Archive for the ‘ Travel ’ Category

On the Road: Taking a Ride on the Zephyr in New Orleans

To see all posts from my July 28, 2015 visit to the New Orleans Zephyrs (this is Part One) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my July/August 2015 trip through the Deep South, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE! 

Quick! What’s the first thing that pops into your head when you think of the city of New Orleans?

No matter what you said, I can (almost) guarantee that it wasn’t “wide open spaces.”

003 I can also (almost) guarantee that it wasn’t “baseball.”

004But, yet, here we are at Zephyr Field, a baseball stadium in a wide open space that serves as the home of the New Orleans Zephyrs. The Zephyrs play in the Pacific Coast League. If there’s one thing you think of when you think “New Orleans,” I can (definitely) guarantee that it isn’t the Pacific Coast.

Technically, Zephyr Field isn’t even in New Orleans. It’s in Metairie,  a suburb located a few miles northwest from New Orleans proper. I was there on Tuesday, July 28, with Zephyr Field the first stop of my Deep South “Shucking and Driving” road trip.

At the time that I arrived, the gates had yet to open. The concourse was largely deserted…

005…as were the playing field and stands…

008

…as was the upper level.

009My companion during these pre-game wanderings was Zephyrs media relations director Dave Sachs, who was full of facts, figures, anecdotes and wry asides. He told me that the franchise’s previous incarnation was the Denver Zephyrs of the American Association, who moved to New Orleans after the 1992 season to make way for the Major League expansion Colorado Rockies. The New Orleans Zephyrs played at Privateer Park — the home of New Orleans Privateers college baseball — for the first four seasons of their existence before moving to brand-new Zephyrs Field in 1997.

The Zephyrs were a Brewers affiliate during those first four years, but when they moved into the new ballpark they dumped the Brewers in favor of the Astros. This is very similar to what happened to the Brewers this past offseason, as they got dumped by the Nashville Sounds (in favor of the Athletics) just as the Sounds were moving into a new ballpark. What I’m trying to say is that over the past two decades the Brewers have not been treated well by their Triple-A affiliates.

Furthermore! In today’s Minor League Baseball landscape, where unique regional identity is everything, it seems inconceivable that a team would keep the same name after moving to another location. The Denver Zephyrs were an homage to the iconic Denver Zephyr passenger train, which ran nonstop to Chicago. But the “Zephyrs” name, as luck would have it, had a New Orleans tie-in as well. Pontchartrain Beach amusement park, defunct since 1983, had had a popular roller coaster named the Zephyr. Thus, the team kept the name upon moving to New Orleans. Until visiting Zephyr Field and talking to Dave, I had not known this backstory, incorrectly and smugly assuming (as I am wont to do) that the only team in Minor League Baseball named after a roller coaster was the Brooklyn Cyclones. 

This bar on the concourse is called the “Last Ride,” paying tribute to what had once been Pontchartrain Beach’s star attraction.

006Dave also told me that Zephyr Field’s outfield berm, nicknamed “The Levee,” allegedly boasts the highest elevation in New Orleans. We’ll put aside the fact that Zephyrs Field is not actually located in New Orleans, as that kind of complicates this factoid.

007Let’s back up for a moment, however, before this roller coaster of a blog post careens off the tracks completely.

Soon after arriving at Zephyr Field, I interviewed infielder (and former Louisiana State University standout) Austin Nola regarding his “name on the front/ name on the back” jersey status. Pretty cool, right?

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PHOTO: Parker Waters, New Orleans Zephyrs

My story on Nola and his NOLA connection, which also includes his thoughts on how he might fare against his brother (pitcher Aaron, now with the Phillies) can be found HERE.

The Zephyrs NOLA uniforms are part of a larger emphasis on displaying New Orleans pride. Prior to the 2010 season, the team adopted a Fleur de Lis primary logo:

lis

The Fleur de Lis mark replaced a Nutria-themed logo, featuring mascot Boudreaux. In an article on the new logo, a writer (me) explained that nutria are “orange-toothed, semi-aquatic rodents that are prevalent in the city of New Orleans.” This article also featured the brilliant lede of, “In with the new, out with the nutria.”

