Results tagged ‘ Carolinas ’

On the Road: Day Turns to Night in Greensboro

To see all my posts from my May 6 visit to the Greensboro Grasshoppers, click HERE. To see all of my posts from my May 2016 Carolinas Road Trip, click HERE. To see all of my “On the Road” posts, click HERE. If interested in seeing posts covering a visit to a particular team, search for that team’s name in the blog search bar (it’s to your right). 

I never know how to start my second post from a particular location, other than to observe that “The game had just begun.”

So, here we are. It was May 6, 2016, the Greensboro Grasshoppers were hosting the Columbia Fireflies in a Friday evening doubleheader, and the (first) game had just begun.

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If you’re curious about what the NewBridge Bank Park videoboard looks like and who the game’s best-named player was, then you’ll find that this image simultaneously satiates both desires.

014The ballpark was largely empty throughout the bulk of the first game, as the majority of fans arrived closer to the originally-scheduled 7 p.m. single-game start time. Even the outfield concourse putting green, which I assume is usually swamped with aspiring Lee Carvallo’s, was empty.

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Putting Greensboro

A more expansive green can be found nearby.

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A commenter on my previous post remarked that NewBridge Bank Park has “one of the most underrated skylines” in Minor League Baseball. I’d have to agree.

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Miss Babe Ruth retired as the team’s batdog, but she still faithfully greets fans on the concourse during the second, fourth and sixth inning of every game.

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Mascot Guilford greets fans as well, from all sorts of ballpark locations.

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Guilford can often be found in close proximity to onfield emcee Spaz, whose voice sounds exactly like you’d expect the voice of someone named “Spaz” to sound like. Unfortunately — or mercifully, depending on your perspective — I don’t have any audio snippets.

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Spaz’s real name is Danny. Hi, Danny.

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Miss Babe Ruth may be retired, but the Grasshoppers still have an ample onfield canine presence. Master Yogi Berra takes part in a nightly game that, while a bit chaotic, is a lot of fun to watch. Team (and dog) owner Donald Moore uses a modified t-shirt gun to shoot a tennis ball to the outfield fence. Once Yogi gets to the ball, a child positioned on first base races Yogi to home plate. Hopefully this video will give you some sort of idea regarding what it is that I’m trying to convey.

Another nightly between-inning spectacle is the Neese Country Sausage Race, featuring Extra Sage vs. Extra Hot vs. Original Country. Each sausage represents a randomly chosen fan, with the winning sausage netting his (or her, if sausage can be female) corresponding fan 10 pounds of said sausage. I don’t think I’ve ever written a more convoluted sentence. Here’s a picture.

023If you want to learn more about Neese’s Sasuage, check out this — wait for it — LINK. I’d like to see a second set of racers appear at the ballpark, representing the more obscure Neese’s Country Sausage triumvirate of Souse, C-Loaf and Liver Mush.

The sausages were standing in the batting cage, which doubles as an in-game promo contest changing room and storage area. There are some groundskeeping supplies in here as well. Welcome to Minor League Baseball.

020The batting cage is close to the clubhouse, which serves as an in-game resting area for Master Yogi Berra and young Miss Lou Lou. In the below photo, Miss Lou Lou is in the cage labeled “Miss Babe.”

024Meanwhile, back outside, people were still buying tickets. Fans steadily trickled into the ballpark over the course of three hours, from the time the gates opened at 4:30 until 7:30 or so.

027Back inside, I spent a couple of innings talking with Grasshoppers’ “Speaker of the House” Zeb Vance and his father, Gil. The Grasshoppers mean a lot to Zeb, a developmentally-disabled 28-year-old, and vice-versa. I wrote an MiLB.com story about this relationship, which you can find HERE.

Zeb at May 6 Grasshoppers game and with team VP Katie Dannemiller.

Zeb at May 6 Grasshoppers game and with team VP Katie Dannemiller.

Zeb watches games from this vantage point, often interacting with the team’s players as they traverse between the playing field and the clubhouse. In the below picture, the first game of the doubleheader had just ended.

032The beginning stages of the second game were spent with my designated eater; those interactions will be the subject of the next post. Once that task was complete, I traipsed back to the tunnel (waving to Zeb, watching from above) and watched some more dog-centric between-inning endeavors.

Here we see Donald Moore and Miss LuLu, who succeeded Miss Babe Ruth as team bat dog.

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An inning or two later, Master Yogi Berra once again took part in his ball-to-the-wall race. He lost, but remains number one.

Now here’s something you don’t see every day (or any day): jeans for sale at a Minor League team store.

IMG_1119These are Wrangler jeans, specifically, because Wrangler is based in Greensboro (or, as the t-shirts in the above photo say, “Jeansboro”). Also of note: the team store is called the Majestic Yard because Vanity Fair is based in Greensboro and Majestic is one of the apparel companies residing under the VF corporate umbrella.

