On the Road: A Blogging Ouroboros in Wisconsin

Like a snake eating its own tail, this series of Midwest League “On the Road” posts shall end where it began: in Appleton, WI, home of a snake entity that avoids tail devourance whenever possible. That entity is the Timber Rattlers and, as you may recall, I spent two nights with the team but only documented one of them (in two parts) before moving on to other stops on my itinerary. Today, we document night two, in one part.

This all makes sense. Just believe.

My second evening in Appleton was “Salute to Outdoors Night,” and the outdoors were saluted thusly:

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Flaunt that cash

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Still flauntin’

 The team wore these theme jerseys, and fans had the opportunity to bid on them. I wonder how many bucks they ended up going for?

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And if exotic jerky is your thing, then you were in luck.

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My work day began with an interview, as I talked to this triumvirate of bullpen denizens about their money-making “Quarter Game” scheme that I had observed the evening before.

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That’s Jonathan Marmold, thee Mike Strong, and Taylor Wall, a good humored group of guys. My interview with them became part one of the Midwest League bullpen trilogy, which will almost certainly net me a Pulitzer or at the very least recognition from the sports media world at large. (Hi guys!) If you haven’t read it then please do so! 

Timber Rattlers broadcaster Chris Mehring arranged the above interview, and I then turned the table by interviewing him. Chris is the dean of the Midwest League and a storehouse of pop culture ephemera, truly one of the most interesting people in Minor League Baseball. It was he who suggested the word “ouroboros” to describe this blog post, and it was he who closed the interview with a pitch-perfect Sledge Hammer! reference. 

Chris is too elusive to be photographed, but the Timber Rattlers players were easy to capture. This is why I went to Wisconsin in the first place, because so many people extolled the virtues of the dairy air.

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I was in the dugout at the time the game started because I had been recruited to be a contestant in the nightly “Super Ropes Super Pull” contest. This is me and my opponent, whose name I unfortunately I cannot recall.

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Show time!

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This game is intense! I’m still kind of sore from it.

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Did any of this make sense to you? Me neither! Perhaps this video will help:

Yes, I lost. It was something I needed to get used to, because after the Super Rope Super Pull I remained in the dugout in order to compete in yet another on-field contest. In this one I was pitted against Timber Rattlers hitting coach Dusty Rhodes in a duck calling contest. This gave us a chance to utilize the, yes, duck calls that were given to fans as they entered the stadium on this fine evening of outdoors salutation.

I’ve never gone hunting before. I had no idea what I was doing, and ended up looking like a duck call was perhaps something one smoked out of.

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This was a set-up, as Dusty Rhodes turned out to be some sort of duck calling virtuoso. I wish that I had video, because he had sounds coming out of that thing that I wouldn’t have thought possible.

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Fang and I, we were not worthy.

Nice appendages, snake.

Nice appendages, snake.

But don’t worry, there were still plenty more opportunities for humiliation. As soon as my duck calling stint was over, I was ushered over to a storage area beyond the outfield so that I could suit up as a contestant in the nightly Merkts cheese race.

I was sharp cheddar.

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080One of my competitors.

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While waiting for our moment in the spotlight, I made some friends.

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Off to the races!

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Once again, the video shall tell the tale.

As you can see in the video, Timber Rattlers evil mascot Gnaf made a rare appearance. If you’re a fan of inane wordplay, anemic putdowns, and exaggerated self-confidence as a means to disguise intense self-loathing then make sure to follow Gnaf on Twitter! 

The Timber Rattlers had much more “Outdoors Night” shenanigans going on throughout the evening, as this photo that appeared on the team’s Facebook page illustrates.

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But for me it was time for a change of pace. The day before myself and an affable designated eating duo had spent a lot of time sampling the team’s concession offerings, but little did I know that there was WAY more where that came from. Fox Cities Stadium underwent a lot of renovations over the past year, and one of the most notable additions was an upstairs club level featuring “upscale” ballpark food (as in you eat it, and then the numbers on the scale go up!)

Here’s the menu, created under the expert guidance of chef Timothy Hansen.

