Throughout this year’s Winter Meetings in Orlando, four attendees of the PBEO Job Fair have agreed to keep a journal chronicling their employment-seeking experiences (meet them all HERE). In this, her second installment, Kasey Decker re-connects with old friends and makes new ones as well.
The second day of the Job Fair, in my opinion, is the oddest of the whole trip. It’s this “hurry up and wait” day, constantly checking the interview boards. I knew the interviews wouldn’t be posted promptly at 9:30 am, but I had a feeling that I needed to be at the hotel by that time. I just had a gut feeling that Monday was going to be a good day for me.
As soon as I walked into the job posting room, I noticed the position I had been hoping to find here was posted, and nearly tackled a few job seekers rushing to turn in my resume. Of course the jobs I applied for didn’t post their interview sheets the entire day, so the waiting continues on Tuesday.
I was too anxious to sit in the workroom and watch the boards all day, so I explored the rest of the hotel and boardwalk. I even ran into fellow Job Seeking Journaler Meredith and we ended up sticking together the rest of the day and evening. My advice to everyone who asks about what to do is always to make new friends, and that’s exactly what we did. We joined a few other job seekers back in the workroom and then made our way to the Trade Show.
I’m a pretty big fan of the Trade Show because it gives an insight into what new things we’ll see around ballparks in the next season (the free beer is pretty nice too). Most of the vendors are friendly to the job seekers, hoping that we’ll remember them when we have the purchasing power. We browsed for a while before heading to the ESPN Club for dinner. The ESPN Club is a tricky place to get a table but we managed to get there at exactly the right time and requested that our table be located near power outlets (those are surprisingly sparse in the workroom…)
After dinner we walked back towards the Dolphin and joined what appeared to be every single person attending the Meetings in the hotel bar. Those are the networking situations I prefer, where everyone is a little more relaxed and I’m not labeled a “job-seeker” but a “colleague.” I’ve noticed there’s a little bit of a stigma towards the job seekers because some of us are a little too aggressive when asking for career advice. Obviously those job seekers didn’t hear [Atlanta Braves director of human resources] Lara [Juras] on Sunday during the workshop…
Day Two may not sound like much on paper, but I know that I was able to strengthen some old connections and make new ones in a low-pressure environment. Hopefully Day Three has interviews and opportunities for me to get in front of the right people and less time spent waiting in the workroom.
Will Kasey land an interview, or shall this interminable waiting game continue? Stay tuned for another installment tomorrow…
Throughout this year’s Winter Meetings in Orlando, four attendees of the PBEO Job Fair have agreed to keep a journal chronicling their employment-seeking experiences (meet them all HERE). In this, his second installment, Alex Reiner becomes familiar with the paradox that is “hurry up and wait.”
We’re Off to the Races
I was standing in front of the new job postings at exactly nine o’clock sharp this morning. I was surprised; there were only two other people within five feet of where I was standing. I was looking at a job post that wasn’t too long – about a page in length. I just stood there and read it over and over. There were two main reasons for this: 1. NO PHOTOGRAPHY PLEASE. 2. I wanted the job bad, so I thought if I just stood there and looked at it for a while it could improve my chances by the slightest percent. Then at about 9:05, I suddenly snapped out of my meditated focus to find about 50 other people pushing and shoving, trying to read the new job postings. I was stuck between a bunch of bodies and a corkboard. Welcome to the PBEO Job Fair.
It’s really interesting, actually. Although I know some people are being contacted directly by phone, it appears that the main way to find out if you have an interview is to look at the “interview posting” board. Seems like a relatively inefficient way to inform people of an interview, given that it requires applicants to sit at the Job Fair and just wait and see if any of the jobs they applied for suddenly get posted (and I thought social media is officially a part of society?). As many other job seekers can attest, sitting around waiting for jobs to be posted isn’t exactly like watching a highlight reel of Jose Bautista hitting absolute moon-shots off of whatever mere mortal soul that attempts to throw a ball by him.
I actually spent most of the day traveling back and forth between the Sports Management World Wide Career Conference at the Sheraton Lake Buena Vista and the PBEO Job Fair (in the Swan Resort). From about 9 AM to 12PM I ran back and fourth between the Sheraton to the Swan at least three times. Yes, it took me three trips and $30 in parking fees to realize it would probably be a lot easier to just text one of the twelve people I traveled to Orlando with from Lynn University who were at the Job Fair anyway checking the boards every half hour…
The most interesting part of my day though, occurred while I was walking towards the Job Fair and I saw a sign that said “Free Advice from John Kruk.” You can’t look at a sign that says “Free Advice from John Kruk” and not go see what it’s all about. I looked in to the room and saw a small group of people crowded around a tiny desk towards the back of the room. In the middle of the group stood Tim Kurkjian getting advice from John Kruk (and three cameras from ESPN). There were just talking baseball. Standing there listening to the two of them was like watching your new favorite movie for the very first time. It doesn’t really matter what happens, but you know you’re going to love it.