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Old Logo

Nutria, for the record, are fit for human consumption. Boudreaux the mascot is NOT fit for human consumption, however. Do not try to eat him. Or his wife, (the former Clotile Picou). Or their six kids (Beauregard, Cherie, Claudette, Jean-Pierre, Noelle and Thibodaux). Mascot procreation is alive and well in Metairie, though the specifics of this act and subsequent childbirth are closely-guarded industry secrets.

booOh boy. Let’s get this train back on the tracks.

The Zephyrs front offices are located on the ground floor. Clearly, the team had recently staged a Back to the Future promotion.

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Here’s Dave Sachs in his office, which has become a storehouse for All-Star Game voting stations. Paper balloting has been discontinued, thankfully. Otherwise he’d soon have run out of room.

013Soon after the above photo was taken, Dave departed for the press box. I, meanwhile, headed to the stands. It was a low-key night, another thing you probably don’t think of when you think of New Orleans.

016But, yet, here we are…at the end of this post. Stay tuned for the exciting conclusion, which I can (almost) guarantee is not the first thing that pops into your mind when you think “Ben’s Biz Blog.”

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On the Road: Rolling, Dogging and Clawing in West Virginia

To see all posts from my June 30, 2015 visit to the West Virginia Black Bears (this is Part Three) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my June 2015 trip through the Virginias, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE! 

My late June jaunt voyaging through the Virginias was bookended by an all-too-common occurrence: A delayed start to the ballgame due to inclement weather. It happened in Richmond on June 25, and it happened again in Morgantown (or, technically, Granville) on June 30:

In Richmond, I used this extra pre-game time to meet with my designated eater (you know, the individual who consumes the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits). And at Monongalia County Ballpark, home of the fledgling Black Bears franchise, I did the same.

West Virginia Black Bears concessions: Small on signage, big on taste

West Virginia Black Bears concessions: Small on signage, big on taste

My designated eater, one Mike Rensland, was an old friend of mine from the University of Pittsburgh. And, like most Pittsburghers, he travels as part of a pack.

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Mike’s on the far right, standing next to his wife, Julia (I almost referred to Julia as his “long-suffering” wife, just because she’s married to Mike). Next to them is Mike’s brother, Tim. On the far left, wearing a vintage Acid Mothers Temple “Iao Chant from the Cosmic Inferno” t-shirt, is Gary Boeh. Gary was the metal director during the time I was a DJ at 92.1 WPTS, the University of Pittsburgh radio station. (Where I was known, depending on the time slot, as Futon, Professor Murder, and Sanctimonious Jerkface).

In order to get us out of the rain, Black Bears assistant general manager John Pogorzelski bestowed the above group of misfits (and Julia) with their own media passes so that we could proceed to the upper level and occupy a suite. Mike felt right at home, despite the fact that a metal pole had somehow lodged itself into his cranium.

044

In Mike’s left hand is that most vaunted of West Virginia delicacies, the Pepperoni Roll. Specifically, this is the “Loaded Pepperoni Roll.”

041 The Pepperoni Roll, long a coal miner’s lunchtime staple, is simply pepperoni baked into a roll. The Black Bears’ “Loaded” version is topped with chili and cheese. It’s a “Julia’s Pepperoni Roll,” made locally by Chico’s bakery.

For comparison’s sake, this is the pepperoni roll served by West Virginia’s other Minor League Baseball entity, the West Virginia Power.

wvroll

Have at it, Mike, but, please, introduce yourself first.

“The word that comes to mind is ‘Mmmmm,'” said Mike, making a noise that clearly contained six m’s. “The best bites are when you get everything at once. All alone, it’s normal. Together, it’s a flavor masterpiece. I would definitely get it again. I might get it again when we go back outside. It’s fresh.”

Then, turning to his brother, Mike said that “This is up there with the sausage rolls that Mum makes.”

Here’s what the roll looked like after Mike had taken a few bites out of it:

046

Mike wore a cutoff t-shirt bearing an indiscernible black metal band logo to his own wedding reception, but don’t let his appearance deceive you. He’s the math department chair at Urban Pathways, a charter high school located in downtown Pittsburgh. He’s been with the school since 2001, when he and I both worked there as AmeriCorps members in Pittsburgh’s KEYS (Knowledge Empowering Youth to Success) program. Some 14 years later he’s the math chair there, while I’m a niche Minor League Baseball writer based out of New York City. It’s exactly how we planned it.

