Archive for the ‘ Travel ’ Category

On the Road: Wandering Sharks and Airborne Chickens in New Hampshire

To see all posts from my September 2, 2015 visit to the New Hampshire Fisher Cats (this is Part Two) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my August/September 2015 trip through New England, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE!

On September 2 I visited Northeast Delta Dental Stadium, home of the New Hampshire Fisher Cats. Yes, it was a Wednesday evening late in the season. But I was there and I was alive and it’s always good to be alive because if you’re not alive you’re dead.

The Fisher Cats were playing their rivals to the north, the Portland Sea Dogs.

024My pregame wanderings and observations were documented in the previous post. Shortly after the game began, I met up with my designated eater (you know, the individual who eats the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits), and that will be documented in the next post.

So where does that leave us now? How about here, in the Fisher Cats broadcast booth, alongside Tom Gauthier?


I spent an inning on the air with Tom, who came to the Fisher Cats after a stint with the Bowling Green Hot Rods. Here, he sets the scene.

The view from the booth.

037Tom’s current broadcasting partner is Ben Gellman-Chomsky, who last appeared on this blog in a post about the 2014 Winter Meetings.

061Ben and I have long been Twitter pals, at least in part because he is always up for a pun battle. Or always was up for a pun battle, as earlier this month he finally run out of patience with my wordplay compulsions. I think I need to join some sort of pun addiction treatment program.

After visiting the booth, I went back down to the concourse. Shockingly, the view was almost the same as it had been in the broadcast booth. It was just a little lower to the ground.

039I would soon go lower still, all the way into the bowels of the stadium.

040Things always get a little strange in the bowels of the stadium, it’s the Minor League Baseball equivalent of visiting the bottom of the ocean. Giant hamburgers lie in disarray in front of makeshift storage areas, which are guarded by walking bipedal sharks.

041I had entered into this netherworld to gain access to the field, where I would attempt to catch rubber chickens in a bucket. These rubber chickens were thrown at me by a lacrosse stick-wielding man in a chicken mask.


I caught every rubber chicken that the man in the chicken mask flung at me.

047 What a great way to celebrate my 13th birthday. I hadn’t had this much fun since being born in 2002.

050I then walked back up to the concourse and was greeted by a giant, floating carton of milk. This was milk of the people, not of the 1%.

051The milk carton introduced me to his friend, Concourse Tractor, who turned out to be a repository of relevant information.

055Hamburgers, sharks, chickens, chicken-men, giant milk, Concourse Tractor. It was all getting to be a bit much, so I decided to find a quiet place to lay down.

056If there’s one thing I hate, it’s a hot door. So never mind taking a rest, I just kept on walking until I arrived at a deserted corner of the stadium. While within this state of isolation (my preferred state), I wrote and disseminated my Subversive and Groundbreaking Ballpark Joke of the Day.

A subsequent stop at the team store led me to observe that the Fisher Cats were selling apparel bearing the logo of a team that never existed: The New Hampshire Primaries.

IMG_0386The “Primaries” was actually the original name of the team, but after a public uproar the front office powers-that-be capitulated and subsequently decided via a “name the team” contest that an invasive species of mammal known for its wanton slaughter of domestic pets would be a better choice.

I personally love the Primaries team name and logo, and think that it is worthy of bipartisan support. Could that donkey look any smugger?

primariesAnd, yes, lest I forget: There was a game going on.

057It was an extra-inning game, in fact, as my notes helpfully explain that “someone hit a two-run homer to tie it in the ninth.” That someone was Shane Opitz of the Fisher Cats, whose blast over the center field wall tied the game 3-3. The tie score didn’t last long, however, as Manuel Margot singled to lead off the 10th, advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt and scored on a Sam Travis single. This gave the Sea Dogs a 4-3 lead, and this was the final score.

Congrats, Sea Dogs. Please converge into an indistinct heap upon the center of the diamond.

059But please don’t dawdle, as Launch-A-Ball awaits.

“Launch-A-Ball! Not to be confused with Lunchables, which are a delicious meal.” — actual sales pitch for Launch-A-Ball tennis balls that I had heard earlier in the evening.

It was a pretty slow night for Launch-A-Ball, but the show must go on.

060And that did it for my night with the Fisher Cats. Since they’re a Toronto affiliate, does that make them a “Double-Eh” team?


Alright, fine, whatever. I’ll show myself out.

Checking Out the Inn, in New Hampshire

To see all posts from my September 1, 2015 visit to the New Hampshire Fisher Cats (this is Part One) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my August/September 2015 trip through New England, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE!

On Wednesday, September 2, I woke up in a hotel room in Providence. After grabbing a food truck lunch with my friend Jake and taking a short stroll around downtown, it was time to say goodbye — or “biddadoo” as the French say — to Rhode Island. Next up on the ballpark road trip agenda was Manchester, home of the New Hampshire Fisher Cats. Just as the Pawtucket Red Sox are the only Minor League team in Rhode Island, the Fisher Cats are the only team in New Hampshire. They currently enjoy a state-wide monopoly on this whole “Minor League Baseball” thing, and they also enjoy a monopoly in the category of “naming one’s self after an invasive and vicious mammalian species.”


The Fisher Cats play at a facility that is nothing if not awkwardly named: Northeast Delta Dental Stadium. It opened in 2005 (as Fisher Cats Ballpark), one year after the team relocated to Manchester from New Haven, Connecticut.

Upon arriving at the ballpark, which I prefer to refer to simply as “N Double-D S ,” I deposited my car in a lot reserved for VIPs such as myself. This lot was thoroughly protected from any wayward baseballs that might come skyrocketing out of the stadium.

004I did not enter the stadium from this location, however. I traversed from the lot to a sidewalk located behind the outfield fence and began walking toward toward center field. I soon arrived at this Hilton Garden Inn.


At the back end of the hotel’s ground floor, one finds the Pavilion Restaurant. The restaurant’s patio directly faces the N Double-D S playing field. It does not include access to the stadium itself, nor does the stadium provide direct access to the hotel.