By the end of the Job Fair, I had applied for four jobs in total – none of which have been posted on the interview board yet. I figure I’m 0-for-0 just sitting on the bench waiting to hear the coach call my name. I then went and checked out the Trade Show, and hung out with some of my classmates at the Lynn University booth (Directions: walk all the way to the end of the hall. Once you cannot go any further, look right and you will see us). After, I headed back to my hotel to call it a night, only to be greeted by a 10-page business law exam (yes, it was as fun as it sounds). At this point, it’s 1:05AM and if for some reason you’re wondering, I still have to write those five pages.
Check back tomorrow for part three of Alex’s adventures — more riveting than a Jose Bautista moon shot!
Throughout this year’s Winter Meetings in Orlando, four attendees of the PBEO Job Fair have agreed to keep a journal chronicling their employment-seeking experiences (meet them all HERE). In this installment, Kasey Decker arrives in Orlando older, wiser, and ready to launch the next phase of her career.
I’m not going to lie to you: I had really high expectations for the first day of Winter Meetings. The last time I was in Orlando, I was that bright-eyed job seeker, weeks from my college graduation, and eager to please. I arrived a day early to Orlando so I could get my bearings and be my best self for the “first day of the rest of my life.” I hung on every word each individual speaker gave us and took notes like I was preparing for a final exam. My experience this year has, so far, been the polar opposite.
Being that I’ve now been “financially independent” for the past three years, I had to budget a little more carefully for my trip down here. Knowing that you do more networking in after-hours situations, I decided to save money by flying in early Sunday morning instead of Saturday. I would come to regret the decision to fly out at 6:30 am — you live, you learn.
Coming into the Business of Baseball seminar having sat through one already was also a new experience. First, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders president Rob Crain was also the host for my last seminar, so I had a hint of what I was in for. I also noticed more this time that every speaker harps on having been “right where you are” which is encouraging but frustrating for someone in my position. I have also been sitting in these seats before; I’ve heard all of the things you have to say; yet here I am in this very same seat again.
It’s not all negative; I realize this all sounds a little jaded. I have had the chance to network at the bar, catch up with colleagues I haven’t seen in a while, and take in the incredible event that is the Baseball Winter Meetings. I’ve even had job seekers ask me for advice once they realize I have been here before.
The advice and information given by Atlanta Braves director of human resources Lara Juras and Pawtucket Red Sox general sales manager Cookie Rojas during the Business of Baseball Seminar stood out the most to me. I realize that I may have a little bias, since Lara has helped me in my career, but she spoke to being self confident but not cocky. It is important to know yourself but also be aware of how others perceive you. Cookie focused on why his job was great and how “businesses that do good, do well.” Minor League Baseball as a whole focuses a lot of resources and energy on giving back to the community, and it reminded me that I’m here for all of the right reasons.
All in all, I would call day one of the Winter Meetings a success. I’ve even added “attending the Business of Baseball Workshop in a speaking capacity” to my 10-year plan. I’m looking forward to what tomorrow has to bring with interviews and more networking!
Kasey will be providing her “veteran” perspective throughout the week, as will her three fellow job-seeking journalers. This serialized saga has just begun!
Throughout this year’s Winter Meetings in Orlando, four attendees of the PBEO Job Fair have agreed to keep a journal chronicling their employment-seeking experiences (meet them all HERE). In this installment, Ian Fontenot maintains some semblance of self-awareness amid a most over-stimulating environment.
Sunday marks the opening day of the 2013 Baseball Winter Meetings, or as emcee Rob Crain put it, “the first day of the rest of our lives”. Crain, the president of the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders, was nothing short of an outstanding host, seamlessly transitioning from speaker to speaker while keeping the 300-plus member crowd alert. I don’t think I’ve ever kept my attention on something as long as I did for the Business of Baseball Workshop. I fully anticipated being too eager to really grasp everything our speakers were saying, but it was quite the contrary. From the very beginning, Crain grabbed our attention with a story of his first Winter Meetings experience which involved a late night with his future wife, New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, and David Wells’ phone number. Immediately, you could tell Crain was a relatable person as this was a story you’d expect to hear from a friend rather than a Triple-A club president. He also touched on something I hope to find here in Orlando: finding a mentor.
