Archive for the ‘ Dailies ’ Category

On the Road: It all begins in Greensboro

My 2016 “On the Road” season kicked off on May 5th, 2016. Would you like to hear about how the day went? It’s really interesting. I got up early and went to the gym, as this season it is my goal to become the most physically alluring single male 30-something Minor League Baseball writer of all time. (I’m not sure who I’m competing against). I then took a green cab to Penn Station and boarded a New Jersey transit train to the Newark airport. After an Airtrain ride spent silently mocking the automated conductor’s pronunciation of “United” (U-knitted? Really?), I proceeded through security, got mad at how expensive airport food is, got sad at the dystopian check-out kiosks that are slowly displacing the American retail worker and, finally, boarded a plane to Raleigh-Durham. In much the same way that the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders are located in Moosic, PA, the Raleigh-Durham airport is located in Morrisville. Representing two places in your name while being situated in a third — now that’s covering your bases!

Please have patience while this introduction builds to an exquisite crescendo. In Durham, where the weather was miserable, I rented a car (Volkswagen Passat, for those keeping score at home) and then drove to Greensboro while listening to the first disc in the four-volume “Complete Road Music” series. (Red Sovine almost made me cry. Again.) Greensboro, being in close proximity to Durham, was also experiencing miserable weather and, in fact, that evening’s Grasshoppers game was rained out. No matter. I wasn’t planning on attending a Grasshoppers game until the next evening, where surely everything would be fine.

And you know what? It was. Everything is always fine. This was my view of NewBridge Bank Park the next morning. There was nary a tarp in sight.

IMG_1088After an afternoon spent in silent observance of my 37 1/2 birthday (aka “Halfway to 75”) I traipsed — yes, traipsed! — to New Bridge Bank Ballpark for that evening’s scheduled doubleheader against the Columbia Fireflies. It was a doubleheader because the previous evening’s ballgame had been rained out. Everything is connected.

On Twitter I referred to the scene below as a “quintessential MiLB tableau” and I stand by that assessment. The inanimate canines to the right of inanimate mascot Guilford are, I believe, batdogs Master Yogi Berra and Miss Babe Ruth (retired). More on them later.

001In front of the giant inflatable jersey one finds a memorial to Flight 93 flight attendant Sandra W. Bradshaw, a “caring friend and companion….who sacrificed her life to save others.”

002 From the home plate side, NewBridge Bank Park is considerably more imposing.

004I was met at the entrance by Grasshoppers VP Katie Dannemiller, who led me through the team store and into the front offices. Miss Babe Ruth, a daily ballpark presence even in retirement, was there to greet me. Or, more accurately, she was there to dolefully stare at me as I traipsed past.

005From the front office it was on to the concourse, where I caught my first-ever glimpse of the brand-new South Atlantic League entity that are the Columbia Fireflies.

In the above photo, one can see a new ballpark addition (Sunbrella Shade Zone Picnic Area) as well as new ballpark view apartments that are being constructed beyond left field. Though built over a decade ago, the area around NewBridge Bank Park is still developing.

In its own way, the view from behind the ballpark is pretty nice as well.

007The early-arriving masses, beside themselves with anticipation for a pair of seven-inning Class A ballgames, could no longer be contained. A brave member of the Hoppin Fun Crew (who, like the Reading Fightin Phils, eschew apostrophe) was ready for them.

010The concourse, which spans 360 degrees but does not offer views of the field from all of those degrees, sprung to life.

008During my pregame strolling I saw one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen at a ballpark. From my notes:

“Young autograph-collecting dad, wearing flip-flops, parks his stroller on the concourse and totally wipes out while walking down the muddy berm. His feet went right out from under him and he landed on his back. Fireflies players warming up on field let out collective ‘Ohhhhh!’ He was covered in mud and elbows scraped. Went back up the hill without getting an autograph.”

I don’t mean to be mean-spirited in laughing at this, as Lord knows I’ve had my share of ballpark bloopers. One time I threw up in a clubhouse tunnel toilet in Tulsa after over-exerting myself in an on-field human bobblehead contest.

Oh, say can you see that a game was about to start? My notes indicate that the anthem fireworks were not quite in sync with the words “bomb bursting.” This observation is followed by “I love MiLB.”

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I love MiLB and I love being on the road visiting the ballparks. Perhaps this is because “On great fields, something stays.” Take it away Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, whose timeless words of wisdom are displayed in this piece of signage immediately to the left of the main entrance.

012Chamberlain’s quote brings to mind the last paragraph of Jack London’s Star Rover, an influential text in my personal canon.

