Archive for the ‘ Dailies ’ Category

Start Spreading the News

On February 6th, a Broadway play by the name of “Bronx Bombers” opened at Circle in the Square Theatre. As you can probably infer, this play is about the New York Yankees.

Bronx Bombers poster by Mark Ulriksen

The play, written and directed by Eric Simonson, is an exploration and celebration of that ineffable Yankee mystique. Yogi Berra (played by “Bosom Buddy” Peter Scolari) is the play’s central character, and the likes of Reggie Jackson, Billy Martin, Lou Gehrig, Elston Howard, Joe Dimaggio, Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle and Derek Jeter also play key roles.

Battiste, Wilson, Wernke, Coffey, Dawes, Nobbs- Primary Stages

Reviews thus far have been generally positive, but Broadway tickets don’t sell themselves (not yet, anyway, as the advent of ticket sentience is likely decades away). Among myriad marketing efforts, those promoting the show have reached out to local Minor League teams and set up special nights at the theater for front office and fans. Veteran sports PR executive Joe Favorito has been helping to coordinate these efforts, and he explains that “we have set up co-promotions where season [ticket holders] get discount tickets for a special night. The night includes a chance to meet the cast and in turn we will do some special events with our cast at ballparks this summer.”

Favorito is still coordinating with some of the Minor League teams in the area, but two who have already sent their fans to the theater are the Trenton Thunder and Staten Island Yankees. Both are Yankees affiliated, but the SI Yanks were a particularly good fit considering that they are based in NYC and known colloquially as “The Baby Bombers.”

Here’s Staten Island mascot “Scooter the Holy Cow” mingling in the lobby:

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In this shot, SI Yanks director of entertainment Michael Katz directs theater attendees to the entertainment that can be found at Staten Island Yankees games.

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This seems like a cool way to engage with and reward loyal MiLB team ticket holders, while also promoting the team to a baseball-friendly audience. What’s not to love?

On a personal level, I had the opportunity to see Bronx Bombers while it was in previews. I’m not a Yankees fan, so I went into it a little skeptical that it would be nothing but a smug and one-dimensional celebration of a team that, quite frankly, has already been celebrated enough. Yankee fans are clearly the target audience, but the show took enough risks as regards structure and setting that I was intrigued throughout. And the performances are across-the-board solid; in addition to Scolari as Yogi I also enjoyed Francois Battiste as a swaggering and imminently fashionable Reggie Jackson and Bill Dawes as a reckless but endearing Mickey Mantle

I didn’t walk out of the theater thinking it was one of the best plays I’d ever seen, and, yes, it is a little schmaltzy and sentimental at times, but overall I’d recommend to anyone whose interests include any sort of overlap between theater and baseball.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

The Marking of Momentous Milestones

Every day is the anniversary of something. For example, one year from today will mark the anniversary of this post, which is, not coincidentally, about anniversary logos. You all love anniversary logos, right? I don’t — “mildly enjoy” would better describe my feelings — but a job’s a job so here we go.

2104 marks the Everett’s 20th season as a Mariners affiliate as well as their 31st season in the Northwest League. The latter of the two accomplishments is the focus of this logo, designed by the renegade maverick firebrand rebel iconoclasts that are Brandiose.

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The press release says:

The new emblem incorporates the AquaSox current color scheme along with a hint of orange in recognition of the team’s previous affiliation with the San Francisco Giants. The franchise was known as the Everett Giants for 11 seasons (1984-1994) before becoming the Everett AquaSox prior to the 1995 season.

Later, the press release was compelled to report this non-essential but rather interesting bit of information:

Nearly 30 years ago, on June 19, 1984 at Everett Memorial Stadium, the Everett Giants took the field for the first time led by manager Rocky Bridges. Before an overflow crowd of 3,527 – Bellingham defeated Everett 10-5. Since then, nearly 2.7 million fans have come to Everett.

And did you know? Pitcher Terry Mulholland made his professional debut as a member of that 1984 Everett team, marking the first of what would be 23 professional seasons. Mulholland is the only player in baseball history to have pitched for the 1984 Everett Giants and the 2006 Tucson Sidewinders, a fact that will get you everywhere in life.

And while I haven’t been everywhere, I have been to Everett. Click HERE and HERE for a good chunk of the coverage I provided while visiting the AquaSox.