009The hotel also offers rooms that look directly onto the field, though I unfortunately did not have access to that particular vantage point. Instead, I retraced my steps back out of the hotel and walked with resolve and confidence toward the main entrance of the stadium.

012The main N Double-D S entrance is at the left field side of the stadium. A staircase leads up and onto the open concourse.


This is the view from behind home plate, with the Hilton Garden Inn as centerpiece. The Hood Milk sign at the far left edge of the shot (I skimmed a little bit off the side) used to reside at Fenway Park in Boston. It is not whole-ly out of place here, make sure to pass your eyes right by it.

IMG_0382 My concourse journey culminated at the far right field side of the stadium.

017In the photo below, note that there is a red cloth draped over the outfield wall. This cloth was covering Chris Carpenter’s number 29, which was to be retired during a pregame ceremony. Carpenter never played for the Fisher Cats, but he’s a New Hampshire native who went on to pitch for the Blue Jays (with whom the Fisher Cats are currently affiliated).

016I also found myself fascinated by the Sign Gallery billboard next to the right field foul pole. It’s like they took elements from three separate billboards and mashed them together into one chaotic whole.

016It was soon time to move from one CSI to another. Corporate Sign Identity gave way to Carpenter’s Speaking Ingagement. (Yeah, I know.)

Carpenter gave a short, gracious speech as his two kids looked on.

IMG_0383Fungo, who may or may not have eyes, approved of Carpenter’s oration.

020Carpenter then ceded his ceremonial first pitch obligation to his son, Sam.

021During the exchanging of the lineup cards, Fisher Cats manager Bobby Meacham was accompanied by 12-year-old Mark Basnett.

022We’ll be seeing more of Mark in the very near future, as he was my designated eater that evening (you know, the individual who consumes the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits.

But, for now, it was time to rise and remove hats for the singing of the National Anthem.

023And, after that, there’s nothing left to do but “Play Ball!”

024What a well-oiled machine this blog is. These posts just write themselves, and that’ll do it for this one. Stay tuned for Part Two from Manchester.

Eating Blount and Sipping Del’s in Pawtucket

To see all posts from my September 1, 2015 visit to the Pawtucket Red Sox (this is Part Three) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my August/September 2015 trip through New England, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE!

The longest baseball game in professional history was played at Pawtucket’s McCoy Stadium. The 33-inning affair began on April 18, 1981, continued into the wee hours of the 19th and was finally, mercifully, completed on June 23. Undoubtedly, this was the most monumental event to ever take place at McCoy Stadium.

The second-most monumental event occurred on September 1, 2015. On that evening, as the PawSox played the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, one Brian O’Connell served as my designated eater.


All designated eaters should have credentials

As designated eater, it would be Brian’s task to consume the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits. As you can see from the above picture, he’s in good shape and doesn’t appear to be the sort of guy who gorges himself on concession stand fare. But he was up for the challenge.

“I’ve got no issues with it at all,” he said. “I ate healthy earlier today, so no worries.”

Brian is a Providence native who now lives in nearby Swansea, Massachusetts. He works out of Providence as a legal admin, and is also a soccer journalist whose work appears on the the website (In my notes this read “,” which would be a good resource for those curious about game times and what not).

Brian’s soccer fandom came about later in life, but he’s been a baseball fan since birth. He played throughout his childhood, and started attending games at McCoy Stadium from the time he was seven years old. He was an intern for the PawSox in 2001, and said that the craziest thing he witnessed that season was this immortal Izzy Alcantara meltdown:

When it comes to their food offerings, the PawSox are significantly less crazy than an enraged Izzy Alcantara. Eric Petterson, the team’s director of concessions, said that the basics are king. Hot dogs, supplied by Kayem, are the number one offering at concourse stands such as these.

020But with all due respect, hot dogs are boring. Brian and I, with crucial assistance from Eric, decided to highlight the PawSox’s regional specialties instead. We began with clam cakes, which Eric called “the quintessential New England fried food. And this is the quintessential way to serve it, in a white paper bag.”

040The clam cakes are supplied by Blount, a Rhode Island-based clam shack with four area locations. The only thing more quintessentially New England than eating Blount clam cakes out of a white paper bag is dipping said clam cakes into a cup of Blount clam chowder.

“It’s way better than the red New York chowder,” said Eric, provincially and accurately. “We started selling it three years ago.”

Brian was excited to try this time-honored combination.

“It’s a good pairing,” said Brian. “The crunch of the clam cakes to go with the thickness of the chowder. It’s like a sauce. One complements the other, perfectly.”

Brian washed down his clam combo with Del’s, a regionally-beloved brand of frozen lemonade. I’m not sure why he looks so concerned about doing this.

043 “Del’s is definitely a southeast New England thing, specifically a Rhode Island thing,” said Brian. “If there’s an official beverage of the state, then it would probably be Del’s. Well, that or coffee milk. I’ve been told that if you go across the state line and ask for coffee milk, they think you’re asking for milk in your coffee. You don’t have to venture far to find people who have never heard of it.”

I was intrigued by this tangent, as I had never heard of “coffee milk” either. And, sorry Del’s, but Wikipedia informs me that coffee milk actually is the official state drink of Rhode Island — “a sweetened coffee concentrate called coffee syrup [added] to milk in a matter similar to chocolate milk.”

We move on from that piece of information to a piece of pizza.

045PawSox pizza is supplied by Portland Pizza, which Brian called “an upgrade over Papa Gino’s.” I’ll let you Rhode Islanders out there (all couple dozen of you) argue that one out.

But no matter what the brand, it’s better to eat pizza off of a plate.


Despite being an upgrade over Papa Gino’s, Brian said that this slice “left a little to be desired.”

“It could have more flavor,” he said. “It could be a little zestier.”

We were gonna call it a night after the pizza, but Eric suggested that Brian eat some fries.

“Nothing’s number one in front of hot dogs, but the shoestring fries are a signature item,” he said. “You can get a lot for not a lot of money.”

049Brian’s appetite only seemed to be growing. He was a voracious eating machine.

