Archive for the ‘ Travel ’ Category

About Friday Night: Carolina Mudcats, May 13, 2016

This season, when I’m on the road, I’ll write an on-the-spot blog post about each Minor League ballpark that I visit. Then, upon my presumed return home, I’ll provide the multifaceted blog coverage that you have come to know and, perhaps, love. Let’s get to it, lest it get to us!

May 13: Five County Ballpark, home of the Carolina Mudcats (Class A Advanced affiliate of the Atlanta Braves)

Opponent: Lynchburg Hillcats, 7:05 p.m. start time

Five County Ballpark, from the outside:

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Five County Ballpark, from within: 

IMG_1390Culinary Creation: Pig Wings

033

Ballpark Character: Muddy, celebrating Friday the 13th by dressing as Freddy Krueger.

IMG_1402

At Random: It was also Scout Night

003Your Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Joke of the Day: 

Up Next: 

This trip is over. Stay tuned for a cavalcade of Carolinas-themed blog posts and MiLB.com articles. My next trip, God willing, will be to see the Hartford Yard Goats on June 3 and 4th.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz

About Last Night: Columbia Fireflies, May 11, 2016

This season, when I’m on the road, I’ll write an on-the-spot blog post about each Minor League ballpark that I visit. Then, upon my presumed return home, I’ll provide the multifaceted blog coverage that you have come to know and, perhaps, love. Let’s get to it, lest it get to us!

May 11: Spirit Communications Park, home of the Columbia Fireflies (Class A affiliate of the New York Mets)

Opponent: Asheville Tourists, 7:05 p.m. start time

Spirit Communications Park, from the outside:

IMG_1342

Spirit Communications Park, from within: 

047

Culinary Creation: Myself and designated eater Carter Blackmon, about to chow down on “Hog Hammer” pork shanks.

IMG_1352Ballpark Character: Edward Keene, Fireflies director of facilities/footwear fashion icon

IMG_1362At Random: A pregame English class for Fireflies players, conducted in the office of team president John Katz

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Your Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Joke

Up Next: 

May 13: Carolina Mudcats

***

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz

About Monday Night: Charleston RiverDogs, May 9, 2016

This season, when I’m on the road, I’ll write an on-the-spot blog post about each Minor League ballpark that I visit. Then, upon my presumed return home, I’ll provide the multifaceted blog coverage that you have come to know and, perhaps, love. Let’s get to it, lest it get to us!

May 9: Joseph P. Riley Park, home of the Charleston RiverDogs (Class A affiliate of the New York Yankees)

Opponent: Hickory Crawdads, 7:05 p.m. start time

Joseph P. Riley Park, from the outside:

003Joseph P. Riley Park, from within: 

018Culinary Creation: Take it away, Josh Shea:

Ballpark Character: Another day, another “Bark in the Park” promo.

IMG_1245At Random: 

IMG_1252Your Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Joke of the Day: 

Up Next: 

May 10: Myrtle Beach Pelicans

May 12: Columbia Fireflies

May 13: Carolina Mudcats

***

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz

About Yesterday Afternoon: Greenville Drive, May 8, 2016

This season, when I’m on the road, I’ll write an on-the-spot blog post about each Minor League ballpark that I visit. Then, upon my presumed return home, I’ll provide the multifaceted blog coverage that you have come to know and, perhaps, love. Let’s get to it, lest it get to us!

May 8: Fluor Field, home of the Greenville Drive (Class A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox)

Opponent: Columbia Fireflies, 2:00 completion of Saturday’s suspended game followed by seven-inning game at 4:40

Fluor Field, from the outside: (This building, part box office and team store, is located across from the stadium. Close enough)

006Fluor Field, from within: 

IMG_1204Culinary Creation: Fried cheesecake dusted with cinnamon sugar, with chocolate dipping sauce

038

Ballpark character: Available for adoption

023At random: Carnations for moms on Mother’s Day

IMG_1199Your Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Joke of the Day: 

May 9: Charleston RiverDogs

May 10: Myrtle Beach Pelicans

May 12: Columbia Fireflies

May 13: Carolina Mudcats

***

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz

About Last Night: Durham Bulls, May 7, 2016

This season, when I’m on the road, I’ll write an on-the-spot blog post about each Minor League ballpark that I visit. Then, upon my presumed return home, I’ll provide the multifaceted blog coverage that you have come to know and, perhaps, love. Let’s get to it, lest it get to us!

