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This isn’t the first time that I’ve titled a blog post “Back to the Basics,” and it probably won’t be the last. By “basics” I mean a baseball environment largely free of the amenities and peripheral entertainment that have come to characterize the modern Minor League Baseball experience. At a Batavia Muckdogs game, fans will not find a massive videoboard, blaring sound system, corporate suites, 360 degree concourse, a thriving mascot ecosystem and front office members espousing “living the brand” ideology. They will simply find a no-frills ballpark, one that houses a community-owned team whose roots stretch back to the founding of the league in which it still operates.
This is Dwyer Stadium, home of the Muckdogs.
Dwyer Stadium was built in 1996, replacing a structure on the same spot that had stood since 1937 (the playing field remained the same). The facility was called State Street Park when it first opened, with the name switching to MacArthur Stadium during WWII. (It’s too bad that it wasn’t called “MacArthur Park,” as then then the Muckdogs could sell “cake left out in the rain” as an historically apropos signature concession item.) The Dwyer moniker was adopted in 1973, in honor of team president Edward D. Dwyer and all he did for baseball in Batavia.
The facility is located in a residential neighborhood, less than a mile from downtown proper. There is a small (free!) parking lot adjacent to the first base side.
I entered the stadium about an hour and a half before game time, talking to a few folks and getting the proverbial lay of the land. There is a covered grandstand, bleacher seating and a picnic area down the third base side, and a wooden porch group area down the first base side.
Behind the ballpark lurks the concourse.
There are some interesting names on the above list. Many years prior to his (perhaps apocryphal) hallucinogenic no-hitter heroics, Doc Ellis was a member of the 1964 Batavia Pirates. That team posted a horrific 33-97 record, and Doc was the only player on the roster who went on to the Majors. As for me, I’m a Phillies fan, and as such I recognize a lot of these names from late ’90s excursions to a depressingly empty Veterans Stadium. For instance, I once saw Gary Bennett team up with Joel Bennett to form the only same last name battery in Phillies history and the first all-Bennett battery in Major League history. True story.
As I mentioned in a recent “New York State of Mind” post, what is now known as the New York-Penn League was conceived in a Batavia hotel during a concentrated burst of National Pastime passion. Here’s a plaque commemorating this circuit-creating tryst.
The Jamestown Jammers are re-locating to Morgantown, West Virginia next season, which leaves Batavia as the NYPL’s sole remaining charter member. Along with the Auburn Doubledays, who are also community-owned and play in a ballpark nearly identical to Dwyer Stadium, the Muckdogs are the last bastions of the “old” New York-Penn League. Over the past two decades the league has changed dramatically, greatly expanding its footprint and putting a premium on new stadiums. This of course makes sense from an economic standpoint, but in the process the smaller Empire State locales that once formed the heart and soul of the league have been largely abandoned.
During the evening I was aware of a palpable sense of angst among the Muckdogs faithful that Batavia will be next on the NYPL chopping block. I’ll provide more detail on that, and the team’s unique ownership situation, in an upcoming MiLB.com piece. But, in a nutshell: the Muckdogs are community-owned, with an entity called the Genesee County Baseball Club (GCBC) holding legal title. The GCBC have a 25-person Board of Directors, but since 2008 the team has been operated by the Triple-A Rochester Red Wings (themselves a community owned team) who cover all expenses and receive all revenue. Thus, Batavia Muckdogs front office members — led by general manager Travis Sick — are in fact employees of the Red Wings organization. The Red Wings have lost money in this endeavor thus far, but each year that they operate the team the Red Wings receive an additional 5% stake in the MuckDogs ownership. This will be capped at 50%, after 10 years, with GCBC retaining a technical majority. The hope in Batavia is that, economic realities be damned, a new owner committed to keeping the team in Batavia will swoop in and insure a long-term baseball future. What seems more likely is that the team will eventually be sold and re-locate, with the Red Wings recouping their ongoing operational losses via their stake of the team’s ownership. The Muckdogs drew just 33, 376 fans in 2014, averaging 954 a game. The only team in the league with a lower total was the Jamestown Jamestown (24,246) who, of course, are now no longer.
Anyhow, let’s get back to the plaques.
This one details another significant bit of Batavia baseball history: in 1961, Gene Baker became the first black manager of an affiliated baseball team.
The whole write-up is interesting, so I’ll include it in full in the hopes that you read it in full:
In June 1961, Batavia proudly played a role in baseball history when Gene Baker took the reins as manager of the Batavia Pirates. Baker, a native of Davenport, Iowa, thus became the first African-American manager of an affiliated professional baseball team.
After beginning his playing career with the famed Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro League, Gene Baker joined the Chicago Cubs in 1953. Second-baseman Baker and shortstop Ernie Banks dazzled fans as part of the “Bingo-Bango” double-play combination. Baker was traded to Pittsburgh in 1957 and won a World Series ring in 1960.
The next year, the Pirates assigned Baker as player-manager of the struggling Batavia team, which was in seventh place when he was named skipper. Under Baker’s leadership and aided by the pitching of phenom Steve Blass, Batavia made the league playoffs, losing the championship series to Olean. Despite bad knees, manager Baker hit for a sizzling .387 batting average in 1961.
In September 1963, while a coach with Pittsburgh, Baker managed the Pirates after Danny Murtaugh was ejected from a game, thereby becoming the first black man to manage a game in the major as well as the minor leagues.
The popular Baker returned to manage Batavia in 1964, and he spent the next quarter century as a scout in the Pirates organization. Gene Baker died in 1999. He is buried in Rock Island, Illinois.
Plaque perusal is now complete, meaning that wandering shall re-commence.
The team store is a barn; the barn is a team store.
The Muckdogs’ promotion for the evening was that they were attempting to break Dwyer Stadium’s 75-year-old attendance record of 3000. (If they did so, one fan would win $3001). In the end only 1532 fans passed through the turnstiles, but in a stadium as intimate as this it still made for a nice crowd.
A quirk of Dwyer Stadium is that the sun sets in straightaway left field. We’re not talking Sam Lynn-levels of Bakersfield blindness here, but it’s still tough to see the playing field during the early stages of the evening.
I summarily sought some shade at this scenic under-the-bleachers beverage emporium.
“Ladies and gentleman, the Mahoning Valley Scrappers line-up has changed — significantly changed — so we’ll go through the whole thing again.”
Then, during this second spin through the line-up, I heard this:
“Batting seventh…I don’t know, I haven’t looked it up yet…catcher Martin Sevenka.”
I later learned that this rather put-upon sounding stickler for detail was Wayne Fuller, who plies his trade in a press box that has been named after him. He’s a legendary figure in Muckdogs baseball, and next time I visit Batavia (oh, there’ll be a next time) I’ll make sure to meet him and hopefully hear some stories.
Line-ups communicated, anthem complete, it was time to play ball.
Russ and Kellie live, in Russ’s estimation, 20 houses away from the ballpark. He said that he first attended MuckDogs games as a convenient “getaway at the end of the night,” but this casual fandom has since blossomed into something else altogether. The Salways house ballplayers via the team’s host family program, and Russ is a member of the team’s board of directors. He runs a Facebook page called “Let’s Keep the Batavia Muckdogs in Batavia,” works to promote the team in the community, and occasionally does odd jobs around the stadium (staining the deck that he and Kellie are standing upon, for example). He also is an avid record collector, and recommended that I visit the Record Archive and Lakeshore Record Exchange in Rochester and Record Theater in Buffalo (I was unable to visit these establishments for reasons of varying legitimacy, but it it’s the thought that counts and these establishments will be on my radar during my next pass through the region).
But, perhaps most important to this narrative, Russ had volunteered to be my designated eater for the evening (you know, the individual recruited to eat the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits). We thus began a journey, from the porch to the concession stand.
I requested that Russ get the “Muckdog Chow,” which is an iteration of the regional specialty that is the “Garbage Plate” (which originated in nearby Rochester). “Muckdog Chow” is, per the above menu, “served with macaroni salad, homefries and your choice of Red or White Hot or Cheeseburger or burger topped with Muckdog Sauce.” A “white hot” is another regional specialty, described on Wikipedia as a variation on the hot dog found in the Upstate New York area. It is composed of some combination of uncured and unsmoked pork, beef, and veal; the lack of smoking or curing allows the meat to retain a naturally white color.
