Crooked Nuggets: May 2014

Welcome to Crooked Nuggets, the lovable offshoot of my long-running “Crooked Numbers” column on MiLB.com.

crooked_nuggets_215x160

For the uninitiated, Crooked Numbers  is a monthly round-up of the the weirdest, wildest and most anomalous things to have occurred on a Minor League Baseball field. It was inspired by my childhood infatuation with the writings of Jayson Stark, whose work then ran in the Philadelphia Inquirer. 2014 marks the sixth season of the column; it is also the sixth the season in which the column has gone unacknowledged by Stark.

The May 2014 edition of “Crooked Numbers” appeared on MiLB.com on June 4 — check it out! — and this post contains even more instances of Minor League Baseball on-field weirdness. Let’s get to it, lest it get to us!

Let Crooked Reign — A left fielder and right fielder getting charged with an error in the same game is a rare occurrence. But much rarer is a left fielder and right fielder making an error on the same play. Tacoma Rainiers broadcaster Mike Curto witnessed, and then wrote about, this freakish occurrence:  “How can the LF and RF both make an error on the same batted ball? How could they even both touch the ball on the same play? The answer is: overthrows.” Click HERE to have Curto explain it all, as part of a blog post devoid of the Pavement references he is fond of making. All I can say is that this was certainly a play that did not “Brighten the Corners.” Both fielders should “Cut Their Errors.”

Stone is the Way of the Balk   On May 9 the Bowling Green Hot Rods clawed back from a 10-1 deficit against the Lake County Captains, scoring nine unanswered runs in the seventh and eight innings to tie the game 10-10. But this impressive comeback was all for naught. Stone Speer entered the game for the Hot Rods with one out and the bases loaded in the 11th inning, and promptly balked in the winning run. He did not throw a single pitch in the ballgame.

Sweetest City in Alabam’ — The Mobile BayBears beat the Birmingham Barons on May 2, in a 17-inning ballgame that took five hours and 25 minutes to complete. Time-wise, this was the longest game in the 129-year history of the Barons. The teams combined to use 16 pitchers in the ballgame, with 14 appearing over the course of the final 10 innings.

crooked_nuggets_215x160

Speed King —  The Birmingham Barons are the Double-A affiliate of the Chicago White Sox. Just one rung down the organizational ladder are the Winston-Salem Dash, who played their shortest-ever game this month. For more on this 108-minute tilt, hurry up and click HERE.

Stayin’ In — If you picked the Arkansas Travelers in your office’s “Last Minor League Team to Hit a Home Run in their Home Ballpark” pool, then congratulations! It took until May 10 for a Travs’ player knock one out of Dickey-Stephens Park, when Brian Hernandez accomplished the feat. As of this writing (June 18), the Travelers have hit just eight home runs at home. On the road, they have hit a comparatively Herculean but otherwise anemic 24.

Broken Home — The Travelers are one of four teams in the Texas League’s North Division, where no one seems to enjoy playing at home. All four clubs in the division finished the first half with a losing record at home. The winning percentage of all four teams was higher when playing on the road.

(note: I am not a fan of Papa Roach. They are one of the worst bands of all time.)

crooked_nuggets_215x160

Celebrating our Smitherences — Per my MiLB.com colleague Tyler Maun:

While perusing the box scores [on May 16], I came upon this oddity: Hickory and Charleston played a DH, and three different Smiths recorded decisions.

Game 1:Save for Charleston’s Chris Smith

Game 2: Win for Hickory’s Tyler Smith, loss for Charleston’s Caleb

Your Josh Feldman Tweet of the Month — Feldman is the broadcaster for the Kannapolis Intimidators. Maybe this will be a recurring feature. Maybe it won’t be. But, anyway, check out Feldman’s observation regarding what Kannapolis pitcher Andrew Mitchell accomplished on May 18 against Hickory:

Movin’ On Up — During a late morning game on May 22, Addison Maruszak played right field for the Reading Fightin Phils. He was promoted later that day, and played third base for the Lehigh Valley IronPigs that night.

crooked_nuggets_215x160

It’s So E-asy — On May 26, the Salem Red Sox committed seven errors and still managed to defeat the Potomac National by a nine-run margin. The next night the Red Sox made just one error against Myrtle Beach, but lost by six.

Whole Lotta LOB — May 27th was a tough night for Visalia Rawhide pitchers, as a half dozen hurlers combined to allow 19 hits and nine walks to the Bakersfield Blaze. Yet the Rawhide won the game, 11-9, largely due to the fact that the Blaze left a staggering 19 runners on base in the ballgame (at least one in every inning). Rawhide announcer “Devastating” Donny Baarns reports that:

“Only one Major League team has stranded more (Yankees, 20, in 1916). No MLB team has ever left 19 in a 9 inning game; 6 have left 18. The Cal League left on base record is 21 (5/17/95, San Jose vs. Rancho).”

Time After Time — From May 20-28, the Durham Bulls played eight games with eight different start times. On May 20th, they faced off at home against Louisville at 1:05. This was followed by a four game set in Columbus, with games beginning at 6:35, 7:15, 7:05 and 6:05. The Bulls then went on to Toledo, where the starting times for the first three games were 6:00, 6:30, and 10:30.

And that, folks, is all I’ve got for the month of May. Thanks for getting crooked with me, and, as always, get in touch if you are a witness to the weirdness:

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

On the Road Again — 6/18 Update

Dispatch from Back Home. June 18, 12:47 p.m. — After a week of blog silence, I figured it would be prudent to provide an update for you, my presumably loyal and undoubtedly physically stunning reader.

I flew from Charlotte to New York City on the afternoon of June 11, marking the conclusion of this latest and greatest road trip. My last acts in Charlotte were to get some ultra-tended brisket at Bobbee -O’s BBQ and and visit Manifest Discs.

Bobbee-O’s is an unassuming spot nestled in a strip mall. My photo of the exterior is horrible, but the brisket was indeed exemplary.

002

001

As for Manifest Discs — wow. You don’t see too many places like this around anymore, a wall-to-wall emporium of physical media in a digital age.

003

004

I picked up three used CDs: Sparks “Gratuitous Sax and Senseless Violins”, Nilsson “Schmilsson” and Toby Keith “Shock ‘n Y’all.” There’s a lot I could say about Sparks and Nilsson, but since Toby Keith is a bit of an outlier here I’ll explain: in 2004 I was at a record store in a mall near my Pennsylvania hometown. The only album they had on cassette in the entire store was “Shock’n Y’all”, and there was just one copy. I bought it because I thought it might be the last cassette ever sold in the history of this mall. There is no way for me to verify if this was indeed the case, but I bet it was and no one can tell me otherwise.

Well, even though I bought it as a joke I ended up really liking “Shock’n Y’all.” I listened to it all the time in 2004, a year that was largely spent as a third grade assistant teacher at a charter school in Brooklyn. 2004 was a long time ago.

Anyhow, I’m back in NYC and have spent the past week cranking out articles for MiLB.com. For your edification, here’s everything that has appeared on the site since I hit the road on June 4. Please read and, if so moved, promote:

June 4 — Crooked Numbers,” recapping Minor League Baseball’s strangest on-field occurrences in the month of May.

June 6 — “On the Road: Chattanooga,” about the ongoing efforts to restore and revive 84-year-old Engel Stadium. Engel was the home of the Chattanooga Lookouts through the 1998 season.

June 9 — On the Road: Huntsville” — The Huntsville Stars game was rained out, but I still landed an interview w/ PA announcer/stand-up comic Matt “Casio” Mitchell.

June 10 — Promo Preview,” leading with the Inland Empire 66ers’ gory “Zombie Apocalypse” theme jerseys. For some reason, a photo of the jerseys was not included with the article. So here you go:

zombs

June 11 — On the Road: Rome” I served as the “official Minor League witness” during a pre-game “Renew Your Vows” ceremony, and later interviewed one of the couples who took part.

June 13 — On the Road: Hickory” A thorough account of one fan’s attempt to eat the “CLAWlossal” within the span of six outs.

clawlossal_dpqhg2g2_bhoqx7l8

June 16 — On the Road: Gwinnett” —  A behind-the-scenes look at the G-Braves nightly Can Race. Mayhem sometimes ensues, as seen in the video embedded within the piece.

June 17 — “Promo Preview” — This week’s edition leads with Charleston RiverDogs broadcaster Sean Houston, who will call the entirety of Thursday’s game while walking on a treadmill.

June 18 — On the Road: Charlotte” — My attempt to explain the recent history of the Charlotte Knights via the experiences of veteran visiting clubhouse manager Eddie Waddell.

There is still one more “On the Road” article to come (Kannapolis!), and next week I will begin posting my “On the Road” blog posts. So, yeah, there is a LOT more road trip content to come. But — PLEASE — do not assume that inactivity on the blog means inactivity in general. I’m writing up a storm these days, trying to do a good job of it, and doing it all for you.

Oh, and I still have to do a “Crooked Nuggets” blog post for the month of May. I think I’ll write that this afternoon, and post it Thursday or Friday. I’m telling you, some of the facts contained therein will be Shock’n, Y’all.

Dispatch from the Road. June 11, 11:05 a.m. — Sorry that it’s been two days since I rapped at ya, but life is hectic on the road. I am currently at a Spring Hill Suites in Concord, NC, after attending the Kannapolis Intimidators game last night. Upon further review I should have just stayed two nights in Charlotte, as this hotel is only about 12 miles from the one in which I was in yesterday. Live and learn.

Anyhow, when we last left off in this narrative, it was a Monday morning in Hickory and I was soon to be on my way to Charlotte. I made a brief stop in downtown Hickory:

001

And then it was on to Charlotte. The first thing I did was stop at a record store. Lunchbox Records, to be exact.

010

This place was solid. I finally picked up the new Wovenhand lp (“Refractory Obdurate,” for those keeping score at home), and also got a Richard Bishop/Sun City Girls leftover Record Store Day Release as well as a used copy of the Fine Young Cannibals “The Raw and the Cooked.” (I’ll always have a soft spot for that album.) I got some others too, but you’re already bored with my self-indulgence.

My hotel in Charlotte was walking distance to the ballpark so, yes, I walked to the ballpark. BB&T Ballpark, despite its uninspiring name, is an inspiring ballpark.

028

The next day the Knights played at noon, so once again I headed to the ballpark.