May 7: Durham Bulls Athletic Park, home of the — wait for it — Durham Bulls (Triple-A affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays)

Opponent: Norfolk Tides, 5:05 p.m. ET start time

Durham Bulls Athletic Park, from the outside: 004

Durham Bulls Athletic Park, from within: 

060Culinary Creation: Angus Barn Steak and Cheese Sandwich

049Ballpark Characters: Princess Leia and Chewbacca, characters from a cult movie that was being celebrated at the ballpark.

036At Random: Another career highlight.

Your Groundbreaking and Subversive Joke of the Day: 

Up Next:

May 8: Greenville Drive

May 9: Charleston RiverDogs

May 10: Myrtle Beach Pelicans

May 12: Columbia Fireflies

May 13: Carolina Mudcats

***

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz

About Last Night: Greensboro Grasshoppers, May 6, 2016

This season, when I’m on the road, I’ll write an on-the-spot blog post about each Minor League ballpark that I visit. Then, upon my presumed return home, I’ll provide the multifaceted blog coverage that you have come to know and, perhaps, love. Let’s get to it, lest it get to us!

May 6: NewBridge Bank Park, home of the Greensboro Grasshoppers (Class A affiliate, Florida Marlins)

Opponent: Columbia Fireflies, 5:00 p.m. start time (doubleheader)

NewBridge Bank Park, from the outside: 

001NewBridge Bank Park, from within: 

013Culinary Creation: Sweet and Salty Grilled Cheese (strawberry brie cheese and prosciutto)

035Ballpark Character: On-field emcee Danny aka…

021At Random: Sausage racers

023

Your Groundbreaking and Subversive Joke of the Day: 

Up Next: 

May 7: Durham Bulls

May 8: Greenville Drive

May 9: Charleston RiverDogs

May 10: Myrtle Beach Pelicans

May 12: Columbia Fireflies

May 13: Carolina Mudcats

***

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz

Loose Ends Tied Up

Housekeeping!

This word, spoken from outside the door, is my alarm clock when I’m on the road.  It brings me back to hotel room reality, as I lie in bed and wish to the high heavens that I had remembered to put up a “Do Not Disturb” sign the night before.

Housekeeping is also the purpose of this post, as I fear that readers of this blog may not have been picking up on much of what I’ve been putting down lately. To wit:

Are you familiar with “The Show Before the Show”? It’s the weekly MiLB.com podcast, co-hosted by esteemed colleagues Sam “Not Lenny’s son” Dykstra and Tyler “Maybe Lenny’s son for all I know” Maun. Each week, I join Tyler and Sam for “Ben’s Biz Banter,” in which we riff on current MiLB events that fall within my broad purview. Listen, rate and review HERE.

But THAT IS NOT ALL. I’ve been promoting it relentlessly on Twitter, but earlier this month, Tyler and I hosted a special “ALL MINOR LEAGUE TEAM THEME SONGS” edition of the podcast. Seventeen baseball earworms, three interviews with songwriting masterminds and all the contextualizing info and theoretically witty banter you could could ever want. Look — like Richard Marx, it’s right here waiting for you! Listen now! I won’t give up until I’m satisfied.

After listening to all of these songs way too many times, I think my favorite is “Everybody Loves Curve Baseball.” What’s yours? Also, if you’d like a specific team theme song to be featured in an upcoming episode, please get in touch.

