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

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

2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE!

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

It was a beautiful day for baseball.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

And…no dice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Valaika was waved around…

…and Valaika was thrown out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kevin Pataky got a great shot of the ensuing celebration.

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

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

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

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

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

Nailed it.




On the Road: One Last Time in New Britain

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

2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE!

When I put together my end-of-season New England ballpark itinerary, there was one imperative: On August 30, I needed to see the Rock Cats play at New Britain Stadium. This would be the last home game in franchise history, as in 2016 the Rock Cats are relocating to nearby Hartford and beginning a new era as the Yard Goats.

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


The New: Hartford Yard Goats (2016-?)


Goat Springs Eternal

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


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

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


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


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


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


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

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


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

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

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

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

011Rocky the Rock Cat was mingling with the fans.

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

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

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

Thanks for the autographs, guy in khakis!

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

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


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


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

Minor League Baseball, always the best:

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

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

Photo: Kevin Pataky

Photo: Kevin Pataky

The final first pitch was thrown by Rocky himself.

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


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




An Eponymous Burger and Whiz Wit Everything in Connecticut

To see all posts from my August 29, 2015 visit to the Connecticut Tigers (this is Part Three) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my August/September 2015 trip through New England, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE!

This guy, his name is Paul Woodin. He’s standing on the concourse of Dodd Stadium, home of the Connecticut Tigers, waiting for the Burger Barn to cook him a couple of burgers.

042While he waits, let’s get to know Paul a little bit. He lives in Norwich and works for a local submarine designer and manufacturer — a major employer in the area — doing pipe drafting, design and development.

“It’s just drawing on a computer,” he said, modestly.

Paul is also a big fan of the Connecticut Tigers. He estimates that he attends 25 of the team’s games each season often accompanied by his wife, Sarah, and daughter, Rayne. Paul and Sarah had their first date at a nearby New Britain Rock Cats game, and he later proposed to her atop the dugout at Dodd Stadium. They tied the knot at Dodd as well.

“We got married at home plate,” he said. “We played on the field that morning, and then I showered in the clubhouse.”

Paul was waiting for burgers at the Burger Barn because he was the evening’s designated eater (you know, the individual who consumes the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits). The Burger Barn, which. predictably, sells burgers, was our first stop.


An array of burgers are available at the Burger Barn. Most of them are self-explanatory. Some aren’t. If you don’t know, you better ask somebody.


There was also a one-night only special, named in honor of — wait for it — me.

031The Ben’s Biz Burger consisted of bacon, habanero jack cheese and an onion ring atop a cinnamon bun.

043Now, some might consider this a form of cruelty — to name a burger after someone who has a medical condition that renders burgers (or at least burger buns) off-limits. Cinnamon buns are decidedly not gluten-free.

But I didn’t look at it like that. At my current level of initiative and accomplishment, nothing of substance is ever going to be named for me. There will never be a Ben’s Biz Bridge or a Ben’s Biz Ballpark, though one day I may undergo a Ben’s Biz Bypass. So I looked at the Ben’s Biz Burger as an honor, perhaps the pinnacle of my professional career.

046And this is why I have a designated eater in the first place, for crying out loud. So take it away, Paul.

“Oh my God! It’s so good! It’s the cinnamon bun!” exclaimed Paul. “The cinnamon bun and the onion both make it sweet.”

“The savory and the sweet work well together,” added Sarah, Paul’s wife, who couldn’t resist taking a bite.

“The frosting of the cinnamon bun, you can taste it more than the burger,” said Paul. “Maybe it needs ketchup.”

“No way,” replied Sarah, correctly.

Next up from the Burger Barn was “The Rabelo”, named after Connecticut Tigers manager Mike Rabelo. It’s a burger topped with American cheese and a split Italian sausage. And, unlike the Ben’s Biz Burger, its namesake can actually eat it!

045Extreme close-up.

048“I’m eating the manager,” said Paul as he directed the burger toward his maw.

049“It’s a meat lovers dream,” said Paul, after taking a bite of the manager. “It all flows really well, and the hot Italian sausage really gives it a kick. It sneaks up on you.”

The Burger Barn is located far down the first base line. Its third base counterpart is “Philly’s”, a ballpark outpost of a beloved Norwich cheesesteak purveyor.

This picture was taken earlier in the day, but it looked pretty much the same when we got there.

