Archive for the ‘ Minor League Baseball ’ Category

Hot Rods Make Their Mark

It’s promo scheduling unveiling season — or p.s.u.s. for the acronymically inclined — meaning that teams across the land are announcing buzzworthy theme nights at a rapid clip.

But the most literally buzzworthy is that which was announced by the Bowling Green Hot Rods on Wednesday.

As a longtime aficionado of whisky, barrels (my Mom’s maiden name is Cooper) and the covert production and distribution of illicit goods, I’m a big fan of the Hot Rods’ “Bootleggers” promo. Especially because there are already visual elements. No one gets excited by text-only promotion announcements, much like no one is excited by reading the words in this blog post that appear between the images.

Images like this. Let there be merch!

In short, “Bowling Green Bootleggers” equal bats, beards, buttons, boots, bourbon and barrels. Just watch what you’re doing with your right hand there, Mr. Moonshiner sir.

For more on “Bootlegger Night,” let’s go to the lazy blogger’s best friend: The press release! (Why do the work when it’s already been done for you?)

An idea brought on by past and present members of the Bowling Green staff, Bootlegger Night will serve as a tribute to the “Hot Rod” aiding the bootlegging industry over a century ago as a way to outrun law enforcement. This rich bourbon heritage has since become synonymous with Kentucky, with over 35 distilleries present throughout the state.

As fans will be greeted by a special “Mason Jar Giveaway” when they enter the gates, the Hot Rods will wear customized hats and specialty jerseys styled after a bourbon barrel….In addition to the customized apparel, fans will also have the opportunity to pre-order two packages featuring personalized memorabilia from the night. 

And here those packages are:

bootlegger

Prior to unveiling this promo yesterday, the Hot Rods tweeted that it would, possibly, be 2016’s best promo.

Time will tell. For now, it’s worth noting that, in their inaugural season of 2009, the Hot Rods won MiLB.com’s “Promo of the Year” for “What Could’ve Been Night.”  On that evening — the first “What Could’ve Been Night” in Minor League Baseball history — the team suited up as the Cave Shrimp.

“Cave Shrimp” was one of the finalists in the Hot Rods’ 2008 “Name the Team” contest. Bootleggers was not. So, in effect, Bootleggers never “could’ve been.” But yet, here we are: Bootleggers soon will be, resulting in the first”What Could’ve Been ‘What Could’ve Been’ Night” in Minor League Baseball history.

Life is weird. Minor League Baseball is weird. I’m weird. You’re weird. Drink whisky.

#SixPunsOneTweet

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz

Return to the Road: Peanut Country, Pulled Pork and Pittsburgh

Return to the Road 2015: Trip Three, Chapter Two

The previous installment of my “Return to the Road” series of blog posts covered my time in Richmond on June 25 and 26th. On the afternoon of June 26th, I left Richmond and drove straight to Norfolk’s Harbor Park for that evening’s game between the Tides and Toledo Mud Hens. That was a horrible drive. I got stuck in horrific traffic en route to a tunnel whose name I do not care to remember, and by the time I arrived at the ballpark I could barely think coherently.

The next day, my mind had returned to an acceptably functioning state. Before embarking on the 200-mile drive to Lynchburg, I set my coordinates for — you guessed it — a record store. This is The Groove Record Shop, located on the ground floor of a new(ish) apartment building on Granby Street.

IMG_1504I was greeted at The Groove by Paul Levine, the store’s amiable sexagenarian owner. He told me an abbreviated version of that which is explained in this local news article — namely, that the original Groove Record Shop opened in 1949 and was owned by parents, with the store eventually moving to Granby Street. When Levine opened up the “new” Groove in 2014, it marked a triumphant return to Granby Street after a 46-year hiatus.

Why can’t I ever take a good picture when I’m inside a record store?

IMG_1505

The Groove’s overall selection was solid but relatively sparse: All vinyl, both new and used. I picked up a used copy of Fleetwood Mac’s “Tusk” and a slightly damaged early Bob Seger record (“Smokin’ O.P.’s”, which is unfortunately not a reference to on-base plus slugging percentage).

After leaving The Groove, I briefly admired Granby Street’s faded historical signage.

IMG_1507I also noticed that the Granby Theater would be hosting my next special event. Thanks, guys.

