On the Road: Reveling with the Red Wings in Rochester

(Interested in perusing all of my 2014 “On the Road” content? Click HERE  to visit a continually updated “On the Road” landing page. Bookmark it, and read ‘em all!)

My end-of-season Empire State ballpark road trip extravaganza began on August 22 in Batavia, New York, home of the Muckdogs. Upon the conclusion of that evening’s game, I made the short drive to Rochester, New York, and checked in to the rather extravagant (by Minor League standards) Hyatt Regency Hotel. This put me in an amenable — nay, ideal — situation to witness some Rochester Red Wings baseball the following day at Frontier Field.

And there would be plenty of baseball to witness, as on the docket for this Saturday afternoon/evening was a Red Wings doubleheader against the the eternal mouthful that are the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders. The visual highlights of my walk to the stadium were already documented in a previous post. Those wanderings led me to this, my first view of the stadium.

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First doesn’t necessarily equal best, of course, but my second view of the ballpark wasn’t much better.

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Third time’s the charm? Not really, but getting closer.

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While taking in this vast expanse of brick, I saw a sign that elucidated the Red Wings’ position on ticket scalping. (For the record, the only time I ever saw ticket scalping at a Minor League ballpark was at Nat Bailey Stadium in Vancouver.)

110This journey ’round Frontier Field’s external perimeter was not for naught. Here, finally, we have reached the front entrance and, thus, a visually appealing vantage point.

111In the photo below, one can spot Rochester’s iconic Kodak Tower in the background. Construction on the Kodak Tower was completed 100 years ago, and it stood as Rochester’s tallest building until the Xerox Tower was built in 1967. (That building, of course, was a mere facsimile of other, bolder, architectural accomplishments.)

113As for Frontier Field, it is not 100 years old nor has it ever held the status of being Rochester’s tallest building. The facility, which boasts a capacity of just under 11,000 people, opened in 1996. It is owned by the county, and the Red Wings, a community-owned team, are the sole tenant. I entered the stadium at 4 p.m., upon which a small squadron of game day employees combined to hand me a strip of “Legends” baseball cards, thundersticks, and a small stack of Wegman’s coupons. I attempted to reject the thundersticks overture, but was told, friendly but forcefully, that “Everybody needs thundersticks!”

Covertly, and with no small sense of shame, I abandoned my unwanted thundersticks on a nearby card table and proceeded to take in the view. The sun, reticent to assert itself earlier in the day, had regained its luminescent mojo and was emanating heat rays through cumulonimbus cloud cover. It was shaping up to be a beautiful day (and night) for baseball.

114The Frontier Field concourse is not of the “open” variety, but it is spacious and sparkling.

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Speaking as one with celiac disease, it is always gratifying to see a team making concessions to food allergies. This “Allergen-Free” stand was not open at the time,, but, for the record, the menu consisted of Nachos, “Worry Free” Pizza, and “Tuna Melt Away Your Cares.” Unfortunately, “Root Beer Float Away in a Sea of Allergen-Free Tranquility” was not on the menu, nor was “Fettuccine Alfredo of Cross Contamination? Don’t Be.”

117These fans, meanwhile, had achieved the impossible: pre-gaming in the 10th inning.

118The view from the right field berm:

119The view from the same location, after rotating my body approximately 180 degrees and, for good measure, whistling a jaunty tune.

120Back under the roof, I encountered what has to be Minor League Baseball’s only baseball glove-bedecked fiberglass horse. If you’d like to know more about this baseball glove-bedecked fiberglass horse, then simply click here.

121During the second game of that evening’s doubleheader, the Red Wings wore these  Zoo-themed jerseys. (The result of a partnership with the nearby Seneca Park Zoo.)

Zoo Night and every night, one can find this over-sized avian on the concourse.

123The Red Wings are the oldest continually operating franchise in all of Minor League Baseball, but throughout their long and distinguished history they have only retired three numbers.

124In addition to being a number doled out to long-shot prospects during Spring Training, 8,222 is a reference to the number of Red Wings shares sold by  team president Morrie Silver to insure that the team stayed in Rochester. This effort occurred in 1956, and Silver remained the majority stockholder until his death in 1974. (His daughter, Naomi, is currently the COO of Rochester Community Baseball.)

Luke Easter, #36, was with the Red Wings from 1959-64. The legendary slugger was well into his 40s at the time, having already played many years in the Negro Leagues and, later, the Cleveland Indians.

And then there’s Joe Altobelli, #26, a player, coach, manager, general manager and broadcaster who is known as Rochester’s “Mr. Baseball.” Mr. Altobelli, in statue form.

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And here’s Mr. Altobelli, now in his early 80s, live and in person.

135Altobelli, now retired, is still a regular presence at Frontier Field. I spent an inning speaking with him, neglecting to mention that one of my most enduring possessions is a 1983 Philadelphia Phillies National League Champions pennant. (Altobelli managed the Orioles that season, who vanquished the Phils in the World Series.) Anyhow, my feature on the long career of Rochester’s “Mr. Baseball” can be found HERE.