012Here’s a glimpse at the menu. I’ll tell you what — Philly cheesesteaks are one of the things I miss most now that I’m gluten-free. I also miss Reubens, fried chicken and not having to justify my food choices to people who shouldn’t care one way or the other.


Paul had just eaten two burgers, but no matter. He went for the Broad Street Bully aka “The Works.” As you can see from the above menu, the Broad Street Bully consists of rib eye steak, provolone, fried onions, mushrooms, sweet and hot peppers, pickles and Cheez Whiz. Oh, and extra rib eye steak.


052A closer look.

053If you’ve made a choice to eat The Broad Street Bully, then you’ve made a choice to get messy. Paul wisely positioned the sandwich container below him so that it would catch the inevitable spillage. This wasn’t his first rodeo.

055“It’s fantastic, really spicy. I can taste everything,” said Paul. “It was freshly made right in front of me, and now it’s falling apart everywhere. It’s nice to scoop up. It’s absolutely phenomenal and I pity you for not being able to eat this.”

Sarah soon joined in on the other end of the Broad Street Bully. This is true love right here, another chapter in a storied ballpark romance.

056Paul had had (more than) enough food at this point, so now it was time for an aperitif at the Tigers’ Retro Beer Bar. This is a haven for those who have eschewed the craft beer “revolution” and still prefer easy drinking domestics. Paul had Pabst Blue Ribbon, Ballantine Ale, Schaefer’s and Schlitz to choose from. He went with a PBR, which, if you drink enough of them, often leads to “blue ribbin'” at a baseball game. As in, an increased propensity to heckle the umpires.

Ah, nevermind. Have a beer, Paul.

058“It’s a nice refreshing drink on a little bit of a hot night,” said Paul.

And what else more could there be to say?

“I’m really full.”




On the Road: Perfect Strikes and Sub-tacular Views in Connecticut

To see all posts from my August 29, 2015 visit to the Connecticut Tigers (this is Part Two) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my August/September 2015 trip through New England, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE!

Part One of this Connecticut Tigers blog series left us in the home dugout, as a “Happy” dance party came to a premature conclusion. But there was no reason for disappointment, as the highlight of the evening was soon to come.

I am talking, of course, about me throwing out the game’s ceremonial first pitch. I displayed perfect form, as always, and threw a perfect strike.

As always.

pitch 2 The pregame festivities then continued apace, as my security detail rushed me out of the ballpark and into this “General Dynamics Electric Boat.”

IMG_0292General Dynamics is a massive global aerospace and defense company whose electric boat division (or sub division, if you will) is headquartered in nearby Groton. The United States Coast Guard Academy, meanwhile, is located in New London. This thriving sub culture motivated the names of the Tigers’ predecessors at Dodd Stadium: The Norwich Navigators (1995-2005) and Connecticut Defenders (2006-09).

The electric boat seen in the photo above is a Class A Short Season-sized approximation of the Major League aquatic war machines made by General Dynamics. The Tigers’ version is attached to a trailer, used on land and accommodates just one person. This person is tasked with throwing t-shirts to the crowd, and on this evening that person was me.

Getting into the electric boat is no easy task, as it involves crawling underneath it and then climbing up within. Once ensconced, I snapped this photo of my chauffeurs (one of whom was snapping a photo of me).

IMG_0294But it wasn’t yet t-shirt time. First, the electric boat was parked in the outfield during the singing of our National Anthem. This was the view.

IMG_0295While parked in the outfield, I had this unfortunate Tiger in my crosshairs.

IMG_0296And now, a sub tweet.

Finally, it was time to display my sub dominance.

sub 2

A Me-Boat, not a U-Boat.

sub 4Once the sub was off of the field, the game began. I spent the remainder of the evening’s daylight hours gallivanting about with my designated eater (you know, the individual who consumes the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits). Following standard operating procedure, that will be documented in the next post.

I then spent a couple of innings with Glenn Carberry, the man for whom the concourse is named.

059So why is the concourse named after Carberry? It’s an interesting story. 

Finally, it was wanderin’ time. Berm to the left of me.

063Bushes to the right.


Here I am, making my Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Joke of the Day.

I then became enamored and maybe a little obsessed with the name of this business. Paquette Electric. It’s just fun to say. It rolls right off the tongue.

065I took it upon myself to write Paquette Electric a slogan:

FullSizeRender Translated:

Oh, right. There was a game going on. It was now in the 10th inning.


