On the Road: From Marinara to Air Guitar in New Britain
(Note: A truncated version of this post went up on Friday. But, if you are reading this note, then you have in your possession the full, unadulterated, totally untruncated version. Thank you for reading).
I started this post in my kitchen in Brooklyn, and ended it in a hotel room in Eugene, OR. But it concerns neither of these two locales. What it does concern is New Britain, CT, home of the Eastern League Rock Cats. I attended a game at New Britain Stadium this past Tuesday (August 14, for those keeping score at home)
Joining me was my friend Jake, a former NYC sketch comedy scene associate who now lives in New Haven and runs a personal grooming academy for hirsute men. Jake brought along his friend Spence, a stand-up guy who enlivens all social situations of which he is a part. They will make an appearance in a bit, but for now I’m sticking with stadium exterior shots.
Exterior shots of a different stadium, that is!
That’s Beehive Field, located next door to New Britain Stadium. I wrote a little bit about Beehive Field over at MiLB.com, which I will quote from directly:
[F]ew places offer a more immediate contrast between present and past than the New Britain Rock Cats, whose New Britain Stadium is located literally next door to its old home of Beehive Field.
Beehive Field (a county-owned facility now used by New Britain High School) boasts plenty of old-school charm — rickety bleachers are the primary mode of seating, and netting stretching to the back end of the seating area offer plenty (some would say too much) protection from foul balls. Beehive Field served as the home of the New Britain Red Sox from 1983 to 1995, and future Beantown luminaries who suited up for the club include Roger Clemens, Ellis Burks and Curt Schilling. Rock Cats vice president Jeff Garner explains that the New Britain-Boston relationship ended after the 1994 seasons; then-Red Sox general manager Dan Duquette wanted the club to re-locate to Springfield, MA, but owner Joe Buzas was intent on securing funding for a new stadium in New Britain. Boston summarily changed affiliations, setting the stage for a relationship with the Twins that endures to this day.
It really is remarkable, the contrast between the two facilities. Garner gave us a brief tour, during which I snapped the following photos:
Having just absorbed this retro environment, New Britain Stadium felt thoroughly modern. And this despite the fact that, at this point, it’s not really all that new. The concourse is spacious and well-lit, but not of the “open” variety that was starting to become prevalent around the time that the facility opened.
We’ll return to the concourse in a little bit. But at this juncture of the evening fresh air was desired, so we adjourned to the great outdoors. The stadium is owned by New Britain, and as part of the arrangement it is city workers who are in charge of maintaining the field. (An even more anomalous quirk is that the line separating New Britain and neighboring Berlin runs right through the ballpark. As such, the team has to deal with food inspectors from both towns, depending on where in the stadium the concession stand is located.)
2012 marks the first season in which the Rock Cats are under the ownership of DSF Group, which also owns the Bowling Green Hot Rods and New Hampshire Fisher Cats. The new overseers didn’t have time to implement larger-scale changes before the season began, but it appears that there will be a reinvigorated promotional approach in 2013 and beyond. There will also be renovated suites, which will be modeled after this one.
Some early arriving fans enjoying drinks at the (open to the public) Sam Adams Grill.
And, oh yes, there were bagpipes.
The Rock Cats play in a heavily-populated area (their market contains approximately 2.3 million individuals), and the team does excellent group ticket sales. These Celtic tunesmiths were part of one such group.
And — hey! — there’s Jake. He’s a lone wolf; the one time he initiated a group ticket purchase was so that he could sit in an entire section by himself.
Before taking our seats for the evening, we went searching through the picnic area shrubbery in search of costumed cats…
The evening’s opponent was the Richmond Flying Squirrels, which I enjoyed because the scoreboard said “Rich Cats” throughout the game. Meanwhile, the “Adventures of…” scoreboard graphic was part of a “Mark Twain Night” promotion (Twain lived for a time in the area). On Tuesday the Mark Twain concept didn’t extend much beyond scoreboard graphics and between-inning videos, but I have a feeling that it is a a promotion the Rock Cats will return in a bigger and better way in 2013.
Oh, and see that Stanley Tools advertisement above the scoreboard? Stanley is headquartered in New Britain, and in honor of this fact the team spent the 1995 and ’96 seasons as the “Hardware City Rock Cats.” (During this time they exclusively played Tool on the PA, served discounted screwdrivers on Thirsty Thursday, and had an irreverent and oft-offensive mascot by the name of Richard Plyer. Or so I imagine/)
But anyway…after the National Anthem, it was indeed time for — yes! — Rock Cats baseball.
