Guest Post: Why I Love the Lake County Captains

It’s time for another edition of “Why I Love”, in which Minor League fans explain just what it is they love about their favorite  Minor League team. Today’s guest author is 21-year-old Lake County Captains fan Tyler Stotsky, a native of nearby Mentor, Ohio. Stotsky, a junior at Lake Erie College who is pursuing a sports management degree, has served as the team’s bat boy for the past four seasons.

If you would like to write a “Why I Love” guest post about YOUR favorite team, send me an email benjamin.hill@mlb.com

Classic Park, home of the Lake County Captains (photo: Ben's Biz)

Classic Park, home of the Lake County Captains (photo: Ben’s Biz)

In the Northeast Ohio area, there are two options for Minor League Baseball: the Akron RubberDucks and the Lake County Captains. The Captains are situated in Eastlake, Ohio, playing their first season in 2003. I have been a fan since 2008, for many different reasons: the staff, atmosphere, promotions and the chance to see the Cleveland Indians of the future.

I love my hometown Lake County Captains.

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Photo: Ben’s Biz

I love the Lake County Captains because of the always friendly and hospitable staff that you see throughout the ballpark on a daily basis. The crowd is led by on-field host and ticket sales representative Andrew Grover, who who walks through the crowd during every game to ensure that every fan is having a great time. Grover is one of the many smiling faces you see when you walk in the ballpark, and he is the last one you see when you leave. Each and every one of the staff members is incredibly helpful and happy to be there.

I love the Lake County Captains because of the family-friendly atmosphere that the team promotes at Classic Park. one of the best atmospheres that I have experienced in my life. I can bring my girlfriend, brother, sister, parents and other friends to Classic Park, and we can all enjoy a game together. Last year, I took my girlfriend Kelli to her first Captains game. She had so much fun at her first game, she wanted to come back for more throughout the year! I always have an amazing time at the Captains games no matter who I bring.

The Captains are the low-A affiliate of the Cleveland Indians, which means that fans could possibly be watching the future of the Tribe as they begin their careers with the Indians organization. 44 Captains alumni have reached the major leagues, and some of the notable names that I have seen and met include Vinnie Pestano, Danny Salazar, Preston Guilmet, Cody Allen and Jose Ramirez. Being able to see players develop at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario is a big reason why I love the Lake County Captains.

The Captains have a great slate of promotions every year, developing ideas that will make the fans come back. One of my favorite promotions from the last few years is “A Captains Story,” where everyone’s favorite mascot — Skipper — is featured in a bobblehead portraying scenes from the film A Christmas Story.

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Other outstanding Captains’ promo nights include Cleveland Sport History Night, Star Wars Night and an assortment of ethnic heritage nights. I have had the opportunity to meet many celebrities at the ballpark, such as former WWE wrestlers Sgt. Slaughter & Ted DiBiase, Peter Ostrum (the original Charlie Bucket from Willy Wonka) and Cleveland Cavaliers play-by-play man Fred McLeod. The Captains try to get the fans involved with the promotions and it works!

Tyler with Sgt. Slaughter

Tyler with Sgt. Slaughter

These are just some of the the reasons why I love the Lake County Captains, and the fact that I get to be the batboy makes it so much sweeter!

All Aboard!

Thanks to Tyler for taking the time to write this and, again: if YOU would like to submit a post for this series, then send an email the address below. In the meantime, here’s my “On the Road” Lake County Captains post from 2011.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

A Mass of Cots-tumed Characters

I’m going to assume that, at this point in time, you have already thoroughly scoured my post on 2014 road trip itineraries. (If you haven’t, then please click HERE). Thanks to all who have provided feedback on that post; more is always encouraged via benjamin.hill@mlb.com  and twitter.com/bensbiz

But enough about me! Did you know that, in recent weeks, several new Minor League mascots have made their debut? I am sensing a profoundly ambivalent response to that query, but soldiering on in the face of ambivalence is what I do best. Therefore, let’s start with Chico of the El Paso Chihuahuas, who I will be able to meet in person on April 29th. Say what you will about the Chihuahuas name/logo/overall branding efforts, but one thing they are definitely not is bashful. Chico, who came into the world without even a scintilla of an origin story, is IN YOUR FACE.

(This, and all Chico photos, courtesy Peter Svarzbein/El Paso Chihuahuas)

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Let’s back up a little…

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From the rear. This photo could in no way be misconstrued.

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I do my best to refrain from lazy “only on the internet” phrases such as “nightmare fuel,” but there’s no doubt that Chico has a bit of an edge too him. He’s got red eyes, a dog collar necklace, and a cockeyed, teeth-baring grin, three presentational elements that are rarely associated with the Minor League mantra of family-friendly entertainment.

El Paso Chihuahuas — on the cutting edge, or missing the mark? I have a feeling that Chico doesn’t care what your opinion is, whatever it is. He will be performing for a fan base that includes Pauly Shore and Cheech Marin (really!), so chances are that he’ll fit in just fine.

