Today is Groundhog Day. As a strong proponent of doing the same thing again and again, I thought I’d go ahead and write a blog post dedicated to how the world of Minor League Baseball is celebrating this most hallowed of rodent weather prediction holidays.
We’ll start in Pennsylvania, of course, as the Keystone State has long served as the spiritual center of Groundhog Day. In State College, located 75 miles east of Punxsutawney, the Spikes have announced the following initiative:
The offer of bonus vouchers on McDonald’s Flex Books are a superfluous tie-in; the justification is that they give “fans multiple ways to enjoy Groundhog Day over and over again.”
More relevant is the offer of free admission to people named “Phil” on August 2. The Spikes mention that this offer extends to “Phil Collins, Phil Mickelson, Phil Jackson, Phil Simms and Dr. Phil”, but that “no current or former members of the Philadelphia Phillies will be allowed in free that night.”
I think some former Phillies should question this policy. Like, if Desi Relaford showed up and was like “Hey, give me a free ticket” I bet the Spikes would oblige.
The Altoona Curve are located even closer to Punxsatawney than are the Spikes. Last season, they even gave away a Groundhog Day bobblehead and had Phil out to the ballpark.
— Altoona Curve (@AltoonaCurve) February 2, 2016
They also released a new commercial:
— Altoona Curve (@AltoonaCurve) February 2, 2016
Frisco RoughRiders vice-president Jason Dambach is a Punxsutawney native and former Curve and Spikes employee. So I’m going to go ahead and check in on the RoughRiders to see if they are celebrating the day in a notable way.
Well…this is notable, I suppose.
— Frisco RoughRiders (@RidersBaseball) February 2, 2016
Another team I think of when the search engine that is my brain conjures up “Groundhog Day Minor League Baseball” are the Charleston RiverDogs. Team co-owner Bill Murray was the star of Groundhog’s Day, as you may recall. Let’s see what they RiverDogs are doing.
Okay, so here’s a tweet.
— Charleston RiverDogs (@ChasRiverDogs) February 2, 2016
That’s all I’ve got, but in the interest of total thoroughness I’ll do a quick run through my Twitter feed to see if I missed anything….
Update: I didn’t really miss anything, save for this.
If any teams were omitted from this post, please know it is because I did so intentionally and in fact don’t like your team and will never visit.
In closing, here’s a scorching track from underrated ’70s rockers Groundhogs.
The previous post in this “Return to the Road” blog saga covered the first half of my May 2015 trip through the Midwest. This post finishes the job, detailing my non-ballpark wanderings as I moved from Peoria to Cedar Rapids to Des Moines to Omaha.
I arrived in Peoria on the night of May 25 and thus had some free time in the early afternoon before attending May 26’s Chiefs game. When I have a small window of free time in a city that I’ve never been to, I find a record store to visit. It’s just what I do, as I’m a creature of habit.
This is Ribbon Records, a hybrid record and vintage clothing shop which, according to this blog post, is in a building formerly occupied by Murray’s Department Store.
Richard Pryor: “Wanted” (he is a Peoria native, after all)
Hank Williams: “Sings ‘Kaw-liga’ and Other Humorous Songs”
Motley Crue: “Too Fast for Love”
Nancy Sinatra: “Movin’ with Nancy”
That Nancy Sinatra LP is produced by Lee Hazlewood, and if you ever see Nancy and Lee’s names together on the same album then do not think. Just buy!
The only other things I can tell you about my time in Peoria, outside of the ballpark, was that I ate lunch at Lorena’s….
It is obscene how much I enjoy pork cracklins.
The cover art is inexcusably awful, but this is a well-curated and thoroughly enjoyable set of ’50s, ’60s and ’70s truck-drivin’ country songs. “Giddyup Go, Daddy.”
I spent the evening of May 27 with the Cedar Rapids Kernels, leaving the city early the next morning. Cedar Rapids, I hardly knew ye.
