Results tagged ‘ Buffalo Bisons ’

On the Road: Everything’s Bigger in Buffalo

(Interested in perusing all of my 2014 “On the Road” content? Click HERE  to visit a continually updated “On the Road” landing page. Bookmark it, and read ‘em all!)

When the Buffalo Bisons’ home of Pilot Field opened in 1988, it was amid of wave of intense baseball optimism in the region. The facility was built not just with the Triple-A Bisons in mind, but as the potential home for a re-locating or expansion Major League team. If this dream indeed became reality, then the stadium’s capacity would be more than doubled via the addition of more than 20,000 mezzanine seats.

Major League Baseball never came to Buffalo, of course, but the Bisons’ stadium (now known as Coca-Cola Field, after a series of name changes) remains a Minor League ballpark with a big league feel.

IMG_0352And even though the city’s big league dreams were never realized, Pilot Park North AmeriCare Park Dunn Tire Park Coca-Cola Field was nonetheless a harbinger of things to come. It was the first stadium designed by HOK Sports, now known as Populous, the architectural firm that four years later designed Camden Yards in Baltimore. Its combination of retro aesthetic and modern amenities was extremely influential, helping set the stage for the ballpark revolution that was soon to come. (In which intimate, quirk-laden, baseball-specific environments —  with real grass! — replaced cavernous multi-use facilities.)

It was an accident, but I love the father-son moment captured in the photo below. The kid’s decked out in a Bisons cap, shirt, and foam claws, and he and Dad are moving toward the entrance with enthusiasm and energy. I bet they had a great night.

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This statue of former Buffalo mayor Jimmy Griffin was unveiled in 2012. From a press release issued by the team:

Griffin – who passed away in 2008 – did all he could to further the presence of baseball in the city of Buffalo, going to great lengths in support of the city’s push for a major league team – as well as in the development of Coca-Cola Field….[L]ightly crouched, glove outstretched, Griffin stands ready to deliver his first pitch – just as he did before the ballpark’s first-ever game on April 14, 1988. Considering Griffin’s omniscient presence in the area baseball scene, the statue is sure to serve as a reminder of one man’s dedication and love for a city, and a team.

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The Bisons’ name dates all the way back to 1879, as from that season through 1885 a team by that name played in the National League. (Everyone involved with this incarnation of the franchise is dead. I looked it up.) The current iteration of the Bisons arrived in 1979 as a member of the Double-A Eastern League, transitioning to the Triple-A American Association in 1985 and then, when that circuit dissolved, becoming members of the International League in 1998. Buffalo-based Rich Products Corporation bought the team in 1983, and it remains under the Rich family’s ownership. (Rich Baseball Operations is under the Rich Entertainment Group umbrella. The Rich family also owns the Northwest Arkansas Naturals as well as the new Morgantown, West Virginia, New York-Penn League club formerly known as the Jamestown Jammers. Rich Entertainment Group is also involved in the theater scene, such as the current effort to turn Bull Durham into a Broadway musical.)

Upon gaining entry to the stadium, I proceeded to the concourse and snapped the following photos. It was August 26, the last home game of the regular season, and a pre-game awards ceremony was set to take place shortly as part of the evening’s Fan Appreciation Night festivities.

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IMG_0357I didn’t quite know what to do with myself at this early juncture in the evening, so I texted my designated eater (you know, the individual recruited to eat the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits). “Hey, designated eater, are you ready to eat?” I queried. “Yes, obscure blogger, I am,” he replied. (Or something to that effect.)

This is Phil Walck, designated eater.

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Phil used to be a Bisons season ticket holder, but these days he attends five or six games per season. He lives in Niagara Falls and works for an unnamed “major freight forwarder.” (Major freight forwarding is a big business in this part of the country, due to the large amount of goods crossing the border between the United States and Canada.) Phil has been reading this blog for the last several years, and, when I posted my trip itineraries for the 2014 season, he jumped at the opportunity to become a designated eater.

“I love ballpark food, especially the weird stuff,” said Phil. “The only time I have hot dogs is when they’re a dollar.”

The Bisons aren’t especially “weird” when it comes to concessions, but public relations director Brad Bisbing later told me that the team has recently made a concerted effort to go local. Hence, you’ll find Wardzynski’s sausage, Charlie the Butcher’s “Beef on Weck” and Sahlen’s hot dogs. (I’m sure there are non-meat related examples, but that’s all I’ve got written down).

“Brad Bisbing, Buffalo Bisons” is a delightfully alliterative front office moniker. In search of further examples of splendid alliteration, Phil and I visited a cramped, crowded concourse concession area and procured a bologna sandwich. These are a relatively rare Minor League concession item, though I can recall that they are also sold at ballparks in Jackson (Tennessee), Danville (Virginia) and Louisville (Kentucky).

IMG_0362Looking for an escape from the the cramped crowded concourse, Phil and I headed up the stairs and immediately found plenty of room here (I later found out that this is primarily used as a vendor stocking area, and that appears to be what is happening there in the background).

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The pre-game awards ceremony was now taking place on the field, but I was more concerned with Phil’s opinion of a bologna sandwich.

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IMG_0363“This bologna is really good,” said Phil. “It’s thick — I don’t know the measurements — but they cut it thick. The bologna’s from a local deli, and the roll is from a local bakery. It’s a really good roll.”

Phil, who occasionally fries up bologna in the privacy of his own home after a long day of freight forwarding, said that “you gotta pop the middle, right in the middle. That does the trick.” Otherwise the center of the bologna will rise up like a hot air balloon and, perhaps, float away to parts unknown.

Since Phil seemed like a pretty knowledgeable guy when it came to food, I asked him the question that every Buffalonian has an answer to: Who has the best wings? He said that “it’s a very contentious issue” but it’s “gotta be Duff’s, and then Anchor Bar.”

