On the Road: An A-Peel-Ing End to the Season in Delmarva
I was fortunate enough to go on four Minor League road trips this season, resulting in dozens of ballpark visits and (hopefully) a lot of memorable content for this blog as well as MiLB.com.
But it had to end sometime. Everything does. And this season my travels ended here:
In planning this trip, I really didn’t know what to expect from Delmarva. They are not a team I have regularly written about or communicated with in the past, and as a result I didn’t have much of a sense of the overall operation and experience.
Happily, it turned out to be an awesome night at Arthur W. Perdue Stadium.
And I really mean that, above and beyond any professional obligations I may have to frame everything in a positive light. The team itself was terrible (55-85 overall, including a season-ending 14-game losing streak), but when it comes to the ballpark experience this is an organization firing on all cylinders.
I got to Salisbury in the early afternoon on Saturday, getting lunch and a quick tour of the area from GM Chris Bitters and director of broadcasting Bret Lasky (a bit more on that in a future post). Upon arriving back at the stadium, I took a lap around the grounds.
The Strike Out Hunger initiative referenced on this All-Star Game referencing water tower was very successful, with the 14 South Atlantic League cities combining to collect and distribute over 250,000 meals.
The team’s front office is stocked with Cheerwine, now being distributed in Maryland. Guess it’s not just a North Carolina thing anymore…
Cheerwine in hand and outside reconnoitering complete, I then toured the Arthur W. Perdue stadium with Bitters. The stadium is named after the founder of Perdue Chicken, and was built largely thanks to the effort of his son Frank (more on this in my MiLB.com piece).
Frank (who died in 2005) loved to hang out in the press box, and now this bastion of scribes and broadcasters bears his name.
The upstairs area also includes six suites, a year-round “Executive Club”, and a covered open-air seating area.
From there we descended into the “guts” of the stadium, which reminded me somewhat of Crystal Cave and similar PA-area attractions that I visited as a kid.
Groundskeeping storage area and hang-out lair:
We then came across what Bitters called “the banner graveyard” — neglected outfield signage from season’s past that can still be used as tarps and leak-pluggers and what-have-you.
And speaking of outfield banners — you may have noticed that in the field shot featured above (scroll up six pictures), the left field fence is totally devoid of signage. This was because the banners were knocked down by
hurricane tropical storm Irene (more on the team’s hurricane response on, yep, MiLB.com).
Moving past the banner graveyard, one comes across the batting cages…
and then a mascot costume and prop storage area that, trust me, is better seen than smelled.
A walk-in refrigerator housed the stadium’s beer supply, as well as a labyrinthian tube-based delivery system.
From there it was into the clubhouse and locker rooms, which I did not document outside of this shot of the trainer’s tools of the trade.
The stadium tour segued into Flipcam Interview Time (TM), that portion of the ballpark experience in which I badger young professional baseball players with questions regarding their chosen vocation. The victims this time around were Parker Bridwell, John Ruettinger, and David Walters (it can all be found HERE, the dedicated “On the Road with Ben Hill” multimedia page).
The interviews were conducted in the idyllic confines of the Shorebirds’ dugout.
Meanwhile, the visiting West Virginia Power were engaged in a very intense round of home-run derby batting practice. This was the last BP of the year (or so I assume, as the final two games were in the daytime), so they were having fun with it.
I still had plenty of time before the game was to start. So after taking the time to “Thank A Chicken” on the concourse I made my way over to the Eastern Shore Hall of Fame.
The EBHOFM is great — a volunteer-run museum dedicated to the region’s professional baseball history and notable natives. I should have more on this in a future post, but here’s a look at the inside.
How’s this for a great baseball name — Ducky Detweiler, who played for nearby Federalsburg in 1939 before moving on to a brief Major League career with the Boston Braves.
Meanwhile, the gates had opened and the crowd was filtering in. My plans to play a quick game of Flintstones pinball at the concourse arcade were thwarted, as the game was (happily) in use.
Instead, I amused myself by taking this most apropos picture of the N.L. East leaderboard…
and then watched the players warm up. Note that the Shorebirds were wearing purple “Relay for Life” cancer-awareness jerseys, auctioned off for charitable purposes after the game.
Soon it was back to the field, as for the fifth (and final) time this season I was asked to throw a ceremonial first pitch. This picture leaves it to the imagination, but please believe me when I say that I fired a strike down the middle. Or don’t.