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Every Friday, I have a feature story on MiLB.com. Today’s piece tracks a remarkable 36-season streak, as at least one new Minor League ballpark has opened every season from 1981-2016. Check it out HERE. And, hey, here’s a visual that shows how much the Minor League landscape has changed over the last two-plus decades.

by league graphicupdate

I had to compile and contextualize a lot of info for this piece and, unfortunately, there were a few omissions. I appreciate people pointing them out, but jeez, it’s not intentional. If I ever make a mistake regarding your team, it’s not because I don’t like your team. I love everyone.

***

Meanwhile, earlier this month, I wrote a piece about David LaBounty and his “Bookstores and Baseball” zine. I was very glad to get the chance to write about a zine in a professional context, and this one fit as it is about, yes, bookstores and baseball.

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For years, David and his family have gone on road trips centered around attending literary festivals, visiting independent bookstores and seeing baseball games (many in the Minors). Each issue —  or inning — of the zine covers a year of travel, and there are eight so far. If this sounds like your kind of thing, in line with your sensibilities, then give the article a read and check out the zine HERE.

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Also, if you like being kept abreast of the Minor League promo scene, check out “Promo Watch.” It runs every Tuesday. Where else can you find important information such as how Greg “The Hammer” Valentine bailed out of a Fort Myers Miracle appearance due to “unspecified differences” with fellow guest (and former tag team partner) Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake?

Don’t worry. Bushwhacker Luke showed up in Greg’s place and all was well.

onfieldpose

***

And, of course, there’ll be plenty of road trip material — on MiLB.com and on the blog — in the very near future. I’ll be hitting the road next week!

***

Okay, I shall now consider this house to be kept. Thanks, as always for reading.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz

Guest Post: Recapping a Grapefruit League Road Trip

Jae Canetti is an eighth-grade student and an avid baseball fan from the Washington, D.C. area.  Next year, he will be attending Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, where he hopes to play baseball for the Colonials and study astrophysics.

Last month, he and his family visited Spring Training ballparks throughout the Grapefruit League, many of which host Florida State League ballparks during the regular season. Jae, a long-time reader of this blog, now shares his experience:

 On March 18, 2016, after months of counting down to my family’s long-planned trip to Spring Training in Florida, I woke up to my dad blasting “Centerfield” by John Fogerty in my ear and dancing around like Christmas had come early. With the song playing on repeat, my parents and I packed everything up, hopped into our Honda and set out down I-95.

We were greeted at the Florida Welcome Center by free orange juice and a giant banner advertising Spring Training as one of Florida’s main attractions. An entire corner of the building was filled with brochures about spring baseball and decorated with pennants for each of the 15 Major League teams that make up the Grapefruit League.

Our itinerary took us to seven Spring Training facilities over the span of a week.  We began at Champion Field in Disney World, where we saw the Braves host Miguel Cabrera and the Detroit Tigers.

Picture 1 - Champion Field

Before the game, we were treated to the sight of a laid-back Miggy taking infield practice while appearing to urge the Tigers coaches not to hit those grounders at him too hard.

Picture 2 - Miguel Cabrera Enjoys Infield Practice

We also ventured over to the Braves’ minor league complex behind the stadium where I, a Minor League Baseball fanatic, sought out and found some of the team’s top prospects. I obtained autographs from Ozzie Albies and Touki Toussaint, the Braves’ #3 and #6 prospects, respectively.

Most exciting for me, however, was my conversation with Dansby Swanson, the Braves’ top prospect (the #8 overall prospect in Major League Baseball) and last year’s first overall draft pick. He and Trey Keegan, a catcher in the Braves organization, were nice enough to take a picture with me, even though I was wearing some of my Tigers gear from Little League. Meeting and talking to these two guys was a highlight of my trip and I can’t thank them enough.

Picture 3 - With Dansby Swanson & Trey Keegan

Dansby Swanson, Jae and Trey Keegan

We then launched ourselves to Space Coast Stadium, where the Nationals were ending their final spring before leaving Viera for a new home in West Palm Beach.

Picture 4 - Space Coast Stadium

As Nationals devotees, my father and I came to the park determined to buy Nationals hats with the 2016 Spring Training patch on the side. As a cap collector, this purchase was at the top my trip agenda. The hats were flying off of the shelves, but we managed to grab a pair.