A “red hot,” meanwhile, refers to the more standard-issue frankfurters to which we have become accustomed at ballparks. The Muckdogs’ offerings are courtesy of Zweigles, a New York-based company long recognized as one of the pre-eminent purveyors of the white hot. (One thing I learned on this road trip: upstate New York is a hotbed of hot dog production, and people are very particular about their brand preferences.)
For something with “Garbage Plate” aspirations, Muckdog Chow looked a fairly orderly food combination.
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) August 22, 2014
“It’s been a while since I’ve had one of these. What you’ve got to do is cut the meat and mix it all up,” said Russ, who in preparation for his designated eating assignment, had passed on eating a chicken and broccoli dish that Kellie had made. “There are several different flavors all at once.”
Kellie was giving Russ a hard time, saying that the dinner she had prepared was “much better” than a Garbage Plate. She then took him to task for improper food posing technique.
“We should get a plaque or something,” said Russ.
As the Clearwater Threshers could tell you, the proper way to commemorate Ryan Howard-related foul ball damage is to have him sign it. WOB = Watch out, bro:
The above item is the sort that I struggle with at ballparks — the ingredients should be gluten-free, but I didn’t know for sure and, in fact, didn’t want to know. They looked good, so I ate some. I realize I should show more restraint, and often do, but celiac disease is a tough road to navigate sometimes and we’re all going to die anyway.
Designated eating complete, Russ and I walked over to the bleachers so that he could introduce me to Bill Kauffman. Kauffman, a writer of some renown, is vice president of the Muckdogs’ board of directors.
On Kaufmann’s Wikipedia page, his politics are described as “a blend of Catholic Worker, Old Right libertarian, Yorker transcendentalist, and delirious localist.” He has also described himself as an “Independent. A Jeffersonian. An anarchist. A (cheerful!) enemy of the state, a reactionary Friend of the Library, a peace-loving football fan.”
Such leanings could make for all sorts of interesting conversations, but given that I am a baseball writer at a baseball game we talked about baseball.
“We’re the Green Bay Packers of Minor League Baseball, this was passed down to us and we hope to pass it on to the next generation,” said Kauffman, who proudly noted that Batavia is the smallest American city with both a symphony orchestra and a professional baseball team. “This is the soul of baseball, you don’t pay money to park, there are no TV timeouts, and you’re not patted down on the way into the stadium.”
I’ll have a few more quotes from Kaufmann in my previously threatened upcoming MiLB.com piece, but, for now, let me just note that he wrote a book about Batavia called Dispatches from the Muckdog Gazette. I’m gonna have to get a copy.
Speaking of Muckdogs, I believe that this autograph-signing canine was named Homer.
Behind Homer, you’ll can see the Wayne H. Fuller Pressbox (I find it weird that “pressbox” is just one word on the signage).
I spent the eighth inning of the game talking to an autograph collector by the name of Ted Wasko, who was sitting in seats directly behind home plate. This is a great view, but as a believer in the curse of the Bambino my general preference when it comes to ballpark seating is “No, No, Nanette.”
Speaking of the net, there was much speculation regarding whether this wayward foul ball would ever be extracted from its precarious elevated location.
Continuing on with this photo tour of obfuscated views, here’s a look at the Muckdogs bullpen. The reason I’m sharing this photo is to point out the row of bikes lined up against the clubhouse. Virtually all of these guys live with local families, and many of them ride their bikes to and from the stadium each day. It’s a long way to the top if you want to rock n’ roll.
Bullpen, sans link:
Zooming in for a closer look.
Russ was multi-tasking. In addition to waving his rally flag, he was also ringing his rally bell, drinking a beer and, between breaks in the action, using his hammer on non-compliant deck nails. All in a day’s work for an ardent supporter of a community-owned team.
Russ’s rally efforts were for naught, as the Muckdogs fell in defeat to the Scrappers. A fireworks show followed, and while this is by no means a good photo it does make it appear that the town of Batavia was annihilated by a nuclear bomb.
And that, as they say, was that. I said goodbye to Russ, walked to the parking lot, and soon commenced the drive to Rochester. While en route to my rental vehicle, I noticed that the Scrappers’ charter bus company is called Precious Cargo. Aw, that’s adorable, Scrappers. You guys are precious. Do your Mommies ride the bus with you and tuck you in and sing you lullabies?
That’s it as regards blogging from Batavia, but stay tuned for much, much more from this final road trip and, while you’re waiting, go ahead and tell your friends to read this blog as it is the most underrated entity in all of sports media.
(Interested in perusing all of my 2014 “On the Road” content? Click HERE to visit a continually updated “On the Road” landing page. Bookmark it, and read ‘em all!)
Part one in this series detailed my non-ballpark explorations (or lack thereof) in Batavia, Rochester and Jamestown. Part two, which you are reading now, begins on August 25th and covers Erie, Pennsylvania and Buffalo, New York.
Let’s get to it, lest it get to us!
August 25th — Erie, Pennsylvania (home of the SeaWolves)
I grew up outside of Philadelphia, my grandparents had a house in the Poconos, and I went to college in Pittsburgh. Therefore, I consider myself to be quite familiar with the state of Pennsylvania. But it wasn’t until this trip that I ventured deep into the northwest quadrant of the state, and I’m glad that I finally had the opportunity to do so. Erie, heretofore unbeknownst to me, is quite beautiful.
I arrived in Erie on the evening of August 24th, having driven there after attending that afternoon’s Jamestown Jammers game. After a night of rest at the Clarion Inn, I did some writing, got lunch at a local Mexican restaurant, and then headed over to Presque Isle State Park. (I’ve been pronouncing it “Press Kyle State Park.” I hope that’s correct.)
Presque Isle State Park is a 3,200-acre sandy peninsula that arches into Lake Erie. As Pennsylvania’s only “seashore,” Presque Isle offers its visitors a beautiful coastline and many recreational activities, including swimming, boating, fishing, hiking, bicycling and in-line skating.
I only had about an hour to poke around, but my pokings soon brought me to this pristine stretch of beach. It was a beautiful day, and the water was a perfect temperature. I would have happily spent the entire day there, if Minor League Baseball obligations hadn’t intervened (as they always do, and must).
I didn’t do much except wander along the coastline with my pantlegs pulled up to my knees, but what else was there to do? Presque Isle is now firmly entrenched in my mind as a place to visit on a non-baseball-related road trip (should such a thing ever exist in my life). And while that’s all the time that I had to explore Erie, there is, obviously, much more to do than go to the beach. In an email prior to my visit, SeaWolves president Greg Coleman provided the following information:
- Near the entrance to Presque Isle (locally know as The Peninsula), you’ll find two local institutions – an amusement park called Waldameer and a ’50’s style hot dog stand/eatery called Sara’s. Both are considered Erie institutions. The Ravine Flyer at Waldameer has one of the most stunning rollercoaster views I’ve ever seen as it looks out over the peninsula and Lake Erie.
- Bicentennial Tower is probably the most recognizable landmark in Erie. It is located on the bay front at the northernmost tip of State Street (Erie’s equivalent of “Main Street”) and was built in 1996 to commemorate Erie’s 200th anniversary.
- The Erie Maritime Museum is a short walk from Bicentennial Tower. The museum hosts the U.S. Brig Niagara, the official flagship of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, when it is docked in Erie.
- Erie boasts a number of number of attractions rarely seen in a community of its size (Erie County’s population is 280,000) including the Erie Zoo, the Tom Ridge Environmental Center, four colleges/universities within 15 miles, an indoor water park (Splash Lagoon), an NBDL basketball team, an OHL hockey team and Minor League Baseball.
- Pop culture notes: Alice from the Brady Bunch (the recently deceased Ann B. Davis) and Train lead singer Pat Monahan both grew up Erie, PA. Erie was also home to fictional band, the Wonders, from Tom Hanks’ movie That Thing You Do (limited filming was done at Mercyhurst University in Erie).
The next day, it was onward to the Queen City.