This conversation was arranged by Red Wings general manager Dan Mason, who was very gracious with his time throughout the first game of the doubleheader and beyond. We walked here, there and everywhere as well as up, down and around. Much of the information contained in this post is informed by his knowledge and expertise.

Like, hey, here’s the team’s “Louisville Slugger Hall of Fame.” This particular Hall of Fame has nothing to do with baseball ability, and everything to do with gastronomic endurance. If, over the course the season, a fan eats 10 half-pound hot dogs with everything on them, then they earn induction. The BBWAA is absent from the process.

126A perhaps more significant accomplishment would be earning enshrinement into the team’s Wall of Fame. (Note the aesthetic similarity to the Batavia Muckdogs’ much smaller Wall of Fame, as both clubs are operated  by the Red Wings.)

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Among the many Wall honorees is Fred Merkle, who, as Keith Olbermann can tell you, should be known for more than just his boner.

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This building, located down the left field line, used to be a fire house. A proposed stadium renovation project calls for this structure to house a Rochester baseball history museum.

129On the other side of this walkway is a grass berm, where I noticed a young boy, presumably injured, using his thundersticks as crutches. Thanks for nothing, Obamacare.

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And, yes, take a look at this signage. The lawn seats are fed by worm power. (They are also peanut-free, not because worms hate peanuts but so that those suffering from nut allergies have a safe place to sit).

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For the record, James Beresford uses “Ghetto Superstar” as his walk-up music. Also for the record, Beresford is a native of Glen Waverley in Victoria, Australia.

133Frontier Field is home to some 13000 engraved bricks, purchased by fans (at $100 per) and engraved with a personalized message. New bricks are added every year, insuring that there is always mortar love.

132Some of these bricks are part of the team’s Walk of Fame, celebrating community icons such as the aforementioned Joe Altobelli.

138Here’s the view from “The Perch,” a group seating area on the upper level.

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142Also on the upper level is Club 3000.

145To create Club 3000, the team took down two walls and created what is, in essence, three suites in one. It accommodates up to 120 people and can be rented for $2000 (plus food). Note the steel beams, which denote where the walls used to be.

144Also, whether the team knows it or not, Kool Keith has already written an awesome Club 3000 theme song.

Down the hall from Club 3000, one can find none other than Mr. Fred Costello in the press box. Fred plays the organ at every home game, and has done so since 1977. I wrote an article all about it. 

147The organist in action:

Also, while I did not mention it in the article, let it be known that Fred Costello wrote this delightfully campy Red Wings theme song. Play it loudly and play it proudly.

By the time I was finished interviewing Fred, the first game of the doubleheader was complete. The Red Wings had won by a 3-2 score, with former Moniker Madness semi-finalist Mark Hamburger earning the win and ambidextrous Pat Venditte taking the loss. The crowd was sparse at the time the first game began, but by this point a healthy throng had filed into the ballpark for the regularly scheduled evening action.

150Mason took the field in order to fill the crowd in on the evening’s full-to-bursting slate of ballpark entertainment.

151Said entertainment included a guest appearance by wrestler Tito Santana, who, for a fee, was signing autographs on the concourse. Santana also took the time to pose with a marginalized sportswriter. This individual, like Van Gogh and the dude who sang for Sublime, possesses a genius that will not be fully appreciated until after he has shuffled off of this mortal coil.

IMG_0179Santana and I were among the slate of ceremonial first pitch throwers. In this photo, you can see him admiring my form.

Ceremonial first pitch friends forever! (#CFPFF)

Photo: Joe Territo

Photo: Joe Territo

The National Anthem was performed by local brass and woodwind talent.

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With the nightcap underway, Mason and I resumed walking around. Back outside of the stadium, we checked out this statue of former team president Morrie Silver. The model for the child in this statue was Silver’s grandson (and namesake) Morrie.

153Oh, and I didn’t even mention that the Zooperstars! were in town on this particularly evening. I spoke with Brennan Latkovski, a core member of the Zooperstars! squad, between ballgames and he relayed the distressing news that Delta had lost the piece of luggage containing the Roger Clamens costume. He said that it was now due to arrive in Buffalo at 7:10, upon which it would be driven to the ballpark.

Missing!

Missing!

Spoiler alert! The Clamens costume did not make it to the ballpark in time to be incorporated into an on-field routine, but the show went on and Zooperstars! (metaphorically) brought down the house per usual. The only photo I have is this, featuring Manny Pach-uiao and Harry Canary. (Just kidding, the elephant’s name is “Elephant Presley” and, contrary to popular assumption, his favorite Fleetwood Mac album is “Rumours.”)