18 hours and 53 minutes after receiving information regarding the AquaSox, I was hit with the following:

Lake Elsinore, CA – On April 15, 1994 the Lake Elsinore Storm opened its gates to the community and Southern California. This season on Opening Night, April 10, the organization will commence a 20th Anniversary celebration at The Diamond that promises to be special.

The 20th Anniversary Logo commemorates two decades of baseball in Lake Elsinore and will be displayed on game jerseys, team hats and the infield grass, as well as throughout the community with a 20th Anniversary poster.

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I can’t wait for the 30th anniversary logo…

Unlike the AquaSox, the Storm press release did not include any information on the first game in franchise history. While I do not have access to that information, I can tell you that among the members of the 1994 storm was one Kevin Flora. The very next season, Flora became one of five players named “Kevin” to play for the Philadelphia Phillies (Elster,  Jordan, Sefcik, and Stocker) were the others.  Jim Fregosi managed that team — RIP.

While I don’t know anyone named Kevin personally, I did visit the Lake Elsinore Storm in 2011. Read all about that HERE, and then read this piece on the origins of the team’s logo (among the top-sellers in all of Minor League Baseball).

Earlier this week I duly tweeted out both of the above logos, and soon enough I was hipped to the existence of other, quite similar, entities.

I have seen no further information regarding the Bees’ 20th anniversary plans, but let it be known that the team was called the Salt Lake Buzz from 1994-2000 and then the Stingers from 2001-05 before, perhaps inevitably, transitioning to the Bees moniker. The 1994 Buzz club included a 21-year-old LaTroy Hawkins, who returned to Salt Lake in 2012 on a rehab assignment.

I have never been to Salt Lake, but I have visited a team called the “Bees.” Click HERE to read about it.

Twitter is good at generating buzz, and the Tampa Bay Yankees soon chimed in with the following:

That 1994 Tampa Yankees squad featured Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter, but more importantly, there’s this: One year prior to playing for a Major League team that included four other players with the same first name, Kevin Elster appeared in three games as a member of the Tampa Yankees.

It’s a beautiful place, this world.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Winter Meetings Job-Seeker Journal: Ian Fontenot, the Exciting Conclusion

Throughout the 2013 Winter Meetings in Orlando, four attendees of the PBEO Job Fair kept a journal chronicling their employment-seeking experiences (meet them all HERE). The last time we heard from Ian Fontenot was on December 11, when he expressed a cautious optimism in regard to landing a “full-time marketing opportunity” with an unidentified Minor League club. Now, two months later, he has checked in one final time. Read on to find out where Ian will be working in 2014, and how it all came about. 

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Hello, all. When I last created a journal entry two months ago, I left you with a bit of a cliff hanger as to where I’d end up after an exciting and stressful Winter Meetings experience. I took a big risk and gave up a great internship opportunity to pursue what I deemed to be a perfect fit for what I was looking for when I arrived in Orlando: a full time position.

Since declining my two internship offers from the Winter Meetings, I graduated from LSU and moved back home to Port Barre, LA to wait out the decision-making process and sell myself to more organizations. As I continued the interviews with my prospective full time job, I got more calls and emails for more internships. I got a few more offers, which added to the risk of waiting for a final answer from the job I wanted. I basically reached the point of no return as I turned down another perfect internship to continue the wait. (I won’t name any teams, but let’s just say I’d be living on the beach for the next several months.) Then, I got the call I had been waiting for.

Exactly two months from the date of my first interview with the team, I received an offer to become the newly created Marketing Manager for the Staten Island Yankees. And of course, I accepted…after a grand total of seven interviews and a trip to Richmond County Bank Ballpark, which has the absolute best view of the Manhattan skyline. In less than two weeks, I’ll be starting a chapter of my life in New York. Coming from the smallest of towns in Louisiana, I know this is going to be one hell of a transition, but I couldn’t be more excited for the challenge. More than anything, I’m relieved that the numerous risks I’ve taken since leaving Orlando have paid off, because if not, I’d be writing to you explaining the opportunity cost of taking risks with your future.

If I have any advice for future job seekers in professional baseball, it would be to always keep your head up during your search. When I signed up to attend the Job Fair, I was hoping for the best, but certainly didn’t expect to be offered the opportunities I was presented. At the Winter Meetings, anything can become possible if you’re prepared for it.

Congrats to Ian on landing the job! I’ll make sure to visit him in Staten Island this summer. 

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Don’t Have a Cow, Man

“It wasn’t something that I was planning on, it just sort of happened.”

