Once again, it is time to return to the road. This latest round of posts detail my late July/early August journey through a not-inconsiderable portion of the South. The previous installment detailed my time in the general area of Biloxi. Today we begin in Mobile, Alabama, home of the BayBears.
As is too often the case on my jam-packed road trips, I didn’t really have any time to explore Mobile. (I had the time when I was there in 2010, however).
Anyhow, here’s a picture taken from an elevated location.
And…that’s about all I have for Mobile. I was actively mobile throughout my entire stay and didn’t really have the time to take pictures. Early the next afternoon, before leaving town, I set my coordinates for a Vietnamese restaurant. Along the way, however, I saw this.
As a big fan of mudbugs — or crawfish, or crayfish, or whatever you want to call them — I felt compelled to alter my plans and stop in for lunch. However, I got confused and ordered a platter off of the “fried” menu instead of the “fresh.” This would be a mistake under any circumstances, but doubly so for me given my (unwanted but necessary) gluten-free reality.
After staring at this brown mound with a mixture of shock and horror, I left the restaurant in a state of shame and disgrace.
My bad luck (or, more accurately, ineptitude) continued at a nearby gas station, where a serious of payment issues, gas cap snafus and miscellaneous bloopers led to a prolonged ordeal. At the end of it I was so flustered that a fellow customer had to stop me from driving away with the hood of my car popped open. It was a complicated and embarrassing situation, and that night in my hotel room I recorded a six-minute monologue about it.
I will not share said monologue. Just know that, on the road, I sometimes experience mental meltdowns. But the bad times are more than made up for by the unexpected joys.
Unexpected joys such as finding this unorthodox salt and pepper distribution system in my Montgomery, Alabama hotel room.
The next day, I left Montgomery (home of the Biscuits) and drove onward to Pearl, Mississippi (home of the Mississippi Braves). As it just so happened (I didn’t even realize it beforehand), my planned Route 80 excursion took me across the Alabama River via the Edmund Pettus Bridge.
The Edmund Pettus Bridge was the location of one of the most indelible moments of the Civil Rights movement. On “Bloody Sunday” — March 7, 1965 — demonstrators were viciously attacked by police (and recently-deputized legitimized thugs) as they walked the bridge while en route to Montgomery to confront Governor George Wallace about the recent police murder of protester Jimmie Jackson. Two days later, with the nation watching, the demonstrators returned and, this time, were allowed to cross the bridge in peace. These events were powerfully depicted in the 2014 Martin Luther King biopic Selma.
And there I was, driving across that very same bridge on a sleepy Sunday morning, while en route from one Minor League stadium to another. I pulled over in Selma’s nearly deserted downtown and walked across the bridge, feeling nearly overcome with emotion (including self-loathing, for not ever taking a true risk in service of a greater good). Pettus, a former Alabama governor, was a Grand Dragon in the KKK. And now his name will forever be associated with peaceful protest in service of racial equality.
After that welcome pit stop, it was onward toward Pearl. Misunderstanding just how rural the drive would be, I didn’t fill up my tank when I had the chance and almost ran out of gas. I don’t know where this gas station was, but I was very happy to have found it.
Finally, I made it to Mississippi.
Hello, and welcome to the latest installment of “Return to the Road.” Yesterday’s post detailed a few highlights of my time in New Orleans from July 27-29. On the 29th — a Wednesday, for those keeping score at home — I drove approximately 90 miles northeast to Biloxi. I was in Biloxi for two nights but, unfortunately, spent very little time in the city itself outside of MGM Park and a nearby hotel.
I did poke around the area a little, but let’s back up a bit. During the Shuckers game on the 29th, I met local restaurateur Brad Orrison. He’s the co-owner of The Shed, a barbecue located in nearby Ocean Springs that also has a stand at MGM Park.
On the afternoon of July 30, I decided to drive to The Shed. It is a self-consciously ramshackle and very spacious establishment.
To my left, there was a live performance area. The Shed is a “Blues and BBQ joint,” and I imagine that it gets pretty lively on nights and especially weekends. Thursday afternoons, not so much.
Here’s a (poorly lit) photo of brisket and baked beans (My fries never arrived, but I decided not to make an issue of it after remembering that I’m too fat as it is).