IMG_1506It was then time to hit the open road. Within an hour, the landscape had changed greatly. Wakefield, Virginia, is peanut country.

IMG_1508I stopped in at the Peanut Co. and got some brittle.

IMG_1509

Shortly thereafter, I pulled in to the Virginia Diner. Because, you know, it’s a Legend in a Nutshell.

IMG_1510It was too crowded in the diner, however, filled as it was with glassy-eyed peanut devotees. I abandoned my plan to get a meal there, trusting that the road would provide, and it did.

In Waverly, Virginia, I found Cowling’s BBQ.

IMG_1512

This was North Carolina-style barbecue, with a vinegar-based sauce. I prefer a vinegar-based sauce, especially when it’s atop a pile of succulent pulled pork.

IMG_1511After that, things are kind of a blur for the next couple of days. I attended that evening’s (rained-out) Lynchburg Hillcats game, and was on the road the next morning for a pleasant Sunday drive to Salem. After seeing the Salem Red Sox that afternoon, I visited a Mexican restaurant for dinner. I forget the name of this Mexican restaurant, but after doing a little internet research I’m going to guess that it was El Toreo.

At any rate, this is the most absurd amount of food I’ve ever ended up with after placing a single order.

IMG_1531From there, the blur continued. Salem gave way to Potomac, and while I enjoyed visiting the Potomac Nationals I did not enjoy driving around the greater D.C. area.

At all.

I live in NYC, which also has terrible traffic, but the difference is that you can live in NYC without a car. I don’t understand how people can live in suburban D.C. and not have the traffic drive them insane. Their tolerance for daily suffering is greater than mine.

On June 30th I finally left the confines of Virginia, crossing the state line into Maryland en route to West Virginia to see the Black Bears. Along the way, somewhere in Maryland, I stopped at a convenience store and bought the local Dutch delicacy that is the beet egg. (I was already aware of beet eggs as a result of buying one at a Hagerstown Suns game I attended in 2011.)

IMG_1547

Contains: EGGS

Beet eggs are naturally reddish-purple in color, as a result of being pickled in a beet-based brine, but for some reason the eggs I bought listed “red food coloring” as an ingredient. This just makes them redder, I guess.

IMG_1548

After witnessing June 30’s West Virginia Black Bears game, I drove straight to Pittsburgh and arrived late that night. I went to college in Pittsburgh (Pitt, class of 2001) and still have friends there, so this was a good opportunity for a quick visit.

When in Pittsburgh, visiting Jerry’s Records is a must. An absolute must. As I’ve written before (and will write again), it is the world’s greatest record store.

This is the main room of the store, but there are several other rooms and thus plenty more records beyond what can be seen in this picture.

IMG_1571

I contemplated buying this album and sending it to Wisconsin Timber Rattlers broadcaster (and noted ’70s TV aficionado) Chris Mehring. Instead, I just took a picture. I mean, why would one buy a Kojak album instead of watching him on the Telly?

IMG_1569 Speaking of ’70s TV…

IMG_1570

And on and on it goes. Jerry’s is a goldmine, and I bought a bunch of stuff. I won’t bore you with the details. There have been too many of those already.

Thank you for, once again, for returning to the road with me.  I’ve got two more trips left to write about in this manner, which should then lead to the announcement of my 2016 travel itinerary. Is it ever not the season?

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz

Return to the Road: Wanderin’ ‘Round in Richmond

It’s time for another installment of “Return to the Road,” in which I document the non-ballpark wanderings that occurred during my 2015 road trips. I’ve already chronicled my experiences in Florida and the Midwest; now it’s time to move on to my late June trip to Virginia (and the state west of Virginia. I forget what it’s called).

map

I arrived in Richmond on the evening of June 24, having driven there from good ol’ NYC (where the cost of living is totally reasonable and never causes me angst). Before heading to The Diamond for the June 25 Flying Squirrels game, I had a little time to poke around. And when I poke around, I inevitably end up at a record store.

First up was Deep Groove.

IMG_1430

Deep Groove was a small, all-vinyl spot. If I recall correctly, I bought the recent reissue of Guided By Voices’ classic Bee Thousand album. I also recall that on the counter, under glass, was a great assemblage of Richmond-area concert ticket stubs spanning the last three-plus decades. One of the stubs was for a D’Angelo show that had taken place the previous week; this prompted me to tell the clerk that I had seen D’Angelo play in Queens just three days prior.