But Buffalo is known for more than just wings. Buffalo is also known for its “Beef on Weck,” which is simply roast beef au jus on a kummelweck roll. Charlie the Butcher, a particularly well-known Buffalo-based purveyor of beef on weck, is available on the concourse.

IMG_0366The Bisons became a Blue Jays affiliate prior to to the 2013 season, and as a result there has been a considerable uptick in the number of Canadian fans visiting Coca-Cola Field. The Bisons aggressively market to fans north of the border (watch out for a future MiLB.com story on that), and Canadian money is accepted throughout the ballpark. Just keep yourselves in check, big spenders.

IMG_0370While waiting in line for our beef on weck, I caught a glimpse of legendary Buffalo beer vendor “Conehead.” My attempt to document Conehead in his natural habitat yielded woeful results, and he soon disappeared. Would I get another chance to view the Conehead, or had I missed my opportunity?

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Conehead in the wild

That question would have to wait, because, once again, it was my job to watch a man eat a sandwich. In this line of work, I have watched many men eat many sandwiches.

IMG_0373Have at it, Phil. Have at it.

Outside of noting that there was “salt in the caraway seeds,” Phil had little to say about this sandwich other than that “it’s really good, just roast beef and jus.” I guess that’s all you need to know.

But you should also know that salt potatoes, yet another New York state specialty, are also available from Charlie the Butcher. They are gluten-free, of course, so I can report from first-hand experience that these potatoes were soft, buttery, well-seasoned and, in a word, delectable. I was pleasantly surprised that such a simple item had so much flavor.

IMG_0372Thank you, Phil Walck, for treating your designated eating duties with the reverence and dedication that the position deserves. I let him eat the remainder of his beef and weck and salt potato meal in peace, as I had places to go and people to see. He later tweeted this picture, for your edification and enjoyment.

“There is lots of good food here, it’s simple stuff,” said Phil. “There’s no bacon-wrapped anything, but it’s all good.”

IMG_0377My next stop was the press box, a multi-tiered sanctum for Buffalo’s sporting fourth estate.

IMG_0378While in the press box I spoke with none other than alliteration king Brad Bisbing of the Buffalo Bisons. He pointed out that, in addition to my random wandering, I might want to pay a little attention to the ballgame that was taking place. The Bisons and visiting Pawtucket Red Sox were in a tight pennant race and both teams had premier pitching prospects on the mound. (Daniel Norris for the Bisons and Henry Owens for the Paw Sox.) The Bisons had drawn more than 11,000 fans to the ballpark in each of the last five games, but Bisbing was predicting a crowd of 16 or 17,000 for this, the Fan Appreciation home finale.

The Bisons would then end the season with a six-game road trip, because they always end the season with a road trip. This is because the Buffalo Wing Festival takes place at Coca-Cola Field each Labor Day weekend, in which some 40,000 people combine to eat 20 tons of wings.

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This festival has a fairly ridiculous origin story, which I fell compelled to share with you, the loyal, patient and marginally good-looking Ben’s Biz Blog reader:

The idea for the festival came from a movie called Osmosis Jones. Bill Murray starred as a compulsive eater with a goal of attending the Super Bowl of junk food, The National Buffalo Wing Festival. Ironically, there wasn’t one. That is when native Buffalonian Drew Cerza, now affectionately known as the Wing King, decided to make it happen back in 2002. This is a case of Real Life knocking off Hollywood!

After speaking with Bisbing, I was introduced to Bisons director of marketing and entertainment Matt LaSota. The two of us wandered down labyrinthian corridors for a spell, peering into various doors along the way.

IMG_0382Behind one door lurked veteran public address announcer Jerry Reo.

IMG_0381Behind another door was a control room, housing the equipment needed to run what, at one time, was the largest videoboard in Minor League Baseball. (The Memphis Redbirds usurped this honor in 2012, one year after the Bisons’ board was installed.)

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80 feet by 33 feet, that’s what this is. (And as you can see, the evening’s vaunted pitching prospects both struggled in the early going. A pitchers’ duel this was not.) The Bisons have upgraded their sound system in recent years as well, transition from three massive speakers to 120 smaller ones (three in the scoreboard and 117 distributed throughout the park). La Sota told me that, prior to this change, the team sometimes received noise complaints from downtown law offices during weekday afternoon games. The sound was so massive, and there was little to absorb it.

IMG_0388At this juncture in the evening, the ballpark had filled in considerably and the Bisons were on the verge of announcing a sellout. The attendance for the evening was a formidable 18,025, by far the largest Minor League crowd that I had ever been a part of.

IMG_0386Just prior to my visit, the Bisons announced that 3,700 seats in the lower seating bowl would be replaced, the first phase of a multi-year stadium renovation project. The seats at Coca-Cola Field are from 1988, and, as the team’s press release notes, they are six years past their life expectancy and replacement parts are not readily available. Bisbing told me that many of the improvements to the stadium will be “unfortunately, things that the fans don’t see.” This includes converting the concession areas from electric to gas, installing new boilers and replacing light fixtures. Sexy stuff, but necessary as Coca-Cola Field, somewhat improbably, is now the second-oldest ballpark in the International League. (Pawtucket’s McCoy Stadium was built in 1945 but has since been extensively renovated.)

Speaking of sexy stuff, the hard-hat wearing beer vendor was toting around a mobile draft beer unit. These things are big in Japan.

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More discerning beer drinkers might want to visit the concourse’s “Craft on Draft” beer corner, which features several selections from the local Hamburg Brewery Company (note that one beer is poured via tap with a yellow foul pole handle).

IMG_0395But if you’re spending your time on the concourse, you’re missing out on some primo baseball views.

