Ben's Biz: 2024 Minor League ballpark road trips

April 12th, 2024

This is an excerpt from the latest edition of the Ben's Biz Beat Newsletter, bringing Minor League Baseball business and culture news to your inbox each and every Thursday. Check out the full newsletter HERE.

Over the past 13 seasons I’ve witnessed more than 300 games at 186 Minor League ballparks, always with the goal of highlighting what makes each team unique. It’s an ongoing and perhaps never-ending journey, with the latest chapter set to begin.

In 2024 I’ll embark on four MiLB ballpark excursions. This is a modest number in comparison to the devil-may-care days of my youth -- by youth, I mean my early 30s -- but still enough to result in a formidable amount of raw material. This material is then diligently sculpted into what some call content, but what I refer to as art.

2024 marks the third consecutive season in which no new MiLB ballparks are opening, and the second in which I, personally, had no ballparks to visit for the first time. This will change in 2025; until then, my priority is to visit locations that I have not been to for at least seven years.

Please note that these itineraries are subject to change, and that a couple of small additions are likely. Read to the end for information regarding Designated Eaters and other aspects of my endearingly (?) ramshackle operation, but first things first: Here are the Minor League ballparks I plan to visit in 2024.

Trip #1: Going back to Cali
With the exception of a stop in Fresno five years back, I have not visited California since 2016. Time to make it back out West, where everyone is three hours behind and In-N-Out reigns supreme. My 2024 travel season kicks off with a quartet of Golden State games, three of which are within the aptly named California League.

Sacramento, of course, will become a big league city when it hosts the A’s next season. It’ll be interesting to visit that ballpark in advance of such a major (no pun intended) shift in operations. The last time I was there, in 2016, I ran as Ronald Reagan in the River Cats’ Governors Race. I found myself ideologically misaligned within the giant pompadoured cranium that had consumed me -- and also almost passed out -- but, hey, later on it became a Topps card.

5/2: San Jose Giants, Excite Ballpark
vs. Lake Elsinore Storm, 6:30 p.m. (Beer Batter Thursday)

5/3: Modesto Nuts, John Thurman Field
vs. Rancho Cucamonga Quakes, 7:05 p.m.

5/4: Stockton Ports, Banner Island Ballpark
vs. Visalia Rawhide, 7:05 p.m. (Star Wars Night)

5/5: Sacramento River Cats, Sutter Health Ballpark
vs. Tacoma Rainiers, 1:05 p.m. (Copa game, playing as the Dorados)

Trip #2: Rickwood and beyond
You are probably aware that Birmingham’s Rickwood Field, the oldest ballpark in America (and therefore the universe) will host a Major League game between the Giants and Cardinals on June 20. A Minor League game featuring the Birmingham Barons -- who called Rickwood home from 1910-86 -- and Montgomery Biscuits takes place two days prior.

I built the below itinerary around Rickwood’s Minor League contest, which is essentially a new version of the Rickwood Classic game that the Barons played from 1996-2019. I have not been to the other three ballparks in this itinerary since 2012. What I remember most about that trip was that I had just been diagnosed with celiac disease and was morosely processing the fact that I could never enjoy ballpark food in the same way ever again. Fare thee well, hot dog buns. Adios, soft pretzels. Hello, Designated Eaters.

There will be more details to come regarding the specifics of this trip, as this is the itinerary most likely to change. Stay tuned.

6/18: Birmingham Barons, Rickwood Field,
vs. Montgomery Biscuits, 6:35 p.m.

6/19: Memphis Redbirds, AutoZone Park
vs. Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp, 7:05 p.m.

6/20: Arkansas Travelers, Dickey-Stephens Park
vs. Wichita Wind Surge, 6:35 p.m.

6/21: Northwest Arkansas Naturals, Arvest Ballpark
vs. Tulsa Drillers, 7:05 p.m.

Trip #3: Cookout and Cheerwine: A Return to North Carolina
North Carolina is, as one book put it, “The Cradle of the Game.” Ten Minor League teams currently call the state home, and there are a number of independent and summer-collegiate teams as well. I have visited North Carolina in eight of the 13 seasons in which I have traveled professionally, and trip number nine will take place in July.