Those words can be applied to many life situations, from the momentous to the exceedingly trivial, and those words certainly applied to how I spent last Friday afternoon. Taking place firmly within the realm of the exceedingly trivial, I found myself embroiled in a Twitter beef — a literal beef, as it were — with Visalia Rawhide mascot Tipper T. Bull. It all started innocently, with this tweet from the Rawhide:

Because I have a distinct propensity for indulging in bad jokes whenever possible, I replied with the following:

Tipper was less than impressed with this remark, and expressed his disdain thusly:

OKAY, IT’S ON!

At this point I kind of wanted to end it, as Tipper’s tweet was written so definitively. But then I thought, to myself: “You’re 35 years old, an ostensible professional and nominally an adult, and you’re going to let a Class A Advanced bovine mascot have the last word in a Twitter battle? That’s not the kind of man you were raised to be.”

And that’s where it ended. While me vs. Tipper might not have been Aces vs. RiverCats in the MiLB Twitter fight pantheon, it did provide a pleasant diversion throughout the course of an offseason afternoon. And as for Tipper, I’m just going to assume that we’re friends again. The beef has already been squashed.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

The Most Popular Blog Post of All Time

During my recent run of bouillabaisse blog posts, I took the time to parse the “Year in Blogging” report that I had recently received from WordPress. For the purposes of today’s post, I’d like to return to the following excerpt:

[T]he 2013 Year-End Blogging Report…included the following information regarding the search terms that led people to visit Ben’s Biz: “Some visitors came searching, mostly for canadian tuxedo, ben’s biz blog,bens biz blog, skateboard, and brett favre.” The lesson here is that a picture of Brett Favre in an all-denim outfit riding a skateboard would be blog traffic gold. Can someone doctor one up for me?

I am happy to report that not one, but two, someones indeed doctored one up for me. Posting them here will drive my traffic to stratospheric new levels, insuring that I remain the most influential and indispensable blogger in Minor League Baseball history. This one is courtesy of Wisconsin Timber Rattlers creative director Ann Mollica, who, among other accomplishments, played a huge role in making the world aware of the Whitewall Ninja.

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And this one is courtesy of a mysterious Twitter entity, known as @AizersWallet.

Favre_AizerswalletMy sincere thanks to Ms. Mollica and Mr. AizersWallet for their photoshopped efforts on my behalf. And I thank you, random internet Google searcher, for your fleeting visit to Ben’s Biz Blog. Before you leave, please take a moment to recognize that I am the greatest and also most underrated baseball writer of all time.

Thank you.

You know what else drives the eyeballs to this little slice of the internet landscape? Rhetorical questions.

But since I don’t have any material related to that particular topic, I’ll instead hit you with some logo news. Late last month, the polarizing but undoubtedly influential “ideas company” that is Brandiose announced the final re-branding of what had been a very busy offseason (Akron RubberDucks, El Paso Chihuahuas, Inland Empire 66ers, Vermont Lake Monsters, and more that I am probably forgetting as I sit here typing stream of consciousness-style).

Forthwith, the Vancouver Canadians will sport this updated look (note the “V” hidden within the leaf):

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 On the topic of “new logos with cool hidden elements,” here’s the Brooklyn Cyclones’ 2014 New York-Penn League All-Star Game logo:

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Even cooler are the jerseys that will be worn during the All-Star Game, which feature “the names of EVERY Player who made it from the NYPL to the Major Leagues watermarked into the pattern.”

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And, finally, how about a logo for a team that doesn’t officially exist yet? If all goes according to plan, the Huntsville Stars will move to Biloxi in time for the 2015 season. This fledgling Southern League franchise, a Brewers affiliate, does not yet have a name. But it does have a website, and the website includes this logo:

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Seeing those two B’s together reminds me that I need an official “Ben’s Biz” logo. Please, feel free to send over your prototypes.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Return to the Road: A Three-Sided Midland Perspective

Thus far, this ongoing “Return to the Road” series has highlighted outside-of-the-ballpark trip highlights from Appleton, WI to Beloit, WI (but barely) to Midland, MI. Midland is where we are going to remain, as we begin today’s fourth and final post in the series.

