Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Lessons learned at my first TBEX conference

I've blogged in this space off-and-on since 2007 after my trip to visit a grad school friend in Germany.  However, I didn't start taking my blogging seriously until 2012 when I started to write about my baseball stadium visits.  So right on schedule (another five years later), I decided to try and "professionalize" my blog a bit more.  To me, professionalizing my blog meant attending TBEX North America 2017 and seeing what I could learn at a travel blogger conference.

Why I did it...
So why did I decide to spend three days in Huntsville, Ala., attending an event I knew little about?  Like I said, I wanted to make my blog more professional, and I knew that I could only learn so much from reading other people's blogs and participating in Twitter chats.

However, it was a Twitter chat and my interaction with some of the regular participants that pushed me to attend TBEX in Huntsville.  Since my visit to Chicago in 2015 for a work conference, I've regularly participated in #JAchat on Twitter (read more here) and interacting with Pola (Twitter: @JettingAround) and Francesca (Twitter: @WorkMomTravels) convinced me that I would learn more about blogging and interacting with convention and visitor bureaus by attending the conference.

Even after a few conversations, I was still on the fence about attending until I considered the pros of attending a conference that was only 2.5 miles from my home.  It's not often that such an event would land in my backyard, so I decided to bite the bullet and registered.

Tuscaloosa to Huntsville under ideal traffic conditions is under two and a half hours.

What I expected...
I signed up to attend TBEX about a month before the conference and with the end of the semester closing in on me (my "day job" is a college professor), I really didn't have a lot of time to plan and formulate expectations far in advance of the conference.  In talking with other travel bloggers, I expected there would be a lot of networking opportunities at the parties each night.

I knew that through speed networking sessions that I'd have the chance to get myself in front of people from CVBs and hopefully make a good impression that could lead to a fruitful collaboration in the future.

What I learned...
Lesson One: It is critical to have business cards.  People had told me about this in advance of the conference, but never having attended a travel blogger conference I really wasn't prepared for how important it was to have business cards.  Naturally I handed out my business card to people working with DMOs, but I also swapped a number of cards with travel bloggers.

Front and back of my business card for the blog, which features me with Portland Sea Dogs mascot Slugger.

Lesson Two: Take notes.  I was prepared with a notepad to write down what I learned at the different breakout sessions I attended, and while it has been about two weeks since the conference and I still have not converted my hand-written notes into a usable Word document, I at least have important lessons recorded for me to reflect upon later.

Lesson Three: There are multiple ways to run a blog.  My blog has been sparse at times because I've generally focused on baseball visits, but I feel like each of my posts is well-written and thoughtful (i.e. quality over quantity).  During a breakout session, one speaker insisted that quantity and flooding the market was important in generating clicks and eyeballs.  During a keynote speech, another speaker said that it was more important to generate quality content instead of just a lot of content.  At a breakout session I did not attend because there was another session that was more interesting to me, a speaker spoke about running a successful travel blog while completing ignoring social media.  All of these comments seem to contradict themselves, so there's no way of saying who is right or wrong.  Coming into the conference I hoped to get some really poignant advice about ways to professionalize my blog and best ways to grow my audience.  Instead I was left with many unanswered questions, but also the knowledge that there really is no tried-and-true right or wrong way to operate a blog.

Lesson Four: Say "yes" unless you just have to say "no."  It may seem obvious that travel bloggers are extroverts because we are writing about visiting different places and interacting with a number of people.  However, that is far from the truth.  I identify as an introvert, but my day job requires I be outgoing when giving lectures.  My side gig as a learning travel blogger also requires me to be outgoing.  So I debated how best to approach the conference and opportunities that would be presented to go to after parties or just talk to people I knew nothing about moments ago.  I did my best to say "yes" when offered the opportunity, whether it was drinks out on the town following the Opening Night Party or to striking up a conversation with someone, but I also tried to strike a balance and say "no" when it came to heading to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center for the 2nd Night Party so I could have dinner with my fiancée at Bandito Burrito or exploring downtown Huntsville and having a beer on Saturday when I did  not have any speed networking meetings setup.

Doing it again...
I've had almost two weeks to reflect on my experience at TBEX North America 2017, and I've been contemplating the biggest question: would I do it again?

