On the Road: Alien Nation in Las Vegas

To see all posts from my August 6 visit to the Las Vegas 51s, click HERE. To see all my posts from my August 2016 “Out West” road trip, click HERE. To see all my “On the Road” posts, click HERE. If interested in seeing posts covering a visit to a particular team, search for that team’s name in the blog search bar (it’s to your right).

On Saturday, August 6, I woke up in Visalia, California. My next destination was Las Vegas, Nevada, home of the 51s. The distance between Visalia and Vegas, “as the crow flies” is approximately 230 miles. But that theoretical crow would be flying directly across both Sequoia and Death Valley National Parks, which is an impossible feat via automobile. My route was considerably less direct.

vegas I enjoyed the drive, however. It was scenic.

It’s a disorienting sensation, driving to Vegas, one that has been commented upon many times before. After hours and hours encompassing hundreds and hundreds of miles of wide-open rural desert expanse, the calming nothingness slowly gives way to the gaudy excess of Sin City. The tumbleweeds begin to be complemented, and then overtaken, by billboards advertising the likes of Rich Little and Englebert Humperdinck.

Amid the seemingly infinite entertainment options that Vegas offers, it could easy to forget that the city has long been home to a Pacific Coast League baseball team. The Las Vegas 51s, Triple-A affiliate of the New York Mets, play in Cashman Field.

This is the only Minor League Stadium I have ever visited that featured a disassembled Arby’s in the parking lot.

It was well before game time, but a formidable line had already congregated outside of the facility. The people in this line wanted to make sure they received that evening’s pint glass giveaway.

img_0245I’m no architectural expert, but Cashman Field almost feels as if its from the Brutalist school of design. It is drab, the color of desert sand, and monolithic.




Cashman Field opened in 1983 and has hosted a PCL team for the entirety of its existence. This team was originally known as the Stars, but changed its name to the 51s in 2001 as a tongue-in-cheek homage to the extraterrestrial activity rumored to have taken place at (relatively) nearby Area 51.


The free pint glasses, emblazoned with the team logo, were clearly a draw.

img_2434But it was also Superhero Night. Just look at all of these superheroes, all in one place. Even Yankees Man was there.


The Thing needs his own handler, apparently.

img_2428To my mind, the best thing about Cashman Field is the view — a mountainous backdrop visible from a colorful, mildly dilapidated seating bowl.



The view in the other direction is not recommended (at least not until the sun goes down.)


The reception I get from teams varies from ballpark to ballpark, but the 51s win the award for “least interested.” I was alone and adrift the entire evening, a very strange sensation and a complete anomaly when compared to the other 26 teams I visited in 2016.

Speaking of alien sensations…

img_0251The above piece of apparel was one of many such items for sale in the team store. What I loved the most, however, were these shelves of ’80s-era trading cards and other pop culture ephemera. These shelves reminded me of my childhood, as these were the sort of things I would reliably spend my allowance money on.

img_0253I refrained from making an impulse purchase, returning to the concourse in time to witness an ear-shattering National Anthem. This was a preview of what was to come, in that the PA at Cashman Field was blasting at high decibels throughout the ballgame. (This, combined with malfunctioning microphones, did not lend itself to high-quality between-innings entertainment.)

Shortly after the game began, I did something I rarely do at a ballpark: Sit in my seat.


At least two fans were sporting Wally Backman jerseys, in honor of the New York Mets icon-turned 51s manager (he and the Mets organization parted ways after the season).

img_2439In case you forgot, it was Superhero Night. Eric Campbell seemed on the cusp of making a Web Gem.

img_0259Pretty soon, the wandering urge took over again.

Apparently, it was also Supervillain Night.

img_2444Throughout the evening, the booming voice of Bruce the Beer Man reverberated throughout the stadium. Later in the ballgame, I tracked him down and got an up close and personal sampling of his auditory power.

Shortly thereafter, I wrote and disseminated my Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Joke of the Day.

The Pacific Coast League is known for long, offense-laden games, and this one was no exception. The 51s and Fresno Grizzlies combined for 26 hits, and when all was said and done the home team won by a score of 10-8. Josh Smoker pitched the ninth for the 51s and struck out the side, with Andrew Alpin being his final victim.

The evening concluded with a minimalist version of Launch-A-Ball, clearly a commentary on the mindless excess to be found elsewhere in the Sin City. A single Hula Hop was placed in the outfield, and that was it.

img_2463Good night from Las Vegas.






On the Road: Nachos, Corn and Pickles in Visalia

To see all posts from my August 5 visit to the Visalia Rawhide, click HERE. To see all my posts from my August 2016 “Out West” road trip, click HERE. To see all my “On the Road” posts, click HERE. If interested in seeing posts covering a visit to a particular team, search for that team’s name in the blog search bar (it’s to your right).

If you live in the Visalia area, then you might know Chad Stafford and Mike Pesto. They’re local celebrities.

img_0230Specfically, Chad and Mike are local radio celebrities. Chad is a longtime DJ with KJUG 106.7, a Rawhide media partner, and currently does traffic reports for KJUG as well as three other local stations in the same ownership group. Mike recently switched to one of those stations, My 97.5, which plays Hot Adult Contemporary.

“We’ll play Usher, Maroon 5, Nickelback, then switch to some old ’80s songs like Madonna and Cyndi Lauper,” he explained.

Mike grew up outside of Chicago, and his resume reads like a Minor League Baseball player’s transaction roster. He started in Salinas, then went to Las Vegas and then back to Salinas and then back to Las Vegas and then back to Salinas and then Peoria and then back to Salinas and then, finally, Visalia.

