About Last Night: West Virginia Black Bears, June 30, 2015

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

June 30, 2015: Monongalia County Ballpark, home of the West Virginia Black Bears (Class A Short-Season Affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates) 

Opponent: Hudson Valley Renegades, 8:25 p.m. start time (game delayed 80 minutes due to rain)

Monongalia County Ballpark, from the outside: 

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Monongalia County Ballpark, from within:

023Culinary Creation: Loaded Pepperoni Roll

041At Random: If you really wanted to, you could watch the ballgame from here.

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Ballpark Characters: Pepperoni Roll racers Hot Pepper Hank, Double-Stuffed Dave and Pepperoni and Cheese Patty

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Your Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Joke of the Day: My apologies

And that’ll do it for this trip. Next up is a one-off visit to the Vermont Lake Monsters on July 11th. And then, this:

July 28: New Orleans Zephyrs

July 29, 30: Biloxi Shuckers

July 31: Mobile BayBears

August 1: Montgomery Biscuits

August 2: Mississippi Braves 

August 3: Jackson Generals

August 4: Off (drive to Nashville, recuperate physically, emotionally and spirtually)

August 5: Nashville Sounds

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About Last Night: Potomac Nationals, June 29, 2015

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

June 28, 2015: G. Richard Pfitzner Stadium, home of the Potomac Nationals 

Opponent: Carolina Mudcats, 7:05 p.m. game time.

G. Richard Pfitzner Stadium, from the outside: 

003G. Richard Pfitzner Stadium, from within: 

027Culinary Creation: The American Burger — pub burger, two slices of American cheese (one white, one yellow), hot dog on the top, fries as the base:

049At Random: A few of the competitors in the “Intern Olympics”

020Ballpark Character: A few of the “Ken’s Place” regulars, hanging out down the third first base line

062Your Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Joke of the Day: 

Next Up: 

6/30: West Virginia Black Bears

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About Last Night: Salem Red Sox, June 28, 2015

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

June 28, 2015: LewisGale Field, home of the Salem Red Sox (Class A Advanced affiliate of the Boston Red Sox)

Opponent: Lynchburg Hillcats, 4:05 p.m. game time.

LewisGale Field, from the outside:

004LewisGale Field, from within: 

041Culinary Creation: Hawaiian Dawg (all-beef hot dog, sub roll, Chandler’s Dixie Pig BBQ, pineapple ring, teryaki sauce)

032At Random: A “Mullet Night” promo had been staged the day before. I, too, am sorry I missed it.

046Ballpark Character: Misty gets up close and personal

051Your Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Joke of the Day: 

Next Up: 

6/29: Potomac Nationals

6/30: West Virginia Black Bears

—-

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About Last Night: Lynchburg Hillcats, June 27, 2015

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

June 25, 2015: Calvin Falwell Field at Lynchburg City Stadium, home of the Lynchburg Hillcats (Class A Advanced affiliate of the Cleveland Indians)

Opponent: Winston-Salem Dash, 6:30 p.m. game time.

Calvin Falwell Field, from the outside:

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Calvin Falwell Field, from within: 

014Culinary Creation: The Aloha Donut Chicken Sandwich with bacon and pineapple

026At Random: Poor bat boy had a couple of cups stuck to the top of his helmet.

012Ballpark Character: Jimmy “Salad Bar” Wright — 1983 Lynchburg bat boy turned 2015 concourse Grill Master.

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Your groundbreaking and subversive ballpark joke of the day: Did I mention that they only played one inning before the rains came?

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About Friday Night: Norfolk Tides, June 26, 2015

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

June 25, 2015: Harbor Park, home of the Norfolk Tides (Triple-A affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles)

Opponent: Toledo Mud Hens, 7:05 p.m. start time

Harbor Park, from the outside: The traffic on the way to Norfolk (heading north from Richmond) was awful. I had to use the bathroom so badly at the time this picture was taken. I don’t remember taking it.

002Harbor Park, from within: 

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Culinary Creation: The Pork Challenge (four pulled pork BBQ sliders, four 4 ounce Cajun smoked sausages, 12 pork wings, bacon and chili cheese tots). Two individuals tried to eat in an hour.

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At Random: Tides executive vice president Dave Rosenfield, now in his 60th season of professional baseball.

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Ballpark Character: Visiting entertainer Reggy the Purple Party Dude accidentally dropped a cake on this guy’s face.