May 28 was devoted to an Iowa Cubs matinee in Des Moines and then an Omaha Storm Chasers game in the evening. The next morning, before flying out of Omaha, I stopped at Almost Music. I somehow failed to take a photograph of this establishment, so here’s one from the Yelp page.
Almost Music, while small, was well-organized and featured a lot of off-the-beaten path kind of stuff for the heads and weirdos in your life. I picked up an R. Stevie Moore record (“Delicate Tension”) as well as a CD from local emcee Macey Yates (I had asked the guy at the counter to recommend an Omaha artist completely removed from the Saddle Creek universe).
And then? Then I went home. There are a lot of things I like about living in New York City, but you don’t get to see nearly enough bird’s nests. Thanks, Midwest, for the memories.
Earlier this month, I wrote a series of “Return to the Road” posts detailing my non-ballpark experiences during April’s trip to Florida. Today, I’ll move on to similar material, this time centering around late May’s quick jaunt through the Midwest.
May 23 was a whirlwind — an early flight from NYC to Chicago, an extremely long wait for a rental car, a quick hotel check-in and then a jam-packed evening with the Kane County Cougars. It was all a blur, and that feeling persisted into the next morning.
I had no idea which car in the hotel parking lot was mine! I took both of them, just to be sure.
From there it was on to a (rained out) afternoon with the Quad Cities River Bandits, followed by an early evening drive to Clinton, Iowa. At some point during this drive, I took a picture of some amusing rest stop bathroom graffiti. I wish that I could share it with you in full, but this is a family blog (you’re probably reading this with your family right now, as Ben’s Biz is one of the few things that unites the average American family in this fractured media age).
Clinton, a factory town, came through on the Mexican front. This restaurant, as you can see, was in close proximity to a smoking lamppost.
Despite an 80 percent ingredient overlap from dish to dish, El Tapatio had a menu whose length was roughly equivalent to that of the Old Testament.
I don’t remember what I ordered, exactly, but it was, essentially, steak and eggs and rice and beans. Fundamental. (In the below photo, note that I was still reading an Athlon baseball preview magazine in late May. Those things take me forever to get through, as I am one of those obsessive types who reads every word of every page.)
The next morning, May 25, I drove to Clinton’s Eagle Point Park and took a stroll.
While I had less than an hour in which to wander around the premises, I’m glad that I visited Eagle Park. If you should ever be in Clinton, to see the LumberKings or otherwise, then I suggest that you do so as well. The park overlooks the Mississippi River, which, as it runs past Clinton, is at one of its widest points.
This brief pit stop was motivated by then-Richmond Flying Squirrels (and now Virginia Tech) broadcaster Jon Laaser, who consistently paid tribute to pitcher Jack Snodgrass via creative use of the “word” Snodgrass.
One of many examples.
After witnessing a Memorial Day doubleheader in Clinton, I drove back to Quad Cities and caught the second game of the River Bandits’ doubleheader against the Chiefs. From there, it was time for a nighttime drive to Peoria so that I would be well-positioned to see those very same Chiefs the following evening.
The second — and final — entry of this Midwest-based “Return to the Road” saga will begin in Peoria. We’ll see how it plays.
Yesterday’s bouillabaisse blog post focused exclusively on anniversary logos. Today, the bouillabaisse returns for the more wide-ranging grab bag of the Minor League odds, sods, bits, scraps, leftovers, debris and remnants that you (may) have come to love. If you’re a fan of divers and sundry, then you’re definitely in the right place.
Let’s begin by returning to yesterday’s topic, as I neglected to include the Lancaster JetHawks’ 20th anniversary logo.
The JetHawks will be celebrating this Diamond milestone throughout the season, perhaps most noticeably with their “20th Anniversary Mondays” promo (in which ticket prices are rolled back to what they were in 1996). May I suggest a promotion in which they ask fans to submit their best Lancaster-area dust storm photos from the last 20 years? This could be called “Show Us Your Haboobs.”
Yesterday (or Wednesday, for those keeping score at home), the Columbia Fireflies unveiled their uniforms. The Fireflies are the Mets’ Class A affiliate, replacing the Savannah Sand Gnats.