The Spinners had scored three runs in the top of the 10th inning to take a 4-1 lead, but the Tigers weren’t about to go gently into that Norwich night. They scored two runs in the bottom of the 10th, at which point they had runners at the corners and one out. You won’t believe what happened next:


6-4-3 double play. Game over. Lowell wins.

070In what was certainly a rarity, especially on a Saturday night, there were no post-game activities. No fireworks. No launch-a-ball. No kids-run-the-bases. No scout campover. No live band on the party deck. No nothing. I found it kind of refreshing.

Therefore my evening at Dodd Stadium was complete. I had followed these simple rules, and everything worked out just fine.

Words to live by:





On the Road: Norwich the Way to Go in Connecticut

To see all posts from my August 29, 2015 visit to the Connecticut Tigers (this is Part One) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my August/September 2015 trip through New England, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE!

Okay, we’re in the homestretch now! Today’s post marks the first installment of substance in my “New England 2015” blog series, covering my final ballpark trip of the year.  The journey began on August 29 in Connecticut and ended on September 4 in Portland, at which point my season of ballpark travel was finally, mercifully, complete.

We’ll  begin at the beginning: Norwich, home of the New York-Penn League’s Connecticut Tigers (Class A Short Season affiliate of the Detroit Tigers). This visit completed the New York-Penn League for me, as I have now visited all 14 active teams in the circuit (as well as the now-defunct Jamestown Jammers).

The Tigers, perhaps aware of the historical significance of my visit, laid down the social media welcome mat for me.

Dodd Stadium is located in a Norwich business park, a rather unusual location for a professional stadium. It’s also an unusual location for a family-run diner with an attached batting cage. That diner is Stott’s At-Bat; I stopped by while en route to the ballpark.

006Stott’s At-Bat, as it looked immediately after I parked my rental car (a Dodge Charger) in front of it.

005I stopped by Stott’s because, prior to my visit, I had been informed by the Tigers front office that proprietor Jean Stott is “like a second mother” to the team.

003That story checked out and, thus, I wrote a feature story of my own about Jean, her business, and her relationship to the Tigers. Check it out HERE.

Stott’s At-Bat is located just down the road from Senator Thomas J. Dodd Memorial Stadium, henceforth referred to as Dodd Stadium, which opened in 1995 as the home of the Double-A Norwich Navigators. The team changed its name to the “Connecticut Defenders” prior to the 2006 season, and after the 2009 campaign that franchise relocated to Richmond, Virginia and became the Flying Squirrels. The Connecticut Tigers took up occupancy in Dodd in 2010, after relocating from Oneonta, New York.

You got all that? There will be a test.

008In the above photo, please note that the Detroit Tigers logo on the right-hand side has been inverted into a “C” to represent Connecticut. The statue, meanwhile, is of original Norwich Navigators mascot Tater the Gator. His toes are also inverted.

041My Dodd Stadium tour guide was assistant general manager Dave Schermerhorn, which I believe he pronounced “Shermer-horn”. (Here in New York City, Schermerhorn Street is pronounced “Skimmer-horn”.) Dave is an atypical Minor League front office executive, in that he grew up in Norwich and was a diehard Navigators fan from the jump. He attended the first-ever game at Dodd Stadium:

Here, Dave poses with a picture of himself as a kid posing with a quartet of mid-’90s Navigators. I believe that one of the players in the picture is Tyrone Horne, the only man in professional baseball history to hit for the home run cycle.

072Dodd Stadium from the inside.

022A pleasant walk along the concourse soon ensued. Here, we have the “Retro Beer Bar,” which specializes in cans of cheap domestics. I found this to be an appealing counterpoint to the craft beer-mania that has swept through the Minors over the past several seasons. The menu consists of Pabst, Schlitz, Schaefer’s and Ballantine Ale. Next season, they should up the old man quotient and offer complimentary pickled eggs. (And who cares what the Board of Health has to say about it.)

034Out in left field is a ballpark offshoot of Norwich’s beloved “Philly’s” cheesesteak joint. It looks like some players and/or coaches were in the mood for a pregame meal. Or perhaps the guy on the right was attempting to dissuade his counterpart on the left.
012To the right of Philly’s is a BBQ Pavilion with a hard-to-pronounce but regionally appropriate name.

013Several cable spool tables dot the concourse, which the team obtained free of charge from Norwich Public Utility. This is an idea that originated with the Vermont Lake Monsters.

“We just sand ’em, lacquer ’em and put ’em up,” said Dave.