Peter Svarzbein/El Paso Chihuahuas

Peter Svarzbein/El Paso Chihuahuas

Meanwhile, a couple thousand miles to the northeast, the Akron RubberDucks have unveiled “Webster.” 

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And, yes, let’s get this out of the way. As noted by more than one of my Twitter followers, Webster appears to be Minor League Baseball’s version of “Poochie,” the superfluous Itchy and Scratchy sidekick whose cynical conception and even more cynical demise was the subject of a classic Simpsons episode.

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It turns out that, in the flesh, Webster is downright endearing. Chances are slim that he will die on the way back to his home planet, I look forward to meeting him when I visit Akron on July 18.

Out in Modesto, Al the almond and Wally the walnut have long held things down on the mascot front. You’d think that the team would be content with displaying their pair of nuts at every home game, but, no, they want more. Get ready for a female pistachio!

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Like all female pistachios, this one needs a name! Fans are invited to choose among Penny, Patty, Shelley, Bella, or Polly, but why isn’t “Ms. Tachio” one of the options? I need to start a consulting company so that such wordplay opportunities are always taken advantage of within the industry. I would be good at this, and you know it.

Finally, in Little Rock, the Arkansas Travelers have unveiled not one and not three but yes two mascots: Ace and Otey. Sez the team:

Ace is a native Arkansan who grew up rooting for the Travelers. He proudly served his country and upon returning to the Natural State competed and won the Mascot Tryout. With a name like “Ace” of course he is a pitcher and stands at a very menacing 7′ 2″ tall and weighs 501 pounds with a size-36 hoof.

From the Travs’ Opening Day Facebook photo album:

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At 7’2″, Ace’s height is even greater than former Arkansas Traveler Loek Van Mil!

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This, also from the Travs, might be one of my favorite mascot bios in recent memory.

Initially the idea was for just one mascot, but when Ace introduced the Travs and Hughes Agency to his best friend “Otey the Swamp Possum” during the interview process all bets were off. Just like Ace, Otey is also native to the state hailing from Southeast Arkansas. He grew up watching Travs games with his family from underneath the stands at Little Rock’s Ray Winder Field. Otey, who was named after former Traveler infielder and groundskeeper R.C. Otey, claims that he is the Travelers’ “Good Luck Charm”. In fact Otey believes that his superstitions helped the Travs win the 2008 Texas League Championship even though their 62-78 regular season record was the worst for a champion in Texas League history. Otey stands a stout 5 feet tall, he is a fan of second base and the “phantom double play” and his favorite number is .984, which was R.C. Otey’s career fielding percentage.

And with this memorable bio comes a very memorable mascot.

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Okay, let’s back it up just a bit…

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Otey inspired a brief burst of snark and faux-outrage from amateur hour internet hyperbolists, but so what? As Otey’s bio makes clear — and this is something I learned firsthand when I visited in 2012 — the Travs and their fans have a strong nostalgia for their colorful Ray Winder Field past.  So much so, the beer garden at their current home of Dickey-Stephens Field is named after a well-known and often well-lubricated fan who would slide, in shorts, into a popcorn box base. Otey should fit right in.

And with that, it’s time for me to hook slide on out of here.

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benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

On the Road: 2014 Edition

After an absurd amount of dilly-dallying, second-guessing, waffling, hemming, hawing, and out-and-out procrastinating, the day has finally arrived. The day in which I unveil my 2014 road trip itineraries to you, the (presumably) loyal reader. This year I will be going on four trips — with the first one kicking off in less than two weeks — visiting some 30 teams in all. This should provide me with enough material to last somewhere into the 2016 season, but like anything else in life you’ve got to take it one step at a time.

When traveling within the world of Minor League Baseball, one has plenty of options.

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Before getting to the travel itineraries, a few of my standard-issue caveats:

Due to the vagaries of home and away schedules, it can be very difficult to assemble these itineraries. I apologize to teams that were skipped over, and please know that I am a very sensitive man who doesn’t ever want to hurt anyone’s feelings. Nonetheless, I am fully prepared for the inevitable slew of “You were in (X) ballpark yet didn’t visit (Y) ballpark?” emails and tweets, as well as front office comments like “It’s really too bad you’re here on a Wednesday. The weekend’s gonna be awesome.” I do my best!

Also, while there are MANY places that I’d love to return to, priority will always go to places I have yet to visit.

– As many of you know, I was diagnosed with celiac disease in 2012 and had to switch to a gluten-free diet. This makes it hard for me to sample ballpark delicacies with the reckless abandon to which I had been accustomed, but there is a solution: THE DESIGNATED EATER.

At every ballpark I visit, I am looking for a fan (ideally) or local media member who will sample the concessions that I cannot. I will document your eating experiences in words and pictures, so that those reading can still enjoy the comprehensive ballpark food coverage they have come to expect — nay — demand.

If YOU are interested in being a designated eater at one of the ballparks listed in the itineraries below, then get in touch benjamin.hill@mlb.com. First come, first served.

(Note to teams: if you are planning on staging a contest of some sort to find the designated eater, then let me know so that I do not accept someone on my own accord. Also, in the interest of providing an unbiased perspective, I will no longer be accepting team employees as designated eaters.)