Picture 5 - Nats Cap With 2016 Spring Training Patch

Sporting our new caps, we watched one of the last games that the Nationals would ever play in Viera. They won it on the strength of a home run by Wilson Ramos and a two-run double by Ryan Zimmerman.

Picture 6 - Wilson Ramos Homers (32116 - Space Coast Stadium, Viera, Florida)

Ramos makes contact

Due to some pre-trip confusion, we scheduled our next stopover at the Mets’ Spring Training home in Port St. Lucie on a day when they were playing in Tampa (oops).  Having made this realization, we rejiggered our plans and used this location as our jumping-off point to Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter. My dad had purchased special tickets that allowed us to enter an hour before the gates usually opened to watch batting practice, and what we saw when we got to the gates was shocking.

Roger Dean Stadium is shared by the St. Louis Cardinals and the Miami Marlins, who happened to be playing each other that day. We came to the park expecting a somewhat equal balance of Marlins and Cards fans. Instead, we were greeted at the gates by a sea of Cardinals red. The entire stadium was filled with the Cardinals faithful, and not a Marlins fan was anywhere to be seen. Marlins fans, your team plays here too. To make things worse, the Cards were designated as the “home team” that day, meaning that even the PA announcer was on the Cardinals’ side.

Our seats for this game were… well… not seats.  The game sold out long before we arrived in Jupiter — apparently to Cardinals fans exclusively — so the only remaining tickets were standing-room-only. My dad and I chose the section along the left field line near the Marlins’ bullpen.

Picture 7 - Ichiro (32316 - Roger Dean Stadium, Jupiter, Florida

Ichiro in action at Roger Dean Stadium

If you’re one of those people who buys a standing-room-only ticket and then sneaks behind home plate in the fourth inning while the usher isn’t looking (you know who you are … I tried), Cardinals games at Roger Dean Stadium are not for you. At most of the Spring Training games we attended, there was a steady flow of people exiting the stadium by the eighth inning or so. However, at this game, the only people I saw leaving before the last out were two poor Marlins fans (the only ones there) who got kicked out of the stadium for heckling their own team. I knew that the Cardinals may have the most dedicated fan base in baseball, but these fans took Spring Training to a whole new level. Long story short: If you want a seat for a Cardinals game at Roger Dean Stadium, buy a ticket.  Early.

Back in Port St. Lucie, we found a batting cage near our hotel. I wanted to take some swings to prepare for my own baseball season. After a few sessions in the cage, a young man asked us how to operate the payment system. After engaging in a short conversation with him, we discovered that we were talking to Christian Montgomery, a New York Mets prospect who will begin this season pitching for Double-A Binghamton. This was my second time talking to professional ballplayers in three days.  Talk about getting lucky.

My elation dimmed upon returning to the hotel when we discovered that the Red Sox game we planned to attend the next day in Fort Myers was also sold out. Even standing-room-only tickets were gone. Apparently, Red Sox fans give Cardinals fans a run for their money in Spring Training enthusiasm. We still had to drive to Fort Myers because we had hotel reservations there. However, we were now free to take a detour half a mile up the road to Tradition Field, which the Mets open to the public at no charge from 9:30 until 11:30 each morning. While there, we watched David Wright, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz, Bartolo Colon, Curtis Granderson and Yoenis Cespedes go through their morning routines.  Manager Terry Collins even wandered over to the fence, spoke to fans, and autographed a ball for me.

Picture 8 - Mets Camp (32416 - Port St. Lucie, Florida)

Terry Collins, between the seams

Terry Collins, between the seams

After about an hour, we had to leave for Fort Myers on the west coast of Florida. Although there was no way we could get into the Red Sox game, we found out that there were two Minor League games being played at the training complex behind the stadium and decided that we could not pass up the chance to see one of the nicest facilities in the Grapefruit League.