Interestingly, the Fireflies’ press release does not include the phrase “glow in the dark.” But, yes, portions of this uniform will indeed glow in the dark. Entities across the internet were quick to celebrate this fact.
— Cut4 (@Cut4) January 27, 2016
— Chris Creamer (@sportslogosnet) January 27, 2016
Question: Are the Fireflies the first Minor League team to have uniforms that incorporate glow-in-the-dark elements?
Last week the Omaha Storm Chasers announced the winners of their annual bookmark design contest, which the teams says is “the highlight” of their “Hit the Books” literacy program. I am including this photo of the winning designs because the overall winner’s name is “Brooklyn Bratetic” and that has to be one of the coolest names I’ve ever heard.
You may also recall (but more likely you never even knew) that January 21 was “Squirrel Appreciation Day.” The World’s Fastest Squirrel, long a part of the Lake Elsinore Storm’s usual gang of idiots, was one of the prime recipients of this nationwide outpouring of appreciation.
— Lake Elsinore Storm (@Storm_Baseball) January 21, 2016
Oh, and wouldn’t you know it? I have just been reminded of another anniversary logo that I forgot to include in my previous post: The Tri-City ValleyCats are celebrating their 15th season. If my calculations are correct, each white star in the logo equals one season, while each red star equals four seasons.
Now that this post is properly bookended, I’ll bring this latest (and therefore greatest) bouillabaisse session. Stay tuned for more, if you’re into that sort of thing.
According to my records, which I store in a meticulously organized and heavily guarded 52-inch filing cabinet, I have not authored a bouillabaisse blog post since January 6th. Three weeks have since passed and, thus, it is time for another one. But this will not just be any bouillabaisse, mind you. This is an anniversary logo bouillabaisse. My bouillabaisses have subcategories now. I have evolved.
‘Tis the season for anniversary logos, after all, a subset of the logo world in which there is always a strong undercurrent of ambiguity. Some teams commemorate their anniversary beginning with the year in which they began, while others start counting once a year has passed (in the way that us, mere mortals, celebrate our birthdays).
To wit: A team that began play in 1997 could, theoretically, celebrate its 20th anniversary in 2016 as 2016 marks the 20th season. A team that began play in 1996 could do the same, as 2016 marks the 20th year of existence. Do you follow me? (If not, I’m on Twitter @bensbiz)
The Lake Elsinore are taking the latter approach with their California-Carolina League All-Star logo, which scelebrates the 75th anniversary of the Cal League (1941). Those in the know know that 2016 also marks the 20th anniversary of the game itself (1996).
The California-Carolina League All-Star Game gets to have its cake and eat it too on the 20th anniversary front. Not only has it been 20 years since the game was first played, but this will also be its 20th iteration (for reasons lost to the mists of time, it was not played in 1997). Furthermore! The diamond in the logo not only represents the Cal League’s “Diamond” anniversary, but it also references the fact that the game will be played at Lake Elsinore’s The Diamond.
The Rochester Red Wings’ home of Frontier Field first hosted the team in 1997, making 2016 their 20th season in the facility. Thus, the release of this logo. If I was to offer a criticism of this logo, which I suppose I am: It’s a little busy. Maybe “20 seasons at Frontier Field” doesn’t need to be in the basepaths? Isn’t that implied?
While Frontier Field first hosted the Red Wings in 1997, the facility opened in the summer of 1996 with — you guessed it — a Beach Boys concert.
Way back in December, when it was still 2015, the Reading Fightin Phils unveiled a logo celebrating their upcoming 50th season as a Philadelphia Phillies affiliate (the longest affiliation in Minor League Baseball).
The above logo was designed by Brandiose and R-Fightin Phils executive director of graphic arts and game entertainment Matt Jackson. Jackon’s job title is already too long, but if it was to truly encompass his range of skills it would be “executive director of graphic arts and game entertainment and Crazy Hot Dog Vendor” Matt Jackson.