Our first speaker Baseball America’s Minor League Executive of the Year and Louisiana native (represent!), Martie Cordaro of the Omaha Storm Chasers. Cordaro brought up many subjects, such as things to ask potential employers and something I’ve studied for the past four years — building mutually beneficial relationships. The rest of the day was filled with speakers reminding us of the importance of networking, hard work, passion and taking risks. Aside from the afternoon panel discussion, which required interaction from the audience, MLB international baseball operations manager Giovanni Hernandez easily drew the most interest from attendees. I assume that was because lots of people, like myself, are chasing the dream of one day working in baseball operations and player development. The one speaker who touched home for me was Minor League Baseball president & CEO Pat O’Conner. The story of his dad’s reaction to his phone call about taking a low-paying internship in Vero Beach, Florida after graduation is basically how I see people reacting when I tell them how much money I expect to make after coming out of college with two degrees. I think it’s safe to say that O’Conner’s decision was ultimately a great choice. That being said, the most wildly entertaining speaker came last in Richmond Flying Squirrels vice president & COO Todd “Parney” Parnell. I think anyone in attendance can attest for how raw, yet passionate, Parney was. I could only hope to work for someone as fun as Parney. However, as informational as the day was, I was all too ready to see what possibilities this week had in store. I may have appeared calm on the outside, but inside, I felt like I was running in place, and as we were bombarded with information, my anxiety raced even faster.
Immediately following the speakers was the main attraction for most, the opening of the Job Postings Room. The picture I painted in my head was one of chaos and savage fighting to get to each posting, but it was actually quite calm aside from two guys getting very testy with each other over the fact that one of them was taking pictures of the postings, which was supposed to be forbidden. As much research as I’ve done, I honestly didn’t know what to expect as far as job availability. In all, I submitted my resume for 14 communications-related positions. And the waiting begins.
As the first night approached, I did the networking-responsible thing and hit the bars (which are not job seeker-friendly on the wallet). I was lucky enough to have a friend who interned with me in Vermont, Dave Van Gorder, attend the Meetings as well. This made my situation a tad bit more comfortable as we connected with several fellow job seekers, including one who was over 50 and had little to his name in the baseball world aside from passion. Apart from the networking, I have to admit that the highlight of my night was being only two feet away from Jim Leyland, who was visiting with new Detroit manager Brad Ausmus and members of the MLB Network staff. I had to fight the urge to introduce myself and/or ask for a picture, but I knew it wasn’t the right moment; I guess we’ll call that “self-awareness.” Hopefully Monday will bring more intriguing job postings and a few interviews, but I am looking most forward to reconnecting with my family from the Vermont Lake Monsters!
Throughout this year’s Winter Meetings in Orlando, four attendees of the PBEO Job Fair have agreed to keep a journal chronicling their employment-seeking experiences (meet them all HERE). In this installment, Meredith Perri re-connects with former co-workers and learns what it means to “work” in baseball.
About 12 hours after I first stepped into the Dolphin Resort, I stood in the lobby and looked on as Ron Darling finished taping a show for MLB Network. He had walked by me a few minutes earlier, and it became my goal to talk to him before I left for the night. I had met him once while interning for SportsNet New York, and while I figured he didn’t remember me, it seemed like a decent way to start up a conversation.
After the show wrapped, I walked over to where Darling stood signing autographs and practiced my introduction in my head. A few moments later, he walked over to me, smiled and shook my hand as I told him my name and about my time at SNY. He wished me luck with my job search and both of us went on our merry ways.
Now, why would I start off my first journal entry with this anecdote? It actually has little to do with talking to Darling, although that was one of the highlights of my first day at the Winter Meetings. As I waited to speak with Darling, a fan made the comment to him that the next few days would probably be very busy. Darling smiled a bit and agreed, but responded that when it’s baseball it isn’t really work.
I’ve heard writers and other industry professionals make similar statements before, but Darling’s comment perfectly articulated the main thing that I took out of the Business of Baseball Workshop – if you’re passionate about something, it doesn’t necessarily feel like a job.
So, now back to 12 hours earlier when I made my way into the ballroom for the seminar.
After reading last year’s journal entries, I knew what to expect when I got to the workshop. That doesn’t mean, though, that I wasn’t thrilled to see a familiar face as one of the broadcasters from the Cape Cod Baseball League, Justin Rocke, also made the trip down to Florida.
The two of us sat together as speaker after speaker made sure that every person in attendance understood that working in the baseball industry is not easy. Of course, each one of them had their own entertaining way of explaining this.
No matter what the speaker talked about, though, they all eventually told a story about their experience either at the Winter Meetings or working for a team. Some of them were inspiring, like Pawtucket Red Sox general sales manager Cookie Rojas’ photo story of why he has the coolest job. Others sounded more like war stories as speakers detailed their attempts to get ice off of tarps and mishaps during on-field promotions.
