Archive for the ‘ Minor League Baseball ’ Category

On the Road: An Old School Field in Burlington

To see all posts from my July 11, 2015 visit to the Vermont Lake Monsters (this is Part One) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my August/September 2015 trip through New England, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE!

Before delving into this post, a bit of clarification is needed: I didn’t visit the Vermont Lake Monsters as part of my end-of-the-season New England road trip. It was a one-off visit that took place July 11, as part of a long weekend in Burlington that was otherwise dedicated to non-Minor League pursuits (including, yes, a Weird Al concert).

But since the Lake Monsters are most certainly a New England-based team, I decided to shoehorn my Centennial Field visit into my ongoing New England ballpark narrative. Therefore, I am writing these Vermont posts as if they were part of the same trip. I mean, they could’ve been.

The Lake Monster play at Centennial Field, one of the oldest professional sports stadiums in the entire country. The ballpark is located across the street from a purple house bearing a tree-obscured message. That message is “Cut consumption, not foreskin.”


Longtime readers of this blog, who may exist, will remember that I’ve written about the above house before. This is because I’ve visited the Vermont Lake Monsters before. The year was 2009, when I was still tentatively dipping my toes into the roiling “exploring America through Minor League Baseball” waters.

Centennial Field is located on the University of Vermont (UVM) campus, behind a soccer field that has also been used for football and lacrosse. UVM teams no longer play on this field, but it is still well maintained.

012After traversing the width of the soccer field, one arrives at the baseball portion of Centennial Field. UVM cut its baseball program in 2009, which led to fears that the Lake Monsters would leave town. UVM agreed to a 20-year lease with the Lake Monsters in 2012, however, at the bargain price of $1 a year.

014Centennial Field was first christened  as such well over a centennial ago, and the grandstand dates back to 1922. No matter how you want to contextualize it, it is the oldest ballpark currently in use by a Minor League Baseball team (others built in the ’20s include Bowman Field in Williamsport and McCormick Field in Asheville). However, Centennial Field didn’t host Minor League Baseball until 1955 and not on a consistent basis until the appearance of the Eastern League’s Vermont Reds in 1984.

018Burlington is a good market for short-season Minor League Baseball, and Lake Monsters owner Ray Pecor is committed to the area. Otherwise, it is a near-certainty that the Lake Monsters would have departed for a city possessing (or constructing) a facility with modern amenities. The team has done what they can to upgrade Centennial Field, with Pecor contributing some $2 million for necessities such as field renovation, a new videoboard, new light towers and much more. Even with a $1 a year lease, running a team out of an ancient ballpark can be an expensive proposition.

One improvement that fans might not notice is that the visitor’s clubhouse is now located underneath the scoreboard. Previously, the players had been housed in this small building on the far side of the adjacent soccer field.


On the evening in which I was in attendance, the videoboard was highlighting the imminent battle of old (the Lake Monsters) vs. new (the visiting West Virginia Black Bears, playing their inaugural season after relocating from Jamestown, New York).

One thing that the teams have in common is that they are both New York-Penn League teams who operate outside of New York and Pennsylvania. Discuss.

021Another thing that the Lake Monsters have in common with the Black Bears is that they, too, began life in the New York-Penn League after relocating from Jamestown. Vermont played its inaugural season in 1994 as the “Expos,” and kept the Expos name through the 2005 campaign (at which point, they were the last professional franchise to bear the Expos name). The “Lake Monsters” appellation was adopted in 2006, a nod to the Loch Ness-like monster that allegedly resides in nearby Lake Champlain. In 2011, after 17 seasons with the Expos/Nationals, the Lake Monsters became an Oakland affiliate. Burlington is only 3,012 miles away from Oakland.

Despite the myriad improvements made to Centennial Field in recent years, it can’t help but maintain a rustic, throwback feel. This is a good thing, and I defy anyone (not involved with player development) to tell me otherwise.

020The concourse, such as it is, runs along the outside of the stadium. Narrow, low-slung pathways lead into the seating bowl proper.

026Outside of one such entrance way, Champ was mingling with his core demographic.

040The concession stands are located in standalone buildings on the other side of the concourse. Team offices are located in separate buildings as well.

029The team’s food offerings can — nay, should — be enjoyed from the picnic area located down the third-base line (there is also a new group area beyond right field — I’ll highlight that in the next post).

036And speaking of the next post, it’s going to be arriving in the very near future. That’ll do it for this one, as the game’s about to start.

Nice “Hello Kitty” backpack, bullpen dude. Here’s hoping that you were able to withstand such a withering attack on your masculinity.


On the Road: On Your Mark, Basnett, Go!

To see all posts from my September 2, 2015 visit to the New Hampshire Fisher Cats (this is Part Three) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my August/September 2015 trip through New England, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE!

At every ballpark I visit, I recruit a designated eater. This individual is tasked with consuming the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits. At Northeast Delta Dental Stadium, the home of the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, that individual was Mark Basnett.

025Mark, an only child born on Christmas Eve, is 12 years old, in seventh grade and lives in Manchester. On the day I met him, the school year had just begun and he was none too happy about it. I think we all know the feeling.

“Trust me, summer is fun,” he said. “When summer’s over it’s like, ‘Boo.’ I don’t want to go back to school.”

Mark, who is autistic, is a regular attendee at Fisher Cats games along with his mom, Kristin. She explained in an email that “He is 12 and typically doesn’t like me around. You know, because I’m Mom.” Accordingly, Mark and I embarked on our designated eating adventures together while Kristin stayed and watched the game from her seat in front of the first base dugout.

