April first draws closer everyday, and with it the start of a new baseball season. The Washington Nationals baseball franchise is expected to be one of the best in the majors this season, but they wouldn’t have that distinction if it weren’t for their farm system. There are the obvious top-top prospects that they drafted in Zimmerman, Strasburg, and Harper, but there are also the later round and less heralded prospects that they drafted and developed like Desmond, Zimmermann, Stammen, Moore, Lombardozzi, and Espinosa. If the Nationals hope to remain good for a long time they are eventually going to need another wave of talent to refresh what they will lose to free agency. That is a few years off for now, but visiting the minor leagues isn’t just a great way to see the future of your favorite team, but also a great way to visit parts of our country you may not otherwise.
The Hagerstown Suns are the low A SAL affiliate of the Washington Nationals. In recent years Harper and Strasburg both made stops there. The current crop of talent is a bit of a mystery. The top Nationals prospects are going to start the season at either AA Harrisburg or AAA Syracuse, but part of the fun of the lower minor leagues is seeing players you may never see again. In some ways it makes the outcome less important and the baseball more of the focus, and there is a lot of enjoyment that can be had in watching baseball for the sake of baseball.
If you wish to travel and simply watch a baseball game that is easy enough. Hagerstown is located about an hour and a half away off of 70 West. There is plenty to do around Hagerstown though. If you happen to be someone that like shopping you can stop at the Hagerstown Outlets . If outlet shopping isn’t your cup of tea then two historic sites of the Civil War are not too far away. Antietam Battlefield, site of the bloodiest battle of the Civil War, is a couple exists before Hagerstown and Harpers Ferry, West Virginia is just under 30 miles from Hagerstown. As far as where to eat on this trip to Hagerstown there is Always Ron’s and their delicious Reuben sandwich and sweet tea or if you’re up for more of a drive about 40 minutes away is The Bavarian Inn in Shepherdstown, WV. If none of this is to you’re liking and you want more activities but also more baseball then check the weekend calender because there are many times that a Frederick Keys and Hagertown Suns doubleheader can occur.
The Potomac Nationals are the closest minor league affiliate to DC and as such it is doubtful that anyone would make a day trip out of a visit to Woodbridge Virginia, but if one did there is still a number of things to see and do. Let’s start with the baseball. Like the Suns the big name prospects like Rendon, Goodwin, Skole, and Karns are likely done with Potomac, but one only needs to look at the last two names on that list to know that while the players they will be watching aren’t known now they may be by the time next season’s top prospects reports come out.
Unlike the Sun though the P-Nats have a number of interesting promotions including a Roger Bernadina shark-a-rine and Dan Haren and Tyler Moore bobbleheads. Aside from that the P-Nats have dollar Mondays and Belly Buster Wednesdays that can be enjoyed weekly. Outside of the ballpark there isn’t much in the immediate area, but a short ride down the Prince William County Parkway lies shopping or historic sites. Head one way and you can visit the Manassas Battlefield site of both Civil War battles of Bull Run. Travel the other way on the parkway and you can visit the largest outlet mall on the east coast, Potomac Mills. Like I said before there isn’t much directly around the stadium, but if you enjoy good BBQ then a stop in at Dixie Bones before a night game or after a day game is worth the extra effort. If pizza is more of your thing then Brixx: Wood Fired Pizza will do you right.
Of all the Nats affiliates the Harrisburg Senators have become my favorite to visit. AA has increasingly become where the prospects play and it is highly likely that Rendon, Goodwin, Karns, and Skole all spend time there this season. Aside from having that level of talent Metro Bank Park is the nicest home stadium of any of the Nationals’ affiliates and City Island is a beautiful location in its own right. The walk across the Susquehanna from Harrisburg proper to City Island is something that should not be missed. It should also be noted that the Pennsylvania state capitol is and amazing piece of art and architecture and a short walk up 3rd Street from City Island. And as the Civil War has become a theme here Harrisburg happens to be the home of The National Civil Way Museum.
The fact that Metro Bank Park is so close to downtown Harrisburg puts it close to a lot of good restaurants but my suggestion as to where to head to for a quick bite before the game is Molly Brannigans, an Irish pub that is generous with the portions and fair with the prices for both food and beer. After the game if you’re still hungry for food and/or beer then hit up the Appalachian Brewing Company for some delicious made on premises brews. If your desire is for a longer weekend and more baseball then you’re in luck. Harrisburg is close to the AA and AAA affiliates of the Philadelphia Phillies in Reading and Lehigh Valley as well as two teams, the York Revolution and Lancaster Barnstormers, of the independent Atlantic League. If you do decide to make a weekend out of it don’t miss out on TJ Homestyle for some good country breakfast. And as baseball does happen during the summer I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the close proximity of Hershey, Pa and Hershey Park.
Getting to tour America while watching baseball is one of the best aspects of minor league ball. There are parts of this country I would have never seen had it not been for baseball and for that I am happy. I know that I have left out a number of things to do in these areas and for that I am sorry. I included what I have done and what I have enjoyed doing while visiting these ballparks. The best part however is the game itself, and the added benefit of minor league ball of getting to see tomorrow’s stars before anyone else does.