There is no death. Life is spirit, and spirit cannot die. Only the flesh dies and passes, ever a-crawl with the chemic ferment that informs it, ever plastic, ever crystallizing, only to melt into the flux and to crystallize into fresh and diverse forms that are ephemeral and that melt back into the flux. Spirit alone endures and continues to build upon itself through successive and endless incarnations as it works upward toward the light. What shall I be when I live again? I wonder. I wonder. . . .

Nothing is guaranteed, but before melting into the flux I plan on writing Part Two of this Greensboro Grasshoppers blog series. Stay tuned.

***

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

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Fish, Fowl and Carousels: Binghamton Seeks New Team Name

2016 marks the 25th and final season in which Binghamton’s Double-A franchise will be known as the “Mets.” What they will be known as going forward … well, that’s still unclear. But it will be one of these six choices, unveiled yesterday as part of a “Name the Team Contest.” The team will be accepting votes through June 1, because, as everyone knows, Minor League team name contests always rely on the will of the people.

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Here are the choices; the italicized descriptions are provided by the team:

Bullheads — A local inhabitant of the Susquehanna River, a Bullhead is a bullhead catfish. The bullhead displays a tough and resilient character such as the Binghamton community.

Gobblers — A symbol of the rich hunting culture of the area, the “Binghamton Gobblers” honors the outdoorsman lifestyle and turkeys who call Binghamton home.

Rocking Horses — The “Binghamton Rocking Horses” celebrates the Triple Cities’ rich history as the “Carousel Capital of the World.”

Rumble Ponies — A tribute to the Triple Cities’ carousel heritage, the “Binghamton Rumble Ponies” is a herd of fierce horses that no carousel center pole can contain.

Stud Muffins — While tipping a cap to the players on the field, the “Stud Muffins” celebrates the collection of carousel horses belonging to Binghamtonians.

Timber Jockeys — Combining the fun of Minor League Baseball with the rich carousel history of the Triple Cities, the “Binghamton Timber Jockeys” pays homage to everyone that rides the carousels.

A fairly ridiculous half-dozen choices, to be sure, but this is the year 2016 and if you’ve been following Minor League Baseball at all over the past decade, then this shouldn’t be much of a surprise. In a world that already includes Yard Goats, Chihuahuas, RubberDucks, IronPigs and Blue Wahoos, then why not add “Stud Muffins” to the mix?

Though spiedies were somehow completely neglected, all six of the choices have some tie-in to Binghamton. Bullheads and Gobblers and regional fish and fowl references, respectively, while the remaining four pay homage to Binghamton’s status as the “Carousel Capital of the World.” Did you now that, between 1919 and 1934, a benevolent businessman by the name of George F. Johnson donated six carousels to Binghamton’s local parks? The city of Binghamton website reports that “these magnificent machines still spin from Memorial Day to Labor Day at no charge or for an admission of ‘one piece of litter.'”

I am now disappointed that “Binghamton Garbage Riders” did not make the final cut. Refuse to lose!

The "Bee-Mets", lacking buzz, now paying final season.

The “Bee-Mets”, lacking buzz, now paying final season.

Binghamton’s imminent rebrand comes during the team’s first season under a new ownership group, Evans Street Baseball. The franchise, perennially last in the league in attendance, had been the subject of various relocation rumors over the past decade (most recently as part of an elaborate plan that would have seen the B-Mets purchased by Main Street Baseball and relocated to Wilmington, Delaware, with Wilmington’s current Carolina League team moving to Kinston, North Carolina).

But as the “Name the Team” contest illustrates, baseball in Binghamton will be back for many a merry go-round as the team carou-sells its new identity to the masses. That’s my spin, at least, provided for your amusement. Now it’s time for the team to gauge fan reaction by taking a gallop pole. I could make more jokes — the neigh-sayers are already telling me to stop — but for now I’ll just let it ride. I’ve saddled you with too many already and now my voice is horse.

***

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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About Friday Night: Carolina Mudcats, May 13, 2016

This season, when I’m on the road, I’ll write an on-the-spot blog post about each Minor League ballpark that I visit. Then, upon my presumed return home, I’ll provide the multifaceted blog coverage that you have come to know and, perhaps, love. Let’s get to it, lest it get to us!

May 13: Five County Ballpark, home of the Carolina Mudcats (Class A Advanced affiliate of the Atlanta Braves)

Opponent: Lynchburg Hillcats, 7:05 p.m. start time

Five County Ballpark, from the outside:

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Five County Ballpark, from within: 

IMG_1390Culinary Creation: Pig Wings

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Ballpark Character: Muddy, celebrating Friday the 13th by dressing as Freddy Krueger.