I really enjoyed getting to know Mark, and think that you will as well. So, before we move into the meat of the post (so to speak), here are a few facts about Mark.

Favorite Food: Hamburgers “I eat them almost all of summer vacation. They’re my favorite with regular mustard. I hate honey mustard.”

Favorite Drink: Diet Coke “I love it.”

Favorite Restaurant: 99. “It serves good meals.”

Favorite (or at least most unique) Dessert: “One time for Halloween my Mom and Dad and I made a Jolly Rancher sour apple. My Dad melted the Jolly Rancher in a pan. It tasted really good.”

Favorite Movie: Pixels Because it’s like a real-life video game.”

Favorite Book: Diary of a Wimpy Kid “Because it looks hand-drawn. Maybe it is.”

Most Fun Thing He Ever Did: “Go on a Disney cruise. It was in Florida, and it sailed to different places. At the halfway point of the trip it turned around and sailed back.”

Okay, now it’s time to eat. The Fisher Cats have a variety of food choices at their concourse concession stands.

015Mark wasn’t too interested in expanding into uncharted food territory and the Fisher Cats’ concessions generally emphasize the staples anyway. So we stuck to the basics, and started with a cheeseburger.

Burgers, after all, are Mark’s favorite food.

026“Well, it only has cheese and mustard on it,” said Mark. “And meat. And two buns and that’s it.”

A closer look reveals that Mark’s assessment was correct.


“The best cheeseburger is hot sauce and mustard,” Mark elaborated. “But there is no mustard on pizza, because that would be weird.”

Where there’s thunder, there’s lightning. And where’s there’s a cheeseburger, there are fries.

028“I eat fries like a normal human,” explained Mark. “Sometimes I lick the salt off my fingers, which some people think is weird.”

I don’t think that’s weird, Mark. I do the same thing.

030As mentioned earlier, Mark loves Diet Coke. So, of course, he just had to wash down the burger and fries with his favorite beverage.

031“Every time I take a sip of Diet Coke it makes the tears run down my eyes,” said Mark. “The Diet Coke tastes a lot more diet-y than the regular Coke does….Oh, man. I’m hiccuping already.”

I then asked Mark if he was interested in obtaining some dessert. He was.

“Could I have some chocolate chip ice cream? Mom and I once tried to figure it out, how not to spill it, because it was so full.”

That was Mark’s set-up. And here’s the punch line:

“You know what else is gonna be full in 15 minutes or so? This, right here.”

Mark was pointing to his stomach.

So off to the ice cream man it was. The Hood’s ice cream man, specifically. They did not have vanilla chocolate chip ice cream, so Mark had to settle for mint.


Mark, who managed not to spill this oversized offering, said that “the mint is the reason why its minty, and the chocolate chips are the reason that its chocolate chipity.”


And that was it for Mark’s designated eating experience. He thoughtfully insisted on bringing the leftovers to his Mom, explaining that “Now Mom’s kinda gonna be the designated eater.”

And, 12 years old or not, seventh grader or not, he seemed very happy to see her. The feeling was mutual.

035Thanks, Mark. And thanks, Kristin. It was great meeting you both.

On the Road: Wandering Sharks and Airborne Chickens in New Hampshire

To see all posts from my September 2, 2015 visit to the New Hampshire Fisher Cats (this is Part Two) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my August/September 2015 trip through New England, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE!

On September 2 I visited Northeast Delta Dental Stadium, home of the New Hampshire Fisher Cats. Yes, it was a Wednesday evening late in the season. But I was there and I was alive and it’s always good to be alive because if you’re not alive you’re dead.

The Fisher Cats were playing their rivals to the north, the Portland Sea Dogs.

024My pregame wanderings and observations were documented in the previous post. Shortly after the game began, I met up with my designated eater (you know, the individual who eats the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits), and that will be documented in the next post.

So where does that leave us now? How about here, in the Fisher Cats broadcast booth, alongside Tom Gauthier?


I spent an inning on the air with Tom, who came to the Fisher Cats after a stint with the Bowling Green Hot Rods. Here, he sets the scene.

The view from the booth.

037Tom’s current broadcasting partner is Ben Gellman-Chomsky, who last appeared on this blog in a post about the 2014 Winter Meetings.

061Ben and I have long been Twitter pals, at least in part because he is always up for a pun battle. Or always was up for a pun battle, as earlier this month he finally run out of patience with my wordplay compulsions. I think I need to join some sort of pun addiction treatment program.

After visiting the booth, I went back down to the concourse. Shockingly, the view was almost the same as it had been in the broadcast booth. It was just a little lower to the ground.

039I would soon go lower still, all the way into the bowels of the stadium.

040Things always get a little strange in the bowels of the stadium, it’s the Minor League Baseball equivalent of visiting the bottom of the ocean. Giant hamburgers lie in disarray in front of makeshift storage areas, which are guarded by walking bipedal sharks.

041I had entered into this netherworld to gain access to the field, where I would attempt to catch rubber chickens in a bucket. These rubber chickens were thrown at me by a lacrosse stick-wielding man in a chicken mask.


I caught every rubber chicken that the man in the chicken mask flung at me.

047 What a great way to celebrate my 13th birthday. I hadn’t had this much fun since being born in 2002.

050I then walked back up to the concourse and was greeted by a giant, floating carton of milk. This was milk of the people, not of the 1%.

