On the Road: Grinnin’ and Baronin’ It in Birmingham

Welcome back! When the previous post had concluded, a Southern League baseball game had just broken out at brand-new Regions Field in downtown Birmingham.

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With the game underway, it was time, of course, for a trip to the concession stand. You probably know the drill by now — my gluten-free diet prohibits me from enjoying most ballpark food items, so at each stadium I visit I recruit a “designated eater” who samples the cuisine instead. In Birmingham this individual was Abby Southerland, a University of Alabama graduate now in her second season as a media relations intern.

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Despite the fact that Abby was a team employee and I the world’s most talented, beloved and universally respected Minor League Baseball blogger, we were left to the wolves when it came to food procurement. The Barons hadn’t had much time to prepare after moving in to the new ballpark, and the lines at the concession stands were long and slow moving.

Like the Davies brothers waiting to use the treadmill, there were still some Kinks to work out.

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A new location of Alabama’s iconic Dreamland BBQ now exists in Regions Field’s outfield entertainment area, but it wasn’t yet open on the night I was in attendance. So Abby and I instead braved the line at Piper’s Pub and Grill, which, as a consolation prize, featured several items that incorporated Dreamland ingredients.

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We ended up with this array:

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Item Number One, on the far left, is the Magic City Dog (Magic City is Birmingham’s nickname, but you knew this). This item is comprised of a 1/4 pound smoked sausage, cole slaw, BBQ sauce, and spicy brown mustard.

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Abby gave it a go:

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Abby’s take: “The spiciness of the mustard gives it a kick, and the cole slaw gives it a real Southern feel. And then the sausage, that’s classic, so altogether this is a good ballpark food.”

Next up was the Dreamland BBQ Nachos:

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“You come to Birmingham, you want good Southern food, you go to Dreamland. That’s what people will tell you,” said Southerland, a Birmingham native. “This is a good finger food, one of those things you just have to try.”

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As for me? While people are often deeply sympathetic to my gluten-free circumstances, I’m always like ‘Nah, it ain’t that bad” and explain that there are always options. My attempt to consume a small orb of concourse luminescence turned out to unsuccessful…

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but I had no problem with this pickle. More teams should sell pickles!

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New online dating profile pic

It took a while for me to get the pickle out of my mouth, but once I did I looked up and realized that a dual no-hitter was going on.

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The first hit of the game occurred almost immediately after I took the picture. That’s how these things work.

But anyway, with the concessions portion of the evening out of the way — thanks, Abby! — I was pretty much left to my own devices. Just an ineffectual man wandering around with an ineffectual plan, of no concern to the stadium’s elite and hoi polloi alike.

I took pictures, I did.

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Like Dreamland BBQ, this “Power Force” batting cage wasn’t yet open on the night that I was in attendance. But it’s pretty unique in that it’s the batting cage the players will use, and fans can then take their hacks during the game.

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But who wants to be in a cage on such a beautiful night?

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This outfield play area, manned by a gameday employee (on the mound) is really cool.

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It was all very vague, but earlier in the evening I’d been told that I was to be a participant in some sort of between-inning tomfoolery. This allowed for a stop at my favorite area of any ballpark: the promo closet.

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Turns out that I was selected as a Chicken Dance participant. I mean, sure, whatever, dude’s got to make a living. I gave my camera to a promo intern to document my fowl maneuvers, and I guess she thought I wanted her to take a picture of me right there and then.

Oh, hello.

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She also took a picture of her and a friend, who now achieve internet immortality by appearing on this blog.

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I think this picture  sums up my enthusiasm for this particular iteration of the Chicken Dance.

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If you’re one of those people who is obsessive about team store ceiling height, then you’re going to want to contact the Barons for the specific dimensions of this imminently airy retail operation. It’s vertically proficient!

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Segues are for losers. Long streams of disconnected images, on the other hand? That’s where it’s at!

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Oh, hey, look, the Barons won! I had barely noticed.

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And when the Barons win, you win! And when something is free, you don’t have to purchase it! Who knew?

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The game may have ended, but this post (and, by extension, this seemingly never-ending stream of road trip coverage) is going to keep right on going. I spent that night in the Birmingham Sheraton, and, as you can see, I loved it there:

 

That morning was an 11 a.m. Education Day game or Kid’s Day game or Kidpacalypse or whatever you want to call it, so back in the rental car it was for one final stadium drive. I was a bit late in arriving, and the parking lot I had utilized the day before was full. I  then circled around construction sites and detour signs and dead ends until I began to feel like I was trapped in an episode of the Twilight Zone.

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So close, yet so far

I eventually found a spot about 11/32 of a mile from the ballpark, and upon entering the stadium found myself in the midst of madness. My take on Kid’s Day promos can be summed up thusly:

Kids were everywhere, most of them shrieking like insects out of Hades, but looking on the bright side it was a beautiful day. Here’s another barrage of photos for you, largely unencumbered by words.

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introspective mascot

introspective mascot alert

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Can’t get no relief

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A great way to spend three innings or so.

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This shot of the first base concourse  illustrates Regions Field’s impressive (and imposing) steel warehouse motif, as well as its altogether Brobdingnagian dimensions.

137 For one inning there toward the end, I actually sat down and watched the game like a normal person. It didn’t feel right.

139But you know what does feel right? Bringing this blog post to an end. Eight MiLB.com features, 10 blog posts, and two dozen Vines later, road trip number one of the 2013 season is now officially in the books.

Thank you for reading. Next time I file an “On the Road” dispatch, it will be from the great state of Wisconsin.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

7 Comments

Work out the Kinks?? Major groaner, Ben… Will you be “Shake, Rattler and Rolling” through Wisconsin, too?

We’ll see…I’m just gonna snake it one day at a time.

ben…….nice blog. but i’m stlll curious why you didin’t include montgomery’s riverwalk stadium as the final leg of your journey. the biscuits play less than 90 mlin from regions and downtown b’ham. come on down. i’ll be your food and beer taster. we even have a dreamland just a block from the ballpark. in fact, the whole downtown entertainment district has grown up and around riverwalk. you’ll have the best ballpark experience ever. guaranteed.

Hi Joe —

Thanks for the comment. The only reason I missed the Biscuits was because they were on the road at the time I was in that area. As I mentioned in the post announcing my road trip itinerary, there are always going to be teams that I miss and that is not something done intentionally. Similarly, when I’m in California in August I’ll miss the San Jose Giants even though I’ll essentially be driving past the stadium. It’s very frustrating, but sometimes there’s nothing that can be done. If and when I do make it to Montgomery, you’ll be the designated eater!

o.k. ben and thanks for the reply. now i get it. the irony is that the barons were playing the biscuits. the other irony is that it was the only ten game road trip of the year for the skits. but with a name like biscuits…..oh think of the possibilities.

Good blog. We’ll be there in July (from upstate NY) to see for ourselves. Hopefully,
the concession situation will have improved. From what I can see, this ballpark is not an asthetic home run – Looks like the luxury box denizens are the big winners here.

Thanks, Bill. Regions is a beautiful ballpark in many respects, and despite some of the hassles I think downtown is the right choice for a location. But at the same time it’s big, loud, and impersonal so I didn’t feel as at home there as I did at some of the other stops on this trip. I’ll be curious to hear your thoughts.

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