Part one of this Asheville Tourists saga included ziplining onto the field from a hill overlooking the stadium, so I suppose you could say that it was a real cliffhanger. Today that cliffhanger concludes in stunning fashion, so long as your definition of “stunning” is more along the lines of “exactly what you would expect.”
Let’s get to it! When we last left off, the skies were clearing and this Saturday evening ballgame was finally ready to begin.
But as the ballgame was beginning, I was not in the seating area. Instead, I had taken advantage of the delay and met up with one Kelly Noble. Mrs. Noble, a mother of two boys who lives in nearby Hendersonville, had been chosen as the evening’s “designated eater” (for those new to the blog, the “designated eater,” or DE, consumes the ballpark delicacies which my gluten-free diet prohibits).
The team held a Facebook contest prior to my arrival to choose the designated eater, and she earned this honor by responding thusly:
Because I am a mom of 2 teenage boys who love baseball and so I usually end up with the last chip, fry, an empty cup. Plus I work full time and today’s lunch was a bagel I found in the fridge from last week. I would love a fresh hot dog and nachos I don’t have to share!!
Most of the available seating options were a bit damp after the recent rain storm, so Kelly and I sat on a circular brick wall in the concourse area. Tyler Holt, an intern with Professional Sports Catering (the Tourists’ food and beverage company), soon arrived bearing gifts.
Contained underneath was an order of pork nachos and, in keeping with the Asheville Tourists’ lunar theme, a deep-fried Moon Pie!
My designated eater was all for a dessert-first approach. Ladies and gentlemen, Kelly Noble!
I am always hesitant to take pictures that seem like they were simply meant to embarrass, but Kelly had a great attitude about the whole thing.
“I just want my boys to be able to laugh at me,” she said with a smile, while posing for a series of pictures such as the above. Kelly grew up with brothers and now has sons, and was clearly used to being in the minority, gender wise. I appreciated her great sense of humor and could relate somewhat — I am the oldest of three boys , and growing up my own mother took a similarly light-hearted and tolerant approach to our relentless competitions and bodily function-based comedic approach.
And you know what? Since this game actually occurred during Mother’s Day weekend I’d like to belatedly wish Kelly, my own mother Elaine Cooper and, well, all moms a belated “Happy Mother’s Day!”
But we were on the subject of Moon Pies.
“I’m trying to think of the best adjective to describe it. Wow…yeah…I don’t know! You’re the writer!” said Kelly, before finding the words. “It was delicious and filling!”
The Moon Pie was part of a smorgasbord that included the pork nachos, a “Wee-Heavyer” ale from Asheville’s French Broad brewing company and a gluten-free option in the form of chips and hummus (!)
But this being Asheville, it wasn’t just any hummus.
I hope you think this is funny, boys.
Speaking of, they soon showed up to check out what was going on.
Kelly’s sons are the two in the middle, 12-year-old Cole and 14-year-old Taylor. The friend on the right was turning his head because he was on a quest for phone numbers from young female fans and one must have been walking by. Even though he was 14 he seemed to think he had a shot with anyone up through age 20 or so. I admired the confidence.
And then, because too much is never enough, more food arrived. Pulled Pork Dog!
“The key is if the BBQ is good, and this is. It’s BBQ central down here,” said Kelly. “This is a great combination of flavors and…I don’t know. You’re the writer!”
Despite Kelly’s best efforts there was quite bit of food left over. “Time to use Mom skills,” she said, and within two minutes the entire smorgasbord had somehow been reduced to a neat stack that was easily taken back to the seats by her and the boys. And with that, Designated Eater #4 of the 2013 season had concluded her duties.
I’ve written about 1900 words over the course of these two Asheville-based blog posts, and yet still haven’t arrived at a point of time in which actual professional baseball was being played on an actual professional baseball field. Let’s rectify by taking a trip out there.
I loved this general admission seating area located down the first base line, which features plenty of room in which to spread out. Some fans bring their own chairs, and I was told that on hot days sunbathers are a common sight.
McCormick Field is 89 years old, and as such the amenities are sometimes in short supply. This converted office building located down the first base line is the only suite available.
In talking about McCormick, Tourists president Brian DeWine told me that “we’re as landlocked as landlocked can be.” This concourse photo gives an indication of just how constrained the team is in their operations.
Despite my previous concessions-based coverage, I never showed any pictures of the concession stands themselves. Again with the rectification:
Back in the seating area, I noticed that Mr. Moon’s attention was directed skyward.
He was checking out the rainbow!
Okay, Vine Time! Six seconds of brilliance, guaranteed.
And, finally, Mr. Moon was out there for more than just rainbow observance purposes. Would it surprise you to know that he can do the moonwalk, and is a great dancer in general?
As night fell, the already picturesque surroundings became even more picturesque. I will illustrate this with pictures.
Action in the home bullpen:
But for an even closer view of the action, try the dugout suites. $30 buys a catered meal from the fried chicken and biscuits juggernaut that is Bojangles (the seating area’s sponsor) and one of the closest views of the action one can find in professional baseball.
While sitting in this area, I made the following Vine. It is, truly, six seconds of brilliance.
I then retreated to the area behind home plate, in an attempt to document the perfect example of a 90 degree leg kick. I certainly took this picture at the right angle!
That young man on the mound, whoever he was, soon closed out the victory for Asheville. Good game, good game.
And good night from McCormick Field! I’ve been to a lot of ballparks over the last four seasons, but this one was an all-time favorite.
I arrived at McCormick Field at about 6 o’clock on a rainy Friday evening, and I must have been in a rush as it appears I didn’t take any shots of the stadium before entering. The saga begins, photographically, with this:
That’s none other than Mr. Moon, who was introduced as part of the Tourists’ re-branding campaign prior to the 2011 season. I wrote an article about it at the time, which included the following quote from (then) new president/ownership group member Brian DeWine.
“We had the desire to change and wanted something fun and exciting that told the history of baseball in Asheville,” said Tourists president Brian DeWine. “The original [professional] team in Asheville was called the Moonshiners, and that got us thinking about the moon and how many people have watched Tourists baseball under the moon through the years….Plus, we always joke that the moon is the ultimate Tourist destination.”
Good to know, but that begs the question: Why is this team called the “Tourists” in the first place? DeWine explained that one to me shortly after I arrived at the stadium:
“The name was first used in 1915….Everyone on the team was from out of town, so the locals said ‘Well, we’ll call them the Tourists, then.”
And here we are, 98 years later, and the team is STILL the Tourists. Meanwhile, they’re playing in a stadium that’s almost as old as the team name. McCormick opened in 1924, with Ty Cobb playing the outfield on Opening Day. By my reckoning that makes it the second-oldest Minor League stadium, behind only Vermont’s Centennial Field.
But anyway — I fear that this early influx of words has caused me to lose a sizable portion of my readership. Here’s a picture:
The above photo is by no means a good one, but it illustrates three things:
1) It was a pennant giveaway night, which is what Mr. Moon was brandishing in that first picture.
2) The main entrance is on a residential street. (Depending on one’s perspective, it would be either really cool or deeply annoying to live so close to a stadium.) This is indicative of the extent to which the field is tucked into its surroundings, with no room whatsoever to expand.
3. As a result of some long-ago architectural misfire, the ticket window is located inside the stadium. That leads to the rather awkward entrance set-up, in which fans pass under the archway, advance to the ticket window, and then proceed through a small opening in the improvised barricade.