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IMG_0391When Coca-Cola Field opened in 1988, obtaining Bisons season tickets was a prerequisite for obtaining season tickets to whatever MLB team might one day play there. Crowds in the early days of the ballpark were colossal by Minor League standards, as the Bisons drew over one million fans on a regular basis. (They drew 535,275 over 66 openings in 2014, for a per-game average of 8,110.) As the above picture shows, the Bisons are still capable of packing ‘em in during beautiful summer evenings. In April, when the weather is often absymal? Not so much.

Anyhow, at this juncture of the evening Mr. Mike Zagurski was on the mound. Let’s hear it for Mike Zagurski, who has pitched for seven Triple-A teams over the last five seasons (in addition to big league stints with the Phillies, Diamondbacks, Yankees and Pirates).

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“I ain’t an athlete, lady…” 

Zagurski

Zagurski

Shortly thereafter I witnessed the nightly race between Wing, Cheese and Celery. Celery had not won a race all year and was thus a crowd favorite, but he (or she) was thwarted by a Bon Jovi-blasting carrot (Jon Bon Jovi is a villain in Buffalo, due to his now-thwarted efforts to re-locate the Bills to Toronto).

Mascot racing complete, and in search of more views, I accompanied an intern — whose name escapes me, I apologize! — on a journey into the bowels of the ballpark. (Update! The intern’s name was Daniel Kuligowski.)

IMG_0396A walk through the tunnel led to a primo spot behind the home plate netting.

IMG_0397While in the tunnel, I took this unflattering shot of Buster the mascot. I think that, going forward, I’m going to make it a point to photograph mascot posteriors.

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Buster’s cousin goes by the name of Chip, making him the only mascot whose name is a poop reference.

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Soon I was back among the hoi polloi. This what a sellout crowd at America’s largest Minor League Baseball stadium looks like. It’s an amazing thing.

IMG_0401Views from the outfield berm.

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Myself and unnamed intern Kuligowski then climbed a rickety ladder, one that led to a television camera platform. (I really hope that replacing this ladder is part of the team’s ongoing renovation efforts). Again, I present you with another view. Click to enlarge.

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While here, I witnessed a full-throated rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” It would have brought a tear to my eye, if I had not had my tear ducts removed as part of an ill-fated effort to never experience emotion again.

Unfortunately, by the time I made it to the team’s Hall of Fame Room it had been shuttered for the evening. But let it be known that the Bisons have retired three numbers over the course of their history. Ollie Carnegie was the International League’s all-time home run leader until this season, when cult hero Mike Hessman of the Toledo Mud Hens surpassed him. Negro League legend Luke Easter, whose number is also retired by the Rochester Red Wings, was a productive power hitter in Buffalo despite the fact that he was in his 40s at the time. And Jeff Manto? He hit a lot of home runs (79) for the Bisons in not a lot of at-bats (923) and is recognized as the team’s “modern-day” home run leader.

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Given the size of the stadium, most of the Bisons’ between-inning entertainment is videoboard-based. This celebrity look-a-like cam got a great reaction, as it featured dozens of fans and their alleged celebrity doppelgangers.

Now dating Neil Young?

Now dating Neil Young?

The Bisons lost by a 9-3 score, and shortly after the game concluded they appeared on the field and threw souvenirs to the crowd. I dutifully yelled for them to throw something to me, but their arms were weak.

IMG_0418Fireworks then lit up the night sky, as fireworks are wont to do.

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On the way out of the ballpark, I happened to glance toward the vendor stocking area where, hours ago, freight forwarder Phil Walck had valiantly eaten a bologna sandwich. Was that Conehead that I spotted?

IMG_0422It was! My last act of the evening was to interview Conehead the beer vendor, and you can read that HERE.

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Good night, Conehead, and good night, Buffalo!

IMG_0430Until next time, I remain,

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

On the Road: New York State of Mind, Part Two

(Interested in perusing all of my 2014 “On the Road” content? Click HERE  to visit a continually updated “On the Road” landing page. Bookmark it, and read ‘em all!)

Part one in this series detailed my non-ballpark explorations (or lack thereof) in Batavia, Rochester and Jamestown. Part two, which you are reading now, begins on August 25th and covers Erie, Pennsylvania and Buffalo, New York.

Let’s get to it, lest it get to us!

August 25th — Erie, Pennsylvania (home of the SeaWolves)

I grew up outside of Philadelphia, my grandparents had a house in the Poconos, and I went to college in Pittsburgh. Therefore, I consider myself to be quite familiar with the state of Pennsylvania. But it wasn’t until this trip that I ventured deep into the northwest quadrant of the state, and I’m glad that I finally had the opportunity to do so. Erie, heretofore unbeknownst to me, is quite beautiful.

I arrived in Erie on the evening of August 24th, having driven there after attending that afternoon’s Jamestown Jammers game. After a night of rest at the Clarion Inn, I did some writing, got lunch at a local Mexican restaurant, and then headed over to Presque Isle State Park. (I’ve been pronouncing it “Press Kyle State Park.” I hope that’s correct.)

IMG_0206Per the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources:

Presque Isle State Park is a 3,200-acre sandy peninsula that arches into Lake Erie. As Pennsylvania’s only “seashore,” Presque Isle offers its visitors a beautiful coastline and many recreational activities, including swimming, boating, fishing, hiking, bicycling and in-line skating. 

I only had about an hour to poke around, but my pokings soon brought me to this pristine stretch of beach. It was a beautiful day, and the water was a perfect temperature. I would have happily spent the entire day there, if Minor League Baseball obligations hadn’t intervened (as they always do, and must).