051The milk carton introduced me to his friend, Concourse Tractor, who turned out to be a repository of relevant information.

055Hamburgers, sharks, chickens, chicken-men, giant milk, Concourse Tractor. It was all getting to be a bit much, so I decided to find a quiet place to lay down.

056If there’s one thing I hate, it’s a hot door. So never mind taking a rest, I just kept on walking until I arrived at a deserted corner of the stadium. While within this state of isolation (my preferred state), I wrote and disseminated my Subversive and Groundbreaking Ballpark Joke of the Day.

A subsequent stop at the team store led me to observe that the Fisher Cats were selling apparel bearing the logo of a team that never existed: The New Hampshire Primaries.

IMG_0386The “Primaries” was actually the original name of the team, but after a public uproar the front office powers-that-be capitulated and subsequently decided via a “name the team” contest that an invasive species of mammal known for its wanton slaughter of domestic pets would be a better choice.

I personally love the Primaries team name and logo, and think that it is worthy of bipartisan support. Could that donkey look any smugger?

primariesAnd, yes, lest I forget: There was a game going on.

057It was an extra-inning game, in fact, as my notes helpfully explain that “someone hit a two-run homer to tie it in the ninth.” That someone was Shane Opitz of the Fisher Cats, whose blast over the center field wall tied the game 3-3. The tie score didn’t last long, however, as Manuel Margot singled to lead off the 10th, advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt and scored on a Sam Travis single. This gave the Sea Dogs a 4-3 lead, and this was the final score.

Congrats, Sea Dogs. Please converge into an indistinct heap upon the center of the diamond.

059But please don’t dawdle, as Launch-A-Ball awaits.

“Launch-A-Ball! Not to be confused with Lunchables, which are a delicious meal.” — actual sales pitch for Launch-A-Ball tennis balls that I had heard earlier in the evening.

It was a pretty slow night for Launch-A-Ball, but the show must go on.

060And that did it for my night with the Fisher Cats. Since they’re a Toronto affiliate, does that make them a “Double-Eh” team?


Alright, fine, whatever. I’ll show myself out.

Checking Out the Inn, in New Hampshire

To see all posts from my September 1, 2015 visit to the New Hampshire Fisher Cats (this is Part One) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my August/September 2015 trip through New England, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE!

On Wednesday, September 2, I woke up in a hotel room in Providence. After grabbing a food truck lunch with my friend Jake and taking a short stroll around downtown, it was time to say goodbye — or “biddadoo” as the French say — to Rhode Island. Next up on the ballpark road trip agenda was Manchester, home of the New Hampshire Fisher Cats. Just as the Pawtucket Red Sox are the only Minor League team in Rhode Island, the Fisher Cats are the only team in New Hampshire. They currently enjoy a state-wide monopoly on this whole “Minor League Baseball” thing, and they also enjoy a monopoly in the category of “naming one’s self after an invasive and vicious mammalian species.”


The Fisher Cats play at a facility that is nothing if not awkwardly named: Northeast Delta Dental Stadium. It opened in 2005 (as Fisher Cats Ballpark), one year after the team relocated to Manchester from New Haven, Connecticut.

Upon arriving at the ballpark, which I prefer to refer to simply as “N Double-D S ,” I deposited my car in a lot reserved for VIPs such as myself. This lot was thoroughly protected from any wayward baseballs that might come skyrocketing out of the stadium.

004I did not enter the stadium from this location, however. I traversed from the lot to a sidewalk located behind the outfield fence and began walking toward toward center field. I soon arrived at this Hilton Garden Inn.


At the back end of the hotel’s ground floor, one finds the Pavilion Restaurant. The restaurant’s patio directly faces the N Double-D S playing field. It does not include access to the stadium itself, nor does the stadium provide direct access to the hotel.


009The hotel also offers rooms that look directly onto the field, though I unfortunately did not have access to that particular vantage point. Instead, I retraced my steps back out of the hotel and walked with resolve and confidence toward the main entrance of the stadium.

012The main N Double-D S entrance is at the left field side of the stadium. A staircase leads up and onto the open concourse.


This is the view from behind home plate, with the Hilton Garden Inn as centerpiece. The Hood Milk sign at the far left edge of the shot (I skimmed a little bit off the side) used to reside at Fenway Park in Boston. It is not whole-ly out of place here, make sure to pass your eyes right by it.

IMG_0382 My concourse journey culminated at the far right field side of the stadium.

017In the photo below, note that there is a red cloth draped over the outfield wall. This cloth was covering Chris Carpenter’s number 29, which was to be retired during a pregame ceremony. Carpenter never played for the Fisher Cats, but he’s a New Hampshire native who went on to pitch for the Blue Jays (with whom the Fisher Cats are currently affiliated).

016I also found myself fascinated by the Sign Gallery billboard next to the right field foul pole. It’s like they took elements from three separate billboards and mashed them together into one chaotic whole.

016It was soon time to move from one CSI to another. Corporate Sign Identity gave way to Carpenter’s Speaking Ingagement. (Yeah, I know.)

Carpenter gave a short, gracious speech as his two kids looked on.

IMG_0383Fungo, who may or may not have eyes, approved of Carpenter’s oration.

020Carpenter then ceded his ceremonial first pitch obligation to his son, Sam.

021During the exchanging of the lineup cards, Fisher Cats manager Bobby Meacham was accompanied by 12-year-old Mark Basnett.