Even the more harrowing – although thoroughly entertaining – stories, though, made me think about the passion it takes to work a job where, to quote Todd “Parney” Parnell, the Vice President and COO of the Richmond Flying Squirrels, you work “25 hours a day, 8 days a week, 13 months a year.”
Baseball is a business, and that, clearly, was the main focus of today’s seminar. At the same time, though, it takes a certain kind of person to find joy in this type of non-stop lifestyle.
Like many of the other job seekers, I’ve put in a lot of hours at internships and miscellaneous jobs to get here. Those stories only encouraged me even more to get into the business. Now it’s time to see where my passion and those previous experiences will take me.
Check back tomorrow — and throughout the week — for much more from Meredith and her three fellow job-seeking journalers.
Throughout this year’s Winter Meetings in Orlando, four attendees of the PBEO Job Fair have agreed to keep a journal chronicling their employment-seeking experiences (meet them all HERE). In this installment, Alex Reiner arrives in Orlando and begins to weigh his options.
And so it begins…
My situation is a little different than most other job seekers here. I’m a college baseball player at a small NCAA Division II school called Lynn University. As a 20-year-old junior in college, the number one goal on my agenda right now is to get good grades in school, and to play baseball. I really think it’s a blessing that I get to wake up every day and spend hours on the field. It’s a luxury not many people have. The only thing I do know is that one day, that luxury will end. It could be tomorrow, it could be after I graduate, or it could be in fifteen years.
I’d be lying if I didn’t reveal that I have been to the Winter Meetings once before. I was a freshman in college, and I imagined the Winter Meetings as a place where all of baseball’s top executives came together and literately broke it down in the lobby of the hotel, throwing trade offers at each other and signing free agents on the spot. Just imagine if you were a chocolate lover, and you walked in to Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. Now switch all the chocolate with baseballs, and you are looking inside my brain circa freshman year. When I arrived to the Winter Meetings in Dallas two years ago, I was in for a rude awakening. Although teams did make trades, and free agents were signed, I didn’t have the box seat behind home plate that I expected. I wasn’t necessarily disappointed in my experience, but after finding out my university wouldn’t accept any internships I did as college credit until I was at least a sophomore, I felt discouraged to say the least. I left Dallas hungry, ready to come back when the time was right.
So here I am, two years later. After a three-hour drive up from Boca Raton, I headed in to the Dolphin Resort and I found a quiet room and did three hours of homework. Not exactly the most exciting start to what I like to think is a promising week, but I’m here and my exams are taking place back at Lynn, and it’s hard to be in two places at once. I have four exams and three essays to finish before Wednesday night. So if you ever want to find me, I’ll probably sitting at a table alone behind the Lynn University booth in the Trade Show doing one of those seven assignments. I figure since I can’t drink anyway, it would keep me out of any awkward situations where I’m at a bar trying to network, and some baseball executive starts talking to me and offers me a drink and I say “Uhhh, iced tea please?”
The excitement was killing me. After taking about three hours to write two-and-a-half pages of a seven-page paper, I headed over to the Swan Resort for the Job Fair about forty-five minutes early, and I sat outside and simply waited. I started thinking about how I feel that all aspects of running a baseball team are important, but I wasn’t going to just throw around my resume like free lollipops at a doctor’s office. I planned my attack: look for internships (obviously), specifically involving baseball operations or talent evaluation. I understand the importance of getting your foot in the door, but I don’t want to end up with an internship that I won’t enjoy. My dream internship would probably be to shadow a GM of a Major League club over the summer, but as far as I’m concerned that type of position isn’t offered here. I can’t do a year round or six-month position, because I need to be back at school and honor my commitment to the baseball team. This limited my selections. Usually I spend the summer playing summer ball, trying to sharpen my baseball skills. But this summer, I plan to try and balance both and internship while also playing summer ball. After reviewing the postings for about thirty minutes, I found one internship that interested me. I dropped my resume in the box, and left the job fair ecstatic that I just applied for my first ever position in the “baseball world.” I started walking down the hall from the Swan Resort over to the lobby of the Dolphin Resort. As sat down in the lobby to just take in the atmosphere, I remembered I was in the middle of an essay and I had five more pages to write.
There will be much more to come from Alex — and all of our job-seekers — throughout the week! Check back early, and check back often.
Throughout the 2012 Baseball Winter Meetings in Nashville, four attendees of the PBEO Job Fair kept a journal chronicling their employment seeking experiences. (Meet them all HERE). This endeavor will be repeated at this year’s Winter Meetings in Orlando; 2013′s four Job Seekers will be introduced in an MiLB.com feature on Friday and then chronicle their experience throughout the next week (and, perhaps, beyond).