August 26: Buffalo, New York (home of the Bisons)
In Buffalo, I had a man on the inside in the form of Seamus Gallivan. Seamus and I first became acquainted during his days working for the Corpus Christi Hooks and Round Rock Express, but after the 2009 season he left Minor League Baseball and returned to his native Buffalo. His professional career is now dedicated to spreading “Buffalove” via his Good Neighborhood Foundation, working for the Larkin Square public event space and booking shows all around the city. Buffalo, after years of industrial decline and a resultant inferiority complex, is now re-inventing itself in myriad ways and Seamus is a passionate proponent of all that it has to offer.
I met Seamus at Larkin Square, which opened in 2012.
From the Larkin Square website:
Larkin Square lies at the heart of Larkinville, the site of the former Larkin Soap Company warehouse buildings. This open public space provides a backdrop of colorful furniture amongst whimsical architecture….food, music and fun abound.
When I first got to Larkin Square, a few early-arriving food trucks were staking out the best spots for that evening’s Food Truck Tuesday event. 20 trucks set up shop on the premises, a live band plays, and (presumably) a good time is had by all.
But Seamus and I weren’t going to be visiting any of these vehicular food purveyors. Following Buffalo protocol, we were going to get some chicken wings. In advance of my visit Seamus had initiated a Facebook discussion regarding the best wings in Buffalo, which elicited a remarkable 138 comments. Here’s a sampling of the conversation:
Stevie Matthews Duffs Amherst (get hot to make them sweat) for traditional wings. Or, I am also partial to Dwyer’s in NT if you want to travel a bit out of Buffalo and get experimental with a ton of flavors.
Nathan Montague Duke’s if they want smoked BBQ wings. Gabriel’s Gate is good. Consider taking them to Anchor so they can say they’ve been there.
Christopher Taylor 911 tavern if you have to stay in the city. If not Bar Bill in EA all day long.
Lauren Leadbetter Bar Bill – east aurora (honey butter BBQ). OR Potters pub – south buffalo (honey mustard BBQ)
Duke Duquin Our smoked bbq are the best bbq by far…not even close & offer a healthy alternative as fat is rendered off during smoking process. These tasty treats are grilled not fried. #nextlevelwings
The seventh and final stop of my Midwest-based July road trip was Dayton, Ohio, the home of the Dragons (Class A affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds).
I had never been to Dayton before; my first and still-strongest association with the city was via Randy Newman’s evocations of a turn-of-the-20th century lazy Sunday afternoon. But when I pulled into this parking lot, it was an early Thursday evening during a decidedly more dystopian-seeming epoch. There was no time for tea, and the missus was nowhere to be found.
To get to the Dragons’ home of Fifth Third Field, one hooks a left at the far end of Mendelson Liquidation Outlet, crosses the street, and then walks down this narrow alleyway. (Or at least that’s what I did.)
Life, post alleyway, was considerably brighter. You wouldn’t know it from the picture, but there was a group of bagpipe players kicking out summertime jams in front of the stadium. Apparently, Dayton was on the cusp of its annual Celtic Festival.
Chances are that, if you know anything whatsoever about the Dayton Dragons, you know this: the team currently boasts the longest sellout streak in the history of professional sports. They set the record with sellout number 814 in 2011, and this season they passed the 1000 sellout milestone. For a little perspective, I will now quote from a 2011 article written by an increasingly complacent yet intermittently brilliant writer by the name of Benjamin Hill:
The Dragons moved to Dayton from Rockford, Ill., where they had alternately been known as the Expos, Royals, Cubbies and Reds. The team was purchased by Mandalay Baseball Properties in 1999, with the intent of moving to a brand-new facility in Dayton. Fifth Third Field, as it came to be known, was funded jointly by Mandalay, the city of Dayton, and naming-rights partner Fifth Third Bank. Like many so-called “Rust Belt” cities — Toledo, Akron, Columbus and Fort Wayne come to mind — the ballpark was built in a downtown location as a means to revitalize and recontextualize an area decimated by the exodus of once-prevalent manufacturing jobs.
Team president Robert Murphy has been with the Dragons throughout their existence, assuming his position in February of 1999 after he and vice president Eric Deutsch relocated from Las Vegas (where they had been employed by the Mandalay-owned Las Vegas 51s).
So, yeah, the sellout streak is due to a combination of having a well-designed facility in a well-chosen location, playing in a baseball-friendly market with rooting attachments to the parent club, and consistent and conscientious ownership and front office staff. It’s a multi-laired situation.
Yeah, multi-“lair”ed. Because they’re the Dragons, see.
I entered via the main office, where I was met by vice president Eric Deutsch so that he could lead me on a tour of the facility. We began in the main office, which is lined with photos of notable ballpark guests. For starters, did you know that the voice of Bart Simpson is a Dayton native? (Also, and unrelated: did you know that the voice of Bart Simpson has donated some $10 million to the Church of Scientology? For that kind of money, you could buy the Batavia Muckdogs twice over.)
Magic Johnson, part of the team’s ownership group, once threw out a basketball first pitch. I mean, sure, why not? It’s kind of like that time that David Copperfield threw out an invisible first pitch because he had already made the ball disappear.
Actually, Johnson no longer has a stake in the team, as Mandalay has recently sold the Dragons to Palisades Arcadia. The price was not disclosed, but it is somewhere in the $35-40 million dollar range — the most ever paid for a Minor League Baseball team. The sale was not yet official on the late July evening that I visited, however, and Deutsch was reticent to talk about it in any detail. But the front office will remain in place, so I wouldn’t expect any major changes to the way that the team does things.
Sorry, the pace of this post is already Dragon. (Before writing this post, I tested my Dragon jokes by doing a set at a local comedy club. They killed that Knight.)
Deutsch and I meandered through subterranean hallways for a bit, with one such hallway eventually leading us onto the field. The field was redone prior to the 2013 season, and the seven-story tall scoreboard features a dragon that shoots smoke out of its nostrils.
A sellout crowd would soon be watching the action on the field, of course. In the Dragons case, a sellout occurs once all 7230 fixed seats have been sold. (These seats all have theater-style cup holders, for what it’s worth.) Walk-up tickets are available for the lawn area on most evenings, resulting in an average crowd somewhere in the 8400 range.
Pretty suite, right?
Deutsch reported that the this is one of three party decks and that the party decks are always the first thing to sell out. (If I ran the Dragons I’d name this the “Baby Boomer” party deck because it sells out so easily. Oooh, take that parents!)
The view from the right field party deck, this is.
Given Fifth Third Field’s limited downtown footprint, the team had to build up as opposed to out. Hence, a six-row second-level seating area. Second-tier seating levels are very rare in Minor League Baseball. Fresno has one, and that’s the only team that immediately comes to (my) mind. There are no concession areas up here, but Deutsch said that an order-from-the-seats concession service was generally underutilized and therefore discontinued. People, they like to get up and mingle. Sitting is overrated.
The concourse runs in a predictable pattern: concession stand, portable stand, restroom, repeat. Among the portable stands, Dippin Dots are among the most popular. I was told that this perpetually futuristic avant-garde ice cream purveyor, based in relatively nearby Paducah, Kentucky, considers the Dragons to be among their top partners. (Daytonians love Dippin Dots, that’s all that I’m trying to get at here.)
The 3100 square foot team store is called the Dragon’s Den. While there are plenty of items for sale, one will not find goofy variations on the logo such as could be found in the likes of, say, Lexington (see previous post).
Deutsch said that, when it comes to the logo, the team goes “narrow, rather than deep. We’re the Yankees, as opposed to the Diamondbacks.”
I got the impression that the above statement applies to the Dragons’ way of doing business, period. You can’t argue with success, but operationally speaking they feel like a Major League team trapped in a Minor League team’s body. I’ll be curious to see if the new ownership group experiments, at least just a little, with theme jerseys, bobblehead giveaways, regionally specific and/or “crazy” concession items, and other hallmarks of the 21st century Minor League experience. At the very least, maybe they could use Twitter as a tool to interact with the fan base? (I’m not sure if @DragonsBaseball has replied to a tweet, ever.) All I’m saying is: even the best have room to improve.
In the time it took to read that half-formed editorializing digression, one could walk from the team store to the Dragon’s Lair group seating area. (I did the math.) There are 306 seats in the Dragon’s Lair, making it pretty sizable as lairs go.