022We’ll be seeing more of Mark in the very near future, as he was my designated eater that evening (you know, the individual who consumes the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits.

But, for now, it was time to rise and remove hats for the singing of the National Anthem.

023And, after that, there’s nothing left to do but “Play Ball!”

024What a well-oiled machine this blog is. These posts just write themselves, and that’ll do it for this one. Stay tuned for Part Two from Manchester.

Eating Blount and Sipping Del’s in Pawtucket

To see all posts from my September 1, 2015 visit to the Pawtucket Red Sox (this is Part Three) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my August/September 2015 trip through New England, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE!

The longest baseball game in professional history was played at Pawtucket’s McCoy Stadium. The 33-inning affair began on April 18, 1981, continued into the wee hours of the 19th and was finally, mercifully, completed on June 23. Undoubtedly, this was the most monumental event to ever take place at McCoy Stadium.

The second-most monumental event occurred on September 1, 2015. On that evening, as the PawSox played the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, one Brian O’Connell served as my designated eater.


All designated eaters should have credentials

As designated eater, it would be Brian’s task to consume the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits. As you can see from the above picture, he’s in good shape and doesn’t appear to be the sort of guy who gorges himself on concession stand fare. But he was up for the challenge.

“I’ve got no issues with it at all,” he said. “I ate healthy earlier today, so no worries.”

Brian is a Providence native who now lives in nearby Swansea, Massachusetts. He works out of Providence as a legal admin, and is also a soccer journalist whose work appears on the the website (In my notes this read “,” which would be a good resource for those curious about game times and what not).

Brian’s soccer fandom came about later in life, but he’s been a baseball fan since birth. He played throughout his childhood, and started attending games at McCoy Stadium from the time he was seven years old. He was an intern for the PawSox in 2001, and said that the craziest thing he witnessed that season was this immortal Izzy Alcantara meltdown:

When it comes to their food offerings, the PawSox are significantly less crazy than an enraged Izzy Alcantara. Eric Petterson, the team’s director of concessions, said that the basics are king. Hot dogs, supplied by Kayem, are the number one offering at concourse stands such as these.

020But with all due respect, hot dogs are boring. Brian and I, with crucial assistance from Eric, decided to highlight the PawSox’s regional specialties instead. We began with clam cakes, which Eric called “the quintessential New England fried food. And this is the quintessential way to serve it, in a white paper bag.”

040The clam cakes are supplied by Blount, a Rhode Island-based clam shack with four area locations. The only thing more quintessentially New England than eating Blount clam cakes out of a white paper bag is dipping said clam cakes into a cup of Blount clam chowder.

“It’s way better than the red New York chowder,” said Eric, provincially and accurately. “We started selling it three years ago.”

Brian was excited to try this time-honored combination.

“It’s a good pairing,” said Brian. “The crunch of the clam cakes to go with the thickness of the chowder. It’s like a sauce. One complements the other, perfectly.”

Brian washed down his clam combo with Del’s, a regionally-beloved brand of frozen lemonade. I’m not sure why he looks so concerned about doing this.

043 “Del’s is definitely a southeast New England thing, specifically a Rhode Island thing,” said Brian. “If there’s an official beverage of the state, then it would probably be Del’s. Well, that or coffee milk. I’ve been told that if you go across the state line and ask for coffee milk, they think you’re asking for milk in your coffee. You don’t have to venture far to find people who have never heard of it.”

I was intrigued by this tangent, as I had never heard of “coffee milk” either. And, sorry Del’s, but Wikipedia informs me that coffee milk actually is the official state drink of Rhode Island — “a sweetened coffee concentrate called coffee syrup [added] to milk in a matter similar to chocolate milk.”

We move on from that piece of information to a piece of pizza.

045PawSox pizza is supplied by Portland Pizza, which Brian called “an upgrade over Papa Gino’s.” I’ll let you Rhode Islanders out there (all couple dozen of you) argue that one out.

But no matter what the brand, it’s better to eat pizza off of a plate.


Despite being an upgrade over Papa Gino’s, Brian said that this slice “left a little to be desired.”

“It could have more flavor,” he said. “It could be a little zestier.”

We were gonna call it a night after the pizza, but Eric suggested that Brian eat some fries.

“Nothing’s number one in front of hot dogs, but the shoestring fries are a signature item,” he said. “You can get a lot for not a lot of money.”

049Brian’s appetite only seemed to be growing. He was a voracious eating machine.

050“The fries are always salty, but they’re some of the best around,” said Brian. “They’re crispy and light at the same time. But now I definitely need a drink.”

After taking a hearty swig of Del’s, Brian gave his final thoughts on the PawSox designated eating experience.

“It was great. I didn’t even know about the clam cakes and chowder. Blount’s is somewhat famous and I didn’t expect that it would be here. That was a good move. They are a super local staple.”

Oh, and speaking of super local staples, Brian suggested that the PawSox should offer the Rhode Island specialty that are Coney Island System hot dogs (also known as “New York System” or simply “Hot Wieners”).

“They’ve got to hire one of those guys who lines ’em all up on his arm.”

The future of PawSox concessions? Brian can dream.

Photo: huffingtonpost

Photo: huffingtonpost

Nothing But the Real McCoy in Pawtucket

To see all posts from my September 1, 2015 visit to the Pawtucket Red Sox (this is Part Two) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my August/September 2015 trip through New England, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE!