But first, an update from one of 2012′s quartet. Clint Belau recently got in touch with this guest post, in which he writes about his first season working in professional baseball (as a stadium operations intern for the Albuquerque Isotopes). Last year I described Clint as “irrepressibly optimistic” — as you’ll soon see, those words continue to be a good descriptor of his life outlook.
When last we left off, I was a 35-year-old former musician, set to begin an eight month internship in a place I’ve never been, for an organization I was completely unfamiliar with, on a journey to pursue a career path I was hoping would be the one I could honestly attest to loving. Wow, when I put it that way, it sounds ultra-promising!
However, if you know anything about me (which most of you don’t, but for the sake of this sentence, I’d ask that you pretend to), you know that I’m not deterred by less than favorable odds. But realistically, what did I think would happen? That I would come to Albuquerque, immediately get along with every person in the organization, truly love every minute of the season (yes, even the 7:00 a.m. hot dog rolling sessions…I’m a sucker for assembly line situations), and develop such fantastic relationships with game day staff, fans and vendors that, after a 16 hour “work” day, I’d voluntarily stay longer simply because I enjoy the environment so much? That I would work hard enough that the organization would feel comfortable offering me a full time job that I’m mildly qualified for, and perhaps most importantly, I would spend a small portion of every single day smiling uncontrollably like a lunatic as I ponder my good fortune? Yeah, let me know how that works out pal.
Well, that’s exactly how it turned out. I spent the season as a stadium operations intern. Did I treat it like an internship? Absolutely not. From the second I set foot in that stadium, I made it my mission to weave myself into the fabric of the organization, to show them how much I wanted to be a part of it, to do everything and anything I could to represent the organization in a positive manner, to contribute to creating a valuable environment in which fans could experience everything this incredible game has to offer, and to do it all while exuding a contagious amount of joy. Alright, now I’m just starting to sound weird, but you get where I’m going with this. As a general statement, things are going well.
So now I’ll attempt to bring this all back to the point of Mr. Hill’s experiment: to take four people who are trying to kickstart their respective careers in baseball by attending the PBEO Job Fair, follow them through their week, and see where it takes them. If I have some sort of semi-educated advice for job seekers, it would be to, above all else, stay positive. You’re about to enter(or have already entered) a world of extreme competition. If you’re not passionate about it, I suggest you do something else. This world will require much more than you probably think it will. This isn’t a career that you leave at your desk after eight hours. If you do not truly love it, you will most likely grow to resent it. All of those statements are examples of what you’re about to hear when you attend the Winter Meetings, and more specifically, the Business of Baseball workshop. I know because I heard them less than a year ago. As I listened to them, I thought “it seems like they’re trying to scare us out of the industry.” In fact, it’s not a scare tactic, it’s a proper warning. However, if you’re really as passionate about baseball as you think you are, it will be an incredibly rewarding experience. For me, to be able to spend every day at the ballpark, to be surrounded by the game, to see families sharing the experience of it all, to witness the smile on a child’s face when they catch a foul ball, to know that on any given game day, you have the opportunity to help someone appreciate the game you love so much in a whole new way…that cannot be beat. I’m happy to say that a year later, I truly love being in baseball even more than my “irrepressibly optimistic” personality believed I could.
The value of attending the PBEO Job Fair is based on opening your eyes to what you’re dealing with. The advice from seasoned veterans comes at you fast and furious. The employment opportunities are high in volume, yet seemingly low in comparison to the amount of potential applicants. I can be extremely wordy at times, but if I’m boiling it down to a three word bit of advice that I’ve received numerous times from a good friend of mine, it would be this…do your best.
And there you have it, straight from the operations intern-turned-assistant director of field operations’ mouth. 2013′s series of Job Seeking Journal posts will begin on Monday, as will myriad other dispatches, Tweets, and Vine videos from Orlando’s Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort. In short, it’ll be another year of unparalleled Winter Meetings coverage. (And, yes, it truly is unparalleled — no one else provides such in-depth accounts of the non-Hot Stove perspective!)
The Winter Meetings are next week — Monday, December 9 through Thursday, December 12 to be exact — and, as such, I’ve got the Winter Meetings on my brain.
Also, as of yesterday, I’ve got the Winter Meetings on my phone. This year, for the first time ever, baseball’s premier industry confab is coming equipped with its own app. It is free to download, and available via Apple and Google Play (search “Winter Meetings”).
The Winter Meetings app is courtesy of the Professional Baseball Promotions Corp, a subsidiary of Minor League Baseball. (Minor League Baseball is headquartered in St. Petersburg, as you may recall.) Anyone who has attended the Winter Meetings knows that they are a sprawling, multi-faceted, and altogether overwhelming affair, and the purpose of the app is simply to help attendees make sense of it all (to the extent that that is possible).