050“The fries are always salty, but they’re some of the best around,” said Brian. “They’re crispy and light at the same time. But now I definitely need a drink.”

After taking a hearty swig of Del’s, Brian gave his final thoughts on the PawSox designated eating experience.

“It was great. I didn’t even know about the clam cakes and chowder. Blount’s is somewhat famous and I didn’t expect that it would be here. That was a good move. They are a super local staple.”

Oh, and speaking of super local staples, Brian suggested that the PawSox should offer the Rhode Island specialty that are Coney Island System hot dogs (also known as “New York System” or simply “Hot Wieners”).

“They’ve got to hire one of those guys who lines ’em all up on his arm.”

The future of PawSox concessions? Brian can dream.

Photo: huffingtonpost

Photo: huffingtonpost

Nothing But the Real McCoy in Pawtucket

To see all posts from my September 1, 2015 visit to the Pawtucket Red Sox (this is Part Two) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my August/September 2015 trip through New England, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE!

The previous PawSox post was a lengthy and discursive overview of both team and stadium history, interwoven into a contextualizing “pregame wandering” narrative. No promises, but it is my intent to keep this post — Part Two in the series — short and simple.

It was September 1, 2015 and the PawSox were taking on the Lehigh Valley IronPigs in a Tuesday evening contest. Both teams were out of postseason contention, but the show must go on.

036Let us now take a look to the left. I mean, why not?

037I spent the first several innings of the ballgame in close commiseration with my designated eater (you know, the individual who consumes the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits). That will be documented in the next post.

By the time I returned to the stands, darkness had descended upon us all.

051I then spent the next couple of innings cataloging the observations of longtime PawSox fans dismayed at the team’s proposed move to Providence. Read all about it.

These conversations were followed by a requisite bout of wandering, which eventually brought me to the outfield berm.

054While on the berm, I captured this select snippet of “God Bless America.”

I thought that the above Vine came out really well, and that people on social media would pick up on it, but that didn’t happen. Oh, well. I’m used to it. I’ll just be out here by my lonesome being brilliant, for however long it takes for the world to catch on. I’m like the Melville of baseball bloggers, and while there are distinct downsides to one’s legacy being posthumous it just shows that I’m ahead of my time.

I no longer have any idea regarding what point I’m trying to make here. Do you have any idea, Paws? 056Yeah, me neither. So let’s just move on to a desultory Tuesday night rendition of “Sweet Caroline.”

Seeking the mental clarity that often results from a new perspective, I made a rapid ascendance to the top of the stadium.  058The PawSox were wrapping up a speedy 10-2 victory over the IronPigs. Rich Hill, who I interviewed a decade ago, struck out nine over seven innings and earned the win.

The game may have been over, but the evening would not be complete without a Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Joke.

On the way out of the stadium, I passed through yet another shrine to the long and distinguished history of McCoy Stadium. As mentioned in the last post, this kind of stuff can be found all throughout the ballpark. It is a living museum, in perpetual celebration of itself.

060Outside the ballpark, I spent a few minutes cruising around in a golf cart with PawSox director of security Rick Medeiros.

065Rick, in addition to being a likable and outgoing guy, is a fellow blogger. Check out his “Rollin’ With Rick” blog, which recently dedicated a post to my evening at McCoy. One of Rick’s long term goals is to dethrone me from my #1″MiLB Pro” ranking on MLBlogs, but I’m ready for the fight.

square-upI’m ready for a metaphorical fight, at least. In a real one, Rick would knock me out no problem.

Anyhow, outside in the parking lot after the game, Rick and I kept tabs on the nightly autograph scrum. I’d never seen this before, but the PawSox have established a separate “kid’s only” autograph line. That’s a pretty cool innovation, as it gives them some separation from the middle-aged adults who comprise the majority of the autograph collecting ecosystem.


And that just about did it for my one (and thus far only) evening at McCoy Stadium. On behalf of a faded concourse image of Ernie Whitt, I bid you all goodnight.


On the Rhode in Pawtucket

To see all posts from my September 1, 2015 visit to the Pawtucket Red Sox (this is Part One) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my August/September 2015 trip through New England, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE!

The fourth stop on my fifth road trip of the season marked the first time that my Minor League travels had taken me to Rhode Island. There is only one Minor League Baseball team in Rhode Island, and that team is the Pawtucket Red Sox. The PawSox, as they are often referred to as, have spent the entirety of their existence at McCoy Stadium.

001As you can see in the above photo, McCoy Stadium is located on Ben Mondor Way. Ben Mondor bought the PawSox in 1977, when their financial situation was dire, and turned the team into one of the most well-regarded operations in the industry. Two of his key employees then, Mike Tamburro and Lou Schwechheimer, went on to log decades of service with the club. Tamburro remains the CEO, and Schwechheimer stepped down as vice president following the 2015 season. The PawSox, all the way around, have been a model of consistency. They operate in the league’s oldest stadium, boast its longest-running affiliation and have a front office core that has been with the club for decades.

But nothing lasts forever. Mondor died in 2010 at the age of 85, and this past February his widow, Madeline, sold the team to a Boston Red Sox-affiliated ownership group which immediately announced its intent to move the team to the neighboring city of Providence. To say that this relocation plan has been controversial would be an understatement. Emotions have run high from the start, and everybody in Rhode Island seems to have an opinion. And, usually, it’s been a negative opinion.

The PawSox relocation controversy was front page news on the day that I visited. This machine was  situated just down the street from the stadium.


I’ve written plenty about the PawSox in recent months, including articles (HERE and HERE) that originated during this visit. For a fairly up-to-date recap of the situation, click HERE.

To sum it all up: The Paw Sox will be playing AT LEAST two more seasons at McCoy Stadium, and probably more than that (the current lease expires in 2020). This post and those that follow will simply focus on what it is like to attend a game at McCoy. That’s where I was on this low-key Tuesday evening, and that’s where they’ll be for the foreseeable future.

McCoy is located in a scruffy, largely residential area. AMVETS Post 13 is located just down the street. 004This nearby driveway appears to lead directly into the back of the outfield fence.