Picture 10 - jetBlue Park (32416)

My dad and I ended up watching a game between the Greenville Drive (Class A Red Sox affiliate) and the Delmarva Shorebirds (Class A Baltimore Orioles). As we watched, we heard loud cheers and the famous singing of “Sweet Caroline” coming from inside JetBlue Park as the big league game wound down. Outside, it began to rain in the late innings of the Minor League games that were taking place. After a considerable downpour, the coaches got together and spontaneously called the games off. As a 10-year veteran of Little League Baseball, I can tell you that this was eerily familiar to me. I have had numerous games unceremoniously ended due to weather, never to be completed or rescheduled. Some things never change, do they?

But this was not the end of that day’s excitement. Earlier, one of the Orioles’ Minor Leaguers chipped his bat. As he walked past me on the way back to the clubhouse, I stopped him and asked him if he needed it. He was incredibly friendly, gave me the broken bat and even signed it. Many thanks to Alejandro Juvier. Your bat is a fantastic souvenir that now has a home in front of my bed.

After Fort Myers, we turned north toward Sarasota to see the Orioles play the Yankees at Ed Smith Stadium. Before the game, we met up with former neighbors who moved to Sarasota last summer. This was fun in and of itself, but as an additional surprise our friends had arranged for us to visit the home of their new friends Fernando and Kristi Cuza. Mr. Cuza is a leading agent for Latin players — including many household names — and they invited us to tour their memorabilia room.

My jaw dropped at the sight of the collection. I would say that the Cuzas’ assortment of memorabilia easily rivals a gallery in the National Baseball Hall of Fame (and I’ve been there — twice). Mrs. Cuza was very gracious with her time and shared many insights into her and her husband’s baseball experiences. But the Cuzas’ generosity didn’t stop there. Mr. Cuza gave me a baseball autographed by Miguel Cabrera!

Picture 11 - Miguel Cabrera Signed Baseball

We then made our way to Ed Smith Stadium, where we witnessed an absolute slugfest. The Orioles hit four home runs and the Yankees slammed two, on top of a few hard-hit doubles. We watched those baseballs fly out of the stadium from what I believe was the best standing-room-only view out of all of the parks we visited.

Picture 12 - Ed Smith Stadium (32516)

Our final day found us unexpectedly attending a game between the Philadelphia Phillies and Detroit Tigers at the Phillies’ home park of Bright House Field in Clearwater. We originally planned to attend a Blue Jays game in Dunedin, but that game sold out (again). By going to this game, however, we completed an unintentional tour of every National League East camp.

The game turned out to be entertaining, with a late-inning Tigers comeback to rob the Phillies of a win.  More importantly, we witnessed Justin Verlander’s hilarious bunt and walk to first base that later went viral.  If you missed it, Verlander laid down a bunt with two strikes against him and then proceeded to take about two slow steps toward first before being thrown out. As he veered off toward the Tigers’ dugout, all of the fans on that side of the stadium let loose with a barrage of light-hearted jeers, to which Verlander responded with an elegant doffing of his helmet.

The final out of that game marked the conclusion of our time in Florida. Over the following days, we drove back home with a new (broken) bat, several autographed baseballs, an assortment of Spring Training gear and a week of memories that will last a lifetime. I can’t wait to see what the regular season holds. Go Nationals!

Picture 13 - Equipment Bag

***

Thanks to Jae for contributing this post, which, not surprisingly, contains no spelling errors. If you find yourself intrigued by the idea of contributing a guest blog post, then get in touch. 

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz

On the Road: 2016 Edition

Here we go again. It’s time to hit the open road.

Since 2010, I’ve spent a portion of the baseball season visiting Minor League Baseball stadiums all across the country. My mission at each ballpark is to highlight what it is that makes that team (and city) unique. If each team is a reflection of the community in which it operates, then Minor League Baseball’s 160 teams, taken together, are a reflection of America. So what better way to explore America than through Minor League Baseball?

So, that’s me and what I’m all about. (Plan your own road trips HERE.) 

