Carolinas On My Mind

Before the 2011 season began, I solicited suggestions regarding where I should travel this season. And one answer that I heard time and time again (via blog comments, Twitter, Facebook, and email) was “the Carolinas.”

This area is, simply put, a hotbed of Minor League Baseball.

Fueled by this feedback, I cobbled together the best itinerary I could muster given the vagaries of schedule, budget, and time constraints. And that itinerary is this:

7/20: Charleston RiverDogs

7/21: Myrtle Beach Pelicans

7/22: Kinston Indians

7/23: Durham Bulls

7/24: Burlington Royals

7/25: Danville Braves (okay, not technically the “Carolinas”)

7/26: Winston-Salem Dash

As usual, I will be doing my absolute best to chronicle the experience through MiLB.com stories, blog posts, Flipcam interviews, photo galleries, and highly aestheticized daguerreotypes. And, as usual, I will do my best to ward off anxiety attacks through the power of positive thinking.

And now comes the part of the post in which I earnestly implore you to GET IN TOUCH! Recommendations and information related to the ballparks and surrounding areas are much appreciated, and while time is always limited I do my absolute best to follow up on all the information I receive. There is some flexibility in regard to what I can write about, and your local knowledge often leads to unique content I wouldn’t be able to provide on my own.

*************************

But before I get too wrapped up in the future, let me return to the past with some ODDS and ENDS from my recent Ohio-Indiana road trip. I am happy to report that I was able to squeeze in a visit to Toledo’s world-famous Tony Packo’s — Hungarian purveyors of hot dogs, chili, and pickles.

There’s no wait staff at this joint, you just walk in and give your order to the uber-efficient and boisterous folks behind the counter.

Seating area:

I ordered a hot dog with Packo’s famous chili, paprika dumplings, and a side of “Pickles and Peppers.” That turned out to be a bit redundant, considering the generous amount of pickles that came with the hot dog.

While eating, I contemplated the rows and rows of signed and laminated hot dog buns on display. A sampling:

The answer to the trivia question "What do Dudley Moore, Betty Thomas, Hal Linden, Martin Lawrence, Jeff Foxworthy, Sinbad, and Howie Mandel have in common?"

My next stop was Fort Wayne, and upon leaving that fine city I decided to pay a visit to the grave of Johnny Appleseed. But when I arrived at Johnny Appleseed Park, I found that it was a massive hiking, biking, and camping area comprising a very large amount of land. It was raining, no one was around, and no signs for the grave were in sight.

So I gave up on my mission, but the consolation prize was this photo of a road sign honoring former Fort Wayne mayor Harry Baals.

In summation: I tried to find Johnny Appleseed’s grave, but all I got was a photograph of this lousy street sign.

Sadly, the only other non-baseball excursion I was able to fit in came at the end of the trip. En route to Akron I stopped at Ravenna, OH, the town where I lived from birth through (nearly) age 2. When I got there, I was pleased to discover the town was in the midst of a classic car show and all-around civic celebration.

Upon returning to NYC’s comforting embrace, I took stock of my latest round of road trip swag.

Not Pictured: Akron Aeros shorts and t-shirt, Lake County Captains t-shirt. They needed to be washed.

Meanwhile, I just keep on getting things in the mail. Like this Bob Feller “Van Meter” bobblehead from the Iowa Cubs.

And the awesome Stockton Ports’ Jeremy Barfield “Rocket Arm” and Dallas Braden “Bobble Belly” combo.

For whatever reason, the Jeremy Barfield “Rocket Arm” has it in for the Dallas Braden “Bobble Belly.” As I looked on with horror, Barfield advanced on Braden and then fired a rocket shot right at his belly.

The moral of the story is don’t mess with Jeremy Barfield “Rocket Arm.” He will destroy you.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

21 Comments

Ben,
Why not the Mudcats in Zebulon NC, this is their last year of AA baseball

One word: Biscuitville.

It’s a NC chain that you could probably find off of I-40 near Durham/University Heights. It’s breakfast-fare, and yeah, OK, it might just be fried and greasy food, but it never disappoints.