“That’s tight,” replied the clerk, who was completely disinterested and also young enough to use “tight” as a synonym for “cool.” I left the shop feeling like a pathetic old dude, but then I started thinking about this D’Angelo song and the pep came back into my step.

I then pep-stepped, feeling not at all dyspeptic, to bustling West Carey Street. I believe that the locals call this neighborhood “Carytown.”

IMG_1431Would you believe that I ended up at another record store?

IMG_1433Plan 9 was much larger than Deep Groove, and far more ramshackle. There was a little bit of everything. It was tight.

IMG_1432Usually, when on a road trip, I bring along three CDs I haven’t listed to and listen to them three times each. I should probably be diagnosed with something. But on this trip I had forgotten to bring any CDs, so I went ahead and bought a few at Plan 9 so I could listen to them in the car for the rest of the trip. My new acquisitions were Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard “Django and Jimmy,” AC/DC “Rock or Bust” and Shamir “Ratchet.” I also picked up a used copy of Don Cherry’s “Eternal Rhythm” on vinyl.

All right, enough with the record stores.

Please note that, at this moment in time, the Byrd Theater was showing Insurgent and Get Hard. I don’t know anything about either of those movies, but they seem unbefitting to a theater of such age and (assumed) grandeur.

IMG_1434

I also enjoyed wandering through Chop Suey Books, which had multiple levels and many rooms. This photo was taken on the second floor, where I found (and bought) a used paperback of Damon Runyon short stories.

IMG_1435WonTon was indeed resting in his natural habitat.

IMG_1436Early the next afternoon, before leaving Richmond for good, I returned to Carytown and got lunch at the Daily Kitchen. Three side dishes make a meal!

IMG_1476I wasn’t dining alone, for the Daily Kitchen is not the type of place in which I would eat alone (it was crowded and chic, so my self-consciousness levels would’ve been through the roof). My companions were Richmond Flying Squirrels broadcaster Jay Burnham and his Trenton counterpart, Adam Giordino. Jay used to work in Trenton, and Adam was the one who replaced him.

IMG_1477

Richmond Gourmands

It was cool spending a couple of hours with those guys, which included a brief automotive tour of Richmond courtesy of master chauffeur Jay Burnham. But all good things must come to an end, and thus I was soon on the road to Norfolk with only a new CD to keep me company.

In Norfolk, the next post shall begin.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz

The Shadow Knows

Today is Groundhog Day. As a strong proponent of doing the same thing again and again, I thought I’d go ahead and write a blog post dedicated to how the world of Minor League Baseball is celebrating this most hallowed of rodent weather prediction holidays.

We’ll start in Pennsylvania, of course, as the Keystone State has long served as the spiritual center of Groundhog Day. In State College, located 75 miles east of Punxsutawney, the Spikes have announced the following initiative:

gd1

The offer of bonus vouchers on McDonald’s Flex Books are a superfluous tie-in; the justification is that they give “fans multiple ways to enjoy Groundhog Day over and over again.”

More relevant is the offer of free admission to people named “Phil” on August 2. The Spikes mention that this offer extends to “Phil Collins, Phil Mickelson, Phil Jackson, Phil Simms and Dr. Phil”, but that “no current or former members of the Philadelphia Phillies will be allowed in free that night.”

I think some former Phillies should question this policy. Like, if Desi Relaford showed up and was like “Hey, give me a free ticket” I bet the Spikes would oblige.

The Altoona Curve are located even closer to Punxsatawney than are the Spikes. Last season, they even gave away a Groundhog Day bobblehead and had Phil out to the ballpark.

punxedWhile the Curve won’t be making your Flex Book dreams come true, they did acknowledge their special relationship to Groundhog Day.

They also released a new commercial:

Frisco RoughRiders vice-president Jason Dambach is a Punxsutawney native and former Curve and Spikes employee. So I’m going to go ahead and check in on the RoughRiders to see if they are celebrating the day in a notable way.

Well…this is notable, I suppose.