I should really keep tasting notes or something, because I’m writing this some seven months later and my memory is hazy regarding how The Shed’s barbecue actually tasted. I recall liking it, but that the meat could have stood to be a little tenderer. In retrospect, I wish I had gotten the ribs, which are the house specialty.
Also during the Shuckers game on the 29th, then-general manager Buck Rogers (now with the Lancaster JetHawks) told me that his favorite barbecue in the area was the burnt ends at Murky Waters. In order to get ’em, though, you had to arrive early. Therefore, on July 31, after checking out of the hotel, I drove back to Ocean Springs.
Murky Waters is in downtown proper, as opposed to The Shed’s more remote Highway 57 location.
Burnt ends are the best, in general, and these were particularly good. Soft, fatty. melt-in-your-mouth meat contrasted with a crisp blackened crunch (a description that, metaphorically speaking, could be applied to many of my favorite bands).
Anyhow, Ocean Springs is a picaresque town.
Somewhere in the vicinity of the tree-lined street shown above, I stopped at a local pharmacy to pick up toothpaste and pens (two of my biggest road trip needs). I was quite taken with the store’s selection and decor.
Return to the Road 2015: Trip IV, Chapter I
Things are getting busy here at MiLB.com HQ, as the season is now only five weeks away. Therefore, while I still have the sliver of opportunity, I am return to my ongoing “Return to the Road” series of blog posts.
Today marks the first installment in a series of posts that will cover my late July/early August trip through the South. The journey began in New Orleans on July 27th and ended in Nashville on August 6th.
I arrived in New Orleans on July 27th, a day before I was to see the New Orleans Zephyrs. So, I had a little free time. A mini-vacation, if you will. I got a cheap hotel room at the Hotel Royal in the French Quarter (it was a last-minute booking for a Monday night in late July, a great time to get affordable lodging in New Orleans).
The room itself was unremarkable, but the courtyard was great.
I didn’t see any ghosts while I was in New Orleans, but I could occasionally feel them whispering veiled allusions into my subconscious. The whole city is haunted, apparently, to the point where real estate signage actually makes it a selling point.
I am saddened and embarrassed to report that I didn’t make the most of my “off” night in New Orleans. I was kinda stressed about the trip, and had many logistics to coordinate and writing to get caught up on. When not in the hotel room I just kinda wandered around, including a depressing 90 -minute jaunt amid the claustrophobic clamor of the Bourbon Street tourist traps. I sulked about, hand grenade in hand (drink, not weapon), and soon called it a night.
The next afternoon was better, as I spent a couple of hours with my friends Rachel and D.J. (who live in the city and — hey! — just had a baby. Congrats). They live in Uptown, on a street boasting “only in New Orleans” parking signage.
Rachel and D.J. took me to Hansen’s Sno-Bliz, a New Orleans institution.
Hansen’s Sno-Bliz sells sno-balls, a New Orleans specialty. They are basically high-quality snow cones, in which flavored syrups are poured atop soft mounds of shaved ice. I was overwhelmed by the number of flavors available.
The evening of July 28th was spent with the New Orleans Zephyrs, who are actually located in nearby Metairie. A dedicated “Return to the Road” reader has since informed me that Gram Parsons is buried in Metairie. (The legendary country-rocker died in Joshua Tree, and getting his body back home was, to put it mildly, a complicated situation.)
My final act in New Orleans was to have lunch at the Camelia Grill with Rachel and D.J. Behind the stately exterior lies a beloved greasy spoon diner known for its bow-tied wait staff and cramped, communal counter seating.
Thus concludes one of the most ramshackle and arbitrary New Orleans write-ups that has ever graced the internet, as I was soon on to Biloxi. Please, stay tuned. There will be more where this came from, all the way until there isn’t.
Return to the Road 2015: Trip Three, Chapter Two
The previous installment of my “Return to the Road” series of blog posts covered my time in Richmond on June 25 and 26th. On the afternoon of June 26th, I left Richmond and drove straight to Norfolk’s Harbor Park for that evening’s game between the Tides and Toledo Mud Hens. That was a horrible drive. I got stuck in horrific traffic en route to a tunnel whose name I do not care to remember, and by the time I arrived at the ballpark I could barely think coherently.
