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.

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Brandon Belt

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Crooked Nuggets: April 2014

Welcome to Crooked Nuggets, the succinct yin to the verbose yang that is Crooked Numbers.

For the uninitiated, Crooked Numbers is my long-running monthly MiLB.com column featuring the weirdest and wildest things to have occurred on a Minor League Baseball field. (“Never heard of it!” raves Jayson Stark.) This month’s edition is now live over on MiLB.com — go 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!

Stange Occurences — During the 2013 season, reliever Daniel Stange appeared in 52 Minor League games and threw three wild pitches. The Syracuse Chiefs righthander has  already surpassed that total in 2014, thanks in no small part to this disastrous April 7 outing against Pawtucket.

For the Record — As of this writing, Stockton Ports righthander Seth Streich has struck out 24 batters over 21 innings of work. Fitting, as his last name is pronounced “Strike.”

One Out, Two Runs — It’s not every day that a sacrifice fly results in two runs, but that’s the kind of thing that happens when Billy Burns is on the basepaths.

A Concentrated Dose — Omaha center fielder Brett Eibner drove in 12 runs over his first 19 games of the season, with NINE of them coming in a single ballgame (April 9′ s 20-3 rout of Memphis). Take away that game and, through April 24, Eibner had driven in just three runs over 64 at-bats….Somewhat similarly, Lehigh Valley IronPigs catcher Cameron Rupp homered in each of his first four games of the season. He did not homer in any of his next six games, and then went on the disabled list.

Cardinal Sins — Springfield Cardinal fielders made a franchise-record six errors during April 10’s game against San Antonio, but no matter: The Cards still pulled out a 8-5 victory in 14 innings over the Missions. Shortstop Aledmys Diaz was the only player to make two errors in the ballgame, but atoned for his miscues with a two-run home run in the top of the 14th inning.

Throwing BBs — On April 12, Altoona Curve pitchers combined to issue a franchise-record 12 walks to the Richmond Flying Squirrels. But, despite all of that, they only lost by a 4-3 score. One week later it was Richmond’s turn to go wild, as Flying Squirrels pitchers walked 11 Curve batters but — some way, somehow — won the game by a score of 7-3.  

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You Always Remember Your First — A player’s first professional home run is always memorable, but some first professional home runs are more memorable than others. Witness Erich Weiss of the West Virginia Power, whose first-ever home run was nothing less than an inside-the-park grand slam. 

9-6=3 – The first triple play of the Minor League season, turned by the Lexington Legends, was of the 1-6-3-2 variety. On April 14, the Brevard County Manatees turned three in a simpler fashion: right fielder Michael Reed to shortstop Orlando Arcia. Read all about it.

Believe It Or Not — On April 16 the Jacksonville Suns had runners reach base in five different innings, scoring in three of them. Yet, they were no-hit by Chattanooga for 8 2/3 innings before finally losing by a 5-4 score. 

The Numbers, They Are A-Crooked

The Ecstasy and the Agony — Matt McBride of the Colorado Springs Sky Sox hit his first  Triple-A home run of the season on April 18, and promptly went on the disabled list after breaking his foot during his home run trot.

You Throwin’ At Me? — Jason Ratliff,  my erstwhile MiLB.com colleague and a brilliant man, submitted the following item:

The Minor League leader in being hit by pitches (Stephen Bruno, eight times in 19 games) is an Italian kid from Jersey who has lines from The Godfather, Goodfellas, Casino and The Sopranos in his Twitter feed (twitter.com/UvaBruno11). Pitchers may want to find a new target.

So Close, Yet So Far — This nugget comes courtesy of reader Dennis Waters:

Another great Minor League moment at the Thunder game [April 24]: The Thunder were down 4-1 and the RubberDucks closer [Giovanni Soto] got two outs in the bottom of the 9th and had two strikes on the third batter when he got a cramp and had to be pulled. Full warm-up for the next reliever [Jordan Cooper], who came in, threw one pitch for the final strike and got the save!
Or did he? A note from my MiLB.com colleague Ashley Marshall:
Jordan Cooper didn’t get the save when he relieved Soto. Although it was a save situation when Soto entered (and Soto would have earned the save had he recorded the last out), Cooper was not in a save situation because it was a 3-run lead and the potential tying run wasn’t on deck.
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Back to Back Bros — Finally, we have this, courtesy of my MiLB.com colleague Paige Schector:

On April 21, White Sox prospects Josh Richmond and Rangel Ravelo of Birmingham hit back-to-back homers in the eighth. The next day, they went back-to-back again in the fifth.

Got something Crooked to share? Get at me, lest I get at you.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

On the Road: The Ultimate 2014 Itinerary

This blog post contains the ultimate 2014 Minor League Baseball road trip itinerary — all 159 parks in one season! I have yet to meet anyone foolhardy enough to actually undertake such an endeavor (in this season or otherwise), but, as you shall soon see, it is possible.

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Before I divulge this massive, reader-submitted nationwide travel schedule, a little housekeeping:

By the time this post goes live, I will be officially be “On the Road.” Here’s the itinerary of my current trip:

April 28: Albuquerque Isotopes

April 29, 30: El Paso Chihuahuas

May 1: Midland RockHounds

May 2: San Antonio Missions

May 3-4: Travel/writing catch-up/miscellaneous wandering (I had hoped to check out the Mexican League, but no can do).

May 5: Corpus Christi Hooks

May 6: Round Rock Express

Please Note! My plan this time around, coverage wise, is to prioritize MiLB.com articles while on the road and then write the corresponding blog posts upon my return. Therefore, blog posts from this trip will begin appearing at or around May 9 and will run all the way until I embark on trip #2. (All four trip itineraries can be found HERE.)

In the meantime, there should be plenty of Ben’s Biz material to keep you occupied: Road trip articles on MiLB.com, Promo Preview on Tuesday April 30 and Tuesday May 1, and the April edition of Crooked Numbers on May 1 (along with a corresponding blog post). Finally, check out the current edition of Farm’s Almanac, a hyper-linked extravaganza of Minor League road trip highlights and lowlights from 2010-2013.

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And now, the main event! At the end of March I received an email from a West Virginia-based reader named Steve Bieniek, who wrote, in part:

Hey Ben;

I’ve been following your blog for a few years now, and I just wanted to say keep up the good work. My favorite pieces are always when you’re on the road. As a result, I’m going to start the task this year of trying to go to all 30 MLB parks at some point in my life. I’d really enjoy going to all the minor league ballparks as well, but that seems like a monumental task. But that got me thinking; would it be possible to visit all the minor league ballparks in one summer?

