On the Road: New York State of Mind, Part Three

(Interested in perusing all of my 2014 “On the Road” content? Click HERE  to visit a continually updated “On the Road” landing page. Bookmark it, and read ‘em all! More articles are being added by the day.)

Part one in this series detailed my non-ballpark explorations (or lack thereof) in Batavia, Rochester and Jamestown. Part two covered Erie, Pennsylvania and Buffalo, New York. Part three, which you are reading now, begins on August 27th in Syracuse and ends on the 29th as I leave Syracuse for Troy (one of the “Tri-Cities” referenced in the Tri-City ValleyCats name).

But enough of this introductory babble: Let’s get to it, lest it get to us!

August 27 — Syracuse, New York (home of the Chiefs)

After leaving Buffalo (where the last post left off), I arrived in Syracuse in the late afternoon and drove straight to the Chiefs’ home of NBT Ballpark. Here’s a sneak preview of what that looked like:

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I attended that evening’s game — some has been written regarding that experience, but much more remains to be written — and then checked into the Crowne Plaza Hotel in downtown Syracuse. This was a fairly classy establishment, above average as Minor League team hotels go, but the most notable thing about it was the elevators. To use them, one would type in the desired floor on a console located in the lobby, and the console screen would then direct the user to one of three elevators. Inside the elevators there were no buttons (outside of those used for emergencies), since the elevator already “knew” where you wanted to go.

This might be superior to the traditional system, but I found it impossible to shake the habit of pushing a button once inside the elevator. Every time, there was that instinctual lunge toward where the buttons would be, followed by the realization of “Oh, right, it already knows what floor I want to go to.” Everyone I rode with seemed to have the same reaction, with the result that the elevators were always a topic of conversation when riding the elevators. In this regard, the unorthodox system served as a vehicle for increased social interaction within an environment usually permeated by stilted going-through-the-motions niceties and subsequent awkward silence.

August 28: A full day in Syracuse, but not much to report.

After a bout of late morning writing, I set out to Dinosaur Bar-B-Que for lunch. Dinosaur has become a mini BBQ empire here in the Northeast, but it all started at this location in downtown Syracuse.

095I got a brisket and ribs combination platter, and while no photographic evidence of this meal is available I can assure you that it was delicious. And BBQ is generally pretty easy to navigate on the gluten-free front — stay away from sandwiches (and in some cases, certain sauces) and you’re pretty much good to go. Here’s a picture of the brisket, unabashedly stolen from the Dinosaur Bar-B-Que home page:

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(As an aside, I recently went to Mighty Quinn’s BBQ in New York City. I was a bit wary of the place because it received a lot of hype and places in NYC often don’t live up to said hype, but this place served some of the best BBQ I’ve ever had. Not just in the northeast, but anywhere. The brisket and wings were particularly amazing. If you’re visiting NYC, make sure to get a meal there. Maybe I’ll join you.)

Anyhow, all I did after going to Dinosaur BBQ was go back to the hotel room, do some more writing, and then drive to Auburn to see that evening’s Doubledays game. Some has been written about that experience, and much more remains to be written. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to spend any time whatsoever in Auburn proper, which is regrettable. Auburn bills itself as “History’s Hometown,” and attractions include the Harriet Tubman Home and Fort Hill Cemetery (built on a site once used by Native Americans as a fortress). It was also the childhood home of apocryphal baseball inventor Abner Doubleday — hence the name of the local sporting nine.

Auburn -- home to Lil' Abner

Auburn — home to Lil’ Abner

August 28 — Syracuse, New York and Troy, New York (home of the ValleyCats).

After checking out of the Crowne Plaza and saying goodbye to the unorthodox elevators, I jumped (literally jumped!) into the car and headed to New Century Vietnamese Restaurant for lunch. Located on a block that was otherwise residential, this unassuming establishment really delivered the goods.

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And by “the goods,” I mean this. God bless Vietnamese food. It is consistently wonderful.

001Time was at a premium, as it always is, but before leaving Syracuse I decided to look up the address of a local record store, punch it into the GPS, and head over. This effort brought me to this area.

007And, specifically, to The Soundgarden. (Given this store’s name, you’d think it’d be located near Cornell as opposed to Syracuse University).

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The Soundgarden is the sort of store that used to be quite common in college towns, a something-for-everybody clearinghouse of cds, vinyl, posters, t-shirts, books, magazines, collectible toys and even incense. I like these kind of places.

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My big find here was the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion “She’s On It/Jack the Ripper” 12″ that was released for Record Store Day. (The NYC stores had sold out of it quickly, and I never got a copy. My high school self would have been very disappointed at my lackadaisical efforts in obtaining this record, as back then a record featuring the Blues Explosion covering Beastie Boys would have made my head explode. (Oh, and fun fact: the first concert I ever saw was Beastie Boys at the Philadelphia Civic Center in May of 1995. Blues Explosion and the Roots opening.))

Anyhow, I also picked up three used cds: Neil Young “Road Rock,” Acid Mothers Family “Do Whatever You Want Don’t Do Whatever You Don’t Want” and “Weird Al” Yankovic “Poodle Hat.” (I coulda sworn I had this already, but a recent perusal of the stacks indicated otherwise. It is imperative to own all “Weird Al” recordings).

And that was it for Syracuse. I realize I didn’t have much but I stretched it out for all that it was worth and got a little more self-indulgent than usual in the process. I hope you don’t mind.

From Syracuse it was on to Troy, where I attended that evening’s Tri-City ValleyCats game. So far nothing has been written about that, but the blog post from that evening promises to be fairly epic. The next day I had some time to poke around the city of Troy, but I think I’m going to save that material for a fourth (and definitely final) “New York State of Mind” post.

Until then, I remain,

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

On the Road: New York State of Mind, Part Two

(Interested in perusing all of my 2014 “On the Road” content? Click HERE  to visit a continually updated “On the Road” landing page. Bookmark it, and read ‘em all!)

Part one in this series detailed my non-ballpark explorations (or lack thereof) in Batavia, Rochester and Jamestown. Part two, which you are reading now, begins on August 25th and covers Erie, Pennsylvania and Buffalo, New York.

Let’s get to it, lest it get to us!

August 25th — Erie, Pennsylvania (home of the SeaWolves)

I grew up outside of Philadelphia, my grandparents had a house in the Poconos, and I went to college in Pittsburgh. Therefore, I consider myself to be quite familiar with the state of Pennsylvania. But it wasn’t until this trip that I ventured deep into the northwest quadrant of the state, and I’m glad that I finally had the opportunity to do so. Erie, heretofore unbeknownst to me, is quite beautiful.

I arrived in Erie on the evening of August 24th, having driven there after attending that afternoon’s Jamestown Jammers game. After a night of rest at the Clarion Inn, I did some writing, got lunch at a local Mexican restaurant, and then headed over to Presque Isle State Park. (I’ve been pronouncing it “Press Kyle State Park.” I hope that’s correct.)

IMG_0206Per the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources:

Presque Isle State Park is a 3,200-acre sandy peninsula that arches into Lake Erie. As Pennsylvania’s only “seashore,” Presque Isle offers its visitors a beautiful coastline and many recreational activities, including swimming, boating, fishing, hiking, bicycling and in-line skating. 

I only had about an hour to poke around, but my pokings soon brought me to this pristine stretch of beach. It was a beautiful day, and the water was a perfect temperature. I would have happily spent the entire day there, if Minor League Baseball obligations hadn’t intervened (as they always do, and must).

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I didn’t do much except wander along the coastline with my pantlegs pulled up to my knees, but what else was there to do? Presque Isle is now firmly entrenched in my mind as a place to visit on a non-baseball-related road trip (should such a thing ever exist in my life). And while that’s all the time that I had to explore Erie, there is, obviously, much more to do than go to the beach. In an email prior to my visit, SeaWolves president Greg Coleman provided the following information:

  • Near the entrance to Presque Isle (locally know as The Peninsula), you’ll find two local institutions – an amusement park called Waldameer and a ’50’s style hot dog stand/eatery called Sara’s. Both are considered Erie institutions. The Ravine Flyer at Waldameer has one of the most stunning rollercoaster views I’ve ever seen as it looks out over the peninsula and Lake Erie.
The Ravine Flyer (photo from Wikipedia)

The Ravine Flyer (photo from Wikipedia)

  • Bicentennial Tower is probably the most recognizable landmark in Erie.  It is located on the bay front at the northernmost tip of State Street (Erie’s equivalent of “Main Street”) and was built in 1996 to commemorate Erie’s 200th anniversary.
Bicentennial Tower (again, from Wikipedia)

Bicentennial Tower (again, from Wikipedia)

  • The Erie Maritime Museum is a short walk from Bicentennial Tower.  The museum hosts the U.S. Brig Niagara, the official flagship of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, when it is docked in Erie.
  • Erie boasts a number of number of attractions rarely seen in a community of its size (Erie County’s population is 280,000) including the Erie Zoo, the Tom Ridge Environmental Center, four colleges/universities within 15 miles, an indoor water park (Splash Lagoon), an NBDL basketball team, an OHL hockey team and Minor League Baseball.
  • Pop culture notes: Alice from the Brady Bunch (the recently deceased Ann B. Davis) and Train lead singer Pat Monahan both grew up Erie, PA.  Erie was also home to fictional band, the Wonders, from Tom Hanks’ movie That Thing You Do (limited filming was done at Mercyhurst University in Erie).
Erie native Ann B. Davis (once again, from Wikipedia)

Erie native Ann B. Davis (once again, from Wikipedia)

The next day, it was onward to the Queen City.

August 26: Buffalo, New York (home of the Bisons)

In Buffalo, I had a man on the inside in the form of Seamus Gallivan. Seamus and I first became acquainted during his days working for the Corpus Christi Hooks and Round Rock Express, but after the 2009 season he left Minor League Baseball and returned to his native Buffalo. His professional career is now dedicated to spreading “Buffalove” via his Good Neighborhood Foundation, working for the Larkin Square public event space and booking shows all around the city. Buffalo, after years of industrial decline and a resultant inferiority complex, is now re-inventing itself in myriad ways and Seamus is a passionate proponent of all that it has to offer.

I met Seamus at Larkin Square, which opened in 2012.

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From the Larkin Square website:

Larkin Square lies at the heart of Larkinville, the site of the former Larkin Soap Company warehouse buildings. This open public space provides a backdrop of colorful furniture amongst whimsical architecture….food, music and fun abound.

When I first got to Larkin Square, a few early-arriving food trucks were staking out the best spots for that evening’s Food Truck Tuesday event. 20 trucks set up shop on the premises, a live band plays, and (presumably) a good time is had by all.

But Seamus and I weren’t going to be visiting any of these vehicular food purveyors. Following Buffalo protocol, we were going to get some chicken wings. In advance of my visit Seamus had initiated a Facebook discussion regarding the best wings in Buffalo, which elicited a remarkable 138 comments. Here’s a sampling of the conversation:

Stevie Matthews Duffs Amherst (get hot to make them sweat) for traditional wings. Or, I am also partial to Dwyer’s in NT if you want to travel a bit out of Buffalo and get experimental with a ton of flavors.

Nathan Montague Duke’s if they want smoked BBQ wings. Gabriel’s Gate is good. Consider taking them to Anchor so they can say they’ve been there.

Christopher Taylor 911 tavern if you have to stay in the city. If not Bar Bill in EA all day long.