Finally, I will not necessarily have a designated eater at each ballpark this season. If volunteers and/or team interest are non-existent, I am fine with skipping a ballpark or two. It gets kinda tedious taking pictures of people while they’re eating and then asking “So, how’s the hot dog?”

This could be you!

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As always, my time at each location will be limited. But, as always, I am interested in your recommendations regarding what else there is to do, see and consume in the area. If you have any cultural, culinary or record store expertise regarding any of the locations listed, THEN GET IN TOUCH. Many of these recommendations make their way into my “Return to the Road” content, in which I write about my experiences outside of the ballpark.

– I have (or will be) getting in touch with all of the teams included, but if you’re a member of the front office feel free to jump the gun and get in touch with me regarding  recommended hotels, story suggestions, designated eater leads, etc.

Sorry for burying the lede here, but I wanted to get all of the fine print out of the way first. And now, without further ado, the itineraries…

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TRIP #1 SOUTHWESTERN SOJOURN

April 28: Albuquerque Isotopes

April 29-30: El Paso Chihuahuas

May 1: Midland RockHounds

May 2: San Antonio Missions

Designated Eater: Darren Smith

May 3-4: TBD (I hope to visit the Mexican League, but still need to iron out a lot of logistical details and potential safety concerns. Any advice from those who’ve been there would be appreciated)

May 5: Corpus Christi Hooks

May 6: Round Rock Express

Notes: The motivation for this trip was, not surprisingly, the desire to visit the brand-new El Paso Chihuahuas. They actually have their home opener on the 28th, but the only way I could also work Albuquerque into the schedule was to delay my El Paso arrival until the 29th. I’m also excited to finally visit Texas (I have already been to the four Texas League stadiums NOT located in Texas), but obviously the Mexican League dates are still a big question mark. If that doesn’t work out I’ll call an audible and go from there.

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TRIP #2: SAYING GOODBYE AND HELLO DOWN SOUTH

June 4: Chattanooga Lookouts  (Update: How did I miss this? It’s an 11:15 a.m. game and due to pre-existing NYC commitments I won’t be able to make it in time. Perhaps I can still tour the Lookouts ballpark and visit my friends at Engel Stadium).

June 5: Huntsville Stars

June 6: Rome Braves

Designated Eater: Joe Webster

June 7:  Gwinnett Braves

June 8: Hickory Crawdads

Designated Eater: Alex Ward

June 9: Charlotte Knights

June 10: Kannapolis Intimidators

The motivation for this trip was two-fold — to see the Huntsville Stars during their last-ever season before moving to Biloxi, and to see the Charlotte Knights in their brand-new downtown stadium. With these as a focal point, it was difficult to put together an itinerary that didn’t overlap too heavily with trips that I have already taken. I’ve already been to Huntsville on a previous trip, but thought that the “last season” angle justified a return. I also visited Chattanooga on that trip, but the game was rained out. The least justifiable return visit is Gwinnett, but I’ll find a way to cover it that won’t overlap with that which has come before. Just got to get creative! Maybe we can find someone there to be “Ben’s Biz for a Day,” with the end result being a massive guest blog post covering that person’s experiences…

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TRIP #3: OHIO AND THEN SOME

July 18: Akron RubberDucks

July 19: TBD (Update: Toledo, West Virginia, Lake County, and Mahoning Valley have all proposed visits).

July 20: Columbus Clippers

July 21: Indianapolis Indians

July 22: Louisville Bats

July 23: Lexington Legends

July 24: Dayton Dragons

Designated Eater: George Coleman, Richie Devotie

I’ll be driving for the entirety of this trip, after renting a car in NYC. This one came together after I received an invitation from Akron to participate in a gala (and, of course, ridiculous) world record attempt on July 18. With that as the starting point, I crafted an itinerary that allows me to visit five teams whose ballparks I have yet to visit (in-season, at least). Not much else to say about this one, other than that it’ll be a lot of fun and I’m looking forward to it. How’s that for some illuminating insight?

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TRIP #4: KEEPING IT (RELATIVELY) LOCAL

August 22: Batavia Muckdogs

August 23: Rochester Red Wings

August 24: Jamestown Jammers

August 25: Erie SeaWolves

August 26: Buffalo Bisons

– Designated Eater: Phil Walck

August 27: Syracuse Chiefs

August 28: Auburn Doubledays

August 29: Tri-City ValleyCats

August 30: Hudson Valley Renegades

September 1: Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders

Designated Eater: Matthew Vervlied

Notes: I’m a New York City resident, and for whatever reason I’ve found it difficult in the past to put together an itinerary focused on the Empire State. So I figured, why not? I’ll end the season with a New York-based blowout, which will deplete whatever remaining energy reserves I may have left at that point. I like the mix of big International League stadiums and quaint New York-Penn League parks, with the Erie SeaWolves and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders serving as PA outliers.

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Let me know your thoughts on these itineraries, should you have any, and feel free to share any trip itineraries that you may be embarking on this season. Thank you for reading, and hope to see you on the road this season.