The simple answer is "Yes."  However, there are a lot of underlying issues to address before agreeing to attend a travel conference.  I feel like I made some good contacts with some CVBs that attended the conference, but wish I had come into the conference with a more organized plan about what I am covering with my blog.  I feel like I could have made more contacts if I had a specific plan about what I intended to add to my blog.

I wish there was a way to specifically meet bloggers who share similar interests.  I know that Blogger Bridge provides a platform specific to TBEX that allows attendees to setup speed networking appointments with the DMOs, and that it is also searchable to find other bloggers.  However, I felt like either the opportunities were lacking or I just didn't know enough in advance to take advantage of opportunities to meet other bloggers who write about sports, the Southeast, or historical sites.

Another shortcoming as a newbie was the FAM trips that TBEX organized with local DMOs.  I saw them in advance of my trip, but did not know how to apply for them nor did I see information to help a newbie sign up.  I am not saying this to lambaste TBEX, but to voice my frustration that some resources are needed for newbies to fully benefit from attending the conference.

Overall, attending TBEX North America 2017 in Huntsville was a really good experience.  I learned a lot, and I would recommend it to other travel bloggers.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Good Eats: Boston

About a month ago I was in Boston attending the American Association of Geographers Annual Meeting, which was hosted at the Hynes Convention Center in the Back Bay.  So during my stay for the week, I checked out a handful of restaurants and pubs in the area.  Some were places listed in guide books (thanks Lonely Planet's Pocket Boston guidebook) and some were just places I found or friends heard about.

Following a game at Fenway Park (read about it here), my friends and I wanted a beer and some food.  So we ended up at...

Bukowski Tavern (50 Dalton St., Boston, MA 02115)
As cliché as it sounds, a friend of a friend suggested we stop in there.  It was roughly on the route from Fenway back to our hotels, so we (my friends and fellow geographers Dawn and Jonathan) decided to make the stop.

FYI: Bukowski Tavern only accepts cash, so be prepared.  However, if you're not prepared there is a convenient ATM located inside the front door.  The pub hails its self as home of the "Dead Writers Society" with a neon sign displayed in the window.  There is a long bar on the left and tables on the right side with a smaller space by the kitchen.

I ordered a burger and a beer, specifically Berkshire Brewing's Dean's Beans Coffeehouse Porter that was served on nitro.  Maybe it was because we were all hungry or thirsty for a beer, but it was a great meal.  It was so good that a few nights later, Jonathan and I returned and had another beer.  However, I opted for a different brew choice, and ordered the Long Trail Brewing's Cranberry Gose.  It was good, but could have been more tart.

Sadly, I don't have any photos of the food because it was a darker tavern, but it's worth the visit if you're looking for a burger and beer place in the Back Bay.  Perhaps the coolest part about visiting Bukowski Tavern was finding it listed in the Lonely Planet Pocket Boston guidebook after I'd already eaten and had drinks there twice.

Saus Boston (33 Union St., Boston, MA 02108)
When you have a friend who really enjoys poutine, you end up eating French fries with cheese curds and gravy.  I'm not sure why Jonathan has a hankering for poutine, but he does.  Granted, I can't complain because I do love the ingredients separately and I'm almost always up for trying something new and different.

So after visiting the JFK Presidential Library, we stopped at Saus Boston near the Boston Public Market.  I opted for the regular poutine, but felt like it needed a bit extra and added a fried egg on top.  I struggled a bit to find a beer they offered, and eventually settled on ordering a tall boy of Jack's Abby House Lager.

I was extremely pleased with my pairing.  The House Lager is a Helles-style beer, so it's light and refreshing and not overly hoppy.  So I got to enjoy and savor the gravy and cheese curds of the poutine while having a beer.  I'd definitely go there again, and maybe try a few different toppings on the poutine besides the fried egg.

Atlantic Fish Company (761 Boylston St., Boston, MA 02116)
On my last night in town, I finally sought out some seafood.  I asked for recommendations from the concierge, and was told about a place right next to Bukowski Tavern.  When I checked out the menu online, I was less than thrilled.  So consulting my LP Pocket Boston guide again, I found a place that I had walked past a few times over the past week and decided to go to Atlantic Fish Company.