On this particular evening, Heater had company in the form of touring mascot Birdzerk. Birdzerk is a close personal friend of mine; we met in a subterranean tunnel and then I accompanied him to the concourse so that he could begin his first routine of the evening.
Blink and you miss him. Birdzerk @daytondragons https://t.co/yBRH0Ifymi
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) July 24, 2014
Birdzerk ran onto the field, coerced the visiting third baseman to dance, stole his glove, and tossed his glove into the stands. Vaudeville at the ballpark.
The next inning break was a more solemn affair, as the Dragons staged a “Home Run for Life” in which a recovering cancer patient took a lap around the bases. This bit of tearjerking ballpark pageantry, now common throughout Minor League Baseball, originated with the Dragons.
In the press box I spoke with Wright State University assistant professor Scott Peterson. He and student Sam McClain (a Dragons intern) are working on a project regarding the changing nature of media coverage throughout the Midwest League.
I contemplated writing an article on this project, as it is the kind of thing that interests me (and, perhaps, you). But Peterson and McClain are still in the relatively early stages of the project, so I’ll catch up with them a little later on down the line. Good luck and Godspeed, gentlemen.
“Ernie Banks was the man and still is,” he said.
George now lives in Dayton, having retired from a 30-year career in the Air Force spent primarily in aircraft maintenance. (The beard was a long time coming — he wasn’t allowed to have one while in the Air Force, and said that it then took another 10 years to convince his wife.) He was motivated to volunteer as a Designated Eater simply because he is a fan of Minor League Baseball in general and my writing specifically.
“I like the same things you like, so anything you write gets priority in my inbox,” he said. “I’m 63 and the reference you have, some of them are aimed at my generation. I hope people get it….It’s a little slice of heaven to read your stuff.”
George and I headed over to the “Dragons Fire Grill” so that he could obtain a “Pit Boss Burger.”
The Pit Boss Burger is a burger topped with cole slaw and pulled pork on a pretzel bun.
Designated Eater checks in Dayton Dragons https://t.co/i3PE1rdIR7
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) July 25, 2014
“I love the crunchiness of the cole slaw, and the soft pretzel bun,” said George. “The burger’s the base of it, and while Ohio’s not known for its barbecue the pulled pork is done well. This makes the list of beard-worthy burgers.”
Next up for George was some cake batter ice cream from Stone Cold Creamery, enjoyed amid the late-evening splendor of the lawn area. George said that the ice cream tasted like “cake in a cup,” which is probably its intended purpose.
Upon parting ways with George (Thanks, George!), the ballgame was in its eighth inning. My night in Dayton — and this entire road trip — was on the cusp of concluding. All that was left to do was get an autograph from my good pal Birdzerk.
Put that on my tombstone, please!
Meanwhile, my next (and last) road trip of the season is already well underway. Here’s the itinerary (an asterisk next to the name means that a designated eater is still needed at that location). Get in touch should you be motivated to do so. I will respond.
August 22 — Batavia Muckdogs
August 23 — Rochester Red Wings
August 24 — Jamestown Jammers
August 25 — Erie SeaWolves*
August 26 — Buffalo Bisons
August 27 — Syracuse Chiefs
August 28 — Auburn Doubledays*
August 29 — Tri-City ValleyCats
August 30 — Hudson Valley Renegades
August 31 — Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders
When one thinks of Lexington, Kentucky, and its surrounding environs, two things that quickly come to mind are bourbon…
Baseball, perhaps not so much.
But professional baseball in Lexington is very much a thing. Welcome to Whitaker Bank Ballpark, home of the South Atlantic League’s Lexington Legends (Class A Affiliate of the Kansas City Royals). The ballpark opened in 2001, marking the return of professional baseball to Lexington after a 47-year absence.
(Note: this woman would not stop fiddling with Darth’s midsection. Finally I just gave up and took the picture.)
“Star Wars Night” has become a bona fide phenomenon in the world of Minor League Baseball promotions, and many teams consider it to be one of the cornerstones of the promotional schedule. The Legends’ iteration was a decidedly low-key affair, however.
“Tonight is the first time we’ve done it in several years,” said Sarah Bosso, Legends director of community relations. “We’re just getting our feet wet, doing it on a Wednesday and testing it out.”
Following standard (but by no means mandatory) Ben’s Biz Blog operating procedure, I took to the field in order to throw out a ceremonial first pitch. While there, I got my picture taken with my good friend Darth Vader.
Soon after this photo was taken, Darth overheard Bosso and myself talking about the Legends’ concession options.
“Did you say ‘Hot Brown Dog?'” asked Darth, intrigued by a local culinary specialty. “Where can I get that? Can you maybe put it through a blender?”
There were three individuals throwing out a first pitch: Judge John Schrader (Fayette Family Court), myself, and Darth Vader. I later mentioned to the judge that it was funny that Schrader and Vader were both throwing out a first pitch. He responded with a blank stare.
Here’s Judge Schrader. Or, as I now call him, the Mirthless Magistrate.
Darth Vader first pitch Lexington Legends For the record, mine was faster. https://t.co/y8QUZZ1myV
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) August 20, 2014
I’ve thrown dozens of first pitches through the years; perhaps I should begin taking note of each team’s first pitch procedure?
The Legends did two things that I had never seen before: the balls used were from the batting cages (and therefore scuffed up and dirty), and the speed of the pitch was displayed and announced to the crowd. For the record, Darth and the Mirthless Magistrate both clocked in at 38 miles an hour. I, meanwhile, threw a blistering 47.
How’s ’bout a buncha random ballpark photographs, provided by a writer with rudimentary photography skills? That writer would be me, and these would be the photos:
The Jim Beam distillery is located just outside of Lexington. Maybe the team could get Jim Beam to be the official sponsor of these massive concourse beams?
As you may be aware, the Legends re-branded themselves in a mustache-centric fashion prior to the 2013 season. Therefore, plenty of mustache-centric gear can be obtained at the Legends Locker.
But this? This is no dream. This is real: a piece of officially licensed Minor League Baseball apparel that explicitly references the time-honored act of mustache riding.
After this exhilarating foray into the wilds of the team store, I journeyed to the stadium’s second level. This picture, as inelegant as it may be, portrays the area immediately surrounding Whitaker Bank Ballpark. A downtown facility, this isn’t.
While visiting the press box, I was pleased to see my visage beaming back at me from the videoboard. Move over, Darth! I am the evening’s true guest of honor.
Flipping the switch causes flames to shoot out of the Candleberries situated atop the scoreboard. (Now that’s a sentence that I’ve definitely never written before.) This photo is unfortunately flameless.
Ty Cobb serves as the Legends creative marketing director and PA announcer, and I wrote a story about him that can be found HERE. During my time in the press box with Mr. Cobb, he reminded the crowd that if the Legends get 10 hits then they can redeem their ticket stubs for a free order of fried pickles at Hooters.
This dude, I bet that he likes fried pickles at Hooters.
The above individual is Ryan Ferry, who had agreed to be my designated eater for the evening (you know, the individual recruited to eat the ballpark food that my gluten-free diet prohibits). Ryan, a Lexington native who says that he can see the Whitaker Bank Ballpark scoreboard from his backyard, was nine years old when the Legends played their first season. He used to be a batboy, and now occasionally mans the speed pitch booth as a game day employee. Among other claims to fame, he was waiting in line for kettle corn when Bryce Harper hit his first professional home run.
“I consider myself a fixture here,” said Ryan, a sports management major at Eastern Kentucky University.
He also collects hats and shoes. Check out these size 15 specimens.
What you see above is the Hot Brown Dog, which Darth Vader wished to be pulverized so that it could be poured through the holes in his mask. The Hot Brown Dog is a ballpark variation of a Hot Brown sandwich, a Kentucky specialty described by Wikipedia thusly:
Of course, the Hot Brown Dog substitutes a hot dog for the turkey. As a Pennsylvania native, it reminded me of a hot dog version of cream chipped beef on toast.
Hot Brown, goin’ down.
“The saltiness is what sticks out, and the bacon also sticks out because it’s the king of all meats,” said Ryan. “It definitely lives up to the hot name, at least in temperature. The sauce is like gravy, and a little sweeter than I expected it to be. I hope that nobody from Kentucky comments on this, calling me out for not eating Hot Browns all that much.”