As opposing batsmen dealt with knee-buckling breaking stuff, Jake, Spence and I decided to get something to eat.
Spence makes his debut in the post, incredulous at our dinner selection: loaded foot long hot dogs.
I ordered mine sans bun, in compliance with my celiac disease restrictions.
It was delicious: cheese, onions, cole slaw, bacon, pickle, sauerkraut, lettuce and tomato (in retrospect, I realized that since the cheese was of the nacho variety it was likely not gluten-free. Live and learn).
We then settled in for some Minor League Baseball, Connecticut-style. While a threatening forecast no doubt kept some fans away, it turned out to be a beautiful evening.
For the record, the girl participating in the dugout contest seen below let it be known that her favorite book is “Everybody Poops.”
In related news, Jake, Spence and I decided to hit the concession stands. The destination was the “Brian’s Fabulous Fried Dough” stand, which is a regional delicacy in Connecticut.
I was unable to sample said delicacy (again with the celiac disease), but Jake and Spence were game. And here’s the thing about the fried dough — it can be topped with powdered sugar and cinnamon or, for a totally different sort of taste, marinara sauce. Both options are common (the girl working the stand estimated that the orders skew 60-40 to powdered sugar), and we got one of each.
Jake: “It’s not bad. The dough is just the slightest bit sweet, and wages war with the Marinara well.”
Spence: “It’s doughier than funnel cake, and has a multi-layered quality: crispy on top, but a little more forgiveness at the bottom.” As for the marinara-topped dough specifically, he described it as “like a mozzarella stick with no cheese in it.”
I soon left Jake and Spence to their own nefarious devices, so that I could do a half-inning on the radio with Rock Cats broadcaster Jeff Dooley (in his 15th season behind the mic). The view in and around the press box:
While waiting to go on the air, this between-inning contest was taking place on the field. I don’t even want to know what was going on here.
After a pleasant stint in the booth, I returned to a festive yet serene ballpark environment.
But it wouldn’t remain serene for long. I can’t fight my destiny, and my destiny seems to be the inability to go an entire ballgame without making a fool of myself.
I was a contestant in a between-inning air guitar contestant, with my opponents situated on the third base dugout. I went first (after Garner, apropos of nothing, introduced me as “the lead guitarist for the B-52s”), and was immediately flummoxed by the song selection. It was played at a low volume and the guitar solo was noodly and unfocused-seeming, and I was at a loss as to what to do (I wanted — nay, NEEDED — a good, strong, unimpeachable RIFF). What I do when I’m at a loss:
When I was done, a player in the Rock Cats dugout looked up at me and yelled “Brutal! You suck!” I can’t say I disagreed, and when I threw up my hands at him in an aggrieved manner he smiled, nodded, and disappeared from whence he came.
While I was heartened by the enthusiastic cheer I received from my fellow fans on the first base side, I was handily defeated by these Peewee Malmsteens:
Such is life. You win some, you lose a lot more.
I assuaged the dire feelings that accompany defeat with a brief walk around the stadium, during which I came across popular Cats and incomprehensible inflatable sculptures. (Also during this walk, I was approached on the concourse by a 20-something male who actually thought I was in the B-52s. I explained that I wasn’t, but that “I’d like to get in the band someday.” To this he replied “I’m sure you will!” without a hint of sarcasm.)
I returned to my seat in time to witness the end of a race between coffee, iced coffee, and donut, and this heated competition was immediately followed by a conciliatory visit from mascot Rookie. He did an “I’m not worthy” bow in my direction, before busting out a few rock ‘ roll moves of his own.
Rookie was all about the solo, and this, ironically, segued into a team win.
As you can see, the victory was celebrated via the enthusiastic throwing of t-shirts into the crowd.
Spence caught one of the shirts, and this made him giddy with joy.
A re-enactment of the magical moment.
Immediately after the re-enactment, Spence turned around toward the fans moving up the aisle toward the exit. “Hey, kid!” he said to no kid in particular, and when one kid turned around and looked in his direction he tossed him the shirt. “Thanks, mister!” said the kid. It was a hilarious moment, even if the kid didn’t actually say “mister.”
It was also a fitting moment on which to end the evening, and, therefore, on which to end this post. Thus ends this dispatch from the wilds of New Britain. I’m not sure how it got to 1740 words either, but it did.