Steve Densa, executive director of communications for Minor League Baseball, writes that the app has many features that should come in handy. Highlights include a list of Trade Show exhibitors that functions as a “walking Buyer’s Guide,” detailed maps of each hotel so that attendees can locate meeting rooms, a “full schedule which shows every main event/meeting by day,” and, finally, the ability to share schedules, comments, and contact info with fellow attendees.
Perhaps these screenshots will help to elucidate the information contained in the above paragraph.
If you desire, you can enter your personal info so that it is accessible to other attendees. Consider me accessible (as well as overly precious and perhaps not as protective of my privacy as I should be).
As with last year, much of my Winter Meetings content will be centered around the “Job Seeker Journals.” Four individuals have been selected, and they will be introduced in an MiLB.com feature on Friday. But, I cannot stress this enough, I am always looking to meet new people, because new people lead to new story ideas and what is this job if not a vehicle for story creation? Individuals that I am looking to meet include (but are not limited to) job seekers, trade show exhibitors, front office denizens, high-ranking execs, media moguls looking to capitalize on the most underrated niche in all of sports journalism, and, of course, veteran scribes waiting for the perfect moment to acknowledge the existence (and awesomeness) of my long-running Crooked Numbers column.
Oh, and even if you won’t be at the Meetings: what kind of coverage would you most like to see? And does anybody know of any good gluten-free places in the Orlando area? Man cannot live on Kind bars and popcorn alone.
One more time, with feeling!
In other words, it’s time for November’s third and final “Return to the Road” installment, in which I highlight that which was experienced above and beyond the ballpark during my road trip travels. The first post covered May 8 and 9th in Bowling Green and Nashville, and part two involved the events of May 10th and 11th in Nashville, the Smoky Mountains, and Asheville. Which brings us to, yes, May 12th.
I woke up early in Asheville on this fine Sunday morning, after attending a Tourists game the night before that was eventually covered HERE, HERE, and HERE. (Thirsty Thursday origin story!) I woke up so early, in fact, that I forgot to do the obligatory road trip hotel room review and thus had to improvise.
Road trip hotel review, Sleep Inn, Asheville. https://t.co/iMZJSkdqFK
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) May 12, 2013
The inability to “Sleep Inn” was because my next destination, Savannah, GA, was over four hours away and I was scheduled to attend a Sand Gnats Mother’s Day matinee at Grayson Stadium that began at 2 o’clock. The only documentation that I possess of this journey is this rather underwhelming photo of Talmadge Memorial Bridge.
Underwhelming photo, perhaps, but the bridge is anything but. Named after Georgia governor Eugene Talmadge, it connects downtown Savannah with Hutchinson Island and spans a distance of two miles. The Talmadge is imposing and picturesque, and it makes one’s entryway into Savannah proper a truly memorable experience. It astounds me, however, that what is surely the most iconic structure in a city with a majority black population is named after a politician who viciously and unapologetically espoused racial hatred and exploited racial tensions.
There’s really no way to smoothly segue from the above sentence, so I’m not even going to try. I crossed the bridge, attended the Sand Gnats game (read all about it HERE! And HERE!), and after the game found myself in a bit of a quandary in that was early evening on Mother’s Day — not exactly the best time for a traveling gluten-free Minor League Baseball writer to do a bit of exploring and socializing. Savannah’s waterfront downtown area was packed, and I simply drove along the cobblestone streets at about one mile an hour with absolutely no idea regarding what it was that I was looking to accomplish. I snaped a few underwhelming photos out of the driver’s side window and then got out of Dodge as quickly as I could.
My lack of a plan and general feelings of alienation from the scene around me put me in a grumpy frame of mind.
So I did what I always do in these situations: went to a diner, ordered steak and eggs, and then brought a stash of pork cracklins and Mello Yello back to my hotel room to serve as writing fuel. It was a beautiful night.
But frustration continued to follow me the next day, eventually catching up with me somewhere between Savannah and my next destination of Augusta. My problem was that it was lunch time and in the breaded and fried deep South it can be difficult to stay true to the gluten-free diet that a battery of medical professionals have insisted that I follow.
I was hungry and not seeing many viable options along whatever lonely stretch of road that I was on, so when I spotted a sign advertising one “Bay South” restaurant I figured I may as well roll the dice and give it a try. At the very least I’d be supporting a humble local business as opposed to a monolithic chain entity doing its part to further exacerbate America’s descent into corporatized homogeneity, and that’s half the battle right there.