It took me a couple of tries, but if you look at the attached spreadsheet, I was able to fit in all 159 parks, with many double header days included. The drive time between cities is listed beside each day (For example the drive time between Jupiter and Port St. Lucie is 37 minutes) and the second game of each double header day is marked in [bold]. You would need a massive amount of luck as well in trying to avoid rainouts and just frankly making it to each game on time. Perhaps it would be a good goal to have in 25 years when I’m retired.

Just for fun, I’m going to follow which game I’d hypothetically be at each day as best I can, just to see how the trip would go. I thought you might enjoy seeing this and if you’re in desperate need of road trip ideas, this could be (but probably not) a candidate.

This is, quite simply, an amazing piece of work:

Drive Time Date Location Time Team Opponent
- 4/3/14 Jupiter, FL 6:35 PM Jupiter Fort Myers
37M 4/4/2014 Port St. Lucie, FL 6:30 PM St. Lucie Palm Beach
1H 7M 4/5/2014 Melbourne, FL 6:35 PM Brevard County Daytona
2H 17M 4/6/2014 Jacksonville, FL 3:05 PM Jacksonville Huntsville
1H 28M 4/7/2014 Daytona, FL 7:05 PM Daytona Brevard County
1H 44M 4/8/2014 Lakeland, FL 6:30 PM Lakeland Brevard County
57M 4/9/2014 Clearwater, FL 1:00 PM Clearwater Tampa
47M 4/9/2014 Bradenton, FL 6:30 PM Bradenton Palm Beach
1H 30M 4/10/2014 Fort Myers, FL 7:05 PM Fort Myers Charlotte
56M 4/11/2014 Port Charlotte, FL 6:30 PM Charlotte Palm Beach
1H 42M 4/12/2014 Dunedin, FL 6:30 PM Dunedin Brevard County
31M 4/13/2014 Tampa, FL 1:00 PM Tampa Daytona
7H 39M 4/14/2014 Rome, GA 7:00 PM Rome Lexington
2H 53M 4/15/2014 Kodak, TN 11:30 AM Tennessee Jackson
3H 34M 4/15/2014 Lawrenceville, GA 6:35 PM Gwinnett Norfolk
2H 9M 4/16/2014 Chattanooga, TN 11:15 AM Chattanooga Jacksonville
5H 51M 4/17/2014 Pensacola, FL 6:30 PM Pensacola Montgomery
1H 3M 4/18/2014 Mobile, AL 7:05 PM Mobile Birmingham
2H 11M 4/19/2014 New Orleans, LA 6:00 PM New Orleans Colorado Springs
4H 31M 4/20/2014 Montgomery, AL 2:05 PM Montgomery Mississippi
1H 20M 4/21/2014 Birmingham, AL 11:30 AM Birmingham Tennessee
1H 28M 4/21/2014 Huntsville, AL 6:30 PM Huntsville Mobile
3H 34M 4/22/2014 Memphis, TN 11:02 AM Memphis Oklahoma City
2H 3M 4/22/2014 North Little Rock, AR 7:10 PM Arkansas Tulsa
3H 31M 4/23/2014 Jackson, TN 12:05 PM Jackson Chattanooga
6H 7M 4/24/2014 Springdale, AR 7:05 PM NW Arkansas Springfield
1H 41M 4/25/2014 Tulsa, OK 7:05 PM Tulsa NW Arkansas
1H 34M 4/26/2014 Oklahoma City, OK 7:05 PM Oklahoma City Nashville
5H 26M 4/27/2014 Round Rock, TX 1:05 PM Round Rock Memphis
3H 24M 4/28/2014 Chorpus Christi, TX 7:10 PM Chorpus Christi Frisco
2H 3M 4/29/2014 San Antonio, TX 7:05 PM San Antonio Frisco
5H 3M 4/30/2014 Odessa, TX 11:00 AM Midland Chorpus Christi
3H 58M 5/1/2014 El Paso, TX 6:35 PM El Paso Fresno
4H 1M 5/2/2014 Albuquerque, NM 7:05 PM Albuquerque Fresno
9H 19M 5/3/2014 Frisco, TX 7:00 PM Frisco Midland
6H 10M 5/4/2014 Pearl, MS 1:00 PM Mississippi Jacksonville
5H 57M 5/5/2014 Nashville, TN 12:05 PM Nashville Iowa
6H 41M 5/6/2014 Springfield, MO 11:10 AM Springfield Tulsa
7H 2M 5/7/2014 Louisville, KY 11:05 AM Lousiville Norfolk
1H 11M 5/7/2014 Lexington, KY 7:05 PM Lexington Asheville
2H 32M 5/8/2014 Charleston, WV 7:05 PM West Virginia Savannah
2H 49M 5/9/2014 Salem, VA 7:05 PM Salem Carolina
2H 44M 5/10/2014 Richmond, VA 6:05 PM Richmond Erie
3H 3M 5/11/2014 Greensboro, NC 4:00 PM Greensboro Lexington
1H 34M 5/12/2014 Hickory, NC 6:00 PM Hickory Augusta
1h 51M 5/13/2014 Greenville, SC TBD Greenville West Virginia
2H 5/14/2014 Kannapolis, NC 7:05 PM Kannapolis Delmarva
4H 13M 5/15/2014 Savannah, GA 7:05 PM Savannah Greenville
1H 57M 5/16/2014 Charleston, SC 7:05 PM Charleston Hickory
1H 50M 5/17/2014 Myrtle Beach, SC 7:05 PM Myrtle Beach Potomac
3H 2M 5/18/2014 Zebulon, NC 2:00 PM Carolina Salem
52M 5/19/2014 Durham, NC 7:05 PM Durham Louisville
3H 21M 5/20/2014 Asheville, NC 11:05 AM Asheville Greenville
2H 8M 5/20/2014 Charlotte, NC 7:05 PM Charlotte Norfolk
7H 14M 5/21/2014 Dayton, OH 7:00 PM Dayton Great Lakes
4H 31M 5/22/2014 Midland, MI 7:05 PM Great Lakes South Bend
4H 33M 5/23/2014 Columbus, OH 7:15 PM Columbus Durham
4H 46M 5/24/2014 Bowling Green, KY 7:05 PM Bowling Green Lake County
5H 49M 5/25/2014 South Bend, IN 4:05 PM South Bend Lansing
2H 33M 5/26/2014 Indianapolis, IN 6:05 PM Indianapolis Buffalo
1H 58M 5/27/2014 Fort Wayne, IN 11:05 AM Fort Wayne Dayton
1H 41M 5/27/2014 Toledo, OH 6:30 PM Toledo Durham
1H 47M 5/28/2014 Lansing, MI 7:05 PM Lansing Great Lakes
1H 3M 5/29/2014 Comstock Park, MI 6:35 PM West Michigan Dayton
5H 4M 5/30/2014 Davenport, IA 7:00 PM Quad Cities Beloit
4H 19M 5/31/2014 Appleton, WI 6:35 PM Wisconsin Quad Cities
2H 21M 6/1/2014 Beloit, WI 2:00 PM Beloit Clinton
3H 8M 6/2/2014 Cedar Rapids, IA 12:05 PM Cedar Rapids Burlington
2H 40M 6/2/2014 Peoria, IL 7:00 PM Peoria Kane County
6/3/2014 Off Day
2H 31M 6/4/2014 Geneva, IL 6:30 PM Kane County Clinton
3H 20M 6/5/2014 Burlington, IA 6:30 PM Burlington Quad Cities
2H 37M 6/6/2014 Des Moines, IA 7:05 PM Iowa Colorado Springs
3H 2M 6/7/2014 Clinton, IA 6:30 PM Clinton Wisconsin