The next day, my mind had returned to an acceptably functioning state. Before embarking on the 200-mile drive to Lynchburg, I set my coordinates for — you guessed it — a record store. This is The Groove Record Shop, located on the ground floor of a new(ish) apartment building on Granby Street.
I was greeted at The Groove by Paul Levine, the store’s amiable sexagenarian owner. He told me an abbreviated version of that which is explained in this local news article — namely, that the original Groove Record Shop opened in 1949 and was owned by parents, with the store eventually moving to Granby Street. When Levine opened up the “new” Groove in 2014, it marked a triumphant return to Granby Street after a 46-year hiatus.
Why can’t I ever take a good picture when I’m inside a record store?
The Groove’s overall selection was solid but relatively sparse: All vinyl, both new and used. I picked up a used copy of Fleetwood Mac’s “Tusk” and a slightly damaged early Bob Seger record (“Smokin’ O.P.’s”, which is unfortunately not a reference to on-base plus slugging percentage).
After leaving The Groove, I briefly admired Granby Street’s faded historical signage.
Shortly thereafter, I pulled in to the Virginia Diner. Because, you know, it’s a Legend in a Nutshell.
In Waverly, Virginia, I found Cowling’s BBQ.
This was North Carolina-style barbecue, with a vinegar-based sauce. I prefer a vinegar-based sauce, especially when it’s atop a pile of succulent pulled pork.
After that, things are kind of a blur for the next couple of days. I attended that evening’s (rained-out) Lynchburg Hillcats game, and was on the road the next morning for a pleasant Sunday drive to Salem. After seeing the Salem Red Sox that afternoon, I visited a Mexican restaurant for dinner. I forget the name of this Mexican restaurant, but after doing a little internet research I’m going to guess that it was El Toreo.
At any rate, this is the most absurd amount of food I’ve ever ended up with after placing a single order.
I live in NYC, which also has terrible traffic, but the difference is that you can live in NYC without a car. I don’t understand how people can live in suburban D.C. and not have the traffic drive them insane. Their tolerance for daily suffering is greater than mine.
On June 30th I finally left the confines of Virginia, crossing the state line into Maryland en route to West Virginia to see the Black Bears. Along the way, somewhere in Maryland, I stopped at a convenience store and bought the local Dutch delicacy that is the beet egg. (I was already aware of beet eggs as a result of buying one at a Hagerstown Suns game I attended in 2011.)
Beet eggs are naturally reddish-purple in color, as a result of being pickled in a beet-based brine, but for some reason the eggs I bought listed “red food coloring” as an ingredient. This just makes them redder, I guess.
After witnessing June 30’s West Virginia Black Bears game, I drove straight to Pittsburgh and arrived late that night. I went to college in Pittsburgh (Pitt, class of 2001) and still have friends there, so this was a good opportunity for a quick visit.
When in Pittsburgh, visiting Jerry’s Records is a must. An absolute must. As I’ve written before (and will write again), it is the world’s greatest record store.
This is the main room of the store, but there are several other rooms and thus plenty more records beyond what can be seen in this picture.
I contemplated buying this album and sending it to Wisconsin Timber Rattlers broadcaster (and noted ’70s TV aficionado) Chris Mehring. Instead, I just took a picture. I mean, why would one buy a Kojak album instead of watching him on the Telly?
And on and on it goes. Jerry’s is a goldmine, and I bought a bunch of stuff. I won’t bore you with the details. There have been too many of those already.
Thank you for, once again, for returning to the road with me. I’ve got two more trips left to write about in this manner, which should then lead to the announcement of my 2016 travel itinerary. Is it ever not the season?
The previous post in this “Return to the Road” blog saga covered the first half of my May 2015 trip through the Midwest. This post finishes the job, detailing my non-ballpark wanderings as I moved from Peoria to Cedar Rapids to Des Moines to Omaha.
I arrived in Peoria on the night of May 25 and thus had some free time in the early afternoon before attending May 26’s Chiefs game. When I have a small window of free time in a city that I’ve never been to, I find a record store to visit. It’s just what I do, as I’m a creature of habit.
This is Ribbon Records, a hybrid record and vintage clothing shop which, according to this blog post, is in a building formerly occupied by Murray’s Department Store.