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I awoke in Midland on Wednesday, June 26, and had a little bit of time to explore after checking out of the hotel. After all, that evening’s destination of Lansing (home of the Lugnuts) was just a short drive away. My partner in these explorations was writer Matt LaWell, who shadowed me during this trip as part of a book he is writing on Minor League Baseball. We began in downtown Midland, which included the periodic table-influenced “H Hotel” and its attendant eateries “Table restaurant” and the “Zinc Cafe.”

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The heart of downtown Midland, and certainly its most recognizable landmark,  is “The Tridge,”

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The Tridge, built in 1981, is what its name implies: a three-way bridge (built at the confluence of the Tittabawassee and Chippewa Rivers). A Farmer’s Market is located nearby (it wasn’t open on the day I visited), and a variety of cultural events are held in and around this area as well. It’s all very scenic and well-maintained, and we were fortunate enough to have visited on a beautiful day.

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This statue, simply title “Couple,” features its titular individuals gazing upon the Tridge in perpetuity.

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After a little bit of wandering, we came upon the similarly-titled “Family.”

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Unfortunately, a certain subset of Midland’s public statue-viewing public can’t keep their hands to themselves.

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A little bit of local history, courtesy of a rock.

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These idyllic early afternoon wandering were much enjoyed, but soon enough it was time to depart not just the Tridge but Midland itself. Farewell county courthouse, I hardly knew ye!

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From here on out, my outside-of-the-ballpark content from this week-long Midwest League excursion is exceedingly minimal. As previously mentioned, I attended that night’s Lansing Lugnuts game (and wrote about it HERE and HERE and HERE). Unfortunately, there was no time to explore Lansing proper, as I had to get up bright and early the next morning in order to appear on Grand Rapids radio. That was the first act in what turned out to be a full-to-bursting West Michigan Whitecaps experience, which was chronicled HERE and HERE and, yes, even HERE.  My time with the Whitecaps turned out to be so full-to-bursting that I didn’t get any real chance to explore Grand Rapids, either, although on the way out of the city Matt LaWell and I stopped at an eatery recommended by then-Lansing Lugnuts broadcaster Slavko Bekovic.

This eatery was called “The Winchester.” As a Brooklyn resident, I am quite familiar with this sort of establishment: a locally-sourced nouveau American bistro with self-consciously hip sensibilities.

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Here’s a picture of Matt LaWell at the bar. I only wish his well-manicured mustache was visible, as well-manicured mustaches are just the sort of thing one would expect to see at such an establishment.

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If you’ve got $40 to spend on a hamburger, then you’re everything that is wrong with America. But if this is wrong, maybe you don’t want to be right….

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All in all the Winchester had a very impressive menu, and “GF” designations are always much appreciated by celiac disease-afflicted individuals such as myself.

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An order of chicken wings and polenta fries turned out to be way more food that I bargained for.

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Sorry for the anti-climax, but this is all I’ve got and my Midwest League 2013 content well is now officially dry. (From Grand Rapids it was on to South Bend and my time visiting the Silver Hawks was chronicled HERE and HERE. Unfortunately, time constraints were such that no explorations of South Bend proper were able to take place.)

Therefore, this particular “Return to the Road” series is going to end with a picture of chicken wings and polenta fries. Isn’t that always the case?

In any case —  I’ll “Return to the Road” again before the offseason is through, in order to cover August’s trip to the West Coast. Gotta milk the material for all it’s worth!

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Return to the Road: A Well En-Dow-ed Afternoon in Midland

It’s time for another installment of “Return to the Road,” in which I, yes, return to the road in order to further elaborate on that which was experienced during my 2013 Minor League road trips. Part one of this episodic adventure covered Appleton, WI, part two covered Beloit, WI (however fleetingly), and today will cover Midland, MI (home of the Great Lakes Loons).

bens_map_2013_ha1isac9I spend the entirety of Tuesday, June 24 in Midland, giving me plenty of time to explore the city before attending that evening’s Loons game. Often when I  find myself in this type of situation, I look up the location of a local record store and orient my wanderings from there. But this time was different, as Loons vice president of marketing Chris Mudhenk had magnanimously set up an afternoon itinerary of local cultural destinations.

I wrote a story on all of this for MiLB.com, but in the interest of redundancy and copious photo-dumping I will recap it here as well. First up was the Alden B. Dow Home and Studio.

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From the MiLB.com piece:

In many ways, Midland is synonymous with Dow Chemical, as Herbert Henry Dow established the company there in the late 19th century, and its headquarters have remained there ever since.