Another team I think of when the search engine that is my brain conjures up “Groundhog Day Minor League Baseball” are the Charleston RiverDogs. Team co-owner Bill Murray was the star of Groundhog’s Day, as you may recall. Let’s see what they RiverDogs are doing.

Okay, so here’s a tweet.

That’s all I’ve got, but in the interest of total thoroughness I’ll do a quick run through my Twitter feed to see if I missed anything….

Update: I didn’t really miss anything, save for this.

If any teams were omitted from this post, please know it is because I did so intentionally and in fact don’t like your team and will never visit.

In closing, here’s a scorching track from underrated ’70s rockers Groundhogs.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz

Return to the Road: Record Stores and Rest Stops in the Midwest

The previous post in this “Return to the Road” blog saga covered the first half of my May 2015 trip through the Midwest. This post finishes the job, detailing my non-ballpark wanderings as I moved from Peoria to Cedar Rapids to Des Moines to Omaha.

midwest_final_61t5gp7uI arrived in Peoria on the night of May 25 and thus had some free time in the early afternoon before attending May 26’s Chiefs game. When I have a small window of free time in a city that I’ve never been to, I find a record store to visit. It’s just what I do, as I’m a creature of habit.

This is Ribbon Records, a hybrid record and vintage clothing shop which, according to this blog post, is in a building formerly occupied by Murray’s Department Store.

IMG_1292The hours of this place are kind of spotty, but luck was on my side. May 26 was a Wednesday.

ribbonRibbon Records had a lot of used records, as well as books, DVDs and random cultural ephemera.

IMG_1291At Ribbon Records, the stacks were alive. I ended up buying a small pile of albums, four of which I can recall immediately at this moment.

Richard Pryor: “Wanted” (he is a Peoria native, after all)

Hank Williams: “Sings ‘Kaw-liga’ and Other Humorous Songs”

Motley Crue: “Too Fast for Love”

Nancy Sinatra: “Movin’ with Nancy”

That Nancy Sinatra LP is produced by Lee Hazlewood, and if you ever see Nancy and Lee’s names together on the same album then do not think. Just buy!

The only other things I can tell you about my time in Peoria, outside of the ballpark, was that I ate lunch at Lorena’s….

IMG_1293…and, afterwards, got unreasonably excited when Eminem came on the radio.

IMG_1294On Thursday, May 27, I drove from Peoria, Illinois, to Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Along the way, I picked up the necessary provisions.

It is obscene how much I enjoy pork cracklins.

IMG_1295I also bought “Warheads Sour Dippin’ Pucker Packs,” simply because I am always on the lookout for Fun Dip derivatives.

IMG_1290I’m not sure where the following photo was taken, but clearly it was a beautiful day in which to loiter at a rest stop.

IMG_1296A rest stop is one thing, the “World’s Largest Truckstop” is another. How could I not visit?

IMG_1299I can’t verify the “world’s largest” claim, but there is no doubt that this truck stop was gigantic. This picture doesn’t do it justice, as this place was too big to be encompassed by a single photo.

IMG_1301I strongly considered buying a T-shirt as a means to show off my vague awareness of nature and Native American culture.

IMG_1303Instead, I bought this four-CD set:

IMG_1304The cover art is inexcusably awful, but this is a well-curated and thoroughly enjoyable set of ’50s, ’60s and ’70s truck-drivin’ country songs. “Giddyup Go, Daddy.”

I spent the evening of May 27 with the Cedar Rapids Kernels, leaving the city early the next morning. Cedar Rapids, I hardly knew ye.

IMG_1323

IMG_1324May 28 was devoted to an Iowa Cubs matinee in Des Moines and then an Omaha Storm Chasers game in the evening. The next morning, before flying out of Omaha, I stopped at Almost Music. I somehow failed to take a photograph of this establishment, so here’s one from the Yelp page.

oAlmost Music, while small, was well-organized and featured a lot of off-the-beaten path kind of stuff for the heads and weirdos in your life. I picked up an R. Stevie Moore record (“Delicate Tension”) as well as a CD from local emcee Macey Yates (I had asked the guy at the counter to recommend an Omaha artist completely removed from the Saddle Creek universe).

And then? Then I went home. There are a lot of things I like about living in New York City, but you don’t get to see nearly enough bird’s nests. Thanks, Midwest, for the memories.