Richard Pryor: “Wanted” (he is a Peoria native, after all)
Hank Williams: “Sings ‘Kaw-liga’ and Other Humorous Songs”
Motley Crue: “Too Fast for Love”
Nancy Sinatra: “Movin’ with Nancy”
That Nancy Sinatra LP is produced by Lee Hazlewood, and if you ever see Nancy and Lee’s names together on the same album then do not think. Just buy!
The only other things I can tell you about my time in Peoria, outside of the ballpark, was that I ate lunch at Lorena’s….
It is obscene how much I enjoy pork cracklins.
The cover art is inexcusably awful, but this is a well-curated and thoroughly enjoyable set of ’50s, ’60s and ’70s truck-drivin’ country songs. “Giddyup Go, Daddy.”
I spent the evening of May 27 with the Cedar Rapids Kernels, leaving the city early the next morning. Cedar Rapids, I hardly knew ye.
May 28 was devoted to an Iowa Cubs matinee in Des Moines and then an Omaha Storm Chasers game in the evening. The next morning, before flying out of Omaha, I stopped at Almost Music. I somehow failed to take a photograph of this establishment, so here’s one from the Yelp page.
Almost Music, while small, was well-organized and featured a lot of off-the-beaten path kind of stuff for the heads and weirdos in your life. I picked up an R. Stevie Moore record (“Delicate Tension”) as well as a CD from local emcee Macey Yates (I had asked the guy at the counter to recommend an Omaha artist completely removed from the Saddle Creek universe).
And then? Then I went home. There are a lot of things I like about living in New York City, but you don’t get to see nearly enough bird’s nests. Thanks, Midwest, for the memories.
Earlier this month, I wrote a series of “Return to the Road” posts detailing my non-ballpark experiences during April’s trip to Florida. Today, I’ll move on to similar material, this time centering around late May’s quick jaunt through the Midwest.
May 23 was a whirlwind — an early flight from NYC to Chicago, an extremely long wait for a rental car, a quick hotel check-in and then a jam-packed evening with the Kane County Cougars. It was all a blur, and that feeling persisted into the next morning.
I had no idea which car in the hotel parking lot was mine! I took both of them, just to be sure.
From there it was on to a (rained out) afternoon with the Quad Cities River Bandits, followed by an early evening drive to Clinton, Iowa. At some point during this drive, I took a picture of some amusing rest stop bathroom graffiti. I wish that I could share it with you in full, but this is a family blog (you’re probably reading this with your family right now, as Ben’s Biz is one of the few things that unites the average American family in this fractured media age).
Clinton, a factory town, came through on the Mexican front. This restaurant, as you can see, was in close proximity to a smoking lamppost.
Despite an 80 percent ingredient overlap from dish to dish, El Tapatio had a menu whose length was roughly equivalent to that of the Old Testament.
I don’t remember what I ordered, exactly, but it was, essentially, steak and eggs and rice and beans. Fundamental. (In the below photo, note that I was still reading an Athlon baseball preview magazine in late May. Those things take me forever to get through, as I am one of those obsessive types who reads every word of every page.)
The next morning, May 25, I drove to Clinton’s Eagle Point Park and took a stroll.
While I had less than an hour in which to wander around the premises, I’m glad that I visited Eagle Park. If you should ever be in Clinton, to see the LumberKings or otherwise, then I suggest that you do so as well. The park overlooks the Mississippi River, which, as it runs past Clinton, is at one of its widest points.
This brief pit stop was motivated by then-Richmond Flying Squirrels (and now Virginia Tech) broadcaster Jon Laaser, who consistently paid tribute to pitcher Jack Snodgrass via creative use of the “word” Snodgrass.
One of many examples.
After witnessing a Memorial Day doubleheader in Clinton, I drove back to Quad Cities and caught the second game of the River Bandits’ doubleheader against the Chiefs. From there, it was time for a nighttime drive to Peoria so that I would be well-positioned to see those very same Chiefs the following evening.
The second — and final — entry of this Midwest-based “Return to the Road” saga will begin in Peoria. We’ll see how it plays.