155After witnessing the Zooperstars! in action, Mason introduced me to Mary Blasko and her father, Ed. The Blaskos attend all Red Wings home games as well road games in Syracuse in Buffalo. I spoke with them for a bit, enjoying Mary’s enthusiasm and Ed’s dry humor, and saw them again in Syracuse a few days later. You’ve got to love the super fans! (Unfortunately, well-known fan “Wing Nut” was not in attendance. I would have liked to meet Wing Nut.)

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Next up on the agenda was to meet Brad Lewis, my designated eater for the evening. (You know, the individual who eats the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits). Brad attended the game with his girlfriend, Kara, who, with grace and aplomb, assisted with his food consumption efforts.

159Brad and I first met while attending the University of Pittsburgh, where we were both involved with the campus radio station WPTS (92.1 on your FM dial, call 412-383-WPTS to make a request). He has since returned to his native Rochester, and describes himself as “an ex-hobo chaser who has since moved on to greener pastures.” (Seriously, his previous job often put him in the unfortunate position of hobo adversary.) Kara, a native of Lansing, Michigan (hence the tattoo), has lived in Rochester for five years and currently teaches chemistry at a community college.

“I’m the brains of this operation,” said Kara. “He’s the looks.”

Brad’s task was to tackle the Red Wings’ iteration of the Garbage Plate, the Rochester culinary specialty that originated at a restaurant called Nick Tahou Hots.

While there are a wide array of Garbage Plate variations throughout Rochester, the standard version is home fries and macaroni salad topped with a hot dog or hamburger and meat sauce (which Brad described as “gelatinous meat in hot oil”). Kara mentioned that she prefers her Garbage Plates with baked beans, and Brad responded that “That’s what someone not from Rochester would do.”

The Red Wings’ Garbage Plate adhered to the standard formula first made famous by Nick Tahou. (Oh, and it’s just called a “Plate,” because, technically, only Nick Tahou can sell a Garbage Plate.) Fittingly, this could be found at the Home “Plate” concession stand, one of many, many ballpark concession options.

158Brad says that the best plate in Rochester can be found at an establishment called “Mark’s Texas House,” which refers to it as “The Sloppy Plate.” He had no love for Nick Tahou’s, saying  “That place is physically disgusting, a gross old warehouse. I have not heard of any violent escapades taking place there in a while, so that’s good.”

As for the Red Wings’ version, Brad said that it was “above standard” for a “public” offering, and far superior to the plate sold at the Seneca Park Zoo.

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“Much better than the zoo!” says Brad.

Garbage Plate ruminations were interrupted by a fifth-inning rendition of “God Bless America” (Minor League doubleheaders consist of seven inning games), which was just surreal. The young girl on the mic sang it a very slow pace, paused just before the ending and then proceeding to sing the whole song again at a faster clip. She still didn’t make it to the end, pausing and then re-starting a third time before stopping abruptly. I guess you had to have been there.

162Plate consumed, stretch over, Brad, Kara and I proceeded to the “Say Cheese” macaroni and cheese stand and emerged with the “BBQ Bonanza.” It was topped with pulled pork.

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166Brad and Kara’s smiles belied their mutual bafflement at this item.

“Is this Italian? It tastes like a marinara sauce,” said Kara.

“It is insane,” added Brad.

“It’s just very tomato-y for a barbecue sauce,” concluded Kara. “It’s okay, though. We’re still eating it.”

These eating endeavors took us right through the conclusion of the second game, which was won by the RailRiders. A post-game launch-a-ball followed, which was followed by mascot Spikes initiating the wave.

168The fireworks were interesting, as not only were they shot off from behind the ballpark (standard operating procedure), they were also launched from the field.

Afterwards, the fireworks show playlist was displayed on the videoboard. For whatever reason, the show was dedicated to Red Wings pitcher Trevor May, who ended the season as a member of the Minnesota Twins.

172Hey Beef! This song is totally lousy. (And I’m saying that as someone who blasted “Boom Clap” every time I heard it in the car on this road trip.)

171But for the final word on music, and this blog post, let’s return to Brad “Designated Eater” Lewis. He cites NeedleDrop as Rochester’s best record store and, more importantly, wants YOU to support Rochester free form community radio. Take it away, Brad:

WAYO 104.3 is a free form community radio station that will air every kind of music known to man. Prog, new wave, punk, reggae, hip hop…we got it all. Once the records stop spinning there is talk, news, comedy, drama and original plays. If it works as sound we’ll put it on. We are currently still fundraising with a goal of transmitting online in November and officially being on air in the new year. Check out our Facebook page and help us out. Or maybe just give a listen. Especially my show. It’s what radio was invented for.

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I, for one, am looking forward to hearing Brad’s show, which still needs a name. How about “Garbage Platters”?

That’s all I’ve got, roll the credits!

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

1 Comment

That’s awesome you got to meet Tito Santana! He was one of my favorites as a kid during his feud with Greg ‘The Hammer’ Valentine.
We enjoyed our trip to Rochester a few years ago. That’s cool that the glove horse is still around.
-Mike

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