The previous PawSox post was a lengthy and discursive overview of both team and stadium history, interwoven into a contextualizing “pregame wandering” narrative. No promises, but it is my intent to keep this post — Part Two in the series — short and simple.

It was September 1, 2015 and the PawSox were taking on the Lehigh Valley IronPigs in a Tuesday evening contest. Both teams were out of postseason contention, but the show must go on.

036Let us now take a look to the left. I mean, why not?

037I spent the first several innings of the ballgame in close commiseration with my designated eater (you know, the individual who consumes the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits). That will be documented in the next post.

By the time I returned to the stands, darkness had descended upon us all.

051I then spent the next couple of innings cataloging the observations of longtime PawSox fans dismayed at the team’s proposed move to Providence. Read all about it.

These conversations were followed by a requisite bout of wandering, which eventually brought me to the outfield berm.

054While on the berm, I captured this select snippet of “God Bless America.”

I thought that the above Vine came out really well, and that people on social media would pick up on it, but that didn’t happen. Oh, well. I’m used to it. I’ll just be out here by my lonesome being brilliant, for however long it takes for the world to catch on. I’m like the Melville of baseball bloggers, and while there are distinct downsides to one’s legacy being posthumous it just shows that I’m ahead of my time.

I no longer have any idea regarding what point I’m trying to make here. Do you have any idea, Paws? 056Yeah, me neither. So let’s just move on to a desultory Tuesday night rendition of “Sweet Caroline.”

Seeking the mental clarity that often results from a new perspective, I made a rapid ascendance to the top of the stadium.  058The PawSox were wrapping up a speedy 10-2 victory over the IronPigs. Rich Hill, who I interviewed a decade ago, struck out nine over seven innings and earned the win.

The game may have been over, but the evening would not be complete without a Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Joke.

On the way out of the stadium, I passed through yet another shrine to the long and distinguished history of McCoy Stadium. As mentioned in the last post, this kind of stuff can be found all throughout the ballpark. It is a living museum, in perpetual celebration of itself.

060Outside the ballpark, I spent a few minutes cruising around in a golf cart with PawSox director of security Rick Medeiros.

065Rick, in addition to being a likable and outgoing guy, is a fellow blogger. Check out his “Rollin’ With Rick” blog, which recently dedicated a post to my evening at McCoy. One of Rick’s long term goals is to dethrone me from my #1″MiLB Pro” ranking on MLBlogs, but I’m ready for the fight.

square-upI’m ready for a metaphorical fight, at least. In a real one, Rick would knock me out no problem.

Anyhow, outside in the parking lot after the game, Rick and I kept tabs on the nightly autograph scrum. I’d never seen this before, but the PawSox have established a separate “kid’s only” autograph line. That’s a pretty cool innovation, as it gives them some separation from the middle-aged adults who comprise the majority of the autograph collecting ecosystem.


And that just about did it for my one (and thus far only) evening at McCoy Stadium. On behalf of a faded concourse image of Ernie Whitt, I bid you all goodnight.


On the Rhode in Pawtucket

To see all posts from my September 1, 2015 visit to the Pawtucket Red Sox (this is Part One) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my August/September 2015 trip through New England, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE!

The fourth stop on my fifth road trip of the season marked the first time that my Minor League travels had taken me to Rhode Island. There is only one Minor League Baseball team in Rhode Island, and that team is the Pawtucket Red Sox. The PawSox, as they are often referred to as, have spent the entirety of their existence at McCoy Stadium.

001As you can see in the above photo, McCoy Stadium is located on Ben Mondor Way. Ben Mondor bought the PawSox in 1977, when their financial situation was dire, and turned the team into one of the most well-regarded operations in the industry. Two of his key employees then, Mike Tamburro and Lou Schwechheimer, went on to log decades of service with the club. Tamburro remains the CEO, and Schwechheimer stepped down as vice president following the 2015 season. The PawSox, all the way around, have been a model of consistency. They operate in the league’s oldest stadium, boast its longest-running affiliation and have a front office core that has been with the club for decades.

But nothing lasts forever. Mondor died in 2010 at the age of 85, and this past February his widow, Madeline, sold the team to a Boston Red Sox-affiliated ownership group which immediately announced its intent to move the team to the neighboring city of Providence. To say that this relocation plan has been controversial would be an understatement. Emotions have run high from the start, and everybody in Rhode Island seems to have an opinion. And, usually, it’s been a negative opinion.

The PawSox relocation controversy was front page news on the day that I visited. This machine was  situated just down the street from the stadium.


I’ve written plenty about the PawSox in recent months, including articles (HERE and HERE) that originated during this visit. For a fairly up-to-date recap of the situation, click HERE.

To sum it all up: The Paw Sox will be playing AT LEAST two more seasons at McCoy Stadium, and probably more than that (the current lease expires in 2020). This post and those that follow will simply focus on what it is like to attend a game at McCoy. That’s where I was on this low-key Tuesday evening, and that’s where they’ll be for the foreseeable future.

McCoy is located in a scruffy, largely residential area. AMVETS Post 13 is located just down the street. 004This nearby driveway appears to lead directly into the back of the outfield fence.

005The Right Spot Diner, probably the most visible and best-known business in the immediate vicinity of the stadium, serves three meals and day and specializes in “Hot Wieners.” This is a Rhode Island-specific form of hot dog, which, according to Wikipedia, are also sometimes referred to as “Gaggers.” I went in before the game, sat on the counter, and got a hamburger steak with green beans. It just seemed like the right thing to do.