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Your Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Joke of the Day:

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About Last Night: Richmond Flying Squirrels, June 25, 2015

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

June 25, 2015: The Diamond, home of the Richmond Flying Squirrels (Double-A affiliate of the San Francisco Giants)

Opponent: Trenton Thunder, 6:35 p.m. scheduled game time. Start delayed by rain for one hour and 19 minutes.

The Diamond, from the outside: 

002The Diamond, from within: 

014Culinary Creation: Boss Hog (pork roll, fried egg, pepperoni and American cheese on a pretzel bun)

043At Random: It was “The Many Faces of Robin Williams Night,” complete with Jumanji jersey

Ballpark Character: On-field emcee Murph, in full Peter Pan regalia

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Your Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Joke of the Day: This, clearly, was a rain-shortened game

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On the Road: Wrapped, Stacked, Smothered and Deep-Fried in Omaha

To see all of posts from my May 28, 2015 visit to the Omaha Storm Chasers (this is Part Three) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my May 2015 trip through the Midwest, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

Shortly after May 28th’s Omaha Storm Chasers game began, I rendezvoused with a fan by the name of Paul Biler.

But Paul was not just any fan. Paul was that evening’s designated eater (you know, the individual who consumes the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits). I picked the right man for the job.

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Paul is “from Toledo by way of Utica,” but has lived in Omaha since 1997. His family made the move to Nebraska after his wife got a job as a private investigator for a health insurance company. Paul now works for Mutual of Omaha, but he also has an extensive background as a radio deejay. His most recent work in that regard was for Omaha oldies station KGOR, but for the majority of our time together his mouth would be used for the consumption of food. That, in a nutshell, is why Paul volunteered to be designated eater in the first place.

“I can eat,” he said.

Our journey began with the “Cor-dog-o”, a new addition to the Werner Park concession menu. It is named in honor of general manager Martie Cordaro, who became enamored with it after it was originally served as a Nashville-inspired “Eat Your Opponent” specialty item. I’ll defer to the press release:

OMAHA, Neb. – This season the Omaha Storm Chasers are bestowing their President and General Manager Martie Cordaro with the highest honor a Minor League Baseball team can give: naming a hot dog after him. The “Cor-Dog-O” is one of many new food items fans can try this season from Ovations Concessions at Werner Park.

A concession item that was long overdue, only the “Cor-Dog-O” can truly reflect the “interesting” personality and style of Martie Cordaro. The specialty item consists of two hot dogs, pulled pork and coleslaw wrapped in a tortilla shell, one of the only hot dogs at Werner Park that is not served in the traditional hot dog bun.

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A closer look:

062Martie sets the scene:

“Oh, that is good,” said Paul after his first bite. “I only got the dog side of it, but I can definitely taste barbecue sauce.”

He then took another bite, leading him to declare that “the pulled pork is wonderful.”

When informed by Storm Chasers executive chef John Schow that the barbecue sauce used was local favorite Cookies (a molasses-based sauce), Paul was enthused.

“If you’re having  a party, put a pound of Vienna sausages in the slow cooker and then throw some Cookies on it,” he said. “Cook it for four hours, and then it’s perfect.”

Next up was an item that can be procured at “Poldberg’s Philly Grill,” named after Storm Chasers manager Brian Poldberg.

063That item is the “Ruben Philly” — chopped corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, rye and 1000 island dressing on a hoagie bun. It’s served with a Schwartz-brand pickle and chips (made in-house).

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Oh, man. Let’s take a closer look.

066Take it away, Paul.

“The corned beef is nice and lean, and there’s a good zing from the dressing,” said Paul. “Definitely, a heart attack in a bun.”

We then moved on to the Champ Burger, created by Schow in 2013 after the Storm Chasers won the PCL Championship. It consists of three 1/3 pound patties, bacon, ham and onion rings.

068Paul was ready for it.

070“The beef is good, cooked all the way through,” he said. “And the onion rings are really good, too. But I’ve never been too much of a burger eater.”

Schow was enamored with Paul’s eating efforts, and eventually told me “I want a photo with that guy.” So, here you go:

073Schow, like a lot of food and beverage guys I’ve met in this industry, absolutely loves working at the ballpark. It’s a casual environment that allows plenty of room for fun and experimentation.

“It’s a sweet gig,” he told me. “I mean, killer.”

And, clearly, he’s doing killer things with it. Hopefully not in the literal sense, but items like this will certainly accelerate one’s path to the boneyard:
069This is the Midwest delicacy known as the “Frenchee” — American cheese on white bread, deep-fried.