006

It was “hot as fish grease” during this afternoon matinee, as I heard one of the security guys at the stadium remark. The game was also a blowout, with the Knights losing by a score of 14-2. The heat and lack of competitiveness made me wish for a merciful end to the ballgame, but I got some good perspective from a woman named Dorothy who was working one of the ballpark elevators:

“Everybody out there is wishing for the game to be over,” she said. “Doing that, you ain’t doing nothing but wishing your life away.”

I think about that a lot on these trips. I love doing them, but I get stressed out and wish for them to be over and romanticize my NYC home. But in doing this, all I am doing is removing myself from the present and speeding myself along on the road to death on which we all travel.

Speaking of death, after the Knights game I checked out their old home in nearby Fort Mill, SC. This place is in a state of decay, and will eventually be torn down.

025

And then it was on to Kannapolis for my third ballpark and second ballgame of the day. I’m really glad to have closed the trip here, as it was the most enjoyable place I’ve been to in a while and the sort of ballpark that I’d love to come back to strictly as a fan. New ballparks are great and all, as are ridiculous promos and on-field games, but an Intimidators game on a Tuesday night is a quintessential Minor League Baseball experience.

038

More on Kannapolis to come. More on EVERYTHING to come. But, for now, it’s time to travel back to NYC. One of my cats has been sick lately, but word is that she’s now on the mend and I’m really looking forward to seeing her. I missed you, Little.

little

Dispatch from the Road. June 9, 11:23 a.m. — I’m at the Crowne Suites in Hickory, which is kind of a weird place. It’s a large establishment and largely deserted, and as I sit here I’m imagining that I might be the only living person in the entire place. The others are actually spirits, fluctuating throughout different planes of reality and advancing an agenda that will not become clear to me until it’s too late.

No disrespect to the Crown Suites, though. I got a clean, comfortable room at an unbeatable price.

As for yesterday, there wasn’t much to it. The drive from Gwinnett to Hickory was four hours (including a stop for some Mexican food, the last refuge for the gluten-free), and the highlight of the drive was glimpsing a sign that said “F. Hugh Atkins Highway.” Really? What do they have against the Atkins Highway? Also, I heard Aerosmith’s “Big 10 Inch” on the radio, which isn’t as cool as when I heard “Round and Round” on my last trip, but, still, I’ll take it.

I made my way to L.P. Frans Stadium shortly after arriving in Hickory. Hello, Crawdads!

001

I once again threw out a first pitch while wearing my GoPro, and this time I think the footage came out alright. The evening then rolled right along until a massive thunderstorm descended upon in the ballpark in the sixth inning. As I scurried for shelter, I slipped on the slick concourse cement and ended up sliding into the Crawdads Cafe as if it was home plate. A lot of people saw it happen, and acted appropriately concerned, but I’m sure they all thought it was hilarious.

Anyhow, the game was called in the sixth inning. This hasn’t been the best trip, weather-wise, but still I persevere.

And now it’s on to Charlotte. They’ve got a new ballpark there, I think.

Dispatch from the Road. June 8, 9:57 a.m. — I’ve got to keep this brief. I’m in Buford, Georgia right now (minutes away from the Gwinnett Braves) and have to get to Hickory, NC this afternoon. The Crawdads game is at 5 p.m., and factoring in a stop or two along the way it’s gonna take me 4+ hours to get there.

As for yesterday, I spent an hour or two in the early afternoon poking around downtown Rome. This was a very pleasant surprise, as until heading to Rome’s Broad Street my only impression of the town had been that it’s a huge strip of chain stores and restaurants.

But, no!

003

007

009

Then it was on to Lawrenceville, Georgia, home of the Gwinnett Braves. Since I visited Gwinnett about four years ago, I took a different tact with my game coverage and more or less immersed myself with the promo crew. Lots of interesting/weird/funny stuff occurred, though I am a bit dismayed at the moment that my GoPro footage didn’t come out well. I was wearing the headstrap, and the camera must not have been mounted on tightly enough or something because the footage is very shaky. I wore it while throwing out the first pitch, which was a perfect strike. This is the future of media, if I can do it properly.

Either way I’ll keep fighting.

043

Got some Rhys Chatham and Neneh Cherry lined up for the car ride. See you in Hickory.

Dispatch from the Road. June 7, 12:15 p.m. — Currently writing from the lobby of a Country Inn and Suites in Rome, Georgia. But let’s take it back to yesterday…

The day began in Huntsville. The previous night’s Huntsville Stars game was rained out,  so I had to move on without without seeing this esteemed Southern League franchise in their final season. Sadness was lodged in my bosom, alleviated somewhat with an early afternoon stop at the Lowe Mill. This once-dilapidated industrial setting has been converted in a thriving complex of stores and artist studios.

005It’s a really cool place!

001

I was there to specifically to, yes, visit a record store. Vertical Records!

006

After picking up a copy of Lou Reed’s “Mistrial” for $6, I moved on towards Rome, Georgia. It rained the entire drive, and I was wary of yet another postponement. But the skies cleared (for good, as it turned out) around 5 p.m., and the game went on without a hitch.

The Rome Braves are a lot of fun! I served as the official witness at a Renew Your Vows wedding ceremony, and later got to ride around the field in the “Redneck Rummage Sale” trailer. Hey, when in Rome!

052 And now, without further ado, I’m moving on to Gwinnett. Wish me luck.

Dispatch from the Road. June 6, 10:38 a.m. — Greetings from Huntsville, Alabama. Regrettably, last night’s Stars game was rained out. The forecast doesn’t look much better for today, so it is with a heavy heart that I’ll be moving on to Georgia (for a Rome Braves game, though the weather isn’t looking too great there, either).

Yesterday began in Chattanooga. After a quick lunch at “Sticky Fingers BBQ” (not to be confused with Sticky Fingaz of Onyx fame), I made a brief cameo at the Lookouts current home of AT&T Field.

005

I’ll have more on that visit in a future blog post. It was then on to Huntsville, but on the way I called an audible and drove to the top of Lookout Mountain. It turned out to be in Georgia; it is very easy to cross state lines in this part of the country. Here’s the view from the observation deck of the Lookout Mountain incline (billed as the steepest in the world).

025

More on that later, hopefully. I made it to Huntsville later in the afternoon, and when I arrived rain wasn’t on my mind at all. But just as I was about to leave — BOOM!

I still made my way to the stadium, but about five minutes after I arrived the game was called.

031

Back in the hotel room, I wrote this MiLB.com story about the ongoing Engel Stadium restoration efforts in Chattanooga. This is the third time in four years that I’ve written about Engel, because it is an IMPORTANT STORY THAT DESERVES RECOGNITION WITHIN SPORTS MEDIA AT LARGE. Look, I know my niche is rather obscure, but it gets a little frustrating when pieces gain no traction outside of this insular universe. I know the audience is there. I just know it. It’s like God — you can’t prove it, but you never lose the faith.

Shortly I’ll be on to Rome. Hopefully I can make a quick stop at Huntsville’s Vertical Records before rambling on. Today’s goal, music wise, is to listen to the new Sun Kil Moon, “Benji” all the way through without crying. I don’t think it can be done; this song is just one of MANY tearjerkers.

Dispatch from the Road. June 5, 9:15 a.m. —  Trip #2 of the season is now in full effect. I arrived in Chattanooga yesterday evening, and immediately paid a visit to historic Engel Stadium.

017

The Engel Foundation, who I have written about in the past, are doing great work to preserve and promote historic Engel Stadium. They’ve come a long way, but there is still a long way to go. I’ll be writing a MiLB.com piece on their efforts, and the stadium in general, in short order.

Last night I stayed at The Crash Pad in Chattanooga, a quirky, clean and efficient) hostel. Usually I stay at team hotels on these trips, so this was a nice change of pace. Several great bars and restaurants were nearby, and there was a feeling of energy and renewal throughout the area. It’s kinds of beautiful, the juxtaposition of 21st century creations such as the Crash Pad with decaying structures from a previous era of the city’s history.

038

036

The nearby Choo Choo Hotel, which, of course, used to be a train station.

040

I’d recommend visiting Chattanooga. I really would. Today I’ll stop by the Chattanooga Lookouts’ current home of AT&T Field for a brief tour, and then drive on to Huntsville for an evening with the Stars. Wish me luck.

June 3: If you are reading this, then I am back on the road. Or, more accurately, the road is back on me. Things are slowly coming into focus.

benz background

Here’s the itinerary this time around:

June 4: Chattanooga*

June 5: Huntsville Stars

June 6: Rome Braves

June 7: Gwinnett Braves

June 8: Hickory Crawdads

June 9: Charlotte Knights

June 10: Kannapolis Intimidators

*due to a scheduling snafu, I won’t be there in Chattanooga in time for that morning’s 11:05 a.m. Lookouts game. I will be visiting the Lookouts’ former home of  Engel Stadium, however.

ben_640_ipmnm6mu_am9a094e

I will be up to my usual antics on this trip, hustling from place to place and writing, shooting, and tweeting along the way. As with my previous trip this season, I will not be writing blog posts until I return home. I will, however, update this post with information on my current location as well as links to whatever MiLB.com articles that may have appeared.

As always, get in touch with suggestions regarding things to do/people to talk to while on this trip. I am always open to your suggestions. And, if someone is interested in being a designated eater in Huntsville, Hickory, or Kannapolis, then let me know. (Designated eater = individual who eats the ballpark delicacies that my gluten-free diet prohibits.)

Finally, here’s a map from my last road trip. Click on it, and you will be re-directed to an article that includes a version of this map that will link to all articles and blog posts from that trip. It is your duty to read every one of them. Or at least skim one or two.

Road Trip Content

Thanks for your continued support, and hope to see you on the road. Get in touch anytime.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

On the Road: Elvis, Willie and Rojo in Round Rock

My sixth and final stop on this, my first road trip of the 2014 season, was Round Rock, Texas. The Express, Triple-A affiliate of your Texas Rangers, are one of Round Rock’s (and the greater Austin area’s) top attractions.

038

The Express play at the Dell Diamond, which was built by legendary train robber Sam Bass in 1877 for use as a hideout from the law (either that, or I have misread the Wikipedia entry). These days, the trains are safe from the likes of Mr. Bass. This one sped past as I was entering the stadium, unencumbered from the constant threat of a hostile takeover.

As for the team’s name of “Express,” that’s a nod to the nickname of team co-owner Nolan Ryan. ( It costs $8 to park at Dell Diamond, a rather high rate by MiLB standards, and the comparative exorbitance of that fee is particularly striking in light of the fact that Ryan issued a Major League-record 2,795 free passes during his career.)