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At Random: It was also Scout Night

003Your Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Joke of the Day: 

Up Next: 

This trip is over. Stay tuned for a cavalcade of Carolinas-themed blog posts and MiLB.com articles. My next trip, God willing, will be to see the Hartford Yard Goats on June 3 and 4th.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz

About Last Night: Columbia Fireflies, May 11, 2016

This season, when I’m on the road, I’ll write an on-the-spot blog post about each Minor League ballpark that I visit. Then, upon my presumed return home, I’ll provide the multifaceted blog coverage that you have come to know and, perhaps, love. Let’s get to it, lest it get to us!

May 11: Spirit Communications Park, home of the Columbia Fireflies (Class A affiliate of the New York Mets)

Opponent: Asheville Tourists, 7:05 p.m. start time

Spirit Communications Park, from the outside:

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Spirit Communications Park, from within: 

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Culinary Creation: Myself and designated eater Carter Blackmon, about to chow down on “Hog Hammer” pork shanks.

IMG_1352Ballpark Character: Edward Keene, Fireflies director of facilities/footwear fashion icon

IMG_1362At Random: A pregame English class for Fireflies players, conducted in the office of team president John Katz

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Your Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Joke

Up Next: 

May 13: Carolina Mudcats

***

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz

About Tuesday Night: Myrtle Beach Pelicans, May 10, 2016

This season, when I’m on the road, I’ll write an on-the-spot blog post about each Minor League ballpark that I visit. Then, upon my presumed return home, I’ll provide the multifaceted blog coverage that you have come to know and, perhaps, love. Let’s get to it, lest it get to us!

May 10: TicketReturn.com Field, home of the Myrtle Beach Pelicans

Opponent: Winston-Salem Dash, 7:05 p.m. start time

TicketReturn.com Field, from the outside:

086TicketReturn.com Field, from within: 

087

Culinary Creation: Uh, where to begin? This was one of four courses, served to four designated eaters. Chicken and waffle bites, fried bologna sandwich, chicken bog balls, fried pickles, sweet potato fries. Stay tuned for a full report.

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Ballpark Character: Randy the vendor

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At Random: That’s not a T-shirt gun; this is a T-shirt gun.

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Your Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Joke of the Day: 

Up Next: 

May 12: Columbia Fireflies

May 13: Carolina Mudcats

***

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz

About Monday Night: Charleston RiverDogs, May 9, 2016

This season, when I’m on the road, I’ll write an on-the-spot blog post about each Minor League ballpark that I visit. Then, upon my presumed return home, I’ll provide the multifaceted blog coverage that you have come to know and, perhaps, love. Let’s get to it, lest it get to us!

May 9: Joseph P. Riley Park, home of the Charleston RiverDogs (Class A affiliate of the New York Yankees)

Opponent: Hickory Crawdads, 7:05 p.m. start time

Joseph P. Riley Park, from the outside:

003Joseph P. Riley Park, from within: 

018Culinary Creation: Take it away, Josh Shea:

Ballpark Character: Another day, another “Bark in the Park” promo.

IMG_1245At Random: 

IMG_1252Your Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Joke of the Day: 

Up Next: 

May 10: Myrtle Beach Pelicans

May 12: Columbia Fireflies

May 13: Carolina Mudcats

***

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz

About Yesterday Afternoon: Greenville Drive, May 8, 2016

This season, when I’m on the road, I’ll write an on-the-spot blog post about each Minor League ballpark that I visit. Then, upon my presumed return home, I’ll provide the multifaceted blog coverage that you have come to know and, perhaps, love. Let’s get to it, lest it get to us!

May 8: Fluor Field, home of the Greenville Drive (Class A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox)

Opponent: Columbia Fireflies, 2:00 completion of Saturday’s suspended game followed by seven-inning game at 4:40

Fluor Field, from the outside: (This building, part box office and team store, is located across from the stadium. Close enough)

006Fluor Field, from within: 

IMG_1204Culinary Creation: Fried cheesecake dusted with cinnamon sugar, with chocolate dipping sauce

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Ballpark character: Available for adoption

023At random: Carnations for moms on Mother’s Day

IMG_1199Your Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Joke of the Day: 

May 9: Charleston RiverDogs

May 10: Myrtle Beach Pelicans

May 12: Columbia Fireflies

May 13: Carolina Mudcats

***

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz

About Last Night: Durham Bulls, May 7, 2016

This season, when I’m on the road, I’ll write an on-the-spot blog post about each Minor League ballpark that I visit. Then, upon my presumed return home, I’ll provide the multifaceted blog coverage that you have come to know and, perhaps, love. Let’s get to it, lest it get to us!

May 7: Durham Bulls Athletic Park, home of the — wait for it — Durham Bulls (Triple-A affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays)

Opponent: Norfolk Tides, 5:05 p.m. ET start time

Durham Bulls Athletic Park, from the outside: 004

Durham Bulls Athletic Park, from within: 

060Culinary Creation: Angus Barn Steak and Cheese Sandwich

049Ballpark Characters: Princess Leia and Chewbacca, characters from a cult movie that was being celebrated at the ballpark.

