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Minor League Baseball On Ice!

The viciously cold temperatures that accompanied this week’s much-ballyhooed “Polar Vortex” aren’t exactly compatible with ideal Minor League Baseball conditions, but that didn’t stop the Potomac Nationals from having a little frigid fun at the ballpark. On Tuesday and Wednesday the team held its first-ever “Polar Plunge.”

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The P-Nats described the event thusly, while also noting that EMT personnel and warming blankets would be on hand (in my opinion, it’s not a true promo unless EMT are on the premises):

While temperatures plummet in Northern Virginia and around the country, the Potomac Nationals encourage fans to participate in the first annual two-day P-Nats Polar Plunge at Pfitzner Stadium on Tuesday, January 7th and Wednesday, January 8th from 1:00pm to 3:00pm each day.

Nationals fans will have the opportunity to win full general admission season tickets to the upcoming 2014 season if they stay submerged for a total of five seconds inside the home clubhouse ice bath tub which will be wheeled into the first base dugout. 

The first 20 people to arrive for the P-Nats Polar Plunge will be eligible to enter the frosty ice bath. 

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Northern Virginians with hardy souls, including team vice-president Josh Olerud, took the plunge.

An Olerud Awakening

An Olerud Awakening

Among the photographic highlights were these. My only question is “Where you at, ladies?”

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Via email, P-Nats media relations director Bryan Holland offered his thoughts on his team’s sub-freezing shenanigans:

The first annual P-Nats Polar Plunge allowed us to bring some levity to the sweeping arctic temperatures, and also connect with our fan base in a fun way amidst the winter season while reminding them that baseball is right around the corner.

After a terrific turnout for the inaugural plunge, we intend on hosting this event annually and perhaps we will up the ante next year on the prize, but also the length of submersion.

And please disregard my previous “Where the ladies at?” comment. As I was putting this post together Holland sent over this video, which proves that ladies plunged into the icy abyss with equal levels of enthusiasm.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y_UgUpv9SMQ

For the record, I am a longtime participant in Coney Island’s annual Polar Bear Plunge. In order to finally put an end to the deluge of requests I receive via email and Twitter to “please post a topless photo of yourself,” here’s a picture of me welcoming 2014 in style.

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That photo is sure to result in a spike in traffic. Speaking of which, the State College Spikes also capitalized on this week’s spate of cold weather. On Monday, an email including the text excerpted below landed in my inbox:

If you can’t beat the Arctic Blast predicted for Central Pennsylvania, then why not embrace it?

That’s the attitude the State College Spikes and local partner DQ Grill & Chill are bringing to area residents who will be dealing with some of the coldest weather to visit the region in decades on Tuesday.

With high temperatures predicted to be in the low single digits and wind chills forecast to be as low as 32 degrees below zero, the Spikes have announced that the club will be handing out complimentary slices of DQ’s famously-refreshing ice cream cake between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Tuesday at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park.

Those brave enough to endure the elements for a cool treat on Tuesday can claim their free slice of DQ ice cream cake by visiting the front door of the “Off the Rack Outfitters” Team Store….anyone who visits will receive 30-percent off any one Spikes merchandise item.    

A healthy smattering of fans did indeed endure the elements, as the tweet ably proves.

In non-cold weather news, I believe that a lot of this blog’s regular readers will enjoy my most recent feature on 2013 Minor League attendance. Within the article one can find a link to David Kronheim’s annual report, a cornucopia of ballpark facts and figures worthy of some serious study. Read it over the weekend, and get back to me.

Oh! And for what it’s worth: let it be known that the P-Nats, in addition to staging this offseason’s best cold-weather promotion, also possess Minor League Baseball’s best-named manager.

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benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Winter Meetings Job-Seeker Journals: Meredith Perri, 12/9/2013

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 (@meredithperri) lands her first interviews amid a barrage of hotel lobby networking. 

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I honestly did not know what to expect when I got to the Swan on Tuesday, but by the end of the day, it seemed like one phrase accurately depicted my experience from start to finish: organized chaos.

Now, that isn’t a bad thing, it’s just what happens when a few hundred job seekers sit in one room anxiously waiting for someone to post a new position or an interview schedule on one of the boards.

I made my way over to the job posting room at 8:30, forgetting that the area didn’t open until 9:00. I wasn’t the only one. Fellow job seekers were scattered throughout the hallways as they waited to see the results from the previous night’s bombardment of the job posting room. When the it opened up, I didn’t see anything, but that was fine. I had worked out my schedule so I would have something to do other than play the wait-and-see game.

Before coming out to the Winter Meetings, I got in touch with a few people that I knew from Twitter, Boston University or SportsNet New York. I’m lucky that my supervisor from when I interned at SNY not only encouraged me to come to the meetings, but also got me involved with the outlet’s online coverage. So, once I didn’t see any new teams to apply to, I made my way back to the Dolphin and picked up my media credential.

I was just about to head back to the Swan to scan the postings again when one of my friends told me that I had an interview. I hustled to the other hotel, signed up for a time in the early evening and did another walk through before going back to the Dolphin to meet up with a beat reporter that I reached out to on Twitter.

During one of my trips to check the latest postings, I ran into [fellow journal writer] Kasey [Decker] in the hallway. We could not have had better timing. As we went from basic introductions to how our experiences were so far, I received a text from a general manger asking if I was near the PBEO area and if I had time to meet with him. Within the next hour I had completed my first interview and felt a lot better about the entire process. A few hours later, I had my second interview, and was even more encouraged.

I found Kasey and a few people she had introduced me to after my interview, and I learned quickly that having a group of people to battle through the now-swamped lobby was a good thing. I stayed with them until a BU alum and beat reporter who has been incredibly helpful during my job hunt was free to chat. Over the course of the next two-plus hours he introduced me to a dozen or so people from different media outlets and beyond.

The evening could not have turned out better.

Now it’s time to pack my bags and head to my final day at the meetings. I have one more interview this morning and hopefully a few more people to speak with before I leave. Maybe it was the organized chaos, but I cannot believe how short my time in Florida was. Regardless, I have one more day, and I’m ready to go.

Note: Meredith is returning to school on Wednesday in order to take her final exams. The other three journal writers will remain in Orlando until Thursday. Check back tomorrow for Meredith’s final entry of the week.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

In Which A Costumed Bird Becomes Accountable for his Actions

I hope that everyone enjoyed (or at least benevolently tolerated) my recent blog detour, in which I covered the time that was had in Louisville during the Minor League Baseball Promotional Seminar. But that detour, circuitously indulgent as it was, has now led us back to the main road. And while traveling this main road my mission is simply to provide lots and lots (and lots) of content pertaining to in-season innovations that I didn’t get around to covering during the season itself.

I’ll begin today’s post with a cavalcade of pictures sent to me by loyal readers (and veteran MiLB ballpark travelers) Rex and Coco Doane. Back on June 23 they attended a game in their home borough of Brooklyn, where the Cyclones held an on-field mascot Bar Mitzvah as part of their annual “Jewish Heritage Night” promo.

Yes, a “mascot Bar Mitzvah.”

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I had been unaware that Sandy the Seagull was Jewish (he, like most mascots, had heretofore kept his spiritual proclivities under wraps), but this really was his 13th birthday and therefore it was imperative that his transition into manhood be properly commemorated.

Here, Sandy is congratulated by his mascot counterpart Pee-Wee as King Henry narrates the action and a Beach Bum stands sentinel.

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Mazel Tov! (I’m sorry, I’m not Jewish, Mazel Tov is the only seemingly-relevant comment that I can muster.)