The view on this overcast evening, immediately after passing through said barricade:
I soon made it on to the field and, uh, what’s this?
To answer a question I already knew the answer to: That is a zipline, extending from the backstop some 300+ feet all the way up to a hill overlooking left field. Before every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday contest the game ball is delivered by a fan via the zipline.
This endeavor is sponsored by Asheville Zipline and Canopy Adventures, one of the region’s many providers of outdoor entertainment. The company’s employees are on hand to set up and take down the zipline (DeWine boasts that it can be done in six minutes flat), and also accompany the chosen fan on the 300-foot journey homeward.
“The first year we did [the zipline] 70 times, but found that it got a little repetitive, so now we save it for the bigger games,” said DeWine. “On Boy Scout night, the kids will do it until midnight, when we finally have to curfew them.”
I went up there to check it out.
Soon enough, I was invited by the friendly zipline guides to give it a try for myself. All I had to do in exchange was sign my life away.
It was fun, although our combined weight was a little above optimal and we didn’t quite make it to the designated target laid out just to the right of home plate. (I am, as I type this, the fattest I’ve ever been in my life). Upon landing my guide and I looped back up to the top of the hill, and I am including this picture of our walk partially as a means to convey just how verdant McCormick’s surroundings are.
Upon arrival, I handed off the zipline reins to the fan who had been chosen (via a concourse raffle) to deliver the game ball. She was psyched. (I apologize that I do not have her name, nor the name of my zipline guide. My excuse was that it had started to rain by this time, and I didn’t want to get my notebook soaked.)
Want to see the zipline in action? Here’s my Vine video, which, like all Vine videos, is six seconds long.
Usually the game ball delivery signifies the start of the game, but the rain was coming down hard enough that its start was delayed. So, more pre-game wandering was destined to occur.
It may be a bit difficult to see, but here there are two things I’d like to point out.
1). The right field fence is only 297 feet away. This is certainly tempting for left-handed batters, but home runs are harder than they appear because what the fence lacks in distance it makes up for in height. At 36 feet, it is just a foot shorter than Fenway’s iconic Green Monster.
2). The scoreboard reads “Visitors” and “Tourists.” Never not funny.
This shot of the visitor’s dugout also provides a good view of the roof, which is held up with imposing concrete slabs that convey a sturdy masculinity.
McCormick was originally a largely wooden edifice, but has taken on a more concrete form after renovations in 1959 and (especially) 1992. Its old-time charm is completely intact, however, as I hope these pictures have shown and will continue to show.
This picnic area, located down the third base line, was pretty sedate on this drizzly evening.
If I had been at McCormick Field just one day earlier, however, it would have been a far different scene. For Asheville is the original home of the Thirsty Thursday promotion, and it remains the most popular night of the week. I wrote all about this in my aforementioned MiLB.com article; click HERE to read it.
Next to the picnic area is the visitor’s dugout, where coaches and players (and what appears to be a cop) were waiting out the rain delay.
That mural may look familiar, as it is featured in the movie Bull Durham. Crash Davis ends his career as a member of the Tourists, and a scene was shot at McCormick. WATCH!
Want an idea of just how long McCormick Field has been around? This photo hangs in DeWine’s office, taken during the 1924 season. As was standard practice in the South at the time, the seating areas were segregated. Behind home plate was for whites while black fans had to watch from down the third base line.
Meanwhile, here on a Friday evening in 2013, the skies had begun to clear.
Get out to the grandstand, Mr. Moon. It’s almost game time!
As you may have been able to guess, this post is going to be a two-parter. If Mr. Moon could talk, he’d surely tell you to check back soon for the riveting conclusion of this McCormick Field saga.
As you surely recall, my last post had a cliffhanger ending. I was at the Tennessee Smokies game, the National Anthem had concluded, and the game was about to start.
So what happened then? In this, part two of my Smokies blogging saga, all will be revealed.
In a shocking twist, the ballgame began very shortly after the anthem’s conclusion. At this juncture, I found myself in the right field berm area and my vantage point was as follows:
Thus began a lap around the stadium’s (almost) 360 degree concourse, heading plateward.
Well, it almost struck, at least. A member of the visiting Barons, I’m not sure who, flailed at a pitch, lost his grip, and sent his bat hurtling into the stands. This photo shows the immediate aftermath, as ushers and director of entertainment Ryan Cox (white cap, uber-stylish shirt) survey the scene as concerned Barons look on from the visiting dugout. The bat was retrieved by the long-haried gentleman at the back of the shot, some 12 rows deep.
All’s well that ends well, as no one was hurt. In the photo below GM Brian Cox (not be confused with Ryan Cox, sitting right next to him) is in the process of retrieving the bat from the fan. Following standard protocol, the fan was eventually given a different bat in return.
A choice quote:
[The bat] was clamped on my leg, so I swiped it off with my glove and it ended up on the ground opening and closing its mouth at me. I could see the fangs. It was super-creepy, worse than a spider or a rat, just nasty.
What an awesome tangent that was! I call this the “best Minor League Baseball blog of all time” because it is, and if someone could give me a “Best Blog” award along with, like, $750,000 in cash I’d really appreciate it.
But to return to the narrative at hand, all I can tell you was that the rest of my lap around the stadium perimeter wasn’t very eventful.
Although, I did witness an earnest conversation between Cox and the Statue of Liberty. He was gently trying to tell her that “Salute to Huddled Masses” night wasn’t a very good idea for a promotion, especially since Huddle House wasn’t interested in sponsoring.
I might have heard that conversation wrong, but my hearing was about to get a whole lot worse. For it was I who had been recruited to suit up as “Clucky Jacobsen” in the Smokies’ nightly Chicken Race, a costume that comes complete with a stiflingly hot, senses-obscuring rubber mask.
The Chicken Race, in which a group of kids chase Clucky across the outfield, is a long-standing Smokies tradition. The rules:
I wrote an MiLB.com article about my Chicken Run experience, and it turned out to be one of my favorite things I’ve ever written in a professional context. Click the link to read it — please — and then return here to the blog for the following supplementary pictures:
Mingling with the masses
Upon changing back into my civilian attire, I convened with my designated eater (for those new to this blog: I have recruited a “designated eater” at each ballpark I visit, to consume ballpark delicacies that my gluten-free diet does not allow).
Frederick Love, ladies and gentleman!
Love, who grew up in Seattle, is no stranger to the world of stiflingly hot ballpark costumes. After graduating from college, he went on to suit up as Louie for the Bowie Baysox and Hornsby for the Tulsa Drillers. His current mascot gig is as “Chilly” for the Knoxville Ice Bears of the SPHL, and his sister, Baylor, works for the Smokies as a group sales representative.
In the above photo, Love is sitting outside the Double Play Cafe with a Buddy Bailey Burger (named after the Smokies’ alliterative manager) and an order of BBQ Pork Nachos.
The Buddy Bailey Burger — 1/2 pound beef patty, cheddar cheese, onion, lettuce, tomato — was the main event, and Love dug right in.
“It has a sweet smell, very appetizing, and I wanted to get the first bite in right away,” said Love of the Buddy Bailey Burger. “I threw a little ketchup and mayo on there, and it all mixes together well. The burger is well cooked, very juicy with a lot of flavor.”
As for the nachos, Love had had those before.
“They’re one of the best things they have here,” he said. “They’ve got a perfect smoky taste.”
As he spoke, various food products raced by on the field.
