On the Road: Wieners and Weirdness Abound in Bakersville

I’ve seen and done so much on this west coast road trip, but yet again here I am, in some random hotel room (this time a Days Inn in Klamath Falls) writing about my evening at Bakersfield’s Sam Lynn Stadium. Already I’ve written this MiLB.com piece about the Blaze (“exemplary,” crowed the New York Times), and this blog post (“good,” noted USA Today), and now here I am with this:

BAKERSFIELD BLAZE BLOG POST, PART DEUX (that’s French for Three Times One Minus One)

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When we last left off, the game had just begun. And when a Blaze game begins, you can count on pre-med student turned Class A Advanced broadcaster Dan Besbris to keep you abreast of the action.

As Besbris compassionately elucidated the faults of a hometown player, a voice of an even more striking nature could be heard on the concourse. “Froggy,” the team’s assistant clubhouse manager was selling programs.

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I really should have done a Vine video featuring Froggy, as his nickname is indeed an accurate descriptor of the sound of his voice. At one point in the evening I began to walk toward him to do just this, but he was in a contentious-seeming discussion about clubhouse ice (or lack thereof) and I felt uncomfortable interrupting. I did learn, however, that Froggy is a Game Show Network aficionado, that Bobby Bonds taught him to do the YMCA, and that, most impressively, he got married at Sam Lynn’s home plate last season.

Speaking of plates, it was time to put food on them. The evening’s designated eater was a long-time Ben’s Biz reader by the name of Charles Pannunzio, who came to the ballgame with his wife Christina Hennessey. (The designated eater is, of course, the individual who consumes the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits). Pannunzio had volunteered for the “honor” via email, and he and Hennessey were ready to go.

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Charles and Christina live in Torrance, CA, and during the season a common question in their house is “What games can we see this week?”

“We go to college, Minors, Majors, everything,” said Charles.

“We even went to a game in Tijuana!” added Christina. And, indeed, they did!

But tonight they were in Bakersfield, the Tijuana of the Cal League. Blaze food and beverage director Bruce Gerber was ready for them, bestowing Christina with a Farmer John’s Polish Sausage (with Hollen’s mustard, a California brand I had never seen before) and Charles with the brand-new “Blaze Burger” (A burger topped with a mound of pulled pork and jalapenos).

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Christina praised the sausage, saying “I’d get it again,” but the Blaze Burger is what elicited the most attention.

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“It’s overwhelming in that it’s more of a BBQ sandwich than a burger,” said Charles. “I couldn’t imagine any more condiments being on it.”

“We really need napkins!” added Christina. And indeed, they did! (Meanwhile, instead of helping them, I drank a gluten-free cider).

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Napkins were soon acquired, as were a plate of tacos.

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And, also, a tri-tip sandwich.

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This round of offerings was not as successful. Christina liked the salsa (Phillip’s, a local brand), but said that overall the tacos were “cold and bland.” The tri-tip, meanwhile, was said to “taste like the grill, like they’re trying to cover up a bad flavor.” (I sampled the tri-tip as well, and would agree that it was less than stellar.)

Meanwhile, Gerber was kind enough to bring out a hot dog on a gluten free bun along with a wide array of (mostly meaty) toppings.

Here’s a picture of the hot dog, which includes a video still of me ogling the creation (it tasted good, but the gluten-free bun fell apart almost immediately).

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Heater is a fan of weiners, gluten-free or otherwise.

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Heater also enjoys harassing designated eaters (I think it says that in his bio, even).

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But this segment of the post, like Heater, is dragon on too long. Let us bid adieu to Charles and Christina, who recommend that you order a Blaze Burger the next time you’re at Sam Lynn Stadium. (As you can see they also got ice cream in a helmet, and I was derelict in my duties by not documenting this.)

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In my aforementioned Bakersfield Blaze MiLB.com piece (which Lewis Lapham said “is to the zeitgeist what an expert poacher is to the African rhino”), I talked about the many strange and unique moments that are bound to occur at Sam Lynn on any given night. Many of these moments take place during the between-inning breaks, thanks to the off-kilter humor of Spanish anarchist turned poolboy turned wannabe drawbridge operator turned Blaze assistant general manager Philip Guiry (who had recently returned to the club after serving a suspension for using “performance-enhancing jokes” that had all been lifted from Family Circus comic strips).