And as for 2015 — I think that’s going to have to be my “Rookie” season. Apologies to teams in those leagues, and all teams that I have yet to visit thus far. There’s just so many of you!

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Return to the Road: Gems and Craters in the Pacific Northwest

Okay, for real this time: Today’s post marks the last occasion in which I “Return to the Road” in order to write about my 2013 West Coast trip. My next post will include all four of this season’s road trip itineraries, the first of which kicks off on April 28 in Albuquerque.

So where did I leave off?

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Oh, right: In Klamath Falls, Ore., home of the collegiate wood bat league Gems. I arrived in Klamath Falls at the end of a travel day, choosing it as a place to spend the night so that I could visit Crater Lake the next morning before moving on to Hillsboro to check out the Hops. Seeing a baseball game during my brief time in Klamath Falls was not something I planned on doing; in fact, I hadn’t even been aware of the Gems existence until the front desk clerk at the Days Inn alerted me to the fact that a game was going on. While I had been looking forward to a night off from the ballpark routine, seeing the Gems was just too serendipitous of an opportunity to pass up. Kiger Stadium, an all-wood facility constructed in 1948, happened to be locating just across the street from where I was staying!

So, I did what any self-respecting baseball fan would do in such a situation: I hightailed it on over there in order to catch what remained of the ballgame. Kiger, as you can see, delivers a rustic and picturesque baseball environment.

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Kiger Stadium hosted the Far West League Klamath Falls Gems from 1948-51, but since then all of the baseball played there has been of the amateur variety (the Gems are in the West Coast League, comprised of premier collegiate players). From the Kiger Stadium website (which, as you’ll see, hasn’t been updated in a few years):

Kiger Stadium has been far from empty during years since the Far West League. The ballpark has been home to tens of thousands of American Legion, Babe Ruth League, college and high school games through the years. In 2011, Oregon Tech, Mazama High School, the Klamath Falls Falcons and Hawks (American Legion) and local Babe Ruth Baseball teams will call the historic ballpark home.

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I also discovered that the 1951 Gems squad included game show host Bert Convy. This is the picture that accompanies Convoy’s Wikipedia page:

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In addition to hosting Tattletales, Super Password, and Win, Lose or Draw, Convoy was an actor whose myriad roles included sleazeball Glenn Hamilton in the soap opera Love of Live. He also appeared in the in the pilot episode of Murder, She Wrote and directed the Goodspeed Opera House premiere of the musical Zapata (which featured music and lyrics written by Harry Nilsson, one of my all-time heroes).

Before falling down this internet rabbit hole any further, let me get back to the matter at hand: Kiger Stadium, circa 2014.

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The seventh inning stretch was a charming experience, a six-second snippet of which can be viewed HERE (man, I wish I could embed Vine videos on this blog). Once that requisite bit of national pastime tradition was in the books, I moved over to the bleacher seating area located down the first base line.

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Tater the mascot. coming through:

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The existence of Tater tipped me off to the fact that potatoes must be important to Klamath Falls. And, of course, they are. Here’s an overview of the region’s potato history, courtesy of the internet.

I didn’t get any food while I was at Kiger, potatoes or otherwise, and my photos of the concession stand are, unfortunately, non-existent. Kiger is unique, however, in that the concession stand was located indoors, at the end of a hallway.

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Klamath Falls is home to spuds, and it’s also home to bugs. This photo only hints at just how many winged creatures were swarming the lamp posts at the end of the evening.

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This lackluster act of bug documentation was the last thing I did while at Kiger Stadium. With the Gems game in the books, I headed back across the street to the Days Inn and got a good night’s sleep in advance of waking up bright and early in order to visit Crater Lake.

Crater Lake, located about an hour from Klamath Falls, is, to put it simply, the most beautiful place that I have ever visited in my life. Formed within a caldera created by the collapse of a volcano, Crater Lake is the deepest lake in America (nearly 2000 feet) and the water boasts a deep blue color that seems almost otherwordly. I would have loved to have spent several days here, camping, hiking, boating, and taking in the view from the lodge. Instead I had to settle for 90 minutes of idle wandering along the upper perimeter instead. Not ideal, but beggars can’t be choosers.

I don’t have a particularly high quality camera, nor am I a particularly skilled photographer. Crater Lake is just this beautiful:

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The high rollers of south central Oregon travel to Crater Lake in limousines with Mitt Romney bumper stickers and chintzy advertisements emblazoned across the sides.

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Motorcycles are a far more common mode of transportation, however, at least on this particular morning.

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After (reluctantly) leaving Crater Lake, I got lunch at Highway 97′s self-proclaimed best restaurant.

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And then it was on to Hillsboro, home of the Hops. (My time with the Northwest League’s newest entity was chronicled HERE). After a night game and a day game in Hillsboro, the trip (and my 2013 travel in general) came to a conclusion in Portland. I spent one evening there before flying back to New York City, with fellow MLBAM employee Jared Ravech serving as a tour guide. Here I am, blocking the view.