Enough with the facts. Time for a joke. This right here was my first groundbreaking and subversive ballpark joke of 2016. I imagine that you missed viewing them about as much as I missed making them (ie “not all that much”).

The second game, like all things this side of eternity, ended. I don’t remember who won either game of this Grasshoppers vs. Fireflies twinbill, but regardless it had six legs, wings and a short life span. With no baseball left to play, the players retreated through the tunnel and into the bowels of the facility.

IMG_1122I, meanwhile, took up residency in the home dugout and watched the postgame fireworks.

On the way out of the stadium, the exterior wall art inspired a well-timed Vine that I am particularly proud of.

And with that, my night at the ballpark concluded. Good night from NewBridge Bank Park.

IMG_1130And good night, Greensboro, as I then drove straight on to my next destination.

Hello, Durham.

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benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz

On the Road: It All Begins in Greensboro

To see all my posts from my May 6 visit to the Greensboro Grasshoppers, click HERE. To see all of my posts from my May 2016 Carolinas Road Trip, click HERE. To see all of my “On the Road” posts, click HERE. If interested in seeing posts on a visit to a particular team, search for that team’s name in the blog search bar (it’s to your right). 

My 2016 “On the Road” season kicked off on May 5th, 2016. Would you like to hear about how the day went? It’s really interesting. I got up early and went to the gym, as this season it is my goal to become the most physically alluring single male 30-something Minor League Baseball writer of all time. (I’m not sure who I’m competing against). I then took a green cab to Penn Station and boarded a New Jersey transit train to the Newark airport. After an Airtrain ride spent silently mocking the automated conductor’s pronunciation of “United” (U-knitted? Really?), I proceeded through security, got mad at how expensive airport food is, got sad at the dystopian check-out kiosks that are slowly displacing the American retail worker and, finally, boarded a plane to Raleigh-Durham. In much the same way that the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders are located in Moosic, PA, the Raleigh-Durham airport is located in Morrisville. Representing two places in your name while being situated in a third — now that’s covering your bases!

Please have patience while this introduction builds to an exquisite crescendo. In Durham, where the weather was miserable, I rented a car (Volkswagen Passat, for those keeping score at home) and then drove to Greensboro while listening to the first disc in the four-volume “Complete Road Music” series. (Red Sovine almost made me cry. Again.) Greensboro, being in close proximity to Durham, was also experiencing miserable weather and, in fact, that evening’s Grasshoppers game was rained out. No matter. I wasn’t planning on attending a Grasshoppers game until the next evening, where surely everything would be fine.

And you know what? It was. Everything is always fine. This was my view of NewBridge Bank Park the next morning. There was nary a tarp in sight.

IMG_1088After an afternoon spent in silent observance of my 37 1/2 birthday (aka “Halfway to 75”) I traipsed — yes, traipsed! — to New Bridge Bank Ballpark for that evening’s scheduled doubleheader against the Columbia Fireflies. It was a doubleheader because the previous evening’s ballgame had been rained out. Everything is connected.

On Twitter I referred to the scene below as a “quintessential MiLB tableau” and I stand by that assessment. The inanimate canines to the right of inanimate mascot Guilford are, I believe, batdogs Master Yogi Berra and Miss Babe Ruth (retired). More on them later.

001In front of the giant inflatable jersey one finds a memorial to Flight 93 flight attendant Sandra W. Bradshaw, a “caring friend and companion….who sacrificed her life to save others.”

002 From the home plate side, NewBridge Bank Park is considerably more imposing.

004I was met at the entrance by Grasshoppers VP Katie Dannemiller, who led me through the team store and into the front offices. Miss Babe Ruth, a daily ballpark presence even in retirement, was there to greet me. Or, more accurately, she was there to dolefully stare at me as I traipsed past.

005From the front office it was on to the concourse, where I caught my first-ever glimpse of the brand-new South Atlantic League entity that are the Columbia Fireflies.

In the above photo, one can see a new ballpark addition (Sunbrella Shade Zone Picnic Area) as well as new ballpark view apartments that are being constructed beyond left field. Though built over a decade ago, the area around NewBridge Bank Park is still developing.

In its own way, the view from behind the ballpark is pretty nice as well.

007The early-arriving masses, beside themselves with anticipation for a pair of seven-inning Class A ballgames, could no longer be contained. A brave member of the Hoppin Fun Crew (who, like the Reading Fightin Phils, eschew apostrophe) was ready for them.

010The concourse, which spans 360 degrees but does not offer views of the field from all of those degrees, sprung to life.

008During my pregame strolling I saw one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen at a ballpark. From my notes:

“Young autograph-collecting dad, wearing flip-flops, parks his stroller on the concourse and totally wipes out while walking down the muddy berm. His feet went right out from under him and he landed on his back. Fireflies players warming up on field let out collective ‘Ohhhhh!’ He was covered in mud and elbows scraped. Went back up the hill without getting an autograph.”

