On the Road: More Than a Taste in Tampa

This season, my “On the Road” blog posts from each ballpark I visit will be split up into several installments. To see all of my posts from this visit to the Tampa Yankees (this is Part Three) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my April 2015 Florida trip, click HERE. To see all of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

Before visiting the Tampa Yankees, the advanced intelligence I received regarding their concessions was that they didn’t go too far beyond the basics. And, okay, that’s fine. As the late Bill Valentine would have told you, the basics are what most people want. The basics have the highest profit margins, the basics are what teams should focus on.

But from my perspective, that’s kind of boring. When I recruit a designated eater — you know, the individual who consumes the ballpark food that my gluten-free diet prohibits — I want, whenever possible, to focus on the regional specialties. Be it spiedies in Binghamton or BBQ in Birmingham, I want to highlight the food in a way that illuminates what’s popular in the surrounding community.

And, as it turned out, that’s just what I got in Tampa. April 12’s ballgame was originally scheduled as an early afternoon tilt, but pushed back three hours so that the team could host the annual “Taste of South Tampa.” 2015 marked the 10th time that this event had been held, but the first time in which it was staged at the Tampa Yankee’s home of Steinbrenner Field.

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Taste of South Tampa, held on the concourse, ran from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Tickets to the event also included admission to that evening’s 5 p.m. Tampa Yankees game. Dozens of food and beverage vendors were on hand, distributing their signature items to all comers. Also on hand was Brian Cochrane, my designated eater for the day.

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Brian hails from Patchouge, New York, a town on the south shore of Long Island. He moved to Tampa two years ago, and now works at Hillsborough Community College (which is more or less located next door to Steinbrenner Field). He’s a “clinical supervisor for the diatetic technician program,” which, translated, means that he “works with students who do internships, coordinates who goes where, and offers academic guidance.” In his down time he’s become a huge fan of the Florida State League in general and the Tampa Yankees specifically.

Brian said that he wanted to be the designated eater because “if it’s free, it’s for me.” Also, it meant that he got to “have fun, and showcased on a blog and website I enjoy looking at. It’s great to be involved with something you only usually read about.”

“But, Brian,” I asked him. “Won’t gorging yourself on food run counter to the creed of the dietetic technician?”

“Let’s just say that this is my cheat day,” he replied. “Balance and moderation, but not today.”

Brian was ready to donuts, in other words.

Things started off relatively healthily, actually, with the literal and figurative mouthful that was “Scottish smoked salmon with lemon dill sauce on quinoa salad and a fresh Louisiana kale salad” courtesy of the Rollin’ Oats market and cafe.

(Also, this was gluten-free! So that meant I could — and did — indulge as well.)

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“The salmon, you can tell that it’s fresh,” said Brian. “Great nutrition.”

Next up was “Cheesy Crab Nachos” from Pincher’s seafood shack.

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“I think that there should be more crab,” said Brian. “These are very clam chowdery.”

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From then it was on to crab cakes, lollipop chicken and beef wellington from The Fox “cool” jazz club.

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“The chicken was good,” said Brian. “The others tasted like microwavable frozen food.”

By the time I glanced up from my notebook, Brian was lost in the crowd.

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After momentarily mistaking him for a guy advertising his preference for nearby females…

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…I found him chowing down on a pulled pork sandwich from the Doubletree Hilton Player’s Club.

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Brian, who was turning out to be a tough-but-fair food critic, said that the “pork-to-bun ratio” was lacking and that it was also “kind of dry.”

Things turned around after visiting the Carmel Kitchen and Wine Bar, which offered a veggie crisp (gluten-free!) dipped in chickpea hummus and served with gazpacho.

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“This is homemade, crisp and the soup is pleasing,” said Brian. I concurred — while my options were obviosuly more limited than his, this was the best thing I tasted at the event.

But there was no time to reflect. Brian wanted more and Brian would not be denied. Here we have pita bread with potato salad from Louis Pappas Market and Cafe. 014

“The pita bread is a little rough, a little chewy,” said Brian. “But this has good flavor and texture.”

From Louis Pappas, it was a proverbial hop, skip and a jump to the Cuban sandwiches offered by The Press Box. This had ham, pork, salami, mayo, mustard, pickle and Swiss cheese.

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“They used good ingredients, and the meat is cooked well,” said Brian.

In the first photo of Brian I used in this post, you’ll note that he was carrying donuts. These, for the record, were from Perks Donut Bar and Brian gave them a muscular endorsement. He then moved on to the items seen briefly in the above Vine video — a pulled pork hamburger from American Eats and some chili and chips (the origin of which I cannot ascertain). The whole thing was a whirlwind, really. We had been at the event for an hour at this point and, as it was nearing 4 p.m., it was beginning to wind down.