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Shortly thereafter, a rabbi threw out the ceremonial first pitch. It was a “bris”tering fastball.

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Meanwhile, the Cyclones players wore jerseys featuring Hebrew lettering.

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No right leg? No problem!

And whilst bedecked in this one-time only bit of religiously-themed apparel, the Cyclones won the ballgame. Mazel Tov! (Really, that’s all I’ve got.)

Upon further perusal of my “potential blog topics” email folder, I see that I am in possession of even more Rex and Coco-submitted Brooklyn Cyclones content. In August the Doanes attended “Bark in the Park Night” with their dogs Cricket and Brisket, reporting that “PeeWee went crazy for Cricket. Brisket went crazy for ballplayers.” Let’s go to the tape:

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Moving on to this post’s first bit of non-Doane content, check out what has to be one of the better tattoos to be emblazoned upon a body in the year 2013.

As you can infer from his twitter handle, Jeff is a clubbie. His occupation goes a long way toward explaining this tattoo as well:

And with that, I have hit upon my totally arbitrary and completely self-imposed offseason blog post word quota. Thanks for reading, and please do not hesitate to get in touch via the below channels.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

On the Road: Day Three of the Promotional Seminar in Louisville

Welcome to another installment of this Louisville tour diary, in which I detail the time that was had (by me) during last week’s Minor League Baseball Promotional Seminar. This post shall chronicle Day Three, but before proceeding please know that a recap of Day One can be found HERE and a recap of Day Two can be found HERE.

And with that bit of introductory housekeeping out of the way, we can now proceed with an unburdened spirit.

Thursday, September 26

Day Three started out strong, as Golden Bobbleheads were the first order of business. These annual awards honor the best promotions to take place in the Minor Leagues during the season, and are voted on by Seminar attendees (the finalists are chosen on a monthly basis by Minor League Baseball HQ in St. Pete). Before voting, each nominated team gives a brief presentation on their promotion, with teams not attending sending video submissions instead (these teams rarely, if ever, win). The end result is a fun and fast-paced couple of hours, as teams politic, provoke and plead from the podium.

Five Golden Bobbleheads are eventually awarded, in the categories of Best Non-Game Day Event, Best Theme Night, Best Charity Promotion or Event, and Best In-Game. I’ll weigh on the winners at a later date in the near future, but as for the presentations themselves this is the only photo that I possess:

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That’s Lake Elsinore Storm assistant general manager Raj Narayanan standing next to a gorilla, who soon took part in a light saber battle that almost ripped down the stage curtains. Such anarchy is par for the course when it comes to the Storm, who regularly engage in such nonsense at the Promo Seminar (for better or for worse I’ll never forget their 2009 presentation in which they touted their Subtle Butt flatulence neutralizer giveaway).

Meanwhile, my 10 nominations for 2013’s “Promo of the Year” MiLBY Award are just about to be unveiled. Check them out on MiLB.com and vote for your favorite! The MiLBY’s are the fan equivalent of the Golden Bobblehead, the hoi polloi-embracing yin to their industry insider yang. These two awards are not in competition with one another, but I’ve got to say it’s been a bit disheartening to find that teams generally care a lot more about winning a Golden Bobblehead. Again and again teams brag to me about winning a Golden Bobblehead (often thinking that I have something to do with their selection), but rarely do I hear such excitement when it comes to the MiLBYs.

This is disheartening, yes, but somehow I carry on.

There was a full slate of presentations after the Golden Bobblehead portion of the morning (one of which included a hilarious verbal slip-up), but for the most part I wasn’t paying much attention. In fact, for much of it I wasn’t even in the room. This is because I was to be the Seminar’s final ballroom presenter, so I spent some time in the hotel room putting the finishing touches on this:

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I suppose the title is self-explanatory, as this 20-minute speech simply detailed my 2013 travels in chronological order. I tried to keep it breezy and funny yet informative, and I think I succeeded. Going into it I was incredibly nervous and edgy and couldn’t really sit still, but as soon as I got on the stage I was completely relaxed and started making jokes like they were going out of style (and my kind of jokes really are going out of style).

(Also: I am available to give this speech, or variations thereof, in other venues. All that I ask is for travel and lodging expenses to be covered and a small “whisky stipend” provided.)

Unfortunately this smartphone photo seems to be the only documentation of my speech that exists. Please know that it was delivered into a sea of smiling faces, each more impressed than the last at my boundless charm, buoyant humor, and verbal dexterity. If anyone else has any more photos then please send them to me! The flames of narcissism need to be fanned, as I am a lonely man and the offseason is long and cold.

photoI celebrated my victorious speech like I celebrate everything else: by eating a meal in public while standing, completely alone. In the afternoon there were a couple more “Group Therapy” sessions, and one of the ones I attended was titled “Beyond the Press Release” (moderated by Minor League Baseball corporate communications manager Mary Marandi). I spoke a little bit during the session about the unpredictable crapshoot that is national media attention, but here are two things in my notes that I didn’t get around to mentioning.

– For the love of God, it is the year 2013 and therefore ALL press releases should be sent using BCC (believe it or not, there are still some teams who display their entire mailing lists in the “to” column of every single press release they send).

– Maintain Facebook and Twitter feeds separately. There are still several teams whose Facebook posts automatically appear on Twitter in truncated form (usually ending in the middle of a sentence, followed by an ellipse), which gives Twitter followers the impression that they are a total afterthought. Twitter is far too important a means of communication to be used in such a slapdash manner.

Any thoughts on any of this? Let me know.

Up until this juncture I have been extremely heavy on the written word, leading eyes to glaze over, minds to numb and joints to atrophy. As a remedy to these myriad afflictions I shall close the post with a barrage of photos from Thursday evening’s ballpark outing to Louisville Slugger Field, home of the Bats (this is easily the best stadium naming rights deal in Minor League Baseball, as regards the company’s connection to both city and sport). After shuffling off of the hotel shuttle almost everyone headed toward the concourse booze merchants, but not I. My allegiance is not to the booze (well, at least some of the time), my allegiance is to you. Therefore, I did a full lap around the stadium before entering.

030Architecturally speaking and otherwise, Louisville Slugger Stadium is an absolute gem. It fits beautifully into its downtown surroundings, incorporating a defunct train depot into the design and featuring gorgeous views of the Ohio River and the bridges spanning it.

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The statue out front commemorates Louisville native Pee Wee Reese in high-flying form.

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This pathway (located down the third base side of the facility) leads to an outfield entrance.

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032There is a statue on this side as well, honoring Hall of Fame running back (and Louisville native, natch) Paul Hornung.

033The long and winding road continued from there, ultimately bringing me back to where I started and then into the stadium itself.

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037Like moths to a flame, industry was gathered ’round the booze (yes, I have a tough time maintaining a gluten-free diet in a ballpark environment, but I think it would be even tougher to work in baseball as a recovering alcoholic).

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Tours were being offered at this stage, so I joined on with a group whose departure was imminent. The view from the suites:

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This picture, hanging in a corridor located outside of the press box, gives a sense of what an absolute behemoth Cardinal Stadium was (the team played here from 1982-99, largely as a member of the now-defunct American Association).

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Old American Association championship banners decorate this spacious entranceway area, which used to be the aforementioned train depot.

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We then ambled down to the Bats’ clubhouse, home of the forsaken Aerobie.

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This was one of the few clubhouses that I’ve seen that feature a pool table.

050Beyond that, I simply enjoyed documenting some of the more absurd pieces of 2013 season detritus. I wonder what the fine is for allowing the fine box to be photographed by a middling Minor League blogger?

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Not the best place for a fitted hat sticker, guys.

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No offense, USA Baseball.