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I didn’t do much except wander along the coastline with my pantlegs pulled up to my knees, but what else was there to do? Presque Isle is now firmly entrenched in my mind as a place to visit on a non-baseball-related road trip (should such a thing ever exist in my life). And while that’s all the time that I had to explore Erie, there is, obviously, much more to do than go to the beach. In an email prior to my visit, SeaWolves president Greg Coleman provided the following information:

  • Near the entrance to Presque Isle (locally know as The Peninsula), you’ll find two local institutions – an amusement park called Waldameer and a ’50’s style hot dog stand/eatery called Sara’s. Both are considered Erie institutions. The Ravine Flyer at Waldameer has one of the most stunning rollercoaster views I’ve ever seen as it looks out over the peninsula and Lake Erie.
The Ravine Flyer (photo from Wikipedia)

The Ravine Flyer (photo from Wikipedia)

  • Bicentennial Tower is probably the most recognizable landmark in Erie.  It is located on the bay front at the northernmost tip of State Street (Erie’s equivalent of “Main Street”) and was built in 1996 to commemorate Erie’s 200th anniversary.
Bicentennial Tower (again, from Wikipedia)

Bicentennial Tower (again, from Wikipedia)

  • The Erie Maritime Museum is a short walk from Bicentennial Tower.  The museum hosts the U.S. Brig Niagara, the official flagship of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, when it is docked in Erie.
  • Erie boasts a number of number of attractions rarely seen in a community of its size (Erie County’s population is 280,000) including the Erie Zoo, the Tom Ridge Environmental Center, four colleges/universities within 15 miles, an indoor water park (Splash Lagoon), an NBDL basketball team, an OHL hockey team and Minor League Baseball.
  • Pop culture notes: Alice from the Brady Bunch (the recently deceased Ann B. Davis) and Train lead singer Pat Monahan both grew up Erie, PA.  Erie was also home to fictional band, the Wonders, from Tom Hanks’ movie That Thing You Do (limited filming was done at Mercyhurst University in Erie).
Erie native Ann B. Davis (once again, from Wikipedia)

Erie native Ann B. Davis (once again, from Wikipedia)

The next day, it was onward to the Queen City.

August 26: Buffalo, New York (home of the Bisons)

In Buffalo, I had a man on the inside in the form of Seamus Gallivan. Seamus and I first became acquainted during his days working for the Corpus Christi Hooks and Round Rock Express, but after the 2009 season he left Minor League Baseball and returned to his native Buffalo. His professional career is now dedicated to spreading “Buffalove” via his Good Neighborhood Foundation, working for the Larkin Square public event space and booking shows all around the city. Buffalo, after years of industrial decline and a resultant inferiority complex, is now re-inventing itself in myriad ways and Seamus is a passionate proponent of all that it has to offer.

I met Seamus at Larkin Square, which opened in 2012.

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From the Larkin Square website:

Larkin Square lies at the heart of Larkinville, the site of the former Larkin Soap Company warehouse buildings. This open public space provides a backdrop of colorful furniture amongst whimsical architecture….food, music and fun abound.

When I first got to Larkin Square, a few early-arriving food trucks were staking out the best spots for that evening’s Food Truck Tuesday event. 20 trucks set up shop on the premises, a live band plays, and (presumably) a good time is had by all.

But Seamus and I weren’t going to be visiting any of these vehicular food purveyors. Following Buffalo protocol, we were going to get some chicken wings. In advance of my visit Seamus had initiated a Facebook discussion regarding the best wings in Buffalo, which elicited a remarkable 138 comments. Here’s a sampling of the conversation:

Stevie Matthews Duffs Amherst (get hot to make them sweat) for traditional wings. Or, I am also partial to Dwyer’s in NT if you want to travel a bit out of Buffalo and get experimental with a ton of flavors.

Nathan Montague Duke’s if they want smoked BBQ wings. Gabriel’s Gate is good. Consider taking them to Anchor so they can say they’ve been there.

Christopher Taylor 911 tavern if you have to stay in the city. If not Bar Bill in EA all day long.

Lauren Leadbetter Bar Bill – east aurora (honey butter BBQ). OR Potters pub – south buffalo (honey mustard BBQ)

Duke Duquin Our smoked bbq are the best bbq by far…not even close & offer a healthy alternative as fat is rendered off during smoking process. These tasty treats are grilled not fried. #nextlevelwings