014Upstairs we visited the Yard Bar and Grill, comprising an area that used to consist of seven separate suites.

015There is an excellent array of artwork throughout the suites, much of it done by Dennis Lavorato. This, depicting players from the first Navigators team, is a work in progress as Lavorato changes the players so that they now represent the Connecticut Tigers.

017This painting is of Jake Robbins, who went on to pitch 1.2 innings over two appearances with the 2004 Cleveland Indians. In one of those appearances, he surrendered a home run to Jacque Jones.

026Suites are better from the outside, especially on a beautiful Saturday evening in late August.

023Back on the concourse, we strolled past the Burger Barn in right field.

030The evening’s special was named for me!

Oh, no, wait. This sounds more like a “Roethlis-burger.”

028Take Two:

031I’ll have more on the Ben’s Biz Burger, and the Burger Barn, and Philly’s, in a future post in this series.

For now, our concourse tour continues back down the first base line. This is the “Hole in the Wall Bar,” built prior to the 2011 season. Dave explained that the bar was built by a former groundskeeper as a form of therapy, as he was “pulling his hair out” after witnessing the damage done to the field during an offseason Relay for Life-style charitable race.

This bar’s name is literal, as the kegs are tapped through holes in the wall.

032At this juncture, the gates had opened.

033Some of the early arrivals were perusing the offerings in the team store. Note the netting. It’s a nice touch.

035I had no time to shop, however, as C.T. the Tiger was waiting for me down in the dugout.

036C’mon, everybody. Get “Happy”.

It’s always good to close on a note of disappointment. So thus concludes Part One of this CT Tigers saga.




On the Road: Gourmet Nachos and Hot Chicken in Nashville

To see all posts from my August 5, 2015 visit to the Nashville Sounds (this is Part Three) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my July/August 2015 trip through the Deep South, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE!

As mentioned in the previous installments of this series, the Nashville Sounds (Triple-A affiliate of the Oakland A’s) proudly serve the local specialty that is “Hot Chicken.”


They also serve a host of unique high-quality concessions at the “Band Box” in right field.

027028My designated eater — you know, the individual who consumes the ballpark food that my gluten-free diet prohibits — for this evening at First Tennessee Park was Tyler Glaser.

085 (more…)

On the Road: Truncated and Deflated in Nashville

To see all posts from my August 5, 2015 visit to the Nashville Sounds (this is Part Two) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my July/August 2015 trip through the Deep South, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE!

When I visited Nashville’s Greer Stadium in 2013, the Sounds were expecting me:

1261Two years later, I once again visited Nashville and, once again, the Sounds were expecting me. Specifically, Sounds creative services manager Alex Wassel was expecting me. Here he is in the team’s front office digs, on the upper level of their new home of First Tennessee Park.


Let’s take a closer look at Alex’s calendar for August 5. Clearly, he had written this down months and months before my arrival.
064Yes! Continuity! This is “Ben Hill in Tha House, Part Two.” Not only was it my second visit to Nashville, but this is also the second post in this series detailing my visit to the Sounds’ new home of First Tennessee Park. Part One contained a detailed overview of my pregame tour of the ballpark. As we begin Part Two, “Tha House” was about to open.
IMG_0207Any moment now, hordes of Nashvillians would be swarming into First Tennessee Park. Once inside, they would be able to gaze upon the wonder of the guitar scoreboard.

IMG_0210Perhaps they would gaze upon the wonder of the scoreboard while playing a spirited game of cornhole at the Band Box Bar.


Or maybe they’d simply gaze at this sign on the back of the batter’s eye, lost in nostalgic reverie regarding all of the professional baseball that had previously been played at this site.


Regardless, it was sure to be a beautiful evening at the ballpark. The tarp, which had resided contently upon the field throughout the afternoon, had been removed. All was beautiful. All was well. Nothing could, or would, go wrong. Of this I was sure.

IMG_0212With the hordes now unleashed, it was time for me to bid adieu to Alex and his front office surroundings. But not before documenting a Sounds’ collector’s cup that happened to be in the vicinity. Hey, #cupdate fiends — here’s your #cupdate!


Barry Zito — Major League star turned retiree turned 2015 Nashville Sound turned improbable late-season 2015 Oakland Athletic — is on this cup. #Cupdate!

069Downstairs, the hordes were streaming in. Booster the Hot Chicken was there to greet them.

IMG_0213Booster is a “hot chicken.”