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And while Muhammad Ali is one of Louisville’s most famous native sons, let it be known that one of his most celebrated adversaries also logged time here.

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Back upstairs, there was a whole lotta eatin’ going on. Although I failed to document it, the centerpiece of my dinner was a “Kentucky filet mignon” aka fried bologna.

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Dinner was followed by the presentation of the Golden Bobbleheads, but, as mentioned previously, I’ll save my thoughts on them for another time. After the awards “ceremony,” whilst in the midst of the usual industry event hobnobbing, I was approached by members of the Bats’ staff. Would I be interested in dressing as a racing food product? How could I say no?

Back down into the abyss we descended:

055I eschewed the Taco Bell sauce packets in favor of this guy.

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056No documentation exists of our concourse forays, but it was an interesting experience. Usually when I’m in costumes such as the above, the response is one of constant attention. “Hey, can I get a picture?” “High five!” “I know you can hear me!” etc. But when dressing up as a racing food product amid an all-industry crowd, THE INDUSTRY DOES NOT CARE. I was met with contemptuous glares by some, but most were completely indifferent and couldn’t even be bothered to high five. Okay, cool, that’s fine, save your energy for the piano bar. I understand that at this point in the calendar year a certain ennui has set in. It sure has for me!

But yet, I keep writing. There will be more from Louisville, because there is always more until there is nevermore. But, for now, I’m gonna quit Raven.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

On the Road: Day Two of the Promotional Seminar in Louisville

Wednesday, September 25

The previous post in this ongoing saga detailed Day One of the 2013 Minor League Baseball Promotional Seminar, held in Louisville’s Galt House Hotel. And when there’s a Day One it’s a near certainty that Day Two will follow. In my case that’s just what happened, and therefore Day Two is what this post shall detail.

But no matter what day it is, you be sure that there’s a lot going on at the Seminar.

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The morning portion of the Seminar was devoted to “Around the Horn,” in which the microphone is passed around the room so that attendees may detail their most successful endeavor of the 2013 season. I wrote all about this on MiLB.com, which, believe it or not, is the official web site of Minor League Baseball. But I took note of far more than that which was included in the article, some of which I will now share:

– South Atlantic League president Eric Krupa plugged his website Club Philanthropy, which details charitable efforts taking place across the world of Minor League Baseball. (Lots of great ideas are contained therein, although it hasn’t been updated since April.)

– The Gastonia Grizzlies, a collegiate wood bat team, staged a “Dig to China Night” promotion in which plane tickets to China were buried in the infield dirt. Whomever located the tickets in a post-game dig would win them, but here’s the catch — the tickets were one-way only, and nothing else was included as part of the package.

– Myrtle Beach Pelicans GM Andy Milovich said that “Salute to Smells” was his team’s best promotion of the year. I wrote about it HERE.

– Phil Wrye, assistant GM of the Bowie Baysox, extolled the virtues of his team’s “Glow in the Park Night.” 2500 fans received glow sticks, greatly enhancing the ballpark atmosphere (especially prior to that evening’s fireworks display).

– The Tri-City ValleyCats attempted to set the Guinness World Record in the category of “Most People Wearing False Mustaches.” This endeavor was inspired by manager Ed Romero, who has a real mustache. (In other news, I am not a fan of the Guinness World Records governing body. My thoughts on that, and much more, can be heard in the latest GameOps podcast. I was speaking live and direct from Louisville’s Galt House Hotel.)

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– Emcee Todd “Parney” Parnell remarked at one point that during the early stages of the offseason it would behoove teams to look into the upcoming summer movie release schedule. Based on this info, you can plan timely theme nights well in advance. Another solid Parney tidbit was this: “I tell everyone on our staff to read the [local] paper every day. Some of our most impactful promotions have been done at a moment’s notice.”

– The Lowell Spinners talked about their military trading card set giveaway, which honors local servicemen and women both past and present. This is an idea that other teams will almost certainly steal for their own promotional schedules, and later in the week I snagged my own pack of these cards. Check ‘em out (and excuse the glare):

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But, of course, not everyone attending the Promo Seminar works for a Minor League Baseball team. This “Around the Horn” session also gives Job Seekers a chance to introduce themselves and Trade Show exhibitors a chance to promote their product. And when the mic was passed to me, I took the opportunity to lobby for increased gluten-free options at Minor League ballparks in 2014 and beyond. There’s no interest like self-interest ‘cuz self-interest don’t stop!

Wednesday afternoon was largely taken up by “Power Sessions,” in which industry leaders take part in a moderated panel discussion. First up was an intermittently illuminating “What’s Next” roundtable about the future of the industry, which included Minor League exec-turned Astros president Reid Ryan on the panel. I found Reid’s perspective to be an interesting one, in that he is attempting to incorporate some Minor League-style entertainment into the Astros’ big league show. For example — this season, the Astros asked fans to tweet suggestions for the walk-up songs of visiting players.

Michael Hand, the chief marketing officer of Project Brand, spoke on Wednesday afternoon as well. This was the first chance for many in the industry to meet Mr. Hand, who is tasked with obtaining national sponsorship deals for Minor League Baseball as the industry attempts to establish itself as a uniformly formidable sporting entity (which it is!) Hand has an aggressive, take-no-prisoners approach to his job and I got the sense that his intensity and enthusiasm impressed many in the audience.

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The Seminar portion of the day complete, attendees adjourned to the Trade Show cocktail party and silent auction. I made a brief appearance at this shindig, but, like the day before, soon left the hotel in order to spend the evening with an actual Louisville resident. Wednesday’s tour guide was Dan Simon of Studio Simon fame (he designed this year’s Promo Seminar logo, in fact), and during a drive around the city we saw many sights and some of them I actually managed to take pictures of.

Such as this — Jim Patterson Stadium, home of the University of Louisville baseball team.

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This was a very impressive looking facility, as were all of the University of Louisville facilities I saw during my time in the city. It kinda left me with the impression that academics is not exactly the top priority at this institution, but who knows? Maybe they’re excelling on all fronts?

One pocket of the city that’s definitely excelling on all fronts is St. James Court, located in “Old Louisville.” The houses on this tree-lined street were a sight to behold, bestowed as they were with turn-of-the-20th century Victorian architectural splendor, and I immediately began to fantasize about living in one of them.

I’m not sure what adjective anyone else would use, but I’m going to go ahead and call this fountain “iconic.”

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The Conrad-Caldwell house is on the corner, fully restored and open for tours. The internet informs me (and by extension, us) that this house is a “stunning example of Richardsonian-Romanesque architecture” and though I don’t know what that means I am nonetheless impressed.

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There was more to my evening in Louisville, but since it wasn’t documented photographically it may as well have not happened. If there was only a way in which one could paint a picture with their words!

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

On the Road: Firsts among Lasts in Hillsboro

When Part One of this Hillsboro dispatch concluded I was standing in the tunnel adjacent to the visitor’s dugout, ready and waiting to participate in a between-inning contest. The kneepads were affixed and the blindfold was on, but then something got in the way of my imminent humiliation. Let’s go to the Vine.

This turned into a torrential downpour in a hurry, and the game continued a minute or two longer than it really should have. This continuation of play in the midst of severe precipitation was much to the consternation of the Dust Devils dugout.

In the above Vine it’s not profanity that you hear, but an angry cry of “That’s Bolshevik!” I constantly heard this word in Minor League dugouts this season, and still don’t quite understand the connotation, but shortly after hearing this word yelled in their direction the umpires did indeed agree to the cessation of play. My moment of on-field “glory” would have to wait.

