lot of questions. There is no better learning experience than a baseball road trip if you ask the right people the right questions. Talk to scouts before or after games, and find out what their life on the road is like. Talk to stadium employees on a night when there is an announced crowd of 908. Read the history of a town of 15,000 during a pitching change and gain an appreciation for where you’re just passing through.

If what I learned from six games in four days sounds like a scrambled stream of consciousness, it’s because it’s supposed to be. You have a lot of thoughts on the road. The fact that you’re with two of your best friends for most of the trip increases the number of thoughts way more than threefold.

1. The trip
Friday, July 5: Lowell (BOS) at Tri-City (HOU), Short-season A, Mark Appel’s pro debut
Saturday, July 6: Jamestown (PIT) at Auburn (WAS), Short-season A, doubleheader
Sunday, July 7: Pawtucket (BOS) at Rochester (MIN), Triple-A
Monday, July 8: Jamestown (PIT) at Batavia (MIA), Short-season A, doubleheader

This actually was not my most impressive trip. That one was five games in four days, but it was five ballparks and required attending an 11 a.m. game and a 6:30 p.m. game in the same day, four hours of driving apart. We just made it.

But it was an easy trip as an Upstater, and one that was complete with side trips to Cooperstown, the Finger Lakes, and Canada along the way.

2. The best player I saw
One of the best parts of a minor league trip comes years later when you’re able to say “I saw that guy when,” so even if you’re not saving scoresheets, pay attention. The best player I saw on the previous trip was Altoona Curve outfielder Andrew McCutchen, and while he didn’t play well in either of the games I saw him play in the minors, it’s still awesome to recall.

The best player I saw, despite seeing the Appel debut, was Xander Bogaerts. It was my first live experience with the no. 3 prospect on Jason Parksmidseason top 50. He hit the ball sharply to all fields; even his flyout was a bullet. And the climax was a three-run home run over the left field bullpen and off the scoreboard in Rochester (video here). He was a bit laughable in the field—not the kind of stuff that has you thinking he’s not agile enough to be a shortstop, just a throw he should have eaten and a popup that he lost on a cloudy day. But I’ll remember that bat.

3. Find something weird outside the lines
In 2007, before the Altoona Curve game, it was a trip to the ballclub’s namesake, the Altoona Curve, which is a railroad feature that allowed trains to be able to climb a particularly steep mountain. Turns out there was a visitor’s center and people and everything.

This trip featured an even more obscure place. In Buffalo, in the shadow of the Peace Bridge to Fort Erie, Ontario sits a small monument in an otherwise mostly quiet marina. The plaque commemorates the Fenian Invasion, a little-known piece of American history, Canadian history, British history and Irish history that can be summarized fairly briefly. After the Civil War, a few hundred Irish men who had fought in the war got together and straight-up invaded Canada. They succeeded in making a few captures in the name of “encouraging” the British to surrender their control of Ireland. The raids were squashed in short order thanks to some U.S.-British diplomacy, but just months after the first one, Britain ceded control over Canada (1867), with part of what is now celebrated as Canada Day being the crown’s disinterest in defending such a large piece of land.

Here is the monument, five miles from the home of the Buffalo Bisons.

4. The second-best player I saw
As always, when you’re on a road trip like this, you’re dealing with tiny samples and not sitting on a team and getting multiple looks at guys. Still, it was hard not to be impressed with the 1 2/3 innings we saw from Marlins relief pitching prospect Colby Suggs.

Okay, he probably won’t end up being the second-best player we saw. Suggs was drafted with the last pick of the second round last month, no. 73 overall, as a college reliever out of the University of Arkansas. That’s usually a predictor of a fast rise, and the stuff was way too good for the New York Penn-League. Despite the NYPL being generally the worst offensive environment in baseball—the pitchers are ahead of the hitters, who are using wood bats for the first time—it’s not an extreme strikeout league and is actually mild (7.6 per 9) compared to say the offense-happy Cal League’s 8.4 per 9. But Suggs had some exception swing-and-miss stuff and good velocity. Given the state of Miami’s club, expect him in the majors before you finish reading the next section.