The patio seating and much of the restaurant was packed when I arrived about eight o'clock.  As I was dining alone, I opted for a seat at the bar.  Dining at the bar is usually my preference when dining alone because I don't stand out at a table by myself and usually bartenders can be a bit more attentive to solo diners.

I enjoy a variety of seafood items, so I often order a sampler plate that allows me to try different items instead of just ordering a fish.  I opted for the Captain's Platter, but didn't want everything fried and ordered the shrimp and scallops to be blackened instead.

Captain's Platter with corn pudding.

The meal was delicious, so I was glad I listened to the LP guidebook and chose Atlantic Fish Co.

Legal Test Kitchen Logan Airport (Terminal A)
After much wrangling regarding my flights and concerns about getting home because of travel issues related to Delta flight delays and cancellations from the week prior due to tornadoes near the Atlanta airport, I ended up at Logan International Airport around 11:30 a.m.  I knew I wouldn't have much time between flights in Atlanta, and decided to get something to eat before boarding.

The previous night I marked seafood off my list of "must-eat" foods, but still hadn't had New England clam chowder while in Boston.  Thankfully the Legal Seafoods Test Kitchen was extremely close to my gate at Terminal A, so I sat down to get a cup of soup and a pint of beer.

The soup was delicious, which I expected because of Legal Seafoods's reputation.  It was be easy to dismiss eating at what has become a large chain in the region that now has locations even in Atlanta, but they've grown so large because of their excellence.  Make no mistake about it, if you want a good cup of soup while in town you definitely need to try the New England clam chowder at Legal.  It really was a great meal to close my stay in Boston, and left an excellent taste in my mouth to return and try more of Boston's good eats.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Baseball Stadiums: Fenway Park

My first visit to Fenway Park was in June 1999 on the weekend of the NHL Entry Draft when the Atlanta Thrashers came into existence with the expansion draft and selected Patrik Stefan with the first overall pick of the Entry Draft.

While I have photos of my visit, I was still using a film camera as digital cameras had yet to become available at reasonable prices.  So I don't have many photos of the stadium or game, but with a digital camera I was able to take a few more pictures of my visit this time.

Following my presentation at the AAG Annual Meeting about the intersection of Minor League Baseball and craft beer (read the abstract here), I made it to Fenway Park just in time to catch the national anthem.

Before making it into the park, my friends and I took a few pictures outside the iconic stadium.  We came up onto the stadium on Landsdowne Street, which is the back of the park and provides visitors with a view of the videoboard.

Street-level view of the videoboard.

Despite the presence of numerous bars and clubs, most fans don't hang out on Landsdowne Street but instead spend their time on Yawkey Way.  Since 2003, the City of Boston has allowed the Red Sox to close Yawkey Way before each home game, which has led to the conversion of the space into a giant street party with food vendors, memorabilia vendors, and more.

The party scene on Yawkey Way before the game.

While the party on Yawkey Way has become synonymous with the Red Sox, the image baseball fans from around the world come to see is the brick facade that features the name "Fenway Park."

Fenway Park facade with banners representing the team's World Series and American League titles.

After snapping the photos from outside the stadium, we made it inside the ballpark just in time to witness the national anthem and take out seats in the Infield Grandstand before the game's first pitch.

Once in my old wooden seat, I waited to snap a picture of the game's pitch.

Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Chris delivering the first pitch to Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop Jordy Mercer.

Although I did not get my usual photo of first pitch from behind home plate, I did capture a close-up of Pirates shortstop Jordy Mercer in the batter's box from my vantage point.

Closeup of Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop Jordy Mercer leading off for the visitors.

From my seat I was able to get some great shots of game action, so I got a picture of one of my favorite MLB players: Andrew McCutchen.  I also made sure to get shots of a few notable Red Sox players like left-handed pitcher Chris Sale and second baseman Dustin Pedroia.

Closeup of Pittsburgh Pirates right fielder Andrew McCutchen.

Closeup of Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Chris Sale.

Closeup of Boston Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia.

Before going to explore the stadium in search of food and possibly a beer, I made sure to take a picture of the franchise's retired numbers which hang near the right field foul pole (a.k.a. Pesky's Pole - read Boston Globe story from 2012 explaining its history).