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Cue the interrobang because guess what?! This was THE FIRST RAIN DELAY IN HILLSBORO HOPS HISTORY. I’ve been to a lot of ballparks in my life, and seen a lot of things, but never have I witnessed a meteorological event as significant as this. I and the 3,528 fans in attendance on this sodden August Oregon evening will always be able to say, the pride evident in our respective voices, that “I was there.” (To the Hops front office: when you do the inevitable “First Franchise Rain Delay” commemorative t-shirt giveaway next season, please make sure to send one my way.)

The good news was that the turf at Hillsboro Ballpark was of the artificial variety, and therefore not much was needed in the way of tarp application: all that needed coverage was the pitcher’s mound and batter’s box.  The bad news was that the grounds crew, for several agonizing minutes, was nowhere to be found (I think they were doing work on one of the other fields in the athletic complex of which Hillsboro Ballpark is a part?)

But, eventually, the grounds crew showed up and everything was put in order.

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“Dude, first rain delay in franchise history and we were the ones who got to call it!” is what I’m pretty sure this umpire was saying to his cohort. (I’m sure there are some people who will call bolshevik on that quote, but I stand by it.)

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The grounds crew might not have been totally prepared for the rain delay, but Barley was.

The rains were fast, furious, and fleeting (alliterative life metaphor). After approximately half an hour the adorable mini-tarps were taken off the field, and the grounds crew started tamping things back into shape. As they did, a marriage proposal played out on the videoboard.

“There may have been a brief cessation in play, but there will never be a cessation of our love,” said the man.

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I wish that couple all the best, but, for me, the promise of lifelong love took a backseat to the threat of imminent humiliation. (I’m used to it). “Here we are now, entertain us,” demanded this throng of Pacific Northwesterners….

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and the Hops obliged by sending me out on to the field blindfolded, spinning me around in circles, and then leaving me to the mercy of the crowd’s ostensibly accurate “warmer/colder” exhortations as a means to locate some sort of prize box.

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Colder.

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Colder:

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Colder.

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Colder.

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Coldest.

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Whatever. I didn’t want whatever was in that box anyway. It probably, like, had gluten in it or something.

Not that I had time to be a sore loser anyway, as immediately after my final on-field failure of the season I scurried up to the second level and did a half-inning on the radio with Hops announcer Rich Burk.

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Burk is a veteran broadcaster with far more credentials than your average Class A Short Season shot-caller, as, among other things, he served as the Portland Beavers’ play-by-play man until their departure for Tucson following the 2010 campaign. During the half-inning I was on the air we talked about my travels  in general and, more specifically, the fact that I suffer from the ceremonial first pitch version of Steve Blass disease. (I felt dizzy throughout, still feeling the effects of my on-field humiliation.)

And that was that. I took a broadcast booth selfie and then commenced to wander about by myself for a bit.

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The solo wandering didn’t start off so well, as I ducked in to an upper level bathroom and then left quickly under duress upon seeing a Playtex dispenser. I thought I had somehow ended up in a women’s room, but it turned out that it was a unisex bathroom and, therefore, my gender confusion was unwarranted. Whew! The last thing I need is people starting rumors that they saw Ben’s Biz walking into the ladies room with a camera and a notebook.

Anyway, here’s a picture that I took just outside the unisex bathroom. It depicts right-hander Blake Perry (or at least I think that’s Blake Perry), who never actually pitched for the Hops. But he did pitch for Hops’ predecessor the Yakima Bears in 2011 and 2012, meaning that his Arizona Diamondbacks Class A Short Season credentials remain impeccable.

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 Wherefore art thou, press box denizens? In line for the unisex bathroom?

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The seating bowl below these invisible media members was far more lively.

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As I observed last season in Eugene and (especially) Vancouver, the Northwest League is home to some grade-A baseball fans (although, in Vancouver, that would be “grade-eh”).

“Having Too Much Fun May Distract From the Actual Game” went one of the lighthearted stadium signs…

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but I found this one to be more apropos.

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I’m going to let the Vine do the talking.

But, as with everything else in life, there are two sides to every story. (Also, I have no idea what that kid is wearing on his head.)

After following the fair weather fans outside so that I could harangue them further, I got distracted by the public art project that was detailed in Part One of this Hillsboro blog series.  It looked more beautiful at night, because everything does.

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I made it back inside in time for “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” which is sung nightly by Burk while leaning out of the press box (he used to do the same while broadcasting at Portland’s PGE Park).

The stretch is followed by the House of Pain parody “Hop Around,” in which Barley and game day employees lead the crowd in, yes, hopping around. My attempt to document said hopping on this particular evening was a failure.

But the Hops players didn’t join me on board the failure train, however, as they scored three runs in the seventh to secure a 6-3 victory over (didn’t) Tri (hard enough) City. A word to the wise: once a Hops game ends, wait a few minutes before trying to exit the stadium. Otherwise you’ll end up in an agonizingly slow line of disproportionately white-haired people.

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Now, under normal circumstances, the post would end here. But these are not normal circumstances, as I attended the following afternoon’s game as well. This was my final day at the ballpark, not just of this road trip but of 2013 overall, and it turned out to be a beautiful afternoon.

On the way into Hillsboro Ballpark I put together a whimsical signage Vine:

Upon arriving I conducted a couple of interviews that would eventually form the basis of THIS STORY about the farcical events that surrounded the first home run in Hillsboro Hops history. One of those interviews brought me down to the home dugout.

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003Seeing that Hillsboro logo reminds me that, somehow, I never visited the team store during my two days at Hillsboro Ballpark. The Hops were the number-one selling team on the Minor League Baseball merch charts at the time that I visited, thanks to an enthusiastic reception from the local fan base combined with interest nationwide from baseball fans/beer aficionados who were simply enamored with the team name and logo.

The players mingled on the field while the fans mingled out front.

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I toe the line when it comes to the gluten-free diet that celiac disease has imposed upon me.

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But, this being the Hops and all, I still felt compelled to document their signature Long Ball Ale to an extent greater than I had in the previous post. Therefore, I issued the following tweet:

Soon enough, a season ticket holder named Dani Mullen approached me and said “So, anyone get that beer yet?” The answer was no, of course, so the beer became hers.

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Dani is originally from Fort Wayne (hence the TinCaps t-shirt), but moved to Oregon after 13 years of living in Arizona. She and her husband Allan were fans of Rich Burk when he called games for the Beavers, and she told me that having him here in Hillsboro was “the icing on the cake” when it comes to being a Hops fan. In fact, it was through her listening to my interview with Burk the night before that she knew who I was in the first place.

But anyway, Dani said that the Long Ball Ale was “good, a little bitter, and very hearty. It gets better as you drink it.”

Thanks, Dani, for being the first “designated drinker” in Ben’s Biz Blog history. (Perhaps I can recruit individuals for this position during my 2014 road trips?)

Allan, Dani, and Long Ball Ale:

012My pace was leisurely during this, my last “On the Road” ballgame of the 2013 season. I got some garlic fries and ate ‘em on the outfield berm.

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I made it back to the area behind home plate in time for “Hop Around.”

And then spent an inning watching the game with Bob Webster, a recently retired Intel employee who is now writing a book on the history of the Northwest League.

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Bob, a member of the SABR Bio Committee, encourages anyone with information or suggestions pertaining to NWL history to contact him at bob234@comcast.net

Meanwhile, the professionals on the field soon gave way to amateurs.

021022 Which gave way to my belated realization that I have a couple of ballpark panorama photos to share.

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And that, finally, is all I have to share from the road. Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for an offseason of plentiful content (including the 1000th post in Ben’s Biz Blog history).

Until then, goodbye from Hillsboro.

