On the Road: Whatanight in Corpus Christi

In keeping with the theme of this Texas-sized road trip, I arrived in Corpus Christi shortly before the game began and didn’t really have any time to get the lay of the land. But my first impression of Corpus Christi was that it was a pretty swanky place, at least in the waterfront area where my hotel was located. On these trips I am used to staying in nondescript establishments located within  homogeneous swaths of depressingly generic chain establishments. But the Corpus Christi Holiday Inn was 20-something stories tall and located right on the water, definitely not a typical Minor League hotel!

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The view from my room:

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Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to access the balcony. How’s this for some strangely-worded hotel room signage?

“We would like to make you aware”?

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This grandiose sense of scale carried over to the ballpark itself, which opened in 2005. Welcome to Whataburger Field, home of the Corpus Christi Hooks.

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This statue, sporting the disappointingly generic title of “For the Love of the Game,” is 22 feet tall. Is it the biggest statue in all of Minor League Baseball? I don’t know, you tell me.

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I wrote about this statue, and many other aspects of the Hooks experience, over at MiLB.com. Please read it, as I am going to do my best not to be redundant when it comes to what I cover here in this blog post.

As you’ll see in this photo, and throughout the post, the landscape surrounding Whataburger Field is rather cluttered. There are cranes, ships, bridges, train tracks, wind turbines (and more). Much of this industrial activity is affiliated with the Port of Corpus Christi, which, per Wikipedia, is the sixth largest port in the United States as regards cargo volume.

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The wood beams incorporated into the stadium’s facade (as well as the corrugated steel paneling along the upper suite level)  are architectural nods to the cotton warehouses that used to permeate the region.

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During the days when cotton reigned, baseball in Corpus Christi was more apt to resemble this.

The AutoNation Club group seating area features this view of Harbor Bridge (it’s much prettier at night, as you shall soon see).

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There are a lot of Minor League groundskeepers out there would will kill (with their bare hands, if necessary) for storage space like this.

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Another perk of groundskeeping in Corpus Christi, as detailed in my MiLB.com piece:

Over the course of their existence, the Hooks have only had five of their home games affected by the weather. Much of this can be attributed to the fact that the Corpus Christi region doesn’t receive much rainfall, but what Hooks senior director of communications Matt Rogers calls “an incredibly effective drainage system” plays a major role as well. There are six inches of sand beneath the playing surface, and six inches of gravel below that. In between the sand and the gravel is a conduit that transports water out of the ballpark and directly into the shipping channel. 

Tanks, a lot:

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Cotton presses, still standing in their original location, flank each side of the (brand-new) scoreboard. The “Bam Bam” sign below the window commemorates a batting practice home run hit by Hunter “Bam Bam” Pence while he was with the Hooks.

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The boilers that once drove the presses now serve as the backdrop for an outfield basketball court.

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Beyond the boilers one finds this youth field, which has games taking place at 5:45 most days of the week. On the day I attended, the Challenger League was in action.

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And here we have a rock wall, which has not yet achieved sentience.

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The view from the 407 Club, so named because it sits just beyond the deepest part of the ballpark.

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Even deeper, but not part of the ballpark proper:

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The Hooks’ Splash Zone is a bit more modest than the water park seen above.

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The view from the right field entrance.

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After taking this lap of the surroundings (thanks to Matt Rogers for the tour), I went down to the playing field for a pre-game interview with Hooks broadcaster Chris Blake.

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No pictures of this interview exist, but rest assured that I was charming and witty and incredibly knowledgeable. That’s Chris there on the left, and that guy on the right is wearing a poncho in celebration of Cinco De Mayo. This photo also provides a good view of the cotton press as well as the team’s new scoreboard.

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The dugouts are sponsored by the Downtown Marina Holiday Inn, who would like to make you aware that the balconies are not accessible.

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A pre-game autograph session featuring both players and mascots.

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I’m not sure if Sammy the Seagull is signing the baseball or eating it. Maybe a little of both. 124

And, yes, that is an anthropomorphic hook wearing a poncho. I don’t think that I had ever seen that before.

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As the game began, I was in a storage area among “Only in Minor League Baseball” accoutrements such as a super-sized order of Whataburger Fries.

129 I wasn’t participating in any spud-related activity, however. My task was to compete in a between-inning tricycle race.

IMG_1333 During most of the game I hung out with on-field emcee Charlie Kovar — aka “Ballpark Chuck.” He was rooting for me to succeed.

I started off strong, but at some point during the race my foot slipped off of the pedal and I never regained my speed. I finished in second (of three).