005The Right Spot Diner, probably the most visible and best-known business in the immediate vicinity of the stadium, serves three meals and day and specializes in “Hot Wieners.” This is a Rhode Island-specific form of hot dog, which, according to Wikipedia, are also sometimes referred to as “Gaggers.” I went in before the game, sat on the counter, and got a hamburger steak with green beans. It just seemed like the right thing to do.


Moving toward the stadium proper, I was greeted not by a hot wiener but by a cool bear.


The bear’s name is Paws.




Okay, resume:

McCoy Stadium is, in a word, venerable. There is a lot of history here, and much of this history is commemorated within the facility’s hallways, stairways, offices and ramps. I would bet that, taken together, no stadium in Minor League Baseball contains more team-specific memorabilia than does McCoy.

011McCoy’s main entrance is located out toward left field, so one of my first views of the playing field proper came from this vantage point. This is a stadium that immediately felt unique. Even after an extensive renovation (in 1999), there is nothing cookie-cutter about it.


Souvenirs are available on the concourse.

015Many, many souvenirs. There is even an “autograph fishing set,” which, if you don’t already know, will make a lot more sense later in the post.

016On the concourse, one finds an extensive homage to McCoy’s biggest claim to fame. In 1981, the stadium hosted the longest professional baseball game of all time. The game, between the PawSox and Rochester Red Wings, took 33 innings to complete. 32 of these frames were played on April 18 and 19th.


For what it’s worth, here’s what the team’s 1981 program looked like. None of the three players that this boy is dreaming about — Dave Stapleton, Glenn Hoffman, John Tudor — played in “The Longest Game.”

009Another great “McCoy Stadium Moment” occurred in 1999, when Paw Sox outfielder Michael Coleman went 7-for-7 and hit for the cycle in a 25-2 rout of Norfolk. As this sign notes, Coleman “became the first player in the history of professional baseball to go 7-for-7 and hit for the cycle in the same game.” Coleman played 22 games over part of three Major League seasons (1997, 1999, 2001) and didn’t hit for the cycle over the entirety of his MLB career (he collected eight hits, including one double and one home run).

Baseball is a rabbit hole. I’m always getting lost.

022McCoy Stadium is laden with such signifiers of the past. This painting of a sad-looking Rich Gedman, who did play in “The Longest Game, “is located on the ramp leading to the upper level.

023The view from the top of the ramp. Yep, more Paw Sox-related player signage can be seen from here as well.


There is a ramp leading from the upper-level aisle into the press box, which looms above and in front of a section of seating. I don’t think that I’d ever seen that before.


The McCoy broadcaster’s booth, which in 2014 was occupied by Josh Maurer and Will Flemming, has long been a hotbed of future big league talent. I wrote an article about this phenomenon for last offseason (after PawSox broadcaster Jeff Levering was hired by the Brewers), and that article was reprinted in the Paw Sox’s 2015 yearbook.

Pass the mic:


Notable alumni

Every Minor League broadcaster wants to eventually get to the big leagues. But Pawtucket is a good place to be in the interim, as the listening audience is far bigger than the average team’s.


McCoy Stadium also has what is considered to be the best press box spread in Minor League Baseball. Several people told me this, and despite the small sample size I would have to concur. If you work in the Minors, then you know how rare it is to get a healthy, balanced press box meal. What a perk.

I was in attendance during a Tuesday night in September, and just like in Lowell the night before I was told that I had picked one of the worst days of the season to visit. I seem to have a knack for doing such a thing.

But the show, it must go on. It always does and it always will. 028 The dugouts at McCoy are located at field level, directly under the seats (the seating bowl begins 10 feet above the field of play). This unorthodox layout has led to the tradition, seen in the photo below, of placing balls and other memorabilia into milk jugs and buckets for the players to sign. This is why the team store sells an “autograph fishing set.”

On a busy day, dozens of fishing apparatuses would be hanging from the railing as their owners waited for a bite from the players down below. But, again, this wasn’t a busy day. 029The fishing occurs at both dugouts. Note that here, on the visitor’s side, most of the hanging items are baseball card albums. 030Time to reel it in, folks, as the game was about to start. The PawSox, following established (but by no means mandatory) protocol, asked me to throw out a first pitch.

Me, thinking about throwing a perfect strike: pitch1Me, throwing a perfect first strike: pitch2Me, posing with a PawSox player after throwing out a perfect strike. pitch3The Paw Sox do it up right when it comes to first pitches, giving each first pitch thrower a commemorative cap and ball as well as a business card including a link to all of that evening’s pregame photos (which is where I got the three seen above).

After throwing out the first pitch, I was directed back into a corridor and, yes. That corridor was packed with memorabilia. 035Now is as good a time as any to “Paws” this McCoy Stadium saga. Stay tuned for the exciting conclusion, which will appear as soon as humanly possible.

On the Road: Fresh, Hot and Simple in Lowell

To see all posts from my August 31, 2015 visit to the Lowell Spinners (this is Part Three) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my August/September 2015 trip through New England, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE!

Let’s get this requisite introductory paragraph out of the way as quickly and painlessly as possible:

At nearly every ballpark I visited this season, I had a designated eater. These individuals, hardy souls with good appetites all, are tasked with consuming the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits. At LeLacheur Park, home of the Lowell Spinners, my designated eater was Joe Beauregard.

Joe is a real nice guy.

IMG_0453In addition to being a nice guy, Joe is a Lowell native who now lives in nearby Chelmsford. He works in the sporting goods industry, selling products to local youth sports programs, and is a big sports fan himself. He’s also a family man, and two of his three sons were with him at the ballpark: 13-year-old Joey and seven-year-old Braden. (Middle child Jared, 11, opted to stay home).

As for why he wanted to be a designated eater at a Lowell Spinners game, Joe’s answer was simple and inspiring.

“If there’s eating involved, then I can do it. I’ve got the size and I’ve got the ability. I’ve been training all of my life for this opportunity.”