Yesterday’s bouillabaisse blog post focused exclusively on anniversary logos. Today, the bouillabaisse returns for the more wide-ranging grab bag of the Minor League odds, sods, bits, scraps, leftovers, debris and remnants that you (may) have come to love. If you’re a fan of divers and sundry, then you’re definitely in the right place.
Let’s begin by returning to yesterday’s topic, as I neglected to include the Lancaster JetHawks’ 20th anniversary logo.
The JetHawks will be celebrating this Diamond milestone throughout the season, perhaps most noticeably with their “20th Anniversary Mondays” promo (in which ticket prices are rolled back to what they were in 1996). May I suggest a promotion in which they ask fans to submit their best Lancaster-area dust storm photos from the last 20 years? This could be called “Show Us Your Haboobs.”
Yesterday (or Wednesday, for those keeping score at home), the Columbia Fireflies unveiled their uniforms. The Fireflies are the Mets’ Class A affiliate, replacing the Savannah Sand Gnats.
Interestingly, the Fireflies’ press release does not include the phrase “glow in the dark.” But, yes, portions of this uniform will indeed glow in the dark. Entities across the internet were quick to celebrate this fact.
— Cut4 (@Cut4) January 27, 2016
— Chris Creamer (@sportslogosnet) January 27, 2016
Question: Are the Fireflies the first Minor League team to have uniforms that incorporate glow-in-the-dark elements?
Last week the Omaha Storm Chasers announced the winners of their annual bookmark design contest, which the teams says is “the highlight” of their “Hit the Books” literacy program. I am including this photo of the winning designs because the overall winner’s name is “Brooklyn Bratetic” and that has to be one of the coolest names I’ve ever heard.
You may also recall (but more likely you never even knew) that January 21 was “Squirrel Appreciation Day.” The World’s Fastest Squirrel, long a part of the Lake Elsinore Storm’s usual gang of idiots, was one of the prime recipients of this nationwide outpouring of appreciation.
— Lake Elsinore Storm (@Storm_Baseball) January 21, 2016
Oh, and wouldn’t you know it? I have just been reminded of another anniversary logo that I forgot to include in my previous post: The Tri-City ValleyCats are celebrating their 15th season. If my calculations are correct, each white star in the logo equals one season, while each red star equals four seasons.
Now that this post is properly bookended, I’ll bring this latest (and therefore greatest) bouillabaisse session. Stay tuned for more, if you’re into that sort of thing.
Part One of this Florida-based “Return to the Road” saga covered my non-ballpark wanderings in the general area of Bradenton, Tampa and St. Petersburg. Part Two focused on my visit to Minor League Baseball headquarters in St. Petersburg. This, Part Three, covers the final section of April’s trip through the Sunshine State.
We begin on April 15, when I visited — you guessed it — a record store. This one is located in the greater Palm Beach area, but here’s the thing: I no longer remember where, exactly, I was or what this record store was called. I’m sure a helpful reader — most likely Ed Pelegrino — will soon fill me in.
This particular record store was quite expansive. I got a copy of Sparks “A Woofer in Tweeter’s Clothing” for, like $7 bucks. Great deal, and if you’re a fan of Sparks then you’re a friend of mine. I also bought “Use Your Illusion II” on CD, as part of my ongoing effort to own all Guns N’ Roses albums in all formats.
Fascinating stuff, right? The next several days, as I made my way through Vero Beach, St. Lucie and Brevard County, are similarly bereft of non-ballpark related materials. At one point I went to a Vietnamese restaurant in St. Lucie and was dismayed to find that their pork chops were off the bone and of a weirdly pinkish hue.
I do remember that, after attending April 18’s Brevard County Manatees game, I was craving Buffalo Wild Wings. The closest one was, like, 20 miles away, so I called in my order and then made the drive there on Route 95. When I got there, my order wasn’t ready and, in fact, they hadn’t even started it yet.
But all’s well that end’s well. On these road trips I’m overwhelmed with details and often lost within my own manic mind, and sometimes a meal like this in a hotel room represents the pinnacle of relaxation and luxury.
After eating my dinner, I found this Man of Steel Blu-Ray underneath a chair. I did not take it, because I do not know what a Blu-Ray is, and superhero movies are uniformly terrible (there are no exceptions to this rule).
