Archive for the ‘ Minor League Baseball ’ Category

On the Road: A Heads-Up Approach in Sacramento

To see all posts from my August 1 visit to the Sacramento River Cats, click HERE. To see all my posts from my August 2016 “Out West” road trip, click HERE. To see all my “On the Road” posts, click HERE. If interested in seeing posts covering a visit to a particular team, search for that team’s name in the blog search bar (it’s to your right).

Welcome to the second of three posts concerning the Sacramento River Cats, who play at Raley Field.


I visited the River Cats on a Monday night. Teams hate when I visit on Mondays, as they want a man of my vast influence and prestige to witness them at their best (read: fullest). Some of my Monday evening victims accept their fate. Others, like River Cats marketing manager Emily Williams, resort to blatant acts of censorship when I attempt to document the surroundings.

img_0030To be fair, the River Cats have been at or near the top of Minor League attendance rankings ever since their 2000 inception. In 2015, the first year of their affiliation with the Giants, they drew 672,354 to lead all of Minor League Baseball.

And, regardless, it was a beautiful night in a beautiful ballpark. The game time temperature was 84 degrees, the skies were clear and there was a slight breeze in the air. Fans seeking additional shade had the option of sitting beneath what I believe are the biggest berm trees in Minor League Baseball.


Beyond the berm, there lurks a city skyline view. That’s the Tower Bridge on the left, whose two golden towers combine to form an “au” pair.


My wanderings, at this stage in the evening, didn’t last very long. The River Cats have a nightly “Heads of State” race featuring a triumvirate of California governors: Gray Davis, Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger. (Davis may not be as memorable as the other two, but you may be able to recall him).

I was invited to participate in the race, and chose to run as Ronald Reagan.

As the above tweet describes (albeit with a typo), I won. Here’s the proof (you can also see how close I came to losing my head).

The race itself was tiring, given how top-heavy the costume is and the fact that I’m maybe not in the best shape. But what was really difficult was the race’s aftermath. We entered the stands at the home plate side of the ballpark, trodding up the stairs and then on to the concourse. Thus began a long, slow walk back to our outfield changing area (aka “the groundskeeper’s shed”) during which we were accosted by fans for high-fives and photos. At first I enjoyed this, the way I always enjoy being in a mascot suit of any kind. It’s a surreal feeling, knowing that the “you” that people are interacting with is different than the “you” that is in the suit. It’s a liberating, and exhilarating, sensation, this transformation into a larger-than-life figure who people want to see, know and touch.

But I don’t have the stamina for it. As our walk progressed, a deep, dizzy fatigue set in and along with it an increasing desperation to no longer be Ronald Reagan. If the stands had been a little more crowded, or the weather a little hotter, I think I would have passed out. And, believe me, no one wants to see an unconscious Ronald Reagan sprawled on the concourse of a Minor League Baseball stadium.

Finally, after what seemed like hours but was only minutes, we were able to leave the public eye. I no longer had to be Ronnie. The only thing trickling down was the sweat on my brow.

img_221310 minutes later, I returned to wandering ballpark blogger mode. It was as if nothing had ever happened.

I soon met with River Cats president Jeff Savage, whose late father, Art, bought the Pacific Coast League’s Vancouver franchise and relocated it to Sacramento. The Savage name is synonymous with River Cats baseball. Susan Savage, Jeff’s mom, is the team’s CEO and majority owner. Brent, his brother, works for the team as well. Brent is confined to a wheelchair, and Jeff said that one of the reasons his dad wanted a team in Sacramento was so that Brent “always had a place he wanted to be.”

Raley Field, a privately-owned facility, was built in just nine months and opened in May of 2000. Jeff said that, prior to the stadium’s opening, its West Sacramento location was a desolate industrial area.

“No one in their right mind would come to West Sacramento,” he said. “You just didn’t do it.”

In this ceiling mural, Art Savage can be seen in the top left, wearing a green shirt.


This mural, titled “Here and Now”, has an interesting concept. Sacramento baseball greats are seen mingling with their younger selves.


Prior to the River Cats, Sacramento had hosted a team in the form of the PCL’s “Solons.” Solon is an archaic term for a politician, coined in honor of the Greek lawmaker who went by that name. The Solons’ farewell occurred in 1976.

Since the 2000 opening of Raley Field, the ownership group has made improvements whenever they’ve had the means to do so. A fairly recent upgrade is the Legacy Club, a premium group area which opened in 2015.


In the Legacy Club, you can turn your back to the game to watch the game.


There’s always room for more improvement, such as this undeveloped area deep behind the outfield. Currently, it is a picnic table graveyard which, truth be told, I found very appealing.

img_0043I mentioned this billboard in my previous post but, man, it’s a huge billboard (and sunshade).

img_0046The River Cats introduced “Sac Town” merchandise prior to the season (designed in house), which has proven to be popular in the area.


img_0048I concluded my evening in the press box, as the River Cats wrapped up a 7-0 victory over Salt Lake.

img_2217With the game over, there was only one thing left to do: Write and disseminate a Subversive and Groundbreaking Ballpark Joke.

They can’t all be winners.


On the Road: Surveying the Scene in Sacramento

To see all posts from my August 1 visit to the Sacramento River Cats, click HERE. To see all my posts from my August 2016 “Out West” road trip, click HERE. To see all my “On the Road” posts, click HERE. If interested in seeing posts covering a visit to a particular team, search for that team’s name in the blog search bar (it’s to your right).