IMG_1325

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz

Return to the Road: Bouncing Between Illinois and Iowa

Earlier this month, I wrote a series of “Return to the Road” posts detailing my non-ballpark experiences during April’s trip to Florida. Today, I’ll move on to similar material, this time centering around late May’s quick jaunt through the Midwest.

midwest_final_61t5gp7u
May 23 was a whirlwind — an early flight from NYC to Chicago, an extremely long wait for a rental car, a quick hotel check-in and then a jam-packed evening with the Kane County Cougars. It was all a blur, and that feeling persisted into the next morning.

I had no idea which car in the hotel parking lot was mine! I took both of them, just to be sure.

IMG_1222From there it was on to a (rained out) afternoon with the Quad Cities River Bandits, followed by an early evening drive to Clinton, Iowa. At some point during this drive, I took a picture of some amusing rest stop bathroom graffiti. I wish that I could share it with you in full, but this is a family blog (you’re probably reading this with your family right now, as Ben’s Biz is one of the few things that unites the average American family in this fractured media age).

IMG_1223Upon arriving in Clinton, I was hungry. And when I am on the road and hungry, I generally seek out one of four (reliably gluten-free) options: barbecue, Mexican, Vietnamese or Buffalo Wild Wings.

Clinton, a factory town, came through on the Mexican front. This restaurant, as you can see, was in close proximity to a smoking lamppost.

IMG_1237

Despite an 80 percent ingredient overlap from dish to dish, El Tapatio had a menu whose length was roughly equivalent to that of the Old Testament.

IMG_1235I don’t remember what I ordered, exactly, but it was, essentially, steak and eggs and rice and beans. Fundamental. (In the below photo, note that I was still reading an Athlon baseball preview magazine in late May. Those things take me forever to get through, as I am one of those obsessive types who reads every word of every page.)

IMG_1236The next morning, May 25, I drove to Clinton’s Eagle Point Park and took a stroll.

001

002While I had less than an hour in which to wander around the premises, I’m glad that I visited Eagle Park. If you should ever be in Clinton, to see the LumberKings or otherwise, then I suggest that you do so as well. The park overlooks the Mississippi River, which, as it runs past Clinton, is at one of its widest points.

IMG_1241I would have liked to meditate in this location for upwards of three hours, but, as always, duty called. Soon enough, I was on the path back to reality.

006Reality remained a whirlwind, but on the way to see the LumberKings I took the time to pull over and take a photo of Snodgrass Motors.

IMG_1254This brief pit stop was motivated by then-Richmond Flying Squirrels (and now Virginia Tech) broadcaster Jon Laaser, who consistently paid tribute to pitcher Jack Snodgrass via creative use of the “word” Snodgrass.

One of many examples.

snod

After witnessing a Memorial Day doubleheader in Clinton, I drove back to Quad Cities and caught the second game of the River Bandits’ doubleheader against the Chiefs. From there, it was time for a nighttime drive to Peoria so that I would be well-positioned to see those very same Chiefs the following evening.

The second — and final — entry of this Midwest-based “Return to the Road” saga will begin in Peoria. We’ll see how it plays.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz

Biz Blog Bouillabaisse II: The New Batch

Yesterday’s bouillabaisse blog post focused exclusively on anniversary logos. Today, the bouillabaisse returns for the more wide-ranging grab bag of the Minor League odds, sods, bits, scraps, leftovers, debris and remnants that you (may) have come to love. If you’re a fan of divers and sundry, then you’re definitely in the right place.

Let’s begin by returning to yesterday’s topic, as I neglected to include the Lancaster JetHawks’ 20th anniversary logo.

jethawks

The JetHawks will be celebrating this Diamond milestone throughout the season, perhaps most noticeably with their “20th Anniversary Mondays” promo (in which ticket prices are rolled back to what they were in 1996). May I suggest a promotion in which they ask fans to submit their best Lancaster-area dust storm photos from the last 20 years? This could be called “Show Us Your Haboobs.”

Yesterday (or Wednesday, for those keeping score at home), the Columbia Fireflies unveiled their uniforms. The Fireflies are the Mets’ Class A affiliate, replacing the Savannah Sand Gnats.