Herbert’s son Alden was a disciple of Frank Lloyd Wright who went on to enjoy a distinguished architectural career, and for the last 50 years of his life he lived and worked in a whimsical yet geometrically precise house — constructed largely with one-foot square “Unit Blocks” recycled from the chemical company — that has since been designated a National Historic Landmark.

Pictures weren’t allowed inside the house, but these outdoor images help to illustrate the spirit of pragmatic whimsy which infused Dow’s work.

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Next up was the Midland Center of the Arts, beginning with a stop at the Alden B. Dow Museum of Science and Art. Again, from the MiLB.com piece:

The Midland Center for the Arts is a cultural consortium, a one-stop humanities shop in which “art, science, history, music, theatre, dance, films, camps, classes and professional world-class entertainers live under one roof.” The building housing these complementary entities was designed by none other than Alden B. Dow and is anchored by the four-story Alden B. Dow Museum of Science and Art.

Assistant marketing director Kristen Wuerfel gave me a brief after-hours tour of the facility, passing by attractions such as a mastodon skeleton, an interactive periodic table of the elements and a full-size farm tractor en route to a fourth floor “Icons of the Sky” exhibit featuring the Lego architecture of Adam Reed Tucker.

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Next door to the museum is the Dow Gardens. For the last time, an excerpt from my MiLB.com piece:

This 110-acre sanctuary was developed by Herbert [Dow], expanded upon by Alden, and now maintained via the Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow Foundation. Amid the impeccably maintained expanses of grass, curved pathways and idyllic waterways are a variety of sculptures, many of which are installed temporarily. Dow Gardens assistant director Elizabeth Lumbert explained, “Our visitors might not like everything they see, but the art helps people see the landscape in a fresh way.”

Dow Gardens [then featured] an exhibit titled “Zimsculpt,” which highlights work done by Zimbabwean artists.

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Not a bad way to spend an afternoon; those considering visiting Midland in order to see the Loons should know that they’ll have plenty to do beforehand. My evening was spent at the Loons game, of course, and you can read about that experience HERE. But if I had to sum it all up in one photo, then that photo is this.

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There will be one more “Return to the Road” post next week. After that, other topics will be explored. I’m just not sure what, so let me know if you any suggestions or perhaps want to write a guest post. Like a produce stand sold out of everything except corn, I’m all ears.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Return to the Road: Odds and Ends from Southernmost Wisconsin

My previous “Return to the Road” post, dedicated to all that was seen and done during an afternoon in Appleton, was a bit of an anomaly. Appleton was the only city on this late June Midwest League road trip in which I attended two ballgames, and therefore I had more time to explore. For the remainder of the trip time was much more of an issue, so I was unfortunately unable to immerse myself in the local sights and sounds to the extent that I did in Appleton.

But do not despair, banal rhyming fans, as I’ve still got more to share! I woke up on Sunday, June 22, in Appleton, and my last order of business in that fine city was to post a Road Trip Hotel Room Review on Vine. It was then time to drive south to Beloit, so that I could attend that afternoon’s Snappers game at Pohlman Field.

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My post on the Beloit Snappers experience can be read HERE, and over on MiLB.com I wrote an article on centenarian mainstay Grace Phillips as well as one on the incredible phenomenon that was the “Whitewall Ninja” (part two of my shoulda-been-award-winning “Bullpen Trilogy,” which began with the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers and later continued on the Lansing Lugnuts).

I spent Sunday evening across the state line, in South Beloit, Illinois, but traversed back into Wisconsin on Monday afternoon in order to visit Midwest League headquarters in downtown Beloit. Long-time president George Spelius works out of a nondescript office located next door to a local insurance provider, across the street from the flower shop that he runs with his wife and daughter. (I wrote a story about the Speliuses, which can be read HERE.)

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001Unfortunately my camera had some sort of conniption when I tried to photograph Spelius in his office. This here is the best I’ve got.

002After my brief visit with the Spelius clan I drove over to the Rodeway Inn, which I had been told is one of the more “colorful” team hotels in the Midwest League. While I didn’t get to stay there this time around, I paid my respects and got a meal at the attached “Road Dawg” restaurant.

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This seemed to be the sort of thing one orders while dining at such an establishment:

006Snappers baseball, as promoted via a Rodeway Inn urinal ad. (Side note: please send me any and all photos you may have of Minor League Baseball urinal ads).

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Adjacent to the Rodeway Inn was the Cornellier Superstore, the sort of roadside tourist trap that I can never resist visiting.