Also, be sure to try Cookout. Deeee-licious.

Cookout and Biscuitville are fantastic recommendations. It is a shame you are not checking out the Greensboro Grasshoppers (Marlins). Great ballpark and a superb family atmosphere.

Too bad the scheduling won’t work for you to make it to a Greensboro Grasshoppers game, but your tour looks like it will be a good one. Gives you an excuse to come down here again next year, maybe hitting Charlotte Knights, Kannapolis Intimidators, and/or Asheville Tourists (where Kevin Costner ended up at the end of “Bull Durham”) as well.

Wear your mosquito repellent in Charleston. And be sure to have a Mexidog while you’re there. Keep an eye out for Bill Murray, who is often seen at the park in his capacity of Director of Fun. I was at a Myrtle Beach game a few weeks ago and enjoyed the atmosphere they create at the game. The switch from being a Braves affiliate to being a Rangers affiliate seems to still be fresh on the minds of the staff and fans there. I’m hoping to hit a Kinston game this year since it’s the last year they’ll be the Indians and I’m not sure what’s going on there next year. The Bulls are great — the park reminds me of Fenway — and hope someone hits the bull while you’re there. The Dash really love their new stadium. I think the whole atmosphere there feels kinda sterile, but the level of play is really good (they had an outfielder featured on ESPN, MLB, etc recently) and it is a big step up from what they were doing two years ago in the old stadium. Plus, the Dash are doing an excellent job of using Twitter and Facebook to communicate with their fans — they have a model that many other minor league teams would be wise to study. Depending on my schedule, I’ll try to make it out to Burlington, Danville, and/or Winston-Salem while you’re here — I’d love to meet you, and it would give me a good excuse to make it out to Burlington or Danville, where I’ve never seen a game.

I definitely agree with the suggestions for both Biscuitville and Cook-Out, where I recommend the cheddar-style burger, add cajun seasoning. Stock up on Cheerwine soda while you’re down here. Go to Krispy Kreme, especially when you’re in Winston-Salem, where they’re headquartered. Make sure you go when the “hot now” light is on. Get some BBQ (which is always pork) — eastern style is the true way, while lexington style is for weenies.

-greg, aka Hoppers Fan, aka drmellow

There is a barbeque place in Winston-Salem, not to far from the stadium, that I would also recommend. It is called Bibs. I will agree with getting the Cheerwine soda as well. There is also a buffet that had a very good breakfast. I would eat there on my way home from the midnight shift, instead of eating the breakfast at the hotel. I just wish I could remember the name of the establishment. For a northerner, the southern cooking was great, fried bologna sandwich and eggs, and grits for breakfast. Now that is eating.

All great recommendations for the best region in baseball! There are about a million things to do in Charleston. Ghost tours and fine cuisine are specialties. Myrtle Beach is a nice ballpark in the middle of a big time tourist town. Find an Eagle’s or Wings store, that’s what I associate with MB (and don’t set your expectations too high). I’ve only driven through Kinston, but we scheduled the family beach trip this year in August around a home stand so I’ll get to check it out before they leave. Not much in Kinston, it’s close to military bases. Durham on a Saturday night will likely be the big night for you. They draw very well and put on as close to an MLB experience as you’ll find in the minors. Personally since I’ve gotten married and had kids I like a smaller experience, but Durham is full of history baseball and otherwise. There is a Tobacco processing plant-turned-entertainment area near the park. Shame you’re a week later, I’m actually in Raleigh on business this week. The 23rd is my birthday and the family’s taking me to Danville for the Tommy Hanson bobble, so we’ll have to catch up with you after Durham.