When Brian stopped by Beef O’Brady’s to get some wings, the servers there ended up giving him 15 or so. Everything must go!

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And that was it for the Taste of South Tampa.

Thanks to Brian for being such a good sport, and to the Tampa Yankees for granting us both full access to the event. Now that Brian’s finally done eating, the next series of posts on the blog will focus on Dunedin. That, my friends, is a joke that never gets old.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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On the Road: Setting the Scene in Bradenton

This season, my “On the Road” blog posts from each ballpark I visit will be split up into several installments. To see all of my Bradenton Marauders posts, click HERE. To see all of the posts from my April 2015 Florida trip, click HERE. To see all of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

You may recall that, in 2012, Pirates senior director of Florida operations Trevor Gooby helped deliver a baby at the Bradenton Marauders’ home of McKechnie Ballpark. This memorable moment even inspired a Marauders bobblehead giveaway:

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I bring this up for a reason, which is pretty much the only reason I ever bring anything up: to make a belabored, needlessly convoluted point. As I was walking around McKechnie Field prior to April 11’s ballgame — the Marauders’ home opener — broadcaster Nate March said the following.

“That baby is older than all of these seats.”

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The larger point that March was making was that, despite being a very old ballpark, McKechnie Field — pronounced Mc-Keck-Nee — is also a very new one.  The ballpark was built in 1923, but has undergone many renovations through the years. The most recent, in 2013, included the installation of 2000 new seats as well as the addition of a outfield boardwalk which includes a tiki bar (de rigueur in the Florida State League) and party deck. Then, prior to this season, an expansive new 22,500 square foot clubhouse and a two-story “performance center” was built just beyond right field.

McKechnie Field, then, is in a good place. It’s served as the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Spring Training home since 1969, and the Marauders, the Pirates Class A Advanced affiliate, began play in 2011 (a development made possible thanks to the 2008 addition of field lights, which McKechnie Field had never before had). The Pirates, who own the Marauders outright, signed a 30-year lease extension prior to the 2008 season, so the current arrangement is poised to continue into McKechnie’s second century of existence.

I failed to get any exterior shots of McKechnie prior to entering the stadium. This was my first ballpark stop of 2015, and I was clearly not yet in midseason form. I did, however, get this picture of the area directly beyond the outfield. It at least gives some idea of what the surrounding area is like.

It is surrounded by automobiles:

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On the Road: Game Time in Bradenton

This season, my “On the Road” blog posts from each ballpark I visit will be split up into several installments. To see all of my posts from this visit to the Bradenton Marauders, click HERE. To see all of the posts from my April 2015 Florida trip, click HERE. To see all of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

Part one in this ongoing Bradenton Marauders saga covered that which occurred before the ballgame. In this, the second installment, we pick up with the start of that evening’s Florida State League contest between the Marauders and St. Lucie Mets (marking the first of three times on this trip in which I would see the St. Lucie Mets).

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Play Ball!

Of course, I rarely if ever watch the games that I attend on these trips. I just wander around and watch other people watch the game. Over in the visitor’s bullpen, the St. Lucie relievers kicked up their feet and relaxed.

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My view at this moment in time was similar, if slightly elevated. One of my goals this season is to be able to make more refined architectural distinctions, as all I can think to say in this moment is that McKechnie Field is a “classic” ballpark. Help me, Wikipedia!

[McKechnie Field was] built in a Florida Spanish Mission style, with white stucco on the main grandstand and cover bleachers over the reserved seating section.

Okay, cool, thanks:

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There are also palm trees all over the place, the sort of thing that, if you’re not from Florida, immediately reminds you that “you’re in Florida.”

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Designated Eater: Joe Mynaugh in Bradenton

This season, my “On the Road” blog posts from each ballpark I visit will be split up into several installments. To see all of my posts from this visit to the Bradenton Marauders, click HERE. To see all of the posts from my April 2015 Florida trip, click HERE. To see all of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

As many of you know, in 2012 I was diagnosed with celiac disease. Therefore, I recruit a designated eater at each ballpark I visit, and this individual is tasked with eating the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits. At the Bradenton Marauders’ home of McKechnie Field, this individual was a man by the name of Joe Mynaugh.

Hey, Joe. Where ya going with that bun in your hand?

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Joe is no stranger to the world of Minor League Baseball. He grew up in Aberdeen, home of the New York-Penn League IronBirds, and served as the team’s bat boy during the 2008-09 seasons. (I forgot to ask him what it was like to witness Tim Spooneybarger’s comeback attempt.) He moved to Florida last year so that he could work as a groundskeeper at Sarasota’s Ed Smith Stadium (Spring Training home of the Orioles). Currently, he is employed by Sarasota County. He is a Bradenton Marauders season ticket holder — $300 covers the cost of all 70 home games, and he is also able to attend the team’s road games for free.