009 The back side of the superstore featured this amazing confluence of signage, which sums up Wisconsin pretty well.

008While I didn’t procure any cheese, I did buy this assortment of fortifications for the road.

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It was now time to make the long drive to Midland, MI, but not before one final attempt at documenting parking lot quirkiness.

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Goodbye, Beloit — I hardly knew ye!

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The rest of this pleasant summer Monday in late June was spent driving to Midland, a drive made more enjoyable once I was able to pick up the broadcast of that evening’s West Michigan Whitecaps game. Once in Midland I met up with writer Matt LaWell, who shadowed me for the rest of the trip as part of his book on the sexiest individuals working in Minor League Baseball (or at least that’s what I hope the book is about). We watched the tail-end of the Stanley Cup finals, got a late dinner at Buffalo Wild Wings (plenty of gluten-free options!) and made plans to meet early the next afternoon so that we could tour the city of Midland.

And, yes, that’s what the next post in this rollicking saga will be about. It will be a fair to Midland effort.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Return to the Road: Ample Opportunities in Appleton

With that recent spate of bouillabaisse posts now complete, I can now return with an unencumbered mind to my favorite of all blogging topics: the road.

I went on three Minor League Baseball road trips during the 2013 season, during which I documented the ballpark experience as thoroughly as I was able. But, of course, the beauty of a Minor League Baseball road trip is that it gives one the opportunity to explore not just the ballpark, but the city itself. And that’s simply what these “Return to the Road” posts are — an offseason opportunity for me to re-visit my 2013 road trips by highlighting that which was seen and experienced outside of the ballpark.

In November I wrote three “Return to the Road” posts, covering May’s “Southern Swing’ trip. The next series of posts will cover late June’s Midwest League meanderings, which began on June 21 in Appleton, Wis. and ended one week later in South Bend.

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On Friday, June 21, I attended a Wisconsin Timber Rattlers game and wrote about it profusely in a two-part blog post (Part One) (Part Two) as well as an indispensable MiLB.com piece that turned out to be part one of the much-lauded “Bullpen Trilogy.” I spend the entirety of Saturday, June 22, in Appleton as well, meaning that I had plenty of time to explore the city before heading back to what is now “Neuroscience Group Field at Fox Cities Stadium.”

As everyone knows, the best way to explore a new city is with the assistance of a trusted local. For me, that individual was Brew Crew Ball proprietor Kyle Lobner, who picked me up at the hotel bright and early (by my standards) Saturday morning. First up was a visit to Appleton’s weekly Farm Market. The Farm Market runs from June through October, and gray skies did not deter our journey.

“In Wisconsin you eat fresh while you can, because the growing season is not very long,” said Loebner, who, in addition to writing about the Brewers, serves as an alderman.

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As many of you know, a 2012 celiac disease diagnosis forced me to convert to a gluten-free diet. Well, one thing I learned during this meandering Saturday is that Appleton accommodates gluten-free diets to a degree rarely seen in Minor League markets. Gluten-free or not I’m generally not one for sweets, but when in Rome…

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Lobner was a strong proponent of the Kangaroostaurant, a “cookery on wheels.” In addition to being popular with Milwaukee-centric baseball bloggers such as  Lobner, the Kangaroostaurant is also patronized by pregnant women and young outdoorsy beardos.

008 It is also enjoyed by me! Gluten-free breakfast sandwich!

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Downtown Appleton was a pleasant place to be, and after getting breakfast Lobner and I strolled around for a bit. While I don’t have a picture of Appleton City Hall, I was informed that it is located in the top floor of an old department store building. That’s not quite as cool as Appleton’s History Museum, which is located in a castle.

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And this is not just any castle-cum-history museum, mind you. It is a non-perishable castle-cum-history museum.

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Some random items from my notebook, most likely gleaned through conversations with Lobner but possibly the result of gluten-free breakfast sandwich fever dreams:

– Appleton was the first city with hydroelectric power.

– Fox River is the largest north-flowing river in the United States.

– Former MLB reliever Jack Taschner is now a member of the Appleton police force.

And, for the records, downtown Appleton now boasts a store specializing in vinyl. It’s called Top Spins, and at the time I visited it had only been open for about a month.

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I went ahead and picked up a couple LPs, including one featuring Pete Seeger. (RIP) I was inspired to buy the Bobby Bare record after greatly enjoying his double LP of Shel Silverstein-penned compositions. (Rosalie’s Good Eats Cafe is one of my favorite songs ever.)