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I had a really fun evening in Portland, but at this point it’s all kind of a blur. Pinball was definitely involved.

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And that — finally! mercifully! — is that. The next post on this blog will contain this season’s road trip itineraries. Here we go again…

(In the meantime, should you be looking for something to read, check out my new book round-up on MiLB.com)

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Now Playing: MiLB On the Road

I’ve been writing about Minor League Baseball for nearly nine years now, and plan on doing so for years to come. But this season, there is a whole new way to engage with, learn about my particular area of expertise. Introducing “MiLB on the Road”, an online video series highlighting the unique and memorable innovations one can find at (or near) Minor League Baseball stadiums across the land.

I’m your host, Ben Hill.

The video above is the inaugural edition of “MiLB on the Road,” and like any new endeavor this will evolve over time as regards the specifics. (Expect future episodes to be shorter and punchier. Also, my hair will look better). But I am very excited to be making a foray into the video realm, and would really appreciate your support in spreading the word. Show it to the people in your life who are Minor League Baseball fans, and, if so moved, please disseminate across applicable social media platforms. Especially you, teams! We’re all in this together.

And while I can’t make any promises at the moment, please know that continued mentions of the best heavy rock band of all time are a goal of mine.

As usual, I’m interested in your feedback. What is your take on this initial video endeavor? What would you like to see included in future episodes?

Since I’m in self-promotion mode, I may as well continue in a similar vein. Last month I appeared on NPR’s “Only A Game” radio program, elaborating on my MiLB.com piece about the Spokane Indians’ partnership with the local Spokane tribe.

0321_oag_spokane-indians-edit-624x350It was a honor and a privilege to be a guest on the show; you can listen to my segment HERE.

For more Minor League Baseball-themed NPR content, check out this episode of “On Point.” Author Lucas Mann, broadcaster Tommy Thrall, and pitcher Andrew Triggs all discuss life on the farm, and it’s an entertaining listen despite the glaring absence of one Benjamin Hill. You’ve haven’t heard the last from me, On Point! The longer I do this job, the more comfortable I become in living a life free from shame and any hint of modesty.

On March 6 the charitable Photo ID Foundation held a fundraising storytelling event at Bergino Baseball Clubhouse in Manhattan. I was one of the storytellers on the bill, a lesser light among luminaries such as Paul Lukas of UniWatch. (Back in my college days, I was a huge fan of Lukas’ Beer Frame zine.) Specifically, I spoke about the trials and travails of being the nation’s only gluten-free professional Minor League Baseball ballpark traveler.

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Click HERE for info and photos on the event, and stay tuned for future editions (I am happy to report that, utilizing my connections from a past, and perhaps future, life in the New York City sketch comedy scene, I was able to get 18-time Moth Story Slam champion Adam Wade on the next bill).

Here’s a video recap of the Bergino Baseball Clubhouse event.

Baseball as Good Medicine © from Photo ID Foundation on Vimeo.

Finally, I recently joined my old friend Jon Cudo of Gameops.com for our annual chat about the state of Minor League Baseball promotions. As Mr. Cudo put it:

A blooming springtime tradition is having MILB.com writer Benjamin Hill on the podcast to talk about the upcoming season of Minor League Baseball Promotions. Ben never disappoints with a depth of insight and funny promotion examples from coast to coast.

Ben also explains why he doesn’t need to know anything more about Ninja Turtles.

Listen HERE, and be amazed at the depth and breadth of my knowledge. What me, modest?

But in all seriousness, I’ve been toiling within this comparatively obscure but deeply rich slice of the sporting landscape for quite some time now, and it is important for me to keep expanding my audience and to spread the gospel of Minor League Baseball whenever possible. If you have a radio show/TV show/podcast/(maga)zine/blog/website/storytelling event etc. and would like me to be a part of it, then please know that my answer to your query will almost certainly be yes.

Get in touch.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Return to the Road: Stockton to Reno to Klamath Falls…

Early next week, come hell or high water (but preferably neither), I will reveal my 2014 road trip itineraries. In the meantime I will continue to dip into my seemingly inexhaustible reserve of 2013 road trip content.

Today’s “Return to the Road” segment, fourth in a series, picks up in “Magnificent” Stockton, CA.

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My time in Stockton, at the ballpark or otherwise, has been amply chronicled in previous posts and articles. But before heading on my way to Reno, Nev., I made a stop at Rasputin Music. This is the sort of one-size-fits-all music and movie superstore that weas once quite prevalent around the country, but now going extinct as our media consumption habits move from the physical to the virtual. (In my home of New York City, for example, the Virgin Megastore at Union Square is now a bank, and the iconic E. 4th street Tower Records now houses the MLB Fan Cave. The only establishment of this ilk still holding it down in the Big Apple is J&R Music World.)

I don’t know if Rasputin is still going strong, but it’s still going, and God bless ‘em for it. Perhaps I’m somewhat motivated by nostalgia, but I can’t help spend a little money when I visit establishments such as this.