‘They gave me the job two years ago, and I’m still waiting for my chair,” said Mike.

 

Anyhow, things did not stop with the Pepperoni Roll.

049Mike had apparently forgotten about the hot dog he had put in that steam tray 10 minutes prior. Specifically, it was the West Virginia Dog, a Farmdale frank topped with chili, coleslaw and Dijon mustard.

042Julia had had a West Virginia Dog soon after arriving at the stadium, and she declared it “disappointing” because the “chili had no flavor to it.” Now it was Mike’s turn to give it a try.

050“It’s not bad,” said Mike.

“See, I told you you’d be disappointed,” replied Julia, choosing to interpret Mike’s ambivalence as disappointment.

But Mike pressed on.

“It’s a fairly standard hot dog. I think I’ve been spoiled by Dee’s,” he said, referencing a stellar establishment in Pittsburgh’s Edgewood neighborhood. “It wouldn’t be good without the coleslaw. It gives it a creamy punch.”

Mike then made a punching motion.

An order of nachos had made their way up to the suite as well, which were standard-issue ballpark nachos. It was frustrating, however, that the cheese supply was diminished when there were so many chips left. This is a common lament of the nacho enthusiast, and I believe that teams across Minor League Baseball need to take steps to rectify this problem.

Actually, they need to take just one step: Provide more cheese.

052Our brief suite-based food tour ended on a high note, however. Bear Claws. stuffed with a sugar, butter and almond extract filling, had been obtained from a concourse-level kiosk. Each Bear Claw comes with a bowl of ice cream.

“But what do they do with the rest of the bear?” pondered Mike.

053The Bear Claws were met with a chorus of approbation, loved by all four individuals who tried them.

“The ice cream wets you up, and the bear claw dries you back up,” stated Mike.

 

The only downside was Mike’s cutlery snafu, as a plastic spoon is clearly no match for a bear claw.

060And that’ll do it for Mike and company’s designated eating adventure. If you, for some reason, just can’t get enough of Mike, then check out his band Night Vapor.

“It’s music for the mentally ill,” he said.

The “media” members seen above soon ended their charade, turning their badges in to guest services and returning to their seats just in time for the start of the game.

071Normalcy had returned.

064

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On the Road: Pepperoni Rolls and the PRT in West Virginia

To see all posts from my June 30, 2015 visit to the West Virginia Black Bears (this is Part Two) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my June 2015 trip through the Virginias, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE! 

When the previous installment of this West Virginia Black Bears narrative concluded — in a post that ran back on July 28, covering a game that took place on June 30 — the rains had come and that evening’s scheduled contest against the Mahoning Valley Scrappers was in a delay.

This installment, then, begins when the rain had passed. After a 79-minute delay, it was now time for some New York-Penn League Baseball.

064I had been told that West Virginians were a hardy breed, so I was therefore a bit surprised that so many ticket-holding fans either left during the delay or never showed up at all. This was just the sixth game in franchise history, why not wait it out? Weren’t you just excited to be there? At the very least there was plenty of time to wander around the concourse and get a nice sense of a brand-new ballpark.

Anyhow, those fans that did remain were treated to an excellent rendition of our National Anthem.

And, then, a ballgame began. It is the way of things.

065

Playing ball is one thing, but retrieving them from the too-steep-for-fan-habitation berm area is not allowed. Throughout the ballgame, one can spot tantalizing yet unobtainable Easter eggs nestled within the grass.

067The berm area also provides on-field access for those taking part in between-inning contests.

073

On this evening, those taking part in the between-inning festivities included Mike and Tim Rensland. The Renslands are old friends of mine, dating back to our University of Pittsburgh days. We kept our Pitt connections secret, given that we were in the heart of WVU territory, and this reminds me: the name of the on-field emcee was Caroline, which is a dangerous name to have when you’re in the heart of WVU territory. You will never hear “Sweet Caroline” play at a Black Bears game, that’s for sure. For more specifics on all of this, do a Google search. I do not traffic in profanity.

Another old pal of mine, former WPTS metal director Gary Boeh, declined to participate in the dance-off shown above. However! He did consent to being filmed performing his approximation of Chris Elliot’s Alley Cat dance while wearing his finest Acid Mothers Temple t-shirt.