5. Tim Hortons doesn’t have an apostrophe.
And Timbits >>> Munchkins

6. The most unusual player I saw
It had to be Jin-De Jiang, a Taiwanese Pirates catching prospect at short-season Jamestown. I absolutely abhorred the body, which is listed as 5-11, 220 and which is not carried well at all. But I loved the approach for the 20-year-old who came to the U.S. for a reported $250,000 bonus. Jhang strikes me as a patient hitter, is up to .354/.431/.563 in the extreme pitchers’ league, and has more walks (21) than strikeouts (20) in 204 plate appearances between the Gulf Coast League last year and the NYPL this year.

It’s impossible to deny that part of what made him stand out, in addition to the body, is how unusual it is to see a catcher from the Far East in the U.S. professional ranks. Pitcher: sure. Outfielder: rarer, but sure.

There have actually been only two catchers ever from Japan, South Korea or Taiwan, which ranks pretty low on the list of all 81 modern era players from those countries listed by their primary position.





















Source: Play Index

One of them was Keith McDonald, who was born in Japan but played college ball at Pepperdine and was drafted. The other: Japanese-born Kenji Johjima, who spent his early-30s seasons with the Mariners from 2006-09.

7. What level should you see
So maybe Upstate New York wasn’t the greatest choice for a baseball road trip. Yes, there is quantity—there are 11 affiliated minor league teams in New York (no Mets jokes, please) including nine outside of New York City. But of the nine, eight are in either short-season ball or Triple-A, which I find to be the two worst levels of the minors.

Triple-A is well documented as a waiting room for the majors without many exciting prospects, and the short-season leagues just have some poorer baseball and too many guys who will wash out.

Your mileage may vary, but I’d rank the levels in terms of watchability:

1. Double-A
2. High-A
3. Low-A
4. Triple-A
5. Short-season

If I were drawing a minor league road trip from scratch without placing much importance on starting point, I’d try to focus it around as many A and Double-A games as possible.

8. So where should you go?
I hope you’ll leave your favorites or your wish list in the comments below, but it has to be somewhere in Maryland, Virginia, and the Carolinas, doesn’t it?

Florida has the most teams at 14, plus all the GCL teams, and California is second with 12, but you’re essentially getting all high-A games in one league and not always the greatest variety of cities. Montana, believe it or not, has the most teams per capita with four Pioneer League teams and only a million people, but it’s a huge state and not a great level. Maryland leads all multi-team states in density of those teams per unit of land area, with five minor league teams in a state 1/16 the size of California.

I’d probably start there. You’re on the southern frontier of the Double-A Eastern League and the New York-Penn, and if you go south, you’re right in the heart of the low-A South Atlantic League and especially the high A Carolina League. If Triple-A is your thing for name recognition, you have Norfolk, Durham, and Charlotte, and don’t forget the O’s and Nats if you want to throw the real thing in there.

Pennsylvania is an excellent choice, too, with two major league teams and eight minor league teams, many of which play in brand-new facilities. Here’s a great map from that might help you out.

No matter which area you choose, do it with open ears—as you can see, just this four-day trip produced a wide array of scrambled thoughts. And do so with a good eye for things beyond the outfield wall and, most importantly, plenty of sunscreen.