We had, at this juncture, entered into the latter third of the ballgame.
Both man and beast remained vigilant as the game entered its tense final inning. (WATCH on Vine)
Despite a late rally, the Smokies went down in defeat. This was their sixth loss in a row, part of an agonizing streak that had earlier included three straight shutouts followed by a 12-11 defeat. But win, lose, or draw, it doesn’t matter. It was Friday, and that meant fireworks were a comin’.
The pyrotechnics display was enjoyed by Soppets and non-Soppets alike.
It was past 10:30 at this point, but it’s Friday night and who cares about bedtime? The kids, they then ran the bases.
Being too old for such shenanigans, I instead went on a search for impromptu works of art. (WATCH)
All that was left to do now was take a walk back to my hotel room. The Hampton Inn and Suites, it beckoned me. (WATCH).
Good night from Sevierville!
Like their Southern League cohorts the Mississippi Braves, the Tennessee Smokies are that rare Minor League entity that identify themselves by state as opposed to city or region. But, unlike the Mississippi Braves, the “Smokies” team name actually denotes the region of the state in which they play. If teams throughout the Minors took this approach, it would result in entities such as the Pennsylvania Lehighs, the Arkansas Northwests, and the Florida Palm Beaches.
This is all a convoluted way of saying that the Smokies play in Tennessee’s Smoky Mountain region (located in the far eastern portion of the state, Sevierville to be precise), and that their team name is unorthodox. So, yes, with that out of the way:
Welcome to Smokies Park, home of the Smokies, and, also, home of a Smoky Mountain visitor center!
I arrived at Smokies Park a bit later than I was aiming for, due to a GPS/common sense snafu in which I drove to a “Stadium Drive” in Knoxville instead of the one in Sevierville. It wasn’t until I made a turn onto “Peyton Manning Pass” that it occurred to me that I may have driven to the University of Tennessee’s Neyland Stadium instead.
They don’t pay me the big bucks for nothing.
Within half an hour I was in the correct location, and totally psyched because the team hotel (WATCH) was located within walking distance from the stadium (the second-most important hotel amenity, behind a good internet connection). As I jauntily strolled through the parking lot in the fashion of R. Crumb’s “Keep On Truckin’” character, the first fans I passed were these guys.
“Hey, that’s the blogger,” said the cornholer in red to his cornholing companion. The cornholer in red turned out to be Frederick Love, who had volunteered to be the evening’s designated eater (the designated eater is an individual I recruit at every ballpark, to eat the concession foods that my gluten-free diet does not allow). Psyched to be recognized so quickly in the evening, my walk became even jauntier. Even what appeared to be copyright infringement couldn’t slow me down.
Expect a call from Fresno, Grainger band.
A nice crowd had gathered out front for this fireworks Friday, a gathering comprised of humans and bizarrely-colored bear alike.
I made a quick stop in the press box upon arrival.
To the right of these gentleman, taking up nearly an entire wall, is this cartoon tribute to late Smokies beat writer Nick Gates.
Gates covered the franchise from their 1972 inception as the Knoxville White Sox (Knox Sox!) all the way through the 2010 season, when health issues forced him to retire. He died in 2012 at the age of 62.
For a variety of reasons — the ailing state of the newspaper industry chief among them, as well as the team’s ability to easily disseminate information themselves — Minor League beat writers are an increasingly rare species these days. It was a great gesture by the Smokies to pay tribute to Gates and the nearly lost era of journalism that he represents.
Another touching tribute can be found behind home plate, as the team has installed a permanent seat in honor of POW/MIA American servicemen.
The POW/MIA seat came about as part of the club’s annual “Tribute to Heroes” promotion (the 2013 iteration of which took place Saturday, the day after I was in town). It pre-dates similar efforts not just in Minor League Baseball (Lowell, Mobile), but also the more heralded efforts of the New England Patriots as well.
All of this is to say: the Smokies were at the forefront of the POW/MIA empty ballpark seat trend, which is slowly gaining traction around the world of professional sports as a simple and eloquent way to honor those who are not with us.
A seat-based tribute of a different sort can be found in the right field section of the berm seating area.
These seats, rickety as a Pittsburgh rock n’ roll house party, are from the team’s former home of Bill Meyer Stadium in Knoxville. The Smokies played there from their 1972 inception as the Knoxville White Sox (Knox Sox!) through 1999, but the stadium itself opened in 1955. I hadn’t been familiar with Mr. Meyer, but he enjoyed a long career in baseball, most of it based in the Minors. He played one game as a member of the 1913 Cubs and, 39 years later, skippered the worst Pittsburgh Pirates team in franchise history.
Speaking of notable managerial campaigns…
As you may recall, Ryne Sandberg managed the Smokies in 2009, the second stop in a Cubs organization managerial journey that began in Peoria and later continued on to Triple-A Iowa. Having a Hall of Famer manage the club is a big deal, obviously, and “Sandberg Alley” is where the fans would line up for pre-game autographs.
As Smokies Director of Entertainment Ryan Cox explained to me, “This wasn’t [Sandberg's] first rodeo. He’d sign there in front of the dugout for 10-15 minutes before every game, and then it’d be ‘Okay, I’ve got to go.’”
“When the umps walked to home plate for the manager’s meeting, that was his cue to exit,” added team president Doug Kirchhofer. “If he didn’t do it that way, he’d be there all night. There’d be no end in sight. He would do it on the road, too, and throughout the season I heard from a lot of teams that they were very appreciative of that.”
You may recall my post on the Smokies’ Sandberg Alley, which included this picture of the ribbon-cutting ceremony:
The following season the Iowa Cubs adapted the “Sandberg Alley” idea. I was there. I took these pictures. I am omniscient.
One blog post, so many digressions! To return to the narrative at hand, I was a honored to be one of the guests on assistant general manager Jeff Shoaf’s pre-game show.
This interview was broadcast live over the stadium PA, and as usual I struggled a bit with hearing my words booming back at me. I guess you get used to it, but I do not like the sound of my voice unless it is rapping the Humpty Dance at a Koreatown karaoke joint.
You could say that hearing my voice is hard to “bear,” but you’d only say that in order to facilitate a lazy segue to a picture I don’t remember taking.
I do remember the National Anthem, however, as performed by the
Fresno Grainger Grizzlies band. The bombs bursting in air were punctuated by actual bomb-like air bursts.
Folks, my loquaciousness has gotten the best of me. This post is gonna have to be a two-parter.
While 2009 included a couple of incidental dilly-dallies, these “On the Road” blog installments began in earnest in 2010. 2013, then, marks the fourth season of this on-going adventure, in which I visit Minor League stadiums nationwide and deliver the results of said explorations to you, a reader both discerning and loyal and very attractive.
All of this is to say: “Yes, I am on the road again” (quotes utilized because I said this out loud while typing). And this year’s travels began in Bowling Green.
(NOTE: For more crucial Bowling Green “On the Hot Road” content, please read this MiLB.com story. As I have said time and time again, largely to no avail: I am not just a blogger!)
Bowling Green is the home of the Hot Rods, and the Hot Rods play in Bowling Green Ballpark.
Like many Minor League stadiums that have come before, Bowling Green Ballpark is being utilized as the centerpiece of a downtown revitalization project. It opened in 2009 — marking the first time that Bowling Green had had professional baseball since 1942 — and four years later new retail, restaurant and residential buildings are springing up around it.