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My core musical tastes, circa 1989:

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My core musical tastes, circa 1999:

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Cassettes for a quarter:

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Buyer Beware:

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Finally, a gluten-free pop artist:

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All of this is to say: If you still find joy in the act of going to a record store, and find yourself in the Bay Area or Central Valley, then keep an eye out for Rasputin. It’s the kind of place where you can buy Guns N Roses “Spaghetti Incident” for $5 because, hey, why not, it may be a cover album but it’s still Guns N Roses!

(Or at least that was my line of reasoning).

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Soon after leaving Rasputin I spotted this establishment. I should have pulled over and taken a proper picture, but, regardless, old-fashioned bowling alley signage should always be celebrated. (I would have plenty of opportunity to do that the next day, as it turned out.)

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Finally, a brief stop at Stockton’s “Miracle Mile” shopping district.

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From “Magnificent” Stockton it was on to Reno, where I had the misfortune to witness one of the only rainouts in Aces team history. Or did I?

Regardless, I had some time to poke around Reno the next day before showing out for points northwest. The bus station was fairly easy to spot.

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But that wasn’t the only over-sized and out-of-place vehicle in the immediate vicinity. The annual Hot August Nights car show happened to be taking place during the weekend I visited Reno, and this was one of the more notable entities on display.

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Beyond Bigfoot:

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In the midst of all this automotive action, I happened to  notice a most welcome sight.

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Delicious, filling, and (often) gluten-free, Vietnamese is one of my all-time favorite cuisines.

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One of downtown Reno’s more notable (non-gambling related) attractions is the National Bowling Stadium/International Bowling Museum Hall of Fame.

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In case you’ve never ventured to the upper deck of a bowling stadium before…

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The Hall of Fame featured plaques for male bowlers, while women were celebrated via paintings honoring their “superior performance.”

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Also featured: archaic equipment and pop culture detritus.

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Speaking of pop culture detritus, I made one more stop in Reno before leaving town for good. Stop me if you’ve heard this before.

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Randy Newman signage on a building’s exterior is always a positive in my book.

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The interior of Recycled Records included vinyl, cds, and even eight tracks.

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My next, and last, stop on this road trip was Hillsboro, Ore., home of the Hops. I didn’t have to be in Hillsboro until the following evening, however, so I made a plan to drive to Klamath Falls, Ore. so that I could then drive to (relatively) nearby Crater Lake in the morning before heading on to Hillsboro.

I hope that makes sense.

Upon getting out of Reno proper, the landscape changed considerably.

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I can’t tell you where I was, but a stop at this gas station yielded both a Big Hunk and a Pop Shoppe cane sugar root beer.

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Again, I chose Klamath Falls as my destination because of its close proximity to Crater Lake. I had no baseball plans for this particular evening, but while checking into the Days Inn, the clerk asked me what had brought me to this neck of the woods. I replied that I was a baseball writer, and planning to visit Crater Lake in the morning before before driving on to Hillsboro.

“That’s funny,” he replied. “I figured you’d be hear to see the Gems. I think they’re playing right now.”

What?!

Unbeknownst to me, Klamath Falls is home to the collegiate wood bat league Gems, who play at 65-year-old Kiger Stadium. And would you believe that Kiger Stadium was located a five-minute walk from the hotel in which I had elected to spend the night? And that the Gems were indeed playing at that very moment?

I had thought that Klamath Falls would be the one town on this trip in which I didn’t see a baseball game, but, as is so often the case, I thought wrong.

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The next — and last! — post in this series will detail my time in Klamath Falls and Crater Lake. That will really and truly conclude my 2013 road trip content, leading to the unveiling of my 2014 road trip itineraries.

In the meantime, please know that I am aware that the season is underway!

A new Promo Preview appeared today (Tuesday), and will run weekly through the remainder of the season.

– A special ‘Opening Weekend” edition of Crooked Numbers appeared yesterday (Monday), and will run monthly for the remainder of the season.

– And, what’s this? A bold new form of Ben’s Biz “On the Road” content? I’ll have more on this shortly…

There’s a lot going on.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

The Sun Will Come Out…Eventually

Yesterday was Opening Day, except when it wasn’t.

As is common at this time of year, there were a range of weather woes across the Minor League landscape. Seven of the 58 scheduled games were rained out, with the most dramatic example coming courtesy of the Frisco RoughRiders.

Today isn’t looking much better. The Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, who played in frigid conditions on Thursdays, have already announced a postponement. In Toledo, meanwhile, the visiting Louisville Bats are worried about the viability of their game against the Mud Hens…

And — WHOA! — things are looking severe out by Sevierville. Click on THIS and then come back to me. I’ll be waiting….

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Okay, cool, thanks for re-joining me. All of this meteorological mayhem got me thinking about a guest post that ran on this blog last year, in which Pete Golkin advocated for the creation of an industry-wide Universal Rain Check. The idea is simple: when a game gets rained out, the team in question issues a rain check that can be redeemed at any Minor League ballpark. Wrote Golkin at the time:

Remember, we’re talking about Minor League Baseball tickets. They’re not supposed to break the bank or become scarce–which is why you’ll never see a scalper in the parking lots at Danville, Greensboro or Richmond.