Lauren Leadbetter Bar Bill – east aurora (honey butter BBQ). OR Potters pub – south buffalo (honey mustard BBQ)

Duke Duquin Our smoked bbq are the best bbq by far…not even close & offer a healthy alternative as fat is rendered off during smoking process. These tasty treats are grilled not fried. #nextlevelwings

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Duke’s

Chris Duncan Elmos or duffs or anchor….. since hes never been to Buffalo why not take him to where it all started. Just kinda makes sense.
Edmund Cardoni Where I like to get wings living here: Papa Jake’s for classic wings, Essex Street (smoked), Gabriel’s Gate, Bar Bill if I’m in East Aurora, etc. But I would always bring a first-time visitor to the Anchor Bar.
Seamus went with a well-considered wild card selection, however:
Seamus Gallivan For those interested, we hit Cole’s with consideration of the interior aesthetics, patio, and that I could give him a driving tour from Larkinville up the East Side, over Delaware Park, and down Elmwood Village and downtown.
Yes, Cole’s:
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Aesthetically, Cole’s is most definitely a winner. It was established in 1934, and the walls are lined with vintage sports memorabilia.
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Seamus and I opted for a spot outside, which was a nice environment until the bees descended upon us. We ordered Buffalo wings (or, “wings” as I suppose it’s redundant to call them Buffalo wings while in Buffalo) and, changing things up, Sicilian chicken wings (tossed in Italian and Caesar dressing with Parmesan and lemon juice).
The Buffalo wings were, as Seamus put it, “solid but unspectacular.” They were a little dry, and I would have preferred a little more sauce and overall bite. Perfectly acceptable is what they were, but I guess when one is in Buffalo one expects wings of transcendence.
IMG_0334The Sicilian Wings were less traditional, but had more going on flavor-wise. A little tart, a little sweet, a little spice. I liked them a lot.
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After finishing our meal, which really was descended upon by bees, Seamus and I went upstairs to see Cole’s private event room. The lighting left something to be desired, but the stained glass Buffalo sports logos were really cool. This is the NBA’s Buffalo Braves (who later moved to Los Angeles and became the basketball powerhouse that are the Clippers).
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Bills:
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Buffalo was already making a good first impression on me, and then I saw that this was the cover story in the weekly free paper. My good impression subsequently turned to great!
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(In related pinball news — after a 15 month run, I was recently dethroned as Medieval Madness grand champion at my local laundromat. Without hyperbole, I can tell you that my local laundromat is the greatest laundromat of all time.)
After lunch, Seamus headed back to Larkin Square to get set up for the Food Truck Tuesday event. I, meanwhile, checked into my hotel and then walked to the Bisons’ home of Coca-Cola Park. There were a few architectural highlights along the way, such as this building (whatever it may be).
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But this was the highlight: The Prudential Building, designed by noted architect Louis H. Sullivan and built in 1895. It’s “an all-steel frame office building with fine terra cotta veneer.”  I mean, just look at that veneer!
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Not all architecture is created equal, however. Just look at the phallic monstrosity that is One Seneca Tower.
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Across the street from the ballpark, I spotted this piece of heartfelt signage.
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I then watched the Bisons play their final home game of the year; some has already been written about that but much remains to be written. After the ballgame I wandered down to the waterfront area known as Canalside and got a drink with Seamus at a bar called Liberty Hound. Located at the original terminus of the Erie Canal and surrounded by the USS The Sullivans and The USS Little Rock, this is a very scenic place to spend some time. The bartenders were friendly and the pours (very) generous; I’d highly recommend checking this place out before and/or after and/or during a Bisons game. Here’s a picture of the Liberty Hound, which I stole from Seamus’ Good Neighborhood website.
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 My night ended at the Liberty Hound, but my Buffalo explorations did not. The next day, after an extended bout of hotel-based writing, I met Seamus for lunch at the West Side Bazaar.  Somehow, this is the best photo I was able to take of the building’s exterior.
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Anyhow, this place is great. Simply put, and stolen from the website, the West Side Bazaar “is a small business incubator supporting entrepreneurs on their path to becoming successful business owners.”
Immigrant entrepreneurs, specifically. Inside the Bazaar are eight separate “boutiques” and four food windows. Again, my photography skills (to the extent that they exist in the first place), were failing me.
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The food options are South Sudanese, Ethiopian, Thai…
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and Burmese.
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Seamus and I opted for the Burmese. I got a curry combination platter, and it was a very satisfying meal. I would have loved to try all four options, and if I make it back to Buffalo I’m definitely making it back to the Bazaar.
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Seamus and I parted ways after lunch — thanks, Seamus, for the hospitality! Before heading on to Syracuse, I poked around the general area just a little bit more.
“Your link to quality” can be found at this “Meating Place.” Get it? I bet you never sausage a sign as that!
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West Side Stories is a great used book store. I bought an Elvis “Live in Hawaii” record (found therein was a 1977 newspaper editorial lamenting his death), a coaster embossed with a Shel Silverstein poem, a book of horror stories by Clive Barker and an annotated copy of the U.S. Constitution.
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The proprietress of West Side Stories suggested I walk down the street and check out Black Dots, a record store in an unassuming downstairs space.  You don’t have to tell me twice!
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This was a cool little spot, for sure. There was a strong punk/metal emphasis amid the limited inventory, but I ended up buying some stuff that I wouldn’t have expected to find there. Namely, a used copy of the Beastie Boys’ “Alive” 10″ and a new copy of Lil’ Wayne’s “The Leak” ep (I did not even know this existed in physical form. “I’m Me” is my second-favorite Lil Wayne song of all time, but all five tracks are fantastic.) I was also gonna finally get that last Jucifer LP but I guess that can wait until another day.
Black Dots, like every record store on Earth, had a used copy of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours sale. People who say they do not like Rumours are probably just kidding because it’s a near-impossible album not to like no matter what your genre predilections may be.
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Oh, and Black Dot had a shelf of bootleg live tapes for 50 cents apiece. I bought “Neil Young at the New York State Fair, Syracuse, 8/27/1989.” After all, it was August 27, 2014, and I was just about to make my way to Syracuse! That’s some serious serendipity right there.
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At this point I really don’t have too much more to add, except that Sweetness 7 Cafe is a good spot to get some coffee.
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Oh, and Buffalonians really hate Jon Bon Jovi! Apparently he was part of a scheme to buy the Bills and move them to Toronto, but that scenario was thwarted thanks to a fracking billionaire. (Hey man, you can destroy the environment all you want. Just make sure that that team stays in Buffalo.)
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Jon Bon Jovi owning the Bills? Sayreville it ain’t so.

And that’s it for me, until part three.
benjamin.hill@mlb.com
twitter.com/bensbiz

On the Road: New York State of Mind, Part One

My latest (and therefore greatest) road trip took place from August 22 through August 31st, consisting largely of teams based in the great state of New York. MiLB.com articles from this trip have been appearing on MiLB.com over the past 12 days, and will continue to appear this week and the week thereafter. To check out those stories, and many others, please bookmark this handy landing page for all of my 2014 road trip writings. I’ll be glad you did.

Once my MiLB.com articles are complete, I’ll write a corresponding blog post for each of the 10 ballparks I visited. The season may be over, but so much material is still to come! Some of that material shall be delivered to you now via this post, the first in a series covering all of my non-ballpark explorations during this most recent road trip. My 10 stadiums in 10 days itinerary didn’t allow much time for such explorations, but I will share everything that I can.

Starting now:

August 22: Batavia, New York (home of the Muckdogs)

I left New York City on the morning of August 22, immediately setting out for the western New York town of Batavia (population 15,645). Now that the Jamestown Jammers are no longer (moving to Morgantown, West Virginia in 2015), Batavia is the only remaining charter member of the New York-Penn League. This plaque, located at the Muckdogs’ home of Dwyer Stadium, explains Batavia’s role in NYPL history:

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I arrived in Batavia a little after four p.m., and had an hour or so to poke around before heading to Dwyer Stadium. I briefly considered heading to the nearby town of Elba, which, per Muckdogs general manager Travis Sick, is the epicenter of the region’s much-beloved muck:

Muck is a very dark brown soil, appearing black when moist. It is a fine, loose, fibrous form of peat that feels like sawdust when dry. Onions are the main “muck” crop because they are hardy and thrive in loose soil. Elba, a small town to 5 miles to the North of Batavia, claims to be the “Onion Capital of the World” due to the amount of onions that are grown in the muck lands.

Given my time constraints, and a desire to not make muck ado about nothing, I opted to spend my pre-game time in Batavia proper. There is a lot of history and charm in this old downtown, although the charm quotient is greatly reduced due to Main Street’s heavy traffic and pedestrian-unfriendly street crossings. Via some on-the-spot Google research, I was able to determine that the Hotel Richmond, where the New York-Penn League was conceived in a fit of National Pastime passion, once stood at the intersection of Main and Court Streets.

This is what the intersection of Main and Court Street looks like now. I wonder if the owner of this black SUV, while waiting at the stoplight, paused to consider just how close he or she was to Minor League Baseball history. My guess would be no.

IMG_0160While the four lanes of traffic cutting a wide swath through the center of Main Street diminishes Batavia’s charm, charm is nonetheless still in abundance. Fire hydrants, traditionally slaves to pragmatism, have style and pizzazz.

003This is the police station.

004And this is the courthouse. It goes without saying, but “Genesee Justice” would make for a really good reality TV show.

Update! This is not the courthouse. Per reader Doug Schneider:

What you have identified as the courthouse is the former sheriff’s office, now headquarters to an alternatives-to-incarceration program called Genesee Justice. The court house is at the big intersection (5 and 63) just east of there.

005Oliver’s “Own Make” Candies was one of the more notable businesses I encountered. (I went inside and bought some cayenne pepper-spiced caramel corn.)

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007Oliver’s Candies represented the zenith of my Main Street peregrinations, as after visiting I headed back toward my automobile. On my return route, I passed several points of historical interest.

Capt. Charles F. Rand was “a native Batavian….officially recognized by the Congress of the United States as the first person to answer President Lincoln’s appeal for volunteers in the Civil War.” More info on him can be found HERE.

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The War of 1812 Bicentennial Peace Garden.

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013Major General Emory Upton.

014I wish I had had more time to explore Batavia, in much the same way that I wished I had had more time to explore every American city that I have ever visited. But it was not to be, for duty called.

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August 23: Rochester, New York (home of the Red Wings)

Upon the conclusion of August 22’s Muckdogs game, I drove 36 miles northeast to Rochester and checked in at the Hyatt-Regency. It was one of the nicer hotels I stayed at this season — I generally stay in each city’s team hotel, where the visiting players stay –, and I was able to get a drink at the bar just before it closed (being on the road is all about small victories). I also noticed something which became a pattern on this trip: people in western New York pronounce the word “complimentary” as “complimen-tary. Can anyone back me up on this?

The jerks in the room next to mine at the Hyatt were extremely loud and kept me up later than I would have liked, but such is life. Looking for something to do in the absence of sleep, I took this photo out of the hotel room window at 2:30 a.m. A friend of mine told me that this photo reminded him of Man Ray and I hope that is true. Everybody loves Ray, Man.

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As for Rochester explorations, I regret to report that they were exceedingly minimal. I slept late the next morning, wrote for a nice chunk of the afternoon, and headed to the ballpark a little before three o’clock (the Red Wings were playing a doubleheader that evening, hence the early arrival). I did take a few photos on the way to the ballpark, however.