My third and final road trip of the Minor League season was a long, sprawling and often counter-intuitive journey, one that started in Sacramento and ended in Spokane. So let’s start at the beginning; Sacramento, California’s capital city and the home of the River Cats. The River Cats, Triple-A affiliate of the San Francisco Giants, have played at Raley Field since the stadium opened in 2000.

img_0002Immediately upon arriving, I met with media relations coordinator Robert Barsanti. He ushered me down a pathway situated betwixt outfield wall and ribbon board, with the net overhead protecting us from batting practice dingers and other skyborne hazards.

img_0004The dusty road led us to the clubhouses, which led me to a scheduled interview with River Cats manager Jose Alguacil. This scheduled interview led to a feature story, which I invite you to read by clicking HERE. Jose, whom everyone calls “Auggie,” is an interesting and likable guy and if he’s not managing or coaching in in the big leagues within three years I’ll eat my hat.

My interview with Auggie led to a pregame meeting with my designated eaters, which will be documented shortly. When the designated eating was complete, I was able to partake in the activity that most truly speaks to the core of my inner being: aimless wandering.

This was the scene from the outfield berm as the Monday evening crowd trickled in. That Roseville Automall billboard, which doubles as a sunshade, may just be the largest sign to have ever been situated in a Minor League Baseball stadium.

img_0018In the visitor’s bullpen, Salt Lake Bees starter Zach Nuding was getting warmed up for a game he would (spoiler alert) lose.

img_0019I think what I was trying to convey with the below picture is that the River Cats have various gardens on the stadium premises, a fine microcosm of the region’s robust agriculture industry.


After admiring the foliage, I followed this ponytailed man down the concourse walkway. When in doubt, always follow a ponytailed man.

img_0021As you can see in the above picture, steel beams on the concourse are enlivened with the vibrant work of young local artists.


This one’s my favorite:


Also enlivening the concourse is this family of River Cats fans living above the team store. I stared at this guy for hours and not once did he put down his binoculars. I bet that, when he looks in the mirror, he sees a human raccoon.


When I returned to this very spot, more than three hours later, the kid’s ice cream hadn’t melted nor had the gentleman taken even one sip of his beer.
img_0023This picture bellow is — let’s face it — kind of lousy. But I include it to point out that California only recently legalized 50-50 raffles and, thus, 2016 marked the first season that the River Cats were able to stage them.

img_0024Speaking of 50-50, last season the River Cats gave away “Barry Zito dual replica jerseys.”


The Oakland/San Francisco split also describes the River Cats themselves, who were affiliated with the former for the first 15 years of their existence (2000-2014).

This third base-side beer garden, in the tradition of great beer gardens everywhere, serves beer and paninis. There may be plans in the works to expand the menu.


I could go on…and I will! But not in this post. I’ll go on in the next one. Stay tuned for much more from Sacramento.


Guest Post: My Ridiculous, Unreasonable, Fantastic Minor League Baseball Trip

My Appalachian League blog posts are now complete. There are more road trip posts to come, but today the plan is to clear the palate with a guest post.

The following post was written by Ben Curtis, a high school junior at North Broward Preparatory School in Coconut Creek, Florida. He is approximately one third of the way toward his goal of visiting every Major and Minor League ballpark in the United States. Today, Ben provides the lowdown on a trip he embarked upon over the summer. 


The one constant throughout the years has been baseball (thank you, James Earl Jones). But its 160 Minor League stadiums are different, each with its own design features, neighborhood charm and cultural flair (or, in a few cases, lack thereof). To compare them, there’s only one logical and sane thing to do: Drive 2,750 miles — from the Mississippi River’s southern tip, through the South and back north to the river — to see 12 games in 12 cities in 12 days. So that’s exactly what I did.

Warning: Average fans should not attempt.

Day 1: Zephyr Field, Metarie, Louisiana

New Orleans Zephyrs (Triple-A affiliate of the Miami Marlins) hosting the Sacramento River Cats (Triple-A affiliate of the San Francisco Giants)

First stop: the Big Easy, sort of. Located in the suburbs, away from the French Quarter excitement of the Crescent City, Zephyr Field was underwhelming. After a rainout the previous night, the skies were still angry and the stands were uncharacteristically empty. I may not have seen Zephyr Field at its finest.


(Ben’s Biz file photo)

I liked: At too many ballparks, an onslaught of advertisements immediately slap you in the face. Zephyr Field properly balances ads with the baseball field’s natural beauty.

I didn’t: Save for one concession stand selling crawfish tenders and a single pregame playing of Dave Brubeck’s jazz standard Take 5, the Zephyrs didn’t take advantage of New Orleans’ incredible culture.

Day 2: Hank Aaron Stadium, Mobile, Alabama

Mobile BayBears (then the Double-A affiliate of the Diamondbacks, now with the Angels) hosting the Jacksonville Suns (Double-A affiliate of the Miami Marlins)

Day two brought me to the home of the Southern League’s Mobile BayBears. Nearly the entire field-level area was uniquely taken up by suites — a great view for groups and corporate sponsors, but leaving most fans far down the lines or in the second deck. Just outside the right-field concourse was the stadium’s crown jewel, the actual childhood house of the ballpark’s namesake. Removed, relocated and restored from its original spot in Mobile, the whitewashed home includes artifacts from Aaron’s Hall-of-Fame career, including his 715th home run ball.