Chad is a homebody by contrast, having spent 32 years in the Visalia area.

So why are Chad and Mike being featured on this blog? You guessed it — they had been recruited to serve as my designated eaters, eating the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits.

Chad is that rarest of creatures: a repeat designated eater. He performed the task back in 2013, when I first visited Visalia. In 2013, Chad had no hair.


Chad Stafford, circa 2013

When Chad served as designated eater in 2013, it was a quiet night at the ballpark and the team put together a formidable spread for him. This time around, things were different. It was a fireworks night and the place was filled with fans and assistance from the team in assembling a culinary sampling was minimal. That, combined with the exceedingly speedy pace of the ballgame (it finished in two hours and four minutes), led to a comparatively rushed and improvisational designated eating experience.

But, hey, we’re all professionals. We can adjust. We were in the Rawhide’s Hall of Fame Club, and we procured two orders of nachos. But not just any nachos. Nachos that were served in a full-size helmet and topped with pulled pork, nacho cheese, barbecue sauce, “regular” cheese, peppers, onions and jalapenos.

img_0229A closer look.


Alright, guys. Do your thing.

“I love these. It’s a perfect thing to share with friends,” said Chad.

“Or not. You can just say you’re gonna share them,” replied Mike. “I love that there’s pulled pork, that they switch it up from beef.”

“You can wash the helmet and wear it out the next day,” said Chad. “I’ve got one at home. It fits perfectly.”

Okay, so what to do next? I’m always looking to highlight that which is “unique,” and as far as I could tell the most unique thing we could obtain was “Spicy Corn Nuggets.” They were available at this stand located behind home plate. It was practically deserted down there, a stark contrast to the bustling environment of the Hall of Fame Club.

img_0239These were the Spicy Corn Nuggets which, like most fried food, look rather unremarkable from the outside.

img_0234But within lurked a world of corn-centric color and flavor.

Also pictured: fingernails

Also pictured: fingernails

The Spicy Corn Nuggets came with a triumvirate of dipping sauces: barbecue, mustard and ranch. Mike and Chad were psyched to try them.

img_0236Mike: “They ain’t so hot.”

Chad: “But there’s an afterkick. I like it with the ranch.”

Mike: “I do it with the barbecue. It’s sweet, and counteracts the spicy. It’s perfect.”

Chad: “I’ll try the mustard. [Tries mustard] It’s pretty good, but I like the ranch better. It’s basically like jalapeno poppers, but with a fancier kick.”

And that was not at all. This particular food stand also had Fried Pickles.

img_0233 Mike then demonstrated the proper way to eat one.

img_2402“I miss the juiciness. I need juiciness from a pickle,” said Chad. “I don’t know, there’s just something about a hot pickle.”

“I don’t think I’ve had a pickle in any way, shape or form,” said Mike. “But I had to go to Walgreens at three in the morning to get pickles for my wife when she was pregnant, so now I’m having flashbacks.”

After careful consideration, Chad said that the best sauce to accompany the pickles was, once again, ranch. Mike agreed.

On this note of agreement, Chad and Mike then said goodbye. They’re professionals.

Thanks, Chad. Thanks, Mike.





On the Road: Time Flies in Visalia

To see all posts from my August 5 visit to the Visalia Rawhide, click HERE. To see all my posts from my August 2016 “Out West” road trip, click HERE. To see all my “On the Road” posts, click HERE. If interested in seeing posts covering a visit to a particular team, search for that team’s name in the blog search bar (it’s to your right).

On August 5, the evening in which I paid a visit to Visalia’s Recreation Ballpark, the Rawhide defeated the Inland Empire 66ers in a ballgame that took just two hours and four minutes to play. The game’s brevity impacted my experience, in that I didn’t have the time to fully document the ins and outs of the Rawhide experience. The evening zoomed right by, leaving me with a dazed feeling and questioning whether or not I was ever there at all.

Oh, but I was! I have proof.

img_0213Recreation Ballpark is 70 years old and has a capacity of 2468 (who do we appreciate?). It is, therefore, one of the oldest and smallest ballparks in Minor League Baseball. In its original form it was just a modest grandstand built around a mound of gunite,  but a variety of expansions and renovations have slowly transformed it into a far more dynamic environment. This is a topic I covered the first time I visited Visalia, in 2013.

Upon entering the ballpark, this was my view to the right.

img_0216And this my view to the left.

img_0215I headed leftward, to the Visalia Rawhide clubhouse, my meeting point for a pair of interviews that would soon transmogrify into MiLB.com stories. On the lighter side of things, I spoke with Rawhide third baseman Marty Herum about how he was doing. (Spoiler alert: Marty’s doing pretty good.)

img_2391I then spoke with Rawhide pitching coach Jeff Bajenaru and his wife, Alysa, about marriage and family within the context of a professional baseball career. I’ll have to check the stats, but I think that was my most-read “On the Road” story of the 2016 season. You can read it HERE.

Alysa and Jeff and their kids, Leila and Joe

Alysa and Jeff and their kids, Leila and Joe

On the way back from the field I received a gunite mound-based crash course in Visalia division title and championship history.

The Rawhide haven’t won a championship since 1978, the second-longest drought in all of Minor League Baseball. The reason they haven’t won since then is because the ghost of Joe Charboneau’s pet alligator put a curse on the franchise. True story. I’ve written about it already.


This tree represents the present moment (or at least that’s my interpretation).


Many exemplary players have passed through Visalia over the course of the last seven decades.