Next, Ferry suggested that he sample a deep-fried peanut butter and jelly donut called the “PBJD.” When we ordered it, the woman manning the concession counter gave us an annoyed stare, sighed, and said “Are you kidding me?”
Apparently, PBJDs are not ordered very often.
“It’s totally slept on,” said Ferry. “They really need to market it more.”
Indeed, the only mention of the PBJD that I could find was on this concession sign. Just four little letters; no picture, no explanation.
Here it is, in all of its obscure glory.
Ryan savors the moment:
And with that, Ryan’s work was done. We now return to the ball field. Notice the “stables” group area in the background.
Next on my agenda was to compete against children in a between-inning game of “musical donkeys.” These three children, specifically:
Things were beginning to wind down on this sleepy Star Wars night.
“What do you call a potato that has gone to the dark side?” Cobb asked the crowd.
The crowd did not seem eager for an answer, but Cobb persisted.
The Legends ended up losing the game to the Charleston RiverDogs, by a score of 6-4. But that’s okay. It’s a long season, full of ups and downs; you’ve just got to keep on grinding.
In other words: keep a stiff upper lip.
Meanwhile, I’m on the road again! Here’s the itinerary (an asterisk next to the name means that a designated eater is still needed at that location). Get in touch.
August 22 — Batavia Muckdogs
August 23 — Rochester Red Wings
August 24 — Jamestown Jammers*
August 25 — Erie SeaWolves*
August 26 — Buffalo Bisons
August 27 — Syracuse Chiefs
August 28 — Auburn Doubledays*
August 29 — Tri-City ValleyCats
August 30 — Hudson Valley Renegades
August 31 — Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders
The fourth stop on this, my penultimate road trip of the season, was Indianapolis. I had been to this city once before in a professional context, as Indianapolis was the site of the 2009 Winter Meetings. Weirdly enough, I didn’t visit the Indianapolis Indians’ home of Victory Field during the 2009 Winter Meetings. I did, however, take a tour of the Colts’ home of Lucas Oil Field. Man, this feels like a long time ago.
After checking into the downtown La Quinta, I began the .75 mile walk to Victory Field. Along the way, I passed the home of the Indianapolis Pacers. It is called the “Bankers Life Fieldhouse,” because very few things are more exciting than the life of a banker.
Ah, yes, here we are: Victory Field, built in 1996 as the home of the Indianapolis Indians. Please note that the Indians are NOT an affiliate of the Indians, but the Pittsburgh Pirates. They and the Spokane Indians are the only two teams in Minor League Baseball to share a name with a Major League team while not being affiliated with the team in question. Do with that what you will.
Victory Field is located within spitting distance of Lucas Oil Field, the NCAA Hall of Champions and the Indianapolis Zoo (among other points of cultural interest). It is also located within spitting distance of a steam plant.
Upon arriving at the stadium, I was met by Indians media relations manager Brian Bosma. He was a very gracious and accommodating host throughout the evening, which kicked off with a walking tour. We started at the uppermost tier of the ballpark, with me making an offhand remark that walking around at this level of elevation felt like “being on the roof.”
We did, climbing an imposing steel ladder to get there, and here are the photos to prove it. That monolithic JW Marriot is a recent addition to the skyline; it was completed in 2011 and is part of a $450 million “Marriot Place” project consisting of five hotels that are all connected to the Indiana convention center.
Also, note that the Indiana state capitol building can be seen as well. It’s located beyond center field (shaded toward left), a green-ish dome dwarfed by the buildings surrounding it.
Unfortunately, I did not get the chance to meet Indy Indians president Max Schumacher, who began working for the team in 1957 as a ticket sales manager. He became president in 1969, and was instrumental in the conception and construction of Victory Field. The stadium opened in 1996, its name a reference to the team’s previous home of Bush Stadium, which itself bore the name of Victory Field from 1942-67. (Bush Stadium, incidentally, has since been turned into an apartment complex.)
Anyhow, I was talking about not having met Max Schumacher. But I did visit his suite. That framed uniform on the wall dates back to 1949. It belonged to the team’s bat boy, who eventually grew up to be a bat man.
Each of these balls is from an Indianapolis Indians’ no-hitter, signed by the pitcher (or pitchers) who threw it.
Below, you will be gazing upon framed ticket stubs from the last game at Bush Stadium (July 3, 1996) and first game at Victory Field (July 11). I can only imagine how hectic that season must have been, closing one ballpark and opening another in the span of a little more than a week.
Down on the concourse, one can find many an illuminated placard dedicated to prominent Indy Indians alumni.
Bosma told me a story about Randy Johnson during his time in Indianapolis, when he was so wild and intimidating that none of his teammates would stand in against him during batting practice. Razor Shines finally stepped up the challenge and immediately got drilled; thereupon everyone steered clear of Randy Johnson for good. Out of options, the team borrowed a mannequin from the nearby Indiana State museum and Johnson promptly threw a ball right through it.
I can only assume that this is true, but, even if it’s apocryphal its still a good story and who doesn’t love a good apocryphal story?
As for the presence of Razor Shines on the Indians’ roster, that can definitely be confirmed. He spent nine seasons in Indianapolis, retiring after the 1993 season at the age of 36.
“Razor Shines, he was the mayor of Indy,” said Bosma. “If you talk to anyone here who’s in their late 30s or early 40s, they’ll say that Razor was their favorite player.”
Razor and Randy played in Indianapolis at a time when the Indians were affiliated with the Expos. These days, the Pirates are the parent club.
This seating section is sponsored by the Hoosier Lottery. If an Indians player hits a home run off of the foul pole in the fifth inning, then one person in that section wins $1 million. This has yet to happen.
Here’s another enticing home run target. A pre-selected fan wins this truck if a player hits it with a home run, but that fan needs to be in attendance to win it. While the truck has been hit on several occasions, no fan has ever been in the ballpark to claim it. Bosma reports that Tony Sanchez hit it once, and asked if he could win it instead. No deal, Tony. No deal.
My previous post, on the Columbus Clippers, noted that that team has a Victory Bell. Well, so do the Indians. Specifically, it is the “Max Schumacher Victory Bell.” It was dedicated in 2011, and a fan gets to ring it after every victory. Max Schumacher does not ring it, because after it was dedicated the team lost their next seven games and he figured that he must have cursed it somehow.
With the game about to begin, Bosma and I headed over to “The Cove.”
Note the near-total lack of outfield signage. It’s all part of a larger organizational philosophy, to present the team as simply and professionally as possible. This is a Minor League stadium with a Major League kind of feel, as befits a team playing in a city that also hosts an NBA and NFL team.
Plenty of people were willing to pay $10 for berm seats, hauling in their own blankets and coolers. Or, even better for young fans, membership in the team’s Knothole Club costs just $16 and includes a season-ticket pass good for lawn or reserved seat admission. $16 for the whole season!
But we weren’t in the Cove just so that I could randomly take a bunch of photos and make a bunch of observations. I can do that anywhere. We were in the Cove so that I could meet my designated eater for the evening (you know, the individual who eats the ballpark food that my gluten-free diet prohibits).
This is Greg Hotopp, an Indianapolis resident (by way of Cincinnati) who works for the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.
This was definitely a first, and credit to Brian Bosma for doing it: Greg was given his own designated eating credential. Other teams, take note!
Greg said that he enjoys attending Indians games with his wife, Tracie, and their three-year-old daughter (she was left at home with a sitter on this particular evening). He has no problem rooting for the home team, but as a fan of the Cincinnati Reds this can lead to conflicting emotions.
“It can be tough as a Reds fan,” he said. “Like, ‘McCutcheon is amazing!’ and then the realization ‘Oh, crap. That’s not going to bode well for the Reds.'”
But Greg wasn’t here to wax on the contradictory nature of the Minor League fan experience. He was here to eat, and eat he did.
Designated Eater checks in IndyIndians https://t.co/7aBPlMPE9v
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) July 21, 2014
Greg is eating a “Shish-Kadog,” which is a shish kabob on a hot dog bun. It stands to reason that this would be so. This is the chicken version, topped with onion, pineapple, peppers and teriyaki sauce.
Greg was mildly pleased with this creation.
“It tastes pretty good, pretty much as advertised,” he said. “A little messy, but that’s okay. I’d never had pineapple at a ballpark before.”