The restaurant didn’t have a menu, just a small board listing the day’s specials. I was hungry, and as a stranger in a strange land I was feeling a little self-conscious and didn’t really want to give the waitress a spiel regarding my dietary needs. I simply ordered the pork chop special with field peas and stewed tomatoes and hoped for the best. This is the platter that soon arrived:
Don’t get me wrong — that’s a good looking plate of food, and in my pre-gluten free days I would have devoured it without a second thought. But that pork chop was heavily breaded, the peas were in a thick sauce that likely used flour as a thickener, and bread crumbs were mixed in with the tomatoes. The piece de resistance in this fete de gluten was the cornbread, which is to the South what pickles are to a Jewish deli.
“I made my bed, now I’ve got to lie in it,” was the thought that went through my head, so I went ahead and ate the whole plate of food. And, no surprise, it was delicious. I experienced no side effects from this major diet deviation, as I am an asymptomatic (or “silent”) celiac. It’s weird — in a way I almost wish I had symptoms, because the debilitating short-term side effects of eating gluten would serve as a safeguard against the long-term bodily damage that occurs as a result of “cheating” episodes along the lines of that detailed above (which I really don’t do very often at all).
But enough gnashing of teeth, as tautologically speaking celiac disease simply is what it is. I’m just trying to articulate the tortured mental gymnastics that accompany most restaurant meals these days, as these minor setbacks within a life of immense privilege really take a lot out of a guy!
And speaking of immense privilege, the next stop on my itinerary was none other than this esteemed locale.
I arrived at this legendary expanse of greenery with one Chad Walters, an Augusta resident and founder of Lean Blitz Consulting (who served as Designated Eater at that night’s GreenJackets game). Chad kindly spotted me a set of clubs, and I strode toward the entrance gate all like “Oh, no big deal, I’m here every day.”
I’ve actually never played golf in my life, and in one of the most predictable outcomes of all time I was turned away by a guard who denied Chad’s requests to take a picture. Whatever lurked beyond this road way was going to remain a mystery.
Desultory contemplation complete, this Augusta excursion ended with a walk down the surprisingly pedestrian (but not pedestrian friendly) pathway that separates Augusta from the strip mall homogeneity that surrounds it.
Fortunately, Chad had one more Augusta landmark to show me and this one was far more accessible. We drove into downtown proper and, after taking advantage of the ample parking opportunities, made our way to this location.
Yes, that James Brown. The Godfather of Soul! Presiding over all that he sees!
Brown was not an Augusta native, but he did spend his formative years here. Per the plaque that resides at the base of the structure, Brown “has called Augusta ‘home’ since moving here when he was five. It was in Augusta’s Lenox Theatre that he first received recognition for his talent by winning an amateur contest.”
Perhaps the James Brown’s of tomorrow are honing their chops at downtown Savannah’s I-3000 Club, although the focus there seemed to be more on adult entertainment.
After that it was goodbye downtown Augusta and hello GreenJackets. (I wrote about that ballgame HERE and HERE, as I am wont to do.) The next day it was on to Birmingham, where I closed out this trip by attending two games at the Barons’ new home of Regions Field. (Check it out, if you are wont to do such a thing.) My time in Birmingham yielded two blog posts and two MiLB.com features, virtually exhausting all of my Dream City content, so all that I have left to share is this: before leaving for the airport, I stopped for a meal at the Birmingham BBQ institution that is Dreamland BBQ.
I patronized the 14th Avenue South location, which is located in a rather residential area.
The majority of the patrons on this Tuesday afternoon were sitting in the booths…
but given my lonely traveler status I opted for a seat at the bar and promptly ordered a half slab of ribs. They were delectable (and gluten-free).
During the meal I made small talk with the bartender, who turned out to be the younger brother of outfielder Josh Phelps (now retired). This minor but nonetheless interesting baseball-related happenstance marked the conclusion of this particular road trip, as from Dreamland I went straight to the airport. I am happy to report that the boiled peanuts made it home safely.
Welcome to the second 2013 installment of “Return to the Road,” in which I highlight that which was experienced above and beyond the ballparks during my road trip travels. Part one covered May 8 and 9 in Bowling Green and Nashville, and today’s post picks up in the early afternoon of Friday, May 10th. I had attended the previous night’s Sounds game at Nashville’s Greer Stadium — read about that HERE — and upon checking out of the hotel (complete with Road Trip Hotel Room Review #2) I made my way back to the area surrounding the ballpark.
My destination was Gabby’s Burgers, an unassuming but very well-regarded burger joint located the proverbial hop, skip, and jump away from Greer.
The above photo was taken as I was leaving Gabby’s, but when I arrived there was a line that snaked all the way out of the door. It was hard to take pictures within such a cramped environment, but this more or less conveys what the scene was like inside.