Okay, but what to eat? When it comes to their concessions, the Spinners prefer to keep it simple. In the past they’ve offered regional specialties like lobster rolls and alluring grotesques such as the Homewrecker Hot Dog, but currently their strategy is to focus on the basics and to do the basics well.

In other words: Keep It Simple, Stupid.


The above picture of the Canaligator Cafe was taken earlier in the evening. But it was at this same concession stand — or one just like it — where Joe and I procured an array of food.


First up was the cheesesteak, which in Lowell is apparently called a “Steak and Cheese.” That, to me, is kind of like calling a hot dog a “Dog and Hot,” but whatever.

Steak and Cheese, so be it.

IMG_0447Have at it, Joe. This is your time to shine.

“It’s flavorful. There’s enough cheese and enough steak, so it’s a good steak and cheese,” said Joe, whose logic was impeccable. “I recommend it.”

Alright, then. So how ’bout some garlic fries?

IMG_0448“I like the garlic, it’s got some flavor,” said Joe, a man who likes flavor.

We also got an order of the spicy fries, which were — you guessed it — spicy. Seven-year-old Braden gave one a try, kinda sorta.

IMG_0455Braden looks pretty laid back in that photo, but the only quote I have from him regarding the Spicy Fry experience is anything but laid back: “Spicy! Water!”

Water procured, we then moved on to item number three: A slice of pizza.


Joe, declaring himself a “Chelmsford guy,” immediately pegged this as Sal’s Pizza. Sal’s is a Massachusetts-based chain.

“They do a nice job with North End [Boston], Sicilian-style pizza,” said Joe. “Their’s a Sal’s outside of Fenway, and one in the [TD] Garden.”


Sal, folding in front of the field.

Having recovered from his Spicy Fry experience, Braden posed for a pizza pic alongside his Pops. It turned out great.

IMG_0458Cheese and steak, check. Two kinds of fries, check. Slice from a regionally known pizza chain, check.

All that was left was dessert. For that, we obtained a serving of deep-fried Oreos from a concourse kiosk located behind home plate.

IMG_0459Joey, Joe and Braden. Beauregards enjoying a bite.

IMG_0460“I love the surprise in the middle — the Oreo!” said Joe, apparently forgetting that this item was clearly labeled as a Deep-Fried Oreo. “I mean, fried’s good anyway, but when you get the Oreo? Hello!”

Hello and goodbye, unfortunately, for once dessert is done then what else can there be? Thanks to Joe and his small entourage of friends and family for an enjoyable couple of innings at the ballpark, sampling  the best of the basics.


On the Road: Dancing Ushers and Retiring Icons in Lowell

To see all posts from my August 31, 2015 visit to the Lowell Spinners (this is Part Two) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my August/September 2015 trip through New England, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE!

From the Spinners perspective, August 31 was not an ideal time for me to visit. Not only was it a Monday night, but school was now back in session. And if you know Minor League Baseball, you know that when kids are in school then parents are far less inclined to take them to the game.

But, hey, the show must go on.

IMG_0432UMass Lowell, whose campus is just across the street, was back in session as well. Here, it looks like a small group of students were check out the game for free from the top of an adjacent parking garage.

IMG_0438The Spinners had lost the previous night’s game, as well as three of their past four. Seeking to switch things up, they wore their red road jerseys despite the fact that this, obviously, was a home game.

I’m not sure if Scooby Doo, tasked with throwing t-shirts out of the Spinners’ Mystery Machine, was wearing a jersey at all.

IMG_0433Run-on sentence alert:

Shortly after the game began I was escorted into the bowels of the stadium so that I could suit up as a Minion and then participate in the team’s nightly “Minion Wipeout” obstacle course race.

IMG_0445While in the facility bowels, I passed the time by taking pictures of Hudson Valley Renegade players in the on-deck circle. Between them and me was some sort of waste bin.

IMG_0441As for the Minion Wipeout, it entailed running through cones and running over a balance beam and dodging water balloons as well as over-sized  boxing gloves. I’m not sure if the race was documented but please know that I won and, thus, the greatest minion of all time.

Costumed tomfoolery was also taking place on the concourse. This dragon attended the game along with a local martial arts academy, whose students had given a pregame performance.

But one doesn’t necessarily need a costume in order to draw attention to his or herself. This is Bob the Dancing Usher, who stays true to his name on a nightly basis. By dancing.

Bob,a Vietnam veteran, spent 30 years working for the Marblehead (Massachusetts) post office. He said that he began dancing on the dugout in 2005 or 2006, “on a whim.”

“I just got up there and got everyone clapping,” he said. “I just love it. I’ll yell, I’ll clap, I’ll scream. And I’m an old man. I’m 69….I’m bragging a little bit, but when people call the box office they’ll say ‘Hey, I want to sit in Bob’s section.’ Hey, if it sells tickets, it sells tickets!”

Bob, getting ready to dance:

IMG_0341 Bob, not dancing.

IMG_0470I also spent some time speaking with the one and only Dogman, longtime Spinners clubhouse manager (and former hot dog vendor) who retired at the end of the 2015 season.

IMG_0464I wrote a story about the origin and evolution of Dogman for You can read the story HERE, which includes one of Dogman’s favorite jokes to tell the players:

“I just tell ’em, I tell ’em, ‘Hey! The Red Sox are gonna change their name this year, to the Nylons. They’ll get more runs!'”

And since I’m on the topic of long-time team employees — Tim Bawmann, Spinners general manager, was celebrating his 50th birthday. The team’s new videoboard wished him well.

IMG_0461Tim celebrated his birthday by doing laundry in the visitor’s clubhouse until four in the morning (true story).

It is definitely a season of transition for the Spinners. In addition to Dogman, longtime Spinners media relations director Jon Boswell has moved on to a job at the UMass Lowell. I wish Jon well, but it’s a bummer that he’s no longer in the world of Minor League Baseball.

Oh, and the Spinners are currently for sale. Drew Weber, who has owned the team since its 1996 inception, wants to spend more time with his grandchildren in New York.