5H 13M 6/8/2014 Omaha, NE 2:05 PM Omaha Oklahoma City
8H 18M 6/9/2014 Colorado Springs, CO 7:05 PM Colorado Springs Las Vegas
6/10/2014 Travel Day
14H 51M 6/11/2014 San Bernardino, CA 7:05 PM Inland Empire Visalia
40M 6/12/2014 Adelento, CA 7:05 PM High Desert Lake Elsinore
1H 3M 6/13/2014 Lancaster, CA 6:30 PM Lancaster Rancho Cucamonga
1H 22M 6/14/2014 Bakersfield, CA 7:45 PM Bakersfield Modesto
1H 35M 6/15/2014 Fresno, CA 5:05 PM Fresno Omaha Storm
2H 35M 6/16/2014 Sacramento, CA 12:05 PM Sacramento Iowa
2H 8M 6/17/2014 Reno, NV 7:05 PM Reno Oklahoma City
6H 54M 6/18/2014 Las Vegas, NV 7:05 PM Las Vegas Nashville
3H 50M 6/19/2014 Lake Elsinore, CA 7:05 PM Lake Elsinore Lancaster
39M 6/20/2014 Ranch Cucamonga, CA 7:05 PM Rancho Cucamonga Inland Empire
3H 24M 6/21/2014 Visalia, CA 6:00 PM Visalia San Jose
2H 32M 6/22/2014 Stockton, CA 2:09 PM Stockton Bakersfield
33M 6/22/2014 Modesto, CA 6:05 PM Modesto High Desert
1H 23M 6/23/2014 San Jose, CA 7:00 PM San Jose Modesto
12H 10M 6/24/2014 Tacoma, WA 6:05 PM Tacoma Oklahoma City
2H 27M 6/25/2014 Hillsboro, OR 1:35 PM Hillsboro Vancouver
54M 6/25/2014 Salem, OR 6:35 PM Salem-Keizer Everett
1H 14M 6/26/2014 Eugene, OR 7:05 PM Eugene Salem-Keizer
4H 55M 6/27/2014 Everett, WA 7:05 PM Everett Spokane
1H 55M 6/28/2014 Vancouver, BC 7:05 PM Vancouver Tri-City
5H 33M 6/29/2014 Pasco, WA 7:15 PM Tri-City Boise
7H 54M 6/30/2014 Great Falls, MT 7:00 PM Great Falls Missoula
1H 28M 7/1/2014 Helena, MT 7:05 PM Helena Great Falls
6H 16M 7/2/2014 Ogden, UT 7:00 PM Ogden Idaho Falls
1H 14M 7/3/2014 Orem, UT 7:05 PM Orem Grand Junction
39M 7/4/2014 Salt Lake City, UT 6:35 PM Salt Lake El Paso
2H 59M 7/5/2014 Idaho Falls, ID 7:15 PM Idaho Falls Ogden
4H 29M 7/6/2014 Missoula, MT 5:05 PM Missoula Great Falls
7/7/2014 Off Day
3H 2M 7/8/2014 Spokane, WA 6:30 PM Spokane Tri-City
6H 39M 7/9/2014 Boise, ID 7:15 PM Boise Hillsboro
9H 33M 7/10/2014 Billings, MT 7:05 PM Billings Idaho Falls
7/11/2014 Travel Day
10H 18M 7/12/2014 Grand Junction, CO 7:05 PM Grand Junction Helena
7/13/2014 Travel Day
7/14/2014 Travel Day
26H 7/15/2014 Augusta, GA 7:00 PM Augusta Kannapolis
4H 59M 7/16/2014 Bluefield, WV 7:05 PM Bluefield Greeneville
21M 7/17/2014 Princeton, WV 7:05 PM Princeton Elizabethton
2H 31M 7/18/2014 Lynchburg, VA 7:05 PM Lyncburg Carolina
1H 57M 7/19/2014 Pulaski, VA 7:00 PM Pulaski Bluefield
1H 53M 7/20/2014 Elizabethton, TN 6:00 PM Elizabethton Burlington
12M 7/21/2014 Johnson City, TN 7:00 PM Johnson City Bristol
27M 7/22/2014 Kingsport, TN 7:00 PM Kingsport Greeneville
2H 53M 7/23/2014 Winston-Salem, NC 12:00 PM Winston-Salem Potomac
1H 14M 7/23/2014 Danville, VA 7:00 PM Danville Burlington
3H 18M 7/24/2014 Norfolk, VA 12:05 PM Norfolk Toledo
2H 23M 7/24/2014 Salisbury, MD 7:05 PM Delmarva Charleston
5H 53M 7/25/2014 Burlington, NC 7:00 PM Burlington Kingsport
3H 12M 7/26/2014 Bristol, TN 7:00 PM Bristol Greeneville
1H 1M 7/27/2014 Greeneville, TN 6:00 PM Greeneville Bristol
6H 8M 7/28/2014 Hagerstown, MD 7:05 PM Hagerstown Greenville
1H 41M 7/29/2014 Aberdeen, MD 7:05 PM Aberdeen Tri-City
1H 49M 7/30/2014 Woodbridge, VA 12:05 PM Potomac Myrtle Beach
2H 25M 7/31/2014 Harrisburg, PA 7:00 PM Harrisburg Akron
1H 49M 8/1/2014 Wilmington, DE 7:05 PM Wilmington Frederick
1h 26M 8/2/2014 Allentown, PA 6:35 PM Lehigh Valley Durham
1h 51M 8/3/2014 Lakewood Township, NJ 5:05 PM Lakewood Asheville
1H 7M 8/4/2014 Staten Island, New York, NY 11:00 AM Staten Island Auburn
21M 8/4/2014 Brooklyn, NY 7:00 PM Brooklyn Connecticut
3H 29M 8/5/2014 Bowie, MD 6:35 PM Bowie Portland
2H 35M 8/6/2014 Trenton, NJ 12:05 PM Trenton Altoona
1H 22M 8/6/2014 Reading, PA 7:05 PM Reading Harrisburg
2H 10M 8/7/2014 Frederick, MD 7:00 PM Frederick Carolina
3H 6M 8/8/2014 Moosic, PA 7:05 PM Scranton/WB Columbus
1H 38M 8/9/2014 Wappingers Falls, NY 7:05 PM Hudson Valley Tri-City
2H 6M 8/10/2014 Norwich, CT 4:05 PM Connecticut State College
1H 40M 8/11/2014 Lowell, MA 7:05 PM Lowell Williamsport
2H 5M 8/12/2014 Manchester, NH 7:05 PM New Hampshire Richmond
1H 34M 8/13/2014 Portland, ME 7:00 PM Portland Akron
3H 51M 8/14/2014 Burlington, VT 7:05 PM Vermont Aberdeen
4H 1M 8/15/2014 Pawtucket, RI 7:05 PM Pawtucket Scranton/WB
1H 44M 8/16/2014 New Britian, CT 7:05 PM New Britian Harrisburg
4H 34M 8/17/2014 Auburn, NY 2:05 PM Auburn State College
1H 5M 8/18/2014 Rochester, NY 7:05 PM Rochester Syracuse
1H 11M 8/19/2014 Buffalo, NY 7:05 PM Buffalo Rochester
4H 25M 8/20/2014 Troy, NY 7:00 PM Tri-City Vermont
4H 21M 8/21/2014 Williamsport, PA 7:05 PM Williamsport Mahoning Valley
2H 16M 8/22/2014 Binghamton, NY 7:05 PM Binghamton Akron
2H 47M 8/23/2014 Batavia, NY 7:05 PM Batavia Mahoning Valley
1H 54M 8/24/2014 Jamestown, NY 4:05 PM Jamestown State College
53M 8/25/2014 Erie, PA 7:05 PM Erie Bowie
3H 19M 8/26/2014 Altoona, PA 7:00 PM Altoona Richmond
42M 8/27/2014 State College, PA 7:05 PM State College Williamsport
4H 8/28/2014 Syracuse, NY 7:00 PM Syracuse Rochester
4H 56M 8/29/2014 Niles, OH 7:05 PM Mahoning Valley Auburn
1H 11M 8/30/2014 Eastlake, OH 7:00 PM Lake County Dayton
46M 8/31/2014 Akron, OH 2:05 PM Akron Erie
9/1/2014 Off Day