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Many of our adventures together throughout the evening were chronicled on the videboard, but the video I obtained lacked audio and I have decided not to use it. Hopefully these pictures will suffice, please send any complaints regarding my subpar content to benjamin.hill@mlb.com 

Ballpark Chuck and I then adjourned to the outfield for the “Whataburger Fry Shuffle” contest. (Similar to a cap shuffle or what have you). For participating in this contest, I received an oversized Whataburger t-shirt. Please, pay no attention to my emerging manboobs.

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Our ballpark journeys now segued into a now common segment of the Ben’s Biz Blog “On the Road” experience. It was time to meet my designated eater (you know, the individual recruited to eat the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits).

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Say hello to Javi Rodriguez, a middle school math teacher and high school baseball coach in Corpus Christi. Javi was at the ballpark with his wife, Megan (also a teacher), father Jaime and son James (that James and Jaime in the background).

“I just love Minor League Baseball, and reading the different blogs,” said Javi. As for his designated eating duties, he remarked that “My wife couldn’t believe it, but she said ‘If if it’s going to be anyone, I guess that it’d be you.”

Yes, “The Babe.” Created last season in response to MiLB.com’s “Food Fight” competition, “The Babe” is cheddarwurst wrapped in hamburger wrapped in bacon.

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“The cheddarwurst makes it so it’s not as dry as you would think,” said Javi. “And anything wrapped in bacon is a can’t miss. This is Texas, so when you put those meats together it’s good stuff.”

Next up was the Taco Dog — a hot dog in a crispy corn taco shell in a soft flour tortilla, topped with ground beef and pico de gallo.

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Javi simply remarked that this was a “good doubledecker, there’s a lot going on.” We then moved on to the mac and cheese dog, which I failed to take a good picture of.

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“This is good, but it could use a little ketchup,” said Javi. “Some people say that’s sacrilegious, to put ketchup on a hot dog.

At one point Javi attempted to enlist 14-month-old  James as a designated eater, which would have made him the youngest designated eater in the history of designated eating. James was having none of it, though.

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Ive Got You, Babe

Thanks to Javi and his family for taking the time to do some designated eating! When I asked if it was embarrassing to sit at a table and have someone take pictures of him eating, he said “Nah, I’m a teacher. You have to embarrass yourself in the classroom every day.”

That’s the spirit!

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For the record, Whataburger Field has its own Whataburger (which the locals pronounce “Waterburger.”)  The fast food franchise began in Corpus Christi, and still has its headquarters there.

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Enshrouded in the shadows, one can also find Nolan Ryan’s “Smoke 5714″ BBQ stand. (The Hooks were originally owned by Ryan-Sanders. Nolan Ryan struck out 5714 batters over the course of his 63-season career.)

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And don’t forget. There was a game going on! There is always a game going on.

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As alluded to previously, the Harbor Bridge is beautiful at night.

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Ballpark Chuck and I had made our way back down to the playing field so that I could emcee a “Finish the Lyrics” competition. Madalee and McKayla ably finished the lyrics (of a pop song I can no longer recall); fun was had by all.

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I then emceed a Dizzy Bat Race, because why not? I wish I had proper video of this, as my comedic chops were on point for a change.

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Taking a phone call while the contestants spin.

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After the Dizzy Bat Race, I interviewed Hooks super-fan Tammy Tucker about the myriad ways in which she supports the team. You can read that interview HERE.

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You don’t need a fancy lens to get a good picture of Harbor Bridge.

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With the game just about over, I made a pit stop at the press box. Like seemingly everywhere else at Whataburger Field, there is plenty of room to move.

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The Hooks do not acknowledge the existence of the Northwest Arkansas Naturals.

A unique aspect of Whataburger Field is this radio studio, located on the ground floor of the stadium and visible to fans. Here, outfielder Mark Wik does a post game interview with Chris Blake after homering in his Corpus Christi debut. I’m not sure of the machinations that led to Wik being in Corpus Christi, but he came straight from extended Spring Training, played two games with the Hooks, and then went to Class A Advanced Lancaster and played two games there. He is now back in extended Spring Training (I think), and will most likely appear again with Class A Short Season Tri-Cities once their season begins. What a life.

177 As I observed this interview, a man I had met previously in the evening, one Douglas Calhoun, tapped on the window and waved a ball and pen at me. I assumed he wanted me to get Wik to autograph the ball, but he wanted my autograph (!!!) I was happy to oblige.

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If you would like me to sign an autograph for you, then get in touch. I am a very accessible celebrity.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

2 Comments

Whataburger Field in Corpus Christi. Now that’s real American baseball.

What a beautiful stadium! The ‘Babe’ made my heart skip just looking at it. I bet it’s pretty tasty, though. I would be great to have a ‘Ben Hill’ autograph to add to the collection, also.
-Mike

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