Fireflies_uniforms

Interestingly, the Fireflies’ press release does not include the phrase “glow in the dark.” But, yes, portions of this uniform will indeed glow in the dark. Entities across the internet were quick to celebrate this fact.

Question: Are the Fireflies the first Minor League team to have uniforms that incorporate glow-in-the-dark elements?

Answer: No.

Last week the Omaha Storm Chasers announced the winners of their annual bookmark design contest, which the teams says is “the highlight” of their “Hit the Books” literacy program. I am including this photo of the winning designs because the overall winner’s name is “Brooklyn Bratetic” and that has to be one of the coolest names I’ve ever heard.

2016 Hit The Books Winners PosterNote, also, that one of the other winners is named “Koa Stonebraker.” Kids in Omaha must be cooler than kids in other places.

You may recall that, early last month, the Norfolk Tides unveiled new logos. These logos prominently featured a seahorse, and now that seahorse has a name. His name is Triton.

triton

You may also recall (but more likely you never even knew) that January 21 was “Squirrel Appreciation Day.” The World’s Fastest Squirrel, long a part of the Lake Elsinore Storm’s usual gang of idiots, was one of the prime recipients of this nationwide outpouring of appreciation.

Oh, and wouldn’t you know it? I have just been reminded of another anniversary logo that I forgot to include in my previous post: The Tri-City ValleyCats are celebrating their 15th season. If my calculations are correct, each white star in the logo equals one season, while each red star equals four seasons.

15th-anniversary-logo-web1

Now that this post is properly bookended, I’ll bring this latest (and therefore greatest) bouillabaisse session. Stay tuned for more, if you’re into that sort of thing.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz

Biz Blog Bouillabaisse: The Ambiguity of Anniversaries

According to my records, which I store in a meticulously organized and heavily guarded 52-inch filing cabinet, I have not authored a bouillabaisse blog post since January 6th. Three weeks have since passed and, thus, it is time for another one. But this will not just be any bouillabaisse, mind you. This is an anniversary logo bouillabaisse. My bouillabaisses have subcategories now. I have evolved.

‘Tis the season for anniversary logos, after all, a subset of the logo world in which there is always a strong undercurrent of ambiguity. Some teams commemorate their anniversary beginning with the year in which they began, while others start counting once a year has passed (in the way that us, mere mortals, celebrate our birthdays).

To wit: A team that began play in 1997 could, theoretically, celebrate its 20th anniversary in 2016 as 2016 marks the 20th season. A team that began play in 1996 could do the same, as 2016 marks the 20th year of existence. Do you follow me? (If not, I’m on Twitter @bensbiz)

The Lake Elsinore are taking the latter approach with their California-Carolina League All-Star logo, which scelebrates the 75th anniversary of the Cal League (1941). Those in the know know that 2016 also marks the 20th anniversary of the game itself (1996).

All-StarLogo2016 v3eThe California-Carolina League All-Star Game gets to have its cake and eat it too on the 20th anniversary front. Not only has it been 20 years since the game was first played, but this will also be its 20th iteration (for reasons lost to the mists of time, it was not played in 1997). Furthermore! The diamond in the logo not only represents the Cal League’s “Diamond” anniversary, but it also references the fact that the game will be played at Lake Elsinore’s The Diamond.

The Rochester Red Wings’ home of Frontier Field first hosted the team in 1997, making 2016 their 20th season in the facility. Thus, the release of this logo. If I was to offer a criticism of this logo, which I suppose I am: It’s a little busy. Maybe “20 seasons at Frontier Field” doesn’t need to be in the basepaths? Isn’t that implied?

20 Seasons Frontier Field

While Frontier Field first hosted the Red Wings in 1997, the facility opened in the summer of 1996 with — you guessed it — a Beach Boys concert.

Way back in December, when it was still 2015, the Reading Fightin Phils unveiled a logo celebrating their upcoming 50th season as a Philadelphia Phillies affiliate (the longest affiliation in Minor League Baseball).

reading50

The above logo was designed by Brandiose and R-Fightin Phils executive director of graphic arts and game entertainment Matt Jackson. Jackon’s job title is already too long, but if it was to truly encompass his range of skills it would be “executive director of graphic arts and game entertainment and Crazy Hot Dog Vendor” Matt Jackson.