And this is the field they played on.

img_0217Yep, this field. This field right here.

img_2395In the Rawhide Hall of Fame Club, I said hello to Rawhide general manager Jennifer Pendergraft and her newborn son, Maverick. Maverick was just two and a half weeks old at the time, and this was his first time mingling among the fans.

img_2399Maverick was one of four babies born into the larger Rawhide family this season — and all of them wore born during the month of July. This led to a “Red White and Due” promotion.

babiesI wasn’t there, but I assume that this was the highlight of the promo.

As I mentioned at the top of the post, this was an evening that just flew by. After spending time with my designated eaters — that, of course, will be documented in the next post — it was already the sixth inning. My next stop was the press box, to visit with Rawhide broadcaster Danny Angel.

Danny was preceded in the broadcast booth by the great (some would say immortal) Donny Baarns, who is now with the Omaha Storm Chasers. I believe that this would be an appropriate way to honor Donny’s legacy in Visalia:

The view from the broadcast booth:

img_2405My friend Jon Fischer was once again with me at the ballpark. He took the following picture, of a comfortable young fan.

dsc00126I spent the seventh and eighth inning on the air with Danny. Then, shockingly, it was the ninth.

After the Rawhide wrapped up their lightning quick victory, fireworks filled the night sky as classic rock blared in the background.

After that, there was nothing left to do but write and disseminate a Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Joke.

Good night, Visalia. I hardly knew ye.





On the Road: Turkey Mike’s in San Jose

To see all posts from my August 4 visit to the San Jose Giants, click HERE. To see all my posts from my August 2016 “Out West” road trip, click HERE. To see all my “On the Road” posts, click HERE. If interested in seeing posts covering a visit to a particular team, search for that team’s name in the blog search bar (it’s to your right).

Never before in the history of this blog have I split a designated eater post into two parts…UNTIL NOW! The San Jose Giants have brought me to this historic moment, simply by offering too much food to coherently document in one post. After previously highlighting the offerings found along Gigante’s Alley, we now move on to the main event: Turkey Mike’s barbecue.

Turkey Mike’s, located on the third base side of the ballpark, has long been a staple of the San Jose Giants experience. The lines are generally long, as one can see from the zig-zagging rows of chain-linked stanchions that guide patrons to their barbecue hopes and dreams.


Turkey Mike’s is named after turn-of-the-20th century outfielder “Turkey” Mike Donlin, who logged time in San Jose during a long and generally illustrious baseball career. He was named “Turkey Mike” because of what Wikipedia refers to as his “unique strut” (not because he was an actual turkey).

Turkey Mike’s has a sprawling menu, which fans have plenty of time to contemplate as they pass stanchion after stanchion after stanchion.

img_0196Turkey Mike’s is overseen by food and beverage coordinator Ramiro Mijares.
img_0197After taking that picture of Ramiro, I said “Ramiro, can I take another one? You weren’t looking at the camera.” Ramiro obliged, but then once again didn’t look at the camera (though one of his employees picked up the slack).

I think Ramiro was messing with me. But Ramiro wasn’t there to make friends. He had a barbecue plate to assemble:


First row: Chicken Apple Sausage, Ribs, Chicken

Second row: Tri-Tip, Big Filthy, The Heater

(The Kansas City-style barbecue sauce is made for the team by San Jose’s Oso Pepper Company.)

Two of the above six items need a bit of explanation. In addition to being Donald Trump’s Secret Service code name, the “Big Filthy” is a double cheeseburger topped with pulled pork. The “Heater” is a hot sausage link topped with pulled pork and jalapenos.

In lieu of close-up photos of the above items, please view this Vine. The man at the end of it is John Lambert, who was the evening’s designated eater.

Mike, his wife, Kristen and their friends Julia and Mike quickly dug into this barbecue feast. I was not able to document their thoughts and reactions to the extent I did in the previous post, as I kept having to leave the scene to observe (or compete in) between-inning contests.

Mike and Kristen certainly seemed to be enjoying themselves, however.

img_0200“The chicken sausage was delicious, but the ribs weren’t very good,” said John. “The chicken was great, because it had a good rub to it.”

“My favorite was the Heater,” added Kristen. “It as phenomenal, but not burn-your-mouth spicy.”

Those in the know know that no visit to the San Jose Giants is complete without a visit from Paul “Super Churros Man” Cerda. He’s a ballpark icon, to the extent that the Giants sell “I’m Just Here for the Churros” t-shirts in the team store (Kristen wore one to the game, in fact). For more on Paul, check out my MiLB.com story HERE.

churrosPaul, Mike and Kristen are the stars of this not-at-all awkward Vine video.

When you’re in love, this is the only way to eat a churro.

img_0204Oh, and we also got some ice cream in a helmet. This is Willow Glen Creamery’s famous “Dole Whip.” 

img_0206And…that’s it. I’m done. Between this and my previous San Jose Giants posts and articles, I’ve written over 4000 words about my night at Municipal Stadium. This is insane.

John, please accept this “Designated Eater” t-shirt as a token of appreciation for your food consumption efforts.

img_2366And thanks, everyone. It was my pleasure.





On the Road: A Trip Down Gigante’s Alley in San Jose

To see all posts from my August 4 visit to the San Jose Giants, click HERE. To see all my posts from my August 2016 “Out West” road trip, click HERE. To see all my “On the Road” posts, click HERE. If interested in seeing posts covering a visit to a particular team, search for that team’s name in the blog search bar (it’s to your right).