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Lobner and I then made a brief detour to Goodland Field, home of the Appleton Foxes from 1958-1994 (the team moved to its current home the following season and changed its name to the Timber Rattlers). Goodland Field is now run by the Appleton School District, and while it is a perfectly acceptable amateur facility I found it hard to believe that just 20 years ago it hosted Class A professional baseball. It now hosts TERROR BASEBALL.

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A few more peeks through the chain link:

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On the way back to the hotel there were a few photo opportunities to be found, because when aren’t there?

The Lawrence University campus is situated along the Fox River…

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The Appleton-area paper industry is not nearly as robust as it once was — at one point, the city’s Minor League team was called “The Papermakers” — and this particular mills have been re-purposed for residential uses.

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Rocky Bleier, a wounded Vietnam veteran who overcame his injuries and won four Super Bowl rings as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers, was born in Appleton.

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Many thanks to Lobner for taking the time to show me around (as well as serving as my “Designated Eater” the night before). He dropped me back off at the hotel in the early afternoon, but I barely had time to catch my breath before my next social engagement. This one requires a little bit of backstory…

Back in the summer of 2012, in the wake of my aforementioned celiac disease diagnosis, I received an email from Timber Rattlers production assistant Peter DeRuyter. He mentioned that his sister, Nicole, had a gluten intolerance and soon enough Nicole got in touch with a wealth of information and advice for the newly gluten free. That was kind enough as it was, but she followed that up by sending me a “Welcome to Gluten Freedom” package of various GF foods. It was great!

So, anyway, now that I was in Appleton I finally had the chance to meet Nicole and Peter!

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Yes, we got lunch, but let’s back up a bit in this narrative (you’re all riveted, right?) Upon departing from the hotel, Nicole informed me of the following:

“Alright, here’s the game plan. We’re going to get dessert first. Happy Belly’s, and it’s aptly named. It’s gonna feel like I’m taking you to the back room of some place, because I am taking you to the back room of some place.”

Awesome! I’ve always loved the back rooms of some places. We returned to the by-now-kind-of-familiar streets of downtown Appleton, which were remarkably deserted considering that the Farm Market had taken place a few short hours ago.

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The front entrance of this place was adorned with a complimentary bath tub.

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And, yes, here’s the back room gluten-free friendly bake shop. See, this is why it’s always good to hang out with the locals!

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I got some cupcakes, because, again: When in Rome.

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Back outside, I happened to notice this sign. In Appleton, even the sub shops are gluten-free!

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The DeRuyters and I then took a scenic walk to a nearby restaurant because, clearly, what was needed at this juncture was more food. One of the views along the way:

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Our destination was the Stone Cellar Brewpub.

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Which, of course, had a gluten-free menu.

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This being Wisconsin and all, a cheese plate was mandatory.

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This was followed by a Reuben, which comes in at #1 on my list of “things I miss ordering at a diner in the wake of being diagnosed with celiac disease.”

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Once again, Nicole and Peter DeRuyter. Their generosity on this idyllic Saturday afternoon was much appreciated.

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Even more Appleton vantage points, taken during the walk back to downtown proper.

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I can say, without hyperbole, that this is the best-named business of all time.

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Oh, and in addition to castle-cum-history museums, Appleton now boasts the Houdini Plaza in honor of one of its most well-known native sons. But, when I was there, it was under construction.

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Finally, some wise words from former president Benjamin Harrison (a man preceded and followed in office by Grover Cleveland).

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After all that, I attended Saturday evening’s Timber Rattler game — “Salute to Outdoors Night”! — and wrote about that HERE. Thanks for everything, Appleton! No Minor League city has ever provided me with so much to write about.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Bouillabaisse IV

I like doing things in threes — if only because it gives me a semi-legit reason to use the word “triumvirate” —  but sometimes three just isn’t enough. And sometimes, sometimes is now. That’s the case now, as in right now,  as in right now you are reading this not-at-all gratuitous, unnecessary and insufferably self-satisfied intro to, yes, an unprecedented fourth consecutive bouillabaisse blog.

Get ready for yet another cavalcade of new and/or notable items from around the seemingly inexhaustible world of Minor League Baseball! No segue!