The Visalia Rawhide are entering their 71st season as a franchise. But it is their 70th anniversary as a Visalia entity. Thus, this pastoral logo.

Visalia Baseball 70th Anniversary LogoIn conjunction with this 70th anniversary, the Rawhide are “asking people to share their favorite memories from the last seven decades of Visalia professional baseball.” Those who do so will be entered to win a trip to the California-Carolina League All-Star Game. As you may remember, that game — the 20th to be played in the past 21 seasons — is being hosted by the Lake Elsinore Storm.

And thus, we have come full circle. My work here is done.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz

Virtual Reality in West Michigan

Way back in the Fall of 2013, I ran a guest post by Brad Lawrence of Fox Virtual Tours. In that post, Brad, a “Google trusted photographer,” explained how he had created a virtual 360-degree ballpark tour for the Kane County Cougars.

A few months ago Brad got in touch again to let me know that he has since designed a virtual tour for the West Michigan Whitecaps home of Fifth Third Ballpark. Thanks to Ben’s Biz Backlog, I am just getting to this topic now.

HOME_PLATE (1)In their press release announcing the Google Virtual Tour, the Whitecaps communicated the following:

Google Street View technology allows users to see 360-degree panoramas of the entire ballpark, including many seating sections to provide accurate vantage points, all of the group outing areas, the Super Suite, and the CapSized Shop. The tour also includes interesting locations that Whitecaps fans may never have directly seen before, such as the view from the playing field….The photos are produced using a rotating digital camera mounted on a tripod. Once the photos were taken, Lawrence uses “stitching” software that links each of the photos together to create a seamless tour.

PITCHERS_MOUND

BOWTIE_STARTIn an email, Lawrence elaborated further:

I’m really pleased with how [the Whitecaps] tour turned out– in particular with the spectacular views around the ballpark and the creative stuff we did with the mascots and the scoreboard “Easter egg” view. I really tried to build on what I did for the Cougars and make this one more fun for the fans.  From a practical standpoint, the Whitecaps are already actively using the tour on their website and in their sales process. So I think it’s both a fun story and also one of interest on the business side of baseball.

I can truthfully state that every club who has gotten my virtual tour has gone on to win the next championship. Granted, it’s a small sample size (the Cougars and the Whitecaps), but 2-for-2 ain’t bad!

SCOREBOARDThe above scoreboard “Easter Egg” view reminds me of my 2013 visit to the Whitecaps.

The Midwest League is now the undisputed champion when it comes to Google Virtual Tour usage. If you work for a team: Is this something that you think your club would consider doing? Would it result in new fans and potentially attract new company outings? If you’re a fan: Do you enjoy these tours? Would it make you more likely to purchase tickets?

At any rate, I think that Google Virtual Tours are an interesting endeavor and something that other teams should at least consider.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz

Return to the Road: From Parts Unknown to Five Points

Part One of this Florida-based “Return to the Road” saga covered my non-ballpark wanderings in the general area of Bradenton, Tampa and St. Petersburg. Part Two focused on my visit to Minor League Baseball headquarters in St. Petersburg. This, Part Three, covers the final section of April’s trip through the Sunshine State.

We begin on April 15, when I visited — you guessed it — a record store. This one is located in the greater Palm Beach area, but here’s the thing: I no longer remember where, exactly, I was or what this record store was called. I’m sure a helpful reader — most likely Ed Pelegrino — will soon fill me in.

IMG_0923This particular record store was quite expansive. I got a copy of Sparks “A Woofer in Tweeter’s Clothing” for, like $7 bucks. Great deal, and if you’re a fan of Sparks then you’re a friend of mine. I also bought “Use Your Illusion II” on CD, as part of my ongoing effort to own all Guns N’ Roses albums in all formats.

Fascinating stuff, right? The next several days, as I made my way through Vero Beach, St. Lucie and Brevard County, are similarly bereft of non-ballpark related materials. At one point I went to a Vietnamese restaurant in St. Lucie and was dismayed to find that their pork chops were off the bone and of a weirdly pinkish hue.

IMG_0976

I do remember that, after attending April 18’s Brevard County Manatees game, I was craving Buffalo Wild Wings. The closest one was, like, 20 miles away, so I called in my order and then made the drive there on Route 95. When I got there, my order wasn’t ready and, in fact, they hadn’t even started it yet.