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I sat down at a table and was soon rendered speechless as Hansen and co. brought out a dizzying array of dishes. Some were from the menu above and some are only available when the team hosts private events such as wedding receptions, but all looked delicious.

And many of these dishes were gluten-free. I was starting to get excited!

The above items soon had many companions.

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The centerpiece there is a “shrimp ceviche martini,” excellently prepared with a citrus-y salsa-style sauce. To the left of that is sesame tuna on endive with pineapple salsa (!) and then, moving clockwise: a BLT wedge salad (romaine lettuce, peppercorn ranch dressing, chopped pepper bacon, tomatoes and scallions), Caribbean jerk wings (gluten free ingredients!), Philly cheese cake (sredded ribeye, peppers, onions and nacho cheese on an Amoroso roll, and a crab cake sandwich with a side of remoulade.

Oh, and soon this Caesar salad with blackened salmon appeared! Just so we’re clear, all of this was prepared onsite at a Class A Minor League Baseball stadium.

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I couldn’t help but nibble on the many exemplary gluten-free offerings, but I kept in control.

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I was waiting for my designated eater — you know, the individual who consumes the ballpark delicacies that my gluten-free diet prohibits. In this case this individual was one Jim Meulendyke, who worked for the team in 2011 and 2012 (as an intern and then in group sales). Jim now lives in Minnesota (“I left Minor League Baseball for a girl,” he told me) and was in town for a visit.

Jim was making the most of this visit — when I was waiting for him upstairs, he was on the field taking part in a dancing grounds crew routine. I watched it on TV:

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 That’s Jim on the left:

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And — hey! — here he is, just after taking a big bite of crab cake.

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Jim was really enthusiastic about the food, and also one of the most articulate designated eaters I’ve worked with so far.

“You can taste the crab but its not overpowering,” he said. “But the sauce, the sauce is so good. The bun is really good but it’s the sauce that wins me over. It’s got a little kick to it, and complements the crab so well.”

Next was the cheesesteak.

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“Holy [Schmidt] that’s tasty! Oh that cheese is so good and this is melt in your mouth steak!” exclaimed Jim. “Sometimes Philly steak is too chewy and you find yourself battling it but with this all the flavors are simultaneous, and with that little bit of pepper and onion it is just perfect. Oh, crap, that is good. This is like heaven.”

And with that, Jim Meulendyke is a strong contender to win the coveted honor of “best designated eating quote of 2013.”

Oh, and how ’bout some Caribbean wings?

Already devoured

Already devoured

“At first it tastes good, but I was thinking that if you’re going to go Caribbean then you’ve got to have more kick to it,” said Jim. “But as I set the bone down and was going for wing number two, it started to feel like a sauna in my mouth. It’s an awesome taste, that straight jerk style, it settles in and makes a home.”

The Jim Meulendyke power rankings:

After bidding goodbye to Jim and chef Hansen (who clearly does excellent work), I had just enough time to utilize the duck call.

As the desultory sounds of faux duck echoed through the stands, the visitors emerged with a victory.

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There was a post-game concert in the club level, so I unwound from yet another action-packed evening with a (very generously poured) Jameson on the rocks (sponsor me, Jameson!) and listened to the music.

112 Outdoors Night was a success.

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Also a success was this Midwest League road trip, which provided me with more and better content than any trip I’ve ever gone on. Ever. Thanks to all involved for making it so action-packed and enjoyable, and stay tuned for the next trip!

August 3 – Bakersfield Blaze

August 4 — Visalia Rawhide

August 5 – Fresno Grizzlies

August 6 – Modesto Nuts

August 7 – Stockton Ports

August 8 – Reno Aces

August 9 — Travel — (Crater Lake!)

August 10 and 11 — Hillsboro Hops

This one’s going to be epic, I think. Get in touch with any all suggestions regarding how I should spend my time while out West.

But until then, THIS CANNOT BE LOUD ENOUGH!!! IT CAN NEVER BE LOUD ENOUGH!!!

Mugstar are the best band ever to emerge from Liverpool and their music sounds like my brain.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

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