The Visalia Rawhide are entering their 71st season as a franchise. But it is their 70th anniversary as a Visalia entity. Thus, this pastoral logo.
In conjunction with this 70th anniversary, the Rawhide are “asking people to share their favorite memories from the last seven decades of Visalia professional baseball.” Those who do so will be entered to win a trip to the California-Carolina League All-Star Game. As you may remember, that game — the 20th to be played in the past 21 seasons — is being hosted by the Lake Elsinore Storm.
And thus, we have come full circle. My work here is done.
Way back in the Fall of 2013, I ran a guest post by Brad Lawrence of Fox Virtual Tours. In that post, Brad, a “Google trusted photographer,” explained how he had created a virtual 360-degree ballpark tour for the Kane County Cougars.
A few months ago Brad got in touch again to let me know that he has since designed a virtual tour for the West Michigan Whitecaps home of Fifth Third Ballpark. Thanks to Ben’s Biz Backlog, I am just getting to this topic now.
In their press release announcing the Google Virtual Tour, the Whitecaps communicated the following:
Google Street View technology allows users to see 360-degree panoramas of the entire ballpark, including many seating sections to provide accurate vantage points, all of the group outing areas, the Super Suite, and the CapSized Shop. The tour also includes interesting locations that Whitecaps fans may never have directly seen before, such as the view from the playing field….The photos are produced using a rotating digital camera mounted on a tripod. Once the photos were taken, Lawrence uses “stitching” software that links each of the photos together to create a seamless tour.
I’m really pleased with how [the Whitecaps] tour turned out– in particular with the spectacular views around the ballpark and the creative stuff we did with the mascots and the scoreboard “Easter egg” view. I really tried to build on what I did for the Cougars and make this one more fun for the fans. From a practical standpoint, the Whitecaps are already actively using the tour on their website and in their sales process. So I think it’s both a fun story and also one of interest on the business side of baseball.
I can truthfully state that every club who has gotten my virtual tour has gone on to win the next championship. Granted, it’s a small sample size (the Cougars and the Whitecaps), but 2-for-2 ain’t bad!
The above scoreboard “Easter Egg” view reminds me of my 2013 visit to the Whitecaps.
The Midwest League is now the undisputed champion when it comes to Google Virtual Tour usage. If you work for a team: Is this something that you think your club would consider doing? Would it result in new fans and potentially attract new company outings? If you’re a fan: Do you enjoy these tours? Would it make you more likely to purchase tickets?
At any rate, I think that Google Virtual Tours are an interesting endeavor and something that other teams should at least consider.
Part One of this Florida-based “Return to the Road” saga covered my non-ballpark wanderings in the general area of Bradenton, Tampa and St. Petersburg. Part Two focused on my visit to Minor League Baseball headquarters in St. Petersburg. This, Part Three, covers the final section of April’s trip through the Sunshine State.
We begin on April 15, when I visited — you guessed it — a record store. This one is located in the greater Palm Beach area, but here’s the thing: I no longer remember where, exactly, I was or what this record store was called. I’m sure a helpful reader — most likely Ed Pelegrino — will soon fill me in.
This particular record store was quite expansive. I got a copy of Sparks “A Woofer in Tweeter’s Clothing” for, like $7 bucks. Great deal, and if you’re a fan of Sparks then you’re a friend of mine. I also bought “Use Your Illusion II” on CD, as part of my ongoing effort to own all Guns N’ Roses albums in all formats.
Fascinating stuff, right? The next several days, as I made my way through Vero Beach, St. Lucie and Brevard County, are similarly bereft of non-ballpark related materials. At one point I went to a Vietnamese restaurant in St. Lucie and was dismayed to find that their pork chops were off the bone and of a weirdly pinkish hue.
I do remember that, after attending April 18’s Brevard County Manatees game, I was craving Buffalo Wild Wings. The closest one was, like, 20 miles away, so I called in my order and then made the drive there on Route 95. When I got there, my order wasn’t ready and, in fact, they hadn’t even started it yet.