If there’s one thing you might know about me, it’s that I have a designated eater at nearly every ballpark I visit. That individual is tasked with consuming the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits. At San Jose’s Municipal Stadium, home of the California League Giants, that individual was John Lambert.

img_0183John, a resident of San Francisco’s Noe Valley neighborhood, grew up in Los Angeles. He went to college at Santa Barbara University, where he met his wife, Kristen. She finished school there, but John left before graduating and joined the Navy. He served in Iraq and southeast Asia as a Hospital Corpsman, spending time with the Marines because, as he explained, “Marines don’t have medical personnel so you get attached to their units.”

Upon leaving the military, John enrolled at USC business school and is planning on finishing next year. He now works for Kaiser Permanente, and hopes to remain in the healthcare field after finishing school.

On this evening, John wasn’t just a designated eater. He was a credentialed designated eater. The Giants do things the right way.

img_0207He also would not be eating alone. John was accompanied by Kristen as well as their friends Julia and Matt Messinger, who happened to be visiting from out of town to attend the Outside Lands music festival.


Clockwise, from top: John, Kristen, Julia, Matt

The designated eating crew was certainly rolling deep on this evening. In addition to the above foursome, my friend Jon was along for the ride and taking pictures all the while.

dsc00034Meanwhile, the six of us were accompanied by Giants CMO Juliana Paoli, marketing coordinator Sarah “Queen I’m A Balla” Acosta and food and beverage supervisor Tara Tallman. Phew! Let’s begin at the beginning. Where we began was the row of food carts stationed along “Gigante’s Alley.”

img_0144First up was the “Frickle” — a grilled cheese with fried pickles, served on garlic-buttered bread. It’s available at the Lagunitas stand. Tara, who would know about such things, said it’s been a “huge hit” at the ballpark.

img_0182Have at it, John.

“It’s buttery, crispy and not too salty,” said John. “I’d get it again.”

So would Kristen and Julia.

img_0184The Giants sell Hard Frescos at the ballpark, at a new Gigantes Alley cart. Hard Frescos are 5% ABV Mexican fruit ciders, using all-natural ingredients. They are gluten-free, so I indulged.

dsc09981 I spoke briefly with Hard Frescos co-founder Peter Sterns, who explained that the product was inspired by the aguas frescas (fruit-flavored water) he’d often enjoyed on trips to Mexico. They use real fruit and cane sugar, and aim for an authentic taste. (“It’s not a Senor Frogs, Cancun, Bud Light kind of thing,” he said). There are four flavors — Citrico, Cola Buena, Juicy Jamaica and Tangy Tamarindo — and while I can’t remember which one I had I do remember enjoying it. So there you go.

Here’s Peter, flanked by his wife and in-laws.

img_0189As you can see in the above picture, the Hard Frescos cart also sells Noodle Bowls.

img_0185John got some help from Julia on this one.


“They have a good texture, and I like that you can hold it and eat it during the game,” said John. “If it falls, it goes right back inside.”

(Unless, you know, someone is feeding it to you from three feet away.)

We then moved on to a Barbecue Chicken Pizza, courtesy of Willow Street Pizza.

img_0190“This is good. The barbecue is definitely the most pronounced taste,” said John. “Chicken’s good. Cilantro’s good. And there’s a good, crispy crust. I’m a big fan of flat crusts.”

img_2337And, hey, look! We had French fries! Garlic fries, even. I don’t know where these fries came from (my notes are distressingly silent on the matter), but that they existed is indisputable.

img_2338And then there were tacos, from the Coors Light Taco Truck. On the left we have pollo asado, on the right is beef barbacoa.


These were gluten-free, as tacos often are (and always should be). So John and I enjoyed our tacos in tandem.


I’ve had plenty of experience through the years when it comes to posing with food. Note that the item should always be held so that it is visible to the camera. I’m not faulting John for not doing so. These things take years of practice.

“Good!” said John, regarding his taco. My notes tell me that these were “solid street style tacos, gone in two bites.”

I’m not sure what inspired this particular reaction on my part.

img_2348Believe it or not, the items documented above only constituted the appetizer portion of the evening. The main event was still to come. In what will be a designated eating first, I’m going to split this into two posts. Let’s just take a step back, digest, and reconvene in a couple of hours.






On the Road: A Smashing Evening in San Jose

To see all posts from my August 4 visit to the San Jose Giants, click HERE. To see all my posts from my August 2016 “Out West” road trip, click HERE. To see all my “On the Road” posts, click HERE. If interested in seeing posts covering a visit to a particular team, search for that team’s name in the blog search bar (it’s to your right).

AUGUST 4 (part two) — San Jose’s Municipal Stadium has hosted a lot of ballgames throughout its 74-year history. I’ve only attended one of them. It was a beautiful evening in August 2016, the Giants were hosting the Stockton Ports, and the game time temperature was 69 degrees.

dsc00060Per usual, I kept me eye out for interesting characters. There had to be some around here somewhere.


Okay, found one. Gigante spent the early innings mingling with his friends and admirers, who, truth be told, didn’t seem all that excited by his presence.

img_0180Also in attendance was California League president Charlie Blaney, whom I had never crossed paths with before. Charlie was decked out in a California League blazer and a tie featuring the San Jose Giants color scheme (he said that he has a tie for each team in the league). I hereby declare that Charlie Blaney is the best-dressed league president in all of Minor League Baseball. If you’re a league president and disagree with me, then get in touch and make your case. Send photos.
img_2333It wasn’t intentional, but it’s pretty cool that the logos of all the California League teams are visible just above Charlie’s head. He said that, as president, his job was to “keep the small problems small.”