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Duke’s

Chris Duncan Elmos or duffs or anchor….. since hes never been to Buffalo why not take him to where it all started. Just kinda makes sense.
Edmund Cardoni Where I like to get wings living here: Papa Jake’s for classic wings, Essex Street (smoked), Gabriel’s Gate, Bar Bill if I’m in East Aurora, etc. But I would always bring a first-time visitor to the Anchor Bar.
Seamus went with a well-considered wild card selection, however:
Seamus Gallivan For those interested, we hit Cole’s with consideration of the interior aesthetics, patio, and that I could give him a driving tour from Larkinville up the East Side, over Delaware Park, and down Elmwood Village and downtown.
Yes, Cole’s:
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Aesthetically, Cole’s is most definitely a winner. It was established in 1934, and the walls are lined with vintage sports memorabilia.
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Seamus and I opted for a spot outside, which was a nice environment until the bees descended upon us. We ordered Buffalo wings (or, “wings” as I suppose it’s redundant to call them Buffalo wings while in Buffalo) and, changing things up, Sicilian chicken wings (tossed in Italian and Caesar dressing with Parmesan and lemon juice).
The Buffalo wings were, as Seamus put it, “solid but unspectacular.” They were a little dry, and I would have preferred a little more sauce and overall bite. Perfectly acceptable is what they were, but I guess when one is in Buffalo one expects wings of transcendence.
IMG_0334The Sicilian Wings were less traditional, but had more going on flavor-wise. A little tart, a little sweet, a little spice. I liked them a lot.
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After finishing our meal, which really was descended upon by bees, Seamus and I went upstairs to see Cole’s private event room. The lighting left something to be desired, but the stained glass Buffalo sports logos were really cool. This is the NBA’s Buffalo Braves (who later moved to Los Angeles and became the basketball powerhouse that are the Clippers).
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Bills:
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Buffalo was already making a good first impression on me, and then I saw that this was the cover story in the weekly free paper. My good impression subsequently turned to great!
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(In related pinball news — after a 15 month run, I was recently dethroned as Medieval Madness grand champion at my local laundromat. Without hyperbole, I can tell you that my local laundromat is the greatest laundromat of all time.)
After lunch, Seamus headed back to Larkin Square to get set up for the Food Truck Tuesday event. I, meanwhile, checked into my hotel and then walked to the Bisons’ home of Coca-Cola Park. There were a few architectural highlights along the way, such as this building (whatever it may be).
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But this was the highlight: The Prudential Building, designed by noted architect Louis H. Sullivan and built in 1895. It’s “an all-steel frame office building with fine terra cotta veneer.”  I mean, just look at that veneer!
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Not all architecture is created equal, however. Just look at the phallic monstrosity that is One Seneca Tower.
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Across the street from the ballpark, I spotted this piece of heartfelt signage.
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I then watched the Bisons play their final home game of the year; some has already been written about that but much remains to be written. After the ballgame I wandered down to the waterfront area known as Canalside and got a drink with Seamus at a bar called Liberty Hound. Located at the original terminus of the Erie Canal and surrounded by the USS The Sullivans and The USS Little Rock, this is a very scenic place to spend some time. The bartenders were friendly and the pours (very) generous; I’d highly recommend checking this place out before and/or after and/or during a Bisons game. Here’s a picture of the Liberty Hound, which I stole from Seamus’ Good Neighborhood website.
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 My night ended at the Liberty Hound, but my Buffalo explorations did not. The next day, after an extended bout of hotel-based writing, I met Seamus for lunch at the West Side Bazaar.  Somehow, this is the best photo I was able to take of the building’s exterior.
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Anyhow, this place is great. Simply put, and stolen from the website, the West Side Bazaar “is a small business incubator supporting entrepreneurs on their path to becoming successful business owners.”
Immigrant entrepreneurs, specifically. Inside the Bazaar are eight separate “boutiques” and four food windows. Again, my photography skills (to the extent that they exist in the first place), were failing me.
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The food options are South Sudanese, Ethiopian, Thai…
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and Burmese.
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Seamus and I opted for the Burmese. I got a curry combination platter, and it was a very satisfying meal. I would have loved to try all four options, and if I make it back to Buffalo I’m definitely making it back to the Bazaar.
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Seamus and I parted ways after lunch — thanks, Seamus, for the hospitality! Before heading on to Syracuse, I poked around the general area just a little bit more.
“Your link to quality” can be found at this “Meating Place.” Get it? I bet you never sausage a sign as that!
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West Side Stories is a great used book store. I bought an Elvis “Live in Hawaii” record (found therein was a 1977 newspaper editorial lamenting his death), a coaster embossed with a Shel Silverstein poem, a book of horror stories by Clive Barker and an annotated copy of the U.S. Constitution.
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The proprietress of West Side Stories suggested I walk down the street and check out Black Dots, a record store in an unassuming downstairs space.  You don’t have to tell me twice!
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This was a cool little spot, for sure. There was a strong punk/metal emphasis amid the limited inventory, but I ended up buying some stuff that I wouldn’t have expected to find there. Namely, a used copy of the Beastie Boys’ “Alive” 10″ and a new copy of Lil’ Wayne’s “The Leak” ep (I did not even know this existed in physical form. “I’m Me” is my second-favorite Lil Wayne song of all time, but all five tracks are fantastic.) I was also gonna finally get that last Jucifer LP but I guess that can wait until another day.
Black Dots, like every record store on Earth, had a used copy of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours sale. People who say they do not like Rumours are probably just kidding because it’s a near-impossible album not to like no matter what your genre predilections may be.
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Oh, and Black Dot had a shelf of bootleg live tapes for 50 cents apiece. I bought “Neil Young at the New York State Fair, Syracuse, 8/27/1989.” After all, it was August 27, 2014, and I was just about to make my way to Syracuse! That’s some serious serendipity right there.
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At this point I really don’t have too much more to add, except that Sweetness 7 Cafe is a good spot to get some coffee.
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Oh, and Buffalonians really hate Jon Bon Jovi! Apparently he was part of a scheme to buy the Bills and move them to Toronto, but that scenario was thwarted thanks to a fracking billionaire. (Hey man, you can destroy the environment all you want. Just make sure that that team stays in Buffalo.)
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Jon Bon Jovi owning the Bills? Sayreville it ain’t so.

And that’s it for me, until part three.
benjamin.hill@mlb.com
twitter.com/bensbiz

The Harlem Shake: A Minor Overview

Introductory paragraphs within this blog forum can sometimes be needlessly circuitous, steeped as they are in obscure references and acute self-consciousness. But not today. Today, we cut to the chase:

What follows is a comprehensive round-up of Harlem Shake videos produced by Minor League teams. 

Yes, you’re probably sick of the Harlem Shake at this point. I am too. But let’s take the long view, as historians with an interest in baseball history, viral fads and the intersection of the two will no doubt delight in stumbling upon this post at some at some unknown moment in the distant future. I am doing this for you, future historians! I always am. For it is you who will ensure my legacy.

Plus, you’ve gotta admit — Minor League teams, with their easy access to supply closets full of banana suits and inflatable ponies, make better Harlem Shake videos than most. So here we go! In no particular order, here are two dozen Harlem Shake videos produced by professional baseball teams in possession of a formal affiliation with a Major League club.

Frederick Keys — Apparently a big-headed reincarnation of Francis Scott Key regularly sits in on front office meetings:

Columbus Clippers — Warning! Includes bear-on-frankfurter violence that may be unsettling to younger viewers:

Bowie Baysox — A toothbrush can’t dance? I bristle at such a notion:

Lexington Legends — Mister would you please stop punching that pony? WATCH ON FACEBOOK.