IMG_0215“Hot chicken” as in, a spicy form of fried fowl that originated in Nashville. It is now a ballpark specialty, and I’ll include details on it in the next (and last) post of this Nashville Sounds blog series.


In short order, Booster and I made our way down onto the field. It was time for “Belle of the Ballpark” to begin, a beauty pageant for women 60 and older sponsored by Baby Boomer-centric radio station Hippie 94.5. Host Barry explained to the pregame crowd that, throughout the course of the evening, the contestants would be judged based on personality, appearance and crowd reaction. Then, one would be declared “Belle” of the ballpark. That has a nice ring to it.

071One of the contestants waves to the crowd:

074Meanwhile, the players warmed up…

077…while Booster rallied the hordes.

Soon enough, it was time for the National Anthem.

080And after the National Anthem? All that’s left to do, really, is “Play Ball.”

081Soon after the game began, I rendezvoused with my designated eater (you know, the individual who consumes the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits). That, again, will be detailed in the next post.

But here’s the thing: It started raining almost as soon as the game began. And it kept on raining for a while. The game went into a delay in the first inning, and was suspended after less than an hour. It was kind of baffling that the game was called so quickly, especially since the rain was never torrential, stopped within a half hour of starting, and the field is capable of draining 10 inches of water per hour. But no baseball was the new reality. That evening’s game between the Sounds and Redbirds would not be played, and there would be no Belle of the Ballpark.

But so be it: At least one day I can tell my grandkids that I witnessed the first rainout in the history of First Tennessee Park. That’s gotta count for something, right? (Let’s overlook the fact that, to the best of my knowledge, I don’t even have kids.)

But the proper historical perspective didn’t settle into my brain space until later that evening. My immediate reaction was frustration, which caused me to deliver the evening’s Groundbreaking and Subversive Joke in a state of duress. I said “rain delay” when I meant “rainout,” but it’s too late to change things now.

Eh, whatever. Just stay tuned for the next post. There’ll be some photos of Hot Chicken. Or, as I and no one else likes to call it, fiery fowl.




On the Road: My First Look at First Tennessee Park in Nashville

To see all posts from my August 5, 2015 visit to the Nashville Sounds (this is Part One) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my July/August 2015 trip through the Deep South, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE!

The ultimate stop of the year’s penultimate road trip was Nashville, home of the Sounds. I last visited the Sounds in 2013, not long ago at all, but there was a valid reason to make a return trip.

New stadium!

015First Tennessee Park, the front entrance of which resembles a hockey arena, replaces Greer Stadium. Greer, built in 1978, had a ramshackle charm that I really enjoyed. It was also a bit of a dump, and not up to the standards required by current Minor League Baseball facilities. For confirmation of Greer’s “dump” status, just ask veteran members of the Sounds front office. They all have (usually hilarious) Greer horror stories, as it was a generally dis-a-Greer-able place to work.

First Tennessee Park is located north of Greer Stadium, in downtown Nashville, built on the same site where Sulphur Dell Ballpark (operational from 1870 to 1963) once stood. I arrived many hours before game time, parking in a nearby lot which may or may not have been a legitimate place to park.

011“Is this a Sounds parking lot?” I asked a game day food service employee walking in the direction of the ballpark.

“Well, we use it,” was the reply.

Good enough for me!

The weather forecast on this Tuesday afternoon was ominous; the cloud cover was thick and heavy rains were expected. When I arrived the tarp was on the field, but the presence of a tarp could not deter a pregame walking tour. In this endeavor, Sounds vice president of operations Doug Scopel served as my guide.


The guitar scoreboard was the most iconic feature of Greer Stadium and, as you can see in the above picture, First Tennessee Park features guitar scoreboard 2.0.

024Doug noted that the main body of the scoreboard is the equivalent of 860 32″ televisions. Note, also, that the line score is displayed on the guitar’s bridge and that each fret is made up of a separate screen.

“That’s the biggest question we got,” said Doug. “‘Are you bringing the guitar?’ It’s part of Nashville Sounds baseball, we had to have it.”

As a reference point, this is what the original guitar scoreboard at Greer looked like.


The tour began in earnest in the outfield concourse, where the view of the field looked a little something like this:

021I should note at this juncture that I’ve already written a recap of my First Tennessee Park tour, which ran on MiLB.com. As always, in the interest of minimal redundancy, I shall quote directly from that article whenever it is appropriate to do so.