I met with my designated eater shortly after the ballgame started, and these culinary endeavors took place throughout a large chunk of the ballgame. That, of course, will be documented in the next post. As that was going on, and after it ended, I did my best to document and make note of between-inning endeavors.

Among the most ridiculous such endeavor was the nightly “Horse Race,” which was difficult to document properly. In a nutshell, horses (and at least one zebra) pop their heads out from behind the outfield wall and race from left field toward center. In the below photo, the horses can be seen just above the sign reading “Go Horseback Riding.”

How appropriate.

dsc00064An easier concept to convey is the nightly “Beer Batter,” a tradition that is ingrained in Municipal Stadium. The evening’s Beer Batter was the Ports’ Richie Martin, who tripled in the second and popped out in the fourth before coming up to bat in the sixth. Despite the fans’ persistent chant of “BEER! BEER! BEER!” he drew a walk. No free beer would be forthcoming. Thanks for nothing, Richie.

(Someone could build a hip-hop beat over the audio in this Vine.)

The Giants’ “Smash for Cash” promo is one of the coolest I’ve seen, anywhere. A repurposed bread delivery truck is driven out onto the field and parked just beyond first base.

dsc00083Giants players then attempt to smash one of the headlights by throwing a baseball at it. If successful, a cash prize is split with a fan. Usually three players take part (receiving two throws apiece), but on this evening it was two players…and me.


In the below video, my introduction to the crowd occurs amid a wave of intense booing. I wish I could say that that’s just the sort of reaction I elicit in people, but what happened was that the player who went before me hit one of the headlights. The headlight didn’t shatter, however, it just popped out of its hole like an eye out of a socket. The judges ruled that this didn’t count. For a prize to be awarded, the light had to be shattered.

I didn’t shatter it, either.

I was close, though, on that first throw. I was real, real close.



I’d like to take a moment and acknowledge my friend Jon Fischer, a fellow Wissahickon Class of ’97 alumnus who now lives in San Francisco. He had met me in San Jose earlier in the day, and went on to travel with me to Visalia and then Vegas. He also took a whole bunch of photos while visiting Municipal Stadium, including the ones shown above. He’s a good photographer, and if he’s a good photographer that means he’s a better photographer than me.

img_0179Jon also took this photo, of a fan patiently awaiting to take the field for a between-inning contest. It’s one of my favorite photos of the 2016 season.

dsc00104Might as well stretch out those muscles while for waiting for the action to begin.

dsc00106In the top of the ninth, “Beer Batter” Richie Martin struck out. Since beer sales had concluded, the fans had to settle for free apple juice.

At the time that Martin struck out, the Giants were nursing a 4-3 lead. I went over to the third base side of the ballpark, where I hung out with Giants CMO Juliana Paoli and marketing director Sarah “Queen I’m A Balla” Acosta. We were planning to throw orange balls into the crowd after the Giants won.

img_2375Those orange balls would have to wait. The Ports tied the game, 4-4, in the ninth and the game went into extra innings. I suddenly had time on my hands, and passed it by wandering around and taking random photos. Photos like this one, of Municipal Stadium’s spectacular concourse decorations.

img_2379Who’s up for a marginally clever observation? Anyone? Anyone?

Those orange balls never left the bag. The Ports scored four runs in the top of the 11th, with the go-ahead run driven in by Richie “Beer Batter” Martin. Revenge is sweet.

And thus concluded my time at Municipal Stadium, a facility that is, truly, one of my favorites in all of Minor League Baseball. It is the place where dreams come true.

img_2361Of course, an obsessive-compulsive blogger’s work is never really done. Even though the ballgame had lasted 11 innings, I never came up with a Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Joke of the Day. This led to a good half-hour of parking lot angst until, finally, this emerged.

I didn’t say it was a good joke. Only that it emerged. Good night from San Jose.





On the Road: Signs of San Jose

To see all posts from my August 4 visit to the San Jose Giants, click HERE. To see all my posts from my August 2016 “Out West” road trip, click HERE. To see all my “On the Road” posts, click HERE. If interested in seeing posts covering a visit to a particular team, search for that team’s name in the blog search bar (it’s to your right).

Generally speaking, almost all Minor League Baseball stadiums could be described as a “riot of sound and color.” But very few stadiums have these traits as hardwired into its DNA as does San Jose’s Municipal Stadium. I was immediately enamored with the place, even before stepping inside.

img_2311Municipal Stadium, a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project, first opened in 1942. 2017 will mark the stadium’s 75th anniversary as well as the 30th consecutive season in which the team has been a Giants affiliate. There is a lot of history here, and history goes hand-in-hand with personality.

Upon entering the stadium and taking in the cramped, colorful, chaotic concourse, I was reminded of Reading’s FirstEnergy Park (home of the Reading Fightin Phils). Municipal Stadium is the West Coast equivalent — an old stadium that presents many operating challenges, but which has been well-supported by fans and kept vital and vibrant by the dedication of the front office.

img_0141Perhaps no man was more responsible for Municipal Stadium’s aesthetic than Tony Lima, the Giants’ sign and mural painter. Lima — whom the local Mercury News once called “the Michelangelo of Municipal Stadium” — passed away in 2012 at the age of 70.

dsc09948This window is popular.

dsc09950Painted pennants from Minor League teams past and present adorn the concourse walls.

img_0162 This mural pays tribute to 3′ 7″ Eddie Gaedel and his lone Major League appearance.

img_0166San Jose alumni, of which there are many, are celebrated in myriad ways.

img_2314Please excuse the glare: In this bit of restroom signage, Tommy Lasorda is quoted as saying “If Mike Scioscia raced his pregnant wife he’d finish third.”

img_2318A pay phone used to be behind this door, thus this Superman-themed mural. This room is now an office, and I am unsure if Clark Kent still uses it as a changing area.

img_0140It was a lot to take in then, and it’s a lot to make sense of as I write this now. My friend Jon Fischer, a resident of (relatively) nearby San Francisco, joined me for this leg of the trip and took many photos of his own. Some of these photos depicted me in action, such as this one of me alongside media relations coordinator Matt Alongi (because you can’t spell “alongside” without “Alongi”). I’m sure that whatever it was that I was writing was very important.

dsc09936In the above photo, you’ll notice a door. This door opens into the office of Giants CMO Juliana Paoli.