The resultant landscape is very much a work in progress — the new mixed with the old, 21st century innovation blended with industrial-era decay. A few views from the second level:
A short walk down the street seen below leads to Bowling Green’s downtown square, a truly picturesque and tranquil old-fashioned retail hub that I visited the next day.
I’ll have more on Bowling Green’s downtown area in a future “Return to the Road” post, but here’s a glimpse of its beauty:
But back to the ballpark — more vantage points!
And is that what I think it is? The answer to this question, due to the fact that I know what I’m thinking, is a resounding yes: train tracks! And trains!
Bowling Green may be an automotive town (the Hot Rods are named, in part, due to the presence of a Corvette factory), but the train survives:
Speaking of vantage points, the Hot Rods broadcast booth offers a unique one. The “Stadium Club” bar and restaurant area for season ticket holders is located on the second level behind home plate, meaning that those calling the action have been shunted off to the side. Here’s that view:
Broadcaster Hank Fuerst seemed at peace with this set-up, utilizing everyone’s favorite tautology: “It is what it is.”
Are there other stadiums which position the broadcasters in such a fashion, in favor of giving season ticket holders the best views? The only one I can think of off-hand is Harrisburg, post-renovation. Here’s a look at that, from my trip in 2010:
The Stadium Club and its view:
We’ll return to the Stadium Club in a bit, but for now let’s descend to sea level. The pre-game sights were similar to that which you’ll find at MiLB parks all over the country.
I get lost in your eyes…
Larry Parrish, big league slugger turned manager of the visiting West Michigan Whitecaps, signing a few autographs.
Bowling Green, as you may know, is located fairly close to the natural wonder that is Mammoth Caves. Such topography extends to the city as well, which is a Karst landscape (I learned this term from Fuerst). What this means, in essence, is that stadium construction couldn’t extend far into the ground because of the instability of the earth below. This is why clubhouses and batting cages and storage areas and such are located beyond the outfield.
(This is a very poor explanation, and as my Dad is a geologist I am now expecting him to chime in via the comments section.)
I had been tapped to throw a first pitch, and while waiting for this honor to occur I wandered around the perimeter of the playing field.
Hank Fuerst, looking sad in this non-representative still, doing the pre-game show on the rather impressive videoboard.
Notice that the pre-game show is called “The Tune-Up.” Other team name tie-ins to be found around the stadium include the “Turbo Times” game program and “Body Shop” team store.
Finally — the first pitch, as overseen by promotions manager Jennifer Johnson. I have delivered quite a few first pitches over the years, but this marked the first occasion in which I was asked to introduce myself (usually, the intros are done over the PA in hyperbolic fashion). While I now wish I had taken the opportunity to tell the crowd that Sparks is the most underrated band of all time, I simply said “Ben Hill, from MinorLeagueBaseball.com” in a tone most stentorian.
And, well, let’s just say that it wasn’t one of my better offerings.
But mascot love is unconditional, and despite my mechanical failures Axle and Roscoe were their to buoy my spirits.
Nonetheless, I thought it would be best to lay low for a bit so I proceeded to the right field corner for the national anthem.
Oh say can you see?
And, well, alright! The game was finally underway, and it took me less than 900 words to get to this point in the narrative. Still out in right field, I recorded a Vine video in order to provide a little game day ambiance.
I am new to Vine, and Vine is new to the world, so there are kinks to be worked out on all sides. However — it is a fun and easy to use app that I plan on incorporating into my content from now on, and I hope that MLBlogs will soon allow its users to embed these looping six second videos on the blog. In the meantime I will link to them when applicable, and if you follow me on Twitter – @BensBiz – then you’ll have immediate real-time access.
It was a Wednesday night ballgame, the first of the homestand, and the crowd was about par for the course for a mid-week ballgame played during the school year. To use a car analogy, since car talk so prevalent here in Bowling Green: the team’s return home represents turning the ignition, and then each game of the homestand represents shifting into a higher gear, and, therefore, this game was first gear and…okay, that’s terrible. Just look at some pictures. That’s all anyone cares about, right?
So here you go. Look at these pictures, while I attempt to rally from yet another bout of writerly self-pity.
From the bold marketing minds that brought you “College Football Playoffs.”
The ice cream immediately melted in Axle’s presence:
I must have passed this dude five or six times on the concourse. He was always carrying the compact disc player, always engrossed in the music. I wonder what he was listening to.
Off of the concourse and on to the field, here’s Hot Rods manager Jared Sandberg coaching third base:
Sandberg, former Tampa Bay Devil Ray and nephew of Ryne, is, so far as I know, the only manager to ever tweet about one of my ballpark visits.
Why is that tweet not embedding? Why is it a good idea for me to waste 30 minutes on trying to correct this? Point is, Sandberg’s tweet expressed mock frustration because he “missed out on free food and tix” that the Hot Rods were offering to my designated eater that evening.
Yes! This was the debut of the designated eater, as from here on in I will be recruiting someone at all of my ballpark stops to eat the gluten-free cuisine that I cannot. As I wrote on MiLB.com:
The Hot Rods held a contest on their Facebook page to find Wednesday’s designated eater and selected season-ticket holders Randy and Donna Brown. The Browns have been married for 34 years — he’s a maintenance worker at a local factory and she an office manager at Christian Family Radio — and their relationship dates back to their late teenage years. At that time, Donna worked at Wendy’s and Randy at a steak restaurant.
“It was the best of both worlds, and we haven’t slowed down since!” said Donna of their employment situations at the time.
Clearly, these were the right people for the job. Sitting in the Stadium Club bar and lounge area, located on the second level behind home plate, Randy and Donna were soon presented with BBQ Pork Nachos and, more significantly, the Grand Slam Burger.
Randy, with nachos.
Donna, more demure, with the Grand Slam Burger:
Clearly, this grand slam burger deserves another look:
More from my MiLB.com piece:
[T]he Grand Slam Burger consists of “two grilled hamburgers served with cheese, bacon, lettuce, tomato, onion and spicy BBQ sauce between two glazed doughnuts.”
“It’s delicious — a combination of flavors that is really unique,” said Donna. “It’s a sweet burger, if that makes sense, and strikes a really good balance. I would recommend it!”
The happy couple, post-meal, photo-bombed by Axle and Roscoe:
My thanks to the Browns, who were both very good-natured and engaging and got this whole ridiculous “designated eater” concept off to a great start.
At this point, the night was upon us.
After a brief stop in the restroom — always wash your hands! — I headed over to the radio booth for an inning with number two broadcaster Chris Kleinhans-Schulz. My puns were quite plentiful, my insight quite lacking.
Hey, look, you’ve all come to see pictures and instead I’ve written over 1500 words, all of them gratuitous. Time to shut it down, similar to how the Hot Rods were shut down by the visiting Whitecaps.
Wednesday night being what it is, I didn’t catch Bowling Green Ballpark in its full splendor. But this is a great front office operating in a great stadium in what seems to be a great town. I certainly enjoyed my time here and, apropos of nothing, on the way out noticed this really awesome looking advertisement.
I generally lay low in the month of April, as the combination of bad baseball weather and school season concerns can result in sparse crowds. But, soon enough, it will be time for me to break free of the NYC grind and hit the open road for yet another round of Minor League Baseball stadium tours.
Here I come, America!
In previous years I posted my trip itineraries one at a time, but this season I’m going to put it all down at once. But before I do, there are a few things I’d like to note:
– This is a work in progress, as in addition to the three trips listed below I hope to sprinkle in a few visits to ballparks that are more local to my NYC homebase. The new-look Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders are certainly on the agenda, as are the Hudson Valley Renegades and Connecticut Tigers (how have I never visited either of these NYPL entities?).