“I work on a field during the day, and in the evening I just sit back and watch,” said Joe.

But this evening, Joe wouldn’t be sitting back and watching. No, he’d be wandering around with me and eating. The Marauders — and this is common throughout the FSL — generally stick to the basics when it comes to ballpark cuisine. Nonetheless, we carefully considered our options at the Pirates Cove Grill and The Pitt Stop.

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In the end, Joe opted for the most unique — and, at $10 — most expensive item on the menu: a pulled pork sandwich with mac and cheese provided by regional chain Sonny’s BBQ.

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There’s No Place But Home

My latest (and therefore greatest) Minor League ballpark road trip wrapped up in Jacksonville on Saturday. Click here — and scroll down — to see a round-up of all the blogs and articles that have been produced so far; you can sleep well knowing that there’ll be plenty more where that came from.

That trip ended in Jacksonville, the home of the Suns, who are in the midst of a season-opening homestand that can only be described as “Brobdingnagian.”

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This sustained stretch of home games came about because the Biloxi Shuckers’ MGM Park won’t be ready until (at least) early June. Therefore, the Suns are playing in Jacksonville as the “road” team during their current (April 20-24) series against the Shuckers, in addition to regularly scheduled homestands from April 9-19 and 25-29th.

It should go without saying that hosting a homestand of such magnitude is an extremely taxing experience for the front office staff, who will be working unremittingly long days at the ballpark with nary a break in sight. If there’s one team that feels their pain, who have been there and done that, it’s the Rochester Red Wings.

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In 2012 the Red Wings’ Frontier Field served as the primary home ballpark of the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees, who were forced to spend the season on the road due to an extensive renovation to PNC Field. The Red Wings’ front office ended up hosting a whopping 109 games that season, with several stretches of a duration comparable to what the Suns are experiencing right now.

The Red Wings staff, a sympathetic lot, feel the Suns’ pain and have sought to help them in their time of need via this handy list. Suns staffers are advised to print it out and put it in their wallets (or purses, or fanny packs, or what have you):

Top 10 Survival Tips for a Really, Really Long Homestand

10. Nothing but day games!

9.  On-site laundry service for all employees

8. Nightly anti-rain dance to prevent doubleheaders

7. For female employees with significant others, four letters: B-E-E-R

6. For male employees with significant others, three letters: F-T-D

5. Initiate a daily post-lunch siesta

4. Daily Red Bull happy hour for the staff

3. Give mascot “body optional, head required” days

2. Hire landscaping company to do staff lawns

1. Fans pull tarp after Day 10

Thanks to Dan Mason, Matt Cipro and the entire Red Wings front office for sharing these survival tips, and good luck to the Suns as they seek to survive. I’ll have much more material from my recent Jacksonville visit, hopefully before this current homestand finally, mercifully ends.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/thebensbiz

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About Last Night: Jacksonville Suns, April 18, 2015

This season, when I’m on the road, I’ll be writing a short, on-the-spot blog post about each Minor League ballpark that I visit. Then, upon returning to New York City’s comforting embrace, I will provide the unimpeachable blog coverage that you have come to know and love. So let’s get to it, lest it get to us!

April 18, 2015 — Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville (Bragan Field), home of the Jacksonville Suns (Double-A affiliate of the Florida Marlins)

Opponent: Montgomery Biscuits, 8:47 p.m. ET start time (after a rain delay of one hour and 42 minutes)

Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville, from the outside: 

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The Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville, from within: 

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Culinary Delight: Salt and Vinegar Pork Rinds and Sweet Tea, from third party ballpark vendor Front Porch Kettle Corn:

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Waiting for the Punch-Vine (my nightly attempt at telling an “original” ballpark joke in six seconds):

Does this count as a joke?

At Random: Suns owner Peter “Pedro” Bragan Jr. in his office

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Last Song Played Over the PA: Procol Harum, “A Whiter Shade of Pale”

Next Up: I AM HOME. Click HERE to see all of my 2015 trip itineraries.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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About Last Night: Brevard County Manatees, April 17, 2015

This season, when I’m on the road, I’ll be writing a short, on-the-spot blog post about each Minor League ballpark that I visit. Then, assuming that I return home, I will provide the scintillating blog coverage that you have come to perhaps know and maybe even love. So let’s get to it, lest it get to us!

April 17, 2015 — Space Coast Stadium, home of the Brevard County Manatees (Class A Advanced affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers). The stadium also hosts Washington Nationals Spring Training.

Opponent: Dunedin Blue Jays, 6:30 p.m. start time.