102Downtown Rochester was emanating saturnine vibes on this sleepy Saturday afternoon, but, nonetheless, it was easy to appreciate the architecture amid the malaise.

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25 East Main Street is an “historic site in journalism,” and deservedly so.

103The Post House is another building of historical note.

105Post Post House, I came upon the stadium and enjoyed a double dose of Rochester Red Wings baseball. After the game, I made it back to the Hyatt in time to get a drink at the bar just before closing. “You always come at this time,” said the bartender, which struck me as kind of comical since I had only checked in 24 hours before. As he got my drink, some tipsy ladies returning to the hotel from a bachelorette party sat at the bar and gave me a glow stick wristband. I said “Thank you,” took my wristband and drink up to my room, and did some writing in the Man Ray moonlight.

August 23: Jamestown, New York (home of the Jammers)

On August 23 I drove from Rochester straight to the Jamestown Jammers’ home of Russell Diethrick Stadium. After the game, I drove straight to Erie, Pennsylvania. I wish I had had the opportunity to explore Jamestown proper, but I did not. (If anyone wants to write a guest post on “Things to see and do in Jamestown” then you know where to get a hold of me.) There is very little I can tell you about Jamestown, but one thing I can tell you is that Jamestown is the birthplace of Lucille Ball and the town is now home to the “Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz Center.”

I can also tell you that I have plenty more material to share, and share it I will. But share it in this post, I won’t. Stay tuned for much more from the road.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Crooked Nuggets: August 2014

I have safely returned from my latest (and therefore greatest) ballpark road trip, and am now equipped with a seemingly insurmountable slag heap of material to share. But protocol must be followed, and protocol demands Crooked Nuggets.

“What’s Crooked Nuggets?” you ask. “Crooked Nuggets is what you’re reading now,” I answer. “I want a more substantial answer,” is your rejoinder. “Okay, I will provide you with one,” is my reply.

In much the same way that a beautiful butterfly emerges from a chrysalis, my words, as quoted above, will now emerge into action via the delivery of the following information:

Crooked Nuggets is the scrappy, succinct offshoot of my long-running, exceedingly awesome and insanely underrated Crooked Numbers column on MiLB.com. Crooked Numbers is a monthly round-up of the weirdest, wildest and most anomalous things to have occurred on a Minor League Baseball field. Crooked Nuggets contains EVEN MORE on-field weirdness!

So let’s get to it, lest it get to us!

crooked_nuggets_215x1601st of tha MonthBoise Hawks outfielder Charlie White made two pitching appearances this season, each on the first of the month and each resulting in a come-from-behind win. On August 1 the moonlighting position player  took the mound in the top of the ninth inning, with his Hawks losing to the Vancouver Canadians by a score of 10-6. White pitched a scoreless ninth, and then hit an RBI double and scored in the bottom of the frame as the Hawks rallied to tie the game 10-10. White then shut down the Canadians in the 10th and 11th, with the Hawks pushing across a run in the bottom of the 11th for an improbable 11-10 victory.

One month later, to the day, White was at it again in a game against the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes. He was called upon to pitch the top of the ninth inning, and allowed a run as the Volcanoes extended their lead to 5-2. No matter — the Hawks scored four runs in the bottom of the inning  en route to a 6-5 win. White contributed to the rally, walking and scoring a run as he earned his second victory in as many opportunities.

Titanium Sombrero —  On August 1, Chevy Clark of the Great Falls Voyagers struck out in the 1st, 3rd, 5th, 7th, 10th, and 12th innings in a game against the Billings Mustangs. But six strikeouts were enough for the struggling  center fielder, as he laid down a sacrifice bunt in the 14th and, finally, grounded out to third base in the 16th. Great Falls lost the ballgame, 3-1, in 17 innings, putting a merciful end to what had been a horrific night at the ballpark. The two teams combined to go 2-for-33 with runners in scoring position.

NRISP — On the other end of the “batting with runners in scoring position” equation, we have August 2’s game between the Mississippi Braves and Mobile BayBears. The M-Braves won, 1-0, despite not recording a single at-bat with runners in scoring position during the ballgame. Mycal Jones’ ninth-inning sacrifice fly is what done won it.

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You Can’t Make This Stuff Up — The Dunedin Blue Jays staged an ’80s Night promotion on August 9, featuring a post-game concert by the band Stormbringer. The band’s set was cut short, however, due to an oncoming storm.

You Can’t Make This Stuff Up, Part. 2 — On August 4, the Bakersfield Blaze had to postpone their game against the San Jose Giants due to a transformer failure. The next afternoon, as part of a pre-existing promotion, all fans bringing electronic waste to the ballpark received free admission.

Then Again, Maybe You Can Make This Stuff Up — After the Blaze were forced to postpone August 4’s ballgame, they went ahead and staged a fake game on Twitter. Read all about it.

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Going the Extra Mile — To the best of my knowledge, the only pitcher to record two four-strikeout innings this season was Yankees farmhand Jacob Lindgren. The second-round draft pick accomplished the feat for Class A Charleston on July 12, upon which he was promoted to Class A Advanced Tampa. He then accomplished the feat for Tampa on August 3, upon which he was promoted to Double-A Trenton. On the season, Lindgren struck out 48 batters over 25 innings pitched. That’s a lot, but keep in mind that the maximum number of batters a pitcher could strike out over 25 innings is infinity.

Pitch Perfect, Hit Poorly — August 4’s game between the Dayton Dragons and Great Lakes Loons was notable due to — you guessed it — a snafu. MiLB.com’s Midwest League Notebook has more:

Dayton pitcher Nick Travieso batted three times Monday night in a 3-2 loss to Great Lakes. Manager Jose Nieves made a lineup card mistake, listing Avain Rachal as a designated hitter when Rachal was actually the Dragons’ third baseman. The Dragons lost the DH for the rest of the game, and the pitcher hit in the No. 5 spot. Travieso was 0-for-3 with a pop out and two strikeouts.

Big Easy, Pitching Hard — On August 9 against the Memphis Redbirds, three New Orleans Zephyrs pitchers combined to throw 197 pitches over just eight innings of work: Alex Sanabia (93 pitches, 4.1 innings), Rett Varner (53 pitches, 1 inning) and Donnie Joseph (51 pitches, 2.2 innings). The Redbirds won the game, 21-3. 

crooked_nuggets_215x160Productive Outs — Shawn O’Malley of the Salt Lake Bees tied his season high with three RBIs on August 9, despite not recording a single. Two of O’Malley’s RBIs in this contest against the El Paso Chihuahuas came via the ultra-rare two-run sacrifice fly. Watch and learn:

An Erie Occurrence (And I was there) — Erie SeaWolves’ right-hander Wilsen Palacios struggled mightily against the Bowie Baysox on August 25. He went through the entirety of the starting line-up without recording an out, en route to allowing seven runs on seven hits and two walks in the first inning alone. But then a funny thing happened — Palacios settled down and followed up his frightful first with four scoreless innings, and ended up earning the win as the SeaWolves rallied for a 10-7 victory. Baysox starter Branden Kline took the opposite approach, retiring the SeaWolves 1-2-3 in the first but ultimately taking the loss after allowing nine runs over 4 2/3 innings.

Photographic evidence, taken by yours truly (aka “Me”):

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Triple Trouble — The Oklahoma City RedHawks’ 10-2 win over the El Paso Chihuahuas on August 23 was highlighted by a most unlikely occurrence in the fifth inning. Three RedHawks players — Domingo Santana, Andrew Aplin, Carlos Perez — all hit triples in the frame, accounting for 60% of the triples that these players would combine to hit all season.

crooked_nuggets_215x160C-1B-2B-3B-SS-LF-CF-RF-P — Every year it seems that at least one Minor League player plays all nine positions in a game on Labor Day. This year, that player was Nate Orf of the Brevard County Manatees. Congrats, Nate.

Everybody Loses — The Yankees have two Gulf Coast League affiliates, creatively named “Yankees1″ and “Yankees2″, and this season both GCL Yankee entities won their respective division. Yankees1 then played Yankees2 in a sudden death semi-final, and Yankees1 won. There’s not much more 2 it.

Well, It’s My Birthday Too, Yeah — The Palm Beach Cardinals hosted the Bradenton Marauders on August 23. In that game, Bradenton’s Mason Katz, celebrating his 24th birthday, hit a home run off of Tyler Glasnow, celebrating his 21st.

crooked_nuggets_215x160And that’s it for this month of Crookedness. I’ll be back next month with more, so long as I have more. Meanwhile, a hearty thanks to the many people who helped make Crooked Number/Nuggets possible this month: Nate March, Alex Freedman, Nate Kurant, Mike Safford, Chris Kleinhaus-Schulz, Josh Jackson, Jon Laaser, Tim Hagerty, Dan Besbris and many others whom I am forgetting. Finally, I am still waiting for confirmation that at least one woman has read this column during any point of its existence. It’s got to happen eventually.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

On the Road: Another Sellout in Dayton

The seventh and final stop of my Midwest-based July road trip was Dayton, Ohio, the home of the Dragons (Class A affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds).

I had never been to Dayton before; my first and still-strongest association with the city was via Randy Newman’s evocations of a turn-of-the-20th century lazy Sunday afternoon. But when I pulled into this parking lot, it was an early Thursday evening during a decidedly more dystopian-seeming epoch. There was no time for tea, and the missus was nowhere to be found.

009 To get to the Dragons’ home of Fifth Third Field, one hooks a left at the far end of Mendelson Liquidation Outlet, crosses the street, and then walks down this narrow  alleyway. (Or at least that’s what I did.)

011Life, post alleyway, was considerably brighter. You wouldn’t know it from the picture, but there was a group of bagpipe players kicking out summertime jams in front of the stadium. Apparently, Dayton was on the cusp of its annual Celtic Festival.

012Enter here.

013Chances are that, if you know anything whatsoever about the Dayton Dragons, you know this: the team currently boasts the longest sellout streak in the history of professional sports. They set the record with sellout number 814 in 2011, and this season they passed the 1000 sellout milestone. For a little perspective, I will now quote from a 2011 article written by an increasingly complacent yet  intermittently brilliant writer by the name of Benjamin Hill:

The Dragons moved to Dayton from Rockford, Ill., where they had alternately been known as the Expos, Royals, Cubbies and Reds. The team was purchased by Mandalay Baseball Properties in 1999, with the intent of moving to a brand-new facility in Dayton. Fifth Third Field, as it came to be known, was funded jointly by Mandalay, the city of Dayton, and naming-rights partner Fifth Third Bank. Like many so-called “Rust Belt” cities — Toledo, Akron, Columbus and Fort Wayne come to mind — the ballpark was built in a downtown location as a means to revitalize and recontextualize an area decimated by the exodus of once-prevalent manufacturing jobs.

Team president Robert Murphy has been with the Dragons throughout their existence, assuming his position in February of 1999 after he and vice president Eric Deutsch relocated from Las Vegas (where they had been employed by the Mandalay-owned Las Vegas 51s).

So, yeah, the sellout streak is due to a combination of having a well-designed facility in a well-chosen location, playing in a baseball-friendly market with rooting attachments to the parent club, and consistent and conscientious ownership and front office staff. It’s a multi-laired situation.

Yeah, multi-“lair”ed. Because they’re the Dragons, see.