Vancouver Canadians — As if any proof was needed that this was an international phenomenon:

Fort Wayne Tincaps — A solitary pothead gives way to a banana who loves the queen of hearts.

Lake Elsinore Storm — Yes that is an upside-down squirrel hanging from the dugout, and yes he is happy to see you:

Corpus Christi Hooks — Can’t a man bike through the office in peace? WATCH ON MILB.COM

Tulsa Drillers — Hey, no dogs in the swimming pool!

Gwinnett Braves — Team store? More like surreal fever dream store!

New Hampshire Fisher Cats — Fungo and friends “rose” to the occasion:

Lehigh Valley IronPigs — Give peas a chance. WATCH ON MILB.COM

Buffalo Bisons — Vest-wearing gentleman on the right is my favorite individual to appear in any Harlem Shake video:

Charlotte Stone Crabs – What’s to stop the Incredible Hulk from wearing a sombrero?

Fresno Grizzlies — Forget this faddish viral bastardization. Parker knows how to do the REAL Harlem Shake. WATCH ON VINE. 

Louisville Bats — This takes place in multiple dimensions simultaneously. It will blow your mind.

Bowling Green Hot Rods — I guess you could say that Axle rose to the occasion.

Delmarva Shorebirds — The Shake so nice they did it twice.

Springfield Cardinals — You know what? This is probably the  best one out of all of ‘em.

Round Rock Express — All bobblehead version!

Connecticut Tigers — Shout it from the rooftop!

And, finally, there are the State College Spikes. The first Minor League team to post a Harlem Shake video, and the last to be featured in this post:

EDIT! 

Two latecomers have entered the fray!

Orem Owlz — Holly, the Owlz pregnant mascot, wisely sat this one out.

Myrtle Beach Pelicans — Fans of multi-colored crustacean triumvirates rejoice!

And that’s all she wrote, folks. “She” being me, of course. I am a man. A 34-year-old man. A man who is perhaps too old to be providing you with diversions such as the above. But yet I do, and yet I did.

Do not forsake me, future historians! I do not want to believe that this has all been in vain.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

The Never-Ending Happening

I’m posting this on a Friday afternoon, and on a Friday afternoon there’s only one way to do things: Bouillabaisse style!

So let’s do it! I’ve got lots to share with you, starting with a new logo straight from the heart of Appalachia. 

astroz

Greeneville’s new look is a response to similar changes made by the parent club and in this regard they are the Bluefield and Dunedin of 2012. (That reference is apropos, but I’m not going to take the time to contextualize it. I have a press release to quote!)

Sez the team:

The new Astros identity features a full star logo with a block letter ‘G’ in the middle of the star. The Astros home caps will feature this logo on a solid blue cap while the road caps will be solid orange.

The G-Stros (does anyone call them that?) change is permanent, so now let’s move on to something of a “one night only” variety. On July 12th, the Erie SeaWolves will be donning these nautical duds:

Niagara Jersey FBThese jerseys are the result of the SeaWolves partnership with the Flagship Niagara League, an organization that is seeking to promote its Tall Ships Festival.

I realize that this explanation raises more questions than it does answers. In brief: Lake Erie was the site of key 19th-century naval battles, and the Tall Ships festival (which does indeed feature tall ships) commemorates this history. Read more HERE.

Now we must proceed from theme jerseys to alternate ones, as the Mississippi Braves have somehow managed to fit “Mississippi” across the chest of this navy blue number:

bravez

I’d link to a press release with more info, but there doesn’t seem to be one. All I can tell you is you can buy these jerseys for $175 at the M-Braves team store. I guess in this case the “M” in “M-Braves” stands for “mum’s the word.”

Transitioning from the occasional to the regular, the new-look Buffalo Bisons recently unveiled their 2013 uniforms.

bisonzA bit more from the Bisons:

In the creation of their new uniforms, the Bisons paid special attention to popular team jerseys from the past. The use of a ‘Scarlet Red’ lettering and ‘Reflex Blue’ numbers on the front of the ‘Ice White’ home and gray road uniforms was taken from the jerseys worn by the team in the early years of Coca-Cola Field. A ‘Hitting Buster’ has also returned to the team’s official on-field cap, a look Bisons fans have long enjoyed from those first seasons at the ballpark. 

Meanwhile, one of the rarest of logo creatures was released into our midst this past week. A ballpark logo, this one for the Birmingham Barons’ currently under-construction Regions Field. I will refrain from editorializing, because words only get in the way of images.

The image:

baronz

I’ll close, as I often do, with something out of left-field (not literally, in most cases).

How’s THIS for a staff bio pic?

shiner

According to the GreenJackets, Kyle’s shiner was obtained while playing in a staff basketball game. Reminder to all: never play basketball with the staff of the Augusta GreenJackets.

Okay, this post isn’t quite over yet due to my desire to do some ponderous professional pontificating.

And what I have been pondering lately is whether or not to make some changes to this blog in regards to the frequency with which I post. These days I average about three entries a week, with each post (allegedly) having some substance in that it is at least 400 words long and often covers multiple topics.

But perhaps more timely “Quick Hit” or “Short Hop” or “Biz Quick” posts would be a good strategy to utilize as well? The idea here is that whenever some particularly news/buzz-worthy content appears, I would immediately generate a short post. The plus side is timely and engaging material and more of it, but the potential negative is that this approach would cheapen the product and make this blog just another cheap cranker-outer of disposable content.