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I’ve visited 139 Minor League ballparks through the years (some more than once), including 128 of the 159 currently in use. 2016 will see me get that much closer to my goal of “collecting ’em all,” while also providing the opportunity to revisit some past favorites. Here’s a thumbnail; an extensive breakdown immediately follows.

roadtrips 2016

My itinerary is a touch lighter as compared to the last couple of seasons, but should nonetheless result in plenty of unique articles, blog posts, Tweets, Instagram photos and Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Jokes. And, of course, 2016 will mark the fourth season of the “Designated Eater,” in which I recruit an individual at each ballpark to consume the cuisine that my gluten-diet prohibits.

If YOU are interested in being a designated eater at one of the ballparks listed in the itineraries below, then get in touch:  benjamin.hill@mlb.comFirst come, first served — and you MUST get in touch via email. Also: first-time DEs are prioritized over veterans, good communicators are especially welcome and how come women almost never apply?

Anyhow, this could be you:

0482Alright, let’s break it down:

Trip #1: Carolinas On My Mind

May 6: Greensboro Grasshoppers (vs. Columbia Fireflies, 7:00 p.m.)
Designated Eater: Alan Hand

May 7: Durham Bulls (vs. Norfolk Tides, 7:05 p.m.)
Designated Eater: Ken Childs

This should be a memorable evening in Durham, as it’s a “A Tribute to Han Solo” Star Wars Night.

May 8: Greenville Drive (vs. Columbia Fireflies, 4:05 p.m.)
Designated Eater: Rich Wofford

May 9: Charleston RiverDogs (vs. Hickory Crawdads, 7:05 p.m.)
Designated Eater: Frank Monterisi

May 10: Myrtle Beach Pelicans (vs. Winston-Salem Dash, 7:05 p.m.)
Designated Eater:

May 11: “Off”

May 12: Columbia Fireflies (vs. Asheville Tourists, 7:05 p.m.)
Designated Eater: Carter Blackmon

May 13: Carolina Mudcats (vs. Lynchburg Hillcats, 7:00 p.m.)
Designated Eater: Sherman Gillespie

Why? The Columbia Fireflies, one of two new teams/stadiums in Minor League Baseball this season, served as the impetus for this trip. But I was overdue for a Carolinas trip, anyway; I last visited Durham, Charleston and Myrtle Beach in 2011, and have never before been to Greensboro or Zebulon (home of the Mudcats). Greenville I’ve kinda sorta been to, having stopped by the ballpark when the team was on the road in 2010. I’m glad to actually see the Drive in action this time around.

Also, I am one of tens (or, likely, hundreds) of millions of Americans who condemn the idiotic bigotry codified within North Carolina’s HB2 law. The Durham Bulls have recently spoken out against it, and I hope (but am not necessarily expecting) other NC teams to do the same. I’ll be interested in getting the perspectives of fans — particularly those whom this law directly affects — when I’m in North Carolina.

durham_53cameraop3

Manning an HD camera in Durham, 2011

Trip #2: Getting Hartford’s Goat 

Note: This trip is now TBD, as it remains unclear when Dunkin Donuts Park will open.

June 3-4: Hartford Yard Goats (vs. Portland, 7:05 p.m.)
Designated Eater: Jim Manning

Why? This isn’t a trip, really. I’d consider it to be more of a jaunt. It is imperative that I make it to Hartford this season, as the brand-new Yard Goats (who formerly existed as the New Britain Rock Cats) will be playing in brand-new Dunkin’ Donuts Park. After ending last season with a New England-based trip — including the Rock Cats’ last-ever home game — there aren’t many teams in the region I currently feel compelled to visit. So a Hartford exclusive this shall be.

Eat It Up.