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If you’ve been following the NFL playoffs over the past several weeks, then you’re aware that Peyton Manning often yells “Omaha!” prior to having the ball snapped to him. This inspired the Omaha Storm Chasers to call a promotional audible:

I’ll quote from the press release, if only because it is more existential in nature than most press releases of its kind:

This upcoming Sunday will be the first without football since last September 1 and after the Super Bowl on February 2, sports fans will have a Sunday void until the next NFL season begins. To help occupy this opening, the Omaha Storm Chasers are offering specialty “Omaha! Omaha!” Plans that will feature a majority of Sunday home games throughout the 2014 season for only $31 or $55.

Inspired by the 31 “Omaha” audibles by Peyton Manning in the Denver Broncos AFC Championship win over the New England Patriots on January 19, the Storm Chasers are offering Box Seat Tickets to 9 Sunday Games for $31 (or about $3.43 per game).

Omaha Storm Chasers Baseball: Occupying the Void since 2011!

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Regular readers of this never-faltering blogging empire are aware that I am a big fan of absurdist avant-garde interpretations of Minor League Baseball All-Star Game Home Run Derbies. (See Quad Cities River BanditsReading PhilliesCharleston RiverDogs, and Altoona Curve). On Thursday, the Wilmington Blue Rocks — hosts of this year’s Carolina League/California League All-Star Game — announced that they will be getting in on the act as well.

2014_Hitting_Challenge_Story_Photo_480x270_3l2vnkc9_1mlr9imdPress release excerpt in 29…28…27…26…25…24…23…22…21…20…19…18…17…16…15…14…13…12…11…10…nine…eight…seven…six…five…four…three…two…one:

[The Blue Rocks will be] the first Minor League baseball club to host a Home Run Derby where players bat from the outfield and try to hit the ball into the stands behind where home plate normally resides. That is the highlight of the Hitting Challenge that will open the California League/Carolina League All-Star Game festivities….on Monday, June 16.

The hitting challenge will feature some of the best young prospects in baseball from both the Carolina League and California League competing in two events. First there will be a hitting contest featuring targets that players will have to hit in order to earn points. Then there will be a home run derby. Fans will have the opportunity to catch any dingers off of these sluggers’ bats as the Blue Rocks will flip the field at Frawley Stadium. A new batting cage will be installed in center field and derby contestants will be awarded homeruns by hitting balls into the seating area.

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Last month I received an email from WordPress, service provider for the entire MLBlogs network, regarding my 2013 “Year in Blogging.” For what it’s worth, I wrote 128 posts in 2013, to bring the grand total to 1,026.  This was less than in year’s past (the blog began in October of 2007), but I’d like to think what I lacked in quantity I made up for in quality? Maybe?

Not surprisingly, food-related posts brought in the most traffic. March’s write-up on the Charleston RiverDogs’ new food additions was this year’s most widely “read” post, followed by a similar post on West Michigan. And coming in at number three was a post that is now almost four years old, on the RiverDogs’ “Pickle Dog”!  (I think this is because a picture from that post has been widely circulated on Pinterest.) Number four was the post that detailed my 2013 road trip itinerary — I think people actually read that one, rather than just looking at the pictures — and at number five was yet ANOTHER post featuring a Charleston RiverDogs food item.

I think the lesson here is that I should write more about the RiverDogs, but at the moment I have no new culinary information to share. So how about this video from the team’s annual holiday party, in which co-owner Bill Murray delivers his “State of the Team” address.

For more Charleston RiverDogs’ content (Bill Murray-related and otherwise), check out Josh Handler’s “Baseball from the Box Office” blog. Handler, a “rising front office professional” spent last season as a RiverDogs intern and I met him at the Winter Meetings.

Okay, I’ll stop with the gratuitous RiverDogs mentions. But for how long? Let’s return to the 2013 Year-End Blogging Report, which included the following information regarding the search terms that led people to visit Ben’s Biz.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for canadian tuxedo, ben’s biz blog,bens biz blog, skateboard, and brett favre.

The lesson here is that a picture of Brett Favre in an all-denim outfit riding a skateboard would be blog traffic gold. Can someone doctor one up for me?

Finally, a big thanks to those who have read this blog through thick and thin, especially 2013′s top 5 commenters. Take a bow Minoring in Baseball, Possum187, Dom Latkovski (Zooperstars! founder), Jordan (who may or may not be related to me) and the Charlie & Dave Army.

Okay, I’m officially out of material. Bouillabaisse mission complete!

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

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