– Due to the vagaries of home and away schedules, it can be very difficult to assemble these itineraries. I apologize to teams that were skipped over, and please know that I am a very sensitive man who doesn’t ever want to hurt anyone’s feelings. I’m already bracing myself for the inevitable slew of “You were in (X) ballpark yet didn’t visit (Y) ballpark?” emails and tweets, as well as front office comments like “It’s really too bad you’re here on a Wednesday. The weekend’s gonna be awesome.” I do my best!
Also, while there are MANY places that I’d love to return to, priority will always go to places I have yet to visit.
– As many of you know, I was diagnosed with celiac disease last year and had to switch to a gluten-free diet. This makes it hard for me to sample ballpark delicacies with the reckless abandon to which I had been accustomed, but there is a solution: THE DESIGNATED EATER (feel free to use this as a name for your new band).
At every ballpark I visit, I am looking for a fan (ideally) or team employee who will sample the concessions that I cannot. I will document your eating experiences in words and pictures, so that those reading can still enjoy the comprehensive ballpark food coverage they have come to expect — nay — demand.
If YOU are interested in being a designated eater at one of the ballparks listed in the itineraries below, then get in touch email@example.com
(Note to teams: if you are planning on staging a contest of some sort to find the designated eater, then let me know so that I do not accept someone on my own accord).
This could be you!
And, teams — my presence at the ballpark will give you a chance to highlight any and all of your gluten-free options. Don’t leave me hanging, as I am a (sadly out of shape pseudo) celebrity and need to be catered to.
– As always, my time at each location will be limited. But, as always, I am interested in your recommendations regarding what else there is to do, see and consume in the area. If you have any cultural or culinary expertise regarding any of the locations listed, THEN GET IN TOUCH. Many of these recommendations make their way into my “Return to the Road” content, in which I write about my experiences outside of the ballpark.
– I will be getting in touch with all of the teams included, but if you’re a member of the front office feel free to jump the gun and get in touch with me regarding recommended hotels, story suggestions, designated eater leads, etc.
Okay, that’s enough of the fine print. On to the itineraries!
Trip #1 — SOUTHERN SOJOURN
The Birmingham Barons’ new downtown ballpark was the motivating factor behind this trip, and in Birmingham is where it concludes. But before arriving in the Magic City I’ll be making stops in ballparks old and new in cities large and small, from Kentucky to Tennessee to North Carolina to Georgia to, finally, Alabama.
May 8 – Bowling Green Hot Rods
Designated Eater: Team to recruit via social media.
Things to check out: Corvette Museum
May 9 – Nashville Sounds
Designated Eater: Heather Beshore
Things to check out: Gabby’s Burgers, Santa’s Pub,
May 10 – Tennessee Smokies
Designated Eater: Frederick Love
May 11 — Asheville Tourists
May 12 – Savannah Sand Gnats
Designated Eater: (Team to hold a Facebook contest)
May 13 – Augusta GreenJackets
Designated Eater: Chad Walters
Things to check out: James Brown statue?
May 14 and 15 – Birmingham Barons
Trip #2 — LAKE MICHIGAN EXCURSIONS
I have found it ridiculously difficult to put together a coherent itinerary for this region, which is why this one includes a travel day and a pair of two-night stands. Perhaps in other regions such scheduling hassles would cause me to look elsewhere, but I persevered because I have been promising the Timber Rattlers that I would visit for years now and wanted to be a man of my word (also, their mascot is a snake and for all I know that snake is poisonous and the last thing I want is for a poisonous snake to be mad at me).
Also, the triumvirate of franchises to be found in Michigan are very intriguing — whoever signs up for designated eating duties in West Michigan better bring their A-game!
June 21 and 22 – Wisconsin Timber Rattlers
Designated Eater: “We got this,” said the Timber Rattlers. Stay tuned…
June 23 – Travel (Car Ferry!)
June 24 and 25 – Great Lakes Loons
June 26 – Lansing Lugnuts
Designated Eater: Keirsh Cochran
June 27 – West Michigan Whitecaps
Designated Eater: Flounder and Marty, morning show DJs on West Michigan’s Thunder 94.5
June 28 – South Bend Silver Hawks
Trip #3 — HILLSBORO OR BUST
I ended last season’s travels in the Pacific Northwest, but nonetheless it seemed imperative that I visit the Hillsboro Hops in this, their inaugural season. But rather than re-trace the steps I took last year, this trip starts in central California and works its way toward the promised land of Hillsboro. There’s even a detour in the biggest little city!
August 3 – Bakersfield Blaze
August 4 — Visalia Rawhide
August 5 – Fresno Grizzlies
August 6 – Modesto Nuts
August 7 – Stockton Ports
Designated Eater: Lee McEachern
August 8 – Reno Aces
August 9 — Travel
August 10 and 11 — Hillsboro Hops
Designated Eater (and beer drinker):
I’ll be updating and linking back to this post throughout the season; consider it your one-stop shop for all of the road trip content that I produce (in typical making it up as I go along fashion).
Your feedback: I look forward to it. And, please, if you think your friends, family, co-workers or casual acquaintances might like what it is I do then please inform them of my existence.
Part one of this blogging odyssey, detailing Saturday’s packed-to-the-gills Altoona Curve vs. Pittsburgh Pirates exhibition game, was comprised of 1645 words and 39 photos. And, yet, by the time it ended I STILL hadn’t made it to the game’s first pitch.
It was just that kind of afternoon — so much was going on that it was hard to keep track of it all. A franchise record 10, 166 fans were in attendance, and the Curve used the occasion to announce a four-year extension of their affiliation with the Pirates and also let it drop that they would be hosting the 2014 Eastern League All-Star Game. (I got tired just writing that sentence.)
But as for the action on the field, a casual “Go Everybody! (Just don’t get hurt!”) vibe prevailed. This sign on the concourse sums it up perfectly:
As for those fans that were welcomed back — there sure were a lot of them. As the game got underway, I took a lap around the grounds of People’s Natural Gas Field in order to get a sense of what the largest crowd in franchise history looked like. 10,166 Altoona Curve fans can’t be wrong.
I saw much during my wanderings, but perhaps my favorite example of creative sponsorship was this: signs such as the one below could be found at many staircases, reminding fans that they could burn (as many as 25) calories simply by walking up and down them.
Interesting signage abounds. The team has branded the ballpark as its own standalone town, Curve PA, which is represented in a consistently cartoonish fashion courtesy of resident artist/director of mascot and brand development Bill Bettwy.
First, for context’s sake, Curve PA’s immediate surroundings:
The GM recommends:
There is also the “Curverogie” — Ham, Pierogies, Onions, Cheese, and, crucially, more Ham.
The Curve are also well-known for their Curve Burgers, with several people telling me via Twitter last week that I needed to procure one. But here’s the thing, guys: I was diagnosed with celiac disease last year, and have been following a gluten-free diet for the last 10 months. This has severely limited my ballpark food options, a limitation I hope to overcome my recruiting a “designated eater” at each ballpark I visit.
But this trip to Altoona was Spring Training for me as well, and I wasn’t as prepared on the concessions front as I should have been. A designated eater had not been found, so no Curve Burgers were had. Instead, I ordered some BBQ Pork Nachos. (Which, in retrospect, were almost certainly not gluten-free. I really was off of my game.)