Like, right now:

The facility is largely surrounded by barricaded dirt lots at the moment, but change is imminent. The land adjacent to the facility is owned, variously, by the state of Tennessee, Metro Nashville and private developers (including the Sounds’ ownership group). Much of the development to come, including condominiums beyond left field and a parking garage beyond right, has been spearheaded by [Sounds owner Frank] Ward and his sons, Chris and Tim. 

constructIn the below picture, the darker colored concrete is part of a preexisting greenway that ran through the municipal parking lots that once dominated (and still exist) in the area.


Doug said that the long-term plan is to alter the location of the concourse fences in order to make this portion of the greenway accessible to the public on non-gamedays. (There will also be an entryway to the ballpark via a culdesac from Fourth Avenue, which will accommodate fans arriving from the still-under-construction parking garage in the photo seen above.)

Fans of this series of concrete-based photos will thrill to this loading, which is somehow wide enough to accommodate two tractor trailers parked side-by-side.

025This sign, on the back of the batter’s eye, pays homage to Sulphur Dell. It is an approximation of the sign that once stood outside of the ballpark, which hosted 94 seasons of baseball.

023Again, from my MiLB.com piece:

“The reason our mayor and our owner came to this site is because it brings development, and it brings baseball home,” said Scopel. “This was Nashville’s baseball home for 93 years. … We wanted to find ways to educate and honor the 93 years that had come before.” 


Most visibly, Sulphur Dell is commemorated via the rust-colored “Baseball’s Most Historic Park” signage located behind the batter’s eye in center field. Furthermore, all directional signage within the stadium is accompanied by a photo of a Nashville player who made his mark playing at Sulphur Dell. For instance, this concourse sign highlights the prodigious two-way talents of 1902 Nashville Vol Hugh Hill.


Hugh Hill: No relation to Ben

Moving toward right field, one finds the “Band Box.” Take it away, previously written article:

[The Band Box] is a concession and general hangout area in right field created in partnership with Nashville-based Strategic Hospitality (whose Nashville portfolio includes a half-dozen restaurants that are, for lack of a better word, hip).  

“The specific thought was to create a spot for the young-adult crowd,” said Scopel.

The Band Box includes a full-service bar, sprawling lounge furniture, ping pong tables, and, in what must be a Minor League first, a shuffle board table.

029The sound system in the Band Box operates separately from the PA system, giving fans even more opportunity to completely ignore what’s going on in the ballgame.  030And, yes, the above italicized text didn’t lie. There is indeed a ballpark shuffleboard table!

032Within the Band Box’s right field seating area, patrons can attract the attention of their servers by raising the mail flag attached to each table. These tables, consisting of four seats apiece, cost $70. There are 27 tables, total.

033For the last time, a quote from my MiLB.com piece:

First Tennessee Ballpark is LEED (Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design) Silver Certified, and perhaps the most visible element of this green approach is the cistern located in right field. Rainwater runoff from the roof and storm water drain is pumped into the cistern, and the water is used for irrigating the playing field.

“It’s about reusing the water that’s already here, so that we’re not taking fresh water all of the time,” said Scopel. 


I’m not sure if the Sounds will install another cistern next to the one seen above, but it’s generally agreed that one cistern deserves another. (Cisterns that leak and thus fail to collect rainwater are called “Twisted Cisterns” because “they’re not gonna take it.”)

The concourse is composed of ultra-smooth MMA flooring, which stands for “methyl methacrylate” and not “mixed martial arts.” The concession stand seen below, one of four on the concourse, is called “Sulphur Dell Slices.” I’ll cover some of the concession offerings later in this series.


First Tennessee Park has four “Field Suites” behind home plate, each of which accommodate 40 people. They are available on a per-game basis.


While the Field Suites are pretty cool, they do make a significant chunk of seating unavailable to fans who might wish to sit behind home plate.
047The playing field is situated 17 feet below street level, meaning that the dugout, seen below, is situated even lower. Also, these must be the widest dugouts in all of Minor League Baseball. (They weren’t designed to be this wide, but mistakes happen.)

051Whilst strolling through the ballpark’s ever-pleasant bowels, Doug and I passed the indoor batting cage.

050But soon it was back up to the concourse and into the team store.

053This throwback jersey honors the Volunteers (or “Vols”), denizens of Sulphur Dell from 1901-63.

055This jovial moment in Vols history is commemorated upstairs, in the owner’s suite.