Does this debate exist strictly in my own head? Probably. Am I talking to myself as I write this? Definitely. I guess the takeaway here is that after 5+ years and 900+ posts I care about this blog more than I’d like to admit, especially in regard to how the content is packaged and presented. So, if you have opinions on this (or any other pertinent matter), please get in touch. If you don’t have any opinions on this, that’s okay too. If I was you then I wouldn’t either.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Metallic Birds, Batting Buffalo and Feline Waves

The Aberdeen IronBirds must have been well-rested after the holiday weekend, because this morning they set (what I believe) is the record for the earliest new logo unveiling in the history of Minor League Baseball. Beginning at 6:15 a.m., noted baseball bros Cal and Bill Ripken (of IronBirds’ ownership group Ripken Baseball) embarked on a whirlwind early morning tour of local television stations in order to debut the team’s new logo for 2013 and beyond:

As any seasoned MiLB logo observer will be able to tell, the above mark is a Studio Simon creation. (The team relayed to me via Twitter that “the main design idea” came courtesy of Bill Ripken.) The bird seen above replaces the more overtly cartoonish anthropomorphic plane that previously served as the team’s primary logo.

The IronBird featured in the primary logo is even more prominently featured on the hat:

In a press release put out by the team, Bill Ripken employed three verbs over a five-word stretch in an attempt to explain the reason for the new logo. That’s no easy feat!

“The IronBirds are evolving to continue to remain on baseball’s leading edge,” said Bill Ripken, co-founder and executive vice president of Ripken Baseball. “This is why we wanted a fresh new look and feel to connect with families, and resonate with fans of all ages.”

Another team to have recently jumped aboard the new logo train are the Buffalo Bisons. The team’s previous blue-tinged logo made an overt attempt to highlight their affiliation with the New York Mets, but with the dissolution of that relationship the Bisons have instead chosen to assume an identity distinct of the parent club (which is now the Toronto Blue Jays).

This logo isn’t “new” so much as it is a callback to a look employed by Buffalo during the years 1988-97. Sez the team:

“It was important for us to reestablish our own team identity with our new logo. Our fans have continued to express their fondness of the red, white and blue logo from the late ’80s and early ’90s at the ballpark. We feel this new logo not only pays tribute to that history but gives the team an exciting new look for the future,” said Mike Buczkowski, Vice President/General Manager of the Bisons.

And far be it for me to gratuitously point out press release typos, but this one is really funny:

For the past four seasons, the Bisons adopted a blue and orange theme with a more atomically correct bison charging out of the city landscape.

And, finally, there are the West Michigan Whitecaps. The club has unveiled an array of supplemental looks in advance of their upcoming 20th anniversary campaign.

The “Olde English” logo will now serve as the team’s official road cap. And, wow, that alternate logo on the far right is certainly one of the more ridiculous to come down the pike this offseason. It takes the team’s long-standing primary logo and combines it with a tiger because, you know, the Detroit Tigers are the Whitecaps’ parent club. Here’s one more cut-and-paste job for you, before I end my blogging day:

“I’m excited about these new logos,” said Whitecaps president Scott Lane. “They strengthen the Whitecaps’ identity with the Detroit Tigers in a very literal way for our fans, who are also Tigers fans. I think the logos are a little more edgy and youthful and will appeal to the younger generation of fans.”

Thanks, as always, for your Ben’s Biz Blog patronage. I am evolving to continue to remain your #1 Minor League Baseball news source.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Spreading the Health

The combined caloric content of the food items that I have posted on this blog would add up to a truly colossal total, enough to send even the hardiest of individuals into eternal slumber. I have no plans to stop posting this sort of material (as the recent “Inside-Out Burger” update should make clear), but sometimes I feel slight pangs of regret for contributing to the downfall of mankind in such blatant fashion.

As an antidote, take a look at this recent concession addition to Buffalo’s Coca-Cola Field: The Healthy Zone

As the corporate insignia on the sign makes clear, “The Healthy Zone” was created in conjunction with BlueCross BlueShield as part of the company’s “Healthy Changes Everything” initiative. Gretchen Fierle, vice president and chief communications officer of BlueCross BlueShield of Western New York, reports that “the goal is to help people take small steps to living healthier lives – from the activities they do to the food they eat,  [BlueCross BlueShield] is creating and bringing healthier options to the community.”

The stand was created out of a desire to provide a one-stop shop for healthy cuisine (as opposed to options scattered throughout the ballpark), and the menu includes:

  • Turkey and veggie burgers with lettuce, tomato and either garlic or roasted red pepper hummus on a whole grain roll
  • Chicken sausage with spinach and feta on a hot dog roll
  • Yogurt fruit parfait
  • A selection of bottle water, diet soda and light beer

The Bisons are certainly not the only team to have instituted such an endeavor (as this 2009 piece of mine would illustrate), but it’s certainly one of the more ambitious. Feel free to get in touch with other examples, or to provide a counterpoint to this counterpoint by updating me on your plans to create a hot dog placed inside of six donuts and then deep fried and slathered with caramel icing and black cherry Gummi worms.

It takes all kinds.

It all feels a bit distant now, but TOMORROW I will depart on my first road trip of the season. It all starts with this Clearwater Threshers game:

There’s plenty more where that came from, as the Threshers consistently produce some of the best commercials in MiLB:

Look for the first blog posts and articles from the trip to appear early next week, and they’ll no doubt continue well into the next. In the meantime, keep getting in touch with all manner of interesting MiLB news. Too much is never enough, except for when it always is. Along those lines, here, once again, is my road trip itinerary:

April 27: Clearwater Threshers

April 28: Fort Myers Miracle

April 29: Charlotte Stone Crabs

April 30: Lakeland Flying Tigers

May 1: Daytona Cubs

May 2: travel (but hopefully I can take in the 10:30 a.m. D-Cubs game in “fan” mode)

May 3-4: Pensacola Blue Wahoos

Finally, I’d like to give a sincere thank you to everyone who supports what it is I do. I hope that that gratitude is apparent in everything I write, but it doesn’t hurt to say it once in a while.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

Buffalo Takes The L.E.D

The Buffalo Bisons lit up the baseball world on Wednesday, with the announcement that they will be installing the biggest L.E.D. scoreboard in all of Minor League Baseball at Coca-Cola Field next season.

scorebored.jpg

“Well, how big is it?” I imagine you all asking in unison. Per usual, I’ll let the all-knowing press release provide the answer to that.