So what  do you think? Can this be done, by a mere mortal? Should it be done? Are there other itineraries that would also work? What stretches of the above 2014 itinerary are most appealing to you, and why? If you’ve gone on a Minor League road trip, what were the highlights? What were the lowlights?

Why am I asking so many questions? Sometimes, it’s just better to relax.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

The Brooklyn Cyclones Go to the Darth Side

Star Wars theme jerseys are not a new phenomenon, but this year Minor League Baseball teams have really taken it up a notch.

The Wisconsin Timber Rattlers are Luke’s father, the Kane County Cougars are makin’ Wookiee, and the Durham Bulls are 2D2 (just to name a few examples). But one team just might have trumped them all, and that team is the Brooklyn Cyclones. On the evening of August 2, the Cyclones will become the “Sithclones.” And on that night they will wear these jerseys, with “Brooklyn” written out in Aurebesh (the high galactic alphabet).

Be afraid:

For more information on this Padawan of a kind initiative, I now direct you to Cyclones director of communications Billy Harner:

Last season, the Cyclones held the first-ever Star Wars Night at MCU Park in front of a capacity crowd on Coney Island. It was such a success that we knew we needed to bring it back for the 2014 season. But how do you improve on a first-pitch from Darth Vader, light saber battles on the field, a meet and greet with Princess Leia, and a post-game family sleepover on the field? It was tough…but we found a way. 

On Saturday, August 2nd, the first 2,500 fans in attendance will receive a Padawan Pee Wee bobblehead featuring our youngest mascot in the form of a Jedi Apprentice.

But that’s not all. The team will also be wearing one-of-a-kind Sithclones Jerseys on the field that evening which will be raffled off to benefit local charities. The jerseys feature the emblem of the Sith Empire on the right sleeve, and has “Brooklyn” spelt across the chest in “Aurebesh.” 

“Best” is a subjective term, so whether these are the “best” Star Wars jerseys is a matter of debate. What isn’t up for the debate is this: these are the most terrifying Star Wars theme jerseys ever created. If I was at this game, I’d truly be concerned about the possibility of them gaining sentience.

And, lest we forget, the sure-to-go-national Star Wars promo comes on the heels of the Cyclones’ already-gone-national Seinfeld promo.

Seinfeld Night 2

Sez the team:

On July 5, 1989, the “Seinfeld Chronicles” aired on NBC for the first time and 25 years later, the Cyclones will celebrate the “show about nothing” that has left an indelible mark on popular culture. The first 2,500 fans in attendance will receive a Keith Hernandez “Magic Loogie” Bobblehead.  In addition, there will be non-stop Seinfeld themed entertainment from beginning to end. Yada yada yada…you’ll have an awesome night.

How do you say “Magic Loogie” in Aurebesh?

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Pictures of Food

I’ve recently dedicated a post to showcasing new mascots that can be seen around the Minors; today’s post will focus on that other integral aspect of the Minor League Baseball experience: the food.

Let’s start with the El Paso Chihuahuas, who play their first-ever ballgame at brand-new Southwest University Park on April 28. Concessions at the new facility will be provided by Ovations, who unveiled the ballpark menu last month. Fairly thorough coverage of some of the more unique items can be found HERE and HERE among other places, including an awesome looking beef brisket “Salpicon Salad” that very well may be gluten-free (fingers crossed, I’ll be there on April 29 and 30 and will find out for sure).  I contacted the team in the wake of their concessions unveiling, and Ovations’ Jeff Hanauer responded with the following pictures. And that is what you’re all here for, what you’re always here for: the pictures. Let’s proceed.

The Pico de Gallo will be included with many of the Chihuahuas’ Mexican-themed offerings. It looks outstanding, and this picture is suitable for framing.

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Alligator bites with jalapeno cornbread (an El Paso specialty?)

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The Chihua Dog, with bacon, beans, and jalapenos:

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The Dudley Dog, a foot long and a half a pound, topped with chile con queso and pico de gallo:

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A few of the many “Juarez Dogs” that will be available:

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This sandwich is called, “From Philly, with Love”.

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The Flamethrower, a half pound burger with ghost peppers, jack cheese, deep fried jalapenos, and chipotle ranch sauce:

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Of course, no discussion of ballpark food is complete without the requisite White Michigan Whitecaps mention. Following in the footsteps of the Fifth Third Burger and the (gluten-free!) Baco, this year’s premier addition is the Auger Dogger. It is a deep-fried hot dog on a stick, surrounded by potato chips. Here’s hoping that this, too is gluten-free:

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More notable concession additions, per the Whitecaps:

Pretzilla Bacon Cheeseburger (a pretzel bun with a one-third pound hamburger patty, bacon and cheese).

