About Thursday Night: Omaha Storm Chasers, May 28, 2015

This season, when I’m on the road, I’ll be writing a short, on-the-spot blog post about each Minor League ballpark that I visit. Then, upon my return home, I’ll provide the multifaceted blog coverage that you have come to know and, perhaps, even love. Let’s get to it, lest it get to us! 

May 28, 2015: Werner Park, home of the Omaha Storm Chasers (Triple-A affiliate of the Kansas City Royals)

Opponent: Tacoma Rainiers, 6:35 p.m. game time

Werner Park, from the outside:

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Werner Park, from the inside: 

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Culinary Creation: The “Reuben Philly” (chopped corn beef, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, 1000 island dressing, rye hoagie bun)

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At Random: Minor League Baseball, summarized

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Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Joke of the Day: 

It’s All Over: Thanks to a cameo appearance at Principal Park in Des Moines en route to Omaha, I saw two Pacific Coast League victories in the same day.

Next Up: 

5/29: Travel Day, return home to cat yelling at me

5/30: Seeing the Who in Forest Hills, Queens

5/31: Sleep for 37 hours consecutively

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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About Wednesday Night: Cedar Rapids Kernels, May 27, 2015

This season, when I’m on the road, I’ll be writing a short, on-the-spot blog post about each Minor League ballpark that I visit. Then, upon my return home, I’ll provide the multifaceted blog coverage that you have come to know and, perhaps, even love. Let’s get to it, lest it get to us! 

May 27, 2015: Veterans Memorial Stadium, home of the Cedar Rapids Kernels (Class A affiliate of the Minnesota Twins)

Opponent: Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, 6:35 p.m. game time

Veterans Memorial Stadium, from the outside:

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Veterans Memorial Stadium, from the inside: 

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Culinary Creation: Gluten-Free Jumbo Dog!

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At Random: Participating in the Fish Fling. It started out so well.

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Your Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Joke of the Day: 

It’s All Over: I have now visited all 16 Midwest League ballparks. To celebrate, I bought this t-shirt.

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Next Up: 

5/28: Omaha Storm Chasers

5/29: HOME

5/30: Gonna see The Who.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz

 

About Tuesday Night: Peoria Chiefs, May 26, 2015

This season, when I’m on the road, I’ll be writing a short, on-the-spot blog post about each Minor League ballpark that I visit. Upon my return home, I’ll provide the multifaceted blog coverage that you have come to know and, perhaps, even love. Let’s get to it, lest it get to us! 

May 26, 2015: Dozer Park, home of the Peoria Chiefs (Class A affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals)

Opponent: Clinton LumberKings, 7 p.m. game time

Dozer Park, from the outside:

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Dozer Park, from the inside: 

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Culinary Creation: Super Nachos with pork from the Caliente Cantina

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At Random: A rehabbing Jon Jay signs autographs before the ballgame

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Your Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Joke of the Day: 

It’s All Over: Autograph hunters staking out the ballpark after the game, waiting for Jay to emerge

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Next Up: 

5/27: Cedar Rapids Kernels

5/28: Omaha Storm Chasers

5/29: HOME

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz

About Monday Afternoon: Clinton LumberKings, May 25, 2015

This season, when I’m on the road, I’ll be writing a short, on-the-spot blog post about each Minor League ballpark that I visit. Then, upon my return home, I will provide the multifaceted blog coverage that you have come to know and, perhaps, even love. Let’s get to it, lest it get to us! 

May 25, 2015: Ashford University Field, home of the Clinton LumberKings (Class A affiliate of the Seattle Mariners)

Opponent: Burlington Bees, 1:00 p.m. start time (seven-inning doubleheader, after the previous night’s ballgame had been rained out)

Ashford University Field, from the outside:

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Ashford University Field (from the inside):

023Culinary Creation: The Garbage Pail (a full-to-bursting smorgasbord of fried delectables)

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Your Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Joke of the Day:

It’s All Over: Nothing like a walk-off win to sweep a doubleheader.

Next Up: 

5/26: Peoria Chiefs

5/27: Cedar Rapids Kernels

5/28: Omaha Storm Chasers

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz

About Sunday Afternoon: Quad Cities River Bandits, May 24, 2015

This season, when I’m on the road, I’ll be writing a short, on-the-spot blog post about each Minor League ballpark that I visit. Then, upon my return home, I will provide the everything-including-the-kitchen-sink blog coverage that you have come to know and, perhaps, even love. Let’s get to it, lest it get to us! 