Moving toward the stadium proper, I was greeted not by a hot wiener but by a cool bear.


The bear’s name is Paws.




Okay, resume:

McCoy Stadium is, in a word, venerable. There is a lot of history here, and much of this history is commemorated within the facility’s hallways, stairways, offices and ramps. I would bet that, taken together, no stadium in Minor League Baseball contains more team-specific memorabilia than does McCoy.

011McCoy’s main entrance is located out toward left field, so one of my first views of the playing field proper came from this vantage point. This is a stadium that immediately felt unique. Even after an extensive renovation (in 1999), there is nothing cookie-cutter about it.


Souvenirs are available on the concourse.

015Many, many souvenirs. There is even an “autograph fishing set,” which, if you don’t already know, will make a lot more sense later in the post.

016On the concourse, one finds an extensive homage to McCoy’s biggest claim to fame. In 1981, the stadium hosted the longest professional baseball game of all time. The game, between the PawSox and Rochester Red Wings, took 33 innings to complete. 32 of these frames were played on April 18 and 19th.


For what it’s worth, here’s what the team’s 1981 program looked like. None of the three players that this boy is dreaming about — Dave Stapleton, Glenn Hoffman, John Tudor — played in “The Longest Game.”

009Another great “McCoy Stadium Moment” occurred in 1999, when Paw Sox outfielder Michael Coleman went 7-for-7 and hit for the cycle in a 25-2 rout of Norfolk. As this sign notes, Coleman “became the first player in the history of professional baseball to go 7-for-7 and hit for the cycle in the same game.” Coleman played 22 games over part of three Major League seasons (1997, 1999, 2001) and didn’t hit for the cycle over the entirety of his MLB career (he collected eight hits, including one double and one home run).

Baseball is a rabbit hole. I’m always getting lost.

022McCoy Stadium is laden with such signifiers of the past. This painting of a sad-looking Rich Gedman, who did play in “The Longest Game, “is located on the ramp leading to the upper level.

023The view from the top of the ramp. Yep, more Paw Sox-related player signage can be seen from here as well.


There is a ramp leading from the upper-level aisle into the press box, which looms above and in front of a section of seating. I don’t think that I’d ever seen that before.


The McCoy broadcaster’s booth, which in 2014 was occupied by Josh Maurer and Will Flemming, has long been a hotbed of future big league talent. I wrote an article about this phenomenon for last offseason (after PawSox broadcaster Jeff Levering was hired by the Brewers), and that article was reprinted in the Paw Sox’s 2015 yearbook.

Pass the mic:


Notable alumni

Every Minor League broadcaster wants to eventually get to the big leagues. But Pawtucket is a good place to be in the interim, as the listening audience is far bigger than the average team’s.


McCoy Stadium also has what is considered to be the best press box spread in Minor League Baseball. Several people told me this, and despite the small sample size I would have to concur. If you work in the Minors, then you know how rare it is to get a healthy, balanced press box meal. What a perk.

I was in attendance during a Tuesday night in September, and just like in Lowell the night before I was told that I had picked one of the worst days of the season to visit. I seem to have a knack for doing such a thing.

But the show, it must go on. It always does and it always will. 028 The dugouts at McCoy are located at field level, directly under the seats (the seating bowl begins 10 feet above the field of play). This unorthodox layout has led to the tradition, seen in the photo below, of placing balls and other memorabilia into milk jugs and buckets for the players to sign. This is why the team store sells an “autograph fishing set.”

On a busy day, dozens of fishing apparatuses would be hanging from the railing as their owners waited for a bite from the players down below. But, again, this wasn’t a busy day. 029The fishing occurs at both dugouts. Note that here, on the visitor’s side, most of the hanging items are baseball card albums. 030Time to reel it in, folks, as the game was about to start. The PawSox, following established (but by no means mandatory) protocol, asked me to throw out a first pitch.

Me, thinking about throwing a perfect strike: pitch1Me, throwing a perfect first strike: pitch2Me, posing with a PawSox player after throwing out a perfect strike. pitch3The Paw Sox do it up right when it comes to first pitches, giving each first pitch thrower a commemorative cap and ball as well as a business card including a link to all of that evening’s pregame photos (which is where I got the three seen above).

After throwing out the first pitch, I was directed back into a corridor and, yes. That corridor was packed with memorabilia. 035Now is as good a time as any to “Paws” this McCoy Stadium saga. Stay tuned for the exciting conclusion, which will appear as soon as humanly possible.

On the Road: Fresh, Hot and Simple in Lowell

To see all posts from my August 31, 2015 visit to the Lowell Spinners (this is Part Three) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my August/September 2015 trip through New England, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE!

Let’s get this requisite introductory paragraph out of the way as quickly and painlessly as possible:

At nearly every ballpark I visited this season, I had a designated eater. These individuals, hardy souls with good appetites all, are tasked with consuming the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits. At LeLacheur Park, home of the Lowell Spinners, my designated eater was Joe Beauregard.

Joe is a real nice guy.

IMG_0453In addition to being a nice guy, Joe is a Lowell native who now lives in nearby Chelmsford. He works in the sporting goods industry, selling products to local youth sports programs, and is a big sports fan himself. He’s also a family man, and two of his three sons were with him at the ballpark: 13-year-old Joey and seven-year-old Braden. (Middle child Jared, 11, opted to stay home).