Meanwhile, returning to the on-field action of August 31:

The Spinners must have been thinking of changing their name to the Nylons. After eight innings, they were down by a score of 12-6.

IMG_0465I wouldn’t call a six-run deficit a “blowout”, but it was a wide enough lead that the Spinners decided to conserve the bullpen and have a position player pitch the ninth. That position player? First baseman Tucker Tubbs.

I spent a few minutes eavesdropping on Tubbs as he warmed up, and he continually mentioned that his “breathing was off.” But once he got out there, Double-T did all right. Though he allowed three singles, no Renegades crossed the plate in the frame and Tubbs is now the proud owner of a 0.00 ERA as a professional pitcher.

When it comes to my “Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Joke of the Day,” I am the proud owner of a 1.000 batting average.

And that just about did it for my night with the Spinners. The Renegades won the game, youthful fans ran the bases, tennis balls were tossed at various targets and then everyone went home.

IMG_0469Goodnight from LeLacheur Park, a place where you can read the media notes while using the urinal.

IMG_0322I remain number one,

On the Road: Milling About in Lowell

To see all posts from my August 31, 2015 visit to the Lowell Spinners (this is Part One) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my August/September 2015 trip through New England, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE!

The third stop of my end-of-season jaunt through New England was Lowell, home of the Spinners. I’d been here before. Twice, in fact. The first was in 2009, when I was but a young man and still figuring out this whole “traveling America through Minor League Baseball” thing. I used the occasion of a family wedding in New Hampshire to rent a car and drive to Lowell, marking the first time I’d ever visited a ballpark specifically as “Ben’s Biz.” That was six years and 30 pounds ago.


2009 file photo from my trip to Lowell

I next visited Lowell in 2012, this time accompanying my pal Zack Hample (yes, that Zack Hample) as he attempted to set the World Record for catching a baseball dropped from the highest, uh, height. During that visit, I dressed up as both a toothbrush and a boxing donut. That was three years and 30 pounds ago.

2012Which brings us to this present narrative, featuring me at my oldest and fattest. LeLacheur Park, home of the Spinners, is still looking good, though.

IMG_0416LeLacheur Park’s brick facade is consistent with Lowell’s dominant architectural theme. During the industrial revolution the city was a major hub of textile production — the Spinners name is a reference to the process by which yarn is produced — and many of the mills are still standing. Some have been converted into lofts and retail establishments and the like.

The stadium is located across the street from UMass Lowell. I attended the game on Monday, August 31, and school was back in session. This meant that parking was more scarce than usual, but what can you do? (To assist with the situation, Spinners gameday employees were stationed in the vicinity of the ballpark wielding “Ask me about free parking” signs.)

IMG_0419Upon entering the stadium, I immediately faced the sun and took a picture.

IMG_0421It’s probably better not to face the sun. Here’s the view from the third base side, complete with background smokestacks. Note, also, the train parked on the warning track, which is available for free pre-game rides.


A closer look at the view beyond right field.


This sign, posted on the concourse, highlights what may have been the greatest moment in New York-Penn League history. (It’s fitting that this occurred in the NYPL, or “Nipple,” league.)


Udderly ridiculous.

I also spotted this dry cleaning ad on the concourse. Subliminal advertising, or is it just me?


I soon ran into Spinners general manager Tim Bawmann, who told me to get my camera out and document what he was about to do. What he did was this.

IMG_0420Tim is hugging his 17-year-old son, Elijah, who was manning a concourse ice cream stand. Hugging Elijah was a pregame ritual this season for Tim, and getting hugged by Tim was a pregame ritual for Elijah. (Incidentally, Tim was celebrating a milestone birthday on this low-key Monday evening. The big 5-0.)

The Spinners really are a family affair. The team’s three mascots — Canaligator, Allie-Gator and Millie-Gator — are husband, wife and child. When this mascot family was introduced prior to the game, Allie pushed out Millie in a wheelbarrow. I don’t think there was a reason for this. Why would you need a reason?

IMG_0428In the above photo, one can see a portion of the “Foul Ball Fun Zone” located in left field. It includes a strong assemblage of various games and attractions.

IMG_0436Panning out a bit, note that the Foul Ball Fun Zone is located adjacent to the No Fun Dumpster Zone. Eagle-eyed observers will see that Dogman, the Spinners iconic clubhouse manager, is lurking amid the dumpsters. Dogman will be featured in the next post.

IMG_0435Speaking of the next post, it’s coming soon! Hopefully it will be a high-energy affair, sorry that this one was a little Lowell.

On the Road: It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye in New Britain

To see all posts from my August 30, 2015 visit to the New Britain Rock Cats (this is Part Two) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my August/September 2015 trip through New England, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE!

Part One of this post covered all that went on as fans awaited the final game in New Britain Rock Cats history. This post, sensibly referred to as Part Two, will what went on during the game itself. Let’s start with the obvious:

It was a beautiful day for baseball.


032This was not to be a typical “Ben’s Biz” day at the ballpark. I didn’t participate in any between-inning contests or throw t-shirts into the crowd or anything like that. I didn’t even have a designated eater; the guy who had signed up cancelled, and I decided not to find a replacement. I was simply on hand to take in the final game atmosphere, and to talk to people regarding their thoughts on the imminent demise of the Rock Cats. (And the imminent rise of the Hartford Yard Goats.)

One of the most important people I talked to was 88-year-old Al Nelson. Pretty much everyone in the ballpark seemed to know him.

033An excerpt from my story on the Rock Cats, which prominently featured Nelson:

Al Nelson, an 88-year-old World War II veteran and retired firefighter, has been there through it all. He lives two miles from the ballpark and Sunday as always, rode his bike to the afternoon contest. (He won’t ride at night, he explained, because “you can’t find the potholes.”) Nelson, who has his name engraved on his first-row bleacher seat, is the unofficial mayor of the ballpark.

Hartford is only 12 miles from New Britain, but Nelson and fans like him have no interest in transferring their loyalties to the Hartford Yard Goats.