The kadog was washed down with an Indians Lager, made specially for the team by Sun King brewery.
“This isn’t just me trying to impress Ben Hill, I actually like it,” said Greg of the lager. “This is third on my list of favorite Sun King beers [behind Sunlight Cream Ale and Cowbell Porter]. I get growlers of this.”
Tracie couldn’t help chiming in here.
“All of a sudden he’s this craft beer guy,” she said. “He used to never drink it.”
Greg agreed that this was true. He was more of a whisky guy, with Kentucky Barrel Bourbon Ale serving as his gateway to the world of beer.
Beer definitely goes with nachos.
BBQ Nachos, specifically, topped with pulled pork, cheese and jalapenos. Traiei had been content to stay behind the scenes — “Behind every designated eater is a good woman,” said Greg — but who can resist nachos?
And with that, Greg’s duties were done.
“It was everything I could have wished for, and more,” he said.
Thank you for your service.
While still in The Cove, I spoke with communications coordinator Chris Robinson about the team’s Twitter account. The Indians have more followers than any team in Minor League Baseball, and I wrote an article about the team’s Twitter strategy and style HERE.
Robinson, wishing to retain an air of mystique, posed for a photo with his face obscured. He may or may not be the same Chris Robinson who fronts the Black Crowes.
As Rowdie looked on, I made a top-secret transformation into a Chik-Fil-A Cow. A sign was draped around my neck exhorting the populace to consume the flesh of a chicken in lieu of consuming the flesh of a cow.
Did an onfield race occur? Does documentation exist? These questions may never be answered. All that I can tell you is that transforming into a cow and then back into a human takes a lot out of a guy. I was exhausted.
But there was no rest, for the weary or otherwise. Another metamorphosis led to a another new persona, this time as an overall, glove and goggle-wearing keg-toting bearded Sun King brewer.
My task was to carry a keg toward my teammate stationed in the outfield.
Good luck, and Godspeed.
It was a valiant effort, but we lost. I drowned my sorrows with french fries from the team’s “Build-A-Fry” concession area. (One can also build their own burgers and nachos.) Yes, there are french fries in there somewhere.
And, yes, that is a collector’s cup. I have not done a good job providing #cupdates this season, but here you go:
And that’s all she wrote from Indianapolis, she being the muse that guides all creative endeavors. I spent the last inning of the game in fan mode, sitting in the Cove with Bosma, waxing nostalgic about childhood baseball memories. It was nice to get the chance to do this.
But, alas, no victory bell could be heard at Victory Field that evening as the visiting Charlotte Knights emerged victorious. Maybe some other time, bell. Maybe some other time.
Meanwhile, my next trip begins later this week. Here’s the itinerary (an asterisk next to the name means that a designated eater is still needed at that location). Get in touch.
August 22 — Batavia Muckdogs
August 23 — Rochester Red Wings*
August 24 — Jamestown Jammers*
August 25 — Erie SeaWolves*
August 26 — Buffalo Bisons
August 27 — Syracuse Chiefs
August 28 — Auburn Doubledays*
August 29 — Tri-City ValleyCats
August 30 — Hudson Valley Renegades*
August 31 — Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders
Welcome to Crooked Nuggets, the scrappy and succinct offshoot of my long-running , exceedingly awesome Crooked Numbers column on MiLB.com.
For the uninitiated, Crooked Numbers is a monthly round-up of the the weirdest, wildest and most anomalous things to have occurred on a Minor League Baseball field. Jayson Stark does not know that the column exists, though he inspired it. The July 2014 edition of “Crooked Numbers” appeared on MiLB.com today — read it or die trying – and this post contains even more instances of Minor League Baseball on-field weirdness.
Brevity is key! Let’s get to it, lest it get to us.
WHAT A TAVAREZ-TY — The Salem Red Sox made five errors during July 7’s game against Frederick. Three of them were by right fielder Aneury Tavarez, and two of those were made on the same play. Tavarez has made 12 errors on the season, second-most in the Carolina League.
GAME NOTE OF THE MONTH — On July 4, the Charleston RiverDogs were set to face off against a “To Be Announced” Rome Braves pitcher. Who is “To Be Announced,” you ask? The RiverDogs ace media relations team took it upon themselves to provide an answer:
ROM: LHP/RHP/SHP? — To Be Announced, often abbreviated as TBA, is a fixture in the sporting world. TBA usually shows up in lineup projections in various sports. Much like close relative To Be Determined or TBD, TBA has availability for any and every team as it is also scheduled to face Charleston on Monday with the Greenville Drive. Unfortunately, TBA has not made its debut in full game action although it has often been listed to make appearances for countless numbers of athletic outfits. TBA is of indeterminate age, gender, and virtually any other personal characteristic but is still expected to be seen throughout sports in years to come.
Last Outing: Not applicable (N/A, N/A) N/A IP, N/A H, N/A R, N/A BB, N/A K
WHAT ARE THE ODDS? — The Bakersfield Blaze played their last Thursday home game of the season on July 17; each of their six remaining Thursday games will be on the road. Seriously, I’m asking you — what are the odds? This seems to be highly improbable.
WAIT, WHAT? — Entering July 16’s ballgame, Lancaster’s Danry Vasquez had hit one home run in 80 games. So, naturally, he went ahead and hit three home runs in one game.
HEY NOW, YOU’RE AN ALL-STAR, YOU’VE BEEN TRADED, GO PLAY — On the morning of July 16, Omaha Storm Chasers reliever Spencer Patton was informed that he had been traded from the Kansas City Royals organization to the Texas Rangers. Effective immediately, he would be a member of the Round Rock Express. Patton managed to make one more appearance in a Storm Chasers uniform, however. The Triple-A All-Star Game was that night in Durham, and Patton represented Omaha even though he wasn’t technically a member of the team.
BLUE WAHISTORY — It took three seasons, but on July 25 Michael Lorenzen became the first
player pitcher in Pensacola Blue Wahoos history to hit a home run. And not only did he hit a home run — he hit a grand slam against one of the top pitching prospects in all of baseball.
IT’S NOT HOW MANY HITS YOU HAVE. IT’S HOW YOU USE THEM — The Iowa Cubs handily defeated the New Orleans Zephyrs on July 24, winning 11-2. However, the Cubs were outhit in the game, 14-12.
ONE EVENING, TWICE TOSSED — On July 18, Oklahoma City RedHawks pitcher Alex White managed to get ejected in both games of a doubleheader against the Nashville Sounds. And, in both cases, he was ejected by the first base umpire. White, the starting pitcher in the first game, was ejected in the fourth inning by ump Ramon DeJesus after arguing that a ball ruled fair was, in fact, in his humble opinion, foul. In the first inning of the nightcap, White and manager Tony DeFrancesca were ejected from the dugout by umpire Adam Schwarz. Allegedly, the pair had been vocally expressing their disagreement with the umpiring crew’s arbitrating abilities.
SO CLOSE, YET SO FAR AWAY — It is not unusual for a Double-A team to have a pair of first-round draft picks on the roster. But what is unusual is having a pair of first-round draft picks who were picked eight years apart from one another. That was the case in Akron for much of the season, as the RubberDucks’ roster included both Adam Miller (2003) and Francisco Lindor (2011). Miller, 29, is attempting to resurrect his career after a series of injuries. Lindor, 20, is considered one of the top prospects in baseball and was recently promoted to Triple-A Columbus.
IT TAKES A VILLAGE — The Peoria Chiefs only mustered one hit against the Great Lakes Loons on July 28, but it wasn’t a typical one-hitter. From the MiLB.com recap:
The Great Lakes Loons needed a special effort to avoid a three-game sweep in Peoria Monday afternoon — from five (almost six) different pitchers.
After listed starter Jonathan Martinez was pulled from the game in the middle of the first inning, Great Lakes got a boost from its bullpen as five pitchers combined in a one-hit shutout of the host Chiefs, 4-0.
Martinez was healthy, said Jordan Hershiser, his last-minute replacement. His teammates surmised that, with the MLB trade deadline looming, perhaps Martinez was part of a deal or was being promoted, but nothing had been announced.
Martinez indeed had been traded. He was the Player to be Named “Later” in the deal that sent Darwin Barney to the Dodgers.