Trip #3: Appy League Entirety

June 25: Greeneville Astros (vs. Johnson City, 6:00 p.m.)
Designated Eater:

June 26: Kingsport Mets (vs. Pulaski, 4:00 p.m.)
Designated Eater:

June 27: Johnson City Cardinals (vs. Elizabethton, TBD)
Designated Eater: 

June 28: Bristol Pirates (vs. Greeneville, 7:00 p.m.)
Designated Eater:

June 29: Elizabethton Twins (vs. Pulaski, TBD)
Designated Eater: Daniel Buck

June 30: Princeton Rays (vs. Greeneville, 7:00 p.m.)
Designated Eater:

July 1: Bluefield Blue Jays (vs. Kingsport, 7:05 p.m.)
Designated Eater:

July 2: Pulaski Yankees (vs. Bristol, TBD)
Designated Eater: Thomas Panek

July 3: Danville Braves (vs. Burlington, TBD)
Designated Eater:

July 4: Burlington Royals (vs. Danville, 6:35 p.m.)
Designated Eater: Justin Moody

Why? Finally, after years of pestering, hectoring, cajoling, persuading and pleading from various Appalachian League personnel, I am happy to announce a trip that covers the entire Rookie-level circuit. With the exception of Danville and Burlington (in 2011), I haven’t visited any of these teams before. The travel will be minimal, as well. The first five days of the trip cover the Western Division, during which I will be staying in the same hotel. Johnson City, I’ll soon know you well.

And, yes, by ending in Burlington I’ll pretty much be exactly where I started (and ended) during my May Carolinas trip. I’m sure I’ll get some flak for hitting the same general area twice in the same season, but I’m used to it. Last year, I didn’t make it west of Omaha and this annoyed my three-hours-behind-the-times pals in the Pacific Time Zone.

Burlington heckling squad, 2011. I hope to see them again.

Burlington heckling squad, 2011. I hope to see them again.

Trip 4: Sacramento to Spokane, the Long Way

August 1: Sacramento River Cats (vs. Salt Lake, 7:05 p.m.)
Designated Eater:

August 2: Stockton Ports (vs. Rancho Cucamonga, 7:10 p.m.)
Designated Eater: Ryan Benton

August 3: Modesto Nuts (vs. Visalia, 7:05 p.m.)
Designated Eater: Derek Nyquist

August 4: San Jose Giants (vs. Modesto, 6:30 p.m.)
Designated Eater: John Lambert

August 5: Visalia Rawhide (vs. Inland Empire, 7:00 p.m.)
Designated Eater:

August 6: Las Vegas 51s (vs. Fresno, 7:05 p.m.)
Designated Eater: Zachary Lucy

August 7: “Off”

August 8: Reno Aces (vs. Salt Lake, 7:05 p.m.)
Designated Eater: Jose Aguilar

August 9: “Off”

August 10: Boise Hawks (vs. Hillsboro, 7:15 p.m.)
Designated Eater:

August 11: Tri-City Dust Devils (vs. Spokane, TBD)
Designated Eater:

August 12: Spokane Indians (vs. Eugene, 6:30 p.m.)
Designated Eater: 

Why? Speaking of the Pacific Time Zone, here we are! This trip is a behemoth, motivated by the desire to hit a bunch of disparate teams whom I have missed on past trips. This includes Golden State stalwarts Sacramento and San Jose as well as the final three Northwest League teams I’ve yet to visit: Boise, Tri-City and Spokane. My time in those regions are book-ended by a swing into Nevada, to see the Las Vegas 51s for the first time and to make a return trip to Reno (the Aces were rained out when I visited in 2013). There are several other repeats from the 2013 season thrown in out of scheduling necessity, in the form of Modesto, Stockton and Visalia. My apologies to the Fresno Grizzlies, another 2013 stop whom I would have loved to include had the home and away gods smiled upon me. Maybe I can still stop by Fresno on the way to Visalia and get some Spam fries to go.

A "what could've been" moment from my rained out Reno visit, 2013.

A “what could’ve been” moment from my rained-out Reno visit, 2013.

Postscript: 2017, the Path is Clear

Upon the conclusion of the 2016 season, there will be only a handful of teams I have yet to visit: the Colorado Springs Sky Sox, Frederick Keys, Frisco RoughRiders, Rancho Cucamonga Quakes, Salt Lake Bees and … the entirety of the Pioneer League. Thus, I anticipate the following itineraries:

Southern California: Seeing the Quakes also allows me to see California League teams (such as Lake Elsinore, Lancaster and High Desert) whom I have not visited since 2011.