“I’m not going over there,” he said. “For one thing, they don’t have a parking lot. You’re gonna park in a garage or something? It’s not gonna be good. I’m not walking around Hartford at 10:00 at night. I’m not gonna feel safe. I’m not going to have any wheels when I get back. Where the hell’s my tires?”

In addition to talking to people, I wandered around a lot. It is always hard for me to sit still when visiting ballparks, and my afternoon in New Britain was no exception.


The pickins in the team store were, by this point, slimmer than a mass produced beef-stick.

037An interview conducted on this outdoor party porch allowed me to take in a second-level vantage point. No women allowed, apparently.

039And how about a round of applause for these two kids, hanging out in the parking lot while waiting for a foul ball to fly their way.

041The Rock Cats had a full roster of mascots wandering the ballpark. I’m not sure how many of them will be making the trip to Hartford.

Here, we have a Walrus who goes by the name of “Blooper.” I never did see Eggman, his purported sidekick.045This is Rookie, nephew of primary mascot Rocky.


Rookie’s favorite player is Rocky, whose favorite movie is Rocky. Rookie’s favorite movie is The Rookie, while his favorite food is Rocky Road ice cream. You’d think that Rocky Road ice cream would be Rocky’s favorite food, but Rocky simply prefers “ballpark hot dogs.” Way to deviate from the theme, Rocky. You’re like the Rocky V of mascots in that regard.

Reading the above paragraph was probably a deflating experience, akin to seeing Fun Zone attractions closed down for the final time.


Yes, the Rock Cats era at New Britain Stadium was rapidly coming to an end. Or at least it appeared so at the time. Midway through the seventh inning, the Portland Sea Dogs held a 4-3 lead over the home team.

“Take Me Out to the Ballgame”, one last time.

The Rock Cats tied the game at 4-4 in the bottom of the 8th. Jan Vazquez walked, advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt and scored on Tyler Massey’s two-out single. Massey then stole second base and tried to score the go-ahead run on Noel Cuevas’ single to right field. But…no dice. Sea Dogs right fielder Aneury Tavarez gunned him down at the plate.

Tie score in the ninth inning? Hey, no problem. It’s never too late to get your picture taken with the mascot.

048The Sea Dogs went quietly in the top of the ninth, and in the bottom of the frame the Rock Cats again put themselves on the brink of victory. With two outs and a runner on second, Jordan Patterson came to the plate.

And…no dice.

Okay, so the Rock Cats era at New Britain Stadium wasn’t quite ready to end. Free baseball! The Sea Dogs again went quietly in the 10th; in my notebook I wondered if the at-bat music played for Tim Roberson (“Mrs. Robinson”) that inning would be “the last ‘mocking the visitor’ walk-up song in team history.” I immediately forgot to continue to keep track of this quirky detail, but it probably wasn’t. There was still more baseball to be played.

The bottom of the 10th unfolded very similarly to the bottom of the 8th. Vazquez walked, advanced to second on a sac bunt and then moved to third on a Juan Ciriaco single. Sensing the magnitude of the situation, one hardy fan attempting to strike up a “These Cats Rock!” chant. Only other person joined him, however. Anemic response begets anemic response, as an infield pop out was followed by a ground ball to shortstop.

No dice, so we went on to the 11th. In the top of the inning, Keury De La Cruz launched one over the wall in right center field to give the Sea Dogs a 5-4 advantage. Al Nelson, the unofficial mayor of the stadium, had seen enough. He left after the top of the 11th ended, perhaps not wanting to see the final game at New Britain Stadium end with a Rock Cats loss.

Fare thee well, Mr. Nelson. You’ve really got to respect an 88-year-old man who still rides his bike to the ballpark.

049But perhaps Mr. Nelson should have stuck it out. Pat Valaika doubled to lead off the bottom of the 11th, putting a runner in scoring position with no outs. But this was followed by a pair of infield pop-ups, little sound and less fury, signifying nothing. Patterson then came to the plate, the only thing standing in the way of a dispiriting final game defeat.

Dispiriting defeat was denied, however, as Patterson came through!

Vazquez struck out to end the inning, so on the 12th we went.

As you can see in the above video, what had been a pleasant late summer day was starting to turn ominous. Might the last home game in Rock Cats history include the last rain delay in Rock Cats history? As if the day hadn’t already gone on long enough. It is also worth noting that a celebrity softball game was scheduled to take place following the conclusion of the Rock Cats – Sea Dogs tilt. Participants included Rollie Fingers, Ferguson Jenkins, George Foster and Jim Leyritz; I was told that, while waiting for this game to end, this cadre of distinguished baseball men hung out in a cramped office within the stadium and traded war stories. What a surreal environment Minor League Baseball can be.

The 12th inning, meanwhile, was completely uneventful as both teams went down in order.

Now it was time for lucky 13. Kevin Pataky, veteran Minor League photographer, figured he may as well stay a while.

Portland, once again, went down 1-2-3 in the 13th. But the Rock Cats, as they were making a habit of doing, threatened in the bottom of the frame. Valaika doubled with one out, and after an intentional walk to Mike Tauchman Will Swanner hit a single to right field.

Valaika was waved around…

…and Valaika was thrown out.

As we careened to the 14th, I obtained a different vantage point.

051Nonetheless, the song remained the same. The Sea Dogs went down quietly in the top of the 14th, and the Rock Cats failed to score in the bottom of the frame. This despite the fact that they loaded the bases, and the guy on the mound was reserve infielder Oscar Tejeda. Yes, the last home game in Rock Cats history would now be decided with a position player pitching

I spent the bottom of the 14th inning in the press box, and the frustration in the room was palpable.

“It’s like he’s throwing batting practice out there! C’mon!” was a representative remark.

I spent the top of the 15th inning on the left field party deck. Any joy that the fans may have once had at getting to savor a few extra innings of Rock Cats baseball had now curdled into disgust.

“For the love of God, be done!” one woman screamed.

“After this game, I’m never coming back,” added a nearby gentleman.