057Also upstairs is the “Tequila Cuestion Club Lounge,” which offers views of the field or, if you turn in the other direction, views of a concession area.

060The view of the field, at this juncture of the afternoon, included the removal of the tarp. Things were looking up!

062Would there be a game on this gray Tuesday evening in Nashville? Stay tuned to find out!





On the Road: An Early Evening Late Night Snack in Jackson

To see all posts from my August 3, 2015 visit to the Jackson Generals (this is Part Two) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my July/August 2015 trip through the Deep South, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE!

The last time I visited the Jackson Generals, in June 2012, I ran a photo of myself holding a Yuengling beer. This photo, I remarked, had “a personal significance that I’ll explain at a later date.”


The “personal significance” was that this was the last beer that I ever ordered at a ballpark. Earlier that month I had been diagnosed with celiac disease; my late June 2012 trip through the South represented the last time that I would ever eat and drink at a ballpark without concern for said food and drink being gluten-free. The following month I ran a post announcing that I had celiac disease, and the first “designated eater” (you know, the individual who consumes the ballpark food that my gluten-free diet now prohibits) appeared on the blog at the tail end of that 2012 season.

I now have a designated eater at every ballpark that I visit. At August 3’s Generals game, that individual was a man named Bob Sanders.

030Bob, who works for a Memphis-based claims management company, is a life-long baseball fan who enjoys collecting autographs at Minor League games. His passion for this hobby began in the mid-’80s, when he would attend games at the Memphis Chicks’ home of Tim McCarver Stadium. (The Chicks moved to Jackson in 1998 and became the Generals.) Bob attended the ballgame along with Abigail, his 10-year-old daughter, and Barry, a friend, fellow autograph collector and former Memphis Chicks clubhouse manager.

Amid the usual array of ballpark staples, the Generals offer a few unique items. Most unique — and certainly the most outlandish — is “Sarge’s Late Night Snack.” This sandwich, named after the mascot’s alleged nocturnal food cravings, consists of a quarter pound burger topped with barbecue pork, bacon, Philly steak, and white queso.

“Sarge’s Late Night Snack,” added to the menu in 2015 by new manager of catering and concessions Eric Kormanik, is available at the concourse grill. It’s got a hefty price tag ($14, if my nearly indecipherable notes are to be believed), and the menu posted by the grill offers no details as to what it contains. You have to be very curious or already in the know, criteria that applies to all of the best things in life.

Here’s grillmaster Eric Spencer, standing in front of the array of meat that will soon become Sarge’s Late Night Snack.

026Eric said that he enjoys a “Sarge’s Late Night Snack” on occasion, though he can’t eat it in one sitting. He also doubts Sarge’s ability to eat his namesake item, since he “doesn’t move his mouth.”

After Bob hit the fixins bar, Sarge’s Late Night Snack was ready for its close-up.

029Have at it, Bob.

“It’s actually a pretty good combo. I’m serious,” said Bob. “You actually get the different flavors. The burger’s at the bottom, that’s the first taste, and then the other meats. Definitely, the cheese holds everything together. It makes it a lot easier. Though, this is not something that a dainty person should eat. It’s a manly meal.”

“He’s almost never impressed,” said Abigail, clearly surprised that her Dad was giving Sarge’s Late Night Snack a positive review. She then gave it a try herself.

032“Yum,” said Abigail.

Barry, Memphis Chicks clubbie turned Memphis-area teacher, was then persuaded to give Sarge’s Late Night Snack a try. He did so after Bob said something along the lines of “Hey, you’re single again, might as well get yourself out there.”

Indeed, this would make for an excellent online dating profile picture.

035“That’s pretty good,” he said. “The peppers and onions, that’s my first taste.”

Next up: Barbecue Nachos.

028Like the Sarge’s Late Night Snack, these nachos are another Eric Kormanik creation (not to be confused with Eric Spencer, grillmaster). Eric K. reports that the barbecue pork is courtesy of Jackson-based Cajun Cookers, who deliver the meat, already seasoned, in Cryovac bags.

Here’s Bob as he prepares to enjoy a nacho, with Eric standing proudly beside him.

039“It’s definitely more of a Southern barbecue flavor,” said Bob. “It’s not the Rendezvous [Barbecue Nachos, made famous by the Memphis Redbirds], but it’s a lot better than what Memphis has now. But I would like the option of dry rub.”

As a reference point, here’s a circa-2012 photo of the Memphis Redbirds’ famous Rendezvous Barbecue Nachos. These are the ballpark barbecue nachos against which all other ballpark barbecue nachos are judged.