All of the above paragraph is true, save for my critical accolades, and it is also true that the Blaze have often fielded a line-up this season consisting of four players named Juan (Perez, Silverio, Duran, Silva). During one inning break, Guiry asked a multiple choice trivia question (“What Blaze player hit a grand slam yesterday?”) and all of the choices were named Juan. The contestant, a Girl Scout, chose the right Juan and Guiry then gave her a box of cookies because “no one ever gives a Girl Scout cookies.”

(For those who were Juan Duran, the correct answer was Juan Duran.)

Later in the evening was the Dizzy Bat Race, a Minor League Baseball staple. The Blaze stand out, however, as Guiry lets the contestants spin (and spin and spin and spin and spin) for an agonizingly long time. In this Vine video, he makes small talk with the mascots — “Panda’s a big golf guy” — before even beginning his countdown.  “We don’t care much about the race,” Guiry told me. “Just the dizzy.”

Please note that in the above video, the kid on the far right (who inexplicably identified himself as “Habib”) is using a broom. And I have no idea what song is playing, but let it be known that these days most of the between-innings music played at Sam Lynn is ’90s southern hip-hop (lots of No Limit stuff, and at one point I heard “Tootsie Roll” by the 69 Boyz). But in this particular Vine, you’ll hear “Sexy Back.” This is because mascot Heater decided to show the crowd that he is sexy all over by streaking across the outfield. Also, please note that he is followed, inexplicably, by a square pixelated ghost.

And speaking of wieners, which we kinda sorta were, there was, of course, the Wiener Launch. Watch it HERE, as I cannot embed an MiLB.com video on this MiLB.com blog. Here’s Guiry, post-weiner launch, surrounded by his adoring fans.

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Of course, in the midst of all of this, there was a game going on. There always is.

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Did you know that, at 354 feet, Sam Lynn features the shortest center field fence in all of Minor League Baseball? Or that the giant green sunscreen wall in center field was built in November and thus at the wrong angle to most effectively block the summertime sun? Or that Sam Lynn used to have “sun delays” during the moment in the evening when the sun was shining through the gap between the sunsreen and the outfield wall? (This gap has since been filled in with plywood).

It’s true. All of it true. It’s also true that this ballgame soon came to an end, with the Blaze emerging victorious. Here’s Besbris doing his signature “Who loves ya, wall?” catchphrase after the win.

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Win or lose, the Blaze players and coaches (including superstar manager Ken Griffey Sr) have to proceed through a gauntlet of autograph seekers en route to the clubhouse.

Come Juan, come all

Come Juan, come all

The game was over, but the evening was not. Girl Scouts, prepare to sleep over!

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It was during this portion of the evening that I met Ryan Salisbury, who, during the game, was donning the Heater suit. At one point late in the contest, Ryan was handed an envelope from an anonymous benefactor. The outside read “End of Season Bonus 2013,” and inside was a $10 bill. These are the sort of things that just seem to happen in Bakersfield.

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Ryan is a San Francisco resident (by way of Pensacola and Philly) who currently makes a living as a bike messenger. He doesn’t have a car, so when it comes to commutes he has to improvise.

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See, these are the lengths that people will go when a MiLB blogger is in town (me, I think). Ryan and his dog, F.D. (“it stands for what you want it to stand for”) eventually got a ride from a musician/landscaper who apparently once worked for one Jerry Garcia. As for me I’m grateful to be finishing up this blog post, and also grateful to not be dead. For Sam Lynn, in addition to everything else about it, houses some sort of homemade nuclear reactor in a concourse storage shed.

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Just one more reason to build a new ballpark, I suppose, but for all its faults (and there are many) a lot of people are going to miss Sam Lynn when it is finally gone. I for one, am going to miss writing about it, but soon it shall be time for me to write about Visalia and the many wonders to be found there. To whet your appetite, please read this MiLB.com piece about how the Rawhide are haunted by the ghost of a dead alligator. 

Weirdness abounds.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

1 Comment

Venerable and unique certainly describe Sam Lynn, but I still like it. The below-ground-level front row seats are, though, for the birds.

Last time I was up there I was struck at how friendly everyone was. If I hadn’t already had an out-of-town trip scheduled myself I’d have joined you there.

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