You might think that an office located within a cramped concourse of a 70-something year-old stadium would leave something to be desired, but if you thought that then you thought wrong. Juliana has made the most of her surroundings.
img_2313You might be able to see that Juliana is wearing a very large ring on her right hand. That’s a 2014 Giants World Series ring, which the organization distributed to individuals throughout the farm system. She let me try it on.


Juliana said that the San Jose Giants’ are walking a fine line, in that they “need to stay up-to-date while keeping the historical charm.” Evidence of this effort is everywhere, as the team tries to utilize every inch of available space while appealing to longtime fans as well as the influx of new residents working tech-related jobs in Silicon Valley. (On the night I was in attendance, the Giants were hosting large group outings for both eBay and Yahoo.)

“Gigante’s Alley,” named for the Giants’ mascot, is on the third base side of the ballpark. We’ll return here in a future post.


The Dugout Store is also located along this pathway. The pig, named “Pigante,” previously resided with the San Francisco Giants.

img_0157 The Giants had a lot of success this season with their team-logo San Jose Fire Department hats. The fire fighters wear them frequently, but not when fighting fires.

img_0148It has been speculated that the “Beer Batter” phenomenon originated in San Jose. You’re probably familiar with the concept — a hitter in the visiting team’s starting line-up is declared before the game to be the “Beer Batter,” and if he strikes out then fans can get a free beer. In San Jose, if the Beer Batter strikes out after the seventh inning, then fans get a complimentary Martinelli’s apple juice. The fans are known to chant “Juice! Juice! Juice!” in anticipation of this scenario.

img_0150Some fans are here for the Beer Batter. Others are here for the churros. There will be more churro documentation in an upcoming post.

img_0149I had never seen these New Era “reflective technology” hats before.

In the dark:


In the light:

img_2316But the biggest Municipal Stadium attraction is Turkey Mike’s BBQ. That will also be covered in detail in a forthcoming post. In the meantime please enjoy the (not very) reassuring statistical comparison noted in the sign below.

dsc09965After all this time, I still hadn’t seen the field. And then I saw it.


img_2321The field, as it turns out, is a beautiful place to be.

img_2325We had already spent time wandering Gigante’s Alley, but here was Gigante himself.

img_2323I threw out a ceremonial first pitch, as I am wont to do. The ball crossed the plate on the fly — I circled it in red — and you know what that is in my book? A perfect strike!


I didn’t act like it, though. As is often the case with me, life events in retrospect seem far more positive than they did in the moment.

img_0173I posed for a lot of post-ceremonial first pitch pictures this season, and never did I look like more of a weirdo than in this one.

img_0174Through my travels, I have often seen young fans recruited to clean the plate before a game. The Giants have gone a different direction, partnering with a local exterminator. The plate is bug-free now. This girl killed all the bugs.

img_0170 Next, a local radio DJ (and surely the coolest man in San Jose) played a great Hendrix-style rendition of the National Anthem.

img_0176What is there to do now but…well, you know.

See you on the flip side.





On the Road: Leaning Healthy in Modesto

To see all posts from my August 3 visit to the Modesto Nuts, click HERE. To see all posts from my August 2016 “Out West” road trip, click HERE. To see all “On the Road” posts, click HERE. If interested in seeing posts covering a visit to a particular team, search for that team’s name in the blog search bar (it’s to your right).

This man, his name is Derek Nyquist.

img_0129Derek lives in Turlock, California, located approximately 15 miles south of Modesto. He’s an eligible bachelor who regularly attends Nuts games, as well as those hosted by the Stockton Ports and Fresno Grizzlies. Derek said that he’s been a huge baseball fan ever since he was nine years old; he is a big autograph collector, and also plays on Sundays for a team in the amateur Mexican-American League.

Derek earns his living making milk cartons for Evergreen Packaging, who have a plant in Turlock. He said that if you “drink a milk carton, then there’s a good chance I inspected it.”

“I put on the side panels [of the carton],” he continued. “There are games for kids on it, no missing persons. I once did a side panel for the Everett AquaSox.”

Derek’s job on this evening was to serve as my designated eater (the individual recruited to eat the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits). We were in attendance on a Wednesday evening, and on Wednesdays the Nuts offer $1 specials on a variety of concession stand staples. Ed Mack, who oversees the Nuts concessions, quickly assembled a cavalcade of dollar items for Derek to sample.


The soda in the below picture happened to be a Columbia sarsaparilla. In my youth, I remember watching an episode of Full House where Stephanie is unable to spell “sarsaparilla” correctly and, consequently, I have never made the same mistake. This is one of many ways in which I am superior to Stephanie.

As for this particular sarsaparilla, it’s made by Columbia Soda Works. Derek said that Columbia Soda Works is a “tourist attraction” and that “they film Westerns there.” I had a sarsaparilla as well, and was heard to remark that it was “creamier, sweeter and less fizzy than your average root beer.”