Space Coast Stadium, from the outside:

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Space Coast Stadium, from within: 

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Culinary Delight: No Wake Zone Burger (two burger patties with crispy fried onions, bacon, blue cheese)

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Waiting for the Punch-Vine (my nightly attempt at telling an “original” ballpark joke in six seconds):

I forgot to do one of these tonight. I apologize to my legions of fans. To make it up to you, here’s a Vine featuring one of the best first pitches that I have ever seen.

At Random: Men at work, kids at play. It’s all the same, really.

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Last Song Played Over the PA: Once again, the songs kept on playing long after the last fans had left. Here’s the last one I paid attention to:

Next Up: Jacksonville Suns — TONIGHT! — April 18.

4/19: Mama, I’m Coming Home

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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About Last Night: St. Lucie Mets, April 16, 2015

This season, when I’m on the road, I’ll be writing a short, on-the-spot blog post about each Minor League ballpark that I visit. Then, upon my merciful return home, I will provide the exhilarating blog coverage that you have come to know and, perhaps, even love. So let’s get to it, lest it get to us! 

April 16, 2015 — Tradition Field, home of the St. Lucie Mets (and also the Spring Training home of the New York Mets).

Opponent: Brevard County Manatees, 6:30 p.m. start time.

Tradition Field, from the outside:

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Tradition Field, from within:

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Culinary Delight: Taco in a Helmet! ($6)

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Waiting for the Punch-Vine (my nightly attempt at telling an “original” ballpark joke in six seconds):

At Random: Her name is Grace, and she loves the Mets.

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Last Song Played Over the PA: Taio Cruz, “Dynamite”

Next Up: Brevard County Manatees — TONIGHT — April 17!

4/18: Jacksonville Suns

4/19: HOME SWEET HOME

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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About Last Night: Jackie Robinson Game in Vero Beach, April 15, 2015

This season, when I’m on the road, I’ll be writing a short, on-the-spot blog post about each Minor League ballpark that I visit. Then, upon my possibly  triumphant return home, I will provide the exhilarating blog coverage that you have come to know and, perhaps, even love. So let’s get to it!

April 15, 2015 — Holman Stadium, located within the historic Dodgertown complex (Spring Training home of the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers from 1948 through 2008).

Event: Jackie Robinson Game, between the Brevard County Manatees and St. Lucie Mets. Robinson trained at Dodgertown throughout the bulk of his career, and even hit the first home run at Holman Stadium.

Holman Stadium, from the outside: 

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Holman Stadium, from within: Some 6,000 people were in attendance, a huge crowd by Florida State League standards, no matter what the context.

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Culinary Delight: I skipped my usual food coverage, given that this was a one-time event. But here’s a shot of one of the main food and beverage areas. You can imagine how cramped this became once some 6,000 people were in the ballpark.

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Waiting for the Punch-Vine (my nightly attempt at telling an “original” ballpark joke in six seconds):

At Random: Old signage is the best kind of signage.

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In Conclusion: Thanks, Jackie.

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Next Up: St. Lucie Mets. Tonight! April 16!

4/17: Brevard County Manatees

4/18: Jacksonville Suns

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

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About Last Night: Jupiter Hammerheads, April 14, 2015

This season, when I’m on the road, I’ll be writing a short, on-the-spot blog post about each Minor League ballpark that I visit. Then, upon my ecstatically  triumphant return home, I will provide the full, multifaceted, wordplay-obsessed blog coverage that you have have come to know and perhaps even love. So let’s get to it!

April 14, 2015 — Roger Dean Stadium, home of the Jupiter Hammerheads and Palm Beach Cardinals (Class A Advanced affiliates of the Marlins and Cardinals, respectively). On this evening, the home team was the Hammerheads.

Opponent: Clearwater Threshers, 6:35 p.m. start time

Roger Dean Stadium, from the outside: The stadium is located within Abacoa, a planned community in Jupiter, Florida. Its grounds encompass some 120 acres; Roger Dean is the busiest stadium in Minor League Baseball.

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Roger Dean Stadium, from within:

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Culinary Delight: Designated Eater Stephen Goldsmith contemplates a hot dog, brat, nachos and Italian sausage (the entirety of the menu, outside of snacks and dessert).

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Waiting for the Punch-Vine (my nightly attempt at telling an “original” ballpark joke in six seconds):

At Random: Members of the Knothole Gang were instructed to get a selfie with me as part of a Kid’s Club Ballpark Scavenger Hunt. I made sure to return the favor by getting selfies of my own.

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Last Song Played Over the PA: An R&B/hip-hop mix kept playing into the night as the grounds crew did work on the field. I stopped paying attention after this:

Next Up: Jackie Robinson Game at Dodgertown in Vero Beach — today, April 15!

4/16: St. Lucie Mets

4/17: Brevard County Manatees

4/18: Jacksonville Suns

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz

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