017I entered via the main office, where I was met by vice president Eric Deutsch so that he could lead me on a tour of the facility. We began in the main office, which is lined with photos of notable ballpark guests. For starters, did you know that the voice of Bart Simpson is a Dayton native? (Also, and unrelated: did you know that the voice of Bart Simpson has donated some $10 million to the Church of Scientology? For that kind of money, you could buy the Batavia Muckdogs twice over.)

015

Magic Johnson, part of the team’s ownership group, once threw out a basketball first pitch. I mean, sure, why not? It’s kind of like that time that David Copperfield threw out an invisible first pitch because he had already made the ball disappear.

016Actually, Johnson no longer has a stake in the team, as Mandalay has recently sold the Dragons to Palisades Arcadia. The price was not disclosed, but it is somewhere in the $35-40 million dollar range — the most ever paid for a Minor League Baseball team. The sale was not yet official on the late July evening that I visited, however, and Deutsch was reticent to talk about it in any detail. But the front office will remain in place, so I wouldn’t expect any major changes to the way that the team does things.

Sorry, the pace of this post is already Dragon. (Before writing this post, I tested my Dragon jokes by doing a set at a local comedy club. They killed that Knight.)

018

Like Dayton Dragons? This guy is single.

Deutsch and I meandered through subterranean hallways for a bit, with one such hallway eventually leading us onto the field. The field was redone prior to the 2013 season, and the seven-story tall scoreboard features a dragon that shoots smoke out of its nostrils.

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021A sellout crowd would soon be watching the action on the field, of course. In the Dragons case, a sellout occurs once all 7230 fixed seats have been sold. (These seats all have theater-style cup holders, for what it’s worth.) Walk-up tickets are available for the lawn area on most evenings, resulting in an average crowd somewhere in the 8400 range.

Pretty suite, right?

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027Each season, approximately 25 Dragons games are shown on local TV. Hence, this backdrop, and hence a recent $1 million investment to redo the team’s control room.

029Hey, look, Willie Nelson played here once. (I might have an extra ticket to see Willie Nelson in Newark on September 20 so drop me a line if you want it.)

031Deutsch reported that the this is one of three party decks and that the party decks are always the first thing to sell out. (If I ran the Dragons I’d name this the “Baby Boomer” party deck because it sells out so easily. Oooh, take that parents!)

035

The view from the right field party deck, this is.
036Given Fifth Third Field’s limited downtown footprint, the team had to build up as opposed to out. Hence, a six-row second-level seating area. Second-tier seating levels are very rare in Minor League Baseball. Fresno has one, and that’s the only team that immediately comes to (my) mind. There are no concession areas up here, but Deutsch said that an order-from-the-seats concession service was generally underutilized and therefore discontinued. People, they like to get up and mingle. Sitting is overrated.

037 The concourse runs in a predictable pattern: concession stand, portable stand, restroom, repeat. Among the portable stands, Dippin Dots are among the most popular. I was told that this perpetually futuristic avant-garde ice cream purveyor, based in relatively nearby Paducah, Kentucky, considers the Dragons to be among their top partners. (Daytonians love Dippin Dots, that’s all that I’m trying to get at here.)

038The 3100 square foot team store is called the Dragon’s Den. While there are plenty of items for sale, one will not find goofy variations on the logo such as could be found in the likes of, say, Lexington (see previous post).

039

Deutsch said that, when it comes to the logo, the team goes “narrow, rather than deep. We’re the Yankees, as opposed to the Diamondbacks.”

I got the impression that the above statement applies to the Dragons’ way of doing business, period. You can’t argue with success, but operationally speaking they feel like a Major League team trapped in a Minor League team’s body. I’ll be curious to see if the new ownership group experiments, at least just a little, with theme jerseys, bobblehead giveaways,  regionally specific and/or “crazy” concession items, and other hallmarks of the 21st century Minor League experience. At the very least, maybe they could use Twitter as a tool to interact with the fan base? (I’m not sure if @DragonsBaseball has replied to a tweet, ever.) All I’m saying is: even the best have room to improve.

In the time it took to read that half-formed editorializing digression, one could walk from the team store to the Dragon’s Lair group seating area. (I did the math.) There are 306 seats in the Dragon’s Lair, making it pretty sizable as lairs go.

042Next to the lair is the lawn.

044If one keeps moving, one finds this statue of mascot Heater.

045On this particular evening, Heater had company in the form of touring mascot Birdzerk. Birdzerk is a close personal friend of mine; we met in a subterranean tunnel and then I accompanied him to the concourse so that he could begin his first routine of the evening.

Go!

Birdzerk ran onto the field, coerced the visiting third baseman to dance, stole his glove, and tossed his glove into the stands. Vaudeville at the ballpark.

051

052After Birdzerk disappeared into the netherworld from which he came, I journeyed back up to the press box. By the time I got there, Birdzerk had re-emerged and was now harassing an umpire.

055

The next inning break was a more solemn affair, as the Dragons staged a “Home Run for Life” in which a recovering cancer patient took a lap around the bases. This bit of tearjerking ballpark pageantry, now common throughout Minor League Baseball, originated with the Dragons.

057

In the press box I spoke with Wright State University assistant professor Scott Peterson. He and student Sam McClain (a Dragons intern) are working on a project regarding the changing nature of media coverage throughout the Midwest League.

059I contemplated writing an article on this project, as it is the kind of thing that interests me (and, perhaps, you). But Peterson and McClain are still in the relatively early stages of the project, so I’ll catch up with them a little later on down the line. Good luck and Godspeed, gentlemen.

061Next up on the docket was to meet my designated eater for the evening: Mr. George Coleman.

064George grew up in Chicago, often taking the subway to go see the Cubs play at Wrigley Field.

“Ernie Banks was the man and still is,” he said.

George now lives in Dayton, having retired from a 30-year career in the Air Force spent primarily in aircraft maintenance. (The beard was a long time coming — he wasn’t allowed to have one while in the Air Force, and said that it then took another 10 years to convince his wife.) He was motivated to volunteer as a Designated Eater simply because he is a fan of Minor League Baseball in general and my writing specifically.

“I like the same things you like, so anything you write gets priority in my inbox,” he said. “I’m 63 and the reference you have, some of them are aimed at my generation. I hope people get it….It’s a little slice of heaven to read your stuff.”

George and I headed over to the “Dragons Fire Grill” so that he could obtain a “Pit Boss Burger.”

070

The Pit Boss Burger is a burger topped with cole slaw and pulled pork on a pretzel bun.

065Have at it, George.

“I love the crunchiness of the cole slaw, and the soft pretzel bun,” said George. “The burger’s the base of it, and while Ohio’s not known for its barbecue the pulled pork is done well. This makes the list of beard-worthy burgers.”

067I, meanwhile, snacked on a bag of Mikesell’s potato chips.

066These Ohio-based snack purveyors know what they are doing. Otherwise, why would they be doing it?

069Next up for George was some cake batter ice cream from Stone Cold Creamery, enjoyed amid the late-evening splendor of the lawn area. George said that the ice cream tasted like “cake in a cup,” which is probably its intended purpose.

072

071

074Upon parting ways with George (Thanks, George!), the ballgame was in its eighth inning. My night in Dayton — and this entire road trip — was on the cusp of concluding. All that was left to do was get an autograph from my good pal Birdzerk.

078

079“Ben — a smooth man with a blog!”

Put that on my tombstone, please!

Meanwhile, my next (and last) road trip of the season is already well underway. Here’s the itinerary (an asterisk next to the name means that a designated eater is still needed at that location). Get in touch should you be motivated to do so. I will respond.

August 22 — Batavia Muckdogs

August 23 — Rochester Red Wings

August 24 — Jamestown Jammers

August 25 — Erie SeaWolves*

August 26 — Buffalo Bisons

August 27 — Syracuse Chiefs

August 28 — Auburn Doubledays*

August 29 — Tri-City ValleyCats

August 30 — Hudson Valley Renegades

August 31 — Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

On the Road: A Legendary Night in Lexington

When one thinks of Lexington, Kentucky, and its surrounding environs, two things that quickly come to mind are bourbon…

053 and horses.

054

Baseball, perhaps not so much.

052But professional baseball in Lexington is very much a thing. Welcome to Whitaker Bank Ballpark, home of the South Atlantic League’s Lexington Legends (Class A Affiliate of the Kansas City Royals). The ballpark opened in 2001, marking the return of professional baseball to Lexington after a 47-year absence.

056In addition to the three murals seen above, one can find this giant ball outside of the ballpark. Reading the messages left me in stitches.

055I visited Lexington on July 23, and July 23 was no ordinary evening. It was “Star Wars Night.”

(Note: this woman would not stop fiddling with Darth’s midsection. Finally I just gave up and took the picture.)

058“Star Wars Night” has become a bona fide phenomenon in the world of Minor League Baseball promotions, and many teams consider it to be one of the cornerstones of the promotional schedule. The Legends’ iteration was a decidedly low-key affair, however.

“Tonight is the first time we’ve done it in several years,” said Sarah Bosso, Legends director of community relations. “We’re just getting our feet wet, doing it on a Wednesday and testing it out.”

059Here, mustachioed mascot Big L displays his rather tepid light saber technique.

060Out on the concourse, the atmosphere was decidedly more sedate.

062

Following standard (but by no means mandatory) Ben’s Biz Blog operating procedure, I took to the field in order to throw out a ceremonial first pitch. While there, I got my picture taken with my good friend Darth Vader.

063

Soon after this photo was taken, Darth overheard Bosso and myself talking about the Legends’ concession options.

“Did you say ‘Hot Brown Dog?'” asked Darth, intrigued by a local culinary specialty. “Where can I get that? Can you maybe put it through a blender?”

There were three individuals throwing out a first pitch: Judge John Schrader (Fayette Family Court), myself, and Darth Vader. I later mentioned to the judge that it was funny that Schrader and Vader were both throwing out a first pitch. He responded with a blank stare.

Here’s Judge Schrader. Or, as I now call him, the Mirthless Magistrate.

065I was in fine form on this particular evening, if I do say so myself.

BenHill_FirstPitch_July23Finally, we have Darth, flanked by stormtroopers.

069Darth didn’t have a very good arm.

I’ve thrown dozens of first pitches through the years; perhaps I should begin taking note of each team’s first pitch procedure?

The Legends did two things that I had never seen before: the balls used were from the batting cages (and therefore scuffed up and dirty), and the speed of the pitch was displayed and announced to the crowd. For the record, Darth and the Mirthless Magistrate both clocked in at 38 miles an hour. I, meanwhile, threw a blistering 47.

How’s ’bout a buncha random ballpark photographs, provided by a writer with rudimentary photography skills? That writer would be me, and these would be the photos:

070 071The placement of the bullpens provide plenty of opportunity for fan interaction.

Workman and Mortimer: friends for life

Workman and Mortimer: friends for life

The Jim Beam distillery is located just outside of Lexington. Maybe the team could get Jim Beam to be the official sponsor of these massive concourse beams?

073A pair of Star Wars aficionados ponder their options.

074As you may be aware, the Legends re-branded themselves in a mustache-centric fashion prior to the 2013 season.  Therefore, plenty of mustache-centric gear can be obtained at the Legends Locker.

076Inside this humble space, things get pretty strange on the t-shirt front.

077

115

Tag, this photo

116

117Viewing these images may cause you to feel like you’re in a dream.