But all’s well that end’s well. On these road trips I’m overwhelmed with details and often lost within my own manic mind, and sometimes a meal like this in a hotel room represents the pinnacle of relaxation and luxury.
After eating my dinner, I found this Man of Steel Blu-Ray underneath a chair. I did not take it, because I do not know what a Blu-Ray is, and superhero movies are uniformly terrible (there are no exceptions to this rule).
Nonetheless, I was inspired to go out into the lobby and create a superhero of my own. I am Feline Man, who travels with his trusty sidekick, Cobra Guy, fighting bad guys up and down the dangerous back roads of Brevard County.
The following day, April 19, was one of the busiest and multi-faceted days that I enjoyed while on the road this season. I got up bright and early and got on good ol’ 95, barreling toward Jacksonville. As I did when en route to Pensacola in 2012, I stopped at one of the infinitely appealing roadside tourist traps.
Florida citrus — believe the hype! It is remarkable how much more flavor it has, when consumed at peak freshness. And there is a variety beyond what one can find at grocery stores in other parts of the country.
Why was I here? Because there is a reason for everything.
The night before, while emailing Suns staff about logistics related to my imminent visit, Suns box office manager (and seamstress!) Theresa Viets said I should stop by the brewery’s parking lot food truck fest if I had the time.
Early afternoon on a hot summer’s day is definitely not an ideal time for a band like Grandpa’s Cough Medicine, whose incredibly adept bluegrass blazers are best suited to late whisky nights. But, regardless, I was amazed at how good these guys are; incredible finger-picking skills, clever and often darkly humorous lyrics and an innate chemistry that can only be honed by playing live on a regular basis.
Here’s the title track off of their latest album, which I bought right after they finished playing (to a disinterested, sun-baked audience). I mean, my goodness. This band deserves a much wider profile.
I still had about two hours before my scheduled arrival at the ballpark, so I drove from the brewery to Jacksonville’s Five Points neighborhood.
I parked on a nearby residential street, who knows where, and walked past “Troops of Time” en route to bustling Park Street. I really should have gone inside. Despite being a longtime Martika fan, I’ve never visited a toy soldier store.
5 Points, just north and west of downtown and The Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville, has Deep Search Records, a bar called Rain Dogs, a weird beer/misc. store called Cask, another bar called Starlight, I think? And a dope movie theater (Sun-Ray), a one screen joint with beer, pizza, indie movies, live shows, and Hollywood movies, too.
It also has Wall Street, which is my favorite dive in Jax.
And, well, that’ll do it for my “Return to the Road” recap of April’s trip to the Sunshine State. Stay tuned for similar material throughout the remainder of the offseason. You’ll be glad you did. Or at least I think you’ll be glad. Who really does know? I sure don’t.
Part One of this “Return to the Road” saga covered my non-ballpark wanderings in the general area of Bradenton, Tampa and St. Petersburg. This post, which I will cleverly refer to as Part Two, picks up right where I left off in, still in St. Petersburg. After a quick stroll through the city’s downtown, I hopped back into the rental vehicle and drove to an unassuming office park. This is the site of Minor League Baseball headquarters.
I’ve been to MiLB headquarters before, in 2012. The above photo was taken during that visit, which yielded a blog post as well as a MiLB.com article. As in 2012, I spent a nice chunk of time exploring the building’s treasure trove of historical Minor League artifacts. Jeff Lantz, Minor League Baseball’s director of communications, served as my tour guide.
This narrow cinder-block room, fireproof and lined with filing cabinets, gives on an indication as to how player data was stored in the pre-digital age.
Some of the cards contain a detailed record of the player’s transaction history. I must have taken a photo of this one simply because it was located in the first drawer. John Ackley played seven seasons in the Red Sox system, from 1979-85.
More reading material can be found in the library, which totally makes sense. Shelves such as this might not look particularly interesting, but looks can be deceiving.
If time was not of the essence, I would have spent the remainder of the day in the Minor League Baseball library. But time was of the essence, and there was still one more room I absolutely had to visit.