Abigail sampled the nachos as well, offering a review even more succinct than her first.

040“When she ignores you and keeps eating, it’s generally a good sign,” said Bob.

Next, and last, was a bacon-wrapped pork chop on a stick served on a bed of beans, rice and sausage.

042I cannot confirm with complete certainty that the above item is gluten-free, as Eric was not sure about what was contained in the sauce. However, I could not resist giving this a try. Eat now, die later.

043The bacon-wrapped pork chop did not kill me, though perhaps it did bring me closer to death. My notes, barely decipherable as usual, report that the pork chop was a little dry, but that it “mixed well with the bacon, complementary flavors.” The beans and rice, meanwhile, were “well-spiced and flavorful.”

“Well-spiced and flavorful” — just like every post that I create for this, the greatest Minor League Baseball blog of all time. Thank you, as always, for supporting (or at least tolerating) the greatness.




On the Road: 126 Minutes of Baseball in Jackson

To see all posts from my August 3, 2015 visit to the Jackson Generals (this is Part Two) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my July/August 2015 trip through the Deep South, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

2015 “On the Road” landing page HERE!

It is now time to resume this Monday night narrative, which involves a game between the Jackson Generals and visiting Chattanooga Lookouts that took place on August 3. It was a beautiful evening for Southern League baseball at the Ballpark in Jackson.


Unfortunately, not many people were on hand to witness this beautiful evening of Southern League baseball at The Ballpark in Jackson. Not only was it a Monday night, but it was the first day of school for Jackson-area youngsters. August 3! The first day of school!

While I’m sure there are valid reasons for the increasingly around-the-clock nature of the educational year, it just seems wrong and un-American for kids to be back in class in early August. Therefore, I am of the belief that Minor League Baseball’s legal counsel in Washington should start lobbying for the restoration of the traditional three-month summer vacation. Young fans shouldn’t have to leave a game early because it’s bedtime, as this is a traumatic experience that can do severe damage to the psyche of a developing mind.

Perhaps the players had these new school year time constraints in mind, as the Generals cruised to a 2-1 victory over the Lookouts in a contest that took just two hours and six minutes. Due to such brevity, I was not able to wander The Ballpark at Jackson to the extent that I would have liked. By the time I finished meeting with my designated eater (this will be detailed in the next post), it was the sixth inning and the sun was setting beyond the third base side of the stadium.

031Though time was limited, I did witness some interesting between-inning elements. This picture depicts the aftermath of some sort of onfield Pac-Man race, which featured Pac-Man, ghosts and young fans chasing one another. The denizens of the visitors bullpen were mildly amused, at best.
038And while I was not able to document it properly, at one point I saw a “Simba Cam”, in which parents triumphantly held up their children ala The Lion King. Trevor Gooby would have approved.

And then there was the “Oblivious Cam,” in which the camera is trained on a fan in the stands until he or she actually realizes it.

041Late in the game I paid a visit to the broadcast booth, currently the domain of Brandon Leibhaber (left) and Chris Kleinhans-Schulz (other left).

044I spent an inning on the air with Brandon, who appears to have merged his head into another man’s shoulder.

050Brandon and Chris just may be “The Most Interesting Broadcasters in the Southern League.”

051I also made a brief cameo in the press box, which reminded me of my 2012 visit to Jackson. In this press box, more than three years ago, I interviewed bus driver Thomas “Double T” Tansil for a story on the team’s unorthodox celebration of the first-half title.

048As the game was winding down, I devised and disseminated my requisite “Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Joke of the Day.”


Finally, I interviewed Generals security guard Jimmy Barnes. (Barnes appeared in the previous post as well, driving myself and mascot Sarge on to the field in a vintage military Jeep.)

054Barnes, a Jackson native and lifelong fan of the hometown team, has become an iconic figure at the ballpark. As detailed in my MiLB.com story, there is a Jimmy Barnes Fan Club (which has yet to officially meet), and between-inning contestants sometimes receive an autographed photo of Jimmy as a consolation prize.


The Jimmy Barnes

As I finished up my interview with “The Jimmy Barnes”, “The Jackson Generals” wrapped up their lightning quick victory over “The Chattanooga Lookouts.”


So that will be it for me, “The Ben’s Biz.” Thanks for reading this post, and thanks for reading every post. There’s more where this came from, because there always is.





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