Characters abounded on this evening. For reasons that made sense at the time, I made my acquaintance with an amiable turtle.

074

And previously that evening I’d had the opportunity to meet Cooper, the Black Bears mascot. He’s a barrel of laughs. (Also, it’s now official: I am fatter than a bear.)

I later rendezvoused with Cooper in this right field corner location.

076Like all rendezvous, this one happened for a good reason. We were there to watch the Pepperoni Roll Race, in which Hot Pepper Hank, Double-Stuffed Dave and Pepperoni and Cheese Patty race across the outfield. (If you don’t know what a Pepperoni Roll is, then just wait until the next blog post).

It was a very uninspired race, as this triumvirate of pepperoni rolls was clearly suffering from a case of post-rain delay lethargy. Nonetheless, they were gracious enough to pose for a picture.

077

Later, a young fan hit some balls into the stands.

080And, later still, fans were treated to a race inspired by WVU’s transportation system.

With the game winding down, I stopped into the “Bear’s Den” team store. A woman named Penny was working the register, and here’s the thing about Penny: she’s the mother of current San Diego Padre Jedd Gyorko. The Gyorko family is from this area, and Jedd went on to become one of the best players in WVU history. Monongalia County Ballpark is even located on “Gyorko Drive,” an homage to Jedd’s sporting success and a re-christening so fresh that it probably isn’t yet showing up in your GPS device of choice. I thought that an interview with Penny, regarding her life in and around baseball, could result in an interesting MiLB.com story. She (very politely) declined, however, marking only the second time this season I’ve been rejected. I’ve still got a pretty good batting average on this front, all things considered.

Meanwhile, the evening’s game between the Black Bears and visiting Hudson Valley Renegades was winding down. The one thing I remember about this contest, as regards the action on the field, is that the players were starting their slides very early and still overshooting the base. That artificial turf is slicker than it looks.

078

Final score: West Virginia 6, Hudson Valley 4

And that was all she wrote from Monongalia County Ballpark, a Black Bears victory finished in front of a crowd announced at just 1,718. By the time the game ended the night was cold, the grounds were wet and the energy was low. But it’s important to remember that the day, way back when, had started out beautifully.

And that this is a beautiful place.

IMG_1549

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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About Last Night: Nashville Sounds, August 5, 2015

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

2015 “On the Road” landing page — including complete itinerary — HERE! 

August 5, 2015:  First Tennessee Park, home of the Nashville Sounds

Opponent: Memphis Redbirds, 7:05 p.m. game time.

First Tennessee Park, from the outside:

015First Tennessee Park, from within:

029Culinary Creation: Hot Chicken, a Nashville specialty

088
Ballpark Character: Booster the rooster, a “Hot Chicken” made literal

078At Random: The Sounds’ old home of Greer Stadium was known for its guitar-shaped scoreboard. Here’s guitar scoreboard, version 2.0

024

Your Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Joke of the Day: I’m not sure that this is even a joke. But, yeah, the first rainout in the history of First Tennessee Park just happened to coincide with the one evening in which I was in town.

Next Up:

My next (and last) road trip of the year kicks off on Aug. 29 with the Connecticut Tigers. Until then, I sleep.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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About Last Night: Jackson Generals, August 3, 2015

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

August 3, 2015:  The Ballpark at Jackson, home of the Jackson Generals

Opponent: Chattanooga Lookouts, 7:05 p.m. game time.

The Ballpark at Jackson, from the outside: 

003The Ballpark at Jackson, from within: 

009

Culinary Creation: Sarge’s Late Night Snack (1/4 pound burger topped with barbecue pork, bacon, Philly steak, white queso, onion, lettuce, tomato and pickle).

029

Ballpark Characters: Sarge and security guard Jimmy Barnes, preparing to drive out onto the field before the game.

015 At Random: Pac-Man, four children and a blue ghost walk past the visitor’s bullpen.

038Your Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Joke of the Day: 

Next Up: 

Desultory Wandering: 8/4

Nashville Sounds: 8/5

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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About Last Night: Mississippi Braves, August 2, 2015

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

August 2, 2015: Trustmark Park, home of the Mississippi Braves 

Opponent: Montgomery Biscuits, 5:00 p.m. game time.