The legendary hat wall, a point of obsession for a certain subset of baseball fans, features the primary hat of all 160 affiliated Minor League teams. The hats are listed alphabetically, and I imagine that since this photo was taken the Hartford Yard Goats and Columbia Fireflies have been added (and the New Britain Rock Cats and Savannah Sand Gnats removed).
With the help of Jeff Lantz, I then produced the following Vine video.
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) January 15, 2016
And that just about did it for my time at Minor League Baseball Headquarters, as I was due to catch that evening’s Dunedin Blue Jays game. All I remember about the drive from St. Petersburg to Dunedin was that the weather was bad and the traffic awful.
Regular readers of this blog might recall that, in years past, I supplemented my “On the Road” ballpark material with “Return to the Road” posts detailing that which I was able to experience outside of the ballpark. I always enjoyed doing this, but as my operation has expanded (in scope, if not in scale) I have found it increasingly difficult to incorporate “non-ballpark” activity into my schedule.
That said, I do my best, and figured that these early months of 2016 represented a good opportunity to go back and revisit my 2015 trips. Yes, let’s Return to the Road! This post will focus on my trip to Florida, which took place from April 11 to the 19th.
Despite the relatively short drives from ballpark to ballpark on this trip, I didn’t have the time to explore many of the towns themselves. I didn’t even set foot on a beach, outside of the night I sleepwalked onto one while wearing an ankle-length gown and nightcap. But what I’ve got is something, and something is always better than nothing.
It all started in the town of Pinellas Park, Florida, where I set up shop prior to visiting the nearby Bradenton Marauders. As you can see, this is an American town like no other, one in which Mr. Pool uses supplementary signage to clarify that he does, indeed, sell pools.
Being gluten-free on the road is tough. Since my celiac disease diagnosis, I always pack an extra bag of road snacks to insure that I’ll have an option. But best of all is finding something that meets my needs and tastes great. Often, that something is Vietnamese. When I saw this sign, I was like “Pho Quyen, awesome!”
The objective on this day was to get to Steinbrenner Field, home of the Tampa Yankees, in time for a pregame local food fest on the concourse. Time was of the essence, but nonetheless I was able to make a pit stop at a record store.
This is Mojo Books and Records in Tampa. It opened in 2007, during a period when most stores of this nature were shutting down or in their death throes. Mojo is packed to the gills with new and used books, LPs and CDs, and a coffee shop is located on the premises as well. My lone photo does not do it justice.
Unfortunately I cannot locate the pocket notebook in which I wrote down what I purchased, but I know it included the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion’s “Freedom Tower — No Wave Dance Party” as well as a day-by-day diary “written” by Pete Rose as he chronicled his record-breaking 1985 season.
That evening, as I was driving from somewhere to somewhere, I discovered that Wawa (cultishly beloved in eastern Pennsylvania) exists in Florida as well. They even stocked Herr’s and Tastykake.
I spent the evening with the Dunedin Blue Jays, but prior to that I spent a nice chunk of the afternoon in St. Petersburg. I was impressed with the downtown area, Central Avenue, to be specific, which was vibrant and tree-lined. The State Theatre is located on the left hand side of the below photo, a venue that hosts a diverse array of concerts (although, looking at the current listings, none that I would pay to go see. Except maybe Bubba Sparxxx).
Daddy Kool Records is located next door to Local 299. I went inside, and took my standard issue poor-quality photo.
I enjoyed wandering through Daddy Kool’s but nothing was really jumping out of the stacks at me. I debated buying a record by Midnight, a Cleveland metal band, but it was, like, $30 bucks. I have a hard time understanding why records are that expensive. In lieu of that, I picked up Mudhoney’s “Live at Third Man Records” LP (marking the second day in a row I bought a new record by a band I’ve been a fan of for two decades. Old habits die hard).
I did not visit the Stoner Organization, as I am in no need of a health benefits specialist.
My main objective in St. Petersburg, however, was to visit Minor League Baseball headquarters. I’ll write about that in the next post.