Upon entering the stadium I was greeted by Express director of communications Jill Cacic, who immediately led me and my guest for the evening (you’ll meet him later) on a tour of Dell Diamond.

Upon further investigation, it appears that Dell Diamond opened not in 1877 but in 2000. For the first five seasons of the Express’s existence they played in the Double-A Texas League. That team relocated to Corpus Christi in 2005, becoming the Hooks and staying under the Ryan-Sanders ownership mantle, while the Edmonton Trappers of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League relocated to Round Rock and assumed the identity of the Express. Make sense? It’s kinda like that time that the Carolina League Kinston Indians re-located to Zebulon and assumed the identity of the Carolina Mudcats, while the Double-A team that had been the Mudcats relocated to Pensacola and became the Blue Wahoos. That’s the sort of comparison that everyone knows and relates to and can understand right away with no confusion whatsoever.

Anyhow, perhaps the most important thing that you need to know is this: there are a lot of Golden Chicks in the Dell Diamond dugout.

005

A cool quirk — or a #cooquirk, to use the internet parlance of the day — of the Dell Diamond is that the players enter and exit the field via this staircase located down the left field line. The purpose of this is to promote fan interaction with the players; like it or not, they’re gonna have to mingle with the hoi polloi. (The Corpus Christi Hooks’ home of Whataburger Field utilizes a similar strategy, except that the player entrance is located amid the third base stands as opposed to straightaway left field.)

006

At the top of the stairs one finds the entrance to the clubhouse. And, yes, players interacting with fans.

008

009

010

The view from the player’s entrance. It’s a long way to the Golden Chicks.

011

After going up the stairs we went right back down the stairs. Such is life. The purpose of our descent was so that I could be interviewed on the field by Express director of entertainment Ballpark Rob Runnels.

So we meet again, Ballpark Rob. My appearance has degenerated since the last time that I saw you.

IMG_4972

Rob and I spoke about life, love, Nietzsche’s Ubermensch concept, pre-code Hollywood, DIY pickling techniques, the deleterious effects of clickbait on social discourse,  maintaining a connection with God amid an increasingly secular society, and Minor League Baseball.

019

IMG_4976

My time on the videoboard, and on the field, continued beyond the interview. Next up was a ceremonial first pitch. The pictures tell the story.

021

022

023

024

025

#emergingmanboobs

Bounced it.

Fortunately, there weren’t too many people who witnessed my bounced first pitch. It was a Monday evening, and as the game started the crowd was rather sparse.

026

Nonetheless, the Express are averaging 7,985 fans per game this season, best in the Pacific Coast League. It is a fact of life that I always visit teams on off nights, and they always make sure to tell me so.

It’s not the size of the crowd that matters anyway, it’s how you use it. Spike, he always does his best to entertain.

027

Ready for his close-up:028

Speaking of Spike, one Spike Owen is on the Express coaching staff and Steve Buechele is the manager. As someone who collected baseball cards between the years 1986-1992, I am very familiar with these names. You probably are too.

031

032

Spike Owen’s middle name is Dee. Spike Dee Owen is a cool name.

With the game underway, I did what I do best: not watching the game. Instead, our ballpark tour resumed. Later, guys.

031

All of the Express’s food and beverage options are now handled in-house, via the newly-created Ryan-Sanders Sports Services (RS3 for short). I’ll have more on that later, but, for now:

This is the “Brew @ The Rock” bar, which features 16 beers on tap.

036

Those pieces of wood affixed to the bar are used as serving containers for “beer flights” ($8 for four four-ounce glasses), and they’re made out of baseball bats. I’m not sure when, but it’s a guarantee: other teams will steal this idea.

Teams will not, however, use this sign as a template. There’s a semi-colon where the comma should be, which completely changes the sign’s intended meaning.

039

Triple-A rosters are often comprised of veteran guys, who are for more likely to have wives and families than any other level of the Minors (guys at other levels of the Minors are far more likely to have video game systems, a dozen pairs of flip-flops, and the Tinder app on their phones). Hence this room, reserved for the families of the players.

040

There are plenty of other places in which to lounge at the Dell Diamond. These rocking chairs are available to anyone with a berm ticket, for an additional cost of $5 (first come, first served).

042

The members of the Express bullpen like to put their feet up as well.

043

As do the grounds crew.

046

RS3 also offers sports turf services throughout Texas, so this storage area has room for equipment above and beyond what is need to maintain their field. (When I post pictures such as these, I imagine MiLB groundskeepers in less lavish environments pounding their fist on the desk, spitting coffee onto the computer monitor, and yelling obscenities).

047While in the groundskeepers shed, I paid a visit to the center field camera well.

049

050

Looping around the stadium’s exterior, we soon came upon the player’s parking lot. You can generally tell which cars belong to players; there’s all sorts of overcompensation going on.

053

GMC envy

The owner of this vehicle possesses what very well may be the most bird poop-splattered Mercedes in all of Minor League Baseball. Get in touch if you are aware of any competition in this category.

054

The batting cage, and the motivational literature contained therein.

056

All of the above apply to Ben’s Biz Blog, which, in case you didn’t know, is the greatest Minor League Baseball blog of all time as well as most underrated entity in all of sports media. You know this. Tell a friend.

No segue:

nosegway

You don’t see this at most ballparks.

057

Earlier on this trip, I visited the Midland RockHounds and made a note of the huge rock sitting just outside of the stadium. Flipping the script, the Express have a huge rock inside of the stadium. Fitting, as they are one of the boulder teams in Minor League Baseball.

060

If you’re not into sitting in front of a big rock, you can go swimming instead. I’m not sure if one can stand in this swimming pool or not. Guess that deep ends.

061

Our lap of the stadium complete, it was once again time to return to field level. Hola, Spike.

067

I was back on the field in order to compete in a between-inning shirt shag, in which I was tasked with catching t-shirts (launched from a slingshot) with a net.

070

I missed the first one due to lack of skill, as it clanked off the side of the net. I caught the second.

071

The third one was a soft launch, and I had to hustle for it. This photo makes it appear as if I might catch up to it, but I didn’t.

072

TRUE GRIT:

072

And what’s this? STOP THE PRESSES — full video documentation.

Okay, fine, whatever. Another on-field failure. But there’s no crying in Minor League Baseball blogging, a fact of life when you’re born with defective tear ducts.

Time to eat! My designated eater for the evening (you know, the individual recruited to consume the ballpark delicacies that my gluten-free diet prohibits) was Austin resident Phil Boyd.

073

Phil and I were friends (and, for three years, roommates) at the University of Pittsburgh. We initially bonded over a shared love of the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, and, wouldn’t you know it, he and his band Shockwave Riderz had just gotten off of a tour in which they opened for the Blues Explosion. Check out these Shockwave Riderz oscillations, and then cop some music here! It’s an In the Red Silver Apples synthscuzz Suicide attempt, like Dirty Beaches once the sleeping pills wear off.

Round Rock turned out to be a very good location in which to be a designated eater. As mentioned before, the team is now doing all of its concessions in-house, and executive chef Ed Ebert and food and beverage director Jay Kudla were psyched to show off their new creations.

What’s up, guys?

Chef_Ed_Ebert_Director_Jay_Kudla_9f7jiygd_z19xd82o

I wrote a MiLB.com feature about the concessions, and will try my best not to be overly redundant here. Each concession area is now a standalone, separately-branded entity, and there are a ton of options. Our first stop was the Metro Deli, which has three sandwiches named after Texas icons.

075

074

Herb mayo, get it?

You’ll also notice the words “gluten-free market” on the above sign. The Express cater to gluten-free diets whenever possible, and the staff is fully trained as regards food handling procedures as well as the specific ingredients in each item. They’re doing it right.

While my photo documentation is poor (by this point my camera batteries had died and I was fumbling around with an iPhone), Phil ended up with a McConaughey.

IMG_1340

My notes regarding Phil’s opinion of this sandwich were much like McConaughey himself: kinda hard to comprehend. In a nutshell, he liked it but wasn’t blown away.

Meanwhile, I was trying my hand at the Big Kahuna Dog — a quarter-pound Nolan Ryan beef hot dog topped with mango salsa, pineapple mustard and avocado and served (for me) on a gluten-free bun. On the side are house-made sea salt and pepper chips (when the Express say that everything is made on-site, they really mean it. There are no bagged chips to be found, and homemade is MUCH better).

The gluten-free bun fell apart almost immediately (such is life, gluten is a binding agent) but this is a great dog and indicative of the Express’s attention to detail. Ebert and Kudla can (and will!) explain every component of every item in exacting detail. The result of this approach is food items that are uniformly fresh and flavorful.

Also available from the 50’s diner-themed “Fairlane’s” concession stand (or “storefronts,” as the team now calls them) is the James Dean hot dog. It’s topped with bleu cheese  slaw and Frank’s Red Hot:

“This is a classic Buffalo wing flavor, and the bleu cheese slaw is great,” said Phil. “This is a good dog, man.”

Also named after a 50’s icon, but far less traditional, is “The Elvis.” Banana and peanut butter on a bun, drizzled with honey.

IMG_1347

The Elvis apparently sent Phil into a state of bliss.

IMG_1350

“The cool thing about it is that’s dessert, but not that unhealthy,” said Phil. “It’s so cool to have a dessert that’s not, like, a ton of ice cream.”

And then there’s this: the Grilled Cheese Dog. No explanation required.

IMG_1352

Man, I wish I could have tried this one. But this garlic fries on the side are EXCEPTIONAL. Much crisper than your usual garlic fries, and seasoned to perfection.

Here’s Phil watching the game with the Grilled Cheese Dog, his steadily growing array of food items laid out in front of him.

IMG_1354

“The dog is the first thing you notice, but it’s followed by that buttery grilled cheese flavor,” said Phil. “It’s a fun idea.’

Hey! Remember back in 2010, when “Rojo Johnson” made a relief appearance at a Round Rock game? If not:

Rojo is now back at the ballpark, in the form of “Rojo’s Southwestern Hideaway.”

064

IMG_1355

Lots of great gluten-free options here, such as this “Taco Flight” — pork carnitas and chicken verde with shredded romaine, cotija cheese, and cilantro-lime vinaigrette.

IMG_1358

In lieu of a written opinion, a picture:

Even better were the nachos, which are some of the best to be found anywhere in Minor League Baseball. Red, white and blue tortilla chips, pork, “Queso Rojo,” jalapeno, pico de gallo, and sour cream.  Things like this represent the best kind of gluten-free ballpark options, in that they are naturally gluten-free as opposed to a compromised consolation prize.