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benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

On the Road: On the Cusp of a Historical First in Hillsboro

My last stop on this West Coast road trip, and in 2013 overall, was Hillsboro, Oregon. This marked the first time that I visited Oregon since way back in, well, 2012, when I stopped by Eugene and Salem-Keizer on my way into Washington and, eventually, the foreign soil of Vancouver, Canada. But I had a reason to return to this area so quickly, as Hillsboro is home to 2013’s lone new team: the Hops of the Northwest League. The Hops are the franchise formerly known as the Yakima Bears, whom I also visited last season, and while the primary owners and much of the front office staff remained intact these two baseball environments have virtually nothing else in common. Go ahead and contrast this post with the Yakima dispatch linked to above and you’ll see what I mean.

The Hops fill the Portland-area professional baseball void that has existed ever since the Pacific Coast League Portland Beavers departed for Tucson following the 2010 season, and as such the fledgling franchise can draw on a deeply-engaged and (perhaps more important when it comes to long-term success) deep-pocketed fan base. Intel and Nike both have headquarters in Hillsboro, and visible from the stadium are construction cranes working on Intel’s multi-billion dollar research facility. It boggles the mind, really — just a few days ago I had been in Stockton, a city that had recently declared bankruptcy, and now here I was in an environment surrounded by construction projects with 10-digit price tags.

Hillsboro Ballpark is a city-owned facility built within a pre-existing parks and rec complex, and as such the acreage is vast and the parking ample. When I pulled into the lot, the parking attendant would not take my “I’m a member of the media” claim at face value, and waited until I was able to extract a pass from the detritus on the passenger seat floor.

“Okay, that’s good,” she told me. “I had to check, because you could’ve just been a blogger.”

Thanking her for her diligence, I pulled into my space and took in the view.

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My first impression was that the structure seen in the above photo was Hillsboro Ballpark. But that impression, like most of the primary variety, was erroneous. That structure was a football field, with Hillsboro Ballpark situated just behind it.

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The above two facilities have a symbiotic relationship with one another. The Hops’ primary concession stands — which we shall see in a bit — are located in the football stadium, facing outward toward Hillsboro Ballpark’s third base side concourse.

Getting to the stadium from the parking lot was a bit of a hike, but whimsical signage insured that my spirits remained high throughout the journey.

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 My walking Cramps dissipated after seeing the ballpark’s Lux Exterior.

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Said exterior included this interactive public art project, entitled Barometer.

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Per sculptor Devin Laurence Field, Barometer “takes the overall triangular form of the baseball diamond held aloft by columns and illuminated with color changing, sound activated LED lights….Around the sculpture are various ‘instruments’ people can play, a giant horn, a rattle roller, drum sets and chimes that together form a symphony of sounds. When no one is at the park there is no colored light, when there is noise it lights up — the louder the noise, the brighter the light. The art is a veritable Barometer of excitement for the ballpark.”

Soon after arriving I embarked upon a ballpark tour with Hops general manager K.L. Wombacher, who re-located with the team from Yakima. K.L., he’s a serious guy.

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On the concourse, K.L. and I soon ran into team owners Laura and Mike McMurray. To say that they are enthusiastic about their new locale would be an understatement. Mike told me that after 13 years in Yakima, Hillsboro seemed like “heaven.”

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As mentioned before, Hillsboro marks the return of professional baseball to the Portland area after a two-year hiatus. The below display preserves some of the “final” items in Portland Beavers’ history, thus serving as a bridge to the present.

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K.L. told me that while suites were part of the original stadium design, the club instead opted for open air party decks. The Hops’ status as a short-season team played a major role in that decision.

“The weather here from mid-June through September is just awesome, some of the best in the country,” said K.L. “During this time of year, people don’t want to be enclosed.”

The view from the top, game day employees in day-glo.

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At this juncture game time was imminent, with Dust Devils and Hops alike gathering in anticipation.

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And, hey, look! It’s Barley, the Hops’ mascot. Due to the prohibitions of my gluten-free lifestyle, I had to keep my distance.

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Barley is a hop, and the Hops are called the Hops because of Hillsboro’s proximity to some of Oregon’s most bounteous hop farms. (Worth noting, and a bit ironic, is the fact that the Hops’ former home of Yakima was even more plentiful in the hop department.)

It was “Breast Cancer Awareness Night” at the ballpark, and this led to a cool moment. K.L.’s mom, Bev, is a 13-year breast cancer survivor and earlier that day she had been told that she had been selected for first pitch duties. She got a big round of applause, led by her son, prior to delivering the pitch and it was a heartwarming and truly spontaneous moment.

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Heartwarming then gave way to plain ol’ adorable, as this young fan swept home plate.

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Manager-Umpire relationships are volatile and subject to change at any moment, but at the exact moment in time in which this picture was taken everything was copacetic.

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The Hops’ players were more than ready to take the field, save for the guy on the far left who was more into perfecting his Eminem impersonation.

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“Come to gluten,” says Barley.

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With an ominous cloud looming overhead, Barney and his less-glutenous ballplaying friends stood at attention as we honored our country through the singing of our National Anthem. (The flags were at half mast that day, in honor of a firefighter killed in action in Albany, Oregon.)

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The completion of the “Star-Spangled Banner” means that it’s time to play ball. So, with Class A Short-Season Northwest League action as the backdrop, I took a lap of the facility.

One of the first areas that I encountered was Hot Dog Nation,  a presumably sovereign entity with non-existent border security. At said nation a standard-issue hot dog costs $3.75, and specialties include the Foot-Long, Hoppin’ Jalapeno, Philly Dog, and Chicago Dog.

074The Hops name, when it was first announced, drew acclaim from beer drinkers nationwide. Ale aficionados and IPA artisans alike allowed themselves to imagine Hillsboro Ballpark as some sort of beer drinking mecca, with baseball as the centerpiece of a thriving micro-brew scene. For now, however, the beer selection is modest as just three are on tap.

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Two of these three beers are provided by the local BridgePort brewing company: Hop Czar and Long Ball Ale. That latter brew, a light and citrus-y summer ale, was sold exclusively at Hillsboro Ballpark and, as such, is the official team beer. The gentleman working the “Brew Pen” taps was, not surprisingly, biased toward BridgePort products. I repeatedly heard him explain the merits of both the Hop Czar and Long Ball Ale in detail, and then follow up those descriptions with a tossed-off “Or, of course, you could have the watered-down American lager.” (Also known as Coors Light.)

I’ll have more on Long Ball Ale in Part Two of this post (oh, yes, there is always a Part Two), but this lap around the perimeter of the ballpark wasn’t going to walk itself. Time to keep on movin’ on.

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A cool feature of Hillsboro Ballpark is that, despite limited room to work with in certain areas, the Hops went out of their way to make the concourse of the 360-degree variety.  The right and center field berm area is very narrow, before opening up into a more traditionally vast expanse in left field.

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The view toward the field: 081And the view behind the berm:

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I admired this father and son duo, who were sticking it to the man by watching the game for free from beyond the fence.

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The bullpen denizens don’t pay to watch the game either.

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As mentioned, more traditional bermage can be found in left field.

087 - Copy And looping around to the third base side there was, of course, more food to be found. As mentioned previously, this concession stand is actually located in the adjacent football stadium.

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Mannequin or real person?

At this point I was introduced to Tony Hendryx and Tim Watters. The former, on the left, is regional vice president of Ovations food services. The latter, on the right, is an Ovations operation manager. (Or would that be a “Hoperations Manager”?)