(Ben’s Biz file photo)

I liked: The radio broadcast played in the concourse, keeping fans connected to the game even outside the seating bowl.

I didn’t: Only one main concession stand was open, leading to a massive line all game.

Day 3: Regions Field, Birmingham, Alabama

Birmingham Barons (Double-A affiliate of the Chicago White Sox) hosting Montgomery Biscuits (Double-A affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays)

Photo: Ben Curtis

Photo: Ben Curtis

Wow. Radio play-by-play broadcaster Curt Bloom welcomed me to, as he put it, the “Taj Mahal of Minor League Baseball.” He was right. Imagine everything good about Minor League ballparks, then combine them in one Double-A setting and you have Regions Field. Three runs in the ninth gave the Barons a walk-off win, punctuating a great night in the Deep South.

I liked: Batting cages in right, a hotel in left and interactive activities throughout the concourse created a fun and comfortable experience for everyone.

I didn’t: An inconvenient lack of concourse WiFi.

Day 4: State Mutual Stadium, Rome, Georgia

Rome Braves (Class A affiliate of the Atlanta Braves) hosting Lexington Legends (Class A affiliate of the Kansas City Royals)

A slightly odd baseball experience: Braves game-day staff included cheerleaders, which made for some uncomfortable moments involving the largely male, older crowd of 2,300 boisterous fans. The music was overkill, booming not only between batters and innings, but also within at-bats.


(Ben’s Biz file photo)

I liked: I’m a complete sucker for berms filled with kids chasing foul balls. The ballpark has one down each line.

I didn’t: Lexington starting pitcher Emilio Ogando was throwing heat. But without radar, we never could truly tell how hard anyone was throwing.

Day 5: Smokies Stadium, Kodak, Tennessee

Tennessee Smokies (Double-A affiliate of the Chicago Cubs) hosting Mississippi Braves (Double-A affiliate of the Atlanta Braves)

Stars in the Smoky Mountains: Braves prospects Ozzie Albies and 2015 top overall Draft pick Dansby Swanson won, 3-0, over Cubs prospect Ian Happ and rehabbing Major Leaguer Jorge Soler. The fans were fun and genuinely interested in the outcome of the game, something you don’t always get in Double-A.

Photo: Ben Curtis

Photo: Ben Curtis

I liked: Rally Llama! A longstanding video tradition of a prancing animal on the scoreboard got the crowd going in the late innings. A classy restaurant and bar down the left-field line, with closed-circuit TV, also enhanced the experience.

I didn’t: A canned “Whoo!” sound effect played virtually every other pitch, and the crowd responded with a “Whoo!” of their own.  Cool maybe the first five times, but redundant and annoying after.

Day 6: Whitaker Bank Ballpark, Lexington, Kentucky

Lexington Legends (Class A affiliate of the Kansas City Royals) hosting the Columbia Fireflies (Class A affiliate of the New York Mets)

Deep in thoroughbred country, the day-game temperature went through the roof, creating a real summer atmosphere. A seven-run eighth inning, a walk-off homer (my third walk-off in four nights) and an engaged crowd made up for a bland ballpark.


Ben’s Biz file photo

I liked: The “porch” area down the right-field line, commonplace at Minor League ballparks, was in the shape of a stable, drawing on the area’s horseracing culture.

I didn’t: Timing of the music was completely off, blaring excessively loud before the game, but without any typical mid-game music to keeps fans entertained.

Day 7: Louisville Slugger Field, Louisville, Kentucky

Louisville Bats (Triple-A affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds) hosting Charlotte Knights (Triple-A affiliate of the Chicago White Sox)

A fantastic Major League-level experience. The George Rogers Clark Bridge beyond center field evoked Pittsburgh’s PNC Park, and the beautiful brick-and-iron entrance reminded me of classic ballparks. Meanwhile, speed pitch cages and a left-field berm kept fans in the fun, Minor League spirit.


Ben’s Biz file photo

I liked: Sparkling clean. While it may go unnoticed, a clean or dirty facility could make or break a fan’s experience.

I didn’t: With Churchill Downs, the Louisville Slugger factory and big-time college sports, Louisville is one of the best sports cities without a Major League team. I would have liked to see more connection to the city.

Day 8: Modern Woodman Park, Davenport, Iowa

Quad City River Bandits (Class A affiliate of the Houston Astros) hosting Peoria Chiefs (Class A affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals)

After a perfect Cubs game at Wrigley, I was back in the creative world of Class A ball: A Ferris wheel beyond left field, a mini amusement park down the first-base line and a corn field by the home bullpen — all at a vintage facility overlooking the Mississippi River. Another walk-off win, the fifth of my trip, sent the Iowans home happy.


Ben’s Biz file photo

I liked and didn’t: The illuminated Ferris wheel was fun and engaging for little kids and non-baseball fans — but boy were all those blinking lights distracting.

In between the eight stops detailed above, I also managed to hit an independent league game in Joliet, Illinois, as well as three Major League games in the Great Lakes region.

Sure, the trip was crazy, but it was an incredible experience. And a little crazy. But who cares? You never can have too much baseball.


Thanks, Ben. Stay tuned for more from me, another Ben, as I’ve got one more road trip to chronicle. That begins tomorrow.