IMG_1361

Extreme close-up!

IMG_1369

Next up for Phil was the beer shake, available at the Frozensational Tiki Bar. This is a Convict Hill oatmeal stout with vanilla ice cream.

IMG_1370

“You’re gonna want a straw with that,” said either Ebert or Kudla (my notes are unclear). “This is not a beer with milk in it, it’s a milkshake with a shot of beer.”

And — yes! — a gluten-free beershake was concocted for me using Redbridge. Cute hair, bro:

IMG_1372

By this points most of the concession stands (or, sorry, “storefronts”) were shutting down. But we weren’t done yet. Here, Phil “The Bottomless Pit” Boyd poses with a brisket BBQ plate from the South Side Market (a third party vendor that has a restaurant in Elgin, Texas).

IMG_1382

Once again, a picture says more than words ever could.

IMG_1379

RS3 has come very strongly out of the gate, and the long-term plan is, as Kudla said “to make it salable and take it elsewhere.” Could the Grilled Cheese Dog be coming soon to a ballpark near you?

IMG_1352

Encore presentation

This extensive food tour brought us right through to the end of the game, but it was worth it. The only thing I regret is that Phil and I missed seeing this:

That dude clearly put a little too much herb mayo on his Willie Sandwich.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

On the Road: Whatanight in Corpus Christi

In keeping with the theme of this Texas-sized road trip, I arrived in Corpus Christi shortly before the game began and didn’t really have any time to get the lay of the land. But my first impression of Corpus Christi was that it was a pretty swanky place, at least in the waterfront area where my hotel was located. On these trips I am used to staying in nondescript establishments located within  homogeneous swaths of depressingly generic chain establishments. But the Corpus Christi Holiday Inn was 20-something stories tall and located right on the water, definitely not a typical Minor League hotel!

002

The view from my room:

082

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to access the balcony. How’s this for some strangely-worded hotel room signage?

“We would like to make you aware”?

081

This grandiose sense of scale carried over to the ballpark itself, which opened in 2005. Welcome to Whataburger Field, home of the Corpus Christi Hooks.

083

This statue, sporting the disappointingly generic title of “For the Love of the Game,” is 22 feet tall. Is it the biggest statue in all of Minor League Baseball? I don’t know, you tell me.

084

I wrote about this statue, and many other aspects of the Hooks experience, over at MiLB.com. Please read it, as I am going to do my best not to be redundant when it comes to what I cover here in this blog post.

As you’ll see in this photo, and throughout the post, the landscape surrounding Whataburger Field is rather cluttered. There are cranes, ships, bridges, train tracks, wind turbines (and more). Much of this industrial activity is affiliated with the Port of Corpus Christi, which, per Wikipedia, is the sixth largest port in the United States as regards cargo volume.

086

The wood beams incorporated into the stadium’s facade (as well as the corrugated steel paneling along the upper suite level)  are architectural nods to the cotton warehouses that used to permeate the region.

089

During the days when cotton reigned, baseball in Corpus Christi was more apt to resemble this.

The AutoNation Club group seating area features this view of Harbor Bridge (it’s much prettier at night, as you shall soon see).

095096

There are a lot of Minor League groundskeepers out there would will kill (with their bare hands, if necessary) for storage space like this.

098

Another perk of groundskeeping in Corpus Christi, as detailed in my MiLB.com piece:

Over the course of their existence, the Hooks have only had five of their home games affected by the weather. Much of this can be attributed to the fact that the Corpus Christi region doesn’t receive much rainfall, but what Hooks senior director of communications Matt Rogers calls “an incredibly effective drainage system” plays a major role as well. There are six inches of sand beneath the playing surface, and six inches of gravel below that. In between the sand and the gravel is a conduit that transports water out of the ballpark and directly into the shipping channel. 

Tanks, a lot:

099

Cotton presses, still standing in their original location, flank each side of the (brand-new) scoreboard. The “Bam Bam” sign below the window commemorates a batting practice home run hit by Hunter “Bam Bam” Pence while he was with the Hooks.

104

103

The boilers that once drove the presses now serve as the backdrop for an outfield basketball court.

107

108

Beyond the boilers one finds this youth field, which has games taking place at 5:45 most days of the week. On the day I attended, the Challenger League was in action.

109

110

And here we have a rock wall, which has not yet achieved sentience.

112

The view from the 407 Club, so named because it sits just beyond the deepest part of the ballpark.

113

Even deeper, but not part of the ballpark proper:

115

The Hooks’ Splash Zone is a bit more modest than the water park seen above.

116

The view from the right field entrance.

117

After taking this lap of the surroundings (thanks to Matt Rogers for the tour), I went down to the playing field for a pre-game interview with Hooks broadcaster Chris Blake.

120

No pictures of this interview exist, but rest assured that I was charming and witty and incredibly knowledgeable. That’s Chris there on the left, and that guy on the right is wearing a poncho in celebration of Cinco De Mayo. This photo also provides a good view of the cotton press as well as the team’s new scoreboard.

121

The dugouts are sponsored by the Downtown Marina Holiday Inn, who would like to make you aware that the balconies are not accessible.

122

A pre-game autograph session featuring both players and mascots.

123

I’m not sure if Sammy the Seagull is signing the baseball or eating it. Maybe a little of both. 124

And, yes, that is an anthropomorphic hook wearing a poncho. I don’t think that I had ever seen that before.

125

As the game began, I was in a storage area among “Only in Minor League Baseball” accoutrements such as a super-sized order of Whataburger Fries.

129 I wasn’t participating in any spud-related activity, however. My task was to compete in a between-inning tricycle race.

IMG_1333 During most of the game I hung out with on-field emcee Charlie Kovar — aka “Ballpark Chuck.” He was rooting for me to succeed.

I started off strong, but at some point during the race my foot slipped off of the pedal and I never regained my speed. I finished in second (of three).

131

133

Many of our adventures together throughout the evening were chronicled on the videboard, but the video I obtained lacked audio and I have decided not to use it. Hopefully these pictures will suffice, please send any complaints regarding my subpar content to benjamin.hill@mlb.com 

Ballpark Chuck and I then adjourned to the outfield for the “Whataburger Fry Shuffle” contest. (Similar to a cap shuffle or what have you). For participating in this contest, I received an oversized Whataburger t-shirt. Please, pay no attention to my emerging manboobs.

135

Our ballpark journeys now segued into a now common segment of the Ben’s Biz Blog “On the Road” experience. It was time to meet my designated eater (you know, the individual recruited to eat the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits).

138

Say hello to Javi Rodriguez, a middle school math teacher and high school baseball coach in Corpus Christi. Javi was at the ballpark with his wife, Megan (also a teacher), father Jaime and son James (that James and Jaime in the background).

“I just love Minor League Baseball, and reading the different blogs,” said Javi. As for his designated eating duties, he remarked that “My wife couldn’t believe it, but she said ‘If if it’s going to be anyone, I guess that it’d be you.”

Yes, “The Babe.” Created last season in response to MiLB.com’s “Food Fight” competition, “The Babe” is cheddarwurst wrapped in hamburger wrapped in bacon.

137

“The cheddarwurst makes it so it’s not as dry as you would think,” said Javi. “And anything wrapped in bacon is a can’t miss. This is Texas, so when you put those meats together it’s good stuff.”

Next up was the Taco Dog — a hot dog in a crispy corn taco shell in a soft flour tortilla, topped with ground beef and pico de gallo.

141

143

Javi simply remarked that this was a “good doubledecker, there’s a lot going on.” We then moved on to the mac and cheese dog, which I failed to take a good picture of.

145

“This is good, but it could use a little ketchup,” said Javi. “Some people say that’s sacrilegious, to put ketchup on a hot dog.

At one point Javi attempted to enlist 14-month-old  James as a designated eater, which would have made him the youngest designated eater in the history of designated eating. James was having none of it, though.

146

Ive Got You, Babe

Thanks to Javi and his family for taking the time to do some designated eating! When I asked if it was embarrassing to sit at a table and have someone take pictures of him eating, he said “Nah, I’m a teacher. You have to embarrass yourself in the classroom every day.”

That’s the spirit!

148

For the record, Whataburger Field has its own Whataburger (which the locals pronounce “Waterburger.”)  The fast food franchise began in Corpus Christi, and still has its headquarters there.

149

Enshrouded in the shadows, one can also find Nolan Ryan’s “Smoke 5714″ BBQ stand. (The Hooks were originally owned by Ryan-Sanders. Nolan Ryan struck out 5714 batters over the course of his 63-season career.)

150

And don’t forget. There was a game going on! There is always a game going on.

151

152

154

As alluded to previously, the Harbor Bridge is beautiful at night.

155

Ballpark Chuck and I had made our way back down to the playing field so that I could emcee a “Finish the Lyrics” competition. Madalee and McKayla ably finished the lyrics (of a pop song I can no longer recall); fun was had by all.

156

158

I then emceed a Dizzy Bat Race, because why not? I wish I had proper video of this, as my comedic chops were on point for a change.

162

Taking a phone call while the contestants spin.

165

166

After the Dizzy Bat Race, I interviewed Hooks super-fan Tammy Tucker about the myriad ways in which she supports the team. You can read that interview HERE.

168

You don’t need a fancy lens to get a good picture of Harbor Bridge.

170

With the game just about over, I made a pit stop at the press box. Like seemingly everywhere else at Whataburger Field, there is plenty of room to move.

174

The Hooks do not acknowledge the existence of the Northwest Arkansas Naturals.

A unique aspect of Whataburger Field is this radio studio, located on the ground floor of the stadium and visible to fans. Here, outfielder Mark Wik does a post game interview with Chris Blake after homering in his Corpus Christi debut. I’m not sure of the machinations that led to Wik being in Corpus Christi, but he came straight from extended Spring Training, played two games with the Hooks, and then went to Class A Advanced Lancaster and played two games there. He is now back in extended Spring Training (I think), and will most likely appear again with Class A Short Season Tri-Cities once their season begins. What a life.

177 As I observed this interview, a man I had met previously in the evening, one Douglas Calhoun, tapped on the window and waved a ball and pen at me. I assumed he wanted me to get Wik to autograph the ball, but he wanted my autograph (!!!) I was happy to oblige.

180

If you would like me to sign an autograph for you, then get in touch. I am a very accessible celebrity.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

On the Road: Mission Complete in San Antonio

Fun fact: Although just 20 years of age, San Antonio’s Wolff Stadium is the oldest ballpark in the eight-team Texas League.