Nonetheless, I was inspired to go out into the lobby and create a superhero of my own. I am Feline Man, who travels with his trusty sidekick, Cobra Guy, fighting bad guys up and down the dangerous back roads of Brevard County.
The following day, April 19, was one of the busiest and multi-faceted days that I enjoyed while on the road this season. I got up bright and early and got on good ol’ 95, barreling toward Jacksonville. As I did when en route to Pensacola in 2012, I stopped at one of the infinitely appealing roadside tourist traps.
Florida citrus — believe the hype! It is remarkable how much more flavor it has, when consumed at peak freshness. And there is a variety beyond what one can find at grocery stores in other parts of the country.
Why was I here? Because there is a reason for everything.
The night before, while emailing Suns staff about logistics related to my imminent visit, Suns box office manager (and seamstress!) Theresa Viets said I should stop by the brewery’s parking lot food truck fest if I had the time.
Early afternoon on a hot summer’s day is definitely not an ideal time for a band like Grandpa’s Cough Medicine, whose incredibly adept bluegrass blazers are best suited to late whisky nights. But, regardless, I was amazed at how good these guys are; incredible finger-picking skills, clever and often darkly humorous lyrics and an innate chemistry that can only be honed by playing live on a regular basis.
Here’s the title track off of their latest album, which I bought right after they finished playing (to a disinterested, sun-baked audience). I mean, my goodness. This band deserves a much wider profile.
I still had about two hours before my scheduled arrival at the ballpark, so I drove from the brewery to Jacksonville’s Five Points neighborhood.
I parked on a nearby residential street, who knows where, and walked past “Troops of Time” en route to bustling Park Street. I really should have gone inside. Despite being a longtime Martika fan, I’ve never visited a toy soldier store.
5 Points, just north and west of downtown and The Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville, has Deep Search Records, a bar called Rain Dogs, a weird beer/misc. store called Cask, another bar called Starlight, I think? And a dope movie theater (Sun-Ray), a one screen joint with beer, pizza, indie movies, live shows, and Hollywood movies, too.
It also has Wall Street, which is my favorite dive in Jax.
And, well, that’ll do it for my “Return to the Road” recap of April’s trip to the Sunshine State. Stay tuned for similar material throughout the remainder of the offseason. You’ll be glad you did. Or at least I think you’ll be glad. Who really does know? I sure don’t.
Part One of this “Return to the Road” saga covered my non-ballpark wanderings in the general area of Bradenton, Tampa and St. Petersburg. This post, which I will cleverly refer to as Part Two, picks up right where I left off in, still in St. Petersburg. After a quick stroll through the city’s downtown, I hopped back into the rental vehicle and drove to an unassuming office park. This is the site of Minor League Baseball headquarters.
I’ve been to MiLB headquarters before, in 2012. The above photo was taken during that visit, which yielded a blog post as well as a MiLB.com article. As in 2012, I spent a nice chunk of time exploring the building’s treasure trove of historical Minor League artifacts. Jeff Lantz, Minor League Baseball’s director of communications, served as my tour guide.
This narrow cinder-block room, fireproof and lined with filing cabinets, gives on an indication as to how player data was stored in the pre-digital age.
Some of the cards contain a detailed record of the player’s transaction history. I must have taken a photo of this one simply because it was located in the first drawer. John Ackley played seven seasons in the Red Sox system, from 1979-85.
More reading material can be found in the library, which totally makes sense. Shelves such as this might not look particularly interesting, but looks can be deceiving.
If time was not of the essence, I would have spent the remainder of the day in the Minor League Baseball library. But time was of the essence, and there was still one more room I absolutely had to visit.
The legendary hat wall, a point of obsession for a certain subset of baseball fans, features the primary hat of all 160 affiliated Minor League teams. The hats are listed alphabetically, and I imagine that since this photo was taken the Hartford Yard Goats and Columbia Fireflies have been added (and the New Britain Rock Cats and Savannah Sand Gnats removed).
With the help of Jeff Lantz, I then produced the following Vine video.
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) January 15, 2016
And that just about did it for my time at Minor League Baseball Headquarters, as I was due to catch that evening’s Dunedin Blue Jays game. All I remember about the drive from St. Petersburg to Dunedin was that the weather was bad and the traffic awful.