I don’t mean to be mean-spirited in laughing at this, as Lord knows I’ve had my share of ballpark bloopers. One time I threw up in a clubhouse tunnel toilet in Tulsa after over-exerting myself in an on-field human bobblehead contest.

Oh, say can you see that a game was about to start? My notes indicate that the anthem fireworks were not quite in sync with the words “bomb bursting.” This observation is followed by “I love MiLB.”

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I love MiLB and I love being on the road visiting the ballparks. Perhaps this is because “On great fields, something stays.” Take it away Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, whose timeless words of wisdom are displayed in this piece of signage immediately to the left of the main entrance.

012Chamberlain’s quote brings to mind the last paragraph of Jack London’s Star Rover, an influential text in my personal canon.

There is no death. Life is spirit, and spirit cannot die. Only the flesh dies and passes, ever a-crawl with the chemic ferment that informs it, ever plastic, ever crystallizing, only to melt into the flux and to crystallize into fresh and diverse forms that are ephemeral and that melt back into the flux. Spirit alone endures and continues to build upon itself through successive and endless incarnations as it works upward toward the light. What shall I be when I live again? I wonder. I wonder. . . .

Nothing is guaranteed, but before melting into the flux I plan on writing Part Two of this Greensboro Grasshoppers blog series. Stay tuned.

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benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz

Carolinas On My Mind

Before the 2011 season began, I solicited suggestions regarding where I should travel this season. And one answer that I heard time and time again (via blog comments, Twitter, Facebook, and email) was “the Carolinas.”

This area is, simply put, a hotbed of Minor League Baseball.

Fueled by this feedback, I cobbled together the best itinerary I could muster given the vagaries of schedule, budget, and time constraints. And that itinerary is this:

7/20: Charleston RiverDogs

7/21: Myrtle Beach Pelicans

7/22: Kinston Indians

7/23: Durham Bulls

7/24: Burlington Royals

7/25: Danville Braves (okay, not technically the “Carolinas”)

7/26: Winston-Salem Dash

As usual, I will be doing my absolute best to chronicle the experience through MiLB.com stories, blog posts, Flipcam interviews, photo galleries, and highly aestheticized daguerreotypes. And, as usual, I will do my best to ward off anxiety attacks through the power of positive thinking.

And now comes the part of the post in which I earnestly implore you to GET IN TOUCH! Recommendations and information related to the ballparks and surrounding areas are much appreciated, and while time is always limited I do my absolute best to follow up on all the information I receive. There is some flexibility in regard to what I can write about, and your local knowledge often leads to unique content I wouldn’t be able to provide on my own.

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But before I get too wrapped up in the future, let me return to the past with some ODDS and ENDS from my recent Ohio-Indiana road trip. I am happy to report that I was able to squeeze in a visit to Toledo’s world-famous Tony Packo’s — Hungarian purveyors of hot dogs, chili, and pickles.

There’s no wait staff at this joint, you just walk in and give your order to the uber-efficient and boisterous folks behind the counter.

Seating area:

I ordered a hot dog with Packo’s famous chili, paprika dumplings, and a side of “Pickles and Peppers.” That turned out to be a bit redundant, considering the generous amount of pickles that came with the hot dog.

While eating, I contemplated the rows and rows of signed and laminated hot dog buns on display. A sampling:

The answer to the trivia question "What do Dudley Moore, Betty Thomas, Hal Linden, Martin Lawrence, Jeff Foxworthy, Sinbad, and Howie Mandel have in common?"

My next stop was Fort Wayne, and upon leaving that fine city I decided to pay a visit to the grave of Johnny Appleseed. But when I arrived at Johnny Appleseed Park, I found that it was a massive hiking, biking, and camping area comprising a very large amount of land. It was raining, no one was around, and no signs for the grave were in sight.

So I gave up on my mission, but the consolation prize was this photo of a road sign honoring former Fort Wayne mayor Harry Baals.

In summation: I tried to find Johnny Appleseed’s grave, but all I got was a photograph of this lousy street sign.

Sadly, the only other non-baseball excursion I was able to fit in came at the end of the trip. En route to Akron I stopped at Ravenna, OH, the town where I lived from birth through (nearly) age 2. When I got there, I was pleased to discover the town was in the midst of a classic car show and all-around civic celebration.

Upon returning to NYC’s comforting embrace, I took stock of my latest round of road trip swag.

Not Pictured: Akron Aeros shorts and t-shirt, Lake County Captains t-shirt. They needed to be washed.

Meanwhile, I just keep on getting things in the mail. Like this Bob Feller “Van Meter” bobblehead from the Iowa Cubs.

And the awesome Stockton Ports’ Jeremy Barfield “Rocket Arm” and Dallas Braden “Bobble Belly” combo.

For whatever reason, the Jeremy Barfield “Rocket Arm” has it in for the Dallas Braden “Bobble Belly.” As I looked on with horror, Barfield advanced on Braden and then fired a rocket shot right at his belly.

The moral of the story is don’t mess with Jeremy Barfield “Rocket Arm.” He will destroy you.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

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