Thank you for reading

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Bogaerts has game power and his body looks 75% matured. I've seen him play in Portland 3 or 4x and once v Hicks now w/the Twins and afte the game I tweeted if Hicks is a top prospect, then Bogaerts is an All-Sar. I wasn't saying Hicks looks bad, but in a 1-2 count, Bogaets showed a defensive approach and swing to a low outside FB and sent it off the CF wall, over Hicks head. After that swing and seeing the ball explode off the bat when he was obviously just barreling the ball for ct, I knew he had some major leaps comin on the top 100. His defense on the other hand was pretty shotty, but that's over a year ago. He literally had his feet tangled on a warm-up ball from the 1B.
The Fenian organization is a side plot in the excellent baseball book "If I Never Get Back" by Darryl Brock
I read that about 15 years ago (whenever it came out). I'll need to revisit that excellent book as I don't remember the Fenians.
In 2000 I did a tour of North Carolina'a minor league teams - 12 games in 14 days or something like that. I had high aspirations for documenting the trip - even set up what passed for a blog in those early days of blogging. But the realities of the road quickly intervened with my writing. Driving, finding lodging, finding food, exercising my dog (I brought him along on my week-long swing through the western part of the state), took a lot more time and energy than I expected.
Still, an awesome experience and one I'd love to do again with my boys when they're a little older.
Some highlights: sitting in the stands near Tommy LaSorda at a Wilmington Waves (a short-lived Dodgers Single A team) game, going inside the "Blue Monster" wall at Durham Athletic Park, seeing Rick Ankiel hit a homer in Johnson City, Tenn. (when he was working his way back from his implosion in the rookie Appalachian League, pitching every fifth day and DHing one or two days in between), and visiting a couple of beautiful North Carolina State Parks.
Thanks for sparking these memories!
You are absolutely right about Timbits.

And I agree that the mid-Atlantic is a great region for baseball trips.

One year the Orioles had a promotion to see three games in one day: 11:05 Start in Hagerstown, 2:05 in Frederick and 7:05 at Camden Yards. That was a fun day.
Binghamton is just about 10 miles over PA border and a great place to watch a game. I remember seeing McCutchen when he played for Altoona at a game there in 2007, and in 2009 I got Carlos Santana's autograph. Good times.
I think you are right about the Mid-Atlantic. I was thinking the Carolina, Sally, and Appy Leagues are all there.

I usually try to include at least one game when my wife and I travel (unfortunately, that's all she'll abide by). Lst year, however, I took my mom on a 4-day, 4-game trip to Pittsburgh, Altoona, Akron, and Cleveland.

And don't forget the Arizona Fall League where you can see two games everyday as there are two day games and one night game six days a week.
As an Orioles fan, I enjoyed a great trip a few years ago (when the Orioles were not very good) ... catching (in this order) the Orioles, Aberdeen, Bowie, Frederick, Delmarva (Salisbury MD), Norfolk (3 games including a double header) and Bluefield in a seven day period... nine games in seven days... all at home. The Baseball Prospect book and Orioles Media Guide were necessities in the trip. I viewed it as a personal scouting trip. What would I change? I would try to catch a three-game series featuring each of the minor league teams (though Bluefield has gone Blue Jays) next time.
Sort of on topic: Work is sending me to Charlotte at the end of this month and I have Saturday night free and a company paid for rental car. Looking to take a quick roadtrip to one of the following games:

Rome (Braves) @ Ashville (Rockies) A
Hickory (Rangers) @ Kannapolis (White Sox) A
Carolina (Indians) @Winston-Salem (White Sox) High-A
Gwinnett (Braves) @ Charlotte (White Sox) AAA

Then Sunday
Danville (Braves) @ Burlington (Royals) Rookie

I am pretty sure I am going up to Burlington because I am a lifelong Royals fan, but any insight on to what the best talent to watch or the best stadium to watch said talent in would be appreciated.
Definitely Hickory if for no other reason than to see Joey Gallo.
Or...Asheville has an interesting stadium. At least I thought so 8 years ago when I was there.
Kannapolis is a cookie cutter stadium built for car travel. McCormick Field in Asheville has a lot of character. The last time I was in W-S for a game was 2000 and they played in old Eddie Shore Field - looks like they've got a new downtown ballpark now, though downtown W-S isn't much to talk about. Charlotte's stadium is another one plopped in the 'burbs with easy car access.

As for players, BP is the place to be looking! Carolina has the Indians' prospect Lindor at SS - he'll be in the Futures Game.
Thanks for all the input everybody...I think its Winston Salem on Saturday for the Lindor show and then Burlington on Sunday so I can get all worked up about a new bunch of soon to be failed Royals prospects.
I wish more minor leagues scheduled Saturday day games. Was hoping to fit some milb games into both legs of an upcoming road trip from Toronto to Chicago. One leg is a Saturday and that means that some many otherwise good options are no longer feasible.