INSIDE BASEBALL — John Drekker reports:
The Indianapolis, Bradenton, W.Va, Jamestown & Bristol pitching staffs all lead their leagues in hit batters. Pirates preach pitching inside
— John Dreker (@JohnDreker) July 21, 2014
And wouldn’t you know it? As of this writing, Altoona (the Pirates Double-A affiliate) now leads the league in hit batters as well. Bristol (Rookie-level) is now one off the pace, however.
POSITION PLAYERS PITCHING, PART ONE — On July 20, Eric Sim pitched a perfect inning for the Augusta GreenJackets while Kale Sumner fired two perfect frames for the Charleston RiverDogs. Both Sim and Sumner are catchers.
POSITION PLAYERS PITCHING, PART TWO — July 30 was a banner day in the category of “moonlighting position players taking the mound and allowing an extra-inning grand slam in a game involving a Washington Nationals affiliate” The first occurrence was in Richmond, as Flying Squirrels leftfielder Ryan Lollis (relieving second baseman Skyler Stromsmoe) was taken deep in the 13th inning by Harrisburg’s Quincy Latimore. This was the Senators’ first grand slam since 2011.
The next instance took place in Potomac, as P-Nats third baseman Khayyan Norfolk yielded a 16th inning grand slam to Myrtle Beach’s Lewis Brinson.
YOUR ALEX FREEDMAN UPDATE OF THE MONTH — Those in the know know that Crooked content is never complete until we hear from Oklahoma City RedHawks broadcaster Alex Freedman.
“There weren’t a whole lot of Crooked happenings with us throughout the July,” laments Alex. But here goes:
- Between June 21 and July 12, the RedHawks lost nine straight games when scoring first.
– From June 6 through the present day, the RedHawks have played one game that was scoreless through three full innings (July 22 vs. Round Rock).
Of course, almost immediately after that email was sent, the RedHawks played a game (August 4) that was scoreless through three innings. That’s just the way things work within this Crooked Universe.
CU next time, and thanks for reading.
I’m going to assume that, at this point in time, you have already thoroughly scoured my post on 2014 road trip itineraries. (If you haven’t, then please click HERE). Thanks to all who have provided feedback on that post; more is always encouraged via firstname.lastname@example.org and twitter.com/bensbiz
But enough about me! Did you know that, in recent weeks, several new Minor League mascots have made their debut? I am sensing a profoundly ambivalent response to that query, but soldiering on in the face of ambivalence is what I do best. Therefore, let’s start with Chico of the El Paso Chihuahuas, who I will be able to meet in person on April 29th. Say what you will about the Chihuahuas name/logo/overall branding efforts, but one thing they are definitely not is bashful. Chico, who came into the world without even a scintilla of an origin story, is IN YOUR FACE.
(This, and all Chico photos, courtesy Peter Svarzbein/El Paso Chihuahuas)
Let’s back up a little…
From the rear. This photo could in no way be misconstrued.
I do my best to refrain from lazy “only on the internet” phrases such as “nightmare fuel,” but there’s no doubt that Chico has a bit of an edge too him. He’s got red eyes, a dog collar necklace, and a cockeyed, teeth-baring grin, three presentational elements that are rarely associated with the Minor League mantra of family-friendly entertainment.
El Paso Chihuahuas — on the cutting edge, or missing the mark? I have a feeling that Chico doesn’t care what your opinion is, whatever it is. He will be performing for a fan base that includes Pauly Shore and Cheech Marin (really!), so chances are that he’ll fit in just fine.
Meanwhile, a couple thousand miles to the northeast, the Akron RubberDucks have unveiled “Webster.”
And, yes, let’s get this out of the way. As noted by more than one of my Twitter followers, Webster appears to be Minor League Baseball’s version of “Poochie,” the superfluous Itchy and Scratchy sidekick whose cynical conception and even more cynical demise was the subject of a classic Simpsons episode.
It turns out that, in the flesh, Webster is downright endearing. Chances are slim that he will die on the way back to his home planet, I look forward to meeting him when I visit Akron on July 18.
— Webster RubberDuck (@WebsterInAkron) April 12, 2014
Out in Modesto, Al the almond and Wally the walnut have long held things down on the mascot front. You’d think that the team would be content with displaying their pair of nuts at every home game, but, no, they want more. Get ready for a female pistachio!
Like all female pistachios, this one needs a name! Fans are invited to choose among Penny, Patty, Shelley, Bella, or Polly, but why isn’t “Ms. Tachio” one of the options? I need to start a consulting company so that such wordplay opportunities are always taken advantage of within the industry. I would be good at this, and you know it.
Finally, in Little Rock, the Arkansas Travelers have unveiled not one and not three but yes two mascots: Ace and Otey. Sez the team:
Ace is a native Arkansan who grew up rooting for the Travelers. He proudly served his country and upon returning to the Natural State competed and won the Mascot Tryout. With a name like “Ace” of course he is a pitcher and stands at a very menacing 7′ 2″ tall and weighs 501 pounds with a size-36 hoof.
From the Travs’ Opening Day Facebook photo album:
At 7’2″, Ace’s height is even greater than former Arkansas Traveler Loek Van Mil!
This, also from the Travs, might be one of my favorite mascot bios in recent memory.
Initially the idea was for just one mascot, but when Ace introduced the Travs and Hughes Agency to his best friend “Otey the Swamp Possum” during the interview process all bets were off. Just like Ace, Otey is also native to the state hailing from Southeast Arkansas. He grew up watching Travs games with his family from underneath the stands at Little Rock’s Ray Winder Field. Otey, who was named after former Traveler infielder and groundskeeper R.C. Otey, claims that he is the Travelers’ “Good Luck Charm”. In fact Otey believes that his superstitions helped the Travs win the 2008 Texas League Championship even though their 62-78 regular season record was the worst for a champion in Texas League history. Otey stands a stout 5 feet tall, he is a fan of second base and the “phantom double play” and his favorite number is .984, which was R.C. Otey’s career fielding percentage.
And with this memorable bio comes a very memorable mascot.
Okay, let’s back it up just a bit…
Otey inspired a brief burst of snark and faux-outrage from amateur hour internet hyperbolists, but so what? As Otey’s bio makes clear — and this is something I learned firsthand when I visited in 2012 — the Travs and their fans have a strong nostalgia for their colorful Ray Winder Field past. So much so, the beer garden at their current home of Dickey-Stephens Field is named after a well-known and often well-lubricated fan who would slide, in shorts, into a popcorn box base. Otey should fit right in.
And with that, it’s time for me to hook slide on out of here.
Yesterday was Opening Day, except when it wasn’t.
As is common at this time of year, there were a range of weather woes across the Minor League landscape. Seven of the 58 scheduled games were rained out, with the most dramatic example coming courtesy of the Frisco RoughRiders.
That will make you want to leave early.. Storm rolling through during the Frisco RoughRiders ballgame.. pic.twitter.com/unWADMJt1W
— FOX 4 NEWS (@FOX4) April 4, 2014
Today isn’t looking much better. The Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, who played in frigid conditions on Thursdays, have already announced a postponement. In Toledo, meanwhile, the visiting Louisville Bats are worried about the viability of their game against the Mud Hens…
— Louisville Bats (@LouisvilleBats) April 4, 2014
And — WHOA! — things are looking severe out by Sevierville. Click on THIS and then come back to me. I’ll be waiting….
Okay, cool, thanks for re-joining me. All of this meteorological mayhem got me thinking about a guest post that ran on this blog last year, in which Pete Golkin advocated for the creation of an industry-wide Universal Rain Check. The idea is simple: when a game gets rained out, the team in question issues a rain check that can be redeemed at any Minor League ballpark. Wrote Golkin at the time:
Remember, we’re talking about Minor League Baseball tickets. They’re not supposed to break the bank or become scarce–which is why you’ll never see a scalper in the parking lots at Danville, Greensboro or Richmond.
To work out the details, I suggest calling in the same accountants who said my old sliced cheese wrapper meant two-for-one admission anywhere on a Tuesday. And if I have to prove I’m an out-of-towner to get a rain check with “range,” I’ll gladly show a driver’s license. Simple stuff.
So on behalf of baseball pilgrims everywhere—at least the ones not bound for Fenway in an SUV limo–give the Universal Rain Check a shot, MiLB. It can only mean more fans up and down the road.