Coaches’ Sandwich – In honor of the three Whitecaps coaches, who hail from Australia (Andrew Graham), Texas (Mike Henneman) and Cuba (Nelson Santovenia), this sandwich includes two slices of ham, Hormel barbeque pulled pork, pickle shreddies, Swiss cheese and shrimp served on a sub bun.

Tony Gates Venison Burger – Named after the 97 WLAV local radio personality who is passionate about the outdoors and is an avid hunter, this venison burger on a bun and will be served at the Steak Cart behind home plate.

Over in Kannapolis, the Intimidators have unveiled some notable new additions. This one is self-explanatory, but I’ll explain: a 64 ounce serving of loaded nachos, served in a batting helmet.

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Also of note is the Dale’s Mater sandwich, a favorite of Dale Earnhardt (for whom the Intimidators are named). It is, quite simply, a tomato sandwich with Duke’s mayonnaise.

The Trenton Thunder have unveiled a new signature item, one with a distinctly New Jersey flair. The Thunder Dog is “a jumbo sized Black Bear Franks hot dog wrapped in American cheese and famous Trenton pork roll and served on a torpedo roll.”

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Also new in Trenton is the “Mega Nachos” stand, which can (and should!) be gluten-free. Sez the team:

Another new addition on the first base side is Mega Nachos, where fans can build-their-own nachos from a variety of toppings including: cheese, queso, chili, steak, chicken, pulled pork, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, jalapenos, salsa, guacamole, sour cream, and olives.

The Thunder have long had a Chickie and Pete’s stand at the ballpark, but these Philly-area purveyors of sandwiches and (gluten-free!) crab fries are now in Wilmington as well:

And, hey, for those of you who consider gluttony to be a virtue: the Frederick Keys have recently announced a rather considerable eating challenge. Think you can do it? If so, what’s wrong with you?

Finally, in Fresno, the Grizzlies are now serving a “Grizzly Egg.” Per the Fresno Bee, it’s a “cream cheese-filled deviled egg, wrapped in bacon, baked and drizzled in buffalo sauce.” This thing better be gluten-free, because it looks awesome!

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And that’s all of the food news I have to share with you, at least for the next couple of days. In the meantime, please know that I am writing up a storm over at MiLB.com:

New Promo Preview leads with the Louisville Bats Corky Miller #FeartheStache t-shirt.

New Farm’s Almanac takes a look at team-branded beer throughout the Minors.

And, as always, much more to come! There’s a reason that I say that I am the greatest of all time: because it’s true.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Guest Post: Why I Love the Lake County Captains

It’s time for another edition of “Why I Love”, in which Minor League fans explain just what it is they love about their favorite  Minor League team. Today’s guest author is 21-year-old Lake County Captains fan Tyler Stotsky, a native of nearby Mentor, Ohio. Stotsky, a junior at Lake Erie College who is pursuing a sports management degree, has served as the team’s bat boy for the past four seasons.

If you would like to write a “Why I Love” guest post about YOUR favorite team, send me an email benjamin.hill@mlb.com

Classic Park, home of the Lake County Captains (photo: Ben's Biz)

Classic Park, home of the Lake County Captains (photo: Ben’s Biz)

In the Northeast Ohio area, there are two options for Minor League Baseball: the Akron RubberDucks and the Lake County Captains. The Captains are situated in Eastlake, Ohio, playing their first season in 2003. I have been a fan since 2008, for many different reasons: the staff, atmosphere, promotions and the chance to see the Cleveland Indians of the future.

I love my hometown Lake County Captains.

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Photo: Ben’s Biz

I love the Lake County Captains because of the always friendly and hospitable staff that you see throughout the ballpark on a daily basis. The crowd is led by on-field host and ticket sales representative Andrew Grover, who who walks through the crowd during every game to ensure that every fan is having a great time. Grover is one of the many smiling faces you see when you walk in the ballpark, and he is the last one you see when you leave. Each and every one of the staff members is incredibly helpful and happy to be there.

I love the Lake County Captains because of the family-friendly atmosphere that the team promotes at Classic Park. one of the best atmospheres that I have experienced in my life. I can bring my girlfriend, brother, sister, parents and other friends to Classic Park, and we can all enjoy a game together. Last year, I took my girlfriend Kelli to her first Captains game. She had so much fun at her first game, she wanted to come back for more throughout the year! I always have an amazing time at the Captains games no matter who I bring.

The Captains are the low-A affiliate of the Cleveland Indians, which means that fans could possibly be watching the future of the Tribe as they begin their careers with the Indians organization. 44 Captains alumni have reached the major leagues, and some of the notable names that I have seen and met include Vinnie Pestano, Danny Salazar, Preston Guilmet, Cody Allen and Jose Ramirez. Being able to see players develop at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario is a big reason why I love the Lake County Captains.

The Captains have a great slate of promotions every year, developing ideas that will make the fans come back. One of my favorite promotions from the last few years is “A Captains Story,” where everyone’s favorite mascot — Skipper — is featured in a bobblehead portraying scenes from the film A Christmas Story.

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Other outstanding Captains’ promo nights include Cleveland Sport History Night, Star Wars Night and an assortment of ethnic heritage nights. I have had the opportunity to meet many celebrities at the ballpark, such as former WWE wrestlers Sgt. Slaughter & Ted DiBiase, Peter Ostrum (the original Charlie Bucket from Willy Wonka) and Cleveland Cavaliers play-by-play man Fred McLeod. The Captains try to get the fans involved with the promotions and it works!

Tyler with Sgt. Slaughter

Tyler with Sgt. Slaughter

These are just some of the the reasons why I love the Lake County Captains, and the fact that I get to be the batboy makes it so much sweeter!

All Aboard!

Thanks to Tyler for taking the time to write this and, again: if YOU would like to submit a post for this series, then send an email the address below. In the meantime, here’s my “On the Road” Lake County Captains post from 2011.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

A Mass of Cots-tumed Characters

I’m going to assume that, at this point in time, you have already thoroughly scoured my post on 2014 road trip itineraries. (If you haven’t, then please click HERE). Thanks to all who have provided feedback on that post; more is always encouraged via benjamin.hill@mlb.com  and twitter.com/bensbiz

But enough about me! Did you know that, in recent weeks, several new Minor League mascots have made their debut? I am sensing a profoundly ambivalent response to that query, but soldiering on in the face of ambivalence is what I do best. Therefore, let’s start with Chico of the El Paso Chihuahuas, who I will be able to meet in person on April 29th. Say what you will about the Chihuahuas name/logo/overall branding efforts, but one thing they are definitely not is bashful. Chico, who came into the world without even a scintilla of an origin story, is IN YOUR FACE.