The Right Field Bleachers with the Red Sox's nine retired numbers plus #42 of Brooklyn Dodgers legend Jackie Robinson, who has his number retired throughout Major League Baseball.

The Red Sox detail the history of each of the nine men who have their number retired by the team, which you can read here.  Ted Williams (#9) and Joe Cronin (#4) were the first to have their numbers retired, which took place in 1984.  The most recent number retired belongs to Wade Boggs (#26), who has his number retired in May 2016.  In June 2017, the Red Sox are set to retire the number of David Ortiz (#34).

Eventually I hit the concourse to explore and find some food.  A few days before my trip I heard about the new outlandish food that Aramark (the stadium concessionaire) was offering for the season, so I felt like I should try out one of the lobster-based dishes (read about the food items here).  I was thinking perhaps lobster poutine.  Before finding the specialty food stand, I stumbled upon a jersey commemorating the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.

Original "Boston Strong" jersey created following the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.

After my brief stop to snap a shot of the "Boston Strong" jersey, it did not take long to find the appropriate specialty food stand.  Unfortunately in the 3rd inning the concession stand had already run out of all lobster dishes.  I responded by asking for the Italian sausage and peppers sandwich, but sadly there was none to be had.

After leaving the stand, I decided to get the simplest and perhaps most iconic food item: a Fenway frank.

A Fenway frank with spicy mustard.

During my first visit to the venerable ballpark, I ate a Fenway frank while enjoying the game from a field box on the first baseline.  So this was not my first Fenway frank, but it was still quite good.  I kept it simple with just adding spicy mustard because I wanted to be sure to taste the encased meat.  Respectfully of Bostonians, whom I'm sure love their Fenway franks, it was OK.  The dog did the job, but it wasn't a particularly memorable meal.

So back in my seat after eating and watching the game progress, I felt like I needed to capture a few more pictures that people expect to see.  So as an urban geographer, I felt like I needed a picture showcasing the skyline.

The skyline from the third base line featuring the Prudential Tower and 111 Huntington Avenue (a.k.a. the R2-D2 building).

But no visit to Fenway Park is complete without a picture of the feature that makes the park so famous: the Green Monster.

The iconic Green Monster towering over Boston Red Sox left fielder Andrew Benintendi.

As has become tradition, I partook in the singing of "Sweet Caroline" during the middle of the 8th inning.  While I did not grow up rooting for the Red Sox and have not developed any love for the team over the years, I felt like it was appropriate to sing along as the tradition has become ensconced since 2002 (read a detailed history here).  I recorded video of the experience, which was pretty incredible.

As the game progressed through nine innings without a score, the debate began of how long should we stay considering the cold and a long travel day for myself and my two fellow geographers.  Sadly after a scoreless 10th inning, we decided it was time to head out for something more to eat, a beer, and a good night's sleep (more on the beer and food in another post).  I hate leaving baseball game's early, but felt like the long travel day merited an exception.  So we set out from the historic park.

Final Score: Pittsburgh 0, Boston 3 (12 innings)
Box Score

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Baseball Stadiums: New England Preview

As Opening Day for Major League and Minor League teams is upon us this week, I get set for two constants of my life during the month of April: attending the AAG Annual Meeting and attending some baseball games during the opening week of the season.

The 2017 AAG Annual Meeting is in Boston, so that will serve as the base of my journeys over the next week.

Map of my upcoming trip to New England.

I arrive in Boston on Wednesday, April 5, so I will start my trip by seeing the Red Sox that night.  It'll be a harried day, as I am also making my presentation that afternoon.  My research presentation combines two of my great pleasures in life: craft beer and Minor League Baseball (read about it here).  I will have to virtually sprint from my session to Fenway Park if I hope to make it in the gates before the first pitch.  So I may also go back for the game on Thursday, which is a day game.

I hoped to make it to Portland, Maine, for Opening Day of the Minor League season, but my academic responsibilities prevent me getting there on Thursday evening.  So I will instead lead a small field trip of geographers from Boston to Portland to catch the Sea Dogs on Friday night.  At the game I'll get to meet up with Josh Pahigian, and chat baseball.

There are several Minor League teams in New England, and naturally I'd love to see them all.  However, I'm at the mercy of the schedule in deciding what teams I can see.  So the only other team I will be able to see on this trip is the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, who I will catch on Saturday, April 8.  I'm not leading a field trip to see them, but instead getting a rental car for one day and maybe taking a friend or two with me.