But all’s well that end’s well. On these road trips I’m overwhelmed with details and often lost within my own manic mind, and sometimes a meal like this in a hotel room represents the pinnacle of relaxation and luxury.

IMG_1027I mean, just look how happy I was.

IMG_1028After eating my dinner, I found this Man of Steel Blu-Ray underneath a chair. I did not take it, because I do not know what a Blu-Ray is, and superhero movies are uniformly terrible (there are no exceptions to this rule).

IMG_1029Nonetheless, I was inspired to go out into the lobby and create a superhero of my own. I am Feline Man, who travels with his trusty sidekick, Cobra Guy, fighting bad guys up and down the dangerous back roads of Brevard County.

IMG_1025The following day, April 19, was one of the busiest and multi-faceted days that I enjoyed while on the road this season. I got up bright and early and got on good ol’ 95, barreling toward Jacksonville. As I did when en route to Pensacola in 2012, I stopped at one of the infinitely appealing roadside tourist traps.

IMG_1030

IMG_1031Florida citrus —  believe the hype! It is remarkable how much more flavor it has, when consumed at peak freshness. And there is a variety beyond what one can find at grocery stores in other parts of the country.

IMG_1032In the early afternoon, I arrived at Jacksonville’s Budweiser brewery.

IMG_1033

Why was I here? Because there is a reason for everything.

The night before, while emailing Suns staff about logistics related to my imminent visit, Suns box office manager (and seamstress!) Theresa Viets said I should stop by the brewery’s parking lot food truck fest if I had the time.

IMG_1036I enjoyed a typically healthy road trip lunch…

IMG_1037…but food wasn’t the reason I stopped by. Theresa’s recommendation was based on the fact that Grandpa’s Cough Medicine, one of her favorite local bands, was playing.

IMG_1034Early afternoon on a hot summer’s day is definitely not an ideal time for a band like Grandpa’s Cough Medicine, whose incredibly adept bluegrass blazers are best suited to late whisky nights. But, regardless, I was amazed at how good these guys are; incredible finger-picking skills, clever and often darkly humorous lyrics and an innate chemistry that can only be honed by playing live on a regular basis.

Here’s the title track off of their latest album, which I bought right after they finished playing (to a disinterested, sun-baked audience). I mean, my goodness. This band deserves a much wider profile.

I still had about two hours before my scheduled arrival at the ballpark, so I drove from the brewery to Jacksonville’s Five Points neighborhood.

IMG_1055Five Points is named for the Five Points intersection, which, as its name suggests, represents the confluence of five roads. This is not a good photo, but here you go.

IMG_1041I parked on a nearby residential street, who knows where, and walked past “Troops of Time” en route to bustling Park Street. I really should have gone inside. Despite being a longtime Martika fan, I’ve never visited a toy soldier store.

IMG_1039Prior to my trip, Jacksonville native (and current Charleston Riverdogs operations director) Philip Guiry sent me an email extolling the virtues of the neighborhood. It read, in part:

5 Points, just north and west of downtown and The Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville, has Deep Search Records, a bar called Rain Dogs, a weird beer/misc. store called Cask, another bar called Starlight, I think? And a dope movie theater (Sun-Ray), a one screen joint with beer, pizza, indie movies, live shows, and Hollywood movies, too.

It also has Wall Street, which is my favorite dive in Jax.

IMG_1042The Sun-Ray Cinema:

IMG_1045I really enjoyed poking around Fans and Stoves, which was filled with all manner of interesting cultural detritus. I walked out of there with some old postcards and a vintage MAD magazine.

IMG_1050

IMG_1046Deep Search Records:

IMG_1051It was National Record Store Day, so Deep Search was hopping. I bought the recent double LP reissue of the Melvins “Lysol” and “Eggnog”, as well as Dio’s “Sacred Heart” on cassette.

IMG_1053And, though the date had passed, I was happy to see this flyer on my way out the door. Go see the Baseball Project live. They’re great.

IMG_1054And, well, that’ll do it for my “Return to the Road” recap of April’s trip to the Sunshine State. Stay tuned for similar material throughout the remainder of the offseason. You’ll be glad you did. Or at least I think you’ll be glad. Who really does know? I sure don’t.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 579 other followers