May 24, 2015 — Modern Woodmen Field, home of the Quad Cities River Bandits (Class A affiliate of the Houston Astros)

Opponent: Peoria Chiefs, 1:15 p.m. start time

Modern Woodmen Park, from the outside:

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Modern Woodmen Park, from the inside: 

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Culinary Creation: Pork Tenderloin Sandwich (bun obscured by oversized meat patty)

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At Random: My first ride in a ballpark Ferris Wheel

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Your Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Joke of the Day: Postponed! In it’s place, enjoy this Vine video displaying the River Bandits’ myriad cap offerings.

It’s All Over: Well, this one never began. The ballgame was rained out.

085(Spoiler alert: I was able to make a bonus, top-secret return to Modern Woodmen Park the next day. Stay tuned next month for full coverage.)

Next Up: 

5/25: Clinton LumberKings

5/26: Peoria Chiefs

5/27: Cedar Rapids Kernels

5/28: Omaha Storm Chasers

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz

About Saturday Night: Kane County Cougars, May 23, 2015

This season, when I’m on the road, I’ll be writing a short, on-the-spot blog post about each Minor League ballpark that I visit. Then, upon my return home, I will provide the deep-dive blog coverage that you have come to know and, perhaps, even love. So let’s get to it, lest it get to us!

May 23, 2015 — Fifth Third Bank Ballpark,  home of the Kane County Cougars (Class A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks)

Opponent: Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, 6:30 p.m. start time

Fifth Third Bank Ballpark, from the outside:

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Fifth Third Bank Ballpark, from the inside: 

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Culinary Delight: The Heart Attack Burger

053At Random: Scouts don’t camp out on the field. They camp out beyond the field.

IMG_1166Your Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Joke of the Day:

It’s All Over: Ozzie waits for the last two fans to finish running the bases.

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Next Up: 

5/24: Quad Cities River Bandits

5/25: Clinton LumberKings

5/26: Peoria Chiefs

5/27: Cedar Rapids Kernels

5/28: Omaha Storm Chasers

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz

On the Road: Elated and Inflated in Jacksonville

To see all of my posts from this visit to the Jacksonville Suns (this is Part Three) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my April 2015 Florida trip, click HERE. To see all of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

This is the end! The last post from the last stop on my season-opening Florida ballpark road trip. I’m feeling a little loopy as I write this — it’s been a long day and I leave for my next trip tomorrow morning — but not as loopy as I felt while watching the Jacksonville Suns host the Montgomery Biscuits on this wet Saturday night in April.

080My old pals the Zooperstars! were in town.

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Things always get weird when the Zooperstars! are in town. Even when! I’m writing about the Zooperstars! things get weird, as I start! putting exclamation marks in all the wrong! places.

Southpaw was like “Oh, man, how can I compete with those inflatable dancing weirdos?”

IMG_1075“That was a rhetorical question,” Southpaw continued. “But I’ll answer it anyway. I can’t compete with those inflatable dancing weirdos. I just can’t. I’m outta here.”

IMG_1076Upon re-emerging on the concourse, I paid a visit to Pedro Bragan’s concourse “Chairman’s Box.” Here, he poses with his “Victory Bell,” a locomotive bell presented to his father, Peter Bragan Sr., by CSX Transportation.

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Considering that this game was preceded by a 102-minute rain delay, Pedro was satisfied with how many fans stuck around.

“That’s the power of the Zooperstars!,” he said. (The exclamation mark is part of the Zooperstars! name. Do not mistake its inclusion in the preceding quote for irrational exuberance on the part of Pedro.)

And when that Victory Bell rings, you can hear it everywhere. Even here, in the rain-soaked bleacher section.

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085While I was out here in the bleacher wilderness, I enjoyed the kind of ballpark snack you just can’t find where I’m from: Salt and Vinegar Pork Rinds and Sweet Tea from the Front Porch Kettle Corn kiosk.

That’ll be it for Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville food coverage, as my designated eater (you know, the individual who eats the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits) canceled. My attempts to get a new one failed. A lot of people showed interest on Twitter, but no one sent the email that I require. That’s all I ask for: an email. Courteous, conscientious communication. How hard is that?

Anyhow, here’s a photo of one of the concession stands. It’s the best I can do right now.

074After finishing my pork rinds and sweet tea, I continued my slow lap around the concourse. The game seemed like it was a million miles away.

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Here I am approaching the scoreboard. Repeat: Approaching the scoreboard.

090I had never been so close to a pitch clock before.

I believe that this interesting little left field protrusion is called “The Knuckle.”

094The Knuckle is at the intersection of Amen Circle and Home Run Alley.