With this itinerary, there were two distinct goals. The first was to return to Truist Stadium, the home of the Winston-Salem Dash. The first time I was there was during my first trip to North Carolina, in 2011, and I never made it back (not that I hadn’t tried, it’s just that the home-road scheduling gods were always against me). Thirteen years later, I’ll be watching the videoboard to see if they can top this nugget:

I was also desirous of visiting Kinston’s Grainger Stadium one more time, as the Down East Wood Ducks are relocating to Spartanburg, S.C., in 2025. Grainger Stadium was built in 1949 and it almost certainly will never host Minor League Baseball again after this season. Inevitable, maybe. Sad, definitely.

Incorporating both ballparks in the same itinerary was tricky, again due to the vagaries of the home-road scheduling gods. The schedule I put together allows time for an Appalachian League interlude, witnessing a pair of games between the Danville Otterbots and Burlington Sock Puppets. I have not seen an Appy League game since the circuit switched from Rookie-Advanced to summer-collegiate prior to the 2021 season. In those days Danville’s team was named the Braves, while Burlington was home to the Royals. Things have changed.

7/26: Down East Wood Ducks, Grainger Stadium
vs. Fayetteville Woodpeckers, 7:00 p.m.

7/27: Durham Bulls, Durham Bulls Athletic Park
vs. Gwinnett Stripers, 6:35 p.m.

7/28: Greensboro Grasshoppers, First National Bank Field
vs. Asheville Tourists, 2 p.m.

7/29: Danville Otterbots, Legion Field
vs. Burlington Sock Puppets, 7 p.m.

7/30: Burlington Sock Puppets, Burlington Athletic Stadium
vs. Danville Otterbots, 7 p.m.

7/31: Winston-Salem Dash, Truist Stadium
vs. Greensboro Grasshoppers, 7 p.m.

Trip #4: Michigan and more
I have fond memories of a June 2013 excursion that included all three of Michigan’s Minor League teams, as it was shortly after the summer solstice and the days seemed to last forever. This time around it’ll be later in the summer and night’s abyssal void will creep in a bit earlier, but I’m still betting on beauty. South Bend was also part of that 2013 itinerary, so I’m glad to get back there as well. Toledo (last visit: 2018) is always great. All hail Toledo.

Anyhow, here’s a picture from the last time I visited the West Michigan Whitecaps.

8/23: West Michigan Whitecaps, LMCU Ballpark
vs. Lake County Captains, 6:35 p.m. (Beer City Bung Hammers alternate identity)

8/24: Great Lakes Loons, Dow Diamond
vs. Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, 7:05 (The Office Night featuring David Koechner)

8/25: Toledo Mud Hens, Fifth Third Field
vs. Louisville Bats, 2:05 p.m.

8/27: Lansing Lugnuts, Jackson Field
vs. Fort Wayne Tin Caps, 7:05 p.m.

8/28: South Bend Cubs, 7:05 p.m.
vs. Great Lakes Loons (Adbert Alzolay bobblehead giveaway)

Designated Eaters, Etc.

As many of you know, I am the originator and sole administrator of a long-running Designated Eater program. The concept is simple: At every ballpark I visit, I meet with a fan who consumes and critiques the ballpark cuisine my gluten-free diet prohibits.

If you would like to be a Designated Eater at any of the ballparks listed above, email me: [email protected] and put Designated Eater and the team in question in the subject line.

The Designated Eater email deadline for my first trip (San Jose-Modesto-Stockton-Sacramento) is April 24. For all other visits, get in touch by the end of May.

Beyond Designated Eating, please get in touch if you have any suggestions regarding who or what I should write about at any of the ballparks I’m visiting. Be it beloved gameday employees, eccentric superfans, underappreciated players, retired mascot performers, avuncular bus drivers or irascible clubbies, I’m open to it all.

Finally, I hope to meet you. I really mean that. Thanks for reading, and see you out there.