Funner Fact: For the first eight seasons of its existence, Wolff Stadium was the newest ballpark in the Texas League. Its descent from “newest” to “oldest” occurred over a span of just nine seasons; Midland (2002), Arkansas (2007) and Tulsa (2010) built new ballparks for previously existing teams, while Frisco (2003), Corpus Christi (2005), Springfield (2005),  and Northwest Arkansas (2008) began play in new facilities after re-locating from elsewhere.

The Texas League, where change is the only constant!

I arrived at Wolff Stadium after a long drive from Midland, during which I got caught in rush hour traffic. I arrived at the ballpark around 6 p.m. (much later than originally intended), changed clothes in the parking lot, and then snapped this shot of the ballpark’s exterior.

Welcome to the Wolff, man:

1670

1671

Wolff Stadium is located across the street (more or less) from Lackland Air Force base. This base serves as the sole location for Air Force basic training, meaning that impossibly fresh-faced recruits are a common sight at Missions games. The sounds of planes flying overhead has also led some (or at least one) to dub it “The Shea Stadium of Minor League Baseball.” (At Shea Stadium, planes flying in and out of LaGuardia airport lent the ballpark a certain acoustical ambiance.)

1672

I was joined on this evening by one Jon Fischer, a San Francisco-based artist who recently completed a piece in which I am depicted blogging sans shirt.

shirtless

Available for purchase

Jon and I went to high school together (Wissahickon Class of ’97, for those keeping score at home). He was last seen on this blog at a Modesto Nuts game, eating meat-stuffed pretzels. Here he is upon entering Wolff Stadium, brandishing a brobdingnagian team-logo mug that was the evening’s giveaway item. (I now allow myself one use of the word “brobdingnagian” per season. Look forward to seeing the word again in 2015.)

1673

Some stadium views, captured upon arrival. Though it was a Friday, the Missions drew a lackluster crowd due to the fact that the Spurs had a Game 7 playoff game that evening. When you’re a Double-A baseball team, it’s kind of hard to compete with a championship-caliber NBA team in the same market. But what can you do?

1674

1677

1678

1679

The National Anthem was adorable. For maximum enjoyment, listen to this at least 145 times in a row. I did!

I taped that anthem snippet in the press box, a domain occupied by shadowy figures.

1680And while in the press box, I got my first glimpse of iconic Missions mascot Ballapeno. For more on Ballapeno and his arch-rival, Puffy Taco, read my MiLB.com article on the subject. I COMMAND YOU.

1681

I also got my first glimpse of Alex Vispoli, broadcaster for the visiting Frisco RoughRiders. If broadcasters were ranked as MLB prospects in the same manner that players are, Vispoli would be high on the list. (Actually, wouldn’t that be a cool thing to do? But what methodology would be used? It’s a hard thing to quantify.)

1682

My interaction with Vispoli was brief, for the game was ready to begin.

1683

Following standard protocol, I did not settle in to watch the game. I commenced to wandering.

1684

And in the course of that wandering, I soon ran into my designated eater for the evening (you know, the individual who eats the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits).

1702That’s Darren Smith, who drove in from Austin for the occasion. “I just wanted to see a new ballpark and shoot the [shoot] about baseball,” he told me. Smith currently works for an Austin-area summer camp that specializes in outdoor education, but in a previous life he worked for the MLB  Urban Youth Academy in Compton as well as the Bradenton Marauders during their nascent years of existence.

After talking with the team, it was decided that Darren would sample the “Nacho Dog.” It’s nacho dog, it’s Darren’s.

1685

Have at it, Darren.

1687

1688

Darren was less than enthused with the Missions’ culinary concoction.

“The chili’s not great, the cheese is okay, but the bread is the worst,” he said. “It’s rock hard and cold. [Ballpark sponsor] Mrs. Baird’s is a Texas brand and you’d think they’d use that. The only thing that makes this a nacho dog is the chips, otherwise it’s a chili-cheese dog.”

We then stopped by Tony T’s Ballpark Treats, a third-party vendor, and got their signature Ribbon Fries.

1696

1689

Darren was a fan of these, lauding their look, crispness, and overall flavor.

1691

I loved these (gluten-free!) creations as well. Tony T’s is a winner.

1692

Fischer took the above photo, and he took this one as well. It is perhaps the most succinct summation of my professional career that one can find.

SanAntonioMissions3

Finally, we stopped by another third-party vendor: Augie’s Barbed Wire Smokehouse.

1697

Darren, an expert when it comes to the Austin-area BBQ scene, opted for the brisket sandwich. He said that “In Texas, you know a place has good BBQ if they have a good brisket.”

1699 Fischer, meanwhile, got a Hot Chop sandwich with Serrano peppers.

1700

Oh, and a Frito Pie was involved somehow.

1698

Have at it, guys.

1701

In case you prefer your images of 30-something white men eating to be of the moving variety:

“I’m pretty sure that the bread here is Mrs. Baird’s,” said Darren. “By Texas brisket standards, this is at the level of a Dickey’s [a BBQ restaurant chain]. It’s pretty commercial, there’s no burnt stuff or smoke lines.”

And with that we bid adieu to Darren Smith, a tough but fair designated eater. I then re-commenced wandering.

1703

Some two decades into its existence, Wolff Stadium is in need of a little TLC. This metal fence could use a touch-up, for example.

1705

And this isolated area, located behind the berm, was just a dump.

1715

 

But for the most part, Wolff Stadium gets the job done. It is neither old nor young, just plugging along and maintaining its status as a San Antonio summertime entertainment staple.

1712

1714

1716

Of course, the aforementioned Ballapeno and Henry the Puffy Taco are a big part of the ballpark experience. Here, a gaggle of children chase Ballapeno across the field.

1707

I really wish I had been able to properly capture this moment. Ballapeno, in the act of waving to a young fan, accidentally slapped  her in the face instead. The girl, more shocked than hurt, began to cry. In the below photo, Ballapeno is attempting to apologize, but, you know, it’s hard to apologize when you can’t talk.

But don’t worry about it, Ballapeno, as it was clearly unintentional. Get in touch if you need me to provide a statement exonerating you of any wrongdoing.

1710

 

I was back up in the press box during Henry the Puffy Taco’s nightly humiliation. Not only does he lose every base path race, but the victor then stands upon him and gloats. Once again, my attempt to capture the action was subpar. (Everybody has their off nights, no matter what the job, and I had a blogging off night here in San Antonio).

1717

Humiliated or not, Henry the Puffy Taco still loves to dance.

1720

1719

The game was moving rapidly, leading me to a sort of existential crisis. I’d been out and about and on my feet throughout, but what had I done? Anything? It didn’t feel like much, kind of like those recurring dreams I have where I’m at a ballpark in order to write about it but instead remain stuck in one place. (I really and truly have these dreams on a regular basis.)

But I wasn’t stuck, it was time to move. I had to get to the illuminated truth of this multi-tiered conundrum.

1721

But all I found was that the game was over, and fans were now attempting to throw tennis balls into a chimney. Typical.

1723

1724

1728

This was one case where people actually wanted to come down with the flue, but it was not to be. “Oh my God that was so close. Oh! Oh!”

But, hey, there’s always Run the Bases. 1730 Good night from Wolff Stadium. Don’t forget to get an autograph on your way out. 1733 benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

On the Road: Oils Well That Ends Well in Midland

On this trip, my travel schedule was pretty grueling: ballpark, write, sleep, drive, repeat. Texas-sized travel itineraries didn’t leave any time for idle explorations.

Therefore, upon arriving at Midland’s Sleep Inn, I was relieved to see that the RockHounds’ home — Security Bank Ballpark —  was right across the street. No more driving for me that evening, from there on out I was gonna be a walking man!

So walk I did. Over the course of this arduous five-minute journey, I noticed that Security Bank Ballpark is located adjacent to another facility.

In true Texas fashion, this is a high school football stadium (the town of Odessa, where Friday Night Lights took place, is next to Midland). It hosts two local teams, and was built at the same time as the RockHounds stadium.

But on this overcast and windy evening,  the only game in town was Minor League Baseball.

Midland RockHounds Minor League Baseball.

1615

Built in 2002, Security Bank Ballpark is a pleasant and serviceable albeit rather generic facility. A bit later in the evening I posted the following tweet, and responses ranged from Arizona Spring Training facilities to Gwinnett County, Georgia to Colorado Springs. Given its lack of distinctive design elements and its location in a rather barren (but growing) part of town, this is one of the more anonymous facilities in Minor League Baseball.

But Security Bank Ballpark has accomplished everything it needed to and then some. It easily meets professional standards, provides the front office with plenty of room in which to create new entertainment features and group areas, and is on the verge of being paid off some 14 years ahead of schedule (more on that, and Midland’s currently booming oil-based economy in general, can be found in this MiLB.com piece).

And did you know that a “RockHound” is a slang word for a geologist (usually of the amateur variety)?  Since they’re the RockHounds and all, the team has its own lucky rock located outside of the stadium.

(Did you hear the one about the foul-smelling RockHound? He ran out of geoderant.)

I touched the rock on the way in, and, for the record, I have had nothing but fun and good times since then. I water-skied to work this morning.

Soon after arriving at the stadium I met with RockHounds assistant general manager Greg Berman, and we took a lap of the facility. This batting cage just opened this season, and, in addition to being used by the players for their batting cage needs, it is also used for ballpark events such as autograph sessions.

1617

Beyond that is the weight room, which I would deem fair to Midland.

1618

At one point during our wanderings I was able to snap this candid shot of Rocky RockHound in conversation with Juice the Moose. Is it just me, or does Rocky look like he has a face on the back of his head? I was told that they were simply spots.

1621

Here we are at the ProPetro Diamond Club, open to season ticket and suite holders. No hoi polloi allowed.

1622

If you don’t have a season ticket or a suite, you can walk up to these friendly folks and buy a ticket.

1623

And if it’s a Thursday, the first order of business is for of-age fans to prove that they are of age. You can’t quench your booze thirst without a wristband!

1624

At this point Bergman had left in order to perform his actual job duties, and I commenced to solo wandering.

The Coors Light Playground?

America, Texas, and the Midland RockHounds

1627 An action shot from the youth field, located in an area of the ballpark which may soon be converted to a water park.

1628

(In)Action Shots

1629

1630

If you are walking on the concourse, you should, oh, I don’t know: WATCH FOR FOUL BALLS.

1631

A new addition to the stadium this season is this concourse train.

This ain’t no sedentary train, either.

If you want sedentary, then head on over to the Rocky Town Tavern.