But this? This is no dream. This is real: a piece of officially licensed Minor League Baseball apparel that explicitly references the time-honored act of mustache riding.

IMG_0083After this exhilarating foray into the wilds of the team store, I journeyed to the stadium’s second level. This picture, as inelegant as it may be, portrays the area immediately surrounding Whitaker Bank Ballpark. A downtown facility, this isn’t.

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While visiting the press box, I was pleased to see my visage beaming back at me from the videoboard. Move over, Darth! I am the evening’s true guest of honor.

080This little joystick-like contraption has a special purpose.

081Flipping the switch causes flames to shoot out of the Candleberries situated atop the scoreboard. (Now that’s a sentence that I’ve definitely never written before.) This photo is unfortunately flameless.

082 A man named Ty Cobb gave me the opportunity to flick the switch that shoots off the flames. This is Ty Cobb.

084

Ty Cobb serves as the Legends creative marketing director and PA announcer, and I wrote a story about him that can be found HERE. During my time in the press box with Mr. Cobb, he reminded the crowd that if the Legends get 10 hits then they can redeem their ticket stubs for a free order of fried pickles at Hooters.

This dude, I bet that he likes fried pickles at Hooters.

087But Mr. Ball Head (not sure if that’s his real name) wasn’t the only interesting character wandering around on the concourse. I also ran into this guy.

088The above individual is Ryan Ferry, who had agreed to be my designated eater for the evening (you know, the individual recruited to eat the ballpark food that my gluten-free diet prohibits). Ryan, a Lexington native who says that he can see the Whitaker Bank Ballpark scoreboard from his backyard, was nine years old when the Legends played their first season. He used to be a batboy, and now occasionally mans the speed pitch booth as a game day employee. Among other claims to fame, he was waiting in line for kettle corn when Bryce Harper hit his first professional home run.

“I consider myself a fixture here,” said Ryan, a sports management major at Eastern Kentucky University.

He also collects hats and shoes. Check out these size 15 specimens.

092And now, on to the food.

090

What you see above is the Hot Brown Dog, which Darth Vader wished to be pulverized so that it could be poured through the holes in his mask. The Hot Brown Dog is a ballpark variation of a Hot Brown sandwich, a Kentucky specialty described by Wikipedia thusly:

The Hot Brown is an open-faced sandwich of turkey and bacon, covered in Mornay sauce and baked or broiled until the bread is crisp and the sauce begins to brown.  

Of course, the Hot Brown Dog substitutes a hot dog for the turkey. As a Pennsylvania native, it reminded me of a hot dog version of cream chipped beef on toast.

Hot Brown, goin’ down.

091“The saltiness is what sticks out, and the bacon also sticks out because it’s the king of all meats,” said Ryan. “It definitely lives up to the hot name, at least in temperature. The sauce is like gravy, and a little sweeter than I expected it to be. I hope that nobody from Kentucky comments on this, calling me out for not eating Hot Browns all that much.”

Next, Ferry suggested that he sample a deep-fried peanut butter and jelly donut called the “PBJD.” When we ordered it, the woman manning the concession counter gave us an annoyed stare, sighed, and said “Are you kidding me?”

Apparently, PBJDs are not ordered very often.

“It’s totally slept on,” said Ferry. “They really need to market it more.”

Indeed, the only mention of the PBJD that I could find was on this concession sign. Just four little letters; no picture, no explanation.

095

Here it is, in all of its obscure glory.

096

Ryan savors the moment:

098“They take the donut, cut it, and put on the PB&J,” said Ryan. “It’s doughy, but has a little bit of a crisp to it.”

And with that, Ryan’s work was done. We now return to the ball field. Notice the “stables” group area in the background.

100I would like to point out that this guy had a June bug on the back of his neck. I was told that they were all over the place this time of year. June, July, same difference.

104

Next on my agenda was to compete against children in a between-inning game of “musical donkeys.” These three children, specifically:

105No video documentation exists of this effort, a sadly recurring theme of this trip. Here, I lurk around like a neanderthal while waiting for the music to stop.

106I made it through the first round, but was eliminated in the second. Ben’s Biz out.

107

DSCN3237Another night, another career highlight, and veteran on-field emcee Mykraphone Mike was there to narrate it all. Yes, it’s spelled “mykraphone.”

110

Things were beginning to wind down on this sleepy Star Wars night.

119Ty Cobb, on the PA, was adhering to the night’s theme by telling Star Wars jokes to the crowd.

“What do you call a potato that has gone to the dark side?” Cobb asked the crowd.

The crowd did not seem eager for an answer, but Cobb persisted.

“Darth Tater.”

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Ty Cobb, stand-up comic

The Legends ended up losing the game to the Charleston RiverDogs, by a score of 6-4. But that’s okay. It’s a long season, full of ups and downs; you’ve just got to keep on grinding.

In other words: keep a stiff upper lip.

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Meanwhile, I’m on the road again! Here’s the itinerary (an asterisk next to the name means that a designated eater is still needed at that location). Get in touch.

August 22 — Batavia Muckdogs

August 23 — Rochester Red Wings

August 24 — Jamestown Jammers*

August 25 — Erie SeaWolves*

August 26 — Buffalo Bisons

August 27 — Syracuse Chiefs

August 28 — Auburn Doubledays*

August 29 — Tri-City ValleyCats

August 30 — Hudson Valley Renegades

August 31 — Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

On the Road: Knowing the Score in Louisville

Today’s dispatch finds us in Louisville, the home of the International League’s Louisville Bats (Triple-A affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds). This marked the second time I’d been in Louisville over the span of one year, as I visited this past October in order to attend the Minor League Baseball Promotional Seminar. I wrote quite a bit about that visit, from the ballpark and otherwise; all of those posts are cataloged HERE.

So when I arrived at Louisville’s Galt Hotel, the same establishment that hosted the Promo Seminar, it was with a not inconsiderable sense of deja vu. I checked in, leaving my bags in the car, and immediately began the short walk to the Bats’  home of Louisville Slugger Field.

Hello, Louisville.

001Or at least it should have been a quick walk to the ballpark. A combination of  haste and misplaced confidence regarding my knowledge of downtown Louisville led to me walking right past E. Main Street, where the ballpark is located, and into parts unknown. Pro tip: if you’re walking to Louisville Slugger Field from the Galt Hotel, and you see the Ahrens Vocational School. then something has gone horribly wrong.

002But I, like an ineffective constipation remedy, could not be de-turd. Eventually I got back on track and arrived at the ballpark.

028

Pee-Wee Reese, Louisville native, is there to greet all comers.

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Pee-Wee played shortstop. Here’s the view from the hot corner.
005If Louisville Slugger Field looks like it has a unique ballpark exterior, that’s because it does. This building, in its previous incarnation, was a rail depot. Hence, an enclosed entrance way so wide that one could drive a train through it.

006This photo, also meant to convey a grand sense of spaciousness, was taken during my October visit to the ballpark.

042This, also taken during the Promo Seminar, illustrates how the converted depot area can be used as an offseason event Also, fans of foreshadowing should take note of this image. Depicted therein is an individual who will soon play a prominent role in this post…

054

Here’s one final photo from the Promo Seminar, taken from the suite level. Louisville Slugger Field is located on the banks of the Ohio River.

We now return to the current narrative:

Upon arriving at the stadium and making my way to the press box, I learned that the Bats’ approach to my visit was of the hands-off variety. While there’s no right or wrong way to handle a Ben’s Biz intrusion, this caught me off-guard simply because my previous four ballpark visits had included participation in a World Record attempt, a karaoke battle against wrestling royalty, in-depth history-minded ballpark tours, two ceremonial first pitches and stints as a racing cow, hot dog, and bearded Sun King brewer. Full-to-bursting ballpark agendas had begun to feel like the new normal.

The cool reception was kind of a relief, as it was nice to know that I could take a break and set my own pace. So goodbye, Bats press box, I hardly knew ye. It was time to wander.

010I didn’t get very far in my wandering, at least initially. Sitting behind home plate was my friend “Stevo,” a Louisville native who describes himself as a “semi-retired punk-metal atavist.”

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kvlt

One of Stevo’s ballpark rituals is to purchase “mystery cards” from a concourse souvenir stand, for $2 a piece. One was enshrouded in pink, the other enshrouded in blue. “Which one do you want?” asked Stevo.

012 I chose pink, which is always the correct choice, and ended up with a 2008 Bowman Nick Adenhart card. Stevo, meanwhile, received Jared Burton.

014Receiving a Nick Adenhart card was bittersweet, to say the least, as he was killed in a car accident on April 9, 2009 at the age of 22. I wrote a news story about this tragedy later that day; speaking to his teammates just hours after they had heard the news was one of the most difficult things I’ve done as a professional journalist.

(Deep breath)

Stevo had a good vantage point for that evening’s game against Columbus. This was the scene as we rose for our National Anthem.

016Stevo has a passion for scorekeeping; that’s what he was at the ballpark to do.

017Later in the evening I interviewed Stevo about his scorekeeping history, techniques and tips. I’d highly recommend reading it, which you can do so by clicking HERE.

Of course, one of the joys of scorekeeping is that its practitioners can indulge their idiosyncratic whims. In the below photo, the parenthetical “FLS” in the box next to Lindor’s name indicates a “Flying Louisville Slugger.” (As in, Lindor had lost control of his bat at some point during his at-bat against the Bats.)

019 I pointed out that a Francisco Lindor FLS was in fact an “FLFLS.” Clearly, a celebratory selfie was in order.

That accomplished, I took a lap around the ballpark. The shark fin-looking thing sticking out above the stadium is…a building. I forget what building it is, but it’s distinctive.

022This isn’t just some random corporate sponsorship. KFC is based in Louisville, and Louisville is home to the first, and thus far only, KFC Eleven.

023The presence of the sun in this photo reminds me that it was brutally hot on this particular evening. 116 degrees would be my guess.

026The weird looking building whose name I can’t recall is visible on the right.

027Bermanent Vacation:

029I call this one “Trash can, foul pole, vendor.”

031My lap around the stadium brought me right back to where I started, as laps tend to do. It also brought me into contact with these two women.

033That’s Stephanie Fish, on the left, and Shannon Siders, on the right. These women, independently of one another, contacted me about being the evening’s designated eater (you know, the individual recruited to eat the ballpark food that my gluten-free diet prohibits). That’s not the only thing that Stephanie and Shannon have in common with one another, however, as they are both former Minor League Baseball front office employees who now work for a Louisville-based sports entity.

Stephanie, formerly of the Lexington Legends, now works in an administrative role with the SkillVille Group. The SkillVille Group’s roster of touring ballpark and arena performers  is highlighted by the Zooperstars!, meaning that a big part of Stephanie’s job is keeping the likes of Harry Canary in line. Shannon, formerly of the Reno Aces, now works in marketing and communications for Louisville Slugger. She does not have to deal with anthropomorphic inflatables on a daily basis.

Our tour guide for this portion of the evening was Jason Betts, concessions manager for Centerplate food service.  Betts can be seen in the below photo, looking pensive while ordering pork chop sandwiches from this center field kiosk.

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These sandwiches are made from pork tenderloin, marinated for three days in chef Jim Darr’s secret concoction of sauce and spices.
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Have at it, ladies.

“That’s a big piece of meat,” declared Stephanie, after careful deliberation.

“I don’t think I can follow that comment,” said Shannon. “It’s delicious. Better than salad.”