Frisco: Maybe this will tie into a larger trip, maybe it will just be a RoughRiders exclusive. Either way, visiting Dr Pepper Ballpark is the only way to get RoughRiders broadcaster Nathan Barnett to stop bothering me.

Four States, Four Days: In addition to having never visited the Frederick Keys in Maryland, I am long overdue for stops in both Binghamton and Wilmington. (I visited the former in 2008 and the latter in 2009, both before I started doing these trips in earnest.) The Altoona Curve would be a necessity as well; I have visited them three times but, weirdly enough, never in a traditional regular-season game context.

Oh, Pioneer: This would be a huge one, comprising Colorado Springs and Salt Lake as well as the eight-team Pioneer League (which has teams  in Colorado, Utah, Idaho and Montana). I’m up for it.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Thanks to everyone who has followed along with me thus far, and welcome to anyone who’s on board for the first time. I’m looking forward to my upcoming travels, and also looking forward to receiving my annual barrage of complaints regarding why my itineraries are flawed. (Yes, of course, I went out of my way to visit your team on a Monday.)

As always, feel free to get in touch with all manner of questions and concerns. I remain:

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz

Return to the Road: The Road Ends in Portland

For the last two and a half months, when time has allowed, I’ve written “Return to the Road” posts detailing my non-ballpark traveling experiences during the 2015 season. Today, that series of posts ends with this, a brief account of my time in Portland, Maine.

I arrived in Maine’s most populous city on the evening of September 3, and the next afternoon I had a couple of hours to spare before heading on over to the Sea Dogs’ home of Hadlock Field. Given that this would be my only full day in Maine, I felt like I almost had no choice but to get some lobster. After a thorough research effort (okay, an overwhelming Yelp consensus might have had something to do with it), I chose to visit Fishermen’s Grill.

IMG_0417In the above photograph, the Fishermen’s Grill looks impossibly tiny, kind of like the restaurant version of floor 7 1/2 in Being John Malkovich. But I made it inside, all 68 inches of me, and ordered a “lobstah” roll. Given my gluten-free obligations, I chose the option in which the lobster was served separate from the bread. There was a specific term for this option, but it now eludes me. I’ll call it the “Celiac Compromise.”

The lobster — tender, generously portioned, dipped in butter — was fantastic.

IMG_0415Afterwards I went for a brief stroll in Mayor Baxter Woods. When I came to a fork in the road, I took it.

IMG_0418I then took a short drive to Portland’s downtown, where parking was an ordeal. Finally finding a space for my (rented) Dodge Charger represented a moment of triumph so profound that I documented it for posterity.

IMG_0421The statue in the below photo is reads “PORTLAND: To Her Sons Who Died for the Union.” I like that the dude on the right accidentally snuck into the shot, representing Bob Marley to the fullest on this late summer afternoon.

IMG_0422While parking was tough in Portland’s downtown, the flip side was that it was good for pedestrians.

IMG_0423I’m a big fan of Little Lad’s popcorn, whose “herbal” variety is available here in New York City. Therefore, I was happy to have stumbled upon the Little Lad’s Cafe, which had a plethora of Little Lad’s flavors I had not previously enjoyed. (That said, the original “Herbal” flavor remains my favorite.)

IMG_0426Time was running out (time always seems to be running out while I’m on the road), but I was able to squeeze in one last record store visit. In addition to LPs, Electric Buddha had a variety of old video games as well as a nicely-curated selection of pop culture detritus.

IMG_0425I focused my energy on the records, per usual, and among those I walked away with was “Early Steppenwolf.” This 1967 live LP has since blown my mind to an extent I wasn’t expecting.

And, hey, that’s all I’ve got, as my 2015 road trip posts are now 100% complete. I ended the season looking like this; expect a leaner, meaner and cleaner Ben’s Biz in 2016.

IMG_04132016 ballpark trip schedule coming soon. Hope to see you on the road!

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz

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