That post was met with one of the most robust comment sections in Ben’s Biz Blog history. But, alas, it was met with silence from those in a position to actually implement the program.
On Tuesday, the Dunedin Blue Jays issued a press release, and the press release contained the following information:
The Dunedin Blue Jays…are proud to announce the Raincheck Baseball Initiative (R.B.I.) program for the 2014 Florida State League season.
This unique program will allow fans to redeem a ticket from any rained out game from another team in Minor League Baseball for a Dunedin Blue Jays game….The R.B.I. program is believed to be the first of its kind in professional baseball.
“Basically, it’s a universal rain check,” said Nate Kurant, the new Director of Marketing and Social Media for the D-Jays. “A friend and I did a baseball road trip across the Southeast last season and each day had at least a 70% chance of rain. If any of those days had been rained out, we never would have made use of a rain check.”
“I know a lot of people love Minor League Baseball and take trips throughout the season to visit different parks. Essentially, I wanted to develop something that would meet a need for MiLB fans and help set us apart in Dunedin,” said Kurant. “It’s a beautiful city and hopefully this will give baseball fans more incentive to visit us throughout the year.”
Fair-weather fans that present a ticket from a different MiLB team’s rained out game not only will receive admission to a D-Jays game, but also take home a “Rainy Day Blue Jays” pack including a Blue Jays rain poncho. They will also have the option to participate in one of the numerous in-game promotions.
“It’s a nationwide, international MiLB promotion that is open to everyone from our fellow Jays affiliate in Vancouver all the way to our Florida State League friends in Palm Beach County.”
One team down, 159 to go. Do YOU think the universal raincheck is a good/viable idea? Would you take advantage of such a program? Are you tired of me asking obscure questions, as you would rather see a picture of a giant hamburger?
Okay, fine, here you go:
— Omaha Storm Chasers (@OMAStormChasers) April 2, 2014
The 2014 season is almost upon us, and my recent realization of its imminence quickly led to another, related, realization: I had better finish writing about my 2013 road trips!
As you probably know, I went on three road trips during the 2013 campaign: A Southern Swing, some Midwest League Meandering, and, finally, a little bit of West Coast Wandering. Every last ounce of material from those first two trips has been wrung dry, but, today, it’s time to “Return to the Road” for the third and final time this season. I have odds and ends from the West Coast to share!
This particular trip took place in August, beginning in Bakersfield, Calif. and concluding in Hillsboro, Ore. I arrived in Bakersfield at about 3:30 on Saturday morning, after driving in from LAX, and following a good night’s sleep I pulled back the hotel room curtain to reveal this landscape.
Just across this vast expanse of asphalt was a water park, an appropriate entertainment destination for those residing within this arid atmosphere.
After sleeping late and doing a little bit of writing, there wasn’t much time to explore Bakersfield before heading to that evening’s Blaze game. So, rather unambitiously, I set my GPS coordinates toward a local In-N-Out Burger.
While I find the slavish devotion of its chief adherents to be a bit comical, there is no doubt that In-N-Out Burger is an above-average fast food establishment. I’ve made a point to eat there whenever I’m on the west coast, but this time around my patronage was strategic as well. I was diagnosed with celiac disease in 2012, and since then good gluten-free fast food options have been hard to come by. In-N-Out Burger, with its minimal, fresh menu, provides an easy option: protein style, in which lettuce is used as a bun (yes, I promise that there is a burger somewhere in there). The fries are “animal style,” with a thousand island-esque dipping sauce.
I spent that evening at Sam Lynn Stadium, home of the Blaze, which resulted in some of my best writing of the season (if I do say so myself, which I just did). The next morning I checked out of the Marriott — watch the Vine! — and spent an hour or so exploring downtown Bakersfield. Here’s “Lyles College of Beauty,” which I drove past while en route to World Records.
World Records was closed.
It was late on a Sunday morning, and downtown was so silent as to be a little eerie. What few sounds there were (a car passing by, the cough of a pedestrian) seemed magnified, momentarily overtaking my entire aural landscape. The scene, as I recorded it.
The Prospect Lounge — where Bakersfield’s Minor League elite go to eat?
Amid this desultory wandering I located another record store and this, too, was closed.
Did anybody go to this show? If so, I’d be happy to publish your review on this blog.
Since there didn’t seem to be too many lunch options in downtown Bakersfield proper, I instead went, once again, to In-N-Out Burger. Different location, but the meal remained the same. (Perhaps also worth noting is that, according to my notes, Bakersfield’s 89.7 is a “great radio station.” Further investigation reveals that to be KSVG “Savage Radio,” a community-owned non-profit.)
The evening before, while attending the Blaze game, assistant general manager Philip Guiry told me about a vintage store called “Hidden Treasures” that he was a fan of. It sounded like an offbeat place, the kind of spot you go to if you’re trying to make a doll head necklace, so I decided to try and check it out.
My “Hidden Treasures” internet research brought me to, well, I don’t know where I was. All I know is that I couldn’t find a place called “Hidden Treasures.”
Since I wasn’t in the market for a 420 evaluation, I reluctantly left the Bakersfield area for good. Visalia, home of the Rawhide, was next up on the agenda, and my first impression of Visalia was distinctly positive. Welcome to the Lamp Liter Inn, one of the quaintest team hotels one can find in the world of Minor League Baseball.
That Sunday evening I attended the Visalia Rawhide game, writing about alligator hexes and giant pretzels and whatnot. The next morning began at the Lamp Liter Inn, and that’s where tomorrow’s post shall begin as well. Until then, I remain,
In all likelihood you haven’t yet digested — or even been aware of the existence of — yesterday’s full-to-bursting bouillabaisse post. But that’s not gonna stop me from delivering yet another heaping hodgepodge of worthwhile Minor League Baseball news, because that’s just the kind of guy I am: the kind of guy who cannot be stopped, or even contained, really. Lil B’s got nothing on me, for I am the #BouillabaissedGod!
The more perceptive among you may have noticed that yesterday’s post, full-to-bursting though it may have been, contained no videos. Today is not like yesterday, because it never is, and therefore today’s post will contain videos. Let’s get to them, starting with a significant bit of publicity for Lake Elsinore’s “World’s Fastest Squirrel.”
For more on the World’s Fastest Squirrel and the surreal world from which he emerged, kindly read my 2012 “Minoring in Business” article.
Another example of Minor League Baseball mascots in big-time roles can be found in “What the Phanatic Say?,” which features an impressive collection of Phillies-affiliated characters.
The above video, a parody of “What Does the Fox Say?”, is not to be confused with other such spoofs. THIS, for example, explains the fundamental tenets of Quakerism.
The Indianapolis Colts may have been eliminated from the playoffs, but that’s not going to stop me from sharing a video that was made before the postseason begun. This Christmas, Indianapolis Indians stalwart Matt Hague offered valuable sliding tutelage to his next door stadium neighbor Andrew Luck. Hilarity, or perhaps something bearing no small resemblance to hilarity, ensued.
If it’s outdated Indianapolis Indians comedic holiday content that you want, then it’s outdated Indianapolis Indians comedic holiday content that I’ve got!
And, let’s be honest here, if something’s funny then it has no expiration date. That’s my excuse for providing yet another piece of comedic holiday video content, this time courtesy of my old pals the Altoona Curve. Get psyched for The Pockster!
The “Pockster” is a parody of Conan O’Brien’s “Rublight” ad, which you absolutely must watch. There is no person who won’t find it funny. Or, if there is, I don’t want to know that person. And if I do know that person, then all ties are renounced effective immediately.
When it comes to Minor League Baseball blogging, I am the greatest of all time. But when it comes to the grapest Minor League entity of all time? That honor now belongs to the Reading Fightin Phils, whose mascot and star player competed against one another in a local grape-stomping competition because of course they did.
I’ve shared a lot of stupid videos with you today, resulting in more wonton absurdity then a surrealist painting of a Chinese restaurant. But I’m going to close this post with a video that is thoughtful, tasteful, personal, and passionate. I like it a lot, this heartfelt musical plea to preserve the former home of the Eugene Emeralds.
The fact that this song was written by one “Scoop McGuire” makes it that much better. Check out savecivicstadium.org for more info.