1633

I don’t drink on the job (much), but I was definitely planning on eating a meal. I didn’t have a designated eater at this particular stop (as in, an individual who consumes the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits), so I just wandered around and pondered my options.

This stand had walking tacos and Frito pie, among other delicacies that I can no longer discern.

1636

And this place had a whole bunch of stuff. If only I had written down what!

1635

Eating gluten-free at a ballpark can be tough. I had a craving for some nachos, which are sometimes gluten-free and sometimes not. I therefore commenced to crack the case of “Are the Midland RockHounds nachos gluten free?”

A cardboard box on a cart next to the concession kiosk listed the ingredients of the chips, which did turn out to be gluten-free. Then I noticed the cheese was from Ortega, and internet research revealed that their nacho cheese is gluten-free.

So I took the plunge and ordered up some chicken macho na–

TRAIN COMING THROUGH

1638Whoa, close call. Anyhow, I got some chicken macho nachos. They were good.

1640

Here’s something you don’t see every day, a trio of Tabasco dispensers.

1634

I ate my nachos as the sun went down on Midland. That’s not just the name of an iconic country song; for a couple of minutes it was my reality.

1642

Still visible, to my immediate left, was the gargantuan high school football stadium mentinoed before. This facility is run by the RockHounds staff and also hosts the Midland/Odessa Sockers of the USL Premier Development League.

1643

I don’t have a video clip, but let it be known that RockHounds third baseman Miles Head uses Johnny Cash’s “God’s Gonna Cut You Down” as his walk-up song. That’s a rather fatalistic outlook for a 23-year-old, but also an apt metaphor for life in the Minors (in which “God” = “Baseball”). That song applies to all of us, really. We’re all gonna get knocked down, hoi polloi and former presidents alike.

Speaking of which: While 21 of the RockHounds’ 22 suites are named after baseball players, this one is named after prez-turned-painter George W. Bush.

1644My wanderings, they bring me everywhere, and in this particular instance they brought me to the concourse area near the right field foul pole. One dude with a fake beard and a bazooka and one kid attempting to don a fake beard were on their way to shoot hot dogs at the crowd with said bazooka.

1645 Good luck out there, guys.

1646

Next, I visited RockHounds groundskeeper Eric Campbell in his groundskeeping lair. Our resulting conversation became the basis of an entertaining MiLB.com article that touched on dust, fire, tarantulas, and owl vomit.

1649

After bidding adieu to Campbell and crew, I came upon Rocky and Juice riding a bicycle together. Juice fell off.

1651

Throughout the evening, I had tried to capture the frightening sound effects that are played over the loudspeaker every time a visiting batter strikes out. Finally, in the ninth inning, I nailed it. The more you listen to this Vine, the better it gets.

And, hey, look, the home team won! (The visiting team was Corpus Christi, for the record.)

1655

I haven’t been doing #cupdates much on this trip, but I came across this collectible item among the post-game detritus.

1658

Post-game launch-a-ball! Every team does it a little bit differently; in Midland the primary target is a car on the pitcher’s mound.

1661

And that’ll do it from Midland. I hope that RockHounds were satisfied with my reportage, both here and on MiLB.com. If not, I’m sure I’ll hear about it via the issuance of a scathing press release.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

On the Road: After Setting the Scene, Chihuahuan Cuisine in El Paso

My previous post on the Chihuahuas ended mid-narrative, but I had a good reason for ending it when I did. I didn’t want to bury the lede, and the lede is this:

The El Paso Chihuahuas have really, really good ballpark food. Like, really good, easily within the top five of the 110 or so ballparks that I’ve visited  over the past five seasons. I learned this first-hand on April 29, the Chihuahuas second-ever home game, when Jeff Hanauer, general manager of Ovations food service at Southwest University Park, gave me a whirlwind tour of the team’s many concession offerings.

It’s all kind of a blur, but I’ll do my best to share with you what I remember….

Prior to meeting up with Hanauer, I’d snapped a few stray food-related shots. In keeping with the team’s “living the brand” philosophy, this concession stand is called the Rio Gr-r-r-r-r-rande Grill.

086And this concession stand here isn’t a croc. They actually sell alligator meat, deep-fried and bite-sized.

088And, look, the team has its own brand of snack food.

087

The thing to do with Chihuarrines is tear open the bag and douse with hot sauce (That’s what I was told, at least. The first ingredient was wheat flour, making it a no can do for a celiac such as myself).

Pre-packaged snack food aside, the Chihuahuas have adopted an “everything’s fresh”  concessions philosophy. Items throughout the ballpark are made to order on the premises. “You’ll never see a pre-wrapped hot dog here,” Hanauer told me.

There are a series of food kiosks located along the third base concourse (many of them offering food from local vendors), and Hanauer and I began with a seafood taco stop. $10 is a bit pricey for a taco platter, but it’s a lot of food. (And gluten-free!)

095

One shrimp, one tilapia. I preferred the shrimp.

098

Hanauer told me that, in a market like El Paso, it would be foolhardy for the team to offer its own, quite possibly inauthentic, Mexican food. Why not just go straight to the source? The Chihuahuas have therefore partnered with Leo’s, a famous restaurant with several locations in the area. Here are the folks at Leo’s, doing their thing.

099

And that thing, in a word, is meat. Meat that has been cooked slowly throughout the day, for hours and hours and hours, so that by the time its served its exceedingly tender. The burritos are minimalist affairs — maybe a little sauce is added, but its pretty much just meat.

100

But these pork carnitas nachos were the star of the show, just amazingly good. The meat was so tender, yet crisp on the edges, and tasted amazing on its own along with the chips and queso. With all apologies to places in which I’ve had exemplary ballpark nachos (Memphis, Northwest Arkansas, Round Rock), these just might be the best.

101

Hanauer, watching me tear into these things, mentioned that he didn’t think they were gluten-free (as in, the chips had wheat flour). I should have asked about this right off the bat, but when these things appeared in front of me that part of my brain went off. I just started eating as if there was no tomorrow. (And who knows? There might not be.) In this particular instance I am at peace with my transgression. These nachos were just that good.

SO GOOD.

Anyhow, this is a picture of a margarita.

102

Why is this significant? Because the margarita was prepared using the  Bottoms Up dispenser, in which the cup fills from the bottom.  Bottoms Up took the industry by storm a few years back, but I had never seen it used for anything other than beer. (Unfortunately, my video of  the margarita being filled up was plagued by technical glitches, so this is just one more thing that you’ll have to trust me on).

Speaking of technical glitches, this is one poorly lit photograph.

103

That there is the Flamethrower, a half-pound burger with ghost peppers, deep-fried jalapenos and jack cheese. Ghost peppers are the hottest peppers in the world, so they’re incorporated into the mix pretty sparingly — LEST SOMEONE DIES. Still, this thing packs some serious heat and just might be the spiciest hamburger in Minor League Baseball. Tell me it isn’t.

Here’s the Frito Pie, served up in a dog bowl. Absolutely fantastic, and gluten-free! I went at this one pretty hard for a minute.

104

I’m not sure if the Frito Pie is always served in a dog bowl, but these steak nachos definitely are. And these things did not skimp on the steak, as big tender chunks are distributed throughout.

Here we have a foot long hot dog with chili con carne:

106

Healthy options. They exist.

108

I don’t know exactly where I was at this point, except for “in the stadium.”

Men were at work.

109

And — what’s this? — eggs were on the grill.

110

112

Eggs are a key component of the Huevos Rancheros burger, a variation of the Mexican breakfast staple.

114

The burger is topped with egg, cheese and salsa verde, and if you stick a fork in it the egg yolk oozes out as a sort of bonus condiment. (I had one of these, sans bun, and it was probably better that way. I plan on making these at home.)

115

And then there was the Juarez dog, a variation of the Mexican street food classic.

116

That is an applewood bacon-wrapped beef hot dog topped with pulled pork, BBQ sauce, cole slaw and chicharrones. Think about that mix of flavors and textures for a second, it really is extraordinary.

Juarez dogs on the grill:

What’s this? Another picture of a Frito Pie? Okay, cool, whatever.

119

This one was firmly in the “look but don’t touch” category for me: Buffalo Chicken and Waffles:

121

Dessert Nachos, because too much is never enough.

120

But speaking of dessert — the Chihuahuas offer what is now MY FAVORITE DESSERT IN ALL OF MINOR LEAGUE BASEBALL.

Here’s what I wrote over at MiLB.com: Quite simply the best dessert I’ve ever had at a Minor League ballpark. You could compare Raspas to a snow cone, but that would be like comparing Leo’s to Taco Bell. Shaved ice is topped with one of six fruit flavors, and a variety of condiments can be added to provide an additional kick of sweet, sour and/or spicy flavor.

096

The Raspas stand is run by local concessionaire Elizabeth Triejo, who has a true passion for this traditional Mexican dessert. I stopped by the next day and got another one.

1579There are two key elements that make Raspas so good. One is that all of the fruit flavors are made in small batches by Elizabeth, so everything is all natural and tastes that way. And then there are the condiments, such as Chamoy and Tajin, that deliver a customized mix of spicy, sweet and sour flavors.

So, yeah, if you’re ever at an El Paso Chihuahuas game then get a raspa. My adjectival accolade abilities are failing me, but they are almost certainly better than any ballpark dessert you’ve had before.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

On the Road: The Chihuahua Era Begins in El Paso

My itinerary on this particular road trip began in Albuquerque and ended in Austin, my  primary motivation for traveling to this area in the first place was so that I could visit El Paso. For it is in El Paso that one will find the biggest story of the 2014 Minor League season, the El Paso Chihuahuas. This Pacific Coast League entity played its first-ever home game on April 28 (after opening the season in their old home of Tucson), but I spent that evening in Albuquerque. I was on hand for the second-ever Chihuahuas game, however, as on April 29 I arrived in the city and quickly made my way to Southwest University Park in order to see what all the fuss was about.

And believe you me, there was a fuss. Upon entering my hotel room, I found a limited-edition Chihuahuas-themed can of Pepsi:

IMG_1267En route to the stadium, public transit showed its support.

004

The newspaper coverage during the days that I was in town was extremely enthusiastic.

IMG_1291

And the one time I turned on the radio while driving in El Paso, I happened to hear a morning talk show in which one of the co-hosts was being lambasted for wearing a Chihuahuas hat after having initially bashed the team name and all it stood for. In short, the Chihuahuas aren’t just the biggest sports story in El Paso, they’re the biggest story in El Paso. Period.