095If there’s one thing I learned this season while on the road, it’s that food and beverage guys are way more enthusiastic about their jobs than the average person is about his or hers. These guys were no exception, and Hendryx, an Oregon native, spoke excitedly about how the Hops’ mid-June through September season matches Oregon’s growing season and, therefore, the team makes sure to use fresh, local ingredients whenever possible. (“If we can keep it out of the freezer, we do,” said Hendryx.”)

At this point in the blog post you have probably become accustomed to me introducing the “designated eater.” (You know, the individual recruited to eat the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits). But, in this case, “designated eating” was largely eschewed in favor of highlighting two of the Hops’ gluten-free options.

091 Oh, hey, hi, that’s me with a salmon burger (on a gluten-free bun, natch) and a Cobb salad.

The salmon burger was made of locally caught (never frozen) fish glazed with a brown sugar and garlic powder marinade then grilled and served with fried onions. I wish I had taken a close-up pic of just the salmon, as it was sweet and succulent and one of the best items I had at a ballpark this season. But you get the idea.

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And here’s the Cobb salad, with Hendryx explaining that the chicken was from Carlton,Oregon, the hazelnuts grown in the Willamette Valley, the cranberries grown in local bogs and the blue cheese from Rogue River creamery of Central Point, Oregon.

Not that there is all that much competition, but I am going to declare this the best salad currently served at a Minor League ballpark. If you disagree, then get in touch and I will be happy to give your dissent a public airing.

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I wasn’t totally alone in my culinary consumption, however. Meet Hops marketing intern Erik Knutsen, who was recruited to serve as a designated eater should the need arise for some designated eating. Knutsen was the most unenthused and underused designated eater in Ben’s Biz history; here he is with a Long Ball Ale that he was wary about drinking given that he was on the job.

092 Knutsen was a mite bit more enthusiastic about this Zenner’s-brand hot dog, topped with onions and nacho cheese.

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“It tastes really good,” said Erik in a deadpan monotone. “Party.”

This party was cut short, however, as I had been recruited to participate in a between-inning contest. The beer, it was abandoned.

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Erik and I headed down to the visitor’s dugout area, where I was equipped with a helmet, blindfold, and kneepads. I don’t know the exact name of this game I was going to play, but it bore a strong similarity to that which I made a fool of myself doing in Wisconsin. Basically, an object is placed on the field and I, through the crowd’s “hot” or “cold” exhortations, had to find it.

The sting of Wisconsin-based on-field failure was still fresh in my mind, and I was ready for some Oregon-style redemption.

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Except, no. My shot at redemption was postponed due to unforeseen circumstances.

What unforeseen circumstances, you might ask? Well, here’s my answer to that question:

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All will be revealed in Part Two of this Hillsboro saga, which, sadly, will be 2013’s final “On the Road” post. We’ll always have the memories.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Crooked Nuggets: July Edition

I am writing this from a hotel in Bakersfield, cranking up the AC while contemplating the legacy of Buck Owens. My content from this California (and Oregon) trip, which begins tonight at Sam Lynn Ballpark and ends next weekend in Hillsboro, will almost certainly provide me with enough blog (and MiLB.com) material to last through the remainder of the regular season.

But before all that there is this important piece of business to take care of: Crooked Nuggets, the counterpart to my monthly MiLB.com Crooked Numbers column. Read the new edition of Crooked Numbers HERE (highlights include a Merkle-esque blunder, Double-A Rod antics, and the info behind this month’s strangest ejection) and then come back here to enjoy Crooked Nuggets: Minor League on-filed weirdness in 75 words or less.

This post, like every piece of Crooked content, is dedicated to Jayson Stark. May he one day acknowledge the existence of my efforts.

Let’s go!

Crooked Nuggets — Notable instances of July 2013 Minor League on-field weirdness and statistical quirks, in 75 words or less!

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A Delay That Makes Scents — Minor League Baseball’s latest and therefore greatest skunk delay occurred in Lynchburg on July 6, in a game between the Hillcats and the visiting Frederick Keys. Keys reliever Miguel Chalas emerged as the man of the hour, fearlessly ambling onto the warning track and using his glove to capture the skunk. (It turns out that he thought it was a cat). For far more on this riveting saga, please read this funny, informative and creatively-written post on the “Unlocking the Keys” team blog.

Good Things Come — Tim Dillard earned the 36th win of his Nashville Sounds career on June 30, establishing a new franchise record. Let’s just say that Dillard took the long route to the record, as he has just one win in 2013 and earned just one in 2012 (notched on August 14, when he tied the franchise mark). Dillard earned eight wins for the Sounds in 2007, six in 2008, 11 in 2009, give in 2010 and four in 2011. Win #37 is currently scheduled for sometime in early 2015.

Anomalous, I Tell You. Anomalous — MiLB.com records only date back to 2005, and in that time the Kannapolis Intimidators have managed to hit just three pinch-hit home runs — all of them against the Greensboro Grasshoppers. The most recent to do so Juan Ramirez on July 14, his only home run of the season.

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Flair for the Dramatic — Speaking of records dating back to 2005: in that time, there have been 16 “ultimate grand slams” in Minor League Baseball, in which a player hit a walk-off grand slam when his team was trailing by three. The most recent to do so was Dayton’s Seth Mejias-Brean on July 18, which marked the first time that any player in the Reds organization had done so since Adam Dunn on June 30, 2006.

Swinging Singles — The Charleston RiverDogs defeated the Hickory Crawdads by a score of 3-0 on July 21, in a game that featured 16 hits. All 16 of these hits were of the one-base variety.

A Pacific Coast League Canine Mascot Reports from Texas — I am proud and a little bit baffled to have among my sources an honest-to-God mascot, and that mascot is Spike of the Round Rock Express. Presented in its unexpurgated form, here is his latest Twitter-based contribution. Make of it what you will.

 

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All in Two Days Work — Brian Fletcher enjoyed a three-homer game for the Northwest Arkansas Naturals this month, and it sure took him a long time to do it. He blasted two homers against Arkansas on July 23 before the ballgame was halted by a thunderstorm, and then when play resumed the next day he hit a walk-off homer in the 11th.

Texas Sized Whiffin’ — During July 25’s game between the aforementioned Northwest Arkansas Naturals and Springfield Cardinals, six moundsmen combined to strike out a league record 32 batters (18 by Northwest Arkansas and 14 by Springfield, with NWA’s Kyle Zimmer leading the way with 12). The previous record was established way back on September 3, 1951 when Wilmer “Vinegar Bend” Mizell struck out 14 for Houston and Bob Turley (who lost the game) struck out 17 for San Antonio.

Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better (and then, eventually, worse) — Montgomery’s Victor Mateo and Jacksonville’s Bryan Evans were locked in an masterful pitching duel on July 27, with neither allowing a hit through the first five frames. Evans lost his bid after allowing a solo home run with one out in the sixth, and Mateo then trumped that by allowing back-to-back-to-back home runs to start the seventh.

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Paging Anthony Young — In 2012 Matt Benedict earned a mid-season call-up to the Bradenton Marauders and proceeded to go 0-8 with an 8.08 ERA over 14 appearances. This season he managed to lower his ERA considerably, but still lost his first nine decisions. This epic 17-game losing streak came to end on July 31, when Benedict hurled two scoreless inning and earned the win as his Marauders defeated Dunedin.

Did You Know? – In his New York-Penn League notebook on MiLB.com, Craig Forde points out the following:

A deadline deal in which the Cardinals traded left-handed reliever Marc Rzepczynski to the Indians came with a quirky side note pointed out by the crack media relations staff in State College. Infielder Juan Herrera, whom St. Louis received in return, was assigned to the Spikes and became the first player to play against and for the club in the same season. 