To work out the details, I suggest calling in the same accountants who said my old sliced cheese wrapper meant two-for-one admission anywhere on a Tuesday. And if I have to prove I’m an out-of-towner to get a rain check with “range,” I’ll gladly show a driver’s license. Simple stuff.

So on behalf of baseball pilgrims everywhere—at least the ones not bound for Fenway in an SUV limo–give the Universal Rain Check a shot, MiLB. It can only mean more fans up and down the road.

That post was met with one of the most robust comment sections in Ben’s Biz Blog history. But, alas, it was met with silence from those in a position to actually implement the program.

UNTIL NOW.

On Tuesday, the Dunedin Blue Jays issued a press release, and the press release contained the following information:

The Dunedin Blue Jays…are proud to announce the Raincheck Baseball Initiative (R.B.I.) program for the 2014 Florida State League season.

This unique program will allow fans to redeem a ticket from any rained out game from another team in Minor League Baseball for a Dunedin Blue Jays game….The R.B.I. program is believed to be the first of its kind in professional baseball.

“Basically, it’s a universal rain check,” said Nate Kurant, the new Director of Marketing and Social Media for the D-Jays. “A friend and I did a baseball road trip across the Southeast last season and each day had at least a 70% chance of rain. If any of those days had been rained out, we never would have made use of a rain check.”

“I know a lot of people love Minor League Baseball and take trips throughout the season to visit different parks. Essentially, I wanted to develop something that would meet a need for MiLB fans and help set us apart in Dunedin,” said Kurant. “It’s a beautiful city and hopefully this will give baseball fans more incentive to visit us throughout the year.”

Fair-weather fans that present a ticket from a different MiLB team’s rained out game not only will receive admission to a D-Jays game, but also take home a “Rainy Day Blue Jays” pack including a Blue Jays rain poncho. They will also have the option to participate in one of the numerous in-game promotions.

“It’s a nationwide, international MiLB promotion that is open to everyone from our fellow Jays affiliate in Vancouver all the way to our Florida State League friends in Palm Beach County.”

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“Come see us using a ticket stub from a rained-out Minor League game,” said the Dunedin Blue Jays in unison.

One team down, 159 to go. Do YOU think the universal raincheck is a good/viable idea? Would you take advantage of such a program? Are you tired of me asking obscure questions, as you would rather see a picture of a giant hamburger?

Okay, fine, here you go:

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

The Offseason is Over, the Season is On

Opening Day is upon us! Long-time readers of this blog know that my sentiments regarding a new baseball season can be summed up in four words.

I’ve got plenty to share with you over the coming weeks — a couple of “Return to the Road” posts, a couple of “Why I Love…” guest posts, and, of course, the reveal of my 2014 road trip itinerary (I’m going on four trips in 2014, with the first one kicking off HERE on April 28).

But it’s Opening Day! What better way to start the season than with a good old fashioned full-to-bursting bouillabaisse post? Doesn’t the mere thought of that make you want to dance?

In Lansing, meanwhile, the Lugnuts are asking  “Guess What Day It Is?” They do not mean Opening Day, however.

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The Lugnuts, in their own words:

Every Wednesday home game at Cooley Law School Stadium is Hump Day, with half-off drinks from 7 to 8 p.m. and a special appearance from Humphrey, a live camel!

Humphrey’s night will begin by delivering the first pitch baseballs out to the field. Afterward, he’ll saunter over to the west gate for pictures and petting. Lugnuts fans will also have the opportunity to win a camel-ride.

Other activities include a Hump Day t-shirt toss and a special “On the Hump” trivia segment featuring Lugs pitchers.

Limited-edition Lugnuts Hump Day merchandise is currently available at the Nuts and Bolts store.

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I just hope that Humphrey the camel toes the line when he’s on the field. Any untoward protrusions could be embarrassing.

Prior to first pitch deliveries, be they camel-related or otherwise, the playing field will be bustling with batting practice activity. When such activity concludes, time is of the essence. Think any Minor League teams will be able to operate at a greater speed than that displayed by the University of Tennessee?

But, of course, there are going to be times when no games are going on and the playing field is entirely deserted. During these occasions, unwanted nocturnal guests may see fit to make a visit. But not in Fort Wayne, who have a coyote on the case.

Another way to ward of unwanted guests: continuous on-field aerial surveillance!

Ballpark opponents aren’t necessarily unwanted guests, as their presence is a necessary component of the competitive experience. Last season I wrote about the Harrisburg Senators, who allow male fans to express their disdain for the visiting team via the time-honored act of urinating on the logo. I happy to report that, in 2014, the Senators have combined all of their Eastern League opponents, putting them all on blast via one urinal cake.

Pee on them all indiscriminately!

As we embark on yet another Minor League Baseball season, please remember: I remain the greatest of all time.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Return to the Road: From One Record Store to Another

I’ve spent the past several days working on season-opening content for MiLB.com, including the first Promo Preview column of the season. Working on season-opening content led me to the realization that the season is ready to open, which led to the realization that I really had better finish writing about my last road trip of 2013! Will today be the day that I finally finish writing about last season. Read on to find out! 