Trustmark Park, from the outside: 

003Trustmark Park, from within: 

021Culinary Creation: Uh, here’s a hot dog with mustard. What more do you want?

038Ballpark Character: Me. Why not? This was taken on the concourse, via an iSnap photo booth.
isnap1At Random: It’s been a while, so here’s a #Cupdate:

IMG_0129

Your Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Joke of the Day: 

Next Up: 

Jackson Generals: 8/3

Nashville Sounds: 8/5

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz

About Last Night: Montgomery Biscuits, August 1, 2015

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

August 1, 2015: Riverwalk Stadium, home of the Montgomery Biscuits 

Opponent: Tennessee Smokies, 6:35 p.m. game time.

Riverwalk Stadium, from the outside: 

007Riverwalk Stadium, from within: 

013Culinary Creation: Biscuits (of course), blending into the woodwork

051Ballpark Character: Miss Gravy, Duchess of Pork — just a pig and her front office cubicle:

039At Random: Riverwalk Stadium used to be a train station, and much of the original architecture remains. These stairs lead to the team offices:

038Your Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Joke of the Day: People are telling me this punchline is too subtle. There is no such thing as a too-subtle punchline.

Next Up: 

Mississippi Braves: 8/2

Jackson Generals: 8/3

Nashville Sounds: 8/5

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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About Last Night: Mobile BayBears, July 31, 2015

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

 July 31, 2015: Hank Aaron Stadium, home of the Mobile Baybears 

Opponent: Jacksonville Suns, 7:05 p.m. game time.

Hank Aaron Stadium, from the outside:

002Hank Aaron Stadium, from within: 

007Culinary Creation: Conecuh Sausage with peppers and onions

029

Ballpark Characters: Batboy Wade Vadakin (now in his 18th season) with his father, Jack (who drives him to every game).

IMG_0089At Random: The kitchen in the Hank Aaron Childhood Home and Museum (located on the grounds of the stadium, open during every game).

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Your Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Joke of the Day: 

Next Up: 

Montgomery Biscuits: 8/1

Mississippi Braves: 8/2

Jackson Generals: 8/3

Nashville Sounds: 8/5

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

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About Last Night: Biloxi Shuckers, July 30, 2015

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

July 30, 2015: MGM Park, home of the Biloxi Shuckers 

Opponent: Jackson Generals, 7:10 p.m. game time.

This was my second night in Biloxi, so I’m going to vary the “About Last Night” template a bit. Here, then, is a Vine depicting my short walk to MGM Park.

And here was the scene, shortly after I arrived.

IMG_0050Some fans took cover in and around the Shuckers Shop.

007Where, for the record, this shirt is the #1 selling item.

005Meanwhile, it just kept raining.

To pass the time, Shuckers broadcaster Chris Harris interviewed me on the air. This was fun.

But what is life if not a constant succumbing to the inevitable? The game was called — doubleheader Friday, Shuckers fans, the first in MGM Park history — and there was nothing left for me to do but (kinda sorta) make a joke.

For far more from my visit to Biloxi, check out this MiLB.com piece.

Next Up: 

Mobile BayBears: 7/31

Montgomery Biscuits: 8/1

Mississippi Braves: 8/2

Jackson Generals: 8/3

Nashville Sounds: 8/5

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

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About Last Night: Biloxi Shuckers, July 29, 2015

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

 July 29, 2015: MGM Park, home of the Biloxi Shuckers 

Opponent: Jackson Generals, 7:10 p.m. game time.

MGM Park, from the outside:

007MGM Park, from within: 

025Culinary Creation: Garlic-butter grilled oysters (shucked offsite, but so shuckin’ good).

IMG_0036Ballpark Character: Bello, daredevil clown extraordinaire, hamming it up before tossing a ceremonial first pitch.

041At Random: An interesting approach to foul pole construction.

026Your groundbreaking and subversive ballpark joke of the day: Thus far, I’ve got nothing. Wish me luck, as I’ll be making a return trip to the Shuckers tonight.

Next Up: 

Biloxi Shuckers, part II: 7/30

Mobile BayBears: 7/31

Montgomery Biscuits: 8/1

Mississippi Braves: 8/2

Jackson Generals: 8/3

Nashville Sounds: 8/5

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz

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