Tweet Triumvirate! Sometimes all that you really need to know is contained within 140 characters and, often, a corresponding link. Some examples:

And finally, we close with this month’s contribution from Crooked Numbers’ all-time contribution king: Oklahoma City RedHawks broadcaster Alex Freedman.

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After a sustained run of Crooked brilliance, July turned out to be a pretty tame month for Alex and his OKC cronies. But, by Crooked mortal standards, these are still pretty good:

I don’t know how crooked you can say these numbers even are. Pretty tame month and probably not worth inclusion in the main column anyway.

 *Between July 10-12, the RedHawks played four straight games in which one team was shutout. (Includes a doubleheader on the 12th.)

           July 10: W, 7-0

            July 11: L, 11-0

            July 12 (#1): L, 9-0

            July 12 (#2): W, 5-0

 *Along the same lines, the RedHawks pitched three shutouts July 8-12.  They had pitched three shutouts all season up to that point.

 *The RedHawks won the final four games of the month, scoring four runs each night

Thanks to Alex, as always, for the contribution. If you would like to work your way up the Crooked Numbers contribution ranks, perhaps to a sentinel or even an arch-duke, then please get in touch. The journey of 429 miles begins with a single step.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

On the Road: Synagogues, Sausages, and Psychological Warfare in South Bend

This Midwest League trip featured two teams in Wisconsin, four in Michigan, and then, finally, one in Indiana. That lone Indiana entity  was the South Bend Silver Hawks, occupants of Stanley Coveleski Regional Stadium (known as “Coveleski Stadium” for short and “the Cove” for shorter). The Cove was but a 10 minute walk from my hotel, and betwixt the two locations one can find what is (allegedly) the world’s largest chocolate store.

I did not have time to visit.

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But outside of said chocolatier, the walk to the stadium was rather barren.

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But, soon enough, out in the distance, on the horizon, the Cove appeared to me like a vision before my unbelieving eyes.

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I walked toward this inflatable creature with awe-filled reverence.

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I was so overwhelmed by its sheer immensity.

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This back entrance is one of many additions and improvements that have been made to the Cove over the last two years, some funded by the city and others funded by new owner Andrew Berlin. By all accounts the 26-year-old stadium had taken on a feeling of neglect and decay in recent years, but these days it is imbued with a spirited sense of revitalization.

Shockingly, opposite the back entrance one can find a front entrance. I walked over in that direction so that I could document one of the most well-marked handicapped access curbs in Minor League Baseball.

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As you can see, it was a really beautiful evening in South Bend! Why wasn’t I aware of this beauty at the time that I was documenting it? Why do I only see such beauty retroactively? Why am I still writing instead of posting a picture?

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I was on the field in order to conduct an interview in the visitor’s dugout.

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This interview, like most interviews I do, was tinged with a patina of ridiculousness. I grilled Bowling Green Hot Rods catcher Geoff Rowan on the Silver Hawks’ pink visiting locker rooms, and he was a good sport about it.

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The results of this interview can be read HERE.  As for the pink locker rooms, we’ll get to those in a moment. But first, Silver Hawks president Joe Hart gave me a brief tour of the concourse and the many recent improvements and additions to be found therein.

Outdoor suites with waitress (or waiter) service:

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The Silver Hawks have installed lava heaters all around the concourse and a fire pit in the outfield , but such heat-providing amenities are of no use in the summertime. On the other end of the spectrum, there are fans for the fans.

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There is also an outfield splash area, complete with changing room.

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Did I mention that it was a beautiful day?

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The outfield “Party Patio,” featuring four person tables separated by lava heaters. This kid, he appears to be waving at me.

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In the above photo, there are two interesting buildings of note. In the background is a massive Studebaker factory, now shuttered, that at its peak employed 21,000 people. In front of that is old Union Station, which has since been converted into a private data center run by Global Access Point. 

This is the back view of the back entrance, with Hart reporting that the team is still working to educate fans on the existence of this entrance. Currently 35% of fans enter the stadium through the back, with the remaining 65% remaining staunch front entrance way adherents.

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Fun Zone!

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Tiki Hut!

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A whole bunch of stuff!

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But perhaps most worthy of gratuitous exclamation points is the abandoned synagogue-turned-team store located in left field. I’ve already written a feature about it on MiLB.com that I’d encourage you to check out, but as you can see it’s a most eye-catching structure (note the star of David on the far left).

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Beneath a refurbished chandelier, fluorescent t-shirts implore its potential wearer to consider his or her hawksomeness factor.

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Not sure where this falls on the delightfully irreverent/irredeemably tacky divide, but I have a feeling it’s closer to the latter of the two.

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The upstairs portion of the store, used as a storage area and not open to the public, is presided over by mannequin sentinels.

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This might be the best picture I took all evening:

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The mannequin sentinels were kind enough to allow me to document their daily view.

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Beautiful views, both inside and out.

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At this point the game was underway, so Hart and I and various other members of our impromptu entourage visited the pink visiting locker rooms. As mentioned before this is something that I’ve already written about, so for more context and commentary please click HERE.

Manager’s office:

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Trainer’s room:

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Lounge area:

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Bathrooms! Showers!

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And finally, the luxury and splendor of the Silver Hawks’ home digs.

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And with that, we moved on. Moving on is what life is all about.

It’s (not so) lonely at the top.

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Down and up, up and down. Soon enough we were back on the concourse, for what turned out to be a prolonged exploration of the food and beverage choices. The evening’s scheduled designated eater, a local radio DJ, was a no-show after getting stuck in Blackhawks championship-related traffic on the way back from Chicago. In his place stepped co-worked Carl Stutsman, a native of Elkhart, Indiana who currently serves as the assistant program director at “Michiana’s News Channel” 95.3 WTRC.

As the “designated eater,” it was Carl’s job to consume the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits. Like designated eater Keirsh Cochran in Lansing, Carl had opted to bring his girlfriend to the game. But unlike in Lansing, Carl’s girlfriend, Paige, chose to remain anonymous.

Welcome, Carl — already in action!

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The Silver Hawks are a client of Professional Sports Catering, the Lansing-based MiLB concessionaire whose offerings were well-documented during my time with the Lugnuts. Well, it’s time to document some more! In the above photo, Carl was biting into a “jalapeno popper” burger, one of the selections available at Burgertopia.

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Damn you, gluten! That thing looked good and I would have loved to have had one.

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“It’s not overpowering, and the cheese really smooths everything out,” reported Carl. “The burger is cooked to a perfect medium rare and, oh, by the way, the pretzel bun is the best part.”

This portion of the evening was overseen by Silver Hawks food and beverage director Ben Hayes (one of two Ben Hayeses in Minor League Baseball, along with the president of the New York-Penn League). Hayes, like his PSC counterpart Brett Telder in Lansing, is extremely passionate about his job and seemed delighted to have the opportunity to showcase his work.

I didn’t get a good picture of Hayes, unfortunately, but he’s clearly a regular at the gym and speaks at a fast pace with relentless energy and enthusiasm. He would make a GREAT infomercial pitchman, and I request that he star in a series of offseason videos highlighting the Silver Hawks food options. So, anyway: Ben Hayes ladies and gentleman.

Ben Hayes:

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“It’s fun knocking out the basic stuff for large groups of people, no doubt about it, but working with high-end ingredients is the best,” said Hayes at one point, shortly after extolling the virtues of a “deconstructed ceviche” he made for team owner Andrew Berlin. “I can put jalapeno caviar on top of a hot dog!”