These nachos were great, as nachos by definition are great. (A quick aside: Standalone “Nacho Bar” concession areas are something I would love to see more teams do, as with a little thought they can accommodate gluten-free and vegetarian diets without seeming like some sort of sad consolation prize for those with restrictions.)
So, anyway, yeah — I did not get a Curve Burger, nor do I have any pictures of the Curve Burger. Someone please send me some pictures, and I will gladly post them along with your commentary regarding how good Curve Burgers are.
All of this culinary hand-wringing led me to seek refuge in the press box for a bit, as I cleared my head and plotted my next move.
And the next move was obvious: “Quit feeling sorry for yourself and get back out there!”
Earlier in the day I had been informed that an on-field “Mascot Mayhem” race would be taking place on the field after the fourth inning, involving characters from both the Curve and Pirates’ costumed character universe. I descended into the bowels of the stadium in order to find the mascots who would be participating, and knew I was on the right trail once I came across this “Only in Minor League Baseball” tableau.
It is not often that one sees Pierogies in their natural habitat!
I briefly caught a glimpse of the Pittsburgh Parrot as well…
Perhaps inevitably, I was soon recruited to be a “Mascot Mayhem” direct participant. I might not be able to eat hot dogs in this gluten-free reality (at least not with the bun), but I can damn sure dress up as them. It was really hard to document anything once I was in the costume, but I did manage this hot dog selfie:
A Hot Dog eye view of the game action:
As for the “Mayhem” itself, I have no idea what happened. I just tried to avoid Steamer, Tenacious, the Pirate Parrot and everyone else in the cavalcade of pierogies, sumo wrestlers, and jousters streaming past me. I was winded afterwards, and keenly aware of my need to get in shape for the oncoming mascot race season. Anyone have a workout plan to recommend?
Still panting, and with the hot dog costume removed (physically, if not psychically), I made it back to the concourse just in time to see Curve GM Rob Egan, Eastern League president Joe McEacharn and Minor League Baseball president Pat O’Conner take the field to make a VERY SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT.
Down in front!
What this esteemed troika of Minor League personnel was on the field to announce was this: The Curve will host the 2014 Eastern League All-Star Game.
Perhaps the Eastern League All-Star Game is out for vengeance? The last time the Curve hosted the event, in 2006, they set a franchise record by drawing 9,308 fans and this record was broken during Saturday’s exhibition game. Will the 2014 version of the contest set the record anew?
“To announce [the All-Star Game] on a very special day like this reinforces the commitment this franchise has made to the community,” said McEacharn, and his sentiments summed up the spirit of the afternoon. Between the All-Star Game announcement and the announcement made earlier in the day that the Curve and Pirates affiliation had been extended until 2018, Saturday was all about celebrating and re-affirming what the Curve have accomplished throughout their 15 seasons of existence.
I’d write more on all of this, but, man, it just smells so good around here. It’s the nuts!
Seriously, these things are just fantastic. Seeing them there in the roasting pan, glistening in their own juices, almost brought a tear to my (metaphorically) jaundiced eye.
Less successful was the edible sand being sold down by the kid’s Fun Zone, but I have faith that, over time, the fans will come to see the brilliance of this innovative product. Why go against the grain?
Or maybe at this point there was simply too much dessert going around. Here’s Steamer throwing Kit Kats into the crowd at the conclusion of the seventh inning.
The Curve put the finishing touches on their 8-6 victory over Pittsburgh just a few innings later, providing incredulous joke fodder for days to come. “The Pirates can’t even beat their own Minor League team?”
But, on this afternoon, it didn’t matter to anyone who won or lost. All that mattered is that they played the game.
March 30′s exhibition game between the Pittsburgh Pirates and their Double-A affiliate Altoona Curve was, in one sense, meaningless. The Curve won 8-6, and would have won by more if Tony Watson hadn’t surrendered a second-inning grand slam to Pittsburgh’s Starling Marte. Watson pitched for the Curve in the ballgame even though he is actually on the Pirates, but it was a uniform that was familiar to him. He last suited up for the Curve in 2010, one year before — drumroll, please — Starling Marte.
Such absurdities are common in exhibition contests that pit MLB team vs. affiliate — everybody knows everybody, the uniforms often seem interchangeable, and the main objective for those on the field is not to get hurt. After all, “real” baseball is right around the corner.
But, yet, one could also make the case that this Saturday afternoon contest — played in almost impossibly idyllic Spring conditions, especially considering that Altoona received six inches of snow earlier in the week — was one of the most meaningful in the Curve’s 15-year history. A franchise-record 10,166 fans packed People’s Natural Gas Ballpark (formerly known as Blair County Ballpark), eager to see their Major League heroes compete within intimate Minor League environs. And, yes, while it is essentially a central Pennsylvania metropolis there can be no doubt that Altoona’s sporting loyalties lie with their far-west Steel City brethren. This is a region that roots for Pittsburgh through and through, taking no small amount of pride in seeing its hometown Curve players (Andrew McCutchen, Neil Walker, Marte, Josh Harrison and many more) elevate themselves to positions of PNC Park prominence.
Saturday, then, was a triumphant homecoming as well as a chance to celebrate and — spoiler alert! — extend a long-running symbiotic relationship. Altoona made the most of it.
I arrived in Altoona at noon, after a Starbucks and bad radio-fueled drive from the Philadelphia area that included a rest stop nap as well as a shocking toll charge of $19.55 for the privilege of driving on the Pennsylvania turnpike. Although the first pitch was still more than two hours away upon my arrival, the fans were already out in full force.
I unfortunately arrived too late for the designated clubhouse media sessions with the Pirates players, in which I invariably would have asked Curve alumni for thoughts on their (presumably triumphant) return to Altoona. But, for that kind of content, I kindly refer you to the team website. Take it away, Jared Hughes! And you too, Pedro Alvarez!
Being “media,” I was able to bypass the long lines seen above. But, upon walking by the hoi polloi, I did witness a security guard prevent a man from bringing an empty water bottle into the stadium. “You mean I can’t have my spitter?” the man said incredulously.
I don’t know what I was expectorating, but the scene upon entering the ballpark was truly beautiful. The sun was shining, the grass was green, and U2′s “Beautiful Day” was playing on the PA. I’m generally not a fan of Bono’s brand of messianic uplift, but it was most apropos: “Beautiful Day” over the p.a., beautiful day in PA!
Josh Harrison, who spent the entirety of 2010 with the Curve, was particularly accessible.
During his time with the Curve, Harrison used a rap song written by his brother as his walk-up music. The song, entitled “I’m the Man,” was played for Harrison’s at-bats during the exhibition as well.
While on the field I ran into Adam Erikson, an Altoona radio DJ who will be working as an on-field emcee for the Curve this season.
I hadn’t seen Adam in four years, but we will always bonded by a common semi-traumatic experience. In 2009 we were both contestants in the Curve’s “Outstanding Fan Competition” which involved determining who could continuously touch a life-size bobblehead mascot for the longest amount of time. That’s Erikson, touching Steamer, on the top right.
Me, far left, among those touching Diesel Dawg (my foot was on the base of the statue, promise).
I spent a few moments reminiscing about days past whilst looking longingly into the middle distance, but was broken out of this midday reverie after noticing that players from both teams were trudging toward the outfield. It was picture time!
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle also proved himself adept at the middle distance gaze.