Although I've seen games at Fenway Park (in 1999 when I attended the NHL Draft), and Hadlock Field and Northeast Delta Dental Stadium (when visiting a friend who lives in Connecticut), all of those visits were before I considered blogging about my baseball adventures.  So I won't get to add any new states or stadiums to my tally, but I'll get to add three new parks to my blog.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Baseball Stadiums: Photo in New Book

Since I started this blog, I've begun to interact with a lot of other baseball bloggers.  I've referenced some of them in my posts like Craig Wieczorkiewicz (Twitter: @MWLtraveler) and Malcolm MacMillan (Twitter: @BallparkGuide), and most people know about MiLB.com's Ben Hill (Twitter: @bensbiz).  In addition to interacting with these other bloggers, I've also made interacted and wrote about a baseball travel writer who has written numerous books about visiting Major League and Minor League stadiums: Josh Pahigian (Twitter: @joshpahigian).  You can find an inventory of all his books on Amazon.com here.

Last April, he contacted me about his latest project and asked if he could include a photo I took of a biscuit when I visited and blogged about my trip to see the Montgomery Biscuits in 2012 in the book (read about that visit here).  That book came to fruition this spring, so it felt appropriate to share that my blogging work has resulted in something I created appearing in print.

While I'm not making money off the publication, if you enjoy attending baseball games you should check out Pahigian's The Amazing Baseball Adventure: Ballpark Wonders from the Bushes to the Show.  You can find it on Amazon.com here.

Book cover.

You can find my photo and Josh's write-up about what makes eating a biscuit at Riverwalk Stadium in Montgomery, Ala., unique at #95 in his list.

My photo featured prominently next to a write-up about eating a biscuit.

I hope some seamheads enjoy the photo and write-up.  It is really cool to see my work picked up by another writer.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Baseball Stadiums: 2017 Resolutions

I'm now into year three of writing baseball-travel resolutions (read 2015's resolutions here; read 2016's resolutions here).  These resolutions/goals mostly focus on attending Minor League Baseball games, but sometimes I add a Major League Baseball goal.

The first resolution for 2017...
Over the past few years, I've gotten to interact with Josh Pahigian, who has written numerous books about attending MLB and MiLB games (see his Amazon author page here).  He lives in Portland, Maine, and teaches at the University of New England.  During this past season he reached out to me about using a photo I took of a biscuit at a Montgomery Biscuits games (read my post here) in his upcoming book The Amazing Baseball Adventure: Ballpark Wonders from the Bushes to the Show, and we've corresponded about attending a game together when I'm in the Boston area for the AAG Annual Meeting in May.  My schedule is still in flux, so I'm not sure what ballpark or game we may attend, but I'm optimistic that I'll get to either a New Hampshire FisherCats or Portland Sea Dogs game and meet Josh.

My second resolution for 2017...
I've previously aimed to see all the MiLB teams in Alabama, and setting the same goal this year.  I have seen the Barons (read post here), BayBears (read post here), and Biscuits (read post here) at different times since I started blogging about my stadium visits, but have never visited all three ballparks during the same season.  My fiancée Katie has been keen on the idea of seeing the Biscuits and BayBears, so I decided it would be a good goal to try and see all three teams during the upcoming season as we hopefully visit more of Alabama's craft breweries.

My third resolution for 2017...
Last August, Katie and I had hoped to visit the Mississippi Gulf Coast and attend a Biloxi Shuckers game, but we were unfortunately unable to accomplish that trip because of other commitments.  As she loves the beach and thankfully enjoys baseball, too, I've pitched the idea to her that we could visit Biloxi this summer for some beach time while also watching the Shuckers and visiting some of Mississippi's craft breweries.

My fourth resolution for 2017...
Last year, I resolved to see the Atlanta Braves play a game during their final season at Turner Field.  So it seemed appropriate and kind of obvious that I'd resolve to see the Braves play a game during their first season at SunTrust Park this year.

Now that I have my four baseball travel resolutions set for 2017 I have to start planning and make them a reality.  I accomplished two of my four resolutions for 2016, and hopefully will be more successful this year.