As many of you know, a celiac disease diagnosis has forced me to adapt to a gluten-free diet. Ultra-specific fast food establishments such as Gabby’s can sometimes be difficult to navigate, but I had been informed the previous evening that they did in fact offer a “jazz style” burger in which the bun was replaced with lettuce. Not ideal, perhaps, but perfectly acceptable! I ordered a “Seamus burger, jazz-style” and then snagged a seat at the counter. About 10 minutes later, this arrived.
I’m writing this six months after the fact, so perhaps my adjectival command is not what it might have been, but I can say without equivocation that this burger was STUPENDOUS, easily one of the top three that I’ve ever had in my life. If you’re in Nashville, and especially if you’re in the vicinity of Greer Stadium, then you owe it to yourself to make a visit.
Greer Stadium’s iconic guitar scoreboard can be seen from the Gabby’s parking lot, and a record pressing plant (!) is located just down the street as well. Burgers, baseball, and vinyl — what more could you want from life? (Well, actually, I can immediately think of a few other things.) But all good things must come to an end, even if they come in threes, and soon enough I was off to Kodak (or would that be Sevierville?), home of the Tennessee Smokies. My journey was not without its miscues, as you may recall from my Smokies’ “On the Road” post:
I arrived at Smokies Park a bit later than I was aiming for, due to a GPS/common sense snafu in which I drove to a “Stadium Drive” in Knoxville instead of the one in Sevierville. It wasn’t until I made a turn onto “Peyton Manning Pass” that it occurred to me that I may have driven to the University of Tennessee’s Neyland Stadium instead.
This, perhaps, was not my finest moment. But I was nonetheless in good spirits when I arrived at the Hampton Inn. You can see the ballpark from the stadium!
I wrote all about my visit with the Smokies, HERE and HERE and HERE. The next morning I posted Road Trip Hotel Room Review #3, and then embarked upon the long and winding mountain drive to Asheville. Upon arriving I found myself with about two hours of free time, and I decided to make the most of it by doing what I do best: wandering the downtown area in search of independent record stores. In Asheville, a city that prides itself on its cultural eclecticism and general open-mindedness, it didn’t take long to find one.
Static Age was a bit dungeon-esque, but it didn’t make me crabby. They had a bunch of Record Store Day stuff that had long become unavailable in New York City, and I was glad to snag Mercury Rev’s “Deserted Songs” as well as a free Sub Pop sampler (they also still had limited edition Bardo Pond and Mugstar releases and in my head I was like “Yo, Asheville heavy psych bros, you gotta get on that.”)
After leaving Static Age I soon came across Voltage Records.
While combing through the stacks at Voltage, I looked up and saw a most familiar site. I had this poster hanging in my bedroom, circa 1996.
Downtown Asheville was bustling on this Saturday afternoon, and despite what some of these pictures may convey it was truly a vibrant and spirited atmosphere.
Downtown also boasts this iconic art deco beauty, the S & W Cafeteria.
S & W was a chain restaurant that served inexpensive (but presumably delicious) Southern cooking. The Asheville location was open from 1929-74, and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1977. For better or for worse, it is currently being renovated into condominiums.
Interior-wise, the most physically impressive establishment that I visited was the Battery Park Book Exchange and Champagne Bar. This multi-level book store is well organized and offers plenty of comfortable nooks and crannies to sit and drink coffee, wine, and yes, champagne. It’d be a great place to hang out for an hour or two, but, as is often the case on these trips, I just didn’t have the time. And, as is also so often the case, my pictures do not do it justice.
Back outside and once again wandering about, I soon noticed that one of these things is indeed not like the other.
I was not in the market for a red, white, and blue bandanna, but I was in the market to visit another bookstore. I always am. Here’s some interior shots of the plainly named and plainly awesome Downtown News.
Perhaps the best thing about Downtown News was their exemplary (maga)zine selection.
Arthur is currently my favorite magazine and if over the course of reading this blog you’ve found that your sensibilities are similar to mine then please take the time to check it out (I also copped that Mojo with Sabbath on the cover).
I of course realize that there is far more to Asheville than its book and record stores, but given a limited amount of time that’s what I chose to focus on and I hope you were able to pick up on at least a little bit of what I was putting down.
I’ll end with a total non-sequitur, as I have one other photo in this particular road trip folder that is totally out of context. I imagine that this is something that I stumbled upon at a gas station somewhere between the Smoky Mountains and Asheville, but certainly it is not something that I have seen before or since. The object of this game was to use a joystick to control a pair of scissors that could then cut the string holding one of two prizes: a Nikon camera and a wad of money. I don’t remember operating this ridiculous contraption, but if I did I failed.
And with that, I have no more outside-of-the-ballpark detritus to share from what were my third and fourth days of 2013′s “Southern Swing.” Thanks, as always, for sticking with me.