On the Road: “Moose” Meat and Smashed Cupcakes in Burlington

To see all posts from my July 4 visit to the Burlington Royals, click HERE. To see all my posts from my June/July 2016 Appalachian League Road Trip, click HERE. To see all my “On the Road” posts, click HERE. If interested in seeing posts covering a visit to a particular team, search for that team’s name in the blog search bar (it’s to your right).

As mentioned in the previous post, the Burlington Royals have a concession stand. All teams do.

img_0165But the B-Royals concession scene is not limited to the above area. There is also a tent. This tent is called “Grill 1986,” a reference to the team’s first season of Appy League existence. The grill itself probably hasn’t been around since 1986. Most grills don’t live that long.

img_0184At Grill 1986 I made the acquaintance of one Justin Moody.


Justin was, of course, my designated eater (the individual who consumes the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits). He works in Chapel Hill, North Carolina as a paralegeal, but grew up in southwestern Pennsylvania and is, as such, a huge Pirates fan. The first Minor League game he remembers attending was the Greenville, South Carolina-based Capital City Bombers (in 1992 or thereabouts), and he has since visited every park in the Carolinas. Justin’s a regular reader of this blog and said that he “thought it would be fun to join in on your journey, and lend my stomach to you.”

We began with the “Moose Taco”, an item that came into being because the girlfriend of B-Royals’ general manager Ryan Keur thought that was actually the name of Kansas City Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas.

The “Moose Taco”, truth be told, is more like a “Moose Burrito.”


Have at it, Justin.

Mikey Morrison, the B-Royals food and beverage overseer, told us that the contents of the Moose Taco “depends on the day.”

img_0188“Today it’s beef with cheese and jalapenos on the side,” he said. “Originally we would spell [the Moose Taco] like his name [Moustakas], but we made it the Moose Taco so that people would know what it is.”

“The pickled jalapenos give a nice little spice to it,” said Justin. “The meat has got a good smoky sear to it. I think it’s a burger patty that’s been cut up, but it’s really good. It eats pretty easily, the only thing in it is meat and cheese. You don’t get slowed down by lettuce or sour cream or whatever.”

Next up was Funnel Fries, marking the second time in as many days that one of my designated eaters consumed them (see also: Yankees, Pulaski).


Justin cleared his mind and opened his mouth.

img_1987“[The funnel fries] came out nice and warm. Not too oily or greasy, which I really appreciate,” he said. “They’re good and crunchy, with just enough powdered sugar. Sweet, without trying to create a new cavity. Pretty darn good.”

Justin, if you’ve noticed, is pretty darn good at articulating his food thoughts.

The food was washed down with a Red Oak beer, brewed in nearby Whitsett, North Carolina. Morrison explained that the team began offering it at the ballpark in 2015 and that it “quickly became a best seller.”

img_0194Justin described it as a “good red or brown ale…crisp and refreshing on a hot day. It’s got a good malt flavor to it. It’s one of my favorites, actually.”

Another local favorite on offer at the ballpark are cupcakes courtesy of Burlington’s Main Street Cake Shoppe.

img_1992Justin’s wife, Meghan, was also at the ballgame. For most of my time with Justin, she elected to remain in her seat and keep score (not a bad decision at all). But Justin recruited her to come to our grill-side location to help him consume the cupcake.
img_2013Perhaps inevitably, Justin ended up getting his just desserts.

“It’s nice and soft,” said Justin. “I’d say it’s pretty much the perfect cupcake, though a lot of it ended up on my face.”

Indeed, it did.

img_0192Despite suffering this dessert-based indignity, Justin had nothing but good things to say about his designated eating experience.

“There’s nothing wild or outrageous,” he said, of the Burlington concession scene. “Just really good basic ballpark food, and I appreciate that they’re supporting local businesses.”


On the Road: Patriotism and Presidential Candidates in Burlington

To see all posts from my July 4 visit to the Burlington Royals, click HERE. To see all my posts from my June/July 2016 Appalachian League Road Trip, click HERE. To see all my “On the Road” posts, click HERE. If interested in seeing posts covering a visit to a particular team, search for that team’s name in the blog search bar (it’s to your right).

My 10th and final stop on my all-encompassing Appy League trip was Burlington, North Carolina. Burlington is the home of the Royals, Kansas City’s Rookie-level affiliate. The Royals play at Burlington Athletic Stadium.

img_0162Believe it or not, Burlington Athletic Stadium was built in Danville, Virginia (where it was known as League Park). After the Danville Leafs ceased operation in the late 1950s, the ballpark was sold to a group of businessmen in Burlington. It was then disassembled, shipped 40 miles south via train, and reassembled in the spot where it stands today. I wrote an article about this, you can read it HERE.

img_0164I was in Burlington on a Monday. Usually when I visit teams on a Monday I hear all about how I should have planned my visit for some other day. But this was no ordinary Monday. It was July 4, a day to celebrate the birth of our wonderful, troubled, maddening nation. I was reminded that it was July 4 while walking toward the ballpark from the parking lot, as the fan in front of me was wearing a shirt featuring a silhouette of a man holding a gun.

“I’m sorry if my patriotism offends you,” it said at the top of the shirt. “Your lack of a spine offends me more,” it said on the bottom, below the picture of a man holding a gun.