IMG_1334“Is the bread Rotellas?” asked Paul, referring to a beloved Omaha bakery.

“Of course it’s Rotellas,” replied Schow.

These two were definitely on the same wavelength.

“Say a prayer for me,” added Paul, overwhelmed by the amount of food he was now dealing with.

“Sir, I have a couple times already,” replied Schow.

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If you want a Frenchee outside of the ballpark, Paul mentioned that local restaurant Don and Millie’s is known for them.

“It’s hot, definitely something you want to break open and let cool for a while,” said Paul. “It could use more cheese. Mostly I’m tasting bread.”

But that was a rare criticism of what was clearly a fantastic culinary experience.

“The food here is great,” said Paul. “I’ve been to a lot of ballparks where the food is pedestrian, but here there’s a lot of stuff that’s unique to the Omaha area.”

I’m writing this post some three weeks after visiting Omaha, but for all I know Paul is still at the ballpark making his way through what was a most prodigious dinner. He sure had his work cut out for him.

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Oh, and for the record: I would like to commend the Storm Chasers for offering gluten-free hot dogs at the ballpark. I enjoyed one later in the ballgame.

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On the Road: Walking Off a Memorable Day in Omaha

To see all of posts from my May 28, 2015 visit to the Omaha Storm Chasers (this is Part Two) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my May 2015 trip through the Midwest, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

Okay, so where was I?

Oh, that’s right. I was at a Minor League Baseball game. A Pacific Coast League Baseball game, to be exact, though I was nowhere near the Pacific Coast. Welcome back to Werner Park, home of the Omaha Storm Chasers.

054I spent the first several innings of the ballgame with one Paul Biler, the evening’s designated eater. We’ll get to him in the next post.

057 After parting ways with Paul, I played a few holes of miniature golf on the concourse. The course, new this year, costs $3 to play.

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Doofus alert

080After sinking a birdie (or was it a bogey?), I snapped a photo of a couple making out on the berm. I wasn’t intending to.

081I was accompanied by general manager Martie Cordaro throughout these wanderings. He pointed out that the scoreboard shoots flames after each home run as well as after each Storm Chasers victory. See those propane tanks hooked up in the back there?

085I made it a goal for the evening — to take a photo of the flaming scoreboard. I’d already missed an opportunity in the third inning, when I was otherwise engaged with Mr. Biler, when Francisco Pena hit a solo shot.

Beyond the scoreboard is an impressive array of flags.

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The blue flag on the far left celebrates the American League champion status of the Kansas City Royals, but it should not be overlooked that the Storm Chasers have won back-to-back Pacific Coast League championships. Here’s Martie modeling his 2014 PCL championship ring on one finger, and a giveaway replica ring on the other. Can you tell which is which?

119One of the many benefits of inhabiting a large acreage stadium is that Wiffle Ball fields can be installed on the premises.

090I was gonna be all snarky about the sponsorship, like “Yeah, of course, because nothing says “backyard games of Wiffle ball” like a jewelry retailer. But I’m slow on the uptake — this is a diamond company sponsoring a diamond. Genius! (Yes, genius. This is the internet, where hyperbole reigns and words have lost their meaning.)

The field is real grass; the Storm Chasers have already replaced the sod twice. The blue metal poles in the sign seen above were taken from the team’s previous home of Rosenblatt Stadium.

087Continuing the lap around the concourse, one finds the “Downdraught Bar.” The regulars do their part to “Stir up the Storm.”

Picnic area, coming soon!

092Here in the left field corner, we find the loneliest seat in the ballpark. A row of one. (Cue up Nilsson, not Three Dog Night.)

095The Mike Jirschele Dugout Suite, named after longtime Omaha manager-turned-Kansas City-third base coach, is located down the third base line.

099I kept running into this bottle cap dude. This was the last game of the homestand; shouldn’t he only appear during the opener?

097We then made a press box pit stop, where Martie did an inning on the radio. Sure, fine, leave the big-time visiting celebrity on the outside looking in.

103I passed the time perusing the old yearbooks hanging on the walls.

105The view from the Cambria first base party deck.

107These women were having a great time up there.

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With the ballgame winding down, I paid a visit to section 118. Jerry Strawn, a well-known figure at the ballpark and in the Omaha community, passed away suddenly during the offseason and his fellow fans paid tribute with a seat bearing his catch-all catch phrase. Read all about it on MiLB.com.