(This, and all Chico photos, courtesy Peter Svarzbein/El Paso Chihuahuas)

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Let’s back up a little…

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From the rear. This photo could in no way be misconstrued.

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I do my best to refrain from lazy “only on the internet” phrases such as “nightmare fuel,” but there’s no doubt that Chico has a bit of an edge too him. He’s got red eyes, a dog collar necklace, and a cockeyed, teeth-baring grin, three presentational elements that are rarely associated with the Minor League mantra of family-friendly entertainment.

El Paso Chihuahuas — on the cutting edge, or missing the mark? I have a feeling that Chico doesn’t care what your opinion is, whatever it is. He will be performing for a fan base that includes Pauly Shore and Cheech Marin (really!), so chances are that he’ll fit in just fine.

Peter Svarzbein/El Paso Chihuahuas

Peter Svarzbein/El Paso Chihuahuas

Meanwhile, a couple thousand miles to the northeast, the Akron RubberDucks have unveiled “Webster.” 

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And, yes, let’s get this out of the way. As noted by more than one of my Twitter followers, Webster appears to be Minor League Baseball’s version of “Poochie,” the superfluous Itchy and Scratchy sidekick whose cynical conception and even more cynical demise was the subject of a classic Simpsons episode.

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It turns out that, in the flesh, Webster is downright endearing. Chances are slim that he will die on the way back to his home planet, I look forward to meeting him when I visit Akron on July 18.

Out in Modesto, Al the almond and Wally the walnut have long held things down on the mascot front. You’d think that the team would be content with displaying their pair of nuts at every home game, but, no, they want more. Get ready for a female pistachio!

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Like all female pistachios, this one needs a name! Fans are invited to choose among Penny, Patty, Shelley, Bella, or Polly, but why isn’t “Ms. Tachio” one of the options? I need to start a consulting company so that such wordplay opportunities are always taken advantage of within the industry. I would be good at this, and you know it.

Finally, in Little Rock, the Arkansas Travelers have unveiled not one and not three but yes two mascots: Ace and Otey. Sez the team:

Ace is a native Arkansan who grew up rooting for the Travelers. He proudly served his country and upon returning to the Natural State competed and won the Mascot Tryout. With a name like “Ace” of course he is a pitcher and stands at a very menacing 7′ 2″ tall and weighs 501 pounds with a size-36 hoof.

From the Travs’ Opening Day Facebook photo album:

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At 7’2″, Ace’s height is even greater than former Arkansas Traveler Loek Van Mil!

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This, also from the Travs, might be one of my favorite mascot bios in recent memory.

Initially the idea was for just one mascot, but when Ace introduced the Travs and Hughes Agency to his best friend “Otey the Swamp Possum” during the interview process all bets were off. Just like Ace, Otey is also native to the state hailing from Southeast Arkansas. He grew up watching Travs games with his family from underneath the stands at Little Rock’s Ray Winder Field. Otey, who was named after former Traveler infielder and groundskeeper R.C. Otey, claims that he is the Travelers’ “Good Luck Charm”. In fact Otey believes that his superstitions helped the Travs win the 2008 Texas League Championship even though their 62-78 regular season record was the worst for a champion in Texas League history. Otey stands a stout 5 feet tall, he is a fan of second base and the “phantom double play” and his favorite number is .984, which was R.C. Otey’s career fielding percentage.

And with this memorable bio comes a very memorable mascot.

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Okay, let’s back it up just a bit…

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Otey inspired a brief burst of snark and faux-outrage from amateur hour internet hyperbolists, but so what? As Otey’s bio makes clear — and this is something I learned firsthand when I visited in 2012 — the Travs and their fans have a strong nostalgia for their colorful Ray Winder Field past.  So much so, the beer garden at their current home of Dickey-Stephens Field is named after a well-known and often well-lubricated fan who would slide, in shorts, into a popcorn box base. Otey should fit right in.

And with that, it’s time for me to hook slide on out of here.

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benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

On the Road: 2014 Edition

After an absurd amount of dilly-dallying, second-guessing, waffling, hemming, hawing, and out-and-out procrastinating, the day has finally arrived. The day in which I unveil my 2014 road trip itineraries to you, the (presumably) loyal reader. This year I will be going on four trips — with the first one kicking off in less than two weeks — visiting some 30 teams in all. This should provide me with enough material to last somewhere into the 2016 season, but like anything else in life you’ve got to take it one step at a time.

When traveling within the world of Minor League Baseball, one has plenty of options.

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Before getting to the travel itineraries, a few of my standard-issue caveats:

Due to the vagaries of home and away schedules, it can be very difficult to assemble these itineraries. I apologize to teams that were skipped over, and please know that I am a very sensitive man who doesn’t ever want to hurt anyone’s feelings. Nonetheless, I am fully prepared for the inevitable slew of “You were in (X) ballpark yet didn’t visit (Y) ballpark?” emails and tweets, as well as front office comments like “It’s really too bad you’re here on a Wednesday. The weekend’s gonna be awesome.” I do my best!

Also, while there are MANY places that I’d love to return to, priority will always go to places I have yet to visit.

– As many of you know, I was diagnosed with celiac disease in 2012 and had to switch to a gluten-free diet. This makes it hard for me to sample ballpark delicacies with the reckless abandon to which I had been accustomed, but there is a solution: THE DESIGNATED EATER.

At every ballpark I visit, I am looking for a fan (ideally) or local media member who will sample the concessions that I cannot. I will document your eating experiences in words and pictures, so that those reading can still enjoy the comprehensive ballpark food coverage they have come to expect — nay — demand.

If YOU are interested in being a designated eater at one of the ballparks listed in the itineraries below, then get in touch benjamin.hill@mlb.com. First come, first served.

(Note to teams: if you are planning on staging a contest of some sort to find the designated eater, then let me know so that I do not accept someone on my own accord. Also, in the interest of providing an unbiased perspective, I will no longer be accepting team employees as designated eaters.)

Finally, I will not necessarily have a designated eater at each ballpark this season. If volunteers and/or team interest are non-existent, I am fine with skipping a ballpark or two. It gets kinda tedious taking pictures of people while they’re eating and then asking “So, how’s the hot dog?”

This could be you!

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As always, my time at each location will be limited. But, as always, I am interested in your recommendations regarding what else there is to do, see and consume in the area. If you have any cultural, culinary or record store expertise regarding any of the locations listed, THEN GET IN TOUCH. Many of these recommendations make their way into my “Return to the Road” content, in which I write about my experiences outside of the ballpark.

– I have (or will be) getting in touch with all of the teams included, but if you’re a member of the front office feel free to jump the gun and get in touch with me regarding  recommended hotels, story suggestions, designated eater leads, etc.