In the above photo Hayes is about to dish out some selections from the team’s new stir-fry stand. General Tso’s and Mongolian (Ribeye) Beef,

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As modeled by Gutsman:

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Ballpark Chinese is certainly a unique offering, but even more unique is what Hayes came back with next: Duck sausage with Cajun seasoning, produced in nearby Middlebury.

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Those in the know put Stanz Belgian Style Mustard on their duck sausage.

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Gutsman raved about the sweet and spicy taste of the duck sausage, and soon I was able to as well as Hayes brought one over sans-bun. And, sans-bun, you can perhaps get a better sense of how good this thing looked.

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DISCLAIMER: Even if it was sans-bun, I am not 100% sure if the above sausage was gluten-free. Sometimes temptation gets the better of me in such situations, and I’m sorry.

Either way, I look like a moron holding holding this Stanz-drenched duck sausage.

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It seemed that everytime I looked across the table at Carl, he had somehow acquired more food. Kettle corn! Regular popcorn! Philadelphia Steak Nachos!

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The Philadelphia steak nachos were perhaps not completely authentic, in that provolone was the cheese of choice (as opposed to Whiz).  Nonetheless, they looked delicious and Carl and Paige certainly seemed to enjoy them.

But Carl — or more accurately, Hayes — could not be contained. Next up was a Mac and Cheese Dog. Carl praised the “fluffy” mac and steamed bun, but nonetheless reported that “the hot dog is the best part.”

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Like Keirsh Cochran before him, Carl was a skinny guy who could really pack it in.

As he did so I experimented with unorthodox flavor combinations, as legs paraded by in the background.

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But all good things must come to an end. Thanks to Hayes for the culinary hospitality, and thanks to Carl for wolfing it all down.

Carl signs off:

The ballgame was moving on with remarkable alacrity. There was nothing left to do now but document a beautiful evening as it turned into a beautiful night.

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Glow sticks for sale:

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This concourse bubble machine was extremely popular. The kids couldn’t get enough of it!

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Out there by the bubble machine, I spent six seconds of my life providing a #cupdate. Mind you, this is six seconds of my life that I’ll never get back.

Panorama!

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Almost as soon as the game was completed, the stadium’s lighting situation changed dramatically. This…

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changed to this. Glowsticks and fireworks!

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But that’s not all, because that is never all. Run the bases, kids. Run those goshdarn bases.

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South Bend was my last stop on this road trip, and I guess at this juncture I was starting to get a little loopy.

And as my evening in South Bend progressed, things only got loopier. I swear, that bus followed me across the Midwest.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

On the Road: The Beginning of a Blogstravaganza in Great Lakes

The second stop on my Midwest League road trip was Beloit, MI while destination number three was Midland, MI. Those two locations are quite removed from one another, both psychically and geographically, and getting there required an arduous day of travel that included roadside distractions, a seemingly interminable slog through the city of Chicago, an hour lost due to the vagaries of the Central/Eastern time zone divide, and a pleasant hour and a half cruising on rural Michigan roads while listening to the West Michigan Whitecaps radio broadcast (Ben Chiswick on the play by play).

I arrived in Midland late that Monday night, and was shocked — shocked! — to discover that the price of a Jameson on the rocks at the Buffalo Wild Wings near my hotel was just $3. That was a pleasant way to unwind from the day of travel, and the next morning I woke up ready for a full to bursting day of Midland exploration. The results of these explorations — the Alden B. Dow House! Midland Center for the Arts! Dow Gardens! The Tridge! — are already chronicled in a full-to-bursting “Farm’s Almanac” piece on MiLB.com.

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But the above mentioned attractions were but an aperitif, as the main course was, of course, Dow Diamond. This facility houses the Midwest League Dodgers affiliate that is the Great Lakes Loons, who seem content to remain sedentary despite possessing the ability to fly:

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Just to the left of this outfield entrance are a set of solar panels, 168 to be exact. Loons marketing and entertainment VP Chris Mundhenk later explained to me that the panels don’t directly power the facility, but the energy generated goes back into the grid and is roughly equivalent to the amount needed to run the videoboard over the course of a season.

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Upon entering, one finds a a more primitive power source.

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Those fire pits are certainly appreciated on chilly nights in April and May, but totally unnecessary on the late June evening in which I was in attendance. The weather was downright gorgeous.

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The Dow Diamond has plenty of open air seating, as well as plenty of room for open air eating. My first order of business was to rendezvous with the evening’s Designated Eaters — y’know, the people (or person) that I recruit at each ballpark that I visit to sample the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits.

In what was to soon become a trend on this trip, the Loons had arranged for local morning radio DJs to serve as the Designated Eaters. Meet Johnny and Blondie of 96.1 WHNN, who have been doing a show together for 12 years (Blondie began as a producer and later became a co-host, remarking that she ended up with Johnny because she “drew the short straw.)

Given that their show starts at 5:30 a.m., Johnny and Blondie don’t go out in the evenings very often. But apparently a complimentary ballpark buffet was too good of an opportunity to pass up.

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In the above pic, this esteemed morning team are toasting with a pair of Michigan Cherry Chicken Wraps. Yes, a Michigan Cherry — I had not known this before visiting, but cherries are a common crop in Michigan and therefore both beloved and ubiquitous.

“It’s light and refreshing, not like nachos and hot dogs that just lie there in your stomach,” said Blondie.

While waiting for the next entree, I asked Johnny and Blondie what it was they generally talked about on the air.

“Everything from sex to sports,” said Blondie.

“A lot of sex,” emphasized Johnny.

But the sex talk was going to have to wait, as a Macstravaganza had arrived.

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The above items can be found at the “Mac Mac Mac Mac Gone!” concession kiosk:

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Johnny and Blondie were intrigued:

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They had plenty of help, as this was a family affair (while Blondie is Johnny’s “work wife,” his real wife is there on the left).

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The consensus was that the BLT was the best and lobster the runner-up. Round three awaited, but in the meantime I had a pair of duties to attend to on the field.

First up was a pre-game interview on the field with voice of the Loons Brad Golder, broadcast over the stadium as well as the FM radio waves. The Loons actually own their flagship station (ESPN 100.9), and the station’s office is located in the stadium itself. I’ll have a bit more on that later, but first, please endure this sustained stretch of narcissism.

Golder and I on the set:

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Hearing my voice broadcast over the stadium PA is always a bit nerve wracking, but I enjoyed the interview due largely in part to Golder’s lively and well-prepared line of questioning. I don’t know how long it lasted  — four minutes? 400? — but it flew by as quickly and assuredly as a Loon in its prime.

Next up was a ceremonial first pitch, which was documented better than any first pitch I have ever thrown (my compliments to the photographer, I’m sorry that I don’t have your name).

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Seriously, I think I’m going to have this made into a flip book!

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Yep, I threw a perfect strike. It was one of the highlights of my career thus far.

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Nice career highlight, bro.

By the time I arrived back on the concourse, Johnny, Blondie and crew had already devoured most of their latest round of food offerings. Apparently a prime rib sandwich as well as a pastrami sandwich had been placed before them, but somehow this is the only photographic evidence that remains.

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Dive In

And, yes, since you can see it in the above picture I may as well get one of my more recent contractural obligations out of the way and provide a #cupdate. The collectible cup that Johnny is holding in the above pic is for beer:

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Finally, I’d like to note that I was too busy running around to indulge in any concessions during the ballgame, but the Loons are one of the few teams I’ve encountered who make a note of all of their gluten-free ballpark options. Check it out!

And as for the food in general? Well, I’m going to let Johnny and Blondie have the final word.

And I’m going to go ahead and let that be the final “word” of this post as well. Stay tuned for part two of this Great Lakes Loonstravaganza, coming soon!

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

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