095Once I made it back to the seating bowl, I happened upon my old Zooperstar! pal Harry Canary. He had just sung the seventh-inning stretch and needed to let off some steam.

(This is my most-watched Vine of all time.)

Harry then sprayed me with silly string. This is just the sort of thing Harry does. I’m think I’m going to use this as my new online dating profile pic.

IMG_1092I watched the end of the game in close proximity to Bragan’s “Chairman’s Box.”

100But the Victory Bell remained silent on this evening — the Biscuits won the ballgame.

101Thus concluded my time in Jacksonville and thus concluded my season-opening Florida road trip. I’m hitting the road again tomorrow.

See you soon, Midwest.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz

On the Road: A Long Reign and a Long Rain in Jacksonville

To see all of my posts from this visit to the Jacksonville Suns (this is Part Two) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my April 2015 Florida trip, click HERE. To see all of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

I arrived at the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville hours before that evening’s Suns game was supposed to be played. Therefore, I was able to snag a primo parking place. A very long home run to left field could smash the windshield, but, hey, whatever, it’s a rental car. YOLO.

001 The area surrounding the ballpark is kind of schizophrenic. The Jacksonville Jaguars’ home of EverBank Field is located just down the street.

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On the Road: Exploring the Past in Jacksonville

To see all of my posts from this visit to the Jacksonville Suns (this is Part One) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my April 2015 Florida trip, click HERE. To see all of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

On the eighth and final stop of my season-opening Florida ballpark road trip, I finally busted out of the confines of the Florida State League. Specifically, I headed north to Jacksonville to see the Suns. This was a significant stop for me. Not only was it the culmination of a fairly grueling road trip, but I have now visited every Minor League ballpark in Florida (the entirety of the 12-team Florida State League as well as Pensacola and Jacksonville).

Sunshine State, complete!

010The Suns, Double-A affiliate of the Florida Marlins, have played at the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville since 2003. But we’ll get to that facility over the next two posts of this series. My afternoon started with a (metaphorical) trip back in time, to a living relic from Jacksonville’s baseball history: J.P. Small Park.

019For a little bit of background on this truly historic facility, I refer you to this plaque.

037To save your eyes, I’ll type it out:

This site had been the location of baseball and other sports for [over] 100 years. 

The location has been known at different times as Barrs Field, the Myrtle Avenue Ball Park, Joseph H. Durkee Memorial Athletic Field, and since 1980, James P. Small Memorial Stadium. 

The current steel and brick grandstand has basically the same appearance as it did when it was originally designed and constructed in 1935. For 20 years this structure served as the center of professional baseball until a new municipal stadium, the Gator Bowl, opened in 1955. 

The ballpark is located in Jacksonville’s Durkeeville neighborhood. It was originally constructed in 1912, on land owned by neighborhood namesake Joseph H. Durkee. Between 1914 and 1922 it hosted Spring Training for a variety of Major League clubs (Brooklyn Dodgers, New York Yankees, Pittsburgh Pirates, Philadelphia Athletics). Minor League teams played there intermittently between 1921 and 1961, including the 1953 South Atlantic League Braves. This team, one of the South Atlantic League’s first integrated squads, included Hank Aaron on the roster. Negro League baseball was played here as well, in the form of the Jacksonville Red Caps.

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035I was driven to the stadium by Suns director of security Rob Schoonover (a 33-year law enforcement veteran) and his wife, Jeanne. The visit to J.P. Small Park was motivated by a desire to simply see the facility, but as luck would have it a game was being played there that afternoon. Trinity Baptist College was in the final stages of an 8-2 victory over Edward Waters.

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There was game day entertainment and everything.

031After the contest concluded, I wandered out on to the field.

027The dugouts are small and muddy, so most of the teams’ baseball equipment ended up scattered about the area.

028After the game, Schoonover introduced me to Nick Malpress. He’s been a J.P. Small Ballpark fixture for over 60 years (!)

034Malpress worked as a clubhouse assistant for the 1953 Jacksonville Braves, “shining shoes and getting stuff together.”

“Henry Aaron met his wife here,” he told me. “He and Felix Mantilla were coming out of the dressing room and he saw [future wife] Barbara Lucas walking down the sidewalk. It was just one of them things.”

The ballpark’s current dimensions are a quirky 341 to left, 371 to center and 285 to right, but Malpress remembered players “hitting the ball across the street, when there was a wooden fence all the way around. Hurricane Dora tore that fence down, yeah.”