Jerry Strawn, in his signature Cubs/Storm Chasers jersey.

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In honor of Jerry Strawn. Hey Buddy!

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The Storm Chasers scored two runs in the bottom of the ninth to knot the game at 5-5. Time for extra innings on this, the last day of what had been an exhausting road trip. At this point no fewer than four Storm Chasers had hit home runs, and I had yet to capture an image of the flaming scoreboard.

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Not flaming

The Storm Chasers won it in the bottom of the 10th. Orlando Calixte doubled to lead off the inning, advanced to third on a sac bunt and scored on a Lane Adams single. This marked the second PCL walkoff victory I’d seen that day, the Iowa Cubs in the afternoon and the Storm Chasers at night. Let’s review:

And, hey! Flaming scoreboard. My night was a success.

IMG_1336My jokes are usually not a success. But I ‘m gonna keep making them.

And that’ll be all from Omaha. I had a great time, and I’m not lion.

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On the Road: Yesterday Hits Today in Omaha

To see all of posts from my May 28, 2015 visit to the Omaha Storm Chasers (this is Part One) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my May 2015 trip through the Midwest, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

The last time I was in Omaha was September of 2010, attending the final game at Rosenblatt Stadium. The city’s Pacific Coast League team, then known as the Royals, was slated to move to a new stadium in the nearby town of Papillion the following season. As part of this 2010 visit, I swung by the stadium construction site and got a sense of what this new facility would look like.

sarpy_behindhomeplate-thumb-450x337-23907813

sarpy_suitesandseating-thumb-450x337-23908813I think my favorite image, though, was this: piles of warning track dirt, looking like sand dunes on another planet.

sarpy_warningtrackdirt-thumb-450x337-23909213Cut to May 28th, 2015, when I ended my Midwest road trip with a visit to this same location. Much had changed.

The stadium, now known as Werner Park, is home to the Omaha Storm Chasers. If nothing else, the parking is ample.

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031A statue out front pays tribute to noted Nebraskan Bob Gibson.

033The Storm Chasers have a large cadre of mascots, but I’m not sure if this one is part of the official roster. Regardless, he (she? it?) was there to greet me when I arrived.

034Hello, Werner Park.

035During my exploratory lap around the ballpark, I noticed a group of well-dressed men standing in the outfield. I have no further information to offer.

036 037The area surrounding the ballpark still possesses a rural feel. However, Storm Chasers general manager Martie Cordaro reports that 150 houses are under construction in the immediate area, as well as additional commercial and recreational development.

039The home and visiting clubhouses are located in left field, with a ramp leading across the concourse and down onto the playing field. The Storm Chasers clubhouse is on the right, as in toward center field.

041If this random grouping of individuals doesn’t scream “Minor League Baseball” then, really, I don’t know what does.

040I then made my way onto the field, so that I could observe the pregame ceremonies at close range.

043Kids love to mess with Casey’s tail.

044While Vortex likes to mess with people (I incorrectly identified Vortex as “Stormy” in this Vine video. I hope that the Omaha mascot community can find it in their hearts to forgive me.)

This is Stormy. He’s anemometer-ically correct.

048Now here’s an idea that other teams might want to steal. Before every Storm Chasers game, a young fan accompanies manager Brian Poldberg to home plate for the exchanging of the line-up cards.

051During the singing of our National Anthem, the Storm Chasers players were accompanied by a veritable gaggle of local youth athletes.

053And then it was time to, yes, Play Ball.

056It was a gray Thursday night, decent but far from ideal conditions for baseball. Martie told me that, the day before, the team had experienced what he deemed to be the best weather in Werner Park history. And, on top of that, the team had staged a star-studded “Salute to the Kansas City Royals” promo in honor of their long-time parent club.

“You should have been here yesterday,” said Martie, echoing a sentiment that has been expressed to me by Minor League general managers across the land.

But it wasn’t yesterday. It was today. In the next post of this Storm Chasers saga, I’ll cover the today that was in further detail.

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On the Road: En Route to Omaha, a Pit Stop in Des Moines

To see all of the posts from my May 2015 trip through the Midwest, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

On Wednesday, May 27th, I attended a Cedar Rapids Kernels game. The next morning, I checked out of my hotel and began the westward drive toward my next destination of Omaha. More or less midway between these two locales sits Iowa’s capitol city of Des Moines, the home of the Iowa Cubs. And, wouldn’t you know it? The Cubs were playing an afternoon game. I decided that it was my moral duty to attend.