Sorry for burying the lede here, but I wanted to get all of the fine print out of the way first. And now, without further ado, the itineraries…

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TRIP #1 SOUTHWESTERN SOJOURN

April 28: Albuquerque Isotopes

Designated Eater: Megan (No Last Name Given)

April 29-30: El Paso Chihuahuas

May 1: Midland RockHounds

May 2: San Antonio Missions

Designated Eater: Darren Smith

May 3-4: TBD 

I originally had written that I hoped to visit teams in the Mexican League, but multiple people have advised me not to visit border towns by car. I hope to do a  Mexican League trip in 2015, but, for now, these dates are open).

May 5: Corpus Christi Hooks

Designated Eater: Javi Rodriguez

May 6: Round Rock Express

Designated Eater: Phil Boyd

Notes: The motivation for this trip was, not surprisingly, the desire to visit the brand-new El Paso Chihuahuas. They actually have their home opener on the 28th, but the only way I could also work Albuquerque into the schedule was to delay my El Paso arrival until the 29th. I’m also excited to finally visit Texas (I have already been to the four Texas League stadiums NOT located in Texas), but obviously the Mexican League dates are still a big question mark. If that doesn’t work out I’ll call an audible and go from there.

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TRIP #2: SAYING GOODBYE AND HELLO DOWN SOUTH

June 4: Chattanooga Lookouts  (Update: How did I miss this? It’s an 11:15 a.m. game and due to pre-existing NYC commitments I won’t be able to make it in time. Perhaps I can still tour the Lookouts ballpark and visit my friends at Engel Stadium).

June 5: Huntsville Stars

June 6: Rome Braves

Designated Eater: Joe Webster

June 7:  Gwinnett Braves

June 8: Hickory Crawdads

Designated Eater: Alex Ward

June 9: Charlotte Knights

Designated Eater: Matt Campbell

June 10: Kannapolis Intimidators

The motivation for this trip was two-fold — to see the Huntsville Stars during their last-ever season before moving to Biloxi, and to see the Charlotte Knights in their brand-new downtown stadium. With these as a focal point, it was difficult to put together an itinerary that didn’t overlap too heavily with trips that I have already taken. I’ve already been to Huntsville on a previous trip, but thought that the “last season” angle justified a return. I also visited Chattanooga on that trip, but the game was rained out. The least justifiable return visit is Gwinnett, but I’ll find a way to cover it that won’t overlap with that which has come before. Just got to get creative! Maybe we can find someone there to be “Ben’s Biz for a Day,” with the end result being a massive guest blog post covering that person’s experiences…

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TRIP #3: OHIO AND THEN SOME

July 18: Akron RubberDucks

Designated Eater: Adam Ray, Joe Meadows

July 19: TBD (Update: Toledo, West Virginia, Lake County, and Mahoning Valley have all proposed visits).

July 20: Columbus Clippers

July 21: Indianapolis Indians

Designated Eater: Tim Mullin

July 22: Louisville Bats

July 23: Lexington Legends

July 24: Dayton Dragons

Designated Eater: George Coleman, Richie Devotie

I’ll be driving for the entirety of this trip, after renting a car in NYC. This one came together after I received an invitation from Akron to participate in a gala (and, of course, ridiculous) world record attempt on July 18. With that as the starting point, I crafted an itinerary that allows me to visit five teams whose ballparks I have yet to visit (in-season, at least). Not much else to say about this one, other than that it’ll be a lot of fun and I’m looking forward to it. How’s that for some illuminating insight?

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TRIP #4: KEEPING IT (RELATIVELY) LOCAL

August 22: Batavia Muckdogs

August 23: Rochester Red Wings

August 24: Jamestown Jammers

August 25: Erie SeaWolves

August 26: Buffalo Bisons

Designated Eater: Phil Walck

August 27: Syracuse Chiefs

Designated Eater: Brian Goswell

August 28: Auburn Doubledays

August 29: Tri-City ValleyCats

August 30: Hudson Valley Renegades

September 1: Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders

Designated Eater: Matthew Vervlied

Notes: I’m a New York City resident, and for whatever reason I’ve found it difficult in the past to put together an itinerary focused on the Empire State. So I figured, why not? I’ll end the season with a New York-based blowout, which will deplete whatever remaining energy reserves I may have left at that point. I like the mix of big International League stadiums and quaint New York-Penn League parks, with the Erie SeaWolves and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders serving as PA outliers.

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Let me know your thoughts on these itineraries, should you have any, and feel free to share any trip itineraries that you may be embarking on this season. Thank you for reading, and hope to see you on the road this season.

And as for 2015 — I think that’s going to have to be my “Rookie” season. Apologies to teams in those leagues, and all teams that I have yet to visit thus far. There’s just so many of you!

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Return to the Road: Gems and Craters in the Pacific Northwest

Okay, for real this time: Today’s post marks the last occasion in which I “Return to the Road” in order to write about my 2013 West Coast trip. My next post will include all four of this season’s road trip itineraries, the first of which kicks off on April 28 in Albuquerque.

So where did I leave off?

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Oh, right: In Klamath Falls, Ore., home of the collegiate wood bat league Gems. I arrived in Klamath Falls at the end of a travel day, choosing it as a place to spend the night so that I could visit Crater Lake the next morning before moving on to Hillsboro to check out the Hops. Seeing a baseball game during my brief time in Klamath Falls was not something I planned on doing; in fact, I hadn’t even been aware of the Gems existence until the front desk clerk at the Days Inn alerted me to the fact that a game was going on. While I had been looking forward to a night off from the ballpark routine, seeing the Gems was just too serendipitous of an opportunity to pass up. Kiger Stadium, an all-wood facility constructed in 1948, happened to be locating just across the street from where I was staying!

So, I did what any self-respecting baseball fan would do in such a situation: I hightailed it on over there in order to catch what remained of the ballgame. Kiger, as you can see, delivers a rustic and picturesque baseball environment.

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Kiger Stadium hosted the Far West League Klamath Falls Gems from 1948-51, but since then all of the baseball played there has been of the amateur variety (the Gems are in the West Coast League, comprised of premier collegiate players). From the Kiger Stadium website (which, as you’ll see, hasn’t been updated in a few years):

Kiger Stadium has been far from empty during years since the Far West League. The ballpark has been home to tens of thousands of American Legion, Babe Ruth League, college and high school games through the years. In 2011, Oregon Tech, Mazama High School, the Klamath Falls Falcons and Hawks (American Legion) and local Babe Ruth Baseball teams will call the historic ballpark home.

