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Monday, September 14, 2015

This Year's Odyssey: Best Experience at Each Level

Of course, traveling around this summer to games I saw many stadiums and crowds. There were only a couple stadiums that were abysmal and few crowds were really bad. I've chosen my favorite experience from each level and then compared them to come up with my five favorites.

5)  AA - Carolina Mudcats - Honestly, all the AA teams I went to this year had good stadiums, but the Mudcats just stuck in my head. They didn't have the newest stadium in the world, but the crowd was live and loud and they edged out the Tennessee Smokies to get on this list.

4)  Rookie - Burlington Royals - When I went to Burlington I wasn't expecting much. It was the last weekend of the year, Burlington was already out of the running for the post season, and the night before I had a very disappointing experience at a different rookie league stadium. Then I got there and the stadium was better than most in the Appalachian League, the crowd was enthusiastic, the people running the stadium were obviously trying to make things fun, they had a mascot (Bingo) who seemed to have a never ending well of energy, and there were kids everywhere having a blast.

3)  A+ - Salem Red Sox - This was another pleasant surprise. This stadium probably had the friendliest staff I ran into over the summer. The crowd was so into it that they even belted out "Sweet Caroline" which is played at all the Carolina League games (and inexplicably at other non-Carolina teams as well). I had a blast.

2)  AAA - Durham Bulls - The Bulls have an unfair advantage over other teams because of the movie and they shamelessly take advantage of it. And it's great. Then, on top of all that the fans are great. I don't just mean they are enthusiastic. They act as though the Bulls are an old school single A team with players still living in host family houses. The folks sitting around me were talking about the players by first name and talked about different interactions they'd had with them. They were also fiercely loyal to the vendors. A man pretending to be a peanut vendor came down the aisle on his way to take part in a skit on the dugout and the locals started in on him about poaching Darnell's business and almost ruined the skit. It's a great littlish-big stadium experience.

1)  A - Dayton Dragons - This place was simply the most amazing ballpark experience. This single A park sells 8,000+ tickets per game. I couldn't even buy a ticket for a seat. I had to buy a ticket to sit on the grass berm behind the outfield wall. It was early in the season and they were already making announcements that if you want a chance to get season tickets for next season you need to contact stadium representatives now. When you check minor league attendance records there are only 6 teams which average more than the Dragons do per game and they are all AAA teams. In fact, 19 out of the top 20 teams were AAA with the only exception to the rule being single A Dayton. That means Dayton is selling its stadium out a lot while the AAA teams are maybe selling half their seats. And it's not hard to see why Dayton is so successful. Every part of the stadium was state of the art and they used everything they had to keep that stadium rocking. The crowd was having a blast and there wasn't any of the tired, same-old-same-old activities between any of the innings. Hands down, this was the best experience I had at a game all summer long. If you are ever within a 90 minute radius of Dayton and you can get tickets, you must treat yourself to the Dayton Dragons experience.

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