It was surely patriots like this man who, in 1776, fought the British until Royal Concessions were made.

img_0165You may recall, as I may recall, that this was not the first time I visited the Burlington Royals. The year was 2011, and at that point in time the facility was most definitely in need of a few upgrades.


2011 file photo

A few upgrades have indeed occurred.

“Come with me,” said B-Royals general manager Ryan Keur. “I’ll show you.”


The visitor’s clubhouse showers, for example, have been relocated and renovated.

img_0167And…that’s the only example I have from the so-called bowels of the facility. But, believe me, many improvements have been made to Burlington Athletic Stadium over the last five years. The best improvements. It’s unbelievable. Like, these bleacher seats. They were added prior to the 2016 season, replacing bleacher seats that many people said were a disaster.  img_0169

Behind the bleachers was the “Inflatable Experience.”


The Inflatable Experience might result in abrasions, vertigo and joint pain, but it will also result in a “whole lot of fun.” Go hard or go home.


Meanwhile, at the bar, two sandals-wearing bearded gentlemen were attempting to ascertain if they had been separated at birth.


Just around the corner, I ran into Bingo.


Bingo is running for president, and he’s easily the best orange-hued candidate out there. Through a spokesperson, I found out that Bingo is a Democrat who seeks to strengthen relations with the Dominican Republic. He would appoint other mascots (except Danville’s Blooper!) to cabinet positions, and his slogan is “Si, Se Puede” (Yes, We Can!)

Bingo, you have my vote.


The great thing about being Bingo? You never dance alone.

I then made my way onto the field, which is always a beautiful place to be.


The grandstand retains its timeless charm.

img_1974The Royals were decked out in patriotic jerseys, and their patriotism didn’t offend me. I don’t know who that guy is on the far right, but Hubba Hubba!

img_1977The visiting Danville Braves, who played Burlington at home the night before, looked boring by comparison.

img_0179I threw out a ceremonial first pitch prior to the game, but I appear to lack any evidence of this fact. My notes say that my pitch was “way outside” “a perfect, searing strike” and that “number 41 caught it.”

The National Anthem was beautifully performed, but don’t take my word for it.

I spent the first several innings of the ballgame meeting with my designated eater, and that will be documented in the following post. I then witnessed a Baby Race from an up close and personal vantage point.

Soon thereafter, I took in the early evening Independence Day action from a rooftop.


The view in both directions was pleasing.


While on the roof, I visited the press box and spent an inning on the airwaves with Darren Zaslau.

It’s a long way down from the rooftop.


Back at sea level, more or less, I made my way to the front row and spoke with B-Royals fan (and expert heckler) David Horne.


In the above photo, Horne was taunting the bat boy as he made his way across the field.

“Go get it, boy! Hurry! That’s a good boy,” he shouted.

Horne has special taunts for all Appalachian League opponents, including “Stop the chop!”, “Smoke the Jays!” “Spank the Yanks”, “Hose the ‘Stros”, “Wet the Mets” and “Skin the Twins.”

Spending time with Horne reminded me of my 2011 Burlington visit, when fellow ballpark traveler Tug Haines recorded the following bit of classic Appy League heckling.

Danville won, 4-1, in a game that took just two hours and 12 minutes to play.


The ballgame was followed by a concerted attempt to pelt this man with tennis balls.


It was July 4th, after all. What could follow now but fireworks?


The men’s room was not a pretty sight immediately following the game, probably because that macho t-shirt guy I’d seen on the way in had too much to drink and his delicate little tummy-wummy couldn’t handle it. Nonetheless, I made an attempt to document the team’s legendary (in some circles) alumni urinals.

Not pictured: Jim Thome

Not pictured: Jim Thome

While in the bathroom, I quickly wrote and disseminated a Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Joke.

This concluded my time in Burlington, as well as the Appy League in general.

Thanks, guys. I did!


On the Road: Visiting Dan Daniel in Danville

To see all posts from my July 3 visit to the Danville Braves, click HERE. To see all my posts from my June/July 2016 Appalachian League Road Trip, click HERE. To see all my “On the Road” posts, click HERE. If interested in seeing posts covering a visit to a particular team, search for that team’s name in the blog search bar (it’s to your right).

The penultimate stop on my Appalachian League trip was Danville, Virginia, the land of the free and the home of the Rookie-level Braves. The Braves play at American Legion Post 325 Field, often referred to as “Legion Field” because who has time for a 12-syllable ballpark name?

Not me. I barely had time to take a photo before I crossed the street.

img_0110Legion Field is located within Dan Daniel Memorial Park, a city-owned recreation complex.

img_0108Despite the gray skies, a robust crowd was expected at Legion Field on this Sunday evening.


For this was not just any Sunday evening. It was Independence Day Eve. David Cross, longtime D-Braves general manager, was dressed for the occasion.

img_1864Almost immediately upon arriving, I met with Danville Register-Bee writer Jordan Bondurant.


Jordan interviewed me on the field prior to the game, which led to this story (and accompanying video). When we were done talking, I turned around and took a poorly composed photo.


I also took note of that which was occurring atop the dugout.

Mascot Blooper! was decked in his patriotic best, and joined by special guest Captain America. A 5′ 6″, 145-pound Captain America.

img_0117The gentleman in the below photo was selling 50-50 raffle tickets; at the time this picture was taken he reported $301 “in the kitty.”