This dude from “Moments Photography” was all business when it came to setting up the shot. Like a Wall Street dominatrix, he had no problem ordering millionaires around.
After lining up a bunch of Curve players and getting them to sit Indian-style, he then proceeded to assemble a row of Pirates.
Mr. Moments Photography kept yelling “Knees, knees, knees, knees, knees” at the Pirate players in the second row, so that they would, you know, kneel. This prompted one player to respond with “That’s what she said!” before retracting the joke in confusion.
From chaos, order:
In which the takers become the taken:
Smile! Or not.
Now here’s where you’ve really got to appreciate good game-day planning. The players’ walk from the outfield back to their respective dugouts was routed down the right field line, where a contingent of local Miracle League players was waiting to high-five them, followed by a quartet of disconcertingly fresh-faced servicemen (who later presented the colors during the National Anthem).
Players high-five, mascots hug. Mascots win.
Pretty much apropos of nothing, but while walking back along the perimeter of the playing field I passed the Pirates (read: visitors) dugout and was very much impressed, both aesthetically and practically speaking, with this trainer’s medicine chest that was propped open on the bench.
Hopefully coming soon(ish) to an obsessive-compulsive Minor League Baseball blog near you: a post detailing the anatomy of a trainer’s medicine chest.
Coming now: a photo of a man with a neck tattoo signing an autograph for a child with a mohawk. Norman Rockwell, 21st century-style!
But A.J. Burnett wasn’t the biggest name to be found at People’s Natural Gas Field. Have you guys ever heard of, oh, I don’t know, Jay Leno?
Actually, that’s Curve mascot Tenacious (the Curve have a lot of mascots), who soon decided to photo-bomb me with his prodigious gut.
Prodigious guts aside, you may have noticed that there is a roller coaster beyond the outfield fence. It is called “The Skyliner,” and is part of an independently-run amusement area called Lakemont Park which also boasts THE OLDEST ROLLER COASTER IN THE WORLD.
Why the Curve don’t have a concession item called “The Skyliner” is a question for another day. A question for now: what Curve-turned-Pirate did broadcaster Mike Passanissi interview during his on-field pre-game show?
That would be Jeff Locke, who during his time with the Curve had a promotion staged in his honor that dealt explicitly with his Lost fandom. Also, he had his intro music chosen by fans via Twitter so that he would never again feel the taint of Lil Jon.
Jeff Locke, ladies and gentleman! Or, to be more specific: Jeff Locke upon being paid a visit by his favorite Curve mascot Al Tuna.
Al Tuna, like Wilmington’s Mr. Celery or State College’s Nookie Monster, is one of those elusive sort of mascots who only appear in-game when the home team scores. But, this being Curve vs. Pirates, he appeared on behalf of BOTH teams in this ballgame. Like a bluebanded goby, Al Tuna is a fish that can go both ways.
More sure of his allegiance is the Pittsburgh Parrot, seen here having a catch with a kid in the stands.
More specifically — a kid with a sweet pill-box hat and rigid follow-through on his throwing motion.
Also boasting an exemplary follow-through motion is Minor League Baseball president Pat O’Conner, who not only boasts first pitch-throwing prowess — he wears a leather jacket while doing it.
Donnie Iris — Pittsburgh rock legend, National Anthem singer, and consummate jacket-wearer — was impressed.
Donnie would soon have his moment to shine, but first — “World Series-style” team introductions!
But even after this well-calibrated hullabaloo, it still wasn’t Donnie’s time to shine. Curve GM Rob Egan took the field, flanked by a coterie of VIPs, in order to make the announcement that the Pirates and Curve had extended their affiliation another four years. It will now run until the fantastical-sounding year 2018 (during which I will turn 40).
The announcement was made by Curve owner Bob Lozinak, Curve General Manager Rob Egan, Pirates President Frank Coonelly and Pirates General Manager Neal Huntington ….Altoona, which at the end of its previous agreement would have already become the longest-standing Pirates affiliate in the modern era, will strengthen its hold on that mark having been affiliated with the Pirates for 20 consecutive seasons at the end of the newest agreement (1999-2018).
A standing-room only crowd is definitely the best time to make such an announcement. Here’s Coonelly thanking “the best fans” in Minor League Baseball (159 teams disagree, of course, but Curve fans are pretty impressive).
Donnie then sang to the fans, a fitting culmination to a series of touching moments.
That’s life-size bobblehead Diesel Dawg for ya — incessant cranial undulation, but otherwise inert. I missed the guy.
And, hopefully, you missed me writing blog entries such as this. It is now the season! Part Two from Altoona coming soon!
I have “only” visited 77 stadiums over the past four seasons (perhaps a bit more, actually, as some may have been blocked from memory), and of those 77 my Top 10 was as follows:
Durham, Everett, Reading, Daytona, Quad Cities, Brooklyn, Arkansas, Pensacola, Vancouver, and Tulsa. (And, for the record, the five that I had the hardest time leaving off the list were Fort Wayne, Memphis, Vermont, Burlington Iowa, and Lehigh Valley. Oh, and Williamsport! See how hard this is?)
But this is all just one man’s opinion, and I happen to be that man. One of my main objectives in writing the article was to start a conversation and I am happy to report that, for once in my life, I succeeded. It’s easy to see why people responded — ballparks are a subject that Minor League fans are passionate about, and everyone has their own opinions regarding which are their favorite are and why. (And then there are the teams themselves, who passionately advocate for the superiority of their ballpark and react with wounded pride whenever others do not agree.)
All of this is to say — I got a lot of feedback. Some 22 comments were left on the story itself, and dozens more expressed their opinion through email, Facebook and, especially, Twitter. What follows is a sampling thereof and, when applicable, my response.
I’ve been to 108 of them. I agree with your set, but Centennial Field in Burlington VT is on my list, as is Coca Cola Park in Allentown PA. Other great ones worth mentioning: AutoZone Park in Memphis TN, Peoples Natural Gas Field in Altoona PA. (Michael Nolan)
Great calls on Durham, Pensacola, and Brooklyn. You downplay Pensacola’s architecture, but it’s sneaky-good – spot-on seating bowl pitch and sightlines, and a wide open concourse for the SRO crowd. Also, Pensacola has some of the best food I’ve had at a minor league park. (Scott Jennings)
I definitely enjoyed the food at Pensacola when I was there. Sea Dog, anyone? (Obviously this is not gluten-free and, obviously, no more Sea Dogs are in my future. Tis better to have loved and lost.)
[Harrisburg's] Metro Bank Park – the one on the island?! Nothing like it. Come back for another visit, Ben! (Randy Whitaker, who may be a bit biased given that he is the GM of the Harrisburg Senators.)
Real shame not to include Richmond County Ballpark on Staten Island. I dislike Staten Island as much as the next person, but with views of Downtown Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty from the stands, it might the best stadium view in all of sports. (Commenter)
“Commenter” soon received an impolite reply: You must have supersonic eyesight if you can notice the Statue of Liberty from that ballpark when all I see is dirty water. Your ballpark’s a joke! (TVSBX)
My two cents — I enjoy going to games in Staten Island, and the view of the Manhattan skyline is great, but beyond that there isn’t quite enough going for it to elevate into a Top 10 experience.
