On the Road: A Norm-Al Night in Peoria

To see all of my posts from my May 26, 2015 visit to the Peoria Chiefs (this is Part Two) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my May 2015 trip through the Midwest, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

On May 25th in Clinton, I watched as Chris Mariscal’s RBI single gave the LumberKings a walk-off win over Burlington. The next day I was in Peoria, and so were the LumberKings. In the top of the 1st inning, Mariscal’s two-run homer gave them an early lead over the Chiefs.

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Home run trot

But actually watching the baseball game wasn’t my top priority. It never is. It never can be. When Ben’s Biz is at the ballpark (as opposed to his alter-ego, mild-mannered fan Ben Hill), then wandering is the order of the day.

First things first, I hid my ceremonial first pitch baseball so that someone else might find it.

Okay, maybe this wasn’t the best-phrased tweet. I ended up getting a lot of responses like this. Everybody’s a comedian.

As mentioned in the previous post, Caterpillar HQ is located in Peoria. In fact, it’s visible from the ballpark, which is called “Dozer Park,” because Caterpillar makes Dozers.  023Here, on the concourse, is a relatively new Dozer specimen.  020And here, on the other side of the concourse, is a old Dozer specimen. They don’t make ’em like this anymore.  054In between the Dozers is, yes, the best translucent playground view in all of Minor League Baseball. I did my research, and feel confident in making this assertion.

The non-translucent views are pretty good as well.

022Especially when they are in the service of welcoming a bonafide celebrity to the ballpark. Thanks, Chiefs, for the evening-long hospitality!

028Homer was most hospitable as well. At one point, he tracked me down and handed me an autographed baseball card. What a doll.

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A doll-mation, that is

After several pleasant innings spent with the evening’s “designated eater” — this will be documented in a separate post — I joined general manager Brendan Kelly for a pleasant stroll within the inside and upper levels of Dozer Park (which, by the way, is one of the few privately owned stadiums in Minor League Baseball).

Here is a conference suite, converted from what had been a largely unused section of the press box. The team rents it out on non-gamedays as well, to companies looking to conduct their business in a more-memorable-than-usual atmosphere.

042Across the hallway, one can enjoy the best translucent aerial team store view in Minor League Baseball. (Once again, I feel comfortable in making this assertion.)

043Down the hallway one can find the “Pete’s Perch” suite, named in honor of late, legendary Chiefs owner Pete Vonachen. Vonachen purchased the team in 1983, and was a Peoria Minor League Baseball fixture until his death in 2013 at the age of 87. His son, Rocky, now serves as team president.

050“Pete’s Perch” offers a great view of the game, of course.

052But perhaps even better is the memorabilia which can be found therein.

044Vonachen and Harry Caray were good friends, to the extent that Vonachen eulogized Caray at his funeral. Clearly, they had some good times and got in some trouble — to the extent that apologies and promises sometimes had to be made.

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A perhaps more heartfelt piece of Vonachen correspondence is this, from current Cubs skipper Joe Maddon. (But, c’mon Mr. Madden, you spelled Vonachen’s name wrong in the penultimate paragraph.)

046Vonachen is further immortalized on the Dozer Park concourse, via this statue depicting him in the act of benevolent ball bestowment.

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068My next stop was this outfield location, so that I could meet a pair of notable ballpark occupants….

055 …Norm and Al, a couple of ears of corn who dance on the warning track in the wake of each and every Chiefs run.

056It’s kind of a funny story, how Norm and Al came to be. When the independent Frontier League Normal CornBelters team began play in 2009, they represented a direct excursion into the Peoria baseball market. The Chiefs’ response was, essentially, “Why go to Normal to see professional baseball? We’ve got “Norm” and “Al” corn right here!”

Norm and Al (no one really seemed to know which was which) also dance during the seventh-inning stretch. I was asked if I’d like to don the ear and do some dancing, and my answer to this query was “Yup!”

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But the best dance moves at Dozer Park do not belong to Norm and Al. Not by a long shot. No one can compete with usher “Crazy Steve”, mild-mannered truck driver by day and shimmying ballpark savant by night.

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Even more alarming than all these sweet dance moves is the fact the Chiefs have their very own ballpark fire truck, a decommissioned city vehicle that the team purchased via auction. It is still functional, and the Chiefs use it for parades, community events and the like.

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Fire “Chiefs”

Meanwhile, the Chiefs had just trucked their way to a victory over the Clinton LumberKings. An early deficit, the result of Chris Mariscal’s first-inning home run for Clinton, had been overcome.

073Many of the fans stuck around after the game, clustering by the home dugout.

074Their mission was to procure an autograph from rehabbing St. Louis Cardinal outfielder John Jay.

075Jay, to his credit, stuck around until each and every fan had been accommodated. But a Major Leaguer’s work is never done, as outside the ballpark a small group of fans was sticking around for more.

IMG_1288Nor is a beleaguered Minor League blogger’s work ever done. It wasn’t until after the game that I realized that I had neglected to a “Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Joke of the Day.” This is the best I could do.

I hope that’s enough, because that’s all I’ve got.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz

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