Today’s “Return to the Road” missive is the third in a series, and it picks up where part two left off: in Modesto, Calif., home of the Nuts. The previous night I had witnessed the Nuts play at John Thurman Stadium, and the plan for the day was to head north to Stockton to check out the Ports. Before departing Stockton I met with my compatriots from the night before, so that we could partake in a breakfast meal at Mediterranean Market and Grill in Modesto. For the record, this was the first dining establishment I ever visited that had filing cabinets in the men’s room.

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Also for the record, my compatriots Joe and Bonnie Price and Jon Fischer. I first got to know the Prices in 2011 when Joe, a religious studies professor, sang the National Anthem at over 100 Minor League Baseball ballparks. Jon, who I have known since seventh grade, is an artist and teacher living in San Francisco. (He has recently featured me in one of his works, blogging without a shirt on).

Anyhow, thumbs up to the Mediterranean Grill. It was on the pricey side, but the food was on point.

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From left to right: Joe Price, Bonnie Price, Jon

Before leaving Modesto, I followed standard operating procedure and visited a local record store. Welcome to Salty’s Record Attic.

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I was immediately charmed by Salty’s, which was chock-a-block with used vinyl, cds, paperbacks, and pop culture ephemera.

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Unfortunately, Salty’s prices were uniformly exorbitant (even when factoring in the sale discounts, seen advertised above). I’m not sure what their clientele is, but I wasn’t about to pay $25 for a used LP I could easily get for $10 or less in NYC. But it was a charming spot, and the woman working there was friendly, so I didn’t leave empty handed. In my hands, in place of the emptiness, was a Bob Wills record and a copy of George Plimpton’s Paper Lion. (Although, now that I’m looking again at the above picture, I have to ask myself why I didn’t buy The 10cc Story). 

The visit to Salty’s represented my final order of business in Modesto. The next stop was Stockton, located just 30 miles away. Would it be magnificent, as advertised?

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The drive north was a breeze, and I spent the afternoon touring some of Stockton’s cultural highlights with city sports development director Tim Pasisz serving as my tour guide. My favorite stop was certainly the Wat Dharmararan Cambodian Buddhist Temple. The spacious outdoor grounds of the temple boast dozens of larger-than-life and dazzlingly colored statues that together illustrate the life of Buddha.

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My time exploring the city with Pasisz was chronicled in this MiLB.com story, and that evening I attended the Ports game. Would you believe that, before moving on to my next destination or Reno, I managed to visit a record store?

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How’s that for a cliffhanger ending? More to come from the West Coast, eventually, but tomorrow’s post shall deal with more timely matters…

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Return to the Road: Visalia, Modesto, and Fresno In-Between

Welcome to the latest installment of “Return to the Road,” in which I re-trace my steps during my third and final road trip of the 2013 campaign in order to bring you all of the non-ballpark content that’s fit to print. The previous post in the series began in amid the vast expanse of Bakersfield and ended at Visalia’s Lamp Liter Inn, surely one of the quaintest team-affiliated hotels in all of Minor League baseball.

The Lamp Liter still issues honest-to-God keys, and the room signage was a definite blast from the past.

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The on-site diner was similarly retro:

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Before leaving Visalia I headed downtown and took a stroll. Most of the Central Valley California towns I visited on this trip were rough-around-the-edges and possessed an air of general economic despair, but the core of Visalia I found to be surprisingly vibrant. A brief photo tour, starting with a record store that was, unfortunately, closed on Mondays (marking the second day in a row my attempts to visit a local record store were thwarted).

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I was very taken with Visalia, but my momentary illusion that it was some sort of small town utopia quickly received a reality check.

016 Finally, a bit of history, delivered via the time honored method of plaque-on-boulder.

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I didn’t get any lunch in Visalia. My next stop was Fresno, and in that city my first order of business was to go on a brief tour of notable area taco trucks. This tour, arranged by members of the Fresno Grizzlies front office, was covered extensively on MiLB.com. In brief, I had a really good time!

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My time at that evening’s Fresno Grizzlies game has also been extensively documented. Among many highlights of my time at the ballpark was my encounter with this particularly committed “designated eater” (ie, the individual recruited at each ballpark to consume the gluten-free cuisine that my celiac disease prohibits).

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The next day I made a pit stop at E. Olive Street in Fresno.

003The motivation for this pit stop was the same as so many other pit stops that I make while on these road trips: I had been tipped to the existence of an independent record store.

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This particular record store was called Spinners. Welcome!

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I picked up a few moderately-priced used classic rock LPs (Michael Nesmith, Humble Pie, Black Oak Arkansas), bantered with the friendly clerks for a bit, and then was on my way out of Fresno.

Next stop: Modesto, home of the Nuts. As is my standard operating procedure on these trips, I entered the ballpark while waving to my fans while riding atop a ’59 Corvette.

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You can read all about my evening with the Nuts HERE. Part three of this series will pick up with my wanderings the next day in Modesto. A visit to a record store may have been involved.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

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