My now-wife and I reunited after not seeing either each other for 10 yrs by going to a B-Royals game (I knew she was cool when she drove 90 min with me in that situation to watch kids fresh out of HS). There isn’t anything to do in Burlington, but the crowd at their park is fun. There are some old timers down the 3rd base line in the bleachers that are a treat to sit near. The beer stand is where the action is. Danville is beautiful, but I’ve only been to the park…which is in a state park. The staff there is one of the best in the nation. From the concessions to the merch, everything there is cheaper. Cool place, and Go Braves. Winston-Salem is likely where we’ll catch up to you. The old ballpark was cool, but BB&T is nice. There’s a BBQ place in Winston called Mr. Barbeque that’s top notch (1381 Peters Creek Pkwy), . You’re bound to see an anthropomorphized pig at some point. If you’re lucky he’ll be dressing himself for dinner. Hopefully you get to do more of the western part of the Carolinas next year. We’d love to have you in Charlotte or Kannapolis. Greenville and Asheville are pretty boss parks too.

I can’t believe I almost forgot this. You have to go to Bojangles in addition to Cook Out & probably not on the same day. Bojangles is fast food fried chicken. Get a couple pieces and get the chicken supremes so you can try the honey mustard. I seriously lobbied the wife to get them to cater our wedding. LOL You’ll never look at a KFC the same again.

Matt

I have an aunt that lives in Toledo, and it is a must to eat at Tony Packos. Recently, my cousin came from Ohio to visit me here in Minnesota and brought me a Tony Packos dinner, including the sausage and chili sauce, macaroni and cheese, and a huge jar of pickles. I love the pickles.

Last year I spent 3 weeks in Charlotte on business. I had little time off, but when I was off I went to see baseball games. I saw games in Kannapolis, Winston-Salem, and Durham. I have also seen games in Asheville, and Greenville, SC. There are so many minor league teams in the region. I am hoping to possibly transfer to Charlotte next year, and hopefully in time for the AAA All-Star game.

Very nice. I did Carolinas a few years ago. Hickory, Charlotte, Kannapolis, Greensboro, Burlington, Durham, Carolina Mud Cats, Kinston, and finished down in Myrtle Beach. I was disappointed I couldn’t stretch to Asheville as it was quite a bit removed from the others, and Winston-Salem was on the road during my run up I-85.

I should start a blog. Here is this year’s trip:

Fri Jul-22 7:00 PM Bridgeport Bluefish @ Lancaster Barnstormers
Sat Jul-23 11:30 AM Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame Cleveland, OH
Sat Jul-23 7:05 PM Chicago White Sox @ Cleveland Indians
Sun Jul-24 1:20 PM Houston Astros @ Chicago Cubs
Mon Jul-25 7:00 PM Kane County Cougars @ South Bend Silver Hawks
Tue Jul-26 7:10 PM Sioux Falls Pheasants @ Gary SouthShore RailCats
Wed Jul-27 11:30 AM Field of Dreams in Dyersville, IA
Wed Jul-27 7:00 PM Peoria Chiefs @ Quad Cities River Bandits
Thu Jul-28 1:10 PM Chicago Cubs @ Milwaukee Brewers
Thu Jul-28 7:05 PM Traverse City Beach Bums @ Windy City Thunderbolts
Fri Jul-29 7:10 PM Boston Red Sox @ Chicago White Sox
Sat Jul-30 6:05 PM Traverse City Beach Bums @ Joliet Slammers
Sun Jul-31 1:00 PM Brickyard 400 @ Indianapolis Speedway
Mon Aug-01 7:05 PM Lake County Captains @ Lansing Lugnuts
Tue Aug-02 12:00 PM Syracuse Chiefs @ Toledo Mud Hens
Tue Aug-02 7:05 PM New Britain Rock Cats @ Erie SeaWolves
Wed Aug-03 7:05 PM Chicago Cubs @ Pittsburgh Pirates
Thu Aug-04 6:35 PM Evansville Otters @ Washington Wild Things
Fri Aug-05 7:00 PM Trenton Thunder @ Altoona Curve
Sat Aug-06 7:05 PM Jamestown Jammers @ State College Spikes
Sun Aug-07 1:05 PM Louisville Bats @ Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees

Oy! That’s all I could think of as I realized your schedule for your first Kinston/Durham/Burlington games, has me in Asheville for my first game there! Oh well, but if you need some advice for ballparks, check out my theviewfromhomeplate blog on wordpress. nothing fancy, just a few parks.

As for Durham, I can help you out there – both in and out of the park.