“Whoo-ee!” he then added, leading me to believe that $301 was a lot to have in the kitty before the game had even begun.

img_0119I spent several minutes pondering the slogan on this team bus, which was parked just outside the ballpark. “Experience!” and “Excellence!” are presented as separate positive traits, but I initially read it as a command to “Experience Excellence!”

img_0122But wait! On the back of the bus it simply says “Experience Excellence”. Is “Experience” now a verb? Or did they simply not have the room for an exclamation point?

img_0124The bus inspired me to experience excellence for myself, by gazing upon this wonderful wall art.

img_0123Blooper!, meanwhile, was gazing upon the field. The evening’s ballgame — between Danville and the visiting Burlington Royals — had begun.

img_0125Like the rest of us, the D-Braves bullpen could only sit back and relax. Chill out. Take in the atmosphere.

img_1872The ballpark was packed, the front office staff was busy, and I didn’t really know what to do with myself. I just wandered around, taking in the various views while trying not to obscure the views of others.



img_0133I spent several innings with Brooke and Mary, that evening’s designated eaters. That has already been documented in a separate post.

img_0136I went on to spend some time (like, three minutes) in the press box. The chairs are yellow.


As the evening wore on, the bleachers got fuller and fuller. The bleachers got fuller because fireworks were to follow.



Tonight’s winning lottery numbers?

img_1889Winning numbers? Maybe. But winning team? No. Burlington won by a score of 3-2.

Many of the Braves players were gracious in defeat, high-fiving fans and signing autographs en route to the home clubhouse.

img_1892The game was followed by fireworks. If there’s one thing I can guarantee regarding my fireworks photos,  it’s that they will be awful.

img_1893But I can also guarantee that my Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Joke, disseminated nightly, will be awesome.

Goodnight from Danville, Virginia.


On the Road: Funnel Fries and Chicken Fingers in Pulaski

To see all posts from my July 2 visit to the Pulaski Yankees, click HERE. To see all my posts from my June/July 2016 Appalachian League Road Trip, click HERE. To see all my “On the Road” posts, click HERE. If interested in seeing posts covering a visit to a particular team, search for that team’s name in the blog search bar (it’s to your right).

This man’s name is Thomas Panek. But you don’t need to call him by his full first name.

“Tom is fine,” he told me.

img_0091Tom was more than fine on this Saturday evening at Pulaski’s Calfee Park, as he had the duty and privilege of being my designated eater (the individual recruited to eat the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits).

His ballpark dinner was obtained from this concession stand, where one’s chances of getting hit by a foul ball are decidedly slim.

img_0071This is what was obtained. (Not shown: a bag of peanuts with an accompanying brown paper bag for the shells).

img_0080There’s nothing too out-of-the-ordinary in the above photo, though it is an impressive array for a Rookie-level team operating out of an 81-year-old ballpark (albeit an 81-year-old ballpark that has been extensively renovated in recent years).

Before moving to an individual rundown of the items in question, let’s get to know Tom. Originally from Toledo, he now lives in Christiansburg, Virginia and works at Tetra, the Blacksburg, Virginia-based fish food and supply company. At Tetra, Tom makes algae-controlling pond blocks.

“I’m the only one making them, so if you see a Tetra pond block, that’s me,” he said. “I make them in a room, by myself. I love it. We sell a ton of them. I know I make a lot of them.”


Made by Tom Panek

Tom moved to Virginia after meeting his wife, Beth, via an online backgammon game.

“We became friends, I visited her, we dated a little bit and the next thing you know we got married,” he said.


Tom and Beth

“I was a Navy brat,” said Beth, who works in a domestic violence center. “So I said, ‘I’m not moving. If you’re interested in being with me, then come to me.'”

So here we are. All caught up and with Tom about to dig into some funnel cake fries.

img_0081Have at it, Tom.

“They’re good, but not as crunchy as I thought they’d be,” said Tom. “They’re different.”

We then moved on to the nachos.

img_0084“What can you say about nachos?” asked Tom, before proceeding to say something about them. “They’re basic and good. I like when the chips get soggy because the cheese inundates them completely.”

Beth was a big fan of the chicken fingers, saying that they were “really crunchy, with a thick crust and hot, tender chicken. All white meat. They didn’t need sauce. They were flavorful on their own.”

img_0082These, I believe, were called Yankee Fries. They differ from normal fries in that they have a potato chip-like shape as well as eternal dignity and honor of the “Yankees” name.

img_0083I can’t confirm that these Yankee fries were gluten-free, so I shouldn’t have eaten one. I just got caught up in the moment and, hey, we’ve all gotta die eventually.


I would also like to note that I snapped a photo of the team’s collectible cups. This one’s for you, #cupdate aficionados.


Finally, there was dessert. From the following array of ice cream flavors, Tom and Beth selected English Toffee and Classic Cherry.

img_0097Soon enough, check marks on a piece of paper became reality.

img_0096Tom declared the ice cream to be “very tasty, but kind of plain.” Beth said that she was surprised that the English toffee was “a syrup base rather than a topping, but it tastes good.”

Thanks, Tom and Beth, for surveying the Calfee Park culinary scene.



On the Road: A Hit and Run and Hits and Runs in Pulaski

To see all posts from my July 2 visit to the Pulaski Yankees, click HERE. To see all my posts from my June/July 2016 Appalachian League Road Trip, click HERE. To see all my “On the Road” posts, click HERE. If interested in seeing posts covering a visit to a particular team, search for that team’s name in the blog search bar (it’s to your right).