Select Twitter Feedback
Soon after the article was posted I suggested a #BensBizIsWrong hashtag for those who wanted to offer a dissenting opinion, and the GM of the Northwest Arkansas Naturals was quick to weigh in:
Matt and Carolyn traveled to every full-season MiLB ballpark last season, so they know of what they speak:
Speaking of Salt Lake City…
A General observation:
The Fresno Grizzlies sent me a three-part response, here’s the third:
The splendor of Lancaster, CA:
The Memphis Redbirds are proud to compare AutoZone Park to a mausoleum:
(And, again, for the record: Memphis has a great ballpark and it was difficult for me to leave it off of the list)
Someday I hope to tour the Mexican League, Alejandro!
Meanwhile, the deeply-wounded Fort Wayne TinCaps made their feelings known in blog form:
I’m just playing Minor League teams. You know I love you.
I cannot be intimidated:
Okay, I’m only going to include one email response. But it was a real doozy, coming as it did from religious studies professor/uber-accomplished National Anthem singer Joe Price. As you may recall, Price and his wife, Bonnie, toured the country in an RV during the 2011 season. Along the way, he sang the Anthem at over 100 parks.
Joe’s email is, in many ways, more instructive and worthwhile than my original article. He writes, in part:
Although few people now inquire about my tour in ’11 unless they’ve sat through one of my presentations, the first two questions almost always have been–”Did you ever forget the words?” and “What was your favorite ballpark?
The former is an easy reply: “No.” The latter prompts different looks: “In what respects?” I retort. “Architecture, siting, history, interesting game, art, food, fans, promotions, generosity, staff, humor, mascots?” “Huh,” they grunt as they look at me dazedly.
Still, I do have faves–although I still trying to cull my list and cut it down to 10
Here’s a start:
Williamsport, with its original, propped, crooked wall behind 3rd.
Pulaski, with its original WPA entry and benchless piers.
Daytona also makes my list for being the field for Robinson’s initial spring training game, and I did enjoy the modest breeze of Savannah’s overhead fans in the grandstands.
But Burlington, VT, with its low-slung ramps, doesn’t make the cut.
Columbus, Ft. Wayne, Frisco, and Billings edge out Louisville and Lehigh Valley and Greensboro, Winston-Salem, and Durham, where the concourses are too narrow for crowded games.
Albuquerque wins, but the best piece is in Rochester. Lansing‘s participation in a city-wide art festival also deserves mention.
For natural panorama: Salem (VA) can’t be beat, unless the Big Sky at Helena or the skyscape above the mountains at (now defunct?) Yakima are also taken into account. Even the sunken bowl on the prairie in Midland, TX deserves mention.
For urban settings: Bunches of places score big: Memphis, Louisvile, Tulsa.
For nearby framing: little can beat the curving rails of the roller coaster mimicking Altoona‘s curve, while the arched span beyond centerfield in Corpus Christi edges out Mississippi River bridge at Quad Cities and the impressive golden halo of the state Capitol’s dome beyond the outfield at Des Moines.
And there are playful features like the pork humor at Lehigh Valley, the painting of Cobb’s career average 366 at that distance in left field at Augusta, or the “nuts free” area in Rochester (which, of course, refers to dietary restrictions rather than to crazy fans).
Children’s areas often featured various inflated jump rooms, but the rapelling rock in Ft. Wayne was attractive, as were the sandbox areas in Wisconsin, where I hope that they checked for renegade rattlers before allowing the children to dig beyond centerfield, and Des Moines’ fountains that enticed kids of many ages.
Oops. I’ve already favored more than 10. I’ll never write for Letterman!
You and me both, Joe. You and me both.
February, as you know, is Black History Month. And each February from 2006-11, MiLB.com ran a series of articles spotlighting the trials, tribulations and triumphs of black players within and around the world of Minor League Baseball.
All told nearly 40 Black History articles ran on the site during these six seasons, and a full list can be found as a sidebar in the 2011 articles. (Click HERE for an example.) The “Black History Month in the Minor Leagues” series was “retired” after that season because it was becoming too difficult to find article topics that hadn’t been done before, but the content lives on.
This February MiLB.com is running a Black History Month story each and every day — today’s features pioneering umpire Emmett Ashford — and this represents as good a chance as any to re-visit what I believe is a fascinating and easy-to-overlook aspect of baseball (and American) history. Everyone knows the story of Jackie Robinson, and deservedly so, but racial integration was happening throughout the Minor Leagues from 1946 onward and often in far more obscure circumstances. Did you know, for example, that Jackie was one of five players to integrate the Minors in 1946? He was joined on the Montreal Royals that season by Roy Partlow and John Wright, while future MLB stars Don Newcombe and Roy Campanella were suiting up for Class B Nashua.
I was fortunate enough to research and write a dozen Black History Month articles, on some of the aforementioned topics as well as 1949′s wave of black standouts at the Triple-A level, the “minor” Negro Leagues, the bizarre saga of perennially-unpromoted Midwest League superstar Moe Hill, the overlooked career of 39-year-old “rookie” Quincy Trouppe, Nashville legend Butch McCord (who I interviewed in 2006, approximately five years before he died in 2011 at the age of 85), and the accidental legacy of Jimmy Claxton (first black player to appear on a baseball card).
But for whatever reason, the aspect black baseball history that I find most fascinating involves those from the late 19th and early 20th century who played in “white” leagues. While racism was of course prevalent during this time, formal color barriers did not exist and at least 30 black players suited up within the Minors. One of these players was Moses Fleetwood Walker, who played for the American Association’s Toledo Blue Stockings in 1884 and, as such, has long been identified as the first black player in Major League history. But there’s far more to that story! Walker was also a lecturer, entrepreneur, newspaper publisher, racial theorist and inventor who, in 1891, was acquitted by an all-white jury on a second-degree murder charge.
Finally, there is Bud Fowler, the subject of the first Black History Month article that I ever wrote. This was in February of 2006, when MiLB.com was in its first offseason and I was a part-time employee with, quite frankly, very little to do.
I spent my time that month by getting absolutely obsessed with Fowler’s sprawling career (1879-1904), which he spent entirely within the world of “white” baseball. The Cooperstown native (!) played within 13 different leagues — in 22 states as well as Canada — and was rarely in the same locale for more than a year at a time. After scouring the internet for every last scrap of info I could find and then making several trips to the main branch of the New York Public Library, I wrote a 5000+ word piece on Fowler that remains the longest thing I’ve ever written (or probably will write) during my time producing content for MiLB.com. Read it HERE.
Sometimes I dream of writing a book called “Bud Fowler’s America,” a biography/travelogue that would intertwine his career with the histories (baseball and otherwise) of the various cities and towns that he played in. (Please don’t steal my idea, as it is something that I like to think about while not compulsively checking my Twitter feed.)
AND STOP THE PRESSES! Not even an hour after writing this, as I was compulsively checking my Twitter feed, I came across the news that the village of Cooperstown will be honoring Bud Fowler on April 20th (the 100th anniversary of his death). This will be occurring in conjunction with SABR’s (Society for American Baseball Research) annual 19th Century Base Ball Conference, which is being held in Cooperstown from April 19-21. Mayor Jeff Katz reports:
Cooperstown, New York, honors its own forgotten pioneer, Bud Fowler, on April 20, 2013, with the naming of the entrance into legendary Doubleday Field “Fowler Way” and the installation of a permanent plaque in the brick wall of the first base bleachers. Fowler (born John W. Jackson) is recognized as the first African-American player in organized professional baseball, playing for over two decades in the nineteenth century despite facing constant racial discrimination.
I may have to be in attendance for this. I really think that I oughta be.