Next up was a visit to the “Nacho Cantina,” a concession stand so popular that it even has its own Facebook page.

“The nachos are all a la carte, so the lines can get pretty long,” said Jason. “People get up there like ‘Uhhhhhh…..'”

037Shannon, a self-proclaimed nachos fanatic, considers her choices.

038Service with a smile:

As opposed to tortilla chips, Shannon opted for the house-made potato chips. But, regardless, this dish is very much a nacho dish and this photo is suitable for framing.

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“Aside from $1 beer night, this is the happiest that I’ve ever been at Louisville Slugger Field,” said Shannon. “Does that make me an alcoholic?”

“I wish I had a napkin,” added Stephanie.

043After the nachos, a veggie wrap panini was bound to be a bit of a comedown. This was filled with red onion, spinach, hummus, squash and zucchini.

045 Both women praised the sauce, but I neglected to write down what this sauce consisted of. Ambrosia, probably.

“This is a salad in a wrap,” said Stephanie. “That’s my quote. That’ll work.”

Cheers.

047Because too much is never enough, next up was a Philly cheesesteak.

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Betts said that the team sells 150 cheesesteaks per ballgame, a number which can increase to 300 on weekends.

“I’m not sure why it’s on a bun, because you can’t pick it up,” he said. “There’s too much stuff on it.”

Stephanie and Shannon eventually came to the conclusion that this Vine video should be called “Two Girls, One Cheesesteak.”

Finally, mercifully, we have reached the dessert phase of the evening. Blue Bell brand ice cream — cake batter for Shannon and strawberry for Stephanie.

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Stephanie really liked the strawberry.

051Thanks to Jason Betts, whose rollicking culinary tour greatly enlivened what might have been an otherwise moribund night at the ballpark.

056And thanks to Stephanie and Shannon, of course. They didn’t go home hungry, that’s for sure.

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Upon parting ways with Stephanie and Shannon, I made a brief pit stop at an eerily desolate relief station.

Throughout all of this, there was a game going on. There always is.

059Hours had passed since we last spoke, but Stevo was right where I had left him. To the casual observer, this had been a rather lackluster Tuesday night contest. But Stevo is no casual observer.

“I’m a Cubs and Royals fan, and to see an ex-Cub (Donnie Murphy) hit a home run off of an ex-Royal (Kyle Davies), that’s amazing,” said Stevo. “You never know when you’re going to see something like that.”

061The tricks of the trade. (Stevo: “These are all the implements I need. I’ve got everything but chewing gum.”

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The Columbus Clippers defeated the home nine, by a score of 8-5.

062But don’t take my word for it. Take Stevo’s.

064Good night from Louisville. 065

Meanwhile, my next trip begins in two days. Here’s the itinerary (an asterisk next to the name means that a designated eater is still needed at that location). Get in touch.

August 22 — Batavia Muckdogs

August 23 — Rochester Red Wings*

August 24 — Jamestown Jammers*

August 25 — Erie SeaWolves*

August 26 — Buffalo Bisons

August 27 — Syracuse Chiefs

August 28 — Auburn Doubledays*

August 29 — Tri-City ValleyCats

August 30 — Hudson Valley Renegades*

August 31 — Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

On the Road: Hitting the Big Time in Indianapolis

The fourth stop on this, my penultimate road trip of the season, was Indianapolis. I had been to this city once before in a professional context, as Indianapolis was the site of the 2009 Winter Meetings. Weirdly enough, I didn’t visit the Indianapolis Indians’ home of Victory Field during the 2009 Winter Meetings. I did, however, take a tour of the Colts’ home of Lucas Oil Field. Man, this feels like a long time ago.

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After checking into the downtown La Quinta, I began the .75 mile walk to Victory Field. Along the way, I passed the home of the Indianapolis Pacers. It is called the “Bankers Life Fieldhouse,” because very few things are more exciting than the life of a banker.

002Seeing these tunnels brought back Winter Meetings memories. I was a young man then, traversing from building to building via enclosed heated aerial tunnels without a care in the world.

003Ah, yes, here we are: Victory Field, built in 1996 as the home of the Indianapolis Indians. Please note that the Indians are NOT an affiliate of the Indians, but the Pittsburgh Pirates. They and the Spokane Indians are the only two teams in Minor League Baseball to share a name with a Major League team while not being affiliated with the team in question. Do with that what you will.

004Victory Field is located within spitting distance of Lucas Oil Field, the NCAA Hall of Champions and the Indianapolis Zoo (among other points of cultural interest). It is also located within spitting distance of a steam plant.

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006Upon arriving at the stadium, I was met by Indians media relations manager Brian Bosma. He was a very gracious and accommodating host throughout the evening, which kicked off with a walking tour. We started at the uppermost tier of the ballpark, with me making an offhand remark that walking around at this level of elevation felt like “being on the roof.”

013This gave Bosma an idea. “Want to go up on the roof?”

We did, climbing an imposing steel ladder to get there, and here are the photos to prove it. That monolithic JW Marriot is a recent addition to the skyline; it was completed in 2011 and is part of a $450 million “Marriot Place” project consisting of five hotels that are all connected to the Indiana convention center.

Also, note that the Indiana state capitol building can be seen as well. It’s located beyond center field (shaded toward left), a green-ish dome dwarfed by the buildings surrounding it.

009The view to my right, meanwhile, included Lucas Oil Stadium as well as the steam plant.

011Unfortunately, I did not get the chance to meet Indy Indians president Max Schumacher, who began working for the team in 1957 as a ticket sales manager. He became president in 1969, and was instrumental in the conception and construction of Victory Field. The stadium opened in 1996, its name a reference to the team’s previous home of Bush Stadium, which itself bore the name of Victory Field from 1942-67. (Bush Stadium, incidentally, has since been turned into an apartment complex.)

Anyhow, I was talking about not having met Max Schumacher. But I did visit his suite. That framed uniform on the wall dates back to 1949. It belonged to the team’s bat boy, who eventually grew up to be a bat man.

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Each of these balls is from an Indianapolis Indians’ no-hitter, signed by the pitcher (or pitchers) who threw it.

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Below, you will be gazing upon framed ticket stubs from the last game at Bush Stadium (July 3, 1996) and first game at Victory Field (July 11). I can only imagine how hectic that season must have been, closing one ballpark and opening another in the span of a little more than a week.

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Down on the concourse, one can find many an illuminated placard dedicated to prominent Indy Indians alumni.

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Bosma told me a story about Randy Johnson during his time in Indianapolis, when he was so wild and intimidating that none of his teammates would stand in against him during batting practice. Razor Shines finally stepped up the challenge and immediately got drilled; thereupon everyone steered clear of Randy Johnson for good. Out of options, the team borrowed a mannequin from the nearby Indiana State museum and Johnson promptly threw a ball right through it.

I can only assume that this is true, but, even if it’s apocryphal its still a good story and who doesn’t love a good apocryphal story?

As for the presence of Razor Shines on the Indians’ roster, that can definitely be confirmed. He spent nine seasons in Indianapolis, retiring after the 1993 season at the age of 36.

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“Razor Shines, he was the mayor of Indy,” said Bosma. “If you talk to anyone here who’s in their late 30s or early 40s, they’ll say that Razor was their favorite player.”

Razor and Randy played in Indianapolis at a time when the Indians were affiliated with the Expos. These days, the Pirates are the parent club.

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This seating section is sponsored by the Hoosier Lottery. If an Indians player hits a home run off of the foul pole in the fifth inning, then one person in that section wins $1 million. This has yet to happen.

025Here’s another enticing home run target. A pre-selected fan wins this truck if a player hits it with a home run, but that fan needs to be in attendance to win it. While the truck has been hit on several occasions, no fan has ever been in the ballpark to claim it. Bosma reports that Tony Sanchez hit it once, and asked if he could win it instead. No deal, Tony. No deal.

028My previous post, on the Columbus Clippers, noted that that team has a Victory Bell. Well, so do the Indians. Specifically, it is the “Max Schumacher Victory Bell.” It was dedicated in 2011, and a fan gets to ring it after every victory. Max Schumacher does not ring it, because after it was dedicated the team lost their next seven games and he figured that he must have cursed it somehow.

026 This carnivalesque area goes by the decidedly un-carnivalesque name of “PNC Plaza.”

029 Beer in a wheelbarrow for sale.

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With the game about to begin, Bosma and I headed over to “The Cove.”

033We were given a seat with a view.

034Note the near-total lack of outfield signage. It’s all part of a larger organizational philosophy, to present the team as simply and professionally as possible. This is a Minor League stadium with a Major League kind of feel, as befits a team playing in a city that also hosts an NBA and NFL team.

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036Plenty of people were willing to pay $10 for berm seats, hauling in their own blankets and coolers. Or, even better for young fans, membership in the team’s Knothole Club costs just $16 and includes a season-ticket pass good for lawn or reserved seat admission. $16 for the whole season!

037But we weren’t in the Cove just so that I could randomly take a bunch of photos and make a bunch of observations. I can do that anywhere. We were in the Cove so that I could meet my designated eater for the evening (you know, the individual who eats the ballpark food that my gluten-free diet prohibits).

This is Greg Hotopp, an Indianapolis resident (by way of Cincinnati) who works for the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.

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Walks will haunt!!!

This was definitely a first, and credit to Brian Bosma for doing it: Greg was given his own designated eating credential. Other teams, take note!

045Greg said that he enjoys attending Indians games with his wife, Tracie, and their three-year-old daughter (she was left at home with a sitter on this particular evening). He has no problem rooting for the home team, but as a fan of the Cincinnati Reds this can lead to conflicting emotions.

“It can be tough as a Reds fan,” he said. “Like, ‘McCutcheon is amazing!’ and then the realization ‘Oh, crap. That’s not going to bode well for the Reds.'”

But Greg wasn’t here to wax on the contradictory nature of the Minor League fan experience. He was here to eat, and eat he did.

Greg is eating a “Shish-Kadog,” which is a shish kabob on a hot dog bun. It stands to reason that this would be so. This is the chicken version, topped with onion, pineapple, peppers and teriyaki sauce.

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Greg was mildly pleased with this creation.

“It tastes pretty good, pretty much as advertised,” he said. “A little messy, but that’s okay. I’d never had pineapple at a ballpark before.”

The kadog was washed down with an Indians Lager, made specially for the team by Sun King brewery.

039“This isn’t just me trying to impress Ben Hill, I actually like it,” said Greg of the lager. “This is third on my list of favorite Sun King beers [behind Sunlight Cream Ale and Cowbell Porter]. I get growlers of this.”

Tracie couldn’t help chiming in here.

“All of a sudden he’s this craft beer guy,” she said. “He used to never drink it.”

Greg agreed that this was true. He was more of a whisky guy, with Kentucky Barrel Bourbon Ale serving as his gateway to the world of beer.

Beer definitely goes with nachos.

042BBQ Nachos, specifically, topped with pulled pork, cheese and jalapenos. Traiei had been content to stay behind the scenes — “Behind every designated eater is a good woman,” said Greg — but who can resist nachos?

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The couple that eats nachos together, stays together.

And with that, Greg’s duties were done.

“It was everything I could have wished for, and more,” he said.

Thank you for your service.

046While still in The Cove, I spoke with communications coordinator Chris Robinson about the team’s Twitter account. The Indians have more followers than any team in Minor League Baseball, and I wrote an article about the team’s Twitter strategy and style HERE.