I stayed on the field for the National Anthem.
Definitely, Sherman the mascot looks better when inhabited by a human body.
Shortly after the game started, I was introduced to one of the Shorebirds’ most notable fans. Believe it or not, this is the aforementioned Ducky Detweiler! Now 92, he often comes to games with Jean, his wife of 67 years.
What a wonderful couple, and what an honor to meet them. Ducky met Jean while playing for the Federalsburg baseball club, and here they are nearly 70 years later regularly taking in some South Atlantic League action (more on Ducky can be found — where else? — on MiLB.com).
I’d already done a fair amount of ballpark wandering at this point, but how about a little more? You’ll note that, like Bowie, the Shorebirds have their own carousel.
As it turns out, the Shorebirds, Baysox and Frederick Keys all used to be under the same ownership group. All three teams have a carousel, which were perhaps bought as part of a “Buy two, get one free” promotion.
It was a light crowd at first, but really filled up as the game went along (fireworks seems to inspire tardy arrivals). I was really impressed with the fans and how much they contributed to the atmosphere — the mood was engaged and jovial throughout.
Eventually I decided to head up to the press box, in order to see how my credentials were fairing in my absence.
Everything was copacetic, so I headed over to the sectioned off broadcaster’s lair occupied by Lasky and did a most-enjoyable half-inning on the radio.
While on the air, the following concessions trifecta was delivered to me (to Lasky’s jealousy-tinged amusement).
That would be be a “Chessie Dog” (half-pound frank with cheese, onions, peppers), “Crab Dip” (with three bread dipping sticks) and — would you believe it?– A scrapple sandwich (!!!)
Scrapple, an “offal” nice treat, is pretty much indigenous to Pennsylvania, Jersey, Delaware and Maryland, and I’d never had it at a ballpark before. The Shorebirds actually hold the unofficial record for “Most People Eating Scrapple Simultaneously” — 990 fans once indulged prior to a game.
I ate the scrapple as well as one-third of the crab dip and a small portion of the Chessie Dog (leaving the rest to the denizens of the press box). After all, there was still dessert:
The Sherman Gelati — orange sorbet and vanilla soft serve ice cream, probably the best dessert I had at a Minor League game this season. Bitters, who is from California, expressed amazement (and appreciation) for just how popular ice cream is among Shorebirds fans. “It’s up there with the most popular sellers,” he said. “Right there with hot dogs, soda, and beer.”
While down behind home plate I took in the “Chicken Dance”, a most fitting ritual to take place in a stadium named after Arthur Perdue. Here’s Marcellus the on-field host clucking away.
Marcellus (sorry, not sure of the last name) had the endearing habit of introducing each between-inning contestant and then telling the crowd to say “Hi!” to said contestant. It was a great technique, and added to the neighborly and thoroughly friendly atmosphere that prevailed all evening.
But while things were going smoothly in the stands, the team on the field needed some help. Entering the bottom of the ninth, the scored was tied at 3-3.
Clearly, it was time for the RALLY BANANA!
My job was to enter the field from the third base side, put a hex on the opposing team, high five with everyone who put their hand out, and generally act like a raving idiot. Mission accomplished.
The Shorebirds loaded the bases with one out in the bottom of the ninth, but despite being imbued with Rally Banana’s rallying power the opportunity potassium by. The Power then scored two in the 10th and that’s how it ended — 5-3, West Virginia.
But in victory or defeat, the show must go on.
The Shorebirds gathered down the third base line and gave fans the shirt off their backs (the winning bidders in the Relay for Life jersey action). Manger Ryan Minor’s jersey went for $850!
And soon after the players disrobed and dispersed, the fireworks began. Normally fireworks shows are too commonplace to say much about, and it’s hard to get good photos of them to boot.
But check THIS out — the most ferocious opening display I’d ever seen.
And this went on for a good eight minutes! When the dust had settled and the smoke had cleared, there was only one thing left to do.
Launch-a-ball! For the first time, I captured this nightly ritual from an on-field vantage point.
The flurry of fuzzy spheroids slowed and then stopped altogether, leaving me with this, the final “On the Road” image of the year.
Come 2012, we’ll get the ball rolling again! Thanks to everyone who’s helped me to justify my professional existence thus far, it means more than I can express to have gotten so much support from so many people.
It takes a tough man to write a tender blog post,