The park, DBAP, and ATC – get there a little early, and park for free behind the parking decks along the streets next to the American Tobacco campus. Saves a little cash (unless MLB is paying!). Make sure you start from the North Parking Deck http://www.americantobaccohistoricdistrict.com/pdf/ATHD_map_2011.pdf and work your way down those “brown bays” on the map you see on the East side of them. It is a picturesque walk down a waterway, in between old tobacco buildings.

At the Campus before you get into the park, there are some great restaurants, such as Tyler’s Tap Room with tons of local brews, Cuban Revolution, and a Mellow Mushroom. I rec Tyler’s after the game for a beer to celebrate a win or loss.

Inside the park, there is not a bad seat in the house. Check out the right/left field seats that have you sitting right behind the pitchers’ bullpens, as its a great way to chat up some players in between innings. Also, Wool E Bull is a pretty great mascot to grab a hold of if you can. If you visit the gift shop, either pick up a retro Bulls tri-color hat or if there are any left a “Hit Bull” Bobblehead!

Over the Blue Monster is the Tobacco Road Sports Cafe (not part of the park), but great eats and tons of TVs. However, I would suggest heading over the the last “Grill” on the left side of the park, where the Rita’s Ice is, and order a “Bulldog”. Its a hotdog, but SO much more. Let’s just say its wrapped in a pretzel.

If you get a chance outside of the park, since its a weekend, check out Durham’s Dame’s Chicken & Waffles on Main Street. Its about 5 minutes from the park and the best fried chicken breasts around. Duke University and Cameron Indoor are equally close, roughly 10 minutes west. And finally, if you are out at night, look up the Triangle Food Trucks page to see if they are out in force that evening. Typically they are and at a great Durham brewery – Fullsteam.

I hope you have a great time in our State! I think you will have a blast, if not sweat your face off….

I’ve hit 17 different parks (open and closed now) in the Carolinas and live in Charlotte. Some thoughts for the parks
Durham isn’t as good as old Durham, but it’s still a great park…. Try a Flying Burrito.
The new park in Winston-Salem is a great place to watch a game, but they’re still finding their local identity.
An older gentleman and his wife sit front row at the end of the 1st base reserve seats in Burlington. He never misses games, and is a fountain of info. Most of the Burlington park actually came from Danville… they moved the stadium, piece by piece.
Been awhile since I’ve been to Kinston… it’s a small town, and the atrmosphere for games is very small town. I wonder how their fans feel about losing the team in the switch with Zebulon and Florida.

Definitely eat at the Mellow Mushroom before the Durham game but you’ll need to get there early because there’s usually a crowd. And save some room for Rita’s Italian Ice once you get inside the ball park. Make sure you take a stroll all the way around it too because there are some great views from all areas. If you sit in sections 124-134 the sun is brutal when the game starts so walk around until the sun goes down a bit.

Have a great time and maybe next trip, the Grasshoppers will be in town and you can catch a game in Greensboro!

Three baseball trips in one year? Definitely jealous!

I grew up in Burlington going to the Indians/Royals games and it’s about as intimate as you can get at a minor league game. I would say the number one thing to do at that stadium is talk to a man named Harrison Jones. He sings “take me out to the ballgame” at nearly every home game and has done so for several decades. He’s a cool old guy who could tell you lots of stories I’m sure of things like the 27 inning game of 1988 (those numbers could be slightly off), Manny Ramirez’s stint in B-Town, the old Marlboro man billboard, the filming of Bull Durham and much more. I know there are stairs leading up to the rooftop… not sure what you would have to do to go up there, but I’m sure if you played your “MiLB card” right you could find a way up. If you are getting food in Burlington I suggest you try Zack’s Hot Dogs (www.zackshotdogs.com)… it’s a Burlington tradition.

First off, I want to offer a sincere thank you to everyone who left a comment. I really appreciate it.