Robinson, wishing to retain an air of mystique, posed for a photo with his face obscured. He may or may not be the same Chris Robinson who fronts the Black Crowes.

048At this juncture I was ushered down to a subterranean ballpark location. Rowdie was there.

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As Rowdie looked on, I made a top-secret transformation into a Chik-Fil-A Cow. A sign was draped around my neck exhorting the populace to consume the flesh of a chicken in lieu of consuming the flesh of a cow.

069Specifically, I had morphed into a superhero cow. Me and Rowdie and my new friend baseball cow then walked through the catacombs of Victory Field. It’s all a little hazy.

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Did an onfield race occur? Does documentation exist? These questions may never be answered. All that I can tell you is that transforming into a cow and then back into a human takes a lot out of a guy. I was exhausted.

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But there was no rest, for the weary or otherwise. Another metamorphosis led to a another new persona, this time as an overall, glove and goggle-wearing keg-toting bearded Sun King brewer.

082Yes, this was another on-field contest.

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My task was to carry a keg toward my teammate stationed in the outfield.

089I then had to take off my beard, goggles, gloves and overalls, so that my teammate could put them on and then run back with the keg.

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Finally, the opportunity to disrobe on the field. This is something that I constantly fantasize about doing.
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Good luck, and Godspeed.

095It was a valiant effort, but we lost. I drowned my sorrows with french fries from the team’s “Build-A-Fry” concession area. (One can also build their own burgers and nachos.) Yes, there are french fries in there somewhere.

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And, yes, that is a collector’s cup. I have not done a good job providing #cupdates this season, but here you go:

099And that’s all she wrote from Indianapolis, she being the muse that guides all creative endeavors. I spent the last inning of the game in fan mode, sitting in the Cove with Bosma, waxing nostalgic about childhood baseball memories. It was nice to get the chance to do this.

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But, alas, no victory bell could be heard at Victory Field that evening as the visiting Charlotte Knights emerged victorious. Maybe some other time, bell. Maybe some other time.

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Meanwhile, my next trip begins later this week. Here’s the itinerary (an asterisk next to the name means that a designated eater is still needed at that location). Get in touch.

August 22 — Batavia Muckdogs

August 23 — Rochester Red Wings*

August 24 — Jamestown Jammers*

August 25 — Erie SeaWolves*

August 26 — Buffalo Bisons

August 27 — Syracuse Chiefs

August 28 — Auburn Doubledays*

August 29 — Tri-City ValleyCats

August 30 — Hudson Valley Renegades*

August 31 — Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

On the Road: The Past Comes Alive in Columbus

On Friday, July 18, I visited a Double-A team (the Akron Aeros). On Saturday, July 19, I visited a Class A team (the West Virginia Power). On Sunday, July 20, I visited a Triple-A team. That team was the Columbus Clippers, an International League entity affiliated with the Cleveland Indians.

Welcome to Columbus.

006That’s not a particularly good photo, but it’s the first one I took upon beginning my walk to the ballpark after checking in to a downtown hotel. Getting in to Columbus proper was a struggle, as half of the city’s roads seemed to be closed. I felt like I was driving in increasingly smaller circles, yet never actually able to make it to my destination. (A metaphor for the futility of human existence? It just might be.)

Some of the roads were closed due to construction, but others had been cordoned off in order to accommodate that day’s Jazz and Rib Fest. The fest was taking place on an the expanse of greenery located beyond this archway.

007Transportation issues aside, there is a lot going on in downtown Columbus and I got the sense that it would be a good place to spend some time. The NHL’s Columbus Blue Jackets play nearby, and there is a concentrated conglomeration of concert venues as well. In fact, as I was arriving at the stadium, people were lining up nearby for that evening’s Neutral Milk Hotel show at the Lifestyles Community Pavilion. That is a weird name for a band, and an even weirder name for a venue.

One does not need to travel In the Aeroplane Over the Sea in order to reach Huntington Park, and one does not need to be Jeff Mangum, PI, in order to find it. It’s right here, in the heart of downtown.

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A view from the outside, as I made my way around the perimeter of the facility. The guys on the field were fantasy camp participants.

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I was met at the gate by Josh Samuels, the Clippers director of web communications, and he and I were joined by director of media relations Joe Santry. It was time for a tour.

There is plenty of room to move at Huntington Park, especially in the outfield portion of the concourse.

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There is so much room, that even this gargantuan sculpture doesn’t get in the way.

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This is the Victory Bell from the Clippers’ old home of Cooper Stadium, a facility that hosted more Minor League games than any other facility, ever. The bell was originally used by the Columbus fire department, during a time when fire wagons were still pulled by horses. “The horses were exercised daily outside of the fire station,” reads the plaque. “When a fire broke out, the bell was rung from the fire house tower to alert everyone to return with the horses to the fire station.” The bell was eventually donated to the Columbus Jets, who stationed it near the press box and rang it after each victory.

016The above tidbit is indicative of the Clippers’ commitment to preserving their history. Santry also serves as the team historian, and as a result of his tireless efforts Huntington Park is laden with interesting photos and exhibits related to the long history of baseball in Columbus. I wrote a story about this on MiLB.com, and I would exhort  — yes, exhort — you to read it.

Excuse the glare, but here is a picture of an upstairs display dedicated to Derek Jeter’s stint with the Clippers (he played there at the end of 1994 and the bulk of 1995).

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The display includes a looping video of Jeter’s first hit with Columbus, which occurred some two decades ago.

In the display case, one can also find a glove once worn by “Cotton Top” Terry Turner, the Indians’ all-time games-played leader and Nap Lajoie’s double play partner. Per his SABR bio:

“The quintessential utility player, the 5’8″, 149-pound Turner was, in the words of sportswriter Gordon Cobbledick, ‘a little rabbit of a man with the guts of a commando.'”

In this photo, his glove his being worn by an increasingly fat muskrat of a man with the guts of an insurance adjuster.

024“Rooster’s Roof,” featuring bleacher seating modeled after Wrigley Field, is a very cool spot to watch the game. Rooster’s is a local wing establishment, and on Wednesday’s the wings can be had for 50 cents each. This is a bargain comparable to Tuesday’s “Buck a Bone” rib deal, but not quite in the same pantheon as Monday’s “Dime a Dog” promotion.

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These are referred to as the “Tower Bleachers.”027

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The staircases are adorned with team portraits, which were done annually by the Columbus School of Art and Design. This team had a few memorable names. I mean, who can forget 6’7″ pitcher Dave Pavlas, who turned 52 this past Tuesday? Happy birthday, Dave Pavlas.

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A brief foray past the batting cages yielded this bit of info from Samuels: the logos of all 14 International League clubs are presented alphabetically by city…

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until they aren’t.

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Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, placed before Rochester

The journey through this subterranean labyrinth was fruitful, as it led us to the light. This is a really beautiful ballpark.

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A one-armed raccoon was there to greet us.

036As was Lou Seal…

037…who proudly brandished her his 2013 Mascot Mania championship belt.

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Lou Seal was unable to repeat as Mascot Mania champion, however. This time around, a shark is king. (Yes, just as in nature, a seal was defeated by a shark.) But how about this? Last season, Buster Douglas just happened to be at the game when Lou Seal received his championship belt. Photo op!

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While Lou Seal was gloating, I took the mound and delivered the worst ceremonial first pitch of my ceremonial first pitch career. Luckily, this seems to be the only photo evidence of my offering, which landed a couple feet in front of the plate and then burst into flames.

039I immediately ran up to the control room, in order to confiscate all of their video footage.

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As the game began, Santry stayed near the field in order to take pictures of rehabbing starting pitcher Justin Masterson. Samuels and I continued wandering. This concession area is called the “Grand Slam Station.”

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City Barbeque, a Columbus-area restaurant, has this in-stadium location.

043 A small army of Great Clips hair dressers were giving free haircuts at the Clippers game. That’s synergy.

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044A lonely Indianapolis Indian, as seen from this right field vantage point.

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The Indianapolis Indians and Columbus Clippers were exceedingly familiar with one another by this point, as July 20 marked the 10th consecutive game that the two teams had played against one another over a span of eight days (!!!) The first six games were played in Indianapolis (including a pair of doubleheaders), and the next four in Columbus. The teams ended up splitting this mega-series, 5-5.

After rejecting the opportunity to get a haircut, Samuels and I wandered to the press box. I’m often making hyperbolic statements on this blog, regarding the biggest this and the best that in Minor League Baseball. Well,  here’s a new one:

The Columbus Clippers have the quietest press box in Minor League Baseball.

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The vast majority of Minor League press boxes I have been to have been lively places, characterized by snarky, mile-a-minute gallows humor banter. But these guys were still, and solemn, and there was nary a sound to be heard. It was like a church. I was afraid to even speak.

And wouldn’t you know it? It was while I was in this soporific sanctum that one of the best defensive plays of the year occurred. I didn’t even see it happen, standing at the back of the press box. I, like you, only saw the replay:

That catch was amazing, one of the best to have ever occurred at a game at which I was in attendance. But not the best, which would be this. (Shout-out to my friend Ted, who missed it because he was waiting in line for a hot dog.)

Tony Barron turns 48 on Sunday, August 17. Happy Birthday, Tony Barron. I will never forget your name.

I will also always need food to survive. So how ’bout some City Barbecue ribs? Word on the street was that they were gluten-free. And who am I to doubt the street?

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Ribs, slaw and a decent vantage point. Can’t beat it.

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I really enjoyed these ribs, tender and a little crispy on the edges. I would definitely get them again.

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For the record:

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Also, for the record, the Clippers would like you to know the following information regarding their time at Huntington Park.

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Here’s something that you don’t see very often: the Clippers broadcast team of Scott Leo and Ryan Mitchell work in the open air. No booth needed.

058On the other side of the stadium sits the Rooftop Terrace. It’s $120 for a four-top, which includes a $60 food and beverage voucher.

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Food and beverage can be found in abundance here at the Hall of Fame Club. The bar includes a photo of nearly every player who ever played professional baseball in Columbus, in chronological order.

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Joe Santry had rejoined Samuels and I at this point, and he had great stories to tell regarding many of these photos. I wish I had time to relay these tales, but time is at a premium during these dog days of summer. All I can do is refer you to my aforementioned MiLB.com piece and move on. In the offseason, this is a topic I would be happy to re-visit.

But, hey, here are a few pictures presented without context. That’s better than nothing, right?

1884 Columbus Buckeyes:

1884 road uniforms

Ernie White:

Ernie White

Old Judge cigarette card of manager Jimmy Williams:

Jimmy_Williams_managerHere, we have memorabilia from the movie A Little Insidewhich was filmed at Cooper Stadium. Santry is not a fan of this movie. I doubt that I would be either.

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At the center field entrance, one finds this statue of long-time team owner Harold Cooper, who, per Santry, got his start in baseball by wiping the mold off of hot dogs with a vinegar-soaked rag.

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My esteemed hosts, Joe Santry and Josh Samuels.

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What happened next was like a dream. Samuels and Santry disappeared.

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I blinked, only to open my eyes and find myself in a dimly lit corridor…

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which led to the field. Oh, and did I mention that my body had been replaced with a hot dog?

080 As two other hot dogs tussled behind me, I ran with grace and ease toward a red stripe placed horizontally across the field.

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Victory was mine.

082Ring the bell!

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With the sounds of the bell echoing in my ears, I opened my eyes and found myself back in Biz Blogger mode. My camera was in my hand, and with it I took this photo.