The new signature 80′ x 33′ LED HD Video Display from Daktronics, Inc. will add an unparalleled level of enjoyment to the Bisons Baseball Experience.

The new $2.5 million BisonsTV HD board will be funded completely by the Bisons organization and will once again demonstrate the team’s private investment in providing the ultimate fan experience and value at every game.

This news out of Buffalo reminds me of a phenomenon I bore witness to during my travels this past season: “Minor League Baseball’s Biggest Scoreboard” is a claim that is made quite liberally throughout the industry. So, let me ask you, teams:

– Do you currently boast a scoreboard that is larger than what the Bisons will be installing?
— Prior to the Bisons’ announcement, did you believe that you possessed the biggest scoreboard in all of Minor League Baseball? If so, how big is it?
— If not all of Minor League Baseball, do you currently have the biggest scoreboard within your classification of play, and/or league, and/or state?
— Regardless of size, are you proud of your scoreboard and have something you’d like to say about it?

Please, get in touch! And feel free to send pictures. I’d like to do a follow-up post on this most important of topics.

porkroller.JPGIn other news related to an International League team that plays at a facility with “Coca-Cola” in its name, I was intrigued to read yesterday that the Lehigh Valley IronPigs are looking for their first-ever house band. This band, no matter who it is comprised of, will be known as “Shake, Rattle, and Pork Roll.”

Read all about it HERE.

Being a long time fan of parody in general and Weird Al in particular, I couldn’t help but start thinking about what pig-related songs should be added to the band’s set list. Here are pork butt a few:

“I Want To Hold Your Ham”
greenjelly.jpg“Chop In the Name of Love”
“Loin On Me”
“Feel Like Bacon Love”
“Street Fighting Spam”
“MacArthur Pork”

And, of course, anything by “Hammstein”, “The Whooves”, “Engelbert Hamperdoink”, or any band that once played at Livestock.

Somehow I am still operating within a professional context here. So before things get any more out of hand, let’s wrap things up with some beef-related news. The world-famous “Fifth Third Burger” served by the West Michigan Whitecaps is about to get even more world famous-er!

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Fifth Third Burger.JPGTake it away, team-issued communication missive:

[T]he Fifth Third Burger, will be featured on the January 22 episode of Food Network’s popular “Unwrapped” show with host Marc Summers. The show airs at 9 p.m. Eastern time. The episode is entitled “Game Day Goodies.”

The segment was taped at the ballpark last fall during the Muskegon vs.
Rockford high school football game. The “Unwrapped” crew taped
behind-the-scenes footage on the making of the Fifth Third Burger as
well as the Burger Challenge action during the game.

And — hey! — it’s gratuitous video Friday. Inspired by the IronPigs’ latest initiative, I present you with what is not only the greatest song with “pig” in the title but quite possibly my favorite song of all time.

For those keeping score at home, this has been the 600th post in Ben’s Biz Blog history. Thank you so much for your continued support!

benjamin.hill@mlb.com
twitter.com/bensbiz

A Little Something For Everyone

applepie.jpgIt’s a relatively slow time of year, and therefore my supply of blog-worthy material is at preternaturally low levels. But even in these times of famine I can still piece together a post, in much the same way my forefathers were able to piece together artisanal barrels out of tree bark, dried lily pads, and sap.

First and foremost, I would be remiss if I did not mention the fact that today is Veteran’s Day. Many teams have made a note of this fact via Twitter, Facebook, and website acknowledgments, but in particular I would like to highlight THIS COLUMN written by Wisconsin Timber Rattlers broadcaster Chris Mehring. Using Gary Bedingfield’s ‘Baseball in Wartime‘ website as a guide, Chris provides a interesting primer on the those who have suited up within both professional baseball and the armed forces. The column also includes a mention of Moe Berg, whose story is fascinating and always worth re-visiting.

– Moving on to the world of logos, the Midland RockHounds unveiled their 2010 Texas League All-Star Game insignia. Behold this most quintessentially American piece of pop art:

2010 asg.jpg
And, please, keep any “crude” comments you may have to yourself.

– Moving on, I would like to point out that the Buffalo Bisons are prominently featured in a new AT&T commercial. I am unable to embed this masterwork of persuasion into this blog, but check it out HERE on the team’s Facebook page.

– Finally, a news story I wrote on the third annual Mike Coolbaugh Memorial Golf Tournament can be found HERE. Check it out, and make plans to attend 2010.  

benjamin.hill@mlb.com
twitter.com/bensbiz

New Logo Mini Round-Up

While I don’t have enough new logo information to put together a full-blown “Round-Up”, let me strike while the iron’s hot and provide some info regarding recent changes in the fascinating world of Minor League apparel.

First up is the Buffalo Bisons, who recently unveiled their 2009 jerseys. Here, in lieu of what would surely be a tedious 1000 words, is a photo:

bizonz.jpg

According to the all-seeing, all-knowing press release, “all three styles connect the Bisons to their new parent club, the New
York Mets
, while each design features a level of uniqueness that is
unmatched in minor league baseball.” The white jersey will be worn at home, the gray on the road, and the black is an alternate home top that will be sported on Sunday and Thursday afternoons.

Let us now move on to the ever-elusive West Virginia Power, who have “revised” their logo. According to the omniscient press release, this new and improved version “is a mixture of the original BP logo and the Power text logo.” Let’s check it out:

fightthepower.gifPerhaps even more exciting is that the Power will soon unveil a new “mystery” logo. There are literally infinite possibilities when it comes to what this “mystery” might be, but I’m hoping it will somehow incorporate a magnifying glass, a smudged fingerprint, and a silhouette of the Hardy Boys.

If anyone is aware of any logo changes I have not yet covered, then send me an email at benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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