I have already written a long MiLB.com story about the Chihuahuas and their home of Southwest University Park, which provides far more context regarding how and why the team came to be. The Chihuahuas are going to be an interesting team to follow for quite some time, on several levels, but this post is gonna keep it simple. This post will simply walk you through (a portion of) my night at the park.

My hotel, a Holiday Inn, was on Missouri Avenue in downtown El Paso. From there it was just a short walk to the stadium.

005Getting closer, as the ballpark can be seen just beyond the El Paso Museum of History.

006

And then — bam! — the ballpark.

1576

Prior to this trip, I hadn’t ever spent time in a town that borders Mexico. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised by just how close Mexico was to El Paso — what was I expecting? —  but seeing signs such as the above just felt surreal to me. (This says more about my northeastern upbringing and perspective  than it does about anything having to do with El Paso and Juarez.)

008

The gates hadn’t yet opened at the time I arrived, but anticipation was high. People were lined up on all sides of the ballpark, hundreds deep. I had never seen so many people waiting to get into a Minor League stadium, ever.

009

010

011

013

016

017

Once I got inside, I took this photo of the field itself. Those are the Franklin Mountains looming beyond left-center field, and later on during my stay I learned that the Rocky Mountains extend to El Paso as well.

024

025

Taking a cue from the Lake Elsinore Storm, the Chihuahuas’ logo features a prominent set of eyes. Here’s an eyes-olated view, which I snapped on the staircase.

022

Quite unexpectedly, just prior to the game I received an invite to throw out a ceremonial first pitch. While this was the second game of the season, there was still an Opening Day-level of excitement. Politicians, media personalities, pop singers, youth baseball players and military members were all gathered in this little “room” adjacent to the visitor’s dugout. Being from out of town, I kind of felt like an interloper amid this display of local pride.

028

030

As for my first pitch — it was a strike, but no evidence seems to exist. Or, if there is evidence, I don’t have it. Hey, does anybody out there have any evidence? Chico?

033

I know you can hear me, Chico! Don’t walk away from me!

034

Eh, nevermind. I have no idea what I’m talking about anyway. After throwing my first pitch, I returned to the concourse and embarked on a solo walk around the facility. A pictorial tour, or, as I like to call it, a pic-tour-ial, will now commence.

035

036

See that brick structure out in right field? Keep that in mind, we’ll visit that later.

037

038

Berm seating is $5.

039

The Splash Zone, which remained splashless on this pleasant Spring evening.

040

041

The Chihuahuas bullpen is ensconced in a little alcove located down the third base line, while the visitor’s are caged within the bottom floor of this outfield structure.

043 The view to the bullpen’s left:

044

And now here we are back behind home plate, somehow. I’m not sure how it happened either. 046

As I mentioned previously, the Mexican city of Juarez is located directly behind the ballpark. Juarez is in the Mexican state of Chihuahua (hence the team name), and residents of the city represent, at least potentially, a sizable portion of the of the fan base.

049

Turning inward, and then outward again.

050

052

That picture was taken through a window, as I was standing in a hallway located outside of the suite area. This area is decorated with a surprisingly diverse array of artwork.

This is Tom Lea’s The 2,000 Yard Stare, a famous portrait of post traumatic stress disorder and the visual equivalent of a punch in the gut.

053

This Warholian expression of team pride was created by a local non-profit called “Creative Kids.”

083

Around this point in the evening I ran into Chihuahuas general manager Brad Taylor, and he led me on the so-called “nickel tour” of the ballpark. Specifically, he wanted to show me the aforementioned three-story brick structure that sits just beyond the right field fence. It is called “The Big Dog House,” and the first level houses the City Hall Grill.

058

059

This establishment got its name because it stands where El Paso City Hall once stood. City Hall, as you may recall, was imploded in order to make room for the ballpark. Was this an example of visionary leadership, or a wasteful, hubristic and ultimately self-defeating  folly? That question that has been hotly debated in El Paso (and elsewhere) over the past year, leading to some criticism that “City Hall Grill” is a disrespectful name. (Somewhat akin to clearing a forest to make room for a housing development, and then naming all of the streets in the development after trees.)

This plaque is currently displayed in the City Hall Grill.

056

Taylor brushed off this controversy, saying that “Once [those critical of the City Hall Grill] realized that we had no intent to mock them, I think they understood our vision. We’re just paying tribute to those who preceded us.”

We then walked up one floor, to the Sun Kings Saloon.

071

062

061

The Sun King Saloon is named after one of El Paso’s former Minor League entities (the Sun Kings were not blown up in order to make room for the Chihuahuas, however). The walls of the saloon are decorated with El Paso baseball memorabilia, often with a Chihuahuas twist.

064

065

This advertisement is interesting, in that it lauds the Sun Kings as a Minor League Baseball success story as a result of almost drawing 100,000 fans in their debut 1962 season. It’s comparing apples and oranges, but I’d be surprised if the Chihuahuas draw less than 600,000 in 2014.

070

Finally, at the top of the building, one finds the “Wooftop Deck.” It was largely empty on the night I visited, but this would be a great place to watch the game!

074

075

From the Woof Top Deck, one can see the side profile of El Paso’s famous “Mountain Star.”

076

Another view from the Woof Top:

077

From there we made a brief stop the WestStar Bank Club, located on the second level behind home plate, an appealing place to get a drink despite its less-than-appealing name. (The next afternoon, I saw people chugging beer from a dog bowl at the bar.)

079

The view:

080

Somehow my next picture is from the far left field corner of the stadium. I guess we walked over there.

089

The seats out here, they swiveled! Swiveled, I tell you!

091

090

You know, it’s like that old gypsy woman once told me: “Once the seats start swiveling, the blog post must end.”

Part Two of this El Paso Chihuahuas saga shall appear on Monday, then. It’s gonna have a lot of pictures of food.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

On the Road: An Embiggening of the Ballpark Spirit in Albuquerque

Embiggen. It is a perfectly cromulent word. 

It’s a word if you’re a Simpsons fan, at least. The motto of Springfield, bestowed upon it by town founder Jebediah Springfield, is “A Noble Spirit Embiggens the Smallest Man.”

embiggen

The Albuquerque Isotopes are most definitely the biggest Simpsons fans in Minor League Baseball, as the team name is a direct reference to an episode of the show in which Springfield’s Minor League team almost moves to Albuquerque. I, like many of my generation, am a huge Simpsons fan, so I was psyched to begin my 2014 Minor League Baseball travels in a ballpark with such a direct tie-in to my youthful (and now, manchild) obsessions.

Welcome to Isotopes Field, home of the — wait for it — the Albuqerque Isotopes.

013

012

Upon entering the ballpark, this is the first person that greets you.

014

I went on to write a detailed story about the origin of the team name as well as the Simpsons family statues that can be found throughout the concourse. I suggest that you read it, and if I was able demand such a thing then a demand it would be.

Now that you’ve read that particular piece, let’s move on to a little tour of the ballpark. With the players warming up on the field, Isotopes broadcaster Josh Suchon led me on a 360-degree walk of the facility.

015

First things first, the team had a new videoboard installed prior to the season. That’s the new one on the left, complementing the old board on the right.

016

I asked Suchon whether the Isotopes were making any claims regarding it being the biggest/tallest/widest board in Minor League Baseball, because those are the sort of things that Minor League Baseball teams do. His reply was that “It’s bigger than El Paso and that’s the most important thing. Everything is a rivalry with El Paso now.”

I was going to respond that “Well, yeah, it’s easier to be bigger than a Chihuahua,” but then realized that no team in professional sports history has ever named themselves after something smaller than an isotope.

There’s plenty of room to move at Isotopes Park, which opened in 2003. Multi-tiered berm seating is not something you see every day, unless you work in a park that has multi-tiered berm seating.

018

Remember when you read that story I linked to, which explained that the Isotopes acquired their Simpsons statues at a Los Angeles junk store run by the inimitable Nick Metropolis? Well, the team also acquired this Hollywood sign from Mr. Metropolis. It is a reference to Albuquerque being, as Suchon put it, “the Minor Leagues of Hollywood.” The city provides tax breaks to film companies who work in the region, and the fact that Breaking Bad took place there certainly raised the region’s profile in the industry (and America) at large.

017

This Captain Morgan statue was also obtained via Nick Metropolis and his impressive junk world connections.

021

We soon made our way back on the concourse and — look — here’s Lisa.

022

It seems fitting that Bart is below an advertisement for “pest management.”

023

Isotopes Park was built where its predecessor once stood — Albuquerque Sports Stadium (or A.S.S., as I prefer to call it). At that facility, fans could park beyond the outfield wall and watch the game from their cars.

024

But these days, fans watch the game from their eyes, man. From their eyes!

025

Isotopes Park is one of several sports facilities in the immediate area. This, as viewed from outside the suite entrances, is the home of University of New Mexico basketball and it is called “The Pit.”

026

Meanwhile, over here, you’re apt to see the pigskin get tossed around.

027

Turning my camera in the other direction resulted in a view of a facility that hosts baseball — Isotopes Park, home of the Albuquerque Isotopes. (I almost forgot where I was there for a second).

028

I neglected to ask why the Isotopes took a multi-hued approach to their glass panel installation. It’s pretty cool, though.

030I even made a Vine out of it!

Finally, I spotted Marge. In a decidedly uncharacteristic move, she had Coke up her nose.

032A better view.

033

At this point, you’re probably asking the same question I was.

It was around this time that I met Isotopes general manager John Traub, who told me the Simpsons stories that ended up in the MiLB.com article that you already read. But one more thing that I didn’t mention is that Traub is the (once) proud owner of an Alex Rodriguez signed bat. 034 Traub was formerly the general manager of the Calgary Cannons (the team that moved to Albuquerque in 2003), and got that bat when A-Rod was in Calgary in 1994.

After speaking with Traub, I went down to field level in time for the National Anthem. 036 And look who I ran into — Mr. Clint Belau! 037Regular readers of this blog (I hope that you are one of them), will recognize Clint as one of 2012’s Winter Meetings Job Seeker Journalists. That employment seeking effort eventually landed him a job in Albuquerque, and he is now in his second season with the Isotopes and his first as an assistant groundskeeper. Clint remains as I described him back in 2012: irrepressibly optimistic. Dude just loves working in baseball, and was so committed to breaking into the industry that he moved to Albuquerque at the age of 35 to be a stadium operations intern.