Continuing on this “interesting non-alcoholic beverages served at Modesto Nuts games” tangent, please note that the team sells “Noah’s Spring Water.”


Noah’s is bottled by the Modesto-based Varni Brothers Corporation. The company website notes that the “Noah’s” name was chosen because it is a “friendly and refreshing symbol with more than 4000 years of recognition.”

Finally, if it’s beer you’re wanting while attending a Modesto Nuts game, please note that the team offers selections from Turlock-based Dust Bowl Brewing. The picnic pavilion at John Thurman Field is sponsored by Dust Bowl Brewing, as a matter of fact.


But back to the subject at hand, which I believe was Derek and the dollar menu.  Derek took his dollar dog and dressed it up accordingly.

img_0124Then he ate it.

img_0125Derek was ambivalent about the hot dog, calling it a “standard hot dog.”

“It wasn’t cold,” he said. “You get a cold one every once in a while.”

We moved on to a new addition on the Nuts’ concession menu, one that is rather unorthodox by ballpark standards: a Chicken Teriyaki Rice Bowl. Ed told us it was part of an attempt to “lean healthy” on the ballpark menu and that it had “been well-received and one of our bigger sellers.”

img_0126Have at it, Derek.

“It’s better than I thought it would be,” said Derek. “It’s got a little bit of spice to it. I’ve never had anything like this at a ballgame. Normally I’d go toward junk food.”

Next up was the Pulled Pork Quesadilla, a made-to-order item which also contained a melted, four-blend cheese. It is served with a side of tortilla chips, sour cream and salsa.
img_0128“I haven’t had a lot of quesadillas in my time,” said Derek, who can be seen brandishing this quesadilla in the photo at the top of this post. “It’s good. There’s plenty of meat and they didn’t overdo the cheese.”

And speaking of cheese, these are deep-fried cheese curds. The Nuts sell them at a finger food stand that specializes in garlic fries.


Curds? No whey!

Derek quickly provided a demonstration on how to eat a deep-fried cheese curd.

img_0131Derek’s an athletic guy, but nonetheless he was unable to pull off the ol’ “throw a cheese curd in the air and catch it in your mouth” stunt. He made a yeoman’s effort, though.

“They’re as advertised, I guess,” said Derek, of the cheese curds. “I can’t say they’re anything out of the ordinary. I’d be more apt to get the rice bowl again.”

Thus concluded Derek’s stint as a designated eater.

img_0133“You filled me up. This is the most ballpark food I’ve ever had,” he said. “I’d definitely rank the Teriyaki Bowl at the top. The quesadilla and hot dog are tied, and then the cheese curds. And I’d never had Columbia Sarsaparilla before either.”

As a token of appreciation for his hard work, Derek received the official “Designated Eater” t-shirt.

Derek was the second person to ever receive the t-shirt, and the first to pair it with a Salem-Keizer Volcanoes hat. The Volcanoes are pleased, which is a good thing. No one wants to deal with a displeased Volcano.





On the Road: Going Nuts in Modesto

To see all posts from my August 3 visit to the Modesto Nuts, click HERE. To see all posts from my August 2016 “Out West” road trip, click HERE. To see all “On the Road” posts, click HERE. If interested in seeing posts covering a visit to a particular team, search for that team’s name in the blog search bar (it’s to your right).

After attending August 2’s game in Stockton, I immediately drove 34 miles to the southeast. And — bam! — just like that, I was in Modesto. Modesto is the home of the Nuts, and the Nuts play at John Thurman Field. This is where I spent the evening of August 3, which began under a blistering, blazing sun.

img_0107John Thurman Field, which opened in 1955, looks a bit underwhelming from the outside. But within, one finds a verdant wonderland.

img_0121The nine-hole Modesto Municipal Golf Course, which opened in 1939, is located adjacent to the ballpark. I took this photo through a chain link fence on the concourse.


It was “$1 Wednesday,” and these fans showed up early to get the biggest bang for their bucks.

img_0117This concourse kiosk distributed complimentary sunscreen, and was complemented by another kiosk loaded with free hand sanitizer. I would like to see more teams offer such things.

img_0114As game time approached, the sun remained blistering, blazing, practically blinding.

img_0119While there’s nothing funny about getting hit in the head by a foul ball, there is something at least a little funny about this sign.

img_0122But getting hit in the head might be preferable to getting hit in the Nuts — all three of them.


Wally Walnut and Al Almond have been around since 2005, when the team adopted the “Nuts” moniker. The nut in the middle — Shelley the Pistachio — made her debut this season.

Shelley is such a sweetheart, my favorite mascot that I met this year and maybe even my new favorite in all of Minor League Baseball. Several minutes after the above picture was taken, the mascots and I were milling about on the field in advance of the pregame ceremonies. Shelley signaled to me that she would like to see my notebook and pen, and I obliged her.

img_2278Color me smitten.

img_2280I threw out a ceremonial first pitch prior to the ballgame. While I don’t have any photographic evidence of the pitch itself, I do have this picture of the immediate aftermath. It’s a near-certainty that the six individuals seen below will never again pose for a photograph together. Savor the moment.

img_2282With the requisite pregame ceremonies out of the way, it was time for the evening’s action to truly begin. The Nuts were hosting the Visalia Rawhide, whom I was slated to visit two days hence.

img_2285During the ballgame, I enjoyed a stint as a t-shirt distributor. These are the tools of the trade.

img_2287It really is harder than it looks!