As for why he wanted to be a designated eater at a Lowell Spinners game, Joe’s answer was simple and inspiring.

“If there’s eating involved, then I can do it. I’ve got the size and I’ve got the ability. I’ve been training all of my life for this opportunity.”

Okay, but what to eat? When it comes to their concessions, the Spinners prefer to keep it simple. In the past they’ve offered regional specialties like lobster rolls and alluring grotesques such as the Homewrecker Hot Dog, but currently their strategy is to focus on the basics and to do the basics well.

In other words: Keep It Simple, Stupid.


The above picture of the Canaligator Cafe was taken earlier in the evening. But it was at this same concession stand — or one just like it — where Joe and I procured an array of food.


First up was the cheesesteak, which in Lowell is apparently called a “Steak and Cheese.” That, to me, is kind of like calling a hot dog a “Dog and Hot,” but whatever.

Steak and Cheese, so be it.

IMG_0447Have at it, Joe. This is your time to shine.

“It’s flavorful. There’s enough cheese and enough steak, so it’s a good steak and cheese,” said Joe, whose logic was impeccable. “I recommend it.”

Alright, then. So how ’bout some garlic fries?

IMG_0448“I like the garlic, it’s got some flavor,” said Joe, a man who likes flavor.

We also got an order of the spicy fries, which were — you guessed it — spicy. Seven-year-old Braden gave one a try, kinda sorta.

IMG_0455Braden looks pretty laid back in that photo, but the only quote I have from him regarding the Spicy Fry experience is anything but laid back: “Spicy! Water!”

Water procured, we then moved on to item number three: A slice of pizza.


Joe, declaring himself a “Chelmsford guy,” immediately pegged this as Sal’s Pizza. Sal’s is a Massachusetts-based chain.

“They do a nice job with North End [Boston], Sicilian-style pizza,” said Joe. “Their’s a Sal’s outside of Fenway, and one in the [TD] Garden.”


Sal, folding in front of the field.

Having recovered from his Spicy Fry experience, Braden posed for a pizza pic alongside his Pops. It turned out great.

IMG_0458Cheese and steak, check. Two kinds of fries, check. Slice from a regionally known pizza chain, check.

All that was left was dessert. For that, we obtained a serving of deep-fried Oreos from a concourse kiosk located behind home plate.

IMG_0459Joey, Joe and Braden. Beauregards enjoying a bite.

IMG_0460“I love the surprise in the middle — the Oreo!” said Joe, apparently forgetting that this item was clearly labeled as a Deep-Fried Oreo. “I mean, fried’s good anyway, but when you get the Oreo? Hello!”

Hello and goodbye, unfortunately, for once dessert is done then what else can there be? Thanks to Joe and his small entourage of friends and family for an enjoyable couple of innings at the ballpark, sampling  the best of the basics.


On the Road: Dancing Ushers and Retiring Icons in Lowell

To see all posts from my August 31, 2015 visit to the Lowell Spinners (this is Part Two) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my August/September 2015 trip through New England, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE!

From the Spinners perspective, August 31 was not an ideal time for me to visit. Not only was it a Monday night, but school was now back in session. And if you know Minor League Baseball, you know that when kids are in school then parents are far less inclined to take them to the game.

But, hey, the show must go on.

IMG_0432UMass Lowell, whose campus is just across the street, was back in session as well. Here, it looks like a small group of students were check out the game for free from the top of an adjacent parking garage.

IMG_0438The Spinners had lost the previous night’s game, as well as three of their past four. Seeking to switch things up, they wore their red road jerseys despite the fact that this, obviously, was a home game.

I’m not sure if Scooby Doo, tasked with throwing t-shirts out of the Spinners’ Mystery Machine, was wearing a jersey at all.

IMG_0433Run-on sentence alert:

Shortly after the game began I was escorted into the bowels of the stadium so that I could suit up as a Minion and then participate in the team’s nightly “Minion Wipeout” obstacle course race.

IMG_0445While in the facility bowels, I passed the time by taking pictures of Hudson Valley Renegade players in the on-deck circle. Between them and me was some sort of waste bin.

IMG_0441As for the Minion Wipeout, it entailed running through cones and running over a balance beam and dodging water balloons as well as over-sized  boxing gloves. I’m not sure if the race was documented but please know that I won and, thus, the greatest minion of all time.

Costumed tomfoolery was also taking place on the concourse. This dragon attended the game along with a local martial arts academy, whose students had given a pregame performance.

But one doesn’t necessarily need a costume in order to draw attention to his or herself. This is Bob the Dancing Usher, who stays true to his name on a nightly basis. By dancing.

Bob,a Vietnam veteran, spent 30 years working for the Marblehead (Massachusetts) post office. He said that he began dancing on the dugout in 2005 or 2006, “on a whim.”

“I just got up there and got everyone clapping,” he said. “I just love it. I’ll yell, I’ll clap, I’ll scream. And I’m an old man. I’m 69….I’m bragging a little bit, but when people call the box office they’ll say ‘Hey, I want to sit in Bob’s section.’ Hey, if it sells tickets, it sells tickets!”

Bob, getting ready to dance:

IMG_0341 Bob, not dancing.

IMG_0470I also spent some time speaking with the one and only Dogman, longtime Spinners clubhouse manager (and former hot dog vendor) who retired at the end of the 2015 season.