We have now reached the second post in this Pulaski blog series; the ballgame is underway at Calfee Park. But don’t take my word for it, take it from the 1000-word equivalent that is this picture.

img_0101And here’s another picture, for good measure.

img_0104At one point, fairly early in the ballgame, I overheard a snippet of staff member conversation: “Somebody hit the visitor’s bus and drove off, so the police are down there.”

I went “down there” to investigate.

I don’t know if the parking lot bus-smasher was ever apprehended, but I do know that the Pirates were peeved.

I had seen the Bristol Pirates the previous week at their home ballpark of Boyce Cox Field. That game was an error and wild pitch-laden comeback victory over the Greeneville Astros. This game, however, was even wilder. At the end of five innings, the Yanks and the Pirates were knotted 10-10.

img_0105The above is a photo of the Calfee Park videoboard, which I believe is the first videoboard in the history of the Appalachian League. Kevin Cornelius, the man batting at the time, only played 13 games for Pulaski. He compiled a 1.326 OPS and was summarily promoted to Class A Advanced Tampa.

A recurring theme of my Appy League trip was being corrected on my various mispronunciations. It’s “Appa-Latch-in League”, not “Appa-lay-shin League”, for example. And when referring to the “Elizabethton Twins,” make sure to put the emphasis on “Beth.” “Pulaski” is another name I butchered, as I was pronouncing it “Pull-aski.”

Fortunately, Cole the batboy was there to set me straight. Watch and learn:

While the weather earlier in the day had been mediocre at best, it turned out to be a beautiful night for baseball in Pulaski.

img_1839Eventually, I made my way to the “Left VIP Tower.”


While there, I interviewed David Hagan. Hagan and his partner, Larry Shelor, bought the team and the ballpark after the 2014 season. My article about the subsequent turnaround in the team’s fortunes can be found HERE.

img_1846I spoke with David for the better part of an hour, and still there was baseball left to be played. Bristol scored two in the sixth inning to take a 12-10 lead, but the Yankees countered with one in the seventh and two more in the eighth to go up 13-12.

Bristol answered back in the ninth. A sacrifice fly tied it up 13-13 and then Victor Fernandez hit a two-run double to open up a 15-13 lead for the visitors.

The Yankees were not about to go quietly. Isiah Gilliam hit a two-out double, and Cornelius followed with an RBI single. Then, this happened:

A line out to third to end the ballgame.

The 15-14 score conjured memories of the most painful baseball game I ever watched in my life. A tip of the cap to Pulaski media relations intern Jarah Wright, who kept a coherent scorecard throughout the madness.

img_1853After the game I paid a visit to the wall cat, a lawn ornament that has long resided just to the right of the right field foul pole. General manager Blair Hoke told me that the wall cat was removed during stadium renovations and, when it wasn’t immediately restored to its longtime home, “we got more hate mail about that than we did about anything else.”

img_1855Before making a feline for the exits, I wrote and disseminated a Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Joke of the Day.

Good night from a Calfee Park bathroom.


On the Road: Old Becomes New in Pulaski

To see all posts from my July 2 visit to the Pulaski Yankees, click HERE. To see all my posts from my June/July 2016 Appalachian League Road Trip, click HERE. To see all my “On the Road” posts, click HERE. If interested in seeing posts covering a visit to a particular team, search for that team’s name in the blog search bar (it’s to your right).

After the 2014 season, Pulaski’s Appalachian League franchise was in dire straits, and I don’t mean Mark Knopfler’s best known musical project. The franchise had money for nothin’, including much-needed stadium improvements for 80-year-old Calfee Park. The Mariners severed their affiliation when their season ended, and the future looked bleak. Perhaps Pulaski, a longtime Appy League market, would no longer serve as a breeding ground for future sultans of swat.

A dramatic turnaround soon occurred, however, when two local businessmen bought the team and ballpark and spent over $4 million on stadium improvements (and opened a new team hotel, the Jackson Park Inn, in close proximity to the ballpark). The Yankees hopped on board as a new affiliate, and in each of the last two seasons Pulaski has led the league in attendance. For much more on this impressive revitalization, read my article.

I’m a VIP no matter what I do, so of course I had a VIP parking pass. While this pass netted me a good — nay, great — parking space, it also led me to enter the ballpark via this nondescript entrance.

img_0060Really, you’re better off entering via the fortress-like outfield entrance, which gives a much better sense of Calfee Park’s WPA-era roots. This ballpark, built in 1935, is one of the oldest in Minor League Baseball.


Calfee Park is located in a residential area, so parking really is scarce. It also makes fireworks shows an impossibility. The team has its own trolley — originally the Lady Rebecca, rechristened the Yankee Express — which transports fans who had to park in more far-flung locations.


Upon entering the stadium, I was greeted by mascot Calf-E.

img_0062I also ran into dedicated Minor League ballpark traveler Dean Packer, who I last crossed paths with at a West Virginia Black Bears game. He may not look it, but check out his wristband. Dean is over 21.

img_0063I also crossed paths with J.W. Gravely, who covers the Pulaski Yankees (and more) for


I also said hello to two of the Calfee Girls, a new addition to the ballpark’s entertainment landscape.

Meeting the above individuals, combined with the hospitality of general manager Blair Hoke, immediately made Calfee Park seem like a welcoming place. Persistently rainy weather most certainly put a damper on the walk-up sales, but a decent crowd was filing in for some Saturday evening Appy League baseball.