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I also discovered that the 1951 Gems squad included game show host Bert Convy. This is the picture that accompanies Convoy’s Wikipedia page:

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In addition to hosting Tattletales, Super Password, and Win, Lose or Draw, Convoy was an actor whose myriad roles included sleazeball Glenn Hamilton in the soap opera Love of Live. He also appeared in the in the pilot episode of Murder, She Wrote and directed the Goodspeed Opera House premiere of the musical Zapata (which featured music and lyrics written by Harry Nilsson, one of my all-time heroes).

Before falling down this internet rabbit hole any further, let me get back to the matter at hand: Kiger Stadium, circa 2014.

047By the time I arrived at the stadium it was the bottom of the fourth inning. No one was manning the front entrance, and I just strolled right in.

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The seventh inning stretch was a charming experience, a six-second snippet of which can be viewed HERE (man, I wish I could embed Vine videos on this blog). Once that requisite bit of national pastime tradition was in the books, I moved over to the bleacher seating area located down the first base line.

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Tater the mascot. coming through:

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The existence of Tater tipped me off to the fact that potatoes must be important to Klamath Falls. And, of course, they are. Here’s an overview of the region’s potato history, courtesy of the internet.

I didn’t get any food while I was at Kiger, potatoes or otherwise, and my photos of the concession stand are, unfortunately, non-existent. Kiger is unique, however, in that the concession stand was located indoors, at the end of a hallway.

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Klamath Falls is home to spuds, and it’s also home to bugs. This photo only hints at just how many winged creatures were swarming the lamp posts at the end of the evening.

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This lackluster act of bug documentation was the last thing I did while at Kiger Stadium. With the Gems game in the books, I headed back across the street to the Days Inn and got a good night’s sleep in advance of waking up bright and early in order to visit Crater Lake.

Crater Lake, located about an hour from Klamath Falls, is, to put it simply, the most beautiful place that I have ever visited in my life. Formed within a caldera created by the collapse of a volcano, Crater Lake is the deepest lake in America (nearly 2000 feet) and the water boasts a deep blue color that seems almost otherwordly. I would have loved to have spent several days here, camping, hiking, boating, and taking in the view from the lodge. Instead I had to settle for 90 minutes of idle wandering along the upper perimeter instead. Not ideal, but beggars can’t be choosers.

I don’t have a particularly high quality camera, nor am I a particularly skilled photographer. Crater Lake is just this beautiful:

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The high rollers of south central Oregon travel to Crater Lake in limousines with Mitt Romney bumper stickers and chintzy advertisements emblazoned across the sides.

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Motorcycles are a far more common mode of transportation, however, at least on this particular morning.

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After (reluctantly) leaving Crater Lake, I got lunch at Highway 97’s self-proclaimed best restaurant.

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And then it was on to Hillsboro, home of the Hops. (My time with the Northwest League’s newest entity was chronicled HERE). After a night game and a day game in Hillsboro, the trip (and my 2013 travel in general) came to a conclusion in Portland. I spent one evening there before flying back to New York City, with fellow MLBAM employee Jared Ravech serving as a tour guide. Here I am, blocking the view.

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I had a really fun evening in Portland, but at this point it’s all kind of a blur. Pinball was definitely involved.

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And that — finally! mercifully! — is that. The next post on this blog will contain this season’s road trip itineraries. Here we go again…

(In the meantime, should you be looking for something to read, check out my new book round-up on MiLB.com)

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Now Playing: MiLB On the Road

I’ve been writing about Minor League Baseball for nearly nine years now, and plan on doing so for years to come. But this season, there is a whole new way to engage with, learn about my particular area of expertise. Introducing “MiLB on the Road”, an online video series highlighting the unique and memorable innovations one can find at (or near) Minor League Baseball stadiums across the land.

I’m your host, Ben Hill.

The video above is the inaugural edition of “MiLB on the Road,” and like any new endeavor this will evolve over time as regards the specifics. (Expect future episodes to be shorter and punchier. Also, my hair will look better). But I am very excited to be making a foray into the video realm, and would really appreciate your support in spreading the word. Show it to the people in your life who are Minor League Baseball fans, and, if so moved, please disseminate across applicable social media platforms. Especially you, teams! We’re all in this together.

And while I can’t make any promises at the moment, please know that continued mentions of the best heavy rock band of all time are a goal of mine.

As usual, I’m interested in your feedback. What is your take on this initial video endeavor? What would you like to see included in future episodes?

Since I’m in self-promotion mode, I may as well continue in a similar vein. Last month I appeared on NPR’s “Only A Game” radio program, elaborating on my MiLB.com piece about the Spokane Indians’ partnership with the local Spokane tribe.

0321_oag_spokane-indians-edit-624x350It was a honor and a privilege to be a guest on the show; you can listen to my segment HERE.

For more Minor League Baseball-themed NPR content, check out this episode of “On Point.” Author Lucas Mann, broadcaster Tommy Thrall, and pitcher Andrew Triggs all discuss life on the farm, and it’s an entertaining listen despite the glaring absence of one Benjamin Hill. You’ve haven’t heard the last from me, On Point! The longer I do this job, the more comfortable I become in living a life free from shame and any hint of modesty.

On March 6 the charitable Photo ID Foundation held a fundraising storytelling event at Bergino Baseball Clubhouse in Manhattan. I was one of the storytellers on the bill, a lesser light among luminaries such as Paul Lukas of UniWatch. (Back in my college days, I was a huge fan of Lukas’ Beer Frame zine.) Specifically, I spoke about the trials and travails of being the nation’s only gluten-free professional Minor League Baseball ballpark traveler.

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Click HERE for info and photos on the event, and stay tuned for future editions (I am happy to report that, utilizing my connections from a past, and perhaps future, life in the New York City sketch comedy scene, I was able to get 18-time Moth Story Slam champion Adam Wade on the next bill).

Here’s a video recap of the Bergino Baseball Clubhouse event.

Baseball as Good Medicine © from Photo ID Foundation on Vimeo.

Finally, I recently joined my old friend Jon Cudo of Gameops.com for our annual chat about the state of Minor League Baseball promotions. As Mr. Cudo put it:

A blooming springtime tradition is having MILB.com writer Benjamin Hill on the podcast to talk about the upcoming season of Minor League Baseball Promotions. Ben never disappoints with a depth of insight and funny promotion examples from coast to coast.

Ben also explains why he doesn’t need to know anything more about Ninja Turtles.

Listen HERE, and be amazed at the depth and breadth of my knowledge. What me, modest?

But in all seriousness, I’ve been toiling within this comparatively obscure but deeply rich slice of the sporting landscape for quite some time now, and it is important for me to keep expanding my audience and to spread the gospel of Minor League Baseball whenever possible. If you have a radio show/TV show/podcast/(maga)zine/blog/website/storytelling event etc. and would like me to be a part of it, then please know that my answer to your query will almost certainly be yes.

Get in touch.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

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