Welcome to Principal Park, the home of the Iowa Cubs. (As you may recall, I visited here in 2010.)

002After making my way to ballpark’s upper level, I snapped this shot of downtown Des Moines in the distance.

003By the time I had arrived at Principal Park, the game was already in the fourth inning. My time in Des Moines was destined to be a mere cameo, as opposed to the leading roles I had become accustomed to elsewhere on this trip. Shortly after arriving I rendezvoused with I-Cubs “director of consumer experience” Scott Sailor, a gracious guy who, true to his nature, graciously led me around the ballpark through the remainder of the ballgame.

We began on the ballpark’s upper levels.

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A cadre of interns were working the new videoboard.

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I spent some time gazing upon the graphic scorecard art of former video intern Sam Thompson.

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Principal Park was just the second ballpark I’ve visited this year to have a pitch clock; the first was the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville. In Jacksonville the pitch clock was operated by the PA announcer via a tablet computer. Here in Iowa, media relations intern Brock Borgeson (a relief pitcher at nearby Simpson College) ran the clock through this Daktronics console.

009Borgeson said that the pitch clock is a work in progress, as it is for all teams at this particular juncture.

“We kind of have to respond to what the umps want,” he said. “Do we stop the clock on balls in the dirt? Some say to start the clock when the pitcher gets the ball [back from the catcher], others want it to start once [the pitcher’s] on the rubber.”

Borgeson also said that the umpires often exercise discretion as to when, exactly, to start the between-inning pitch clock.

“Sometimes they’ll wave me off, to give players more time,” he said. “Like if the pitcher was in the on-deck circle, or the catcher was on base.”

After speaking with Borgeson, it was off to to the radio booth to do an inning on the air with Deene Ehlis (left) and Randy Wehofer. Friends of this blog are of course familiar with Wehofer, who is a movie star.

008Scott and I then headed down to the main seating area. The ballgame, between the I-Cubs and Tacoma Rainiers, began at 1:08 p.m. and had been cruising along ever since.

011Since the last time I visited, the Cubs have increased their craft beer selection by a considerable margin. 28 craft brews were available; Peace Tree “Blonde Fatale” had the highest ABV (8.5%).

012We then paid a visit to director of stadium operations Jeff Tilley, who was hard at work within his ballpark lair.

014Tilley coordinates travel arrangements for the team, and in the Pacific Coast League this can be a fraught process. While he’s smiling in the above photo, he probably wasn’t by the end of the day. The I-Cubs post-game journey to El Paso most definitely did not go as planned — read all about it in this MiLB.com article.

Did I mention that this game was flying right along? After emerging from Tilley’s lair, Scott and I found that it was already the top of the ninth inning. Brian Schlitter was coming in to pitch for the Cubs, who were losing by a score of 2-0.

016Schlitter has one of the most extreme beards in Minor League Baseball. It’s luxurious and silky.

024Scott and I soon moved to first row seats behind the third base dugout. I kept trying, and failing, to secure a shot of a rotating graphic which, apropos of nothing, wished me a happy birthday. Oh, well. It’s a new scoreboard, and it’s very nice to look at anyway.
018

I also had missed this fourth inning graphic, in which a plug for this blog was incorporated into a between-inning contest.

IMG_1339Anyhow, yeah, there was a ballgame going on and this ballgame was in its waning stages. I’m not exactly sure what it was that provoked him, but at some point during the top of the ninth Cubs manager Marty Pevey came out and gave the home plate umpire a piece of his mind. He went from “perturbed” to “apoplectic” in approximately 15 seconds.

023Pevey’s intensely stated objections eventually led to his ejection.

In the bottom of the ninth inning, Arismendy Alcantara and Adron Chambers both singled to start the frame. A light rain had just begun, and Scott suggested that we move to a dry location.

“Let’s go up and get out of the rain,” he said. “Unless you want to see this walk-off from down here.”

We hustled up the stairs, resolving to watch the game from a protected concourse location.

026And wouldn’t you know it? The very first pitch that we witnessed from this location was a three-run walk-off home run off of the bat of Matt Szczur. Scott Sailor’s words had proven prophetic.

The I-Cubs won, 3-2, in a game that took a crisp two hours and 15 minutes to complete. After waiting out a brief traffic jam in the parking lot, it was on to Omaha.

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Life on the road, you’ve gotta love it.

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