Malpress has gone on to umpire countless high school and college games at J.P. Small Ballpark, and he attends nearly every Jacksonville Suns game held at the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville. But baseball’s not the only sport he’s involved with, as a Google search of his name reveals that he’s spent two decades on the Jacksonville Jaguars “Chain Crew.” He’s a Jacksonville sports icon.

Okay, it’s time for me to move the chains. This post is is the first down; stay tuned for two more, live and direct from the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville.

This quick afternoon detour to J.P. Small Ballpark was an enjoyable one.

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benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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On the Road: Sea Cows and Eat a Burger in Brevard County

To see all of my posts from this visit to the Brevard County Manatees (this is Part Three) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my April 2015 Florida trip, click HERE. To see all of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

If you’ve been keeping up-to-date with this series of Florida ballpark posts, then you know there has been a recurring culinary theme: Florida State League concessions don’t go too far beyond the basics.

This is more or less true at the Brevard County Manatees’ home of Space Coast Stadium, although the team does have a few wild cards on the menu.

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In addition to staples such as hot dogs, burgers, Italian sausage, french fries, popcorn and nachos, the Grand Slam Grill offers blackened mahi tacos and fried as well as “Bang Bang” shrimp.

On the Friday evening that I was in attendance, they also offered this:

IMG_0403My designated eater — you know, the individual who consumes the ballpark foods that my gluten-free diet prohibits — was one Enrique Cortes.

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I wish I had a picture of Enrique that showed him in a non-eating pose. But, as I mentioned in my previous post, I was off of my game during my evening in Brevard County. The opportunity, it passed me by.

Anyhow, Enrique was attending the game with his wife, Lynette, and their son Enrique Jr. Enrique Sr. has been an art teacher at Palm Bay Elementary School since 2002. After graduating college with an art degree, he said that his master plan was to “get into the museum side of things.”

“I thought I’d just teach for a little bit,” he said. “But I never left. I enjoy it. You get to draw with kids all day. You can’t beat it.”

Enrique also serves as a coach for his son’s “machine-pitch” team, and he regularly attends Manatees games at Space Coast Stadium as well as Major League games in both Tampa and Miami.

As for why he wanted to be a designated eater, Enrique said that “I thought that it would be different, a new experience. I’m always looking for new experiences in the baseball world.”

Okay, great. But my issue was finding the ideal point in the evening for Enrique to get this experience. He was flexible, and my plan was to coordinate with the Manatees’ staff so that Enrique could be given a nice spread of concession stand highlights. This was not to come to fruition, as the front office was running around like maniacs (read the previous post to find out why) and the concession stand was slammed all night long.

By the time the seventh inning stretch rolled around, it was time to take matters into our own hands. Or, more accurately, Enrique took matters into his own hands. He corralled a coterie of Palm Bay East Little League players — it was Little League Night at the stadium — so that they could star in this rollicking Vine video.

Enrique and I then visited the Grand Slam Grill, ordering the “No Wake Zone Burger” from a no-nonsense, exhausted-looking woman with a name tag that said “Margot.” The game was nearly over at this point; we were fortunate that the concession stand was still open, and here we were ordering some convoluted new special item. Margot shot us an “Are you kidding me?” look before asking, “Do you know how to dial 911?”

The No Wake Zone Burger — two quarter pound burgers topped with crispy fried onions, bacon, tomato and blue cheese — is indeed a heart attack waiting to happen.

IMG_0433A closer look:

IMG_0436Have at it, Enrique. Have at it:

“That’s very good, a real juicy burger,” said Enrique. “The blue cheese gives it tangy-ness, a sweet bitter combo, just the right mix. It almost feels like I’m eating an egg in here.”

Nearly a month has passed, and I’m not quite sure what he meant by that last part.

Anyhow, here’s Enrique Sr. enjoying the burger as Enrique Jr. looks on.

IMG_0438“This is definitely something I would enjoy eating again,” he concluded. “I’d pay the extra bucks for it. There’s the saltiness of the burger, the crispiness of the onions. Good burger.”

Oh, and just so that I don’t get excoriated by all of the merciless #cupdate fiends out there, here are some pictures of the Manatees’ current collectible cup.

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IMG_0440And that does it. Literally, as at this point in the evening the game was over.

I’ll let Enrique have the last word. Given that the Manatees’ long-term future in Brevard County is uncertain, he had this to say:

“I hope the Manatees stay in Brevard County. I hope they don’t have to move. I fear the worst. I’ve enjoyed the past 21 years; I was here when they first started. I’d be sad to see them go. But it’s baseball, and it’s a business. I just want Enrique Jr. to have a team to root for.”

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

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