In regard to not visiting certain teams, to a certain extent that’s always gonna be the way it is. Some teams are on the road that week, and if I chose a different week to travel then the problem would remain (just with different teams). I definitely prioritized Kinston, given the uncertain fate of professional baseball in that city after this season. The Mudcats were admittedly less of a priority, since their operation will not be significantly affected as a result of next year’s transition from Double-A to Class A Advanced. I’m sorry about missing the Grasshoppers — by all accounts that’s a great baseball environment.

Brian and Jose — I will definitely be keeping an eye out for both Biscuitville and Cookout. The former sounds amazing — I’m usually happy when I have one biscuit, being in a veritable town of them sounds overwhelming.

Dr. Mellow — Thanks for the thoughtful comment — all recommendations noted, and I hope to meet you while I’m down there. And next time I’ll hit Greensboro, promise! And when you say Lexington is for weenies, does that mean that they have good hot dogs?

Marty — Let me know if you remember the name of the breakfast spot. An emaciated northeasterner such as myself needs to enjoy hearty fare while the gettin’s good. And agreed about Tony Packo’s — an absolute must while in Toledo. My life would be complete should I ever achieve laminated hot dog recognition.

Possum — Hopefully our paths will cross, I appreciate you reading the blog all these years and would love to say hello. Awesome that Appy League baseball played a key role in your relationship, a woman with an appreciation for rookie ball is definitely a keeper! Also, I’ll do my best to photograph and and all anthropomorphic pigs I come across, especially those with cheerfully suicidal intent.

Mike — Hope you enjoy the road trip — very ambitious schedule (Houston followed by Kane County!) and nice mix of Majors, Minors, indy ball. Let me know if and when you start a blog.

Nick — After reading your comment I wish I was staying three nights in Durham. I’ll try to experience as much as I can; I’ve seen pictures of the Bull Dog and it looks amazing. And, definitely, I’d like to feature pictures of the old tobacco buildings on the blog.

Kings33 — I didn’t know the Burlington ballpark has its roots in Danville — I hope to look into that. And would also like to meet a few of the die-hard fans, they add so much to the ballpark experience (particularly the smaller ones).

Kris — Hopefully the Mellow Mushroom is in my future. I’ll definitely be wandering a lot while in Durham — rarely on these trips do I stay in one place for more than an inning.

Txag08 — If all goes according to plan, I’ll be able to sneak in a fourth trip as well. We’ll see…

Dano — Harrison Jones sounds like the man to talk to — maybe I can do something on him for MiLB.com. At the very least, looking forward to the seventh-inning stretch.

Thanks again, everyone! While I certainly won’t be able to do it all, feel free to get in touch during and after the trip with your own stories and photos. I enjoy providing that sort of supplemental coverage — it allows me to be “on the road” even after returning home.

You’re going to have a great trip down here. I’m looking forward to reading your impressions of baseball in the Carolinas. As far as Lexington and weenies, I didn’t mean hot dogs, but maybe they’ve got that covered. Down here, BBQ ranks right up with religion and politics, and I won’t even attempt to list them in order of importance. Real BBQ includes a vinegar-based sauce. Lesser BBQ comes with tomato-based sauce. Not that I’m biased or anything. Truth be told, your best bet would be to try both and decide for yourself that Eastern style is superior.

Enjoy the trip! Hope to run into you at one of the parks. Keep the twitter feed updated….

Mike — based on the road trip you describe, I’d definitely ready your blog if you had one, too.

Ben, I believe the 23rd in Durham is Hooters night! You should pick up your Hooters Cowboy hat and I think for $25 you get all you can eat wings. But in Durham you can hit about everything in a day because it is right there. But Biscuitville is good so is Cookout but you have to cross through the “real” parts of Durham to get there (you don’t want to cross through the “real” parts of Durham). The Tobacco Campus is set up right there with the Mellow Mushroom (hope for the waiter witth a missing tooth and beard… too funny), Cuban Revolution restaurant, and Tylers which is best for after the game for beers (usually see a ton of players there post game). Have Fun and I hope to possibly meet you at the game

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Ben you’re lucky you got an Alex White bobble-head yesterday i couldnt make that game I had practice!

I actually didn’t get an Alex White bobblehead — not sure it would have fit in my carry-on luggage anyway…

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