IMG_0464I wrote a story about the origin and evolution of Dogman for You can read the story HERE, which includes one of Dogman’s favorite jokes to tell the players:

“I just tell ’em, I tell ’em, ‘Hey! The Red Sox are gonna change their name this year, to the Nylons. They’ll get more runs!'”

And since I’m on the topic of long-time team employees — Tim Bawmann, Spinners general manager, was celebrating his 50th birthday. The team’s new videoboard wished him well.

IMG_0461Tim celebrated his birthday by doing laundry in the visitor’s clubhouse until four in the morning (true story).

It is definitely a season of transition for the Spinners. In addition to Dogman, longtime Spinners media relations director Jon Boswell has moved on to a job at the UMass Lowell. I wish Jon well, but it’s a bummer that he’s no longer in the world of Minor League Baseball.

Oh, and the Spinners are currently for sale. Drew Weber, who has owned the team since its 1996 inception, wants to spend more time with his grandchildren in New York.

Meanwhile, returning to the on-field action of August 31:

The Spinners must have been thinking of changing their name to the Nylons. After eight innings, they were down by a score of 12-6.

IMG_0465I wouldn’t call a six-run deficit a “blowout”, but it was a wide enough lead that the Spinners decided to conserve the bullpen and have a position player pitch the ninth. That position player? First baseman Tucker Tubbs.

I spent a few minutes eavesdropping on Tubbs as he warmed up, and he continually mentioned that his “breathing was off.” But once he got out there, Double-T did all right. Though he allowed three singles, no Renegades crossed the plate in the frame and Tubbs is now the proud owner of a 0.00 ERA as a professional pitcher.

When it comes to my “Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Joke of the Day,” I am the proud owner of a 1.000 batting average.

And that just about did it for my night with the Spinners. The Renegades won the game, youthful fans ran the bases, tennis balls were tossed at various targets and then everyone went home.

IMG_0469Goodnight from LeLacheur Park, a place where you can read the media notes while using the urinal.

IMG_0322I remain number one,

On the Road: Milling About in Lowell

To see all posts from my August 31, 2015 visit to the Lowell Spinners (this is Part One) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my August/September 2015 trip through New England, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE!

The third stop of my end-of-season jaunt through New England was Lowell, home of the Spinners. I’d been here before. Twice, in fact. The first was in 2009, when I was but a young man and still figuring out this whole “traveling America through Minor League Baseball” thing. I used the occasion of a family wedding in New Hampshire to rent a car and drive to Lowell, marking the first time I’d ever visited a ballpark specifically as “Ben’s Biz.” That was six years and 30 pounds ago.


2009 file photo from my trip to Lowell

I next visited Lowell in 2012, this time accompanying my pal Zack Hample (yes, that Zack Hample) as he attempted to set the World Record for catching a baseball dropped from the highest, uh, height. During that visit, I dressed up as both a toothbrush and a boxing donut. That was three years and 30 pounds ago.

2012Which brings us to this present narrative, featuring me at my oldest and fattest. LeLacheur Park, home of the Spinners, is still looking good, though.

IMG_0416LeLacheur Park’s brick facade is consistent with Lowell’s dominant architectural theme. During the industrial revolution the city was a major hub of textile production — the Spinners name is a reference to the process by which yarn is produced — and many of the mills are still standing. Some have been converted into lofts and retail establishments and the like.

The stadium is located across the street from UMass Lowell. I attended the game on Monday, August 31, and school was back in session. This meant that parking was more scarce than usual, but what can you do? (To assist with the situation, Spinners gameday employees were stationed in the vicinity of the ballpark wielding “Ask me about free parking” signs.)

IMG_0419Upon entering the stadium, I immediately faced the sun and took a picture.

IMG_0421It’s probably better not to face the sun. Here’s the view from the third base side, complete with background smokestacks. Note, also, the train parked on the warning track, which is available for free pre-game rides.


A closer look at the view beyond right field.


This sign, posted on the concourse, highlights what may have been the greatest moment in New York-Penn League history. (It’s fitting that this occurred in the NYPL, or “Nipple,” league.)


Udderly ridiculous.

I also spotted this dry cleaning ad on the concourse. Subliminal advertising, or is it just me?


I soon ran into Spinners general manager Tim Bawmann, who told me to get my camera out and document what he was about to do. What he did was this.

IMG_0420Tim is hugging his 17-year-old son, Elijah, who was manning a concourse ice cream stand. Hugging Elijah was a pregame ritual this season for Tim, and getting hugged by Tim was a pregame ritual for Elijah. (Incidentally, Tim was celebrating a milestone birthday on this low-key Monday evening. The big 5-0.)

The Spinners really are a family affair. The team’s three mascots — Canaligator, Allie-Gator and Millie-Gator — are husband, wife and child. When this mascot family was introduced prior to the game, Allie pushed out Millie in a wheelbarrow. I don’t think there was a reason for this. Why would you need a reason?

IMG_0428In the above photo, one can see a portion of the “Foul Ball Fun Zone” located in left field. It includes a strong assemblage of various games and attractions.

IMG_0436Panning out a bit, note that the Foul Ball Fun Zone is located adjacent to the No Fun Dumpster Zone. Eagle-eyed observers will see that Dogman, the Spinners iconic clubhouse manager, is lurking amid the dumpsters. Dogman will be featured in the next post.

IMG_0435Speaking of the next post, it’s coming soon! Hopefully it will be a high-energy affair, sorry that this one was a little Lowell.


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