Clint had also recruited my designated eater for the evening. You know, the individual who consumes the ballpark food that my gluten-free diet prohibits. Today’s eater would be Megan Black, an Oregon native and girlfriend of Isotopes groundskeeper Casey Griffin. 040In the above photo, Megan is mid-bite on a Lasorda Dog: two hot dogs, deep-fried jalapenos, bacon, sour cream, and cheese in a flour tortilla. 038“The bacon’s really good with it, though I guess it’s a little fatty if you want to get technical,” said Megan. “This thing, it’s got a good kick to it.”

Next up was the Tortilla Burger, available at the team’s “items with self-explanatory names” kiosk. 041Megan was a little taken aback, saying, “I don’t know, it’s a lot of meat….the fries are good.” 042Casey soon chipped in, adding that “it almost tastes like meat loaf. The meat’s real tender and good, but a little plain.”

Pizza’s not the most exciting item to photograph and write about, but the Isotopes offer Dion’s at the ballpark. Dion’s is a well-respected local chain, and, I’ve gotta say, it looked far better than your average slice of ballpark pizza. 045039“Okay, it’s really good,” is all that Megan had to say about Dion’s. The view from our second-level location was really good as well.046 Finally, we went back inside for some Bananas Foster, which I don’t believe I had ever seen at a ballpark before. I’m not exactly sure what was in this Isotopes mini-helmet rendition, though it must have been some combination of bananas, ice cream, brown sugar, cinnamon, liqueur, and (of course) whipped cream. (In retrospect I should have walked down to the stand where these were being made, as there was some flambe action going on.)047 Megan and Casey were less than thrilled by this poorly lit “romantic” photo, but I can’t resist including it. 049 Although I couldn’t immediately ascertain whether or not the Bananas Foster were gluten-free, I went ahead and gave it a try (when in doubt, I should NOT try something, but I guess I don’t always follow that rule). 051 I’ve never liked bananas in any context, really, but that was a great dessert!

And with dessert concluded, it was time to say goodbye to Megan and Casey and move upward and onward — to the broadcast booth with Josh Suchon! 053 After a pleasant inning on the air chatting with Josh about the start of another season of Minor League travel, I peeked my head into the control room. Everything was copacetic. 054 For whatever reason, I seem to have a habit of visiting teams on “off” nights when it comes to attendance. This game took place on a Monday, and it was freezing! The temperature was in the low 40s once the sun went down, with winds whipping about at approximately 35 miles an hour. Hence, a pretty small crowd. 055 I needed to move in order to stay warm, so I moved on down into the tunnel adjacent to the third base dugout. Clint had invited me to “help” drag the infield.  057I’ve dragged the infield a couple of times before — generally as part of a dance routine — but for whatever reason I still felt a little nervous prior to taking the field. But it was like riding  a bike, in that once you get out there you just have to rely on muscle memory.

What form! What skill! What daintily-fitting tapered-leg jeans!059 060 I forget what led to what, and it’s barely documented, but I soon ended up in a mascot race dressed as “Green Chile.”064 I did not win. That bottle of salsa was, like, way ahead of me.  066Lost within the bowels of the stadium after the race, I happened upon this awesome painting. Dancin’ Homer! 067After getting situated again amid the general population, I opted for some dinner. One of the main concession stands had a promising (albeit) vague sign advertising a “gluten-free sandwich.” I got one.  068It was a turkey sandwich, apple, and a bag of chips. Good for what it was, I suppose, and certainly better than nothing. I appreciated that it was on offer in the first place. But, thinking long-term, my opinion is that gluten-free ballpark food should adhere as closely to food that people usually want at a ballpark. This might not be feasible in all situations, but with a little bit of effort regarding inventory and staff training it is possible to offer gluten-free hot dogs, hamburgers, fries, nachos, beer and more at the ballpark. Please, make it happen if you’re not making it happen already. My fellow celiacs will thank you, and even shake your hand so long as you are not made of wheat.

Off of my soapbox, for the time being, I did a lap around the stadium. It was the ninth inning, and it was cold and deserted throughout the park (save for a cluster of hardcore fans behind home plate).  070 072 073 074 While I was wandering, the Isotopes plated a run in the bottom of the eighth to tie the game at 3-3. The game ended up going into extra innings, which I commemorated by wandering into the team store. Orbit says welcome.  075   This is the team’s standard Simpsons-inspired logo. 077But the team also pays homage to Breaking Bad. Bryan Cranston is a fan of the team, and while the show was filming in Albuquerque he helped organize celebrity softball tournaments.  076(Unfortunately, there was nary a Weird Al homage to be found in the team store. Nonetheless, Albuquerque remains one of the best songs he ever wrote!)

Finally, one can buy a copy of a book that Traub co-authored, Dave Rosenfield’s Baseball: One Helluva Life. 

078

Rosenfield has his own Simpsons connection, as the MiLB.com article that you already read made clear:  “Dancin’ Homer,” the episode in which the Springfield Isotopes were first introduced, was written by former Norfolk Tides broadcaster Ken Levine. Levine drew on his experiences with the Tides in writing the episode, and Tides general manager Dave Rosenfield even makes a cameo (in name only) as the owner of the rival Capital City Capitals.

But anyway, for the first time all night I decided to just sit down and relax. When the Isotopes make the call to the bullpen, this bullpen cart is driven around the field. I don’t think any pitchers ever ride in it, though. 079 080 Despite the fact that a game had been going on for almost four hours, Homer still had his sights oriented away from the field.  083The Salt Lakes Bees reminded me of a cartoon at this point, in that their infield was “drawn in.” 085 The drawn-infield wasn’t able to prevent the run from scoring, as Jamie Romak hit a single to score Miguel Rojas with the winning run.

And that, my friends, was all she wrote. She being me, and this blog post being that which got wrote. I hope you found it to be more than a rote effort, and are excited (or at least mildly curious) about the dozens of “On the Road” posts that are still to come this season.

The next post in this “On the Road” blogging series will feature the El Paso Chihuahuas. It is scheduled to run on Smarch 16.

smarchbenjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Guest Post: Why I Love the Fresno Grizzlies

Greetings. I have returned from my first road trip of the 2014 season; articles from the trip have been running on MiLB.com throughout the past week and into next, and the corresponding blog posts will soon follow. (I promise!) But first, another edition of “Why I Love,” in which Minor League fans explain just what it is that they love about their favorite team. Today’s guest writer is Milana Lock, a verifiable Fresno Grizzlies super-fan who I wrote about during one of my 2013 road trips. If YOU would like to write a “Why I Love”  post, email me benjamin.hill@mlb.com

But, for now, the floor is ceded to Milana:

Love of The Game, Crack of the Bat, Thump in the Glove

Stories from the world of Major League Baseball are filled with huge contracts, catchy nicknames, big endorsements, fan worship, scandals and gourmet menus; these are the topics that go along with the the sport at its highest level.  But there’s a side to baseball that should be fully appreciated, as it’s one of the most important:  the Road to “The Show”.

I’m a devout fan of those who play for the Fresno Grizzlies (Triple-A team for the San Francisco Giants), and there are several things that draw me to every home game:  the amazing work ethic, a determination to excel, and a level of play that, hopefully, gets the players noticed by the parent club’s front office. With intense focus, these guys work out and play just as hard as their Major League counterparts; maybe with more heart, and definitely for much less money (a maximum of about $2,200 a month).  In fact, it seems they play harder because they have more to prove.

The Minor Leagues are a place where fans have the closest access to players, some who are returning for another season and others who are entering a higher level for the first time.  While our hope is for them to get a call-up, there’s a mixed yet very real joy in seeing favorite players again and renewing friendships that are based on unconditional support and encouragement.  The fields are smaller, the stands are closer to the bullpen. The autograph line, filled with kids and adults alike, is the place where players take the time to sign autographs and pose for selfies.

pastedGraphic-page-001

Brandon Belt

crawford-page-001

Brandon Crawford

Sitting only 75 feet from the field, we feel the vibe of 6-4-3-2 plays for a third out and actually see the pride on the players’ faces. I’ve been wowed by outfielders who refine their throw from medium-depth center field to get an out at home plate, and have launched myself out of my seat to unapologetically celebrate a 410-foot grand slam.

twoplayers-page-001

It’s this kind of up-close and personal experience that makes it important to be more supportive, to share in this love of the game and the players that develop within it. If they can play everyday in 105-degree heat, then I can go to every Grizzlies home game and cheer. If they get a percentage from the sale of their Spring Training batting jerseys, then I’ll buy one or two from the parent club’s team store. If I’m given a chance to meet them, then they’ll get a birthday shout-out on the big board. And if there’s heckling going on, I’ll be even louder in shouting words of encouragement. These may be little things but they seem to mean a lot; it’s a way for a fan to be a part of the game.

closeplay-page-001

The phrase “you get what you put into it, and more” applies to the Minor League ballpark experience as well. If you look closely, you’ll watch top prospects refine their skills and be able to tell friends at the Major League park who are the up and comers, who’s dangerous with an opposite field bat, who delivers high heat, who’s got crazy-fast legs, who’s a thief on the basepaths, who brings that secret weapon, who’s got a cannon arm. In a way, I guess you could say that Minor League fans are unofficial scouts. In the spirit of Yogi Berra, “you get to see the future today”.

And where else but in these leagues can you strike a pose with prized baubles, and even wear them for a minute? These are lifetime memories!

2010 World Series Ring

2010 World Series Ring

2012 World Series Ring

2012 World Series Ring

You can find new things, almost weekly, at the Grizzlies’ team store while also supporting the community.  New T-shirts and caps designed with this year’s logos or slogans, black and orange nail polish (team colors), foam fingers printed with the mascot’s paw, the Major League club’s caps and hoodies, and blingy summer tops are all on display. Also, it’s the place to buy something that contributes to the organization’s community programs, as a portion of the proceeds helps to fund school scholarships, special needs baseball games and equipment, and a reading program. What a great combination! We can improve the community while supporting our team in style.

teamstore-page-001

For the girl who has everything: Fresno Grizzlies nail polish and nail files.

For the girl who has everything: Fresno Grizzlies nail polish and nail files.

Yes, I love watching the game, eating another hot dog, sitting for too long, buying another T-shirt, and cheering loudly at every accomplishment.  Yes, getting to the Majors is the ultimate dream come true for a ball player.  But the pursuit of that dream and the celebration of the heart of hopeful champions is what brings me back to the same seat, every season, every night. Play Ball!

Thanks, Milana. And, again, if you’d like to write a “Why I Love” blog post, about YOUR favorite team, then get in touch. I am very accessible and a pleasure to communicate with. 

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 444 other followers