The Sea Dogs didn’t muster anything more than a harmless single in the top of the 15th, giving the Rock Cats another crack at Tejeda — who, once again, is a position player — in the bottom of the frame. Tauchman singled to start things off, replaced by Swanner on first base bases after a botched sacrifice bunt attempt. But no matter. Patterson then came to the plate and finally, mercifully, ended the ballgame all with a two-run home run. Final score: Rock Cats 7, Sea Dogs 5.

Kevin Pataky got a great shot of the ensuing celebration.

walkoffThank You, Rock Cats fans, for 33 seasons of loyal support and, also, for sticking around for the entirety of this farcical baseball game.

052AC/DC, the original “Rock” cats, then played over the PA as the kids flooded onto the field to run the bases. From my notes:

“The emcee won’t stop yelling during run the bases. Dude, let the moment be!”

053And, yes, a celebrity softball game then broke out. Kudos to Mr. Fingers for wearing a full uniform.

054At this juncture of the day, sticking around for a celebrity softball game felt like a form of cruel and unusual punishment. I had only one thing left to do, and that one thing was to make the final Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark joke in New Britain Rock Cats history.

Nailed it.

On the Road: One Last Time in New Britain

To see all posts from my August 30, 2015 visit to the New Britain Rock Cats (this is Part One) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my August/September 2015 trip through New England, 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 I put together my end-of-season New England ballpark itinerary, there was one imperative: On August 30, I needed to see the Rock Cats play at New Britain Stadium. This would be the last home game in franchise history, as in 2016 the Rock Cats are relocating to nearby Hartford and beginning a new era as the Yard Goats.

The Old: New Britain Rock Cats (1983-2015)


The New: Hartford Yard Goats (2016-?)


Goat Springs Eternal

August 30, then, was a day to say goodbye. Seeking to maximize their time at the old ballyard, the faithful-est of the Rock Cats faithful lined up outside before the gates opened.


But all things considered, New Britain Stadium isn’t even that old of a ballyard. From 1983 through 1996, the team played in Beehive Field (where they were known first as the Red Sox and then as the “Hardware City Rock Cats,” a nod to the Stanley Works corporation having its headquarters in New Britain). Beehive Field, reminiscent of an entirely different epoch, resides next door to New Britain Stadium.

The plaque outside Beehive Stadium reads “Industry Fills the Hives and Enjoys the Honey,” which is the motto of the city of New Britain. This is a better motto than “Worker and Drones, forever subservient to Queen Industry.”


002Upon entering New Britain Stadium, I hightailed it to the press box and spoke with longtime scoreboard operator Larry Michaels. He was one of several ballpark veterans I interviewed throughout the afternoon, as part of my story on saying goodbye to New Britain.


Michaels was among many press box denizens fulfilling his duties, one last time.


Back downstairs, the gates had opened. The Fun Zone inflatables had been inflated. One last time.


On the concourse, the Legends Diner was open for business. One last time.

009They sell pretzels at the Legends Diner, by the way. Pretzelhead Jones was steering fans in the direction of the pretzels. One last time.


Further down the concourse, the team store was a-buzzing with activity. One last time. (Yes, I couldn’t resist writing “one last time” one last time.)

It truly was an “Everything Must Go” kind of scene. These stadium signs were available for about $6 a piece, a small price to pay for one’s very own “VIP Reception” sign. I totally would have hung that on my bedroom door during my teenage years.

050There was a Hartford merchandise kiosk set up on the concourse as well. Everything must goat!

036As you can see, New Britain Stadium does not have an open concourse. Seeking the sunlight, I traversed up the stairs and onto the aisle.

011Rocky the Rock Cat was mingling with the fans.

013While traversing the concourse, I ran into devoted ballpark traveler Doug Kern. He’s been to 189 ballparks in his life, but New Britain Stadium was his “home” ballpark. August 30th marked the 229th Rock Cats game he would attend; the team had posted a 115-113 record in the 228 had that preceded it.

Here’s a photo of Doug’s scorecard from the first Rock Cats game he ever attended: April 15, 1999  against the Trenton Thunder (then a Boston affiliate). Tomo Ohka got the win for the Thunder; Shea Hillebrand was ejected. Backstreet Boys (probably) played on the PA.
014Shortly after speaking with Doug, I noticed that Rock Cats players and staff were tossing all manner of memorabilia into the crowd. Everything must throw!

015Fixing a “VIP Reception” sign around my neck as a makeshift credential. I proceeded onto the field for a closer look.

Thanks for the autographs, guy in khakis!

020Nobody asked me for an autograph, though my presence on the field apparently made me quite conspicuous.

Of far more interest to the average baseball fan was one Rollie Fingers, who was to take part in a celebrity softball game that had been scheduled (by the city of New Britain, not the Rock Cats)  to take place after the game. Here Rollie poses with Rock Cats (and now Yard Goats) general manager Tim Restall and his kids. It’s fitting that the GM of the Yard Goats would have kids.


A VIP of a different sort was this guy, number 35.


That’s Colorado Rockies first baseman Justin Morneau, who was in the midst of a rehab assignment with the Rock Cats. It was a case of great timing, as the Rock Cats were a Twins affiliate from 1995 through 2014 and Morneau originally came up through the Twins system. He played for the Rock Cats from 2001-03, so it was something special that he was able to return for the last-ever homestand at New Britain Stadium. In fact, two nights before, Morneau made his 2015 Rock Cats debut in front of the largest crowd in franchise history. This crowd had to wait through an unusual pre-game delay; it was “First Responders Night,” and a fire truck parked in the outfield as part of the pregame ceremonies ended up doing significant damage to the turf.

Minor League Baseball, always the best:

But there would be no such delays on this Sunday afternoon. Everything was proceeding according to plan, including one of the longest ceremonial “first” pitch lines that I had ever been a part of.

028I jumped into the line and tossed out my customary perfect strike.

Photo: Kevin Pataky

Photo: Kevin Pataky

The final first pitch was thrown by Rocky himself.

029After that, it was time for the singing of our National Anthem. One last time.


And with that, Part One of this New Britain blog series draws to a close. Stay tuned Monday for Part Two, in which I write about the Rock Cats one last time.


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