036At Random: Another career highlight.

Your Groundbreaking and Subversive Joke of the Day: 

Up Next:

May 8: Greenville Drive

May 9: Charleston RiverDogs

May 10: Myrtle Beach Pelicans

May 12: Columbia Fireflies

May 13: Carolina Mudcats

***

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz

About Last Night: Greensboro Grasshoppers, May 6, 2016

This season, when I’m on the road, I’ll write an on-the-spot blog post about each Minor League ballpark that I visit. Then, upon my presumed return home, I’ll provide the multifaceted blog coverage that you have come to know and, perhaps, love. Let’s get to it, lest it get to us!

May 6: NewBridge Bank Park, home of the Greensboro Grasshoppers (Class A affiliate, Florida Marlins)

Opponent: Columbia Fireflies, 5:00 p.m. start time (doubleheader)

NewBridge Bank Park, from the outside: 

001NewBridge Bank Park, from within: 

013Culinary Creation: Sweet and Salty Grilled Cheese (strawberry brie cheese and prosciutto)

035Ballpark Character: On-field emcee Danny aka…

021At Random: Sausage racers

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Your Groundbreaking and Subversive Joke of the Day: 

Up Next: 

May 7: Durham Bulls

May 8: Greenville Drive

May 9: Charleston RiverDogs

May 10: Myrtle Beach Pelicans

May 12: Columbia Fireflies

May 13: Carolina Mudcats

***

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz

Loose Ends Tied Up

Housekeeping!

This word, spoken from outside the door, is my alarm clock when I’m on the road.  It brings me back to hotel room reality, as I lie in bed and wish to the high heavens that I had remembered to put up a “Do Not Disturb” sign the night before.

Housekeeping is also the purpose of this post, as I fear that readers of this blog may not have been picking up on much of what I’ve been putting down lately. To wit:

Are you familiar with “The Show Before the Show”? It’s the weekly MiLB.com podcast, co-hosted by esteemed colleagues Sam “Not Lenny’s son” Dykstra and Tyler “Maybe Lenny’s son for all I know” Maun. Each week, I join Tyler and Sam for “Ben’s Biz Banter,” in which we riff on current MiLB events that fall within my broad purview. Listen, rate and review HERE.

But THAT IS NOT ALL. I’ve been promoting it relentlessly on Twitter, but earlier this month, Tyler and I hosted a special “ALL MINOR LEAGUE TEAM THEME SONGS” edition of the podcast. Seventeen baseball earworms, three interviews with songwriting masterminds and all the contextualizing info and theoretically witty banter you could could ever want. Look — like Richard Marx, it’s right here waiting for you! Listen now! I won’t give up until I’m satisfied.

After listening to all of these songs way too many times, I think my favorite is “Everybody Loves Curve Baseball.” What’s yours? Also, if you’d like a specific team theme song to be featured in an upcoming episode, please get in touch.

***

Every Friday, I have a feature story on MiLB.com. Today’s piece tracks a remarkable 36-season streak, as at least one new Minor League ballpark has opened every season from 1981-2016. Check it out HERE. And, hey, here’s a visual that shows how much the Minor League landscape has changed over the last two-plus decades.

by league graphicupdate

I had to compile and contextualize a lot of info for this piece and, unfortunately, there were a few omissions. I appreciate people pointing them out, but jeez, it’s not intentional. If I ever make a mistake regarding your team, it’s not because I don’t like your team. I love everyone.

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Meanwhile, earlier this month, I wrote a piece about David LaBounty and his “Bookstores and Baseball” zine. I was very glad to get the chance to write about a zine in a professional context, and this one fit as it is about, yes, bookstores and baseball.

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For years, David and his family have gone on road trips centered around attending literary festivals, visiting independent bookstores and seeing baseball games (many in the Minors). Each issue —  or inning — of the zine covers a year of travel, and there are eight so far. If this sounds like your kind of thing, in line with your sensibilities, then give the article a read and check out the zine HERE.

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Also, if you like being kept abreast of the Minor League promo scene, check out “Promo Watch.” It runs every Tuesday. Where else can you find important information such as how Greg “The Hammer” Valentine bailed out of a Fort Myers Miracle appearance due to “unspecified differences” with fellow guest (and former tag team partner) Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake?

Don’t worry. Bushwhacker Luke showed up in Greg’s place and all was well.

onfieldpose

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And, of course, there’ll be plenty of road trip material — on MiLB.com and on the blog — in the very near future. I’ll be hitting the road next week!

***

Okay, I shall now consider this house to be kept. Thanks, as always for reading.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz

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