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This is a cool way to display the speed of a pitch.

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A beautiful Sunday afternoon had turned into a beautiful Sunday evening. Funny how that works.

087Hey, look, a giant golf ball sitting atop a correspondingly oversized golf tee!

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I think I was feeling a little woozy by this point in the evening. At any rate, the Clippers lost to Indianapolis by a score of 7-5. The 10-game ultra-mega series between the two teams had finally, mercifully, ended.

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Maybe everyone was feeling a little woozy at this point, as a post-game run the bases degenerated into a post-game “just do whatever you feel like doing on the field.”

093Good night from Columbus, as this blog post has finally, mercifully, ended.

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Meanwhile, my next trip begins in just over a week. Here’s the itinerary (an asterisk next to the name means that a designated eater is still needed at that location). Get in touch.

August 22 — Batavia Muckdogs

August 23 — Rochester Red Wings*

August 24 — Jamestown Jammers*

August 25 — Erie SeaWolves*

August 26 — Buffalo Bisons

August 27 — Syracuse Chiefs

August 28 — Auburn Doubledays*

August 29 — Tri-City ValleyCats

August 30 — Hudson Valley Renegades*

August 31 — Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

On the Road: A Great Day for Mankind in West Virginia

When I first posted the itinerary for this particular ballpark road trip, July 19 was listed as “TBA.” This was because I did not have a clear idea which ballpark I should visit, as most of the options were places that had already been graced with my ineffable presence. Several teams, or at least the fans of several teams, ended up making pitches as to why I should visit (Mahoning Valley, Toledo and Lake County among them). But the organization that won out was the West Virginia Power, Class A affiliate of your (or at least someone’s) Pittsburgh Pirates. After all, the Power are West Virginia’s only full-season Minor League Baseball team! Further investigation was needed.

The Power play in Charleston, but since there is another South Atlantic League team bearing the Charleston name (the RiverDogs of South Carolina) the Power went ahead and claimed the whole state. (Informally, Charleston, West Virginia, is referred to as “Charlie West.”) The Power compete at Appalachian Power Park, which is located in a rather desolate-feeling stretch of downtown amid modestly-sized high rise office buildings, labor union headquarters and dilapidated factory buildings. My hotel was within walking distance of the stadium, and what follows  are a few pictures I took during the walk.

In the biz, we call this “setting the scene.”

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This overpass leads to interstates 64, 77 and 79, which combine to form mega-interstate 220. (This is what I choose to believe, at least.) Walking underneath the overpass, one finds the stadium.

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Ah, yes, here we are:

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Upon entering Appalachian Power Park, I took 10 minutes or so and did my requisite lap around the concourse.

Again, more scene setting.

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Lap completed, I was escorted onto the field in order to throw out a ceremonial first pitch. Joining me was the evening’s special guest, a man even more special than me: wrestling superstar Mick Foley (aka Mankind aka Dudelove aka Cactus Jack).

Pleased to make your acquaintance, Mick. (I’m the guy on the left.)

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I took the mound and fired something resembling a strike.

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#emergingmanboobs

7.19.14 296The guy who delivered the second first pitch threw a scorching fastball right over the plate, and Mick Foley then hammed it up by recruiting that guy to throw out his first pitch for him. Which, for those keeping score at homes, means that the guy who threw out the second first pitch threw out the third first pitch as well. My first pitch was first.

Update: Commenter Mark Henderson adds the following info:

The guy who threw out the second and third pitches is Scott Robinson, a former batboy for the Charleston Wheelers. Scott has became somewhat of an inspirational local hero, due to his battle with a heart disease that resulted in him receiving a donor heart, going through the transplant just a year ago.

I am now realizing that I talked to Scott later in the evening. He is the guy that took the awesome Toastman pic that appears later in the post.

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Mick then joined the managers and umpires for a pre-game conference, presumably regarding whether metal folding chairs would be permitted in any on-field brawls that may occur.

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I don’t have any video of Mick Foley from this evening, but he now has a severe limp and moves like a man 30 years his senior (he is 49). It’s painful to watch, but that’s what happens when you sacrifice your body for your passion. I’ve never been much of a wrestling fan, but I have a genuine respect for Mick Foley as he is a smart, engaging individual who forged a unique career path.

While these pre-game shenanigans were taking place, fans were already queuing up for a chance to meet Mick.

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There was a significantly shorter line for the pepperoni rolls, a coal miner favorite and staple of West Virginia cuisine. You’ll also note that a 25-ounce beer could be had for just $3. Power assistant general manager Jeremy Taylor told me that the team sold out of the 25-ounce beers on Redneck Night, a stereotype-reveling theme night that has become a highlight of the team’s promotional schedule.

035With the game underway, I turned my attention to Rod Blackstone a.k.a. the Toastman. He is one of the most passionate, divisive and memorable fans one could ever hope to meet at a Minor League Baseball game, and I wrote a feature article about him HERE. Please read it, as I don’t want to repeat myself repeat myself.

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Okay, I’ll repeat myself just just a little. From my MiLB.com story::

Rod Blackstone is the “Toastman,” a West Virginia Power ballpark icon who can be found sitting in a front-row aisle seat in section 107 during each and every game. From this homeplate vantage point, he leads the section in cheers, displays homemade signs made in honor of each position player and, most memorably, throws pieces of toast to the crowd after every visiting batter strikes out.

The toast isn’t pre-made, either. Blackstone brings several loaves of bread to the game and toasts them on-site using a toaster set up on a small metal patio table. The electrical outlet he uses was installed by the team, specifically to accommodate his nightly toast-making needs.

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After spending an inning with the Toastman, I spent an inning in the broadcast booth with Power broadcaster Adam Marco. It was a pleasure talking to one of the finest blogging broadcasters in Minor League Baseball.

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From the dim press box environs, I soon transitioned…

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to the bright lights of a between-inning contest atop the dugout. Next up was a karaoke battle against one Mick Foley.
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My plan was to post the Power’s videoboard footage of this “battle,” but apparently there were technical difficulties. This is really too bad, as this was one of the most embarrassing/memorable moments of the season for me.

Before the game it had been decided that I would sing “Pour Some Sugar On Me,” a choice I was fine with because I assumed that I’d only be singing the chorus. However, when it was played over the PA system to begin the contest, the song began during the first verse. After an awkward pause followed by some herky-jerky gesticulating, I began improvising lines such as “Please play the chorus, this is the verse. I only know the chorus, what are the words?”

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My efforts resulted in a round of boos, as the crowd clearly had no love for the most underrated entity in all of sports media. Mick Foley then got on the mic and crooned Hulk Hogan’s theme song “Real American.”

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So, yeah, I got to play the heel in a karaoke battle against Mick Foley. That’s definitely going on the resume.

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But there was no time to wallow in misery. I save that for the hotel room. Next up on the docket was meeting the evening’s designated eater (you know, the individual recruited to eat the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits).

Hello, Mr. Mike Taylor.

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Mike, a former Power bat boy, works in the produce department of a Charleston-area grocery store. He said that, despite his slight frame, he had no problem eating large amounts of food. Well, okay then. Here’s a pepperoni roll. It’s basically pepperoni baked inside of a roll. That’s why they call it a pepperoni roll. I expect to soon see it on a menu in at a nouveau American Brooklyn bistro at a cost of $16, featuring nigella seed Ethiopian sourdough and artisan soppressata imported from an old world butcher operating in San Francisco’s North Bay neighborhood.

051Pepperoni rolls are served at the Appalachian Power Park thanks to Power food and beverage director Nate Michel.

“Pepperoni rolls are what West Virginia is known for,” he told me. “You can’t go into a convenience store without seeing them. Once we got them out here they sold like hot cakes.” (Note: hot cakes are not sold at the ballpark.)

Last season the pepperoni rolls were provided by local restaurateur Rocco Muriale. This year, they are being provided by a local pizzeria. Either way, Mike Taylor was psyched to be eating one.

“I’ve never had a pepperoni roll here before, but already I can tell that this will be the best pepperoni roll I’ve ever eaten,” he said. “The bread is buttery and real soft. I could probably eat two of these.”

That wouldn’t be a good idea, as Mike also had to contend with the Gunner Nachos, named after the Power’s nacho-loving on-field emcee. They are served in a full-size helmet, and topped with chicken tinga, pulled pork, beef brisket, cheese, salsa, jalapenos and sour cream.

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Thus far, no fatalities have been recorded as a result of eating this item. Have at it, Mike.

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So, to recap:

“These were two of the best things I’ve ever eaten here, and I’ve been coming here a long time,” said Mike. “I’m a skinny guy, but I can eat a lot.”

Hey, what do you know? While all of this was happening, there was a game going on.

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During the next inning break, I had the honor of running across the field while waving the team flag. Mascot Chuck (as in, short for Charles, as in Charleston) was with me, with a gaggle of children close behind.

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Throughout all of this, fans were patiently waiting in line so that they could meet Mick Foley.

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See that guy in the above photo, on the far right? That guy was an absolute dead ringer for Mick. This photo, stolen from Adam Marco’s aforementioned must-read blog, shows just how much of a dead ringer he was.

img_7403After checking in on Mick, I wandered over and spoke to the rambunctious, fun-loving group of fans that can be found in the “Rowdy Alley.”

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The Rowdy Alley are a loose-knit group. Some nights there are only four or five people sitting here, while on some nights (like Thirsty Thursday) there are a couple dozen. I plan on writing about the Rowdies in an upcoming MiLB.com feature.  They love their beer, have a pet monkey, and all their ducks are in a row.

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This guy was wearing a towel, fashioned into a cape. He seemed vaguely annoyed by my presence, like “Can’t a guy just wear a cape and keep score and occasionally blow into an old trumpet (not pictured) in peace?”

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This guy, meanwhile, was ready to face the elements.

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Immediately after I took this photo, the members of the Rowdy Alley broke into song. I wish I had it on video. Wishing I had things on video seems to have been a theme of the evening.

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I also spoke with legendary souvenir salesman Wheeler Bob. He, too, will be included in the upcoming MiLB.com feature that I previously alluded to.

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Meanwhile, the smell of smoke had begun to permeate the ballpark.

Culprit: the Toastman.

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Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Just another night at the ballpark in West Virginia.

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Photo credit: Scott Robinson

I did get some video of the Toastman in action.

The game ended shortly after the Toastman’s bread-based pyrotechnic display. But more pyrotechnics were soon to come, as it was a Friday Fireworks night. This season, the Power have taken the novel step of filming their fireworks with a remote controlled drone.

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This, showing the drones in action, is one of my favorite Vines of the year. Also, it conveys the extreme intensity of the Power’s fireworks display. I was a big fan.

When the fireworks were over, a squadron of vacuum-toting interns appeared on the field in order to clean up the pyrotechnic debris. Their appearance was a sure sign that the evening had come to an end. 082Good night from Charleston, West Virginia.  072

Meanwhile, my next trip begins in just over a week. Here’s the itinerary (an asterisk next to the name means that a designated eater is still needed at that location).

August 22 — Batavia Muckdogs

August 23 — Rochester Red Wings*

August 24 — Jamestown Jammers*

August 25 — Erie SeaWolves*

August 26 — Buffalo Bisons

August 27 — Syracuse Chiefs

August 28 — Auburn Doubledays*

August 29 — Tri-City ValleyCats

August 30 — Hudson Valley Renegades*

August 31 — Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

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