This Wall of Fame illustrates Calfee Park’s long baseball history, and also illustrates how often I am driven to distraction while putting these blog posts together. Did you know? Everett Fagan, the first player who competed at Calfee Park to make the Major Leagues, went 2-7 over 38 appearances with the Philadelphia Athletics. He’s no longer among the living.

img_0070The concession stand, one of many new additions to the ballpark, is located behind home plate. You will not get hit by a foul ball while waiting for your food.

img_0071David Hagan, the main man behind the Pulaski baseball rebirth, also owns the Shelor Motor Mile automobile dealership complex. That explains why the team store looks like this.

img_0072 Out on the field, the players were practicing their dance routines.

img_0073But who needs a ticket to the game when you can watch it from your front porch?

img_1836I have become accustomed to throwing out a first pitch before a game, but on this occasion I was asked to be the “Play Ball Kid.” Or, rather, “Play Ball Man.”

“Okay, Ben, what are the two magic words?” I was asked.

“Free beer!” yelled a fan, before I could respond.

I should have taken a cue from that fan, and repeated his answer into the microphone. Instead, I stuck to the script and yelled “Play Ball!” The next post will detail that which occurred while ball was being played.


On the Road: A Winning Oscar Performance in Bluefield

To see all posts from my July 1 visit to the Bluefield Blue Jays, click HERE. To see all my posts from my June/July 2016 Appalachian League Road Trip, click HERE. To see all my “On the Road” posts, click HERE. If interested in seeing posts covering a visit to a particular team, search for that team’s name in the blog search bar (it’s to your right).

If you want to get some food at a Bluefield Blue Jays game — and who wouldn’t? — then this is the place to get it.

img_0012As for where to eat it, you’ve got options. One strong contender is this beer garden, which was added to the ballpark three years ago. Alcohol at Appalachian League games is, at most locales, a relatively recent phenomenon (two teams, Elizabethton and Princeton, still do not serve it).

img_0011On this pleasant Friday evening, I made the acquaintance of longtime Bluefield baseball supporter Oscar Miller. Oscar was my designated eater for the evening, tasked with consuming the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits.

img_0026Oscar grew up in nearby Bramwell, West Virginia, where he played basketball as a member of his high school’s “Bramwell Millionaires” basketball team. That team is famed for its undefeated 1967 season, which marked the first campaign in which white and black players played together. Oscar told me that, the year previous, neither the all-white or all-black Millionaires team won a game.

As for why this team was called the “Millionaires” in the first place, Oscar explained that, at one point, Bramwell had more millionaires per capita than any town in the United States. This was due to the rapid rise of the coal industry.

Oscar is a veteran of the Vietnam war who went on to serve 11 years in the Air Force, five in the Navy and then, finally, three more “at home” while in the National Guard. After his military career he became what he calls a “jack of all trades,” working all sorts of jobs at locales around the country. At one point he even took care of an elephant.

“I was in Charleston, West Virginia, and I was looking for a job,” he said. “This guy said, ‘Well, do you want to go on the road?’ You just have to feed [the elephant], buy him grain, care for it. The hardest thing was water. You can’t imagine how much water an elephant can drink. Just about a barrel full. But you could put 18 kids on an elephant, and it was two minutes a ride. If you’ve got an elephant, then you’re making money.”

Through it all, Oscar has always been a baseball fan. He called the sport his “first love”, and went on to play right field and, occasionally, pitch as a youth player. His biggest baseball hero is Hank Aaron, and he is a huge fan of the Cleveland Indians. He’s a member of the Bluefield Blue Jays Booster Club, and attends just about every game at Bowen Field.

Tonight, Oscar’s ballpark meal would be a chili dog along with a “Big Whiskey Barbecue Sandwich,” a new offering courtesy of a partnership with Bluefield’s Big Whiskey BBQ.

img_0023Oscar began with the Big Whiskey, which he had never had before.

“I’m surprised, it’s got a bourbon-like taste to it,” said Oscar, whose favorite local barbecue meal is ribs at The Railyard. “There’s a little bit of honey to it and it’s hot. It’s spicy. I’d get it again.”

img_0024Next up was the Chili Dog, an item that Oscar has enjoyed on hundreds (thousands?) of occasions.

img_0025“The chili dogs are delicious, I get ’em every night. And usually a popcorn, water and Gatorade,” he said. “The meat is real beef, and that helps. I don’t want to eat a hot dog if there’s any suspicion that it’s pork. Just beef.”

During the intervals of our time together when his mouth wasn’t full, I enjoyed hearing about Oscar’s various talents and life experiences. He plays the melodica and, on occasion, writes poetry. He proudly showed me his poem, Your World, which originally appeared in the Bramwell Aristocrat newspaper.

img_0028As Oscar and I spoke, I sipped on a soda. And, yes, this soda was in a souvenir cup that I duly photographed for all you #Cupdate aficionados out there.

img_0030As our time together was winding down, Oscar bought a sizable amount of 50-50 raffle tickets.

“You want an arm’s length,” he said.

img_0029“I enjoyed talking to you,” said Oscar, as we parted ways. “[Bowen Field has] got a really good atmosphere, going on for quite some time. It’s always been a place I want to be. It’s a part of life here, I guess you could say.”