But I got the hang of it eventually, shooting tightly wrapped tees deep into the evening sky.


This wasn’t the only method in which I distributed t-shirts. Before the game began, I tweeted that the first fan to come up to me and say “Give me a t-shirt, you beautiful man, you” would get a Ben’s Biz t-shirt. One Christopher Glynn took me up on the offer. Here’s our not-at-all awkward reenactment of this momentous moment.

I also played a very important role in an on-field potato sack race, as the contestants had to slap five with me before turning around and heading to the finish line.

20160803_193115The kid in the black shirt missed my hand completely. The look on my face in the photo below is, basically, “C’mon, you can do better than that!”

20160803_193127Through it all, a game was going on.

img_2301The Nuts enjoyed a walk-off victory, defeating Visalia, 5-4, in 10 innings. This turn of events subsequently inspired my Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Joke of the Day.

Thus concluded my Wednesday evening in Modesto. It was — wait for it — totally Nuts.





On the Road: Asparagus, and much more, in Stockton

To see all posts from my August 2 visit to the Stockton Ports, click HERE. To see all posts from my August 2016 “Out West” road trip, click HERE. To see all “On the Road” posts, click HERE. If interested in seeing posts covering a visit to a particular team, search for that team’s name in the blog search bar (it’s to your right).

Joel Zamora and his son, Fernando, are Stockton natives. Joel is a union organizer now based out of Washington, D.C., while Fernando, an avid fisherman, works at a local Loew’s hardware store.

img_0082Joel and Fernando have attended Ports games for years, and have many memories based around their time spent together at Banner Island Ballpark. But on this particular August evening, they were able to enjoy a brand new experience. Joel and Fernando were designated eaters (the individuals recruited to eat the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits).

As was the case three years ago, Nick Jackson of Ovations Food Services oversaw the designated eating experience. We began with Sriacha Fries, Baked Potato Fries and, for me, a gluten-free Chicken Caesar Salad.

img_0083The Zamoras began with the Baked Potato Fries, topped with bacon, sour cream, cheese and chives.

img_0084Have at it, father and son.

Joel praised the Baked Potato Fries as “very rich and flavorful” while Fernando said they were “filling, with good bacon flavor.”

Next up were the Sriacha Fries, topped with Parmesan and the titular hot sauce.

img_0085Fernando said that he could taste both toppings equally but that, all in all, these were “more of a snack.”

“Yeah, these were more a snack,” Joel responded. “The Baked Potato Fries, they were more of a meal.”

My Chicken Caesar Salad, enlivened by lemon and Parmesan and generous strips of chicken, was easily a meal in and of itself. In the below photo, the girl sitting behind me is like, “Who is this idiot?”

img_0088As mentioned in my previous Ports posts, Stockton is the asparagus capital of the world. Thus, the Ports often offer asparagus-centric concession items. Deep-fried asparagus is available on a nightly basis and, on occasion, one can get an Asparagus Dog. It’s an Alpine Meats eight-inch hot dog, with an asparagus spear on each side.

The above tweet got an immediate reaction, almost all of it negative.

The Zamoras were undaunted, however.

img_0089“I can’t really taste the asparagus, and I’d prefer to have onions,” said Joel. “But I’ve been all over the country, just like you have, and Alpine is the best hot dog. And they’re made right here in Stockton.”

Fernando was all for the asparagus, saying that it gave the dog “an extra kick.”

“I must have liked that hot dog, because I finished it pretty quick,” concluded Joel.

Well, then how about some Pulled Pork Nachos?


“This is the first time I’ve had nachos,” said Joel. “I’m trying to get into it, but I’m more traditional. I think that the pulled pork takes away from the chip.”

This was, therefore, the lone item to result in a generational divide.

“I understand the concept,” replied Fernando. “I like it. The pulled pork is very flavorful.”

“See, I like the old stuff and he likes the new,” said Joel. “When it’s just cheese and jalapenos, you can taste the chips. You can taste the cheese.”

While father and son were bickering about nacho preference, I laid in to a gluten-free cheeseburger that had been presented to me like a gift from the gods. Never have I looked better.

img_2240Joel and Fernando moved on to the Naan Pizza. There was a bit of kitchen confusion regarding just what was in the Naan Pizza, and whether it was gluten-free, so I don’t feel comfortable going into any specifics. But here’s what it looks like. It’s all about the visuals anyway.

img_0093“The bread’s good, it’s not overcooked and it has a perfect crunch to it,” said Joel.

“Yeah, and there’s not too much sauce. It tastes homemade,” added Fernando.

Once again, Joel and Fernando were able to present a unified front. The great nacho argument of 2016 was already a distant memory.

img_0094As the Zamoras finished their pizza, I obtained a Volcano Splash drink. These are available at the aptly named Volcano Splash stand, provided by an outside vendor. It’s really amazing what dry ice can do to a beverage.

While I was lost in a fog, Joel and Fernando moved on to a dessert of their own.

img_0095As you can see, Fernando’s a chip(wich) off the old block.

img_0096“I’d highly recommend the Baked Potato Fries, the Sriacha Fries, the ice cream and the pizza,” said Joel, summing up his experience.

“My favorite was the the Naan Pizza, the hot dog and the Pulled Pork Nachos,” said Fernando. “I definitely found some new favorites.”

Joel had to leave before the ballgame was over, but Fernando stuck around. It’s a good thing he did, as I remembered that I was in possession of my brand-new official designated eater t-shirts. Fernando became the first recipient.

I’d write Zamora if I could, but that’s all I’ve got. Thanks to Joel and Fernando.